I’ve been putting off reading Fluke. It was recommended to me by one of my uncles, who meant well but whose method of recommendation was to spoil almoI’ve been putting off reading Fluke. It was recommended to me by one of my uncles, who meant well but whose method of recommendation was to spoil almost every major plot point - and who then sent me a copy as a high school graduation gift. Knowing a little something about Christopher Moore’s brand of humor, I didn’t make it a priority, the end result of which is that more than five years went by between when he sent it to me and when I finally opened it. And… while I regret putting it off for that long, because that was rude to my uncle, I wasn’t wrong in my expectations of how I’d like the book.
As I was in the thick of it, I was almost unbearably frustrated with this book. Moore’s humor tends towards the absurd, with a light dusting of satire, and while I can recognize all the parts that are supposed to be wryly funny, it doesn’t work on me. At the same time, though, Fluke had a surprisingly mysterious plot, and I found myself wanting to read it, even though reading it wasn’t all that enjoyable, just to figure out what the hell was going on.
And… then I got to the end, and I read Moore’s notes and acknowledgements, and I realized that I couldn’t be angry at this book, or even all that frustrated.
The thing is that Fluke is meticulously and accurately researched. To my knowledge, almost all of the basic biology and behavior information presented here is legitimate, and the name drops of scientists who aren’t characters on the page are too. (It was a bit of a shock to see Bruce Mate, who I’ve met, mentioned offhandedly here.) Moore’s description of Japanese whaling is on point, though 13 years out of date now for obvious reasons. He writes in his notes about spending two field seasons with a humpback research team in Hawaii, which tells me that researching this book took at least two years, probably more - that’s impressive for something which, I admit, I kind of expected to be dashed off and dismissive.
He also chose to end this book with a heartfelt plea for readers to care about cetacean conservation, and suggestions about organizations to support. That, and all his notes and acknowledgements, are stunningly classy and well-written, and here - in the last seven pages of the book - I found myself actually enjoying Moore’s humor.
I did get hung up from time to time, though, on a few rather predictable things. The middle-aged male main character’s love interest is his 20-something research assistant (view spoiler)[who turns out to be in her 60s, but… as a 20-something aspiring marine biologist, that doesn’t make the hundreds of pages of him ogling her butt any less creepy (hide spoiler)] and his ex wife divorced him to suddenly become a lesbian… and now does research with her partner, who is a caricature of feminist stereotypes and painful to read, though her pagetime is mercifully brief. A lot of the humor is sex-based, which I didn’t mind until the instances where it was rape-based, and no, that’s just not ever gonna be funny to me. And I mean… I expected to have these issues, and a whole lot more than that; but knowing it’s coming doesn’t make it any more pleasant.
I don’t think Moore’s fiction is for me, but… at the end of the day, I’m left with a hearty respect for him as an author and an artist. And if he ever writes nonfiction in the tone of his author’s notes here, I’m in.
(Postscript: at the time that Moore wrote this, I suspect the term ‘meme’ didn’t have the same meaning in internet parlance that it does today, and it did originate in science, but… the fact remains that this book has the sentence “Humpback whale songs are memes” in it and, in 2016, that is unintentionally one of the best jokes of the book.)["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Finishing this book marks the end of my Lunar Chronicles reading experience - I'm just not interested enough in the short stories or the epilogue. I'mFinishing this book marks the end of my Lunar Chronicles reading experience - I'm just not interested enough in the short stories or the epilogue. I'm glad I picked this book up, though, because it really is a fascinating look at the origin of Levana as a villain. Meyer sets a difficult task for herself: humanize and sympathize a character who is three evil queens rolled into one... and she managed it, without trading away any of Levana's villainous characteristics.
Sometimes I read something and I think "This? This is why we have therapists." Levana's situation is a perfect example - raised in a state of neglect, with an abusive older sister and crippling insecurities, she has been completely stripped of her ability to process emotions rationally. She also seems to struggle a little bit with reality (understandable, given the functioning of the Lunar court). This all leads to her not really understanding why other people experience emotions differently than she does, or than she wants them to, and because she's Lunar, she has the power to reshape reality to what she thinks it should be... it's a toxic combination of traumatic experience and overwhelming power.
