Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Talk to the hands

So.  The hands are still kind of crappy right now, and the brain is not much better.  I am determined to catch up.  Mostly because I don't think I could get much less sleep.  Which means at least I've been reading more.  Huzzah.

Ryria Revelations: When's the TV series?

I have finished reading Sullivan's The Ryria Revelations, and I am wondering when the TV miniseries will happen.  These books call for a TV series.  Someone should answer that call.

It won't be on HBO, though.  This is not an internecine policial plot-driven, epic, dynastic struggle across the decades.  This is fun, sometimes campy, occasionally grouchy, characer-driven fantasy comfort food-type stuff.  More Belgariad than Game of Thrones.  Definitely not HBO.  Maybe USA, as they've done good things with odd-couple humor (think Psych) and bad boys who destroy things (Burn Notice).  Elves and dwarves would be a change for them, but the same feeling of "characters welcomed" is there, if they even still use that tag line.

I hope no one ever really tries to make a movie of the thing or even a trilogy.  The series was designed to be one story across six books, and the overarching plot reflects that.  If you're looking for a full character journey in book one, you will be disappointed, but if you are looking for a character arc across all 6 books, there you'll find something worth looking at.  I mean, maybe you could do the first one as a movie and then the rest as a TV series.  Anyway, you need room for most of the plot threads to be there and slowly coming to a boil.  Some of them could be trimmed, but not many.

This series could be a good opportunity for a couple of guys in their late 30s to be awesome action heroes.  That doesn't happen very often, really.  Usually it's the young guys who get tapped, but these characters would fail if the mythical movie/TV creators tried to make them younger.  These guys have lived life.  They've known each other for years as adults.  They are a team, broken and battered but still wisecracking.

An interesting fact about this series is that it started as a self-publishing thing and then got a little crazy and landed a formal publishing deal for the last book (and then all the previous ones under different names, so good luck with that).  Here's hoping the editing and layout issues will be solved by professional editing and layout people! 

Another interesting fact is that the series claims to be sort of reacting against the dark fantasy that's becoming more prevalent.  This does not mean there is a low body count.  People you like die and kill, sometimes brutally, but the author tried to keep things PG-13 and mostly succeeded, so kudos for that.

A good thing about this series is that all six books are out.  Yes, not since the Night Angel Trilogy have I been able to sit down and read a whole series over the course of a month.  No forgetting names and places (well, not much anyway) or wondering who this character is or what incident they're talking about from a volume that came out years ago.  It was nice.  (Thanks, P!)

If you are looking for super-epic and ground breaking fantasy, go look somewhere else.  If you want a good-natured, completed series of familiar fantasy fun, stick around.  I promise Arista gets better.  Eventually.

How to succeed in business fantasy?

On public radio, I caught a snatch of a segment about what it takes for women to succeed in executive leadership these days.  I have no interest in this subject personally, but the conversation caught my attention because the part I heard dealt with the need not only for mentors but also for male "champions."  These men are the kind who respect talent and drive regardless of gender, and they can be invaluable for a woman interested in business leadership to have in her network.  I happened to be reading some of Tamora Pierce's excellent fiction at the time, and I felt myself nodding along because this pattern is displayed in several of her series starring strong, competent, female protagonists.

In the Song of the Lioness quartet, Alanna had Myles.  Beka Cooper had the Provost.  In my favorite series, Kel had Raoul in the later books, and he was a perfect example.  He was an older man who saw her potential and chose to help her develop her leadership and organizational skills regardless of gender.  He helped her gain confidence in herself and her abilities and was hilarious alog the way.  These were women who networked (even if the setting was a fantasy world) and succeeded in accomplishing their goals.

Thank you, public radio for making me bring fantasy crashing into reality.  I think.

You can't read just one: Tamora Pierce's Mastiff and other books

I knew I shouldn't have started reading Mastiff by Tamora Pierce.  It was ginormous, and I had things on my list, and I should have waited until certain of those things were done, but at the rate I am able to accomplish such things these days, it could have been a year before I got to it.  And the cover was beautiful green with shiny bits, and it was on the top of the stack, and I have no self-control after four months.  So I started it.

It is difficult to inhale a book that big.  It takes days (literally takes away any illusion of free time I might have had), and it is like being on a mission.  Someone pointed out that these books are basically police procedurals, and they are a compelling, must-read-to-find-out-how-it-ends/happens/plays out reads.

When I saw indications that this would be the last book in this series, I was a bit sad because I really like Beka.  She's a different kind of heroine from the ones I've read most recently in Tamora Pierce.  Things are murkier in Beka's world.  It's more like the seedy side of the early Guards stuff in Terry Pratchett.  I mean, yes, it's a fantasy world, but it is not a bright, clean fantasy world that reflects idealizations.  The police accept bribes and often operate more like a protection racket.  Corruption is rampant in the courts and on the streets.  There are good cops and bad cops.  Justice is mostly for the wealthy.  In this world of Tortall (a couple hundred years in the past), Beka doesn't seem quite as noble as Alanna and Kel and even Alianne or Dane. 

No one could really accuse any of the aforementioned people of being "good girls," and all of these heroines share some similarities even if their personalities are very different, but Beka, well, there's something darker about Beka.  I wonder if it's the straightforward and pragmatic way she has of seeing her own darkness and the darkness around her.  She accepts her darkness but still trusts her moral compass to point her the right way.  All of these Pierce protagonists stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves in different ways.  I love all the different ways that manifests itself.  Knights errant, mages, police, knight commanders.

