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Ironic Contradictions

I'm a long time reader - since way back when I was seven. That makes it over three quarters of my life that I will be a reader for. But it is worth it. When I'm not reading or wasting my time online on here or Goodreads I'll be off playing video games, studying teaching and messing around with friends and pop culture. Or reading some more.

5 Newly Discovered Things

Here is a brief entry about five things I've recently encountered in life as a sort of update about where things are going.

5. My energy levels are dropping: I promise this is the one main negative, but it finally seems like my late night exploits (that reading as two overnight shifts a week in a row) are draining me of sleeping time and causing my sleep patterns to enter weird patterns. Hopefully I can work through this and hopefully it won't be for too much longer.

4. My love for learning: Uni is about to start on Tuesday and as a result I did go along one day for the end of the O-Week stalls. It reminded me just how much I love the pattern of going to Uni and studying and learning about literature and really just how much I love life. I'm psyched to see what happens in the rest of the year.

3. Studio Ghibli: It's become a new tradition to watch a film with this group of friends on a Thursday night and at the moment we're going through the anime works of Studio Ghibli (Howl's Moving Castle and Princess Mononoke were the first two) and I'm really enjoying them and the other anime I've been moving towards getting into. I just watched some of Cowboy Bebop and am about to try some Neon Genesis Evangelion.

2. Civilisation V: I recently spent some cash and bought this game. I am really, really loving playing it, with all the ways you can improve an empire with technology, creating religion, farming different resources, trading, making allies, crushing enemies...it's a great game. Although, so far I've been on the losing end of battles against Babylon and Assyria (despite crushing Mongolia).

1. New friends: I met some of these people about a month ago at one of my best mates' parties but its only in recent times that I've met up with them even more than usual. The gift of being able to drive around and have that little extra freedom allows for greater social movement in this regard...

And that's all for now, tune in next time for some of my crazy thoughts on all manners of things!

Is This The Real Life Or Just A Fantasy?

Nine Princes in Amber - Roger Zelazny

“Besides, I like libraries. It makes me feel comfortable and secure to have walls of words, beautiful and wise, all around me. I always feel better when I can see that there is something to hold back the shadows.”


Nine Princes in Amber is the first book in the Chronicles of Amber series. My initial reaction to the novel is a positive one, as it reflects upon the better aspects of pulp fantasy fiction from the 1970s and beyond. In many ways I feel that this novel is what Michael Moorcock was aiming to create with his Elric novels and yet I feel as if Zelazny succeeded much better at creating a book which reflects a mixture of strange magic and human appeal.


The Prince Corwin, awakes at the beginning of this novel to find himself in a hospital where he has been kept sedated for two weeks. Unfortunately he remembers almost nothing about his past life and why he has been placed in the hospital. He discovers quickly however that he does not belong on Earth (where he has found himself) but is a member of a proud and arrogant bloodline that considers itself superior. He is a member of the house of Amber, the real world from which all other worlds are constructed in the Shadow as mere copies and imitations. And so of course Corwin discovers quickly that he is a part of a battle for the abandoned throne of Amber and must fight for that throne.


The concept of one world being the true one and all others being copies is an interesting one to me. Alongside the other magical idea of having a race of beings who can manipulate these other worlds in their own ways I was fascinated by this. In essence our main character is a kind of godly being, only with some of the limitations of a mortal and forced to fight for his very survival.

The one negative to this novel is that, like many other fantasy novels, women have been depicted in a way that suits the author's intentions for his male characters. In other words they are absent or removed from the real aspects of the plot. The few female characters that did appear served to exist as Corwin's lovers or his sisters (whom he used to hide from his brother). However, I do not feel this necessarily an indictment on Zelazny yet, as I have not read anything else by him to this point. It may be more a reflection on the arrogance and brutality of his protagonists and antagonists.

Is Nine Princes in Amber a decent novel then? I would admit to it being a beyond decent novel. With its magic, its brevity and its overall enigmatic charm it was a book that ticked many of the boxes of what I appreciate in fiction. I almost forgot to mention the subtlety of the humour, which tied in nicely into the ways Zelazny showed events unfolding. Of course, the prose is nothing to praise in particular (this is a pulp fantasy work) but by stripping his prose of too many distracting elements Zelazny capably focused his novel around the unfolding action and the likeability and distastefulness of the characters. That, in my eyes, is solid writing.

