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Greer Gilman, master of purple involuted mock-Jacobean epics, muses about one of my favorite themes. The girls who have adventures in labyrinths fare differently compared to the boys. [Also she has a bone to pick with Tehanu's crabbed domesticity in Ursula Le Guin's novel of the same name. So do I, Gilman. So do I.]

I like her observation that the girls [Ariadne, Alice, Eilonwy from -- yack! -- the endlessly irritating Book of Three, Arha/Tehanu, Sarah] find their ways out; they know where they're going. Meanwhile, the boys [Theseus, the White Knight {?}, Taran, Sparrowhawk/Ged, Jareth] don't; they get lost and bonk around aimlessly. They're "clueless," Gilman says, which is to say without a clue...or without a clew, Ariadne's map-like ball of thread that knows the way through the passages. ["Clue" as a hint of a guide derives from "clew" qua thread. I love etymology!]

So why do we only hear of the boys getting out and through the maze? Why don't we ever hear of the girls who get to know their labyrinths and walk through the darkness, unafraid of Minotaurs?

Beats me. For some reason, Inanna's descent to the otherworld ain't considered as compelling. Why not???

Pfffffft.

Goin' to read Moonwise again, even though it drives me up the wall.

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...Lloyd Alexander tells only one story: inexperienced and obtuse male hero + trickster-like storyteller/bardic character + unaccountably crabby female love interest + unfunny comic relief non-human animal-like character + irritating verbal tics for practically everyone + epic quests + secret royal heritage + Destiny = profit. I'm reading [or trying to read] The Book of Three right now, and it's driving me up the wall. All the characters come across as grating and annoying, with the exception of Gwydion, who's sensible and low-key and who just seems to belong to a different, less slapstick story.

Of Alexander's extensive YA oeuvre, I remember most fondly the Vesper Holly series.  Impossibly smart and improbably gifted, teenage orphan and heiress Vesper bounces from adventure to adventure in 1875 in various fictional countries, death and daring at her heels. She's a charismatic and indefatigable Mary Sue, but the stories work, in large part because they are told by Brinnie, her comparatively useless guardian. As an old straight white dude, he gets on my nerves to no end, but his combination of befuddlement, admiration and ultimately love for Vesper allows the reader a more accessible peg upon which to hang their sympathies. I really enjoyed these books growing up, and now I'd like to seek them out again...

 
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I made this mini universe story this weekend just so I could have a chance to make this pun. Well, I also did want to use my new Montespan Interior Scene and Jareth's fabulous Baroque outfit. Anyway, enjoy.

Note: Jareth is reading the third in the 50 Shades Trilogy. All the faces he makes come directly from my own reactions, although, in my case, there was a lot more yelling at the book. :p
Read more... )
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One of the many reasons I enjoy my new avatar photo is that Jareth looks both considering and on the verge of laughter. In other words, he has on his face the same expression that I had on mine when I was reading Flush Blush Crush Rush by Maya Banks. Well, at least I exhibited aforesaid expression up till page 33, which I just lost it and cracked up.

Rush is not written as a comedy, however. It's the first in a trilogy of novels about a young, inexperienced ingenue hired to work for an older, richer, wiser dude who overmasters her with his sexy sexiness and seduces her into the thrilling, glamorous world of BDSM, where he dominates and she submits and -- hey wait -- where have we heard this before? Oh right, in E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Tedium Grey, Sylvia Day's Bared to Complementary Neuroses You and the herd of other BDSM lust novels that have sprouted like post-rain mushrooms since about 2011. For Pete's sakes, people -- find a new template!

Anyway, at first I thought that Flush might prove better than 50 Shades, as it's written by an experienced, prolific author. Well, no dice. Bank writes in generic statements and superficial vagueness. A paragraph on page 29, wherein the ingenue eyeballs the rich dude's office, epitomizes this flaccid style:

[The office] screamed classy and expensive. Rich mahogany wood, polished marble floor that was partly covered with an elegant oriental rug. The furniture was dark leather with an antique, old-world look. Paintings adorned three walls while the last wall was all built-in bookcases filled with an eclectic mixture of works.

As anyone with a modicum of real-life and/or reading experience knows, looking into someone's personal space -- bedroom, study, den, boudoir, office, etc. -- provides a wealth of information about their activities, routines, interests, preoccupations and general character. The paragraph above, full of missed opportunities, demonstrates Banks' generic, inexpensive style because it, technically speaking, contains detail, but doesn't really communicate anything. The mahogany, marble, oriental [sic] rug, leather furniture, paintings and stocked bookshelves stereotypically signify wealth. Without any further modification to particularize them so that they reveal the character of the rich dude, the stereotypical signifiers just lie there limply like the authorial equivalent of spaghetti flung against the wall in a test to determine its adhesive properties.

As I intimated, Banks passes up a huge chance for the reader to get to know the dominant dude. If she would just give us more specifics, we might ground the story and the characters a little bit more. What's the design on the rug? What figures, palettes and styles appear in the paintings? What subject matter fills the books? How is everything arranged within the room? Are there focal points or salient details and, if so, what? Music, traffic noise, computer keys clicking? Garish fluorescent lighting, natural light from huge windows, cave-like dimness? The smell of carpet shampoo, dried spooge, expensive cigars, floral perfume? We'll never know. In paragraph after paragraph like this, Banks builds empty edifices of stereotypical tropes that may seem to evoke certain worlds, personalities and feelings, but which ultimately leave the subjects that they describe mysterious and cipher-like.

The gummy, rubbery prose, impervious to all attempts at the incision of fine detail, does this book in. I bravely put up with it until the ingenue's discussion of her impending BDSM contract with the rich dude on pages 32 and 33:

"And this relationship you propose. What exactly do you mean by nontraditional?"

..."I'll own you. Body, soul. You'll belong to me."

Whoa. That sounded so...heavy.


Right there was where I bust out laughing. The 24-year-old ingenue has evinced no particular idiolect up until this point, except for a distressingly ableist propensity to describe stuff that she thinks is pathetic as "lame." Suddenly, for no reason that I can discern, she sounds like a mash-up of Neo from the Matrix and Marty from Back to the Future. The odd combination of two elements totally anachronistic for this character's generation struck such resoundingly wrong notes that I just had to give up. When the supposedly steamy and erotic BDSM novel has me snorting and rolling my eyes at the glaring infelicities of style, it ain't really having its desired effect.
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Today we're examining The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker. I picked this up because it looked to be in a similar vein as Deborah Harkness' All Souls Trilogy, a silly but agreeably diverting series with occasional intelligent grace notes. In fact, Harkness endorsed Barker's debut novel as "a marvelous plot [with] clever dialogue [and] complex characters...a perfect escape from humdrum reality." I mentally translated this as "fun, shallow escapism" and settled in for some entertainment.

