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.

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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).

The Twilight Experiment: Day 6

Bella. Bella Swan. Bells.

A woman described as pretty, but not stunning (by herself, so we might consider that to be an unreliable narrator; let’s face it, we all think we look amazingly ugly and some of us aren’t right). She is also not very bright, tends towards depression, is accident-prone, will happily jump off a cliff to see some sparkly afterimage of the guy who dumped her a year ago, has no discernible will or ambition of her own, and has all the backbone of a jellyfish.

What’s not to like?

An interesting question, for in the world of Twilight those that want to date Bella Swan are so many they have to draw numbers. Edward, who’s by anyone’s standards a control freak, might have some incentive to love biddable, uncreative, needy Bella. Fine. But what of Jacob Black? Okay, so they do have one thing in common: they’re both idiots. But besides that? He’s a year younger than her and while I can hear some people asking “how old is Jonas again?” I’d like to point out that when you’re sixteen and she’s seventeen that is a difference. With some few, lucky exceptions boys do mature slower than girls. Sad but true. But that is not my main problem – after all Bella is obviously slightly retarded, so that evens the age difference out again, I suppose. And I also won’t take any offence at the fact that she’s a wet blanket. That doesn’t seem to bother anyone else in the book, so why should it bother Jake?

No, my real problem with the Jake/Bella romance is that he is a werewolf. Now, don’t cry speciesist. I don’t have a problem with a werewolf dating a human. Go for it, make lots of weird babies (but only after you’re married, this it Twilight after all).  No, my problem is that werewolves imprint.

In Stephenie Meyer’s world werewolves have one true soulmate. One, and only one, person that is right for them. This bond will manifest the moment mutt and maiden are in each other’s presence for the first time, regardless of the age or the current marital status of either participant. So far so good. When this is first mentioned the whole subject is treated as a rarity. Sam Uley imprinted on Emily Young and that was it. No more imprintings expected in the near future. So Jacob thinks: well, in that case, I’d better get back to bothering Bells. Fine. Then, suddenly, imprints start hitting left and right, just like meteors in a Roland Emmerich movie, only more gooey. Which made me wonder a little at the probabilities involved in maybe ten or eleven werewolves all finding their soulmates in the same tiny area within a very limited time frame. Well, love travels at the speed of plot, to paraphrase Joe Straczynski, so I won’t argue.

But, and here’s the catch, if you were in Jacob’s shoes (wait, werewolves don’t wear shoes)… if you were in Jacob’s torn shorts, wouldn’t you stop and wonder? Leah Clearwater becomes a werewolf too. The subject of her rejection by Sam when he imprinted on his Emily is thoroughly discussed in the novel. Shouldn’t Jake maybe, just maybe, wonder if there is an Emily to his Jake out there somewhere? No, of course not, it’s more fun this way, says Stephenie, swatting at Jake’s subconscious with a rolled-up newspaper.

So on it goes. Jake wants Bella. Edward wants Bella. Bella wants it all. And we want some peace and quiet. Which we won’t get, not until those last two pesky movies are out. So we might as well move on with the plot.

For a while there’s not much to tell. The whole Bella/Edward/Jacob/everyone else/Jacob’s-future-soulmate mess aside the book could be rather thin, really. Someone has been stealing clothes from Bella’s room. The Cullens wonder why that might be. (She never dresses to match the wallpaper, so why would anyone want those rags? They’re not even Gucci!) We already know. Or are at least able to make some educated guesses. It’s Victoria, our Jack-in-the-box villain from the first book. She that doesn’t die. Vicky’s building up a vampire army, capable of flattening most of the continental U.S. should she wish it to, and she needs Bella’s couture to point said army in the right direction. See? Everyone wants a piece of Bella. Or several pieces, not necessarily still connected, in Victoria’s case. Why a clever girl like our Vicky would want to kill Bella instead of, say, take over the world, is anyone’s best guess. I just find it odd that a character whose singular personal trait seems to be “Hard to Kill (+15)” would go so far out of her way to attract the attention of the Volturi and willingly walk into a f***ing huge battle. Well, vampire lifestyle questions… who am I to second-guess them?

