This is for bookelfe/skygiants. Of course. (Yes, I'm out of order.)

I’m sticking with books here. A lot of manga and anime operates on different narrative rules, so the bizarreness makes wacky internal sense. I do have to mention, though, the complete works of Kaori Yuki if you have any interest in things like random flying Heavenly whales, apocalypse by army of flying zombie angel embryos, and people getting turned into masses of writhing tentacles and kept in the bathtub.

Even so, it was very, very difficult to narrow this down to five. There are bizarre premises (“I will break every bone in my body because then they’ll grow back stronger and I WILL BE INVINCIBLE”), the sheer weight of ridiculousness in a single book (the bone-breaking book also featured the near-death of the hero’s milk-allergic brother when the hero’s cheating girlfriend ate pizza, then kissed the brother), the sudden intrusion of absurdity into a previously non-bizarre book (two-thirds sensitive exploration of sketchy power dynamics, one third EVIL BALL OF MASKED S&M SMALL PRESS POETS), and unwanted intrusions by the author’s peculiar id (of course the most desirable whores have hooves.) Not to mention Terry Goodkind's infamous evil chicken. How to choose?

I have so many contenders that I was forced to name winners in categories.

Most Stupid Protagonist

Runner-Up: Oscar, the hero of Myke Cole’s Control Point. When faced with the difficult decision of who he should get help from— a) his best friend, b) a friendly acquaintance, or c) the sociopathic supervillain who is currently locked up after going on a mass slaughter rampage but who promises to help him out if he’ll only release her from the magical wards laid on her to stop her from slaughtering everyone in sight— guess who he picks?

Winner: Summer in Mary Brown’s Master of Many Treasures, for failing to get rid of a traveling companion whom she easily could get rid of, after he repeatedly and deliberately endangers her and all the rest of her companions, including trying to kill a friend of hers in a random fit of temper. Also for ignoring all advice by people who clearly have her best interest in mind, and taking all advice by people holding up HI I AM EVIL signs, and for failing to learn from very consistent consequences, like falling into quicksand full of rotting corpses because she couldn’t bear to take her best friend’s advice that the left-hand path led to the Swamp of Rotting Corpses. Also for believing that a good excuse for stalking her dragon ex-boyfriend is explaining that she actually fell in love with him when she thought he was a flying pig.

This doesn’t have anything to do with her intelligence, but I just want to mention that during the course of the book, she lays an egg.

Once Is Tragedy, One Million Times Is Hilarity

Crazy-Beautiful, by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Gee, if I'd known spilling my orange juice was this effective, I'd have spilled it in Dad's direction every day when I was younger. Then maybe he'd have made time to do things with me like, I don't know, play catch in the yard. Not that I'm complaining or playing the neglected child card. I'll never do that. I know what I've done. I know who's responsible for everything in my life, past, present, and future. Still, a little catch would have been fun, when I still had hands.

And what of me and my hands? Or, I should say, lack of hands.

I finish loading the dryer, hookload by hookload, use my hook to set the dial at seventy minutes, use my hook to depress the button.

Most Ridiculous Plot Twists


All books by Sheri Tepper. Future ones too. Every Sheri Tepper book in which infanticide is presented as the solution to the problems of the world. Also the one where the heroine turns out to be a de-aged squid-person. She might lay an egg too, I forget.

The indie gangster movie, name forgotten, in which the screenwriter’s poorly thought-through desire to add on one more surprise reveal meant that the entire action of the movie consisted of a drug lord hiring people to steal his own drugs.

The Isobelle Carmody books with the love quadrangle between two humans and two transformed dogs.

Dan Simmons’ The Rise of Endymion. The climactic revelation of the entire series is that quantum strings are made out of love.

Frank Herbert’s God-Emperor of Dune. It makes sense in context, but I still find it hilarious that the climax consists of the main character becoming a million worms.

Lord of Legends, by Susan Krinard. I still have no idea why the heroine’s housekeeper turned into a talking fox.

And finally… drum roll… the winner!

Spider Robinson’s Starseed. The heroine is paralyzed via drugs, has multiple bad guys holding guns on her, and isabout to be killed. As her last request, she asks for a moment to meditate. When they grant it, she achieves enlightenment. This enables her to become telepathic, overcome the effects of the paralyzing drug, and slaughter the bad guys with kung fu.
I promised [profile] bookelfe I would read this. Thanks! I think.

[profile] bookelfe reviewed a remarkable book, Pigs Don’t Fly, in which a rather unlikable heroine goes on a quest with six companions to make the mystical seven: a blind amnesiac knight, a horse princess, a cockney mutt, a Turtle of Love, a farm boy named Dickon, and The Wimperling, a winged pig who flies by farting. I am not making this up. I commend you to her hilarious review before you read mine, since this review is of the sequel, which she challenged me to read. Especially since I am about to spoil the end of Pigs Don’t Fly, since it motivates the entire action of this book.

Pigs Don’t Fly ends with Summer, the heroine, kissing her beloved pet flying farting pig. Poof! He turns into a dragon! Poof! He turns into a man! In a somewhat confusing scene, they have sex. Poof! He turns into a dragon!

He is a dragon who was under an enchantment which made him look like a pig. But since Summer kissed him three times as a pig, though he is now a dragon again, he is also now cursed to periodically turn into a man. He explains all this, then flies off to China, ditching Summer.

Master of Many Treasures picks up with Summer stalking her dragon-pig-not-boyfriend across the world. Occasionally she finds it necessary to justify herself to the reader:

But why fall in love with a dragon? Because I had loved the pig and the dragon wasn’t a dragon all the time.

Summer. Summer. You do not make falling in love with a dragon more acceptable by protesting that you actually fell in love with a pig!

But mostly, she doesn’t think about her dragon-pig not-boyfriend much at all. She’s too busy wandering around collecting plot coupons as she travels around, having basically everyone she meets see through her "boy" disguise and periodically conversing ethnically stereotyped characters speaking in comic dialect. This book is over-burdened with comic dialect. Her own companions include Growch the cockney mutt, a slave boy speaking an unknown language and broken English otherwise, and a developmentally disabled dancing bear. (Yes, really.)

Thankfully, three of Summer’s obligatory six companions do not speak in dialect: Ky-Lin, a magical Chinese stone chimera which she gets literally handed to her for no actual reason other than that the plot requires her to have it, Dickon, and the teeny dragon egg with which Summer was unknowingly impregnated.

Yes. She is pregnant with an egg. She keeps feeling sick in a pregnancy-signalling manner, but thinks that she can’t possibly be pregnant because it’s been a year since she had sex that one time. There are flashbacks to her sexcapade with the dragon-pig-dude, which are written in a manner probably meant to convey that it was all very unexpected and confusing, but really make it sound like the entire thing lasted about fifteen seconds. Which is entirely possible, all things considered.

With the help of Ky-Lin, Summer lays the egg through her belly button. I think. The scene is really vague. It’s possible that she lays it through some other orifice, but it’s then stuck into her belly button. It ends up stuck to her belly button, anyway.

Ky-Lin then helpfully explains that dragons are “bisexual.” He defines this as meaning that they are both male and female, and can fertilize themselves, so… I forget why this was relevant.

I don’t know why an egg that does not speak, telepathically communicate, or hatch counts as a companion, but it does. Mystic seven!

Ky-Lin spouts a lot of Buddhist philosophy which, based on its accuracy, I surmise was gleaned from the author vaguely remembering what she’d read in the Religions of the World chapter of some textbook when she was twelve. That being said, he does not speak in comic dialect and is the only character with any intelligence or common sense, so I cut him a lot of slack.

