inasmuch as it concerns Book Reviews:
I read a lot and I have opinions.
if you need permission you have my permission
I have a thing to say. Kind of a manifesto. Mostly it's something I wanted to say in reply to someone else on Twitter, only I do not have the energy or free time to pursue a Twitter feud, and also 280 characters is insufficient.
But. By way of preamble, let me recommend you a Patreon creator to follow. My colleague Jason Sanford, a prolific writer of short speculative fiction, follows the SF publishing world closely and shares his findings in a regular newsletter, the Genre Grapevine. Those posts are free to the public, but they represent a huge outlay of effort and energy on his part, so if you find them useful, it'd be keen of you to send him a few bucks each month.
The Genre Grapevine covers a wide breadth of items, from the super-serious and important to the humorous yet arguably just as important. What I'm reacting to here falls into the latter category. In the most recent newsletter, there's a link to a tweet highlighting an egregious and highly facepalm-worthy specimen of Men Writing Woman badly. In case you have any trouble reading the text in the photo, or you'd just prefer not to click through to the original tweet, I quote the relevant excerpt here. (There will be a brief pause afterward, in which I will attempt to clean the slime off my keyboard. You're welcome.)
...cuffed, strangled with a bathrobe belt. A troubled young woman walking toward the abyss of destruction. She had had beautiful breasts as well.
Aomame mourned the deaths of these two friends deeply. It saddened her to think that these women were forever gone from the world. And she mourned their lovely breasts--breasts that had vanished without a trace.
This is an excerpt from 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. It is not a parody. Judging by some of the links tweeted in reply, it's also not the only book in which his female characters are totally, unrealistically, and laughably obsessed with breasts.
But I am not here to critique Murakami's novels. I have not read Murakami's novels; nor do I plan to. I am here, instead, to critique a very specific phenomenon that occurs in connection to negative critiques of novels. Let me pull a couple tweets out of the reply thread for you to give an example of what I mean...
@CodaReadsalot (10:21 AM May 27) This book is on my “to read” shelf and I am concerned now. I have not read any of his work because it struck me that he does not understand women at all. This is not helping.
@RobinCorrigan84 (12:52 PM May 27) How will you ever know, if you don't read any of his work?
My instinctive response, which I valiantly refrained from posting on Twitter, is this: I won't know. I will go on in ignorance. And somehow I will survive. Mostly by reading books I actually enjoy.
Here's the deal: There are a lot of books in this world. There are more books than you can read in your lifetime. Every book you choose to read represents a book you won't get to read. Ever.
So why should anyone other than you get to choose how you spend your finite reading time?
You get to make that decision, based on whatever the hell you want. You can decide, if you want, never to read another book by an author whose last name ends in a Y. Or even an F! (I'll be sad, but I will support your decision, because it is yours.) You can certainly decide not to read a book based on an excerpt such as the above. However out of context that excerpt might be, it exists! In that book! If you would rather take the time you would have spent reading that book, and instead read a book in which such excerpts do not exist--books by men who don't insert weirdly male-gaze-a-licious boob-fetishization into their female characters' inner narratives--you can do that! The world does not lack for such books! Nor indeed does it lack for books written by women! You could so easily spend an entire reading career never reading a single book with an "also she mourned their boobs" moment. It's easy!
It's your life. You only get so many hours on this Earth. Regarding those you spend reading for pleasure, you have the unilateral right to decide which books are worthy of those hours, and which are not. No other human being on this planet has the right to browbeat you into reading something you don't enjoy by mealy-mouthing some smarm about "what a shame to deprive yourself of such a work of genius for no better reason than petty identity politics" or other high-handed nonsense. If you need a counter argument, here's mine: What a shame to deprive yourself of books you might enjoy, because you spent that time instead reading works you didn't enjoy out of some sense of duty toward someone else's literary opinions?
I mean, this is why I'm not wasting time getting into fights with smarmy, mealy-mouthed, high-handed bullies on Twitter. Also not wasting my time reading Murakami's novels. And if by doing so I am depriving myself of an important experience, that's OK. I'll be over here having other important experiences, thanks.
(For instance, I still haven't read N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy. WHY?! Talk about depriving myself! And I'm still working my way simultaneously through Martha Well's Books of the Raksura AND ALSO her Murderbot Diaries. And Ann Leckie's Provenance is still sitting on the shelf, mocking me. TOO MANY BOOKS TOO LITTLE TIME AAAAAAAGH!)
this fictionette heaved a great big sigh of relief and another of disappointment
- 1,022 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,260 words (if poetry, lines) long
All right! That's it! I'm all caught up! The appallingly late Friday Fictionette for February 16th is now up, and so is the mildly late February 23rd one. They go something like this:
"When in Rome" (teaser excerpt, full text ebook and audiobook), in which we explore the effects of photosynthesis on the U.S. tradition of Thanksgiving dinner, and also the international tradition of teenage rebellion and frustration.
