WW: Extirpate All Pirates

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Writing Wednesday: Extirpate All Pirates!

So I’m through with Mistborn now, and I’m on to Piers Anthony’s Bio of a Space Tyrant. First volume, of course. Refugee. It’s–entertaining. It’s certainly that. There’s a lot of blood and mayhem and people getting raped and killed and such, as well as some awkward allegory concerning America’s immigration issues. Very sensational.

And, ultimately, very ineffective.

I should preface this by mentioning I’m not the biggest Piers Anthony fan. (Yes, this will be a writing post. Give me time). The reason for this can, in fact, be summed up in a little nugget about three quarters of the way through the book (if you want to read it, and haven’t yet, stop here, because I’m about to spoiler the SHIT out of it).

Some background: the narrator, who had very few interesting traits save for what Anthony TELLS us but doesn’t bother to SHOW us is interpersonal and leadership ability, has lost his entire family, save for one sister, to space pirates on a lackadaisical and rather drawn-out refugee ramble through the orbit of Jupiter and its moons. He has also, mere pages before, lost his One True Love, who is startlingly beautiful in spite of being in drag for most of the novel, by forcing an airlock open while she is unsuited. He did this knowingly, coldly, for the betterment of his small surviving group. He’s Mighty Fucked Up about it. And, howling his vengeance into the vacuum, he makes this chilling statement:

I remembered my oath: to extirpate all pirates. They surely deserved obliteration.

And, right there–and I was on public transportation, mind you, while I was reading this–I giggled.

Yes, you read that right. I giggled.

Because COME ON. Extirpate? REALLY?

He also, earlier in this novel about the narrator’s fifteen year old self, uses the word ‘pulchritude’ in reference to a sister. Aaawkward.

I have to mention this because it ties in so very well to what I was saying in a previous post, The Right Words, which more of you should’ve read, because ENGLISH. I think I even TALKED about pulchritude. As one of those words which is, overwhelmingly, probably not the right word.

I don’t believe a fifteen year old boy, newly orphaned, his soul struggling to mature under a crunchy candy-coating of rage and depression, looks to the stars and comes up with the word EXTIRPATE. I don’t care how good his education was. I don’t care if he went to Harvard and graduated summa cum laude whilst still suckling on his mother’s teat. I don’t care if the story is actually being told by an older version of this boy. Fuck ‘extirpate’. Just…fuck it.

I do not buy an emotionally charged statement containing the word extirpate. And that ‘remember’ doesn’t help, either. Remember is a distant word, a past-tense sort of word. It doesn’t give the statement any immediacy–the fact that I keep referring to it as a ‘statement’ says something about how I took it.

And the ‘surely’. Is there a need for that adverb? Is there REALLY? ‘Surely’ is almost as nasty as ‘very’, if you ask me. Nothing leaks the immediacy out of a statement quite like an unnecessary adverb. Unless it’s the word ‘extirpate’. Or ‘remember’.

I’ll take the colon. Colons have immediacy. Especially if you haven’t pooped in a while.

But anyway, this is just me coming up from my reading with a friendly reminder and perfect example of why THE RIGHT WORD is important.

As to fixing this paragraph? You can fiddle with it all you want. It’s so awkward and redundant I don’t think anything will do much good. I might try something like this:

I had sworn to destroy all pirates. They deserved it.

But, frankly, I’d just as soon see it struck from the ranks entirely. It’s awkwardly placed, and I don’t think we need reminding that a boy who’s lost this much (whose name, for the record, is the incredibly giggle-inducing Hope Hubris) wants to destroy the people who’ve taken it from him. Especially in the middle of what is, essentially, a laundry list of activities.

Done ranting now. But take this as a living example of what difference the wrong word can make. Take it and learn from it. Learn from it. Learn.

REVIEW: Why I’m Not Doing Reviews Anymore

Today, we’re doing something different and making an announcement.

I don’t think I’m going to continue doing Friday reviews.

I know, I know, this makes me a terrible person somehow. I’m sure it does. But I started doing it because I wanted to use the time to point out some of the very best things I’ve seen in indie pub, especially fantasy indie pub. I wanted to give some recognition to the good guys, people who have written and carefully edited a great story, and who’re brave enough to try and get it going on their own.

