Tuesday, November 28, 2023

NaNoWriMo #4!


My fourth NaNoWriMo in 5 years: this time, a new-adult backcountry-skiing non-romance.

Yeah, I'll work on the marketing... after I edit.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Book Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes


Spoilers follow.

Partway through: 

  • It is hard to put down.
  • Mysteries: what happened when he was left alone by previous caregiver.
  • Ticking clock: so many days to change his mind. 
  • What the protagonist wants: Initially, just to make money to help her family. She stays in the job despite really not wanting to. Then around 30% it changes to wanting to keep Will alive.
  • It is a savior story: basically that she is enough to make his life worth living. I do have a suspicion, given the sequel titles, and that I heard it is about grief, that she doesn't succeed in this.

Upon Finishing

Yeah, love wasn't enough. It makes me wonder how this is classified as romance (it is according to the title page). I guess because the two love interests end up together, even though it isn't happy ever after.

Emotions: I *sobbed* through the death scene. Something very much working there. 

I was not mad about the outcome. My guess is that the author gave us enough hints so that I figured it out. First, on a message board, a quad tells her she shouldn't be trying to change Will's mind. Second, there are the rugby parents. And then finally Lou's own mother is so against it that Lou ends up arguing, backing up Will's opinion and his right to make the decision.

In the end, I wouldn't have cried about the ending if I didn't care about Lou. 

Analyzing her character to find out why I care:

  • I think we like her because she's helping out her family
  • She is sympathetic in that she tries to do the right things: not only helping out her family, but trying to quit the job when she feels unable to do it
  • It isn't very likable that she has no ambition, but I imagine that goes over better in England. It was normal for working class kids there when I lived there 35 years (!) ago. 
  • However, this is balanced by her having the high-achieving sister. I think that excuses it: of course she didn't think she could amount to anything 
  • I imagine it is quite relatable that her boyfriend got all fit and left her behind (although not for me). He is definitely enough of a jerk that we want her to ditch him but not so much that we're mad at her for not doing so. It works because we see what is going to happen, and it probably helps that he is off-screen for the most part. 
  • As it goes along, we see she does resent her sister for having the baby and not having to work, basically Lou is making all these sacrifices and then Treena goes off to college. Doesn't feel at all unreasonable for Lou to wonder how Treena bought new shoes, but even more we don't hold the thought against Lou because she thinks it is petty of her to think this!

There are some interweaving of plot and character, ranked here from effective to pointless to negative:

  • Sister going to college means Lou takes the big room, at a time where she's gaining confidence. Then when sister comes back to visit, there is a room conflict, which pushes her toward Will, diverts to Patrick, and not only brings all of that to a head but pushes her to live with Will (otherwise she just would have gone home). All of this exerts those kinds of pressurs that make previously barely-tolerable situations intolerable
  • Dad losing job. Initially adds stakes to Lou needing a job (on top of the inciting incident of her leaving her job(?)). When he gets a job with Will's father, this absolves Will from feeling guilty for his potential suicide taking away the family's income (because Lou won't be employed by them anymore)
  • Will's parents' relationship. Dad having the affair adds tension but doesn't have a big effect on the plot in the end 
    • communication awkward with Mrs. Traynor (have to keep secrets). Amplify existing
    • maybe Lou seeing him is why he gives the job to her father?
    • Huge complications with regards to Will's suicide, in that Will living seems to be the thing that is holding the parents together. But how terrible for his dad to only stay with the family while he's alive. First of all, that gives him a selfish argument for Will to die (which doesn't seem to bear any weight on the ending). Second, why would he then abandon his wife once she's lost Will? Doesn't really make sense. 
  • Rape history. I'm not convinced this was necessary. Absolving Lou of her guilt is a gift that Will gave her, but he gives her a lot in many aspects of her life. It allows Will to save her in the maze, which might be their first physically intimate experience.  It gives Lou a reason to have eclectic fashion, but there are other justifications for that. So overall I don't think it's worth using this cliche.
    • Update: I read a review that reminded me that this event in Lou's life was why she shut herself off from taking an adventurous trip to Australia. That kind of makes sense (although that it would make her want to stay in the town where it happened instead of getting away is arguable) but again, I don't think there needs to be justification for someone living and working in the small English town where they grew up.
The last of that is a criticism, but overall this was probably the most compelling book I read all year. I was thinking about the characters frequently, and I read it in a week or less I think. I also found myself making text-to-self connections (a phrase I learned in my kids' elementary school lessons but works, right?), appreciating my and my husband's (so far) good health. Can't argue against that!

