Saturday, June 29, 2013

By Its Cover: The Laramie Project

I hadn't scrutinized this cover very carefully before I read the play. If you had asked me, while I was reading it, what the cover looked like (and didn't let me peek), I would have said it was blue and had white condensed text. While technically correct, that doesn't cover the meaning of the image presented on this cover.

Had I looked carefully at this image before reading it, I would have said they chose it because Matthew Shepard was found on the side of the road.

Without giving away one of the best parts of the play, I can tell you that Matthew Shepard's father made a statement at the trial of one of his son's killers. In that statement, he talks about how Matthew was not alone on the side of the road like everyone said he was. (He had his old friends of nature like the sky and wind, and God.) This image encompasses that idea quite well, and is probably the real reason it was chosen.
I think it's beautiful and pertinent, and - like the story - it is both simple and deeply complex simultaneously.
I did not have the same cover as Alex.  This is what mine looked like.
It's dull, it's boring and it has absolutely nothing to do with the text.  I'm pretty sure it's from this one company that mass produces plays (cheaply), so none of them have fancy covers.  They all look like this, but maybe with a different colored cover (I had a couple that followed this pattern in college.) 
You can tell that these books are meant to be used by actors and actresses and such to learn their lines and not meant to be the forefront to the general public (which... is fine because, honestly, I don't really think the cast NEEDS fancy covers.  They probably just want to learn their lines.)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Review Me Twice: The Laramie Project

I mentioned yesterday that one thing I like about reading this play is that it has less stage direction. The only notes I recall were about different parties going sotto voce (meaning they keep talking in the background, but very quietly so the focus is on the next person speaking), and a few mentions of important dramatic cues like lights fading on a character.

If you aren't familiar with the Matthew Shepard murder, the beginning of the book can be confusing (or a good lead-in, if you're a patient reader, dropping a few hints but saving the meat of the explanation for later). Although Matthew Shepard was attacked when Cassy and I were 11 and 12, I did remember enough to know what was going on.

I think Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project did a good job of finding (1) key players in the story (the young man who first discovered Shepard; one of the first responders; the man at the hospital who did the press releases; two very different-minded religious leaders in Laramie) and (2) representing the different viewpoints and ideas of the varied group of people who make up the town. They also, from what I can tell, did not bother Shepard's family, and made every effort to be respectful of everyone involved.

I like that the story is told in the voices of real people. It's like what Max Brooks did with World War Z, except non-fiction.

Here's the thing about plays:  They're meant to be seen.  This is probably the only time that I will recommend you go pick up a movie or go see the play as opposed to reading the actual content.

The Laramie Project is one of those plays that this rule is even more pertinent than most plays.  Most plays you have a set number of characters and so that makes it pretty easy to follow along on what's happening.  The Laramie project has a ridiculous amount of characters you need to follow, and it's incredibly easy to lose track of whose who.  When you WATCH it, however, you recognize the faces, so it's not bad at all.

After reading this play, I picked up a copy of the movie (it had Joshua Jackson in it, so auto-awesome.)  I'm glad I did, because there were a lot of powerful moments that you don't get from reading the play.

It was well written, though, and respectful to what was going on.  It also, surprisingly, didn't show off all religions as evil.  It showed both sides to religion.  The Baptist minister was a jerk, but the Catholic Priest was the best.  He held the vigil for Matthew, and was the only church leader to do so (both Baptists and Mormons opting out.)  He basically said, "It was right, and you should do what's right."

I, unlike Alex, don't remember this happening as a kid.  But you learn a lot from it.  For instance, the Angel Action started with Matthew Shepard.

Often, they come to funerals that the Westboro Baptist Church comes to (or any other protesters, but we all know WBC is the worst), and they stand in front of the protesters and block their view with giant wings so that the families can have privacy.  Romaine Patterson (a good friend of Matthew's) started it at McKinney and Henderson's trial.  (On a side note, here's a list of awesome ways people (peacefully) protest the Westboro Baptist Church, many of these things stemming from the Angel Action.  If you look close, there's even a sign that says "Hate is not a Syracuse Value" which was on a sign in Laramie.)

