Fiction Friday – Gojiro by Mark Jacobson

I’m amazed at how much reading I’ve done this summer. In addition to books I’ve already mentioned here, I’ve also read quite a few others, more than I’ve read in a long time. Enough in fact, that I can do a weekly Fiction Friday post for a month, at least, if I can just keep up with blogging.

The last book I read before heading off to Chicago was Gojiro by Mark Jacobson. I will say up front this was both one of the strangest and one of the best reads I’ve had in a while. The story is told from the point of view of the radio-active behemoth himself, only instead of unintelligible roars, this Gojiro is a hip-talking, Jack Kerouac-like philosophizer addicted to fine grades of plutonium. His companion is Komodo, the Coma Boy, a young man who’s life was obliterated by the Heater, that nuclear weapon of Armageddon that ripped Gojiro from his natural place in the universe and transformed the Monitor Lizard into the King of Monsters.

The plot circles around Gojiro’s attempts at suicide and Komodo’s desire to save his one true friend. The two victims of nuclear disaster live together on Radioactive Island, along with the Atoms, children malformed and mutated by radioactive energy. Gojiro is tired of his life as a freak, and can’t abide the suffering that abounds in his quad-cameral brain. Somehow, he’s hooked into the universe, receiving messages and please for help from fans around the world, and he has no idea how to answer them. He’s also tired of being ripped from his position in the natural order of things. He was never meant to be a monster, let alone King of Monsters, and now, bereft of the comfort of his species, it takes everything he has just to hold it together.

Only he’s not holding it together. If not for a sacred promise he made to Komodo and his pesky invulnerability, the big green ‘zard would snuff himself in an instant. Komodo knows this, and is doing everything he can to keep his friend going. They strike upon a deal – in a year’s time, if they haven’t found a way to relieve Gojiro’s depression and pain, the great lizard will be allowed to kill himself, and Komodo will help ease his way.

That’s when the note shows up, a letter from the mysterious Sheila Brooks, daughter of Joseph Prometheus Brooks, the scientist who invented the Heater. A critically acclaimed film maker and all around nut-case, Ms. Brooks desperately needs Gojiro’s help. She wants to make a movie, entitled “Gojiro Vs. Joseph Prometheus Brooks in the Valley of Decision,” and suddenly Gojiro finds he must once and for all confront the man responsible for his tortured existence.

It’s a long strange acid trip of a book, and the first few chapters may seem rather slow until you get into the rhythm of the language. Gojiro has a slang all his own, and it takes a while to decipher what he means. On top of that, there’s a great deal of philosophy in the book on the nature of species and their interconnectedness and the place of the individual within the whole.

I bought this book waaaaaaaay back in the 1990s, probably 1993, when I was still in grad school. I’ve had it on my shelf ever since then, just gathering dust. I finally reached a point this summer where I determined that I either needed to read the book or get rid of it. I made a deal with myself to read the first two chapters, and then decide. Fortunately, the I found it slow at the start, I was hooked enough to keep going and eventually I reached a point where I couldn’t put the book down. In fact, on more than one night, I stayed up waaaaaaaaaaay to late because I just didn’t want to stop reading.

So Gojiro has earned a permanent spot on my shelf, I’m happy to say. I’ll get rid of some other namby pamby book if I need to clear things out. This one’s got too much style, too much plot, too much mind-boggling entertainment for me to give up.

Fiction Friday – Good Bye, Shojo Beat

book_wyrm.jpgIf you’re an avid reader of manga, you probably already knew Shojo Beat magazine was pulling up stakes and ceasing publication. Being a somewhat avid reader of manga (because at $10 a pop, I can’t afford to buy all the manga I want), I got a big surprise in the mail last month.

At first, I couldn’t figure it out. It was the beginning of the month, and I was expecting to get my issue of Shojo Beat. But when the mail man handed it to me, there was this big picture of Naruto on the cover. Naruto, if you don’t know, is a Shonen Jump character. Shonen Jump is an action adventure manga, with lots of stories about mega-super battles and sword fighting and kids who spend their entire lives searching for the perfect card to win Yu-Gi-Oh. Shojo Beat is a romance manga magazine, with complicated stories about relationships, and young women trying to find themselves in the big world, and it has nifty articles on Japanese culture and cooking and there are craft projects you can do, and some of the best manga in the world runs in Shojo Beat, a new chapter of the story appearing every month!

At least that’s what happened before Shojo Beat decided to roll over and play dead.

So there I was, looking at Naruto, wondering if maybe it was a cross-over thingie to get Shojo Beat readers interested in Shonen Jump, or maybe it was an ad and I was looking at the back of the magazine. Then I flipped it over and saw the letter.

