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Book Trailer Rantiness and the “Black Feathers” Video

I don’t like book trailers.

Conceptually, I find them absurd. It seems completely obtuse to slap together sound and imagery to sell a book.

I don’t even mean this in a luddite way. I have an e-reader on which I read books. I don’t even bother to call them e-books, generally. As Eddie Izzard says, “I don’t have techno fear; I have techno joy! I LOVE technology!”

My issue with them, conceptually, has been simply that I don’t believe books lend themselves well to being explained through any medium other than words, whether written or spoken. Of course, if a book trailer was nothing more than a book’s author giving viewers a thumbnail sketch of why he or she believes you might should read their work, then I’d probably be interested in that.

The grown-up approach to things I don’t like has long been to just largely ignore things I don’t like. At some point, I realized it was a pretty adolescent thing to attempt to identify oneself by shouting loudly how much I found certain things distasteful. Certainly, in the battleground that is the high school years, there seemed to be some survival-based strategy to rolling the eyes at the mention of, say, Bon Jovi and then spending ten minutes bloviating over the myriad reasons any reasonable person would completely loathe Bon Jovi and on and on it goes until you feel fairly secure you’ve impressed everyone around you that you’ve outwitted the masses by seeing right through the relative inanity of Bon Jovi and, hence, establishing your superiority and worthiness as a peer.

How that didn’t seem completely transparent to me at the time, I think, fairly illustrates why I didn’t get into Princeton.

Now, I DO just ignore. I find it incredibly easy to avoid all the pop culture phenomena I assume my teenage self would have wanted to loudly distance himself from at any and all opportunities. I would have had to carry a podium with me to school just to deal with reality television and Twilight, I’m certain. Now, rather than needing to have an opinion on such things, my response is frequently that I have no opinion whatsoever as these things do not interest me, from what I do know, to the point of investigating to the point of me being able to offer a somewhat-informed position statement.

All of which is an incredibly lengthy way to say, “Yeah, I know I can just NOT watch them and move along, leaving them for everyone else to enjoy at their own discretion.”

Yet…I got lured and am feeling self-righteous about it, so I rant.

Oh, calm down. Only maybe six people will ever click this link, and none of them will bother to get this far.

Because I get their newsletters, follow them on Twitter, and dig what they do, I’m generally aware of whatever Angry Robot Books is publishing.

Because my TBR pile has long been holding up its end in contributing to the American obesity epidemic, I tend to not read the descriptions of all the new stuff too closely. Angry Robot, for those not aware, largely deals in what they call “genre fiction.” You know; it’s those books not about wealthy east coast families with deep, dark secrets and issues communicating or relating.

Unless, of course, the family secret is that they’re shapeshifters or something like that. Then, yes that.

Additionally, Angry Robot’s e-books are DRM-free. You either know that is a good thing, or you’re mystified at what I typed, in which case I could have just as well said they’re made of magic.

Ultimately what I’m saying is that for my particular tastes in story, it’s very easy to read book synopses at Angry Robot and think, “Oooh! That sounds fun.” This is not a problem except that I read only about one book a week, which is about how many they publish and, well, there’s a whole world of other publishers, current and past out there who’ve also put interesting books in my path.

Despite trying to largely avoid too much window shopping that leads to a growing TBR pile, one of the recent offerings jumped off the page into my conscious.

Does it jump out at you, too? Then maybe we should be friends because I’m a sucker for this kind of thing!

Of the three new releases touted in the April newsletter, I was already aware of two.

The third, however, stuck out not only for being the one I didn’t recognize, but also for a nifty-looking cover. “Black Feathers” had just enough to suck me in a little bit closer.

Further inspection of the nifty-looking cover revealed a Stephen King blurb praising author Joseph D’Lacey.

Now that I think about it, they could totally have some dude on staff named Stephen King who is not at all the man who single-handedly spurred my own personal interest in reading for pleasure, rather a guy who is paid to put together pithy bits of praise to put on Angry Robot books with his name attached and to otherwise keep his mouth shut about what he does in the publishing industry.

As I’m not generally one for conspiracy theories, I’m moving forward with it being the only Stephen King that would really be relevant to the conversation.

A click on a link delivered unto me a bit more information with the word “apocalypse” figuring prominently.

