Monthly Archives: November 2016

Book Review: The Devourers by Indra Das

the-devourers

What it’s about: A professor meets a strange man who claims to be half werewolf, and learns the terrible story of his family.

Praise: Full disclosure – I’m a sucker for werewolves. They are by far my favorite of the classic monsters. Unfortunately, I don’t think the average movie or book uses them well. Werewolves don’t just scare. They explore nature, civilization, shifting identities and humanity itself. Unfortunately, ninety percent of werewolf stories feel more like the author wrote a vampire story, decided it wasn’t original enough, then hastily changed it. Still, when an author tries to do something properly werewolfy, the result is some of the best stories horror has to offer.

This book firmly belongs in that latter category. It makes you equal parts terrified, fascinated and in love with its subject. It is philosophical, but not the measured philosophy of lecture halls. It’s the trembling, awestruck philosophy of the mad hermit in the woods. It is gory, but not the sickening splatter of modern slasher. It’s the strangely elegant gore of Gothic horror.

On a less pretentious note, I loved the plot and the characters. The viewpoint characters all had beautifully distinct voices. It drives me mad when a story shifts between multiple first person POVs and I lose track of who is talking. I never had that problem with this book.

Also, on one more personal note, there are multiple non-stereotypical queer characters. I can’t say any more without spoilers, but I was happy and I think other LGBTQ readers will be too.

Criticism: For the first few chapters, when I wasn’t sure where this was going, it was a little slow. It was well worth pushing through, though. Once things came together, I didn’t want to put it down.

Also, content warning, this books contains violence, anthropophagy (I feel wrong calling it cannibalism given how the shapeshifters insist they aren’t human) and a rape scene. Even the latter, though, avoids the common pitfalls. In a book full of sexual imagery, it’s one of the few scenes devoid of eroticism. There’s no “well, it wasn’t really proper rape because….” Instead, the book insists that, despite how the attacker frames it, it was rape, because he did not give the victim the opportunity to consent. The victim is actually characterized as an interesting and sympathetic human being, not just a tool of the story. The scene is necessary to the plot, not just there to add drama or titillation. All other writers, take note.

Recommended? If intense, brutal and beautiful is up your alley, then yes, very much recommended.

Reviewing Adventures in Odyssey as an Agnostic-Atheist: The Boy Who Didn’t Go to Church

This episode opens with recurring child-in-need-of-a-lesson Jack stopping by Whit’s End just in time to catch a rehearsal of a church skit. Ah, church skits. I remember you well. In retrospect, they were fun to put on, but the plots tended to teeter just on the edge of “so bad it’s good” without quite making it there. This episode captures the obliviously cloying blandness perfectly.

Jack wants to watch, because he loves theater, and while they set everything up he chats with Whit. Whit mentions that he hasn’t seen Jack around at church much lately. Jack knows he’s in trouble, and stammers something about being busy. Lucky for him, Whit drops it. Yeah, that won’t last long. You know if Whit doesn’t immediately rant, he’s already forming a manipulative ploy to make Jack do what he wan- I mean, a brilliant plan to set the young whippersnapper back on the right path.

Connie comes along and announces that they can’t do the rehearsal after all, because their lead actor is out sick. Everyone is disappointed, but Whit suggests handing Jack a script and letting him read the part. Jack is thrilled, and everyone else takes their places.

The play is about a charitable group called the Brotherhood of Dutiful Youth, or The Body. Er, BODY. BoDY? I dunno, it’s a radio show. Their leader is Mr. Headley, whose job is to tell everyone to do the exact things they do every week. First he sends out I. C. Freely to locate people who might need help. Then Miss Lipman and R. U. Listening go talk to them about their problems and figure out what they need. Hans Armstrong does most of the actual work, and John LeFeet, Jack’s character, is essentially everyone else’s chauffeur.

He doesn’t find this work particularly satisfying, so one day he decides to quit and start his own group, called the LeFeets. It doesn’t go so well. They can’t even manage step one; find people who actually need help.

Yeah, that’s about 3/4 of the episode right there. There’s a lot of filler, mostly body based puns. And let me be clear, I have nothing but respect for that. It’s just not great for review purposes.

Anyway, after being unable to help anyone for, um, ages, they finally get a gig… delivering a care package. Carrying stuff. Which is kind of exactly what they had been doing all along. Initially they are mad that this is all anyone seems to want from them, but after the job has been completed, John LeFeet realizes he feels great. In fact, he hasn’t been this happy since he left The Body, so he disbands the LeFeets and returns.

Unfortunately, he returns to find an empty room, where I. C. Freely is just packing up the last of her things. She explains that without John LeFeet, they had no one to take them anywhere, and couldn’t do anything.

Bit of an ableist conclusion, if you ask me.