Dear subscriber, we regret to inform you that Shojo Beat will no longer be published. Please accept this issue of Shonen Jump in its place…


You could hear my howls of displeasure for miles. I swear, I was so upset. Shojo Beat was the only girlie thing I truly enjoyed in my life. I loved the stories. Normally, I can’t stand romance, but Japanese manga romance, shojo, is very different from what you’ll find in the romance section of your local bookstore. Shojo stories take time to develop relationships and plots. The hero and heroine don’t fall head over heels in love with each other right off the bat. They don’t sleep with each other within the first few chapters. Hell, in the course of the story, they probably won’t sleep with each other at all (though I have seen a few exceptions, and keep in mind I haven’t read the entire genre). There are side stories and sub-plots that have nothing to do with the main story, but are still engaging to read. There’s drama that’s believable. Heroines who aren’t model perfect, heroes who are gawky and sweet. Alpha males and beauty queens don’t normally cut it in shojo. The stories are too good for that.

But Shojo Beat is gone now. My monthly fix for girlie girl romance that doesn’t turn my stomach now goes unfulfilled. Oh sure, the stories will still be published in digest format, on a quarterly basis. In December, January, and February, I’ll be able to pick up the latest volumes of Sand Chronicles, Vampire Knight, and Honey and Clover. And I’ll enjoy reading them too. But there won’t be any more recipes for grapefruit rice pilaf, no articles on Japanese paper crafts. No more fashion finds or J-Pop music reviews. As for that gift of Shonen Jump? No thanks. It’s just not the same, really.

I’m devastated, I tell ya. I want my Shojo Beat back. Please?

Fiction Friday – The Case of the Pitcher’s Pendant: A Billibub Baddings Mystery

Like the icon? It’s supposed to be a book wyrm, i.e. a dragon that devours books by the scores. I would love to be a book wyrm like this guy. In fact, when I started the Fiction Friday posts, it was with the intention to do a weekly review on what I was reading. Unfortunately, I don’t get to read as often as I would like. I still intend to keep doing Fiction Friday, but I can’t guarantee it will be every week (unless I somehow magically get my act together).

Having said all that, I did recently read that I wanted to talk about – The Case of the Pitcher’s Pendant: A Billibub Baddings Mystery. I actually happen to know the author, Tee Morris. Not know know, like in that sense of “Oh yeah, Tee! I’ve known him for years! We’re best friends!” But I do know him in the sense that Tee’s the one who got me started podcasting.

I first met Tee at RavenCon three years back, where he did a weekend-long workshop on podcasting. Tee also wrote the fantasy books Morevi and Legacy of Morevi, as well as some technical books including Podcasting for Dummies (which I refer to often for my podcast), Expert Podcasting Practices for Dummies, and his latest book All a Twitter. The man definitely knows what he’s talking about when it comes to podcasting and social media. But what caught my attention about Tee’s work was that he was podcasting his fiction, making his novels available a chapter at a time for free in audio format. I was desperate for some good books, but with a toddler and a preschooler on my hands, I couldn’t find time to sit down and read. So after RavenCon, I went home, bought myself an iPod Shuffle, and downloaded Tee’s novel, The Case of the Singing Sword: A Billibub Baddings Mystery.

This was the first Billibub Baddings mystery, a story about a dwarf from a fantasy realm who falls into the heart of Prohibition Era Chicago and becomes a private eye. This story quickly became a favorite of mine, and I looked forward to downloading a new chapter every week to listen to. At that rate, it took me a while to get through the book, but I didn’t mind. I had something fun to listen to while I exercised and did chores around the house. This was a win for me.

Then last August, the second Billibub Baddings book came out, The Case of the Pitcher’s Pendant. Both this book and the first centered on the mysterious appearance of magical artifacts from Billi’s world appearing in Chicago. Such articles in the wrong hands, like say, Al Capone’s, could prove more than disastrous, so it’s up to Billi to find the items in question and put them safely away. Along the way, he ends up dealing with gangsters, the FBI, the Chicago Police, various femme fatales, and more shady characters than you can shake a stick at. The books aren’t Raymond Chandler, but only because there’s a good deal more humor in them. Billi is a hard working detective with some unusual skills at his disposal, and he goes all out to solve the cases presented to him. The Case of the Pitcher’s Pendant opens up in Chicago, following the disaster of Black Thursday. Everyone is struggling to survive, including Billi, but the love for baseball, the national past time, still runs strong. There’s a new baseball team, though, the Baltimore Mariners, who play far better than they should. When Chicago Cubs manager Joe McCarthy shows up in Billi’s office, asking him to look into things, the dwarf takes on the case. It’s a dream job for Billi, who’s a big fan of the game, but then things take a nasty turn when two murders, apparently unrelated, occur. And when Al Capone shows up, things just get that much more interesting.

I read The Case of the Pitcher’s Pendant in just a few days, which says a lot. For me to read that quickly, I had to shove some other things off my busy schedule, like sleep. But I was too busy enjoying myself to really complain. I love detective novels. I love seeing gumshoes put together a case, piece by piece, and Tee let’s the reader put the pieces together on their own as well, providing a few clues to what’s going on without bludgeoning you over the head with a lot of wasted exposition. The setting for the story is spot on, exactly what I would imagine Chicago in 1930 to be. And while I’m not a fan of baseball (honestly, I’m not a fan of any team sport), my lack of knowledge on the subject wasn’t a problem. Tee wove in enough background on the sport and its history so that I could understand what was going on without feeling like I was drowning in an info dump. In fact, Tee made everything about the story engaging, with the right mix of fantasy, history, humor and mystery to keep me up late three nights in a row.

