The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma

TL:DR version: If you like actual sci-fi, you’re a woman, or you dislike meta books, avoid this.

I was super excited to read this book. The back promised me time travel and Dracula and genre-bending madness!

Well, two out of three were wrong. And two outta three…ain’t…bad?

I blame my dislike of this book on three reasons:

1.) Marketing

It was marketed to make it more exciting. So is everything else. I understand this. What I don’t understand, however, is how a nice novel like The Map of Time ends up with a completely misleading and trashy false blurb in a place like the back of the book. I’ve come to expect this from movie trailers, and I always take the back of a book with a grain of salt, but if they had just marketed it as it was: a Victorian thriller true to the time in both style and plot, I would have enjoyed it so much more. But instead they made it seem steeped in science fiction and fantasy and that doesn’t really come into play for more than two thirds of the novel.

But, because they wanted to add some spice, they lost me. I kept on expecting things to jump out at me and wave their wordy fingers and say, “Ooh, look, I’m Dracula popping into a book otherwise about H. G. Wells and look how much I bend genres!” like the wonderful Jasper Fforde Thursday Next novels. Instead, I got a bogged down, “Oh, hey. Yeah, I’m Bram Stoker, the dude who wrote Dracula . I barely fit into this novel at all. All I can bend are my fingers. To type things. Because I’m Mr. Stoker. NOT MY FICTIONAL CHARACTER WHICH DOESN’T EVEN MAKE AN APPEARANCE AND WAS ONLY TALKED ABOUT ON THE BACK OF THE NOVEL TO SPECIFICALLY INTEREST MELISSA.”

Because I like vampires, okay?

It was like expecting to drink some water and getting a mouthful of vodka instead. They’re as different as an elephant and an elephant seal, m’kay?

And I’m totally fine with the Victorianess of it and the lengthy wordiness of it and even the unreliable narrator-y-ness of it too. I love those things. I write those things. But don’t tell me it’s going to be something completely different — DOCTOR WHO MIXED WITH DICKENS is what the back basically said to me — because then I won’t like those things. Those things will just piss me off. Give me the truth. The truth sets everyone free. Just not Tom Cruise in real life A Few Good Men.

2.) Feminist hackles.

Look. I understand that most novels are written by dudes and for dudes — wait, what? That’s comic books? The majority of readers are women? Well, THEN YOU HAVE NO EXCUSES.

The only main lady character (not that I need all of my characters to be ladies) tells me how non-matronly she is. How she doesn’t want to get married and have children solely because that is what she is supposed to do and that she feels as confined and restricted as the very corset wrapped around her body (ooh, symbolism!). Cool! I like this! Defying stereotypes and being more than just what others expect of her. I respect this!

But oh, a man from the future! Wow! She hasn’t even seen his face and she falls in love with him. Because he must — he simply must! — be different than the cads around her. And *spoiler alert* HE MANIPULATES HER INTO SLEEPING WITH HIM. And, another alert, he continues to manipulate her because otherwise, she will commit suicide because of his brutish actions.

I just…I can’t…

NO ONE ACTS LIKE THIS. Yes, it’s a Victorian setting, and I have a different viewpoint about women and their roles in society than say, H. G. Wells and Stoker do, but that doesn’t mean that Palma has to continue this legacy either. I’ve read plenty of Victorian novels involving women and NONE OF THEM ACT LIKE THIS EITHER. Even Lucy in Dracula is stronger than her husband in many ways and when she stops getting his letters (because he’s skrawnking some vampire chicks and stuff) she doesn’t just off herself because she can’t survive without a man. This is unrealistic and insulting.

I don’t demand that things appeal to my sense of how women should act. There is no right way to portray women because all women are different. JUST DO NOT ACTIVELY OFFEND ME AND WE’LL BE OKAY.

