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Monday, November 14, 2016

The Books I Read: September - October 2016


A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Could we just call this what it is? Twilight for women with Ph.D.'s. I hate to give this a bad review because it's my wife's favorite book, but I have to tell it like it is. A coat of sophistication and aristocracy doesn't change when the female lead acts like a weak little moron. Granted, there's no stupid stuff like ochre eyes or tween wool-gathering or sparkles. But the characters do the same things as their red-eyed counterparts. Despite the fact that the female is a witch, she does nothing to save herself. She has no control over her powers and no desire to get any. She does a little research, then gets kidnapped or pushed around. My wife says "she's still learning her powers, the whole series is about her growth and becoming confident", but I don't buy it. She is way too okay with the "You are mine now" mentality her vampire beau has. He'll say something like "You need to stay here and don't do anything while I go fight for you." She'll respond "Oh, I'm just supposed to do what you say, hm?" And then she does anyway. It's a good book -- it'll appeal to historians and mature women -- but it's not for me.


The Isle of the Lost (A Disney Descendants Novel) by Melissa de la Cruz

It delivers what I asked for -- some cheesy campy Disney stuff. Just like the movie. The best part is it expands on the Descendants universe (such as it is). We didn't see much of life on Villain Island, but that's remedied here. They go to school, they have parties, they interact with their parents, and plan pranks/tricks on each other. The books gives what a low budget made-for-TV movie couldn't.

Plotwise, it's by-the-numbers YA, showing how the fab four became friends (it was a quest). No one likes school, parents are mostly non-factors, and the kids get archetypes that didn't exist in the movie (for example, Cruella's son is the "smart one", creating devices like Donatello.) Nothing really new, except occasional interjections by the author that evoke memories of bad fan fiction (as you can tell, I did not like that part). But it's not too slow, and the novel really thrives in the second half, when they all get together. The author uses the chemistry between the characters to its full advantage. Given the absolute crap from non-children's Disney books I've been reading lately (The Beast Within, A Frozen Heart), this is a life-affirming change of pace. I'm glad they're sticking with this author because she seems right for the series.


Rewinder by Brett Battles

It's a little bit The Giver, a little bit Ender's Game, and follows a Hunger Games formula. A kid from the lower-caste gets "chosen" to be a time-traveling researcher. When he accidentally hucks up the timeline, he's faced with the choice of whether to keep the new timeline (which seems better for humanity but erases everything and everyone he ever knew) or stay with the status quo. As you can tell by the transparent influences, the idea and characters are nothing new.

Yet, the novel kept my interest. At least up until the time travel got too confusing. And it does get confusion. If you thought the third act of Back to the Future Part II was bad, you will not like this novel. Even I lost track, and I love time travel. At one point there are, like, five of the main character in a given location in time, half of them are there to revoke mistakes the other made. Couldn't keep it straight. And rather than try to figure it out, I just stopped caring. The main character's personality is just a little too dry for me to stay invested in (he conveniently falls in love within two days time).


Once Upon a Dream: The Rose A novel based on Beauty and the Beast by Jennifer Baker

So, story time. When I was in school, I had a purple folder I reused for classes. As all my folders, it was covered in doodles, reminders, and scribbles. And one day I noticed in a small section was written "The Rose - Jennifer Baker". I have no idea when I wrote this or why I wrote this. My guess is it was middle school and it was a book one of my crushes was reading. One year passes into another and another and another and I rediscover it. And I forget about it. Then I rediscover it. And then forget about it again. This continues until I finally put it on my to-read list.

It's... it's not good. It says it's a "modern take" on Beauty and the Beast, but it sure as hell feels like it was made by and for the Disney movie. The father is an inventor (though this time he's a fisherman). There's a scene just like the "Bonjour" sequence where Belle goes around her high school and talks to all the characters. Gaston is there (and this time he's a bro, like the preppy guy in all the eighties movies). There's an enchantress, a ticking clock rose, a Mrs. Potts (the maid), and a fuzzy beast.

