Hansel and Gretel 2018

Art by Filip Hodas

Art by Filip Hodas

Modern witches design their huts differently to attract small children.

 

Worldbuilding Wednesday 11/7/18: Let’s Talk About the
xxxxKardashians

In my art classes I was taught that the way to create a good caricature, whether for a political cartoon or MAD magazine parody, was to exaggerate the two or three most distinctive features of a subject’s face, because that is what the human eye takes in first. Such a depiction is grotesque, yet instantly recognizable.

Yet, in doing some research for this post, I found that this does not apply to any of the Kardashian sisters, because their features have been so smoothed and blended by plastic surgery that there’s literally nothing to exaggerate. So, I found a picture of an old Bratz doll that is more recognizable as Kim Kardashian than an actual bona fide caricature of Kim Kardashian. Strange but true.

I am sure everyone knows who the Kardashians are and has some opinion on them, and most of them can articulate their opinion better than I can, so I’ll say simply that I don’t like them, and that if they were all killed tomorrow in a freak jet ski accident, I wouldn’t be put out. Not that I hate them, or anything. I just think the world would be better if they weren’t here taking up time, attention, and resources.

That said, if a writer needs to come up with a Kardashian Klone for their own version of a reality TV star or fashion icon, someone whose name has the same ring but isn’t them, here are some ideas.

Kardashian Klones

Kendar Korrashian

Khydee Kardashamia

Kyla Kardathis

Kami Kardashimi

Khloö Kadashiels

Kady Kurtdtan

Klea Korkoddian

Keenanne Kaftwafft

Kathe Khamulian

Kanai Kasumbra

Kamoa Kidzukis

Kathiss Kardavite

Keely Kudashka

Kendess Kukushian

Kethia Kardaz

Kamet Khodashandri

The Giants

Were they being created, or destroyed?
Punished, or enhanced?
Monitored, or forgotten?

They look caught in motion, yet perhaps the liquid medium just holds them in stasis.

Don’t ask the worker at the lower right. He’s just doing his job.

 

Every Heart a Doorway [Review]

Every Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire
Tor Books, 2016

Every Heart a Doorway is a book that spans genres. It’s part YA, part horror, part old-timey Portal fantasy, and part magical boarding school fantasy, with a dollop of LGBTQ. It’s disturbing, in ways both unintentional and obvious. It won a Nebula award, yet could have been a lot better.

The book has a hell of a concept. Portals into other worlds – described along an axis of Logic and Nonsense, and another of Virtue and Vice, actually exist, and manage to suck in the children who explore. Some have good experiences, some bad. When the Portal spits them out again months or years later, they’re older and changed psychologically. Their parents and loved ones, not believing their stories of fantasy worlds, pack them off to a special boarding school to “cure” them. But Eleanor West, the school’s owner, does the opposite… she also went through a Portal in her youth, and so helps them come to terms with it rather than denying it.

The story starts off being about Nancy, a teenage girl who spent a few years in The Land of the Dead and her struggles with adjusting to her present life in the real world, but it’s really about the concept of Portals and the odd worlds they lead to, and how they affect the kids who spend time in them. In the second half of the book there’s a murder mystery shoved in with some gruesomeness that doesn’t quite fit the beginning tone of the story, and acts as a spoiler to and repudiation of that first part of the novel (novella, rather, it was quite short) which was meditative and magical. Nancy helps solve the crime, and in the end, finding a secret message from one of the murdered victims, gets to go back to the fantasy land she loved so much. The End.

I was more than a little nonplussed by the book, and am still mulling it over. On the whole, though, I was frustrated by the directions it took. For example, the Portal worlds read more like video game scenarios than spoofs of literary fantasy worlds (Alice in Wonderland, Narnia, etc.) that the author seemed to be setting the reader up for. For example, there’s a Candyland world that recalls the fictional video game Sugar Rush from the Pixar movie Wreck-it Ralph, and a high Gothic one that recalls not Emily Bronte or Mary Shelley, but the Ravenloft universe from Dungeons and Dragons. There did seem to be a lack of variety in that all came across on variations of Faerielands or Looking-Glass world, rather than the familiar universes of, say, Talking Animal world (Native American myths, Pooh, Dr. Doolittle), Arabian Nights world, Celtic England world, and on and on.  Worlds from the books the kids in the story might have read. I could see these worlds functioning as archetypes, along the lines of the different theme parks in the Westworld TV series and movies, for example.

