Monthly Archives: June 2013

Starglass by Phoebe North

The Italian cover for Paradises Lost,
the generation ship novella by UKL

The whole concept of the generation ship flips me out. I’m not even that comfortable with the idea of being on a spaceship (or a submarine) not because of claustrophobia, but because is there air out there?? NO THERE IS NOT. I just spent nearly four days in a blackout that had me boiling water for baths and kiting power from the neighbors (who had power due to the inexplicable ways of the city grid), and I’m keenly aware of how tenuous our systems are, how it took thousands of technicians pulled from as far away as Colorado to get me back into hot water and an icebox. And with my power outage I won’t be screaming silently into space as my lungs freeze

While most stories occurring on generation ships don’t focus on the technological fragility of a ship ginned up and sent out for hundreds of years into the void, that trapped and helpless feeling is in everything. Here are a thousand people whose living space was chosen for them, irrevocably; there will be no technicians from Colorado when things go wrong. Power structures, of all kinds, must be managed and cared for by people whose lives are by needs insular and rigid. Everyone must do their part because the alternative is not chaos, but death. (Just as a sidebar, this argument gets made politically here on Spaceship America a lot, which is part of the reason that the extremity of the generation ship resonates for me so well. Just because all members of society must contribute what they can doesn’t mean injustice has to be a part of that contribution, etc.) 

Starglass starts, fittingly, with the letter of one of the first generation, the earth-born who left a doomed planet Earth, writing to her daughter about her lost planet and the unknown future. I kinda don’t get book trailers – or maybe it’s just the ones I’ve seen are a little dopey – but this book trailer captures the elegiac tone quite well. We then meet 12 year old Terra on the morning of her mother’s funeral, the very beginnings of the grief and fracture which will color all the events of the novel, the relationships and personalities. 

The heart of this novel is grief, and as such, it makes for a more musing and introspective young adult novel than I think is typical. We meet Terra again at 16, on the eve of her graduation, where the government of Asherah metes out the living assignments for the graduating class. Her home life has turned into a cold war punctuated by emotional violence, an emotionally distant and voluminously alcoholic father clinging to his concept of societal mitzvah in lieu of real parental connection. The dad kind of killed me, the way it seemed obvious to me that on some level he loved his daughter, but he was so badly broken that it came out in these awful, inexcusably cruel ways. That I can have sympathy for him and still hate him and the things he does to Terra speaks to subtle characterization, this horrible, sad, broken, dutiful man who has pasted himself back together using his most selfish instincts. 

As befits a coming of age novel in a locked room society – remember, there are no technicians from Colorado – much of the plot centers on Terra’s growing political sense as she adjusts to her new work life. (And her work placement is an almost clustercuss of mistakes and silences that flow out of her learned self-containment as a result of her mother’s death. Say it with me: the personal is the political.) The people of the starship Asherah are Jews of a post-apocalyptic diaspora, who are, in a way, looking forward to yet another diaspora when they reach the new chosen land of their target planet. That day is coming soon, and the tensions between various factions, who will lead, and who has the right to all comes to bear not just on Terra, but everyone around her in ways that are confusing and personal. 

I feel much more closed-mouth about books I review beforethey are published, so I will just gesture to my contentment about how Terra manages her romantic life. The society on Asherah is rigid in the ways it constructs family life – everyone will marry, and have two children, a girl and boy, when they are told to do so – and that this does not and cannot work for many is maybe only a surprise to the young, who have been locked into their own family failures, cut off by silence and fear that they are the only ones. Here on starship My House, I have a girl and a boy and a husband, and a series of conflicts that I live with without ever updating to facebook or disgorging to the uninitiated. We lock ourselves into our choices and habits, and some of those choices are beautiful, and some of them abrade, and we pick our ways between the two as best we can. 

Anyway, as a conclusion, I just want to note that, as much I loved the shit out of the careful, grieving tone of this story, the personality driven conflicts, and the slow understandings that unfold, as the first part in a duology, the ending might be abrupt for some readers. Really though, it is my firm belief that in young adult novels, the leap is as important as the landing, and Terra’s leap is a sight to behold. I’m more than interested in seeing where she lands, but I’ll hold her there, in the darkness, struggling towards the promised land. 