So yeah, I would definitely recommend The Case of the Pitcher’s Pendant, and The Case of the Singing Sword. The latter you can listen to for free if you like, over at And if you’re interested in The Case of the Pitcher’s Pendant, you can pick it up on

But don’t try to borrow my copy or the Book Wyrm will get ya!

Fiction Friday – The Subtle Knife and other… stuff

This post may be a bit disjointed. I’ve got four screaming little girls running amok in my house while I’m trying to write this. I’d wait for a more peaceful moment to write, but I’ve missed the last two weeks (or was it three) and I need to get this out.

So, last time I posted a Fiction Friday, I was reading Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife…

Sorry, I just had to sort out a fight between two of the girls. Pixie just spent 10 minutes in a corner shrieking because she can’t play nice and prefers to hit instead. Joy. Anyway, she’s taken care of and back to playing. Now where was I? Ah, Philip Pullman’s The Subt–

What the hell was that noise? Did you just hear a loud bang coming from upstairs? No? Okay, I’m going to ignore it. This time. Anyway, The Subtle Knife. I really enjoyed this one, much like I enjoyed The Golden Compass. Again, Pullman doesn’t condescend to his audience but shows the realities of what childhood, and the beginnings of adolescence, is like. The kids in this book are just as vicious as the adults; they only lack the subtlety that comes with age…

I’m sorry. Just had a lengthy discussion with the girls about what we had available to drink in the house, and the fact that NOBODY is going upstairs with a drink, especially if it’s blueberry juice because I am not cleaning up those stains. And now the girls have discovered a whistle and a harmonic. Lovely. But to continue. The children in Subtle Knife are as vicious as the adults. The only thing that separates them is what drives them. While the main characters, Will and Lyra, are driven by the need to protect those they love, other children in the book are driven more by greed, revenge, hunger, and other basic needs. In that way I think they’re more honest than the adults, who are driven by the need for power and whose goals are mandated by the sadistic rules and superstitions of the Authority, the religious entity that dominates the world Lyra comes from…

Do you know how many toys in this house make noise? Too many. And they’re all going in the trash on Monday. ALL of them. And if certain little girls don’t stop pushing and shoving and refusing to share, there’s going to be a massacre in my living room very shortly. I’m just saying.

To continue, beyond the violence and savagery of the children and adults, there’s also a great deal of heroism. Lee Scoresby, the aeronaut from the great country of Texas is particularly moving. His quest to find aid for Lyra, a girl he loves as much as he would his own child, leads him to a perilous fate. Serafina Pekkala, the witch, is also on a quest to aid Lyra, and her fate becomes just as much in doubt in the course of event…

I swear to god, I wish I had never bought that damned harmonica. Nor the whistle that is currently being blasted in my ear. Somebody’s about to end up in the corner! And where is the heroic aeronaut to come take me away from all this? Huh?!

Whatever. Physics and religion are discussed side by side in The Subtle Knife. Many have accused Pullman of writing atheist propaganda. In truth, I don’t think the books are atheist, so much as a criticism of how institutions and individuals pervert religious ideas to gain powe–

And I’ve just confiscated my third toy of the afternoon. Okay, you know what, let’s get right down to brass tacks. Subtle Knife is a good book. I’m lucky to have read it. Quite frankly I’m lucky to have read anything. Do you know how hard it is for me to even get five minutes alone in the bathroom with a National Geographic? Do you?! And yet hear I am, surrounded by screaming little girls, trying to put together an intelligent review of a book I think people would actually enjoy, sans screaming little girls of course. The Subtle Knife. Do you know what I’d do if I had a Subtle Knife right now? There wouldn’t be quite so many screaming little girls running around, I’ll tell you that.

I’m done. I had also wanted to talk about The Daring Book For Girls, by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz, but I can’t think straight enough to do that right now. I swear, it’s no wonder people drug their children with TV! It’s the only way to get any peace and quiet around here! My kids are going to grow up to be illiterate savages because their mother couldn’t handle the stress and the noise and she drugged them with crappy TV! That’s what’s going to happen to this family!

Great, now all the kids are screaming. I have to go. Next week I’ll discuss The Daring Book For Girls… assuming any girls in this house survive that long.

Fiction Friday – The Subtle Knife

After my disappointment with Butlerian Jihad, I decided I really had to go with a sure thing this week. So I picked up Philip Pullman’s “The Subtle Knife,” and I have not been disappointed at all. I love reading books with depth and layers. I love complicated yet realistic characters, and Pullman’s characters definitely fit the bill. When I read “The Golden Compass,” I was startled by how well Pullman managed to capture the true nature of childhood. Kids are not simple, happy creatures, but vicious and cunning little savages. Really! Pullman talked about how the children of Oxford college would form tribes and go to war with each other. This is something I recall doing as a child, and it’s both delightful and frightening to see that particular aspect of my young life captured on the page.

