Meagan Reads SciFi: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

I’ve been participating in the MadLibs Reading Challenge 2018, and I chose this book as one of the “noun” categories. Be warned that spoilers are coming ahead, so if you plan on reading the book, do not pass this line!

Annihilation is a relatively short read, but don’t let it’s small size fool you. There is such a complexity of character and plot happening that the writing itself very much resembles the way the biologist, the main character, views the world around her. Even though VanderMeer wrote the story so that none of the characters had names, it didn’t create for a lack of depth with each one. I felt a particular kinship with the biologist though, as we saw most of the story unfold from her point of view.

She tells the story with a clinical voice, especially at the beginning, in which she constantly talks about observation and analyzing the environment around her, whether it’s in a lab, at a tidepool, or even in her own marriage. She makes it clear that observation holds more value to her rather than interaction, and I felt such a relief in seeing a female character that emphasizes this point without ever being villainized. Through her habit of observation, she remains apart from her ecosystem, and never becomes a part of the ecosystem. I think after recent conversations I had with a friend of mine about how I’m so quiet all the time and I rarely tend to interact with people, it felt good to see another woman portrayed this way, but not made to be evil.

That doesn’t mean that her tendency toward introspection and observation didn’t irk those around her. It’s made clear in her flashbacks to her marriage with her husband, one of the lost souls to the previous Southern Reach expedition to Area X, that he was vexed with her habit of retreating into her own observations and never letting anyone in, emotionally. When she volunteered to go as part of the next expedition, the psychologist was also annoyed at how little she could get out of the biologist.

Now, as to the plot of the story, I’m not gonna lie. I don’t entirely know what it’s point is or where it’s going (as there are two more books). I do know that I enjoyed the scenery VanderMeer created with the plant spores that created actual writing on the wall and seemed to have its own life. Throughout the book, the reader knows there have been various expeditions into Area X to study the phenomenon happening, but we know as much as the explorers do. There is no source or origin for why these mutations are happening or how. There is no explanation as to why they are researching and exploring Area X. Do they think it’s dangerous to the world as a whole? Is there still a world outside of the Southern Reach and Area X? If there was an apocalypse, was this the source?

The explorers and reader don’t even know where the entrance point is to Area X. There’s no recollection how they got there, and more worrisome to the mysterious government agency in charge of the expeditions, they don’t know how anyone could have gotten out. The biologist’s husband returned from the expedition, but he was the first to do so and he did not return as himself. One can assume that despite their strained marriage, the biologist entered Area X to find out what came back, because if it wasn’t her husband, what was it, and what else came through? We start to catch glimpses toward the end when the biologist discovers the journals of previous explorers, of which there were many more than the Southern Reach disclosed to present expeditions.

As the book comes to a close, the reader sees there’s something strange going on in the way of clones, doubles, or doppelgangers. How they come to be and where they go is still to be determined. The one thing I wish I had seen more of in the book were the animals and other plants. There was such a  high focus on the living writing on the walls of the tower/tunnel that the reader didn’t actually see much of Area X’s other creatures, except for a brief appearance of a wild hog that comes close to the expedition’s camp.

When I’ve talked about this book with friends I’ve described it as the kind of story that fans of Archive 81 would enjoy, and I stand by that statement. I’m definitely itching to find out where the biologist’s journey takes her in the end as she follows her husband’s path deeper into Area X, so I will be picking up the next book.

Has anybody else read this book? What did you think? Do you have theories as to what Area X is exactly and how it came to be? Let me know in the comments!

In the End — Sharing

Another great piece on the Drabble. How can someone be so riveting in so little words?!

By Donna L. Greenwood “When they drop the bomb, there’ll be nothing left worth surviving for,” he said. And then they dropped the bomb. I couldn’t bring myself to gobble up the pills or drink the vodka he had provided. He had no such trouble. Halfway through the vodka, he told me a joke about […]

via In the End —

Sharing from the Drabble

By Richard Helmling As the ash piled up on the sixth day, they finally decided to head south. “Por favor,” they made their son practice as they drove. They avoided El Paso because the last radio broadcasts they had received said it was impossible to cross there. So they found a seemingly desolate stretch of […]

via Inversion —

A short piece but it packs a punch.

Keeping Time

Another old assignment from my undergrad years as a creative writing major at UCF.

“Again Daddy, again,” Susie laughed as her father, Frank, finished waltzing her around their private garden. The array of flowers changed from side to side, surrounding the father and his daughter with pink and red roses, white and purple carnations, aromatic white gardenias, and orange and yellow chrysanthemums, their sweet aroma dancing around them.

