April 15, 2014

"A Bog of Stagnant Mediocrity"

As far as I'm concerned, it's a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity.   ~Hunter S. Thompson

Sometimes I think Charlie Pierce is the Last Journalist Standing.

Perception is perception and reality is reality and, if they don't match up, then it is the job of journalism not to accept the perception as the reality, but to hammer home the reality until the perception conforms to this.

I once suggested that Rachel Maddow should be the new host for NBC's Meet the Press, but hell, Charlie should get it. This one sentence should shame David Gregory right out of Washington.

April 14, 2014

Review: Inhuman

Inhuman by Kat Falls

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I've never read H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau, but according to all I've heard about it, this book would bear at least a superficial similarity. In these pages we have a genetically engineered virus that gets out of control and decimates the eastern half of the United States. (I do however dislike the fact that in a lot of plague stories the rest of the world is never mentioned, as if in our modern, heavily air-trafficked society any virus wouldn't spread worldwide, and Canada and Mexico, at the very least, would have similar problems.) This virus, based on animal DNA that the Big Bad Corporation used to create custom mythological monsters for its theme parks, has the aftereffect of changing the survivors (at least the ones who get bitten) into animal-human hybrids, called "manimals."

Nineteen years later, there is a 700-foot wall splitting the country from the Canadian to the Mexican border, and the eastern half of the country is abandoned to the ferals. (This is also a bit if a stickler, at least for me--I mean really. 700 feet high and hundreds of miles long? I think the physics of that would be knotty, to say the least. George R.R. Martin has a similar problem with his Wall. Not to mention the fact that if the Wall ends at, say, the Rio Grande, unless there's a similar one running to the Gulf of Mexico, a determined manimal could simply go around the thing.)

Yes, I'm a nit-picker. Unfortunately, the more I think about this book, the more nits I'm finding.

Our plucky heroine, Delaney Park McEvoy (most of the names in this book come from abandoned cities and places) is forced across--or rather under--the Wall to find her father, who is a "Fetch"--someone who ventures into the wilds to bring back abandoned artifacts, works of art, and/or people--in this case, a daughter left behind. This quest would have been entirely interesting all on its own, as Delaney is a stubborn, determined sort, had she not gotten bogged down in an unnecessary love triangle. The two boys are Rafe, who we come to find out was cared for by Delaney's father and thus knows a lot more about her than she does about him, and Everson, a guard on the island just across the Wall that is Delaney's initial destination.

I'm torn about this book. There are a lot of things about the worldbuilding that don't make sense, but Delaney and Everson are overall interesting characters (Rafe is pretty much a little prick till the very end, which makes Delaney's attraction to him all the more mystifying), and Delaney's character arc is good. This is a very action-packed book--the entire plot takes place over the timespan of only a few days, during which everyone's world is pretty much turned upside down. I'm sure the obligatory sequel will deal with the consequences, or rather it damn well should. I'm just not sure I'll be reading it.

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March 30, 2014

Review: Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era

Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era
Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era by Michael S. Kimmel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was a bit of a non-fictional break, given all the young adult fiction I've been reading lately. Sometimes it's hard to get into these kinds of books, with their dense and nuanced subjects, but that wasn't the case with this one. It's written in an easy-to-read, accessible manner, for all it's covering some deep and complicated topics.

The gist of this book is that American culture is changing from a patriarchal one to an egalitarian one, and white men in particular are having a hard time dealing with it. The author invents a term for this: "aggrieved entitlement." In other words, the world has always been the American white man's oyster, and now that this isn't true any more, some of them are furious. In fact, I have a quote from page 128 that pretty much sums up their attitude, as well as the entire book:

"When you've commanded 100 percent of the oxygen, I guess having your share reduced to three-fourths must make you feel like you're suffocating."

The author discusses several facets of this aggrieved entitlement: the so-called Men's Rights Movement (in which the participants, for the most part, come off as whining dickheads, blaming everyone but themselves--particularly feminists--for their problems); Fathers' Rights (which the author admits does have some small basis in reality, but that's due to the family courts not yet catching up to the changing roles of husbands and wives); men's violence against women; workplace rampages; and white supremacists. (This last topic is particularly sad and scary.) The author is sympathetic to these men to an extent, but as he emphasizes, "Angry white men are on the losing side of history."

This is a pretty eye-opening book. I would definitely recommend it for a gender studies class.

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March 26, 2014

"Science is simply common sense at its best"

There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere.  ~Isaac Asimov

Ho-Lee Crapola.

