My thoughts on Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance (Part 2)

Whew! Big weekend! I went to Osfest, sat on two panels, hosted another one and, oh yeah, Katie and I put a bid on a house that was accepted! **Continuously dances** No, I’m not telling you where, you creepy internet stalkers. I’m watching you. But not, y’know, in a creepy way. (I’m totally watching you in a creepy way.)

Annnnnywaaaay…awkward.  I’ve got more news coming about WordKeeperAlpha but things are probably going to slow down on it for the next couple months, since we’re going to be moving and I’ll have less time for development.  Trust me though, the next update is going to be HUGE and you’re going to love it.  Not only am I (again) revamping Goals, but Projects too, and a fair amount of the backend.  All that is going to lead directly into the social upgrades that I’ve been promising for so long, AND blog integration.  Also, faster performance.  It’s going to be super spiffy.

Completely ignoring the fact that I used the word “spiffy” in a blog post, lets get back to talking about Urban Fantasy vs. Paranormal romance.   Once again, full disclaimer, I personally don’t care much for paranormal romance.  My word on this is not law, I’m not calling you stupid for locing the crap out of it.  This is just my personal taste and things that I’ve noticed while sampling (often unwittingly) novels in the genre.

On the surface, paranormal romance and urban fantasy look exactly like the same genre.  Both usually feature bad ass (or potentially bad ass) main characters, magic, vampires and or werewolves set in a (mostly) modern setting.  I think the key difference (big surprise) is the focus on the romantic aspect.  I know, duh.  But really that’s all that separates them, or seems to be.  And that, is probably what I don’t like about paranormal romance.  The question of “Will they, won’t they” is given more precedence than “Dude, that evil wizard is just one sacrifice away from turning the world’s cows into insane werecow super-predators.”  Or, it will completely leave out the werecow plot (which is just wasting a terrific idea) and focus on the forbidden love between a completely normal woman and a super-hunky but dangerous angel-werewolf hybrid.  I’m sure that the latter story is fascinating to some people, but I really want to see what happens when the werecows start eating raw people burgers.

No, I’m not letting that drop and it will go into one of my books someday.  “Invasion of the Werecows,” New York times #1 best seller!

Another, in my mind, failing that crops up in paranormal romance is the thrice damned romantic triangle.  Seriously…how many times does the beautiful Mary Sue character really have to choose between the mysterious vampire hottie and the brooding werewolf hottie?  Vampire and werewolf are completely interchangeable as well.

Once again, its not that romance in the story is bad, or that I hate all romantic triangles.  I’ve read urban fantasies where both are handled expertly.  Take the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, for instance.  The first few books deal quite a bit with the romantic traingle between Mercy and two different alpha werewolves, which, just typing it makes me a little queasy.  But none of the books focus on that.  Its always a side plot to the main conflict in the book, in some books bigger, in some smaller until eventually it becomes a non-issue.  Mercy’s main problem in those books is often keeping herself or those she cares about alive, something that she has serious problems with.  Mercy is a kick-ass heroine who has a well defined character, a standing in the supernatural that makes her believable and relatable and mundane problems to match her supernatural ones. I just wish she didn’t get the shit kicked out of her so often…but that’s kind of what defines her.  Mercy can take a hit just as well as any of her supernatural friends, sometimes far better.  Their respect is earned, not magically given because Mercy is just so naturally talented.  She’s a bad ass, because she can be half murdered, and think herself out of the situation leaving her friends to wonder just how she survived AGAIN.  Her enemies are fools to mess with her, not because of her power, but because of how many threats she’s not only survived, but dealt with decisively.

Maybe I’m just talking about good writing versus bad writing.  Once again, I’m not well read in the official paranormal romance genre, but I’ve come to associate PN with writing that glosses over important character building to focus on the romance aspect instead of the paranormal aspect.  Is it possible to make the romance the main thrust of the plot and still have it be interesting?  Yeah, probably so, but I think that would take a defter hand than mine.  Also, I’m sure that there’s plenty of people who don’t care and just want Bella and Edward to bone in their awkward, completely not messed up way.  And the people who like that are just fine.  They know what they like.  I know what I like.  Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop ragging on Twilight though.  You can only expect so much acceptance and tolerance from me.

 


The Andromeda Strain – Reread

When you’re graduating from reading young adult novels into more meatier fair, Michael Crichton is pretty much the perfect author to cut your teeth on. At least, he was back in the 90’s before the young adult genre exploded all over every dystopian future that ever existed. He was one of the first authors I read that didn’t write what amounted to Christian fan-fiction. No, Michael Crighton wrote about cloned dinosaurs, and alien artifacts under the ocean, and SO MUCH DEATH!