In the story they did, sort of, but the effect was off-putting. Most of the worlds came across as dull or dangerous. Only one character had grand adventures of the type the Narnia kids had. The others were damaged, or exploited. One character, Sumi, emerged as a near-schizophrenic speaking word salad, giggling and hiding in trees. Twin sisters in the high Gothic world were forced to serve a mad scientist and a vampire. Yet, in McGuire’s depiction, the kids LOVE it, so much they want to return, which is why they’re at the school being consoled by Eleanor. The more I think about it, and I’ve been mulling over this book for a few weeks now, the story is horror at its heart. Yet it pretends not to be.

The main character, Nancy, served as a living statue in the vaguely Grecian Land of Dead, which meant she stood still a very long time observing a lot of nothing (because the dead aren’t exactly full of energy) which would be frankly hellish for most people, yet she enjoyed it. Many times it was mentioned how she detests the “hot, busy” world, yet it was never convincingly explained why or how she vegged out 24/7 with no outside stimulation.

And, troublingly I think, some of the kids’ kinks for these worlds are linked to their real-world psychologies. Nancy asserts she is asexual (a lack of sexual attraction toward any gender) and the book hints their psychologies choose for them, or perhaps manifest, a Portal to a world where they can live them out – Nancy as asexual has a lack of engagement and passion, so she goes to a Land of the Dead where she can literally erase herself. Kade, another character, is a transgender boy, so he goes to a world of fairies to have boyish adventures, only to be kicked out when his birth gender is discovered. The twin sisters are vaguely sociopathic, so one becomes a mad scientist in Gothic world, the other a vampire’s foster daughter. This raises some questions the author may not have intended, as in, are these young people better off in their own worlds, or is it better for them to be integrated into society? Are their kinks eccentricities, or pathologies?

I have to say the story works as an examination of these issues, but it fails as a story. The characters were unpleasant, self-centered and stereotypical, and the murder mystery was distracting and awkward. Plus, the story started in a way that I hate. There’s probably a name for the trope: Main character arrives in a new place and stands there all confused, then another character waltzes in who spouts a lot of nonsense at them, making them even more confused, and also the reader, and even though what the insane character says actually makes sense, that’s apparent only in hindsight when the reader gets deeper into the book. It’s a very hard trope to write well, and 99% of writers don’t. The trick is to make the insane character amusing enough for the reader to tolerate them, which Lewis Carroll pulled off in Alice in Wonderland… but that was also because of the humor, puns, and Victorian caricatures. The schizophrenic character of Sumi was just irritating and my annoyance level jumped every time she came back into the story. In hindsight, I found her damaged and pathetic, but the story didn’t think so. It treated her as heroic in her madness.

Other tropes seemed imported wholesale from YA fiction, and popular fiction in general… showing the brainy, competent character in a room full of books, and the mad scientist character dressing like one in tweeds and bow tie. Really.

And, actually, there are stories that play with the concept of Portal worlds better. One of these is The Cave in Deerfield, by an author known as Cofax, which is Narnia fanfic and available through the  Archive of Our Own fanfic site. This asks the question, were the Pevensie kids the first ones to travel through a Portal to Narnia, or only the ones who were successful in their mission? Now, you have to have read C.S. Lewis’s  Narnia series to get this, or at least The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but I think most fantasy readers have, so I’ll include it in this link.

If Narnia was in public domain the way Oz is, The Cave in Deerfield should have won a Nebula.

Another is Ursula K. LeGuin’s beautiful short story The Pathways of Desire. A group of explorer/anthropologists travel to a planet that is superficially like a Polynesian island with beautiful native girls and brave warriors, only to discover it’s really the invented fantasy world of a high school boy. “But what happens if he wakes up and stops believing in it?” one character asks. The other responds, “Only once in a million million years does a soul wake up” implying that most young people prefer their fantasies to their realities, which is more of a heartbreaking point than anything Every Heart a Doorway came up with. It’s not one of the LeGuin’s most cited short stories, but I’d like to see it get mentioned more than it does, because of what it says to SFF readers and writers both.

