Thursday, March 03, 2011

Story 3, In Which We Review "A Shore Thing"

So I finished Snooki's book a couple days ago. I've been busy and kind of down and wondering if I should even continue this business of blogging, so I have been letting this roll around in my head for a while.

The first thing I should probably say about "A Shore Thing" is that when I picked up the book, I thought "oh, man, it's gonna be a great excuse to unload with both barrels of snark on this book." I was kind of expecting the kind of poorly written pap a dumber, even more morally bankrupt version of Sarah Palin would churn out. Sadly, this book was just dull, so there's really not much to find here in terms of stuff an OMG moment that you get on the actual "Jersey Shore". I guess art can't imitate life when it comes to drunken idiocy?

Basically, this book should have been called "Snooki and J-Woww do some stuff that is sort of interesting but not really". There are characters that are stand-ins for them, but you can't read the book without inserting their names in the place of their literary doppelgangers, so I won't even bother here. The Snooki and J-Woww characters are cousins who lead the typically MTV lifestyle that you see on every show on MTV. They're in their early '20s, seeking out their path in life, live with their parents, and are overprivileged and over-indulged by said parents. The two ladies rent a house on the shore for the summer, get some jobs to pay the rent and what must be an enormous bar tab, and then proceed to go on a search and destroy mission to hook up with any man with steroid muscles, bad tribal tattoos, and spiky, gelled hair.

There are 2 sets of main antagonists in the book, a couple of jealous frenemies from the Snooki character's high school, and a pair of rich kids from Connecticut (it really doesn't matter that much, really). The jealous girls hate the Snooki-ganger because she lives a life free of worry and eats junk food and doesn't mind that she isn't model skinny (the body acceptance message is one small redeeming thing in the book, even though it's so manufactured it comes off like an after school special). They try to wreak havoc on Snooki-ganger's life giving her the ol' "laxative in the jell-o shots" trick. I'll tell you, if I had a nickel for every time this has gone down in real life, I would have an imaginary nickel.

The dudebros from CT are pretty artificial as villains. They have a game they play every summer, where they go slumming in Seaside Heights and compete for the "affections" of an unsuspecting Jersey girl. Essentially, it's a date rape competition. The rich boys are pretty horrible people, setting up hidden cameras in their rooms to tape their conquests. Of course, they end up getting what's coming to them, by way of rounds from a paintball gun in some sensitive spots.

Largely, this book is intended to be beach reading, something to pass the time while you're getting your G.T.L. on. The fact that it was probably 97% the product of a ghost writer is probably for the better, even though the ghost writer should not quit their day job, for reals.

"A Shore Thing" is essentially something any semi-literate high school student with a passing knowledge of the TV series would be able to churn out. It's more fodder for the MTV meat grinder, another bit of lore to add to the tapestry of unreality and unhealthy sexual attitudes that they're trying to create. I'm not someone who thinks that we should bury the sexual part of human nature, and treat it as a shameful, dark secret. I am someone who believes that more time spent explaining how this part of our lives is something for sharing with someone who you love and respect. Hook up culture is alarming, and shows like "Jersey Shore" and "Skins" are troublesome. Ultimately, shows like these only work to enforce shameful stereotypes while masking them behind liberation, continuing a male dominated fantasy that is more destructive as time goes by.

OK. Now that I've gotten that out of my system, I feel like I owe you guys something vaguely entertaining. Andy Milonakis is still alive.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Something So Pretty Should Not Exist

You guys, I am adding another tiny post to talk about this album I've been playing over and over and over.

It's probably old news to some, but I am out of every indie rock loop imaginable. Shara Worden did this album with classical music group Signal called "Penelope". I've always been a sucker for epic, operatic type music with lots of string swells, which is why I love Shara's work in My Brightest Diamond. "Penelope" is a song cycle loosely based on "The Odyssey", about a woman whose husband returns from war after a 20 absence, brain damaged and completely lost. In reading her husband "The Odyssey", she finds a path to understanding her husband's state of mind.

This album is gorgeous. I can't say that I have ever heard anything like it, either. It's wonderfully experimental, full of twists and turns, listenable and challenging at the same time.

You need to find it and listen to it. That is all.

Story 2, In Which We Review "Ship Breaker"

"Ship Breaker", by Paolo Bacigalupi is an interesting update on an old theme. It's sort of a "Treasure Island" for the 21st century. There aren't exactly pirates, but the climactic naval battle is intense. A book set in the future is hardly the last place I would have expected a fight on the open seas. Maybe it's just the 400 times I've watched "Star Wars" (I know it's set in the past), or my love of Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers.

The book starts out on Bright Sands Beach, home to clans of ship breakers, who scavenge the rotting corpses of oil tankers for copper wire and anything else valuable. Nailer, the book's protagonist, is small enough that he can crawl down ventilation shafts to collect scavenge, crawling through dust and rat corpses, stripping the ship. When he's not salvaging, he's dreaming of sailing on one of the giant, sleek clipper ships owned by one of the trading clans.

Things begin to change for Nailer when word of a "city killer" hurricane is on the way. Nailer's crew make a frenzied push to gather additional salvage before the storm shuts them down. Nailer miscalculates the weight of the copper wire he's collected, and the ventilation shaft he's in collapses and plunges him into a reservoir of crude. Nailer has to do the impossible and free himself from a hold filled with oil, and with luck, he survives.

