Saturday, January 24, 2009

Black Ice & Joss Whedon v. Chris Carter

Great moments from last night's reading
Black Ice by Anne Stuart

Quick plot summary:
So there's this woman, Chloe Underwood, a poor American book translator living in Paris. Then she gets a lucrative weekend gig translating at a business conference in a remote chateau. She thinks she's translating for grocery exporters, but they're actually arms dealers.

It's sort of funny the way Chloe is constantly thinking, Wow, they are really passionate about produce, and it sure is lucrative! When one uses the term legolas (a missile or something) she's like, what is that? And they tell her it's a kind of sheep.

Anyway, they come to not trust her, and one of them is ordered to kill her, but another killer, Bastien Toussaint, drags Chloe away, "and the next thing she knows she's on the run with the most terrifying and seductive man she's ever met. What were his motives — and would she live long enough to find out?"

There are a several things I'm really enjoying and admiring about Anne Stuart's writing. Item one today, item two later.

Item one that I'm enjoying: Anne Stuart lets things go a little too far.

Anne Stuart is totally not nice to her characters, and I love that. Really, the awfulness of the situations this heroine got plunged into surprised me--in a good way. Because in a lot of books I read that have a danger element, it's more like, the whiff of danger is the danger.

Maybe I'm not used to suspense, but even in urban fantasy, I feel like, aside from Laurell K. Hamilton, nobody lets things get quite very bad. Oh, though I suppose JR Ward had--was it Bella?--in a kind of hole/prison in the lessers' complex. That was somewhat harsh. Anyway, Anne Stuart went pretty far--not hugely far, but farther than I'm used to--and I really appreciated it!

A Joss Whedon digression that vaguely relates to this book
You know who is the ultimate master of letting things go far and get bad? Joss Whedon. I'm not likening Anne Stuart to Joss here. Let me repeat: this book is not Joss Whedony! I mean, few authors are even in Joss' ballpark. But the point is, he lets characters go evil, and slaughters them if he feels like it. The man killed off his main character, after all. Twice!

My husband and I used to have these fawning conversations about Joss Whedon, and we'd frequently compare him unfavorably to Chris Carter, who created the X-Files. Not that that was a bad show, but Chris Carter held things back and was really stingy about parcelling out secrets and information, and about letting big things happen, as if he thought he shouldn't blow his wad all at once or he'd run out of plot stuff. We called that creative scarcity thinking. (We're both writers, so we get a little nerdy that way.)

Anyways, our hero Joss has - oh shit, I can't remember the name we had for it - something like creative abundance thinking, where he just does huge, major, wild, seemingly series-ending things, as if he has total faith that his reservoir of ideas will never go dry. And indeed, it never does.

Again, I'm not likening Anne Stuart to Joss, but rather giving the extreme example of letting things go bad, which I appreciated here. I'm not going to say where it happens, but it happens a few times. She lets things go bad danger-wise and romance-wise (in a relatively limited way, compared to Joss, but more than in my usual reading material). It was cool!

Pain in books: is it enough?
Not physical pain, but stress and suspense pain. Sometimes when I'm reading paranormals or even UF, and the heroine is in danger, and I think, Oh, shit! But then I actually think to myself, it's okay, she'll be out of danger in two seconds. Like, authors don't really put you through much. Not that Anne Stuart totally does, but she goes slightly further.

As long as I'm talking TV a little here, you know what show puts a person through something? The Shield. OMG, that is such an intense show in a great way! You go through so much suspense-wise, it's goddamn excruciating.

Anyway, I'm completely of two minds on this. My pleasure loving side doesn't want authors to increase my pain and suspense, but part of me knows if they did, the resolutions would be sweeter. Anyway, Anne Stuart had a good balance for a book that's basically romance. Though it could just be that I don't read a ton of suspense romance stuff (do they all do this?)

I love a morally questionable character!
Stuart also lets things go far in the sense of characters being sort of extreme...or more, extremely gray-area. Like, Bastien is a cold killer tired of the game, but even after he meets the heroine, he's half willing to let her die.

I love that! Frankly, I don't need my characters to be moral paragons. I want to read about more questionable heroes and heroines. Ooh, there's an upcoming post right there!

Tomorrow or the next day: item #2 I like about the Anne Stuart experience.


sula said...

Good observations. I too enjoy Stuart's writing but it's kind of a guilty pleasure and I can't handle it in large quantities. By that I mean, it was really shocking and intriguing the first time I read one of her books (the amoral killer hero, etc.) but after reading several, it seems that they're all the same. However, this one was one of the good ones. Also, if you can ever find a copy, Moonrise is also fab and edgy.

Renee said...

"...Wow, they are really passionate about produce, and it sure is lucrative!"

OMG, too funny, esp since I worked p/t for produce wholesalers for the last 4 years! Believe me, not lucrative (given I was laid off in Nov.), and there's just so much passion you can have for gala apples. :-P

I've had AS on my booklist for a while, and so far sounds like some fun reading!

Tracy said...

Interesting item you covered today. I was just thinking about this same thing because I read the second book in the Aspect of Crow series by Jeri Smith-Ready and she'd did NOT do the whiff of danger thing...she just did it. It was killing me cuz I so expected it not to happen. I love it when the authors take the characters farther than you expect.

I've not read Stuart but your post has intrigued me. I'll have to check her out.

Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...

