Category Archives: Critical Analysis

What to Say (Cite) When Conservatives Say Obama ALSO Banned Muslims

Background

We have seen a barrage of articles praising and chastising Trump for his recent executive order effectively banning people from 7 mainly-Muslim countries from visiting the United States. There have been countless protests at airports against this executive order. Political leaders have made their opinions against Trump’s executive order known, and other societal leaders have also spoken out against Trump’s order.

In response to all the protests, conservatives have been making statements that liberals are hypocrites, because they did not accuse Obama of being a bigot or anti-Muslim when Obama supposedly “did the same thing” and “banned Muslims.”

I saw the following video claiming these conservative viewpoints posted on various social media boards within the past 24 hours:

The video was promoted by Infowars.com, which was founded by radio host Alex Jones, who is noted  as the leading conspiracy theorist in the nation, according to the New York Magazine.

Infowars.com has an obvious conservative slant, which already makes me suspicious of anything they post. Furthermore, the news headlines used in the video were predominately also published on pro-conservative and anti-liberal sites, including Fox News.

In case you’re unfamiliar with which news sources are slanted, the following graphic provides a rather clear guide:

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Going Beyond the Anger and into the Debate

When I saw the Infowars.com video, I admit at first I was angry, because I am more liberal than not. After I got over the anger, I started wondering about Obama and these allegations, since I’m a critical thinker and thinking is what I do. I could not say whether or not the video was completely wrong, because I simply did not know the facts.

When I saw this video, it was in the middle of my work day, and I really didn’t have the time to do the research right then and there. I told myself I would check into it later.

At some point I did take a break from my day to read “Trump has fired the acting attorney general who ordered Justice Dept. not to defend president’s travel ban,” which was written by Matt Zapotosky, Sari Horwitz and Mark Berman, and posted in The Washington Post on January 30, 2017.

The information in this article is impressive, and there are some major quotes in it that truly struck a chord with me. I shared this article on my Facebook feed, citing the following quote and my response to it:

“She has to be asked to resign immediately,” Terwilliger said. “Look, the executive branch of our government is unitary. There’s only one boss, and that boss has spoken. If some subordinate official thinks that his direction is illegal, than the choice is to resign.”—This quote implies a dictatorship, not a democracy. WTF!

Some of my conservative associates and family members – yes liberals have these connections – made some disparaging comments about the article I had shared. To continue the discussion with them, I would have to make the time to do the research, which is what I did this morning.

My mostly liberal friends and associates have urged me to turn my multiple responses into one, easily shareable post, which I now give all of you to review, share, and discuss.


 

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As to claims about Obama’s executive order doing the same thing, I believe this comparison is faulty.

Obama did not unilaterally ban Muslims. Obama’s ban was in direct response to Iraqi terrorists who were living in Kentucky. These terrorists had lied about their past terrorist connections, and it was found that they were directly involved in bombings, as proven with fingerprint evidence.

In response to that, Obama banned visas for Iraqi refugees for a period of six months. During that period, however, there were still Iraqi refugees being allowed into the country, but due to what happened in Kentucky, the visa process became far more in-depth as a means of national security.

In comparison, whereas Obama’s executive order was direct and specific as a response to an immediate threat, Trump’s order is broad, vague, and neither he nor his supporters have yet to show any evidence as to why they are completely banning individuals from entering the country who have not been directly connected with acts of terror.

Trump has stated that he is simply continuing with the policies from the previous presidency, namely Obama’s. This is a gross overgeneralization on Trump’s part.

According to Trump’s executive order, the countries listed in his executive order are “countries designated pursuant to Division O, Title II, Section 203 of the 2016 consolidated Appropriations Act.” This references the policies of the Obama administration.

Prior to Obama’s policy, citizens from a designated 38 countries, (including the 7 Trump has listed), were permitted to enter the United States without a visa for a limited period of about three months. After Obama’s act, and after the Kentucky incident, citizens from these 38 designated countries who had ALSO recently traveled into Iraq were not allowed the luxury of being able to travel into the U.S. without completing the visa process.

Therefore, due to suspicion of proven terrorism, those traveling in and out of certain countries had to go through the proper channels. This is not the same as completely banning them and stopping them from entering the country, as is happening with Trump’s executive order. Obama’s administration merely made the process of entering the country take longer to verify that those entering the country were not doing so under false pretenses or with connections to terrorists.

You can verify the facts for these above statements by checking out Linda Qiu’s article, “Why comparing Trump’s and Obama’s immigration restrictions is flawed,” or Eugene Kiely’s article, “Trump’s Faulty Refugee Policy Comparison.”

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My comment on dictatorship was in direct response to the quote by Terwilliger that was from the original Zapotosky, Horwitz, and Berman article listed above.

Let me say that it is not the job of the U.S. President to make all the decisions and all of us to say yes to those decisions. The president has a lot of authority to make executive orders, amongst other powers he or she possesses. Nevertheless, the Senate and Congress, on behalf of the citizens of the country, have the right to oppose, argue, and debate whether the laws or executive orders set by the president are in the best interest of the country and whether they uphold the principles for which this country stands.

For Terwilliger to say “(t)here’s only one boss, and that boss has spoken. If some subordinate official thinks that his direction is illegal, than the choice is to resign,” implies that there is no due process, that checks and balances do not matter, and that whatever the “boss” says is the only thing that will happen. That is NOT what this country is built on. Also, the Attorney General is the HEAD of the DOJ, and not some “subordinate official.”

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As to comments about the Attorney General (AG) not doing her job, and analogies about what would happen if, for example, a nurse did not administer meds ordered, because he or she had a difference in opinion about those meds, well, frankly, analogies like these are unfair, as they do not reflect the reality of the situation or adequately compare job duties fairly.

According to WhiteHouse.gov, the AG is part of the executive branch and is head of the Department of Justice. Per their information,

“(t)he mission of the Department of Justice (DOJ) is to enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law; to ensure public safety against threats foreign and domestic; to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime; to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior; and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.”

Therefore, as head of the DOJ, the AG’s job is to make sure that any laws created by the president or by Congress stay consistent with current policies, that they are lawful, that they do not in and of themselves commit crimes, and that these laws maintain safety. The AG’s job is to act as a system of checks and balances and verify that his/her superiors are acting in accordance with policies, laws, and that they are meeting the standards of the country.

The AG is quality and consistency control.

In contrast, a nurse’s job is to follow the orders of his/her superiors, although if those orders were immediately life-threatening, a nurse would have the right to say something and not administer the medication/treatment.

Likewise, if the laws created by Congress or by any order of the president were threatening to the legal system or to the standards of the country, the AG is REQUIRED to point that out.

Sally Yates’ decision to order the lawyers within the DOJ not to defend or support Trump’s executive order was because the broad nature of the executive order did not meet the criteria for being completely lawful, as per the policies of the DOJ. In addition, the lack of evidence that would have provided reasons for targeting individuals from those countries has not been fully provided.

In other words, she was doing her job.

It seems rather clear that the Trump administration’s continual use of the label “a leftover of the Obama administration” in reference to Yates blatantly dismisses and ignores the fact that she was doing her job. Instead of acknowledging that fact, it is my opinion that they used it as an excuse to expedite her removal from the DOJ.

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Furthermore, as explained in this article posted in The Washington Post, an executive order “is not the president creating new law or appropriating new money from the U.S. Treasury — both things that are the domain of Congress.” Thus, any of the orders or memorandums the president creates are what the president wants the country to do and what the president believes need to be the top priority. It is still the job of Congress, especially the DOJ, to verify if these orders are valid, lawful, worth pursuing, worth discussing, etc.

Lastly, let’s address comments about the number of executive orders, and how conservatives believe that Obama made the most orders of all presidents.

The “American Presidency Project,” funded and operated by UC Santa Barbara, provides an excellent table that clearly shows the number of executive orders given by each president.

As you can see from this link, the president who made the most executive orders was actually Franklin D. Roosevelt, with a total of 3,721. Here is a listing of presidents between 1981 and 2016 with the total of executive orders they made during their single or double term presidencies:

  • Ronald Reagan = 381
  • George Bush Sr. = 166
  • William “Bill” Clinton = 364
  • George W. Bush = 291
  • Barack Obama = 276

By these numbers, conservative presidents over the past 35 years have created 838 executive orders, and liberal presidents have created 640.

I have not found a confirmed number for the amount of orders signed by Trump as of January 31, 2017, as most places only update these numbers on a monthly basis, and Trump has only been president for 11 days.

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How Did Mr. Body Find out about Mr. Green?