It's a good play, but you should really WATCH it, rather than read it.  And make sure you have a box of tissues when you do.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Reading Plays

Even as an English major who enjoyed reading, I had a very difficult time in the theater class I took in undergrad, where all we did was read and understand plays. The main problem was that I didn't find the selected plays particularly interesting (Ubu Roi? Seriously?) but many students also found it difficult because plays are different from novels.

One big difference is that the majority of a play is conveyed in dialogue. I'm sure there are novels out there that attempt this, but the vast majority do not.
Personally, I find this difficult because I tend to skip over reading who is talking. You can usually understand, based on context, who is talking, because there typically aren't a lot of characters sharing the stage. But when there are, or voiceovers get involved, it can get confusing if you don't actually hear the different voices speaking.

Stage Direction
Usually, if a play has been republished to be read by the average reader, a lot of this is removed. The technical terms might be omitted or "translated," and much of the emotional, directional, and positional instruction is reduced to a line or two here and there. But it's still important to keep track of it, because you don't have a narrator telling you, "He approached her from behind, startling her." He just shows up and starts talking, and you're left to understand why she was startled.

Exposition is Presented Differently
In a novel, the narrator can spend chapters explaining who this character is, how he's related to the others, what his personality is like and what his motivations for his actions are. In a play, the character just shows up and you have to figure all this out for yourself based on what he and other characters say and do. For some, this is easier to follow; for others, it's more difficult. It is harder to write, though, because a novelist can write, "He always wanted to open a restaurant." A playwright shouldn't have the character tell all his friends/family, "I've always wanted to open a restaurant" because they should already know this about him. Maybe a monologue is in order in this particular situation, but that can still come across as patronizing to the audience. It has to be worked in smoothly.

Visual Cues Aren't... Visual
Plays are meant to be seen and heard and experienced in person. Sure, you can read a stage direction like "she flies into the air mysteriously" but it doesn't have the same impact as watching an actress mysteriously float upward. The page might tell you that a man is dressed to the nines and has a pompous swagger, but without watching him do it, your brain is entrusted to remember that character trait every time you read his parts. A novel can remind you over and over again: "He swaggered into the room like he owned the place and said..." "Displaying his typical holier-than-thou demeanor, he..." "She detested his excessive show of wealth but she couldn't deny that under that egotistical outer shell, he must..." Plays don't do this for you, unless you're watching them.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Favorite Play

I know, it's the favorite play of everyone and their cat right now, but I love this play. It's beautiful, it's moving, the songs stick in your head like cement... I love everything about it. I first fell in love with it when I saw it performed by a local high school. I have never been more impressed with a theatrical production (and I've seen shows on Broadway). It was incredible.

And I can't name another play that I would be willing to sit and watch if all the characters were standing still at microphones the entire time. (If you're confused, no, most presentations don't do that. But I have watched the one where they did that and it was still amazing.)

The book, on the other hand... let's just say my goal is to finish it before I die, and I don't think I'll make it. To be fair, I am trying to read it in French, which makes it a bit more difficult, but come on, M. Hugo... we really don't need that detailed a description of the layout of the home of the abbe. If you jump into that book expecting to hear about Jean Valjean and how he's inmate 24601 right off the bat, you will be disappointed. You have to get through endless pages about someone barely related to the story told in the play. Be ready for that.

There are just... so many plays that I like.  Rent is unmistakably wonderful and the music is beautiful.  I saw Hello, Dolly in High School and made me irrevocably fall in love with it and its wit and humor.  But, in all the years I've been going to see plays, there is one that never ceases to capture my heart.

I first saw Proof when I was in college, and it was wonderfully done.  They only had a one room set, but the actors were amazing and the play was right up in your face.  It was a very intimate setting, enough that you felt like you were IN the play.

It's told in a series of flashbacks.  The play starts with Catherine talking to her father, only to find that she's talking to his ghost.  We continually see flash backs to her father's life.  He was a mathematical genius, but one who eventually went crazy.  She's afraid that she's inherited not only his genius  but also his crazy.

There is this one, powerful, amazing moment when we think that her father has gotten his smarts back, his sanity, his life, only to see it come crashing down in an instant.  It was that moment that made me love the play, that wonderful, heartbreaking moment.

