Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday Review: Engines of a Broken World

Hello again! I'm sad to report that this Friday Review may be a little more angry than some of the others -- well, not 2312's, but godzilla only knows how boring that tome was. Oh, wait, I know. It was boring as hell. Anyways, enough about that travesty, let's have a review that upset me for different reasons! Who knows, maybe these reasons will inspire you to read the book.

DISCLAIMER (necessary for reasons you will see): I am an atheist. I am perfectly willing to accept that there may be a god in the traditional Abrahamic sense. I do not want, or like, the idea of that god's existence. However, everyone should be able to believe as they like, and I'm not going to bash you for your beliefs.

Moving on.


Merciful Truth and her brother, Gospel, have just lost their mother. And it's snowing too hard outside for them to bury her. So, under the reproachful eyes of the mechano-cat Minister, they put her under the table, with a sheet over her head. The Minister, full of Christian proverbs, is not happy, and says they need to bury her outside. But, save for two other women in their little remnants of a village, there is no one to help them, and they'll die of frostbite if they do. The next day, they try to bury her, but the ground is too hard and they can only put her in the basement, which the Minister also doesn't like. The Minister is God's representative in this world, a source of good and right, who nobody pays much attention to anymore.

This is when things get, in the words of a goodreads reviewer "Weird." What they mean is, it gets Sci-Fi. Spoilers ahead -- if you don't want to read them, skip to where it says >>>>, but let me be straight with you that like the 6th HP book, this whole story could've been about, well, let's just say it would've worked better as a short. Merciful's dead mother starts talking. Singing, at first, with foretelling lyrics instead of the usual for "Hush little baby" and then talking, through (if you're used to SF) the spirit and voice of her mother, but from a parallel universe, where she was a doctor and a scientist, things that are long gone from Merciful's world. Their worlds are dying, the spirit tells her.

Merciful doesn't talk to her long, and upstairs Gospel reveals that their world is shrinking; a fog is closing in that makes everything into nothing. They have only hours to live. The parallel ghost haunting their mother's body tells them that they must destroy "a machine" to save both their worlds. This is about 30% into the book, and it is already immediately obvious, probably even to you, what the machine is. It takes until about 80% for them to finally "realize" that it's the Minister. Though apparently the Minister is keeping them from realizing it, but in really non-subtle ways.

At about that same 80% mark, their last neighbor dies, and is possessed by a murder from the same parallel universe as the first ghost. Both ghosts tell the kids that the Minister must die, or be tortured, because God is shutting down both their worlds. He's pissed at how shitty humans are, and is winding back the clock. He sent down his Ministers to save humanity, so that they could live with him in heaven, and all the meanwhile shuts down the worlds. Just the two, apparently.

In the end, it comes down to a choice -- Does Merciful believe the semi-evil ghosts and kill the Minister, or does she believe the Minister's stories about God and his love and his anger towards the world?

She does both. She kills the Minister, which changes nothing. The fog approaches. She is the last living human being anywhere, potentially forever until God restarts everything with less free will. So what she does is pray. The last word, "potentially ever said, ever" is "Amen." So be it. Giving in, giving up, letting go. And that's it. It's over. The decision as to what happens, what god does, whether her prayer changes anything, is left to us. But we're so depressed after reading this damn thing that there's only one option I can possibly see. And that is death.

>>>>I know I just gave you a recap of the entire book. In fact, I just told you the whole book. There's not much else besides what I just said. Now, let me tell you why it upset me, and also amused me. This is the most nihilistic proselytization I have ever read. In this book, God is definitely real. God is upset with humanity, which He created, and God is shutting the whole thing down, without sending any sort of notices or anything. In one world, he sends the Ministers, to save everyone, and in the other, which seems a lot like ours, everyone just rots away and dies. And yet, very little in the book paints God as bad. Some of the characters do, but they're dismissed. The final scene is a suggestion that when everything else is shredded away, when we've lost everything, including God, all we have left is prayer. Not even hope.

