Readalong

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Rifter Readalong: Servants of the Crossed Arrows

Published June 29, 2014 by Shannon

Servants of the Crossed Arrows (Rifter #2)

I know it’s been nearly three weeks since we last visited these characters. This probably explains my somewhat tepid reaction to these chapters. But we’re here now, so let’s get moving. As always, there are spoilers everywhere.

When we last left John, Laurie and Bill, they’d been hiding in the woods for eight months in a show of being the least proactive characters ever. But hey, John met Ravishan, so that was OK. Anyway, the cliffhanger scene in the last book involved John meeting a group of bandits, including a talking dog, who were planning to kill a young man who was supposed to be an Ushiri candidate–the Ushiri being the priests that can eventually open the gates between Basawar and our world.

John, against the protests of Bill and Laurie, goes to warn the convoy escorting the nobleman to expect an ambush. They’re skeptical, but eventually send John along to verify the ambush. It’s a slaughter, with the noble family–the Bousim family, to be specific–coming out victorious. In the course of battle, John saves the lives of Alidas, the Bousim soldier he was riding with, and Saimura, one of the bandits.

John and his companions are brought back to the Bousim estate. After a tense conversation with Lady Bousim, who thinks they are from the Eastern Kingdom, John meets up with Pivan, the military leader for the Bousim clan, who charges John with bringing the Ushiri candidate up the Thousand Steps in the side of a mountain that lead to the temple of Pashir and his priest training. John has no choice but to agree, so he and the boy, Fikiri, begin the journey, which they complete successfully. We end the John POV chapters as John runs into Ravishan and they exchange more sexy banter.

Meanwhile, Kahlil has been taken in by a group of mercenaries, lead by Alidas. It becomes clear that Kahlil is a lot farther forward in time than John et al. are, because Alidas is definitely the same guy John met, but older. Anyway, Alidas gives Kahlil an assignment. he’s supposed to prevent the assassination of Jath’ibaye, a warlord from the north who has become prominent. Kahlil takes an undercover job as a runner for the Lisam household. As he finds out about elicit plans, he discovers that there is someone else who can manipulate the Gray Space as well.

I have to be honest with you guys. I was not interested in much of John’s storyline. He continues to be fairly reactive, and to be honest I find him a shitty friend. The few conversations here between him, Laurie and Bill were hard to read, because I found myself being more on Bill and Laurie’s side of events. Here they are, trapped in a world that isn’t their own, with Bill being actively very ill, and instead of trying to find a way out of the situation, their friend who got them here in the first place is swanning around the countryside being one with nature and flirting with young, hot priests. Then, when John does get them under the protection of Lady Bousim, he immediately leaves them in a volatile situation without telling them why. He has good reasons for what he does, but considering that Bill and Laurie wouldn’t be in dire straights if it weren’t for John, I feel like he owes them more than, “Gosh, well, I can’t tell them I’m leaving because it’ll be better for them.” I have to believe Bill and Laurie do serve some plot purpose–and it’s been hinted at that Laurie has power–but right now I find myself resenting the way they are written as the millstones around John’s neck.

The Kahlil chapters are much more interesting to me. Now that I understand that he’s some 20 years further ahead in time than John is, I’m left with lots of questions and theories. Kahlil is also a fairly reactive character, but since his memories have been shattered, I think that’s more reasonable. I can understand and sympathize with his struggles. I also find myself curious. The text seems to be implying that John = Jath’ibaye in the same way that it’s implying that Kahlil = Ravishan.

As to the romance, considering I spent most of the time I was reading being vaguely impatient with John, and since there were no real developments on that front, I don’t have much to say.

Lastly, I loved some of the side characters. The brash runner Fensal really appealed, as did Pivan, the military commander, although honestly that probably had a lot to do with the fact that he was willing to tell John he was being an asshole.

I haven’t fallen in love yet. I can see that the writing is very good, and if I’ve connected enough to the characters to find their tics annoying, that says something. But this installment rated a pretty solid C.

What did you guys think? Hopefully, y’all liked this part better than I did.

The Rifter Readalong: Book 1: The Shattered Gates

Published June 9, 2014 by Shannon

It looks like these posts are going to happen every two weeks. I’m going out of town next Monday, and while I do expect to have reading time, I don’t want to give myself extra stress.

Anyway, on to book 1: The Shattered Gate
Note: Spoilers! There are totally spoilers everywhere for the first book. There will probably even be spoilers in the comments. So if you don’t want spoilers, do not read past this point.

What happens: John opens his weird roommate Kyle’s mail and discovers a note with only the word “Don’t” on it, and a key. It actually turns out that Kyle is a guy called Khalil, who hails from the fantasy world of Basawar. He is fighting some sort of evil thing, but he also needs to hang out in our world for some reason having to do with John, who is something called a Rifter, a fact that John is completely unaware of. He’s just returned from one of his trips back home, and convinces John to take him out for breakfast. There they run into Laurie and Bill, friends of John. Laurie, it turns out, is a psychic.

after breakfast, John and his friends drive out to a place in the wilderness, where some strange-looking stones have randomly appeared. One of the stones has a hole that looks big enough for Kyle’s key. John puts the key into the stone, and the three of them find themselves in Basawar.

Khalil, meanwhile, discovers the note and figures out John has the key. He knows he must pursue his roommate. Thus, he’s now in Basawar, too, where he ends up injuring himself by picking a fight with some guy in a bar.

John, Laurie and Bill are nowhere near a bar. They’re in the boonies, and don’t freeze to death because John has survival gear. They end up camping out and barely eking out an existence until John meets Ravishan, who wants to become a khalil. Ravishan begins teaching the three of them the Basawar language, and promises that once he’s khalil, he will take them home.
Overall, I liked this installment. It does a good job of setting up the world and introducing the characters. When I was finished, I wanted to keep reading. Hale has a strong ear for dialogue, and I didn’t end up spending the time I was reading wondering which plot cliches she was going to bring out.
That said, I think I’d rate this installment a C overall because while I liked the characters enough to keep going, there were things that didn’t really work for me in retrospect. My main gripe is that once John and his friends arrive in Basawar, they spend eight months surviving alone in the wilderness but doing nothing to try and find help. John meets Ravishan by chance. If he hadn’t been swanning around that area on that particular day, who knows if they’d be spending years just sort of existing? Sure, it’s revealed that John’s first encounter with Basawar civilization wouldn’t make anyone want to visit, what with people being burned alive, but his friend was literally dying and there were other cardinal directions. Why would he just assume there would be no help from anyone until he discovered Ravishan?

I need for my protagonists to do something. Khalil is clearly doing something, even if we don’t know what it is, but which largely involves a whole lot of pain, but John et al. basically seem to mope. So here’s to book 2 having more for them to do.

As a portal fantasy, I think the story works well. I liked the juxtaposition between our world and Basawar. We have more technology, but less warfare. I liked that Khalil saw our world as a place to rest and recuperate. Basawar seems like a place no one would actually want to live in, which I appreciate–at least as compared to, say, places like Westeros where you might be OK as long as you weren’t female, a peasant, or mindless cannon fodder. I also appreciated that Basawar had guns. I can’t think of any other fantasy novels I’ve read recently where gunpowder is a thing people have access to.
Thus far, there’s not much to comment on about the romance. There are certainly things keeping Khalil and John apart, (nothing quite like “You’re probably going to destroy the world so I have to kill you” to be a mood killer.) and I am beginning to see how a relationship might develop.

I like that there is at least one strong female character in the cast so far. I also appreciate that she hasn’t yet gotten raped. Always a good sign.

So what did the rest of you think? Anything I forgot to touch on?

Back in two weeks with the second part of this serial.

Announcing the Rifter Book club

Published May 24, 2014 by Shannon

The other day I was thinking aloud, on Twitter, as one does, about how I’d like to do some kind of book club posts on my blog. Immediately Liz Mc2 and Sonoma Lass jumped on board, so this is happening.

Our first project is to read all of The Rifter by Ginn Hale. I picked this one because one fine day Liz Mc2 and I bought the whole 10-part serial and its sheer size is somewhat intimidating. Plus, unlike the last time I tried something like this, I fully expect I’ll enjoy the book, because I like epic fantasy, I like people-from-our-world-go-to-another sorts of stories, I like M/M books, and I like the thought of serial fiction, particularly when it’s all completed.

Here is the synopsis of the first book, to let you know what this is all about:

When John opens a letter addressed to his missing roommate, Kyle, he expects to find a house key, but instead he is swept into a strange realm of magic, mysticism, revolutionaries and assassins. Though he struggles to escape, John is drawn steadily closer to a fate he share with Kyle—to wake the destroyer god, the Rifter, and shatter a world.

My plan is to post a reaction post on every Friday starting June 6 for each of the parts of the serial. I understand the serials clock in at about 100-150 pages each, so I think that should be reasonable. After that, I’ll leave the comments open for discussion.

