Bannerless: Unresolved conflicts

It’s hard to rope in a reader by the first page, but Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn succeeded in pulling me in by the first paragraph.

Enid came downstairs into a kitchen bright with morning sun blazing through the one window and full of greasy smell of cooked sausage. Olive already had breakfast—sausage, toast, cream—set out on the table. In her dress and apron, her dark hair pulled back with a scrap of cloth, she was already at work—but she shouldn’t have been, in Enid’s opinion. (1)

This first paragraph reels you in with 1) an image of the main character’s movement, 2) imagery that expands just beyond the typical visuals, and 3) internal reflection on behalf of the main character. It doesn’t take much but that small hint of Olive doing too much work in Enid’s opinion already sets a small conflict in motion, which propels the reader forward, to want to keep reading, but with this book, because it has a tendency to leave its conflicts unresolved, the book doesn’t live up to the expectations of the beginning.

 CONFLICTS WITHIN BANNERLESS

  1. Olive trying to get pregnant (post miscarriage) (2, 8)
  2. MAIN: Enid discovering the source of the suspicious death in Pasadan (3)
  3. Enid wanting to leave, learning what she wants to do for her life (47)
  4. Enid discovering love (46)
  5. Enid learning whether she wants a banner (46)
  6. Enid discovering why the investigators are in Fintown (111)
  7. Enid discovering the source to Pasadan’s false happiness (160)
  8. Enid wondering if Tomas is too old to be an investigator (178)

Although the book has one main plot, of discovering the source of the suspicious death in Pasadan, it also has several minor conflicts, most of which are listed above, and at first glance, most of these conflicts don’t see interconnected except they are, connected by a single motif—banners. In this book, everyone wants a banner. A banner means the allowance to have children. A banner means that you have earned your place in the community, that you have worked hard to support another possible mouth to feed.

But while everyone else wants a banner, Enid is not sure she wants one. Someone first asks her about it when shes a kid (46), but at that point, in her young age, she doesn’t think she’ll ever want one, which to me is confusing, because while she denies it, she tears at Olive offering her the banner later in life and she seems constantly focused on babies and banners, insisting that most investigations seem to stem toward people wanting a banner. People would to any extent to earn that banner, even falsifying quotas or overextending their fields. She seems almost obsessive on the subject.

And yet, for how much this book seems to focus on babies, it doesn’t seem to offer any closure on the subject. It dances around the subject, similar to how Enid dances around the subject of love. When this conflict is first initially opened on page 46, with Enid jealous of how people her age are finding love and having sex, she doesn’t seem to understand the allure, although she wants to. And while the book continues with her hooking up with Dak, she doesn’t truly find love until Sam, which leaves me wondering, why is Sam better than Dak? Why do we see five seconds of Sam and half a book of Dak when the resolution to this conflict is her falling in love with Sam. She even admits to him being better in the end!

So while this book seems to wrap up most of its conflicts at first glance, it seems to offer very superficial closure, never completely resolving the heart of any conflict. We never see Enid find love. We never learn why or why not she doesn’t want kids. We never learn why the investigators are in Fintown. We never see her house earn their baby through Olive. This leaves at least half of the conflicts listed above open-ended and unresolved, which brings me to warningly say, always offer closure. At least unless you’re planning on a volume 2.

Over-arching theme: Are children a god-given right? Or are they a privilege that’s earned?

Vaughn, Carrie. Bannerless. New York, NY: Mariner, 2017. Print.

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The Stone Sky

I’ve been waiting months for this book to release, and although I hate to admit it, I wasn’t one of those good people who re-reads through an entire series before reading the following (or in this case the final) book. It’s not as tragic as you may think because most  the memory of the characters comes back fairly quickly, and N.K. Jemisin always slips little reminders as to how the main character feels about everyone and what they remember from the previous ‘adventures’. But still, I made a huge faux pas. And, I’m going to have to read through the entire series again and then re-read this book because there are tons of little pieces to relish, which you can only truly understand if your knowledge of the series is thorough.

Still, here’s a few things I enjoyed about this book:

1. Multiple Perspectives

Jemisin loves experiencing other characters’ perspectives, and just as she did in her previous books, she does the same thing here—amazing as always. This time, it’s only* three people of choice: Essun (previously Syenite and then more previously Damaya), Nassun (Essun’s daughter), and Hoa (previously Houwha, pre-stone-eater era). I use the asterisks because she does dip into other POVs throughout other chapters. Watch out for the triple stars within a chapter. This signifies a POV shift. I enjoyed Essun’s chapters because I love to watch her character develop through the struggle of what she emotionally wanted and what she logically wanted. I enjoyed Nassun’s chapters as she struggled, again, to follow what she logically wanted and what she emotionally wanted. And, Hoa’s chapters duplicate these same struggles, except piecing together more information of how this Seasoned world came to be, which I find direly interesting because I need to know how this horrible Earth resulted. So while all three are different characters with different experiences, they all follow the same basic trials and struggles with the end result that they are a tool, and should they follow what’s expected of them, or should they follow their heart?

