Book Sale!

Malsmall

So this happened, which is wonderful.  Maledicte, my first novel, is on sale today in ebook form!  If you like murderous, genderfluid anti-heroes, dark gods, betrayal, and courtly politics, come take a look!

And hey, Maledicte even has its own TV Tropes page!  (Which cracks me up, seeing all the tropes laid out like that.)

The cover art still blows me away with how gorgeous it is.  David Stevenson hit it out of the park with this one.  It’s lush.

 

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Book Sale!

March Miscellany

It’s Spring-ish here in KS, which basically translates to Season of Mud.  You can’t go outside without regretting it.  Cold, breezy, drizzly, slimy… oh god, so much mud.  And my part of Kansas is formed primarily of clay.  Which means it’s clingy AF and you know what?  It doesn’t smell too pleasant.  It’s just disheartening.  But at least it’s not ice.  At some point, I will have to brave the mudpit backyard and Do Something about it.  But for now, I’ve been mopping mopping mopping the floors and looking for inside entertainments.

I went to see Captain Marvel.  For me, it was like a slightly better Thor.  The space fantasy and the earth scenes meshed better, but had the same sort of “serious business” in space, and “banter and adventure” on earth.  Apparently, space is somber.  The one thing that Captain Marvel did really well for me was the ending fight segment.  Usually, no matter how engaged I am in the movie, the third act of superhero movies gives me CGI battle boredom.  Maybe because this climactic battle had multiple moving parts and shifting stakes, it just really kept my attention.  And on a shallow note, Carol’s powers were just so pretty!

Related, since Avengers: Endgame is coming out soon, I figured I might as well sit my butt down and finish watching the interminable slog known as Infinity War.  Seriously.  I got through it, but I can’t think of a movie less designed to suit my taste.  You’re going to give me all these super competent people and just show them losing from scene 1 onward in increasingly tedious ways?  I like a good tragedy, but this was just…. grinding misery involving characters I really have grown to care for.  But I’ll be there to watch Endgame.

Books!

Between the library, kindle, and the actual facts bookstore, I read a slew of entertaining books this month.

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson.  First book in a YA mystery series with the big whodunit lingering undefined at the end, but instead of annoying me, it just made me eager to get the next one in the series.  Stevie Bell, the narrator, has a great “voice” that just makes it so easy to keep reading.

 

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand.  Another YA, this one horror.  It’s a strange book that I’m still picking apart.  Not so much for the events–it’s pretty straight-forward horror–but for the truly peculiar tone the story takes.  It’s like a mash-up of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Madeleine L’Engle.  Oh and Lovecraft.  It’s reaching for cosmic truths and finding cosmic horror and it’s also about monster-killing girls. I don’t know.  It was uneven, but really interesting.

Watcher in the Woods by Kelley Armstrong.  Book 4 in the Rockton series and not a standalone since it not only builds on the first three books, but begins as a direct result of the showdown in the last book.  I enjoyed this one a lot.  I didn’t like book 3–This Fallen Prey–very much, so I dithered on whether to buy this or not.  But I had a gift card burning a hole in my pocket and it turned out to be a really good entry.  Come to Rockton for the characters, stay for the weird conspiracies and the violent crimes.

 

Nightchaser by Amanda Bouchet.  I’m not sure where I first saw this recommended, but science fiction adventure romance!  Whoot!  This was a lot of fun, if a little overstuffed at the end.  I can bring up the specter of Firefly here, and say, hey this book would be fun for fans of Firefly and it would probably be true.

 

Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews.  Book ten! TEN! of the Kate Daniels series and the final one.  There’s so much story that gets built up over that many books that the final book was going to have a hard slog of wrapping things up, much less dealing with ten books worth of fan favorite characters.  Not only did Kate have to deal with her father once and for all, but oh wait, there’s an entire new army of evil to defeat.  It wasn’t my favorite of the series–felt a little cluttered and rushed–but truthfully, any Ilona Andrews book will provide an enjoyable read.  I’m really looking forward to whatever they do next.

 

 

 

March Miscellany

Book Review: Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett

VigilanceRJBVigilance
Robert Jackson Bennett
Tor
190 pages

Why I Chose it:
C’mon.  Robert Jackson Bennett is an autoread for me, and this particular book? As writers, a lot of us struggle with terrible public events, feeling like we should be able to put words on the page to expose the awful truth of things. But most of us just flail in that direction. So when I heard that RJB had written a satirical SF novel about America’s obsession with–and enabling of–mass public shootings, I picked it up.

I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it.  Satire is as often bitter as the truths it exposes.

The Premise:
Robert Jackson Bennett’s Vigilance is a dark science fiction action parable from an America that has permanently surrendered to gun violence.