I’ll still do these reviews when I find these books. They’re out there, and I love them. I still stand by everything I’ve recommended so far. But I have to say: once a week is killing me. There aren’t a lot of these truly great stories, and I have difficulty finding them. The sheer amount of money I’m spending on indie books is unsustainable for someone in my (very low) income bracket, and I’ve been hurt too much, too much.

My standards are pretty high. I read books like some people chainsmoke, or like alcoholics drink. If there was professional gear for reading–some sort of sacred polar bear hide laser-honing bookmark, maybe–I’d own it. I’m a far better reader than I am a writer. I admit this freely.

There are plently of good indie books out there. Loads of them. But, let’s face it, there are also plenty of not-so-good ones. I don’t want to talk about these, because I’m an indie writer and I recognize fully that my book might be one of them. But I’ll say this for myself: at least mine is fairly well-edited.

Yes, I’m aware I’m not making any friends here. I am painfully, painfully aware. But if I said things just to make friends, I not only wouldn’t be me anymore, I also would be successful. (Did I mean ‘wouldn’t’ be, you ask? No. Just…no.)

Wading through fantasy indies (or, worse, free fantasy indies) I’ve noticed one thing that keeps me gritting my teeth throughout. I wanted to bring it up here because, though I see it talked about in other blogs, I never see it discussed from the point of view of a reader.

Folks:

When you self-publish, you are still very publicly publishing a book. You are, whether you expect to succeed at it or not, releasing a potential bestseller onto hordes of possible buyers. Your book should, therefore, be professionally formatted and edited, carefully designed, and made completely ready in all ways for that one random bored person in Ahoskie, NC to click the ‘buy’ button and, not knowing you or your writing from Adam, fall in love. Even if this isn’t what you’re expecting–even if you’re just doing it for friends and family mostly–you are still committing to a public endeavour.

Let me recap: THE INTERNET IS A PUBLIC FORUM. See those capital letters? See how intense I’m getting about this?

When I see bad grammatical errors, plaguey typos, and obvious misspellings, tears well up in my well-seasoned reader’s eyes. One look-through–ONE–would have taken care of the worst of these. And readers DO judge you based on these. I know I do. Not because I think you’re stupid or untalented, no. Because I think you haven’t taken the care necessary in creating a final product that is, truly, worthy of the name ‘novel’. If I read your story on Fictionpress ten years ago, I might’ve liked it. If I came across it on Wattpad, I might’ve liked it. But will I be buying the paperback version of something you couldn’t even bother to sort out your lies and lays in? No. Hell no.

A finished novel, especially one you’re proofing yourself or relying on your friends to proof for you, might have a few errors in it. This is fine. I understand this: we all do the best we can. I’m no different. But if, deep down in my crunchy little soul, I am struggling with the urge to grab a red pen and return a proofed copy to you, you quite simply didn’t take the care you should’ve taken in showcasing and preparing your work for what is indeed the big bad world outside your word-processing program.

We all have different ability levels. If we’re all writing novels, I assume we all have at least a decent level of writing ability, we’re all capable of defining simple English-major terms like main character and setting and climax. We are all, likewise, capable of reading over our own work once or twice, or finding someone who is and paying them in money or beer.

I recap: I will not read or review something that is not at least passingly edited, unless it is your unpublished draft and you’re coming to me for advice.

Not because I hate people who don’t have the same grammatical stick up their arses I do. Not because I’m a hateful know-it-all (as was once suggested to me on a writing forum. I mean, I am, but that’s neither here nor there). Because, my loves, if you can’t take the time to make your end product pretty, I can’t take the time to read it. Why should I?

The Internet is a public place. It is, even better, a nest of anonymous vipers who are waiting, waiting, for something to chew up, spit out, and dump on like an overweight starlet after a two-week senna purge. Do you really want to release
something half-assed on this simmering cauldron of hate and violence and, possibly, fandom?

Do your best. Edit like a grown man/woman. People will respect your best, and, for the most part, treat it with all the honor anyone who has done their best deserves. And if they don’t: fuck ’em. You did your best.