If you get a chance to see it, I highly recommend it.  Also, see the PLAY not the movie.  The movie doesn't do it enough justice.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Hate Crime Laws

So, originally, I was going to give you a background on Mormonism (the religion of the two boys who murdered Matt Shepard), but I realized that it might spawn the very terrible things that this play rallies against. 
So instead, I'm going to talk about the good things that came out of this tragedy: Hate Crime Laws.

When Matthew Shepard was killed (due to his sexual orientation), his murderers couldn't be tried for hate crimes.  Mainly because Wyoming didn't have any hate crime laws, and the federal hate crime laws didn't included sexual orientation.

I wasn't really sure if we'd seen a picture of him yet. 
But I liked this one, with him smiling.

It was a rough road from there on out for what has become known as the "Matt Shepard Act."  Wyoming, inevitably, didn't pass any hate crime laws, but they were split exactly even when one was proposed.  During Bill Clinton's presidency, an amendment was proposed to extend hate crime laws to include violent acts against homosexuals, woman and persons with disabilities.  Despite Clinton being in favor of it, the bill could not get past the House of Representatives.

The "Matt Shepard Act" was officially drafted and introduced in 2007.  It passed in both the House and the Senate, but President Bush said that he would veto the act, and it lost support and steam.

It wasn't until 2009, when President Obama was in office, that the bill really took off.  Obama supported (and eventually approved) the law and both the House and the Senate approved it with large margins.  Obama signed the bill on October 28, 2009, over ten years after the death of Matt Shepard.

The law now protects people attacked for race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability, amended from the original 1969 law.  This is the first law that protects the rights of Transgenders.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Author Bio: Moises Kaufman

This week, we'll be reviewing The Laramie Project, a play about the murder of Matthew Shepard, created by Moises Kaufman and the members of Tectonic Theater Project.

Kaufman, after deciding that he wanted to work on a project about the Shepard murder, presented the idea to his theater group. They all went to Laramie, Wyoming to interview everyone they could. Those interviews became The Laramie Project; Kaufman used the words of Laramie residents themselves to represent the town and the events surrounding Matthew Shepard.

For those of you who don't remember, in 1998, two young men picked up 21-year-old University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in a bar, drove him out into the country, and beat him severely, leaving him to die. Shepard was found, taken to the hospital and died a few days later. The attack sparked national debate about hate crime laws, because Shepard was gay.

Kaufman also write Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde and 33 Variations, about a musicologist's investigation into Beethoven's decision to compose 33 variations of a basic musical theme.

The Laramie Project opened in Denver, then moved to New York, and was brought to Laramie in November 2000 (shortly after the two-year anniversary of Shepard's death). It was adapted to a film directed by Kaufman in 2002.


His theater group, Tectonic Theater Project, has a website you can check out here, and you can find them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

By Its Cover: World War Z

The book cover (on the left) does its job beautifully. It tells you the title (and subtitle) clearly, and gives you a feel for the tone of the story (a little scary, a little suspenseful, and full to the brim with zombies, as evidenced by the splatter, obviously).

The movie poster (right) focuses on the typical "one man against the world" feel you usually get with zombie movies, which is the exact opposite of what World War Z is. The book is a conglomeration of stories from very different people from around the world. It is not the harrowing tale of one American man kicking undead ass (note the gun strapped to him and his super serious expression, like he's thinking "I must save literally everyone").

I'm with Alex on the book/movie analysis.  There's a reason that no single person is featured on the cover: it wasn't about one person.  It was a book about how people came together, how they beat the seemingly impossible odds.

The movie is about Brad Pitt being pretty, let's not lie to ourselves.  And it's very obvious that this movie is going to be all about him.  Once again it proves the point that the book is always better.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Review Me Twice: World War Z

I said on Wednesday that this is actually my favorite zombie book, so you can probably guess that I have lots of good things to say about it.

The main character is actually quite silent, providing only brief commentary on the stories of others, the people he interviews by travelling around the world during and after the zombie apocalypse. This gives you the medical, military, and assorted civilian perspectives on the events, which is something most zombie stories either give up on (you can't tell everyone's story) or attempt and fail. Brooks did what I think is a great job with this.