Yes… I was getting somewhere with that. Ah… the clothes thief. Since we have already established that no-one in his or her right mind would steal Bella’s clothing for fashion purposes, the Cullens wonder for quite a while why anyone would be nicking her knickers in the first place, and all the while the reader is screaming “it’s Victoria!” But the Cullens do not hear the reader and Stephenie has to come up with a very questionable explanation as to why their pet clairvoyant, Alice, can’t see what’s happening. Which is funny, by the way, because the book has already established that Alice can’t see werewolves for some obtuse reason or other and werewolves feature heavily in the denouement. So instead of saying that Alice can only see intent and that the vampire army (led by Victoria who is very clear on wanting to shish-kebab Bella on her sparkly vampire teeth) hasn’t made up its mind yet so she won’t be able to see where they are going until they get there, why not just say that it has to do with the weremutts? To make matters worse the whole clothes-thief/we’re-so-thick sub-plot seems to amount to little more in the end than an anti-clever little ruse to drive the wordcount up a little higher.

Finally, after more nonsense than anyone can take, Bella and Jake and Edward end up on a mountaintop in a tent, because someone thought that hiding from the vampire army in the middle of nowhere on top of a freezing mountain might be a spiffing idea. I won’t say anything about the… ah… beautiful scene in which a nearly naked Jacob saves a shivering Bella from freezing to death. There are some things one should not talk about.

I will, however, say a few words about the following scene, in which Edward is suddenly very keen on having a chat with Bells about their “top ten nights”. Luckily sex is not involved, that will have to wait for the next book, but their engagement is. And vroom, off goes Jacob into the forest with a mighty howl. Because, you see, Edward knew that our favourite puppy was still listening and he orchestrated all this so that Jake would hear about Eddie’s and Bella’s’ upcoming nuptials. Mind you, I am not forcibly interpreting any of this, he actually says so. And what does Bella do? She doesn’t smack him in the face, for one, which is probably a good thing seeing as she broke her wrist the last time she tried to hit one of her supernatural friends. She’s not even angry at him. Or disappointed. No. Far from it. She blames herself. Aha… I see. Mhm… why?

Bella, for some reason known only to herself, thinks that Edward is somehow infallible. Not only infallible, that is entirely the wrong word for it, but immaculate. He and everything he does, thinks and decides is always and unquestionably right. So when he tells her that she can’t visit Jacob on the reservation he’s not being unreasonable and jealous… Bella herself is being stupid and selfish and should be ashamed of even considering the option. Bad Bella! Sit! When he leaves her in the second book without much of an excuse or explanation it’s somehow, beyond doubt, her fault and he’s just being nice cause he’s, like, letting her know before he blows this joint. Bad, bad Bella! Roll Over! When he orchestrates a situation in which Bella’s best friend/lover/dog-of-choice overhears something extremely hurtful… wait for it… it’s Bella’s fault. Bad girl! Play dead! I don’t know if Edward’s overbearing controlfreakiness or Bella’s I-need-someone-to-tell-me-when-to-breathe-attitude nauseates me more, but I would assume it’s a combination of both. Of course I know where this tale of masochism and overlordship is leading – straight into wife-beating-land – but that’s, again, a tale for the next episode.

Well… Bella has been inconsiderate and evil enough to hurt Jacob and he runs off. After a while Edward takes it upon himself to fetch the dog back (in an ironic turn of events, I should say) and then sparky himself goes off-page to give our two love-birds some privacy.

Yes, you heard right, privacy from the man who can read minds. No… wait… don’t think about it too much, it will only make your head ache. (Question: If Edward reads the mind of someone who has a headache… ah, never mind.)

So, privacy, yes. Not too long after that Bella is sticking her tongue down Jacob’s throat in an amazing display of truly fucked up morals. Afterwards she feels bad and just for once I have to say: go for it, Bells! Unfortunately Edward doesn’t take the opportunity to dump her once he gets the good news fresh from Jake’s Technicolor memory, but we can’t have everything. What we get instead is a four (!) page long explanation of why Bella is the best thing since sliced bread had an illegitimate love-child with the internet. The conversation isn’t made any better by Bella’s frequent assertions that, surely, she is the scum of the earth and needs to be exterminated. We agree, Edward does not, and they almost have sex right then and there. But, alas, they aren’t married yet and just before the very fabric of the universe can be torn asunder by their dastardly deed Victoria shows up to eat Bella. Literally, not dirty-sex-joke-metaphorically.

