Tuesday, October 2, 2012

This book is gonna kill me...

I get really nervous when I want to review a book and feel like the review itself will turn out really negative.  Everyone writes differently.  Everyone enjoys reading slightly different things.  Which is all as it should be.  But 'This Case Is Gonna Kill Me', by Phillipa Bornikova, just fell flat for me, for a number of reasons.

First off, the profanity was just a bit much.  I can already hear people responding with "it's more realistic" or other comments along those lines.  Here's the thing: if profanity doesn't bother you, that's fine.  It bothers me.  Some of my favorite authors have managed to write amazing best-sellers with a minimum of profanity, or even none at all.  Lack of profanity probably almost never loses readers for an author.  But I'm probably not going to check out any future books from this author, for this reason alone.

The two fairly explicit sex scenes, which I honestly wasn't expecting but probably should have, didn't help matters.

The underlying premise itself was interesting enough that I pushed through the book regardless.  I was so hopeful for an amazing twist at the end.  The blurb description of the book practically sets you up for one. Let me explain.

First, the basic setup.  In the world this book inhabits, Vampires, Werewolves, and Alfar (elves/fae essentially), collectively known as The Powers, went public thirty years ago.  It's now a mostly accepted part of daily life that normal humans are not alone in this world.  Our protagonist, Linnet Ellery, is starting her new job at a high-powered 'White-Fang' (i.e. vampire-owned and run) law firm.

Then, we get this little nugget on the book description (emphasis added):

But strange things keep happening to her. In a workplace where some humans will eventually achieve immense power and centuries of extra lifespan, office politics can be vicious beyond belief. After some initial missteps, she finds herself sidelined and assigned to unpromising cases. Then, for no reason she can see, she becomes the target of repeated, apparently random violent attacks, escaping injury each time through increasingly improbable circumstances. However, there’s apparently more to Linnet Ellery than a little old-money human privilege. More than even she knows. And as she comes to understand this, she’s going to shake up the system like you wouldn’t believe…

First off, if your protagonist escapes life-and-death scenarios through 'increasingly improbably' circumstances, I expect there to be a reason for it.  I know I'm not that lucky, and most likely neither is anyone that I know or have ever met.  From a literary standpoint it starts to feel very much like a Deus ex machina: she survives because the plot demands it, not because she has done or learned anything to make it believable.

Then, to say that there is 'more to her than even she knows', I expected some big reveal that she was a previously unknown supernatural being.  But no.  She's just really determined and spunky and smart.  Which are all good characteristics to have, but not what I really expected given the buildup.  It actually made everything in the book feel cheap and disappointing.

And the fact that nothing about 'the system' got anything near 'shaken up' by the end of the book made it worse.  She won her cases, because she's a determined, smart, feisty lawyer.  That is not shaking up the system.

My final annoyance with the book stemmed from the supernatural sexism.  Never thought I'd write that phrase.  The Vampires and Werewolves are a strictly boys-club only.  To the point that even biting, let alone attempt to actually create, a female Vampire/Werewolf, results in a death penalty for the creator as well as the created.  Several conversations bring this up over the course of the book, all of which lead to the characters shrugging and saying something along the lines of 'oh, they must be really old-fashioned'.

With the amount of time spent in the book in those conversations, about an actually potentially interesting twist, that it amounts to absolutely nothing in the book is massively disappointing.  Which pretty much sums up how I felt about the entire book.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

It's almost candy time!

Somehow it has completely escaped my mind that Halloween will soon be upon us. I used to love Halloween as a kid. And as a young adult. It wasn't the candy that I loved the most, at least not once I got past the kid phase. It was a cool bonus, but the thing I love most about it was dressing up in a fun costume. For years I was determined that I was going to be an actor when I grew up, so that kind of makes sense.

Sadly I don't get much enjoyment out of Halloween anymore.

Honestly if I had the means to pull off any of the costume ideas bouncing around in my head right now, I would still love it. Even though I can't imagine anything ever trumping the reactions I got years ago when I wore my Star Trek: The Next Generation uniform/costume to my college classes. Priceless.
Still, I BIG part of me wishes I could put together a good Luke Skywalker-training-on-Dagobah costume, and then get this for my baby boy:

Personally, I think that would be both adorable and awesome.

On a completely separate note, but still hearkening back to my college days, an old college friend went to Chicago a couple of weeks ago to attend Chicon 7 and the Hugo Awards Ceremony.  Imagine my surprise when she posted a picture on Facebook of someone I actually knew: Nancy Fulda.  What are the odds?

OK, three people that share a religion, going to the same college at the same time, that share a mutual interest in writing...I guess the odds aren't that bad.