The "city killer" leaves a luxury clipper ship wrecked on Bright Sands Beach, it's crew and passengers seemingly wiped out. Nailer seems to have struck it rich, and punched his ticket to a life of ease - until he finds the sole survivor of the wreck. He then is forced to make a decision that will lead him on a journey through drowned cities and fierce nautical battles.

I have to admit, I was kind of unsure where the book was going at first. The first few chapters dwelling on the squalor and despair that the people of Bright Sands Beach are fine, but I didn't know if the story was really going to go anywhere. The adventure kicks in and takes you to places that you wouldn't necessarily would think of. It's funny how sci-fi has seemed to change in recent years now that most people are more aware of ecological disasters. One of my all-time favorite TV shows "Buck Rogers In the 25th Century"
was set on planet earth after it had been ravaged by nuclear war, but technology and science allowed everyone to live in secure cities, far away from the squalor. The writers imagined that we would always be able to outsmart whatever came our way. The world that Nailer lives in is probably closer to what would be true. Humanity doesn't really conquer so much as is fights to survive. People live in the waterlogged ruins of a city, scraping by and struggling not to starve. Instead of everyone living in a fabulous domed city, only a wealthy few can still live a life close to what we enjoy today.

To go back to the "Treasure Island" thought, the story arc is pretty standard for an adventure like this. A young hero gets swept up into a world of adventure, leaving behind humble beginnings, etc. The updated setting of an ecologically distressed world, rather than 1700s England or space, really made the book for me. It's a great book for people who like a darker, gritter tone for their sci-fi, and it's grounded in a sort of "things to come" way that doesn't tax your ability to suspend disbelief. The genetically altered half-men are a bit of a stretch, but they're pretty awesome, so they didn't really bother me that much.

If you like sci-fi, adventure and a bit of swashbuckling, this is a book I would recommend.

In honor of this being the 2nd book I've reviewed, and you, the faithful reader making it through the review without unplugging your computer, I would like to share this awesome video of awesome music, which you should know about. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Story 1, In Which We Review "Across The Universe"

I just finished "Across The Universe", Beth Revis' first novel. Most of my interest in sci-fi novels had stemmed from the cyberpunk works of William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and Rudy Rucker. Basically, the guys who dreamed up all of the concepts that the interwebs use now. Naturally, you come to expect certain things from your sci-fi when you read cyberpunk stuff like that, so I was not sure how I would feel about this book. I didn't know if I would be able to open myself to a romance novel couched in a dystopian setting. Ultimately, I liked the book, there were some really great parts, and though it flirted with some cliches, it never completely succumbed to them.

The protagonist Amy is a teenage girl whose parents have signed up to terraform and colonize a new planet, Centauri Earth. Their trip is financed by the Financial Resource Exchange, which is basically a New World Order type of conglomo-government that would fuel Rand Paul and Glenn Beck's nightmares. Amy is given the choice of staying behind or making the 300 year journey while frozen in a cryogenic sleep. Amy must watch her parents go through the brutal process of being frozen and stored in a sort of amniotic fluid/Slurpee hybrid, then make her decision.

This scene was probably what sold me on this book. It was raw, emotional, and urgent. Revis really does an excellent job mingling horror and sadness, and I felt that this was a nice break from the normal "let's lie down in a tube and pass out in this white, sterile room" way cryosleep is usually done in books and movies. Amy decides to make the journey with her parents and goes to sleep for 300 years. Or at least, that's what is supposed to happen.

Her sleep is interrupted when someone shuts off her tube and she's thrown into the midst of a bizarre permutation of civilization much different from the one she had in the United States. She finds an ally in Elder, a teenager who is next in line to become the leader of the ship, and Harley, Elder's talented and troubled friend. Eldest, the current leader of the ship, wants to throw her out of the airlock and forget that this happened, but she's spared implosion in the vacuum of space by Elder and the ship's prescription happy doctor. She's allowed to stay in the Ward, a part of the ship's hospital where Harley, Elder, and the ship's other "crazy" denizens live a secluded life.

Amy soon becomes an agent of discord in the ship, as her presence awakens Elder to different ideas than the training he's being given by Eldest, and cracks in the bucolic facade begin to appear.

It's not often that you get a female lead in a sci-fi story that isn't a femme fatale (or at least in most of what I've read). Amy is a normal person, and she tends to react in very human ways. She's emotional and lost and insecure - definitely not someone who would be played by Milla Jovovich in the movie version. It was kind of jarring, when you're used to "Steppin' Razor" Molly from "Neuromancer". I kept wanting her to have a gun or something and to trash the place.

Dystopian futures are pretty predictable in most sci-fi. I guess there aren't too many twists you can put on that. Once you've read "Brave New World", "1984", or "Fahrenheit 451", you've probably seen the best of what you're going to see. Leader rules by fear and lies and basically is Stalin or Hitler or whatever. I was worried a couple of times when reading this that I was in for a pretty predictable ride, but a few twists and an ending that would be unsatisfying by Hollywood standards made the experience pretty satisfying.