Clearly, I Am Smarter Than Everyone Else

January 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Week Four: COMPLETE. SSS+ RANK.

The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt.

I often have delusions of grandeur, and with them come dreams of exceptionalism. I believe that my writing is, not only great, but wonderful (as in, filled with wonder) and awesome, meaning that which inspires awe. Ergo, when I have read a piece of work, I am completely confident in my perfect renderings of judgement.

Of course I am right. How could I be wrong?

I read The Sisters Brothers this week. This is the first “adult” book I’ve read in some time that isn’t genre fiction. That means almost less than nothing, but it’s important to keep these things in mind. Everyone has an audience they are writing to, if only because the logic of book-selling demands that the publishers market it in such a way.This isn’t some sort of hopeless, “there is no true creativity anywhere” rant, but rather the acknowledgement that the book business is indeed, just that. A business.

Until ebooks rule all, this picture is delightfully accurate

So SB, despite being critically-acclaimed and with the respectability that being in the “fiction” section imparts upon it, disappointed me. Clearly, this is a problem with the book. Clearly, this is not my failure to appreciate something wonderful before me, but rather the book’s inability to impress me.

You should see what I do with .mp3 files I don't like. I burn through hard drives quickly (doh ho ho).

Normally, this is not a problem. I am entitled to my own tastes and preferences. Certain things ring my bells, and certain things not only do not ring those bells, they also remind that those bells have not been rung. The silences can be deafening. In this case, then, when I say that SB left me unsatisfied, the image of a monastery that has taken a vow of silence should fill your mind. Picture the bells as they are inspected, carefully considered, maybe even tapped a bit with an inquisitive finger, but they were then demonstrably, defiantly, and definitely not rung.

But the friggin’ book won the Governor General’s award, the Rogers Writers trust award, and was a finalist for the Giller prize and the Man Booker prize. When my opinion is arrayed against literally ever Canadian author out there, I being to wonder if I’m wrong.

TIL there is a Mr. Men wiki. Why, internet. Why.

Note my use of “wrong”. I do not wonder if I didn’t read the book closely enough, or if because I come from a genre background, some things about book-writing which this does very well I just take for granted because I have no expectations; no, I wonder if I am wrong.

I normally only read reviews of books I don’t like because I want support in my criticisms. It’s sort of a paper shield. “Look,” I say, “look! I wasn’t wrong or blind! There are real flaws in this book, and it’s not just me that doesn’t like it!” It gives me a bit of credence in my judgement. When I find a reviewer that agrees with me, I feel more certain in my judgements.

Imagine my surprise, then, when no-one agrees with me about SB. The best I’ve gotten is the word I used, “unsatisfying”, from someone I work with. But you can ask anyone who’s read the book: it’s not meant to be completely satisfying. The very way it’s written removes certainty and defies completion. Further, the story satisfies where it must. His characters are pitch-perfect. Some of his lines knock the ball into the next park and back again.

It’s mad. It’s aggravating. It’s brilliant.

You know how you can tell whether a book is good or not? If it gets you thinking afterwards. Right now, I’m thinking about whether I just read a masterpiece of a novel, or the literary equivalent of barley wine. It’s close to the beer that I normally drink, and certainly different from the norm, but in the end unsatisfying.

Now, I don’t know what I thought of the Sisters Brothers. I’ll have to think on it. That, then, should give you your answer.

Next up: Solar Dance, by Modris Ecksteins. This means it’s a history week! Yayyy! I’ll forgive you all if you don’t share my enthusiasm, but I am sincere when I say that Walking Since Daybreak is the best piece of history I’ve ever read.

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In Which This Abruptly Becomes a Comedy Featuring Incontinent Animals, And We Return To Hell

January 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

Psych! But who knows about the fuuutuuure?

I do. There will be no incontinent animals, and if there are, then you can be sure I’ll get my best men on it. Yes, not only do I have men, I have tiers of men, allowing me to pick only my best as the situation demands it.

The other one will have to sit this one out.

In other news, my friend pointed out that I had made an error in the first post of this story. Apparently, planes do not fall from the sky at over Mach 1. My bad, but this has since been corrected. You can view the correction here.

Finally, have another chapter!

VII.

Light sparkled in the sky above the coach. Amira was tempted to call it the Sun, but it wasn’t. The Sun, or as his friends call him, Helios, refers to a particular star in a particular solar system in a particular galaxy, in a particular universe.

Namely, ours, which this light was most definitely not in.

Amira rode with Mr. Saturday on the back of a coach pulled by skeletal horses. They rode through peaceful fields where red and yellow flowers waved back and forth in a gentle breeze. Spider rode in Amira’s hair and the occasional brush of one of his legs against her ear sent shivers down her spine. She was not happy with her present circumstances, and trusted neither Mr. Saturday, the blood-drinking Loa spirit of Death, nor Spider, who now rode atop her as though she was his personal coach.

She focused on the fields to distract her from her worries. There was little she could do, in any case. The next morning after the awful party had ended, or at least what passed for morning in Hell, Mr. Saturday burst into her room and opened the blinds. Light slowly trickled in, as though the false sun was loathe to give up it’s bounty. Nevertheless, it was bright enough to blind Amira.

Bon matin, cher! Get up and get going now! We’ve hit the big time, ain’t we just!”

A skeleton, dressed in an immaculate black suit, tails and all, laid a silver breakfast tray across her lap. The smells rising from the platter woke her immediately. There was coffee there. Perhaps Amira did not understand the metaphysical nature of food and nutrition in the afterlife, but such concerns were obliterated by her nose and her gut.

There. Was. Coffee.

She greedily slurped down the dark coffee before answering.

“Did you and your guests finish your business last night?” Amira enquired, Spider’s words about Mr. Saturday’s trustworthiness still in her head.

There was the tiniest twitch in Mr. Saturday’s eyes. “Ah, oui, an’ it was as grand as I hoped it would be. And as a reward, cher, we’re goin’ on a trip today! Pandaemonium, the Free City, ah, she calls to me and it’s been far too long since I called her back. You ain’t seen the sites, no no, you ain’t even begun to imagine what it’s like! The lights! The sounds! The action! It is all the best things in life, and all the best that the afterlife can offer, and it’s all ours, cher!”

His smile was so close to genuine that Amira could almost believe him. But every look at him just reminded her of the horrific scene from the night before, when blood dripped down his chin and his skeletons flayed the flesh from the corpse. The butler stood at attention at the door, and Amira wondered if it was the woman’s skeleton that stood before her, now pressed into Mr. Saturday’s service. She suppressed a shudder.

