Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Nominee Thoughts: Ancillary Justice

This year I'm giving each nominated work for the Hugo and Nebula novel awards their very own entry after I read them.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie was a good book. I enjoyed reading it. But it didn’t live up to the hype.

I heard about this book soon after it was released. There was a big splash on many different blogs that I read about how awesome it was. I considered checking it out from the library, but I was busy with schoolwork and did not end up doing that.

The technique of alternating between a past timeline and a present timeline worked well to keep my interest in the story. It was also interesting in that the point of view in the present time and the past time were the same but different. Not just a singular character in two different times, but a multiplicity in one time and a slice of that multiplicity in the other.

And then there were the pronouns.

The language of the main society on which the story focuses has no gender. There are different ways to handle “translating” something with no gender into a language that does have gender. I would posit that the English language is not heavily gendered. It lacks that gendered nouns of, for example, Spanish, that require a matching gender for modifiers. But English does have gender specific pronouns. And, generally, when one wishes to remove gender from consideration in the English language, one will either use the neutral “it” or what ends up being the default, “he.”

Ann Leckie uses “she” as a default. The translation of gendered words from the Radch language of her book defaults to the feminine in English.

This is both disconcerting and neat.

I’m not used to it, and so every time I read one of those pronouns, I was bounced from the story, just a little bit. I had to consider and remember from other clues or outright pronouncements (“she was a male”) what the gender of various characters was.

Or maybe I didn’t have to, but I did. The gender of the point of view character is never discussed or revealed, and that makes sense, given that the personality was originally a ship and there is never discussion of whether a ship would have a gender (though I think my mind assigned female based on naval tradition - or my innate bias to see viewpoint characters as like me).

To me, this simple linguistic trick was the big deal behind the hype. And, in many ways, I believe the trick did live up to the hype. It feels like a big deal to me that a book has been written, and written well, that outright denies that the masculine gender should be the default.

But before reading the book, I thought all the hype was about the story. I thought I was going to read a mind-blowing story, rather than a good story with a mind-blowing concept in its structure.

Of course, that leads to the question of what I would consider a mind-blowing story, and I’m sure that answer is different for everyone. A mind-blowing story makes me want to read the book again, over and over. It makes me cry, and re-evaluate what I think about myself and how I live my life.

I’m looking forward to the sequel. I do want to know what happens. But I’m not going to be counting the days or marking it on my calendar, and I’m not going to be anguished if the publication date is pushed back. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Nominee Thoughts: A Stranger in Olondria

This year I'm giving each nominated work for the Hugo and Nebula novel awards their very own entry after I read them.

A Stranger in Olondria by Sophia Samatar was not the sort of book that I would pick up based on the cover. Which is not to say that the cover is inaccurate. I believe in this case, my instincts against the cover would have prevented me from picking up a book that I would not enjoy.

However, I didn’t choose to read it based on the cover, or the subtitle that appears on the title page, “Being the Complete Memoirs of the Mystic, Jevick of Tyom.” I chose to read it because it was nominated for the Nebula award (though it did not win).

Reading these award nominated books has helped me understand what it is that I seek when I read. I enjoy books that read quickly, in part because I like reading books over and over. I have, on occasion, finished a book and started it again immediately. I find it easier to slow down on a book that reads quickly than to speed up when I find a book to be a slog.

Of course, a book that is a slog the first time around may end up being a quick one subsequently, but, for whatever reason, I like to read fast first and digest at my leisure on the second read. I understand that some people only ever read a book once, but I don’t get it.

Still, like many of the others on the list of nominees, I doubt I will reread A Stranger in Olondria. I don’t know exactly why some aspects of it bugged me, but bug me they did. There was a stretch of about 20 pages where the word marmoreal was used on three separate occasions. I have a decently large vocabulary, but I didn’t know that word and the context seemed vague - just another adjective in a list. Add to that I was at a trailhead with no dictionary or internet access at the time and it was as irritating as a mosquito bite (it means marble-like, by the way).

The subtitle bugged me, because I felt that it was the only hook into the book. Despite the title, the first few chapters do not take place in Olondria and might be better titled A Stranger in Tyom. Without the subtitle, I think there would be little to compel the reader to read past the first page. (If the reader happened to be me. Maybe I’m just not the market.)

I could not find interest with or connection to the main character or the ghost that haunted him. On the one hand, many aspects of the world were lovingly detailed, and on the other hand, the questions that I, as a reader, would have preferred to have answered were not addressed. It was almost as if the story itself were quite simple, but dressed up in very fancy clothing.

You know that a book is not for you when you keep checking to see how many pages you have left to read before it’s finally over and when you hope that there’s a glossary of terms at the back which will make the ending come sooner. Sometimes a book grows on me as I read it, but not this time.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tempus Fugit

Dean Wesley Smith calls the summer the time of great forgetting, when writers tend to put their writing to the side and lose focus on their goals. This can be followed by the time of panic, as writers realize that their yearly goals have become unrealistic by the time they remember to write again, or the time of reassessment, depending on the temperament of the writer.

My goal is not set on to the calendar year, but it does have an arbitrary six month limit. I have not been considering how to measure my progress other than through keeping track of how many rejections I have collected. Given that I do want to keep my focus on writing, now seems like the ideal time to make those calculations.

