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.

11 comments on “Last Hour of Gann: Throwing in the towel

  • I re-read Book 1 up to the crash. I could read it more dispassionately. Which was good. Amber is still an unreliable narrator. I find the worldbuilding lazy. I still think Amber is in serious need of a mental health professional.

    To me, Book 1 could’ve been scrapped and pieces integrated to the rest of the story and don’t think anything would’ve been lost. I probably could’ve suspended my disbelief better had the story just started with the crash on Gann.

    Read the interview you linked to and was more than a little disconcerted. Still processing.

    I read The Sparrow and Children of God.. gosh the Sparrow must have been 15 years ago give or take. Yes, while reading Gann I was actively thinking about the differences in the world building. And to pull from the interview, I was also thinking about Neil deGrasse Tyson would have to say about Depends undergarments. Just watched him on the Daily Show.

    I just never could buy into Amber being accepted by The Manifestors. Well, I could but it’s not the story the author chose to tell me, or better yet show me.

    I guess I do have a question which I’m hoping you’ll answer. In the interview the author claims that Scott is one of the Manifestors and therefore knows what to say, how to act and somehow has the ability to grant rewards or punishments. If this is a cult, do we ever get to see the conditioning? What phrases or actions does Scott use to differentiate himself from Amber that makes him the insider and her the outsider? Or are the 48 survivors the sheep that Bo-Peep lost? How do you feel Mary Shelley’s Nicci monster compared to the original? Or maybe Nicci should be considered Amber’s creation.

    Oy! Thanks for the thoughts.

    • We are never going to agree on Amber. I do see how you read her as mentally ill, but I was willing to go with scrappy anti-heroine.

      Um… As far as I could tell in the rest of what I read, Scott is supposed to be a people person who knows how to say the right things to get people to follow him. But if that were the case, I think he could have been a lot better at not pouting and throwing a fit every time Amber said something he didn’t like. Also, he was a moron with bad long-range planning abilities. But as I said earlier, I was reading Under the Dome simultaneously, so Scott was hampered by the fact that I kept comparing him to Jim Rennie, the villain of that book, and Scott didn’t come out well. (Rennie was, in fact, capable of planning ahead and King effectively showed him manipulating people and showing why people would respond to him the way they did.) I don’t want to read a book where the author says, “Yeah, I want to write a story about how people suck, because they do” when I can see the authorial hand at work making them suck. It felt manipulative, and also repetitive after a while. Like… Yeah, Scott’s a dick. Showing him being a dick 780 times is way overdoing it.

      Someone spoiled the end of the book re: Nicci after I threw in the towel. My impression based on what I heard is that there is no improvement, and in the end she goes out with a last hurrah of horribleness.
      I have not read Children of God. The Sparrow was one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I’m scared that Children of God won’t measure up. That said, clearly I need some good SF in my life. :)

  • I guess I’d give Amber more leeway if I saw her world rather than lived it through her mind aka having her tell me about her world in tiny snippets. Perhaps if I had read further.

    Her weight (I read her as morbidly obese after she lost 60 lb not fat chick) combined with her anger (first memory of her mother), her bullying and hyprocrisy (she and Nicci can’t survive without her mother’s whoring), risk-taking (giving almost all of their savings to the Candyman and not bothering to get her last paycheck), throwing out all the food without even a tiny thought about what Nicci was going to eat, no real long-range planning, Nicci (Amber had a real hand in creating her and definitely a horrible co-dependent relationship) and no real emotion over losing her job, no mention on whether or not Nicci also lost her job, no community whether it be the neighbors in her building or her co-workers. No interaction with anyone of note during orientation. No real momentary grief breakdown or good memory of her mother. She lived her life filtered from the real world (perhaps necessarily) but I didn’t feel that I could trust her or even what she was telling because it didn’t make sense.

    Seriously, why do the Manifestors take her or her sister? [Start me at the crash site and the question of why doesn’t matter to me. ]

    I really didn’t see her as a hero or even an anti-hero, I just saw her as a victim.. Although to be fair, on the re-read I saw that The Manifestors weren’t the option of last resort so much as a purposeful choice that only required the right moment to enact. So I guess long-range plan kind of.

    Ahhh, Children of God is still very good. I lent the book to a neighbor and a friend. They both loved it as much as the first. I enjoyed it but I didn’t love it the same way. And, yes, I do have thoughts on the why but I fear saying more would be too much of a spoiler. Even so, these are two books which I should re-read in the near future to see how well they aged for me and how many more faucets now appear now that I’ve aged. I tried to read her novel during WWII a number of years back but simply wasn’t in the mood. Good writing though. I remember that. I think what I really loved about the Sparrow was

    Morn Hyland is probably the female anti-hero who’s gone through rape and worse who I would compare Amber to. No comparison. There’s just not the depth in Amber. And Morn’s transformation/arc was her own. That said, I never re-read Book 1 where she is raped. I probably should though.

