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Books

Summer Reading

20130529-144035.jpg

Wanted to start this summer by reading some classics on the U.S. military, from WWII to the hunt for bin Laden.

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Books

January Reads

Reading for the month. Highlights: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (halfway done and amazing, just like 1Q84), Life of Pi and All the President’s Men.

Books

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Books comic books

Reading Batman

Gotta’ love Batman! Here is his first appearance, from Detective Comics #27, from May 1939. It is a simple, cool story and it is only six pages. It introduces Commissioner James Gordon and ends showing that Bruce Wayne is Batman (technically “the Bat-Man”).

I’ve read three Batman graphic novels recently: Batman: Year One (okay); Batman: Hush (excellent); and Batman: Venom (meh). I think I’ll read some with Bane and the Joker soon. Anyone know another good Batman story?

P.S. A good novel about the Golden Age of Comic Books (late 1930s to late 1940s) is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. It is a fictional story of two boys who get caught up in the comic book wave before World War II and create their own superhero, modeled after Superman.

Cover for Batman’s first issue

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Books comic books Culture

Confession: Why I Love to Read

It’s official: I have an addiction to reading.

But hey, nothin’ wrong with that, right Doc? I’ve already read more than 20 books this summer, and I’m aiming for another 10 to 15 more before I go back to college.

So, why do I read?

Well, there’s the obvious answers:

  1. To get lost in a different world (Very true, as I have a fairly active imagination and, if anything, a long attention span and need to occupy something to keep me from getting bored).
  2. I’m bored and it beats Xbox (True, but I still play my fair share of Call of Duty).
  3. To read the book before the movie comes out (Ahem, Hunger Games, Perks of Being a Wallflower and World War Z).

But I have another answer, something I was always semi-conscious of but never fully realized until around a month ago:

I read to get ideas for my novel that I am writing. Well since I’ve only written a few scattered pages I should say the novel that I plan to write.

Here are some things I’ve read about and plan to blend together into my novel:

1. Religion/spirituality/philosophy

I just finished reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, the allegory about a Spanish shepherd who travels to Egypt to find  treasure and his meaning of life. And it gave me an idea to make my story slightly allegorical and have parables and moral lessons in much the same way as The Alchemist and The Odyssey are simple tales that show our humanity and hopes. And I’ll throw in a little philosophy, too.

2. Beginning and ending the novel

I have deliberately read a diverse collection of books this summer (I went from the grueling Homicide to the upbeat X-Men to cool James Bond in a week). I read graphic novels, thrillers and young adult dystopians- to get a well-rounded look at literature.

And I have a habit at noticing the beginning and endings of novels- how do writers catch their reader’s attention?

One great beginning I saw was in Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, the witty take on a teenage breakup:

Dear Ed,

In a sec you’ll hear a thunk.

3. Thinking outside the box/ satire

Deadpool’s gun says, “One free one-liner with every kill.”

Another piece of inspiration for writing came from reading Deadpool & Cable from none other than Deadpool, the Merc with a Mouth, who breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the reader. How awesome is that! It gave me the idea of writing a book where the character knows he is in the book. Maybe it could be a satire on the entire novel culture and the character does something just to create a cliffhanger at the chapter break and says, “Find out what happens next chapter!”

4. Humor

Something I learned both from Deadpool and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is how to use humor. That’s something I need to learn! I have been told before -the person choosing his words carefully- that my writing is “Dry.” And no, he didn’t mean dry as in “Dry wit like in the British Office TV show,” he meant dry as in “Boring, dull.”

So I will try to make my writing more interesting and funny! That requires good dialogue and bizarre situations.

5. Science fiction/ fantasy

This is very important because my novel will be science fiction and fantasy. I have looked at how different sci-fi books have been written and how the future is presented. I obviously don’t want to copy a future technology or plot line so it is important to be knowledgeable about the genre.

My novel will have some components of space travel so I need to get at least a basic understanding about space travel as presented in sci-fi.

And I need to vividly describe the world I am imagining to give my readers the same world I envision.