(Possible spoilers if you have never seen the movie, so TURN AWAY NOW)

In the movie Clue, the real Mr. Body has all of his sources/accomplices come to the house, presumably to drive his blackmail victims to the point of murder. Therefore, Body planned to use his victims to take out his accomplices for him, keeping his own hands clean. With the final ending in the movie, Mr. Green is revealed as the only person who hasn’t killed anyone, because the source that gave away his secrets was never revealed/invited to the house. The only person Green kills is Mr. Body, under the guise of anger or self-defense.

BIG QUESTIONS: Why didn’t Body invite the source who told him about Green? Why didn’t he invite him to the house to tempt Green to the point of murder?

Regardless of Green’s status as a plant for the feds, Body was blackmailing him under the threat of exposure. Perhaps Green didn’t let his superiors know the full extent of the blackmail, to protect his job, but he still must have brought the investigation to the feds, or he saw the case was already started, and got himself involved to keep his secrets safe.

All that aside, there still seems to be a big hole in the fact that Body did not invite his source/accomplice that gave him the information about Green’s true identity as a homosexual. He invited all his other sources, so why didn’t he invite this one?

Or did he?

The only extra person who arrives at the house who does not die is the traveling missionary. By the time he arrives in the story, almost all of the other murders have occurred, so the cast of characters are unwilling to let him inside in fear that he too may be killed. By the end of the movie, the traveling missionary is identified as another undercover cop, the chief, who takes the lead in arresting the identified murderer(s).

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While an undercover sting works for closing the story and punishing the bad guys, I think there’s more here than meets the eye.

If the feds knew about Mr. Body’s blackmailing scheme, they had to somehow get involved in it in a way that would flush Body out without scaring him into hiding. What better way than by giving him a new victim to blackmail?

To do so, the feds come up with a ruse that puts one of their own in a compromised position. Somehow they create a source who feeds the information to Body – the source being the character of the traveling missionary/chief. The source reveals the constructed lies about Green’s sexual orientation and how that could hurt his career. Mr. Body takes the bait and begins to blackmail Green.

As the entire story has been a ruse, Green simply plays the role of the victim while secretly doing what he needs to do to gather evidence against Body. When Mr. Body invites both Green and the traveling missionary/chief to the same event, it tips off the feds that everything is going down in one night. That’s how they’re able to get all of their resources on-site and ready to arrest the guilty parties, as shown in the end of the movie.

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It could’ve happened that way, but what about this?

What if Mr. Green and the traveling missionary/chief were actually secret lovers? They both worked on the force together, developed a friendship and a bond, so an office romance is not that surprising. While the secrecy of their relationship could have added to the heat of their passion, hiding their love no doubt became burdensome. Perhaps the two had an argument and separated for a brief amount of time.

During that separation, it’s possible that the traveling missionary/ chief character crossed paths with Mr. Body. That could explain how Mr. Body found out about Green’s secret.

To get from this possible scenario of a romance gone wrong to a full-on investigation that would ultimately expose Mr. Body, I think that Mr. Green and the traveling missionary/ chief character would have had to have made up at some point before the dinner party. They both would have had to have admitted what was going on, that one was being blackmailed, and that the other was the reason for the blackmail.

By doing so, both individuals would have enough information to expose the other, but that would risk self-exposure. Instead, they use their positions in the government to start out a full-on investigation against Body. After all, Mr. Body is definitely a professional blackmailer, so he must have other marks out there. Mr. Green and the traveling missionary/ chief concoct a scenario that allows them to run the investigation while keeping their connection to Mr. Body secret, at least at first.

As things carry on, both Mr. Green and the traveling missionary/ chief have to realize that when they arrest Mr. Body, they will be exposed by whatever evidence Body has gathered and will bring to light in court. Therefore, I believe that these two characters conspired to uncover enough evidence to convict Mr. Body, but never let Mr. Body walk into a courtroom alive.

There are any number of potential scenarios these two could have used to have Body killed before he stood trial. For instance, he could’ve been killed in prison, they could’ve lied about him resisting arrest, or something else completely believable and plausible.

While I’m sure the two never thought that things would go down the way they did at the dinner party, Mr. Green’s action to shoot and kill Mr. Body was not just an act of anger, as portrayed in the film. Before Green shoots Body, Body has a gun on everyone else, but he’s mostly keeping everyone controlled and doesn’t necessarily mean to shoot any of them. Body tells them that he plans on all of them leaving the house one by one, and that he will go on blackmailing them.

Body’s threat to continue the blackmail appears to be the igniting moment that drives Green to murder, but, as I said, I think Green recognized the opportune moment to kill Body and keep his secrets safe. After all, he had five other witnesses to verify that Mr. Body was threatening all of them with a gun, so shooting Body was nothing more than protecting five civilians. Furthermore, Green knew that the evidence against him had been burned, so he knew that nothing would be found on-site to expose his secret. Killing Body solved his problems and ended his investigation with a bang.

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BOOK JUDGEMENT: Legacy of the Dragons

Today I am judging Adam Britt’s novel, Legacy of the Dragons.

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Basic Synopsis:

The story is told through multiple perspectives, and early on it appears to be about a zombie outbreak as experienced by different individuals. As the story progresses, we learn that the outbreak is the result of a curse placed on the world by an ancient dragon, Ebon, who has lost all hope for the world. Ebon is half of a binary pair of dragons, Ebon and Celeste, who had each agreed to watch over the world; Ebon represents death and Celeste represents life. Ebon had gone evil and destructive previously, but Celeste was able to give him part of her heart to heal his rage.

In the present, someone has found Ebon’s old heart, which has caused the start of the curse and the zombie apocalypse.

Celeste now inhabits the human form of a man named Charlie. In the guise of Charlie, Celeste gathers a team to stop Ebon and the zombie apocalypse. The team consists of several spies/mercenaries who distrust one another, and two guys who kind of seem like modern-day versions of Sherlock Holmes and Watson, but not nearly as useful. As the team fights the zombies, they learn that the zombies are activated by a hive mind through the control of Ebon. When the zombies speak as Ebon, Celeste learns that Ebon’s evil plan involves destroying all humans and bringing back the non-human races.

If they wish to stop the destruction of the human race, Celeste and her team will have to go to a mythical magical realm to do battle with elves and stop the dark elven queen from carrying out Ebon’s sinister plan.

Star Ranking:

If you don’t remember my star ranking system, please refer back to my explanation in this blog.

 

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I give this novel 2 out of 5 stars.

Please realize that I don’t give this ranking lightly. Starting out, the book had good flow, an interesting use of multiple points of view, and a nice new spin on zombies. The addition of dragons worked for me, until the explanation of the dragon lore. Up until that point, I would have ranked this book 4 out of 5 stars easy! But with the dragon lore section, the writing started to tank, and the story got more convoluted and confusing.

Judgment Factors:

Overall Story

The fact that this story uses multiple perspectives impressed me a bit, because it’s a different way of telling the story that can boost intrigue. What surprised me was how the author was changing between first-person perspectives and omniscient with the different points of view. It would make sense if all of the individual points of view were first-person, and when everyone was together the voice would change to an omniscient narrator, but that’s not what happened. Instead, when everyone was together, the story remained first-person and focused on Celeste.

Although I applaud the author’s efforts on using multiple perspectives, I don’t think it achieved the desired result. A key reason to do multiple perspectives is to thoroughly develop individual characters in a way that may not make sense when focusing on an ensemble cast all the time. In the individual chapters, there was some good character development, but when everything coalesced in the later chapters, the characters who were developed seemed to change a little, and it felt like completely different people as compared to those described earlier.

Since so many of the characters involved were more flat than dynamic, I feel it was a wasted effort to do multiple perspectives on this particular story.

The only other reason I can think of to explain why the author chose this route was to show how the zombie apocalypse was affecting people in different areas, and to have a way or reason to rewind the story to discuss the lore of ancient dragons. Again, I don’t think the multiple perspective method was executed well, which significantly affected the overall story.

There were other factors at play that contributed to the lower ranking of the story. Honestly, I was ready to give a far better ranking until about halfway through the book. Everything in the book just went pear-shaped from the “Star Crossed” chapter and on.

characterdvlptCharacter Development

In the first half of the book, the multiple perspectives presents short stories of the individual characters as a development strategy. Unfortunately, most of the characters were more archetypal than anything else. The first chapter reads like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters of Watson and Holmes. The chapter about Giovanni and the other spies had good potential, especially with the sleeper agent angle the author was pushing for, but again, even the spies were caricatures.