Full disclosure: I am friends with Phoebe North on Goodreads, and I received an ARC from the publisher, but no cookies were promised or exchanged for my review or opinion, which is decidedly my own.

Stephen Fry, Lynne Truss & Grammar

I just ran across this video done by Stephen Fry and Matthew Rogers about grammar. I started it expecting one of those “ho ho, look at the philistines” tidbits, but it ended up being a sweeter, more compassionate entreaty to be mindful of how strict adherence can destroy a joy in language. I interact with people in a text-based medium all the time – probably more than when I actually talk out loud to humans, sadly – and I know I cringe and want to drop a *you’re when I see the possessive substituted for the contraction. But, unless I’m dealing with a troll, that is an uncharitable thing to do. Let’s just have a good time, slash be inventive.

(More videos can be found at RogersCreations)
(And if the embed is jacked, which it always is, link here.)

Fry’s sexy little ramble hits the ambivalence I felt when reviewing Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves – he name-checks her as well at some point – which is about punctuation, an even more abstruse subset of grammatical rules than your usual split infinitive nonsense. Typographical rules tend to be scattershot and local, and many of them are in place because of physical limitations of typesetting machines that no longer factor. Sure, the grocer’s comma makes me laugh a lot of the time, like a sign hanging in the hospital coffee room when my son was hospitalized that managed to put an apostrophe in every word that didn’t need one, and removed them from the ones that did. Which, thank the signifier for that badly needed laugh. The original review of Truss’s book is below.

Recently, the boy made a sign for the door of his bedroom that reads “Keep Out. Not for baby’s.” His spelling is largely self-taught, as he is not yet in kindergarten and I am a somewhat lazy parent-educator. This made me have a Noam Chomsky-ish melt-down about the concept of generative punctuation. Lord, is the grocer’s comma innate? Is it mapped on our brains like the double negative? Am I really his mother?

This book has been sitting on my bedside table for no less than two years. I read it only when I can’t be bothered to go in search of my real book or the book with which I’m cheating on my real book. For some reason, I don’t think of this book that fondly when I’m not reading it, and then I’m pleasantly surprised whenever I pick it up again. But I have this jarring sensation when I read it, akin to the feeling I get when I read articles about neuroscience: holy buckets, I’m using my brain to think about my brain! She’s using punctuation in a book about punctuation. Hey, don’t bogart that. 

This book makes me feel weird because I don’t think of myself as a stickler. I am both lazy and exuberant when it comes to punctuation. I have an unfortunate love affair with the semi-colon; it cannot be helped. I also overuse parentheses because I think they are funny. (I tried, and failed, to not type a parenthetical comment here; oh crap, and there’s the semi-colon.) My comma use borders on the Henry Jamesish. Why make simple declarative statements when things can be jammed together into one enormous run-on sentence, comma splices everywhere, and…my word, what has she done with the verb? This is the kind of writing this book provokes from me, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. 

When I was living in a dorm my first year of school, the housekeeper would put up missives with the most tortured punctuation all over the building. She was a kindly women, older, and cleaned up our crap for probably not much more year than was required for tuition. (Unsurprisingly, I only spent a year at this institution.) Regularly, jerk students would correct her signs and laugh about how bad the punctuation was – and it truly was bad. This has always bothered me. Of course good punctuation provides a clarity of expression when attempting to convey a clarity of ideas. Of course. But sometimes you should just pick up your fucking towel’s, jackholes, regardless of whether they possess anything. 

It was a relatively painless way to brush up on the punctuation rules I’ve now largely forgotten, and will no doubt forget again in roughly fifteen seconds. I usually have the attention span of a very distracted raccoon when it comes to non-fiction, so it is saying something that I finished this book at all, even if it took two years. Oh, look! something shiny! And that does it for my three exclamation points for the year, alas. 

Governor Dayton Should Tell Amazon to Suck It

I found out this morning that Amazon will be canceling my affiliate account as of July 1st, as they are in a game of chicken with the State of Minnesota over the sales tax bill that just passed. It didn’t take me long to google up some apologia for this infantile and clearly extortionist behavior from Amazon:

 The problem is, if passed, Amazon will simply cease having Amazon Associates in Minnesota. Minnesota Associates are relatively unimportant to Amazon. With no Minnesota Associates, Amazon will nullify the effect of the law. Amazon will continue not to collect sales tax. Because of this, the law will be totally ineffectual in raising state tax revenue.

