Saturday, July 27, 2013

My Love/Hate Relationship With Book Series

When I ran off to ALA last month, I picked up a ton of YA titles. I should be reading them. Reading and reviewing. But before I went to ALA, I started reading A Shadow in Summer, the first book of the Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham, which I picked up at Sundance Books in Geneseo, NY (shout out!). If a series is good, once I start it, I have to finish it to the exclusion of all else. I notoriously did this last year with all 20 books in the Repairman Jack/Adversary Cycle series by F. Paul Wilson, and didn't really know what to do with myself after five months with the same characters.

At any rate, I'm really enjoying the Long Price Quartet, even if I haven't given the books five stars on Goodreads. And now we get to the problem with series... Sometimes, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. A series is a really long narrative, most of the time episodic in nature. So, when reading and reviewing a series, I feel like I need to have two opinions - an opinion of the series as a whole and an opinion on each book within the series. Sometimes, where individual books don't measure up to my standards, the whole series will merit a glowing review. I'm having this problem with The Long Price Quartet.

Abraham is a great writer. Without a doubt, he knows his craft. The Long Price Quartet is set in a medieval Asian world where powerful men who call themselves poets control godlike forces of nature through grammatical bindings. The balance of power between humanity and these demi-gods is a fragile thing. Throw in outside forces who want a piece of the divine action, and you have a worldwide ticking time bomb. Looking at the four books (and I'm only on book three, but I can see where the arc is going), I see a coherent narrative where every action furthers the plot and later events fill in the gaps left by previous events. The story arc that centers on two men with a deeply complicated and multifaceted (non-sexual) relationship is beautiful. Each book takes place roughly 15 years after the previous book, so readers have time to see this relationship shift through all phases of life. I've partially been reading this series as a meditation on platonic love. A lot happens in these books, but this series is not your typical hero's journey.

Bros before hoes.
That being said, I've been having a hard time reviewing each individual book in the quartet. I remember saying in my Goodreads review of A Shadow in Summer that the book fell flat at the end. But now that I've read the second book (A Betrayal in Winter) and most of the third book (An Autumn War), I see that the end of the first book was the tipping point of the series and highly dramatic. However, I don't feel comfortable going back to Goodreads to change my review. If A Shadow in Summer was a stand alone, I would feel the same. Only in looking at the series as a greater whole do I see the full merit of the first book.

Some series are like crop circles - their significance only appreciable when one can see it in its entirety. That doesn't make those series any less awesome than those whose individual books can better stand alone. I greatly respect an author who has the vision to create something so all encompassing. But I'm still left with the need for dual reviews. I don't think a single book can make or break a successful series, but I still need to look at the individual books and at how they all fit together.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Summertime Comicbook Movies - What's Good vs. What I Like

I don't go out to see as many movies as I should, much to my husband's chagrin. I prefer to listen to movies and television at home while working on sewing. Movie theaters are too dark for that and bringing a portable light would be frowned upon. But I've seen two whole movies in the last two weeks. I should get some kind of gold star...

Last week, husband guy and I went to see Man of Steel. Look, I'm going to be honest here. I don't gave two craps about Superman, and I never have. I've just never found him interesting. I didn't even read DC comics until I met my husband, and I have to say that I'm more of a Green Lantern kind of gal. Or, really, a Red Lantern kind of gal. Okay... I really like Dex Starr. But Superman... meh. I've never cared for him or his creepy mom fixation or creepy horse with a human brain who's in love with Supergirl. I like Lex Luthor though. I would read a Lex Luthor comic book.

I went into Man of Steel feeling indifferent, I watched it indifferently, and I left the movie mostly indifferent and mildly annoyed. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Indifference is the kiss of death. I have more respect for movies/books/music I hate. As a writer, I would rather make people hate my work than not care about it. The fact that I don't care about Superman isn't the movie's fault. But a good movie would have made the average person care. This article by Film Critic Hulk (sent to me by a comic book savvy library patron) is really long, but worth reading. Film Critic Hulk says the above way better than I just did. Man of Steel was ultimately a pretty forgettable movie, no matter how hot Henry Caville is. Not even Detective Stabler could make me care.

