“Shutdown” by Laurell K Hamilton

Posted on October 10, 2013

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•Source: Free
•Publisher: Vook
•Publication Date: October 8, 2013

I’ll start this review by stating this was the short story that prompted this blog. I had far too many feelings to keep to myself after reading this little gem.

I’ve been a long time reader of Laurell K Hamilton’s work (hereafter known as LKH). I found the first Anita Blake book, ‘Guilty Pleasures’, when I was 14 (so about 11 years after it was first published) and loved it with all my teenage heart. I’ve read the Anita Blake books compulsively since then (I read Affliction the day it was released) and I’ve been one of the fans who loved the series and the character no matter what direction LKH took them in.

Until now.

I’m afraid ‘Shutdown’ caused me to rage quit Anita Blake.

On Adobe Digital Editions this short story is twenty pages long and all but one paragraph is a waste of space.

If you have read any of the Anita Blake books there is only one paragraph that is of interest to you. One paragraph that furthers the plot and/or the emotional depth of the series. One paragraph in twenty pages that provides something newish to the Anita Blake story arc and to the development of the characters.

Even that one paragraph, though, is too long. The development could have been contained in one, possibly two, sentences.

LKH needs an editor stat.

However I am getting a little ahead of myself.

For those that don’t know the Anita Blake series the main character is a necromancer, vampire executioner and supernatural consultant for the police. The series used to center around the mysteries and police work she was involved in. It later centers around her supernatural powers and her relationships with her romantic interests. At the time of the latest novel, Affliction time is spent somewhat evenly between the two different themes. Anita becomes involved with a whole host of men and at the time of ‘Affliction’ and the short story ‘Shutdown’ is in a polyamorous, kinky relationship with a few characters (including her ex-fiance).

Richard is one of Anita’s men. He was her fiance and now he’s her occasional lover and top. They had a tumultuous relationship that couldn’t work because Richard had hang ups and needed therapy. So you would think that this story would be about Richard’s character development (especially when reading the status update LKH posted).

The premise of ‘Shutdown’ is that Richard has a vanilla fiancee who wants to meet Anita and Anita’s primary partner Micah – presumably the fiancee is feeling a little worried about the whole poly, kinky, sleeping with the ex thing.

This could be an interesting short story, except that LKH does a hatchet job.

Firstly, this story is not about Richard. It’s about Anita. I get that LKH writes from a first person perspective and that in the Anita books that perspective will be Anita’s. Cool, I’m down with that as you can still learn a bunch about different characters through a first person perspective. The point of view doesn’t have to dictate what character this story is about.

However this story doesn’t focus on the interactions between Richard and his fiancee. It’s all about Anita’s feelings about the fiancee and her uncomfortable feelings about the ‘meeting the fiancee’ scenario.

Want proof?

The first two pages have Anita comparing herself to the fiancee and coming off better.

Dr. Ellen Radborne was about my height, 5′ 3″ with thick shoulder length brunette hair that I might have thought was black, but my hair was black, so I knew hers was really just dark brown. Her eyes were brown, like mine, though again mine were a little darker. She had a pale summer tan, to my nearly white skin, but then my skin never tanned, it just burned, and then went back to being pale. She was curvy, maybe not as curvy through the chest as me, but no man who liked breasts would complain that she lacked. She was in shape, though not as fit as I, but then I doubt she needed to hit the weights and cardio as hard for her job as I did for mine.

If LKH needed to give a description of Dr. Radbourne did she have to compare her to Anita? Why is this necessary? Why do we need to have Anita superficially established as the better woman?

It takes five pages for LKH to get through the descriptions of each of the characters, what they’re wearing and how matchy they all are. Considering that we know what three of the four characters look like it’s a few pages too much. Also why is how their clothes match so important? Except it apparently serves to reinforce how amazing Anita is.

I knew with that small eye flick that I looked too good, had dressed too well, and she had done that girl thing where you compare yourself to the ex, and she didn’t feel like she was winning.

At this point I’m confused at to why Anita is so bitchy. Ok LKH says that Anita doesn’t want to do lunch but doesn’t provide a reason why. As far as I’m concerned having lunch to reassure a vanilla partner that this whole poly, kinky thing is ok is worth playing ball for. Bitchy comparisons aren’t conducive to that.

Ugh.

But wait, there’s more problems with this story. It starts to rehash old ground. Anita Blake has ‘issues’ … I prefer to call them LKH’s old reliable story tropes.