A battle ensues, which really is nothing special, except that Bella once again almost manages to get everyone except Victoria killed by doing something monumentally stupid. As I said: nothing noteworthy happens. (But isn’t it just Bella’s and Edward’s darn luck, eh? They trek all the way out to the middle of nowhere and who do they meet? Victoria. Tsk tsk tsk… some people should never play the lottery, I guess.)

And that’s about it for Eclipse. There’s a funny scene at the end, but only because is says somewhere in the Book of Mormon that every novel needs to have one of those somewhere. Also Bella faints again, and once more no one seems to really care or mind that she did. I suppose that they’re used to it by now. Or maybe they’re all happy to get a few moments of peace between the endless bouts of wimpiness. Or maybe Carlisle has long since realized that she’s suffering from a bad case of eighteenthcenturyfemaleliterarycharacterism which will eventually turn out to be fatal (it always does!) and they don’t have the heart to tell the reader. Or maybe Stephenie just wanted to get in a joke about Alice being able to predict the length of her fainting spell down to the second… Far-fetched? Maybe, but it’s always a possibility.

Well… that’s it for now. I’ll be back soon with the final two parts of the Twilight Experiment as well as with a review of Twilight: Eclipse – now with more gratuitous werewolf nudity! over at Commentarium.

The Twilight Experiment: Day 5

It’s been a good long time since I read Eclipse. Well, okay, it’s been maybe three months since I read it, but thankfully the quality of the novel is such that the psychological scarring quickly fades. Literary junk-food, much like its culinary namesake, passes through the system rather quickly, if unpleasantly. On the other hand, maybe I shouldn’t be so happy about Eclipse’s perishable nature, because as I sit down to write this, the fifth part of the Twilight Experiment, I find that I’ll have to re-read most of the book if this review is to make any kind of sense. Urgh!

First page: Another one of Stephenie’s beloved Prefaces. (Which is a curious word to use, since it originally meant author’s foreword, even if the distinction between preface and prologue seems to have become a little blurred in recent years.) Anyway, the preface, in all its horrendous glory.

Black eyes, wild with their fierce craving for my death, watched for the moment when my protector’s attention would be diverted.

A real beauty, that one. Even if we ignore Stephenie’s feeble attempt to make us wonder if it’s really Edward of the Sparkle that’s defending Bella here. Even if we suspend disbelief and stop wondering why anyone would ever put his sparkly skin on the line to protect Bella Swan of all the people in the world. Even then we have to marvel at wild with their fierce craving. It’s almost as good as his intense concentration betrayed no hint of doubt just a little further up on the same page. Because concentration usually is, like, relaxed. Right?

First chapter: In a sense we are blessed, for the two real bummers in the first half of Eclipse are served to us on a platter right on the first two pages. After we have struggled out of the pit of filth that is the prolo preface, barely clinging on to life, sanity and literary taste buds, we are assailed by the first chapter. Assailed by Jacob’s letter, to be more precise.

Now, to be fair, I know the boy is dense. Granted: brighter cookies have been sighted in the Quileute jar of crumbly, chunky, chocolate-filled werewolves. (Yuck!)  But would you, or anyone of slightly higher intelligence than a dead hamster, write a note to a friend/lover/strange thing, re-think what you want to write seven times and then send your entire creative effort, including the still quite legible crossed-out bits? Really? Or are we supposed to believe that the Quileute reservation is undergoing some sort of tragic, cataclysmic paper shortage? Or maybe, just maybe, Stephenie liked them all and couldn’t quite decide which one to keep in the book. And the decision is hard, really. One could go for tacky: it just makes it worse when I think about you. Or maybe a more stern tone is called for with: you made a choice here, okay? Or, finally, there’s the timeless let’s-steal-a-line-that-I-heard-somewhere-approach: which part of “mortal enemies” did you not understand? Real classy Stephenie. That jokey, throwaway line in there somehow manages to rob the entire note of what little credibility it might have held before. Assuming we believed the Quileute paper shortage excuse in the first place, that is.

