Thursday, December 30, 2010

End of 2010 Book Survey

The Story Siren had a link up to this End of 2010 Book Survey at The Perpetual Pageturner. It looked like fun, so I figured I'd give it a shot. ^_^

1. Best book of 2010? Argh, this is a tough one, partially because I’ve read so many good books this year and partially because I only just got into the idea of book blogging so I don’t actually have a list of the things I read. However, the ones that stand out in my mind are The Hunger Games (the first one – don’t get me wrong, the rest were good too, but the first one is the best in my humble opinion) and Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld.

2. Worst book of 2010? No prizes for guessing here: Glenn Beck’s The Overton Window. (bleh) Admittedly, I brought it on myself, since video reviews are usually more entertaining if you have bad source material to work with. But I don’t think anyone deserves to suffer through this kind of poorly-written ego trip. It’s just…bad.

3. Most Disappointing Book of 2010? Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrik. There was some potential there, but it succumbed to the same tired old clichés that turn me off of YA paranormal romance as a whole.

4. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2010? Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Claire. I’ve seen the Mortal Instruments trilogy, but I’ve never read it, nor do I really know anything about it. I picked up Clockwork Angel on audio book for a drive to visit my parents, mostly because the cover and title made me think it would be a steampunk novel. It’s really not, but it is a good supernatural adventure with the most believable and entertaining romances that I’ve seen in a long time.

5. Book you recommended to people most in 2010? The Hunger Games. I’ve managed to convert at least one person! There’s also a couple of writing books that I’ve been recommending, including How to Write for Comics with Peter David and How NOT to Write a Novel, which is great for a nice relaxing read on the bus since it’s really funny.

6. Best series you discovered in 2010? The Hunger Games (boy, they’re getting mentioned a lot…) and The Infernal Devices trilogy. Actually, I’m half-temped to pick up the Mortal Instruments trilogy while I’m waiting for the next one to come out…

7. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2010? Cassandra Claire, Jay Asher, everybody published in The Machine of Death anthology.

8. Most hilarious read of 2010? Mogworld by Yahtzee Crowshaw. Admittedly, I already loved his humor from Zero Punctuation, but it really is a funny book, particularly if you’re familiar with the clichés and quirks of fantasy MMORPGs. Also, unintentionally, The Legend of Rah and the Muggles.

9. Most thrilling, un-put-down-able book in 2010? Thirteen Reasons Why had me clinging to it the entire time, as did Hunger Games and Scott Westerfeld’s Behemoth. If I’m allowed to count visual novels too, the one that I’m almost finished with – 9 persons, 9 hours, 9 doors – is frankly fantastic. I’m one play-through away from the true ending and I just can’t wait to see what happens.
(On a side note, when did “unputdownable” become a buzzword?)

10. Book you most anticipated in 2010? Behemoth. Unlike a lot of people, I didn’t get into Hunger Games until it was finished; but I was counting down the minutes until Behemoth was safe in my hands. I dropped everything to read that book, and I’m already counting down the minutes until I get my hands on Goliath too!

11. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2010? The Machine of Death

12. Most memorable character in 2010? Sooo many to choose from. Peeta from Hunger Games really captured my heart. Half the reason I was impatient to get through Mockingjay was because I wanted to see him again. There’s also Lilit from Behemoth, teaming up with Deryn and Alek who I already loved, and recently I’ve been getting re-introduced to Crowley and Aziraphale from Good Omens.

13. Most beautifully written book in 2010? Thirteen Reasons Why

14. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2010? Let’s see…Hunger Games and Behemoth both gave me the push I needed to fall in love with world-building, which has been a focus in my writing ever sense. In terms of emotional impact…well, I’m not coming up with anything right now. Perhaps another time.

15. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2010 to finally read? The Hunger Games – I’ve been staring at it for two years now, why did I not pick it up in time to enjoy the thrill of the Mockingjay opening with everyone else?!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I still don't want your window

If I read one more article or blog gushing over e-books, I am gonna scream.

I’ve made my position on this subject pretty clear in the past. I don’t like e-books. I don’t want e-books. I don’t care if other people like their e-books and I’m certainly not stupid enough that, if I ever got a publishing deal, I would forbid it from going to the e-book line. (To paraphrase one agent’s twitter, “Why limit your audience?”)

And yeah, I get that it’s supposed to be the next big publishing thing. I simply don't care.

