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.

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Misery Loves Company That’s Invited

I don’t sleep well. In fact, I maybe manage four to five hours a night. The causes are numerous and varied, but we’ll just chalk it up to an overactive brain and insomnia. However, I always know when I’ve slept because I’ll dream. My dreams are notorious for being creepy, crazy, and cr-grisly and I almost always remember them with a ridiculous degree of detail.

This is generally how I start conversations at work with coworkers now, and even how I update my Facebook status regularly. The words “I had a weird dream last night,” are statistically the most probable to come out of my mouth. Well, those and “vampire,” “twat-waffle” and “Humperdinck,” though not necessarily in that order or really even in the same sentence. (“Holy hog-wrangling Humperdincks, Batman! That vampire is totally being a twittering twat-waffle!” My other job is a catch-phrase writer for DC Comics.) My somnolent thoughts have become such an ingrained personality trait, that if I don’t wake up with a sense of utter confusion like I had just watched three seasons of Lost in Portuguese, then I feel the sudden need to eat jalapeno cheese-covered cinnamon rolls three minutes before falling asleep to try to artificially induce the wackiness.

The priceless vision perceived by me last night? I was a vampire Kathy Bates from Misery, flying over suburbia in broad daylight. Once I landed, I was approached by a young blonde girl who was petitioning to Save the Whales and I rudely dismissed her. Her brunette friend, apparently not seeing I had just bypassed her compatriot, tried to approach me as well and I told her off. (The word “twat-waffle” or “douche-canoe” may or may not have been used. I would assume that vampire Annie Wilkes would talk like me since she’s a figment of my imagination, but I’ve also had dreams in Russian and Arabic and since I have no speech pattern unique to me in those languages, it may not follow that even imaginary, undead Annie Wilkes sounds anything like me.)

After that, I felt bad — a serious case of the Friendly Neighborhood Vampire-cooties coming over me, I suppose — and flew the two of them to the local cemetery where I tried to make amends by making fun of their ex-boyfriends with them.

Let’s re-cap. I’m given the awesome powers of the vampire and the ankle-breaking, cringe-inducing, heebie jeebie-causing, googly-eyed vacant stare of a Kathy Bates’ role that garners at least a 8.2 on the wiggins scale and I spend it making fun of boys. I mean, at least I’m in a cemetery, which is kind of creepy, but it was still in broad daylight. Talk about wasted opportunities. This happens to me often. I once dreamt I was Wonder Woman and what did I do? I slept. My sidekick — uh, we’ll call her Wonder Strumpet — tried waking me up to try to save the world, but I just rolled over and went back to bed while I was actually in bed dreaming about sleeping. Hold on, I think Keanu Reeves’ head just exploded. I’ll be back after I clean that up.

Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself

I’m not exactly a man of wealth and taste, but I would say that I have a wealth of imagination and a taste….for blood. Okay, okay, I’ve been up late again, watching Dracula movies from the 70s. (To tell the truth, Frank Langella was the only performance I believed, but Udo Kier has the best pronunciation of the word “wirgin” this side of the Thames.)

I wouldn’t necessarily say that I have multiple personalities, or am a sociopath or talk to the dead, but I feel that writing is a little bit of all three. You have to be somewhat inclined to talk to yourself (I do this in parking lots all the time when I walk to and from my car and then proceed to say, “Stop talking to yourself. Great, now you’re talking to yourself about talking to yourself–Stop it…stop!”), somewhat inclined toward the darker UV side of the human spectrum of emotion (looks cool, kinda trippy, best with sunglasses), and able to channel the voices of others in a somewhat authentic way (because dialogue, let’s face it, is more than just putting quotes around a bunch of random words. You get me, James Cameron? What? No, I don’t see you. Get lost, this is my blog.)

I’m a lady. Whoa-oah-oh. I’m a lady. I joke all the time about my obsession with Kate Beckinsale, and the like, but this clears up any confusion. Not that this lets you off the hook, Len Wiseman. I’m still coming for your wife. What? She’s hot, she’s a hotter vampire, and SHE STUDIED RUSSIAN LITERATURE. I study Russian literature. INSTANT ICE-BREAKER. You know, the ice-breaker after the awkward, “Sorry I pushed your husband down the stairs. See, there was a bug…” speech.

I had a conversation once with a professor about the difference between a woman who writes and a woman writer and got looked at sternly for saying that I didn’t want to be known as a woman writer because that carries the connotation that everything I write about has something to do with being a life-bearer and that the words you’re reading now were inked in my own menstrual blood. Don’t ask, just let that happen. I’ll be taking complaints in the comments section shortly about this. There shouldn’t be a difference with a reaction to my novels based on my gender. Yes, I’m a lady, but I also like explosions. And replacing limbs with various weapons-that-can-produce-a-lot-of-gore. (My right big toe has been replaced with a mini-zamboni, just so you know. Those things can cause some damage. Just ask Mr. Wiseman.) And my main character is a lady, but she also likes to eat people.

