Review: The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1)The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Resonant. Powerful. Distinct. The Fifth Season is all these. A dystopia with the depth of a fantasy epic, this book is potently unlike most anything I’ve read.
I mean that mostly in a good way. The story is unexpected, spooling out in three strands to unwind the central problems. My issue: I liked two of the three story lines, which left the one I liked less because it switched to second-person and felt gritty and weird in the flow. But that was probably intentional.
The story is about a place that is dramatically geologically unstable. It also has people with the power to stop—or cause—these tremors and volcanos. The world is harsh, and so the people are harsh, especially toward these oregenes. They are afraid and so they act out, and the oregenes suffer. Author N.K. Jemison is creative in her torments: another reason I both liked the book and can’t give it my full “I loved it” endorsement. This book will make you uncomfortable even while it wraps you in beautiful prose. I highly recommend it—to most, but not all, audiences.

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Facebook Be Gone

I very quietly went on strike from Facebook recently. The news reported—for what feels like the 400th time but may officially only be the third major incident—that Facebook “accidentally” gave away private information. Not that the platform was hacked; that they “oops” let companies have access to photos, posts, and even direct messages that people had posted. Vast, unknowable amounts of information, and I’m supposed to believe that no one at Facebook realized it might be a bad thing to let companies have anything but a free-for-all. The company chafes at allowing users to actually control their privacy, then when we do, it “oops” gives it away. For millions of users.

So I just quietly stopped checking it. I didn’t say anything, just moved the app to a hard-to-reach folder on my phone to break myself of the habit, and stopped going (I’ve already stopped using the desktop site as the phone merges with my hand or at least my pocket, and I had never glommed on to the Messenger app).

I am an administrator on two groups, so I am unable to delete or otherwise hamper my personal account—Facebook doesn’t allow that, must keep your personal one going if you want any other kind of account at all. So I’m just going dark.

I figure I can’t stem the tide of the information that they already have on me, but at least I can stop feeding the habit.

(Sidenote: I have a friend who never got on Facebook, who is now gloating that she was right all along. But Facebook probably has a “shadow profile” for her anyway, as her friends have talked about her and posted pictures of her. She hasn’t stopped them from knowing about her or leaking her information, as she thinks…but at least she has helped stem the tide.)

But while I think this is the right decision, I’m frustrated, too. I joined Facebook when it was college-student-exclusive and called “TheFacebook.” It was a touchstoen and a great way to meet people. It was a way to keep in touch. Facebook is very good at two things that seem to be otherwise lacking in our increasingly digital-exclusive world: maintaining distant or passive social connections and organizing groups. Both things are proving hard even with Facebook’s influence, and may be treacherously hard without it.

For example, my cousins have never been very well-connected with me, but through Facebook I could see when they went on trips, or had new achievements in their lives. I could cheer them on from a distance, send a reassuring “like” or wish them happy birthday. Now, I’ll have to rely on that old-school technique: waiting for my mom to tell me a half-remembered snippet months later. It’s not a great swap.

I miss the old internet. Back before we all realized how cruel people could be, before countries had really gotten the hang of spreading lies and misinformation to harm other countries, before shitposting and cruel groups proliferated, it feels like there was this golden era of interest groups. I made genuine friends over some forums; sometimes we crossed over and sent real gifts. I even went to London and stayed for a week with a friend I otherwise knew exclusively through an internet forum (he is a dear man, and I am forever grateful he let me disrupt his life for a week!).

It doesn’t feel as likely for that to happen now. Several of those types of forums have closed forever, and the replacements—Facebook/Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Reddit—all seem far more surface-dwelling. The user bases are wide and so not very deep.

And here I am pulling away from those replacements, too. Will I be the only one still in the non-digital space, trying to meet people, connect, arrange groups? Sometimes it feels that way. But I don’t want to be complicit in the wholesale theft of the information that is integral to who I am. So I have no choice but to leave the door open only the slightest of cracks, and do my best to muddle through.

