knaveofstaves: A picture of an interpretation of the Knight of Wands Tarot card featuring the Egyptian God Thoth (Default)
I've never been big on the whole New Year's Resolution thing. Comes from not being big on getting things done I suppose. Also, a year is quite a long time. This year however, I have some things I'd like to address. Small things really, but they're "worm at the core" sort of things. First, I'm going to actually quit smoking for once. Enough's enough at some point, and I think it's in my best interest to make that point this point.

Second, I've basically come around to a frame of mind where the fundamental hypocrisy of my last decade won't be overlooked anymore. It's not okay that I don't read on a regular basis. Not writing on a regular basis is a whole different animal, and that's going to have to get addressed at some point soon; but it's NOT okay that I don't read. In fact, it's systemically wrong when you really think about it. Not reading as a choice (whether or not that choice is active or passive) is a rejection of basically everything that I bring to the table. So where does that leave us?

There are thirty-four books in several piles on the table in my room. That's including Idoru, which I am currently a little over halfway through. They are - in no particular order (well, in the order that they are rather randomly stacked):
01: Reamde by Neal Stephenson

02: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

03: The Year's Best Science Fiction: 25th Annual Edition ed. Gardner Dozois

04: The Year's Best Science Fiction: 24th Annual Edition ed. Gardner Dozois

05: The City and The City by China Mieville

06: The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon

07: Hocus Pocus by Vonnegut

08: Watership Down by Richard Adams

09: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Murakami Haruki

10: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

11: Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky

12: Frankenstein by Mary Shelly

13: Heaven's Reach by David Brin

14: Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

15: Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany

16: Song of Susannah by Stephen King

17: The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

18: The Dark Tower by Stephen King

19: Hellstrom's Hive by Frank Herbert

20: Space Viking by H. Beam Piper

21: Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

22: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

23: Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem

24: Timequake by Vonnegut

25: Beyond Good and Evil by Nietzche

26: A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn

27: The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene

28: Coicidences, Chaos, and all that Math Jazz by Edward S. Burger and Michael Starbird

29: Origins by Neil deGrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith

30: Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck

31: The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

32: Influence: Science and Practice 5th ed. by Robert B. Cialdini

33: Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume by Jeff Smith

34: Idoru by William Gibson

The list is pretty straight foward, though I don't know anything about the strength of the translation in my copy of the Tao, so I may not hold myself to that one too strongly. Also, I'm cheating a little bit because I'm already two hundred some odd pages into Idoru, and I've read maybe a seventh? of Bone. The point is however that I need to get this done. It's gotten to where it's possessed of a certain de facto importance. Some of these books have been in my "to read" pile for a couple of years now, including the sci-fi collections. Reading all of that shouldn't even be that unreasonable a goal even with my strangely slow reading speed. Assuming two hours a day, which is entirely reasonable in the light of this resolution, seven hundred and thirty hours should be enough to cover all of that. The other thing is that I have a gift card to B & N from my brother (my annual Christmas present) because that's what he gets me. I'm actually very easy to shop for. But we'll cross the gift card bridge when we get to it.

So there it is. This gauntlet has been cast.
knaveofstaves: A picture of an interpretation of the Knight of Wands Tarot card featuring the Egyptian God Thoth (Default)
I think that this book is very important to me. I'm going to have to read it again soon, but I definitely feel more thoughtful than I did 4ish hours (cumulative) ago. I started getting angry at the narrator near the end though, and I'm getting the impression from various sources that maybe I missed the point. Hard to say. That's why I need to read a few more times.

My first read of it has exacerbated my impatience with the pestilential attention span I've been struggling with for a very long time. Possibly a decade. My mind wanders as I read, regardless of what I am reading or how invested I am in the material. I think part of it's that I'm just out of practice. The rate at which I consume fiction (or non-fiction now that I'm at a point in my life where I've learned how dumb it is to not read non-fic) dropped dramatically ten years ago. It didn't peter out or disappear or anything, but I still go weeks on end without picking up a book.