I barely remember Dickon from the first book, other than as a generic farm boy. In this book, he seems to be running for most unlikable character ever. He spends the entire book stalking Summer because he thinks she’s on a quest for treasure. He steals her stuff, drugs her, insults her and her companions, flees in a cowardly fashion whenever they’re endangered, and drinks all their water when they’re lost in the desert.

They have the same unbelievably annoying interaction something like six times in the book: Dickon shows up and harasses, vaguely threatens, robs, and/or leeches on Summer. She has an extremely bad feeling about him (I wonder why!) but even though she’s not afraid of him and she has a premonition that he will do something horrible, she always feels unable to tell him to get lost. He proceeds to harass, vaguely threaten, rob, and/or leech on Summer until he somehow gets ditched. She proceeds without him, until he turns up again, and the process repeats.

Summer is one of the stupidest protagonists I have ever encountered. Whenever someone acts suspicious or threatening, she assumes they can't possibly have bad intentions, and is amazed when they do. Whenever a clearly friendly person warns her of something, she is suspicious and ignores them. My very favorite instance of this was when Ky-Lin is leading her through a marsh full of quicksand and rotting corpses, and says, "The left path will dump you in quicksand. Take the right path."

Summer: "I'm tired of people bossing me!"

Summer: [Takes left path.]

Summer: [Is dumped into rotting corpse-filled quicksand.]

And then the true WTF begins. Even more WTF than the belly-button dragon egg.

Read more... )

This all seems even more WTF than it would anyway because there has been no set-up that would make any of this make sense, thematically or any other way. The entire book is Summer's first person POV, except for the two epilogues.

I don't think I've ever read a book which was improved by two epilogues.

I think there’s a third book that explains what happened to the egg. I’ll pass.

Here There Be Dragonnes (Pigs Don't Fly omnibus). This is an omnibus which contains The Unlikely Ones, which has some problems but which I actually like. It's a very similar story to Pigs Don't Fly: girl who thinks she's ugly due to manipulation by an older woman guardian goes on a quest with one man and five animals, and discovers that she was beautiful all along. The difference is that it's written as a dreamy, poetic fairy-tale, and parts of it are quite beautiful and moving. Other parts show a witch having sex with a broomstick, in a short but understandably memorable scene. One of the heroes is a unicorn who is in love with an enchanted prince, so the human/mythical animal theme is also there. It's done a lot better and less ridiculously in The Unlikely Ones.
With e-publishing getting so easy (unless you are trying to format poetry, sigh), there has been a boom in self-published books. I've found that if I apply the same selection methods I do to traditionally published books (premise, recommendations, reviews, read a sample), the quality is surprisingly similar.

For example, my single favorite romance novel of last year was Courtney Milan's Unraveled. (Click on author tag to see my review.) For a different type of example, click my "awesomely bad books" and "implausible plots" tag-- most of those books were traditionally published and edited by professional editors.

Since self-published authors don't get any publicity beyond what they can drum up themselves, I'm sure there are many self-pubbed books and authors which are completely off my radar. Please recommend self-published books or short stories to me. (I'm not including reprints of books which were originally traditionally published.)

I am already aware of Courtney Milan, Andrea Host, Sarah Diemer, Zetta Elliott, Neesha Meminger, and Judith Tarr's Living in Threes. If you want to rec them in comments for the benefit of other readers, go ahead, but please try to additionally rec something else which I may not know about.
rachelmanija: (Fishes: I do not see why the sex)
( May. 31st, 2011 07:50 am)
I would never be a crazed sex-teen!

Someone could write a good teen dystopia based on the screwed-up messages that modern American society sends to teenage girls: If you have sex with boys, you’re a slut. If you don’t, you’re a prude, a lesbian, or a reject. If you dress fashionably, you’re a slut. If you dress conservatively, you’re a prude. If you really are a lesbian, you don’t exist, unless you proclaim your identity, in which case you’re shoving your sexuality on innocent heterosexual victims. If you use contraception, you’re a slut. If you don’t and you get pregnant, you’re a stupid bitch who’s ruining society.

XVI was clearly inspired by some of those messages, but it’s not good. Its problems begin with the phrase that undoubtedly sold the book, “sex-teen.” That is an inherently ridiculous word. It might work in a satire, but in a work intended to be serious, it can only produce unintentional comedy. Luckily for me, the book had lots of that.

Meet Nina, the heroine. Ginnie is her idolized mom, and Sandy is her sex-crazy “best friend.” The quote marks are because… well, judge for yourself:

Ginnie always taught us that thinking for yourself is the most important thing. When I see how Sandy blindly follows whatever the latest Media-induced frenzy is - I know my mom is right. But it's hard being the only person who thinks like me. Sometimes I wish I could just be like everyone else my age and not think at all.


Her clothes fit her a lot better than mine fit me. As Gran would say, "She's built like an MK lunar pod." Which I'm sure is why her stepdad looks at her the way he does.


Sandy’s Saturn blue plether pants were so tight there was no way she could have gotten them on over underwear – and it was obvious she hadn’t. […] The outfit made me cringe. I sincerely hoped the Sandy I knew and loved was under the Media-hyped crap she was wearing.

Isn’t Nina charming? Wouldn’t you love to spend an entire book with her?

When I was sexsixteen, I too was judgmental and looked down on many of my peers and thought I was more special than you. But I didn’t despise my friends! I loved my friends! And that, I think, made me merely self-centered rather than awful.

Here’s Nina again, rescuing an apparently homeless person and being more compassionate than anyone ever:

I should have gone. Anyone else would have left him. […] It seemed like the older I got the more I believed that everyone, homeless or not, deserved to be treated at least like a human.

Her friends, of course, are baffled and horrified that she would help a homeless person. But it turns out that he’s actually upper-class and only dresses like he’s homeless so he can sneak around being rebellious, so he is acceptable boyfriend material for Nina. (There is an official ten-tier class structure.) While Nina is currently low-class, she came from a high class and her mother voluntarily demoted herself for political reasons. All the sympathetic characters in the book are high-class or formerly high-class. Only Sandy the wannabe-slut is genuinely low-class.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I plunge into the plot, here’s the background:

Girls who turn sixteen are tattooed with the number XVI and called sex-teens. They are then legally able to have sex. I think that while they aren’t legally required to have sex on demand, they are assumed to be sex-crazy and so they are treated as fair game, and while they could theoretically press charges if they’re raped, those cases will invariably be dismissed. But it’s not very clear. They may or may not also become legal adults in other ways.

I couldn’t tell whether or not boys were tattooed, or if they were tattooed at the same age. I also have no idea why the government was so obsessed with making sixteen-year-old girls available for sex, especially since it turns out that the government also collects sixteen-year-old virgins. Given how central the sex-teen concept is, it’s oddly under-explained.

While modern teenage girls are also under a lot of pressure to have sex, may be called sluts, and can often be raped with impunity, there’s no enormous mystique about how since eighteen is the legal age to have sex, you can only have sex once you turn eighteen and absolutely have to have sex the instant you turn eighteen OMG. If a modern girl under eighteen wants to have sex, she… has sex. Since the XVI society doesn’t strictly penalize underage sex, I don’t buy the way that everyone acts like no one ever has sex before sixteen, and everyone must have it the instant they turn sixteen.

Don’t ask me what the ramifications are for non-heterosexual girls. Only straight sexuality exists in this world. (Only straight sexuality exists in all of the recent teen dystopias I’ve read, but it’s a particularly weird omission for the one which is entirely about teen sex.)

In further implausibilities, there’s an organization called FeLS, which I kept reading as FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus), a diplomatic corps made up entirely of low-class virgin teenage girls. All sixteen-year-old low-class virgin girls must be available to be selected for it, unless they can buy their way out. Almost none of them ever come back even though the term of service is only two years, but nonetheless it’s supposed to be wonderful and glamorous and all the sixteen-year-olds who are still virgins are dying to become part of it.

