Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

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I know it might come as a surprise to many people when I confess that this is the first time I’m reading Harry Potter. HP is such a staple in children’s fantasy, which is one of my favourite genres (probably the most). But the way circumstances would have it, I only picked up the series a couple of weeks ago.

I’ll keep this review brief, because I think everyone by now is familiar with the series.

Rating: 5/5

Needless to say, I enjoyed it. It was a lot more whimsical that I thought it would be. I did see 6 out of 8 movies, and I had the impression the books would be as dark and mysterious as the movies made the story seem to be. But I think it’s a lot more like Diana Wynne Jones’s books than anything. It’s got a very endearing quality to it, and I’m not surprised at all why so many people fell in love with the book.

I found the characters to be slightly different in the book than they were in the movies. I felt as if the movie got one dimension of their characterization right, but the book gave such great nuances that the movies didn’t have time to show off. Harry, for example, was a lot sassier than he was in the movies. Ron was a lot funnier, although I do remember Rupert Grint making me laugh hysterically when I watched the films as a kid. Hermione was so intense; she was really milking the smarty-pants stereotype so hard, I couldn’t even find her annoying for it. And Neville! Whoa, I was surprised how much screen time Neville got. He was always that outlying character in the movies, but here, the gang really seemed more like a quad than a trio. I have a feeling I’m going to really love Neville even more in the following books.

Overall, I feel like I understood the story better now. As a kid, I never quite knew what was going on — only that there were things going on with Harry and he needed to fix them, hehe.

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The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

19385917Hey everyone! I’m back with another book review. This time, I will be reviewing an adult fantasy that one of my favourite series, The Legend of Eli Monpress by Rachel Aaron, has frequently been compared to: The Lies of Locke Lamora.

Overview

Locke Lamora and his band of thieves, called The Gentlemen Bastards, launch a complex plot to steal half the fortune of one of the barons in the City of Camorri. However, they become embroiled in the bigger, more dangerous plots of a mysterious man named the Grey King.

Rating: 4.5 / 5
Warnings: cursing (high), gore (high), sexual content (medium)

My Thoughts

I think this is the first book I’ve read that didn’t get a full score because some things were lacking, but because they were excessive. So it’s safe to say that this book has everything I like in books: dynamic, empathetic characters; complex plots; and interesting world-building. It really does have everything. Continue reading “The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch”

That Manifesto Thing

Last week someone at work brought to my attention the Google Manifesto shenanigan over the previous weekend. As a woman in tech, I hear about things like this all the time, but I’m too caught up with other activities to respond to these things publicly. I try to be a positive person, so instead of dwelling on all the lame comments that peppered social media, I’m just going to focus on those who have rebutted the manifesto with much better articulation that I could ever have.

A Brief History of Women in Computing: What I love about this article is that it pointed out what I felt was the biggest problem in the Google Manfiesto. The manifesto presented several biological research and used it to try to justify why women could be less suited for computing. However, as this article points out, the jump was too big. The biological components pointed out may explain certain traits, but not how those traits exactly cause an interest (or lack thereof) in computing specifically. As it is, the manifesto (yes I read it) sounded like it was motivated by the author’s deeply held stereotypes about women and he tried to back up his beliefs retroactively. Additionally, the manifesto does not address how modern computing environments were shaped by men and optimized for their own behaviour. Because let’s face it: a profession’s environment affects its workers, while workers in turn affect the environment. The relationship is symbiotic. Several of the manifesto’s points pertain more to computing environments rather than the actual task. For example, it said that computing is a high-stress profession requiring less empathy and social interactivity. Is it possible that women, with their different biology, could thrive in a different, yet equally productive, computing environment? I don’t know, and I think it would be more productive to conduct research on it than to rely on stereotypes to make leaps in conclusion.

So, About this Googler’s Manifesto: What I like about this article is his explanation about how engineering isn’t an isolated endeavour. This was a misconception I had when I was younger, and it’s actually something that attracted me to the field, because I like doing solo work. I’ve grown out of that misconception though, and I love computer science enough to also appreciate its collaborative and social aspect.

Tech’s Damaging Myth of the Loner Genius Nerd: This article expands a little bit more on the misconception of engineering as a solo task. What’s even more important is that it points out one of the things that really annoy me in the Artificial Intelligence / Deep Learning sector today: engineers seem to be developing tools for things that I don’t think many people will use. Take for example, machines that beat other players in a very particular game. What is this doing for the world at large? For people who are not gamers? For people from low-income households or third-world countries? What is this doing for the environment, for our healths, for improving society in general? As a computer scientist, making a positive impact in the world is my life goal, and it can be puzzling to hear that advancements in my chosen concentration mostly serve such a tiny niche. Every week you hear about that new deep neural net that can now replace a writer or an artist, but how about helping marginalized creators reach the audience who want to read their work? When did voices of machines become more important than the voices of humans? Especially when you know that these machines have been trained on a very particular subset of work that are most likely mainstream already. This article explains a little bit more on why empathy might be the key to averting this trend.