I'm not entirely done with February's Fictionette work, of course. I've still got to type up, illustrate, and mail the not-yet-late January Artifacts; I should be able to take care of that in the next few days. And of course there's the late-but-low-priority Wattpad excerpts for most of February; ditto. But as far as Patreon posts for February go, I am finally up to date. I can breathe a little easier, having once more temporarily relieved myself of the weight of The Overdue. And I can look forward with excitement to working on next week's release. So that's fantastic.
Speaking of excitement, I feel like I misplaced some. Annihilation, the movie, was... just a really poor adaptation. I'm sorry, but I honestly think so. It was visually stunning but so, so incoherent. And the maddening thing about it was, most of the plot holes were so unnecessary. They could have been fixed simply by not abandoning the relevant elements from novel. While I admire the attempt to take a sprawling trilogy and turn it into one compact movie, combining elements and sometimes conflating separate characters to make things tighter for the big screen, 2-hour-ish format, it ultimately didn't work.
But what disappointed me the most--and, to be fair, surprised me the least--was the erasure of some of the things that make the trilogy the masterwork that it is. They sawed off the inconvenient things, which were powerful things, and replaced them with predictable tropes. The gloriously misanthropic biologist was replaced by a woman defined by and motivated by saving her husband and their marriage. The ineffable Area X was replaced by, more or less, a mere dragon to slay. The trilogy's relentless deconstruction of identity, its insistence that you leave your name at the border and wear your function as both camouflage and armor, is erased entirely; the characters have names, they share their backstories with each other, they form a camaraderie familiar from any number of SF horror-thrillers in the "hostile territory" subgenre. There is nothing here you haven't seen before, and that is where the movie ultimately fails its source material.
I suppose, if we want to get all meta here, the failings of the movie adaptation are rather an extension on the novels' exploration of the theme of identity, duplication, replacement and failed copies. But I can't give anyone credit for doing it on purpose. There were some subtle and not-so-subtle details in the movie that felt like a nod toward the theme of duplication, but I can't entirely trust these were meant and not mistakes. And if they were meant, they're cheats, because they're things the main character ought to have recognized and reacted to. I mean, if you make the abandoned house they camp out in have the exact same floor plan as the protagonist's house, but you don't have the protagonist appear to notice this at all, you risk your audience thinking not "oh, wow, that's creepy, how unsettling, it's a dark mirror version of that earlier scene," but rather "oh, for crying out loud, were you so cheap you had to reuse that set?"
In short: Pretty visuals, emotionally intense movie, earned its R rating plenty times over, and even sometimes manages to evoke the feeling of the way people fall apart when they explore Area X (the videos especially captured the creeping horror of the one we don't want to watch in Authority)... but in the end it was a mess of wasted opportunities. I am sad about what could have been and must console myself by rereading the books now.
we're all perfectly ok here
I had great plans for Halloween night. I was going to go down to the French Quarter, strap on my gear, and skate in and around and through the festive chaos for several hours. Turns out, though, that doesn't work so good if I wear myself out earlier in the afternoon. Note for the future: If I want to party all night long (on skates), I have to be a little more cautious about the prospect of using up all my oomph with a full daytime itinerary that involves a tough workout (on skates).
So instead I stayed in and binged Stranger Things 2 instead.
Some brief, spoiler-free thoughts (spoiler-free concerning Season 2, that is; you're on your own for Season 1): While I don't think it necessarily succeeds on all fronts, Stranger Things 2 makes honest attempts at some very admirable things. Primarily it's a story about families, about the dynamics of different families, the families you get and the families you choose, and struggling to find the healthiest way for a family (noun) to family (verb). It examines the ways families succeed, the ways they fail, and the ways they try again.
It's also a story about aftermath. It's a story that happens after the triumphant and bittersweet ending of the first season. It doesn't attempt to reset everyone to We're All Perfectly OK Here except maybe in the ironic sense. All the major characters, and all the families they comprise, have gone though some amount of trauma. It is clear from the very first episode of Season 2 that they're all still dealing with that trauma. I can't overstate the importance of that. The show gets so many gold stars with me just for starting there.
And, if I can get a little meta here, part of the trauma for some characters is having to keep that trauma a secret from certain of the other characters. This is an element of supernatural horror that I'm not sure I've seen as directly addressed since the first season of Torchwood (but admittedly I have a lot of TV to catch up on, so take that for what it's worth). There's so much extra pressure on a survivor if the nature of their trauma simply can't be discussed with their usual support network. It's almost as though characters like Will and Joyce and Hopper, upon escaping the Upside Down, came back to a different Rightside Up than the one inhabited by the rest of their friends and neighbors. The world of the people who consciously survived the dimensional incursion is not the same world as the one inhabited by those who only touched it briefly and/or unknowingly. Those two worlds stand in relationship to each other similarly to the relationship between the Upside Down and the Rightside Up--they're barely a breath apart and yet impenetrably separated, and the one is constantly threatening to eat the other up bones and all.
After that, the meta gets a little personal.
