CHELSEA: Welcome back to episode 22 of Not Now, I’m Reading, your one-stop shop for all things genre. My name is Chelsea.
KAY: And I’m Kay.
CHELSEA: And today we are talking about Warcross by Marie Lu, which is the first book in what looks like it’s going to be a duology series. But before we get too much into what we thought, and trust me friends —
CHELSEA: — we did have thoughts. Let’s talk about the things we just finished up. I’ll go ahead and go first this time cause I’ve made Kay go first a couple times in a row.
CHELSEA: I am back in a slump, guys. God, this year is just not.
KAY: I’m so sorry.
CHELSEA: Been great for the consumption of written media, but that’s okay! Because it means I got to go back to one of my absolute favorite rereads. Y’all, this book. This book is called Roommates by Katherine Stone. This book is a 19-, lemme see, I’m gonna look it up when it was actually published. It’s very much a Valley of the Dolls pulp soap opera novel that I read for the first time when I was twelve, I’m guessing.
KAY: So I would hate it.
CHELSEA: Oh, you would absolutely hate it.
CHELSEA: There is a reason that I did not make you read this for the Hatening and it’s because it’s also like 500 pages long.
KAY: Oh my god. [Laughs]
CHELSEA: But it’s got just so many wonderful things, guys. It’s got a lady who works at NASA. It’s got a Vietnam veteran dealing with his emotional feelings. It’s got a girl starting out at Stanford as a journalist. It deals with mental health and eating disorders and baby daddies and girls in tech and there are just so many various things that are happening with this book. It was originally published in 1987 so that should give you a kind of idea about what it is we’re looking at here. Quote unquote women’s fiction published in the late 80s, but it is so good. If you are looking for something that is just the paperback equivalent of watching a season of Days of our Lives or As the World Turns, I highly highly recommend that you pick this one up. If that’s not your jam, you will hate it. Kay, do not pick this up.
CHELSEA: You will not like it.
KAY: Okay. I believe you. I believe you that I would not like it. [Laughs]
CHELSEA: But somewhere out there is a person for whom this book will be as delightful as it was for me. And if you are that person I say go and enjoy. The other things that I want to recommend are fics. The first one is an ongoing fic and as established on Not Now, I’m Reading, we generally don’t do that.
KAY: Not a lot of works in progress recced on here.
CHELSEA: Not unless we’re willing to vouch for them, and I’m willing to vouch for this one. It’s updated pretty regularly and it’s already 90,000 words long, so.
KAY: Well, hey.
CHELSEA: You’ve got some stuff to read while they continue to publish. It’s Milestones by once thrown. It’s Boy Meets World fic. I’m assuming you can probably figure out who it’s about.
KAY: I mean, there’s two main male/male ships, but.
CHELSEA: It’s about Cory and Shawn, guys. And really this is just a deeply emotional character study of Shawn as both Cory and Topanga move away and he tries to start over in Chicago and where that goes. [Laughs] And how that happens. I love Shawn a whole lot. Shawn Hunter is maybe one of my favorite male characters. I love him a lot guys and this is 90,000 words all about him so highly highly recommend. On the other side of the spectrum —
CHELSEA: — I have something only 1800 words to recommend for you guys. It was published just before Halloween as part of a trick or treating fic exchange on Tumblr. It’s a Newsies fic. It’s To dare to see by susiecarter. They do really great work in the DCU fandoms, too, so we’ve recommended some SuperBat fic. But this is very short, basically about David Jacobs and Jack Kelly who are the two male leads of Newsies as they basically engage in gay chicken.
CHELSEA: I know. Just. I promise, it’s worth it, just read it. It’s only 1800 words.
KAY: I’m sure if you like Newsies this is great. Newsies is just not exactly my fandom.
CHELSEA: That’s fine.
CHELSEA: So Newsies is about deep-seated found family homoeroticism dressed up in suspenders and cuffed shirtsleeves and newsboy hats. It is literally what I would put on my business card if I could find a visual aesthetic to represent me.
KAY: I know this is your thing. It’s just not really [laughs]
CHELSEA: And I’ve told you about it before. I’ve talked about it ad nauseum in DMs just how much I love Newsies.
KAY: Also, friend of the podcast Megan is a huge Newsies fan.
CHELSEA: Shoutout to Megan.
