Review: Primary Inversion

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Primary Inversion (Saga of the Skolian Empire, #1)Pri­ma­ry Inver­sion by Cather­ine Asaro

My rat­ing:

At the begin­ning of the year I decid­ed to active­ly seek out and read SF&F writ­ten by women or with women occu­py­ing the tit­u­lar roles. As you may imag­ine, when I first learned about Cather­ine Asaro , a female author who writes hard SF while read­ing the Com­plete Guide to Writ­ing Sci­ence Fic­tion, I was excit­ed and impressed and went in imme­di­ate search of books writ­ten by her. Aside from being an author and dancer, Asaro has degrees in chem­istry and physics from Har­vard. I felt imme­di­ate­ly assured that her books would give me that blend of believ­able SF and intrigu­ing nar­ra­tive I love. How­ev­er, not until I start­ed to read Pri­ma­ry Inver­sion did I real­ize that she can also be billed as a romance author.

This is where things sort of went bad for me.

I’m not sure if this is the point at which I am sup­posed to hand over my hon­orary girl’s club mem­ber­ship card, but I have a dif­fi­cult time with strong ele­ments of romance in my books. This is a per­son­al pref­er­ence. More accu­rate­ly, I can tol­er­ate romance if it is taste­ful, sub­tle, and does not make up the bulk of the sto­ry. Not quite so with PI, but this is not my only issue with this book.

It’s not that I hate romance… it’s just that I do. Ha. Specif­i­cal­ly, I don’t appre­ci­ate the over sen­ti­men­tal­ized, sap­py, UNREALISTIC, heart-rung qual­i­ty romance nov­els fre­quent­ly present us with. Even more specif­i­cal­ly, I pre­fer sto­ries where­in the romance is a hap­pen­stance occur­rence and not the crux of the tale.

Pri­ma­ry Inver­sion (PI) is the first nov­el in the Saga of the Sko­lian Empire series. PI is a hard SF, space opera, polit­i­cal intrigue and, yes, romance nov­el. As I typ­i­cal­ly do with my reviews, I will try to dis­cuss the mer­its of the book as I see and under­stand them with­out spoil­ing it for those who even­tu­al­ly chose to go on and read it.

PI is writ­ten in first per­son POV in the voice of the main char­ac­ter, Saus­cony Val­do­ria (Soz). Soz is an intel­li­gent, pow­er­ful super sol­dier-type who leads her own fight­er squadron. She is attrac­tive and at forty-eight years old looks about half that. Part of her super sol­dier prowess is due to her many cyber­net­ic implants, but also in part to her genet­ic make-up. She is Rhon (I still hon­est­ly don’t get it) and this makes her, in addi­tion to every­thing else, a pow­er­ful empath. She is fun­ny and spunky, bright and quick wit­ted. Soz is also the sis­ter of Kurj, Imper­a­tor of the Sko­lian Impe­ri­alate, and she is next in line to take his place. What this means is that she is old mon­ey wealthy and prac­ti­cal­ly roy­al­ty.

Her biggest inter­nal con­flict is a ten year old psy­cho­log­i­cal wound she car­ries after hav­ing been once kid­napped and raped by an Aris­to, a race that derives plea­sure from the pain of empaths.

At first I thought it was the first per­son POV that I didn’t like, but then I real­ized that in this case, first per­son wasn’t the issue so much as the char­ac­ter of Soz her­self. She is quite the Mary Sue:

  • Very Beau­ti­ful
  • Strange­ly col­ored hair
  • All men want her
  • Even men who don’t like her want her
  • An espe­cial­ly skilled pilot/leader/soldier
  • Heiress appar­ent to the Sko­lian Impe­ri­alate
  • Prac­ti­cal­ly roy­al­ty
  • Wealthy
  • Trag­ic past (rape) she is still trau­ma­tized by mak­ing her vul­ner­a­ble at just the right sit­u­a­tions
  • High­ly potent empath (Empa­thy is her super­nat­ur­al pow­er fur­ther strength­en by cyber­net­ic implants? Although there are oth­ers with this pow­er, hers is par­tic­u­lar­ly strong and well-honed.)
  • Pre­ten­tious name — Saus­cony Val­do­ria? Real­ly?
  • Incor­rupt­ible
  • Near­ly fifty but looks twen­ty-some­thing
  • Rec­og­nized her true love via ecsta­sy induc­ing mind meld

