by Scott Westerfeld

Synopsis (from Goodreads): Everybody gets to be supermodel gorgeous. What could be wrong with that? Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. Not for her license — for turning pretty. In Tally’s world, your sixteenth birthday brings an operation that turns you from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time. In just a few weeks Tally will be there.

But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to be pretty. She’d rather risk life on the outside. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. The choice Tally makes changes her world forever.

My Thoughts:

This review has been a stone around my neck for far too long.

First, I loved the book! No question it was well written, interesting, and I’m glad there are more in the series and that I don’t have to wait for them to come out. I’m likely going to read everything in every series written by Scott Westerfeld that I can get my hands on. That’s not what was keeping me up at night as my blog lingered, post-less, waiting for me to get past this review. (There were other disruptions as well but the initial stall was definitely the pressure to get this review right.)

It’s a dystopian to be sure but… I think at the end of this book (book one of a series mind you) I can’t bring myself to disagree with whoever is in charge of this dystopia.

The premise: when you reach 16 everyone gets surgery and becomes a “pretty”. Then they spend a bunch of years partying and generally getting along before settling down and becoming happy productive members of society in a job they choose and love. To be honest I don’t have strong opinions on plastic surgery so the idea of a culture defined by looks doesn’t appeal to me but it doesn’t exactly horrify me either. That is not what got my brain spinning to a standstill about this book. So this review will not address that.

*potential spoilers hereafter*

The government has certain methods of ensuring a harmonious population and in many ways it’s pretty horrifying. And yet…

They live with the shadow of human corruption around them, including decaying cities sprawling across devastated landscapes and genetically modified monoculture plants that eat entire ecosystems. They require jobs that do nothing but focus on undoing the damage of our current culture gone wrong. Sometimes that means just stemming the tide when the problems are too great to really ever be fixed. None of what Mr. Westerfeld imagines is particularly far-fetched and in many ways falls far short of the terrible things we’re doing to the planet and all the plants and creatures we share it with.

So now humans are confined to cities where all of their needs are met. Not imprisoned except by a common sense of responsibility to not repeat humanities past crimes against the rest of creation. People are happy, healthy and seem to honestly lead fulfilling lives.

Is the situation more complicated than that? Absolutely, this is not a simple book.

Do the people at the top make huge, life altering decisions on behalf of the rest of the population without their knowledge and consent? Yes. I just can’t bring myself to see them as villains because honestly, we had our chance and we messed up in every way possible.

This is the picture of a world where humanity has squandered its right to freedom as a species to continue as we are. I dislike that the way the culture is structured consent cannot be given and cooperation is ensured through repulsive if invisible measures. The room for corruption and abuse is potentially staggering because the story is told from a POV where balances and checks upon the powerful, if any, are unknown.

I’ve read dystopias that horrified me. Where the old are killed at an arbitrary age and jobs, spouses and futures are dictated without consultation. This is not one of those books. And yet it is fundamentally worse, providing you think humanity should be allowed to do whatever it wants at any cost. Individual human spirit and choice, Ra-Ra, and all that.

Plastic surgery aside the world in Uglies is one that seems to work. It meets humanities needs and mitigates our destructive tendencies. The implication is that humanity wouldn’t choose it if not for the meddling that makes people be good. If we’re really so destructive as a species than forget individual human free will, we lose the right.

Or rather, what’s worse, the loss of humanities right to be a dick or the loss of everything else?


Ruminations About Sharing

Today on twitter I noticed that yet another author has made something of a fool of themselves online. I’m not going to link it because it feels like this has become pretty common. To sum up:

  1. A negative review was posted on Goodreads.
  2. The author and/or her agent chose to make negative comments on the review.
  3. The agent and author exchanged words on twitter and certain rude names were slung about in regards to the reviewer and Goodreads users in general.
  4. Followers of said reviewer and other reviewers did not take this kindly.
  5. Sh**storm!

There is clearly a lot more to this but I decided to forgo the Schadenfreude of reading through all the gory details. We’ve seen this before.

We’ve also seen some excellent responses to one star revues like those from Mike Mullin author of Ashfall. See here and here. I far prefer Mr. Mullins brand of response. Good show sir!

This has led me to several thoughts on the matter.

Know how a tool works before you use it.

