Thursday, September 29, 2011

Review: "The Magicians" by Lev Grossman

I read this book for two reasons. First, Lev Grossman won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer at this year's WorldCon. Second, the premise is fantastic: What would happen if you discovered that the fantasy world you loved as a kid was real and you could go there? I daydreamed as a kid about going to Narnia and Prydain, and later on Gwynedd and Pern. "The Magicians" seemed right up my alley, and it is ... with one glaring exception.

This has been called in some reviews the adult version of Harry Potter, with a big dose of the Chronicles of Narnia thrown in. That's an apt description. The first half of the book is spent at a magic college in upstate New York called Brakebills, which even has a chess-type game that is their equivalent of quidditch. But unlike at Hogwarts, the students here drink, have sex and are quite foul-mouthed. After graduation, they add drugs to their vices.

And herein lies my one problem with the book. I like sympathetic protagonists. Quentin Coldwater and his friends are some of the most miserable, self-destructive characters I've ever come across. Quentin discovers magic is real and that he is a magician. He discovers the world of Fillory is real. He goes to Fillory on an adventure right out of the books he loved as a kid. And he is still miserable, right up to the last page.

That's too bad because I love everything else about this book. Grossman has an engaging style. I found myself stopping to reread passages because I was so impressed with the writing and imagery. This one on the first page is among my favorites (maybe because I'm tall for a girl):

Quentin was thin and tall, though he habitually hunched his shoulders in a vain attempt to brace himself against whatever blow was coming from the heavens, and which would logically hit the tall people first.

I enjoyed this book enough that I will read its sequel, "The Magician King," but not enough that I'm rushing to the library to pick up the sequel right now. I hope in the second book, Quentin will finally shake off his perpetual state of melancholy and find some happiness. Because what's the point of being in the fantasy world you obsessed over all your life if you can't have some fun while you're there?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hey, look, I got an award

I got a nice surprise in the comments section the other day, which is fellow Hatracker Redux has passed along the honor of the Versatile Blogger award to me. Thanks, Redux! I guess I could be considered versatile in that I write about Doctor Who and Glee (and also writing and publishing, and sometimes more about my personal life than anyone would care to know).

Along with the award, I have been given tasks. I'm not too sure about an award that requires that I do something, but I'll give it a shot.

First, thank the person who gave you the award and link back to their blog (see above for the thank you and below for the link).

Second, seven things about myself.
  • I was born in that bastion of all things crazy liberal: Boulder, Colorado, sometimes known as the People's Republic of Boulder.
  • A majored in journalism and minored in anthropology at the University of Missouri-Columbia and graduated magna cum laude in 1998.
  • I was the female lead of my sixth-grade musical, a hokey affair about the Continental Congress. I sang a solo in a song called "There's a Price to be Paid for Freedom."
  • Pets I've owned since college: three hamsters (Bean, Pippin and Merry) and a dog (Buddy).
  • When I was a kid, I secretly wanted to be the pink member of Voltron. Or Wonder Woman.
  • The first book I ever learned to read by myself was "Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing."
  • I earned varsity letters in track, cross country and soccer in high school, and I still go running three or four times a week.

Third, pass along the award to five newly discovered bloggers. Hmm. I might have to take a rain check on that one while I think about who I might pick. Most of the blogs I frequent belong to pro writers and agents, who don't qualify as "newly discovered."

Anyway, go check out Redux's blog, I'm an Author not a Writer! From there, you can link to the other four recipients along with yours truly.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Doctor Who: Closing Time

In last week's episode "The God Complex," the only way the Doctor could save Amy (and by extension all of them) was to destroy her faith in him. Likewise, my faith in Steven Moffat is waning. At the start of the season, I ogled at the very deep hole he seemed to have written himself into but I was confident that he had a clever way to dig himself out. After watching "Closing Time," that confidence is gone.

The plot lines of River Song and the Doctor's death have become so convoluted that there is no way the season finale will bring it all to a satisfying conclusion. We will see a lot of running around and shooting and wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimeyness, but it won't be enough. I'm calling it now: Moff and Co. won't pull off the finale without it feeling forced.

But first, "Closing Time."

This was a fun standalone "two men and a baby with an overkill of gay jokes" episode. I liked Craig in "The Lodger" and I liked him here, too. The Doctor's ability to speak baby added a fun twist ("Stormageddon," ha!) Apparently a hundred to two-hundred years (I'm not clear on the time frame) have passed between when the Doctor drops off the Ponds and shows up at Craig's door. This is an older and sadder Doctor who's out for one last adventure before going to his death-by-astronaut on the shore of a lake in Utah.