So, my major plan for the afternoon was to meet a high school friend for lunch in Covington, then skate the Trace from Covington to Abita Springs, then have a beer at the Abita Brew Pub. These plans were indeed enacted (mine was a Pecan Ale), and were the primary reason my Halloween Night plans pooped out. But those plans also had to absorb Dad's plans, since we only had one vehicle between us and that vehicle was his.
Thus, before we headed across the lake, we stopped to pick up Mom.
I've mentioned this before, but Mom has been on the downward slope of some sort of non-alzheimer dementia for several years now. Well, a few weeks before my visit home, Dad bowed to necessity and moved her into the memory care unit of an assisted living community.
I was already prepared for certain changes, as it's been a full year since my last visit, and I knew the dementia was progressing rapidly. Over the year, her phone conversations with me got briefer and briefer. She used to at least ask how I was doing, ask me if I'm still doing that thing, with the skates, what is it called again? and recite me her New Orleans Pelicans fan version of the Merritt doggerel. But most of this past year she seemed less enthusiastic about talking with me on the phone, even to some extent unsure about what to do on the phone. Dad would hand it to her, she'd say "Hello," I'd ask "how are you?" and she'd say, "Good. OK, let me hand you back to your Daddy." After awhile, Dad didn't try to put her on the phone because she was asleep. She was going to sleep earlier all the time, pretty much as soon as Wheel of Fortune was over.
About a week before I came to town, I heard Dad say to Mom, "Niki's on the phone, you want to talk to Niki?" and I heard her say, "No," and he said, "Do you know who Niki is?" and she said, "No."
I'd prepared myself for that, though. It wasn't a huge blow. I knew it was coming. It wasn't a landmark; the Mom I knew had already gone away long before, and I had already mourned her. What it was, was awkward. I didn't know how to address her when we picked her up at the assisted living community. Dad tells her, "This is Niki, she's your daughter," but it doesn't mean anything to her. So should I still call her Mom, or would that confuse her? Should I call her by her first name instead? Does it matter what I call her, if she doesn't really respond? Like I said, awkward. But I was prepared.
What I wasn't precisely prepared for was how old she looks now. She looks a lot like Grandmama did when we visited her in the nursing home less than ten years ago.
She likes to go for rides in the truck. Dad shows up, immediately she wants to know when we're getting in the truck and going for a drive. She follows Dad around wherever he goes, like a duckling after a mama duck, because she knows he's going to take her for a drive. Also because she just wants to be with him; that's one of the few complete sentences I heard her say: "I just want to be with you. You're so good to me."
At one point, just before we left the memory care unit, Dad remembered he needed to fetch something from Mom's room. He told her to wait with me. I held her hand--and then I had to firmly hold onto her hand to keep her from following him. That was a disconcerting first, having to physically restrain my mother, however gently.
Sometimes she says things that sound perfectly normal. Except "perfectly normal" refers to what became normal over the first few years of her noticeably exhibiting symptoms of dementia. "Normal" has changed; post-dementia Mom is the new normal. Nine times out of ten, when I dream of her, I dream of her like she is now, even in the dreams where I'm back in school and never lived anywhere but my parents' house.
I'm OK. I'm pretty sure Dad's not OK, but he puts a good face on it. He talks to Mom the way he used to talk to the kids at his pediatrics office. This is an improvement, actually, from when he talked to her the way he used to talk to my brother and I when we were young and misbehaving--frustrated and angry with us for making mistakes and expecting us to learn from them. He's very patient now and will gently repeat whatever needs repeating as many times as she needs him to.
There are moments, as we leave the building, after we've said goodbye, when I can see some of Dad's not-OK-ness glaring through. After we brought her back to the assisted living community, and as we were driving out the gate, the radio started playing a song whose main line was, "Take me back to the night we met" or "I wanna go back to the night we met." And I just about lost it, thinking about how Dad must be feeling. This is the woman he loved and wooed and wed and made a home with and raised children with--how very far time has taken her from the night they met. I stared out the window until the danger of tears had passed; I didn't want to set Dad off, or have him feel like he has to comfort me.
I guess the comparison with Stranger Things, 1 or 2, with the nearness yet almost totally separateness of the two different worlds depicted therein--of any two of the different worlds depicted within--is going to be left as an exercise for the reader.
Sorry to end on a downer. Come back to tomorrow's post for roller derby fun and games! Bonus content: a woman in her 40s will struggle to resist being compelled to regress to her teens! Also there will be kimchi! Yayyyy.
too likely to get trapped in a book to get things done today
So... the rest of the week has not been as pleasing. Seems like, I get one gloriously productive and disciplined day, and that's it for the rest of the week. Like, it took the whole week's worth of oomph to produce a day like Tuesday. Or it takes enough oomph that my resilience is significantly weakened for the rest of the week, and small emotional set-backs (which we will not discuss here), and of course the minor blunt-trauma damage incurred on a regular basis via my chosen hobby of roller derby, have disproportionate effects.
