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Friday Book Review –

hatched

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people try to justify unethical copying with the philosophy that everything has already been written and nothing is new. It’s codswollop and it aides lazy, unoriginal thought. In the first two books, I don’t remember thinking often that Condie borrowed ideas. The closest I can remember is that the journey portion in book 2 reminded me of Tally’s journey to find Shay in Uglies. (while preferring Uglies and feeling that the association was probably unique to me.) This time, a load of dystopian YA clichés abound.

Some of the elements in dystopian YA are so oft repeated that I wonder if they’re considered genre standbys. Which is stupid, because dystopian YA is not a genre any more than Zombies is. Elements in that category that show up in the Matched series are:

  • Female main character named after a plant most people don’t recognise. (Cassia, Katniss, Rue)
  • Love triangle. Often with an obvious choice.
  • Oppressive government is poorly explained or not even all that bad.
  • Previous goes hand in hand with: A resistance that is as bad or worse (or the same as?) the reigning government.
  • Dumb made-up words for simple things that don’t exist.
  • Stupid reactions/references to things that are perfectly normal to readers.

And the whole search for the plague cure just felt like something I swear I’ve already read (but can’t put my finger on).

There was a scene that I like to think of as a “two-handed bum-cover” wherein an unpleasant character pronounce new works of art as worthless because it’s all been done before. She even repeats the encounter in the last chapter. Just to make sure all the meanies who try to take her to task over the unoriginal elements,

It’s a good ending to the series, though, and it’s definitely better than the second book. But like any book that deals with a plague as a major plot point, it drags on and on and on so really, do not ever listen to the audiobook. Anything you can listen to comfortably at 2x speed is insane at normal speed. It’s also something you can literally sleep through for at least ten minutes at almost any given time.

The actual Rising coming into power was interesting, because stuff was going on for once. It really shows how ill-defined the world is, though. For all the flowery description, I don’t think I had a mental picture of anything in the world beyond some of the people and the street that Cassia lived on in the beginning. But yeah, political intrigue was great. The stuff about the cure, though, is drawn out to such an extreme length that I got bored and stopped caring. Which is really bad. People are dying and there’s a race to the cure! I’m supposed to give a crap! I don’t! And the reason is: REPETITION. Even months later, I remember the horrible, expecting to encounter readers with an IQ of 7, lecturing repetition. I’ll be damned if Condie didn’t explain the same thing about blood four times.

Really, the Stretch-Armstrong treatment on that part of the story is best illustrated by this passage.

“Remember when you and I were talking about the small red mark on the people who had the earlier virus?”
“Yes.”
“The virologist they took out had a theory about that.”
“What was it?”
“He thought that if someone had the red mark, it meant they’d had the virus, like we thought—and he also thought that it meant that they were protected from the new mutation.”
“How could that be?” Lei asks.
“The virus changes,” I say. “Like those fish you were talking about. It was one thing, now it’s different.”
She shakes her head.
I try again. “People who had the immunizations had been exposed to one form of the virus, a dead one. Then the first round of the Plague came along. Some of us might have contracted the virus, but we didn’t get really sick because we’d already been exposed to it in its weakened form. The immunization did its job and our bodies fought off the illness. Still, we had exposure to the live virus itself, which means we might be safe from this mutation. The dead virus wasn’t close enough to the mutation to protect us, but our exposure to the original live version of the Plague might be, as long as we actually contracted it.”
“I still don’t understand,” she says.
I try again.

And he does try again. This is after the virologist already had to explain it to him twice–and he probably did it better. I read this passage with an outraged look of shock on my face. I felt like the author was talking down to me and patting my head while I was stuck in a nightmare zone of the same easy-to-understand facts repeated ad nauseum. And somehow the grammar just seemed to get continually worse. I just re-read it now and my eyes glazed over. “The virologist they took out?” That sounds like a mafia hit. “Like those fish you were talking about. It was one thing, now it’s different.” Oh no, please, be more vague. I almost understood what you were referring to.

If this book had wrapped up at least fifty pages sooner, I don’t think things like that would have galled as much. I’m just glad I finished it at last.

