Twilight, Part II

So I finished reading Twilight [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].  It was a better book than I expected, though I certainly wasn’t blown away.

In brief, Twilight is the story of Bella Swan, a high school girl who falls in love with a vampire.  Then about 80% of the way through the book, some other stuff happens.

That structure was odd.  For 400 pages, this is a fairly typical teenage romance, except the boy happens to be a vampire.  Suddenly we have evil vampires chasing Bella and everyone’s fleeing and scheming and hunting and fighting.  It didn’t throw me out of the story, but I think the book could have been more effective had we seen how dangerous vampires could be a lot sooner.  Edward spends a lot of time trying to persuade Bella that he’s dangerous and she’s better off without him, but like Bella, I never really believed him. 

I mentioned in Twilight, Part I that it was a fast-paced read.  Don’t want to rehash that, except to say it holds true for the rest of the book.  Whatever strengths and weaknesses the book has, I kept turning the pages, and I finished it within a few days.

I was intrigued by what Meyer did with vampires, eliminating many of the traditional weaknesses.  Holy symbols?  Edward’s dad keeps a 300-year-old cross on the wall.  Sunlight?  Yay, sparklies!  Edward explains that the only real way to destroy a vampire is to rip it apart and burn the pieces.

Think about that.  Buffy would be out of luck in this world.  There’s no way a human being is going to be able to fight a vampire; the only one who can is another vampire.  (Or another equally powerful supernatural creature.)  Humans?  Helpless as insects.  The implications are powerful, but I didn’t feel like there was any follow through.  Maybe it gets brought up in later books.  But heck, if vampires are this indestructible, why  bother to hide at all?

As for Bella and Edward … yeah.  This is the part you’ve been waiting for me to rant about, right?  But I’m having a hard time judging Edward’s behavior the way I would a normal abuser.  Controlling?  Absolutely.  Creepy?  Oh hell yes.  Breaking into a teenage girl’s room every night to listen to her talking in her sleep?  The dude puts stalkers to shame.

But he’s not human.  He is, as the book stresses again and again, better and beyond human in so many ways.  He’s a century old, powerful and beautiful and unstoppable.  Why should he treat a human with any more respect than you or I treat a pet cat?  I like my cats, but I don’t consider it abusive to toss one off the counter.

This isn’t where Meyer was going with the book.  Edward’s behavior is glossed over as part of our whirlwind teen romance.  He’s treated as a normal human teenager, except when he’s not.  As a normal human, he’s an abusive, controlling creep.

Having been young myself, I can certainly understand Bella’s infatuation and obsession.  Been there, done that (though I cringe to think about it now).  I just wish Meyer had been more conscious of the dynamics she was writing.

There’s so much going on here, and the book seems blissfully unaware of it.  It ignores the implications of Meyer’s changes to vampire lore.  It glosses over the unbalanced nature of Bella’s relationship with Edward until the very end, when Bella decides she wants to be a vampire too.  (And why not?  There’s no downside!)  It shows us a jealous, controlling stalker and treats the whole thing as dreamy and romantic.  This is where I think the book fails.

Don’t know if I’ll read book two or not.  But in the meantime, please feel free to jump in with your thoughts and comments.

Why Linkbacks are Better than Reposting

• 4 weeks until the release of The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy]!  Early reviews are starting to pop up.  Romantic Times called it quick-paced, engaging, and a great read.  Rhonda Parrish, who won the NCADV auction for an ARC of the book, posted a nice review here.  ::Happy dance::

• I’ve said before that it’s okay to write crap in a first draft.  For me, this helps me get to the point where I can figure out the story and rewrite to actually make the thing work.  Dean Wesley Smith offers an alternate approach.

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Welcome to everyone who showed up after yesterday’s Neil Gaiman Facts post!  Lesson to self: if you want more blog traffic, joke about Gaiman groping Ellison.  Huge thanks for the linkbacks, the comments, and the extra Gaiman facts.  (The comments include some very funny suggestions.)  Y’all gave me a serious case of the warm fuzzies 🙂

No love, however, to the very small minority who simply copied and reposted the whole thing without asking.  Way to harsh my warm fuzzies, people.

I was torn about whether I should even say anything.  I’m not planning to go all DMCA on anyone’s ass over this, but it bothers me.  Maybe I’m oversensitive after dealing with the whole Google Settlement mess, I don’t know.  But here’s the deal: reposting someone’s work without permission is rude.  It’s also illegal, but in this case I’m more annoyed by the rudeness.

The primary reasons I post stuff like the Gaiman list are because it’s fun and because I love entertaining people.  It makes my week to get comments from folks telling me they laughed so hard their significant other came in from the other room to find out what was going on.  It’s a high like nothing else, and I love it.

