Monday, September 10, 2012

Breaking Down, Chapters 33 - 35

Chapter 33 - Desperately Seeking Suspense

* Bella’s on the phone with Charlie telling him it’s not a good time to come see his granddaughter again, with a lot of “need-to-know” stuff going on. Charlie goes ugh, “and I realized it was just his wariness of the supernatural that made him slow to respond.” Yeah, Charlie’s the only good character Meyer ever wrote. The only one to have any brains about all the goings-on. Tame as they ultimately are.

* “Though Charlie didn’t know anything about werewolf imprinting, no one could be oblivious to the attachment between Jacob and Renesmee.” I bring it up merely to say…ewwwwwwwwwwwwww.

* Charlie mentions maybe inviting Billy over, too, but reconsiders. “I was only half paying attention to Charlie,” so same as always, “--enough to notice the strange reluctance in his voice when he spoke of Billy, but not enough to worry what that was about.” Then stop introducing things for no reason. This isn’t going to have any impact on-screen. Why do some people insist on heaping extra shit in just because they can?

* Bella packs up her fashion accessory of a kid to go visit Charlie, and of course Jacob comes with because it’s impossible to have any interests or ambitious outside of romance. Especially if it’s got anything to do with Bella Sue.

The reason she wants to have the visit is to keep Charlie away from the “twenty-seven oddly matched vampires”. That’s how many vampires I’m supposed to keep track of. I’m aware that’s counting the Cullens, but they’re hardly any better. You can have a large and varied cast and it can make your fictional world a lot better. But again, don’t serve this crap up out of nowhere with a snow shovel! People argue about whether the Lord of the Rings movies are better or worse without Tom Bombadil, but only the insane are going to complain the movie covering this part was ruined because Charlotte and Siobhan didn't get enough screen time.

* They mention taking the Ferrari Edward got Bella, but I’m sorry to say again that seems like just another sterile gesture from the blank slate that’s her true love, when the other guy used to give her handmade, personalized gifts. Does it really mean he loves her by showering her with expensive gifts, or does it just mean he has a lot of money and he’s used to throwing it around?

To put it another way, do more spaces on the price tag mean he loves the person he gives it to more? When it’s being bought by someone who doesn’t even look at how many spaces there are before he makes out the check?

“I had not been capable of showing the appropriate enthusiasm. Sure, it was pretty and fast, but I liked to run.” And we established two books ago she thinks she needs a Y chromosome to have an interest in cars.

* Jacob mentions his dislike of the Romanians in particular, and Bella thinks back to how they explained to her that when they were in charge, they were more active in running things from the shadows then being out and running around super-fast. As a result, they started to petrify until the Volturi cast them out. Now the Volturi are starting to petrify, according to them. That’s kind of an interesting side note. Because it has nothing to do with Bella and as a result the books never concern themselves with bigger issues like what the supernatural world would be like without somebody to keep vampires in line, though, that’s pretty much it.

* During the visit Jacob speaks up, “ ‘You’re so lucky you’re out of the loop, Charlie. That’s all I’m going to say.’ I punched Jacob lightly in the kidney while Charlie cringed.”

Shut up, Meyer! Isn’t Bella supposed to be glad that Charlie’s safe from the Volturi on account of how little he knows/wants to know?

What about the biblical symbolism of the apple on the cover of the first book? It’s supposed to be asking, “Do you want to take the bite and have your nice, safe view of the world shattered forever? If you say yes, you’ll be entering a whole new world of shadows and danger.”  Would she rather have Charlie there, even though she’s so convinced he’d never survive? Why hit somebody for saying it’s a good thing their ignorance is their safety, when they know it too?

* Bella excuses herself to track down the name Alice left for her. The reason Alice wanted to keep this a secret is nobody can read Bella’s mind, so if anybody but Bella were in on this plot, then conceivably Aro could find out what they were up to. If he used his tactile telepathy on every single prisoner. However likely that is.

* She follows her information to a rundown part of Seattle. “The most nondescript of all the Cullens’ cars was still outrageous on this street.” Which means you’re just telling me for the umpteen billionth time their charade is only held together by the force of the author’s whim.