2. Footnotes within History

At the end of most every Nassun and Essun chapter are the three stars signifying a POV shift, and I enjoyed these a lot because they mostly followed the same basic pattern: disaster strikes, orogene (or the derogatory rogga) saves the day, and mob kills rogga in typical hate-crime fashion. But let me just point this out—I don’t like the people getting killed or the mobs hating on someone. I just like the fact that the theme of racism (or discrimination) is addressed. Because to be fair, even if this is a common theme, we still see it again and again, probably because humanity never learns.

We saw it with African-Americans pre-during-post Civil War.

We saw it with Jews in the Holocaust.

We see it with mutants in X-men.

And we see it now with something as silly as majors. I remember taking an internship with Caterpillar—industrial and waste marketing job—and I was invited to a general welcoming party with all the other interns for Caterpillar in Illinois. And what was I told? ‘Oh, you’re a marketing intern,’ the engineering interns said with a sneer. Their perspective changed when I told them I was an engineer but wanted something else besides that for a job, but this perspective still exists on campus. Why does it matter what you major in? What does it matter what you specialize in or what your skills are? We can’t all be good at everything. But still this discrimination or sneering at differences exists, which is why I think this is a good point to drive home. And these little snippets of how people retaliate against the roggas, even as they’re saviors, helps show that discrimination can be stupid.

3. Second Perspective

Very few authors use second perspective for their characters, so the only author that comes to mind who uses this is Jeff Vandermeer, and even he used it rarely. Only Jemisin is brave (or daring) enough to use the second person perspective for a third of the book, for Essun’s perspective. But between Essun’s second perspective and Hoa’s first perspective, it makes you think a little bitter deeper on who’s the true teller of the story.

SPOILER ALERT. 

Just as Alabaster lost his humanity to using his magic/orogene to create the Rift, we find out that when Essun dares to use sapphire Obelisk, she also aligns all the particles in her body, causing her to turn to stone every time she uses magic/orogene at that point in time and after. SPOILER. The twist is that while you turn to stone, you don’t necessarily die. When Alabaster turned completely to stone, the trick is that while you lose that sense of yourself, you’re also reborn as a stone-eater, where if your partner stone-eater cares for you, they can help transition your past memories to you. Here, Antimony tried and somewhat succeeded for Alabaster, although we see in the books that he struggles a bit with his mind and memories. But with Hoa, because he loves Essun, he tries his very best to help her be reborn with all of her past memories. All of these memories that we are reading now because the twist is, this book is actually of Hoa telling the story of Essun to herself, once she has been reborn as a stone-eater. I loved this reveal at the end. Nothing more than realizing what is the true perspective you’re reading.

4. Earth is alive

This is one of my favorite parts of the book and while this isn’t about writing style, I do think this is an interesting idea. On our Earth, we are ruining the planet in so many ways. We’re acidifying our oceans; we’re globally raising the temperatures; we’re creating the sixth mass extinction—if you haven’t heard of this yet, check out my previous blog post here, and similarly SPOILER ALERT, the people on this alternate Earth were found to be ruining their Earth by using a special six roggas to help capture the Earth’s life source as an eternal power source. So when they attempt to do this, they anger the Earth, which decides to fight back, creating guardians and stone-eaters. And it’s so cool to finally see the Earth take a stance to fight back, which it does throughout the whole novel. You can listen to it fight for control. Fight to live. And, maybe this is a surreal element, but I loved having a normal object turn into a personified character to have its own struggles.
This isn’t to say I loved this book. There were definitely a few quirks that left me feeling…not the greatest. For instance, Essun’s pregnancy? She was so willing to give up a possible child. Or the fact that Nassun gave up her dreams for Schaffa, who followed her to the other side of the world and gave up his sanity, instead for Essun, who had given her nothing but bad memories. It seems somewhat out-of-character. But, it could’ve been the strength of that singular moment. Overall, I still really enjoyed this book. This series has been one of my favorites.

Jemisin, N.K. The Stone Sky. New York, NY: Orbit, 2017. Print.