KAY: So if you want to talk about our Newsies feelings, also go talk to our friend Megan on Twitter.
CHELSEA: Yes, because she is there for me as I wade through a large amount of back catalog of feelings about Newsies. But this is just a delightful little Halloween piece of fluff and candy and it’s great, so highly recommend. And that’s all I have for this round. What do you have, Kay?
KAY: I have all the things, Chelsea. All of the things. I was gonna recommend A Hope Divided, but I recommended that in our last episodes. So, instead I’m gonna talk about how I am reading [laughs] so I am reading We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It’s the, I think, it’s eight essays, cause eight years in power, that were originally published in The Atlantic and then he also wrote some surrounding material for it. It’s a lot. It’s just a lot. If you read non-fiction at all for any reason or if you don’t, just, everyone should read this book. Just. I’m sure your library has a copy of it if you don’t have the money to drop on it, right now. So get yourself on a library hold list. It is amazing. It is heartbreaking. It is a must-read.
CHELSEA: Yeah, I think I’m gonna have to, after the Hillary Clinton, I’m gonna have to give that one a little bit.
KAY: I think I sent that one to you, yeah? I was pretty sure I did and if not I needed to, obviously.
CHELSEA: You definitely did, but yeah. It’s a lot. Between the World and Me is one of the best books I read the year it was published, so I know when I get to We Were Eight Years in Power it’ll be a lot.
KAY: It’s a lot. And then I have two fics to recommend. They’re both really long.
KAY: They’re both basically novel length, okay? This first one is abso-fucking-lutely ridiculous.
CHELSEA: So good.
KAY: Did I actually make you read this, yet, Chelsea?
CHELSEA: Well, I mean, yes. I haven’t finished it, yet, I’m in the process of reading it, but yes you absolutely sent it to me.
KAY: It is Wolfborn. It is a hockey rpf fic. And, guys, I know. I know! Werewolf arranged marriage hockey rpf. What am I thinking? But also it’s perfect.
CHELSEA: So good.
KAY: It’s by waspabi who’s one of my favorite fandom writers. Who also writes really amazing Harry Potter stuff, if you have not read Hermione Granger’s Hogwarts Crammer for Delinquents on the Run or Stately Homes of Wiltshire, they’re both perfect. Read them immediately.
CHELSEA: Yeah, you’re doing something wrong.
KAY: You need to read them both. Again, they’re both over 50k. This one is around 55k. It is a Nicklas Bäckström/Alexander Ovechkin fic. [Laughs] They are both deeply ridiculous humans and that translates really well in this. This fic is fantastic. It’s basically about a universe in which most of professional sports are filled by people who are werewolves and there’s a lot of cool stuff about pack dynamics and there’s amazing worldbuilding and it’s just really good. And it’s also a great slow build romance. And the other fic I wanna talk about, guys. I don’t. I still don’t know what to tell you about this SVU spiral that I have been going down. I have no good explanation.
CHELSEA: Just when I think I’m out of it, I’m back in again, man. I’m back in again.
KAY: I just. If you are not watching the most recent season, Brooke Shields has a multi-episode arc, by the way. Which is how I suckered my mom back into watching SVU.
KAY: She used to watch it and I don’ think watched the last season or two. But she, like me, is a big Raúl fan and is a big Brooke Shields fan, so that’s how I suckered her in for the new season. [Laughs] But this fic is, as per usual, a Barba and Carisi fic. It is Noche Sin Estrella. Obviously I pronounced that really poorly, but my high school Spanish definitely tells me that means Starless Night. So that’s what it actually means. It’s by lambnoir. It’s basically a novel length case fic with a slow build romance built in there. So it’s basically perfect for me. I really love case fic type fics, which people don’t write a ton of, anymore. Where you actually see a case from start to finish.
CHELSEA: They can be hard to do well.
KAY: And have other plotlines going on. So it’s really lovely. It’s mostly told from Carisi’s point of view with a couple of moments from others. You kind of do need to be sort of caught up with the show to understand what’s going on. It takes place right after Broken Rhymes, which I think is towards the beginning of season 18. So you don’t need to be caught up with the show, but at least a little way through season 18. And it’s just really good. [Laughs] I don’t wanna get too spoilery, cause again it’s a case fic. But Barba is attacked in the first chapter, so that’s not too spoilery, and then it’s them trying to figure out exactly who did it while he’s recovering and it’s just. It’s just really good. Did you read this one, yet, Chels?
