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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/02/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 27, Whole Number 1526
Table of Contents
The Real Paine (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Most people know of Thomas Paine only for his classic work of American political science COMMON SENSE. Most people have never read his other great volume YOU'LL JUST HAVE TO TAKE MY WORD ON THIS. [-mrl]
Celebrities and Science (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
There is an organization called Sense About Science that is trying to improve the level of science understanding in public debates. This time of year they publish a list of pseudo-scientific claims made by people who are famous for something other than being scientist. Movie stars and rock singers have a following and frequently like to use the pulpit of their fame to spread their ideas that are--sadly--sometimes half-baked. Their 2008 list of celebrity gaffs is at:
This could have been handled as a big laugh at the expense of the celebrities. It is more just a sober statement that this is what was said and this is what science says is true. Still there is an under-flavor of perhaps deserved ridicule. On the other hand, I would hate to have this crew combing through my columns for things I got wrong. [-mrl]
Losing the Moral Edge (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I see that members of the Senate Armed Services Committee are saying that people once high in the Bush Administration, including Donald Rumsfeld, actually do bear major responsibility for the abuses at Abu Ghraib.
I am afraid letting the world see that the United States has this capacity has become part of the lasting legacy that the Bush Administration has left for the world. Perhaps the commanders did not use the word "torture" specifically in their orders, but they demanded results from the interrogations and implied that any means to that end were acceptable. Orders were left ambiguous with strong implications. Thus they could give the order and still retain semi-plausible deniability on responsibility. They could say that the real blame was with the few soldiers at the bottom of the chain of command and everyone in between was covered.
This has two lasting effects whose stench will remain long after the Bush administration is history. First, it is a breaking of faith between the soldiers who follow orders and the officers who give those orders. It basically is telling the soldiers that they take all the risks in following orders and that their superiors may well betray them. This break of trust poisons the relationship between the soldiers in the field and their commanders who have the option of denying their responsibility.
If that were not serious enough, there is a second effect that is even worse. In spite of what propaganda gets broadcast, there is a sort of grudging acceptance in the world that the United States are or try to be "the good guys." They are the self-appointed world's policemen. When they get involved in a situation it is not always for national gain but often out of a sense of responsibility to humanity. Consider Bosnia, an area with nothing we very much coveted. After waiting too long from Europe stop the killing, it fell to the United States. In spite of rhetoric, even among our enemies there is some belief that we are at least trying to do the right thing. And that does convince minds on some level, even among our enemies. We are generally the people of decency if also of naïveté. During the Cold War this was particularly powerful. The world saw the Berlin Wall. They saw how the Soviets treated their own people. The world did not really trust them knowing that crossing the Soviets could be dangerous because they were unscrupulous. It was not always clear what the Soviets would do. Maybe they would murder someone on a bus with toxin in an umbrella.
The United States did not use such tactics. People found that a convincing argument for our side. In the fighting in the Middle East the enemy also tries to create a climate of fear even worse than the Soviets did. We see them behead people on camera to create a climate of fear and justify their actions by blaming them on Allah. These are not really the people that the local public wants ruling their lives. The United States represents the hope that some soft of decency and normality will return. We should not take losing that moral edge lightly.
I will admit that I am not an expert on this subject, but I have heard it suggested that information gathered using extraordinary physical punishment is unreliable information. Maybe that is true and maybe not. But I do have a strong opinion that using these techniques is no worth squandering our moral edge. The morality chip is a valuable one and one not to be squandered lightly.
We come to the difficult question. And in a sense it is difficult because it is too easy and I hate to admit it is easy. The question is would I myself ever be in favor of the use of torture. I don't even have to think very hard about the question. In general I have an answer to the question would I under any circumstances sanction Evil X. My answer will always be "yes." If I had to choose between Evil X and Evil Y and I was convinced that Evil X was the lesser of the two evils, I would choose that lesser evil. If it were a choice of torturing one person or millions dying in agony I would certainly resort to torture. If that would be the only moral choice, it would be the only moral choice. It is easy to invent a hypothetical extreme case where obviously the best thing to do would be to allow the torture. I think every government in the world feels the same way about really extreme circumstances. The question is how extreme do those circumstances have to be? How terrible is the thing being avoided? Nuclear holocaust is probably a bigger evil, if it comes to that. My feeling is that the Bush Administration set the counter-balancing evil too low. It mortgaged our moral edge for much too little gain. I think they used torture to get some dubiously useful information. That seems like an act of desperation and a very expensive one at that.
