October 2009


Booking Through Thursday
Suggested by Jennysbooks:

Something I’ve been thinking about lately: “What words/phrases in a blurb make a book irresistible? What words/phrases will make you put the book back down immediately?”

Ah, the back cover blurbs! One of my pet peeves. Warning: this will be long.

Short answer: I don’t trust blurbs. I tend to do my book shopping online so I look at reviews. I also get recommendations from other people.

Longer: I haven’t read back covers for a long time simply because I’ve been burned by them too many times. There are apparently hundreds of ways that the blurb can be wrong and I’ve seen most of them. They can be anything from slightly misleading to absolutely wrong. In my humble opinion, even blurbs that are only slightly wrong might raise wrong expectations and so sour the reading experience.

Examples which contain spoilers for Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shards of Honor and Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s the Disappeared. I’m a fan of both writers and hugely enjoyed the books.

Let’s look at a relatively minor incident from the back cover of Dragons of Autumn Twilight, the first book in the Dragonlance fantasy series. This is from the Finnish edition and it’s legendary among the Finnish fantasy fans. The start of the last paragraph translated into English:
“A knight and a barbarian, a warrior and an elf-like dwarf, a wise man and a black magician start a dangerous quest…”

Lets look at the actual heroes: Sturm Brighblade (who, surprisingly enough, is a knight), Riverwind (a barbarian), Goldmoon (another barbarian… but she’s a woman so maybe she doesn’t count because she’s only the catalyst to the whole damn plot!), Caramon (who is a fighter), Tanis Half-Elven (another fighter and the group leader), Flint Fireforge (a dwarf but not “elf-like” in any way, shape, or form. Also a fighter), Raistlin (a wizard but not a black wizard), and Tasslehoff Burrfot (a kent which is a sort of halfling. Another fighter). Later they are joined by two elves Laurana and her brother who are both fighters. How the blazes can you describe this group in the above way! The answer, of course, appears simple: you haven’t read the book in the first place!

Now, getting the characters only half right or completely wrong might still be a minor transgression but it can still influence people’s expectations and therefore their reading experience.

Some blurbs have more sinister errors: a, wrong plot, b, part of the plot is wrong, c, it reveals a surprise plot twist, or d, reveal the surprise ending! What the hell, marketing people??? None of the above are the right way to sell a book! Often enough, the back cover is the only way to market that book. That’s not the right place to save money!

Sadly, the blurbs about Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shard of Honor are often quite off the mark:

“IT WAS THE WRONG WAR…
In the wrong place, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. She even wore the wrong uniform; Cordelia Naismith, Betan Expeditionary Force, had been hurried into battle still wearing her old tan Astronomical Survey fatigues.

Now, captain of a throwaway ship on a mission of deception, she convoys a weapon of wicked subtlety to entrap and destroy an enemy armada.

But Cordelia will discover deception within deception, treachery within treachery, until finally she is forced into a separate peace with her chief opponent, Lord Vorkosigan. It is a peace that earns her only ignominy – even though it foreshadows a new beginning, for herself, her lover, and both their peoples.“

Part of this might be true… from a certain point of view. Problems: this is not the start of the book! The blurb starts about halfway into the book! I have no idea what’s going on with the whole “wrong war, wrong uniform” thing. The uniforms aren’t important at all. Why mention them in the blurb??? Cordelia’s a single soldier in a war; she has no control over “wrong wars”. Lord Vorkosigan is her lover, not “chief opponent”, mentioning the deceptions is also a major spoiler and only starts after the halfway point of the book. This sounds once again like the person who wrote this hasn’t bothered to read the book. I dearly hope s/he wasn’t paid for it!

Alas, this isn’t the most atrocious description of poor Shards of Honor. From Amazon.com about Cordelia’s Honor which combines SoH and the next book in the internal chronology, Barrayar:

“In this two-part story, Cordelia Naismith, made an outcast after being forced into marriage with her arch enemy, finds further trouble when her husband is made the guardian of the infant heir to the imperial throne.”

Umm. Cordelia married the love of her life, not her arch enemy and she was most definitely not forced into it. I also find it troublesome that this is supposed to be the description of the two books and yet, it describes the end of the book one and so manages to spoil the first book pretty much completely.

This one, again from Amazon.com, I find just weirdly wrong and peculiar:

“Cordelia Naismith, Betan Survey Captain, was expecting the unexpected: hexapods, floating creatures, odd parasites… She was not, however, expecting to find hostile humans on an uninhabited planet. And she wasn’t really expecting to fall in love with a 40-plus barbarian known to cosmopolitan galactics as the Butcher of Komarr. Will Mother ever understand? And can such an odd beast as love survive an interplanetary war?”

