The New Jasper Fforde: A Brave New BookWorld!

American cover for Book 6 of the Thursday Next series

You might have experienced this feeling.

The admiring amazement towards these flowing ideas that flit around your brain when reading a book, almost overwhelming, about one per second, ideas which all could be developed into full stories of wonder.

Except they aren’t. They’re just grace notes, elements of the wonderful BookWorld’s backstory, even footnotes. After all, footnotes are something like Fforde’s imagined BookWorld’s GSM.

That was a feeling I got previously only with one author, Terry Pratchett, and I found it again in Jasper Fforde’s books, especially in this 6th book of the Thursday Next series.

Everyone of us know that it’s quite difficult to write series which stay good, interesting, original. Especially when they’re as original as Thursday Next’s adventures. Jasper Fforde manages it in a very unusual way for this book: the narrator isn’t Thursday anymore. At least, not our Thursday, but the written “peace-and-love” Thursday we met in Book 5.

This change has many consequences, all stimulating.

Firstly, as Jasper Fforde said, she doesn’t have the same personality as Thursday (the real one, I mean. Confusing? Well, confusion’s important. You’ll see.) She’s fresher, in some ways, and so is the book.

Oddly, I preferred Thursday when she was still unsure and afraid of the Bookworld. Where everything was dangerous and perplexing and death, disaster, danger and mayhem lurked at every corner. The Thursday we saw in First Among Sequels felt a bit too superhuman and a bit world-weary so I wanted to get back to a Thursday who had more problems than experience. The written Thursday fits the bill perfectly.

Secondly, she’s a BookWorld’s native. And that brings a very different perspective on both Book- and Real-Worlds.

Map of the remade BookWorld. Reproduced by the kind permission of Bradshaw's Bookworld Companion, 23rd Edition.

We see a lot more of the BookWorld, and you know what ? It happens to be new, too, since it’s remade in a more geographical form at the opening of the book.

I loved the new BookWorld, its landscapes, its toponyms, its borders (and all the new plots borders can create). And of course, I loved the map. As a Fantasy fan, I nurse a soft spot for every book beginning with a map.

But we also get a far larger view of the BookWorld, beyond Fiction’s borders. What about Biography ? Is it really boring ? And in Photography are B&W and Color still at war ? What about Knitting Books ? They also have a place in the BookWorld (and the present book).

We come to understand, from an insider’s point of view, what it is to be a character, more or less 3-dimensional (depends of your writer’s skills), to play the same scenes again and again ; to cultivate your hobbies between the readings ; what it is to live in a world where everything has a purpose, where nothing’s meaningless.

And by way of consequence, we learn to see our own (real?) world with fresh eyes.

A world where “Nothing was assumed; everything had to be actually done”. A world with strange meaningless coincidences. A world whose tiniest bits become wonders, through the eyes of a BookWorld’s character. As I happen to be a new mother, I wondered if that could be compared to a baby’s perspective of the new world (s)he discovers.

Many writers tried to depict this “familiar strangeness”. That’s almost a Science Fiction stereotype. Fforde manages it brilliantly, especially in the end of chapter 25.

There’s more. There’s always more, with Jasper Fforde.

As a literature teacher, I especially enjoy the way he uses literary concepts and makes them understandable, useful for the plot and even funny. The importance of description. The ambiguity of genre borders. The subtle, smart way he uses metafiction and archetypes. And, especially in this book, the figures of speech.

The act of reading is depicted in its whole complexity and subtlety, including all types of readers (“Dippers, Skimmers and Last-Chapter-Firsters”) as well as the modern theories about active readership. The “Feedback Loop” is a wonderful way to explain it :

Most books are finished by the readers itself. […] As soon as the readers get going, the Feedback Loop will start back washing some of their interpretations into the book itself.

In GeekMom’s interview Jasper Fforde talked about the role of reading in contemporary world. But he happens to be quite optimistic in this book, as he hints that “increased media exposure” increases the active readership, too.

The most recent issues of our own “book world” are also questioned: fan-fiction, e-books, and so on.

Hey, there’s even a special island for “Books Only Students Read”. He knows how to make teachers laugh!

