Blook Review: Tales Of MU

Female Paper DemonThere are worlds you can get lost in, and there are worlds you just want to get out of. It is testament to Alexandra Erin‘s writing ability that Tales Of MU is set in the former: the characters may be flawed, unlovable and downright weird, but you can’t help but continue reading, no matter what she throws your way. Erin does a marvelous job of hooking and bringing you in, but it isn’t all a gentle ride: very often you’ll find yourself cursing the hook and trying to break the line. And failing.

Mack (our protagonist) is one tortured soul: she is weak, spineless, and uncomfortable with her ancestry. We are introduced to her on her first day of college, and Erin keeps you going with little revelations about the rich world she has created. You want to know more: why are humans repulsed by Mack? Why does everyone carry weapons? And – this is an interesting one, this – what exactly is Mack?

Mack’s character development is a sore point for me: she starts off as a person everyone can identify with, but I found myself despising her for her lack of strength as the blook progressed. She is stepped on, pushed around and manipulated by almost everyone, and Erin offers no respite in what seems to be a solely female cast. But by golly is it addictive: you root for Mack, cheer for Mack, and you pray fervently that she finally gets her day and stands strong against all those weird friends of hers. Erin has succeeded in creating a character with a strong emotional bond with the reader, and that is one of the best things MU has got going for it.

That it is addictive hardly hides the themes MU explores: the story handles racism well, making use of the varied species (humans being uncomfortable with orgres? Priceless!) as a parallel to real world problems. The college divides humans from non-humans, and the segregation is subtle – early on in the blook Amaranth says a remarkable line: “Intolerance doesn’t go away because you legislate against it, it just becomes more sophisticated.”

The character of Amaranth brings us to the second strong theme in the blook: sexuality.

Sex is where MU differs from most fantasies. Throughout the blook Mack questions her sexual disposition – she is surrounded by lesbians, bisexuals and nymphs, and they influence the way she thinks about love and relationships. This quickly becomes a major focus of the story: MU dedicates whole chunks of chapters to explicit gay sex, and the relationships between Mack and her (mostly female) lovers. I didn’t enjoy any of this – these chunks of sex read like interruptions to the more interesting world Erin had developed behind … and the S&M relationship Mack develops with Amaranth, while brave, hardly makes for comfortable bedtime reading.

Erin states early on that one of her main goals as an author is ‘to challenge the idea that sex can only be included at the expense of–or instead of–a story.’ I have to say that she has failed – at least in my case. I found myself speeding through the erotica, waiting for more development in aspects like the civil rights Mack is fighting for, Two’s growth as a person, and various other non-sex related subplots Erin had skillfully woven into MU.

I was at Book 3 and it was midnight when I finally stopped reading.

Tales of MU isn’t for everyone, certainly. It is brave storytelling in an untested medium, and Erin doesn’t hold back in the situations Mack and her friends find themselves in. The characters are complex and believable (even if the sex isn’t), the story nothing short of brilliant, the prose fluid. Will I continue reading it? Hell yes, I will.

Just … minus the sex bits.

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Category: Reviews
  • http://www.alexandraerin.com Alexandra Erin

    Thanks for the review!

    If I can clarify what I meant by my personal challenge, though…

    The fact some readers will skip over the sex scene leads many authors (and certainly most mainstream ones) to either leave “the sex bits” out or make sure that there’s no important story or character developments happening at the same time… it’s a binary system where Sex = !Story and Story = !Sex. When one’s on screen, the other disappears.

    What happens as a result? We get sex scenes that add nothing to the story but a sex scene… they are gratuitous in the same sense that a randomly inserted scene of the characters going to a burger stand, with no connection to larger actions and no advancement of anything.

    This only furthers the popular perception that “sex is the opposite of story” and only reinforces the idea that sex scenes are “interruptions” to be skipped over in pursuit of MOAR PLOT PLZ.

    So, when I say I challenge the idea that sex can only be included to the detriment of the story, what I mean is I include sex but I -don’t- put the story on hold for it. It’s an artistic decision.

    For people who skip over them, this no doubt makes their inclusion more jarring than if I had done the standard sex/story separation… but… from where I’m standing, it’s not their inclusion that hurts the story, it’s the reader’s decision to omit them.

