October in Retrospect

Happy Halloween, and Blessed Samhain to those who, like me, celebrate it as such. It’s the last day of October, and so time to take a look back at the past month and see what went on, blog-wise.

Reviews

The Doubt Factory, by Paolo Bacigalupi
Black Swan, White Raven, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Meritropolis, by Joel Ohman
The Younger Gods, by Michael R Underwood
The Red Magician, by Lisa Goldstein
Blindsight, by Peter Watts
The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin
The Lives of Tao, by Wesley Chu

And a guest review over at Bookworm Blues, where I reviewed The Free, by Brian Ruckley

10 books read and 9 reviewed! I’m not complaining at all! Most of the reading time was due to me smacking my head as I fell down a flight of stairs, leaving me with a concussion and no ability to work but still the ability to read so long as I was using actual books or my very basic-model Kindle. So I got a fair bit of reading done, and the reviews still got written, albeit little chunks at a time as I built up my technology stamina again.

Guest Posts

An excerpt from Michael R Underwood’s The Younger Gods.

Other Stuff

I did the first Release Day Regrets post, in which I highlight a few books that, for whatever reason, I wanted to read but didn’t get around to by release day. I expect I’ll end up doing more of these posts in the future, since they’re a good way to give some books a bit of a signal boost without me needing to rush and review them.

I also threw in my two cents on the Kathleen Hale issue, where an author wrote an article admitting to stalking one of her negative reviewers and sounding like she felt justified in doing so because she uncovered that the reviewer was using a pseudonym…

Upcoming

Business as usual, I suspect. I don’t go back to work until half way through November, so that’s another 2 weeks of resting my mind and catching up on reading. I’m aiming, as always, for 8 books read and reviewed.

As for what books they’ll be? All I know is that they probably won’t be many books I’ve gotten for review, since my Kindle broke the other day and I’m now e-readerless. That isn’t to say that I don’t have any hardcopies of books to review scattered, oh, all over my apartment, and I was lucky enough to find some books at the library that I had older e-ARCs of so I can check them off the backlog, but until I get a new e-reader (which is looking to be a Kobo at this point), my list of review copies via NetGalley isn’t looking to decrease any time soon.

But still, plenty of good books await, and now I have absolutely not excuses not to pick up some books that I’ve been ignoring in favour of books on my easy-to-carry-everywhere old Kindle.

So that’s been my month in a nutshell. Lots of reading, lots of lying around in bed cuddling cats and novels. How was your October? Got any big plans for November that I should know about?

The Lives of Tao, by Wesley Chu

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – January 1, 2013

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) When out-of-shape IT technician Roen woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it.

He wasn’t.

He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes.

Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…

Thoughts: A race of ethereal aliens has been guiding life on this planet for millions of years, and with humanity now a player in the game, these aliens are taking a more involved approach to things by inhabiting the bodies of people and manipulating them into prime positions to further their own goals. If that sounds sinister, well, it can be. Even the faction of aliens that wants the improvement of humanity alongside its own goals (as opposed to the Genjix, who want their own goals achieved even if it means sacrificing humanity to do so) still end up sitting inside somebody’s headspace and throwing their lives for a loop in order to turn them from nobodies into power-players.

Such is the case with Roen Tan. He didn’t ask to be partnered with Tao. Tao didn’t ask to be partnered with Roen. A lousy set of circumstances threw their lives together and now they have to deal with each other as best they can.

The relationship isn’t parasitic, though. Though Roen didn’t ask to be sucked into a world of espionage and real-life action movies, he does get some gain from Tao’s presence. He finds a reason to leave his much-disliked job. He goes from being overweight and generally unmotivated to someone more than capable of holding their own in a frantic fight. The circumstances may have been less than ideal for both of them, but by the end, Roen is a vastly different person than who he started out as. Though it could be said that Tao brought some very positive changes to Roen’s life, some I even wouldn’t mind in my own life (though not at the cost of joining up with an alien war, thank you very much), I still can’t get over the slight creepiness of the whole thing being largely nonconsensual. It was established pretty early on that once Tao took Roen as a host, the only way to cut that relationship would be for Roen to die. He didn’t have much of a choice in the matter.

