Nov. 17th, 2010 02:31 pm
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I should have known better.

I actually did know better, but thought I might be wrong.

I make it a general rule to avoid books where one of the cover blurbs says "[book name] is unlike any novel you have ever read." and I can immediately think of at least two refutations of the statement. This time, however, I had enjoyed other works by the author, and I know authors don't get to control what goes on the cover, so I decided to give it a shot anyway. *sigh* again.

I'm going to keep trying, maybe the author will find the voice I remember from his other works a little further in, but it's not looking too good. I should have followed my rule, I made it for a reason. When I find that statement to be so immediately contradicted by my experience, the uniqueness is usually that it is uniquely bad.
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I picked up The Darker Mask from the library a couple of days ago, and I'm starting to be sorry I did. From the cover blurb this book is: "a collection of original prose stories offering new interpretations of the beings we call superheroes." except so far only the first of the four stories I've read has qualified. Of the others, one was a straight up sci-fi tale with the protagonist utilizing the same technology as the antagonists, one was a decently well written but rather predictable ghost story, and two involved divine avatars. Which isn't to say that an avatar or a witch couldn't be a superhero, but you'd have to handle them differently than these authors did. One doesn't generally consider Zelazny's Lord of Light to be a superhero story even though the characters could fit right in with the marvel or DC universes.

Furthermore, in all five stories so far the underlying theme is that there are a lot of evil people out there and the solution is killing. Lots of killing. Admittedly, I was kind of expecting this but I was hoping that at least one of them would take the time have the "hero" oppose something other than EVIL!!!!!

Oh well, I'll keep trying for at least a few more stories, there are a couple of titles that intrigued me. But I hope the rest of the book doesn't continue the trend of 40% of the stories being simply badly written.
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I just finished re-reading the novel Soon I Will Be Invincible! I picked it up again because I couldn't remember what it was specifically that had set me off about it the first time. Now I remember.

The book kept wanting to have a point, kept reaching and straining towards saying something about the nature of power or why some people become heroes and others become villains. The closer it got, however, the more it kept shying away as if it was afraid that any revelation was actually booby-trapped to send 20,000 volts coursing through it's body if the book ever reached out ad actually touched it. In the end, all I'm left with for take away lessons is that magic trumps science and that superheroes/villains don't change. Any appearance of them doing so is merely a temporary thing, an illusion or scheme, or ret-conned into being backstory. In other words, it's a static/episodic universe where everything has to reset to the status quo at the end of the story.

What bugs me about the book isn't that it's bad, but rather that it's close enough to good that I can see the story that it missed out on being. Instead of being an interesting super hero novel, it's merely an average comicbook without the pictures.

(hopefully I didn't write the same thing here last time I read this book)
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Okay, that's an interesting reversal of standard trends. I just read a book where the cover art seems like it was drawn from an actual reading of the book (or at least a section of it) while the blurb on the cover flap seems like it was jotted down on a napkin in a noisy restaurant based on information overheard from a conversation two tables away. Yeah, I know that those blurbs rarely do a good job of describing the contents of the book, but this one contained references to events and entities that were not present and where unlikely to have ever been present in an previous draft, outline, or summary. It honestly bears about the same relation to the novel that the movie Starship Troopers has to Heinlein's book.
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The problem with writing heavily speculative fiction is apparently keeping track of the implications of the capabilities you give your characters. Especially, as in the case of a book I'm reading right now, if they include something like the magical ability to tell truth from lies. How can the main characters friends be unable to protect him from charges of treason if he could just answer the charges under the effects of such a spell? Especially since several of his friends have previously been shown to be fully aware of such spells? They would be even more likely to think of that solution than I am as reader so if an editor removed some exposition as to why that wouldn't work, well I don't think it says anything complimentary about the editor. And if the author forgot about it, either the editor or some proofreader along the line ought to have brought it up.
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And see if we can find out anything interesting from the remains.

