I recently discovered that Michelle Proulx had released the sequel to her first self-published novel, Imminent Danger and How to Fly Straight into It. (It released last year. I confess that not only have I been neglecting my own blog, but I’ve been neglecting fellow writers’ blogs as well.) It just so happens that I re-read Imminent Danger last week, so it was the perfect time to download Chasing Nonconformity and spend my Sunday reading it (instead of cleaning the kitchen).
What you need to know: Young adult science fiction romance series. Firefly-esque. Intended audience: Teen girls up to nerdy adult women. (I.e. Fan girls of all ages.)
First off, I love the title. Titles are surprisingly hard to come up with sometimes. I had the first draft of Acceptance pretty well written before I came up with the title. And I finally decided on the title of the second book just last week (Between Two Worlds). So I appreciate a good title. And “Chasing Nonconformity” can do double duty as the name of a documentary about goth kids, which amuses me.
I also have to brag on Michelle’s covers, which are great science fiction covers. I liked the original Imminent Danger cover just fine, but the new cover—and the matching sequel cover—just look super professional. And that’s good, because her books are very professionally done.
There is still a lot of stigma attached to self-published authors; I’ve even heard other self-published authors admitting that they don’t read much self-published stuff. Given some of the crap I’ve seen professional published lately—complete with bad proofreading/typos—people shouldn’t automatically dismiss self-published material.
If you’ve been reluctant to read self-published material, then I recommend you try Michelle’s books because they’re very clean; you will never know that you’re reading something self-published.
I have noticed that a lot of times sequels are sloppy compared to the first book or two. My theory is that an author sweats and labors over their first book for years, and maybe even has part or all of the second written before they finally get their first book published. Then publishers want the subsequent books on schedule. It used to be that there was a year between books, but now it’s about 6 months, on average. Yes, you can technically churn out a book in 6 months, but you can’t do that most crucial step, which is stick it in a drawer for a few months and forget about it. Then you take it out again and start editing. This allows you to look at your book with fresh eyes—more like a reader will see it—and it allows you to say, “You know, that seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I see that it doesn’t work.”
When you’re cranking out a book ever 6 months, you don’t have mellowing time and it shows. (The third installment of The Hunger Games, in my opinion, suffered from “rush to the presses” syndrome, as did the final Twilight book.) The nice thing about being a self-published author is that you can take your time to turn out good material. (If you’re not writing for money—and, at this point, most of us are not—then you should at least turn out something that makes you proud, even if it never makes you rich.) Michelle’s sequel doesn’t disappoint on that account; it is very well-crafted and I didn’t find myself questioning her choices.
Michelle really does science fiction well. I am not a physicist, but I’ve had enough science classes (thank you Philosophy of Star Trek 101) to have a basic grounding in the principles. And so far, I haven’t noticed that she gets anything wrong when it comes to inertia in zero-gravity environments, sound in space, etc. But, even better, she’s really good at inventing aliens and alien worlds and describing them in Technicolor. It’s amazingly hard to invent something out of whole cloth. Mouthless aliens that speak by blinking out musical sounds? Fabulous! And my favorite is Miguri’s mood-hair. You can always tell how he’s feeling based on his hair. Agitated, it spikes up; depressed, it droops.
Michells also does a really great job of having a wide variety of characters and keeping them true to character. Her inept peaceniks are always inept in laughable, loveable ways. Characters with odd or unique speech patterns maintain them throughout. She’s also really good at keeping some characters’ status of good or bad questionable. Varrin was a great anti-hero in the first book because we never knew when he would sell everyone for medical experiments; he, more than the plot, was the source of the suspense. In the second book, Fino’jin becomes the questionable one. In the first book, I liked him like you would like a Klingon, but in the second book, he seems less honor-driven and more revenge-driven. His real moral status is still questionable.
Although only a few days separate the first book from the second book, there is a notable shift in Eris’s character; she seems much more mature. I think this is not because she’s supposed to have grown so much, but rather because Michelle herself has changed over the time it’s taken her to write the sequel. I have noticed this in my own writing, especially when I’m writing characters who are similar to me or are actually based on me. As you personally learn and change, it’s hard (maybe even impossible) to keep your characters from reflecting that. The drawback is that it makes it feel like more time has passed between books than was supposed to have happened. (The best way around it that I’ve found is to move the sequel out just a little bit in time and do a flashback if necessary to fill in the gap. I think that hides some of the change by making it feel like a bigger amount of time has passed.)
But, despite that, I really like the person Eris has become. In the first book, her only weapons were her sarcasm/wit and optimism. Those can both be helpful in a tough situation, but they’re not a substitute for having a good blaster at your side. Which is why Eris spends so much time in the first book getting passed around like a bottle of cheap hooch at a frat party.
Not so in the second book. Maybe Varrin’s started to rub off on her, or maybe losing her gun virginity by killing someone at the end of the first book did it, but in the second book Erin is much more in control. She still has people trying to abduct her—and in some cases she bumbles right into it—but she’s stopped passively accepting her abduction and she fights back. It’s like we get to watch her transformation into a space pirate—a moral space pirate, but a space pirate nonetheless.
The only complaint I really have is that it seemed short. I’m not one of those people who reads a few books a week, but I did read all of this in one day. Of course, it’s a testament to its ability to captivate that I wanted to read it all in one sitting, but I would have rather it have been too long for me to have possibly done that. But, at the same time, I really can’t point to any part of the book and say, “There should have been more about X in there” or “this needed to be expanded and explained better.”
I suppose the only place to have made it longer would have been at the end. The end is satisfying enough, but I think it would have been a bit better if it would have ended with 1) a newly assembled crew and 2) a destination for the next adventure–just like the first book did. I mean, we more or less know who the new crew is, but I would have liked to have seen it assembled and everyone in agreement on what they’re doing/where they’re going next. There was no cliffhanger for the main characters, which left it feeling like it was already wrapped up. There was a set up for the third book in the Epilogue, but it only featured a secondary character. I would have like to have seen a setup for the next book with the main characters, then introduce the secondary character as the villain who is going to thwart their newly-laid plans.
But, that’s actually a fairly minor quibble; like I said, the ending wasn’t bad, it just could have been tied up into a bit neater of a bow. I’m still eager to read the third book. All I can say is it better involve a showdown on Rakor, preferably with Eris poised to be a virgin sacrifice to the sun god. Or maybe with her as a knocked-up sacrifice to the sun god. Imagine the shame to the Emperor if his next heir was half-human.
So, five stars. Get a copy. Read it. Badger Michelle for the next one. It’s been a year already!