Each of the parts runs about $2.99, but the whole thing is available at a discount if you click on the Blind Eye books website above. I wish I’d done that instead of buying my copies through All Romance Ebooks, since their ebook buck program seems unnecessarily byzantine.

Anyway, I hope this experiment turns out to be fun. I hope you’ll all join me on the 6th!

Last Hour of Gann: Throwing in the towel

Published November 16, 2013 by Shannon

I’ve thought for as long as Ive lurked on the edges of book blogging that there was value in negative reviews, and even in snark. I like a good snarky review as much as the next girl, and have even written a few over the years. However, my opinion about books I don’t like and how I should engage with them has changed a lot over time.

It’s not that I want to be a Susie Sunshine reviewer who has nothing bad to say about anything, but I engage with books a lot. At work, I attend a book club sponsored by a vision loss group every other month. I also cohost a podcast in which I am required to read something every month. I also have a local YA book club that I’ve been attending. Therefore, in any given month, I have to read two, sometimes three, books that, very often, I didn’t choose. I will read those books to the bitter end, sometimes frothing at the mouth on Twitter the whole time. For everything else, if I’m not engaged, or worse, if I’m angered by what I’m reading (and not in a productive, “We-should-fight-for-social-justice!” sort of way, I’d much rather stop reading the problematic book and find something else. I didn’t used to feel this way. I thought I owed what readers I had reviews of everything, so I wouldn’t be seen as someone who loved everything she read and therefore couldn’t be trusted. That, unfortunately, is an excellent recipe for burnout, and besides,I’m finding that I am less likely to write about things I love unreservedly because all I can think to write are superlatives. A book I liked but found problematic in some ways at least gives me a jumping off point. The key, though, is that I have to like the book. If I’m hate reading, it becomes not just a chore, but a tedious waste of time, and I find myself resenting both book and author for that.

Which, of course, brings me to The Last Hour of Gann. Meka’s already peaced out of our readalong. I thought I could persevere, but then I read R Lee Smith’s interview on Dear Author. As I am wont to do, on my first reading, I went, “Huh. Well… sheesh.” Then I thought about what I’d read and the more I thought about it, the more annoyed I became.

It wasn’t so much Smiths provocative thoughts on rape (though how she could be unaware that rape is a theme in her work I can’t understand), but her talk about characters… this passage in particular was what drove me especially nuts.

*sigh* Because no one else survived? Because I’ve been criticized before for having a “cast of thousands” and the faceless mob was my only way to deal with 40+ extra people? Because “decent” people tend to disapprove quietly while the wrong sort speak up? But mostly because there is a very ugly facet of human nature that wants–needs–to find a scapegoat in the wake of catastrophe and Amber was it.
Although there was a small military presence aboard the Pioneer, most of its passengers and all of its crew were members of the Manifest Destiny Society, which was, as it was during the westward expansion, fueled by a zealous belief that they had been appointed by God to lay claim to new territory by virtue of their own innate superiority. Even Amber thinks of them as a cult. They were not bad people. I don’t think they were even particularly weak people, but they were people whose entire philosophy got slapped out from under them in an instant. They weren’t just people whose ship crashed; they were people who believed God wanted them to go to Plymouth and who instead crashed on Gann. Even more than the average survivor, if there is such a thing as an ‘average’ survivor, they were lost. And Scott took them in.
Scott was a Manifestor. He knew exactly how to talk to those people and he said all the right comforting things while Amber was there telling everyone they were never going home. He took charge–and if there’s one thing I’ve noticed about people in a crisis, they seldom question the guy in charge–and he started immediately rewarding loyalty with extra rations and tents. In short, he gave his supporters the best chance of survival. And if you don’t think his supporters would pick on Amber just because he did, you don’t remember high school.
Scott made it impossible for anyone to disagree with him and stay in the group and I want to make something very clear: No one could have walked away and survived, alone, on that world. There were decent people in that second group of survivors, but they had to choose between going along with stuff they didn’t agree with or walking off into the wilderness and dying for their convictions. I believe that people are mostly good, but I don’t know anyone who would choose the latter.

She may be right about human nature. She may have it exactly right about how most people would react in a crisis. Granted, I’m still early days with the book, and maybe soon the asinine high school popularity contests the human colonists are having will be over because they have other stuff to worry about, but my patience for that sort of thing is gone. Maybe it really is that I don’t like dark books, but such a bleak outlook on humanity is one I don’t want to read about for 1500 pages.

Then there is the issue of expecting something different from what the text provides. A long time ago in Internet years, I was hanging out with my sister, and she started to read this awesome YA book aloud to me. It was about a girl who had agreed to leave her flighty, free-spirited mom to live with her gruff and taciturn dad in Washington. I thought what I would get was a nice coming of age story about a young girl moving to a new place and discovering herself, maybe having wacky adventures along the way. What I got, it turned out, was Twilight. I stuck it out to chapter 11, when I finally realized my nice coming of age story was never going to happen and gave up.

I expected Last Hour of Gann to be about humans settling on a hostile planet. I had a resourceful, if blunt and bitchy protagonist. I wanted her to thrive and survive. She had flaws, but hey, I can name, like, two true anti-heroines in the books I’ve read recently. Then Meoraq showed up, and it became obvious that this wasn’t so much a story of humans making a new start as it was a story about Meoraq’s journey to a deeper understanding of faith. Which, ordinarily, I’d be all for, except for those pesky characterization issues. And the fact that every woman I’ve met so far except for Amber has been helpless or useless or both. Besides, Gann is not The Sparrow.

Now that I know my major sticking points will not get any better, I’ve spent time mulling over whether I want to continue this series of blog posts. Given that Meoraq wouldn’t be the kind of person I’d want to read about under normal circumstances, little say the kind of romance hero I enjoy, I’m going to throw in the towel now. I like him fine but am not super invested, and I am not invested enough in Amber that I absolutely have to know how she fares. At this point, I’d simply be hate reading, which I derive no pleasure from. I think it’s time to call it a day and accept the fact that R Lee Smith isn’t for me. I’m sorry my first attempt at a readalong failed so spectacularly, and here’s hoping the next one will work better.

And now I am off to find a book to read that I know I’m going to enjoy.

Last Hour of Gann, Book III: The rageface recap

Published November 15, 2013 by Shannon

Just a note: Someone in the comments a couple of weeks ago brought up the issue of triggering. This book is nothing if not full of triggers. So is the recap.

Recap:

When last we left our intrepid human crew, their numbers had been reduced from 50,000 to 2,000, and then even further to a grand total of 48 people. I just want you to put that loss into perspective for a minute. As far as they know, the human race consists of 48 people. Rescue is not feasible, so for the rest of their lives, all of humanity is this small group.

Let’s make this a real world example, shall we? According to this website, Sheboygan, WI has a population of roughly 50,000. (I admit i picked that city because Sheboygan is fun to say out loud. Don’t judge.) So imagine you’re from there, and an earthquake destroys everything in Sheboygan except your neighborhood. That’s bad enough, right? Your mom lives across town. Your favorite department store is now gone. So you’re reeling from that when another natural disaster takes out everything but your block. If that happened to Meka, that would mean that the entire human race would consist of her, but also the snotty lady next door who is always saying loud passive aggressive things about how Meka occasionally misses a bit of her guide dog’s poop. For me, it would mean that the human race consists of me and a bunch of strangers from my apartment building, of which I have close connections to only one. That is a terrifying prospect.

After the crash, things start to go pear-shaped for Amber because Scott has a deeply ingrained inferiority complex about the size of is penis. (The text doesn’t explicitly say that, but his behavior is so childish that that’s the kindest reading i have.) Amber tries to point out problems. Scott dismisses her until she placates him. It doesn’t help that Yao, lassiter and Crandall, the Fleet men, (or, as I like to call them, Moe, Larry and Curly) know Scott is an idiot but go along with him. Crandall earns my annoyance by being unhelpfully snarky during the initial briefing the leaders have, at which Amber includes herself anyway, despite Scott’s objections. During this briefing, they all put Scott in charge of the food (not much) and the medical supplies (even less.) Scott doesn’t want to hear about the fact that they’ll need to find food and perhaps another source of drinking water, and growls that Amber shouldn’t go telling the rest of the world her fears about their lack of water.

Things only get worse when Scott cuts Amber’s rations. Everybody else gets three ration bars. She gets one. When she tries to protest, with good cause, that this isn’t fair, he snipes that she has plenty of reserves. Plus, he’s in charge, dammit, why won’t she respect that? (This is the point where, if I were, say, Jenny Trout I’d probably insert a picture of Eric Cartman, but a blind woman doing a Google image search seems like a recipe for disaster, so use your imaginations.) Moe, Larry and curly try to give Amber a pep talk. They explain that popularity matters, and what they need to do to survive is make friends. One of the men even points out that she’s right, and scott is an idiot, but he outright says he’s not willing to put his ass out on the line for her. (You know what would have been awesome at this point? If one of the Stooges had started channeling
Kristen Chenowith, but I am not nearly so fortunate. Sigh.)

