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Tinker (2004)

Tinker (2004)

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4.08 of 5 Votes: 3
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0743498712 (ISBN13: 9780743498715)

About book Tinker (2004)

There be spoilers ahead. You have been warned.I'd heard some good things about this book, so I decided to give it a try. I also knew the author was a fan of manga (and therefore presumably Japanese culture) beforehand. Cool. I adore manga too.Thing is, the concept is interesting. The whole piece-of-earth-in-foreign-realm idea got me absorbed in the first chapter. Trying to make sense of all the new terminology, figuring out the history, politics (especially the inter-species ones) was all great. And then everything kind of goes downhill.I liked Tinker the most in the first few chapters when she was badass and saved Windwolf. It was refreshing to read about a genius heroine who is purportedly amazing at quantum physics. As I read on, however, I found myself being more and more detached from Tinker. To be honest, aside from the whole genius mechanic label slapped on her, I don't particularly find Tinker very different from typical heroines. There is proof that Tinker's 'legend' isn't false, we get to see her in action in her junkyard, but everything else about Tinker... I know some people liked her, and to each her own. I just couldn't personally connect with her (or understand most some of the things she did). Even with a smart heroine, the entire book (or at least the part I read, which was the first 4/5 of it) is spent with Tinker mired in her confusion, ignorance, and indecision. As if fiction needs more heroines tripping over their own feet.Tinker wasn't the worse part of the book for me though. Oh no, it gets worse. Can we talk about the racial tensions in this book? Because I can't unsee them. I can't just ignore it and pretend everything is awesome and my isn't this author cool for putting in references to the mystical Orient. On the most basic level, this is how the characters in this book go: If you're a good character, you have Caucasian features. If you're a bad character, you have Asian features. The 'good' mythological race, the one we and the heroine are supposed to sympathize with, is drawn from European mythology. The 'bad' mythological race, the oni, are drawn from Japanese mythology. Let's not forget that America is the 'good' human country, and all human characters, who are American, in the book are white (except for a brief mention of Chinatown and one stock 'Asian man' behind his okonomiyaki cart). And of course China is the 'bad' human country. The mythology is weird too. The oni have distinctively Japanese names, the mythology is drawn purely from Japanese culture (aside from the Foo dogs, but an explanation for why these Chinese mythological creatures are included in Japanese mythology is given on p. 144). There was a mention of Chinese dragons too, as 'poisonous snakes'. Okay, now that we've established the mythology for the bad oni are drawn from Japanese culture, what is up with the repetitive discussion on China? How is China in any way connected to Japanese mythology? Why is there absolutely no discussion of Japan? Why the heck were the oni stranded in China? What were they doing in China, taking a jaunt on the Great Wall and snapping photos of the Forbidden Palace? I suppose I just feel there's something not quite right with all this talk on China and Japanese mythological creatures. Somehow the two are supposed to connect together, but I just don't see how. China has its own rich and vast mythology that, guess what, is distinct from Japan's. Why not draw on that instead? The Elves are characterized in a way so that they seem distinct from the human race. They don't share human culture, or language. Their systems of governance and politics, their history... the author really fleshed this out. The oni, on the other hand, are too close to Japanese culture for my liking. Please explain to me how a race of mythological creatures that developed on a separate plane somehow develop a culture remarkably similar to Japan's (down to the kimono). Or have names that sound remarkably similar to Japanese names. You might argue it's because the oni were stuck in the human world and thus caught onto human culture. But oni are immortal, in their own private homes they shouldn't have to act human and should remember their own culture and language. Nor should they have to call themselves by Japanese names. And don't get forget they were stranded in China. Which. Isn't. Japan.So yeah. Basically it's stereotyping one race as good, another as evil, and having some weird Oriental/Asian mash of things thrown in there (the continent of Asia is not some all-you-can-eat pile-whatever-you-want-onto-your-plate buffet). I would prefer Japanese and Chinese mythology to be represented properly and not caricatured, otherwise authors are just appropriating elements of other cultures and stuffing it in 'cause it looks cool. The whole Big Bad China-wait-no-Japan-wait-no-Japanese-Shinto-oni thing just doesn't work. That, and last time I was there America isn't just made up of white people. There really are other races that live in America. I know, I know, it's the whole please let's have diversity in your characters thing, but having one race as your good characters and another race as your bad characters does not cut it. I'm not even going into the mess that is Tinker and Windwolf's relationship. Aside from the whole insta-love thing (especially on Windwolf's part) and Tinker's dallying around with Nathan and Windwolf (which I can understand but can't exactly respect). Oh, and the whole non-consensual turning of Tinker into an elf (am still puzzled by that part - as in why it was added in the beginning, forced on Tinker, with little to no set up, because the books I like the most actually discuss the differences between mortal and immortal, and characters put themselves through hell to gain immortality for maximum impact), and how Windwolf trapped Tinker into a marriage. That, and Tinker and Windwolf have no build up or basis for their relationship. They have little interaction with each other (hell, I understand and like Tinker's relationship with Pony more than Windwolf), and most of it featured Windwolf near death. Whoops, guess I did delve a bit into the train wreck.To summarize: I don't think the author was intentionally racist (God, I hope not, although casting all your bad guys as Asian characters is cutting it really close). And great, the author wanted to incorporate other cultures. Just please, be careful with representation. Other cultures means they aren't exactly yours. You don't really know them as intimately, and honestly have no right to stereotype them as bad guys. Or somehow draw in one Asian country while discussing another Asian culture's mythology and throw them together.