It's not so much that I'm whining, or making excuses, or even doing the "poor poor pitiful me" dance. It's more sort of self-observation. I'm collecting data. I am forming hypotheses and floating strategies. Right now, the next strategy to be tested is that of being especially on my guard, on the morning after a very good day, against the impulse to revert to bad habits, as that impulse will be very, very strong.
Anyway, today went entirely to waste, which means another weekend release of a Friday Fictionette. Which will be difficult, considering it's also a bout weekend. But then it's also, theoretically, a writing group weekend, which means dedicated time to write on Sunday afternoon at the very least. So.
I can pin today's wastage on two things.
One: A hard fall tangled up with another skater last night (no real injuries for either of us, thankfully!) resulted in two deep wheel-shaped bruises across my back which make themselves known pretty much every time I change position. Thankfully, I'm not whimpering involuntarily today like I was last night after cessation of activity allowed stiffness to set in. But there was definitely an incentive to spend as much of the day horizontal as possible. The other skater is probably suffering a bit today, too, and she probably didn't have the option to spend extra time horizontal, what with work and all, so, I salute her.
Two: I got past the tipping point in Ada Palmer's Hugo-finalist novel, Too Like the Lightning, and pretty much couldn't put it down all day.
The tipping point was pretty early. I wasn't expecting that. I've read some online discussion of it that amounted to "I'm struggling here. Can anyone give me a reason to continue? Does it start to pull together? Does it start to look like it has a point?" But I can honestly say I do not know what they were complaining about. This book pretty much had me from five chapters in. I could see early on that all the disparate threads were going to be connected, but I couldn't see how, and I couldn't wait to find out.
I suppose the huge cast of characters, some of whom with multiple names depending on who's addressing or referring to them and in what language, might cause some readers difficulty, as might the persona of the narrator and his stilted language. And one of the initial plot hooks--the mystery side of the plot, I guess you could say--turns on a bit of intrigue that was hard for me to understand as intrigue (the whole "seven-ten list" thing), but I treated that as I do any bit of SFF worldbuilding: I kept reading in the certain faith that I'd come to understand with time and pages turned. And ideed, as time went on and pages were turned, I did.
I've also read angry complaints that the book ends with no resolution whatsoever, the story simply cutting off at the last chapter with a note that it will be continued in the book Seven Surrenders. And... yes? That is a thing you get, with book series? That the story is not over when the first book is over? I think the complaints mostly came from readers who assumed it would be a stand-alone novel, and were disappointed when they found out otherwise. Some readers in that category were also in the first category--readers who found the novel difficult to want to continue reading--and they felt their hard effort betrayed. I knew going in that the book was the first of at least two, and I enjoyed reading it, so my reaction was pretty much "I can't wait to read the next book! Is it out yet?"
(It is. And the third book, The Will to Battle, has a release date of December 5 of this year.)
I think I'm more OK with cliffhangers than not, anyway. Robin McKinley's Pegasus took me completely by surprise when it ended on a cliffhanger, which left me anxious for the fate of the protagonists but not in any way angry. I know people who were furious at McKinley over that cliffhanger, and they've only grown more angry as the years pass without the release of a sequel. They resent every blog post she writes and every non-Pegasus-sequel she releases. They feel betrayed, as though the very existence of the book were a promise which the author was failing to fulfill.
Speaking of authors whose fans accuse them of spending too much time blogging and not enough time writing the things they want to read, I recall a friend recommending me George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones series, back when there were only four books released yet, with the explicit caveat that "It's not finished yet, so you may want to wait to start it until it is. I mean, given how long he's taking finishing it, there's always a chance he might die first and then you'd have read the first four books for nothing." For nothing! As though four books of great story are nothing if there isn't a THE END on the last page of the last available volume! This particular example isn't entirely apt, because I have no intention of ever reading that series. By all accounts, is not the sort of thing I like to read. But if it were, I would read it, and I would spend the time waiting for the next book reading other things. And probably rereading the existing books from time to time, if they were a pleasure to read in the first place. (I reread Pegasus about once a year.) And if the next book never came out, that would be sad, but the existing books would remain an overall plus in the world.
Anyway, there is definitely a contingent out there for whom an unfinished story is, or can be depending on the circumstances, a source of intense frustration. I just don't belong to it.
Too Like the Lightning is an intensely ambitious book. That rates highly with me in terms of my Hugo ballot, more so than the question of whether the book succeeds at its ambitious aims. And does it? I'd say... maybe? Sort of? I'm honestly not sure. She's created a far future that models itself off of our past and is in constant conversation with our most revered philosophers; it is at times difficult to follow because of that, and because I'm not by any means a student of those philosophers. But I'm fascinated by the juxtapositions and moved to seek out the books of philosophy that Palmer references. So on that account, it works for me, if only just barely. And certainly the narrator can be an irritating jerk to hang out with, what with his smug asides to the reader ("Do I offend you? Are you surprised? Have you forgotten?") and his dogged insistence on misgendering other characters based on his peculiar and baroque ideas about gendered traits consonant neither with our worst stereotypes, nor those of his contemporaries, nor even with those of the fictional people he imagines reading his tale in his own far future. And of course we know from the start that he's a criminal, whose crimes we must expect will turn out to be much more horrifying than any we can imagine, so we're predisposed not to like him. And yet the problems he faces still make him somewhat relatable--what would we do, in his place? How would we respond? He is capable of acts of love and kindness that should not go unrewarded, and is daily subject to mistreatment which is unjust and ought not to go unpunished. So if one of the author's aims was to create an unreliable narrator who is both guilty of horrific crimes and petty bigotries and is yet more sympathetic than not, I think she's succeeded.