As an end result, Minnesota bloggers will be harmed without any tax benefit to the state. In addition, small retailers in the state also will receive no benefit from the bill’s passage. Because Amazon will continue to sell without collecting sales tax, small retailers will be at exactly the same competitive disadvantage as they were before passage of the bill.

 from Online Sales Tax Will Only Hurt Bloggers

Which, no freaking doy. That’s what the threat from Amazon is designed to do, wind us up like good little soldiers for the corporate bottom line so they can keep throwing us scraps. I resent that incredibly, and Mark Dayton should tell Amazon to suck it.

I signed up for Amazon Affiliates because it’s an easy way to get covers and art without having to worry about copyright all the time, and to defray the relatively minor costs of keeping the blog in domain names. I’ve made, like, $10 in the entire time I’ve had the account, which is totally due to my blog being – how do I put this – not very popular. I have however, set up hundreds of links which, annoyingly, will continue to drive people to Amazon even after they stop paying me. From Amazon Throws Tantrum, Screws Minnesota Associates:

This is where fine print rears its ugly head. If the contract between associates and Amazon was a normal business contract, it would not likely be possible to terminate it with just a few days notice. At the moment, Minnesotans who use the Associates program, collectively, have a gazillion links on their web sites and blogs pointing to Amazon, and Amazon will continue to reap the benefits of those links (or force Minnesotan web developers and bloggers to spend considerable effort undoing the links), while Amazon will not be holding up their end of the bargain.

So that’s just freaking great. I swear by all that is holy that I will take down every single link to Amazon if they persist in this antisocial nonsense. Amazon should not be rewarded for blackmailing bloggers to fight to keep them from contributing to the welfare of the state they do business in. I refuse to do it.

Tankborn by Karen Sadler: A World More Interesting Than Its Plot

When my Grandma was a girl, she was told by a Catholic priest that Protestants had tails hidden under their clothes. Maybe they had cloven hooves too, or that might have been Jews, but either way, Protestants weren’t rightly human. I don’t think my Grandma ever went so far as to believe this, so I can’t tell some fun story about how she was surprised by my Protestant grandfather’s tail-free posterior when they married. Plus, obviously, she married my Protestant grandfather. (And Grandma was raised in Homestead, PA, which was very pluralistic, not a priest-run village in County Clare or whatever, just to note how easy it was to debunk such information, yet how such disinformation persisted within her Catholic community.) So when I went to roll my eyes when Kayla in Tankborn by Karen Sadler is told that if she, as a Genetically Engineered Non-human, touches a trueborn, her skin will bruise and bubble, I checked myself. Of course that is an incredibly stupid idea with zero basis in reality, but humans regularly believe such things. And while Homestead in the 1920s had a caste system like any other American city, it was no where near as rigidly enforced as the one in this novel. 

Kayla and Mishalla are GENs on the post-Earth planet Loka on the eves of their matriculation at the start of the novel, and the plot follows their assignments out of the GEN ghetto into the larger world. GENs are the bottom of the heap of a caste system, genetically engineered slaves who were introduced into society 75 years before when the lowborn – the children of the original indentured servants when the colony was being settled – revolted against continuing hereditary indenture (or what we like to call slavery.) The slaves revolted, so the highborn of Loka made a new class of slaves. The complex hierarchical social and economic system is very much the selling point of this novel, as this information I’ve parceled out in a couple of sentences is something I came to slowly, through (mostly) Kayla’s vantage point as she navigates her society. Loka is richly textured, with various competing homegrown religions and cultural norms, and Sandler doesn’t infodump or downtalk, assuming the reader can catch up to the barrage of new terminology and ideas. 

