Category Archives: rejected books

Divergent (Veronica Roth) 2 out of 5

Divergent is supposed to be a tough-girl dystopian adventure following on the heels of Katniss and Katsa.  Tris (our new tough girl) lives in futuristic Chicago, which is divided into five factions: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Erudite, and Dauntless.  Abnegation runs the city and does lots of volunteer work, Candor runs the legal system, Erudite is smart (and useless?), Dauntless provides defense (against nobody?), and Amity is kind (and useless?).  Tris’s family belongs to Abnegation, but on choosing day she casts her lot with Dauntless.

I was expecting to like this book because the faction idea sounds fun, and the faction names are badass.  However, the faction names are 90% of what’s good about this book, so maybe we should refrain from reading the book and just write a bunch of fanfic.

The other 10% is that the Dauntless folks travel around Chicago by leaping on and off the El.  The train never stops, and part of Dauntless awesomeness is that they take superhero jumps for fun.

And here we can segue into a spoiler-free discussion of what’s wrong with this book.    First we’ll discuss the worldbuilding failures, and then we’ll move on to the gigantic ethical problem, with a bonus detour to Obvious Villains.

  • First, the worldbuilding: Abnegation does all the work while the other factions appear to be lazy and smart, lazy and kind, lazy and honest, or lazy with a death wish.  The factionless are an untouchable caste, and people keep getting cast out but nobody ever comes back in, so perhaps over time you’d end up with more factionless than factioned.
  • You live with your faction, not your family, and you choose your faction freely.  There must be plenty of not-so-genius Erudite kids who choose Erudite just to stay with their family, etc., so I expected the factions to be more varied than they were.
  • Now back to the trains.  The El trains run 24/7 just for Dauntless trainjumpers, and there’s always a train when they want one.  Which is weird because Dauntless is accepting 10 recruits this year (including the Dauntless-born kids who choose Dauntless), so maybe there are 50 years’ worth of recruits, meaning about 500 total Dauntless.
  • Ms. Roth, your city does not have enough people!
  • Hasn’t anyone in Candor or Erudite pointed out that Dauntless is hogging the world’s most awesome train system while the other four factions jolt along in buses on roads that have only been partially repaired by Abnegation volunteers?
  • Now, ethics.
  • Seriously, this is where Divergent loses one whole star off the top.  The romantic thread of this story follows Tris and her teacher, Four.  At multiple points, characters say that this pairing can’t happen because Four is “too old” for Tris, and then they immediately follow up by saying, “Well, she’s 16 and he’s 18, so grass on the field!”
  • Ahem.  There are 20 initiates and two teachers.  At the end of initiation, 10 will be welcomed by the faction and 10 will be cast into the outer darkness.
  • At one point, Four says that they have to be discreet because people will suspect favoritism.
  • Now why would anyone think that?  Can’t a hot guy just have a conflict-of-interest relationship with a pretty girl he’s evaluating?
  • Now, to the philosophical underpinnings.  Yes, I have problems there, too!
  • First, I have to issue a citation for Obvious Villains.  Ms. Roth, your villains have cold voices, cruel eyes, and no apparent motivation other than greed.  Work harder.
  • Secondly, I can tell that we’re working toward a Grand Realization, spun out painstakingly over the rest of the trilogy, that courage requires selflessness, honesty requires courage, selflessness requires kindness, and everything requires intelligence.  Yes, each of us embodies the attributes of all five factions!  Identifying with one while denying the others falsely partitions our identities.
  • Yes, Ms. Roth.  Yes, it does.  Nobody ever said otherwise…except for you.

Manga Man (Barry Lyga) 2 out of 5

mangamanLongtime readers of this blog may suspect that graphic novels always get high ratings.  It’s true: I’m crazy about Sandman and can’t say enough good things about Locke & Key.

However.

Mangaman is a giant meh.  It pains me to say this because I really like Barry Lyga.  I have 3 of his novels in the review queue, all of which I enjoyed, so I found Mangaman confusingly weak.

