Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review: A Problem of Proportion (Human Division #11) by John Scalzi

A Problem of Proportion (The Human Division, #11)A Problem of Proportion by John Scalzi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the eleventh installment of The Human Division, a serial SF novel by John Scalzi. There are two episodes left after this, and I can't wait to read them.

This episode has Abumwe and her team meeting with Hafte Sorvahl and her Conclave ship, and starts off with the Clarke dodging missiles. Luckily, the Conclave ship came armed, and disables the ship, but the incident has the humans and Conclave reps eyeing one another suspiciously. Lieutenant Harry Wilson once again steps in to get to the bottom of the matter, and staves off war a little longer.

The characterization of Rayth Ablant is given within a few glimpses, and it's a testament to Scalzi's writing chops that he makes him so likable that we understand why Wilson goes to such lengths to save him. Rayth is so surprised at Harry's empathy and forgiveness, and the moments of levity are nearly laugh-out-loud funny, in their contrast with the seriousness of the mission.

I thought this was a very well-written episode, and I enjoyed it immensely. I'm looking forward to the next two.

Once more, I read this on audio, narrated by William Dufris. His consistency with voices is excellent, and I never wondered who was speaking at any given moment, even without dialogue tags.

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Review: This Must Be the Place (Human Division #10) by John Scalzi

This Must Be the Place (The Human Division, #10)This Must Be the Place by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the tenth of thirteen episodes in The Human Division, John Scalzi's serial SF novel. So far, the even-numbered episodes have deviated from the main plot, and this is no exception.

This story follows Hart Schmidt, Ambassador Abumwe's assistant, on a trip home to the planet of Phoenix. In the Colonial Union's world, it's an important planet, and, it turns out, Schmidt's family is an important part of that planet, deeply entrenched in its politics. It's hard to believe Schmidt is okay playing lackey, having come from such a family, and the narrative addresses that very point.

There are also hints of a sea change in politics, and of Schmidt's father's machinations to keep Phoenix in the family, so to speak.

The holiday Schmidt is going home to celebrate is a Thanksgiving analogue, and much of the narrative plays out like a much-traveled son returning home for Thanksgiving dinner. You have the siblings falling into assigned roles within the family, the nagging from well-meaning parents, the attempted matchmaking, the sneering at his chosen career path, and the inner debate on the son's part of whether the family has a point.

I'm surprised to learn others have intensely disliked this installment. To me, it fits nicely with the pattern of the story thus far, and it gives deeper insight into a character that's been important, in his own fringe way. I liked learning more about Schmidt, seeing his family, and learning about where he comes from.

Once again, I listened to the audio of this story, narrated by William Dufris. Once again, I found it a good investment. Audible members wind up paying less per episode than Kindle readers, which feels like getting away with something.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Review: 1984 by George Orwell

19841984 by George Orwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is yet another book I read initially in high school, but that I'm revisiting as an adult. This time, I reread it for a book group, where we compared it to
  Brave New World

. Both are dystopian, though their approaches are different. Aldous Huxley imagines a world where people are controlled through pleasure and a capitalistic society, which he came up with after a visit to America. Orwell, on the other hand, imagined a socialist government keeping people in line through fear.

1984 is about Winston Smith, an Outer Party member who works for the propaganda department, called here the Ministry of Information. He edits old stories to bring events in line with predictions made by Big Brother, the all-knowing, all-seeing entity who oversees the efficient operation of Oceania. Winston also makes people disappear from history, or modifies old reports to make current production numbers look better. Doubt is sown in his mind when he sees a photograph that shouldn't exist, according to everything he's ever been taught. He's on the lookout for others who see through Big Brother's lies, but doesn't dare approach anyone openly, for fear of being picked up by the Thought Police.

He starts an affair with a younger woman named Julia, who rebels in small ways without imagining the overthrow of the government, as Winston does. When Winston finally reaches out, we learn just how futile an overthrow from within the Party is, and why the Ministry of Love, where prisoners are held and tortured, is so feared.

The story is chillingly believable, and that's because George Orwell is drawing from true events. He exaggerates, but not by much, and imagines monitoring technology both beyond that of the time period in which he wrote this and the real 1984, yet far short of what we're capable of today. He makes several political remarks about keeping the lower classes down, in ways that are still in practice today, while demonstrating the greed and violence those in power are capable of.