While I don’t think a dystopian society has to be entirely plausible to be effective - Divergent, for example, has a hugely stupid societal structure, but manages to resonate as a kind ofemotional experience of adolescence – it was enjoyable to see a fictional society that wasn’t just plausible, but grounded in (mostly not-junky) science fictional elements and attention to detail. Loka is pretty much the American colonies crossed with an Anglo-Indian caste system, but the culture itself isn’t leaning too hard on either of these places, culturally speaking, synthesizing them into something new and strange. This reminded me a little of God’s War - especially the weird indigenous life of the planet – but God’s Waris waaaay more hardcore in a number of ways. 

My reservations with Tankborn all stem from the plotting of this novel, which relies far too much on information withheld from the main characters (for no apparent reason) and stunning revelations that maybe only stun our protagonists. Kayla ends up in the employ of a cranky old Lokan scientist with seeekrets and a GEN-like tattoo on his check – gasp, why would any highborndo that – while Mishalla works at a crisis nursery for orphan lowborn children – but with seeekrets. Just about everything that happens appears to be engineered by the cranky old guy, down to the chance-looking meeting between Kayla and her eventual love interest (and his great-grandson) on the banks of the GEN ghetto river. And while he (and the seeekret organization you learn he belongs to) appear to be able to engineer the most frankly ridiculous coincidences, he chooses very convoluted and bizarre ways to parcel out information to Kayla and his great-grandson. While there are culturally cogent reasons for this not to happen, sorta, I frustrate with plots that could be solved with a simple phone call. 

The parallel love stories between the GEN girls and and their trueborn paramours was also not hugely successful. I’m not criticizing the dystopian love story – let us all remember that 1984in many ways hinges on the romance between Winston and Julia before we start snarling about YA dystopian romances and how girl readers are ruining fiction – it’s just that Kayla’s relationship seemed awful sudden, overcoming scads of cultural conditioning much more severe than someone telling Grandma Fran once that Protestants had horns. Mishalla’s whole plot line was much more truncated, and therefore that much more sudden. It would have been nice to see something other than a love relationship be the impetus for cultural revelations, is all, and the fact that there are two very similar trajectories for the GEN leads seems like a wasted opportunity. (Though, I will note I really liked the sequence where Mishalla spends an afternoon passing for trueborn, and the thrill, danger and disappointment that flows from that.) 

The book-ending revelations felt a little well, duh, though I do get that that they would be huge, game-changing ideas for the leads. It’s maybe tough to hide the football of the GENs origins to an SFFnal readership, and I appreciate that walking a tightrope between reader’s expectations and character’s more limited vantage is a thing. Some of the book-ending revelations also felt, as the saying goes, problematic. I’m not even kidding when I say the following information is a serious spoiler.

Turns out, both Kayla and Mishalla were lowborn children who were stolen while toddlers and implanted with the GEN technology to make them GENs. The science here starts to fall apart for me, because while we’re told the genetic stock for the GENs is degrading or something making child-theft a sensible solution, I don’t buy it. The evil scientist in me was like, you could totally buy eggs from lowborn women or just sneak them out of IVF clinics or something; they don’t need to resort to trafficking which is a huge logistical pain in the ass. There’s a whole ethical grey zone right now surrounding these technologies, not even getting into tanks gestating children and whatnot. That Kayla and Mishalla aren’t exactly GENs felt frustrating, because while the obvious take-home is that GENs are people too!, we’ve just imbued our GEN protagonists with a secret nobility – they are not actually tankborn, but trueborn. So should I continue to believe all the racist shit about GENs – it is explicitly stated that animal DNA is used in their creation – because our spunky heroines have not been tainted by that origin? Do the Protestants still have their tails? Obviously not, but, again, it just felt like a wasted opportunity, because one could be trueborn, and one tankborn, and then the point could have been much less ambiguous. People are people, etc.


So, all told, an interesting novel, one that in many ways avoids the occasionally sloppy societal construction of the contemporary young adult dystopia, but unfortunately fails to seize on the opportunities suggested by its carefully constructed society.  

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC.