It does make for an interesting launch point for a story of extra-terrestrial conspiracy, however. And Chu writes this all with good sarcastic and observational humour, making a cast of very believable characters doing very believable things in a messed-up situation. Roen was an excellent character to follow, in no small part because I could relate very well to him. I think just about anyone who’s felt stuck in a rut and yet little motivation to find a way out will be able to do the same. Combined with intense action scenes and very real reactions to them (Roen panics when first put into combat situations because surprise, he’s never been in one before and suddenly people are shooting at him), you get a fantastic story that’s easy to fall into and one that hints at much more exciting adventure to come!

People tell me that the sequel, The Deaths of Tao, has a greater focus on the Prophus/Genjix war, and I’m very much interested in seeing further into that. Chu sets up just enough to get readers interested without giving too much away, providing good backstory in the way of Tao explaining some of the history to Roen, but there are a lot of questions that go unanswered and I’m curious to see how it all plays out. Action scenes are all well and good, and they’re part of what makes The Lives of Tao so much fun, but I like a fair bit of meat to my stories, and it’s good to hear that future books in the series provide just that.

If you’re looking for some sci-fi that’s got good action and fantastic dialogue but still comes off as a light fun read, then definitely check out The Lives of Tao.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Eyes Deep, by Tim Marquitz

Tim Marquitz’s new novella, Eyes Deep, is out today, and it’s definitely one I’ve got my eyes on! It’s the first book in the Clandestine Daze series, and knowing Marquitz, it’s going to be action-packed and full of snarky dialogue.

No one trusts a doppelganger, and for good reason. Behind every stolen identity lies murder.

For Theodor Crane, his latest crime comes with a new family, a new job, a new set of troubles, yet there’s no escaping his past lives.

On the precipice of war between humans and supernaturals, Theo is thrust in the middle, charged with maintaining the balance while keeping his true identity a secret. Conspiracies and old hatreds lurk just below the surface, creeping to a head as the veil between the two worlds slowly crumbles. Failure means reigniting an age old conflict. Success means living a lie for the rest of his days. Either way, Theo loses.

Available wherever fine ebooks are sold!

The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s blog (not in English) | Publisher’s website
Publication date – November 11, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

Thoughts: You read the description for The Three-Body Problem and you think that what you’re going to be getting is a standard alien invasion story where the only thing to set it apart from so many others is that it happens to take place in China. If you go into this book with that preconception, then prepare to have your mind blown by an outstanding intelligent story of discovery and humanity that goes far beyond any justice I can do it here. But nevertheless, I’ll give it my best shot and try to review this book properly.

The story starts in the past, with China in turmoil as society shifts and old ways are discarded in favour of revolution. Ye Wenjie has lost so much: her family, her home, and eventually, her freedom. But the circumstances that follow these losses, combined with her intelligence and education, place her in a prime position to influence the future of humanity, as well as become privy to secrets from far beyond the reaches of our world. Decades later, Wang Miao stumbles across bits and pieces of a scientific conspiracy that leads him slowly down the same road, and to a video game known as Three-Body, ostensibly set in a fantasy world with real-world historical elements thrown in for flavour, in which time runs in unpredictable Chaotic Periods and Stable Periods and discovering the secret behind them is the key to the survival of an entire civilization.

The setting and initial time period, more than anything else, made me very much aware that there is so much that I don’t understand about the world and the people who live in it. What do I know about the past half century in China? Next to nothing, as The Three-Body Problem showed me time and time again as  read. And since part of the point of the novel involved understanding the plight of others whose situation is unfamiliar to you, even utterly beyond your personal comprehension, the first few chapters really set that tone. Liu uses cultural difference and transformation to tremendous effect here, and presents science as an ultimate truth yet something that still isn’t free from political influence. You can’t have advancement without politics being involved, and you can’t influence politics without advancement to back you up. Everything — culture, politics, and hard science — are tangled together inextricably, whether we want them to be or not.

There’s so much to this novel that you very quickly realise that it’s not just going to be a quick read. It deserves taking time on, and it brings up plenty of thought-provoking concepts in science and philosophy that are explained in ways that don’t require years of field training to understand. Liu understands that not every reader will be familiar with every concept and so makes sure that characters appropriately explain their contributions and ideas. Ken Liu’s translation notes help with this, too, allowing the reader greater cultural and linguistic context that can’t really be addressed in the main text. The result is very impressive, more so for the fact that it’s a translated work, which I find often lose a little something in the translation.

