Novels in Verse

Are novels in verse coming back into fashion? Because while I’m not a big poetry reader, I do think it would be kind of awesome, and I’m beginning to see some evidence of it. I just ran across this article about a new imprint that will be focused on YA books with a strong verse element:

I’ve also been following with interest the discussions of the newest translation of the Odyssey by Emily Wilson that is making waves in certain circles by it’s going back to the roots of the original language and retranslating it for meaning that speaks to current society rather than to Victorian society.

And I’m reminded of a Stargate Atlantis fanfic “Free Verse” by Dasha that includes the line: “They built their laboratories to look like temples. Of course they wrote their text books to read like poetry.” And references the poem “The story of Schroedinger’s cat (an epic poem)” from The Straight Dope.

So despite not being a great fan of poetry in general, I’d be really interested in modern epic poetry coming back into fashion and seeing what modern authors do with it.

Courage is Contagious, ed. by Nick Haramis

CourageCourage is Contagious: And Other Reasons to Be Grateful for Michelle Obama
edited by Nick Haramis
2017

This is a book of seventeen short essays about the impact First Lady Michelle Obama had on people.

I was first attracted to the title of the book, because it really is true: it is a lot easier to be courageous when you see other people being courageous. I’ve been getting worn down by the current political situation and I was hoping to get some inspiration.

It was less an inspiring call to action as a warm reassurance that great people inspire greatness in others. This book is a demonstration of the importance of representation. Many of the essayists had only fleeting direct contact with Michelle Obama, and their stories are not so much about those meetings themselves as the impact those meetings had on their lives and their perspectives. As much as they write about how genuine Michelle was, the book celebrates Michelle as an icon who’s inspired millions. Some of the essayists had name recognition, some of them do not, but they consist of authors, artists, actors, activists, a couple of students not yet settled into careers.

I like and respect Michelle Obama, though she’s never been a particular inspiration to me. It was still heartwarming to see how she’s inspired others.

Christmas stories

Hot Toy
by Jennifer Crusie
2015

This made me giggle wildly to myself while reading it on a plane. It’s ludicrous and hilarious and I just love the way Crusie writes her characters. The story is about Trudy’s search for the hot new toy that her nephew asked for from Santa (a soldier toy named Major MacGuffin. Hahahaha!) but that is, of course, impossible to find on Christmas Eve. Then there are the spies and the smuggling and the insane banter.

I’ve enjoyed books by this author before and the main character here, Trudy, reminds me a lot of the main character in her book Bet Me, Min, in the way she’s determined, quick witted, and has a massive chip on her shoulder that she is absolutely going to take out on the guy who can either take it or go away. It makes me happy.

I described it to Anna as similar to a Connie Willis story in the general ludicrous insanity of the plot and the banter, and she pointed out that there’s a fabulous Connie Willis Christmas story that I still hadn’t read yet:

Just Like The Ones We Used To Know
by Connie Willis
2003

This felt very much like the movie Love Actually, except good. It’s funny and sweet and skips around through a vast cast of characters who are each dealing with their own issues, but also dealing with the main premise of this story which is that it’s snowing on Christmas Eve. It’s snowing on Christmas Eve *everywhere*: Minnesota and New York is normal, Florida and Hawaii is not normal at all. But in this story, *everyone* is having a white Christmas Eve and it is wrecking havoc. And mostly that havoc is excellent and results in improved situations for everyone we like.

I’ve never read anything by this author that I disliked but I’m also careful with what I read from her because she ranges from side-splittingly hilarious to heart-breakingly depressing. This story is definitely on the funny side, but I don’t guarantee any of the other stories in an anthology.

fail, fail again, fail better by Pema Chödrön

failcoverfail, fail again, fail better
by Pema Chödrön
2015

This was an elegant short book with two main sections: the first is a transcript of a commencement address that the author, an American-born Buddhist nun, delivered to the 2014 graduating class at Naropa University, and the second is a transcript of a follow-up interview that delves further into the topic.

