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I've talked about depressing novels and grimdark games (and where the line is) with almost everyone on my f'list, it seems. You should all head over to read Elizabeth Bear's Dear Speculative Fiction, I'm glad we had this talk.

Personally, if I'm reading something novel length, I think there's no excuse for it to be entirely light or entirely dark. People argue about which is more realistic, but the world isn't endless suffering all the time, nor is it unicorn rainbow farts. If I'm reading a novel it may cover weeks or even years in a character's life; the unrealistic thing is to ask me to believe that they only experienced one half of the emotional spectrum in that time.
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So, I realized I was pretty uncomfortable writing a mostly negative review, and tried to figure out why. I think in this case it's mostly that I know people who know the author.

The easiest and often most interesting things to review are media where there are moments of both excellence and total failure. They put each other in sharp contrast; you can really see how the thing works by examining where it breaks (That's why I think Dragon Age 2 is such an interesting video game to discuss -- it has wonderful aspects, awful aspects, and moments of "Oh, that was SO close!", without even touching on low-hanging fruit like reused environments).

So, in the interests of picking the machine apart to see how it works... I just finished Jay Lake's Mainspring.

It is a book that went almost entirely downhill.

First off, his actual writing, the way he strings words together, is fantastic. If it wasn't, I would never have kept reading. Through-out the first half of the book he nails the sweet-spot of description, where there's enough to provide color and immersion without bogging down. I know that particular spot varies from reader to reader -- some people like Dickens, for fishes' sakes -- but Lake's balance worked for me. I saw his world in full color*, and it was interesting.

Unfortunately, despite lots of interesting teasers into the world, we never get to sink our teeth into it. There isn't any payoff, any "Oh, that's what's going on!" moments. Everything that was a mystery at the beginning is still a mystery at the end, including how the hero got to the end, why he's a hero, and how/why he had his fantastic revelation. Some of this is because of a huge reliance on "God did it", which is very much not my cup of tea. I'm trying to leave my personal dislike of the religiosity out of the equation when reviewing the story, but it's difficult, as miracles seem to provide all the plot advancement.

It's basically the Hero's Journey -- developing from the lost youth to the world-saving hero -- managed without much character development. I cared about the protagonist more on page five than I did on page 100. Hethor never does anything -- at least, he doesn't do anything until he gets magical-divine powers. He gets dumped out of the frying pan and into the fire so often through the course of the book that by the time he reached the airship I was just waiting for the next catastrophe to befall him. And they do befall him; he's not proactive in the least. Members of a never-explained shadow organization rescue/kidnap him; members of a never explained species rescue/kidnap him; a never-explained enemy-wizard rescues/kidnaps him, etc.

I also feel very sorry for the fifty or so "young male" correct people, who seemed to exist only to be killed off as a cheap way of showing that the journey was dangerous. None of them ever got to have personalities or identities of their own. They were like the protagonist's whipping boy -- can't have the hero die to emphasize the severity of the situation, so kill off some of his nameless entourage.

I have no desire to read the next in the series, but some of the failures of Mainspring actually make me interested in reading his short stories, especially since I find his writing to be very readable.

*Books come across to me in a variety of visual ways. Some are vague watercolor (McKillip, de Lint), some realism (G. R. R. Martin). Some use the big crayola 64 pack and some haven't gotten beyond primary and secondary colors (The Wheel of Time series was only colored in 8-crayon-pack vivids for me, and it hurt).
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I'm reading Middlesex. Specifically, I just finished the bit where Dr. Luce is recommending surgery to change Calliope's genitalia to match her female upbringing. And I'm seriously disturbed.

Not by the gender switch, not by the description of Cal's abnormal plumbing. Not even, really, by the Doctor's mistake in deciding Cal is a girl (she lied about a lot, after all). By the absolutley terrible behavior of Dr. and parents, who make this momentous decision without consulting the patient, who is fourteen.

Background: I've had...*counts on fingers* seven major surgeries, all but one before I reached 18. Except for the one that happened when I was two, I have been explicitly, clearly, responsible for the decision on every one. Signed papers and everything. I've had doc's whose bedside manner could stand some improvement, sure... but they talked to ME. My parents were the secondary audience. I was the patient, so I got the explanations.

