Saturday, 31 July 2010

REVIEW: Lies by Michael Grant

Warning: mild spoilers.

Lies Welcome back to Perdido Beach, back to the FAYZ. Welcome indeed. Lies has been a long time coming, it truly has.

I finished it about two weeks ago, but my university project prevented me from writing my review. During that time I read Justin Cronin’s behemoth, The Passage, and I’m almost done with Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Beautiful Creatures.

Michael Grant’s latest offering, Lies, mirrors his previous hits, Gone and Hunger, in every way possible. Grant doesn’t hold back; from page one the action steams out of the station and the plot unravels in so many twists, turns and flips. No time wasting. Like a Ninja Assassin: get in there, stab-slash-slice, get out. Mission accomplished.

The question is: how good an accomplishment is Lies?

CHARACTERS

If you’re a fan of the Gone series, the first thing you’ll notice when reading Lies is the absence of some beloved characters. Computer Jack appears only twice. Quinn becomes more irrelevant than he was in Hunger. Lana sits around, getting high on alcohol and smoking cigarettes, all the time. Brianna, the character I love most, contributes zilch to the plot; she’s sick the entire book, suffering from the flu, thus bedridden. The only time she does anything is towards the end, when she puts Sam on a skateboard and drags him at top speed from the nuclear plant back to Perdido Beach.

Huh.

Why are these top characters sidelined? Well, the only reason I supply is: to make room for newer characters.

Problem is the new characters are either bad imitations of the old, popular characters, or they are just not that interesting.

Nerezza channels Diana’s manipulative, sultry disposition with little success. Zil, who assumes the mantle of resident villain, as Caine is too busy starving to death, is too weak, too stupid, and too WTF-are-you-kidding-me, that the plausibility of Lies’ plot scuttles off a cliff when Zil and his human crew burn down half the town (killing some kids in the process), walk into a hall filled with kids without incurring retribution for starting the fire, and gun down a bunch of kids.

Maybe this is the author’s idea of a badass villain, in which case: fail.

Then there’re Sanjit, Virtue and the other kids who live on an island within the FAYZ. These guys are late to the party. In the first book they would have made for interesting characters. In Lies, they just get in the way. I’m reading an action scene, the chapter ends, and then I have to read Sanjit and Virtue’s boring mission to fly a helicopter. They accomplish this at the end of the book.

Yes, that’s right. It takes the entire book for them to fly a helicopter.

Fortunately, Sam, Astrid, Orc, and Howard breathe a much needed life into Lies.

Sam struggles to accept his relegated hero status, labours with the memory of Drake beating the crap out of him, and questions his relationship with Astrid: has she been using him all along just to protect herself and her brother, Little Pete? Does she love him or is she only interested in power and control?

Astrid misplaces that astute perception of hers, the one that earned her the fitting moniker, “Astrid the genius”, in her quest to maintain peace, order and unity within the FAYZ.

Orc, though playing a much smaller role like Computer Jack, becomes a more honourable individual. Even Howard shows he’s got a streak of humanity in him and that he’s not simply a brainless, smart-mouthed bully. He totally pawns Astrid at her own game. Yeah, he is still a creep, but he’s a far more interesting creep in this book than in the previous ones.

I have to say though that the character over-inflation problem that plagued Hunger is evident in Lies. In fact, most characters are starting to sound alike that it's hard to distinguish them.

What I don't understand is why the author chooses to give characters staring roles when they add nothing to the plot or the series. There are a bunch of chapters that feature Justin. Yeah, you probably don't remember him. Well, that's because he's very irrelevant. But for some reason we have to read chapters of him getting lost on his way home. That's all. What's the point?

Score: 6/10

WORLD BUILDING

Hunger gave readers the chance to see the FAYZ properly with a new pair of binoculars, one of those nifty types that zoom in and out. Lies takes things one giant step further, with a result that is far more impressive.

Score: 8/10

PROSE

Michael Grant’s prose mimics the rapid, staccato bursts of machine guns. When you open Lies, his prose flips out like an impressive cut-throat razor and slices away all distractions that might steal your attention from the book. I didn’t give it a 9 because my ebook version had some weird errors.

