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Series loyalty or just insanity? June 28, 2011

Posted by kmcalear in Book Series, Critiquing, Musings, Rants, Urban Fantasy.
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I noticed, recently, that a new Anita Blake book had come out. This one was entitled Hit List. Anita Blake was one of my first “urban fantasy” series and can be argued as one of the first that created the genre. Therefore, those of us who enjoy reading and writing in the genre are indebted to her. As well, the first 5 or 6 books were very good, the characterization was intriguing and the mysteries were engaging. Before the werewolf/woman/vampire triangle of Edward – Bella – Jacob there was the Anita – Jean Claude – Richard triangle, which spurred just as many vehement book-lover’s debates!

But then Hamilton decided to change her novel from paranormal fantasy to pointless pornography. I’m not a puritan when it comes to book content, but if it’s in the book have a danged point! You can write a pointless scene about baking a cake or a drawn out pointless sex scene and I’ll snarl equally, because I feel scenes in a novel should always advance either characterization or plot.

Which leads me to my point, why are people still reading Anita Blake? The reviews I see on amazon are negative and decry the lack of plot, novels of pure filler information, the dreadful characterization, the incomprehensible scenes and yet… they KEEP BUYING THEM? Why? Every author can have 1 or 2 duds in a series, but when you have 6 or 7 duds it’s time to give up the series and find something new.

There are so many aspiring, and GOOD, authors out there, after all. Use the money you would spend on a series you dislike and buy something you’ve never read before. You can always keep following the previously good, now bad, series at the library  on the slim chance it gets better.

This does, of course, lead me to a final question. When is series loyalty just too far? Do books really manage to get better after a set of duds, like tv series can sometimes do? (Case and point –> Battlestar Season 3, Farscape season 3 and Star Trek: TNG, season’s 1 and 2, they got better later). But at least, for tv, it’s generally free. Not so with new “episodes” of books.

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Good advice for literature/art critics… December 13, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Critiquing.
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Hi folks!

I’m taking a brief break from my project at work to say hello. In writing news I wanted to share a bit of advice one of my favorite poets gave me when I had the pleasure of meeting her in Austin! I wish I had taken a picture, I need to get better at that.

She said “Todo acto de crítica es un arte poética.” It was such a nice bit of advice, “All critical activity is a poetic art.” Sometimes as critics I think we forget to also be poets, writers, literature lovers and artists. Writing about art shouldn’t simply be cold, you have to feel a passion for it and seek to make your criticism as well written and flowing as the piece of art/literature you’re analyzing.

Wednesday Book Review: Mutineer March 3, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Book Review, Book Series, Critiquing, Friday Flashback, Science Fiction.
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This is a re-post from the launch of our blog 2 years ago, going along with some of the Friday Flashbacks we’ll be reposting some of our book reviews for your reading pleasure, with updated rating.

Today’s review is Mutineer by Mike Shephard

Genre: Science Fiction/Militaristic

Age: Teen, adult

Content: Violence

Overall: 1/5  paws

Review:

The plot of Mutineer had good promise. Kris is the daughter of a wealthy political family on the planet Wardhaven who rebelled against her parents by joining the military, something a respectable daughter doesn’t do. In the meantime, Kris is having to prove herself truly dedicated to the military while also avoiding multiple assasination attempts. As the plot goes on, the ‘Society of Humanity’ also is on the brink of Civil War with the outer colonies fighting against Earth and the inner colonies.
The cons:  The character development was thin and cliched, at best. The plot was slow to get into and you were left with a sense of ‘yeah right’ as Kris, a green Ensign, manages to out think her commanders, outfly a computer and outwit a group of criminals who had managed to defy several teams of planetary police. In the meantime, the action of the rescue is jarred by flashbacks to Kris losing her brother to a kidnapper many years previously. Unfortunately, the emotion is so thin that it’s difficult to feel compassion for Kris and the flashbacks seem trite and contrived to justify the heroine’s mental vacilations over rescuing the girl. The ‘rich kid rebelling’ theme is done to death, with commanding officers, politicians and even university students in a bar deciding to ‘shun’ Kris because she’s a ‘Longknife’. (Although cool name!) They constantly force her to prove herself, even though her family has a very long military history. In addition, Kris’s family is enough to make me scream. She has grandparents who she has to nearly break laws to visit, parents who are barely friendly and she describes her family as essentially a political battlefield. You have a tough time understanding why Kris would ever even bother to speak to her parents.