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Friday Book Review – Acorna’s Search

acornasearch

How funny, I haven’t read another Acorna book since this one, and now I’ve finally reached this review to betterise. I’d better get to the next book soon.

This one surprised me. Acorna’s Search is the first book after the defeat of the major threat, the Khleevi, and overall, I think this was a good place to go with the story. The writing style improved a lot here, and there was much less Twee and Self-righteousness. Always a joy.

In a way that reminded me of post-war healing, the Linyaari return to their original homeworld with to survey the land in preparation for terraforming. But soon after they arrive, people start to go missing. This shouldn’t be a big deal for telepaths who have literally shown themselves capable of contacting one another across lightyears. Except no one can reach the missing ones telepathically.

Depending on your tolerance for the Linyaari’s tendency to complain/whine, their initial reactions to the terraforming project can either make you sympathise or throw your hands in the air and ask if they are ever happy with effing anything. Although I’m usually cheerfully the latter, this time I went with the former, because of the kinds of things they said. Nitpicks like, “I don’t remember that mountain being so high,” etc. Somehow, it made me really think about what a horrible thing happened to them (something their general behaviour tends to make you forget in favour of just being digusted with the majority), and everything that this project means.

However, I would have sympathised more if this had led to a discussion that memories are subjective, and that they can only get so far with an enormous geological project based on what people remember. Most of their records have been destroyed. Unfortunately, no one made that observation, and so leaves readers with nothing but the whining.

After they land, the first person to go missing is the annoying vizir. This is a genius place to start, because no one, and I mean NO ONE is going to miss her. Not readers or the characters. They actually assumed that she had skived off because it’s the kind of lazy asshole thing that she would do. They didn’t think anything bad had happened to her, and a lot of them really didn’t care if it might have. But then they miss someone who is not a douchebag and stuff gets real.

The horror elements were great. Although they could have been done with more emphasis, and the narrative focused mostly on bickering and helplessness rather than fear. Even so, I made up for it by wanting to the tension to affect me. If you step back and consider the idea of telepaths going missing, and even “going dark,” without the sign of fear/pain that would accompany death… You gotta admit, that’s pretty scary. They honestly don’t know whether their loved ones are alive or dead. And all of this is happening on a dead planet with extreme significance for everyone there. Telepaths accustomed to constant thought traffic are suddenly weighed down with silence.

One thing that really didn’t sit well with me was the resolution. My reaction was to close the book on my thumb, look up and say aloud, “Okay, what the heck was…. did that… No. I had to have read that wrong.” Whereupon I read it again. I hadn’t read it wrong.

Then I read it to Hubby and I think he just laughed. [So, people are lost in time. This is cool. Their method of time travel? Fall in the water. Seriously. Acorna gets trapped in time, and falls down a waterfall, then pops out… on the other side? I still don’t get this.] Probably the right reaction.

Anyway, the cliffhanger for the next book is compelling. It’s hard to talk about the latter end of the book without using a billion spoiler tags, or tagging the whole review. So yeah, first half is the expected Acorna installment except a bit darker and with more Linyaari. It’s safe to say that the Uncles have officially been replaced by Becker, who is himself probably on the way out. I mean it about the uncles, Hafiz isn’t even pretending to be retired anymore, and I don’t think anyone even said Rafik’s name.

The obsoletion of the Uncles reminds me rather dismally and uncomfortably of those RPs I have seen where, once a character ends up HEA in a romantic relationship, he or she either falls out of the RP (along with the love interest, if it was a PC) to be replaced by a new single character who will probably meet the same fate, or s/he becomes abominably boring. This impression was not helped by the fact that Becker managed to stay relevant and on-camera by breaking up with Nadhari. To be fair, it might also have something to do with the fact that three father figures is a lot to juggle, and they were never all that distinct anyway.

I struggled with how I felt about the obsoletion for a while. Like I said, all three of those characters were not terribly complex and they petered out by the end of the first book. They’re rather flat, and they fell into the romance trap I mentioned quite quickly. In the end, I’m going to stand by what I said when I first wrote the review: It’s just not very good character management, and further proof that the first book is the weakest in this series–which is a very bad thing, guys.