Spoiling again one of the plot points in SoH; the romance. I also find the sentence “Will Mother ever understand?” mightly peculiar because Cordelia’s mother isn’t seen until the end of the book. It also makes it feel like Cordelia is twelve and constantly worrying about what her mother thinks. In reality, Cordelia is in her mid thirties and a ship captain and most definitely not worrying about her mother’s opinions. Also, this makes it sound like SoH is 100% romance. Again, the impression is wrong; the romance is perhaps half of the plot and is also quite understated.

Then there’s the Disappeared by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. The actual back cover blurb (which I don’t have right now, sorry about that) mentions by name only one of the three POV character who is, perhaps not coincidentally, the only male POV character. There’s a reference to another POV character but the third one, the female detective, is left out completely.

This blurb is from the Internet Database of Fiction:
“In a world where humans and aliens co-exist, where murder is sanctioned, and where no one can find safe haven, one group of private detectives is willing to help the “Disappeared” find their way home. Meet the Retrieval Artists.”

Short, but it still got two things wrong:
1. Murder is not sanctioned. Alien laws are agreed to be valid even on human grounds. I find that to be quite a different concept.
2. You’re pretty safe if you don’t commit crimes. Now granted, it’s sometimes hard to know what aliens consider crimes but the claim that “no one is safe” is pure hyperbole.

I guess I’ve ranted enough. But really, I don’t trust blurbs.

The second book in the Company –series and part of my 2nds challenge.

This time the main character is Joseph who is one of the oldest immortals around. He was made into an immortal in the Stone Age. The previous book’s main character, Mendoza, is a secondary character here.

Joseph has been assigned among the mortals for a quite a long while. His latest job is as a Spanish Jesuit. However, at the start of the book, he’s being reassigned. At first, he spends some free time at New World One which is one the Company’s places hidden from mortals. Even though the year is 1599, the people in New World One have every luxury imaginable from modern drinks to water toilets. Joseph enjoys his time there fully although the melodramatic director Houbert is a bit too enthusiastic about arranging entertainment for all no matter if the all what to participate or not. The immortals are served by Mayans who think the immortals are gods.

After a couple of weeks, Joseph is reassigned to further up north, to the place which will be California later. He, and a group of other immortals, are to relocate a tribe of Chumash Indians to the future and to safety from the invading white people. In order to save them, Joseph has to masquerade as the trickster god Coyote who seems to be a sort of champion for the tribe although definitely not all-knowing or even good all the time. He gets implants from the Company and introduces himself to the Chumash.

Most of the story is Joseph’s experiences with the tribe who seems to be fairly prosperous and quite advanced in trade relations. They aren’t stupid or naive, though. Joseph enjoys spending time with them because they remind him of his childhood and youth in the Stone Age. I was amused by how Baker had decided to make the dialogue quite modern and so the Chumash had Canoemakers’ Union and United Steatite Workers alongside with shamans.

There’s also an interesting subplot about the Company. Apparently, none of the immortals are allowed to travel into the future beyond the year 2355. The humans say that this is the start of the glorious golden years but the immortals have their own, darker, thoughts. Also, the oldest immortals have disappeared over the years. Technically, they cannot die but Joseph hasn’t seen any of the Neanderthal immortals for centuries. They seem to be very loyal bunch but not very easy to blend into the crowd anymore. Also, we see some of Joseph’s memories about Budu who recruited him. Some time ago, Budu was arrested and Joseph hasn’t seen him since. I hope Baker will return to these plotlines later.

The Alta California base is run by humans from the future and there’s a stark contrast between the two bases. The New World One is a decadent place where the immortals drink and party all night and can indulge their every vice. In AltCal, the humans are strict vegans, don’t drink, and are deathly afraid of germs from a less civilized time. They impose these limits to the immortals as well. Also, the future humans don’t care for culture, even pop culture, and don’t even understand metaphors. The future doesn’t look very promising.

The plot isn’t really an adventure story. Instead if focuses on the Chumash society and also the differences between the immortals and their bosses from the future. But I tend to like that, from time to time. In fact, I’d like to read some more books like that.

Joseph’s way of coping with outliving mortals is that he makes a point to not to get involved. Not in people and not in ideas. As far as he’s concerned, they are all transitory. I think that’s a good way to cope, at least in the surface, but how long can anyone live like that? It might also make a character boring in the long run. We’ll see.

Overall: a good continuation. I already have the third book.

I had a wonderful time even though I wasn’t able to keep awake the whole time. I’ll definitely have to think about time management more the next time. I even won a prize at Dana‘s mini-challenge!

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
After 4 AM here which would have been hour 17. Fell asleep.

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
That would depend on what the reader is interested in. But I’d definitely recommend “To Say Nothing of the Dog” by Willis. Of course, it’s not short.