(Warning: Some people may think the picture is a bit gory.)

A 22-year-old woman from the Netherlands who suffers from a chronic bone disorder -- which has increased the thickness of her skull from 1.5cm to 5cm, causing reduced eyesight and severe headaches -- has had the top section of her skull removed and replaced with a 3D printed implant.

Ain't science wonderful?

March 23, 2014

Review: The 5th Wave

The 5th Wave
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Why shouldn't truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense. ~Mark Twain

I have, on occasion, been accused of being too logical. This could be thought of as a flaw, I suppose. It certainly feels like one sometimes, especially when I run onto a book that hits all my sweet spots, that by all rights I should love...except for that one glaring plot hole that drives me crazy.

This is, unfortunately, one of those books.

First, the good. The Fifth Wave is the sort of book that when it's good, it is very good. (Unlike Mae West, however, when it's bad, it's definitely not better.) It's a realistic, frightening, slam-bang action story of an alien invasion, with a creepy, Invasion of the Body Snatchers-vibe of paranoia and despair. The title refers to the successive "waves" of the invasion (1. An electro-magnetic pulse that wipes out all computers and electronics; 2. A massive alien-triggered tsunami that destroys nearly all of Earth's coastal cities and their populations; 3. An alien-engineered virus, possibly a derivative of Ebola; and 4. So-called Silencers, aliens inhabiting human bodies to hunt down the last survivors), the cumulative result of which is to kill off something like 99% of the human race. Our protagonists, in alternating first-person viewpoints, are teenagers Cassie Sullivan and Ben Parish, the first struggling to survive alone and wondering if she is the last human being on Earth, and the latter being trained (with exceptionally harsh, soul-destroying tactics; I'm sorry, I don't think those should be employed, even in such an extreme situation) along with other survivors, most little more than children, to take the fight to the enemy.

The enemy, as it turns out, the "Others," are beings of pure energy, pure consciousness without bodies, who have made the journey to Earth in their mothership's mainframe. There are hints of an environmental catastrophe of some kind in their past; they have abandoned their physical bodies and their planet, to journey to Earth, wipe out the human cancer inhabiting it, and make it their new home. To that end, around fourteen years before the Waves started, many of them were downloaded into unborn fetuses, to hide in their host's brains until being Awakened, at which time the human personality would be absorbed into the alien. (That was the first crack in the wall, for me; my immediate question was, "Okay, if the mothership wasn't detected by our satellites and/or military until the Waves actually started, how would they even do that? Do the little balls of energy just teleport through the atmosphere or something, and then piggyback on the brains of birds until they locate a pregnant woman?")

Cassie and Ben's separate stories slowly come together; she is bound and determined to find her brother, Sammy, who is in Ben Parish's squad. Along the way, she becomes entangled with an alien, a Silencer, who can't kill her because he is supposedly in love with her; this Silencer, Evan Walker, provides the first explanation as to who the Others really are. Meanwhile, Evan and his squad learn they have been deceived; they are being trained to kill the last humans, under the guise of killing Others (hence the 5th Wave and the rampant paranoia; the Others are using humans to kill each other off). The last part of the book is a no-holds-barred, extended action sequence, as Cassie, Ben and Evan team up to rescue Sammy and some others from the training/prison camp where they are being held.

All well and good, for the most part. The characterizations, especially Cassie's, are quite good; she progresses from a frightened girl hiding in the woods to a hardened, badass warrior. (It helps that she knows karate; she's not helpless and doesn't need to be rescued, by any means.) But the last part of the book--Chapter 85, to be exact--also drops the bombshell that I'm sure the author meant to be a Big Reveal, but which only served to make me come near to throwing the book against the wall.

To wit:

"Do you know why we will win this war?" Vosch asks us after we're locked inside. "Why we cannot lose? Because we know how you think. We've been watching you for six thousand years. When the pyramids rose in the Egyptian desert, we were watching you. When Caesar burned the library at Alexandria, we were watching you. When you crucified that first-century Jewish peasant, we were watching. When Columbus set foot in the New World...when you fought a war to free millions of your fellow humans from bondage...when you learned how to split the atom...when you first ventured beyond your atmosphere...What were we doing?"

Now. Wait. Just. A. Frakking. Minute.