My hope is that the world will come to see the Bush administration's tactics as an embarrassing aberration in our policies. They are a chapter of American history that closes this month. It is up to Barak Obama to discontinue and disown the Bush policies as quickly as possible. He must distance not only himself but also an entire country from the Bush policies and hope that they will be at least half forgotten. [-mrl]
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: More than just a film, David Fincher's THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is a genuine accomplishment. It stylistically shows a span of history, carefully orchestrating an evolution of style and mood that tracks the passing years. This is an intelligent fantasy with a beautifully sustained and intricate attention to tone. Almost certainly this haunting fantasy will be my best film of 2008. This is a loose adaptation and a translation forward in time of the story by F. Scott Fitzgerald from his TALES OF THE JAZZ AGE. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
The digital special effects revolution that is now in its fourth decade has reached a higher point of maturity when the question is no longer "What can I put in my movie?" and it is now "How do effects help me to tell this story." That is what the effects do in THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON. They are so seamlessly effective in conveying the story that the director, here David Fincher, can just tell the story he wants to tell. In this case the story is vaguely reminiscent of FORREST GUMP with several parallels. That is not surprising since Eric Roth wrote both screenplays. Benjamin Button (played by Brad Pitt among others in what may come to be the role Pitt is remembered for) was born in 1919 an old man and lives his life getting younger. Along the way we see a wide swath of American history. Like in FORREST GUMP we see his tortured relationship with a woman from whom his condition separates him. This is Daisy, played beautifully (when an adult) by Cate Blanchett. In this case his relationship starts out grandfatherly and the two get closer to the same age until they pass each other into a relationship reminiscent of the end of FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON.
At 159 minutes, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is very deliberately paced to lull the viewer into the period feel and to allow him to ease into the fantasy story. Yet there is always more than enough on the screen to involve the viewer. Fincher creates the feel of the period directly and by insetting small stories done in the style of cinema of the time. All sorts of technical aspects are done very nicely including makeup that ages (or un-ages) the characters. One finds oneself impressed with Cate Blanchett's dancing, but later wondering if it might be the result of digital wizardry. The one place where the attention to detail lets us down is in insufficient resemblance between actors playing the same character at different ages.
The tale is told in flashback, read from a letter once written to a woman now dying in a New Orleans hospital. The letter tells the story of the life of the title character. His mother died giving him birth and his father (Jason Flemyng), in grief and abhorrence for the monstrous looking baby, rejects him and leaves him on the step of an underfunded nursing home. From birth the child looks more like an old man, which is just what he turns out to be physically. He is adopted by the black care-giver Queenie (lovingly played by Taraji P. Henson) and raised as an old man in the home. Eric Roth's screenplay sticks to purely fictional characters, but he does meet someone who is based on the real-life Ota Benga, the pygmy who was put in a zoo.
This film is a technical triumph, but not one whose touches call attention away from the plot line. It is a beautiful mood piece. I rate it +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10. Side note: I do not think we saw all seven lightning strikes. I think it was 2-2-1-1. Did I miss one?
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0421715/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/curious_case_of_benjamin_button/
ENDER IN EXILE by Orson Scott Card (copyright 2008, Tor, $25.95, 380pp, ISBN-13 978-0-7653-0496-4, ISBN-10 0-7653-0496-1) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
My first reaction upon hearing what ENDER IN EXILE was about was, "What, now we have a run on books that fill in gaps in series?" For those that don't know, now Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert can't leave well enough alone now that they've finished the original "Dune" series. They're embarking upon tales that fill in the gaps between DUNE and DUNE MESSSIAH, DUNE MESSIAH and CHILDREN OF DUNE, and CHILDREN OF DUNE and GOD EMPEROR OF DUNE. So, I was skeptical of this new entry into the Enderverse, as it were. I was vaguely aware that there were several new short stories out there, a comic book series, and the ever-present rumors of an ENDER'S GAME movie. But I didn't care about those things. I was wondering if I should care about ENDER IN EXILE. After all, I wrote the following in my review of SHADOW OF THE GIANT: "It appears that with this book Card finally brings the 'Shadow' series of books to a close, but not without an escape hatch for more books in the 'Ender' universe if he wants to write them. Quite frankly, as nicely as this thing finished up, I think it's time to put Ender and his friends to rest and move on to other things."