    I wouldn’t for anything stand before my readership and say, “If you don’t like the sex scenes, stop reading.”… MU is such a complex mix of elements that I doubt there’s more than a tiny handful of people who like -everything- in it.

    However, I also can’t take it seriously when somebody who didn’t read them tells me, “Oh, that story/sex thing? You failed.” You can speak knowledgeably about the parts you did read attentively, but when you suggest the sex isn’t “complex or believable”, you are reviewing a story you haven’t read.

  • Pingback: Refresh Monkeys and Usual Nuts » Sex vs. Story and the nature of reviews.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Oh, but I did! I read through every word of both book 1 and book 2, before starting to skim through sex in book 3.

    I still return to the sex scenes whenever I feel I’ve missed out on a relationship development (eg: since when did Amaranth start talking to Mack like that?), but this doesn’t happen much. Most of the time the character development happens outside the sex (and isn’t that true of real life?).

    =)

  • http://nomananisland.wordpress.com Gavin Williams

    Dear Mr. James:

    May I say first that I admire a person who can identify their bias, state what they’re uncomfortable with, and yet still maintain enough objectivity to recognize the parts of the work that they still enjoy and would still recommend to others. That is not easy to do.

    Unlike yourself, I have read the entire archives of Tales of MU, as well as the rest of Alexandra Erin’s works across the web. I find MU her best work, but all the worlds she creates are as rich.

    I would like to present an opposing viewpoint to the “sex versus story” debate, and one that doesn’t merely echo the author. It’s her job to defend her story, she birthed it. I myself have no vested interest except in having noticed something I’ve never seen another author do, and clarifying to other readers might enlighten everyone.

    The strength of MU is in the psychology of the characters. Each one has a unique voice, and distinct behaviour that grows out of their identities. Mack’s character has an arduous past that leaves her laden with baggage, which is why she is so repressed and spineless. Her first instinct in any situation is to collapse, but her heart forces her to try to grow that spine. Every chapter of the novel is impacted by these two drives within her personality, and that’s just one example out of a diverse and textured cast of characters.

    Every event in the plot impacts the characters, and they react to events according to their personalities. No one is ever out of character. Reactions are organic and contribute to plot developments.

    And the most interesting thing for me as a reader, was that the sex scenes consistently do the same. The scenes impact Mack’s view of herself and her relationships with other characters. And that makes sense: in real life, our relationships and personalities are certainly affected by our intimate moments with others. Sometimes physical intimacy results in closer harmony, and sometimes it is so off-putting it destroys relationships and harms psyches.

    I have never seen another author do that as well as Alexandra Erin, while taking so many risks with provocative material. I think she has done an admirable job of challenging her readers and a literary convention.

  • http://www.billhilton.biz Bill Hilton

    Gavin wrote: “I have never seen another author do that as well as Alexandra Erin, while taking so many risks with provocative material. ”

    You should read Roald Dahl’s “My Uncle Oswald” – a great story that is based framed around a sequence of set-piece sex scenes.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    @Gavin: thank you for your comment. It’s certainly enlightening, and it offers several points about the story I had not considered before – particularly that of conflict within Mack.

    Oh, and thank you for the compliment in the first paragraph. It goes without saying that I have to be fair with MU, and it helped that overall, I did enjoy it very much.

  • http://nomananisland.wordpress.com Gavin Williams

    @Bill Hilton: I will certainly keep that in mind. I grew up reading Dahl’s fiction for children, and it would be interesting to see what he would do with something that certainly sounds more mature.

    @Eli: many people allow their preconceptions and comfort zones interfere with their objectivity. When someone can recognize it and still give something a fair appraisal, that’s worth noting and encouraging. The world would be a far better place if everyone tried to be as fair when something makes them uncomfortable.

    I myself was very uncomfortable the first time MU became sexual, but I thought “let’s see where this goes.” When I realized that sex scenes had the same kind of impact on characters as other scenes, I realized Alexandra Erin was trying to reflect our world — everything we do affects who we are, so why hide from this one thing in literature when it’s part of real life?

    That being said, I wouldn’t let my children read MU until they’re adults. There’s a time and a place for everything.

