Monthly Archives: October 2013

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read a few of Neil Gaiman’s other works and enjoyed them immensely, although I’ll admit that I haven’t gotten around to reading American Gods or Anansi Boys at the time of this review. In fact, the only book of his marketed to adults that I’ve read is Stardust.

This makes The Ocean at the End of the Lane an odd duck. While it’s being marketed as an adult novel, with the exception of a couple of suggestive scenes, it has a very young adult feel to it. Or, if anything, like the kind of young adult novel that gets banned from school libraries in the southern states for those suggestive scenes.

Told through the memories of a middle-aged man remembering the story through the eyes of his 7-year self, The Ocean at the End of the Lane follows him as he befriends Lettie Hempstock and her family, who are…different. Different in that they seem to exist in our world and in others at the same time. When a being from another world/reality begins to meddle in ours, Lettie and the boy set out to stop it, but the adventure leads to worse and even life-threatening problems.

Again, this book is odd in that I’m not sure exactly who Gaiman’s target audience really was. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a wonderful modern fairytale, but at the same time, there are mixed messages about who this book is for. It feels like a cross between Stardust and The Graveyard Book. Not a bad mix, but still confusing. In that regard, this book has strong literary merit, in potentially reigniting the ongoing debate about what makes a young adult novel different from an adult novel. First, the protagonist is a child, as his is close friend. Secondly, and probably unfairly, it is a sort of fairytale. That, in and of itself, doesn’t make a young adult novel, but it does carry a stigma of being for younger readers. However, Gaiman crosses the line to adult novel with sexually suggestive scenes involving the boy’s father and the nanny, Ursula Monkton. This is probably a debate that would better be discussed by literary scholars rather just a reviewer, but it is something to consider.

The characters themselves are interesting. While the boy is generally not the most likable of characters and is rather cowardly, he does redeem himself, and more importantly, he’s identifiable. His serious flaws actually make him supremely real in a way that most people will likely find themselves identifying with him at some point in their lives. The Hempstocks are a classic mythological archetype, whether you want to consider them the Fates, the Norns, or whatever, but they work well in this way and in their relationship with each other and the world. If I have to fault the characters at all, it’s that the parents of the boy come off as supremely unlikable, to put it mildly. The come off as cold and uncaring about the boy. There’s not much, if anything, to redeem them, and I would have liked a tad more development on those characters to at least make them less problematic.

It’s still a short and charming story, although not as charming as Stardust. It has interesting characters and a wonderful story that’s definitely worth taking a look at.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane earns 4 buckets of ocean out of 5.

The Man in the Tan: A Poetic Satire

ThumbnailThe Man in the Tan: A Poetic Satire by Sheldon Nylander
The economy of was down.
The banks had all fallen prey
To over-speculation
And no money to play.

Obama was elected
On a promise of change,
But the conservative backlash
Was really quite strange.

The midterm elections
Came around with a bang
And the House wound up falling
To a conservative gang.

A Tea Party entered
With no scones in sight
And with a big splash of Koch
They were ready to bite.

But who would lead them
As their rollbacks began?
Then entered an old voice.
He was the Man in the Tan.

He promised them changes,
But more the reverse.
His big sticking point
Was tightening the purse.

He promised them money.
He promised them freedom.
He promised them a return
To the Nineteen Fifties kingdom.

But his views didn’t hold
With a lot of the voters.
It was the Democrats who saved
The General Motors.

“We do not like the Orange Speaker of the House.
We do not like him. The man is a louse.”

Do you like him in his ties,
Even with his bald-faced lies?

“We do not like him in his ties,
Including all his bald-faced lies.
We do not like the Orange Speaker of the House.
We do not like him. The man is a louse.”

Would you with a cup of Tea
With his policies agree?

“We would not with a cup of Tea,
And from his policies we flee.
We do not like the Orange Speaker of the House.
We do not like him. The man is a louse.”

Would you if he gave out checks
On the floor of the House complex
From Big Tobacco, with respects?
You would not feel any ill effects.

“We would not, could not accept his checks
Especially in the House complex.
Instead we need some exorcists
To remove the Man’s lobbyists.
We do not like the Orange Speaker of the House.
We do not like him. The man is a louse.”

