Στη σκιά του Αόρατου Βασιλιά

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«Στη σκιά του Αόρατου Βασιλιά»

Κείμενο: Ιονάς Κυρατζής
Εικονογράφηση: Βερένα Κυρατζή
Κατηγορία: Εικονογραφημένη παιδική λογοτεχνία

Μερικά βιβλία δεν είναι μονάχα ιστορίες, είναι ολόκληροι κόσμοι. Τα ανοίγεις και ταξιδεύεις. Το βιβλίο που κρατάς στα χέρια σου θα σε μεταφέρει σε δύο πολύ μακρινές χώρες, όπου θα γνωρίσεις περίεργα και όμορφα πλάσματα με ανθρώπινα ιδανικά. Για παρέα θα ’χεις μια πανέξυπνη γάτα που τη λένε Ελένη. Μαζί της θα δεις αρχαίες πόλεις και τον μεγαλύτερο πλάτανο του κόσμου, θα μάθεις για τον Πόλεμο των Κουνουπιών και ίσως ανακαλύψεις το μυστικό του Αόρατου Βασιλιά.

Μόλις κυκλοφόρησε!

(Our first children’s book is now in bookshops in Greece. This is so awesome, words fail me.)

2012 Reading List

Now in chronological order:

Trumps of Doom – Roger ZelaznyLots of Books
Blood of Amber – Roger Zelazny
Sign of Chaos – Roger Zelazny
Knight of Shadows – Roger Zelazny
Prince of Chaos – Roger Zelazny
The Last Light of the Sun – Guy Gavriel Kay
Look to Windward – Iain M. Banks
Here Comes Trouble – Michael Moore
The High King’s Tomb – Kristen Britain
22-11-63 – Stephen King
Trujillo – Lucius Shepard
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – John Berendt
The Fear Index – Robert Harris
Solar – Ian McEwan
Matter – Iain M. Banks
Blonde Bombshell – Tom Holt
The Cold Moon – Jeffrey Deaver
A Bend in the Road – Nicholas Sparks
The Shadow of the Torturer – Gene Wolfe
The Claw of the Conciliator – Gene Wolfe
The Sword of the Lictor – Gene Wolfe
The Citadel of the Autarch – Gene Wolfe
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
Iron Council – China Miéville
One of our Thursdays is Missing – Jasper Fforde
A Son of the Circus – John Irving
The Mist – Stephen King
The State of the Art – Iain M. Banks
Blaze – Richard Bachman
Alex & Me – Irene M. Pepperberg
The Coma – Alex Garland
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
The Caves of Steel – Isaac Asimov
The Man Who Was Thursday – G. K. Chesterton
Raw Spirit – Iain Banks

2012 was a highly varied reading year. As always I’m far below the number of books that I wanted to read, but I guess the times when I was an unmarried, jobless, friendless, carefree gal of 15 who didn’t generally bother with homework won’t be coming back. Good riddance, I say. If I had to pick my favourite book of the year I would have to say Look to Windward by the always amazing Iain M. Banks, with The Coma by Alex Garland a close second.

Worst book of the year is a little harder to pick. The competition is so thick that you could cut it with a chainsaw… and probably should. I guess I should nominate A Son of the Circus by John Irving, just because everyone keeps carrying on about how bloody brilliant his books are. Well, they aren’t, at least not all of them. Second place is a tie between Nicky Sparks and Jeff Deaver for brain-numbing, cliché-laden awfulness and abuse of the English language in general. And Kristen Britain… well… is Kristen Britain. See my review of First Rider’s Call for more details.

I also had a few firsts, authors which I’d been meaning to read since forever but never got around to, and those were one and all delightful. Chesterton, Zelazny, Wolfe, Chandler, Miéville and (I am ashamed to say) that giant of both fiction and non-fiction, Asimov, are all worth a read. Not a single turd there.

For now I’m still in the middle of Raw Spirit by Iain Banks, which I am enjoying way too much to be envious of someone who got paid to taste all of Scotland’s great single malt whiskies. Okay, maybe a little. But it’s a really great read. And I shall use it to bolster my next reading list – after all, I can legitimately claim that I read it in 2012 and 2013.

No Bears But Lots of Beaver

So I’m reading A Son of the Circus by John Irving right now. I used to love Irving, but as I grow older (and have more Irving reading experience) my opinion of his books has shifted from “wow, this is some crazy imaginative shit” to “oh bother… another story about bears, midgets, rape and weird sexual disorders.” Irving is the Joseph Beuys of the writing world, and his fat and honey are bears and prostitutes. I suspect a lot of people feel that way. The rest probably haven’t been paying attention.

I have, at this point, read 30 pages of A Son of the Circus, and although the story hasn’t even properly begun yet, the book is already worthy of review.

The circus referred to in the title is an Indian circus, so this book’s ursine content is probably relatively low. As a matter of fact that’s the reason why I chose this novel over the other Irvings that are still loitering in our bookshelf, a low bear quota is always a plus. It’s got midgets, though. Let’s see how Irving will manage to annoy me with those.

For now I have two other bones to pick with this novel. One of them, the smaller bone, is that the book is set in India (a country in which Irving has spent under a month in his entire life) and has an Indian protagonist who was schooled in Austria (another Irving favourite) and lives in Canada. And like all good transcultural protagonists he’s uncomfortable in Canada, feels alienated in India, and is generally at odds with where he belongs and who he is. And while I’m sure that there are plenty of similar people out there, people who for one reason or another have left their country of origin and now have trouble settling down and adjusting to a foreign culture, I think that this has become such a cliché of modern writing that it should be outlawed. Ask anyone who’s studied English Lit with a focus on transcultural studies. If they’re clever they’ll tell you that you can’t poke a stick at a writers’ conference without hitting someone who’s written extensively and stereotypically about this subject. If they’re less clever they’ll tell you that Mr. Irving is writing the shocking truth about these poor, uprooted people.

But that’s a minor complaint. Here’s the bigger one:

The 30 pages of A Son of the Circus that I’ve read make up three chapters. The first one concerns itself with how wonderfully quirky and eccentric (with just the right dash of melancholic) our protagonist, Dr. Farrokh Daruwalla, is. And that’s okay. The second one briefly tells the story of Farrokh’s best friend, a dwarf, and how they met. Then, somewhat less briefly, it relates the story of how Farrokh once broke his nose on his best friend’s wife’s vagina while in a trapeze safety net. See what’s wrong with that? A lot, seems to be what comes to mind. And it gets better. Chapter three is all about Farrokh being at a private golf club and contemplating an image of the founder’s wife, Mrs. Duckworth. Mrs. D., now long deceased, apparently had a slight problem with exhibitionism. And Farrokh, his imagination now sufficiently fueled by this titillating bit of information, spends about five pages musing about the feel, bounciness and general aerodynamics of Mrs. Duckworth’s breasts. Now… see what’s wrong with that?

I’ll tell you. Why, for the love of all that’s good, do modern writers need to obsess about sex like that? I’m not a prude, really, but I find this fixation somewhat disturbing. What happened to good old “plot”? Rhetorical question, I fear. Plot’s out of fashion, because plot means talking about the world, and civilisation, and meaning. Maybe even politics (gasp!). So instead sex has become the written equivalent of what in theatre is “naked man and a projection”. It’s what once was new and daring, something to shock the elderly out of their stupor, and what’s now so commonplace that it has become the new establishment. Absurdly, sex has become safe, and plot has become something uncomfortable. This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this, Solar by Ian McEwan had similar problems, but this morning while talking to Jonas I suddenly happened across the explanation. And I was astounded. It’s nothing but fear of plot. A story allergy. A postmodern disease, if you will. It permeates modern literature and sucks all meaning out of novels. I wonder what Freud would make of this.