What I do care about is the number of people who justify their e-book preference by saying that a book’s physical state, “Has no value,” or that it “Really doesn’t matter” how a book is presented.

I matters, god-dammit. You prefer an e-book? That’s fine. Your preference means that you have chosen to give up the subtle enhancements to the reading experience offered by the publisher’s choice of page design, font, paper weight and overall structure. You’ve chosen to watch your movie on a home TV rather than pay the extra cash to see it in theaters.

And that’s perfectly fine. But don’t try to tell me that you’ve gotten the same experience on the two-foot screen in your living room as you would have on a fifty-foot projection with surround sound and good digital 3-D. It’s not the same.

“But oh!” they say. “Good writing is all about the words, how they’re presented doesn’t matter!”

Fine, I say. Here is a copy of my new manuscript printed in single-spaced Comic Sans. Or if you prefer, here’s another copy in triple-spaced Kristen ITC. And maybe next time I’ll give it to you in Forte or Jokerman. These are all perfectly readable fonts, after all, so they should be just as good as Times New Roman or Arial.

“But the words are transmitted directly to my brain!”

No, those are the signals from the alien mother ship that abducted you in ’97. The words you get from the book have to be read, and that means that their visual aspect – everything from typeface to layout – has an impact on your experience. It may be only a subconscious impact, but the impact does exist.

“But I like being able to standardize my books!”

That’s fine. Enjoy your choice. Now shut up and let me enjoy mine.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tron Legacy: CLU

The first thing in the new Tron movie that I want to talk about is the bad guy. Yeah, I know it seems like I might be skipping around a bit, but it’s the thing that stuck with me most obvious in this first couple of hours after the movie.

To put it simply, the movie’s big villain, CLU (or as I like to call him, CLU2, since the story makes it clear that he’s NOT the Clu from the original story) is one of the better depictions of a “combatant atheist” character that I’ve ever seen.

Mind you, “combatant” atheist is my term, I’m not sure if there is such a distinction for anyone else and I think they’re fairly rare in the real world, at least outside the internet and/or once you’re past high school. These are the sorts who are very aggressive about their position as atheists, the sort who always seem looking to pick a fight with religious types, the kind who’d be happy to see all religion everywhere wiped clean off the face of the earth. Many of them, in my experience, were raised in and/or used to have some kind of faith, but suffered what they perceived as a betrayal of their social contract with their god – usually the loss of a loved one, or the sudden realization of how much suffering there was in the world – and turned to atheism almost as a form of revenge.

I don’t think you meet many of this sort of person in real life, because I like to think that most atheists have simply come to a logical conclusion about the non-existence of a deity and go about living their lives. However, they do crop up sometimes in fiction.

When written by someone trying to make the argument that religion is the ultimate good, they’re usually a Straw Atheist spouting vitriol and either take the role of primary antagonist or are minor characters humiliated by the protagonist early on to prove the glory of god. When the author makes him the protagonist, the story usually involves corrupt religions swindling stupid people into dying for the sake of a made-up god. In the most extreme speculative fiction, it often turns out that “god” himself is some kind of evil or stupid being with an over-inflated ego, so the protagonist either dethrones or kills him.

In Tron: Legacy, CLU(2) is an interesting twist on the character type because he is clearly the villain, yet his story is that of the protagonist combative atheist. He fulfills the ultimate angry, disgruntled, religion-is-the-root-of-all-evil empowerment fantasy: he stages a coupe against his own creator, his god, and dethrones him.

However, unlike the combative atheist protagonist stories mentioned above, that’s not where the story ends; it’s where it begins. Throughout the movie, CLU’s story reflects the inherent flaw in these extreme atheist portrayals and ideas. Namely: if your goal is to destroy god, you have to acknowledge the existence of god.

CLU is not subtle about his feelings on the Users and on their creator, Kevin Flynn, in particular. At one point, he even calls Flynn a “false deity” and defiantly shouts to the heavens, “WHERE ARE YOU NOW?!” Other characters mention that they, “believed in Users…once” and Kevin Flynn himself is portrayed as a spiritual figure. Some of the programs even pray to him.

