Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review - The Moon Men by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Short review: The Kalkars are invaders from the Moon who rule Earth, and the Julian's resist them to free humanity.

Subjugated Earth
Defended by the Julians
And finally freed

Full review: The Moon Men is a sequel of sorts to The Moon Maid, which I haven't read. Not reading The Moon Maid doesn't really detract from this book, because the two are pretty loosely linked, plus this book provides a decent summary of the events of the prior book. Basically, an expedition from Earth set out for Mars, but was forced to divert to the Moon as a result of sabotage. Once there, the explorers found the lunar inhabitants, and eventually, a human allied with them and led an invasion of the unarmed Earth (pacifism had apparently become dominant on Earth). Julian 6th, the hero of The Moon Maid, managed to defeat the mastermind of the invasion fleet, but was killed in the process.

The Moon Men is actually two linked novellas, both describing humanity's attempts to free themselves from the yoke of the Kalkars, the moon men from the title. In the first part, titled The Moon Men, humanity finds itself at its lowest ebb. The Kalkars are brutish and stupid, but they have all the weapons, including ancient firearms. They tax humanity into poverty, and prevent anyone from learning how to read or write. Because the Kalkars are too dimwitted to maintain a technological civilization themselves, and they prevent humans from effectively doing so, the Earth is slowly descending into barbarism.

Julian 9th, the descendant of Julian 6th, and apparently his reincarnation, lives under the yoke of the Kalkars in what was once Chicago one hundred years after the Kalkar invasion. The story details the indignities heaped upon the humans, including the outlawry of religion of any kind as well as crushing and unfair taxes. Eventually, Julian 9th comes into conflict with Ortis, the local Kalkar boss, and has to flee with his mother and wife after his father is taken prisoner and sentenced to a labor camp. Julian 9th breaks his father out of prison (along with the other prisoners) and leads a rebellion. The rebellion fails, Julian 9th is captured and killed, but not before he learns that his wife is pregnant. The first story ends with Julian 9th's death. This is somewhat unusual for a Burroughs story, as the hero accomplishes almost nothing concrete and gets killed for his pains. He sparks a revolutionary fervor, but little comes of it in this story. On the whole, this is a dark and depressing story.

The second part of the book, titled The Red Hawk, follows Julian 20th, also known as the Red Hawk as he leads the crusade against the Kalkars 400 years after the events of the first half of the book. Humanity has for the most part become nomadic tribesmen, and Julian 20th's tribe worships with religious feeling the remnants of a U.S. flag that has been passed down for generations. The Kalkars have lost their technological edge, and have been driven into enclaves along the coast. This is much more of a typical Burroughs story - the good guys are more competent than their enemies, the hero is cast through a series of adventures, finds and falls in love with a princess, has to rescue the princess, wins the battles, and wins the girl. The story is fairly well done, and completes the story of the Kalkar invasion pretty well. There is also an interesting conversation between the superstitious Red Hawk and his younger brother Rain Cloud about the nature of things - with Rain Cloud adopting a scientific view of the world to challenge the accepted supernaturally driven versions of events.

While not one of Burroughs' better works, The Moon Men is interesting and enjoyable, and provides a glimpse into what a non-swashbuckling tale by him might have looked like. If Burroughs had lived in a later era, it seems like he might have given us more reflective science fiction rather than his usual pulp adventure. I'm not sure I would have liked that better, but it is different, and makes this book more interesting.

Edgar Rice Burroughs     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Review - Food for the Gods by Karen Dudley

Short review: After Pelops is resurrected from the stew his father cooked him in, he moves to Athens to become a celebrity chef and discovers that having the Gods think they owe you is something of a mixed blessing.

Brought back from a soup
Then off to Athens to cook
And solve a murder

Disclosure: I received this book as a review copy. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: When one thinks of mythic Greece, the first thing that comes to mind is not the travails of a once-cooked, previously dead, celebrity chef who must solve a murder mystery to save his business. One also doesn't think of melding tales involving the Greek gods and heroes with the somewhat crass commercial reality of Athenian history, ranging from the social climbing infighting between politicians and business men right down to dildos made from bread. But in Food for the Gods Karen Dudley manages to take this somewhat off-kilter set of premises and turn out not only a very entertaining story, but one that is also both hilariously funny and tragically sad at the same time.

The foundation of the story is the myth of Tantalus and Pelops. In the mythic story, Tantalus invited the gods to dinner and discovered that he didn't have enough food on hand to serve everyone, so he chopped up Pelops and placed him in the stew pot before serving him up to his guests. This didn't go over very well with the Olympians, and they banished Tantalus to Tartarus for eternal punishment and arranged to have Pelops resurrected, although he needed a replacement shoulder made from ivory as Demeter had absent-mindedly eaten some of the Pelops-stew. The mythic version of Pelops goes on to have other, somewhat unfortunate adventures, but in Dudley's hands, he takes what appears to be a side trek through Athens, where he becomes a celebrity chef, cooking for the dinner parties of the wealthy and powerful.

Although the myth of Tantalus and Pelops took place in a mythic period of Greece that can more or less best be described as "a long time before recorded Greek history", Dudley takes the story, and apparently all of the rest of Greek mythology, and inserts it into our real world history, contrasting the myths of the Greek gods and heroes with the reality of Athenian commercial culture. An off-hand remark about Pericles and the ongoing war with Sparta places the events of the book some time between 429 and 404 B.C., although I kind of suspect that the book (and any possible sequels) is set in "Xena-time", a meld of myth and history that grabs elements from wherever source needed to make a good story. But it is exactly this mixture of mythology, with its capricious and often childish gods, and pieces drawn from Athenian history, with its mixture of public piety, crass commercialism, and social and political status seeking, that makes Food for the Gods such an interesting novel.

The story starts with Pelops dealing with the consequences of having enthusiastic gods provide well-meaning but somewhat less than helpful assistance, driving the guests at a dinner party he is catering somewhat mad so that during their revelry they throw everything in the host's house out of the second floor window. Including Pelop's rented dishes. This is the high point of the book for Pelops, as the gods continue to meddle in his life and even though most of the time their meddling is either intended to be beneficent, or they are merely indifferent to Pelops' situation. And when the gods meddle in one's life, however well-intentioned they are, that always spells trouble. And Pelops winds up with plenty of trouble, most of which resolves in humorous ways.