This episode extends a running theme throughout the season of parent-child relationships. There was the pirate captain and his stowaway son in "The Curse of the Black Spot"; the ganger dad who takes the place of his dead human counterpart in "The Almost People." And of course there's that one big parent-child plot line that got unceremoniously dropped after "Let's Kill Hitler" and has yet to be resolved. In "Closing Time," Craig is struggling with his complete lack of fatherly instinct but comes through in the end by blowing up a bunch of Cybermen with ... love. Yeah. Go ahead, roll your eyes. I did, too. It helps that his infant son is adorable.

Then came the episode's coda.

River Song has just graduated as a doctor of archaeology and has written in her little blue book the time, date and location of the Doctor's death. Madam Kovarian shows up and abducts River. Next thing she knows, she has been stuffed in an astronaut suit and is underwater.

As far as I can tell, this creates a paradox. Older River who picnics with the Doctor, Amy and and Rory on the lakeshore does not know what's coming. She's as surprised as anyone when an astronaut walks out of the lake and shoots the Doctor dead. Before you all start pointing it out, yes, she says "Of course" and fails to shoot the astronaut even though she's a crack shot. And she also goes to prison for killing the best man she's ever known. But there is no indication whatsoever that she knows, before the Doctor is killed, that it is going to happen right then and there. Which makes no sense whatsoever if she's the one who kills him. That is not something you forget. Even if the younger version wasn't paying attention to her surroundings and didn't know where she was, she still has it all written in her book.

This is where my faith starts to erode. First off, why would she kill him? If she were brainwashed River, I could see that happening. Or River before she has met the Doctor. But neither is the case here. There are indications that all time and space is stuck at the moment of the Doctor's death until he dies (even though there's no hint of that in "The Impossible Astronaut"), so in killing him, she sets the universe to rights. She doesn't have a choice. OK. I could deal with that. If so, what idiot judge puts her in prison for saving the universe? Why is she branded as a war criminal worse than Hitler?

I'm still hoping to come out of next week's episode satisfied with the resolution, that Moffat and Co. will pull a rabbit out of their hat, that they will make the resolution feel organic and inevitable instead of oh-god-we-wrote-ourselves-into-a-box-what-the-hell-do-we-do-now. If they manage it, I will get on this blog next week and applaud their genius. But somehow, I don't think that will happen.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bunch o' links

In other news: My fourth quarter Writers of the Future story is submitted, and I'm about 4,500 words into the next one. And my 4-year-old daughter has a cold, which is always a little nerve-wracking because the common cold is her trigger for asthma attacks.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I've had a busy week ...

I haven't been posting here because I have been making the final fixes to my Writers of the Future entry and polishing it to a pretty shine. This entry is the opposite of my last one in the amount of work applied. Third quarter: written in a week. Fourth quarter: obsessed over until I can hardly stand to look at it anymore. Anyway, I'm going to submit the story today, which will mean more time for other things ... like this blog.

In the meantime, I ran across this video clip today: Sesame Street parodies "Glee." I love their version of "Don't Stop Believing."

Monday, September 12, 2011

Doctor Who: The Girl Who Waited

Yes, I skipped doing a post on "Night Terrors" last week. I thought it was a better episode than many online reviewers gave it credit for but not outstanding. I enjoyed it; however, its monster-in-the-closet-with-a-twist plot was obviously geared toward younger viewers than me. This week's episode was much better. So, without further ado ...

The Girl Who Waited ... a really, really long time.

I love when Doctor Who does a character-based episode. No monster of the week. No long-arc continuity. No Moffat puzzle boxes. This was a story about Amy and Rory and the strength of their love. And it was easily the best episode of the three we've seen since the show came back after its summer break.

What I liked:
  • The Doctor's reckless, Geronimo attitude endangers the people he loves. Again. When Amy goes back for her phone (which turns out to have the longest lasting battery ever), the Doctor could have waited for her to catch up. Instead, he and Rory push the green button to open a door and go inside without her. Amy pushes the red button and ends up in a different room, the first step that cascades into Amy being trapped in that facility alone for 36 years. And she calls the Doctor on it.
  • Rule No. 1: The Doctor lies. Boy, he tells a whopper to old Amy when he promises to save her but knows he can't.
  • Karen Gillan's performance as old Amy is brilliant. She is still Amy Pond, but with more confidence and more sadness. Even her body language is different. When old Amy tells the Doctor how much she hates him for abandoning her, it's chilling. When she decides to defy time itself for Rory's sake and sacrifices herself for to give him back the days they lost, it's heartbreaking. I almost cried. And I never cry at television shows.
  • I also like how Rory is portrayed. He does not love old Amy any less for the years that separate them. He only hates that they did not get to grow old together. And I love that he almost lets old Amy onto the TARDIS, even knowing that the two Amys cannot both exist. He can't stand leaving her behind. Only the ending of "The Doctor's Wife" matches this one for poignancy.