I have not been entertained. Instead, Barker has been providing object lessons in how not to write, here presented for your delectation in no particular order:

1) Spend a significant portion of the book having the protagonist raped and brainwashed, and then forget about it. Nora, a 30-year-old unhappy grad student in English literature, somehow accidentally pierces from this world into the realm of Ye Olde Standarde Faeries: that is, supernatural assholes who appear like beautiful humans but really look disgusting and who enjoy kidnapping humans and messing with their minds. The first 80 pages of the novel detail her transformation into a thoughtless automaton, coerced into a muzzy-headed state of permanent compliance. She is essentially drugged, threatened, gaslighted, forcibly married to Raclin, a draconic fairy prince, raped by Raclin, beaten by Raclin and, finally, terrorized by Raclin's mom Ilissa until she miscarries. By this point, the reader just wants the torture to end, but no such luck. Aruendiel, a human, male magician, rescues Nora, and we still have about four-fifths of the book left to go.

The remainder of the book, however, doesn't adequately address the aftermath of Nora's ordeal. Barker discusses Nora's physical healing from Raclin's assault, as well as the disconcerting experience of having a huge amount of fairy glamour lifted from her. We also get a little bit of ambivalence from Nora about having a miscarriage, but that's about it. We don't, for example, see Nora angry or ashamed at her seduction, regretful that she has left behind the lap of luxury for a hardscrabble life with Aruendiel, proud that she managed to get out or even frightened that the fairies might come after her. She does not appear to have been emotionally affected by her torture at all. For God's sake, she shows more impassioned feeling in her discussion with Aruendiel of his language's sexist deployment of gendered conjugations and declensions than she does about her repeated mental and physical violation at the hands of the fairies.

2) Fail to establish credible antagonists. Of course, the fairies do indeed come after Nora once Aruendiel rescues her; Raclin, in the form of a dragon, chases her on a few separate occasions, but is thwarted when Aruendiel a) pop-flies him into the stratosphere, b) leaves him with a much larger and very pissy lake monster and c) turns him into a rock. Aruendiel's casual [and silly -- seriously, pop-flying him into the stratosphere?] dispatches of Raclin make the prince seem less like a truly threatening abuser and more like an annoying bug. Because Nora and Aruendiel always repulse the fairies, the fairies fail come across as creakingly obvious devices with which to move the plot [such as there is] forward.

3) Use ableist and racist stereotypes in place of character development. In the ableism department, Aruendiel represents one of the most tedious types, the Aloof And Commanding Cripple With A Broken Body, But A Restless Mind, Whose Rudeness And Grimness May Be Excused By His Secret Tragic Past [But It Wasn't His Fault]. In Aruendiel's case, he killed his wife because [somehow] he thought this would free her from an enchantment that Ilissa had put on her. Then he was fighting in some war with Ilissa, and he fell out of the sky, broke lots of bones and died, but his friends brought him back to life. He does not, however, think that he was worth reviving. Why are the Tragic Cripples always so whiny and self-pitying?

In the racism department, one of the most interesting characters unfortunately ends up being the most exoticized. Hirizjahkinis, Aruendiel's friend, is the only female magician in a book where the main culture's characters think of female magicians as highly improbable, if not impossible. Hirizjahkinis skirts the sexist restrictions of Aruendiel's society by being a foreigner from some hot, jungle-covered, southerly place [lazy Africa equivalent] with a tradition of female witches. Physically, she is dark-skinned -- the only non-white character in the entire book [a fact noted by the white characters] -- with her black hair in cornrows. When Nora first meets her, Hirizjahkinis is so exotic and foreign that she wears both a kimono-like robe and a leopard skin over her shoulders. Yes, folks, a leopard skin: the stereotypical sign of a comic-book "jungle girl" or "savage!" Oh yeah, and she's bisexual -- the only non-hetero person in the entire book [also noted by the characters]. Even though she is warm, friendly, patient, competent, unflappable, sexy, badass and clearly the most lively and engaging character in the whole book, Hirizjahkinis suffers from intersectional objectification because, for some reason, Barker thought it acceptable to turn her into an egregious token, the embodiment of all that is different from the straight, white majority in the book.

4) Focus on a vacuous protagonist. I have no idea why Harkness thinks that this book involves "complex characters." They are the least complex I have come across in a long time. The protagonist Nora has no personality whatsoever, and the structure of the book, in which events happen to Nora through no agency of her own, certainly doesn't help matters. Nora is stalled in her dissertation by her advisor, dumped by her boyfriend, accidentally sucked into another world, abducted and raped by fairies, rescued and healed by Aruendiel, etc., etc., etc., shuttling from one event to another like a pinball being smacked by paddles of plot. It is possible to write a fascinating story about a protagonist who experiences dramatic changes in her life that are outside her control, but this is not that story. Said hypothetical fascinating story requires a protagonist with an interesting inner life whose interpretation of events offers counterpoint and/or insight into the whole structure of the plot. Nora, who apparently has no phenomenological experience whatsoever [see her lack of reaction to her rape], is not that protagonist.

Barker does Nora no favors on the development front by depriving her of a history. Sure, she's got an ex-boyfriend and a female friend, but we quickly breeze past these people so that Nora may be brainwashed and raped by the fairies. Quick summaries of Nora's relationship with her ex or an explanation of her friend's personality provide no revealing details about Nora as a person.

And what about Nora's family?  Heck, it's not until two-thirds of the way through the book, when she visits her 10-year-old sister through a two-way scrying spell, that we see that her sister has a shrine to their dead brother and that it now includes a photo of presumed-dead Nora as well. Why didn't we hear about her little sister and dead brother earlier? Why does Barker pass up a chance to forge significant relationships and thus a bit of individuality for her main character? Why does she withhold such important information about Nora's dead brother until practically the end of the book, when the reader is so stultified by the pointless plotlessness that they have no energy left to give a shit? The poignant conversation between Nora and her sister, who thinks she might be a ghost, contains more emotional heft than all the pages before it, but apparently leaves no lasting effect. In conclusion, Nora, a character apparently impervious to the effects of life, bores the poop out of me.

4) Tell the wrong story. Barker spends most of her time on a) Nora's torture in fairyland, b) Nora's physical recovery from her assault, during which she does a large amount of chores with Aruendiel's housekeeper, c) Nora's failed attempts to learn magic and d) her increasing, inexplicable infatuation with Aruendiel. To this, Barker tosses in interminable discussions of human/fairy politics that never seem to impinge upon the plot, scads of silly made-up names ["Hirgus Ext" being a typical example] with no logic behind them [she seems to think that telling the name of everything constitutes convincing worldcraft] and Nora's continual frustration over the sexism in Aruendiel's society. If there's a plot or anything of consequence going on in there, I missed it in the wash of extraneous details.

Meanwhile, there's a much more interesting thread running through the story: that of the conjunction between magic and death, fairyland and the afterlife. Nora enters fairyland through an abandoned cemetery, and it's mentioned that she has always liked old graveyards [a fact that's never enlarged upon]. When she determines how much time has passed in the magic world, she figures that her family must think that she is dead. In her adventures with Aruendiel, she encourages him to bring back to life a young girl. Her interest in life and death takes on new significance when she converses with her little sister and sees herself in the same category as her dead brother: enshrined in absence. Nora has a cautious, curious, mournful relationship with death, which is probably the only interesting thing about her.

Aruendiel does his own dance with death. As a magician, he has used magic enough so that his life has been extended to a few centuries, time enough to see generations of friends and family grow old and die. He has killed a bunch of people, including his own wife, which seems to affect him less than his own death and revivification. Part of him kind of wishes his friends had just let him stay dead, but part of him clearly wishes to keep on living. 