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Extra Extra

Artsy and creative people are often told to get out there, march to their own drum, be an original and true to themselves, no matter what. To be artistic is, in some ways, to be “extra.”

But if you are in marching band and just break out your own snare and march around to your own drumbeat, what will happen? You’ll run over the clarinets, get crushed by the sousaphones, and kicked out of marching band.

Sure, wearing a cape to school might be the right flair in a teen rom-com, but in real life you’re going to be sitting by yourself at the nerd table.

Being extra is only a good thing in narrowly defined channels, and people who are different are way more likely to be mocked for it than praised. It’s not something to aspire to.

So it creates a paradox. Creatives are told that this outward show of creativity is a requirement for being who they are, but anyone with any awareness will also learn that standing out from the crowd in this way will just make you a target.

At least, that’s how I reacted. I kept to my richer inner creativity but worked hard to blend in. And I think I’m worse for it now; I’m too offbeat to be totally straight laced and too normal to be part of the weirdos. No mans land of not fitting in.

There are some people I’ve met in creative circles who lean in to the kookiness, some in ways that make me wonder if they aren’t also faking–that they think “creative” doesn’t exist unless it is outwardly odd. That also doesn’t make sense to me.

How much weird is part of the creative package? Is it just a matter of finding the crowd in which your drumbeat matches?

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Review: The Wise Man’s Fear

The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #2)The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Wise Man’s Fear is a colossal read. Rothfuss retains his breathless storytelling style, rich with detail that folds you immediately into this believably fairytale world. But it’s also constrained by the choice to tell the full story over three “days” (books), so this middle book is bloated and really should have been split into two but wasn’t. This may have been the first book I’ve read in awhile where I forgot parts of what happened while I was still reading it.

That shouldn’t be a discouragement, though. Rothfuss is a spellbinding author. The retrospective Kvothe is both believably a teenager, who makes dumb teenager mistakes, while also being greater than himself, a hero perhaps even he can’t understand. The “modern time” parts, with older Kvothe in the inn, are a refreshing breath of air hinting at much deeper mysteries (will we ever get those answers?). The split between what the characters know and the readers can guess is frustrating at times, because it’s impossible to reach into the books and shake the character into realizing, say, his family lineage, when it’s so blindingly obvious to the reader.

There’s only one part of the story itself that really bothered me, and that’s only because it was so jarring and out-of-left field, and felt mostly like a way for the author to develop Kvothe’s reputation for sexual prowess–his startling trip into the fae when he chases Felurian. Literally between one page and the next we are whisked out of the story and into another realm, an impulsive switch that seems out of character for careful Kvothe. But it has several narrative reasons for existing–outside of Kvothe suddenly emerging as a sexual master somehow *eyeroll*–so I understand and allow it. It is just the only part that felt ridiculous, which actually says a lot, when so much of the story involves magic and wonders.

Now I join the ranks of the (many) people eagerly awaiting the release of the final book. We’ll see it eventually, and hopefully get some answers.

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Hermit Writer

I’m chickening out, right this second. See, this weekend is the Roanoke Writers’ Conference, which is supposed to be great, and some people sorta a-little expected me to go. But the idea of going felt like carving my own guts out with an ice cream scoop, and when I finally decided not to go, I felt nothing but relief. (It’s not like I just laid on the couch today, though; instead, I worked all morning at a sweaty-hot garage sale. Not that it matters. The important part is I still didn’t go to the con.)

I didn’t want to go to that con because I recently tried—to prove to myself and to anyone who might ask if I’m really committed—to sell my books directly to customers at FenCon, a science-fiction convention. I figured, aliens and zombies, of course my people will be at a sci-fi convention! And making small talk isn’t my favorite thing, but I was a Girl Scout, I know how to sell things, plus I love my books and sincerely believed they would sell like hotcakes.

Well, you can see where this is going. I sold enough to break even, but it was a near thing, and a ton of work. A (more famous than me) author twice came to my table and glanced through Beamed Up: Decide Your Destiny and when I made small talk about my book, he sneered at me and made snide comments about how he was a real writer (you touched my book, dude, I’m just trying to make a sale!). It was emotionally exhausting to the point that the next day I crashed so hard I could barely spoke to anyone.

