Ever wondered what heroes do when they’re not saving the day? Or what life is like for ordinary people in a place and time where going somewhere 100 light years away is just a couple hours trip? Click the image above then!
Ever wondered what heroes do when they’re not saving the day? Or what life is like for ordinary people in a place and time where going somewhere 100 light years away is just a couple hours trip? Click the image above then!
This is a book I had to read as part of a review exchange. It was on my “to read” list before that though because it sounded quirky and fun. It was, but it was also a lot deeper than I’d expected.
This also is not the work I expected to be doing a post about today, but that one seems to have been taken down from everywhere, so it’s pointless to talk about. That’s a shame because then I would’ve gotten to tell the story of having someone argue with me when I left a five star review because I said the story wasn’t perfect.
The description, via Goodreads:
The lords of a dying planet send Piyat, a terrified “volunteer,” on a voyage across the universe. The reluctant alien crashes in the fear-washed landscape of Cold War America near the site of the nation’s first nuclear test. Captured by the Army and stolen by the CIA, she falls into the hands of a guilt-ridden ex-operative, a psychiatrist with a lust for pharmacology, and an Agency golden boy gone wrong. They turn her into the centerpiece of Project HALFSHEEP, a Top Secret program to test mind control drugs. But Piyat is not so easy to control.
PROJECT HALFSHEEP is a darkly funny blend of science fiction and political satire informed by the real-life excesses of the CIA in its earliest years.
This was an excellent book with the only problem being that, towards the end, it got almost too depressing to keep reading at times.
The first thing I have to say about this book is to not let the blurb fool you. It is about everything said in the blurb, but it’s also about sexism, which is period appropriately portrayed without being exaggerated, and about the marks horrible events leave on your mind. These themes are brilliantly interwoven with the tale of the alien.
The characters were wonderfully and realistically portrayed, though it might’ve been nice to have found out a bit more about Boots to make sense out of why he was so very, very cruel.
Humor and pathos alternated throughout the tale, with the humor lessening some towards the end, as I mentioned above. In my opinion some of the best parts were the ones that blended the two, but I’ve been accused of having a very dark sense of humor before.
I had to look up several words which is something I quite like in books.
The descriptions of everything, especially the alien world and culture, were very well done. The book also had the best description of a migraine I’ve ever read.
I really loved the alien culture. It was relatable, but still, well, alien. I especially liked the differences — or were they? — between the high and low language, like a word meaning “adventurer” in one and “doomed” in the other, as well as little things like the alien finding 90 degree angles cramped.
And the poem the alien writes has to be read to be believed.
All-in-all, this was a very good book, and I look forward to reading more by the author.
Well, that review is thorough enough that I don’t know what else I can say, except that I’m much pickier about science fiction than about any other genre — I assume because I write it, I really don’t know why though — so for me to give a science fiction novel five stars is a very rare thing.
This is something I’ve thought about before but never figured out how to articulate. It’s a nice contrast to the advice I keep seeing that says you have to use every sense in every scene. No, really, you don’t. Do you always notice what all five senses are experiencing at every moment? I only do if I’ve majorly overdone it with the caffeine.
I’d tried to read some Louis L’Amour novels ages ago, and they hadn’t kept my interest enough for me to finish them. A few years ago I somehow ended up reading an excerpt from one of his Sackett novels and immediately fell in love with his way with words.
The description, via Goodreads:
He left the West at the age of seventeen, leaving behind a rootless past and a bloody trail of violence. In the East he became one of the wealthiest financiers in America—and one of the most feared and hated.
Now, suffering from incurable cancer, he has come back to New Mexico to die alone. But when an all-out range war erupts, Flint chooses to help Nancy Kerrigan, a local rancher. A cold-eyed speculator is setting up the land swindle of a lifetime, and Buckdun, a notorious assassin, is there to back his play.
Flint alone can help Nancy save her ranch…with his cash, his connections—and his gun. He still has his legendary will to fight. All he needs is time, and that’s fast running out….
This was a great book.
