Friday, October 1, 2010

And I had such high hopes for this one, too: "The Strain" by Guillermo del Torro and Chuck Hogan

Five hundred and eighty-five. That's a number. It's a big number, too. Numbers in the English language often start with zero and go up from there, although there are many situations in which you may be faced with a permutation of this general rule. However, here, now, in this situation, one will take "five hundred and eighty-five" at face value. It means that there was not one thing, not two things, but many, many things, all busy being things at the same time. This is caused by an eclipse.

And that's how all five hundred and eighty-five pages of my paperback copy of "The Strain" were written, except when the authors--Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, both of whom should know better--were busy attempting to figure out how human beings talk; all of their attempts were unsuccessful, although after awhile they finally decoded the mystery of the contraction. I recommend we not even mention their attempts to capture "ghetto Latino" and "Goth rock poser"; not for nothing does the San Francisco Chronicle deem the novel "terrifying".

Brief summary:

There's an eclipse. This is an omen. We get to hear about its ominous omening in stilted prose from the point of view of every single person in Manhattan. This takes roughly 300 pages. Meanwhile, a dark plane has landed, a guy survived the Holocaust, and we're introduced to several one-dimensional characters we will gradually come to care nothing about. Del Toro and Hogan never decipher the age-old writer's rule "show, don't tell," nor do they unravel the conundrum presented by the concept of "subtle foreshadowing".


So things happen, people die, the English language weeps and levels charges of domestic abuse.


Read This Instead:
Actually, just go outside and stare at a tree for a few hours.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

House of Night: You Know We're Edgy Because We Used "Night" In Our Title

Now that you know what Night tastes like thanks to R.L. Stine in narrative drag, you're probably thinking, "Hey, I'm super glad I'm so informed about Night, but what if I want to crash its happenin' party? What if I want to get drunk and TP its front lawn?" In short, you want to know where Night lives. Fortunately, the mother-daughter duo of P.C. and Kristin Cast will answer all your questions in the book series I hate above all others, the House of Night novels.

The first thing you need to know about this series? Well, vampire is spelled "vampyre," because it's just totally sexier that way, mmmkay? (Y God?
Y??) The second thing you need to know is that this review technically only covers the first three books, because I was too disheartened to read any further. Does it get better? Can it get any worse?

1: The Protagonist

Our heroine is Zoey Redbird. In the first novel,
Marked, we learn that, not only is she becoming a vampyre, she is also beautiful, talented, smart, irresistible to "totally yummy" guys (her words, not mine), persecuted by her parents, and, best of all, marginally ethnic. She uses ridiculous slang (and lots of parentheses full of edgy, super-kewl "humor") and, though she is, to all appearances, a white yuppie in a white yuppie house with a white yuppie family, she can channel the ancient spirits of her Cherokee ancestors. Yup, she's one-one-billionth Cherokee, and as such, she can call down the stereotypes at a plot twist's notice!

As the series progresses, we discover that Zoey is also the most powerful fledgling vampyre the world has ever known, hand-picked by the vampyre goddess for a great destiny, and so on and so forth. She is unique and special and special and unique and did we mention that all the guys love her and the most popular girl in school is totally jealous of her? We didn't? Oh, don't worry, the Casts will. They'll mention it approximately eight million times in the first novel alone!

2: The Sidekicks

Zoey has a whole cast of cardboard cutouts dedicated to following her around and telling her how special she is. Her crew of stereotypically one-dimensional friends includes a ditzy blonde, a black sistah, a gay kid (who totally isn't defined by his gayness unless he's pointing out cute guys and hot shoes and ... oh wait, never mind, he does that in every other sentence to remind us all that he's GAY, because how EDGY is THAT??), and a Midwestern girl who strives to embody the punchline of every "You might be a redneck if ..." joke
. It follows, naturally, that Zoey's friends are also incredibly gifted; together, they are able to call on the powers of earth, wind, air, fire, water and heart to summon the vampyre goddess or something like that. I don't know. It's like the Planeteers mated with the Baby-Sitters Club to produce some sort of hybrid vampyre-Mary Sue dream team.

3: The Boys

Zoey also has several boys attempting to steal her oft-mentioned and fretted-about virginity. These boys are all super-duper yummy; one, Erik Night, is nothing more than Edward-Cullen-sans-abstinence program (these vampyres have SEX, because how EDGY is THAT??); the second, Zoey's human boyfriend, is so bland and forgettable that I can't even think of his name right now. I think he's blond? These guys never evolve any semblance of real character; there just isn't the page space for that, not with the Casts obligated to mention how special Zoey Redbird-Cherokee Princess-Spirit Warrior-Yuppie Brat is every other paragraph and all.