  • http://criticalmass.crazydreams.org/ CrazyDreamer

    I think that the sex scenes in MU are absolutely integral to Mack’s character development. Mind you, I can’t recall off of the top of my head that I’ve seen anyone else develop through them; it occasionally feels (to me) uncomfortably evangelistic in that way.*

    Besides the above, my objections to Tales of MU are mostly along the lines of Mack going from completely repressed to a highly-sexual submissive who loves to be spanked in, what, one week? Two? I forget the exact timeline, but when I step back and consider it, I just lose my ability to suspend disbelief. (The problem of time in a serial has not been the subject of adequate discussion, in my opinion.) Also, there’s what feel like a number of Checkov’s guns in the story that have not merely not been fired but not been even returned to more than once or twice. There’s also the whole “This feels like the author working out or recording some issue in their past, and while that needs to be written, you can’t make me read it” reaction. I may be way off of the mark, but whatever the author’s intent, that’s what I, as a reader, get out of it.

    Mind you, if there was some way of just reading all the bits with Two in them, I’d be there every day. (She’s the only character that I can empathize with and the only character that I find personally attractive.)

    “Two, what would you do if you were me?” I asked, if only because I couldn’t think of anything else.

    “Cry all the time,” she said without hesitation.

    I really need to get around to rereading the whole thing with an eye towards writing a full review; it’s possible that I’ll change my mind on the second pass.

    *[It feels like it’s saying “All these people have such-and-such sexuality and are well-adjusted and comfortable with themselves and Mack becomes well-adjusted and comfortable with herself through gaining/expressing that sexuality; clearly, then, that’s the ‘right’ way to be and everything else is just harmful or repressing your true nature.” That’s an oversimplification, but it does make me feel defensive about heterosexuality, monogamy, etc.]

  • http://www.alexandraerin.com Alexandra Erin

    Off-hand, I’d say it doesn’t sound like it’s worth a re-read for you. You sound pretty squarely outside the target audience.

    I’m not going to argue the timescale to you, but do me a favor and call it what it is: an inability to empathize with experiences too far outside your own, not an inability to suspend disbelief. Calling it the latter implies I’m writing something that is unrealistic.

    Anyway, my law of storytelling is to shoot Chekov before the curtain rises and then you can do whatever the hell you want; the practice of writers following his maxim has resulted in an oversimplification of storytelling where the audience comes to expect all guns to be fired within three acts because that’s all they ever see. Each generation of audiences raised on this sort of practice will grow up to write stories that more slavishly adhere to it, thus contributing to the slow painful death of the attention span and the general dearth of (supposedly “extraneous”) details in stories.

    I’m not saying some expectation wouldn’t be there, but when writers make a practice of writing to that expectation, it becomes a vicious cycle. Writers should be aware of the natural expectation but they should not pander to it.

    My plan is to keep writing MU indefinitely, unless something major happens to kill my interest in it. With four years of college experiences ahead, you can be assured that anything you think of as a “gun” will eventually be fired… but if you’re thinking of them in terms of “Okay, she established that there’s a danger of monster attacks on campus. Therefore, somebody’s going to be attacked before too long.”, you’re going to be perpetually disappointed.

    There’s a danger of traffic accidents in real life, but that doesn’t mean every time your eyes focus on a seatbelt, Somebody’s Going To Die Tonight.

    *[It feels like it’s saying “All these people have such-and-such sexuality and are well-adjusted and comfortable with themselves and Mack becomes well-adjusted and comfortable with herself through gaining/expressing that sexuality; clearly, then, that’s the ‘right’ way to be and everything else is just harmful or repressing your true nature.” That’s an oversimplification, but it does make me feel defensive about heterosexuality, monogamy, etc.]

    Cart, horse. It seems to me like you’re defensive about those things and therefore it seems to you like I’m saying those things. I don’t know how else to explain it. I don’t portray any of the main characters in my story as being particularly well-adjusted.

    The fact that I’ve got ONE person in a sea of maladjusted individuals (most of whom aren’t heterosexual or monogamous) who is finding her footing in conjunction with loosening up and discovering her sexuality could hardly be described as evangelizing.