No, but for real, there was no way they could just find somebody else with a car, or, like, drive themselves. They had to have John LeFeet or they were all sitting around in this room twiddling their thumbs. Or, at least they weren’t able to get up and help people, but they were able to get up and go find other jobs? This level of logic is pretty typical for a church skit, to be honest. It also creates a mood whiplash, as all the puns and silliness end and John realizes he has ruined everything, and falls to his knees with an epic “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Even this is pretty normal. About a third of skits are all puns until the end, until you realize that because somebody failed to evangelize their neighbor/disobeyed a law that made no sense and could easily have been explained but wasn’t because this is a metaphor for original sin/went to a party, everything is terrible forever. But again, Jack hasn’t been to church much lately, so he’s apparently forgotten how preachy skits work. He asks Whit about the sudden tone change, and Whit explains that people have been leaving church lately, and this skit is there to show them why that’s so terrible. In his words;

“A lot of people are like John LeFeet. They don’t like where God has put them. Instead of being a foot, they’d rather be a hand or a head. After a while they start feeling like they really aren’t getting anything out of the church, so they stop coming.”

This is bullshit on so many levels.

First, that’s not why most people stop going to church. They stop believing, or come to feel their religion is not the most important part of their life. Nothing about that story addressed faith or belief. But perhaps that’s deliberate, because the second issue is that it’s going to be performed at church, in front of people who are still going. It’s not meant to address the concerns of non-church goers, regardless of what Whit says. It’s meant to stop other people from leaving.

Which brings me to the second point. Whit says God has placed everyone in the church exactly where he wants them. I’ll put aside my own beliefs (or lack thereof) and argue on his terms for a moment. People change, evolve, learn and grow. Just because God places someone in one place at one time, why would that mean he wants them to stay there forever? Consider Jack, for example. Let’s say he was feeling dissatisfied. He’s also just proven that he’s a good actor. He loves the theater, and since they didn’t have enough people for an understudy, clearly they need more people like him. So why didn’t Whit bring him back by inviting him to help with the play to begin with? Why guilt trip him, instead of utilizing his talents?

And that guilt trip is my third, and final point. This isn’t about making people feel joyful and satisfied in their work. It’s not about understanding them as evolving human beings and working with them. It’s about making them feel like if they ever change things then everything will be ruined and it’s all their fault. It’s sugar coated coercion.

Which, come to think of it, is another reason why people leave the church. Kind of hard to develop an authentic faith with all that pressure.

Final ratings

Best bit: the puns, which to be honest aren’t that great, but I still have nothing but respect for them.

Worst bit: Seriously, none of these people have cars?

Story: I actually liked the setup. Just not where they went with it. C-

Moral: Poorly thought out. D-

 

No Clean Slate For Donald Trump

I’m not a fucking goldfish.

So, the election is over, and the person who technically won it somehow lost it. The majority of the country is pissed; that’s not the conversation we are having, as a nation. The conversation is whether we should calm down, take a deep breath, and give him a chance to show us what kind of person he’ll be, or actually let his past behavior inform our current opinion of him.

Here’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way. The most dangerous people aren’t the ones who are consistently horrible. The ones with no self-control, no common sense and no shred of human decency set off warning signs around themselves. They can screw things up fairly badly, but most people figure out to get away from them before things get too bad. The worst ones are the people who can make a show of contrition, without really meaning it. They are the people who know how much forgiveness you have in you, who will push you right to the edge of your limits and stop exactly when you run out of second chances. They’ll bide their time, until your anger has simmered down and you are confident that they have changed, and then they’ll go back to their old ways. They’ll do this again and again. Worst of all, any time you hurt them, they will take the fact that you value forgiveness and turn it against you. The expectation will be that you apologize every time you do something they don’t like, while they only apologize to you as often as you can force them to. This will create a distorted feeling of reality; you feel constantly hurt by them, but somehow you’re apologizing more, so you must be doing something wrong, right? You may never get out, because you are mired down by your constant fear that asserting yourself will make you a bad person.

There is only one way out of this trap. It is to recognize the signs of someone who has a truly repentent character, as opposed to somebody who is currently in a situation where contriteness is convenient. Here are some of the signs I have learned:

  • They aren’t afraid of having their flaws pointed out to them.
  • You never need to threaten or bribe them in order to get them to act like a decent person.
  • The first time you bring up the fact that you were hurt, they listen.
  • Sometimes, they even bring it up before you’ve figured out what to say to them.
  • They regularly invest effort in improving themselves, across the board. They want to be a better person simply because that is a valuable goal to them, for its own sake.
  • They never have to be convinced of the basic fact that other people have feelings that matter. They already believe this; it’s just a matter of better understanding how other people’s feelings work.

If a person hurts you, and doesn’t have the basic human capacity to care that you are hurting, they will not change. At most, they will temporarily adjust to dodge consequences.