In sum, Every Heart a Doorway could have been a creepy horror story, but failed. I didn’t get the meta-commentary on Portal worlds I expected to find, either, and what details there were served as background for the start of a longer book series that doesn’t sound as interesting as the initial concept is.

The Absolutely True Diary of a
Part-Time Indian
xxxx[Reading Challenge 2018]

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

by Sherman Alexie
Little, Brown & Co., 2017
(10th Anniversary Edition)

[Challenge # 5: A book by a local author.]

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a semi-mythic coming of age story of a Native American boy’s freshman year. Arnold Spirit Jr. lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation, an intelligent yet quiet youth whom no one notices much, and whose family is so poor that when they can’t afford a trip to the vet for their sick dog, they shoot it. He has a best friend, Rowdy, and a family that cares for him yet is crippled by alcoholism and apathy. At the beginning of his first year at the Rez’s high school Arnold receives a textbook and is excited to start learning. When he opens it, he sees his mother’s name inside, and realizes the textbooks have not been updated for twenty-five years. Angered, he hits his teacher in the face with it!

Thus starts his journey, in which he decides to attend a regular public high school in the nearest town rather than the Native community’s. This decision bears consequences: his friends and community turn their backs on him for betraying their own, for seeking a better education and better life.

Of course, Arnold doesn’t phrase it like this, because he’s a 14-year-old boy; he thinks instead in omens and intuition. His narration is the most charming part of the book, even if it’s a lot like Alexie’s “regular” writing tone. Yet, it feels like a 14-year-old, and he draws you into his world. I wish every YA writer attempting a first person teen voice would read True Diary, or something like it. It’s a wonderful how-to on writing a story true to a teen’s age and a teen’s narrative style, with none of the present voice over-scriptedness that’s so prevalent in YA published recently.

But, it is a strange book. It’s categorized as YA, but it is really more of a confessional autobiography, with a dash of magic realism. I enjoyed Alexie’s first short story collection, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven, a lot, and True Diary has many of the same story themes of that earlier collection. The strongest of these is identity, how young Natives navigate a White world that still has many stereotypical notions about them, or a  patronizing, bleeding-heart sympathy that is almost as bad.

The book had a lot of twists and turns that I liked; it always surprised me. A chapter would start out in one tone, then switch to another when the narrator springs some revelation on us. I particularly like how the Geometry teacher who Arnold hits with the book becomes his savior and mentor, and a seemingly-clueless White basketball star a true friend. The cartoons by Seattle artist Ellen Forney scattered about the text  added to my enjoyment and gave the text an extra oomph, as Arnold intends to pursue a career in comics when he graduates. In the span of the book he experiences more than his share of tragedies and a few triumphs, and by the end he understands his accomplishment and what that will mean for his future. For he does intend to continue in the public school, which, despite being in a small town in Central Washington State, will give him a better education and more exposure to the world than the one on the Rez. Yet, he does not reject his roots. He embraces them still, for all their flaws.

Illustration from the book by Ellen Forney

Illustration from the book by Ellen Forney

Other parts of the book I was not crazy about. There was a bit about masturbation which went on too long and gleefully for a YA book, though I suspect that kids would love it. There’s also a throwaway line of “Indians like to talk dirty” which squicked me, considering recent criticisms against the author. I also felt the tone was belligerent at times, as if rubbing White noses in the dirt over the situation their ancestors created. But overall, it helped me understand my Native friends better. It also made me wonder if the author would be as lauded if he did not write about the subject matter that he does, which is a peek for Whites into a very private and guarded world which contains a lot of trauma.

In the end, I found it hard to separate the author from the art. I know I don’t want to be the kind of writer that mines (or uses, or transforms, or justifies….) their tragedies into subject matter. I’m too private for that. Perhaps that’s a shortcoming. I don’t know.