But more important than any of the showy features mentioned above, I think, is the theme which emerges through the course of the book: Is there anything or anyone you value, which you would do anything to save? Really, anything? And what would that mean? This book is not unique in centering around that difficult question, but it approaches it more honestly than many books I've read do. The author seems much less interested in instructing the reader in how to answer that question, and more in exploring how different characters react when the question is put to them. No possible answer is painless, or without sacrifice, and the story arises out of what each character is willing to sacrifice for the preservation of what they hold most dear.
Too Like the Lightning currently holds the top position on my Hugo Award for Best Novel ballot. I haven't finished reading all the finalists, so that may change. But it would take at the very least an equally ambitious book to dislodge it from my personal #1 slot.
the author reflects on her bedtime reading, and also her morning and lunchtime reading
OK, so I only spent part of the day in bed reading. There's something about raising the blinds to discover a slushy spring snow falling all over everything that makes it really tempting not to get up. (I promise I did eventually get up and get some solid work done.)
I'd been having a hard time finding Seanan McGuire's third October Daye book in local bookstores and libraries and had not quite yet resigned myself to ordering it online. Then the Hugo voter packet dropped. The packet has all ten of the novels in it, or, rather, it has a link to NetGalley.com where your credentials as a voting World Con member grant you a free download of them as one big omnibus ebook. (It's a temporary loan, not a gift--the omnibus is "archived" on July 16--but it's still pretty dang generous of the publisher.) So I started right in on An Artificial Night last night.
I really, really want to like these books more than I do. They're compelling page-turners. Their protagonist is someone I actually like spending time with. The worldbuilding is cool, despite being a touch problematic. The stories feature plenty of female characters with agency and diverse backgrounds who are all equally significant whether they're a knight, a noble, a homemaker, or a college student, or whatever. Which is to say, this is not one of those urban fantasies with a Kick-Ass Female Protagonist who exists as an exception to the unchallenged assumption that Women Suck.
And I will freely admit to bawling like a baby at the end of the penultimate chapter. McGuire is very good at building characters such that they become intimately familiar, and you feel you can broadly predict the sort of reactions they might have to any given circumstance--and then she breaks your heart by having them do something completely unexpected and vulnerable.
But certain things that happen constantly throughout the books thus far irritate me. Little things about the writing, little things about the characters. Little things. But little things that recur often enough that the irritation builds up.
OK, like, for instance: I have become resigned to McGuire's tendency to never tell you once what she can tell you again and again, often in the same chapter and sometimes on the same page.
Over the course of An Artificial Night, Toby Daye recaps not once but three times the events of the prologue to Rosemary and Rue. That's three times fully, mind you. Additional shorter summaries are given throughout. Like pretty much every time she's given cause to remember it. Like, she's just been dumped in a pond, so the reader must be explained to, again, why she's got a phobia of being immersed.
Or, frequently, a piece of information given in narration will then be repeated in dialogue on the next page or chapter, such that I'm left wondering why the info needs to be dumped twice. Neither instance was clunky--it wasn't truly an infodump in that sense, nor was the dialogue any kind of maid-and-butler, as-you-know-bob routine. But either would have sufficed, on its own. The repetition makes it feel as though the author doesn't trust the reader to get it on the first pass. (This happens in the 2016 novella and likewise Hugo finalist "Every Heart a Doorway," too. Compare the narrative reveal of Eleanor's true age in the first chapter with the conversation some students have, not long after, discussing the very same thing and in almost the same language.)
Or maybe Toby will just repeat some particular insight a lot, often, frequently, as though the reader needed to be constantly reminded--because how could I remember this from page to page, else?--that it would be very, very bad for that candle to go out. (Yes, I understand that the prospect weighed on Toby's mind. There are better ways to demonstrate that.)
And then sometimes you have something like this:
“Why won’t she wake up?”
“Hell if I know.” The Luidaeg sat on the edge of the bed, nudging Karen in the arm. When this failed to get a response, she nudged again, harder. “She’s really out of it.”
“I know that. Can you tell me why?”
“Not yet,” she said....
Is there any justification for Toby asking the question again immediately after it gets answered the first time? I can't see it. Nor can I see why the famously short-tempered Luidaeg doesn't retort, "What did I just say? What part of 'Hell if I know' don't you understand?" Goodness knows that's what I yelled at the page.