To say that Liu’s style of writing is first-rate almost does it a disservice. It’s damn near poetic, insightful and reflective, and the commentary on science and politics is enough to ignite the spark of discovery and learning in even the most jaded of readers. The way he writes, and the beautiful translation by yet another Liu, makes you feel that answers and understanding are within reach, even to questions that haven’t been asked yet. He approaches things as though the reader may be ignorant but not incapable of learning, presents a mystery with enough twists and turns to keep you entertained as well as making you work for the answers you get, and does wonders with grey morality. The Three-Body Problem isn’t a book to be read, but a book to be experienced.

This is a book that can appeal not only to fans of hard sci-fi but also to those who prefer more social sci-fi, such as myself. It walks the fine line between the two, pulling bits from either side and combining them into a brilliant story that gives your mind a workout without leaving you feeling like half of the story just went over your head. After reading The Three-Body Problem, it’s no surprise to hear that the book has won multiple awards and that the author is a well-known sci-fi author in China, and indeed should be better-known here too! It’s one that sci-fi fans can’t afford to miss!

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Bruisy brain update

I mentioned a couple of weeks back that I took a tumble and gave myself a wonderful concussion. I’ve been off work since then, and will remain so until at least October 31, though I have an appointment again with my doctor on October 30 to see if I’m actually read to go back to work.

Progress has been… weird.

I’ve worked my way up to using my computer for about 30 minutes 3 times a day without adverse effects, or a little over an hour straight, which sounds great until you consider that my job involves sitting under fluorescent lights and using a computer for around 8 hours a day with 3 short breaks between. So even though I’ve made improvement in that regard, I’m not sure I’m back to “back to work” standards, so we’ll see where that goes.

But at least I can use it, so even if reviews take me a few sittings to write, I can at least still write them. And having to do so is giving me good incentive to retrain my brain and get it used to computers again.

Watching TV makes me dizzy. It’s a weird feeling. Like being motion sick. Too many moving images on the screen and I think my brain has trouble figuring out which ones to pay attention to. So TV hasn’t been a big factor in my life lately.

Video games? HAHAHAHAHAHA no.

Reading has been pretty good, though. No idea why, but so long as I’m reading a hardcopy of a book or on a non-backlit e-reader, I don’t have as many problems. I don’t know if it’s the lack of shininess or light or how the eyes and mind process the two media differently, but at least I haven’t been deprived of books, and when I can’t do much else during the day, they’re good company.

I can still embroider and sew so long as I’m not working from some complicated pattern that requires me to check pages every few stitches or something. Haven’t been doing much, though, because just as I like to keep my hands busy while I watch TV, I like to keep my eyes busy while I sew, and I can’t stay focused on sewing for too long without that in the background.

So progress is indeed being made. And my workplace is being utterly amazing about it all, too, telling me not to rush things, that they’ve dealt with employees who’ve had concussions before, to take my time and make sure I’m ready to come back because coming back too soon will just set me back even further than if I’d just waited a little longer. So while finances are a little tight, I’m not in danger of losing my job or anything, and that’s a huge load off my mind while my mind tries to get back into a non-bruised shape.

Concussions are weird. I mean, one of the things that isn’t uncommon is insomnia, so I spent the first week being exhausted during the day but sleeping fitfully at night. And the first night, I had a messed-up dream about Adam Lambert being an anthropomorphic mongoose, singing For Your Entertainment while a flock of mint-green-and-white seagulls the size of my largest cat provide an aerial show. I’m somewhat known among my friends for having trippy dreams, but that one’s special even for me!

Yeah. Anyway, here’s hoping my bruisy brain gets better soon so that I can return to work, but in the meantime, I’ll at least be able to make some better headway on my To Read pile.

 

Blindsight, by Peter Watts

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – October 3, 2006

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) It’s been two months since a myriad of alien objects clenched about the Earth, screaming as they burned. The heavens have been silent since – until a derelict space probe hears whispers from a distant comet. Something talks out there: but not to us. Who to send to meet the alien, when the alien doesn’t want to meet? Send a linguist with multiple-personality disorder, and a biologist so spliced to machinery he can’t feel his own flesh. Send a pacifist warrior, and a vampire recalled from the grave by the voodoo of paleogenetics. Send a man with half his mind gone since childhood. Send them to the edge of the solar system, praying you can trust such freaks and monsters with the fate of a world. You fear they may be more alien than the thing they’ve been sent to find – but you’d give anything for that to be true, if you knew what was waiting for them.