The United States. 2030. John McDean executive produces “Vigilance,” a reality game show designed to make sure American citizens stay alert to foreign and domestic threats. Shooters are introduced into a “game environment,” and the survivors get a cash prize.

The TV audience is not the only one that’s watching though, and McDean soon finds out what it’s like to be on the other side of the camera.

Discussion:
I’m going to avoid spoilers for most of this review, but really there are no surprises here.

The blurb tells us right away that McDean will suffer the same fate as his “contestants”. There are some fiddly little twists, but overall, this book provides what you expect.

And that was… weirdly disappointing.

The book is compulsively readable.  RJB is great at stringing words together and creating vivid characters, even in the shorter form of the novella.

That said, I expected more somehow.  More of an edge. Something more potent than just the USA turning public shootings into a patriotic-tinged game show, which… I’ve seen before and before and before.  So many story-lines go back to the bread and circuses of the Romans–death for sport. It’s not enough to really make me sit back and think. I’ve seen variations on it in Star Trek and Doctor Who and any show that ever declares “fight club to the DEATH!!!”.  It’s trope is what I’m saying. And kind of a tired one to hinge the entire novella on.

(Now if someone wanted to write a satirical novel about the NFL and CTE, that would be interesting, and RJB touches on it a bit here.)

The big problem for me is that I expect a certain level of horror/shock or appalled laughter from my satires—like I did in reading Swift’s A Modest Proposal or Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens.

Or Terry Pratchett’s Jingo, which gave me this:

It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. If it was us, what did that make Me? After all, I’m one of Us. I must be. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do the bad things.

This is giggle-worthy writing, bleakly true, and best of all, relatable.

In Vigilance, I got that sting only once in the entire book.

McDean’s guts flutter unpleasantly. He does not want to piss off Kruse—but he can’t share the man’s blithe confidence when it comes to subjecting his entire audience to a subliminal AI about which he knows fucking nothing at all. He’s heard Kruse’s people conduct tests on prisoners, and the thought horrifies him: prisoners don’t share the same race and economic backgrounds of any of his primary demographics at all. The population’s all wrong! If that’s his sample, then it’s skewed, utterly fucked! This could decimate his TMAs.
p 69

TMA- Target Market Activations, by the way if you, like me, are not up on marketing terms.

This point stung and resonated, twisted the common expectations of McDean’s horror in an effective way.  We’re poised, after the thought horrifies him, for human rights violations, not poor demographic matches.

McDean is our primary voice, though there is a secondary POV from Delyna, the “Regular girl” who (rightfully) loathes Vigilance. But then, she’s not his target audience at all, being neither white, nor male, nor constantly afraid. She’s feels only tangentially there–much like the comforting commercials McDean airs between scenes of Vigilance–to soothe the reader and keep them turning the pages instead of turning away.

But in the end, Bennett uses Delyna’s POV in a wonderful (horrible) way to make his primary point.

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

The “Vigilance” TV-watching portion of the USA descends into gun-fueled chaos courtesy of the subliminal AI mentioned above.  Chaos and bloodshed everywhere. Everyone turning on everyone else, guns ablazing like any old Western movie. Not a surprise.  We’ve seen the writing on the wall from page one.

Then there are the customers in Delyna’s bar, and what happens when she dares to turn off the TV in the middle of the episode.

Her patrons don’t fall prey to that subliminal AI because she shut the TV down before the AI started its work; their minds are still their own.   And yet… and yet… they still erupt in violence. Because, as Bennett suggests on every page, once you have a gun in your hand and fear in your heart, there’s no backing down.

So even though Bennett put a third party player on the page, he doesn’t let it absolve the citizens from their murderous, destructive spree.  See, Bennett suggests, they (we) would have erupted eventually anyway.

That’s a powerful statement, and sadly, one that lacks an easy rebuttal.

Overall:
I’m glad I read Vigilance. At the same time, I wish it packed more punch.  Maybe it’s that I keep thinking of Vigilance as a satire, and Bennett wrote it as a parable—a lesson for us to learn from.  Maybe it’s the brevity. There was a lot of world-building glossed over or hand-waved away. Maybe it was just that this was such a White America story and I kept wondering where the other citizens were—just keeping their heads down, like Delyna? Trying to keep a low profile? Or fleeing the country for inexplicable welcomes elsewhere. I felt a lot of absence in this book.

I think, looking at the Jingo quote up above, I know what hampered this book the most for me.  For it to be a satire or even a parable, we have to recognize ourselves in the pages.  We have to say oh god, I’ve thought that, felt that, could I become THAT?!? And I never got that feeling here. McDean is a compelling caricature but he’s not relatable.  I was never in danger of thinking, oh a few missteps and I’d be like him….