Now, I’m not saying that A Son of the Circus isn’t still going to get around to having a little bit of plot, if there’s time between Farrokh thinking randy thoughts and all the embarrassing accidents that are bound to ensue, but I still think the absolute vacuum of meaning generated by these opening chapters is worth noting. I’ll continue reading, if only because I hate not finishing a book. Check back in a week or so to see how it went.

Accidental Intertexuality

As the old saying goes: “When in Greece, read lot of books.” (It might not be an actual saying, but I still think it’s the way to go.)

On our two-week holiday I managed to read a staggering seven books. Which really isn’t too shabby, if you ask me. Also something rather amusing happened while I was reading, which is the main reason why I’ll give you five of them in one single humongous monster review.

The one I started off with was Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt. I assume many of you know the movie that was based on this book, but Iet me say a few words about the content anyway. For one thing, this is a narrative non-fiction book, not a crime novel, as many of you might think. While it somewhat centers around the murder of Danny Hansford by eccentric antiques dealer/millionaire Jim Williams and the subsequent trial, it is just as much about the city of Savannah and many of its more peculiar inhabitants. While I enjoyed the story of Williams, who is sad and inscrutable in equal measure, I was looking forward to the other characters just as much. The citizens of Savannah, at least those that Berendt chooses to write about, are one and all fantastically peculiar. It is mesmerizing, though admittedly in some cases more like watching a train wreck than like anything else. There’s the guy who supposedly possesses enough poison to kill the entire city, the society lady that hasn’t left her bed in years… and the Lady Chablis. Oh, and what a character the Lady Chablis is. She is easily the best thing about the book, and while I am willing to believe that some of the anecdotes in the book might have been altered to suit the author’s needs, I believe every word that is written about her. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I mean, for Chablis plays herself and she is, as Chablis would say, fabulous. All in all I highly recommend the book. It paints a vivid and lively picture of Savannah and all the strange creatures that reside within, and it manages the all-too-rare feat of being suddenly, genuinely touching when you least expect it.

Next up was The Fear Index, by Robert Harris. Let me say, on an unrelated note, that I love Robert Harris. The man has written three wonderful novels set in Ancient Rome, books which I wholeheartedly recommend both for their engaging stories and their factual accuracy (Ancient Rome being a subject about which I know a thing or two). He’s also a delight to listen to, as we found out the other month, when we accidentally stumbled upon a reading of his at our local bookstore. Now, if you think that this gushing praise of Harris is the lead-up to tearing his latest book into shreds, I’ll have to disappoint you. The Fear Index is a book about the current economic crisis. It is a book about capitlism, and not a positive one at that. (Most chapters open up with quotes from Darwin’s Origin of Species, which I found extra creepy as I was once forced to sit through an exceptionally misguided student presentation that tried to link the one to the other.) It is also the story of a physicist, Dr. Alex Hoffman, and of the hedge fund that he has created. The novel opens up with a quote from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: “Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge.” The quote is fitting and not accidental, because The Fear Index explores themes of creation and responsibility. I forgive you if you now think that this is a book about an evil AI gone rogue, I had similar misgivings at one point or another, but let me assure you that it isn’t that simple at all. And I think this is where I should stop, lest I give away too much about the plot.

Thirdly (and this is where the funny bit starts) I read Solar, by Ian McEwan. Now, in all fairness this one should get a proper review of its own, because it was maybe not the most stupid, but the most intellectually offensive book that I read on this holiday. I’ll try to be brief. Solar is the story of Michael Beard, a Nobel-Prize-winning scientist past his prime (both physically and in the field of physics). Beard is, easily, the most dislikable character I’ve ever read about. He’s a womanizer, an egoist, lazy, arrogant and delusional. I could go on for a while, but I fear that all you will say is “duh, it’s a satire, of course he’s dislikable.” And yes, of course this is a work of fiction, and of comic fiction at that. Who’s to say that the dislikable prick can’t be the one who saves the world from global warming? And yet, and yet… it leaves a sour aftertaste. McEwan makes Beard so incompetent, so gross, that it seems like anything he touches is, by association, vile. Our protagonist treats his science like he treats his women: with studied, opportunistic contempt. I would have to re-read the book and write a far more detailed analysis to bring forth more satisfactory arguments than these, but all in all Solar seemed to ridicule climate change more than it warned of its dangers. That, on top of the unfair (and not to mention highly ironic) jabs at the futility of art in the face of such a calamity and the ham-handed attempts at taking on feminism (which backfire mightily and for all the wrong reasons in my opinion), makes for an unsatisfactory reading adventure. Or maybe I just don’t enjoy grossness as much as I should.

Oh yes, the funny, I almost forgot. At one point in Solar the protagonist, Michael Beard, is at a party. And, while sipping a glass of Chablis, he idly quotes Darwin’s Origin of the Species to impress some poor female or other. And I thought, what a funny coincidence… and the protagonist is a physicist too… weirder and weirder.

Book the fourth: Blonde Bombshell, by Tom Holt. I have some authors, Tom Holt among them, that I read primarily out of some sense of obligation to my younger self. Piers Anthony, Anne McCaffrey, Terry Goodkind, all these I am still reading because I stumbled upon them when I was fourteen and had no critical faculties whatsoever and I feel that I somehow owe it to myself to finish what I started (and in the case of Mr. Goodkind out of some sort of political/sadomasochistic/scientific interest.) Now, of all of the above I still find Tom Holt the most entertaining to read. True, the books are, as The Independent mildly put it, “undemanding”, and if you’ve read more than five you’ll find that there are more recurring themes than is good for them, but Holt also still manages to hit home with a lot of his jokes. And if I get a few good chuckles out of what is essentially an afternoon’s worth of reading, then I’m sort of happy. Blonde Bombshell isn’t overly complicated in terms of its plot, but still not easily summarized. Let me try: A race of canine aliens send a sentient bomb to planet Earth to destroy humanity, because we’ve been driving them insane by unwittingly sending radio waves to their planet. The bomb was preceded by another bomb, which vanished without achieving its mission objective. So the Mark II, being sentient, reasons that it should maybe figure out what happened to the Mark I before it does anything rash. Meanwhile on Earth, tech genius and multimillionaire Lucy Pavlov tries to figure out why she can’t remember anything prior to two years ago… and why she’s seeing unicorns. And then there’s George Stetchkin, an alcoholic physicist (another one!) who’s recruited by Lucy to figure it all out. And yes, he drinks Chablis in one scene, but he doesn’t like it. And then there are the two weird fellows, who might or might not be secret agents, or dogs, or maybe both. And… as I said, it’s not easily summarized. If you’re looking for an easy read with a few laughs I’d recommend Blonde Bombshell. It’s no Douglas Adams (by far) and those allergic to pop culture references might find an untimely end while reading it, but it’s far from the worst book I’ve ever read. It’s not even the worst Tom Holt I’ve ever read (that dubious honour goes to A Song for Nero). It’s inoffensive and brief and not even quite as predictable as expected. And I likes me a good pop culture reference now and then, so there.

And then, after three counts of Chablis and three counts of protagonist physicists, I thought that that might be the end of weird coincidences. That’s when I realized that the last book I had picked was Matter, by Iain Banks. Which was bound to contain lots of AIs and bombs, and even bomb AIs. And it did.

The book is part of the ongoing Culture series, which is not so much a continous story as a setting. I won’t say that this is the best Culture book that I’ve read so far. I won’t even say that I particularly liked Matter. My opinion about the book is a bit of a wibbly-wobbly grey area, I’m afraid. I like the story. I adore the scientific concepts it introduces and the science-is-our-friend-attitude which permeates the Culture books in general. I like the bits that are about people from a low-tech background entering a high-tech environment. I love the drones. If you’ve read any of the other culture books you’ll now have a vague idea of what I’m talking about. If you haven’t: do. Iain Banks’ Culture is sci-fi at its best. Whenever someone tells me that the genre contains nothing more than adolescent crap, this is what I use as a counterargument. The books are mature, philosophical, pro-science and all the while still fun. So now you’re wondering why I’m wibbly-wobbly about the book, yes? It’s because of the ending. I don’t want to spoil anything, the book is still worth reading, but the ending does a few things that, in a way, seem to negate a lot of what the books says and does. And that is a shame.