Thoughts: Normally when books are difficult for me to review, it’s because they’re so amazingly good that it’s hard for me to pin down what I want to say without devolving into raving fangasms. And that isn’t to say that Blindsight isn’t a good novel. It is. It’s very good! But it’s difficult for me to review for a reason that’s entirely new for me here.

It was too smart for me.

That isn’t the full story, of course, but it does describe the feeling that followed me throughout most of the reading, and is why I have, in the past, largely tended to avoid hard sci-fi. I like to think that I’m not a stupid person, but diving deep into the science of space travel and engineering and whatnot is something that I’ve never been interested in nor really been able to understand that well. And since a good deal of Blindsight involves characters talking about their various fields of expertise, commenting on various ship’s functions and locations, and I’m left with this feeling of disconnect and eventually resorted to sort of letting my eyes skim over those little bits since it frustrated me to not understand them more fully, and it was spoiling my enjoyment of the rest of the book.

Which is amazing, and very complex and worth paying attention to! Though the description of half of the characters in the synopsis makes this book sound like it’s going to be a dark comedy, it’s actually quite a serious novel, and one that I really enjoyed because it played with ideas that have been on my mind for years. What if, in our attempts to communicate with extra-terrestrial life, we come across something that is so unlike us and anything we understand that the very act of us trying to communicate is interpreted as an attack because these aliens don’t have communication as we know it? What if our assumptions about extra-terrestrial life and its evolutionary path is utterly wrong? It’s a testament to human egocentricity, and it makes for an excellent base for a sci-fi novel.

The characters, though, are what make it all worthwhile.  The linguist with multiple personalities (not a disorder, since aside from the fact that it’s not disorderly and they all get along just fine, there’s a scene that deals with the stigma of the old diagnosis and treatment and how the idea was elimination of all but the ‘primary’ personality, essentially killing off people to make a body more socially acceptable and how, in this futuristic setting, this is no longer the case), and the vampire (who is explained with some interesting science and behaves very much like the predator he really is) are my favourites of the two, since I’ve long had an interest in vampires and multiple personalities, so it felts, in some ways, like these two may well have been custom written to hold my interest even when other, more technical aspects of the novel, were frustrating me.

First encounter stories are usually pretty interesting, serving not just as a way of demonstrating how different something is from us, but flipping it around to show how different we are from them. It may sound like a meaningless distinction, but there are times when it’s easier to understand ourselves when we’re confronted by what we’re not, allowing us a chance to show what we are. There was plenty of conflict in Blindsight to allow for this, not just with the issue of the aliens but also between the characters themselves, making the entire novel have a very tense feel even when little was occurring but expository dialogue.

The more I try to write a decent review of Blindsight, the more it seems to fall apart. I can touch on areas that were great, that weren’t so great, but short of writing about another 5000 words or so, no review is really going to be able to do this book justice. It’s highly intelligent and has so much background setup that Watts ends up adding appendices at the end to go into more detail that he couldn’t fit into the story itself. Even the fictional part of the science fiction is presented as so wonderfully flawless and real that you come away wondering about all the things you don’t know about the world, how much is happening around you that you don’t notice simply because your eyes haven’t been opened to the ideas. The narration may feel a bit distanced at times but that doesn’t mean Watts has a problem with conveying good characters nor the struggles they experience, both physical and emotional. Blindsight is complex enough to transcend reviews, or at least my ability to give them.

But one thing’s certain. Despite my annoyance at not being intelligent enough to understand more of the science behind the novel, I will be reading the sequel, Echopraxia, and I anticipate enjoying it just as much as I did Blindsight. Watts knows how to write an incredible and nuanced story, and I want to see more of what he can do with the foundation he built here. I won’t say that this book made me a convert to harder sci-fi, but it certainly has made me more curious about what I’ve been missing in the genre, and if this is representative of what’s out there, then I’ve done so many books a disservice. Allow me to start fixing that with Echopraxia.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

