Passion, truth, and complications

I was up way too late last night reading. That’s okay: I planned for it. You see, Amazon brought me Mira Grant’s latest, Deadline, and I’d set aside time to read it.

I’ve been asked a number of times in interviews about what my favorite book is, or what I like to read. I have a hard time listing a favorite. I have lots of favorites, the books I’m nostalgic about, the books I come back to reread year after year, and the books that grab me, and make me keep thinking, long after I put them down.

But one of the things I often talk about is why I read science fiction and fantasy: in brief, it’s because I love exploring the possibility of “what if”. By their very nature, books set in a different place, a different time, let us ask different questions, or see the answers from a different perspective. And books that do that especially well, give us a way to bring back those ideas, those understandings, those steps towards answers, back into our own lives.

Back to this series.

Mira Grant is the name used by Seanan McGuire for this series, and some other related work – basically, things that fall more in the horror genre than in fantasy or science fiction. And Seanan McGuire is very good at what she does: she’s the winner of 2010 John M. Campbell Award for Best New Author, and Feed was selected as one of Publishers Weekly’s best books of 2010.

She’s also a prolific writer and creator: there are four books currently out in her October Daye series (also awesome), another one coming out in September, she’s released three CDs, and has a couple of other projects I’m avidly awaiting. In between that (and a day job!), she writes a fair amount of short fiction, much of which she shares for free on her journal and website.

For example, as a run-up to the release of Deadline, she did a series of almost 30 short fiction snippets about the world. (They take place about 20 years before the first novel opens, so they won’t spoil any of the actual plot if you read them before you read Feed, and they’re a great way to get a sense of the world and her writing style.) I think this is an awesome way to share a sense of the books, without spoiling the actual content.

I’d been aware of her Tobe Daye series for a bit, but what got me hooked on trying Feed was a post in John Scalzi’s (another SF authors) blog series called The Big Idea, where authors talk about the ideas that got them writing a particular book. This has turned into one of my favorite sources of books, and even more interestingly, the books I find out about here have tended to be widely successful when I’ve suggested them to library patrons. (In part, I think, because the posts give me as a librarian a great way to talk about the book and why someone might find it interesting that goes beyond the cover blurb.)

Anyway, I recommend the Big Idea posts for both Feed and Deadline to get a sense of the series. I’m not usually a huge horror reader (there are times my imagination doesn’t need a lot of help, y’know?) but the Big Idea about Feed immediately made it clear to me that there was a lot more going on there that I’d find fascinating.

And so it is. The book has zombies, yes, and there’s a certain amount of death and blood and misery. But it’s really more about living in a world we don’t understand, and that we don’t always have as much control over as we think we do. It’s about speaking truth, and making connections, and trying to leave the world a little better than we found it – but it’s also about the question of “who decides what’s better?”. It’s about friendship, and love, and collaboration, and it’s about how we decide who to believe. And it’s about how fear changes the world we live in, and whether we ought to let our fears win over our truths and hopes.

And those are all things I find totally awesome in books.

It’s also about something near and dear my heart: the power of writing and technology to bring people together, share information, and create community (because, after all, in a world full of zombies, many people don’t go out much.)

One of the things I love about both books is how the narrative is interspersed with excerpts from blog posts (the main characters are professional bloggers in a world where that’s one of the major news sources.) I love how the reason there are zombies has a reasonable scientific background. (These are science zombies, not magic zombies, in other words.) As something of an epidemiological geek myself (though not to the extent Seanan is), that’s awesome.

Okay. Back to why you should read this book. (Actually, why you should read Feed and then read this book, because you’ll care a lot more about this book if you do.)

I agree with the comments on the Big Idea article that the author makes – Feed is a political thriller, while Deadline is much more psychological. Put another way, Feed is more heavily plot driven (with some awesome characters), while Deadline is much more about the characters (and the inside of their heads), with a good helping of action and plot. (Zombie fights! Daring escapes! Intrigue and espionage! Plenty of action.)

Deadline is also an amazingly strong second book – often the weakness of trilogies. There are some places that’s obvious (especially the end), but the beginning does a great job of easing you back into the world and reminding you how things work before the story accelerates (which it does quite rapidly.) And then there’s a solid plot that both serves this book, but is clearly laying down foundation for a powerful conclusion. Waiting a year for the last book in the series is going to be hard.

What I loved was seeing a wider range of interactions. It was particularly awesome to see more about how After The End Times (the blog/news service that the major characters run or are involved with) staff interact. Learning more about Maggie, and about Mahir was lots of fun, too. They don’t always agree, either,  in a way that’s messy and complicated the way people can be, even when they’re mostly wanting the same basic goal.

But I also loved the way that we got more depth into things going on. What the Rising did in other parts of the world. What that changes. How things we mostly take for granted (grocery shopping, flying, driving) are a whole lot different. And I loved how, in this book, the damage from the first book – the hurts, the pains, the misery – isn’t wiped away. These are human beings, who don’t bounce back from that sort of thing all the time, not idealised symbols.

This is not a book to read if you want to be cheered up. It is not an easy book in places: hard things happen, miserable things, things that will probably make you want to scream at the book. People make choices that may have you doing the equivalent of yelling at the TV screen.This is not the best book to read somewhere if people are going to look at you funny if you start laughing, crying, or talking back to the pages.

But amazing things happen, too. And it’s a book that will almost certainly make you think differently about your world, and what matters, and what to trust, than you did before.

Links of interest: May 20, 2011

Welcome back after a hiatus (due to a combination of various things, including not having that many links I wanted to share for a week or two.)

