Episode Number: 84
Episode Title: Back to the Same Old Tricks (listen to this episode)
Transcript by: Susan the Great
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Renay: Can you believe it has been two months since we recorded together? It’s been a long time, Ana. I missed you.
Ana: Yeah, I missed doing this, too.
Renay: Not me? Like, me, specifically? Okay.
Ana: And you. No, of course! No.
Renay: I wish everybody could see the expression you’re making right now.
Renay: Hello friends! I’m Renay.
Ana: And I’m Ana.
Renay: And you’re listening to Fangirl Happy Hour.
Ana: We’re back, baby!
[Music: B-3 by BoxCat Games]
Renay: After a very long two month hiatus Ana and I have returned to your ears!
Ana: We have returned!
Renay: We’re back!
Ana: And this is the first time, ever, that we are actually recording with video, and seeing each other’s faces while doing this. It’s like Renay’s like doing like a face for this — [laughter] Oh, man, I wish you could just like show this to everybody, but maybe not.
Renay: It’s a secret. So we’re here to talk about some of the summer books that we’re excited for, to discuss the state of the world, i.e. on fire, and to have a potentially very angry conversation about a book, Empress of a Thousand Skies. Plus recs, cause we have to end it happy.
[Music: B-3 by BoxCat Games]
Renay: It is beginning to be the summer and summer is sometimes a slow book season. It depends on what year it is because I’ve had summers where a lot of books that I wanted to read came out and then I’ve had years where June to July was nothing. And I was just like, “Well, I guess I’m gonna read from my shelf.”
Ana: Well, it’s because usually the big publishing months are in spring and fall, right? Especially September and October. That’s when the biggest releases of a year are slated to be published.
Renay: I cheated.
Ana: What did you do?
Renay: On my list.
Ana: In what way?
Renay: We made a list of five books. I had six originally and then Ana stole one of mine so I took it off.
Ana: Why would you do that?
Renay: We don’t need to mention it twice!
Ana: We do! Like to make a point that we both really, really, really, really want to read that book and I bet everybody will know what we’re talking about immediately.
Renay: Immediately, but we’re not going to spoil it. If you know, if you think you know, just, you know, tell us on Twitter. So, you’re gonna go first and tell me the five books that you are excited about for the summer.
Ana: My first book is The Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee. You have probably heard this podcast before. You know how much we both loved Ninefox Gambit. Last year it was one of my top ten books and this is the sequel/companion novel and I’m really excited for it. And it’s actually out next week, I have a copy which I’m holding right here and I’m probably gonna read that next. And Renay is shaking her head and just going like, “Ew, I hate you Ana, I hate you,” so I’m just like I’m gonna add this commentary about her reactions to my picks. You’re welcome, guys.
Renay: I pre-ordered it because I was excited, and unlike some people I didn’t get a review copy.
Ana: Not sorry.
Renay: It’s fine. I have eight hundred other things to read, anyway. I’m covered.
Ana: So, the next one is The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana. If you remember she’s the author of The Mirror In The Sky, which we talked about on this very podcast and didn’t really like that book very much. But this new one, it’s been described as a romantic coming of age fantasy with Indian fairy tale elements. I think it’s an LGBT romance and it’s about going back in time. So it’s like time travel, LGBT, Indian-inspired fantasy romance. I am going to give it a shot.
Renay: That is also on my list. Not this list, but like, my over-arching eight-hundred-fifty book long TBR.
Ana: The next one is Down Among The Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire. It’s the sequel to Every Heart A Doorway following a different character from the bunch of kids that appeared in that first novella. I really liked that one. I really want to see what she does with the character that appears in this one. That one is actually out next week and I also have an ARC for that one. Renay is now shaking her head despondently.
The next one is The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. That one I saw the cover, couple of months ago, and I didn’t like the look of it. I didn’t even look into what it was about until a group of people that I really like on Twitter started talking about it, calling it “queer as fuck.” And it’s about two friends on their Grand Tour of Europe in the eighteenth century, and then there is magical artifacts and then there are pirates, highwaymen, and then the two guys who fall in love with each other.
Okay, the final one on my list is the one that Renay had on hers, and then she removed it just because, and it’s Buried Heart by Kate Elliott. Who’s surprised? I loved Poisoned Blade last year, it was in my top ten. I just cannot wait to see how she ends this trilogy.
Renay: I keep having to resist sending her DMs just like, “Just send me the Word file.” [laughter]
Ana: When is that one out, I forgot to make a note of that.
Renay: It’s in July.
Ana: It’s right around the corner! I don’t have an ARC for that one.
Renay: That’s what you get for bragging about all your other ones.
Ana: Your turn! Which book are you looking forward to in the summer?
