Monday, October 03, 2011

Reading at the moment....

There is a type of fiction that I refer to, for lack of a better term, as "construction porn". It seems that guys really like to read about the building and organizing of stuff: a new spaceship, a perfect survivalist hideout, a baseball team. It's not the action at the end that is the point of the book, but the building of the thing.

For instance, in Oh John Ringo No's Ghost series, the hero spends most of a book organizing the valley and village and castle he has come into possession of with the studied meticulousness of a small boy with toy soldiers or a grown man with a model railroad layout.

In Tom Kratman's Countdown: The Liberators, what's being built is a mercenary army. Oh sure, there's action. Jailbreaks and specops stuff in the mountains of Afghanistan and eventually the inevitable invasion of the fictional African country but, like Forsyth's The Dogs of War, the meat of the book is the setting up of the organization and the laying out of plans: Construction porn.

If you like mercenary novels and tank shoot-em-ups and whatnot, it's a pretty good book. I suspect that for fans of construction porn, it's... rather better. Anyhow, I ordered the sequel, which arrived in the same box as Dead Six, which I am reading now. Not much construction going on in Dead Six. Rather the opposite, actually.

35 comments:

Living in Babylon said...

Farnham's Freehold is another good example-I mean, a book written from the perspective of a career engineering contractor and Navy veteran is always a good bet. There isn't much action, but the scene where he karate chops that dude to death is pretty boss.

Jon said...

Kratman's books are really quite good. He got a little perturbed when I called one of them "war porn" in my review. I'd never heard of "construction porn" before.
The Steel Bookshelf

Nathan said...

That's a great term for an otherwise hard-to-categorize genre.

Bubblehead Les. said...

Well, then you have Larry C's Monster Hunter books, which also seem to be in the "Destruction Porn" category. It's kinda like the old argument: Which is the better Desert, Pie or Ice Cream?

Of course, those of us who like Pie ala Mode' get the best of both worlds.

Speaking for myself, I do wish Eric Flint would hurry up with the Reconstruction of Europe in his Never-ending 1633/1634/1635/1636 series, though.

staghounds said...

Robinsion Crusoe may have been the first of this genre.

And for really good construction porn that is actually about construction, try Tracy Kidder's "House".

Dave H said...

Is that what that's called? I never knew there was a name for it.

My favorite example is the Crosstime Engineer series by Leo Frankowski. A bright young engineer in contemporary (well, as of the books' writing) Poland accidentally hitches a ride in a time machine back to 1231. Knowing what's coming, he has ten years to prepare the locals for the Mongol invasion of 1241. They think he's nuts, but after making the local count wealthy they're willing to give him a listen.

Anonymous said...

I tried Ringo's books, but when one went from Vince Flynn level of descriptiveness to Penthouse Forum level sex in basically the same chapter, I shut it and donated it to the library.

I'm not a prude, I just like my genres to have a little more separation.

I agree about Dogs of War; Forsyth does that a lot, especially with Day of the Jackal, and many of his most recent, like The Avenger, The Afghan, etc.

Matt
St Paul

Fred said...

Hey, I'm reading that one too right now!

Brad K. said...

I recall an E.E. "Doc" Smith episode where a Lensman or patrolman or something is stranded on a planet and has to build a vacuum tube, from scratch, for an interstellar radio call.

There is Leo Frankowski's "Cross Time Engineer" series. Once he runs out of things to build the story gets old.

But then there are all those recipe and gardening books sold, and self help books, too. That is building something, right?

RandyGC said...

Not using that term, but I've heard a similar description of the Mission Impossible TV series. You know the IMF team is going to accomplish the mission, you watch to see how they do it.

Dave H said...

Brad K: That Smith story was "Spacehounds of I.P.C." I just read it about three weeks ago. That was, um, creative even by Doc Smith's standards.

Ken said...