The Subtle Knife keeps up in the same vein, following the adventures of Lyra Silvertongue and a new friend, Will. While the entire “His Dark Materials” series is billed as children’s books, I have to wonder what age ranged the publisher (Yearling) is thinking of. The main characters are children, but the contents of the book are far from childish. The first three chapters include a boy taking care of his schizophrenic mother, a violent death, a torture scene, and a nightmare about a decapitated head. Not suitable fare for my six-year old, I think. She’d probably have nightmares. In fact, it’s all scary enough to keep me on the edge of my seat, but I love it and I’ll be happy to hand over my copies to Princess when she reaches ten and see how she enjoys them. At six though, she’s still a little too young.

If you haven’t read The Golden Compass yet, or any of the other books in the series, I should mention that the books are set in an alternate Earth, mainly in England and parts of northern Europe. In this alternate world, airships are the main form of mass transportation, and the lights are anabaric, not electric (though apparently that’s the same thing). It’s a sort of steam punk world ruled by the Church, a frighteningly totalitarian institution bent on discovering the nature of the human soul and controlling the exercise of free will. This is an exageration of the churches in our real world (though Pullman doesn’t have to exagerate much, in my opinion) and the things those churches have done in the name of God. There’s a great deal of theology packed into this adventure story, which is probably why I’m enjoying it so much. As a Buddhist, I look at Catholic and Christian churches from an outsider’s point of view, and I have no problems dissecting these institutions to see what they’ve done right and what they’ve done wrong. I am normally inclined to question what people do in the name of God, and I’m happy to read a book that does the same thing.

Many people have criticized Pullman’s books as being anti-Christian. I would say the books are more anti-Church. Again, it’s that look at what people do in the name of God, not was God is doing, that’s the focus of the story. People may claim they act in God’s name, but I think they often do what they want and just use God as an excuse. Many of the characters in Pullman’s book are motivated by nefarious goals and quite frequently justify what they do by saying their actions are in compliance with God’s will. These people make for some very intense and chilling villains.

Aside from the theology, there’s quite a bit of adventure and fantasy to enjoy. There are witches and talking polar bears, and of course the daemons, which are the embodiment of people’s souls in Lyra’s world. The plot has plenty of twists and turns, the dialogue is believable, and the world building is excellent. I’m about a quarter of the way through the book at this point, and as much as I’m enjoying it, I’ll probably have it finished by the end of next week. I’ll give a final report then. For right now, I’m giving the book two thumbs up!

Fiction Friday – Dune Vs. Frida Kahlo

After the unexpected surprise of enjoying the teen fluff romance of Twilight, I decided to dive into some serious science fiction just to prove to myself that I had not gone completely soft in the head. I hit and picked up a copy of Dune: Butlerian Jihad by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. I love the Dune series, both the original books and the first trilogy of prequels written by Herbert and Anderson. Given that the events in Butlerian Jihad happen over 1000 years before the original Dune, I really expected something exciting in terms of getting into the back story of the Bene Gesserit, the Mentats, and the whole history of the House Atreides/House Harkonnen feud. Really, this sort of stuff is right up my alley.

At least it should have been up my alley. I cannot tell you how disappointed I’ve been with this book. The story is set during the age when Thinking Machines rule most of the galaxy. The Thinking Machines want to wipe out the remaining free human planets, but a sort of stalemate has been going on thanks to the development of planetary defensive shields, called Holtzman Shields, that fry the computerized brains of any machine that dares to breach it. However, not all the Thinking Machines are powered by computers. A select group, called the Cymeks, are actually human brains encased in machine bodies, and the Thinking Machines figure out they can drop those human brained Cymeks through a Holtzman Shield to lead an attack.

The Cymek led attack on a human free world is the plot for the first chapter of Butlerian Jihad, and it irritated the crud out of me to have to slog through this. The miltary strategy was so simplistic it was ridiculous. To make things worse, the hero of the story (who just happens to be a Harkonnen, a member of the house that will eventually evolve into some of the vilest villains of all sci-fi) can’t figure out what the goal is of the Cymek lead element when they land on the planet.

Now let’s think about this carefully. Your planet is defended by a shield that keeps out all computer-run ships and assault equipment, yet a vast armada of computer-run ships is sitting in orbit overhead. These computers drop a small group of giant mechs controlled by human brains onto the planet. The human brain-controlled mechs proceed to attack while the computer-run armada waits overhead. What do you think is the goal of this lead attacking element? Do you think maybe, just maybe, they might want to shut down the shields that are the only thing keeping out the armada overhead? The armada that’s just sitting there with enough firepower to wipe out the entire planet if only they could get through that stupid planetary shield?