“I tried to imagine Alice in this place for any reason, and failed.” And for the umpteen billionth time, you’re telling me Bella’s imagination sucks. Rather than using this to suggest Alice is a lot more capable of subterfuge than she lets on, maybe we should’ve been more exposed to the secrets and masquerades that the world of vampirism consists of before now. Steph avoided exposing Bella to that with all her Suethor might. Implications are no substitute for evidence, aspiring writers.

* There’s a guy outside the address she found that asks what she’s after and who she is, and she tells him her name’s Bella. Um, why would you do that? Even “Isabella” would be less conspicuous. I suppose there was no way to communicate her reasons for looking for J. Jenks without revealing she’s a Cullen, but again that takes us back to what a limp exercise their attempts to pass as humans are. The guy calls his boss and says she must be related to their usual clients, because “she looks like a freaking super-model, that’s what she looks like.”

Not just beautiful, but pale. “Beautiful and pale? What did this man know about vampires?” I love that. He connects the two and it must mean he’s in on the secrets of vampires. Are we saying those two things are hard to connect or what?

The guy also grouses when Bella says she’s married. “Cant catch a break.” Buddy, you don’t want this one. “It was entertaining to watch him flounder.” Fuck you, Steph.

* He gives her his boss’s real address. “At this point, I was ready for almost anything--some kind of James Bond villain’s high-tech lair seemed appropriate.” But where she ends up is a place at an ordinary strip mall. Showing this guy succeeding at hiding in plain sight doesn’t help our main characters look any better…

* Senor Jenks proves to be one of the people the Cullens know who forge things for them sometimes. This is when Bella understands why Alice wanted to keep this to herself. “Because there was a good chance that everything [Edward] knew, Aro would know.” So for that to be the case, because Bella also just dwelt on how “I was sure IDs were something Edward knew how to get his hand on or make himself,” that probably means everyone in the family has their own set of people they go to for illegal documents. Not clearly legal or illegal indeed, Steph.

Okay, okay. Any twihards still reading this are probably thinking “She meant VAMPIRE laws, idiot!” But that doesn’t make any sense, because it’s nigh on impossible to hang those tags when the rules only cover a few offenses. Otherwise, vampires are free to rape and plunder however they want.

Near as I can tell, the Volturi’s edicts are…
Rule Number 1, don’t let humans find out vampires exist.
Rule Number 1a, don’t turn children into vampires, because they’re unable to follow Rule Number 1.
Rule Number 2, don’t fraternize with werewolves.

* Just for the record, Aro touched Alice at the end of New Moon to confirm her predictions that Bella was going to become a vampire and it was okay to let them go. Meaning he’d know who’s on her list of forgers as well as Edward’s, which is the exact problem this plan of only Bella being involved with setting up fake identities is meant to avoid.

You could argue that maybe Alice and Jasper started doing business with this guy in the intervening time, so Aro wouldn’t know about him, but that’s never established. In fact, according to the guidebook, “J. started working for Jasper Hale and the rest of the Cullen family in the late 1980s.” Emphasis mine.

* Anyway, Bella realizes that Alice told her about this guy in case they lost, and gets fake ID’s for Jacob and Nessie so at least they can get away if the Volturi kill the rest of them. The names she picks are Jacob and Vanessa Wolfe. Oh man, that’s terrible! Exactly what I’d expect with the limits of Bella’s imagination, but still terrible. That’d be like if Green Lantern tried to hide his identity by changing his name to Hal Greene. The point of this is to give them new identities if they have to go on the run from the vampire cops, yes? Why give them new names that would only confirm they're the people the vampire cops are after? Because seriously, that's what Bella's doing with those names: just making it even more obvious who they are.

* He promises to have them ready in a week. Bella’s, as always, agonized by having to do something without Edward. “Keeping secrets from Edward was bad enough, having to be away from him was almost too much.”

Lady, you’ve got no threshold for anxiety. Don’t start talking about degrees of tension.

And this doesn’t make me any more worried about the protagonists dying.

Chapter 34 - Names Without Faces To The Bitter End

* When Bella gets home she hears Edward playing the piano, something he hasn’t done since Alice vanished on them. He was welcoming her home, according to her.

See? That’s what I’m talking about when I say I’d like demonstrations of this bottomless love of theirs. It’s the way the hell too late, though. You made the bed writing books about nothing, Steph, you lie in it.