CHELSEA: No, I have not. I’m reading the other one you sent me.
KAY: The terrible soulmate one?
CHELSEA: The 50,000 word. Yeah.
CHELSEA: I’m pretty sure what you meant, it’s a weird way to pronounce ‘absolutely fantastic angst-filled soul bond plot.’ It’s weird how you mispronounced that just there.
KAY: Yeah, that was a strange mispronunciation.
CHELSEA: Really strange pronunciation.
KAY: Almost as bad as my mispronunciation of Noche Sin Estrella. Estrella?
CHELSEA: Oh Jesus Christ. Okay, alright. Should we just go ahead and talk about Warcross, then?
KAY: Let’s talk about Warcross.
[Funin’ and Sunin’ by Kevin MacLeod plays]
CHELSEA: Let’s talk about Warcross. So that is our book for the week. We read Warcross by Marie Lu. This is the first installment in what looks like it’s going to end up being a duology. I’m hoping it’s just a duology. Based on the way this one’s set up, I don’t necessarily think they could make a third book out of all the plotlines left to be resolved. This was one of the books that I was most looking forward to having come out in 2017. So now that we’ve read it. I really enjoyed it. I gave it four stars. Kay didn’t.
KAY: I didn’t even finish it, guys.
KAY: I didn’t even finish reading it!
KAY: Even knowing we were gonna be recording this podcast today, I could not make myself do it. This is probably not even a fault of the book. There’s a lovely combination of I’m a hormone monster right now. Also I hate first person present tense point of view. So I should’ve known better.
CHELSEA: Especially in young adult.
KAY: In general, yuck. But especially in young adult. So that was not working for me. [Sighs]
CHELSEA: Alright friends.
KAY: I just could not do it, guys.
CHELSEA: So, in case you have not yet seen this book or what this book is about. This book is about Emika Chen. Emika Chen is a hacker and a bounty hunter and really down on her luck. She only has $13 to her name, she’s about to be evicted. She’s watching the finale of Warcross, which is basically this giant VR system that is both a VR world and also a game. So she’s watching the finale of this huge game and she basically hacks her way into the system to attempt to steal some artifacts to make herself some money and she’s discovered. And so that gets her a job working for Hideo Tanaka, who’s the inventor of Warcross. Who is also trying to figure out this mystery of another hacker who’s trying to get into his system. Emika Chen is hired because she’s a bounty hunter and she’s gotta figure out who this other person is who’s trying to hack into the Warcross system and do something nefarious.
KAY: [laughs] I just. [Laughs]
CHELSEA: That’s the general description. I will go ahead and because it’s gonna be hard to talk about it without spoiling it a little bit, I’ll go ahead and say if you do not want spoilers, go ahead and skip ahead the next ninety seconds and I’ll do my best so spoil this incredibly quickly.
CHELSEA: Essentially what happens is we learn that Hideo Tanaka, the inventor of Warcross, has a lot of deep-seated issues with depression, PTSD and pain because when he was young he was playing with his younger brother and his younger brother was kidnapped. So he invented Warcross as an outlet for that frustration as well as a memory for his brother. Turns out he is actually the villain. The person attempting to hack into the Warcross system was doing that to stop Hideo from taking the user information he had gathered on basically everybody in the world that he would then turn around to use to manipulate them mentally. The Warcross system integrates to the brain and through that Hideo was able to compile brain scans from basically the entire world and could then use that to perform mind control and emotional manipulation. We learn that’s the master plot. He has a capital R Reasons for doing this. When the book ends, Emika Chen is left in a place deciding if his reasons for wanting to do that are worth continuing to help him or worth fighting against him. We also learn the secret supervillain hacker Zero is Hideo’s younger brother. The one who was kidnapped. Yeah. So.
KAY: Literally everything you just said is awful. If I had actually powered through the rest of this book and that was what happened. I mean. It’s good I didn’t, cause I probably woulda thrown my Chromebook across the room.
CHELSEA: This is one of those things that when you outline it like that sounds really bad.
[Kay laughs hysterically]
CHELSEA: This book is incredibly, it is, it’s like an action movie. It’s paced to the point where as ridiculous as these things are it’s fun and it’s moving quickly or at least for me. It was fun.
