As my quest for non cis-het-white-male spec fic authors continues (now and forever abbreviated as Non-CHWM) I delve into the worold of Malka Older in Infomocracy. In this novel, we follow several characters as they navigate a world where the internet is run by a single entity called Information and the world government has been broken down into micro-democracies with hundreds of political options to be voted on to run your small corner of the world, and a super-majority government that sees to the inter-governmental interactions. What follows is a fast-paced and rousing political intrigue including, but not limited to, election tampering and natural disasters.
I have to say, the plot, the characters, and the writing are all phenomenal. Older does a fantastic job making sure you don’t get lost between jumps of characters, helped along by the fact that they span a world’s worth of ethnicities and so have vastly different names and identities that help the reader keep them separate. No, where I struggled with this novel was in the world building.
It took me a long time in the novel to pin point where my feelings of disjointed-ness were coming from and an even longer rambling rant to my husband to figure out what exactly it was that wasn’t working. The problem was two-fold: there were too many small unnecessary details thrown in each time we changed global locations, with a lot of new food and clothing and vocabulary that was hard to keep track of and instead was a distraction from the plot. That’s not to say that ethnically appropriate details should be omitted, just that in this instance there were just too many and the changes between locations was too fast and too abrupt for me to be able to even begin to grok the local cuisine, let alone figure out why the knowledge of it was relevant to the story.
The second problem was that I just did not believe the technological aspects of the novel, or that the micro-democracy as it stood would ever be functional. On the political side of things, it felt like a thought-exercise for a political philosophy class was put into action, but had no real basis in reality for surviving. I would have expected it to have dissolved into anarchy and infighting between the microcosms long before the twenty years it had survived thus far in the novel. It’s the same problem I have with books like Divergent; I just do not believe humans would suffer that political system without rebellion and pitchforks. It reminded me a lot of Snow Crash in its attempted feel, but without the elegance or feeling organic like Snow Crash. But on to the technological problems…
The world supposedly revolves around a version of the internet referred to as Information: an unbiased, and ungoverned, controlling bureaucracy which handles all world-wide communication, dissemination of knowledge, and voting. Everything, and I mean EVERYthing is routed through Information, including social media, payment, etc. **SPOILERS** At one point in the novel, Information is compromised and everything goes down except for Information’s intranet and a few other intranets that have been set up, but they can still access data from before 3 weeks ago, or essentially, cached data. But that’s just not how the internet works. It’s as if the entire thing suffers a giant DDOS attack, but Older doesn’t really explain how it’s attacked, why it fails, or even really how they get things working again, and as someone who works in a technological field, the entire concept and proposed reality of Information drove me NUTS. When it was a passive background part of the world I was like, okay, fine, sort of 1984 Big Brother, but whatevs, and then it gets compromised and I was like, “NO…WAIT…STOP. THAT’S NOT…NO…STAHP PLZ.” **//SPOILERS**
All that being said, I enjoyed the interpersonal stories, and the political intrigue and the writing itself was amazingly fun and it kept me turning pages regardless of its flaws, so that should show you how strong the other elements in the book actually are. If you don’t mind technological hiccups, or wouldn’t know a cloud computational solution if it bit you in the butt, then you would really enjoy this novel and not have any trouble with it like I did. However, if computers or poli-sci are your life, I would probably steer clear unless you like yelling at books…
As many of you already know, I’m an avid fan of K.B. Spangler and her OACET universe of stories and web comics. However, her new novel, Stoneskin, takes place in an entirely different universe than the OACET series, though one might argue for it being in the very far flung future of that very same world. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this newest novel, but turns out I was worrying needlessly. I made the mistake of starting the novel before bed, stayed up way too late, woke up early and was done reading it before lunch. And I want more; write faster, Spangler!