 

T-Rex roaring Do you have a moment to talk about Jesus Christ?

 

Rereading of one of my old favorite authors may seem like it might be connected to a recent Hollywood smash hit…but its not.  It’s simple ADHD in my Audible purchases last month.  They must have just re-released a bunch of the old audio books, because all of a sudden my recommended queue was full of Michael Crighton best sellers.  And one caught my eye.  Not the one with hungry dinosaurs, but rather the one with so many people dying from an alien virus: The Andromeda Strain.  I remember reading it when I was a kid, shortly after watching Outbreak and just gobbling it up.  To this day, my favorite kind of disaster / thriller is of the disease running rampant variety.

Just so’s you know, this is kind of a review of the audio book as well.  I actually do a lot of my reading via audio book, because it means I can code and read at the same time.  Also, I commute so basically I’m consuming stories all the time.  So, audio books, valid reading in my opinion.  If you don’t think so you can go to someone else’s blog and complain.

Anyway.  The Andromeda Strain was one of Crighton’s earlier novels, published in 1969 aaaaannnnnd it kind of shows. Crighton never wanted to be associated with the Science Fiction crowd, even though he was writing science fiction, if not straight up fantasy, but he wanted to be considered main stream and not genre.  Still, the science fiction vibe is strong with this.  Now, since the novel is fracking 46 years old, spoiler warnings don’t apply.  Really.  There’s a statute of limitations on these things.

For those who aren’t familiar, and have read my previous notice, The Andromeda Strain is about a team of doctors assigned to study an alien microbe that attached itself to a crashed satelite and killed at town out in Arizona.  Mistakes are made, the virus mutates, a couple more people die and it all comes down to the line at the end with our heroes almost destroyed by a nuclear detonation that would have kicked off World War 3 AND caused infinite propagation of the viruus.  Crighton has all sorts of elements in play here, talking at length about, what was, at the time, cutting edge technology, cold war paranoia, kinda-maybe valid science circa the 1970’s, and lots … and LOTS of description.

The big question is, did I enjoy the book? Yeah. It’s still a decent read.  But did I enjoy it as much as when I was a kid? Not really.  Having learned a lot more about writing and the construction of a good story, I’m finding its easier to pick things apart, and find ways to improve upon them.  For instance, The Andromeda Strain has a really, freaking slow start.  Crighton devotes a ton of time to explaining the Wildfire Initiative (the organization put together just in case an alien microbe ever started killin’ folks).  He talks about the history, the people involved, the facility they had built, and on and on before we even get our group of heroic doctors together.

The narrative skips between all of the doctors, who each kind of screw up equally in causing the near disaster, which is what drives most of the story.  And this is a great thing! It’s the good part.  But we don’t even interact with them until we’re several chapters in.  This is a book that really should have started, mid-crisis, as a tired and confused Dr. Mark Hall is dragged out to the Wildfire facility with little explanation, and then caught up on the shit that’s going down as they go through the quarantine levels.  They spend a lot of time talking about the quarantine levels of the Wildfire Facility… and very little story happens.  Its just kind of there for its own sake, because none of the things they go through impact the story in any real way.  The only thing that actually matters is the nuclear fail-safe, that only Mark has the key to for science reasons that they also explain in detail but aren’t really important.

 

4 doctors, standing side by side Three of these people made a terrible mistake.

 

But, in the end, it’s the nuclear fail-safe that might prove to be every bodies undoing, since they discover the virus would mutate uncontrollably and probably destroy all life on earth, if exposed to the energy of a nuclear detonation.  So, of course, the virus escapes containment, triggers the auto-destruct, and they have to abort the detonation sequence, which only Dr. Mark Hall can do.  Only, he can’t, because the government contractors who built the facility forgot to put the required number of safety stations into the place. Thriller!

No, it really is kind of tense there at the end…but not really because of the virus.  It mutates into a form that is deadly to polymers (a new technology!) but not to organic life.  So, its able to escape, but since it isn’t a threat anymore, its a non-issue once the bomb is defused.  In my mind, this is the weakest part of the book, since it literally means that, if no one had done anything at all, the threat would have passed and no one would have known.  The protagonists have literally nothing to do with solving the main conflict in the book.  The threat just goes away.

