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Review: Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh

Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh by Anna Beer My rating: 4 of 5 stars Disclaimer: I won an ARC ...

Friday, December 29, 2017

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Review

In fairness, I should note that I have been neutral on the issue of Black Panther.  I never read much Avengers.  I was more interested when Storm married him, though I did not like the retcon, and I understand his importance and the importance of his marriage.  I hope that the Black Panther movie earns the most of any Marvel movie ever, and am perfectly content with it earning more than Wonder Woman.

                I mean, have you looked at that cast?

                The reason I pointed out the above is that I cannot evaluate how the first three collected volumes of Coates run compare to other Panther story lines or the larger Marvel Mythos of the character.

                Coates’ first arc seems to occur at a time of change in Wakanda, the Panther’s home and his kingdom.  His sister is not alive and not dead, his marriage is annulled, and T’Challa is feeling a bit resentful and angry.  The kingdom itself is feeling the same, and some members of the Dora Milaje eventually take matters into their own hands.  This was expected for Coates hinted at it during a talk shortly after signing with Marvel.

                Some of the conflict that Wakanda faces are about the question of rule, whether a monarchy can actually, truly serve the people in the way the people want to be served.  If Coates doesn’t give the question the full space and examination that it deserves, then it is more the fault of format and cooperate control than anything.  (Think of the scene in the last Jedi where the stolen ship reveals that its true owner sold arms to both the First Order and Resistance.  Del Toro’s character has a point, but there is no time to really look at it).

                In truth, though, it isn’t T’Challa’s journey that is the most fascinating, but his sister’s, Shuri’s, who is in something of a coma.  In her state, she goes on a true spiritual journey, and learns to be, among other things, a griot.  It is with Shuri that Coates really, truly explores the idea of history, rule, and duty.  In many ways, the first three volumes are more about women than about T’Challa himself.

                Which is cool.

                Part of what Coates also looks at is Wakanda’s place in the larger world, which is somewhat interesting.  Guests stars are kept to a minimum, basically being the Crew – including Storm, who, to be frank, is dealt with way too easily in a fight, but her words are Storm.

                It is an interesting story because here words are just as important, if not more so, than actions.  It is reader’s comic arc.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Review: Terminal Alliance

Terminal Alliance Terminal Alliance by Jim C. Hines
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am the type of person who wonders where the bath rooms are on the Enterprise and the Death Star. Sure, the Falcon has neat hiding holes, but how are the toilet systems? Does the head have a seat beat? And how did Luke go to the bathroom on his way to Cloud City or wherever? Does the transporter take care of bodily functions?

In part this is curiosity, in part this is because I would be the one losing her lunch in the bathroom, so I really want to know.

Hines’ latest book is about those on such famous ships who rarely get mention and never get thought about – the janitors. In other words, Finn before he got sent to a planet where he didn’t like killing people unless they were people he knew.

(Sorry, I like Finn. In many ways, his reactions later in the movie are the most realistic, but that beginning sequence does Finn’s character a disservice. He is cheering killing people he knows).

Mops is a human in charge of a cleaning crew on the Pufferfish (the ships in this novel are named after the deadliest animals in human history). The human race has go through a collapse, not so much destroying everyone, but turning everyone feral (like zombies but not dead). The Krakau have developed a cure for this temperament, and humans who are cured work as mercs. The species has a reputation for stupidity, toughness, and blood thirstiness. Unfortunately for Pufferfish, on a recent assignment, the majority of the human crew has gone feral. The only ones who haven’t are Mops and her crew: Kumar, Monroe, and Mozart. There is also Puffy, who is more of hinderance, and Grom who is like centipede. Mops is determined to find out what happen and to cure her crewmates, leading to the adventure story that is the book.

Being a Hines book, there is much laughter. Part of it comes from the use of names, cured humans take names of famous people. So, Monroe, for instance, is named for Marylin. There are also the various reactions to human things, such as a dig at erotica. For the reader, there is the added bonus of reading being forefront in the story.

Truthfully, at the start the book is a bit slow and one of the big reveals, isn’t really a surprise for the careful reader (and Hines doesn’t treat it as such, to be fair). Yet, this book is also one of those books that illustrates the strengths of sci-fi, in particular humorous sci-fi.