Eddie welcomes her home “as if this was just any normal day.” What exactly is normal for them? For books so long, they succeed so well at not including anything.

* Bella’s excuse for disappearing for a while is doing some Christmas shopping. Something Edward had barely noticed, but if SHE wants to make “an event” of it…

Which both asks what it takes for these people to notice something, and asks again what normality is for them. I can understand with immortality you’d probably stop noticing the passage of time so much. But we never see these sparkly chumps when some other sparkly chump’s not coming to town to rip their sparkly heads off. What makes downtime with them so wonderful? What do they do? We haven’t heard anything about baseball since the time James interrupted them.

The way Meyer writes her vampires, it doesn’t sound like it’d be cool to be one at all. Then again, your imagination probably works a lot better than hers.

* Bella got her kid a locket with the legend “more than my own life” on it French. I’m sorry but I’m sick of hearing how much somebody loves somebody else. I want to see interplay when they’re doing something together. And Nessie’s growing up so fast they can do things with her already. Not fight evil vampires, sure, but there are plenty of things to do besides fight evil vampires.

* Bella monologues about how she needs to learn how to fight to guarantee that Jacob and Nessie get away. “Yes, Alice’s strategy only made sense if we were going to put up a really good fight.” That almost sounds like she thinks Alice saw that in one of her visions. Which makes no sense because the Quileutes are gonna be there. That makes twice as little sense if Alice saw Jacob and Nessie safely on the run.

While she’s thinking about how the death of the rest of the family is certain she gets back to how vampire afterlife works, and how she’d be happy anywhere as long as Edward’s with her. We know. That part of the books isn’t complicated at all.

Can we get back to the fight being one they can’t possibly win, though? What exactly makes everyone so loyal to this cause that they’re willing to face odds like that when the Volturi presumably have no beef with any of them prior to being accessories now? And don’t say “because Nessie’s that special.” You’ll just be confirming Meyer’s Suethorness.

* The book doesn’t go into the subject of gifts beyond what Nessie gets, because she’s just do damn special, but what Jacob got her is “an intricately braided Quileute version of a promise ring.” Which of course irks Edward, but with Bella knowing that they’re the only ones likely to survive, she chooses to think of it as proof of how good hands her daughter will be in. Although I could make a crack about how she mentioned a boy’s dog-like loyalty as an insult in the first book…

After you read these for a while, you start to notice how little of an impact Edward really has on things, since he’s supposed to be the male half of the alpha couple and all. He fails to protect Bella, he fails to acquit himself well in any dangerous circumstance except when he absolutely has to versus Victoria in Eclipse. He really doesn’t do anything except sit around and offer half-hearted support that his beloved refuses to listen to because she’s the biggest pessimist since Marvin the Paranoid Android.

Which creates an ironic little point when Bella mentions she’s glad her mother’s gotten somewhat distant from her since she started living in Forks. “She was too fragile for my world.” It seemed to me like the only thing that ever harshened mom’s buzz was when Bella didn’t check in often enough. Renee seemed more than capable of finding things in life to enjoy. She’d probably be handling this a lot better than her daughter.

* Things aren’t looking so pretty when the vampire family gets home. Somebody named Alistair’s gone. “Esme, Kebi, and Tia were the closest to the three vampires in the center; in the middle of the room, Amun was hissing at Carlisle and Benjamin.” Would you think I was being an asshole if I told you I had to remember that Esme and Carlisle weren’t brand new characters we hadn’t seen until a couple chapters ago?

I’m not even sure what the fighting’s about. Amun’s apparently the head of the group that Benjamin, aka Controls-the-Elements vampire, belongs to, and accuses Carlisle of “stealing half my coven.” I guess he’s mad because Benjamin’s on board with standing against the Volturi, while Amun thinks this is bound to get them all killed. Which goes back to my earlier question about what fosters the loyalty of all these characters we’ve never seen.

“Alistair was the only sane one here. We should all be running,” Amun says. To which Tia retorts “Think of who you’re calling sane.” How can you write something like that and not realize it doesn’t mean anything to anybody but you?

Amun and Benjamin argue. Amun says he gave Benjamin “life. You’re wasting it.” Benjamin returns fire with “It’s a pity you couldn’t replace my will with your own in the process; perhaps then you would have been satisfied with me.” What kind of reaction am I supposed to have to this fight between two characters I’ve never seen and won’t see again after five more chapters? After catapulting all these vampires in our faces the way she did, though, I don’t even know why I’m asking.