Basically, Mangaman is a manga character who falls through an “extra-scientific event” and lands in our world.  His stress lines manifest as physical lines that float in mid-air, and his appearance changes completely when he experiences extreme emotion.

Mangaman falls in manga-love with a human girl, blah blah blah.  I can see where Lyga is going with his East-meets-West collision of cultures and graphic styles, but it’s all kind of cardboard.  I don’t even like the texture of the pages on my fingertips.

Sorry.

Fifty Shades of Grey – DRINKING GAME RULES

50 shades of greyThis book is so exuberantly, hilariously flawed that it requires a drinking game.

Drink every time:

  • Christian Grey acts like a stalker with poor impulse control.
  • Ana thinks, Oh my.
  • A stray Britishism pops up.
  • Ana’s subconscious [sic] or inner goddess requires slapping.
  • There’s gratuitous product placement.
  • You cringe on behalf of Christian’s servant-people.
  • Someone name-shouts during orgasm.

Chug when:

  • Someone’s mouth “forms a perfect O.”
  • A tampon is pulled.

Finish your drink when:

  • “Rectifying the situation” is used to refer to relieving someone of their virginity.
  • An actual, full-length legal contract appears in the text.

In a nutshell: Young, bookish Anastasia Steele meets 27-year-old business tycoon Christian Grey.  He has a dark past, majorly taut abs, a BDSM playroom in his fabulous penthouse, and a purported fear of intimacy that melts on contact with Ana’s magical vagina.

I was going to make a list of flaws, followed by a tally of the merits, but then I kept moving the flaws to the merit column because the flaws are so awesome, just like the pancake makeup in the Twilight movies.

–         The writing pulls the neat trick of setting the bar so low that I fist-pumped in triumph every time E.L. James did something right, such as understanding the distinction between “figuratively” and “literally.”

–         There are SO MANY ERRORS.  How can this e-book cost $9.99 when there’s well-written erotica available for $0.99?

–          Safe sex, yay!  James gets kind of Pavlovian with the ripping sound of a condom package, and I salute that.

–          Christian Grey, who probably owns a sweatshirt emblazoned “Byronic anti-hero,” is cold and distant but blows his game by saying dipshit things like “I’m like a moth to a flame” and “You beguile me.”  Not to mention, “I want you to meet my mother” right after they Do It for the first time.  HAHAHA HAHA HAHAHAHAHA, this book is awesome.

–          Despite the busload of flaws, I think the romance works.  Ana and Mr. Rochester Grey have very different neuroses, but of the same vector length, which is one of the keys to relationship success.  She’s judgmental and street stupid, he’s emo with a bad temper; they so totally deserve each other!  Win!

–          The meet-cute portion of the story is a delicious, delicious festival of cringe.  Remember how teen magazines used to have reader submissions where people would write in with tales of personal humiliation?  Ana is EPIC in her ability to fuck up in front of Christian.

–          Ana has two cartoon characters that provide windows into her interior life (because first-person narration isn’t enough, what?), which E.L. James refers to as Ana’s subconscious [sic] and Ana’s inner goddess.  Like the Microsoft paperclip that used to pop up in Word, they manifest for no reason and grow more irksome each time.  (Ana’s inner goddess mimes her feelings by doing a hula dance, hiding behind the sofa, or swooning onto a fainting couch.)

–          The British have invaded Seattle!  Although purportedly narrated by an American girl, this story is speckled all over with charmingly misplaced Britishisms.  It’s amateur night at the editing desk.  No, who are we kidding, this novel wasn’t edited by anyone.

–          I don’t know what’s less believable, that Ana has never masturbated or that she doesn’t have a laptop or email account in 2011.  See note above re: editing.

–          This dubious book has the dubious distinction of  having the most true-to-life contractual negotiation I’ve ever read in my fiction-reading career.  The Dom/sub contract appears in its entirety (except Schedule C – Food), including subsequent markup rounds.  Ana comments on legal drafts more astutely than most junior attorneys I have known, which just…I don’t know.  She didn’t catch the redlining errors, though, so I’ll have to mark that on her next performance review.