I can see why I liked this book so much as a teenager. There are shades of Holden Caulfield in Winston. He's the only one who sees through the phoniness of the world, and everything rests on his finding a kindred soul, at which he's frequently thwarted. Granted, Holden isn't threatened with room 101, but the notion of the protagonist's seeing through the lies isn't new in literature, and it's one that appeals to disillusioned teens.

1984 was written 17 years after Brave New World, and was certainly informed by Huxley's earlier work. That both novels have current real-world comparisons says, to me at least, that we still have some growing up to do, as a society.

I think what makes 1984 so much more frightening and visceral for people is not the view of violence, nor its historical context. I think the fact that Orwell set it during their lifetimes, making it far more within our grasp than Huxley's 26th-century dystopia, takes away any distance the reader might've gotten.

Once again, I'm surprised how much differently I'm viewing this book as an adult than as a teenager reading an assigned book. This one definitely needs to stay on required reading lists for anyone who graduates public school. We need to see where our actions can take us, if we stop questioning and demanding better of our government.

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: Animal Farm by George Orwell

Animal FarmAnimal Farm by George Orwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is another book I originally read in high school, but decided to revisit. I know I got a lot out of it that had gone straight over my head the first time I read it. At the time, I had no idea about the political and historical allusions. I thought it was just a theoretical scenario, enacted with animals to make it less scary.

Now that I'm older and know a bit more about Stalin and the Russian Revolution and the terrible conditions George Orwell was writing about, the direct allegories make a lot more sense. I'm not quite well-versed enough in history to trace each occurrence at the farm to historical events, but the parallels are a lot stronger, the story much more frightening. The use of animals isn't there to shield the reader, but to call attention to the inhumane behavior of the leaders, and highlight certain traits.

The hypocrisy of the pigs didn't escape me in my earlier reading, nor did the fact that Snowball's sabotage attempts were made up of lies. That the lies get bolder and more outrageous as the story goes on may have slipped my notice, but then, I was also reading it for the first time back then.

Animal Farm is a deceptively quick and easy read. Its themes and implications, though, are chilling. I wonder if it's reading this book in high school that made me suspicious of anything that sounds like what I want to hear, or if my parents just raised me right.

In any case, I hope they're still assigning this book to high school students to read. They may not understand all of the history going into it, but the corruption of power is a theme they should be able to wrap their minds around.

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Review: Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern

Sh*t My Dad SaysSh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book stayed under my radar for a good, long while, until a co-worker lent it to me in return for loaning her
  Let's Pretend This Never Happened

. This doesn't quite contain Jenny Lawson's hilarity, but it is an amusing way to spend an hour or two.

The concept behind this book started out as a Twitter account. While working from home, living with his parents, Justin Halpern started tweeting the funniest things his dad said, thinking only his friends and family would read it. The posts got passed around, and the following spread, until Halpern started getting phone calls from publishers.

The book is an expansion of the out-of-context remarks and stories shared on the Twitter page. Overall, it paints an odd picture of growing up with this guy as a father.

The book has its laugh-out-loud moments, especially in the quotes lacking context at the end of each chapter. Often, it's just his father's words, where one can imagine what the other person must be saying to prompt them. Adding that to the story seems to take some of the humor out of some of the quotes within the chapters.

If you follow the Twitter account, I'm willing to bet you've already read this book. If not, it's a funny way to pass an afternoon. It's not a very substantial read, though. I'd recommend taking it out at your local library.

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Review: Midnight Blue-Light Special (InCryptid #2) by Seanan McGuire

Midnight Blue-Light Special (InCryptid, #2)Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If this book were worse, I would be using this space to rail about how Seanan McGuire should spend her time focusing on Toby Daye's adventures so we'd have more of those. Alas, Verity's world is just as well-rounded as Toby's, her monsters and men just as interesting, her allies just as amusing. If you forced me to choose between Toby's stories and InCryptid, Toby would win just by virtue of volume. Luckily, I live in a world where both series exist to be read, and continue to come out once a year.

This is the second InCryptid book, the first being Discount Armageddon. There are currently five books sold under contract, but McGuire has said publicly she has more planned. (She did a reddit AMA the other day, and answered an awful lot of questions.)

This continues Verity Price's adventures in New York City. As her time away from home nears an end, her boyfriend tips her off that his fellow Covenant members are headed out to evaluate his work. She doesn't know if she wants to call him her boyfriend, especially considering he may betray her to the organization under which he's lived his whole life.

