His Dark Materials trailer polar bearnalysis

I've written before about how I'm a big (but not uncritical) fan of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. If I were to have a pop cultural "thing" akin to Star Wars or Harry Potter like lots of other people have, this would be it. It was hugely formative for me and has massively influenced everything I've ever written.

I also run the premier trailer analysis website on the internet. Since HBO just put out a longer teaser for the first season of the BBC's big-budget TV adaptation, these two interests are now dovetailing nicely. Let's get out our alethiometers and dive in!

 

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How to write a Stephen King novel


Many people think that only Stephen King can write Stephen King books. This makes sense at first glance--his name is right there on the covers, after all--but in fact, anyone can write a Stephen King novel or short story.

It's true! By following these simple rules, you too can create stories about dysfunctional people getting eaten by monsters.

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Let's Read The Kingkiller Chronicle sex comic

No, this is not a joke.

I check in occasionally on r/KingkillerChronicle to see if there's been any news on the third book, or if that big ambitious multimedia adaptation is any closer to being an actual thing (it isn't). Usually it's just the dedicated fans becoming collectively more and more fed up with the failure of Doors of Stone to materialize, but today I found something different. Something both terrible and wondrous.

I found a sex toy review/sex ed webcomic featuring a strip written by Patrick Rothfuss, in which he interviews his characters about their sexual identities.

Reminder: still not joking. This is real. Link is NSFW, in case it wasn't obvious.

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The State of Blog April 2018 (with bonus book recommendations)

You may have noticed that there's been a distinct lack of Kvothe posts here on ronan wills dot com. There's a reason for that.

That project was started during a down period in my current neurological woes (if you're just joining us, the short version is that minor car accidents can have not so minor effects), which I rather optimistically assumed represented the new normal, rather than a temporary reprieve. This turned out to be very much not the case.

As such, posts of that style are simply too much heavy lifting in terms of reading and writing, two activities that I can't do very much of at the moment. That does not, however, mean that I'm abandoning Kvothe and pals. It's just that instead of twenty to thirty more posts, there's going to be around, like, two. Possibly three. I'm just going to throw my thoughts on the books into large essays that can easily be shared, liked, faved and subscribed to, and then we're done with Kvothe until that third book comes out.

Those will appear whenever I'm able to do them, which means any time between now and my natural death. In the meantime, I will continue to sporadically post the melange of media reviews and rambling, long-winded diatribes that all of my blogging efforts inevitable devolve into.

While I've got your attention, I did manage to read some things over the last...four months? Is it actually April already? Jesus.

Anyway here are some books you should maybe consider checking out.

Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Black and British by David Olusoga 

I'll Be Gone in The Dark by Michelle McNamara

Next up on my slow-reading pile is Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone, which landed with a fairly significant amount of hype. I'm quite eager to see if it deserves all the fuss.

 

All About Ready Player One

A few days ago, a trailer and poster for Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Ernest Cline's Ready Player One came out, and everyone had a hearty chuckle at the protagonist's bizarrely elongated leg. But it also served as a launching-off point for a discussion on how bad the book is, with choice excerpts flying thick and fast across twitter.

This is kind of a strange situation, because when Ready Player One came out back in 2011 it was an instant hit among the online geek crowd, seemingly universally beloved. For years afterwards, it felt as though most people who read the book, liked it; even my own negative review was more muted than outright hostile. Then Ernest Cline released a follow-up that was pretty much universally panned, even by people who loved his first outing, and opinion on Ready Player One soured via that strange phenomenon of internet collective opinion-making that also turned The Phantom Menace from the most exciting movie in the world to the worst (and which now, oddly, seems to be in the middle of exonerating it again).

