Book Review: City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett (2014)

Friday, August 29th, 2014

Stunning World Building, Complicated Characters, & a Refreshing Take On Religion

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program.)

five out of five stars

More than a thousand years ago, the Divinities stepped out of their world to walk among humans. They were six – Olvos, Kolkan, Jukov, Voortya, Ahanas, and Taalhavras – and among their godlike powers was the ability to alter the very fabric of reality; to bend the laws of nature to suit their desires – and the needs of their followers. The Divinities found an eager and devoted flock on the Continent, which they carved up into six spheres of influence, each governed by the ruling Divinity’s own rules and realities. For their allegiance, the Continentals became the Divinities’ chosen ones, destined to rule over their godless neighbors.

For nearly five hundred years, the Divinities and their followers fought amongst themselves. Seemingly overnight, and perhaps realizing the strength to be found in numbers, the Divinities gathered in the central city of Bukilov – thenceforth known as the Seat of the World – for the Night of the Convening, during which they agreed upon a treaty. This led to the onset of the Continental Golden Age, during which time the Continent experienced a surge in outward expansion as the allied Continentals raided, colonized, and subjugated the people of other countries, including those of Saypur.

Around this time, and apparently spurred by her disapproval of the other Divinities’ increasingly harsh actions, Olvos – arguably the most compassionate and enlightened of the otherwise barbaric gods – withdrew from the world.

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Book Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post, emily m. danforth (2012)

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Un-put-downable!

five out of five stars

Cameron Post was twelve years old when she first kissed a girl. Her best friend Irene Klauson, in the Klausons’ hayloft, one hot, sweltering June afternoon before the start of seventh grade.

The very next day, Cam’s parents died. En route to the annual camping trip, their car jumped a guardrail at Quake Lake – where Joanie Wynton (now Joanie Post) and her family had escaped death by earthquake and flood decades earlier.

So begins The Miseducation of Cameron Post: The afternoon my parents died, I was out shoplifting with Irene Klauson.

The year is 1989, long before most Americans had heard of gay marriage, at a time when voters were repealing gay rights legislation not just in middle America, but on the West Coast as well. Growing up in the conservative, church-going small town of Miles City, Montana, Cameron doesn’t know what to make of her budding feelings for her best friend – and for the girls who will follow: Lindsey, Cam’s main competition during the summer swim meets; Coley, her impossibly gorgeous high school classmate and fellow church member; and Mona, an experienced college-aged lifeguard/Coley rebound.

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Book Review: The Summer I Wasn’t Me, Jessica Verdi (2014)

Monday, June 16th, 2014

Performing Heteronormativity, Eschewing Gluten

four out of five stars

(Spoiler alert for the last two paragraphs.)

Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to manipulate the raw landscape into some preconceived idea of what nature should look like. Goosebumps trickle across the back of my neck as I realize that’s exactly what they’re going to do to me too.

When seventeen-year-old Lexi Hamilton’s father died of pancreatic cancer, she not only lost her best friend – but one half of the only family’s she’s ever had. And with her father went the mother she used to know: happy, carefree, responsible. With it. There. In the six months since her husband’s death, Christine Hamilton spiraled into a deep depression, unable to perform even the most basic of chores. It’s all Lexi can do to keep the household going.

So when her devoutly Christian mother discovers Lexi’s secret sketchbook – brimming with lovingly rendered portraits of her gorgeous ex-friend Zoe Green – Lexi agrees to spend the summer before her senior year at a “pray the gay away” reparative therapy camp. Of course she does: she doesn’t want to lose her mother, too.

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, camp New Horizons is as beautiful as it is surreal. Led by founder Jeremiah Martin – himself a ‘recovering homosexual’ – the campers perform a variety of bizarre activities over the course of the nine week-long treatment: uncovering and healing their “Father Wounds” (spoiler alert: not always caused by one’s father). Engaging in ‘gender-appropriate activities’ (boys learn the rules of football and how to do minor home repairs, while girls take in the finer points of makeup application and hair coiffing). The dudes play baseball while the girls watch (insulting, yes, but a welcome break for those young ladies recovering from hangovers!). Going on dates with their opposite-sex, equally gay peers. Performing heteronormativity … and participating in the occasional exorcism.

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Book Review: Seeker of the Four Winds, C.D. Verhoff (2014)

Friday, May 16th, 2014

If you liked Promised Land

two out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaways program. Also, minor spoilers ahead as well as a trigger warning for discussions of rape.)

If anything, this book taught me an important lesson: Never request a sequel for review before reading the previous books in the series. Just don’t do it!