Basically I sat at a table, cheerful smile plastered to my face, for two days with very few breaks… and it just didn’t feel worth it.

I sincerely came back after that and declared that I should just be a hermit author, like Harper Lee or J.D. Salinger. They don’t seem to be in style much lately, but I just don’t know of I can muster the kind of energy it would take to be something else. See, the authors I met at FenCon overwhelmingly also have day jobs and yet spend nearly every weekend at some kind of writer event. That kind of schedule isn’t sustainable for me; I need to curl up and feed myself emotionally, sometimes. It makes me feel like I’m not “committed enough,” not “real” enough somehow, not “good enough” to be trying to write.

And maybe that’s true. But I just keep thinking there has to be some other, better way. I don’t write for the money, and maybe that’s my problem; I should care more about the money. But, to me, the money is just a way to keep getting to do the writing—but it’s currently a paradox, because to get the money for writing I have to spend time and energy not writing. I just don’t have enough fuel cells to burn for that. Props to those who can, I guess. I wish I could be in your club.

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Review: SLAM

SlamSlam by Nick Hornby
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nick Hornby has an incredible talent for writing realistic narrators, so believe me when I tell you this book is well-written even though it made my skin crawl with frustration. It’s charming even though the story caught me by surprise. Give it to your teenager.

That’s because SLAM covers a teen boy with his first real girlfriend and his completely realistic mistake to have sex “sort of” without a condom—and all the consequences that entails. We don’t see many books about the subject, so it is brave, but it made me feel a little squeamish, so maybe that’s why.

But the voice here is incredible. There are two twists that give the book something special: one, the narrator, Sam, has a penchant for talking to the poster of his idol, Tony Hawk. He helpfully supplies advice, in the form of quotes from an autobiography of Tony Hawk, in return. This makes for some rather hilarious and yet possibly deep conversations.

The other twist—possible time-travel. Sam blames this on TH, and maybe it’s all a dream, but Sam is given the opportunity to experience a day in the near-future, not that it is particularly helpful. In this way, Hornby muses on whether, even during particularly rough times, it would be any help at all to know what is going to happen a bit ahead, like that your mom won’t kill you when she finds out. But seeing the future and actually being in it turn out to be two different things. That’s a lesson for us all.

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Review: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is so astoundingly good that I’m mad i didn’t read it sooner. I read it as a library book and I’m already planning on buying it as well. If you at all enjoy fantasy books, stop what you are reading and pick this up!
The Name of The Wind is a deft tale—or rather, part one of three of a deft tale—about a precociously talented young wizard. Yes, there are some superficial similarities to Harry Potter, and if that entices you, bless you, pick it up. But if that makes you roll your eyes, to you I say, “stop, come back here, it’s better!” It’s a more nuanced and surprising story than HP ever was, harkening to some of the best parts of high fantasy while staying grounded.

The main character here, Kvothe, had a lovely family life as a traveling bard group, and it is remarkably pleasant to spend time with them through a child’s eyes. But this story also has crushing grief, the depths of poverty, and years of struggle. Kvothe is not perfect, but he’s extraordinary in ways that feel attainable and realistic. He seems like a kid you could know, if you lived in a well-thought-out world filled with past empires, real magic, and demons that seem all too real.

Don’t be put off by the massiveness of the tome; yes, it could probably stop a bullet and yes you could probably murder someone by dropping it on them. But I promise you will be so disappointed when you realize you’ve reached the end (and that the library won’t have book 2 available for two months because there’s a waitlist).

The anniversary edition, which I read, includes an author’s note, detailed information—including illustrations—of the many types of currency, and a pronunciation guide, and this you will read and reread just to extend the experience.

It’s a lovely book, and it will lull you into a comforting rapture so deep you will be shocked to find yourself at the end… at least, until you pick up the next one.

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