Next week's episode has a minotaur, a creepy clown and a spooky hotel. But it's going to be hard-pressed to not be a letdown after this week.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Other reasons this was a sad weekend

This has been a weekend of bad news.

First, my family's cat died, but this wasn't unexpected. She was extremely old. We got her when I was a sophomore in high school, 20-plus years ago. Ila lived a good, long life.

Then I found out that tonight was the last night for the copy and design desks of The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., where I worked for eight years before I came to Denver. Some of those staffers have moved to the newsroom of the Charlotte Observer, where the Raleigh paper will now be edited. Some of those staffers are filling out unemployment paperwork.

This is the second time that one of my former copy desks has been swallowed up into the Charlotte newsroom. The first was The Herald in Rock Hill, S.C., my first job out of college. And I've only worked in three newsrooms total.

I wrote about The N&O's consolidation earlier this summer, and what I said then still stands. Newspapers are a faltering industry because people seem to think news is a product they don't have to pay for. Thanks to the Internet, it is ... to some extent. But those of us who produce the copy still need to get paid, and that money needs to come from somewhere. When subscriptions drop, so does advertising, and that's when people lose their jobs. And then ... no more news. Free or otherwise.

Never forget

Friday, September 2, 2011

Labor Day weekend

Two events start today, one of which I wish I was at and the other I wish would go away.

The good one: DragonCon. My sister and I have gone about 10 times to this geekfest in Atlanta, but neither of us are in a good enough financial spot right now to afford the plane tickets, hotel and food. Maybe next year. I hope.

The bad one: The Taste of Colorado. This annual festival attracts hundreds of thousands of people to Civic Center in downtown Denver for four days of food and fun. Unfortunately, Civic Center is right across the street from my work building. Yes, there is an access lane to get to my building's parking garage, but it's a maze of twists and turns and festival workers who want to check that you're actually supposed to be there. It's a huge hassle.

So instead of television stars, crazy costumes and four days of geeky bliss, I am dealing with downtown Denver traffic. Lucky me.

Writing progress: I am still pounding away at the same story I've been pounding away at for weeks. But, bit by bit, it is getting better.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Writers of the Future, quarter 3

After a couple of better-than-expected quarters in Writers of the Future, I'm back to my old familiar home on the honorable mentions list.

I did not know how this story would rank. I wrote it in a week with no time for critiquing or revisions. I think it's quite good except for the last page, where I flub the ending. The question was how much that flub would count against the story, and now I know. After I finish my quarter 4 entry, I will rewrite the ending of this one and send it out on submission elsewhere.

So, the tally in 11 consecutive quarters of entering the Writers of the Future contest:
  • 1 semi-finalist
  • 1 silver honorable mention
  • 6 honorable mentions
  • 3 straight rejections

Hunt for the perfect word

Among Mark Twain's rules for writers is this one: Use the right word, not its second cousin. Great advice. Unless the right word does not exist in the English language.

I encounter this problem a couple of times in every story. I can think of several second cousins to the word I need but not the one word that communicates the perfect tone or mood. I comb the thesaurus in search of that perfect word but cannot find it. Eventually, I either go with a second cousin or write around the problem.

One that turns up occasionally: a substitute pronoun for whose that can be used in conjunction with inanimate objects. Who is used when talking about a person, that and which when talking about an inanimate object. But whose has no equivalent for use with non-human nouns. Example: "A country whose GDP is increasing." Not a good example, because I can think of plenty of ways to write around that one, but you get the idea.

In my current work in progress, the word that is giving me fits is kidnap. This is a fine word, if the person who is taken is a kid. Alas, the victim in my story is an adult, and "kidnap" sounds wrong to my writerly ear. OK, you say, so use abduct. Again, to my mind, this is not quite right. Anything can be abducted if it's carried off by force, while only a person (or maybe a pet) can be kidnapped.

Now you're saying to yourself that I'm over-thinking the whole thing, and you're probably right. But that's what comes of working as a copy editor for 40 hours per week for 10 years. I get obsessive about words.