Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Some Brief Thoughts on Fandom: Or, Jordan is Anxious About GeekyCon

So tomorrow, God willing that everything goes well, I will be on a plane to Florida, and then two hours later I will get off that plane and head straight into the heart of GeekyCon 2015. I registered practically on a whim back in March, when my friend Leah talked it up. I figured I'd ask my parents to make the ticket my birthday/graduation present, and well, here we are.

But I'm not completely excited. Sure, I'm excited to see Leah again, and go to book signings, and dance my face off. But I'm also really nervous.

It's not that this is anything new from me. I've always been hesitant about going anywhere that had been planned in advance. I dont' know why; some strange facet of my anxiety that decides that if you say you're going to spend an hour somewhere, then you are basically shackling yourself to some kind of horribly unable-to-get-out-of nightmare. And things I'm not used to, like starting a new job or going to a convention I've only ever heard of, definitely ratchets up the nerves by a hefty margin.

But do you know what I'm most nervous about? Like when I stop to think about it, and wonder, what's the worst that could happen?

I'm scared that I won't be considered a real fan.

The identity of a fangirl has had an evolutionary process over the last decade or so. This isn't new information; the geeks have inherited the earth, as we always knew it would be. But I've never been the kind of person who injects witticisms and super-subtle/obscure references into my daily syntax. The thought of dressing up in legit costume, not just fancy or pretty outfits, is unfathomable. And as an introvert who has almost always struggled with making friends, the concept of things like Meetups, and interacting with strangers on the basis of similar likes, terrifies me. I'm constantly worried about making sure I put in all the right nuances in my speech, that I show that I'm a true fan, that I know all the background knowledge, that I was here before things got cool. Though the hipster culture has been beaten within an inch of its life into ironic submission, the drive to be original and genuine is immortal, and for me, original and genuine Jordan is not loud. She doesn't lose her mind in front of other people, unless they're family or really, really close. She grew up in schools, even in a home to an extent, where if you got really excited about something, and only wanted to talk about that thing ever, you would be met with mocking laughter. With, "oh my god, you're obsessed!" With, and this is essentially a paraphrase/conceptualization, but, "what a nerd."

And it's not just nerves or anxiety. I'm a naturally quiet person. I'm drawn inward. When I get excited about something, sure I'll freak out, but I've never been a person to fixate on a single thing for very long. If I did, I'd never survive those waiting periods between books (this waiting period for Sarah J Maas' next book? Torture). It's been that way with music, too; I've never been a person who was a Fan of X Band, but the person who is more likely to say, "I found these songs by X Y and Z, and then I heard this one album that was pretty cool." 

I don't really know where I'm going with this. I remember posting something somewhere like this a while ago on another blog. Back when the last Harry Potter movie was releasing, I was terrified at the thought of not being a true fan. I'd had a long stretch of time, essentially from the Deathly Hallows book launch to the final movie's release, where I hadn't read/watched/experienced any of the content, for various reasons, and thought that I didn't deserve to consider myself a fan, or even a "true" fan. But that post was about overcoming that fear, and recognizing that my experience was just as valid as anyone else's.

I know my experiences in fandom are valid. The very fact that they exist makes them so. And I don't expect to be ridiculed at this Con, or even feel like "my kind" is put down. Everyone I've spoken to about GeekyCon talks almost entirely about how welcoming and safe an environment it is. It's a celebration, after all! But when a celebration exists in a rather singular way, I can't help but feel as though my experience becomes somehow less valid. This is a "personal problem," as an old friend loved to say, and I'm sure it won't impede on my rabble-rousing. I just thought that this time, I would type out my fears; let the noise of keyboard clicks drown out the silent calm before the storm.

I'll post pictures and such once I get back from Orlando. If anyone reads this, stay tuned.

(P.S. Another anxiety: I have eleven books that I could ask Holly Black to sign, but does that make me a crazy person?)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review: Snow Like Ashes

Snow Like Ashes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now the Winterians' only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter's magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter's defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, Winter's future king—she would do anything to help Winter rise to power again.

So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore Winter's magic, Meira decides to go after it herself—only to find herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics—and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.

I wasn't blown away by this story. It had a great setup, don't get me wrong; a story that takes place after the big battle, and the protagonists have lost. The effort it takes just to even maintain enough hope to move forward, and then feature a character who doesn't even have the memories of what was lost to motivate her. What is she willing to do for a place she never even knew? I was totally on board.

And there were parts that didn't disappoint. The first few fight scenes, and then the rest of the chakram fighting later on was pretty cool. And I loved most of all the struggle that Meira felt when the subject of marriage came up. We've never really had a story told from the bride-to-be, focusing on how much agency she doesn't have, and what she's meant to do in that situation. I thought that was the strongest part of the story, emotionally.

But I didn't really like Sara's writing style. There was a lot of overly intricate descriptions of things, and it felt like Meira was reflecting on the grand scheme every time she looked at something new. I also didn't think the worldbuilding was that up to snuff. It wasn't that I hated it, but that I didn't really feel strongly one way or the other.