That’s Jasper Fforde’s own magic: he manages to be in the same time funny and serious. Not in the way mimes are (yeah, mimes are featured in the book, too). In the way you might use serious issues to weave funny scenes, or funny concepts to explore deeper themes. In the way you might make Fan-Fiction an island near Vanity, full of flat versions of famous characters, and in the same time remind us that it’s first and foremost a celebration.

As literature itself might be, in some glorious sunny days.

As this book is.

Jasper Fforde, One of Our Thursdays Is Missing.

Release date: March 8, or February 22, if you’re a lucky Brit.

And now?

If you’re a Thursday’s fan, you’ve probably ordered your own copy weeks ago and had no need of my review.

If I convinced you to do it, I’m incredibly glad. You may stop reading now, to be sure you’ll discover all the wonderful tiny bits by yourself.

But if you’re still uncertain, there are a few more reasons to make you love this Thursday Next issue. One for each type of Geek you might be. They’re not strictly speaking spoilers, only a few hints or lines.

FG-347 Postcard: 'BookWorld Remade' Lost in a good book? Just read the signs.. Typical scene in the remade Bookworld. If you get lost in between novels, you can just read the signposts kindly placed by the Council of Genres Fiction Island Transit Management Division. Colour postcard, 2000 editions. Given out on One of our Thursdays is Missing tour, Feb/March 2011.

If you’re a Steampunk Geek : Book 6’s introducing a new character you’ll love, Sprockett. Jasper Fforde himself admits

there is a certain degree of ‘Steampunkishness’ that creeps into my books.

If you’re a Computer Geek : What about “Creating directories: irony” ?

If you’re a Robot Geek (Asimov type):
Do you know “the second law of domestic robotics” ?

If you’re a Science Geek : Interested in Dark Reading Matter and the Large Metaphor Collider ?

If you’re a Harry Potter Geek, you’ll remember he appeared as a guest star in Book 5. Well, he dosn’t in Book 6. But Nancy Potter does. Don’t ask.

If you’re a Star Wars Geek: There’s a line or two of SW parody, I’m sure you’ll find it. Classic trilogy, of course. Chapter 30.

If you’re a Fantasy Geek, you probably already ordered your copy and shouldn’t be reading any more, you cheater. But which one of you ever dreamed about taking a train at Le Guin Central and halting at Gaiman Junction ?

And if you’re a Chocolate Addict Geek ? Well, believe me, they also are. They meaning everyone in the BookWorld.
Impatiently waiting for your copy?

You may check the dates of Jasper Fforde’s UK and USA/Canada Tours.

You may also compete to win the two millionth copy of his book, a ‘C’ format UK 1st edition of Shades of Grey, signed by Fforde, by entering the TN6 Sleuthing competition. Questions will be posted up here on the 1st March 2011.

If you haven’t read Jasper Fforde’s exclusive interview for GeekMom, that’s time to do it!

And if you haven’t read any of Fforde’s books? Beginning with this one won’t do the trick. You’ll have to make all your way through the series, beginning with The Eyre Affair. Let me say I envy you, for you’re about to enter a whole new world of literary wonder and fun.

I received a free copy of this book in order to review it.

A GeekMom Award for Jasper Fforde!

Close shot of Jasper Fforde
Author Jasper Fforde, 2006/7. Picture credit: Mari Fforde.

Is Jasper Fforde a geek? That’s still undecided (read his answer below). But he’s undoubtedly a mom !

Wait a minute, Jasper Fforde’s a man, how can he be a mum?
Well, he deserves to be. If there was such things as GeekMom Awards, he’d get one for sure.

For now, One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, which means we’re actually going to get a new Thursday, as the 6th issue of her adventures will be released on Marc, 8 (or February, 21 if you are British, lucky you!)

As part of this happy occasion, Jasper Fforde agreed to an interview with GeekMom.

As you’ll notice, he’s able to give smart answers even to silly questions (and I cut the silliest one… even if I have to recommend again the wonderful Entroposcope: any Geek Family should have one).