The Red Magician, by Lisa Goldstein

Buy from Amazon.com, B&N, or IndieBound

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – October 21, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) The Red Magician is the tale of Kicsi, a young girl in a backwoods Eastern European village in the early 1940’s, a hamlet so isolated that the villagers know nothing of the brewing war – have no hint of the future save for ominous dreams. Into this village comes Voros, a redheaded wanderer, a juggler and magician, to disrupt their lives and antagonize the local rabbi…with whom he must fight a cabbalistic duel to which Kicsi is a secret witness. Then the Nazis arrive, and the world changes. Kicsi is first imprisoned, then must journey with Voros back to what remains of her village, for a climactic battle between the old world and the new. The Red Magician is a notable work of Holocaust literature, a distinguished work of fiction, and a marvelously entertaining fantasy – as Philip K. Dick remarked upon its first publication, “nourishment for the mind and the soul.”

Thoughts: I’ve been taking greater note of Open Road Media these days, since their reputation for rereleasing older books as ebooks is worth paying attention to on that merit alone. But thanks to the rerelease business model, they get to pick through books that have stood the test of time and have proven themselves just as good and relevent now as when they were first published, and so that means they’re a company that will hard far more hits than misses.

Lisa Goldstein’s The Red Magician is representative of the quality I’ve come to expect in their books as I read more of them. While more a novella than a novel (it’s around 140 pages), The Red Magician is an excellent read and doesn’t suffer from being so short the way some novellas do. I finished this book not wishing it could have been expanded into something longer and more detailed, but instead appreciating just how much could be crammed into so short a space without losing anything in the process.

The story focuses on Kicsi (and yes, there is a pronunciation guide before the story starts, so you’re not mentally mispronouncing names like Voros, Kicsi, and Aladar through the whole thing), a young girl in an eastern European village who encounters Voros, a red-haired magician who intrigues her more than others think is healthy. Especially the rabbi who tends to the spiritual needs of the village. They try to discourage Kicsi from being around Voros, but events conspire to keep bringing them back into contact, and secrets of Voros’s magic are revealed. But the realities of the war and Nazis take hold and the world horrifically expands beyond Kicsi’s small village, and what follows is terrifying and touching all at once.

Early on, I expected that the rivalry between Voros and the rabbi was going to devolve into a metaphor for God and Satan fighting, and you know, I would have been okay with that, especially since it seemed like it was shaping up to be the religious leader who was portrayed as the selfish manipulator and the unappreciated travelling stranger who was, oh, say, creating a creature from clay and naming it Adom. I have a special love for stories involving religion where the primary deity incarnates and people actively oppose them because they’re not following tradition. It’s a persona taste, admittedly, but I love to read those stories. But that isn’t what happened here. Both Voros and the rabbi were stunningly human, neither one the embodiment of the divine or the diabolical. Just people. And it brought the story closer to home, making magic something that people could do instead of limiting it to the supernatural or the religious. It was confined, and yet was so earthly as to be almost mundane.

As mundane as the ability to create detailed illusions and animate clay can ever be, anyway.

The section of the book that has Kicsi in a concentration camp is chilling, and is a reminder of the horrors experienced by people there. For just about every single one of us, such things are the realm of stories and textbooks, and those are the only way we have to connect to that part of the past. It’s easy sometimes to think that it’s something that only ever existed within books. As such, I’m grateful to find books that treat the issue with respect, not just removed talking about politics and human experimentation but the day-to-day lives of those who lived through the terror. It’s hard to not feel for Kicsi here, and it’s extremely difficult not to feel your own heart sink at her subsequent depression and survivor’s guilt.

Goldstein takes the wide-reaching and the large-scale and brings them down to wonderfully human levels. Despite being a story about magic during World War 2, this isn’t a wish-fulfillment story about spells stopping Hitler, or good triumphing simply because good should triumph. It’s a story about life, the good and the bad. It’s a story about discovery and survival and recovery. Originally published in 1982, 2 years before I was even born, time has not spoiled this story, and it’s just as good to read now as it was then. Do yourself a favour and spend an afternoon delving into The Red Magician. It’s an excellent story, with fantastic commentary on humanity and religion, and one that I know with certainty that I’m going to read at least once more.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

The Anonymous Game; or When People Need Help

If you’ve been floating around in Twitter for the past few days and happen to follow as many authors and book bloggers as I do, you probably caught at least some part of the unfolding drama about author Kathleen Hale and her article in which she admits to outright stalking a reviewer who didn’t like her book. Dear Author has a wonderful summary of the article and events here, if you don’t want to give hits to the original article.