The idea that a woman would commit suicide simply because someone she’s barely met doesn’t reply to her letters is outlandish at best and rather offensive to those with any sense of self-respect. It’s not just plot holes and bad (or lack of) editing at this point, it’s just plain lazy writing. A lack of talent in the field of character development is no excuse for a poorly conceived and executed second half and cannot be made up for by Palma’s otherwise intricate and well-designed plots and graceful way with words. Write your women the same way you do your men — with a well-rounded psyches, with realistic expectations and desires, with a sense of independence that doesn’t rely upon a man — and leave your stereotypes at the door.

3.) Meta-ness.

I enjoy a bit of the ol’ genre-savviness meself. I really do. But there is a point when it becomes too much.

The next paragraph will spoil the ending, so don’t read it if you want to keep the surprise, but do know that the ending is so self-referential, I almost stopped to check if it was written by the same guys who write Supernatural.

H.G. Wells gets a letter from his future self saying that if he gives his unpublished manuscript of The Invisible Man to a time-traveler who wants purportedly to help him, the (actually) evil time-traveler will attempt to kill him and the stress of almost being killed will reveal his previously unknown powers of mind time travel. (The only way people can ACTUALLY time travel in the novel is with their minds, a la The Time Traveler’s Wife. In fact, that’s not the only thing that is lifted directly from the Niffenegger [spell that five times fast] novel, but that’s another quip for later.) The letter goes on to explain that he has a choice: go through events and become the very man writing him that letter (meaning he will disappear from history only after his second novel) or change history and make things different (or what we known to be true in this timeline, i.e. he goes on to write many more novels like The War of the Worlds and so forth.)

Blah, blah, blah, he chooses to make his own path, as scary and unknown it is and bam! H.G. Wells is saved and history as we known it is kept sacrosanct and the world is all right. But, if he could write a novel about his experiences, it would be a lot like a novel that I just read and it would start the same way that the very one I was reading would and oh, my, fracking God, are you serious? You are referencing the very novel you are writing!

That’s not clever, that’s egoism. And unacceptable. Any suspension of disbelief on my part was then puked upon and put back onto a shelf never to be read again and kind of to be looked at in pity as a couple of dollars wasted. Which no book should ever make me feel like I wasted money on it, and yet, the previous good yet feminist-hackle-raising 600 pages almost doesn’t make up for the last mind bogglingly vainglorious two.

Three stars out of five. Infuriating, but I couldn’t help but sense that with a better editor (and a real-life knowledge about women and how they act) it could have been spectacular.


Slap my hair in a bun, give me a pair of glasses and call me Giles Wesley

Wesley is just so much cuter. And less inclined to concussions from being head-bonked, though, surprisingly, more susceptible to gunshot wounds, slit throats, and eventual death. Also, he’s a rogue demon hunter.

So, as part of my non-New-Year’s-resolution — the learnin’ bit — I’ve decided to go to my local library, ask for the British librarian to check if I’m the Chosen One and get kicked out and get books on anything vaguely related to my non-vampire novel. This includes, but is not limited to: dreams, memory, death, Jungian archetypes, and motorcycle maintenance.

Much to my surprise, a vague perusal of the library gave me this: On Dreams and Death, a book about Jungian interpretations of death dreams with an Egyptian mythology chaser. Ha! Perfect! Take that, Internet! Good ol’ fashioned research once again proves to be the victor, playing the Germans in this re-enactment of WWII, Risk-style.

Hey. Get your manky paws off of my little plastic battalions, huh? I’m trying to symbolically show the reasons for the brutality of 20th century skirmishes by comparing it to the effects of the Industrial Revolution and the penalties of compartmentalization on the human psyche. Oh, that’s not how we play this game? God, I just thought it was so boring, that modernization and Jungian archetypes must somehow figure in.*

Sometimes I feel as though I’m growing stupid, so I have to learn things in order to combat this. This sentiment, coupled with years of indoctrination at the hands of IB/AP/Honors schooling, means that I’ve started taking notes on this book. Notes. Cornell style for no reason other than the fact that I want to pretend I’m still in school so that my boring life is less pathetic. And because I don’t want that nifty callus on my right middle finger to go away.