  • http://www.alexandraerin.com Alexandra Erin

    Oh, just to clarify the first line of my preceding comment (which I meant to go back and amend before hitting submit)… what I mean is, if this is the impression you’ve got the first time through, I don’t know why you’d get another one the second time. Plenty of people read the story without necessarily “getting” what I’m trying to say, or even taking away the opposite.

  • http://criticalmass.crazydreams.org CrazyDreamer

    [Gah! I spent an hour responding and then hit the wrong button and lost it. Let’s try this again. . . .]

    I am not the only person whom I have spoke to who has problems with the time scale in your story. It is possible for a real person to undergo such a radical transformation in such a short time period, but it is also not common. As has often been pointed out, truth is stranger than fiction, and one of the reasons for that is that people will not believe some things when presented with them in fiction even if they are capable of happening in real life. I do think that the change is perfectly appropriate to the amount of text so far–three volumes is plenty of time for a radical change to occur–but in my eyes this merely brings up questions of time, length, and pacing in serials rather than being an adequate justification. I will say to your credit that, as I implied earlier, I only had this problem whenever I took a break from reading and tried considering the story as a whole; it’s quite well-paced and believable on a scene-by-scene level.

    As for Chekhov, while I don’t expect everything to get used as soon as it shows up, three volumes is a bit of a wait as it is; if something suddenly shows up again after three in-world years of being mostly or entirely ignored, readers are going to be scratching their heads and thinking it a cheap trick to play on them, particularly since you’ll probably be a couple of dozen volumes down the road unless you’ve sped things up since I last checked. Maybe I’m just focusing on the wrong things, but having an RPG world as your setting seems a bit too important to waste on a couple of throwaway ponderings, and examining the spells in the pent was one of the first things to happen and was part of what hooked me, so I was always wondering when we would find out what the unknown contingency effects were or otherwise get back to emplaced defensive enchantments. (These are just the two examples that I can recall without re-reading, of course.) Oh, and if I see a seat belt in real life, I don’t think much of it; but if the camera lingers on it in a story, whether graphic of prose, I tend to suspect that it’s going to be important, and I would be quite surprised to hear that you do not do the same.

    I believe that I mentioned in the comments to your story back when I was reading it that I dislike anything that feels like it’s preaching to me. This is quite true; I get defensive any time that I suspect that something is telling me how to think (unless they’re on my side, in which case I just get very bored and annoyed). I am certain that, given the controversial subject matter of your story, many people have objected to it due to personal prejudices against certain sexualities or relationship structures, but I assure you that this is not the case with me. I was even defending the importance of the sex scenes to Eli in my original comment. However, I will always object to anything that I feel is advocating one healthy sexuality or relationship structure over another, regardless of which one is being promoted.* While my interest in defensive enchantments is probably an idiosyncratic bias on my part, my interests in social justice and freedom are not.

    Finally, I would like to note that, while I have some difficulty empathizing with certain people in real life, I rarely have that problem in fiction. I do not read fiction to read about experiences like my own. As a fantasist, I find that what I generally read presents experiences quite different from my own. As a gamer, I enjoy playing RPGs to put myself in unfamiliar mindsets and situations and exploring how they interact. As a reader, I believe that it is the job of the author to present a character to us clearly enough that we can understand them despite our differences and to present a story to us that is believable. It has been said that it is not the reader’s job to suspend disbelief; if there is disbelief that needs suspending, the author has already failed. (I forget which fantasy author first said that, but it wasn’t me.) I do not appreciate being told that any dislike I have of your story must be because of my own flaws; that is insulting to me not just as a reader and a critic but as a person.

    Those things being said, I think that, the above points aside, you have produced a good story. I don’t think that it’s for me, but I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest it to someone else whom I thought would be interested. If I wish to read through it again, it is because I want to give it a second chance and because I don’t think that I should review merely those stories which amused me as a casual reader. Hopefully I can convince you that I am capable of being objective enough to review it fairly.

    *[I say “healthy” because Puddy’s relationships are anything but, and I think that we agree on that. I have no problems with your story condemning abuse, of course!]