I think that's the real lesson right now. I need to nip that bullshit in the bud.

And no scheduling btw, self. None at all. Don't be stupid.
knaveofstaves: A picture of an interpretation of the Knight of Wands Tarot card featuring the Egyptian God Thoth (Default)
BEYOND THIS POINT, THAR BE SPOILERS

The most comprehensive thing I can say about "The Hunger Games" is that I enjoyed it, but it couldn't quell my writer's instinct to nitpick. With the really good ones ("Song of Ice and Fire", "The Dark Tower"), I stop picking nits early on because I've gotten caught up in the story. That didn't happen with Collins' novel.

I won't bother talking about the coincidence arc that could literally be cut from the piece without altering it at all or the stock character with a cliche for motivation that I am repeatedly asked to be emotionally invested in. Those are the smallest of nits, and the coincidence arc at least is clearly some sort of foreshadowing to the later books in the trilogy. One thing I will talk about is cliched characters because damn. They're everywhere. The book's intended as young adult fiction, so there's something to be said for presenting old and enduring ideas to newer generations. However, I'm troubled that the "ambitious yet morally oblivious administrator" and "boundary pushing genius who seeks to buck the odds" are becoming archetypes of the genre.

Another thing that bothered me was the PoV. The story is written in first person, present tense, presumably as a way of creating tension. Will Katniss win, or will the ending be her death? The problem is that the narrative doesn't support that tension. Yes, it's present tense (meh), but it's first person. You've asked me to invest in the protagonist (and I did, she's kind of cool), and the story's told from her perspective. At no point did I even begin to question her inevitable victory. I suppose the question of whether she'll have to kill Peeta might be the real intended tension, but I didn't really care about Peeta. I can't get too down on this one though because I can't see a comprehensive way to fix it. "The Good Guys Win" is indelibly stamped on me. I suppose the only way to do it would be to tell the story from the view of multiple characters (foxface! FOXFACE!), but then the piece gets longer and much more complicated as you start having to deal with ethical and moral dilemmas in characterization in order to avoid the Plot Boy/Girl archetype.

An aside on Foxface: She's the only character I rooted for the whole time, with the possible exception of Rue. Foxface was fucking smart. She was the only character that did anything in the entire games that made me cheer. Then she died because it was time for her to die, a device that was also used to kill Thresh, whose arc was kept so mysterious that I was actually interested in it. Then he died offscreen with no explanation.

For me, the story's one of frustrated expectations and unanswered potential. Hell, one of the most interesting twists in the book is the feast near the end of the games. What was in the other two backpacks? I'm really fucking curious actually. What did Foxface need? What did Thresh? In fact, it's never actually clear that the body armor Cato is wearing at the final showdown was in his pack and not Thresh's, so what the hey? Right? Instead, those questions are basically subsumed by the love triangle. The feast's only real purpose is to help Katniss save Peeta and to kill another forgettable tribute so we get down to the last four.

Ultimately though, my biggest problem is the premise, and this is something I ran into watching Battle Royale as well. I just don't believe this premise and never have. It's not that I think no one would think of this. Obviously, some people have. What I don't buy is that this sort of thing would go on as long as it does. It seems designed to incite rebellion and quickly. In addition, with "The Hunger Games", I can't get my brain around the moment when the Treaty is signed (mentioned in passing as world building infodumps), and someone in that process says, "Hey, lets have this fight to the death competition thing and make the rebel scum send their kids!"

Maybe I'm too much an optimist, but I really believe someone somewhere along the way would look at that guy and say, "Uhhh? What?"

