Showing posts with label speculative fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label speculative fiction. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Material Girls by Elaine Dimopoulos


Title: Material Girls
Author: Elaine Dimopoulos
Publisher: Houghton Miflin Harcourt
Rating: WORTHY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

Normally I rail against, indeed, refuse to read, novels which are little more than a shopping list of the author’s favorite fashion items. Such snotty books deserve contempt, as does the fashion industry itself. What could be more arrogant and flatulent than an industry devoted to dictating to you that you must change your clothing styles with great frequency, or there’s something wrong with you? What could be more unjust than an industry which effectively tells you that if you’re rich, you’re fashionable and if you’re poor you’re tasteless? And what could be more appalling than an industry built upon the backs of slavishly laboring Asian women and children?

This novel is exceptional, in more ways than one. In the do or Dior world in this story, youth rules comprehensively. At thirteen, children are “tapped” for the success spotlight. If they have spent their school year doing the right thing on their websites, they could become the next pop sensation, the next fashion icon, or the next box-office dream. If they fail, they’re doomed to a life as “adequates” – in short, they’re just like you and me, but in this story, adequate is really understood to mean failure.

This story concerns two successes. One of these is Marla Klein, who hit the big time in the fashion industry, being quickly promoted to the superior court – a handful of teens who declare what’s fashion and what’s fashi-off for one of the five big design houses, Torro-LeBlanc. Marla’s problem is that she’s been disagreeing with the rest of her court appointees, and before she can say “tummy ill figure”, she’s been jettisoned to the basement, where a hoard of designers deemed not good enough for the fashion courts are desperately trying to come up with fashion ideas which will impress the junior courts and get them a shot at displaying their design before the superior court.

Meanwhile, Evangeline Vassiliotis, now reincarnated as ivy Wilde, the current rebel diva superstar, is seeing her position threatened by an upstart Tap. Worse, she’s forced to wear the newest fashion: torture (which features chains, fake blood, and points on the soles of your shoes – on the inside). Of course, these “fashions” are scarcely any more torturous than those which women have felt compelled to wear for centuries, but they’re new and different, of course, so don’t you dare criticize them. Valenteenhold and Shamel certainly wouldn't! Women have fashion guns with which they can scan their clothing labels. If the light stays green, the trend is still good. If it’s red, you’re dead - fashionably speaking, of course - and it’s time to buy a new wardrobe.

Marla finds herself on the “obsoloser” table in the basement – as debased as it gets, in fact. She’s almost “crustaceous” for goodness sakes, but slowly, she and her cohorts hatch a scheme to subvert this system which considers people antiquated by the time they turn twenty. It all goes horribly wrong, and Marla finds herself under the icy glare of Ivy Wilde’s entourage – with the emphasis on the ‘rage’ part. It’s then that things really begin to change. Quick! Alert the media. I'm sure Vain Infamy, Cosplaypolitan, Fugue, or Helle fashion magazines would be interested!

This author could have read my mind – or snuck a peak at chapter zero of my novel Baker Street, but I doubt it! I honestly doubt that she and I are the only ones who have had thoughts like this about the fashion business. It’s what this author does with this story though, and where she takes it, which is what makes this novel “prime” (in my lingo: worthy!). No, in this novel she runs with it and makes an engrossing story full of interesting characters and even more interesting motivations.

I have to say that in many ways, characters Marla and Ivy are very much alike. There’s not a lot to separate them into individual characters, but this is only to be expected from a system which pre-processes children and manufactures a salable product out of them. But if you think that, then read on. They're not!

This story – speculative, dystopian, both - is set in the future, but it’s not a future that’s so far off it can’t be seen. No, the seeds of that future have been enthusiastically sown by vested interests since the 1950s, especially in the USA. A conspicuous consumer/planned obsolescence machine has been working on hearts and minds for decades. We’re all fashion victims. The question is: Is there a cure?


Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Unidentified by Rae Mariz


Title: The Unidentified
Author: Rae Mariz
Publisher: Harper Collins
Rating: WARTY!
Errata:
p134 "Eating these are even better than the hype." should be "Eating these is even better than the hype."
p256 "DIY Deopt" should be "DIY Depot"

I had a lot of mixed feelings reading this, but in the end, I decided that for an assortment of reasons, I cannot rate this as a worthy read.

This novel is yet another YA first person PoV told by a female, and normally I hate these, but in this case, it's different enough that it's not even irritating that it's told in FPoV. See? It can be done! I just wish more YA authors could figure it out, but more than that I wish they could figure out that you can tell a story in third person and not be arrested for it. This is speculative rather than dystopian, so that was a pleasant change, too, but from there onwards, it was rather downhill.

The story starts out really slowly. Far too slowly; it takes forever for anything to happen and even when it does, it feels like nothing is happening. Some editing would have made a noticeable difference there, but even that couldn't have saved what was, in the end, a flat and limited story.

It's set in the future of course, and it's related by a fifteen-year-old named Katey Dade, whose school network handle is "Kid". Her mother addresses her as 'Kiddie' which is not only demeaning, it's really annoying. The school network is where life happens even as the students attend classes very much like today's students do. This school doesn't mind texting - indeed, it encourages it, because the sponsors use the network to push sponsored events and challenges.

This school isn't like any high school you've ever attended. It's a mall which has been converted into a school and which is now completely sponsored by corporations. The students' entire day revolves around working towards becoming a really good corporate drone. Students have to work their way through school by showing what they can contribute to business plans, come up with inventions, engage in trend-setting and produce new ideas in advertising, and if they're really lucky, they can become sponsored themselves - which is the sign that you've arrived in the big time. Or is it so lucky after all?