True, the characters were frequently little more than archetypes, but they managed to be distinctive enough nonetheless that I didn’t care. Flint himself was a very interestingly complex character that I wish L’Amour had written more about.
Despite seeing many reviews that talk about how predictable all of L’Amour’s westerns are, this one had plot twists I didn’t see coming. That was nicely unexpected.
But the absolute best thing about the book was the way the setting was described. I would give an arm or something to be able to describe places as well as L’Amour. Even with little clue what some of the words meant — this was also the first physical book I’ve ever read that had me wishing I was reading an ebook so I could more easily look things up, which is a plus in my opinion as I’m sick of books being written for the lowest common denominator — I still was able to picture things wonderfully. And he managed these descriptions without getting either overly technical nor overly florid. That is talent.
Really, the only problems I had with the book were that either grammar rules have changed since it was written or it needed a better copyeditor and that occasionally it was a bit redundant — again, a sign that maybe it needed a better editor. So, maybe more a 4.5 than a five star book, but it was still good enough that I’ll definitely be reading more L’Amour westerns!
Gods, that review sounds pretentious. I don’t know why the fuck I did it that way. Anyway, it was a really, really good book, and I would probably sell my soul for a quarter of L’Amour’s talent for describing places.
(I’m listening to a song featuring the lead singer of Nickelback as I start writing this, appropriately. If you don’t get the connection, just say the name “Nickelback” to the nearest music geek and watch their head explode. And now I’m listening to Taylor Swift. I swear I wasn’t planning this!)
The blog post I linked to earlier today (err, yesterday afternoon. Whatever.) ended with this line “Let’s have fun. Let’s be okay with writing fun.”
I don’t know how young I was when I fell in love with fantasy and science fiction. Two of the first toys I can remember having were a Yoda action figure and a Scarlett action figure. Return of the Jedi has been one of my favorite movies from the first time I saw it when I was about six. I was a She-Ra fan as a kid. Voltron was my first favorite show, as far as I know. Some of the first books I remember reading were TSR’s Endless Quest books. So it’s probably safe to say that I never had a chance in hell of not growing up to be a geek.
Did I love any of these things for how deep and deconstruct-y and challenging to the status quo and shit like that they were? Fuck no! I liked them for the same reason that I liked stuff that carries with it no geek cred at all, stuff like the Little House books, the Anne books, and The Cosby Show: they were fun, they were entertaining . . . I enjoyed them. Young Shannon didn’t give a fuck if they were challenging her worldview or making her think about things in a different way or anything like that. I liked Return of the Jedi because it had spaceships, light saber duels, and Jedi. Voltron had five lions that combined into one big robot. How can that not be cool? And the robot had a sword! And it had a dude with a cool accent that may or may not have been a bit of influence in one of the main characters in some Universal Nexus stories . . .
Sure, I was just a kid, so of course I didn’t want deep stuff in my entertainment (I’m looking pointedly at you, people who claim Empire was your favorite Star Wars movie even when you were eight because it’s so much deeper than the others). So, let’s look at some of my current favorites, shall we? Firefly, Name of the Wind, GI Joe: A Real American Hero comics (some things don’t change), the Little House books, some of the Anne books (look, more that doesn’t change!), the best sci-fi TV show ever made: Babylon 5 . . . do you see a single thing that’s deep in that list?!
No. Okay, maybe Babylon 5, but most of the reason I love it isn’t. You know why? Because of this (copied from a post I made on a rpg forum eight and a half years ago; sorry about the weird phrasing and punctuation in spots. Eight years ago me didn’t always proofread as well as she should have. And that Traveller game never did happen, I just realized.):
I was trying to start a nice little dungeon crawl. Just your basic, old fashioned, go from this 10 x 10 room to this 10 x 10 room, without triggering a horrible trap and kill the monster and take it’s stuff dungeon crawl. However, I ran into a problem:I couldn’t let a game be that simple any more.I felt like I had to have a fully-detailed culture for the area, full character sheets for every NPC that might be encountered, full stats for all the monsters, detailed character histories . . . all for a dungeon crawl. A dungeon crawl that will most likely only take two to five sessions to finish, say 8 to 20 hours of real time.I stopped having fun making the NPCs long before I was finished. I didn’t do any other work on the game . . . the game I’d been so excited about in the beginning. I was starting to see gaming as more work than fun.