Renay: So I cheated a little bit because this book wasn’t actually on my radar until recently and it came out but the way my library works I have to wait for it. It’s called Grace And The Fever by Zan Romanoff, and it’s coming out from Knopf. Knopf, is that how you pronounce that? I don’t know, I’m just gonna go with it. It came out on May 16th and it’s about Grace, who is a fan of a band called Fever Dream and when she was in middle school, her and everybody were like super into this band, but everybody grows up and she’s the only one left that like is really super invested and so many people were excited about this book and I sort of picked up their hype. For example, Jenny from Reading the End. When Jenny gets excited about a book, I also tend to get excited about the book, thanks Jenny for your excitement.
My second one is Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab. It comes out on June 13th 2017, from Green Willow Books. It’s a sequel to This Savage Song, which I loved. I really ,really identified with the main character, mostly because of her daddy issues. I was just like, “Oh, Kate is me as a child!” So I’m super excited to see where it goes. I’m still mad that the end of that book did not contain full-frontal nudity.
Ana: [laughter] Now I remember your review! [laughter]
Renay: I’m hoping that Victoria Schwab corrects her mistake in the companion.
Third is a romance novel, an m/m romance. I guess you could call it regency romance? It’s like some kinda fantasy regency period and it’s called The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian. I’ve read the first novel and the second; I read them out of order but they were great. They were super fun. So the third one comes out on July 4th from Avon Impulse which I guess is a romance publisher?
Renay: Have you read this series yet?
Ana: I have not, but I think we were going to read this one for the podcast. Did we commit to this?
Renay: We just committed to it.
Renay: Just now.
My fourth book is called Noumenon by Marina Lostetter. It comes out on August 1st from Harper Voyager and it’s about a ship run by clones, who are on their way to explore a mysterious star outside the solar system cause they want to determine whether the star is real or if it’s manufactured, you know, by ~aliens~. I’m super excited about this book. I don’t know what it’s gonna be like, it’s told in a series of vignettes.
Renay: That’s what the blurb said. How did you not hear about this book?
Ana: I don’t know. That sounds amazing.
Renay: Well, it’s space opera or at least space opera adjacent, so I’ve been like paying really close attention to books like that that are coming out so I can add them to my list so they don’t get lost.
And then my fifth book is a non-fiction title called The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African-American Culinary History In The Old South, and it’s by Michael W. Twitty. And Michael Twitty is a culinary historian and he’s black and he’s Jewish and he knows so much about the food of the South, which is where I’m from. And it’s a memoir of his exploration of his past and how it intersects with food. And I’ve been waiting on this book for a long-ass time. A long time.
Because when Beyoncé released Formation and she talked about hot sauce. Later we learned hot sauce was a baseball bat, not actual hot sauce,but it works both ways. Anyway, Beyoncé’s a genius. And when that line started getting pulled apart a lot of Black women started writing about the history about that line and what it meant and the history of food in the South, and I was so fascinated I wanted to read more of that kind of commentary and criticism about culinary history in the South and I couldn’t really find anything. So I really excited to find Michael Twitty’s book and I’m really, really stoked to read it.
Ana: That sounds fascinating. I don’t know what the hot sauce in the bag is, though.
Renay: Beyoncé has a line in her song, “I have hot sauce in my bag, swag.” And in the South, having hot sauce in your bag means that you keep a bottle of hot sauce in your bag that you carry with you because you have no clue how the food is gonna be prepared. If it’s going to be like quote-unquote, “right.” So you have hot sauce in your bag to just make something that’s really bland not bland. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen white people cook food but for all the fact we razed the world looking for spices, we suck at seasoning our food sometimes.
Renay: I don’t know if you’ve ever had baked chicken breast with like nothing on it, but that was a staple of my childhood.
Ana: It’s a staple of British food, too.
Renay: Ugh, why would you do this? That poor chicken deserved better.
Ana: I’m Brazilian. I don’t have that problem.
Renay: She later released a video as part of her little HBO special where hot sauce was a bat that she pulled out to like wreck cars, but it becomes like a double meaning, right? This is why I say Beyoncé’s a genius. And I saw white women do it too, when I was growing up, but I mostly saw it in college where I had black women in my dorm and they would carry condiments in their bags to the cafeteria.
Ana: Did you do the same thing?
Renay: No, not really. I put ranch on everything. Ranch was always available.
Renay: Yes, I’m a heathen, I realize, putting Ranch on everything. I’m sorry.
Ana: Jesus Christ. [laugher]
Renay: So those are my five books!
Ana: They are all sound really interesting! I have not heard of Grace and The Fever and Noumenon before.