Moving on, quicker now, for the first half of the book proceeds to slowly drown in a slimy quagmire of stalling, needless jealousy and literary name dropping. Yes, Mrs. Meyer, we’re very proud that you have managed to read Wuthering Heights, all 260 pages of it, please stop mentioning it all the time.

I (re)read, skimming the pages in parts – if you cut straight to the dialogue the pain lessens, I find. The middle bits are anyway bound to be either about Jacob’s biceps or about Edward’s, well, sparkly bits. Then, just eight pages in, my skimming grinds to a halt. I’m nitpicking and I know it, but I remember this bit from my first go at Ecplise. (And besides, without nitpicking, would there be joy in this world?) Bella speaks of Charlie’s surly attitude. Now, you remember Charlie, don’t you? He’s one of Stephenie’s charming one-personality-trait side characters. In his case that trait is non-verbose, which he has leveled up to an impressive +17. Now, I know Stephenie loves her adjectives, so maybe she just needed one in that sentence and this one was the first that came to mind. If that is the case, we’re lucky: it could also have been broccoliesque. If she actually meant surly, as in “inclined to anger or bad feelings with overtones of menace”, one has to wonder why it is placed in front of the most wordy conversation Bella has with her dad in the entirety of the four books. A conversation in which he laughs, lifts her house arrest and says that Edward might (might, mind you) not be the Antichrist. Well… just thinking out loud.

Fourteen pages in. Edward comes by to visit. I now notice what’s been wrong with the book so far. Why it didn’t really feel like a Twilight novel. No page-long descriptions of male anatomy. Yep, that’s it. But trust Bella to set right what was amiss.

I saved the eyes for last, knowing that when I looked into them I was likely to lose my train of thought.

I see. Might I point out that a) that is probably a good thing and that b) instead of train, a more fitting term might be draisine. Yes. Anyway.

Back to the quagmire. I had a conversation with a friend recently. Said friend, someone whose literary judgement and taste I trust to a certain degree, had just confessed to seeing the third Twilight movie. I took this in my stride – he has also read the books, he knew what he was in for. So, I ask him, how was it?

And he says, quite simply: short. Not in minutes, but in plot. I’ll be seeing same-said movie next Tuesday, then I’ll be able to confirm what he said, but for now I’m taking him by his word. The third book, Eclipse, is a good fifty pages longer than the previous one, New Moon. “So what?” I hear you say. Sequels tend to get longer in a lot of cases, just look at Harry Potter. Yes, I say in response, partly that may be because getting a 100.000+ words novel published is a nightmare (as I am currently discovering). So beginner novels may tend to be shorter because of that. Or because the plot thickens, broadens and thus requires more pages to be told. All possible reasons for books’ tendency to get longer as a series progresses.

But, and here’s the catch, most series actually have more story. Not so with Eclipse. I am not joking when I say that the actual plot of the book could easily and without any loss of quality (hah) be compressed into, say, 10 chapters. Eclipse has 27 chapters, 28 if you count the epilogue. (Shouldn’t that be epiface or something, btw?)

Bella gets ungrounded. Vampires want to kill her (again). Edward asks her to marry him. She refuses. He asks again. She says yes, but will you fuck me first? He says no. She says okay, but after, yes? Vampires come to kill her. Instead the Cullens and the werecuddles kill them. The End.

There, ten sentences, ten chapters. Easy as pie and far less dreary. So what’s the filler? It’s an endless, incredibly boring tug-of-war between Jacob and Edward. Bella’s the rope, just in case you’re wondering. And again I wish I was kidding. A good two-thirds of the book get eaten by this. Bella sneaks away to La Push and the Cullens stop her. Bella sneaks away to La Push and the Cullens don’t stop her, but she gets an earful from Edward later. Bella punches Jacob because he kissed her and breaks her hand, making us all wish that she had tried to headbutt him instead. Bella pleads with Edward to let her see the mutt and he says no, taking a page from the Big Book of Chauvinist Dominance and Oppression. And on it goes. It’s painful. The Long, Hurt Look count in this book is in the far thousands and that’s not even counting the Angry, Hurt Looks and the Short, Hurt Looks. In the end we all wish that either Jacob, Bella or Edward had been killed in infancy by a piano falling out of the sky. Preferably all three of them actually – it happens more often than you would think. Just ask Joe Abercrombie.