The author definitely focused more on the character of Celeste, but even there things failed to fully make sense. At first you understand that the two dragons exist in a binary system of life and death; basic, but it works. As the background of the dragon lore chapters reveal, we discover that Celeste used to be known as Lucius, who is the male dragon who fell in love with a female human and produced a forbidden half-breed offspring. How Lucius becomes Celeste, I have no idea, and nor is it really explained.

You really only discover this truth about Celeste/Lucius at the end when we learn that the elven queen is Lucius’s daughter. Somehow the elves stripped her of her humanness, which turned her into a frail creature that is not exactly an elf but not exactly a dragon (?). This part was way confusing and sadly never really explained.

Ultimately, the author tries to use some of the main characters to hit on the emotional aspects of betrayal, parents abandoning children, fear of death, fear of zombies, etc., but in some ways it seems like these emotional triggers were emphasized as a way to take a shortcut and not develop the characters. I think it’s a shame, because the start of each of the characters had some solid structure, and if they were each fleshed out more thoroughly, I think many of these characters could have been far more dynamic, interesting, and relatable.

Grammar and Technical Issues

There were some minor spelling issues and a few grammar problems here and there, but for the most part the copy was clean. The major issues had more to do with the flow of the story, continuity, and problems with everything NOT making sense in the end. There were a good number of plot points that were quickly explained in ways that were somewhat acceptable, but remained nonetheless unclear to the reader. A good content editor could have really been a benefit to this manuscript.

thumb-video1Distractions

My biggest gripe about this story is the entire “Star Crossed” chapter. There were SO many issues in this chapter that completely took me out of the narrative, and I think this chapter alone is responsible for ruining the whole book. Here are my key distraction problems with the chapter:

Partial Plagiarism:

Let me be clear – I am NOT accusing the author of stealing other people’s work word for word. I am accusing the author of using very similar scenes from Jane Austen. The way that the characters in this chapter flirt, the way the females are against each other because of class and rank issues is totally a retelling of various moments from Jane Austen’s best works. I found this in poor taste. If it were done as an homage, it might have made sense, except for the fact that the author tried to place the beliefs of a later era onto the ones of a far earlier one.

Anachronistic Madness:

Okay – although no year is given, it’s implied that dragons existed at least 1,000 years ago or more. Yet, these characters in this chapter have Regency era mannerisms, perceptions, and beliefs. If you’re not familiar, the Regency era is the same era in which Jane Austen’s stories took place, i.e., the 1700s. A story taking place over 1,000 years ago would be at best in the medieval era, in which the actions, treatments, speech, mannerisms, and education of women were extremely different.

This chapter tries to have a medieval backdrop, yet the female characters are motivated by late-Renaissance/Enlightenment issues. Namely, they focus on the problems associated with titled but penniless individuals marrying the wealthy merchant class. This social problem didn’t exist when the monarchy still had absolute power. To have this issue going on in the story makes absolutely no sense. A financially poor kingdom might marry off its royal heirs for access to more power and lands, but not in the way the story describes.

BOOK JUDGEMENT: Summer of the Brother

Today I am judging Ryan O’Riordan’s novel, Summer of the Brother.

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Basic Synopsis:

Oscar Knight finds out he has a twin brother whom he never knew about, and unfortunately the brother, Sebastian Radbourne, reportedly just died of a drug overdose/accident. Oscar, having been adopted, at first blames his parents for not telling him about his twin brother, but then he discovers they never knew about the twin either. Apparently Sebastian’s parents made the choice to adopt one twin instead of both. Obsessed over the brother he never knew, and desperate for answers from the Radbournes, Oscar decides to make the foolhardy trip up to where his twin brother grew up to attend a formal investigation about his brother’s death.

Oscar arrives and everyone is put off by him, because he looks almost exactly like the dead Sebastian. Eventually, Oscar discovers that his brother’s grave has been desecrated, and that there have been a slew of desecrated graves in the area. Soon Oscar meets some of Sebastian’s friends, Charlie and Georgia. With these friends, Oscar uncovers the truth that Sebastian is in fact NOT dead, but undead. As an added bonus, Sebastian loathes his brother, which is strange, since the two had never met, but nonetheless Sebastian threatens Oscar that he must leave or he’ll be sorry. Oscar can’t leave, because he can’t believe what’s going on, so he, Charlie, and Georgia investigate the situation, meet other vampires, almost die, and then – spoiler alert – Sebastian tricks them all and sets up Oscar to take the fall for a heinous murder.

Star Ranking:

ntxyb5jtbIf you don’t remember my star ranking system, please refer back to my explanation in –>this blog LINK<–.

I give this novel 2 out of 5 stars. As I’m sure you can tell by my synopsis above, I was anything but impressed by this novel. The concept isn’t horrible, I suppose, and there were some interesting moments, so I didn’t completely hate it, but I will say I was ready to stop reading before I even hit the 30% mark. BTW, if you do read it, the story doesn’t pick up good speed until somewhere after 45% or so. For the purpose of my pay it forward challenge, I finished the entire book, and now you can decide whether you want to read it or skip it.

Judgment Factors:

Overall Story

As this story is part of a series, there are some parts of the plot left unfinished. As much as I didn’t fully enjoy the story, I will say that the author at least dealt with the major loose ends created in this part of the series. In terms of genre, I believe this story falls under the category of supernatural. On Amazon, it’s listed under the category of romance – REALLY?!?! –, so the desired effect of the novel, presumably, would be to show at least two characters meeting, having sexual tension, each one chasing their different goals, and somehow the story should end with their union, or at least imply a union could happen.

If that was the goal, this story went way out in left field!

At the start of the story, Oscar has a one night stand with a girl in his group of friends, and while he seems enamored with her, it’s clear that the only reason she had sex with him was due to drunkenness or perhaps pity. He gets angry with her for her disinterest, and he heads up on his adventures where he meets the main female character of the story, Georgia. Oscar believes Georgia may have had a thing for Sebastian. Oscar and Georgia do have some sexual tension, in a strange way, but it doesn’t seem real. As you read the story, you discover that Georgia and Sebastian never really became lovers when Sebastian was alive. In fact, although the writer tries to be sneaky about it, it becomes blatantly obvious that Sebastian and Charlie were exploring the start of a homosexual relationship.

Despite all this back story, vampire Sebastian forces Georgia to make a choice between himself, the vampire, or Oscar, the human. This makes no sense, except to make a piss-poor attempt to adhere to the romance genre.

Aside from the genre wrongly assigned to this book, in my opinion, the rest of the plot moves at an obnoxiously slow rate through the story cycle. You could argue that the slow plot reflects a more realistic reaction to Oscar’s moments of self-discovery. The action sequences flow better, in parts, but the characters remain set on making foolhardy, illogical decisions. The main three characters are impetuous 18-year-olds who all party a good amount, so I guess these are not exactly critical thinkers, but I still find their lack of logic disturbing. I’m cool with this world having vampires, but once you see the vamps, you don’t chase after them with no knowledge of how to deal with them, armed only with a pocket knife and a hammer!

Does the entire plot of the book makes sense to itself? It does, in a way. Is the plot contrived, full of stereotypes, and somewhat misogynistic? Yes – yes it is.

Character Development

characterdvlptThe character of Oscar Knight is a narcissistic, newly-18-year-old, rude individual. Most of the first part of the book is nothing more than a whining chorus of “poor-me.” Unable to take responsibility for himself, he instead blames everyone else for what has gone wrong in his life. I understand a lot of young teenagers and young adults act this way, but it doesn’t really connect me to the protagonist of the story.

Oscar’s transformation throughout the novel can best be described as an incremental movement from a whining sad-sack of an individual into a slightly less-whining person who at least tries to protect the only two allies he has acquired in his mostly self-serving pursuit to find out more about his unknown twin.

The other characters in the novel are, for the most part, cardboard cutouts of a particular type of person. Charlie is the cool club kid/closet homosexual. Georgia is the brainy girl next-door who has only recently got up the courage to even try to kiss Sebastian. Both sets of parents in the story merely do what’s necessary for the plot to move on. The parents also meet all of the gender stereotypes in a rather dry and boring way.

From what we do see of Sebastian, he’s also yet another carbon copy archetype of a vampire that, for some reason, is stronger than the other vampires, even though he’s only recently been turned. And, as if you hadn’t guessed, becoming a vampire has made him want to fulfill all of his desires for revenge, and he wants to use his immortality to get everything he’s ever wanted. I think they sell this brand of vampire at Walmart at a 2-for-1 special.

Grammar and Technical Issues

I just checked the book’s information on Amazon, and supposedly this book was produced by a professional publisher! I just tried to find the publisher online, but I’m hitting a wall. It’s been several years, so perhaps the publisher has been acquired by other companies. The reason I mention the whole publisher issue is due to the unbelievable amount of grammar and technical issues throughout the entire book!