GeekMom : We’d like to thank you heartily in the name of every geek mom ! We were recently regretting the lack of strong mother characters in books we love, mothers who love their children, and care for them, but still had their own issues. And Thursday Next was the first name we came up with (on a very, very short list). Do you feel the same lack? Did you plan to make Thursday a mom from the beginning? And if not, did you consider to stop writing about her since she became a wife and mother? And if (still) not, did her motherhood change your vision of the character?

Jasper Fforde: Mothers, like teachers and librarians, are overlooked in fiction. It needn’t be so, but I can understand why: the sometimes dreary travails of motherhood just don’t make for very exciting reading. It needn’t be thus, as it is the writer’s job to be able to make drama out of anything.

One of the central tenets I tend to write by is ‘always choose the less worn path’.

It’s a simple statement and one that would have thought was fairly obvious, and embraced by many – but you might be mistaken. The well-worn path is well worn for a very good reason. If you have a strong female protagonist, the obvious route to deal with the personal side of her character (always important, like comedy relief, to get away from the main action for a breather ) is to introduce vast  quantities of unsuitable boyfriends, and have the loneliness and solitude as one of the facets that drives their character along. This happens a lot, and my reaction to this was, no, let’s have Thursday as a total one-guy gal, who finally kicks in with the love of her life in her mid-thirties and is with him from then on.

The question then remains is to how do we pepper her life with interest now she is in a stable and mutually respectful relationship? Infidelity? Too mundane. How about having Landen not just killed but eradicated by time travelling blackmailers attempting to get Thursday to do something she doesn’t want to do? Perfect. TN2 is essentially a book about a woman trying to get her husband back, and failing. It adds a level to her character that I really enjoy, and also set the tone for how we deal with Thursday and family throughout the series, and what sort of a guy Landen is – a rock, essentially, who understands and appreciates that his function is to support a wholly remarkable woman with no ego, no fuss, and no complaints.

The same ‘less trodden path’ deal came into being when the children arrived, too. They are kind of unusual, but it doesn’t stop Thursday being Thursday, nor Landen being Landen, and since I have many children of my own, it wasn’t a subject I was going to shy away with – I was just going to add my own way of looking at it. One of the themes in TN5 was ‘How can I engineer a plot device so that a teenager can save the world by doing nothing?’ There are many, many teenagers out there who think they can and are doing precisely that, and equally, a lot of parents who long for the day when the hairy object in bedroom three can once again talk. I wove this in with the plot, and it worked very well. She can do what she does and be a mother, and the two get very well.

Did her motherhood change her character? Not really. She was always very passionate about stuff, and now she had an extra dimension to be passionate about. I think you’d have to be very, very stupid to threaten Thursday’s children or husband – Goliath stay well away for that reason.

GeekMom: You seem to like science, incredible gadgets, use Star Wars parodic lines, feature a Lorem Ipsum’s speaking baby… and I don’t even talk about the amount of various references in your books.
So, do you consider a geek yourself? Are your books designed for geek readers?

Jasper Fforde: I’m interested in everything, as humans are fascinating creatures, with almost no end to their creativity, ingenuity, and stupidity. So I love all Stuff.

More recently, I’ve got into the Stuff of Stuff, which is far more interesting than just Stuff. I like Apple computers, but the whole background to Apple is equally amazing. Yes, Gaudi was an astonishing architect, but who were the people who had the foresight and vision to commission his work? The Stuff of Stuff.

The books are designed primarily for me. A writer should always write about what interests them. If they didn’t, I think they would come out all forced and a bit faux. If people didn’t share my mildly odd view of the world, then I’d still be a writer writing stuff, just unpublished.

GeekMom: As I’m also a literature teacher: when will I be able to come with groups of students into the BookWorld? Will they be allowed to follow Jurisfiction‘s affairs for a day? Which device could I use if I don’t want a Goliath one?

Jasper Fforde: I think we enter the Bookworld whenever we read a book. I’m not sure Jurisfiction much care for having Outlanders visit, nor for letting Outlanders know they exist. Many ‘SuperReaders’ try to hack their way into Text Grand Central, but few succeed – the surroundings are painted in soporific paint, so any hackers that do try to get in, immediately nod off.