So…

There is a reason I read so much. Yes, probably the biggest reason I read is to get lost in a new world, a world where magic or time travel is possible. But I also read for the (somewhat selfish) reason to improve my writing to see what other writers have done, evaluating what works and what does not.

Know any books worth checking out for their creative brilliance?

The Alchemist has a great encouragement for anyone trying to achieve their dreams. We just have to believe. As the King told the shepherd:

“When you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it.”

First picture (books) and text by Tim Worden

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Books History

Book review: Jack 1939, a WWII spy tale

Jack is a suave, reckless protagonist and “Roosevelt’s man in Europe”
  • The book gives the genesis for John F Kennedy’s passion for solving international politics and upholding democracy

Jack 1939 follows a young John F. Kennedy, a senior at Harvard researching his thesis about Europe’s political chaos with the impending world war.

Only the novel, by Francine Mathews (Riverhead Books, expected publication Thursday, July 5), takes a twist: Jack Kennedy is serving as President Roosevelt’s personal spy in Europe -from London to Paris to occupied Prague- trying to stop the Nazis from buying the 1940 U.S. presidential election to put an anti-war president in office. (So the novel is speculative.)

The novel takes on a tone like James Bond and Sherlock Holmes as Jack Kennedy -a chronically infirm boy- is exposed to the mysterious world of international espionage.

There are a number of well-written, memorable characters like Willi Dobler, Grubbins and Diana that show the reader the  U.S.’s first involvement in espionage that later defined the Cold War era of our country’s history.

The novel does a great job at showing the different attitudes of the war in Europe, from London’s political elite to undercover spy networks intent on overthrowing the Nazis.

Overall: Good action, Great ‘what-if’ portrait of how JFK grew into the U.S.’ firm, diplomatic leader.

There is a phrase one of the characters, Willi Dobler, tells Jack, that captures the tone of the novel:

Si vis pacem, para bellum;

Or, If you want peace, prepare for war.

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Books comic books

My Summer (Book!) Road Trip


Reading is my raison de être.

So, after a hectic semester in college, I am celebrating my freedom with a three-part summer goal: Read, read and read.

I can think of no better way of spending three months than by lounging around reading a good sci-fi or two. I just finished Carte Blanche, Jeffery Deaver’s sleek new take on James Bond. Luckily, I have a perfect part-time job at a library to top up my books when I’m runnin’ dry.

I’m thinking of my book summer as a road trip. Where will these books take me? I’ll find out!

So here’s my road trip itinerary:
(As with any good road trip, I might find a pleasant detour along the way.)

1) Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler- I’m a huge fan of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Handler’s alter ego Lemony Snicket. This one’s about teen love. I started it yesterday and am loving the novel’s humor.

2) X-Men Messiah Complex– After mutants are nearly wiped out, a new mutant is born, giving the X-Men hope.

3) X-Men Second Coming– Will the new mutant bring hope to mutant-kind?

4) Insurgent by Veronica Roth- Great young adult dystopian series where teens choose a faction that they are bound to follow their entire life based on their personality

5) Marvel’s Civil War and Spider Man: Peter Parker and The Amazing Spider Man Civil War tie-ins- Iron Man and Captain America, two of Earth’s mightiest heroes, have become enemies.

6) A gazillion other comic books! (Marvel of course)

6) Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson- You had me at ‘cyberpunk’.

7) The Alchemist by Paul Coelho- Don’t know much about it but it’s supposed to be good.

8) V for Vendetta and Watchmen by Alan Moore- The film versions of these graphic novels are good

9) Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson- A cyberpunk about hackers.

10) Spy novels- I’ll start with Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, then go to Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne novels, then add a few Tom Clancy novels for good measure.

11) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglass Adams- There are two ingredients to make a good book: Wittiness and science fiction. This doesn’t have either.

I am open to suggestions too, any good books I should check out?!

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Anthropology Books comic books Culture Movies Science technology

Of Aliens and Men: Science Fiction, a Genre Code (Anthropology essay)

Wohoo, got to write an essay about science fiction! It was fun being able to write about The Hunger Games and X-Men!

This is my final paper for my Language and Culture Anthropology class. We have to evaluate a code, which is a genre (like punk rock music, or fashion, or mystery novels).