The new material for the 2017 edition includes interviews with both Alexie and Forney, an afterword by Alexie, bonus drawings, an alternate version of the first chapter, and a few chapters from the viewpoint of Arnold Spirit’s best friend Rowdy. It enhances the book and pulls it together as a whole, so I recommend reading the special edition if you can get it.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 10/31/18: Gothic Mansions

It’s Halloween. And what better way to celebrate than by visiting a spooky
old mansion?

Old castles, manses, and abbeys are a mainstay of Gothic literature.
Manderlay, in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, is practically its own
character, along with its housekeeper. And who can forget “The Great House
of Collinwood” mentioned at the beginning of each Dark Shadows
TV episode, narrated in deadpan monotone by actress Victoria Moltke?

Other houses are noteworthy by their evocative names: Gormenghast,
Thornfield Hall, Northanger Abbey. These don’t sound like places you’d go to
for a quick weekend getaway featuring red wine and down comforters, but
locations for dark secrets and ancient mysteries.

Through the magic of random generation, here’s a list for your gothic plots.

Gothic Mansions

Broodloss Plantation

Marpede Alders

Anglepont Abbey

Tintwater

Kinfields

Mannefell House

Ruddinland

Lyretower Court

Pallentor

Breakwater Mansion

Tortefaire

Blandscape Peaks

Hanloss Priory

Stardusk

Marmot Moor

Sarkwhistor Abbey

Penderang Keep

Castle Strabav

Swamptree Ranch

Leicester Coomb

Mount Loganheim

Pendergay

Castle Bletchwater

Coldfields Park

Vermiswood

Iveyheath

Margrave Mansion

The Great House of Lioncaster

Grendelay House

Staurieve Castle

Crullbar Rock

Handfeld Belfry

Rowanfields

Gorinspun House

Reeveston Mansion

Barmador

A Medical Student’s Nightmare

Vintage photograph, 1900s – 1920s

This isn’t the only antique photograph I’ve come across of a doctor surrounded by cadavers intent on dissecting him. It says a lot about gallows humor in the profession. The ghostly legs below the table add to the spooky feel, but it’s likely they were the result of a double exposure used to create the shot.

 

Worldbuilding Wednesday 10/24/18: Halloween Costumes

Vintage Halloween Costumes

Halloween was once freaky business.

Thinking up a new and unique Halloween costume can be a chore. Everything seems like it’s been done before, and done better. Pizza Rat. A Thousand Points of Light. A Stayfree MiniPad. But through the magic of random generation, it’s possible to combine costume ideas in new ways and truly create one that’s unique.

Unique Halloween Costumes

Riot Grrl Flapper

Undead Medusa

Death Metal Baby

Mermaid Clown

Headless Elvis

Medieval Aerobics Instructor

Biker Babe Banshee

Martian Nurse

Cyclops Gladiator

Pirate Geisha

Extreme Sports Alien

Zombie Belly Dancer

Mad Scientist Unicorn

Redneck Batman

Goblin Cheerleader

Druid Exorcist

Hula Girl Cousin It

Two-headed Witch

Steampunk Surgeon

Pumpkin-headed Punk

Prehistoric Wizard

Rocky Horror Ghostbuster

Alcoholic Deadpool

Muppet Professor

Red Queen [Book Review]

The following book review is condensed from and elaborated on from an earlier post.

Red Queen

by Victoria Aveyard
HarperTeen, 2015

Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard, is one of those dystopias that appears to take its high concept to the max. Mare, a teenage girl on the cusp of turning 18 and being drafted into the army, lives in a future world divided between Reds and Silvers. Reds are ordinary folk, while Silvers possess superhero-like powers over a single element like metal or water, and have silver blood. I’ll get to the implications of that later. The Silvers are the ruling class, with an anachronistic, European-style monarchy of Kings, Queens, and noble families. They lord their superiority over the commoners cackling with glee, and the heroine, a downtrodden Red, reminds us of how awful and evil they are. It’s a little like reading a Jackie Collins book: everything is placed before the reader through the characters, who in unsubtle terms tell the reader how they should feel about all of this. Which might be fun if the book was trashy, but it wasn’t. It was very carefully written and structured to engender sympathy for the protagonist and an interest in her eventual battle with this system.