–          I don’t know much about the theory and practice of BDSM, but even I can tell E.L. James doesn’t know a damn thing.  Some people are rightly offended, but honestly I can’t take this fuckwittery seriously enough to be offended.  It’s like being upset about bad science in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.  Btw, it’s labeled BDSM, but the kink factor is totally mainstream, like the “spicy” Chinese food in the food court at the mall.

In conclusion, this book is optimized for drinking games, preferably in conjunction with a dramatic reading with friends.  I mentioned the name-shouting during sex, right?  It would only take 5 people to do a full-cast rendition (Christian, Ana, Ana as narrator, Ana’s subconscious [sic], and someone to mime Ana’s inner goddess).

Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro) 2*

never let me go cover

If you’ve ever read a science fiction book, this book will bore the pants off you (and not in a good way).

It’s like how The Scarlet Pimpernel was really shocking back  in the day because it had a Fabulous Surprise Twist!  Because the hero was secretly disguised.  As a Jew!  GASP.  I remember reading that wretched book at age 10 and figuring it out the instant the Jew showed up out of plumb fucking nowhere, and then I finished the whole book because there had to be something else because the book was so famous.

Never Let Me Go is exactly the same.  Spoilers below, so you should stop reading unless you’ve read a SF book before or have a 3-digit IQ and will thus figure out the mystery in the first 20 pages anyway.

(SPOILERS START HERE)

They are clones.  For 200 pages, we dance around the “mystery” that Kathy and her whiny little classmates are clones created for organ harvesting.  Unfortunately, the kids are boring as dirt,* so it’s hard for the reader to see them as more than bags of organs either.

Upon reaching their teens, the kids are inexplicably sent out in groups of a dozen or so to live without adult supervision in the Cottages, and they don’t ever consider running away.  If I hadn’t been so entirely disengaged by that point (I  was on an airplane and had to choose between this book or SkyMall), I would’ve been Sassy Gay Friend all over this.  Ishiguro is trying to show us that clones are people, but these kids lack the things that make humans interesting.  In fact, the average dog is more resourceful than these losers, and newborn kittens express more curiosity.

Despite the critical acclaim, this is not a novel of ideas.  Questions that could have made this book interesting, but which Ishiguro did not explore:

  1. The kids are going to be cut to pieces someday, but they go tamely to the slaughter.  As adults they even participate as hospice attendants in the medical complex.  Is this a metaphor for…something?
  2. There’s a total of two (2) activists who care about the treatment of clones.  Where are the rest?  What’s the political climate in England?  Is it set in a V for Vendetta version of fascist England?  The world-building is blank as fresh-fallen snow.
  3. What is life for, if life will end in your 20’s, and you’ve been sterilized since birth, and you have no biological family?  A properly constructed novel would include some moment of realization that Kathy, Tommy, and whats-her-name did have real lives, and that life was worthwhile even if it was short, and that it had always been up to them to fill their lives with meaning, and that lots of meaning could be created other than by procreating.  None of this is articulated.

The only smart bit happens in the first chapter, when Ishiguro introduces the euphemism “completion” for “death,” as in “he knew he was close to completing.”  Do not be fooled.  That’s the height of the good stuff and it’s a long downhill slog.

*Actually, I have a composting bin and could be considered a dirt farmer.  My homegrown, organic dirt is more far interesting than these kids.

The Help (Kathryn Stockett) 2*

the helpPeople seem to have a lot to say about this book, but I am far too bored to say very much.  Briefly:

1. It’s boring.  I eventually skipped all but Minnie’s chapters (the only interesting narrator and also the only interesting plot arc), so you could say I read [1/2 +1/3 = 5/6] of this book, which is ½ too much.

2. Everyone is pretty noxious except for (a) black people and (b) white people who literally have To Kill a Mockingbird on their nightstand.  Eyeroll please.  I wasn’t around in the 1960’s, but I’d guess that non-racists then were pretty much like non-meat-eaters now: highly uncommon outside of intellectual bastions and sometimes irritatingly self-righteous.  (You know that future generations will judge us harshly for the factory farms.)

