Books read, September 2012

I should totally have a “Piano Pieces Played” list to explain where the rest of my month went, except that it would get really boring as I listed “Solfeggietto” and “Roslin and Adama” over and over and overandoverandover again. (I’ve been practicing.)

Blackwood, Gwenda Bond. Picked this one up on the basis of her “Big Idea” feature on Scalzi’s blog. Roanoke disappearances! History tying into the present! Alchemy! John Dee! It had so many elements I love . . . but it turns out the problem with that is, I have Opinions on the elements, and get increasingly ticked off when I think they’re being used badly. I don’t want to spoil this for anybody who’d prefer to avoid spoilers, so I’ll rot13 my rant:

Wbua Qrr vf gur ivyynva. V pbhyq cbgragvnyyl pbcr jvgu gung, ohg hasbeghangryl, uvf ivyynval nyfb vaibyirf uvz npgvat ZNFFVIRYL BHG BS PUNENPGRE. Gur Ebnabxr pbybal nccneragyl pbafvfgrq bs n ohapu bs nypurzvpny phygvfgf naq jnf Qrr’f fpurzr gb znxr uvzfrys vzzbegny, naq ur jnagrq gb qb guvf fb gung ur pbhyq bireguebj Ryvmnorgu (hu, juhg) naq gnxr bire gur jbeyq be fbzrguvat. Vg snvyrq orpnhfr ur tbg orgenlrq, juvpu erfhygrq va uvf phygvfgf orvat guebja vagb fbzr xvaq bs nygreangr cynar, naq abj gurl’er onpx naq cbffrffvat crbcyr ba Ebnabxr vfynaq gb svavfu gurve arsnevbhf fpurzr, juvpu vf nyfb xvyyvat nyy gur jvyqyvsr va beqre gb znvagnva Qrr’f haangheny yvsr.

V pbhyq unir tbar nybat jvgu guvf vs Qrr jrer abg n) zrtnybznavnpnyyl cybggvat gb gnxr bire Ratynaq naq o) fubjrq erzbefr bire gur pbfg bs uvf npgvbaf; vg pbhyq unir orra cerfragrq nf uvz oryvrivat gung vzzbegnyvgl jbhyq or fb tbbq sbe gur jbeyq, gur pbfg (gubhtu erterggnoyr) vf jbegu vg. Hasbeghangryl, vg srryf yvxr Obaq, be znlor ure ntrag be rqvgbe, qrpvqvat gur nagntbavfg arrqrq gb or chapurq hc gb jbeyq-guerngravat fgnghf. Gur fgbel jbhyq unir orra orggre jvgubhg gung.

Right. Disappointing. I finished the book, but only through sheer bloody-mindedness (it’s a quick read). There were other flaws, too, but I’ve ranted for long enough, so I’ll leave it at that.

Tam Lin, Pamela Dean. Re-read, as a treat to myself on the publication of Lies and Prophecy (which, as I’ve mentioned before, was partially inspired by this book). I hadn’t read it in a number of years, so it was interesting going back through it this time: I noticed so many details that had slipped past me before, like why Nick’s and Robin’s accents shift when they recite. This is very much a comfort book for me, so I’m not sure what I can say about it to people who don’t already know and love it, but short form is: my favorite ballad, retold in the context of a 1970s Minnesota liberal arts college. With lots of excessively literate and well-spoken characters, and some phrases that have stayed with me for near on twenty years now.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print, Renni Browne and Dave King. maratai offered this free to the first person who asked for it a while ago, so I asked. I was sad when her marginal comments petered out, because those were entertaining me. πŸ™‚ As for the book itself, it’s trying to be a 200-level-ish “how to write” type thing — going beyond the basic platitudes of writing books and into things like proportion (paying attention to, and trying to appropriately scale, how much attention you devote to certain things) or breaks (sentences, paragraphs, scenes, chapters). That part is good; the part where the authors seem to think absolutely everything should be done via dialogue was less so. (They are rather anti-description, anti-dialogue tags, anti-“beats” — by which they mean descriptions of movement used to break up dialogue — etc.) And then I got to the chapter on “voice” and ranted on Twitter about the meaninglessness of that word the way most writing books, this one included, tend to use it. Augh nonsensical platitudes aaaaaaaaugh.