Like I said, little things. Nothing huge. Nothing that makes McGuire a bad writer, not by any stretch of the imagination. But that's just it. She's a good enough writer that small instances of clumsy writing (or, OK, what looks to me like clumsy writing) really jar. I'd be inured to them in a lesser writer, but I don't expect them of her.
Character-wise, it's also little things. Toby Daye being a little too slow on the uptake, given that her "day" job is Private Detective to the Fae. Or, on the other hand, secondary characters taking Toby to task for being slow on the uptake about something which, in the very same conversation, they have already acknowledged she couldn't possibly have known. (That sounds convoluted, but the example I'm thinking of is a spoiler. Sorry.) Toby being told "Go, go now, it's urgent, don't argue, just go," followed by two pages of Toby arguing before she finally just goes. (This happens no less than three times over the course of An Artificial Night. Each time, it feels, not like a natural expression of Toby's distrust and reluctance, but like page-padding, because the characters don't so much argue as repeat themselves nearly word for word for two pages. Which people do in real life, yes, but not everything people do in real life makes for good writing.)
And yet, they really are compelling books. I want to know what happens next. I want more beautiful, tear-jerking moments like the one at the end of the penultimate chapter. I want to learn more about the mysteries hanging over all the major players. I want to know if Toby is ever reunited with her human family. I want to see if Toby's vanished mother ever comes back and turns everyone's world and expectations upside down. So I will read the next book, and the next, and enjoy the heck out of them.
But I will also continue to be irritated by them. I am resigned to this. It is the price of admission. With that in mind, I would like a physical copy of the book which I can harmlessly fling across the bed or against the wall when my irritation levels get too high. That's all.
we pause now for a rave audiobook review
It's Hugo season, and the list of finalists in just about every award category this year is so very promising that I've been using it as a reading assignment in earnest. For reasons that don't need to be listed here (not least because millions of pixels have already been spilled on the subject all over the internet), it's been a few years since I could do that. But there is so very much to read! I'm not sure I'll get through it all.
However, as part of making my best attempt, I've been availing myself liberally of the local bookstores and the library. I had forgotten that you can check out electronic media from the library, not just hard-copy books! Which rediscovery leads to this discovery: Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series is very, very good--and the audiobooks, narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, are even better.
I've been shotgunning these books, just listening to them at every opportunity. It is taking real discipline to stop the playback long enough to get any writing done (but I have been strong!). I'm not sure they're going to take my personal top vote for the Hugo Award for Best Series (a new category in its pilot phase this year), but if there was an award specifically for series in the urban fantasy genre, it wouldn't be a hard decision. They do so much right. The plots don't necessarily go anywhere unexpected for being more or less police procedurals--but the way they get there is a delight. The dry humor of the main character's observations grabbed me from the beginning.The audiobook narrator delivers his lines in ways that make me guffaw and snicker uncontrollably. He also renders each character unique and recognizable and with believable accents from West Africa to midwestern U.S., all the gradations of the British Isles, and in such precise combinations as "Indian by way of Scotland." (Which also gives you an idea of how multicultural and multihued Aaronovitch's London is. The main character has some wry observations along those lines, too, being himself a man who "range[s] from IC3 to IC6 depending on how much sun [he's] been getting.") And that's before we get into the heartbreakingly realistic voicing of a particular secondary character before, after, and through the progress of recovering from a relevant injury.
Speaking of which--the book that follows the one in which said injury occurs, it wrecked me, just punched me in the heart, just by making the aftermath of that trauma an important part of character and relationship development. I guess I'm used to sequels that sort of reset everyone to zero? Like, "Last book found the hero half-dead after the climactic battle, but he's all better now and ready for his next adventure!" And I was unconsciously expecting these books to follow suit? Maybe?
I kind of hate that I have to appreciate this, but--this is an urban fantasy series with a male protagonist who doesn't describe each and every woman he meets by referring to her score on his personal hotness index. It's like women actually matter beyond whether or not he'd like to have sex with them! (Look, I read the first book in the Iron Druid series. THERE IS NO COMPARISON.) It's not like he never refers to women's sex appeal--there's a long-time friend he's had a long-time crush on, and there are river goddesses who exude sexuality as part of their glamour, sure. But there's also a woman who comes to the police to report her son missing, compassionately described in terms of her fear and her stoicism and her humanity. There's a woman who's in a position of authority over the main character whom the main character doesn't resent for it. (She's also lesbian. He doesn't resent her for that, either. And he has absolutely no sympathy for anyone who does; in fact, there's a little triumphal glee over the presumed fate of the last person who made disparaging remarks about her sexual orientation.) The female characters who exist for reasons other than the main character's boner greatly outnumber the ones who... are at one time or another described as affecting said boner but nevertheless are also described in many other terms and play a much fuller role.
It seems like it should be a low bar: UF series with male protagonist and which unambiguously portrays women as people with full interior lives and agency. It's amazing how few such series I have encountered. So I really do appreciate this series for that.