The pros: About halfway through the book the plot manages to pick up. I enjoyed the plot itself after Kris gets sent to a planet where she has to help with relief. Kris still manages to ‘save the day’ and show up everyone around her, but I was able to accept the idea more because her commanding officers had been assigned there mostly as punishment for screwing up or lackluster work, so their lack of efficiency was believable. The book allows for some reconciliation between Kris and a couple of her family members, but for the most part the characterization is fairly static. The main thing Kris learns is to take responsibility for how her decisions affect other’s lives, but personally and professionally she starts out a Super Soldier and ends a Super Soldier.

The Verdict: Shepherd’s plot managed to save the book, but his characterization and the emotional depth of his characters is thin, at best. I didn’t mind the read, and I’m glad I forced myself through the first half but I’m not sure I’ll be picking up any others of the series.

Wednesday Book Review: The Penelopiad February 10, 2010

Posted by kmcalear in Book Review, Critiquing, Literature.
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File:ThePenelopiad.jpg

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood is a retelling of the Odyssey from Penelope’s point of view. Called by man a Feminist or sometimes just Feminine novel, it examines the famous characters from the Odyssey and gives the other perspective on one of the most famous women in literature.  Atwood’s prose is what makes this novel so difficult to put down, you almost immediately step into Penelope’s head space and you forget that you already know the ending to the story. It’s refreshed beautifully, and the Odysseus/Penelope relationship isn’t idealized, but there’s something compelling about seeing another side of the story. And while the perspective is from Penelope in the 21st Century Hades looking back on the events, the book manages to avoid gross anachronism in characterizations. I particularly liked how Margaret Atwood rewrites the end, where Penelope in the Odyssey doesn’t recognize Odysseus, which never seemed to make sense in the Penelopiad her cunning is shown as she uses her wits to help him in turn. Penelope is as clever as Odysseus in this version of the myth. Now what I didn’t like is the last few chapters of the narrative, where the narration style becomes more poetic and the book more openly feminist and theoretical. It seemed after all the story to be preachy or to overstate the message of the book itself.

Genre: Historical fantasy

Age: Adult, mature teen

Content: Sexual references, rape, death, murder

Overall: 4/5  paws

Transformers: Crude and Fallen June 30, 2009

Posted by Realitybypass in Critiquing, Movies.
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After several weeks of insanity it seems like we’re pretty much getting back into the swing of things, so that means returning to our lovely fans in cyberspace. YAY.

Last night I went and saw Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. I walked out of the theater in a huff and sudden understanding of why the movie is getting around a 21% on the tomatometer at Rotten Tomatoes. Now, before anyone points fingers to say that I just don’t understand know that I am a big fan of the Transformers. I very much enjoyed the first movie. I watched the animated cartoon. I read comic books. I’ve seen the animated movie and I had the toys! I ever wrote Transformers fanfic, and if that doesn’t make me a fangirl I’m not sure what does. So trust me when I say I WANTED this to rock. I wanted this to be as good as Star Trek was, as the first one was…and I was sorely disappointed.

My points of contention:

1: Potty humor. I did not go to this movie to see dogs and tiny robots humping each other and people’s legs. I did not need to see the thong worn by a less than attractive man. I did not need the ‘twins’ gangster thing at all. I did not need the robot testicle jokes. and on and on. Most of the movie was full of things a 15 year old boy finds funny. Maybe they thought that was the target audience.

2: Unnecessary and unconvincing love plot. The Sam/Mikela moments didn’t work for me. I didn’t believe the chemistry, lack there of, or the motivations. Flat flat flat and TOO much movie time spent on it. It’s a Transformers movie, not a romantic comedy.