4: The Prose

For the love of all that is marginally good and right in this world,
the prose! The Casts make Stephenie Meyer look like Ray Bradbury. I can't believe it takes both of them to destroy the English language the way they do. It's a really beautiful team effort that you must read to believe, especially if adults trying too hard to sound young and relevant is your thing.

5: In Summation

The House of Night series is the mutant love child of Twilight, Harry Potter and Gossip Girl, as written by a mother and daughter who shook a handful of supposedly edgy ingredients into a cauldron of crappy prose, then stirred it all together and slopped it out in libraries and bookstores all over the world.

I just hope it comes out of the carpet.

Read This Instead: Already Dead by Charlie Huston is actually an innovative and edgy take on the vampire fiction genre. It's the kind of novel that laughs at the House of Night books for being posers.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Dangerous Girls 2: The Taste of Fail

Though Twilight brought the sexy-vampire-romance genre to the forefront of the happening teen literary scene, it's a genre that's probably been around since Eve ate the apple. (Some theologians now believe the serpent enticed Eve with the promise that, should she take a bite of the forbidden fruit, she would be immortalized as Stephenie Meyer's initial source of sledgehammer symbolism.) A year before Twilight graced bookstores, however, R.L. Stine was busy proving that sexy vampire romances targeted at pubescent girls are generally doomed to be steaming piles of trash.

Let's face it: It's one thing when your sixty-something grandmum tries to identify with you by sampling a generous platter of local young 'un slang. It's another event entirely when your sixty-something grandpa actually writes a book in which he tries to identify with your plight for sexual awakening and juvenile titillation.

Such is the trouble with Dangerous Girls 2: The Taste of Night, written by R.L. Stine and published in 2004. I picked this one up at my local library as part of a buffet of teen vampire fiction I worked my way through in the false hope that Twilight would prove to be the nadir of the genre. "This is by R.L. Stine," I thought. "He's a cult favorite," I thought. "Surely he can write a vampire novel for teens that will provide legitimate thrills and chills," I thought.

Blind to the emo tear of blood on the cover and the title font that looked as though it had been bludgeoned by a novice graphic designer with a weakness for gradients, I dove in. It quickly became apparent that R.L. Stine, conscious of the fact that he was writing to a young, female demographic, did his research; he appears to have discovered in short order that the female psyche is primarily defined by

a) makeup
b) boys.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, the heroines of Dangerous Girls 2: Generic Emo Subtitle spend a gratuitous amount of time

a) applying makeup
b) chasing boys.

Granted, this is generally what females do in cheap teen fiction aimed at the fairer demographic. However, all of these exploits as detailed in Dangerous Girls 2: We're Not Really As Bad-Ass As This Title Wants Us to Be are written, as I mentioned earlier, from the point of view of a sixty-something man attempting to imagine what it would be like to

a) wear makeup
b) pursue teenage males.

It's all very flat and self-aware; even the horror elements feel phoned-in, from the tired and obvious cliffhangers to the routine plot. I'm guessing this was hammered out in a night or so for an insistent publishing house and a dollar or so.

I feel sorry for R.L. Stine. I really do. I have tried to put myself in that stereotypical teenage prattle queen mindset and found it terribly difficult as well as frightening on a number of different psychological levels. Perhaps he should have written about something more easily grasped and authentically written, such as nuclear physics or brain surgery.

Read These Instead: Scott Westerfield's Peeps and The Last Days. Both are humorous, inventive YA vampire novels that manage to successfully combine gross-outs with romance and preserve a level of vampire creepiness without forsaking the sex appeal fictional vampires today are so good at flaunting.

I Snark Because I Care

There's nothing I love more than snark. Bits of easily-mocked media, therefore, warm my heart and frequently fuel episodes of *headdesking* that never quite beat the fail out of my head. Over the years, I've read my fair share of books that make me wish I had the courage and solidly-forged silverware to gouge my own eyes out. I'd like to offer my opinions on these books so that, whether you actually want to avoid crappy writing or wish to dive on in so as to snark it yourself, you'll have my inconsequential presence on teh interwebz to thank or curse as you will.

Of course, it bears mentioning that I am not, in fact, a heartless creature of chaos hell-bent on foisting negativity upon a world already fraught with such. I'm not quite so hell-bent on it as I am gently inclined to it. I feel absolutely no ill will towards the authors whose books I may, erm, vehemently critique or other readers who may enjoy the aforementioned authors and books. Everyone has his or her own taste, and I'm only doing this for fun, not to offend.

So, erm, happy reading?