While The Andromeda Strain does take a while to get going, and has kind of a disappointing ending, it is still a pretty good read.  Although there are a few things kind of common to a Michael Crighton story; chiefly, the “person who does something sciency that everyone around them should realize is the dumbest thing ever”.  In Jurassic Park, it’s the idiot who kept breeding raptors, even after they discovered how magnificently deadly they were to have at a theme park, like hiring a guy to be Mickey Mouse even after you learn he’s a cannibal.  In The Andromeda Strain, it’s a general in charge of coming up with new biologic agents to use as bio-weapons, but darn it, they run into a wall and can’t create anything deadly enough from what’s on earth.  He read a paper that said there were probably super dangerous organisms in space, just waiting to be brought to earth that no one would have any resistance to and extremely hard, if not impossible, to cure.  So, this moron comes up with an idea to send satellites into space with the sole purpose of bringing back one of these super bugs, and NO ONE FIRES HIM ON THE SPOT! Or even protests.  His success condition is exactly the problem in the book…that still magically solves itself.  In the epilogue, no one mentions this guy getting fired into space himself…he apparently suffers no consequences.  Also, none of the main characters wonder just how someone that stupid could put on his own clothes in the morning, let alone be put in charge of a multi-billion dollar defense initiative.  Probably because Russia was just that scary?

Still, for all its faults, The Andromeda Strain is a decent read.  This is pretty much establishing Crichton’s great pattern of “kinda-science, isolation, people dying” but you’ll be able to tell its pretty dated.  I, for one, am happy that we don’t have automated doctor drones as standard in every doctor’s office, as was predicted. Now, every one go wash your hands.  And for Crichton’s sake, don’t use antibacterial soap.  We’ve got enough trouble with space rabies without all you people making super-bacteria here on earth! Put that anti-bacterial gel down! I’m watching you.

 


My thoughts on paranormal romance / urban fantasy.

Here’s the mix: Take one private investigator, add city, mix with magic, vampires, werewolves and three tablespoons of fae.  Shake vigorously and let stand for three hundred pages.  Sprinkle generously with interesting personalites and serve with a side of sweet violence and sexual tension.  Feel free to substitute the first ingredient with a druid, necromancer, or whatever you have on hand.  Add grimdark to taste.  Enjoy!

Personally, I cut my teeth on Anita Blake, advanced to Harry Dresden (who just isn’t showing up as regularly as he used to), walked planes with Atticus O’Sullivan, with side helpings of anyone else who could keep my interest for a few books.  While I wouldn’t say that my taste is indiscriminate, I have sampled pretty widely in the genre.  Where there are series that I wait all year … sometimes multiple years (I’m looking at you Butcher!) for the next book in the series, there are others that just don’t catch me.  Maybe its the tone? Maybe its world?  Usually its the main character.  We’ll get into that.

Then there’s … paranormal romance. On the surface it looks like urban fantasy.  The book blurb on the back reads like it, but you probably know what you’re getting by the fifth chapter.  I know, I know…plenty of people love paranormal romance… but thus far I haven’t been able to make it through one.  I’m not saying that the genre’s bad.  Just like the corset and lace romance genre isn’t bad, in and of itself.  It just isn’t for me.  But, I’m a human being, and as such, I have … opinions.  And why have a blog if I don’t use it to toss an opinion or two out into the wild, where it can hurt some unsuspecting reader, here from WordKeeperAlpha?

So, paranormal romance, why can’t you keep my interest? Tropes.  You are just drowning in your tropes, and they make a hot sticky mess.  First and foremost: is the Perfect Female Protagonist’.  I don’t mean strong, I mean perfect, also known as a Mary Sue character.  Does the main character start off as a mousey nerd, but inside of six months is challenging established power houses within the world, making her a badass?  Does she master the katana (has to be a katana) in a short amount of time? Win the instant respect of beings who are ages older than her?

This isn’t even about the protagonist being female.  I LOVE me a kick ass woman main character.  Like I said, I got my start with the first five novels of the Anita Blake series.  All I ever wanted was Anita to stick around being a bad ass, killing monsters, taking names and … well, things got weird.  I had to start reading other books.  This isn’t a “I don’t like women as main characters thing” this is a “I don’t like main characters who are unrealistically perfect”.  

If further fairness, Anita Blake both spoiled and ruined me.  Ever since I hit that weird point in Anita Blake I’ve been looking for a main character who can take her place.  As a result, I’ve looked into a lot of series that, on the book synopsis, looked like urban fantasy, but turned out to be paranormal romance.  There is no disappiontment so harsh as expecting Anita Blake and getting Bella from Twilight.  Does she have a last name?  Bah! So, please, consider PFP to also be PMP, because I’m sure those are out there….probably angels or alpha werewolves of something.

Anita was great because she started off scared of so many things.  She knew that, even though she was a badass, compared to what she hunted she was pretty weak.  That means she had to be smart … or insanely brave … or have friends to back her up or just to scrape out no matter what.  Dresden’s kind of the same way.  He starts out a little fish in a very big pond, and some of the other fish that … ok, the fish metaphore is weird in this case.  Both Dresden and Anita are both their best when they’re out of their depth and if they get any respect it is grudgingly given.