So, here we are. Five books, a lot of funny coincidences. I know that if you just try hard enough you can find a pattern in just about anything, but still… creepy, no? And if nothing else, this might give you some nice ideas about what to read next.

2011 in Books

These lists seem to be getting shorter and shorter. Either I read less, or I’m running out of good books. No, wait, I remember now: the Unconsoled, that triple-damned piece of literary diarrhea by Kazuo Ishiguro, put me off reading for at least four months in early 2011. There, all his fault.

The Brooklyn Follies – Paul Auster
Excession – Iain M. Banks
The Mirror of Her Dreams – Stephen Donaldson
A Man Rides Through – Stephen Donaldson
Past Imperative – Dave Duncan
Present Tense – Dave Duncan
Future Indefinite – Dave Duncan
The Last Dragonslayer – Jasper Fforde
The Unconsoled – Kazuo Ishiguro
Sailing to Sarantium – Guy Gavriel Kay
Lord of Emperors – Guy Gavriel Kay
The Lions of Al-Rassan – Guy Gavriel Kay
Gerald’s Game – Stephen King
Misery – Stephen King
The Stand – Stephen King
A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula K. Le Guin
The Tombs of Atuan – Ursula K. Le Guin
The Farthest Shore – Ursula K. Le Guin
Tehanu – Ursula K. Le Guin
The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner – Stephenie Meyer
Snuff – Terry Pratchett
The Alphabet – David Sacks
Nine Princes in Amber – Roger Zelazny
The Guns of Avalon – Roger Zelazny
Sign of the Unicorn – Roger Zelazny
The Hand of Oberon – Roger Zelazny
The Courts of Chaos – Roger Zelazny

The Last Dragonslayer

I’ve just finished the first book of this holiday. Not written it, dear Lord, but read. Why do we need to stop the press for that? Surely people finish reading books all the time, everywhere. Yes, they do, but ever since we got a new bed and changed the bedroom layout a few months back we haven’t had a light at the bed and thus no reading in the evening for me. Which was the only time I had time for such things. And reading is ever so important to me…

To get back into the game I chose something easy: The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde. I love Fforde’s work, but only conditionally. The Thursday Next series is mostly great, although the energy seems to have gone out of it a little as it progressed. I’ve not even picked up the new instalment, which came out in the beginning of the year. The Nursery Crime novels on the other hand aren’t quite as successful. Maybe the noir meets fairy-tale approach just doesn’t work for me, I’ve had the same reaction to some of Robert Rankin’s work. As for Shades of Grey… it seems to be well-meaning and has some nice concepts, but is somehow powerless and badly paced.

But I was going to write about The Last Dragonslayer. The book tells the story of Jennifer Strange – foundling, acting manager of the Kazam Magic Management Company and soon to be the last of the Dragonslayers. She is to be the one who decides the fate of the last Dragon on earth and who of the many players in the game for his lands and power is in the right. Of course everything isn’t quite as simple as it appears to be.

The world is obviously based on modern Britain, but weird enough to be alien and never quite understood. It doesn’t reach the level of the true greats, such as Tolkien or McKillip, but one gets the sense of a vast volume of strange conventions and stranger history that lurks just beneath the pages. I like stories like that. Jennifer, who seems to have an awfully marketable name in a world where everyone else seems to be called after members of the crustacean family, is a funny and clever character. The kind of girl I would have liked to be… had I grown up in a weird alternate Britain where dragons exists, mages are primarily employed as plumbers and marzipan is the new crack.

The book’s biggest fault is its brevity, which might be connected to the age group for which it was written. Maybe I just have a lot more reading stamina than your average fourteen-year-old. I hope not. Then there is also Fforde’s tendency to include rather random pop-culture references in his works. A company called Industrial Magic comes to mind. There are others that did not bother me, although I can’t remember any of them at the moment (which is most likely because they didn’t bother me).

I recommend The Last Dragonslayer to any young, fantasy-loving readers out there. Hell, I recommend it to any old fantasy-loving readers. The book is funny and solidly written. The world is interesting and has a wealth of interesting characters (and the quarkbeast!). And the ending is genuinely touching, although I wonder how this is ever going to lead to the promised sequels. Still… the book is worth a read. Give it a go.

The Twilight Experiment: Day 11

Once more with feeling. Once more I shall be brave and take a trip deep, deep down into Stephenie Meyer’s dark mind. (Okay, dim might be a better word.) At the bottom, underneath layers of sparkly skin and perfect golden eyes, lies another horror. Do not go there, dear reader, for few return with their sanity intact. What lurks there may be short, only 178 pages, but it is far more horrible than anything you’ve encountered before. You thought Jake’s narration in Breaking Dawn was bad? Think again. Think again and see… The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner.

As some of you may already have guessed, I wasn’t very pleased with this one. The term “companion novella” should have made me cautious. Then again, were I the cautious type I probably wouldn’t have started this sorry experiment in the first place. What I am trying to say is that I believe I have, over the course of the last year, become inured to the level of writing contained within the pages of a Stephenie Meyer book – and yet it wasn’t quite enough to prepare me for what TSSLOBT had in store for me. (Also: mistrust any book where reading the title takes longer than reading the actual book.)

I don’t know if the problem was that the deadline was too tight, or that Stephenie is done writing Twilight; maybe she thought “this one’s just for fun,” or maybe it was oxygen deprivation at birth, but this book is seriously bad. Bad as in this opens up a whole new category of bad. Super-Bad, so to speak. Bad². Essence de Bad… oh, you get my drift. TSSLOBT feels unfinished, and in combination with Stephenie’s overall writing talent and style, this doesn’t make for a very good result.

The story: Bree Tanner is a three-month-old vampire, formerly a fifteen-year-old human. She’s part of Victoria’s newborn army from Eclipse (as in: the army that gets systematically dismantled and charcoaled by the Cullens at the end of the novel), so there is little doubt as to why her second life will be very short. The newborn army is currently hiding out in Seattle under the supervision of a vampire called Riley, because Victoria wants to keep her sparkly fingers clean for now. We meet Bree while she is out hunting with three other vampires, one of whom is named Diego. While the other two try to decide which comic book hero is cooler, Spider-Man or the Hulk, because Stephenie feels the need to show us that they both are really really really immature, Bree and Diego go off to hunt on their own. When they later return to the army’s hideout, they find the house burned down and abandoned. This is cause for concern, since Bree and Diego seem to believe that the whole sunlight-turns-vampires-to-crisps deal applies to their breed as well. Ditto goes for stakes and garlic. They hide in a cave and get to know each other. If you thought that sentence smelled of innuendo, you were right.

Sigh… so yes, nothing actually happens, but after two hours in a cave with Diego, Bree certainly hopes that something would happen. In the Stephenieverse girls take an average of 3.2 seconds to fall in love. In the brief moments in which they are not busy gazing dreamily at each other, our heroes also figure out that the whole sunlight/garlic/stake thing is a load of horse dung. Bravo, Diego, only took you eleven months to figure that out. That’s how old he is, by the way, in vampire terms. And before that he was a human for about eighteen years. Which would make bonking Bree illegal in a number of places. Diego’s luck holds, though, because he dies before he can do anything unlawful other than killing loads of people.

Sorry, I’ve jumped ahead a little. After Bree and Diego discover that they can go outside during the day without turning into sparkly lumps of coal, they go in search of the rest of the army. They find them and discuss whether or not they should tell anyone about their amazing discovery. Yes, is their conclusion, but we’ll only tell Riley for now. Maybe it’s an honest misunderstanding. Hell, the poor man might not even know. Bree is not so certain that Riley is such a good guy, but Diego insists and continues to insist on that even after he and Bree overhear a conversation between Riley and Victoria in which they blatantly describe the army as a collection of idiots designated to be cannon fodder very soon. (That conversation gives me a headache when I try to think about the logic of it all… but more later).