First of all, talk about blowing your established timeline all to hell. Did the Others come six thousand years ago, eighteen years ago, or six months ago? How did they get here? Did they use the mothership, or not? It's certainly implied in Chapter 85 that the mothership didn't arrive until recently. If the mothership brought a few of them six thousand years ago, to "observe," why in the hell didn't they conquer Earth way back then? It sure wouldn't have taken near as much effort to blast the pyramids to dust as to destroy a technologically advanced civilization. Also, for such a supposedly advanced group of aliens, it shouldn't have taken six thousand years to learn how humans think, especially if they've been downloading themselves into human brains for all that time. If they've been without bodies for tens of thousands of years, and the mothership existed and was fully "staffed" with little balls of pure consciousness in its mainframe way back then, why wait? Did they have to make a few trips back and forth to the Others' home planet, perhaps using centuries of non-lightspeed travel, to download everybody, or something?

Argh. Triple *headdesk.* For me, these three pages--all of Chapter 85--destroys the logic of the entire book. I read it again just now, and I still want to yell and fling the book away from me. I came pretty near to buying this book, and I'm glad I waited to check it out from the library. If I had spent my money and then fallen headfirst into this massive plot/pothole, I would have been furious.

I'm not saying it's not a good book, with the glaring exception of those three pages. It is. I may read the sequel, in the hopes that this plot hole is fixed (but I sure won't buy it). Like Mark Twain said, fiction has to make sense. It's very unfortunate that this book does not.

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March 21, 2014

Review: Pawn

Pawn by Aimee Carter

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I read a lot of post-apocalyptic/dystopian books--they're one of my favorite genres. That being said, they have their own set of challenges, and worldbuilding is the first and foremost. If your post-apocalyptic/dystopian scenario doesn't make sense, if there's not a good, well-thought-out explanation of why your world is the way it is, for me your book will fall flat on its face. Period.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what this book does.

This book opens with the protagonist, Kitty Doe, despondent because she has failed the test given to everyone on their seventeenth birthday--her one and only shot to live a good life. (She fails because she is dyslexic, which is an interesting facet of her character. Just about the only one, sadly.) Supposedly, you take the test and you're given the job and salary you "deserve." However, if for some reason you don't or can't do well, you are stuck in a numbered caste (tattooed on the back of your neck) for the rest of your life.

That right there strains credulity. This book is set in America, where the pernicious "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps" idea is so ingrained in our collective psyche it doesn't seem as if we will ever get rid of it. What this story basically does is set up the country to be governed by one ruling family (and a nastier set of scheming, batshit crazy psychos I have rarely seen), and everybody else just submits to them, because of this "testing" idea.(There is a rebellion, we find out as the story goes on, fomented and led by one of the family members Kitty is forced to impersonate, because her eyes are the same color as this supposed dead girl [only she isn't really dead]. There's also some dubious plastic surgery and implied genetic engineering, to make Kitty a [pardon the pun] dead ringer for Lila.)

Sorry, but since this country was founded on breaking away from a batshit crazy ruling family, I don't think such a society would ever, ever work. Not in America.

I also don't like Kitty's passiveness. Sure, a lot of that is the basic situation--she has no control and is at the ruling family's mercy. This goes on until about two-thirds of the way through the book, when she finally begins to shake free from her chains, but she is pretty much manipulated and blackmailed throughout. In the end, she does make a choice (to continue her charade as Lila, ironically), but that felt like some weak character sauce, to say the least. It certainly didn't endear me enough to her to continue her story when the second book comes out.

This book is just blah. The characters are not exciting--Kitty's boyfriend Benjy is pretty useless--the world is not well constructed, and the plot is not memorable. It also continues a trend I'm disliking more and more in YA--one-word titles. Sorry, one word just doesn't cut it sometimes. In this case, my one word is: Goodbye.

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March 8, 2014

Hammer; Nail; Head

Quoted For Truth, from this post.

There is no rational secular argument against abortion. In order to put one forward, you would have to argue that a foetus should be considered to possess superior personhood and a greater right to exist than that of the adult woman who is carrying it. That a non-conscious ball of cells is more a person than a woman with hopes, dreams and ambitions. You would need to assert that the right to bodily autonomy is not absolute, but is actually a limited right that is not afforded to women once they fall pregnant – that pregnant women are second class citizens who are to be denied any right to self determination. It would be nothing less than an argument for procreative slavery. 

Without ridiculous religious claims of magical ‘ensoulment’ of foetuses that afford personhood in vitro – coupled with a refutation of the notion that no person can claim rights in the flesh of another, perhaps the most dangerous precedent imaginable – there is no possible moral or rational basis on which to argue that any of this is a good thing.

I'm not an atheist, but there are a number of good blogs at Freethought Blogs. Pharyngula is one of them.