Dur­ing the course of this book, which spans over a few months, Soz enters into three rela­tion­ships. The first and most appro­pri­ate is with a man who even­tu­al­ly becomes a para­plegic. He breaks up with her so as not to destroy her life and prospects. Of course she was pre­pared to forego her com­fort and her posi­tion for him, but… Her sec­ond rela­tion­ship is with a twen­ty some­thing year old who seems ter­ri­bly naïve. Their rela­tion­ship was hard­ly explored out­side of their cud­dling and romps. He was her gold­en haired boy­toy. The last rela­tion­ship was with a twen­ty year old named Jaib­ri­ol Qox, who she met in the begin­ning of the book. JQ wasn’t just naïve but he was whol­ly inex­pe­ri­enced and also, being Rhon, had this imme­di­ate men­tal con­nec­tion with her that meant that they were soul mates. The prob­lem with this was that JQ is the heir appar­ent of the oppos­ing side a galac­tic war.

Yes, what we have here is a Romeo and Juli­et-ish tale.

I don’t like Romeo and Juli­et.

I don’t like my char­ac­ters per­fect and awe­some and unflawed.

I don’t like spend­ing an entire book stuck in the head of a char­ac­ter whose stuck on them­selves. She spends a lot of time stuck in Woe-is-me-land and I can’t stand that place. Not only that, rape or not, I have a dif­fi­cult time feel­ing as sor­ry for her as she does for her­self. As a mat­ter of fact, there was a scene in which, while drunk, she “mis­tak­en­ly” held a loaded weapon to her head. I kin­da wished she would have pulled the trig­ger. Oh, the mis­ery.

I’d also like to note here that JQ is the much younger male mir­ror image of Soz. In oth­er words, Gary Stu. See all those Mary Sue traits list­ed above? Yep. That’s him with the odd adjust­ment here and there.

So, you’re like­ly won­der­ing why I fin­ished this book. Well, in Asaro’s defense, and mine, PI presents so many inter­est­ing and fresh con­cepts and ideas that I can’t declare it a com­plete loss. The prob­lem is that the ideas that I per­son­al­ly found inter­est­ing, were either not well devel­oped of weight­ed in sim­ple yet exces­sive nar­ra­tive.

Again, first per­son brought me too close to this char­ac­ter who I did not care for. I believe that had this been writ­ten in third per­son, despite my dis­like for Soz, I could have stom­ached her.

As far as the SF ele­ments go, there are a ton of detailed tech­ni­cal descrip­tions that instead of adding to the over­all depth of the sto­ry actu­al­ly slowed the pac­ing. I skipped huge chunks to get back into the fray because at some point I’d just glaze over. Part of the issue, I believe, is the fact that PI has too many things going on. You know, less is more, and all that jazz. We have empath­ic beings, racial issues (although every­one in this book seemed human and white… don’t even get me start­ed on that), cul­tur­al issues, strong mil­i­tary ele­ments, space trav­el, polit­i­cal intrigue, cyber­net­ic implan­ta­tion, AI

About halfway in, I start­ed think­ing about McMas­ters-Bujold with her sub­tle use of tech­ni­cal ver­biage and easy believ­able roman­tic ele­ments. I missed that while read­ing PI. I know it isn’t entire­ly fair to com­pare the two authors, but the sim­i­lar­i­ties and the dif­fer­ences are strik­ing, I think, and Asaro could learn some­thing from McMas­ters-Bujold about sub­tle­ty and believ­able rela­tion­ship pro­gres­sion.

For me, the crux of the issue is that this sto­ry with all of its polit­i­cal intrigue and SF ele­ments, which I’d nor­mal­ly enjoy, appears to have been woven to sup­port these unlike­ly romances as opposed to the romances occur­ring as the nat­ur­al result of what hap­pens when two attrac­tive unat­tached and com­pat­i­ble peo­ple are thrown togeth­er. Deus Ex Machi­na is shame­less­ly and ruth­less­ly employed here and in the course of one tale is so over used as to become absolute­ly unac­cept­able.