These go beyond minor issues of grammar or spelling. Majorly wrong words used, lack of continuity, misplaced/unclear metaphors, and the list goes on. There are even some moments where the author confuses the names of Oscar and Sebastian. Since these are two very different characters in the book, even if they are twins, the story makes even LESS sense when the wrong names are used.

Honestly, this book needed at least one or two more rounds of full line edits . .  .and rewrites . . . and better plotting.

Distractions

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Most of the world of the novel felt pretty much like our world, and that stayed consistent. Once the supernatural elements of the world were introduced, parts of it seemed underdeveloped and not well thought out. There is supposedly a commune of vampires, and the leader wants the vampires to try and emulate humanity, so that someday people and vampires can live peacefully side-by-side. At the same time, all the vampires go out and eat people and don’t really do anything to work on inter-species communication, because humans always react badly (???). Yeah – that really makes sense!

Also, we discover that Sebastian was turned by a different sect of older vampires, which is why he is more powerful, yet he ended up living with these less powerful vampires. Why is he there? Why isn’t he with the ones who created him? It just seems awkward and a convenient excuse for Sebastian to be more powerful during the fight scenes.

My other major point of distraction is the entire forced romance scenario. It makes no sense for Sebastian to force Georgia to choose between twins, especially when he’s barely kissed Georgia himself. They supposedly had a bunch of online chats that were kind of flirtatious, but it’s clear from George’s explanations that Sebastian has kept a lot of his life private from her. She didn’t even know that Sebastian and Charlie snuck off to London together. Georgia also seems to have an idea about Charlie being secretly in the closet, as she debunks the Radbourne’s claim that Charlie is a drug dealer. She never states the truth of his sexuality, so maybe she didn’t admit it to herself, or perhaps she never put it together that Charlie and Sebastian were developing a fondness for each other (?). Hard to say, given the evidence, or LACK thereof.

But the MAJOR problem is that there really isn’t much of a romance between Oscar and Georgia. He’s vaguely interested in her, but as established from the beginning of the story, his interest does not come from a place of true romance, and rather stems from the place in-between his legs. I think that the only reason he even considers Georgia is because he suspects that Georgia liked his twin brother. It’s unclear if Oscar pursues her just to have the things his brother once had, or if he thinks he can easily fit into the place of affection Georgia had reserved for Sebastian.

At the end of the day, in terms of a romance story, I doubt these two will do anything more than a one night stand’s worth of mediocre sex followed by awkward moments of silence. Maybe as the series progresses, the writer will continue to force this inane idea of this romantic coupling, but I personally will not be reading the rest of the series to find out.

The Necessity of Lies in Sweeney Todd

In real life, we’re told that honesty is the best policy, yet the greatest stories we read or watch are filled with characters lying to other characters. If we obsess over truth and factuality in the real world, why do we permit fictional characters to lie so frequently?

The simple answer: lies create tension, tension creates conflict, and conflict makes for addictive narratives.

In other words, without conflict, (or without lies), the story does not exist, and what’s the fun in that? After all, we need these stories, because they provide us with an escape, they allow us to live out our fantasies, and they show us the possibilities of what could happen.

Lies also give stories their form. In some stories, such as that of the play or the movie Sweeney Todd, the lie told by Mrs. Lovett creates a structure essential to the story we know. Without her lie, a story may still exist, but it would not be the infamous Gothic romance revenge tale we’ve all come to love.

Looking at Lies

intrigue-300x169Clearly, lies, false truths, equivocations, and the like prove essential to storytelling, as these devices manipulate the characters and the readers alike into believing certain details or into suspecting certain outcomes. In literature, a fancy term for lying is “intrigue,” which is when “a character initiates a scheme which depends for its success on the ignorance or gullibility of the person or persons against whom it is directed” (Abrams, 234). In both the play and the movie Sweeney Todd, the character of Mrs. Lovett intrigues against Sweeney Todd to make him believe that his wife, Lucy, has died.

In his article, “Lies and Literature,” W.J. Reeves thoroughly investigates the concept of why fictional characters intrigue against each other. According to his research, Reeves points out that the three primary forces driving literary liars include self-promotion, protection, and/or some form of punishment. Per Reeves’ argument, Mrs. Lovett would be driven by two of these factors, namely self-promoting herself as Sweeney Todd’s new love interests, which in turn could protect her future status. She may even believe that her lie will protect Todd as well, since the truth of discovering that his wife is not dead and instead mentally unstable could destroy his already fragile grasp on reality.

Her motivations to lie explain her actions, but the real reasons behind this intrigue represents more of a structural plot device than anything else.

Lies Trigger the Chain Reaction of the Story

No matter what the story, be it the tale of Sweeney Todd or something else, the use of intrigue (lies) in literature sets off the chain reaction of the plot. Keeping our focus on Sweeney Todd, let’s look at Mrs. Lovett’s lie more closely.

Before she tells Sweeney Todd about the status of his wife, Todd is already in a vulnerable and pliable state. Regret and anger fill his mind, as does the need for revenge. Mrs. Lovett’s lie about Lucy being dead after Judge Turpin had forcibly courted her, stalked her, and raped her, all encourage/manipulate Todd to take his revenge upon Turpin. Of course, in using the lie to transform Todd into a murderer, Mrs. Lovett puts herself in a caregiver/accomplice position to help Todd achieve his dastardly goals and to keep him safe as he does so.

Sweeney-Todd-Mrs-Lovett-660x331

While Mrs. Lovett’s choice to lie may have been an attempt to gain Todd’s trust and love, she gets far more than she has bargained for when she focuses his frustrations into a mission of vengeance. Every moment he doesn’t get his revenge makes him more troublesome to handle, though. Mrs. Lovett helps Todd create an initial trap in which to lure Turpin, and that trap does work to some extent, but when Turpin gets out of the trap, Todd immediately blames Mrs. Lovett. At risk of losing his affection or her life, due to Todd’s rage issues, the chain of events causes Mrs. Lovett to raise the stakes and allow Todd to take out his rage on the world by murdering others until she can devise a new way to trap Turpin. She’s even willing to cover up Todd’s serial killings by using the corpses to make meat pies that she will sell to the masses. In her mind, these new lies protect her love interest, Todd, and promote her to the position of loyal friend and protector. Of course, Todd only sees it as a means to an end, if it means he will have the opportunity to kill Judge Turpin once again. Thus, as the lies build up, so too does the momentum as we race through this horror show of death, blood, and cannibalism.

Although Mrs. Lovett goes to great lenths to maintain her position as caregiver and potential love interest for Todd, there is one person that could ruin the entire lie, namely Todd’s wife, Lucy. Although mad, penniless, and virtually unrecognizable, the homeless Lucy wanders the streets near Mrs. Lovett’s shop and near where Judge Turpin keeps Johanna, (Lucy and Todd’s daughter, who is now Turpin’s ward). With Lucy lurking about, Mrs. Lovett has to find a way to perpetuate her lies. So, Mrs. Lovett does everything to keep “the old woman,” as she refers to Lucy, away from her store and away from Todd. Even in the song, “God that’s Good” Mrs. Lovett repeatedly tells Toby, “throw the old woman out,” because Mrs. Lovett can’t risk Todd recognizing Lucy, or else she will lose her chance at being with Todd romantically. No matter how much Mrs. Lovett tries to keep Lucy out, Lucy remains ever on the edges and in the shadows, watching the events take place.

originalAs the story comes to its climax, the chain of events leads to the moment where the truth will out, as they say, and when Mrs. Lovett’s lie falls apart. Fueled by his need for vengeance, as encouraged by Mrs. Lovett, Todd finally gets to the part where he will get his second chance at murdering Turpin, but just then Lucy walks into his shop. Caring about nothing but his vengeance, and not knowing the old woman is Lucy, Todd kills Lucy just as she recognizes him. He gets rid of her body in time to take his revenge out on Judge Turpin, but as Todd goes downstairs to gloat over Turpin’s lifeless corpse, he realizes the true identity of the old woman, and thus discovers the truth that Mrs. Lovett has knowingly and willfully deceived him. This truth reawakens his need for vengeance as he kills Mrs. Lovett before killing himself.

Would the Story Work without the Lie?

By the explanation above, Mrs. Lovett’s intrigue against Sweeney Todd does act as the catalyst that causes the chain of events leading to both her and Todd’s deaths, but how different would the story have been had Mrs. Lovett not lied?

Let us suppose that Mrs. Lovett decided that instead of letting Todd believe that Lucy had died that she tells him to prepare himself, for his wife has much changed. In doing so, she would have then taken Todd to the old, beggar woman who was once his beautiful Lucy.