Into the House
The Orange Speaker did swagger
With a tear in his eye
And in the other a dagger.

The first thing they did
Before getting tough
Was read the Constitution.
An empty gesture, sure, but harmless enough.

Then it began.
At the mouth they did froth.
The rollbacks commenced.
From backs they took cloth.

They held the budget down
Towards a fiscal cliff they ran.
And their leader in all this
Was the Man in the Tan.

They got them a deal
To stop short of the cliff.
Then the Man let them go
And disappeared with a sniff.

But the adjournment did come
Before the next leaf
Could be turned over to vote
For Hurricane Sandy relief.

The people did cry.
The people did clamor.
But the Man in the Tan
Kept bringing the hammer.

Reagan’s policies he adored
Although they’d proved barren,
And what trickled down
Was really just urine.

His House cut off food stamps
For the poor and the needy.
But the only ones to benefit
Were his supporters, the greedy.

The Man struck a deal
With the Senate on budgets
But reneged on that promise
For the sake of his ballots.

He shutdown the Senate.
He shutdown the House.
No one could get help,
Not even the House mouse.

The families of workers
Were the ones getting screwed,
But the conservatives balked
And continued to feud.

But the outrage came
As the Tea Party did squeeze
The checks that won’t come
To fallen soldiers’ families.

“A clean budget they won’t vote for
To fix all the dimes.”
Although they tried on healthcare
A recorded forty-two times.

But a new battle loomed.
And there was a bad feeling
As a shadow approach:
The U.S. debt ceiling!

The Tea Party said
To let it all go.
They wore it with honor,
The party of “No.”

One Representative Cruz
Would be singing the blues
That despite all the news
No one agreed his views.

The Tea Party fought.
On ideology they did dwell.
But without any giving
It would all go to Hell.

But a debt ceiling crash
Would be a disaster.
Even the Man in the Tan
Began to work faster.

But too little, too late
Did the Speaker see through
A vote to save the country
And fell the other shoe.

The markets did crash,
The world was in turmoil,
The economy floundered,
And the money recoiled.

This was a crisis
That could not be undone.
At the end of it all
The Tea Party cried “We won!”

The people cried out
But everyone knew
The House was destroyed
Without Thing One or Thing Two.

He was the Speaker in Orange
He was a Speaker in trouble
But he was just now
The Speaker of rubble.

But if you read closely
You’ll notice, my friend,
That this is a tale
That we can amend.

The battle’s not over
And if we act now
This ending can change
And I’ll tell you how.

Let everyone know
Especially the powers
That’s you’re well aware
Of the precious ticking hours.

If enough voices rise
To affect a great change
We can end this debate.
That change is in range.

Email them all.
Write to their office.
Tell them to quit fooling
With the intern’s tight bodice.

Tell them we’re tired
Of all of this strife
This isn’t a game.
This is real life!

And keep writing and shouting
And remember their votes
And their coats and their notes
And their numerous quotes.

Remember this change
Has to happen with you.
If you fail to act,
You have no right to stew.

Vote with your ballots
Vote with your dollars
With enough votes we’ll get
Through their thick earwax armors.

Contact Congress

Book Review: Monstrosities

MonstrositiesMonstrosities by Jeremy C. Shipp

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve always had a problem reviewing collections like Monstrosities by Jeremy C. Shipp, mostly because I feel the need to review each story on it’s own in order to give each story its due, and not wanting to attribute a single value to the whole book.

Fortunately, Monstrosities makes this easy. Each individual piece is good and worth your time, and most of them won’t take much time at all.

As I stated, Monstrosities a short story collection, and some of these stories are very short, which makes it easy to consume this book in small bites for those who have busy schedules and not much time to read a longer and more involved story. Each story provides something different, and with Shipp, you think you know where things go until he makes a hard left turn. Or doesn’t, which keeps you guessing, which is good because keeps the reader interested wanting to find out what happens since Shipp’s work often defies prediction. The stories themselves are wonderfully weird, and despite the title and the cover, they aren’t all horror stories. It’s a true mix of genres that make one story read and feel completely different from the previous one. You’ll get horror, fantasy, science fiction, and with each one you’ll get a healthy dose of character introspection.