The events of the novel take place during the Panathenaea, which is the high point of the Athenian social calendar, and the event during which Pelops hopes to cement his reputation as the top celebrity chef in the city. But he is beset by an angry crockery dealer, an arrogant and underhanded rival chef, a god who seems determined to get rid of all of his precious olive oil, and, most ominously, a mysterious client with rather specific and difficult demands and who seems to have the influence to get prominent Athenians to cancel their bookings with Pelops. As if that were not enough, Pelops lands right in the middle of a murder mystery that taints him by association and causes his embryonic catering business to crash to the ground, albeit with a little help from an insufferable rival spreading malicious rumors. More out of desperation than anything else, Pelops becomes an amateur sleuth, attempting to ferret out the guilty party in an effort to clear his own reputation and stop the nightly attacks of the Kindly Ones upon the populace of the city.

But Pelops' slightly humorous misfortunes, and the unfolding murder mystery are only part of what makes this book so good. The city of Athens of the 5th century B.C. serves not only as a backdrop for the story, but is almost a character itself. By highlighting the rapacious commercialism coupled with the inherently unjust nature of the city's laws and customs, Dudley gives her story an alien atmosphere that even overshadows the oddness of having gods, satyrs, and winged furies throughout the narrative. This element also allows Dudley to flex her classical knowledge and give the reader a view into the very different world of classical Athenian civilization, which, even though it was technically a democracy, it was one that not only tolerated but celebrated the practice of hiring prostitutes as entertainers at high-class dinner parties, the institutionalized discrimination against foreigners, and widespread slavery. By combining the tawdry reality of Athens, where purging the taint of a murder within one's house would be done by first feeding and then beating a homeless bystander until they fled the city limits, with the mythical version of Greek religion, in which a collection of winged demons would show up and randomly wreck havoc upon the populace of the city in retaliation for a murder while the gods stood by and neither knew nor cared to know who the actual guilty party was, Dudley manages to paint a picture of how very different the world was much more vividly than she could have if she had drawn upon only one or the other.

These multiple layers are what make Food for the Gods work so well as a novel. The character of the novel is best illustrated by the humorous advertisements that appear in between each chapter, promoting serious issues as how to correctly perform ritual purification and where to purchase devotional statues to glorify the gods, as well as more mundane concerns such as ribbonfish recipes and the availability of bread dildoes. But even when these poster or handbill style advertisements deal with the most serious of concerns, they are made humorous to our eyes by the juxtaposition of even the most sacred subjects with an aggressive form of marketing that seems alien to modern sensibilities. But this combination serves two purposes, allowing Dudley to keep her book feeling light and humorous even though it is about the business misfortunes of the protagonist and the murder of a young woman, while also bringing the historical reality of the era to the forefront of the story.

Food for the Gods is, quite simply, an excellent book in every possible way. Combining an interesting setting with an affable lead character who manages to be both favored by the gods and downtrodden at the same time while struggling to keep his catering business above water (literally having to defy Poseidon to do so) all centered on an intriguing murder mystery drawn partially from Greek mythology. If this seems like an eclectic stew of ingredients, rest assured that it is. But it is a stew that tastes delicious, just like Pelops' fig and cheese appetizers. Or, without using awkward metaphors, it is a delightful book that I predict would be enjoyed by almost anyone who picked it up.

Karen Dudley     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, October 28, 2013

Musical Monday - Wonder (Wonder Woman Song) by The Doubleclicks

So, despite a number of aborted attempts, there is still no Wonder Woman movie. If we confine ourselves to DC properties, we have had six feature length Superman movies and seven Batman movies have hit the big screen. We have even had a Green Lantern movie, awful though it was. But having a single movie revolving around the most iconic female superhero in the DC lineup is somehow too difficult to accomplish. DC can give the go ahead to make a horribly putrid Catwoman movie, who isn't even a superhero, and yet remains the only female lead featured in a DC inspired move. But no Wonder Woman.

All the usual excuses have been made. It is too hard to write a strong woman. Wonder Woman is too tricky of a character to get right for the big screen. There are no classic and beloved Wonder Woman stories to use as a template for the movie. Wonder Woman has no iconic villains to provide the opposition. And so on and so forth. And all of these excuses are quite simply bovine excrement. None of them hold up to even the slightest amount of examination. There is, to be blunt, no good reason why a Wonder Woman movie has not been made.

Diana of Themyscira is an Amazon from a world in which the Greek gods and monsters are real. Granted there are a couple of different iterations of the superheroine, from the current version who is just slightly less imposing than Superman, all the way to the completely non-superpowered secret agent from the 1960s, but that shouldn't really be an impediment. Almost no one other than serious comic book aficionados remembers the unpowered version of Diana, and most of them didn't really like that version anyway. More to the point, the serious comic book aficionados make up a tiny fraction of your audience, so it doesn't really matter how many different ways Wonder Woman has been portrayed in the books. Most people who go to the movie will accept whatever version of Wonder Woman is presented on the screen. The likelihood is that the people you are marketing your movie to are probably mostly the people who grew up watching the various DC animated universe television shows and movies, which means that the version presented there is probably the version that will resonate with potential viewers the best.

As far as a villain goes, Wonder Woman is almost ready made for an epic movie length story. The problem with many superheroes is even if they themselves are, their villains aren't really hefty enough to move from the pages of the comic books to the big screen, which is possibly why so many superhero movies feature multiple villains. Comic book villains are, essentially, disposable. They are intended to show up, cause trouble for a storyline that lasts for a run of issues, and then be defeated. They may return later in another storyline, but you can't usually do multiple plots involving the same villain in one movie, so instead, you have two villains. But since Diana's background is essentially all of Greek mythology, you have your pick of Earth shattering villains to choose from without even going into the villains created specifically for the comic books. You could build a movie around an epic clash involving the Olympian gods in modern society - in fact, one could almost take the 2009 animated Wonder Woman movie and simply translate it to live action and end up with a great movie. You wouldn't even have to change the cast very much. Even if you went in a different direction, the fact remains that Diana is an Amazon princess with near godlike powers. There has to be a way to make a movie in which she saves the world from a dire threat.

As far as Wonder Woman being a tricky character to get right for film, with excuses for this being so ranging from women are simply hard to write because they are women, down to the issue merely being that this character is too difficult to "get right", the obvious solution is simply to stop thinking of Wonder Woman as a "woman" or really as Wonder Woman at all. She is a superhero with a fairly standard array of super powers: Super strength, invulnerability to many hazards that would kill a normal human, the ability to stop bullets, the ability to fly, a magic sword, a magic lasso, and so on. Imagine what a Greek Jedi might be like if transported to our world. Or what Superman might be like if he were tinged with Greek mythology. Write a story in which one of those characters featured, and then just replace all references to "Greek Jedi" or "Greek Superman" with "Wonder Woman", and you have your movie. If that won't work, go back and try again, because you wrote a bad movie, and it wasn't because it was a Wonder Woman movie. It was because you wrote a bad script.