Which was a shame, as the implications of such a world, unrealistic as it was (those superhuman powers are never explained, at least in the first book) would have made for some dynamite discussion on biology, social class, and exploitation. But it all was just a novel background. Nowhere is there an explanation how our present world became this odd, untenable future.

In fact, a lot of the book reads like a movie novelization — the author studied scriptwriting — in the way each scene is set and how events progress, with the present tense third person of the script replaced by an “I”  with a tacked-on emotional and reaction track. In other words, first person present voice. Which can work for YA if an author is skilled, but they usually aren’t, and it doesn’t. Especially for SF and fantasy, which demands worldbuilding and a suspension of disbelief.

The first third of the book, sets the background and the stakes, was overstuffed, with a stalemated war burdening the Reds, a lack of resources for them such as electricity, a simmering rebellion, and the heroine’s sucky home life. All of which were hammered over the reader’s head like Thor’s hammer Mjollner. But I did want to see where the real story began, so I persevered.

The plot takes off when Mare is given a job as a servant in the Silver’s summer palace by the Crown Prince, Cal, whom she had met in disguise at an inn. On her first day there she witnesses the Silver’s Queenstrial, a competition in which the marriageable young ladies of the court display their powers before the aforementioned Crown Prince to demonstrate their bloodlines and fitness to rule as his wife. This was actually a good section, as most of the action scenes were, although the arena certainly gets torn to pieces a lot — for example, the metal controller (called a magnetar for some reason) tears out pieces of the foundation and tosses them around like chopsticks. But it was a cool idea, and very movielike in a Michael Bay way.

The heroine then suffers an accident and falls into the arena, hitting the electric shield used to protect the audience from the combatants. She expects to be fried instantly, but it’s revealed she also has a superpower also… to control electricity (!!)…a thing never seen before by the Silvers who thought themselves unique. Much consternation occurs.

The girl whose power display Mare interrupted is also put out, so much so that she hates Mare for the rest of the book. (Some reviewers have had an issue with the girl-hate**  in the novel, but for me, her hate is justified in a way — Mare stole her moment of glory.)

And so we come to the book’s first major plot hole. How do the King and Queen come up with an excuse for an electricity-using Red? They tell everyone that Mare is really an orphaned Silver, born of war heroes but raised by Reds, who has only now discovered her true heritage and power! And, oh, she’s going to marry the younger brother of the Crown Prince, so the royal family can keep an eye on her.

All this was very silly.

As an adult I might have gotten into the soapy nature of the drama if it was written better, but it was just so… arbitrary and tedious. First of all, how could anyone be expected to believe a lie like that, or the liar to expect them to believe? Yes, it is a different society, but science and common sense still exist. In order for it to make sense, Mare must not have never,  ever, skinned her knee, had a nosebleed, bruised, or menstruated, displaying her Silver blood.

Let’s go further into what having Silver blood actually means.

Mammal blood, and in fact all vertebrate blood, is red because it carries hemoglobin for the transfer of oxygen to the tissues of the body. Hemoglobin contains iron, thus it appears red. Hemoglobin is very efficient at what it does. There are other types of blood, such as copper-based hemocyanin that mollusks and arthropods use, but none are as efficient as hemoglobin in transferring oxygen. Hemocyanin would never work efficiently for a creature of a human’s size.

Hemoglobin has the property of creating the pink or ruddy look to human skin where blood flows closely against the surface. Sure, some veins look blue, but that is an effect of the light through the layers of skin. They aren’t really blue. Prick them and they’ll gush red. In addition, its relative myoglobin, which is also iron-based, makes vertebrate internal organs look pinkish or red. The two thus work in conjunction to keep the body oxygenated.

The story did a lip service to that idea by stating the Silvers are pale, and that when they blush, they turn even paler. But really, it would be a LOT more than that. Take away the redness of hemoglobin-based blood and replace it with a silver protein that does the same thing, and you will have a very odd-looking human being.

