Riverdale Falls Short of My Expectations

I’ve been watching Riverdale lately and I’m struck by how so many parts of the show appear to be written by adults engaging in wish fulfillment. What if Archie, a character from a silly comic book your grandparents read, was a hot football player and song writer having an affair with his attractive music teacher? What if Betty was the unrequited girl-next-door who also had a dark, sexy side, and she handcuffs a football player to a hot tub in a fit of pique?

Yup.

This kind of sensationalism might be something teen dramas can fall into (I’m thinking Gossip Girl, etc.). My problem with it is the lack of verisimilitude. We might all wish we could be this version of Archie or Betty. But a good story resolves those tensions by showing the push and pull between dreams and reality. Failing to do so reduces the medium to maudlin nonsense or pedantry. Without contraries, no progression.

Let’s look at another category of teen dramas: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Breakfast Club. These stories resonate more because they tap into something real about the teenage experience. They treat the liminal stage between childhood and adulthood as something worth respect: there’s witty dialogue, heavy problems, the desire to guide oneself yet be guided. They make you laugh and then cry.

I have high expectations for teen characters, and as a lifelong reader of Archie Comics, Riverdale is falling short.

Six SF/F Women Authors to Read This Summer

I’ve read some great stuff recently and thought I’d share my recommendations for those of you looking to find good reads this summer!

uprooted

Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Clear your schedule before reading this exciting, heartwarming, and utterly compelling fantasy: you will not put the book down until you have reached the last page.

I found myself transfixed and beguiled; I eschewed all personal hygiene, eating and sleeping (even ignoring the demands of my children) in order to see what would happen next. Novik’s writing style is easy and light without sacrificing gravity. Most fantasy novels that I’ve read bog me down with world-building: such-and-such a political structure is explained, a magic system’s rules listed like it’s a cookbook, long journeys where characters do nothing but eat and sleep and describe forests or sing songs that, quite frankly, I just skim over. Uprooted demands attention with every paragraph, the world and its rules fit the characters like comfortable sweaters, inviting the reader to become the story’s confidant. It is a tale that is at the same time grim and dark and seeped in magic of the old world, yet light and amusing and full of vivacious characters that resonate.

We follow the heroine Agnieszka (ag-NYESH-kah), a peasant girl who lives in a valley haunted by a treacherous power called the Wood. The valley is watched over by a wizard called the Dragon who resides in a tower cut off from the people. Every ten years he takes a girl from the valley to his tower, for an unknown purpose. The girl is always allowed to leave, but she never returns to her home. The story begins here, when the Dragon comes to choose the next girl, and all of the parents huddle in trepidation, hoping it won’t be one of their daughters.

 

shardsShards of Honor, Lois McMaster Bujold

A solid, clean, sci-fi adventure filled with intrigue, romance, and engaging planetary exploration. That sounds like a typical sci-fi plot, with all of the right ingredients, but the book doesn’t feel like that when you’re reading it. Bujold manages to write engaging dialogue that is informative and weighty without being obviously expository. There are little pearls of wisdom sprinkled throughout the book, things like, “The inept need rules for their own protection,” or, “Leadership is power over imagination,” to mention a few great quotable lines that struck me.

The main character is Cordelia Naismith, a captain of a survey ship (basically: science officers) exploring a newly discovered planet. She ends up marooned with an injured enemy crewman, a commander left for dead by a traitorous political rival. The two have to work together, and end up in love.

 

doomsdayDoomsday Book, Connie Willis

This book is intelligent and engaging, a story about history, disease, and eucatastrophe. Time travel plots, in my experience, are either maudlin romances or cautionary tales that end in the utter destruction of the character or civil structure they inhabit. While Willis gives the reader catastrophe after catastrophe, it all comes together for a perfect ending that pulled on my heartstrings.

Willis gives us two time periods to follow and the two stories collide perfectly at the end, making the book very exciting and addicting. It’s hard to talk about the plot without spoiling it, but the concept is very well thought out and executed: Kivrin is a history student in the year 2054 who wants to get permission to go back in time to observe the 1300s while disguised as a local. Every precaution has been taken, but once she steps through, the people she leaves behind in the future come down with a terrible influenza epidemic. Did Kivrin let something through? Until they know, the academics shut down the time machine, trapping her. And that’s just the beginning.

 

broken-starsThese Broken Stars, Aime Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

I didn’t expect to like this book so much, but it’s a very well done character story, written for a teen audience, and I thought it was very nice. The setup is pretty predictable: a cynical war hero and the daughter of the richest man alive end up marooned on a planet after their spaceliner crashes. (And yea, the ship is named ‘The Icarus’ … what were they expecting?) They of course end up together, but the writing style is very engaging and light, unpacking a myriad of issues that can be discussed with younger readers that might be new to Sci-fi. The issues cover class and race, the consequences of colonization and industrialization, to name a few. If I was still writing high school level curriculum I’d be able to come up with great essay and discussion topics.