I have no idea how the virginity test works, other than that it’s “physical.” I guess they check for a hymen. There are many factors which make this a dubious method of virginity testing. The hymen can be broken in other ways. Some hymens stretch rather than breaking. More significantly, and as I believe most modern American girls know, you can have oral, anal, manual, and intercrural sex without damaging the hymen. (Okay, most modern American girls probably don’t know the word intercrural, but I bet they know the concept.) So the virginity test is meaningless. They’d be better off borrowing King Math's magic broomstick from the Mabinogion and having the girls step over it to see if a baby falls out of them.

The utterly non-shocking twist at the end is that FeLS is actually a sex slavery ring run by and for the government. When Nina finds this out, and her “friend” Sandy is about to join FeLS, Nina tells Sandy what’s really going on so Sandy can make her own informed decision.

Just kidding! Like that would ever happen. Nina actually decides to make sure Sandy fails the physical virginity test by giving her a large, vibrating, brand-name, sparkly pink dildo, the “Sex-teen Sizzler,” which she knows Sandy will be unable to resist.

Nope, kidding again! This is not a book in which girls enjoy their sexuality without men around. What really happens is that Nina doesn’t tell Sandy anything, but decides to get her to have sex with a boy so she’ll fail the virginity test. Cue ridiculous angsting over whether Nina should offer Sandy her own boyfriend for this purpose.

Nina, of course, never has sex, and her boyfriend doesn’t want to have sex either. Her actual best friend, Wei, is sex-teen but still a virgin. All the positively portrayed teens want to stay virgins, while the only teenager who wants to have sex, Sandy, is a dumb slut.

There is a hint of a promising story in this mess of a book, which is that Nina has good reasons to hate and fear the thought of sex and romantic relationships – her mother is in an abusive relationship – and that creates a conflict between her increasingly undeniable sexual impulses, and her desire to both stay safe and rebel against social expectations by avoiding sex and romance.

Unfortunately, all that consists of about fifteen pages total. The rest of the book is taken up by a largely nonsensical mystery plot. Ginnie, Nina’s mom, is murdered, and with her dying breath tells Nina that her supposedly dead father is still alive. Nina and her younger sister Dee, who was fathered by the abusive Ed, are sent to live with their grandparents.

(Ed is a member of another evil government agency, B.O.S.S. I am not kidding. I immediately guessed that Ed killed Ginnie (no else is even presented as a plausible suspect), that he’s not really Dee’s father, and that the only reason Ginnie was with Ed was some idiotic revolutionary plan, because an intelligent woman would never stay in an abusive relationship unless she had a master plan that requires it. Right on all counts!)

At her new home, Nina learns that not only was the “homeless” boy she rescued coincidentally the son of one of the revolutionaries her father was involved with, but the only girl she befriends from her new apartment building is coincidentally the daughter of some more of them. This conveniently allows other people to step in periodically and give Nina bits of information, a little at a time, even though there are at least four people who could have told Nina the entire story at any time.

But aimless plotting, incoherent worldbuilding, an unlikable heroine, clunky prose, and preachiness is not all that’s wrong with this book. There is also the very, very bad decision to attempt future slang by calling vehicles “trannies.” Not only is it a real-life pejorative term, but just picture the mental image I got every time there was a line like, A trannie came out of nowhere, nearly knocking me down. Not to mention lines of dialogue like, “I told him you really like trannies,” “Girly trannie,” and “Sal’s cool. His brother has all those great trannies.”

I also laughed at every use of the word “sex-teen.” Never not funny!

But what bugged me the most were the anti-sex, anti-female desire, and anti-sexy clothing messages, mostly directed at poor authorial punching bag Sandy. Nina is constantly obsessing about the slutty way Sandy dresses and how it will tempt men to rape her. Here’s Gran on the same topic: “Why, two years ago she was as sweet and innocent as can be. Now she’s on the verge of becoming a wild sex-teen!”

Sandy, unsurprisingly, is raped and murdered at the end. At the casket, Nina muses, For all her sex-teen ways, she’d been so naïve and trusting. Victim-blaming to the very literal end!

Terrible. Terrible. Terrible. And there are many terrible aspects I didn’t even mention. Other intrepid readers, should any step up to the plate, will find unspoiled depths of awfulness to plumb.

Scariest of all, judging by the lack of closure to several major plot points, there will probably be a sequel or two. I eagerly anticipate XVII (Semen-teen), and the conclusion, XVIII (Ate-teen).

Thank you very much to the sponsors who made this post happen! If you enjoyed reading this review, please consider making a donation to the organization this review was written to benefit, The Virginia Avenue Project. ("Using the arts to help kids discover their full potential! 100% of Project kids graduate from high school. 95% go to college. 98% are the first in their families to do so!"

If you do donate, feel free to say that Rachel Manija Brown sent you. Please don't say, "I'm here because of sex-teen!" Given the nature of the Project, that could cause some unfortunate confusion. ;)

rachelmanija: (Bleach: Parakeet of DOOM)
( Apr. 6th, 2011 12:42 pm)
Ages ago, when I auto-disqualified any works set during the Holocaust, slavery, etc from nomination in the YA Agony Awards, I threatened to do a second run-off based on the trashiest and most exploitative works involving real-life tragedies.

Before I go any further, I want to make it very, very clear that I am not mocking the Holocaust or any other real life atrocities! I am mocking works of fiction which make inappropriate, trashy, and/or ludicrous use of actual and horrible historical events.

("Springtime for Hitler" in The Producers is a deliberate parody of that sort of thing, and so doesn’t count. (The link goes to "I'm WET! And I'm STILL HYSTERICAL!")

I’m not sure if I’ll actually do a run-off, but a while back I had a conversation over email which I kept meaning to write up.

I wrote, “There was this whole genre of trashy Holocaust novels, popular I think in the 80s, which I kind of distilled into the cement truck Holocaust novel. [Link contains spoilers for Mockingjay.]

Some artists think of the Holocaust, and write The Devil's Arithmetic. Others think of the Holocaust, and write about traumatized telepathic lion tamer twins. Cut for somewhat disturbing content )

While Rebekka begins her hypnosis treatment, Ruda's ambition moves her to further crime; as their histories are disclosed, the twins are led to a final overwrought meeting under a Berlin bigtop.

That synopsis reminded me of the infamous Jerry Lewis movie, The Day The Clown Cried, in which he played a comedian in a death camp. You would not think that was such a great concept that it deserved to inspire not one, but three movies, but it also generated Life Is Beautiful, not to mention Jakob the Liar. I should note that lots of people thought Life Is Beautiful was a genuinely good movie. I have no opinion on the matter, because I can only stand to see one Holocaust movie every twenty years, and Schindler's List was it.

Speaking of controversial Holocaust movies, a number of parents I know were very, very ticked that Boy In The Striped Pajamas was advertised as a sweet story of friendship, with no mention of the fact that it’s a Holocaust movie and does not end happily. To say the least. All else aside, even if parents do want to take their kids to a Holocaust movie, most of them would like to know in advance that that’s what they’re doing. As it was, several family plans for ice cream after the movie had to be hastily switched to grief-and-trauma counseling after the movie.

Share with me your favorite examples of awful, exploitative, inappropriate, trashy, ridiculous, surprise!genocide or otherwise bad works of fiction attempting to springboard off of history. As in Life Is Beautiful, I realize that one person’s moving work of art is another person’s crass exploitation. Given that and the sensitivity of the subject, please be nice to each other in comments.
This book is so crazily, beautifully, awesomely bad that it was reviewed as a birthday present for me by two different friends, without either knowing what the other had planned. It’s so awesomely bad that it comes out the other side and becomes almost good. I certainly enjoyed reading it, and frequently laughed aloud.