In my defense, I really expected to love Promised Land. I really didn’t. While Verhoff has some really interesting and exciting ideas – time travel to a future Earth that’s home to countless humanoid species chief among them – the story doesn’t quite live up to its potential. While future Earth does indeed make for an engaging setting, I had trouble relating to many of the characters. In particular, I was put off by Red the Second; he didn’t strike me as an especially charismatic or compelling leader, and I had trouble believing that all but the most evangelical Galatians would follow him across a strange new land, with only his cryptic proclamations about “God’s will” to guide them. Pacing problems and sloppy editing abounded, as did problematic language: protagonist Lars, who suffers from Erb’s Palsy, was continually called a “cripple,” and by a number of characters. Josie slut shamed older sister Feenie more than once, though this was thankfully cut short by Feenie’s death early in the book. The single sex scene – between Red and his wife – was as icky as it was unnecessary, and the magical rape scene involving Magus, Feenie, and Barret was just straight-up appalling.

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Book Review: Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler (1993)

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

200 Billion Stars

five out of five stars

Lauren Olamina isn’t like the other kids in her neighborhood, a walled-off city block in Robledo, just twenty miles outside of Los Angeles. Born to a drug-addicted mother, Lauren is afflicted with hyperempathy – the ability to share in the pain and pleasure of others, whether she wants to or not. This makes her an especially easy target for bullies – brother Keith used to make her bleed for fun when they were younger – so Lauren’s weakness is a carefully guarded secret, one shared only with her family. In this crumbling world, a near-future dystopia that’s all to easy to imagine, humans already devour their own: literally as well as figuratively. Lauren won’t make herself an easy meal.

As if her hyperempathy isn’t alienating enough, Lauren has another secret, one that she only shares with her diary. The daughter of a Baptist preacher, Lauren no longer believes in her father’s god. Instead, she’s cultivating her own system of belief – Earthseed:

All that you touch
You Change.

All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
Is Change.

God
Is Change.

Lauren gathers these verses into a book that she comes to think of as “The Books of the Living.” Her new religion? Earthseed. Its destination? The stars.

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Book Review: Promised Land, C.D. Verhoff (2013)

Monday, April 21st, 2014

So close!

three out of five stars

(Caution: minor spoilers ahead.)

Over fifty years ago, an alien race called the Celeruns made themselves known to the world’s governments. A colonizing species, their intentions were anything but peaceable; rather, Earth’s alien invaders unleashed a plague specially bioengineered to destroy humanity. While most people did indeed succumb to the plague, a small minority not only survived, but thrived: altered genes gave them special abilities called “charismas.” The ability to see the past through the eyes of those who have lived it; to float objects with one’s mind; to bring forth new plant life in the blink of an eye. A slowing of the aging process, resulting in near-immortality. Visions and prophecies. Basically every superpower you can imagine.

Tired of waiting for humanity to peter out slowly, the Celeruns sent in soldiers to finish off the stragglers. Following a principle popular among middle schoolers – “If I can’t have this planet, then no one can” – the survivors decided to trigger a nuclear Armageddon rather than allow Earth to fall into alien hands. Minus their leader Red the First – who perished on a suicide mission – the surviving members sought refuge in an underground military bunker in Ohio, patiently waiting for the day when the planet would regenerate and become habitable again.

Fast-forward forty years. The Galatians – as this community now calls itself – are forced topside, generations ahead of schedule, when a cave-in and resulting fire destroy their home. They emerge to find a wasteland; crowds of stunned refugees choke the bunker’s exits, choosing death by fire over the hellscape that was once America. Moved by his people’s anguish, Red the Second – who succeeded his mother as Mayor of Galatia – attempts to use his charisma to green the planet. At first blush, it appears to work: noxious yellow fumes are replaced by blue skies and lush plant life in a matter of seconds. Only later will the Galatians learn that Red actually thrust them forward in time – to the tune of a hundred thousand years, give or take a millennia.

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Book Review: Joss Whedon and Religion: Essays on an Angry Atheist’s Explorations of the Sacred, Anthony R. Mills, ed. (2013)

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

“Oh…my…Goddess!” (In which an “angry atheist” is pleasantly surprised by a religious journey through the Whedonverse.)

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

As a Joss Whedon fan and a fellow self-described “angry atheist,” I approached Joss Whedon and Religion: Essays on an Angry Atheist’s Explorations of the Sacred with some trepidation. Specifically, I was worried that the authors who contributed to this anthology – many of them theologians – might be dismissive of or downright hostile to Whedon’s beliefs. Happily, this isn’t the case. After all, many (if not all) of them are fellow Whedon fans, even if they don’t share in his atheism. While some authors are critical of certain aspects of Whedon’s work, I suspect that this primarily comes from a place of love: it’s those you respect most who have the greatest potential to let you down.

As with any anthology, Joss Whedon and Religion is a bit of a mixed bag, with all of the pieces trending toward “adequate” to “excellent.” Some authors are heavier on the academic jargon than others; overall, I found most of the contributions to be fairly readable. (Some of the heavier stuff is tempered by more enjoyable, in-depth discussions of, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Dollhouse. Warning: you will want to revisit your favorite shows by book’s end!) Occasionally, I had to take a breather to further research a specific topic, usually religious in nature; those who have a better background in religion (specifically Judeo-Christian) will no doubt have an easier time of it.