A last note–

‘Publish’ comes from the Latin infinitive publicare, to make public. To make public. This is how I always learned it, at least, in school–but looking it up on the Intarwebs, I’m seeing an added definition that never showed up in the back of Wheelock’s, at least as far as I remember. To confiscate.

I want you to sit on your bottom and contemplate that for a second. While I’m not sure of the original meaning or usage beyond that point–the interwebs are short on Latinate answers, and I have a feeling I’m going to be researching this for hours–I think I can make it apply here. When you publish your work, it is being confiscated by the public. It is no longer your own work. It is the property, also, of the reader, and the reader can say what they will and form the opinions they want to form.

So make it ready. Make it good.

Love,
E

PS–Here’s a useful list to get you started. I know my spell-checker is frequently inaccurate, so I just try to spell pretty well in general. I recommend you take up the same practice: and, just so you know, my spell-checker just told me I spelled ‘recommend’ wrong. I didn’t. Other words in this document spell-check is telling me I’ve misspelled: learned, starlet, passingly, crunchy, showcasing, practice, and, hilariously, misspelling. It’s enough to make you very nervous.

100 Most Commonly Misspelled Words

REVIEW: Life is a Pirate Ship Run by a Velociraptor

REVIEW: Life is a Pirate Ship, Run by a Velociraptor

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Can I take a moment and say that this is, easily, the best book title I have seen all month? A close second being the ‘prequel’ to this book, which is apparently Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus, which I need to purchase soon. The cover is downright precious too. Lookit that little velociraptor pirate. Lookit.

I finished this one a few weeks ago, and I’ll be honest, kids. I was torn on whether or not to put a review up here. There are places in this one where the writing doesn’t quite hold up for me. Ms. Hawn gets a little lost in her adpositional phrases. There are occasional sentences where a verb has no subject because the prepositions come in and take over, like spiders in heat. It can get a little bombastic. Some of the similies stretch even my vast simile-reaching patience.

But some of them are spot the fuck on. Some of them are hilarious. And I enjoyed this book. In the end, that’s my criteria for what goes up here. I don’t review because someone asked me to and I don’t do it because I know somebody (neither applies to Ms. Hawn). I do it because I enjoyed something, especially if it’s an indie author. Because there’s so much crap in small press publishing that the good guys deserve some recognition. Even if it’s just me, with my shitty little blog and my large cup of coffee. For this reason, I review without author contact. I want to say what I want to say. I try to pick the good guys. Because, believe it or not, I want to say only nice things, and I want to say only the nice things I want to say.

Ms. Hawn is one of the good guys. Well, good girls. You get what I mean.

Life is a Pirate Ship Run by a Velociraptor is a series of short anecdotes from Ms. Hawn’s life, some of which you really have to read to believe. I don’t want to say too much–again, don’t want to spoil it for you–but the phrase “What have I told you? We don’t kiss people we just met!” occurs in the first couple of pages, and it just goes down(or up?)hill from there. These anecdotes are finished by a brief summary/life lesson section, in which you learn occasionally enchanting (teach your kids to read early) and occasionally esoteric (it takes four college students to move a giant rooster) things.
But what I find enchanting about this book isn’t the humor, which, as mentioned, does occasionally fall flat. It’s the way Ms. Hawn writes these little stories. You can almost imagine you’re on the barstool next to her, and she’s just uttered the phrase “something like that happened to me once. See, when I was (insert life period here)…” This book is close, and personal, in addition to being adorable. You get to know the writer as a character.

This is what first person was invented for, folks. If I felt this close to every narrator in a first-person novel, I’d never read a book written in another point of view again. The anecdotes Ms. Hawn tells take a little setup, but the setup is part of the fun. You learn what life is like growing up with a musician parent, going to college in a tiny town, working with disadvantaged youth. You meet friends (and enemies). You meet sloppily dressed transvestites. You meet LARPers with bad BO. And you meet cats. Quite a few of them.

