Our digital era

The advent of the e-reader has brought the world of books to an interesting place. I’ve gone back and forth myself, though I was never firmly in one camp or another. I enjoy the convenience of the e-reader: I can carry a series, better yet an entire library, in my bag with minimal bulk and weight. I can download new titles anywhere, their size makes it painless to set up a wifi hotspot on my phone and use my cellular data plan. I get recommendations directly on my home screen.

That said, nothing beats the feel of a paper book. There’s something reassuring about its heft, the feel as you turn pages, the smell of a new book or that more usual scent that comes with time. They look nicer lined up on a bookshelf, they add personality to your home. When you get excited after finishing something new, you can pass it on to a friend without considering whether their device is compatible with yours, or how to transfer the file.

In younger days, I foolishly got rid of a substantial portion of my physical collection because I was enamored with my Kobo. Don’t get me wrong, I still love it, but now that I’m no longer commuting two hours or more a day, I’ve mostly gone back to paper copies. I find myself in the position of purchasing copies of novels I’ve given away, taking particular care to dig through precarious stacks in used bookstores. My bookshelf is starting to look a bit disheveled, and I don’t really have space in my current home to get a second one, but I’m not letting that stop me.

The e-reader still has certain advantages. I expect when I finally have money to travel, I’ll want to load my Kobo up with enough reading material to keep me busy. I’ll just have to make sure to bring the appropriate cable to charge it; I’ve upgraded my cell phone, so it’s no longer the same USB plug. Maybe a few paperbacks and a graphic novel or two aren’t too heavy for my luggage, after all.

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Life After Life

life after life

I finished Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. It tells the story of Ursula Todd, for whom time is sort of fluid. Every time she dies, the story is rewound and she gets a chance to do things differently. While she isn’t exactly aware that she has lived multiple lives, she does at some point become aware of memories of how things could have gone differently. It is definitely an interesting take on life, death and rebirth.

I found myself fascinated early on, interested to know more about Miss Todd and how many times she would meet her end before her death became final. How many drastically different lives she would lead before she found the one that best suited her. When she would realize that she’s an extraordinarily singular person and that most other people don’t get inexplicable feelings of intense dread that warn them of terrible danger.

Somewhere in the middle of the book, Ursula is palling around with Eva Braun and having occasional encounters with the Fuhrer himself. It kind of lost me there. I disconnected and didn’t pick up the book for a week or so. A shame, because then certain references were lost on me, certain people she met or saved, certain deaths she evaded only to visit the sites where they would have occurred, as they were happening to other people. I just wanted more of Ursula, Very Interesting Person, and not Ursula the Savior.

I perhaps got too caught up with the idea of her shadow-lives not actually happening, since every time she died she went back to a younger state. What I should have been looking at was the totality of it, because she retains some of the memories of those shadow-lives. For her, they happened, if perhaps in a strange, tangential-to-reality way. I gave the book three stars on Goodreads, though I sincerely feel I kind of ruined it for myself by putting it down for too long. I would still recommend it to someone, and recommend that they pay close attention in order to catch all the fleeting connections with people and places as Ursula walks through echoes of lives that never were. Except for her.

Telling stories

I haven’t made a whole ton of progress in my writing longhand project. I have taken some days off to write in my personal journal and others to finish listening to audiobooks, which I have been using as a strategy to make my workday easier.

At my workplace, no one minds headphones, presumably so long as they don’t get in the way of actual work. I haven’t heard of anyone getting reprimanded for wearing them, and it’s rare for anyone to find me at my desk listening to nothing. Until recently, I’ve always had music on. Then I remembered those years ago when I got into running in the evenings and took audiobooks along with me to break up the monotony of the streets in my neighborhood.

Many of the tasks I perform at my job require a minimum of concentration, and most of them are repetitive and completely mindless. It’s easy to listen to a story as I copy and paste. However, to be certain that I don’t get distracted, I’ve only listened to familiar favorites so far. I’m afraid to get too engrossed in a new story, but I think it’s something I’ll have to try before too long.