But there are some points I want to add to the discussion, from a personal standpoint.

The first is on the idea of using a pseudonym. This is something I used to do a lot, in regard to, oh, just about every action I ever made online. I’d have stuff connected to my personal real-world identity, but a lot of things I would only talk about if my real name wasn’t involved. I would make journals and blogs under fake names, talk about the hard stuff there, keep so many aspects of my life disconnected from each other because I had this fear of people connecting all the dots and getting a real picture of who I was.

This got complicated. Stuff leaked through. Always. Maybe other people wouldn’t have put 2 and 2 together, but as soon as I made the mistake of mentioned on my craft blog that I watch a certain TV show, and crap, I mentioned the same show the other day on my personal blog, SOMEONE’S GOING TO KNOW! Never mind that this is the Internet and nobody, without good cause, is going to see 2 blogs mentioning the same TV show and assume they’re written by the same person. But I had this paranoid idea that somebody would.

I knew this was unhealthy. And I know that compartmentalizing had to stop. So I worked hard to make it stop.

And yet it was still so weird to see people call me by my real name online, after I started bookblogging. I’d see random people refer to me as Ria, and I’d have a moment of panic. How did you find out that was my name? I comment on blog posts as Bibliotropic. My Twitter handle doesn’t include my real name. How do you know?! Oh, right, my blog’s registered under that name and I freaking mention it on here. Right. That’s how. But I still had that panic because I was afraid of people discovering anything real about me. It made me solid, made me real, made me unable to escape without notice if something in my life messed up and I had to disassociate and start all over again.

(Hey, I never claimed to not have emotional issues. I’ve learned how to deal with many of them. My intent was not to make me seem reasonable here…)

I’ve gotten used to people knowing me over time. I feel like I’ve made some real progress in learning to accept myself and not hide and to not compartmentalize aspects of my personality quite so much. So when articles like this come around, they scare me. I wonder, reflexively, if I might not actually be safer to have hidden myself all along, to use a pseudonym so that if somebody tries to stalk me, they’ll at least have a slightly harder time doing so.

The author in question went to some pretty absurd and scary lengths to uncover the real name and location of somebody who wrote a negative review of her book. She paid for a background checked to be done. She went to their house. In that, I might be safe; I have a hard time getting pizza delivery people to knock on the right door of this apartment building even when I give them specific instructions. She obtained info under false pretenses. And through the original article, there’s this air of, “I was right to do this because I found evidence that the reviewer was using a pseudonym.”

This is one of the many reasons people invent personas for their online selves. Give yourself a new name, tell the world you who a job you’ve always wanted, and for the brief time you’re writing as that persona, you are them. It’s a little bit of escapism. It’s generally harmless so long as you don’t take it too far. And, as we’ve earned in the case of Kathleen Hale, it might slow down people who are trying to stalk you for no reason other than that you said something they don’t like.

Seriously, that author’s actions were creepy. And I get the feeling that she thinks herself justified, because she uncovered evidence that the reviewer in question was an assumed name and persona created by someone else. But that doesn’t mean her review is less genuine, her opinions less valid, and that doesn’t make the reviewer the creepy one for valuing the disconnect between the real world and the online world.

~*~

Second, I want to address the issue of bullying, which is a word that’s getting tossed around a lot here when I think that some people don’t really know what it means. In the case of “Stop the GoodReads Bullies,” it’s taken to mean that a bully is somebody who says a negative thing that someone doesn’t like. In, oh, the English language, it means to habitually be obnoxious and intimidating to those you perceive as weaker than you, to be arrogant and overbearing. Thus a negative review does not a bully make. Even if 50 people write negative reviews of the same book, that doesn’t make those reviews bullying. It makes them a lousy piece of luck, sure, but it’s not bullying.

Now, if those same 50 reviews were all written by the same person using sockpuppet accounts, then yes, that is bullying. And if the 50 people who wrote those reviews continually seek the author out and make disparaging comments about them or their books without provocation, then yes, that is also bullying.

I’ve written negative reviews. I’ve written them in a snarky tone sometimes. I’ve cross-posted them to various review sites. That doesn’t make me a bully. It sucks for the author who wrote a book I felt had a lot of problems, but it doesn’t make me a bully.