I'd like to hear that story -- the tale of how two people so personally invested in death navigate the trials of life -- but no. Instead we get the housekeeper teaching Nora how to chop up apples. I stayed up way too late last night, reading this book, waiting for something to happen, but nothing ever did.
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 Previously excoriated sight unseen here. I got it for throwing against the wall scientific purposes, I swear!
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I was going to write a long, learned essay about how much the short story Hatchling in Laini Taylor's collection, Lips Touch Three Times, pissed me off, but fuck it. Let me get to the meat of the matter: Laini Taylor, your voluptuous prose cannot distract me from your moral vacuity.

Read more... )
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Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, authors of The Rules, a 1995 book of relationship advice for hetero women gender-policing blockbuster of retrograde shit, have repackaged their stale turds in Not Your Mother's Rules: The New Secrets for Dating. Of course, the "new" "secrets" for dating are, in fact, your mother's Rules, assuming, of course, that you had a mother and that she loathed herself enough to take the original turds seriously.

I'd like to check out this "update," if only to see what Fein and Schneider are saying about queer couples. As I recall, there were some vague statements about folks like us in the original Rules books. However, without the "war of the sexes/genders" framework in which to slot each of the players and their "opposite sexes" paradigm with which they make sense of romantic relationships, their comments amounted to, "The Rules are a good guideline for all relationships, even queer ones. Because of reasons. Yeah, and, um...stuff." There was a lot of tokenistic, slightly panicked hand-waving in that dismissive paragraph or two, as I remember. It was actually pretty hilarious.

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Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl have collaborated on an exhaustive quaternary of YA Southern Gothic romances, the Beautiful Creatures trilogy. There was some interesting stuff going on in the first book [although I'm still not sure what happened during the climax], as well as a vivid, if rather stereotypical, setting, so I kept reading.

Recently I plowed through the last installment, Beautiful Redemption, which had significantly less plot, character development and complexity than the previous three episodes. I've been detecting all along Garcia and Stohl's strangely uncomplicated and idealized portrait of the southern US, but one moment in Beautiful Redemption encapsulated all that was problematic about the series.

Toward the end of the novel, [white] protagonist Ethan has come back from limbo and reunited with his [white] angstball girlfriend Lena and his other supporters. Ethan asks his [white] friend Link what Amma [a literal Magic Negro + Mammy twofer who acts as Ethan's maternal figure, then ultimately sacrifices her life for his] was talking about when she mentioned that she caught Link doing something shameful in the cellar when he was young.  Link explains that Amma caught him dressing up in a Civil War uniform. The uniform did not belong to the Confederate ancestors of which his family was so proud, but to some acquaintance's Union ancestors.

Garcia and Stohl write [pp. 440-441]:

I burst out laughing, and within seconds so did Link. No one else at the table understood the sin in a Southern boy -- with a father who led the Confederate Cavalry in the Reenactment of the Battle of Honey Hill, and a mother who was a proud member of the Sisters of the Confederacy -- trying on a Civil War uniform for the opposing side. You had to be from Gatlin.

It was one of those unspoken truths, like you don't make a pie for the Wates because it won't be better than Amma's; you don't sit in front of Sissy Honeycutt in church because she talks the whole time right along with the preacher; and you don't choose the paint color for your house without consulting Mrs. Lincoln, not unless your name happens to be Lila Evers Wate.

Gatlin was like that.

It was family, all of it and all of them -- the good parts and the bad.


Right there the authors trivialize an entire history of racism, slavery, sexism, cruelty and oppression by equating support of it to talking in church or painting one's home without talking to one's neighbors first. It's just a harmless peculiarity, a peccadillo, that causes Ethan to feel uncritically jubilant and nostalgic about his hometown. While he does acknowledge "the good parts and the bad" at the end of this quote, his laughter demonstrates that, while he may struggle with the made-up Southern history of mortals vs. magicians, the ominous real Southern history of torture, war and suffering bothers him very little.

Way to go, Garcia and Stohl. Thanks so much for, among other bilge, perpetuating the myth that the United States is a "post-racial society."

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I picked up Eon by Alison Goodman after reading some laudatory reviews on Amazon and also being marginally intrigued by the concept, in which a young woman adopts a boy's identity to compete for the chance to communicate with dragons and wield great magic, which is, of course, reserved for men. Of course, Eon wins the chance to communicate not just with any dragon, but with the super special awesome Mirror Dragon, the most powerful of all. Then she becomes involved in imperial politics, and eventually the fate of the emperor's succession and the kingdom depends on her. Of course it does. :p

I did not expect this book to be quite so shitty. It really reminded me of The Diviners in that it was a textbook example of how not to tell a story.

Do you need to learn how not to write, kids? Okay, then pay attention to the following precepts, in no particular order.Read more... )
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I just finished Libba Bray's latest doorstop trilogy opener The Diviners. Set in New York City in 1926, it follows a group of teenagers with magical powers as they pursue and attempt to thwart a murderous fanatic who wishes to cheat death by bringing about Hell on Earth [or something -- this point wasn't entirely clear]. Characters include protagonist Evie, an obnoxious flapper wannabe and burgeoning lush, who can learn about owners by holding their possessions; her best friend Mabel, whose major conflict in this book is about whether she should bob her hair; Evie's new friend Theta, a Zeigfield girl and apparent pyrokinetic; Memphis, Theta's boyfriend, who has healing hands and a possessed little brother; Will, an absentminded professor stereotype, who heads a museum of the occult and ostensibly watches over Evie; Sam, a pickpocket and male version of Evie [only with less alcohol], who can become invisible; Jericho, a tragic cyborg with the power of hulking menacingly; and Naughty John, the aforementioned murderous fanatic. Shenanigans ensue.

I'm going to finish this series because Bray knows how to write mindlessly engaging entertainment. I am not, however, finishing this series for its literary merit. In fact, the book presents many beautiful examples of how not to write. I have gathered them in a list below for your convenience in no particular order.This book REALLY pissed me off. )
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When I first wrote about Jodi Anderson's tedious slog of a novel Tiger Lily, I predicted that Pine Sap, Disabled Stereotype Extraordinaire, was going to die.

Now, having finished the book [give me a medal for endurance], I would like to apologize. I'm sorry. I was wrong. Pine Sap does not die. Instead, he becomes Tiger Lily's Consolation Prize Husband after Peter leaves Neverland to grow up in the UK as Wendy's husband. [I'm not gonna even go into how narratively wrong that is.] Pine Sap's status as Permanent Runner-up is not at all an improvement over my assumption that he would be the Tragic Dead Guy. He's still portrayed as inherently pathetic and not as awesome as Peter because of his disability.

So guess who dies? Tik Tok. Yes, Tiger Lily's adoptive dad bites it. On insistence from a shipwrecked "Englander," the Sky Eaters force Tik Tok to change his gender presentation and wear men's clothes. He loses his spirit and commits suicide as an instructive object lesson to Tiger Lily about what happens when you try to deny your true self.

Really, Anderson? You're gonna go with the Tragic Dead Queer trope? You realize it's a fucking evil stereotype, right?