I’m almost done. Only Benito is left.

You, Stephenie, have got one single Hispanic character in your whole damn mostly-Causcasian-white-with-a-sprinkle-of-token-spiritual-natives-thrown-in-for-flavour 629-page book and you name him Benito?

Benito?

I rest my case.

Thus ends part five of the Twilight Experiment. Expect more soon when I explain why exactly Bella should dump Edward quicker than you can say Jacob’s biceps.

The Twilight Experiment: Interlude

Sunday. I have nothing to read. Correction: I have stuff to read, some of it is even quite intelligent, but I don’t have Eclipse. And since I fear that starting another book at this point might endanger the experiment as a whole, I shall resist Iain Banks and Guy Gavriel Kay and Jasper Fforde (I didn’t say that all of it was intelligent).

Still bored, though. So what better way to pass the time until the bookstores open on Monday than to watch Twilight on YouTube?

Okay, yes, I see your point. But I’m not going to do that. Or that. Sorry.

Where was I? Yes. I had seen Twilight: New Moon in the cinema and my experiences can be summed up with “all that glitters is not gold” – sometimes it’s a vampire. The movie looked great in terms of production values, and some of the actors appear to be theoretically capable of acting, but all in all it was a large pile of horse dung.

On the other hand, I can say that now that I have read New Moon, the movie seems to be a marvel of consistency. So I wonder, what will the adaptation of Twilight be like? Can Kristen Steward be any less appealing? Vampires glitter and they are not gold… so what are they?

Armed with a cup of tea and some cookies I sit down in front of my computer and type “twilight movie” into the YouTube search thingummy. The top result is in good quality and seems to be subtitled in Norwegian, which no doubt would increase the entertainment value of what I’m about to do, but I somehow manage to resist. The next one looks better, so there I go.

Twilight, just like the other three books, is written from a first-person perspective. Usually that’s Bella, and when it isn’t it’s Jacob, which is possibly worse. While they have ignored the first-person style of the book in the adaptation of New Moon, Twilight is in parts narrated by Bella. This wouldn’t be a problem if someone hadn’t told Kristen Stewart to do the voiceovers in her “depressed” voice. Because that’s the only modus operandi that Bella knows. Or maybe that’s just what Kristen Stewart sounds like all the time. What do I know? One way or the other the result is so drab that the opening sequence of Twilight is enough to put you to sleep, despite the nice music.

Yeah, you heard me right: Nice music. As with New Moon, there is one thing that I can’t really fault this movie for, and that’s production values. The images are nice and crisp, the sets look good (too good you might say, but I’ll get to that in a minute), and the score by the shamelessly talented Carter Burwell is quite nice. That doesn’t save it, of course. You can make a movie that has a sterling story but mediocre visuals and it can still be good, but sadly that trick doesn’t work the other way round.

Back to the story. Bella has arrived in Forks. She is wearing a pretty trousers/vest/shirt combination in blue and brown which makes her look like she belongs. Yeah, sounds weird, doesn’t it? Looked weird, too. I didn’t notice at first; my only thought was that something looks strange about the image. But then I realized that she is dressed to match her room. I believe that’s called out-of-control-costume-design. Someone should be shot for that.

Next up: Jacob Black. The filmmakers have pulled a reverse Harry Potter on us and included our favourite werewolf in more scenes, in anticipation of the bigger part that his character will play in the other movies. Unfortunately I hate his guts, so I’m not happy about it. (It would have been nice to see some more Dobby, though.) So Jacob comes, delivers some exceedingly wooden dialogue, and leaves. And Bella goes to school.

Here we meet the Cullens. If one thing is clear from the very first moment that we see them, it is that Bella is destined to be part of this family, because they clearly shop at the same oufitters interior designers. Yes, you guessed right, they are dressed to match the school cafeteria. Which presents some problems in a school environment. Do they change clothes between classes? What to they do on day trips? Questions, questions, so few answers.

