Book Review: Endurance

(Before I begin, I want to give the same warning I’d give to anyone reading its predecessor, Green: TRIGGER WARNING! this book heavily features child trafficking, implied prostitution, physical/emotional/psychological abuse, and some pretty general sexual tones overall.)

Endurance, by Jay Lake.

It’s tragic when you can sense a shift as such, but…these books are going in the wrong direction. I don’t mean story-wise; I’m generally not one to criticize as such. Yet you know what they say about movie sequels? Apply here.

Endurance is the sequel to Green—an unusual book in and of itself in the mainstream fantasy genre for its frank sexual (alright, very and uniquely sexual), furry and BDSM tones—continuing the journey of the titular Green as she struggles to find a place for herself in a world that is just…really unkind to her. In so doing, however, Endurance tragically fails to evolve from its predecessor—it’s marred by similar issues, and fails on its own merits to materialize into anything truly hard-hitting.

But let me be frank: it’s good, and it’s quick, it’s just not great. If you want something to read on a goodly-lengthed airplane flight? This one is your book. The action scenes are well-written and entertaining, and there are still characters (alright, in my case, one character) that will amuse, if also baffle.

We get more of the gods in this book than we got even in the last one—it deals with their machinations (hi, Green!) and desires; along with a very steady dichotomy of male vs. female. Some rather chauvinistic baddies want to turn the world to a male god-dominated bachelor pad, while the female goddesses obviously want to preserve the status quo and keep people on their rightful, equal footing. Factor in restless Pardines, a city that can’t seem to get a sense of itself, and a new divine order for people to grow accustomed to, and my oh my, the troubles do abound.

People in the worlds of Jay Lake—well, they’re not very nice.

But I’m not about to be in describing that world just now either, so, deep breaths everyone. For one thing, while I’m no prude, the sexual quality in these books continues to be just…odd. It’s downright implausible in some of the situations in which it comes up, unnecessary to the extent it goes for (I.E. we’re not advancing plot here), and the language used in its description—well, I’ll give Lake creativity points for the last, at least. Also: Green is horny. All the time. Which is just as well, because apparently so are the female gods she follows. Oh dears.

The delivery of the novel itself is also oddly rendered. Several before me have poked at the POV—and I must lend my voice to that crowd. I can understand reflection. It lends things to a novel—pointed, powerful insights into the character we’re following. Not so, in Green’s case. She bemoans, certainly, but as she herself is not a terribly caring or overly thoughtful character (she’s an impulsive ninja, alright?), her “insights” achieve little more than to tell me what I just read of her actions were obviously poor choices on her part. This does little more than to UNDERCUT the moment of those failures, essentially being someone standing just off to the side of the screen saying: “Well, that was dumb of me. Oh my.” It breaks our involvement IN the action, IN the moment, IN the decision.

What’s more: the whole pregnancy detail. It should be a hell of a game changer. Yet right up until the very end, it only proves a conflicting issue at the most convenient moments. Green is always presented as far above and beyond your average woman—and she’d have to be, because if a real woman did half the things she does quite freely here (flipping over rooftops, knife fights, and leaping through windows, to name a few), there is no way her baby would survive to the happy day. She talks ABOUT the pregnancy as an issue a lot—but practically speaking, it rarely is one. She’s still fighting her way to glory right up until the end.

While Endurance has risen above the pacing issue that Green suffered from—no sudden, three book splits in this puppy—and solid attempts are made to craft some intricate plotting, most of the twists and turns end up being pretty predictable, and pretty much all cured by another high octane fist fight or two. Why are people doing the things they’re doing? Well, that’s still not gone into depth enough. People’s motives, even when explained, are not the most intricate or necessarily sensible or reasonable in and of themselves (and there’s always the: “We sensed these two were assassins, so we sexed the urge to kill out of them!” moment…urgh), and while many of the actions and reactions are all coming back on things that Green has done or caused, given her own impulsive nature, this whole series of events can seem somewhere…frustrating.

It’s always proper to end on a high note, though, and I’ll let Lake have that. What this book does have is spirituality, alongside its action. The spiritual aspect—the creation, destruction, and inherent questions that come along with the divine—is in full bloom here, and now more than ever being used to showcase gender issues. Endurance continues THAT tradition that Green set, and while it does not go into quite the expanded depth on that front that I would like form a sequel, it continues to present a rather in-depth world, which I always appreciate.

