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review 2013-10-12 04:29
The Android's Dream - John Scalzi

Reading John Scalzi is like going in expecting to read a nice little satire of science fiction, and then suddenly being slammed with the most outrageous concept ever but it’s very straight-faced and at the end you’re sitting there thinking “What the fuck did I just read? I know it’s good. But what the fuck.” (The Old Man’s War cycle is probably the most straight example of all of Scalzi’s work that I’ve read; I’ve yet to get to Fuzzy Nation or Agent to the Stars.)


This is a book that begins with a revenge tragedy that culminates into a thirty-page fart joke that will threaten the existence of Earth and it’s played completely and utterly straight. I don’t know why I was so shocked by the set-up of the premise because I’ve read Scalzi before. I should be expecting this. And it just gets progressively more fucked up as the plot snarls into a massive Gordian knot of “What the hell just happened?” to the point where even cutting it isn’t an option.


(I actually gave this to my sister years ago after I finished Old Man’s War and had picked this up. When I told her that I was reading this and I had no idea how this book started, she looked at me, and yelled at me for giving her the book in the first place.)


One of the things I really love about Scalzi’s alien creations is that he does come up with really ridiculous xenobiology and some of the most horrifying and disgusting alien functions and anatomy in the eyes of humanity (see the Kathungi fertility cycle), and yet it comes off as very sincere and matter of fact. Scalzi really makes his aliens feel more realistic and human by giving them very human traits and emotions. Especially once we get to the Nidu and the win-Getag clan’s rise to power, and they’re so devious in how to execute the entire plan and it’s done so well.


And it should be mentioned that the major twist of the book when Harry Creek finds the titular Android’s Dream does actually make some sense when things are explained. (Oh, that explanation was horrifying.) And the other thing that I like about Scalzi’s work is that he does put a lot of thought into the resolution and solutions to the problem and still manages to find ways to put up a roadblocks for the protagonists. Which is really hard to pull off and to pull off well.


If there’s anything that I didn’t love, I think that I wasn’t a huge fan of Harry and Robin. They’re good characters, and I enjoyed them, but they felt kind of bland? I’m not sure—I really don’t want to say that Scalzi’s written these character types before, but a lot about the language and the chemistry between Harry and Robin felt like “I’ve read this before.” [spoiler]It’s more prevalent with Brian Javna; I have seen Scalzi doing the very tech-savvy supporting character who has the key to everything. I thought it was fascinating how Javna managed to preserve himself and then having Harry to figure out a way to resurrect his best friend, but again, Brian’s dialogue and characterization did feel like a bit of retread.

[/spoiler] I really liked Archie’s character the most, specifically him being caught between this vast conspiracy and what he’s been ordered to do by the Church of the Evolved Lamb. (Btw, I love that the Church of the Evolved Lamb is a whole spoof of Scientology that ends up being a sincere religion that ends up being right. It’s kind of beautiful.) And I really liked how much thought Scalzi does put into all of his characters, even the minor ones.


That all said, it’s still a really good book. The twists and turns are pulled off really well, and even though the plot is incredibly dense and complicated, it’s still explained well to the reader. (Really, the only thing you’re going “What the fuck am I reading?” at is the sheer “NO WHAT THE FUCK DID HE JUST SAY? DEATH BY FARTS?” Amongst other things.) I really enjoyed it, and if you’ve read other Scalzi books and enjoyed them, you’d like this too.

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review 2013-10-12 04:18
Guitar Girl - Sarra Manning

This is one of those books that I tend to keep waffling back and forth on; it’ll sit on my shelf for a few months, and I’ll think “Oh, did I really like that book? Maybe I ought to read it again.” And then I read it and back on shelf it goes.


Which isn’t to say that this is a bad book…yet it’s not one that’s terribly memorable. I will say this about Guitar Girl, while it’s a typical “teen girl experiences the darker side of fame” novel, the plot is a little more blunt than other more well-known novels with similar plot lines. But it’s incredibly fast-paced with the plot which can work at times, but doesn’t work all of the time and feels too-rushed, especially given the length of the book.