I will also forever adore these books for taking some of the tired, grim tropes of detective stories, and infusing them with humanity and hope. Like, the main character's parents, and all their dysfunction, aren't just a voiceless part of his backstory. They turn into actual characters with surprising roles to play. Their status isn't fixed. His father isn't just a cautionary tale about how a drug addiction can tank a promising musical career. Dad shows up in the novels, talking about jazz and making new friends and--well, I don't want to spoil anything, but THERE IS HOPE FOR HIM, OK? This warms my heart. And the main character's mom is simultaneously THE BEST and also deeply frightening. I mean, I would read a whole series about her but I'm glad she's not my mom, you know?
Speaking of jazz: The musical interlude that begins each chapter is perfect. Makes me want to revisit my original ambition to write a few bars of my own to bookend the Friday Fictionette audio releases with.
I guess what I'm saying is you should totally get your hands, or your listening device of choice, on these audiobooks. I've been checking them out from the Boulder Public Library via either Overdrive or Hoopla as available. I will probably wind up buying my own copies to keep. Also the hard copy. And I will reread them to bits.
But I won't get to reread them even once until I've finished the rest of my Hugo Award reading.
this fictionette missed its usual bus out of the garden of eden
- 1,120 words (if poetry, lines) long
Ahoy, I got yer Friday Fictionette right here. The one I was supposed to have out on the 14th. It's called "In the Infinite Shadows of Eden" and it's the inevitable Adam-and-Eve pastiche. Don't most writers eventually write one? (Please don't tell me otherwise.) Mine features a reluctant Eve and a mission-driven Adam. It also includes a brief but significant cameo by Lilith. (Subscriber links: ebook | audiobook)
Today went to plan in that, hey look, the overdue Fictionette has arrived, and I got to have dinner-anna-movie with John. Not one or the other! Both. Today did not go to plan, however, in that I missed my usual bus to Longmont (bad), ran into an old friend at a cafe (good), very much did not enjoy the movie (bad), and wound up ranting with John about how bad the movie was and how good it could have been (fun).
(The movie was Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. I expected a mediocre book adaptation mitigated by that fantastic Burtonesque surreality to which I had been accustomed since a childhood viewing of Beetlejuice. I honestly did not expect an all-around painfully bad movie that failed on every single point you might name. I want to reread the books now. They were better. You say, "Of course the books were better," but frankly, as books go, they weren't particularly stunning. Still, they were better.)
Tomorrow involves no appointments and no buses. No doctor's offices. No work being done on the car. Just me, here at home, doing the writing thing. Just that until go-time for Tuesday roller derby practice. A NORMAL TUESDAY, Y'ALL. *hugs the normal* I expect good things.
advice to alternate universe me
Note to self: Do not begin Frances Hardinge's Cuckoo Song as bedtime reading because you WILL NOT be able to put the book down (it was almost every bit as good as advertised) unfinished, and a night of only four hours of sleep is not conducive to getting anything productive done the next morning.
Possibly this is a note to an alternate universe version of myself for whom the advice does not yet come too late.
It really was a very good book.
scaling Mt. Overdue while appreciating the scenery
- 1,046 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 978 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 100 words (if poetry, lines) long
As promised, the Friday Fictionette report. First off, it's a new month, which means not just a new Seal o' Piracy (see previous blog post) but also a new Fictionette Freebie. The freebie for May is "A Week in the Life of a Simple Houseplant" (that's the PDF; download the audio here). I have only just now released it, I'm afraid.
I have also only just now this morning released the Friday Fictionette for the first week of June, "Father Frank's Peaceable Kingdom," which slots in somewhere between the world with Spreading Sentience Syndrome and the world of "Priesthood Has Its Privileges." It's kind of a fairy tale (things must happen three times; Goldilocks must find things Too Big and then Too Small before she encounters Just Right) and it's kind of a satire and, if you read the full text, you might note that it is firmly ignoring the semi-recent changes to the Catholic liturgy. Author's privilege. Nyah.
Fictionette Artifacts for May will be produced and mailed over the first half of this week. Next week. Whatever you call the week that starts with the Monday that's two days from now.
Last week (the week beginning with the Monday that was five days ago) wasn't exactly great for me, I'm afraid. A lot of nothing got done, which means I'm now, and have been for some time, in catch-up mode. But not scrambling catch-up mode, if that makes sense. If I think about it as a week of being not lazy, not hopeless, but rather mildly ill, then it follows that I shouldn't punish myself over having been unproductive or getting things done late. Nor does it make sense to expect myself to get all the overdue things done now now now. Oddly, as a result, I am getting the overdue stuff done about as quickly as when I scramble, but there's a lot less stress and self-loathing involved. Funny how that works.
In other news, or at least other thoughts...
I have just finished rereading the Welcome to Night Vale book, which is gorgeous and funny and gorgeous. If you already like the podcast, you will undoubtedly like the book. I do, and I expected I would, and I did. If you don't care for the podcast, you might still like the book, depending on why you don't like the podcast. The book is not in Cecil's voice nor from Cecil's point of view--Cecil isn't even an active character in the book, just an intermittent voice in the background commenting on the goings-on. He's just a voice on the radio, about which the other characters think, and not always in complimentary terms. So if you're not fond of listening to Cecil on the podcast, you might still like the book.