I hate stupid main characters, and I’m afraid Dune: Butlerian Jihad presented me with a doozy of one. Xavier Harkonnen is about as thick as they come, a promising but love-sick military officer who obviously can’t grasp the most basic concepts of military strategy. Not only is he slow to figure out what the initial attack on his planet is about, but he makes further dumb mistakes later on, mistakes anyone who’s studied even a little bit of military history could figure out (I was a transporter in the Army Reserves — a transporter, not an infantry man, mind you — and I could see what the Thinking Machines were going to do next before the machines themselves even made the decisions in the book!). What’s worse, Xavier Harkonnen is in love with the fair but boring Serena Butler. Serena wants to do good in the universe and save lives, and she’ll willingly puts herself into danger to do so. Just as with the military tactics of the thinking machines, I could see what Serena was going to do long before she even did it.

It does not help that all the characters come across as cardboard cutouts, the dialogue is horribly stilted, and most of the book is just one massive info dump of back story. There’s a basic rule in writing that goes “Show, don’t tell.” Having your characters actually act out the plot rather than spoon feeding it to your readers via info dump solves so many of the problems that Butlerian Jihad suffers from. But somehow, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson forgot this rule when they wrote this book. I can’t understand it. They did a good job with their previous Dune books, bringing to life the histories of so many characters who played essential roles in the original series. I made it through seven, maybe eight chapters of this one before I gave up reading any further.

Not knowing what to read next after such a disappointment, I simply decided not to read anything at all. I had picked up a few art books back in February and I thought I’d amuse myself by looking at the pictures inside. One book was Frida Kahlo: Beneath The Mirror by Gerry Souter. I found this book in the bargains section at my local Barnes & Noble. The paintings in it are so beautiful. Since I had never read about Kahlo before, I decided to skim through the first chapter to see if I could get a summary of her life. Wouldn’t you guess, I ended up reading the whole book in just a few days? What the Dune book lacked in terms of exciting plot and fascinating characters, Frida Kahlo more than made up for. I don’t think I could have imagined a more bizarre life for an artist. Souter did an excellent job of presenting the basic facts in a clear, easy style, without leaching Kahlo’s life of all interest. My only complaint about the book is that Souter frequently discusses particular pictures that Kahlo painted at various points in her life, but the paintings don’t appear on the same page or the next page so you can look at them while you read what he says about them. In fact, the paintings are scattered through the book in no logical matter. Souter talks about a painting Kahlo did early on in her career right after she marries her husband, but the image doesn’t show up until the very last chapter, sandwiched between the pages of her funeral. Early on in the book, there were a few instances where Souter listed what page the painting was on when he described it, but that quickly stopped after the first two chapters. Another note, at one point in the book, there is a huge, blatant printing error where a paragraph cuts off in the middle and there is an inch or so of blank space, and then the paragraph starts again and the writing contiues on. I think it’s for these reasons that the book ended up in the bargain section as opposed to the art section of the store.

In any event, Dune: Butlerian Jihad turned out to be a big FAIL in my book, while Frida Kahlo: Beneath The Mirror was an unexpected win. I have no idea what I’ll read next. I’ll ponder that question this weekend and start a new book on Monday.

Fiction Friday – twilight

Twilight was one of those books I just had to read. You see, I’d already read so much about it, and what I’d read was divided into two camps. People either seemed to absolutely love the book beyond all reason, or they absolutely loathed it to the point of vomitting at the mere mention of the title. I had a hard time imaging a book that could invoke two such extreme reactions, but after reading a few reviews and synopes of the book, I had a feeling I’d probably fall into the loathe camp rather than the love camp. The whole thing sounded too much like a bad romance too me, and I’m not a romance reader by any stretch of the word, especially if the romance in question is bad.

So this sounded like the kind of book I normally wouldn’t have wasted my time and money on, but like I said, the reactions were so extreme, I just had to find out for myself what the book was really like. Sort of like a car accident, you know? You just have to see how bad it really is.

With all that in mind, I did want to give the book a fair shake. I wasn’t sure how easy that would be to do, given my personal biases against romance and the fact that I already knew the plot in advance (honestly, I think there was no way for me not to know what the plot was once the movie came out). Still, I promised myself I’d read at least three chapters before writing the book off as a waste of my time.

Imagine my surprise when I ripped through the book in just four days.

Well, not exactly four days. I started the book, got through the preface and the first two chapters and then I stalled for a couple of weeks. The opening was just so slow, and the main character, Bella, rather dull. It was only my decision to get through at least one more chapter (along with the recommendation of the ever-sensible Patty, one of the moms in the Screeching Harpies) that made me pick up the book again. My family and I were getting ready to visit my parents in Arkansas for a week, and I thought maybe I’d squeeze in that third chapter then. Somewhere during that first day of travel to distant, rural Mountain View, I got hooked. I stayed up late the first night to read “just one more chapter (or three)” and then spent the next two days with my nose buried in my netbook, devouring the rest of the story. It was definitely a romance, but not a bad one, and better than even most good romances I’ve had shoved into my hands.