  • http://criticalmass.crazydreams.org CrazyDreamer

    Having given my argument and taken some time to cool down, I need to take a step back and say a couple of things:

    To begin with, I should have held back my fuller argument on the timescale because you said that you weren’t going to argue it with me. I let my anger at being told that it was all my own personal flaw get the best of me, and for that I am sorry.

    Secondly, I probably need to explain my reference to Two as being “the only character that I can empathize with”: I can understand and have great sympathy for Mack. It hurts to see how she hates herself, and I wish that I could help her. But I do not empathize with her. By contrast, I empathize with Two because I can more directly feel her feelings (as opposed to merely understand them) than I can Mack’s. In many ways Two evokes a less emotional response from me than Mack does, but it is one that is closer to me and that I find to be more compelling in terms of making me want to continue her story. I think that this distinction may not have been clear before and led to some confusion.

    Finally, as I have stated before, I do not like being told that my dislike of certain technical and message aspects of the story are entirely my fault. It is true that I am, like most people, not entirely undefensive when I feel attacked or criticized, and like everyone I have personal interests that I may focus on enough to distort their importance to the story. However, please do not take it as an insult if I suggest that, despite my flaws, your writing may not be perfect. I do not believe that you think of yourself as a perfect writer, but your writing is not going to improve if you assume that any criticism of it cannot possibly be its fault. (I would also like to note that I found fault with your writing, whereas you directly attacked me; the latter is certainly the greater and more serious insult.)

    I do not wish us to end this discussion on bad terms with each other. I have admitted to not being perfect in my reading, although not so imperfect as you claim, and apologized for pressing an issue that you weren’t willing to argue; I hope that it does not seem arrogant of me if I suggest that you could admit to the possibility that your writing is not perfect and apologize for your attack.

  • http://criticalmass.crazydreams.org CrazyDreamer

    (Okay, so that was three things, not “a couple.” So sue me.)

  • Amis

    Its nice to see that everyone agrees that MU is gripping. Even those who have had a problem with the sex seem to have been totally addicted to the story. I certainly failed to do anything else online for three days untill I had completed the story so far, and even felt slightly sad that there wasn’t more to read straight away.
    As far as the timescale goes, I found that fairly easy to accept, changes like those Mack (and the other characters) have gone through are entirely possible in my experience. The speed at which Amaranth pushes Mack is entirely plausable given her nature, pride and the social inexperience of both of them. I find the speed, type and rate of Macks sexual encounters edgy and often uncomfortable but I have heard of similar or worse relationships from friends and aquantences in the real world. The first few weeks of university is often a hotbed of sexual encounters and quick and often bad relationships. For young people away from home and wishing to make a fresh start with dramatic changes to themselves the sudden lack of boundraries at university can be very dangerous.
    That said I personally found the sheer amount of sex in the story a little heavy to plow through at times. I found the grip that the story had on me slipping and it was almost with a sense of relief that I came to the most recent set of posts and Macks blood lust and fight with Sooni. Sex might be a massive part of the first term of uni but I would dearly love to have marginally less sex in MU and more developement of the other aspects of the story. Please note I am in no way saying no sex or even very little sex, just more or everything else, and perhaps more gaps between sex scenes.
    Perhaps it is telling that my favourite characters are Dee and Celia. I find their change of viewpoint on Macks relationships a breath of fresh air. I love Dees dignity, dry wit and suprising gentleness and forgiving nature and I also love Celias paranioa quick insults and odd vunrability. Two also seems to be developing nicely desipte Mack and Amys messed up attempts to help her.
    Finally the bonus stories from other students view points really make it for me, the little insights into the others backstories and the confirmation that there are more ‘normal’ people around are really special.

  • http://criticalmass.crazydreams.org CrazyDreamer

    I would note that spacing out the sex scenes just a little by having them occur less frequently on an in-world-time basis and partially or fully filling up the time thus made available with exploration of other aspects of the story would make happier those who don’t entirely like the sex, those who feel that the character development in the sex scenes is going to fast, AND those who just want more of the rest of the world and story. In other words, only those whose sole interest is in the sex scenes (and related character development) might object to such a change.

    Of course, I expect that we’re now going to get into an argument about whether or not she should care about that “wider audience” that is interested in the minority aspects of the text. After all, she’s entirely within her rights to write for a narrow interest group and not try to please everyone . . . but it’s also possible to narrow that interest too far.