KAY: Maybe the pace picked up after I stop, but I got a little over a third of the way through and it was all infodumping worldbuilding shit before that.
CHELSEA: It’s not great. The beginning of the book where Emika is kind of struggling as a bounty hunter to kind of make her way in New York where we’re meeting her? That’s the first third of the book and it’s clunky.
KAY: It’s bad. The dialogue is really terrible.
CHELSEA: The dialogue in this book is really bad.
KAY: Really egregiously awful. [Laughs]
CHELSEA: The scenes between Emika and Hideo where he’s supposed to be slowly lowering the walls around his heart? Y’all. They’re not good.
KAY: [laughs] Have you read anything by Marie Lu before?
CHELSEA: I have not. The Legend trilogy is supposed to be great.
KAY: I tried to read The Legend trilogy and noped out after two chapters cause I thought they were clunky and awful like this, also. But I thought maybe it was just that particular series was not for me. It might be that her writing is just not for me. Which is fine. I’m glad other people are enjoying it. I really did not like it.
CHELSEA: I will be fully forthcoming and say that the thing I enjoyed the most about this book and the reason I gave it four stars is I’m an admitted sucker for a good VR system. A good VR system is the reason I continued to read Ready Player One even though —
[Kay makes mock vomiting noises]
CHELSEA: — so many other parts of that book are complete and utter garbage trashfire. I know! I’m not coming here to fight on the battle for Ready Player One. But. I felt very similar reading about Warcross the first time I read about The Oasis which is, like, damn that is cool and I want it to exist really badly right now. Of course. You know. Fully integrated VR systems that rely on creating virtual reality on your brain scans open up potential for super awful cyber punky things to happen so I don’t know how cool I’d be with that IRL.
KAY: As soon as they introduced that technology in that book I was like my tech paranoia is kicking in real hard.
KAY: I’m that tech paranoid I see all the terrible things you can do with this technology. I feel like you need to have a philosopher on staff being like by the way! These are the moral guidelines you should possibly be considering. And it turns out that I was right in this case, even though I didn’t finish reading the book. Cause the inventor was gonna use it for some very shady purposes.
CHELSEA: Although the book. And it’s interesting, because the book does get into discussions of, kind of, that what is worth stopping for the greater good as well as, like, there’s a scene in which Hideo talks about the fact that, you know, the whole program of Warcross is going to be based on an algorithm and the algorithm is gonna determine whose emotional reactions need to be manipulated because they’re gonna commit a crime. Because that’s kind of the thing. His whole motivation is to stop, in the future, something happening to another family like happened to him and his mom and dad and brother.
KAY: That gets into some Orwellian thoughtcrime shit, though, you know?
CHELSEA: Exactly. It’s very much like Minority Report-esque. At what point does somebody’s thinking about maybe doing something bad translate into their need to be punished judicially. And it’s also interesting because there’ve been a lot of interesting reports recently with Google and as we integrate our homes and lives together. Things that are run by algorithms are still created by people and people have inherent biases. Those biases then get programmed into the algorithms.
CHELSEA: It’s false logic to say something based on an algorithm is entirely objective.
KAY: Not benign.
CHELSEA: So the book does kinda touch on that which I think is interesting, but unfortunately a lot of that gets lost in kind of the clunky pacing and plot development. I thought the worldbuilding was great. I know you thought the worldbuilding was a little infodumpy, I didn’t feel that way quite as much. Maybe it’s just cause I like the info that was being dumped so I was down for it. I dunno.
KAY: I dunno.
CHELSEA: I liked the VR system, Warcross. I’d never do it IRL. But it was good in the book.
KAY: Can I have a really quick unrelated aside where, when they first started talking about her rainbow hair, my first thought was Handbook for Mortals and I started laughing so hard I almost injured myself?
KAY: You don’t need to even leave that in, I just. I started reading that and almost died.
CHELSEA: [laughs] Oh god, it’s so good.
KAY: Hey, do we find out anything more about her father after that first third, cause he sounded interesting. He’s an artist with a gambling problem she didn’t find out about until after he died and left her huge debt.
CHELSEA: Basically he’s a fashion designer and you learn at a certain point that’s basically it. Her father was addicted to gambling and it’s tangentially related to his gambling addiction is part of what gets her involved in what’s called Darkcross, which is Warcross’ version of the Dark Net. So the underground internet where the super scary and illegal things happen.