(Reviews by Coraa, Octopedingenue, and Rushthatspeaks.)

Remarkably, despite having read three extremely detailed reviews of it, I was still completely boggled and amused by reading the book itself, which, despite being a very short, quick read, still contained tons of WTF that none of the other reviews touched upon. All else aside, you have to read the whole thing to get the hilarious number of times that the hero reminds us that he has HOOKS FOR HANDS.

This is a YA retelling of “Beauty and the Beast,” in which Beauty is gorgeous, perfect, loving, kind, empathic, (though not smart) teenager Aurora Belle, and the Beast is Lucius Wolfe, a bright, angry, alienated teenager who accidentally blew off both his hands while mixing up chemicals (three guesses what he was trying to make) and now has HOOKS FOR HANDS.

Before I continue, I want to note that I am not mocking actual amputees. I am mocking this author’s depiction of the angst of HOOKS FOR HANDS.

I am dubious about retellings of “Beauty and the Beast” in which beastliness is a disability. It probably could be done well, but it strikes me as a bit inherently sketchy. (My favorite retellings are the very traditional but beautifully done Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast
by Robin McKinley, and Lois McMaster Bujold’s “Borders of Infinity,” in which the Beast is a female genetically engineered super-soldier, and Beauty is a disabled soldier who isn’t actually good-looking. (The latter is in Miles Errant (Miles Vorkosigan Adventures))

One of the things which makes this book especially fascinating is that the author has some skills, and is, at times, funny on purpose. That made me spend the entire first third wondering if the entire thing was supposed to be funny, and if everyone was misreading what was actually a brilliant comedy parodying angsty teen romance. I… don’t think so?

It’s understandable that a teenage boy who blew off his hands only a few months ago and now has HOOKS FOR HANDS would be obsessed with having HOOKS FOR HANDS. But the sheer number of times which he mentions his HOOKS FOR HANDS – generally at least once per page, and often two to ten times per page – makes it into a running joke impossible to take seriously, no matter how carefully the author drops earnest paragraphs educating us on prosthetic limbs via Aurora Belle’s sympathetic googling.

Speaking of googling, one of the accidentally hilarious running themes was the total information vacuum the characters all live in. Lucius calls Johnny Cash “Johnny Crash,” has not only never heard of the play or movie Grease but spends some time pondering the nature of a movie about “rendered animal fat,” and, in one of my favorite moments in the entire book, has to google the mysterious, arcane, exotic term "football."

Here are some actual quotes regarding HOOKS FOR HANDS.

I finish loading the dryer, hookload by hookload, use my hook to set the dial at seventy minutes, use my hook to depress the button. )

Oh, wait. I have to share one more quote. This is Aurora Belle explaining how soundly she has always slept: …it was like trying to diaper a dead baby.

In a weird way… I kind of recommend this book. It has more WTF per page than almost anything I’ve ever read, and I have to tip my hat to that.

Crazy Beautiful
This book required the creation of a new tag, "bad medicine." God knows many books have merited it in the past, but none more than this one. It is also the only book I've ever read which would have been improved by adding more vomit.

Teenage Jonah is on a quest to break every bone in his body, filmed by his friend Naomi (whose implausibilities as a character only begin with her nickname being "Nom") on the theory that they'll grow back stronger and thus demonstrate to his beyond-dysfunctional family that healing is possible.

His brother Jesse, whom Jonas is massively protective of, is deathly allergic to everything, including all forms of milk. Including breast milk. Even if all he does is touch it or inhale a vaporized drop of it. Their parents have cleverly had a new baby, whose very existence, feeding as he does on deadly milk, is a life-threatening risk to Jesse.

Jonah eventually lands in a mental hospital, where the inmates are so awed by him that they too begin breaking their bones, as does a hospital volunteer. The volunteer also breaks him out so that the final and utterly random plot twist and implausible "everything's fine now" resolution can occur.

I could continue with the plot, but it will be easier to note down the implausibilities.

- Jonas breaks something like thirty bones, over the course of one year, in seven or eight separate incidents. Many of these are large, important bones, such as arms, legs, ribs, and jaw. He should never have gotten out of rehab at all, but somehow manages to continue school and be well enough to break more bones in skateboarding "accidents." I refer you to [personal profile] truepenny's journal (page down a bit) for a vivid account of how much impact breaking even a single significant bone has on one's life.

- From what I've heard from people who have actually done it, you will notice if you break your jaw, even if you have other injuries as well.

- If your jaw is wired shut, preventing you from eating solid food, you will be unable to carry on long, easy conversations for the rest of the book like nothing has happened.

- Jonah should be in so much pain that he is unable to concentrate in school, and should be on meds that will also interfere with his life. He should be in physical therapy. He should struggle with performing basic everyday tasks, getting up stairs, holding pens, and skateboarding. He should not be easily running around and being athletic, only pausing to be in pain when the author wants him to be emo.

- I can't believe I'm saying this, but the bone-breaking scenes are so incredibly unrealistic that they would have been improved with vomit.

- If Jonah is that obsessed with Jesse's health, he should know what Jesse's allergic to, rather than offhandedly saying, "Milk, bread, strawberries, and so much other stuff I can't remember it all."

- His parents are oblivious and uncaring about Jesse landing in the ER on the verge of death once a month, Jonah breaking nineteen bones in one year, and their baby being a constant threat to Jesse's life. I can buy bad parenting, but if you're going to depict parents as that abusive and crazy, they should be seen being abusive and crazy in general. In fact, they are largely absent from the story, and behave that way because otherwise there would be no story.

- Where is the money coming from to pay for all those bones and episodes of anaphylactic shock? If it's out of pocket, they should have long since been homeless. If it's insurance, why hasn't the insurance company noticed that something is up, despite Jonah "cleverly" going to a different hospital each time?

- Why does it take a year for the school to report the family to child protective services? Why does the psychiatrist who eventually talks to Jonah brush off his claim that his parents broke his bones, given that abuse is way more plausible than the real story?

Really terrible. It needed to be either completely over the top and explicitly non-realistic, or else way more understated. Also, not actually that entertaining, except for the hilariously over the top scene when Jesse touches the baby and keels over from milk poisoning. I only finished it out of incredulity and because it was so short.

This awesomely bad novel, chosen by [personal profile] tool_of_satan, is the first book I'm reading in my two-day read-a-thon. It's not too late to sponsor me, by the way!

Before I say anything at all about Walpurgis III, I have to direct your attention to the cover, which features 1) a hilarious Satanic person with two seals of Solomon on his person, wearing a classically pointy Evil Overlord outfit, 2) a woman balancing a curvy thing on her head, 3) a spaceship landing pad, 4) a man in an orange cape with a shark fin on his head, firing a ray gun, 5) the Pope.

View the cover in all it's glory!

The novel lives up (or down) to the cover, and confirms Rachel's Law of Fictional Satanism: No serious novel containing Satanists has ever been good. (Good Omens is not serious.)

Conrad Bland is the most evil overlord who has ever eviled, eviling his way across the galaxy and killing millions and millions of people. Because he's evil. When he holes up on the obscure backwater Satanist planet Walpurgis III, the galactic government hires Jericho, the galaxy's best assassin, to take him out.

What makes this book especially... special... is that Resnick seems torn between seeing it as a ridiculous pulp thriller and a Very Serious Work tacking Very Important questions about the nature of evil. The problem here is twofold: 1) "What is the moral difference between a hit man and Hitler?" is not actually a very profound question; 2) These questions are being asked in the context of Planet of the Satanists.

The chapters are headed by quotes from Conrad Bland. Here's my two favorites:

There is a difference between refusing a helping hand and dismembering it. I would never refuse one.

If blood were green, then green would be my favorite color.