Brad K and Dave H: There was another book, The Radio Planet, written in the 1920s by Ralph Milne Farley. Stranded on the wrong continent of Venus (called Poros by the near-human locals who can't sense the audible spectrum but communicate in RF -- there were other interesting details such as fixed-wing aircraft with unmuffled alcohol-fueled diesel engines) Our Hero, Myles Cabot, not only had to build a radio from raw-material scratch as in the Smith story, but had to teach the locals basic metallurgy first.

It was well written, though. The book was one of a series, actually. One can still find it around.

Bram said...

Ringo does lots of Construction Porn - 80% of the Troy Rising series and a good chunk of the Looking Glass series. He does bring in experts and gives good physics lessons.

I always liked Drake because he didn't do it - just a sitrep and a fight. Rinse and repeat.

Kristopher said...

Matt: Sounds like you fell into Ringo's Ghost series ... the one that the term John "Oh no!" Ringo was coined for.

He does have better stuff.

Anonymous said...

"I always liked Drake because he didn't do it - just a sitrep and a fight. Rinse and repeat."

I'm not trying to be some contrarian dick here, but with respect, David Drake's Slammers novels always made sure to mention iridium hulls and gun barrels, Booster the AI, rammed-earth construction in the firebases,and fusion bottles--every several pages.

The Drake and Flint Belisarius series is a very loving detailing of how technology from the future is introduced into the late-era Eastern Roman Empire.

Mike James

Anonymous said...

Hoover Dam an American Adventure by Joseph Stevens is my favorite construction porn. Kidder's House, and his The Soul of A New Machine are also XXX rated CP.

Oh. Fiction you say? Never mind.

Montie said...

Tam,

"Dead Six". Got it Saturday, started it tonight, looks like another Correia inspired sleep deprivation night. BTW, did you get the book?

Mike James,

Glad to know someone holds the same opinions.

Gordon R. Durand said...

From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne. It took the Gun Club 25 chapters (out of 28) just to build the gun.

Brad K. said...

@ Anon 3:13:

I would not list Hammers Slammers as construction porn. They do little assembly or derivation of the nifty tanks and things.

Construction porn is like the steps taken in Skylark of Space, with descriptions of building the scaffolding and wiring the mold to pour the advanced material, monolithic hull of the Skylark series. They dwell as much on the advances from one hull to the next as they do at saving the universe.

In Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's Liaden universe, "Plan B", I think it is, you have an organizational form of construction porn. Here the construction is converting and aligning all the competing warlord/neighborhood bosses into a peaceful coexistence ready to establish a unified commercial and security recovery. With Hammers Slammers you seldom add troops, or see the enemy grow (in detail). Thus, entertaining military SF, but not on the Construction Porn graph-o-matic.

Anonymous said...

+1 on Troy Rising, and sequels. Talks about orbital construction techniques, but I'm sure it will be harder than it sounds.

Bellisarius series is cool too.

Frankowski's stuff is neat.

Lest Darkness Fall by DeCamp has a bit along this line - the purpose behind double entry bookkeeping, roman numerals, semaphores, etc.

docjim505 said...

Ditto Gordon R. Durand. Verne seems to have enjoyed that sort of thing: witness the pages devoted to describing the Nautilus in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea as well as the efforts of Captain Harding and Co. in Mysterious Island. O' course, the latter novel is VERY similar to to The Swiss Family Robinson.

It would be of some interest to correlate people's interest in "construction porn" (interesting term, that) with their personality type, education, hobbies, etc. Is there something about some people that just makes them interested in the details of how people go about making / doing / creating?

Drang said...

Oddly enough, I just started Kratman's M-Day myself. Having a hard time suspending my disbelief, when it comes to a Venezualan Army captain waxing philosophical about the effect of differences in culture have on the ease f making soldiers out of Latino versus American civilians.

The construction porn aspects of Jules Verne's writings are why some argue that Verne was writing adventure novels with elements of the fantastic, not "science fiction" as such. Learned about that in my "Science Fiction as Literature" class at Eastern Michigan University. Thought then that part of the argument was "We don't want no Frog inventing SF!"

Interestingly for this comment thread, that class led me to join the local SF club, and start going to cons, where I met Leo Frankowski, who was just one of the local fen at the time...