There’s a secondary reason, though: the crass, greedy, totally commercial reason.  When I write and post this sort of thing, it brings new traffic to my sites.  New people who might remember my name, who might decide to stick around on the blog, who might even decide some day to go out and buy one of my books.

If you repost the whole list, you’re taking away some of those new visitors.  Is it a terrible, crippling blow to my success as a writer?  Not at all.  But it is rude.  So don’t do it, ‘kay?

Enough on that.  I love 99.44% of you, and I’m not going to let the other .56% spoil things.  So as a reward for reading this far, here are a few more Gaiman facts.  Enjoy!

  1. Neil Gaiman writes faster than Harriet Klausner reads.
  2. Neil Gaiman solved the Rubix Cube in 7 minutes. One-handed.
  3. Chuck Norris could roundhouse kick Neil Gaiman in the head. But Neil Gaiman could write Chuck Norris out of existence.

20 Neil Gaiman Facts

  1. Neil Gaiman once wrote a Nebula-winning story using only the middle row of his keyboard.
  2. Harper Collins has taken out a 2.5 million dollar insurance policy on Neil Gaiman’s accent.
  3. If you write 1000 words and Neil Gaiman writes 1000 words, Neil Gaiman has written more than you.
  4. Neil Gaiman does not use Microsoft’s grammar-check.  Microsoft uses a Gaiman-check.
  5. Neil Gaiman once did the New York Times crossword puzzle in pen.  In fifteen minutes.  He won two Hugo awards for it.
  6. Neil Gaiman is who the Ghostbusters call.
  7. Most agents charge a 15% commission.  Neil Gaiman’s agent pays him an extra 15% for the privilege of saying “I’m Neil Gaiman’s agent.”
  8. William Shakespeare once came back from the dead to ask for Neil Gaiman’s autograph.
  9. Neil Gaiman is the reason nobody teaches “I before E except after C” anymore.
  10. Some writers take inspiration from the muse.  The muse takes inspiration from Neil Gaiman.
  11. Neil Gaiman once groped Harlan Ellison.
  12. The pen is mightier than the sword; Neil Gaiman has mastered fourteen different styles of penmanship.
  13. Rumor has it that a NY editor rejected Neil Gaiman’s first book.  This can not be confirmed, as the editor in question was never heard from again.
  14. Neil Gaiman can tweet 175 characters.
  15. Neil Gaiman’s personal library includes an autographed copy of the Necronomicon.
  16. Hitler actually won World War II.  Then Neil Gaiman wrote an alternate-history story in which the allies won, and reality was too intimidated to argue the point.
  17. Some authors write in omniscient point of view.  Neil Gaiman lives it.
  18. Neil Gaiman’s next novel is expected to win the Nebula, the Hugo, and the Heisman Trophy.
  19. In any given week, 7 of the top 10 books on the NYT Bestseller List are by pseudonyms of Neil Gaiman.
  20. Neil Gaiman has never written a deus ex machina ending.  However, God once wrote a Gaiman ex machina ending.

Twilight, Part I

One nice thing about surgeries — they give you lots of time to read.  I finished up The Soldier King on Thursday and started in on Twilight, as promised.

I started by checking the front matter.  This book is in its 47th printing in paperback (19th in hardcover).  Dang.  And I thought I was doing well when Goblin Quest went back for a 4th printing….

I’m about 25% through Twilight, and so far, the book is surprisingly readable.  It’s not great, but I haven’t tried to gouge out my eyes with a spork yet either.

It reminds me of Harry Potter: it’s a quick, easy read; our young protagonist leaves one life and enters another, more magical one where they’re amazingly popular; it has lots and lots of pages…

Several people commented that Bella Swan is very much a Mary Sue, and I can see that.  She complains about how she’s so unpopular, and in the meantime she’s go no less than four–maybe five by now?–boys sniffing after her.  There’s a wish fulfillment feel to the story, which I imagine is a lot of the appeal–just like in Harry Potter.

We’re only beginning to get into the Edward revelations, but I can already see where the dynamics of Edward/Bella are troubling, to say the least.  So far, we’ve already seen some radical mood swings from Edward, as well as seriously controlling behavior (physically dragging Bella into his car being the most blatant so far).  Pulling her away from her friends to sit alone with him at lunch isn’t by itself a pattern of isolating behavior, but I’ll be curious how many more warning signs we’ll see from Edward.

Mostly, Twilight does what a lot of successful SF/F books seem to be doing these days: it makes the fantastic more accessible.  Like Harry Potter, it starts in our own world and grounds the reader before bringing in the fantastic elements.  It reaches beyond the hardcore SF/F readers, to whom the first 125 pages will be not only familiar but even a bit boring.  Yes, we get that he’s a vampire, and we’ve read this “discovery” process a hundred times before.  We’ve read it, but folks unfamiliar to the genre haven’t, which might explain why this is the book reaching a larger audience.