Meanwhile, the Planet of the Satanists gives Resnick excellent opportunities to drop constant and absurd references to random Satanic things, and also to display his lack of research. I note for his benefit that "voodoo," "witchcraft," and Hinduism are not forms of Satanism, nor related to Satanism in any way; the Goddess Kali is not spelled "Cali," and again, is not related to Satanism; and turnips are not heavily laden with religious symbolism in any religion that I'm aware of, though maybe their use in the Black Mass was supposed to be a joke.

The Planet of the Satanists is pretty entertaining reading, it's so hilariously over the top. Then we meet the Evil Overlord, and it gets pretty gross and much less fun. I know that all sorts of horrendous things go on in real life, but in fiction, it's very hard to suspend one's disbelief in the success of an Evil Overlord who kills his own minions constantly and at random.

There's an attempt toward the end at another Very Profound Question - "Is a cop who turns in criminals to be legally executed the moral equivalent of a hit man and a mass murderer?"

It took me approximately one nano-second of Profound Thought to answer, "No."
As I mentioned earlier, I skimmed this book, so I’m sure I missed a lot. So rather than a real review, this is a report on the parts I did read.

Here’s the opening lines:

It was the stillness.

That’s what they remembered most about the beginning. A stillness that hung like ancient mold on the trees. But who could forget anything about Wind Sunday? The sharp acrylic memories painted themselves on their hearts and refused to dry. And ever after, touching the canvas brought tears.

1. Hanging mold? Perhaps the author means moss, as in Spanish?

2. The acrylic memories remind me of a talk I gave to one of my high school students recently about not extending a metaphor so far that it falls off a cliff, so to speak.

Divorce Wednesday.

For the children it was four years ago. A day that crackled with screams and tears and hatred.

The next few pages describe the coming of “a wind larger than a planet” and heap elaborate scorn upon the scientists who think this is impossible and the newscasters who downplay it. But animals know better!

Around the world scientific instruments measured it, but only the dogs understood what it meant. Untold millions of them began howling their lungs out.

Soon, like all prophets, they would be beaten to silence.

The children are blown into a bizarre world in which they enact a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress. The two girls have to lug a baby (innocence, or possibly Jesus) around, and get lectured on theology at every turn by beings with tin-eared names like Wanderspoon, Worwil, and Mr. Hydrogen, most of whom speak in italics, Portentous Capitals, or

Portentously Capitalized
and Tragically Italicized

Here, have a sample:

Sing wind
Of Star Curse,
Of blood-gorged rivers that rush to the sea,
Why did you answer the call that he gave you?
His song,


Oceans of teardrops, the wombs are dying.

Alex, the boy, follows this pattern: He gets beaten to hell and back, experiences extreme agony, vomits, is taken in by a being (generally speaking in italics) who seems good but is actually evil, is wounded and beaten up, vomits, and is agonized. Rinse and repeat, with variations involving infected wounds, pus, bile, more pus, more bile, slime, lakes of blood, etc.

And when there isn’t literal pus, there’s metaphorical pus. Satan is repeatedly described, for pages on end, as a giant infected pimple that needs to be popped by the forces of good. Even hope is a pimple:

”However, there may be one glimmer of true hope, a single pustule the size of a rat dropping. […] If we hurry, there might be someone who can keep you from suffering inordinately as you disintegrate into a foul-smelling, deciduous stalk of wood.”

And then there’s this characteristic passage:

She felt invisible fingers groping, probing in her mind, peeling away layers of memory like scabs from a rotting wound. Slicing open every ragged scar. Squeezing the pus from all her rancid sorrows.

This fetishistic fixation on wounds and bodily fluids reaches its climax when the characters meet God:

In the Face of this King was a strange and terrible Glory, and that Glory was in His scars. So many! So deep! Scars upon scars! Scars within scars! […] Every wound given to the smallest and least of his children had become a burning wound within His body. [etc] And the worst of the wounds were still bleeding, for they were the wounds from the Pit of Blood.

Alex’s sister is given a necklace as a souvenir, but Alex’s gift is a scar:

Bellwind smiled. “The scars, yes, the scars from wounds of the King, are the greatest gifts of all.”

I am not a Christian, but I ask you Christians: this is theologically unusual, right? (In addition to gross.)

The thing about God’s blood made me think of Catholicism, but a cathedral is the center of evil (sorry, Evil), so I’m guessing not. Can anyone identify the actual sect of Christianity which this might have sprung from, or would its origin be the fevered brain of the author alone?

Satan, by the way, is the Painter of the Universe. (Art is evil?) Meet Satan:

The body of the giant seemed to go on forever and through its crystal flesh, he could see organs surging with blood the color of rainbows. But the creature couldn’t move. It was bound hand and foot with mighty chains of crimson, and horrifying wounds covered its flesh. From them flowed blood in steaming rivers that fell away into the abyss.

…In the hands of a different author, Satan the Painter and his rainbow blood would be pretty awesome. Here, not so much.

There is no real plot, just a series of bizarre encounters which could have occurred in any order. Reading this was like reading an account of a highly religious, though theologically peculiar, acid trip, as recorded by someone unfamiliar with English capitalization:

An Ocean of Roaring Sweeping Down from the Sky…
An Ocean Crashing over her…

I realize how disorganized and incoherent this report is, which is unsurprising given the skim factor, but I don’t think it would be less so had I read every single word of the book, which is itself disorganized and incoherent.

I was so befuddled by this book that I looked up the author. He attended several Christian schools and a Christian college, fought in Vietnam and was awarded several medals for valor, and then became a TV producer! He sounds like a pretty interesting guy. Too bad none of his real-life experiences managed to inform his fiction in any useful manner.

Angel Fall: A Novel
I just skimmed through what I believe is the worst book I have ever read. I was trying to decide whether it would be worth my time to write it up, as it would take a great deal of description and quotes to fully convey its true horror, but then I realized that I could leave that decision to you, my loyal readers.

If you want to read my thoughts on this monstrosity, please comment to state your enthusiasm and also a pledge of an amount (no lower than five dollars) that you are willing to pledge to donate to the Virginia Avenue Project in exchange.

First came nightmares. Gashes and wounds of memory. Home. Sisters. Mother. Father. Screaming. Divorce. These were mingled with jittering cuts and freeze-frames of all the horrors he had seen, one image after another retching across his brain like a movie slash-edited by an axe-murderer.

Also features apocalypse via "a wind larger than a planet" and Satan as a transparent giant with rainbow-colored blood.
You all know I like L. J. Smith. But these novels are dreadful, almost entirely lacking in the playfulness, fun characters, and interesting twists on genre tropes I enjoyed in her better books in other series.

Except for the fourth book. The fourth book is fairly interesting. Largely because spoiler )

[ profile] yhlee showed me an episode of the TV series, and I have to say, that was much better. Damon is lots of fun, though Elena and the ever-boring Stefan, clearly cast for his vague resemblance to sparklepire Edward Cullen, have no chemistry.

Back to the books, I give you The Vampire Diaries in Fifteen Minutes!

Elena: I rule the high school! Bow before me, minions!

Minions: (bow.)

Stefan: I have only just laid eyes on you, Elena, but you are fire, ice, fire in ice, a white tiger, a sugared violet, a ravaged princess in a tower, snow, sapphires, midnight, steel, and… Damon, did you steal my thesaurus? Anyway, let’s get engaged!

Elena: We’ve only known each other for two days and barely interacted at all, but okay!

Damon: (lurks; drops Stefan in a well; turns into a raven; eats the gym coach; laughs evilly; menaces Stefan; menaces Elena; drinks human blood to get more powerful; is way more fun than anyone else.)

Elena: Stefan, drink my blood so you can get more powerful and defend me from Damon, or else Damon will kill us all. I want you to and it won’t kill me.

