Monday Chatter: Why Plagiarizing Reviews is Bad (Because Apparently it Needs to Be Said)

Happy Monday, everyone!

Originally I wasn’t going to write an entire post about this because I don’t like voluntarily courting drama (unless it involves someone coming after a person I care about. Then I start sharpening knives), but the more I thought about it, the more irritated I got. So I’m just gonna get it all out into the open.

I was browsing through my feed early last week and clicked on a Wilder Girls review from a relatively new blogger I’ve been following. At first I thought it to be a really well-written post, and I was nodding along with a lot of their points.

But then I came cross a passage that looked eerily familiar:

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See, here’s what I wrote in my Wilder Girls review:

The main characters are a bit of a hit and miss. Power describes the girls’ relationships beautifully, and I really appreciate that she took the time to explore intense friendships and romantic love and the idea that there’s room for both in your life. I also love the fact that all of these characters are allowed to be selfish and mean–not because they’re terrible people but because their circumstances aren’t kind and there’s only so much kindness you can dredge up when it feels like your life is teetering on a knife’s edge. Forever give me all the flawed female characters who aren’t always nice.

 

Huh. Okay. So they took my sentence and reworded it slightly. Kind of sucks, but it’s nothing to lose my head over.

And then came this paragraph:

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And here’s my corresponding one:

…And I really wish I can end this review here. I really do.

But I got to talk about that ending.

This is where things go off the rails for me. And I’m trying to purge it from my brain because just thinking about it ruins the experience I had with the rest of the book. From Hetty’s actions and how it wraps things up with the other characters, to the very sudden, very shoddy explanation for the Tox, the ending is the equivalent of strolling along a creek, tripping on a rock, twisting my ankle, and landing face-first into water that’s filled with piranhas–painfully unexpected, makes zero sense (because piranhas in Canada, what?) and puts an abrupt end to what was turning out to be a nice afternoon walk. It tried to go with a scientific route, in which case the explanation should have been doled out in small pieces over the course of the story instead of just dumping it onto your lap at the end. It’s almost as if the author wasn’t sure how to close things off, so she just went with an explanation that’s popular and topical (spoiler: climate change), and it feels so incredibly tacked-on. I’d rather have had no explanation than the ones we got. As for the ending it gives to the characters, it’s one with zero emotional payoff.

Oh boy.

What really gets me is that they took my dumb little scenario of falling into a piranha-infested creek and changed it to crocodiles. It’s just so ridiculously blatant.

So I wrote them a comment, talking about how their plagiarism is kind of hurtful, and could they remove the passages in question, please and thank you. In response, they got rid of the crocodile sentence, left everything else intact, and deleted my comment, all the while holding radio silence.

Which made me feel really fucking great.

I don’t mind people using my reviews as a kind of a guideline for what they should talk about in their own posts. But this? This is straight up copy-pasting. And aside from the obvious “plagiarizing other people’s content is a breach of ethics” issue, it also calls into question the originality of all their past and future reviews.

I guess one could make the argument that ultimately it’s just a book review. But I could also take that sentiment and lob it back, ask why you’d go to the trouble of making someone feel shitty just for the sake of a book review. I don’t think my blog posts are deserving of literary awards (hell, I don’t even like my reviews half the time), but they’re still mine, and I hold a modicum of pride for them.

So I’m not writing this to be all, “How DARE they steal and tarnish this masterpiece.” I’m writing it because most of the time this community is wonderful and supportive, and we as a bloggers do a lot of work for very little, and all we ask from each other in return is at least a semblance of respect. I don’t think that’s that difficult of a bar to reach. And yet.

Your reviews don’t have to be the best (because what does that even mean?) They don’t have to be funny. They don’t have to be inspiring. They just have to be yours.

So. Plagiarism.

Don’t do it.

 

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Well, enough of that. Moving onto more fun things!

 

Etsy Store

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about my plans for selling This is How You Lose the Time War prints, because the authors and a couple of other people have been asking about them (which is incredible and humbling).

And I’m happy to announce that my Etsy store is LIVE and you can order your very own time traveling gay birds!

http://www.etsy.com/listing/714417854/this-is-how-you-lose-the-time-war

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Books to Read (feat. cover porn)

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I haven’t had a lot of time for reading this past week, and I’m still chugging away at Crier’s War and The Ventriloquists.

I’ve also started The Ten Thousand Doors of January and All the Bad Apples (about a girl who goes searching for her missing older sister). And so far I’m utterly charmed by the prose of TTTDOI as I am by its cover.

 

Five Reasons Why You Need to Read Desdemona and the Deep

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Title: Desdemona and the Deep
Author: C.S.E. Cooney
Publisher: Tor.com
Release Date: July 23rd, 2019
Genre(s): Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Fae, LGBTQIAP+ (lesbian mc, trans side character)
Page Count: 224 (ebook)

Rating: 9.5/10

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In Desdemona and the Deep, the spoiled daughter of a rich mining family must retrieve the tithe of men her father promised to the world below. On the surface, her world is rife with industrial pollution that ruins the health of poor factory workers while the idle rich indulge themselves in unheard-of luxury. Below are goblins, mysterious kingdoms, and an entirely different hierarchy.

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My god, what an absolute treasure trove this book is.

I’m a little review-weary at the moment and don’t feel like doing elaborate paragraph transitions, so I’ve made this into a “X Reasons Why” post!

 

1. The Prose

The prose, guys. The prose. If you want to see blushing described as “double roses of reverence and rapacious cupidity,” then you’re in for a treat because that’s the whole book. Rich, charismatic, whimsical, and the very definition of purple, the words melt hot in your brain and on your tongue. It’s been a while since I had this much fun with language.

 

2. A Larger-than-Life Protagonist

Desdemona is one of my favourite characters I’ve encountered this year, and hands-down my favourite female protagonist of 2019.

The thing is, she starts out as a pretty shitty person–rich and spoiled, with a dismissive let-them-eat-cake attitude. My definitive “Oh, I really don’t like you” moment was when she mentioned how she enjoys collecting art and artists, not because she cares for them, but because they make her feel prestigious and wanted.

