Review: The Forever Watch

The Forever Watch by David Ramirez

TitleThe Forever Watch
AuthorDavid Ramirez
Published: 2014
ISBN 13:  9781250033819
PublisherThomas Dunne Books
Publisher’s Blurb:  The truth is only the beginning. When a man is murdered on the Noah, a city-sized spaceship that is half-way through an eight-hundred-year voyage to another planet, his body is so ruined that his identity must be established from DNA evidence. Within hours, however, all trace of the crime is swept away, hidden as though it never happened – a strange occurrence in a world where deeds, and even thoughts, cannot be kept secret. Hana Dempsey, a mid-level bureaucrat who has been genetically modified to use the Noah’s telepathic internet, begins to investigate. Her search for the truth will uncover the impossible: a serial killer who has been operating on board for a lifetime, if not longer. And behind the killer lies a conspiracy centuries in the making…

There is a lot going on in this book.  So much it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on.  There’s enough in this book for at least two books, if not more.

First, there’s the story of Noah, the multi-generational space  ship headed for humanity’s new home, Canaan.  No one’s quite sure what happened to Earth which required this alien spaceship capable of holding an entire metropolis,  to go on a mission lasting 800 years.  All anyone of the current citizens on Noah is this has always been home.

Then, is there a serial killer loose?  Bodies which look like they’ve been ripped apart are appearing.  And people are disappearing , their records marked as “retired,” at a high rate.

There’s a love story between the “mission critical” Hana Dempsey and cop Leonard Barrens.  Dempsey is gifted in many areas, including as a hacker.  Barrens is portrayed as somewhat more brutish but capable of great softness for Dempsey.  They work together to figure out what’s going on with the possible serial killer.  They also work together well as a loving couple, despite the snobbery of Hana’s upper class friends.

And the conspiracy story concerning the children born aboard the Noah.  Women are put into a nine-month coma and never see their children.  At the beginning of The Forever Watch, Hana has just come out of her coma.  What happens to those children is not for the squeamish, their hellish destiny is better left unknown.

Ramirez introduces an overload of technology and psychic abilities.  We’re talking neural implants, heads up display, instantaneous communication, and entire cities built psychically out of a material called plastech.

And this is where I got lost.  Ramirez has been so careful with his world building, thinking through every detail and going on ad nauseum about how the tech works.  There’s so much information and it gets bewildering after a few pages.  And then it keeps going on and on.

This is one of my main complaints about sf/f worlds, there’s just too much detail.  If it’s accepted in an author’s world this stuff works, that’s all that’s needed.  Authors don’t need to convince the readers, we’re happy to go along for the ride.  That many pages shouldn’t be spent on explanations and details unless they are absolutely required to move the story forward.  Most of the time, it’s not.  (N. K. Jemisin is the best I’ve read recently in giving the reader just enough detail to move the story without getting bogged down.)

The horrifying revelations are nearly unimaginable.  Ramirez obviously imagined them, I didn’t see a lot of them coming.  Except  for the “huh, what do you know,?  the founders were right all along.”  I figured that was coming, realized that what was happening was cyclical, leading to a moral conundrum for the survivors who find themselves in charge.

The Forever Watch is not a bad read, but it’s not exceptional either.  There’s so much potential for great exploration of any of the plot lines, which makes the book feel incomplete.

 

 

Review: Wizardry & Wild Romance

Wizardry & Wild Romance by Michael Moorcock

Title: Wizardry & Wild Romance
Author: Michael Moorcock
Published: 2004
Publisher: Monkeybrain Books
Publisher’s Blurb:  … this invaluable work analyzes the Fantasy genre from its earliest beginnings in Medieval romances, on through the notable practitioners like Howard, Lovecraft and Tolkien, and up to the brightest lights in the field today. Insightful and often controversial, this is a book every fantasy reader should have on their shelf.

“Michael Moorcock – Extreme Librarian”
Introduction by China Miéville

“To read something that somebody else has written and have it make better sense of your own reactions than you have been able to, is a momentous thing.”  (p14)

Miéville’s central thesis, with which I wholeheartedly agree, is we should all want better, demand “vision and passion” from the epic fantasy we read.  Not because Moorcock says we should, but because so much of it has fallen into disrepair. A lot of it is imitative and limited. Fans can get caught in the Catch-22 of reading what’s available which keeps getting written because it’s what sells.

And yes, Moorcock is frustrating.  He has a lot to say, all of it supported by citations of his arguments.  His prose is dense, his meaning often obvious, but his insistence we should want better is absolutely right.  And how in the hell has he read and studied so much and written so much?

“Foreword”
Michael Moorcock

“I admire intelligent, disciplined, imaginative entertainment if it seems to offer me some perspective on my own life.”  (p 18)

In the first paragraph, Moorcock defines what he’s writing about.  Romantic epic fantasy “whose writers invent their own Earthly histories and geographies.”  Not, I am relieved to learn, that sentimental love story rubbish churned out by the likes of Danielle Steele.