With Green, I could say I adored the early bits and came to face palm, a lot, over the later bits. With Endurance, the path is set from the very beginning, and it’s consistent all the way through—but the journey remains an entertaining, but not an overly engaging or substantial one.

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Book Review: Lexicon

Or, The Power of Words

[Today’s post is going in conjunction with another resource out there for you fellow literary sorts, by the by, so let me just give a shout out and say: I use Grammarly – the best plagiarism checker out there – because every time an author is scammed, a Sad Panda is born. And really, what do you have against Pandas? They are fuzzy (also like some writers) so any counter-argument is invalid and anti-cute. Thank you.]

As a writer, Max Berry’s Lexicon comes predicated on a notion dear to heart: the (mystical) power of words. Because who among us has not read and wished to see a true glimmer of magic in their scribbles? But with power (yes, I know you’re expecting “responsibility”, but this is where I say: psych!) comes the shape and capability of a weapon. Since the dawn of time, men and women have used words as shields and spears both, but in Berry’s entertaining new novel, poets are literally walking, talking weapons.

The power, you see, is in the suggestion. Poets’ power has always been in the rhythm and rhyme, the melody and the makeup of their works, and for Berry’s organization of manipulators on display here, the right sequence of sounds can actually pop the cork on a whole person. Suggestion, destruction, domination…all of these things become possible, without any pesky interference from the logical bits of the brain.

Unless you’ve built up something of an immunity to that sort of thing, but that’s neither here nor there.

Lexicon, you see, takes us down the trail of languages lost and tensions raised by crazy people and somewhat megalomaniacal figures empowered not by radioactive superpowers, but words themselves. A town has gone silent: Broken Hill, Australia, is no more. In this science fiction tale it seems certain wild cards from a group known as the “poets” are likely responsible—people taught to manipulate and coerce, and to generally be the best of the best.

Enter Emily Ruff and amnesiac Will—the former, a sharp-tongued youth from the streets; the latter, a survivor of Broken Hill that may have the answers everyone’s seeking. Between them? A boarding school, a lot of secrets, and a manhunt from not only a former poet, but the current leader of the poets as well. Both want Will’s memory. The only question, really: who will be quicker on their toes?

It’s a fast-paced contemporary adventure, it certainly must be said. The idea it’s built around (if I might partake of the recap rap) immediately winds up this little scribbler’s heart because of the fact that words are already magical for me—but how Berry’s engage the idea is, more generally, fascinating in and of itself. Like the kid in school that always said he couldn’t be hypnotized, you have to start to wonder: just how durable is the human mind and what lies behind our decision-making process?

The book is told through alternating viewpoints, with each chapter bouncing between the aforementioned Emily and Will. Together, they piece the whole of the story together, with more than a few twists and turns along the way, but it’s structured well. As Will is in the dark, so are we, and there is the sense that we are piecing it together with him.

Launching Berry into action-based sci-fi, however, has its own share of thorns. The action, while genuinely exciting, can be a bit scattered—not only in how your sense of acceptable reality must be adjusted, but more generally, his descriptive qualities can leave the scenes a little muddled or vague at times. He is, in general, not the most descriptive, or intricate, but his ideas are sound and engaged in a creative display. Some of the characters could probably stand a little more humanization to them as well—i.e. a little more depth, if you please—but the main characters, the focus, are well-flushed out and there are some genuinely moving moments contained in their threads.

Overall, it’s a relatively quick read that, if you’re looking for something to engage and charm for a few days, will do the trick. It’s sophisticated without being overbearing; suspenseful without maddening; entertaining without losing focus. It won’t tax the mind or leave you contemplating deep truths as to the nature of man or the future of mankind, but it will dazzle you with a magical wink, demand smiles and frowns in equal measure, and manipulate your heartbeat with some rather explosive displays.

Now, vartix fintign nabula karepsis: and remember, friend, when you get me that hot cocoa, I like it with little marshmallows. Thanks!

Put to the stars? 4/5

10 Things To Know About Your Book (Part 2: Or, the Literature Strikes Back)

Have you read part one, as yet? If not, then I think you’re taking this a little out of turn, don’t you? Honestly, if there’s only two parts and you can’t snatch them up in the right order…

 

Well, really.