Kid doesn't think so, and rather than cultivate huge "friends" networks and pursue corporate sponsorship and agendas, she's happy to be a really average student and genuine friends with only two people: Aria (like Maria without the 'M') with whom she's been close friends forever, but who turns slowly into every bit as big of a bitch as the recognized school bitches, and Mikey, the standard trope loser guy who is best friends with the girl but who never gets her (trust me, he doesn't want her - not if he's smart).

One morning at school Kid witnesses what she thinks is a suicide or a murder, but it turns out it was nothing but a stunt - a dummy pushed over a balcony carrying a message signed by "The unidentified". This is the first problem - that in a busy school watched over by corporate big Brother, no one saw the people setting up this stunt. I simply did not buy that. It wasn't credible.

Kid takes a real interest in who pulled off this stunt and why, and it's her very interest in this which undermines her "plan" to stay corporately anonymous. A security corporation offers her sponsorship, and begins taking a real interest in her - as does hot guy Jeremy Swift, who is also (very conveniently) sponsored by this same security business.

Mariz tries hard to distinguish her writing and give it a sufficiently futuristic look and feel, and for the most part she succeeds, although at times she tries too hard and it falls flat. I mean is it really necessary to put the registered trademark logo after the word 'notebook' every single time she uses it? Mariz apparently doesn't know that you can't trademark a commonly-used word like that.

Everyone has a notebook, and everyone has an 'InTouch' device - her word for a cell phone. Why the two are separate I have no idea. That seemed to me to be a failure in her futuristic planning. There is a definite feel of George Orwell's 1984 to this novel, and some reviewers compared it with Jennifer Government and Feed which I've also reviewed - and negatively. This is something which isn't so far-fetched that you could never imagine it happening, so it has that going for it, too.

The big problem for me was Kid herself, as the main character. She offered nothing to make herself stand out as a main character worth reading about. She was average all the way, which was the real problem. As such she wasn't a shaker and a mover. She didn't initiate things. Things happened around her, which she observed and related, but she was not actor. She was an actee, a narrator, rather like the oddly redundant sports commentators, who make a career out of doing nothing more than simply telling you what you're seeing. How bizarre is that?

When Kid actually has a chance to shine, she fails. The worst of these instances came during an Unidentified "event", the leader of The Unidentified, someone Kid knows, starts beating-up on Mikey, her best (male) friend, and she does nothing! She doesn't help Mikey directly, nor does she film the attack for use as evidence later. All she does is what she's done the whole novel: stand and narrate (oh, and keep asking "Why are you doing this?" - something which she fails to figure out for herself). Afterwards she continues to pursue the leader guy as though he's her friend, too. She harbors not a shred of anger or resentment towards him.

Another example is when her best friend betrays her and she's completely unmoved emotionally. It just did not ring true, not for a fifteen-year-old. Kid is as cold and plastic as you can get. She would be an ideal corporate drone, and that's the real problem with this story. She's a poseur - presented as a rebel or as an anti-establishment figure, or even as a revolutionary, when she's precisely the opposite. She's a milquetoast, just like Walter Mitty, but she's nowhere near as entertaining.

Contrary to what the blurb says (blurbs nearly always lie, don't they?) Kid doesn't make things happen. She doesn't take charge. She doesn't even come up with good ideas or plans. She doesn't plan and she has no idea. This would have made a much better short story than ever it did a full-length novel.


Jennifer Government by Max Barry


Title: Jennifer Government
Author: Max Barry
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday
Rating: WARTY!

This is a really short novel which is vaguely reminiscent of William Gibson's approach to writing dystopian futures, mated with Jasper Fforde's humor, and delivered by a midwife named Monty Python to add just a soupçon of crazy. You'd think that would be a delight, wouldn't you?

Set in a world pretty much owned (even moreso than now) by commerce, no one has a life except as a hair on the ass of big business. So pervasive is this ownership that your last name is taken from the corporation for which you work. If you switch jobs you have to change your "family" name. Thus, Jennifer Government works for...yes! the government! John Nike (one of two) is a vice president for Nike. Hayley MacDonalds goes to MacDonald's corporate high school.

The two Johns (named that way advisedly, I presume) cook-up a scheme to promote their new brand of Nike shoes: assassinate ten buyers of the shoes to give this brand some street cred. They persuade one of their employees, Hack Nike, to sign a contract for the, er contract, but he has second thoughts, and goes to the police. They tell him that they would be willing to take over the contract. He's happy to have them do this, but in turn, they contract it out to the NRA, who end-up killing more than the allowed quota. Jennifer Government tries to nail the Nikes for this crime.

I'd like to know how the hell Barry got away with this without being sued to his shoes by Nike, without being grilled by MacDonalds, and without being shot a stern email from the NRA. I guess he's fairly low profile (I'd never heard of him before I happened upon this audio book in the local library). I guess, also, that if you sneak the word 'satire' into the book somewhere near the front, if not right on the cover, then you get a bye?

I didn't like this. While some small pieces were amusing, it was overall rambling and nonsensical, and most importantly, it didn't deliver on the contract the author makes with the reader, to deliver an engrossing and entertaining read.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde





Title: The Well of Lost Plots
Author: Jasper Fforde
Publisher: High Bridge
Rating: WARTY!

I was thrilled to see that this audio novel was read by Elizabeth Sastre, as was the previous volume, but after the first disk, even Sastre's charming voice and thoroughly British inflection couldn't save this. Pretty much the entire first disk was boring!

Thursday has been moved into an unpublished work of fiction titled Caversham Heights wherein she lives on an old Sunderland Flying Boat. Jurisfiction's plan is to hide her away until she has her baby. Landon still hasn't been actualized, so she's on her own, working in the novel as an assistant to detective Jack Sprat. She shares the houseboat with two generic characters which she names Ib and Ob, and with her grandmother who comes to stay with her during her quite literal confinement. There are some mildly entertaining parts where she tries to teach Ib and Ob - bland characters being stockpiled for when they're needed in a new novel, - the rudiments of writing (irony, subtext, sarcasm, etc.) but other than that it's not interesting at all.