...No, apparently you don't. Boy, you really do have shit for brains.
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Trans people are actual people, not Thematic Elements That Underscore the Protagonist's Ponderous Musings About Mutability. It's stupidly disingenuous of you to claim, through your protagonist, that you are not making the protagonist's trans girlfriend a Thematic Element when you end up explicitly making the girlfriend a Thematic Element a few hundred pages later. Kindly fuck off until you learn the secret to writing trans characters.

Hint: It's NOT A SECRET, and you, being a published author of some experience and renown, should know it already. Here's the hint: you write about a human being with the attribute of being trans, instead of writing about the concept of Transness that incidentally has the attribute of being human. You can do it with your queer cis female characters. Why can't you do it with your queer trans female character?

Do you care about trans people at all? [Do you even known any?] Or do you just think that writing "tr***y" makes you grittier, edgier and more shocking? I'm going with option C, given your colossal cluelessness.

I am so disappointed in you. I am never reading anything you write again, which is a pity because I liked The Red Tree.

You do realize that The Drowning Girl, catalyst of my ire, is nothing but a flaccid, digressive, anti-trans Red Tree wanna-be in need of ruthless editing, right?

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Peter Pan was published in 1911 by the British author J.M. Barrie, based on a 1904 play called Peter and Wendy. It’s the story about three British kids, Wendy, John and Michael, who go to the Neverland of their imaginations. There they have adventures with pirates, mermaids, wild animals, lost boys and, of course, the boy who wouldn’t grow up: Peter Pan.

The concept of Peter Pan and the crude outlines of the story have exerted a fascination over US and British readers for more than a century. Thanks to Disney’s 1953 animated adaptation, most US fans have rather superficial ideas about Peter Pan, chiefly involving flying, fairy dust, pirates and maybe a crocodile. Naturally, the play and the novel are much messier and more interesting than our cliched ideas about them.

Having read Peter Pan many, many times, I could provide you with rants on everything from the authorial interruptions to the treatment of female characters, but right now I am focusing on the Indians. Yeah, there are Indians in Neverland. They are members of the Pickaninny tribe, referred to by that narrator as “red men,” and they scalp people. I am not making this up; Barrie specifically writes that the name of the Indians’ group is a racist term for African-American people. Furthermore, the Indians have silly nature-related names like “Great Big Little Panther.” They also talk like stereotypical Japanese people who can’t pronounce their Rs. In short, the Indians are a horrible farrago of Edwardian racist stereotypes, which kind of makes sense, if you figure that Neverland is populated by Wendy, Michael and John’s ideas of Indians gleaned from idealized and disparaging media they have consumed.

The only Indian in Peter Pan to develop something like an individual personality is Tiger Lily. Described as the trite Ice Maiden who “staves off the altar with a hatchet,” she is beautiful, imperious and aloof to all potential suitors. For some reason, though, she has a rather pathetic crush on Peter, declaring, “Me his velly nice friend.” [See what I mean about the stereotypical broken English?] Her major scene occurs when Smee and Starkey kidnap her, but untie her at Peter’s orders, as they think he is Captain Hook. Tiger Lily does the smart thing and immediately jumps off Smee and Starkey’s boat and swims away to freedom. Other than that, though, she’s a barely personalized bit of scenery.

One hundred years after Barrie published the original novel, Jodi Lynn Anderson decided to vomit forth her revisionist response entitled Tiger Lily. In this version, narrated by an observant but mostly uninvolved Tinker Bell, Tiger Lily is merely referred to as a “native,” a member of the Sky Eater tribe. A teenager, she lives with her adoptive father, the cross-dressing shaman Tik Tok, and excels at “masculine” pursuits and suppressing her emotions. She meets Peter Pan and falls in love with him, an experience that, of course, feminizes and gentles her. [I fucking hate that trope.] Her impending marriage to a cruel lout, as well as the arrival of Wendy, John and Michael, messes everything up. Angst ensues. As far as I can tell, this is a cheap attempt to capitalize on the paranormal romance subgenre by employing, for no discernible reason, the trappings of a previous author’s universe.

As soon as I heard about Anderson’s book, I began to cringe. Why is she so interested in rehabilitating stereotyped Indians? What makes her think she has the authority to tell Tiger Lily’s story? Why do we need yet another white author with no native connections treating the Indians of Peter Pan like shit? [I’m serious. In all sequels and adaptations of the story that I’ve read or read about, the Indians fare extremely poorly. Please check Debbie Reese’s "Peter Pan" and "Peter Pan in Scarlet" tags on American Indians in Children’s Literature for details. Reese is an author and activist tribally enrolled in Nambe Pueblo (New Mexico), and she knows what she’s talking about.] The answer to these three questions appears to be 1) no idea, 2) absolutely nothing and 3) we don’t. Yet Anderson forges ahead.

I decided to give Tiger Lily a chance, though. I was right – it is cringeworthy and terrible. The persistently clueless portrayal of the Sky Eaters combines with the talentless writing to create a literary disaster.

This book is so bad that I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s start, for want of a better place, with the subject of consistency. All of the “native” tribes of Neverland appear to be named after their location – the Bog Dwellers and the Cliff Dwellers, for example – except for Tiger Lily’s tribe, the Sky Eaters. Why aren’t they named after their location as the Forest Dwellers? What’s this irrelevant business about the sky and eating it? Here’s just one clue of many that Anderson hasn’t thought her world through.

The Sky Eaters behave like a loose collection of Native American stereotypes. They live in huts; they have a medicine man, Tik Tok, even though he is called a shaman, who heals people and works magic; they wear deerskin clothes; they have long black hair and high cheekbones; many of their names follow the stereotype of Literally Translated Natural Phenomenon; they worship many gods or spirits…argle bargle bargle. Despite this, they don’t seem to have any culture. Anderson will often add asides about the Sky Eaters’ marriage customs, religious beliefs or bathing habits, but we never see these things affecting the characters’ actions or the development of the plot. Tiger Lily’s little village, populated by the Loving Adoptive Dad, the Disabled Kid With a Crush on Her, the Teen Exemplar of Femininity, the Evil Suitor, the Evil Suitor’s Mom and Various Uncomprehending and Gossipy Tertiaries, could appear in any other setting without a problem. It’s a thoroughly generic story and a thoroughly generic setting, which Anderson only gestures at making specific. And, unfortunately, her idea of making the Sky Eaters specific involves tossing them into a pit of Indian stereotypes.

Even though I’m only halfway through, I’m dogged by the sense that Anderson is telling the wrong story. As I mentioned, the depiction of Tiger Lily and the other Sky Eaters is so vacuous as to deter sympathy, identification and investment in Tiger Lily’s experiences. Furthermore, Tiger Lily and Peter Pan have a tediously formulaic Forbidden and Doomed Love piece of crap going on, which is also boring. I’m much more interested in…well, basically anyone except them. For instance, what’s Tik Tok’s history? How does Pine Sap [Disabled Kid with a Crush on Tiger Lily] feel about being a sensitive, thoughtful butt of tribal jokes? What’s the relationship between Smee and Hook? Why does Tink have a crush on Peter? Where the hell are all the other faeries anyway? Where’s the magic?