CLU, who seeks the ultimate perfection, thinks that the elimination of the Users is the only way to get it. He even commits genocide in the name of his beliefs. Yet in the end, he stands before his creator – who has never wavered in that he wants to do good and tries to do what’s best for the world he has created – and demands to know why the exact promises he was made have not been met. Being only a program, he can’t understand his creator’s motivations, the bigger picture that Flynn saw, which made him angry; yet despite all his rejection of the “false deity” he can’t deny his existence.

I think that CLU is a great representation of what people who obsess about overthrowing or discrediting god are really going through, much more so than the combatant atheist protagonists they write about. Naturally, in the real world, we don’t have anything as secure as proof in god’s existence, but if you’re struggling so hard against something you probably don’t believe that you’re fighting nothing. When actually faced by his god, there’s still some part of CLU that wants acknowledgement that he hasn’t done anything wrong and desires reconciliation, a return to the way things were.

Maybe that’s not what the producers were going for, but it certainly stood out to me. Because of that, CLU is probably the strongest character in the whole movie. Of course, that also has something to do with a few of the subplots and characters arcs that kind of dropped the ball…but I’ll get into that in another post.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tron Legacy: My aching head

Did you know that there is a distinct sound when the human body collides with a vehicle while either one or both of them is moving at a high speed? There is. It’s a very distinctive sound.

There’s not a lot out there that can replicate the sound of an object – which is predominantly soft and squishy but has a comparatively solid center – colliding with another object – which is much larger than the first object, predominantly hollow and made of plexiglass – at speeds which that the first object was never meant to travel. The thump that these two objects make upon collision is not solid, it is distinctly soft, almost muffled but not muted, and invokes in most people (I think) an instinctive wince of pain.

I mention this because, being as I am somewhat hyper-aware of this sound, my only real gripe about the new movie “Tron: Legacy” is that this sound is used. Constantly. And it gave me a bad migraine.

That said, I did enjoy the movie. On one hand, it’s a fun, family-friendly sci-fi action-adventure that fully pays off on the high-concept premise that the original, being made in the 1980s, had a bit of trouble capturing. On the other, there are some storyline hang-ups, characterization mismatches and dropped subplots that could have been realized better.

And on the third hand (please don’t ask where it came from) it does exactly what good science fiction should do: it uses its speculative fiction elements to address themes and ideas that apply to the real world, rather than focusing exclusively on the speculative elements without context or relation to the viewer’s reality.

It gave me a lot to think about. That’s why I’m going to split my wonderings about it up over many posts and probably a few days as I take a little time to absorb it all.

But first…some ibuprofen.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Why bad reviews are okay

“People shouldn’t post negative reviews of books. *I* only post reviews of books I’d recommend. You know that they say, ‘If you can’t say something nice…’”

If you could see me right now, I would be rubbing my temples in frustration. I just came away from an entire page of blog comments saying things like this. They’re trying to be supportive of a woman who’d just received the first negative review she’s ever seen of her book. I get that. It’s very nice.

But reading through these, all I can think is that I never, ever want to read any of these peoples’ book reviews. Ever. Because seriously, how selfish can you get?

As anyone who’s ever sat in a critique group with me knows, I am blunt. I am honest. Tact is not my strongest point. If I think something – anything – about the literature I have been given, I will make my opinion clear. I do not hold back, because holding back is dishonest, disrespectful and just plain unhelpful. I feel the same way about book reviews.

There is nothing ‘mean’ about giving a bad book review, despite what some prima-donna writers and oh-so-sensitive fans would have you believe. At best, it makes the author aware of flaws that they can improve upon in their next manuscript and clues the readers in on why they might better spend their month on a book they would enjoy more. At worst, it gives the author insight on the sort of people who don’t like their genre/character types/plot arcs/whatever and clues your readers in on why they may or may not agree with your opinions all the time.

To only post “good” reviews or reviews of “books that I would recommend” because you don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings or because you dislike the idea of conflict is selfish at best, cowardly at worst. As long as a negative review isn’t being a troll, or spouting lies, or used as some kind of revenge, there is nothing “mean” or “cruel” about it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

My tenative reading list

Figured I'd scour through the list of YA debuts and pick out a few that looked interesting enough to call dibs on ahead of time. Eight so far, the rest will fall into place as it gets further into 2011 and we've got more info on books besides just "Oh hey, it'll be out on Kindle too!"