We get to see the reasons for Verity's paranoia, as we get a taste of just how nasty the Covenant of St. George can be. Stories about their wiping out all living dragons are one thing, but seeing their methods up close and personal really drives it home that the Price family has made a scary enemy.

Other characters get an expanded role. We see a lot more of Istas, the gothic-Lolita-wearing waheela with a taste for violence and very small hats. Her meeting the Aeslin mice is the most memorable scene I've read this year. The mice, themselves, get something to do besides comic relief. There are actually some very touching scenes featuring the mice, though my favorite moment is when they're trying various domains on Dominic. Verity's (and my) favorite is "the God of Absolutely Never Smiling, No, Not Ever."

There's a perspective switch in this book about 2/3rds of the way through, and it pained me to have to stop reading then to go to sleep. The perspective changes to make the reader question Verity's survival, and that question isn't answered satisfyingly until the very last chapter. Meanwhile, Verity's adopted Johrlac cousin, Sarah Zellaby, takes over the story. Her voice is so different from Verity's that it's clear there's something very wrong about the way she's put together, even without all of Verity's information from this book and the last. The terms in which she processes information, her bases for comparison, her priorities, all of it backs up everything Verity has told the reader about Sarah's (and her species') alien nature.

Overall, this book wraps up quickly, though not without a very real sense that someone might not make it to the end. It's neater than I'm accustomed to in the middle of a series, though there's still plenty of room left for more trouble when it's done. It felt like the season one finale of a show that's singlehandedly made me impatient for next fall.

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Review: Married with Zombies (Living with the Dead #1) by Jesse Petersen

Married with Zombies (Living with the Dead, #1)Married with Zombies by Jesse Petersen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been following the author of this book on Twitter (@jessepet) almost as long as I've had a Twitter account, so I've been meaning to pick up the book for a long time. It wasn't until Audible put it on their $4.95 sale that I got around to it, though. I found it well worth the sale price, and not a book to dither over.

Married with Zombies is about Sarah and David, a couple in therapy after five years together have worn on them more than a little. They've both googled divorce lawyers, and they feel like they're circling the drain.

Then, they get to their marriage counselor's office, only to find her eating the Wilsons, the couple she sees right before Sarah and Dave. They dispatch her with her own spike heel, fight their way out of the office, and make it home. David catches on what's happening, but Sarah doesn't believe it until after she has to kill their schlubby neighbor with the toilet seat (which Dave left up - AGAIN!). They decide to fight their way out of Seattle to find refuge at Dave's sister's house in Longview.

The book has a nice dose of dark humor. One character, upon finding out her boyfriend was zombified, declared it's all right, that she was going to break up with him, anyway. Each of the chapters start with self-help advice on saving one's marriage, with a zombie twist. And Sarah's creative use of weapons in killing zombies is good for more than a few comic moments.

The humor doesn't take away from the sense of urgency, either. On the contrary, it balances it out nicely, so that it's the one breath the characters get before the next crisis. Often it's left only to the reader to enjoy irony or the humor in a situation, because the characters are too busy fighting for their lives.

David and Sarah are both given a lot of growth within this book. They start off as a couple on the rocks, and they have to learn to listen to one another, to accept they're better together than apart, and to learn to live in a changed world. They adapt quickly to a life of looting and stealing, and even seem to prefer it over their tight finances in their old lives. But, their zombie survival skills are rusty.

I do have a complaint about the writing, though. Some of the language sounds trite, and words are often repeated several times within a paragraph. The dialogue isn't the most natural I've heard.

Still, those are minor sins, in a book that's a lot of fun to read.

I listened to the book on audio, read by Cassandra Campbell. She captures Sarah's snark pretty well. Though, the edition I bought from Audible had some issues in chapter 3. There were some squawks and squeals that were rather painful. They only happened in chapter 3. I'm going to make sure Audible knows about the problem so they can fix it, because, ow.

I plan on reading the next book in the Living with the Dead series by Jesse Petersen. This book was a lot of fun to read. It was a pleasant surprise.

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Review: The Observers (Human Divison #9) by John Scalzi

The Observers (The Human Division, #9)The Observers by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the ninth of thirteen episodes in The Human Division, a serial novel by John Scalzi. So far, all of the stories have been written as stand-alones, with the hint of an overarching conflict tying them all together. Whether they'll be connected by anything more than a loose thread may have to wait until episode 13.