Renay: Well, those are our books and we wanna know what books that you, lovely space bees, are looking forward to in the next two and a half months? What do you plan to read pool-side or on the beach? Because that is apparently a thing that happens. Please rec us the books you’re looking forward to.
[Music: Rolling by BoxCat Games]
Renay: We had a segment called Outside The Echo Chamber, but the echo chamber is on fire because everything’s on fire in the world.
Ana: Everything’s on fire!
Renay: We can’t really bust our way through some media discussion without giving a nod to the way the world is imploding as a bunch of angry white men — and women actually — try to undo society.
Ana: Okay, let’s think about this. It’s been two months since we recorded. In this two months, there has been two terrorist attacks in the UK, one terrorist attack in the US, multiple things happening with Donald Trump.
Renay: He touched the orb.
Ana: He talked trash about the mayor of London.
Renay: He fired James Comey.
Ana: And that feels like it was last year. That’s the problem. Two months in 2017 feels like a thousand years.
Renay: Yeah. Things that happened last week feel like, “Oh, that was just last — what? Really?”
Ana: It feels impossible. And then there was a leak just yesterday to the Intercept and the name of the person who leaked the things from the NSA was Reality Winner. That was the name of the person. And that is just like — that blew my mind away because everything in 2017 is surreal.
Renay: There’s an election.
Ana: In the UK. In two days. From the time that we recorded this.
Renay: We’re recording this on June 6th, June 6th 2017. So we have no clue what may have happened in the intervening days slash hours because things just explode and you can’t keep up. Like I feel so sorry for anybody running like a political podcast, because how can you keep up?
Ana: You have to record pretty much every day.
Renay: You have — it has to be your job.
Ana: But with that said, you just said that you — that we don’t know what may happen, I mean, anything can happen, and I just hope that May doesn’t happen.
Renay: Well, France elected Macron.
Ana: Yes, that is true.
Renay: I called him Macaroon for way too long.
Ana: No, I call him Macron.
Renay: Macron. I can’t do it.
Renay: I’m a fucking American and I can’t do vowels.
Renay: He has become my hero. When they were walking toward each other and he was walking towards Donald Trump — and then he swerved to shake Angela Merkel’s hand first, and I’m just like, “You and I are gonna be friends.”
Ana: Boo-yeah! And then all of his photos with him and Trudeau, it’s like “Macrooooon.” He’s like “Trudeauuuuuuuu.” “Mon ami!” “Comme te la vous!”
Renay: Somebody on twitter said their photo op walking around some city looked like a gay romance and I’m like, “You’re not wrong.”
Ana: It’s a moment of levity in the midst of all of this fire. And then! Netflix cancelled Sense8! Like, on top of everything. It’s not enough that the world is shit, everything is going to hell, Donald Trump pulled out of fucking Paris Accord and then we’re all gonna die; at least I had Sense8 to look forward to, and now I don’t have that anymore. And then Thirteen Reasons Why, which I just finished watching, was so bad, so bad, and that got renewed?! And that’s another reason for me to just like go, “Fuck everything!”
Renay: On the plus side, even though the president pulled out of the Accord, a lot of governors – and mayors, too – have been like “Uh…I don’t think so. Nice try, dude, but we’re gonna keep working towards this.”
Ana: A lot of companies as well, right, a lot of CEOs. The CEO of Macmillan, he is issued a statement yesterday saying that, “this is a regrettable choice.” And the worst thing for me, I don’t even know what — if there is one worst thing, but one of the worst things is that it’s just how ignorant Donald Trump sounds when he explains his reasoning behind it. He says they can’t even get the weather right, why would they get this right. And I was just like, “That is so stupid, that is so stupid. How did you guys elect this man?”
Renay: Because they’ve been waging a thirty-year war on public education in the US.
Ana: It all comes back to that, doesn’t it? To ignorance.
Renay: I —yeah, I keep telling you, this has been going on for thirty years. This is not a new thing. Like it just happened underneath our noses. This is why I’m just, “Hey guys, uh, hope you are all thinking about running for local office like school board, city council. Just in case you’re thinking about being involved, you could do that!”
I have spent eight months trying to get in touch with the Craighead County Democrats. That’s the democratic group where I live. And I wrote up this timeline and I sent to the state Democrats just like, “Hey, I’ve been trying to get involved and I’ve been lied to multiple times by the chair of this group saying we’re gonna have a meeting quote-unquote ‘soon.'” Listen, he has been saying we’re gonna have a meeting “soon” since February and it is now June. And the Democrats keep going, “Why did we lose, why did we lose?” Well, I have an idea, and maybe it’s because your progressive rural voters have been abandoned. Like, you’ve abandoned us.