So, what have I learned? A little bit about Egyptian death ceremonies, the fact that people dream really weird shit right before they die and that the pun Forever Jung is still just as hilarious as it was to me before this little adventure.

*While playing the game of Life I took the little plastic men and women and made a four-car pile up with many, many victims. Look! Here’s a picture!

The only Russian phrase I understood when I saw a bootleg Day Watch back in 2006 was "Where's my mommy?" "Your mother's dead!"

*No real Life figurines were harmed in the making of this production. But they were scarred mentally.

Imagine the poor little children of these plastic people, the blue-and-pink strewn body parts, the polymer intestines! Oh, the horror! The humanity!

The Name Game

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m horrible at naming things. And apparently, elementary rhyming songs have left me woefully unprepared for the task at hand: namely (PUN INTENDED!) giving my opus a title.

I tend to overanalyze everything Notes from the Underground-style, and naming something that I’ve been working on for the past ten years is no exception. In fact, it’s the exact opposite: it’s the Mac Guffin Horcrux* crux of it all. I would even go so far as to say I’ve lost sleep over this decision. And I’m not even saying that just because I’m an incurable insomniac, either.

See, every title I come up with is put against a rigorous scale of 1.) how much it sounds like the name of a romance novel** and 2.) how catchy it is in relation to what I’m actually writing about. So while I want to avoid stuff like “Kiss of the Night,” I also don’t want to plaster “Dah Story of Gwennie” on the cover.

I’ve also noticed a recent trend in the naming of the books:

The So-and-So’s Somewhat Obscure Relation. See: The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter and thus. I s’pose I could name it The Supposed Witch Who’s Really a Vampire’s Daughter, or The Tight Ass Loser’s Daughter, but those won’t sell well.

The Noun and the Other Noun. See: The Sound and the Fury, Crime and Punishment, Sense and Sensibility. I like how this one sounds and since I’m a sucker for alliterations, it’ll probably end up being one of these.

The High-Brow Poetry Line. A la: Her Fearful Symmetry (damn, Ms. Niffenegger, you need to get off this list, and actually The Sound and the Fury should belong on this list too), Things Fall Apart, For Whom the Bell Tolls and the like. This is actually my favorite category and my next post will discuss all of the poems I’m in love with and want to name my novel after.

Participle Following Noun. See: Breaking Dawn (ptooey!). Um, I really can’t find anymore, but I just really wanted to work in a Twilight joke.

Or simply: The Blah-Blah-Blah in order to be cryptic. See: The Passage (I hated this book. I might have liked it had I not read a lot of reviews that said this book was going to be awesome and that it was well-written and subverted many vampire tropes and was scary. It fell into two out of three main Stephen King no-nos — I hate Stephen King and this is a post in and of itself — and I now use it as a hand weight for when I work out.) The Confession, The Pillars of the Earth, The Last Song*** and so forth. This is a staple for hack writers. (John Grisham Nora Roberts James Patterson Stephenie Meyer, however, has miraculously avoided this.)

So, what do I have?

Sunlight and Silver. Category II, which rates on a 5-6 scale where the first number is how much it sounds like a romance novel — 10 being, of course, FABIO’S MOUSTACHE RIDE — and the second being how relevant/catchy it is.

(My novel may be split into two or even three parts. If so, the second is Coffins and Teeth [Category II, 3-4] and Shrouds and Skeletons [Category II, 4-7]. I don’t really much like any of these for novels names, but for blogs they’re great! Psst. My blog’s a little sensitive, so I had to write that.)

When Darkness Comes. Uncategorizable, 7-4. This was its title for many, many years, but as I’ve grown older, I realize that it’s just not good. Just like my pen name used to be Crimson Destiny, but I don’t want to talk about it.

Blood Will Tell. Sorta Category IV, 8-8. Kind of awesome, but in a Rocky Horror Picture Show Way. Or a made-for-TV movie way. Starring Valerie Bertinelli and Melissa Gilbert.