Ms. Hawn is unapologetic, funny, tender, and occasionally very insightful. She does first person the way it should be done, with unabashed personality, even if her sentence structure gets lopsided and her similies overreach. She’s at her best in the depths of explanation, when she becomes unaware of her audience. You get the feeling this is the part of the story where your friend on the barstool next to you would start making a lot of hand gestures. I wish everybody brought this sort of ‘I can’t wait to tell you what happened next’ vibe to memoirs. I truly do.

For this especially I recommend this book.

REVIEW: The Guests of Honor, Cat Amesbury

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The Guests of Honor: Tales from the Virtue Inn Book One
by Cat Amesbury

This has been one of my favorite indie reads for a while now. I read it once, and then I read it again. A few months later, I read it again. Because of this, it’s today’s review. If I want to read it more than once, it’s review-worthy.

The fact is, Ms. Amesbury combines a lot of things I just LOVE to see in a fantasy writer. Her writing, while sometimes a little clunky for my tastes, gets the goddamn job done with little fuss or (my pet peeve) badly placed commas. Her written voice is unmistakable and a genuine pleasure to hear as you read. Her characters, including her excellent MC Honor Desry, are defined in broad, vivid strokes. And trust me, there are no weepy princesses or ruggedly handsome knights here–though there are some Virgins, but trust me, they’re not what you think. Every character, even the ones (like Mama Desry) who’re no longer there, is their own more-or-less-human.

And her imagination, good God. I don’t want to go into great detail–don’t want to spoil a single stick of it for you–but WOW. Her universe, seen through Honor Desry’s practical and worldly eyes, is absolutely convincing and, more importantly, entrancing. You feel a little bit like the writer not only sees the world before her, but is absolutely floored by how beautiful and strange it is. Ever been on a tour with a tour guide who loves what he or she is doing? Makes the tour a lot better, doesn’t it. It’s the same thing happening here. I read a few other reviews of this when I bought it, and I was amused to see several saying parts of it–namely the very lively kitchen appliances and laundy– ‘defy belief’. Well, this is about the highest praise I can imagine giving a fantasy novel. I want my beliefs defied. Particularly, my belief that an egg timer can’t be adorable.

I really can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s original, personal/extrapersonal conflicts layer together perfectly, and Ms. Amesbury manages to write some funny, funny stuff without losing a centimeter of heart or storytelling honesty. Also some of the best romantic tension I’ve seen in a fantasy novel, and this is me, disinterested ignorer of romances, saying that.

A moment to just mention, as well, the stand-alone awesomeness of Honor Desry as a main character. Here is a strong, independent woman who, while certainly able to move forward and lay down the law, still has a lot to learn. There are a lot of Big Five published writers who could learn serious lessons from the believable way Honor reacts to unbelievable situations, from the seamlesness with which her backstory is interwoven with the present. Her interactions with her mother–who is not, save by her absence, a physical participant in the plotline–make for one of the most believable family elements I’ve seen. This is not a young adult story to me, and it’s because of Honor. Honor, like a lot of folks in their late twenties/early thirties, is still trying to balance what she came from with what she is. And she finds, as I think most people do, that the two are more related than you’d think.

Also, the cover is just adorable.

Downsides, though there aren’t many, include:

Sometimes the writing is a little confusing. Book could’ve benefitted from one more draft, I think, with special attention paid to character location and the way characters move through a scene. There’s a scene near the 70% mark, for instance, where two characters start moving down the hall to get coffee, talk a bit, and after what seems like two or three geological ages, get coffee. I understood what was going on after a read or two, but the wording was just awkward, and the conversation was too long for a hallway poised on the brink of something else.

The wording gets, occasionally, a little awkward–Ms. Amesbury tends to sacrifice clarity for voice, and, fortunately, her voice is so clear and lovable she for the most part gets away with it. This sort of thing doesn’t bother me as much as it bothers some folks. If I wanted to spend my reading time hunting for errant adverbs and correcting participle placement, I’d grade English papers for a living.

Also, I do feel like the last twenty percent or so suffers from a serious case of too much, too fast. The plot gets a bit cluttered as Ms. Amesbury tries to clear up loose threads. Again, I’ve seen it handled in far, FAR worse ways. The main villain is introduced far too late, and as a result the ending feels a little tacked-on. But, again, the fun of this story for me had nothing to do with the actual plot and everything to do with the digressions and discoveries along the way.

