Book Review: A Glitch in the World

I read ‘A Glitch in the World’ on a whim. Alex Drozd offers questions regarding the human condition through the scope of science fiction, and on the surface his vision of the future feels incredibly real.

Debate is used in ways that reflect upon contemporary issues with a futuristic spin. One of my favorites centered on the topic of music production. Computers and AI produce music, as there’s no human element in the popular songwriting process. One character prefers this, while another expresses a nostalgic longing for the days when people made music on computers. It reminds me of a conversation I had with my father when I was a child where he described the virtue of music produced without computers, whereas I have a taste for music made on computers.

Another question the book proposes revolves around the worth of an individual. Motorized vehicles are 100% automated and with AI responsible for driving, the value of a person is brought into the equation when it comes to the occasional accident. People are quantified based on a number of variables, and the computer does everything possible to spare the more valuable entity, even if it includes killing the lesser person. I feel the value of a person could be considered controversial if corrupt powers have any sort of influence, but Drozd did not venture there.

What we get is a story about a teenager full of angst, and the complications that arise after a friend commits suicide. There are beings from a parallel universe that only appear to our protagonist, and my only gripe is that their motives seem bigger than the end result. Even still, the ending offers a twist of sorts that is great fun.

The book was well edited in terms of proper grammar, but I feel some of the phrasing throughout could’ve used a little more tweaking. Drozd offers readers a fantastic effort in his debut.

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The Girl Who Takes An Eye For An Eye: A Book Review

David Lagercrantz does excellent work. ‘The Girl Who Takes An Eye For An Eye’ is his second contribution to the Millennium Series, and it’s a stronger piece of fiction than his first. He has mastered the characters and their motives to such a degree that I’m no longer aware of a disparity between the writing of Lagercrantz and Larsson.

The narrative begins with Lisbeth Salander serving a prison sentence for crimes committed in the previous book. An innocent inmate is the target of gross abuse by a most guilty inmate, while the guards look the other way. Salander takes an interest, and intervenes with violent results, and takes it upon herself to correct the record. Thus begins a revenge thriller that captures the essence of Larsson’s characters and story world. It’s a wild ride that’s worth the price of admission.

In order to not give anything away I’m going to keep this review short and sweet. I take delight in these novels, and will continue reading further installments of ‘The Millennium Series’ while Lagercrantz writes them. His additions compliment the original trilogy with equal quality.

 

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Violence and Entertainment: Some Thoughts

In the wake of the commonplace mass shooting that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, blame has been thrown in every direction as a means to pivot away from any real action. Mental illness is further stigmatized while the notion of gun control is entertained, but not considered with honest intent. The president has fallen on the age-old rhetoric that blames the glorification of violence as presented in our media, specifically video games and film. These mediums aren’t to blame for the ills of society. I recall a similar instance from my youth, one that involved casting blame on a rock and roll star following the mass shooting at Columbine. Video games (Doom) and films (Natural Born Killers) were scapegoated as well, but Marilyn Manson became the figure of cause, or in his own words, “the poster boy for fear,” in an arena where the artist had no business.

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Violence in entertainment has been normalized through the ages. Shakespeare had to compete with a bear-baiting arena that stood within walking distance from The Globe, where dogs were set against bears. Violence is an unfortunate byproduct of the human experience, to which entertainment falls short of reality. Does entertainment glorify the vices of violence and drug dependency? Absolutely. Can entertainment have a psychological impact on the person? Studies conclude our violent media doesn’t make a violent mind. I’d ask the POW’s whom the United States government exposed to singular songs on repeat at volumes too great to withstand, but that’s use of media as a means of torture. I guess I’ve never met a person who watched Breaking Bad, and decided to try their hand at cooking crystal meth.

Still, I will say that though some media is horribly toxic (especially without proper context or critical thinking skills), mass shootings don’t stem from a ‘life imitating art’ philosophy. No one kills a police officer because they could in Grand Theft Auto. No one shoots up any array of social settings because of the music/images associated with Marilyn Manson. Such arguments serve only to pivot from the issue, with the intent of leaving it unaddressed. Jim Carrey possibly disagrees with me, as he decided to not promote a violent film he had acted in, following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. He drew parallels of self-importance, and saw his participation in the production of the film as something bigger than what it was. While I admire him wanting to bring attention to the issue, the source of his conviction was one rooted in error.