Anne Stuart and Josh Whedon are both master of their art.
I am going to NYC Comic Con in a few weeks and Josh will be there.
Should I bow down to him?
Also Anne will be at RWA in DC this year. I will bow down to her.

Renee said...

Oh! I forgot to add, Lilith Saintcrow is a good one for the "tortured heroine." The things she puts Dante through in her Dante Valentine series-Oy!

writtenwyrdd said...

Made me want to read Black Ice.

Sarai said...

huh yet another author I've never read. Maybe I should look into her?

Carolyn Jean said...

Sula: Moonrise. Thanks for the tip!

Renee: Funny! Produce not passion-inspiring? Thanks for the lilith S. Tip!

Tracy: I figured other people must be doing it.

KB: that would be so cool if you met them!

WW: See what you think!

Sarai: bc your tbr pile is so short!

Ladytink_534 said...

I'm so glad you liked Black Ice. Looking forward to seeing what you think about the rest of the books in the Ice series!

meljean brook said...

Oh, that's interesting -- the creative scarcity/abundance. I've always seen it as a difference in the shows themselves: the X-Files essentially being about the Stuff Happening (so plot-driven) and Whedon's being about the characters and What They Go Through (so character driven.)

So I can see Carter being stingy, because once he ends The Alien plot, that's pretty much blowing his wad (unless he begins relying on MotW shows (see latest movie)). But you're right; it that once the Alien Story is revealed, it's almost as if he doesn't think there is a story beyond that.

But, again, I'm torn by the function of the show -- which is all about revealing the truth -- so if the truth is revealed, it becomes about something else and loses the magic anyway (but maybe that is just MY creative scarcity? lol)

I do wish that, in romance, sometimes the danger would go further and be real for the heroes and heroines. But I also would hate for it to become gratuitous (which it easily could, because we KNOW they will make it out eventually and get their HEA) -- which means that some growth has to occur after The Author Has Gone Far. So it comes back to being character-oriented, rather than plot-oriented (although I'd say that Stuart typically balances both perfectly.)

Gah. Sorry for babbling so long, incoherently, and with so many capital letters.

Anonymous said...

"the whiff of danger is the danger" - LOL, I like that expression. So true for quite a few novels I read.

"... even after he meets the heroine, he's half willing to let her die" - oh wow, good. It looks like it's time to read Black Ice. I have it in my TBR pile for some weeks now.

I look forward to item #2.

Kati said...

I freaking *LOVE* when authors are brave enough to torture their main protagonists.

Colleen Gleason is constantly beating the shit out of Victoria Gardella. I always say to Colleen that she went to the "Joss Whedon School of Writing" -- if her characters aren't hurting, she's not trying hard enough.

I love Anne Stuart books. Mostly because I adore her heroes who walk a fine line. Her heroines do little for me, but I do love the heroes.

You are going to LOVE Nalini Singh's new Angel's Blood series. That hero is beyond anti and yet she totally pulls it off.

Carolyn Jean said...

p751abLT: I really did. I'm looking forward to more of these heroes.

MJ: You bring up a good point, though Scully and Mulder did have distinct characters, but yes, not like in Buffy!

I feel a little bad, bc it's so easy to sit in judgement of a creation, and X-files was COOL! But I suspect if Joss had control of X-files, you know, Mulder would've been driving spaceships by the 3rd season, and he would be part alien and stuff or he and scully would've flipped worldviews. Or, yeah, a "monster" episode would've been spun into a larger thing. Would it have lost its magic if there were many truths to be revealed? IDK. The central mystery was strong and exciting and went back to their heritage. Conversely Buffy could've stayed a quirky melodrama about how hs is like a monster world.

So smart coming back to thinking character on all this, though, including the poss of gratuitous violence in our fave books. You can't go wrong thinking character - I sometimes forget that. ( & Pffft. You don't have creative scarcity thinking.)

Taja: We often end up reading the same books at the same time. Late to the party--that's us.

Kati: You have been talking about Gleason for a while. Gosh, it might be time to get on this and read some of her!! Great news about Singh's anti-hero! That is super exciting.

samantha.1020 said...

This sounds like an interesting book and author. I'm intrigued and will be interested in hearing more of your thoughts on this book :)

Tumperkin said...

Can I simply recommend Lily by Pat Gaffney for a pain-filled read? Poor Lily doesn't get a break till the last page. Talk about a rollercoaster.

I did love Lily but it was definitely over the top and I do feel there is a balance to be struck. You can't just relentlessly hurt and hurt and hurt the characters - you need to let them build back up as well. Otherwise, I don't have confidence in the HEA.

pidute said...

ouhhhhhhhh have you tried "into the fire" by Stuart ???

loads of people hate it ,but it's in my top five English books !

Randi said...

Hi CJ,

I'm a periodic lurker and read your Anne Stuart review yesterday. I just wanted to let you know that I went out, at lunch, and purchased my very first, ever, Anne Stuar book. One of the "Ice" books, but alas B&N did not have 'Black Ice'. I totally adored it (can we say, finished in several hours?) and wanted to thank you for bringing Anne Stuart to my attention. Brava, CJ, Brava.

Carolyn Jean said...

Hey Randi!
It is always so exciting to have a lurker unlurk and comment. I'm so glad you enjoyed the Anne Stuart! I certainly hope to read more. And one of these days, I'll get around to the second part of that post!