Neverland holds such a grip on our imaginations because it’s a problematic, messy, dangerous, powerful place. Anderson commits a crime against fiction by sticking it somewhere in the Atlantic, leaching out the magic and populating it with racist and sexist cliches that wouldn’t grow up.

P.S. I just know that Pine Sap is going to die. The disabled character always bites it in this kind of ableist tripe.

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[Thanks to Sparky at Racialicious.]

This "reverse discrimination" bullshit got funded?! WHY?

Re plot summary: SNORE. Also...saddest song, smallest violin.

P.S. I've started swearing in my LJ again. There's too much bullshit in the world that needs calling out as such.

EDIT: Wow, it gets worse. First off, the author says that she wrote this bullshit because anti-gay bigots need to "to feel, through the love story of Chris and Carmen, the wrenching horror of being denied the person you love." Yeah, somehow, reading about a persecuted straight couple will make anti-gay bigots more sympathetic to queers. Given that many anti-gay bigots believe that they are personally being persecuted right here and now by the "homosexual agenda," I doubt that a book making queers the majority will promote empathy in said anti-gay bigots. They'd read it as a cautionary tale of what will happen to this civilization if we let those evil queers have their so-called "rights." No, Preble, your book does not challenge anti-gay bigotry. It supports anti-gay bigotry.

Second of all, she thinks she's some sort of fearless crusader with a message from "the Universe" to "[l]ive your truth." Hey, Preble...your truth is that you're full of heteronormative privilege. Also self-aggrandizing bullshit.

Third, she's laboring under the misconception that her book is "LGBT fiction." News flash for the clueless -- in order to be classified as "LGBT fiction," your book has to feature some lesbian and/or gay and/or bisexual and/or trans characters as sympathetically portrayed individuals whose experiences are worth sharing. You can't just write a story  with some lesbian and/or gay and/or bi and/or trans characters who function not as characters, but as poorly wielded anvils to hammer home the Important Theme [tm] that Anti-Gay Bigotry Is Wrong. "LGBT" fiction requires valuing, promoting and centering various varieties of "LGBT" experiences, which Preble obviously can't do.

Fourth and most disgustingly, Preble feeds us some argle-bargle about writing this book in support of her gay son. Jesus Christ, if she really wished to support her son, why didn't she help to organize her local city's Pride celebration, join PFLAG, staff the fundraising phones at a marriage equality organization [since that's one of her pet causes]? At least do something directly related to queers. As mind-blowing as it may be to hear this, Preble, writing about straight people does not further the cause of queer civil rights. In fact, it just reinforces the broad societal assumption that the only stories worth telling are heteronormative ones. Get it? You're not helping. Shut up; bug off, and stop colonizing my subgenre. We don't want you here.

I can't expect Preble to get it, though. Her brain is so stuffed with straight privilege that there's no room for any critical thought. I mean, look -- she apparently doesn't think queers exist. She addresses her blog audience [and putative readership] as follows: "If the way you are, ie, attracted to people of the opposite sex, was criminalized, how would you feel?"

Three things, Preble: 1) You appear to be operating under the strange and old-fashioned notion that sexes have "opposites," a concept that is both factually incorrect and incoherent. What do you even mean here?

2) I AIN'T STRAIGHT. I am not attracted to people of the "opposite" sex. Amazing, huh? Not everyone in the world is just like you.

3) It ain't a conditional for me. The way I am is criminalized in some places, maybe not where I live, but elsewhere. Though I might have certain freedoms that people in more restricted places do not, we all suffer from the same societal biases. Don't tell me and others like me that our lives are speculative fiction. You don't get to dictate my reality.

Oh wait...I have a fourth thing. 4) I read your sample chapter of this book, and you can't write for shit.

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I just finished Vanishing Acts, and it enraged me, just like every single book of Picoult's does. I'm so pissed that it's difficult for me to articulate why I find her work so narratively offensive, but I'll try.

Let me first give you my idea of novelistic success: a story motivated by characters' actions, featuring robust, believable people who just happen to live on paper. In the best novels, characters act according to their nature. Their actions are not propelled by the plot; they propel the plot with their actions. Even if what they do is surprising, it's exactly what they have to do because that's who they are. They are psychologically consistent people whose actions provide insight into their heads.

Picoult does not start her stories with robust characters at all. Instead, she starts with abstract concepts. In the case of Vanishing Acts, she's got Memory, Divorce, Alcoholism, Parent/Child Relationships, argle bargle bargle. Upon such a Procrustean bed of Big Important Themes, she throws the generic skeletons of her "characters," or, more precisely, "authorial puppets," who then twitch according to her grindingly blatant plot machinery. And we're supposed to accept this as a story?! Your average car commercial on TV has more genuine, compelling drama.

Now I enjoy a cleverly and neatly turned plot as much as any reader, but that's not what's going on in Picoult's work. What's going on is plot-driven melodrama trying desperately to pass itself off as a Significant Work of Our Times. You can tell it's Significant because there are [obvious, boring, unenlightening] Parallels Between Characters! There are Appropriate Poetic Quotes before each section! There's a Magical Negro Indian character who exists solely to fulfill the whiteys' epiphanies by infodumping Hopi mythology [which then becomes nothing more than a metaphor for...Lord knows what, as I was skimming at this point] and then conveniently offing herself! That makes this book Thematic and Deep, right? Right? Why are you laughing at me???

Picoult's books are all essentially diagrams of checkers games put into words. I was going to say chess, but that's too sophisticated. Maybe Connect Four is a better analogy. She's a cheating cheater who cheats because she tries to pass these diagrams off as stories.

I have really got to stop reading her books. It's like eating something that tastes good while you're chewing it, and then you get a little indigestion several bites in. You ignore it because you want to finish your portion. You continue, and your aches and pains increase. By the end, when your stomach is full, you feel bloated, heartburned, constipated and utterly unable to contemplate anything but the sore state of your digestive system. That's about how I feel right now, literarily speaking. Ooog.
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Elsie Chapman's first novel, Dualed, sounds like a cross between a bad Hunger Games ripoff and the stupidity of someone who has never actually thought about what it's like to be an identical twin. It's about a city where people prove their worthiness by killing their identical twins, who are raised apart from them.

The stupidity hurts. Why is one half of the population murdering the other half? Are they in a competition for scarce resources? In that case, why keep both twins around at all? Why not selectively abort or turn to infanticide?

Furthermore, the ableist and eliminationist implications of this are disturbing, to say the least. If one twin has a disability and the other doesn't, there are many ways in which the twin without the disability could exploit the other's disability to kill him/her off. Has the author thought about the bias against disabled people inherent in her worldbuilding? To be clear, I have no problem with ableism in worldbuilding. I do have a problem, however, with ableist bias in worldbuilding done by an author without a grain of self-reflectiveness.

You know, if you really wanna run with this "kill your twin" premise, why not attack the inherent ableism head on? Give both twins disabilities. One could be a deaf person with agoraphobia and an anxiety disorder. The other could be a person with depression, narcolepsy and binge/purge syndrome. Then they could grow to be friends. Maybe they would even fall in love. They would decide that this whole "kill your twin" thing was, in fact, incredibly stupid and struggle to make their own lives in a society that a) expects them to try to kill each other and b) devalues people with disabilities anyway.

