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Call Me By My Nickname

Maybe this is an American thing.

It’s definitely something that I have mostly seen in fiction for younger audiences. It peaks in that Middle Grade niche that is almost YA, but also inhabits a fierce stronghold in JF. First, you have the incredibly common Main Character With Nickname. It’s almost always a shortened form of their name, even if the resultant nickname is horrible. Then, you get this interaction that, if you aren’t lucky, happens repeatedly.

Servant: Lady Andrea, I am to be your personal maid, if it please you.
Andrea: Call me Dray.
Servant: I beg your pardon.
Andrea: Don’t bother with all that “lady” stuff. Everybody calls me Dray. You can too.
Servant: Oh, but… I-I-I couldn’t!
Andrea: *proceeds to insist every single time Servant does not call her Dray*
Servant: *is assumed to have been won over when she finally says “Dray” consistently*

Am I the only person who ever read those scenes and cringed at how rude this chick is? I am a foremost advocate of people being addressed by the name they prefer. But that doesn’t mean I think it’s okay to say, “Screw politeness and social discourse as you understand it! I want you to act in a way that makes ME comfortable!”

Often, like this random example that I just now made up, they are demanding informality from a person who pretty obviously needs that formality. It would be like meeting up with a South Korean CEO and constantly ordering him to speak informally with you. English doesn’t really have much in the way of official formal/informal speech (people honestly seem to think that words longer than “accident” are formal), but still.

The thing that really puzzles me is that based on context and the main character’s personality, the author’s intention seems to be to make the reader see the MC as friendly and egalitarian. Especially since class so often comes into it. And okay, Americans live largely without rigid ideas of class as the average Fantasyland knows them, so one might say they don’t like it. Has anyone ever thought about why?

It almost never goes beyond that, either. Usually the main character will continue to bully the servant around, especially if the servant never gets comfortable with addressing her as an equal. Maybe the servant will become a friend and ally. That’s about the furthest it ever does go. I don’t think I’ve seen this kind of thing be followed by a revolution of the serving classes. Maybe slaves, but that is a different subject as far as writers seem to see it.

Personally, I don’t see any difference between an officious titled person being verbally unkind to servants, and a person who wants to buck the class system just to be addressed in a very specific way. They aren’t being friendly, because friendly people are very considerate–they put the feelings of others first, and that’s why they’re pleasant company. And they aren’t being egalitarian, because they have given an order and expect it to be obeyed.

So what the heck, you guys?

Maybe that isn’t the intention, but it is the action, and it would be the effect if it weren’t for author mandate controlling the servant’s emotions and reactions.

Also, what if the concept of nicknames is completely foreign in this fantasy culture, and the servant thinks the girl is out of her ever-loving mind?

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Big Hero 6 is Not a Team Movie

I’ve read a couple of reviews, and now I’ve seen the movie twice. One thing I couldn’t help but notice about the reviews is that the people who felt dissatisfied with the movie had the same kinds of reasons. They all said that they thought the other teammates were under-developed or under-utilised. They also admitted that the story/development between Hiro and Baymax was great.

Looking at those two statements together makes it pretty clear what happened. They went in expecting an ensemble, only to find a single protagonist narrative. The thing is, that is NOT the movie’s fault. It’s a good single protagonist narrative. A bit easy to call the plot progression, but still good.

What I think happened is that the Avengers made a huge impact, which continues to affect people’s expectations of Marvel movies. Big Hero 6 is the team name, like Avengers, so the title implies that this is about the team. But if you go in without expectations, like I did, the movie lets you know exactly what it is.

I didn’t even see the trailer until today. There are apparently two, one from about six months before release, the second about two months before release.

See? Does not look like a team movie. The team doesn’t even show up in the trailer until well over a minute in. The focus is on the main character and the deuteragonist. The second trailer also focuses on them, but then it throws a confusing bone to the team. Marketing often does not know what to do. There was more to that sentence, and yet the full stop just demanded to be where it is.

This is one of those things that I wish I could explain to lots of people and actually have them listen.