Score: 8/10

PLOT

There is a saying that goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I said earlier that Lies mirrors Gone and Hunger in every way possible, but is that necessarily a good thing?

Every series has a plot formula. In Harry Potter, Harry starts off each book at his uncle’s house. Weird things happen. Then he goes to Hogwarts. Weird things happen. Everyone blames him. Weird things happen. He, Hermione and Ron solve some weird riddles. They succeed. Hurray! Harry returns home. That’s pretty much the Potter formula. The reason it works is (a) there’s always something new to discover in Hogwarts; (b) Harry Potter and other characters are very, very well drawn; (c) the plot elements for each book are always fresh, engaging and exciting [book one: philosopher’s stone; book two: the basilisk/sword of Gryffindor; book three: Dementors/time-turner; book four: tri-wizard tournament/voldemort himself; etc].

The Gone series has its own formula. Unfortunately, that formula is starting to show its age.

As usual, Caine concocts a half-arsed plan and manipulates a bunch of people. The heroes are too busy squabbling amongst themselves to open their eyes and see what’s right in front of them. By the time they realise, oh, crap there’s something bad happening, it’s too late – Caine has done his damage.

Lies’ plot does deliver, but honestly, each book release in the Gone series has shown a progressive decline in plot quality. The new characters – heroes and villains alike – are unable to fill the void left by absentee characters. (Seriously, can someone tell me why Zil is still alive?) The author must know this, which is why he decided to bring back an old character that should have stayed dead. It’s like a bad episode of Passions. Said character used to be scary. Now he’s a joke.

Score: 6/10

FINAL THOUGHT

I know Little Pete is an autistic four-year-old, and I sympathise with him. Actually, I used to. Now, he’s just pissing me off. He’s responsible for the FAYZ, or at least he’s somehow connected, but his unresponsiveness, while realistic, is aggravating, especially since his character is pivotal in the series. It takes forever for him to react to anything, and when he does, I’m thinking: oh, wow. That’s it? That’s all you’re going to do after I’ve sat here for hours, reading about you whine and play a dead Game Boy?

Overall, Lies is a decent book. Certainly not my best in the series. Here is to hoping things pick up in Plague.

Final Score: 7/10

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Blue Fire contest

Once upon a time a girl was born. Her name was Janice Hardy.

Long story short, she grew up and started messing around in her meth lab. Weird. She came up with this legal meth called The Pain Merchants. Very addictive stuff, this drug.

The Pain Merchants

Warning: addictive drug. Will make you dream weird and wonderful dreams, and hallucinate on occasions. Even though deemed legal for consumption, approach with absolute caution, but do approach anyway. Contains too much awesomeness.

Now she’s cooked up a sequel, Blue Fire.

Shifter 2

Warning: modified version of substance A, category Z [street name: The Pain Merchant]. Considered far more effective. Deemed Legal, but government will not be held responsible if it blows your mind. Approach? Definitely.

The last time I read The Pain Merchants I was so addicted my folks carted me to rehab. Curse Janice. Well, my therapist told me to stay away from Janice drugs and focus on my life and dreams and girlfriends. I promised her I would.

I lied.

Here’s a link to Janice’s blog, where she’s holding a contest for Blue Fire.

From the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry, Mrs Therapist; I’m sorry, Dad; I’m sorry, Mum. But I just can’t help it. I need this book so bad.

Also, please do check out this project: Panverse Publishing. It’s a new sci-fi publisher. Let’s give Panverse our support! You might want to check out Panverse’s latest anthology which features a story by Janice.

Ok, now I’m off to read Karla’s and Karla’s teasers. (I still forget which Karla is which. I should memorise their surnames. All I know is they’re awesome writers.)

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Teaser Tuesday

I’ve decided to do teaser Tuesdays once every two weeks, because I’m coming to the end of a chapter and I’m don’t want to reveal anything from the next chapter until I’m done with the fourth one.

So here’s my teaser. Enjoy ;)

Snippet Starts:

*Snip snap!*

Snippet Ends.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

New Synopsis!