This difficulty highlights a truth that is somewhat ugly: When a female or minority character shows up in a superhero movie (or, in many cases, in any movie), all too often their primary, and frequently only, character feature will be "woman", or "black", or "Hispanic". White male leads can be complex characters - brooding, intense, vulnerable, cheerful, and so on. A female character can be a woman. A black character is "the black guy". Look at the Avengers movie - while Marvel has done a much better job than DC at including women in their movies, they have still made a pretty weak effort of it. Steve Rogers is the straight arrow and a man out of time. Tony Stark is the wise-cracking playboy millionaire with self-doubt. Bruce Banner is the tortured soul filled with self-loathing. Thor is the mythic hero. Clint Barton is the turncoat. Natalia Romanova gets to be the one woman who breaks up the sausage fest, and she gets to be the girl who uses her breasts to get what she wants out of men. Every other character has a well-developed personality that has nothing to do with their penis, but Natalia gets pegged as the femme fatale. And femme fatale is really just another way of saying "girl".

And because of this I worry about the inclusion of the character of Saul Wilson as Falcon in the upcoming movie Captain America: Winter Soldier. Falcon was originally created in 1969 to essentially check off the "African-American superhero" box for Marvel (the previously introduced Black Panther was African), and the character's primary personality trait for many years was simply that he was Captain America's black ally who showed up every now and then to remind readers that black people existed. Though he was never an over the top stereotype like Luke Cage often was, he served as little more than box that was checked off for a long time, and I wonder if he will have more character development in the new movie than simply being "the black guy who is a superpowered agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.".

The contrast one might make is with Nick Fury, as portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, who is a much more fleshed out character than merely "the black guy running S.H.I.E.L.D." But that is probably attributable to the fact that when the Nick Fury character was created, he wasn't black, and so the writers actually gave him a full personality that wasn't tied to his race or gender. When Jackson was cast as Nick Fury, nothing changed about the character except the color of Fury's skin, and as a result, Fury is the best written black character in superhero films. Because he was written as a person with a full battery of character traits, complete with both heroic attributes and not so heroic flaws, and not as a black person whose primary trait is that he is the black guy. Now, I'm not saying that scriptwriters should start writing white characters and then flipping their race or gender to get fully realized minority or female characters. I'm saying that the fact that this has been done and resulted in such an obviously interesting character highlights the truly awful writing that has been done when it comes to other female and minority characters in film.

Basically, what I'm saying is that I suspect that we don't have a Wonder Woman movie because both DC comics and Hollywood are endemically sexist in a particularly pernicious way. Female superheroes only show up in movies that feature teams, like Black Widow in The Avengers, or Storm and Jean Grey in the X-Men franchise, or in really crappy spin-offs like Catwoman or Elektra. And yet their situation is better than that of minorities, who thus far have had even less representation in superhero movies, appearing in the aforementioned Catwoman and X-Men movies, and pretty much nothing else unless one wants to consider Nick Fury to be a superhero. And it doesn't have to be this way. There are dozens of female and minority superheros, and the DC animated universe has shown that they can be interesting and compelling characters. We could have a fantastic Wonder Woman movie. We could have a fantastic Green Lantern movie featuring John Stewart. We could and should have a dozen well-developed, fully fleshed out super-heroines on the big screen, and at least as many black, Hispanic, and Asian superpeople. The only reason we don't is that Hollywood is simply too lazy to be bothered. And for that, I say shame on Hollywood.

And hooray to the Doubleclicks for making a great song about Wonder Woman.

Previous Musical Monday: Ramble On by Led Zeppelin
Subsequent Musical Monday: The Battle of Evermore by Heart

The Doubleclicks     Musical Monday     Home

Friday, October 25, 2013

Follow Friday - Galen Was Born in 129 A.D.

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - The Reading Chic and The Biblophilic Nerds.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Bookagram: Photograph your fave read in a funny place.

I don't know if I have one favorite read, but right now, I am rereading The Hobbit, so that probably qualifies as well as any book. In this picture, The Hobbit is coveted by ferocious dinosaurs, but defended by giant robots. The result is a terrible Pacific Rim like conflict between the two sides, with J.R.R. Tolkien's prose and poetry as the prize. To top it off, the entire affair is taking place in space, obviously near the planet Saturn. Because that's where you find giant dinosaur sized copies of mid-Twentieth century English literature - near the orbit of the Saturnine moon Hyperion, about 9.5 Astronomical Units from the Sun.

Go to previous Follow Friday: ASCII Has Definitions for 128 Characters

Follow Friday     Home

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Review - Nu Logic: Rise of the Neos by Bill Gourgey

Short review: Dr. Janot wants to take over the world using the online game of Neology. The only ones who can stop him are a man lost in time, his leaderless followers, and a teenage girl.

Maddy's haunted dreams
Are the key to save the world
From Doctor Janot

Disclosure: I received this book as a review copy. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: Set in a cyperpunk world with espionage, nanotechnology, time travel, and hints of space travel, Nu Logic: Rise of the Neos is an eclectic and interesting science fiction novel. A sequel to the novel Glide (which I have not read, although there is enough background information provided in this volume to piece together the events of the previous one), the novel picks up some time after its predecessor left off and continues the story with the return of most of the same characters and and a rekindling of their conflicts.

The story takes place in a world recovering from a dystopian future in which the Academy, under the control of the Prophet, wrecked havoc on the world in the name of order, and was stopped, or at least diverted, by the efforts of the brilliant Doctor Magigate, a kind of supergenius inventor who seems to have developed most of the technology that undergirds the post Academy world. Complicating this simple narrative is the fact that Magigate seems to have been in love with the Prophet, and that the Prophet may not have been such an awful person to begin with. But all of this is in the distant past when Rise of the Neos takes place, although since Magigate seems to have discovered an odd way of traveling through time, the past is more or less being played out in the present as well.

The primary villain of the book is Doctor Janot, who also goes by the names Janeuf and Diogenes, an expert in creating viruses that can spread through both organic and inorganic systems, who has a convoluted plan to take over the world. He's already accomplished the first step, which is to get a large chunk of the world's population hooked on his online role-playing game "Neology", which seems like a fairly roundabout way to start. To be perfectly honest, this was one part of the book that seemed extraordinarily improbable to me, as I couldn't see why anyone would want to start playing Neology other than perhaps that tiny handful of people who enjoy Eve Online, except that Neology seems like it would be less fun to play. For the most part, descriptions of Neology seemed like Second Life with the addition of the fun of trying to avoid becoming infected with computer viruses and a player base that seem to have little to do other than kill new players to pass the time. Granted, some people enjoy that sort of thing, but it seems unlikely that a third or the world's population would. But taking the fictional reality presented at face value and going with it, we have to accept that this is the basis of Janot's plan.