Due to the religious iconography prominently displayed on the cover (which is consistent with the Catholic imagery common to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel), I anticipated a largely Christian perspective. While I can’t comment on the authors’ personal religious convictions, I’m happy to report that they address a variety of religions and ethical systems, both mainstream and not: Wicca and witchcraft; ancient Greek and Roman gods and goddesses; the philosophies of Aristotle and Kant; even Ayn Rand gets a chapter (alongside Stan Lee, natch). A few essays don’t really seem to pay much mind to religion at all.

(In an especially amusing aside, Dean Kowalski gently pokes fun at K. Dale Koontz – who penned the forward – for reading too much religion into Whedon’s work, a criticism one could perhaps level at many of the contributors to this volume. See page 105.)

Of course, Christianity does receive the lion’s share of attention.

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Book Review: Suicide Girls, Vol. 1, Brea Grant et al. (2011)

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Worth every penny!*

three out of five stars

So I was clicking through Steve Niles’s Amazon page, trying to decide whether I should give his 30 Days of Night series a try, when I happened upon this gem. The summary sucked me in from the first (“Caught in a near-future defined by its rigid conformity and persecution of women, the SuicideGirls are the last hope for freedom. Can they take down the techno-religious cult, Way*of*Life, or will they die trying?”), and with used copies going for as little as one cent, I just couldn’t resist.

Now, I’m not really what you’d call a fan of the Suicide Girls franchise – get rid of the rainbow-colored hair and body mods, and SG adheres to the same stifling beauty standards as any mainstream, male gaze-catering brand of pornography – but outside of my vegan-feminist critiques of PETA’s partnership with SG, I don’t really pay the Suicide Girls much mind. Point is, I wasn’t expecting too much from this particular graphic novel. Three stars is several more than I expected to give Suicide Girls, Vol. 1.

The story is interesting, if not especially well fleshed out. In the near future, a fundamentalist Christian group called Way*of*Life (minor gripe – the asterisks in the group’s name proved distracting at best) has bribed its way into the United States government, criminalizing all that it deems “sinful” and imprisoning lawbreakers in its own private prisons/reform camps (“Rehabilitation in the Lord’s name!”). In addition to gays, atheists, and the like, Way*of*Life targets women – specifically, uppity women who don’t know their God-given place.

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Book Review: Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times, Rocky Wood et al. (2012)

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Season of the Witch

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: The publisher sent me a free copy of this book for review at my request.)

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” – Exodus 22:18

While the term “witch hunts” often conjures up images of the Salem Witch Trials, the truth is that those American colonists persecuted for witchcraft were but a drop in the bucket. From the mid-1300s through the 1700s, tens of thousands of people were imprisoned, tortured, and executed across Europe for the crime of heresy, including practicing witchcraft. In Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times, Rocky Wood, Lisa Morton, and Greg Chapman offer a succinct yet chilling account of the witch trials in graphic novel format.

Driven by fear, superstition, greed, and misogyny, religious and “secular” authorities alike found new and inventive ways to interrogate and kill these hapless victims, whose property was routinely confiscated and redistributed among the nobility, offering a powerful motive to accuse the innocent of consorting with the devil. In more extreme cases, this strategy backfired (or rather, progressed to its natural conclusion): entire towns were laid to waste as citizens were murdered en masse and others fled: “Finally, in 1593, the executions in Trier ended only when the city and its people were too impoverished to continue, the population had too much diminished, and food became scarce because farmers had been among those burned at the stakes.” (page 86)

Likewise, misogyny was a driving force as well; a majority of those tried and executed for witchcraft were women – including Joan of Arc, who was convicted of heresy for wearing men’s clothes. (After the first offense, she was imprisoned for life, as only repeat offenders could receive a death sentence. She resumed dressing as a man after an English Lord tried to rape her, in what was likely a trap devised by her enemies. Yet another piece of history I don’t remember hearing about in high school!) The authors recount the life’s work of one Henricus Institoris, also known as Kramer, the Dominican priest who co-authored the witch hunting bible Malleus Maleficarum, i.e., “The Hammer of Witches.” Kramer ordered that women accused of sorcery – overwhelmingly young and “buxom” – be stripped naked prior to their interrogations, which he frequently performed himself, alone behind closed doors. As the authors so charitably note, “The Inquisitor clearly had a passion for helpless, unclothed victims.” Had Karmer been born in different time and place, he might have become another Ted Bundy or Arthur Shawcross. Kramer proved so extreme that he was formally denounced by the Inquisition in 1490.

The illustrations by Greg Chapman are stark and often grotesque – appropriate for the subject matter, in other words. While Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times might prove useful in introducing high school readers to this shameful chapter in human history (one of many), I suspect that parents and teachers might object to the nudity. (The subjects of which are primarily attractive young women. It’s difficult at time to tell whether this accurately reflects history – see, e.g. the previous paragraph – or is just in keeping with current cultural norms. Some of the panels are oddly reminiscent of a 90s S&M scene.)