I'll take a ticket to the gun show, please.
A good part of my Man of Steel issue is this constant rebooting, redoing, revamping, re-, re-, re-. There's no point in caring about Man of Steel because it's going to get redone down the line. I went to see the 2006 Superman move and felt like Man of Steel was a slap in the face. Why bother caring if the same story is just going to be told over and over again, simply because someone thought the previous telling wasn't good enough? I'm tired of shelling out money for what I consider fanfiction with a budget. I get frustrated with comics retcons for the same reason. I like a solid narrative. If I want retconning and rebooting, I can get that for free on the internet. On the plus side though, Man of Steel was really pretty.

The movie I saw this weekend was R.I.P.D. It looked like stupid fun and I wasn't going into the movie expecting anything else. R.I.P.D. didn't deliver any surprises, but I sure had a good time watching it. Again, I had some prejudices going into the movie, one of them being the fact that I will watch just about anything Jeff Bridges is in. Maybe The Dude should have played Superman...

The plot wasn't anything special, but Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds had good chemistry and the dialogue made up for predictability. Mary Louise Parker was also pretty awesome. I can definitively say that this movie was not a work of genius, but I loved every second of it. R.I.P.D. isn't going to win any awards and it's been getting some bad reviews, but I had so much fun watching it, and it's made me wonder what was wrong with Man of Steel, or even what's wrong with my entertainment tastes. Sometimes, there's no explaining what I like. There are a handful of stupid movies that I just love. The same goes for books or television shows. I'd go crazy if every movie was like There Will Be Blood.

I can't say that either of these movies is better or worse than the other. But the juxtaposition of my viewing experiences with each is forcing me to revisit the idea of what is good as opposed to what we like, and accept the fact that they aren't always the same. I'm okay with that and I embrace my sometimes crappy taste. But what do you think? What do you like that you have no explanation for? What do you like that you feel like you shouldn't? And, is there anything that you don't like that has been critically acclaimed?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?

I will read anything with a Michael Whelan cover.
When I was a kid, I read exclusively fantasy fiction. Any literature I read had to be set in a world based on medieval Europe. Magic was a must. Bonus points for elves and/or dragons. Everything that remotely resembled the present day or the future was an automatic deal breaker, until I was in college and read Ender's Game. Other genres crept in to what I liked, a little bit at a time. I still lean heavily on sci-fi and fantasy for my reading enjoyment but books like Devil in the White City by Erik Larson have neither elves nor dragons and I still thought it was a good book.

What do you mean there are no wizards in this book?  (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻
One of the things about genre lit. that I've grown to appreciate is the blending of multiple genres in a single narrative. I imagine fantasy/sci-fi/horror mash-ups have been going on forever even if I was too set in my teenage ways to pay attention to anything that wasn't straight up sword and sorcery. But I've lately been drawn away from fantasy and more into sci-fi and horror (I will contradict this statement with a very near future review of The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham). I especially love the narratives that cannot be definitively described as any one thing.

Right before I went to ALA, I finished The Last Policeman by Ben Winters. Henry Palace is a highly dedicated police detective. He's called to investigate what appears to be a suicide, but all the facts don't add up. Palace thinks the victim was murdered. But here's the catch - a meteor is speeding through space and is scheduled to hit the Earth in six months. In a world where suicide has become common, who the crap cares whether this guy was murdered or killed himself? Detective Henry Palace cares, and he ends up in a bigger mess than he bargained for.