Both sections were good, although I enjoyed the first part better. The commencement address was more elegantly written and more beautifully laid out and had a feeling of something in between poetry and prose. The interview delved more into Chödrön’s person life experiences and how they effected and were effected by her thoughts on failure.

The thoughts really come down to:

  • Failure is always possible but do not allow fear of failure to stop you.
  • It is important to acknowledge that a failure is a failure rather than pretending it isn’t, to either yourself or others.
  • Examine each failure to determine why it happened and allow it to be a learning experience without focusing on blame: either of yourself or others.
  • Failures range from minor to devastating but they are always external actions: you can fail, but you cannot be a failure.

None of these thoughts are particularly unique or anything I haven’t run across before, but they’re important and well worth being reminded of on a semi-regular basis.

All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis

allrightsreservedAll Rights Reserved
by Gregory Scott Katsoulis
2017

This book is terrifying. It’s good and I recommend it, but like many such YA novels, it’s set in a dystopian future and it’s a particular dystopian future that I am deeply concerned with.

For some background:

US copyright law was first established in 1790, allowing authors to register their books for a seven-year monopoly on publication, to allow the authors that long to make as much profit as they could before they had to shift their focus to a new creation.

Ever since then, the copyright protections have been creeping to allow creators longer monopolies and pushing back any content going into the public domain to help and assist other creators or just be available to the public for free.

The Copyright Term Extension Act (colloquially known as the “Mickey Mouse protection act” because Disney was so scared of Mickey Mouse entering the public domain) was made law in 1998, and that degrees that all content is automatically copyrighted (no registration or even intent required) and content remains under copyright for 70 years after the original author has died. Great grandchildren can now hold monopolies of their ancestors’ creations… no need to make new content at all.

Meanwhile, what exactly copyright covers has also been expanding: originally it literally just covered the text itself. Translations were not infringing copyright because they were literally changing the language. Characters and settings were free to use. Now sequels and spinoffs are all infringements. Organization for Transformative Works is currently battling just to allow people to freely write fanfiction for purely recreational purposes.

The “fair use” exception was added to copyright law allowing some leeway for people to use excerpts except that one of the ramifications is that it shifts the burden of proof. Historically, a copyright holder had to show that someone had been infringing on their copyright, or they couldn’t sue: innocent until proven guilty. Now, the copyright holder can sue based on any use at all, and the person using it has to prove that their use fits the exception: guilty until proven innocent.

I know less about Patent and Trademark law (the other two main branches of law concerning intellectual property) than I do about Copyright law, but I expect they’ve gone through similar slow transformations.

And I’ve certainly become increasingly aware of how often my purchases aren’t actual purchases, but are legally “lease agreements”. You don’t buy Kindle books or iTunes songs or Microsoft software anymore: you lease the use of them, with restrictions in place. There are definitely rights reserved on those things.

Back to the book:

So in this novel, we’re presented by an America™ that has continued to change intellectual property laws to such a point that words and phrases and gestures are each individually copyrighted and royalties are due for any use of them.

Everyone is tracked and their words and actions monitored to ensure they are paid for. Going into debt means being taken away to work short lives as field labor or indentured indefinitely to anyone interested in buying that debt. Everyone makes some money by being sponsored by various companies to advertise for them. (Rich and/or pretty people get better sponsors.)

Our main character Speth Jime (her first name is a discount name that doesn’t cost too much to say, her last name was probably originally Jimenez except it was too expensive and shortened generations back) turns 15 at the beginning of the book, the last day on which she can speak freely. After that, when a friend commits suicide, she can’t even afford to scream. Rather than make her first speech as an adult (full of product advertisements) she goes completely silent.

The narration shows Speth’s thoughts, but she has no way to communicate with those around her, even as they talk to and at her.

