Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Battle of the 2012 Books, Bracket Eight, First Round :: Destiny's Flower by Linda Harley vs. A Pretty Mouth by Molly Tanzer

We are nearly complete with the first round in Bracket Eight in the Battle of the 2012 Books. This match-up features Destiny's Flower by Linda Harley versus A Pretty Mouth by Molly Tanzer. The winner will be the book I (Aaron) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

Destiny's Flower: Infinity Publishing (a self-publishing service, not to be confused with Infinity Plus in the UK), September 2012, 312 pages. Destiny's Flower is labeled a science fiction romance. In the opening 25 pages, our leading lady Lynn Davis is abducted while teaching a college course and spirited away to the interstellar spaceship Destiny (although she doesn't yet know she's on a spaceship), which promptly has to battle past a fleet of enemy ships to get away from Earth. The dashing Lord Kyle von Talion needs Davis for something, we don't know what, and when he declines to tell her, she tries to escape through a ventilation shaft, putting the crew of Destiny in a tizzy. Linda Harley is a new author, with a PhD in Applied Physiology.

A Pretty Mouth: Lazy Fascist Press, October 2012, 227 pages, cover art by Matthew Revert. A Pretty Mouth is a novella collected with four related stories, all of which place Lovecraftian creatures in a slightly odd context. The first 25 pages consist mainly of the story "A Spotted Trouble at Dolor-on-the-Downs," set in Victorian or Edwardian times. When a Mr. Wooster loses a drunken wager, the price falls on his man Jeeves, who must confront a strange octopus-like creature. A Pretty Mouth is the first book by Molly Tanzer, whose latest effort is the Weird Western Vermilion.

The Battle: We've had some good luck in the Battle of the Books recently with self-published books that were written at a professional level. Untimed by Andy Gavin, for example, has already advanced to the second round of this bracket on the strength of a very entertaining opening section. Unfortunately, Destiny's Flower is not written to that standard. Linda Harley may yet develop into a fine writer, and if she does, she will look back on Destiny's Flower as an amateurish early effort. Comparing the first section of this book to A Pretty Mouth's strong opening illustrates what I mean.

Let's start with the descriptions in the two narratives. In the first few pages of Destiny's Flower, Lynn Davis is taken away from this planet and thrust into a bizarre universe of spaceships and quantum torpedoes. Except, it's not bizarre at all; rather, it's absurdly mundane. These people from another world sit on leather couches, eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, decorate their walls with paintings of women in straw hats in fields of lilies, and sleep on "a Victorian double bed covered with a white comforter embroidered with blue flowers." Davis's interstellar trip, which should be bewildering, is about as strange as staying at a Motel 6.

In contrast, Molly Tanzer's setting is closer to home, but she quickly brings it to life:
Dolor-on-the-Downs is, like so many seaside towns, a place of distinct seediness. There was one street of hotels acceptable for human habitation, and the rest of the place was a hotch-potch of inferior lodgings, taffy shops, ice cream parlors, boardwalks, performers busking on streetcorners, teashops where the very windows bore a light sheen of grease, and, of course, public houses. During the season, children with sticky faces and sunburns run hither and yon without heed for the eardrums of others, and the beaches are clogged with their adoring parents, also sunburned, but less-often sticky-faced.
As this passage suggests, Tanzer is having a ball applying the voice of P.G. Wodehouse to a tale of suspense. For example, when Wooster boasts about Jeeves to the mysterious Lord Calipash, Jeeves narrates his response like this:
'Really,' said the Lord Calipash, and though I am neither a whimsical man by nature, nor the heroine of a Gothic romance, I felt a chill as his eyes raked over me.
That is wonderful stuff. Through the opening pages, Destiny's Flower has yet to find that kind of a voice.

Which is the better story idea, a modern woman being abducted and thrust into interstellar politics, or a Lovecraftian monster encountered by Jeeves the butler? The latter strikes me as more original, but really it doesn't matter which is better. Story ideas are plentiful, but they don't get you anywhere until you develop the craft to tell the story effectively. The opening of Destiny's Flower has done little to pull me into the story. Meanwhile, Molly Tanzer's confident and witty writing style has me convinced she has a story to tell that I want to keep reading.

THE WINNER: A Pretty Mouth by Molly Tanzer

A Pretty Mouth advances to the second round to take on either Grim by Joseph Spencer or Blood and Feathers by Lou Morgan.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

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