Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Book Recommendation: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin

[My computer is going to be out of commission for a couple weeks, so I'm writing a quick review from the library at the university where I work. I'll go back and insert images and links later.]

The strongest part of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the mythology. The gods and the mythos are the center of this story, and all I can say about them is that they're fucking awesome. And they work. Inter-weaving mortals and gods in a story is not something that's easy to pull off effectively. It often leads to gigantic plotholes and/or gaps in logic, or somehow manages to come across as not believable. (See my review of Incarnate.) But Jemisin pulls it off. Not perfectly--not all the gods and goddesses were as well-developed as others--but overall, she pulls it off.

The writing style is colorful and clever, Yeine is a great protagonist, and what little worldbuilding we see is very cool. I do wish we had gotten to see more of the world beyond Sky and glimpses of Darr, but overall, I was very satisfied with this book.

ETA: I marked this book as New Adult. Why? YMMV on whether or not it deal with NA issues, but the character is a bit younger than twenty, and the sexual content would appeal to a lot of NA readers. (I could say more on the subject, but I'm not feelings very eloquent right now.)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Everyman Changes the World!

Have you ever come across an interview where a fantasy author explains that their Chosen One/prodigy hero's journey is a metaphor for how ordinary people can change the world?

This is bullshit. Most people do not have extraordinary levels of talent or intellect. Most people don't have magic powers. Most people don't have a team of other heroes encouraging and nurturing them along their journey.

If you want to show that an ordinary person can change the world, write about an ordinary person.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Zombie bugs

I have zombie bugs in my apartment.

I was writing a few minutes ago, and then noticed some bug with an inch-long body and a ton of legs crawling across my floor. I chased it and smashed it against the side of my couch with a book. Somehow, this resulted in the bug's body sliding to the floor while it's legs were stuck to the couch. AND THE LEGS WERE STILL MOVING! In fact, even a minute later, after I found a tissue and cleaned the body off the floor, the legs were still twitching!

So if you really want to be prepared for the zombie apocalypse, make sure you keep your apartment sealed and spotless.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Another post on why twitter is weird

In real life, there are many possible relationships you could have: close friends, less close friends, acquaintances, peers, colleagues, business associates, customers, fans, people you admire/people who admire you, random strangers. When you have a conversation in the real world, you tailor that conversation to whomever is listening. Audience matters. I wouldn't talk about my personal life or literary aspirations with my colleagues for the same reason I wouldn't try to initiate a conversation about microglia and potassium channels with my little sister.

On twitter, however, all audiences are created equal. The same people who are reading your book advertisements and political rants are also reading your conversations with your friends. And they can jump into that conversation whenever they want. If you're okay with that, then great.

But there are some things you should keep in mind:

-People don't always want to hear all of your conversations.
-People don't want to read EVERY. SINGLE. FIVE. STAR. REVIEW. OF. YOUR. BOOK.
-4square: Nobody needs to know where you are every second of the day. (And the people who do are probably not the ones with whom you want to interact.)

But what if people do want to know all about you and be your friend?
-Do you want to be this person's friend?
-Are you okay with this person joining in on your conversations?
(I will be honest. Sometimes I get a little jealous when I see people being BFFs on Twitter. But then when I do jump in and the original person responds to me, I never know if it's because that person likes what I had to say or if he/she is just being polite.)

Other things to remember:
-It's very easy for people who don't know you to take things you say out of context.
-You will have just as many (if not more) people who stalk you out of hate than people who stalk you out of love/admiration. Anything you say can be used against you.

If you really want to have conversations with your friends, there are a million other ways to do it. (facebook, skype, phone, instant messenger, email, etc) Or you can have separate twitter accounts.

Anyway, I'm not trying to whine or make any accusations in this post, but it is something that I felt was worth saying.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Review of "The Pain Merchants" (aka "The Shifter") and other random things

1. Do you want to know one of my pet peeves? The "one word" trend of YA book titles. Take the title "The Witch Hunter's Bible" -- when I first heard of Michelle Krys' book, I got really excited. Did I know what it was about? No. But that is a fucking cool title, and it made me want to read the book.

However, when the book comes out, it won't be "The Witch Hunter's Bible." It's going to be Hexed. Hexed. "Hexed" is generic, forgettable, and unless it's a best-seller, you'll probably have a hard time finding it with a simple google search. I have no interest in reading a book called "Hexed." Granted, I still haven't gotten around to reading the summary, but right now, it's hard to imagine anything cool and original with such a boring title.

2. One of the books that suffers from this horrible trend  is The Shifter, by Janice Hardy. It wasn't always The Shifter. It used to be The Pain Merchants -- which is an awesome title that piques your curiosity. As in, how exactly can one be a merchant of pain? Well, I guess I'll find out if I read this book. (Though this is a middle grade book, and I guess "The Pain Merchants" isn't a very kid-friendly title.)

In the UK, this book still has its original title. So I bought that version. (Because fuck yeah, pain merchants!)

I don't read a lot of middle grade, so The Pain Merchants was a bit of an adjustment in some ways. (The style was more direct than I'm used to, and I would have liked the socio-political stuff to be a bit more complex.) But otherwise, I enjoyed this book. The plot was fun, and the characters likeable, though I would have liked to see more distinctive personalities.