Beyond that, the writing is just exceptional. Yes: exceptional. I especially admire the way Brooks can switch voices; his military characters sound military, his doctors sound like doctors, his average Joe from Wenatchee, WA sounds like an average Joe from Wenatchee, WA.

I am expecting to be disappointed by the movie, because - from what I see in the trailers - it doesn't look like the separate voices are kept intact. It looks like Brad Pitt runs around saving everyone else by being pretty and American. I could be wrong, though, and I hope I am. I understand that Brooks worked on the screenplay, and while I don't think that helped in Suzanne Collins' case, maybe this will turn out better.

I really enjoyed this book, but it took a little while to get into.  It starts out pretty slow, and it's told from a hindsight perspective.  Everything has happened, the threat is just about over and mankind is starting to recover.

But, even though it starts slow, I think it's done really well.  There are some heartbreaking stories and some incredibly inspiring ones.  What I think Brooks does the best, is making me believe that it all happened.  He does an amazing job making it seem like this Zombie war actually happened, that mankind really put everything aside and fought the war together, because they had to, because they had no other choice.

Probably my favorite story was a woman who was dropped into a danger zone and had to hit a rendezvous point, all by herself in an infested area.  However, she picked up a woman at an outpost on her radio.  The woman over the radio guided her, kept her steady, kept her sane.

It's only at the end of the chapter we find that the woman at the outpost didn't exist.  Or, at least her existence is very ambiguous.

I'm with Alex about the movie.  It looks like it's going to be taking place in real time as opposed to flash backs, which doesn't give me high hopes for the movie, but I guess we'll see.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Zombies in Real Life

No, I'm not going to try to convince you that the zombies we know and love from fiction are actually roaming around the earth trying to eat our brains. I'm going to tell you about real-life phenomena that have had the "zombie" label attached to them.

Boko and his zonbi
Zonbi (1939) by Wilson Bigaud, Haitian artist
Haiti and voodoo. The idea of - and name for - zombies originated from Haitian Creole. According to West African Vodou, the dead can be reanimated by a bokor (sorcerer), and then the bokor controls them because they have no will of their own. According to these same legends, part of the zombie's soul (the zombie astral) is kept in a bottle to help the bokor control the zombie, but eventually, God will reclaim the zombie's soul. (Also useful to know: feeding a zombie salt sends it back to the grave.) This is the origin of the voodoo zombies in Haiti, where most claims of zombies are induced by psychoactive drugs. It is said that Haitians don't fear zombies; they fear being turned into zombies.

Zombie computers. Not to be confused with the Irish electro band Zombie Computer, these are computers that are connected to the internet but have been hacked and can be used to perform malicious acts like spamming, hosting phishing attacks, click fraud, and DoS attacks. Usually, the computer's user is unaware of any nefarious goings-on, which makes "zombie computer" a fitting name for this situation. This is becoming a problem for smart phones too, making zombie phones a thing.

Zombie banks. These aren't nearly as fun or interesting as they sound. They're just banks that have an economic net worth under zero, but can stay open because of government credit support helping them to repay their debts. The same can be said of zombie companies in similar situations.

Zombie fungus and zombie ants. Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is a parasitic fungus that alters the behavior of ants (specifically the Camponotus leonardi ant, but it will settle for similar ants in a pinch). An ant falls from its home in a tree, climbs up the stem of a plant, grabs the leaf, and dies. Then the fungus can eat its insides and eventually grow outside of it (see above) where it can release its spores and infect new ants. It's all about proliferation.

Zombie fly. Speaking of insects and parasites, this is the zombie fly. Not the big one, that's the zombie fly's target. The little one on its back. That's Apocephalus borealis, a parasitic fly that has a fondness for bees and wasps (which, after attacked, are appropriately called zombees, because science is not opposed to the occasional pun). Female zombie flies lay their eggs inside the bee/wasp host, and as the larvae grow over the following week or so, they attack the "zombee" brains and cause them to wander in circles and be generally disoriented. When the zombee dies, the baby phorid flies (or zombie flies) emerge and go on to attack some bees of their own.

For other types of naturally-occuring parasitic-type real-life "zombies," you should go read Peeps by Scott Westerfeld. Seriously, it alternates between awesome biology lesson chapters and narrative fictional chapters. It's amazing.

