Review: Villains by Necessity

Villains by Necessity by Eve Forward has been on my reading list for years.  I read Animist when I was in HS and am still disappointed there hasn’t been a sequel. But to be honest, VbN is the better book.  Ironic that her debut novel is better than her second book – but it’s true.  I am sad she hasn’t written more novels because I really like her writing.

So, let’s start with VbN being a book where the “heroes” are all villains – assassin, dark sorceress, thief.  But in a world be subsumed by “goodness” those who want to live outside the lines ARE heroes.  Those who stand up against someone’s vision of “good” to demand they should be allowed to make their own choices to be good or evil as they wish.

The irony that this book comes into my life at a time where I am struggling with ideas of “free speech” isn’t lost on me.  It also makes me chuckle that this damn lens on my face colors EVERYTHING.  But the message is pretty blunt – villains shouldn’t be forced to be good people; it should be a choice people are allowed to make.  And make again tomorrow. And motives matter.  Someone who kills to protect is different than someone who kills for “pleasure” (ew).

The characters ARE tropes – but it’s part of the story to say that Forward explores the fact that every “villain” in the trope might have a reason or a past that makes it make more sense.  Heroes might be villainous to the villains and villains might be heroes when they do something “good” even if they do it for “evil” (usually selfish) reasons.  By playing UP the tropes, she explores them beautifully. Especially to anyone who has played RPGs like Skyrim or D&D they will recognize the classes used.  I can’t say it will make as much sense to someone unfamiliar with the genre, but I think almost anyone can follow the story and enjoy the adventure.

The plot is clear and crisp and even when I thought it was a little predictable, Forward pulled it together by doing a few different tricks – like flipping to the “heroes” and exploring some of their motivation.  She also plays into the story itself everyone understanding the way stories are “supposed to” happen – good guys win and bad guys lose. Right?

Overall, this book took me a bit to get into – probably the full 100 pages I give a book.  It was a book I actually kept in my bathroom for close to six months and managed to pick-up-for-a-page and come back the next day for the next page.  Because of the strength of the tropes, this worked really well.  It isn’t like some “bathroom” books I’ve tried where I have to constantly go back three pages because I’m always “lost” – the plot holds throughout.  It’s simple and yet the twists and turns keep it fascinating.

Seriously, find a copy of this book – it’s out of print or I would absolutely put links up.  Eve Forward deserves every dollar for this book!

Review: (Article) Middle Children Going Extinct

I read this article over the weekend and (being the youngest) sent it to my sister for her thoughts (as she is the middle child).  Both of us agreed although there are some interesting bits in it – what exactly was this author trying to convey?

He made a single throw-away comment about Millennials waiting to have kids, and I really wish he had shown the courage to delve into that.  But that wasn’t his point and I appreciate it. He also made a snarky comment about the “indulgence” of people he knows who have a third kid and what fiscal security they must feel to do this.

Ok, so (a) OMG his privilege and (b) again, not the courage to get political and discuss the fact that kids are PROHIBITIVELY expensive.

In case it isn’t clear – In 2011 OECD published this report on the change of fertility rates 1980-2009 (ish).  Now, to be clear in 2009 kids born in 1982 (early Millennials) were 27, so when they said “the average age at which women have their first child increased from 24
in 1970 to 28 in 2008” (pg 21), they aren’t really talking about Millennials.  Taking the 1982-1997 age range for Millennials, we’re looking at people that are now 36-21.  Ok, so we can finally all drink and most of us can rent a car.  But in 2011 even, many, many Millennials were still in high school and college. So this research might already be wrong.  I didn’t find anything that looked legit that was more recent in my quick Google search.

I don’t think the author of this article is wrong per say, but I feel like he didn’t want to dig into WHY people aren’t having more kids instead just bemoaning sadly this loss to his personality. Without digging into what is motivating this change in our society, he acts like people are just doing it on purpose.

In case you aren’t reading my subtext – I’m a bit offended by this.

I would love to have more than 1 kid, but I’m already past 30 and I did wait.  I waited for 2 big reasons.  The first is I had to find the right partner.  That one took awhile, but even after we met we were both working a fairly low-paying job.  We’ve fought and struggled to put ourselves into a place where we feel more secure.  We still don’t have children and I’m over that “magical” 30-age number that means I’m old to start a family.  I’m well past that 28-average age that was true in 2009.

Review: Trigun

I took vacation and re-watched Trigun for the bazillionth time.  It’s less than 10 hrs once you skip intros and credits on the episodes (26 episodes which run ~20m each). But this time, as with many things in my life I’ve been seeing things through a lens colored by the current world.  Even trying to avoid the news while off work (staying out of touch!), it filtered in from a hundred small sources. So I watched Vash the Stampede struggle in his world and grieved.