Predicting Lucy’s reaction to meeting her long-lost husband proves a difficult task, especially throwing in the fact that Lucy has lost her faculties. She may not have recognized him, and simply tried to run away from him, or she may have thought he was a ghost come to haunt her, or any other number of potential reactions. Regardless, Todd would’ve felt the need to take care of her in some way, perhaps taking her out of the city or paying for her to go to a hospital.

After seeing what had become of his wife, Todd would have been just as bent on revenge, since his need for vengeance had been festering for 15 years. That said, would he have chosen the same blood-drenched path? If he were able to convince Lucy to let him help her, and if he had the possibility of being a whole family again, one could surmise that such hope would have tempered part of his bloodlust. He still would have had to eliminate Turpin to save Johanna, which may or may not have resulted in Turpin’s ultimate demise.

Going back to the question, does the story work without Mrs. Lovett’s intrigue against Sweeney Todd? As a revenge tale, Todd still would have gone up against Turpin to avenge Lucy’s honor and to save his daughter from a known rapist. Removing Mrs. Lovett’s intrigue, however, would change the character of Sweeney Todd from an understandable yet morally despicable antihero into that of a sympathetic protagonist, which would have lessened the beloved Gothic elements that have made this story so infamous. Had that occurred, the very form of the story would have been drastically changed into something more akin to an action story about vengeance.

In the story of Sweeney Todd, Mrs. Lovett’s initial lie seals the form of the story to that of a paradox between the haunting and blood-soaked elements of the Gothic with that of the hero’s quest for vengeance typical of a romance fiction. The striking differences between these two genres add more tension, since we the audience become morally torn between wanting Sweeney Todd to receive justice for wrongdoings against him as we uncomfortably struggle to justify his stream of murders. That emotional uncertainty underscores the murkiness of justice, which is a key theme of the story. That sense of murkiness could only have been achieved with Mrs. Lovett’s initial lie as the catalyst for conflict.


Works Cited:
Abrams, M.H., and Geoffrey Galt Harpham. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 8th ed. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005. Print.
Reeves, W.J. “Lies and Literature.” USA Today Magazine. Nov. 1998. Print and Web.

BOOK JUDGEMENT: Revelation Game

If you have been following my blogs, you know that I challenged myself this year to read several books by lesser-known/indie writers. I would then post my reviews here online. If you are unfamiliar with how I’m going about this process, check out my initial blog that explains the whole process:

Pay It Forward Indie Book Challenge — HOW I JUDGE! 


 

revelation-game-cover-web

Today I am judging Justus R. Stone’s Revelation Game

Super-Quick Synopsis:

With the aid of fully-immersive gaming technology, teenager Tyler Drake plays an MMO videogame called Revelations. The game allows players to choose either the side of the angels in Heaven or the side of the demons in Hell, and Tyler plays a demon with the user handle ‘Shamshiel.’ Thanks to the technology used to play the game, players feel as if they are actually inside the virtual environments. The game even uses the real world to create virtual environments to provide a more authentic look, but gamers are not allowed to game in locations too close to their actual homes.

Due to some bad decisions, Tyler uses a modification to hack the system to let him play a mission that takes place in his own neighborhood. During the mission, someone Tyler knows personally is killed in the game. When Tyler wakes up to go to school the next day, he discovers that the person has been killed in real life as well. Tyler freaks out about whether the game is real or not. Administrators of the game contact Tyler and give him the ominous option to either play an assigned mission or to end his gameplay permanently. Fearful, Tyler decides to play the mission. With some heavenly assistance from someone else who has come to terms with the game being real, Tyler is able to play the game the way he wants to play it, and not the way that the game might force him to play it.

Star Ranking:

3-starsI give this story 3 out of 5 stars. Conceptually, it wasn’t horrible, but it really wasn’t anything more than just okay.

Judgment Factors:

Overall Story

First of all, this story is around 51 pages. The copy I downloaded didn’t have this cover, so I didn’t realize it was a novella. On the plus side, though, if you are looking for something short and kind of sci-fi/fantasy to read, you can get through this one in no time at all.

In terms of plot, the story followed a typical plot cycle that introduced the characters, got you interested in the plot device of the video game, brought you to the climax of the ultimate moral choice Tyler would make, and then showed you the results of his choices. Everything was presented clearly and tied up at the end. Personally, I found the plot to be predictable

Character Development

characterdvlptSurprisingly, the character development worked beautifully in this piece. Sometimes it’s difficult in a shorter story to get a feel for someone, but Stone chose to focus on the internal thoughts of Tyler, which immediately conveyed his character. The other characters in the story were deliberately archetypal, but that kept the plot moving. Additionally, since the whole story focused on Tyler and Tyler’s decisions, you really didn’t need to know that much about the other characters to understand what was going on.

Grammar and Technical Issues

There were typos, missed words, and wrong words in the text. Not so many that I couldn’t get through it, but noticeable. As always, I write and edit professionally, so I notice errors more quickly than most people. Still, I think one more round with an editor would’ve made this piece look more professional.

Distractions

Thankfully, there were no real distractions in the story. The concept kept me engaged enough to want to find out how it ended, even though I had my suspicions that it would end the way it did. Going into the story, you had to accept a somewhat futuristic gaming technology, but since we already have immersive gaming tech, this super next generation version didn’t feel that out of place.

I do have one nitpicky comment.

Tyler himself states that he’s addicted to the game, and that he plays it instead of getting a good night’s sleep. That lets the reader know that Tyler is a gamer geek, and that he goes to school and comes home to play video games. However, there is a subplot going on in the story about how Tyler’s mother has been fighting with depression after the death of her husband. Tyler undoubtedly uses gaming as an escape to avoid dealing with his grief issues. He’s also had to take on the role of the adult, since his father’s death has left his mother broken. There’s an implication that Tyler works some sort of part-time job, possibly to bring in extra cash to pay the bills, although this is never clearly explained. Therefore, the reader is supposed to believe that Tyler has the time to go to high school, work, make meals, and do some chores around the house, plus he still has the time and energy to play this game. To me, that is a bit of a stretch.

GoEnglish_com_BurningTheCandleAtBothEndsAs Tyler’s final moral choice ties in with the decision to help or hurt his mother, I understand why Stone has created this broken parent figure plot device. It pulls at the heartstrings of the reader to see a gamer geek like Tyler be forced into a pseudo-adult position just to survive the situation. Nevertheless, I think the idea of Tyler doing all of this and having a part-time job just didn’t work for me. Yes – Tyler has that seemingly endless teenager energy, and maybe I could acknowledge that fact to excuse him burning the candle at both ends, but this detail about his character stuck out like a sore thumb. There are other aspects that already make Tyler look like a dutiful son, and I thoroughly enjoyed the touches of bitterness at his absentee mother, since it emphasizes those mixed emotions that death causes. Ultimately, I think Stone kept adding details to the character of Tyler to make sure his point as the author came across clearly, but instead it added a few dimensions that didn’t quite fit.

Blurbing about Books: 4 Reviews for You

Please don’t confuse this post with my Paying It Forward blog post . I read many books throughout the year, both by mainstream and indie authors, so I thought I would occasionaly write up some fun blurbs for your viewing pleasure.


Rosemary and Rue, by Seanan McGuire

Fairy world meets hard-boiled detective novel

cover_rrMcGuire seamlessly constructs her world of fairy creatures into the modern day setting of San Francisco. She has obviously done her research into the lore of the Fae, and it comes through without being preachy or dry. Through the first-person perspective of October Daye, a changing (half fairy/half human), we get to see the political world of the Fae as seen through the eyes of someone who is often shafted by her own kind, since she’s only a half blood. The pacing of the story moves quickly, as Daye must solve the murder of a pure-blood Fae before Daye herself is killed by a curse tied to the murder. As the first book in the October Daye series, this novel draws you right into the world, and you immediately become a fan of the main character. I can hardly wait to see what happens in the rest of the books in this series. Fantastic world and a joy to read!!!


The Book of Madness and Cures, by Regina O’Melveny

Brain candy for Renaissance scholars

51xuN1YWnvL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_For Renaissance scholars like me, this book provides an interesting view of Renaissance culture, medicine, and herbal lore, as well as a review of maladies and ailments through the lens of this earlier era. O’Melveny also offers a unique perspective on gender politics, including the way females had to navigate their way through social circles to enter fields dominated by the patriarchy. In many ways, O’Melveny’s method of storytelling reminds me of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, in that it portrays well-researched facts and interweaves them brilliantly into a story. I will admit that the story gets heavy with the details and moves slowly, but the pacing mirrors the travels of the main character, Dr. Gabriella Mondini, as she searches through ten countries to find her father. If you enjoy period pieces, a bit of mystery, and gender studies, you will certainly have fun with reading this novel.