Well, look at that

I wonder what affect this will have on readers in the future. I mean, if I want to I can easily read at around 900 words per minute and comprehend what I'm reading but it's tiring to read at such speeds/it's not so relaxing to do so.

We are all religious


My life involves meeting with so many different types of people, people that I aim to encourage and befriend where possible. It honestly disappoints me when I aim to be friendly or share my perspective but others close themselves off to accepting that only they can be correct. Some of the types of people include: church members, university students, workmates, customers, cricket teammates and the good old friends of friends. We all have similar and different interests though it is the similarities with which I generally befriend people.

Either way, all of my brief introduction was intended to be a segue into what I really wished to discuss. This is another of the questions people ask me when they discover that, hey, I am actually a Christian who goes to Church and all. This question generally goes along the lines of: so you're religious then? And for me this leads to one of the more uncomfortable answers I ever have to provide. I would love for my answer to be no, yet the answer I provide most of the time is 'yes' with an unspoken 'but I would like not to be'...

You see I believe that there is a difference between being religious and having a faith set or belief in something. While others categorise 'religion' as being a belief in a god or supernatural power of some kind I see religion as being linked more to superstition and ritual. That is to say when people say 'religion' I think of a system by which people strive to overcome their humanity and be better. Which to me is something anyone can do - you really don't need a faith in a godly power to do that. The question becomes more along the lines of: why do you need to be better and have moral codes? Why not live in a world where anything is permissible? 

But that is beside the point. The main argument that I wanted to make in this post is not along the lines of 'hey I'm right and you're wrong'. I certainly hope that I'm right and believe in that hope but that is different from hoping that everyone else is wrong. I don't want to claim a type of arrogance linked to anything that I could believe because that defeats the purpose of what I do believe. My point is that when I hear the word 'religion' I don't think of religion as being the part of Christianity connected to a belief in eternal salvation. I think of it as being the part connected to human effort creating church services that 'must be attended' or penances for moral sins and efforts. I think of religion as being the efforts that we all make, as humans, to ritualistically purge ourselves of any sense of 'evil'. And then again there are some who actively strive religiously to make themselves be purged of anything that could be considered 'good'.

So you see, when someone asks me: 'are you religious'? I would like to say 'no'. I would like to say that I don't view it as a religion but as faith. An issue of semantics in that regard, but one important to me because of what the words symbolise in my mind. And yet I know that in many ways I can be religious and I believe that we all can be. We all have our moral rituals and codes, silly little things to others but serious sacramental things to us.

I know that when I reflect on myself it leads me to ask myself: why are these things important to me. Are they important in terms of how I relate to others? Or are they merely symbolic rituals - the way I live my life religiously? And I think these are questions that we all can ask ourselves regardless of our faith beliefs: why do we do these things? And are they truly important? Because action stems from belief and if I am acting one way and claiming to believe another then what is it that I truly believe...

Books You Should Read If You Want To

  • You should read the book that you hear two booksellers arguing about at the registers while you’re browsing in a bookstore.

 

  • You should read the book that you see someone on the train reading and trying to hide that they’re laughing.

 

  • You should read the book that you see someone on the train reading and trying to hide that they’re crying.

 

  • You should read the book that you find left behind in the airplane seat pocket, on a park bench, on the bus, at a restaurant, or in a hotel room.

 

  • You should read the book that you see someone reading for hours in a coffee shop — there when you got there and still there when you left — that made you envious because you were working instead of absorbed in a book.

 

  • You should read the book you find in your grandparents’ house that’s inscribed “To Ray, all my love, Christmas 1949.”

 

  • You should read the book that you didn’t read when it was assigned in your high school English class. You’d probably like it better now anyway.
  • You should read the book whose author happened to mention on Charlie Rose that their favorite band is your favorite band.

 

  • You should read the book that your favorite band references in their lyrics.

 

  • You should read the book that your history professor mentions and then says, “which, by the way, is a great book,” offhandedly.

 

  • You should read the book that you loved in high school. Read it again.

 

  • You should read the book that you find on the library’s free cart whose cover makes you laugh.

 

  • You should read the book whose main character has your first name.

 

  • You should read the book whose author gets into funny Twitter exchanges with Colson Whitehead.

 

  • You should read the book about your hometown’s history that was published by someone who grew up there.

 

  • You should read the book your parents give you for your high school graduation.

 

  • You should read the book you’ve started a few times and keep meaning to finish once and for all.

 

  • You should read books with characters you don’t like.

 

  • You should read books about countries you’re about to visit.