They hear and they ponder and think, but hey, he’s the good guy, right? So Diego tells Riley about the sunlight, alone, and as a result suffers a slight case of death. Bree, for reasons known only to Stephenie herself, doesn’t think much of it when Diego doesn’t return, and happily goes along with her orders. The army gets trained a little, they kill enough humans to depopulate as small country, and off they go to get slaughtered by the Cullens, Bree among them. She survives, or rather surrenders to our favourite veggie-vamps, only to get killed by the Volturi a few pages later. But that’s okay, really, because Diego is dead too and now they can be together… in hell.

So, now for the fun part. The three principal characters in this book are Bree, Diego and a vampire named Freaky Fred.

Diego is easy. He’s your typical Adonis look-alike vampire. Not too bright, except where his sparkly skin is concerned, but who’s counting brain cells when a pretty face is involved? My favourite Diego scene is the one in which he tests out his theory about stakes not being quite as lethal as they are made out to be by ramming one into his chest. I applaud his application of the scientific method… but his survival instinct seems to be on holiday throughout the book.

Then there’s Bree, our narrator. One thing that I forgot to stress when I was writing my review of Jacob’s narration in Breaking Dawn is that Stephenie seems to be intent on making a character’s age apparent through his inner voice. Jake is a kid to her and so is Bree, and I get the idea that she thinks teenagers cannot or shouldn’t be clever or eloquent. This doesn’t make the book any easier to read.

Bree is also really thick. I guess that is why she falls for Diego in the first place: perfect match and all that. This way their singular brain cells will be less lonely (they just need to hold their heads really close together). Bree has several good hunches about just how nice Riley really is and just how true all the things are that he is telling them about the Cullens and their place in the world. And what does she do about it? Diddly-squat, that’s what. The whole thing finds its culmination when Diego doesn’t return from his heart-to-heart with Riley. She, already suspecting Riley of being a bad bad vampire, ask him what happened to Diego. Diego? says Riley. Ah… yes. Diego. He’s… over there somewhere. Scouting… yes, that’s it. He’s scouting. He’ll be back, honest. And he’s fine, not dead at all. And Bree is happy and content and marches off to meet the Cullens. Cause there’s nothing suspicious going on here at all, right?

Then there’s Freaky Fred. I haven’t mentioned him so far because he doesn’t really play much of a part in the novel. He’s one of them special vampires, the ones that can do fancy magic and stuff. His magic is to make people feel sick when they look at him. He’s got a weak spot for Bree, so he makes people feel sick looking at her once or twice too when she needs it. He’s also the only one of the sorry lot that gets away in the end. As Bree notes in one instance, Fred is a real clever one, must have been to university or somethin’ like that. So he sees right through Riley’s clever subterfuge and in the end slips away before the big slaughterfest. He also, apparently, thinks about telling Bree about his theories. Bree, who is already suspecting things, only to always discard her worries as silly suspicions. One would think that some extra input from someone educated might be of help. The only trouble is that Fred is apparently content to look at her as if he wanted to tell her something important and then never opens his bloody educated gob. I didn’t notice at first, but that’s really what happens. He just looks like he’s got oral constipation and then never says anything. This happens at least a dozen times in the book. That’s once every fourteen pages. Stephenie’s version of “being subtle,” I assume.

Victoria, the uber-evil uber-villain of Twilight, sadly appears in only one scene. I say sadly, because this scene alone has enough laughs to keep a good stand-up comedian busy for years. First there’s the whole shtick about the newborn army being basically the Twilight equivalent of your average Star Trek redshirt. A discussion which Bree and Diego listen to without any real consternation. Maybe fear isn’t a vampire thing, like thinking.

The Volturi, as I never get tired of reminding people, are this super ancient vampire clan from Italy. They’re from Volterra, which makes me wonder a) why they’re not called Volturri and b) if Steph maybe didn’t just pick the name because it sounds a tiny-winey little bit like vulture. Also they’re some sort of vampire aristocracy/world police/super badass coven all wrapped up in one, and they are out to get the Cullens. Because everyone is always after the good guys. In TSSLOBT they visit Victoria to make sure that she’s really out to kill Eddie and Bells and the rest of the clan and not just trying to achieve world dominion through outstanding idiocy. And they wonder… if Alice can see the future, how come she hasn’t seen the newborn army come for her family yet?

Stephenie Meyer has already tried to answer that question with some limited success in Eclipse. There Alice’s explanation sounded a lot like it’s because she hasn’t decided yet and if she’s not decided then I can’t see and… look, a unicorn! Victoria gives much the same answer, only in the face of 22 vampires that are camped a stone’s throw away, the answer seems even less convincing. I haven’t decided what I will do with them, she says. So in other words she has created 22 vampires all on her own, appointed someone to herd them and gets regular updates on how they are doing and she hasn’t thought “and then they’ll kill the Cullens for me” even once. Really? I mean… really?!? That’s as if a man was heating up a large glob of glass on a hollow stick without ever thinking “I’ll make a vase”. Try not to think of an elephant, I dare you.

Almost done.

I was very amused by the scene in which Bree and Diego discover exactly what their skin does when it comes into contact with sunlight. We all know the answer… it sparkles. Bree is a little surprised, kind of pleased, but also a little amused. I look like a disco ball, she thinks. And once again I can sort of see Stephenie shuffling her feet in the far distance. She twiddles her thumbs, smiles a little sheepishly and says: Okay, I get it, it is silly. If I admit it is silly will you please stop making fun of me? No, we won’t, Steph. Sorry. But it is nice that you admitted it. Now go look at something shiny.

And then there’s my favourite item. It’s about math again. Vampire feeding math. 22 still alive, Victoria says at one point. She means the newborn army and seems to imply that there were more than 22 at some point. Okay. Eleven months, Diego says when asked when he was created. Also noted. I’ll be hungry again in a few hours and in three days I’ll have to hunt again, Bree thinks to herself (after just having snacked on two hookers and a pimp). A lot of pretty, sparkly numbers. If you add them up they worry me a little.

Say Diego was the first vampire created by Victoria. We don’t know that, but to be fair that’s what we shall assume. Let’s also say that there might have been more than 22 newborns at some point, but if you take into account that Victoria needed some time to bring her army to full strength the eleven-month average is probably lower than 22. Say… fifteen?

Fifteen vampires need to feed once every three days over an eleven-month period consuming between two and three humans with each feeding. Eleven months have 336 days. That’s 112 feedings. 122 x 2.5 = 280. 280 x 15 = 4200. That’s me going with reasonable, low numbers. And I’m not counting Riley or Victoria here. Seattle has 617,334 people living in it according to a 2009 census. So, roughly speaking, Bree and her friends eat 1 in 125 people in the Emerald City. That’s a lot. The sudden increase in missing persons and unsolved homicides is mentioned in Eclipse, sure, but this… ? Shouldn’t Obama be sending in the National Guard or something?

And thus, in the wake of this amusing little mathematical conundrum, I leave you and Twilight be. It’s been a fun ride. OK, who am I kidding? Actually it hasn’t been. I’m very tolerant when it comes to reading trash. Bring it on, baby. But with these books it got harder and harder to forge on with each page that I turned. And yes, it is easy reading. The sentences seemed to fly beneath my eyes. Maybe they wanted to get out of the book really badly. But no matter how fast I was reading, the sheer stupidity of the characters… Bella’s submissiveness… Edward’s suffering masculinity…. Jacob’s biceps… it all got a little too much to bear after almost 3000 pages of incessant, self-absorbed blathering.