My Challenge List 2011

The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher
Timeless by Alexandra Monir
So Shelly by Ty Roth
Those That Wake by Jesse Karp
Future Imperfect by K. Ryer Breese
The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter
Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky
Divergent by Veronica Roth

Friday, December 10, 2010

Trailer Talk: Left Behind 3 the Video Game

Today I went to see The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader. A review is pending because I want to look up a few things to refresh my memory about the book and see if they added what I think they added. For now, I want to talk about a trailer I saw waiting for the movie to begin. It was for Left Behind 3: The Rise of the Antichrist, The Video Game.

First of all, the idea of a Left Behind video game series is pretty damn laughable, since most of these guys probably agree with Jack Thompson and think video games are inherently tools of evil and corruption. So, the idea that they went ahead and made a real-time strategy game based on the books, let alone three of them, is amazing in and of itself.

But the trailer? Oh, man, I wish I could find it on the internet to show you guys because it was a work of horrible, racist, ham-handed, misused art. It was like watching the live-action movie adaption of a Jack Chick Tract.

Let me break it down for you step-by-step.

We open with a clean-cut and very white young man of the “such a nice boy” variety, walking down the sidewalk with a lovely guitar strapped over his back. It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining, and there’s a bridge up ahead, which he chooses to pass under to reach his destination.

But uh-oh! Lurking beneath that bridge is a dangerous gang of Latino and African-American stereotypes, who surround our nice young man, blocking his path and demanding that he pay their toll in heavily-accented, inherently violent slang. The Nice Young Man, who speaks perfect American English, holds himself straight and says that he’s just trying to get to his friend’s house. The leader of the gang slouches forward. “Too bad hombre, you pass through our turf you gotta pay our tolls. So what’cha gonna give me?”

One of the gang members spots the Nice Young Man’s lovely guitar and points it out to the boss. The Nice Young Man is horrified. “I’m not going to give you my father’s guitar!”

But it seems that the Nice Young Man will not have a choice, as the vicious and violent ethnic gang closes in on him from all sides, determine to rip his father’s precious instrument from his cold, dead hands if they have to. The Nice Young Man turns his eyes to the heavens and prays, “God, give me the power to resist this temptation, and forgive them for what they do!”

Whereupon he swings the guitar from his back and gives it a mighty strum, summoning the white-hot power of the Lord to blow his enemies away.

Just. Wow. XD

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A system of concepts worked out in steel

Hm. I wanted to write a blog post about something, but now I’ve forgotten exactly what it was. So I’m gonna talk about motorcycles. I’m researching them right now for a scene in my new manuscript, Necropolis (which I am 12,000 words into and loving to death) so they’re on my mind.

There is something inherently cool about motorcycles. Obviously, this is an old and well-worn concept. All great rebels and bad boys ride motorcycles, as did the coolest teacher in my junior high, the one with the long hair who was missing his left pinky finger. It’s like an instant calling card, almost to the point of being a cliché.

And yet, I can’t help but love them.

Of course, I’ve never been on one myself. Heck, I can’t even ride a regular bike. I suppose I could ask my friend Aaron if he’d give me a ride on his, just to see how it feels, but I’m kind of an abject coward and I’m not sure I’d be able to see anything anyway.

Besides all that, my relationship with motorbikes is…strange. When I think about them, I get a lot of good images first: all the cool movies where they go zipping by in chase scenes, the fantasy of riding one across Europe in the spring, the awesome biker gang back home that devoted themselves to giving children the best damn ride ever away from their abusive homes. Good times, good people.

Then I remember the sign posted on a lamppost along my favorite walking route at my parents’ house, the one with the poem in memory of a biker who was run off the road because a car didn’t see him; or the one who rear-ended me on the freeway last summer and gave me a chronic and oddly specific fear of the very distinct sound a human body makes when slamming against a windshield. Still good people, but…not as good times.

I think a lot about personal symbols and how writers put them to use. Actually, it’s probably more analyzing than I aught to be doing, especially about my own work. But I can’t help it. It fascinates me.

This scene that I’m working on now, the introduction of a major character, needed to be on a motorcycle. And not just watching the motorcycle from afar; I tried that, and it didn’t work. No, this scene needed to be right there, on the bike, with the woman behind the wheel, charging right ahead with all the excitement, the good nature, the sadness and fear that I attach to those machines. Looking at it now, I realize that it’s perfect for her, all these things that my mind ties to motorbikes. Nobody else is ever going to pick up on it…but it means a lot to me.