CBR #87 – Awk-WORD

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

It’s funny when you go to cons and you see the various nerd cadres.  Now there’s plenty of cross-over.  But you might see a gaggle of steampunks, a horde of pastel-haired anime fans clutching massive weaponry, or even a few stormtroopers.  Fandom has it’s fans.

I guess I never considered myself as big of a Harry Potter geek as I truly was.  When I worked at the bookstore for the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I dressed up as Hagrid.  When the sixth book came out, I wasn’t even working at the bookstore, but I was around town, and agreed to appear as Hagrid, provided they gave me a free copy of the Half-Blood Prince.  And I happened to be working in LA at the release of the final book, also dressed as Hagrid.  Now, I never dressed up for the movie releases.  But I totally went to a few midnight showings.  (Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s what soured me on midnight releases. I like to hear dialogue.  Not wolf whistles and loud clapping when a character appears on screen.)  But yeah, I’d call out of work to finish the books in one night.  And I’d re-read them before each subsequent release — something I’ve taken up with the ASOIAF series.

Also, Steven Wilson and I went to the Twilight Fan Fiction panel, which was fascinating to listen to.  There are people who truly just write porn to get their rocks off.  But there are people who legitimately love these characters and want to bend the world to their will.  E.L. James was there, and she was the least impressive speaker of the batch.  And she coddled her fandom into a multi-million dollar sockfuck.

So it was interesting to see what Rowell does with Fangirl.  Twin sisters headed off to college and one isn’t handling it well.  They write fanfic for Simon Snow — a Harry Potter cum Twilight fantasy series that’s facing down its final book.  I always felt for the kids who started the series when Harry was ten and so were they.  When that last book came out, they were in their twenties, but no less spellbound.  And fanfiction is strange animal.  It worked for the story.

But the characters were doing it for me.  I really didn’t feel for Cath, or Wren, or Levi or Reagan or any of the characters.  I was glad for someone to finally put in print the whole grossness of craving twins.  You’re essentially asking two girls to commit incest.  Maybe you fuck your sister.  Most people don’t.  Nebraska.  But the whole writer writing about writing thing got a bit on the nose, and the drama this time through felt more manufactured.  Not into the great wide world of afterschool special, but it was just a whole lot to deal with. What worked in Eleanor & Park, and to the same extent in Attachments, just wasn’t doing it for me in this one.  And it’s strange, because Rowell’s next release is going to be Carry On, which is essentially the fictional story that Cath writes in Fangirl.  It’s going to extremely meta, that’s for damn sure.

CBR #86 – Lumberjacking Off

The Devil’s Only Friend by Dan Wells

I really dug the John Cleaver trilogy. It was kind of a trippy intro into a serial killer’s mind.  Demons essentially were possessing the bodies of people around him and he was Dextering the Christ out of them.  It was unflinching in its murders, and that was the appeal.  Cleaver tried to maintain his sociopathic lack of empathy, but even he was crushed by some of the people in his life who were taken from him.  It definitely ended with the potential for more story.

And so they took advantage of that in what I was stunned to find was a fourth book.  It’s hard to explain what my problems are with it without getting too spoiler-y, so I apologize.  If you’d like to read a dynamic trilogy, check out the series.  But this one was a little disappointing.

It got a bit procedural.  Now that John’s working with a crack team of FBI agents to track down the Withered, and with the help of Brooke/Nobody, they’re basically going from city to city, murdering up the Withered as part of a secret government cabal.  It felt like Law & Order: Supernatural.  The beauty of both Dexter and John Cleaver were their strict moral codes.  They weren’t trying to be bad guys.  They were trying to satiate their own dark appetites.

And while this certainly tore the door off the hinges and fucked up everything in the china shop, it was a bit empty.  It just didn’t have that verve that watching a boy pretend to be normal in a strange situation did with the first three.  If there are more books, they’ll be John tracking down more Withered — even though he maybe iced the big bad?  I guess it’ll involve him confronting Brooke at some point.  I don’t know.  It was so humdrum.