One final thought: this book looks like it was designed to be a quick read.  Larger typeface, big pages with larger margins, more spacing between the lines … physically, these pages were laid out in such a way that it makes you turn the pages faster.  I find that interesting.

375 pages to go.  More thoughts later I’m sure.  For now, have a Harry Potter pic, ’cause it amused me.

So Much For “Don’t Be Evil”

As most writers already know, the deadline for opting out of the Google Books Settlement is September 4th.

I stalled.  I didn’t want to deal with this crap, so I ignored it in the hopes that someone would come along and deliver a legal smackdown to Google.  (Germany is working on it, but not soon enough to make a difference on that 9/4 deadline.  ETA: And Amazon too!  Thanks, dqg_neal.)

I’m not a lawyer.  There’s a lot about this issue I probably don’t understand, and I expect smarter people to come along and correct me on any number of issues.  Let me start by pointing you toward some of those smarter people: Writer Beware’s Google Settlement primer and SFWA’s objection to the settlement.

Copyright law is a hotly debated issue.  I feel that it’s flawed, but show me legislation that isn’t.  Right now, that law says if I write something, it’s mine.  I have the legal right to decide what’s done with it*.  If you publish or repost it without permission, you’re breaking the law.  Once the copyright term expires, the work enters the public domain, and you can do whatever the heck you want with it.

Enter Google.  From what I’ve read and understand so far, Google decided copyright was more of a guideline than a law, conflating out-of-print with public domain, and going with a “Scan ’em all and let God sort ’em out” approach.

Naturally, there were objections.  The Author’s Guild went to court and negotiated a settlement wherein authors whose works had been illegally scanned might be entitled to some small payment, and we would all be able to opt out of Google’s ongoing book scanning & sharing project.

This is where I get cranky.  The opt-out project requires me to log into the settlement site, search for every book I’ve published (English and translations), as well as every variation of every book, not to mention every short story I’ve had published in any anthologies, and claim them all.  I can then either opt out of the whole settlement, or opt in and specify what I’m allowing Google to do or not do with my work.  In other words, the onus is not on Google to obey copyright law, but on me the author to tell them “Yes I really, really do want you to obey the law in respect to my work.”

Tell you what, Google.  How about I head down to your HQ and start looting the building for all of the high-tech computers and equipment I can find.  If you don’t like it, I’ll set up a form on my Web site where you can log in and tell me exactly what you want to keep.  Make sure you provide the serial numbers for each item!

There’s a lot of discussion and commentary out there, and I’d encourage interested parties to read up.  Jay Lake pointed to one post that takes an opposing view, which I think is also worth reading.  (Though I’d argue that Mr. Lee’s complaints are better directed toward reforming copyright law, and don’t justify simply ignoring or breaking current law.)

You know, there are even some stories and books I wouldn’t have minded letting Google display on their site … if they’d bothered to ask first.


*Fair use is a whole other textbook unto itself, but I believe the Google settlement issue goes way beyond fair use.

Happy Book Day

-Interview – I talk about Mermaid’s Madness over at Sci-Fi and Fantasy Planet.

-Fantasy Discussion Panel – I’ll be at the Delta Township Library tonight from 6:30 to 8:00, talking fantasy with local authors Daniel Hogan and Phil Kline.

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The first Tuesday of each month is a big day for a lot of publishers, marking most of the new SF/F releases.

First up we have Rosemary and Rue [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], the first of many books I’m expecting to see from new DAW author Seanan McGuire.  I blurbed this one, and what I loved the most was the way McGuire blends a complex fairy society into modern-day San Francisco.  (Okay, really my favorite part was the rose goblin, but I’m biased.)  If you’re into urban fantasy, I think you’ll enjoy this one.  Also, she does nifty promo comics.

Next up is The Storm Witch [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by Violette Malan.  This is the third book in Malan’s series about mercenary partners Dhulyn and Parno.  I reviewed book one, The Sleeping God, back in June, and I’m currently reading the second.  Swords and magic and kick-ass mercenaries, and a much more … mature relationship between our two protagonists than I usually see.

Also out today is Witch Craft [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], the fourth Nocturne City book from Caitlin Kittredge.  I met Caitlin at Fantasy Matters a few years back, but I’m afraid I haven’t gotten the chance to read her work yet.  (No reflection on her books; I’m just slow.)  I’m betting some of you can fill us in on this series, though?  Caitlin also has excerpts of her books at her site.

Finally, we have Other Lands [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by David Anthony Durham.  This is the sequel to Acacia, which is sitting in my TBR pile.  Unlike the other three, this one doesn’t come out until the 15th, but I include it here anyway because David is just that awesome.  Excerpts on his site.