In Stoneskin, Tembi is a young bioformed human living on a planet far from the original Earth when she discovers that she has been selected by the Deep to be a Witch. Now, the Deep is a sentient life force, possibly other dimensional, with a puckish sense of humor that has decided it likes humanity and enjoys helping humanity spread through the star systems and the Witches it decides to communicate with and through are its envoys in our universe. Tembi is by far one of the youngest ever selected and it leads to an interesting and unorthodox training all leading to the eventual question as to why the Deep is changing its selection criteria and behaviors.
If that synopsis doesn’t intrigue you, it should. The plot is unique and fresh while at the same time drawing from masters such as Frank Herbert’s Dune and Robert A. Heinlein. Characterization is excellent, with everybody having discreet and believable motivations, even the Deep, whom we don’t actually get to have a conversation with and is most often characterized by the colors, sounds, and scents it makes its attitudes known by. The whole thing is thoroughly enjoyable and perfectly bite sized, and if you’re looking for a new dose of epic sci-fi, this is it. I cannot recommend it enough!
When I asked for recommendations on speculative authors who were not cis-gendered white men (for now and forever referred to as CGWM), I received several recommendations for N.K. Jemisin. Funnily enough, at the same time people were recommending her to me, my husband was at Powells buying me her novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
It wasn’t the novel of hers I’d planned on starting with, but I’m glad to have gotten it as it was a lot of fun. I wasn’t sure as I started it whether I could get behind the voice, but it quickly became clear that the memory issues of the protagonist and the slightly stilted and disjointed storytelling had a definite purpose and it won out in the end. This novel is a story about a young woman who is brought back into the fold of her royal family after her mother’s death and who struggles to understand her family and personal history while politicians and gods alike try and use her for their own ends.
It is a fabulous story, with some excellent writing, and I am not surprised she has been in the running for several major awards; they are all well deserved. This story is at times poignant and sweet, and bloody and chaotic, and even a little bit (more than a little in one instance) sexy. If you like stories with strong female protagonists who take no nonsense and make their own space in their world, this is definitely a book for you. I highly recommend giving this a read.
One note on something I’ve noticed as I dive into this reading pattern: The female protagonists are all beautifully strong, but they also face cultural issues that I just don’t see protagonists of male authors facing: realistic subjugation due to sex through micro aggression. It is shockingly realistic in the books I’ve read by female authors thus far, and I never realized it was something that was missing until I finally read it. There is something just so much more real about their struggle to me than most of the speculative fiction I have read before, and it makes the endings of the books just that much more satisfying for me when the ladies come out on top.
So I have decided I end up reading way too much fiction by white cis-gendered American men, so I am beginning a journey to read as much speculative fiction by authors that are NOT somehow in that category in one way or another. Preferably in multiple ways. To start off, I give you The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden.
This was a fun, wild, and surprising ride through a revolution of identity for bots, humans, and demigods alike. I really can’t say enough good about this book: The setting is vivid and engrossing, and as an American it is just alien enough to set loose my expectations and allow full immersion in the crazy clashing of singularity and mythology. The characters are beautifully developed, and even though we are constantly jumping perspectives from chapter to chapter, everybody is fully 3-dimensional with their own unique motivations and beliefs and I was never lost in the jumps. The story itself is amazingly wrought, with several twists and turns and the feel of a vortex–the deeper you get the faster you move. And it all spins down to one brilliant point of intensity before flaring out into a wonderfully satisfying conclusion.
I definitely recommend you give this beauty a read. I’ve got a few more on my list of to-reads, and a few I’ve already read and am reviewing for City Book Review (The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter and A Tyranny of Queens) and I will post those reviews here once they are live!
I had the pleasure this afternoon of seeing the new Wonder Woman movie as part of the DC Extended Universe. If you don’t want to read everything I have to say, here is the TL;DR: It was excellent…for a DCEU movie. Backhanded compliment? You betcha. And if you have no idea why it’s so backhanded it could win a tennis match, then you will probably love the movie regardless of its faults.