Stefan: Absolutely not! Drinking blood from humans is wrong! Even if it won’t hurt them, they consent, and otherwise everyone, including them, will die!

Rachel: (stubs fingers trying to reach through book to strangle Stefan.)

Elena: My thoughts are layered, like a parfait.

Rachel: (notes that this is an actual line from the book.)

Kitten: (is possessed by Big Bad; tries to bite Elena’s little sister.)

Everyone: DOOOOOM!!! We must save everyone from the cats!

Rachel (is not making this up; also, is reminded of the episode of the X-Files where stage hands hurled stuffed cats at the actors to simulate a cat attack.)


Book four is actually fairly entertaining and contains some deliberate comedy (thank God). The excruciating Elena-Stefan relationship is sidelined, which improves everything enormously. But not enough to make me read book five, which is supposed to be horrible. Not even on a plane, which is where I read the first four.

The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening and The Struggle

The Vampire Diaries: The Fury and Dark Reunion

Long-belated sequel, which I haven’t read; note that it has been nearly universally dissed as a trainwreck, including by people who loved the first four: The Vampire Diaries: The Return: Nightfall
Unlike many others in my high school, I didn’t read Flowers in the Attic (Dollanganger) then. It had a black cover with scary zombie children, and I was under the impression that it was horror about vampires. Much later I learned that it was actually about incestuous children in an attic. I have now read it, and believe that I have discovered the source of fandom’s incest obsession, at least that incest-happy section of fandom which is American and read the book in their formative years.

This is a great book to read on a plane, especially when you can poke your seatmate and read bits aloud. In the first chapter, titled “Goodbye, Daddy,” a highway patrolman comes to the house of the lovely Momma and her four children, Chris, Cathy, Carrie, and Cory. His explanation of what happened is a typical example of how Andrews fulfills expectations (Dad was squashed on the highway) and then takes them not just one, but at least two steps further into feverish melodrama than one expects:

”According to the accounts, which we’ve recorded, there was a motorist driving a blue Ford weaving in and out of the lefthand lane, apparently drunk, and he crashed head-on into your husband’s car. But it seems your husband must have seen the accident coming, for he swerved to avoid a head-on collision, but a piece of machinery had fallen from another car, or truck, and this kept him from completing his defensive driving maneuver, which would have saved his life. But as it was, your husband’s much heavier car turned over several times, and still he might have survived, but an oncoming truck, unable to stop, crashed into his car, and again the Cadillac spun over… and then… it caught on fire.”

As if those THREE accidents weren’t enough, the cop then produces the charred stuffed animals Daddy had purchased for his kids, which he had been driving home to deliver but which ended up strewn across the highway of death!

Momma then whisks her kids away to the ominous house of her parents, who hate her. I had thought the mention, early on, that Momma and Daddy looked like brother and sister was foreshadowing for the upcoming incest. No! It was foreshadowing for the revelation that Momma and Daddy were, in fact, related. He was her half-uncle! So her mother hates her and her incestuous spawn, and Momma and grandmother lock all four kids in the attic until Momma can find the right moment to tell her ailing father about them. Or for the aging father to will her tons of money and die.

Three years of increasingly melodramatic child abuse in the attic ensues. The grandmother spots Chris seeing Cathy naked and tries to hack off her hair. Then she sneaks in, injects Cathy with a sedative, and pours tar over her head. Chris pees into the bathtub to de-tar Cathy’s hair, and it comes out silver and more beautiful than ever. Grandmother doesn’t feed them for a week, and Chris cuts his wrist with a penknife and feeds the others on his own blood!

Momma re-marries and STILL doesn’t let them out of the attic. Chris and Cathy angst and lust over each other. Cathy sneaks out and beholds Momma’s bed, which is shaped like a swan.

And then came the most melodramatic twist yet!

Read more... )
Cover copy: In Jim’s revealing journal, which is the substance of this moving book, we share the experience of that terrible summer – the LSD and marijuana, the hippies, the disillusionment, the helpless confusion and fear. It is all recorded frankly, to the final horror of Kevin’s freaking out and the shaky beginnings of his redemption.

The freaking out silhouette is even more detailed and hilarious in real life.

Written in 1968 by a very square author determined to plumb the horrifying depths of drugs she clearly never tried herself, this novel is regrettably only intermittently amusing: one part Reefer Madness to three parts unconvincing teen angst.

Sixteen-year-old Jim idolizes his nineteen-year-old brother Kevin to a rather disturbing degree. This is how the novel opens:

One day I ought to find out how it is with other kids. I don’t think I’m abnormal or anything for sixteen, but I don’t think that there are many guys my age who are still crazy about their older brothers. They might actually love them, but I just don’t think they are crazy about them. […] It’s not that I’m ashamed of it or anything like that, but how do you explain that Kevin is not just a brother to me? Besides being the greatest guy I know, he’s someone I’ve got to have. I mean it’s very important to me to have him.

Fandom! Stop making me go to the bad incest place!

Jim goes on and on and ON about Kevin for the entire rest of the chapter. He offers to be Kevin’s “Boswell” and follows him around writing down everything Kevin says to preserve it for posterity.

He is important.For one thing he never says ordinary, cruddy things. When he speaks he almost always says something really brilliant.


I really want his opinions on these things so they can become my opinions too.

Then, at the end of an entire chapter of that: I’ve been re-reading these last couple of pages, and I do sound sort of creepy.

Yes. Yes, you do. I’m going to go out on a limb and surmise that the author wrote this entire thing as a first draft and never re-wrote, but rather added in stuff like that as she went along.

Kevin comes home from college, and he’s become a marijuana fiend! He giggles maniacally, flaps his hands, hallucinates evil circles, and demands that Jim smoke pot (“You know. Tea. Grass. Marijuana.”) with him. Jim does so, despite his a Public Service Announcement’s worth of reservations. What follows is certainly the most unique pot high I’ve ever come across in fiction. While Kevin freaks out over the circles, Jim experiences ecstasy, hilarity, and then is visited by a devil who is out to get Kevin’s soul and an angel who urges Jim to save him. The angel-devil-Jim dialogue goes on for pages and pages and pages. Then Jim comes down and pukes his guts out. But lo! The angel is still there! The angel is real! Jim’s soul really is in danger from the Demon Marijuana!

The angel takes off, having convinced Jim that pot is bad. Kevin then hauls Jim out to score LSD, which Kevin has never tried before. They meet naked, dirty hippie chicks in a filthy squat, and nice adults who warn them of the terrors of “freaking out.” Kevin trips and – all together now – “freaks out.” This is disappointingly tame: he thinks the circles are attacking him, breaks a mirror and goes catatonic.

Kevin is taking to a mental hospital, where a nice psychiatrist fixes him up. He and Jim swear off drugs, and Jim resolves to try to get some of his own opinions. And then he goes and gets himself killed in Vietnam. The end!

Oh, forgot to mention: No one in the history of humanity has ever taken heroin and not become addicted, and it is impossible to ever get off it. If you take heroin, you are DOOOOMED.

View boggled reviews on Amazon: Tuned out; a novel
The species called the Jokka have three genders: anadi (female, who get more and more stupid with each pregnancy until they become mindless baby machines), emodo (male), and eperu (neuter).

They have scales, manes, tails, and fangs; they weep venomous tears from their fangs and their blood is white; they have live births but if they have non-procreative sex (or possibly always; this was unclear) the female immediately lays an egg. The biology of the Jokka did not hang together for me, and what with the drooling and fangs and venom and egg-laying, the sex scenes grossed me out. Before one of the characters fists another, she lifts its tail out the way, giving me a flashback to every time I've ever seen a veterinarian do that to a cow. (Before you ask: yes, for medical purposes, you perverts; yes, quite a few times actually, I grew up in a rural area.)

