Saturday, September 4, 2021

Book Review - A Memory Called Empire

I must apologize for being absent for so long. I was in a bit of a rocky place with my own writing, my personal life, and my full-time day job. I stopped in for the blog hop, but failed to actually do any hopping! I will be getting to that later this week. 

My other good excuse is I was engrossed in a book! Which is a GOOD thing. It was a good release, and helpful in a few ways.

I recently reread my favorite book, my "gateway" book, Dune. It had to be done. In my mind it was perfection and I found myself wanting to emulate it without actually knowing why. After reading it, I realized why using it as a model would never work. Modern readers would likely not appreciate some of the exposition and simplistic ideas Herbert uses. This type of writing is for cult followers. I recently read in a review that if you have not fallen in love with Dune before you are married, then you will not love it at all. I think that is an accurate statement. It lacks the amount of complexity that mature readers seek today.

This set me on the search for a modern variant. I made several lists and eventually was limited by the two, very short shelves of Science Fiction located in my local library. But I am forever grateful for the book that eventually made its way into my hands. 

Here is my review from Goodreads. 

A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan #1)A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I might give this 5, but I would have to read it again, which I may eventually do. I liked the "complex" grammar. Having to reread a sentence or paragraph does not bother me when it is packed with so much meaning. Martine does this effectively, I think.

I enjoyed the worldbuilding. I think Martine has created a fantastic universe and described it well. She includes clear references to the ancient cultures of Central and South America, which I enjoyed personally since I studied pre-colonial cultures in college.

I love the unique qualities of the two main cultures, the interesting way they receive names (number + noun), and the use of futuristic technology to preserve the most valuable people in the limited society of space station life.

I have searched for months for a modern Sci-Fi book to drift away in. This book met my needs completely. I wanted to get lost in new civilizations, explore human conflicts in the future, and travel across space. I needed a newer version of my favorites (Le Guin universe), and I think this succeeds. It has the layers of tension that modern audiences want more of, addresses the modern questions we have about how love looks without the restrictions we see in our own societies, and requires a certain level of knowledge about our own history to be truly understood.

I also love the use of poetry. I love how Martine uses it to build our understanding of the main culture and how she uses it to pull us in and make us feel like outsiders at the same time. It helped me connect with the main character, who was also an outsider. I see her desire to want to be included and understand why she could not be.

Most of the book is third-person limited, following the main character, with a few interludes that give a small piece of the unknown backstory. I think this was effective, but the single point of view was perhaps too limiting for my taste.

I think I lost a little of the understanding of the overarching threat in the book, which is likely more valuable to the sequels. It was tricky for me to fully understand the larger motivations of the societies. I think if I get the chance to reread it, I will better understand that part by giving less attention to understanding the character and her world.

As a writer working on a debut novel, this was a perfect model for creating a fresh work of science fiction that can still captivate modern readers and their own increasingly complex perspectives.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

September IWSG - Responsibility and Success

If you do not care to hear about the personal drama swirling in my head, skip to the question...PLEASE

As I sit here writing this (at the last minute, Tuesday night) I am devouring my gluten-free, sugar-free, mug cookie (which is absolutely fantastic, seriously, butter, cashew butter, honey, gluten-free pancake mix, oats, choc. chips) and I am completely over it. ALL of it. (It = humans). 

I just can't focus on my writing until this is out of my mind.

If you have followed me for a while, you know that I was a teacher until right before the pandemic. Something told me it was time for a break so when I moved across the country I switched my day job to childcare. And fate has been laughing ever since. One month later, the schools shut down and my childcare center was flooded with school-aged kids with nowhere else to go. Fast forward (17 months) and last week was the first week they all went back to school! FINALLY!

But wait! We are exhausted, all of us, every teacher, parent, worker, employer, human being... I like to think I am a compassionate person, but the unbelievable chaos of the past two weeks (which should have been my chance to relax) has me angry and frustrated. Positive Covid cases, classrooms quarantining, employees and kids not following the rules... I'm just over it. 

Seriously, stop reading here and skip to the question. At this point, I'm whining.

Where do we draw the line between self-care and caring for others? Why do some of us continue to sacrifice and push ourselves to our limits while others take a step back? Why does having a bad sunburn mean you can't come to work? (Trust me, I know how it feels. I got one two weeks ago. I forgot to ask anyone to do my back after I took care of everyone else. It is hot and cold and feels like my shirt is made of sandpaper and my bra is razor wire. I get it!) Is it selfish to put your own comfort first? Should we "self-care" every time we have a stomach cramp, a sore ankle, lose our voice, get a migraine? Do some people just lack the sense of responsibility to do a job despite hardships?

If you are still reading this, I am so sorry! I am just in shock when I think about the contradiction I am seeing. Take care of yourself OR serve others. But is it truly taking care of yourself if you can do both? Is pain and discomfort far worse than the burden you place on others to do your responsibilities? Is the human race becoming weak? I've seen a diabetic coworker go through chemotherapy and be at work every day, and at the same time seen another coworker call out two days EVERY week. How are we so far apart in how we view our duties? I know we have different limits, but do we really?

Is it a matter of integrity? How do we wake others up to their responsibilities? How do we move them toward strength? How do we lead others to find honor and pride in their daily work? And how do we continue to trust and feel supportive towards others' pain when we are taken advantage of so often?