GeekMom: More seriously: do you think that our world is becoming like Thursday’s RealWorld in First Among Sequels? With more reality-shows and less reading, and a shortening Now? Or are you more optimistic and think that we are saved from this danger and our Now is growing again?  (subliminate question behind this one: can we Geek Moms save the world by trying to lengthen our children’s Now?)

Jasper Fforde: Thankfully, reality shows seem to be on the wane, but don’t forget that we are changing into our own parents, and tutting at things that our parents used to tut to us about, so whinges we may have about how rubbish things are today might simply be because that’s what happens when you start getting older, and objectivity is not as clear cut as it should be.

Mind you, our kids aren’t objective either. Perhaps there is a moment, eight minutes in length sometime around one’s 27th birthday when you finally get it, and everything is truthful and clear cut. But then someone cuts the queue in front of you and you get all self-righteous, and the moment’s gone. Yes, I think attention spans should be longer, and rather than trying to decrease our tragically short window humans seem to find themselves in – about four years, it seems – we should attempt to broaden it. Sadly, I don’t think we’re wired that way.

It’s evolution’s little joke: Eye-popping intelligence, but almost no wisdom. The world needs a few more grown-ups in positions of power, to be honest.

Should we try and instill a longer Now in our kids? Of course. But they probably won’t like it. If there is a clash between popular culture and a parent’s waggy finger, guess who’s going to win. My view on this whole deal is to introduce your kids to good and worthy stuff when you still have any control, then wave the white flag during the dark teenage years. You’ll be surprised how much stuff bubbles to the surface later on.

GeekMom: How is it to tour the USA for a writer? Does it involve a lot of sex, drugs, and experimental writing?

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, by Jasper Fforde, books on a bookshelf falling on a tiny female character
Thursday Next 6th book, American edition cover

Jasper Fforde: Great fun, actually, as all tours are. Meeting people, and hearing which parts of my books appealed to them is of especial interest. It also allows me a period of guilt-free non-writing, as I rarely have a moment to myself on tour, and believe me, guilt-free procrastination is very hard to come by. Two books a year is a stretch, so I have to write all day most days. Doesn’t work that way, but I feel I’ve wasted a day if I haven’t got something down.

Tours are very frenetic. If my only view of the States was from my book tours, I would be able to say categorically that 95% of America was Airports, Bookstores, Cabs, Hotels, Starbucks and trying to find somewhere that can do laundry in under eighteen hours.

To be continued… with GeekMom’s review of One of our Thursdays Is Missing. For now, you may pre-order your own copy !

You may also compete to win the two millionth copy of his book, a ‘C’ format UK 1st edition of Shades of Grey, signed by Jasper Fforde, by entering the TN6 Sleuthing competition. Questions will be posted up there on the 1st March 2011.

Is Jasper Fforde coming somewhere close to you? Check the dates of the UK and USA/Canada Tours.

Mother Characters in Geeky Literature: Pass the Test!

Thursday Next from the SpecOps, beside her painted car
Retinal Screensaver 1. SpecOps PR shot of Thursday

As a new mum and a compulsive reader, I’m beginning to feel concerned about the lack of cool moms “role models” in literature, especially geeky literature like fantasy, comic books and so on.

Are you feeling the same?

Even in books I love, even with authors who build great female characters, I find very few strong characters of mothers. It appears that other people (even men) are feeling the same, since they spent some Mother’s Days trying to uncover such characters.

March 12, 2010 (British Mother’s Day) : The Times Online had fun to classify “Great Literary Matriarchs” using an acrostic and categories’ names worthy of Lemony Snicket’s titles.

Of course “matriarch” isn’t a synonym of “mother”, and the writer includes Adversarial Aunts and Rigid Regals. Their examples come from classical literature, not especially geeky books, but are quite easy to transpose: Cersei Lannister from G. R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire would be a mix of Rigid Regal and Manipulative Meddler.

Anyway, which of you Geek Moms want to identify with “Absolute Angels” mothers or “Ruthless Ravagers” types? The very names confirm the problem. A few days earlier, Geek Dad had offered its own list of “Top 10 Mothers in Science Fiction and Fantasy”.Some of them are really cool, of course, like Cordelia Vorkosigan and Helen Parr from The Incredibles.