But by the definition of some, the very fact that I said something negative, something that might have upset someone else, makes me a bully. Which is the thought process behind, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Which is a wonderfully guilt-trippy way to tell someone to shut up and that you don’t think they have anything or worth to say. You, reviewer, are not stroking someone’s ego, so you should shut your mouth.

Which brings me to another point, brought up by some, mentioned in multiple articles about the issue, and an area where my opinion diverges from the popular one. I don’t believe that reviews are for readers only and not for authors, and I don’t believe that any author-reader interaction is unwelcome and harassment.

I’ll address each point separately. First off, the idea that reviews are for readers and not authors. Why do I disagree with this? For one thing, because there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary. For another, because the relationship is something symbiotic anyway. What a reader does affects the author. If a review is only for readers to determine whether they should or should not read a book, then that affects the author’s sales and stats. So right there there’s a connection. If reviews were only for readers, then authors and publisher wouldn’t send some reviewers free books and pay for shipping so that the reviewer could read something in advance, or just read without having to buy the book at all. They’d wait until the book was bought. Their hope is that early reviews will drum up increased sales by building hype. Which affects the author and the publisher.

If you run a blog and don’t accept any review copies, then I think you’ve got a free pass to say that your reviews are for readers only. But I find it rather hypocritical for someone to say that while accepting free stuff from the very people they claim have nothing to do with the reviews.

But the main reason I consider it to be false is because it’s not like authors get nothing but money from what our reviews say. Maybe I’m thinking too much of myself when I think this, but I’m certainly not thinking too much of others and their influence. What reviewers say is likely to be indicative of what readers think, and that can help an author post problems with their novel that weren’t seen before, through all the stages of editing. When you write and edit something, you get close to it. Phrases that may make sense to you may come across as very clunky to others. A scene may make perfect sense to you because you know what’s going on, but it might come right out of left-field for a reader because things weren’t set-up well. Stuff you thought was awesome might actually come across as really sexist to a large percentage of readers. This is stuff that’s important to authors. Very important. Stuff that could and often does influence how their next novel is written. Believe me, authors do read reviews. Even mine. I know because some have thanked me and made reference to stuff that I’ve said, or we’ve had discussions about the finer points of a scene or a what-if scenario.

I’d also like to point out that authors are readers too, so by default, “reviews are for readers” applies to them anyway.

Secondly, not all author-reader interaction is unwelcome. It is if readers don’t want that. But if they’re fine with it, how is imposing someone else’s preference going to do anyone any good? Yes, it’s a good rule of thumb for authors to not engage and defend when it comes to negative reviews, because things rarely end well, but that doesn’t mean that there should be no interaction at all.

If a reviewer wants it, then fine. Go nuts. If a reviewer says that they welcome all author comments, both positive and negative, then let the interaction commence. (Bearing in mind, of course, the actual definition of bullying.) If someone says they want no author interaction, then also fine. That’s their choice, and it ought to be respected.

But I’m not someone who clings to the idea that it’s a hard and fast rule that should be followed despite what both parties may want.

This is the only way I feel any sympathy for what Hale experienced. She was told that she was wrong in one area for reasons that are entirely subjective and based on personal choice.

She was wrong in so many other ways, though, and I can’t deny that. And that doesn’t change my overall opinion that she behaved f*cking badly and that her actions are dangerously scary. If I may exaggerate to prove a point, it’s like hearing that a serial killer got locked in the basement as punishment for childhood misbehaviour. I feel bad that they experienced that, and they shouldn’t have gone through it, but that doesn’t change the fact that they killed a bunch of people and it doesn’t exonerate them.
So now I’ve said my piece. Most of you know my real name. Most of you know roughly where I live. Some of you know specifically where I live! I trust none of you will make stalkery use of this info no matter how much you may disagree with what I write sometimes. As I joked on Twitter:
twitter

(Ignore the Halloween name. I don’t usually reference myself by bad bowel movements. Usually…)

The Younger Gods giveaway winners

And the winners of the e-copies of Michael R Underwood’s The Younger Gods are…
theyoungergods

Paul Weimer and romeorites!

I’ve sen your respective emails to the publisher and they should send you the promo codes to download your copies from there. Hope you both enjoy reading it!

(I’d say thanks to everyone else who entered, but, erm, you were the only two… :p So thanks to the both of you!)