There was a tiny moment that zipped by, part of the set-up and explanation for how this game show came to be: ads accidentally get linked to violent footage of a public shooting and… the ad revenue soars because people keep watching and watching.  And watching. That’s relatable.  Our appetite for disasters is marketable.  I believe it. Anyone who reads, watches, or otherwise consumes True Crime stories knows how thin the line is between observing a terrible act and glorifying it.  Between analyzing it and mythologizing it.

I think, in the end, though Vigilance is an enjoyable, thoughtful read, and one I definitely recommend, it isn’t the story I wanted to read. Someone, somewhere has written or is writing something scathing about America’s Gun Problem ™ which holds a mirror up to each and every one of us “regular people”. That’s the one I want to read.

Book Review: Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett

A Fantasy Rant

One of the things I’m attempting to do with my current fantasy novel is to stuff it full of animal life–not only because Rhi and Ferrus are naturalists, hunters, and proto-zoo keepers.  But it’s always been a pet peeve (no pun intended) that the fauna is very often lacking in fantasy worlds.

I think it’s a failure of understanding on our parts as writers.  We live in a person-oriented time; we live and write in cities; we live in climate controlled boxes, and wildlife really isn’t much of a daily consideration.  We vastly outnumber animal–or perceive that we do.  And if we’re not looking for them, it’s easy to overlook how many we pass by even in a city: sparrows and pigeons, rats and squirrels, cats and dogs, bats and the insects we never see unless they impinge in our personal space.  But there are so many animals moving around us, living their lives.

And in a fantasy world–which is so often under-populated, agrarian, and rustic (no climate control for these folks!)–the characters would be constantly exposed to or dealing with wildlife.  As small as the weevils infesting the flour and as large as oh, say a stampede of bison.  Mostly what I see in fantasy is the domesticated animal–the horse, the cat, the hound, the message pigeon or the magical versions of those.  I see the dangerous animals–the dragons, the wolves, the serpents.  I see the food animals–chickens and rabbits and fish.  I see human-adjacent animals, basically.  The ones that have uses to humans or the ones who threaten humans.  I don’t see the rest.  The vast array of the rest.

I want to see them.

I crave them.

The lizard skittering across the leaves.  The butterflies that migrate through the hero’s path.  The freaking dung beetles.  The scavengers.  The song birds.  The harmless pests.  The spiders that aren’t poisonous.  The garter snakes.  The alligator sunning on the bank with the anhinga clicking and croaking away.  I want the fantasy world full of animal sounds.  I want cicadas droning away.  I want my characters to be sleeping outside by their firepit and be woken by possums poking around or to have an annoying owl hooting all night over head.

So my challenge to all of us is to just look for the animals in our world then apply that number to our fantasy worlds.  I get up.  I see my pets.  I go outside.  I startle robins on my lawn.  I drive to work.  I see red-tailed hawks on the wires.  I park in the parking garage.  I see sparrows and pigeons.  At night, in warmer weather, there are bats darting around the tall streetlights.  I dig in the garden and turn up worms and cicada grubs–white and unfinished and ghostly–and spiders skitter away from my hands.  A trip to Home Depot brings me more sparrows in the rafters, their wing beats audible even when they’re not.  A flash of movement.  I can smell skunk on the road from a conflict I never saw.  Coyotes run the park and I hear them yipping.  An owl cries “who cooks for you”. Pillbugs wander through my garage.  And my cats kill stinkbugs and wrinkle their noses at the acrid smell.  In the spring, an orb weaver covers my door every night and has to have its web wiped away with my leaving.  My life is FULL of animals.  And I live a sedate life in the city.

So my question is why should our fantasy characters lead a less full life than we do?

If you’re a writer and you’re writing fantasy (or even science fiction–don’t get me started how somehow all the animals have vanished in SF), do that for me.  Look for the “unimportant” animals in your life.  Count them up.  And then, apply that to your characters.

Also, if you know of any good writers who do include the “irrelevant” animals, sing out and let me know!

 

 

 

 

 

A Fantasy Rant

Miscues and other misadventures in writing

One of my jobs is freelance critiquing through the Odyssey workshop.*  I enjoy it.  There’s something very satisfying about helping writers find a better way to express themselves.  But it does mean that I tend to view all writing–mine, the mss I deal with, and even the books I read for pure pleasure–with an analytical eye.  There are a lot of writing “problems” people struggle with, but I think one of the worst is miscuing the reader.