The book isn’t perfect, of course. There’s an article on Salon that gives a very complete and accurate list of the flaws, and I agree with a lot of that list. Myself, I found the opening preface to be entirely pointless, and the book would have been better without it. Also, the first two chapters were pretty slow. I understand the need to set the scene and introduce the characters, but this seemed tto happen at a glacial pace. The story starts out with the main character, Bella Swan, moving to Forks, Washington, to stay with her father. Once she gets there, a lot of mundane events unfold around her – she goes to school, meets the other kids, runs into Edward Cullen, who eventually becomes the love interest in the story. She complains a lot about how much she hates being in Forks.

And that’s about it.

Have you seen the movie Coraline yet? It’s a similar set up. Coraline moves to a creepy house in a rainy area (either in Washington or Oregon, I think), and she complains about how she doesn’t want to be there. But the very first thing Coraline does when she arrives in her own personal hell is to go exploring. She makes a dowsing rod and looks for an abandoned well. She explores the house and finds a tiny locked door, which she eventually goes through to find a magical world on the other side. Coraline goes in pursuit of the adventure, the adventure doesn’t come creeping to her.

But that’s not what happens in Twilight. Bella is very passive. She doesn’t explore her surroundings, and she certainly doesn’t go looking for adventure. She just plods through her day to day routine, and that’s boring. It isn’t until things start happening to her that the book gets interesting. In fact, I’d say about 98% of the book deals with what happens to Bella, rather than with what she does herself. Bella is constantly reacting to the events around her, never really taking action herself to make anything happen in the book. She’s in love with the mysterious Edward Cullen, but never dares approach him. Instead, he initiates all the contact, and sets the course for the relationship (which may be why so many of the negative reviews I read called Edward overbearing and domineering). Bella does get into into trouble a lot, but not because she goes out looking for it. She is, in Edward’s words, a trouble magnet, someone simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Getting out of said trouble always involves someone else, i.e. Edward, showing up in time to rescue her. In fact, it isn’t until the final chapters of the book that Bella takes any initiative to act on her own. I wish I could have seen a lot more of that sort of thing scattered throughout the book. When Bella took action at the end, I felt more of a sense of danger and excitement that the rest of the story lacked.

None of this is to say that Bella is completely useless as a main character; she’s got plenty of wit, plus a snarky sense of humor that I found enjoyable. I even found her extreme clumsiness, which is practically pounded home with a hammer throughout the book, to be entertaining. But the real interest in the story is Edward Cullen. Is he a vampire or isn’t he? (Actually, that question got answered so early on in the book, and in such a clumsy fashion, that I was left very disappointed.) And why is he alternately hateful and then friendly to Bella? Edward’s got some serious problems to deal with, including his love for Bella warring with his instinct to sink his teeth into her and bleed her dry. This is where the romance comes from, and this was what had me intrigued. Not because I had any doubts that Edward would give in and turn Bella into a midnight snack (that would have been fun to see, but this is romance, which I’ve been told requires a happy ending). But there was something about the dialogue, the descriptions of Edward, his interaction with Bella… It was fun to watch Edward fall in love (Bella was hopelessly in love from the get go, so her point of view on things wasn’t so exciting).

Of course, Edward is flawless, and it’s oh-so-easy to understand why Bella falls in love with him. He’s perfectly handsome, perfectly smart, perfectly strong and fast, and perfectly tortured. Meyers manages to hit all the right notes when writing Edward, making me want to see more of him. But she also left me asking the same question that Bella asks throughout the book – why the heck is he interested in her?

I can’t answer that last question. Like I say, Bella initiates almost no action, is in constant need of saving, and is in no way outstanding physically or otherwise. But perhaps the more important question is will I pick up the next book in the series? After all, the point of a series is to keep people reading and get them to buy more books. At this point, I’m willing to say yes. I’ve bought the second book from Fictionwise. Now to see if I tear through that as quickly as I did the first. There is the promise of a werewolf in the next book, after all, and I can always hope that Bella gets a little more interesting. If not, I might just keep reading to see what happens with Edward.

After all, I could fall in love with him just as easily as Bella has. But hopefully I’m a little more interesting that she is.

Fiction Friday – The Mummy Case

One thing I really want to do more of these days is read, and since I got my netbook and an account at I’ve read four books so far since Christmas, and while that may not seem like a lot, that’s way up from last year’s reading, as least as far as fiction goes. I regularly read computer graphics magazines and skim through tech manuals, but that’s not enough to satisfy my soul. I’m a fiction writer, so I need to be a fiction reader, too. Besides, I love reading too much and have been jonesing for some good stories to devour.