There on a nest of pillows lifted from the floor, Magun reclined in all her atavistic succulence. [...] Her eyes were heavily shadowed by the fringe of thick red lashes and her crimson hair had grown since I'd last seen it: it fell over the pillows in lush, gleaming waves from her head and buttocks, decorated with tiny brass and clear glass beads.

I eventually figured out that the buttock hair was probably her tail, not beautifully groomed ass hair, but since the characters also have tufts on their forearms, I am not 100 percent sure.

Thenet is a neuter who is kicked out of her household after she fails to save a birthing female from the mind-death (which can also happen instantly upon giving birth, not to mention from overheating or other forms of stress) and runs off with Dlane, a female who, in a never-before performed act of shocking defiance, refuses to get pregnant. (Normally, by the way, sex is done with the female strapped into a special rape chair in case she loses her mind partway through.)

They head off in the hope that if they find the ancestral birthplace of their species something good will happen. It's really not much more detailed than that. They get chased but escape. There's a lot of wandering through the forest, and hints that their species is in serious danger of dying out. Then they find a nice community and set up a radical household of childfree crafter Jokka, where they do very well selling their crafts on Etsy to the community, and Thenet invents eyeliner. I am totally serious.

Then the evil male (who is extremely virile -- the male and female genders are basically biological expressions of human stereotypes about men and women) finds them. They flee to the ancestral birthplace where, to my dismay as this was the only storyline I was really interested in, they fail to learn anything about their possible upcoming extinction. The conclusion is quite melodramatic and not what I was expecting, other than the rapes which I was expecting. The door is left open for a sequel, which I will not be reading.

I wish I'd liked this book more than I did. I am a huge fan of explorations of gender, of alien points of view, and of stories of sociobiological quandaries. But this novel didn't work for me on any level.

Since the author can invent a species however she likes, it's off-puttingly misogynistic that the females are biologically subject to many human stereotypes about women: they're fragile, weak, delicate, faint often, and get stupider and stupider with each pregnancy. The last is presented as tragic, but it's still creepy in ways that go beyond what I think the author intended.

The first page alone presented three different unfamiliar terms which were not clear from context and were not defined for several pages. The next pages presented even more unfamiliar terms, some defined and some not, plus more use of the first set of unfamiliar terms. While the beginning was the worst offender in this regard, there were several points where I had no idea what was going on because I didn't know what the key words meant and the context wasn't helpful.

The writing was tin-eared in other ways as well. As the words "male," "female," and "neuter" were used interchangeably with the invented terms, I'm not sure why new terms were also needed. Thenet's household is called House Mated. Since so much of the book involves mating, I kept reading that as a past-tense verb. Later another household is introduced: House Neked. I could not help reading that as House Naked. One of the major religions, which is not Christian, often refers to the Trinity.

And then there's this line of dialogue, which reminded me of Le Guin's classic essay "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie," on diction in fantasy: "Our products are high-quality luxury items..."

The Worth of a Shell, which is self-published, could have used an editor as well as a copy-editor. But it's possible that furry fans would appreciate it more than I did.

View on Amazon: The Worth of a Shell
[ profile] oyceter and I are going to Taipei, Xian, and Hong Kong this December! I'm so excited! It will be my first visit to Hong Kong and also to mainland China!

I need three sets of book recs. NO HARDCOVERS, and please check my tags to be sure I haven't already read it.

1. Just anything you think I would enjoy. I am especially looking for fun (ie, not about the Holocaust) fiction with Jewish, LGBT, and/or people of color as protagonists.

2. Does anyone have a recommendation for readable histories of China? Preferably by Chinese authors. I am starting from a position of near-total ignorance. Each book does not have to cover everything.

3. Sooooo, my last long plane trip I read a horrendous yet vastly entertaining awesomely bad book, Daughter of the Blood, which gave rise to the tag you see below. I think this is an excellent tradition which I ought to continue. Please rec horrendous yet entertaining novels which you would enjoy seeing me react to. I am thinking of Flowers in the Attic. That's about incestuous vampire twins locked in an attic, right?
After a terrorist attack on the Bay Area, teen hacker, security expert, and true American patriot Marcus and his geek chic pals are held by evil government forces. When the evil government forces take over America even more than they already have… well, I’m not sure exactly what happens, since that’s the point where I gave up. I assume Marcus and his friends, joined by the power of all freethinking folk on the internet, hack America to freedom. I mean with computers. Though I probably would have liked the book more if, like Lizzie Borden, they did it with an axe.

I can’t judge the entire book, because I couldn’t get through the entire book. I can, however, judge the first 100 pages, which I did read. I HATED them.

I have nothing against Cory Doctorow, and some very smart people I know adored this book. That being said, here’s my dissenting view – again, just of the first 100 pages, but you would have to pay me to make me read more.

Tone and voice are very important to me. I’ll forgive all sorts of other flaws in a book if I love the voice. This book has a very distinctive voice, which I HATED. It is the voice of a middle-aged man sweating bullets to impersonate the voice of a cool modern teenager (who is incredibly smug about being smarter than you, which was probably not intended), and simultaneously attempting to be educational about everything in the world, and to send Very Important Messages about the perils of conformity, the importance of privacy, and the folly and immorality of the modern American security state. And also to be totally accessible to any readers who might not know about certain things that most American teenagers probably do know.

The attempts to be educational and accessible, while admirable, are quite jarring. His first person narrator, supposedly a hip Bay Area teenage geek, carefully defines many words that are completely ordinary to him, like manga (manga!), the Yakuza, doujinshi, uni, Harajuku, Turkish coffee, LARPing, ARGs, carnitas, horchata, and churros. And by define, I don’t mean “slip in a definition in a natural manner," like (fake quote): I took a bite of my carnitas burrito. A few shreds of pork fell out. I mean (real quote): I stepped to the nearest burrito joint and ordered one with carnitas—shredded pork—and extra salsa.

Or this:

Like all Harajuku Fun Madness clues, it had a physical, online and mental component. The online component was a puzzle you had to solve, one that required you to research the answers to a bunch of obscure questions. This batch included a bunch of questions on the plots in doujinshi. Those are comic books drawn by fans of manga, Japanese comics. They can be as big as the official comics that inspire them, but they’re a lot weirder, with crossover storylines and sometimes really silly songs and action. Lots of love stories, of course. Everyone loves to see their favorite toons hook up.

1. Seriously, you need to define manga?

2. A modern doujinshi-knowledgeable teenager would not say “toon.”

3. If you MUST have expository lumps every few paragraphs, at least get them right. Doujinshi are not necessarily weirder than the originals, though they’re often more sexually explicit. Nor are they always crossovers – in fact, crossovers are rare in my experience. Not sure what he means by songs, which are not a common feature of any sort of comic book. I’ve never heard of a doujinshi, which is inherently a limited edition, selling more than the original official release. Maybe he means something like “there can be as much of a fanbase for the doujinshi as for the original,” which would make more sense. And why leave out the rather significant fact that they’re often gay porn?

3. The whole first 100 pages reads like that.

Maybe later there’s some in-story explanation of the book being written for use as an international manual on hacking the system, hence all the “milk is a nutritious liquid squeezed from cows” stuff in case some revolutionary in Latvia or somewhere doesn’t know what manga is and can’t be bothered to look it up on the oft-mentioned Wikipedia.

Digs at Windows Vista and Internet Explorer (only used by idiots, fascists, and people over 40) and American teenage geeks rushing to buy Astro Boy memorabilia in Japan where it is actually called Atom Boy as all the hip, with-it people know, along with many other missteps, add to the impression of a middle-aged computer geek in a teenage computer geek’s ill-fitting shoes. (And give the book the shelf life of milk.) In the already-dated near-future the book is set in, I doubt that anyone still cares about IE vs. Firefox. As for Astro Boy/Atom Boy, it’s a bit like, “I and all my teen chums are fond of the popular show My Mother, the Car.