The treatment of humans in the novel by other alien species is basically any ism that is in society today or in the past. Some of the comments, for instance, you have seen in the descriptions of Africans by Europeans or white slave owners. Hines is also getting the reader to think about how knowledge is transmitted or not transmitted; in fact, he tackles several big questions in this book. By doing so, quite frankly, he cements his place as America’s Terry Pratchett, who also dealt with big questions in funny ways.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Star Wars Thoughts

Fair warning, I write this without having seen The Last Jedi.  I fully intend to see it, and this isn’t a comment on the film.

This is more a comment on those people who are upset about the movie in general and Rey in particular.

                For the record, I didn’t like Force Awakens.  I thought it was simply New Hope but with a new name.  That’s it.  I get the idea of storytelling circle and what not, but still for me Force Awakens was lazy ass story telling filled with what for me are Star Wars plot problems and holes.

                Look, I love Star Wars.  I even saw the Clone Wars animated movie opening weekend.  Okay.  New Hope is the first movie I ever remembering seeing.  I was Princess Leia for I don’t know how many Halloweens.

                But there have always been, well, problems.

                Take for instance Luke.  Luke, like Rey, is a Mary/Marty Sue.  I’m sorry but he.  If you have a problem with Rey being a Mary Sue, you have to have a problem with Luke.  I will acknowledge that Luke is a slightly less annoying Mary Sue, but he is still a Marty Sue (or Mary.  Whatever, he is in the Sue family).

                Luke is a farm boy and talented planet bound pilot.  He has never left the planet, hell, he hasn’t gone very far from the farm.  Yet, this farm boy who has never flown an x-wing before not only survives the Battle of Yasin but deals the killing blow to the Death Star. 

                But, I can hear someone say, Star Wars Tech can be different from ours.  Maybe Luke’s whatever was an earlier version of an X-Wing.  Maybe, who knows.  But even if that was true, it doesn’t explain the dog fighting ability.  It doesn’t.  And, quite frankly, regardless of flying skill would have been given command that quickly?  Even considering his destruction of the Death Star?  If you were one of the Commanders before Yavin, would you have taken Luke as one of your battle group?  Realistically, no, at least not as a pilot, maybe as a gunner.

                And then there is the death of Obi-Wan.  Like Luke, the audience feels more about Obi-Wan’s death than the destruction of everyone on Leia’s home planet.  This is because of the story; we have spent more time with Obi-Wan after all.  That’s not the problem – it’s Leia (who was tortured) comforting him.  She is used to make him center, and that is somewhat disturbing. 

                While Luke does go though training, it is not nearly as long as the training that Jedi normally seem to receive, and he doesn’t really have a trial, does he?  He is also revealed to be the child of the bad guy, yet one wonders how Vader knows.  If it is the Force, then why doesn’t Vader, who spent far more time in Leia’s company, not know about her?  If it is simply because of the whole last name deal, why didn’t Vader do something in New Hope?  After all, he orders the deaths of Owen and Beru.  You except me to believe Vader didn’t have that place searched.  And if they really wanted to hide Luke, why not lie about his last name?  And furthermore, whose to say where the name Skywalker comes from, maybe it was a common last name given to slaves.

                So yeah, the last name thing doesn’t work for me (Also I am convinced Padme kept her own last name, so fuck off).

                So, the last name answer doesn’t fly. 

                Additionally, there are other questions that the both the original and the prequels raise.  Why, for instance, does Leia remember her real mother when Padme dies in childbirth?  Why does Padme die in childbirth?  If she is simply a vessel for the Force, doesn’t that make the Force rapey?   Why are Lando and Han generals in Jedi?  I mean, okay, maybe Han because of what he did in New Hope and Empire; but Lando?  Don’t get me wrong, I love Lando.  But what exactly has Lando done that makes him a general? Shouldn’t Leia be a general at that point? Why does Padme fall in love with Anakin?  (Back to rapey Force).    If you were the First Order, wouldn’t you just blow up desert planets considering the history?  Why the focus on Death Stars?  If the Force needs balance, wasn’t there balance after Revenge of the Sith?  Doesn’t Luke make it unbalanced?  Why does Leia change her clothes and get her hair done at the Ewok village?  Why does Finn have a problem with killing until he has to shot stormtroopers, you know, the people he trained with?  What exactly is the Resistance, well, resisting?  What exactly does a giant space worm eat when people in space ships don’t land in its stomach?  Isn’t the use of droids enslavement?  If you were a hungry girl on a desert planet, wouldn’t you sell BB8?  Why do people keep losing the Falcon?  Is there even a culture in this universe?  Would you really elect a teen or pre-teen Queen?   And how does Obi-Wan age that much?  And Owen and Beru for that matter?