Much of the rest of the book is filled with the convoluted intersecting story lines of the various players as they try to either advance Janot's plans, or like the knights and Dr. Longe, try to foil them. In the middle, more or less oblivious to the dangers, is the heroine of Glide, a girl named Maddy who is the only person alive who contracted (and has been cured of) the "Rust", a viral plague that jumped from human to network and back that had been manufactured by Janot during his first attempt to dominate the world. Interspersed in the story are interludes of events from the past, which, given the somewhat elusive time travel element may be events happening in the present as well, and which feature Magigate, Janot, and the Prophet. The book is sprinkled with classical references, mostly to Greek mythology and philosophy: Janot calls himself Diogenes and quotes both Greek cynic philosophy and Sun Tzu. Magigate names his inventions after Greek mythological figures such as Epimetheus and Ariadne. The resistance group that morphed into Magigate's followers dub themselves the Knights of Los Acres. Their implanted enhancements that give the knights their edge are all prefixed with "Magi-", both a reference to Magigate who created them, and magical powers, which the enhancements almost seem to bestow upon the knights. One knight even explicitly interprets her magi- enhanced healing powers as a manifestation of the spirits of the Santeria faith. And so on. These elements don't make the story fantasy or myth, but they do put a mythic patina on the cyberpunk reality.

The story rotates between several different story lines, jumping from person to person to tell the increasingly interwoven threads that all come together in the final portion of the book as everything comes to a head. The only problem I had with the style of story telling is that it means that the book leads off by throwing a cavalcade of characters at you, all involved in different, as yet seemingly unrelated scenes with minimal overarching context. Had I read the first book in the series before tackling this one, this may not have been so disorienting, as I would have already been somewhat familiar with the characters and the world they live in, but coming into the story cold as I did, it made the early chapters of the book tough sledding. But if a neophyte to the series perseveres through the first hundred or so pages, the book does begin to coalesce nicely, and before too long the confusingly fine brushstrokes of the initial pages resolve into a cohesive whole. Throughout the novel, Gourgey employs tension extraordinarily well, ratcheting up the suspense from beginning to end, so that when the final confrontation takes place, it is a cathartic explosion of pent up nerves.

I really only have two quibbles with Nu Logic, and they are relatively small. The first is that in the early chapters, there are several points in which a term or a piece of technology is explained via a footnote. In my case, these notes only served to break up and slow down what was already the slowest and most difficult portion of the book to get through. While the information contained in them was clearly presented by means of this device, they were little more than bland infodumps and did little save to jar me out of the fictional reality I was immersed in. In most cases, it would have been clear from the context in which the term was used what it meant or what it was, and in the others, I can only think there had to be a more artful means of delivering the information to the reader. The second quibble is that in the scenes set in the past, there were several points in which the book was conveying material that was supposedly drawn from Dr. Magigate's written journal, and in those sequences the font was switched to a small handwriting-like font that made those sections more difficult to read. Switching fonts during a book rarely improves it, and this book was no exception.

Those minor quibbles aside, Nu Logic: Rise of the Neos is a very good (and possibly the only) cyberpunk time-travel story featuring the valiant attempts of a small band of committed individuals to stave off a dystopian nightmare. Most of the characters are very well written, with motivations that make their actions for good or ill make sense. Even though the story is convoluted, with many twists and turns throughout, none of the intricacies of the plot are superfluous. If it is a mark of success for a book is that it makes you want to read more from the series, then for me this book is definitely a success.

Bill Gourgey     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Review - I Am a Barbarian by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Short review: Britannicus is the slave of the notorious Caligula, and reports on the depraved doings of the hated Emperor.

A fading empire
A struggle for succession
An insane victor

Full review: Published after his death, I Am a Barbarian is distinct from Burroughs' usual output of pulp science fiction and jungle adventures. The book follows the life of Britannicus Caligulae Servus, personal slave and companion to the boy who grew up to be the notoriously infamous Emperor Caligula.

On a grand scale the history of the book is basically accurate, dealing with the waning years of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius and the bloody infighting amongst his various potential heirs as they vie for the right to be first in line for the throne upon his death. Given that the first in line to inherit the throne is also the primary target of everyone else's assassination attempts, being first in line is portrayed (pretty much correctly) as something of a dubious honor. Of course, being further down the line is also not much better, as those closer to the throne plot to make sure that their lower ranking rivals meet unfortunate ends as well.

In many ways, it is clear that Burroughs was inspired by the fading imperial glory of Rome when creating his Barsoom series, and to a lesser extent his Tarzan series. The imperial magnificence and cruel civilized decadence of Rome is repeatedly contrasted in Britannicus' mind with his uncivilized upbringing among the proud, brutal, but honest and forthright warriors of Celtic Briton. Despite reaping the fruits of Roman civilization in education and to a certain extent opportunity (despite his status as slave), the cruelty, depravity and cowardice of most Romans disgusts him, allowing him to feel superior to his captors, much like Tarzan and John Carter, as honorable barbarians among lesser civilized men, do.

Most of the book is a worm's eye view of Roman history, although only so much of a worm's eye as a favored slave of a member of the Julian family and eventual Emperor could be. Despite being Caligula's favorite slave, Britannicus is still a slave, and is often threatened with brutal punishments or death, which, as he is the protagonist in a Burroughs' novel, he stares down with an unflinching courage. The day to day life of the inhabitants of Rome is shown with all of its injustice and cruelty on full display. This plebian view of Rome is the meat of the book and the portion that is best told.

Of course, a story about the rise to power and reign of Caligula can only end badly, and this book gives the reader the full measure of brutal vile depravity, culminating in sorrow for Britannicus and doom for his Emperor. Despite the somewhat lurid Frank Frazetta cover (which inflates one scene of the book with beefcake sensibility to an almost unrecognizable state), the book is noteworthy for its historical accuracy and unflinching look at the inherent nastiness of Roman civilization from the perspective of one who found himself under the Roman heel. Like Britannicus, Burroughs seems to feel both drawn to and repulsed by Rome and its inhabitants, and both seem to rest comfortably in their assumed British superiority. Even so, this book is quite good, and much better as a volume of historical fiction than I thought it would be.

Although it isn't a masterwork of the history of the time period like The Twelve Caesars, or even I, Claudius, I Am a Barbarian is a decent account of one of the most turbulent and compelling eras of Roman history. If you are looking for history leavened with a dash of Tarzan and John Carter atmosphere, then this book should be on your to read list.