This too, resonated with me.  “I admire intelligent, disciplined, imaginative entertainment if it seems to offer me some perspective on my own life.”  I’m finally able to admit to myself that much of what I have read wasn’t bad so much as boring. Too repetitive, unambitious, and often self-congratulatory.

“I believe that critical dissection of the fantasy story into its components does not detract from the story.  Rather, it adds a new dimension to it …” This is what I’ve been fumbling around for much of my life, and was what I enjoyed most in my English classes.  The many ways to look at a work and interpret it and the richness that adds to it.

Epic fantasy then, loosely defined, are the stories told which feature exotic landscapes from the imagination of the writer, with symbols which evoke strong sensations as a way to escape and discover ourselves.  Moorcock references the escape from objective pressure, which can also mean an escape from the inward pressure we place on ourselves to survive an often unpleasant world.

—–

Each chapter title takes on an aspect of Epic Fantasy.

Chapter 1 “Origins” gives a history beginning with 16th century tales deemed Chivalric Romance and its influence on Gothic Romance.  Here, romance is defined most succinctly as exploration of the exotic. When Moorcock writes about early epic fantasy he writes, “… their chief purpose was to amaze and shock.”  While the prose may not be easily read by contemporary readers, the presence of dragons, magic, castles, ogres, doom and tragedy are instantly familiar.

Chapter 2 “The Exotic Landscape” discusses the landscape of the internal as expressed in the external.  The exotic landscape is used to distance the author/reader from reality. In some ways, as though realism is too much to abide.

An interesting brief topic was Moorcock’s discussion of “bachelor-fiction” written by the likes of Lovecraft.  “… [Lovecraft’s] more successful horror stories in which death, idealism, lust and terror of sexual intercourse are constantly associated … (p. 55)  (emphasis mine)

And then there’s this, “Too frequently one gets the impression that … most practitioners of epic fantasy read only one another’s work.”  (p. 77) This continues explaining how epic fantasy can do better by its readers. Don’t just read your peers’ work, avoid the bloat and the boring and the stereotypical by reading works in other genres as well.

Chapter 3 “The Heroes and the Heroines” focuses on the lack of mature, nuanced, emotional reactions in epic fantasy characters.  Most are adolescent, immature or “pretend-adult.” A frequent adjective he uses is “infantile.” The men are in charge, all knowledgeable and the women are fundamentally passive, waiting to be taken care of by the man.  (This is the trope which made me uncomfortable enough to go elsewhere for my reading pleasure.)

Yet, there’s hope!  Authors such as Fritz Leiber, Robin McKinley, and Gene Wolfe whose characters have “genuine passions, adult concerns, and complex motives.”

Chapter 4 “Wit and Humor” discusses the types of humor most suited for epic fantasy.  Irony and melodrama, comedy and fantasy, closely bound to one another in showing the fantastic extremes of life (fairies, dragons, etc.) along with the reversals of fate represented in farce (custard pies, or pratfalls).

Comedy adds a dimension to the characters and the plot.  Humans are complex, and often use humor to survive the daily grind.  So too should epic fantasy characters.

It’s in this chapter, Moorcock explores the idea that fantasy should “have at its source some fundamental compassion, … ambition to show … what human life is actually about.” (p. 116)  Further, he looks for readings which help us (as readers) understand how to deal with problems and respond in a positive manner to injustice and frustrations which hound us all.

Chapter 5 Epic Pooh” is Moorcock’s tirade against authors such as Tolkien who write childish books and parade them as gentler adult books.  The authors who preach moderation and politeness. Those who do not explore the harsher and extreme truths of life.

Moorcock’s explanation, “Writers like Tolkien take you to the edge of the Abyss and point out the excellent tea-garden at the bottom, showing you the steps carved into the cliff and reminding you to be a bit careful because the hand-rails are a trifle shaky as you go down, they haven’t got the approval yet to put a new one in …” (p. 120) tickles me no end.   And while I happen to enjoy Winnie the Pooh, I have no illusions that A. A. Milne wrote anything other than polite, happy nursery rhymes.

Chapter 6 “Excursions and Developments” is the final chapter and deals with the thesis that categorization is destructive.  Because it forces authors to pigeonhole themselves in order to sell books and attract an audience. (cf it doesn’t have to be good to sell in Chapter 1.)

This made me ponder how I read.  I read books, in search of good stories, not genre.  Yes, I like a good dragon tale, time-travel, cyberpunk, etc. but I like other things.

I read John Scalzi because I like his stories, not because he writes military science fiction.

Myke Cole tells the story of a village bullied by the religious government and the  teen-aged girl who comes to the rescue. Strong female character (we need Heloise today), story about standing up to the bullies.  That it’s categorized as fantasy meant little to me.

The Astronaut Lady series by Mary Robinette Kowal was a ripping good tale which read like the alternate history it is.  But I read it for the women who fought for equal rights in the space program.

