Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Confirmed: Romance is one of my least favorite genres

Remove Formatting from selectionI swear I went in with an open mind. I finished Goddess of the Sea by PC Cast last week, her sort of modern retelling of the Little Mermaid tale. A modern women is transported into the middle ages in a magical parallel world into the body of a mermaid after a traumatic accident. Capers and mermaid/human sex ensue. I think the biggest problem is that it was just way too predictable. When you know there is going to be a happy ending, you don't get the same kind of suspenseful tension in the story that makes you want to keep reading to figure out what happens. Cast did a good job in trying to avoid a stereotypical Romance heroine. Unfortunately, too good of a job in that the numerous New Agey, women are divine and empowered messages were delivered with sledgehammers. And the amount of New Age and Neo Pagan/Wiccan language thrown in was almost as exasperating to me as trying to get through Orson Scott Card's Folk of the Fringe. As far as I can tell through the interwebs, Cast claims to be private about her personal religious beliefs, so I'll give her the benefit of the doubt that it may not be an issue of proselytizing or glorifying a personal faith as it seems to be for Card (or more egregious examples lurking in the Christian fiction aisle). The issue isn't so much that there are religious themes addressed or religious characters. I enjoy many books that deal with serious religious themes. It's an issue of subtlety and allowing the reader to contemplate the issues, rather than the concepts being thrust forward as completely true and without much nuance or complexity. I realize that Romance is by and large about escapism and I was likely expecting too much going in. I'll keep that in mind and try to avoid the genre in the future, unless I get solid recommendations on notable exceptions.

All in all, if you want fairy tales retold in a magical world with strong female characters, I would recommend Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters series instead.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

First book finished in 2010

The Devil's Alphabet by Darryl Gregory.

This is only going to count as .5 for the 2010 total, because I started it before New Year's Eve and finished it January 2.

I had actually read his first novel Pandemonium last year and really enjoyed it. My library classifies his books as horror, probably more because the first one technically contains demons and the title of the second one. Pandemonioum won a few fantasy awards and The Devil's Alphabet read more as SF than horror to me.

The gist of the plot is that 15 years ago a tiny town becomes infected out of nowhere with a mysterious disease that comes in three waves that kills off about a third of the population and completely transforms others into one of three types depending on if they contracted the A, B or C strain. The disease completely alters DNA to the point that those who survive strain A become giants called Argos. Betas have dusky skin, no hair are mostly female and can reproduce by parthenogenesis. Charlies become super obese. The entire town is not affected and those passed over are called skips. Our main character, Pax, is a skip that was sent away to Chicago after the initial quarantine ends and only returns for a funeral and stays because he is suspicious of the secrets the town may hold, including if his friend was murdered or committed suicide. The ensuing caper is part classic science fiction, part small town murder mystery and still manages to be a bit of a coming of age story.

There are parallels between the first book and the second book that I just can't ignore. Both main characters are young men that can't seem to get their lives together until they address things that have happened in their childhood. In both, the fear of contagion plays a significant role (in the first novel, demon possession is fairly common and recognized as a sort of contagious mental illness) in shaping the way that the main characters have isolated themselves from having meaningful relationships. Even with the parallels, the two novels are vastly different and the second one maintains a fresh, almost hip style that you don't get with many SF authors. Or maybe I don't get because I was born in the eighties, so I've had to play catch up with most of the greats and some of the not so greats, but favorites in the genre.

With the sophomore effort, Gregory may be becoming a new favorite author. And 2010 is soundly rung in with a great read.

Next, I will be showing some love to an Oklahoman author, PC Cast. My library finally obtained her YA vampire series, but there's a waiting list. Trying to keep an open mind, I checked out the only book of hers I could find on the shelf at my last library trip Goddess of the Sea. And I mean, keeping a really open mind, it's tagged as Romance. I'm hoping it's Romance in the way that Darryl Gregory is Horror.

On Deck:

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale (recommended by Spencer)

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Powers by Ursula K. LeGuin

In the beginning

The purpose of this exercise is primarily to catalog my effort to meet two important reading goals for 2010:

1. Read all of Neal Stephenson's novels.

2. Read 96 books total.

Along the way, I will probably also keep track of the movies and TV shows I'm watching or occasionally a neat article or two. But, mostly books.

Yes, I realize there are applications for keeping track of every book that you've ever read or movie you've ever seen. But, I'd like to have a more in depth record of my first impressions. I also like being able to have some discussions with the two to three other people who have expressed interest in reading this. I've never been one to obsessively keep spreadsheets or lists. I won't be able to keep to any kind of regular posting schedule, but since I have specific goals to track I believe this effort should last much longer than if I was trying to keep any kind of regular diary or talk about my life. My life is not that interesting. The books I read often are and even if they aren't, I can warn you ahead of time.