                And so on.          

  The world building really isn’t the best.  You get more of a sense of culture from Star Trek.   
                Such criticism is fair, Star Wars is a movie.

                But it is also unfair.

                Star Wars is after all a fairy tale, and one can’t really ask such questions of fairy tales (would you actually talk to a wolf and isn’t Snow White stupid?)  Star Wars is a modern fairy tale, it is a morality tale.  The plot isn’t a point.  You want to complain about plot stupidity – do it for all the movies or none.  Mary Sues – both or neither. 

                Unless you are a misogynistic asshole.   

                Then just go away and play with your toys in the dark room.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Review: Camille Claudel

Camille Claudel Camille Claudel by Anne Delbée
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In “The Lady of Shallot” Tennyson tells us that a woman must chose between art and love. She cannot have both – love will destroy the art. In some respects, he is correct, or at least was correct, considering that a woman would have duties that needed to be done. And yet, in other respects he was wrong. It isn’t love that destroys a woman’s art but lust – and usually not her.

This year (2017), Hollywood has been rocked by various scandals, the widest spread apparently that of Harvey Weinstein. What many have pointed out, including in places like the New York Times, is the art that we have missed and the art that has been changed. The Times dealt on the career of Annabella Sciorra after her rape by Weinstein. Salma Hayek wrote a powerful piece about how the filming of Frida was compromised and changed by Weinstein, in particular how full-frontal nudity was done because otherwise Weinstein threatened to kill the filming – tell me how that isn’t rape?

Yet, it seems such things have been occurring for so long. I’m not just talking about the treatment of Garland, Monroe, and the old studio stable system, but further back than that. Delbee address the question head on in her autobiographical novel about Camille Claudel.

Claudel had the misfortune to be a woman and an artist at time when women as artist weren’t quite valued in the way they should have been – in other words as artists first. She eventually becomes the student, inspiration, and lover of Rodin – though student might not be a fully accurate term. Yet what Delbee captures and dwells upon his Claudel’s outsider position as outsider. She is not a conventional or modest woman, she is an artist and not a model, she is a woman student and not male one. She is Rodin’s model, inspiration, mistress, and student. She both is and is not. It is hardly surprising that she rages.

It is something that Rodin does not have to face, as he does not have to face the question of whether his art is really his art as opposed to his master’s.

Delbee’s narrative is not exactly linear for the chapters alternate with letters from an alyssum, where Claudel spends part of her life. It is a quasi-channeling of Gilman’s Yellow Wallpaper, and one wonders what Gilman would’ve thought of both Claudel and today’s #MeToo movement.

There is magic and strength in Delbee’s writing and she carries you ago. Claudel is not a passive victim, and if she is a victim, it is of society and the demons in her own mind.

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Review: Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree

Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree by Tariq Ali
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I write this review after the close defeat of a potential US Senator, who believed among other things, that a Muslim should not serve in the US Senate because he wouldn’t swear on the Bible (said douche bag also believes that women should stay in the home and that sex with 14-year-old girls when you’re in your 30s is okay). This defeat occurred shortly after a sitting US president retweet the unverified “news” tweets of a British hate group. The tweets showed video supposedly showing Muslims behaving badly. A governmental group out of the Netherlands tweeted the president back and said, nope misbehaving dude was not immigrant and not Muslim, and was in jail. When quested about his use of fake news, the spokeswoman for the president who chants fake news 99% of time, said the reality of the videos wasn’t important, for the president felt they added to the conversation. When it was revealed that the last two “Muslim” terrorists had been radicalized after their arrival to the US, one could hear crickets chirping. Additionally, there are places in the US where a book that simply depicts a character who is Muslim is banned because it is promoting a religion other than Christianity. I have even taught students who refused to read part of the Korean in a World Lit Class, and before you ask, we had read parts of the Old and New Testament first (granted, I could understand the formal service member’s refusal. Didn’t agree with it, but could understand. The other students not so much).

Apparently, there are people in America who would feel right at home in the Reconquista, except for that Catholic bit because according to some of those Americans Catholics worship the Pope.