But at least the arrival of the Cullens takes some of the focus away from Bella’s new friends, who seem to be trying to rival Jacob in the disciplines of wooden acting and supreme idiocy. To make up for the lack of likability the producers have cast a black and an Asian dude, which is not a problem, technically speaking, but I can hear a tiny voice in the back of my head that whispers: they only did it to get a bigger target audience. Also the black dude is hardly in the movie and the Asian dude is… eh… strange.

Moving on. Biology: the first, tragic meeting where Edward will learn that Bella is the one. Robert Pattinson is supposed to look sick and appalled once he gets a whiff of Eau De Bella, but instead he just looks sick throughout the entire scene. Must be his face. I grudgingly have to admit that Mr. Pattinson is probably a good actor, but I still wonder why the hell they thought it would be a good idea to cast someone as the Adonis-like Edward Cullen who looks like he was run over by a steamroller when he was two and then again when he was five. Well… they also thought the rest of the male Cullens were attractive, so maybe they’ve got taste issues.

Twilight deviates from the story of the book in several instances, and the results are mixed at best. Jacob pops up four times instead of two, and that is definitely a Bad Thing. We also get to see a bit more of Victoria and her buddies, which I think was included a) to introduce the characters earlier and b) to make the movie more violent and thus more appealing to the male demographic (if I’ve ever seen a lost cause then this would be it). Since the book functions (for a given value of “function”) without them showing up every five minutes, I think those extra scenes are just wasted screen time. Just think of all those wasted minutes that we could have spent watching Bella mope a bit more. Victoria and the others also seem to be big fans of parkour.

More things were changed or added. The scene in the greenhouse, which starts out pleasantly enough and devolves into incoherent babble, is all new. We get so see Bella’s mother, a character that is not featured in the book at all except at the end. More wasted screen time and the actress annoys the fuck out of me. But again I can hear a studio executive whisper in my ear:

The audience is stupid, how will they know that that’s her mum at the end?

Gee, exec dude, I don’t know… maybe because Bella says so?

Well, Verena, as you can see Edward is visible in the background of that shot, that will mean that the brains of all the female audience members will be on the blink again and you know that no straight guy will ever go see this movie of his own volition, so they can’t clear the matter up later.

Oh, I’m sorry, exec dude. I guess you’re right.

Right. Sorry. There are two more scenes that were drastically altered from what happens in the book, and I think I need to point those out for reasons of weird. The bookstore scene, which is already plenty strange in the novel, gets another coating of bad in the movie. In the novel Bella doesn’t even get to the bookstore, because she can’t find one and instead decides to wander off into the more disreputable areas of town because that sounded like such a great idea when Stephenie suggested it. And then she almost gets raped, Edward shows and rescues her and we all live happily ever after. In the movie she googles a bookstore, which is run by a very mysterious Native American person, because only mysterious Native American people may sell books about mysterious Native American legends, goes there, almost gets raped on the way back, Edward shows, etc etc, and then she googles the entire vampire thing at home anyway after she’s bought a book on the matter. Maybe she can’t read and needs to find pretty pictures to understand.

Finally, there’s the meadow scene, which is one of the few scenes that I halfway enjoyed in the book. Okay… that’s stretching it. But what happens in the movie is that the scriptwriter realizes that she has already spent too much time on Victoria and Bella’s mum and that bloody greenhouse and now needs to wrap several badly-needed character moments between Bella and Edward into one very strange scene. And I don’t really see why Bella needs to see right now what Eddie looks like in the sunlight, it’s not like he suddenly turned pretty or something. At least in the book he sort of makes fun of the whole sparkly issue.

And the running. The running. Argh! It just doesn’t work. It’s like that dreadful motorcycle sequence in X-Men. It’s atrocious beyond description. It’s… really bad green screen. Stuff like that only works in slow motion or not at all, filmmakers should have learned that by now. It’s all the more horrible since the overall effects used in Twilight are well-done. Good production values, remember?