The unfor­tu­nate past rape of Soz is a loom­ing ele­ment in this tale, as it col­ors Soz’s future expe­ri­ences. I know that rape hap­pens in real life, that it can alter how a woman sees her­self, how she feels about the world around her and that it col­ors future rela­tion­ships. Rape is trag­ic and hor­rif­ic and unac­cept­able no mat­ter what. That said, I don’t object to the inclu­sion of such a trag­ic ele­ment in a sto­ry if employed with the sen­si­tiv­i­ty it deserves. How­ev­er, in this case I do resent its use as it feels like a pil­lar upon which to prop the pro­tag­o­nist whose char­ac­ter is annoy­ing, weak­ly con­struct­ed, and paper thin.
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Princess in Chains: Is the Urban Fantasy Heroine a Victim of Writers’ Imaginations?

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I’d like to thank Ale­sha Esco­bar, friend and fel­low indie author, for giv­ing me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to host her here on my site as she kicks off her end of the Addict­ed to Hero­ines Blog Tour.  The tour will run from Feb­ru­ary 1–10 and will fea­ture a hand­ful of tal­ent­ed indie authors who’ve writ­ten some kick ass hero­ines.  For more infor­ma­tion, click on the ban­ner and fol­low along for a chance to have fun, meets awe­some authors, and even win some prizes.

Princess in Chains: Is the Urban Fan­ta­sy Hero­ine a Vic­tim of Writ­ers’ Imag­i­na­tions?

Quick.  Name one of your favorite urban fan­ta­sy hero­ines.

Now, give me one or two qual­i­ties that make her awe­some.

Was one of them the fact that she could wield mag­ic and swords like nobody’s busi­ness (Also known as being kick-ass)?

You’re not alone. Many read­ers (and writ­ers) of the genre enjoy a strong hero­ine who can defend her­self and oth­ers, if need­ed. How­ev­er an inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion has emerged as to whether or not this is the only road for our hero­ine to go down and if we’re forc­ing her into a sin­gu­lar role that sends the wrong mes­sage.

Phys­i­cal strength and dom­i­na­tion have always been asso­ci­at­ed with tra­di­tion­al male pow­er, and a woman who exerts phys­i­cal prowess must the­o­ret­i­cal­ly either tran­si­tion into the realm of mas­culin­i­ty or at least be val­i­dat­ed by it. Thus the UF hero­ine appears to dis­tance her­self from oth­er women, she must be the sole “princess” among a near­ly all-male cast, and as anoth­er writer put it, she must be “weaponized.”

The con­cept of the fan­ta­sy hero­ine jump­ing into the fray along­side the heroes isn’t some­thing new. Exam­ples range from the cross-dress­ing female knight, Brit­o­mart, of Spencer’s The Faerie Queene to the shield­maid­en Eowyn of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, who described her domes­tic life as a “cage,” and sought free­dom and hon­or through tak­ing up the sword and going to war like her male coun­ter­parts.

The UF hero­ine isn’t much dif­fer­ent, except that her armor is a pair of leather pants (or ridicu­lous­ly tight jeans, but that’s anoth­er sto­ry), and her sword is a pis­tol or mag­i­cal abil­i­ty. She too, wish­es to break her chains and rat­tle her cage, and show the world what she’s made of.

Let’s be hon­est. There are those fist-pump­ing “You go, girl!” moments we love to rev­el in when we see our hero­ines karate chop an assailant, blast an evil war­lock into next week, or punch the arro­gant guy who doesn’t know how to keep his hands to him­self.

How­ev­er, if punch­ing peo­ple is all she does, and there’s lit­tle else to our hero­ine, then it can get real old real fast. So in that respect, I agree with our friends who point out that we need more dis­plays of dif­fer­ent types of strength. There’s intel­lec­tu­al strength, emo­tion­al strength, and moral strength. Just think of times you’ve had to make a dif­fi­cult deci­sion, but chose what was right over what was easy–that’s a show of strength. Or how about a day you felt like falling apart, but then you end­ed up mak­ing it through, per­haps even help­ing some­one along the way; that also, is a show of strength.

Our UF hero­ines don’t have to be princess­es in chains, they can be as com­plex and mul­ti­lay­ered as we’re will­ing to make them, and for me, that’s one of the awe­some parts about being both a writer and read­er of the genre.