I thought about why this had happened a lot, possibly too much. But, you see, while I was looking for something else recently, I came across my first ever character, and several other artifacts from early games. I thought back to these games. I enjoyed them. They weren’t sophisticated. The only culture that approached fully developed was the kender culture, since I was lacking the novels/gaming books to know much about Krynnish elves and dwarves, and didn’t want to make up something that clashed with established storylines.
It was fun. It was A LOT of fun.
I thought about a dungeon crawl I’m in the middle of running (but taking a break from . . . until we have alcohol.). I thought about the fun we’ve had with it. I don’t even know what world it’s set on. Jaye’s characters are named Kibbles and Bits. They kept a charmed kobold as a pet for awhile! It’s insane; I refuse to DM it sober. But it’s fun!
I thought of Universal Nexus, and how, while some of the characters are fun, I’m not having much fun with the game itself any more. I thought of my still-hasn’t-started Traveller game and how worried I am that I don’t know the setting well enough to do it justice.
I realized something: At some point, I stopped thinking about “Is this fun? Will this make this game more fun for the players?” I started thinking “Is this logical? Will this situation challenge the players’ role-playing skills?” Now, I know there’s nothing wrong with this approach, but to me, it’s not fun. So, why was I doing it?
The only answer I can come up with, is that I started thinking that that’s how mature people game. I’d forgotten that, at the core of things, gaming is, well, just GAMING. It’s having fun.
If your idea of fun is making a completely logical setting, and challenging your players role-playing skills, cool. I can get into that sometimes. But sometimes . . . sometimes, I just want to PLAY. I don’t want to think about the logic of everything; I don’t want to worry about the changes in society due to high mana levels. I just want to play. And really, if you get right down to it, that’s what rpgs are about. Playing a role in a game. You can do that just a well in a dungeon crawl that has nothing existing around it as in a game world you’ve spent months working out, down to the level of what the fine is for littering. But if you’re not having fun, and your players aren’t having fun, then what’s the point?
(Yeah, I know, this is common sense stuff . . . but I doubt I’m the only gamer lacking in common sense, so I’m sharing.)
Eight and a half years ago me probably would’ve had a much different list of favorite things . . . even taking into consideration that one of the things wasn’t out yet and she hadn’t heard of another yet. Eight and a half years ago me craved approval of Them . . . that nebulous group that determines what is and is not okay to like. But she found herself unable to make a fucking dungeon crawl, and, well, fuck that shit.
Now, I won’t pretend that I don’t backslide sometimes and feel guilty for liking dungeon crawls, for listening to Nickelback, for watching Star Wars‘ movies just for the sword fights (and Han and Yoda) . . . I spend too much time immersed in geek culture on Twitter and blogs to not be influenced by Their opinions. But the thing is, I learned my lesson. If my entertainment isn’t fun, then why the fuck am I playing/watching/reading it?!
Or writing it. And that’s the main one I struggle with. Because there is still the part of me that craves the approval of Them.
But one of my favorite quotes from my favorite writing book is this:
“I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”
I try to remind myself of that any time I start worrying that I’m not writing my stories “right” because . . . because The Crown of Eldrete is unabashedly space opera. The dedication is to Larry Hama and George Lucas for a reason, okay? (And, gods but I wish some of my reviewers had realized that and seen it as a good thing instead of a negative.) Because No More Lies is an unholy combo of a romance, a coming-of-age story (or maybe a quarter life crisis story, if that’s a thing?), and an action story, in an unabashedly space opera setting.