I’m a sucker for those post-apocalyptic stories. I blame Robert McCammon. “Swan Song” remains an all-timer for me.

Additionally, there is mention of “environmental apocalypse,” which brings to mind Paulo Bacigalupi’s “The Windup Girl,” which is another book for which I have deep feelings. Though, I sort of wish I hadn’t read it because with all the Monsanto stuff going on…it’s a little bit harrowing.

Top it all off with the fact Angry Robot prices their e-books below my psychological ceiling on the price I’m willing to pay for what is, essentially, an electronic document. This one, brand new, was listing at £5.49 which is…carry the one…do some fiddling…something like 83 cents?

Not really a numbers guy.

Ultimately, I was pretty much “in” on this book. All that would be needed at this point is the opening in my reading schedule.

All of this I have written to explain just why I bothered to watch a book trailer when I KNOW full well I generally am annoyed by them.

This morning in the inbox was a message from the good folks at Angry Robot with the subject “The best book trailer you’ll ever see – Black Feathers.”

Low bar to clear for me, of course, because I have seen but a few.

But they were talking to everybody, weren’t they? So my response was more along the lines of , “Pfffttt…come on. EVERYONE thinks their trailer has set a new standard, I’m sure.”

Opening the message, I noted they had already accounted for my skepticism, remarking that they realized their claim would sound ridiculous before going on to be a bit disparaging about the early days of book trailers.

All of this disarmed me JUST enough to then realize that, HEY, “Black Feathers” is that book you were thinking about getting!

Well, if I was willing to spend 84 cents pounds sterling quid British money Thatcher thingies, I could spare a few moments to watch the BEST book trailer ever, yeah?

And, quickly, I’m back in “I hate these fucking things” land.

This trailer starts with some vaguely industrial-sounding music for atmosphere. My immediate impression is “Nine Inch Nails” if they had really crap equipment and lack of imagination.

Between the music and the fairly dark image of a factory of some sort on an otherwise-barren landscape serving as foreground to a HUGE full moon, I figure they’re delivering an opening pitch like, “You’re kinda gothy and like the same dark imagery everyone else who shops at Hot Topic digs, yeah? But not like those Twilight kids, mind. No…not you. YOU are truly gothy!

To me, feels a bit condescending.

The imagery shifts to a few other things (A squawking crow! Dark, I tell you!), with some text. I’m not going to re-type the text because that would take too much effort, but it’s likely from the book as it’s written in what would seem to be a voice of a character delivering important information to other characters. The word “Satan” appears. Shortly thereafter there is mention of the “Crowman.”

At this point, about one minute in, maybe I have a vague impression of what the story is about, though I also read a few sentences about the book a few weeks ago, so…there’s that. But I’m a full minute into this trailer, and all I can think is that with a full minute of undivided attention, I could have read several paragraphs of information about the book rather than someone trying to deliver visuals and atmosphere to me, which I don’t fucking want in the first place because, when I read, that’s MY job!

Ultimately, I stopped watching not far beyond the minute mark when what appeared to be our “Crowman,” sporting an Abe Lincoln-style hat, stood up from the ground and raised his arms, primarily because I was still interested in the book, but was getting to where I was starting to second-guess it. That’s a loser of a prop for all, so…I bailed out. The stated length of the video is 2:11, which is hardly any time at all, unless you’re watching a video you’ve been told is the best in its class and, as such, you are expecting said video to get you fired up for a book. Then, it is an incredibly long time.

I’m certain the people who were involved in making this video put a lot of work into it. I’m similarly certain there is a plenty-large audience for such book trailers making the effort worthwhile. In all likelihood, I’m the lone crank spending part of his day bitching about the whole using-video-to-sell-a-book thing using the “Black Feathers” trailer as a launching pad. Clearly the publishers were excited enough by it to deliver it to me with some punchy hype attached. I hope it moves some units and everyone gets to raise a glass in celebration. I like pulling for books as a thing, which means pulling for them individually, which means pulling for all the emerging tools being used to promote them.

Just…don’t float something in front of my face telling me it’s the “best ever” and then have it be fairly ordinary (I’d find it hard to believe it’s much more than ordinary, even pigeonholing it into a category as narrow as “gothy trailer for post-apocalyptic story”), and I won’t waste an hour-plus of my day being all angsty about it. Cool?

