Sunday, April 1, 2018

Book of Bones Part 9

Book Review- Ready Player One

Cline. I wasn't expecting much, but wanted to see what all the hype was about. It turned out to be a fun read.

In a future world where society is in decline, people spend most of their time in the OASIS, a virtual reality world that offers endless entertainment and educational opportunities. There are elements of RPG, and heavy doses of geek culture and 1980s nostalgia. Imagine Sheldon Cooper created a version of Caprica's "V-World" and you won't be far off the mark.The creator of the OASIS left a scavenger hunt embedded within his massive virtual universe. The first to complete it will inherit massive wealth and gain control of the OASIS. book proceeds in typical YA fashion: underprivileged, outcast youth living in dystopia escapes into the OASIS. Eventually, with the help of a diverse cast of characters, he finds himself on the hunt for the prize, facing off against dangers within the OASIS and without, driven by the big, bad corporate entity that threatens to claim the virtual world and focus on maximizing revenue, thus squeezing out people like Wade (or Parcival, as he is known in the OASIS.) The plot plays out much like you would expect if you read a lot of YA literature.

The story is rife with nerd/geek and 1980s pop culture references: video games, board games, television, movies, music... I'm not much of a gamer, and there are many aspects of geek culture that don't interest me, but I still enjoyed the many references, and the allusions to things that aren't in my nerd wheelhouse didn't leave me feeling disconnected. In some sections, particularly in one early chapter, the story bogs down as Cline engages in some massive info-dumps. I can understand why some people gave up on the book at this stage (it's really that bad in a couple places) but I stuck with it and I'm glad I did.

The story poses a few questions that, as a former English teacher, I think would have made for interesting classroom discussion:
-Are virtual-world (online) friendships less "real" because the people haven't met in real life, or are they more real because they are primarily "mental" connections, our judgment unclouded by things like race, sexual orientation, or physical appearance, which tend to color our judgment (no pun intended)?
-Do the negatives of a virtual world outweigh the positives?
-Will the continued development of technology, and our many options for entertainment distract us from caring for the real world or even engaging in it?

There's nothing deep or profound here, and some of the diverse aspects of certain characters are treated as afterthoughts. ("Oh, by the way, now that the story is almost over, I should let you know my actual gender, race, and sexual orientation,  and then we'll pretty much forget I mentioned it.") Some critics have accused Cline of writing a wish-fulfillment story. Maybe it's true, but that's a criticism that could be leveled against many, many books. I've read plenty of other criticisms, which you can find via a simple web search if you're so inclined.

Overall, Ready Player One is a "by the numbers," yet entertaining novel. Wil Wheaton's narration of the audiobook is solid. This was the first of his narrations I've listened to, and he's very good.  I'll definitely give Cline's next book, Armada, a try.

Friday, March 16, 2018

52- Keeping a Series Fresh

Listen to the companion podcast episode

D2D author pages

Audible author pages

What does it take to keep a long-running series fresh? How do you keep readers from losing interest after a few books?

As far as series go, my first thought was the Pendergast series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. It's kept me hooked for more than twenty years. I'm trying to analyze what it is that has kept me coming back. Off the top of my head:

The plot is the main thing. What's the new mystery Pendergast will solve? How will he do it? What new places will I visit, what new things will I learn, what legends/mysteries/conspiracies will I learn about? And I get more out of it because I actually care about the cast of characters.

I'm fascinated by the protagonist, and the authors have done a good job of never revealing too much about him, his history, his family of origin... Thus, there are always new revelations about him along the way, new layers of the onion to peel back. Pendergast himself is like a mystery that's been slowly unraveling over the decades.

I never worry that the protag will die (even though I feel the same reading a stand-alone) but the authors aren't above offing an important secondary character along the way, even one who has played an important role in many previous stories.

The authors do a good job of carrying subplots from book to book, or across several books, making sure the important characters change as a result of previous books, that their personal lives move forward...

It's fun to see a familiar face from several books back pop up again and play an important role.

The authors also occasionally go back and pluck little bits out of previous books and make them important to the current story.