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Ensemble Cast Visibility

Ensemble casts and Loads and Loads of Characters are two things that I used to like and may still do. On a whim, I did a barebones Google search for books with ensemble casts, and found that the vast majority of works in which they feature are more visual media than literature. Comics, obviously, and television (which executes the ensemble very differently from film). Goodreads made me sad, as the list I found there looked like 90% comics. I also found that there are a lot of readers who clearly do not know what an ensemble cast is, but I digress.

Possible reasons all immediately suggest themselves. Readers tend to be highly resistant to multiple points of view, especially as writers tend to have a very small repertoire of voices (very very often only one), and never seem to know how to format the changes. When any medium introduces characters in an obvious lineup or queue, I cringe. But in visual media, appearance can be used to distinguish each character instantly, without having to deal with any text at all. So you don’t have to juggle names right away. (it also means that juvenile character lineups ought to be destroyed and never done again) Books, even with illustrations, have to rely on the text, and dropping in too many names and terms at once rarely goes well.

They’re also written differently though. Television and comics are far more supportive of a group recognised as the protagonist (each individual can be well-developed, but still) where books revel in the Almighty I, the single hero whose friends are peripherals, and whose parents are generally killed off by laziness. I don’t wonder why some people read comics and not books. A lot of people who love to read still hate first person perspective. It may be this narrow milieu that puts them off.

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I really don’t go looking for these things

They just seem to find me. I rather prefer it when the things in question are in the vein of The Egyptologist, or even Royal Spyness (which is to a much lesser degree, of course). This one seems to have an incredibly strong, but accidental, subtext that may or may not have been improved by being upgraded to context.

When I read Standard Hero Behavior, I found it quite funny that just when I was wondering if I had randomly picked up a a middle grade book with a progressive romantic subplot, female love interests cropped up, and neither romantic subplot was well-developed or even interesting. It felt very, “OH CRAP THESE GUYS ARE GETTING TOO INTIMATE TO BE JUST FRIENDS UMM AND SUDDENLY THERE WERE GIRLS OKAY?” And then the relationship between the main character and his guy friend kind of vanished. Seriously, I think they either argued or just stopped talking to each other because of the girls for some reason.

It was more than a little sad after that one funny realisation.

Then yesterday, I took a break from my Currently Reading list with another Avalanche book: The Shadow Throne. Almost before I’d finished the first page, I said, “Oh, just make out already.” And then I had to explain a little, because I said it out loud. Here, I want to go into my reasoning in-depth (obviously) so there will be spoilers for the Ascendance trilogy (but mostly just for the first two books).

The False Prince is the story of Sage, a boy who is taken from an orphanage to compete with three other boys for the role of Prince Jaron. The prince has been presumed dead for a couple of years, but as his royal family are known to be dead, an advisor/regent thingy has a plan to suddenly produce the not-dead-after-all false prince and control him like a puppet. Only it turns out that Sage is a revoltingly good liar and is actually the prince the whole time.

He manages to win over two of the other boys, as well as the AR thingy’s right hand man. However, his relationship with the third boy, Roden, is tempestuous from start to finish, and Roden’s maniacal desire to be the false prince actually made me wonder at his sanity. Roden refuses to believe that Sage is really truly Jaron, because he has somehow fixated on the idea that he himself would become the false prince. Like any good madman, he rejects anything that can pop his little daydream.

But for some reason, Jaron wants this guy to be his general.

Okay.

In The Runaway King, the ENTIRE BOOK is about Jaron chasing after Roden and begging him to just give their relationship a chance. All right, that is leading language, but come on. The book is literally about Jaron’s inexplicable desire to bring into his inner circle a guy who has only ever shown strong negative feelings towards him. The first thing Roden does in the book is try to kill Jaron. One of the last things he does before magically agreeing to do things Jaron’s way is to break the guy’s leg so badly that he’s still recovering in the third book.

The way I described it to my husband was a bit like this:

Jaron: But we’d be perfect together!
Roden: Go away!
Jaron: Come on, I made a list of all the reasons we’re a perfect couple!
Roden: Stop talking to me!
Jaron: Why won’t you love me?! I am literally about to die for you!
Roden: DAMMIT FINE BUT I’M JUST YOUR FRIEND OKAY
Jaron: Good enough for now. But I haven’t given up!
Me: orz

After all of this, all of the chasing and murder attempts, and hate and torture… They are having a lovers’ spat on the first page. I have no other way to describe it. Jaron is bitching about Roden not listening to his orders, and Roden is spouting off something about not taking orders from a foolish king.