In this installment, Abumwe and Wilson are assigned to a low-priority mission of trading medical technology for ships. The added challenge comes in with an ambassadorial detail from Earth, there to see if the Colonial Union is worth trying to ally with, or if they should try for the Conclave, instead. The Burfinor try to take advantage of the tight spot the CU negotiators are in, and then an Earth resident turns up dead.

I had a theory, at that point, about what had caused the death. But the underlying medical condition I suspected would've led to a far less satisfying conclusion to this installment, narratively speaking. The group seems a lot closer to figuring out who's behind various sabotage maneuvers, and yet so far away.

Once again, I listened to this episode on audio, and William Dufris continues to show he's up to the challenge of pronouncing the bizarre names and words Scalzi comes up with for alien races. The world this series is set in certainly feels like it's populated with aliens, for all the bizarre descriptions and near-unpronounceable names within it.

I'm looking forward to episode 10.

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Review: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

The Importance of Being EarnestThe Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first read The Importance of Being Earnest in high school. While I enjoyed it then, I lacked a lot of the context necessary for understanding much of the satire. Luckily, Oscar Wilde is funny even without the context. But, it helps.

The narrative takes place in drawing rooms and gardens, first in London and then in the English countryside. Jack Worthing goes by the name of Earnest when he's in London, so his young female ward won't try to model her behavior after how he acts in the city. He confesses his ruse to his friend Algernon Montcrief, who has a similar ruse of a sick friend named Bunbury. Algernon differs from Jack only in how proud he is of deception. While Jack might appear to be the more upright of the two, he's no less of a liar.

Such machinations exist in comedies to be found out, though, and they are. When Jack proposes to his lady love, Gwendolen Fairfax, she tells him it's his name as much as anything else she loves, and he plots to legally change it. Algernon goes to the countryside, meanwhile, posing himself as Earnest. Cecily Cardew, Jack's young ward, is in love with Earnest, though, and Algernon immediately falls for her, and proposes.

Conflict in this play is brief, often silly, and solved relatively quickly. The matter of Jack's birth is answered in the final scene of the play, and in a way that neatly wraps it up.

The humor within the play is very British: dry, satirical, and sometimes silly. Anyone who likes British comedy but doesn't like Oscar Wilde is suspect, in my eyes, as most of it seems to derive from Wilde's works. Some of it's highbrow, but there's some bawdy humor, as well as some poking fun at the institute of marriage and the war of the sexes.

I listened to this play as a performance by  James Marsters, Charles Busch, Emily Burgl, Neil Dickson, Jill Gascoine, Christopher Neame, and Matthew Wolf, produced by L.A. Theatre Works. There are a number of sound effects added, among them the sound of a live audience. I couldn't help but wonder what Wilde might've thought of laugh tracks, though it did make for an enjoyable listening experience. The actors' comic timing was perfect, and Marsters as Jack/Earnest was excellent.

I'm glad I revisited this play. I didn't hate it in high school, but I feel like I couldn't possibly have appreciated it for what it was, back then.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Review: The Way of Shadows (Night Angel #1) by Brent Weeks

The Way of Shadows (Night Angel, #1)The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was recommended to me as a good example of gritty, street-level fantasy. If this is a good example, I'm going to stay far, far away from the bad examples.

The book starts with Azoth wanting to apprentice to a famous assassin, but then he balks when given the condition he has to kill someone. I would've forgiven the angst and waffling and realization this is what it means to be an assassin, if that was what stopped young Azoth. But, no. Instead, we're treated to a long, drawn-out thought process of how he might do it, why he should, what the consequences are, and everything but what I'd expect an 11-year-old boy to think about. When it finally happens, the text glosses over it, to be doled out in flashbacks later.

Then we're treated to flashes of life over the next ten years for Azoth, now going by Kylar Stern. Most of the characters in this book have more than one name, incidentally, and names are used interchangeably. So, if you still want to read this after reading my review, be warned that you'll have to keep track of not only people's names, but their pseudonyms. And several people have names that could be confused for one another's. One character goes by Elene, and there's a minor character named Elena, as well.

Female characters are described in terms of their relationships to male characters. One woman is described as headstrong, and, within a few paragraphs, is informed her preteen son holds the power in their house. Her attempts to subvert this are crushed, and the next we hear from her, she's brutally murdered.