Man, that would be a much better story!
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I'll say a phrase, and you tell me the first words that come to your mind.

Okay? Ready? Here we go:

"Lesbian vampire erotica."


Read more... )
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Hey kids! Are you ready for your daily dose of outrage?

You are? Well let's get crackin'!

I just read Cunt: A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio. More precisely, I tried to read it, but ended up throwing it against the wall in disgust about 50 pages in.

Ostensibly, the book is a feminist reclamation of the word "cunt," which apparently amounts to a long discussion of how wonderful uteruses, Fallopian tubes, ovaries, eggs, menstruation and all associated hydraulics are. I don't object to the concept -- we need more appreciation of these long-devalued body parts -- but I object strenuously to the execution.

Muscio insists that all women have cunts. Yes, she actually writes that. I promptly yelled at the book, "NO THEY DON'T!!!!!!!" but this did not alter her erroneous assumption. Apparently all the women I know who don't have cunts aren't women??!?!?!?!?!?!? Keep your essentialist claptrap to yourself, Muscio.

In one of the book's early chapters, Muscio talks about her childhood in which she was shamed and characterized as unclean for menstruating. She then recounts her reacquaintance with her reproductive system, her determination of her own reproductive schedule and her switch from "feminine hygiene products" to sea sponges and rags. There is also a huge tangent about the ocean and the moon and how this somehow relates to fertility [hint: it doesn't]. Yay hooray, she liberated her reproductive system, and she feels good about it.

The problem arises when Muscio prescribes her reproductive liberation program for all women. First of all, as I mentioned before, not all women have the same biology. Second, even if they do have the aforementioned long-devalued body parts, they don't all menstruate. Third, if they do menstruate, they don't necessarily do it on a regular schedule the way that Muscio apparently does. ["Fun" experiment: try figuring out your menstrual "schedule" if you have PCOS!] Fourth, the ocean and the moon have nothing whatsoever to do with menstruation. Fifth, some of us have slightly more complex relationships to our bodies than "Ick, I'm disgusting; the patriarchy has oppressed me!" then transforming into "My womanhood is wonderful!" However, Muscio presents her experience as the sole option, thereby foreclosing on the full and varied range of experiences that a full and varied range of women have in their bodies.

This is not feminism. This is simplistic, biologically reductionist bilge in complete denial of multiple axes of oppression.
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Just finished the third book in the Sonja Blue trilogy, Paint It Black by Nancy Collins. Kinda funny how she took the title from a Rolling Stones song that was more original, memorable and deeply felt in a few verses than the entire Sonja Blue trilogy was in 3 books. Anyway, I think there was something in there about Sonja's consummation of her quest for vengeance against her vampire maker, but it was lost in an incredibly tedious string of rape, murder, murder by rape and rape by murder that was trying hard to pass for plot.

I was mostly reading the book because I was curious to see how Sonja's adopted vampire/human hybrid daughter Lethe would turn out. When Lethe went into a cocoon, popped out as a teenager after a few weeks and raped her adoptive father [Sonja's partner], then flew around the world [without a plane], raping 24 other guys, with the goal of producing some sort of master race with super psychic powers, I was disgusted. I was disgusted by the complete vacuity of the whole enterprise and its venomously misanthropic, morally bankrupt imagination. It was bad because it was stupid and stupid because it was bad.

I swore an oath to myself that I wouldn't swear any more in my LJ, but I have to break that oath now because the Sonja Blue trilogy was the shittiest shit that ever shat. It's an offense to good writing, good plotting and good character development. It's an offense to all people of any sex and gender presentation, but especially women. It's an offense against anyone who believes in kindness, respect, humanity and fairness. It's an offense to originality and creativity.

I've concluded that it's not actually a trilogy. Instead, it's an actively destructive vortex of hostility. It's a testament to the sad depths of banal depravity of the human imagination. It's a diseased mutation of novels, a literary cancer born from kyriarchical nastiness. It's deeply revolting on every level -- line by line, cliche by cliche, regurgitated theme by regurgitated theme -- and potentially damaging. I live in the kyriarchy; I already experience multiple axes of oppression daily; I don't need the inhumane dicta of the kyriarchy concentrated and injected directly into my amygdala in the form of this trilogy.

If, for some bizarre reason, you want to read a series that hates you and enjoys doing so, I heartily recommend the Sonja Blue trilogy. You can have my copies. Take them, please. I would burn them in cleansing fire, only I don't think there's any place around here where I can do so without violating some sort of city ordinance. Barring that, I'll settle for tossing them in the Dumpster or recycling them in the vain hope that the pages might contribute usefully to society in their next life.

I don't just hate this trilogy. I reject it. I repudiate it. It represents all the vile oppressions against which I struggle every day. This trilogy is just one of my many enemies and oppressors.

I will not let it win.
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A while back, when I still lived in Massachusetts, I was housesitting overnight at someone's house. I found some cheap paperbacks by Nancy Collins there -- Sunglasses After Dark and In the Blood -- and read them quickly, staying up late. They followed the adventures of Sonja Blue, a reluctant vampire trying to suppress her monstrous nature, which she termed "the Other," while also taking vengeance on her maker and ridding the world of supernatural menaces along the way. Back before urban fantasy devolved into a set of cliches, this trilogy [capped by Paint It Black] entertained me and made an impression on me in the way that Sonja's vampirism was portrayed as an alien entity in her head against which she struggled.

Harboring happy memories of this trilogy, I recently got all 3 books off Amazon.com and settled in for a bit of fun. I quickly realized that the Sonja Blue series is a) full of cliches [not urban fantasy cliches, but cliches in general] and b) horribly misogynist.

Speaking of a), I don't even know where to start. All the characters are stock types, and they all speak exactly as expected. For example, the British pimp spews a debased version of Cockney slang ["ducks?" "guv'nor?!"] dreamt up by someone whose experience with the British idiom extends to a single viewing of Disney's Mary Poppins. The oleaginous evil dude makes a suave proposal to our male protagonist of In The Blood that's all ominous inneundo and silly euphemisms. I could go on, but I'd exhaust myself in listing the ways in which the characterization is lazy.

Speaking of b), the series doesn't come right out and hate women blatantly, but it does so in more insidious, structural ways. Sonja moves in a world where most of the people she meets are men, while the women are usually reduced to sexualized window dressing. The one exception, her main antagonist in Sunglasses After Dark, Caroline Wheele, is defined as the widow of a charismatic evangelist [she killed him] for whom, with her psychic talents, she was the power behind the throne. When Caroline dies, the spirits of her victims pull her to pieces, reducing her to an insensate object in the very way that the author reduces all female characters.

The trilogy apparently really hates sex too. Any sex scene is one of transactional exploitation, without any appreciation or emotional connection. Sexual and psychic violation forge both Sonja's and Caroline's personalities, and they go on to perpetrate the same abuses on others. Actually, now that I think about it, there's almost no sex acts in the trilogy. It's all rape, all the time. Anyone whose perspective automatically makes sex an abuse of power has a serious problem. Of course, the trilogy's hatred for sex ends up being a hatred for women, since all the women are reduced to sex objects.