The traditional model for a storyteller is for them to dig as deep a hole for their protagonist as they can, and then start throwing whatever comes to had at them to see whether they can climb back up the pile . . . or get buried under it instead. In order to keep their stories from being "shallow" most authors try to dig down to bedrock. Others go even deeper, chipping or even blasting their way down through layers that aren't even visible in the works of those that stop when they hit solid stone. The two questions that this brings to mind are: does this actually improve the books in any way, and how do they decide how deep to go? Actually, there's a third question as well, and its answer probably answers the previous two. How much variation is there in the readers' perceptions of how far down the bedrock is?

A further twist of the metaphor brings us two other categories. Some writers excavate a very precise foundation for some future construction and take on whatever obstructions get in the way of achieving that goal. the things tossed at the hero are specific as well; they are the materials that will eventually be used to build that structure. Others follow the contours of the earth, digging around buried boulders and following seams of softer dirt to see where they go. In these cases what gets thrown down onto the long suffering sap is usually primarily the stuff that had been dug out from there to begin with. Most often, it's a mixture of varying amounts of these two styles. Is it "shallower" to stop at the depth needed and not go any deeper, or to go as deep as you can but not find out what happens when you dig into that chunk of sandstone over there?

Seeing as how the idea here is to try and look at writing in different ways, anybody got any further extensions for the analogy? I suppose we could tack on the old saying about the frogs trying to churn their ways out of buckets, but that thought might have been influenced by a story I read recently where it certainly wasn't milk that was poured in onto the frog.


Oct. 21st, 2008 01:53 pm
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So I was reading a book (and I even finished it because, it was fairly well written) and it just kept pissing me off more and more the further I read. It was a subtle thing, and I didn't really realize what was going on before I was halfway through it, and I kept going because I was sure I was just imagining things. My final analysis is that it was, quietly and subtly, horribly misogynistic. Not one thing that went wrong with the main character's life was unrelated to a woman. We're not talking about Garden of Eden, Fall of Man type stuff here, but no problem in his life couldn't be easily traced to a woman.

What's more, only one of those things wasn't the result of a direct action of that woman, the exception being when his fiancee was killed by a drunk driver. (but we aren't told the driver's gender...) Mostly, it wasn't by intention, but whether or not the women meant it, every single woman in his life that showed up on more than a handful of pages contributed to the "drama." And the happy resolution at the end? It came from the guy deciding to grab what he wanted with both hands and damn the consequences.

For the purposes of this discussion we'll ignore the things that made it almost a romance novel or, if the author had been more descriptive, straight up porn. No mention of the fact that while all the men were straight, few women were, every lesbian was in reality bisexual, and no woman who wasn't in a committed relationship with a man managed to stay true to their partner(s). And there's no reason to bring up the bit that was almost a textbook example of how to set up a poly relationship to end in tears, aside from noting that while the guy was certainly not blameless, a woman initiated the events that lead to the end and another woman brought things crashing down in the end. The fact that the couple was demonstrated time and again to be the One True Way™ to happiness has nothing to do with my thesis. After all, only slightly over half of the married women were willing to content themselves with "wifely" things, which only made them tied (with their husbands) as being the largest bloc of happy people in the story.

Ah, that feels better. Ranting can sometimes really help put a minor niggling annoyance to rest. I no longer feel the need to mention how much of a Mary Sue the main character is and thereby speculate on what the author might have gone through. Sorry, I really am done now.
And what was up with "the one perfect woman" getting killed in chapter two, leaving him prey to all these, by definition lesser, females? Did the author really not have a story if the main character's home life was a happy one?
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I kind of wish I had never done out the math for how much matter would be required for an earth orbit ringworld. I also wish that, having discovered that the unit with which to most meaningfully expresses that number is the Stellar Mass, I had stopped there and not continued on to calculate a minimal space station-like ring in the bio-zone of a red dwarf. (one tenth the diameter) Having done so, I have been stuck noticing the absurdity of any astronomical scale constructions I have encountered in stories since. The Death Star is fine, even planetary sized constructs don't require more matter than could be supplied by a terrestrial planet or two. But if there is any dimension that is measured in astronomical units (even fractions thereof) there better be some god-level tech going on.