Edgar Rice Burroughs     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, October 21, 2013

Musical Monday - Ramble On by Led Zeppelin

Ramble On contains some of the most explicitly Tolkien-influenced lyrics in all of the Led Zeppelin ouevre, directly referencing both Mordor and Gollum. The references are part of a jumble of imagery that make almost no sense - after all meeting a "girl so fair" in the darkest depths of Mordor seems somewhat improbable, and for Gollum and the "evil one" to sneak up and steal away with her seems slightly out of character for Gollum, who really only wants the One Ring. Although the "evil one" is not defined in the song, there don't seem to be many Middle-Earth personalities to whom this would apply who would be particularly interested in stealing away with a beautiful maiden. Even so, these lyrics make it clear that Jimmy Page was at least familiar enough with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien to incorporate allusions to his work in the band's songs, albeit allusions that seem to have been filtered through a cloud of marijuana smoke.

Previous Musical Monday: Your Love Is (a Metaphor) by Paul & Storm
Subsequent Musical Monday: Wonder (Wonder Woman Song) by The Doubleclicks

Led Zeppelin     Musical Monday     Home

Friday, October 18, 2013

Follow Friday - ASCII Has Definitions for 128 Characters

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - My Little World - Books 'n' Things and Defiantly Deviant.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: What are some of your favorite magazines?

Genre fiction was built on magazines. In the 1940s and 1950s, a science fiction author could, and many did, make a very comfortable living selling short fiction to one of the many science fiction magazines. Many of the stories that became classics of the genre appeared in science fiction magazines, which were much more relevant than the science fiction and fantasy novels of the era. Novels that were, at least in the early days were often little more than pulp adventure fantasy with science fiction trappings or were "fix-ups" consisting of pastiches of short fiction such as A.E. van Vogt's War Against the Rull, that had originally appeared in the magazines but were hastily, and often badly, rewritten into longer novel length stories. Authors such as Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Anderson, Simak, and Silverberg built their careers on short fiction stories in magazines before moving on to novels later in their careers. Sadly, many of these magazines are now defunct, but some still live on, and I subscribe to and read a couple of these remaining survivors, doing my part to keep short fiction alive. I regularly read Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Asimov's Science Fiction, and Fantasy & Science Fiction. These three magazines are full of the best short genre fiction available, and I hope that they continue publishing for a long time to come. I still have issues of now-defunct magazines that I wish were still in print, including Realms of Fantasy, Galaxy, If, Amazing Stories, and Fantastic Stories (and the short lived combination of Amazing Stories and Fantastic Stories named Amazing/Fantastic). I love magazines that feature short genre fiction, and I wish the market was there to support more of them.

I also read a couple of other magazines, one of which is directly related to the science fiction genre, and the other is tangentially related. The first is Locus, which bills itself as the "Magazine of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Field". In my view, Locus is a magazine that it is necessary to read if one wants to have an understanding of the science fiction and fantasy publishing industry, supplying all kinds of information about the doings of authors, editors, and publishers in the genre world. The magazine also provides updates on all of the major genre award winners, reports on selected conventions, and interviews with both established and up and coming authors. The second is Science News, which is the "Magazine of the Society for Science and the Public", which I initially began reading after seeing a recommendation for the publication from science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer. This biweekly magazine highlights articles culled from scientific and medical journals and summarizes them in a manner that a reasonably well educated person can understand. It is, quite simply, the best way to keep up with what is happening in the world of science.

There are a number of magazines that I used to get, but don't any more. I didn't dislike them, but I either don't have time to read them any more, or I just stopped getting them and have been too disorganized and lazy to restart my subscriptions. I used to subscribe to The Economist, but even though it is by far the best news magazine in print, it is terribly difficult to keep up with it, and I found myself falling behind every week and unable to complete the current issue before the next one came to my mailbox. I keep meaning to renew my subscription, but I'm not sure I want to get back on the hamster wheel again. Plus, it is an expensive magazine. Quality costs. Another publication that I used to get that I don't any more is Poets & Writers, a magazine aimed at (naturally enough) writers and poets that focuses on writing, publishing, and other industry concerns. I subscribed for a few years and decided that it was really aimed at people who were interested in a style of writing that I simply was not, and allowed the subscription to expire. The last magazine I used to subscribe to, but let lapse for no particular reason other than the unsettled chaos that my life has fallen into for the last couple of years is National Geographic. I like the magazine, and always have the intention to start my subscription again, but I just never seem to get around to it when I have money on hand. Maybe next month.

So, the answer to the question is that my favorite magazines - as evidenced by the fact that I subscribe to them and read them - are Analog, Asimov's, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Locus, and Science News.

Go to subsequent Follow Friday: Galen Was Born in 129 A.D.

Follow Friday     Home

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review - The Mad King by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Short review: Barney Custer saves the king of Lutha, then fails to save the king of Lutha, becomes the king of Lutha, and then most improbably, swashbuckles his way across the battlefields of World War I.

Saving the mad king
Failing to save the mad king
Become the new king

Full review: Most of the heroes that Burroughs has created are cast into exotic locales: Africa, Mars, Venus, and so on. Barney Custer, the hero of The Mad King, gets to go to Eastern Europe. He also has to try to be a swashbuckling hero in twentieth century Europe, with World War I as the backdrop for at least part of his action. The result is a tale that, while set in a more or less realistic setting, seems far less believable than John Carter's adventures on Barsoom.

The story is set in the fictitious country of Lutha, a tiny European kingdom apparently located in the mountains bordering Austria and Serbia. Barney Custer is traveling there, visiting the native land his mother left to come to the United States before he was born. Barney gets caught up in a series of adventures stemming mostly from the fact that he bears an uncanny resemblance to the supposedly mad king of the country who has been kept confined for years by his uncle, the regent. In the first half of the book, Barney saves the king, restores him to the throne in the face of a nefarious conspiracy, and earns the wrath of the king he saved. In the second half, set during World War I, Barney saves Lutha from an Austrian invasion, tries (and fails) to save the king, becomes king, and wins the girl.

Barney is a decent swashbuckling hero, and his adventures are certainly loaded with derring do, but the book just doesn't seem to ever rise above adequate. Setting the story during World War I, when swashbuckling was consumed by the machinery of modern warfare, is probably the biggest problem with the book. Custer is also supposed to be a superior swordsman, but he only uses that skill once or twice early in the book, after that, all of the battles feature revolvers or carbines, as if someone read the early chapters and pointed out how silly sword wielding heroes in the modern era seemed.