And, Angry Robot and Mr. D’Lacey…I’m still buying the book, so we’re good, yeah?

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Randall Reads: Empire State by Adam Christopher

August 22, 2012 Leave a comment

I fully wanted and expected to really enjoy this novel.

When I decided to read “Empire State,” all I knew about it was that there was a science-fiction angle as well as superheroes in a noir-ish story.

I also knew it came from Angry Robot Books, an imprint with which I’ve had mostly positive experiences, and that the sample I read of author Adam Christopher’s upcoming book, “Seven Wonders,” had me hooked nearly instantly.

Further, two of my favorite reads of the last few years have been very successful in layering detective/mystery/noir story elements into genre-type novels.

China Mieville’s “The City & The City” remains among my all-time favorite novels, having very successfully set a murder mystery in a world with a very interesting sci-fi (is ‘speculative’ a better word?) angle.

Low Town” by Daniel Polansky features more of a fantasy world (you know, medieval England with magic and dragons and all that?) in which the protagonist moves while trying to figure out who’s doing some murders.

“Empire State” actually has some interesting parallels with the Mieville work, particularly in that there are parallel worlds at the center of each novel’s setting.

It would be unfair to wish that Adam Christopher were as tight a story teller as Mieville, primarily because I feel very few writers I’ve read even come close to that level. However, I do feel like Christopher would have benefited from more-stringent editing or plot outlining. The fact of the matter is, there’s so much going on in this novel, that it’s hard to find the focus.

Off the top of my head, here are some of the things floating around a little too freely in “Empire State”:

  • Prohibition-era gangsters
  • superheroes
  • steampunk-like technology
  • prototypical noir detective
  • alternate/parallel worlds
  • religious cult activity
  • robots
  • war
  • male bonding/friendship
  • political power manipulation of information to citizenry
  • gay rights
  • split-personality disorder/duality of a personality

There’s likely some things I’m forgetting, but you get the point. That’s a lot of stuff to juggle. Ultimately, it leads to a lack of clarity as to what the story is about.

I would promise to not ruin it for you, but I am still fairly unsure myself. Even after three consecutive climactic scenes at the end of the book, you’re still unclear as to what the motivations behind the book’s initial conflict were in the first place. It’s not giving much away to say the two superheroes of the story have a big fight, which is crucial to the creation of the world in “Empire State.” The Space Pirate and the Skyguard were once a cohesive unit in fighting crime, but split. Why? Several people in the novel wonder this as well, which would lead a reader to think you’ll learn why.

Along similar lines is the issue of the extreme thinness of the characters in this story. Even Rex, the story’s protagonist, is little more than an archetype with a few personal issues thrown in to flesh him out a little, but it’s so very little that you don’t get a real sense of who he is.

I should admit here that there is a convention in the story that somewhat explains why the characters might seem half-formed, at best, but I think that would be a little cheap an answer as to why you don’t get a good sense of anyone in this book. Several characters have fairly large roles in the important events in the story, but their motivations are a complete mystery because they’ve not been developed much, if at all. All of which leads to a general lack of interest in how the dramatic conflicts ultimately resolve.

There is certainly enough action in “Empire State” that it is bound to have a more-receptive audience available out there somewhere than the one it found when I cracked it open (or whatever the ebook equivalent to ‘cracking a book open’ is).

I’ve had many a discussion with other readers who, like me, enjoy genre fiction but are frustrated that the level of writing falls often far behind the level of great ideas and stories. This is only a real problem when the result is a story that goes in too many directions with characters not well-enough developed to see it though.

It pains me to say that this is the case with “Empire State.” I will hope for better luck with “Seven Wonders” when it’s released next week (because it really does sound good!)

Randall Reads: Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

When considering what to discuss when reviewing my reading experience with Chuck Wendig’s “Blackbirds,” I start with some basics (i.e. basic plot, characterization, genre, publisher with good track record) and quickly find dozens of ways to drill down into each (i.e. rise of paranormal romance/urban fantasy, readers demanding sense of ‘reality’ even in genre fiction, DRM wars, Department of Justice lawsuits, self-publishing phenomenon, social media marketing…).