Okay… moving on. Bella visits Edward’s family, a scene which just for once has seriously good acting by Robert Pattinson in it. I guess, statistically speaking, they have to get it right at least some of the time. The filmmakers are very considerate, however: they think of all those poor people who might, theoretically, only tune into the movie in this scene and thus think that it might actually be good. To prevent permanent misunderstandings, Edward and Bella go to his room and play Crouching Tiger, Hidden Vampire. For any of you who haven’t seen the movie and think that I have just made a really dirty sex joke: I wish. What happens in reality is that Edward and Bella re-enact that tree jumping scene from the above-mentioned movie with shocking accuracy. It doesn’t in any way contribute to me taking this movie seriously, just in case any of you were wondering.

Next up is a bit of pointless drivel between Charlie and Bella, more Victoria, a music montage (music good, montage bad) and… the baseball scene. Now, this is difficult for me to say, especially seeing that the baseball scene in the book was one of the more painful literary experiences of my life, but this scene is actually fun. It doesn’t have much dialogue and even less Edward, which both help, I guess, and so does the score by Burwell. It’s two minutes of movie. Two minutes of a movie that otherwise feels like it’s several days long and you’re watching it while sitting on a bed of rusty nails, and maybe the contrast makes the scene feel better than it is, but it really impressed me. It also forms the beginning of the end, which is a good thing, because the appearance of James and his subsequent vow to have Bella over for dinner cause the plot to get tighter. The end is nigh, and it’s a good feeling. Soon the pain will be over.

Just twenty-odd minutes remain. The book offers a lot of unnecessary complications at this point, plus a speech by Alice which I presume they wanted to save for the third movie, and the screenwriter has made the right choice and cut all of that out. We are left with a vague sense of relief and Bella’s simple and utterly stupid decision to go off and face James alone. But at least in the movie Edward isn’t, like, ten steps away from her, and this makes her decision a little more coherent. Just a little, mind you, because she could still tell Alice, who can sort of see the future. (That might have come in handy.)

Bella goes to meet James. Almost gets killed. Edward to the rescue in the last possible second. She’s already bitten. Carlisle tells Eddie to suck the venom out if he really doesn’t want Bells to be a vamp (perfectly understandable, seeing that he’d have to put up with her for eternity in that case). Then the movie loses me again. Edward sucks out the venom, has trouble stopping, almost kills Bella… and Carlisle just sits there, right next to him, and lets him continue slurping. One would think that it wouldn’t be too much trouble to reach out and pull Eddie away, right? Or maybe Carlisle wants to get rid of Bella just as much as I do, always a possibility worth considering. But let’s say that’s not th case, so why doesn’t he do anything?

Nevermind. Try as Carlisle might, Bella survives the scene, which is really a shame, because that will mean more movies. She wakes up in the hospital and mum is there. Luckily we know who she is, so there is no confusion about that, but we do wonder why anyone still lets Edward anywhere close to Bella, given the story they have thought up to explain all her wounds. Either they believe him, in which case he’s responsible for a whole truckload of shit happening to their precious Bella, or they don’t, in which case he likely as not pushed her down the stairs himself. Nothing makes sense, unless you believe that they all want to get rid of her too.

Not an unreasonable assumption, if you ask me.

Final scene and the next-to-last paragraph of this XXL review. The prom. Bella and Edward look very cool in their interior-design-compatible outfits, but just for once I can’t really complain, because that seems to be the point of a themed prom. Our two lovebirds retreat to a pavilion to do some serious dancing, which wouldn’t be worth mentioning if the other three couples already occupying that space didn’t leave immediately after Bella and Edward get there. Either the director didn’t want to waste time on a slightly longer buildup to the romantic dénouement, or Bells has really bad B.O. issues. You decide.

And that’s it, really. Is this a bad movie? Yes. Is it worse than Twilight: New Moon? No, I don’t think so. This one may have more drastic ups and downs in terms of writing as well as special effects, but at least it only has four scenes with Taylor Lautner, and he even keeps his shirt on in all of them. That has to count for something, right? Also, I registered Bella’s mope factor at 8 on a scale from 1 to 10 as opposed to the 34,7 that the sequel manages to field. The movie may be further from the original book that Twilight: New Moon, and not all the alterations make as much sense (in New Moon they positively elevate the movie to a new level of coherency) but all in all, if faced with the choice of having to re-watch either Twilight or Twilight: New Moon, I would put a gun in my mouth and pull the trigger. Or maybe I would watch Twilight… yeah, I probably would. Gun still sounds tempting though.