The last several weeks have been intense crunch time to finish the first draft of Feedback (sequel to Variant). I have until the end of next Wednesday to meet my self-imposed deadline, and I’m optimistic. It will require some long days and sleepless nights, and the end result will be a very very rough draft, but I think I’ll make it. (By the way, the awesome Shannon Hale posted a fantastic description of drafting on her Twitter last week: “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” I love that.)
However, despite being busy I’ve been doing a lot of reading. And, since it’s been a while since I’ve blogged and it’s been an even longer while since I’ve given a report of my media consumption, I figure we’re due.
Here is some of the media I’ve consumed lately. This isn’t necessarily the list of the best stuff, but it’s the list of stuff I find interesting to talk about.
I’d heard a lot about this one for a long time, but somehow I’d never crossed paths with it. I didn’t know much about Incarceron, but it committed one of my speculative fiction pet peeves: a science fiction world that looks like a fantasy world. Fortunately, I was happy to find that there’s a pretty interesting explanation for it and, unlike many in that category, it seemed there was actually a good, story-based reason for that setting (rather than just lazy worldbuilding).
My second pleasant surprise was that the characters are screwed up. One of the main characters begins the story as a thief and (reluctant) kidnapper, and the other is kind of a snobby aristocrat. Even better, the side characters have all sorts of secrets–and the secrets make sense and aren’t intended for the sole purpose of yanking the carpet out from under you!
I realize that all of these compliments are mainly saying “This book was good and I wasn’t expecting it to be!” and for that I’m sorry. But really, this book was good and I wasn’t expecting it to be.
All the Devils Are Here:
A major gear shift from YA science fiction here. I’m a big fan of The Smartest Guys In The Room, the Enron expose authored by Bethany McLean, so when I saw she’d written this detailed account of the current financial crisis I had to get it.
Short review: it’s fantastic. I’ve been annoyed for a long time by the simplistic coverage of the financial crisis by the media, and more annoyed by the partisan fingerpointing–conservatives blame the an overregulating, idealistic government while liberals blame greedy Wall Street bankers and real estate speculators–so it was a breath of fresh air to read an objective, detailed account of what actually happened.
Well, I should actually say “it was a breath of disgusting, noxious air”. The title of the book, a quote from The Tempest (“Hell is empty and all the devils are here”) is an apt description of the players involved. While some are definitely painted as more devious than others, few people or organizations come across as innocent as the complicated tangle of deceit, greed, hubris, ignorance and ridiculously blind optimism brings America to its knees.
One criticism: there are actually two authors–Joe Nocera joins Bethany McLean–and while I don’t know who wrote what, this book is definitely a harder read than The Smartest Guys in the Room. There are passages of detailed and dynamic storytelling, like McLean had previously used, but there are a lot of drier passages as well, and it often feels disjointed.
Even so, definitely a worthwhile read. If you’ve ever watched any of the fingerpointing and wondered who was right (or if you’ve pointed a few fingers yourself), you owe it to yourself to read this.
Cherub: The Recruit:
Jumping back to YA again (because that’s the bulk of what I’ve been reading this last year), I picked this one up at Barnes and Noble without knowing anything about it. I’d never heard of the book or the author, but I was intrigued by the premise, and I love a good YA adventure targeted at boys.
After reading it, I was not at all surprised to find that the author wrote it specifically for his nephew–it reads very much like tween boy wish fulfillment: kids are spies for the government, they learn martial arts, they vandalize (as part of their job!), they go to parties with older teenage girls and drink beer. And, despite all of the obviousness of the “I’m giving my nephew exactly what he wants”, it’s a dang fun read. It’s not great literature, but I enjoyed the heck out of it.
Apparently, this series is popular all over the world–there are already twelve novels in the series, in dozens of countries!–but it didn’t really get much a release in the US until 2010.
The Chicago Code:
This is currently my hands-down favorite show on TV. I intend to blog about it in detail next week, once this first draft is finished. For now, suffice it to say that this show is a masterpiece of gray characters–no one, from the most noble cop to the baddest of the corrupt politicians–is all bad or all good. I know that most cop shows pretend like they do this, giving a character a minor drug problem or a secret mistress, but The Chicago Code gets it right. Man, I want to blog all about it right now…. It’ll have to wait.
I’ve mentioned this show before on this blog, and I’m happy to see it back on the air. However, I’ve been watching it on DVR and skipping most of the interpersonal drama this time around. It manages to be just as entertaining, and a third the length.
Remember how I’ve blogged about American Idol every year since season three? And how I obsess, and how I actually devoted an entire blog to it last season (along with fellow author Tristi Pinkston)? Well, I gave up this year. Part of it was that I was reluctant to watch Steven Tyler, who I dislike, and Jennifer Lopez, who I hate. But the bigger part was that I just didn’t have the time to devote to it. And–shocker!–I haven’t missed it.
Community and 30 Rock:
These continue to be the best comedies on TV, regardless of what those Modern Family dorks say.
I’ve watched a lot of movies lately, but two in particular make for interesting discussion. (These movies are old: I rarely make it to the theater, so I see everything on RedBox or On Demand.) First, I watched Salt, starring Angelina Jolie as a maybe-she’s-a-spy-and-maybe-she’s-a-double-agent. Shortly after, I watched Knight and Day, starring Tom Cruise as a spy and Cameron Diaz as a normal person.
Remember when I posted about implausibilty in cop shows, and how it drove me crazy? My basic premise was this: We all know how the real world works, so if you’re portraying the real world, you have to do it realistically, or else we’ll all roll our eyes.
Salt and Knight and Day illustrate this well. Both Jolie and Cruise play super amazing James Bond-esque spies who can do insane stunts and defy gravity and kill all the bad guys without trying. The difference: Salt pretends like it’s the real world. It puts on airs of being a Very Serious Movie. And it obviously fails to acheive those goals because absolutely nothing that ever happens is believable. On the other hand, Knight and Day is an action comedy, where the fact that Cruise is the quintessential superspy is played for laughs. (One quick sequence shows him hanging upside down in a torture chamber, and it’s the funniest scene in the movie, essentially saying: “Of course he’s going to escape, because he’s better than James Bond; he’s the love child of John McClane and River Tam.”)
In Salt, Jolie does ridiculous stuff and we roll our eyes. In Knight and Day, Cruise does ridiculous stuff and we cheer. The moral: if you want your story to be realistic, then you have to make it realistic. If you tell someone this is the real world, then we don’t suspend our disbelief nearly as much as we do if we’re told it’s fake.
I don’t have much to say here, because I haven’t dabbled into too much new music lately. I did, however, get the new Iron and Wine album, and it’s awesome. I know Iron and Wine is not for everyone, but it’s definitely for me. I’m not enough of a music critic to describe this in intelligent detail. But it’s fantastic.
Anyway, my deadline for the first draft is Wednesday. I’ll let you know how it goes.