I refer to the internet. It can be as terrible as it is powerful. When I post on  this blog, when I write a tweet, when I comment on a blog, when I put anything out for the public to read I try to be mindful of what I am contributing because someday I intend to publish. What goes on the internet is immortalized forever. Or might as well be because of archive sites. I want my google-able persona to represent me, not me on my bad days. If an author, or any user of the internet, doesn’t understand that then the results can be unfortunate. (link not writing related but darned satisfying)

I will get bad ratings.

A long time ago I thought I would not be able to handle it when I got a bad review and was fully prepared to just ignore that they existed. Ithink differently now. Everyone gets some bad reviews. All of my favorite authors, the ones I think are perfect and awesome and how-could-anyone-else-not-think-they’re-awesome!!!  *breathe* Yeah, them? They get bad reviews. Authors I think are brilliant get called stupid. Authors I think have lovely prose get called pedantic. The point is even the best get bad reviews. I have no illusions about matching my heroes. So yeah, I’m going to get bad reviews it’s just not as big a deal as I used to think. I hope the positive ones outnumber the bad but there will be some. It’s not the end of the world. Especially because…

I’m more likely to read a one or two star review.

Yup. When I’m on Goodreads I check out the top rated reviews and then I check the ratio of good reviews (4-5 stars) to poor reviews (1 and 2 stars). I’ve found good reviews tell me it’s all awesome but doesn’t always tell me what I want to know. A bad review will go into more of the types of detail I want. How was the prose? Was the subject well handled? Etc. My experience is that a good reviewer doing a one star review is more motivated to give a clear account of why. Two star reviews often want to be nice so they’ll poke around what they didn’t like but it’s usually still pretty clear.

More often than not a bad review does not put me off of reading a book. Sometimes it confirms that the plot is not going to be for me or that the book is riddled with bad writing in which case I’m better off not reading (and adding another poor star rating). More often it lets me know that this book is actually way more to my taste than that of the reviewer.

In the end I think there’s a quote that says it best.

A writer should respond rapturously to bad reviews or not at all.

Most of the time I’d say that last bit won’t fail you.

Note: I tried to find an attribution to the quote but alas my google-fu has completely failed me. If anyone can point me to a source that would be awesome!

The Old Switcheroo

Today I was supposed to post my review of Uglies by scott Westerfeld but the thing is, I’m still working on it. I finished reading it two weeks ago but put off beginning the review until yesterday because there was a niggling idea in the back of my head and it was taking some time to come through.

I want to keep the reading challenge reviews short and sweet. A paragraph, maybe two if I’ve got more to say. But I’m currently sitting on over a thousand words about Uglies. I need a little more time to organize and compact my thoughts on the book because thematically it brought up some really interesting questions. So no review today.

I’ll try to post it tomorrow because I’ll be busy cooking Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday. Sunday will likely see the return of Author Recipes plus some thoughts on why I love dystopian YA.

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

Dark Eden
by Patrick Carman
Publication Date: Nov 1st, 2011

From Goodreads:

Fifteen-year-old Will Besting is sent by his doctor to Fort Eden, an institution meant to help patients suffering from crippling phobias. Once there, Will and six other teenagers take turns in mysterious fear chambers and confront their worst nightmares—with the help of the group facilitator, Rainsford, an enigmatic guide. When the patients emerge from the chamber, they feel emboldened by the previous night’s experiences. But each person soon discovers strange, unexplained aches and pains. . . . What is really happening to the seven teens trapped in this dark Eden?

Patrick Carman’s Dark Eden is a provocative exploration of fear, betrayal, memory, and— ultimately—immortality.

What’s got me excited?

This book just sounds sooo creepy! As someone who has a couple of phobias that can occasionally be paralyzing a good scary book that gets it right can be both cathartic and a lot of fun. When I do get my hands on this book I plan to read it alone in the dead of night because with a release date the day after Halloween this book is primed for maximum scare.