All Politics is Feudal: This Dark Earth

So, I was recently watching The Dark Knight Rises, and kind of craughing to myself about what a brilliant expression of post-9/11 fascism it is. I don’t mean the term “fascist” in its sloppy usage of “stuff I don’t like” or “dad”, but the more old school definition of authoritarian militarism that positions the arbiter of justice not in law, but in an idealized übermench, you know, with your usual racial and nationalistic overlay on what makes the mench über. Bad guy Bane talks a lot of shit about giving power back to the People – invoking the dialectical enemy of fascism, communism – but as a fascist tract, there is literally one person who might be considered “the people” with a speaking part, and that’s Catwoman’s wing-girl. She has maybe three lines. The police state and the über-police state are pretty much the only important players in a city of 11 million, the People existing either to cheer Batman or drag rich people from their homes dumbly. It’s pretty much a Leni Riefenstahl film, both in terms of ideology, and stunningly beautiful fascist aesthetics. 


A diver in the 1936 Olympics, photographed by Riefenstahl

Putting aside some lumpy plotting – which no doubt was caused by Heath Ledger’s untimely death after so perfectly capturing hysterical nihilism in The Dark Knight (and I’m glad they didn’t re-cast the Joker) - The Dark Knight Rises brilliantly expresses the not-so-latent fascism of the superhero story. It’ll be interesting to see what the Nolanizing of Superman comes up with in Man of Steel, because Superman was your granddaddy’s very first anti-fascist American fascist superhero. (Sometimes you gotta fight fascism with fascism, apparently.) Somehow I don’t think it’ll work, because Superman is boring, and the best fascists have some chutzpah. The old fanboy saw is that Kent is the disguise, and overpowered aliens posing as dorks are hard to put the banners up for. Squeeze out that single tear, fascists, then we’ll root for you. 

Anyway, some what belabored point being that I was reading This Dark Earthat the same time, and kinda musing to myself about all the post-9/11, fear state, how-will-we-maintain-our-humanity-in-the-face-of-terror that I see as endemic to the zombie narrative. This Lord of the Flies with cannibal corpses has been going on at the very least since 9/11, but certainly bubbling there in Romero’s game-changer, Night of the Living Dead, where he rips the shit out of the American nuclear family and societal structures, and probably even earlier in your older school Voodoo sorcerer controlling reanimated slaves folklore. (Sophomore level paper topic: taking the farmhouse in Night of the Living Dead as a structure that symbolizes the Freudian psychological model – id as basement, ego as main floor, superego as attic – map the movement of the characters within this landscape as pertains to societal construction. Et cetera.) 

So, This Dark Earth is, in some ways, a very traditional zombie story, starting in a hospital becoming overrun as the doctor very slowly accepts what is occurring around her, complete with zombie infants and a chemical dump outside of town. A basement-bound reunion of mother and child, a bullet in the brain of a turned husband, a military group using a woman as rape fodder and mama, a barbed wire settlement slipping towards feudalism, a girl writing notes that she’s sure no one will read – it’s all there, and more – the wrangling and hand-wringing of the boy grown into a world with new rules, the prince of this new dark earth. The steam train. The slavers. Jacobs hits all of this, lightly, humanely, with an eye toward the individual that I feel gets lost in a lot of zombie stories, somewhat perversely. Even with very large time shifts, the pacing is furious while still managing a tightly personal tone. 

A lot of people are going to invoke AMC’s The Walking Dead with this book – and I guess I am too – but this book checks a lot of the stupid societal bullshit of that show – Rick shouting about how “this isn’t a democracy” and then getting his ass bitten by eye-patched demagogues (but not literally, of course), Carl turning into a squint-eyed tiny badass, the rheumy moral mouthpiece wondering “but at what cost?” I’m still into Walking Dead for the set-pieces, because those continue to thrill, but I have no patience for the people or the society of that show. And I’ve lost patience with the characters of Walking Dead because it never comes out and owns the inherent fascism of the zombie survivor community, not with any finesse anyway. Breathers are all imbued with exceptionalism in the zombie apocalypse. It’s numbers; that’s all. But on Walking Dead, Rick gets to be touched with the invisible hand of narrative superiority/safety, lending his leadership a sort of unassailable divinity that should just suck it. This Dark Earth addresses that impulse to feudalism, and it does so while being beautiful in an unshowy way. 