There’s a greater cultural problem that won’t be solved through a singular idea, and Americans need to acquire the skills of civil debate if compromise is to be reached. Without adjustment the shootings will continue. Even with adjustments the shootings will continue. Resolution won’t come overnight, and the first steps shall not yield instant results. There are growing pains ahead if we are to grow from these events, but the ‘pivot blame game’ falls on the same old arguments that have-time and time again-been reduced to falsehood. Video games, music, and movies entertain, and at times provide a coping mechanism by means of catharsis. Should we ban the work of William Shakespeare before the influence drives more teenagers to kill themselves and each other?

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Greater insight is necessary. What of violence in the real world? News programs use significant portions of their broadcasts to examine violent events within any given community, and break them down in such a way as to have the viewer feeling relieved. They’re left with a feeling of, ‘at least I’m not that bad,’ which serves complacency. They speak of wars in foreign lands with a particular cruelty, and equate their human condition to a sordid less than. Further down the pipeline is a subculture that celebrates the tragedies our society bears. Before the shooting at Virginia Tech, the shooter made a video where he paid homage to the school shooters that had come before him, even naming a few. When the Vegas concert shooting left 58 dead, and 851 others injured, particular online message boards discussed how he’d fallen short of the ‘high score,’ by referencing the mass shooting in Norway that left 80 dead in 2011. Violence is encouraged in a way that mimics the most morbid of support groups. There’s enough real world influence to claim our entertainment is not as harmful as some would allege.

 

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison: Book Review

A few years back I watched a video where black children were presented with baby dolls. One doll had a black skin tone, and the other white. The children were then asked questions that sought to have them pass judgment as it appealed to their preferences. Across the board, when they were asked which was the ‘good’ or ‘pretty’ doll, their answers indicated the white doll met that criterion. When asked which doll was ‘bad’ or ‘ugly’ the black children consistently decided upon the black doll.

I’m white, and that video was painful to watch. Their answers suggested a deep-rooted self-loathing/hatred that’s socially programmed at an age too early to repair. My heart sank with their honest opinion based answers.

When I came upon The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, I was somewhat familiar with the premise; the story of a black girl named Pecola Breedlove who abhors her blackness, and desires the white traits of what she believes constitutes beauty. She covets the likeness of Shirley Temple, damaging any hope of finding self-love in her blackness. But what complicates Pecola is not grounded in isolation. There’s a passage that reminded me of the video on doll preference. When a few black boys begin to bully Pecola, Morrison’s narrator observes,

“It was their contempt for their own blackness that gave the first insult its teeth. They seemed to have taken all of their smoothly cultivated ignorance, their exquisitely learned self-hatred, their elaborately designed hopelessness and sucked it all up into a fiery cone of scorn that had burned for ages in the hollows of their minds-cooled-and spilled over lips of outrage,” (65)

What makes Morrison’s work so intriguing (aside from a style of prose that hooks) is her ability to create backstories for a larger community. Morrison creates a bigger picture, before zeroing in on her focus. She’ll use entire chapters to establish other characters, bringing their obscure silhouettes to the forefront. Pauline Breedlove is the mother of Pecola, and as her past is brought up to speed we’re left to reflect, “So she became, and her process of becoming was like most of ours: she developed a hatred for things that mystified or obstructed her; acquired virtues that were easy to maintain; assigned herself a role in the scheme of things; and harked back to simpler times for gratification” (126).

The Bluest Eye examines race, gender, and class with tragic elements in such a masterful way as to stimulate empathy and arouse social questions. Why do we permit such injustice? Why do we hurt ourselves and/or the ones we’re supposed to love? The prose is an examination of trauma and living in its aftermath. I will be reading more of Toni Morrison, as her literary quality is top shelf material.

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Film Review: My Friend Dahmer

With a baby on the way my wife and I decided to get out for what may be our last ‘out on the town’ date before our girl arrives. There was no consideration of any other film, we were going to see My Friend Dahmer. We had to drive an hour+ out of town, as this film hasn’t the reach of a typical Hollywood blockbuster. We arrived in Athens, Ohio to find the streets flooded with college students, but had little trouble navigating through the hoards of bobcats.

Anxious to get our seating preference we were the first in the theater. Back row: center… as always… if it can be managed.