To begin with, the Silvers themselves would look like drained corpses. The pigments in the skin would still be there, but without the red cast, complexions would have a gray tone. Parts on a normal person that are pinkish, even for those with dark skin, would be grayish — this includes lips, the tongue, the inside of the mouth, nipples, and genitals. The area beneath the fingernails and toenails, and the palms of the hands and feet, would be gray as well. I don’t think a regular human would find such coloration attractive, unless they had a death fetish.

Yet the story acts as if Mare can pass herself as Silver with only a bit of makeup, and the Crown Prince pass as commoner also, with the help of some makeup. Nope! All either one of them would have to do is open their mouths, and people would know. In Mare’s case, one could also look at her eyes and see the red veins there. Much drama is made of her problem of not cutting herself to reveal her red blood, but, really, she’d never have a chance of concealing herself in the first place. This is sloppy science, and young readers deserve better.

The author — or the editor — could have done some research, and made some changes. Perhaps the Silver’s blood only turns silver when it is exposed to air. Or the blood is red, but has silver flecks in it. This would account nicely for the Silver’s appearance and tie in to their powers. A book, even a soapy teen novel, is different medium than a comic or anime that relies on cool visuals like Silver blood to engage interest. It engages the mind, and needs internal logic to buttress its creations.

In comics Wolverine’s claws magically suck up into his forearms when they are not needed without damaging the muscles in his wrists. But it’s in a superhero comic, where departures from reality are a given. In a science fiction book, though (which Red Queen is) it’s a requirement of the genre that radical departures from reality be explained, or at least hinted at. Even handwaved if it comes down to it.

And why the Kings and Queens and royal balls? Why haven’t these superpeople evolved a different political system, a different way of social interaction?

Moving into the middle third of the book, commoner Mare is taken under the wing of the aforementioned Silver royal family and tutored to become a proper Silver Lady (lessons in dressing, eating, etiquette, etc… there’s a trope for it somewhere) while the wicked Queen, whose power is reading minds, keeps an eye on her. This section has been described as A Game of Thrones for teens but it’s more like I, Claudius, an adult book I read at age 13 and had been very impressed by. I would not have been impressed by this take on it. There’s a few well-written scenes of psionic combat in these chapters, and things get interesting when Mare is recruited by her husband-to-be into a rebel group intent on making life more fair for the Reds. By “interesting” here I mean the story became less of a chore to read, not that it was stimulating my intellect.

Part of that interest, I am ashamed to say, came from the girl-hate. Many female readers detest this trope, and it is a trite way to create drama and conflict for the heroine. But all the same, it acts like porn, striking both girls and former girls on some deep, primal level. There’s a desire on the part of the reader to see it played out, to see the victim striking back at her rival and humiliating her. Girl-hate that fails to be played out to this end is frustrating. It’s a cop-out; the writer has manipulated us but not given us the reward we expect. On the other hand, if there is a turnabout and reward for the victim, it must be realistic and in tone with the book. If it isn’t, the reader is equally frustrated. For an author, balancing these expectations is no easy task.

The problem with Red Queen is that the girl-hate is unbalanced. It comes at Mare from everywhere: her Silver peers at court; the evil Silver Queen; her etiquette tutor, whom she girl-hates back; and even the rebellion’s leader, who looks down on Mare for being useless, because really she is. The author explains that the Silvers pretty much hate everyone, which I can buy, but on the other hand, the four male Silvers who are close to Mare (the Princes, a history tutor, and her man-at-arms) don’t hate her. They like her and are willing to give her a chance, while the other male Silvers, if not as welcoming, are neutral. There’s no catty hate coming from them. This stark division exposing the trope as antifeminist instead of having fun with it.

By this point, many other things had begun to annoy me about the characters, plot and background as well.

Mare’s family and childhood friend who were introduced in the beginning of the book. They were dull and unnecessary, and, frankly, in a high concept novel no one wants to hear a ton of backstory before the action starts.  In a Fish Out of Water plot, which this book is, it’s better to get the fish on land ASAP; you don’t need a ton of backstory to feel for the main character. This doesn’t mean the main character shouldn’t have a family or friends, only that their time in the book should be limited.  There were a ton of characters in the book anyway so it’s better to dwell only to those immediately affecting the narrative.

