Monday, September 5, 2011

A book that epitomizes me as a reader...

I took this phrase from Maggie Stiefvater's blog. It's an odd phrase, and you wouldn't think there'd be a concrete answer. Just because I like a book, doesn't mean it "epitomizes" me in any way.

Still, I can think of two books (well, series, actually) that do, in many ways, epitomize me as both a reader and a writer. Both series, unsurprisingly, are favorites of mine.

I won't bother summarizing the books, since you can easily look them up on Amazon or Goodreads, but I can talk about why I love them and why aspects of them relate to my own writing. Note: All spoilers are hidden.

Otherland quartet, by Tad Williams

-Usually, when I read a book, I find it hard to care about the plot. I can usually assume that the good guys are going to be successful, so no matter how high the stakes, it's sometimes difficult to relate to their struggles. An exception is when I have no idea how the hell they can manage a victory. Otherland is like that. Not only are the protagonists facing insanely powerful enemies, but they're trapped in a virtual reality world where they don't even know what Point A and Point B are, let alone how to get from one to the other.

-The characters are wonderful. Everyone always bitches about how we need more strong female protagonists who aren't Mary Sues. What I love about Renie is that her strength doesn't come from being a kick-ass warrior, super-genius, or powerful magician; it comes from her character. She's strong-minded, determined, and independent. What I also love about these books is that in addition to Renie, there is a huge cast of important secondary characters, and Tad Williams develops all of them. He uses multiple points of view, and even those characters whose points of view we don't see are given a personality and a history. This is something that is very important to me, especially in my own writing, because a story doesn't just belong to the protagonist; it belongs to everyone involved.

-The world-building is incredible. And I'm not just referring to the VR world. Williams uses slang, technology, net references, and press releases to flesh out his futuristic world. The world also has a very global feel. The characters come from several cultural backgrounds, with different races, ethnicities, ages, religions, and sexual orientations. All of them are treated very respectfully, and they rarely feel like tokens or stereotypes. (Ideally, Inter-World in my novel would have this global feel, but seeing as the story mostly takes place in Takira and North America, it's difficult to emulate this.)

-The novel often feels like it's parodying common fantasy tropes. For instance, Renie's group of VR companions feels like a weirder version of the LotR Fellowship. Instead of a group of diverse species (hobbits, humans, an elf, a dwarf, and a wizard), you get a group of diverse misfits (humans, WoW characters, a baboon, a Goggle-boy, and a goth-clown). Another example is the "wise man who doles out vague advice." Kunohara fits this trope, but it's subverted/lampshaded in that he has a very good reason for keeping his advice ambiguous. What I really like about this is that the story makes fun of these tropes without being obvious or over-the-head about it. (Actually, I don't even know if Williams meant to do it.) The humor in parodies often takes away from my ability to relate to the characters or care about the plot, but these aspects of the story are actually very subtle.

-The books are long. I tend to write very long, so I can appreciate this. Sometimes they are difficult to get through (parts of the first and especially the fourth book), but for the most part, I felt the length was appropriate.

The books aren't perfect. The first book took me a long time to get through, often because the secondary character bits were confusing, and the fourth book was too long and repetitive. I felt like a lot of the revelations at the end were too sudden, (and some were irrelevant), and the ending was too happy and perfect for my liking.

Still, I would definitely recommend Otherland to anyone with the patience to get through a long book.


This post is long, so I will write about the other series later.

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