Friday, January 26, 2007

Read One of My Chapters and General Notes

Hey folks, I don't normally cross over my writing and this blog except as it pertains to book reviews, but maybe some of you are curious to see my writing anyway ;).

I've entered my science fiction novel, Shafter, into the First Chapters contest. If you're curious and would be willing, please click the link below and rate Shafter's first chapter with your honest opinion. You do have to join to rate, but the membership is free. I'm not looking for popularity votes, just people's impressions. If nothing else, the comments are very interesting.

The first chapter will only be available until February 7th, then, if everything goes well, the second chapter will be up for reading.

Chapter One of Shafter by Margaret McGaffey Fisk

And the general notes are that I'm doing a bit of a redesign of Stray Thoughts (with some help from my aesthetic friend, Val :)) and so some of the things you're used to are disappearing. The old sidebar with links to the books and reviews will be available as a post permanently linked on the sidebar as will the Mailing List information. The new version of Blogger won't let me keep them there as I had them before so I'm working out some technical details.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Rebel Ice and Plague of Memory by S.L. Viehl

Anyone who has read my blog for a while will know that I'm a fan of S.L. Viehl's writing, under whatever pseudonym. The only ones of her books that were not an instant favorite were her early romances. Those books showed a developing style that I've come to appreciate, but weren't quite cooked yet in my opinion.

What has that got to do with this post? Well, all will come clear in time. However, you have to know right now that this post will contain spoilers for Rebel Ice. I'll try to keep them to a minimum, but some I cannot avoid.

Regarding Rebel Ice, my experience with this book was a bit odd. First, my husband won it on one of Sheila's blog contests so it was "his" book. He had to read it first. Then life happened in a big way, ending up with a state to state move, our first since we met, and so no book for me.

Meanwhile, I had a couple friends who wanted to discuss it and were highly annoyed that I still hadn't read Rebel Ice.

Okay, so just over the six-month mark in our new house, still without being completely unpacked :p, I finally got my chance. I'm in a bookstore with my family, each of us holding a gift card from Chanukah, and my hubby says I have to buy the next Stardoc since it's on the shelf (early) and he "bought" the last one, but I can't read the back because it has major spoilers for Rebel Ice. I'd been planning to get it anyway, but boy did I grumble over buying a book I wasn't even allowed to look at because he'd been holding back on Rebel Ice. I made him give it over that night :).

As usual with Sheila, the book sucked me in. I was cheered to see Reever finally coming into his own (cause he's been my favorite for Cherijo from the very beginning ;)), I enjoyed the concept of the Raktar, found the culture interesting and logical for the world, and pretty much loved everything up until the end.

Here's the spoiler.

The twist didn't work for me. I could go back and construct events that could possibly have served as clues, or more likely warnings, but I felt cheated. A scene had been cut from the chronological telling specifically to hide this big secret, which really didn't affect all that much at all. I know the scene was cut because it is told as a flashback only after the big reveal. I don't do well with big reveals, because if it acts as a reveal, either I didn't enjoy the story and was skimming, or the seeds weren't there to build up to it. I really didn't think I was skimming, but I had no clue where this came from or even why. I still don't. That's frustrating to me because I feel it undermined Reever's chance to shine. The book is really his and Teulon's, but it's soured by a twist that failed for me.

I went back to those who had bugged me, and also asked my husband, to try and understand if I'd missed something big. Guess what? They hadn't even appreciated what I loved about the book. I loved it right up until the last ten or fewer pages. So curious me probed their reasons and have come to my own conclusions.

I think (besides the twist) that Rebel Ice was marketed in a way that built up false expectations. I knew it was a new Sheila book, so I read it. I'm simple that way. But I go back and read the cover now and it says: "The New Stardoc Novel." Except that it isn't about Cherijo. It isn't in first person, it has multiple POVs, it jumps from place to place so the action isn't all in the same locale as Cherijo, and she barely exists in the book. On the back cover, there's a two paragraph blurb. The first is about Cherijo, saying only that she's lost her memory. The second is about Duncan and the war. Now the second is true to the book, but the first sets her up as a player, which she basically isn't.

All this leads to my theory. Stardoc readers are more likely to be disappointed in Rebel Ice and not give it the benefit of the doubt because it changes how the world is set up by breaking the expectations set in the previous novels of the series. Though this part didn't bother me because of my tendency to treat a book as a book (yes, I do read series out of order), it did bother some of the people I talked to about Rebel Ice consciously.

I've said before that I tend to give authors more than one chance when they lose me. I'm no different with Sheila, and if anything, the number of books that have worked all the way to the end make me more inclined to let this one pass. Part of me just wants to put a marker at that last bit so I don't read it and can remember all that worked and all that I enjoyed in the book rather than what felt like a plot ninja, thrown in at the last second for reasons I cannot determine. I'm sure she had a reason, and I'd guess it probably felt seeded to Sheila, but though I can puzzle out 2-3 clues, there was no way to interpret them as I read and many reasons not to interpret them that way.

So, a little frustrated but hoping Plague of Memory would make it all right, I started into the next one. Okay, so Cherijo isn't Cherijo anymore (which you know from the back of Rebel Ice so it's not a spoiler), but those conventions I mentioned above are largely back in place. Not only that, but the book is a solid read. It drew me in and had me focused the whole way through. There are no tricks, no twists, nothing out of place in this book at all...which is not to say there aren't surprises, but they're surprises with the logic of the book, not imposed from outside of it.

Everyone who turned aside after Rebel Ice would be doing themselves a major disservice not to read Plague of Memory. I can't say anything specific without spoiling something, but let me say it holds all that the earlier novels held for me and more because of how Cherijo has changed. We get to see a new character with the same face and some of the same mannerisms, but a different approach that makes her fresh while staying familiar.

I will say that everything except the twist (yeah, I'm still griming about that ;)) in Rebel Ice is necessary for Plague of Memory to exist. Could you read it as a standalone? I think so. It references older books as well, but there's enough explanation that a new reader would be drawn to search the older ones out rather than to throw up hands in frustration. But, having read the books in order, things build on events that occurred in Rebel Ice and despite its change in format, I think it is necessary for the series, especially since something had to buffer the changes in Cherijo or the readers wouldn't buy it. If you haven't read Rebel Ice, just accept it as a book and don't beat it up with what style the previous ones had. I think it will read better that way and you'll enjoy it. If you haven't read Rebel Ice though because of what people have told you, read Plague of Memory. It's wonderful :).

Oh, and a simple plea. If you can explain the twist to me, point out something I missed that both makes it make sense and makes it important, please drop me a note. If you put it in the comments, remember to include a spoiler notice. If you want to send an email and don't have my address, just use the link to my website (Left Brain/Right Brain) on the left sidebar.