Anyway, that’s all I have for now. Like I said, I don’t like to dwell on this kind of situations. If you have any article you’d like to share, let me know. Or if you have thoughts about computer science or AI and what you think they can do for society, let me know too!

Gap Books

I saw this today over at Shannon Hale’s twitter:

Please read the entire thread! It touches upon some important issues I feel strongly about in the children and YA publishing industry.

July 2017 Camp NaNoWriMo

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Woot! So I’m a winner in this month’s Camp NaNoWriMo!

Alright, so I might have cheated a little bit and bumped down my target word count from 50,000 to 40,000. That said, my goal for this camp was to finish off my first draft, and finish it off I did! There were some parts that I was unsure about, and had to write a detailed outline instead of writing it out fully; there were other parts that made sense in my initial outline but no longer did by the time I came to it, so I just jotted down some notes to remind myself to fix it later on. But I suppose these are what first drafts are for.

 

Moribito: Guardian of the Darkness by Nahoko Uehashi

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Okay, I am so excited to review this book. This is the sequel to Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, which is also the the basis of the anime, Seirei no Moribito. I read the book and I watched the anime back in 2015, and I fell completely in love with both. I got distracted since then, which was why it took me so long to pick this book up even though I bought both books at the same time. I really regret it, because… you guys… this book is beyond amazing!

Overview

After the events of Guardian of the Spirit, Balsa decides to return to her homeland of Kanbal, from which she and her foster-father were forced to escape due to a cruel conspiracy by the late King Rogsam. She wishes to find closure from her past and believes that returning to her homeland to find it is the best idea. However, upon her return, she finds herself once again entangled in another conspiracy, possibly still a continuation of the one that had led to her flee in the first place.

Rating: 5/5

My Thoughts

Oh my gosh, you guys. I really want to applaud this book for not shying away from really tough situations. I’m not talking about X-rated, cover-your-eyes type of situations, but complicated themes like death, revenge, shame and honour. I know that these themes already often occur in books that are geared for older audiences, but it seems that because they occur so often, they are rarely relegated sufficient thought and exploration. However in this book, you really get to see how these themes affect a person’s humanity.

What I love about this book first and foremost is the clever political intrigue. There was political intrigue in the first book as well, but this took it to an entire level altogether. Everyone was so smart, and you can feel the motivations of the characters, even those who had been corrupted by the first conspiracy.

The second thing I love about this book is the emotions. It might use simple, middle-grade level vocabulary to communicate, but oh man, that does not at all prevent the emotions from coming through. I was sitting on the train yesterday to work and trying not to cry during the climax because of that heart-breaking plot twist.

Ah yes, the plot twist. The plot twist that was foreshadowed from the very first chapter and yet I still completely MISSED until I was reading it. I could feel my heart stop. And I just want to bawl my eyes out. Oh Balsa. Poor, poor Balsa and poor, poor Jiguro.

Just like in the first book, the magic in this book does not really follow a system. It’s based on tradition and what “experts” in the magic tell you, and you must take it at face value. As someone who loves magic systems, this kind of magic is a little underwhelming, but you can tell that the story isn’t *about* the magic. It’s about the people who are just trying to make the best of their circumstances, and if those circumstances happen to deal with magic, so be it.

This book follows the same bittersweet ending that the first book did. Balsa may have accomplished her goal, but sometimes she needs to leave good friends behind and go on to a different adventure. She is such a lonesome soul, I really want to know if she can find a place she can comfortably call home.

The only thing I really, really missed in this book was Tanda, her friend from the first book. Tanda was my favourite in the first book. However, that said, it was very heartwarming to see Balsa think of Tanda whenever she needed hope and warmth. It broke my heart when she thought of visiting him as a spirit in case she dies. I just… these two just need to get together already!

Writing Woes: My Bad Habits as a Fanfiction Writer

It’s July! That means it’s Camp NaNoWriMo! So far, I’ve been lucky to find the time to write so that I am, on average, hitting my word and plot goals. This month I plan to finish off the first draft to my novel, and I’m trying to do that in around 50,000 words.

The first two times that I participated in NaNoWriMo (the official one last November, and the camp version in April), I tried to employ the techniques I used as a fanfiction writer to churn out enough words and get my story moving. As you know, I have been writing fanfiction for 13 years, so I thought that if I had been able to write for that long, then I must have been doing something right.

I don’t think I was wrong in assuming that. But I think I was wrong in thinking that all the techniques I used to spin out story after story would apply to original fiction. Comparing how much better I’m doing in my third NaNoWriMo than the first two, I think I’ve sorted out which habits I used for fanfiction that aren’t translating very well to my original story.

1. Show, Don’t Tell

Yup, you read that right. This is such a common advice for making your story better all the time, but I find that this isn’t the case for me. At least, it isn’t the case right now in my first draft.