As I said before, the big weakness of the book is trying to set a swashbuckling hero in the middle of a modern war. The book was written in 1914, before the carnage of warfare in the industrial era had become apparent to those in the United States, so the book seems to have an odd unreality to its battles, with saber armed cavalry sweeping across artillery positions, and generals heading to the front to rally the troops, and so on. Everything in the book is all very romantic, and heroic, and ultimately, tragically innocent. Unfortunately, real history proved that people who try to swash-buckle their way across the battlefield get filled full of shrapnel and lead. Custer's story ultimately fails because he is set in the wrong era. There's nothing wrong with Custer himself, or his individual adventures, but the setting is all wrong, and the overall story never rises above average as a result.

Edgar Rice Burroughs     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, October 14, 2013

Musical Monday - Your Love Is (a Metaphor) by Paul & Storm

With today being Columbus Day, a day that has become less glorious as awareness of the ugliness of history has become more widespread, I figured that a humorous song making wildly inappropriate metaphors about love involving Christopher Walken and settlers bringing smallpox and influenza to the new world would be the perfect choice for Musical Monday.

This is one of my favorite Paul & Storm songs, and like so many of their other songs it captures the truly ridiculous nature of most mainstream music. All of the metaphors in this song are perfectly valid, and at the same time every one of them is incredibly wrong. In the context of the song, comparing love to an entomologist jabbing a needle through one's guts, or a ship being sunk and having its bones picked at by crabs, or a dog captured by an underground dog fighting ring and tortured daily until death holds no meaning are all perfectly logical comparisons to make. But, of course, in the real world these comparisons are simply not ones that one would ever make. Even though they are logical, and make sense, they are simply socially unacceptable, and using them results in hilarity.

And from a certain perspective, that is exactly why the myth of Christopher Columbus was allowed to flourish for so long. Although, in this case, the result isn't hilarity, but rather the organized suppression of unpleasant facts. The actual truth is painful and ugly. Columbus "found" a land already occupied by hundreds of thousands of people, attempted to extort gold from them, and when that didn't work, used his superior technology to brutally slaughter many of them and carried many of the rest away into slavery. And as a side effect, he brought deadly diseases that ended up wiping out much of the native population across the entire continent. But that's not the history that has been taught to children in schools, because it is uncomfortable to think that our civilization is built upon the bones of abused natives callously annihilated by by people extolled as heroes. So reality was systemically subsumed to a culturally acceptable narrative.

Fortunately, we are moving beyond suppressing the reality of our history. Slowly but surely the actual history, in all of its unpleasant details, is gaining ground. We can't change the horrible things that were done by our ancestors, but we can at least acknowledge that they were done, and accurately tell the stories of the people who have hitherto been ignored.

Previous Musical Monday: The Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin
Subsequent Musical Monday: Ramble On by Led Zeppelin

Paul & Storm     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, October 12, 2013

2013 WSFA Small Press Award Nominees

Location: CapClave in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Comments: In 2013, Ken Liu won the WSFA Small Press Award with his story Good Hunting, beating out, among other nominees, his own story The Bookmarking Habits of Select Species. This made him the very first author to secure two nominations in a single year, and one of the very  few authors to secure more than one nomination. This year also saw Lawrence M. Schoen garner a nomination for his story Coca Xocolatl, making him one of the select group of authors that have been nominated twice for the WSFA Small Press Award, and the first author to get nominations in back to back years.

Despite this overlapping of nominees, the reach of the WSFA Small Press Award was not diminished. Each of the nominated stories was originally published in a different publication, clearly a sign of the strength of the small press industry in the science fiction and fantasy world.

WSFA Small Press Award

Good Hunting by Ken Liu

Other Nominees:
Astrophilia by Carrie Vaughn
The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species by Ken Liu
Bottled Spirits by Pamela K. Kinney
Coca Xocolatl by Lawrence M. Schoen
Mornington Ride by Jason Nahrung
The Six Million Dollar Mermaid by Hildy Silverman

Go to previous year's nominees: 2012
Go to subsequent year's nominees: 2014

Book Award Reviews     Home

Friday, October 11, 2013

Follow Friday - In 127 A.D. Carpocrates Decided Private Property Ownership Was Un-Christian

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - Bewitched Bookworms and Fiktshun.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Feature your own favorite blogger, have it be a surprise.

This will probably not surprise Julia at all, since I have expressed my love of her blog before. And while it is a somewhat predictable choice for me to make, it is the right one as well. She's not technically a book blogger, but then again, a lot of the blogs I love aren't technically book blogs but rather book related blogs. Julia is an author, and the book of hers that I read was excellent. Her blog is at times witty, at times touching, and always enjoyable to read, even when she is writing about difficult or emotional topics. So, after you are done here, you should go and read her blog.

Go to previous Follow Friday: Gilgamesh Ruled Over Uruk for 126 years
Go to subsequent Follow Friday: ASCII Has Definitions for 128 Characters

Follow Friday     Home

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Review - Hermione Granger Saves the World: Essays on the Feminist Heroine of Hogwarts by Christopher E. Bell (editor)

Essays Included
The Filmic Heroine by Julie Alexander
"I'm Hoping to Do Some Good in the World": Hermione Granger and Feminist Ethics by Atje Gercama
The Muggle Hunt by Elizabeth de la Torre
Unstoppable Force: Maternal Power and Feminism by Alexandra Hidalgo
Alohomora! Unlocking Hermione's Feminism by Sarah Margaret Kniesler
"Books! And Cleverness!": Hemione's Wits by Tara Foster
How to Do Things With Magic Words: The Scandal of the Spell-Casting Body by Li Cornfeld
Hermione Granger Goes to War a Feminist Reflection on Girls in Conflict by Helen Berents
Hermione Granger: Insufferable Know-It-All or Superhero? by Christine Klingbiel
From Teenage Witch to Social Activist: Hermione Granger as Female Locus by William V. Thompson
Is Hermione Granger the Real Chosen One? by Todd S. Waters
Disclosure: I received this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: Hermione Granger Saves the World is exactly what it says it is: A collection of essays examining the character of Hermione Granger from a feminist perspective and evaluating her place in the magical fictional world created by J.K. Rowling. The essays are grouped into four main categories, examining Hermione as a woman, a scholar, a warrior, and an activist. But the essays also reveal the truth that has been staring readers of the Harry Potter series in the face from the very first book - that the brilliant and interesting Hermione, not the clueless and obnoxious Harry, is the true hero of the books.