 

  • You should read books about historical events you don’t know anything about.

 

  • You should read books about things you already know a little about.

 

  • You should read books you can’t stop hearing about and books you’ve never heard of.

 

  • You should read books mentioned in other books.

 

  • You should read prize-winners, bestsellers, beach reads, book club picks, and classics, when you want to.

 

  • You should just keep reading.

By JANET POTTER

Reblogged from May's Books

What IS in a Name?

What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,

 

Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

 

This is a question posed for a long period of time: what is so important about a name? Does a name truly define you as an individual? Surely were I to call myself 'Greg' or 'Bartholomew' or 'Lewis' that would not alter who I am now as an individual. I am not merely defined by my 'Jonathan' name after all right?

I write this post because of an interesting little circumstance connected to who I am and what I do in my life. In my life I have many names. Or rather, many nicknames. It is a very Australian thing to do. I have gone by: Headspin (because of a joke linked to not being able to dance), Duke (for my catching ability), Earl (because of my leg spin bowling), Jon/Jono/Jonny (or other variants) or even simply by my surname. Each of these little nicknames is a reflection on some part of who I am, yet they do not define me in whole. The power of a name is that it exists to provide a particular definition (without knowledge of a person, animal, plant or other item) as to what something is.

For example, I named this blog 'An Ironic Contradiction' for a reason and in doing so I provided a definition of what this blog serves to talk about. For me, that is the ironic contradiction that exists in the ways that we as human beings conduct ourselves: saying one thing and doing another. Because contradictions and how they form have always fascinated me, this lead to me naming my blog a particular way. There is however another example of a name about definition. There is one character in the Bible only mentioned for several verses, by the name of Jabez, which means something roughly along the lines of 'sorrow'. Yet, Jabez is featured in the Bible because of his prayer of faith which leads to increase and prosperity for him. The point I am here making is that while names create definition for other people, they do not necessarily form you into who you are.

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!



I refer here therefore to another Shakespeare quote, this time from Hamlet. My point as it stands is that names only in part define you. If we allow ourselves to be defined by any name given to us then most of us will walk around with an 'Idiot' tag connected to our personalities for the rest of our lives. The important thing is not to merely be defined by names or how people act around you but to be true to yourself and to live as you really are - not limiting yourself to a particular view of how you feel one group should see you. It is a harder thing to do than it is to say but it is something I have been working on across my life and something I think we all can strive for. The power of a name is that it provides part of a focus in your life, but we are all far more than merely names on a list.

This Daylight Gate Does Not Shine

The Daylight Gate - Jeanette Winterson

With university starting back in two weeks for me, I've managed to get to some of the unread books on my list. My reading material has doubled for this year due to the extra literature units I am required to take to finish off my course. Normally something like The Daylight Gate would not quite be on my 'must read' list but I am certainly glad I was forced to take the time to read it.

The beginning of the book starts out very strongly. So strongly that I was tempted to give it a four star rating had it continued in such a pattern. Yet by the end of the book I came to loathe the resolution and recognise that the entire book was making me sick. I feel that Jeanette Winterson did something in the end of the book which was emotionally or historically (I cannot quite decide) dishonest and I'm going to aim to explain why I feel this way.

I enjoyed her semi-autobiographical story Oranges are Not the Only Fruit as much as the entire subject matter enabled me to (not that this is a book which shows off the negatives of when people misunderstand Christianity). Winterson has a talent for description and for adding humour and unique characters to her work. So Winterson's writing here is no problem for me despite it being remarkably minimalist and stark in how it addresses the tale.

Let me begin with why the beginning of the tale appealed to me. It begun as a story about the tragedy of history - when men and women abused ideology and fear to convince one another that certain individuals were witches. The Crucible (one of my favourite plays) has a very good spin on this whole concept. I quite appreciated (gruesome though it was) the idea that Winterson showed of how a particularly dislikeable group of men used the concept of a woman being a witch as an excuse to abuse and humiliate her.

At one point in the tale there is a line that points out the contradiction in how one man can be a rapist on a Saturday night and sit in Church the following morning, with no penalty from the law. Yet if that man claims a woman is a witch he will be listened to and she will be thrown in jail. In other words, Winterson shows how the world in the past (and still sadly, in many ways, now) was a world dominated by the inequality of law in regards to how men and women were treated.