“So please, enjoy your breakfast and freshen up at your leisure, but don’t lay about! We’ve a city to conquer!’ He patted her knee and Amira’s skin crawled at his touch. She forced a wan smile on her face, and for a second met his eyes. There was nothing but a fierce hunger in them, one that wanted to reach out with a desire that was physical.

But with that, he swooped out of the room and left the butler to watch from the doorway. Amira shuddered and collapsed back onto the bed, breakfast and her hunger momentarily forgotten.

“I wouldn’t do that if I was you, no no no no. That skelly’s got no eyes but it’s watching you. It got no lips, but it’ll tell everything you do back to him, and that would be bad for you.” Spider’s voice, as close as a lover’s to her ear, nearly set her screaming again but she swallowed her fear and surprise and sat up.

“Don’t speak, just do. Eat, cause souls can starve too, and then dress like you going to a ball, because baby, he weren’t lying. Pandaemonium ain’t nothing you ever seen.”

So she found herself in the back of a coach, riding across gentle fields beside Mr. Saturday. He had been quiet, but the hours of silence were driving Amira mad.

“This place doesn’t match any image of Hell I’ve ever heard of. It’s…peaceful. Nice, really. Is it a trick or something?”

Mr. Saturday chuckled. “No trick, nothing like that. Demons ain’t like how you mortals thought they are. They’re just like you, only older and more powerful. A couple are wiser, but most are just plain stupid.” He chuckled again at his joke. “But this ain’t all fire and brimstone because that gets boring. They miss the upside world, just as much as the souls here do. A few flowers an’ a little sun just remind ’em of the home they used to have.”

“Used to?” Amira asked, now intrigued. Religion hadn’t even intrigued her before, but this went beyond fat old men arguing about 1000-year-old texts, and she was tired of being on the back foot. She had come from a design firm, damn it, and she was used to being on the cutting edge. Not knowing what was happening, though she was loathe to admit it, terrified her.

“Yep. Once was a time when the borders ‘tween the realms weren’t so thick and spirits moved through with a little more ease. Most of the demons here remember what the Sun looked like, and what it felt like to have the wind ruffle your hair. But they haven’t able to wander free up there in a long time, so long you mortals don’t even have words for it. The faerie realms aren’t the same, so they made this place to look like home. Not, y’know, Home, cause Lucifer wouldn’t stand for that, but the home they wanted.”

They rode in silence after that. A rabbit made its way through the flowers, while birds sang as they circled among the clouds. It was perfect, Amira thought, but too perfect. Like someone had taken a picture and made it move. When she looked closer, she could tell. The flowers followed a pattern to their movements. First one hill would bend to the wind, and then rushing like a wave it would ripple across the others before starting again. The same rabbits nuzzled at the same flowers, and even the placement was too perfect. Each plant was set in perfect, orderly rows, and the grass was cut as neat as a golf green. Now that she knew, Amira could hardly stand to look at the beautiful field.

A blue butterfly danced along the side of the coach, somehow keeping up with the skeletal horses. Amira reached out and gently cupped it in her hands. It fluttered vainly against her grasp, but couldn’t fight her as she brought it into the coach. Once her hands came back inside, the butterfly stopped fighting. Amira opened her hands, but all she held was a bit of ash.

“You remember that, young one, you remember that well. That’s what happens to dreams down here. They look real nice, and so close, almost exactly like the real thing. So much like the real thing you could grab it and be certain you got a hold of it. But once you do get your hands on it…poof. And there ain’t nothing left but ash.”

Spider giggled in her ear, and Amira threw the ash outside the window.

A moment later, another blue butterfly followed the coach down the road.

Amira, having no concept of how time passed in Hell, decided that it was a few hours later when they spotted the outer walls of Pandaemonium. Time, as it were, did not actually pass in Hell. Time didn’t matter once you died and left all those unfortunate dimensions behind you. Distance, so closely linked to Time that Gravity wondered why the two didn’t just get one with it and marry each other already, also did not matter, but Hell, like Heaven, was populated with things that were intimately familiar with Distance and Time. So familiar, in fact, that they could not completely shake the feeling that they were necessary things. The combined belief of billions upon billions of souls also added to the weight of that feeling. The replica of the Sun came and went because those souls believed that a Sun ought to rise and set in a manner approximating Earth’s. Further, things ought to take Time, because things took Time on Earth.

Distance, remember, did not exist, because the physical no longer existed. Physics has no idea how many Angels could dance on the head of a pin because that is asking the same sort of question as “how much does justice weigh?” A few bitter scientists decided that a court case would be one standard Justice Unit (sju), just to shut up those smug philosophy students, but the question remains and is unanswerable. However, those billions of souls could not, in fact, believe that you could have everything mixed up in a big jumble that thumbed its nose at things like Time and Distance. Those in Heaven wouldn’t know how many Angels could dance on the head of a pin, but if the question came up, there would suddenly be an awful lot of pins and uncomfortably-waltzing Angels.

The remainder of the coach ride felt like several hours of cramped, uncomfortable bucking because Amira, and billions of other souls, believed that coach rides ought to be several hours of cramped, uncomfortable bucking. Mr. Saturday, it should be noted, was distinctly annoyed by the end of the trip. Even the Loa, with the power of millions of believers, have to bow to the combined belief of the billions who believe in Distance and Time.

Time, it should be noted, is a smug bastard at the best of times.

Amira leaned out the window as the light (she still refused to call it the Sun) was setting in a perfect blaze of reds and oranges, and just as it alighted atop of Pandaemonium. The city glowed in the half-light. Buildings of all types soared up to the sky like the arms of a thousand eager students, each trying to outdo the other and impress their professor. Searchlights threw their light on Byzantine palaces, medieval castles, glistening sky scrapers, and thousands of other types of building. Neon signs hung from every conceivable corner, each advertising a stranger experience than the last. Amira gave up trying to figure out why someone would want a “warm worm massage” as opposed to a “Mongolian tickler”, and just let herself be wowed by the sight. It was the best and worst of New York, Rome, Las Vegas, Paris, Moscow, and Beijing rolled together, stamped on, chewed up for a bit, and spat out piece-by-piece.

“Marvellous and hideous, ain’t it? I don’t come here nearly as often as I should, and every time I do, I remember why.” Mr. Saturday gestured with his walking stick. “You could get lost in there forever just trying to sample everything they had to offer. Even myself, I ain’t completely immune to all the charms of Pandaemonium. The Free City, they call it. My, but it’s a dangerous thing to be free. You stay close, Amira, and I’ll show you a good time.”

“Yes,” Spider murmured, “he would want you to stay close to him for now. You need to talk to Yaga. Baba Yaga. Talk to her, and I’ll find us a way out, heehee! Holes and cracks and dark places, that’s what spiders know best, and Baba Yaga knows where all of them are. But first, I must away.”