First, what I am happy about: This is a strong lead female who kicks ass and doesn’t let anyone tell her she can’t. If they try, she just does it anyway. Okay, she may be a little naive in her blundering forward, but it fits her character. Gal Gadot did an incredible job brining this suffragette inspired heroine to life, and Patty Jenkins did a right good job on the direction side of things, and fans are eating it up. The movie is breaking box office records for woman led and woman directed films, and hopefully Hollywood will take this is as a sign to create more movies with strong female leads and let women actually direct big budget movies now. Up until this movie, female directors weren’t often entrusted with blockbuster movie budgets, regardless of how well they direct. I am praying to all of high heaven that this movie breaks those glass ceilings in hollywood and we get to have more wonderful estrogen derived storytelling. We’ll see.
The male supporting actors did an amazing job, and Chris Pine was a darn sexy Steve. I wish Etta Candy had had more screen time because her comedic moments were priceless. Though Sameer’s line about being unable to find work as an actor because of his skin color and Chief’s acknowledgement that it was Steve’s people who committed genocide on his were almost too real, and beautifully placed. And the soundtrack, my gosh, that was thrilling.
But that’s where my happiness ended.
I feel like the writing was lackluster, and the actors did an incredible job in spite of it. Here were the main problems:
- The General and Doctor Poison failed to convey their motivation. Maybe it was the fact that the Doc has a ceramic faceplate that she couldn’t act past, or maybe it’s because they don’t give her any kind of motivation or explain WHY she’s got a faceplate. Major missed opportunity, especially when they use her as they did in the final battle. Needed some backstory there, and the General is nothing but a cardboard cutout of a villain. It felt like they were trying to do a Red Skull and failed. Frankly, I would have done away with the character of the General altogether and made a better individual villain out of Doctor Poison. Woman vs. Woman.
- You know how when you play video games or role playing games and you work hard to level up your characters? Then someone comes through with a cheat and skips past all the hard work? That’s what feels like happened with their Diana. She didn’t put the work in to earn her special abilities, she can just all of a sudden DO something cool and she’s like, well that’s cool, moving on. I’d expect a few more, “Where the hell did THAT come from?” moments before they reveal her heritage. But no, cheat code activated, let’s use that top level spell right here, right now.
- I felt like the movie was puttering along just fine, with a few small complaints, until we reached the point where Diana really goes after who she thinks is Ares. From there, nothing feels right. The pacing is wrong, the fighting is boring, and nothing is earned by the characters. There’s a couple of strong moments, but they’re cheated by almost amateurish special effects and fight sequences that should have been way more epic and inventive. For gods’ sake, you have two gods battling it out. Have some unique ideas about how to frame that and what they can do!
- Really? We’re going to end with a moralizing sermon about how love saves all? Oh F*CK you. It was here STRENGTH and PERSEVERANCE that saved mankind. Can a woman be STRONG? Or is that not allowed? Yes, Wonder Woman as she was first written was concerned with love, but she also kicked ass when kicking ass was necessary. Here, let me explain a little bit about where Wonder Woman comes from and why this makes me so mad…
I found a wonderful book recently called The Secret History of Wonder Woman. It goes in-depth into the life and work of the gentleman who created Diana, Princess of Themyscira: William Moulton Marston. William grew up at the turn of the century and went to school when psychology was just becoming its own discipline. In fact, he was one of the first people to use blood pressure as a way to measure lying and arousal, which led eventually to the lie detector test. He was a strong feminist and supported the suffragettes in their pursuit of the vote, marrying his childhood sweetheart (who had just as many degrees as he did and was a career woman of her own) and carrying on a polyamorous relationship with a suffragette named Huntley. Eventually, they added a fourth to their unique arrangement: none other than the niece of Margaret Sanger who introduced birth control to the US and paid for it dearly.