“Again?” he chuckled, bestowing his beloved daughter with a tender smile. “We’ve already danced through two songs.”

“But this one is my favorite.” She giggled, clasping her hands in front of her, bending forward in urgency, pleading for another dance with her father.

“That’s what you said about the last two.” He winked at her, a mirthful glint in his eyes. He was teasing her, pretending to sit down on the gray marble bench near the garden’s arch entrance, watching as she anxiously awaited him to join her again. Of course, he would not deny his little girl another dance.

The next song began, a delicate melody being plucked lightly on an acoustic guitar. The sun floated in the sky, a brilliant, golden orb. Susie never stopped laughing and smiling, her happiness contagious. A cool summer breeze ruffled their clothes and hair, and the sun warmed them inside out. The flowers’ fragrance in the air was sweet on their lips.

“This one is my absolute favorite,” Susie chimed, tilting her head back as her father held onto her, keeping her from falling.

“This one is my favorite too.” Frank took Susie’s hand and twirled her gracefully, so content with that small, soft hand clinging to his. The music began to fade to an end just as the sun was almost finished setting, leaving a perfect line of gold on the horizon. Susie’s head nodded and Frank picked her up, bringing her inside, keeping time to the fading waltz.

Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

I finished reading the first in the Brooklyn Brujas series, Labyrinth Lost, a few days ago. I decided to sit on my experience for a bit before writing about it. I want to talk about how I discovered the book in the first place. Thanks to various Goodreads book giveaways, the novel was put on my radar and I entered all the different times I could. The cover alone intrigued me as I immediately recognized its Day of the Dead decoration, which meant this had to be a Latinx protagonist (I hadn’t noticed the series title at that point yet). Then I saw the series title and I saw the author’s name, so I clicked on her profile. I found out she was Ecuadorian raised in New York, so naturally, yes, I had to read this book. I have Ecuadorian roots myself so that made me inclined to read this story. I’m so glad I did.

labyrinth lost

I’ve read plenty of fantasy books, between Tamora Pierce, Cassandra Clare, and Cinda Williams Chima. While I love those books and series, the mythology is heavily based in Anglo-Saxon culture and history. Even in fantastical, fictionalized worlds, Euro-centric stories prevail. I’m a fan of those authors and the stories and characters they’ve created, but even so, I never felt like I saw myself in any of those worlds or people. Enter Zoraida Cordova with Brooklyn Brujas and for the first time ever, in all the books about magic and myth and folklore that I’ve read, I saw someone like me. Alejandra Mortiz (the main character) talks about her Ecuadorian family who came to NY by way of Puerto Rico (shout out to my mom’s people). When I told my dad about this seemingly small, throwaway detail, he said, “Oh yeah a lot of us do that. That’s really accurate.”

My family has never practiced brujeria or anything like that, but I am familiar with the background of magic. Likewise, while we’ve never believed in or practiced witchcraft, the underlying concept of the power of ancestry and how the dead are never truly gone is something that resonated with me because in my family, we do believe that our loved ones are always with us, even when they pass. We believe in the other side, and that the veil that divides our worlds is rather thin. There’s even a moment in the book where Alex is describing the superstition of how dropping utensils indicates visitors will be coming soon, and depending on which utensil was dropped, that would state if it was a man or a woman. I couldn’t help but laugh, because my mom yells, “Visita!” every time one of us drops a utensil in our house. Again, we’re not witches, but it seems certain superstitions just run through our culture. To see my own family beliefs represented in this fantastical world of magic just felt so validating.

The other thing I appreciated about this book was the depiction of Alex’s bisexuality. The fact that she was bisexual had no influence on the outcome of events or the narrative of the story whatsoever. Sure, as most YA novels are wont to do, there was a bit of a love triangle, but it never played into a drama of having to choose one over the other, of being either or. It was accepted and no one batted a lash at the fact that Alex was in love with Rishi. It was just as natural as her growing feelings for Nova. While romance played a small role and was weaved throughout the plot, it never drove the story. If anything, the love for her family was the driving force behind the story, and the fact that her family never questioned or made a deal out of Alex having a crush on Rishi was just such a relief to see in a YA novel that was made to be about magic and family and the power a girl can have.

Overall, if you’re interested in a different culture’s take on magic and fantasy, I highly recommend this book. Labyrinth Lost was just such a fun adventure and kept me turning the pages. I read it in 8 days, and I can’t remember the last time I read a book that fast with my busy schedule.