It wasn’t quite the fuck you to the fans that the Dexter finale was.  But ironically, Dexter’s book finale is due this summer, so we’ll see if Lindsay can bow out gracefully.

CBR #85 – Love Will Tear Us Apart Again

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

My fiancee mocks the shit out of me for being what she calls “emo.”  How I am a sucker for a sad love story.  How I love watching two lost ships find each other, how I have an affinity for sadbastard music, how I get wistful.

Rainbow Rowell just nails this shit to the fucking fence and does a dance around it.  Eleanor & Park is the story of two misfits in Omaha, in highschool in 1986, who begrudgingly find each other and save each other.  It is heartbreaking.  It is so perfectly, desperately, awfully split your soul asunder.

Park’s a half-Korean kid who manages to just stay out of the gunsights of the popular kids.  He’s not friends, but he’s not a target as much.  Eleanor is a new kid, a voluptious redhead who dresses in men’s shirts and ties, with magpie like accoutrements hanging off her.  She instantly gets branded with the name Big Red, and instead of being some sort of afterschool specialy freespirit, she suffers the slings and arrows of life.  Her life is terrible.

Rowell makes Eleanor’s life hell, dodging and weaving through cliched landmines like Mr. Toad on a wild ride, while still taking serious emotional shrapnel.  She has been gone for a year.  Not because she was institutionalized or a suicide attempt or prison. Because her stepfather kicked her out and that’s how long it took for her mother to reclaim her.  Her stepfather doesn’t molest her.  But it’s so much worse.  Her little siblings are also embroiled in this mess.  But they aren’t dickensian waifs fighting together, but potential threats.

Park’s mother dotes on him, Park’s father forces him to learn stick and taekwondo so as not to be a pussy.  His Irish grandparents live next door. Park listens to The Smiths and Black Flag and Joy Division.  He coasts through life, until he meets Eleanor.

Their love story is so well-constructed.  That desperate teen love.  That desperation to keep it secret, to themselves, to not become a target because of what’s going on around them.  Stolen kisses, hunger, mixtape gifts, agreeing, making disagreements adorable, being measured by the other people in your love’s life.  It’s so fucking well done.  Even the ending, especially the ending, is such a punch in the chest, that gasping for breath you can only feel if you’ve been there.  I think I prefer Rowell’s teen writing to her adult, but that’s like voting between which kinds of pizza toppings you prefer.  It’s all good, sometimes it’s a little better.

CBR #84 – a/s/lovestory?

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

So many people have lauded Rainbow Rowell I had to give her a shot.  And I was not disappointed.  I’m a sucker for a good shoegazy lovestory.  Some of my favorite bands are whiny punk-pop where they keen about their overwhelming love for an alternative girl.  And Rowell does awkward so well.

It’s a love story that can only really work on paper.  Cinematically this wouldn’t be as powerful.  Lincoln works IT security at a Nebraska newspaper.  His job is to monitor internet usage and illicit content.  As part of that, he reads emails that get flagged for hitting buzzwords.  So as part of that, he ends up reading this email exchange between two women at the newspaper, a copy editor and the film reviewer.  And of course, he develops a crush on them both.

It’s already a fascinating concept — essentially cyberstalking cum eavesdropping on the private lives of these two women.  It’s his job, but he hates his job.  And at what point can he finally say, “Oh, yeah, I know all these things about you because I’ve been spying on you?”

Now you couple this with the characters.  Lincoln is kind of an awkward shy giant, a huge dude who lives at home with his doting mother and is still reeling from his first big breakup with his high school sweetheart.  Lincoln’s just adrift through life, and has no game.  Jennifer, the copy editor, is feeling pressure from her husband to have a baby, and she maybe kinda wants one too.  Jennifer’s also fighting the fat girl blues.  Beth is in a relationship with Chris, a godlike musician, who won’t marry her.  Beth’s the film reviewer, and she then starts writing about the Cute Guy she spied in the office — who turns out to be Lincoln.