I mean, best case here, we're talking about harvesting something like Jupiter for material and transmuting all that hydrogen into the elements needed. For many of these projects you'd probably be better off skipping planets entirely and going to a star much larger than you want the final result to orbit. Then you just skim your material of of the star while regulating it down the size you want. (abilities you probably ought to have before you even consider building something like a Dyson sphere)

Sorry, this complaint brought to you by a hard sci-fi author who tossed an abandoned (and by a current race too, not some all powerful ancient race) half AU cyclotron near the end of a book I had previously been doing a good job of suspending disbelief through.

On an unrelated note: Mogwai makes a nice addition to my Pandora station of "instrumentals with modern instrumentation"


Jul. 27th, 2008 07:42 pm
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I hate coming across glaring editorial failures while I'm reading, in part because I can't help but think of how the author must feel/have felt upon discovering the mistake. In this particular case, it was a scene roughly a page and a half long that was supposed to be moved from the end of one chapter to the beginning of the chapter after the next. Instead it got duplicated, resulting in there being quite a few more dead bandits to dispose of than really makes sense. I could tell from the level of polishing which instance was the intended version, and which had crept in from an earlier draft, but it was still jarring. And a pointed example of why, as you goes through the many revisions of a story, you need to keep getting new people to test it on who don't already know how the story is supposed to go.
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By way of [livejournal.com profile] rolanni

"The Big Read reckons that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books they've printed."
1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you LOVE.
4) Reprint this list in your own LJ so we can try and track down these people who've read 6 and force books upon them ;-)

What an odd list )

What? Frank Herbert but not Heinlein, Clarke, or Asimov? George Orwell but not Ray Bradbury? No H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, Rudyard Kipling, or Madeleine L'Engle? And how did Douglas Adams make this list when so many others failed? And further back, where's Paradise Lost, One Thousand and One Nights, or Beowulf?

I wonder what criteria went into this "top 100" list, I can't seem to find anything about it on The Big Read's website.
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I think too much, and sometimes it spoils my fun. I've spent the last few days with my nose in a series of books, and they weren't exactly bad, but... By the time I was done with book two I had a prediction as to the plot of the third, and by halfway through the third I had gone from generalities to a detailed outline of the rest. I wasn't 100% on my predictions, but I didn't miss anything major.

I still enjoyed reading them, but it was like cotton candy or popcorn. All air and flavor and very little to stick with you when you're done. Just to make sure I'm not misunderstood, I'm not talking about a lack of plot twists here. The simplest, most basic of plots would work just as well as long as I'm engrossed enough in the story that I don't bother predicting. And by now there are very few twist I wouldn't have either read or seen before, so to confound me if my attention has wandered enough to be looking would require a lack of foreshadowing that would make it a bad book.

Interestingly, I was pointed in the direction of this series by a positive comment about it from an author whose works do achieve the requisite level of immersion in me. A comment, I should add, on their personal webpage, not a cover blurb. One mans trash, I guess, and all that.
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Although that is no longer surprising, now that I've visited www.luna-books.com and found out that it is a division of Harlequin. I have read one and a half of Mercedes Lackey's A Tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms books, and while they are decidedly not her best work, there is still quite a distance between them and bad. Even if they were bad, however, that wouldn't be the imprint's fault, it would be Lackey's. No, the problem I have with them is the cover flap descriptions. I know full well how bad those normally are, but these are worse than usual. In both cases, not only did they not describe the book well, but they made the works sound derivative. The blurb to One Good Knight made it sound like it was a cheap knock-off of Patricia C. Wrede's Talking To Dragons for example. Admittedly, I would have compared the two of them together in my mind, because they are set in similar worlds, but they're not that similar.

And beyond all that, I just found that the description of the one I'm currently reading is flat out wrong. About a detail of the sort an author would have had no reason to change from initial pitch to final draft, so the cover people don't even have the excuse of working from outdated materials. It's as if they were told the story they were going to write a description of one night in a location where they couldn't take any notes, possibly a bar, and then the next day they wrote it based on what they remembered, jumbled up with any similar books they'd read. The description of this one, by the way, reminds me some what of Diane Wynne Jones' Castle in the Air, although it's not shaping up very much like it.

Just wanted to let any other Lackey fans out there know that it is best not to read these descriptions at all. If the remain one in the series ever returns to the library, that's the strategy I'm going to follow.


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