Reading about parents who have their kid examined, then go to a different room to discuss it with the doc, seriously creeps me out. Calliope's 14! (I was 13 when I had my giant orthopedic procedure). Let alone that the doctor withheld important information (probable loss of erotic sensation) from the parents. He withheld everything from the patient.

Does anyone know whether this was standard practice in the 70s, and I'm just lucky to have been born when I did? Or is it because he thought he was protecting Calliope's shaky gender identity by keep her in the dark (and, not incidentally, helping build his nurture vs nature case)? And please, any children's docs still DO this?
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I took Monday off to work on art, webpage, garden, and fiddle, but on Sunday evening while making Okonomiyaki I chiffenade-ed a little piece of my finger into the cabbage, so anything involving dirt, fiddle strings, or left-hand precision was off the menu for my day off. DUMB. I should have gone in to work anyway and taken thursday or next Monday off instead.

I did get a bit done on the dinosaur collage, and add a new random-images bit to the homepage.

Needless to say, I didn't play at the pub last night -- stayed home with Erik instead and watched redneck vampires from netflix. I also started reading him A Game of Thrones while he was cooking. It's probably way to ambitious for a read-aloud book, but when it gets difficult to follow I'll just give it to him to take home, and until then we're both enjoying it.

Yeah, my sweetheart and I read books to each other. Isn't it freaking adorable?*

I should be able to play on Thursday, because there's still skin where the strings touch (I sliced the side). I'd be learning a whole bunch of new tunes, so I *better* be able to play!

*For maximum adorable-ness, picture us reading Haroun and the Sea of Stories**, rather than A Game of thrones, which starts with a seven-year-old watching a beheading.

**A great favorite of mine ever since I was a kid. I was very glad Erik enjoyed it as much as I did.
shadesofmauve: (can we fix it?)
So, I've been hiding some amazingly exciting news.

Timberland is having it's "Timberland Reads together", one-book focused program on A Wizard of Earthsea. Author Ursula Le Guin will be reading and taking questions. We couldn't get responses from any publishers on using cover art for publicity, so the Powers That Be decided I could draw whatever we needed.

A once-in-a-lifetime chance for a famous author I admire to hate my art!

I'm thrilled, terrified, and having a problem with physics versus composition. Please weigh in! This is a prelim sketch for a painting, so it's rough and blocky.

Pictures behind cut )
shadesofmauve: (Default)
I found an excellent comment over at [ profile] pharyngula on the benefits of exploring new fields, keeping your eyes open, and reading widely -

"My bias, admittedly, is that one learns more about oneself by looking at the rest of the world than by looking at one's navel. Perhaps I'm reinforced in this bias by how much more difficult the latter has become as I age."

comment 37

Also re Pharyngula, he seems to have stopped adding the horoscopes on the bottom. Perhaps it didn't pan out as a money-maker like it was supposed to. Pity, I was enjoying those. Example:

"Taurus: Great news! Soft drink executives are planning to market a new energy drink made from your urine, on the basis of vague, unfounded rumors of your vitality. This is not such happy news for the rest of us, however."
shadesofmauve: (WTF)
One quibble with Harry Potter, and one quibble with the people reviewing it.

1. I have never liked prophecy as a plot device, so it should be no surprise that I nitpick over prophecy. Did it strike anyone else as strange that the HP prophecy "Neither can survive while the other lives" is patently untrue, as there are several years when both Harry and Voldemort are alive? Like, say, the entire span of time covered in the books?

2. A major facet of most 'reputable' reviews of HP7 has been the discussion of adult vs. children's literature. Reviewers are merciless with their criticism and then back off, accusing themselves of applying adult standards to children's literature. Others jump in to argue that such comments underestimate children's literature. Will someone please point out that the discusions almost universally underestimate children? Children are not actually simplified, primary colored adults. They can and do handle a lot more than we wish they'd have to. I stand firmly in the camp that claims that a good kids book MUST also be a good adults' book, not because it has to contain stories on two entirely different levels, but because kids can handle it. Shit happens. People are complex. Kids are capable of dealing with this stuff, and shielding them from it does not make them better aduults.
shadesofmauve: (WTF)
I'm on LJ. I read. Therefore I'm required to write about The Deathly Hallows. Seriously - it's in the contract. Right after the bit about six maximum user-pics.