And that’s the very interesting thing about this book. Monstrosities is still an accurate title, but it’s not about monsters in the literal sense, or what one would expect from the cover. Instead, each story explores a person’s inner monster in different ways, as no two monsters are alike. I was not prepared for this going into it, but it was an unexpected pleasure because I happen to enjoy stories with a heavy psychological bent.

I had read one of the stories before. “Googly” was previously published in “Attic Toys,” and “Figs” was previously published in “Here Be Monsters” (which I haven’t read). So, there are some stories that readers of Shipp’s work may have come across before.

The stories are generally very good. There’s still a feeling that the author could have shored things up a bit here and there, as the reader might occasionally feel like there are a few ragged edges but can’t quite put their finger on. There are also some editing issues, which really bother me, as I’ve pointed out in previous reviews. Unfortunately, I do have to knock the book down a little for that because can pull the reader of the page, a problem in a novel or novella, but a critical error is very short stories where the author doesn’t have much time to grab the reader and pull them in.

Overall, if you’re looking for a good introduction to Shipp, you would be off to a good start with this book. The stories are short, which accommodate a busy schedule very nicely, or you can consume them all at once, and you’ll get good satisfying stories for your time.

I just wish I could figure out what Shipp’s obsession with clowns is all about. Not necessarily a complaint; just wondering…

Monstrosities by Jeremy C. Shipp earns a solid 4 clownish hands out of 5.

Psychology and Politics

ThumbnailI wrote a post a few days ago about the government shutdown that struck a nerve with a few people. Personally, I don’t mind disagreement as long as the those disagreements are based on well-thought arguments and evidence rather than emotional and ideological pleas. And I’ll still say whatever I want here because it’s my website and my soapbox.

One thing I noticed that struck people in particular was when I referred to a “tyranny of the minority.” There were disagreements trying to point out the conservative viewpoint is not in the minority, including among conservatives in the U.S. Congress itself. They claim that they represent the interests of the majority of Americans.

One thing that’s very clear right away is how incorrect this is and there’s a single piece of evidence that shows this clearly: Elections! If a majority of Americans agreed with the conservative wing, why are they not elected to and in charge of all branches of government? We just had a major election cycle last year where the Democrats kept control of the Senate and the White House and lost seats in the House of Representatives, despite gerrymandering of districts. Clearly, it is not true that the majority agree with conservatives in this country, at least not at this time. And I don’t accept an argument of a silent majority, because if a majority is silent, then it’s useless.

However, that is not the point I want to make with this particular post. What struck me about the reactions was the rational disconnect that seems to follow a lot of people when it comes to politics. Evidence shows that conservatives are not in the majority at this time among the general population, yet they insist that they are. This isn’t unique. Liberals will also claim the same thing when conservatives are in control of the government.

It’s a phenomenon that I personally find fascinating. Aside from the intensity with which people disagree over politics nowadays, what is it that causes this particular disconnect? Part of me believes that, to start, political beliefs are themselves irrational regardless of where someone falls on the political spectrum. Politics, by nature, have to be based on ideologies at a fundamental level. Even liberal ideas such as feeding the homeless (yes, it is) are, I will admit, irrational at their core. There’s not anything I would stand to gain personally. It’s a spiritual benefit one gains from helping their fellow man. In that regard, Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy is, admitted, the most rational belief in an absolute sense.

But that’s not to say that it’s right. I and many others find Objectivist ideas abhorrent on multiple levels. So, I’m admitting that my own political beliefs are not entirely rational if my beliefs were somehow based entirely on self interest. Instead my beliefs are based on a desire to benefit everyone, to help the downtrodden, further science, promote the free exchange of ideas, and further humanity’s progress. And I can dig my heels in pretty hard over my beliefs.

So, why do people act so irrationally over their beliefs, no matter how irrational we know they are, or try to convince ourselves they are rational? And why the insistence that someone is part of a majority when they’re not? I personally believe that most conflicts of this nature stem from a basic “Us vs. Them” mentality in the age old competition for resources. Unlikely some, I don’t believe that religion is the major source of conflict. Take religion out of the equation and people would still find reasons to fight because it’s really about resources.