However, there is a fix to one aspect -- Belle is supposed to be the protagonist, but she never really learns anything. She was right all along. It's Beast who has to change, and this book focuses more on that. We get more of his perspective, his back story, and loads of his angst.

But the plot never deviates from the path laid out by the cartoon. I was hoping this would be closer to the Charles Perrault tale, where Belle has two spoiled sisters and her father is a merchant. But nope, it's like someone wrote fan fiction and said "It's Beauty and the Beast... but in modern day!" except you've got to do more than just fast-forward one hundred years to have an original story.


Wool by Hugh Howey

Reminded of Leviathan Awakes. Both are science-fiction, both are long novels that evoke the styles of serials, both have multiple POV characters, both deal with dystopias and social stratification, both take place in far future worlds where business is happening, and you've got to figure out what the characters already know (and it's kinda fun). It held my interest moderately, in that I didn't really care what happened to the characters, but wanted to learn more about the mysteries of the silo (where they all live). While the characters don't have much personality, the author is masterful at keeping the tension between chapters high (also something it has in common with The Expanse).

This is an idea story, not a character story. Which means it feels more like an engineering module (this event leads to this; the characters expected this, but this happened) watching characters get around obstacles. It lacks a personal touch, either through humor or passion or empathy or human emotions like disgust and despair. I guess it's difficult to do that when following "show, don't tell" (which this novel does quite well), but it means I don't think I'll be reading the sequels. I just didn't invest in the characters enough to want to spend more time with them.


Friend by Diana Henstell

I should not have finished this book. I resolved to myself not to read bad books, so what do I do? Keep plodding through this doorstop to the end.

I rented Deadly Friend on Netflix and was surprised to find that it was based on a novel. I thought "a thorough story about a robot and a Frankenstein girl? Yes, please." But no, I should have stopped there. It's an idea that better rests in the mind than in tangible form. It is so overwritten it's obviously trying to stand on the same pedestal as the Stephen King mass market paperback thrillers of 1985 (it's even got alcoholism and a small New England town). And it's just as overwritten. SO overwritten. Every thought a character has, every nuance of movement, every past detail is rehashed, sometimes six or seven times. As if the reader is too stupid and needs a review every POV switch.

In the book, the robot is a lot less "Johnny Five" and more "1980's robot" from the muppets. It doesn't even talk. And its creator is a twelve-year-old kid who brings it everywhere he goes -- to school, the grocery store -- like it's his security blanket. It's no retelling of Frankenstein and it's no thriller. It's slow, it's stupid, and it ain't got no style. Not a single character is likable, least of all the main one. His mother should be taking him to therapy, not to a genius academy. His mother calls him "Piggy" for chrissakes. The science is appalling, the dialogue is cheesy. It makes one wonder how this idea passed muster in the agent's room.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Reprise

So today is the premiere of what I was working on writing-wise for the past year/year-and-a-half.

Behold!

Reprise 

by Eric J. Juneau

A Frozen/Tangled/The Little Mermaid crossover

Three princesses. Three curses. One adventure.

Rapunzel's magic hair spontaneously grows back, Ariel regains her mermaid tail, and winter returns to Arendelle. One year after their most meaningful trials and triumphs, something has taken away what they worked so hard to gain. As they leave the safety of their own kingdoms, fate is about to drive these strangers together across oceans, over mountains, into the depths of the sea, and even through the river of time itself. But will their differences stop them before the curse can?
Pick your poison:

So you know that fan theory that Tangled, Frozen, and The Little Mermaid take place in the same world? Well, I ran with it.

The plot proper came to me when I was watching Frozen for the fifth time with my daughter. All of the sudden, the ideas came fast and furious. The problem? It's fan fiction, and I need to be writing something publishable. But in the end, I thought "writing should be fun. It would be fun to write this. If it's not fun, what's the point?"

I intended to let it just be something I tinkered with between downtimes at work (like Gatecrash) but suddenly I was dedicating my lunch hour to it. Why? I guess after finishing "Defender" and trying so hard to make it publish-worthy, I needed something where I didn't have to care what the world thought of it. I could just write like I wanted and not have to worry about rejection-resistance. Plus I wasn't jonesing about any of my other novel ideas at the time.