Ali’s novel is about a family in Granada right after the conquest by Ferdinand and Isabella. The family is stuck, unsure of whether or not their culture will survive because of the pressure to convert. In short, Ali is telling of the death of a culture, of a lost, one that the reader feels most keenly at the start of the book with the description of book burning.

Is Ali’s book flawless? No, and, in fact, it is in many ways one of those quiet books where everything is building but the bulk of the actual action is “small” family drama and issues -who will the daughters marry, what is the mystery of the old hermit, and whether a great aunt is truly mad. It is the focus on the quiet, on the family of quasi-believers who are not fully devout that Ali shows how hatred, extremism – on both sides – starts. For the actions of the Christians lead to hard choices of the Muslims, but it is those violent actions that also harden the Christians, against those values they should espouse. Ali’s book is warning, intentional or not, about hatred of a culture or religion and how it destroys all.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Review: The Ramayana: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic

The Ramayana: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic The Ramayana: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic by R.K. Narayan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those really entertaining but makes you want to smack someone. But at least the gods in this version agree with me.

It is nice to know that the Bible isn’t the only work that screws women over.

The amount of time that men in this epic, who keep telling you they are powerful dudes, blame women for everything is just maddening. Even Sita who couldn’t be raped because Ravena can’t force her has to prove her virtue.


Yeah, yeah, I know it was before feminism. I get it. But I am a modern lady; I can still get upset by it.

But outside of the whole women are to blame for everything, it’s actually really good and engrossing. It’s even fun.

And if you are wondering about the women blaming,  here are some examples:

"Finally the King burst out, " . . . Those cherry-red lips I thought sustained me, but they have only been a source of the deadliest poison to finish me off . . ." (52). True she is a evil woman, but no one forced you to do what you did.

"The picture she [Soorpanka] conjured up was convincing . . . Soorpanaka's words had lit an all-consuming flame within him [Ravana]" (81)

"When he heard of his son's death, Ravana shed bitter tears and swore, 'This is the time to kill that woman Sita, the cause of all this misery'" (149). You did kidnap her.

As for Sita's virtue test. I know that critics, both Western and Eastern have problems with it. Even the epic seems to realize this for it says, "Rama explained that he had to adopt this trial in order to demonstrate Sita's putiry beyond a shadow of a doubt to the whole world" (163).

Look, like all great epics, the work is a product of its time. I understand that. But I am not going to respond any differently simply because of that. I have similar problems with the Bible, Homer, and so on. I cannot turn off my feminisim completely. I'm sorry, I can't. It doesn't stop me from enjoying the story. And to be frank, do you really think modern women were the first to ask these questions or notice these problems?


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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Review: Trojan Tales: Voices from Afar

Trojan Tales: Voices from Afar Trojan Tales: Voices from Afar by Edward J. Nield
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have no doubt that Nield knows the cycle of Troy, and I think he would be a wonderful person to talk about the cycle with. However, if there was ever a book that is just oky, it is this one. It is not a bad book, and it is a story that syncs with the cycle. Yet there are some flaws that are near fatal.

The first flaw is one that many historical novels suffer from - how much modern language to use. Overall all, Nield does a good job, but there are some jars - for instance the use of carriages. The second flaw is that Andromache functions more as someone that things happen to as opposed to someone who does things. This is not surprising considering the time period, but she is so blamless and loved that at times it gets a little annoying (and unexicting if you know the cycle). There is also a bit too much of dislike and rivarly with other women that is bit annoying.

There is also bit too many adjectives -and everyone seems to glide.

Yet, the novel does show a deep understanding and knowledge of the story.

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Banned Books in Texas

In case you missed it, The New York Times picked up a story out of Texas about what books are banned from the prison system (read it here).  The banned books include titles like Where’s Waldo and Charlie Brown.  Hitler’s Mein Kampf, however, is allowed.