Then chapter 3 happens, and Fleetman Crandall descends to the realm of my least favorite character in this fucking book. What happens is that Scott produces a pocketknife, and while everyone but Amber is roasting their ration bars on sticks at a fire they’ve made (somehow, all by themselves). She fashions her stick into a spear and tries to take the suggestion that they start hunting to Scott and the stooges. Scott is not only dismissive but contemptuous, and he gets in Amber’s face, threatening to throw her out of the camp altogether. Amber tries to talk the stooges around, but Crandall, earning that spot on my shit list, quotes Lord of the Flies (“It’s about a bunch of gay Brits who get stranded on an island.”) and tells her she should take a lesson from what happened to Piggy. He also quotes Animal Farm, leading me to hope and pray he never got to Shakespeare in high school. He then threatens to take away Nicci’s rations if Amber doesn’t behave. scott apparently wants to take away Amber’s altogether. Amber is angry and mystified, and then Crandall puts a nail in the coffin of my love for him by asking Amber if she wants to fuck. He’s willing to protect her, he says, because after all there are 11 women compared to 37 men, and she’ll need his protection. He also implies that soon she won’t actually have a choice and she might as well take him, but only if she can keep her mouth shut unless he wants it open. Amber’s reaction mirrors mine, because at this point we both threw things and marched off in a huff. But seriously, with that as the alternative, what else is there but a xenophobic racist lizard asshole?

Thankfully for my blood pressure and my will to continue reading this book, chapter 4 happens, and we switch back to Meoraq, rape paladin extraordinaire and I marvel at the fact that I would much rather read about a paladin who rapes women for the good of his god than about the incompetent wastes of space that are the remainder of the human race. Meoraq stumbles across some of the remnants of the ship and interprets them as a sign from Sheul. Then he finds human footprints and follows them, amazed by their customs and trying to figure out who they are. Then he sees one up close and realizes he is staring at a horrible abomination. “It had no face.” Which, as last lines of chapters go, is pretty damn effective.

Meanwhile back in high school, aka the human camp, the rations have run out, so yeah, its time to finally start hunting. This is a hollow victory because Amber just started her period and she’s cramping. As she makes spears, Scott goes up to her and they have another argument, the highlight of which, for me, is Scott mansplaining about how there are 11 women, so their wombs are a viable resource for the colony so they’d better get to breeding, and even though he totally thinks it’s gross, eventually Amber will have to fuck someone. For the good of humanity. Once more, Amber joins me in a desire to punch someone in the face. Luckily for me, fucking for the good of humanity doesn’t start right now. First there’s the hunt. Which goes about as well as you’d expect, since basically the humans have machismo and nothing else on their side. It would have been awesome if some of them had actually managed to kill each other, at least for me, but R. Lee Smith doesn’t seem to want to throw me a bone here. Amber does manage to hit the planet’s equivalent of a deer, but it gets away, and then she stumbles into Meoraq. Their meet-cute redeems this book, dissipating a bit of my rage , as it is both well-written and adorable. They manage to exchange names, and touch each other’s faces, which is not as creepy as it sounds. Then, of course, Scott shows up and tries to rescue Amber, but he is not the alpha male in this book, and his penis is still too small, so that of course doesn’t go over well. Meoraq disarms him and breaks his spear, Amber calls Scott an idiot, he walks away, and Amber invites Meoraq back to camp.

Predictably, no one is thrilled that Meoraq has joined their little group. Scott thinks it’s a terrible idea, and he and Amber have yet another argument in which he threatens to vote her off the island–er–the colony. (Take a drink.) Meoraq unloads a tent and makes himself at home. and Amber promises Scott she’ll teach the lizard man English. Scott magnanimously offers to let her try, threatens her some more with colony expulsion (take a drink) and then leaves her to it. The language lessons don’t start off well, but after a while Amber begins to get the feeling Meoraq understands what she’s saying. Turns out he does. He’s astounded that such ugly creatures have the ability to speak a language. Of course, according to God, there can only be one language for those that follow Sheul. Sigh. So our rape paladin is not only a rape paladin but also xenophobic. I can see no way in which those character traits will annoy me for the next six books.

After the camp settles, Meoraq meditates and has a dream, which features among other things, a group of his people and Amber’s joined together. There’s also some great sexual tension in this section, and in the dream she communicates her story with him. He wakes, and then rouses Amber and, via drawings, communicates that he will take the humans with him to Xi-Matezh, to await further instructions, including, very possibly, the order to kill them. There is also some more reflection about how he lusts after Amber, . but he can’t act on it because he’s not raping her.

Meoraq goes off for a while after is conversation with Amber. When he returns, he brings a dead saoq–the deer that Amber and the colonists were trying to hunt. He still doesn’t attempt to speak any English, but he does teach Amber a few words of his own tongue. (Nope, rampant xenophobia isn’t annoying me at all, why do you ask?) There is an obligatory Scott being a dick scene, (take a drink) though he shuts up when Meoraq shoves saoq meat at him. He and Amber eat, there is another Scott being a dick moment, (chug-a-lug) and Amber finally seems to get that Meoraq is a complicating factor she can’t really deal with.

Meoraq, meanwhile, thinks of the humans as his pets, which makes logical sense but does not earn him any brownie points. He’s meditating on how it feels to be a new pet owner when he sees Scott taking a piss. This necessitates a lesson in human biology with Amber, who explains that she’s female, and no, there are no babies in the group just yet, thank Sheul. The sex ed talk freaks Nicci out, because she has not been obnoxious and whiny in at least a chapter, and Meoraq has to go lie down for a while and think about how wrong it is that he wants to have sex with Amber considering she’s an ugly human. (I haven’t decided if this particular conflict warrants being added to the drinking game. So far, no… but we’ll see where we are next week.

Weeks pass. Meoraq feeds the masses, but he makes no effort to speak English. Eventually, there is yet another argument about how Amber is clearly failing at her one job, like Scott knew she would. (Take a drink.) He suggests Amber go off for a walk and think about what she’s done. She does, and attempts another hunt, but chickens out at the last minute. Luckily, Meoraq is on hand to retrieve her. Back at camp, my liver implodes because there is yet another argument. This time, Meoraq finally reacts, and utters a few words of English. It becomes apparent he and Amber can basically understand each other now, which means Meoraq is going to take his herd of humans to Xi-Matezh. I guess it’s good he can speak her language now and didn’t have to have, like, yet another dream in which he and Amber communed, a la Ayla and Jandallar. Then again, if they had, this would not have dragged on quite so long.

Questions:

1. So clearly this section didn’t work for us, but I thought we’d start with something positive. Do you see the romance yet? We know it’ll work out, but are you invested in that part? And what did you think of the meet-cute?

Meka says:

I will try to write about this without the incredible rage I am feeling at this moment concerning this entire book. Meoraq and Amber’s meeting is the best thing that could have happened in book three, because God knows nothing else good comes about. I thought that Smith did a wonderful job of actually showing how different their cultures are. There isn’t this instant understanding, and the author could have really taken a cheap shortcut and done things that way. There is the need to learn on both sides, and the frustration that comes from them not understanding the other person. Their first meeting was absolutely adorable, and I really love the writing techniques that are employed by the author to show us what each of them sound like to the other.

Meoraq slapped Amber, but at this point, it isn’t enough to take me off team Rape Paladin, and girl, that is saying something. I am usually not down for my heroes knocking the crap out of heroines, but he was also worried. And considering that he usually rapes for the lord, it’s likely a step down from what he could have done. Yeah great. I’m making excuses for lizard on woman abuse. Oh how far I have fallen.

Meoraq is at the point where he is having a lot of arguments with himself, and that is probably the most adorable part of the book for me. Well, that and the fact that he’s feeding amber food. They commiserated over a dead animal together. I mean, what more could a girl ask for? Well, he did knock the hell out of Scott repeatedly, so there is that. I would have felt better if he’d pinned the guy to the ground with his sword, but I guess I’m just getting greedy.

I don’t think that I am invested in the two of them enough to keep going, however. I wish them the best, but the other assholes in this book are ruining it for me.
Shannon says:

Given our intro to Meoraq, and given my own skepticism about this book as a romance, I was surprised by the level of tenderness Meoraq shows Amber from the start. I think the fact that he has to struggle and fight his feelings is quite interesting, though could grow tedious rather quickly.

I’d forgotten that Meoraq smacked Amber around in these chapters. While that is never excusable, I’m willing to give it a pass because at this point Meoraq doesn’t see Amber as a sentient being. He sees her as a pet, so in that instance his behavior is understandable, though I can always hope there are regrets about that later.

Oh and I did love the way Smith managed to tell us what the humans sounded like to Meoraq. I can’t think of any similar scene in any other speculative fiction where that happens.

