Thursday, March 29, 2012


Book review: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

I’m not really going to be fair to this novel — just throwing that out there. Oryx and Crake is a dystopian novel with genetic engineering/biotechnology as its cause célèbre. In the present, all “organic” humans are dead, leaving only behind the protagonist, Snowman, and a small race of humans that Snowman refers to as “Crakers.” How Snowman came to be the only living human from prior generations is initially a mystery, but it is unfolded throughout the novel in flashback format.

There is a lot in the plot to unpack, and I won’t go into it in detail. This book is much more interesting for its thematic elements. In addition to tackling the ethnics of biotechnology, Oryx and Crake also discusses commercialism and consumerism, class segregation and education, and sexuality and objectification. These themes are really the meat of the novel; everything that occurs in Snowman’s flashbacks serve as opportunities for him to critically ponder the implications of the situation. It’s not really a morality play, though, because a lot of Snowman’s choices are made for him. He is just dealing with the repercussions, and has the benefit of perfect hindsight as he’s looking back on his life.

So why did I earlier say I’m not going to be fair to this novel? Well… it’s hard to explain. Novels like 1984 and Brave New World have a lot to do with psychological conditioning, and the ‘nurture’ side of things. For whatever reason, I never had difficulty accepting that this kind of manipulation could happen in real life, and that’s what made those particular stories so compelling for me (and others, I suspect.) On the other hand, novels like Oryx and Crake tackle ‘nature.’ It’s about tangible, scientific manipulation that causes animals and humans to be different from what they once were. Of course, there are real life foundations for this — GMO food is certainly controversial enough, and we use genetically-modified animal models regularly to study gene function and disease pathology. We’ve floated theories that we would eventually see ‘designer babies,’ where parents could select for certain genetic variants that improved their children’s overall fitness (in the Darwinian sense.)

I don’t know, maybe my imagination is finite and it just ends before this novel begins. But I just don’t see it coming to this. There are only a few elements in here that seem scientifically feasible, and I’m not just talking about now — I’m talking about not being feasible ever. And unfortunately, not being able to suspend my disbelief did detract from my overall satisfaction with the story. I’m not saying that it’s not good, or that it’s not well-written, or that there aren’t some really gut-wrenching moments. Overall, it’s actually pretty compelling; it’s one of those books that stays with you for awhile. So despite my personal limitations, I do recommend this one for fans of dystopic books.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Justified GIF

I made a new GIF. It's from the show Justified, featuring the delectable Timothy Olyphant. This GIF is not him, though; it's tough bitch Ava Crowder pimp-slapping someone with a frying pan.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Second verse, same as the first

I'm working out again. p90X again. Remember that, from 2010? Yeah. I actually kind of like the workouts now, though. It's still a bit of a struggle to get myself in the mindset to work out, but I'm actually surprised to admit that when the videos are on, I'm pushing myself and not totally hating what I'm doing. I think I've come to the conclusion that I prefer strength training to straight cardio, which is completely counter to the mantra that women always hear that if we want to lose fat, we need to do cardio. The more research I do, the more I find that this isn't really entirely true, so that's encouraging, if only that it helps me feel that I'm on an exercise path that isn't a waste of time.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Book review: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This one is tagged as “Gilman’s version of a feminist utopia.” I was intrigued. There’s not much of a plot, but here are the basics: a trio of male adventurers are stranded in Herland, a country in our world that has evolved to be reproductively viable despite being only inhabited by women. Yes — it’s women-only. The story is told by one of the male protagonists, and it’s his impressions of the country and the women. Gilman uses his voice to contrast his societal expectations of women with the starkly different women of Herland, who exist in a non-patriarchal society.

This is all very promising, and Gilman does make some poignant statements, all without entirely berating her male protagonist(s). I don’t personally agree with her vision of what a world of women would look like. Essentially, Herland is perfect. The country is clean, organized impeccably, and beautiful; there is no crime, and the women function as a loving collective. The supreme unified calling of all of these women is motherhood. As each of them can become pregnant individually, the women don’t feel individual possession over their children and raise Herland youth as a community. Motherhood is their purpose, their religion, and their strength.

The men posit that their (male-dominated) world is as fractured and adversarial as it is because of the “sex imperative” and without that, these women have no need to fight. It’s hard to say whether or not Gilman actually believed that this is how a world of only women would be, or if she was just presenting an alternative viewpoint for human living in general. I found it unrealistic and oversimplified. It’s also a bit judgmental, particularly where the narrator mentions that not all women in his society want to have children, and that some of them choose to abort (though he doesn’t use that word) — the woman that he is speaking to becomes physically ill and is repulsed. It seemed to me that in Herland, Gilman simply trades in one doctrine for another: in one society, women are subjugated, while in the other, women are an ultra-maternal hive mind who love babies. The latter society is described as the utopia here, but is it really, for everyone? That’s why I wonder what Gilman’s motivation was in selecting this as her vision. It’s forward-thinking in a lot of ways, and as I mentioned, there are a lot of truths and insightful revelations scattered throughout the narrator’s memoirs. As a whole, though, I found the conceit difficult to stomach.