I had really hoped that disk two would pick things up, but it didn't. Disk two was as bad as disk one: some titters here and there, but nothing overtly funny and certainly nothing interesting. It's like Fforde is simply parading every rough idea he had for an amusing chapter in this volume, without actually making it amusing, and with no regard to tying any of this into an over-arching plot. Fforde now has the space of one more disk in which to impress me! yes, it's ultimatum time! Life is far too short to waste even on the average, let alone on the poor, so if disk three fails, then the series does, because this is the last of Fforde's novels I plan on following until and unless he brings out a sequel to Shades of Grey.

Well I made it to disk 4 and found that I was bored out of my gourd. I skipped track after track because it was uninteresting and decided that was it for this warty novel.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Altered by Gennifer Albin





Title: Altered
Author: Gennifer Albin
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Rating: WARTY

Altered is the second novel in the Crewel World series, the first of which I've already reviewed. I rated the earlier one a worthy read. If you've read it, you may recall that Adelice and her two beaux got themselves out of her artificial world of Arras due to her deft ripping of the fabric of that world. They literally fell through it and ended up deposited on the real Earth which is an awful place because of a grotesque war (World War Two, Hitler and all) from which Earth apparently never recovered. How that came to pass is unexplained.

In fact, very little is explained, since they end up in what's left of the USA, but the story tells us that it was Europe which became devastated, so why the novel is set in the US, and why that's evidently devastated, is a complete inexplicable mystery. Why would Albin be so insular as to insist on having this in the USA when there is no justification for that? Shouldn't it have been set in Europe? Can no US writer see a world beyond the borders of the USA?! I guess not, but their escape means that the trio ends up in the Icebox, and city pretty much under the control of Kincaid, a villain, who is a foe of the Guild, but how faux is he?

It seems to me at first blush (and I don't blush easily!) that Albin is merely retelling the first novel (which would really mean it's Altered by Gennifer Albin. With Kincaid in place of Cormac and both her guys in tow it's certainly headed that way. And the distinct feeling I had with this is that Albin is ripping off Harry Potter seven, where Hermione, Ron and Harry go on the run in the wilderness! I hope I'm wrong, but the parallels are striking. Hermione (Adelice) is linked with Ron (Jost), but spends time with Harry (Eric is the one she ran with, but he;s substituted for a guy called Dante very quickly).

So far I see little difference from the first novel, especially since Adelice is able to dig into the fabric of Earth just as she could in Arras, the only difference being that Earth isn't quite as neatly woven as her world was, and she finds that she's able to see the fabric of people here, too. Albin has telegraphed some hints about how this will go, and actually what this story - overall - most reminds me of is The Matrix when Neo gets pulled out of his artificial world and into the supposed real world, where he finds he can still exert real power because, Like Adelice, he is the one! The Matrix meets Harry Potter.

So Adelice, in what must be one of the most amazingly improbable coincidences ever in fiction, is picked up by a critical guy - someone who works for the "Sunrunners" who are employed by Kincaid, the power broker (quite literally) in Icebox city. She, Erik, and Jost are taken in by Kincaid and exposed to his world of luxury. He has a palatial home where there is a huge library which of course, fascinates Adelice. Perhaps the biggest shocker is that she goes from thinking both of her parents are dead to discovering that both of them are alive! Another big revelation is that time passes faster in the artificial Arras world than it does on Earth. A year on Arras is only a month on Earth - how that works, exactly, is conveniently left unexplained. The three of them realize that if they're going to do something to overthrow the guild, then they need to act quickly, but not so quickly as to bring this story to a conclusion before volume three can be added, of course.

The problem is that they do not act quickly. The only thing which happens quickly is that the story stagnates and becomes a soap opera, with Adelice and Jost sparring almost constantly, and the childish melodrama is sickening. When I was about fifty percent in, I discovered that I am neither enjoying nor even linking this novel at all. The drive to tell a story is gone and the only thing happening is endless rounds of bitching back and forth between Jost and Adelice. Rinse. Repeat. I did not sign up for that. I wanted the story Albin promised, not the pathetic maudlin cry-baby romance she delivered as a cheap excuse for a story.

At sixty percent in, I was disliking this novel even more, and in particular disliking both Adelice and Erik. After all her fussing over Jost, as soon as his back is turned, Adelice is being rather too intimate with Erik than good taste and fidelity call for, flirting with him and romping in the swimming pool with him. The reason Jost left her behind was that she would not be safe traveling with him on his two-week mission. Cormac is out there desperate to retrieve her, and Erik himself has been angry with her for taking too many risks, but as soon as she suggests leaving the compound and heading into Icebox for nothing more than the pursuit of a frivolous whim, he can't wait to go along with it.

Le stupide is also creeping more and more into the plot. I was at this point so close to the end that I wanted to try and finish this, but there's only so much moronic behavior in a novel, that I can stomach. Let me offer one example of stupid: Erik is discovered, by Dante, to have a tracking chip embedded in his arm. Both Erik and Adelice discover that she also has a scar on her leg which is very reminiscent of the one Erik has on his arm as a result of removal of the chip, and yet neither one of them for a split second so much as wonders if she might have a chip in her. Bottom line? These people are stupid and deserve everything they get.

Well I lost patience with this. There was too much stupid and too little intelligent writing, and I could not stand it any more! Count is as a DNF, but I am done with this warty series!


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde





Title: Lost in a Good Book
Author: Jasper Fforde
Publisher: High Bridge
Rating: worthy

This audio novel is read by Elizabeth Sastre.