I almost don’t want to recommend it to your average non-horror reader, because I think what Jacobs is doing is subtle, this slow, personal invocation of all the tropes of the genre, that sets them all up and knocks them all down, slowly, like a steam boiler, like cancer. Death is the greatest democracy there is; we all have our one vote. Survivalist groups in the zombie apocalypse are often pictured as Spartan paramilitary camps set against the undead Athenian mob. I think that we tend to conceptualized survival this way shows our instinct towards feudalism – the dictatorial Governor in Walking Dead growling about terrorists, the slaver in This Dark Earth looking for a king to behead. Both Carl and the “Prince” here are positioned as the members of the New World Order, unable to remember the world before the mob, groomed in violent expediency to threats both real and imagined. I’m not sure where Walking Dead is going to go with Carl, but I have my suspicions, and I’m already girding my loins for disingenuous speeches about honor and stuff. 

this is not a democracy anymore, it's a ricktatorship with an image of Rick Grimes from Walking Dead

Observe Jacobs, instead:

The world loves a tomato because it’s red. The apple is red too. But the tomato’s flesh is the flesh of mankind.

Do the dead love the flesh of man because it is like a tomato? We’ll never know. But I have my suspicions.

As the matriculating Prince observes as he filches tomatoes from their tenuous garden. There are times when this is too much, like in an overtly symbolic sequence that has our boy crucified, quite literally, on an exit ramp sign, but then Southern Gothic (which this book is also, in many ways) often can’t help its dips into histrionic religious imagery. Jacobs runs this linear and time-skipping narrative hand-over-hand, from one point of view character to the next, which I believe works beautifully with the stakes and danger of the undead-filled world: you will hear this voice, but you will not know when this voice will end, or if it will pick up again on the edges of another person’s story. Knock-out’s sequence, and the boys on the steam train were especially tight. (And I have another sophomore paper topic ruminating about the train as it fits into the American landscape as some kind of echo of industrialism and colonial expansion, but I haven’t worked out all the kinks.) Certainly, This Dark Earth isn’t reinventing the wheel in terms of zombie narratives, but I thought it dealt with the tropes in a thoughtful manner, which for me can be much more enjoyable than genre-confounding gimmicks or the like. I, for one, welcome our zombie apocalypse feudal overlords, at least as described by John Hornor Jacobs. Hail to the king, baby. 

The Goodreads Forbes 25 Interviews

The folk at Shelf Inflicted – who appear to be mostly Goodreads escapees – are running a series of interviews with the 25 people mentioned in the Forbes article about Goodreads however long ago. I was listed as #18 of the top 25 reviewers, and I think the category was in the last year, for the whole world. So, you can check out my interview here, or you can read it below. The whole series is pretty interesting though, and it’s a super weird group of people with super disparate interests.

—–

Today’s guest is Ceridwen.  Ceridwen also posts at Readerling.

How did you discover Goodreads?
An irl friend sent me a link in April of 2008, which means I’ve been active on Goodreads for five years now. I didn’t interact much at first – I had no experience with social media; facebook would come later for me – but very slowly accrued friends other than my mother, husband, and a smattering of real life friends. As an introduction to social media, it was a kind experience, as the early-ish days of Goodreads had a sort of backwater enthusiast vibe, and you could be reasonably sure that no one at all was paying attention, which suited me fine.

What have been your most memorable Goodreads experiences?
That’s hard to say. There have been some memorable scandals, trollings, call-outs, and cat-fights that have occurred on Goodreads which were fun for me. I can think of a dozen instances where pointless and/or stupid trolling turned into runaway threads full of humor, lolcats, and, you know, profound commentary on books. My personal favorite was the time one of my reviews got trolled by a fine young man from Texas with a penchant for dismissing people as “ugly lesbians”. I still get comments on that clusterfuck of a thread wondering what the hell happened.

Though I haven’t been involved in much of this, except as an observer, I find the various author/reviewer meltdowns that occur pretty fascinating. Goodreads is a focal point for two different trends: self-publishing and citizen reviewing. So you have two different kinds of folk running up against each other – people who don’t know shit about marketing running up against sometimes harshly stated opinions – and the result can be explosive. And I really shouldn’t be singling out the self-pubs, because a fair number of these explosions have happened between Big Six authors (or their agents or friends) and their readers. As the industry changes from more mediated relationships – authors are largely left to their own devices these days (I am given to understand) – the potential for conflict approaches one.