In terms of prose, this book is fine. The excerpt, which I suggest reading on Amazon, makes you want to read the book so hard. It's good, it's compelling, the world is suggestive and depressing and strange. But no one goes anywhere. The secrets revealed are not found, but told, by the only characters left to tell them. This book is a race against Deus ex Machina, and no one can do anything about it. The world that seemed so large and mysterious in the first chapters is drawn inwards, closer and closer, until there's nothing left but Merciful. The ending is unpredictable only because we are so rarely used to seeing books where the characters have absolutely zero power to change anything. And that's for a reason. Because that is depressing as hell. We already live in a world where we as individuals have little power to sway the world at large. Why would I want to read fiction of that? Especially fiction that proscribes that that is in fact, good. Whatever lesson about being better people, respecting others and helping is lost in a nihilistic grey fog.

I guess maybe I should like this book. It doesn't paint Christianity in a particularly good light. It doesn't really put the idea of God in a good light, though from my interpretation it suggests that we have to trust him. Frankly, everything and everyone looks like shit in these books, except the two kids, whom God is also intent on killing. Merciful's final prayer, desperate in its hope that she, as the last living human being, might be able to save anyone, anything, to change God's mind in any way, is a statement that if God is real, and God wants us all dead, there's jack-ass crap we can do about it, except beg and plead at his feet to make it merciful, like the abusive father with a gun in one hand, pointed at our head, the whiskey bottle in the other, our last words pleading, no, no, please don't do this. But he can't hear you, he doesn't care, he's too lost in himself. And we all know what's about to happen. All we can do is say "Amen." So be it.

ONE WORD REVIEW:                                                                                         B/W/D
OPPRESSIVE                                                                                                        Don't.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


Alas, alack! Has it really been two weeks? Two weeks since we shuffled up the hat and handed out all those ridiculous prompts? For those not in the know, two weeks ago everyone submitted a character, a setting and an object, and I shuffled them all up and handed them back out. We all wrote 1-5k stories on those premises, and the results are due today! (though some sent them to me early. Damn do gooders)

I've seen a few, but the rest I've yet to read, but already I can tell this was a great exercise. It's awesome to see all your different writing styles and how you all dealt with being handed random prompts. I enjoyed trying to sound like a 13 y/o, and trying out a new style of writing a story (for me). Please find below links to all the stories on folk's blogs, or in the comments if they didn't have a blog. I hope you enjoy this little adventure and join in when we run this next time :D

Without further ado:

Mine! (muahaha most important): Texts from Last Dimension
Marie! The Attic
SE! That Time with the Drone and the Fence
Cel! Flugelhorn of the Void
Melanie! The Cave of Wonders
Tia! The Knife

More to come as they get sent to me :D

From Lisa (@lkajue) a story since the comments are being buttheads and her blog is dead.