The authors also take care to note that, while the mass hysteria that swept Europe during the height of the witch trials may be long past, women and men are still being condemned to death for witchcraft to this day. Saudi Arabia, for example, still classifies witchcraft as a crime punishable by death; 74% of those charged are women.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: The Last Days of California: A Novel, Mary Miller (2014)

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Are we there yet?

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through a Goodreads giveaway.)

Fifteen-year-old Jess is trapped in a car, hurtling toward California – and eternity – with her dysfunctional family. Father John is a gambling addict who recently lost another in a long string of jobs; older sister Elise has just discovered that she’s pregnant; and mother Barbara is heavy into denial, too busy maintaining her family’s reputation to deal.

When some dude referred to only as Marshall predicts that the Second Coming is but weeks away, Dad decides to take the family on a road trip from Alabama to California, so that they can be among the last people Raptured up to heaven. Although this impulse mostly remains a mystery to his daughters, perhaps Jess is onto something when she thinks, “He always sounded so excited when he talked about the tribulations. He liked the idea of all the sinners getting what was coming to them.” Along the way, Dad hands out tracts and tries to save the souls of strangers from eternal damnation. But his efforts are half-hearted at best: as Jess observes, “He didn’t really want all 7 billion people on the planet to be saved. We wouldn’t be special then.”

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Book Review: Christian Nation: A Novel, Frederic C. Rich (2013)

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

I really wanted to like this book…

two out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program. )

I really wanted to like this book. I really did. I mean, it’s right up my alley: Speculative fiction. The rise of an American theocracy. The erosion of civil liberties and rights. The misuse of technology by the government to spy on its citizens and force them into submission. Misogyny taken to its logical extremes. When I first read the description on the book jacket, it brought to mind some of my favorite dystopian classics: Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is an obvious one, as is George Orwell’s 1984. While these books do share some similarities, what sets Christian Nation: A Novel apart is that it’s surprisingly boring.

Caution: Minor spoilers ahead!

What might have happened had John McCain and Sarah Palin won the 2008 election? In Frederic C. Rich’s vision of one possible America, a McCain/Palin victory is the first step on the path to an American theocracy. Not long after his inauguration, President McCain drops dead of a cerebral aneurism while giving a speech in Moscow. In a nightmare scenario, the ill-prepared Sarah Palin is swiftly sworn in. During her presidency – which lasts two terms, thanks to a series of especially brutal and conveniently-timed terrorist attacks on American soil – Palin begins to lay the groundwork for what will become the unraveling of American democracy. Among other things, Palin declares martial law, and with her leadership, Congress passes previously unthinkable pieces of legislation, including the Houses of Worship Act, the Constitution Restoration Act, and the Defense of Freedom Act – most of the provisions of which are upheld by a Supreme Court now dominated by conservatives.

Palin is succeeded by her mostly-invisible adviser, Steve Jordan, under whose leadership America undergoes a radical transformation. On July 4th, 2017, he introduces a series of fifty proposed rules organized around ten assertions. Based on an evangelical Christian reading of the Bible and collectively called The Blessing, these are to act as each citizen’s covenant with God, as well as the basis for more concrete state and federal laws. The Blessing is a sort of conservative Christian wishlist: among other things, it establishes “God’s law” as the law of the land; restricts judgeships to born again Christians; expels the UN from US soil and nullifies existing international treaties; solidifies marriage as between one man and one woman; outlaws abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, adultery, pornography, and “sexual perversion”; eradicates hate crimes legislation; establishes abstinence-only education as the only legal form of sexual education; and demands that wives must obey their husbands and children, their fathers. While Jordon doesn’t unilaterally enact The Blessing – it comes up for a vote in Congress, much like any other piece of legislation – it easily passes in a House and Senate dominated by conservative Christians (many of whom were swept into power with the help of politically active churches, thanks to Palin’s Houses of Worship Act).

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Book Review: Teaching with Harry Potter: Essays on Classroom Wizardry from Elementary School to College, Valerie Estelle Frankel, ed. (2013)

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Something for Everyone!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review at the editor’s invitation.)

Since the debut of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone in 1997, the Harry Potter franchise has generated a wealth of scholarly research. “Aca-fans” – “those who participate in academic fandom” (page 1) – scrutinize, interrogate, and critique Harry Potter creations both official and unauthorized: from J.K. Rowling’s novels to the film adaptations and supporting websites, to fan-made works such as fan and slash fiction – all is fair game. Such discussions often focus on themes as diverse as literature, philosophy, psychology, history, gender studies, and the law. However, Harry Potter’s place in education is a topic that has, until now, been all but neglected – as some of the writers (most notably Elisabeth C. Gumnior, who devotes an entire chapter to the subject) in Teaching with Harry Potter: Essays on Classroom Wizardry from Elementary School to College are quick to point out.

