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Chance's Take on Books

I'm a novelist who loves to read and discuss all things word-bound.

Currently reading

Swann's Way
Marcel Proust, Lydia Davis
Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style
Virginia Tufte
The Chicago Manual of Style
John Grossman, Margaret D. Mahan
I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive
Steve Earle

Dark Matter Tiding




In the near future, as waves of Dark Matter penetrate the Earth and human civilization reels from its pathological effects, one woman, a drone engineer, must choose to use deadly technology against fellow human beings or risk the destruction of all she cherishes.



Publication date: 11/26/14

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The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi




Initially a successful short story and novella writer, Paolo Bacigalupi's first novel, The Windup Girl won many awards including the Nebula and Hugo. It is an intelligent, apocalyptic saga full of corrupt governments, greedy and immoral corporate super-powers, and civil insurrections, all players on an Earth that evolved through the consequences of global warming and plagues caused by the gene ripping of Mother Nature. It is a dark and dreary world, not for the faint of heart. Characters range from wealthy to down-trodden to man-made organics (as found in Blade Runner). The dialogue is spot-on and fun to read. Descriptions are well written but not over-done. All very worthwhile reading.

Since this novel vies to play in the league of Philip K. Dick and William Gibson, the bar to a 5 star rating is high. Areas that squelched otherwise perfect enjoyment were two: First, rape scenes of the windup girl, a character deemed disgusting, lower than trash, hit a raw nerve from the shear ugliness and brutality. The kicker was that the person doing the assault, the violation, was another prostitute who was happy to torture someone she considered beneath her own rung of the social ladder for the enjoyment of the bar patrons. Night after night, one miserable sex-slave viciously abusing another--was too sad and inhuman for this heavy heart of mine. Having the windup girl appear very geisha-like in servitude and obedience, and the sex abuse taking place in Thailand lifts the story from fiction to a circumstances found in eastern cultures, among others. The stereotype can be useful for portraying a complex situation with little effort, but I prefer China Miéville's ability to get a point across using unique characteristics.

Second, at the ending, I suddenly became aware of the author stepping onto the scene to wrap things up. I can't point to a specific offending scene or sentence, and no one else may agree, but there it is--the author is here telling everyone it is time to go home.

Still, I enjoyed the intelligence of the story. It is not one-sided activist propaganda. It reads like a legitimate rendition of the path our society is treading.

Undazzled - the trailer

Alexios, Before Dying - the trailer

Chance's Take on Books


There once was a young man, fiery by Sicilian and Cherokee blood, who served in the U.S. Marines and then won the love of the woman he most desired. He and this tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed German beauty renounced their scrabble upbringing, that concrete box of city life—they were lured instead by country roads, nature's serenades, and untrimmed pastures.


To their daughter, Chance, they offered arm loads of books from the library every Sunday, a college education, and the certainty that if she worked hard enough, dreams would become real. Accustomed as she grew through literary travels, the daughter fled rural serenity to taste the complex textures of cities, work in executives positions for high-tech companies, earn a Master's degree, and travel the world. Currently, Chance resides in a country setting once again, weaving her experiences and imagination into the fabric of fantastical novels that she hopes you will enjoy.


Novels by Chance


Alexios, Before Dying



Coming soon:


Dark Matter Tiding



Camera Hence is a woman struggling with guilt who discovers her brother has contracted a condition in which he has become severely maimed, and yet, he can neither heal or die. As Camera seeks a way to end her brother's suffering, she learns that a far greater crisis looms for the Solar System has finally rotated outside the protective arm of the Milky Way. At the brink of this cosmological calamity, Camera struggles to distinguish between truth and self-delusion, and between enemies and friends.



Alexios, Before Dying

The Sense of Touch - Ron Parsons
I enjoyed this debut collection of short stories by Ron Parsons. The characters are interesting and their stories are well-told. Reading them reminded me of [b:Winesburg, Ohio|80176|Winesburg, Ohio|Sherwood Anderson|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1170979482s/80176.jpg|191520], another narrative of life in the Midwest. Each story pulls the reader into a mile trek in a stranger's shoes - you touch the texture of lives and find alienation, longings, and loves woven together, as they must be to keep out the cold.