100 rejections by the time a year has passed, from the moment I declared my intentions (February 26, 2014). It isn't the most difficult of goals. I don't even have to write 100 stories, since once a story is rejected I can always try it with another market. But I do want to keep writing new ones. It's good practice, and I already know I can write stories that are rejectable.

Now, I thought, until just a moment ago, that I had made set myself the goal for a year. But, it turns out I wrote six months.

In February. . .

Which means I have a little over a month to collect 72 more rejections if I want to meet my goal. . .

Panic or reassess?

I'll take the third option. It's time to go full speed ahead and get as close to my goal as possible in the time I allowed myself. August 26th will be the time to reassess, and evaluate what I did or didn't do. I'm not going to give in to the temptation to panic early because it looks like I'm going to fail at my goal. Failing isn't going to hurt anything.

But that doesn't mean that I won't try.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Save Five Minutes by Reading This Blog!

It’s either one of his most endearing qualities or one of his most annoying, depending on my mood, and whether or not I’m trying to write or do homework.

You really can’t escape the commercials. Okay, maybe you can, with your fancy DVR and wallet-busting cable/satellite bills, but I can’t. Alright, alright, I won’t. Given that my husband and I watch over the air television with no pre-recording, we can’t escape the commercials.

So many of them offer products or services that will save time. And, if my husband is watching the commercials, instead of reading on his computer, then he will most likely ask the television where exactly they keep this saved time.

Do they save it in a bottle? Do they keep it on a shelf? How is saved time redeemed? How much can you save at a time?

If I’m not on a deadline or in a mood, then it’s fun to play the game. How exactly would the time-savings of your spintastic vacumop be stored? Given that infomercials still advertise shipping times of 4 to 6 weeks, they’d probably be behind the technology curve. No smartphone app for your time savings - but I’m sure they’ve progressed beyond the bottle method. Perhaps they send you a gift card of time, redeemable only through special distribution systems - time ATMs, if you will.

I can see it now, a cross between a photo booth and an ATM, populating malls next to the automated massage chairs. Slip in your time card and enter for the chance to use all that time you saved using the spiffy broom and the chop-o-tastic vegicider. Inside, a reclining couch and a choice of a nap, some “free” television or the pleasure of sitting in silent contemplation.

Just kidding about that last one…

My husband often indulges in exercises of literalism. Phrases that pass my ears without thought stick to his ears and beg for comment. At any knocking-like sound, he'll merrily announce, "come in!" He jokingly tells me to call the unaccredited degree mills, because they have a representative waiting to talk to me! He tells the psychic commercials to call him. After all, if they were psychic, they'd be calling him, right?

I like that he shares this silliness with me. I have a tendency to be too serious. To take things too seriously. Ambrose reminds me that all the external media and stimuli take themselves as seriously as I tend to take things, but that doesn't mean that I should take them that way.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Nominee Thoughts: Hild

This year I'm giving each nominated work for the Hugo and Nebula novel awards their very own entry after I read them.


I first heard of Hild by Nicola Griffith through its Big Idea post on John Scalzi’s blog, Whatever. I distinctly remember reading the description and not being motivated to learn more. However, that is typical of my take on the Big Idea posts. The one time I thought that a book sounded really neat, I looked it up and read a sample. The writing style of the sample completely turned me off to what had been an intriguing book idea.

To be honest, that probably would have been my reaction if I had looked up a sample to read of Hild. Although, the writing style of Hild is not, as the other one was, simply irritating. Instead, it is exactly what it should be, an archaic, historical style. The story takes place in 7th century Britain and the language used fits.
And this kind of novel is not what I generally look for when I read.

However, once I got past the first two chapters, I found myself relaxing into the style of it. The names were still difficult to pronounce in my head, but not that difficult to keep track of. The variety of the names and the unfamiliar spellings and mysterious pronunciations did remind me of reading War and Peace, but without the excessive number of nicknames (and patronymics!).

I had some difficulty figuring out what the point of the book was. I couldn’t figure out what the hook was supposed to be, why I was supposed to care about the story being unfolded with such loving detail. And yet, about a third of the way in, I did find myself thinking about the book when I wasn’t reading it. Turning details and names over in my head. Wondering what might happen next and who might be the next to die.

This book crept up on me, becoming more engrossing the more I read. In that, it also reminded me of War and Peace, because once I got into reading that book I became engrossed with it. I keep meaning to reread it, but I want to get a digital edition, because I think I injured my wrists with the copy I read before.

Back to Hild, I liked how the structure of the story imitated a theme that was repeated within it, that of weaving. Throughout the narrative, a part of the woman's work of the main character involves cloth and weaving. At the same time, Hild's path is not simply that of a woman, and she weaves herself into places not traditionally open to women. 

I'm still not sure what the plot was, or how I would describe it. But I did enjoy the read overall. The main sticking points were the beginning, which I felt was off-putting stylistically, and the ending, which I wasn't satisfied with. It seemed to just end, leaving many questions open, loose threads dangling. If one or more books follows this story, then my comparison to War and Peace may become more true since this book clocked in at nearly 600 pages.