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that the twitter hive-mind is wrong on this one. I dipped back into Ready Player One and yes, it's bad. It's bad in all the ways I remember it being bad when I first read it, and it's also bad in ways that I somehow missed the first time around. Here, in bulleted list form, are the salient points you need to know so you don't have to bother reading the thing for yourself (spoilers, obviously):

  1. Ready Player One takes place in the year 2044, but its teenage protagonists are all obsessed with pop culture from the 80s. Not only are they completely uninterested in whatever entertainment and commercial art is coming out in their own time (to the point where it seems as if there is none), it begins to feel as though all movies, games and music made after the mid-90s were somehow erased from history, barring a handful of exceptions like The Matrix. 
  2. The book exists more or less entirely to deliver 80s references, which it does in the same manner as those pop-culture mash up t-shirts that have Deadpool cosplaying as Darth Vader or whatever. This is best demonstrated by the scene where the protagonist arrives at a virtual party in a flying DeLorean that has the Ghostbusters logo on the doors and also the KITT AI from Knight Rider (yes, of course he also has a lightsaber). The entire book is like this; it's not so much a celebration of old school geek culture as it is a regurgitation, the author constantly tapping the reader on the shoulder and asking "Hey, you know what this thing is, right? Right? You get the reference, right?"
  3. All of the main characters are very clearly expressing Ernest Cline's own opinions, regardless of how little sense that makes. At one point, the main character laments that cereal manufacturers don't put toys in cereal boxes anymore, even though he has never personally experienced this and only knows about it from watching 80s cereal commercials--which is a thing that he does, for some reason.
  4. There are two Japanese characters in the book. This sit in the traditional seiza position and talk about honour and their ancestors all the time. At first I thought they were meant to be roleplaying--they're as obsessed with old samurai movies as the American characters are with Ghostbusters and Star Wars--but they keep doing this even when they show up in the real world.
  5. The book is extremely blatant wish-fulfillment. The main character goes on a quest to inherit the fortune of a vaguely Steve Jobs-esque tech mogul, which his trove of 80s knowledge (of course) allows him to do better than any of the millions of people competing with him for the prize. He shows up the rich corporate snobs trying to get the money ahead of the plucky nerds, gets a hot girlfriend, and becomes a multi-millionaire at the end of the book. Nothing ever seriously goes wrong for him. He spends a portion of the middle of the story struggling with depression and gains a large amount of weight, but manages to overcome both issues easily through the application of technology. At one point he sells himself into indentured servitude in order to access the evil corporate villain's headquarters; this plan goes off without a hitch, and presents absolutely zero tension at any point.
  6. At one point, the main character discovers that his virtual best pal--who presented in cyberspace as a fit, white, straight dude--is actually an overweight black lesbian. As far as I can tell, this occurs solely to highlight what a totally woke and open-minded guy the protagonist is. Their relationship continues on with zero problems or conflict, and they have no trouble relating to each other in real life as well as they did online (after this twist, this character's role in the plot severely diminishes, which makes me suspect they were written into the book solely for this purpose).
  7. At the end of the book, the characters all decide to leave the virtual world behind and embrace reality. This makes no sense. The near-future America they live in is a poverty-wracked hellhole, teetering on the brink of ecological collapse and ruled by all-powerful corporations. Cyberspace is the only way most people can get an education, socialize safely, express themselves or experience what it's like to live in a world that isn't a dystopian nightmare. There is zero actual reason for them to declare that actually it's bad and the real world is good, except that Ernest Cline thought these kinds of stories had to end with moral lessons about how the real world is superior to the digital one.
  8. Actually wait, there is a reason for them to do that: they're now rich beyond their wildest dreams, so they can just buy their way past all the bad stuff that they were using cyberspace to escape from. This is not acknowledged at any point.

All that said, I will give the book credit for one thing: it has the characters become rich (even before winning the grand prize) and famous due to their exploits online and starting streaming web-channels that are watched by millions, which given that the book came out in 2011 is a pretty good prediction of the phenomeon of Twitch and Youtube celebrities (PewDiePie only hit a million subscribers in 2012, so Cline was pretty ahead of the curve with this).