If you’ve never seen this late-90’s anime, you should.  This is one of the series I’ve recommended as a good introduction to anime.  It is funny and dark and fun all intermixed. It is long enough to help someone figure out if they can stand a longer-than-2-hour story arc but not the 10,000 episodes of something like Inyuasha.   It seems like just a light-hearted twist and then it interweaves these little hints of something “bigger” going on.  Then another hint.  And then a much bigger hint.  And if you aren’t sucked in by the time the second bigger-hint hits, you will be from then on!

There have been viewings where I found Vash beyond idealistic and annoying.  When I watched this in the last few months of my last job – when I was frustrated and hated my management… Vash drove me crazy.  But this time as I watch him… I adore him for the exact same reasons.  It’s easy to love idealism when life is easy, it can be frustrating when someone else is idealistic and you aren’t.  I’m now in a place where my lens is so dark with bad news – hanging onto idealism and hope is all the more important.  Vash’s pain and sadness leak through occasionally, but overall he fights for the light and love answers to life. I want to hang onto that.

Because this is a tv show, I can only review the over-arching plot. Individual espisodes are better or worse.  There is one episode that makes me bawl like a baby every damn time. I love that episode.  Love it so hard. I always just want to cuddle Milly.  God, I love Milly.  She is such a flat character so often, but she occasionally dips into a deeper bit and when she does – DAMN the feels.

The over-arching plot is what makes me want to go back and watch it.  I know at least once where I tried to pick out the “five important episodes” and ended up essentially watching the entire series twice because I kept going, “oh, I should have watched that one.” So when I decide to watch it, I just start with Episode 1 and I don’t remember ever regretting that choice.

I know I should “critique” Trigun and it isn’t perfect.  It’s cheesy and the animation isn’t flashy and the characters are kind of flat.  But honestly, even each of those things I’m as likely to defend as turn negative.  It’s fun. It tells a great story in a clear way and if you like sci-fi/western (*cough* Firefly *cough*) you should watch this.

Life Events: Pet Relations

Kawaii would have been quite happy if we had never gotten a dog.  She spent the first three days as often under the bed as anywhere else.  I think she pooped only when Riley was in his crate.  She was not ok with this change.  Granted, she doesn’t much care for change.  It definitely is taking her the longest to adjust to having a dog in the house.

Genkii on the other hand follows Riley around.  A Lot.  He has tried to steal Riley’s food.  He has sniffed Riley’s crate.  He cries when Riley goes outside without him…. even in the rain.  Genkii has always thought he’s a dog and he doesn’t quite understand why the real-dog gets different (better?) stuff.  You know, Genkii’s higher-fat kitten food (which is higher fat than adult food) just isn’t as good as the low-fat/high-protein dog food.  Fortunately, Riley doesn’t get bothered by any of these antics but has finally starting sniffing Genkii’s butt- to the cat’s great confusion.

Riley as the best success is happy.  We were told he came from abuse, but honestly – I expect he’ll never remember it in a year.  So far the worst moment has been at the vet’s office.  I don’t know what happened to him before, but when he saw the vet’s stethoscope he kinda freaked out (cowering behind me and growling at the vet).  He did not want to have that thing near him.  I ended up having to put a muzzle on him so we could give him his influenza vaccine (since we are in high-social-time right now to get him used to meeting new people & animals).  Now, the fact that he cowered against me and allowed me (without any fuss at all) to put the muzzle on was actually fairly positive.  The vet said she thinks he’s bonded well and now we just need to teach him that vet visits will be positive experiences for him.

I am wondering/thinking that eventually we might do Genkii+Riley vet visits.  ‘Cause Genkii is a freakin’ CHAMP at the vet.  Vets LOVE my cat.  He doesn’t know what “bad touch” means so they can examine paws, nose, teeth, ears and whatever else and he just wants to look around.  The biggest problem I have with him is he keeps trying to get to the kennel area so he can meet the doggies.  I’m not sure Riley is paying enough attention to Genkii yet, but he’s beginning to.  We’ll do Petsmart a few times and see if they can learn from each other (Genkii could learn better leash manners from Riley).

So we have 3 animals who are finally willing to be in the same room with each other – and this exemplifies them perfectly.  Riley is unaware; Genkii is trying to be just like the doggy, and Kawaii isn’t sure if any of this is ok – but damnit she wants to be here.

animals_library

Review: Symphony of Ages

So there are good books and there are enjoyable books and there are books that are both.  RhapsodyProphecy, and Destiny by Elizabeth Hayden are enjoyable but I’m not sure they are good.  Their tone is something of a harlequin romance/adventure/mystery with all the flat characters and stereotypical character choices therein.  However, that doesn’t make them bad books.

Let’s put it this way, I’ve read these about once a decade since I was ~16 and this last time I devoured them as happily as I have in past consumptions.

