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.