And I’m sure this is not only county that’s having that problem, and I’m sure I’m not — this is not the only state that’s having this problem. The Democrats are a mess. And I’m so sick of all the people going, “Oh, Hillary, shut up, go away, you lost, go away.” Meanwhile, Bernie is — he lost too! But yet no one’s telling him to go away and shut up. And I’m just like, “Do you guys see how sexist you’re being? Can you examine yourselves and look at your internalized sexism, please?”
Ana: And here with looking at all of this and putting it all together and putting that into context it just makes me feel…very hopeless. And I’m not optimistic that will change soon.
Renay: Well, on Thursday you guys have an election and Thursday, James Comey, who was fired last month, even though it felt like it was last year, is testifying before Congress. Our President is apparently scheduling an event, a speaking event of some kind, during Comey’s testimony, because he hates being upstaged.
Ana: But didn’t he say today that’s he’s going to tweet about it?
Renay: I’m sure he will, but now there’s a bot that will put all his statements in the form of a presidential statement.
Ana: It’s fantastic, isn’t it? It just makes it sound even more stupid.
Renay: On top of Portland, the terrorist attack by the white supremacist there, in Montana, I’m sure you heard about this, everybody’s heard about this, but it feels like it was eighteen years ago: the Republican candidate for Congress there, Greg Gianforte, body-slammed a reporter.
Ana: Oh yes, I saw that.
Renay: And in Iowa, the woman challenging Steve King for his seat, Kim Weaver, had to drop out, because of death threats and also they threatened her job. And they were open in telling her that they’d threatened her job because she was running against Steve King.
Ana: And this thing is just go — it’s just out in the open. I can’t really say that things were subtle before because obviously they weren’t, maybe they weren’t for white people, but now it’s out there for everybody to see and people just don’t seem to care.
Renay: The US especially was founded on this horrible event where we enslaved human beings and treated them like chattel, and we’ve never faced it. I mean, I grew up in the South where, in school, the phrase “The War of Northern Aggression” was used unironically to teach us about the Civil War.
Renay: Here in the South, we have civil war monuments to the people who fought on the side of the Confederacy instead of monuments to the actual United States soldiers, the Union soldiers, who were trying to stop us from treating human beings like objects. You see Alabama passed a law saying that you can’t remove Confederate monuments anymore. All of this is because we have refused to deal with the fact that we were founded on racist, bigoted principles. Like we’ve refused to even face our past. Like Germany, they learn about their history and what they did, but we don’t do that here, we bury it. We don’t talk about it.
Ana: It’s not only — it’s not even only slavery, is it, it started before that with the actual colonization and killing the indigenous tribes.
Renay: Yep. And we’ve never dealt with the fact that our culture and our country exist because we did these things. And until we do it’s just gonna keep festering. Like we talk about like the 1940s when we interred Japanese Americans and how like we say, “Oh, that can’t happen again,” well it’s already happening again! ICE is pulling people and detaining them! We talk about Jim Crow laws, but those exist still! We’ve just enshrined them in our criminal justice system and so until we start pulling apart all these things that we did and how we perpetuated those things in different ways into the future it’s gonna remain a trash fire. Donald Trump is not like the cause he is the symptom.
Ana: Absolutely. Whoever says that they are really surprised at how things are right now in the United States because they weren’t expecting the land of the free to be like this, hasn’t been paying attention to your history, really.
Renay: And until we get our act together — and when I say “we” I mean white people, this is the no longer the responsibility of marginalized people, Black people, Latinx people. It’s not their responsibility anymore, it’s white people’s problem, like we’ve gotta fix it. And until we see more white people who are progressive and open minded and able to critique the past without feeling personally attacked, in positions of power, it’s just gonna stay trash.
Ana: And on fire.
Renay: And on fire! Everything’s on fire. On the plus side, now that we discussed it, we’ve made the world aware that we know what’s going on, and now we can just… make this be a happy place again.
Ana: Well, not really, because our next segment’s gonna be about a book that we both did not like.
Renay: Ugh, it’s true. Well, in closing, I give the current state of world politics zero space bees.
Ana: Me too.
[Music: Feel by Chuki Beats]
Renay: Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza is a YA space opera about a princess and a reality TV star and I don’t know how else to describe this book because there’s too much going on and the blurb is a lie.
Ana: The blurb is a lie because it tells that they are gonna meet, right? And they never meet.
Ana: Even though the blurb says that they will.
Ana: So that’s problem number one. It’s about a princess called Rhee, and I’ll tell you that I finished reading this book this morning and I had to look it up just before recording this podcast to see her name, because I couldn’t remember. That’s how forgettable these characters are, unfortunately. She is the daughter of the emperor of a thousand… stars, I guess.