Until the Moss Had Reached Our Lips. Category III, 2-5. I really, really like this one, as it comes from an Emily Dickenson poem, but it’s a little wordy for a novel. As my novel is really wordy, this makes sense, but I doubt it’s marketable.

The Spirit and the Dust. Category III, 2-7. This is eerily accurate when it comes to the themes of my novel, but it just doesn’t have a certain ring that makes me jump up and go, “Ooh, ooh, mommy, mommy, a naked American man stole my balloons I want to read that.”

To Be With You in Hell. Category III, 2-5. Again, something I really like but is kind of wordy. Reminiscent of a Sam Raimi movie, which maybe isn’t the vibe I’m going for.

Two Moons of Black. A rewording of a poem, so still Category III, 5-5. Sylvia Plath FTW and FTD (for the depression), but it reminds me of a book I read in elementary school called Walk Two Moons. And if my novel is anything, it’s not a Newberry Nominee.

I’m still waiting for a set of words to magically appear to me and punch me in the stomach so that I think, “Yes, this is my novel’s title. How could I have stupidly thought of anything else?” Alas, I also think that I will meet the man of my dreams and do the whole love-at-first-sight thing. Neither are probably going to happen, so I guess I’ll just be content with a lackluster title name that grows on me and a loveless marriage.

*I’ve thought about what I would make into a Horcrux if I could. The winners are: the eighth volume of Hellsing, my soon-to-be steampunk goggles, and –wait, I’m not going to tell you. I don’t want any Harry Potter look-a-likes coming after me.

**My mother: “Melissa, why don’t you write romance novels? I heard it’s a good way to break into the business. And then you can write whatever you want after that.” She has said this about: screenplay writing, soap-opera writing, and sitcom writing.

***After that little moment, Ryan says, “It’s a good thing he’s not a Nicholas Sparks fan.” I can’t find it, but it’s hilarious! BAZZINGA! That’s twice, Mr. Sparks. And, PPS: I just saw a picture of you and you look like a douche-canoe mixed with a skeezy high-school principal.

It’s like Hamlet, but with anthropomorphic lions….

As promised — because I never break a promise* — I’m going to talk type about the inspiration for the setting of my dream the other day. (Unlike some TV shows that shall remain unnamed, the Golden Gate Bridge will not become a filler shot for my dreams.) In this book is the floating city made of ships that prompted one of the stranger dreams with recognizable people that I’ve had the pleasure to subconsciously think up.

Pirates, vampires, mosquito people, cactus people, and a whiny bitch of a main character. What's not to love?

The Scar by China Mieville is what I call an in media res sci-fi book, which means it just throws you into the middle of everything and leaves little time to sort it out. Other examples include: Dune, anything by Philip K. Dick, or even Star Wars, but that gets all of the Hero’s Journey references too, so I try to share the love. I adore this sort of literary convention because I do it to my readers all of the time. Personally, I love being confused, so trying to figure out how things worked in this universe — like, how the hell can a cactus talk? — was right up my alley. It’s the second in this world by the author — who kind of looks like if beefy Trent Reznor** and Howie Mandel had a kid — with the first being Perdido Street Station, so maybe that has more explanations, but I like to do things the hard way.

Let me just start off with saying that there are pirates in this book and seeing as how I dress up as a pirate wench for the Renaissance Festival every year, the only way this book could have gotten better was if there were vampire pirates. Oh, wait. THERE TOTALLY WERE VAMPIRES IN THIS BOOK. This happens to me every once in a while, where I start reading or watching something without vampires in it — you know, to cleanse the palate, if you will — and they just randomly appear. Like Ultraviolet or Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

It takes place on Armada, a floating city made of ships that the Armadan pirates have stolen. They gangplank people by capturing their vessels, assimilating them into their maritime fortress and making the passengers work without ever a chance to see home or escape. Bellis — yon fair maiden whiny, heartless main character — has been captured by the pirates and is forced to work in the library on Armada, but soon discovers a plot that the rulers of her district — aptly called The Lovers — are unfurling, which may place all of them in danger.