The issue is not that Winterson addresses such concepts. These concepts are why I gave the book two stars for. They are brilliantly realised - if honestly and starkly. The issue is that the women who Winterson sets up to be shown as the 'unfairly claimed' witches are later shown to possess actual 'magick' or have some kind of dishonest past in which they dabbled with 'magick'. In other words, the characters set up to be the heroic characters are actually revealed to be anti-heroes or worse. And this to me threw out much of the power of the initial concept.

My claim of historical dishonesty is that Winterson seems to not understand that for the whole saga of women being accused of witchcraft to hold power, it needs to be shown that they were women with certain rituals that were claimed as witchcraft but lacked witch 'magick' to them. That the superstitions of the people around them led to their being called witches, not that they actually are witches and dabbled in actual 'magick'. 

The issue is, that in attempting to consider such things as real 'magick' and in revealing the insidious nature of some of her characters, Winterson creates a work of fiction which panders to the more superficial crowd of fantasy readers. She panders to the side which see magical witches and demonic vampires as 'sexy' rather than bleak archetypes for a fallen human condition when greed and desire dominate your soul. It's a shallower, more cosmetic treatment of the issue - a way of writing which sells novels but which counteracts the importance of the historical message.

This historical message is so very important in my eyes because it is a message which we do not get today. I felt that Winterson should have understood better how to write a story against bigotry, fear and falsely acclaiming individuals as witches because in many ways that mirrors what she herself has suffered through in life. I felt that her book should have continued to talk about how individuals in history abused superstition to aid their own causes, yet she turned the novel instead into a pulpier version of what it could have been.

For this reason I've only given the book two stars. It is a well written book, but to me writing is only one part of a novel. Themes are equally as important, because the themes are what remain with the reader after the book has been read. Certainly, quality writing aids the reader in developing eloquent expression, yet it does not help provide character to the soul. Character is developed through themes and unfortunately I felt the themes could have been much better utilised.

"It's a free country - I'll do what I want"


The above 'quote' is a typical cliché expression you might here thrown around on the internet, used in debates or typically used as some kind of pointed 'finishing comment' to justify your actions. In a democratic society such as Australia (and I believe much of this stands true for America or Europe also) I am blessed to live with freedom. Certainly freedom of speech is not exactly a part of our legal system like some nations, yet I can say what I want and generally not fear blatant censorship. Society in general, however, might not like what I have to say.

However, there is a kind of arrogance that has come - as shown by this expression used in my title - with the concept of freedom. Some individuals have come to believe that freedom entitles them to say whatever they want and whatever they feel and do whatever they want or feel within the limits of the law. "I can get away with it," they justify to themselves, "it's not illegal. You're not my mother or my conscience so just shut up about my choices." Or so the internal and external dialogues of such individuals could run.

I believe we all to some extent treat our freedoms like this. Why else would I be making such grand sweeping comments unless I felt I had the freedom to do such a thing? Yet the point I want to make is that: yes, you may have the freedom to act in a particular manner or do certain things and so if you choose to use your freedom in that particular way, don't be offended if I use my freedom in the same way.

Let me use an example of belief systems. We all have them and some are more blatant than others. My belief system is a Christian system, one adapted to my particular understanding of my faith and my journey through life. As a belief system it informs my views about many issues and my particular moral or ethical stances. Because of my beliefs I feel led to use my freedoms to inform others about what I believe about particular issues. And often this is frowned upon by individuals who believe that my beliefs are good and all for me alone. However, without realising it, such individuals often feel perfectly at home telling me about their belief systems - it is simply that their beliefs are less formulated into one particular word like 'Christianity' and might take pieces of 'socialism', 'capitalism' or 'nihilism' and blend them into some kind of solution to questions.

I write this not to offend anyone who has a belief system constructed out of their own solutions to issues. To an extent we all deconstruct the ideas and world around us even if we fit under the umbrella of a particular ideological name. The point is that there is an often unnoticed irony in how many people can subtly state or suggest that I cannot have the freedom to talk or share about particular ideas or views while sharing their own anyway. My point is that when it comes to freedom, if we do such things then we are not truly allowing freedom. Freedom of belief and about sharing belief must be universal in nature to be true freedom. I cannot say to the Buddhist or the Muslim that they cannot tell me what they believe and yet I can tell them what I believe. That is not freedom. I could however tell them that they cannot tell me what to believe if I do the same for them.

The point of all this is that if you are going to make statements like 'I can do what I want' then that is all fine. But don't be offended if what I want to do stands in direct contradiction to what you want to do. After all: it is a free country and I can do whatever I want to do.