The eighteen authors who contributed to this unique collection come from a variety of backgrounds; they are parents, teachers of middle and high school students, college professors, academics, and fans. Consequently, there’s a little something for everyone here. Common to the essays is a shared enthusiasm for Harry Potter and his ability to help educate the next generation. Composition, literature, creative writing, romance languages, medieval studies, modern history, theology, science: with a little creativity and effort, the lessons found in Harry Potter – especially useful as a “global cultural reference” (page 152) – can be integrated into almost any classroom.

1 – “From Hogwarts Academy to the Hero’s Journey,” Lana A. Whited – The author compares and contrasts her experiences teaching Harry Potter to two very different audiences: 10- to 13-year-old children enrolled in Hogwarts Academy, a week-long summer enrichment class, and college sophomore literature students. An enjoyable start to this anthology, I found myself wishing I was young enough to attend Hogwarts myself, what with its Care of Magical Creatures and Defense of the Dark Arts lessons. The course sometimes even hosts a Snape impersonator in the form of Dr. Powell, a chemistry professor who brews up marshmallows and ice cream! Meanwhile, the older students examine Harry’s growth in the context of Otto Rank’s stages of the hero’s saga and Joseph Campbell’s monomyth of the hero’s journey. The author concludes that there are two ways of “knowing” literature – by the head and by the heart – and you can sometimes achieve the former by beginning with the latter.

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Book Review: Witch Child, Celia Rees (2000)

Monday, February 4th, 2013

“Words have power. These are mine.”

four out of five stars

Mary Nuttall was just sixteen years old when her grandmother Eliza – the only family she’d ever known – was murdered. Accused of practicing witchcraft, the old woman was tortured, stripped naked, bound, and “floated” – tossed into a river to sink or swim. Her buoyancy taken as a sure sign of guilt, Eliza was pulled from the water only so that she could be hanged in public. Once trusted to heal their loved ones, Eliza’s friends and neighbors in this rural English town proved eager witnesses to her execution.

Rescued from similar persecution by her long-lost mother, Mary is sent away to the “New World” in search of a better life. She’s to travel with a group of Puritans bound for Salem, where they’ll join their brethren and pastor. Upon arrival, the group is dismayed to discover that their kin have moved on, to the isolated town of Beulah. After much deliberation they decide to follow, forging ahead into the wilderness with two Natives – of the Pennacook tribe – acting as their guides.

Unsurprisingly, Beulah couldn’t be further from the safe haven Mary’s mother envisioned for her child. Ruled by a Puritan preacher so strict and demanding that he proved unwelcome in Salem, Mary is in constant danger, just by virtue of being a newcomer to the community. Though she tries hard to stay under the radar, her “transgressions,” real and imagined – which include befriending members of the opposite sex; spending time alone in the forest to gather food and herbs; harboring anything more than uncharitable thoughts about the “heathen” natives; and proficiency in transcription – don’t escape the notice of Reverend Johnson. When items suggestive of witchcraft are discovered in the forest and several of the town’s teenage girls start exhibiting strange behavior, Mary’s worst fears are realized.

All of this we learn from Mary’s journal, which spans roughly a year from 1659-1660. Urged to burn it by her protector/surrogate mother Martha – its opening sentences (“I am Mary. I am a witch.”) alone being sure proof of guilt – Mary instead hides its pages inside a quilt. Discovered more than three hundred years later by one “Alison Ellman” (one of Mary’s descendents, perhaps), Mary’s journal stands testament to the horrors she and her kind endured.

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Book Review: Bumped, Megan McCafferty (2011)

Friday, February 1st, 2013

The SyFy Channel Does “Teen Mom”

four out of five stars

The year is 2036 and a viral epidemic is threatening the world’s population. Those infected with the HSPV – Human Progressive Sterility Virus – enjoy just a few precious years of fertility; starting around the age of 18, one’s ability to procreate dwindles and then fails altogether. What was once taboo – babies having babies – is now necessary to human survival.

Consequently, teen pregnancy isn’t just commonplace, but encouraged – patriotic, even: in America, chain stores like Babiez R U market faux baby bumps to young girls, complete with matching stretchy tees that sport catchy, pro-repro slogans like “Do the Deed, Born to Breed”; the local high school openly hosts a “Pro/Am” club (professional “preggers” – i.e., hired surrogates – and amateurs, or those girls who partner with whom they choose and then auction off their offspring to the highest bidder – coming together to make “pregging” sexy!); and especially “desirable” teens are represented by cutthroat agents called ReproReps, who strive to earn them top dollar for their “deliveries” (never “babies”). And, oh yeah, condoms are illegal (presumably along with other forms of birth control).

Whereas sex for reproduction (“bumping”) is practically mandatory, recreational sex is frowned upon for the high school set. Whether through carefully negotiated contracts or masSex parties, many young women strive to deliver at least one or two (or ten, in Zora Harding’s case) babies before their “fertilicious” years pass them by.