Thank you, Dinosaur Comics.
Philosophical zombies. As the T. Rex from Dinosaur Comics succinctly discussed above, philosophical zombies are a theoretically possible type of person who, while behaving completely like a normal person, are actually lacking sentience (ability to feel and perceive; consciousness or subjectivity) and qualia (individual instances of subjective and conscious experience). Since we can't literally get inside anyone else's head, this is only theoretical, because there would be no way of knowing if any other person is a philosophical zombie. It's more of a thought experiment thing (like most of philosophy is).

Zombie cocktails. These are just delicious; not scary or gross or anything... just yummy. The idea is that if you drink too many of them, you turn into a drooling, brainless zombie, but that's true of any drink with a high alcoholic content. Due to the popular nature of zombies (as fictional entities), there is an abundance of recipes for zombies (drinks). Usually, though, they're a lot of fruit juice and rum and some other kind of liquor. They're typically served in a zombie glass (pictured above, right).

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Favorite Zombie Story

It was hard for me to pick a favorite zombie story to talk about, because my real favorite is the book we're reviewing this week, World War Z by Max Brooks. The next one I thought of was I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, and yes, I know it's more of a vampire book (but it heavily influenced the zombie genre). So then I thought of Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, but you've already heard us both weigh in on that one.

So that leaves me with a book I haven't actually finished reading: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion. I saw the movie before I knew it was a book, and when I found out it was a book, I jumped into the library's holds queue for it. A few months later, when it finally got around to me, I didn't have time to read it all before it was due back.

But I love the writing, I love the characters, I love the story. I love that there are "levels" of zombies. And I really love that "zombie romance" is now a genre. But the thing I love most is that he's releasing a prequel called The New Hunger (and look, you can buy it here!)

In terms of zombie books, mine is actually TECHNICALLY a vampire book... but not really.

Do not let the cover fool you: This book is not about sex (at least, it won't be for another 8 books or so, but that's another matter.)  And don't like the title "Vampire Hunter" fool you either.  Yes, she is a vampire hunter.  But you know what Anita Blake is, first a foremost?  A zombie raiser.

That's right, Anita Blake raises zombies for a living.  Why, you might ask?  Because why get a judge to interpret a will when you can just raise the dead and ask them?  Vampires, zombies, lycanthropes are all known about and (generally) accepted things in this world.

As the series goes on, it gets crappy towards the latter half, but the first... oh six books or so, are great.  Probably the best zombie book of the bunch is The Laughing Corpse.

Anita is offered a lot of money to raise a really old zombie.  When someone else does it, they lose control of it, and we have a bonafide flesh eating Zombie.  

The series is good and Hamilton does a great job of creating great characters.  Just don't read past Obsidian Butterfly (#9), you'll be severely disappointed.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Zombies Through the Ages

There have been a million types of zombies portrayed in movies, books, even music.  They're all over the place.  These are just a few that have popped up over the years.

Why are they all in their underwear?  Do zombies not wear real clothes?

George A. Romero was probably the first one to throw zombies into pop culture.  Night of the Living Dead was our first glimpse at these flesh eating creatures.  They were portrayed as slow moving, brainless things.  Arms out, feet shuffling, they were portrayed as truly terrifying things, because there was no way to stop them, or reason with them or even a place to hide from them.

But even before Romero, we were seeing glimpses of corpses being reanimated.  Mary Shelley's Frankenstein definitely falls into the category of Zombie.  Sure, Frankenstein's monster is a little more articulate than your average zombie, but that doesn't change the fact that he's made of a bunch of dead parts and walking around, terrorizing people.  Shelley wasn't the only one resurrecting the dead; Tales from the Crypt came out in the 1950s (and was basically HOSTED by a zombie), H.G. Wells also wrote a zombie-esque story called Things to Come and even Richard Matheson got in on the action with I Am Legend (It's traditionally defined as a vampire novel but it's about the reanimation of dead people.)

Night of the Living Dead was quickly followed by Dawn of the Dead (which then spurred one of the first Zombie parodies, Shaun of the Dead), the second in a six movie series.  Romero used these movies as social commentary.