I’ll start where the story starts.

Not where Miriam Black’s story starts. I mean, the actual book coming moving from being out there in the wide world into my “to be read” pile and emerging into “actually reading it!”

The quick genesis is that some twitter feed I follow (Tor?) posted something at some point that led to me reading a preview of the book. Contained within that preview were two crucial items.

1) “Miriam Black knows when you will die…when Miriam hitches a ride with Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be murdered while he calls her name.”

I don’t pretend to be able to explain exactly what draws my attention when it comes to plot in books, but this is a pretty good example from which to draw. Had my attention immediately. Maybe it’s a touch of darkness mixed with some paranormal elements. There’s also the sense of urgency implied here. I don’t think I’m necessarily attracted to what some call “page turners,” but it is also not a turn-off by any stretch.

2) The cover:

Simply put, the cover is excellent, assuming that what it’s meant to do is help the book find certain readers. That particular achievement has been unlocked.

In fact, I’ve directed a few friends to the book (The Missus) included, and every one of them, upon looking up the book, exclaimed, “Nice cover!” The artist deserves an award. The best I can offer it to mention him here, so, kudos to Dale Halvorsen a.k.a “Joey Hi-Fi.” Bravo!

Of course, there’s more to the story. Getting into my “to be read” pile is not exactly difficult. It’s not quite in the acceptability range of, say, the offer of a free beer, but you don’t have to work much harder than that for me to add your title to my unwieldy list that will largely go unread. It’s a fairly coarse filter.

Considering the book appears to have been published only on April 24, Wendig may turn out to have set a record for getting a book from completely unknown to me to DONE! in record time; other than when China Mieville or Colson Whitehead publish something new, I don’t rush right out and get something fresh off the presses.

When I read about books I find interesting, I hit a few places on the internet right away. Generally, I’ll do a quick check with Paperbackswap to see whether I can cash in a credit to get the book sent to me with no more effort to me than a click or two. As that’s most often futile, I will move to put the title on my Goodreads “to-read” list before heading over to the website of the Seattle Public Library to see whether I can borrow the e-book from them or, failing that, adding my name to the wait list for either the e-book or a hard copy. Depending on how urgent the book seems and how long the wait list is, I will then check a few online retailers, but usually to confirm there is no way I’m going to pay $13 to $14 for an e-book.

The wait for “Blackbirds” was really short, though, so I ended my search with the SPL.

Then came the email on a rainy Friday while at work:

“The following items are being held for you at the library…’Blackbirds…'”

I was excited. Not only was it Friday, but I had just finished another book that very morning and was in the market for the next victim. Perfect.

Excepting that “rainy” bit.

I like to put books on hold at the downtown branch of the Seattle library system because it’s a nice walk from the office. Nicer when it’s not raining.

And, to be clear, most of the time it’s raining here in Seattle, it’s not what I grew up thinking of as rain back in Michigan. Usually, it’s this hazy drizzle where you’d be hard pressed to identity anything looking like an actual rain drop.

Not the case last Friday, however. This was what I have come to refer to as a “proper rain.”

Hence, I was challenged to match my frugality against my desire to not get drenched on my way home (also taking into consideration I’d been sick not too long before that).

A quick peek at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble revealed the e-book to be offered at a very reasonable price. I don’t remember specifically, but I think somewhere in the $5 to$6 range. Not bad, but…is saving the walk worth even that price?

Somehow my eye caught the fact this was an Angry Robot title. Having already a generally positive opinion of their work, I navigated to their site where I learned that all e-books purchased from them are DRM-free and, in celebration of that fact, they were having a sale of 50% off all their titles.

Unlike Miriam, I don’t put a lot of of stock into fate, but this seemed like as close an instance of “it’s meant to be” as you’re likely to find.

Cancel hold at SPL; spend $3.10 to have my own copy of the book, avoid the walk in the rain, and throw money behind a writer, his publisher, and the concept that properly priced e-books are too good a value to pass up.

Finally, THE BOOK!

As far as I’m concerned, the edited sentence from the Tor.com preview is really all the plot you need to know before reading it. I can’t think of much to add that should say you toward or away from the book. It sounds like something you would enjoy right away, or it would be a disservice to try to sell you on it.

