nevanna: ([X-Men] building something better)
Texting with a friend before I left for work yesterday:

Her: "Try not to hit people with books."
Me: "But books make such wonderful weapons!"
Her: "They do. But should be respected and should not be used as weapons unless absolutely necessary."

LIKE WHEN SPARKLY VAMPIRES ATTACK YOUR LIBRARY, Y/Y?

No, she hasn't read Libriomancer. Yet. Speaking of which, did anyone else read the sequel? I did (of course), and it was fairly awesome (of course). Longer thoughts to follow. :D
nevanna: (books!)
Occasionally, my workplace makes advance review copies of books available for the taking. When I picked up an ARC of Charming, by Elliott James, which will be released in September, the back cover told me the following:

What if there was more than one Prince Charming? What if there was a whole line of Charmings going back far into history – each one with a mission to rid the world of evil. And what would happen if one of them is cursed… Meet John Charming. He isn’t your average prince.


On the one hand, I suspected (correctly) that our hero was going to be another variation on the sardonic loner embittered and burdened by his Dark Past, in the Harry Dresden mold. On the other hand, it’s not as if I have any outright objection to characters written in that mold, and there was, and still is, a chance that this book might contain some fun “fairy tale creatures in the modern world” action.

However, the introduction, or “prelude,” contains this passage:

Well, there’s something going on right in front of your face that you can’t see right now, and you’re not going to believe me when I point it out to you. Relax, I’m not going to provide a number where you can leave your credit card information, and you don’t have to join anything. The only reason I’m telling you at all is that at some point in the future, you might have a falling-out with the worldview you’re currently enamored of, and if that happens, what I’m about to tell you will help you make sense of things better.

The supernatural is real. Vampires? Real. Werewolves. Real. Zombies, Ankou, djinn, Boo Hags, banshees, and so on and so on, all real. Well, except for Orcs and Hobbits. Tolkien just made those up.

I know it sounds ridiculous. How could magic really exist in a world with an Internet and forensic science and smart phones and satellites and such and still go undiscovered?

The truth is that the world is under a spell called the Pax Arcana, a compulsion that makes people unable to see, believe, or seriously consider any evidence of the supernatural that is not an immediate threat to their survival.


First of all, all of this could just have easily been imparted through narration or dialogue further down the line. Second of all… no, we’ll leave aside the mass mind control for now. It’s just a creepier version of the routine mind-wipes that recur in speculative fiction.

However, there’s a third level of frustration to this introduction, which Rogan of [livejournal.com profile] baaing_tree very wisely pointed out. When I was ranting about the beginning of this book, I said, “No, it doesn’t sound ridiculous, because I’ve read urban fantasy before.” And Rogan made an even more important point: that, by writing a world that is like ours, but with supernatural creatures, an author is implicitly asking readers to suspend their disbelief, even if those readers are new to the genre. He or she trusts that, by reading this genre in the first place, we have enough imagination to accept this alternate reality. And while it may be a shock to some characters, it's not going to be a shock to us, because of our basic expectations going in.

This particular author, through his narrator, is not only info-dumping something that should be obvious, but addressing readers as if we don’t have enough imagination (or, if we do, it’s been magically inhibited). It’s one thing for a work of speculative fiction to imply that I, as a mundane human being without magical abilities or qualities, am – by nature, design, or both – ignorant, close-minded, and incapable of believing or considering that the supernatural might exist. It’s quite another for a narrator to tell me this, point-blank, to my face.

I did not get past the first two or three chapters of Charming, between the clunky exposition and the paint-by-numbers main character. If, at any point, I decided to continue, it would be either to see if it's worthy of an MST-style sporking, or to find out if the use of mass mind control to keep the populace oblivious is ever going to be challenged or subverted (which rarely happens, even in books that I really like). I would absolutely be willing to modify or withdraw my criticisms if the book ends up going in that, or any other, interesting direction. However, this introduction was not a very promising start: it was unnecessary, clumsy, and condescending, and there are much more effective ways to present a world or endear readers.
nevanna: (books!)
Last Sunday, I visited, and signed up for a membership with, the MIT Science Fiction Society Library, which, according to the Web site, contains "over 90% of all science fiction ever published in English."

I BELIEVE IT. THIS LIBRARY, IT FILLS ME WITH STARRY-EYED SQUEE.

One of the first books I checked out was an early novel by Patricia A. McKillip (whose work I've enjoyed in the past) called Stepping From The Shadows. The tagline: "HE WAS THE DEMON-LOVER WHO COULD BE EVERYTHING TO HER - EXCEPT REAL."

...yeah, this is going to be fun.
nevanna: ([SKU] a garden of black roses)
I am finally getting around to reviewing Kat Zhang’s What’s Left Of Me, which I first read several months ago, and which I think might be relevant to the interests of several people reading this journal.

In an alternate dystopian America (no! don’t run away yet!), everybody is born with two separate consciousnesses, or souls, living in one body. As they grow up, one soul is supposed to assert himself or herself, while the other fades away; exceptions are designated as “hybrids” and considered threats to society. While Addie, the dominant soul in one body, interacts with the world, Eva, the narrator, is forced to hide her existence for their mutual safety. She still communicates with her “twin,” often acting as a calming and steadying presence when Addie becomes overly emotional, but she has no control over their body and nobody else is supposed to know that she is even there until the intervention of both fellow hybrids and government officials force her out into the open.