The PFP/PMP enters the world of the paranormal either already Wolverine (the best at what he/she does) or as little Annakin (look at the MIDICHLORIANS on this one!).  Neither one of these is bad in and of itself…but when title character is already the best, there’s no where left to go.  Unless you tear them down to their roots and let them start again (this statement is in no way indicitive of what I’m writing now).  Its why I’m not a huge Superman fan, at least not classic Superman.  He’s been too good.  Too perfect.  And that’s just boring.

Wow…ok. So that went on for a bit longer than I thought it would.  I’ve got other things to talk about that seem to run rampant in paranormal romance, but if I went into them now, I’d be here all night.  Sounds like we’ve got the makings of a series!  Finally, something to talk about on my blog that’s actually writing related!  **does a little dance**  **falls**  **dies**

So, I’ve probably angered some people.  Here’s your chance to prove me wrong. Do you know a good paranormal romance book?  Something with a great MC, male or female, who just makes the book or story for you?  Leave a comment and I’ll try it out.  Really, just because I haven’t found my cup of tea yet, doesn’t mean it isn’t out there.  Educate me.

Honestly, I just want someone to leave me a comment.  I’m so lonely here.  So quiet and alone. 


2015: Kicking in your door.

This is the annual blog post where I resolve to do things, to better myself as a human being. The problem with resolutions, is they tend to get left by the wayside as the year wears on and different problems take precedence. Or maybe that’s just for me. Still, its good to have goals, and one of the best ways of keeping to them, is to be able to track them and see how good you’re doing. Also, know your limits. You probably aren’t going to get six pack abs by July unless you’re also prepared to completely give up pizza and spend all your time in a gym. I’m prepared to do neither of these things. Here’s my resolutions: Continue reading…


Writing Weekend!

Yeah, so my last post was a little heavy handed. I'd apologize, but honestly I'd like to start doing some more posts like that. Things that are more than just status updates, posts about what I'm reading and writing. Every now and again, just talking about things like that seems like I'm taking the easy route. I should be taking advantage of this soap box and telling you all what I think about EVERYTHING! That would probably be a little more interesting than the status quo, right? That and more pictures. Maybe some kittens? People on the internet like kittens. Maybe I'll do a top ten list sometime. The internet also seems to like those.

What can I say? I'm willing to caper and dance for a few more hits to justify my existence.

That being said, I'm not doing any of that tonight. Tonight its a pure puff and status update. First off, I just got done reading Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson. I wish I was half as good at weaving a story as that man. Ok, maybe I really wish I was just as good or better, but if I were half as good I'd still probably be three times the author I am now. If you haven't read Way of Kings, Words of Radiance or other Sanderson books, you really should. He's pretty much THE guy in Epic Fantasy. Of course, you'll also need to set aside a solid chunk of time, since when he sets about writing a book, his actual goal is to depopulate a forest with his mighty tomes. Words of Radiance clocked in at over a thousand pages and Way of Kings was longer (I think).

After I finished, I spent the next hour just lying in bed thinking about all the sh*t that happened in the last hundred pages and how big a deal it was, within the world. <spoiler>NIGHTBLOOD!!!1! OMG!</spoiler> That should be vague enough that I shouldn't anger anyone.

Work on WordKeeperAlpha continues. I think that I've finally got the main page squared away, save for a few details. The new graphing method works great and should be easily extendable to other graphs as I think them up or they're requested. I've decided to roll the Projects functionality into the Progress page, which lessens the pages I have to make by 1, but increases the difficulty of that page to finish. The good news is that once that's done, WordKeeperAlpha will pretty much be ready to replace the old one.

Thanks to the judicious use of vacation time and a federal holiday, I have a four day weekend starting tomorrow. I intend to use it to catch up on some of the writing that I've been neglecting over the past week. WordKeepers stats are telling me that I've been slacking off way too much, so my goal is to get my average words per day up to 500 by the end of the month. That means either a busy weekend or a busy end of the month. Or more! Either way, I intend to get a chunk or two of Impervious done.

Right now, I'm in one of my favoritest pubs, drinking a tasty cider and have gotten two different character profiles done since arriving. I love writing in pubs, but its a little more expensive than my normal Panera Bread haunt. I'll be moving there tomorrow to get things done. The only thing better than the pastries is free refills of iced tea.

I think that about covers the status update for this week. I have no idea when I'll get around to another meaty post again. Probably the next time that something ticks me off. I'm looking at you FCC.