    Anyone know if A.E. still reads these comments?

  • Amis

    I don’t believe that anyone is ever going to write a story that absolutely everyone will like and I wouldn’t think that it was even worth trying. I personally did enjoy the sex scenes in fact. Its just they are like chocolate, one is great, two or three even four is even better, but eat the whole box and you are going to feel sick. A box should be spaced out a little for maximum enjoyment.
    I want more of the politics, the weaponry, the classes and the magic. I’ve been promised an array of amazing sweets but fed mostly chocolate. Its good, but I want the variety. I want it all!

  • http://criticalmass.crazydreams.org CrazyDreamer

    I never said that you should try to make everyone happy, just that at some point you start shutting people out to no benefit. I don’t think that the pacing and plot balance in this case make the story a better story or attract anywhere near as many people as they turn off.

    I would agree with you about the sex scenes. Eli might not, but we’d both agree about wanting more of the array.

  • jonbah

    Is it just me or is it pretty telling that the author comes and complains about the review and how he does not agree with it? AE does the same thing on the story forums: he invites comment but anything that is not 100% fanboy gets told off or deleted.

  • http://criticalmass.crazydreams.org CrazyDreamer

    @ jonbah:
    FYI: She, not he. Alexandra was female, last I heard.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    @jonbah: Yeah well, we all have our faults. We learn to live with them.

  • Diana

    @jonbah: 100% fanboy? No. There are some things between gushing fanboy and ‘the author should write this way, not that,’ which is what AE actually objects to. Often with too much alacrity and no small amount of ego, it is true. But she doesn’t mind ‘I don’t like this’ or anything else, so long as people don’t try to tell her that she should write her story any other way than the way she does.

  • http://criticalmass.crazydreams.org CrazyDreamer

    @Diana:

    Introduction:

    Requesting commentary on an ongoing work and then objecting to all of it that says that the writing isn’t perfect (i.e., that it should be written differently) is either rude or arrogant or both. More generally, constructive criticism is part of the inherent right of the reader to have and express an intellectual response to a work, and inevitable, direct attacks in response to the exercise of that right create a chilling effect that is contrary to intellectual freedom and freedom of speech.

    Consideration:

    I’m not very familiar with A.E.’s dealings with reader responses elsewhere. Does she object to all constructive criticism? (Constructive criticism involves suggestions for improvement; in other words, it’s telling someone how to write.) Does she object to constructive criticism’s existence (rudeness) or merely believe that it is all wrong (arrogance)?

    I should also like to point out that A.E. has opened her work up to comment and explicitly allows criticism (c.f. postscript). Of course, an author opening their work up to comment doesn’t mean that they have to accept destructive criticism or outright attacks (“This sucks, the end.”), but to argue against constructive criticism of an ongoing work really does seem to be missing the point of requesting commentary on it as well as being rude to the literary critic who is told that they have nothing to offer.

    Also, if A.E. always issues these sorts of attacks in the same space as criticisms of her work, eventually people are going to get fed up and stop bothering to think and comment critically. And if they stop doing it one place, they might not even bother trying in another lest the same thing happen there. As a radical, militant librarian and a staunch advocate of (U.S.) First Amendment rights and freedom from the thought police–the very thing that allows A.E. to write such a work in the first place–I have to object to this sort of thing if she does it on a wide scale. At the very least she should confine most of her responses to her own site and leave the personal attacks out of it.

    Postscript:

    I would appreciate your further thoughts on this matter. Your description of A.E.’s objections do not comport with her stated Comments Policy, although what people say and what they do are not always identical. (Her response to my criticism above seems to conflict with her own comments policy of “Yes, calling somebody dense, stupid, or close-minded because you’ve been arguing your point with them and they still don’t agree is considered an insult.”) Perhaps I have interpreted your description of her objections too broadly? I certainly hope so.

  • http://criticalmass.crazydreams.org CrazyDreamer

    Part of what I mean to say above but do not make quite clear is this:

    A.E.’s comments to this entry seem to support the absolute statement that she objects to criticism, but this is a single case and not enough data by itself to make that generalization. Her stated Comments Policy on her website (updated since she made her last comment above) would seem to contradict her actions here, giving reason for hope. I was wondering if you could provide enough data to resolve this uncertainty.