Add to everything the fact that Jaron’s official love interest is about as intriguing as a glass of water. His attraction to her is 100% author mandate, and although his betrothed, Princess Amarinda, is probably supposed to be gorgeous, Jaron could not seem less attracted to women on the whole whenever she is around or even mentioned.

This is not a reading preference I have. In fact, I very much doubt that this kind of belligerent sexual tension and completely boring and lazily-written heterosexual love interest are intentional. To me, they look like a writer who saw her characters get away from her and then papered over the cracks as if no one would notice that the window was actually a door.

Now I’m mixing metaphors.

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Big Reactions

We couldn’t do a bonfire today. Or burn an effigy. This makes me sad. But I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to do it next year. So instead, we played D&D. Like you do.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about that one famous guy who had a pet bear in university. He did this because he was not permitted to have a dog. A very strong example of, “If you can’t beat ’em, hit ’em wit your car.” Go big or go home, indeed.

I think that applying this kind of reaction to a situation to writing fiction is a great idea. Be it as small as being denied a pet, or as big as having one’s life threatened. Often, you will get advice urging you to make your characters proactive rather than reactive. However, this does limit the stories you can tell.

You can have a proactive character at least begin with a reaction. The trick is to make it a big reaction. A young lady loses her father and so finds herself penniless and starving. She could beg, prostitute herself, or die like the little match girl. What she does is stage an assassination attempt on the king, and “foils” it hoping for a reward. Without an accomplice.

Another method is to paint them into a corner. This inevitably leaves you with a reactive path–unless the character is Batman–but a very strong incentive to make their reaction incredible. Characters who get out of a desperate situation in a subtle or boring way have failed. Even a rescue can be dramatic, rather than a deus ex machina.

There is always room for rhythm in any story. Sometimes things are quiet, sometimes they are loud. Sometimes the heroes are in concert, sometimes they are biting each other’s heads off. However, characters have an uphill battle to get reader attention. A lot of people love Twilight, but Bella is not a widely loved character. Deadpool, on the other hand…

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This is so not a book review

I wrote this yesterday, hours after I actually finished the book, and then I realised that it’s about as much like a book review as an aardvark is like the English Channel. Still, it’s my book noise, so I had to put it up here after I wrote a real review.

The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan

There is a lot of wow in this book. I feel like it’s one of the little rewards I get for not reading reviews/spoilers even summaries. Because while it might seem obvious to some people that Violet, Countess of Cambury is the genius behind Sebastian Malheur’s brilliant scientific advances. It comes out on page two or three, and it was a wham moment for me. Maybe I’m just slow.

Or maybe it’s because all of the other characters in this series are a bunch of jerks. I say this with lasting affection for the books in the series and if Oliver and Robert were real, I would smack them upside the head. Part of the wham moment at the beginning was my saying aloud, “Wow Oliver is dumber than I thought!” Seriously, it gave so much delicious context to his derpy realisation of Violet’s notice of Sebastian in the last book that I found it more funny than anything.

And then he and Robert acted like the worst friends ever at Oliver’s bachelor party. Or whatever it was. Robert failed to ask Violet, and when Sebastian was angry that she had been even momentarily excluded, both Robert and Oliver failed worse by not seeing how serious Sebastian was, dismissing basically everything he said until he stormed out, and compounded the entire awkward situation by insisting repeatedly that Violet didn’t have to be there.

It amazes me how people behave outside the sphere of Main Character. I realise that each book is from the perspective of different people, and complex characters will not only be seen differently from person to person, but massively so when shown in their own perspective. HOWEVER. This series shows that variation more dramatically than most, possibly because most tend to put previous pairs on a bus. By the time we get to this book, the characterisation has gone a bit whack-a-doo.

So far, Sebastian has been consistently seen as charismatic with a wicked sense of humour, and very visibly off-kilter, possibly to the degree of mental illness. Mild mental illness, like he’s in a high school anime club and he’s probably faking it. In this book, he has secrets and serious thoughts, and the fact that his friends treat him like a pet duck trained to do tricks makes them look like assholes. Especially when he tries to tell them important things.

