[personal profile] snarp

Cut for length.

(Edited to add summaries, which I forgot before.)

Angels’ Blood, Nalini Singh

Sexy angels rule the earth, and they turn willing humans into immortal sexy vampires, for the price of becoming the angels’ indentured servants. Elena is a human bounty hunter with superhuman strength who brings vampires who try to go back on their deals back to their masters. Raphael, one of the world’s ten archangels, hires her to take down an archangel who’s turned into a vampire.

I am not the intended audience for this book! I like angst-ridden romances and horrible power dynamics and stuff involving angels and vampires and heavily-armed women, but I am still not the intended audience for this book! That’s just how it is. It’s that I have trouble with a book that makes me think fondly of Jean Claude from Anita Blake. “Jean Claude never threatened to kill Anita’s best friend’s baby.”

And Jean Claude canonically likes chocolate cheesecake. This is an endearing trait. I don’t think Raphael likes anything. Raphael is just Alpha Guy. He has a crazy-expensive house and it exists entirely to intimidate Elena. He doesn’t have any hobbies. He just dominates women and rules North America with an iron fist.

I guess basically I’m saying that I feel I could go along with this if Raphael just canonically liked chocolate cheesecake. I’m not proud of this.

All the female characters who are not Elena are 1) evil and crazy, 2) raped or traumatized, or 3) clearly intended to be the protagonist of a later book in the series. And there’s only two women who are clearly intended to be the protagonists of later books, and one of them actually is raped and traumatized - the other doesn’t do anything on-screen.

But there are five or six potential-protagonist-type guys, and the guys all do stuff, and most of them sexually harass the heroine. Also, one of the guys is named “Venom.” Go away, Venom.

Powers That Be, Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

An ex-soldier is sent on medical discharge to the frozen planet Petaybee, where she is asked to take on the assignment of spying on the inhabitants to discover if illegal genetic engineering is being done. The inhabitants seem to have a special form of communion with their animals and the planet itself, but when outsiders try to pry into their secrets, they seem to go mad. Simultaneously, a boy comes to Petaybee with his geologist father to search for a valuable mineral deposit seen from orbit. He and his father find something that seems to age his father thirty years in one night.

Somehow I failed to notice Scarborough’s name on there until I was half-way through, so I was thinking excitedly, “Wow, maybe McCaffrey isn’t a crazy jerk after all!” There are women who have relationships with other women, and they’re presented as important! There’s no evil whore! The love interest isn’t a rape-y alpha male! And there’s this Hispanic gay couple raising a kid in there, and they’re presented sympathetically slightly more than half the time!

I’m pretty sure that slightly-over-half is Scarborough. I swear you can literally feel Scarborough putting the brakes on McCaffrey’s meanness in here, and McCaffrey ramping it back up when she’s not looking. I feel like this must have been a pretty stressful collaboration. McCaffrey is the master of Inhumane Wish Fulfillment Fantasies. She makes the heroes and they’re really, really good, and smart, and pretty, and everyone loves them. And then she makes a bad guy and she makes him really, really bad. He says horrible things, he does horrible things, there’s weird sexual stuff, he’s bad at his job (whatever it is), he’s ugly. It’s all designed to make you go “I hate this person so much! I hope he dies horribly!” And then he does! It’s usually his own fault somehow. And then the heroes have a party, where they say, “Yup. I knew it.

Anne McCaffrey!

I worry I may have developed anger management issues due to prolonged exposure to this woman at a vulnerable age.

Anyone who ever causes even a little bit of trouble for McCaffrey’s heroes has to either be proved to be completely crazy-evil, and thus die horribly, or has to completely abase himself to the heroes. You can really feel the book struggling against itself here. There’s a sorta-bad-guy McCaffrey clearly wants to make into a McCaffrey Bad Guy - she just wants to cream the bastard. But then this guy’s dad’s spaceship crashes. I’m imagining Scarborough desperately sneaking in the spaceship crash scene while McCaffrey’s on the phone with her horse. McCaffrey Bad Guys don’t love their dads! But Scarborough apparently isn’t into that, so after the spaceship crashes scene we’ve constantly got the heroine trying to decide if the guy really loves his dad or if he’s just looking for his dad’s crashed spaceship for self-serving career-related reasons. (You know, I don’t like you right now, heroine.) You can feel McCaffrey and Scarborough switching off in which way the heroine’s judgment of the guy is hanging.