The main protagonist doesn’t believe she’s beautiful even though all the menz tell her she is in an ‘aww shucks she doesn’t believe she’s beautiful isn’t that adorable?’ kind of way.

“I’m not prettier than you are,” I said.
She gave me a look of utter scorn. “From one woman to another, don’t bullshit me.”
“Ellen, she’s not lying,” Richard said

This comes up in every Anita Blake book. Every fucking book. I get that females, especially females in rough and tumble worlds, aren’t supposed to believe they’re beautiful but does LKH really have to belabor the point for 22 books and 5 short stories? This is poor writing at it’s finest; clunky and unoriginal. It also goes on for like three pages.

So at the half way point of the story all we’ve talked about are appearances and how Anita is sooo much prettier to other women (even though she doesn’t really believe it.)

Bad writing. So much bad writing.

But wait, there’s still more!

The next half of the story is all about explaining the kinky and poly terms to the uninitiated. Except that they’e already been explained in other books and are capable of being quickly googled by a reader if absolutely necessary. Again we rehash old ground and it goes on and on and on.

Like actually.

We also rehash the fact that Richard was not always entirely comfortable with being kinky, dominant and a little sadistic and needed therapy to come to terms with this side of his nature. This again is old news and quite frankly needing therapy to come to terms with a thing that can be controversial shouldn’t be as frowned upon as it is in this short story. I get that Richard needs to come to terms with his sexuality but Anita, who is the judge and jury here, is hardly perfect herself (or does LKH want us to forget books 1-21?).

So we come to the last two pages and therein lies the meat.

SPOILER ALERT 

After explaining everything that the reader already knows about poly, kink and Anita’s appearance we discover that the fiancee can’t cope with any of this and storms off out into the street with Richard deciding not to follow her.

Hasn’t Richard just recovered from all his issues guys?

The end.

Spoiler End

The last two pages that deal with Richard’s issues and the fiancee’s questions could be dealt with in one line in the next Anita Blake book.

‘Richard had come a long way with his therapy and was starting to realise that a strictly vanilla fiancee might not be the best thing for him.’ Or some such. (Ambiguous rewrite because I didn’t want to really spoiler people.)

I think this short story gives credence to the accusation that Anita doesn’t like other women. There is no reason for Anita not to like Dr. Radborne and yet LKH insists on deriding this character from the get go. As someone identifying as a feminist and as a female this makes me acutely uncomfortable. The lack of other powerful or smart women in this series could imply that women need to compete with other women. In fact competing with the other woman is exactly what Anita does from the start in this story. The only real ‘problem’ with Dr. Radborne is that she’s having difficulty understanding the poly and kinky lifestyle and in Anita’s eyes that seems to make her intolerant and all the evil. Really having questions about that lifestyle, especially when her fiance is involved in it, doesn’t make her the devil. It makes her practical. I hate the way this character was treated. (Oh there was a problem with her attitude to vampires but considering Richard and Anita’s attitudes in books 1-4 they can’t seriously be throwing stones about that. Except I suppose that they’re all enlightened now, which is the type of attitude that gives me the mental vomits.)

Finally the writing is full of clunky, awful dialogue:

If she’s Jean-Claude’s blood whore, then so am I.

She looked at us; her eyes were shiny with unshed tears…

Ellen gave me a not entirely friendly look and said, “For you not to sit there looking fabulously beautiful and making me feel like an ugly duckling to your swan.”

Who actually ever talks like that?

TL:DR

This story provides nothing new to the Anita Blake world, except a situation that could be summed up in a single line (and there’s a problem when that much writing can be skipped over). It lacks substance, has clunky dialogue and in the end exposes an ugly side of Anita that I wish I could unsee.

Anita in this story is vain, unpleasant, bitchy and churlish. It disappoints me that she was written that way.

I used to love her as a teenager and I loved her as a young woman. However this story showcased far too much of what is wrong with the Anita Blake series and LKH’s writing and I just don’t think I can read it anymore.

P.S.

Minor pet peeve 1: I’m not sure why Anita would introduce Richard as her top in social settings when she could introduce him as the third of the triumvirate.

Minor pet peeve 2: I also want to know what kind of public and social events Anita has been going to with all her men. She doesn’t have a social life or any friends anymore, vanilla or poly.

Posted in: Review