Still, I want to read the next book. Now that I’ve officially read more than I previously had done, I’m glad I started re-reading this series.

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Friday Book Review – Acorna’s World

acornas_world

It’s funny, today I’m betterising this review, and I also finished and reviewed Acorna’s Search today.

This is actually my second read-through of the Acorna series. The first time I read it, I stopped after this book. (I think I was sixteen, since I’m pretty sure that the next book was out when I was reading this one.) Impressionable as I was, I still hadn’t cottoned to the glaring flaws in the series. But I do remember deciding that I liked this book as an ending to the series, and that I was perfectly happy to stop here. This may have also been when I got really sucked into the Discworld, but I digress.

As others have said, Acorna’s World is standard fare for the series. The Linyaari are snooty, superior Space Elves, oddly reminiscent of Vulcans, and they make the issue of culture clash a big fat hairy deal even when it shouldn’t matter. Acorna continues her life in a satisfyingly direct way that links well with the end of the last book. The Khleevi make you wish they’d just piss off already. And supporting characters do what they have always done without a lot of development.

It could almost be comfort food if it weren’t for the aforementioned glaring flaws.

Chief among them is the style of writing. It’s rather like trying to read an entire wikia in one sitting. Some things do need to be told, but show-don’t-tell is a good piece of advice. Acorna books tend to report things. This doesn’t always cut off the emotional impact, but it does make some moments mawkish and over the top.

EXCEPTION: When Maati and Aari reunite with their not-dead parents. Of course, your mileage may vary.

Another annoying thing in the series is its lack of commitment to the setting. There are frequent mentions of “Old Earth” things, be it literature references or trying to explain turns of phrase. I loathe every one of these references. In our modern, contemporary times, people say things like “cat got your tongue.” You can write that in a book set in 2014 without adding a character who explains about ship discipline and the cat o’ nine tails. In fact, if you did add that character, readers would be weirded out. Etymology tends not to matter in casual conversation, and if the phrase survived at all, no one would need to discuss it.

Slightly related… This is a very specific nitpick, but it still bothers me to this day. I really hated the Sherlock Holmes thing at the beginning. I can maybe forgive the deerstalker. But the play on “Elementary, my dear Watson”? No. Aari is explicitly stated to be reading “a trashed-out copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.” Not even The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, which contains The Adventure of the Crooked Man. He would have had to have been watching The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1929) and even then, his quote would still be dropping the “elementary” at the end.

I know all this and I’m not even a fan of Sherlock Holmes. I only like the guy. Ugh. Anyway.

The characters are not that deep, although usually likeable, unless you aren’t supposed to like them. I love characters you are not supposed to like. They are cartoonishly antagonistic moustache-twirlers, but the great ones tend to be psychotic. It’s a rather realistic portrayal of psychosis, but against the backdrop of… well, the series… I find them funny in a black humour way. Someone will be offended, if not by the characters, then by my finding them funny.

As I’ve been re-reading the series, I’ve rated them pretty low overall, but now that I’ve hit this one, the last one I have already read, I have fallen into something of a groove. This could also be a better book than the rest. I just didn’t find it as irritating to be told everything, suffer maudlin scenes of informed emotion, and rail at characters for all sharing all the same dang opinions.

I’m ready to read the rest now.

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Twerps in Capes

Already, I’ve made some changes from last time. Like the casting director who requests a hair dye job. Simone’s name is now Cressida Cotton, since her origin calls for a more floofy name and I wanted to keep that one from the ashes of the invasion game. Other than it now being The Cressida Cotton Effect, it’s the same as it was.

This one is for a more YA (possibly 9-12?) idea, and although the title isn’t any great shakes, it’s better than the nothing I had before trying. Summary/treatment:

Three girls, all superhero offspring, first meet in daycare, then again years later when they must go away to a special school to get control of their erratic powers. At first, the school seems as if it might deliver, but then they stop hearing from their parents and things start to get weird.