And then with the ending, I thought the bow it got wrapped up in was a bit too shiny. Sure, there's drama to come, things unresolved, but the main goal, some of these characters' entire purposes, was resolved in just 400 pages. I dunno, the whole thing just seemed a bit meh to me.

Review: Afterworlds


My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don't know what happened. I really don't.

This book had everything going for it. Scott Westerfeld, Inception-style dual perspectives, and meta fiction on the publishing industry? What could go wrong?

Apparently, the answer is pretty much everything. I'm so disappointed that this wasn't a better read for me. I mean, I bought this book in Paris! It's got a Shakespeare & Company stamp inside!

Sigh. Maybe this style isn't Scott's style. Maybe it's been too long since I've read his work to know where I stand on it. Maybe I wasn't the intended audience. I'm not published--hell, I haven't even ever completed a draft--but I know a lot of publishing trivia, just because I've been involved in the community for so long, so a lot of the info had less punch. But I don't think it's that either. I just think that the killer concept was simply killed in execution; it was executed (forgive my punny ways).

I will say that there are moments I enjoyed. The first and last chapters, respectively. After all, the first chapter of Darcy's book is what's gotten everybody hooked, as it did me. It was intense, clear, detailed. And then we have Darcy herself, who's about to live the dream of every aspiring young writer: to be BFFS with the Manhattan Writer's crowd, to sit in an artistically mainstream/hipster apartment, wearing oversized sweatshirts and crafting prose.

But Darcy quickly got on my nerves. She's eighteen, literally just out of high school, and she was very much not ready for the amount of growing up that is involved with living on one's own. She positively blows through her budget, claiming that "the story" took all her focus and so she couldn't be bothered with things like leases and realizing that she wasn't going to receive another dime for at least five months. I understood that her naiveté was part of her character development, but as someone who's lived on their own (somewhat) for the past four years and knows that there are times when sentimentality has to take a backseat for reality, I couldn't forgive her immaturity. And she was whiny, too. Her insecurities took her to thinking some downright ridiculous things, things that not even Impostor Syndrome could justify.

And then there was Afterworlds the novel. Personally, I couldn't tell if the stereotypical nature of the story was a self-aware nod from Westerfeld, or if I was just genuinely uninterested in the story. Lizzie was about as interesting as a glass of water, and Yama wasn't much better. The descriptions of "his heat" and the life-giving powers she felt through "his lips" made me cringe every time. The prose was really awkward, a lot of "as if"'s and "kinda sort of maybe"'s. Any profanity always seemed random and out of character. I'm all for profanity in YA (have you read Holly Black?) but whenever it popped up, it seemed so out of place, like a parent from a sitcom walking in and trying to talk to their kids in outdated slang. 

That showed in characterization as well, and across the board. Carla and Sagan, and Imogen as well, spoke like they were spitting out catchphrases. And Nisha constantly called her sister "Patel" made me literally write "STOP" into the book.

I realize I'm ranting, but I will just say one final, slightly coherent thing that I disliked. The fact that this was not dual POV, but dual story, really frustrated me. Unlike some books, where the nature of dual perspective keeps you on your toes and makes you ravenous for each coming chapter, this felt like I was actually holding two books and alternating between chapters. I never felt like either story picked up any momentum in terms of plot. We'd just move on to the next event. It dragged to the point that I almost just stopped altogether.

I'm sorry this post is so negative, but I've always been a big believer in making a record of the bad as well as the good. Life's not perfect, and neither should the Internet. In the meantime, I need to pick up Leviathan and Uglies again to recuperate.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Review: Magonia


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Magonia is likely one of the most unique books you will read this year. So rarely do you get a fantasy novel that, for better or worse, feels entirely original unto itself. And, I mean, when Neil Gaiman is willing to blurb you, that's got to count for something, right?

I definitely understand why most people describe this book as "weird." And, in some respects, it is quite strange. When you've got ships in the sky and birds flying into people's mouths, how else would you describe it? But its weirdness is less like a Stephen-King-horror-story weird, and more like a let-me-get-acclimated weird. Once I got past the initial strangeness, I was completely fine suspending my disbelief. It was no less strange for me to accept as a kind of reality than any high fantasy or novel set in another world that I've read. The only difference here is that it isn't a completely different universe; it's just sitting on top of ours.

I was in a bit of a reading slump this semester/summer, and took my time reading it, so I can't say anything too great about the pacing, but that's only because I don't have a good perspective on it. I thought that the descriptions and imagery were wonderfully vivid, from the batsail wing to the Rostrae to the battle scenes. I didn't care for the singing concept overmuch, but that's only because you can't really experience music in your head the way you can hear it when you're listening or watching something.

I thought characterization was very well done. Aza Ray and Jason were so individual and strong-minded, that anyone who stood against them made me want to fight them. I mean, the beginning, with such-and-so telling Aza she's bound to some destiny, while she's still grappling with stuff? Not cool, guys!