Amira’s heart began racing. She did not want to be alone again, and most definitely not with Mr. Saturday, but she could say nothing, and not even react. She suspected that Mr. Saturday would not take kindly to her hosting Spider on her body, and so kept her face as calm as she could.

“Don’t worry none, I’ll be back. You won’t recognize me, but I’ll recognize you! Hee hee!”

Amira felt something crawl down her back and saw the little spider scurry out the window. The fact she was alone again plunged her heart into her stomach and made her nauseous with fear. But she folded her hands across her lap and smiled primly at Mr. Saturday.

“I’m looking forward to it, Mr. Saturday.”

She resisted the urge to fidget.

With the sole exception of the inhabitants, Pandaemonium was not fundamentally different from any major human city. Most of the human souls ambled about happily in traditional clothing of one time period or another, but many of the demons enjoyed outlandish appearances. Here, a gigantic worm in a top hat strolled along beside a half-naked half-lion-half-woman, while there, two gargoyles argued in a corner. A tall praying mantis behind a grill served fried something and clacked his mandibles as Amira rolled by.

While certainly the architecture did strange things to her perception, and some of the advertised services were extreme, even by Amsterdam standards, Amira could tell it was the free-market capitalist’s dream. If you had the money, then you could have, well, anything. Amira rolled under flashing billboards that advertised food, drink, sex, drugs, death, violence, fast cars, peaceful scenery, feelings of love and togetherness, and most peculiarly and most commonly, the chance to work at certain jobs again. There was a long line-up of human (souls, Amira supposed, like her), demons, ubiquitous in their impeccable suits, and large troll and fairy things that she assumed were from another realm. Not that Amira actually understood what was meant by “another realm”, but already her mind was categorizing and analyzing, trying to see how the pieces fit without forcing them. What was most peculiar was that they were all in a line-up for the memory of brushing one’s teeth. The tusked trolls, it seemed, never really got the feeling right.

The streets were crowded and the lights seemed perpetually dimmed, like it was always a peculiar twilight. It comforted Amira, for reasons that she wasn’t certain about. Shadows just seemed more comforting to her since waking up in the dark. She was dressed in black again, Mr. Saturday’s favourite colour, and wore a dress any proper American lady of the late 19th century would be proud to be seen in. Excepting, of course, that it was cut to accent her figure, displayed a significant amount of cleavage, and made her feel like an over-dressed stripper. Amira shrugged inside, figuring there was little she could do, but she drew the line at the bonnet. The skeleton butler was nearly implacable, but Amira had threatened him with a lamp and it backed down. It seemed the afterlife was also about the little victories, and that included never wearing a bonnet.

Tall figures in hooded blue robes peppered the streets and nodded to the coach as it rolled by. They seemed to be everywhere and interested in everything; they checked documents of random people and hovered uneasily around rough-looking inhabitants.

Mr. Saturday anticipated her question when he noticed her staring.

“Those boys are the Arbiters. Lucifer runs a damn tight ship here, and they’re his boots on the ground, cher. There is no crime here, period, and everyone is as free as the birds, to stay or to fly or to die. The Arbiters, though, they don’t take kindly to no-one being so much as rude to another here spirit, demon or fey or mortal. They’ll lock you right up if you so much as blink unkindly at someone else.”

“That seems restrictive, for the only “free” city. How does he justify it?”

Mr. Saturday shrugged. “He don’t. It’s his city, and so long as he’s in charge of the demonic parliament, his word is law.”

“Wait, you are seriously going to tell me that the demons have a parliament? As in, they have a democratically elected government?”

“Of course!” Mr. Saturday seemed shocked. “They’re not savages, cher.”

They pulled a hard right and the driver’s whip cracked over the crowd to make way. The crowd parted like water around a fish, but Amira noticed a few people cast dirty looks at the coach. They briefly slowed down, and suddenly, like flies stirred from an open wound, human beggars in rags and demon beggars, both of whom looked thin to starvation, ran to the coach and unleashed their desperation.

“Oh please, m’lady, just a memory or two. Just a little taste of what the sun was like, s’all I ask.”

“Water! The feel of water ‘cross bare skin! Please!”

“What was it like to be happy? I don’t know anymore! I don’t know!”

A clawed hand reached out to stroke her and she pulled back sharply. What was going on?

Arbiters swooped down like hawks on sheep and wordlessly tore the flocking beggars apart. They carried black staffs that they swung with silent ferocity. The beggars, human and demon both, screamed when they were struck and disappeared in a black puff of smoke. It smelt of melting tar and gunpowder; of fire and burnt flesh. The scent stung the back of Amira’s throat and set her eyes watering.

Amira stared at the Arbiters in shocked silence. Were the beggars dead, or did they just go somewhere? What happened to you if you died down here? Could you die here? Was this what the demons thought passed for justice?

One of the Arbiters stared at Amira, and though he was faceless beneath his hood, unseen eyes bored into her, question, probing, raping her mind from the inside out. The feeling of violation was so strong that she wanted to shut her eyes and scream the violence away. She could not.

“Begging. Is forbidden.” It rasped, and floated away into the crowd. A few had stopped to watch the beggars be dispatched and had taken it in like it was a comedy scene. One of them, a minotaur wearing a pin-stripe suit, bellowed, “And I didn’t even have to pay for it!”

Amira shut the window and dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief. Mr. Saturday patted her on the knee in a singularly dismissive and patronizing way.

“Don’t you worry none, cher, those poor-boys are in for a drubbing. Amon don’t take kindly to those who disrespect his master. You’ll be safe here, by me. They can’t get you, so long as I’m with you.”

There was the barest hint of a threat in his voice, but that was more than enough for Amira.

The palace or, as Mr. Saturday gently reminded her, “ministerial residence, as Hell ain’t got a King,” was luxurious without being too strongly ostentatious. Certainly there were gargoyles and wrought iron and torches sputtering in sconces, but, Amira reckoned, even Hell had to bow to some formalities. The courtyard, however, was large enough to fit the house she had shared with Patrick several times over. She briefly wondered what would happen to it now that they were gone. Regret filled her like sour wine. It had not been theirs long, certainly not long enough for it to be properly filled with memories, but, dammit, for a while it had been theirs. Now they’d never be able to plant the vegetable garden in the backyard, or get a proper postbox at the edge of the road, or get a doorbell that played the Mexican Hat dance.

Amira did not always agree with her husband’s life choices, but regret only comes in one-size-fits-all.