This book is clearly not trying to make Levana likable. Aside from the things Lunar Chronicles readers already know about her (including staging her own niece's supposed death in a fire), she coerces a man into a relationship with her, rapes him, and then marries him. All this, mind, at the age of about sixteen. While her perspective shows that this is a result of her own distorted thinking, that doesn't make her actions any less heinous - and while, especially at the beginning, the pain and confusion she feels is relatable, the way she reacts is not.
It was a little strange to realize, as I reached the end of the book, that if I've been counting years right it ends when Levana is younger than I am now. That kind of puts the horrific nature of the Lunar court in perspective, that a teenager so easily became completely disconnected from the suffering of other people. It also makes it clear why Levana never even had a chance at redemption in the series: she's been like this for so, so much of her life, and undoing those patterns of thinking would likely be impossible.
All in all, an interesting addition to the series and a great example of how a villain can be the hero of their own story.
(One nitpick, though: if Levana's left eye is sealed shut with scar tissue, she should have a blind side - and possibly hearing damage on that side as well? While it might not be noticeable to others a decade later in the main series, in her perspective I feel like there should have been some acknowledgement of that lack of sensory input.)...more
At this point, I almost feel like it goes without saying that I loved this book. I've loved everything Alexandra Bracken has published, particularly tAt this point, I almost feel like it goes without saying that I loved this book. I've loved everything Alexandra Bracken has published, particularly the Darkest Minds series, and this is no different. While these short stories didn't quite rise to the level of emotional intensity that the core trilogy did, they still have all of the dogged hope that I love so much about the series, and they filled in some important gaps.
"In Time" is the one I knew the most about, going in - the gist of it is discussed during In The Afterlight, and there weren't many surprises. However, it's a great perspective on what the rest of the dystopic U.S. is like - through Gabe's perspective, we see the population centers that kids on the run have to avoid, and how the nation's economy and social structures have collapsed in on themselves. Gabe is very much a product of this environment: he's bitter, cynical, and selfish, determined to improve his own future even at the cost of someone else's... until that situation stops being theoretical.
There's a lot of monstrousness in this series. Some of it is created, as kids who have been tormented for years lash out; some of it comes from fear; some of it is simple vicious malice. At the same time, though, the main characters and their allies refuse to be monstrous, no matter how much people insist that they are. There is a fundamental theme running through the whole series that choosing to be kind is always for the best, and it's kind of beautiful.
"Sparks Rise" was the least interesting of the three for me - again, knowing some elements of what must happen before it did affected my experience, especially in that... well, I didn't get my hopes up. However, I can confirm that it does work on readers who haven't read ITA - my girlfriend finished this story just a few minutes ago, texting me her increasingly upset reactions as she went. (She also pointed out that it's an Orpheus and Eurydice retelling, which I had completely missed but which is, in retrospect, totally brilliant.)
"Beyond The Night" was by far my favorite, and not just for the chance to see familiar characters again. This novella answers some of the questions that weren't really relevant to In The Afterlight, about how the United States and its people recover from years of strife and fear, and how the IAAN kids are rehabilitated into society. It's a slow and awkward process, complicated by the fact that many of the adults involved simply don't understand what the kids have gone through. However, again, dogged hope: these kids are each other's best support and advocates, and their determination enables them to solve problems adults don't dare approach.
I've been thinking, as my girlfriend reads the series for the first time and I reflect on this book, about why this dystopia feels so intensely believable to me, and I have a theory:
I've grown up in a post-9/11 version of America. Not in the way that fifteen year-olds today have; I was in grade school in 2001, old enough to remember the political and social fallout, and to reflect on it and understand years later. In the wake of tragedy, the United States experienced a profound cultural shift, a rising tide of fearful xenophobia, and a desire - widely, though not wholly, supported by a shocked and grieving people - to fix it by making sure it could never happen again. People accede to a great many things in that emotional state, and having lived through such a time, it is profoundly easy to imagine the events of Bracken's dystopia coming to pass. Increased militarization in response to a crisis? Yep, I've seen that. Locking people up out of fear of what they might do? We've done that before. Horrific human rights abuses justified or concealed by crisis? Recent history.