So, very much a mixed bag.

The Gathering Storm, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. Discussed elsewhere and else-elsewhere.

Towers of Midnight, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. Yeah, I went ahead and read this one, even though I won’t be blogging about it until November and December. I wanted to be able to read things like the wiki and Leigh Butler’s recaps without hitting spoilers, and I was having a bad week where I really just wanted a GIANT BOOK I could trust to entertain me without requiring much from my brain. (That part kicks in when I do the analysis, later.) Also? I really just wanted to know what happens next. Which is a good feeling to have, going into the end of the series. Anyway, commentary will come later. [Edited to add: commentary is now here.]

0 Responses to “Books read, September 2012”

  1. alecaustin

    I still need to do my post(s?) about ‘voice’ and cargo-cult criticism. One of these days when I’m not losing my mind due to design tests or phone interviews…

  2. hawkwing_lb

    Spoilers

    I couldn’t get past the MASSIVELY OUT OF CHARACTER John Dee either. Also the historically problemmatic plotting parts, since Dee was travelling in the Hapsburg empire at the time he’d need to be setting up his Roanoke plot…

    • Marie Brennan

      Re: Spoilers

      I do remember reading that he had something to do with the Roanoke colony. But if we’re going to ignore him talking to angels, we might as well ignore his Hapsburg adventures, too.

      • hawkwing_lb

        Re: Spoilers

        He did. Several years previous to travelling Europe…

        And yes! Where were the angels?

        (Maybe I just have high standards for stories involving Dr. Dee. It seems so often he’s out of historical character, or a stereotype of magician-ness. Always angels and alchemy, never mathematics. Nobody ever seems to write about his work on Euclid.)

        • Marie Brennan

          Re: Spoilers

          <lol> Okay, I neglected his mathematics, too. But we’re fantasy writers; of course we gravitate to the angels and alchemy.

          I really dislike it, though, when authors miss something fundamental about his character. I’m told there’s a book out there which treats him as some sort of Goddess-worshipping hippie, and again, NO. You don’t get to throw his religion out the window, people.

          • hawkwing_lb

            Re: Spoilers

            There’s angels and alchemy… and then there’s angels and alchemy. πŸ™‚

            Goddess-worshipping? Oh, god. NO NO NO. His whole thing was aimed towards a more perfect Christian theology.

        • mrissa

          Re: Spoilers

          It seems so often he’s out of historical character, or a stereotype of magician-ness. Always angels and alchemy, never mathematics. Nobody ever seems to write about his work on Euclid.

          That’s exactly the problem I have, to the point where I do not like to see him coming, because I expect that in 99% of the cases, I will not be dealing with John Dee as a character at all, I will be dealing with somebody’s Ken Doll wearing a Harry Potter robe and a “Hello, My Name Is John Dee” badge. He’s like catnip for most writers approaching the period: they get sort of high and roll around and completely forget what they meant to be doing. It’s like rather than an interesting historical person, he’s a sign reading, “Set your fantasy novel here, and do no research except for that one Elizabethan color name. Hee. Geese. They poop, you know. The Elizabethans knew it too.”

          • hawkwing_lb

            Re: Spoilers

            they get sort of high and roll around and completely forget what they meant to be doing. It’s like rather than an interesting historical person, he’s a sign reading, “Set your fantasy novel here, and do no research…”

            D’you know, I wish I could provide counter-examples. But I don’t think I’ve ever read a good fantasy novel that featured Dee in a major role. (And since I find the historical Dee fascinating, this… annoys. He’s interesting, and complex and I can’t help feeling he deserves better.)

            (Also, he’s contemporary with Rabbi Loew, and visited Prague. Why has no one yet written Doctor Dee and Rabbi Loew, together they fight crime?)

          • mrissa

            Re: Spoilers

            And for the people who want to do historical-ish things but don’t mind mathiness, they gravitate to Ben Franklin or Nicola Tesla and do the same damn things to them.

            I try not to screech when I see them coming. It upsets the dog. But.

          • hawkwing_lb

            Re: Spoilers

            But, indeed.