But I’ve also learned things. I’ve finally understood why people are so fascinated with Twilight. I have learned to look deeply into the twists and turns of Stephenie Meyer’s mind (or Steph, as I call her), and it is a scary place. I’ve learned about grizzly bears and mountain lions, about Seattle, about the Olympic Peninsula and about domestic violence. It has been an experience. It was gruelling, but it has also made me stronger.

Do not follow me, if you are faint of heart.

Seriously. Don’t.

The Twilight Experiment: Day 10

Turns out that a partial draft of Midnight Sun is available on Stephenie Meyer’s website. So yay for me and yay for the Twilight Experiment, because now there will be another installment of it.

For those of you who are wondering what a Midnight Sun might be and why I am bothering you with it: Midnight Sun is the unfinished, unpublished and utterly unholy fifth Twilight novel. It’s the story of Twilight, that is the first book only and not the entire series, told from the perspective of Edward Cullen.

In 2008 the partial draft was leaked online by some kind, far-seeing person and Stephenie has subsequently stopped working on the novel. I have been aware of the book for a while now, but the fact that Stephenie has since made the pdf available to the eager public had sort of slipped my attention. And I am bothering you with this now because Steph said in a 2008 interview that she will only resume working on the novel once she hasn’t heard anything on the internet about it for two years or more. So what I am actually doing is a great service to humanity as a whole, a philanthropic effort, a desperate attempt to save the world and life as we know it. Assuming that our two years of grace aren’t up yet, this review should keep us safe until June 2013… at least. (And who knows, maybe the world is going to end in 2012, that way our immortal souls will be saved for good.)

So… Midnight Sun: the story of Twilight as seen through the perfect diamond eyes of one Edward A. Cullen. Now, Edward is marginally less soppy than Bella, that’s a plus. On the minus side, he doesn’t just have an unfortunate affinity for turn-of-the-century romance novels… he was born in that time. So no relief there. Still, in the other Twilight books Edward is the only character who sometimes gets funny lines. And when I say funny I mean mildly amusing… when I say mildly amusing I mean raising a faint smile. When… it’s probably mostly the contrast with Bella that does it. In a sea of grey even the tiniest bit of colour will surely seem blindingly bright.

Anyway. I was curious about this one. The first Twilight novel has length issues. It may be the shortest of all of them in terms of pages, but like all its bigger siblings it seems to have too little plot to justify wasting such a huge amount of paper. If you think the camping scene from Harry Potter VII was long, I dare you to read even a single Twilight book, seriously. You don’t know what long means. But I’m getting sidetracked. Edward certainly seems like a better choice to narrate a story – if I had to pick a narrator for a future Twilight novel at gunpoint I would certainly pick him – but then again the question is also: why retell this story?

The obvious reason – which would be “monetary gain” – aside, I really can’t come up with anything. Bella does a depressingly good job of describing the minutiae of her everyday life when it’s her turn to narrate, so we don’t need Eddie to add anything to that. And he really doesn’t do much during Twilight besides being statuesque and endangering endangered species even further, does he now? Yeah… well. Not quite. Apparently Edward also spends quite a bit of his spare time being sorry for himself. He spends so much time doing that, actually, that he’s gotten very good at it. Then again, Edward is good at everything, so why am I surprised?

Midnight Sun in its present form is 264 pages. In terms of plot it’s about half of the book, I’d guess. It’s hard to tell. Bella’s viewpoint kind of speeds up at the end, when she gets hunted by James and things start spinning out of control, but I have the sneaking suspicion that if Stephenie had gotten to the end of that story with this draft, then Edward would have spent quite a bit of time telling us just how sorry and miserable he is right now, with Bells being kidnapped and all that. As I said: he’s very good at it.

What there is of Midnight Sun can roughly be divided in two parts: before the car accident and after. That merits some explaining, I think. There is a scene, in the first book, in which Bella almost gets hit by a car. The good outcome of the scene would have been for the car to hit and kill her, in which case the entire series would have ended at a soothing 48 pages. Enough to do some mental damage, but nothing too bad, just some light cerebral bleeding for those who read very attentively. As it is, Edward saves Bella by first pushing her out of harm’s way and then stopping the still-sliding car with his bare, perfect hands. That’s what happens in Twilight.

In Midnight Sun this scene takes place 59 pages in… and it opens up a whole new, kinky world for Edward. Where before his thoughts were centered mostly on how miserable, evil and ultimately doomed his entire existence is, with just a tiny sprinkling of “I am the big bad vampire” thrown in, it is now all about touching Bella. It’s like 100 years’ worth of 17-year-old boy hormones hit him when that car almost hits her. Bella’s waist. Bella’s skin. Bella’s cheek. How soft she is. How pretty she is. How perfectly she fits into his masculine, long, hard… arms. Yeah. I know. It doesn’t improve the book, really. A few dozen pages later we all heartily wish that he would go back to being whiney. Maybe Stephenie got a taste for this slightly more racy fare when she wrote the honeymoon scene in Breaking Dawn. I guess the next book will be called Naked Sunrise or maybe Pedophile Morning or possibly Arousing Aurora… great, now I feel sick.

The book ends in mid-narrative, which is okay, seeing that it is only a partial draft. For the same reason I am loath to nitpick at any individual sentences or dialogues. Partial draft. Partially daft too, but I shall assume in Stephenie’s favour that she might have ironed out some of the kinks in the editing process. So I’ll be good. No nitpicking. Honest. Well… okay. There might be one or two tiny little things that I would like to mention. Points of interest for the vampire enthusiasts among us, if you will.

Vampire biology is a fascinating subject, isn’t it? Breaking Dawn makes a big point about how female vampires can’t bear children and how male vampires can, in theory, mate with a human woman although it’s all a little tricky in practice. (Shudder.) And I wondered quite a bit about that. About… ehm… sperm, to be more specific. And about erectile dysfunction in the face of having… well… no blood circulation worth mentioning (having blood run down your esophagus doesn’t count, Steph).

Midnight Sun doesn’t answer any of these questions. If that’s a blessing or a curse is up to you to decide. There is, however, one speech, or rather internal monologue, of Edward’s that does shed some light on the matter. I mean, what am I to make of quotes like this one?

I gazed at her unconscious face, feeling this love for her settle into every portion of my stone body.

Or maybe this one?

My skin was stone and inhuman in shadow.

It seems to me that Stephenie is trying to suggest that Edward has basically had a full body erection for the last hundred years or so. Or not. I don’t know. The word “hard” is used 88 times in this manuscript, by the way.

The other vampire biology related thing that I always wondered about is the scene in which Edward gets a bit of pizza to show Bella that he theoretically could eat human food. As I was reading that the first time, from Bella’s viewpoint, I caught myself wondering… where does that go? Midnight Sun delivers the answer in all its unappetizing glory: he vomits it back up later, when Bella isn’t watching. Mhm… yummy. And I hear all the bulimic Twilight fans out there go: “See? Edward does it too. And he’s perfect.” (Disclaimer: I realise that bulimia isn’t something one should make fun of. And neither am I saying that anyone will actually become bulimic by reading this, seriously. But still… it’s kind of gross and kind of unhealthy, don’t you think?)

Short excursions into vampire mating habits and digestive processes aside, the book it what it is. It’s not worse than any of the other Twilight novels, neither is it better. What atrocious sentences there are shall be excused on the basis of this being a draft, not a finished novel. Whether Stephenie will ever finish Midnight Sun is doubtful; I for one can certainly understand her dismay at having the draft leaked onto the internet, and for now she seems to have found a new shiny in The Host and the subsequent novels of that series. So humanity can breathe more easily for now. If I remember to (and if the world doesn’t end next year), I’ll write another review of Midnight Sun in June 2013, just to be safe.

Oh… and in case you were getting worried: there’s one more installment of the Twilight Experiment to come. I got my hands on a copy of The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner. Let’s see what that holds in store for us, shall we?