There’s also the McCaffreyan desire to make gay guys neurotic and messed up and morally weak, pitted against Scarborough’s desire to put in this nice gay couple raising a kid. So there’s this back-and-forth about whether the gay couple are actually in love and whether they’re actually nice. Similar stuff happens with everyone who causes trouble for the heroes. In the end, McCaffrey only gets to brutalize one guy in the manner to which she is accustomed. I’m betting it was hard for her.

Basically, I have no earthly idea whether I think this is a good book, simply because my youthful obsession with Anne McCaffrey renders it impossible for me to read this as anything but a kind of psychoanalytical artifact. It’s got some cute stuff, particularly in a very sweet relationship between the ex-soldier heroine and a sheltered teenaged taxi-driver girl (I said more about the plot in that one sentence than in the past six paragraphs), but I feel the climax was kind of a mess because of the tension between a Classic McCaffreyan Catharsis and whatever it is Scarborough goes in for. I don’t think I’ve ever read any of her stuff; the main effect this book had on me was to make me want to find some.

Crystal Singer, Anne McCaffrey

The egotistical Killashandra Ree has trained for years to be an orchestral singer, only to be told that a flaw in her voice makes her unsuitable for leading roles. Furious with the mentor she feels misled her, she meets a man who calls himself a Crystal Singer - an elite group of singers and craftsmen, all with perfect pitch, who are the only ones who can mine a certain class of valuable gems. But Crystal Singers are also vulnerable to a specific kind of brain damage that causes amnesia, and to become a singer, one must allow oneself to be infected with a symbiote that kills many, and cripples others. Killashandra, lured by the Specialness of the Singers, decides to risk it.

This book is Anne McCaffrey operating at her most unpleasant. Her villain-manufacturing equipment seems to have developed a slight defect here - the people she beats up on include 1) a woman with serious post-traumatic stress from being stranded in space for too long, 2) a lonely guy with a stutter, and 3) a group of seriously brain-damaged people (the other Singers), some of whom have to make audio recordings to remember who they are for more than an hour. There’s an alpha male and the climax doesn’t work. I think the climax’s problem is that she belatedly realized how gross it was going to look if the heroine’s Cathartic Revenge was on the brain-damaged people, so she shoved in some completely new characters to bully the heroine for the last quarter of the book.

(Crossposted to SarahPin.com, Dreamwidth, and LiveJournal. You can leave comments at whichever.)

Date: 2009-07-01 02:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] meganbmoore.livejournal.com
I think I've read Crystal Singer! And a sequel! Though I've blocked everything but "hey, that singing thing is cool." I've mostly forgotten the McCaffrey's I read as a youth, though I do remember Damia, where the heroine's love interest was a guy who had been in love with her mother before Damia was born and, like, helped change Damia's diapers, and when Damia first has sex, she accidentally kills the guy with her psychic powers (or maybe just makes him braindead?) and then she's talking to her future husband right after and is all "But what if it had been you! It would have been worse than a random disposable character who exists so I can have the angst of accidentally killing someone during sex!"

(And people wonder why I have hangups about some age-difference pairings and paitings where one helped raise the other in some context.)

Should I read Scarborough? I have this vague idea that I have, and she sounds less scary.

Singh sounds very scary, though in a different way, though I, too, like most of the things you listed off.

Date: 2009-07-01 02:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] meganbmoore.livejournal.com
Oh man, I remember that about Damia's husband. Shoot, now I'm trying to remember what happened with her kids' romances...

Date: 2009-07-01 05:55 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] inkstone
Oh god, I remember the son who got together with the soldier but I must have blocked the memory of the daughter who turned the gay guy straight. UGH.

Date: 2009-07-01 06:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cerusee.livejournal.com
No, she just burns out his mind; supposedly, he may recover to some extent, but will definitely be crippled for life and never be a functional psychic again. About on the magnitude of leaving a talented professional athlete a paraplegic because you hit him with a car when you were driving drunk. I believe the scenario went something like this: Damia is a Prime (the most powerful, talented, and versatile kind of psychic) who decides to lose her virginity to another psychic without revealing her identity (daughter of two well-known, very powerful Primes her partner would have known of) or the fact that she's immensely more powerful than him. During sex, their brains link up (as happens when psychics do it), but because she's so much more powerful, she accidentally burns his brains out. It's her fault because she didn't bother to learn about safe sex for psychics, talk to anyone around her who could have educated her (her parents, her older siblings, her mentors, etc), and her partner had no idea who she was and what danger she posed to him.