Star Wars envisions a planet with a binary sun system, somewhere far, far away…

INTRODUCTION

            Since its beginnings in the mid-1800s, science fiction has crept up to become a dominant genre in the United States. It hit the radar in the 1890s with H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and War of the Worlds, but did not reach mainstream status until the latter part of the century with Star Wars and Star Trek spawning thousands of sci-fi die-hards.

While I am focusing on science fiction literature, its popularity in television and film cannot be ignored: Roughly 44 of the top 100 highest-grossing films of all time incorporate some form of science fiction (Box Office Mojo 2012).

But what exactly is science-fiction, apart from alien invasions and cheesy graphics?

Science fiction is a genre textual code (Chandler 2011). A code is an interpretive framework of symbols that is dependent on many related characteristics. As a result, “Codes help to simplify phenomena in order to make it easier to communicate experiences” (Chandler 2011).

As a genre, science fiction allows readers to experience the mysteries of the universe. It seems like a cliché, but it is true: Are we alone? What if dinosaurs roamed the Earth today? What if I traveled 800,000 years in the future? What if reality is simply a projection from a game? All of these have been the subject of science-fiction plots. If Sigmund Freud were to peer deep into science fiction, he would determine that it represents an unconscious plea for pure escapism.

According to science fiction critic Gary Westfahl, science fiction as a “distinct and self-conscious genre” was founded by Hugo Gernsback in 1926 (McLeod 2010:170). The Gernsbackian definition of science fiction has three elements (McLeod 2010:170):

1. Charming romance/thrilling adventure (for mass appeal)

2. Scientific fact (intends to be scientifically plausible)

3. Prophetic vision (social consequences of an idea)

BODY

            As a genre, science fiction sets itself apart not with its superb characterizations or sensual love scenes, but by its ideas (Davis 2010:19). “Science fiction (delves) more actively into philosophical questions” (Davis 2010:19).

For example, what makes H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1898) iconic is its fanciful vision of aliens in tripod machines wreaking havoc on the Earth. The novel ends with the aliens being, ironically, conquered by bacteria and the reader realizes without some Deus ex machina, humanity would have been easily wiped out. And the novel’s protagonist? “Whatzizname, who narrates all this to us, is no more interesting than the cellulose he is printed on” (Davis 2010:19).

Science fiction serves as an unfiltered realm for delving into the deep things of the universe. Fans of ABC’s sci-fi drama Lost realized this, and latched onto the show as hardcore fans intent on discovering the mythology of a mysterious island. Another hit sci-fi show, Fox’s The X-Files, achieved a cult following with fans and had –in 1998- more than 500 fan websites devoted to discussing the show’s conspiracies and mythology (McLean 1998:3).

Science-fiction allows the audience to experience alterity, or otherness, by imagining things outside the normal human experience.

“The media-driven milieu of The X-Files suggests that the whole world is now the same place, all of it accessible, all of it at once safe, dangerous, restricting, liberating. The North Pole is no more or less threatening than the New Jersey woods or a cheap motel room” (McLean 1998:8).

Science-fiction, then, mirrors Anthropology by exposing readers to alien cultures to better evaluate their own culture. Anthropology has ethnographers experience different cultures from places such as Papa New Guinea or Brazil. Science fiction has this alterity by exploring: cities of the future, alien planets, the wider universe, inner landscapes and places outside the traditional mappings of the world (Westfahl 2011:73).

The time-travel sub-genre of science fiction is able to comment on the current society by exploring what will happen in the future. Prominent examples are H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and BBC’s long-running Doctor Who, which follows an alien time traveler protecting Earth.

When The Time Machine was published in 1898, Victorian readers got an etic understanding of their own society’s class struggles. The reader is introduced to the working-class Morlocks and the aristocratic Eloi who inhabit Earth in 802,701 A.D. In fact, the novel can be interpreted as Wells imparting his Socialist idea of class struggle as he witnessed the growing gap between the working class and bourgeoisie during the Industrial Revolution (Mankus 2006:11).

Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island (1874) and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) take an optimistic view that technology helps colonialism (Reider 2010:203). The technology allows the inventor to reach the frontiers of human existence.  “The spatial frontier tends to coalesce with a technological one, because… the effect of the scientific discovery or invention is precisely to give its possessors a form of mobility and access to territories that no one else has” (Reider 2010:203).

Science-fiction also deals with the downsides of progress. Common in science fiction stories is a “Central Brain” which, due to its superior technology, decides to destroy humanity. In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), the increased connectivity of the world is not used for Facebook and texting, but to allow the government to monitor its citizen’s every move. And in Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men (2007), the Danger Room, a high-tech computer room the X-Men use for training, gains self-awareness and seeks to kill the X-Men (Whedon 2007). The Danger Room’s computer had been receiving upgrades to make it more intelligent until it finally realized it could overtake its creators. In the science fiction genre, characters often must defeat the technological threat by curing the corrupt technology, or, alternatively, unleashing a virus to destroy it (Westfahl 2011:48).

Further, technology allows those with the high-tech inventions to conquer the “primitive” people. In Avatar (2009), humans colonize another planet to mine a rare energy source while enslaving the peaceful natives.

“As an extended meditation on the potentials of technology, science fiction uses these end-of-time symbols to envision technology’s ultimate potentials, both good and evil” (Westfahl 2011:43).

But science fiction is not only just about deep philosophical and eschatological questions. Science fiction allows its audience to get lost in another world.

Viewers did not flock to Avatar to watch a 2-hour-40-minute flick about man abusing technology. They came to experience the fantastical, verdant world of Pandora. The planet was the decade-long brainchild of James Cameron, who invested an enormous amount of economic and creative resources into creating a fun new world (Westfahl 2011:73). From the ferns to the floating mountains to the mysterious world, viewers of the film were able to suspend their disbelief and peer into their own imaginations.

“Pandora produced a fictional place which is, for many viewers, by far the single most memorable thing about the film. Much of this impact clearly rests on the alterity of this extraterrestrial landscape.” (Westfahl 2011:73).

The visual power of science fiction cannot be ignored. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote A Princess of Mars (1917) to imagine a love story set on Mars, an exotic, fantastical planet with flying ships. It was done in much the same way that romantic comedies are set in New York or Paris today to emphasize the love story.

But these portrayals of the future are not always positive. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) has the Eastern United States under continual ash after a nuclear war destroyed most of civilization, and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games (2008) presents a future in which cities are feudal slaves to a decadent capital.

Unlike space, the science fiction genre is not a vacuum. Science fiction has shifted over time as scientific advances and beliefs changed. The genre is a code defined by its writers, editors, readers and critics (Reider 2010:212).

Genres such as fantasy, action, drama and romance often cross into the realm of science fiction. The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003) by Audrey Niffeneger is more drama/romance than science fiction even though it centers on a time traveler. Niffeneger does not use the time travel to comment on future societies (the time traveler can only go a few years into the future, anyway), but to show the effects of time displacement on a young couple. And fantasy shares an appreciation to visually displaying an alternate world full of new laws, language and possibilities.

CONCLUSION

            Science fiction is fundamentally similar to most other fiction genres. It has a setting, plot, characters, dialogue and a climax. What differs is science fiction incorporates science and technology to have a story that is other-worldly. Sherlock Holmes and the Doctor from Doctor Who are both brilliant British detectives who solve cases. What differs between them is that Holmes tends to solve petty political disputes in London, whereas the Doctor has: Traveled to World War II London; witnessed the creation of the universe; and saved the Earth from Gothic statues, robots and aliens. Science fiction, as any literature genre, gets readers to peer into the human condition. It might do it with shiny new toys, but it checks the current society’s ethics, morality and path it is heading on into the future.

From spaceships to superpowers, science fiction is a textual genre code that lets man’s creative genius and imagination shine.


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Books

“Divergent,” the next great Young Adult dystopian novel

The young adults genre has really caught on in recent years- and I’m glad its bringing in the next generation of teens to read

“I am not Abnegation. I am not Dauntless. I am Divergent. And I can’t be controlled.”
-Tris

Definitely my favorite line from Divergent, by Veronica Roth, a young adult dystopian about a society split into factions based on personality. The quote captures Tris’ edgy personality.