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, by J.K. Rowling

Insider info for Harry Potter fanatics

51iMJ+zBW8L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_While I love the Harry Potter world, I must admit that I read the main seven books later than most people, so I didn’t even know about this book until I saw the trailer for the movie coming out in 2016. I picked up the book, expecting it to be a full story, because that’s how the movie trailer looked. Imagine my surprise when I found that this book is actually just a catalog of the magical creatures found within the world of Harry Potter?

As a writer, I completely understand and respect Rowling’s choice to produce this book. Not only did she do it for a great charitable cause, but she probably also wrote it initially for herself just to keep everything organized in her writing. I know I have a similar document for my Rupt World Stories. Building a catalog of the creatures, groups, etc. in your own world has become a unique way for writers to publish their otherwise unseen notes. We as writers need these catalogs to keep our own information organized and consistent. Fans eat it up, because they love the insider information. It really is a win-win all around.

The book itself provided some interesting insight into the different creatures, which I found amusing. I also enjoyed how Rowling brought up the political and social issue of the difficulty in categorizing many magical beings, since so many are intelligent, but do not wish to have anything to do with humans and/or wizards. She doesn’t go too deeply into the politics, and I see that as a strategic choice for someone writing in the young adult market. You saw these issues brought up in the other books/movies, but it was almost always on the sidelines, unless it was vital to the current moment of plot. Overall, if you’re a die-hard fan, you will enjoy this book. I personally think there could have been more to this book, which is probably what the screenwriters thought, as they have adapted a basic catalog of creatures into something that looks phenomenally epic.


Lady Susan, by Jane Austen

Voyeuristic fun for everyone

20160313-landfAlthough not one of the well-known Austen books, Lady Susan provides a tantalizing tale of social climbing, but all the details are revealed through letters back and forth between key characters. In reading these private letters, you find out what false fronts these individuals present to the world, as well as how they hide their true motives. I knew nothing about the book when I started reading it, so at first I thought the initial opening letter was something like a prologue. As the book continued in nothing but personal letters, I grew fascinated at Austen’s ability to portray so much information from the individual perspectives of each character. This book really pushes the concept of the unreliable narrator, since each character only knows so much, and their personal prejudices alter their perspectives even further.

My only complaint about this book was the ending. ******SPOILER ALERT******* I was expecting all the loose ends to tie up via letters, but instead Austen has another person step in to provide a brief discussion concerning what happens. Prior to describing what happens to everyone in the end, this unknown narrator states the following:

This correspondence, by a meeting between some of the parties, and the separation between the others, could not, to the great detriment of the Post Office revenue, be continued any longer,” (Conclusion, page 70).

I understand that it’s hard to pick a spot to end, since all the characters will continue on in their lives, but if you are going to choose a format like this and carry it out to its full extent, you might as well take the format all the way to the end! As the movie comes out soon, I must say my curiosity is piqued to see how they will maintain the intimacy of the letters in the on-screen portrayal of the story.

Enslaving the Force and Rejecting Fluidity

***Spoiler ALERT!! If you read this article, I will assume you know the plot arch of all 7 Star Wars movies***

After reading the title, you might be thinking something like:

“Wait a minute – all the Jedi master’s said to let the force flow, so how can they be rejecting fluidity?”

For starters, flow and fluidity are NOT the same thing. To understand this concept in relation to Star Wars, particularly the newest movie, The Force Awakens, let us first look at the terms flow and fluidity.

The concept of flow implies such definitions as gushing out, being spilled, springing forth, circulating, etc. In terms of the force, letting it flow often describes allowing the energy of the force to circulate in your being and flow out of your body to do with as you wish. The important thing to remember regarding flow is that an individual controls the flow.

In contrast, we use fluidity as an adjective to explain such things as the force. Fluidity describes something that “lacks definite shape,” and that “flows and alters shape freely” (paraphrased from the OED).

Fluidity depicts the raw energy that IS the force.
Flow implies a means to control the force.

The Force and the Patriarchy of Control

Those in power, often described as the patriarchy, assert their power by controlling the attainment and ultimate use of power. Politicians do so through complex laws and legislation, dictators do so through fear and tyranny, and force-users do so by requiring a rigid form of training.

0720232f-8631-4e46-9442-410c5038138dBoth sides, Jedi and Sith, light and dark, have their own philosophies and methodologies around how to use the power of the force. If you only know Star Wars from the movies, it implies a simplistic binary of Jedi = good and Sith/Empire = bad. As you get deeper into the Star Wars universe, however, you start to discover that this rudimentary explanation ignores much of the reality of the situation.

Jedi believe in full detachment from their emotions as a means to be one with the force. And I do mean all emotions, good and bad, including love, joy, etc. It’s not that they don’t feel these emotions, but they try to control how they will feel them, because giving in to emotions, according to Jedi training, could open one up to the desires of the dark side.

In contrast, those who are trained in the ways of the dark side use their emotions as a way to gain access to the power of the force. Most of the time, this methodology depicts apprentices and masters giving in to the most violent of emotions, including rage, lust, vengeance, and other. In many ways, those trained in the dark side are shown as narcissistically pursuing their own selfish desires, sacrificing all else to obtain what they want most.

Obviously, especially from a storyteller’s perspective, having such polar opposites creates better conflict. Moving beyond that, if you are willing to look deeper, what the binary truly highlights includes the fact that the force itself is just an energy source that can be wielded any number of ways, depending upon the person wielding it.

Both the Jedi and the Sith have created power structures around their training academies, because forcing rigorous training allows them to mold young force-users into believing the ideology of either the light side or the dark side.

Think about it – why are the Sith so bent on destroying the Jedi younglings, as Anakin/Darth Vader did? Why do they want to wipe out all Jedi teachings? They do this because they recognize the power in the academy setting.

Within a training environment, like the academy, no matter which side you’re on, all you do is focus on how your side uses the force, why your side does what they do, and how to keep your side going strong. The academy promotes propaganda, it establishes the power structure as normative, and it identifies anything outside of that power structure as Other and dangerous.

On the light side, they seek out force sensitives and try to bring them into the fold under the guise that they are helping these youngsters understand themselves and avoid hurting anyone. They also offer these individuals a home, a place to belong, and a cause in which to fight for. On the dark side, force sensitives are often manipulated into the academy system. Generally, Sith Masters tend to offer force sensitives the chance to become like Gods, the opportunity to claim vengeance, patriotism, or whatever it takes.

The Force Outside of the Patriarchy

The first six movies set up the binary of Jedi = good and Sith = bad, and those movies implied that this binary was the only way the force works. In the newest movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we start to step away from this binary and ask ourselves ethical questions concerning the force.

Is the force inherently good or evil?

Some people might argue that the force is both, being that it has two sides, but again I would interject that the force represents raw, unaligned power. The idea of the light side and the dark side only serve to highlight the propaganda of the two training academies. With the force, there are no sides, only fluidity.

maz-kanata-force-discussion-165843Interestingly enough, this concept of the unaligned force gets promoted not by a force-user, but by Maz Kanata, the old woman who runs the neutral bar. When Rey senses Luke’s light saber and goes on a vision quest, it scares her, because she lacks the understanding of what such visions mean. Maz begins to explain that the force is a natural form of energy, neither good nor bad. She offers Rey the light saber as a conduit between herself and the force, which at first Rey refuses.

Rey’s refusal stems from her state of shock after the terrifying vision and uncertainty of what her vision implies. Going deeper, her initial refusal of the light saber could represent her refusing the patriarchy of the academy, as the light saber represents the propaganda from both sides so monstrously depicted in the vision. Although Rey may not realize it consciously, the vision she saw further promotes the binary that enslaves the raw power of the force. How can she accept the force as a power of nature, as Maz says, yet wield the symbol of its oppressors?

When Rey and Kylo Ren fight at the end, she at first clumsily fights with the light saber out of rage, having just saw her pseudo-father-figure, Han Solo, brutally murdered. Kylo Ren immediately hones in on Rey’s rage, per his Sith training. He has already sensed her power throughout the entire movie, and now he sees her giving in to her emotions. As an unaligned force-user, he sees Rey as the Other, and a potential danger to himself. As his training teaches, and as the dark side propaganda promotes, he must bring her in and teach her the “appropriate” ways to use the force. With this in mind, he knocks her light saber out of her hands and begins toying with her. Then he tells her that she needs a proper master, and that if she will submit to him as her master, he can make her powerful beyond her own imaginings.