The first essay in the book, The Filmic Heroine by Julie Alexander, is, unlike the other essays contained in the volume, focused on Hermione as she is presented in the film series. Alexander examines Hermione's character by assessing how much agency she displays through the films, identifying a rising pattern through the first couple of films that ends in Goblet of Fire, but which resurfaces in the first Deathly Hallows movie. The essay then goes into a detailed almost scene by scene analysis of the first Deathly Hallows movie, discussing how Hermione claims the leadership role at times, and at others is supplanted by either Harry or Ron. This portion seems somewhat odd, because it seems to assert that feminism is tantamount to women leading, rather than women taking a place as equals. This quibble aside, the essay is a strong deconstruction of the film, and makes a convincing case that Hermione, despite all of the obstacles placed in her way by the filmmakers, is the key heroic figure in the story.

"I'm Hoping to Do Some Good in the World": Hermione Granger and Feminist Ethics by Atje Gercama approaches the subject by starting with the perceived ethical dichotomy between "justice" and "care", taking the position that Hermione emphasizes "care" in her interactions with others. The essay uses this lens to evaluate the somewhat disturbing inequalities found in the Potterverse, pointing out that while there appears to be widespread gender equality, the manner in which the wizarding community treats other magical creatures is decidedly unjust, and the status distinctions among wizards based upon their ancestry further exacerbate this. Gercama focuses heavily on Hermione's advocacy for the rights of house elves as an example of her acting for justice, and also caring for others, using this plot thread to illustrate the fundamental nature of Hermione's character as an active agent for change.

This theme is taken up by Elizabeth de la Torre in her essay The Muggle Hunt, which examines the pervasive issue of class and bloodline that dominates much of the conflict engendered by Voldemort and his Death Eaters in the Potterverse. After discussing the blend of fictional and actual history that Rowling used to explain the isolationism of the wizard world in her books, de la Torre delves into the stratified society that then built up in large part due to Salazar Slytherin's attitude towards those with magical talent but allegedly impure bloodlines. The essay then moves on to examining Hermione's reaction to, and interactions with the inherently unjust world, highlighting both the prejudice she faces from many of the members of the "traditional" wizard families that she encounters and the stance she and others take against the violent persecution of the muggle-born. There isn't much more to the essay than pointing out that in J.K. Rowling's world people like Hermione are persecuted because of their parentage, and Hermione and others (including, for example, both Molly Weasley and Albus Dumbledore) reject this and suffer for it while taking a stand in favor of equality.

Alexandra Hidalgo discusses Hermione in the context of the many surrogate maternal relationships Harry has throughout the books in her essay Unstoppable Force: Maternal Power and Feminism. First Hidalgo recounts the background in which Harry's birth mother Lilly sacrificed herself to save her son, but then the essay delves into a deeper examination of Lilly's character and relationships, including how she came to be married to Harry's father, her concern for the bullied teenage Snape, and her apparently strained relationship with her own sister. She then moves on to focus on the various surrogate mothers that had a role in Harry's life, most notably Minerva McGonagal and Molly Weasley, and evaluates them from a feminist perspective in general, but also how they influence the growth of Hermione, who, despite being Harry's contemporary, Hidalgo convincingly argues ends up taking a maternal role towards the titular hero of the series.

One difficulty a book that is so very focused on a single character in a single series of books is that the essays all cover much the same territory. This difficulty begins to become apparent in Alohomora! Unlocking Hermione's Feminism by Sarah Margaret Kniesler, which assesses Hermione in the context of feminist children's literature, and then proceeds to evaluate her in terms of her agency, androgyny, and the non-female friendships she maintains throughout the books. Kniesler's evaluation of Hermione creates a convincing case that rather than being the supporting character in Harry's story, she is the hero of her own story. This is, by now, a familiar refrain, and while Kniesler adds her own unique voice to the chorus and approach to the question, she ends up echoing many of the same points made in previous essays.

The essays shift focus slightly, moving on to "Hermione as Scholar" for their topic, and get directly to the point with "Books! And Cleverness!": Hemione's Wits by Tara Foster, which evaluates Hermione as a student, putting her undeniable dedication to her studies into sharp focus. But Foster's essay does more than merely recount how brilliant Hermione shows herself to be, but points out that what makes her such a compelling character is how she uses her considerable intellectual gifts, putting her book based knowledge into action in a manner that eludes several of the adult characters such as Professor Quirrell and Professor Lockhart. But Foster also points out that Hermione uses her knowledge to help others, and also makes sure to disseminate her knowledge to anyone who is interested. Hermione is, in short, not just the brains of the books, she is the intellectual catalyst that drives every aspect of the plot.

Although it is located in the "Hermione as Scholar" section, How to Do Things With Magic Words: The Scandal of the Spell-Casting Body by Li Cornfeld isn't so much about scholarship and learning as it is about the curiosity of a world in which language can be used to accomplish physical effects. Cornfeld examines the magical world using the rubric of language developed by J.L. Austin, which put forth the idea of performative speech, or speech that accomplishes real word effects. The analogy is somewhat strained, because while a marriage vow creates a legal change, it doesn't actually create the kinds of physical changes that the crucio spell does in the world of Harry Potter. Cornfeld walks though Hermione's relationship to the language of magic in the books, examining how her use of wizard-specific words falls into the categories of performative speech, locutionary acts, and illocutionary speech, giving a good overview of how a world in which the kind of magic that exists in the Harry Potter universe is real is also a word in which knowledge of language literally is power. The essay is interesting, but the framework Cornfeld uses as a structure to build it upon seems somewhat dubious.

The next section of the book is "Hermione as Warrior", and the first essay in the group is Hermione Granger Goes to War a Feminist Reflection on Girls in Conflict by Helen Berents. This essay, more than any other in the book, explicitly connects the events in the Harry Potter books to real world issues, exploring the experience of women in war, and pointing out that children, specifically girls, have become increasingly embroiled directly in the pursuit of war during the modern era. Berents then connects this reality with the story of Hermione's experience in the Harry Potter series, showing how her separation from her family is an all too common occurrence in the rel world, and how she constructs a replacement family with her battlefield comrades. To a certain extent the analogy is inapt, as there is almost no real comparison between the story of a fictional character in a young adult book and the experience of a twelve year old girl forced into combat in Angola, but on the other hand fantasy and science fiction are a means of exploring topics that are too harrowing to deal with directly, and this essay shows how J.K. Rowling does this brilliantly.