You might appre­ci­ate the fol­low­ing hero­ines:

  1. Sabriel, Sabriel (Abhors­en, #1) by Garth Nix
  2. Kari­g­an G’ladheon, Green Rid­er (Green Rid­er, #1) by Kris­ten Britain
  3. Alex­ia Tarabot­ti, Soul­less (The Para­sol Pro­tec­torate, #1) by Gail Car­riger

*****

authoraleshaAle­sha Esco­bar writes fan­ta­sy and urban fan­ta­sy sto­ries to sup­port her choco­late habit. She earned a B.A. in Eng­lish Writ­ing and a Mas­ter of Sci­ence in Edu­ca­tion, and has enjoyed both teach­ing writ­ing and being a writer. Her hob­bies include read­ing, watch­ing movies, and mak­ing crafts. She is cur­rent­ly work­ing on the final install­ment of The Gray Tow­er Tril­o­gy. Con­nect with her online for updates and dis­cus­sions at http://www.aleshaescobar.com

 

After 1 Year and 100 Posts

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A year has passed since I’ve start­ed this web­site in the form in which it now exists. It’s been a good year. I’ve met and con­nect­ed with an awe­some com­mu­ni­ty of indie authors and I’ve man­aged to gain a lit­tle bit of expo­sure for my book and make some sales in the process.  I pro­cured a few inter­views with inter­est­ing and pro­lif­ic indie authors and artists, land­ed mul­ti­ple guests post for this site, and have writ­ten a few for oth­ers as well, learned a bit about self-pro­mo­tion, and wrote mul­ti­ple book reviews.  I am also active on Goodreads.  Star­la Huch­ton did and incred­i­ble job redesign­ing my book cov­er, and I joined Amazon’s KDP Select pro­gram.

I joined two antholo­gies over the past year.  Grim5Next Worlds Undone anthol­o­gy is a spec­tac­u­lar idea con­ceived by Lyn Mid­night where­in 36  writ­ers col­lab­o­rate to cre­ate twelves sto­ries writ­ten in three parts about the apoc­a­lypse. The col­lab­o­ra­tion even­tu­al­ly went on to include artists and musi­cians and even a children’s project. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the project became too large and unwieldy for our love­ly edi­tor and it even­tu­al­ly fiz­zled out.  As of late how­ev­er, it appears that Worlds Undone may be mak­ing a come­back.  I’m hop­ing it will.

The oth­er anthol­o­gy that I am involved with is more per­son­al and dear to me. It start­ed from a com­ment that I left on a fel­low indie author Matt Williams’ site. We dis­cussed the idea of going to space and that dis­cus­sion turned into an anthol­o­gy enti­tled Yuva.

Me: Four nerds verg­ing on geeks live in my house, of which I am one. One of our nerdi­est but fun con­ver­sa­tions cen­tered around the ques­tion “Would you rather go to space or the bot­tom of the ocean?” Hands down the answer was space.I once dreamed that my son, now 21, would one day go to space and walk on Mars. He is no longer a child who dreams of space, although it still intrigues, and space seems a dis­tant child­hood dream of his. But even for myself, at the ripe old age of 41, the idea of going to space is a bright hope, even though I know it is unat­tain­able and unre­al­is­tic. But, giv­en the chance, I would go. This post reminds me of the awe­some­ness of our great uni­verse, of the chaot­ic ran­dom­ness, of the beau­ty of this world and the things we have to be grate­ful for, and of how utter­ly minus­cule we peo­ple real­ly are in the grand scheme of things

Matt: Okay, you need to write this down. I fore­see you doing a sto­ry where a fam­i­ly does go into space. Ho boy, I smell anoth­er anthol­o­gy here!

Me: An anthol­o­gy about space, going to space or any­thing relat­ed sounds awe­some. I vote for you to be the edi­tor. What do we need to do to get start­ed?”

yuva_cover-0Yuva, still in the works, will con­sist of twelve sto­ries of which mine will be first.  We’ve man­aged to fill about eight of the spots, so if any­one out there would like to con­tribute to a space and col­o­niza­tion anthol­o­gy, shoot me a mes­sage.

Over the course of the last few months I real­ized that I had a bit of an unin­ten­tion­al theme going, that of time man­age­ment. I wrote quite a bit about the sub­ject and sev­er­al fel­low indie authors con­tributed some real­ly amaz­ing posts about how they man­age their writ­ing time.  As time is such a dif­fi­cult thing for me to wran­gle I think I was sub­con­scious­ly look­ing for a way to rec­on­cile my lack of time with my desire to be more pro­lif­ic.  I’m still strug­gling with that one but one thing’s for cer­tain, if you want to pro­duce, you just have to do it.