This one's fun. A nice take on the cross-world SF/Fantasy hybrid with good politicking on both sides of the divide and some fabulous surprises along the way. In particular, I like the way the main character's specialness is worked into the plot without breaking suspension of disbelief and the way her flaws and youth are handled. Basic setup: the Chinese government steals some not-quite-done research on making a star drive and builds it, not-quite-understanding how it works. The result is a probably working star gate (colony ships are reporting back, but it's a one-way trip so far, with no gate at the other end) but the side effect is a resonance point in PhiladelphiaPittsburgh that sends the whole city to Elfhome, another dimension with elves and monsters and magic. As a compromise, the gate is shut down for one day a month, pulling PhillyPittsy back and allowing trade and diplomatic relations between humans and elves. Our protagonist, who goes by the cognomen Tinker, is a mechanical genius who runs a scrapyard in PhiladelphiaPittsburgh and tinkers with machines (like her line of souped-up racing hoverbikes) on the side. She becomes involved with the elves and spends the one-day shutdown protecting a near-dead elf prince from assassins and smugglers. As a result, she gets pulled into cross-world intrigue and develops a much closer relationship with the elves than almost any humans.Fun stuff. High tech works, but no power is available on most of Elfhome. PhiladelphiaPittsburgh has power stations but humans don't have access to magic training. They can buy pre-printed spells, though, and make use of those alongside their machines. The elves are incorporating human design and technology into everything they can without the sometimes-unfortunate side effects of magical activity in a strong electromagnetic field. And Tinker starts to make sense of it all.The author throws us some great surprises. Tinker's relationship with the elves winds up much closer--and more complicated--than expected. The history of elven interaction with Earth is far more complex than any human knew (and even the few elves and half-elves who have been trapped on earth in hiding for thousands of years don't know the whole story) and human western culture turns out not to have a monopoly on this fact-based cross-world mythology.The relationship side of the story is pretty well handled, although you have to make allowances for Tinker's limited access to boys and limiting all-science training from her slightly nuts grandfather while growing up in an under-populated PhiladelphiaPittsburgh. Her strange upbringing (her grandfather used stored sperm from her 10-years-dead father to in vitro impregnate a surrogate with an egg from an already-dead woman and raised Tinker on science, math, and engineering) explains some of her odd and naive interactions with men she's attracted to or who are attracted to her.The elf she rescued is an interesting character, if a little flat. He isn't quite the Charlaine Harris male (i.e., only there to make the lead female clearly desirable), but he can be close at times. He may come into his own in the sequel, which is named after him instead of her.Read this one for the fun setting and the fun intrigue, but read it especially for two major plot turns: one about halfway through and involving Tinker making a poorly-informed, if not at all bad, decision and the other about 2/3 of the way through when the antagonists of the book reveal themselves to come from a mostly-unexpected direction. The book also has four of five very nicely written action set pieces, including a very entertaining and readable hoverbike chase, a great assault by a powered-up magic user, several escapes from potentially devastating guards, and a fun sequence fighting back against a mind reader/illusion projector.I haven't read the sequel Wolf Who Rules, but friends liked it, so I have hopes for it.