Friday, March 9, 2012


Spotify is really cool. It's made listening to music so, so easy.

But their ads (yes! I'm broke and don't want to pay for Spotify Premium, no matter how much they tell me to!) are some of the most discombobulating ads on Internet Radio. I'll just be jamming to whatever it was that I had playing, and then out of nowhere one of their ads will come in blaring some horrid Chris Brown song and telling me to check out their Top 40 playlist. Spotify -- you can probably track what I'm listening to, right? Whatever made you think I would want the Top 40 playlist? If I wanted to listen to Top 40 radio, well, I wouldn't need Spotify. I'd just turn on Top 40 radio. It's really disconcerting when I'm just going about my business, listening to something I like, and out of nowhere you assault my ears with 30 seconds of crap I'd never listen to voluntarily. Cut that out, man!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Book review: Harmony by Project Itoh

I have mixed feelings about this book. It’s about a young woman, Tuan Kirie, in her society set about 50-60 years in our future. Sometime around 2020ish (the dates are not exact, but that’s about when it seems) our world self-destructs and we begin launching nukes at each other, a time of chaos referred to as the “Maelstrom.” Billions of people are killed, and the survivors develop a strong instinct for the collective protection of humanity. Remaining society quickly shifts toward a humanist, “lifeist” perspective, fostering the philosophy that every body is public, and the maintenance of life in good health is a public good. Adult “civilized” humans install WatchMe, a nano-program that monitors every aspect of the body: metabolism, the endocrine system, mental/emotional state, etc… the list goes on. If something off-kilter is detected, an immediate remedy and/or counseling can be prescribed.

In the present, Tuan is grown, but much of the novel is retrospective. She presents memories from when her and two friends were younger, and the actions that led up to them trying to kill themselves as a way to rebel against the system. Those memories are interspersed with a present-day crisis in which, out of nowhere, six thousand people across the globe (intended to be a significant number given the reduced population) simultaneously attempt suicide. Tuan is tasked with getting to the bottom of what happened.

The premise is interesting enough, and as the story developed I got more into the novel. However, there were a lot of problematic elements for me in this book. One of these things is very minor, but I can’t help but mention it. Littered throughout the retrospectives are declarations from the girls that their bodies are theirs, not public (an idea that is pretty topical at the moment!) I take issue, unfortunately, with the way the male author chooses to express this:
<*i: our bodies>
<*i: our tits>
<*i: our pussies>
<*i: our uteruses>
“These things are ours. That’s what we’ll tell them.”
Can I ever get a reprieve from women being defined by our sex characteristics? PLEASE? Outside of this motif (and yes, it was repeated several times) there was no attention paid to sex in this book, so it just seemed bizarre to shoehorn in this faux-empowerment message by listing their female body parts, rather than every other part of the body that was also under public control.

Okay, so that was one thing. Another was that this book really was rife with a lot of new-age psychobabble about philosophy and consciousness, and it grew very trite and contrived after awhile. Ultimately, I suppose my assessment would be that the bare-bones plotline was interesting, and that if offered some choice thoughts about a direction in society that, quite frankly, we wouldn’t find too difficult to move in. Otherwise, some of the writing choices did turn me off.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Book review: One Day by David Nicholls

Barf. I’m going to make this one quick because I hated this book.

Emma and Dexter “meet” after their University graduation and stay the night together but don’t, you know, consummate their meeting. That night marks the beginning of their friendship, and One Day thereafter checks in with them once every year for 20 years to see how their lives are doing. At the beginning, Emma’s life is shitty and Dexter’s life is great, but toward the end, Emma’s life is looking up and Dexter’s is falling apart. Throughout, they have ups and downs, but we’re meant to understand that they’re cosmically drawn together because they’re meant to be, or something.

My biggest problem with all of this was that Dexter is an asshole, and Emma was way too good for him. I know that in real life, sometimes nice people are in relationships with assholes, and we scratch our heads and wonder why, so this isn’t entirely out of touch with reality. It was a frustrating read though, because I felt that the novel was ever so slightly biased in Dexter’s direction in terms of how much attention was paid to the two protagonists. Most of Dexter’s chapters were just about Dexter, whereas many of Emma’s chapters were kind of about her, and kind of about her and Dexter. He had a bit more of a “lightning rod” life, with the glitz and descent into drinking and drugs, but the effect of all of that for me was that I ended up not really being very sympathetic to him at all. And then I didn’t get reprieve when I was reading about Emma, because so much of her story revolved around her trying to maintain (and sometimes, salvage) her friendship with Dexter. When she finally “dumped” him I mentally fist-bumped her, but then of course they got back together — this is a love story after all!