Meagan Reads Sci-Fi: The Martian by Andy Weir

I feel like it’s been a while since I picked up a book that made me really excited and breeze through it so fast, even with a full-time job and part-time grad school. Andy Weir’s The Martian did that for me. I read it as my 24th book for my 26 book reading challenge (almost done!) for the category “a book with a great opening line.” If memory serves me right, the opening line of this book was, “Well, I’m pretty much fucked.” That’s a really strong start in my opinion. It immediately sets the character’s voice as someone who has a sense of humor in the face of overwhelming odds, and that’s who Mark Watney, the main character, is. Throughout all the terrible things that happen to him, he never loses that smart ass attitude. I genuinely found myself laughing out loud several times while reading, and that is not something that happens often when I read a book.

I admit, I watched the movie first. Listen, I’m an adult now, so I can’t pull that, “I’ll only watch the movie/TV show after I’ve read the book,” crap anymore. There’s just not enough hours in the day. There’s something to be said for watching the movie first in this case. Personally, it helped me wrap my mind around all the science and technology described in the book. Weir’s writing is heavy with specific jargon and tremendous scientific detail. It was written in a way that did not overwhelm me though or make me feel lost, but I do think having the movie in the back of my mind helped with that interpretation of what was happening on the page. The story truly is an adventurous space romp with the added legitimacy of attention to detail about what is real science. At least it sounded like real science to me, so good enough.

Now, truth be told, the writing itself is nothing spectacular. It relies on some pretty shallow character development and the pacing could use improvement. Sentence structure is also lacking, as most of the book is written in frustratingly short, clipped statements. However, even with the lower quality writing style, the narrative itself never really suffers. It maintains its entertainment quality and at the end of the day, in my book, that’s what counts. Sometimes, it’s fun just to have fun with reading.

I’d like to end this post with a note about Mark Watney’s character that I noticed immediately. He reminded me so much of another fictional person that I adore from a show called Killjoys on SyFy: Johnny Jaqobi. So if you’re a fan of that show and that character, then I think you’ll like this book.

Have any of you read The Martian? What are your thoughts on the story and characters?

The Comic Book Kid

I was not, in fact, a comic book kid. They just weren’t something on my radar as a child reader. I had a subscription to a Barbie book club. I frequented the library and eventually as I got older, Borders Bookstore. But comics were just never introduced to me. There was never any negative attitude about them, like saying they weren’t real reading or anything like that. No, comic books just never appeared in my household and I never looked for them, frankly, because I didn’t know they existed to look for.

Then, a few years ago in my early twenties, the guitarist from my favorite band announced he was releasing a comic book series. Naturally, being obsessed with Good Charlotte, I absolutely had to pick up Billy Martin’s Vitriol series. This was my first dive into the comic book world. I had no clue what to expect. As far as I knew, comic books were basically big kid picture books. But oh, dear reader, they are so much more than that. Yes of course, the artwork plays a vital role in the consumption of this media, but to say, “They’re just picture books,” a) demeans the value of picture books and how they impact children’s reading and b) underestimates the true craft that goes into combining appropriate images with a storyline.

See, until I delved into the Vitriol series, I hadn’t realized that comic books had to work double time, with the artist making a conscious choice in structure and style that adhered to the voice and tone of the story being told through dialogue, onomatopoeia and narrative boxes (I don’t know the official industry term for the formatting, that’s just what I call them). In a novel, where the author would describe the movement, emotion, and noises of the protagonist as he bled out from a bullet wound, the comic book artist must use color, shading, and lines to portray the hero as he cringed in pain and indicated wracking coughs with the subtlest of dashes near the drawing’s mouth. Complex, right?

Now, I admit that before Martin’s work was announced, I’d been toying with the idea of picking up comic books because I was so invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Where was I supposed to start, though, with superheroes who had a 50+ year history? Starting with a publication that didn’t come from one of the big two in the industry turned out to be the perfect introduction to comic books. I found myself going back and rereading books to catch every inch of color and artwork that I may have missed while reading the words on the page, as my eyes had been so vigorously trained to do for so many years.

After that, I felt brave enough to try my hand at Marvel with the Axis series. Let me tell you, reading that storyline was a bonkers experience. It was confusing and chaotic, but still, I felt better prepared for it having accustomed myself to the format with the previous comic books. I may have been 22 when I picked up my first series, but now I truly feel like a comic book kid.