See, I write about vampires, in case you couldn’t tell from all of the vampire-riddled paragraphs around here. I call it high-brow horror. Dracula meets Dostoevsky, if you will. It’s not your grandpappy’s vampire novel and it ain’t your daughter’s neither. No sparkly posers here. In fact, sparkly posers bother me. I deal with the psychological impact of what it means to be turned into a vampire after a lifetime of abuse. I also deal with chopping up peoples’ legs and ruining peoples’ lives with amphibians. (Hey, just ask Hellboy and he’ll tell you all about those rascally frogs and how we need to get them off of our streets now.)

The Lost Boys is my favorite movie. I read Dracula when I was 12. Every year for my birthday, I have a vampire movie marathon. The good, the bad, and the so-bad-it’s-good make an appearance, and every year I try to watch as many as I can before falling asleep. It is one of my goals in life to actually induce hallucinations from sleep-deprivation caused by vampire movie overload. (Also known as the Death By Stereo syndrome.) I do not actually intend to survive this event because nothing else will compare with it, ever. Not even Sinead O’Connor. Or Prince. Or the dude formerly known as the bald-lady-who-ripped-up-a-picture-of-the-Pope-on-TV-once. I always get those two confused. I own several pairs of fangs and act out parts of my novel with Bloody Marys and my cardboard cut-out of Keanu Reeves dress up like a vampire for Halloween costumes.

I have blue hair. Well, now, at least. It’s more of a teal-ish color, or, as I like to call it, Atomic Peacock. A few months ago it was lime green. Soon it might be purple. It’s been every color but orange, which will probably soon change.

I have ginormous feet. And you know what they say about big feet? Big shoes. And you know what they say about big shoes? Good luck trying to find a pair of heels that don’t make you look like Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. Or, DAMN, if we’re in Japan. Or, you know, however one says DAMN in Japanese, which I figure to translate roughly as, “Man, look at the size of that tentacle!”

Dracula is My Co-Pilot

Welcome to my blog! Enter freely and of your own will, and leave some of the happiness you bring (and by happiness, I mean, of course, your soul.)

What if blogs were like the thresholds to a person’s home? And what if vampires couldn’t enter them without being invited first? Well, the internetz would be much more bloodthirsty, more nocturnal, filled with pasty-looking weirdos, but also be filled with horrible puns (a la “Who ordered the stake? Oh, you? Is medium rare all right?”). So, basically, it wouldn’t change at all, but it’s my part here to change it just a little bit.

See, I’m a writer. No, you haven’t heard of me, but you will. I plan on enslaving you all using my Hypno-Ray into thinking that I am the second best writer on the planet. (Where do you think I got the MK from? From that article on wikipedia about MK Ultra, damn straight. Actually, from my parents.) Well, see, I can’t be the first because that belongs to a dead Russian author, but I can be cool with second. Lots of second things are pretty awesome: silver medals — good for melting down for silver bullets to kill werewolves. Uh, being second-string quarterback is pretty glamorous. (Or so I’ve been told because, let’s face it, I watch a man’s sport: curling. I mean, I wish I got paid for sitting around and doing nothing! Which is nothing at all like writing novels. No. Not at all. That’s silly.) And, let’s face it, where would Count von Count be without the number two? One! One bad joke! Ah ha ha. Ha. *sobs*

(I really don’t usually use this many parentheses when I write, but I feel that by exaggerating their application, I’m showing how hip I am in displacing the usual grammatical structure of these things by placing my somewhat irrelevant thoughts in them to show you that this is, indeed, not like your mama’s blog.)

No, I mean you’ll hear of me one day because I’ll become published and swanky and tattooed. *Needle scratch* Hi, mom. And by tattooed, I mean respectable. Like, monocle-wearing respectable. Maybe even a top hat. But not a Lincoln-sized top hat because, I mean, I’m not Lincoln-sized myself. That would just look ridiculous. I’m maybe 3/4 Lincoln-sized. But I do have an Indiana Jones hat that I may or may not wear and hum the theme song to Raiders of the Lost Ark when I’m re-enacting the Nazi-melting scene with my skull, Rochester bored. (I also have a whip. Ladies?)

Achnyway (I have a kid that I work with who always puts an ‘ach’ in front of words like anyway, okay, and hello, so that he sounds very Fiddler on the Roof-esque), this is a blog to introduce you (the reader and sometimes commenter, but hopefully not stalker or raging hater) to me (the writer and sometimes artist, but hopefully not attention-whore or annoying, awkward basement kid) as I finish up the second half of my novel and try to get published. This is sort of a way to get my name out there so I can create a fan base before even getting published! I hope to one day become Queen of the Interwebz. What? Felicia Day already has that title? Well, slap me with some whipped cream and get that ginger over here so’s we can fight for the right to bear that moniker! I mean, read this blog. Because I write it…covered in whipped cream. Okay, not really, but I’m sure there are tons of crumbs in my keyboard to attest that I eat next to my computer all the time, which is practically the same thing.

Mainly, I’ll be posting my thoughts about stuff that I encounter. Most of it will be about writing, but some will, admittedly, be about the stuff that keeps me up at 2AM. Who am I kidding? This might just be the weirdest blog you’ll check every day ending in -day and/or month ending in….er….-ber, but it’ll keep you up at night. Because you’ll be wondering what kind of brain thinks of things like what I’ll be posting. Not because I would ever stare at you while you sleep or anything. Only vampires do that. And remember, you invited me in.