A book of memories

Let me just start out with saying this: although this book kept me disinterested for 3/4 of its content, I have to say that when everything came together in the end, it was fairly intriguing and noteworthy to think about. And really, I’m wondering if my disinterest was a symptom of confusion as to how all the characters related to each other. So in order to entice more possible readers, know this:

Richard: Son of Inga Beart (famous writer), raised by his Aunt Cat, father to Neil; retired middle school English teacher, currently in Paris doing research on his late mother

Neil: Son of Richard; historian in France doing research with his Professor

Magdalena: Friend of Lina; girl who sees people’s truths on their skin, who meets up with Neil to exchange their parents’ Christmas presents

One thing that I think is really noteworthy about this book is not necessarily the plot, because the characters themselves don’t really do too many noteworthy things, but the reflections that the characters partake in, particularly their musings. SPOILER ALERT.

As they hiked up hillsides covered with olive groves, Magdalena listened to Rachel talk about her days doing junk, sleeping in doorways and robbing her mum, and it occurred to Magdalena that the things she’d gotten used to reading as her mother reached for a pan or changed her skirt or stretched out her toes to let the polish dry had something in common. They were stories Magdalena had heard as a little girl, or they were hints of stories her mother might someday decide to tell her, and a number included phrases in the imperative tense-don’t pick the thin-stemmed mushrooms, check that the butcher’s scale is zero to begin with-as if her mother had made notes across her skin of the things that Magdalena ought to know. (206)

Two sentences, in which they ramble on and on about her internal musings, not necessarily about the route she was taking or how hard the road was on her feet or how everyone was avoiding or annoyed by Rachel, who must’ve repeated her story five times to each individual person. This story focuses so much more on memories, thoughts, and reflections, which I think is why this book has such strong, well-rounded characters. They definitely have wants. Fears. And I think for a first book, Adelia Saunders did a great job crafting her characters. Her style is certainly unique. One of my favorite stream-of-conscious in the story is shown below:

Starts with Ellameno, Neil said once when it was his turn to choose a letter, and his dad thought that was so funny that they started making up a whole world populated with made-up fantastical things: the ellemenopede who liked to eat ellamenoghetti twirled around forks held in each of its ellamillion hands. (214)

The trick to Saunders’ reflections is not only the fact that she writes this huge enormous sentences (which could attribute to the book feeling so slow and drawn out), but the fact that most of her reflections are descriptions of a memory. She could’ve stopped at ‘they started making up a whole world filled with things starting with ellameno,’ but she goes beyond that memory, describing the actual scene of the world itself. Saunders has so many fantastic visual descriptions, which develop the whole life of the character. Because even as she describes this single memory, it evolved into other times Neil and his dad would spend time together, what happened when they didn’t, and what happened when they grew apart. I love how these 2 pages defined how their relationship changed before and after certain significant events. It really helped strengthen the characters.

Other than that, I like how this book also addresses our memories – maybe that’s a motif for this book – because while this book examines Richard’s singular memory of his mother’s red shoes, convinced she had come back to see him, this memory evolves as we learn more and more about his mother’s situation, which in turn shows us how memories are subject to your own delusions or interpretations.

SPOILER: I’m specifically thinking of when Richard finds out how his mother gouged out her eyes. Initially he was mad at his Aunt, thinking sooner or later he would’ve learned the truth that she went crazy and had caused her own death. But later he realized that she had gouged out her eyes because she didn’t want to see him when he was flown back to Paris to meet her. See page 259. 

So I’m going to stand by my opinion that I liked this book. I think it’s hilarious it was marketed under Science Fiction because although Magdalena can see “truth” on people’s skin (and it’s revealed a number of additional people can as well), this played a minor part of the story. It may have been the driving force behind a few of the character’s actions, but it didn’t play an enormous visual role in the story, which is typically how science fiction or fantasy books work. It was very subliminal, which convinces me to argue this is more of a fiction than a sci-fi piece. And although it’s slow, I think it’s still well worth it to pick it up and read.

Saunders, Adelia. Indelible. New York, NY: Bloomsbury, 2017. Print.

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Have I convinced you yet?

FYI. There’s so many SPOILERS in this post that you’re going to cry. Because this book’s been SPOILED. ← I feel like that could be a catch phrase. 