Against this backdrop, protagonists Melody and Harmony are two young women whose divergent experiences with female objectification demonstrate the many ways misogyny can manifest itself. Adopted into separate homes shortly after birth, the twin sisters were raised in two very different cultures. Mel’s parents Ash and Ty are former economists who predicted the rise of the surrogate market and groomed their daughter to supply this demand from childhood. Meanwhile, Harmony became a ward of “The Church,” a fundamentalist Christian community that isolates itself from the outside world (“Otherside”) in a suburban gated community filled with abandoned McMansions (“Goodside”).

It’s not until their sixteenth year that the two meet – Harmony, having just entered into an arranged marriage with fellow “unteachable soul” Ram; and Melody, on the cusp of “bumping” with famous “cock jockey” Jondoe, thus fulfilling her contract with the Jaydens – and, through a case of mistaken identity/fraud, both girls’ lives are changed forever. (I won’t reveal any plot details beyond this, since there are a number of twists – some of them expected, others less so – and I don’t want to spoil it for would-be readers.)

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V is for Vote! (Missouri residents, please vote NO on Amendment 2 this Tuesday!)

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

Fellow Missourians! The state primaries are coming up this Tuesday, August 7th. If you’re not already registered to vote, it’s obviously too late for this round – but if you can, please register to vote in the general elections on November 6th. The last day to register is October 10, 2012, according to the MO Secretary of State’s 2012 election calendar. You can find registration instructions here.

In this, the latter half of 2012, you’d think that sample ballots would be readily available and easy to find on the SOS’s website as well. Along with election dates, registration documents, and the like, there should be a link to each district’s ballots right there on the main page, making it easy peasy for voters to research their choices beforehand. Or, hell, know what their choices even are.

Or not. At least not here in the “Show Me” state. Upon visiting the “Elections” section of SOS’s website, voters can find all sorts of info under the “for voters” menu – voter ID info, absentee voting requirements, how to check your voter registration, even language for past and present initiative petitions and ballot questions. But no sample ballots.

Under the FAQ, there is an entry regarding sample ballots: “Where can I see a sample ballot?”

The answer:

You may be able to view your sample ballot at our Voter Information Lookup.

Sample ballots can also be viewed at the polling place or at the office of your local election authority. Sample ballots are also required to be printed twice prior to each election in newspapers of general circulation. Some election jurisdictions may also mail sample ballots to all registered voters in that jurisdiction.

I dutifully checked my registration as directed, and…nothing. Nada. No link or further instructions or even so much as a note that a sample ballot for my district is not available through the Vote Missouri website – but hey, here’s where you can find it.

It took me a half hour of digging before I was finally able to find a sample ballot for my district – and even then, it wasn’t published on a government website, but in the archives of our local, rinky-dink county newspaper. Had The Clinton County Leader not archived old issues online, I would have been forced to trek on over to the county courthouse to pick up a paper ballot. Which isn’t really a big deal, since it’s just down the street, and I have a car to drive there – and failing that, a healthy, able body to get me there. But not everyone does. Some potential voters may be confined to their homes, either temporarily or long-term, while others may be lacking in transportation. Still others may have internet access, minus the knowledge to research and locate a ballot on a third-party website. Or operate Adobe Reader.

My point is, there’s no good reason why sample ballots for every district shouldn’t be available in multiple places – in the newspaper, in government buildings, via sail mail for those who request it, and yes, in one central place online, preferably listed alongside other election materials. The internet: it’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s effective. It’s also 2012. Get with the program, Robin Carnahan.

Anyway, here’s the sample ballot for Clinton County, Missouri (click through to embiggen), followed by a plain-text version. In years past I’ve published my picks as well, but seeing as I still haven’t made up my mind (so many candidates, so little information!) I did things a little differently this time around.

Missouri state primaries - 8/7/12 - sample ballot

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Book Review: The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Ellen Datlow, ed. (2008)

Monday, May 14th, 2012

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You had me at “Maureen F. McHugh”!

five out of five stars

I first picked up this book because it contains a piece by one of my favorite writers, Maureen F. McHugh – “Special Economics” which, as it just so happens, I’d already read (it appears in 2011’s After the Apocalypse: Stories) – but ultimately enjoyed all but one of the sixteen essays in this diverse collection. With elements of horror, fantasy, post-apocalyptic fiction, alternate history, and the supernatural, The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy – masterfully curated by Ellen Datlow – has a little bit of something for everyone. Especially if you prefer your speculative fiction on the dark side.

In addition to Maureen McHugh’s “Special Economics,” an arguably feminist tale which takes place in a future China devastated by the bird flu, my favorites include:

* “Jimmy” (Pat Cadigan), whose eponymous (anti?-) hero is a young boy coming of age in the 1960s (the bulk of story takes place the day JFK was assassinated). Granted “enlightenment” by an alien species, Jimmy is shunned by those who can sense his difference – and want nothing to do with it. Ignorance is bliss, or so the saying goes.