Drang said...

And, BTW, need I point out that it is disconcerting in the extreme to see that your sidebar is trying to sell me the "Disney Princess Sing-Along"?

Anonymous said...

Instalanche! Run!

Mike James

Anonymous said...

Actually, the "construction porn" approach used to be the norm in Hollywood films: it's an interesting contrast to watch older movies (by which I mean anything before 1980 or so) and contrast it with now.

In older films, most of the movie was spent with the setup--the mise-en-scene as one might say--and all the action took place in the last reel. Nowadays, they drop you right into the action from the get-go and--if they do any amount of setup at all--it's typically told in flashbacks.

I don't really see this as "construction porn" so much as a pre-MTV sensibility. But then, I'm in my 50s...

Ross MacLochness said...

The best of the pure action genre is also competence-heavy. Contrast the Rambo and Jason Bourne series.

Rambo was a guy with muscles shooting up the place.

The Bourne movies featured a guy in a sweater being competent, with a fight scene every now and then. Mostly he's just working the problem.

LarryD said...

"Falling Free" (Lois Bujold) has a description of how to build a large precision cylinder in space. Without the specialized equipment a regular manufacturer would have.

Ian Argent said...

The Slammers series had little to no construction porn in them. There's never any details of construction or organization in the stories themselves. Without the interstitial stories from the original compilation, I'm nor sure you could derive the Slammers' TO&E, and the weapons may as well be slugthrowers with blue tracers for all the descriptions given. The tanks may as well be M1A1 painted iridium, for that matter. We know nothing about how any of it works, just that it works expensively and well.
The data dumps are done in the side bar articles, which are almost de rigeur in a reprint these days. But read Under The Hammer or The Butchers Bill and tell me what you know about the Regimental TO&E or the construction of a powergun.

Justthisguy said...

The building of the Brooklyn Bridge is the best construction-pr0n evar. It has financial machinations, the bends, cheating on materials, a crippled hero whose project was continued by his wife, and a whole bunch of other romantic things, with lots of engineering, too.

Ian Argent said...

And then you have Neal Stephenson, whose work is the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue of construction porn.

Brad K. said...

@ Ian Argent,

Neal Stephenson doesn't write construction porn any more than Ray Bradbury.

Snow Crash starts out with the Deliverator vehicle, the nifty powered skateboard. You get a lot of the performance and use of the gadgets - but nothing of the details of who built them, or how they were constructed.

Thomas T. Thomas' "ME" gives lots of detail about cruising through the network -- but nothing about how the Multiple Entity AI was built. That is, ME isn't construction porn.

The extended sequence of making the plates, measuring masses and moments of energy, in "Falling Free", is indeed a great example of devoting a significant chunk of story to building some essential (repair part) element.

Listing what an item does, or even the properties of the item, components, or environment, is not construction porn. Construction porn dwells, at length, on the details of building something.

Ian Argent said...

@BradK: I chose my descriptive with some care - I'm most of the way through System of the World right now; and am a fairly decent NS fan.

He teases, he toys, but in the end, it's off to another scene rather than sit and show the good stuff. (This is more obvious in the Baroque Cycle and Cryptonomicon than in Snow Crash or Zodiac, I'll admit).

Hence SI Swimsuit issue; it's not quite pr0n, but might be mistaken for such, until you read some ACTUAL construction pr0n, such as David Weber, Some Oh John Ringo No (along with the real thing), &c.

(The VW is aduck, no lie. That's gotta be significant of something)

Anonymous said...

Not about "war porn," Jon, about "pure war porn." They're not that pure. ;)

best,

Tom

Anonymous said...

I can't believe no one has mentioned "Lest Darkenss Fall" yet

Pete

Beaumont said...

+1 on Matt. I found Ringo's Ghost books virtually unreadable. Some of his other works are much better. That said, I find Kratman to be a better overall writer. At the moment, I can't find where I put my copy of Dead Six, so I'm reading the new Countdown book, & enjoying it.