I don’t have any easy answers for this, and I don’t think either reviewers or authors have gotten it right 100% of the time. I believe there is a tendency for reviewers to be rewarded for strong reactions – when I sort my reviews by the ones with the most votes, the first ten are either five-starred or one-starred reviews, hatchet jobs or soaring praise. I get it: we respond strongly to strong emotion, and I don’t think there is anything wrong or bad about that. I worry sometimes about this feedback loop though, at least as it pertains to the critical process. I mean, no one ever said that a citizen review had to be a measured intellectual endeavor, and god bless all the goofing, irreverent, parodic, cheerfully off-topic reviews out there, but I still worry about the middle-voice, the three-starrer that gets lost in the wash. Heated rhetoric is rewarded – and I’m not saying I’m immune to this, having penned some hatchet jobs and love-fests myself – but sometimes I wonder what reviews would look like if it weren’t. I certainly think about this when I reach for the hatchet.

Name one reviewer not in the Forbes 25 that people should be aware of.
Just one? This question sucks. How about 25? In no particular order:

Eric from Minneapolis
Matt from Nebraska
Miriam from California
Ben Babcock
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Mike Reynolds
Monica!
Caris O’Malley
Michael Springer, who has some terrible pseudonym these days
Dead Flamingo Jessica
Sparrow
Joel from Chicago
Jacob Ford
Terence from California 
Moira Russell
Lisa Vegan
Abigail A. 
Kelly from I don’t know where
Aerin from Seattle 
Flannery
RandomAnthony
Jason Morais
Lightreads
My Flesh Sings Out aka Josh
oriana from Brooklyn
Wealhtheow Wylfing

This might be more than 25, and I could add more. I <3 a lot of reviewers on Goodreads.

What was your initial reaction to Amazon buying Goodreads?
Zombie apocalypse? No, really, I think it was inevitable that Goodreads was going to sell out or go public, because the problem of monetizing any start-up for the founders. CEO Otis was looking to cash out on a very good idea executed (mostly) well, and I can’t say I blame him. Plus, Goodreads just hit some kind of tipping point with user numbers – 10+ million and counting – and I don’t think Goodreads has been able to cope in terms of capital or infrastructure. (Witness the complete failure of the notification system on a regular basis, and less important problems like their inability to update top lists for months.) After facebook went public to not disastrous, but not fantastic results, that left selling out. I am hugely disappointed that it turned out to be Amazon, but I’m also not hugely surprised.

Amazon has created a problem for themselves with the discoverability issue – as the bricks and mortar bookstores shutter, there’s no place for serendipitous browsing, and their “if you’ll like this, then” algorithms are probably the best out there, but that doesn’t mean they’re good. Plus, Amazon reviews are heavily gamed by all kinds of competing forces – authors and/or fans with grudges, a downvoting system that tends to punish outlying opinions or perspectives, payola scandals, even Michael Jackson fans gone insane. As product reviews not personal responses, the personal gets lost. The social network aspect of Goodreads solves their discoverability issue and the issue of confidence in the review. We goodreaders are now all the person inside the Mechanical Turk. Which sucks. Maybe there’s no difference in shaking my ass for CEOtis or Amazon, but it feels different.

How many books do you own?
A quick estimate using my thumb puts the number at about 750, but that’s not factoring the stuff in the basement or the kids books. So probably a thousand. I like books, as objects, but I tend to give them away when I love them, and I seldom re-read.

Who is your favorite author?
Ursula K Le Guin

What is your favorite book of all time?
Fail. Impossible to compute.

What are your thoughts on ebooks?
I adore paper, and there are things that are impossible to do with a screen that you can do with a physical object, but ebooks have their place. I read a lot of pulp mass market stuff, because I can put down several throw-away fictions while I’m reading something more considered. It’s almost required, because I’m a pleasure reader primarily, and while I get pleasure from smart stuff, it requires a level of engagement that I can’t give it just before bed or on a Sunday afternoon or whatever. So an ebook that I can half-assedly download from the library and pick at can be really perfect.

