Favorite Character: Olivia from Reamde

I recently finished listening to Neal Stephenson’s Reamde on Audible. Before that, I listened to The Goldfinch, which I guess makes me a glutton for +30-hour audio books. But hey, I have to get my value out of my free Audible credits somehow, right?

Anyway, Reamde is a very long book that’s chock full of colorful characters and locales—and very meticulously constructed action scenes. The story takes a ton of wild, globe-spanning turns, weaving together an immersive World-of-Warcraft RPG video game, Russian mobsters, Chinese hackers, British spies, an Usama bin Laden-level terrorist, and Idahoan militiamen. Remember when the TV series ’24’ earned some eye-rolls for throwing a mountain lion into its unlikely plot? Well Reamde features a mountain lion as well. And a bear for good measure.

In the midst of all that mayhem, it was one of the book’s more understated characters that really captured my attention. Olivia Halifax-Lin is an MI6 agent who is on the trail of the book’s bin Laden character.

When introducing Olivia, the author Stephenson makes an excellent point: The best spies aren’t necessarily charismatic, daredevils who wear wetsuits under their tuxedos. Good spies are better as bit-players—people with faces that you easily trust, and easily forget.

Which of these spies is better at his job?

Which of these spies is better at his job?

Olivia fits this criteria well. In fact, when she reminisces about her love life, she notes that it was filled with men who ignored her for a while, then became besotted, then wanted some sort of special appreciation for recognizing how unconventionally and discreetly beautiful she is. I wish I could quote Stephenson’s prose exactly. I thought this was a really nice detail, and a nice way to help us understand Olivia and picture her in our head. Olivia is like the girl from ‘She’s All That.’ Except she never takes off her glasses, and then she gets recruited by a international spy agency.

Unfortunately, after this promising beginning, Olivia is shunted to the midground, behind characters who show more flair. Ironic that her greatest strength (according to MI6) is to look and act like a ‘secondary character,’ and then that’s what she becomes in the novel. There was one more interesting, metatextual bit when Olivia’s boss criticizes her for ‘sowing her oats’ in the field—both with her assets and her co-workers. Olivia throws off the line, “If I was a man, no one would criticize me for that. They’d congratulate me for being the next James Bond.” You go, girl! Unfortunately, for all her cool British poise, Olivia is only the third boldest female character in the story—so, like I said, she sort of fades to the background for most of the novel’s 109(!) chapters.

Game of Thrones: Learning to Hope

(Spoiler alert, level yellow! If you haven’t seen it Season 6 of Game of Thrones, the ramblings below may be mildly spoilerish.)

All around me, people are rejoicing. On Twitter feeds, and at Monday lunch-breaks… “Go Starks!” “Yay Khaleesi!” “GoT #woohoo!”

If there’s one exclamation I never thought I would associate with Game of Thrones, ‘Woo-hoo’ might be it. What sound would I most associate with GoT? Probably a sharp intake of breath through clenched teeth. You see, up until this season, my first purview into the doings on Westerns came directly through George R.R. Martin’s ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ novels.

For me and millions of other fans, those five novels—those roughly 6,000 pages—have been an exercise in train-wreck spectacle and exquisitely postponed gratification. In all of those 6,000 pages, there’s been what?—maybe three pump-your-fist moments?

But now book fans have ran out of SOIAF books to read, just as producers of the HBO series have run out of plots to follow. Has the TV show faltered, now that the show-runners have to continue the stories on their own? No. If anything TV show has tightened up, quickened its pace, and embraced a fresh, new action-oriented tone. GoT’s Season 6 has shed off some meandering and unsatisfying plot-lines like a working-girl shedding clothes in Littlefinger’s brothel. And the show-runners are killing off the series’ most despised, and most plotting-obstructing characters. Troublesome characters are dropping like… like… well, like good guys in the first five seasons of the show.

Every Sunday night I’ve been watching these new episodes with my arms crossed and a Scroogish scowl on my face. Beside me, my wife hoots and cheers. She loves this new turn in tone. My general reaction has been ‘Everything is too easy.’

Before this season, I enjoyed the HBO adaption mostly because it reminded me of other HBO classics. The Sopranos and The Wire were byzantine pot-boilers—slow-moving and meticulous. They were absolutely brilliant shows with plenty of ‘water cooler moments’ between them, but I don’t think anyone would ever call them ‘crowd-pleasers.’ So I was disgruntled that the GoT TV show had transitioned so unabashedly into crowd-pleasing mode.