3: No character development and too many new characters. So many new bots got introduced that you didn’t even mourn them when they got blown up because no great loss. At times it was difficult to tell who was beating on who, and as a fangirl I can usually tell you by name who’s doing what. And the characters were not well connected. Big things happen, things which should be emotionally powerful happen and everyone stands there woodenly and goes…erm…oh… The friendships and connection just wasn’t there. Characters were mock ups, without any significant punch. Even Optimus lacked in these ways, though I think he was the closest to having it together.

4: Shaky cam. Who decided that making you want to barf was a good way to shoot a movie? Please direct me at them so I can hurt them.

5: Weird plotting in both subject and pace. There were at least two fairly decent plots in this movie, neither of which was fully played out and the climax was very anticlimatic. Couple of things go boom in about 30 seconds and the whole plot is solved. Sheesh.

The few things I liked:

1: The soundtrack. Some really nice orchestral themes here, particularly for Optimus Prime.

2: Peter Cullen voicing Optimus Prime. That’s a voice from my childhood and it just wouldn’t be right without him.

3: The early fight scenes. There were a couple of really good ones early on. The last one was just a mash of explosions and insanity.

4: Jetfire. He brought back old memories and even though he wasn’t the Jetfire I remember, he had the closest thing to a personality on the screen.

5: Megatron and StarScream snark. Hah…grumping at each other again.

So there you have it. I won’t own this one. I don’t wanna see it again, and unless the next one is highly cleaned up and given purpose…I won’t see it either.

Jana

To Boldly Go… May 12, 2009

Posted by Realitybypass in Critiquing, Movies.
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So I was one of the rabid fans who went to the preshowings of Star Trek on Thursday. I am not ashamed of this. We were the geeky couple who were second in line and even skipped dinner to make sure we were there early. This lead to mass popcorn consumption but that’s a post for another blog.

Anyway…in a phrase I loved the movie. From the sets, to casting, to special effects, to writing…I loooved this movie. It was a movie that paid homage to where it had come from, but still blazed paths into completely new territory and set things up so that the franchise is given new life.

As a writer I’m impressed by the message of Star Trek and the pacing. The pacing ran well between character moments, action, drama, romance and humor. It never let you go or had you glancing at your watch. The plot was kept simple so that the focus could be on this new crew and how they come together and why. Each of the lead characters had a moment to shine and to show why they are important to the crew and the beginnings of why they will become more and more important to each other. The message was one of hope, friendship, family and love and how people react to loss. For some they become the villains and others the heroes. Everyone has a reason for doing what they do.

Six days later I’m still pondering this film. The story, the fan service and the links to the past… I need to see it again, but if you haven’t gone I encourage it. Even if you aren’t a Trekker or a big fan of the original this is a show worth seeing and it’s not so seeped in its own mythology that you won’t be able to follow along.

It’s one heck of a ride.

Jana

Tuesday Randomness April 21, 2009

Posted by kmcalear in Book Review, Book Series, Critiquing, Urban Fantasy.
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It seems that with my paper deadlines coming up, there’s simply not enough time in the day to get everything done. I’m just taking this as training for when publishers are demanding revisions, and I suppose college professors are going to be just as demanding! On top of that, though, I also have Finals to study for, when I’d rather be devoting all my time to compiling information from my research materials.

Anyway, so… I concur with Jana that Magic Burns and Magic Strikes simply rock. I read through both books this weekend, when I should have been reading stuff for class. Magic Burns kept me up til 4:30 in the morning because I just /had/ to finish it. Of the two, Burns has the better plot with more intriguing twists and turns, but Bites has several very satisfying endings to a couple story arcs. I think what I like the MOST about Illona Andrews’s books is the very unique Magic-Tech Atlanta, it’s very different than what most other UFs have with the near-reality world. I also like that they stop teasing the reader with Kate’s “blood secret” and you get to find out just what it is. Curran is a delightful character as well, definitely kind but determined, genuine, just and I love his mischievous sense of humor. How very feline!

Some contructive points: I do sometimes get lost in the descriptions, so I wish they were a little clearer to give me a way to visualize these unusual places she’s describing.  The world is SO strong that some better descriptions would kick it up into the Completely Awesome of All Awesome range. I’d also like to see more from Jim the leopard, he’s the most flat of the characters. Dali the white tiger is… a hoot, ya’ll have to read to find out.

So… go. Get. Buy. You won’t regret it.