The strongest female character in the whole story is a prostitute. Not that I have a problem with prostitutes, but it tells me a few things about what the male author thinks of his female characters. There's a queen who could've been a decent character, except that her biggest role is to plot to put someone else on the throne, instead of her. Because they'll respect him, you see. Which is where I made a choking noise that's still hurting my throat.

So ten years are glossed over in a few overwrought scenes, leading me to the distinct impression that the author only had a few cool scenes he wanted to write, and had only the thinnest justification for stringing them together. As this book is long enough as it is, I suppose I shouldn't complain too stridently.

There's a guy who can tell the future who fits into all this, of course, because the plot isn't maddening enough without the author blatantly adding some, "I know something you don't know!"

While we are treated to tedious inner dialogues, we're rarely given the insights that would make the characters real, at least to me. Inner motivation is often left for the reader to guess, and characters often act in ways that are counter to their interests. I'm left to conclude, most of the time, that they did it so there would be a plot.

As for the plot, it shows up around the halfway point with an assassinated prince. One would think the child (Azoth/Kylar) has grown up some in the last ten years, but there's plenty more dithering to be had. Sometimes, we follow thought processes leading us to conclusions with no bearing on the plot, or that are blatantly wrong, or that we've already figured out. Had the author been forced to cut dithering and navel gazing, this book would've been a quarter its size.

When I found myself yawning through the drawn-out battle between apprentice and master, I knew this book was a mistake to pick up.

I will not be picking up the next book in this series. This one was painful enough to get through. As it is, I'm sorry I finished it. There are so many better books I could've been reading, meanwhile.

I read this on audio, which didn't help the book's quality one bit. The narrator read a lot of it with melodramatic emphasis. So many of the voices sounded similar that, in one scene with three people with the same accents, I couldn't tell who was speaking. A better narrator would've been wasted on this book, but it didn't make an unpleasant read any more palatable.

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Review: A Little History of the World by E.H.Gombrich

A Little History of the WorldA Little History of the World by Ernst Hans Josef Gombrich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that's been waiting on my shelves for me to read it for years. I picked it up for an overall view of history, and some idea of cause and effect. I did know, going in, that there would be flaws, and I found them. But I also got what I expected out of it: a simplified view of world history, and how it got us to the 20th century.

The book starts with some speculation about pre-historic humanity. Now, the book was originally published in 1936, so its views are almost a century old. But it needed to start somewhere, and I can't fault its choice, nor that the author was working with what he had.

The book is not only Euro-centric, Gombrich is German. Most of the history centers around Germany, Austria, Italy, and France. There are tidbits of information about China, though Japan isn't mentioned until the 18th century.

The jarring part of the book, for a former student of American history, is how little America plays a part. It warrants a mention here, a brief reference there. Overall, though, America's role in this book is a small one, and not particularly flattering. A person raised in the notion (one I don't wholly agree with) that the US is the center of the world might feel let down by the book.

Also surprising is that the author is aware of colonialism's detrimental effects, though he doesn't call it that word. He references the atrocities committed on native inhabitants, and openly admires Japan for stealing all it can of European culture, then booting the Western world out. His last major reference point is WWI, and doesn't hesitate to describe the events leading up to it as greedy land grabs by the European nations.

There is an afterword, where he corrects a statement in the final chapter of the original, and discusses WWII, Hitler, and the Holocaust. Gombrich, himself, fled Germany, because he has Jewish ancestry.

The book does have its blind spots. As I mentioned, it focuses on Europe, with only minor references to other parts of the world. India's only role is to be conquered by Alexander the Great, while China's contribution is, evidently, Confucius and gunpowder. Even the northern parts of Europe are dismissed.

It also has a Christian-centric view, treating the rise of the Catholic Church and later of Martin Luther as important historical points. While these did leave a mark on history, I don't agree with the author that it was a positive one.

All-in-all, I thought this makes a good place for younger readers to start learning about history, and to give them reference points for any other study of history they may be interested in. It turns it into more of a story than a dry account of battles and kings, though it has those, as well. The language and wording are appropriate for anyone eight years old and up.

I found myself wishing, as I read, that this had been my introduction to world history. Flawed as it is, it's a lot more interesting, and it shows the relationships between events much better than anything I read in school.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Review: The Sound of Rebellion (Human Division #8) by John Scalzi

The Sound of Rebellion (The Human Division, #8)The Sound of Rebellion by John Scalzi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the eighth installment in John Scalzi's The Human Division serial novel. There will be five more, released over the next five weeks. While I would expect feeling more of a sense of coherence with a greater plot at this point in the series, I'm pleased with what we're getting, instead.