* “The Passion of Azazel” (Barry N. Malzberg), a revenge story told from the point of view of a goat, sacrificed to the gods one long-ago Day of Atonement and then reincarnated as a (human) rabbinical student who fashions a golem who is quite possibly his long-dead brother goat.

* “The Goosle” (Margo Lanagan), a fittingly bleak retelling of/sequel to “Hansel and Gretal,” in which lone survivor Hansel escapes from the witch’s cage only to find a world more brutal than the one he left behind. (Strong trigger warning for rape.)

Some of the stories – most notably “The Passion of Azazel” – can be interpreted from an anti-oppressive vegan perspective, which I especially appreciate.

For what it’s worth, I just discovered Ellen Datlow’s adult fairy tale anthology series. Wishlist ALL the books!

 

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An excerpt from “The Passion of Azazel.”
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(Crossposted on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads.)

the war on christmas: 2010 edition

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

The Daily Show: Monday December 6, 2010
The Gretch Who Saved the War on Christmas
The holiday season wouldn’t feel the same without people going out of their way to be offended by nothing.
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Book Review: Between the Fences: Before Guantanamo, there was the Port Isabel Service Processing Center, Tony Hefner (2010)

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

An engaging, if frustrating, story of government corruption & abuse

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

In BETWEEN THE FENCES, Tony Hefner tells a harrowing tale of corruption and human rights abuses, committed by both the United States government as well as contractors tasked with fulfilling governmental responsibilities (in this case, caring for detained, undocumented immigrants). Employed as a prison guard at the Port Isabel Service Processing Center – an immigrant detention center in the South Texas’s Rio Grande Valley – from 1983 to 1986 and again from 1988 to 1990, Hefner either witnessed personally or was privy to first-hand accounts of various crimes that took place at Port Isabel, including the sexual, physical and emotional abuse of detainees, both male and female (and sometimes, children); the sexual harassment, assault and rape of female guards; the physical and emotional abuse of male employees; drug trafficking; blackmail; nepotism and racism in hiring and firing decisions; and countless other illegal and immoral activities, including repeated cover-ups of these incidents, and the protection of those involved.

Hefner’s account of these human rights abuses is both engaging and enraging, but his constant digression into his own life history detracts from the story. For example, as a child Hefner himself endured physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his stepfather, who thought him worthless because of his Mexican parentage. Although I sympathize with his plight – no child should be bullied, hit, or made to feel worthless, and certainly not by adults – Hefner repeatedly points to this abuse as one reason (“excuse,” you might say) for his relative inaction on behalf of abused inmates. While Hefner’s power to intervene directly was no doubt limited, he also didn’t do much behind the scenes; for example, he might have clandestinely collected hard evidence in order to build a case against his superiors, and/or anonymously leaked this information to the media, thus remaining an inside whistleblower at Port Isabel – but he didn’t. While Hefner did record those abuses that took place out in the open (in a notebook, after the fact – not exactly irrefutable proof), he also didn’t go out of his way to uncover the hidden, more egregious cruelties that were kept from him and others. Too often, he seemed content to go about his own work, nose down, ears closed – see no evil, hear no evil.

Many guards and employees tolerated the abuse of both prisoners and, not uncommonly, their own persons because of financial hardship. In the 1980s, at least, Port Isabel was one of the largest employers in an economically strapped area. Far removed from the situation, it’s easy to sit in judgment of guards who refused to speak up in the interest of self-preservation. But this unfair at best; no one can really know how he or she would react in a similar situation without actually living it. Here, though, Hefner makes frustrating excuses as well; if he had simply chalked his lack of action up to poverty, I might be able to understand. But he claims to have stayed on at Port Isabel in order to keep his ministry, the Bearing Precious Seed Ranch, viable. In other words, he was content to proselytize to vulnerable children on the one hand, while utterly and spectacularly failing to live the actual tenets of his religious teachings on the other. “Do as I say, not as I do.” In the name of “caring for” some people’s children, he ignored the abuse of other people’s children (some of them, it’s worth noting, actual children – minor boys raped by fellow inmates while indifferent guards looked on, or underage girls forced to dance naked for the possibility of clemency).

The many, many pages Hefner devoted to writing his own autobiography would have been better spent, I think, placing the abuse at Port Isabel in context. According to the book’s promotional materials, 400,000 immigrants are detained by the U.S. government every year; these individuals are held in a number of jails across the country. How do the conditions at Port Isabel compare to those at other centers? What steps, if any, are the INS and the U.S. government taking to ensure that the individuals detained in these facilities – and the guards employed therein – are treated humanely and respectfully? How does the government justify its lack of action on the complaints lodged against Port Isabel officials? What steps do Hefner and his allies plan to take next? And how does our broken immigration policy, too often marred by racism, sexism and xenophobia, contribute to these horrific conditions?