    Nicci: I much prefer Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Mary Shelley Briece’s Nicci. I guess I want my monsters to be intelligent or cunning.

    Scott: Same thing. Show intelligence or cunning. I guess what bothered me about the author’s interview compared to your readalong(s) is that I never got a sense that what the author tells us about the story in her interview made it onto the page.

    What also bothered me was the author’s explanation of why she/he built the world they did. Did you get to see any of these rage driven murders on the page? Or is the only thing remaining from the virus the subjugation of the females, the female infertility and the societal structure built to “ensure” the species survival? If not then I have to wonder on the disconnect between story on the page and author’s insight into their own worldbuilding.

    I really enjoy some of King’s work. When he is on, what I love about his stories is his in-depth view of people and moving them across the board to tell a certain story. We generally don’t get told that they did this or that because of this or that, we are watch as they make their choices. Even the “good” people who do “evil” things or get wrapped up in mob mentality. I have to say I almost came away from Smith’s interview with evil = rape mentality. Whereas I tend to be more in line with King’s viewpoint which is evil has many many forms. (I remember one scene from Dark Tower Book 5 or 6 in particular. Struck me as what the people who worked the Manhattan Project might have struggled with.)

    And this piece is for Meka on her conversation with Janet/Robin: the big difference for me in paranormal romance / urban fantasy is that the author is the final authority. There’s no historical or contemporary accounts to counteract said author. So if the world is rapey then that’s just the way it is. Unfortunately, if rape fantasy is the the goal of the worldbuilding, it seems that the stories get more extreme as the author/reader needs to up the ante. Not all the time. But I find it interesting the author’s world doesn’t seem to get better for females in general when the “leaders???” “alpha males????” get their mates. In some cases, I guess I’d make the case that the gender roles become more rigid. I also find it interesting that the role of society (so-called female realm) isn’t really shown in paranormal, it’s more about the violence and extreme circumstances. Okay, gross, gross exaggeration.

    • PS. I wasn’t trying to convince you about the mental ill bit, just trying to show you that I actually gave Amber a lot of thought and it wasn’t a case of not liking her. More a question of those tiny disconnects which added up to definite nitpicking on my part.

      My original trigger had to do with Amber’s hypocrisy when it came to her mother and her profession.

      • I think your reading is totally valid. I guess I’m such a heroine-centric reader when I’m expecting a romance that I tend to give female characters a pass I don’t tend to award men even when the female characters are clearly terrible people.

        I never got to the part about the rape virus or whatever that was. By the time I threw in the towel, I was maybe 15 percent of the way through the book–we really were reading the chapters as we went. Which, if I ever do this again, will be a lesson for the future, so I couldn’t answer your question about that.

        Yeah, my favorite paranormal romances are the ones where the gender roles aren’t so traditional. I think Nalini Singh does a good job of making her women important and powerful in their own right, whereas, say, JR Ward’s women are so interchangeable as to be forgettable.

        I have not read Donaldson. I know he’s a classic fantasy author, and he’s written a lot, but his books all sort of look like… not my thing. See also, The Dark Tower, though that’s because someone spoiled the end for me and I didn’t know if I was up for that kind of commitment. If only there were more hours in the day to read all the books I want to and should read.

        Also, Meka did not have the conversation about paranormals, but I know the post and I thought it was interesting, though Mayoskop is obviously not a fan of paranormals, and I love them… when they’re good, they’re very, very good, but when they’re not… ugh.

        This comment is so disjointed.

        • I’m willing to give characters a pass. Okay, sometimes. With romance, where I have my biggest problem is when I expect at least a female lead and end up getting a female who’s the male protag love interest / helper. Makes me annoyed.

          I didn’t care for the author’s explanation on the virus. BUT my mind did go to Serenity and the Reapers! Yes, a Whedon geek. I have to wonder if the author really knows what she’s writing if she doesn’t see the underlying rape themes (and potentially gender-ism) without readers pointing it out to her.

          Morn Hyland is from the Gap series. Science Fiction. That said, I re-read this series somewhat regularly but can’t re-read Book 1 The real story which contains Morn’s rape and subjugation. Important pieces for the entire story / character arcs. I just can’t re-read it. Definitely not for everyone. Very interesting character study. The last book was a little self-indulgent. and heavy-handed with the guilt emotion. Lots and lots of characters. Most of them anti-heros archetypes.

          Paranormals. I do like the possibilities they present, I just don’t always like the world building, especially as it pertains to females. Even two of my favorite series with female protags are problematic.

          Children of God. Please read it. The book is still strong and worthwhile. IMO, not as good as The Sparrow but I think they are two pieces of one whole and should be read as such.

          Thanks for the conversation!!! And sorry for the Meka / Mayoskop mixup.

          • Yes! I’m with you about the female protagonists vs. female love interest thing. I want the former and so often end up with the latter. That was what killed it for me about Gann. I was c pearly not going to read Amber’s story, because it soon became Meoraq’s, and as I said in the post, I didn’t find him all that compelling.

