Yes to all – I especially encourage investing in good covers. Wouldn’t it be great if great books sold themselves, but, not so much.
Swordspoint is a particularly good example of the challenges of book selling in a world of genre focus and the challenges of making your work known. Swordspoint has been called a “melodrama of manners”, a fantasy, a high romance and a fairy tale for grown ups. To me, it seems like an alternate world history novel about the political and sexual intrigues of court. Obviously that’s not a genre. One distinguishing feature of the novel, and possibly the fantasy element, is that nearly all of the men are bisexual; none of the women are depicted this way. Had this novel been described to me this way, I probably wouldn’t have bought it. I’m not particularly interested in the intrigues of courts; I’m about as interested in the politics of the lords as Richard St Vier, the swordsman protagonist of the novel. I’m also not interested in novels where sex plays a primary role; I’m even less interested in one where switching partners and partner’s sex is the norm. I tend to avoid looking at sex as a spectator sport; it’s best as a participatory one within the context of marriage. That’s not to say this isn’t a well written book. I’m also not interested in horror and don’t read good writers like Stephen King (with the exception of the brilliant Gunslinger series). So here we come to a dilemma; on one hand, genre can help guide us to works we’ll typically appreciate (or avoid those we typically don’t). On the other hand, there are many books, this one included, which cannot be easily classified or may even be mislabeled. We now have finer granularity with new genres and sub-genres, such as new-adult fiction, urban fantasy, dark fantasy and techno-thriller. In some cases, that helps and in some cases, this pigeonholing seems to exacerbate the problem. Obviously, in a number of cases, there are books in multiple genres and some that really don’t fit neatly into a cubby-hole. We also have publishers reclassify a book to whatever genre that’s hot. Debate whether genre labeling is helpful or not for the reader, for the writer and for the booksellers is nothing new.
My two cents, from a reader’s perspective, on the genre-wars is that I think genre labels can be helpful if used as a high-level initial filter (for me this would filter out things like horror, erotica and harlequin romances). After that, it’s up to me. Swordspoint is a great case in point (yup, I did that); it’s loved by writers I love such as Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin and Orson Scott Card. So I got it; I should have taken a bit of time to dig a little deeper past a couple of labels. I’m culpable for buying a novel outside of what I prefer, not the labels. I think that too much granularity is problematic because books typically don’t fit that neatly and it makes us lazy readers.
Moving past the classifying of Swordspoint, how is it as a book? Ms. Kushner can write; I supply for evidence the introduction:
SNOW WAS FALLING ON RIVERSIDE, GREAT WHITE feather-puffs that veiled the cracks in the façades of its ruined houses; slowly softening the harsh contours of jagged roof and fallen beam. Eaves were rounded with snow, overlapping, embracing, sliding into each other, capping houses all clustered together like a fairy-tale village. Little slopes of snow nestled in the slats of shutters still cozily latched against the night. It dusted the tops of fantastical chimneys that spiraled up from frosted roofs, and it formed white peaks in the ridges of the old coats of arms carved above the doorways. Only here and there a window, its glass long shattered, gaped like a black mouth with broken teeth, sucking snow into its maw.
Let the fairy tale begin on a winter’s morning, then, with one drop of blood new-fallen on the ivory snow: a drop as bright as a clear-cut ruby, red as the single spot of claret on the lace cuff. And it therefore follows that evil lurks behind each broken window, scheming malice and enchantment; while behind the latched shutters the good are sleeping their just sleeps at this early hour in Riverside. Soon they will arise to go about their business ; and one, maybe, will be as lovely as the day, armed, as are the good, for a predestined triumph.
Kushner, Ellen (2007-12-18). Swordspoint (Riverside) (pp. 1-2). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Her descriptions, characters, pacing (for a book on court intrigues) and world creation are spot on. It is a testament to her writing that I became invested in what happened to Richard. Her descriptions present the world of Riverside in such a way that I feel as though I’ve furtively traveled through the streets or wandered up the Hill. It’s also described in such a way, that I wouldn’t like to visit, let alone live there. The characters who peopled her story were often complex and clever. Ironically, the two people who seemed to have the best character were killers: Richard St Vier and Vincent Applethorpe (a former swordsman who ran a fencing school). There were a number of purposely unlikable characters, such as Lord Horn. There were some characters who I didn’t particularly care for, such as Alec, who I think I was supposed to appreciate more. On the whole, the lords (and ladies) were a rotten, self-absorbed lot; the relatively good ones received little “page time” such as Lord Halliday and Lord Arlen. Some, such as Ferris and Godwin were interesting but still self-absorbed. The Riverside townspeople were barely getting by and, while providing color, had relatively little depth to them. So while I can, from the sidelines, admire the prowess of Lord Ferris and hold in awe the machinations of Duchess Tremontaine, there were very few characters that I liked as people.