But I strongly disagree with a few others.

Martha Kent. Padme Amidala? Please!

Even GeekDad author Matt Blum sounds sometimes embarrassed with his own choices:

“yes, we know, she never actually had the opportunity to be a mother to Luke and Leia. And she did spend most of Episode III sitting at home being pregnant and spouting mind-numbingly bad dialogue.”

(Actually she gets one single good line in Episode III : “So this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause.”) And what about Mrs Weasley? I know she gets her kickass scene against Bellatrix at the end, and I enjoyed it, but that’s only one moment in seven books!

As movies have their Bechdel Test, let’s have a GeekMom Test for books and comic books we love.

To pass the test, female characters who happen to become mothers shall :

1. be and remain main characters. They DON’T quickly fade into the background, even less conveniently die in childbirth or a few years later.
That’s why delightful Dunizel in Tanith Lee’s Tales From The Flat Earth doesn’t qualify.

2. share (at least part-time) the life of their children. They DON’T leave their children in the care of some nanny type, only to remember them  from time to time. That would be too easy! In which are they even mothers if they do that?

That’s why Morgaine in Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon doeesn’t qualify.

3. still have issues of their own. They DON’T care only about their children, becoming a “Molly Weasley” type or a figure meaningful only for the wonderful offspring she gave the world.
That’s why Lady Jessica Atreides in the Dune series doesn’t qualify.

One might notice a common variant to item 3 : if something happens to their children, they become another archetype, the Fury who’ll do anything to save/avenge her child (Kill Bill‘s Bride, or Lyta Hall in The Sandman). And once they succeed? End of story.

That’s all very well, but what about real moms? Characters being in the same time mothers and independent persons, trying to conciliate all these concerns, which is one of the major challenges in motherhood?

Here’s the few ones I found, in addition to the ones already listed by GeekDad.
1. the wonderful Thursday Next in Jasper Ffforde’s novels.
She’s the best GeekMom Role Model I found. She kicks ass, even in her fifties. She’s a literary geek who sometimes hunts vampires and meets the Cheshire Cat. Her father’s in Time Travel, her uncle is the ultimate science geek (I highly recommend the Entroposcope, very easy to craft and very handy for any GeekMom careful of Entropy Level in her house). Her husband is a stay-at-home writer, and her kids are perfect geeklings (Friday seems to be the “tedious teenage cliché: grunting, sighing at any request, and staying in bed until past midday” but is much much more ; Tuesday is a mathematical genius, who solved Fermat’s Last Theorem at the age of 9). Another thing I love about her is that she’s not the typically “young and beautiful mother”. She married and had children in her thirties and she’s never said to be especially gorgeous.

Catelyn Stark
Catelyn Stark, wife of Lord of Winterfell Ned Stark, portrayed by Michelle Fairley in HBO's upcoming series. (Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO)

2. Catelyn Stark in G. R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire. She’s the loving and realistic mother of five very different children, and manages to be in the same time a wife, a lady with a political mind and sometimes a warleader. She inspires admiration and loyalty, even to other women with no boon to the family (like Brienne, another great female character, but not a mother).

3. Phedre, Melisande and Ysandre… almost every character from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series.
The main character Phedre chooses to become an adoptive mother and loses none of her brains, neither her sex-appeal nor her adventuring tendencies. Ysandre is a queen, with many enemies, a surprising loving marriage and two daughters: that’s a lot to manage and she does it brilliantly!
Melisande is the series’ recurring villain, and that would almost be enough to qualify. Though item 2’s dubious in her case, motherhood changes very subtly her character, far from any stereotype.

4. Miranda Belmonte d’Alvede from Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of al-Rassan.
I’m not sure Miranda’s a main character or not. But she’s a concerned mother of teenage twin boys, the high-born wife of the Captain modeled after El Cid, she’s got a sharp tongue, a fighting side and a quite funny bondage love scene. She had to be there!

What about you?
Do you agree with the lack of cool mom’s models?
Could you propose characters who fill the 3 criteria?

Comment accordingly in the GeekMom forums! Comments have been disabled on this post to allow for further discussion.