Well, as you might guess, Card opened the escape hatch. And you know what? To my surprise, it's quite possibly the best post- SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD Ender book written.
The book is a direct sequel to ENDER'S GAME, and thus falls between that book and SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD. Well, Card says that it takes place between chapters 14 and 15 of ENDER'S GAME, a fact which slightly annoyed him, I gather, but I'll let you read his afterword about all that. The initial question is, "Can Ender go home?" There is so much worry that he'll be a constant target, since the nations of the world will be worried that America has in its possession the Hero of the Bugger War and thus will try to conquer the world, that through the manipulations of Ender's parents as well as Valentine and Peter Wiggin (unwittingly doing their parents' bidding) Ender is sent off to be governor of a colony on a planet that was formerly populated by the formics. Valentine manages to get herself on the trip as well, and so the rest of the original Ender series is set up.
The journey to Shakespeare colony is where the novel falls down a bit. The most interesting parts of any "Enderverse" book are about and involve Ender himself. Card inserts a tale of an Italian mother and her daughter as they apply to be colonists and eventually, through the machinations of a manipulative mother, try to work their way into Admiral Quincy Morgan's heart (the mother), and Ender's (the daughter). Things are going badly enough for Ender with Morgan, as the Admiral plans to govern the planet, using Ender as a puppet. I realize the story was included to show Ender's ability to solve problems and help people, but it just seems out of place here.
The rest of the novel tells the tale of Ender becoming the beloved governor of Shakespeare colony, his relationships with the colonists, the finding of a hive queen, his writing "The Hive Queen" and eventually "The Hegemon", the move to Ganges, and, as you might guess, the tying in of those loose ends from SHADOW OF THE GIANT. And for me, it all works.
I would caution the reader that like the other, later "Ender" novels, there is not a lot of action. In fact, I'd compare it to some of Asimov's Foundation novels: not a lot *happens*. There's enough happening to move the story along, but the point of the book is to show how Ender progresses from being the soldier boy in ENDER'S GAME to the wise, learned man-child of SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD. There's at least one review out there that says that one of the things that hurts the book is that you know how it ends up in that Ender will survive, even that final confrontation that is the climax of the novel. There is some truth in that, since there really is no suspense driving it. However, as with the "Star Wars" prequel movies, the tale is in the telling. We all knew where those three movies were going to end up; the questions were whether the story that was told was going to be a good one and would it be told well. I don't think those movies succeeded. ENDER IN EXILE does. [-jak]
VALKYRIE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: VALKYRIE is the story of Claus von Stauffenberg and his attempt in World War II to save Germany by murdering Adolf Hitler during a meeting at the Wolf's Lair. How good can one expect to be a film about Stauffenberg starring Tom Cruise and directed by Bryan Singer who is best known for writing and directing superhero films. Well, actually quite good. This is a nice tense political thriller that sticks fairly closely to history. Cruise is not a bad match for Stauffenberg. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Spoiler warning: Those who forget history may find spoilers herein. Those who never knew it may likewise.
I think that most people who know much about the history of World War II knew that Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg was a hero. And there are even memorials to him and his fellow conspirators in today's Germany. They are, in fact, the only World War II veterans to whom there are memorials in Germany. But his story has not been one that filmmakers have wanted to put into film. He was at once treacherous and noble. He tried to murder his leader Adolf Hitler. Treachery in a humane cause can be a noble thing. And any American ten-year-old I hope would be able to tell you that Stauffenberg must have failed because a bombing at Wolf's Lair is not how Hitler died. So obviously the story of Stauffenberg is a story of failure. And the outcome has to be a real downer, the producers must have realized. The producers had a job to do to make this film a popular one.
Even more surprising is the casting of Tom Cruise. Cruise's pretty-boy looks and action hero roles have done a lot for him, but now they are working against him. But Stauffenberg himself did have boyish good looks and Cruise's interpretation of Stauffenberg is not inaccurate.
The story should be familiar from history. Claus von Stauffenberg determines that Adolf Hitler is leading Germany to destruction. The film (and history) are a little unclear on Stauffenberg's exact motives. Hitler really was destroying Germany, and Germany was going to suffer for his terrible leadership. Mentioned also is Stauffenberg's indignation at the inhumane offenses being perpetrated by Germany. One set of motives is practical and selfish, the other motivation is on a higher level. In any case, Stauffenberg determines that action must be taken to remove Hitler from power. This was in a society where disloyalty was a capital crime.