Right now, I’m enjoying Elizabeth Peter’s ‘The Mummy Case.’ This is the third book in the Amelia Peabody books, one of my favorite mystery series. The stories are all set in Egypt at the turn of the century. Amelia Peabody and her archeologist husband, Radcliffe Emerson, delve into the mysteries of ancient Egypt while dealing with contemporary crimes. This particular case involves the murder of an illegal antiquities dealer, Protestant missionaries raising havoc with the Muslim populace, and a Roman style cemetary in Coptic Egypt. And of course, the titular mummy case, which appears and vanishes repeatedly throughout the tale.

One of the best things about the Amelia Peabody series is the relationship between Peabody and her husband Emerson. They almost never address each other by first name, but prefer the affectionate use of last names instead. Peabody is a strong-willed, educated woman in a time period where woman were expected to be anything but strong-willed and educated. She enjoys adventure, loves Egypt as much as her archeologist husband, and defies all the conventions of her time. Her husband is an excellent match for her – handsome but hot headed, equally intelligent and educated, a believer in equality for all people, and a non-believer in all religious aspects. They’re an unusual pair, to be sure, but there’s a strong, invigorating romance going on between them that’s both passionate and believable.

And that’s probably what I enjoy the best. I am no reader of romances, mainly because I can’t buy into the idea of two people falling in love at first sight and immediately running off to get married and live happily ever after. That’s not to say I don’t believe in love at first sight, but after 15 years with my husband, I know love takes a hell of a lot of work to make it last. Most romances don’t show me any of that work in progress; they fail to display the foundations for a lasting relationship in my opinion. Yes, heroine and hero may desire each other, yes they must triumph over many obstacles to be together, but all their gooey-eyed protestations of love in the end don’t make for a lasting relationship. Peabody and Emerson share a sense of practicallity that reminds me so much of my own marriage, it’s almost frightening. For starters, Peabody doesn’t get all bent out of shape when her husband argues with her (he almost never believes her ‘fantasies’ of looming danger or crimes about to be committed). Instead, she knows he’ll eventually come around when enough evidence of a crisis presents itself. In the mean time, she humors him and continues to investigage on her own. As for Emerson, he may blow his top from time to time, even at her, but he knows how to apologize, and he knows better than to try and keep his wife under his thumb to prevent her from doing the things he thinks she shouldn’t be doing.

I guess what I”m trying to say is that there is no angst in this relationship. They don’t worry that one may not love the other. It’s simply an accepted fact between them. I by far prefer that type of romantic relationship to one where the heroine has to play ‘he loves me, he loves me not’ and that ends up being all she does in the book. I also appreciate the fact that Peabody doesn’t play games with her husband. She’s up front with him, blunt even, about what she wants, where she’s going, etc. She doesn’t need to make him jealous, and in fact is careful to avoid situations where she feels he might become jealous, as she knows he’ll kill any one who dares to assume an unwarrented familiarity with his wife. It’s not that he fears Peabody will leave him for another man. He just thinks other men should know their place.

So I’m enjoying the Mummy Case, and the entire series. And I really love the fact that I can get all these books in e-format. It’s just so convenient to be able to buy and immediate download the books and keep them on my netbook so I have the entire library at my fingertips. Although I have discovered one inconvenience with this set up.

I can’t read the netbook in the tub. Dang.

More Book Lust vs. Writing Lust

In light of Ms. Logstead’s comments on my previous post on Book Lust(, I thought I would post my response here. By the way, I was rather pleasantly surprised to get a comment from her. It’s nice to see an author who takes an interest in her readers. Here’s the response:

Ms. Logsted,

Actually, I do understand that idea. First person writing is a reflection not only of the character but also of the setting in which the character exists, so I can see where Emma would lack the vocabulary to describe what she was experiencing. My problem is not with your writing (and I apologize for the ants comment if that came across as a slam). I found Emma’s story to be very thrilling and suspenseful, as I said, and I loved the ending where she decides that to be a better person, she must be a more practical person in the same way Chance is practical. This was wonderful. Too many times I see main characters who fail to learn from what happens to them, or else they only learn the clichés they are expected to learn. Emma’s lesson, if not exactly positive and uplifting, was still dramatic and challenging and shows a definite progression in her character.

What I meant to get across in my post is that most of the popular books I’ve seen labeled as erotic are not erotic by the standards I hold to. I’m an active member of the Erotica Readers and Writers Association (, so I’ve critiqued quite a few stories and novels that are written expressly for the erotica genre. You will never see most of these stories published anywhere except in small press anthologies or by e-book publishers. While these are quality venues, many erotica writers find it frustrating to deal with what we view as a glass ceiling in publishing. We frequently wonder why so many popular books are billed as erotic when they really only mention sex only in passing, glossing over the details or using euphemism. If sex is integral to the book, why not show it? Again, you did include things in Vertigo that I think many other writers would have avoided – oral sex, anal sex, etc. In fact, the scene where Chance and Emma are engaged in oral sex in the park was the best sex scene in my opinion because it was the most explicitly detailed. Nothing was hidden in that. I could see quite clearly what was going on, and I appreciated that because I think good description is key to an erotic scene.