Knee Jerk Reactions in the Twitterverse April 13, 2009

Posted by Realitybypass in Critiquing, Musings.
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Hello there gentle reader.  Yes, I’m blogging twice in one day.  It doesn’t happen often, but I’m annoyed so here we go again.

To catch up those who might not know over the weekend there was a mistake made at Amazon which caused books with ‘adult’ content to be deranked on the search engine.  So when you searched for something like “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” it wouldn’t ever come up and definitely wouldn’t come up on the ‘you might like’ or ‘other books like this’ lists.  Pretty immediately there was a cry of outrage that erotic, GBLT and other such books were being ‘discriminated’ against.

Evil Amazon wouldn’t let people read the books they wanted to because they were marginalized!  Oh noes!  This lead to an explosion of conversation with the #amazonfail tag on Twitter, google bombing, name calling and general unpleasantness.  The joy of the internet is that the masses tend to be lead by whomever is shouting the loudest, particularly if they’re shouting about something which gets people up in arms anyway.

Today the news is that it was a mistake.  Not a policy, not a hack, not anything else sensational, but a mistake.  Someone clicked the wrong button.  Amazon was not trying to chop off the hands that feed it, but technological mistake made.  For a lot of people the admission isn’t enough.  It’s just not possible that there ISN’T a conspiracy.  Now there are new hash tags showing up in Twitter to keep the anger flowing, and I just don’t get it.

From a technical point of view the data deselection makes the most sense and as a Quality Assuance Engineer I can attest that this kind of thing happens.  I know I can turn off all of a product of a given nature in the systems I work on just that easily.  One sql statement, one deselected button and it all goes buh bye because of the nature of databases.  Amazon has a huge task in keeping all of the data on all of the products they carry sorted and easy to search.  Such a database has to be tabled and maximized for efficiency and sometimes the very maximizing which causes efficiency also opens up problems just like this.  I think it’s a shame that we have created a situation where we are so quick to jump up and down and scream that we’re being ‘injured’, but not so quick to give anyone, particularly a company which most of us use FREQUENTLY the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe it’s a reflection of the economy, of the distrust created by companies and goverments, or just flat human nature.  It’s more fun to bitch and moan than it is to be patient and wait and see.  Yeah, Amazon should have said something official sooner, but that’s also the bane of a large company.  You can’t do anything ‘official’ until all of the right parties have been talked to and everyone understands the situation.  They look like bigger idiots when there are several ‘official’ statements which rise to the top or unofficial statements which everyone jumps on, which we’re seeing in this too.

In the end no one ‘wins’ these things and it’s kinda sad to watch the state of the human pack.

And before I get slapped around as being pro censorship let me assure you that is not the case.  I think ‘adult’ books serve a purpose and they should not be deranked, but I also think that people enjoy building a conspiracy and seem leery of a simple solution, though Ocham’s Razor states that the simple solution most often is the right one.

Jana

Child Appropriateness? March 23, 2009

Posted by kmcalear in Children Books, Critiquing.
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I just saw “Coraline” this weekend and really enjoyed it; even though it definitely had it’s creepy moments. It did get me thinking, though both about Cautionary Tales and “child-approriateness.” I found some moments definitely creepy for me, particularly when Other Mother turned into some sort of half insect-like spider monster being, but she still looked like the mother. Anyway it was scary, and would probably frighten a child; but the point of the tale was to remind children to appreciate what they have and to see the truth in people, not the facades. The consequences of Coraline’s falling for the “perfect world” of Other Mother is imprisonment and she learns what happened to the other children who accepted the lies of the perfect world. I think back to the fairy tales of the past, and how many of them carried the warning of “obey your parents” or “obey the church” or you’ll run afoul of witches, demons, monsters and other worldly dangers.

If you read Chinese mythology, as well, many of their tales told to children involve wandering ghosts and vengeful spirits designed to keep children safe by presenting dark consequences for disobedience. So I suppose my question is… do we have a place for cautionary tales for children, how “scary” is appropriate and how much is too much? Should scary stories wait until children are old enough to be told “this is make believe?”

I’d love to hear your thoughts, or even your thoughts on the age-appropriateness of Coraline?