Read it. Definitely read it. As young adult fiction, it works. As a broader work with relevance to a wider audience, it doesn't. That's really, when it gets down to it, the worst thing I can say about it.
knaveofstaves: A picture of an interpretation of the Knight of Wands Tarot card featuring the Egyptian God Thoth (Default)
Reading's been fairly good to me lately, what with it actually happening and all. I'm maybe not getting through books as quickly as I like, but that's mostly a result of most of my reading time being the twenty to thirty minutes I spend on the bus on either side of my work nights.

I had to abandon Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell about a fifth of the way through the book. Mostly, I feel that if I'm a hundred and forty-ish pages in to an eight hundred page book I should actually be interested in what I'm reading. Crazy, I know. I took a brief stroll through Discworld with The Light Fantastic, which was rollicking good fun in typical Pratchett fashion, before tackling On Stranger Tides, which I picked up at Barnes & Noble because it was both there and a Powers novel I haven't read yet.

Disappointed as hell.

Powers is one of my three favorite authors beside Lethem and Brin. He exhibits an imagination I don't see much in the fantasy I read anymore (notable exceptions being Bas-Lag and The Dark Tower). There's a viscerality to the magic in his works that appeals to me, much the same way that I'll never get over the image of the man in black leaping back and forth over the dead man in The Gunslinger. Good lord, that shit was freaky.

Powers' biggest flaws though are painstakingly highlighted in Tides. Love him as I do, I'm always struck by the way the majority of his female characters get a bit shafted. As a friend once commented about Sorkin, "His women tend to be girlfriends." Tides contains only two women that get much screentime. One of these two is instantly forgettable and has no affect on the book other than to provide a brief (and quickly frustrated) outlet for the protagonist's libido. The other is Beth Hurwood, the female lead, whose role in the plot is more as a set piece than an actual character, and whose primary effect on the story comes at the end by way of symbolically marrying the protagonist so that the female aspects of magic might be available to him and of use in - to fall back on gamer parlance - defeating the final boss. It's unfortunate to see this happening to so many Powers women. The problem isn't evident in Declare, The Anubis Gates, or Three Days to Never (which on some level is a romance), and is of a significantly less pronounced stature in Last Call where the female lead is actually more of a secondary character and has her own stuff going on. I suppose that's why I tend to forgive it in his lesser works.

Tides also exhibits another problem with some of Powers' works in that many of his protagonists possess an almost Gaiman-esque everyman quality. It's seen most strongly in Tides and The Stress of Her Regard, wherein the protagonists more closely resemble punching bags to whom plot happens rather than full participants in the story. Again, this problem is absent in Powers' stronger works, but it really does hurt Tides a lot. I'm a sucker for a pirate story, yes, just as I'm a sucker for a hitman story, but it still has to be good for me to like it. Simon West, I'm looking at you. As a smattering of high events interspersed with some interesting magic, Tides delivers. As a tour de force it sits, becalmed.

Next up, I think, is Wizard and Glass with Decoding the Universe in the on-deck circle.

So I've finally created a Dropbox account to keep all my writing endeavors in, which I'm very excited about. Most notably, a new short story I started recently whose working title is "Puzzler's Lament". As far as this new project goes, I really don't know what the hell. I don't feel like it's going to be very good in the end as it's not as thematically ambitious as stuff I've written before, but I'm having a lot of fun writing it. I suppose it's sort of like a steampunk Hindenburg. The comparison is really appropriate as, artistically, the project is willfully looking to crash into the ground, and I'm really just holding it up through sheer force of will.

"Martha's polishing the brass on the Titanic, man. It's all goin' down."
-Tyler Durden

I actually had another short story/novella idea jump into my head at work last night, but that one's a bit more daunting. I'm not a big fan of stories that don't include someone to root for and the protoplot that coalesced in my head resembles an "evil triumphs over evil" story. It might be doable, but it'd be hard as hell.

Perhaps that's a mark in its favor where craft is concerned.

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knaveofstaves: A picture of an interpretation of the Knight of Wands Tarot card featuring the Egyptian God Thoth (Default)
Chad

May 2016

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