Wednesday, 27 May 2015

My pain is not your entertainment

This post contains spoilers for The Others series by Anne Bishop and references the computer game Guild Wars 2. It also contains descriptions of self-harm and self-harm ideation, and discussion of various mental health conditions. As such, clicking on the jump into the post signifies your consent to reading all of the above, that you will never talk about this or mention it to my mother, and also your understanding that these depictions might distress you. Links are included to various organisations dedicated to helping the survivors and sufferers of the issues discussed. I am turning off comments for this post.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

#CBR7 10: Paper Towns, John Green

I read this at the request of a friend, who had really enjoyed it and wanted me to read it as well. Thanks to Malin (thanks Malin!) I was able to get hold of a copy and read it in an evening. My cheesecake -loving friend really enjoyed it; my own feelings were slightly more mixed.

Paper Towns is a book in three parts, but defining them involves spoiling the story, so I'm going to stick to being vague. All three parts have a different feel to them, and they take roughly a third of the book each - it's well-balanced and the writing keeps moving you forward. The journeys of the main character, both literal and metaphorical, are very detailed and realistic.

I strongly disliked Margo for the first half of the book. She embodies everything I hate about the manic pixie dream girl trope, and I hated Q's fixation on her and his own embodiment of the unhappy nerd stuck in friendzone trope. I really, really hate the friendzone bullshit narrative that nerd subcultures fixate on, and my exhaustion with MPDGs combined with what appeared to be a straight out friendzone bollocks meant that the only reason I got past the first half of the book at all was because I told my friend I would read it, and I didn't want to dismiss something he was so clearly invested in.

Fortunately for me, Green is a far cleverer writer than I gave him credit for to begin with. He explicitly deconstructs Margo's personality and life, exploding the manic pixie myth very effectively. He's less explicit about the friendzone thing, but I think it was less widely talked about when the book was written in 2009, and he still does present a good deconstruction of the ideas around it so he gets thumbs up from me for that.

The secondary characters were less good though. Part of this is the limitations of first-person narrative, combined with a less than completely reliable narrator, and in fact there is one really good scene where one of Q's friends calls him out on his lack of empathy with another member of their circle. In that respect, their flatness can definitely be viewed as a comment of Q's own self-absorption and carelessness. But the relationships his two best friends have are poorly investigated, and one in particular felt really clich├ęd and unrealistic.

There is a lot in this book for any aspiring teenage student of literature. That sounds more faint praise than I intend it to: the book perfectly exemplifies several literary themes and conceits which regularly feature in literature studies, and the characters are all in high school so it's going to resonate much more with a younger audience than most of the crap - sorry, classics - they make you study in school. That said, I can't bring myself to give the book a 5, because of how long I spent wanting to slap the two main characters upside the head. Which I guess is a feature of not being a teenager any more, something I am permanently grateful for.

4 out of 5, definitely recommended.
Cross-posted to Cannonball Read here.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

#CBR7 9: The Girl WIth All The Gifts, MR Carey

Melanie is one of a small group of children who are educated at an exclusive facility, with highly trained security personnel and top-tier medical experts on hand. Her education is extensive and varied. She is a precocious and brilliant girl, with an inquisitive personality and a great deal of self-control. Her survival instinct is finely honed. This all comes in very useful when she, her favourite teacher, two of the guards and one of the doctors are forced to flee their facility and run for their lives in infested territory.

Infested by what, you say? Well, you know those ants? You've seen the time-lapse. There's an ant, and it gets infected with a fungus, and then it climbs as high as it can and waits until a mushroomy thing grows out of its head, and then the mushroomy thing makes spores go over all the nearby ants? That ant thing. I'm not finding a link. You can google it at your leisure.

Just so we're clear, that has always been my personal fucking nightmare. I don't know why. I have a problem with plants growing where they shouldn't. I freaked the fuck out when I found a clover growing up through the overflow in the sink in my last house, and it was green and normal, do not even get me started on the creepy white no-sunlight plants gah they're awful. I am aware this is firmly on the "Elizabeth being really not normal" side of the ledger, but I get twitchy just thinking about it. (I think this is why beansprouts really bother me as well. Yech.)

Anyway, this is a zombie apocalypse novel without any actual undead, and it is an incredible piece of work. I forswore zombie novels after I spent a year and a half dreaming about zombies courtesy of Max Brooks World War Z, but this one had piqued my interest earlier. (I dreamt about the book last night. Actually, I dreamt about writing this review about the book, and then it sort of segued into the plot of the book. I spent some time in the dream critiquing my own dream version of the story, so it definitely stayed with me. I just hope it stops, I remember my dreams every night courtesy of brain drugs and I am really not joking about the year and a half of zombie dreams thing.)

ANYWAY, the characters are all really well fleshed out and the story is really well-paced; I have a very visual experience when I read, but this was even more like a film than normal. Carey has written a bunch of comics before, and he's clearly learned a thing or two about pacing and dramatic tension. If this doesn't get made into a film at some point, I will be very surprised.

I am mostly very tired of zombies as a trope, vampires have always been more my thing, but The Girl With All The Gifts is a really good addition to the oeuvre, and there's a lot in there for the reader to mull over. Clearly, it stayed with me really very clearly, and I think it would even without the fungus thing. (GAH. Still horrible. Yuck yuck yuck.)

4 stars: clever and compelling, this book doesn't quite meet my criteria for 5 stars but it's a very close thing. Highly recommended.

Cross-posted to Cannonball Read here.