But she grows over the course of the story, as did my opinion of her. Because despite being a prissy heiress, she’s also fun, and stubborn as heck, and her relationship with her best friend Chaz is endearing from the start (they are a magnificent duo). And she’s not some hapless heroine who inadvertently stumbles into another world. Oh no no, Desdemona will march up to the threshold of worlds and obnoxiously demand that they let her in.

There’s really no box you can shove her into, and I love that so much.

 

3. The Worldbuilding

Three worlds exist in this story. Athe for mortals; Valwode for the gentry (a mishmash of fae-adjacent creatures); and Bana, the kingdom of goblins.

If I were to sit here and write out everything I love about the worldbuilding, I’d be siting here typing out the entire book for you. So trust me when I say that it’s incredible. There are details that left me grinning and wanting to roll around in its richness. Like the notion that the fae are as affected by human art as humans are by fae magic. So things like poetry become a weapon and a shield in Valwode.

But my favourite part? How, despite all the beauty, the story doesn’t let you forget that magic has fangs. That these worlds aren’t just about glitter and gold, and their brutality goes hand in hand with beauty. There’s an almost alien quality to it that you don’t fully understand, but one you’re drawn to regardless. And those are the fae stories I want.

 

4. Themes of Justice and Art Prevailing in Darkness

This is a story about a mortal who ventures into another realm for a rescue mission. And usually, with those types of stories, the object of said rescue is a loved one–a spouse, a sibling, a child. Here, it’s not a rescue mission for the heart, but a mission to right a wrong. Because Desdemona was party to an injustice she initially ignored, and she wants to fix that. That to me is incredibly refreshing.

And from there we see the class struggles of the mortal realm (a kind of an alternate early 19th century Europe) being echoed in the magical realms, the idea that compromises exist, and Desdemona giving life back to the women who had it taken from them.

 

5. Just the Utter Joy of It All

Everything about this story, from the language to the characters to the worldbuilding is gaudy in the best way. It’s ostentatious, it’s heartfelt, it’s beautiful, and most importantly, it’s entertaining. You turn your head and you find something new and even more wondrous and strange than the last.

This book made me incredibly happy during a time when I desperately needed to feel happy, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

So, please, PLEASE. Give your brain a treat it sorely deserves. Go pick this up.

 

Blog Tour Review: Rotherweird – Plenty of Weird, Not a Lot of Enjoyment

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Title: Rotherweird
Author: Andrew Caldecott
Publisher: Quercus (US)
Release Date: June 9th, 2019
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Alternate History
Page Count: 456 (hardback)

Rating: DNF @ ~50%

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1558: Twelve children, gifted far beyond their years, are banished by their Tudor queen to the town of Rotherweird. Some say they are the golden generation; some say the devil’s spawn. But everyone knows they are something to be revered – and feared. Four and a half centuries on, cast adrift from the rest of England by Elizabeth I and still bound by its ancient laws, Rotherweird’s independence is subject to one disturbing condition: nobody, but nobody, studies the town or its history. Then an Outsider arrives, a man of unparallelled wealth and power, enough to buy the whole of Rotherweird – deeply buried secrets and all . . . Welcome to Rotherweird.

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Oh boy. I tried really hard with this because I’d never DNFed a blog tour book before and the idea made me feel incredibly guilty. So I pushed myself to the halfway mark before throwing in the towel. Here’s the way I’m trying to look at it. The book clearly isn’t for me, and an extra 200+ pages probably isn’t going to change that. And if I keep reading, it’ll forever be embedded in my brain as not only “that book I disliked,” but also, “that book I disliked and was forced to finish.” And that’s a badge of resentment I don’t think the book deserves.

Well, enough assuaging my conscience. Let’s get to why Rotherweird didn’t work.

I think you’ll have to enjoy a particular writing style to get into the book–scholarly, with dense descriptions that are far too dry for my tastes. There are definitely sections where the story benefits from the prose, adding to the richness of Rotherweird and its inhabitants, but for the most part they pile up into a thick wall of Too Much, and I found myself glazing over a lot of it.

As for the characters, they’re varied and quirky but in a very distant, sterile kind of way. There are also far too many of them, and none are distinct enough for me to become invested in their story.

The plot has to be my biggest gripe, though. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I’m just an idiot. But when it comes to books that have complex, criss-crossing plotlines, I prefer the ones that are more…accessible. The ones that cordially invite you to partake in their mystery. Because that’s what stories are–a conversation between the reader and the writer. But when a plot becomes too convoluted, too inaccessible, and you lose the readers in the process, the story starts morphing into a monologue, and no one wants that. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happens here.

Overall, the premise of the book is fantastic and it’s got individual elements here and there that I liked, but none of that gelled together into a story that I could enjoy.

 

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Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday Chatter: Pride Parade and Death By TBR

(Pride Parade and Death By TBR performing at your nearest city. Get your tickets now!)

A bit of a late post today because we had our Pride Parade here in Vancouver yesterday and I stayed out really late walking, eating, melting, and dancing–not necessarily in that order. There were some controversies surrounding the parade this year because both the Vancouver library and the University of British Columbia (deservedly) got banned from the event for hosting two different transphobic speakers (because something something freedom of speech). And some have been arguing against the decision, saying that politics should be uncoupled from Pride, which…I’m not sure whether to laugh or rage at? Pride is politics, people.

Other than that, though, it was a TON of fun as usual, and a much needed break from all the heavy events that have been headlining my life this past couple of months.

Also, happy civic holiday to all my fellow Canadians! I’ll be going out to the ocean with a friend in like…fifteen minutes. So let’s see how fast I can write the rest of this thing. 😛

 

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This Week – Books

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Wicked Fox by Kat Cho:
THIS IS IT, GUYS. I’m finally reading this. This is the first (English) fantasy book set in South Korea with Korean mythology with Korean characters that I’ve held in my hands, and I can’t even begin to explain what that means to me. It’s a monumental occasion and I feel like I should be lighting candles and making offerings or something. Tears are definitely on the menu.