Outside of his own perspective, Robert loses a lot of competence somehow, and Oliver is just weird. From Robert’s POV, Oliver is this mysterious figure that just seems to be happy and wise, and a little bit like Gandalf. Oliver seems to see himself as bitter, full of anger, and much more clear on what he doesn’t want than what he does. From Sebastian’s perspective, Robert acts like a slow child, and Oliver is purposely dim.

….oh my goodness. Writing all that made me realise. This is not whack-a-doo. It’s exactly what it should be. It’s just JARRING. Because you guys, I am so much like Sebastian that I probably shouldn’t tell anyone. Sebastian is bright, in manner and in mental processing power. I’ve had friends whom I considered incredibly close and yet they were slower than me and frustrating. I loved making them happy, but they treated me a lot like that pet duck I mentioned. Oh, Sebastian, without Violet, your life kind of sucks.

Both Minnie and Jane make a good showing, although I was disturbed by Minnie’s comment about motherhood making her forgetful. Sure, I’ve basically forgotten half my life and most of what occurs in a day since my son was born, but I’m not a militant chess GENIUS. I don’t even remember the rules half the time. Still, her personality was intact and Jane got to flaunt her wonderfully awful taste.

Blah, this book, this book! I loved it. I did. It just made me think and now I can’t stop. Violet is amazing and horribly tragic. I have a lot of things in common with her too, and it hurt. Except the Science. I don’t have that. But it was awesome!

I almost cried once or twice, and now I don’t know if I can read the next book. I have never liked Frederica and her kitschy nickname. Guys, this girl is named after her mother’s sister AND her nickname is FREE. I just… I don’t do kitsch. It makes me need flamethrowers.

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Inching along

For some reason, almost nothing got done today. Owen had a severed Mummy-need, so I spent a painful amount of time sitting on the floor near him. He was allowed to walk away from me, but if I so much as stood or sat a level higher, he whipped his arms up in the Hold Me position. I tried to wash dishes and he nearly pantsed me pulling on my leg.

When I did get a chance to do something, it was the dishes. There were a lot of them. When I could, I read more of the Pirates book. I had to break it up for the Vesuvius Club though. Dry facts are dry, after all. And Mark Gatiss is one of my favourite people. That is the shortest way to describe how I feel about him.

However, I did have a crisis of like about… er, well into the book. I’m reading it and listening, and it was on disc four or five. The bombshell of the main character’s bisexuality was  both entertaining and welcome news. It’s not historically inaccurate, but since the book was written in 2004, that sort of thing can be written in without fear of being banned. Sort of.

So when a horrible racist caricature of a Chinese man shows up… I died a little inside. The audio version made it even worse. It’s read by Gatiss himself, and he does accents, like you do… and the accent he affects for the Chinese guy is offensive. I kept waiting for the accent to be a ruse on the part of the character, but no. He’s a racist caricature, and he’s also evil. He even runs an opium den.

I may have said before that I can sometimes ignore racism in books that were written when that sort of thing was de rigeur. You certainly don’t have to read it if it bothers you, but you shouldn’t judge the book for it, since that would be like judging a man as a misogynist for having pulled his sister’s hair when they were both children. One of the reasons I say this is because no one will learn anything from it. Vent, sure, but that’s… well, it’s pretty much kicking a corpse, since the author is dead in the cases I’m thinking of.

But this book was written ten years ago. (damn i’m old) And the author is very much alive. The racist depiction and indeed the character himself are not vital, untouchable parts of the book. There is no reason to include this kind of nasty muck in the book. I could have tolerated racist behaviour from the main character, because that would have been (questionable) time setting detail, and he’s already got other unattractive traits.

Sigh. I’m not going to write a review for this book. So far, I haven’t shied away from reviewing a book about which I could not be objective, but that’s because my reviews have been about both the books and my experiences reading them. I don’t want to share my experience reading this book. I don’t have a lot of writers that I really love, but Mark Gatiss is one of them. I like him for his writing more than his acting. The punch of racism is late in the book, brief, and doesn’t seem to affect much after or before.

I don’t want to write a review later, because I don’t want to have to talk about this again, and because I want to keep all the squee parts of my experience to myself. For some reason, my enjoyment of Gatiss’s writing has proven to be a private thing. I don’t even know any other fans.