2. Do your opinions of the characters still hold true or have you changed your mind?

Meka says:

The one thing that I always look for in a book is consistency. R. Lee Smith gives that to me in spades by giving me terrible, one-dimensional secondary characters that I absolutely hate with every fiber of my being. I don’t buy a lot of what has been happening. Are you going to tell me that no one else thought ‘hey dudes, we’re going to be out of rations soon so let’s go hunting!’? I mean, really? No one else got the bright idea that soon they would run out of rations and need to figure out their food situation before this? Everyone just let’s scott run roughshod over people and allow him to do whatever the hell he wants and people are content to just let that fly? Have these people never had to do a group project in college? I am not buying this little brand of human nature right now, not one little bit. No one has cried or had an emotional breakdown except for our spazlet Nicci, who I also pretty much hate now. The only person with a brain is amber, and the rest of these characters have been given a terrible disservice by only having one mode. Whatever their motives, it’s like we’re being slapped across the face. ‘And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the human personification of asshole. While over here, rolling around in her natural habitat and too stupid to figure out how to start a fire is the amazingly temperamental, ragey Nicci. While over here is this woman who opens her legs so that she can stay warm at night.’ I am so over all of these people. No one has any initiative except for look-at-me-I’m-the-blatant-villain Scott, and his cohorts yabba, dabba, and Do. That’s Yao, Dag, and Crandall respectively.

What is the point of anyone even bothering to come out of their role when they just get slapped right back in to it anyway? Everytime I see someone standing up for Amber, they just cave. I am absolutely sick of it. I do not buy that there wouldn’t be more arguments from everybody in that camp, but this is let’s pick on the fat girl who gasp! Speaks up for herself and gives more than two shits about everybody in that good-for-nothing space camp full of losers. Just, fuck all these people right now. Shannon can tell you that when a book makes me that mad and I curse this much, I am too dangerous for the interwebs.

Thank goodness for Meoraq. He might be rapey, but at least he stays true to form and shows some signs of redemption. At least he’s trying at this point. At least *he* is showing the possibility of change. At least *he* sees something of value in Amber, even if right now he does think they are all his pets. Screw Scott, give me the rape paladin and his orgasms for his god that makes little baby lizards.

Shannon says:

I couldn’t have said that better myself, but I’ll add that, as I mentioned on the blog the other day, I’m reading Stephen King’s Under the Dome. In that book, the big bad is town selectman “Big Jim” Rennie. Rennie is a two-bit cartoon villain, but he would still snack on Scott for breakfast. He would have done more than making pretty speeches to ensure his popularity. Hell, if Amber is really that much of a threat, why does Scott bother with the grandstanding? Wouldn’tit be easier for him to quietly have her killed? Granted, we wouldn’t have a book if he did that, but I seriously don’t get his motivations.

As for the rest, my opinion hasn’t changed. Nicci is still useless. I am still rooting for Amber (though in kind of a halfhearted way, like you might if you know your team is going to lose), and I… don’t exactly like Meoraq, but he’s the best option at this point.

3. I know it’s early days to be saying any of this, but it’s worth asking anyway. This book is long. Do you think all of what we’ve read has been necessary and integral to the plot?

Meka says:

I don’t believe that everything we have read has been integral to the plot. It is a given that whenever Amber tries to do something to improve the camp’s situation, Scott is going to be all over it like white on rice. And then they are going to argue. Repeatedly. Forever. And ever. It’s not going to change. Book three could have been a third of the length if we didn’t have to keep reading about a pissing contest that no one is ever going to win unless someone shoves a knife threw Scott’s villainous, misogynistic heart. Quite frankly, what this book could use is a lot more stabbing action. We also don’t have to continue reading about how none of the camp will grow a pair of balls, either. It’s pretty much a given at this point.

Shannon says:

I did find a lot of these chapters repetitive. Quite frankly, they made me tired, and I am worried that as the book progresses, things won’t so much be epic in scope as they will be long and draggy. That said, I haven’t thought anything before this point was superfluous. The first two books fleshed out who the characters were, and I figure that once you’ve read them, it’s fairly easy to decide whether you’ll want to keep investing time with them. This section, though, could have been pared down quite a lot and still retained the basic points.

4. So we were both angered by this book. What was the part that annoyed you?

Meka says:

I am simply angered by the pointlessness of it all, and the characters who only have one mode. Nicci’s is needy/whiny/ragey in one incredibly unattractive package. Crandall just wants to get his knob slobbed. Eric is an ass-kisser, Dag is going to be a stupid little lackey, Maria who could have been someone great is just going to fuck Eric for warmth, Scott is going to continue to be a raging douche canoe, Amber is going to continue to be absolutely fucking fabulous, and Meoraq is going to keep on being a zealot with the possibility for change if only he’d stab some of these other people. The rest of the camp are a bunch of formless, nameless, personality-deprived faces who don’t do anything about anything.

Shannon says:

We’ve hit on most of what made me ragey. The only thing to add is the fact that the portrayal of the women also bothers me. Nicci is a “good little woman”, and Amber won’t shut up and let the men make decisions. For her pain, she is denigrated and stomped all over. I’m assuming that eventually she’ll get her comeuppance, but there’s a lot of stuff to go through before that happens. If Amber’s punishment for having agency is to be abused, but hey, she gets the lizard in the end, that just depresses me.

Also, and this doesn’t make me angry as much as it makes me sad, it’s becoming obvious that Amber is not the protagonist of her own book. Sure, she’s the lead, but I don’t see a character arc for her. That honor goes to Meoraq. Maybe that’s why the humans have no depth. They’re not important, because, all trappings of nifty sci-fi adventure aside, they don’t matter. It’s Meoraq’s story we’re going to read.

5. Any adjustments to your predictions from a couple of weeks ago?

Meka says:

I have a feeling everyone is going to be the same as they always are, except that situations are going to get a lot worse. Nicci is not long for this world since she seems to enjoy being useless. Amber, being fierce and fabulous, is going to be tormented beyond belief. Dr. Yao, who actually did speak up for her and big ups to him, will probably die because he went against the Scott. Scott is probably not going to die soon enough, if ever.

I feel terrible for having to dip out of this read-along with my bestie, especially since us reading the book together was my idea. But at this point, I’d just be hate reading it. I hate these people and I no longer care what happens to any of them except for Amber and Meoraq. Any lingering concern I had for Nicci has been curbstomped right the hell out. But I will still be reading the recaps and adding my commentary! For the record, I hope I am wrong. I hope we see more life in the other people. But now, I have become a cynic.

I read a post recently about how this book was a great crossover in to the romance genre for someone. I had to sit on my hands. I am so glad it is working for other people, but I do not classify this as a romance. Not yet, anyway. But again, I can be proven wrong. Team Rape Paladin for life!

Shannon says:

I have nothing much to add to that, either. I will say that as I go it solo, I will try very hard not to hate read. I do want R. Lee Smith to surprise me by bringing some of the awesome of which I think she’s capable, and besides, I don’t really like snark for its own sake. I make no promises, though, except to stick it out to the bitter end.

Last Hour of Gann Readalong Week 2: Rape paladin

Published November 1, 2013 by Shannon

Welcome to week 2 of our Last Hour of Gann readalong!

Both of us found this week’s reading a bit hard going, though that is nothing compared to how hard we are going to find next week’s section. Nonetheless, here we go.

The Recap:

There’s a massive fire that can be seen in the city of Xheoth, where Meoraq is staying. Meoraq is a Sheulek, a warrior of the god Sheul, doing a circuit of the countryside. When he sees the fire, he goes to the roof of the temple to watch, noticing that it resembles a beckoning arm. He takes this to be a message from Sheul, and informs the temple’s abbot that he will set out at once for the city of Tothax, which seems to be where the arm is pointing. He leaves the roof and returns to his quarters to await his supplies being gathered. While he waits, he’s visited by a woman he’d chosen to have sex with during his time in Xheoth. She thinks she has somehow offended him, and he is made uncomfortable by her, because she was basically phoning it in during her encounters with him. He makes an attempt to offer comfort, which doesn’t go over well, and leaves her crying. He gets his supplies from the people at the temple, and trudges out in the rain, eventually leaving the city and heading in the direction of the fire.

Arriving at the city of Tothax, Meoraq is informed he has been summoned by Exarch Ylsathoc, one of the leaders of the city. Choosing to make the man wait, Meoraq asks to be directed to the temple’s abbott. He is not taken to his quarters, but is instead brought to the building where official business is conducted. He meets Nkosa, a lowborn guard who is nonetheless Meoraq’s bastard brother. Nkosa informs him that he’s been married and he envies Meoraq’s carefree life. He confesses he’s not sure what to do with his wife. Meoraq offers a teasing reply,and Nkosa shoves him. At that moment they are interrupted by a clerk, who is scandalized that someone is touching a Sheulek. The brothers share a few more awkward moments, and then Meoraq leaves to see if he can find the abbot. Outside, he encounters the clerk, and demands his silence. He learns there is a petitioner awaiting his judgment, and so he makes his way to the arena, where he meets another chosen champion. This one turns out to be Shuiv, who explains that the trial they’re determining the outcome of involves two farmers and a disputed harvest. Their lord has asked for the impartial judgment of Sheul, which means Meoraq and Shuiv will be fighting to the death. Shuiv extracts a promise from Meoraq that if he dies, Meoraq will take care of his soon-to-be-born child, sending him to the house of Shuiv’s father to be taken care of and trained if it turns out the baby is born male. The fight commences, and Meoraq hears a message from Sheul. When the fight is concluded and he’s recovered, he discovers that Shuiv is dead, as are the two farmers.