The writing is clear with mature observances that rang true to my understanding of humanity. I highlighted sentences particularly well done--something I've not been moved to do in quite awhile. In any case, I hope Ron continues to write and publish--perhaps a novel next time?
Boneshaker - Cherie Priest
The heart of this story is a mother-son relationship. With it comes all the bumps and heart-felt experiences that a single mother has while raising a child on her own--guilt, mistakes, pride, worry, and sadness as a little boy grows up. If this appeals to you, then you will likely enjoy the book.

Outside the heart, the rest is window dressing:

- An apocalyptic city (Seattle) to harbor outlaws and allow quirky characters to scramble while adjusting to lawlessness. Some alternative history is mentioned, mainly to cover plot holes, I think.

- Zombies, of course, just to keep everyone running from time to time and add tension where there really isn't any

- Allusions to technology here and there so the novel's genre can be tagged as steampunk, because, well, steampunk is cool, I guess

- A secret whose big reveal is What happens is pretty much what the reader expects will happen.

- Emotional outpouring at the end

- Mostly adequate writing with some ughs! here and there

So, I don't know. The experience was like eating vanilla, but not the precious, pure vanilla bean vanilla that wakes up taste buds--no--more like the common ice cream vanilla. Just not that deep. No insights from the world-building. As for the mother-son relationship, I cared more about Crake, a daemonist in hiding and his armored golem, Bess--there was real, heart-wrenching guilt! [b:Retribution Falls|6285903|Retribution Falls (Tales of the Ketty Jay, #1)|Chris Wooding|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1338104818s/6285903.jpg|6470079] -- now that's a steampunk novel!!
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
First, this novel would be great to use in a discussion on choice of point of view. It was written in 1st person, with a narrator that I found unsympathetic and flat, especially when compared to most of the other characters. My interest in Amir was minimal, verging on annoyance.

Add to this, a series of contrived, overly sentimental landmines that were clearly designed to hit thematic buttons, and enjoyment for me was lost. I don't cry on cue, and neon lights points towards Hallmark moments leave me cold. The outcome became predictable from the outset.

That said, I found the setting and significance in Afghan history to be interesting. Several of the characters, with the exception of the narrator, were colorful and would have sparkled if the novel had been written in 3rd person with well chosen first person excursions. Potential drama was lost due to the author restricting his story to one view point. In fact, I would have been more sympathetic towards Amir had he been described through Hassen, Ali, Baba, or even his wife.

The writing was utilitarian, which is okay if the story carries the day, and it could have, but fell short, in my opinion.

Blindsight - Peter Watts
Fantastic exploration of 'what if' centered on consciousness and alien life. Discussion of self-consciousness includes the often overlooked questions: What good is it? Is self-consciousness necessary for intelligence? And, on which side of the evolutionary intelligence curve does it truly fall? -- This, and more -- so many more discussion points have been planted in Blindsight, my head reeled.

Premise: After being probed, Earth identifies an alien threat and sends a contact team(s) to assess and deal with the alien presence. One team consists of a broad spectrum of consciousnesses: the ship itself has a spine and 'intelligence', the team leader is a vampire (not the twilight sort, trust me), a woman with multiple consciousnesses in one body, an empathic interrogator, a man integrated with machines, and the main character, who had 1/2 his brain removed as a child. With the full gambit, interaction with the alien(s) who are not some fuzzed up version of humanity, but are truly puzzling, well, the plot is fascinating, but secondary to the exploration of levels and uses of consciousness and multiple facets of humanity. The notes and discussion at the end of the novel reveal Peter Watts's scientific training, and are also well worth reading.
Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk
I appreciated and enjoyed Fight Club. Artistry is evident despite the gritty=bad writing, which suited the characters, story, and message perfectly. The novel would have wilted, made powerless, had rules from most writing books been applied.

Chuck Palahniuk described his work as "transgressive fiction" which is, according to Wiki, "a genre of literature that focuses on characters who feel confined by the norms and expectations of society and who break free of those confines in unusual and/or illicit ways." With this classification, I agree. The writing style needed to mirror the message, and it did.

Transgressive fiction does not shy from illicit action in its motivation to shock readers. Shock can be useful, if not overdone or made stale. However, of more interest to me--in transgressive fiction, the hero is generally seeking a means for improvement in self or in society. From Wiki, "Much transgressional fiction deals with searches for self-identity, inner peace, or personal freedom. Unbound by usual restrictions of taste and literary convention, its proponents claim that transgressive fiction is capable of pungent social commentary."