After a sad disappointment in the first novel in this series, The Eyre Affair, I'm hoping for a lot better in volume 2. Failing that, I'll ditch this series and move on to something else. I have to say I was surprised by High Bridge, the audio publishers of the copy I got from the library. When I went to their website to reference this novel, I could find neither the title nor the author anywhere on their site! That's why Barnes & Noble gets the book link.

I was really slow in getting up to speed on this one because of Thanksgiving, but I picked up the pace today and didn't regret it. This one is much better than The Eyre Affair, at least through the first half-dozen chapters. It's much more interesting and a lot funnier, particularly the Hispano-Suiza episode. Of course it doesn't hurt at all that Elizabeth Sastre (not to be confused with Doctor Elizabeth Sastre of the Vanderbilt university medical school) is intelligent, playful, sly, sexy, and a little bit giggly. I love this representation of Thursday.

There's apparently a plot afoot in this novel to assassinate Thursday which, if true, cannot be allowed to succeed under any circumstances! Even if I quit reading the series I would feel saddened if she were not out there somewhere, even if it's just fictionally! The plot comes to a head when the Goliath corporation removes her husband Landon from time, leaving her pregnant in a time when the father of her child died at the age of two! Their plan is to have her free Jack Schitt from Poe's The Raven where she evidently imprisoned him at the end of the last novel, but she has no means to travel into fiction any more, so what's a girl to do?

Fforde continues to exhibit the occasional problem with the English language. For example, at several points, he writes of the Goliath corporation starting his sentence with "Goliath are..." whereas it should be "Goliath is…" At one point (I think in chapter eight) he writes that some people "...leaned forward imperceptibly..." - and this in a novel which is narrated in first person PoV. If the movement was imperceptible, how did the narrator detect it?!

Fforde also seems not to quite grasp a crucial principle of the geometric theory of gravitation, published by Albert Einstein in 1916. People who are undergoing acceleration perceive the effect as gravity. An acceleration of 1G will be indistinguishable from Earth's gravity to those experiencing it. Therefore passengers availing themselves of Fforde's gravity drop transportation system - even if it could be built through Earth's core without melting, and without killing travelers from radiation - would not experience free-fall because of the acceleration!

Finally it looks like I'm getting to the very reason I decided to start this series in the first place! Thursday gets an "in" to the magic library! I was not at all impressed by the disaster of the Cheshite Cat, but I did like Mrs Haversham and the Red Queen - particularly the enigmatic Red Queen, and the whole episode with Spike on the Zombie hunt, which Thursday volunteers for so she can pay her rent with the overtime-rate cash was hilarious.

And this was too much! I went to open the file for this review and this is what I found in the folder listing:

Thursday on Thursday! How sweet is that? Must be a good omen!

This one managed to hold my attention and amuse me. It's still not as good as One of Our Thursdays is Missing but it is a worthy read.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde





Title: One of Our Thursdays is Missing
Author: Jasper Fforde
Publisher: Recorded Books
Rating: WORTHY!

I've also reviewed Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair and Shades of Grey

This audio book is narrated by Emily Gray (not to be confused with the remarkable paralympic athlete of the same name), and I have to say she is now my favorite narrator, beating out even Neil Gaiman, because her performance of this novel was masterful (mistressful?). I'm serious, she completely nailed it, and the way she entered into it so whole-heartedly made it a joy to listen to.

I rated this novel as a worthy read as soon as I'd finished listening to the first audio disk because I laughed my ass off listening to it. Fforde rambles on about novels and literature and stories, and grammatical errors, and syntax, and it sounds boring to put it like that, but the way he words everything, and the sly references and snarks he slips in about books in general and about certain classics in particular is freaking hilarious. I adored this novel, and Fforde is now on my list of favorite writers and must-reads. I reviewed Fforde's Shades of Grey not long ago

Here's something which should give heart to all you self-publishers: according to wikipedia, Jasper Fforde had received 76 publisher rejections prior to The Eyre Affair making it into print. He had been forcibly kept out of our lives by clueless, blinkered, self-appointed establishment censors of what’s readable and what isn't, what’s publishable and what should be banned. No more shall they rule. Self-publishing does!

The story is number six in a series, not one of which I'd read prior to this one, but they are all on my radar now, and Xmas is just around the corner! The previous volumes evidently consisted of his main character, Thursday Next, solving literary puzzles in the classics, keeping the books in the order which readers expect to find them when they open them. In this one, Fforde fords the river of change and decides to reorganize his literary world. Worse than this, Thursday Next is apparently missing, and it's up to her written version who is also, of course, named Thursday Next to solve a mystery which no one else seems to think exists. Oh, her butler does - he's an automaton which she rescued from being stoned (no, not that kind, the Biblical kind - the kind which true believers ought to be out doing to adulteresses and gays if they honestly believe the source of morality comes from their Bible! I for one am glad they reject the Bible as the source of moral authority even as they lie they don't.)

So (written) Thursday and Sprocket, wisely ignoring input from Pickwick, the pet Dodo, and Mrs Malaprop, the horse-creeper, start wandering around Book World, visiting the poetry neighborhood, and Vanity (publishing) Island to try and figure out who dropped The Bed Sitting Room on an unsuspecting neighborhood. And damned if she doesn't solve it. This novel was hilarious, inventive in the extreme (and I mean that literally) and magnificent. I can recommend it highly enough! It's the perfect thing to have handy if you ever find yourself trapped in a mime-field....


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde





Title: Shades of Grey
Author: Jasper Fforde
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: WORTHY!

I've also reviewed Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair and One of Our Thursdays is Missing

This is about a place called Chromatacia, a society which is left after the collapse of our own, evidently. There is a class system in place defined and controlled a person's ability to perceive colour! Most people can see only one hue, some, two. Those who cannot see colour are referred to as 'Greys', and they occupy the lowest perch in the tree. Color plays a larger part than this, however. People's names and the names of locations also derive from names of various colors, and some colors have beneficial or deleterious health effects; Lincoln Green is a powerful illegal drug, for example. People in the lower ranks are treated in some regards as servants of those who are higher.