Intertwined Lives, I just realized as I was typing this in a gut-punchy kind of way, died because I’d forgotten this lesson. Once again I was craving approval, not writing for me. If I’d been writing it for me, like I should’ve been, if I’d been writing for fun, it would’ve been pure slice-of-life, like I planned. But no, I had to start thinking in terms of plot arcs and things like that. I know better. I’ve learned this lesson, as you can see above. There’s a time and a place for these things . . . The Crown of Eldrete is a pretty plot driven book, for instance. But this story wasn’t the place for that sort of thing. It was supposed to just be a look into the life of some people on a world 600 parsecs from Earth in an alternate reality that diverged from ours in the early 90s. It may not have been popular. People may very well have hated it. I know for a damned fact it’s pretty far from what you’re “supposed” to do with a space opera setting. But I would’ve had fun writing it, and I’m sure somebody else would’ve had fun reading it, even if just my mother. And if I had fun writing it, then it would’ve shown so maybe more people could’ve been convinced to try it, and maybe they would’ve found that, “Hey, a space opera doesn’t have to have constant ship battles and a big good versus evil war and characters that were already clichés by the time Heinlein first put pen to paper!” So, I’ll reboot it someday, and that’s what it’ll be. And maybe it’ll gain popularity, or maybe it won’t. But at least I’ll enjoy writing it.
And this blogpost didn’t go where I thought it would, not quite anyway. At any rate, I think I made my point. I leave you with a video of one of my current favorite songs. Don’t worry, it’s not by Nickelback or Taylor Swift. It’s by an artist I discovered courtesy of clicking a video accidentally on youtube a couple of years ago. The theme of the song is sort of related to this post. It was playing as I typed the bit about Intertwined Lives and I found it rather fitting.
This has nothing to do with writing or my stories. Shit, it doesn’t even have anything to do with my real life, as my own hair is always either down or in what can, with suitable stretching of the words, be called a bun or ponytail. But I thought it was really cool, and, well, lots of authors I like share random cool things on their blogs, so I’m gonna start doing it to. Because it’s my blog and I can do what I want here.
Especially those who write.
My favorite part was this, near the end, especially the last line (which may be the launching point for a blogpost later today, depending on whether or not I can make it more coherent than it currently is):
I suppose some people might equate what I’m saying with blind reverence for tropes. Some might say I’m willfully ignoring the uglier aspects of those tropes–the damsels in distress, the irredeemable evils, the men in white hats who aren’t very interesting. Some might say I’m disregarding the whole reason we started subverting and deconstructing them.
I don’t agree with that. I can see where it might seem like that, but I don’t agree.
Because I’m not advocating regurgitation. I’m not advocating that we copy or mimic. I’m not advocating that people just continue on upholding the tropes and leave them on pedestals behind velvet ropes.
Rather, I’m advocating that we play with them. Let’s find out what made us fall in love with them, rather than finding out why we shouldn’t be in love with them. Let’s flesh them out. Let’s build on top of them. Let’s take the parts we like from them and smooth over the parts we hate. Let’s see where they go and carry them to new conclusions.
Let’s have fun. Let’s be okay with writing fun.
I decided to try to “workshop” the first paragraph of No More Lies, mostly out of curiosity, and because I was a little uncertain about one line. The last time I did something like this, all I got was something about how I didn’t need to italicize the character’s direct thoughts. This time though . . . I must’ve missed a memo. All books must start with action now. Right from the start. First paragraph, something’s got to happen. It doesn’t have to be dangerous, but something has to be happening. (And apparently a character tuning an instrument while thinking about how badly he needs the vacation he’s on isn’t something happening.)
I present the opening paragraphs of three of my favorite books, three I’ve read again and again and again. Tell me, where is the action in these?:
“The Lives of the Senior Member of the Howard Families (Woodrow Wilson Smith; Ernest Gibbons; Captain Aaron Sheffield; Lazarus Long; “Happy” Daze; His Serenity Seraphin the Younger, Supreme High Priest of the One God in All His Aspects and Arbiter Below and Above; Proscribed Prisoner No. 83M2742; Mr. Justice Lenox; Corporal Ted Bronson; Dr. Lafe Hubert; and others), Oldest Member of the Human Race. This Account is based principally on the Senior’s Own Words as recorded at many times and places and especially at the Howard Rejuvenation Clinic and at the Executive Palace in New Rome on Secundus in Year 2053 After the Great Diaspora (Gregorian Year 4272 of Old Home Terra)—and supplemented by letters and by eyewitness accounts, the whole then arranged, collated, condensed, and (where possible) reconciled with official records and contemporary histories, as directed by the Howard Foundation Trustees and executed by the Howard Archivist Emeritus. The result is of unique historical importance despite the Archivist’s decision to leave in blatant falsehoods, self-serving allegations, and many amoral anecdotes not suitable for young persons.”
Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love
“Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little
stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.”
Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
You’d be hard-pressed to find a book I love that isn’t an action-adventure story that does start with action. And don’t give me that “But that’s not what modern books do!” crap, because The Name of the Wind starts with a cryptic statement about a silence of three parts, Game of Thrones starts with dialogue, fuck, even Twilight starts with somebody’s thoughts! (And the first paragraph manages to make it sound interesting, which is an amazing feat.) Hell, nothing happens in the first paragraph of the motherfucking Harry Potter series! You go tell Ms. Rowling she’s not hooking readers. I’m pretty sure she’s too polite to laugh at you. But she might snark at you.
There is no magic formula to what makes a good beginning. Make it interesting, and what exactly that means will be different to different readers.
But, I think this is really just another manifestation of that fucking thing lately where all books have to have, as someone I know called it, thriller pacing. Every goddamned book, regardless of genre, has to keep you on the edge of your seat, never knowing what’s going to happen next because everything has to have twenty billion plot twists (that don’t need to make logical sense; it’s enough that they exist), never knowing who’s going to live or die, never a second to take a breath. Fuck that shit. If you can’t wait one hundred fucking words for some goddamned action, then you aren’t going to like my book anyway, because it’s got a lot of introspection and thinking and shit like that, because, guess what? Some of us want 60 page descriptions of the food at a banquet. Some of us wish GRRM would spend more time describing heraldry, because we think that shit’s cool. Hell, some of us actually like the Council of Elrond! I know I’m the minority. That doesn’t mean I don’t exist. And when I look at the books that sell best, they aren’t written the way you say everybody loves, so, really, fellow authors, where the fuck are you getting your rules from? Each other? Why don’t you get your fucking heads out of writing advice books for a bit and read some good fiction, then get back to me on how a story should start.
Sorry about taking May off from my regular posts. It wasn’t intentional. The one on the 14th got lost after I spent twenty minutes getting it Just So, so I gave up on it; and then, well, it’s a long story involving a malfunctioning shift key, a couple of time sucking iOS games, sinus problems, PMS from hell, OCD, and anxiety. It’s really a “You had to be there” thing, so I’m not going to even try to recount it.
Oh, and Georgia weather. That’s always a factor in my lack of doing things in the summer. It’s hard to think of anything beyond “Dear fucking gods it’s HOT” some days.
During this time off, I did some thinking and reassessing. Intertwined Lives is on hold for an undetermined amount of time. I’m not completely sure I won’t reboot it entirely. Sorry, anyone who was reading and enjoying it. I was trying to write two different kinds of story with it, depending on what chapter you’re talking about, and even if no one else had complained, I was starting to see the cracks. Next time it’ll be purer slice-of-life, a webcomic without pictures, basically, is what I’m aiming for. Also, my Progress Report posts get, at most, two views and zero comments. There’s no point in spending between fifteen minutes and an hour writing something every three weeks for that. Especially since something almost always goes wrong with the site on the day I write them . . . seriously, typing them seems to trigger bizarre site errors. So the two of you that have been reading those, sorry, they’re going away. I’ve only got one piece of flash fiction I haven’t posted here, but I’m still considering trying to sell it somewhere so it won’t be showing up for a while. So that leaves book reviews as my guaranteed content. I’m not sure yet if I’ll do one a week or one every two weeks. I’ve got 12 left to do before I run out of things I’ve written five star reviews for, so they’re still going to take a few months to go through, whichever way I do it.