I was thinking about this at breakfast this morning as I was reading book samples.  I download book samples throughout the week as the fancy takes me, then, on leisurely Sundays, when I’ve forgotten what the books are about, read through them.  Today, one of the books I sampled (not going to name it) began with a simple scene with the protagonist standing on a porch, feeling anxiety.  We’re given the emotional simile, “Character stood on the porch, with as much fear as looking over the edge of a five-hundred-foot drop.”  A little clunky, but harmless, you’d think.

Except.  It’s backward.  Standing on the porch evokes looking over the edge–and I’m primed that this character is afraid to leave the porch, afraid to make that leap into the world.  So at the end of the page, when it turns out he’s afraid to knock on the door… I have this weird rotation of my mental image happen.  Like the entire stage shifts.  The boy is not looking outward; he’s spun about and looking at the door.  He’s coming, not going.  It’s a miscued simile.  Because porches are raised, even if by an inch or so, and because he’s thinking about a drop, we’re cued that the character is going to take that step down.  So obviously, he’s leaving the house.  Not arriving.

Tiny, tiny thing, but jarring.  And in my case, enough for me to delete the sample.

Watch your similes, people.  Watch them.  Make sure they’re not suggesting something else.

It’s not like I’m perfect, either, god no.  I am currently embarked on a drastic revision of the fantasy novel I wrote, because I miscued the reader terribly.

Not even a tiny simile error for me, either.  No, I miscued the entire damn tone of the book.

The first segment is all about my characters trying to escape their home environments–which just happen to be courtly and political.  So I’m cuing the reader to expect a political fantasy, with lots of back-stabbing and infighting and striving for status.  And that’s not what this book is about at all.  No!  It’s an adventure novel!  But because I spent too much detail on their homes and took too long to get them on the road, whoops!  Now it says: expect politics!  Expect courtly intrigues!  Expect battles won by manners and maneuvers.  Not monster fighting.  Not road hardships.  Not wild pursuits.

Yet, each scene stands on its own.  There’s conflict.  There’s character.  There’s event.  It’s just cuing the reader to expect the wrong story.

So yeah, that’s my Sunday thinking: Avoid miscues in your writing.  Look at what you’re saying on the page and what you’re implying, from the micro (on the porch looking out/in) to the macro (ffs, look at the tone of your chapters and see what they’re suggesting your book is about, Robins.).

There are twists you want the reader to experience, but miscues are a totally other beast, and they’re not welcome.

*I swear I am a much better critiquer than I am a blogger.  I have decided to fight my perfectionist tendencies by allowing myself to blither on the blog without obsessing over every word and piece of punctuation.

Miscues and other misadventures in writing

Scenes from the Pet House

The way my mornings go in winter.

Little Dog #1 AKA Jeffrey AKA Mr. J:  My toes are cold.  Can I sit on your lap while you eat breakfast?  I promise not to lick your toast.

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adorable, right?  But I am a cruel person and say “No!” and “Go lie down in the giant dog bed I bought you, you spoiled thing you!”  And I pet his fuzzy head.

Then Little-but-not-quite-as-little Dog #2 AKA  Ursula, AKA U AKA Ursabear says:  What about me?  I will sit on your lap and help you with your breakfast, see how useful I am?

IMG_3736

But my heart is made of flint.  I refuse!  I pet her little head and say, “No, now go eat your breakfast, you still have kibble left.”

Then comes Remy, AKA Cat #3, AKA Noodleshark, AKA psychokitten and he says:  SUCKERS, you ASKED!

Remylaptime
Jeez, this picture is nearly life-sized.  But hey, it just means you get the full force of his SMUG.
Scenes from the Pet House

Library Haul

A quick stop in at the library netted me a collection of things to read.

More Gail Carriger: always readable.  Another Ellery Adams book since I enjoyed The Secret, Book, and Scone Society. A couple of random thriller types.  One graphic novel that I’ve heard fun things about: Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. And Godblind, which… is probably not going to be to my taste given the word “grimdark” keeps getting tossed at it.  I have zero qualms with dark.  But grimdark always seems to involve the characters either wallowing in their misery, or a strong undercurrent of tragedy, or nihilism, or drawn-out torture scenes, or all of the above.  Still, it’s a library book!  Costs nothing to try it, and who knows, I might adore it.

Went back to the local bookstore when they called me that the NK Jemisin book was finally back in stock. So How Long ’til Black Future Month came home with me, which I’m excited about.  And then there was a new release Lyndsay Faye book: The Paragon Hotel which I snatched up so quickly I realized that somewhere along the line Lyndsay Faye became an autobuy. The opening was gorgeous; the kind of weirdly confessional prologue that usually leaves me cold.  Here, it really worked.

 

Library Haul