The Younger Gods, by Michael R Underwood

Buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – October 13, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Jacob Greene was a sweet boy raised by a loving, tight-knit family…of cultists. He always obeyed, and was so trusted by them that he was the one they sent out on their monthly supply run (food, medicine, pig fetuses, etc.).

Finding himself betrayed by them, he flees the family’s sequestered compound and enters the true unknown: college in New York City. It’s a very foreign place, the normal world and St. Mark’s University. But Jacob’s looking for a purpose in life, a way to understand people, and a future that breaks from his less-than-perfect past. However, when his estranged sister arrives in town to kick off the apocalypse, Jacob realizes that if he doesn’t gather allies and stop the family’s prophecy of destruction from coming true, nobody else will…

Thoughts: I must say, this is an excellent introduction to Underwood’s writing. The Younger Gods sounds simple enough in premise (guy tries to leave his cultist family to live a normal life but ends up getting drawn right back into their schemes) but a combination of the diverse cast and Jacob’s charmingly old-fashioned speech patterns create something unique, something that stands out from other similar-on-the-surface offerings. Jacob’s observations and his background alone could have made this novel great, honestly, and I’m impressed that Underwood managed to pull off such a creative blend of elements like this.

Like many presentations of fictional cults that actually involve some legitimate connection to the supernatural, Jacob’s family is part of a cult that draws a great deal of its mythology from the Cthulhu mythos. Which is a mixed bag; on one hand, there’s plenty there to work with, but on the other hand, it’s the go-to source for such things, which means it’s been done by so many people already. There’s always such a cult around. Rarely does anyone present a supernatural cult that doesn’t involve such things, and there are always horrible sleeping gods about to waken. Not that there’s anything wrong with the idea, but at this point in the game it’s hardly original, and so it does lose something.

In fairness, though, Underwood does throw in a lot more mythology than your run-of-the-mill Lovecraftian horror, and you see elements from various world faiths and legends. From omnipresent werewolves to less common things like rakshasas, to incorporating elements from Judeo-Christo-Islamic creation myths, you’re left with a mishmash of mythology that blends together surprisingly well, and gives the impression of a complex world filled with ideas that transcend the region of their creation. I loved this aspect of the book, since so often I see stories of the supernatural that take only one small part of the current myths floating about in the modern world and assume them to be entirely true and the rest entirely false, or else set the whole book in the area that gave rise to those myths in the first place and ignore the rest of the world.

If you love your novels action-packed, then The Younger Gods is a safe bet, since while the book may start off a little slowly, once it gets going it doesn’t let up its hectic pace for even a moment. Which does prove to be a bit of a detriment; after a while you find yourself relating very well to Jacob’s complaints about how he’s literally been running all over New York for a day or more without rest, and the book feels much the same way. There’s only so much action that a person can take before the frantic pacing should let up for a little while to give the reader a rest, otherwise it gets overwhelming and, unfortunately, a bit dull even when spells and flying and swords are being slung. This was the book’s biggest drawback, I found. Too much action, not enough chance to actually process what just happened before another crisis starts.

I was, however, impressed with the reactions characters had to Jacob’s heritage, and with Jacob’s characterization in general. Rather than managing to escape his family, Jacob still finds himself in the thick of things, even unwittingly playing his part in the prophecy his family worked for generations to complete. Though he tried to hide who he was, his reputation preceded him, and he faced understandable prejudice from those around him, even those he tried to help, since they’d heard tales of his families actions and goals and viewed Jacob with a jaundiced eye. And Jacob is very much how you would expect from someone who grew up fairly isolated in an apocalyptic cult; odd speech patterns, unfamiliar with the pop culture that permeates social interactions, hating what he was raised on but often falling back on old thought patterns. He’s an interesting character, one with plenty of redemptive potential, and I’d love to read more about him and to follow along as he tries to right wrongs and undo the damage he and his family caused over time.

Ultimately, The Younger Gods is a solid urban fantasy with an interesting premise and characters you can’t help but get invested in. It’s a smart ride with plenty of diversity, commentary on how equally odd myths and modernity are, and I have to give Underwood praise in setting the whole thing up, because it’s clear that an impressive amount of research went into the small details that make the whole thing so rich and realistic. It’s soaked in the supernatural, marinated in mythology, and is one of those books that will hold up well to a reread when the sequel rolls around.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)