Fight Club has all the markings of its genre; the novel was true to its form. There's no need to criticize the violence or "gritty" prose. I wouldn't read space operas if I didn't like stories with space ships, for example.

One of the novel's premises is that men (only), and mostly those in public service or mind-numbing jobs, happily embrace beating and getting beaten as an outlet for pent-up anger. These beatings are not minor cuts and bruises; they go beyond the brutality of professional boxing. For this, I had to suspend belief. While some fellows might go for years of physical rehabilitation and chronic pain, I doubt the fad would survive in the real world. But this is fiction, so fine, lots of pissed off men feel good beating up one another. Camaraderie evolves into an organized cult, and its members, referred to by the protagonist as space monkeys, proceed to provoke Mayhem. Space monkeys are still enmeshed in mindless servitude, but they feel good about themselves.

Why all the physical bludgeoning? Rene Chun, a journalist for The New York Times, wrote that transgressive fiction is based on the premise that "knowledge is to be found at the edge of experience and that the body is the site for gaining knowledge." Interesting in premise. That may be why we exist on a physical plane.

That's what this novel was, for me. Interesting. Non-materialism. Non-conformist. Twists (especially that wonderful not-secret-anymore reveal) and turns that never felt dull. Some quotes that seem central to the story:

“I see in the fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables, slaves with white collars, advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of the history man, no purpose or place, we have no Great war, no Great depression, our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives, we've been all raised by television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won't and we're slowly learning that fact. and we're very very pissed off.”

“We are not special. We are not crap or trash, either. We just are. We just are, and what happens just happens.”

“I’m breaking my attachment to physical power and possessions, because only through destroying myself can I discover the greater power of my spirit.”

“Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don't really need.”

“I just don't want to die without a few scars.”

“Disaster is a natural part of my evolution toward tragedy and dissolution.”

I read a statement by Chuck Palahniuk that in the original version, members of Project Mayhem castrated their victims. Chuck went as far as to describe a freezer full of testicles. Luckily, his editor convinced him to change the outcome. When the victims were shown mercy, Project Mayhem was redeemed. Chuck expressed appreciation to his editor for his editor's intervention. There are other gentle bits here and there to tame the violent beast.

What I didn't like about the novel, wasn't in the novel. Palahniuk says this is a story written for men, because 85% of the stories out there are for old women. This attitude is nuts. Spare me the stereotyping, please. Once a writer finishes their work, the reader owns it--no matter whether they were the intended audience or not.

So, why not 5 stars? While I found Fight Club interesting and enjoyed the gritty=bad writing style, I felt the story could have been better, tighter, more connections made, etc, as was proven by the improvements made in the film version.
The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers - John Gardner
In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner explains what it takes for a writer to create great fiction; it takes lots of hard work, advice that is more helpful than reading manuals that set unrealistic expectations through vacuous cheer leading. On a practical note, Gardner describes common mistakes and advises the writer on how to avoid them. I was able to understand through Gardner's examples several mistaken tendencies in my writing.

Some of his lessons are now standard knowledge, such as show, don't tell—but also included are statements that I believe need to be shouted louder, such as avoid sentimentality.

I loved Gardner's explanation that a writer creates a fictional world and must assist the reader in the Vivid and Continuous Dream, which means the uninhibited and uninterrupted experience of it. He discusses prose that disrupts the dream, such as accidental and inappropriate rhymes, inconsistent diction, overloaded sentences, and shifts in psychic distance.

While Gardner emphasizes natural talent and instinct, he provides practical techniques, examples, and exercises that are certainly useful.

I noted terms Gardner used, such as psychic distance ("the distance between the narrative and mind, heart, and body of the pov character.") and profluence ("a requirement best satisfied by a sequence of causally related events, a sequence that can end in only one of two ways: in resolution … or in logical exhaustion."). Understanding new concepts allows them to influence my own writing.

Also interesting was the discussion on what voice should be used for Tales, Yarns, and Realistic stories, and the differences between them.

Gardner states that the serious writer should mind the effect their work will have on the reader. Even if the novel is grim, it shouldn't leave the reader feeling depressed or hopeless. Since my latest novel is darker than my previous two, I need to find some uplift at the end.

