I find it depressing that Katniss Everdeen made the list not for inspiring people to start looking at the parallels between Panem and our own present—not to mention real-life activism via We Are the Districts—but BECAUSE SHE INSPIRED SUCCESSFUL PRODUCT LINES.
Might that be why your fiction has been more readily admired in so-called literary circles—that it’s more engaged with human complexity and psychology?
It’s helped to make my stuff more accessible to people who don’t, as they say, read science fiction. But the prejudice against genre has been so strong until recently. It’s all changing now, which is wonderful. For most of my career, getting that label—sci-fi—slapped on you was, critically, a kiss of death. It meant you got reviewed in a little box with some cute title about Martians—or tentacles.
Also, this killed me: "My father knew Alfred Knopf personally. I’d had recorder lessons with Blanche Knopf when I was seventeen. Blanche—she was a real grande dame, oh God, she was scary. And I’d go in with my little tooter." Like, can you even PICTURE THAT? I can't.
And then later she compares genre fiction to poetry—because in both cases, you're writing within a form—and a response to that "I don’t read fiction because it isn’t real" statement and holy crow, I just want to QUOTE EVERYTHING.
So, yeah. It's an AWESOME interview, not to be missed.
There's Saba/DeMalo, which is to be expected. And a bizarre happier ending for Rebel Heart which is also to be expected, but which also brings Gracie-the-two-sentence-dead-child back to life, which was a bit surprising.
But then there's also one that's Saba/Lugh and Saba/Emmi.
First things first: this cover art does Rebel Heart such a disservice. So much so, in fact, that despite my EPIC LOVE for Blood Red Road, I put off reading this, the sequel, for what, over a year?
I understand that the publisher wants, naturally, to bring in more readers. And I understand that Beefcake sells. BELIEVE ME, I DO. But this cover is selling a somewhat generic contemporary sexy Western.
And Rebel Heart is not that. I'd put it in the Western family, yes. And there are sexytimes, yes. But although Saba's love for Jack is the driving force behind many of the decisions she makes in the book, the sexytimes themselves are few and far between, and are certainly not at the forefront. And a contemporary, this is not: those new, off-the-rack clothes Mr. Model there is wearing? No. The people in this world are lucky if their clothes come fourth-hand, and oftentimes, they are pulled off of dead bodies. And finally, Jack—assuming that's supposed to represent Jack—is hardly in the book at all, as the majority of the story is about Saba trying to find him.
I understand that generic sells—otherwise it wouldn't become generic, right?—but I find it sad that this series, which is SO special and such a standout in terms of voice and character and world and action and romance and plotting, didn't get treated as such by its own publisher.
WOW. I... my feelings about the cover were a tad more passionate than I realized. I apologize for the rant, I just... UGH.
ANYWAY, THE BOOK. It works as a sequel—it begins shortly after Blood Red Road ended, with Jack headed to the Lost Cause to give Molly the bad news about Ike, while Saba, Lugh, Emmi, and Tommo head out across the Waste towards Big Water, which is (they hope) safe as well as being a land of plenty—but Young gives enough backstory that new readers will catch up quickly.
Everything that I loved about Blood Red Road is here, and then some:
Saba's voice continues to be outstanding, both in terms of her dialect and how she expresses herself: she's gruff and stormy; easily angered; from the outside, to people who didn't know her, she'd seem like an implacable, dangerous, often-terrifying person; but much of her anger comes from how deeply, how piercingly she feels things. She's not infallible, she's not selfless, and she doesn't always make the "right" decision... but it's totally understandable why she's become a legend in her own time, and it's totally understandable why, despite her every attempt to push people away, they keep coming back.
Blood Red Road was about Saba trying to find her twin brother, Lugh, but now that she's found him, she finds that life can't go back to the way it was, that they can't go back to the way they were. And so, despite how much of this book is about Saba and Jack, a whole lot of it is about Saba and her siblings. It is, despite the post-apocalyptic world, the constant action and adventure, a story about family.