Spoiler Alert: The Humans did it.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from The Sixth Extinction, it’s that were one of the worst species on this planet, or at least worse than I initially thought and that’s saying a lot. I have a background in Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (primarily in Atmospheric Sciences, aka meteorology), and anyone who’s anyone in this area knows about climate change and the kind of horrors it presents for our future. This book not only openly acknowledges who’s to blame for it, spoiler alert―it’s us, but goes on to describe some of the catastrophes as they relate to the biodiversity of this planet. And me being a natural-processes kind of girl, I wasn’t even aware the kind of changes we wrought on our animals, except for maybe the dodo bird. Thank you Ice Age: the movie.

Within the first chapter, Elizabeth Kolbert describes the Panamanian golden frog as a symbol of good luck in the town El Valle de Anton in central Panama, even if the frogs themselves are toxic, with enough “poison contained in the skin of just one animal [that it] could kill a thousand average-sized mice–hence the vivid color” (5). Although if I’ve learned over the years in the shadow of my herpetology-obsessed brother, it’s that anything that brightly colored is poisonous and is so colored to warn you. And at one point in time, these frogs were so common, they were often found sunning themselves on the bank of a creek in El Valle, appropriately named the Thousand Frog Stream. Then in the late 1990s, a blight began to spread, wiping out not just the Panamanian golden frog, but nearly all frogs, although the golden frog is said to now be extinct in the wild since 2007 (Wikipedia).

Then there’s the little brown bats, a dominant bat in the northeastern U.S., not more than five inches long, considered once “ubiquitous in Vermont, [it] is officially listed as an endangered species in the state” (216), and probably a million more other species facing the same kind of extinction. Even though we’re not the direct cause of these species extinction, since most of these deaths were due to some kind of fungus, most of these extinctions can be traced back to us. For the American Chestnut tree, it was wiped out due a fungus imported to the U.S., probably from Japan (Kolbert 204). For the bats, it’s probably from the introduction of a fungus at a commercial cave in upstate New York, and has since been traced to Europe, where Greater mouse-eared bats are found to carry the fungus and aren’t bothered by it (215). And for the frogs, it’s probably the same thing, since multiple theories suggest that the same chytrid fungus was probably carried over by shipments of African clawed frogs or North American bullfrogs, for either pregnancy tests or human consumption (18).

These are the secret ways we kill. They’re not as obvious as habitat removal through deforestation or construction, and they’re not as flamboyant as the poaching for elephants or rhinos, but it’s still a sort of murder. Kolbert writes scientists saying as many as a minimum of 9 to 13 percent of species disappearing by 2050 (in the hopeful ‘universal dispersion’ scenario) or a maximum of 38 to 52 percent of all species (in the pessimistic ‘no dispersal’ scenario). This still averages out to about a quarter of all species on the planet disappearing in 33 years, and I haven’t even mentioned what happens regarding our oceans’ waters yet.

If you haven’t picked up a copy of The Sixth Extinction, I highly recommend you do so. I am for one usually never to read a book of non-fiction, but not only is this book highly motivating and eye-opening, it’s also entertaining in a morbid sort of way. Elizabeth talks of facts and figures almost like a history professor, making this an informative read, but she also writes as a reporter, an entertainer, using her personal experiences in each of these information-acquiring endeavors as a unique and personal experience in the progress of the sixth extinction. Did I mention it’s won a Pulitzer Prize?

Kolbert, Elizabeth. The Sixth Extinction. New York, NY: Picador, 2014. Print.

What are we without our memories?

If there was one thing I would say about our species, it’s that were highly vision-dependent. This is apparent when you read a book. The imagery is always very conducive of sight with descriptions like “the rotting bridge sagged under its own weight, leaning perilously to one side so that if I were to step onto it, it would collapse under my feet.” There is very little that conveys to our other senses such as hearing, feeling, or taste, and yet the novel I just read breaks many of these boundaries.

The Chimes by Anna Small.

The chord is death and sorrow and torture. Like millions of people all screaming at once. Just when I think I can’t stand any more, the harshness fades and crumbles. It doesn’t resolve. That is the wrong word. It doesn’t move into harmony, but it breaks, and as it breaks, it shows the possibility of change. It walks forward. It carries the pain into the next chord, but it softens there and there is sweetness again. (276)

Because it’s hard to translate sound into a book’s structure of visual text, this book makes a lot of comparisons between sound and images. It creates metaphors and similes, anything to translate music into something that we can comprehend because this is how the book’s whole world communicates: Through music, sound, and voice. And this is where I partly love the book. I’ve never been one who can understand music. I can’t play instruments. I can’t sing (well). So to ask me to comprehend music is a large jump for me to make especially since each character in this book is given an instrument to learn and master beginning at their childhood.