And I haven’t even touched on the ancillary characters yet like Lincoln’s mom, his sister Eve, his d-bag partybro Justin, his D&D crew. Rowell layers the Christjesus out of this story, and so what seems like it should never work is so perfectly accentuated.  It’s a complicated, slightly melancholy love story, and despite a kind of convenient ending, it’s also super well put together for a first novel.

CBR #83 – Hey Yeah-e-Yeah, Superman’s Dead

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson has really just stacked this series, and it’s so well constructed.  It’s hard to review this one without giving away so much of the greatness of the last book so if you are at all interested in reading The Reckoners, just know it’s good and skip this.

SPOILERS ABOUND.

After David and The Reckoners have killed Steelheart, they are now trying to set Newcago straight.  The Reckoners don’t want to take over the city, they want the people to control themselves.  Of course, the other Epics can’t let this stand, so they start coming at Newcago, and the Reckoners have to murder them.  Wow is that well put together.  They realize the Epics have been coming from Babilar, which used to be New York City.  So David and Prof and Tia head out to regulate.

Babilar is basically a sunken Manhattan with Venice-like canals and the set design of Hackers or Hook.  Day glo spraypaint fills the wreckage as well as jungle-like plants with glowing fruit everywhere.  People are content to party or eat while Regailia, a water Epic, controls the city.

Again, Sanderson has layered the fuck out of the story, while we get to deal with David and Megan, aka Firefight, Prof’s burgeoning fight against his Epic powers, and we learn the secret of Calamity.  I have no idea if Sanderson is planning a trilogy, or a longer series, but I’m in.  I forgot to explain it in the other review, but the reason I’ve been giving these four stars is the quirks are a little too quirky still.  David’s poor metaphors.  Cody’s Scottish-Australian-Tennessean heritage and manner of speaking.  It’s a bit much.  Here its mostly the David and Megan relationship getting a little swoony.  But it’s not so off putting that you can enjoy the series.

CBR #82 – People Throw Rocks At Things That Shine

The Law of Nines by Terry Goodkind

I thought, give him a chance.  Maybe he’s just hamstrung having written fantasy for so long that he needs to do something different.  Maybe this will be good.  I was wrong.  He will just write the same thing.  And tart it up like it’s present day.  Which lets him write “fuck” two or three times and use firearms.

The Law of Nines is a terrible fucking book.  Structurally, content-wise, dialogue, plot, it’s just a huge fucking masturbatory exercise in futility.  It’s the handjob you don’t want and regret getting.

Alex Rahl (BECAUSE OF COURSE HE IS) is a painter struggling to get by in Orden, Nebraska.  ORDEN.  Like the Boxes of Orden.  GET IT?  GET IT!  As someone who loves it when authors link their works, I draw the line.  It’s terrible.  It’s like he read what Stephen King did with the Dark Tower and then tried to do the same thing.

He takes every opportunity to jam as many of his libertarian/objectivist beliefs into the narrative.  There’s nothing else going on, so why the hell not?  It’s bullshit he can’t take a gun on an airplane because he has a right to defend his life.  It’s bullshit he has to pay lawyer fees.  It’s bullshit he can’t just yell his bullshit.  Honestly, there’s an entire chapter where a woman from another dimension and Alex bitch about how the world isn’t like Ayn Rand wanted.  There’s nothing wrong with an author peppering his beliefs into a narrative.  Even structuring his world according to.  But dude, no one wants to eat big handfuls of pepper.  NO ONE.

I’ll admit, I might not understand exactly how this was supposed to work.  Basically, if I get the jist, when Richard Rahl split the infinitive, the idea I guess is that all the shitty people of the world ended up in what we call Earth. And everyone great ended up back in Rand-McGnarly or whatever the piss that other world was.  Richard declared that none may pass.  EVER.  No one can ever go between the worlds.  Only that’s not true.  Because that’s what happening.  People from Sword of Truth — well, 1000 or so years later from that world — are teleporting into Earth. And they want Alex, the last Rahl, to show them the gateway so they can run guns into Rand-McGnarly.  These other beings break people’s necks and if you carve a spell into their foreheads, they teleport back to Rand-McGnarly.  So a good lady, Jax, gets sent to Earth to find Richard and prevent the bad guys from getting him and making him show the gateway.