Mingling with the supernatural element of Miriam’s ability, is a fairly strong character moving along a story line that moves pretty quickly. There is not a lot of wasted prose contained within the (according to Amazon) 384 pages.

Before starting, I read a few of the negative reviews of the book on Goodreads. I remember reading three pretty specific criticisms: 1) it reads like a screenplay 2) Miriam clearly was written by a man and not a woman, and 3) it feels like the author forced two separate stories together into one.

The first item is interesting to me. First, I completely get it; the book does have a very visual feel to it as you read it. You can easily see it  being adapted to a screen. Whether this is intentional on the part of the author and should be a mark against the book, however, I’m not sure.

The funny thing about this, though, is that there is, attached to the end of the ebook, an interview of Wendig conducted by another Angry Robot author, Adam Christopher. Within this interview, Wendig reveals that he won a year-long ‘mentorship’ with a screenwriter, during which he took the opportunity to take his raw story, turn it into a script, and then work it back into a novel. Why I find this funny is that, while it certainly is reasonable for someone to have read the novel and not that interview and yet have come to an opinion that it reads too much like a screenplay for their own satisfaction. I shall hope that is the case rather than the persons who listed that among their objections read this and decided it would sound really prescient of them to have come up with that insight all on their own.

I only sort of hope that. I actually think the latter more likely. I guess that makes me a cynic?

As for the second item…well, I’d assume “Chuck” is a dude. Turns out that was a safe assumption. Seems an all-too easy criticism to level.

But, alas, it’s somewhat true.

For some reason, nothing irritates me more than when someone dislikes about a work of fiction that they found some part of it to be “unbelievable.” I need to be more open-minded about how others approach their reading, I am sure, but it mostly makes me want to whack them in the nose with the spine of “American Gods.” My approach is along the lines that you’re looking into someone else’s perceptions of what is, was, or could be/have been, not someone’s attempt to put those ideas into words that make sense in your world. Once you accept that, it’s pretty easy to let things slide in a book you might not accept as an excuse from, say, a co-worker as to why their bit of work isn’t completed or up to snuff.

Hence, I want to accept Wendig’s version of a young woman living on the road with unsettling visions of other people’s deaths, but, honestly, she talks like a douche-y frat boy at times, spouting lingo that inspires some version of a rolling of the eyes and grows tiresome quickly. I think the worst offense among these is the scene where she says, “It’s time to rock out with your cock out. It’s time to jam out with your clam out.” It was just the next of a succession of things Miriam said which made me wonder, “Who talks like that?” This one, however, gave me an answer: ‘Frat Douche.’

For my money (albeit, a whopping $3 and change of which I would not dream of asking a return), the dialogue might be the weakest point of the novel. It rings false more often than not. Maybe chalk it up to a bit of campiness and…maybe, but not for me entirely.

The third item among the complaints cited (two stories merged into one) sends me back to that interview with Christopher, wherein Wendig also said that he’d written Miriam in one place and the pair of Frankie and Harriet in another, bringing them together in the novel.

And this is where I’m truly cynical because, even knowing this to be the case, I don’t think it reads as such at all in the book. Leaving a little room for my want to believe the good in people, maybe the weaving of those three existing characters into a shared story is not a seamless as it seems to me. I’m happy to admit I’m not the most-careful reader in West Seattle, much less among all who have the internet, but I still think I smell a rat; I don’t give it much weight as a genuine criticism of “Blackbirds.” It rings nearly as false as some of Miriam’s strings of patented catch-phrasing.

Overall, the pacing of the story and the intriguing premise are more than enough to outweigh the tinny dialogue for me. Without getting bogged down in discussions about genres, the story treads at least lightly into the “urban fantasy” and horror realms. There’s some “romance,” heavy on the quotation marks and even a bit of the mystery/thriller thing.

All of which does send one into the bog of just how useful pigeon-holing titles into genres really is…but let’s not start, eh?

“Blackbirds” is a fairly breezy read, with a likable (I like her) protagonist with interesting abilities mired in a bit of a situation, and the pacing to keep you reading past your bed-time. Once you accept that Miriam’s personality might just be some dark bit of a male author’s subconscious and will talk as such, you can get down to the business of the ride and taking in the grim scenery.

Definitely recommendable.