For those merry few who plan to visit RtM as I try to get writing again, I’m going to explain the gist of my thinking moving forward.
Emily suggested I cut this part, and I understand why. Back when I was writing more on this blog, I did way too much apologizing when I wasn’t posting as frequently as I wanted to. I’m going to ignore her advice and include this, because it’s only my friends who read this blog, and I want to share what’s going on in my head. I’ve been hiding an awful lot the last few years, and I’d like to stop doing that.
What I’m trying to do is relearn how to write. So far, in my brief time back at it, it’s been nothing like riding a bike. In large part, I’ve spent a few years creating terrible habits, and I need to slowly make new ones. I want to get these writing muscles strong again, to the point where they actually crave the work instead of resisting it.
So far, once I sit and write a little — the results of which I am admittedly disappointed with — there are stirrings of that feeling I used to have when I was writing all the time. Before long, I’ll be back in the saddle without fear of being bucked off at any minute. Probably. Maybe. We’ll see.
That’s where ‘Five Things’ comes in. As I try to get back into writing on Roused more consistently — albeit infrequently — these posts seem like a good place to start.
Anyway, with the preamble out of the way, let’s talk about books.
1. Lose Well – Chris Gethard
Related to said preamble above, we have Chris Gethard’s Lose Well. With this book, Gethard has sounded a call to all the weirdos in the world to do what they love, whatever the outcome. It’s definitely for the normals of the world, too, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that the weirdos should take special notice.
This is the magnum opus of challenges to stop making excuses and start making the things you love, knowing in advance you’re definitely going to fail much of the time, and will probably fail altogether in the end.
This isn’t a self help book promising a rosy outlook that we can do whatever you set our minds to. This is a book about leaving behind the fear of failure, and instead learning to embrace that failure as proof we’re trying to do what matters to us. Falling on our face in pursuit of the things we love isn’t shameful, it’s a badge of honor that we actually chased the things care about and put ourselves on the line. Having skin in the game is always something to be proud of.
If we make things people respond to, or start social movements, or make a difference in the world, amazing! And embracing the failure will be a big part of the reason we succeed. Let’s be honest though, it’s very likely that won’t happen. This is the real world, and far more people go undiscovered due to the luck of the draw or lack of talent than become Rowling or Spielberg or Bowie. Them’s the breaks. Gethard reminds us we should make the things we love anyway. We should get our hands dirty and our fingers bloodied in the trenches to keep pursuing what matters. Our lives will be wildly better for it.
2. King of Scars – Leigh Bardugo
I sat down to start writing about this book, which I really liked. Instead, out poured 350 words about people’s attitudes toward genre in general, and YA fantasy in particular. I had to scrap all of that, because it doesn’t make sense here — but be warned, a post about genre ghettoization is eventually on its way.
For now, let me just make clear that I believe that good stories are good stories, and they are not bound to, nor restricted from, any particular genre or medium.
With that out of the way, you should be reading Leigh Bardugo.
King of Scars is set in the Grishaverse, a fantasy world Bardugo has built and fleshed out to great effect in her first six books: the Shadow and Bone Trilogy (aka The Grisha Trilogy), the Six of Crows Duology, and The Language of Thorns, a book of fairy tales set in the Grishaverse.
[[Side note #1: the Six of Crows books, like Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series, are fantasy heist stories!!]]
Most fantasy — even the sort that isn’t beholden to Tolkien — is rooted in Western European myths and cultures. Instead, Bardugo writes stories rooted in Eastern European history and culture. Although, she does take us to kingdoms based on Scandinavia and the Netherlands, specifically Amsterdam, along the way; Asia makes a solid showing as well.
King of Scars kicks off another duology featuring mostly familiar characters. I enjoyed living in the world she’s created for a few hundred pages as much as ever.
In reality, my recommendation of this book is actually a recommendation for the series in general. That being said, you should absolutely go back to the beginning and read Shadow and Bone.
[[Side note #2: another great example of rooting speculative fiction in cultures from other places in the world is Nnedi Okorafor’s, Who Fears Death, — on its way as an upcoming series on HBO. As with so many things, that’s for another post.]]
3. Dune – Frank Herbert
If you like books and you haven’t read Dune, you need to. If you don’t like books, why the hell are you still reading this post?