Apart from the issue of time man­age­ment, I didn’t have much of a plan as regards what I’d talk about here, which quite frankly was very much counter to my goal.

Over the past year I’ve read many posts about cre­at­ing a unique author brand. I don’t think that I’ve done that suc­cess­ful­ly as regards this blog.  I blog about the things I like, an eclec­tic mish­mosh of “stuff”, for lack of a bet­ter word.  For many rea­sons I’ve pur­pose­ly stayed away from more chal­leng­ing con­tro­ver­sial top­ics.  I either feel under informed, unqual­i­fied, or quite hon­est­ly afraid to engage in these chal­leng­ing dis­cus­sions out of fear of alien­at­ing read­ers but as I have so few, (haha­ha­ha) it’s pret­ty much a moot point.

Keep­ing with the idea of a theme I’ve decid­ed to choose anoth­er top­ic to give spe­cial focus this com­ing year.  I’ve been giv­ing this con­sid­er­able thought this past month and have decid­ed on crit­i­cal analysis/reviews of SFF books writ­ten by women.  This will cer­tain­ly not be to the exclu­sion of oth­er post ideas and I hope will be inter­est­ing for read­ers as well as a learn­ing expe­ri­ence for me.  I nev­er feel as if I am well read enough.  I plan to read and lis­ten to books.  The first review will be of Bujold’s Free Falling which is already quite inter­est­ing.  I plan to read more by Bujold, in addi­tion to Leguin, But­ler, Zim­mer Bradley, and McCaf­frey among oth­ers.  If any­one has sug­ges­tions of authors I should check out, fire away.

Honor

Hon­or

I’d hoped to have com­plet­ed the out­line of Honor&Truth by June, but that didn’t hap­pen.  Then I got caught up work­ing on my anthol­o­gy sto­ries, hit a writ­ing slump that seems to hap­pen to me every year around Sep­tem­ber, got dis­tract­ed with chil­dren, life, work (which has been a beast!), the inter­net and attempts to pro­mote An Unpro­duc­tive Woman.  So, my efforts are renewed and I’m back at it.

Honor&Truth is a ser­i­al nov­el blog that I worked on for about a year and a half.  I final­ly stopped more than thir­ty chap­ters in.  I didn’t want to but felt com­pelled as I’d nev­er so much as out­lined a sin­gle chap­ter and my sto­ry, writ­ten by the skin of my teeth and post­ed every two weeks, had so many plot holes I couldn’t keep up with them.  I stopped the blog in order to regroup, merge H&T with anoth­er sto­ry that kept spin­ning in my head, and begin a seri­ous rewrite.  Months have passed and on that account, I’ve failed.  For­tu­nate­ly, I love the sto­ry and the char­ac­ters enough to keep press­ing.  And even bet­ter and heart­en­ing, the char­ac­ters Bilqis, Hon­or, Aram­inta (Old Moth­er), Siti and many of the oth­ers talk to me every­day.  Loud­ly.

Honor&Truth has a new name.  As Truth does not exist in the cur­rent out­line, it wouldn’t make much sense.  As it stands the sto­ry of Hon­or exists as the sec­ond tale in the Hin­ter­land Chron­i­cles.  But don’t hold me to it.  As I am still in the out­lin­ing phase, this could still change.

I’ve been nom­i­nat­ed for a few blog awards, the last and most impor­tant of which is the Blog of the Year Award.  This hon­or was con­veyed upon me by Matt Williams, to whom I am grate­ful.  A com­plete post about is soon to come.

My great­est work for this com­ing year will be con­tin­ued sim­pli­fi­ca­tion.  In oth­er words, wean­ing out the unnec­es­sary to replace with what I val­ue.  I val­ue my rela­tion­ship with God, my fam­i­ly, my writ­ing, and my health.  So this com­ing year will include renewed efforts to cre­ate peace and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty with regard to those things I deem as most impor­tant to me.  Why is life such hard work?  For­get I asked that.

What have you accom­plished this past year?  Toot your horn!  Tell me about your suc­cess­es and fail­ures.  Tell me what you have planned for 2013.