The Twilight Experiment: Day 9

The first thing I notice with a slight wince is that the third part of Breaking Dawn opens up with a quote by Orson Scott Card. Not only is it a very misanthropic quote that can be summed up as “if you’re in trouble, friends and family are just ballast,” it is also a quote by the only author who manages to be more right-wing than Terry Goodkind. (Ayn Rand is dead, she doesn’t count.) He’s also a homophobe.

Moving on. Bella starts off her stunning tale with her favourite literary device: the preface.

The preface is a shy creature, often seen in pre-World War II literature and the works of Stephenie Meyer. In recent years the living conditions of prefaces have changed rapidly, mainly due to the deforestation of the South American rainforest, and as a result today’s prefaces look and behave much more like an introduction by the author. The rare subspecies prefaceicus s. meyerensis hasn’t noticed that yet. This subspecies also features really atrocious writing. Although similar in intent, prefaceicus s. meyerensis is not to be confused with the prologue, which more commonly looks like an opening to a story that establishes the setting and gives background details.

This particular preface is of the s. meyerensis type and once again demonstrates just how talented Stephenie is.

I was desperate for the precious one I guarded, but even to think of that was a lapse in attention I could not afford.

I’m trying to decide what I like best about that sentence. I think it’s “the precious one.” These words, just three of them, create an amazing amount of revulsion in me. I’m not quite sure what exactly it is that makes me want to hurl. Is it the atrocious attempt at imitating the flowery style of Brontë and Austen? Is it Stephenie’s feeble foray into making us believe that it might not be a baby that Bella is guarding? Or is she just dangerously desperate to hide the baby’s sex for a few more paragraphs? Is it maybe a cunning combination of all three? Whatever it is, I hereby motion that all pharmaceutical companies that produce emetics go forth and sue Stephenie Meyer for industrial espionage or whatever else will stick to her pale Mormon hide. It would be for the common good, trust me.

As I take a deep breath and try to dispel the preface from my mind, it occurs to me that a summary might be in order. Then I can get on with telling you what a crack-up Steph is.

What has happened to far in Breaking Dawn is that Bella has gotten married, honeymooned, domestically violated, impregnated and delivered of a healthy baby demon in just under a month. Now, with the baby-vamp born, Bella is on her way to becoming a sparkly, beautiful vampire. Yay for her. The third part of the novel starts off with Bella living through the torment of the transformation. She does that for quite a while, by the way, feel free to skip the first twenty pages or so. You can also feel free to skip the first 361 pages, that will save you a lot of pain and you’ll get all the important stuff from this nifty summary, anyway.

After Bella is transformed and now, apparently, the most beautiful creature on God’s earth, her amazing, carefree, immortal, blood-thirsting forever-afterlife can begin in earnest. There’s only one little problem. Jacob Black, werewolf of her treacherous heart and general steroid-enhanced nuisance, has imprinted on her kid. In case any of you were wondering, Bella hasn’t got a secret teenage daughter stashed away somewhere… I am talking about the newborn baby. Please raise your hand now if you think this is gross. And yes, it is a daughter. And she’s called Renesmee. Gesundheit. She should be grateful, really, because the alternative would have been EJ. Edward Jacob. Not only do I detest people who give their kids only initials as first names, I also think that calling your kid after your two lovers deserves some sort of insanity award. So yes… the weremutt loves the baby-demon. How cute. Also Bella is actually, all things considered, quite cool about it all and thus the happy, shag-filled afterlife can commence.

Three months into their fuckathon Bella and Edward get an ungentle wake-up call. Through a series of misunderstandings, accidents and characters generally being most uncommunicative, the Volturi (royalty-like super vamps that are out to get Bells) have gotten wind of Renesmee. They think she’s an immortal child and… well… mhm… this is getting rather complicated. Immortal child = bad. Okay? Bells, Eddie, Pedo-Jake and the rest of the Cullen clan worry, misunderstand and despair for the next 300-odd pages. Alice seems to vanish from the face of the earth, causing everyone to call her a coward to her rapidly receding backside, but the reader cannot help but have this sneaking suspicion that she might have a plan after all. Bella meanwhile has plans of her own and seeks out J. Jenks, a lawyer from Seattle specialised in obtaining fake documents (for a price). Money is not an issue, but the page count is. In the end everyone gets what they want. J. Jenks gets sixty thousand dollars, Bella gets some mileage on her odometer and Stephenie gets a nice fifty-page subplot that leads nowhere.

Charlie – that’s Bella’s dad for those lucky innocents that haven’t read the books – gets introduced to the whole vampire/werewolf shtick and spectacularly fails to draw the right conclusions. We also get introduced to Stephenie’s collection of racial stereotypes (don’t worry, I’ll get back to that in a bit).

In the end the Volturi arrive, all set on ridding the world of the menace that is Bella Cullen, but sadly they fail due to the power of super-Bella.

And then everyone lives happily ever after. Forever.

Now. If that doesn’t sound horrible enough to you, you might be interested in what other issues I have with the novel. Let’s see… they are manifold and varied. Where to start?

There is a lot wrong with this last part of Breaking Dawn. I wonder if Stephenie ran out of strength at the end. I say this with less sarcasm than I would like to. Being a writer myself, I can certainly sympathise. Fact is that the last part of this gargantuan novel is far more flawed, more peppered with little inconsistencies, than the rest of the series. But enough of being all nice and understanding.

In the previous part of the Twilight Experiment I complained about Stephenie’s attitude towards the militant anti-abortion vamp Rosalie. I’m still complaining. The whole thing is beyond ridiculous and the character is so transparent that Mrs. Meyer might as well have called the book Abortion Is Bad with Especially If It Saves The Mother’s Life as a subtitle. Now, somewhere around page 440, we hear Bella speak of her new-found camaraderie with her procreation-obsessed sister. It’s not a character inconsistency per se, I realize that, but one would think that even someone as mentally challenged as Bella might have realized that it was all about the sweet, darling babe and that Rosalie wouldn’t have given the monetary equivalent of a wet fart if Bella had died giving birth. It’s slightly disturbing, really.

Speaking of the babe. Renesmee “Monster-spawn” Cullen matures at an unnatural pace. Two inches a day. Because having a pooing, slobbering infant around the house isn’t fun. Also, because infants in general are messy, Renesmee is aware. I am uncomfortably reminded of fan-fiction-esque things that I thought about when I was maybe eleven or twelve. Always the perfect couple – mommy, daddy and the sweet babe –  but something would always happen to make the slobbering nuisance go away or grow up fast or something. And that’s just what happens here. Not only will the demon-spawn be a grown-up in just four years, she is also aware. She can talk at the age of a week, walk not much later and is, from day one, able to keep up semi-telepathic conversations with mommy and daddy. Oh… and the son-in-law question is also already sorted, thanks to the magic of werewolf imprinting. Neat, eh? It’s like Stephenie thinks that a perfect family has to have a perfect baby, but she’s also aware that baby means a lot of work and not so much sex.

Speaking of sex… they have a lot of it. Really. And with it comes a nice opportunity to nitpick. Page 446 gives us this beautiful sentence:

Our time on the island had been the epitome of my human life.

Bella refers to their “first time” during their honeymoon. Now… I stumbled across that. Thought “mhm, that sounds awkward.” So I look up “epitome”. I have this neat little program on my computer, Steph, I really recommend it. It’s called WordWeb. It tells me interesting things, such as what words mean. I need that, because I’m really a champion at mixing stuff up. Like jacuzzi and yakuza. Now, WordWeb tells me that an epitome is either “a standard or typical example” or “a brief abstract (as of an article or book).” So your honeymoon was average, Bells. That what you’re trying to say? Maybe not. To be fair I also check Chambers 21st Century Dictionary. Here I get the first two meanings plus “a person or thing that is the embodiment or a perfect example.” Now that’s closer, but (as my dad would say) still no flowerpot. It also sounds really wonky. Steph, if you wanted to go for a fancy word, you should have tried pinnacle or culmination (or cullenmination, I suppose). And use a bloody dictionary, please.