But the point is that I wasn't aware they knew each other, until very recently.  So just pretend to be surprised along with me.

It turns out that Nancy was one of the Hugo Nominees for the Short Story category.  Wow!

This discovery led to two very profound revelations for me.

First off, I may have to turn in my geek-card for a while, as I have paid almost no attention to the Hugo Awards until now.  All I can say for myself is that I now have a long list of Hugo-nominated books and stories to read.

Second, I decided to poke around and see what Nancy had written.  The story for which she was nominated, Movement, is quite good.  And then I saw a collection of five Halloween-themed short stories she had written available on Amazon, titled Hexes and Haunts.

Since I'm pretty much always looking for something fun to read, I picked it up.  So far I quite enjoy it.  The first story, "Hexes and Tooth Decay" puts an interesting and amusing (if somewhat macabre) spin on a very common concept.  I love it when authors do that.

You should really check out what she's written.  It's well worth your time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Legion, by Brandon Sanderson

Stephen Leeds (AKA "Legion"), has an unusual array of friends and house guests.  For starters, there is J.C. and Tobias.  J.C. is a former marine that has no qualms with using his bedroom for target practice.  Tobias is an elderly gentleman with an affinity for history and who hears the voice of 'Stan', supposedly an astronaut in orbit that feeds him weather updates from satellites he has access to.  There's also Ivy (Stephen's psycologist), Audrey (who can analyze and compare handwriting samples), and Armando (a photography expert that also believes he is the rightful Emperor of Mexico).  Along with a host of others.

The problem is that all of them are essentially figments of Stephen Leeds' mind.  Stephen would like to be normal but, thanks to the skills and abilities of his various hallucinatory friends which he can make use of, has settled for being rich enough to live in a largely empty mansion.  At least that way each of his hallucinations can have their own space.

But there's always someone who hopes to make a name for himself at Stephen's expense.  That's pretty much where this novella starts.  It's a really interesting concept that is executed quite well.  It is an incredibly quick read, at only 18,000 words.  I found myself really wishing it was longer once it is over.

The primary mystery introduced at the beginning of the story (someone hires Stephen to help track down a former employee that has stolen some sensitive equipment) is resolved quite well.  We also learn small details about how his 'abilities' work, and pick up hints along the way that Stephen's mind was not always as coherent and sane as it is now.  Which is saying something.

Due to how the events of the story unfold, combined with Stephen's own past, it's clear that should Brandon Sanderson care to continue Legion's story there is plenty of story left to be told.

I really hope Brandon circles back around to poor Mr. Leeds sooner rather than later.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Partials, by Dan Wells

The Setup
Scientists have managed to create an artificial race of beings, called Partials.  They look human, but are substantially stronger, faster and tougher.  So we sent them to win a war for us, which they did quite handily.  And then we proceeded to treat them like crap, because not only were they essentially war veterans, but also because "they're not really people".  So of course they rebel and nearly wipe out all of humanity.  During the process of that rebellion upwards of 95% of the entire human race drops dead as a result of a deadly virus, called RM.  The Partials practically disappeared, leaving the last remnants of humanity to linger on.  Eleven years later nearly all that is left of the human race has gathered on Long Island, mostly trying just to survive.  And the worst part is that over the last eleven years, every baby that has been born dies within 72 hours from the RM virus.

Humanity's days are numbered.

The Review
The very first paragraph of this book had me hooked for purely emotional reasons.  My wife gave birth to a healthy and beautiful baby boy just a few months ago, and on the very first page I'm imagining a world where he would have died just dies after coming into this world.  It's an incredibly unpleasant thought, which is exactly what makes it great fodder for a story like this.

I've only read one of Dan Wells' other books (I Am Not A Serial Killer), but thus far I have found Dan's writing style to result in an incredibly smooth reading experience.

I honestly only have one problem with the book.  The protagonist, a young medic in training by the name of Kira, has decided that she is going to find a cure for the RM virus.  That's her entire goal through the course of the book.  The way this goal is resolved at the end of the book just feels disappointing.  It's incredibly open-ended, which is understandable given that this is to be the first in a trilogy or series, but in the last fourth of the book Dan drops so many new mysteries into the story (and rather intriguing ones at that), such that leaving the initial storyline thread open felt something between unnecessary and aggravating.

Because at that point in the story, I found the various other mysteries to be a lot more interesting.  I would love to be able to go into the next book (Fragments, due out early next year) feeling like Kira was ready to start tackling these other issues, but instead she's still going to be tied to the exact same motivation that she started the first book with.

All that ranting aside, I really enjoyed this book.  And once the next one comes out, my complaints about Partials will most likely be entirely forgiven.  I just wish it was out already.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Win a cool book!