All of this simply confirms that this is well-done but not my cup of tea. It is a well built world I don’t care for peopled with complex characters that I mostly don’t like and has as its main focus clever politicking and sexual intrigue amongst the lords of the city which I don’t prefer as a focus. If you like this stuff (and the bisexual element doesn’t bother you), then you’ll like Ms. Kushner’s book.
I had an opportunity to listen to much of the audiobook (I went between the Kindle and Audible versions using Whispersync for Voice). Overall, it’s nicely done. It is not quite a full audio play but it is a multi-cast reading with sound effects. While Ms. Kushner has solid narration skills developed doing radio with WGBH (Boston), the tone in her voice is not my favorite. She does a nice job of narration; this is simply personal preference.
So, this is a well executed book whose content really isn’t for me; I won’t be continuing the series.
Nicely thought through (and written) piece on struggling with writing. @cherilucas
I don’t normally comment on movies, but Now You See Me critic reviews beg for a consumer’s response. When I last looked at Rotten Tomatoes, 47% of the critics liked it while 74% of movie goers did. That about sums it up; flip the numbers and you’ll get an idea of what audiences like as opposed to critics. What sets this move apart, however, are the fairly explicit accusations that if you like this movie you’re definitely provincial and probably a bit of a dolt. Take, for example., Bruce Bennett of Spectrum’s statement: “If you see only a handful of movies a year you’ll probably love it.” So, if you have a clue to life about movies, you’ll dish this one, otherwise – “don’t get out much do you?” Some say it’s plodding but the gist of most of them is that it’s empty entertainment.
Um – yes. Yes, if you analyze the tricks deeply, there’s a bit of cheat involved. Yes, there are unanswered questions. Yes, there is some misdirection. And it was fast and furious fun. There is no deeper message here (if there were, the critics would probably whine about it being an over-bearing message film).
Now You See Me is a well-executed, clever ride – well beyond mere revenge and action, the movie moves us through some interesting puzzles, both in terms of situations and relationships. Now maybe this is the moron in me jumping out in full-fledged ignominy, but I didn’t guess the mastermind. I believe the movie succeeded on the level intended – smart, funny and fast entertainment. Could it have been better? Sure; I think Isla Fisher was underused. I think the ending was a bit anticlimactic. There were a couple of quick scenes in the beginning that had me doubting the PG-13 rating. All that being said, I actually want to see it again. It’s a solid 4 star fun movie.
Man, I hope I can pull away for this:
So, I took the plunge – I switched platforms – I was all in on Google – I used Google Mail, Drive, Blogger, Sites and Analytics, just to name a few of Google services. So, I was already fairly ensconced in the Google world when I originally hopped on the Android platform on August 30, 2010 with the Sprint’s Samsung Galaxy S device, the Epic 4g. (I actually tried an Android phone a couple weeks before this, the Samsung Moment – really not ready for prime time phone.) This phone, especially as a smartphone, was light years ahead of anything I’ve ever used. I could still use a real keyboard, the screen was a beautiful bit of 4″ Super AMOLED goodness and it could handle any media I could throw at it. Overall, it was a good mix of tools and experience. Not always the most polished, but dead simple and worked reasonably well. At the time, it made the best sense for me. I was tied to Sprint at the time and so iOS was out, Windows Phone 6.5 really wasn’t a viable choice (it just didn’t work well) and Blackberry was limited as well. No, at that time, Android was the right choice. It’s amazing what a difference 2 1/2 years makes.
Sprint’s network in the Raleigh area was good and with a good roll-out of WiMAX (LTE wasn’t out yet). Yes, the GPS on the Epic was worthless and the ability to grab calls a bit dicey, but not terrible. Mobile life was pretty good.
