Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Review: The Skinner

*gasp* I'm finally getting around to this review! I think part of the problem was that I like this book so much, and when I like something, it's hard to find things to talk about -- or in my case, tear it a part.

A brief rundown: Erlin, Janer, and Sable Keech set foot on the planet known as 'Splatterjay', each with an agenda. Erlin wants purpose to her long-life thanks to being infected by the Splatterjay virus which gives its host a sort of immortality. Janer, accompanied by the Hive-mind, is looking avoid boredom -- though the Hive-mind has plans for him. And Keech, a thousand-year-old reification (basically a corpse with cybernetics), has finally tracked down the remaining criminals of a human-trafficking gang.

The story starts off with Erlin, and Janer goes along with Erlin, but soon, Keech takes center stage as his story is the strongest -- not to mention he's literally a walking corpse! I always thought of him as the SF version of a lich. And yes, The Skinner has a bit of a slow start as we're introduced to all these wacky characters, but it's necessary to get you feet wet before diving into this complex world.

The most impressive part is how much detail Asher puts into, not only the world-building of Splatterjay, but also the history of the social, political, and environmental issues surrounding the planet. It's as intricate, and well done as Frank Herbert's Dune. Splatterjay is mainly a water planet, dominated by sea life and the giant leeches -- oh, and the leeches are nasty buggers. If you're bit by a leech, you become infected with the Splatterjay virus, and immortality may sound great, but if you don't consume off world foods, the virus will eventually convert you body in the bare necessities for survival; like a leech.

And that just goes to show you how odd this world is, yet terribly intriguing.

There are a few other similarities to Dune, such as the intro of each chapter is a bit is an ongoing story featuring the fauna of Splatterjay, and there fish-eat-fish cycle. Not directly related to the story, but it helps to give you an idea of just how vicious and unforgiving this world is. And much like how water is the most precious resource on Arrakis, death (or the means to die) is the precious resource on Splatterjay. Because sometimes, living forever isn't all that it's cracked up to be.

If there was a negative thing to say about this book, and I'm scrounging here, I'd have to say that Erlin turned out to be the most boring character, compared to the entire cast. She wasn't exactly proactive and became a sideline character who offered support to our true main character, Sable Keech. Plus, you just can't top a SF lich. Janer was saved from also the being boring by the sheer fact that he was linked to the Hive-mind, and the Hive-mind was pretty amusing. Yes, even characters who never even made an entrance were more interesting than Erlin! But eh, it doesn't detract from the story.

So my rating: 5 out of 5 stars!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Where's the story?

Today is a ranting day -- or night. It's late here.

Lately I've been reading quite a bit of literary fiction...oh yes, you can see where this is going. I've never been able to see the hype about literary, or why people get snobbish over it. I don't hate literary, but I don't find it enjoyable for the most part; it's like the author was so focused on the deeper layers of their story that they forgot that reading should be somewhat entertaining. If I have to decode each sentence in order to understand the next one and the one after that, then forget it.

But what really bugs me about literary fiction is that often times, there's no story. None. Nada. Zip.

Now let's lay the foundation for what a story actually is. A story is a work of fictional prose with a beginning, middle, and end. Then we have vignettes which are fictional prose of a single scene.

I'd say a lot of the literary I read falls into the vignette zone, and sometimes not even that. There's this trend where the literary work is nothing more than a giant metaphor, usually something to do with parents. Maybe this is some sort of resentment the author carries for all the times their parent's told them to clean their room. Regardless, a metaphor is not a story. Not even close.

I get that the whole point of literary is to make the reader think, but most the time, all I'm thinking is: WTF??? (not a good WTF, mind you) Or in the lesser extreme cases: Well, that's interesting...but where's the story?

You've got a beginning, you've something that could be a middle, though it looks more like filer, then it tapers off. Or more like the author quit writing because they had nothing else to say or the word limit cut them off. And for what? To impart upon the reader some deep conventional wisdom? No, sorry, I don't want to read about your so-called "wisdom" because it's neither conventional nor deep. Shit. I knew that already, give me something different, something exciting. Give me a goddamn story!

Again, I don't hate literary, and I certainly don't hate experimenting with writing, which I think most literary is. I just wish these literary guys would stop trying to be Hemingway, supposedly deep and thoughtful. There is some value to mainstream writing that you shouldn't forget while experimenting. The best literary, in my opinion, has been the stuff that combined mainstream mechanics with beautiful prose. I myself always aim for a beginning, middle, and end, even when the story is less than 500 words. And by virtue of the subject matter, layers develop all on their own. But I always remember that a story should be enjoyable to read on the surface level, and, more importantly, understandable.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Happy All Saint's Day! (and W1S1 update)

Well October has come and gone, and doesn't seem like it's been 31 days. Halloween was a little disappointing, decorated the house with lots of spiders and macabre, but probably only got about 20 trick-or-treaters. How sad! Of course, the neighborhood has grown up, most of the residents are now older folks without kids, so it's not surprising. But still, Halloween just isn't the same without a bunch of rugrats (not teenagers, and yes, had a few of those come to the door) running around in costumes.

Okay, so W1S1 Stats for October:
Stories written: 2 (one 3,500-word, and the other 1,600-word)
Stories submitted: 12
Stories accepted: 0
Stories rejected: 10 (several of these were re-submissions of rejected stories)

Not bad, I'm definitely getting the ball rolling on the whole submission thing. Doesn't feel like I wrote as much, even though I did (any story of mine that manages to break 2,000 words is considered long), probably because I did all the writing in the beginning of the month, then spent the rest of the month revising. I predict there's going to be more of that revising thing going on.

Just finished Neal Asher's The Skinner, so will be doing a book review of that soon. In the meantime, I leave you with the fabulous KOA's Halloween Battle! (dressing slutty isn't just for the girls anymore!)