Oh, and as if that all wasn’t enough, Nicholls had to go for the SHOCKING TWIST toward the end, the “fate’s a bitch” ending. It was just… no. Anyway, I would only recommend reading this if someone paid you to do it, or if you don’t mind reading about dicks getting rewarded for their poor behavior.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Book review: The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

I’m going to go light on plot overview because I want to talk more about the thematic aspects of this one. So here are some things that happen in The Amber Spyglass, and not in any particular order:

Lyra and Will travel to the land of the dead, and they have to separate from their daemons to do so. The description of the emotional consequences of the separation is heart-wrenching.

Dr. Mary Malone, a scientist from Will’s world who studies Dust, travels to a world where she ends up living with creatures that I imagined to have elephant heads on gazelle bodies, except the legs were, as Pullman described, in a diamond conformation. Mary fashions the titular Spyglass in order to see Dust.

Mrs. Coulter is sneaky and underhanded, but in a somewhat redeeming way.

There are tiny people who work as spies for Lord Asriel, and there are all varieties of angels: some vengeful, some immature, some wise, some emotional wrecks.

Epic battles! Epic heartbreak! Death! Wisdom from Iorek Byrinson!

Okay. I’m getting a little jokey because I’m delirious and I don’t love writing reviews, but understand it’s not because I’m joking at expense of The Amber Spyglass. When my Golden Compass review was posted on Pajiba a few days ago, there was actually a bit of discussion and some mixed reviews around this book. Mainly, it seems like people don’t like Mary and her creatures or Pullman’s heavy-handed criticism of the Church, and they feel that Lyra’s ultimate purpose, for which the whole total of everyone and everything is at stake, is kind of weird and hokey. These are valid criticisms that understandably bother some people, but ultimately, I didn’t care. YES, he beat the shit out of that “The Church is evil and the Authority is kind of a dick” drum, and that’s probably easier to swallow if you don’t have religious inclinations, but my take was that the message, moreso than the players, is of import here. It could have been the Church, it could have been a government, or it could have been the Illuminati — the point was that blind faith is not a good thing, especially when the vaulted leaders simplify everything into ‘good’ and ‘evil.’

As for Mary, it’s definitely true that she didn’t need to be there. But that world she was inhabiting sounded so lovely and pastoral that I didn’t mind taking a break every few chapters to check in with her there. I liked the idea that some worlds simply didn’t evolve human beings, because think about it — if Pullman posits that there are worlds upon worlds interlacing with each other, why would all of them have humanoid life? It may seem ridiculous to invent new creatures just for a subplot, but I think it made the whole idea of multiple worlds more interesting.

The fate of Lyra and Will I am reluctant to discuss too much because it could get spoilery. I will say that in my case, the emotional impact of their destiny did really affect me. The impact the two of them were meant to have on Everything did seem a little overwrought, but it didn’t really lessen my connection to them when they had their epiphany.

SO. In conclusion.The Amber Spyglass is a bit more jarring in pacing than the prior two novels. There are more quick cuts between different scenes, and even more characters to keep track of. My eventual impression was that each of these stories did, in the end, enhance the overall experience and make the climax more satisfying (see what I did there?) And yes, there is some heartstring-pulling, so if you’re into that kind of thing you’ll almost certainly be impacted. I finished this about a week ago, and I have to say that I’m still thinking about it daily, processing everything that happened and nursing my residual heartache. I’m kind of a softie, maybe, and I will own up to placing more value on the story than on technicalities.

All of this together means I get to add another book to the ‘Favorites’ list!

The First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
In other words: you know what the first amendment does NOT cover? Your right to be an asshole on the internet. I love seeing the "free speech" argument pop up to defend someone who has said something offensive or asinine.

No, random internet moron, the first amendment does NOT mean that the owner of a private blog is obligated to post your opinion if s/he doesn't want to.
No, bearer of obtuse ideas, you shouldn't spout off bigoted shit just because you won't get arrested and prosecuted for doing so.
No, brave anonymous person, I can't imagine that your parents would be proud that you somehow managed to escape their lessons on decency and common sense.
No, fool who thinks your hegemonic ideas are somehow radical, I don't think I'll pay attention to your drivel any longer now that you've outed yourself as being both offensive and cliche (the two often do go hand in hand.)