Black-and-green uniformed guards snapped to attention and helped her down from the coach. They seemed roughly human-sized, but wore masks over their faces. The masks were carved into wondrous and dizzying designs that spiralled and looped and bled off into endless whorls and patterns. Amira wondered what sort of demon huddled behind those masks, but decided not to press it. She received her assistance with an imperious nod, and took Mr. Saturday’s arm as he offered it.

She blinked. It had not been a conscious decision. He had offered his arm, and hers had moved without her say. Now that she noticed, it bothered her. Mr. Saturday’s was thinner than Patrick’s, and more angular. And colder. It felt wrong to be holding another’s arm, formality or no. Amira frowned and gently withdrew her arm under the guise of fixing her hair. She did not give it back to him when she had finished.

The manor was an impressive house that looked like a Victorian mansion had gotten into a fight with a Babylonian palace. Gaudy furniture was strewn around in rooms that featured marble statues the size of mini-vans. Several suited demons nodded as they passed through, but Mr. Saturday walked with determined purpose. He knew exactly where he was going, and the quick tack-tack-tack of his cane marked his progress as he strode along.

Amira hustled to keep up. She wasn’t used to petticoats, and after a few metres, just gave up, bunched up the skirts, and ran after him.

“In a hurry?”

“Don’t wanna keep the man waitin’!” Mr. Saturday’s smile was strained, and Amira noticed he was speeding up.

“What man, Adramelech?”

Mr. Saturday didn’t respond. They had arrived at a double-door, black, and easily three times Amira’s height. Carved into the doors was a scene of a man falling through the clouds. They were forced to stop before it, but Amira could have hardly forced herself to move. The image of the man struck deep into Amira’s heart and burrowed there. It was not his face, though it was beautiful, wracked with pain and anguish and beautiful because of the pain. It certainly wasn’t the way his limbs flailed about, as though the wings on his back didn’t work as he expected them to, nor was it the landscape of a burning sky. What caught Amira’s eye was not the beauty of the man, nor the artistry of the carving.

The expression of his face, now that she could study it, was not actually rage or pain. It was doubt. The agony was too exquisite to be anything but, and Amira understood the feeling.

The doors groaned open as some unseen force drew them inwards. The hall was long and dark, and someone waited for them at the end. Despite Mr. Saturday’s assurances of his democratic status, it was clear what the truth was:

Lucifer sat on nothing but a throne.

I Am Glee-filled; That Is, I Am Filled With Glee

January 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

History-squee time!

THERE IS A NEW MODRIS ECKSTEINS BOOK. It’s called Solar Dance, and it’s about art and truth and Germany, and I love him so much I want to marry him and have his history babies.

*inhale*

In other news, I’m playing Skyward Sword, which is excellent. More than excellent. The Zelda series is probably my second-favourite franchise out there, just behind the Ogre Battle series. Yes Mario, take a seat, just there behind Samus, Final Fantasy, and Chrono Trigger. Actually…we’re kind of full, so why don’t you come back later?

I received this comment on my site, which happens to be the 200th, and from one “kneeainc”. It reads as follows:

That allure beans are often magical as well as rhodium or maybe platinum plated along with http://www.pandorabeadssell.co.uk/ as well as tumbler along with include no less than eight hundred design [url=http://www.pandorabeadssell.co.uk/]Pandora Beads[/url] These types of beans signify the particular birthstones, horoscope signs, family pets, alphabets, albhabets, and each kind have Pandora Jewelryusing special in addition to interesting layouts. Most of these vast alternative ensure that there is absolutely no repeating connected with style. This drops are fashioned in such a way it fits current bracelet and also necklace around your neck. Should you elect to obtain necklace around your neck rather than drops by yourself, the collection could be much more unique for you to elegance an individual coronary heart. That necklace trust is supplied in inches wide as well as the necklace around your neck duration is frequently in .. This dimensions plus angles may be interchanged in order that the selection with toggle bracelet as well as a new necklace around your neck or any keychain is distinctive to your account but it could takes a long time to get it has the duplicate in this world.

Do you like that ethereal ending? It suggests that no-where in this world are there duplicate beans.

It could be there in other worlds, but by no means this one. These beans transcend space and time, and by suggesting it will “elegance an individual coronary heart”, we know the penalties for not purchasing these beans.

They are dire.

Ia! Ia! Goliath Fhtagn! YA Rises Again!

January 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

Please don’t say the title of these books three times.

Hastur, Hastur, Has...wait a minute, I mean Wester, Wester, Wester.

The Leviathan Series, by Scott Westerfeld.

Technically, for this week I only read Goliath, the third in the series. But should you read this book? Is the series excellent? Does fiction for young adults (YA) get any better than this?

I will resolve all your concerns by asking this: Does a genetically-engineered whale that breathes hydrogen and is flown around like an airship and fights the Imperial German armies in an alternate 1910s World War I time period float?

The answer, of course, is yes.

I adored these books on their own merits (Westerfeld does so much right), but also for what they do with the YA genre.By that, I mean that he follows all the conventions of YA writing, but on his own terms.

First, what he did right. Take note, YA authors, and read Westerfeld’s stuff!

  • He did enough research. His airships are based on enough research into period airships that the basics all make sense. This means that 1) everything sounds cool and professional when they’re talking about the ship, and 2) you forget that they’re flying in a gigantic airborne whale. 
  • There is romance without being choked by it, and further, it feels real. YA has a bad habit of “twue wuv” syndrome, wherein the main character lays eyes on the other main character and, well, you can figure out the rest. In this case, they actually have a decent basis for their relationship before they start snogging.
  • People die in horrible ways because it is war, and just because he’s writing for youth does not mean that that gets ignored. Again, this all adds to the feelings of realism, especially when they have demon-kappa beasts that capture an Austrian dreadnought. Yep. Realism. In another word: awesome. 

This is not to say that there are no criticisms that can be made. I have only one that I really want to mention because it’s a bit of a sore point for the historian in me. Because YA books really need a clear bad guy, lest you risk losing your younger audience in layers of subtlety, the Germans become the Designated Bad Guys. It stings a little (as a German historian, my monocle popped with an Ach der lieber!), but also because the morality of the War was not so simple. Lip service is paid to the cruelty of the Russian Empire and the racist nature of the British Empire, and I’m left wondering why the Germans get all the blame.

This isn’t some sort of attempt to say that “my country is better than your country” (seriously, though, suck it Finland), but the Germans come off as faceless robots who only want to fight a war. Though true, there is not one sympathetic German character. When an Imperial Russian Officer, who’s existence kind of led to soldier revolts and the oppression of millions of people, is more sympathetic than any German character is, you might be a little off-balance. Considering just how good Westerfeld is at balance, it’s a little jarring.