Moving on. A bit faster now, because if I stop to complain about every single wonky sentence we will still be here when the world comes to an end. And I don’t mean 2012.

Here’s a nice one. Breaking Dawn introduces us to a whole slew of new vampires. Vampires from Ireland, England, Egypt, Brazil, Romania and of course plenty from the good ol’ U.S. of A., the blood-sucking capital of the world. Not only does Stephenie dazzle us with an astonishing cornucopia of racial stereotypes, they also all come with fancy talents. So many beautiful things to complain about. Where to start… decisions, decisions… where to pounce first? Ahh… okay, racism it is.

Benjamin is from Egypt. So is Tia, his mate. Amun and Ebi are from Egypt too. Not only do I have to notice that they were favoured by Steph with nice, exotic names (not like poor Benji, who has to be content with sounding vaguely biblical), Amun is also a steadfast macho who doesn’t allow his wife an opinion of her own and who tries to subjugate poor Benji with his evil middle-eastern schemes of world domination, while Ebi never speaks a word and seems to mostly be interested in the dirt next to her feet. He also, and I am more or less quoting the book here “tries to form Benjamin into a secret weapon”. I can hear the words of mass destruction echo in the author’s mind.  The Irish are inevitably red-haired and the Brit is a reserved, stuck-up asshole. The Amazonians are wild and have a vague homoerotic flavour to them that makes Bella uncomfortable. Finally, my favourites, are the Romanians. Not only is one of them called Vladimir (nudge, nudge) they also both insist on talking about their own, inevitably evil, schemes in hearing distance of everyone else, thus rendering them about as believable as panto villains. But what else can you expect from them shifty eastern types? They’re not like those nice American vampires, who are all well-behaved and don’t have any weird habits at all.

Racism: check. What about the fancy magic then? At one point in the novel… I forget the page but it’s when the first friendly (American) vamps arrive to take a look at the supposed immortal child Renesmee, we get introduced to the idea that Eddy and his sister Alice aren’t the only vampires with talents. Edward can hear other people’s thoughts. Alice can see the future. So far so good. Then we learn that there’s also Elezar, who can recognize other vampires’ talents. And Kate, who can electro-shock by touching someone (eyebrows start going up). And Renata, who can project a shield. And Alec, who can make people blind. And Chelsea… at which point the narrative comes to a screeching halt, because I can’t even wait to hear what fancy thing Chelsea will pull out of her hat (she can break up personal relationships, it would seem), I slam the book closed to see if I accidentally picked up a novelization of Jersey Shore. I mean… Chelsea… seriously? Carlisle and Esme and Jasper and Aro, Caius, Marcus, Dimitri, Vladimir, Elezar and… wait for it… Chelsea. I see. And she can mind-fuck with who you like and whom you hate. Someone you knew in high school, Stephenie? Or… wait a sec… this isn’t Jersey Shore after all. It’s the magical land of Xanth, where everyone has his very own, unique magical talent. Next up is the vampire that can change the color of his pee. It’s a miracle that Piers Anthony hasn’t sued yet.

And of course Bella turns out to have the most magical, sparkly talent of all that will make the über-evil Volturi piss their pants (colourfully) and ultimately she (and only she) will save the whole fracking day. Because she is Super Bells, she who can project the Super Shield of Awesomeness to ward off all Evil and who will master this talent in mere days where others strive for centuries to get even the tiniest bit of control over their own gifts. Yes, indeed, that’s the way we roll, baby. And it’s not fan fiction at all, honest. (Did I mention that there’s also a vampire who can make wishes come true and one that can control the four elements? All true and all solid copyright lawsuits for Piers Anthony, the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender and a whole bunch of other people.)

Time to take a deep breath. No, wait! There’s more to get exasperated about. Wildlife conservation issues. The vegetarian vampires of Forks don’t eat humans, which is rather nice of them I think, what with me being human and all that. Instead they drink animal blood. Only, apparently, carnivores are more tasty. More like human blood than, say, deer. And the bigger the carnivore the tastier the blood.

However, if it’s a matter of diet (and I don’t mean vampire diet but rather what the animal eats) then shouldn’t an omnivore be the most human-like in taste? After all we sort of are omnivores. What about pigs then, Eddie? It’s so close to human blood that it can even be used for transfusions. Sounds really yummy. What? Come again… carnivores are much cooler? Ah, I see. You should have said so in the first place. So it’s all about big-burly-hunter-machismo-feelings. Okay. Forget I said anything.

Edward likes mountain lion. So does Bella. Okay. Mountain lion, sounds scrumptious. Let’s do some math. When they go hunt deer in one scene, Bella eats three until she is sated. Now, although deer come in many varieties and flavours, I find that most deer species native to North America weigh a lot more than a mountain lion, and thus should have a lot more liquid in them.  What about Emmett then? He likes male grizzly. He goes hunting at pretty much the same frequency as the other vampires. For comparison: the average weight of a male mountain lion is 62 kilos, that of a grown male grizzly is around 300 kilos. Maybe Emmett is like Jessica Biel and always leaves his plate half-full?

Also (scary music cue) both the grizzly and mountain lion populations are currently in decline… maybe it’s all more than just a story!

There is one last issue that I have with this book. On page 567 Stephenie takes a bloody sledgehammer to the glass filigree of our suspension of disbelief and smashes it to a gazillion tiny bits and pieces. Jacob, always a wellspring of joy anyway, asks rhetorically for a list of names of all the strange, foreign bloodsuckers that have invaded the house. And then there’s one of them tiny, little asterisk thingummys behind that. And I wonder… funny that, that almost looks like there’s going to be a footnote th… wait a minute. And I look down to see, lo and behold: a footnote. The first in over 2000 pages of Twilight. And no, it doesn’t point out that Jacob is an idiot, a true if somewhat superfluous observation to make at this point, no… it kindly reminds us that an index of names will be awaiting our convenience at the end of this novel. (And then Stephenie walks up to the tiny glass fragments and grinds them into a powder with the heel of her steel-capped army boots.)

And thus it ends. Bella and Edward and their little Renesmeh will live happily ever after. For a very long time, for as it turns out neither Jake nor Renesmee will age as soon as the demon-child reaches physical maturity. We, the readers, are all left with vague thoughts of garlic, stakes and UV lamps and a strong desire to wash our eyes with lye. And our brains too, while we’re at it… now where did I put that bone saw? Stephenie has moved on to greener pastures, pastures involving body-snatching aliens and dragon planets and fire worlds. (I can already hear Anne McCaffrey and Jack Finney sharpening their copyright infringement stakes.) And if all that doesn’t work out, after all Stephenie’s got three kids that all want to go to college, she can always pick up Twilight again. She has, after all, left the backdoor wiiiiiiiiiiide open when she wrote that the Volturi are beaten… for now. And so we shiver, not in anticipation, but in fear.

The Twilight Experiment: Day 8

I’ve suffered from Twilight-related writer’s block recently. I believe it can be argued that my own ability to put words onto a page has been severely compromised by Stephenie’s very incompetence to do so. Mhm… that is actually a good theory. I’ve got a better one, though: it’s all Jacob’s fault.

Part two of Breaking Dawn is told from the point of view of Jake “thick-as-a-brick” Black, and while I have read a lot of stories featuring stupid, annoying and insufferable characters in my life, Jake really takes the crown in that category without even breaking a sweat. I have this sneaking suspicion that I might have been able to finish the second part of Breaking Down months ago if it had been narrated by, say, Hitler or Genghis Khan or maybe, maybe, even Edward. But Jacob… really? I’ve seldomly encountered a less appealing character in my life. Jake is seventeen and behaves like a five-year-old, no doubt an intentional ploy of Stephenie’s to emphasise just how different were-cuddle and diamond-fang are. Doesn’t really help with making the character more endearing, Steph.