Spoilers )
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This week I read/finished [ profile] csinman's Madcat Mountain (hopefully my comments are useful and not too glowing or too complaining, San) and Turn Not Pale, Beloved Snail; A Book about Writing among other things. [ profile] bluwyngz, I think you should read that one. Some of it's quite, quite dated, but mostly it's a lovely book about sharing the love of writing with kids, about avoiding that "OMG I HATE writing" thing which lots of us encounter in school.

For me, Turn Not Pale... mostly reminded me how much I loved The Wind In the Willows, among other magical mostly-children's books, and how important my family's love of words was in my love of reading.

One of the questions San asked (to get an idea about the background of the readers for Madcat) was what genre we read in, or what favorite authors and books were. I realised that I left out a whole shelf of very formative books, really deeply treasured words, because they aren't on my shelf or reading list now. A lot of these are 'children's classics' that have had the misfortune to be disney-fied and turned into movies. Heidi, The Secret Garden, The Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh. If you just think of the sacharine movie story and don't read the books, you're missing out on some wonderful language. Great, great read-aloud books.

My family read aloud all the time. Mom and Dad would read out-loud after dinner when I was little. When I was older, we three would take turns passing the book around to read-aloud at dinner, and we'd read things that I enjoyed for Andrew. That's how we learned, say, that my mother never mentally pronounces weird names, like in the Lord of the Rings, and that Dad and I tend to mentally pronounce them the same way. That the sad, high glory bits make my Dad cry, and that when you run into bits of elf-poetry, the book is always, always passed to me. Mom gets the silly bits. Peter and I once spent an evening reading out loud to each other (alternating chapters of Chesterton's Napoleon of Notthinghill - Chesterton is another of my favorites), and it was a lovely way to pass an evening.

I also left my favorite book of all-time off the list - David James Duncan's The River Why. I think that some of these are so much a part of me that I glance over them. One assumes that everyone else grew up, more or less, how you grew up, and it's never true. Even families with a similar love of reading read different books - Swallows and Amazons was one of [ profile] westrider and Helen's favorite books, and I only read it last year when Peter loaned it to me. It's marvelous!

Hmm...methinks reading the book about writing and reading has made me overly loquacious. I'll leave you with a short piece, written by one of the author's girls at age 10:

"Jon was the most mischievous boy in Parson's Court. He could sink his father's shoes in the rainbarrel and not feel guilty. So when he tied the three year old baby on a helium balloon and let it go he only felt rather glad Benny was gone."
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I picked up The Sharing Knife: Beguilment, by Lois McMaster Bujold, at Orca yesterday. The plot is definitely secondary to the love story, and it's not up there with, say, Shards of Honor, but it's a very enjoyable read. The characters aren't quite as quirky as her best, and the girl main character is a little naive for my taste, but she does familial relationships well.

The male main character worked just fine for me - tall, dark, dark past, wry wit, ferocious evil-baddy killer, etc. - until they got to the patroller dance and it is revealed that he plays the tamborine. Not just once, but all night. And has for years. We're talking a serious amateur tamborine player. My respect for his uber-fantasy-manliness just plumetted through the floor. I mean, come on, I've seen a guy who could take up an accordion (and set it down again) without loosing his alure, but that was a very special case, and I really don't think it's possible with a tamborine. I can suspend my disbelief for telempathy, magical knives, people made of mud and rabbits, and evil menaces that suck the life force out of the surrounding area, but the tambourine really wrenched me out of the story for awhile. On the upside, the guy has one hand, and attaches his instrument to the other, which gives us the line "He unscrewed his tambourine," which is at least a little amusing.

Marik & Vaer's story is more plot focused than Sharing Knife, which makes me feel a bit better about it. I think might have to work Elyvaer's PoV back in, and I still have to figure out what the heck they're doing, but it progresses. 4300 words now, including, in Marik's mental monologue: so, I drank and wenched my youth away. What do you do for fun?


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