After the trial, Meoraq meets with Lord Arug, who presents him with his daughter. Because he’s been victorious in the trial, Meoraq gets to have sex with the girl. She is clearly frightened, and Meoraq finds the whole business tiresome, but does it anyway. They both have orgasms, and he leaves her immediately. Once more he tries to find rest, but he’s summoned to yet another tribunal. He encounters a woman he recognized because he remembers her crying the whole time he had sex with her. She wants him to recognize his child, but since she didn’t have an orgasm, the child is considered corrupted. Also, Meoraq did not leave a mark of conquest on the girl. Meoraq and Saluuk, the girl’s father, fight, but eventually Saluuk relents and decides to punish his daughter for her wickedness. Once more Meoraq is hoping for rest, but is instead led to meet with Exarch Ylsathoc, who informs him that his father is dead.

Meoraq goes off to keep a prayer vigil for his father, during which he remembers a time when he was training as a Sheulek. His master had come back from a pilgrimage to the great temple at Xi-Matezh. Meoraq had gone to see him after his return. His master, Tsazr, told him that he was able to enter the Temple–something not everyone can do–and received a divine message. He didn’t elaborate on what it meant, but mentioned the words Nuu Sukaga. Meoraq comes out of his trance to find an usher awaiting him, and presents the boy with the list of supplies he will need, as he has determined he must go to Xi-Matezh himself.

Meoraq is awakened from sleep by the Exarch bursting into his quarters, demanding to understand why Meoraq is offering him such an insult. He and Meoraq argue, and in the end Ylsathoc reluctantly agrees to gather Meoraq’s supplies. Meoraq then goes to the temple roof to pray, and is joined by Nkosa. He tells Nkosa that he is going to Xi-Matezh, because he thinks Sheul has a message for him. Nkosa thinks that message will be that meoraq should assume the stewardship of his lands, a responsibility he’s inherited now that his father is dead. Meoraq won’t commit to that,but he does promise that he will see Nkosa again when his journey is completed.

The Drinking Game

  • 1. Take a shot every time a woman cries.
  • 2. Take as many shots as you need when there is either a rape or the threat of one.
  • 3. From last week: Take a shot every time Scott is a raging douchebag.
  • 4. Same goes for Meoraq.

Any additions or corrections to the drinking game are, of course, welcome in the comments.

Questions

1. What are your general impressions of Meoraq?
Meka says:

Well, I jumped the gun and started book 3 so my impressions change a great deal. However, since we are not there yet, I’ll give you my pre-book 3 thoughts. Can we talk book 3 yet? Can we can we?

Shannon says:
No.

Meka says:
Meoraq made book two a slog fest, quite frankly. Also, this book has a completely different writing style than that of book 1, which threw me off but was brilliant at the same time. I didn’t really get a good sense of who he was for a long time. When there was talk of him making his circuit and doing trials, I didn’t understand what he did with his spare time. You know, those few moments when he wasn’t having daily introspections about his life and his god.

He was ruthless, self-important, egotistical, brash, rude, and basically in my eyes, not a character that could possibly be redeemed. Yet even in his arrogance, he managed to make me laugh. He is very selfish, and yet there are moments when he could have continued being an ass and instead took up for his cousin. It didn’t make it enough to endear him to me, however. But I’ll be talking about that in a later question.

My favorite moment in book two was that he murderized the two farmers in court. I bet that would make anyone think twice before getting a warrior to do their battles for them! I didn’t realize just what his job entailed or that Shuiv and Meoraq would be fighting until they were in the courtroom. Did you see that coming, Shannon?

Shannon says:
Meoraq wasn’t really my idea of a romance hero at first. He was a self-centered ass, and he did a lot of things I didn’t like. Good Lord, dude, just stay away from the lizard women, OK? However, he’s a classic anti-hero, and the redemption arc for those is often really compelling.

On Twitter, as I was reading the book, I made a few comparisons to Jondalar of Clan of the Cave Bear fame. Only, you know, a Jondalar who wasn’t exactly seeking anyone’s permission before sharing pleasures. Mostly, this is because the idea of a caveman lizard amused me far too much. Now, though, I think he reminds me a bit of a less-incestuous Jaime Lannister, who is getting what feels like a nice redemption arc in the Song of Ice and Fire books. (At least, he was as of the time I gave up reading until Martin finishes the damn things!) They’re both cocky, self-assured warriors who seriously need to be taken down a peg. And they’ve both done things that some would consider irredeemable.

I did struggle a bit at first trying to figure out what Meoraq actually did. At first I thought he was some kind of circuit judge. Then I realized he was participating in trials by combat. I loved that he was devoted to Sheul, and in fact is something of a zealot. Smith is clearly setting us up for some interesting discussions of faith with that story arc that I’m excited about.

2. What do you think of Meoraq’s culture? How does it compare to Amber’s?

Meka says:
Well, Meoraq’s culture views orgasms in an important light and that’s enough to put it above Amber’s Earth any day of the week. I don’t know that there are really a lot of differences besides that their society does not have technology. Those who are rich stay rich and are afforded more respect. Those who are cursed or poor have a more difficult time and still have to scrabble around to make a life for themselves. I am still trying to figure out the intricacies of the caste system. Meoraq is a Sheulek, and thus afforded a great deal of respect. His father’s house is a famous one and he stands to inherit it all should his father pass away. Yet I noticed that Meoraq went far, but not *too* far in his demands lest he bring shame upon his father, so that is important to him.

It sucks to be a woman in this culture. They want and need to have babies, and get to be raped by Sheulek warriors in hopes that their child is blessed. We haven’t seen very much of women in general, and those that we have are obviously being abused and are afforded very few rights.

Shannon says:
I thought the culture was interesting, but I especially liked the fact that it’s horrible in its own unique ways that are different from Amber’s. It’s not like Smith is trying to tell us, “Haha, my lizard people are so much more enlightened than the silly humans.” If I had to live anywhere, I’d still go for option C, prehistoric Earth, where at least I’d want to have sex with the nice Cro-Magnon men. I do have to admit that I am basically over fantasy worlds (or alien cultures, whichever) where the default has to be misogyny. I don’t ask for my SF and fantasy to consist of feminist utopias, but is oppressing the women really necessary all the time?

That said, the world building is really good in other ways. I m fascinated by the religion of the lizard people, and even if I wish there was less rape, I think the fact that these people believe orgasm is what creates babies is fascinating. There were human cultures that felt that way, and I am all for anything that encourages women to take pleasure in sex, provided it is sex they want to be having, which thus far we have not seen. I also loved the various religious rituals Meoraq observes. His faith is absolute, and I am excited to see where that will take him, and what awaits him at Xi-Matezh.

3. What did you think of the sexual politics of this world?

Meka says:
I didn’t realize that women have to orgasm or their babies are considered cursed, so that was a good catch. Honestly, I hate the sexual politics of this world. All I see is a man taking whatever he wants and the woman being forced to give it to him. I need to see a woman who tricks a Sheulek warrior somehow, just so that she can get hers.

I’m just going to come right out and say it–the rape scene in book 2 was completely unnecessary and gratuitous. I don’t know what purpose it served the narrative as a whole. We already knew women were treated terribly from Meoraq’s parting with the woman at the first temple, and by his Maury Povich ‘I am not the Father’ moment in the court room. That, by the way, was a really dickish move on his part.

Shannon says:
Yeah, as I said above, the sexual politics bothered me. I think the only thing that makes it all somewhat bearable is that Meoraq is clearly not having a good time with all the women, as Nkosa seems to believe. That said, I’m with Meka in that I could have done without that rape scene. It will be interesting to see if it is ever brought up again, but my money is on no. I also agree that Meoraq treated the woman in the courtroom terribly. She had no reason to lie about having been with anyone else, but because of his position in society, her voice was never heard. That bothers me, and though I don’t think Meoraq has quite crossed the moral event horizon, I really hope some of his attitudes change.

4. Let’s talk a little bit about the religion on Meoraq’s world.

Meka says:
Having grown up Pentecostal, his religion reminded me a lot of that particular sect of Christianity. It was all fire and brimstone, following God’s beckoning hand, burning for Jesus, etc. I’m sure that it is not meant to be that way, but it definitely took me back.