But this book's real strength is the way it handles moral ambiguity. Nya is constantly questioning the decisions and sacrifices she makes, and there's just enough introspection that it's effective without being overbearing. I liked it enough to pick up the sequel, and I would gladly give this book to my niece.

3. I mentioned "other random things" in the title, so here is another random thing: Today, someone on Twitter (not someone I follow, but a re-tweet) said she was looking for New Adult books with witches. So I recommended a couple witch-like titles. Then I looked at the other responses and realized that she wasn't just a random person looking for book recommendations. She was an editor calling for submissions! *headdesk*

Moral of the story, don't tweet unless you know who's the person at the other end.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Hate Cersei all you want, but make sure it's for the right reasons

**Spoilers for A Song of Ice and Fire books 1-4**

I recently finished A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in A Song of Ice and Fire (aka Game of Thrones). I have to admit that I found it disappointing. First of all, it only featured half of the cast, and two of my favorite characters were nowhere to be seen. Second, was the fact that it was more of a reaction to the events of Book 3 than an independent story of it's own. As a result, I was fairly bored. And third--well, Cersei.

Out of all the characters in the series, Cersei is probably the one who receives the most hate (other than Joffrey, of course). Ned Stark hates her, King Robert hates her, Tyrion hates her, and by the end of Book Four, even Jaime hates her. I'm sure most readers hate her, too. Hell, I would be lying if I said I didn't hate her.

But let's look at some of the reasons as to why everyone hates Cersei:

1. Cunning, selfish, manipulative, power hungry.

2. She killed Lady.

3. She hates Tyrion.

4. Incestuous.

5. Sleeps with people to get what she wants.

6. Had her husband killed.

7. Her entire campaign to take down Margaery Tyrell.

So why do I hate Cersei? I hate her because, as a queen, she cares far more about maintaining her power than she does about taking care of the realm (and because she killed Lady). But you know what? Robert was a shitty king, too. He was a useless leader, a drunkard, and a coward in any situation that didn't involve violence. He plotted to have a thirteen-year-old girl murdered, and he raped and beat his wife repeatedly over the course of their marriage. And yet, Robert doesn't seem to get nearly as much hate as Cersei. Why is that, exactly?

Now let's talk about the sex thing. Cersei cheated on her husband with her twin brother, and then went on to cheat on Jaime with half the knights in the realm. This was essentially what caused her downfall in the end--which shows the hypocrisy in Westeros' society. It was common knowledge that Robert fucked half the whores in the city, but if a woman like Cersei got caught sleeping around? That would mean her death. If the people living in that culture are raised with that mentality, then it's hard to criticize them for their double standard. But I would hope that modern readers would see things on more equal ground. Cersei slept with her husband out of duty (read: he would get drunk and rape her), with her brother out of love (squicky, yes, but mostly harmless), and with everyone else for strategic purposes.

Devil's Advocate: But isn't 'sleeping with people to get them to do unsavory things' kind of an evil thing to do?

Me: Cersei's sexuality is one of the few assets she has available to her in order to get certain things done. I'm not going to blame her for using that. I would sleep with my cousin too if that were the only way to prevent my abusive husband from having me and my children killed.

Devil's Advocate: But Dany doesn't have to sleep with people to get them to do what she wants.

Me: Dany has dragons.

The whole world of A Song of Ice and Fire runs on a black-and-gray morality. It's almost impossible to find characters in this series who don't do horrible things, and the ones who do reach this moral standard tend to die pretty quickly (see Ned Stark, Catelyn, most likely Brienne). Most readers understand this, and it's sometimes shocking to see what they're willing to forgive. Look at Tyrion and Jaime. Both are considered BAMFs, even though Jaime pushed a seven-year-old out of a tower and Tyrion had a man murdered out of jealousy. So if you're willing to forgive those actions (I still want Tyrion's babies) then think about why you hate Cersei so much.

I'm not saying you shouldn't hate her--just make sure you're holding her to the same standards as everyone else.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Making fights believable

A couple weeks ago, I was re-writing an encounter scene between two characters. In the original version of the scene, the encounter held an element of surprise, and thus ended with a panic and a fight. However, in the new version, most of that surprise was gone. As a result, the argument that progressed wasn't so much an argument as it was a negotiation between two cunning and rational characters. As a result, these characters came up with a mutually beneficial solution that allowed them to avoid a fight.

In real life, that would have been the ideal course of action--smooth, rational, nonviolent. But that "ideal course of action" wouldn't have advanced my plot. I needed that fight.

So I went back to the original scene--the one with the element of surprise. Why? Because the fight wouldn't have happened otherwise. Like I said earlier, these two characters are usually not hot-blooded and impulsive. Both of them fight more successfully with words and deceit than with fists and weapons. In order to make these characters descend into violence, I had to put them in the right situation. I had to take away their sense of control and drop them into desperate situations.

This is why it's important to understand your characters--fights are good, but only when they're believable. Sure, some people are naturally hot-blooded and will fight at the slightest provocation, but if your character isn't one of those people, then there needs to be sufficient justification for his or her sudden change of behavior. It doesn't matter how exciting that fight is if your readers find it completely implausible. Remember, you want your readers to be emotionally in-tune with your characters--and if your readers don't relate to that feeling of anger, panic, and/or desperation, then they're going to watch that fight thinking "Wow, why is this character such a fucking moron?"

So that's your writing PSA for the day (Er, week? Month? It's been a while since my last post...) Make your fights believable.
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