  • http://criticalmass.crazydreams.org CrazyDreamer

    (If you don’t see the comment that I’m referring to here, it is in moderation because I included an explanatory link and a citation link and the comments system is worried that I’ve posted spam. I’m sure that Eli will get it out of moderation as soon as he’s got a moment.)

  • foobickles

    I first heard of MU today. read a web banner for it. Did a search on it for more info. Read this review.

    Saw that the writer is apparently an egomaniac.

    Plonk.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Hrmm. Well I won’t add to that other than to say that she’s got a huge reader base, and this reader base helps her make a living on the web. She provides a service; they want that service. Thus her affairs are admirably arranged.

  • http://criticalmass.crazydreams.org/ CrazyDreamer

    @Eli: Your homepage links in the comments appear to be wonky at the moment. Might want to do something about that.

    Incidentally, I haven’t had time to keep up with Novelr since I started grad school, but I hope to catch up some day. Keep up the good work!

    @foobickles: While you might want to add A.E.’s personal messages to your killfile, I wouldn’t throw out her writing on that basis alone. After all, many great authors have been great annoyances in person. I like her writing, and I suggest that you give it a try; everyone here loves the story, even if we don’t think that it’s absolutely perfect.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Thanks for the heads up, Alan. Just fixed it. (The online fiction sphere is changing fast, by the way, so you should be in for a surprise when you get back! =) Here’s to hoping that you do, and soon)

  • Cave

    AE stringently screens all comments to her site and the only type of constructive criticism she allows is minor – pertaining to spelling/grammar mistakes. It is obvious she wants no outside input into her storytelling. I’m not saying this is a bad or a good thing – she obviously has her own ideas of how the story should be told and it is her story.
    I’m also not sure that blocking all criticism is healthy for someone who aspires to be an author.
    However, the only problem which AE really has is adhering to a timely schedule. I can’t see how anyone who relies on donations for additional income and who regularly campaigns for donations can do so, while failing to maintain a schedule. The regular tri weekly updates fell and fell, sometimes going as long as 10 – 11 days without updates, while she tried to make it up with “other tales” which while interesting, don’t make up to those readers who want content which moves the actual story along.
    I have other thoughts but i’ll save them for another time.

  • Leigh

    *sigh*

    Once upon a time, I woke up every morning and read the new chapter of ToMU with my coffee. It was interesting, thought-provoking, funny, sexy, and had a busy forum for discussing what had happened and what might happen next. I was a total fangirl. It was so popular that AE quit her day job and was able to support herself on donations alone.

    Then ..something happened. I’m not sure of the exact timeline, but between health problems, moving, getting a boyfriend, becoming a DM for her D&D group, adding a totally new in-universe storyline, and a bunch of other things, she lost the thread. The updates became less frequent and less interesting. What had been chapters full of plot and world-building (with the occasional argument or long conversation) became chapters of repetitive arguments and dull conversations (with the occasional bit of plot or a description of something). Now, even when something interesting happens, it’s buried between bulky paragraphs of Mackenzie and [insert character] discussing/arguing about [insert topic]. I haven’t read a chapter without skimming over at least half of it in months.

    In the last 6 months, she has posted 26 new chapters. Despite several posts about how she’s re-worked her schedule to try to recapture the momentum she had 3 years ago, I don’t think ToMU will ever regain what it had. It’s sad, but at this point I think she might be better off if she stopped beating her dead horse and moved on to something she still cares about.

  • Leigh

    4 months ago, I wrote the below review, and meant every word of it. Now I’m going to eat those words, and it is a pleasure.

    AE has been busy in the past few months. She’s apparently found a schedule that really works for her, and it shows in the writing. Mackenzie’s freshman year was neatly wrapped up, and now Book 2 (Sophomore Effort) is in it’s 5th chapter. So far, the content has been focused back on the characters’ lives, and while there is lots of dialogue, it’s real conversation, instead of the circular arguments that made up the bulk of previous chapters.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I believe she’s back. Check it out. :)