Great read if you’re looking to get lost in a world nestled right inside our own, with some relatable characters who take lessons from everyday life into a fantasy setting with them. If I didn’t frequently use this word as an insult, I’d use the word ‘whimsical’. Since I don’t want to insult the totally undeserving Amesbury, I’ll instead say she combines contemporary fantasy and old-school Southern Gothic elements with flair.

God, ‘flair’ isn’t much better, is it. Shit.

It’s funky. There we go. We like funky.

This has been your seven AM chronically nonsleeping review. Now I’m off to edit more and drink coffee straight from the pot. In the meantime, if you want to spend your money on something worthwhile, forgo your morning cup of Starbucks and buy Ms. Amesbury’s book right here, right in the kisser, c’monnn, you. You’ll be pleased to know she’s got a second one coming out (named, just as punnily as the first, ‘With Honor Intact’,) though I couldn’t for the life of me find a release date.

Review: The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss

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Q: Did I read Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind this week?
A: You bet your balls I did. And here’s what I thought.

I am, honestly, uncertain what verdict to give it overall. Did I enjoy the baroque detailing, the legend and myth, the way the story was told? Yes, I did. Especially the old-school story-within-a-story aspects. It provides, I think, a great buttercream frosting of indirect foreshadowing, hearing the beginning of Kvothe’s story and seeing him as he is present-day. I’d read the next few volumes just to connect the pieces. And the detail–lawd, the detail! Rothfuss does a great job describing the University, creating the structure of society in which it exists through character interactions (especially, of course, those of Kvothe and Ambrose). It’s good, I must admit, to see a fantasy hero have troubles with money. Rothfuss very realistically evokes just how terribly being broke can get in the way of your hopes and dreams. It’s interesting how many other orphan hero/ines in fantasy don’t seem to have these kinds of troubles, and it’s good to see a case where even inordinate amounts of talent don’t get you everywhere immediately.

Also–people dislike Kvothe. There is, honestly, a lot to dislike about him. Someone as driven, bright and ungovernable as the man is would have a lot of enemies, as well as a lot of to-the-death loyal friends. I liked that Kvothe doesn’t always get away scott-free with doing things his own way. Again, a lot of writers forget that this sort of behavior makes you enemies. Good on Rothfuss for remembering.

And Kvothe himself? Well, Kvothe’s a determined bastard, though his determination seems to shift in focus throughout the novel. By the time the Chandrian come up again, about eighty percent through the book, I had honestly forgotten he was focused on finding them, what with how focused he was on staying in school/his playing/Denna. I understand that Kvothe, epic fantasy hero extraordinaire, is a man of burning passions and nearly monomaniacal needs. But if i had to write a fifth grade book report about this novel, I’m not certain I’d get an A. I’m still fairly up in the air on what Kvothe’s driving force actually is: there are just too many choices. To Rothfuss’s credit: I’m not sure Kvothe himself would get an A either, for this reason. I can’t, in fact, decide if this is intentional or not. But honestly–if I, the reader, can’t decide, a little more attention to this aspect of character development was probably necessary.

I didn’t like the romance here. Sorry, but I just didn’t. I think Denna’s a well-developed character–and once again, props on a well-thought out and realistically detailed portrayal of how beauty might affect the life of a bright, young, none-too-upper-class woman. Also props on realism concerning how hard it would be to find someone, in a world without cell phones, who doesn’t always want to be found. But I at no point felt the driving force of love in this relationship. Rothfuss spends so much time detailing how Denna plays with and uses wealthier men that I was left wondering if she had any real feelings at all, and if she did, how much of it could be in any way bent towards Our Hero of the Burning Passions. I liked Denna as a character, but, try as I might, I couldn’t bring myself to like Denna. Is it necessary to like a character for a story to be good? No. No, it isn’t. But there needs to be something loveable in a main character’s love interest, and with Denna I just wasn’t feeling it.