Also, I will counter arguments from people who say it is pro-suicide and believe it pushes that "there is no way to live a good life as a quadriplegic." There is so much in there about how that is not at all true for everyone, even for the majority, but there are a small number of people who want to be able to make that decision for themselves. And taking away that agency is terrible considering how little they can control in their own lives.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Book Review: Red Moon by Kim Stanley Robinson


Rating: 2/5
Looks like I'm not going to finish it. It was moderately interesting but just wanders around too much. Physically and literarily. 

1) The two main (perhaps? see 2) characters are off the moon by 30% and then back there by 50%. Seemed to have less to do with the moon than with China, which is fine. I guess that is half of the title! But not why I was reading it.
2) Many POVs and I often can't tell who is talking. Multiple 1st person (don't tell Chuck!) with foreign chapter titles (don't tell Geoff!) made it difficult. I have little doubt they will all come together (some already have) but don't have the patience to keep reading.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Book Review: The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez


I was put off by all the character changes early on. Maybe I've just absorbed the writing "rules" that you shouldn't abandon characters, you shouldn't start with characters who won't show up (barely) again, you should have your characters eventually meet. But my emotional reaction shows me that these rules are there for a reason. I felt disappointed when the initial character was clearly left behind. I felt frustrated when a four-person spaceship crew that I had struggled to get to know all or mostly abandoned their captain. Maybe it is realistic that not everyone would stay but I had an aversion to getting to know the new crew when my previous investment had been squandered. 

There was a bit of hope when a long-ago character, who had seemed very important and indeed is where the title comes from, turns out to live long enough to potentially meet up with the current characters. There was hope that two people who'd both lost their lovers long ago would end up together. These hopes were destroyed in a nuclear-type reaction at the end. Very unsatisfying.

Another source of dissatisfaction was with the timing. One of the main questions is finally answered around 70%, but the character very selfishly doesn't do anything about it for a while. Maybe this is realistic but it made me mad at him and wanting to skip ahead to when something interesting happens. 

The author's use of language and the sci fi of his world are definitely unique. He turns nouns into verbs and makes up great tech: near-FTL travel is done by folding into the pocket and riding celestial currents that have names. Time dilation is real and affects people's lives profoundly (at least at the beginning). The ships are piloted with cat's cradles. Cool stuff like that.  (There is a chance I just don't know that this is common in these kinds of stories!)

I also appreciated how many non-heterosexual relationships there were without any mention or need to use identity words. Very much just a "this is how the world is."

And overall it is a thumbs up because hey, I finished it! Granted, it was my only book while camping for two weeks (thanks to having left my kindle on a plane, unexpectedly returned by Delta's great lost and found system), which basically forced me to get over my annoyance at the loss of main characters so early. By then I was invested enough, and hopeful enough, to carry on. But it was worth reading. 

Monday, August 7, 2023

Book Review: All Systems Red by Martha Wells


Not a very sympathetic protagonist: A human who does the least possible work in order to maximize their TV viewing time is pretty annoying. It helped a little that she is a bot, because then it is a novelty really, but it still interfered with me wanting to cheer for her.  What I did find sympathetic is how ashamed she seemed to be about her identity and her past. Again this was unexpected for a robot which is probably what makes these books such a big deal right now.

Another complaint: when she does find a group of people who don't have a negative bias toward her, there's no explanation for why they are different from everyone else in their culture. How much stronger would it have been if the protagonist could have converted them onto her side? 

Finally, [spoiler alert], I was dissatisfied with the ending. It seems to be setting up to have an interesting sequel rather than providing a satisfying conclusion. I haven't analyzed the text to see how much it fits with the Heroine's journey, but another guess is that the author didn't recognize how a strong ending could be that the protagonist stays with her found family, and instead pushed her to become the independent, solitary hero that we are so often told is the only option.

As for what I liked, the overall point is that I managed to finish the book so these days that's a strong positive. As small craft positive was that the injury the protagonist suffers at the beginning was a great device for describing her physicality. 

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Book Review: Borne by Jeff VanderMeer


I failed to write this early on so am missing some things I'm sure. Overall, 4/5. I loved how color was so important in the world, and how inventive it was. Truly unusual, very imaginative creatures. It felt like an easy read, never bogged down, but it wasn't compelling enough for me to look for a sequel. A positive in that I read it all the way through, but I also can't remember the ending a few months later.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Book Review: The It Girl by Ruth Ware


I don't remember what led me to put this on my library hold list, but other than not being speculative, it has strong similarities to my current work-in-progress (aka the moon novel). Dual timelines, with one character known to die from the beginning. Grief in the 'after' timeline. But it is basically a murder mystery, which I don't usually read.