I’ve listened to BBC Radio’s rendition (technically a radio play and not an audiobook) of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere featuring James McAvoy and Natalie Dormer; and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, narrated by the author himself and a lovely cast of actors. These have been the first stories I’ve listened to that were cast with multiple actors. I am now listening to Perdido Street Station by China Miéville, and this one is a traditional audiobook with only one person doing all the storytelling.

I like when each character has its own actor lending their voice. It’s easy to fall into the flow of the story. When I’m on the way to or from work, I often close my eyes and envision the scene as it’s being described to me. I also enjoy when one person voices the entirety of the work. It requires more effort to differentiate one character from another, and I appreciate that. It also makes me think of a parent reading to a child at night (though I certainly wouldn’t pick Perdido Street Station as a tale to tell to children) and the child delighting at Mother or Father’s creativity in bringing the characters to life.

I have many more old favorites I could get through before I decide to embark on something new. I had listened to a couple books of Tad Williams’s Shadowmarch series in audio form before I ever read them, and I enjoyed that greatly. However, I was jogging then and not trying to do office work. I’ll have to give it a try to see how it goes. I can always save them for the commute if they’re too distracting for the workday.

 

Camping and deadlines

I have seriously got to get on the ball with this blog.

I have gotten back into the swing of things with reading. I’ve started Life After Life, a book detailing the adventures of Ursula Todd as each time she dies, the clock winds back and gives her a chance to do things differently. She is spurred to action by curious sensations of dread that lead her away from her previous deaths. I’ll wait until I’ve finished the book to say more, but I’m heartily enjoying it.

Not much has been happening on the writing front, which is a large part of why I have decided to devote April to Camp NaNoWriMo. I’m hoping to recreate the experience I had last November with a different story. To that end, I have been reworking my outline for Project: Destiny, bringing my characters to places they’ve never been before, exploring other parts of the world. The journeys in stories are rarely ever straight lines, right?

And the outlines authors lay out are always always strictly adhered to…

I made no such announcement here, but I had made a plan to post once a week. I didn’t do that last week. Maybe it would be easier to stick to this goal if I had a set time. Deadlines have amazing power, don’t they?

Where ideas come from

Returning to work after some time off always sees a drop in my productivity on the writing front. The waking up early, the commute, the hours spent doing mundane tasks… all of these take away from time I could spend dreaming up new worlds.

Let’s be honest. I barely wrote during my time off. That changes now.

My reading has seriously slowed since I finished We Need to Talk About Kevin, though I did manage to finish the first book of A Series of Unfortunate Events (more on that later). I watched the film with my husband, who said it seemed designed to be deliberately uncomfortable. I enjoyed his perspective on Eva Khatchadourian, he felt that the flashbacks interrupting her life gave good insight into the mind of a woman trying to move on after tragedy, yet constantly being held back by her own thoughts.

Instead of reading, I have been indulging my desire to watch old anime and play a new Square Enix game.

I have been watching Cardcaptor Sakura, then making animated GIFs from my favorite magical scenes. For those unfamiliar with the magical girl classic, it tells the story of young Kinomoto Sakura, who inadvertently scatters a set of magical cards when she opens a mysterious book in the basement of her house. She is tasked with recovering them and given a magical key that can unlock the power of the cards and seal them away to prevent the mischief they are so keen to cause in her town.

Naturally, when I was younger and first fell in love with the series, I wanted nothing more than to find and loose a deck of cards and then hunt them down, acquiring their powers as I captured them and made them my own. I enjoy her can-do attitude, the support of her friends and family, and her increasing self-assurance as she gathers together the 52 cards.

Then, the game. Bravely Default, which I have seen described as a mix of Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy Tactics, with a bit of Final Fantasy IX for good measure. The story is secondary and standard (final) fantasy fare: crystals go dark, a group of four must fight their way from one to the next to light them once more, etc. I haven’t gotten too far in the story yet, I’m having too much fun fighting long strings of battles to increase my characters’ proficiency at various jobs. Since it’s for the 3DS, I can play to my heart’s content on the commute to and from work; the time has never flown by so quickly.