The opposite of Detective Henry Palace.
Is this sci-fi or horror or a little bit of both? End of the world narratives can be classified as both. Other than the meteor, there's not anything about The Last Policeman that couldn't happen today. But the meteor is also what shapes the entire narrative. There is this overwhelming sense of dread in reading this book. This is a police procedural, but one set against the backdrop of suicide and despair. The economy has failed, the government can't do squat, and folks live in a militarized state, alternating between madness and denial. Whenever I paused in my reading, I had to remind myself that I did not live in the world of Henry Palace. The world as I knew it was not going to end in six months. Mad props to Ben Winters for being able to evoke that sort of feeling. The whole idea behind this book is that people have stopped caring. To create a character like Henry Palace, who has to care enough for everyone who doesn't, who forces the reader to care about a world that already appears to be a lost cause... that's pretty powerful.

I still don't know how to classify The Last Policeman, but I also don't know how much classification matters. We all have predilections toward one sort of narrative over another. No way will anyone get me to read Amish romances. But a good book is a good book. Do you stick to specific genres over others? What genres won't you read even if your life depended on it?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Let's Talk About ALA 2013

I went to my first ever ALA (American Library Association) conference this past weekend in Chicago, IL. ALA takes place every year in a different city. Chicago is so close that it would have been stupid of me not to attend. I've done the convention thing before - C2E2, Wizard World, New York Comicon, etc. I figured that while the conference demographic would be different (but let's be honest - there was some overlap because most librarians are some sort of nerd), the principals would be the same. Still... my mind was blown.

My husband and I only had passes for the exhibition floor and there was still too much for only one day. I don't think I could have handled a full blown pass to attend panels for my first ALA visit. We met up with our friend Kristy and entered the opium den of books and authors that was ALA.

Before we even got there, I was excited about the author lineup. I made up a spreadsheet that included Cory Doctorow, Holly Black, Lois Lowry, Jim Hines, John Scalzi, Patrick Ness, Michael Grant, Rachel Hartman, Derf Backderf, Gene Luen Yang, and the biggest draw of all, my favorite YA author, Tamora Pierce. I didn't get to everyone because if you wanted to meet these authors, you had to get in line early. I got The Giver signed by a very distracted Lois Lowery. Patrick Ness was signing ARCs of his book coming out this fall, More Than This - his accent was delightful. Jim Hines trash talked John Scalzi's sexy lady posing, and John Scalzi remembered me from C2E2, where I was dressed as Lumpy Space Princess from Adventure Time and felt like an ass because I didn't have a copy of Fuzzy Nation for him to sign (congrats on winning the Locus this year for Redshirts, John!).

Oh my glob. Fionna. Fionna. We look so good right now.
But the best part of the conference was meeting Tamora Pierce and having her sign my first edition copy of Alanna: the First Adventure. She was my first favorite author when I was 13 and remains my favorite YA author 21 years later. She, Wendy and Richard Pini, and Richard Adams are responsible for shaping my literary tastes and my person as a whole, so this was kind of a big deal. I tried to tell her how much her writing meant to me, but I couldn't stop shaking. She was very nice and didn't call security on me. As soon as I walked away, I started to cry. I couldn't help it. Her characters are more real to me than most people. My love of her work is so profound - it's a difficult thing to explain.

Maybe this is when I ripped my pants and that's why Tamora Pierce is making that face.
Other highlights from the conference include getting my hands on a copy of MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood, which was like fighting for the last Cabbage Patch Kid on Christmas Eve of 1982 (which I understand was a lot like trench warfare), visiting with my library friends, and talking library shop with complete strangers. The only low point was somehow ripping a big hole in the crotch of my pants on Saturday. I don't remember doing it, but am thankful that I didn't notice it until after I got home. I'm just going to assume I hulked out in excitement, and hope I didn't flash anyone.

I feel a little bad that I didn't do more learning and networking. I spent most of my time in lines to meet authors. But the conference itself was a learning experience and I'll be getting spam emails for the rest of my life, from all the contests I entered, to remind me of this experience of a lifetime.

Just kidding about feeling bad. Yolo!