Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Book Report: Magicians and Telepaths

I got chapter two of the new project done yesterday, though what that actually meant was fleshing out chapter one, changing the chapter break, and then fleshing out the scene before the old chapter break. Now I'm ready to start chapter three, which will really be moving forward.

Between hang-out time at my parents and my lazy Sunday enjoying the fancy new bed, I got a lot of reading done recently, so I'm due for a Book Report.

A few years ago, I read The Magicians by Lev Grossman and had very mixed feelings about it. I liked a lot of the concept and even some of the execution, but at the same time, it really bugged me. It struck me as rather derivative while trying to be edgy. The stuff at the magical school was rather obviously "It's Hogwarts, but with sex and drugs and drinking!" and then the stuff about the magical land was Narnia with a different name pasted on it, not even an attempt to scratch off the serial numbers. The really annoying thing about that was that while it was so obviously Narnia with a different name, the author was painted as a child molester. So he ripped off CS Lewis and then cast aspersions on him while claiming it was all fiction and not really him. I liked the first part of the book at school well enough, but then the characters left school midway through, and I felt like the book went off the rails. The ending made me mad enough that I didn't read the rest of the series. But then the TV series came on, and I liked it, and I learned that a lot of it came from later books. Since I'm working on my own "travel to a magical world" story, I figured I might as well tackle the whole series, mostly to make sure I'm not being accidentally derivative.

I liked the first book a little better after seeing the TV series, mostly because I like the TV versions of the characters better, and the book read better if I mentally inserted the TV characters. And I did end up liking the second book better than the first. It delved more into the magical world and then did a lot more globetrotting in our world, so we got that mix of magic and mundane that I love. I still feel like the fantasy world is a little too derivative. That part of the plot was basically Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I didn't realize quite how much was cribbed from that book until I rewatched the movie after reading this book, and wow, he barely tried to change things. At the same time, I feel like he doesn't quite get Narnia and thinks he's being edgy by making his world dangerous. Narnia was always dangerous. He's somehow managed the near-impossible of copying a story plot point by plot point while still coming across as never actually having read the original. Still, it was a fun magical adventure story that you might enjoy a bit more if you last read the Narnia books when you were 12 and don't remember them well enough to spot the ripoffs. I also liked that the characters were growing up and becoming a bit more likable. I'm in the middle of the third book now.

Then I got the new Connie Willis book, Crosstalk, which is basically a screwball comedy about telepathy. It has the feel of the old movies like Bringing up Baby and My Favorite Wife, but set in the near future, when people are so intent on communicating even more than their smart phones allow that they get brain implants that allow them to sense their romantic partner's emotions. A woman working for a cell phone company is thrilled when her boyfriend suggests they get the implants, because that means he's serious. But there might be unintended consequences. She's only supposed to be sensing emotions, but she hears a voice. And it's not her boyfriend's.

This was a fun romantic romp. The science is a little handwavy, so I think even fantasy readers might get into it. It might have been a little difficult to get into because the heroine comes across as kind of a doormat, not only with her boyfriend but also with her very intrusive, wacky family. But once the story kicks off, it gets really intense while also being very funny and eventually deeply romantic. It's not a sexy kind of romantic, but rather a really deep emotional bond formed during difficult circumstances, which is my kind of thing. I would say that if you have an intrusive family, the first few chapters might be triggering, but it ends up being somewhat important to the plot. I don't have an intrusive family, and I was practically climbing the walls during those scenes.

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