The first draft was 200,000 words, so in the interest of time, I only did two drafts. I usually do four, with critiques in the middle (even when it's fan fiction). As a result, it's not as polished as it would usually be (see above comment about keeping it fun). I can't name any off the top of my head, but I'm sure there are plot holes and continuity errors left in there. And that ending I was struggling with to the very end. It's not 100% cohesive or ironclad, but it's a serial. It's more about the journey than the destination, n'est pas? (I don't know what that phrase means, but it sounded right.)

So now what? Onto regular stuff. Publishable stuff, I mean. (At least writing with the intent to be published). It was nice not to have to think about "the Industry" for a while. And like I said, I've been in a slump lately. But I'm hoping that slump was burnout from this beast. Now that it's in the world, let's see what happens.

Monday, November 07, 2016

In Which I Condemn Ariel to Misery


Okay, so I am not a lawyer. But there's this Twitter post by Shon Faye (@shonfaye) that's gone viral. And I thought it'd be a fun experiment to see if I could argue the other side of it. So, yes, I'd be defending Ursula.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury -- I'm just an octopus. Your world confuses and frightens me.


1. Ariel being a minor is subjective, and I disagree this makes the contract any more nullable. I would assume that there are no clearly established laws of consent in this medieval world, either on land or sea. But let's say there are. Ariel's still old enough to get married and be emancipated from her father. I would argue that if she's old enough for that to be socially accepted, she's no minor.*

2. The contract is not for Ariel's soul. Verbatim, Ursula says "You turn back into a mermaid and... you belong... to me." This has nothing to do with a soul. It's more like eternal servitude or slavery. Now this is all a gambit to gain control of Triton, but that's beside the point. Ursula has no intention, nay the ability, to do anything with Ariel's soul.

Also, do we know the extent of the magic Ursula used? The three days may not be arbitrary. It may be an attribute of the spell. In the same vein, perhaps these are ingredients that will never be seen again. Perhaps they exacted an extremely large price. When you pay for medication, you're not just paying the cost to manufacture some pills. You're paying for all the research, the trials, the failed experiments, the doctors, the logistics that came together to make that pill. Ursula had to learn her magic. Plus she is the only one in the sea who can perform these acts, which means in a free-market, she's able to charge whatever she wants.

Now I put it to you -- the cost of doing the spell in itself is one voice. If Ariel fails to fulfill her side of the bargain, her free will is forfeit. Is that reasonable? That's a matter of opinion, and it depends on what Ursula had to spend in order to make it happen. Ariel deemed it a fair exchange of services, and I believe she was old enough to make that judgment. Even if she was emotionally distressed, things you do under that influence are still things you're responsible for. Otherwise, we'd never have "Girls Gone Wild".

3. Has Ursula attempted to sabotage Ariel's end of the contract? In one instance she sends her employees to prevent an incident that might fulfill her contract. In another, she disguises herself and places Eric under a hypnosis spell that blockades Ariel from fulfilling her contract. But even Shon Faye acquiesces that either party may not have a duty to act in good faith. In this case, I would argue character flaw. Ariel KNOWS that this is the sea witch. She KNOWS her past history, her, do we dare say, selfish and evil ways. Yet, she still proceeds forward. Therefore I argue that she knew that Ursula may attempt to interfere at anytime, and still took the risk.

According to Wikipedia, the "implied covenant of good faith" is just that -- implied. It wasn't adopted into law until the Uniform Commercial Code of 1950. And it's pretty obvious The Little Mermaid takes place before 1950.

The problem with the term "good faith" is that it's an unwritten rule based on community standards of ethics and morals. These definitions vary from community to community, and thus, are hard to enforce. This is a world that deals with thieving crocodiles and lobster mobsters. How can any of us judge them by our standards?

And honestly I don't know what any of her argument means after "she and Triton would be liable only in damages". I'm not being sarcastic. I really don't know what it means. I'm not a lawyer.

4. Given that the sea is an absolute monarchy, with King Triton given all executive and judicial power, he should be able to declare the contract void. Sure, that's a valid argument, except that HE TRIED THAT. And it DIDN'T WORK.