* It’s explained that Alistair thought the Volturi “will find an excuse to achieve their goals here.” Meyer, you already spelled out how they’re corrupt and are only using this as an excuse to get rid of a group of vampires with dangerous ideas and take possession of the vampires who have powers they’d like to command. We know this. All you did with having Alistair voice this thinking and run away was tell us you do think we should consider him a full-fledged character already when it feels like you pulled him out of your ass along with all these other characters out of nowhere.

Look, I’ve seen other people attacking these books come down pretty hard on Steph for making things up on the fly. For not having every character, every plot point figured out before she ever sat down to start writing. Now, I think that’s pretty harsh. When I write, I have the main cast thought out and a pretty good idea of where I want things to go.

But sometimes, things do change once you actually start putting things down on your word processor. Some ideas that seemed great on paper stop seeming so great once the work begins. Look at the bottom of the Stellarman page in the sidebar. Daniel was going to have his own add-on mecha, but I ultimately decided the story was fine without it. It’s been like that with other things I wrote too, with ideas and characters that were jettisoned because when I looked at them again before writing them in but after I’d been working on it for a while, I realized I didn't need them after all or they simply didn't belong in my story. I’m fine with writers doing things on the fly sometimes. It can help you prune the deadwood from your story and fill the space with something better.

But that only works if it’s tempered with a good helping of self-awareness. Of what something will add or take away from the work. I don’t care what Steph says on her website, I can see nothing that indicates thought for that kind of thing ever entered the equation with these books. Especially not here, right at the end, with her avalanche of new characters who aren’t, who don’t need to be, who can’t be in the space she gives herself to work on them.

And she has the absolute gall to say people will come around to this like "the Rob effect."

* “No matter the outcome, word will spread. It’s time our world saw the Volturi for what they’ve become,” sayeth one of the Romanians. I’ll get into that more next time, but word won’t get around if there’s no survivors. And supposedly the reason the Volturi beat the Romanians is because they based their power on not having the toughest vampires, but by having the vampires with the best powers.

And near as I can tell, nobody’s actually putting together a battle plan in case a fight DOES happen. Which should be facilitated with all the information they conveniently have about the Volturi’s tactics. It sounds like it’ll be a free-for-all if things do get ugly.

* A lot of the rest of the chapter is like this, with more mentions of characters we don’t know voicing their opinions. It’s a nice try but I can’t keep them all straight, especially not in such a confined space. Giving them all names, forming them all into groups and nationalities, that says you want us to see them as characters. Not simply as people throwing their support behind the Cullens. If you’re going to do that, you can’t give yourself so little room to flesh them out. These aren’t characters, they’re just names, like the statistics Bella was losing her shit over in the first chapter of Eclipse. You did it wrong, Steph.

* Again Bella thinks of Demetri, the tracker plot device vampire. “Would Demetri realize that he couldn’t track me? What would he make of that? What would Aro?” I will remind you that during her previous encounter with the Volturi it was very clearly established Bella was invulnerable to vampire powers before she was even a vampire herself (Jane’s agony power didn’t work on Bella, and then his tactile telepathy didn’t either). As a vampire who bases his operation on finding the vampires with the best powers and drafting them into his ranks, he probably knows about how people's inherent qualities are amplified by vampirization better than anybody. It’s sounding more and more like Steph forgot half of what happened in those couple of chapters.

* While she and Edward are eating deer, Bella panics as usual, this time about how effective her ability to shield others might (or might not) be. As usual, Edward tries and fails to reassure her. “Of course, it’s wonderful that you can protect yourself, but you’re not responsible for saving anyone. Don’t distress yourself needlessly.”

Seriously. We’re mainly looking at the possibility of a bunch of vampires we’ve only known about for a few chapters and have barely been able to keep track of. To quote Crow T. Robot, “Definitely acceptable losses.”

* He discusses a pair of theories about how nobody can get into Bella’s mind but Nessie, the most likely being that while nobody can get into Bella’s mind, nobody can keep Nessie out of theirs. Oh, isn’t that just awesome of them?