While this next book is also for YA audiences, I don’t think that should stop you from reading it. Cue The Golden Lily‘s entrance. The 2nd book in the Bloodlines series and the 8th book in the Vampire Academy universe, this book follows Sydney the Alchemist as she questions her entire existence, whether vampires and dhampirs are truly as evil and unnatural as the Alchemists have been led to believe. And while this book sells itself as a YA paranormal romance, including the stereotypical love triangle with the protagonist, it does a much better job than most books in the genre. Characters don’t like each other just for their hotness (although this does happen, just like with every other romance), they like each other based on the other’s actual characteristics.

And you’re also one of the most fiercely loyal people I know-and caring, no matter how much you pretend otherwise. I see the way you look after Jill. Not many people would’ve traveled across the country to help her. (136)

I also love how they’re willing to go out of their way just to make the other one happy:

Liquid sugar. Yes, that was exactly what it had been. I hadn’t wanted to drink one, but I’d known if I’d just brought a slush for Adrian, he really would’ve read that as pity and refused. I had to act as though I’d wanted one too, with him as an afterthought. He seemed to have believed my lie about the drink’s sugar content. (158)

I love how mundane a lot of these instances are. Reminds me of cooking steak for my boyfriend, even though I’m a vegetarian. You can go to great lengths to please someone you love (or like).

Sure, sunstroke and sunburns were concerns, but I loved the sun and had a high tolerance for it. Vampires did not…”Come on, we have to get out of here before you get worse. What were you thinking?” His expression was astonishingly nonchalant for someone who looked like he would pass out. “It was worth it. You looked…happy.” (307-308)

But, I don’t want to talk about their relationship, although I could spend forever talking about how great of a job Richelle Mead did. There’s so many hints and foreshadowing that the transition is really quite smooth. And she achieves the same smoothness in building-up/revealing the antagonist. But the facet I really want to focus on was how Mead had achieved a slow character reversal for Sydney.

First, Mead sets the standard; letting the reader see Sydney’s ideal perception.

We believed vampires were unnatural creatures who should have nothing to do with humans like us. What was a particular concern were the Strigoi-evil, killer vampires-who could lure humans into servitude with promises of immortality. Even the peaceful Moroi and their half human counterparts, the dhampirs, were regarded with suspicion.  (8)

But of course nobody’s perfect, so Sydney has her doubts of herself.

Despite all the running around [my Moroi/dhamphir] friends made me do, I’d missed that motley group almost the instant I left California…Now, feeling that way confused me. Was I blurring the lines between friendship and duty? (17)

At this point, the reader’s got the perfect exposition, all within the first chapter. And throughout the book, we should see a slow reversal until the book resolve itself with Sydney thinking completely opposite to how she originally was, where she believes that “I’d been taught the existence of vampires was wrong and twisted, but I was about to witness was the true atrocity. These were the monsters” (375). But a writer cannot automatically change a character’s POV. Readers have to be convinced, so hence, you have to convince them with a slow build-up, an exposition if you will.

And just like any persuasive essay, you have to tackle the haters first. Cue Sydney’s instinctual responses to her vampire friends.

I laughed out loud and immediately felt guilty. I shouldn’t have responded. (22)

But, we’re only human. We have to doubt ourselves, and doubt instills that idea: Is she doing the right thing? We then have to repeat this train of thought occasionally in order to remind the reader of the conflict of this plot: Are all vampires are monsters?

A bit of the anxiety from the bunker returned, making me question if what I did was truly Alchemist responsibility or the desire to help those who-against protocol-had become my friends. (36)

But she can’t help but have grown comfortable. They’re her friends. Of course that instinctual-evil reaction was going to dull over time.

It was a sign of my progress that vampires talking about “food” no longer made me hyperventilate. I knew she didn’t mean blood, not if the dhampirs and I were being involved. (47)

And yet there are some things she still can’t stand, showing how much progress she still has to make.

I could take a lot of Moroi things in stride now, but drinking blood-human blood-made me shudder every time. (91)

But when it comes to her friends, there’s nothing she won’t do. Especially when looking at her personality, showcased earlier in para. 3. She can’t help but help.

I knew all about what it was like to have a father who continually judged, whom nothing was ever good enough for. I understood as well the warring emotions…how one day you could say you didn’t care, yet be yearning for approval the next. And I certainly understood motherly attachment.

