Monday, December 20, 2010

The Native Star review

It took longer than I'd expected it would, but I finally finished The Native Star, by M.K. Hobson (Spectra, 2010). I'd actually never heard of the thing until I read about it on Felicia Day's Twitter -- take that, detractors of social media! But I heard about it, I looked it up, I read it, and I'm glad if not thrilled I did.

It seems a strange thing, but I'd actually expected to not like this book, and here's why: from the beginning, I'd thought the thing was going to be a sort of steampunk bodice-ripper, with gentlemen engaged in ungentlemanly conduct with women in corsets, and maybe some sort of plot tacked on about a mad scientist hell-bent on destroying the world with a steam-and-magic-powered robot, or something equally ridiculous. Background? World development? Who needs them when there are corsets and robots!

Now, don't get me wrong -- that could be a perfectly fun guilty pleasure, even for a completely heterosexual guy like me. But I don't normally consider paperback romances to be the high point of literature (I think I'm safe in assuming that?). And that's basically what I'd expected this book to be, so I wasn't expecting much.

Happily, this book no such thing. It's a serious work of steampunk fantasy fiction, the likes of which there need to be more, with plot and characters and world development all at the forefront. Indeed, the titillation was virtually nonexistent (almost disappointingly so), enough to make one wonder if Ms. Hobson's sensibilities are every bit as Victorian as her characters'. But I digress.

The characters of country witch Emily Edwards and Big City warlock Dreadnought Stanton are reasonably well thought-out and developed, though I didn't think they really had the kind of chemistry they could have, and that their blossoming romance (yes, there is some of that) was sped along a little too hastily and could have been developed more. That Emily chooses Stanton over her original love, Dag, is as far-fetched as it is predictable.

(Don't worry, I haven't spoiled anything for you. Although I'd be deeply amused if the inevitable sequel spawned Team Dag and Team Dreadnought fan clubs.)

Remember where I said that this is a serious work, where plot and world-development were actually thought-out and developed, and not just tacked on? Well, therein lies the rub. The Native Star sometimes gets a little caught up in its own seriousness, and the story stumbles a bit around Ms. Hobson's attempts to explain the differences and conflicts between the various forms and philosophies of magic in her world, enough that I feel like the final conflict of the story could have been saved for the sequel and a lighter, less global-crisis sort of adventure might have better served this first book.

That all said, it's executed fairly well, in a summer blockbuster sort of way -- a good summer blockbuster sort of way -- and there's more than enough material for that inevitable sequel I keep mentioning. (Obviously I don't know whether or not there will be such a book, but c'mon. C'mon.)

In all, I'm looking forward to good things from Hobson, and I think if she can take her time instead of trying to cram everything into one story, then we'll be in for a hell of a ride soon enough.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Holy crap, I have a blog! and What I'm reading lately.

Like leaving the baby on the stove ...

Way back when, I went to the Writer's Workshop at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. It was a fine experience, and one I definitely recommend, whether you're just starting out (like me) or already published and moderately successful. Because you can never be too good, right? And among the advice those fine folks from Antioch gave me, was to be publicly accessible, which meant having such things as a blog and a Twitter account.

The latter was simple; the former, less so. Say what you like about it, but Twitter is one of the simplest things you can do if you've got the right tools: take ten seconds out of your life to make an account, and then if you've got anything resembling a modern cell phone (or just an internet connection, which you already need to make the Twitter account, of course), you can tweet to your heart's content.

So, I made a (second) Twitter account for my professional life -- that is, one that focuses primarily on my literary world -- and something like the third or fourth blog account I've ever made for myself. But the problem with blogs, unlike Twitter, is that you've actually got to put some thought in it. You've got to take the time out of your busy life to put down a cogent thought or two. Who has the time or the energy for that?

Well, truthfully, I do, but I've just plain ignored the silly thing up until recently; it's always been in my mind, nagging me with that same feeling that I forgot to put the garage door down, but there's always been something more important that needed my attention more immediately (like researching the amenities of hotels in 1880s Kansas City). And anyway, who wants to read about a book that's only a third of the way finished in its roughest form? I'm not going to divulge plot points or anything substantive about my work, so there really won't be anything juicy on here. But I'm going to try to make a more concerted effort to talk about the writing process -- because it's the thing people keeping asking about at parties -- and also about what I'm reading. Because no man is an island,and I take comfort in reading stories that didn't spring out of my own mind.

So spread the word, invite your friends, make comments, share thoughts.
It's Jeff's literary world, folks. You're just living in it.


In other worlds ...

I just finished In The Night Garden, The Orphan's Tales, Vol. 1, by Catherynne M. Valente (Spectra, 2006). This book is like nothing I've ever read: a modern-day Arabian Nights filled with witches and polar bears who turn into men and princes and princesses and Quests and sea monsters and ...

It's hard to say what this book is actually about, except to say that it's about a strange girl who tells a princeling stories that only she knows, and that each story spirals into another story, which spirals into another, and into another. The tales are rarely isolated, and as the book continues, we're reintroduced to elements and ideas from previous tales, creating a really intricate web of storytelling that you just don't often find (I'm reminded a little of George R. R. Martin on a basic level). It's kind of dark, but in a PG-rated sort of way. On a technical front, it's an ambitious piece of work, and my hat is off to Valente for keeping all the plot threads straight and for resolving them the way she did. However, the pacing is a little slow, despite the brevity of many of the individual tales -- there are just so many of them! Still, stick with it and your patience will be rewarded.

I give this book a solid B, and I think I'll pick up the sequel, In The Cities of Coin and Spice, at the library today.

Right now I'm reading The Native Star, by M. K. Hobson (Spectra, 2010) on the recommendation of actress Felicia Day on her Twitter (which you must follow to retain any shred of geek cred). I don't know Ms. Day personally, of course, but I must say she's got pretty good taste. I'm not very far into The Native Star yet, but I look forward to getting through it; the start was solid, and I'm optimistic about the rest. Hopefully I'll have more to say about it later.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Aaaaaaaaand we're off!

Howdy, folks!

My name's Jeff, and this is the online chronicle of my attempts to write and eventually publish a novel.  Stay tuned!