Marston worshipped these women and insisted mankind would be better off if it reverted to a matriarchy. His long, rambling, and mostly unsuccessful career eventually led him around to creating Wonder Woman, his paragon of the perfect woman. She was strong, and independent; she was kind and loving. Most importantly, she was more than equal to man and, in one issue, is elected to be President of the United States. Mind you, this was all happening in the early 1940’s which was a last bastion of female advances before the 50’s made the women return to their homes. Diana was a feminist and a believer in female superiority. If Marston had heard those tepid lines about love at the end of the movie, he would have laughed himself silly. Yes, love is a strong weapon in the hands of women, but the movie would have been much better served by sticking to the theme of belief that they started to run with. It was much more powerful, and more in line with the identity of Wonder Woman.
Reviews keep coming in for Less Than Charming and it is gaining more and more traction in all sorts of arenas, huzzah! I’m hard at work on the second one, and we may be able to do a paperback version of the book in the near future.
Most recent is a review by Book Princess Reviews, and I’m glad to say it continues the trend of loving the book. And I promise, those of you who thought the plot started a little slow in LTC will be rewarded for your patience with the plot of the second one. There was just a lot of set up that needed to happen in the first book,but since the world is solidly in place, I can just jump right in now!
Hey guys! I know it’s been a while, but I’ve been crazy busy over here. I did, however, want to share that Less Than Charming has been selected as a Finalist for the Forward Indie Book Awards for 2016!
This means out of thousands of books, mine is moving forward in the competition along with 18 other YA fiction novels, and we’ll find out in June how well I did. If you want to check out the other books that are nominated, please do. I am sure they are all excellent and I plan on tracking some of them down to read for myself. Now to wait and see how Less Than Charming is received by librarians and booksellers around the country!
So, the first few times I did NaNoWriMo, I was pretty antisocial about it. Yeah, I friended people I knew in real life so I could watch their progress, but I hadn’t gone out to any of the write-ins for my area or anything like that. It got the job done, but this year is different, and I’m loving it. Not only am I doing the NaNoWriMo class for the Bureau of Fearless Ideas (with the lessons posted here for all ya’ll), but I attended a launch party for the first time last night with some friends and it was epic.
I’ve never managed to write socially before, I can’t do coffee shops or public spaces like that, I just get too distracted people watching, but the launch party was altogether different. People started trickling into the classroom at Shoreline Community College around 10:00 for the 10:30 party, and the room slowly but surely filled, giving us somewhere between 60 and 80 Seattle area novelists in one spot. Before midnight we socialized, plotted, had a costume contest (it was Halloween after all), and symbolically jailed and/or destroyed our inner editors before the starting bell.
When the clock struck midnight, it went dead silent in the room. Lobsters and cats, witches and “The Night” were all hunched over their keyboards, furiously writing away, racing to the first daily quota of 1,666 words. The first bingo went up around 12:25. I desperately want to know how they can type that fast, because that’s incredible. It took me 40 minutes to get there and I didn’t pause except to take sips of tea. (There was tea in the duck and sugar in the tea pot, just fyi :D) Until 1 am, the room was silent except for the clicketyclack of the laptop chiclet keyboards and the occasionally, and rapidly more frequent, shouts of bingo as people met their daily quota. It was actually quite the rush and I found myself writing faster (not necessarily better) than I do normally on my own. I am now looking forward to attending various write-ins around the city and working together towards that 50,000 word goal, which seems so much easier to attain when I’m sitting in a room full of people furiously writing towards the same goal.
If you’re in the Seattle area and would like to meet up for some write-ins, I can guarantee I will be at the three public write-ins at the BFI, details below. Until next time, brave adventurers, keep writing!
Nov 5 10-noon
Nov 12 10-noon
Nov 26 10-noon
Bureau of Fearless Ideas (Space Travel Supply Store) @ 8414 Greenwood Ave N, Seattle, WA 98103
NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow and I’ve got a few tips to help you make your daily word count goals just a little bit easier.
- The backspace/delete key is OFF LIMITS. If you write it, it stays on the page. If you don’t like it, you can write a different sentence after it, but they are words you wrote, and they count, so DON’T DELETE THEM. You can highlight them to delete later, but leave them for the month.