Old Man's War

Old Man's War - John Scalzi


Old Man's War is instantly recognisable as a science fiction work and yet strangely alien at the same time. But then again that is one of the topics that this work of fiction discusses in depth: the differences between what is human and what is alien.

 

I have always appreciated science fiction and fantasy the most out of all genres. I appreciate their particular methods of cognitive disassociation or dissonance. That is the methods by which they introduce familiar issues by connecting them to foreign ideas such as strange exotic races or bizarre alien technologies. However, despite this appreciation, science fiction has always been a genre I've appreciated more on a visual level until more recently. Visiting the world of Old Man's War was part of a more recent move to visit award winning and critically acclaimed sci-fi works and it was a very decent move indeed.

 

The premise of Old Man's War is centred around John Perry, a 75 year old man who has decided to enrol with the army and head off to fight a galactic war which has been raging for years. The promise of this war offers him a new, revitalised body and a chance to see the stars, because in this world there are thousands of alien races and planets which are sentient and hostile to humanity itself. In many ways this book is very similar to both Starship Troopers and The Forever War, with its own twist on the idea of what it is to grow old in the face of conflict, atrocity and ignoring all humanity. In many ways this is a very thoughtful science fiction work (not that the other works I have referenced are not) in that it consistently works to provide the reader with common sci-fi clichés or tropes and then subtly works again to subvert those tropes.

 

There are two interesting sci-fi ideas used in this novel to particular effect. The first is the idea of 'body switching' through consciousness transfer into a genetically identical body. The other is the use of internal computers linked directly to the brain. Each ideas is used as an interesting little gimmick and idea but also connects to the plot as a whole in a useful way.

That all said, if you are looking for another sci-fi work with themes about war and the nature of humanity look no further than this debut novel by John Scaldi. It is also an entertaining and incredibly poised novel - with solid and settled pacing. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

A Foundational Sci-Fi Work

Foundation (Foundation, #1) - Isaac Asimov

 

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent

 

There are two novels often debated as the best two science fiction works of all time. One is Frank Herbert's Dune and the other is Isaac Asimov's Foundation. Having read both novels I feel that while each are highly important science fiction works in terms of their influence I also feel that Foundation has the better balance between thematic expression and powerful storytelling. It is for this very reason that I believe Foundation to be the greatest science fiction work that I have read.

 

Let me explain that Foundation like any other Asimov work I have touched (very few), is a work of ideas more than personal connections to characters. You will hardly find your loveable character types who you can 'ship' together or create t-shirts for a fandom for. It simply is not that type of work. It is a work of classic science fiction, which means that the interesting characters which do exist, exist for the purpose furthering a selection of specific scientific, logical, fantastical, theological, philosophical and psychological ideas or other ideologies.

 

The plot of this novel is spread across different sections of galactic time in a far distant future. A future so distant that humanity has forgotten the planet Earth and where it came from to create the Galactic Empire. The novel begins with Hari Seldon gathering together a large group of scientists for the purpose of performing research connected to his new science of 'psychohistory'. This psychohistory enables Seldon to reportedly through logic predict the demise of the Empire thousands of years in the future. Because of the threat such ideas pose to the Empire, Seldon's scientists are exiled off to Terminus where the Foundation is created to publish the Galactic Encyclopedia - a work which categorises all known scientific information. However Seldon's true plan, as shown fifty years further into the future, is rather different than merely being to create a universal Galactic Encyclopedia. And so the true purpose of the Foundation is uncovered piece by piece.

 

There are three key ideas within this novel that I wish to discuss. Firstly is the idea relating to the idea of information. The Galactic Encyclopedia is created to categorise known information and many characters pose the case that this is what science is about. Others however argue that science goes beyond mere categorisation of previous knowledge but about making new discoveries and increasing the limits of the knowledge and information that we currently possess. And hence the concept of the stagnation of science versus consistently pushing the boundaries is discussed. And the question is implied in its own way: how far is too far when pushing scientific boundaries? It is a question we must even ask ourselves now in an era of genetic experimentation and technological advancement.

 

The second idea is also related to science. This is the concept of a religion of science existing. In many ways I believe such a 'religion' can and in some small ways does exist. This is an idea which ties into the previous one for me. When I talk about the concept of religion I do so with my definition being one built around the rituals of religion existing alongside worship of those particular rituals. Many make the definition of religion being about worship of a god but what is a god except something that is worshipped? When science or any material item is worshipped it becomes a kind of god and a new religion is founded for the individual.