"How does anything we're doing in this make us look like the badguys? Yes Hans! 4 points for civilians!"

YA and Levithan, however, is what I actually want to talk about. I work in the Kids/Teen section of my bookstore (because it’s mine, my own, my precioussss), and that’s what I deal with every day. What I have seen is pretty astonishing, even in the past few months.

YA is big.

This article explains a little bit of the phenomenon. I couldn’t tell you in terms of gross numbers, but this article makes two very interesting points that I can verify with my own experiences.

1. Kids are buying YA books. This is more significant than it sounds. This means that, not only are kids spending their money, they aren’t putting the books on their phones or pads. They want physical books, even hardcovers. I had an adult woman seem surprised when I told her that a brand-spanking new book was only available in hardcover.

2. Adults are buying (or at least reading) YA books. This is harder to verify over who’s doing the purchasing, as I suspect that someone who buys the book for their kid can then read it themselves later. Regardless, plenty of parents are familiar with the titles I can recommend. They are, if not devoted readers, at least interested. Except for the men. They are not interested as the women.

YA is a tricky beast when it comes to writing. I called it a genre, not because paranormal has finally finished it’s inevitable domination of all things romantic, but because there are enough conventions that demand to be followed. This means, perversely, that if you do follow them, you suddenly have the freedom to write about whatever the hell you want. I’ll explain what I mean with examples from Leviathan.

Bear with me here.

First, the main characters have to be youth/teens. This is non-negotiable. Any younger and you’re in the 9-12 (i.e. what-is-this-kindergarten range), and any older and you risk dissociating yourself from the audience. Further, they have to matter to the story. It’s not enough that they just happen to be the main character. No-one wants to read a story about a kid who spends the story in the brig because no children are allowed on the bridge of the battleship.

Leviathan does make them young, but they function within society as people their age. They aren’t leading battle groups or dictating politics. They work with, against, and under adults. Second, the importance of the two main characters fluctuates. Sometimes, one is more relevant, sometimes the other, but they have their importance despite the fact they are young. I can’t say more without spoilers, but he makes it work.

Second, the parents are, 9 times out of ten, not involved in the life of the child. They don’t have to be dead, per se, but they do need to give them extraordinary freedom. I had to clean my room a bunch of times when I was younger, but I don’t remember any YA story where the young, handsome protagonist has to (with the exception of school drama, but then parents are usually just distant rather than dead).

Leviathan handles this by making them both orphans (technically one only lost a father, but roll with me), but the fact they are orphans is important to the plot. It’s not just swept under the rug. In fact, the fact that one is an orphan drives everything.

Click it. The full-size is glorious.

Third, the writing has to be clear, simple, and as fast as a peregrine falcon. Actually, books are often hilariously quick, so that children become experts in things like zombie-hunting within a week (not to bash Rot and Ruin, but come on. I was stupid when I was 14).

The writing in these books moves quickly, but there is plot downtime. This is something that YA writers forget. You can write in a line like “Weeks later, his training wasn’t so hard”. Don’t be scared. You can just do it. No-one will stop you! And your story won’t be as weird!

Finally, the romance question. Do you feature a relationship or not? The overwhelming dominating landslide that is that answer is: yes. But that means you need to play by more rules!

  • If the character is a girl, she needs to have the choice, usually between the hunky brooder or the hunky outgoing one (hunkiness is non-negotiable). Choice is the essential element.
  • If the character is a boy, he needs to have one girl that he must fight, strive for, or somehow overcome difficulties to be with. Proving worth is the important part.

As I said, Leviathan made the two people know each other and become friends for a decent bit of time before they got together in a relationship. Much like how it happens in real life, and without all that stupid “twue wuv” thing. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in love, but it’s hard. Not enough YA authors write it that way.

But if you follow these simple, sort-of rules, something weird happens. You can write about steam-punk Germans fighting bio-punk Englishmen and it will be put on the shelf right beside a story about a girl and a boy and math class. And apparently, they will both sell.

YA is weird. By the way, have you seen my new YA novel? Oh, you haven’t? Here, come with me and I’ll tell you about my paranormal, WW2 school harem idea.

Apparently, it’ll sell like hotcakes.

This week: The Sisters Brother. It won like, a lot of awards. A lot. And it’s “fiction section” fiction. This could be a big step for me.

Hey MasterCard, I’ve Got A Line For You

January 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

How about this?

Bus tickets: $100

Bus Delays: 5 Hours

Unexpected Hotel expenditure: $89

Food, taxi, and other expenses: At least $40

Getting Closure? Priceless.

Things end, ladies and gentlemen. It’s unfortunate but true, especially so when they do in a way you didn’t expect/want/plan for them to. But when they do end, and it’s finally alright that they’re over, well then.

Well then, indeed.

And with that, we return to our regularly scheduled programming: faffing about!

I Keep My SOPA On A Rope

January 18, 2012 § 1 Comment

I, not being American, cannot directly act against SOPA, but I will do what I can.

Read this. And as you are probably aware, I am not alone in my opposition.

I did not run a blackout on my site because I have only one day a week that I must post something, and didn’t want to lose my week. Yes, that is somewhat selfish (I’m just a damn dirty Internet scab), but what are you going to do.

In other news, have more story! These posts are getting longer and longer, but remember, I’ve decided to make this story quite a large one. Correspondingly, the lengths of the posts will increase as well, but I might put up some PDFs with what I’ve go so far. You should, if, y’know, you’re interested…let me know if you’d like that? Mmmkay? And

VI.

Heaven was not what Patrick expected it to be.

First, there was a frightening lack of clouds, angels, harps, and bearded men. In fact, there was no-one and nothing. He found this somewhat distressing.

Second, he seemed to be plummeting to the ground at a ferocious speed from very, very, very high above the…world. Patrick’s brain, still in the Earth mindset (i.e.- that there was still one), had to think in terms of falling, above and below, and getting hungry. It did not take this sudden change in altitude well.

In fact, it found this significantly distressing. He would have, had words made sense to his brain, called his present situation a “difficulty”.

The wind ripped through his shaggy brown hair and tore tears from his eyes. It ballooned in his toga, which he futilely waved to slow his descent. His scream disappeared in the hideous roar of rushing wind and he was swallowed up by the fact of falling. His brain raced as it tried to understand, categorize, and evaluate all the current stimuli while simultaneously get his mouth to start working and his bladder to stop opening up. Luckily, he didn’t actually have a bladder, or else he would have been very embarrassed right before he died. Again.

There was a crowd of people on a grassy field beneath him, and from this far distance, they looked like they were teams of people playing a game. There were hundreds of them, crawling around the grass like ants, and he could just barely make out some of them looking up and pointing. They were very quickly getting larger.