I saw this novel on the library shelf, and smirked because of the title. I will never read 50 Shades of Gray or any of its derivatives, but this title made me want to at least read the blurb, wondering how this poor guy Jasper Fforde is coping with a novel which came out the year after his did, and has a title so similar to his. Is his novel garnering greater interest because of that or has it been lost in the shuffle? Once I'd read the blurb, however, I just could not put it back on the shelf, so here we are! If you like Douglas Adams, you will more than likely enjoy this.

Wikipedia has an article on the EM spectrum. The visible light spectrum is a tiny, tiny fraction of this. How we see light is a fascinating story in itself, and the development of receptors in the eyes of various organisms is an entrancing example of the modern synthesis of Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

The story is narrated by Eddie Russett from his unfortunate position head down inside a carnivorous tree, the Yateveo, but at least it's not a carnivorous swan..... From his unenviable position, he relates events of the last four days when he travels with his father, a swatchman (a color doctor) on their way to a distant town called East Carmine - a journey upon which Eddie befriends an aging Yellow fellow. Eddie has better than average red perception, and has a good chance of an upwardly mobile marriage to Constance Oxblood, but on a visit to a town nearby while waiting for the train for East Carmine, and visiting the sights (the Badly Drawn Map, the Last Rabbit, etc - you know, the usual!), Eddie and his father come across an injured Purple (who is really a Grey masquerading as a Purple), and save his life. Indirectly because of this, Eddie meets a Grey girl named Jane who apparently has no problem treating Eddie (who with his slight color perception merits a much higher class rating than she) with no respect whatsoever. He's quite captivated by her, but has to catch his train and so is prevented from pursuing her.

But would you believe it, when he arrives at East Carmine - a lowlife of a town - the Grey maid who's assigned to work one hour per day at his house is: Jane! (Jane Grey, get it?!) Her attitude towards him hasn't improved. She pretty much threatens to break his jaw no matter what he says to her, but when he fails to turn her in, she does at least warn him not to eat the scones she just prepared - not that we find out what the heck happened to those who ate the scones. This town is even more quirky than the story has been so far. On a guided tour of the town by a lowlife Red called Tommo, who is highly entertaining, Eddie meets the town's top banana - a Yellow who isn't quite at the pinnacle, but will be once his mother is out of the picture. He tries to lure Eddie into 'bending a few rules' for him.

Eddie's father takes over as the town's swatch-meister, treating the sick. The two of them venture into the ghost city of Rusty Hill, where the mildew struck down everyone. Eddie has a list of items to recover, including a Caravaggio painting which makes him somewhat of a hero, although his heroism is somewhat undermined by the fact that Jane lured him into a Yateveo tree trap. How did this happen? He saw her in Rusty Hill - who knows how she got there? and then simpleton that he is, she lured him into the trap with the dishonest promise to tell him the truth. Oh, and he also saw a Pooka - a ghost, which seemed to be able to see him and tried to tell him something but disappeared right when she opened her mouth.

So are Eddie and all the people he knows actually ghosts - and that's why they can't see colors so well? Are they not the survivors of the Something That Happened but the victims? Is the mildew merely their passing on to the after life? Who knows! Eddie gets an offer of 100 merits to visit the newly opened derelict town of High Saffron - where 85 people have disappeared never to be seen again. They desperately need to mine the color from there. Will he go? Let's read on! Oh, in passing, let it be noted that on p111 Fforde doesn’t seem to grasp the difference between ancestor and descendant. Just saying!

Eddie continues to try to befriend Jane and she continues to sarcastically and aggressively rebuff him, although she's becoming progressively less aggressive. She challenges his ingrained dogma at every turn. His friend Tommo (his village guide) is trying to get him to marry his sister while the girl who Tommo himself likes, Lucy Ochre, appears to be a green addict. She, in turn, is convinced that there's a harmony in the Earth in E flat. Since Earth isn't flat, she's likely to be wrong! Lol! But seriously, she's smarter than she lets on. She friends Eddie, and she wants to pay him for her to practice her kissing skills on him, but she doesn’t explain why. He seems to be friending quite a few people, including the adorable Daisy Crimson, and also the Green who lost an eyebrow when he made the deadly mistake of coming-on to Jane.

Eddie makes a bit of a fool of himself trying to chase after Travis Canary - the yellow he befriended on the train - who walks off into the darkness one night to be taken by the night terrors! Although there is a certain amount of heroism involved in his action, too, so this brings him kudos. There seems to be an irrational fear of the dark amongst the citizens, not just in this village, but everywhere. Indeed, the only one who seems to have gone out into the dark and returned whole is Jane Grey.

One morning Eddie goes off with his dad to visit a nearby village of Rusty Hill. They travel along the perpetulite road - a self-repairing, self-cleaning material - in an old Ford Model T. Perpetulite seems not to recognize bronze. This might be important! The village they're visiting was wiped out by the Mildew. Eddie has a shopping list of things people have asked him to bring back for them, including spoons and sugar tongues. Yes, spoons! Even though spoons are banned as eating tools, everyone tries to own at least one during their lifetime, and if it has a post-code engraved on the handle, it’s almost invaluable.

Eddie gets a bit depressed walking among the bones of those who died. He's also startled by encountering a Pooka - a spirit like representation of a human which still appears before him when he closes his eyes. Just as the woman opens her mouth to speak, she disappears. He's even more startled by running into Jane there! This is not only because she's there, but because he has no explanation whatsoever for how she traveled there so quickly in the first place without the use of a motor vehicle. Later, Jane enigmatically explains that she knows how to use the perpetulite road.