It was midnight. Rain crashed against the windows of the house on the hill. It looked new, but it had been standing on that hill for at least a hundred years. At the bottom of the hill were three teenagers - fourteen year old Amy, fourteen year old Lizzy and fifteen year old Robin. They should have been at Lizzy's house, curled up and watching movies, but instead they had sneaked out of her window and travelled to the hill.
Amy smiled to herself. It had been her idea to visit the haunted house on the hill and she definitely wasn't going to regret it.
They climbed up the hill. It was steep, and Amy started to wonder if they were ever going to get to the top.
Finally, they got to the top, and they opened the doors to adventure.
Inside, the house was cold, empty and sent an unpleasent chill racing all over Amy's body. She bit her lip and swallowed.
"Are we going to go in or not?" Robin said. "Or are you too scared to now?" The teasing tone of her voice made Amy want to slap her right around her face, even though she was one of her best friends, and had been for a very long time.
"Yeah, we are." Amy said. Her heart was drumming against her rib cage, but she was determined to go in and prove that she wasn't a scaredy cat.
"Well, come on, then!"
Amy led the way into the house. When all three of them were inside, the door slammed shut behind them, making them jump. Amy's heart continued to thump against her ribs and looked down the long corridor that sent more unpleasent shivers down her spine. There was a door just in front of them, so she went to open it. It was jammed shut. She turned back around and realised that Lizzy and Robin were at the bottom of the stairs.
"We're going to go upstairs." Lizzy said. "Do you want to come with us?"
"No. I'm going to stay down here and explore."
Lizzy and Robin went upstairs and Annie walked to the end of the corridor. She started to wish that she had gone upstairs with Lizzy and Robin because not only was the place absolutely freezing cold, but it was also really, really creepy. All she could hear was her heartbeat and her feet as they seemed to crash against the floor with every step she took. She couldn't breathe properly. Finally she got to the end of the corridor and managed to pull open the heavy door that was in front of her.
It was an empty room. The only things in there was a bright red sofa, which looked so old and so decript that Amy was incredibly surprised that someone hadn't come to take it away, and a figurine of the frilled dinosaur from Jurassic Park. She went over and picked it up, thinking that it might belong to someone when there was a terrible scream.
Annie ran upstairs. In a small, dirty room was Robin, who was pale and shaking tied to a chair and Lizzy, who was being held by a strange looking man and had a knife pressed to her throat.
Amy stormed into the middle of the room and shrieked, "Who are you? What are you doing? What do you want?"
"Never mind that!" the man spat. "What are you doing here?! Have you told anyone about me?!"
"No - no, I don't even know who you are! Why would I tell anyone about you?!"
"Good! Now come over here!"
Amy stared at him, wondering what on earth he wanted, and then she slowly made her way over to him. She shivered like she had never shivered before and wished that she hadn't suggested this stupid adventure.
She thought the man might just be wanting to talk to her, maybe he would tell her who he was and then let the three of them go, but it turned out that that was definitely not what he wanted. He launched himself at her, but he didn't get very far. His form began to change and in a moment, he was a ghost.
"Oh my God, he's a ghost!" Amy exclaimed.
"Why the hell is there a ghost here!" Robin exclaimed, trying to get out of her bonds - and failing.
"Never mind that!" the ghost yelled. He launched at them again, but Amy managed to get out of his way. She fell onto the floor and felt a shooting pain in her leg. She clenched the figurine in her hand and them she threw it at the ghost. It flew through him and he laughed.
"Did you really think that was going to work?" he laughed.
He moved forwards and Amy tried to move back, but she seemed to be stuck to the same spot on the floor.
Just then, the sun rose and poured into the window. A moment later, the ghost disappeared.
"What - what just happened?" Lizzie asked.
"I don't know." Amy said. "We - we need to get out of here."
Lizzie and Amy managed to untie Robin and they went back to the house. All the way there, all Amy could think about was that the ghost hadn't killed her or her friends.
The next day, Amy did some research on the ghost that had almost killed her and her friends. She found out that the ghost was a man called Roy Bell, who had first raped his victims and then killed them by hitting them over the head with a very large mallet. Then he would go and hide them in the woods near his house, marking their graves with a cross made out of teeth that he had pulled from his victims, though he never used teeth from the person that he was burying because he knew that that would make it easier for the police to identify who was hidden away.
He had died before he could be arrested after he had been poisoned by a relative of one of his victims. It turned out that the house that he had been haunting was the house where he stayed after he had killed someone. When she read that, it occurred to Amy that if they had walked past the house, they might have stumbled on a grave.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Friday Review: Ancillary Justice

Hey folks! I finished another book that didn't make my soul weep, so here's a friday review! For your reading pleasure, I give you a hopefully well-reasoned review of a book that's been seeing a lot of reviews recently:


Now, I'm not usually that much of a fan of first person novels. Personal preference. They all sound about the same to me unless the character has a really distinct voice. I picked this book up and (having just read a 1st person novel) couldn't bear it again, especially since the introduction starts you off with pretty much no information whatsoever. However, I came back to it, and I'm glad I did. The MC is both a starship, Justice of Toren and not a ship, as the book takes place across two different time periods which eventually converge. The book's title is made obvious when you learn that starships contain "Ancillaries" -- corpse soldiers slaved to a ship's AI and given superhuman implants. The two timelines contain the ship as is, full of ancillaries, and the future where all that is left is one, and no ship to be found.

This is a book about identity, and the entirety of the book is centred around that premise. What it means to be an individual, what it means to have identity, the little bits and pieces that make us unique, discrete units, distinguishable from other humans or even animals. The Radchaai, the semi-Roman empire whom the Justice of Toren (human name "Breq") serves, is ruled by the Lord of the Radch, a multiple individual with thousands of instances across the empire. The Radch have only one gender (she) and Radchaai often have difficulty determining the proper gender pronouns for non-Radch humans. I found this interesting and fairly novel, mostly in the fact that since this was a 1st person novel, I had no real way to imagine which gender people she was talking to were. There are hints, with non-Radch humans telling the MC she got it wrong, but at times this was a bit anachronistic, since the MC had been a human in non-Radch space for a long time, I would have figured that she'd learn, but I liked the idea from both a moral and literary standpoint. It was interesting to see my brain do flips when certain characters were revealed to be "male." 