Also, I’m not writing reviews any more. Well, I take that back. I still might, especially for self/small press published stuff. I mean I’m not going out of my way to write reviews. I’m not taking notes as I read and shit like that any more. I was getting too caught up in that instead of just relaxing and escaping into a good book. I was also feeling obligated to finish books even when I wasn’t enjoying them so I could give them a fair review. To hell with that. My to-read list on Goodreads has, at this exact moment, 1457 works on it. There is no way I’m going to read every word of all of them . . . especially at the rate I add to that list. Hell, the list isn’t complete anyway. I’ve got books I got at the local used bookstore that I’ve never gotten around to adding. From now on, if I’m not liking a book at any point at least enough to give it three stars, I’m going to quit reading it. If I’m only liking it enough to probably give it three stars, I’m not going to make a point of reading it. It’ll stay on my Currently Reading list until I realize I haven’t touched it in ages and don’t really plan to. Then I’ll mark it Did Not Finish and whether or not it gets a review/stars will depend on why I quit reading it. If it’s just not my cup of tea, then I probably won’t bother. If it’s because of serious flaws, it probably will get a brief review.
Maybe, hopefully, with these changes I’ll be able to concentrate more on my writing and editing because I won’t have the continuous, back of my mind, distractions of worrying that I still need to write a blogpost or write a review.
Today I decided to lurk in a writing group I used to regularly post in. I quit posting there because I seriously didn’t fit in. First of all, it was one of those places where everyone lauds each other for being “so brave” to have published anything in the first place before giving criticisms that feel apologetic for having found anything to criticize. Really, it was like having your book critiqued by Magrat from the Discworld books, whereas I’d prefer a more Granny Weatherwax approach. Also, I have issues with the whole “it’s so brave just to put your work out there!” meme, but I can’t articulate those right now. But that wasn’t my main problem with the group. My main problem was that they were all so caught up in the structure. They were all worried about things like “I introduce my main character on page two instead of right off, is that okay?” and “I don’t hit the first major turning point of my story until three-quarters of the way through the first book, is that okay?” and other stuff like that that I’ve never known a reader, as opposed to another author who is also steeped in the thou-shalls and thou-shall-nots of modern writing culture, to ever notice.
Today on this group I saw something that really made me stop and wonder who the fuck people are writing for any more. It was an article about not using “filter words”. These area words like “realized” and “felt” that “distance your reader from your viewpoint character.” It was, really, just a different way of putting that blasted “show, don’t tell!” misunderstanding that it’s always better to have a character’s actions reflect things than to just say them.
Here’s the thing: As a reader, if I feel distant from the character, it’s not because of the author’s word choice. It’s because the character never felt real. As a reader, if a book doesn’t hit a major turning point until three-quarters of the way through, I only care if the reason it didn’t was that the story had way too much mundane detail (which is so fucking common a thing right now because of that blasted “show, don’t tell” misunderstanding). As a reader . . . Anne of Green Gables is one of my most favorite books ever. Anne isn’t introduced until the second chapter. By today’s writing “rules”, especially those hewn to like law by self-published and as yet unpublished authors hoping to find the magic formula for success, that alone makes it a horrible book.
I don’t obey all of those “rules”. In No More Lies, there are times when I use ~gasp~ adverbs after “said” rather than show Bobby’s actions. Why? Because there are times when that’s the right thing to do. Because I’m writing for people who want to read a book about a ninja/spy/assassin who has Wisdom as his dump stat trying to adapt to normal life, not for other authors, or professional reviewers, or anyone else who’s primary interest isn’t in the story, but is in the technical crafting of it. Because it doesn’t matter how technically perfect a story is if the narrative sucks, if the characters are uninteresting, if, in short, the story is bad. Remember, writing is as much, if not more, an art than a craft. There is no magic formula. The rules were made by other authors, and you shouldn’t be writing just for them.
(Forgive disjointedness in this, please. One of my shift keys is not working quite right and it was very distracting.)
The regular Progress Report post scheduled for this week might appear later today, or it might appear next week, or I might just skip it. I just spent twenty minutes writing it only for it to not only fail to post, but fail to have autosaved as I typed it like it’s supposed to. So I’d have to totally start over. As it’s mostly a post for me, I don’t feel like redoing it all right now. If you were, for some weird reason, totally looking forward to it, sorry.