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5 posts from December 2010

December 31, 2010

E-existential Question of the Last Day of the Year

Why do I blog?

December 30, 2010

Reading Update: The Dust of 100 Dogs

A.S. King The Dust of 100 Dogs

Okay, first of all, great title!

Second of all, great concept! This is one of those rare books that is conceptually a complete original, owing to its mishmash of ideas, that all somehow work together. They barely work together, but if a miss is as good as a mile, a bare catch at the tip of your mitt is as good as a solid thunk in the pocket. It barely holds together, but it does, and that makes it a terrific read.

Emer Morrissey is a 17th century woman pirate captain attacking Spanish ships in the Caribbean. A survivor of Cromwell's Irish campaign, she was sold as a wife to an old man in Paris, ran away, and made her way to the new world and into her new role. It's complicated.

Just as she was about to escape it all with treasure and the love of her life, an old enemy gets to her. Everyone kills each other, but before she dies, she is cursed to live the life of 100 dogs. She does just that, spending three centuries in full awareness of who she is, yet living in the "consciousness" of one dog after another. Finally, the curse ends, and she is reborn, again with full memories of her old lives, as a suburban kid in seventies and eighties Pennsylvania.

But a suburban kid don't have it easy, either. Her father is a Vietnam vet with PTSD. Her mother, also Irish, survived abuse from nuns in an orphanage, and is functionally illiterate. And her older brother has just slipped from teenage rebellion into serious drug addiction. All she wants is to return to Jamaica and find her buried treasure, but that doesn't turn out to be that easy, either.

Honestly, the book shouldn't really have the impact it does. It's silly, unrealistic. The parts of history the author doesn't seem to know are rendered foggily in the book. The amount of rape and torture a beautiful and unprotected teenaged girl would suffer in the situations she finds herself in would probably defy description, yet she doesn't suffer them. And she's somehow a superhero when it comes to killing, with no training whatsoever. Also? The dogs thing? Very underplayed, often completely forgotten. Doesn't play a very big part in moving the plot forward.

Like I said, it barely holds together, but it does hold together, and is one of the most energetic, fun and interesting reads I've had this year. I don't recommend it for YA, necessarily. It's a bit gruesome. But I do recommend it.

December 28, 2010

Reading Update: A Waste of Time

James Dashner The Maze Runner

One of the worst books I've read this year.

Let me qualify that: when I was in eighth grade, I took the bus to a private school on the other side of town. My "bus friend" was a neighbor my age who went to the same school but was a year behind me. We kept each other entertained on the 45-minute ride by playing storyteller and audience. She was the storyteller and I was the audience. I wasn't allowed to watch TV, you see, and she could watch whatever she wanted. So she'd retell the stories of TV shows she'd seen, and I'd listen avidly. (Please note, this was, probably not coincidentally, the year I finally started to make friends, although the stink of book-reading nerd didn't come off for a while after that.)

Our favorite series was Voyagers!, a time travel show with a womanizing time travel dude and his boy sidekick, that only lasted one season. My friend and I developed a sort of storytelling ritual, much like the ritual of watching a TV show, with its snacks, and its commercials, and its cold opens. But ours was much more interactive. For example, whenever the dude met his love interest for that episode, she'd look at me, say, "and ..." and we'd both clap our hands and shout, "Chemistry!" It was a lot of fun.

She was a better storyteller than most seventh graders, but let's not fool ourselves: it was nowhere near as good as actually getting to watch the shows she described. But a) it was better than nothing, and b) it was a way for us to interact. We felt like very good friends, but when we started trying to invite each other over for dinner or sleepovers, the friendship didn't turn out to work so well. We were bus friends only, storytelling friends only.

This is what the experience of reading The Maze Runner was like: it wasn't as good a reading a good book, but it was a) better than nothing, and b) a way for me to interact with the newest YA dystopia trend while waiting for something better to come along.