Plot-wise, it feels a bit like The Hunger Games, really, as people try to either ally with her or take her down and giver her suggestions that she has to figure out whether or not to follow. There’s a happy ending (with more than enough loose ends to warrant a sequel), but it’s a nerve-wracking and heart-breaking trip. The cast of characters are interesting and well-developed and diverse in a variety of ways, and Speth is amazingly relatable in the way she’s just become this icon of rebellion that she never intended as anything other than a reaction to personal trauma. The book wouldn’t have held together without the characters being so relatable, but where the book truly shines is the world building. The dystopian world is terrifying as it shows how difficult systematic oppression is to fight, and how easily rights can be worn away and the lack of those rights then normalized.

So very good, and packs a serious punch.

It will definitely make you think the next time you mindlessly click “agree” on a terms of service contract.

Humans Wanted, ed. by Vivian Caethe

humanswantedHumans Wanted
edited by Vivian Caethe
authors: Jody Lynn Nye, A. Merc Rustard, Alex Acks, Marie DesJardin, Eneasz Brodski, J.A. Campbell, Sydney Seay, Richard A. Becker, Gwendolynn Thomas, Mariah Southworth, Alex Pearl, & Amelia Kibbie
2017

I was very excited to discover this book existed and bought it for my kindle as soon as I realized it was a thing. Sadly, I think I went in to it with my expectations a bit too high. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just that these stories read like classic silver age scifi stories. I can certainly enjoy classic science fiction, but the premise of the book is that it was inspired by a tumblr post that I’d actually run across before this book was ever published.

And that tumblr post is hilarious. It’s also just one part of a whole tumblr conversation / meme that is also hilarious and joyful, asking the questions: what if humans are the weird ones? Like just not the galactic norm at all in really weird ways? what if we’re space orcs? What if we’re the hold-my-beer species? What if our weirdness is that we form bonds with everything (family, friends, aliens, space ships, weapons, etc.)?

There’s just a spirit of joyful insanity in the online discussion that didn’t come through in the stories in this book which tend more towards the nostalgic melancholy. These stories are definitely doing interesting things and well-worth the read, but are missing a lot of the millennial-era absurdist humor that I’d expected given the premise.

So instead of the professionally written, edited, and formatted stories in this book, I recommend reading some of the amateur-written, spontaneously collaborative, mini stories that you can find posted online, of which I have included a handful of links below:

Unnamed ficlet(s) about the human desire to bond

The Gentlemen of Fortune club stories 

Story 215: Cultural Exchange

Unnamed ficlet(s) about terraforming (but keeping the fun bits of the location)

Thee absurd scenarios

The Story of Drake McDougal

Altruism Defines Us

Penric & Desdemona by Bujold (more stories!)

I wrote a review of the first three stories in Bujold’s Penric & Desdemona series back in November 2016 and then Anna wrote a review of the fourth one in July 2017, but I am here to tell you that the fifth and sixth ones have both come out and they are both awesome!

PenricFoxPenric’s Fox (story #5) is essentially a sequel to Penric and the Shaman (story #3). Although it’s set some years later, it’s the same cast of characters and is set decidedly before the events of story #4. One of the things I really enjoy about Bujold is that she plays around with her genres even in the same series and thus this is a detective story, with a discovered corpse and police investigation and all. It was also kind of heart-wrenching and made me tear up a bit but just so very good.

 

prisonerlimnosPrisoner of Limnos (story #6) is a direct sequel to Mira’s Last Dance (story #4) with barely a few weeks having passed for the characters between the two books and dealing directly with some of the uncertainty left at the end of #4. I was also all geared up for some raciness to it, too, but Anna can be reassured that events stay relatively chaste (even as my mind is in the gutter giving me occasional wink-wink nudge-nudges.) This is something of a heist storyline and also introduces a whole swathe of new secondary characters that seem very interesting and open up all sorts of possibilities for future story lines. While this one doesn’t end in quite the almost-cliff-hanger (emotionally at least) of #4, it does leave me just craving more. I just really need to know more about those new characters and their stories and what they do next. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Bujold continues to write these stories at the amazing pace she’s had so far.