Also, two chapters in and we get to see characters playing StarCraft at a PC bang. YES. YES. YESSSSSS. (My only criticism so far = the writing style. But I’ll get to that in the actual review)

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H. G. Parry:
Inkheart but for adults, starring two brothers. So far I really dislike Rob, the older, more normal brother of the two, and also the narrator of the story. But that’s not at all a bad thing because I like seeing what writers do with unlikable characters.

Crier’s War by Nina Varela:
I’m part of the blog tour in September and I selected the review + fanart option, so I want to get a head start on it. I’m not super far into it so I can’t say much, but I’m definitely not unhappy with what I’m seeing.

 

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  • The Ventriloquists by E.R. Ramzipoor:
    I’m really excited for this one. It’s a WW2 book about a Belgium resistance newsprint that turns Nazi propaganda into satire, and it’s being blurbed as a WW2 Ocean’s Eleven. Also, because I haven’t seen people talk about the representation in this book and I had to find out from an article on Lambda Literary, I’d just like to mention that FYI, the story is prominently queer.

 


Recent Games

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So I’m almost close to finishing a game called Outer Wilds (currently only available on Xbox One and Epic Games). There’s a bit of controversy surrounding it because it was initially sold as a Steam game to the backers on Kickstarter, and people were understandably pissed that the devs reneged on their promise and decided to release it on Epic Games first. And I have thoughts on Epic Games that are mostly…not positive, but here’s one thing I can’t deny: Outer Wilds is an incredible game.

You play an alien astronaut exploring the reaches of the solar system, trying to uncover the secrets of an ancient civilization. It’s an unexpectedly deep and beautiful narrative hidden behind a really quirky, cartoony art design, and I adore what it says about walking through life with curiosity in your heart.

Seriously, go play it. I’m obsessed with its world and I promise you will be too.

 

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And now I’m off! What are your plans for this week?

July Wrap-Up: Family News, Red & Blue is the New Black

I feel like a lot of my personal posts lately have just been me going, “I’m a sad little bundle of sadness!” And, well….the same applies today (I promise a LOT more flowers and rainbows for the next one). But I’ll try to keep it brief this time.

To put it shortly, my grandmother passed away from cancer several weeks ago (I wrote about her diagnosis a month ago) and I’ve been dealing with a lot of the family stuff surrounding that. See, everyone on my mom’s side of the family–from her parents to her four brothers and their eight children and down to me–is incredibly close (we have multiple group chats and we do frequent video calls). And our line of communication works like an actually functional game of telephone, so that when there’s any kind news or gossip brewing in one sector, it travels down the line until everyone knows about it word for word. And while it’s incredible to know that I’m part of this intense support network that crosses oceans, sometimes it can get a bit overwhelming. Like in this case, because being smothered with non-stop condolences and well-wishes because you’re the baby of the family isn’t exactly fun, and at some point it just got…macabre.

Then last week was the funeral, which my uncles attended on my dad’s behalf, and apparently there was a group of church “friends” who were talking loudly about how irresponsible it was of my grandmother to not have visited the doctor sooner. My mom got super angry about it, which got me riled up because 1) who the fuck says that at a funeral, and 2) I’m an “empath”–which is a term I hate using because of all its sci-fi connotations (and being an emotional sponge is a shitty superpower)–and people’s emotions easily affect mine.

And to cap it off, I found out that a gaming personality, called Geoff “iNControLTV” Robinson, who I had admired and had been watching for many years, had suddenly passed away without notice. Which was shocking and heartbreaking and made me really sad for some number of days (“sad” sounds like I’m downplaying it, but sometimes there’s just no better word.)

So it’s been a month of combing through emotions and memories, and discussing grief and mortality with people. Draining, yes. Difficult, yup. But all that processing does help, and I think death is a topic that we as a society shouldn’t shy away from.

I did read some really fantastic books, though, and that’s also been helping with my overall mental health. So let’s get to them!

 


⚔️= Fantasy; 🚀= Scifi; 🐺= Paranormal; 👻= Horror; 🔍= Mystery; 🌺= Contemporary; 🗝️= Historical; 🌈= LGBTQIAP+

 

This is Me Plastering Myself Against Your Window With a Sign That Says “Drop What You’re Doing and Read This Now

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This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone 🚀🌈:
Two time traveling agents. Flowery passive-aggressive taunts morphing into gentle teasing into unabashed love. All the blue and red imagery you could ever want. I adored it to pieces. [Review]

Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney ⚔️🌈:
This book. This fucking book. I went into it not expecting a whole lot and now it’s one of my top three reads of the year. I’m saving the more colourful words for the review, but the bottom line is that it made me incredibly happy. With the way it uses language (the way it’s so in love with language), and how it embraces magic in all its strange and sharp glory. It made me feel like a kid again and it’s been a while since I was so genuinely enchanted with a fantasy book.

 

Solid Queer Mysteries

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Proper English by K.J. Charles 🗝️🔍🌈:
K.J. Charles once again proves why she’s one of the best in historical romance, this time with a f/f whodunit. This was short, uncomplicated, sexy fun.

Orientation (Borealis Investigation 1) by Gregory Ashe 🌺🔍🌈:
A solid, engaging P.I. mystery feat. friends-to-lovers! Speaking of which, I seem to have less patience with slow burn friends-to-lovers nowadays. I mean, there’s “slow burn” and then there’s “four books of longing glances and almost-but-not-quite moments that go on forever when there’s literally nothing hindering them from getting together.” Like, I’m not made of time. I did make an exception for this because Greg is one of the few authors I trust to do long-term relationship building well.

 

Could Have Been Better, But Overall Not Too Bad

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Contagion and Immunity by Erin Bowman 🚀🌈:
The series starts out as scifi horror with Contagion and ends as a scifi action/adventure drama with Immunity. I was disappointed that the horror element wasn’t more drawn-out, but overall, it’s a solid series.

Prince of Killers (A Fog City 1) by Layla Reyne 🌺🔍🌈:
The head of a modern day assassin organization gets tangled up with a private investigator and a plot to unseat him from his throne. It’s one of those “you’ll enjoy it if don’t think too hard about it” stories.