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
Nope. Everything was great! Thanks very much for the awesome organizers!

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
Everything worked well.

5. How many books did you read?
I didn’t finish any of them but I reached my goals for the read-a-thon.

6. What were the names of the books you read?
“To Say Nothing of the Dog” by Willis. I listened it around 6 hours which is about 1/3 of the whole book.
“the Spirit Gate” by Elliott. I read 102 pages so I reached my goal!
“the Empress of Mars” by Kage Baker. I read 140 pages so I reached my goal!

7. Which book did you enjoy most?
Both Willis’ and Baker’s books were very enjoyable. Perhaps Willis a bit more because it has more comedy.

8. Which did you enjoy least?
The Spirit Gate. For some reason I didn’t click at all with Elliott’s writing style. Or maybe I’m still in epic fantasy fatigue. I just thought it’s terribly slllooowww.

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
No, I wasn’t.

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
Very! Probably as a reader but I might take on a mini-challenge.

Update: I had to cave in and slept for some hours. But now I’m back up and reading!

Dana’’s challenge is:

In honor of Miss Adison who is 4, I’d like you to tell me 4 of your favorite books. To play along you need to link and/or post pictures of your favorite 4 reads either from childhood or from now.

I’ll take now.

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Cordelia’s Honor. It’s character centered science fiction.

Steven Brust’s Book of Jhereg. One of my favorite fantasy settings.

Anne Logston’s Shadow Hunt. The second book in one of my favorite fantasy series.

Roger Zelazny’s Guns of Avalon. The second in his Amber series.

Book count: Spirit Gate: 102 pages, so I reached my goal there! Empress of Mars: 30 pages, To Say Nothing of the Dog: 4 hours of listening.

1. What are you reading right now?
Right now I’m writing this survey. 😉 Okay, enough with the lame jokes. Kage Baker’s Empress of Mars.

2. How many books have you read so far?
Finished? 0

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
Tough one. I like them all. Maybe the Hellboy albums and Harrison’s second book.

4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day?
I live alone, so no.

5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
Nope

6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
It takes a lot of time to follow the challenges and write the posts. Also, how quickly I became tired. I used to be able to stay up all night!

7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
None, you’re doing a great job!

8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year?
I would definitely pick shorter books!

9. Are you getting tired yet?
It’s around 3.30 AM here, so yep.

10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered?
I’ll leave that to more experienced readathoners.

Erika at Reading with Momma is asking
What book or books do you return to read again and again and why?

I admit that I not likely to reread about 90% of the books I read. However, I have some favorites:
Steven Burst’s Vlad Taltos series which begins with “Book of Jhereg” (fantasy) and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan -series which starts with “Cordelia’s Honor” (SF).

Both have interesting characters and settings. They also have humor and there’s just something in the writing style that I click with. Of course, when I read a series the characters start to feel like old friends and it so it’s comfortable to return to their company (so to speak).

For some reason, I rather enjoy rewatching favorite TV shows and rereading favorite comics more than rereading books. Maybe it’s because shows and comics take less time than books? I don’t know.

Nymeth’s challenge is Time for Comics.

My mini-challenge is simple: what I suggest is that you take a break from your book and spend at least 10 minutes reading a webcomic.

I have a couple of favorite webcomics (the Order of the Stick which is a fantasy comic aimed at roleplayers and the steampunk adventure comic Girl Genius) but I’m woefully behind with them. So instead I read a new comic suggested in Nymeth’s post: No rest for the wicked.

It’s a fantasy tale with elements of quite a few fairy tales in it. The main character is the youngest princess who has an allergy to peas and hasn’t been able to sleep well no matter how many mattresses she has. It looks fun!

Page count: only about 60 pages of the Spirit Gate but I’ve also listened many hours of Willis’ book.

This challenge is: Collection Obsession

Most obsessive readers are also collectors. Besides books, what do YOU collect? Here is your task:

1. Take a break from your reading and wander around your house.

2. Take digital photos of your non-book collections (if you don’t have a digital camera, go to Google Images and find a representative image of your collection or collections).

3. Post your photos or images and tell us a little about your non-book collections (just a few sentences is fine).

4. Come back here and add your link to your post in Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post (please use a DIRECT/perma-link to your post and not just to your blog).

I don’t have a digital camera but I have a camera on my phone. I’m sorry that the pictures are quite dark but it’s 11 PM here. Anyway:

comics

I collect comics both individual issues and trades. Mostly superhero comics which can be soothingly black and white compared to real life.

Kuva0054

Various TV shows on DVDs. I tend to watch a whole series to the end.

dvd2

Some more of my favorite shows.

I could fill quite a few posts about Buffy alone: the dialog, characters, character interaction and growth…

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