          • diatryma

            Re: Spoilers

            I was so happy to read the third Westerfeld book, the one with Tesla, and Tesla was kind of an ass. There’s more to Tesla than being a Tesla fangirl.

          • mrissa

            Re: Spoilers

            SO TRUE.

          • alecaustin

            Re: Spoilers

            I really wanted J. Gregory Keyes’ Age of Unreason books to be good, but alas. Having Benjamin Franklin as the protagonist wasn’t the only thing wrong with them, but it was definitely an issue.

          • Marie Brennan

            Re: Spoilers

            I can’t remember whether The Alchemist’s Door included Loew. I think maybe it did? But the book annoyed me for other reasons.

          • Anonymous

            Re: Spoilers

            I don’t know if you’d think it’s good but Michael Scott Rohan’s last book of the Spiral, MAXIE’S DEMON puts Dee and Rabbi Loew together. With the Golem, of course. And weird fruity portraits. Dee is, at least, not a hippie, in it. He cares about theology and doing right.

            Elaine T.

          • alecaustin

            Re: Spoilers

            I know John Crowley used Dee in his Aegypt series, but I haven’t read enough of it to get a good sense of how major Dee’s role is.

          • Marie Brennan

            Re: Spoilers

            I will be dealing with somebody’s Ken Doll wearing a Harry Potter robe and a “Hello, My Name Is John Dee” badge. He’s like catnip for most writers approaching the period: they get sort of high and roll around and completely forget what they meant to be doing.

            . . . it’s mean of me to laugh like a drain at this, isn’t it? I mean, you’ve had to suffer in order to come up with this image. And I shouldn’t laugh at your suffering. But.

    • diatryma

      Re: Spoilers

      I’m another person who has learned that Dee is a red flag. So’s Marlowe, but he’s overused rather than constantly misused. History! It actually happened!

    • misslynx

      Me too – well, on the character part, not so much the historical time-conflict part. I’m not super-knowledgeable about the period, so I’m less likely to catch historical inaccuracies, but I do know enough about Dee to find the characterization of him in that book a bit WTF-y.

  3. celestineangel

    I haven’t finished Lies and Prophecy yet, but can I say that minus the big bad and danger, this is how I wish the world was. I want to go to college and take classes in PK and CM!

  4. sartorias

    The mention of John Dee gives me deep misgivings–he’s become overused by writers who don’t know the period well enough to discover much more interesting people on the continent. (This might not be fair to this book, but really, history of that period was so wild as thinkers did their best to formulate a Unified Field Theory that included magic, and Dee was one of the lesser personalities.)

    • Marie Brennan

      Those other thinkers wouldn’t really be applicable to this particular book — Dee is involved because he actually did, in history, have something to do with the Roanoke colony.

      As for other books, a decent chunk of that probably has to do with the fact that more authors are writing about England than they are about the continent.

      • Anonymous

        Yes and no-there was a flurry of Dee as evil Mage fantasies (sometimes with Marlowe) that indicates he was unique in all of Europe ow head of an evil cabal . . Without any understanding of period paradigm

        (Can’t log in while standing in Lincoln center)

        Sherwood

  5. clare_dragonfly

    Okay, knowing that Tam Lin was an inspiration for Lies and Prophecy makes me want to get my hands on it even more (though I had already noted connections in the short prequel bits or whatever they are at BVC). Hurrah! It’s one of my favorite books ever.

    • Marie Brennan

      The equation went something like “Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Witchlight: being able to study magic scientifically” + “Tam Lin: yay college” = Lies and Prophecy. There are a few more specific nods to it along the way, too, but mostly it’s yay college. πŸ™‚

      (Man, Witchlight. I remember nothing of that book except that it was in the right place at the right time to make me come up with the premise for Lies and Prophecy.)

  6. aedifica

    I don’t know enough about Dee-the-historical-figure for that to get in the way of enjoying Blackwood, so I did enjoy it. I wish there’d been any kind of explanation of CROATOAN, though.

  7. livejournal

    October 4, 2012 Links and Plugs

    User referenced to your post from October 4, 2012 Links and Plugs saying: […] ReviewsMarie Brennan on Books read, September 2012 […]

  8. Anonymous

    “Quiltbag”? Is that a new one? I like it.

Comments are closed.