 

What I've been reading lately

I didn't read as many books over the last few months as I wanted to, but the ones I did read had maximum impact.

 

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Darkmouth - Shane Hegarty

There seems to be a rash of prominent middle grade books by Irish authors recently, and Darkmouth is one of the more notable. It presents a fun universe and a protagonist you want to root for right off the bat, although it perhaps expects you to keep rooting for him a bit too long--I found Finn's constant treadmill of failure kind of repetitive after a while.

 

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The Sympathizer -  Viet Thanh Nguyen

One of those rare literary novels with an ambitiously expansive scope--the kind that some critics might be tempted to describe as being about, like, humanity, man--that comes close to justifying the praise. Come for the writing, stay for the deliciously acerbic critique of American culture.

And he has another book out next year!

The official Ronan Wills Did Not Finish Pile for October 2017

I start a lot of books. I don't always finish them. Sometimes this is the book's fault, sometimes it's not (this is particularly true lately, as medical issues sometimes render me unable to read even if I want to). Here are the ones I didn't finish lately.

Alias Grace by Margeret Atwood

I got halfway through this, and then a certain other book we'll discuss below came along and demanded my attention. I definitely mean to go back to it.

A Place Called Perfect by Helena Duggan

I feel bad about this one, because it's another prominent middle grade debut by an Irish author, and I feel like I need to represent the home team. The premise was interesting, but the story was just a bit too meandering in the early going. I might give it another shot.

SPQR by Mary Beard

At the end of August, I was suddenly taken by a desire to read some Roman history, and this is the Roman history book nearly everyone recommends. Unfortunately, a rogue migraine swarm stopped me in my tracks a third of the way in.

In Progress: La Belle Sauvage by Phillip Pullman

I rushed out and got this as soon as the positive reviews hit, being something of a fan of the earlier His Dark Materials books. So far, it's not impressing me all that much, mainly due to flat characters and a story that takes its sweet time cohering into anything solid. From what I've read, the second half is distinctly more His Dark Materials-ey, so we'll see.

On my to-read list

Here's what I want to tackle next, on no particular timeline:

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell

 

 

 

In which the NYT bestseller list is corrupted

If you're not clued into the nebulous realm of Book Twitter, you probably missed the fact that there's a bit of a to-do going on at the moment. Specifically, there's been speculation that a debut author might have essentially bought her way into the New York Times bestseller list, possibly as part of some sort of weird effort to bolster a fledgling acting career.

You can read the basic summary here, although more details are coming to light seemingly by the hour*. As ever in cases like this, I'm leery of the possibility of false or incorrect information, but it sounds like there are enough people who know what they're talking about raising a small thicket of red flags in this particular case.

Regardless of what's really going on, it's a good illustration of how strange the mechanics of publishing can be. You sometimes see people asserting that the entire industry is corrupt from top to bottom, a place where influence and "platform" trump merit, success depends solely on who you know, and there's no chance for a genuinely good author to rise to the top if they don't have the right connections. I think that's demonstrably untrue, but at the same time you have to keep in mind that what seems from the outside like a monolithic machine is actually a bunch of discrete entities working at different purposes and goals; if you were inclined to view the NYT list as some sort of sanctioned authority filtering the collective will of everyone involved in book publishing (which is a mindset I see fairly often in writing circles), this should thoroughly refute that idea.

The other reason this case got so much attention is that the book in question is poised to end The Hate U Give's 25-week run on top of the YA bestseller list; Angie Thomas's book is apparently brilliant, timely and eminently worthy of its success (I haven't read it yet), whereas Handbook for Mortals is...

...seemingly not any of those things.

I think I'm going to go buy a copy of The Hate U Give as soon as I finish what I'm currently reading.

*As of literally twenty minutes ago, it seems that the NYT has revised its list to remove Handbook For Mortals, restoring The Hate U Give to its number one spot. YA readers and authors do not fuck around, apparently.