“From what we’ve seen, no one can doubt the truth of her thoughts once they’ve allowed her to show them.” What exactly does that mean, the truth of her thoughts? That she’s got a kind of mind control?

“But is the truth enough to stop them?” Bella asks. Probably not if they’re more interested in expanding their power base than actually meting out justice, as has been heavily suggested to be the case. Idiot. Again, what does that mean? That Nessie can simply infuse whoever she touches with the righteousness that radiates from within her? That’s a dumb enough explanation to be the right one, but it’s still a damn dumb explanation.

Chapter 35 -  Zero (I.Q.) Hour

* Bella makes an excuse to slip out and go get the fake ID’s, and wonders just how much of what she’s up to Edward might have deduced.

I’m only going to point out there are other ways to interrogate people than mind-reading. No, I haven’t gotten the sense that Bella’s grown past the point where she’d start spouting like a sieve if the Volturi held Edward down and started pulling real hard on his arms if they thought there was something she was hiding from them. Once again, Aro already knows about her immunity to vampire powers, and expressed interest in it last time. And Alice was there, so she knows about that herself. Alice’s plan only works if he doesn’t pursue any avenues of investigation that don’t involve specialized powers.

* “It was a dreary afternoon, already dark as dusk.” I keep wanting to react to that like it’s one of her stupid title drop lines.

* “Would it snow tonight? Enough to layer the ground and create the scene from Alice’s vision? Edward estimated that we had about two more days.” He estimated they had about two more days. Based on what? You could say the weather report, sure, but she doesn’t. The way Edward has always just known things, though, because he’s just so frigging awesome, despite how he totally isn’t, I’m not willing to say Steph didn’t mean that.

* As she heads out to a fancy schmancy restaurant for her meeting with Jenks, she wonders at the purpose of Alice “sending me to the dilapidated drop point where J. Jenks referred his shadier clients.” Um, wasn’t it at least partly because she wanted it to be as vague as possible to keep knowledge of it to a minimum to keep the Volturi from finding out?

If she’d gone to one of his legit offices, “would I have ever known what to ask for?…I’d had to go the route that made it clear I was up to no good.” Steph, you don’t know how to write characters that are clever or sneaky. You never should’ve gone with elaborate webs of intrigue as a source of drama.

* She basks some in the attention she receives once there. “I still wasn’t used to being beautiful to everyone rather than just Edward.” What a not-in-the-least humble thing to say, and something that only applies to her because it applies to all vampires.

* Jenks shows up and apologizes for his tardiness, and Bella says he’s “exactly on time.” Because vampires have impeccable time-keeping powers. Hell, why not just make all their knowledge of biology and weather patterns inherent?

He also says how pleasant it is working with her rather than Jasper, who he finds “unsettling.” Bella replies, “Really? I’ve always found Jasper to have a very soothing presence.” I don’t know if that’s something she’s just saying to keep the discussion of vampirism to a minimum, or if she honestly doesn’t remember who she’s talking about. Jasper’s the guy who teeters on the edge more than any of them, who hoped that Bella would have a rough time adjusting to her sparkles because it would’ve made him feel better about his own difficulties in being a veggie vampire. And if I were going to count Bree Tannerthis. Just this.

* After delivering the goods he asks that, “ ‘If you could just assure me that you are not planning to kidnap the little girl from her father, I would sleep better tonight.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, stunned. It took me a minute to understand the erroneous conclusion he’d drawn.”

That’s what people in the Cullens’ own world who know them think about them. Damn.

“J seemed a nice enough man, criminal behavior aside, and it would have been a shame to kill him.” Yes, a shame. That’s all. Am I meant to think something similar of Edward or Carlisle? Who, criminal behavior aside, seem like nice people?

Bella thinks about how the “traditional vampires” (Meyer’s description, not mine) are out hunting tonight and “I tried not to think of their hunting in the night, cringing at the mental picture of their victims.”

Just putting that out there.

* “Only Kate and Garrett were in the front room, arguing playfully about the nutritional value of animal blood. I inferred that Garrett had attempted a hunting trip vegetarian-style and found it difficult.” Yes, Meyer really considers that the midpoint of a character arc.

* Bella puts the ID’s in a backpack, “Then I raided their petty cash, taking about twice the year income of the average American household.” Fuck you, Steph. Bella had all this dropped in her lap, she didn’t do the first damn thing to earn any of all this wealth and power.

