July 8th, 2009


Libyrinth by Pearl North

(Review copy provided by Tor Books.)

This is one of those young adult novels that straddles the border of fantasy and science fiction. I think some of the ending is supposed to tip it over into definitely SF, but I'm not completely convinced and am much happier if I just think of it as an inhabitant of border provinces.

It's also one of those young adult novels that is explicitly, completely, for people who love books passionately. While the overarching message seems to be that literacy is good and that sharing knowledge is good, it's very much a book for preaching to the choir--I can't imagine someone who isn't already fascinated with books attaching to this one with any enthusiasm. It's not a book for conversions. And the overarching message is very strongly present. There really isn't much book there without message. I also thought the two sides of the story were too carefully balanced for believability.

I liked what North (which is a pseudonym for--well, her agent's page comes right out and says it's a pseudonym for the person who writes SF as Anne Harris, so I don't think I'm spilling any big secret, but if somebody knows otherwise, please stop by and say) did with the idea of the chosen one, though. People who like playing with fantasy tropes in that way might well enjoy what happens with that at the end. In fact, I thought the last third of the book was much stronger than the rest--I preferred Haly's insistence that she was a clerk, not a full libyrarian, to her somewhat formulaic interaction with the libyrinth bullies.

The title word bugged me some. It's clearly Library + Labyrinth, with a hint of Liberation as well, but like most portmanteau words--see Anathem over and over again for other examples--it struck me as not really as clever as its author had hoped, and having the libyrarians of the libyrinth made me feel like I was dealing with a 4-year-old who can't say "librarian" properly--the lie-buh-rarians work at the lie-berry in my head. Meh. Little things.

I am also frustrated that the ad copy seems to be focusing on only one of the plot threads, when I liked the other character better. But my favorite bit with her is a spoiler, so...yah. I have a favorite bit completely not hinted at in the ad copy, is what, down to which character it happens to. I wonder if the people writing the ad copy had the same problem I'm having, where it was a lot easier to articulate little nits to pick without spoilers than to describe the larger things I liked. Hmm.

Back again for its first 2009 engagement! Books I quit reading.

1. If you want to write a memoir, write a memoir. If you want to write a book about something else with memoir bits in it, you have to make sure that the memoir bits are roughly on a par with as interesting as your topic, or else really really short. Or else I will run away and read some other book on your topic whose author is not convinced that their own life is the most fascinating thing ever.

2. I remember being a teenager. It was not a built-in excuse for being an asshole. So whining that your parents are mean because they're poor? No. Sometimes it's not enough that the narrative be aware that the character is an asshole--you're still sticking me with a big chunk of text all about this asshole, and if they're not an entertaining asshole, I'm going to read something else.

3. Hockey is not everything. I mean this in a philosophical sense, but also in a very literal sense: hockey is not the building of Hadrian's Wall. Hockey is not the Silk Road. Trying to argue that various historical events were the True Beginning Of Hockey is likely to make me roll my hockey-loving eyes and move on.

4. Unrelieved doom. Next.

5. I know and care about several people who stammer. They do not go, "Th-this s-sentence is s-stupid." That is not how it works. It's not cute, it's not funny, quit doing it.

6. If your entire plot/premise is predicated around someone learning not to worry their pretty little head about big hard questions, go directly to hell and take your book with you.

7. If you have convincingly portrayed a protagonist everybody hates, you may consider that there's a good reason for this.

8. If you're going to compare your parents to Hitler--as an adult writing nonfiction--you need to be aware of the scale differences. No, seriously. Unconscious hyperbole is not our friend.

9. You had no respect for yourself, your reader, or your characters. Next.

10. Women do not constantly think of ourselves as though we were describing ourselves for phone sex purposes. I promise. Even lesbians and bisexual women, who may quite rightly be assumed to be fonder of women's bodies than the average straight gal, do not get their Rice Krispies while thinking of the pertness of their own breasts. In fact, I am a bit skeptical that any woman ever has gone around thinking of her own breasts as pert. Or lush. Mostly I think of mine as...mine. Like my ear or my elbow. Because...follow me carefully here...when you've had breasts for decades, you sort of get used to them, almost like they're a body part a person might have.

11. If you're going to hit a dozen genre conventions on the first two pages, you need to do it in a way that tells me that the story will not simply be a string of conventions. Three pages later, you still hadn't left the stencil. Fail.

Same thing I'm always full of.

1. I have been tagging lj entries a little at a time, in between typing revisions and writing new stuff and, y'know, the rest of my life. I find it a little daunting but gave myself full permission to be obscure when I need to. Which was a relief.

2. I have a theory now. I begin to think that many of the most useful conversations among working writers come when you can say, "How do you do such-and-such?" and you have a set of working writers who are clear that this question is not the same as, "How does one do such-and-such?" And then they can say, "Oh, I always X," or, "Usually I Y but this one time I Z and that was okay too." And then someone else says, "Really, Z? That almost never works for me, but what I like to think of is Q."

3. The revisions I am typing: they are pretty okay, I think. I am currently convinced that writing a book is like making lace: it's a whole thing when you're done, but you're almost certainly going to have a million holes in it, and you can only hope they're pretty. And work for them to be pretty. And not just pretty but in such a pattern that the reader can say, "Oh, of course, it's a shawl!" or, "How lovely, some gloves!" rather than, "It's...um...it's definitely...I like how you used a lot of thread here."

4. I have just finished watching S1 of Bones and boy howdy is that a Mary Sue. Fun Mary Sue. But uff da, the bit with her parents. Also, I am pretty damned sick of shows putting their thumb on the scales regarding their rationalist atheist characters to either force the rationalist atheist to admit that there are More Things In Heaven And Wherever or else show them as irrational for not doing so. Booth was raised Catholic, and the show does not demand that he detail how Catholicism, as a worldview, is not comprehensively successful in addressing his life situations, even though it almost certainly does have spots of being suboptimal. Nor do I want it to--I just don't want it to focus that way on Bones, either. It is okay to have characters with differing worldviews and not go out of your way, as a show, to undermine any of them, particularly if they're all fairly amiable and willing to accept new data.

5. Bones has given us a Geeky Little Brother character again. Are there no Geeky Little Sisters? Really? Or is it just that that social dynamic isn't particularly stable with our social mores? (That is, a younger adult geek woman is still likely to be parsed as potentially romantically interesting.) I would kind of like to see the Geeky Little Sister. Also, I suspect part of why we have a Geeky Little Brother is that Bones is a large enough presence that just adding Angela in makes it feel to the writers as though they have A Whole Mess Of Womens already. I may be wrong about this; we'll see. But it sort of makes me want to Take Action. And then I remember that this thing I'm revising features an older woman mentoring a younger woman as a pretty substantial character relationship. So okay then. Action Begun, at least.