Finally, Sonja herself is constructed as a misogynist character. She doesn't hate -- or at least tolerates -- male characters, with whom she occasionally forms mutually beneficial relationships. But she really doesn't like other women. At best, she feels comtempt for them, at worst, as with Caroline, hatred. Furthermore, Sonja is that most tedious of types, the Exceptional Woman [see my criticism of Brave for details], whose value only lies in her repudiation of her status as a woman and her embrace of pursuits and skills coded as masculine. Blah blah blah yuck.

I'm finishing this trilogy, and then I'm getting rid of it.
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I was all excited to read Memoir of a Debulked Woman, Susan Gubar's account of her diagnosis and treatment for advanced ovarian cancer. Since Gubar is a noted feminist literary critic, I expected a powerful combination of personal details and polemic yielding a strong, thought-provoking critique of the medical industrial complex.

I did not expect gratuitous similes about people with disabilities. At least twice in the half of the book that I read [before throwing it across the room in disgust], Gubar compares her social withdrawal and disinclination to talk about her condition to having autism.

NO! Your social withdrawal and disinclination is NOT like having autism, Susan Gubar. More accurately, your social withdrawal and disclination to talk about your condition correspond to your personal stereotype [also a cultural stereotype at large] of how autistic people act in social situations.

In any case, please shut up. You are not like a person who has autism. Only people with autism are like people who have autism. And do I need to remind you that people with autism are actual, real people, as opposed to fodder for your literary flourishes?

While I'm on the same subject, people need to stop using "blind," "deaf," "crippled" and other words that refer to people with disabilities as metaphors. No, in fact, you're not "blind" to the obstacles facing you or "deaf" to criticism and therefore "crippled" by your inability to heed advice. You may be inattentive to obstacles, heedless of criticism and therefore challenged by your inability to heed advice, so use the right words, rather than ones that don't belong to you.

Also, everybody, stop using any form of the word "lame" to refer to something that you think is pathetic, insignificant, not good enough, unconvincing, etc. Look at how many synonyms I just listed in the preceding sentence! Pick one of them instead, not a term that shows how horribly prejudiced you are against people with disabilities.
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They always signal to me that the book wants to be taken seriously as Important Literature. However, if a book has to try that hard to inspire Deep Thoughts [TM], it will never be anything more than a second-tier novel.

I also find reading group guides rather insulting. Do the publishers really think that little of the readers? Do they think that we can't come up with our own topics of discussion? We're not stupid!

I should really check the back of books for reading group guides before I decide to read them. I could save myself a lot of grief that way.

While I'm at it, will someone please tell Jodi Picoult that she should stop dressing up her books as Srs Bzns? She writes entertainingly good stories, not Classics For The Ages. And that's perfectly fine...if she's honest about what she's doing.
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As much as I'm interested in the concept of the novel [a cure for aging and its effects on the world], I DO NOT CARE AT ALL about the adventures of the protagonist, a straight, cis, white, middle-class, able-bodied, US man with a societally acceptable body shape and a slag heap of unexamined privilege.

Seemingly THE ENTIRE WORLD revolves around the adventures of straight, cis, white, middle-class, able-bodied men with societally acceptable body shapes and slag heaps of unexamined privilege. They're tedious, boring, self-indulgent and overdone. Find a new narrative, people.

P.S. And if you're a straight etc. man whose protagonist happens to be a straight etc. man, you're suffering A FAILURE OF IMAGINATION. The world don't look like you no more. Get over yourself.
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Cassandra Clare writes popular YA fantasy series. I have no problem with that; in fact, I enjoy them as mind candy. I really wish she would stop quoting British literature, though. In the Infernal Devices series, a quotation from some British novel or poetry begins every single chapter for no apparent reason. Furthermore, the characters spew poetry at inopportune intervals too. Why? Why? Why?

This incessant quoting serves no purpose. The pre-chapter quotes relate, sometimes in very strained, tangential ways, to the events in the chapter, but that's it. The characters' useless quotations do nothing to further the reader's understanding of the story or the characters, unless your understanding is furthered by knowing that the protagonist likes books. There's no thematic, sustained, interesting, clever or relevant treatment of the quotes or the works they're from. They don't do anything except waste space. At best, they prove the author's prowess in Googling public domain works of literature. Must be some sort of self-congratulatory textual porn for English majors whose intellectual achievements peaked with their close reading of Dickens' Great Expectations [snore] during their sophomore year at a small New England liberal arts college.

As an English major from a small New England liberal arts college [ask me about my close reading of Emily Dickinson!], I'm real impressed. :p
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I just looked up impetus on dictionary.com to verify that the plural is impetuses. [It is.] For a quote that used the word in a sentence, the dictionary provided this shining gem by the horrendous bilgewhacker D.H. Lawrence:

"While the white man keeps the impetus of his own proud, onward march, the dark races will yield and serve, perforce. But let the white man once have a misgiving about his own leadership, and the dark races will at once attack him, to pull him down into the old gulfs."

Apparently this comes from a 1920s novel by Lawrence entitled The Plumed Serpent. Stupid condescending crap from the main character Kate.

Maybe the dictionary.com quote generator should exclude bigoted tripe, huh?

P.S. The title of this entry comes from Yo, Is this Racist?, a hilarious [and ableist] Q&A blog.
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I find Jacqueline Carey's books about Terre D'Ange [wherein Jesus' son settled down in France and produced gods of bdsm -- it's better than it sounds] entertaining, but oh my Lord...someone please stop telling her to use "betimes" and "apurpose" in every third paragraph.

Just to make matters more irritating, Carey uses "betimes" as a synonym of "sometimes," but the first meaning for this archaic word  is actually "in good time; early," as in, "The farmer got up betimes to milk the cows in the predawn darkness."

Carey's lexical problems really interrupt my enjoyment of her mind candy.
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Thanks to sailorzeo, who sent me the first 12 books of Laurell Hamilton's Anita Blaker Vampire Hunter series [previously discussed here], I can now summarize books 1-6 for you.

1. Mary Sue Anita uses her Super-Awesome Bestest Zombie Powers in the whole wide world!!!!!! to solve a police procedural in which yet another Evil Sick Twisted Bastard Beyond Imagining is seriously fucking shit up. The audience turns its brains off and goes for the ride.

2. Mary Sue Anita fights with her main snooze squeeze, Richard the Hairy Wolf Dude, about how he should kill other werewolves in order to insure his status as alpha male. The audience wonders what these two see in each other, since they have no common interests and about as much chemistry of a heap of wet pine needles.

3. Mary Sue Anita fights with other main squeeze, the vampiric and ridiculously dressed Jean-Claude. The audience chokes on its laughter, since Jean-Claude appears to take fashion cues from Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth, only with less sense of humor. The audience then reads the scenes between Mary Sue and Clotheshorse much more avidly, since these two seem well-matched, but Clotheshorse soon flits away, leaving the audience in a semi-dormant torpor once more.