KAY: [laughs] God.
CHELSEA: His gambling addiction gets her into that world which comes into play in some plot development later. But you don’t get to learn a ton about him.
KAY: What about her mom?
CHELSEA: All you know about her mom is she walked out.
KAY: Just what we learn at the beginning? Well that’s definitely gonna be a plot point in the next book that I still am not gonna care about.
CHELSEA: I’m just gonna say I called that the big bad was the kidnapped brother. The minute they’re like ‘oh he’s this mysterious hacker’ and then Hideo’s like ‘oh my brother got kidnapped and we never saw him’ I was like yeah.
CHELSEA: That’s how that’s going down. I didn’t quite call the actual manner in which it was revealed, but yeah. So I would say, I dunno.
KAY: I feel like if you’re gonna have major plot twist reveal things we shouldn’t be able to call as many of them as were possible to call in this book, you know?
CHELSEA: This is one of those books that comes down to what you look for when you read. if you don’t necessarily…if you’re willing to go with a plot that’s a little bit bananas and dialogue that’s not great for a world that’s really interesting? I think this book will really appeal to you. If there are, if dialogue and lyricism and writing quality are things you look for when you read this is maybe not the book you wanna pick up.
CHELSEA: I’d be interested to see, I’m looking at some of Marie Lu’s other series and I’m thinking maybe I’ll try the Young Elites one, because I did not jive super well with the Prodigy series, but. Maybe it’s worth another go and that’ll kinda see if it’s actually just the writing or something in these particular books. Like I said, I liked Warcross enough to give it four stars but that’s entirely because I’m inherently biased towards virtual reality systems so take that particular recommendation with a grain of salt.
CHELSEA: Oh, man. Alright friends. I think that about wraps it up?
KAY: I didn’t have a lot to say, so. [Laughs] I don’ think. Sorry this wasn’t a better discussion cause I couldn’t even mange to finish the book, friends.
CHELSEA: It’s okay. You know, not everything’s gonna be for everybody. Nothing brings on a reading slump faster than forcing yourself to finish something.
KAY: I do wanna say, I did really think about forcing myself to power through this and then I was like. You know what? No! 2017 already sucks. I’m not reading anything [laughs] I don’t want to after The Hatening. So. [Laughs]
CHELSEA: Yeah. Which again. The Hatening doesn’t count because it’s fun. That’s fun hate reading.
KAY: And I still didn’t finish that book either.
KAY: So that tells you how not strong like ox I am when it comes to reading things that I hate.
CHELSEA: Oh god.
CHELSEA: We are so profesh. Profesh to death.
KAY: Worst. I am the worst and I apologize.
[Funin’ and Sunin’ by Kevin MacLeod plays]
CHELSEA: No, it is fantastic. Alright, so join us next time. We are going to be kicking off.
KAY: It’s gonna be the start of our Season of the Force.
KAY: That’s what they call it at Disneyland when it’s Christmas.
CHELSEA: [wheezing] I know it is. Alright, friends. So, yeah.
KAY: Star Wars December.
CHELSEA: It is officially time for the Season of the Force. We’re starting our own version of Star Wars December. With the exception of an episode where we’ll be doing kind of a stats analysis and breakdown review of kind of how we’ve been doing with the podcast so far. Every week in December we’re gonna be talking about a different Star Wars thing. We’re gonna kick it off next week with Leia, Princess of Alderaan. Then we’re gonna do our stats breakdown. And we’ll be talking about the movie and also Phasma by Delilah S Dawson. So in the weeks ahead, join us while we get into our many many layers of deep-seated Star Wars feelings.
KAY: So many feelings.
CHELSEA: So many, guys, I’m already like. It’s gonna be a lot. I’m already ready. Until then you can come and find us on twitter or on the website. We’re always here to talk to you about books and the wonderful fandom things you’ve got going then. Until then, take care of yourselves and take care of each other. Bye, guys.
[Funin’ and Sunin’ by Kevin MacLeod plays]
KAY: It’s nap time. Apologies if you can hear my nephew crying. [Faint crying in the background] It’s nap time and he’s not happy. [Laughs]
CHELSEA: I’m not coming here to plant my fandom flag for Ready Player One. Fandom flag. You know what, we’re gonna cut that out, that’s not a phrase we’re gonna put in here.