            Yeah, I find it amazing that readers had to point out her problematic themes. I mean, I get being too close to your work, but the gender issues aren’t subtle.

            I will definitely read Children of God. It is on the list but this conversation is pulling it toward the top.

            What are your favorite paranormal romances?

        • See also, The Dark Tower, though that’s because someone spoiled the end for me and I didn’t know if I was up for that kind of commitment.

          The end is a huge deal. Whoever spoiled it for you did you a service because the ending was a deal breaker for many people. The journey well worth it. The destination: wallbanger.

          King knew that. He included an afterword to address it in the last book.

          The series has some of King’s best and worst writing. To be fair to King, it was his opus –the first story was written in the 70s I think although it might have been published in the 80s– and he’d just been struck by the hit n run. Still he was very self indulgent IMO and in serious need an editor. The last 2 books felt like he said to himself I have to finish this thing. NOW.

          If you want to dip your toe into the Dark Tower universe, you could try Book 4. It’s more or less Roland’s origin story. Just make sure that you skip the very beginning which is the conclusion of Book 3. That would be a huge spoiler and Book 3 was very good. I think it’s delineated fairly well but it’s been so long that I don’t remember what might be spoiled by the origin story itself.

          • Actually, IIRC it was a review for some unrelated thing on Amazon, but my mind was totally blown, in a not good way. I imagine the journey to that end is fascinating, and I may give it a try at some point, because if anyone can convince me what I read makes sense in context, it’d be Stephen King. But that is a lot of books! Still, it would be fun to see how he brings in all the other worlds he’s created, and someone did tell me Tom Cullen makes an appearance in one of the Dark Tower books, so reading it for that would be fun. Not sure how I feel about some of the other self-indulgent things I’ve heard he does… like inserting himself into the book.

  • It really is the end, or rather the second half of the last book.

    For me the most problematic were the last 2 books. At the time, I thought they should be stripped down, combined and a new 7 book written. Rather than wallbanging, I’d say I had a lot of foot stomping and really?? really??

    His insertion as a character into the narrative isn’t as “horrible” as it would seem on paper given the worlds built. It was indulgent though but I think it goes to show his state of mind on finishing the darn thing.

    Yes, he does bring in characters from other series. I know I didn’t catch all of them or what they referenced because King has never been an auto-buy for me.

    I think one of these days I should go back and re-read the updated version of the whole thing. Now that I know the ending, I might not have the reaction I had the first time.

    Or maybe it would be worse. LOL

    • I must apologize. The reply button from email didn’t put these where they should go and going into the blog won’t let me reply to you but to me. So I have something screwed up on my machine.

      Paranormal romances: I don’t have any at the moment. I’ve been reading non-fiction lately although I recently read the latest Rachel, Mercy & Kate but they aren’t really romances. The Andrea spinoff one definitely was. About to start Taking on the Trust non-fiction about Ida Tarbell.

      I decided with the upcoming holiday season that I’m going on a paranormal romance / urban fantasy binge so I’ve been scouring reviews vs. what’s available at the library and the first to arrive are:

      War for the Oaks Emma Bull
      Firelight Kristen Callihan
      Dragon Bound Thea Harrison
      Street magic Caitlin Kittredge
      Liquid lies Hanna Martine
      Helen & Troy’s epic road quest A. Lee Martinez
      Kiss of steel Bec McMaster
      Magic to the bone Devon Monk
      Some girls bite Chloe Neill

      Did I mention that I love the library? Gives me a chance to jump back in and try just about anything without penalty. And if it turns out I’m just not in the mood (happens more than I like), it goes back and I try again later.

      I’m still adding to the list so if there’s anything that really worked for you or you’d like to see how I’d react to, please do let me know.

      And your comment about wanting to Meoraq to be wrong about something has me asking whether or not alpha males are really gods and the women they love children. The stuff about pets took me there.

      Can “pets” ever truly be equals? If so, I suspect it would take a heck of a lot more than falling in love for someone not originally an equal to become an equal. Especially if love is considered a weakness or not valued within the society.

      And to spin on your other comment from a different post, taking care of someone for the rest of your life can become a burden when it becomes an obligation rather than a special ummm favor for lack of a better word.

      I know I know it’s only a fantasy. But I sometimes wonder if a different story isn’t playing out in readers’ heads than is actually on the page? That’s not a knock on any reader because it’s readers imaginations which bring an author’s words to life. The difference between how you and I view Amber is a great example. I can easily see the strengths you saw in Amber and if I allowed myself to fill in the blanks.

      Is this a case of how many shortcuts a reader will allow vs. how much story hits the cutting room floor in our personal version of the story? I’m know I’m guilty of the cutting room floor. Too many fight scenes that do nothing to move character or plot arcs, skimmed (hope I didn’t miss anything important). Too many sex scenes that bore me, skimmed. (ditto) I’m sure I also do the fill-in as well when a story or a high-concept grab me.

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