The Bad:

These books are cheesy.  They are rife with outlandish “BEST” and “WORST” to describe things. If it’s big, it’s ginormous and if it’s small it’s the most minuscule ever. EVER. Reactions are strong enough for a mime to be making them. I get over this (usually) because apparently this world just lives in the extremes and they just get jerked around by magical MOSTESTS all the time and developed coping mechanisms.  Though it adds an interesting layer on “divine right” of rule…

Rhapsody (the titular character and protagonist) is blind when she needs to be obtuse and makes a bazillion assumptions because of course she must have all the facts – even when she knows she’s dealing with the most deceitful people in the world (literally).  She is deep when she needs to be and brilliant in music (apparently) and has special-shiny-powers we see no one else having any depth in.  We hear about her teacher, but it seems like pretty much everyone knows about this power but no one else ever uses it – much less with the blase power-level Rhapsody has.

There is only one question I had that the book never answered and it doesn’t impact the plot, but it kind of bothers me.  Supposedly, these people come to an uninhabited land (maybe? sort of?) but they “intermingle with the people already there.”  Wait – which one is it?  Is it people weren’t there and the refugees comprise the first population ever or is there a population there they intermingle with. Since it’s supposed to be semi-history/lore of the world I can’t decide if the author was being sloppy or purposefully messing with lore because that’s what happens to history (I am a little inclined to lean towards the former for once, but I try to convince myself it’s the latter).

The Good:

The plot is actually pretty tight.  I mean, I don’t think most adults would be shocked as things unfurl, there aren’t a lot of massive twists – but the plot is consistent and tight within itself.  The villains are evil and some of them are even evil for understandable reasons (even the villain who kind of is “evil to be evil” has a REASON – maybe not a brilliant one, but a real reason).

The description and world-building is fun if exaggerated.  There is some decent variety of locations and you can see where the different cultures might have veered. We get very select lore, so there are elements I would have liked more on, but overall the cultures feel “real” and consistent.

Magic is also pretty clear, consistent and tight.  It doesn’t 100% follow strict rules, but there is rare-to-never when characters do something that made me think they broke the rules of magic in this world.  Even the strangest character makes sense by the end of the third book because we had explanations to help understand his “uber powerfulness” that made me nod and go, “Ahhh, ok that’s a stretch but plausible. I get it.”

I love the musical references the author uses.  Not being musical myself, I have no idea of her accuracy or just how cheesy it might be to a musically minded person – I enjoyed the references she used.  I won’t try to sound smart about whether she actually made the series the “acts” of an opera, but there is an “overture” and “intermezzo” instead of books or sections.  I think it’s more like an opera (especially with the over-dramatic characters) and in that light even the over-dramatic doesn’t feel out of place.  I have no idea if Hayden intended that – but if she didn’t double-good-job ’cause it still ended up feeling musically-based to the non-musical.

Overall:

I enjoy this series despite imperfections.  It’s a jaunt in an interesting lore and although I don’t love the characters, if I pretend I’m watching the operatic interpretation of history – I enjoy it.  I doubt it will challenge anything in your world except your faith in deep writing, but it’s fantasy that was 1990’s-2000’s fantasy.  I can’t remember much that came out during that time that “challenged” people.  There are things I could gripe about in a modern context, but like I said I put on that operatic interpretation and a lot of those go out the window anyway.  It would be like asking why Rent doesn’t have cell phones (in my opinion).  If you need something that won’t challenge you and just entertains – this isn’t a bad 3 books to take on a long flight.

Writing: When I doubt

When I doubt; when I feel unsure;
I remember when I was given kindness.

As I stand on the precipice of decision;
The moment stretches into eternity;
I force myself to take another breath;
I remember who is the hero of the story.

It isn’t me. It isn’t you. It is us.
Plural.

The stranger frightens me until I remember
They are a friend I haven’t made yet.

The dragon looms monstrous and evil
to defend the princess from her kidnapper.

It isn’t me. It isn’t you. It is us.
Plural.

Today I am the supportive teacher.
I will help someone else rise higher.

Today I am the guardian at the gate.
I will keep out the wolves and the night.

As I look into the face of the poor;
I listen to a tale of global woe;
I wait in line behind a crying toddler:
I remember who is the hero of the story.

It isn’t me. It isn’t you. It is us.
Plural.

When I listen to a leader; When I look for the truth;
I will remember when I was given kindness.

I will speak accordingly.

Writing: The Beginning

I’m trying to decide if I should do Camp NaNoWriMo in July…. I don’t know but I kinda want to face that blank page right now. It sounds kind of wonderful.

Dream by Day

As November and NaNoWriMo creeps closer I am excited and terrified. There is nothing like the beginning of a novel. Or a short story. Or a poem. Or a relationship. To me, often writing a novel is like a relationship. Sometimes I get into it knowing where I want to end up. Sometimes I think it’s just going to be a fun romp and we’ll see if it goes someplace real or fizzles out. Sometimes I go in thinking I know where it’s going and it ends up fizzling out. Sometimes I end up taking an unexpected left-turn or three and before I know it I’m looking at something entirely different and something so much better than I ever expected.

That is why the beginning might be my favorite part of a novel. That first one-thousand words which set everything else up. Many of my novels get written and re-written…

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