As demonstrated in both this movie, there are forces at work behind these contracts stronger than human judgment. Triton's trident, which can destroy a multi-thousand pound concrete statue cannot make a dent in this piece of paper. Conversely, when Hades fails to protect Megara from harm, the contract automagically becomes void and Hercules strength is instantly restored. Since at no time during the time the contract was signed and Ursula's death did the contract lose its power, we can assume whatever powers that enhance this contract did not declare it

Quod errata demonstratum. Cogito ergo sum. Et cetera habeus corpus vis a vis ex fina boda. C'est magnifique.

Go ahead and sign that scroll, dollface. You got nothing to lose.

*If you absolutely have to have a country's system of laws to go by, you should be using Denmark's, which, as certain clues have suggested, is the location of The Little Mermaid. The age of majority there is 18, same as America.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Let's Laugh at the Guy Who Doesn't Know Marvel Comics (Part 8)

Phoenix

When Jean Grey died (one of the times), she was brought back somehow and became Phoenix. I guess Professor X split her mind into a light part and a dark part when they first met. Either she was schizophrenic or had a Jekyll & Hyde thing going. Anyway, now that she's Phoenix, she can do all the psychic stuff she could before and shoot fireballs. Plus she gets these sweet fire wings.


Polaris

She's the only other person with magnetic powers, so I think she's Magneto's daughter or wife. But I've never heard of her, and I wonder what "polaris" (the north star) has to do with magnetism. Or the color green. The only thing she's good for in this game is for when you're sick of seeing Magneto's chrome dome.


Power Man

It's not Luke Cage, it's "Power Man", you jive turkey. Okay, maybe that's racist, but that looks how this guy would talk. And you can't get more generic than "Power Man". I've seen Jessica Jones, I know how cool this guy is. Luke Cage is a perfectly fine name. And since strength is a non-factor in a Lego game (I'm pretty sure I could lift the entire city of Lego Marvel Manhattan if it were made of real Legos), this makes Power Man less useful than Absorbing Man. Who doesn't absorb anything. Go hang with Lando Calrissian in Lego Star Wars.


Professor Xavier

This is the bald guy in a wheelchair who's the X-Men's leader (this wheelchair version floats via telekinesis, which I imagine would get tiring). I don't know how good of a leader he is. Seems he's always dying or absent. And then someone like bland Cyclops or evil Emma Frost has to take over. But his psychic powers are off the charts. Especially when he gets into Cerebro, this big machine that can track all mutants all over the world. Good ideals, but poor execution. Personally, I prefer Patrick Stewart. But I wish we could get James McAvoy's personality into his body, and that would be the ultimate combination.

Psylocke

I think she has psychic powers too, though I'm not sure what. She has some kind of psychic knife/sword that grows out of her hand, like Soul Reaver. But I'm not even sure if she's a good guy or bad guy. Seems like she comes from the future, though I doubt it. If I were writing X-Men, I'd give her a stronger presence, because she seems very cool but underutiltized.


Punisher

Ah, The Punisher. One of my personal favorites. Forget arc reactors and vibranium shields. Forget "with great power comes great responsibility" or "red on my ledger". The Punisher's not interested in justice or mercy. He doesn't even have superpowers. Just a lot of guns. And whiskey. And he doesn't subscribe to the idea that heroes don't kill. He knows there's bad out there, and he's not going to bother with rehabilitation or "second chances". When you've seen your family killed in front of you, those kinds of things seem less important.


Pyro

Opposite of Iceman, can throw fireballs. But can't fly or set himself on fire, which makes him the Chinese pirated version of the Human Torch. But instead of the Fantastic Four, he's part of the X-Men franchise, under Magneto's tutelage, I believe (according to the movies at least). His hair is fancy.


Red Hulk

So I guess he's the opposite of Red Hulk, but I'm not sure who he is really. Wears black pants and has a slightly more faux-hawk hairstyle. When I morphed him back, he became some kind of military man. I think there was a military guy chasing in him in the Ang Lee movie. Maybe he becomes the Red Hulk? But how that happened, I have no idea. Since gamma radiation is green, what was he exposed to? Radon? Carbon monoxide? Is that why I have those alarms all over my house. If so, I should turn them off -- I wanna turn into a Hulk!