He persists in molesting poor Bella (please consider how bad it has to be for me to call Bells “poor”) and all that despite knowing that she doesn’t want puppy-love and that his potential soulmate is likely to be hiding just around the next corner (cowering in fear, I’d wager). And to add insult to injury I also constantly see Taylor “The Anabolic Steroid” Lautner’s moronic grin whenever I think of the character. Sigh. So can you blame me for trying to avoid the second part of Baking Prawn? Can you??

Anyway. As we all remember part one, narrated from the point of view of Bella Swan (aka The Willingly Abused One), featured Bella’s and Edward’s wedding, honeymoon, sex, feathers and a whole lot of wife-beating (but it’s cool, really, Bella likes it that way). Oh… and Bells got knocked up. What fun.

And what does Jake do while Edward is busy transforming Bells into a symphony in blue? Sharpening his teeth. Or claws. Pick one. He is, not entirely mistakenly, under the impression that Bella will either come back from her honeymoon with a nice new set of fangs and a sparkly disposition, or not at all. Depending on how hungry Eddie gets after sex. So he worries and waits and comes up with a dozen different ways of hunting vampire. Since I find Edward only marginally less boring that Jake, the thought seems almost pleasant.

As it is, Bells comes back and appears to still be alive. Sort of. Maybe. Hard to tell. Better go and check.

She’s alive, but to Jake’s dismay also slightly pregnant. Or a lot, considering that she claimed to be a virgin just a few weeks ago. That leaves us with three possibilities: Immaculate conception (quick, let’s start a religion), a lie (only she’s sort of too stupid to lie) and… *cue dramatic music* unnatural conception. Indeed the fetus, or thing as the baby-daddy lovingly calls it, seems to be growing at an unbelievable pace, probably because it wants to get away from Bella asap. And if Bella breaks a little with all the hurrying that’s going on, then who cares, eh? Bella doesn’t. Were-cuddle cares, which brings Edwardicide right back on the menu, at least as far as the cuddle is concerned.

Edward has a different plan, though. And what a plan it is. Masterful, I would call it, if I weren’t too busy weeping. “How about,” he says, “we talk her into getting an abortion. And then, Jake my friend, you can knock her up instead of me. That’s not gross at all, right?” You must see, abortion is evil, especially if done for paltry and selfish reasons such as saving the mother’s life. It follows that abortionists also endorse adultery, prostitution, second-row parking and possibly sodomy (difficult to tell when werewolves are concerned). The point is moot, since Bells almost has a miscarriage when Jacob confronts her with hubby’s clever plan, but Stephenie is still proud that she mentioned it.

With a vague sense of disgust I turn the page. Edward’s execution has been delayed for now, maybe Jake is hoping that Sparkly can still talk Bells into a little doggy-style action. The rest of the werewolf pack, lead by Sam Uley, are slightly less cool with the whole rapidly-growing-abomination-business and vow to kill the baby right now. Better safe than sorry. Not born yet you say? We’d better kill mom too then. Easier that way. Also she slept with a vampire, that’s unhygienic. Ultimately this leads to Jake splitting off from the rest of the pack to form his own mini-pack. Some sort of Vampire-BF-Club. There’s only two of them, in case you wondered. Jake and Seth (do I smell an instant promotion to pack leader’s second?). All this is possible, and I can’t really be bothered to go back and look up if this was mentioned before at any point, because apparently Jake should be the true alpha. All in the genes, as it turns out, because his grand-doggy was higher up in the social pecking order than Sam’s grand-doggy. Which means that as soon as the two have a disagreement, say about who gets to kill whose girlfriend, just add water and voila: instant alpha. Apparently it isn’t enough that Jake is three meters tall, shoots laser beams from his eyes and turns into a giant telepathic wolf… he has to be the Führer. Ever read any fan fiction, Steph? Or maybe I’m being unfair here… I hear some fanfic is quite nice.

Things progress at a leisurely pace from here onwards, which means that nothing really happens for the next 150 pages or so. Jake and Seth, later to be joined by Leah Clearwater, camp out in the woods near Casa Cullen. Edward is cranky because he sort of knocked Bells up with a killer fetus. Rosalie would rip said fetus out of Bella without a moment’s hesitation if she could be sure that the thing would survive while the mother wouldn’t. Carlisle is kind. Alice is spunky. Emmett is dumb. Nothing strange happening at all. Okay, so Bella starts drinking blood, because that’s the only thing that the baby can process, but who cares. Blood. Mixed pickles. Where’s the difference? (Well… it all depends on whether or not there are onions in the pickle.)

The Rosalie situation bears some thinking about though. I’m not quite sure what the book is trying to say here. Abortion is bad. Okay, that seems obvious enough. Abortion is bad, but try not to be too happy that the mommy is going to croak? Maybe. Edward can read minds (what is it with bad fan fiction and telepathy, btw? Anne McCaffrey does that too). He seems to indicate several times that he is well aware of the fact that Rosie wouldn’t be too bothered if Bella didn’t make it. He disapproves, not only of the pregnancy, but also of Rosalie’s callousness. Edward is clearly meant to be wrong about the abortion issue, and will as a matter of fact see the error of his ways in just a few pages, but what about his thoughts on Rosie? He is, after all, the infallible, sparkly He-vampire of Righteousness. Can he be wrong on both counts? The vibe that I get from Stephenie on the matter is that Rosie is a Bad Girl for not caring about Bells enough, but surely she only deserves a little slap on the wrist for that, because it’s all for the good of the baby really.

And I won’t even go into the whole killing the mother for the sake of the unborn child thing here. I comprehend that Bella wants to have the baby no matter what, even if it means her death. I’m also aware that in sparkly-vampire-land she just needs a few gallons of vampire venom and she’ll be right as rain. In real-people-land things are a little different, however.

As it is with most things, pregnancies included, they sooner or later come to an end. With Bells and her demon-baby this happens just a four or five days into the second part of Raking Lawn. With immaculate timing she moves in the wrong way at the wrong time and… her spine breaks and… oh sod it… whatever… she goes into labour. Her timing is further perfected by the fact that Carlisle, who is as we all remember a doctor, is out that day. Killing some endangered species for elevenses, no doubt. Just paragaphs before Edward has made telepathic (*sigh*) contact with the demon-child and is now totally pro-pregnancy, yay, let’s all kill Bella together! Which makes him the ideal volunteer for gnawing through Bella’s abdomen. (That’s right! Three applications of eating-someone-out in one book… astounding, Steph, really.)

As it turns out the demon-baby-uterus is made from demon-baby-vampire-skin and can thus only be cut by really sharp demon-vampire-sparkly-teeth. Funny thing, that: I always thought the uterus was a mommy-thing and not a baby-thing. Biology… go figure. In any case this means that Edward will literally (and trust me, I wish I was joking) have to open her belly with his teeth. Images I did not want in my mind, #143: Edward nibbling at Bella’s blood-splattered, pregnant belly button.

The baby is, of course, delivered without problem and Bella also makes it, sort of. By the time this segment of Quaking Fawn ends she is already well on her way to sparkly, vampire deadness. It’s what she wanted, so who am I to argue?

Jake is downstairs and will, in the course of the next few pages, make a wonderful discovery of his own. That’s all in the next part, of course, so I won’t spoil it now. That will be Bella’s narration again, so don’t any of you worry your pretty little heads about whether she’s going to make it or not. And I didn’t think I would say this, but I kind of look forward to reading her whiney voice. And there’s some really nice things that I am looking forward to talking about. Wildlife conservation issues, racial stereotyping and pedophilia, to name a few. But all that and more in the next part of the Twilight Experiment and the final part of Faking Yawn (I wish; the yawns were all 100% real).