Hermione Granger: Insufferable Know-It-All or Superhero? by Christine Klingbiel explores Hermione's character in the context of fairy tale and modern superheroines. Despite the title, there is little commentary on the question of whether Hermione is an "insufferable know-it-all". Instead, the essay focuses on comparing Hermione with fairy tale characters such as Gretel from Hansel and Gretel, and the character of Beauty (also known as Belle) from both the traditional version and Disney adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. Klingbiel then turns to modern superheroic fiction, pointing out that the fairy tale is, at its heart, a child's power fantasy, and then relating Hermione to the character of Wonder Woman, Emma Peel, and Ellen Ripley. The essay then backtracks and points out that in the Harry Potter world knowledge is power, and as the "cleverest witch of her age" Hermione herself is a power fantasy, a character with self-possessed agency who drives the story. Klingbiel comments on the negative aspects of the female superhero, but quickly disposes of them when she notes how Rowling managed to neatly sidestep them when creating Hermione. The essay makes a convincing case that Hermione is, in fact a female superhero, and as a result, an example of feminist agency.

The final section of the book, titled "Hermione as Activist" kicks off with William V. Thompson's essay From Teenage Witch to Social Activist: Hermione Granger as Female Locus. In the essay which focuses upon Hermione's place in the wizarding world, Thompson almost unintentionally highlights the reason Voldemort exists: The institutionalized racism of the magical world that even the "heroic" wizards fail to notice. At least, the heroic wizards other than Hermione and those that she touches. Starting with her creation of S.P.E.W. in a clumsy effort to help the much abused House Elves, moving on to helping Harry see the inherent unfairness represented by a statue of magical creatures in the Ministry of Magic, and finally defending her own status in the world as a sometimes despised "mudblood", Thompson shows how Hermione is at the forefront of social change in the Harry Potter series.

Building upon Thompson's essay, Is Hermione Granger the Real Chosen One? by Todd S. Waters is the final piece in the book, asserting that the key to victory over Voldemort was not Harry, but rather Hermione. Waters analyzes Hermione's actions using coordination theory, pointing out that it is only her ability to organize the forces opposed to the Death Eaters that allowed the heroes to win. Waters points out that while Harry Potter is merely a mirror image of Voldemort - little more than a reflection - Hermione is Voldemort's opposite. Although the essay somewhat peters out at the end, it makes a strong case that the instrumental actor in bringing down Voldemort's organization was not the solitary heroics of Harry Potter, but rather the efforts of Hermione to build a collaborative organization capable of challenging the institutionalized power of the dark wizard.

Overall, this is a moderately uneven collection of essays. Although every essay has interesting points, some have too little substance, stretching a minor point out to the point of belaboring it. This is a minor point, however, as most of the essays are excellent from beginning to end and the sum of the essays in this work serves to paint a picture of an active and intensely interesting character, and very clearly a feminist role model. It almost goes without saying that Harry Potter fan would find this book an interesting read, but it is also a book that any fantasy fan interested in seeing a breakdown of how to craft a fully fleshed out female character with agency would find to be an enjoyable and informative read.

Christopher E. Bell     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, October 7, 2013

Musical Monday - The Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin

Since I have been recently writing some Norse inspired fiction, my thoughts have naturally turned to The Immigrant Song, or as I call it, "Led Zeppelin's Viking Saga". When I was a teen and first encountered Led Zeppelin, I was already interested in Norse mythology mostly as the result of a book passed down from my grandparents that contained the bulk of the tales of the Asgardians and the Volsungs. From there, I developed an interest in stories about the people variously called Vikings, Norsemen, or Danes in the history books that a preteen boy could get his hands on. When I found role-playing games, my interest in topics like medieval Scandinavian history only intensified, and I threw myself into it as only an eleven year old can.

So when I heard The Immigrant Song, it was almost like coming home for me. I immediately got all of the mythological references. Even though the song is driven by a pulse pounding heavy metal guitar riff, it sounded to me like a song that Nordic warriors rowing through heavy seas in a salt water soaked ship would appreciate. The rhythm feels like waves battering the wooden hull of an open boat as bearded sailors try to keep it afloat and reach their goal so they can pillage and plunder. The song feels, in short, like a Viking raiding party.

Previous Musical Monday: Fuck You by Lily Allen
Subsequent Musical Monday: Your Love Is (a Metaphor) by Paul & Storm

Led Zeppelin     Musical Monday     Home

Friday, October 4, 2013

Follow Friday - Gilgamesh Ruled Over Uruk for 126 years

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - The Book Butterfly and The Attic Young Adult Book Reviews.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: What book (or TV show or movie) have you not read that seemingly everyone else has?

Even though everyone else in the book blogging world seems to have done so, I have never read Twilight. Actually, I have never read any of the books in Stephenie Meyers' series. I also have never seen any of the movies adapted from any of the Twilight books, although I have seen enough clips to conclude that they look like they might benefit from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment. I have all the books, but they just keep getting pushed pack further in the reading queue. I'll probably get around to cracking them open in 2030 or so. By then the idea of sparkly vampires might not seem so ridiculous.

On another note, this has been something of a lost week for me. As a federal employee, I have been furloughed since Tuesday. This means that I have been sitting at home instead of working, but it also means that I have no idea when or if I will be getting paid again. While Congress bickers, I, and several hundred thousand other civil servants are left wondering whether we will be able to pay our bills on time, because we don't know when we will be allowed to return to work, or when we might see another paycheck. One might think that sitting at home would be an opportunity to take care of a collection of things at home - like catching up on reading books and writing reviews. What it really means for me is obsessively checking the news on a regular basis to see what the now buffoonish inhabitants of Capitol Hill are up to.

One thing that should be noted is the "clean" continuing resolution that Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has asked John Boehner to put through the House of Representatives is the result of compromise. A little over a month ago, Reid, Boehner, and the other Congressional leaders got together and negotiated a deal to provide short-term funding for the government, because it was clear that a full appropriations bill was not going to be passed before the end of the Federal fiscal year. In that negotiation the Republican leaders asked for, and got, a concession from the Democratic leaders that involved setting the level of funding for the government in the bill at the level the Republicans wanted, which is about $988 billion. This is lower than the amount the Democrats wanted, and was the result of some give and take between the two sides. The "clean" continuing resolution at that level is the compromise. What the House Republicans are doing is saying that now that they have a deal, they'd like to renegotiate and claim that because the Democrats won't do so, they aren't willing to compromise. In short, the Republicans are lying. To bring this back to the science fiction genre, the House Republicans are effectively saying the same thing Darth Vader told Lando Calrissian: "I'm renegotiating the deal. Pray I don't renegotiate it any further." In The Empire Strikes Back, this line emphasizes just what an underhanded villain Vader is. Just consider what it means that the Tea Party members of the House of Representatives think this is a good model of behavior to follow.

Follow Friday     Home