Convincing one’s self that their part of the majority likely comes from the desire to be part of the dominant group. People like an underdog, but not necessarily being part of such a group. With the U.S. as divided as it seems to be at this time, it’s easy to convince one’s self that they’re part of a majority and that their majority factor is simply silent. But, like I said, a majority is useless if silent, so it’s very difficult to argue it on any practical level.

I’m currently reading a book that came out last year called The Righteous Mind, which is about this subject in particular. I’ll be reviewing it once I’m done, and interested in the conclusions that the author draws.

In the meantime, however, the Dodgers game is getting very intense, behind one run in the eighth inning, so I’m too distracted to continue with this post.

Pardon My Politics: Shut It Down!

ThumbnailI’ve been meaning to say something about this, but I’ve been dealing with some health issue for the last few days which has made my thinking and writing process a little slow. Fortunately, I’m one of the people who is lucky enough to have insurance already. But I still wanted to get my opinion on record here, so I’m going to keep this short and sweet.

There’s a lot of arguing going on over the current government shutdown. And a lot of that arguing is grossly misinformed, and very much along the political lines that have divided the U.S. in recent years. I’ve made it clear in the past that I don’t have much love for the Democrats because they sold their souls along time ago. But let’s get something out of the way, and I’ll explain why: This is a Republican shutdown of the government, and they are solely responsible for it, not the Democrats.

As many know, this shutdown occurred because of a refusal to negotiate the Affordable Care Act (AFC), more commonly referred to as Obamacare. There’s just one problem with this previous statement: There’s nothing to negotiate.

The AFC was created and voted in by representatives who were elected by the people. The voters kept a lot of these people in office, including the President. The law was challenged in the Supreme Court and upheld. The AFC is law, voted in by representatives of the people and determined to be Constitutional.

So, what do the Republicans do? They act like petulant children and when they can’t win by following the rules of the game like everyone else, they throw the game board up in the air and storm out of the room.

There were constant complaints that the Democrats in the Senate and the President were refusing to negotiate over this (not that the President really has much to do with what was going on in the legislative branch, but whatever). But, again, there was nothing to negotiate. It was already voted in, signed into law, and passed the Supreme Court. So, instead the GOP essentially takes the government hostage.

There have been a number of teabagger Republicans who have are now lauding this move as what they’ve been working toward all along and there’s strong evidence that this is indeed the case. Republicans have been proposing resolutions to support individual portions of the government. In other words, the parts they want to keep. If you remember back during the 2012 election cycle, several Republicans openly stated departments that they wanted shut down. Since they couldn’t do that directly, they  have instead shut the whole thing down and are attempting to revive only the parts they want. Hence the reason the Democrats are fighting on this, because if they give on this point, the Republicans have no reason to negotiate anymore.

Leading up to it, I think it was pretty clear that people didn’t really understand what a shutdown of the government actually meant. The name itself sounds like all that’s happening is that the legislature simply won’t be in session and not get paid. Actually, the exact opposite is the case. Their pay is secure during the shutdown. A more apt name for it would be a shutdown of federal programs. Programs that support children and the needy. Programs that keep national parks and monuments open. Programs that are cleaning up toxic sites. And furloughing the low level workers, so they are forced to stay home without pay, or in some cases continue to work with no pay. The only people getting hurt by this are the little guy. If there is ever going to be a time where the Two Americas concept is going to come to the forefront, it will be now.

There are now reports of dissent in the Republican ranks and that a majority of the House is willing to vote on a clean resolution to end the shutdown. However, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), our illustrious and orange Speaker of the House, refuses to bring such a resolution to a vote. Again, petulant children, attempting to implement a tyranny of the minority, and quite literally holding the livelihood of millions hostage for their demands. In most other contexts, the GOP would have likely been declared a terrorist organization by now. Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme, but it’s not that far off.

So, when people try to blame the Democrats and the President for not negotiating, it’s concerning that there’s not much of an understand of the political process. Again, there was nothing to negotiate. The law was created and voted in using the established and agreed upon rules of the Constitution that they so claim to love. Except when it’s inconvenient, like now.