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Books read recently
SSar's Beast
I will work my way up to nonfiction. For now I'm just glad to be reading things.

Flirt - Laurell K. Hamilton

Someone on f_fa linked Hamilton's recent short story "Shutdown". It was not good - it involves the series protagonist scaring away her lover's other lover with smug and confusing attitudes about BDSM and polyamory - but it was strangely addictive, and I wanted more to read on the train. I read the first five or so Anita Blake books years ago, and wanted to see what had happened to the series.

Apparently, nothing good. Flirt has a thin hostage & kidnapping plot, lots of overwhelming sexual tension expressed through spirit animals, some rape, and that's about it. (Fans of noncon: no, don't bother.) However, I really enjoyed a_sporking_rat's spork of it, so it's worth mentioning for that. Sporking is an art and I especially appreciate sporks that point out the good ideas still apparent in something that's gone off the rails. When sporks don't do this, the sporker's own smugness starts to ratchet up, and up, and up...

Alchemy - Margaret Mahy

Despite how much I admired her, I haven't read all that many of Mahy's young adult novels. I picked up Alchemy in the same library run as Flirt, because I suspected there would be moments in which Flirt was just too much.

To me, Alchemy seemed to deal with many of the same themes of The Changeover, so I was surprised to see that it was published in 2002, whereas The Changeover was published in 1984. An ordinary teenager's life becomes entangled - and enriched - with magic.

I was surprised that Alchemy won an award the year it was published, too, because I didn't find it very satisfying. Many important themes and plots, including the very idea of alchemy, felt unresolved, or resolved too simply; the romance was unconvincing; basically, I felt that Mahy had done better things with all the same themes in The Changeover.

Where this book did shine was in Mahy's subtle observations about the roles and responsibilities of adults and children to each other, and the way she painted the protagonist, Roland, as someone in between these two states. Mahy was really good at writing kids and teens as people who gradually come into their own. And I loved, very specifically, the wedding gift Roland's grandfather gave to Roland's mother - a beautiful gesture of whimsy and emotion. That idea was worth a book wrapped around it, for me.

Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell

AKA the incredibly fluffy chick lit/YA book about a college freshman who's also a big name fan in a pseudo-Harry Potter fandom.

For the most part, this book did what it said on the tin. The mashup of chick lit and YA tropes was done well - there was a sprinkling of relatable YA issues (abandonment by mother, father who couldn't quite be trusted to look after himself, alienation from sibling, shy protagonist dealing with many new people) and a good heaping of validation and wish fulfillment (our protagonist gets a perfect doormat boyfriend, she's the best ever in her writing class, she's the aforementioned BNF). The gentle parody of Harry Potter and its fandom was on-key. Very fluffy and fun.

The ending really disappointed me, though! (Spoilers follow.) Parts of the resolution were just missing. I honestly don't know if Cath managed to finish her final chapter of Carry On, Simon. I was so looking forward to the scenes in which she struggled to the ending, posted it, received a tonne of comments... Nothing. What the heck? Similarly, she spent months agonising over how to write an original story with her own characters. Then there's a scene in which she starts the story and the words apparently just fly out of her. Later, her boyfriend asks her if she handed it in and she says she did. Huh? That was not emotionally satisfying. Finally, it's implied that that story won her a prestigious award - but there was no hint that she even planned to enter the competition for it, so this comes out of nowhere. Ugh. I just wish there'd been 20 more pages of catharsis and triumph in this book.

And, more generally, was not impressed by the protagonists' names. "Cath" is not short for Catherine, but Cather - and her twin sister is Wren - because apparently her mother couldn't be bothered thinking up two names when she unexpectedly delivered two children, so gave each half, sort of. Aw, come on. Who does that to a person or a fictional character?

The Last Unicorn - Peter S. Beagle

Here, I was re-reading an old favourite (for a story I WANT to write, honestly...). This book has everything - magic and whimsy and human nature, fairy tales, fairy tale subversion, storytelling meta, humour, discussions on mortality, and truly beautiful language. It's also one of those books adapted to film where both enhance each other. It doesn't matter which one you've experienced first - go experience the other, and you'll love the new one while appreciating the first more.

I have it in paperback, but I also bought the Humble Bundle deluxe edition a while back, so have a quote copied from the PDF:

Schmendrick came about to catch the wind again, and declared, “I understand you perfectly! How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to you all the uses of this world! You are bored with bliss, satiated with sensation, jaded with jejune joys. It is a king’s affliction, and therefore no one wants the services of a magician more than a king does. For only to a magician is the world forever fluid, infinitely mutable and eternally new. Only he knows the secret of change, only he knows truly that all things are crouched in eagerness to become something else, and it is from this universal tension that he draws his power. To a magician, March is May, snow is green and grass is gray; this is that, or whatever you say. Get a magician today!”

