Sunday, February 28, 2010

Your Movie Sucks

Only enormously talented people could have made Death to Smoochy. Those with lesser gifts would have lacked the nerve to make a film so bad, so miscalculated, so lacking any connection with any possible audience.

I don’t watch many movies, but I love reading about them – especially when they’re bad. The previous such book I picked up was The Hollywood Hall of Shame, by Harry and Michael Medved, and while that was immensely entertaining, it dealt with movies in Hollywood’s history. Roger Ebert’s Your Movie Sucks, on the other hand, describes and skewers films I actually heard of when they were first released.

Such as M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, which did have an intriguing trailer. I really liked the idea of mysterious creatures which lived around an Amish-esque village and were attracted by the color red. Unfortunately, the execution and denouement left something to be desired.

It’s so witless, in fact, that when we do discover the secret, we want to rewind the film so we don’t know the secret any more. And then keep on rewinding, and rewinding, until we’re back at the beginning, and can get up from our seats and walk backward out of the theater and go down the up escalator and watch the money spring from the cash register into our pockets.

It’s the last bit that had me trying not to laugh aloud on the subway.

There’s more to this book than just witty commentary and one-liners, though. That’s mixed with insightful observations on characterization and plot – or the lack thereof.

At the start, Ebert mentions a film which revolves around the graphically portrayed rape and murder of two girls by a sadist, with racist dialogue thrown in to spice it up. And that’s about all there is to it. The sadist (and I’m guessing protagonist) isn’t caught and held responsible, nor is there any deeper reflection or insight into human nature. It’s just violence for the sake of violence, meant to shock and/or titillate. Ebert reviewed it accordingly.

The makers of this film – which I won’t name, let alone link to, because it deserves obscurity rather than notoriety – responded that such violence was a part of our modern world. “Real evil exists, and cannot be ignored, sanitized or exploited. It needs to be shown just as it is,” they said. They made quite a case for their film.

But Ebert’s response was wonderful.

I believe that art can certainly be nihilistic and express hopelessness… I believe evil can win in fiction, as it often does in real life. But I prefer that the artist express an attitude towards that evil. It is not enough to record it; what do you think and feel about it? Your attitude is as detached as your hero’s.

Which is a good point. If the only thing a film does is show us the extent of people’s inhumanity, with nothing to reassure or inspire or motivate us, then we might as well watch footage of any modern crimes or massacres.

The [protagonist] is given no responsibility, no motive, no context, no depth. Like a shark, he exists to kill.

The Silence of the Lambs features a vicious murderer, but he’s brilliant and plays by his own twisted code. The killer in Seven is perhaps as intelligent and even more amoral, but he has a reason for his crimes and he’s contrasted with the detectives who are hunting him down. The Bride in Kill Bill is a mother who’s lost her child. Those films work for those reasons.

As the Greeks understood tragedy, it exists not to bury us in death and dismay, but to help us deal with it, to accept it as part of life, to learn about our own humanity from it. That is why the Greek tragedies were poems: the language ennobled the material.

I wish Roger Ebert wrote book reviews as well.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Five uses for dogs in fantasy

1. Deific figures

I was reading about Anubis, the dog-headed Egyptian god associated with the afterlife, and the article mentioned Sirius, the dog in heaven, and Cerebrus, the dog which guarded the underworld.

Maybe dogs are almost unheard-of in a certain world – perhaps they’ve gone extinct – so that when one is seen, it is always a hellish or heaven-sent messenger. But while these might be another world’s version of demons or angels, they’re still dogs. They can’t speak, so it’s not always clear what they might want.

2. Dread companion

Harlan Ellison’s “A Boy and his Dog” features an amoral protagonist who travels through a dystopian future world with his telepathic dog, Blood. The dog is intelligent and witty but almost as amoral, and uses his superior senses to locate food and women for the protagonist. At the end of the story, after Blood has been injured, it’s implied that the protagonist killed a young woman he met so that Blood would have something to eat.

Such dogs would be antitheses to the friendly Lassielike pets in so many books. Very often the presence of a loyal dog (or a strong human-dog bond) is an indication that the protagonist is a good person. Not in this case, though. And I’d like to see the dog actually influencing the protagonist to do even worse things.

Or what about assistance dogs? Usually these animals wear haloes as well as collars. Why not an assistance dog which secretly enjoys leading its owner into danger? And the dog doesn’t need to be red-eyed or frothing at the mouth. In fact, the more normal it looks, the more intriguing and horrifying it can be.