The story is mostly okay, although it doesn't end up making a lot of sense. And the fact the story isn't over yet (it's a trilogy) can't account for all of it. It was suspenseful enough to keep me reading to the end to find out what it was all about, but when I got to the end, I was so bored by the whole thing that I can't be bothered to descri- zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

And the writing is terrible. Here's a sample paragraph:

Thomas cried, wept like he'd never wept before. His great, racking sobs echoed through the chamber like the sounds of tortured pain.

Uh ... aren't great, racking sobs actually the sound of tortured pain, and not just "like" them? Did anyone edit this book? The whole book is written like this. Argh.

Needless to say, I'm not reading the other two.

December 24, 2010

Reading Update: Beasties, Silly Aliens, and Boring Vampires

Scott Westerfeld Behemoth
Pittacus Lore I Am Number Four
Pete Hautman Sweetblood

I am totally loving Scott's Leviathan series, and can't wait for the next one to come out. Yay! Go read it!

I saw a trailer for I Am Number Four and had to go read the book. It's about -- in case you hadn't heard -- a kid from another planet, Lorien, which was attacked and destroyed by the Whatchamacallits (I'm too lazy to look it up.) The Whatchamacallits had their own planet, but used it all up, so they attacked Lorien to extract all their natural resources. They killed everyone except for 18 people: 9 kids and their keepers. The kids are "garde," people with superpowers. Somehow, the kids are going to repopulate the planet or something. And somehow, the Whatchamacallits want to kill them off. (I'm not sure why; it's never explained and makes no logical sense. I mean, if you're a user-upper species and you've used up your own planet to the extent that you need to go use up somebody else's, don't you want those people to go back and make their planet all shiny and new again, so that you can use it up again in a pinch? Anyhoo.

It's compulsive and fun and I'm looking forward to the next one, but ... well, it's kind of ... "contrived" is not the word I'm looking for to describe the wrong note in a science fiction/fantasy YA novel, is it? It felt deliberately constructed to appeal to teens, and the fact that a movie is coming out so soon after the book suggests that it was marketed more than conceived. I mean, it has all the elements that'll appeal to boy readers: a Mary Sue protag with superpowers, a hottie girlfriend, another hottie girl with superpowers, for boys who swing that way, a nerdy best friend who puts the Mary Sue before himself, a cool father figure, and a school bully who is easily tamed. What is missing is any real world-building integrity, any essentail logic in the premise or how it plays out. The bad guys are unremittingly, irrationally bad. And it makes no sense that beings from another planet are capable of breeding with humans, and in fact, look like us. This should have been a fantasy novel, not a -- nominal -- sci fi.

I'll keep reading, for a while, but I'm not going to talk about the, I'm sure, entirely contrived hype around the identity of the author.

Sweetblood sounded like a good read from the blurb. A diabetic girl has theories about vampirism and diabetes, and then meets a creepy guy who might be an actual vampire. Only SPOILER! he's not. He's just a creepy middle aged dude who lures teens to his house with parties and booze, and then hits on the girls. And she doesn't even meet him until halfway through the book. It's reasonably well-written, but it's boring. It's just about a diabetic girl who has trouble controling the diabetes and gets into a little bit of trouble. Then she straightens up and flies right.

It's rather typical thinking, actually: making the disease the bad guy in the story. It's never that simple in real life. Diabetes is a problem, always, especially when you're a teenager and learning how to manage it on your own. But it's never the only problem, and doesn't cause meltdowns like that in isolation. There's always other stuff going on that raises the stress levels and makes the disease harder to control.

Anyway.

December 11, 2010

Reading Update: Comparisons Are Odious, But Fun

Richelle Mead Spirit Bound
Ally Condie Matched
Richelle Mead Last Sacrifice

Ally Condie's first book in a new dystopian series follows a girl in a future "perfect" society, who is matched by computer program to her life partner on her seventeenth (?) birthday. Unusually for them (matches are usually total strangers) he turns out to be her best friend. But when she views his info chip, the face of another friend of hers, an "Aberration," or son of a criminal, flashes on the screen for a moment. This initial moment of confusion leads slowly, and inexorably, to the total breakdown of the protag's understanding of her perfect society. Of course, there's also a love triangle involved.