This episode brings back Lieutenant Heather Lee, who we last saw in
  We Only Need the Heads

. She's the main focus this installment, and it starts with her waking blindfolded, bound, and without her uniform that enhances her genetically engineered body.

I couldn't help but think of a recent episode of The Walking Dead, with a character bound to a chair and in a hurry to get out. While Lee's escape is more planned than Glenn's, it's no less impressive. She has even fewer resources at hand, but uses what she has to great effect.

This book may be related to the overall whole than I'm giving it credit for, but, even if it doesn't, I don't mind. I would read an entire book of Lieutenant Heather Lee's exploits, overarching plot or no. I loved this episode.

I listened to this installment on audio, once again. Not only were William Dufris's voices and emphasis spot on, but he had a voice modulator to replicate the effect within this episode. I would have had a much harder time imagining what it sounded like without that aid. I highly recommend listening to these on audio, if you can.

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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pet Peeve: Everyone Knows It's the Main Character

I has posted that I was going to continue my pet peeves, because I had a new batch to share. Today's pet peeve is when everyone in a story knows they're dealing with a main character, and treats him or her accordingly.

Basically, this occurs when there's a standard, with a set of consequences for not meeting that standard. The main character is immune to those consequences, because to hold him or her to the same standard would ruin the plot or the character.

I'm not talking about Mary Sues, because that's a whole other can of worms. I think the term is overused to describe a character someone doesn't like, and that it's okay for the plot and other characters to revolve around one central character.

What I'm talking about is when the main character is held to a different standard. For instance, a male character might lose his temper and act out violently toward the female love interest. If she forgives him, I need to have seen some past behavior that shows she forgives easily. If she left her last boyfriend because he put a hole in the wall, I'm going to be skeptical.

What made this pet peeve really stand out for me was when villains kill minor characters for being less of a thorn in their side than the main characters. One minor character crosses the bad guy's path, and finds himself turned to pink mist. But then the main character actively gets in the villain's way, and the villain chuckles at the main character's audacity and asks the main character to join him in his bid to take over the world. Unless that bad guy has been established as respecting courage, I'm going to raise an eyebrow at his change of heart.

What bothers me about this is that it's lazy writing. The hero could be held to the same standard as minor characters. He or she could shine by getting out of a tight spot, showing resourcefulness and courage. Instead, that character is handed a solution by a writer or writers who would rather make an inconsistent villain, or selectively enforce the rules of the world.

The way you avoid this, as a writer, is to closely look at your conflicts within your book. Are they challenging? Has another character in the book experienced something similar? How did it end for that other character? If it's different for your hero, is it because of your hero's resources, or because you made it easier for your main character?

Don't be afraid to challenge characters. It's why readers love a good hero: because he or she overcomes.

Review: The Dog King (Human Division #7) by John Scalzi

The Dog King (The Human Division, #7)The Dog King by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the seventh installment in John Scalzi's serial novel, The Human Division. Of all of the episodes, despite its inclusion of the main cast, this has me most scratching my head and wondering if this book is meant to be a cohesive whole. As amusing as the story is, it seems more of a distraction than part of a bigger plot.

In this installment, Harry Wilson is assigned to watch an ambassador's dog while said ambassador works on a peace accord with the Icheloe. The Icheloe has been at war with itself for hundreds of years, since the disappearance of their king and his crown. While the dog is sniffing around the garden, it discovers that a lovely signature plant is actually carnivorous by getting eaten by it. Harry goes in after the dog, and makes a discovery that entirely changes the negotiations.

It was amusing to watch the higher-rated ambassador get taken down a peg, as she's consistently wrong about the Icheloe. Her comeuppance isn't that she loses rank or fails in her mission, but that she knows she's wrong and Wilson is right. That he takes great pains to make her look smarter than she is makes that comeuppance all the sweeter.

As amusing as this tale is, though, it didn't feel like it contributed to the overall story. We already know Wilson and Abumwe are well-equipped to handle strange situations, and of the importance of working things out with non-Conclave races. I'm not sure what this installment added to the overall story, except an amusing aside.

Once again, I listened to this on audio, narrated by William Dufris. It's a delightful, quick listen, and I recommend the experience.

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