I’ve also noticed that when a book does include explicit scenes (like Walter Mosley’s “Killing Johnny Fry”), it gets torn apart by reviewers as being unnecessarily pornographic. I have not yet read Mr. Mosley’s book, so I don’t know if if it’s any good or not, but the reviews I’ve read have just been brutal. Are they justified, or is this simply a case of “explicit sex = obscene porn,” regardless of the quality of writing? I’m eager to find out for myself, and you can be certain I’ll write a review on that book too.

Thank you for responding to my post. I do appreciate it. If you’re ever interested in reading an erotica book about a Victorian lady, I suggest “Aphrodite Overboard” by R. V. Raiment ( R. V.’s book is also narrated in the first person, and I had the privilege of critiquing it as it was being written. The main character is sort of a sexy female Robinson Crusoe. Very different from Emma’s tale, but a ripping good yarn. Now if you will excuse me, I have an erotica story of my own to work on. I look forward to reading more of your work (I am especially looking forward to reading “This Is Chick Lit).

Helen E. H. Madden
Erotic writing and art

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Book Lust vs. Writing Lust

A month or so ago, I bought a book reading journal. It’s very cool. The title of the journal is Book Lust, and it’s full of blank entries for me to record all the books I read. Each entry has a space for the title, the author, and the date I read the book, and then a page of space for my comments on what I thought of the book. I was really excited about this idea of recording what I’ve been reading, because lately I’ve changed interests. I grew up on a steady diet of science fiction and fantasy. In the last few years I’ve added horror and historical mystery to that as well. But very recently I’ve dropped all that for more “literary” stuff. By literary I mean I’ve been picking books that show up either on the NY Times bestseller list or on the “What’s New” shelf at the library and book store.

It’s quite a change, like suddenly going from eating meat to being a vegetarian. But I like it. I was getting tired of reading a lot of the same stuff over and over again, to the point where I had quit reading all together because I couldn’t bring myself to pick up another sci-fi book. Of course, I don’t always like what I pick up in the “literary” section either, but then I made a deal with myself. If I don’t take a shine to a book within the first two chapters, I don’t have to keep reading. This means I’m getting most of my books from the library, because I can’t afford to buy a bunch of books and then put them down after two chapters, but my local library does keep a pretty good selection, so I’m good.

One of the things I’m most interested in reading right now are books put out by the major publishing houses that are billed as “erotic.” Now you know I write erotica, so I have very particular ideas about what is and isn’t erotic. To me, an erotic story means a tale with sexually explicit writing whose purpose is to arouse the reader. There is no “fade to black” when the sex takes place. There are also no veiled euphemisms or purple prose used to describe sex acts and genitalia. Things like that only smother what’s erotic. They don’t add any value at all.

So I’m reading what the big wigs in the publishing industry consider to be erotic. And my conclusion is these guys have no frikkin’ clue about what’s erotic. I’m not saying the books I’ve read are bad. One book I read, Vertigo by Lauren Baratz-Logsted, was actually quite good. Vertigo is the story of Emma, a Victorian housewife, who makes a resolution one year to be a better person. Her husband, a novelist working on a book about prisons, suggests Emma write letters to a prisoner he’s met during his research, to boost the man’s morale and act as a friend. Of course, Emma falls in love the prisoner, named Chance Wood, and the rest of the story focuses on their affair and Emma’s discovery of her sexuality. The book was interesting, thrilling and suspenseful in fact. I do not think it was erotic though. There were sex scenes in the book, and to Ms. Baratz-Logsted’s credit, she covered sex acts that most folks won’t discuss even in the privacy of their own bedroom. But the way she wrote those scenes made them seem wooden and dull. Again, I blame the use of euphemism and purple prose. She came close to going into detail about what was going on, but never really hit the target. It was like watching ants mate – biologically interesting perhaps, but in no way arousing to me.

I have this fear that all the “erotic” big sellers I intend to read are going to be like that, and it annoys the hell out of me. Why won’t people write about sex in a way that shows how exciting it can really be? We write about murder and violence with so much abandon, but sex? No, we can’t do that. Or maybe I should say, they can’t do that. You know I can. I do it all the time. In fact, I’ll be busting my ass today to finish up a short story I intend to submit to Best Women’s Erotica 2008. An older woman with a porn addiction seduces a much younger man. Hot stuff. And you better believe that the sex scenes are explicit. In fact, I have more sex scenes in this one 7,000 word short story than Lauren Baratz-Logsted had in her entire book, a fact I find to be quite funny. And once I’m done writing this short story, I’ll be starting on another erotica book. I’ve been e-mailing my editor at Mojocastle Press about some ideas I have and she’s very gung-ho, so I’m feeling pretty good these days. In fact, I’m feeling like a professional writer, which feels better than I ever possibly imagined it could feel.

I love reading. I love writing. I may never get published by a big printing house like some folks, but that’s okay. I love getting up each morning and knowing that I’m going to be doing the stuff I want to do. So life is good, folks. Life is very good.