His hand, not entirely under conscious control, felt about as it looked for something it couldn’t find. In-between the howling death and his brain’s inability to deal with said death, a profound sense of sadness filled him.

One that was obliterated by the impact as he hit the ground.

The ground stretched like it was made of rubber, but was soft, like it was made of marshmallow. It bent far, far back to allow the softness to take away the pain of impact, and then quickly sproinged back into place like a trampoline. So much like a trampoline, that he was launched a few feet into the air, arms flailing madly, before coming back to crash into the ground again.

This went on for some time. The ground, covered in grass and rocks and one very surprised looking rabbit, bent and warped and jiggled Patrick around like a bowl of excited Jell-O until he came to a rest on his stomach. Still very much alive, or whatever passed for alive in these parts, he rolled over on his back to revel in the sun, the warmth, and for the fact that yet again, a fall failed to destroy him. He had only fallen from the sky twice, but that was enough for him, thank you very much. No more dying today, please.

A bearded, one-eyed man holding a gigantic battle-axe and dripping with violence stared back down at him. Patrick’s natural inclination to run away from anything and everything frightenomg collided with his fight-or-flight reflex on the way out the door, before both agreed it was to their mutual effort to leave as soon as possible.

“Ugh.” Was all that Patrick could make out as the man, dressed in chain and plate armour, looked at him like it was Christmas day and Patrick was the turkey. The axe was certainly large enough to be a carver, and again, if Patrick had a bladder, he would have been fairly well basted.

“God’s wounds, are you alright man?” A look of touching concern suddenly passed over the scarred man’s face.

“Ugh.”

“The fall must have addled your senses. Have we the surgeon!” The man looked up and shouted to the others. “Fetch Avicenna!” Some shouting, for the aforesaid Avicenna, followed this. The man helped Patrick sit up. “Never, upon my honour, have I seen someone arrive here in such a manner. Are you hurt, brother?”

“Ugh.” Patrick’s brain, already shaken after the events of the fall, simply could not reconcile the violent appearance of the man in front of him with the tender care he was showing him. Deciding that enough was enough, and he was really due one anyways, Patrick’s brain took an unscheduled break.

A harried-looking, hawkish man, also bearded, ran towards the two men. A circle of armed and terrible-looking men surrounded Patrick, concern evident on their scarred and ruined faces. One was holding his head in the crook of his arm, but the face on the head showed more concern for Patrick than itself.

The hawkish man wore a turban and long, flowing Arabic robes. His skin was the same colour as Amira’s and his beard was the same thick black hair, but his eyes burned with an intelligence that was almost feverish. He dropped in front of Patrick and skewered him with those burning eyes.

“Are you just arriving from Earth, yes?”

Patrick dumbly nodded.

“Are you still confused and disoriented, yes?”

Patrick nodded. Still dumbly, but now more of a second-grade level.

“Ah. Your humours are upset by the dissociation of your body.”

The surrounding warriors, for warriors they were, groaned as one.

The one-eyed man wagged his finger in a far-too motherly expression for a man carrying a battle-axe.

“Now come ye, Avicenna, stop now your games. This soul has no body until final resurrection! He has no humours to be unbalanced!”

A whistle sharply blew, and an Asian man with a thin, pointed beard, a fat jolly face, and dressed in ancient robes that were striped white-and-black like a referee, ran up and jabbed the one-eyed man in the chest.

“Citing religion on the game field in a manner not relating to re-enacting final words or dramatic scenes! Five minute penalty for number 44, Jan Zizka!”

The warriors began screaming at the referee, their concern for Patrick gone in the face of this horrible injustice. Patrick’s brain was now somewhat interested, but steadfastly maintained that his break was not yet over. Union regulations, of course. Still sacred even in the afterlife.

“Referee Confucius, I must protest!” The one-eyed man, Jan Zizka apparently, shrugged and looked bitterly offended. “Surely play had been stopped by the unexpected arrival of a new soul to his just reward?”

Confucius, who was much more like a Chinese Santa Claus than Patrick had thought, shook his head fiercely. He wasn’t wearing a shred of armour and carried nothing more violent than a whistle, but when he inflated like a balloon every man backed away.

“No! Not only did the whistle not blow, thereby allowing no stoppage of play for any reason, the new soul fell onto the defending team’s side, thereby constituting, at the very least, a too-many-men on the field penalty. Five-minute penalty stands, yellow card for Zizka!”

One group of armed men booed loudly as Confucius presented a card to Jan, but the others looked a little relieved. Confucius glared at Avicenna and Patrick.

“We should get up now. Come, my friend, let us get you off the field before our honoured Referee decides that we are interfering with play. That is a ten-minute major, and no way for a new-arrived soul to make friends.”

He helped Patrick stagger off to a nearby hill. Atop the little grassy hump, no more than a knoll, really, dozens of people sat on blankets or in the fragrant grass, in dress from various historical periods. They were arranged into two groups like team supporters and some carried flags and pennants, but the groups had no sort of cohesion or uniformity. A Greek woman from sometime-long-ago BC sat beside a Chinese businessman, while on the other side of the hill a gaggle of Victorian girls and some Inuit children clumped together eating cotton candy. The people waved politely to Patrick, but quickly turned their attention back to the field.

Avicenna took Patrick to a bench, where several armed men sat in various states of injury. A few held on to dismembered limbs, several looked to have been run through, and one was little more than bits in a basket. They greeted Patrick politely, but their attention was on the field. Avicenna deposited Patrick on the bench and wandered off to sew up some of the wounded. None of them seemed to be in any pain, and there wasn’t a drop of blood to be seen, anywhere. Patrick recoiled in horror when, sitting beside the basket, it said,

“Hullo there! I’m Phorcys of Phyrigia!” A severed hand waved and offered itself to be shaken.

Patrick, duly horrified but remembering his manners, shook the hand. “Hello, Phorcys. I’m Patrick O’Flanagan. Uh…how are you?”

The hand, as best as a hand can, shrugged. “Oh, I got right walloped by Guan Yu. Didn’t see him coming from my left, and then bam! Before I knew it, I was right out of the match and in this basket. Little disappointed, honestly. Had a much better showing last time, to tell you the truth.”

Zizka sat down beside Patrick. “Do not fret over much, Phorcys. T’was just our poor luck to draw “Last Stand” this day. And, should it salve your worries, Guan Yu laid hold of your flag, but Joan d’Arc smote him but a second after, so the score is again tied.”

Phorcys, or at least his hand, snapped his fingers in a gesture of irritation. “I hate these damned scenarios! We never pick any of the ones that I like! I’ve been on the defence for the past three last stands! Three! My position in the standings isn’t doing particularly well either, because of it!”

