Friday, August 28, 2015

This book is really, truly great...and no, I'm not just saying that. Here's why.

Hello, everyone! If you know me, I've probably already begged you to go pre-order my wife's book, She Is the End, now competing in a publishing contest on Inkshares. And I've probably already shown you this great video she made (if you haven't watched it yet, click the link and do so now; it's worth it). And I've probably already told you the book is really, truly great.

Now these are the things a supportive husband is supposed to do. I'll admit, if my wife wrote a book that I didn't personally think was great, I would still help her promote it, just because she wrote it and I'm a supportive husband (though I would probably shy away from directly saying "It's great," if I could avoid it). I'm sure, seeing as how I'm married to her and all, when I say "her book is really great, you should read it," most of you think, "of course he'd say that, he's her husband."

But honestly, the book is really, truly, great, and I'm not just saying that because my wife wrote it. I'd say that even if I came across this book knowing nothing about the author. As the husband of Cara (alias A.C. Weston), I have been in the very privileged position of being able to read most of her book well in advance of anyone else. You can read the first two chapters on the Inkshares site (or, if you prefer, download a pdf of the first chapter on her website), but so far I'm the only person who's been able to read further. And thus, I'm not only in the incredibly lucky position of being the book's first reader, I'm in the position to be it's first fan. Which I am.

The honest truth is, even if I wasn't already madly in love with the author, I would fall madly in love with this book. And so, to prove it, I'm going to get real specific about exactly why I love this book, and why I think you will too. Not only will I declare that She Is the End is a classic in the making, but I offer you the reasons why I love it so much:

1) The characters.


Think of your favorite TV show. What kept you watching, episode after episode? I'm going to guess the characters were a major part of it. Maybe you first tuned in because it had a nifty premise, and maybe the stories are engaging, and the execution of the show is top-notch. But the characters are really the heart of any good show, and they are what the fans obsess over and love.

I picked TV as an example because it is an ongoing medium; sometimes books and movies, being more singularly contained, can skate by with just a nifty premise or thrilling action or, if it's literary, Thematic Material of Great Importance. But not TV, at least not for long. And by the time you get a few chapters into She Is The End, you will be as attached to the characters as you are to those on your favorite TV show. You will want to spend more time with them, you will agonize when bad things happen to them or when they make poor decisions, and you will feel real relief and cheer when they succeed.

Cara's greatest skill as a writer, in my opinion, is creating really interesting, believable and ultimately endearing characters. This is no small feat, and something few authors do as well as she does. Cara's characters are not carbon copies of characters from other stories, nor are they simple or one-dimensional. All of them are alternately lovable, endearing, frustrating, flawed, noble, dishonorable, brave, cowardly, resolute, conflicted--in a word, human. And while the plot, action, setting, pacing, and themes of the novel will also blow you away, I submit that the characters are the heart of the novel, and my wife's greatest accomplishment.

2) It is unique and original.


I truly can't think of any other books, movies, TV shows, or comics that are quite like She Is the End. And that's a good thing. It's not a clone of anything; it's not trying to be the next Twilight or Hunger Games or Harry Potter or the next anything. It is it's own thing, utterly original and enthralling because of it.

Now the downside of this is that it makes the book hard to describe or pitch to people who haven't read it.  I can't just say, "It's like_______ meets ______, only in space."

This is not to say that I can't name some things that aspects of it remind me of. Off the top of my head, I'd say that the character relationships, dialogue, and the overall tone of the thing remind me a lot of a Joss Whedon-helmed television series, especially Firefly. The plot unfolds at a break-neck pace that often gives me the feel of a Michael Crichton thriller at full tilt, pausing for some great character-centered scenes in between. It is often very fun and frequently humorous, calling to mind the tone of Star Wars: A New Hope, The Fifth Element, and the film of Guardians of the Galaxy. Despite this light tone the work manages to grapple with serious issues, calling to mind the works of socially-conscious writers such as Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler. It frequently confronts its characters with ethical dilemmas reminiscent of the very best Star Trek television episodes, but never ends up as didactic or preachy as that show could get. The world-building is immersive and you get a really richly-layered sense of the history of her universe, reminiscent of Dune, but without the need for long appendices. Throughout, there are shades of Ender's Game, Asimov's The Foundation Trilogy, and X-Men comics thrown in.

And, while the overall plot is an intergalactic space opera of epic proportions, most of the action takes place on earth in relatable real-world environments, which makes for a very interesting contrast. If books with werewolves and magic, etc,  that take place in recognizable cities can be termed "urban fantasy," then you might call this an "urban space opera." And lastly, Cara's prose itself is very well-written and engaging with a strong authorial voice, as recognizable and engaging as Kurt Vonnegut's or J.K Rowling's prose is in their works.

But these are all just crude approximations, attempting to describe something original in terms of other things, when really it is its own thing. Cara is very aware of previously existing sci-fi tropes and genre conventions, and while she includes many of them, she does so specifically to comment on them, add something new, or approach them from an angle we haven't seen before.

3) It is full of surprises.


The book has almost nothing in common with the films of Quentin Tarantino, or the Coen Brothers, or the show Breaking Bad. However, I mention these examples because they are some of the few pieces of media that have consistently given me something otherwise lacking in other entertainment: a genuine sense that I do not have the slightest idea what is going to happen next.

This is something that is also true of She Is the End. Most books, movies, and TV shows pull off the trick of making us feel suspense despite the fact that, in the end, the story concludes more or less how we always knew and hoped it would. There's nothing wrong with this, but it is refreshing when something comes along that is able to truly pull the rug out from under the audience with a surprise that throws everything you assumed into question and the whole future into uncertainty.

She Is the End is chock full of such moments, and I hope you will be as thrilled by them as I was.

 4) It is actually about something.


Look, I mostly like my entertainment to be entertaining, and all other concerns are secondary. But it is nice when something manages to make me think about larger issues, so long as it's not in a "take your medicine" way. This is the kind of book that you could write detailed papers on in an English class, should you so choose (though let me just stress, you don't have to look at it this way; if you merely want to be entertained, the book will not disappoint).

Cara is a very socially-conscious, thoughtful, and philosophical person, and her book is full of questions and themes that resonate deeply with the world today.  At the core of the book is an examination of the tension between justice and mercy, but there are also examinations of gender and racial politics, of inequality, of the tension between security and liberty, of colonialism and imperialism and its legacy, and more. But it never gets preachy or didactic, and I believe that you can enjoy this book no matter what your beliefs, philosophy, or politics are. Wherever you are coming from, though, it might make you think, and that's a good thing.

But again, don't get me wrong. This is not some high-fallutin' literary thing that is very important and deep, but not actually enjoyable. The reason I'm most impressed at how the book manages to address larger themes is the fact that it does so while still being super entertaining. Which brings me to my last point:

5) It is fun.

It's as simple as that. Reading this book is really, really enjoyable. It shifts seamlessly from being a page-turning thrill ride, to being a hilarious ensemble comedy, to a gripping drama, to a political potboiler, and back again. I laughed out loud frequently, and it's a testament to her characters (see #1) that most of the humor is character-based (e.g., "Oh, that's just like Goren to do that.."). But it is equally exciting, surprising, and suspenseful.

It is just thoroughly entertaining, from start to finish. And what more can you ask for than that?

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I could go on, I really could. There's so much more I could say about what makes this book great, but you don't need to take my word for it. Pre-order the book and find out yourself!

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