Should ‘The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue’ get a Hugo?

No? Of all the books I’ve read so far on my quest to predict 2021’s Hugo winner this is the book I’ve enjoyed the least.

Now this will perhaps be something of a hot take as this book seems to be universally loved by fans and critics alike. It’s a bestseller in the New York Times, USA Today, National Indie, and Washington Post.

WaPo calls it a “Genre-defying tour de force” in their article: V.E. Schwab delivers another compulsively readable novel with ‘The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue’

Gary K. Wolfe over at Locus believes that “. . . most readers will fall in love with Addie as fully as Schwab herself has. And, well, she is pretty cool.(here’s the link to the Locus review)

And there are probably about a million other reviews online from major publications and small blogs like my own that would agree with those sentiments and have come up with their own ways to put their love of Addie into words.

I don’t want to take away from that. Live your joy. I will not try to deny that there was plenty to love in The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (in fact, I’m going to start my review by listing the things I did like about the book because I think that is generally more useful, and if you are only gonna read so far you might as well learn about the good things) . . .

But this book wasn’t that for me.

**slight spoilers ahead**

(I’ve never done a spoiler warning on this blog before I don’t think. It was kinda fun!)

Fine, What Were the Good Things?

This quote:

“Freedom is a pair of trousers and a buttoned coat.”

Pg 163 (you know what book we’re talking about)

I was only slightly sad that she didn’t point out the joy of pockets. Now you may say, “What do you know of this? You’re a man.” Indeed, but I have talked to women before and occasionally they talk back. Sooner or later, they all mention pockets.

Needless to say this book is filled with gender commentary like that, whether it be in the little things like the clothes Addie is and isn’t allowed to wear (and what she feels able to get away with since she won’t be remembered), or one of the overarching themes of love and possession (aka abusive relationships). I especially enjoyed the way the book’s bi and queer relationships were in full view of the reader without any subtlety (or apology). They are simply a part of the world, and this is as it should be.

I also thought the main premise was intriguing and put something new (at least to me) on the themes and considerations of immortality.

And of course, the prose are expertly written.

Good. Good.

So what gives?

For me, two things mainly. The first: little or no sense of wonder beyond Addie’s original meeting with The Darkness. And second? Paaaacccciiinnnggg.

For the first, it is useful to think of WaPo’s review of ‘genre-defying’. Typically, this kind of sentiment is seen as an achievement, but I felt that in the case of Addie LaRue (randomly italicized because I thought it sounded like a mystery title), it was the book’s biggest weakness. A music venue in an abandoned subway tunnel is perhaps the most spectacle we get after establishing our MC’s curse.

I wanted more.

For the second, we have these short little chapters, which alternate between past episodes in Addie’s Life, and her “present” in 2014 (it was super interesting to read why Schwab chose to set the novel before 2016). At first, the short and punchy prose make these snippets fly by, and we feel like we’re running through the book instead of reading it. But after 50 such portions (and 3 parts!) we’re only halfway through the novel. I’ll admit, I had started typing up this post at that point, thinking I was going to put the book down.

By the halfway mark, Luc (the villain) didn’t really seem all that consequential. He sort of just shows up randomly which I guess could be stressful on its own but we don’t really have the full context yet though we think we do. We’ve seen a lot of Addie by this point, but all we know is that she’s proud, somewhat selfish, and suffering a whole bunch because of one bad move a long time ago. Whatever is going on with Henry is still a mystery.

Now, all of these things do get wrapped up and threaded together by the end (in a way that I’m still unsure whether or not is satisfying), but here too, we run into the constant stop-start, of these tiny chapters. By the last fifty pages, I just wanted everything to happen already.

Perhaps this is just me though . . .

So Hugo?

I don’t doubt this one will be a contender, but if it makes the finals (which it very well may given how popular the author and this book seem to be), it will not be the one I vote for. I enjoyed the premise and the way the story delivered its messaging, but I was really missing that sense of wonder, and on a more practical point, I almost put the book down because of the pacing . . . if I had then there would have been no chance for me to see all the things I ended up enjoying about the book, and that is definitely a problem.

Thanks all. Hope you found this review useful! Sorry it was a bit of a downer.