There's a nice book giveaway 'contest' going on here: http://www.blogginboutbooks.com/2012/07/the-one-where-my-impatience-pays-offfor.html

I have to say, I really like what I have read of Dan Wells' books so far.  "I Am Not A Serial Killer" and "Partials", both very different kinds of books, were also both incredibly fun to read.  Dan's latest book, Hollow City, looks like it will carry on his tradition of writing creepy but incredibly readable books.

Friday, July 6, 2012

I am terrified

I have never considered myself to be very good at coming up with my own ideas.  I wrote Star Wars fan-fiction for years, as well as imagining ridiculous ways to insert a new character into my favorite TV shows that I happened to be PERFECT to play.  (I wanted to be an actor when I was younger.)  But coming up with my own stories to tell, with original characters, conflicts and settings?  That a lot harder.

Eventually I grew out of the 'acting' bug (well...mostly anyways) and for years I have been fantasizing about being a writer.  At first, I was scared that I would only ever really come up with one good idea.  At the time I had an idea for a story that I thought was really good. I was daydreaming about the characters and the conflict quite a bit, imagining how things would play out.  But I never wrote the story.  If I had written it down, I thought, then that was it.  I'd be done.  I would never have another good story idea.

As time has passed, it's become obvious that particular fear is absolutely baseless.  I've had a pretty good number of story ideas during that time.  I would even hazard to say that the more recent ideas are better, or even significantly better, than the early ones.  Funny how that works.

But I still haven't written any of them down as anything more then brief notes or a rough outline.

Because I'm still terrified.

Terrified that I won't be any good.  That no one will like the story, or how I write it.  Or even worse, that no one will even bother reading it.

But these stories keep gnawing at me, wanting to be told.  And honestly I want to tell them.

I have a golden opportunity in the next two weeks.  My wife and kids are going to visit my in-laws for a two weeks, starting tomorrow.  I will miss them terribly, but it means I will also have almost no interruptions during non-working hours in which to write.  A couple of weeks ago I had an idea for a short story that I want to write and submit to Writers of the Future.  Now is the time to write it.

So, for the next two weeks, I'm going to write at least 1,000 words a day (hopefully more on the weekends).  I'm going to get this story written down, and go from there.

It's time to stop being afraid and actually write.

Has anyone else wrestled with this problem?  What keeps you from writing, and how do you overcome it?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Why I probably won't be seeing Brave

Update: I think I should probably lead with this: I have a friend from my college/ballroom dance days that works at Pixar and did a lot of work on Brave.  He is one of the team leads, that focuses on the cloth/clothing that the characters wear.  I actually do want to see the movie to support him and see the kind of stuff he worked on for this movie.  I just have some issues with the story, which obviously has nothing to do with the work he did.  From everything I've seen so far, his work looks phenomenal.

I think I've seen all of Pixar's movies.  Well...except for Cars 2, but that hardly counts.

So, as I was saying, I've seen almost all of Pixar's movies.  By and large I've enjoyed them quite a bit.  The animation quality at Pixar pretty much defines the standard by which all other animation studios are judged.  The story and characters are usually well defined, enjoyable to watch and easy to identify with.

Sadly, I've read the same basic complaint about Brave from several places, most notably here.  At a  high level, the problem is that there isn't a single remotely intelligent male character in the entire movie.  The father/king is more like a bumbling buffoon.  Every success he experiences is either by pure accidental luck or due to the guidance of his wife.  The triplet brothers are obviously there just to add complications to the plot.  And if you've seen the trailers with the scenes from the archery contest it's clear that none of the lords or their sons are meant to be seen as particularly intelligent either.

None of the male characters are actually characters.  At best they're caricatures.  You could almost substitute Homer Simpson of the king and a trio of Bart Simpsons for the triplets and the movie would progress without much of a change.

That's where my complaint gets a bit more specific.  Aside from every male character in the film being an idiot, I'm just tired of seeing fathers constantly portrayed as Homer Simpson clones.  Even when I was a kid Homer was only amusing for a year or two.  I'm not saying fictional fathers should suddenly be portrayed as perfect.  But treating that level of idiocy as the societal norm isn't good.

Then again, that's probably one of the big reasons I hate the various Disney channel kid shows.  Since the target audience is young children, the adults in the show (what few there are) are all idiots.  That still just makes me feel like the people behind the show are taking the easy way out.  There have to be better ways to build the show they want without resorting to that.

Anyways, yes, I acknowledge the fact that the primary characters in this movie are two female characters: the queen and her daughter.  And that is very important.

But I'm tired of movies and TV shows that seem to imply I must be the idiot of the family, just because my kids call me "Dad".