By the late '90s, the world was Zombie crazy.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer had an episode involving zombies, making them, essentially, like living people, just a little more gross.  28 Days Later (and then 28 Weeks Later), started a huge zombie movement in the 2000s.  They're based on the idea that Zombies are created by an viral infection, one that can spread quickly and easily (World War Z, our book this week, is also based on this idea.)

Over the years, the nature of Zombies even changed.  They went from slow moving, shuffling, mindless things, to agile, fast, vicious animals.  Zombieland shows us a Zombie that can pursue you at great speeds (Cardio! Cardio! Cardio!)

Now zombies are everywhere from our TV shows (The Walking Dead), to our books (World War Z) even our video games (Resident Evil) and our music videos (Thriller).  These days, you're much more likely to get a quick and vicious zombie (which is a more accurate portrayal of real life, voo-doo zombies) than you are a slow, shuffling one.

No matter what kind of zombies there are, just remember, dear readers, to always have a zombie plan.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Author Bio: Max Brooks

In honor of World War Z coming out, we're reviewing the book this week.  So, naturally, we're talking all about it's author today, Maximillian Michael Brooks (what a GREAT name.)

Max Brooks, for short.

Brooks is actually more diverse than we usually see in an author.  Of course, he's written World War Z (which is coming out June 21st.  I question the casting of Brad Pitt though.)  Not only did he write the book, he helped write the screenplay.  He has also been writing episodes of Saturday Night Live since about 1992 (oh, and he won an Emmy for that.  Really, how many authors can you say win an Emmy?)

Ever watch Batman Beyond as a kid?  Brooks did the voice of Howard Groote.

Remember this guy?

Brooks has really taken to the whole zombie phenomenon.  Zombie Survival Guide was his first book (which, I have at home, I just haven't read it yet).  He followed that up with a graphic novel called Zombie Survival Guide: Record Attacks.  Basically, it depicted all the coolest attacks in Zombie Survival Guide, so we get a nice, illustrated picture of all the gore.

He's basically a zombie fanatic, even forming the Zombie Research Society.  If you want to know more about Brooks, you can go to his website.

He's an incredibly diverse author and, let's face it, kind of awesome.But I guess that's to be expected when your dad is Mel Brooks.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Secret Contest Winner: 200th Comment!

You guys didn't know it, but we were running a secret contest to see who would post our 200th comment! (Bet you wish you had commented now, huh?  Maybe you should comment more, just incase we decide to do another SECRET CONTEST). Our winner was annapeg88 with this comment on our June 12 post about our favorite historical fiction:

Was The Kitchen Boy the inspiration for the Dreamworks movie "Anastasia?" Just wondering.

I also love historical fiction, so its hard to pick just one. Gregory's books are probably my favorites. Now, the question is, do you define historical fiction as fiction about a real life family/event, or fiction about a time period where the story is totally made up but details about the time period (such as clothing, language, character values etc) are based one truth? If the latter is correct then I must include Atonement and The Girl With the Pearl Earing as my other favorite books.

The prize for this contest is that annapeg88 gets to choose a book for us to review! We'll be reviewing her book of choice on August 2.

Congratulations, annapeg88!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

By Its Cover - The Queen's Fool

Of all of Gregory's covers, I think that this is the most eye catching.  It's colorful, and glitters with gold and I think is perfect for the book.  Tudor England was all about extravagance and this portrays that. (All the gold color on that dress is actually gold foil on the book.)

We assume that the girl on the cover is Hannah the Fool (or maybe Elizabeth.  The girl is wearing Tudor green), but really, there's no way to know.  I think it's just supposed to be a generic girl to show off the gowns and gold of the time.  I think it's a pretty cover on top of everything else.

Basically, I think that it fits the book well and it's eye catching.

I didn't pay much attention to the cover before I started reading, because I had to get the large print version from my library (the other was in high demand) and that has a small version of the above art on a mostly white cover.

I do think it's quite pretty, and if I were looking for a book about Tudor England, I would probably be drawn to it.