As for adults, they’ll just enjoy it, even if it’s a bit predictable at times.

 

Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers, Alyssa Wong (Short Story)

This was a short story published in Nightmare magazine, so if horror/SF mashups aren’t your cup of tea, you won’t like it. I think what struck me most about Wong’s style is how perfectly she captured the visceral sense of hunger and the sort of stomach-rolling descriptions of a character chewing, vomiting, or savoring a bite. The main character feeds on bad thoughts, so the worse the individual, the more pleasurable the meal. Check it out if you have the inclination!

If you have a woman SF/F writer you’d like to suggest, let me know in the comments!

Stephenie Meyer Is Still Making Money

I assume everyone has read Twilight, right? You read it, you toss it aside and say, “whatever, that was LAME,”  and then proceeded to hide it under your pillow.

I remember when these books came out. I was in college and everyone wanted to read them, but they didn’t want people to know they were reading them. People would buy them and then give them to me when they were done. I didn’t want copies, but they didn’t either, so I had this box in  my basement full of Meyer books like I was a drug dealer. I got rid of most of them because I felt like I’d been hypnotized by a snake-charmer: I was interested in the initial idea, enjoyed reading them, and then when I shut the book I was like, “wait a SECOND!”

Nice vampires? No, no, no. Damsel in perpetual distress, with no meaning unless she has her man? YUCK! Meyer has no doubt heard these criticisms so she’s at it again! What if her characters were gender-swapped? IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT, WORLD?

meyerJust when it looked liked the madness was over- movies are done, rewrites over with, Meyer has more! It seems like this woman can just make money off of the same idea for infinity. Hey, I won’t knock her for capitalizing on her stuff. Here I am struggling to get a short story published and she’s raking in a mint.

oy.

Parody of Typical YA SF&F Hero

Georg im Kampf mit dem Drachen, Detail- Public Domain

Georg im Kampf mit dem Drachen, Detail- Public Domain

Nobody understands the real me, the me I keep deep inside underneath the rip roaring abs you could break a wood plank off of. No, what they don’t see is that I keep the poetry from spilling out whenever I see something as simple as a single white rose. I bury that as far as it will go and make sure that any girl who looks my way gets a hard glare and a sneer from underneath my unusually long and tawny hair, side-swept to hide the thin scar just under my left eye.

It’s there because my sapphire eyes will shed no tears, and I need it to feel alive.

I’m standing on the edge of the cliff over the ocean, facing the dark clouds that roll towards me that hearken the impending storm. The dragon is coming, and the ancient curse my double-crossing uncle put on me demands that I stand here and protect the village. I am not one for fate: to hell with it, and with the village. I’m doing it for her, for Leanna Rosita Spooner, a girl whose beauty comes from not knowing she is beautiful. She is behind me clutching her elbows in terror as her eyes comprehend the gravity of the forthcoming battle.

I raise my sword above my head, my red cape flying behind me.

“Come beast!” I cry, “Come and prepare to die!”

I hear the voice of the fair Leanna behind me, a voice of protest as she cries with longing for me to desist.

“No, brave Xylon do not die for me!”

“I must,” I reply huskily, the wind whipping through my hair as I turn to face her. “For love of you, my dearest, loveliest Leanna: I will die.”

She lunges at me and I stay her, like taming a wild mare. She calms and looks at me longingly, and I cup her face with my hands, sword sheathed while my manhood becomes unsheathed.

“Your hands, so soft and free of callouses,” she says, “and so bereaved of sweat. Do you not fear this? This horrible thing you face?”

“I fear nothing,” I say, pushing her aside.

The dragon is here, and a cloud of fire engulfs me.I fall to the ground, my breath leaving my body and the skin flying away from my face as it turns to ash. One more look upon Leanna, just one more look.

“Screw this,” says the dragon. “I was just playing anyway.”

He flies way, and we are suddenly left to actually see each other in another context.

“Prom is next week,” she says shyly. “Want to go?”

“Maybe,” I answer. “I’ll see if someone else asks me.”

My horrible flesh scars become very exotic looking tattoos on the side of my face. Living with a curse is rough.

Too snarky? I’m trying to read more SF&F and took a detour into SF&F YA books to see what’s selling since I’m writing a book for a YA audience. Oh man, guys: we need to do better. Insecure girls? Or worse, girls who are like amazons normal girls can’t relate to? Abusive boys whose faults are tossed aside because they’re hot? Teenage morality is mired in a hotbed of issues that literature can and should explore, but I’m having trouble finding good SF&F written for this age group. Taking reading suggestions!