You don’t have to help, my inner voice warned me. You don’t owe him anything. You don’t owe any Moroi anything that isn’t absolutely necessary…”Okay,” I said. “I’ll do it.” (103-104)

And when someone finally returns the favor, you can’t help but grown more comfortable. More appreciative. More trusting.

“How many times does she have to refuse?” Adrian demanded. “If she doesn’t want to, then there’s all there is to it.”

I dared a peek at Adrian. He no longer look angry, but there was still a fierceness there. It was almost…protective. A strange, warm feeling swirled in my chest, and for a brief moment, when I looked at him, I saw…safety. (108-109)

Leading to this nice back-and-forth of helping each other, until the characters reach some sort of threshold of trust.

Skipping lunch wasn’t going to compensate for those calories, I thought glumly…I suddenly felt stupid for even attempting this ruse…Then, I thought back to that brief moment by the car, and Adrian’s fleeting look of contentment. (159)

And then finally realizing that not everything is black and white.

Adrian using spirit to bring Jill back from the dead was still a troubling matter for me. Every bit of Alchemist training I had said that kind of magic was wrong…At the same time, whenever I saw Jill bright and alive, I was convinced Adrian had done a good thing. (161)

That you have to look beyond preconceptions to the person underneath.

“I did it because he wasn’t fair to you. Because you deserve credit for what you’ve done. Because he needs to realize you aren’t the person he’s always thought you were. He needs to see you for who you really are, not for all the ideas and preconceptions he’s built up around you.”(243)

Of course, Sydney goes on to demonstrate how much she’s grown to trust her vampire friends, such as on p. 299, p. 306, and p. 320. I loved watching her questioning herself, even as she grew more comfortable, always wondering did she make the right decision? This doubt is what makes her seem human, makes the character seem real. And by supporting her acceptance of vampires with multiple scenes, Mead reinforces Sydney’s decision, that not all vampires have to be evil. And not everything is black and white. You have to look beyond those original ideas and think for yourself.

I think Mead’s major strength in enacting this is reflection. Because she drew attention to the same idea multiple times, she forced her character and the reader to consider this topic. She treated this reversal as a persuasive argument by first presenting the idea and then slowly presenting supporting scenes that would prove that vampires could be good people too. Which leads me to my final question, have I convinced you to read this book yet?

Mead, Richelle. The Golden Lily. London, England: Penguin Books, 2012.

Theme

In my opinion, theme doesn’t have to be obvious.

It definitely can be, which is the case with books like 1984 or its twin, A Brave New World.

But it doesn’t have to be. It can meander and stroll, peppering small hints throughout a story, essentially touching upon the truth, until the reader gets enough hints that they eventually arrive to the answer. But you don’t even have to do that. It is my belief that every story has a purpose, and even though every author might not set out with a theme, it inadvertently makes one.

People begin singing the words there, and clapping in time, and they don’t make any sense either. The name “Christian” features in it repeatedly, but not in any context I understand. And the message of the sing-along is distinctly sinister, all about submission and conformity and reward feedback loops. (Stross 87)

It’s funny. Glasshouse is supposed to be about this poor main character who is stuck in a bubble society made to resemble the past, and all he can think about is how strange the past is, where the Bible focuses on submission, conformity, and weird loops. Because he’s commenting on his past but our present, I think it’s safe to say Stross thinks this of society, and I have to say, I agree completely. But that’s the essence of group think and popularity right? The essence of a extremely social species?

If I was me, if I was in my own self-selected body, I’d call him out on the spot-but I’m not. In the sick pit of my stomach I realize that they’re never going to forget that I’ve been singled out, and that this makes me a target. After all, that’s how peer pressure works, isn’t it? That’s what this is about. The experimenters can’t expect to generate a workable dark ages society in just three years by dumping a bunch of convalescents in orthohuman bodies into the polity and letting them wander around. They need a social mechanism to make us require conformity of one other, and the best way to do that is to provide a mechanism to make us punish our own deviants- (Stross 88)

Direct commentary on our life. How do we get everyone to conform? Through peer pressure. And through peer pressure, we lose the individuality that is so hard to attain in our society, which was so prevalent in the main character’s…until he was forced to live now/here.

I think that’s why I liked Glasshouse a lot. It’s because it was a relatively fun read – lots of adventure, action, confusion that forced you to think, while it was still mature enough to contemplate our society, why it exists. A book stands the test of time more readily when it lends an analysis to something…besides just what it means to have fun.

Stross, C. Glasshouse. New York, NY: Ace, 2014.