All that familiarity is sobering, even depressing, and yet... this series, which is so reminiscent of the horrors of our past and present, does one of the things fiction does best: it offers relentless, determined hope. Not hope that change will come quickly or easily, but a conviction that individuals, groups, communities acting together with the goal of making the world better can do so. As someone who often feels overwhelmed by anxiety about the state of the world, I can't put into words how incredibly cathartic and uplifting this is....more
All due respect to Mr. Bradbury, but quite frankly I don't really see the point of this book.
The thing is that doing something and teaching others howAll due respect to Mr. Bradbury, but quite frankly I don't really see the point of this book.
The thing is that doing something and teaching others how to do it are vastly different skills, and they don't necessarily overlap. I spent the past year tutoring kids in reading, and the first thing I learned was how difficult it was to translate a skill that came naturally to me into something that would help beginners. Ray Bradbury was clearly someone for whom writing came naturally (he has a lot to say about books or stories 'finishing themselves' in the course of a day), but the advice he has to offer here is, at best, vague.
From what I can tell, his main points - repeated throughout the book - are this: 1. Write what you know, a catechism which is often misinterpreted to mean 'write your own limited experiences endlessly'. Bradbury, instead, is talking about using your own experiences and strong emotional reactions to fuel your writing, regardless of what exact resemblance it may have to what you experienced.
2. Have passion for what you do. He is emphatic and uncompromising when it comes to the idea that you have to write every day for years, probably decades, before achieving substantial success. While these specific recommendations don't apply to everyone (not everyone who writes wants to work exclusively or predominantly in short stories), the general idea is definitely applicable. It is here where I think Bradbury comes through clearest, because his own passion for the craft comes through even when his advice seems muddied.
3. Get out of your own way. The titular essay of this collection, 'Zen in the Art of Writing', is close kin to the advice given during NaNoWriMo to 'turn off your internal editor'. Bradbury advocates working, but not being wound up about it, until the words simply begin to flow on their own. Nowadays, this is an actual, recognized psychological concept.
One minor annoyance: though this is unsurprising for the time, Bradbury treats male as a universal default throughout the text. Everything is about 'the man' or 'the boy', including one sentence in which he refers to the reader, specifically, as a man:
...so you are that precious commodity, the individual man, the man we all democratically proclaim, but who, so often, gets lost or loses himself, in the shuffle.
Later, he references a book by Dorothea Brande, saying that it details "many of the ways a writer can find out who he is and how to get the stuff of himself out on paper". Now, I get that male-default is an archaic writing convention only recently overturned, but assuming that the writer-persona is inherently male in a description of a book written by a woman seems particularly rich.
Several of the essays in this book are just about the genesis of particular works, which might be interesting if Bradbury were a little more reflective on the topic, but he glosses over a lot of the mechanical aspects of writing. I suspect this book may be more interesting to people who are seeking inspiration and motivation as writers; if you're looking for actual craft tools, it's not a very rich resource. There are some great quotes, though:
We never sit anything out. We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.
I love Pacific Rim with all my heart, but I'd heard years ago that this graphic novel was just... not very good, so when I picked it up at the libraryI love Pacific Rim with all my heart, but I'd heard years ago that this graphic novel was just... not very good, so when I picked it up at the library to finally take a look, my expectations were low. And they were met at that low standard, sadly.
A lot of the best content from this graphic novel is stuff I'd already seen online - Tamsin and Luna, Tendo and his grandfather, the tiny glimpse we are given of Caitlin Lightcap. I was deeply disappointed that the graphic novel didn't really delve further than what I'd already gleaned from a few screencaps/photos - there's hardly anything more about Tamsin Sevier or Luna Pentecost, and what new information there was about Dr. Lightcap was... well. I'm still not sure how I feel about that story, but I don't think it's positive.