What’s great about shows and games and films is that they are all fodder for the imagination. A line in one might inspire a subplot in something I write, or a system of government, or a tragic event. In Bravely Default, there is a clash between two ideologies: the Orthodoxy, which basically believes in worshiping the  Four Crystals; and the Anticrystalist movement which believes these old traditions are holding the world back from progress. There is something similar in Project: Destiny, though there isn’t much conflict between the guild of shadeweavers and the Church of the Sun.

While I’m here… I’ve given some thought to redesigning the headquarters of the Guild of Colors. My latest draft has the guild residing in the Prismatic Tower, but there are an awful lot of towers in fantasy stories. Old ideas are not always the best ones.

My goal is to get another chapter of Destiny drafted by the end of the weekend. I’ll have to see how to squeeze that in with my household project; we’re painting the bedroom.

Squandered opportunities

“The road to Hell,” right? I have managed to use my pear timer once, getting a good 800 words out before turning it to zero so that it wouldn’t scare the bejeezus out of me. Then yesterday afternoon, I sat and started writing a short story in my journal. It is my humble opinion that I am crap at short stories, though I have been in a couple of creative writing classes where we submitted short stories and did peer reviews of them. This one is about a painter who has a reputation for producing unique portraits that represent the innermost identity of the subject. It begins with her refusing to paint a client, claiming that he will not like what she creates.

I have kind of hit a lull with my reading, which I need to remedy; I have a list of books I’d like to read, I only have to stick them on my Kobo and go. Then again, being at home this week means not going out as much, and I do most of my reading on the commute to and from work. I have this nasty habit lately of going to bed when I am absolutely too tired to do any reading at all, lest I find myself considering the same sentence for minutes at a time.

I feel a little guilty about not using this vacation time to get a leg up on my writing. It has been excellent for disconnecting from work and recharging myself, for relaxing and enjoying my home space. The problem is, that all sounds very lazy. I have things I want to get done, and I have more time this week to do them, and I am squandering that opportunity.

Responsibility of the Endless

I made some progress with the Sandman, completing the ninth volume, the Kindly Ones.

sandman kindly ones

I wanted more, somehow. I suppose, then, it’s good that there’s another volume for me to read.

I enjoyed how many loose threads finally get tied off in this volume, things left dangling since nearly the beginning, it seems. I’m actually rereading the whole thing since it’s been so long and I’ve read it in leaps and shudders. I also like to go back and look for clues I missed, foreshadowing, etc.

“Responsibility” seems to be the word for this installment. Not so much in the sense of one fulfilling duties expected of them, but in one owning up to one’s actions and facing the consequences. Even anthropomorphic representations of concepts make mistakes, and it’s important to set things right again. That sense of responsibility.

“We make choices. No one else can live our lives for us. And we must confront and accept the consequences of our actions.”

– Neil Gaiman, the Kindly Ones, volume 9 of the Sandman

Looking back, I believe I see I transformation of Dream from callous and disinterested to truly appreciative for the many whims and quirks of humanity and, at last, a sense of responsibility for his actions. It seems he had this all along, though. In an early conversation between Dream and Desire, Dream says to his sisterbrother:

“We of the endless are the servants of the living–we are NOT their masters. WE exist because they know, deep in their hearts, that we exist. . . . We do not manipulate them. If anything, they manipulate us.”

This is a bit at odds with the way Dream acts at times, but it does reveal that he accepts that he has responsibility to the living. He is not above reproach. He can be an arrogant, brooding bastard at times, but he does seem to have his head on straight for the most part.

Now I am eager to read the final volume, which as I understand it is a sort of epilogue.

Unloved or unlovable?

I finished We Need to Talk About Kevin earlier this week on the train ride home. I was moved to tears, making me glad the train was virtually empty.

we need to talk about kevin

Lionel Shriver has crafted a convincing tale of a woman ambivalent about becoming a mother. Though she is excited and views motherhood as just another country she has yet to visit, Eva Khatchadourian is plagued by doubts and does not immediately fall in love with her newborn son on sight.