 

Beautiful Prose & Atmosphere, Bland Characters

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Wilder Girls by Rory Power 🌺🚀🌈:
Loved the atmosphere, loved the plot, loved the emphasis on girl love (of all kinds), but I couldn’t connect with any of the characters. Oh, and the ending? We don’t talk about that here. [Review]

The Border Keeper by Kerstin Hall ⚔️:
Despite it featuring one of the most bland MCs I’ve come across in the past year, I found this to be a pleasant read. If you like underworld stories and quiet, atmospheric fantasy stories that border (no pun intended) on weird horror, this is for you. [Review]

Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh ⚔️🌈:
Again–loved the setting and the atmosphere, but I feel like the book was far too short for me to get a good sense of the characters.

 

Nope/ DNF

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The Phantom Forest by Liz Kerin ⚔️:
A dystopian story crossed with an underworld story that I didn’t enjoy because of, you guessed it, the characters. [Review]

Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells ⚔️🌈:
DNF @ ~20% because while there’s nothing particularly wrong with it, there wasn’t anything particularly great about it either. And I’m trying to get better about DNFing ARCs that I’m “meh” about.

 


Red and Blue Hell

I’ve been kind of obsessed with This is How You Lose the Time War, and I painted these little pieces as a quick palette cleanser in between the larger ones I’ve been painting and often ruining (but I’m learning to be okay with that because mistakes are integral to watercolour learning and if you fear them, this medium will trample all over you. Yay for growth!)

And….people actually really like them?? And they want buy prints of them????

So right now I’m in the process of digitally rendering them and setting up an Etsy store. So if you’re interested in these birdies, stay tuned!

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This past month and a half has done wonders for my confidence with sharing art online, because between health scares and unexpected tragedies, I’m realizing that art–which is, like, what keeps us going when these tragedies strike and things get bleak–is the last thing I should be fearing. And putting out into the world a thing you created from this kernel of idea floating around in your head is always, always something that should be celebrated.

So I’m thinking of doing a bi-weekly/weekly post thing where I share little doodles and/or full pieces inspired by the books that I’m reading–to help boost awareness of the books and also because I just really love doing fanart. Aaaand I wouldn’t at all be unhappy if any of you were to join me… 😀

 

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Now whisper to me all the wonderful things you did in July!

Review: Wilder Girls – A Strangely Beautiful and Flawed Gem (Minus that Ending)

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Title: Wilder Girls
Author: Rory Power
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: July 9th, 2019
Genre(s): YA Sci-Fi
Subjects and Themes: Friendships, LGBTQIAP+ (f/f), Body Horror
Page Count: 368 (hardback)

Rating: 7.0/10

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It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.

It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.

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This is another one of those books that make me wish I didn’t have a rating system. Ones that send me into reviewer crisis mode because they’re impossible to pin down with a number.

Just keep this in mind when you get to my rant at the end: I do recommend the book. I love what it represents–girls loving girls, girls willing to fight for girls–and I love that it tries to do something different. And when it comes to art (or anything, really), shoot for the stars, even if the landing is a bit of a disaster.

Prose and atmosphere-wise, I loved it. The setting is vividly drawn, and the descriptions of the Tox and the way changes the girls, and the feelings and emotions orbiting that change, are done brilliantly. Terrible and grisly, for sure, but also infused with an uncomfortable kind of beauty.

The main characters are a bit of a hit and miss. Power describes the girls’ relationships beautifully, and I really appreciate that she took the time to explore intense friendships and romantic love and the idea that there’s room for both in your life. I also love the fact that all of these characters are allowed to be selfish and mean–not because they’re terrible people but because their circumstances aren’t kind and there’s only so much kindness you can dredge up when it feels like your life is teetering on a knife’s edge. Forever give me all the flawed female characters who aren’t always nice.

The thing is, while I was invested in the feelings that the three girls have for each other, I wasn’t invested in them as characters. I think there are two main reasons for that. One being that they’re all more or less defined by their love, and not by any strong individual characteristics that I can hook onto. And the second being that their character development doesn’t happen gradually and smoothly, but in staccato bursts. For example, one of them would say something that would trigger a sudden shift in their opinion of the other person. (spoiler): Or when Hetty goes from freaking out about killing someone in self-defense to murdering someone else in cold blood, and the latter doesn’t seem to affect her in the slightest. It can be quite jarring.

The plot and prose were engaging enough for me to shove those negatives to the side, though. And I say that as a big proponent of “characters over worldbuildng/plot.” Like, if tomorrow you tie me to a chair and tell me that the only books I can read for the rest of my life are the ones with high plot concepts but weak character building, I wouldn’t be unhappy with something like this–unsettling and horrific and strangely beautiful for it.

…And I really wish I can end this review here. I really do.

But I got to talk about that ending.

 

That Ending

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This is where things go off the rails for me. And I’m trying to purge it from my brain because just thinking about it ruins the experience I had with the rest of the book. From Hetty’s actions and how it wraps things up with the other characters, to the very sudden, very shoddy explanation for the Tox, the ending is the equivalent of strolling along a creek, tripping on a rock, twisting my ankle, and landing face-first into water that’s filled with piranhas–painfully unexpected, makes zero sense (because piranhas in Canada, what?) and puts an abrupt end to what was turning out to be a nice afternoon walk. It tried to go with a scientific route, in which case the explanation should have been doled out in small pieces over the course of the story instead of just dumping it onto your lap at the end. It’s almost as if the author wasn’t sure how to close things off, so she just went with an explanation that’s popular and topical (spoiler: climate change), and it feels so incredibly tacked-on. I’d rather have had no explanation than the ones we got. As for the ending it gives to the characters, it’s one with zero emotional payoff.

The story would have benefited so much from at least 50 more pages of content and I’m truly baffled as to why this is the endpoint the author decided on.

My initial point still stands, though. I do think this is a book worth your interest and perusal. Just…know that it may not wrap up in a way that you were hoping for.

 

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Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Top Ten Tuesday – Settings I Want to See More of in Fiction

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Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now being hosted by The Artsy Reader.

I’ve been telling myself that I’ll try out a TTT topic for over a year now, but I never actually took the plunge. But I saw posts for this week’s topic pop up in my inbox (at like 9 PM) and I just couldn’t resist. Because this is a topic I think about a lot.

