Monday, February 17, 2014

Vicious, Book Review

VICIOUS, by V. E. Schwab.

This one was mislabeled. It should be considered Young Adult. Then I wouldn’t be so mad at the shitty characters or “what’s a second draft?” plot. It fits the teen crap category better anyway. Every inch of it screams “poorly thought out” with a vibe like this is all a high school club. The particulars:

Story: The one thing I won’t disparage about this “story” was the creation of EOs (ExtraOrdinary) but not because it was well-done, only because I know it’s a tough proposition. Here, the kids commit suicide and if they come back then get some power related to what they were thinking about at the time. Whatever, I haven’t heard that one before so it gets a pass.

The “story” is either in the past, going over how the two Mains got be feuding, or present, which styles itself a revenge tale but is going to feel like some snotty brat having a hissy. Good news: each chapter is short enough that if you do have really bad ADD then there’s not worry about not completing one.

The two guys, Victor & Eliot, start off as barely likeable assholes. They’re arrogant and take themselves way too serious. They’re friends even though neither trusts the other or really values them. You’re meant to believe they’re both perfect specimens of wit and physique without anything they ever do or say to back that up. Writer’s Tip! If you have to tell the reader how to feel about someone, you're not doing your job.

In the present, it’s said they’ve aged ten years but they act exactly the same. The ten years was thrown out there because it sounds heavy. By now the “drama” is a thick viscous coating the pages. Schwab favors short sentences meant to punch the reader with layers of meaning. Shit like “The morning was cold. And so was the look on Eli’s face when he pulled the gun. Sydney shivered”. I cringe to think if Schwab ever gave a reading of this garbage. But maybe they got Shatner to really give the prose its due.

Key points hinge on the reader not knowing who the police are or what they do. Main character got arrested for murder? Circumstantial evidence from an unreliable “friend” with an obvious axe to grind who didn’t actually witness it will put him away for ten. In fact, it might be best if the reader never referred to their own common sense. Wanted fugitives checking into an up-scale hotel? Cause Victor’s so smooth! Wanted fugitives walking around a town at all hours? Yeah, because the hacker guy HACKED their pictures out of all the databases on the whole planet. Driving the same stolen vehicle around for a couple days? No way anybody would be looking for it! Oh man Vic, you just told your enemy to meet you at midnight (so Tough Guy), do you have a plan? No. I’ll wait for the contrived plot to catch up. You know an author is writing by the seat of their pants when they have to spend a page explaining why, even though a character could do something that perfectly aligns with their goals, they won’t. Because my plot is falling apart after a hundred pages and I need to make it to three hundred.

Other “characters” have one power / ability, one obvious use, with little reason to be doing what they’re doing. Schwab struggles to hang any other details on their naked archetype builds. The hacker guy is really strong and likes chocolate milk. I mean, it’s getting there…

For Victor and Eli, most of their characterization, and emoting, is done through various smiles. Odds are good their first and final reaction to something is a smile that Schwab reads way too much into. Wolfish, menacing, with an intangible secret quality, a hint of rebellion, kinda sexy, little odd, and maybe dark if the light is right. It’s like Schwab’s character notes are just pasted into the story. Normally such ideas are developed. Schwab prefers just repeating them.

The dialogue is some version of Ultra Generic ad lib. I had a lot of trouble not glazing over anything contained in quotes. Laughably bad.

Normally, when I read something this bad, I just want to beat the author with their own book. This is pathetically bad. It made me want to scream “THERE ARE COMMUNITY COLLEGES IN YOUR AREA. THEY WILL HAVE BEGINNER WRITING CLASSES. EITHER TAKE THEM OR STOP WRITING.”

This book should have never been written. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Green, Book Review

I'm more concerned with understanding craft and technique than hashing out if this particular book is worth anyone's time or money. I figure with all the other resources to find the plot or get a sample, it's a subjective and easily controlled decision. That said, the damn thing should still be enjoyable. Here's what I got from Green by Jay Lake. 

Green is a difficult character to like. It’s very easy to be sympathetic to her plight or fears, but she’s the type that can never get out of her own way. The story is told entirely in her own voice, and for better or worse, the author really got lost in the character. Most of the world revolving around Green remains mysterious, though not always detrimentally so, as she obsesses endlessly on her own problems. But the repetition she brings to those issues doesn’t yield a more thorough understanding. Instead of retracing her life, expanding on key moments, Green treats her life as though it were a list. There’s a lot of What but little of Why. It creates an odd disconnect between the reader’s perception of her and how everyone else sees her. I was thrown on the several occasions she’s exiled from her closest friends for reasons she gives little space to recognizing, much less understanding. Similarly, the other characters flit through the narrative, denied any sense of development within Green’s head. Which fits Green’s character remarkably well. Just isn’t so satisfying to read.

The world, the bits that Green will focus and devote some thought too, are well done. Every place and people have a distinct culture. And I don’t mean just broad strokes, like the “maggots” from the North have stone cities and the desert folk lives in tents. A sense of identity and history are as real as the places. Even someone as uninterested as Green can’t ignore the layered intricacies, how each strata of social life has been imagined, from the mundane to the high celebrations. It’s so easy to see a thousand other stories taking place in this world.  

The crux of Green’s struggle is finding individual freedom in a complicated world and retaining some sense of self after a traumatic childhood. The second plays more upon the first as Green clings, desperately, to her past, mistaking childish ignorance with a full identity. It also means, that despite being very well educated, she still thinks in simple, black & white, terms. It leads to eternal disappointment and frustration. Which isn’t totally the fault of Green’s abrasive personality. Her wants are simple and she goes after them with a child’s “well why not just go for it?” common sense. Constantly being slapped down eventually takes a toll, with Green developing (a very adult) ambivalence towards everything except her bells before parlaying that into a death wish. Killing comes fairly easy to her but there’s a high reluctance to use it. Green doesn’t want to be rich, feared, or renowned, just left alone. Normally, I find such qualities in a character tedious on the larger narrative and offensive on principle since I’m attempting to read an entertaining story. But the oppressiveness of authority is so rank in this world, I find myself more sympathetic. There are moments I really wanted her to cut the throat out of every speaking character, even if it wouldn’t fix anything, or make Green feel any better. The inevitable exile seems to indicate Green and I are in synch, emotionally at least. Her steady erosion of sanity is always periphery, which is a shame. It gets to the point Green carries around a wooden bell that reminds her of home and safety as yet another physical attempt to anchor herself mentally. These moments can come across as superficial at first, just a scared girl trying to reclaim heritage or hope or identity. Until the realization dawns she actually doesn’t give a shit about anything else. Her world is just sewing bells to her scarf / dress. Never mind the undead Duke guy. The city can rot. It’s unsettling and funny at the same time.

In the end, I think the first person narration caused more problems than it solved. A lot of the strengths of the novel are given cursory examination while Green’s lifeless voice drones on and on. She’s set up as a witty character but there are few (if any) passages that’ll bring a smile or some fun to the book. I could definitely go for a sequel if it was told in a different way. 

(Image credit to somebody else)