Rules Recap

  • to read one book beginning with each letter of the alphabet (A-Z), ignoring articles like and, an and the at the beginning of the title, during the year 2011
  • To avoid re-reading books during the challenge
  • To choose books  I already own, as possible
  • To choose novels over non-fiction
  • optional: The letter X may appear anywhere in the title, not just at the beginning

Recently Read

  1. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Still To Be Read for Challenge

  1. Catalyst by Anne McAffrey
  2. Embracing the Wide Sky by Daniel Tammet*
  3. The Incomparable Atuk by Mordecai Richler
  4. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach*
  5. Kaimira: The Sky Village by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  6. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Leguin
  7. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  8. The Quiet American by Graham Greene
  9. Vitals by Greg Bear
  10. XVI by Julia Karr

Finished Books in Challenge

  1. Allison Hewitt is Trapped by Madeleine Roux
  2. Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster
  3. Divergent by Veronica Roth
  4. For The Win by Cory Doctorov
  5. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
  6. The Heist Society by Ally Carter
  7. Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder
  8. The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman
  9. Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
  10. Remedy by Heidi C. Vlach
  11. Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster
  12. This Cake is for the Party by Sarah Selecky
  13. Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks
  14. The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs
  15. Zodiac by Neal Stephenson

*re-reads or non-fiction, to be changed to previously unread novels as possible

I’ve bolded the option for the letter N because I’ve changed books. Neuromancer by William Gibson is an amazing read but one I’ve experienced before. I highly recommend it for dystopian fans as cyberpunk definitely has a dystopian feel and this is the original cyberpunk book. I think it even coined the term cyberspace. Wow right?

Still looking for alternative options to E and J. Fortunately I’ve been offered some time with Pisces Muse’s bookshelf to find alternatives. She is officially my book pimp. She’s also loaned me Incarceron by Catherine Fisher so rather than choose one to review I might end up doing two I books.

I might also replace the non-fiction W in my Finished books to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami.

Coming up…

On Friday I will post a short review blurb for Uglies. I’m currently reading The Night Circus so if I finish I’ll include a blurb about that as well. Maybe. It’s a beautiful lush book and I don’t want to rush it. I might also need a little time to process before I gush about it. I might even give it a full on review if it finishes as well as it starts.

Do you sometimes take your time reading books that are really good or do you rush your way through to get to that sweet sweet ending? How do you decide what to read?

I still remember the first time I heard the term Writer’s Block. It was on the show Golden Girls, an 80’s sitcom about four mature ladies living as roommates. Blanche Deveraux, a southern belle and very randy senior citizen, had decided to write romance novels. After sitting fruitlessly in front of a typewriter for hours she swept out of her room in her long flowing negligée and declared she had writer’s block. Estelle, the oldest of the bunch, sat on the couch witnessing Blanche floridly describing the difficulty of her situation: the frustration, the waiting, the straining! As Blanche waxes on Estelle slyly compares Blanche’s writers block to constipation.

It was a funny scene.

At the time I thought it must be awful to suffer from writer’s block but I was young and the writing compulsion was only just beginning to surface. I had no conception of what it might actually be like to be a writer. Since then I have gained a little more experience. Certainly I’ve sat in front of a blank page but there was always some avenue to coax a story out of me; some glimmering shard of a first phrase or sentence to build on.

More difficult is when a scene stumps me. Perhaps I don’t know how a character will react or how to make the scene convey what I need it to or maybe I just don’t know what happens next but never do I feel blocked.

If I don’t know what a character will do or say next I can do character exploration exercises or write possible options and revise as necessary. If I’m having trouble making a scene say what it needs to I start by outlining those things so I have a clear picture of what I need and then explore what elements within the scene will meet that need. If I don’t know what happens next I review what happened before and what that will naturally lead to. I may get stuck in a scene but there are always ways to move forward. And if I think that I need some time away from a scene to get it right then I use the time to work on the next scene or another project. And there is always another project.

I might get scene-block or even novel-block but writer’s block? I don’t believe in it.

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

The Apocalypse Gene
by Suki Michelle & Carlyle Clark
Publication Date: October 17th, 2011

From Goodreads:

With Pandemic ravaging the globe, Olivya’s psychic Sight compels her to see auras riddled with the colors of despair, and now her mother is infected.

Olivya’s only hope is the mysterious Mikah, a powerful Empath who claims the Pandemic is linked to his clan, the Kindred, and their brooding, monstrous, Immortal Lord. But can she trust this boy who can manipulate her very emotions?

With Mikah’s aid, Olivya races to unearth Kindred secrets, desperate to find a cure, only to discover the Pandemic is far, far more than a mere disease . .


What’s got me excited?

Ever since I first got my hands of a copy of Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson at age 15 I’ve been a cyberpunk junkie. The reviews paint this book as a little bit urban fantasy and a little bit cyberpunk. Most importantly it seems to have that almost claustrophobic frenzy that a good cyberpunk, steeped in the relentlessly on-rushing future, will embody. Love it!