    

So go forth and read, or hang out here and chat about books.  It’s all good.  And maybe I’ll see at least a few of you at the library tonight?

TBR: Twilight

-I finally got the web site updated with goblin and princess fan art, including a wonderful new princess/zombie piece by socchan.

-Still taking questions for the one-question interview for Mermaid.  I’ll be picking one interviewer to receive a free copy of Strip Mauled, which includes my muppet/werewolf story.  E-mail your question to mermaid@jimchines.com if you’re interested.

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So I’ve decided I have to read Twilight.  This started the other day with the book love graph.  I included “At least it’s better than Twilight” because, well, it’s funny.  But it also felt like a cheap shot, and I had mixed feelings about taking it.  The Twilight books are an easy target these days.

Then over the weekend, Google Alerts brought a fairly negative review of Stepsister Scheme to my attention.  I clicked over to read the full review, because that’s what you do when you’re a masochistic writer who can’t help yourself.  The first thing I saw on this person’s site was a countdown to the next Twilight movie, and proclamations of Twilight love.

My immediate response was relief.  “Oh, good.  They didn’t like the book, but who cares — they’re a Twilight fan.  That doesn’t count.”

All this Twilight hate when I haven’t even read the book.  Not cool.  I’m the guy who writes nose-picking goblins.  I’m not in a position to be snubbing.

So I’m adding the book to my TBR pile.  Based on discussions from people I trust, I fully expect to have problems with the story, but we’ll see what happens.  And even if I hate it, the fact is, Stephenie Meyer has done something right.  She’s written a book with the same sort of breakout appeal as the Harry Potter books.  As a writer who would love to have even 1% of her sales, it might behoove me to actually read the book and see what she did.

I still love Buffy vs. Edward and Blade vs. Edward and the rest.  But Twilight is going into the pile, and you know what?  I’m actually looking forward to reading it and finding out what all the fuss has been about.

The Radio Magician & Other Stories, by James Van Pelt

I picked up James Van Pelt’s first short fiction collection, Strangers and Beggars, way back in 2002 at World Fantasy Con in Minneapolis.  Even then I was impressed at how much power he could pack into a few thousand words.  His latest collection, The Radio Magician and Other Stories [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], is even better.

It’s easy for fiction to become formulaic: Protagonist wants X.  Protagonist tries to achieve X by doing Y.  S/he fails, tries again, fails again, tries a third time, and either wins or loses it all in the climax of the story.  It’s a perfectly serviceable formula, one which produces perfectly serviceable fiction.

Van Pelt does so much more.  In “Where Did You Come From, Where Did You Go?” our protagonist and her friend don’t stop the bad guy.  They’re not active characters at all, being mere observers to the SFnal drama unfolding in their classroom.  Yet it’s still a tense, gripping story.  And the ending, in which they learn the truth and are left with one terrifying and unanswerable question, has more impact than many full-length novels ever achieve.

“The Inn at Mount Either” packs a similar punch, making the SF idea more central to the story as our protagonist explores a resort situated at the intersection of parallel universes.  Van Pelt doesn’t give us the easy ending another author might have written; he adds one more page, turning an interesting story into a full-strength gut punch.

He’s also playing with fascinating ideas.  What if artificial intelligence was not only possible, but became so cheap that everything could have AI chips?  What if space exploration could be outsourced, not to private companies, but through children’s collectible toys?  (Gotta find ’em all!) What if the universe were ending, and all that remained were two sentient machines orbiting a star?

Like any collection, some stories worked better for me than others.  I wasn’t as fond of “Of Late I’ve Dreamt of Venus,” mostly because I didn’t feel as connected to the characters.  “One Day, in the Middle of the Night” was an interesting premise, but I felt like Van Pelt was working too hard to fit the gimmick of the story.

But these were the exceptions, and even with these stories, I was still impressed by the ambition, the purpose and power of Van Pelt’s writing.  Let me put it this way: reading this book made me completely rethink the potential of the short story, and the things I want to accomplish the next time I sit down to write one.

The notes on my ARC say the book comes out in September, though Amazon lists it as already available.  I definitely recommend this one, both as a reader and a writer.  And while you’re at it, check out James Van Pelt’s home page, or go visit him on LiveJournal at jimvanpelt.

The Stages of Book Love

Just something I’ve been playing with as I dive into the new book.  I suspect some of the writers can relate?

(Click here if the graph gets truncated and you need the full view.)

The Stages of Book Love:

ETA: Also see this graph and blog post by Maureen McHugh.  I honestly don’t remember whether I’ve seen McHugh’s graph before, but it’s very possible I saw it reposted somewhere, and that it was hiding in the back of my mind as I worked on my own graph.

Jim C. Hines