I love the philosophy that Beacham has that "the world doesn't fit in its story, the story fits in its world", and I do feel like one of the things Pacific Rim did was convey that. For a flashy summer action movie, it's jam-packed with implied history, societal shifts, and relationships below the surface, and I suspect that's why it has so much emotional depth, despite the premise being 'what if giant mechs punched giant monsters in the jaw'. However, I feel that Beacham did a much better job bringing that philosophy to life in his conversations with fans online after the movie came out than he did in this graphic novel. It was on Beacham's Tumblr that we got more information about other Jaeger teams, including Nova Hyperion (a Korean Jaeger piloted by two women who were formerly fencing rivals); he also dished out lots of juicy details about the Drift and its mechanics and effects. Those conversations were far more expansive than this book could be, and in my opinion, more enjoyable. If you're curious, he has an extensive list of tags on his blog, and I recommend browsing through them, as well as reading the FAQ. ...more
Harlequin romance manga: it exists! Did you know this? I did not know this, until I was idly browsing through my library's e-checkout system last nighHarlequin romance manga: it exists! Did you know this? I did not know this, until I was idly browsing through my library's e-checkout system last night and happened to stumble across a bunch of these. Naturally, I browsed through them until I found the one with the most ridiculous title + synopsis combo, and I checked it out. Because... that's what you do.
I mean, I don't know if this actually needs a review beyond 'Harlequin romance manga'. It really is exactly what you expect. There are sheikhs where there shouldn't be sheikhs! Former teenage lovers torn apart by parental meddling, whose present hatred for each other masks the fact that they're still in love! A secret lovechild to bring them together! The damsel in distress must be rescued via marriage! Neither of them has ever slept with anyone else, despite their years apart!
Poking fun aside - I've never actually picked up one of those little Harlequin paperbacks from the grocery store, so I'm not sure how long it would take me to read one, but I'm almost certain it would be longer than this. I've read reconciliation plots like this, and personally I feel like they work better with a longer reading time, so that the reader feels the yearning and torture drawn out and the eventual resolution has more emotional payoff. Manga is a much faster format, and allows for a lot less involvement in the characters' POVs, and left the story feeling particularly flat. I don't know - maybe this feeling of a list being checked off is something the novel version has as well? But I'm inclined to assume that even if that's the case, it was exacerbated by this format.
...That said, I'm kind of tempted to check out another one. Just 'cause....more
This is a book where I will fully admit that my modern perspective is a huge part of why I couldn't stand it. Studied as an historical text, with exteThis is a book where I will fully admit that my modern perspective is a huge part of why I couldn't stand it. Studied as an historical text, with extensive contextualization before reading, it might come off different, but... from a 2016 perspective, this is a deeply (insistently, even ardently) racist book about... supreme stupidity, to be honest, in the guise of honor.
It's the racism that bugs me the most, honestly. I know when this book was written, and I know that the Japanese Army was responsible for truly heinous war crimes during World War Two, and I know that people in this time very likely would have been this racist, and yet - none of that makes it any easier to ignore. The Japanese people and their culture are denigrated at almost every turn in this book, by the characters but also by the narrative prose. They're referred to as children, savages, incompetent at every turn, incapable of accomplishing the feats of construction that the British can, or of running a well-organized camp; the Japanese commander, Saito, is repeatedly said to be 'shamed' by Colonel Nicholson's behavior, and to lash out in petty vengeance for it - there's no nuance to this portrayal. It's cartoonish, almost outlandish; it reads like propaganda. Not a single Japanese character is shown to be at all capable, in any sphere, whereas all the Brits are uniformly excellent. (In the background, you can hear me making extravagant gagging noises.)
And Nicholson - I have this pet peeve, developed after reading a lot of substandard fantasy, about characters who cling to the idea of honorable comportment to the point of idiocy. They're always written as if it's supposed to be admirable, and it never is, because pragmatic action would do significantly more good. Write this as a heroic fault, absolutely, but not a heroic strength! And it's true, in the end Nicholson's pride is treated as the failing it is, but that's after over a hundred pages extolling how virtuous and worthy a leader he is, even as he drives his men to not only complete but improve upon a construction which will aid enemy forces in attacking more British soldiers. All of the fawning prose doesn't just get erased because, in the last chapter, his foolishness is called by name.
At least, if I put myself through reading such thinly disguised propaganda, it was only 150 pages of it....more