- Made your word count for the day, but you’re in the middle of a good scene? Good! Stop. It is scientifically easier to start writing the next day if you’re in the middle of a scene that you know where it is going than to stop when you don’t know what’s next. Stop in the middle of the chapter or scene and pick it up tomorrow and it’ll be easier to keep going afterwards.
- Scary blank page getting you down? Start with the character’s name (or “I” if writing in first person) or, my personal favorite, start with “Chapter #).
Alright, that’s my lessons done for now! Now take a deep breath, assemble your notes, and get ready to put pen to paper tonight at midnight. I’ll keep you all posted about how me and my students are doing throughout the month. Happy writing!
Okay, second to last Bootcamp post and then you guys get to go nuts on your own 50k words. Today we’re talking about World Building so…
Drop and give me 20!
Brainstorm 20 words or things that describe/apply to your favorite story’s setting. For example, if I were brainstorming about Harry Potter, I’d say magic, no science, weird people, animate food, pictures move…You have your favorite story in mind? Good! Get to it!
Alright, what have you guys got? Throw them in the comments and see if we can guess what story you are talking about!
Now that your brain is working, tell me a few things that you think you should know about your world. Go ahead, shout them out at your computer screen, I’ll wait…
Oh, that’s a good one.
And that one!
Wanna know what I’ve come up with? Here you go (and download the pdf):
These are the most simple of things that you need to know about a world, things that may have a real impact on your story. They are all pretty self-explanatory, but we’ll go over them briefly.
- Where are we? Do the characters know the name of their world/country/town? Do we as readers need to know the name? Don’t draw a map of the continent if we don’t need it, the name of the town might suffice.
- Weather – Is it sunny and everyone wears sunglasses? Are there storms that make it harder to get things done? Are there dust storms caused by global warming?
- Terrain – Does the story take place in a flat city? In craggy mountains? Across vast stretches of farmland? Underground? These will all dictate how easy it is to move around and how the characters get from point a to point b.
- People – Are they all small and blue? Are they all humans of various sizes and colors? Are they all aliens? What kind of populations do you have to play with?
- Politics – Do the elves and dwarves hate each other? Is there a world war on? Are the usual popular kids suddenly unpopular? How does this impact the main character?
- Economy – Are people well off, or are we dealing with people living from paycheck to paycheck? Is your main character aware of the situation or are they used to and accepting of the status quo?
- Religion – Is there one state religion and all others shunned? Are all welcome? Is there religion at all?
- Culture – Again, are we dealing with a single culture or a melting pot like New York City? Are people equal or is there a subset of people who are subjugated?
- Science, Magic, or a mix of the two? How does your world run? Do we have scientists and the scientific method? Or is everything magically run? Or, there’s the old adage that any science sufficiently advanced will seem like magic anyway…
Now that we’ve explored that list, let’s see what happens when we apply this to Harry Potter.
Fun, huh? Now comes the best part though…setting up your world rules. These are things about your world that are the hard and fast rules that absolutely cannot be broken.Wanna see what I’m talking about? Here’s some rules I feel apply to Harry Potter:
Are there any others you feel should apply? Fill in the rest of the commandments!
Now comes the best part: breaking your own rules. You get to set up all these rules, set up your reader’s expectations, and then pulling the rug out from under their feet. Hermione always has the answer? Well, what happens when she doesn’t?! There’s only one thing you have to make sure you do if you’re going to break your own rules–support the break. If you are going to break the rules, the why and the how must be absolutely air tight. No deus ex machina (will of god), no random serendipity. The reader has to be able to look back and go, oh man, I should have seen that coming! Breaking the world’s rules can be one of your most powerful writing tricks, but you have to be very careful to make sure you do it in such a way that you don’t break your reader’s faith as well.
That said, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to describe your world and figure out its commandments. We’re almost to November 1st, so we’re running out of time to prepare for our stories! See you in a few days for a few last minute writing tips, but until then, happy writing!