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This book is about a girl whose grandfather creates her from her dead father's frozen sperm, and then names her "Alexander Graham Bell." Amazingly enough, it is not about her quest to track him down and exact revenge, or about her traumatic youth; she considers her childhood to have been excellent, and only goes by 'Tinker' because she follows the elven custom of not giving away her name lightly (and because, really, she's a Tinker.)The world of Tinker (both the book, and the girl, now that I think of it) is defined by the fact that nearly two decades ago the Chinese opened up a gate in orbit that opens on another dimension. What they didn't anticipate was that the portal would cast a shadow; on the opposite side of Earth, a section of Pittsburgh was thrown into that dimension too, and that dimension is Elfland, or "Elfhome" as the locals call it. The geopolitical consequences rocked both worlds, but Tinker's lived on Elfhome longer than she's lived on Earth. The gate is shut down every twenty days to allow the Pittsburgh residents to stock up on things Elfhome can't provide, like microcircuits, and coffee, but all in all, Tinker's perfectly happy on Elfhome. She's more a native there than of Earth, runs her junkyard with jury-rigged magic and tech, and is fairly fluent in Low Elvish.Then she and an elf, Wolf-who-rules-the-wind, are thrown together, and shenanigans happen, some of which the reader will see coming.The thing is, this book was mad scrambling shenanigans, but it also includes some horrific torture and rape. I would say neither of topics are dwelt-upon, and the book knows they are horrible, but Tinker is only eighteen, and it was hard for me to see her dealing with those kinds of things, even as she's being sucked into inter-dimensional politics. If it had been, for example, Cordelia Naismith at forty, it would have easier. Even though Tinker seemed to make it through mostly unbroken, I kind of think she needs an Aunt Cordelia to help her develop the emotional resources.On the other hand, you can see I came through this worrying about the characters' mental and emotional health, so it is quite engaging.(I would like to congratulate the author on not using any of the tinker-related puns that occurred to me while reading this book.)

This book had a lot that I liked a great deal, but more that didn't work for me, and some stuff that made me outright uncomfortable.The basic set up is that the various mythologies of earth are a reflection of alternate universes. So elves are the inhabitants of one alternate universe, and other alternate universes contain creatures that also form the basis of other stories of earth. Earth found out about this by building a dimensional gate that as a side-effect takes part of a city into the alternate world of the elves for month-long visits, then returning for a single day. Tinker, the protagonist, has lived her whole life in the part of the city that gets transposed, and though she's travelled the bare fringes of the elven world, she's never gone out into the human world.Both the setup and the heroine were very interesting to me. Magic is a science in this set-up and Tinker is a genius who likes to invent things, and is very interested in the science of magic. She also owns a junk yard, has just recently turned eighteen, and is a bit distrustful of the government (because of a patch of being young without a legal guardian). Tinker I enjoyed, and I liked her science smarts and her bravery in the face of danger and practical response to emergencies.(view spoiler)[I did not like the tired old "no idea how sexy you are" thing, but I especially disliked the "you're so smart, but you're so naïve" thing. Most of all, I hated how stupid this supposed genius was. It doesn't occur to her that the rigidly caste-stratified elves might behave differently toward someone adopted into the clan of the local lord. She accepts symbolic gifts without asking what they mean, even when she's been warned specifically against that. She agrees to have a "life saving" spell cast on her without any explanation of what exactly that means.Despite being descended from an elf, having been in part raised by a half-elf, worshipping elven gods, and living all her life in a transposing bit of the elven world, she is almost wilfully ignorant of everything elvish that actually happens in the story. Indeed, of almost everything except physics and electronics. Some of this is hand waved by her grandfather wanting her to focus on the important sciency parts of her education, but it's hard to stay on side with a character who displays such a sheer lack of intellectual curiosity - or common sense.On the other women aspect, Tinker does at least spend time with two older women who have been in their way mothers to her, but there is also the standard jealous beautiful antagonist that makes Tinker feel grubby and not pretty. The whole crux of the romance in this story seems to be "you're not like elven women, who are cowards". And, sadly, there was a solid serving of aggressive men all puffed up, fighting over Tinker. The whole "you're legal now" thing made me seriously uncomfortable, and I also struggled with certain racial aspects. The elves are self-constructed immortals who raised themselves up with genetic manipulation. They also created servant castes, designed for particular purposes. It's very unfortunate that the representative of the (strong and a bit stupid) bodyguard/soldier caste we meet also seems to be the only major character with dark skin (it's possible that he's the only named character with dark skin). It doesn't help that he has the cutesy nickname of Pony. [I really liked the character, but didn't really understand why humans needed an English translation of the elves' names. Yes they had long names, but why not just use the primary word of their name in Elvish rather than call them by a translation of the meaning?]Another uncomfortable point was the antagonists, who come from an alt world that forms the basis of Japanese mythology, and are said to be invading hordes that "breed like mice". (hide spoiler)]

Interesting in spite of the main character being a Mary Sue and her love interest being what some would consider 'every woman's elf fantasy'. (Not mine, btw.) This novel would have benefitted from better world-building and setting the scene in the first several chapters as I was still confused by the middle of the book.The villain was too evil for words, there is some pretty obvious racism in the 'evil' characters, and several parts were just too disturbingly weird for me. This book kept my attention but annoyed me. I'm not sure if I'll read the sequel or not.
—MB (What she read)

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