And it doesn’t even have to be overt. Maybe the dog just slowly and subtly asserts control over its owner, such that in the end, the owner becomes the slave.

3. Dogs of war

Dogs have been used in battle in various ways – for instance, pulling chariots in George R. R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords. I also read that during World War II, the Russians trained dogs to run beneath tanks in search of food. The plan was to strap bombs to the dogs’ backs and take out Panzers that way. Unfortunately, due to their training, the dogs sometimes associated tasty treats with Russian tanks.

Assuming slightly more intelligence on the dogs’ parts, they could serve other roles on the battlefield. Dogs could wear light armor and fight – I’d love to see enemies trying to strike at something that’s faster than they are and which has better senses as well. They could be couriers, or they could locate and help the wounded (like a St. Bernard carrying a little keg of alcohol and finding people lost in the snow).

Finally, they can be carrion eaters, if there are concerns that the dead might be raised otherwise.

4. Dark patrol

I like the idea of dogs being used as sentries and patrollers – makes me think of those signs on properties that say “I can reach the gate in 2.5 seconds. Can you?” But what if they had to stand guard and keep watch for the presence of something much more dangerous than just humans? How might they adapt?

Physical changes rather than mental ones might be in order. In medieval times, mastiffs were fitted with spiked collars to hunt, but the spikes could develop naturally as well. Perhaps a line of them along the back, to protect the spine? Or even spinning sawtoothed structures like those on the hubs of Messala’s chariot wheels in Ben-Hur? Put those on a dog’s elbow joints and watch it run past its prey.

Dogs might have naturally bioluminescent strobelike features growing from their heads, not so much to help them see – their sense of smell compensates for that – but to blind nocturnal creatures with a sudden burst of light. Or they could have manipulative limbs. The creatures in Whitley Strieber’s The Wolfen have larger paws than normal wolves, with more flexible joints that allow them to climb the side of a building.

If this wouldn’t work, though, I’d give dogs tentacle-like structures that sprouted from their shoulders – these could stay pressed against the body and out of the way until needed, but when they uncoiled, they could grasp objects or even snap like whips. That kind of coolness worked for Indiana Jones, after all. :)

5. Dual nature

Pampered Pekinese by day. Badass German shepherd by night.

This is a humorous canine take on those superheroes who have mild-mannered alter egos. Maybe dogs do too. The carefully groomed Shih Tzu with a pink ribbon keeping its hair out of its eyes could change shape at night, becoming a vigilante Rottweiler that prowls the streets to keep them safe.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Mom's Ultimate Book of Lists

As readers of this blog know, I like lists. Numbered points are easier for me to grasp. The information is delivered in neat little bite-sized pieces rather than large chunks. So despite being child-free, I was interested in reviewing Michelle LaRowe’s A Mom's Ultimate Book of Lists, and requested a copy through Graf-Martin Communications.

This is going to be a mixed review.

The concept of this book is an excellent one. A mom or mother-to-be might have little time in which to read entire chapters of a book, but that doesn’t matter here – she can pick up this book, read a list in five or ten minutes and put it down until the next time. There are tables, checklists and charts as well as lists. It’s in a very user-friendly style.

Plus, many of the lists took a brisk, stripped-down, just-the-facts approach. It made me want to put together a similar book for busy writers.

There’s also plenty of good information in the book – my favorites were the sections on what to buy and what not to buy. Parents-to-be are often faced with a huge and perhaps confusing array of devices, items and supposed necessities for the baby, so a book which cut through the chaff might be helpful. I also like the comparison of costs between buying baby food and simply making one’s own from strained peas and so on.

On the other hand, I knew before requesting this that the book would be Christian-oriented. It has many, many verses from the bible, some of which are repeated, and that does narrow the book’s audience down somewhat. Until the end I thought it was one I could recommend to only a few of my friends, but what made it a book I could recommend to no one were the suggestions of teaching children to proselytize to their little friends.

Role-play how to share the gospel with kids who have different beliefs and lifestyles than you. Your children can tell others: “Jesus loves you.” (pg. 246)

I wonder why those kids’ beliefs don’t deserve as much respect as the author’s. This is defended on the grounds that love is better than tolerance. But I would hope that the author's definition of love recognizes the right of other parents to decide who’s preaching to their children.