Conclusion

Wizardry & Wild Romance is rich, dense, and filled with authors I’ve never heard of.  It’s also one I will gladly read repeatedly as I learn more about critical writing.  Moorcock’s discussion of what is good in epic fantasy, and what isn’t, can be transferred to other genres, I’m sure.  Albeit without the dragons and wizards, etc.

Review: A Love Letter to Kameron Hurley

The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

Title:  The Geek Feminist Revolution
AuthorKameron Hurley
Published: 2016
ISBN-13: 9780765386243
PublisherTor
Twitter: @KameronHurley
Publisher’s Blurb  Outspoken and provocative, double Hugo Award-winning essayist Kameron Hurley writes with passion and conviction on feminism, geek culture, the rise of women in science fiction and fantasy, and the diversification of publishing.

The first panel I attended at WorldCon 2018 was M. Todd Gallowglas’ Lit Crit for Geeks.  I was enthralled. One of the writers he mentioned was you, as doing some great work in feminism.  I dutifully wrote your name down in my journal.

Since then, I’ve lost my job and spend my days reading and writing and thinking.  I hash things out a lot in my brain, the one that never shuts up. And then I write stuff for my mentor to read.

One evening after dinner, a friend took me book shopping.  Kepler’s is this fabulous indie bookstore whose customers banded together to keep it from closing its doors.  There were two names on my list that I knew would go home with me that night, yours and N. K. Jemisin. And since I didn’t know where to start with you, I picked up The Geek Feminist Revolution.

Always a voracious reader, I am inhaling them now.  This is my job while I figure out about the day job, I read and write about what I’m reading.  Not only does it give me direction for a life which could easily be adrift and and feeding my food addiction, it makes me stronger in so many ways.

Never really shy about self-reflection, I now have the time and space to really look at some of the things coming up right now.  And sometimes, it is some scary, sad shit.

“But because my body was coded female, I was never ever assumed to have the kind of knowledge or credibility that a man would have.” (p. 37)

I read the first 38 pages of your book and sobbed.  I felt so completely bereft that I had to set it aside for a week or so.  Because those pages were my story. The story of being a woman and the rampant sexism which had become so normalized I didn’t see it anymore.  I read your story and began to understand that not only was I not alone in this mess, but that there were ways I could raise my voice.

But first I had to reconcile some stuff within myself.  Because the stuff that was coming up was more than just re-evaluating my entire life in terms of how I’d been treated because I was female, it was looking at some pretty horrifying events and having the light bulb go off.  Which led to, “Well shit, no wonder. I never had a chance.”

And without going into too much detail here, there were new realizations about my parents.  Then there was looking at my most recent job and realizing that it had been a put-up job from the day I walked in as a temp until the day I walked out as a no longer employed here type.  Things started slamming into place. And it was scary.

I’ve been following you on Twitter and reposting some of your articles on Facebook, because you speak to me in a way that no woman ever has before.  And that’s valuable to me. I’ve learned a lot from you.

Taking a deep breath, I picked The Geek Feminist Revolution up again, and only put it down when other, more pressing matters demanded my attention.  It made me wish I knew you well enough to take you to dinner and ask you to just tell me stories about your life.  To talk about process, and yeah it sucks to have to have a day job for the insurance, and holy shit I hadn’t realized how bad the sexism is.

There are hard truths in your book.

At my last job there was a week when I had to actually go to my manager and explain to him what being a part of the team and having a voice meant.  The group admin wouldn’t put me on the meeting agenda because I didn’t have Director in my title. She would only do it if my male manager said it was okay.  I was pissed. So pissed I was vibrating. And that I had to explain it several times in very small words just made it worse.

Reading your book gives me such hope.  For the first time in my life, at a time when people are looking forward to retirement, I realize I still have time to make change in my world. I have time to rearrange everything I thought I knew about myself and create a different life for myself.  The life I want is one which tempers my very emotional responses and allows me to reasonably explain to someone why they’re not allowed to take my voice away.

I get to figure this out, and you have motivated me to keep doing that.  To read, and write, for the sheer joy of it. To understand I need a day job for the health insurance benefits, and to pay my bills.  And that all of it’s okay and necessary to survive. My writing can be my night job. It doesn’t have to be a binary choice anymore.

If I could go back in time, I’d tell my middle-school self to keep writing, because writing would keep her happy and sane.  I would insist she not give it up and not worry about what it looked like or sounded like. I would tell her no matter what, do not quit writing, even if it’s just a sentence about how particularly shitty the bullies were that day.  “Keep writing, always,” I would whisper in her ear.

I had so much to heal from, so much to learn, it’s hard to regret it took me this long to realize what I had been keeping from myself.  Reading books like yours help so much, and I don’t know how to tell you what an impact you’ve had.

I close this with an open invitation, if our paths cross at any time, dinner is my treat.  It’s the least I can do, aside from buying your other books and joining your Patreon once I’m gainfully employed again.

Did I say “thank you?”