(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

more randomness: food, needs, food needs, dairy/rape, dennis kucinich & dogs

Sunday, August 15th, 2010
  • After a nearly six month hiatus, I have a new post up at Animal Rights & AntiOppression! In an interview with humane educator Zoe Weil, we look at the connections between our treatment of nonhuman animals, the earth, and one another, and explore humane education as the bridge between seemingly disparate social justice movements – and the solution to our many (many!) human-made ills.

    Check it: “The World Becomes What You Teach”: An Interview With Humane Educator Zoe Weil

  • Based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (psych101 students, represent!), Ellyn Satter developed a corresponding hierarchy of food needs, arguing that one cannot “choose” to consume healthy products unless one’s more basic needs – such as having enough food to eat, having acceptable food, and having reliable, ongoing access to food – are already met.

    Satter's Hierarchy of Food Needs

    Satter’s Hierarchy of Food Needs:
    Bottom to top, the six needs are as follows: Enough food; Acceptable food; Reliable, ongoing access to food; Good-tasting food; Novel food; and Instrumental food.

    The choice to consume vegan food (vs. the necessity of consuming vegan food) seems to rest at the apex of Satter’s hierarchy, and as such, can only be made “when all underlying needs are consistently satisfied”: “The person functioning at the apex of Satter’s Hierarchy of Food Needs reliably gets enough to eat of rewarding food and has food acceptance skills that are good enough to allow him or her to eat a variety of food. That person is thus in a position to consider choosing food for instrumental reasons: to achieve a desired physical, cognitive, or spiritual outcome. This description is analogous to Maslow’s concept of self actualization.”
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    While this hierarchy is primarily being discussed in relation to our consumption (or lack thereof) of nutritious, healthy food, i.e.:

    The graphic suggests that getting enough food to eat is the most important thing to people. Having food be acceptable (e.g., not rotten, something you are not allergic to) comes second. Once those two things are in place, people hope for reliable access to food and only then do they begin to worry about taste. If people have enough, acceptable, reliable, good-tasting food, then they seek out novel food experiences and begin to make choices as to what to eat for instrumental purposes (e.g., number of calories, nutritional balance).

    As Michelle at The Fat Nutritionist writes, sometimes when a person chooses to eat nutritionally deficient or fattening foods, it is not because they are “stupid, ignorant, lazy, or just a bad, bad person who loves bad, bad food.” Sometimes, it’s “because other needs come first.” (Source: Sociological Images)

    it’s equally applicable to veganism and vegan foods: obstacles such as hunger, poverty, food insecurity, lack of access to food, etc., severely constrict people’s ability to choose a vegan diet, on multiple levels (e.g., individual, community, population). As long as we’re serious about creating a vegan world, we must address these human inequities as well. (That, and it’s the right thing to do.)

    Check out the Food Empowerment Project for more.

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    Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 7: Meat, Love & Objectification

    Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

    Update, 9/2/09: Carol Adams is soliciting videos for the upcoming 20th anniversary of The Sexual Politics of Meat; check out her Twitter account for more info and examples.

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    A1 Steak Sauce - Prestige

    The Discerning Brute: EAT LIKE A MAN.

    The Discerning Brute weighs in on the conflation of “meat” consumption with masculinity:

    How do rabbits eat? They carefully chew Vegetation. Strangely, no man scoffs at being compared to a rabbit when it comes to sex. “Doing it like rabbits” flatters a man’s virility, yet eating a diet that supports that same rabbit’s virility is lampooned. Instead, we consume entire animals with superstitious hopes of appropriating their strengths. The cover of September 2009’s Esquire Magazine proclaims “Eat Like A Man” and leads to a sixteen-page cover-story entitled “How Men Eat”. It is a total meat-fest. A cheesy, eggy, frat party wrapped in bacon and bathed in blood.

    The offending article doesn’t seem to be available on Esquire’s website, though you can read about famous chefs’ favorite fast food joints, with much love for In & Out Burger. Gag.

    Er, on second thought, no gag; that’s probably the womanly reaction the meat-eating manly men at Esquire are hoping for.

    Carol J. Adams: The Sexual Politics of Meat Slide Show

    Carol Adams has revamped her website since last I visited. The new setup includes a blog, interviews and – best of all – a Sexual Politics of Meat slideshow.

    Apparently a 20th anniversary edition of The Sexual Politics of Meat is due out this fall; since I have the 1999 edition, I’m contemplating whether I should upgrade. It’s been awhile since I’ve read them, but I preferred The Pornography of Meat, Adams’s follow-up to The Sexual Politics of Meat – it’s more visual, less theoretical/academic. Then again, I read each in my college/vegetarian days, so wtf did I know? Perhaps an ’09 edition, with some new material, will provide an excuse to revisit Sexual Politics in my adulthood.

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