But it always annoyed me because if her parents/siblings/mentors had bothered to PROVIDE her with any education on safe sex for psychics, it wouldn't have happened. But no, even though she was a horny, independent teenager with a long, well-established history of haring off into different kinds of trouble from her toddlerhood onwards, they left her just sail through adolescence without any guidance at all, and then when she screwed up big-time, treated her as though it was her fault alone that she hadn't known about all the pitfalls of sex. I might add, since there are no taboos ABOUT sex, and she's clearly of age, it's unforgivable that her family didn't anticipate that she'd be interested in having sex, and probably looking for partners outside her immediate social circle.

There is just so much bad parenting in McCaffrey books.
From: [personal profile] inkstone
I think Damia just brain damages the guy. Like she would have killed him but she freaks out and teleports in the middle of it straight into the arms of the love interest.
From: [personal profile] meganbmoore
Who probably changed her diapers and looked through the SciFi version of the maternity ward window when she was an hour old.

(Though, mind you, Kare Kano may have topped this trope.)
From: [personal profile] inkstone
(Possibly.)

I remember a scene between Damia and Afra -- I can't remember if it was in The Rowan or Damia, probably Damia. Anyway, it was the scene in which she was a baby -- like crawling on the floor but was super mad that Afra was preventing her from leaving a room or something and started headbutting his shins. D:

I'm so embarrassed that my thirteen-year-old self loved that book. Despite the badness, I'm still fond of Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar books for what they are. McCaffrey's psychic books though? ARGH, WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME?
From: [personal profile] meganbmoore
The Valdemar books are, generally, well intentioned, I think. Whereas McCaffrey is just nuts and prejudiced.

Date: 2009-07-01 05:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] darkelf105.livejournal.com
Oh my, I read soooooooooo much McCaffrey when I was younger and I don't remember it being so bad. But then, that show's you what I fourteen year old notices. I've been eying some of her books on my shelves....but maybe not.

Did you read the series with Scarborough (I think) with the sentient ships? I remember the Ship Who Sings....well, parts....and...maybe I just blocked her out. Some one just donated a very, very 1970's art book of Pern and my boss gave it to me with a smirk because we can't put it in the collection...and I'm gonna have to scan some stuff in for it begs to be shared.

Also, I think I read Crystal Singer, too. Is that the one the opens with the main character literally contemplating her navel and how rock solid her buns are?

Date: 2009-07-02 08:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] darkelf105.livejournal.com
Lol, maybe one of the sequels then. I, uh, read so much as so fast and so long ago that stuff blurs together.

Yay! Someone else read the Brainship books. I tried explaining it to my fiance once, but I think his headed just sorta caved in under all the wait!whats?. He was very perplexed.

Date: 2009-07-02 07:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lacrimawanders.livejournal.com
Not to mention that having a vocal burr would actually be considered a quality of the voice, rather than an eliminating factor in a solo career.

Even when I was young I got the impression that things were skewed in McCaffery books, ie, "waitasecond, if you phrase this third-person exposition a little differently, F'nor is kind of an asshole, and F'lar is an egotistical jerk. Whoa!"

Also, the chocolate cake thing is humanizing. It's character depth, where you least expect it.

Date: 2009-07-13 06:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] meganbmoore.livejournal.com
I have returned after finishing the Signh and healing my soul with lady pirates an a bit of spies and crossdressing tutors.

I see you mentioned Venom. As he was giddily anticipating Raphael torturing Elena, I hope he, too, gets shot by the heroine of his inevitable book. Ditto for Dmitri. I Am Featherless Angel Of Angsty Forbidden Lost Love and I Am Minority Spy Angel With A Significant Tattoo were ok, though. Hunter Guy was also decent, but I am opposed to his getting his own book as that will no doubt require his girlfriend dying first.

But you know, if you got rid of most of the important male characters (or at least didn't have them the hero and future heroes) I think this would have been pretty good. Which kind of makes me sound like the reverse of unflattering slash fan stereotypes. But I am confident the characters they want to go away are not attempted rapists who violate minds (actually, he arguably DID rape at least 2 Hunters while hunting Elena...) and anticipate women being tortured for defending themselves from attempted rape and then shooting said rapist when he later hunted them down.

Date: 2010-04-19 07:53 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] holyschist
This is way more hilarious than actually reading Anne McCaffrey novels. ♥

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