I know why people duke out this advice frequently. I’ve read my fair share of books that just aren’t immersive. The best reading experience is when you feel, as a reader, that you’re part of the world you’re reading. To give this experience, writers must “show, not tell.”

The catch with this advice is that, IMHO, you really should not be showing all the time. This is a technique that I used as a fanfiction writer so that I could churn out those 15,000 word chapters that are so popular in fandoms. The more words you write, the more material your readers can engage in. That’s what they like. And fanfiction chapters are no big commitment to readers; they’ll gobble the stuff up at midnight, and wait (impatiently or patiently) for the next chapter.

So to beef up my chapters, I used to show everything. A character walking up the stairs? Yup, I’ll show how he took one step and the next, and I’ll probably describe what kind of internal conflict is prancing to the beat of those steps. I once read a fanfiction that described someone slipping and falling in so much detail, that it took more time for me to read the passage than for the character to fall.

While I think this is excusable in fanfiction, in the first draft of my original story I realized that it’s holding me back. When I need to advance the plot in the grand scheme of my story, does it really matter what the characters are eating for breakfast and how they’re eating it and what they think about it? Do I really need to spend a page describing said breakfast? Because really, that’s what showing means. Showing is supposed to bring the readers along for the ride, and how can readers be immersed in the experience of breakfast if I don’t describe it?

The thing about writing that I’m discovering rather quickly is that not everything is important. If something is not going to make a very big impact in your book, or it’s not going to advance the plot or the characterization in some way, it’s probably best if you keep it out. Hence, it’s totally okay to just say, “Bob and Bill had breakfast, and then drove away.”

Because this is an advcie that I see everywhere, I’m still trying to get used to the idea that I can just “tell.” But for the first draft, I know that I can always plump up my scenes later after I’ve established what exactly is important or not.

2. Resort to Introspection

I love, love, love introspective fanfictions. All those times we’ve wondered what a character was actually thinking in a particular scene? Or perhaps I’m reading an AU and I want to see how their mind works in this new world? I’m game! Introspection is one of my indulgent guilty-pleasures.

So naturally when I write, I tend to resort to introspective scenes quite often. I do it primarily to fill up my word count in a show-y kind of way (as I mentioned above), but I also do it to open the characters’ minds up to the readers. My one-shots are usually full of introspection; my multi-chaptered fanfictions that have overarching plots have less introspection, but they are still noticeably there.

And here’s why I think too many introspective passages won’t work so well in original fiction: you want to leave some of those inner dialogue up to the reader. There’s a reason why I’m attracted to introspective fanfiction, and it’s because I didn’t get them in the canon material. But depending on what kind of story you’re writing, the main job of the canon material is to tell that story effectively in a limited number of space; the thing is, you’re not always going to have the luxury of giving a blow-by-blow account of what your character is thinking, and chances are, there are more important parts to the story you should be writing instead. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am primarily geared towards character-driven stories moreso than plot-driven ones. All I’m saying is that we don’t always need to be in their minds all the time. Sometimes, it’s sufficient to just see through their eyes.

That said, I totally understand that there are novels out there whose primary job is to get us into a character’s head. Mrs Dalloway, anyone? But considering that I’m writing a children’s fantasy adventure story, there are other things that I might need to be developing.

(Late reminder, but from now on, when I say “story,” assume I’m talking about genre fiction at the very least, or more specifically, fantasy fiction.)

3. Write 10,000 word chapters

As a natural result of the first two, my stories tend to have extremely long chapters. Each of my fanfiction chapters have at least 3 scenes in it, whereas a typical chapter in a real book probably deals with only one scene at a time (not all, but mostly).

I realized how much this held me back in writing my original story, because I wouldn’t feel comfortable ending a chapter within, say, 1000 words even though I’ve already written what needed to happen in that scene. And I’d go, “How can I make this longer?” And so I would resort to #1 and #2. That meant I was spending time not advancing the story in any meaningful way. Ironically, because I was so used to padding my chapters with #1 and #2, I didn’t think about writing more effective scenes in their places. I would feel “stuck” on a chapter, because that other scene that would advance the plot obviously belonged to the next chapter, and I would keep postponing it. Terrible habit.

4. Take Weeks To Write a Chapter

And this definitely follows from the first three. As a fanfiction writer, I set my goal for finishing each chapter within two weeks. For 10,000 words this seemed reasonable, especially because I’m a commuter and I work full-time. But sometimes, even when nothing is happening in a chapter, I would wait out those two weeks and try to churn something.

It took me a while to convince myself that I absolutely don’t need to spend two weeks on a chapter. I could write whatever I can today, and if tomorrow I feel like there’s nothing left in a chapter to work on, I could move on.


Well, when I started this last week, I think I had more example of bad habits on my mind. Now that I am finishing up, I realize I can’t think of anymore. So why don’t I take some advice from myself, and it this post right here? =)