In addition to dropping about two to four info-dumps per page, the book is preachy and self-satisfied, and the three educational afterwords urging readers to check Wikipedia talk pages and buck the system do nothing to reverse the impression that this is a Very (Self)-Important Book. And like all earnest attempts to get down with the younger generation, it’s profoundly uncool.

Though like I said, lots of smart adults loved it. You might be one! But I have to ask… does anyone know any teenagers who read it? What did they think? Likewise, did any teenagers here read it? What did you think?

Read the first chapter here. ETA: Punctuation munged on the site's excerpt, sorry. That is not a feature of the actual book.

Check it out on Amazon: Little Brother
The Fiend of the Week was [ profile] telophase! She sent me these two rather bad novels of human-Klingon interaction. In both, there is at least a potentially interesting story concerning original characters intercut with a story about the Enterprise crew in which the author clearly has no interest whatsoever.

In Pawns and Symbols, the marginally better of the two, biracial botanist Jean Czerny is captured by Klingons who want her new strain of grain. Captain Kang gives her a dagger so she can demonstrate her knife-throwing skills and skewer one of his officers— no, I don’t understand this either, except that it demonstrates that she is spunky— then tries to starve her into submission so she’ll reveal the grain formula.

She ends up on the Klingon homeworld and married to Kang. (By then he’s stopped torturing her and this is as consensual as is possible under the circumstances.) He has another wife, but Klingons are polygamous so this is cool. There is a supremely unfunny comic subplot involving Cyrano Jones. Kirk and crew capture a Romulan woman whom Chekhov gets a crush on. In the end there’s a completely predictable surprise twist. Readable but not good.

In Dwellers in the Crucible, various people called Warrantors of Peace have nuclear codes implanted in their hearts so that in order to launch a nuclear war, their planets’ leaders would have to personally cut out their hearts. Cleante, an Egyptian woman who gets all sorts of often exoticized descriptions of her astounding beauty (the worst, by which I mean most vomitous rather than most exoticized, is when Kirk sees her frolicking with butterflies and thinks how she’s the most beautiful flower in the garden), befriends one of the Warrantors, a Vulcan woman named T’Shael. They are very, very, very, very close. And become even closer when they and some other Warrantors are kidnapped by Klingons. Femmeslashy hurt/comfort ensues. T’Shael goes into pon farr and almost dies; disappointingly, this is resolved by sedating her rather than by Cleante having sex with her.

T’Shael almost dies to save Cleante; Cleante agrees to be raped by the Klingon Kalon to save from the same fate. Cleante then decides that Kalon is kind of a nice, sexy guy except for the rape, torture, and death threats. EW. They are rescued by the Enterprise, and Kirk and Spock assist their recovery by counseling them on Vulcan-human love. I am totally serious.

This would be right up my alley if it wasn’t so terribly written and if it wasn’t for the creepy rapist-loving, which also comes across as obligatory heterosexuality. I could have done without the information that Klingons have three testicles and vestigial scaling (hopefully not on the testicles.) There, now you all share my need for brain-bleach.

Dwellers in the Crucible (Star Trek, No 25)

Pawns and Symbols (Star Trek, No 26)
I did not receive any of the Harlequin titles, which I note all actually exist. Nor did I receive The Very Virile Viking or The Vampire Queen’s Servant, which also exist. I already own Clan of Death: Ninja, and have it reviewed somewhere under the tag genre: ninja.

Sadly, I am unaware of the existence of Knives Chau plushies. Cthulu plushies exist, and I waaaant one.

In-To-Me-See does not exist. Thank God. It was a fictional book on Sex and the City.

Nobody has ever sent me a head or a fetus (yet), though [ profile] oyceter emailed me an article about a found fetus in a jar.

[ profile] tool_of_satan sent me Spock, Messiah! It is even worse than it sounds: sexist, Islamophobic, profoundly stupid, abominably written, boring when not offensive, and did I mention sexist? The original cover is hilarious, though, with a strangely-proportioned Spock looking paranoid, insane, and constipated.

The Federation has the bright and totally ethically unobjectionable idea of infiltrating an uncontacted planet by hooking up the landing party’s brains to the brains of unknowing locals (via a long-distance telepathic thingummy), so that the landing party will react in-character as their local telepathic doppelgangers. THAT couldn’t possibly go wrong!

A repressed female ensign deliberately takes a nymphomaniac persona to see what it’s like, but her repressed crush on Spock manifests and so she hooks him up to a mentally deficient and insane local religious fanatic with a high sex drive so he’ll want to fuck her.

The possessed ensign “ruts like a bitch in heat” with Spock. Spock goes insane and takes over everything. This would be much more fun if we cold see Leonard Nimoy playing a different character, but since we can’t, it’s pretty dull. There’s more rutting and attempted rutting, and it’s STILL dull.

I did not expect this book to be as bad as its title indicates. Amazingly, it is.

Thanks Dan!

View on Amazon (with less hilarious cover): SPOCK, MESSIAH! (Star Trek)
[ profile] telophase mailed me this book at her own expense. All the same, I am not sure whether to blame it on her or on [ profile] buymeaclue, who alerted us all to its existence.

In all his years as a unicorn, he had never experienced such emotions before.

My single biggest problem with this book, even more than the amusingly bad writing, inexplicable character motivations, WTF climax, and shocking lack of id-tastic exploitation of the premise, was that I disliked both the romantic leads. Mariah is a moron and Ash is a pain. I was disturbed by the thought of them getting together and having annoying, stupid, one-horned babies.

Mariah is an American whose mother is insane – or so she thinks! Actually, she has Second Sight, which Mariah inherits. Her father talks her into getting married, and in one paragraph, she meets, falls in love with, and marries the English Lord Donnington. Several months later, he has taken off without consummating the marriage, leaving Mariah alone to discover a mostly-naked man imprisoned in the folly.

As he withdrew his hand, she saw something that made the squirming minnows in her middle seem like ravenous sharks.

The nudeish guy seems insane, but is really hot. Strangely, except for his hair, he looks just like her husband.

The first thing Mariah noticed was his eyes… black, as black as her husband’s, but twice as brilliant, like the darkest of diamonds.

But hotter.

He wore only a scrap of cloth around his hips, barely covering a member that must have been impressively large.

Much hotter.

She noticed that his - she swallowed - his "member" was very much in evidence beneath his loincloth.

Mariah names him Ash and gives him clothing.

She counted to herself, waiting for him to gather up the garment, put it on, fasten the buttons over his... burgeoning masculinity. If the buttons would close at all.

It does not occur to her that this might make his captors figure out that someone’s helping him. But with the help of Donnington’s brother Sinjin, she busts him out before anyone does notice. While Ash cozies up to Prince Albert, Mariah envisions Ash as a unicorn, flirts with him, sees fairies, and is the object of bizarrely unmotivated scheming by a neighbor named Pamela. That takes up most of the book.

Toward the end, Mariah has sex with Ash.

It was more than merely hard; its circumference was so large that at first she wasn’t sure that her hand would fit around it.

But Mariah is also prodigious! When Ash withdraws during intercourse:

She tried to hold him inside, but her left her, and the opening he had filled wept with grief.

…wisecracks fail me.

Donnington and a Fane (Fae) Lord, Cairbre, return, and there is a flurry of infodumping, concluding in a truly LOLWTF climax.


None of this makes more sense in context. In fact, in context it makes even less sense.

There is an epilogue with a baby. No book has ever been improved by the addition of an epilogue with a baby. I wish I could say it has a horn, but no, just healing powers.

I am now mailing this book to another brave volunteer. I will alert you all when her review appears.


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