Please skin me alive, leave your thoughts in the comments! Until next time . . .

Dreamer: A Different Flavor for Brandon Sanderson

Dreamer
This was an interesting (little) piece from Brandon Sanderson. I don’t really think of Sanderson’s books as being overtly moral. We watch his protagonists struggle with situations that are truly pretty grim, but through it all we kind of have a feeling of which way north is. Even if it gets a little bit fuzzy sometimes.

And for all that we know which way is north, it never feels forced or belligerent. It’s not shouting in the front row but somewhere in the back. Hidden but we know it is there and it is reassuring.

Dreamer seems to be missing this quality.

We are so wrapped up in the action of this piece that even though we realize the consequences of the game we’re playing (there are a few lines that make it pretty explicit), we have to work at being horrified by them. We want Dreamer to catch Phi. We want Dreamer to win, even though the cost for doing so is quite high for everyone except Dreamer and Phi.

All in all it’s a bit disorienting. But good disorienting? What I can pin down is that I’m very impressed that I’m able to think/write this much about such a short story. After all, it was only 12 pages. I think that means it was good. 🙂

Review – Children of the Gods: The Talon Project by Darryl Olsen

childrenEver seen the show Ancient Aliens? This book is kind of like that. If you love that show and would enjoy reading a Science Fiction-esque thriller of similar quality, then I’ll give you the buy button straight away. It’s here. You needn’t read the rest of this review.

Still with me?

Good. I’d like to continue with the comparison I’ve just made for a bit longer and point out that I’ve never seen an episode of Ancient Aliens in its entirety. I’ve never been able to make it through.

A quick browse of the Amazon page will show you many reviews with 4 and 5 stars. Critics there will say they cannot wait for the sequel. That the adventure has just begun and they are waiting with baited breath to see what unfolds. In this respect, these critics are absolutely correct. At 68 pages, the author does not accomplish much more than set up the promise for what must be a longer story. After finishing the work, I too looked online for the sequel. Not because I was experiencing the ride of my life and wanted to continue, but because I had felt that the events of the story had promised me something and then failed to deliver. My mind tried to rationalize the feeling with: “Oh there must be a sequel. Everything will be better in the sequel.”

One of the initial reasons I had looked forward to reading the story was because of the shorter page length. I’ve often said that stories in SF & (especially) Fantasy often span for too long. Single volumes commonly span for 1,000 pages. With the amount of time I have for reading, this type of volume could take me months to complete. Children of the Gods: The Talon Project wasn’t long enough, but I don’t feel that it needs more pages (I see now that this is a very complicated opinion).  My best explanation of this opinion is that I believe much more could have been done in the amount of writing. Tighten up.

CotG sets reporter Michael Cohen on the trail of a big scoop. He begins pursuing the lead and what he uncovers is a conspiracy to hide certain knowledge from the American public & the world at large. I use ‘uncovers’ generously because he really doesn’t ‘uncover’ anything. He is told where to go and what to believe. The reader follows Cohen, digests the same ‘evidence’ and is expected to buy in to a premise which the main character himself doesn’t really believe. Now, we’re in a fictional story, pretty much anything can be true, so long as it is true within the context of the story. If you’d like to posit that every culture on the planet is descendant from an alien race, show us that it is. Arguably, there is some dialogue which says: “Hey! You know this passage from the bible? It’s in there because . . . Aliens!”

COTGbanner

Our protagonist feels the evidence is dubious because he is Jewish, and while not really religious, must overcome a life time of belief to accept this news. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for the sake of the story, but the passage is only half given and I didn’t recognize what was. I’m no biblical scholar but I’m guessing there aren’t many in the demographic who will read this story. Give us the whole passage.

Some of the other reviewers, bring up a comparison to Robert Langdon, and The Da Vinci Code. I think this demonstrates what I’m trying to say perfectly. If I remember correctly, Dan Brown’s ‘thesis’ in The Da Vinci Code was that the Holy Grail Myth was actually a complex set of symbols designed to conceal the fact that Jesus Christ had a child, and to conceal who that child (bloodline) actually was. This was very dangerous information because its revelation would upset the validity of the Catholic church. The power dynamic of our entire society would have been thrown in to chaos.