Finally, I think the author’s position on her religion should have been at least hinted at in the book description, cover copy or even title. Why not call it A Mom’s Ultimate Book of EvangeLists?

This book is available from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications. It is a trade paperback, $13.99, 355 pages.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Tales of the Willows

One of my favorite children’s books is Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. It’s warm, funny and even frightening in a scene or two, such as the one where Mole is lost in the Wild Wood. And the characters are unforgettable. So when I heard that William Horwood was writing sequels which stayed true to the characterization and style of the original, I had to read them – and actually sprung for a hardcover copy of my favorite.

1. The Willows in Winter

Not the most memorable book in the Tales of the Willows series, but it’s a pleasant read, and there’s an amusing section where Mole falls through the frozen surface of the River and is presumed dead. The other animals, grieving, gather outside for a funeral service.

In the middle of that, Mole (who has struggled out of the water downstream) returns, but not realizing that the solemn gathering is for him, he waits patiently at the edge of the crowd and wonders who has died. It’s just the kind of gentle humor that I’ve come to expect from the novels.

2. Toad Triumphant

This is my favorite book of the series. Now there’s no denying that Toad is vain, lazy, self-centered and forever searching for the next big thrill. But he’s also a mover and shaker, plot-wise. The takeover of Toad Hall, the daring prison escape and the “return of Ulysses” in the original book would never have happened without him.

This story begins when he commissions a statue of himself, which will be sculpted by a lady toad – a French countess, actually. She proposes the idea of Toad as a conquering Roman general with Mole, Badger and Rat as smaller legates looking up at him in admiration. Toad soon has a proposition of a different kind in mind, and asks if Madame la Comtesse will do him the honor of accepting his hand in matrimony.

She’s not too interested at first, but after Toad falls through a greenhouse window in an attempt to woo her, he both ends up on the wrong side of the law (again) and makes the acquaintance of Madame’s young son. And that’s where the book comes into its own. This series can’t do romance, but it’s good with friendship and it does wonderfully with the relationship that develops when Toad and Madame’s son become fugitives together on a boat.

The young Comte is spoiled, self-centered and demanding – just like Toad, in other words. But he’s also lonely. He’s never had a father figure, and Toad finds himself slowly becoming protective of the lad as they journey up the River and try to stay clear of the law.

As for the young Comte, he becomes quite fond of Toad, and Madame starts to think that perhaps wedlock may not be all that onerous… except that by then, Toad has realized his passion for her was merely an infatuation. So the chapter “In Loco Parentis” is followed by one titled “Breach of Promise”.

As his fiancee came out onto the terrace, when all attention was upon her and the High Judge, Toad turned and fled as fast as his short legs would carry him.

As he went he hurled off anything that might be an encumbrance to flight: the carnation in his lapel, his morning coat, then his top hat, and finally his cravat, that he might puff and pant more freely as he fled.

A manhunt, a trial and a guilty verdict ensue. The sentence is death. How Toad averts it, what happens to Madame, where her son ends up… that is for you, dear readers, to discover.

3. The Willows and Beyond

This is a something of a wrap-up book. The characters we knew and loved have grown old, or in Badger’s case, older, and so they hand the reins over to the next generation. This consists of Rat’s friend the Sea Rat’s son, Badger’s grandson (introduced in a previous book), Toad’s ward (ditto) and some young relative of Mole’s (ditto).

There was nothing wrong with this book, and it even has the Amusing Misunderstanding that’s now a trope of the series. A rumor spreads of a Beast in the Wild Wood, a great hulking creature with round shining eyes. Turns out this is Toad, who bundles up well when he’s hiking and wears goggles that reflect light, but he’s attacked quite severely before the others discover this. But plotwise, I can’t remember anything else that happened in this book. It had a few funny moments and that was that.

4. The Willows at Christmas

I thought of buying this, but at the last moment decided to check if it was available through the library. Thankfully, it was. This book is another of the less memorable Tales of the Willows – it’s adequate as a Willows story, but the series seems to be running on autopilot at this point.

Amusing Misunderstanding? Check.
Camaraderie and feasting? Check.
Previously unmentioned family members of Badger, Toad, Mole or Rat showing up? Check and check.
Toad gets into trouble with the law, and requires rescue? Check, check, and throw the clipboard away already.