I have trouble liking Kvothe, too, at times. Again, this may not be the best way to put it–perhaps it’s better to say I feel he wasn’t properly developed, but that just makes it sound like he’s missing a testicle. But the fact remains, when I see character flaws, I expect a character to either suffer for them or learn from them or some bizarre spam salad mixup of both.

But Kvothe–oh, Kvothe. Lorren says you need to learn patience, and he isn’t wrong. You’re a little bit too clever, a little bit too quick to quip. In spite of the inordinate amount of trouble you have with day-to-day life, the big things–not getting expelled, which I’m frankly amazed never happens to you, especially after straight up skipping school for four days in a row–come pretty easy. Yes, sir, I know you’re a hero. I know you’re painfully bright. I know something horrible happened to your parents, and you’re in love with a woman who is Grade A unsuitable in many ways. But these things do not internal conflict make. If I had to put it simply, I think this is what Kvothe as a character lacks–internal conflict. There’s never much feeling Kvothe worries he’s making a mistake.

For instance, when Elodin refuses to teach him because he jumps off a roof. Instead of thinking that maybe, just maybe, he failed a test by being too eager to do a stupid thing, Kvothe dismisses the whole scene as Elodin being batshit crazy. Which he is. But still. He never learns from this. Lorren tells him he’ll get archive access back when he learns patience, and what does he do? Use a girl who likes him to sneak in. He could’ve attempted to cultivate some of the p-word, but no. Too complicated.

I understand that this is probably intentional, part of his character. But it makes him hard to empathize with. I have difficulty caring about his story because, at least in the course of the first book, Kvothe stays very much the same person, just sort of doing whatever Kvothe wants to do. This is, perhaps, the primary flaw in Rothfuss’s novel for me. I suspect, in the second one, there are more consequences in store for Kvothe, but the second one comes too late. It’s not a consequence when someone busts up your lute if you immediately make back the money to pay for a new one.

One last, minor, thing. Rothfuss harps WAY too hard on how Kvothe’s story is not a work of fiction, not a grand epic tale about a mythological hero. He harps on this so hard, in fact, that I would honestly have preferred he took an eighteen wheeler to the fourth wall and pissed on the rubble. This sort of thing only makes the mythological nature of a story MORE evident, only puts the reader at a GREATER remove from the story. Sorry. One of my pet peeves.

Overall, I did enjoy this book. Don’t get it twisted. Will I read the second one? Hell yes. But I want more from Kvothe. I want more consequences. And overall–overall–I want higher stakes, preferably in the form of some answers.

The Magicians

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Okay, okay. I know I said I was going to do mostly indie authors on Friday. I am going to do mostly indie authors on Friday. But Lev Grossman’s third book just came out, and you know where that leaves me.

Well, I hope you do, at least. That would be reading Lev Grossman’s third book.

So I decided it might behoove me to take a minute and talk about them a little. These books– The Magicians trilogy — are not only a worthwhile read, but what they do as fantasy novels is noteworthy.  Not so much for the writing– which is interesting, if only because I’m not sure words like ‘palimpsest’ and ‘lulz’ would belong in the same story anywhere else–but for the way people have reacted to them.

If you want some good genre-based entertainment, read the reviews for The Magicians on Amazon or Goodreads. Some of this I blame on poor marketing– NYT reviewed The Magicians as a ‘Harry Potter for adults’, which it most certainly is not– but a lot of it, I feel, pinpoints how comfortable people have become with those predictable YA different-but-better themes, and how much, especially in fantasy, they crave them.

The negative reviews fall mainly into two categories. One, of course, is along the lines of ‘OMG LOLZ STEELS FRUM NARNIA TOO MUCH LOLZ!!!11one’. These don’t interest me too much. I suspect their writers belong to a class of people who hear the word ‘satire’ and wonder if that’s something you can take while having more than three drinks per day. Yes, Grossman’s Fillory is a lot like Narnia. This is thoroughly intentional. He isn’t even making fun of CS Lewis, not really, as much as he’s appropriating the concept as a way to define fantasy and magic as escapism– escapism that, honestly, doesn’t always help you escape.

The other category–more worrying to me–is the people who call the books badly written (which, all right, I can get–see earlier comment about ‘palimpsest’ and ‘lulz’), but claim, above all, that they are not actually fantasy novels, because (le gasp!) they are intended for adults.