Overall, I liked it. I stayed in bed an hour this morning reading the ending because there were some major twists. I was really happy that I hadn't identified the killer, and even happier with the final twist.

Monday, May 1, 2023

Book Review: Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I heard the author interviewed by Ezra Klein regarding his third book which features an octopus protagonist (or multiple). Sort of a big coincidence considering I just read Remarkably Bright Creatures.  And this is Sci-Fi... sounded intriguing.

The beginning was very promising, with multiple major position changes happening in the first chapter. Oh, and I liked the decimal chapter headings. The non-human protagonists continued to be interesting, which was the main reason I kept reading to the end.

But I just couldn't care about the human characters. The protagonist is not supposed to be a hero but he just seemed boring. There are diversions as the humans fight each other that don't seem to get us anywhere other than demonstrating how horrible humans are. Oh, and to take up time and give the characters something to do. And despite the intriguing concept of interacting with non-human intelligence, the connection happens too fast and without enough detail. 

I would guess the writing of future books will get better but I'm not putting the sequels high on my list.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Review: Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt


Not sure if I would have kept reading without a friend's recommendation, but in the end I was glad I did. It felt over-written and the mystery of how the characters were connected became obvious quickly and then was told overtly to the reader at the midpoint, so a long wait for the characters to figure it out, but it was still a sweet story.  I expect her next books will improve on all that!

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Book Review: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Leguin


This is another classic that was familiar as I started to read it; I think I'd tried twice before. Knowing more about the author helped me push through a lot, and it was worth getting through, but of course I have complaints.

The two timelines is one thing I"m doing with my novel (I think that is why this was recommended to me by a writing partner). Because we have the later timeline and we know <spoiler alert> he's going to get kicked out of his country as a traitor, the mystery of the younger timeline becomes: how? Unfortunately, it seems we're shown that he is different from toddlerhood on: not wanting to share. In retrospect after finishing, this might be that everyone is like this--the effort required to turn all humans into communal, sharing people--but while reading it felt like he was just different. So then it seems obvious how he will get kicked out as a traitor.

In the later timeline, the fun was seeing an individualist society through the eyes of someone raised communally. It is also suprising to find that he doesn't like it, since his younger self seems destined for that path, and the tension in the later timeline comes down to: will he make it home again? It is a relief, then, when he's back on the ship, but it is ultimately unresolved. He was kicked out of his society. This ambiguity didn't quite work for me.

I did enjoy the balance of the cultures: how neither is all good or all bad. That is something else I'm striving for in my work, too.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Lefthand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin


I had tried to read this at least one before. It is a good example of how something just wouldn't get published now, I think. Not that it wasn't enjoyable. A very slow start. Definitely trudging. Story going off on long loops of experiences that don't seem important in the end. And it was basically about coming to love someone different from yourself; I can see how her sci fi is really social sci fi, but it's amazing to me how well accepted she seems in the genre. (Maybe that is now, not so much then?)

Her imagining of different gender expressions seems the major feature of wow.  So creative and implemented pretty well, I thought. I also read her short story Coming of Age in Karhide which was more interesting (probably because it was quite racy--alien erotica?!). Perhaps that's why it got so much attention.

Whyever it was published, won awards and became popular, I'm glad it did. It shows there is room not only for creative imaginings of near-human gender and sexuality, but also the growth of cultural understanding, and yes, some trudging.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Podcast recommendation: Crafting With Ursula

The podcast I've been binging this weeks is Crafting With Ursula. There are only six episodes of this flavor of a larger literary podcast, but they've been fascinating.

Episodes I've listened to so far:

adrienne maree brown on Social Justice & Science Fiction 
"...social justice and science fiction are intricately linked imaginative acts, acts that have real effects in the world at large."

Kim Stanley Robinson on Ambiguous Utopias
"...why has this genre become a particularly vital form and even a critical tool of the human imagination today?"

Incidentally, Kim Stanley Robinson tells of going to watch the original Star Wars with Ursula Le Guin and her other students, and how none of them realized how much the movie was going to change what people thought of as sci fi. He speaks of it with great regret, and I realize he (and she) were on the OG side of the argument, where as I've been convinced it was a good thing to widen the genre.

Review: The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake


The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake.  I found the premise to be quite unbelievable: none of the six initiates asked the obvious question, and it turned out to be an important one.  However, I did like how the magic was interwoven with science, and how each person has a particular specialty instead of all just being witches and wizards. Ultimately, a huge twist which was slightly hinted at made it worth reading to the end.