I was disappointed that this book didn’t feature Toad’s ward, because the scenes between him and Toad in previous novels are always entertaining – he’s just as much of a lazy hedonist as Toad, and lies with more aplomb. There’s also an interesting chapter where Rat and Otter figure out how to break Toad and Mole out of jail. But unlike Toad Triumphant, it’s not the kind of book I’ll read again.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Paid reviews

There’s no shortage of fees for review services, from the thirty dollars charged by this blogger to the $399 that will get you a review from Kirkus Discoveries. But even if the author doesn’t mind paying out, as a reader I would not be comfortable with such an arrangement. I would always wonder which one the reviewer preferred – the book or the checkbook.

It can be problematic for the reviewer as well. Critical reviews that aren’t paid for sometimes make authors upset and angry – what would happen if the author had shelled out good money for something which is unlikely to boost sales? The alternative to that is to praise everything, which some review services certainly do, but those rarely come off as professional or truthful.

What I find interesting are attempts to avoid the stigma of paid reviews by shifting fees to something other than the actual review. Review services may require that writers buy a copy of their publication. They might offer a “fast-track” service – pay a fee and have the book reviewed more quickly.

Or they might get even more creative, such as BookSurge offering its authors/customers a review by “New York Times bestselling author Ellen Tanner Marsh”. As the NYT subsequently pointed out,

Ms. Marsh was last on the best-seller list in the early 1980s for bodice-rippers like “Reap the Savage Wind.” In her review of “The Beer Drinker’s Diet,” a self-published work, she wrote it was “motivating and significant.”

I really dislike it when new writers are given the impression that professional reviews are out of their league, so therefore they should go with an amateur site which either won’t charge as much or won’t charge except to expedite the review. It’s true, many writers won’t get reviewed by Publishers Weekly. But there’s no false dichotomy – there are many other reviewers who write good, unbiased evaluations of books. It’s not as though a writer has to choose between the professionals and the bottom of the barrel.

What are your thoughts on paid reviews?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Clever characters

I’ve loved intelligent characters ever since I read Watership Down when I was eight or nine. Blackberry was definitely the smartest of the rabbits, but Bigwig’s plan to escape Efrafa was really admirable, partly because he was so outnumbered and partly because he was risking so much to help others whom he barely knew. Ever since that, I’ve enjoyed it when characters won through sheer force of wits.

But such characters have to be likeable as well, if readers are to find them appealing as well as admirable. So here are a few thoughts on how to do that…

1. Contrast them with others who are just as good.

Or better. Jason dinAlt, the protagonist of Harry Harrison’s Deathworld novels, is a professional gambler who uses a small telekinetic ability to win at games. So he’s wealthy. He’s also extremely intelligent, adaptable, sophisticated, yada yada.

What makes him endearing, though, is that in each novel, he ends up in some environment where he’s hopelessly outclassed. In the first book, he travels to the planet Pyrrus, which is so deadly that even children carry specially designed guns (which operate far faster than conventional weapons). Jason needs training to survive on that planet, so the Pyrrans put him in a class. He has to sit at a small desk and be taught along with a bunch of kids – who naturally find that very funny.

He’s also assigned an eight-year-old boy as a bodyguard, and when they’re in the final phase of training, the boy shoots the predatory animals before Jason even has a chance.

After an hour of this, Jason was so irritated that he blasted an evil-looking thorn plant out of existence. He hoped that Grif wouldn’t look too closely at it. Of course the boy did.

“That plant wasn’t close. It is stupid to waste good ammunition on a plant,” Grif said.

Can’t help liking Jason after that, even when he single-handedly brings about peace on Pyrrus.

2. Have more than one intelligent character.

Giving someone else a chance to shine reduces the chance that an intelligent character will come off as an unbearable luminary, sort of a mental Mary Sue. And considering how specialized intelligence can be, having different characters be experienced in different fields is realistic.

Even if they’re good at the same thing, they can share the spotlight. One of my favorite moments in The Fountainhead is when Roark looks out over the city and sees three of his buildings, but also looks at his mentor’s most famous accomplishment. It was a wonderful tribute to his mentor. Even though Roark is portrayed throughout the book as a Persecuted Genius, there are enough such moments that I never got tired of reading it.

Along those lines…

3. Don’t have other characters praise their intelligence or skill.

Or have the character pat herself on the back – unless this is meant to be either funny or a serious flaw. She doesn’t have to downplay her intelligence or dig her toe into the ground in an aw-shucks way if someone compliments her, but such compliments shouldn’t come along too often. There are too many books where other characters repeatedly stress that the heroine is smart or sensible, to the point where I wonder who they’re trying to convince.

