ljlee: (reading)
the poppet and the lune coverThe Poppet and the Lune (2011) by Madeleine Claire Franklin is a novel in the style of a fairy tale, with fantastic elements like witches, werewolves, spells, and a girl created from dead body parts.

Full disclosure, I got this book in audio form as a complementary review copy. About a year ago the narrator Elizabeth Basalto's sister was handing out audiobook review credits on the [community profile] books community, and I finally listened to the book last month because I had such a massive audiobook backlog to go through. This is my promised review.

Overall impression: the story was pleasant enough and the narration was okay. There are a lot of fantastic elements, as mentioned above, and there were genuinely clever and moving moments. However, I don't think the story followed through on what should have been its emotional core, and there were some Unfortunate Implications as a result. I will go into more detail on the story below, and there will be spoilers.

As for the narration,[personal profile] jeweledeyes who gave me the audiobook credit said this was her sister's first audiobook narration and it showed. Ms. Basalto's voice is nice and the delivery earnest, but I noticed some technical flaws and tics that I don't see with more experienced narrators. The performance, to my relief, was more solid than in the trailer video for the audiobook; however, it had the same airy quality that could be grating after a while. The repetitive intonation she used when she said "the patchwork girl," a very common phrase in the book because it refers to the heroine, was something of an annoyance. Still, I thought the voice and story were a good match, and wish Ms. Basalto well in her narration career.

In which I demonstrate why you shouldn't give me complementary copies )

In the end The Poppet and the Lune, despite clever uses of fairy tale elements and entertaining plot developments, undermined its own power by hollowing out what it held out to be its own emotional core. It is many things, fun, colorful, romantic, action-packed, and is also, ultimately, forgettable.
ljlee: (reading)
As previously discussed, my first foray into Anne McCaffrey's Pern series was a couple of out-of-order volumes that I found alternately intriguing, boring, and creepy. About twenty years later, I made a second entry the way it should have been all along, with Dragonflight, the 1968 novel that started the series.

My impressions were as follow:

Two positives, two negatives )

In short, as Julie Andrews sang, the very beginning is a very good place to start. Dragonflight was a better start for the series than my original introduction, and it certainly had a lot of fun elements. The experience was marred for me, however, by the narrative playing favorites and getting into outright rape/abuse apologia. (Yes, it was published half a century ago. No, that does not make it harmless.)

Next up is Dragonquest, which I read once before and have almost entirely forgotten. I don't have the patience to re-buy and re-read it, so I think I'll follow along with Silver Adept's deconstruction instead.
ljlee: (Default)
The second half of LoK Book 2 did some really interesting things story-wise, including telling the story of the first Avatar and providing an ending with real consequences, one that set the stage for the next and arguably the best season of the show. There were some weaknesses in the buildup that I think undercut the conclusion, but overall I was okay with the season. I could see its flaws, but I had fun watching and certainly I wasn't enraged by the end, which is always a plus.

Some spoilers )

For all its imperfections, however, the ending of Book 2 made lasting changes to the world--something Book 1 miserably failed at--and set up the events of Book 3: Changes. For that reason I think of it as a bridge season, and the Book 1 that should have been.
ljlee: (Default)
I've been hearing a lot about how good Books 3 and 4 of Legend of Korra were, but I didn't particularly feel like watching Season 2 after hearing lackluster reports about it. My sources disagreed on whether Book 2 was safely skippable, and I went back and forth until I finally decided to bite the bullet and watch one episode. If I hated it, I could always stop and move on to Book 3.

Spoilers, and why I find Iroh despicable )

In sum, the first half of Book 2 is a giant leap over Book 1 and far less infuriating. It has actual character development, real consequences, and moral complexity. It was a lot of the things Book 1 should have been, and while it's no replacement for a strong first season it's good to see the effort being made.
ljlee: (reading)
I'm reading this long piece on the Second World War. Somewhere around where the author lovingly describes the portrayal of the weather in the 1943 production of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, Wagner's non-Viking opera, I started to suspect the essay has ranged far beyond the Longform tagline that sold me ("An essay . . . on how and why we forget war"). Still, these war minutiae are so entertaining I don't really care where it's going.