In a galaxy far far away, there are multiple planets and multiple races and multiple different peoples. And her entire family was killed and she’s been brought up to be the empress, but she also is plotting the revenge against someone whom she thinks has killed her entire family for reasons that we never know why she thinks that he has done those things. She just assumes because she never really bothered to try to find out. But she has been moved by revenge, and she keep like, “I’m gonna have my revenge! I’m gonna kill this guy!” and things don’t go according to plan.
On the other side there is this guy called Aly. He’s from the army and he is the equivalent of a person of color within this world, a race that people don’t really like that much, called the Wraetans. And he was sent to a space station? Or a small space ship with one of his best friends, and the two of them are filmed all the time. So they are reality show characters. And for some reason, the villain fakes the empress’s death and blames it on Aly. I also don’t understand how because why would anyone believe that if he was being filmed 24/7.
And then there’s a lot of danger, basically, every single character ends on a mini-cliffhanger that are not believable because you know that they are not going to kill these two characters. So it’s kind of like fake danger all the time. And there’s a lot of concepts about the world building, and name of planets, and races, and peoples that are just thrown out there without any context whatsoever, so it’s also very confusing. And there is just—the character’s’ motivation is not very clear…
Renay: It’s a confusing mess.
Ana: There is repetitive motivations, there are illogical jumps, clumsy transitions between scenes and characters, and at the end of the day I think the biggest problem with this novel is that I just did not care about the characters at all. I can let books get away with pretty much almost everything if I really deeply care about characters and their development and their arcs. And I think because it’s just so clumsily done you don’t really get to know these characters that well. Because they trapped in a loop inside their own heads and she just goes, “I’ll have my revenge! I’ll have my revenge!” that’s the only thing that moves her, in a way. I don’t know. I just didn’t like this book at all. I finished it, but I skimmed liberally, especially the last thirty percent.
Renay: I did not finish this book. I quit. I was like, “I’m done. I cannot.” I think is maybe the first book that we’ve read for the show that I had just been like, “I’m out, I cannot get through this.”
The problem is that there is a good book in this mess. There is a really good book here, but it was too overstuffed with other things. And the fact that these characters don’t meet I think is one of the big problems. It’s obviously set up for a sequel. I’ve already seen that there’s a sequel, which I will not be reading. No, thank you.
What you said about context is really relevant here, because we don’t have any knowledge of this world. And when you’re gonna write a space opera you kinda have to take that time to root the reader in your world and introduce the anchor character that they’re gonna follow, so they can know how to move through the world. And in this case we have two anchor characters that never meet so we’re getting all this cultural stuff tossed at us with like no reference point. And so it’s really hard to invest especially when you’re just like, “Uh, wait, this is a weird alien name, what does this mean?” or “Oh, this is a place name, do I recognize this place name? Where are they?” Like, there’s no — you don’t have an, there’s no anchor for the reader. I just needed way less world building attempts.
Ana: This is the weird thing, right? Because I felt like that too. At the same time it needed more world building because we needed more context so — and I also made a note that says, “this book simultaneously happened too fast but also not fast enough.” So we have all sorts of conflicting feelings: too much world building, not enough world building; too fast, not fast enough. So what gives?
Renay: For me with the world building, it was that it was using new planets, new cultures, new references, to build the world, instead of actually doing world building? Instead of building a world up around the character it just tossed a character into like a tunnel where you just fling different world building elements at the character instead of actually building a world. So you have all this morass of world building elements that don’t hang together, don’t ever relate to each other in any significant way, and therefore don’t develop the plot or relate to the characters themselves, and it just becomes a big mess. They needed more world building that was less intense instead of just trying to throw every single piece of new world building at the characters.
Ana: The other problem for me: it wasn’t a character-driven novel. It was a plot-driven one. Sometimes that is okay, but I felt like in here things happened to the characters and put them in situations and they never did anything out of agency. So they never moved the plot along by themselves. It was always the plot doing something to them and that felt really contrived.
Renay: It didn’t work. It just didn’t work.
Ana: Yeah. Exactly. So people tried to kill them, and explosions, and they were kidnapped, so they never made these conscious decisions of going to a place or doing something.
Renay: And now for a spoilers, for anybody who plans to read this book. A little bit over halfway through, right before I quit, I realized that the big surprise twist was that the main character’s sister, who she thought had died in an explosion—an assassination attempt or whatever—was alive.
Ana: And she’s the actual empress because she was the oldest one.
Renay: She doesn’t meet her. Aly meets her. And I don’t really know what happens because like I said I quit.
Ana: Romance happens. Insta-love.