There isn't much going on, overtly, in the picture, but that would be the case with most scenes in the book, too, as with things that happened at court. Everything is covert and subtle and perfectly bland to the untrained eye. Look at the woman's posture... she could be concerned for her safety, anticipating the arrival of someone she either does or does not want to see, waiting for someone to catch up to her... the possibilities are endless. This is a Mona Lisa situation... is she smiling or isn't she? It's up to you, the audience.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Review Me Twice - The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory

I came upon Gregory's books in high school.  This very book, in fact.  I wanted to read it so badly that a friend and I went halfsies on a copy and then traded off reading it.

So, my opinion of this book might be a little tainted because, well, I love Tudor England.  And it has to be a REALLY terrible book for me to not like it, even a little.

And Gregory does a better job than most. By using Hannah as our protagonist, we get to see things from an outside view.  She was a person who loved both Mary and Elizabeth equally, because they were both great women in their own right, which sometimes gets lost when reading about history.  (A lot of times, Mary gets painted as the nasty, old queen who hated everyone.)

I also like that you didn't get JUST Tudor England history in this book.  You got a lot of Spanish history too, mainly because Hannah had spent her life running from the inquisition.

I admit, there are probably parts where it's a little corny, but I can forgive that.  The writing is well done, Gregory has really done her research and it's just an enjoyable read.

My Bottom Line 5 out of 5

For all that Cassy (and others) praised this book, I couldn't help but shake the feeling that it was going to be long-winded and dry and all about the appalling intrigue found at court. Well, there is a lot about the English court, but the other parts weren't true. It's a fun and easy read, and there is enough going on to keep you interested, but not so much that you get confused.

Sometimes I'm not entirely sure about the character of Hannah. She waffles on things (I don't ever want a husband, but I love this guy, but I'm not ready to be a wife, but this guy isn't so bad, but...) but I think that's a fair reflection of a teenage girl's mind, so I can believe it was by design, not bad writing.

I really enjoyed this book, even though I thought it would fall more along the lines of "okay."

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Historical Fiction / Alternate History

Historical fiction is a great combination of history and fiction. The author uses history as inspiration, and fills in the gaps and details with fiction (aka made-up stuff).

Historical fiction must follow three basic rules, and authors of historical fiction are expected to do thorough research in order to follow them:

Plausibility. While you're reading the story, you should believe that it could have actually happened that way. Historical fiction is not the place for King James to traverse the Atlantic on the back of a Kraken to feed the starving colonists because he psychically connected with one of them during a dream.

Authentic setting & characters. This ties closely to plausibility. If you're inventing characters and dropping them into history, they need to fit in, to a certain degree. You don't put Cleopatra in a discotheque, or Disco Stu in 14th century Parliament, if you're writing historical fiction.

Accurate timeline. Historical fiction authors aren't The Doctor. They have to follow events as they happened in history (with a little wiggle room for artistic license). Historical fiction doesn't allow the Titanic to sink in the 1930s or for the Conestoga wagon to be invented fifty years early.

So, what if you want to break the rules (like this bad-ass bird)? Then you can write alternate history. That's historical fiction that breaks the above rules. You want Hitler to have a pet dilophosaurus that ultimately turns on him and eats his face? Alternate history. Your pierced, tattooed, punk-rock chick pops up in antebellum Georgia to kick slaveowner butt? Alternate history. John Lennon becomes president of the USA (somehow)? Alternate history.


The existence of time travel as a plot device makes alternate history easier for some authors. If you have a time machine, you can go back and change something that we know to have happened, thus allowing you to change whatever stemmed from that now-changed event. Sometimes, alternate history uses the "many-worlds" theory to explain its existence. Sure, in your world, Atlantis disappeared, but in this world, it never disappeared. But it isn't necessary to embrace the many-worlds theory or the existence of time travel or any other devices. Lots of alternate history authors just make their audience suck it up and deal with the fact that this history is different from the one you know.

To recap: Historical fiction is more history, while alternate history is more fiction.


Historical Fiction: could be true, like The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, and I, Claudius by Robert Graves.


Alternate History: all the artistic license you want, like the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld (where "Darwinist" beasties and "Clanker" mecha assist the two sides of WWI), The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (where Germany and Japan won WWII), or Making History by Stephen Fry (where a time machine exists and Hitler was never born).