He finished on one knee with both arms flung wide.

Perhaps not the best example of the beauty of the prose, but a good example of how the prose moves from high fantasy to mocking it gently - and when it shifts like this, it turns on a dime.

The City Who Fought - Anne McCaffrey and S. M. Stirling

Another re-read. I visited my father's house recently, and took a lot of books away in a gym bag, including most of my Anne McCaffreys. This book belongs to McCaffrey's "Ship" universe, in which infants otherwise unlikely to survive past birth are hooked up to a complex suite of electronics and trained to run spaceships and other complex systems as extensions of themselves.

I don't remember enjoying McCaffrey's other shellperson books, but this one was - surprisingly? - fun. Rollicking space adventure, albeit with grim edges, in which a space station on the edge of nowhere is occupied by pirates and carries out guerilla resistance efforts until help arrives. I found it very well-paced, with engaging characters. Much chauvinism, but mostly balanced by that chauvinism being mocked or called out. Mostly.

I'm also sign[ing/ed] up to a lot of things - will post about exchanges, ficathons, and big bangs soon. And next weekend is the 33AR campaign LARP! YAY.

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I honestly don't know if Cath managed to finish her final chapter of Carry On, Simon

THIS BOTHERED ME SO MUCH. I really enjoyed the book otherwise, but I can't believe it just dropped that thread without any resolution. Did the author not think it would matter to readers if Cath finished her epic Simon Snow fanfic that she had been working on for, how long was it? More than a year? It mattered to me!

Yes! Argh! It was so puzzling. It mattered very much to me (far more than the relationships with Levi or Wren or Nick, though those had points of interest).

Edit: Also, I believe it was stated to be two years.

Edited at 2014-02-07 02:50 am (UTC)

....I just read 'Shutdown' and now I'm sorry and also extra-horrified at my teenage LKH-fangirling self in retrospect, because I remembered the shitty 'bdsm' and 'polyamory' but not all the internalized misogyny, good god.

I think the first few books were better. The sporkers seem to agree that Narcissus in Chains was where it really derailed.

The internalized misogyny in 'Shutdown' is off the charts, isn't it? (Although I'm pretty angry about the general attitude. She even puts in poor Ellen's mouth a comment about how Anita's using passive-aggressive tactics to try to make Ellen look rude. How can LKH write that line of dialogue and yet not realise that it's accurate?)

(I have had an actual encounter like this. I wanted to scream at the incredibly smug polyamorous man sitting across the table from me that the expression on my face was not because I was scared of him and his "edginess", fuck off, it was because I couldn't believe how condescending he was being.)

I vaguely remember that (I was really into them for a while as a teenager). I think the series started derailing before NiC but that was seriously dialing it up.

And YEAH, wow, that whole thing is entire story about Anita and her boyfriends being horrible to someone we're just supposed to revile? Why is this a story? Why does it exist?

And I'm really confused as to how Ellen got engaged to a "polyamorous" guy being that uncomfortable with the idea and that unaware of anything that was going on, unless he literally waited until after the engagement to spring it on her, in which case...DTMFA. O_o

All the polysplaining and bdsmsplaining is really...bizarre, too. It's like she learned about both via someone else telling her about bad fanfiction, or only via meeting the most fringey assholes imaginable. Even the jargon definitions are weird and atypical, imo.

Why is this a story? Why does it exist?

*throws hands in air*

It was conceived of in haste.

That is painfully apparent. >.<

Sometimes I feel like at some point LKH's books all became sort of embarrassing personal therapy for her, but obviously it's only made her more money than when she wrote quasi-decent urban fantasy with actual plots...

Is it personal therapy if the result seems to be less self-awareness?

Anyway, this is delivering a glorious trainwreck to me, but perhaps I should try something else for were-creature wish fulfilment and genre fun. Maybe the Psy-Changelings series. I am always biased towards reading things if people consistently request them for Yuletide.

Haha, valid point. Hmmm, I call it therapyfic because it reminds me of the kind of fanfiction that has nothing to do with canon and is very clearly a pile of the author's personal issues, but...there should probably be a more precise term.

I have pretty much given up on were-creatures and urban fantasy at this point, sigh. Every time I get into a series it jumps the shark hard by the third book. Do let us know if you find something good!

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