And of course, it’s better to show the heroine’s mind in action than to say that she has “intelligent blue eyes” or “intelligent green eyes” or intelligent body parts of any color.

4. Let them be wrong.

Or better yet, outsmarted. This can be a lot of fun to write – not to mention productive. It’s easy to identify with someone who comes up with a clever plan – but loses because the opposition is just that bit smarter, or luckier, or cheats. We’re firmly on his side after that, pulling for him to win next time.

On that note, there shouldn’t be a ticker-tape parade when he wins. Even if he’s done really well, he’ll be much more appealing if the readers feel he’s being ignored rather than being praised and applauded.

Or if things get worse because of his victory. Each time Ender’s army wins a battle in Orson Scott Card’s Ender's Game, the teachers make it more difficult for him. They adjust the controls so the other army has an advantage. Ender still wins. So they let the other army enter the Battle Room first. Ender still wins. So they pit his troops against two armies – both of whom are in the Battle Room first. Those are some of the best scenes in the book.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

My Sweet Audrina

Virginia Andrews – or V. C. Andrews, as she’s more widely known – was a writer of Southern gothic fiction. Her most (in)famous novel is Flowers in the Attic, which I read when I was fifteen or so. I quickly followed that up with the rest of the novels she wrote, then discovered that a ghostwriter had started pumping out more books with her name on them.

Those aren’t as memorable, but the original V. C. Andrews novels had some interesting aspects. My Sweet Audrina is an example of how good her work can be.

Unlike her first two sets of novels, this book is a standalone. It has many things in common with other V. C. Andrews novels, but in other ways it’s original. It doesn’t end all that happily, and best of all, the heroine doesn’t have a child whose innocence will be taken away by whatever problems the heroine once faced. Some V. C. Andrews series are predictable. This book… isn’t.

The Southern Gothic setting is well-established. Audrina is a child growing up in a large, lonely house. Her father, Damian, is loving but dominating (and completely self-centered) and her mother is not entirely content in her marriage. Partly because they live with her older sister, who was once Damian’s lover. That union resulted in an illegitimate daughter called Vera, who lives with them and is of course jealous of her half-sister Audrina.

One big happy family.

But there’s also the First Audrina. Audrina’s older sister and namesake died under mysterious circumstances, and Audrina is constantly reminded that the First Audrina was better than she is. Her father frequently makes her sit in the First Audrina’s rocking chair to try and gain the First Audrina’s “gift”. Audrina has problems with her memory that mean she's not allowed to go to school, so she lives a stifled, penned-in existence – they don’t even have newspapers or a television – and dreams of a normal life.

Two things happen to change that. The first is that a family moves into a small house nearby – a single woman and her teenage son, Arden. The second is that Audrina’s mother becomes pregnant again and dies in childbirth. The baby, Sylvia, quickly becomes Audrina’s responsibility, even though she has profound mental retardation.

Sylvia is one of the most original characters I’ve ever encountered. I wish I’d remembered her back when I wrote a post on characters with mental problems, because she’s a refreshing change from the stereotype. She can’t speak, and Audrina has to keep her in diapers for several years (very realistic).

But she’s also beautiful, amoral and very unsettling. The only person she really loves and listens to is Audrina, and there’s even some suspicion at the end that she may have been responsible for the murder of a woman.

Terror lit up Papa’s dark eyes. As if he knew that Sylvia had imitated me once too often, and rocked in that chair many more times than I would let him force me.

Now she had the gift – whatever it might be, and if it could be.

On the topic of sisters, Vera fares less well. Virginia Andrews’ novels usually feature a stock character I call the Slut Sister. This is the heroine’s less beautiful sister, who is jealous of the heroine and who attempts to seduce the man the heroine loves. Unfortunately for Vera, the Slut Sister rarely ends up happy, so the author gives her a medical condition where her bones break easily. She also has a miscarriage (quite graphically described, for a V. C. Andrews novel).

I haven’t mentioned a hero, because this novel doesn’t have one. Audrina falls in love with Arden, literally the boy next door, but I thought that was because she had no other options when it came to men. He’s described as handsome and talented, but he’s also weak in a way I can’t describe without giving away spoilers. Other readers may see the twist in this novel, but it took me by a lot of surprise when I originally read it.