Awesome. Love it.

I see CotG as having a similar premise. A code, which once revealed, will open up an entire galaxy. The danger here being that once it is open for us to leave, it might be open for others to enter. We don’t know what to expect. Again, awesome. Love this premise too. Problem is, Dan Brown’s story was so tightly crafted, with so much attention to detail, that actual churches were banning it. While, I can’t expect this level of craft every thriller I read, this is the end we should be shooting for. Also, you’ll  note that The Da Vinci Code is a much longer story. However, I think TotG could have benefited from a similar attention to detail even at the shorter page length.

So, I hope I’ve been able to give an honest and serious discussion about Children of the Gods: The Talon Project. If anybody has read this story, and the review and has thoughts they would like to share, please comment below. I’d love to here them. Bye for now!

This is Not the Best Post in the World, it’s a Tribute!

Ok. Glad I got that out of my system (If that title went right over your head listen to this and then try again. See what I’m getting to here?). Anyway, in all seriousness, I’ve been reading Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked. And because of it, I was inspired to write ‘The best post in the world!’

It began with a scene from my past which I felt mirrored the message of the book, then continued with an artfully crafted thesis discrediting that message and finally concluded with a glorious refutation of my previous arguments in favor of the opinion that everyone on the face of the planet should read Juliet, Naked!

I know, I know. It’s ok. Take a deep breath and no I don’t mind if you light up a cigarette. That post would have been one hell of a ride. Definitely worthy of a cigarette. But I digress.

Why Didn’t I write ‘The Best Post in the World!’

To be honest, because I was scared. You never can be too careful with bits of your past. You can dole them out but you really can’t control how people will react to them. And besides, even though I’m telling the story, it really is only MY side of things. No third person omniscient in real life. I certainly could have misinterpreted the events, not been privy to certain information regarding decisions that were made, or in general I could be making part of it up anyway. Memory is a very fickle thing. With all of that in mind, I had to forgo ‘The Best Post in the World’. Instead, you have this tribute.

A tribute that without the production value of the former work may feel something like Tucker Crowe’s second release of Juliet . . . perhaps a bit Naked? But though naked, I hope it will still provide the reader with a perception of Hornby’s work and answer a most important question . . .

The Question!

Why, if ‘The Best Post in the World’ (and by that name I mean me) had so many negative things to say about the book, why continue on with it at all? Why not simply throw in the towel and read something else?

Well, this is a truly difficult thing to say and I am tempted to jump into another swarm of litrical acrobatics (yes, I just invented a word and coined a phrase, both of which I believe perfectly describe the lengths I’m willing to go to avoid telling you why I enjoyed this book so damn much) so that I may never have to give an excuse for enjoying this book.

Because the truth is, I can’t articulate why I had to know how it ended. In general I found the two (perhaps three) main characters completely hopeless. I’m not sure I could spend a drink at the bar with them let alone 12hrs on a plane (2 X 4.5hr flights to San Diego & Back + layovers = The time it took me to read this book), but I did. Their lives seemed almost too unique to be relatable but not fantastic enough to warrant envy or awe or . . . whatever else. They still felt real however.  It wasn’t a stretch to believe that each of the events were actually taking place.

And to witness them; I could hear myself saying “Ahh yes. If I were inspired by such passion as they are I would accomplish similar feats of excited mundanity (I’m just making up all sorts of words today).” The kicker is, that you also feel as if they are going through the motions just like you. That they are breaking into an almost-celebrity’s house to use the loo because they really will cause a scene otherwise.

Perhaps that is why the book is so enticing to read. They’re building expectations while losing faith in idols. Whether the idol is a semi famous rock star, or a relationship, or a calling is almost irrelevant. It’s more about how these characters change, and the way they feel as they’re doing it. There is also a good amount of what I’m assuming is Nick Hornby’s signature wit (the only other thing I’ve read of his is Everyone’s Reading Bastard).

Anyway, as previous paragraphs have explained, despite how much I hated the characters in this book, I loved them too. I needed to know what happens. And while I feel like there is a big way in which I could/should be disappointed, I’m not.

But I guess you’ll have to make up your own damn mind.

Bye for now!