Continue reading

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Elsewhere

Tight spaces had never been high on Holiday’s list of favourite things. Not because of claustrophobia or anything easily understood and defensible like that. He was simply too big for such spaces.

He grunted as he tried to adjust the position of his shoulders. Brick scraped his skin through his shirt. He’d had a jacket at the start of this mess. It had been sacrificed to a questionable disaster-made “lake”. In addition to being large, Holiday was heavier than the average person.

It wasn’t fat. He often wished it was. Fat could be shed with diet and exercise. What he had was too much height and too-broad shoulders.

At last, he gave up on the hiding place and decided to go back out in the open. He’d take his chances trying to work out a plan to find the others while staying on the move.

It had been a good idea, to hide somewhere while he thought. It wasn’t the first good idea that had been vetoed by his size.

He stalked the edges of the streets, gaze darting about in search of armed conflict.

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He’s Twelve

For some reason, Simon found himself beginning a silent prayer of thanks that he was not overweight. He didn’t like to think that it mattered. But looking down past Mr Coats’s shoulder, at the wreckage of property and human bodies, all of the moral lessons of media seemed to have even less impact.

Nevertheless, he wasn’t light by any means. He could hear Mr Coats wheezing. It was especially apparent when the man stopped chatting. They slowed.

Simon tapped him on the shoulder. “I can climb by myself.”

Why this had not previously occurred to either of them, he couldn’t say.

“I’m twelve,” he added, in case that might help.

It was cold, and he shivered as he realised that the shared body heat had given Mr Coats’s name an overly appropriate significance. Mr Coats appeared to notice this immediately, but said nothing as he stepped aside to let Simon go up the penultimate ladder.

“Higher ground,” the man said.

Simon paused, halfway up the ladder already. “What?”

“Sorry, I was just thinking aloud. You always want the higher ground in a battle.”

A battle. Simon shivered again. If only this was a battle. His grades weren’t terribly high, and he was not a big reader, but he did know a couple of big words. One of them was ‘massacre’.

They travelled the rest of the way up the fire escape in heavy silence. The air was thick with it, but even the awkwardness of quickly familiar strangers was soon overwhelmed by the cloying scent of coming rain.

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Strength of Purpose

Someone had survived. It wasn’t one of the agents Coats had dropped down with, but it was better than being alone. Especially since he was hardly alone.

He’d expended seven rounds on their attackers. Only one of them had gone down. However, it had stayed down, so he counted it a clear enough win. The prize: getting clear with the kid.

There was no way to be entirely certain that any of the buildings were secure. Instead, Coats found one with a fire escape and began hauling them upwards. His arms ached by the third floor, with four more before they would reach the roof.

“You doing all right, Simon?”

The kid’s chin scraped against Coats’s shoulder. He wasn’t shaking, for which Coats was immensely grateful.

Suddenly, he wished that one of the others was there. Not for the reason he had done since things had gone piriformis. More specific and arguably idiotic than that. “Sorry it’s just you and me,” he heard himself say. Speech had a calming effect on most people. “My friends are all better at this sort of thing.”

“Your friends?”

There was none of the rasp in Simon’s voice that had slowly begun leaving Coats’s. Although the kid did sound smaller than his actual physical presence. Coats shifted him and started up the next flight of stairs. “Yeah. Local government called us in as a favour–we’re kind of like heroes for hire.”

“Oh. How come you said they’re better?”

Coats tried to laugh, but the sound wouldn’t come. “The fire escape made me think of it.” He grunted with effort. Too out of breath to talk, really, but having started, he didn’t like to just stop. “Holiday is a big guy. He could carry both of us up to the roof without noticing the extra weight.”

They didn’t have much farther to go. Still, he knew that Holiday would have been faster. With more circus-y strongman finesse.

“And Cressida is…” He pressed his lips together to shut himself up. No reason to bring up Cressida. Even someone as young as Simon would not appreciate being told that she would have been better at easing his fear.

Besides that, Coats couldn’t bring himself to talk after saying her name. The rasp returned with a vengeance.