It's certainly a piece that rewards patience. At one point author Lee Sandlin discusses Wagner's artistic intent for Der Ring des Nibelungen and then goes on for 10,059 words about the Battle of Midway, military bureaucracy, Bob Dole, an allied campaign in Tuscany, the conditions of U.S. marines in Okinawa, and Hitler's love of architecture before swinging back to Wagner and contrasting his understanding of Der Ring with Hitler's.

And when it came to Hitler's understanding of his favorite opera, especially in contrast to its creator's, I was struck by a most creepily unwelcome feeling: Familiarity. I think his line of thinking would be familiar to anyone who's run around geek and fandom circles--you know the type, the person who disregards what a work is about to talk about its external trappings as though those are the point--and, far more troublingly, map those points to the real world.

In which I discuss Hitler and other racists, in case the title didn't clue you in )

The settings and cool powers of genre fiction are fascinating and seductive, I know. I've spent many an hour lost in the world of Middle-Earth and later Harry Potter. In the end, though, the true power of these fantastical elements comes not from being cool and sparkly but from the resilience and morality of the stories they tell. Take away the struggles with power and loss from LotR and you're left with a silly elves-and-goblins story, one with unfortunate racial implications at that. (Arguably Professor Tolkien brought the BNP's accolades on himself, at least in part.) Take out the struggle between good and evil from Harry Potter and you have a bunch of kids waving wooden sticks around. The real magic in these stories is in the humanity of the tales told, not in the supernatural feats performed in the pages. Forget that and--well, it won't make you Hitler, at least in of itself. But you could be missing the depths of your favorite stories, and if there's one thing a dedicated fan can't stand it's missing out.
ljlee: where I work & play (workspace)
20 Master Plots and How to Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias was recommended by [personal profile] splinteredstar on the [community profile] write_away writing books recommendations thread. I really liked it and recommend it even more for its introductory chapters than for the master plots, though the plots weren't bad, either.

A good book hiding an even better book )

Still, even in its disparate parts 20 Master Plots was well worth my time for its intelligent discussions about story, plot and morality. If nothing else I would recommend Chapters One and Four for the theory of plot and deep structure.

See also: 20 Master Plots smacks down Plot Versus Character, at least in my febrile imagination.
ljlee: (soseono)
Plot Versus Character by Jeff Gerke is a how-to book for both plot-centric and character-centric fiction writers to integrate these these two aspects of the craft. I have aired my decidedly mixed feelings about Part 1 of the book dealing with character. However, as expected, Part 2 on plot was much more satisfying. Plot is the author's own admitted strong suit, after all. I'll discuss where I found Part 2 helpful and where frustrations and questions still linger for me.

Some swell chapters and some big problems )

Despite the book's problems, I think Part 2 is still worth a read especially if you keep the book's overall limitations in mind, or have a good internal filter like recommender inkdust does. If you can winnow the chaff from the wheat, discarding the incomplete or flawed parts while internalizing the good, I think this book can serve as a good guide for story structure and how it can integrate with character development.
ljlee: where I work & play (workspace)
Jeff Gerke's Plot versus Character starts with the premise that fiction writers tend to be strong at one of plot or character and struggle with the other. It may seem simplistic, but it's a dichotomy my own experience bears out. Even those writers who are good at both tend to have a dominant "hand" in their strength as a writer. Ursula Le Guin is no slouch in the plot department, but her stories are distinctly character-driven. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote deeply sympathetic and memorable characters, but the larger story always came first.

On character building and the character arc )

Despite my criticisms, I don't regret reading Part 1 of Plot versus Character. It had genuinely witty and helpful advice, and I was given a lot of food for thought. While I think the author's treatment is incomplete or inconsistent at points, I recognize the value of being wrong because it's an opportunity to clarify things through disagreement and debate. At other points, the author simply did things differently than I did and that's not a matter of being right or wrong.
ljlee: where I work & play (workspace)
Phyllis Ann Karr's Frostflower and Thorn and Frostflower and Windbourne were published in 1980 and 1982 respectively. The sorceress Frostflower and warrior Thorn hail from the Tanglelands, the kind of gritty, dangerous pseudo-Medieval European fantasy setting that is very much at home in the eighties and which is seeing a resurgence in the aughts and teens of this century. (If the descriptors "gritty," "dangerous," and "pseudo-Medieval" remind you of anything, Frostflower and Thorn begins with a note that it was first written during George R. R. Martin's Clarke College workshop in 1977.)

Worldbuilding, pacing, feministing )


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L.J. Lee

June 2016

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