 

That said, if a little refresher’s in order, we already covered from conflict to purpose and that quaint little road we call “the beginning.” The frame of the thing has taken shape, but some of the juicier bits still require that special bit of tweaking only an author can muster. Be it of love or a very compulsive and twitchy tick we call “the scribbles,” the meat of what is to come still remains, and the mind finds itself faced with the following:

 

  1. What are your characters’ goals?
    Good, bad, or Swiss—figure out what makes your people tick. What do they hope to achieve?
  2. How do they intend to achieve those goals?
    Fantastic, your people now have goals! Now how do they hope to actually bring them about? Bearing in mind, of course, that your characters are mostly (unless they’re not) human, and their goals and methods can be as flawed as reality.

    Light Yagami

    Light Yagami. So flawed, “flawed” must be put in air quotes for him. (Photo credit: Wikipedia. Educational, point-making, and not being used for profit, nor do I claim to own the character or his likeness…etc. etc.)

  3. How do you intend to pace this beast out?
    Are we going to learn as the characters learn? Or shall we be privy to more than their mere eyes can catch, to heighten the tension by knowing they are about to face a cruel trial? Pacing is, at its heart, deciding exactly how you want to take your story and relate it to us, the collective reader. It’s a balancing act. Throw everything at us at once, our heads spin, our gaze dulls, and we realize there’s no more substance to be had. Dance around too long before throwing us a line, and our eyes wander, we lose focus, and lose interest there as well. Find your voice. Know your story. Then feed it to us piece by piece.
  4. Where is the action?
    Are there to be battles of arrow and steel? A dramatic crescendo of cannons? Passionate clash of the heart? Or a social duel, politicians warring at the pulpit with words, and a society hanging in the balance? Depending on what your book is, the style of action may differ greatly, but you should know how you’re going to captivate us, and give us our climax of literary greatness, and when and in what increments you intend to pursue it.
  5. Remember that awkward moment when you blew up the world? Good times.

    How does it end?
    The ending must tie up the loose ends (but know that there will always be at least on reader there to point out all the loose ends you didn’t address to their satisfaction!), resolve the overarching conflict (unless you’re tying this into another series, you rascally devil you), and give your readers something to show for sticking with you for so long.

 

And that, as they say, is that. Ten Things. Beginning to end and through enough meat to put some serious flesh over the heart of your masterpiece. Now you just have to write the bloody thing. But don’t worry, buck up kiddo, after that comes the real fun–editing.

 

Wait: we did cover sarcasm’s importance in literature, right?

 

But seriously, while I may not have covered everything, these questions are all key to helping relate your story to us. If it doesn’t mean something to you, after all, what are we supposed to take away? A wise man once said that every scribble is piece of your soul poured out on the page–you’ll never get it back, but if you’re lucky, you can share it with the world. Help to make our eyes dance with envy of that soul, friends.

 

Give to us the world.

 

Time, Decisions, and Opportunity

William Murray, Lord Mansfield. Care of Wikimedia Commons.

Consider what you think justice requires, and decide accordingly.  But never give your reasons; for your judgment will probably be right, but your reasons will certainly be wrong. 
~Lord Mansfield

Opportunity is a bird that never perches. 
~Claude McDonald


The flower that you hold in your hands was born today and already it is as old as you are. 
~Antonio Porchia

 

Game of Thrones Season 1 Review

Thrones, Dragons and a whole lot of scowling.

(In case you’d like the audio version: Game of Thrones Review)

If you weren’t hiding under a rock for the past year, chances are you’ve caught the hype revolving around HBO and its touted adaptation of popular fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire” – by George R.R. Martin.

Well, the season’s done now, and I think I can safely say any viewer’s anxiously awaiting Spring 2012. This first season certainly took us on an action-packed romp through Westeros, delivering us fast-paced storytelling, sound acting, and the usual quality of HBO writing. Sure there were only ten episodes, but the sheer breadth of what they covered would leave any sane man gasping for more.

Through this season we’ve scrambled through the twists and turns of revenge, medieval politics, and war, and all through the eyes of fascinatingly layered characters. It’s not your fantasy of Elves and Dwarves, no sir—this is your high class modern fantasy, by which I mean dark, brooding, and bloody. It’s all humans, save the looming threat of some undead nasties, and that honestly helps to endear it. The characters don’t rely on fantastical gimmicks or endless hordes of CGI to make us love them. They are raw humanity in its purest (and often ugliest) form.

