Monday, November 15, 2010

Sourcery finished; The Left Hand of Darkness started

The Left Hand of Darkness
Wow, that was just a week. I think that's record timing for me.

Sourcery was everything I expected - funny, enjoyable, well written. If you've never read anything by Terry Pratchett, you really should. The Discworld series (which Sourcery is from) is a fantasy series that spoofs fantasy novels. If you don't feel like committing to a series, no problem - you can really start with any book in the series. Some of the characters are recurring, but the books don't need to be read in any particular order.

Even though I've really loved this series so far, I find it really hard to review comedy. So I decided that a section of the novel would represent the story the best:

"What on earth are you doing?" said Conina, not taking her eyes off the ghastly figure.
"I'm looking up the Index of Wandering Monsters," said Nigel. "Do you think it's an Undead? They're awfully difficult to kill, you need garlic and-"...
(a short while later)
"Of course, it could be a Zombie," said Nijel, running his finger down a page. "It says here you need black pepper and salt, but-"
"You're supposed to fight the bloody things, not eat them," said Conina.
The Discworld series seems to be getting better as it goes along. Sourcery had me laughing more than any of the others so far, but so did Mort (the last one I read), but so did Equal Rites (the one before that). Good books, highly recommended.

Next up is The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin. I haven't read any of her novels before, although I feel like I've always been aware of her as an author. I'm afraid to give an opinion of her in advance or even to feel excited about this, because every time I do that with a writer that's new to me, I end up hating the book.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Lost Souls finished; Sourcery started

I've finished Lost Souls, this year's Halloween vampire selection.

I did not like this book.

As always with books that I dislike, the main thing that nags at me is the writing. All along I've been thinking of situations in the story that were offensive to me (more on that later) but in the end, the very thing that made them offensive is not that they are in the story, but how they are used in the story. It's all in the style, not in the subject.

My main critique is that this feels like a teen novel. To clarify what I mean, there are very good quality novels that are about issues that concern teenagers primarily, but that can be enjoyed by adults as well because of the quality of the writing. Then there are teen novels, which are dummied-down to a low reading level and deal with subjects within a very narrow world view. In other words, they are novels that insult the reader's intelligence and don't ask the reader to think very much. Lost Souls falls more into the latter category.

Lost Souls also leans very heavily on shock value. Adults having sex with teenagers is a common scenario, but not a theme - the situations are merely lewd and gratuitous. There are also two incestuous relationships in the novel. One involves the non-vampires, a man and his teenage daughter. The scene is detailed graphically, which is absolutely cringe-inducing to read. Nothing screams exploitation like an incest scene written as if it's supposed to be hot. There's no real purpose behind it, other than his daughter has boobies now, and has messed up values because she takes Dracula a bit too seriously.

And yes, really, there's a girl in the book who has messed up values because she reads. There are numerous references to Dracula in this book, and plenty of gothic kids who want to be vampires. Apparently they want it so much, they are willing to prove themselves through acts of depravity. It reads like a true crime novel from the Satan-scare 80s, that strives to convince you that all goths are so obsessed with vampires that they set bizarre and depraved goals of initiation upon themselves. I heard that they have to break every one of the 10 commandments! I heard that they have to commit each of the seven deadly sins! I heard that if you see someone driving at night with their lights off, you shouldn't flash your lights to warn them, because it's really a car full of goths who are going to follow you and kill you and drink your blood!

Alas, these gothic kids cannot become vampires, because in this book vampires are born, not made. You know how with every vampire novel, the author feels the need to rewrite the vampire myth? This one is no different: a vampire is created when a vampire has sex and becomes pregnant or impregnates someone. This can include procreation with a human - humans can impregnate a female vampire, or carry a vampire child. The child kills the human at birth - so female vampires make a great effort to not get pregnant. As a safety against abortion, vampire spawn effect the mother's brain so that she puts the survival of the child first. These children - even though they are part human - are not dhampirs, but vampires. Older vampires have fangs, can walk in the sun but are less tolerant of it, and are unable to consume anything but blood. Meanwhile younger vampires can frolic in the sun all day and eat whatever they like, although blood is what truly nourishes them. But they don't have fangs so they have to file their teeth. This is not, again, because they are all half-human, but because of evolution. Vampire evolution. Fairly rapid evolution, thank you very much Mr. Darwin.

I can see where writers find it interesting to make their vampires their own, but the changes in this novel come rather close to the baseball playing, sparkly in the sunlight variety. Furthermore, the vampire's chief role is to symbolize taboo subjects that humans have trouble facing. It seems like a waste of time to put all this effort into defining what a vampire is if there is a story to tell - we know what vampires are, ya'll. They drink blood, they like the night, they have sex with absolutely everybody. Yes, get on with it - what's this story about?

And what this story is really about is how we are just as bad as the vampires. Every disgusting thing a vampire does is mirrored in a human's actions. The writing goes to great lengths to show that just living is a disgusting act. Even moments that seem meant to show some kind of tenderness between characters attempting to make a connection with one another are spoiled by the incessant use of the word "spit" every time two people kiss. Bodily fluids abound. Gluttonous young vampires eat junk food non-stop, spewing cake when they talk and smiling through chocolate-smeered teeth. For what reason?

Because we are all disgusting. We are all bags of spit and snot and blood, doing gross things like kissing and eating, like, all the time. The monsters and us, we are exactly alike.

I can just hear some ridiculous nihilistic teenager saying "whoa. We are all monsters." Maybe that teenager was me, once. I want to go back in time and smack her upside the head. Snap out of it, kid! Life ain't so awful!


SourceryNow that that's over with, I've decided to start a new trend. Every time I read a novel that I dislike, that offends the intellect and the senses, that makes me feel like my brain needs to be cleansed, I'm going to follow it with a book from the Discworld series. There are quite a lot of them, and they are witty and charming, so it's the perfect change of pace. So now I've started reading Sourcery by Terry Pratchett. So far it's funny and doesn't make me feel like I can't read it while eating. I feel quite confident that it will remain that way throughout.