There is a new D&D class that Meoraq has founded called the rape paladin. It’s when lizards find an unwilling woman, rape her, and then pray. PRAY! I literally flailed when I read his prayers to himself while he’s thrusting in some woman. With all the dipping the Sheulek do, I found it interesting that they aren’t supposed to get too aroused or excited about it. I’m having trouble grasping nuances of his religion, honestly.

Shannon says:
I definitely got the impression that the sex the Sheulek get up to isn’t supposed to be fun. Maybe that’s part of why it’s such a sticking point for both of us. Meoraq’s clearly not into it, and maybe giving into your baser desires is what they mean by going to Gann.

I thought the religion aspects were interesting. I’ve written about how I think Meoraq’s religion makes him an interesting character, but I also wonder what the effects are on the society. Sheul touches everything Meoraq comes into contact with, and yet, it’s clear he’s not exactly the best practitioner of his faith. I wonder if there are any agnostic or atheist lizard people. The parallels to Christianity that Meka brings up are interesting, and I hadn’t thought of it that way. Then again, I am not a believer, so religion fascinates me in a much more detached way, I think.

5. What are your predictions now that we’ve read the second book? Do you want to change any of last week’s?

Meka says:
My prediction is that book 3 is when Meka calls her safeword and peaces out of this book. Considering that I already jumped the gun and started reading, that is a distinct possibility. I still need for scott to get eaten and I hope Meoraq nomms all over him. I have a feeling that there is going to be more rape in book 3, but by whom is anyone’s guess at this point. I thought Scott would be the most likely person, but after seeing our rape Paladin in action, I’m not so sure. Will I make it to the fourth book? Stay tuned!

Shannon says:
I predict that next week’s post will be much livelier than this post. And I predict that I will have to read a Meoraq/Nkosa/Amber threesome. Because why stop at one lizard peen when you can have two? Either way, I do not have a safe word to call, so if meka pieces out, these posts will be a lot more rambling and with less talk of rape paladins.

Let us know what you think in the comments! Seriously, the comments love you!

Last Hour of Gann Readalong: Book I, or, Black dude dies first

Published October 25, 2013 by Shannon

Welcome to the Last Hour of Gann readalong. This post covers all of book I: Amber. If you have not read the book but intend to, move along lest you be spoiled. We’ll begin with a recap of the events, followed by our cogent literary analysis. (And by “cogent literary analysis” I really mean our fits of snark and squee.) This post is long. Feel free to grab an adult beverage and strap yourselves in. The spoilers start here, yo.

The Recap:

Amber Bierce’s mom has just died and she and her sister are being evicted from their home. Amber is the sort of person who gets things done, and so she lays out their options to her sister. They can either whore themselves, which is what their mom did, and which suits neither of them at all, or they can go on the state, which would involve being trapped in workhouses. Or they can join the manifestors, a group of people interested in colonizing other worlds. The Manifestors are considered whack jobs, but they’re rich whack jobs, and hey, they happen to need young women capable of bearing children. Nicci doesn’t want to consider her options, but Amber makes her hear them out and then feels horrible about having bullied her sister. Eventually, Nicci agrees to join the colony ship, and they both undergo a barrage of medical exams. Nicci is fine, but Amber is overweight, and the medics are concerned about her blood pressure. Having no other options, Amber visits the Candyman, one of her mother’s clients and a drug pusher. They haggle, and he gives her what amounts to a three-week regimen of Speed. The next medical exam turns out fine, but Amber hears the medic express some concerns about her to a colleague. The colleague advises the medic to clear her, saying it’s not their problem if the Sleepers on the ship don’t come in plus sizes. Amber and Nicci move into the colonists’ headquarters to await the ship’s taking off.

After an orientation period, they’re finally ready to leave Earth. The trip out to the waiting ship goes without incident, but the Bierces hit a snag when they find out they haven’t been roomed together in the family units. The crewman they’re speaking to, Everly Scott, is belligerent and refuses to do anything until Amber makes him get a supervisor. The supervisor assigns them to far more inferior quarters in the general population section,m then makes Scott escort them down. Amber and Scott continue to snipe at each other, but eventually both girls are put into sleep. The ship takes off, and crashes into some asteroids, killing all the active crew. The next thing the survivors are aware of is that they’ve crashed on an unknown world. Amber awakens from a dream of walking on the beach with her mother and hearing seagulls screaming to find that she is paralyzed. She begins to realize that the Sleeper is preventing her from movement, and that she is hearing the screaming of other passengers. Eventually, she is released from the sleeper. Venturing out of her cabin, she discovers that the ship around her is in ruins. She gets Nicci out of her compartment, but Nicci is still in shock and she strikes out at Amber, who does not defend herself. Eventually, Amber convinces Nicci to jump down to the ground so they can get away from the ship. She is able to rescue the one other survivor of their dorm, Ms. Alverez, who jumps away from the wreckage as well. Amber realizes that of the thousands of people in their dorm, she, Nicci and Ms. Alverez are the only survivors.

Amber and Nicci eventually find the rest of the survivors of the crash. There are about two thousand out of the 50,000 people that originally signed up. Amber sees Crewman Scott talking to a military [called the Fleet in this world] man and walks over to see what’s going on. The Fleet officer, Lieutenant Jonah Lamarc,
explains what happened. There are still large parts of the ship hidden underground. Lamarc and Scott have difficulty figuring out what to do. Lamarc wants to stay near the ship and build a colony where there are supplies and familiar things. Scott thinks they should scout out the territory. Amber agrees with Scott that they can’t stay with the ship and says she’ll go with Scott. Lamarc tells her he wishes she’d stay behind, and further admits that he’d like to sleep with her. Flattered, Amber tells him that she’ll hold him to it when they get back. Scott goes off in a huff to organize his scouting party, and Amber promises Lamarc she’ll be back, and asks him to take care of everyone.

Amber begins to root around for useful supplies. She’s joined by some Fleet officers who help her with the work. After packing what they can, they listen as Scott delivers a rousing speech about how people need to find pioneer spirit. Amber and the Fleet officers are distinctly unimpressed, but they join Scott’s scouting party anyway. After a grueling hike, Amber is exhausted. She takes a look around and counts heads. There are 48 people in this scouting party, including herself and Nicci. Nicci comes to tell her that Scott doesn’t like her and is thinking of sending her back. Amber remains uncowed, and says if Scott has a problem with her, he can suck it. She promises Nicci that she will always take care of her. Nicci screams that she doesn’t believe her and hates Amber for making her leave the planet, and storms off to be comforted by the other colonists while Amber helplessly watches.

That night, the camp is awakened by a loud roar. People speculate that the roar comes from dinosaurs. Amber tries to make amends with Scott by asking what he thinks they should do. They decide to see if they can find footprints. The small band of survivors gather up their supplies and trudge down to the lake, where they find nothing. Suddenly, Amber finds herself blown into the water. When she surfaces, she discovers that the remains of the ship are on fire. She stumbles to shore, finds Nicci, and with the other colonists they watch the ship burn.

Questions:

1. What were your general impressions of the chapters so far? What do you think of Smith as a writer?

Meka says:

I am struggling mightily with some aspects of this book, but not the writing itself. Smith paints a picture of a world that is grim and hopeless. Everyone has a place, for better or worse, and castes are set in stone.

In some respects, I felt as though everything was happening way too fast. I suppose it’s natural to be thrown in, but that didn’t always work for me. I enjoy fast-paced novels, but this one just kind of picked me up and dragged me along for the ride without waiting to see if I could keep up. I would have liked to have expanded a bit on the funeral, for example.

I am not certain that Dystopian novels are my thing, but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the world the girls are from is a bad, bad place, so bad that the terrible seems normal and what is beyond that is a fate worse than death. How are they even supposed to rise out of where they have been in the first place?

Also, I wish this book were available in audio. While I understand that Amber’s thoughts are chaotic and can appreciate Smith not using punctuation to illustrate that fact, it is driving me a little crazy.

Shannon says:

I’ll be honest. I kind of expected the writing to be awful, so it really surprised me when Smith grabbed me by the emotions and didn’t let me go. There’s something stark about her writing that I love. It’s unpretentious, but she’s dealing with a lot of big ideas, about which, more later.

]She’s clearly not an author for everyone. I very rarely want to read anything this dark, and even though I may say I don’t want an author to pull their punches, I don’t think I really mean that. Smith pulls no punches. In a way,she reminds me of Stephen King, at least in the way she paints the atmosphere of her world, but even that comparison doesn’t quite work. I’m not sure what authors she does come close to. Certainly, I don’t think anyone is writing romance quite like this. (A side note: I think the punctuation thing Meka is talking about is reminiscent of some of King’s more stream of consciousness narratives. I’m not saying Smith is stealing anything here, but, yeah, those were clearly King influences.)