Arguably the most important science fiction novel of all time, Dune is an unparalleled epic that has shaped significant strands of Sci-Fi since its release.
Dune isn’t just a part of the science fiction and American cultural canons, it helped shape each in the 70s as the number of devotees to the cult of Dune grew.
This book is smart, original, and delightfully weird. If it came out today, it would still be unique — quite a feat since it’s informed so much of what has been released since. Quick example: early drafts of Star Wars were largely cribbed from Dune, and even the final version still owes quite a bit to Frank Herbert.
The books holds up well in 2019. The metaphors and cultural touchstones still resonate, they just have different analogues now than they did in the 60s.
If you haven’t read it, you have until November 20, 2020 to take care of business. That’s when Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve (yay!) releases a film adaptation starring Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), Oscar Isaac (The Force Awakens), Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming), Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men, Avengers: Infinity War), Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones, Aquaman), Javier Bardem (Skyfall, No Country for Old Men), Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy), Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), Stellan Skarsgård (Good Will Hunting, Avengers), and Charlotte Rampling (Never Let Me Go). Look at that cast! (Sploosh.)
Also, if you haven’t yet, you should totally watch this documentary about an amazing adaptation of Dune that never actually happed. In spite of never getting made, it still went on to shape Hollywood science fiction films for the better part of two decades. Obviously it will make more sense if you read the book before watching the documentary.
4. The Hating Game – Sally Thorne
The rom-com is another genre that could fit into a discussion about genre ghettoization. On the one side, so many people dismiss the genre out of hand as if nothing good could ever come from funny romances. On the other side, you have people who indiscriminately swallow whatever garbage comes along, so long as it has the rom-com trappings. I think both are gross.
Again, further discussion is for another post. For now:
I read The Hating Game because Emily fell in love with it, and it’s easy to see why. This book is funny, endearing, and sexy. It’s got charm for days. Also, as is paramount to any good romantic comedy, the romantic leads are the sort you’ll want to spend more time with after the book is finished. I read this whole book in 24 hrs, 10 hrs of which were a bar shift. With my schedule and brainpower lately, that’s really saying something.
Bonus: the sex scenes are way hotter than they’re allowed to be in most rom-com movies, what with the need to keep majority in the PG13 territory to maximize box office potential. So reading rom-coms has an added perk over always just watching them. Speaking of which, The Hating Game is currently being made into a film, so if you want the version with the sex scenes — and why on earth wouldn’t you?! — check out the book soon.
This isn’t a book that subverts the genre or breaks the mold, it’s a book that achieves the peak of what the rom-com can be when a writer leans all the way in to what we love about these sorts of stories.
And if that isn’t enough to pique your interest, in addition to being a really great rom-com, The Hating Game is also a bit of a reminder that no one is just a character in your story. Always look closer. Always look again.
5. Semiosis – Sue Burke
Okay, I get it. This book list is weighted heavily toward speculative fiction. Just bear with me for one more, because Semiosis is the real deal.
With her debut, Sue Burke did something really special, and she’s an exciting new voice in science fiction.
It’s tough for anything to be original these days. Yet, every so often, I read a book that is so wonderfully it’s own thing that my mind comes back to it over and over. Semiosis is one of those books.
It reminds me of books like Annihilation, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, China Miéville’s Embassytown and The City and the City and… well, I guess everything by China Miéville, as well as movies like Pontypool and It Follows. Mostly because these stories take a fairly familiar sub-genre and twist the premise or throw in a new perspective, giving the whole thing new life.
In the case of Semiosis, the familiar story is humans attempting to colonize a strange new planet. Burke’s twist on the sub-genre by making the species they need to contend with, and relate to, something unexpected.
Its narrative structure is similar to Asimov’s Foundation, in that it jumps ahead to new characters and generations as it tells a longer story of a civilization.
I wish I could write more to entice you, but I feel like any plots details would be spoilery.
I guess the main thing I can reveal is that Burke is an award winning translator, and that fact isn’t surprising after reading her first novel.
As with most science fiction featuring aliens, it’s actually a story about humans. Semiosis is about engaging difference. It’s about how difficult it is to understand the other in the face of our biological impulse to see the unknown as a threat in our fight for self-preservation. It’s about the maddeningly precarious nature of peace — both in the global and intimate sense.
I can’t wait for Interference, the next book in the duology, to be released in October. Also, I’m really worried about what happens next!