“So why couldn’t Alice and Jasper help Jacob and Renesmee? If they were reunited, Renesmee would have the best protection imaginable.” The psychotic powder keg of a superhuman killer and the unreliable precog, oh yes. Who once again would be unable to see any future involving Jacob OR Renesmee at all because she’s never been either a werewolf or only half-vampire.

* Bella looks for paper to write ideas of where Jacob and Nessie would run to. “As usual, Esme’s desk was stacked with plans and blueprints”. The hell? Anyway, she immediately writes down Rio de Janeiro.

“Rio seemed the best place to send them: It was far away from here, Alice and Jasper were already in South America at last report, and it wasn’t like our old problem had ceased to exist just because we had worse problems now.” As in, they still need to research Nessie’s condition. Although frankly I kind of wonder at the point, because “medicine” doesn’t appear to be a thing for supernatural creatures, so it’s pretty unlikely they’d find a cure so much as an idea of how soon Nessie’s going to be old gray. And again that’s assuming we had an author who’d be willing to do something like that to a character.

* “I bowed my head again against a sudden urge to sob, clenching my teeth together. It was better that Renesmee go on without me. But I already missed her so much I could barely stand it.” Then spare some time for this and don’t make your character the biggest drama queen ever so early in the damn story. Look at how many fucks I give. This many. (holds up a closed fist)

“I crossed my fingers that--since it was unlikely that his high school offered Portugese--Jake had at least taken Spanish as his language elective.” And…end scene. You’re going out on THAT in a tear jerking scene?

* They start waiting out on the “same killing field where Victoria’s newborns had attacked last summer.” And if I’m not mistaken that was the same place they met James. Convenient, huh? She thinks about things they might do that would put the Volturi on guard. “I couldn’t imagine the Volturi ever feeling a new for caution.” You can’t imagine a good many very simple, rational things, and stop telling me what to think about these characters.

* Carlisle arranges the vampires into “formation, our witnesses to the sides like galleries.”

Bella picked an outfit for her daughter “that looked frilly and feminine but that were actually sturdy enough not to any wear--even if a person wore them while riding a giant werewolf through a couple states.” Um, is that as specific as you’re going to get? Okay.

“Over her jacket I put on the black leather backpack with the documents, the money, the clue, and my love notes for her and Jacob, Charlie and Renee. She was strong enough that it was no burden for her.” Physically, you mean? Well yeah, she’s part rock-breaking vampire. What exactly are you trying to say, Meyer?

Bella says she can’t tell Nessie what’s going on, “But you’ll understand soon. I promise.” Meaning that basically even if Aro didn’t unearth their plan with his power, if he simply was able to observe, “My my my, looks as if the child is prepared for a trip, almost as if she were planning to flee our benevolent justice. Why don’t we have a look at what’s in that backpack?”…

* For the meeting Bella even puts on the necklace Aro sent her as a wedding present. “After putting together Alice’s clues,” which were what, again? “I couldn’t hope that the coming confrontation would be resolved peacefully. But why not try to start things out as friendly as possible?”

She looks at Edward. “I couldn’t see a goodbye anywhere in his eyes. Maybe he had more hope for something after this life than he’d let on.” Or maybe he’s not resigned to the fact that he’s about to die.

* “Renesmee reached out to twine her fingers in the fur over [Jacob’s] massive shoulder, and her body relaxed a little bit. She was calmer with Jacob close. I felt a tiny bit better, too. As long as Jacob was with Renesmee, she would be all right.”

That’s a sudden show of faith, what with the endless jabbering about how werewolves are no match for vampires yet werewolves will jump at any chance to fight vampires. And the vampires stalking them would be the worst of the worst. Unless I’m magically meant to assume that Jacob’s lost that side of him in imprinting on Nessie. Even though Sam was still wild enough even to maul the girl he’d imprinted on…

* “And then Edward stiffened and hissed low between his clenched teeth. His eyes focused on the forest due north of where we stood. We stared where he did, and waited as the last seconds passed.”

And on that, I’m going to close the article. I know that’s only three chapters, but the next one starts the undead debate session and that’s way funnier all in one big lump. Until then, all you measly humans.