There's a lot of fine worldbuilding in Ancillary Justice, all much deeper than what we've gleaned from the end of the book. The characters are vivid, full of life, and the author's depiction of life within an aggressive expansionist empire nearing the end of its expansion is extremely interesting. I always appreciate when the "bad guys" are given a closer look. This book was kind of like reading from an immortal Stormtrooper's perspective. 

If you're wondering why I haven't mentioned any plot, that's because there wasn't really much of one up until about halfway through the novel, when we discover why the future, singular version of the MC (Breq) is on a desolate icy planet. The pace picks up significantly, although at one point an entire novel's worth of action linking the two timelines is given about four sentences, but I understand that books can't all be a million pages long. 

Given Breq/Justice of Toren's pretty much impossible goals, the ending of the book was about what I expected. Half-success, setup for a sequel. I had actually been hoping that this book was a standalone novel, but I'm okay with it being part of a series, although I actually mostly enjoyed the ships multi perspective 1st person, possible because it can look through all its ancillaries' eyes, and that's something that will be lost in following books. 

If you're looking for a super action packed thrillride this book is not that. If you are looking for an interesting dialogue on individuality, morality and free will that happens to include pretty awesome spaceships and a very interesting universe, then this book is for you. Ancillary Justice knows what it's trying to say, how it's saying it, and it doesn't deal with all the extra fluff. Everything in this book is for a point, an idea, and one that I think is fully expressed at its end. And that, combined with an interesting look at character development from the inside and out, makes this book worth a read.

ONE WORD REVIEW:                                                                             B/W/D?
NEW                                                                                                          BUY

Sunday, February 2, 2014


I have shuffled the hat, the shuffling has been done!

The results are as follows. It's possible but unlikely that you got one of your own prompts. No one should have two of their own; if that happened and I didn't notice somehow we'll do a swap. Now, all of these should feature prominently in your story, hopefully as plot related objects, main settings and main characters, but if you really get stuck then you should just get creative. The point is to have some fun and use some random shit. We've given you some tidbits to start, and I know you all will come up with some absolutely hilarious stories.

You have TWO WEEKS to write a 1k-5k short story using your prompts. I suggest  you post them on your own blogs, and I will link them all in a post on here. If you don't have one, we'll post it up here. I look forward to seeing what you all create! (and I feel bad for some of you with your prompts XD cough cough cait reynolds)


CHARACTER: A grizzled, no nonsense explorer
SETTING: A cruise ship in quarantine because everyone is infected (with flu?)
OBJECT: A sleeping bag


CHARACTER: A book-hating librarian
SETTING: A cave of wonders with no apparent exit
OBJECT: The wrong suitcase


CHARACTER: A chirpy teenager
SETTING: A haunted but renovated townhouse
OBJECT: A dilophosaurus (that frilled dinosaur from Jurassic Park)


CHARACTER: A pirate's parrot (make sure this is the MC, somehow!)
SETTING: The craziest possible place you can fit a roller derby
OBJECT: A ball of yarn

S. E. Lehenbauer:

CHARACTER: Man who has no memory of his life before age 10 who also fears soup
SETTING: Closed church from the 1600's
OBJECT: An EMP generator


CHARACTER: A dead gorilla (make this the MC if you can!)
SETTING: The bottom of the ocean
OBJECT: A ball


CHARACTER: A five-year old who thinks they are a ninja
SETTING: A spaceship
OBJECT: A flugelhorn!


CHARACTER: A janitor who was something else
SETTING: An engineering office
OBJECT: Three golden bananas


CHARACTER: Lesbian roller derby girl
SETTING: An attic
OBJECT: A low-quality statue/figurine


CHARACTER: A male rock star who used to be a nurse
SETTING: A beach
OBJECT: A knife


CHARACTER: A 13 year-old girl
SETTING: A french chateau
OBJECT: A pen case