So here’s a last minute list of settings that I’d like to see more of in fiction!

 


Underwater – Sea and Ocean

The incredible thing about these large bodies water is that they’re horror, fantasy, sci-fi all rolled into one. They inspire awe and fear and deep, deep curiosity, and really, they kind of do a lot the worldbuilding for you. Which is why it’s crazy that we don’t see more of them in stories. Especially underwater societies.

I do feel like we see them more in video games than we do in books: Bioshock, Sunless Sea: Zubmariner, Subnautica, and Soma, to name a few.

But these are several book examples (some not yet released), with two of them do featuring underwater societies.

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🐠 Low by Rick Remender (writer) & Greg Tocchini (artist): a jaw-droppingly gorgeous graphic novel with incredible worldbuilding and a protagonist who oozes optimism.

🐠 The Deep by Rivers Solomon (with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes): Releasing this fall, and I’m unreasonably excited for it. It tackles slavery from an angle that I’ve never seen before.

🐠  The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah: A story about a submerged London starring a protagonist who’s a submersible racer.

 


Inside of a Whale

SUPER specific, I know. It’s also kind of related to “Underwater” but not really because there’s no written law that says whales can only exist in the ocean. There could be sky whales! Space whales! And dream whales are definitely a thing. They’d be like these massive islands you encounter during your romps through the dream world, with each one housing….well, something. Maybe the inside of each one would be a different level of the dream court. Maybe they’re all home to different dreamscapes (like a cetacean Inception). And maybe there’s this one super illusive whale that all dreamers have heard of but never seen, and the legend goes that it’ll lead you to the place you most desire. So kind of like Moby Dick, but trippier.

But why whales, you ask? No special reason other than that I just really, really, really love them and they’ve always been the subject of fascination for me, both scientifically and narratively. They’re immensely complex creatures and I find their existence constantly astounding and humbling. And it’s so very easy to imagine a myriad of worlds just sitting inside their stomachs.

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Sky Islands

Because I want to see more airships in stories and because ground islands are so yesterday. And it’d be cool to see all the different creative methods of transportation that take you from island to island (other than airships). Plus, there’s the added thrill of knowing that one small misstep out on the garden or balcony can lead to a deadly fall.

Some of my favourite examples include Bioshock Infinite and An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors (and a fairly recent YA series that I can’t remember the name of).

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Ice and Snow

I adore stories set in ice and snow and I can’t quite figure out why. Maybe because I dislike summer and latching onto cold things is something my brain does in retaliation. Or maybe because all the icy bits make the warm and cozy bits stand out more.

Whatever the reason, I want more of them. Books I can easily point to and say, “Hey, that’s one for my Winter TBR!” (pretending for a moment that curated seasonal TBRs is a thing I actually do). And movies/shows and games that I can consume during the summer to stave off the heat.

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Forest Cities

I’ve dreamed of living in a forest city since reading/watching The Lord of the Rings, and that dream sort of became a (virtual) reality when I played Lord of the Rings Online and got to actually frolic through Lothlórien. And I talk a lot about packing everything up and going to live with the bears in some remote cabin in the woods, but like…I don’t think the postal service does book deliveries (or any deliveries) to the interior forests of British Columbia. Also, wildfires are a thing. So I guess I’ll just continue to live out my wood elf dream via fiction.

 

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God Realms

I feel like most stories nowadays that feature gods take place in the mortal world, and it’s either a mortal protagonist getting caught up in godly affairs or a god/demi-god protagonist getting caught up in mortal affairs. We don’t often see modern stories about gods set exclusively in the world of gods. And when we do get it, more often than not it’s set in the Underworld.

So I’d like to see more variety. More breadth. I want to see mind-bending, cloying opulence rubbing elbows with decaying violence. I want to see how each territory interacts with another. What are the diplomatic relations like? What are the rules of  each kingdom? (goddom?)

The biggest examples I can think of is the God of War franchise and maybe the Sandman series (I know the Endless aren’t technically gods but their powers are god-adjacent).

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And for stories that are set in underworlds, Lost Gods by Brom is phenomenally rich and beautiful and The Border Keeper by Kerstin Hall offers a quiet but vivid world of gods and demons.

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Very Specific and/or Non-Murdery Schools

I’m talking beyond assassin and wizard schools. Schools for automaton mechanics. Aspiring griffin trainers. Time traveling spies. Schools specifically made for demi-gods, because for some reason their powers manifest in unstable ways and they need to learn how to control that shit. Or schools for killer nuns, as we see in the Book of the Ancestor series.

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But I’d really love it if the school featured mostly non-murdery activities. Like a traveling culinary school that roams the entire realm or galaxy, and its students learn about sustainable foods and methods on how to catch and cook some of the more challenging critters that exist in the world/universe.

 


Steampunked Asian Countries

So back in 2015, the universe gifted the world a masterpiece of an indie game called 80 Days. It’s basically a retelling of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days (mashed up with his other famous works)except more steampunk and fantastical. And I’ve always loved steampunk as a subgenre, but I never realized how much I need Asian steampunk in my life until then. Steam-powered caravans pulling merchandise through the Silk Road. Asian aesthetics translated through the eyes of gears and cogs. And I want more of it. Badly.

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Big Space Stations or Ships

Because they’re large enough to be their own little ecosystem of human and alien society, which is always interesting and fun, and because these stories usually feature found families and characters who would cross the depths of deep space and back for each other. The Mass Effect series and Becky Chambers’ books being notable examples.

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Literally anywhere in the world that’s not the U.S.

Close your eyes and stick a pin anywhere in the world map, and if it’s not the U.S. then I want a story about it (unless we’re talking about Native American stories). Even if it’s out in the middle of the Pacific. Nothing against the U.S! It’s just that the market is so saturated with them and I just want to explore more countries that I’m not familiar with. Or countries that I am familiar with but have not been given enough spotlight in media. And let’s face it, there’s a LOT of them out there.

 

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If you have recommendations for any of these categories–books, games, movies, anime–please, please, please do send them my way!