Renay: And then at the end of the book, we get like an epilogue from her perspective where she suddenly realizes, “Oh, I’m the assumed-dead princess. It’s me.” And you know, when I say there is an interesting idea in this book—there’s a good book here—we get rid of Aly completely—sorry dude, bye—and make it about the sisters and their journey. And that would have been a great book; I don’t understand why —
Ana: There is no need for Aly. Unless you need a focal character to empathize with racism.
Renay: Also this book was heteronormative. I am really really tired of these far-future space operas being so damn straight. Like we’re still doing this gender binary thing in the future, too? This whole show that Aly and his friend Vin are part of called The Revolutionary Boys; multiple times Aly talks about, “Oh, Vin gets a lot of girls, oh girls fawn over me.” Why are we still doing this? Why if you’re going to write a far-future space opera are you centering heteronormativity this way, like, why are you doing that? Stop it. You don’t have to gender it, it doesn’t have to be just girls. It could be any gender. And it talked like every time it happened I’m just like, “Ugh, I’m tossed out, gotta go back in.”
Ana: There were a couple of things that I really thought were interesting. So, this book had an element of connection and information feeding and memory twisting, because everybody was connected to cubes? They were called cubes. I’m not even sure what they were exactly. But for example the cube that each person had would feed information to them, would relay memories, would replay favorite memories, for example. So at one point those two characters they are cut off from this because they were fugitives. In those moments what they called “organic memories” would come to the surface and that would cause suffering, for example, in the case of Rhee, because she would have— she would remember things that she preferred not to remember.
Renay: It was like post-traumatic stress.
Ana: Yes, exactly, so that element of the book was so interesting. So imagine: removing Aly, getting the two sisters as the main characters, and all about them finding their memories of each other without the cube. What a story.
Renay: And it’s not even that you would have to get rid of Aly. He would just need to be a minor character.
Ana: Yeah, but I guess sometimes YA still feels like it needs the dual boy-girl narrative. And don’t get me wrong. We’re talking about this and I’m thinking about the Illuminae Files. Illuminae and Gemina: they are both space operas with male-female narratives and we both love it.
Renay: Yeah, but those books; they invest in their characters. They really want you to know and understand those characters. It’s like you said, in this book the characters are like set dressing for the world building extravaganza that’s happening in this book. The characters are almost incidental to what this book is actually doing.
Ana: So this is a space opera with a lost princess and you know what I’m going to say. What this book really lacked were: space bees. And space roller-skating werewolves.
Renay: Sadly, I’m not even sure that could have improved this book for me. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
Renay: You said that this was a package book. Because I said, “Oh, it was published by Razorbill, I should have known,” because Razorbill and I don’t get along. Back when I was reading YA pretty widely, I would read a Razorbill book and I would be like, “Ugggh, no.” I just think I don’t like their editorial perspective so I’m just not into a lot of the books they publish which is fine. But then you were like, “Oh, but this is also a package company,” and I was like, “What the hell’s a package company?” and you got to teach me some new things! Ana, teach everybody new things. Go ahead.
Ana: A package company is basically a practice that has existed for a long time in publishing. And it’s based on literary companies that develop an idea and then they hire writers to develop those ideas for them, and then they sell — usually they work together with the writers. They function almost like agents, sometimes. And then the packaging company would be the one selling the books to publishers. And in a lot of cases they are the ones who own the copyright so if you go to the copyright page of those packaged books it would be the packaging company rather the author. And in most cases, the authors would publish those packaged books under a pseudonym, because then they would go on to have their own careers.
I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing? Because I think sometimes we forget that publishing is a business and people need to live and sell books, so most packaging companies they will be very attuned to what sells in certain sides of YA. And they would target the books to what is selling at that point. They are — they do a really good job at knowing what will sell. So for example, Paper Lantern Lit, which is the packaging company for this particular book; it’s very famous within publishing. It’s owned by Lauren Oliver, who is a very well-established YA author, and a group of other writers who run it. And they have sold, to tremendous success, every single book that they have developed and I have liked a lot of them.
Renay: Until now.
Ana: Until this one. So sometimes it just doesn’t work. It could be a good idea, but sometimes the idea and the writer don’t match, so I don’t know what happened here.
Renay: My favorite packaged books were apparently Nancy Drew. I read Nancy Drew in these like hardcover editions back in like the eighties and early nineties, and I ate them up. They were amazing.