I disagree with Meka about the funeral. I thought the way it was described was awful enough to give me a clear sense of the world. There are plenty of ways that this book could have been trimmed, but that scene, in my opinion, was not one of them. Maybe I would have liked to see some of Amber’s grief, but I can see why that is not a choice the author could make. Amber simply doesn’t have time for grief. There’s too much stuff to do.

2. What did you think of the Earth that Amber and Nicci come from?

Meka says:

The world that Amber and Nicci come from is a dark place. I spent a lot of time thinking about the fact that opportunities for improving one’s life are only given to the few. If you signed on for a job, you seemed to have to keep that job forever and a day or face serious consequences. I don’t understand how anyone could carve a life of independence on that Earth at all.

When Amber remembered how her mother came home after being spayed–SPAYED!–that nearly ended it for me. You know, there is bad like the world that they live in, and then there is BAD like having to be that little girl who took care of your mother who was a total mess after what happened. While the government was so busy trying to put poor people in their place, they kind of forgot about developing more humane ways of sterilizing someone….if you can call that process humane at all. Gel? Sealant? Something?

Shannon says:

Digression alert: Here’s my take on dystopias. Either go big or go home. I’ve missed much of the YA dystopian trend because I do not buy most of their premises. I don’t believe anyone would ever, for instance, think outlawing love would solve anyone’s problems. Or that people would naturally form factions based on their Meyer’s Briggs personality type. I can, however, accept the premise that a winner-take-all reality show would be a good way to control the masses, because of our culture’s current obsession with the media. Our culture is not currently obsessed with, say, determining the smartest people to lead the world through rigorous college entrance exams. I guess what I’m saying is that I want my dystopias to say something about the world we live in now and extrapolate how much worse it could get. And I know, this last paragraph is just begging for someone to explain to me how all those dystopian premises I mentioned are from excellent books that I shouldn’t mock because I haven’t read them. Feel free to judge me hard in the comments. I can take it.

I see some relevant cultural commentary about our own present in these pages. It’s not commentary I agree with, but I’d take something that feels plausible over a dark world that is dark because of some arbitrary thing people have decided to do for no apparent reason. Amber seems to live in a much more socialized state, where you may be able to have health insurance and you can go into a work house if you need to, but that’s not going to be a pleasant place for you. It feels like this is the future as envisioned by someone much more conservative than I am. This is the dystopia of someone who doesn’t support Obamacare. The government controls every aspect of your life, from how much you can make to your reproductive rights, and there don’t seem to be any kind of social safety nets, and, as Meka says, it’s not the place where the American dream is in force. You have to go to the stars for that. I don’t know what Smith’s political leanings are, nor do I want to speculate, but it is how I read the text.

Also, Smith managed to do what no one else has ever accomplished: I now have an actual desire to read A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, if only to see how different her vision of the future is from this one.

3. At one point, Amber’s mom tells the girls, ”
“They’ll spay the hookers, sure they will,” she’d sneer at some point. “But do they ever talk about neutering the fucking johns? Oh no! No, they’re still selling Viagra on the fucking TV, that’s what they’re doing! Let me tell you something, babies, what I do is the most honest work in the world because all women are whores! That’s how men see it, and if that’s how they see it, little girl, that’s how it is!” Do you think the text will end up agreeing with that statement, or do you think, as Amber does, that it’s simply a reflection of her mother’s bitterness?

Meka says:

The fact that they spayed–SPAYED!–Amber’s mother at all tells me that this is the stark reality of their world. There seem to be very few expectations of women in this book except to deal with the lot that they have been given in life and to do it gracefully and without complaint. I didn’t realize that I had the semblance of a strong inner feminist until I got to that part. It very much mirrors the real world. Women who are prostitutes are looked down upon far more than the men who frequent them. We’ll flip out because somebody twerked on TV but don’t bat in eye when there is an announcement that if your erection lasts longer than four hours, you need to call a doctor. You’re the bad girl for dancing, but the guy grinding up on you probably gets props by many. If those attitudes don’t change, if our responses don’t change, then it would not surprise me that future Earth might be bleak and dark in that regard. I shudder to think what is going to happen to the other women in this book because of it.

Shannon says:

I really found that passage evocative. It made me think of all the conversations I’ve read on the Internet with people saying that tips on how to avoid getting raped are useless, because what we really need to say is, “The only way to prevent rape is for men to stop raping.” I think in a lot of ways Mary Bierce is just overly jaded and cynical, but she’s not entirely wrong, either. To be fair, though, we don’t really see any men on Earth. We can extrapolate all we like, but it could be that things suck for a poor man, too. After all, we don’t know, for example, why Scott thought joining the Manifestors was the thing to do.

4. A lot of science fiction depicts colonizing new worlds as a fun and worthy activity. Yet the Bierce girls don’t see any other way to get a better life for themselves and view the process less as a grand adventure than as a foolhardy thing for desperate people to do. What did you think of that? Would you be up for the adventure, or would you want to stick with what is familiar?

Meka says:

I believe that there is a safety in the familiar, even if it isn’t the life that we would truly want for ourselves. But if you don’t know what you never had, then you don’t care what you’ve never missed. So, I almost answered yes to this question. I’d want to live in the knowledge of what was normal to me. yet, if what was normal was so bad, would I even know? And if I am living in a world where I could be spayed–SPAYED!–, or I have to register to do anything, where my class dictates what happens to me and my entire life is regimented, then I have to say hell no. I’d much rather take that adventure and colonize another planet. It may not turn out the way I hope, but at least I can do whatever I want without some stupid measure saying I can’t. Apparently, I am very much like Amber and a little bit like Nicci!

Shannon says:

The colonists as wacky, wide-eyed idealists was the thing that surprised me. Some of my favorite books have been about people colonizing other worlds. It’s a staple of the SF genre, after all. I think this is the first SF book I’ve read where the idea wasn’t universally approved of by everyone. Though that said, I think a group of cultists would not be who I’d want leading such an adventure. As for whether I’d do it myself, I know I’ve moved halfway across the country in search of a better life. It had to be done, even though it was hard. I sympathized with Amber’s need to do it. Granted, leaving my planet would be much more extreme than that, and I don’t think I could go that far, but damn, it wasn’t like they were leaving paradise. Maybe for them a planet without Obamacare would be exactly what they needed.

5. In general, what were your impressions of the characters? What do you think of Amber? Nicci? Scott?

Meka says:

It took a while for Amber to grow on me. I understood that there were dire circumstances, but she was downright mean to Nicci in the beginning. It helped to get internal monologue from her, but I really thought she was a very unlikeable person. She grew on me, though. She is fierce and strong. She is self-reliant and self-sufficient. She kept telling herself that sometimes people have to say the hard stuff and she did so. I do not like conflict, and often, her very straightforward method of talking and doing things made me uncomfortable. Sometimes I just wanted her to hush and let the nice men deal with the issues. I know that is a terrible statement to make, but I do have that mindset occasionally. All in all, she’d be a rockin sister to have in your corner. Also, fat girls unite! I cannot even begin to tell you how thrilled I am that Amber is not feather-light. It’s easy for me to be thrust inside of her head because fat girl Meka could not be trudging up some super steep ridge and remain unscathed.

Nicci and I are going through a love/hate relationship. While she is insufferably whiny, I wonder if she is dealing with mental illness that has run unchecked for a very long time. She seems to only operate in one mode, fearful and scared. Maybe there is so much that is wrong in her world, she has to cling to the familiar in order for it to make sense and to find her balance. While her protestations of why she didn’t want to join the colonists might have been unreasonable, this was her life. Everything that she knew was being taken away from her. Her mother was dead, she was being evicted. The only things that she had left were Amber and the system. And while the system wasn’t doing her any good, I believe it bred a familiarity with her that was so complete that the thought of leaving all that she’d known was like cutting off an arm. She represents to me what the average citizen of her caste who no longer wants to fight might be like if they never see something that is different from their norm.

Smith’s foreshadowing is like a brick in the face. We already know bad things are going to happen and scott is probably going to be the antagonist. We knew he didn’t like Amber because she stood up to him when he was trying to be large and in charge. If my limited reading of post-apocalypse novels has taught me anything, it’s that people like him are going to be the biggest trouble of all.

Can I just give a shout out to the candyman? I didn’t realize that what he gave Amber was pretty much akin to speed. Shannon is so good at catching stuff like that. For some reason, he really stood out to me as a character. While the world is going to hell in a handbasket, he’s managed to make his mark. Also, I cannot get Jean Wilder out of my head. I love you, Willie Wonka!

I’ll be interested to see what happens to the other ladies, like Miss Alverez, who is quickly becoming my favorite because she was going to sue all the bastards!

Also, black man dies first is a trope that is alive and well, I see. Jonah, there could have been so much in store for you. I am afraid of what will happen to the other *gasp* black woman in the story. But if my limited knowledge of TV Tropes has taught me anything, it’s that she’s next on the list. I hope I’m wrong. We need to keep the diversity alive!