Excuse me, what?

These comments make sweeping generalizations about fantasy as a genre. They’re generalizations that are, sadly, mostly true. Most of the best fantasy IS written for young adults. Of course it is. Who needs a world of escape, where magic can happen and a suitably plucky narrator can become king or queen of a small country with ease, quite like a fourteen year old kid? You’re old enough to find your family like totally boring, but not old enough to drive and get away from them. You’re old enough to like the opposite sex, but not quite old enough to go beyond kissing and over-the-clothes clandestine fondling beneath the bleachers. You need, in essence, a way to escape from the pubescent C-4 of your own emerging personality into a world where things always wind up how they’re supposed to, and you have power over your own destiny. Because, when you can’t count on yourself to stay the same day after day, you crave these things.

What Grossman does, essentially, is take this theme to the next grade level. In The Magicians, his narrator Quentin is roughly college-aged–I think he runs from about 17-23 in the course of the book, but I wouldn’t swear on it– and his problems are college problems, peppered with the occasional f-bomb and none-too-slick cultural reference to prove it. He wants the same things he got from fantasy books as a child from actual magic–not only escape, but escape to a world where everything is fair and explainable, where his fate is writ large from the book of his own actions.

Quentin, like all good fantasy main characters, doesn’t really know who he is or where he belongs. He steps out of gray Brooklyn and into the boarding schoolesque magic of Brakebills, and he’s happy at first, but then shit starts to get real. Even a magical school isn’t what Quentin expects magic to be. Quentin–raised on the Fillory novels just as a lot of us were raised on Narnia or Lord of the Rings–has to learn the hard way that there is no full escape from trouble, no full escape from your own emotional issues. Even in a Narniaesque fantasy world, your actions have real consequences and the person you’re left going to sleep with at the end of the day is yourself.

However, sometimes you don’t have a great golden lion to step in and put you on the right track. Sometimes you make the wrong decision. And then–then, my dears, all you’ve got is damage control.

I wish I saw this lesson in more fantasy. Even when they’re crowning you King of Gondor, even when you’ve defeated He Who Shall Not Be Named, you’re still the same fucking human being. Heroism doesn’t engulf and change you like a bright cleansing light. Someone’s still slept with your girlfriend–or maybe you’ve slept with somebody else’s. Or maybe both. And these things aren’t separate from saving Middle fucking Earth. They’re a part of your world, the only world you know. Wherever that world may be.

Also: just because you went to college and graduated with honors doesn’t mean getting a real job will be easy.

Grossman deals with themes of escapism, elitism, the protection and arrogance of youth. I know, that’s a few more isms than I’m usually inclined to, but for me at least these ARE the themes of life in your twenties, of growing up and discovering that you can’t just run from your problems, because they are suddenly actually your problems and not your parents’, teachers’, or friends’. And Grossman deals with these themes just as well–better, actually–than most YA fantasy deals with those old high school themes of not belonging and finding your own ‘special powers’. The thing that makes him special–more special than a lot of people who write in similar theme in different genre–is that he does this honestly, baldly, and with few apologies for the giant dick you probably were in college, just like Quentin, which is why you love to hate him just a little bit.

So get out of your genre rut. Mr. Grossman did a brave thing and extended common fantasy themes into a whole new age group. If you’re still in high school or college–still looking at that $2,500 a month apartment and thinking ‘sure, I’ll be able to afford that once I graduate’–these books might not be for you. However, if you’ve had your dreams knocked around a bit–especially if you’ve done some of the knocking yourself and you still, obstinately, find ways to believe in them– these books will resonate.

And I have to add–on a semi-related note–that Mr.Grossman apparently read at a local bookstore around here last night. I, having no idea this was going on, spent the night cooking and watching a Korean horror movie.

ARGLFRGLBRRR. I could kill myself. No Korean horror movie is worth that shit. Especially not this one.

In other news: my spellcheck recognizes the word palimpsest, but does NOT recognize ‘escapism’, ‘honors’, or even, yes, ‘recognize’. This is why, in this little world of writing, you need an editor.