Patrick couldn’t help himself any longer. “Excuse me, but…what’s going on here? What’s happening?” He pointed at the field, where the warriors were again beating the (living? Really?) daylights out of each other. One group, a smaller one who had blue splotches on their armour and blue banners, were in a tight circle on a hill while the other group, much larger and with red splotches, pressed up at them. It was indeed a battle, but one without screams or blood. Instead, there was cheering and laughing over the grunts and clashes of sword-on-sword and sword-on-flesh. “Why are those men killing each other?”


Zizka laughed. “Killing each other? Nay, my friend, we are not killing one another. We are playing War.”

“Playing…war?”

Phorcys clenched his hand in what looked like a nod. “Yes indeed! What else is there to do when you’ve got a bunch of warriors, the makings of a wonderful battlefield, and all the time in existence? Why, you strap on your armour, get a bunch of the lads and ladies together, and have a right old time of it! It’s wonderful fun, and makes for the best sport in Elysium!”

Patrick’s brain became too interested for its own good and came back to life. “So you’re telling me…that in Heaven, which is where we are now, right?”

Zizka shrugged. “Truth be told, we reside right now in Elysium, one of the provinces of Heaven, but yes, what you have said is correct.”

“And you’re all warriors from history, correct?”

Phorcys nodded with his knuckles. “Aye, Patrick! Fought at Troy, I did! And Zizka fought for the Hussites, what, 700 years ago? Oh, those were good days.”

Zizka nodded. “Give or take some, yes. We men of war sometimes feel the call to battle in our blood, and again take up our arms. Paradise would lack something, were the occasional ploughshare not beaten back into a sword.”

“But, they let you do this? Isn’t it…violent? And mean? And sinful?”

Zizka chuckled. “Sinful? Sinful is when man kills each other because the name he uses for “God” is different from another’s. Our league is sanctioned from On High. There are rules, as you saw Confucius so adeptly lay down, and no-one is forced to participate. It is only a simple jest, a game.”

Phorcys pointed over to a grove of trees. “We’re on the Screaming Eagles, but right now, we’d be more apt to be called the Weeping Chickens. That team, the red ones? They’re called the Holy Terrors, and they’re led by Artorius, that bloke you lot call Arthur. Terror is right, because that one whips us every time we play him. Except every third day, when we allow gunpowder. He still hasn’t gotten the hang of artillery yet.”

“You will see, Patrick, that Heaven allows much that seems peculiar. Why would we not seek to entertain ourselves performing our profession? Because indeed, for many, many years of our history, war was indeed a trade. You will find carpenters who work the heavenly forests for their amusement, and writers who write the works they always wished to. When given the chance to cross blades with the legends of our history, how could we say no? And though we are re-enacting murder, but do not you back on Earth, with your electronic amusements? And here we have not even the possibility of harming another! Look!” Zizka pulled out a knife from his belt and stabbed himself through the arm without hesitation. Patrick recoiled, but there was no blood, no scream from Zizka, and in fact, no damage. The knife just disappeared when it touched the skin and appeared on the other side, like a trick blade. When Zizka pulled it out of his arm, Patrick could see that it had cut through the flesh, but the cut quickly healed itself shut.

Patrick shook his head. “This is all a bit much, thank you. I don’t know what to think of it!”

“Well, if war ain’t your thing, there’s a concert in the woods tonight. Jimi Hendrix and Aristophanes are unveiling their new collaboration. I hear John Lennon’s going to be there!”

“John Lennon’s in Heaven?” Patrick asked, incredulous. “Really? The man who said “imagine a world without religion?”

Zizka stood and craned his neck to check the gigantic hourglass in the middle of the field. “Yes. He is a touch perplexed by that course of affairs, but I hear it told that Metatron appreciated his work and argued for his salvation. He mostly keeps his own counsel, but in time he will come around. But now, I have served my penalty and lo,” he pointed to a man in blue limping off the field, “we have lost a man. Come, Patrick, I will show you how to play.”

Patrick’s superpower of being able to avoid conflict at all cost suddenly failed him. He meekly waved his hands in defence. “No no, Jan, I couldn’t. I’m no warrior. And I just ate. I’m a pacifist, and I’m not dressed anyways. I think I left my morningstar at home.”

Zizka laughed. “Patrick, I can tell that you have never once beheld a morningstar, much less swung one against a foe. Come,” he gripped Patrick’s arm with iron fingers, “try it at least once. Think of this: we are in eternity now, at our just reward. Why not start enjoying yourself?”

Zizka dragged Patrick to the field as a whistle blew. Patrick lamely tried more excuses, but Zizka came from a time before excuses. He was determined to show Patrick something, and Patrick, though equally determined not to set one foot on that field, was powerless against a man from a feudal society. When it came down to a test of strength between a man who rose horses every day and a man who rode the subway, the smart money is on the horse.

The warriors, or, Patrick supposed, the players, milled around the field waiting for play to start again. They nodded to Zizka and cheered Patrick as he came on the field. A few, red and blue alike, clapped him on the back as Zizka led him to an empty position between two hulking Zulu warriors.

This wasn’t too bad, thought Patrick as the Zulu patted him on the head, they seem like nice chaps one and all, and not the least bit violent! He introduced himself to the Zulu, but found himself quite unable to pronounce their names in return. They smiled at him, and shared a knowing look with each other.

Oh look, that look said, a new guy. Won’t he be a wonderful addition to our team? The look didn’t include an eye roll, but it might as well have. Possibly also a sigh and a knowing shake of the head.

Zizka snapped his fingers and Patrick was suddenly wearing heavy chain and plate armour, much like Zizka was. The one-eyed man looked him up and down appraisingly, and nodded in approval. He snapped again, and Patrick found himself holding a big thing like an axe with a spear and a hook. The armour was heavy, but to Patrick’s surprise not too heavy, and he suddenly felt the heat beneath the layers of protection. Thick padding covered him almost everywhere, and he could barely see out of the helmet that covered most of his face now.

“Now then, Patrick, I won’t bore you with the rules, but follow along with whatever Bongani and Fanyana do. Right then, back to the bloody business, as it was!”

Zizka trotted off and the red squad, much like a lineup in football, approached Patrick. Surprisingly, Patrick didn’t feel the least bit of fear. Instead, excitement, anticipation, nervousness, and giddiness fought for attention inside him. Wouldn’t Amira just laugh her head off to see me like this? He thought as he clenched his weapon in iron fingers. The armour made him feel invincible, like his flesh had been removed and replaced with stone. He was untouchable! He was a warrior! He was a real manly man!