What I do like here is that the main conflict and driving momentum of the plot is Molly Montgomery and her being manipulated by her manager does actually read as realistic and makes sense. For all as Molly goes on about being an adult and able to make her own decisions can read as “bratty teenage girl,” it is a fairly realistic portrayal; add to the fact that that attitude is what allows Paul to really manipulate Molly emotionally. I also really liked that Paul doesn’t take advantage of Molly sexually—aside from the one kiss—but it is this emotional manipulation that feeds on “I’m going to make you into a star. You don’t need your parents, you don’t need to listen to your friends, you listen to me and I will take care of everything.” (The fact that this is common, especially given the number of young women stars in the last two-three years with varying ‘breakdowns,’ is frightening and does add a level of realism to this.) 


And Molly didn’t read as bratty all the time to me. The only thing that I don’t like is her relationship with her parents—I did get her attitude of wanting to be more independent and being able to make her own decisions, and that’s fine. But I didn’t get any sort of love between her and her father (Molly’s mother is largely nonexistent, aside from being the go-between) until right up until the end. A lot of that is due to the fact that the plot forces Molly to be away from home, but we really don’t get to see a lot of interaction between her and her father for three-fourths of the book. So, their reconciliation at the end doesn’t really ring as true to me because we haven’t seen much of their loving relationship together.


But that said, I do like that Molly is very concerned with her friends, and that they (specifically Jane) are reacting badly to fame. While it doesn’t really help a lot with the plot, given that we’re seeing what happens through Molly’s eyes and it needs Jane to propel the plot along. However, I really liked that Jane’s choices and spiraling out of control is what makes Molly decide to walk away at the end. I liked that she doesn’t choose to leave fame because of what’s happened to her, it’s because that Molly’s afraid that her best friend isn’t going to make it through a full year of touring. And I liked that it’s very blunt about Jane’s decisions and what happens to her without vilifying her for sleeping around or drinking or partying.


The same thing applies to Molly’s relationship with Dean and the problematic elements between them. I liked that they do have the bad relationship where all they do is fight and snipe at each other, but they can’t help but go off and snog their brains out. And even then, Dean’s very cagey about letting everyone else know that he and Molly have been snogging their brains out. (And again, Paul—I really like that we get to see that Paul’s been emotionally manipulating Dean as well.)


(It should be noted that Paul pretty much reads as a skeevy douchebag in bright flashing letters from the first page he shows up. There’s really no hiding that fact.)


My other problems with the book are mainly due to the length. My copy runs a little over two hundred pages and the plot takes place over a year, and there’s a lot that gets dropped. For example, Tara’s characterization doesn’t really get fleshed out beyond being the quiet, shy  supportive friend but given the ending, it doesn’t really feel true that she would abandon and turn on Molly like that. (The one line that hints at that suggests bisexuality but it’s never explored and written off as “Oh, she was drunk.”) I don’t like how fast the plot moves—I get the meteoric rise to stardom, but this is so fast that it comes off as slightly unbelievable. Unbelievable given that this is set in 2004-05, pre-takeoff of YouTube. The amount of time between when the Hormones form and when they get signed is less than a month, and it’s a little too quick for me to believe. I will give this to Manning, though—I do really like the music aspect to this. It plays to Molly’s character that she still believes in changing the world on nothing more than three chords and the truth, only to have Dean bluntly tell her that “No, even with three chords, you still suck.” I did like that at least at the beginning, Molly does have to work at being good a guitarist and even after being signed, she has to work really hard.  Again, there’s not enough to Molly’s relationship with her father to actually feel like there’s a payoff to it at the end.


As I said at the beginning, this isn’t a bad book, but it is kind of unmemorable, especially with the writing and the part of the ending. If you like this kind of book, I’d check it out as it is a blunt portrayal of the darker side of fame; if not, I’m not going to say skip it but it’s not a must read. (To be entirely fair, I scrounged this up at the bargain shelf at Half Price Books for fifty cents. Yeah.) There’s some good things in it, I’m probably not going to kick it off my shelf, but I’m not going to go singing its praises.

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