Ana: So it probably means that a lot of those books were written by different authors. That’s what happens sometimes. I think James Patterson—he releases a book a year or something like that—I think his books are packaged or he has ghost writers or something similar. I actually went to a party at Lauren Oliver’s Brooklyn rooftop flat, a few years ago at one of the BEA that I attended. And I met quite a few people that worked at Paper Lantern Lit, including the author of one of my favorite books that they published, Fury by Elizabeth Miles. So it was really interesting to talk to them about the author’s perspective because it’s so hard to get inside the business, and that is a really good foot at the door because you sell through one of those, and then you have something in your bag. So, “See that book that I sold through the book packaging, I wrote that, and it actually sold gazillions.” Even though they probably won’t have seen a lot of that money, because they don’t own all of the copyright. But, you know, it’s a good tick on their CVs.
Renay: I would never do it.
Ana: Why, because you don’t want to write to a prompt? You don’t want to give out your full rights to a book? Why — why would you not…?
Renay: Both. I understand why people do it, but I don’t think that it would be right for me. Normally I have a lot of trouble writing, period, so the idea of trying to like write to a prompt that I didn’t come up with I just really don’t know how I would do it and have the book be good? It makes me feel like I would turn in, like, an emotionless product.
Ana: But don’t you do that in fanfiction?
Renay: It’s different in fanfic.
Ana: But don’t you write to prompts?
Renay: Very rarely do I do gift exchanges anymore, I was better at it when I was younger. Very, very rarely do I do it these days. I don’t think I’ve done it in like over five years. It’s always this really horrible like, “what if they hate it?” process. So generally now if I do it, I will discuss a prompt with a friend who I already know likes my writing.
Ana: But the idea is that, right?
Renay: Yeah. I mean, I get it, I’m not saying it’s a bad practice. People gotta make money, that’s how it is. I just think I probably couldn’t do it for myself, I would be too self-conscious, I would probably turn out a really self-conscious product.
You linked me to an article about this practice and I read it and they said like a lot of these books go on to become movies, because they try to like expand into all the markets possible to make the most amount of money. And I was thinking about it that in a light of this book, like if you took this book and made it into a screenplay you could take all of that excess world building and just turn it into visuals and it’d work like three thousand times better. It would work way better as, like, a visual experience.
Ana: Mm-hm, yeah.
Renay: And like I’m wondering if that’s on purpose.
Ana: I think it could well be. I think that’s definitely part of this process which is to sell as many rights as possible within that contract and that includes TV and movie rights. I think it just needs to be made more appealing to all different sides, and in many ways it needs to fit certain tropes.
Renay: Ah, well. I’m giving this book zero space bees.
Ana: Oh my god! [laughter] That’s a first!
Renay: Is it? Have I never given anything zero space bees before? I don’t remember. But yes, this book is getting zero space bees. I’m sorry.
Ana: I don’t have the guts to do that.
Renay: Didn’t you give like Ghostbusters like zero space bees?
Ana: Well, Ghostbusters was terrible! [laughter] I mean, I’m not saying this book wasn’t, but I think there were elements that I really liked about it that had a lot of potential so I guess one? Two? Maybe, even? I feel really bad. [laughter]
Renay: I try not to feel bad? Like, I’m sure some kid somewhere is gonna read this book and be like, “space opera heck yeah I’m in!” it’s gonna be like a gateway book. That’s great for that kid.
Ana: I saw a review on Goodreads about a person saying — it sounded like a very young person — saying that science fiction wasn’t for her because this was like the second or third science fiction book that they didn’t like. It was like, “No, baby! This is a really terrible example!”
Renay: [laughter] This one didn’t work out very well, but you’re still going to continue helping me in my space opera challenge, so, you chose this one, so you’re gonna have to look at my list and choose another one for the future.
Ana: Okay, baby.
[Music: Feel by Chuki Beats]
Renay: Now we’re gonna get happy again and do some recommendations. Ana, what you got for us?
Ana: I have a delightful contemporary YA romance called When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. I hope I have said that name right. And it’s fantastic. It’s romantic, it’s hilarious, heartwarming, beautiful. and I haven’t read romance in a really long time and I have been beating myself up for it, because this made me really really happy. You should really read it. I think you would love it. What about you? What do you have as a recommendation?
Renay: I have two.
Ana: WHAT? How dare you. We are back to the same old tricks.
Renay: I’m ashamed, but I still have two. My first one is All Systems Red by Martha Wells, which is a novella from Tor about a murderbot! Who is protecting some scientists on a planet. It is so good and bittersweet and funny and optimistic and the ending is so awesome, I loved this novella so much. Robot pal!
Ana: Me too. It hands down the best narrative voice I’ve read in a long, long time.
Renay: Agreed. Somebody had a thread on twitter calling this narrative style really intimate and I agree. That is just something you don’t see often, this tone of the narrator. I just fell in love.
Ana: Me too.
Renay: Eight thousand space bees.
Ana: I would say that When Dimple Met Rishi, All Systems Red, and The Hate U Give are my top three novels slash novellas of the year so far.