Mare did not come across as a bona fide dweller in this fantastic world. She was more like an amateur actress thrust into it, playing a role prescribed by the author. She didn’t have to emote all the time; what she said and how she said it, or what she didn’t say… and how she acted… tells the reader as much as or more than her continuously shouting her state of being to us. Readers like to draw their own conclusions, not have them force-fed.

Mares continuing hatred of and disdain for all things Silver. Logically, if she’d been raised in a serf situation from birth, she wouldn’t even have an opinion about them. They’d be Just the Way Things Are in her world, as the two classes barely interact. Plus, it’s more likely than not Silvers would use propaganda to keep the commoners in line, as in North Korea. Or they would keep Reds in walled ghettoes, as apartheid South Africa or Nazi-dominated Poland.

Mare did not do things. Plot events happened to her by accident or coincidence. By happenstance she meets a rebel leader, a prince who gets her a new job, and discovers she has a superpower. By the same tokens, she makes an enemy and gains a fiancé. All without decisions or actions on her part.

Mare joins the rebels too easily. An they accept her too easily, and they get in the royal palace too easily, despite the Silvers having superhuman powers, a heightened sense of vigilance, and spy cameras.

All this made the book feel both much longer and much shorter than it should have been. The book was long and short on themes as well, some of which raised interesting questions that should have been given more exploration.

What makes the human, inhuman? That’s one, and it’s a humdinger. Is it a matter of easy, unlimited power, as the Silver’s cruelty suggests… and what does it mean for the heroine that she also has this power? A line or two indicates that she enjoys it, but this is not gone into, nor does she censure or celebrate herself for having that thought.

War is bad. We’re hit over the head with this so obviously, it doesn’t carry a lot of weight. It also makes no sense. The Silver nation in the book is engaged in a drawn-out war with another Silver nation, and both sides, in spite of their awesome psionic powers and modern technology, draft useless Reds to serve as cannon fodder. Not only that, they arm the very people they are oppressing and go into combat beside them! Not very bright. Furthermore, the Reds don’t get anything special from serving. The war is explained as being over natural resources, but honestly, a race of people with near-omnipotent superpowers don’t need a lot of resources. Those with nature powers can farm and fertilize, and those with water powers, irrigate; those with telekinetic and metal powers can mine. In fact, it would be easier for the Silvers to do this themselves instead of maintaining a large population of regular humans to do it.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Power corrupts and makes its users selfish, which the Silvers certainly are. But what is not shown (and what the author may not have been capable of showing) is that it also divides them and prevents them from working effectively together, so visible cracks would be found in their so-called perfect society.

In the end, nothing in this book holds up under logic. It really should have been a single-season anime; it had all the hallmarks of that genre.

The only part that surprised me, in a good way, is when a rebel bomb goes off at a Silver social event, and Silvers are hurt and killed. That was a laudable effort at being even-handed by the author, showing us that there are sympathetic Silvers, as well as unsympathetic Reds.

But  by the time the rebels infiltrate the palace, and the heroine is betrayed, imprisoned, and later rescued… I just didn’t care. I was skimming, taking note of more silliness. An evil Queen with mind-control powers. A functioning subway line under the capital city that everyone on the surface has somehow forgotten about. The discovery that some Reds have been manifesting psionic powers too. If this is so, why aren’t they radically different from the Silver powers? That certain Reds can control electricity, while Silvers cannot – that electricity is the Silvers’ Achilles Heel — should have been logical. But instead Reds seem to be choosing from a list the Silvers had already gotten first crack at.  I could go on and on about each wrong turn and failure, about what I’ve already gone on and on about.

In sum, two stars, because the idea of it was interesting but the execution infuriating.

** Girl(s) that try bring a girl, or other girls, down by sneering and mocking them for no valid reason. Used as a plot device.

 

The Sea Has Many Secrets

Tiamat, Dragon Goddess of the Oceans by Cobaltplasma

Venture an ocean journey and you may run into entities like this beyond the reach of land.