Surprisingly, Gardner doesn't like the third person limited POV. He advocated use of the omniscient POV.
The Writing Life - Annie Dillard
Annie Dillard wrote a brutally honest description of her relationship and struggles with the process of writing. Instead of the usual advice about showing, not telling, etc that I see etched inside my eyelids, as I read The Writing Life, I was compelled to copy its poetic quotes on note cards that I'll use as bookmarks.

I expect gems from this work will inspire and educate me as I stumble across them in days to come—quotes, such as the content of a note from Michelangelo to his apprentice, "Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time." And, “Throw out the beginning; the book begins in what you thought was the middle. It can take years and heartbreak to see that...”

Annie Dillard defines an important point as follows: "The writer must solve two problems: Can it be done? and, Can I do it? Every book has an intrinsic impossibility, which its writer discovers as soon as his first excitement dwindles... He writes it in spite of that. He finds ways to minimize the difficulty; he strengthens other virtues; he cantilevers the whole narrative out into thin air, and it holds. And if it can be done, then he can do it, and only he. For there is nothing in the material for this book that suggests to anyone but him alone its possibilities for meaning and feeling.” In an effort to "minimize the difficulty" motivates me to sit in writing seminars and read how-to writing books.

Other notes:

- The tendency and pressure upon writers these days is to churn out several books per year. Dillard writes the putting a book together is difficult and complex and should engage all the writer's intelligence. Freedom as a writer is not “freedom of expression in the sense of wild blurting; you may not let rip.” While I'd like to complete one book per year, Dillard believes that writing a book, full time, takes between two and ten years.

- I tend to rewrite over and over as I write. Dillard advises the opposite: “The reason not to perfect a work as it progresses is that original work fashions a form the true shape of which it discovers only as it proceeds, so the early strokes are useless, however fine their sheen."

- And finally, these words of warning: "The writer is careful of what he read, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, because that is what he will know."

Write Away : One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life - Elizabeth  George I find hope and encouragement in Elizabeth George's assertion that writing can be taught. For me, this means that writing is something I can learn, and can continue to improve as long as I put work into it. Elizabeth George's philosophy states that a writer will be published if they possess three qualities: talent, passion and discipline. I'm reminded, therefore, to focus on those qualities and nourish them.

I've followed a process similar to George's: conduct research, profile characters, and plot, all in advance. George says this the writer to focus on the art of writing. While I'm not likely to follow her step by step process, certain aspects of it appealed to me. I also loved that she included Bryce Courtenay's quote, "He who possesses bum glue wins."


George gave examples from her own work on how to create settings that feel real. She described how she conducts research and intertwines actual and fictional settings. Her settings provide more than a background for her characters; settings can become another character in the story.

I've enjoyed writing in the POV George calls “Shifting third person.” She writes a good summary of the pitfalls: 1) each different POV needs a subtle difference in voice and tone, 2) one must be careful about pace because too many narrators can slow the novel down.

Hooking the reader isn't enough. The writer must use suspense to maintain the reader's interest. To do this, the writer has to make the reader care and identify with something.
Money - Martin Amis
The experience of reading Money was sad, pathetic, funny—though I hated to laugh—shallow and stupid, then, just as I slipped into a careless ignorance and began to judge it, wrongly, glimmers emerged of rare depth and perceptiveness of certain segments of humanity, and although those segments are not interesting unto themselves, the painting of them here was slick and masterful. I was close to despising the novel, what a waste of time, paper and ink, then, powerful prose set in and I was awed. Despite myself. Who cares about a fat doofus, alcohol and porn -addicted, woman-beating, slob of a man with only money to love, if you can call it that? He was of no interest to me at all. Drunk humor wears thin quickly.

The author set himself in the novel, just a bit player at first, but of course his character shines at the end. Is it the ego who insists upon such things? Let Martin indulge himself, I thought, but what a cheap device....trust me, on hindsight, it worked in a way that was somewhat interesting. The plot, once it got started was imaginative and unique, but I could have abandoned the book long before it became interesting. Stubbornness comes in handy sometimes, because I'm glad I finished it.

John Self, the protagonist softens—the downfall that follows is well earned, but he gathers a little respect in the recovery. In essence, a thick-headed numbskull with few redeeming qualities, grows enough to register as human, then takes a tremendous tumble. He gains humanity only after all is lost. The twisted plot of his undoing is unveiled nicely, but all in all, while I'm satisfied with the character development, he was such an arse that I can't say I cheered.

So, no recommendations from me on this novel. However, I'm open to trying other works by Martin Amis.