Review: Missing, Presumed Dead – A Gritty Queer Paranormal Mystery that I’m Side-Eyeing

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Title: Missing, Presumed Dead
Author: Emma Berquist
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Release Date: May 21st, 2019
Genre(s): YA Paranormal, Mystery
Subjects and Themes: Mental Health, LGBTQIAP+ (f/f)
Page Count: 384 (hardback)

Rating: ???

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With a touch, Lexi can sense how and when someone will die. Some say it’s a gift. But to Lexi it’s a curse—one that keeps her friendless and alone. All that changes when Lexi foresees the violent death of a young woman, Jane, outside a club.

Jane doesn’t go to the afterlife quietly. Her ghost remains behind, determined to hunt down her murderer, and she needs Lexi’s help. In life, Jane was everything Lexi is not—outgoing, happy, popular. But in death, all Jane wants is revenge.

Lexi will do anything to help Jane, to make up for the fact that she didn’t—couldn’t—save Jane’s life, and to keep this beautiful ghost of a girl by her side for as long as possible.

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Here’s a fun dilemma:

What rating do you give a book that contains literally everything you love–a complex bisexual female protagonist, a gritty paranormal mystery, exploration of mental health, ghost girls, f/f romance–and executes most of them very well, but then you come across three or four lines that make you go, “I’m sorry, what??” and put a damper on the whole thing?

Asking for a friend. (Hashtag-I-am-that-friend)

Okay, let’s backtrack for a bit. Missing, Presumed Dead is like the queer YA version of Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black series, starring a girl who can tell the how’s and when’s of someone’s death by touching them skin-to-skin. Except I’m not sure ‘YA’ is even the right label because many of the characters either feel older than their teenage years or are actually older; personally, I think it’d sit more comfortably as a New Adult.

As far as paranormal mysteries go, it’s fairly typical of what you’d find in a lot of adult books: a club that doubles as a sanctuary for people with magical abilities (witches, psychics, etc), a sudden surge of missing and/or dead kids, and a ghost girl with no recollection of how she died. Thing is, though, we don’t really find these kinds of stories in YA–especially ones tinted with shades of horror and noir–so this was a much-needed breath of fresh air for me. The mystery is engaging, the pacing is quick, the worldbuilding just vivid enough to hold your interest, and the protagonist is….well. The protagonist is messy and sharp all over and I was such a huge fan in the beginning.

Lexi is, to be blunt, miserable, and understandably so, considering how her abilities don’t allow her to engage in physical affection and intimacy of any kind. Through Lexi’s lens the story becomes a portrait of loneliness and depression, and I can’t emphasize enough how much I adore stories that dive deep into the psychological baggage that comes with having supernatural powers.

Really, the only major issue I had was with the love interest Jane, who just isn’t as interesting or well-developed as Lexi.

And then I ran up against The Problem, which starts with this little passage:

“My Jane has never looked this carefree, this innocent. My Jane is angry and wild and a little cruel. I know which one I prefer.”

and this one:

“I’d rather have her furious and bitter, I’d rather have her sad, anything but this scornful, spiteful ghost sneering at me across the seat.”

It’s perfectly normal to desire a connection with someone who understands first-hand the pain you’re going through. I get it. I’ve been there. And that’s what initially drives Lexi and Jane together. But you can’t build a relationship on a foundation of mutual suffering. “I can fix your pain and you can fix mine” may sound sweet and romantic, but what it often ends up becoming is an echo chamber of hurt coupled with codependency.

And wanting someone to remain miserable and fucked-up, because that’s how you feel most of the time, is selfish and unhealthy. I’m all for YA stories exploring unhealthy relationships or unhealthy mindsets regarding relationships, but I need them to address the fact that yes, this is, in fact, unhealthy and here’s how we can move forward from that, which this book never does, and that sits so wrong with me.

And the crazy thing is that the core this issue can be fixed by just taking out those four lines.

So yeah. I’m conflicted. And frustrated. And I spent more time trying to figure out what rating to give the book than writing the actual review.

Which is why I’m giving it a big fat ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ in the end.

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Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Review: This is How You Lose the Time War – This is How You Write a Time Travel Story

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Title: This is How You Lose the Time War
Author: Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone
Publisher: Saga Press
Release Date: July 16th, 2019
Genre(s): Sci-Fi, Romance, Epistolary
Subjects and Themes: War, LGBTQIAP+ (f/f)
Page Count: 208 (hardback)

Rating: 9.5/10

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Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

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This is it.

After years of searching, this is the time travel book I’ve been waiting for.

This is How You Lose the Time War is a stunning achievement of prose and storytelling. It’s a love story dressed as a chess game played out on the shoulders of poetry. It’s got moments, especially near the end, that gave me full-body shivers and touched me to my core. It had me muttering “This makes me want to make out with someone” over and over to myself and to my roommate (who’s gotten used to my weird out-of-context comments about books). And I just can’t stop thinking about it.

Before I get into it, just a small note regarding the worldbuilding: this book doesn’t explain much to you–not about the nature of the war or its factions (though you do get some sense of the differences between Red and Blue’s homeland by the end, and let me tell you, they are fascinating)–and you either have to accept that ambiguity or have a very frustrating time with it.

Okay, so here’s the part that I absolutely love and something I think is genius: there are two different kinds of time travel that exist in this book.

The first is your typical “temporal and spatial movement from Point A to B.”

My issue with a lot of time travel books is that I don’t often get a good sense of the time period and setting that the characters travel to. And aside from the superficial descriptions, Point B doesn’t feel all that different from Point A. It’s like when you’re watching a school play and the castle scenery changes to a forest one, but some of the props are reused and you can still see all the scuff marks on the stage, so the illusion is kind of lost.

But here? Things feel very organic. You can see the texture of the places that Red and Blue visit–ancient pilgrims moving through a labyrinth, a Mongolian forest camp, Atlantis burning and sinking. Descriptions that snag on the most important aspects of a culture and time period and drag them forward. It’s economical and at the same time not, because of how purple the prose is, and just all around beautiful and atmospheric. El-Mohtar and Gladstone manage to convey a sense of time and space in the span of five pages better than some books do in a hundred, and I bow down to their collective talent.

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The second type of time travel is done through letters.