Renay: My second rec is not for a piece of media but it’s for an event. At the end of May I went to Wiscon 41, with my friends KJ and Ira. Wiscon is in Madison Wisconsin and it is a feminist science fiction and fantasy convention. They keep it pretty small, they cap it at a thousand members. It was super fun! I had such a great time at this convention. They have all these really great panels and everybody is so smart and well-spoken and I love all their policies. Like they have a no video-photography without permission policy that I was so thankful for. And it was just so warm and friendly and inviting, and I got to meet Amal El-Mohtar who was so lovely. Ah! She’s so wonderful, guys. She’s so wonderful! If you ever get a chance to meet Amal, please please do. And then I also got to meet — very briefly meet Kelly-Sue DeConnick in the signing line.
Renay: Yeah, cause she was the other guest of honour! Her and Amal!
Ana: That’s amazing!
Renay: She gave such great speeches. She did this one essay from some book where she wrote about her AA sponsor and god, everybody was in tears.
Renay: And Amal read from an anthology called The Djinn Falls In Love And Other Stories, and she read her short piece from there. Which is like about immigration and colonialism and it was so good. I definitely recommend that anthology. I’ve read several of the stories in it so far, it’s great. Highly recommended.
Ana: Is that the one that Jared edited?
Renay: Jared and Mahvesh. It’s really good. But yeah Wiscon was wonderful. Like all conventions it had ups and downs, and I was really new so I didn’t really get all the rules and the social interactions, I guess. But I really hope to go back, it was lovely. And I learned that anybody, ANYBODY, not just people who attend the convention, can suggest guests of honor.
Ana: That’s really interesting, though.
Renay: The guests of honor next year are Saladin Ahmed and Tananarive Due. So right now we’re nominating people for Wiscon 43. So if you have any suggestions for guests of honor, you can send them to the email address on the Wiscon site.
But yeah I really wanna go back next year. Wiscon was great and I loved it. I had such a great time. The hotel was wonderful, everybody was super nice, it was just a great convention for somebody with like my social anxiety because Worldcon was a little overwhelming. So I’m hopeful that I’ll get to go back next year. The reason that I got to go to Wiscon this year was because KJ was super nice and let me come with her and I would not have been able to go to the convention without her. And so I really really appreciate her taking me with her and being patient with me when I need to just give her a little shout out.
Renay: For being such a great pal. And those are my recs.
Ana: I hope to go to Wiscon one day, too.
Renay: So normally here we put what we’re going to discuss next time.
Ana: What are we going to discuss next time! [laughter]
Renay: But because I was not prepared I did not include this in our outline of the episode. I think we agreed that we’re going to discuss Another Castle.
Ana: Oh yes.
Renay: So that’s probably what we’re going to be discussing next time. And please excuse us as we get back on the horse of podcasting.
Ana: We’re a little bit rusty, aren’t we? I mean, I think we did pretty well.
Renay: Yeah! We did great! Next time, the media we’ll be discussing is Another Castle. I forget who it’s by! Which is perfect! Don’t worry, Ana’s gonna look it up!
Ana: Andrew Wheeler and Paulina Ganucheau.
Renay: So Ana took care of me. And we’ll be limiting our media segments until we can both get back up to speed. Be prepared for a few less media segments. On the plus side that means y’all will have plenty of time to catch up with the other things we’ve recced in the past. All zillion of them.
[Music: Happy Summer Love by Chuki Beats]
Renay: It’s the end of episode 84 and our triumphant return.
Ana: Thank you so much for being patient with us, space bees, and we are so happy to be back.
Renay: Our music this week is by BoxCat Games and Chuki Beats. Our show art is by Ira. Our transcripts are by Susan, the transcription fairy. You can find links to all of their work in our show notes plus information about the media we discussed.
Ana: Follow us on twitter at @fangirlpodcast. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can write to us at any time. If you liked the show, tell a friend, share our show on your favorite social media, give us some stars of iTunes, or support us Patreon.
Renay: Remember to drink some water and contact your reps.
Ana: And if you think you might be an empress of a thousand stars, please be sure to find a space werewolf to call your own.
Renay: Thanks for listening, space bees.
Ana: See you next episode.
[Music: Happy Summer Love by Chuki Beats]
Ana: I think it’s probably likely that we will be laughing more now that we can see each other’s faces. [laughter]
Renay: Don’t make faces at me! [laughter] I already — like I know you, I know your type!
Renay: Did you [laughter] did you just pull a Full House. Did you just go cut it out on screen?!
Ana: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Vir… Vee… [raspberry]
Ana: These questions are not very long, she says, and then we have another hour of recording.
Renay: Okay, that’s what I mean, like listen, let’s be realistic!