I will say that I've lost interest in lengthy series that tell what amounts to a single story stretched out over several volumes. I guess it's the Robert Jordan/George RR Martin effect. With fantasy, I currently prefer authors like Mark Lawrence, who write trilogies and actually put out books on a regular basis.

Those are my thoughts on keeping a series fresh. What are yours?

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

51- Book Covers

Listen to the companion podcast episode.


Audible audiobook borrowing program

Great on Kindle program
The Terry Goodkind book cover controversy.

About Book Covers:

The cover is a marketing tool.

It serves to:
-Entice the readers.
-Convey the genre.
-Convey the general tone of the book.
-Bring to mind the works of other favorite authors/books in the genre.

The cover:
-Serves a similar purpose as a movie poster.
-Is also is a bit like a movie trailer. (Sometimes there are elements in the trailer that aren't in the movie.)

Authors and Book Covers:
-Authors are usually bad at cover design.
-Authors are often more concerned with "reflecting the contents of the book" than marketing to readers in the genre.
-Authors often want too many elements included in the cover.
-Authors tend to worry too much about minor differences in cover elements and the descriptions/settings/scenes in a book.

Trad pub authors:
-Ultimately, the publisher makes the decision.
-Sometimes they accept suggestions from the author. Usually they listen then immediately forget.
-Typically, the author is contractually entitled to a consult about the cover, but the publisher still makes its own decision.
-On rare occasion, an author has been able to suggest a particular artist, design, or complete cover. I know of one instance in which the author made his own cover because the publisher dropped the ball.  In another instance, an author submitted a cover to the publisher and they hired someone to make something almost exactly like it.

The Indie Paradox ("Help! I don't have an art department!") 

-An indie must make her/his own decision about the cover.
-One option is to hire the same cover designer that other successful indies in your genre uses
-Another option is  to emulate the cover designs of successful indies in your genre.
-Don't dream up a design and then search Amazon for a cover that looks like your idea as a way of rationalizing it. Make sure the book is selling and the cover appears to be a part of it.
-Really study the genre. Know what designs would place you in the middle.
-Sometimes an author's name is enough to sell the book in spite of the cover.
-Browse cover design websites. Find pros whom you can afford.
-Just because someone is a graphic designer doesn't mean (s)he knows what makes a book sell. Help them. Guide them.
-Don't be afraid to experiment. Try different designs.
-Test designs through Facebook ads.
-Try not to end up on Lousy Book Covers :)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Review- Red Sister by Mark Lawrence'm a huge fan of Mark Lawrence, and Red Sister is my favorite of his books so far! It tells the story of Nona Reeve (eventually Nona Grey), a girl saved at the eleventh hour from execution. Nona is
taken to the Convent of Sweet Mercy, where girls are trained to be killers. That's right: warrior nuns, espionage nuns, poisoner nuns, and nuns who command elements of the supernatural. The story is set on a planet orbiting a dying sun, almost completely encrusted in ice save a narrow band between the ice walls where the remnants of humankind survive.

The book invites inevitable comparisons to the Kingkiller Chronicle or the Harry Potter series for its "school" setting, but Lawrence successfully puts his own mark on the familiar trope. The result is a book that's accessible to mature YA readers but wholly satisfying to an adult audience. There is so much I loved about this book: the characters, the setting, the hand-to-hand combat, the intrigue, mystery, betrayal, and surprising twists. The story comes to a satisfying resolution of the main arc, but leaves the reader eager for the next in the series. Oh, and the epilogue made my head spin.

Though nowhere near as grimdark as Lawrence's Broken Empire series, the book is dark in tone, with a few mature elements. There's some gritty violence, particularly graphic in the final showdown. There's also one scene of animal abuse (by a villain) which serves the story, but might be upsetting for some. If you fall into that category, go ahead and give this terrific book a chance, and when you see the scene coming (you'll know what's about to happen) just assume the worst and skip a few pages.

Red Sister is the beginning of a fantastic new series. I can't wait for book two, and am crossing my fingers for a television series!