Then came the Battle of the Bastards. Good grief. Has there ever been a better-directed, better-directed 60 minutes on television? Forget Emmys. That episode deserves Oscars! Then that episode was followed up by the equally excellent season finale, and I realized: Why am I not opening my heart to this new way of (literally) enjoying these great characters and the thrilling world they live in? Our heroes are actually accomplishing things. They are actually on the move. And everything is spinning up to a huge 3-or 4 front climactic confrontation of Near-Evil vs. Pure-Evil. That’s thorny enough for me. Grab the popcorn, I’m there. And then there’s always the promise that ASOIAF Book 6 book will be here (eventually) to reward the most patient and masochistic fans of the books.

My only hope is the show-runners won’t forget that the Red Wedding is still the series’ most memorable, most quintessential moment. The ‘Game’ can’t end satisfactorily, unless it breaks our hearts, at least a few more times. Here’s hoping they kill off one or two of the characters we all love. And I hope they do it in the most unexpected, most unwarranted way possible.

(And, whomever it is, I hope they keep it permanent this time).

Another one of my GoT articles: Best Actor in a Suppurating Role


Idyll Chatter: Nowness

Now hear this: Now announcing that IDYLL is now available on Smashwords. Like now!

Check it out! https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/639082

Also on Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/idyll-the-idyll-trilogy-book-1

Hopefully the book will be cleared to on Barnes & Noble’s site and iBooks soon.

I other news of near nowness, Book 2 of the Idyll trilogy is on track to be released in the latter half of this June. Stayed tuned for a cover reveal!

Review of “Idyll” by James Derry

Thanks so much for the review from Sunshine Somerville, author of the ‘Kota’ Series!

Sunshine Somerville

27204858It’s rare that a book gives me chills.  This one did.

I can’t think of another story quite like this.  It is reflective of “The Road” with the main part of the story showing us a pained journey through a  dangerous landscape.  I didn’t get the “Firefly” comparison at all because this has quite a different tone (if you’re expecting fun characters, shootouts, and Whedon wit, this is not that).  But, there are definitely great Sci-Fi elements (a terraformed planet, native creatures, etc) while much of the story feels like a Western too.  It also feels post-apocalyptic as these few survivors struggle to cross the abandoned world that’s been overtaken by the natural landscape.  The author wrote in unique language and terms that make Idyll feel otherworldly but familiar too.  All this blends together for some really great world-building.

The four main characters are believable, and I liked the use of siblings.  Walt is…

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The Pulchritude Award: Alacrity

James Derry

The Pulchritude Award goes to words that don’t sound anything like what they mean. Today’s winner is ‘alacrity.’
Alas. Alack. Alacrity. It certainly doesn’t sound like a happy word. But that’s exactly what it is. Alacrity (n): brisk and cheerful readiness. It comes from the Latin root, ‘alacer,’ which is also the root for ‘allegro’ (which just sounds so much prettier). Anyway, if you ever feel tempted to use this word, I suggest you move with alacrity to a thesaurus and pick an alternative. How about ‘vim,’ ‘vigor,’ ‘zeal,’ ‘glee,’ ’enthusiasm?’

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A Writing Tip That Ruined Me: Prologues

James Derry

prologue_114378562What do agents and editors have against prologues? Several times, at conferences or online, I’ve heard publishing experts recommend against starting your novel with a prologue. Also here.And here.And here. The prevailing wisdom seems to be this: “If your prologue is important enough to be in the book, make it your first chapter. If not, then cut it.”

I guess if I were filtering through a slush pile of 100 submissions a day, and a mere 10% of them began with prologues, I’d get pretty sick of them too. But if I analyzed that irritability, I think I’d draw the conclusion that the slush-pile/submission process is stupid, not prologues.

I think I read a LOT of books, for the average person—which is to say maybe 30 books a year. In the last year, have I read a book that begins with a character waking up? Not that I can remember…

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Past Tension

James Derry

Past tenses seemed so much simpler in the past
I slapped ‘e-d’ on a verb, and did it fast

But then complications arised (or ‘AROSE’)
From certain verbs that I choosed (actually ‘CHOSE’)

Instead of meaned, I MEANT—instead of sleeped, I SLEPT,
Is it ‘PEEPED’ or ‘pept?’ It’s not ‘keeped’ but ‘KEPT.’

More inconsistencies CREPT in and made me shout
“All these inconsistencies have me feeling CREEPED out!”

The inconsistencies were inconsistent—or they weren’t
Some verbs go both ways, I LEARNED—and LEARNT

For these words, it’s all good–For me, not one bit

Driven insane by past tenses, I just LEAPED from a cliff
Wait, or have I LEAPT? Whatever, you get my drift…

past tension james derry

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