Confucius blew his whistle and Patrick smiled. Come on, he thought, let’s do this! The red squad slowly advanced while blood sang in Patrick’s ears. His brain, now fully back in the saddle, told him that he was fighting in a battle with thousands of history’s greatest warriors, in Heaven, while the sun shone, and he had the chance to go meet Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon later.

It was glorious. It was unbelievable. It was impossible, but it was. It was true. All of it.

A second later, Patrick took an arrow through the eye.

Bongani and Fanyana rolled their eyes as Avicenna hustled Patrick off the field. New guys, eh?

The Best Snuff You Ever Had

January 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Completed: Snuff, a Discworld Novel, by Terry Pratchett

I think in this case, I’ll actually do a bit of a review because me reviewing Terry Pratchett is like an amateur hockey player criticizing Sidney Crosby: the man’s pedigree is so well-established that nothing I really say can do much to help or harm him. Pratchett, of course I mean Sir Pratchett, whether you like him or not, is golden. He writes good books. That fact is like the gravitational constant; it’s like Bernoulli’s Principle: it just is.

I want to say something pithy like “well, when you write 39 of something, you tend to lose steam somewhere along the line”, but that’s not quite what I want to say. I liked Snuff, I really did, but it was far from his best, and that’s actually what I want to talk about.

Vimes is so mad at me right now.

When I look at writing, or well, anything, the base assumption is that “I have to do my best”, and really, why wouldn’t you? If you intend to put your name to something, it better well be something you’re proud of. I get really frustrated when I miss simple errors in stories that I post, because I don’t like my name associated with someone who misspells “Brimir” as “Brimi” in the same story.

But artists know that perfection isn’t possible. At some point it’s as done as it’s going to be (whatever it is), and it’s time to send it along. Ta ta, auf wiedersehen, good bye. So, how does the author/artist reconcile these two things? How do you match the drive for perfection with the reality that perfection is an actual impossibility?

That's right, gentle readers, MATH ON A SUNDAY.

Snuff is a Sam Vimes story. For those of you who don’t read Discworld, Vimes is the head of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. He’s the chief of police, and his stories usually feature three things:

  • Mystery and a crime, usually a murder,
  • Politics from the dirt side, and
  • Some moral lesson/idea

This isn’t to say it’s formulaic (but it kind of is). The mystery is pretty straightforward. That’s what cops do: they de-mysterize mysteries. The second point is that Vimes is the Duke of Ankh, thanks to his wife. He doesn’t care, as he grew up a city boy, but this means that a) he must nob with the Nobs, and b) he dislikes them immensely and tells them so. Much monocle-popping occurs, and grimy street people rejoice.

Point three is very difficult for me. Moral lessons have fallen out of favour in our post-modern world, but I’m not certain that’s always good thing. I will not defend those jerks who try and teach our children something like, evolution isn’t real (because they are such jerks) for their own moral ends, but let’s not forget the importance of teaching morals. Having rules and goals to live by isn’t a bad thing at all. It can be, but so can anything, and Pratchett can do it right.

For instance, in Night Watch, another Vimes book, Vimes has a wonderful thought about what “the People” are. I had to crib this from Wikiquote because I read the book at the Library. Yes, the Library. I love that place, and it is one glorious hyper-dimensional space where everyone comes together to read and love and smell the occasional homeless person who uses the free computers but that’s ok because we’re all people in the library and no-one’s more important than anyone else. Except the head librarian. Cross them at your own peril.

Vimes had spent his life on the streets, and had met decent men and fools and people who’d steal a penny from a blind beggar and people who performed silent miracles or desperate crimes every day behind the grubby windows of little houses, but he’d never met The People. People on the side of The People always ended up disappointed, in any case. They found that The People tended not to be grateful or appreciative or forward-thinking or obedient. The People tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness. And so the children of the revolution were faced with the age-old problem: it wasn’t that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people. As soon as you saw people as things to be measured, they didn’t measure up.

That? That is human history summed up in one little paragraph, one that I hold near to my heart, and one that shows the power of moral lessons. Sometimes, and they’re never completely right because anything more complex than “don’t be a jerk to other people” isn’t, but sometimes they are right enough. 

But going back to Snuff, I found myself troubled. It’s not the best of Pratchett’s work and the moral is kind of forced. It says “don’ treat intelligent beings as less than human”. It’s a good lesson to remember…but the goblins in the book are a far, far cry from people. It doesn’t have the power of Night Watch, or the righteous anger of Thud!. Nor does it have the simple truth of Small Gods or the Fifth Elephant, and the mystery portion is, at points, confusing. There is a group of people who are very important to the plot, called the Magistrates, and I don’t think they are once identified in the story. They are nebulous and distant, like much of the danger.

Don’t think for a moment that means it’s bad, because it’s not. And yet, I couldn’t help feeling that I’ve read this book before. Vimes shows up, and is witty and wistful about being a copper. He has to cut corners in a place he has no jurisdiction, and is wistful about it. He learns something about other people he didn’t know before, and then proceeds to crush any opposition under his righteous heel. At the end, his boss needs to fix everything from the diplomatic standpoint, but it all turns out right eventually. Not immediately at the end of the book, but in some time past that.

My number-one complaint with this book is that there is no antagonist. Certainly, there are people who are opposing Vimes, but there is no-one (or thing) upon which to focus the opposition. There is no Big Bad Evil Guy/Girl, or even no Big Bad Evil Force/Organization/Nation. Hell, there’s no-one who’s even on the same level as Vimes. Whenever there is opposition, he neatly finds a way to overcome, brow-beat, arrest, or out-smart them. About half the book sets up the dominoes, and the other half is one long flying Karate kick from Vimes as he knocks them all down.

But this taught me something important: it was perfect the way it was, and this goes hand-in-hand with something I realized only after working in a bookstore: reading is not only a form of teaching and enlightenment, it is also entertainment. A book can be read for no other reason than it is a fun story to read.

Sadly, my store does not look like this. But a man can dream...

Snuff is that kind of book. You read it and you enjoy the story for what it is. It’s not a perfectly crafted masterpiece that will change literature forever…and to consider it as such would be missing the point. That idea scares me, but it also reassures me. My work might not go beyond amusing people and entertaining them for awhile…but that’s what I’m actually trying to do, isn’t it?

If I wrote the Illiad and it was rejected as mere entertainment, I would be righteously pissed. But, isn’t it though? Aren’t even the greatest stories we tell each other, still stories in the end?

Are you not entertained? No? Well, there goes my GoodReads rating.

This week: Goliath, by Scott Westerfeld, third and last of the Leviathan trilogy. I can tell you that this series is everything good about Young Adult fiction, and that’s what I’ll talk about this week.

Now go! Read!

 

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