September 1 question - How do you define success as a writer? Is it holding your book in your hand? Having a short story published? Making a certain amount of income from your writing?

The awesome co-hosts for the September 1 posting of the IWSG are Rebecca Douglass, T. Powell Coltrin @Journaling Woman, Natalie Aguirre, Karen Lynn, and C. Lee McKenzie!

This one is hard, especially when my mind is fully clouded by daily stress and this strange inability to focus on my writing at all. Every time I sit down to work on my novel, my mind fills with fog. I have plenty to do on my list, my revisions are just sitting there, waiting for me, and I'm staring at the screen like I do not know how to use a keyboard.

I have held a book in my hand with my name at the top of some of the pages. My short story was published earlier this year. I even got that first royalty check this week! I consider this a huge success, but is this my definition of "success as a writer?" I honestly don't know. I feel like I will consider myself successful when this novel is fully revised and ready to publish. If... (I mean when) When I make it that far, it will be a success because it means I have made it through the fire swamp alive. The next time I enter, I will feel confident. That confidence is my success. If I know I can do something, then I can do it. 

Please click on the badge below for a complete list of participants in the IWSG Blog Hop. Have a great month. Find your strength!

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

IWSG - August - Craft Books

August 4 question - What is your favorite writing craft book? Think of a book that every time you read it you learn something or you are inspired to write or try the new technique. And why?

The awesome co-hosts for the August 4 posting of the IWSG are PK Hrezo, Cathrina Constantine, PJ Colando, Kim Lajevardi, and Sandra Cox!

When it comes to specific parts of the craft, the most used book on my (virtual) shelf is J. Lenni Dorner's Preparing to Write Settings that Feel Like Characters. I use the worksheet often to think through scenes and improve my worldbuilding.

For the broader craft, and for that "inspiration," I have kept Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction close at hand. It includes plenty of details for multiple aspects of writing and several good examples. Each technique is usually followed up by a list of authors who employ it successfully. When I first bought the book, I had not written anything except ideas in a journal. I also had not read more than a handful of authors in the genre (always returning to my favorites). The inspiration I have gotten from the book is as valuable as the advice.

I have a few others that have never been opened! Balancing time is difficult when there are so many books. What book do you go to? Do you think I would benefit from a new favorite?

Want to visit more blogs? Click the badge below for the full list of participants.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Temptation of a Break

Although it is not an "insecure writer" day, I needed to express my insecurities! 

I may have said I was too stubborn to quit, but having a break sure felt nice! I am openly admitting that I have done very little writing in the past few weeks. Here are some reasons...

  • I started a new project. The ideas flooded really quickly, I managed to create a basic outline, and I started drafting the first two tales. But the dreadful voice of the imposter crept into my mind, daring me to give up. Tales are quite different from modern stories and their obsession with "show, don't tell," and the demonization of the passive voice. How could I expect to successfully navigate this style?
  • My novel draft is being reviewed by my coach. He is making sure my notes and draft match, checking for disconnections between my intentions and my execution, and asking a few questions for clarification. I feel frozen until I see that final comment.
  • I have an overwhelming feeling that the novel is just too clean and dry. The plot is possibly too shallow and the story too short. There is much more I would like to tell, and I am unsure how to include it all. I want the reader to have a perfect picture of the cultures I created. I want them to see and smell each scene and relate to the struggles. What is that perfect formula for description? Did I miss it? Should the villain be more villain-y? Did I skip the most important scenes? The ones that would really make the reader angry at the "bad guy?"

  • I feel like the more time I spend away from the story, the more ideas I develop for making it better. But I also feel like that time spent away clouds my perspective a little. There is too much to fit in my head at once. A huge part of me wants to put this manuscript aside, and try something different as my "debut novel." I love this story so much. I do not want to see it rushed or incomplete. It deserves a better writer than the one I am right now.
Luckily, I am smart enough to know most of this is just insecurity. But I am also wise enough to know insecurities grow from the roots of reality. These are warnings—signs of possible weaknesses to be addressed. The expertise and multiple perspectives of a critique group might be the solution, but I have no idea how to find an effective one. Maybe that should be my next step. 

Hopefully, I will be inspired to write so much this week I will have a more positive post to share with you! Until next time, tout le bonheur du monde!

Sidenote:  Another reason I did not write much...
I rented a copy of The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy and reading it has made me furious. The short stories inside infuriate me so much I kept putting the book down. These were selected from thousands of stories. I wanted to look up to them and feel inspired by their classification as the best. But, the first story rambled on and on and on and on. After four attempts, I made it through and it just ended. The story finally reached the moment of decision, the moment of discovery, except the character did not reveal the discovery or make the decision!  The next one was almost the same! Backstory, first-person rambling, tons of incomplete sentences, big mystery about the "chosen one," then POOF! Story over. The last words were literally:  "You'll learn soon enough, Krit. For now, it's enough to know that they're the Bad Guys." And he's gone. No! No, I will not learn soon enough, because you stopped writing! And the third story was awesome! That is where I stopped. I was afraid to ruin the awesomeness. I did not hate any of these stories. They were each well-written and engaging. However, it was disheartening to read winning entries that fail to meet basic submission guidelines (like having a complete story with an ending). I would love to submit my own stories, but those doors are closed right now and I await my chance with impatience. Anyways, expect a full review later this month!