Matched has been getting a lot of play, and it's a decently conceived and written book. But ... well I think it's a good example of incompletely digested influences or sources. Truly inspired books like The Hunger Games can wear their sources on their sleeves and still have an identity and life of their own; you note the sources in retrospect, not while you're reading. But while I was reading Matched, every time a new layer was peeled away and the perfidy of their perfect society revealed, I was thrown out of the story by its resemblance to its sources.

SPOILERS AHEAD! When the grandfather was scheduled to die, I had to push Logan's Run out of my head. Several times I was annoyingly reminded of Brave New World, mostly in the cheerful attitude the characters had towards their entertainment. The communications monitor in their home gave me a 1984 hit. And several things -- the grandfather's relationship with the protag, the way she thought things through, the general atmosphere of the book -- gave me The Giver deja vu. At least the book has good taste in sources.

The Hunger Games, on the other hand, owes just as big a debt as Matched does to dystopias gone before. And THG's sources are a bit cheesier: every tournament/gladiator/fight-to-the-death genre flick and brick you can think of. And yet, THG, while influenced, seems to arise out of its own necessity: the choices the protag makes are based on her character and circumstances, not stolen from other stories and cobbled together. Matched, on the other hand, feels like a very smooth and expert pastiche, sewn together into a pleasing pattern like a quilt, but with the patches of acquired material still visible.

I don't know the processes of each author, but it's clear which result I prefer. I'm not saying Matched isn't worth reading: it is. It's smoothly done and holds together well, and I might even continue reading the series. But it's not a terribly good book. It's just okay.

Richelle Mead, as was almost inevitable, got very well, even honorably, through the first five books of the Vampire Academy series, and then dropped the ball in the last book. Again, Last Sacrifice isn't bad, but it's not very good, either.

In Spirit Bound SPOILERS! half-vampire guardian Rose gets the love of her life, half-vampire guardian Dmitri, back. He had been turned into an evil vampire, a Strigoi, previously, and Rose's good vampire (Moroi) best friend Lissa had brought him back by staking him with a silver stake, while pushing her spirit magic into him. (Yes, the series is hella complicated.) Spirit Bound was kinda interesting in how we got to see Dmitri push Rose away while he agonized over all the evil he did during his three whole months as an evil vampire.

(Let me just put in a word here about influences and sources. Mead does actually digest her sources pretty well, but they're right on the surface. Rose is a Buffy, and Dmitri is an Angel; no question. But their circumstances fit in so well with the world that Mead built here, that you don't have to notice these things until you're done with each book.)

But the problems all come crashing in in the last book. Mead had created too many characters who needed some sort of resolution. She also put the characters, emotionally, into untenable positions which had to be resolved before the series could end. She'd done a creditable job previously of teasing out emotional processes. Of course, the whole series takes place over the course of a single year, so the number and completeness of the emotional highs and lows throughout are completely unbelievable. However, even though each book covers only a few months, each book is a complete emotional arc, so it works.

The last book, however, gives each character several mini-arcs. For example SPOILER: in the heat of battle Rose finally kills one of the series' bad guys, a Moroi vampire, during a battle in which the much older, and sick, vampire was using his magic against her. She was being influenced by the dark side of spirit magic, but she falls into a five-minute funk in which she blames herself and decides that she's a savage and a monster. Then, literally a few hours later, she has an epiphany and realizes that she's just like Dmitri and that she has to forgive herself while he has to forgive himself. All of this is accomplished via one of the most awkwardly written dialogues in the history of genre trash. Of course, Dmitri, having spent all of a few months being evil, apparently only needed a couple of months to get over the guilt, too. Argh.

The speed with which everything has to be accomplished in the final book also starts to unravel the previous books. Like I said, I accepted the short timeline in the previous books, but when the time began passing waaaay too fast in the final book, it affected my view of what had happened previously. Rose starts to seem shallow, in how quickly she allowed herself to be courted by Adrian after Dmitri was turned. (It took, like, a few weeks. Don't people mourn anymore?)

I could bitch on about it, but I'm losing words and interest. The series' ending was disappointing, and not as good as Mead could've done. That's all.

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