Creating Conflict

Conflict is bourne out of humanity; at least, that’s what I usually think since everywhere I go, someone’s always upset. Whether it’s one person fighting to stop the bus; a student arguing with the teacher to sway their grade; two guys competing to win or lose, there’s always conflict – whenever there’s a discrepancy of ideas.

And it’s not that difficult to create. (Most of the time I think we bring it on ourselves.)

Take Robin for instance, the main character in Glasshouse, all he knows is that someone is out to kill him. And this is where the discrepancy comes to life: survival. And while a lot of authors tend to fight to kill their characters, Stross gives Robin what he wants: satisfaction.

“Think about it,” she says. “It’s a closed community running in a disconnected T-gate manifold. Nobody gets to go in or comes out after it starts running, not until the whole thing terminates. What’s more, it’s an experimental protocol. It’ll be anonymized and randomized, and the volunteers’ records will be protected by the Scholastium Experimental Ethics Service. So-“

Enlightenment dawns. “If anyone is after me ,they won’t be able to get at me unless they’re inside it from the start! And while I’m in it I’ll be invisible.” (Stross 29)

I thought this was a good change of pace. Instead of fighting to kill your characters, bring conflicts out of their choices, make them hidden behind the reflection of good ideas.

If you’re looking on how to create conflict, first come up the idea of what do they want in life. If you look at Robin’s character, you can see his history as a soldier, where now he wants peace, seclusion. He doesn’t want to keep fighting, especially when he can’t remember what he was fighting about – this just creates paranoia.

After that, create a situation where his worst fears come to life. In this case, Robin’s enemies find him, after he spends the whole novel evading them. I think this was the greatest strength: Showing the reader that Robin had failed. He was captured, mind-wiped, and there was no sense of escape. And yet your novel doesn’t have to stick to one conflict. At this point in the book, Robin’s conflict changed, and to create fluid transition with change, just reflect on it!

Hint: Usually this solves any problem with a book, whether it’s a whether it’s a questionable reaction or event, your character’s active reflection will solve it.

It’s time I stopped kidding myself that I can fight my way out of here, and time that I stopped kidding myself that they’re going to let me go in (I checked the calendar) another ninety-four megaseconds…I’ve for a stark choice. I can conform like everyone else…Or I can try to find out what’s really going on. (Stross 137)

Even though the point of the novel has one motif in mind: survival, it can have multiple streams of conflict starting and stopping. Because your book is a fluid transcription of Robin’s life, you’re allowed to start/stop multiple conflicts, ever increasing the amount of complications.

I think the main idea to take away from Glasshouse is that you don’t always have to force a conflict on your characters; most of the time, we do plenty good making the conflict for ourselves.

Stross, C. Glasshouse. New York, NY: Ace, 2006. Print.

Action-Reaction-Reflection

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about this technique, and I found a great example for it within Stross’ Glasshouse, so I thought now would be a good time for a gentle reminder.

ARR: Action-Reaction-Reflection

A technique, or pattern, used to develop a scene, where an action (or event) occurs, the character then reacts, and reflects on either why, how, or what it means. 

“Another drink?” Kay asks. “I’m buying.”

“Yes, please.” A warning bell rings in my head as I sense Blondie heading toward our table. I pretend not to notice, but I can feel a familiar warmth in my stomach, a tension in my back. Ancient reflexes and not a few modern cheat-codes take over and I surreptitiously loosen my sword in its scabbard. I think I know what Blondie wants, and I’m perfectly happy to give it to her. She’s not the only one around here prone to frequent flashes of murderous rage that takes a while to cool. The counselor told me to embrace it and give in, among consenting fellows. It should burn itself out in time. (Stross 5)

Action: Consider the action happening in this scene, when Blondie heads toward their table. Here is a specific event, which is recognizable through motion-type verbs.

Reaction: These are feelings that the character is experiencing, which usually concerns part of the body or types of emotions. Here, the character feels reactions within their stomach and back, reminiscent of excitement and pre-game tension.

Reflection: This is what the character is thinking in terms to what just happened. Here, the character is reflecting on why Blondie is moving, what he’s going to do next, how he feels about it, how others feel. There’s a lot of questions answered here, and this is usually the meat of a scene.