 

So when I talk about the existence of a 'religion' of science as shown in this book, I talk about the concept of blind faith in how science is used by individuals. Science itself is less flawed than the men and women who practice it and scientific results can be twisted to provided particular results. It should be up to the individual to question therefore how science is used - and I believe that Asimov subtly prompts his readers to consider this concept of blindly believing in infallible miracles of science. Particular given that he wrote in an era that had just discovered the power of breaking the atom.

 

The third concept is the concept of empire. I believe that all authors at their best write what they know in some degree and can often tie their novels into some aspect of reality. In many ways it feels that Asimov's concerns about the rise of two Empire powers during the Cold War (America and Russia) are shown to the reader through this novel. Asimov however takes a historian's approach to this information and suggests that Empires are almost necessary across history. Further he suggests that the breakdown of Empires can be as messy a business as the creation of those Empires. This can be seen in the breakdown of the British Empire in relation to India, America or even South Africa (the fall of apartheid) and the fall of empires as seen in the Two World Wars.

 

I included the headline quote above this review because of all the numerous points made within this book it held the most emotional impact for me as a reader. However I believe that not only is violence the last refuge of the incompetent but I believe it is also the first resort of the incompetent. Violence seems to be the tactic that the weak and bullies first resort to to solve problems rather than aiming to settle with peace. I saw the Mandella: A Long Walk to Freedom film yesterday and it reminded me of this concept - Mandella's last refuge was not violence but peace and the love associated with it. It takes a strong person to take refuge in such things but a strong individual is also a competent one.

 

On the whole Foundation is a great novel full of brilliant ideas. I have always appreciated brilliant ideas as much as sweeping plots and it is perhaps for this reason that I loved reading this novel. It is a true classic and worthy of being considered the greatest science fiction novel I have ever read.

The Issue With -Isms


When I talk about -isms I want to clarify that I am referring to those particular views and beliefs that include but are not limited to racism, sexism, classism (if you believe such a thing exists) or even fascism and communism. They are things which I consider negative and utilised for particular methods of separation. However the issue which I want to talk about is not that such things are negative in and of themselves, but instead the reaction I've noticed some people using to them.

Take racism or sexism in films or television as an example. You see it all the time where a homogeneous group of all male, all white actors are specifically chosen for roles that could have been given a more multicultural spin. There are times when I've seen this happen and reflected that there were actors of other ethnicities or genders who could have been picked (who often have greater resumes for the roles than those chosen) and that the selection of the actors are based around the idea of what they look like being desirable. 

Now obviously the above idea is blatantly wrong. However let me tell you something that would be just as wrong. What if we replaced the group with one which contained all female, all Chinese actresses? The point being that picking based purely on appearances, no matter whether you were trying to reverse the roles around from the norms, is wrong. The thing is that I have had some friends in my real life point out to me that we should change the racism or sexism of things such as books or films simply by replacing the typical 'white, heterosexual male' with his complete opposite. That does not solve the problem but instead serves as a typical bandaid solution.

I hate bandaid solutions - or knee jerk reactions. I hate them because all they do is fix the cosmetic appearance of the problem without solving the deep down issues. The issue in the scenarios I am describing are not the issues that we attempt to fix by replacing the appearance. These are issues of the heart and of consideration that require a change in attitude. People need to wake up to working out artistically and in real life, ways of choosing people not based on simple appearances but on quality. In other words choose the best candidates for the work you need done - not because you have a quota of token non-white or female candidates to fill up. I genuinely believe that if we can get attitudes changing to not view these 'isms' as about the surface appearance that a lot of problems in a whole variety of areas could change. 

Not A Robo Cop Out


So yesterday, after a busy day of working the burger room I went to see Robocop and can I say that it is again a case where I disagree with a majority of criticisms about the film. The one film I have watched this year that the critics hated and that I also found disappointing was R.I.P.D. Anyway, I thought I'd write a quick review/look at what I believe sci-fi is meant to be about.

I believe sci-fi as a genre exists to explore reality alongside deep philosophical ideas. I do not believe sci-fi is meant to tell us the answers to these ideas, much as I believe that science itself is not meant to 'tell us' answers but provide facts and evidence that we can derive answers from. Sci-fi therefore to me is all about questions and theories more than anything else. 