Yet to be honest, going in, this was one of those shows I wasn’t sure if I would love or hate. I’m a fan of the books. I’ve read them all (and am waiting rather anxiously for the fifth book to FINALLY come out). I’ve seen a lot of books turned into terrible visual pieces—so I had my reservations. But while 10 episodes left a lot the finer details rushed, the show executed itself well over all.

For starters, the production values were top of the line, as we’ve come to expect from HBO programming. The men behind the cameras knew what they were doing, and the cinematography is spot-on. The locales of Westeros were distinct, as were the people in them, and the breadth and culture of a world breathed rather effortlessly through the screen.

As I’ve already mentioned, the characters themselves were beautifully rendered. Sean Bean, of course, was at the top of his game as Eddard Stark, patriarch of the Stark family, and Peter Dinklage shone as everyone’s favorite sassy “ Imp” Tyrion Lannister. But one would expect the big names to do well—it was the smaller names that really set the bar. The Starks—Maisie Williams as Arya, Sophie Turner as Sansa, Michelle Fairley as Catelyn—all delivered spot-on performances in that regard. I think I can safely say it was Emilia Clarke’s breakaway performance and traceable growth as the indomitable Daenerys Targaryen that really takes the cake (and made silver hair look damn fine too). Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) also was startlingly delivered, here, particularly because they got one hell of a creepy kid to play him, with an act that was no less than menacing.

The series, like the books it shadows, didn’t pull any punches, either. Much as you might gasp for Ned not to go through that door…the finale makes it very clear he’s not coming back from his wrong guess. Blood and sex were the order of the day (including one rather overt lesbian scene that I can only attribute to producers screaming “Look at me, I’m edgy!”), and the cameras didn’t shy away from the nasty.

The book fans have been waiting for…

But speaking as a fan of the books, there were some adaptations I didn’t quite agree with, and I’ll freely admit they color my perceptions a touch. First of all—Cersei as a sort of sympathetic character? Where the bloody did that come from? If you know anything about the books, you know the rather sinister queen is about the farthest one could get from “sympathetic”—power-hungry, arrogant, and utterly self-consumed. Yet the show often toned down the evil in her, playing up a mystery lost child, one-time love for her husband, and a hearty dose of respect for her rival that seems…off. To each their own interpretations, I suppose, but she’s certainly not the Cersei I know.

And where the hell was Rickon? The youngest Stark child never had a big to-do in the books, but he certainly had more than a couple cameo shots. Given, you can’t give equal screen to everybody, but one would be hard-pressed to recall the child until the final episode.

While most of the crucial scenes literary fans would be looking for were there—and delightfully pursued, if I might say so—there were a lot of other scenes you might have expected that simply weren’t. Flashbacks, for example. In the books of course, we get to spend time in the characters’ heads, so pursuing a few leaps in time is a little easier…but even so, I would have liked to have seen some of the history up close on the screen. The battle at the tower of joy, for example. The whole sub-plot of Ned’s sister. Even touches of the battle on the trident that…you know, guaranteed Robert’s kingship and all.

Some of the added scenes, while useful, were also less than thrilling, coming off as little more than fluff pieces. It’s perplexing just how many characters chose to give us self-insight through whores, for example. No, seriously.

But hey, the series also developed a few arts of its own, which we can all take a lesson from in the future. Like the art of censoring via dragons. Personally, I think it’s an art form that doesn’t get enough attention. I blame the media.

In conclusion: it’s not the book, but I don’t think it really set out to be. What Game of Thrones does, it does very well, with high production values, solid acting, and a wealth of characterization, culture, and dialogue. While fans of the books will find flaws to harp on (as I did), and the series can feel a bit rushed at points, overall it delivered the quality we would hope for, and delivered a healthy shot in the arm for the visual fantasy genre—because let’s face it, fantasy’s popular as literature, but we’re sorely lacking on the TV scene.

Putting it to the stars, I’d give the first season a 4 out of 5 in the end. Hopefully the second season will maintain the momentum.

Lord knows the blood pool’s going to deepen.

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