The thing kind of unravels like a bunch of tarot cards, with titles being thrown here and symbolism about trying to control the world as measly humans discarded there, but what I truly loved was the originality. Bellis goes on many adventures and finds ex-prisoners and slaves who have undergone a process called Remaking that has left them genetically mutated; a bunch of ravenous mosquito women who will literally suck you dry in a matter of seconds; an anthropomorphic lion voiced by Jeremy Irons and a fissure in the world that can be mined for Possibilities. Everything pops out of the book as fully formed ideas, a world rich with imagination that barely leaves you time to get your breath before moving onto to something just as new and wondrous.

So, you’re thinking, because I imagine that you are now ready to blow this popsicle stand and read this masterpiece. So, you think, it has creativity, an elegant writing style, and, most importantly, bloodsuckers. Why isn’t this the best book ever?

Well, I respond, because I’m more critical than Michael Bay when he’s choosing between Victoria’s Secret models, there are still many, many things wrong. The dialogue is so-so, and I’m a dialogue chick. I love me some artsy and witty talkin’. The way people talk should inherently be different from the narrative parts, and I found myself enjoying the spectacular and descriptive narration, before cringing whenever someone opened his mouth. One character in particular — a ninja-like badass who may or may not hunt vampires (boo! hiss!) — is supposed to speak like Shakespeare with a Cyrano de Bergerac chaser, but just sounds as awkward as anyone else.

I also hated Bellis. She was rather annoying and incapable of feeling any emotion other than remorse, guilt, or longing. Her last name is Coldwine, obviously meant to evoke her coldness towards other characters, but I couldn’t sympathize with her. It was like reading Anna Karenina for me, meaning that halfway through that book, I couldn’t care less if everyone got their faces eaten off by bunny rabbits. In fact, that would have made that book so much better.

I won’t give away the end, but it suffers from a serious case of show-don’t-tell-ism, which left it ending on a rather flat note.

However, the book was spectacular, despite most of its flaws, and I will be reading Mr. Mieville again, though it’d be sooner if he wore a fedora. I still highly recommend this book, and I’m picky, so it may be your slice of 3.14159.

*Except that one time in Mexico with the noodles…but I don’t want to talk about it.

**As compared to Snape-looking Trent Reznor.

Aw-oooo! Werewolves of Moscow

Reading and writing go together like GIR and tacos. So I’ve decided to make a section about all of the books I read because sometimes they affect my writing, but most of the time, they’re just the novelizations of popcorn-movies with Victoria Secret models and ‘splosions, directed by Michael Bay philosophically stimulating.

The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin is actually both brain-candy and retains more depth than all of the CW’s programming combined. It follows a girl named A Hu-Li (which is a cuss word in Russia, where she lives) who’s a fox — metaphorically and mythologically. She’s an ancient Chinese being who sucks the life out of men using her tail, that’s otherwise hidden when she’s not feeding. She meets up with a Russian werewolf and adventures abound.

It’s first-person narration — my favorite — and A Hu-Li’s thoughts are wildly entertaining and thought-provoking. Her interactions with people border on the comically anti-social and pop-cultured; she’s talking with a client — did I mention she works as a prostitute? — and I quote: “‘You look like Captain Nemo.’ ‘From 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea?’ Oho, I thought, what a well-read portfolio investor! ‘No, from the American film The League of Extraordinary Gentleman .'”

She also talks about how whenever someone says something — an opinion or impassioned speech — to her, she has to repeat it sooner or later in her life because that’s just what foxes do. They reflect back on the human population that keeps them fed. This struck a chord with me because I feel I do that a lot. I will ingest something that someone feeds me and then digest it a little and then spit it back out in order to keep a conversation alive. (I’m notoriously bad at making small talk, which is funny, given that I work in customer service for a living.)

A highly original book, which is mostly what I crave. A little intensive on the critique of Russian society which can be a little obtuse at times, but relevant to life that spans Eastern philosophy and Western perception.