So now, maybe it's because I never saw the original film and dislike the style of Paul Verhoeven's direction (the man also created Starship Troopers for crying out loud!) but I didn't see the finished film as the pointless remake that others have said it is. Where apparently the original is a clever spoof of science fiction in general, full of weirdness and Christian metaphor, this new film is more serious sci-fi with a clear comparison between many modern ideas.

In the film itself you have the United States controlling 'peacefully' other areas of the world such as Tehran, through the use of robots. These robots are basically drones - hence providing a clever point to question drone warfare as it stands - and are introduced to the viewers through the 'Novak Element' a television program headed by Samuel L. Jackson's character Pat Novak. This program brings up ideas such as censorship, media bias and many other things that people don't really think about and perhaps when they see them in a film they don't want to think about them.

The second idea in there and question is about humanity. By turning Michael Keaton's character into a machine-man (aka cyborg) the whole issue about whether he is human or a robotic property is raised. In many ways this questions a whole lot of ethical quandaries raised in relation to euthanasia, abortion, genetic manipulation and technical integration with human bodies. The whole idea of the film is one about capitalism and American Imperialism - something debated by many nations outside of America (does America have the right to interfere in so many countries, do corporations have the right to just buy whatever they want?) and yet inside these questions exist further questions.  

Like another sci-fi movie I-robot I quite enjoyed this film with its many different ideas. Rather than being 'pointless' I saw it as performing what sci-fi is meant to do. Many people have tried to tell me that the best sci-fi is all about being an allegory. I disagree. I think that weak sci-fi tries to be nothing but an allegory, but that strong sci-fi goes above and beyond being mere allegory. When I say allegory I mean the idea of a hidden message existing inside the sci-fi story. I believe that strong sci-fi does not need to provide the viewer or reader with a hidden pointed message - which RoboCop, for the most part, does not - but instead provides questions about reality.

Top 10 Favourite Television Shows


10. Stargate: My favourite version is Atlantis but SG-1 is also quality and Universe is a little sloppier but I like the show on the whole and particularly the science fiction elements and the characters were memorable.

9. Merlin: I came to love the family friendly nature and characters of the show more than anything. The whole Camelot link was just ridiculous to be any true Arthurian kind of thing, but it had its moments (good and bad).

8. Once Upon A Time - I like a show with interesting plot twists and arcs, fun characters and devious villains. I found all of that in this show - particularly in Rumpelstiltskin 

7. Primeval - It's a show that starts off slowly but has very memorable characters and some very good effects and storylines going for it!

6. Firefly - Cut down in its prime and with weird, wacky and different sci-fi ideas to anything else.


5. Avatar: The Legend of Korra - A nice sequel to the original animated show which expands the world and creates some interesting new characters (particularly villains).

4. Doctor Who - Classic sci-fi television, how could it not be on my list?

3. The Clone Wars - Star Wars junkie here, and as for how shows go? This has some of the best sci-fi story telling and Star Wars stories around. It strengthens up a set of flawed sequels, adds new ideas into the mix and messes around with deep ideas (and it's a children's show)

2. Sherlock - Perhaps the best that the BBC is producing at the moment with the quality of each episode like a short movie and with some incredible acting performances.


1. Avatar: The Last Airbender - One of the best animated shows around and easily my favourite show. The attention to detail, to world-building, to character creation is incredible and again it's aimed at children. Which shows that you don't have to target the 'adults' to make brilliant stories. 

Special mentions: 

Agents of Shield - 
I happen to love anything Marvel related, so a whole television show focused around S.H.I.E.L.D had me hooked from the thought. However the execution is not quite as smooth as it could be. Still a fun show!

Avenger's Assemble - Another animated show which is very high quality viewing and unfortunately was cut in its prime. I could say the same for Young Justice or Batman: The Brave and The Bold though...

My take on a reviewer's rights and responsibilities...

Reviewer’s Rights

  1.  The right to express my opinion on a book I have read, read at least 25% of the book, or at least have read the sample provided by Amazon, B&N, etc.
  2. The right to leave only a star rating with no explanation.
  3. The right to point out that it is not my job to help a person become a better writer.
  4. The right to point out that I owe an author absolutely nothing.
  5. The right to leave a positive OR a negative review on the book I have read.
  6. The right not to leave a detailed explanation of my opinion on the book I have read.
  7. The right to ignore any author who attempts to bully me because of my review or argue with me because they disagree with my review.
  8. The right to choose to defend my review.
  9. The right to not read and review any author whose social media antics are immature or repulsive.
  10. The right to post my review to any or any number or forums I so choose.