But if you're really not fond of the sense of the absurd that is the main stand-out feature of the podcast, then you probably won't like the book. If anything, the weirdness is even more front and center, as the narrator of the book isn't constrained, as Cecil is constrained on the podcast, by the fiction of talking to an audience of Night Vale residents who presumably already know about hot milk drawers, the process for pawning an item, or why a cell phone might occasionally cause you to bleed, and thus don't need a radio show host telling them about it.
It's a book about time, and how time is weird. But it's also a book about motherhood, with its anguished uncertainties and its hopeless yearnings and its joys. It's about families, and memories, and growing up. It's about taking responsibility. (All of these are, really, subcategories under the larger heading "Time is weird.") The book quietly blossoms into poetic observations about love and life and loss and the human condition which can just sucker-punch you right in the feels. Like...
Yesterday, she had called the Sheriff's Secret Police and reported her car and her son missing. When asked for a description of the car, she described colors and shapes. This matched the police's understanding of what a missing burgundy Ford hatchback looked like. When asked for a description of Josh, she cried. That matched their understanding of what a missing teenage son looks like.
That was when I had to set the book down and sort of stare at the wall for a few seconds. The wall was unaccountably blurry.
Another thing about the book is, it ends gloriously. Just the most beautiful last two pages, and the most upliftingly gorgeous last line ever.
So. I'm not going to tell you you should read it, but I'm going to quietly sit here and think that you really, really should read it.
there is a sound of electric feedback and footsteps walking across a darken
- 1,085 words (if poetry, lines) long
[insert tapping noise and cliched quip about microphone testing here]
Er. Hi. So... writing! How about it? I hear this blog is supposed to be all about actually doing that thing.
Haven't touched the new short story in some time. It keeps falling off the back of the priority list while Other Things take over. I've been thinking about it, though--and while they say (and they say true) that "thinking about writing isn't writing," thinking can help prepare the way for the writing. Hopefully when I finally get to finishing the draft (this week! Maybe?) some of that thinking will show up on the page.
I did get last week's Friday Fictionette out on time, more or less. It's called "How Fetches Become Real" and it's sort of like the first act of The Unlikely Ones (Mary Brown) meets the last act of The Velveteen Rabbit (Margery Williams). So that's fine. What I'm embarrassed about is how late I am at getting the Fictionette Artifacts ("fictionettes in your mailbox, typewritten and illustrated by me!") into the mail. This is something that matters to exactly two people in the world so far; to them, my apologies. Tomorrow! The mail will go out... tomorrow, betcher bottom dollar that tomorrow... there'll be mail... *ahem*
So, with very little to report on the writing front, how about a book review? Semi-review? A book report, maybe? I just finished reading T. Kingfisher's The Raven and the Reindeer. In fact, I've been on a bit of a T. Kingfisher binge, because why haven't I read everything by her yet? Well, get on that! So I am. It is now my absolute favorite retelling of "The Snow Queen," and it had Kelly Link's "Travels with the Snow Queen" ("Ladies. Has it ever occurred to you that fairy tales are hard on the feet?") to contend with for that title. So very much is right about it. From the start, Gerta is introduced as a young girl with a crush on her oldest friend, with all the uncertainties and squirming insides and embarrassment and worry that comes with. Not to mention that naive blindness to Kay's faults, the willingness to explain away the ways he's careless with her feelings because he is everything she always wanted and without wanting him who would she be? My heart went out to her and stayed with her the whole way through.
Kingfisher's treatment of the robber girl, here named Janna, was superb. I can't get over how much depth and complexity she's given. Plus she and the protagonist are my OTP, y'all, I have shipped them in my little fannish heart forever, and here Kingfisher has put their romance right on the page, growing from tiny seeds of discovery into an engine of courage that drives both characters to suffer any hardship necessary out of love for each other. (Speaking of which--there is no nonsense on these pages about Gerta's greatest strength being her "purity" and "innocent heart", thank you very much Hans Christian Andersen. What a burden of expectation to put on a child! Kingfisher's Gerta is no angelic paragon, thank goodness. She's a teenage girl full of emotions and insecurities and desires, some of which desires are unashamedly sexual.
Gerta's journey has the explicit purpose of rescuing Kay, but that's not the most important thing it accomplishes. Gerta's journey is about Gerta growing up and discovering who she might choose to be.
And then there's the titular raven and reindeer, and what the latter gives to Gerta, and lessons learned about death and life, and there's a whole troupe of otters who are utterly adorable, and and and everything is fantastic. And I was having a tough day, the day I finished reading it, and the book made me cry happy tears at the end, which is always a good remedy for a day that involved crying not-happy tears. It sort of transmutes the weepiness into beauty, detaches the tears from the hurtful experience and reattaches them to a transcendently enjoyable one.
TL;DR: I really liked this book and heartily recommend it.