This is the part that gets me jittery and giggling with joy–that in this future of advanced technology, Red and Blue are sending physical letters to each other, using anything they can get their hands on and being creative with it (paper, tea leaves, seeds, and lava, just to name a few). And they have such fun with it. I can’t even begin to tell you how romantic I find all that.

…And that was a lie. I will tell you.

I love exchanging letters. I love saving letters. I love letters, period. My closet contains boxes of all the letters and postcards and notes I saved from since I was a kid. I’ve made amazing, long-lasting connections through years of penpal exchanges. If you’re friends with me I’ll probably send you a letter at some point whether you like it or not. And occasionally, on rainy days, I take some of those letters out and read them, re-living memories and re-reading passages I want to commit to memory because I found them particularly beautiful or vulnerable or funny. They’re like books, in that sense. Except they’re stories about you, and me, and the path that our relationship ended up taking.

“There’s a kind of time travel in letters, isn’t there?” Red writes at one point, and there’s such truth to those words. Letters are snapshots of a person at a particular time, and when you send a letter, you’re essentially carving off slices of yourself, preserving them, and gifting them to the recipient (that sounds dramatic, but hell, this whole book is dramatic). And there is romance to that act which defies explanation. This book gets that. My god, does it get it.

“I want to chase you, find you, I want to be eluded and teased and adored; I want to be defeated and victorious–I want you to cut me, sharpen me. I want to drink tea beside you in ten years or a thousand.”

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I also adore the way the authors portray the characters’ love as a kind of a mutual surrender to one another: blades to each other’s throat, exchanging vulnerabilities with vulnerabilities, and feeling content in the knowledge that one can destroy the other at any moment. Not all love is that intense and all-consuming, but for two people who have dedicated their lives to being the best and always winning and holding themselves to stratospheric standards, it fits perfectly. They need this. Surrender is freedom. And that’s so fucking sexy, I can’t even.

So please, please, please give this a try.

It’ll make you believe in love all over again.

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Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Broken, Awkward, Incompetent, Mismatched Heroes: Why We Need Them in Stories

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I’m not sure what the umbrella term for these types of characters should be. Atypical heroes? Messy heroes?

Well, whatever the term, I adore them. And my love grows stronger every time I come across a protagonist who’s graduated from the academy of perfect heroes. You know–the shiny put-together ones. The ones whose mistakes are just tiny blips in their character designed to further the plot.

My first issue with those characters is that I’m kind of bored of them. Selfish, I know. But I think I’ve seen and read enough of them to last me a lifetime.

My second issue (and probably the more pertinent of the two because it goes beyond “Well, I think it’s boring, so YOU should think it’s boring too!”) is that they spearhead the idea that the only way to be a hero in your story–to win the battles, collect the friendships, score the romance, change the world for the better–is to be confident, bold, determined, to always know what to say at the right times, and have an emergency stash of witty quips in your pockets.

And if you occasionally say the wrong things or step out in the wrong direction? Well, hey, no worries! They’re nothing permanent! Your weaknesses only exist as temporary obstacles to overcome so you can scratch another notch on your Badass Post.

But what about the rest of us?

Because there are many faces to heroism and not all of them involve being extroverted or confident or even necessarily good. Maybe they’re a hero who has crippling shyness and social anxiety. Maybe they’re just not super into the idea of quests and adventures. Maybe they’re trying so hard to be perfect and unflappable that it’s breaking them from the inside out.

So some quick bullet points on why I love these characters and why I want to see more of them:

  • They’re relatable. I mean, that’s kind of the biggest reason, right? As humans we’re all messy and imperfect, and we like seeing that reflected in media.
  • They can force you to look at a well-worn genre from a new angle.Take The Adventure Zone podcast, for example. Thanks to a cast of lovable idiots who could have been pulled out of a sitcom, your typical D&D fantasy story turns into a feel-good, slice-of-life, goofball comedy of hilarious mistakes and equally hilarious successes.And Bright Sessions, which is another (incredible) fiction podcast and one that runs with the idea of superpowered people going to therapy. It’s most definitely scifi, but the characters aren’t your usual X-Men variety, in that they’re messy in every sense of the word and everyone’s dealing with something. It’s almost like a self-help guide disguised as a scifi story and I’ve never encountered anything quite like it.

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  • They show us that no matter who you are–how successful and powerful and magical–being a hero doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. Having powers doesn’t preclude you from having doubts. Being strong doesn’t shield you from being broken. And there’s comfort to be found there. We can look at that and feel less alone in our struggles.

 

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Now let’s look at some of the specific character types and examples of them in media!

The Incompetent Hero

A story starring an incompetent hero doesn’t have to be a comedy of errors. Nor does it mean they should stay incompetent from beginning to end.

For me, it means being thrust into a position the character is wholly unprepared for and every step from there on is a hard, awkward learning process riddled with stumbling blocks and many steps backwards. And maybe it takes them a little longer to pick up on certain skills–things like politicking and swordplay don’t come overnight (or overweek or overmonth). Side characters may even have to help prop them up until they can stand on their own. And just as in real life, there’s nothing shameful about that.

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Sansa Stark from ASoIAF/GoT is the biggest example that comes to mind: a sheltered girl who likes pretty boys and the lure of the city and is very good at embroidery. A girl who’s thrown into a pit of vipers and tries her best to learn and survive.

Sansa has also unwittingly become the biggest example of the issue surrounding people’s response to these fish-out-of-water characters, usually the female ones–that they’re annoying and useless and whiny and “Why doesn’t she do x and y and z?” and “Arya is SO much better.” (On the flip side, if they’re “too competent” they’re called Mary Sues. Female characters just can’t catch a fucking break, can they?)

A character who’s bad at something doesn’t make them a bad character. It makes them normal. Relatable. Human. And while a quiet story about learning and survival may not be as a exciting for people as one with swordfights, it’s nonetheless a journey of courage and strength.

I find it interesting (read: frustrating) that WW2 fiction nowadays are often filled with fish-out-of-water heroes and readers gobble them up, and yet when it comes to speculative fiction–fantasy and scifi, especially–people have so little patience for them. Which kind of makes sense–different readership, different expectations–but also not at all, because shouldn’t we expect more incompetent characters in a world that demands that they win wars, fight/befriend dragons, and juggle fire balls all at the same time?