Of course they fall immediately and Richard-Kahlanly in love.  It’s worse than anything ever.  I’ve seen toddlers form more cogent romantic narratives by holding Barbies and GI Joe’s in their hands and smacking them together.  Here’s the super creeper part: towards the end of the book, Jax’s last name is revealed.  Amnell.  So.  I’m pretty sure this is a Luke-Leia thing, only worse so.  Because Luke and Leia didn’t want to FUCK EACH OTHER ONCE THEY REALIZED THEY WERE RELATED.  However, I don’t even KNOW if they are technically related.  Here’s the possibility.  If Earth is Shitheel Rand-McGnarly, then the only Rahl bloodline was from Jennsen and Tom.  But they wouldn’t have been Rahl’s, unless in this world, all babies have the mother’s last name. Jax is an Amnell, which presumably is from Kahlan.  But does that mean that Kahlan and Richard never married and Kahlan had kids with…I don’t understand.  I DON’T GET IT.  JUST PICK A DIFFERENT NAME.  OR MAKE HER MOTHERFUCKING CONFESSOR.  OR ANYTHING.

Ugh. The ending, the whole book, there’s a whole part where people get confined to a mental institution that I’m sure is a slam on Obamacare or some fucking jazz.  It’s just….my national nightmare will end when the last book comes out.  This has been worse than Left Behind and Mission:Earth.

CBR #81 – Who Knows If Clark Kent Is A Superman? Or If He’s Just An Asshole.

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

I’ve learned that I really fucking love Brandon Sanderson’s work.  Go figure.  I know a bookseller friend of mine was trying to get me hooked on the Alcatraz books but I never bit.  However, a different friend told me to read the Mistborn series, for which I am eternally grateful.  And of course, his fine work on putting the finishing touches on The Wheel of Time.  The advantage is that Sanderson writes TONS of books.  Motherfucker just finished a book while I was typing this paragraph.  And another while you were reading it.

The Reckoners series is his foray into young adult, and it’s a hell of an entry.  If anyone else said, “I’m going to write a post-apocalyptic teen angst story about superheroes” I’d scream CASH GRAB like I was an audience member of a Japanese game show. But this series works WELL.

Basically, the Calamity, a red star-like object, appears in the sky over Earth.  And suddenly a few people begin to develop superpowers.  These are the Epics.  The Epics are not heroes.  The book opens with the lead character watching as one Epic appears and starts disintegrating people at random in a bank.  He is then accosted by Steelheart, a massive impervious Superman who has the ability to shoot energy beams and turn things to steel.  The boy’s father shoots Deathpoint — the disintegrator — slightly wounding Steelheart in the process.  Steelheart proceeds to grab the gun and murder the father with it.  Then he kills everyone in the bank.  Then he turns the entire building to steel.  When rescue workers later go in to gather the bodies, he has a different Epic collapse the building killing everyone.  Except David, our hero.

Ten years later, Newcago is under the dictatorial thumb of Steelheart and his Epic hangers-on.  It’s an impoverished slavish existence, where the Epics can pretty much do whatever the hell they want, because there is no one to stop them.  So David inexpertly joins the Reckoners, a group of rebels who are actively working to kill the Epics who have taken over most major cities.

Steelheart follows as David tries to learn to become a Reckoner, and his burgeoning romance with Megan, one of his teammates.  It’s a solid young adult book, with excellent action, a really banging story, and plenty of potential for future entries.  You can see the influence of Sanderson’s video game work all over this story, from gaining stronger technology, to learning the secret weaknesses of the heroes.  There’s rumors this will become a TV series — I don’t know how it would work, but after seeing how they pulled over Daredevil, I’m game.