It's also a story in which violence has long-term effects. Not just in that people die—and they do, which alarming regularity—but in that Saba is still processing some of the actions she took in the previous book: in particular, her very own "Kiss me, Hardy!" moment. Logically, she knows that she did the right thing—she gave Epona a clean death, rather than a long, lingering, rapey death—but as most of us know, logic doesn't help to stave off guilt.
And then there's the world. It's harsh, it's gritty, it's mean—Young doesn't gloss over the hard facts of the kind of evil that people are capable of—but it isn't black-and-white. The villain, DeMalo, is a zealot, and his methods are absolutely revolting... but he's got a vision of making the world a better place. (Albeit just for certain people.) He's charismatic and passionate and smart, though, and it's understandable why Saba is A) drawn to him and B) tempted by his pitch.
I do think that some readers will be irritated by the whole everyone-falls-in-love-with-Saba thing. But here's how I look at it: she's pretty much the Chosen One. Some people see her as that, even. So gaining followers—platonic and romantic—kind of comes with the territory. And the three suitors are representative of three different kinds of relationship: DeMalo looks at her as the Angel of Death, and he wants (possibly subconsciously) to tame her, to ultimately manipulate her into a subservient role; though Tommo has grown into a man, and a good one at that, he's not on Saba's level in terms of well, anything; it's only with Jack that she stands with as an equal, in terms of respect and trust in each others' capabilities. Jack loves her for who she is, not as a symbol, like DeMalo, and not as a hero, like Tommo, but purely for being Saba.
Um, so yeah. I guess you could say that I liked it?
These projects and their teams are all attempting to address the need for greater diversity in the fiction available to young people in particular—for teens of all kinds to be able to ‘see themselves’ in stories—and as the main character, not just the best friend or minor supporting character who assists the straight white able-bodied American protagonist along their journey.
Publications like Kaleidoscope and Inscription, then, are not only useful in producing new material for the teen readers out there, but also in helping to raise awareness in the publishing community of the needs of young readers.
...I wrote about Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner’s These Broken Stars, which started out as 'Titanic in space' but rapidly transformed into a survival/journey across an alien planet:
Although he’s likable enough—his Jerk Moments are far fewer than Lilac’s, and are usually fueled by necessity—Tarver isn’t a hugely interesting character, as he’s one of those super strong, super sensitive, super mature, borderline all-knowing heroes who develops a lurrrve for the heroine, but keeps it under wraps Because He’s Beneath Her, etc., etc. As he’s already pretty much “perfect” at the outset of the story, he doesn’t have much growing to do, so there’s little-to-no character development on that front. Lilac, meanwhile, does quite a bit of changing.
Even though the cover doesn't make a whole lot of sense, I continue to think it's totally gorgeous.
Last Tuesday (26 Nov) representatives from the country’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice — the Haya’a — raided several bookshops selling the novel H W J N by Ibraheem Abbas and Yasser Bahjatt’s, demanding it’d be taken off the shelves. H W J N is a “fantasy, sci-fi and romance” novel about a genie who falls in love with a human, and is a best-seller in Saudi Arabia.
Our source, who wishes to remain anonymous, says the book is charged with “blasphemy and devil-worshiping”. They add that the ban appears to stem from a Facebook post accusing the novel of “referencing jinn [genies] and leading teenage girls to experiment with Ouija boards”.
Jinn and Ouija boards? Well, heck. Now *I* want to read it.
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I just tweeted this link, but it's a really thought-provoking essay (and then there are the comments, ZOMGGGGG), so I don't want you non-Twitter folks to miss out:
Peeta is Pepper Potts and Gwen Stacy, helping and helping and helping until the very end, when it's time for the stakes, and the stakes are: NEEDS RESCUE. Peeta is Annie in Speed, who drives that bus like a champ right up until she winds up handcuffed to a pole covered with explosives. Peeta is Holly in Die Hard, who holds down the fort against the terrorists until John McClane can come and find her (and she can give back her maiden name).