She lures Eddie into an embarrassing trap under the carnivorous Yateveo tree, from which he is extricated by his father. Later, he learns that East Carmine has opened up the defunct seaside town of High Saffron for exploration and excavation. There is a 100 merit bonus for those who go, but no one wants to. The 85 people who have previously gone there have never returned; however, the color shortage is becoming so severe that they're willing to go to even to these extremes to mine color.

Eddie eventually speaks to the Apocryphal Man, who evidently thought no one could see him. He didn’t realize that everyone was simply ignoring him. He's a historian and he agrees to answer questions for Eddie in return for loganberry jam.

Eddie has been striking up a relationship with the Colourman whom they met at Rusty hill. He's rather a legendary figure for no other reason than that he works for National Colour. He's ostensibly in the area to conduct the Ishihara test which will determine Eddie's (and others) futures, and checking on the colour supply pipes, but as he grows closer to Eddie, he reveals on the down-low that he's actually trying to track down saboteurs, one of whom is Jane. Eddie knows this, but Matthew, the Colourman, does not. Eddie keeps his secret while trying to figure out if he should tell one or the other about the other, but in the end seems to decide to do nothing. He enters into a somewhat under-the-table relationship with Matthew, and in return gets a shot at joining National Colour, which is the ultimate dream job.

During a weekly meeting of the Colourgentsia, some interesting speculations and revelations come out of the Apocryphal Man (who has now, since he knows he can be seen, has taken to applying personal hygiene and clothes to his body) via an old granny who doesn’t seem to care that she's relating what he says. I was laughing out loud at this part of the novel. The Apocryphal Man lives on the upper floor of the house which Eddie and his dad are occupying, but he seems unaware that there is also someone else living up there with him! Eddie encounters this other person using the bathroom, but the other person secretes themselves behind the shower curtains so Eddie can’t actually see who it is. Neither does this person speak - communicating only through rapping one tap for 'yes', two for 'no'!

On border patrol (the village has signed up Eddie for everything they can get out of him: he's almost become an institution there after only a few days, and he's now teaching in the local school!) Eddie is shown the original Fallen Man (as opposed to the bar of the same name). The Fallen Man quite literally fell out of the sky. There's very little left, but it looks like he was some sort of jet pilot who ejected and landed exactly where he still lies. The village people have surrounded his chair with a cement wall and put guinea pigs inside it to keep the grass trimmed short. Eddie also finds Travis, the guy who walked out into the night. It looks like he was struck by ball lightning, his patrol partner assures Eddie, but when Eddie examines the remains of his head more closely, he finds a metal object the size of a chess piece - some sort of exploding bullet? Who knows! It's a mystery how many mysteries there are in this novel!

Unfortunately, Eddie can't keep the murder information to himself. Courtland, the second top banana or his mom are the guilty party and Courtland reacts immediately by trying to shoot Eddie with the copper spike used to defuse ball lightning. Having failed with that, he and his mum try to bustle Eddie out of the city, but he changes his mind and ends up going to High Saffron after spending the night with Violet deMauve, his new Fiancé who claims she;s pregnant by him because Eddie's own father showed her an ovulating patch guaranteed to make her ovulate and get pregnant. In the end, though, he doesn't go alone.

Violet, Tommo, and Courtland set off with him. When Violet is injured and returns to the waiting car, Tommo and Courtland lock Eddie in a room, but fortunately for him, Jane was sneakily following them, and she rescues him. Tommo is so badly injured in the fight which ensues that he returns to the vehicle where Violet awaits. The remaining three, Eddie, Courtland and Jane continue. They reach High Saffron, but Jane saves Eddie from the mildew which waits every visitor by revealing one of her many secrets. Mildew isn't caused by a fungus but by exposure to a certain color. And Jane can see in the dark. This is why no one returned from High Saffron because the plaza at the entrance to the city is that color. Courtland dies from the rot, and Eddie and Jane return - after Jane has first stuffed him under the Yateveo tree and then rescued him from it to give their cover story for Courtland's death some verisimilitude.

They pledge their selves to each other, but they never do get to marry - why? You'll have to read the ending for yourself. And it's a doozy.

I thoroughly, highly, and heartily recommend this novel.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Crewel by Gennifer Albin






Title: Crewel
Author: Gennifer Albin
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Rating: worthy!

This is evidently yet another trilogy (yeah, and we all know what happened to Stephen King's Dark Tower "Trilogy" don't we?!), and this is novel #1 in that series. At first blush this novel felt like a mash-up of the beginning of Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games, together with Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, with some serious borrowing from Alma Alexander's World Weavers series, and a good dollop of George Orwell's 1984!

There's a prologue which I naturally skipped. Chapter one is rather confusing and very whinily told in the first person, which was a major turn-off. I'm increasingly growing to detest the first person PoV in these YA stories and it may well influence which ones I read and which I pass over in future!

This is another novel which features abysmal names for the characters, such as Cormac and Adelice. Adelice is the female protagonist and Cormac is a textbook villain, although to be fair, he does become rather more nuanced as the story progresses. My position is that if you're going to write a story about a strong female, then please don’t libel her by giving her a name that sounds like some sort of confectionery, unless you’re going to make her a majorly bad-ass woman. Whether that's what Adelice becomes remains to be seen.

The yummy-sounding Adelice is a 16-year-old who is a prime candidate to be chosen as a spinster. A spinster is far from what you might think, although it ends up being precisely the same as you might think! In this case, the spinsters all start out as young girls who are removed forcibly from their families (this is the part which reminded me, for some reason, of The Hunger Games!). They are kept confined to a life of quite literally spinning and maintaining reality on a loom, something apparently only people with two X chromosomes can do, although why this hi-tech society cannot discover what it is in these peoples' genes which lend them a proclivity for this, will I predict, remain a complete mystery. The bizarre twist to this is that this is in a world where women are religiously relegated to a second-rate (hell, try fourth rate), and highly disrespected status (even more so than they actually are in the real world). That's a huge disconnect for me, as indeed was the whole of the first chapter.