 

“I’m Fine (But Really, I’m Breaking Inside)” Hero

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I see the “I’m FINE” trait more often with side characters than main ones which is kind of a shame. The fun thing about these characters is that from the outside they resemble your typical heroes: proactive, capable, and confident. But peel back some layers and you start to see cracks, which then resolve into chasms.

These are characters who try so damn hard to project an aura of okayness, both to themselves and to others, that they can’t tell where the pretense ends and where their real feelings begin.

Karin Lowachee does this beautifully with Jos Musey in Warchild, as does Seth Dickinson with the indelible Baru Fisher in Baru Cormorant. And if you want non-speculative stories (because heroes can exist outside of SFF settings), Neil Josten in All for the Games series is another great example.

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“Baby, I’m a Fuck-Up” Hero

This part got LONG so I cut some of it out and will probably make a separate post on it at some point. But here’s the gist: we need more fictional characters who fuck up. It’s especially important nowadays when social media has us privy to every morsel of success your friends and family and random strangers have achieved. The amount of pressure that’s placed on young people to get the perfect grades, get accepted into this and that college, get ‘x’ number of degrees by the age ‘y’ is ridiculous and makes you feel like there’s zero room for mistakes. Either you walk that tightrope from end to end or you crash and burn. There’s no in-between. And seeing more of these kinds of heroes in media might have saved me an ambulance bill.

And people can say that’s giving fiction too much credit, but here’s the thing: art doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s a product of our world and it, in turn, feeds back into the world as a reflection of the things we want to see more of. And if we see more characters in books and movies and games who genuinely mess up and are made stronger for it, then that’s kind of an invitation to ourselves to be less fearful and more forgiving of our failures.

And I honestly believe that can save lives.

Some wonderful examples of these characters include Millie Roper from The Arcadia Project series, who I would give my left arm for, and Mae Borowski from the game  Night in the Woods. She’s a pansexual college-dropout with depression, and I would happily give my other arm for her.

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Awkward, Antisocial, and Shy Hero

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Eliot of In Other Lands is unlike any other protagonist I’ve come across in YA fantasy. To be blunt, he starts out as a kind of a little shithead: he’s prickly and awkward, says the wrong things at the wrong times, makes the worst first impressions and consistently gets on people’s nerves. But it works because it doesn’t come from a place of “I’m doing this because I’m an asshole and want to fuck with people,” but rather, “I’m terrible with social interactions and I feel out of place in this world.”

And how beautiful and necessary is it to see a teenage hero who’s not all that nice?

These characters tell you that it’s okay that you don’t know what to say or how to act in certain situations. You’ll step on the wrong feet and piss people off and that’s fine because that’s life and you’ll learn from it (hopefully).

And seeing that kind of sentiment in media is such a weight off your back, you know? Especially when you’re young and still trying to figure yourself out.

 

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Murderbot from The Murderbot Diaries

People adore this series and for good reason. Personally it doesn’t do much new in terms of plot and worldbuilding (from what I’ve read so far anyway. I still have two books to go), but character-wise it’s everything. Because the story is all about murderbot, and murderbot would much rather spend its time alone watching dramas than interacting with a group of people. I mean, come on–an awkward, introverted protagonist in scifi? And an A.I. at that??

Why isn’t that more of a thing in fiction?

 

 

 

“Save the World? Sorry, I Can’t. I Have to Wash My Hair” Hero

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AKA reluctant heroes.

So, I have this weird attraction to the scenario of characters being offered the role of a  hero or Chosen One or whatever, and them responding with, “Thanks but no thanks” because they feel that there are more important things to worry about. Like, take some penniless college student trying to juggle six classes per semester along with a part-time job, and then one day a Chosen One Messenger bursts through their door yelling, “Guess what, Harry? Yer a–”

“Chosen One. Yeah, I know. And what’s the monthly salary on that?”

“Er, well. You’ll earn satisfaction in the knowledge that your actions will herald the salvation of– “

“Wow, tempting! But I think I’ll pass.”

“This isn’t an optional–“

“Plus, I’m not really Chosen One material, you know? I mean, the other day I dropped my Starbucks cup on the way to chem class and didn’t even bother to pick it up. I don’t think you want a litterer as the poster child for your quest, do you?”

“Well, it’s not–“

“Try the guy next door. He volunteers at the animal shelter or something so he’s, like, literally saving puppies and kittens in his spare time. There’s your Chosen One.”

“But–“

“Also, my name’s not Harry.”

…Ahem. Sorry, I got carried away.

But yes, reluctant heroes! Heroes who, for whatever reason–maybe because they’re afraid of fighting, maybe they’re super busy and this whole quest business is incredibly disruptive to their livelihood, maybe they just really like sleeping in during the weekends–aren’t all that enthused about their new role.

It’s not that they have a disdain for the continued survival of humanity. It’s just that, in their world, “continued survival of humanity” ranks a few entries below things like “Pass the ochem exam” and “Don’t mess up that date on Friday” and “Do something about the gnomes that are eating all the vegetables in the garden.”

I love them because they’re relatable and cathartic and exude Tired Millennial energy. And sometimes I feel like there’s an unspoken rule that SFF heroes need to be eager adrenaline junkies and glory hounds. And those are great! They’re fun! But not everyone wants to risk their lives to save the world. Not everyone wants to be kings and queens and politicians and insert themselves into every major event that shakes up a nation. Some people just want to live their lives peacefully in relative comfort, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

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Jalan from the
Red Queen’s War series is a great example of how such a character can be done well. At the start of the story, his life basically boils down to gorgeous women, good food, comfortable bed, and …that’s…about it. That’s the height of his aspiration. Well, until he gets dragged into a war against his will. Then he adds “Don’t die” to the list.

While Jalan grows as a person over the course of the series, he still remains true to who he is, in that he’s not going to be leading nations and giving inspirational speeches anytime soon. Yet he’s still, against all odds, a hero.

And I find that super endearing.

 

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And there you go! What are your thoughts on these characters? Send me all your juicy, juicy thoughts!