In fact, you could argue that Katniss' conflict between Peeta and Gale is effectively a choice between a traditional Movie Girlfriend and a traditional Movie Boyfriend. Gale, after all, is the one whose bed she winds up steadfastly sitting beside after she helps bind his wounds. Gale explains the revolution to her. She puts up a plan to run; Gale rebuffs it because he presumes himself to know better. Gale is jealous and brooding about his standing with her; Peeta is just sad and contemplative.
Seventeen years ago, the Day occurred: the alien overlords arrived and dropped Icons that unleashed multiple EMP-like pulses that not only cut off the electricity, ended long-range communications, and stopped vehicles in their tracks, but that killed every living thing in the vicinity.
Except for a recurring nightmare, Doloria Maria de la Cruz—'Dol' or 'Dolly' to everyone except the Padre and her best friend, Ro—doesn't remember anything about her life before the Grasslands. All she knows is that she has two secrets to keep: the first is that she survived The Day when no one else in her family, on her block, in her neighborhood did... and the second is a small gray dot on her wrist.
The mark on her wrist is strikingly similar to the two red dots on Ro's wrist, and as both of them are strengthened/weakened by their heightened emotions—Dol can feel other peoples' anguish, Ro has regular bouts of berserker rage—it seems clear that they are both somehow different, somehow other.
Then they are captured by the Embassy forces—humans who serve the aliens—and they discover that not only are there others, but that they might be more powerful than they could have ever imagined...
Ways that this book worked for me: I liked the Merk, Fortis. Though if I'm being entirely honest, that might have had more to do with me picturing him as Mark Sheppard than with the book itself. Then again, if Stohl was shooting for a Badger-like character, kudos to her, because she totally succeeded.
Also, I liked that emotion was a strength. All four Icon Children are capable of drawing on and manipulating different emotions—each of them in very different ways—and it's nice to see an action-adventure story in which emotion is embraced, rather than overcome.
In terms of format, I enjoyed the various documents that finished off each chapter: secret memos, propaganda from the Resistance and from the alien-ruled government, autopsy reports, scribbling from notebooks, and song lyrics. In general, it's an effective way to flesh out worldbuilding.
Ways that this book didn't work for me: For a book that was so concerned with the power of emotion, it left me totally cold. The overwhelming grief that Dol is always working to keep at bay, Ro's rage, even—maybe especially—the love rectangle: none of it moved me. Now, it's possible that I'm just a cold-hearted snake (look into my eyes), but... as I've been known to cry at McDonald's commercials, I don't think a lack of heart on my part is the problem here. The romance felt like it was there because it HAD to be there, not that it was there—as in Yancey's The Fifth Wave, which has such a similar premise that it's almost impossible to avoid making mental comparisons—because that's what the characters were really, truly, feeling. For me, where there is no emotional connection, there is no caring, and where there is no caring, there is boredom.
Also, minor problem with something spoiler-ish that happened towards the end. SPOILER: You know how in The Blue Sword, Harry brings the mountain range down on Thurra and his army by holding Gonturan up in the air and calling on her ancestors? Well, that works, story-wise. It works because Harry was being compelled by a force bigger than her, it worked because the entire book is threaded through with Fate and Old Magic: it's a deus ex machina, but that feels right for the world and the story. Towards the end of Icons, Dol does something very similar, but it's less successful: it felt like Stohl was shooting for those same shivers, that same feel of overwhelming power—and to be fair, some of Dol's monologue at that point IS quite effective—but because it all kind of comes out of nowhere, it feels like a deus ex machina in a world where a deus ex machina doesn't fit. Wow, that was a long explanation for a really minor issue. END SPOILER.
Nutshell: Weak. If you're looking for a post-alien-apocalypse story starring a teenaged girl who deals with confusing and emotionally-engaging romantic entanglements, try Rick Yancey's The Fifth Wave instead.