I love their language, how everyone communicates by song, tunes, and verses.

A plaintive three-note cry from a sweet-potato man who sings as he pedals a bellow wheel. A tune of golden meat pasties sung by a fat woman with a wink. There are tunes for sandwiches and potatoes fried in goosefat, and there is a seabrimmed song sun by a boy with dark hair and a shucking knife. A song with a gleam of pearl in it for the oysters he sells. The oysters are from Essex, the song says. Like me. (7)

I love how music is something that can’t be forgotten even when each person loses their memories each night, driven out by some unseen force. Almost like how modern music refuses to abandon our minds and digs in its own unrelenting claws. People use these tunes to hawk their wares, to give directions.

The boatpeople are already traveling downriver to trade from Richmond. They sing the sightlines of the river and the meter of the tide upstream and down. Their melodies follow each curve of the banks so if you listen close, you can almost see it. Voices low and wordless in the half-song of navigation, a sort of la la leia la that is almost the sound of the river itself. (27)

It speaks of how when an individual’s unique experiences are removed, we become nothing but labor, with no more purpose beyond baker, musician, pactrunner. Even the people within the novel recognize this, always giving out their best piece of advice: To find a prentisship. Their  second advice, more tradition than advice at this point–to hold your memories close–is to relish in the fact that it is only with the addition of our memories that we become individuals, who believe and feel whether that’s pain, happiness, love, tragedy.

This book is unique and original and lyrical, which makes it one-of-a-kind.

Small, Anna. The Chimes. New York, NY: Quercus, 2015. Print.

Edit: I will say as a side note, that it is very interesting to relive average days with the main character as he tries hard to remember, which is very difficult to do given the fact that nobody else within the city can. 

Victim of MIA Backstory

This book was alright. 

If you haven’t read it already, try The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden. It certainly is a refreshing read with a young, hip style that is all its own, throwing in so many elements I would expect from a weird-as-a-compliment Austin author.

I was semi-interested when I read its synopsis:

It’s up to a young Zulu girl powerful enough to destroy her entire township, a queer teen plagued with the ability to control minds, a pop diva with serious daddy issues, and a politician with even more serious mommy issues to band together to ensure there’s a future left to worry about.

And then I was even more interested when I peeked at the first page:

His birth certificate reads Muzikayise McCarthy, but nobody calls him that except his grandfather and anyone looking for a busted lip. Though right now, you could curse his name a million times, and he wouldn’t hear you.

He’s too busy mourning the fate of his dick. (3)

Certainly a liberal read if you’re already throwing dicks around on the first page. But, as I kept reading (and trust me, you will. This is a quick book), the conflicts kept building. I guess it’s safe to say this is a well-rounded book, but to me, it feels almost overwhelming to the point that each of these conflicts seem shallow. To the point by the end, I feel underwhelmed. I’m left with so many questions, from so many unresolved conflicts, asking myself why did all these things have to happen this way. Such as, SPOILERS:

  1. Syndey, for being a ‘young’ demigoddess, why do you have so much anger? Why must you prey on others fear? Just from reading, we can see that not all demigods behave in this manner.
  2. Nomvula, you were destroyed. And, I thank you for your bravery, but obviously you will be reborn. Sydney had told of when this happened to her once, so are you two fated to do this fighting again?
  3. Mr. Tau, which wife was this who had died? You originally had six tree-wives, each with the heart of a crab, an eagle, a dolphin, a peacock, a rat, and a serpent. Was the one who had died the serpent? Is that why Felicity has so much persuasion to command. If so, wouldn’t Felicity be the strongest? Isn’t Felicity your son/daughter? I wish I knew the full relationship going on here.
  4. And what happened to the drug that is ‘godsend’? Are we all going to ignore what happened at Riya’s concert? How a million people were loosed with the drug? And why did Rife ever think that was a good idea? It seems I would be concerned on the aftereffects, especially since it took Muzi and Elkin maybe one or two trips before these two teenagers experienced these permanent powers. So how come there aren’t more high-powered teens running around?

I have a lot of unfinished business with this book until I could call it good, but you know what, it looks like this is Nicky’s first book, so manybe round two, we’ll see what happens to all this material.

Just goes to show you backstory’s important because a lot of what was missed was how these characters had developed, and to not ever forget about resolution because there’s a more than a few conflicts we forgot to see the end for.

Drayden, Nicky. The Prey of Gods. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2017. Print.