I have had eighteen months to watch Donald Trump in action. He has, in fact, been shoved in my face by a ratings obsessed media. In order to have him act like a kind and reasonable adult for two minutes together, there needs to be enormous pressure, from media, from his campaign managers and pundits, and from the nation as a whole. But he will gleefully smear any marginalized group for a round of applause from his alt-right voters. I genuinely don’t care which groups he is or isn’t actually prejudiced against. Whether he is willing to harm marginalized groups because he personally hates they or just because he’s pandering to a hateful base, the same people end up hurt.

Between his staff and cabinet picks, the Russian calls and the fact that he’s already gotten into another twitter fight, with the cast of Hamilton of all people, it already looks like those who have erased their slate will just end up having to write the same shit on it all over again.

hamilton-cast
Apparently “Thanks for coming, please treat us like humans” constituted harassment.

My slate still has everything written on it. All the slurs, all the bigotry, all the violence at his rallies that he actively encouraged. All the scandals, the cheats, the corruption. All the sexual assault and intimidation, all the bullying of reporters. All the unconstitutional and dictatorial suggestions he made with flippant disregard to the actual implications. He ran on a campaign of racial hatred and totalitarian soundbites. I will take him at his word.

November 9th, 2016

I don’t know what happened.

I’m writing this at ten minutes to 1 AM. Unless a miracle happens between now and dawn, Hillary Clinton will lose the election.

I don’t know what happened, but I can guess.

People were complacent that someone else would do the right thing. They knew one thing would feel morally superior and one thing was what most people needed to do to protect us as a whole. Instead of casting their vote in the best interest of the nation as a whole, they did what they could pretend was morally superior. Or else they just stayed home.

People swallowed a myth about the lesser of two evils. True in it’s substance, woefully inaccurate in it’s scale.

People let themselves be swept up by a story instead of fighting for the issues that will really matter to us over the next four years.

People turned out to be depressingly more bigoted and hateful than I wanted them to be.

I am scared, and sad, and feel like I haven’t even fully processed the weight of how bad this is. It will probably take a while before I do. Eventually, though, I will have processed this.

I will see injustices; I have no illusions. Real people will be hurt. In some situations, I will be one of them. In others, they will be people different from me; women, POC, and Muslims in particular. Things will not be fine.

In the meantime, I will love my partner, my sister, and my best friend. I will keep talking about injustices and protesting them. When I can do something to help, I will.

And eventually, I will regain my hope in the American people.

It’s just not going to happen today.

November 8th, 2016

This is it, people. We can do this.

We can elect a president who will support for women’s rights, defend queer families and reform the education system to meet the needs of students from preschool to college.

We can shame the swelling movement of racist nonsense that is gaining dangerous ground here. We are a nation that has helped and abused those of other races, nationalities and beliefs, one that has welcomed immigrant with one hand and beaten them down with the other. Today, we can choose to be our better selves.

We can secure a Supreme Court that will push for freedom and equality for generations to come. We can strike down Citizens United and uphold individual liberties.

We can choose the candidate who understands climate change and will ensure America does it’s share to preserve the planet as a place where humanity can continue to exist.

We can choose a commander in chief with the guts to stand up to foreign dictators, the sense to avoid pointless wars, and the experience to make diplomacy work for us.

This isn’t a normal election. We are at a crossroads that will determine our path, not only as a nation but as a global society. This election will have repercussions for generations to come.

We can do it. We can make the right choice.

We’ve got this.

Review: The Girl From the Well, by Rin Chupeco

So, remember that Halloween scary novel thing I was doing? Where all the authors were women from this awesome list? Yeah, this is one I didn’t quite get to post back in October. I always said this was a possibly November too project, so there you go. Ass covered. 

the-girl-from-the-well

What it’s about: A vengeful ghost meets a boy afflicted with a strange curse, and the consequences might doom or redeem them both.

Praise: This is the best book.

Full points for atmosphere, on every page. The descriptions of the ghost vengeance scenes were grotesquely vivid, in the best style of J-horror. But one of my principles of horror is that pure creepiness cannot be sustained for long. Rin Chupeco varies the tones of each scene; horrifying, creepy, tense, and a breath of heartwarming that gradually builds to ominous.

As I read, I had no idea where the plot was going, and I loved that. It’s been a long time since a horror story took me lead me somewhere blind; the formulaic aspects of horror don’t bother me, so long as they are well used, but it is fun to have a genuine surprise every now and then.

I loved every character, and the developing relationships between them. And most of all, I loved Okiku’s perspective. I love a truly inhuman point of view. Okiku hasn’t been a human for several centuries. She can tap into human’s minds the way most people peek into boxes, but she doesn’t think of people by their names. Mostly she walks on ceilings. She incessantly counts things. It made her eerie and alien, but she was still somehow relatable.

Criticism: None. Did you not hear me when I said this was the best book?

Recommended? Stop everything and read it.