I’m not hugely excited about all the proprietary readers out there – Nook, Kindle, Kobo, whatever – which lock readers into a specific distribution channel. I don’t think that’s good for publishing, but I don’t know what the solution is.

What are your thoughts on self-publishing?
Boy, what a thing. Obviously, publishing is in a huge upheaval at the moment, much like music was ten years ago, but I don’t think we can necessarily extrapolate what happened to music distribution to book publishing. So many of the arts have fractured into the long tail – a series of sub-sub-sub-genres catering to very, very specific readerships. Which can be great for those specific readerships, but if you’re not in them, maybe hard to figure out. I am absolutely game to read self-published works, and I have read and enjoyed a number, but I do admit I worry about the editorial process, and, given some of the meltdowns I’ve seen, the insulating effect of the publisher when authors and readers interact.

We could all use an editor – as I’m fiercely aware of when I post some damn review riddled with typos and badly connected thoughts. Platforms like Goodreads become all the more important when sorting through self-published works, which are rarely reviewed on traditional platforms – even the mid-list gets lost, and if you’re talking about genre fiction, forget it – which is why the Amazon takeover continues to worry me. The difference between product review and criticism is vital.

Any literary aspirations? 
Sure.

The Duke’s Tattoo by Miranda Davis

Well, that was completely adorable. I don’t even mean that in the bitchy way I often mean adorable either. 

The Duke of Ainsworth wakes up one morning after getting rolled by persons unknown with an embarrassing tattoo on his naughty bits. Maybe I don’t even need to write the rest of this review, because that set up is the most hilariously awesome thing to happen to the oft-boring, half-assedly historical genre of the Regency romance since…I don’t know what since. It is a great set up though, and it is not squandered, having set a tone of rank silliness cut with a winking genre sensibility that totally worked for me. 

The Larch:running gag since October 1969

I imagine that if you go in looking for some super historical jibber-jabber about Regency mores and the like, you will be disappointed. Really, though, very few are reading Regency romance for the articles, if you catch my drift, and Davis justifies the far-fetched stuff in a cromulent manner. Prudence, the young woman responsible for the rolling of our titular Duke, is a sensible, modern sort of girl, working as an apothecary in Bath after being shut out of polite society due to the Duke of Ainsworth and her dick of a brother. But, whoops, it was not this Duke of Ainsworth, but his brother. Sorry about the confusion, and about your colorful peen. 

I really enjoyed the interactions between the duke and Prudence, especially in the beginning when it was all grudge match and everyone not knowing that what everyone else knew. Davis manages a prose tone that cuts a middle distance between sounding too modern and sounding too mothballed, and, frankly, I’m jealous of her working vocabulary. I don’t think I’m a slouch on the vocab quiz, and she sent me to the dictionary a couple times. (And not in a shitty, I’m-using-a-thesaurus way either.) A lot of the situations were – how do I put this – pretty stock things that happen in ur Regency romance novel (like the sleeping in the same bed non-sexually trope, which is such an oddment to me) but I thought she pulled them off with grace. The subtle invocation of the duke’s PTSD – he was an infantryman in the Napoleonic wars – made the whole insomnia thing more sensible. 

The third act goes on way too damn long, in a way that made me want to give everyone a wedgie, but especially Prudence. That’s not really unusual though, and the third act avoids much of the descent into sentiment or treacle one finds in many (if not most) romantic comedies. I can’t say I’m surprised by it, given how often it happens, but the way raunch comedies often end in these just weltering affirmations of crushing domesticity still puzzle me (e.g. just about every movie by Adam Sandler, not including Punch-Drunk Love.) Not that The Duke’s Tattoo does this, except in the most expected of ways. I mean, a comedy, a romance, by definition ends with an HEA (or, at the very least, a HFN: happy for now) so I don’t even know what I’m complaining about, or if I’m even complaining.

Maybe it’s just this: like many romance novels, I can imagine profoundly different, and slightly to wholly tragic conclusions to the action – Prudence knocked up in Italy, raising her daughter as a “ward”, or worse; the worse is easy – which may be the point of the whole romance/comedy thing. The old saw goes that comedy happens to other people, while tragedy is personal. The romantic comedy cuts these two things together in a way that rarely works, but it mostly worked here. W00t.