Early on the film Stauffenberg seems a little too open about his opinions, but loses some of his over-confidence when his heroics get him badly maimed and nearly killed in a battle in Tunisia. Returning to Germany he continues his campaign to remove Hitler, though a little more discreetly than he did in the field. He finds others willing to join the plot against Hitler. In fact, one apparent expedient of the script is that he finds like-minded people just a little too easily. He seems all too ready to put his life into other people's hands. This is obviously a very dangerous practice and Stauffenberg had to survive many times putting his safety and fate into the hands of strangers. It seems from the dramatization that to varying degrees just about anybody he takes into his confidence is willing to some degree or other to cooperate, even if it is just willingness to omit reporting treasonous conversations. In Hitler's Germany that could not have been easy to do. But the plan progresses to the assassination attempt and its tense aftermath.
Scriptwriters Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander have done a surprisingly good job. Too frequently, films called "political thrillers" turn out to be mostly gunfights and car chases. Yes, there is one battle scene and one short gunfight, but for the most part the tension comes from the dialog and the plot. Words are traded, but rarely bullets. The style is much like my personal favorite political thriller, SEVEN DAYS IN MAY. Both films are driven by good dialog and each deals with a military hero attempting to take the reins of government in a coup d'etat. But of course the attempt here is seen from just the opposite point of view. This film is shot with subdued lighting and filters. Frequently the camera is placed just chest-high on the actors to make them seem a little larger than life. In spite of the English- speaking actors, it seems to have the feel of the period.
It is rather ironic that the producers are making a story of a man who failed and in a good cause brought about disaster on his co- conspirators because though he was merely a bomber and not a suicide bomber. Had he remained to make sure the bomb killed Hitler, history would have been quite different. Had he been willing to die in the effort, he might actually have been a success. This is a high-tension thriller that that survives the fact that much of the audience knows how everything turns out. I rate VALKYRIE high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Side-note: It is fascinating to speculate how the world might have been different had the plot had succeeded. Had Germany sued for peace in July or August, 1944, the Soviets would have had much less of a foothold in Eastern Europe. That part of Europe would have much more like Western Europe. Germany would have escaped a great deal of the destruction that came in the remainder of the war. Rebuilding Germany would not have been as necessary. The country would not have the modern atmosphere that it does today and might be a good deal less forward-looking. After August the Pacific War would have gone a lot faster, having the full wartime resources of the United States. This would have brought American troops to the shores of Japan before the nuclear weapon was ready. The only other alternative would probably have been the invasion of Japan. The Japanese were ferocious fighters on the small islands of the Pacific they would have been really terrifying defenders of their homeland, trained to die rather than lost honor by surrendering. The cost in lives might easily have been over a million with each side taking very large hits. The Allies had greater access to resources so Japan probably would have eventually lost, but it is unclear what would have been left of their country when they did. This would have left lasting hatred on both sides. The resulting future of nuclear weapons is very unclear. Word would have eventually gotten out that it had been a success. It might have been used on Japan eventually anyway. And it probably would have leaked to the Soviet Union in much the way that it did. This is all just speculation but Germany, Japan, and the United States might all have been considerably worse off in the remainder of the 20th Century. [I thank alternate history expert Evelyn Leeper for some of the ideas in this paragraph.]
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0985699/
What others say: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/valkyrie/
MARLEY & ME by Josh Grogan (book review by Mark Leeper):
I grew up with a dachshund who like most dachshunds proved to be nearly impossible to train. I think it was because he was a very bright but very strong-willed dog. Obedience was just not Sam's strong suit. I was politely asked not to bring Sam back to dog obedience class because he was such a distraction to the other dogs. Several months back I read about MARLEY & ME (ISBN-13 978-0-061-68720-4, ISBN-10 0-061-68720-0), a book by John Grogan about a dog who had many of the same behavior problems that mine did. There is a not lot in this book that any dog owner will not recognize.