4. Gratuitous descriptions of PARTLY DISMEMBERED BODIES!!! The audience rolls its eyes.

5. Gratuitous fight between Mary Sue and some rival for either Hair Club's or Clotheshorse's affections. The audience secretly roots for the rival to kick Mary Sue's ass, but Mary Sue's ass is impenetrable, even by her "preternatural" [which means "unusual," LKH, not "supernatural" -- DAMN YOU!] butt monkeys.

6. Repetition ad nauseam of the following: Anita's age [24], Anita's "tough-as-nails" demeanor, Jean-Claude's entirely-masculine-and-so-totally-not-at- all-androgynous-and-not-the-least-bit-sexually-ambiguous-why-would-you-even-say-that-I'm-STRAIGHT-straight-I-tell-you-iiiiiiiiieeeeeeeee! physique, Jean-Claude's "beautiful mask" of a face, fur "flowing" [?!] over a transforming lycanthrope, vampires who "flash fangs" [they never "flash THEIR fangs," which irritates me to no end], and the conspicuous absence of any gay tension between Furface and Fangface, despite the fact that they are in a menage a trois with Mary Sue, and Jean-Claude seems like the omnisexual type to use sex as a form of power.

7. Profit!

In other words, these books provided an entire weekend of mindless entertainment. But my vampires are better.
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Paul Constant over at The Stranger writes a scathing review of Noelle Oxenhandler's memoir The Wishing Year. While incisively sarcastic, Constant's review succeeds because he backs up his poor opinion of the book with examples of its failings. My favorite sentence:

Oxenhandler is exceedingly relieved that the African-American syrup advertisement has absolved Nicholas of generations of slave-owning guilt, and she goes about the happy work of intervening in his life.

Maybe, if I hone my rapier-like wit enough, I can be that vicious in a book review and get away with it. Until then, I will enjoy others' excoriations of trash.

Favorite dismissal of an atrocious book, attributed to Dorothy Parker:

This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.

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Bustin' by Minda Webber would like to be a light-hearted, wisecracking supernatural romance, but it fails. Heroine Sam, supposedly an exterminator of paranormal pests, suffers from a tendency to rant, which makes her seem unhinged and prejudiced, rather than charmingly eccentric. The setting suffers from gratuitous alliteration, unimaginative pop-culture puns and a cast of secondaries who compete with each other to see who can be the quirkiest. I hear that Sam exterminates ghosts [one of which is a soup-can-painting spirit named Andy *GET IT hah hah hah winkwink nudgenudge*] for a vampire prince, meanwhile falling in love with a werewolf, but I put the book down before the love interest arrived. As a native Vermonter, I could not forgive Webber for setting a book in Vermont and refusing to describe the state in any remotely convincing detail.
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If you get H.G. Wells, Sherlock Holmes, Oscar Wilde, William James, Nikolai Tesla and Dracula all together in the same room for a night of philosophical speculation on the eve of the 19th century, it's got to be good...or, at the very least, fascinating and unusual. Makes you want to read the book, right? The Hunger and Ecstasy of Vampires by Brian Stableford thus kicks off with an original, engrossing premise: that the aforementioned luminaries, fictional and otherwise, have gathered to listen to the narrative of a man who claims that he has time-traveled to a far future when vampires have subjugated humankind.

This idea could definitely sustain a novel or 3, but ...

...But what? Click with bated breath here. )
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I just read City of Bones [Book 1, Mortal Instruments trilogy] by Cassandra Clare, in which 15-year-old Mary Sue Buffy Princess Leia Clary and her dorky friend Xander Simon [who has a crush on her] experience the supernatural world of the Hellmouth New York City.
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So I finished Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story, which was grotesquely overrated, unfunny and generally stupid. It's about a pretentious loser of a wannabe writer, Tommy, and his vampire girlfriend Jody. 

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Heard about Tales of Beedle the Bard? It's a limited-edition, handbound, handwritten book by Rowling containing five fairy tales that fit in the Harry Potter universe. There are 7 extant, of which Amazon got one on auction for 2 million pounds [no, really]. The proceeds are going to Rowling's pet charity, the Children's Voice Campaign.

I am pretty ambivalent about this stunt. It earns money for a good cause, yay hooray, but it also escalates the general feeding frenzy surrounding anything related to Harry Potter. It is a physically beautiful item, bound like a grimoire with moonstone-eyed skulls, but that's kind of irrelevant because it's so rare that it will probably be guarded, rather than displayed for enjoyment. 

I think what I object to most of all is that Rowling is wielding her immense business savvy in service of a project that, to me at least, seems to be the diametrical opposite of what books represent philosophically. Yes, books represent a convenient storage medium for information, and, like all books, The Tales of Beedle the Bard stores information well enough. Books are also a tool to distribute information, however, which means that they are made for wide audiences. They are designed to be possessed, passed along and used. The Tales of Beedle the Bard is, by the fact of its small edition size, designed so that most people cannot afford it or keep it, which is to say that is is designed NOT to be possessed [at least by you, me or any of the other rabble]. Because the book is riding a wave of Rowling mania, it is an object created to capitalize upon said mania by encouraging people to gawk at it, rather than pass it along. Essentially, books say, "I am a book. Use me. Spread the word!" The Tales of Beedle the Bard says, "Oh, I'm technically a book, insofar as I'm constructed to look and theoretically function exactly like one. In principle, however, I'm not a book because YOU CAN'T READ ME HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!"

I am sure that the content of the stories will somehow escape their limited-edition confines and become available to the general mass of readers, but that doesn't obviate my point. My point is that this project comes across as rather unfriendly, self-involved and, to my gut instincts, unfair because Rowling trumpets that she had written some new stories, but the audience to which she trumpets can't read them because they're not worth[y] enough. I'm torn now because I really want to read The Tales of Beedle the Bard because I'm always on the lookout for new fairy tales. At the same time, Rowling's deployment of the ultra-limited edition seems less about raising money for a good cause and more about the glorification of her own product empire.

The tone of the Amazon.com review -- which is quite possibly the most truckling, cowering, cringeing, fawning, kowtowing, toadying, sycophantic, grovelling, apple-polishing, brown-nosing, servile piece of flattering lickspittle up-suckery that I have ever read -- does not increase my goodwill either. [Did you like that phrase? Over the years, I have amassed quite a collection of words related to obsequious behavior. "Lickspittle" is my favorite because it implies someone who is willing to abase him/herself so low as to slurp up the saliva of someone else off a dirty floor.]
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After an excoriation of Nineteen Minutes, Vanishing Acts and My Sister's Keeper last night, Jill and I determined that Jodi Picoult is actually writing romance novels gussied up to look like Big Important Literature. I personally have a great appreciation for both romance novels [good and bad], as well as Big Important Literature. What particularly pisses me off about Jodi Picoult, though, is that her writing has such transparent, sweating pretensions to Big Important Literature, but her bad form betrays her. 

And by bad form, I mean that
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I checked out a bunch of books about death and cemeteries last night and read through one of them, Cemetery Stories, by Katherine Ramsland, quickly. Riding the mainstreaming of Goth lite, Ramsland skims over the death trade [coroners, embalmers, morticians, gravediggers, etc.], ghost stories and sick stuff people do with dead bodies. Rant below about the supposed connections between people who take pictures of gravestones and people who screw corpses. Read more... )

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