Shannon says:

I am an unapologetically heroine-centric reader. Your hero may be so awesome that he farts rainbows and causes every woman in a 500 mile radius to orgasm on command, but if your heroine is boring, I don’t have a connection. I know many readers are the opposite–they want a place holder for their own fantasies, and that’s fine. It’s just not how I read. What I was expecting from Amber and what I got were also pleasantly different. I figured that with all the raping she goes through she’d be either a snivveling waif, or we readers would be supposed to think she’d somehow deserve everything she got. (I once read a terrible sci-fi novel with that premise. The human heroine was so thoroughly unlikeable that it was clear the author wanted readers to cheer for the hero every time he raped her to show her her place. I still have scars over that book. Just… fuck you, Sharon Green.) That is not something I am up for, and I am glad Amber is such a dynamic character, and is demonstrably shown to be right. She’s also got flaws, and, like Meka, I appreciated that she was an awesome fat chick. The scene after she hikes up the ridge and is told she wasn’t pulling her weight really got to me, because as a fat chick who is disabled, I have those fears all the time… that I’m somehow not doing enough and people will notice.

Amber’s also not good with people and I love that even as it means she has to say the hard stuff, it also alienates her from everyone, including her sister. I wish she had friends other than Nicci, because as I’ve said before on this blog, no one is an island and I worry about anyone’s future without a good support system.

Speaking of good support systems, I hadn’t thought of Nicci as being mentally ill until Meka brought it up. It does make sense, though, and is a much more charitable interpretation than mine, which is that Nicci’s been coddled all her life. I wish there was more to her character, and that she would do more than cry and rage. I worry that she’s not going to serve as much of a narrative device other than being the burden Amber has to bear.

There are some things I think Smith does well, but I agree that foreshadowing is not among them. She doesn’t seem to name many characters, but I knew Scott would be important when he got a name. He’s a bit of a cartoon villain, but he’s also a scarily effective cartoon villain. He seems to know Amber’s weak spots and exploits them ruthlessly, and I have to admit that the uncomfortable dynamic between Scott and Amber makes me a little nervous.

Yeah, poor Jonah. He never got a chance. Let’s hope that any other PoC in this book don’t meet with equally cliched deaths.

6. If you crash-landed on a strange new planet, what is the one essential thing you’d take with you?

Meka says:

I’m taking a collapsible tent. Even though movies have proven that you can still be eaten by dinosaurs while in your makeshift shelter, I cannot deal with the elements. I am such a girl. dinosaurs can eat me, but a bug better not even land on me!

Shannon says:

Sturdy blankets would be the practical thing I’d take. Not the flimsy fleece throws, but big thick wool blankets to keep out the cold. Also lots of water.

7. What are your predictions for what’s going to happen to the characters?

Meka says:

I do not trust this author and have trouble putting my reader self in her hands. My prediction is that Amber is going to be rape fodder because she’s a woman and she’s speaking out, Scott is going to be a rapist as well as some of the other men, and Nicci is going to be sexually-assaulted too, because she’s just another woman. I think that the people of color are going to die, and Scott is going to reign supreme. What I hope happens is that Nicci grows a spine and other character-building qualities, and that the other cast of characters aren’t useless while Amber is the only one who takes steps to secure their future. Oh, and I’m going to need for scott to be eaten. Violently.

Shannon says:

?
We know there’s going to be rape. I predict most of it will be done by Scott. I predict that Nicci will die of TSTL, or possibly be eaten. I can only hope. Since the book is so bleak, Scott will survive the world and become a tin-pot dictator of the rest of the humans (save Nicci, who will have been eaten, and Amber, who is supposed to get her HEA.)

Meka’s final thoughts:

All in all, I don’t know that I’m going to like this book and am almost ready to call my safeword. I think that this bleak is a little too much for me. I understand why it has to be dark. Dark, hopeless scary world of which there is almost no escape is a staple in Dystopian novels. I just don’t know that I’m really in to it. It’s probably going to get a whole lot worse, so be prepared to watch me clutch my pearls in dismay. But hey, next week we shall meet our intrepid hero!

Shannon’s final thoughts

:

I’m down for the ride. I am a little anxious about meeting Meoraq. As I said last week, uber alphas do nothing for me, so I’m predisposed not to like him much. But thus far, everything i thought would happen with this book has been wrong, so I’m willing to be proved wrong on this point, too.

So. What do the rest of you think? We discussed a lot of stuff in this post, and we’d love to see your takes on any of it in the comments. Note that the first comment you leave on the blog is moderated, because I do not care about your thoughts if you would like to help my erection last longer or if you are selling genuine replica timepieces. I’ll free the comments as soon as I can, I promise.

The Last Hour of Gann Readalong: Intro

Published October 18, 2013 by Shannon

Shannon says:

The romance blogosphere is abuzz with The Last Hour of Gann, a self-published erotic horror novel by R. Lee Smith. I’ve read many reactions to it, from effusive praise to reasons why it’s a DNF to “WTF lizard man pr0n? Are you on crack?”
Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

It was her last chance:

Amber Bierce had nothing left except her sister and two tickets on Earth’s first colony-ship. She entered her Sleeper with a five-year contract and the promise of a better life, but awakened in wreckage on an unknown world. For the survivors, there is no rescue, no way home and no hope until they are found by Meoraq—a holy warrior more deadly than any hungering beast on this hostile new world…but whose eyes show a different sort of hunger when he looks at her.

It was his last year of freedom:

Uyane Meoraq is a Sword of Sheul, God’s own instrument of judgment, victor of hundreds of trials, with a conqueror’s rights over all men. Or at least he was until his father’s death. Now, without divine intervention, he will be forced to assume stewardship over House Uyane and lose the life he has always known. At the legendary temple of Xi’Matezh, Meoraq hopes to find the deliverance he seeks, but the humans he encounters on his pilgrimage may prove too great a test even for him…especially the one called Amber, behind whose monstrous appearance burns a woman’s heart unlike any he has ever known.

From R. Lee Smith, author of Heat and Cottonwood, comes an epic new story of desire, darkness and the dawn that comes after The Last Hour of Gann.

WARNING: This book contains graphic violence, strong sexual content and explicit language. It is intended for mature readers only.

I first heard about this book from my BFF, Meka, who tweeted me saying we should read the book together. She may have meant that in the sense of, “Hey, sometime in the nebulous future we should read this book, right after I watch some paint dry but before I start monitoring grass growth.” However, I immediately got excited and suggested a joint
review. Then I realized the book was massive, and I belong to three book clubs for which I have to read long tomes, and fitting an even longer book into the mix wasn’t happening. Rather than shelve the project, I thought it might be fun to do this as a readalong.

For those of you who don’t know me, I am not a fan of alphas in romance. I never have been. However, my taste in other speculative fiction runs to the dark. I once suggested that we read one of my favorite dark fantasy novels at one of my millions of book clubs, of which Meka is a member. She couldn’t finish it. I can’t stomach rape, but rape as backstory is a thing Meka enjoys.

meka says:

What? This is a horror novel? You did *not* tell me that when we were first talking about doing this, missy! You have some ‘splainin to do!

Shannon says:

It is not my fault you didn’t click on the Amazon links. You would have seen that designation, although it sounds like the book is more dark sci-fi than horror.
Meka says:

Anyway, Shannon and I are constantly giving each other book recommendations that we might read, eventually, sometimes years down the line, so the fact that she latched on to this title and all of a sudden came up with this awesome idea has kind of floored me. So here I am, along for the ride and a little worried. While she and I might not be the book twins that we first thought we were, we have a way of talking about books with one another that is pretty hilarious. At least to us. Also, I will have all the alphas. But not the alphaholes!
Shannon says:

Not all the alpha holes, though. This one is a lizard man, remember? Though I have to say that what I’m picturing is an evil version of the lizard creatures from Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books. You’re welcome for the fact that I probably ruined a childhood fantasy classic forever.

Anyway, before we get too sidetracked, here’s how this works: There are eight sections in the book, each of which is divided into chapters. We’ll read one section a week for the next eight weeks, and post our thoughts on the blog. Anyone who wants to
discuss the book with us further is welcome to do so in the comments. We ask that you not spoil later parts of the book if you’ve read ahead, though we will spoil the hell out of the sections we’re reading.

Our goal is to be even-handed, praising where praise is due and offering criticism where we think appropriate. I certainly don’t want this to become a
protracted love fest or pile-on.

We’ll try to do this every Friday. There are a couple of weeks I know
it’ll be hard to manage, but we’ll do our best. We’re both excited to
get this project going, and we’re looking forward next week to starting
with Book I: Amber.

Meka says

despite my worries that the hero is a lizardman, which I am totally judging by the way because I need my normal catman alphas, I am really looking forward to reading this book. I don’t read a lot of sci-fi at all, and Shannon is like the sci-fi mistress. I’m just going to say this–I heard that there is a lot of rape in this book. I think I can handle that. But if even one puppy gets shot, I’m out of here!

See you all next week!