John Grogan presents his life with a neurotic Labrador Retriever touching all the bases, and the book should have been more poignant than it was. Grogan does about as good a job as possible conveying his frustrations and his overarching love for his dog. But Grogan has a large problem that it would take a much better writer to overcome. It is the same problem that your friend has in getting you fascinated with his vacation photographs or in the lives of their children. If it is not your child or not your vacation or not your dog, it is very hard to get the same emotional involvement. Consider the hard time John and his wife had finding a name for the dog. Then thinking about the musician Bob Marley in the same wonderful instant both had the same idea to name their new dog Marley. It was great for the Grogans, and writer John hopes that the reader will be as overjoyed as he was. It is hard to find that name so wonderful. To me it was closer to "merely nice" than to "magical."
Marley has a great imagination when it comes to mischief he can cause. He tests nearly everything in the house to see if it is edible and comes up with frequent false positives like the head of a plastic toy soldier. Some of the stories have a ring of over- familiarity on first contact. There was the time that Marley swallowed Jenny Grogan's gift, a gold chain. For days John had to sift through Marley's oddly colored dog piles. The odd orange color came from Marley's habit of eating the mangoes that fall in the yard. Marley closes beaches, plays in feature films, but mostly just get into frequently disgusting mischief.
At times reading Grogan's anecdotes it is frustrating to be several steps ahead of the storyteller. Marley is terrified of the Florida thunderstorms--the most violent in the country. The terrified dog was known to dig holes in walls, shred books, and destroy furniture in his irrational panic at thunderstorms. So finally the Grogans decide to put Marley in a cage to restrain him when there is a thunderstorm. They buy the cage and leave him in it alone when the next thunderstorm comes. Now they feel safe that Marley is so confined. Okay, reader, you finish the story. Meanwhile, after years of the Grogans trying to convince Marley that thunderstorms are really not dangerous what do you think happens? I will never tell, but the odds are you do not need much of a hint.
The book is not just about Marley. Actually it is mostly about the Grogans love for each other their love for their dog, his love for them, and eventually their love for their children. It is also about Grogan worrying about his family as his neighborhood becomes unfriendly. After years of making fun of Boca Raton and its canonical resident "Bocahontas", he has to move there. A lot of this is about the problems of the Grogan family. But none is as powerful for the reader as Grogan expects it to be. Any adjective that might be applied to the book needs to be modified by the adverb "mildly." It is mildly funny at times and mildly pleasant in the happy moment mildly and touching in the sad moments. I guess in spite of the poop episode and a few similar it is mildly inoffensive.
John Grogan peppers the narrative with his impression of what Marley is thinking, but it is presented as fact. He assumes that because he loves the dog he all but completely understands the dog. I got that impression with dog and years later found out I was wrong. What I thought was a request for an affectionate scratch on his belly was actually just a pack sign of submission from the dog. He probably appreciated the scratch, but he was not requesting it.
This is a book with more than enough virtues to make it worth reading. It is readable, but I am not sure how it got to be a bestseller. [-mrl]
TWILIGHT (letter of comment by Liza MacEntee):
In response to Jayne Bielak's comments on TWILIGHT in the 12/19/08 issue of the MT VOID, sixteen-year-old Liza MacEntee writes:
I will be the first to admit that when the TWILIGHT craze began to grow in the early weeks of fall, I was still one of "those" people who thought that the obsession was overrated. I had not read the book nor did I know much about it, but I couldn't help but see something similar to the "Harry Potter frenzy all over again. I don't compare the two because they are both fantasy, because the stories are anything alike, or because teen girls are in love with the leading man of the story, I compare them because they are both huge money-makers and have grown into defining pieces of today's pop culture.
Not looking for anything specific, I was scanning the shelves of Border's one day with a friend. Out of nowhere she threw a book at me and demanded I buy it. When I realized it was TWILIGHT, my answer was a definite "no." I was determined to not become one of the obsessed teens, but after lots of persuasion and begging, I bought the book. I began it that night, and though there was no instant spark of obsessive behavior, I was interested enough to read some more the next day. It took about three chapters for the obsession to kick into gear, I was a lost cause. I remember sitting in a Manhattan Starbuck's for three hours waiting to catch a train; I claimed a table and built a barrier of luggage around me, unable to put the book down. I was so absorbed in the intensity of the book that I was completely unaware of the city buzz around me. On the way to catch my train that day, I spotted a bookstore in Penn station and bought the second book, knowing I'd be done with the first in a matter of hours. I ended up reading all four books over the course of a few days and was officially a fan.