So, why not stay in the Android world when it was time for an upgrade? First, the fractured platform: the original Epic 4g made it to Gingerbread. This took a long time. At the time I bought Epic, I thought, I’m not just buying a phone, I’m buying into a growing, improving platform. Not so much. The platform may improve, but you’ll need different hardware to improve with it. That’s true, to some degree of all platforms, but the fractured base of Android exacerbates this problem. Second, there was some awkwardness in the interface and OS. Enough halts, freezes and crashes to get tiresome. Finally, I really like the subscription model of music – it allows you to explore à la Pandora while giving more control (I still listen to albums). Spotify wasn’t on Android yet and I prefer Xbox Music (formerly Zune Service) anyway. Finally, there was the siren call of that lovely hardware package: the Nokia Lumia 920. Flat-out gorgeous, lovely to hold, a joy to use and it simply works. Oh, and did I mention the camera? You know, the one with optical image stabilization and Carl Zeiss lens that allows for good low-light pictures? By the way, regarding the weight and thickness comments, I’m not quite so feeble that I can’t carry it or hold it. If I do let it go, it will survive. See PhoneBuff’s drop test. Oh, and the wireless charging. Wow, I love just dropping it on the charger and picking it up without having to think about wires. And the…, well, this list could go on.
I was already tempted by Windows Phone 8 – a cool new interface; traversing this multi-tiled landscape across a field of smooth tapered glass was a joy compared to selecting icons on my old Android. But wait… I’ve invested all this time in the googleverse, some money on apps and the platform is growing. Do I want to make the effort to switch? Learning a new OS and apps on a somewhat risky platform that still hasn’t reached a huge following yet seems a bit of a stretch. First, it wasn’t that much of risk; it was unlikely that Windows Phone wouldn’t survive my contract. Mostly, I don’t want to be driven by fear, especially on something like a phone choice. So, live on the edge, learn some new stuff and stave off the onslaught of weakening mental faculties for just a little bit longer. Seriously, the interface is intuitive and there are so many apps in common (Evernote, Pandora, WordPress, Kindle, Audible …), the new ones are fairly straight-forward to learn and the Windows 8 UI is dead-easy. Switching is one of the best moves I’ve made. Is it a perfect experience? No. There are a few (less than you would think) apps that aren’t native on the platform I would like. Yes they have counter-parts but they typically aren’t as good (with exceptions like Graffiti Radio, a Pandora client which is better than a very good native Pandora client). I’ve had the phone lock a couple of times (like 2). The overall experience is a delight. Oh, and it really works as a phone and the GPS is dead on.
At the same time, I moved to AT&T. I’ve heard all the “Attempt to Talk” jokes and how much more fabulous Verizon’s network is. Probably true, but I can simply speak to my 5 plus months experience – it has been outstanding. Calls connect, texts reach their target immediately and the LTE roll-out in the Triangle is wicked fast. Your mileage may vary. Sprint’s customer service was fine, but the network severely deteriorated the last couple of years. Since AT&T was the only place to get the Lumia, I took a chance, tested the heck out the network the first 14 days and have never regretted the move since. (My wife and daughter have moved over as well with Android and Windows Phone 7 devices. My son will follow suit in a month on iOS; we’re a diverse family.)
So, I’ve drunk the Microsoft cool-aid for now. I use Skydrive, Office on-line (much better formatting and familiar function), Outlook email and the non-Microsoft WordPress for blogging. Overall, it all works better. Is the Googleverse bad? No, I haven’t completely abandoned it. But I prefer the new; moreover, I definitely appreciate my mobile interface to it – for example, documents render so much better now.
Nokia itself is fabulous; they care in ways I never saw from Samsung. Adding apps, updating with improvements and producing sturdy, beautifully designed handsets. They have a commitment which Samsung never showed. I’m not worried about a seriously delayed or never adopted update because the OS is fragmented from the original development code.
Is my experience the same as someone else’s would be? No. Because I went to a new network, a better spec’d phone and more recently updated OS, I received benefits I would have on any phone. Had I gone to Samsung Galaxy S3 on AT&T, my experience would have improved as well. So what sets my Lumia experience apart? The delight factor. The Lumia and Windows Phone 8 is a delight to use. From it’s feel in the hand to the live tiles showing the weeks of the weather (I love Weather Flow), it’s simply a joy to use. For me, the S3 would have been a good, improved tool, but just a tool. (The S4 would be a very large, good tool. Seriously, 5″?)
So take a risk; try something new. Even if it’s not Windows Phone 8, experiment a little.