I am interested to see what comes next. Not quite salivating, but I want to see what Maria will do in terms of showing us more of Magonia. We didn't really see any of it, or anything past the one ship. And I don't think we've seen the last of Zal or Dai, either. Until then, read on, weirdos!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Review: The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel follows the life and times of one Addison Stone, an intimidatingly talented artist who has died in very complicated circumstances. The story begins after the funeral, and backtracks to Addison's childhood, through her adolescence and evolution of her talent, in order to better understand who this shooting star of talent was, and why the whole world is so heartbroken by her death.

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone is an accomplishment of a novel in the way that movies like The Social Network and Pulp Fiction are accomplishments of films. It's not just that the plotline and characters are compelling, but that the actual craft of the piece is so intricate, and detailed, and complex, that you notice it, without ever needing to be prompted by the story or its writer. It is a stunning feat of work, and I am glad to have read it.

You start off from the beginning: The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone. Unfinished. The word gives the impression that the impact of this character has not been exhausted. Untimely may have worked, or tragic, because those things would have denoted the sadness of her death (not a spoiler. Literally the first page). But Unfinished is so...Addison. It's something you can't really comprehend until you're waist deep in photos, interviews, and portraits that you begin to understand the strange magnetism that Addison Stone possesses.

Then there's the structure of the story. It's posed as an honest-to-god tell-all of this shooting star of talent. Adele Griffin immerses herself in the story, as one of Addison's brief professors at Pratt University. This, along with the multiple photos of the characters, emails, and magazine articles, bring this story to life in a way that had me wondering if it wasn't true after all.

And then you get into the actual writing. The prose is beautiful on its own. My favorite was a reference to Keats, where Addison's soul is described as a "darker word than dark." Griffin is a master at characterization as well. With every switch of perspective, I evolved differing and often warring opinions of characters (except for Roy Stone and Zach Frat. My mind was made up about them pretty much right away. I was verbally insulting them as I read their work). Readers are not unfamiliar with the concept of an unreliable narrator, but when the entire narrative becomes questionable? Then you have something. Then you truly have to figure out for yourself how you feel about Addison.

I loved Addison. I thought she was brilliant, endearing, tragic, and compelling.

I hated Addison. I thought she was selfish, obsessive, childish, and shortsighted.

But that was the incredible thing about this story. It wasn't the author's wish to deliver some sort of message or conclusion. She merely presented you with a character, and an event, and said "you figure it out." Even the eerie, almost paranormal aspect of Ida, had me questioning what I thought was the truth.

There's a line Maggie Stiefvater once said about writing novels. To paraphrase, she said that a novel is a thesis, in which you have to prove to your audience that the characters/setting/plot are real. It is the only way I can classify this novel: as a (successful) exercise in creating truth out of air and imagination. Well done, Ms. Griffin.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Review: An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An Ember in the Ashes is like a punch to the gut, in the way that only a good book can be. With stellar worldbuilding that doesn't overpower you, actual visible character development, and a compelling plot that takes preexisting mythology and makes it new, this book is one of the only ones I'll allow to be compared to Game of Thrones in any capacity. 

One of the problems I notice in YA in particular, specifically with epic fantasy, is that authors make the mistake of sugarcoating the circumstances. They'll tell you the world is cruel and difficult, but never actually give representation to those hardships, or at least will somehow allow the protagonists to be spared from such a fate. This is not the case here. Before the first third of the book is through, you have the main protagonist lose her entire family, be whipped, slapped, sexually harassed, and branded. This isn't to say that I enjoyed Laia's pain; she is a precious cinnamon roll, and her pain is my pain.

Laia is a character some people may term as "weak" or "cowardly," but I disagree. Or if I'm wrong, I'll at least say that Sabaa Tahir managed to create a character that has those typically negative traits, but still create a compelling and sympathetic heroine. I was rooting for her the entire time, and I was so glad to see her development, both regarding her issues of self and her sense of strength. 

I loved Elias as well. The poor thing only knew six years of happiness, and yet he still fights every day to hold on to the humanity his mother and his government is trying to strip from him. Even his best friend doesn't think he's entirely right in opposing the status quo (which was why I never fully liked Helene; i can recognize if you have genuine loyalty in something because you believe it to be the right thing, but her dismissal of slaves' humanity/worth as human beings kind of dashed any hope of me caring about Helene's happiness). 

The romance is probably the only (or one of the few) cases of "insta-love" that is handled well and is believable. Both of them know that attraction doesn't mean they can necessarily be together, and that there's far more going on than them liking each other. It reminded me of The Winner's Curse, in that sense. I cannot wait to see the next installment. If it's anything like I hope (as Sarah J Maas has spoiled me to expect everywhere else), we'll get bigger glimpses of the world, the pair's relationship (or lack of one) will get tested, and fabulous adventures will ensue. And hopefully the Commandant will die, because COME ON.