3. I cannot suspend my disbelief.  Celia, the upjumped cracker girl, can’t even conceive of treating Minnie as anything other than an equal?!  I don’t pull out the interobang often, but I pull it out here.  Nobody clings to racial hierarchy more than poor members of the dominant ethnicity – it’s the only thing they have.  How can Stockett grow up in the South and not notice that phenomenon?

4. The lavender-and-gold cover design just makes me think “urine-soaked wedding,” and I cannot deal.

In conclusion, why are we even talking about this book?

Moonshine (Alaya Dawn Johnson) 2*

moonshineThis book definitely reads like a first novel, which confuses the hell out of me because it’s by the author of “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”  “Love Will” was one of the best short stories I’ve read ever in my whole life (review and excerpt here), so self-assured and masterful that it tossed aside storytelling conventions the way a samurai warrior knocks aside NERF grenades.

I had to check to make sure that this was written by the same person.   Moonshine is almost comically derivative.  Thusly:

  1. Cover art depicts the neck portion of a young lady flaunting a prominent vampire bite.
  2. Plucky heroine is named Zephyr Hollis.
  3. Heroine is mysteriously immune to vampire bites and has implausible combat skillz.
  4. Story is set in Prohibition-era New York, has stylish hats, jazz, and atmospheric poverty.
  5. Heroine is a do-gooding, immigrant-helping, bicycle-riding suffragette.  Also, vegetarian when nobody is vegetarian.
  6. Supernatural love interest with body temperature issues.
  7. Writing is…composed of words…a lot of words.

So…ZOMG Alaya Dawn Johnson has been killed and replaced by a skinchanger!  Since Zombies vs. Unicorns came out 3 months after Moonshine, Ms. Johnson’s unfortunate demise and replacement may be all for the best.  Unless the real Alaya submitted the “Love Will” manuscript a year in advance, after which she was unceremoniously devoured.  To fulfill her contract, the murderer cobbled together a book by cutting and pasting tropes from 57 other YA fantasy novels.  Oh shit, the second storyline sounds much more plausible.  RIP Alaya Johnson, you smelled too delicious for your own good.*

* So did the real Orson Scott Card.

Beauty Queens (Libba Bray) 2*

beauty queensThis one is better than Going Bovine, but I’m officially done reading Libba Bray.  In Beauty Queens, a planeload of girls get stranded on a tropical island en route to a teen beauty contest.  The island is the home base of some Secret Super Baddies, so first it’s Mean Girls: Survival Quest and then there’s an action movie.

I tried to like it, but I kept getting the feeling that this book was meant to be watched on TV, not read.  The characters are very stylized, the one-liners very pithy, and the camera angle changes every 5 seconds.  Likewise, when I listened to Going Bovine on audio, I kept thinking that maybe I would like it more if I were reading it on paper.  Every format feels like the wrong one; both books have somehow managed to be less than the sum of their parts.   Beauty Queens has plenty of good one-liners (“But it was Christian pole dancing!”), and you can see the grand intentions, yet nothing fits together.  It’s a pile of construction materials and a blueprint for a skyscraper.  For the time spent on this, a person could build a really nice house.  With a trellised bean garden, even.

The cast is intentionally diverse in a way that only a white lady could imagine.  Whoa, I just said something racist!  This is because, though the baby lesbians are kind of cute, I can’t help but roll my eyes.  Out of 12 girls, 2 are lesbianish, one’s transgendered, one’s a deaf girl whose passion is dancing (yes, Bray tries that hard), and two are professionally brown.  The brown girls become BFF because obvs they have this huge thing in common: they hate being defined by their brownness!  OMG!!!  Since each character gets exactly one diversity characteristic, I suppose being Texan, being a blonde airhead, and having a sex drive are also “diversity characteristics.”  The remaining two girls are just extras who don’t even get names until the end, when we discover that they have the same name, because everyone knows people with no diversity characteristics just don’t count.