Red Skull

Captain America's number one bad guy. Also the easiest guy to fight in Marvel: Legendary. I can't tell if that mask is glued to his face or not. In the movie, it seems to be, but reading his entry in Wikipedia, I couldn't find the inciting incident where it happened. Guy likes Hitler waaaaay too much, proving even Lego games can't escape Godwin's Law. Seems to be one of the bigger bad guys in the Marvel Universe, which makes sense. He's basically an analog for the squarely-mustached one. As far as I know, there's no Osama Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein villain, unless that's The Mandarin.


Rescue

Why haven't I heard of this character? Pepper Potts in an Iron Man suit? Heart-shaped mask? Shoots pink laser beams? Yes, please. Get this girl a spin-off. If Gwyneth Paltrow won't star alongside Robert Downey, Jr. how about we offer her own movie. Eh? Eh, Gwyneth? Gwynnie? Gwynerino?

Friday, October 21, 2016

More Complaining, More Discouragement, More Hopelessness

I'm still in a slump. I don't think I've written anything all week. Not even opened up a document. Oh, I've had some good ideas for future stories. But no butt-in-seat, lunch-hour prose. I don't call it Writer's Block. It's more like... Writer's Fear. Because that's how I feel. Afraid to write. Afraid that nothing I put down is going to be any good. Afraid that once it's in tangible format, it ceases to be as good as the idea in my head. Afraid that I'll never compare to those people like Nalo Hopkinson and Ted Chiang. Afraid that it's all a big waste of time because no one's ever going to read my work. Hundreds of submissions between Black Hole Son, Merm-8, and Defender. And no pick-ups.

I crafted Defender to be commercial, to be marketable. I pictured world-building and series potential. And I screwed it all up with one character trait -- I can't get a market because the main character is drafted into doing a thing that girls usually do. And girls read books.

Maybe I need to re-evaluate why I write. Do I want to spread a message? Do I want to entertain? Do I want compliments and adoration? Or maybe it doesn't matter why, because no matter what I might as well complete a novel and throw it in the fireplace.

Right now I think I could start one of two novels. One is a little easier -- a simple quest story, fantasy world, not unlike "The Last Unicorn". Magic and creatures and princes and such. It would be easier, might boost my confidence a little bit, but I'm not sure it's as marketable. And I'm sure it's not as original. The other one is, IMO. It's a sci-fi romance framed around planet colonization/terraforming. More complicated, more science, but I can see it on a shelf more than the other one. But before that, I've promised myself to finish the short stories I said I'd do. And those last attempts aren't filling me with confidence. An erotica about a female centaur that felt like pulling teeth. I just felt filthy after writing it. And then a fifth set of revisions on a short story that has a great premise, but I can't find a frame around it.

If it it Writer's Fear, then fear can be conquered. And how does one conquer fear? How does one gain courage? By facing your fears? I guess that means sitting down and writing. Doing it for the love. Not the potential outcome. But I tell you, some days, I wonder if I still want to write. It's just so much easier to sit and watch YouTube videos. I wish I had some encouragement to keep going. But writing is a solitary profession. It stays inside until it's finalized. And by then you've spent so much time on it, if it's not good, it's a year or a season gone.

I just don't know what to do.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Thought Experiment

If you put some play-doh in a jar, and then some ants along with it, the ants would shape the play-doh into their world. It would become their world.

And over time, the ants would evolve, they'd become intelligent. And eventually they'd wonder where the play-doh came from. What it is, what made it, what was here before the play-doh, if anything.

Ants don't have any idea that there are humans around. They don't know why some of them suddenly are crushed or burnt. Why their homes get destroyed. The same way they don't know why rain comes down or why some ground is hard and some is soft. Humans move too fast for them at their level. They're on a scale too grand to recognize. Another plane of existence.

So they'd continue coming up with theories for why the play-doh is there, and never any evidence why.