                Now, prison systems routinely ban books, and this has been upheld in the court system.  The Texas system made the list of approved and banned books available to the Dallas Morning News (read it here).  According to the Dallas Morning News, the system bans books that can incite violence or riots, depict illegal acts in a graphic manner, can be used to plan a riot or escape, or give aids in how make weapons or commit crimes.  Additionally, pop up and some other books are banned because of the ability to hide things in the illustrations or covers.  The Dallas Morning News also points out that graphic sex scenes are determined by case.  I should also note the list of approved books (248, 241) is longer than the list of banned books (10, 073)

                The thing is that some of the decisions seem really confused.  For instance, Alice Walker’s Color Purple is banned but not the Kite Runner or the Handmaid’s Tale.  Both of those books contain rape.  The Handmaid’s Tale even contains an escape.  Grimms Comics is banned (I am presuming because of nudity), yet other comic books are allowed, and considering how suggestive comic art can be, one wonders. 

                This isn’t a Texas prison system problem, though it is interest that this story occurs shortly after a Texas school district pulled The Hate U Give from library shelves and is re-evaluating the book.  The Texas problem is the same that most book banners have, but at least in the prison system it makes some sense.  Take for instance the group PABBIS, which about ten years ago, was actively attempting to ban books in schools.  Pabbis (Parents Against Bad Books in Schools), to be fair, at the least linked to the passages they found objectionable, which is more than some people do.  Yet Pabbis also linked to a list of books that they demeaned appropriate.   This list includes Three Musketeers where the hero has an affair with a married woman, the works of Poe, and The Scarlet Letter.

                What makes one book with sex good and another bad? 

                In the Texas prison case, the Anita Blake books are allowed, and as most critics of Hamilton can point out, those books at the very least, contain problematic sex scenes (including what would make the legal definition of rape).  Yet, The Color Purple is considered too dangerous because it addresses incest.  Hamilton’s books, the earlier ones at least, I cannot speak to the later ones, never addressed the issue of rape and were filled with victim blaming.

                In terms of banning, the question will always be who determines if something is objectionable, what is the criteria.  And the answer to that question doesn’t really exist, at least not in a way that satisfies everyone.

                What is worse a school district banning or even just removing a book such as a Hate U Give limits the learning of compassion. And important aspect of life that Frank Bruni in the New York Times argues that Trump lacks (Read it here). Thomas’ book should be more widely read simply because of its frank look at race, class, and violence involving police.  It should be required reading to promote discussion about a major issue in America. 

                It’s why stories such as the Texas Prison System and The Hate U Give are reported, we should pay attention.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Mice Templar Vols 1-5

When I was in college, I started reading the Redwall novels by Brain Jacques.  I know that I was reading below my reading level, but to say that I had read Watership Down at a very impressionable age would be an understatement.  So, give me animals doing human things or close to, and I will at least try the story.  Therefore, later in college when I discovered William Horwood while on a trip to the Netherlands, I was like WTF, why isn’t he published here in the US.  Bastards.

                Mice Templar is like Redwall in that it focuses on mice.  That’s about it.  There is more blood, there is more violence, there is less feasting, there is more death.  It is Anime and not Disney.

  Mice Templar relates the story of Karic of Cricket’s Glen and his friends and family as they struggle to make sense of a dark world, where light is not.  Karic’s home is attacked and his family and friends taken or killed.  Those that are taken are to be sacrificed in the capital.  Karic is determined to save those he lives, and so answers in the affirmative when he determines upon a course that will change not only him, but his world.

                The world of the Mice Templar is based on various European myths and history.  There are connections to Joan of Arc, to various Norse sagas, and Arthurian legends.  But it is also connection to the Dark Ages, for the mice’s world seems to be on perpetual darkness, there is not day.  Even the inclusion of the Maeven, female mice warriors, has historical precedent.  (To be fair, the inclusion of female characters who are actually truly active takes a bit, yet it is played off quite nicely in the end).

                One of the main themes that the comic series explores is the question of story telling and destiny.  Our lives are stories, and most humans convey wisdom don history though stories.  Karic is willing to take on the quest, but does he lose himself in the process?  He becomes a symbol to more than just mice.  But is that symbol something to be feared or to be worshiped, and for how long?  We tend to blame the English for the death of Joan of Arc, but the French were also culpable. 

                Part of Karic’s struggle is to reconcile the Templars who are split almost along the lines of the time of two popes, though more on a secular level than anything.  The mouse who becomes Karic’s closest friend, Cassius, has been tramlined by this war, and both Karic and his childhood friend Leito almost reenact over the course of the series.

                But what hangs over the story, one of the themes is the idea of story and the power of story.  It forces the reader to confront how story telling plays a role not just in history but in setting us on the paths we chose as well as how we view questions of faith.