While action is necessary for readers to develop an image of what’s happening, reflection is most important because it help readers identify the reasoning of the story helping them align with the main character’s thoughts, aiding in immersion. Reaction helps a little bit with this, but it’s the mid-way point action and reflection, and helps more with the reader sympathizing with the character.

Each of these is an important step for a scene, and if one is missing, it does create weaker writing. I would know – I’m still struggling to keep plenty of reflection in mine.

Stross, C. Glasshouse. New York, NY: Act, 2006. Print.

A Thorough Introduction

I wasn’t supposed to finish this book so quickly. Stuck on a snowy mountain for four days with sore muscles from panicked skiing, I was supposed to stretch this book out to last each evening, and instead I finish it my second night here. Sometimes it’s not the best to be a quick reader.

Titled, Dark Orbit, it’s about two women: Sara and Thora, who are both sent to Iris, a newly discovered planet, and find out they have to save the inhabitants from the outcropping space-folds. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Although Carolyn Ives Gilman is not a poetic writer, I get the impression she is very organized. Everything she writes seems to have some importance, being directly relevant to the story in some way, which I quickly sensed after reading the introduction. It quickly gives her away as being a very direct, focused writer.

In the first line of the book, the reader learns about which planet and timeline we’re on: “In the course of Saraswati Callicot’s vagabond career, she had been disassembled and brought back to life so many times, the idea of self-knowledge had become a bit of a joke” (Gilman 1). Through this internal reflection, the reader learns that in this timeline, the people can travel through a process of particle dis- and re-assembly.

Continuing the process of self-reflection, we learn the type of story this will be: “Even with endless experience, she still felt like an anachronism until she accounted for the years everyone else had lived, and that she had spent as a beam of clarified light. / It had been five years in her subjective time since she had left Capella Two” (Gilman 8). This story will be one of science fiction that treads the line between make believe and theory, which makes it a more convincing story to have some anchor in truth. I certainly believed more in the theme. This line also introduces part of the background of the character, slowly transitioning as a sort of past reflection, letting the reader catch up with the character.

The introduction continues by having Sara examine herself in a mirror – oddly cyclic when compared to the ending, though it’s perhaps not a coincident. And then by her past catching up with her for her mission, the true start of the story, the reader gets a sense of the character’s attitude, looks, and background. By the one of the main character’s being an exoethnologist, a scientist who studies outside cultures and ideas, she’s much more analytical of her surroundings, hence the critical POV from this character.

This book would be a good study for authors looking to introduce their story. As always, there’s multiple ways to do it, but by choosing this moment of the story – after her transport by light beam – it gives the reader to catch up with the character, to check out her appearance and the world around her, to reflect on how things have changed from her past and etc. I’m sure everyone would have a good point in a timeline to better examine their characters, and self-reflection seems like a good start on how to do it.

Gilman, Caryoln Ives. Dark Orbit. New York, NY: Tor, 2015. Print.

Self-Reflection

“This is no celebration,” replied the captain tiredly. “This is no banquet. These aren’t government representatives. This is no surprise party. Look at their eyes. Listen to them!”

…”Where are we, sir?”

The captain exhaled. “In an insane asylum.” (Bradbury 34-35)

What a beautiful twist! And this book is full of them.

First, the initial expedition, which made it to the ground only to be murdered.

Then the second expedition, who told the people of Mars they were from Earth and were then forced into the asylum because the natives thought they were crazy telepathic Martians.

I like the way Bradbury convinces the reader of this. First, the astronauts are celebrating. They think someone is finally taking them seriously, until the natives mention they’re from Earth as well, which obviously isn’t true.

And then they think, we’ll we just have to prove it’s true. It shouldn’t be difficult, considering that they have pink skin and Martians are brown. But notice the captain’s words when his men ask them if it should be easy to leave. “I’m not [certain.] Look in that corner” (35). Where people bent realities with their minds. The people of Mars mentioned earlier in the book they were telepathic. This was not only a believable excuse, but riveting for the reader as the second expedition encounters their own realistic problem. I loved it!

I loved how this problem harassed the third expedition as well, and it was also not until the captain reflected on his reality, the odds of it happening, until he realized these imaginings were from his mind (63). It is these reflections that gives the characters the realization and the ability to act on these problems, and it is these reflections that clue the reader into the problem and give us the ability to react.

These reflections made these next chapters exquisite! And I definitely think they point out why self-reflection and thought are so important for our characters. Without it, they’re not real. They’re just figurines.

Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 1997. Print.