I’ve put a new synopsis for my WIP here. And you can see it as my teaser Tuesday, even though I didn’t post it on Tuesday and it’s a synopsis :D

Here’s a bit of it:

I was sitting right next to you in the bus, and then you were gone, along with the whole world. I was in an awful, dark place. I think I died or something. I was so scared. Then I met this terribly wounded man. He told me all this crazy stuff I can’t even remember. The lights went out again. The darkness consumed me, and it hurt so much. I wanted it all to end. Then I woke up, and here we are.

Enjoy!

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Whitewashing. Who’s to blame?

Something’s happened.

In 2009 HarperCollins imprint, Greenwillow Books, published Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia. The book tells the tale of an Asian girl, Ai Ling, who journeys to retrieve her father from a corrupt, powerful advisor. It’s got gods and other cool stuff in it. Think Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Avatar: The Last Airbender (the cartoon, not M Night Shyamalan’s atrocious, racist depiction).

Turns out Phoenix didn’t do so well commercially, and Greenwillow opted to repackage it in time for its sequel’s release. Now, from what I understand, Borders refused to carry Phoenix, and only a select few B&N stores stocked limited quantities of it. The author said readers did not embrace Phoenix as much as she and her publisher would have liked, and thus, Phoenix was given a makeover ... Ai Ling was transformed from an Asian girl to a generic white chick.

Silver Phoenix Silver Phoenix2

Old cover

New cover

These days, a lot of readers don’t take kindly to whitewashing, and publishers have found themselves staring down the serrated ends of pitchforks when they pulled that stunt.

Furore over Silver Phoenix’s unfortunate cover alteration is growing, and you best believe bullets will be flying Greenwillow’s way pretty soon.

Me, I’m taking a different stance on this issue, and I’ll explain why.

Phoenix’s situation is much different from Liar’s or Magic Under Glass’. When Phoenix was published in 2009 it wasn’t whitewashed. It featured a beautiful Asian girl on its cover. The publisher chose to whitewash it after poor sales figures. That they even bothered to do so, AND publish a sequel, shows how much faith they have in Cindy Pon’s story and her ability as a writer. (Don’t publishers usually dump authors at this point?)

Greenwillow believes Phoenix is epic and deserves better attention from the public than it got. I agree.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending whitewashing. I think it’s disgusting. However, this time I’m not going to point my sniper at the publisher. This time I’m going to say what I’ve always wanted to say for a long while – the truth.

And the truth is booksellers are the racists. Most of them, at least.

Listen, the math is very straightforward: booksellers are the ones who pick books out of publisher catalogues, stock them and sell them.

A lot of people say that publishers whitewash books because they believe only white people read, and that white readers won’t buy books depicting people of other races on their covers.

You know what I think? I think most publishers whitewash books because they believe most booksellers believe white people are the only readers out there, and that white people are squeamish about picking up books with non-white people covers.

And that’s exactly what happened with Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix. Borders didn’t like it and skipped it. B&N barely stocked it. The publisher repackaged it with a white girl on its cover.

Why would a publisher repackage a book and publish its sequel despite poor sales, in this present economy? Makes no sense at all.

Oh, but wait, average reader reviews for Phoenix was positive; average critic reviews was positive; the original cover was aesthetic and cool.

Why the poor sales then?

Answer: the booksellers didn’t like Phoenix, thus Phoenix was hardly available in their bookstores, and thus a plethora of readers couldn’t find Phoenix to buy.

The guys at Greenwillow must have thought “Why didn’t booksellers like Phoenix then?” and went on to consult these booksellers, which eventually led to their decision to change Phoenix’s cover.

I guarantee you, when Phoenix is published with this new cover Borders and co will pick it. I promise you.

So, I’m not going to blame Greenwillow. In my opinion, they tried. They did everything they could. In the end, this is a business, and unfortunately if racist booksellers refuse to stock up your books then you have no choice but to give into their outrageous demand: whitewash your books.

The situation, I’m afraid, is out of the publisher’s hand. Greenwillow is not the villain here. The booksellers are.