The name of the nation is Arras (which sounds suspiciously like 'her ass', or maybe 'harass', but which is merely another name for 'tapestry'!). There's no indication in the early chapters as to whether this is supposed to be on Earth in some other time-period, or if this is somewhere else completely, but many of the place names sound suspiciously close to those borne by Earth locales.

Adelice is at home with her younger sister Amie, and her mother and father. She's aware that she will be taken to be a spinster (there's a testing), but she lies to her family about it; however, her family seems to be as equally aware as she is, and when the jackbooted thugs abruptly arrive to take her that evening to fulfill the honorable role for which she has been chosen, her entire family inexplicably (and very confusingly) scatters into the basement, diving into four escape tunnels. They're all captured except for her mother. Her father is summarily killed as a traitor, her sister taken prisoner, and Adelice is drugged and hauled off to be literally made-over as a spinster.

Her captor, Cormac takes her to the 'rebound station' (that's pretty funny given that the ebook I'm reading in alternation with this is Love Rehab lol!) where she's confined by means of tight straps and a restrictive helmet in a capsule and somehow translated from point A to point B (by the spinsters). At point B, she's left in a cold dark cell overnight in punishment for her treasonous behavior. She sheds not a tear for her dead father or for her scattered family. The next morning she's removed roughly from her cell by a dirty, disrespectful, disheveled and demeaning boy who, I'm guessing, is the instalove bad boy in an upcoming triangle. She has no problem finding him hot and checking him out despite what's happened to her and notwithstanding his behavior! Yeah, right, because young women are horny all the time just like the porn videos say they are!

This removal is overseen by a pretty boy who is, I'm assuming, the other guy in this sad, sad, sad, attempt at a YA love triangle. I already feel nauseous, but maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Maybe. Maybe I'm making one of my famously adrift prognostications here. We'll see. Adelice is taken upstairs and left with two beautiful women for a makeover (into what is, ostensibly, a geisha girl!) so she can start her career as a spinster, presumably.

Since I've not yet physically vomited at this point, I'm still reading this in the desperate hope against hope that it will improve at least a bit. I am trying to be optimistic and indulging myself liberally in the wild fantasy that the back-cover blurb didn't lie, I promise.

So at about 50% into this, I I have to confess that I've improved my opinion significantly! I no longer live in fear of vomitus maximus! On the contrary, I've become quite engrossed in the story (even as it continues to be rather weird), although I still can’t promise at this point that I'll want to continue the series after volume one! I think with this series, you have to suspend your disbelief a bit higher than usual, at least for the first fifty or so pages, and if you can do that, you're rewarded quite well. See? I learn new things about myself every day! Lol!

After her make-over, Adelice joins other potential spinsters for the first time. At that time they're being tested further, because not everyone who is abducted from their home ends up as a spinster. They also serve who only make the wait-staff.... There's still no word on why only women can do this and why they have to be pure (shades of Rampant!). It’s a bit genderist, not only that men are excluded, but that the entire premise of the novel relegates woman to a yesteryear where all they were allowed to do was domestic duties, including spinning yarn while their men were spinning yarns. There's still no word, either, on where this world is.

The "retreat" where the spinsters are confined (there are four of these, one in each quadrant of Arras) is referred to as a "coventry", which sounds a bit like convent, but it reminds me of the city of the same name in England, and in particular, of the phrase, associated with that city, of being sent to Coventry, which is pretty much what happened to these girls.

Adelice starts learning a little about the place as she is shown around with the other girls, and even begins bonding with one of them called Pryana, who seems to be nothing more than a trope antagonist of Adelice's own age. She moves from friend to fiend rather too easily (although, arguably, with good reason) when Maela (doesn't that sound disturbingly close to 'male'? More genderism?), the evil witch queen in charge of the new spinsters' training, invites the girls to each take a shot at working with the weave of the real world (WorldWeavers, anyone?! Alexander did have her idea five years before Albin), and they do so with more or less competence until the only two girls left are Adelice, who is at the time, desperate to keep her superlative weaving skills under a bushel (or bustle?!), and Pryana, who is simply nervous.

Maela shows them a loom which contains a real-world fabric of far more complexity than the other girls have had access to, and Adelice steps up to give Pryana a break from her nerves, which is what Maela was evidently hoping for. She tells Adelice that there is a weak thread in the weave, and she must find it and cut it out. Adelice finds it very competently; then comes the argument. Adelice argues that it’s not that weak and it will do more harm to remove it than to leave it be. Maela reacts angrily to this defiance and instead of removing the one thread, removes the entire patch of fabric around it.

In the real world, this entire patch was the academy at which Pryana's younger sister was in attendance, which has now ceased to exist. In short, Adelice's arguing with Maela has resulted in Pryana's sister dying, just like her inability to accept her role as a spinster resulted in her father's death. That's why Pryana now hates Adelice to the point where she actually punches her shortly afterwards. Pryana incurs no more cost for this punch than did Maela for destroying an academy, which is to say: none. That jarred! Adelice, OTOH, is once again confined to a cell! Let's add a liberal amount of Cinderella to this mash-up, shall we?

When Adelice gets out of the cell, she's notified that Cormac has chosen her to be his escort on a whistle-stop tour of the quadrants into which Arras is divided. For this she requires yet another make-over and a new wardrobe, of course. She travels on the rebound system, and at one stop she encounters her young sister. Amie has herself been made over, but in her case, mentally: she no longer recalls her old life or her sister and thinks her mother is someone who Adelice has never even seen before. Adelice discovers this when she foolishly confronts her sister, but, curiously, she garners for herself no punishment for this, and now she knows where her sister is.

