“Aliens enter Writers of the Future, but only earn honorable mentions.”
Greg Beatty

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

too likely to get trapped in a book to get things done today
Sat 2017-05-27 01:59:08 (in context)

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.