Once I finished this last Beka adventure, which had a coda scene connecting it to the future, I unfortunately found myself needing to read the first book in that referenced series immediately.  And then the next and the next and the next.  If only I'd started my Pierce binge chronologically.  After the sprawling and complex Mastiff, going back to the beginning with the Song of the Lioness quartet was a bit jarring and painful.  What, I felt myself asking, amazing things would Pierce do if she were to write the Alanna books at this point in her career? 

And please don't even look at the terrible more recent covers.  Tamora Pierce should sue her publishers for their obvious attempts to make everyone avoid buying her books because the covers need paper bags over them to be tolerated.  Not that I'm bitter.  I just hated recommending her writing to people always prefaced with, "Please ignore the cover.  No, don't run away screaming!  Please!  I swear the books are good!  And we sell book covers!"

The binge stopped for now because I don't have the Immortals series in this state (they are on the middle bookshelf in my parents' basement in a state far away), and I managed to convince myself the rest had to be read in order, so I could appreciate Pierce's growth as a writer and YA fiction's growth as a genre over the last 30 years.  Huzzah!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

saving changes

Do you want to save the changes?  the message asks.

Suddenly I am almost crying and laughing at the same time.  No, I want to tell the error message.  I want to scrap these changes and restart at an earlier point before this pain and frustration and rage and passion and crafting and overworking; before the proverbial sweat and tears made the words smear and run into unintelligibility and become melodrama or maybe farce; before I felt this broken and unsalvageable.

But it's a programmed error message on a computer, and it's just trying to do its job.  It didn't really mean to be asking me deep questions late at night, so it sits patiently until I come back from wherever I just went and smile a bit twistedly and click the Save button to make it all go away for now.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Falling in love with onions and other mysteries of reading

I am reading The Supper of the Lamb and falling in love with onions.  I used to hate onions.  I started liking them in high school when I was working a fast food job, and I found out they could add a lot of flavor to my employee discount chicken sandwiches.  I haven't looked back since.  Reading an entire chapter about them, however, did not sound immediately appealing.  I mean, I'm not a cook.  But, then, Capon's book is not wholly a cook book.  It's a sort of love letter to food or a theology of food.  You probably don't have to cook to enjoy it; you just need to have a soul. Everything can be redeemed and redeeming if you look at it closely enough.
“First, a principle of attention, simply that.  A faith that if we look and look, we will be surprised and we will be rewarded.” – Mark Doty
Should I be falling in love with food I can't prepare, cook, or (sometimes even) enjoy?  Won't it just make me more miserable as I stick to easy-to-prepare food and cafeteria food since it's really all I can manage with my hands in the shape they're in?  Should I risk loving things I can't have? 
"Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself." - Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz
Does it matter?  The love lasts as long as the book, and then a new love will likely take its place.  No one will have been harmed, nothing real lost.  This is not a bad way to live.  For a short time, I can dream of onions in all their glory.  And then on to the next dream.

Monday, April 2, 2012

another reminder that I should not comment on books I haven't read

Someone repeated a quote to me about the Twilight books.  It was something about how the Harry Potter books are about friendship, good and evil, and other important, weighty themes, and Twilight is about the importance of having a boyfriend.  I reflected upon it and days later decided on the following responses.
  • If one hasn't read books, one should probably not pass judgment on them.  This one is hard for me.  I got an MFA part time over six years, and I've interacted with a lot of lit majors in my time.  I am excellent at the game where you talk intelligently about books and authors you've never read.  Heck, I passed a CLEP test by reading a Norton's Table of Contents.  It's much easier to sneer and dismiss something I haven't read because it sort of precludes discussion, which is maybe the point if I don't want someone to call my bluff, but I love books enough that I shouldn't let myself be lazy and dishonest like this.
  • Be careful where you throw your stones if you live in breakable houses.  This quote makes it sound as though Harry Potter is "real" or "good" (or at least better) "literature" (and Twilight is not).  This makes me laugh because there are so many people who happily look down their noses at Harry Potter and dismiss it as trash and only children's literature.  I mean, every genre seems to have another genre or subgenre it looks down on.  It's perhaps the way of the world.  But to those outside, it just looks silly. 
  • The themes of Twilight have less to do with boyfriends than they do with the meaning and importance of love and commitment, sacrifice, good versus evil, morality, self-control/willpower, the danger of believing uncritically what you're told, trust, the meaning of family, what it means to protect, and other themes that can't be so easily dismissed as trashy.  I'm not saying it's "highbrow literature," but it's a compelling read that can provoke thought and discussion if one lets it, and I don't think it should be bashed quite as freely as it is, especially by people who haven't read it.  
  • People who read a book only to bash it and not give it a fair chance should probably not say anything, either.  Nicholas Condon commented on a great John Scalzi post, 'There seems to me to be a very clear and obvious distinction between, “I did not like or appreciate the work in question,” and, “The work in question is bad and only a fool or a liar would say otherwise;" many critics write as if this distinction doesn’t exist.'  I think what he's saying applies here, too.
Not that I am claiming that the Twilight books are masterpieces of literature on par with Joyce or Tolstoy; I don't think anyone is because that's not what they're trying to be.  And I'm not claiming the books are without fault even in their own genre (not to be crude, but there are certain physiological functions leading to pregnancy that cannot occur without a working circulatory system).  I am just saying that if I haven't read a book and given it a fair shake, I should keep my mouth shut.  I really, really should.  Hold me to that, please.  : ) 

Ask the question, "Have you read it," and keep asking it even if I hem and haw, and if my answer is ultimately, "No," then call me on it and end the discussion unless you've read it and have something to say about it.  Thank you in advance!