Because this novel is a standalone, it packs a lot of heightened emotion (and sex, some of it quite hot). But all the characters are flawed, and no relationships truly healthy. Maybe that’s why it’s a surprisingly satisfying read.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Good intentions

An article on the recent disaster in Haiti mentioned a problem that relief efforts sometimes encounter – people who try to help but who aren’t actually doing so.

One such couple arrived in the country with no resources of their own at all, and needed a ride from the airport. Others, less impractical but no more helpful, donated items that weren’t useful. For instance, after the tsunami that hit South-East Asia, some people donated used clothes – stiletto shoes and ballgowns. I had personal experience of this, since I worked in a thrift store at the time, and we packed a crate of clothes to be shipped to Sri Lanka. One of the other employees asked if we should send bathing suits.

I wasn’t very tactful. “Do you really think they’re in a hurry to go swimming?”

Such efforts aren’t just a waste of time. They’re a financial drain, if the items are shipped to their destination and have to be accounted for. It’s all right to not be part of the solution, but there’s no need to be part of the problem instead.

To get to the moral of this rambling tale, the article reminded me a little of publishing. Or, specifically, of amateur micropresses who have good intentions but not much else.

In a discussion on the Absolute Write forums, a writer suggested that such startups be given the benefit of the doubt. In other words, even if they don’t have experience, capital, knowledge of the industry, etc., they have faith in themselves and may be trying to help authors.

What if you establish yourself as a publisher with the very best of intentions, and believe that you have the ability to take peoples' hard work and get it into the hands of readers (whether you have the knowledge/experience is irrelevant, YOU believe YOU can do it)…

I think optimism is a good thing. Believing in yourself and being determined to do your best are both, IMO, indicators of accomplishment. But I don’t for one moment entertain the idea that this is all you need to succeed. Not in medicine, not in sports, not in the publishing industry. Who was it that said, “Faith may move mountains but the whip built the pyramids”?

There’s not much point in a belief without the ability to back it up, especially in a field as competitive as that of the literary marketplace, where POD technology means that more and more books are produced. At best, this unfounded belief will waste the publisher’s time. At worst, it’ll attract inexperienced writers, lulling them into a false sense of security.

Which won’t last for long, since even the best of intentions don’t compensate for qualified staff, startup capital, experience in selecting marketable books, distribution and all the hundred and one things that a publisher needs.

And a desire to help authors doesn’t automatically mean one is qualified to do so. The founder of one such micropress, Dream Books LLC, stated that he was eighteen but claimed to have been editing manuscripts since he was fourteen. His blog is even more, um, interesting.

Some days publishers are just tired especially the small ones. (Yes, high school can be like that -- Marian) Sending them funny things and offering to call this person or that person will go a long way and may even result in a bonus to you.

Some such people may genuinely want to help writers, while others may be indulging in Publisher: The Role-Playing Game, but the end result is usually the same. Publishers may walk away from failed endeavors, but the authors’ rights of first publication generally go down with the ship.

Give me hard business sense over warm fuzzy intentions any day.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Five things to do with an eye

1. Alter the pupil

This is actually inspired by a real person, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye. Apparently he was born with the sign of the ouroboros, the serpent biting its own tail, encircling the pupil of his left eye.

In a story, I’d have removed the pupil entirely and had the ouroboros circling nothing. It’d look creepier that way. :)

2. Add a dash of color

I picked up Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel's Dart because the heroine was born with a fleck of red in one eye, the sign that she had been marked by the god Kushiel. While the book wasn’t a perfect read for me, the descriptions of the mark were always evocative – a pinprick of blood, a snip of rosepetal floating on a pond, and so on.

3. Replace with magic

In the Way of the Tiger gamebooks, the main character loses an eye, but this is replaced with an emerald. It’s been a while since I read the books, but I think that when he looks through the emerald, he sees any creatures which might otherwise be invisible to human sight.

4. Replace with technology

The modifications the Borg make to whoever they assimilate tend to be terrifying but weirdly compelling as well. The replacement of an eye with a red ocular implant is the most distinctive such feature, especially considering that these implants allow sight beyond the human visual spectrum.

I love magic or technology which no one really wants but which can give great advantages as well.

5. Turn it into a conduit

There’s a good reason people wear eyepatches. An empty eye-socket might not be pleasant to look at, but a socket that goes all the way down, dark and endless as a pit, might be worse.

As for what crawls or flies out of it when the patch is removed… that would be anyone’s guess. Or nightmare.

(The image is from the cover of the Aeon Flux DVD box set.)