 

Reviewer’s Responsibilities

  1.  Not to review or rate a book I have not read completely, or read 25% of the book, or have not at least read the sample provided by Amazon, B&N, etc.
  2. Not to engage in arguments with authors or other reviewers who are clearly off their hinges.
  3. Not to review an author in review… review their book.  Any reviewing of an author should take the form of simply not giving them time of day or money by purchasing and reading their work.
  4. Do not sugarcoat your review or inflate it to pander to an author or other reviewers.
  5. Acknowledge the fact that my responsibilities are to other readers and their wallets- not the author.
  6. When reading, drop all thoughts you may have on the author.  Don’t let it cloud your perceptions.
  7. Don’t be a jerk or a bully, but understand that a negative review does not mean you are being a jerk or a bully.
  8. Above all, be honest in your review.

    I agree 100 percent with these points, hence the reblog!
Reblogged from The Surly Dragon

One Of My Least Favourite Things...

If there is one thing I particularly dislike it is a mocking individual. Now I'm not talking about someone who makes a snarky comment or sarcastic joke from time to time (I admit to being one of those people). I'm referring to the snide cynics who have nothing better to do than to mock and ridicule anyone who differs from their beliefs about the world. 

There are two main reason I have come to dislike this so much:

A) Often these people seem to talk about being 'open minded' at the same time. To me mocking someone else in any way is not open minded. That is closing your mind to the opportunity to explain to someone else why you believe they're wrong. That is taking the authoritative standpoint of 'I am right, you're wrong - in fact you're so wrong that no one would ever believe you could be right!'

B) Now, of course the above point is a generalisation. However, this links into the second and major reason I dislike mocking. It's belittling. Again it is a statement of supremacy that 'I am better than you' or at least that 'your views do not deserve consideration'. To me this is something that is plain wrong, because I do believe that differing points of view deserve consideration to some degree. Whether you personally choose to believe those points of view is another matter: but to dismiss offhand a viewpoint before hearing an individual's views is plain wrong and in the issue of a proper debate would equate to you losing before you have begun.

My main point therefore is this: listen to people, learn about different views and ideas. And most of all discuss. In book terms: if someone happens to like Twilight don't just mock that there are '10,000,000 better love stories' out there. Listen to why they like Twilight and explain that you believe there are better love stories and what you could recommend. You see, you might have the right opinion but it is all a matter of manner. Any manner that instantly dismisses another person in my eyes is wrong because all people deserve respect to some degree.

"Cocaine is the Devil in a bottle"

A Young Doctor's Notebook - Mikhail Bulgakov

A Young Doctor's Notebook is a wonderful suite of short stories following a recently graduated doctor as he tackles various medical conditions afflicting the peasants of Russia. That is to say the peasants within his particular domain. Each story is wonderfully sharp and pointed look at the ways in which this particular doctor tackles the issues he is confronted with, each one told from his sardonic and often flabbergasted perspective. There is a hint of irony and humour in how our narrator discusses with himself all the various ways things could go wrong when operating or diagnosing.

In many ways this book serves as an insight into the writer himself. However, moreso, it serves as a poignant way of approaching the whole idea of doubt and insecurity from inexperience. I know that on a personal level I have experienced similar thoughts to those portrayed by Mikhail Bulgakov through his character. My own thoughts have been more linked to teaching and being able to handle a classroom environment, while the doctor's are more linked to 'can I perform this operation outside of a classroom' or 'have I diagnosed correctly?' However, situations aside, one can see how doubts and lack of self-belief are similar issues across careers and lifetimes.

The quote used at the top of this review comes from the final chapter Morphine, which is a diary entry study of a morphine addict. I found that chapter both horrifying and insightfully inspiring. It, to me, revealed the motives behind a deadly addiction: hidden, or buried, pain. In its various ways this final chapter highlighted something I could not quite see in the absurdity of The Master and Margarita  as to why Bulgakov is such a great writer. 

Whether you are looking for a set of brilliant and connected short story classics to read, or wanting to read something full of thoughtful ideas, I do recommend this. It touched me on a more personal level due to the whole connection between the doctor doubting in his ability and I, myself, at times doubting myself. I have in the past struggled with public speaking. I no longer do so much when I do impromptu, however when I have a planned speech things can be a touch tougher. Either way, I believe as fellow readers you will likely find something in this work to appreciate for yourselves.