Kat Zhang has introduced a fully believable premise and world (there is some exposition in the narration, but it doesn’t crowd out the story). Some of the genre tropes and themes are familiar: the government is corrupt and lying, those who are different are oppressed, there’s an underground resistance movement (of course). But while those in power interfere with hybrids’ lives in ways that might be predictable to some, that doesn’t make the implications any less sad or terrifying.

The writing is beautifully evocative in places and the supporting characters are distinctive, but where this story truly shines is in Eva’s slow recovery of her own personhood, and especially in her relationship with Addie, which is, refreshingly, not an antagonistic one, nor is either of them ever demonized. This is not a Jekyll-and-Hyde story of two personalities struggling for dominance . While Eva yearns to move and speak after three years of silence and immobility, she never wants to replace Addie or force their body to do anything that Addie doesn’t want to do. The two girls sometimes argue, or have conflicting interests, but through it all, their relationship remains functional and ultimately loving. They are sisters, with everything that this implies: the support and affection and loyalty and compromise and occasional bitter squabbles. They just have the added awkwardness of living in the same body, bearing separate but equally difficult existential burdens, and – unlike most siblings – never getting a chance to escape each other’s company. They are the only constants in each other’s lives, for better or for worse. This is a take on body-sharing that I haven’t seen very often in fiction. Their relationship is depicted with enough complexity and emotional honesty to make this a truly memorable read.

(An additional note: If you have had traumatic experiences with the psych industry, especially if you are neuroatypical and/or identify as multiple, then some of the events in this story may be triggering. The same may be true if you’ve had painful coming-out experiences with family members. I personally think that Eva’s self-assertion is worth the rough road that she takes to get there, but you should consider yourselves warned. Otherwise, read on.)
nevanna: (books!)
I just finished Storm Front, the first installment in the Dresden Files, and will be starting on the second. I actually started the series over a decade ago, and while I enjoyed it (I think), I didn't love it enough to continue. Or maybe I was put off by what appeared to figure heavily into the plot of the second book; with apologies to Remus, Oz, Tyler, and others, I was not overly fond of werewolf stories at the time.

I like werewolves fine now. And I like the world-building and the magic, so far. And I like Harry Dresden himself well enough, raging white-knight complex and all. I have a completely unsubstantiated theory that, just as Anita Blake helped to solidify the template for tough, sardonic urban fantasy heroines who go head to head with things that go bump in the night, Mr. Dresden - with his snark and his lone-wolf attitude and his Dark Past and his long coat - did something similar for the menfolk of the genre, even if a lot of the tropes were pre-existing on their own. People can feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, of course.

And my answer to "who would win in a fight between him and Isaac Vainio?"* (based entirely on the first books in their respective series) is, "Well, they seem like they'd mostly be on the same side, so they're probably fighting about something dumb. In which case Lena would knock both of their heads together."

*Was I the only one thinking this?
nevanna: ([SKU] we finally meet)
One of my favorite literary tropes is what TVTropes call the "Portal Book" (although "I Wish It Were Real" and "In Defense of Storytelling" are also applicable). That is, people travel into books, or characters from books show up in the reader's world, or people and things that were thought to be "just" stories turn out to have been part of our reality all along. And so on. Basically, I love stories that explore the power of stories, and use fantastical elements to do so. I especially love when they show how storytelling can be both necessary and deeply dangerous.

Below, I've discussed some of my favorite books (four prose works, one graphic novel series) that make use of this trope.

the top five, plus some extras )

What are your favorite stories in which the "magic of reading" becomes literally magical?
nevanna: ([Doctor Who] My pleasure Mr. Smith)
As quite a few people have already gathered, one of my favorite reads of 2012 was Jim C. Hines’ Libriomancer. I’d really enjoyed Hines’ The Stepsister Scheme and its sequels (fairy-tale retellings in which a trio of princesses kick ass and take names – go read them!) and was excited to read his first urban fantasy outing, especially once I found out about the premise. Libriomancy is the ability to reach into a book and create objects both mundane and magical from its pages, which I am willing to wager most readers – especially of speculative fiction – have wanted to do at some point or another. When the story begins, our protagonist, Isaac Vainio, has been working as a small-town librarian after his reckless and disastrous use of libriomancy got him kicked out of a secret organization that regulates magical activity around the world. However, an unexpected attack on his library throws him back into action, and soon he and his dryad companion Lena (accompanied by a fire-spider named Smudge) are racing to stop a supernatural war and unravel the secrets of the magic that has shaped their lives.

I read this one back in September, and meant to write up my complete thoughts, but was diverted by schoolwork, and then by the holidays and a post-semester writing slump. This did not stop me from brandishing my copy at my friends and exclaiming, “This book is awesome! The characters are great! The magic system is great! The relationships are great! It’s funny and exciting and full of geeky references! Our heroes beat up a bunch of sparkly vampires in the first chapter!”

All of these things are true. And, to give a slight disclaimer, there are many ways - some obvious, some less so - in which this book was a deeply subjective experience for me. Nevertheless, here are some specific thoughts that I've managed to formulate after re-reading. I’ve tried to keep them free of crucial spoilers, beyond “here’s what’s going on with this character.”

To quote the author himself: 'First, books are magical. And second, magic is awesome.' )

Book Squee

Sep. 11th, 2012 09:20 am
nevanna: ([X-Men] building something better)
Just finished reading Libriomancer, Jim C. Hines' newest book.

I LOVE IT I LOVE IT I LOVE IT GO READ IT SQUEE.

Possibly longer thoughts to follow.

I can has Isaac sequel, please?

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