This is the pivotal moment.

In this moment where Kylo Ren could kill her if she refuses his offer, time seems to stop for a moment as Rey hears the words of Maz Kanata. In that moment of feeling the fluidity of the force all around her as a natural source, she sees how Kylo Ren manipulates that power to flow as he dictates. She sees how the academy has restrained the fluidity of the force, and only then can she reject the binary methodology and transform the weapon of the binary into her own symbol that she can use to push away the propaganda and cast it out. Through this transformation, she allows the force work through her as IT chooses, helping her wield the weapon and push away Kylo Ren

Uncertainty Between Flow and Fluidity

rey offers light saberAt the end, as Rey rejects Kylo Ren as her master and accepts the nature of the force all around her, one would expect her to do her own thing, yet at the end of the movie we find her seeking out Luke Skywalker. As we don’t know what happens in the next movie, it remains uncertain as to what Rey’s final gesture of offering the light saber to Luke actually means.

Many people interpret it as her submission to a Jedi master and her desire to be trained as a Jedi. I would not be surprised if that’s how the next movie goes, because it’s what the fans want and it goes back to the binary, which Hollywood understands.

Since Luke does not take the light saber, and since Rey does not kneel before him, I would like to argue that perhaps Rey’s actions represent something else. She has transformed the light saber into something uniquely her own, which she could wish to share with Luke. After all, Luke has become a hermit, hidden away out of shame. Does this new awakening in Rey imply a new way of using the force, and will Rey be more the teacher than the student?

Until the next movie comes up, it’s difficult to say for certain. Ideally, I would like to see the next movie show the flow of control butt heads with the fluidity of the unaligned force in order to create something new, but, sadly, I don’t think such a demonstration will win over audiences. In the end, people in the movie business make decisions based on the potential for profits. Perhaps the writers can find a way to please the masses without further using the binary to enslave the raw power of the force.

Smokin’ Hot vs. Beautiful: What’s the Difference?

You might think these terms are interchangeable, or that they mean the same thing, but listen to the nuances:

  1. That girl is beautiful.
  2. That girl is smokin’ hot.

Do you see it now?

In western English, predominantly in the states, the second sentence above indicates a more attractive girl than the first sentence describes. In fact, the second sentence would usually be ended with an exclamation mark to emphasize the level of attractiveness, but I didn’t want to sway your judgment.

Beauty is based on a purely subjective scale – let’s not kid ourselves. With this example of two words that seem synonymous, yet have subtle differences, how does the ranking on that subjective scale work? More importantly, what are the effects of that ranking?

Splitting Hairs and Defining the Difference

We possess an endless stream of adjectives that describe the concept of beauty. Check out these examples:

  • Beautiful
  • Pretty
  • Attractive
  • Handsome
  • Lovely
  • Hot
  • Gorgeous
  • Charming
  • Stunning
  • Ravishing
  • Smokin’ hot

Grammatically, these words act as synonyms to one another, but given the rules of society, we attribute different levels of beauty or attractiveness to each of these terms. Sticking with just the two terms in the title of this post, what are the differences between smokin’ hot and beautiful?

Believe it or not, it comes down to general beauty versus specific beauty.

The term beautiful, along with several other of the above adjective examples, represents a general description of attractiveness. It lacks specificity. Thus, a wider range of items or individuals can be assigned to the term beautiful, because they meet the most general requirements of attractiveness.

For contrast, smokin hot wolf reactionlet’s look at the term smokin’ hot. The adjective, “hot” is being modified by the adverb, “smokin’.” In simple terms, it implies that a person’s attractiveness level is beyond just hot, and has reached such levels of beauty that it must be emphasized with an additional word.
The specificity of smokin’ hot is not used to describe just anyone. Unlike the general terms beautiful, pretty, or attractive, to be considered smokin’ hot requires that someone exceed the typical social construct of beauty. More often than not, this term is based solely on superficial appearances, and lends itself to completely objectify the female, male, or other subject in question.

Unintended Results of the Attractiveness Scale

I don’t want to talk about the psychological damages of not being considered beautiful, or the fact that the social construct of beauty often represents an unattainable standard.

What I want to talk about here pertains to the experiences of attractive women.

I myself know that I am beautiful. I do not say this to brag or to fish for compliments. I know where I am on the scale, I know how far I am from the American social construct of smokin’ hot, and I’m comfortable with that.

In my life, I have been fortunate enough to know several women who certainly rank within the smokin’ hot category. A few of them were even my fellow classmates during my undergrad and graduate studies. As I was thinking about writing this blog, I looked back at the shared experiences I had with these women, and I noticed some disturbing factors.

With one of the women I knew, I remember admiring her beauty from afar, because she was/is amazingly gorgeous, but I also remember she almost always sat against the wall or in the back, and she didn’t contribute much in class during our undergraduate studies. In fact, it wasn’t until graduate studies that I realized her level of brilliance. One of my professors had us make posts on an online messaging platform, and we had to reply to several of our classmates. As it was a small class, you got to see everyone’s internal thoughts rather quickly. Her interpretation of Renaissance literature blew my mind away! I had NO idea she had this level of skill or intelligence, because I got stuck on the gorgeous façade of her body.

From then on I made an effort to try and engage her to talk in class. I noticed others do the same. Granted, we were in a smaller class, and many of us had known each other for years within the major, and perhaps that made her feel more comfortable as well. When I started hanging out with her and some of the other grad students socially, she talked about her life and her experiences.

bitch facePeople hit on her constantly since she was a teenager, seeing her for nothing more than a trophy or a conquest. She tried dismissing them politely at first, but they didn’t stop, and often made her feel unsafe. She had to develop what she called the “bitch face” as a way to tell people to back off! Most of her life she had been seen but not heard, because her level of attractiveness was so high that people never expected anything out of her. She could have taken the easy road and let people do things for her, buy things for her, but that’s not who she was. Yes, physically she was and remains breathtakingly attractive, but she refuses to let her brilliant mind stay idle.
I had two other grad students in my class in similar situations. Both phenomenally gorgeous, and both also had to create facades that pushed people away. The bitch face defense seems a common tool among smokin’ hot women who are also blessed with brains.

As I thought about my female friends and how they dealt with this stigma of beauty, I thought about myself and what I have done.

Yes, I’m beautiful, but I never felt like people expected me to just sit there, say nothing, and be pretty. My level of beauty has always been pleasing enough that people enjoy my presence, but part of that enjoyment exchange has given me the access to be outspoken, to say my ideas without fear, and to have lengthy discussions with all manner of individuals. I’m sure that I get objectified for my level of attractiveness, but because I never had to contend with such dismissive behavior from onlookers, as my smokin’ hot friends have had to do, I learned early on how to assert my dominance in a conversation. My degree of beauty may have opened the door to these conversations, but I have always felt that people continued listening to me more for my mind than for my looks.

Brilliant Minds in Beautiful Bodies

agent-carter-9999Going beyond myself and my own experiences, I see similar examples in television today. The show Agent Carter,  for example, has the lead female character as both beautiful and brilliant. Physically, the actress playing Peggy Carter, Hayley Atwell, is quite good-looking, but she is not considered by societal standards to be smokin’ hot.

I think this was a deliberate choice by the writers and directors.

By choosing a beautiful but not smokin’ hot actress to play Carter, it confirms the fact that if a woman is too beautiful she will NOT be listened to. Instead, she would be treated like how everyone treated the characters played by Marilyn Monroe, for instance – they patted the hot bombshell on the head and let her giggle her way through everything. They expected nothing more of her than for her beauty to please them.

In this season of Agent Carter – and by the way ***SPOILER ALERT*** – the show goes one step further to underscore this aspect of the attractiveness scale.

Peggy’s main adversary right now, Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett), is a woman with such genius level intelligence that her brilliance is off the charts, as described in the show. Frost’s back story shows that she possessed a technological aptitude from a young age, but it also shows her having one of the great flaws of true genius, which is a lack of social skills. Frost’s mother, a single woman who has nothing except her looks to get her through life, consistently chastises her daughter for not being nice to the man who is taking care of them, a man who treats Frost’s mother as a kept woman/prostitute. As Frost grows up, her mother’s relationship with this man deteriorates, and when he finally leaves, Frost’s mother blames her daughter in part for not being nicer to him. The mother then takes the teenage Frost into the bathroom to show her her reflection and to tell her that no one in life will ever take her seriously for her brains, because she’s a woman.

(Remember, this is supposed to be early 1920s/1930s mentality).