Divergent has been hailed as the next great young adult dystopian novel, so I was naturally attracted to it. I would have read it earlier, but I had been on my library’s waiting list for it for a month.

The novel follows Tris, a 16-year-old in a post-apocalyptic Chicago where society is split into five factions based on personality traits (daring, smart, selfless, peaceful and honest).

Each 16-year-old selects his or her faction, each of which specializes in a division of labor to help the society’s welfare (protection or government, for example). The decision stays with them for their entire life- and they must leave their family behind.

There’s a great coming-of-age tale and first love in the novel (and thankfully no love triangle). Overall, it is strikingly similar to The Hunger Games. Tris at times seems exactly like Katniss (rebellious, strong-willed), so fans of The Hunger Games will not feel out of place.

The novel does an incredible job of showing the importance of family. Both Tris’ parents are dynamic characters who change throughout the story, something that many novels gloss over.

I plan on starting Insurgent, book two in the trilogy, within the next few weeks.I will end with another great quote from the novel, this by Four, a Dauntless imitation leader:

“I have a theory that selflessness and bravery aren’t that different.” -Four

Insurgent just came out May 1, so at least I’m mostly up-to-date :)
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Books comic books Culture News

Happy Book Day! (And other thoughts on World Book and Copyright Day)

Tonight marks World Book Night, where volunteers will hand out free books in the U.S. and UK.

Today is World Book and Copyright Day, as celebrated by UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

You can check out its history here, but the day “seeks to promote reading, publishing and the protection of intellectual property through copyright,” according to UNESCO.

Tonight is also World Book Night (unrelated to UNESCO), where volunteers will hand out free paperback books in the United States and United Kingdom. The 30 books include The Hunger Games, The Kite Runner and The Book Thief.

As an avid reader and a public library employee, I have one thing to say: Sounds good to me.

UNESCO has chosen the theme of Book Day to be on translation, as it’s the 80th anniversary of the the Index Translatonium, the U.N.’s translation database. But this is a boring theme for children. Why not science-fiction or graphic novels?

So I’m just going to skip this theme altogether and use this as my soapbox to talk about books and reading!

Some thoughts:

1.) Graphic novels have caught my eye recently. I use Marvel’s iPad app to check out free Marvel comics (like The Avengers and X-Men).

X-Men: Age of X is awesome.

2.) I just read House of M: The Avengers, about an alternate reality where evil mutants have taken over the Earth and regular humans are being enslaved. A small group of New York humans team up to protect their ‘hood.

3.) So now I am reading X-Men: Age of X, which I guess is another alternate reality where humans are fighting off the mutants, so the mutants (with Magneto at the helm) build a fortress.

Best part of the comic: Magneto hurling Chicago skyscrapers at his enemies as if they’re footballs.

So where am I going with this?

Oh yeah, you should read a book! Why? To exercise your imagination.

So here’s a list of easy books to read:

Clancy is known for his military expertise. I haven’t read this yet but I’ll get to it soon.

1. A young adult book– The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, The Giver

2. A comic book– The Avengers, X-Men or Spider Man

3. A fantasy book– The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Giver

4. A myster/thriller– by Tom Clancy or James Patterson

5. A history book– World War II, Civil War, Civil Rights Movement

6. A classic book– by Charles Dickens or Jane Austen

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Books

Catch-22: The mind of a genius

Here is one example of Joseph Heller’s brilliance from Catch-22.

Nurse Duckett has urgent news about Dunbar:

Nurse Duckett: “They’re going to disappear him.”
Yossarian: “They’re what?” he asked in surprise, and laughed uneasily. “What does that mean?”
Nurse Duckett: “I don’t know. I heard them talking behind a door.”
Yossarian: “Who?”
Nurse Duckett: “I don’t know. I couldn’t see them. I just heard them say they were going to disappear Dunbar.”
Yossarian: “Why are they going to disappear him?”
Nurse Duckett: “I don’t know.”
Yossrian: “It doesn’t make sense. It’s not even good grammar. What the hell does it mean to disappear somebody?”
Nurse Duckett: “I don’t know.”