The film delivers much of the same that Backderf’s graphic novel of the same title had to offer. It reveals the complications of closeted homosexuality in a ‘we don’t talk about that kinda thing’ environment, a distant/hostile home life, and the escapism of chronic alcohol abuse. Dahmer isn’t a character that stirs much in the way of empathy, nor does the movie glorify his violent crimes, instead I feel that the movie seeks to show a cultural failure to help a troubled youth. The ‘friends’ Dahmer made along the way only catered to his company as a means of exploiting his antics for their own entertainment. They put him in situations, pressuring him to act out, and reveled in the results. It’s not the most flattering way Backderf could’ve presented himself, but the honesty draws me in more than the prospect of fabricated friendship.

Backderf’s involvement in Dahmer’s life was amplified for the sake of making a more cohesive film, while the graphic novel was more fragmented in a way that filled the gaps with assumptions. Backderf’s comic suggested they only got together outside of school on one occasion, and that’s not enough for a full length feature film. That’s the main difference between the two mediums. Aside from this issue, Dahmer’s mother is presented with a particular mania of sorts that wasn’t expressed in the graphic novel. The comic book shows Mrs. Dahmer in a depressive state that borders on catatonic, while the movie explores her mental instability through argumentative highs. I also wish that the prom scene had included Dahmer’s awkward parting handshake with his date at the end of the night. But these gripes are for the purists who want a book and film to be exactly the same, and I’m not that kind of fan. For what it is My Friend Dahmer is an honest prelude to tragedy that is tragic in an of itself. Dahmer Poster.JPG

 

No Good Deed: Book Review

No Good Deed examines and satirizes the complications of long-term friendships. We’re brought in on the premise that our main character offers some money to a homeless person, and is thanked by name. After an awkward moment Alan realizes he’s staring at his childhood friend, Craig. He takes his old friend to a pub, and then to his home in an attempt to help him up.

Alan’s a semi famous food critic. Craig played guitar for a band that got big in the early 90’s, and then fizzled out. It feels of an age-old story where the emphasis resides upon the reversal of fortune. Themes of carnival surface as one character is brought up, while the other descends to ruin. These classical notions mixed with contemporary commentary make for an excellent piece of cultural satire. Niven delivers, again.

It is the unspoken feelings long harbored between the two main characters that motivate them to actions both comical and wretched. Distance of years would not change how they felt about each other. It is expressed that, “all the money and fame imaginable could never re-engineer how we come to define ourselves as teenagers” (165). I found myself laughing out loud at the insults, and feeling a genuine emotional investment when dealing with the prospect of loss.

At one point Craig is being interviewed about his story. He is honest about his spiteful feelings toward Alan, and describes him with a harshness that seems far away from the warm feelings we typically associate with friendships. Niven offers an insight that feels all too relatable,

“It did make her slightly sad, however, the realization- common to many jobbing journalists who must routinely deliver copy crafted to suit many different publications – that lurking beneath the piece she was going to write about the life-affirming powers of friendship, there was another piece, a different piece, a better piece. One about the strange currents and deep, dark pools that hide beneath the surface of many lifelong friendships, especially ones that have involved dramatic reversal of fortune” (198).

It’s just fantastic. Probably the best overall work from Niven. My personal favorite since The Second Coming.

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The Handmaid’s Tale: Book Review

What makes dystopian fiction frightening is the prospect of truth. When I think of the genre I ponder over themes of science fiction, with tendencies that lend themselves to some kind of futuristic setting. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood offers us something that feels modern, and for that the story feels as though it could happen today. It’s not the notion of oppression through the vessel of a futuristic specter, but a hyper masculine insecurity that treads the nostalgic waters of a more outspoken, forceful, and violent patriarchy.

Our main character is a handmaid named Offred. She isn’t legally allowed to read, and any rhetoric or conduct beyond appropriate protocol could result in execution. Her primary social value is rooted in her potential to become pregnant. It is not a comfortable existence.

Offred is summoned for private and illicit meetings with her Commander. With brevity she entertains the thought of free will, but concludes that, “to refuse to see him could be worse. There’s no doubt about who holds the real power” (136). Offred understands the conditions of her scenario, and stimulates the notion of her own interest, “To want is to have a weakness. It’s this weakness… that entices me… I want to know what he wants” (136).

It seems fitting that this book would take a place in our social consciousness, but I’ll leave political/social parallels up to you. Atwood is nothing short of fantastic.

 

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