From this impressionable age, Frost learns that she has to hide not only her intelligence, but her animosity towards those who see her only for her beauty. Instead of developing the bitch face, though, as 21st century women do, Frost does the exact opposite. She creates something akin to what I call the helpless doll face as a way to play on the desires of her onlookers, only to use those desires against them.

Frost uses people by letting them believe they are using her. She uses that leverage to get in a position of power. Frost becomes a famous movie actress married to a wealthy scientist/businessman. Through her power over her pushover husband, she can use her helpless doll face to manipulate him into practically anything, allowing her to assert her brilliance from the sidelines as she gets her husband’s company to lead their research down the scientific avenues of her choosing.

WhitneyFrost-Growing-Scar-Mirror

Of course, as she gets inflicted with zero matter, and becomes more physically powerful, she no longer needs her husband, and gets rid of him after he betrays her. Yet even with this immense power she now wields, the secret society of men she aligns herself with still mostly refuse to see her brilliance. All they can see is how the zero matter has scarred her once stunning face. To be honest, she still looks amazingly beautiful, even with the weird zero matter lines on her face, but the men’s reactions of absolute disgust to her visage further underscore the concept and trappings of the smokin’ hot label. These men have attributed everything she has, her worth, to her high level of beauty. In their eyes, without that beauty she loses everything, hence their reactions. They cannot see her as anything other than an object of beauty, despite her brilliance.

Due to the era and the social constructs, Frost chose to go with the whims of society and used their label of smokin’ hot against them. Manipulating people and navigating through the system allowed her to move far, even while being forced to the sidelines. In playing the game within a society that does not possess the same level of female mobility, compared to modern day society, though, Frost seals her own fate. By allowing society to label her as smokin’ hot, she will remain in the objectfied position, either as something wondrous for them to look at, or as a monster for them to try and control.

BOOK JUDGEMENT: Atticus Crayle – The Accidental Spy

Today I am judging Jason Rybak’s novel, Atticus Crayle – The Accidental Spy.

Book coverSuper-Duper-Quick Synopsis:

14-year-old brainy arsonist outcast, Atticus Crayle, makes friends with a fellow outcast, Gemma, only to find out that her uncle, Damon, is a cool super spy. Damon brings Atticus and Gemma along for a spy mission, lots of explosions and gunfire, and the 14-year-olds end up saving the day.

Star Ranking:

If you don’t remember my star ranking system, please refer back to my explanation in this blog.

3-starsI give this novel 3 out of 5 stars. There were definitely some flaws, which I’ll discuss below, but not a bad story.

Judgment Factors:

Overall Story

13949_origPlot is all about whether the elements of the story create the desired effect. In essence, it’s a young adult/teen adventure story. With this novel, the sequence of events and the discussions between the characters are supposed to make you relate to them as outcasts. Likewise, you are supposed to grow with them to discover that being an outcast is not so bad, because you get to be a spy.

For the most part, this desired effect is achieved, at least in the middle of the book. The beginning of the book starts off slow to establish the characters. Pacing and speed picks ups nicely during the rising action, but it gets kind of choppy as it reaches the story’s climax, and the slightly awkward pacing continues to the end of the story. All the loose ends are tied up, more or less, so you’re not left wondering what happened.

In terms of does the plot makes sense, there are significant issues with character development and distractions, as described below.

Character Development

characterdvlptThe main character, Atticus Crayle, is oddly constructed. I recognize that I’m an American, and his character is a British kid, so there will be some cultural discrepancies. Nevertheless, I can deal with the fact that he’s brilliant, an outcast, and an arsonist, but other aspects of his character don’t work for me.

He is supposed to be highly athletic and able to take a beating, yet he never pushes back his bullies. I understand that he doesn’t want to start a fight or get into trouble, but if you’re making someone an arsonist, it creates a predisposition toward destruction and vengeance, especially in a hormonal 14-year-old. To me, it felt like the author really needed a brilliant character who was also physically able to keep up with the real spies, and the way that Atticus’ traits were presented just didn’t mesh well.

Speaking of which, Damon the super spy character also appears to have contradicting traits. Despite being presented as the cool, calculative spy, he blatantly puts two 14-year-olds in danger, he allows these teenagers to mingle with a whole network of spies, and he makes mistakes that lead to his capture. How am I supposed to accept him as the perfect spy when he keeps making idiotic mistakes? If he were a recruiter, that would be one thing, but that’s not what his character is set up to do. Instead, his character is pretty much a tool used for the specific reason of pulling Atticus into the spy game.

Damon is also a tool to connect Atticus and Gemma. Luckily, Gemma’s character does have definition. Both she and Atticus provide the male and female teenager perspectives of being an outcast. I also really appreciate that the author gives Gemma room to be emotional without making her overemotional simply because she happens to be a girl. The author has made her a strong character who works as a good partner for the main character. Of course, this instantly puts her in the love interest position, but it’s a young adult/teen book, which means hormones and romance must happen.

All the other characters are cardboard cutouts, like many non-player characters. They are nothing more than quickly described archetypes used for specific purposes, which is a trick ALL writers use. Unfortunately, there are several of these characters, and since they are not well defined, it’s easy to get confused as to which characters are on the side of the good guys, which characters are betraying the good guys, and their underlying motivations all around.

Grammar and Technical Issues

grammarMy biggest problem with this book is the fact that it’s in present tense. Yes – you can break the mold and do present tense, but you have to stick with it. There were several times in the book where the tense switched slightly, because present tense got too confusing, but it did switch back. Furthermore, present tense creates a stream-of-consciousness mentality, which was not the focus of this story. It was first person through the eyes of Atticus, and most of the time we were hearing his inner thoughts, but they were presented in a linear fashion that reported the events. I don’t think the first person perspective was enhanced by the use of present tense.

Other grammar issues and typos made me think that the book may not have been edited professionally. I admit that I notice errors more quickly than most people, because of my profession. Still, some of the errors would be noticeable to non-writers.

Besides grammar, there were also technical issues with continuity and action sequences. The continuity errors were extremely minor, and you could easily figure out what the writer meant. Concerning the action sequences, many of them were well-described, but the sequencing became awkward in places. Again, you could follow along and auto correct in your head without a lot of problems, but I think the whole book could’ve used at least one more round with the editor.

Distractions

thumb-video1I had major issues with some of the action scenes in the early part of the novel. There is no way you can hide a bulletproof vest under the chair of the driver’s seat, let alone pull the vest out while driving and be able to put it on in the midst of a high-speed car chase! I don’t care how thin of a bulletproof vest you have, it’s just not going to happen. Also, some of the ways the cars were hitting each other and the shooting scenes defied physics, but I guess I could excuse it as spy car superpowers.

Atticus’ family life also stuck out. He has no father, and his mother is never home, except when Atticus isn’t around. When she briefly stops by, she drops off badly-wrapped expensive presents. I’m supposed to believe that he is taking care of himself, somehow managing to get specifically healthy food, paying the minimum bills, and keeping the whole truth about his junkie mother hidden from everyone? I know a lot of people who raised themselves because of bad or neglectful parents, but there were many signs that something was wrong.

I guess I can kind of believe that since Atticus is an outcast who never starts trouble that maybe he has slipped through the cracks and no one has caught on yet. Regardless, the whole relationship between him and his mother seems out of place. If she were to have just left, I could deal with that far better than her randomly appearing to leave gifts while her son is not at home. Why would she leave him anything if she doesn’t want to see him? Maybe she’s embarrassed of what she has become, but you don’t get that impression from the narrative.

Lastly, it really took me out of the action when all of these adult spies didn’t seem to care that two 14-year-olds were in the mix. I guess you can argue that all of them have messed-up family lives and started young, but it still seemed peculiar. Personally, if I were one of the adult spies, I would be worried that these kids would make mistakes that would lead to me getting killed.

I know that this novel is aimed at a younger audience, hence the age of the main character, and I’m aware that a younger audience demographic means that I’m supposed to accept these teenagers having access to adult privileges. I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t set well with me. There are a few instances where the spies do instruct the teenagers to stay behind, but it comes off more as Damon protecting his niece rather than reasonable adults restricting teenagers from dangerous activities. Also, from a writer’s point of view, the teenagers were left behind deliberately to push them into action, so they could get into position to save the day.

I can at least respect that the writer refrained from having the teenagers beat all of the bad guys. The ending was far more realistic, and it focused on the bad guys treating the teenagers as kids and as leverage. I enjoyed the writer playing with that aspect. While I may have enjoyed how that was treated, it still felt like a distraction that only the bad guys saw the teenagers as liabilities. Yes, the good guys knew more about the teenagers’ skills and what they could handle, but their lack of restraint and willingness to use the teenagers as tools/bait puts their “good guy” status into question.