The story is told through letters from Eva to her husband, who has seemingly left her. The tension in their couple rises as she recounts events from their son’s upbringing, his father unfailingly believing him to be a normal boy while Eva finds malice in many of his actions.

We learn early in the story that Kevin is in a juvenile detention facility after having killed several students and a couple adults at his school. As Eva revisits Kevin’s childhood, she wonders if he turned out the way he did because she did not love him as a mother should, or because he instinctively knew that she did not want a child. This, despite his being quite unlovable; I won’t list the spiteful things he does as a child, but they are many.

It was fascinating to be inside this woman’s mind, a judgmental creature living a shattered life after Thursday (as it is repeatedly called) changed everything for her and her family. I’m eager to see the film, and wonder how Tilda Swinton will give the audience a feel for her character’s thoughts since we won’t be reading her internal monologue. (Or letters to her husband, as it were.)

“I thought at the time that I couldn’t be horrified anymore, or wounded. I suppose that’s a common conceit, that you’ve already been so damaged that damage itself, in its totality, makes you safe.”

– Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin

Worlds’ End

worldsend

Is there any person in the world who does not dream? Who does not contain within them worlds unimagined?

– Neil Gaiman, Worlds’ End

Another volume consisting of several stories, this one takes place in a tavern at the end of the worlds where several folk have been stranded thanks to a reality storm. It is their wish to share their tales until such a time as they can return to the worlds from whence they came. We have a story of a boy upon a ship at sea, a tale of an alternate United States in which a boy name Prez becomes president, and a tale of a city concerned with proper treatment of the dead and the rituals surrounding death, among others.

This volume ends similarly to the previous one; we know that something momentous is occurring, but we know not what. As one of our human characters gets a glimpse of Death, he thinks the following:

I think I fell in love with her, a little bit. Isn’t that dumb? But it was like I knew her. Like she was my oldest, dearest friend. The kind of person you can tell anything to, no matter how bad, and they’ll still love you, because they know you. I wanted to go with her. I wanted her to notice me. And then she stopped walking. Under the moon, she stopped. And looked at us. She looked at me. Maybe she was trying to tell me something; I don’t know. She probably didn’t even know I was there. But I’ll always love her. All my life.

– Neil Gaiman, Worlds’ End

I am eager to procure the final two volumes and learn what is to become of Dream and the rest of the Endless.

Last Argument of Kings

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Truly, life is the misery we endure between disappointments.

– Joe Abercrombie, Last Argument of Kings

I heartily enjoyed these books for setting many fantasy conventions on their heads, for introducing realistic characters who defy expectation without seeming to go against their natures. I love that my favorite character is a torturer and that I am still fascinated and intrigued by who I am sure is the villain.

I don’t believe this trilogy reads well if one jumps into the middle or the end. Each book is nicely encapsulated, but the whole story must be read to be appreciated. For that reason, I find it difficult to say much about the final volume without spoiling some of the surprises in the first two books.

I will say the pace of this third book does annoy me somewhat. It is split into two parts roughly down the middle; I slogged through the first 300 pages, replete with battles and death and strategies. I’m a fantasy fan who doesn’t care much for action, I prefer the magic and intrigue of it all. There is no lack of intrigue, however; our dear torturer friend has gotten himself into a bit of trouble concerning divided loyalties and blackmail.

The book more than makes up for Part I with Part II, which I tore through despite already having read it once before and having discovered the major revelations at the end. I love the ending for not being the joyous peal of “And then the world was saved and the kingdom rejoiced”. War leaves terror and ruins in its wake, and it’s fitting that the ending reflect that. The end of a war does not solve all of a kingdom’s problems either.

For me to say too much more would spoil more than is appropriate. I love the characters, from self-centered Jezal who has found himself way in over his head, to Ferro and her single-minded pursuit of vengeance. Sand dan Glokta is far and away my favorite character; a shattered ruin of a man, hobbling through each day one at a time through constant pain, ever asking why he does what he does. I suspect he only makes it through his days through heavy use of his dry sense of self-deprecating humor.