At that same stop, Adelice encounters Loricel, the one and only 'Crewel' in the entire world and as such, the most powerful woman in this patriarchal society. In reality, crewel refers a type of yarn or a type of embroidery, but in Albin's world, it means a person who is both skilled enough (and permitted to) add things to the world as well as to remove them. On Adelice's return, Loricel calls her for a meeting and Adelice learns she is to be trained as a crewel, meaning that her status in the coventry is now on par with Maela's. The reason for this is Adelice's outstanding (unique in fact) ability to not only see the weave of the world without using a loom, but to put her hands into it and change it. Loricel is of course aware of this, which is why Adelice has turned up at this particular coventry.

Loricel shows Adelice a fabric from which the latter is told to remove a thread - meaning that an old woman will die. Adelice does this without hesitation. There's been quite a change in her attitude, it seems! Then Loricel shows Adelice how she adds to the world by placing a lake in a grassy valley, which is achieved by adding blue thread and tying it into the weave with a surrounding thread. When Adelice looks at the fabric on zoom, she can see the beautiful lake as it is out there in her world.

This is where my SoD (suspension of disbelief) takes a hit right in the grass, because I don’t see how this world makes sense if you examine it too closely. If these people can make things magically appear and disappear, why does anyone have any problems? Why does anyone work? Why is anyone deprived and hungry? This is another similarity with The Hunger Games, except we know in that case that the capital let the districts suffer pretty much out of spite. There has been no such 'justification' offered here. Worse than this, these spinsters could remove all of the cruel males from the entire world. Why don’t they? Will we find out?

Well this thing picked up and dropped off and then picked up again, so I'm going to give this a worthy because it turns out that I actually care about what happens when Adelice takes both Josten and Erik out of Arras (or out on their ass). So I won't post any more spoilers. Let's just say it gets frantic and interesting, and I still don't like this love traingale, but to give her her due, Albin definitely has no shame about how far she'll take it, does she?!


Friday, April 12, 2013

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson






Title: The Summer Prince
Author: Alaya Dawn Johnson
Publisher: Arthur A Levine Books
Rating: WORTHY!

This is a novel in four parts, each named after one of the four seasons, but since the bulk of Brasil, where the novel is set, is south of the equator, you might find yourself surprised that the first date mentioned in the 'Summer' section' is December 25th! Cool! Or rather, hot! It's naturally, therefore, written with a Brazilian influence, and it's set in the future, with a feisty female protagonist; gets off to a slow start, but it makes for really engrossing reading. There are no tropes in this novel!

Several hundred years after Earth was abused chronically by a nuclear war, small remnants of humanity manage to survive in isolated pockets around the earth. Some of these reside in a gigantic ten-storey pyramid on the coast of Brazil The society is (quite literally) highly stratified, with a queen on the top floor and the working class on the bottom, cultivating bacteria to provide energy for the rest of the pyramid. The society is matriarchal, with a queen nominated every five years by an elected "Summer King" who has his throat cut at the end of his term and nominates the new queen quite literally with his dying breath. The current queen was so nominated with a bloody hand print on her stomach. The society is also technophobic in this city (not so elsewhere), Although they are far more technically advanced than we are - they just don't like people modifying their body. Nor do they believe in improving the technology used to keep their amazing city in tip-top shape.

The new summer king is proving to be a rebel, because he comes from the bottom tier and is adored by the majority of the female portion of the wakas (the young of society), and feared somewhat by the old of society (the grandes). The politicians are nearly all female, called aunties, although there is a handful of uncles. June is the sixteen-year-old step child of one auntie; she's an artist and also a rebel. Her gay friend Gil strikes up an intimate relationship with the new king and through him, June gets involved with this king in staging a huge and rebellious art project which she hopes will win her an award. The End.

Just kidding! So June and Enki progress strongly with their plan to make her art project all about lighting up four rather mountainous islands out in the ocean off the coast of their city. As they watch their project come to fruition, Enki, who has been hugely modded, gets some sort of warning from the city that it is in trouble; that there is going to be an accident. When the two of them get ashore trying to warn of this impending disaster, Enki is taken into custody, and June escapes, eventually forcing her way into a meeting of the aunties, trying to warn them of the disaster that's coming. They find it hard to believe her, but she broadcasts the warning via the ubiquitous cam-bots to the whole city, and when the disaster happens, but people are saved from it because of her warning, she becomes a huge celebrity. Do we detect the rigid foundations of this society starting to tremble?

June begins to grow noticeably in and small but perfectly natural ways. She starts coming into her own as the novel starts down the home slope, but another disaster occurs as the technophiles revolt against the anti-tech stance of th aunties and two wakes are shot by a high tech nano gun. It was an auntie who was directly responsible for setting up the situation which led to their death, but she isn't brought to justice even though June manages to learn her name and report it to the queen. The queen contacts June to let her know she will have a good chance of winning the art competition if she gets in line with the queen's wishes, and June amazingly, and disgustingly, sells out to the queen - and immediately regrets it.

So the story progresses with Enki's remaining days growing fewer and ever fewer in number, and June cooking up yet another rebellious art project which turns out to be nothing less than an escape from the city, with June and Enki busting loose and heading to Salvador, which is where Enki initially came from. Salvador contains the secret of Enki's mom's success in getting him into the city in the first place, and June discovers what that is right before the two of them are captured and taken back to the city.

I'm not gong to tell you what happens after that, but finally one of my infamously astray predictions actually proved out for once! I think this story is amazing - well written, powerful, devoid completely of cheesy romance and YA bullshit angst, and best of all, NO PROLOGUE! I fully recommend this one - but only if you're honestly a serious connoisseur of engagingly well-written fiction.