Continue reading Links of interest: May 20, 2011

Links of interest: April 8th, 2011

Problematic editorial responses:

There’s been a lot of discussion in the past week or so about Wicked Pretty Things, a young adult anthology focused on ‘dark fairy romance’. Seanan McGuire, originally part of the anthology, posted a very good summary of the problem: namely, that the editor had rejected a story that included a gay romance (in ways that were otherwise tasteful and appropriate to the age group.) As Seanan says:

And here’s the thing. There is absolutely no reason to censor a story that was written to the guidelines (which dictated how much profanity, sexuality, etc. was acceptable, as good guidelines should). If Jessica had written hard-core erotica, then rejecting it would have made perfect sense. Not that kind of book. But she didn’t. She wrote a romance, just like the rest of us, only her romance didn’t include any girls. And she didn’t get a rejection; she got her story accepted, just like the rest of us. Only while we got the usual editorial comments, she got “One of your characters needs to be turned into something he’s not.” And that’s not okay.

She continues to talk powerfully about why she feels the need to stand with the people who resist bullying through exclusion.

But the story doesn’t end there: along with a lot of other online discussion, and statements from the anthology editor (not particularly satisfying) and the publishing house (ditto), the publisher used an opinions essay in Publisher’s Weekly to scold the original author (misrepresenting what she’d done, for people who didn’t know the background, in the process.) That part? Really not cool. Good thing there’s a ‘Net with more information, really.  Dear Author has a post about this, including a link to the essay and additional background.

Cleolinda has been doing a series of posts with far more exhaustive links: part 1, part 1.5, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5.

Professional challenges and changes:

Joyce Valenza links to a great project from the librarians at McPherson College, who came up with a short graphic novel called Library of the Living Dead to explain library services to new students. It has me thinking of all kinds of great ideas (and glad that generally libraries are not zombie-infested.)

Doug Johnson has a post on the reality of paraprofessionals taking on roles previously filled by MLS-degreed professionals brought on by an email asking for help. This is one of those painful situations where everyone’s got a point, but I always wonder who we’re serving by pushing people into a role they’re not prepare for. Many paraprofessionals (as I was, when I was one) are great at the day to day stuff, and I suspect everyone reading this knows places that would never work without them.

But where the MLIS degree focuses is on looking at larger issues and how to navigate them over years or decades. As with most things involving learning a new way to look at the world, that’s not an easy thing to pick up on the fly, while trying to do two people’s jobs. Some people will manage – but what happens to those served by the people who don’t? I’m not just talking here about them not offering the kinds of services our students need and deserve – but also about the costs to them in trying to do a complicated job without adequate staffing, support, training, or time for reflection and renewal.

Jessamyn West, Fiona Morgan, and Justin Grimes did a presentation at SXSW 2011 on the digital divide in rural areas. Lots of great notes and resources, too.

Brian Herzog talks about some of the challenges and triumphs of dismantling their reference section – and why they did it.

Social media:

Troy Swanson has a great guest post at Tame The Web about how libraries need to look at how they use social media a bit differently – and how it can bring employees in a library who don’t get to see each other in person into a common community.

Denise, one of the co-founders of Dreamwidth had two great posts recently. One, in her formal managerial hat, is about development decisions there, and specifically how they’ve been spending a lot of time paying down technical debt (that’s the stuff you do because you need to get it done, but knowing it’s going to need to be fixed later). It’s got me thinking a lot about the equivalent in the library world (and I hope that’s going to gel into some writing sooner than later.)

She’s also made, from her personal account, a very powerful post about recent issues with LiveJournal, where she worked for a number of years (and where I volunteered under her direction.) I’ve had a number of online homes over the years, but LiveJournal is one of the longest-lasting: I’ll have had an account there for 10 years in May, during which time I’ve posted thousands of entries that help me follow threads of information and connection through my life. (These days, I focus more on Dreamwidth, because I want to specifically support some of their priorities, but due to cross-posting and other tools, still am around LJ a lot.)

Anyway, LiveJournal became, for various reasons, the pre-eminent free press outlet in Russia, both before being bought by the Russian company SUP, and since. Denise explains some of why this was, how it raised complex issues questions on a practical level, and how the site’s contributed to free expression in Russia in a variety of ways. (The reason this is relevant this week is that LiveJournal’s been under substantial DDOS attacks and other problems that have made use of the site more complicated (like lots of spammers.))

Links of interest: October 15, 2010

General links of interest:

The ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom sponsored a machinima contest in Second Life (for those not aware, a machinima is a video or film shot using digital footage from inside a game or virtual setting.) They’ve posted the winner and two runners up.

A great resource on making a website more accessible can be found at Dive Into Accessibility.

When you delete an image, is it really gone? Apparently not on Facebook. In July 2009, the Ars Technica blog did a piece on this. 16 months later, the photo is still there.

A discussion on cyberbullying included a link to what one of the poster’s wives did when she discovered bullying in her classroom. (I can think of situations where it might not have worked so well, but in this case, it was a great solution.)

And of seasonal interest, Kerri Miller, the host of the Minnesota Public Radio show Midmorning, just did a great hour called “Vampires and Zombies and Werewolves, Oh My!” talking about the recent (and not so recent) rash of books featuring them. The link takes you to the page for this show, where you can listen or download, but you might also want to to check out the list of titles that came up during the discussion (currently the second bold heading down.)

Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Information Technology Librarian at the University of Maine at Farmington, the small liberal arts college model campus in the University of Maine system.

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