Now that I've rambled on about my personal first encounter with the story, here is some more specific insight as to what TWILIGHT is about. No doubt that if you haven't read the book and you ask a peer what TWILIGHT is; their response will be something close to "a vampire love story." For those of you that don't like goblins, ghouls, or sci-fi in general, you will probably share my first reaction to the idea of reading it, "Sounds dumb." Although the story is obviously far from reality, and the characters could not possibly exist, it is entirely relatable, and not just for teenagers. TWILIGHT takes place in the modern day, no post- apocalyptic setting, or futuristic flying cars. The story revolves around the very complicated relationship of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. She describes herself as average and clumsy, and is unable to wrap her head around why Edward loves her. Edward is a vampire, and though it is by far his most defining quality, he does have a bit more to him than a stereotypical bloodsucker. A huge part of what I love about this book is that nothing is a clich. This is like no other vampire story you've ever read, all of the myths that come to mind when you think of a vampire are non-existent. The idea is very original, especially for a figure as old and as classic as the vampire. In addition to that, how often--in literature or in Hollywood--do you see the average girl get the boy? I'd say it's rare. What I mean by this, is that in almost every movie or book there is some grandly unique quality about the girl. She's an amazing artist, a great dancer, incredibly outspoken, charming and witty, or even something as basic as just being beautiful. Bella is what real women identify with, she's average. We're led to believe that the only way to get the guy and experience a romance in which you are deliriously happy is if you look and act the part. Edward's case is very similar, yes, we know he is gorgeous but think about it ... he's not popular, or even socially accepted. He hates himself, and although it was a weak attempt in which he ultimately fails, he tries to convince Bella that he isn't good for her and that she deserves better. There you have it, the relatable and appealing traits for the younger audience... but what about those who are beyond their high school years: the parents, those who are married, past the school girl flirting? Sure, what makes the book attractive to teens is the hope, the hope that they will find someone they can have as passionate and lasting a romance with as Edward and Bella do with each other. But adults, who are married, in love, and content with their life, are finding it hard to believe that the book could have the same effect on them, as it has on teens. To adults it's simply a chance to relive and remember those teen years, school, friends, and first loves. It's doubtful they will be able to look back on their own life and remember the day they fell in love with a vampire; however they can relive that feeling of falling in love again. Stephenie Meyer's words come alive on the page, they are beautifully chosen. The way she describes things is perfect, she doesn't ramble about the shape of a chair for 3 pages, but she paints vivid pictures for the readers that make them hang on every word. "I didn't know if there ever was a choice, really. I was already in too deep. Now that I knew ... if I knew ... I could do nothing about my frightening secret. Because when I thought of him, of his voice, his hypnotic eyes, the magnetic force of his personality, I wanted nothing more than to be with him right now." [Bella, pg.139] Bella and Edward love each other passionately, even obsessively. It is the scenario we all wish for, but it's far from a fairytale. They have a complicated and delicate relationship, and although the most defining factor is that he is a vampire and she is not, there is more to it, the things that we can directly relate to.
Typically in my free time, the last thing on my mind is how I can write a long and thorough book review. However this time, my interest was piqued. I recently read Jayne Bielak's review of TWILIGHT, and though I believe she is entitled to an opinion, I don't feel she presented a valid argument as to why TWILIGHT is a poor piece of literature. Her first problem with the book is its lack of advanced vocabulary, okay fair enough, the book is not meant to be a challenging piece of writing. Who's to say that the value of a story is diminished if it doesn't contain college level vocabulary? What she fails to see is that this book was written for *entertainment* purposes, to tell a story that the author felt needed to be told. It was never meant to be the next great American novel. Advanced vocabulary plays a small part in the story, yes it may make it more stimulating to some, but it doesn?t change the actual tale. Stephenie Meyer creates the images that she wants the readers to see through her choice of words, and if those words were changed, that picture would be entirely different. Meyer is not at all redundant or repetitive in her writing, she can describe the same thing 10 different times and each time she uses new words and creates a different image. So no, I wouldn't recommend this book as a good guide to SAT vocabulary, but it's by no means a poor and unimpressionable piece of writing.
Bielak's' second argument is that the book's action presents itself too late and is unexciting even then. First of all, action is not all about throwing punches and blowing things up. Excitement manifests itself in different ways, to different people. A lot of the story's action is mental, consisting of the internal conflicts that the characters face. She describes the beginning of the book as "a slog through the typical day of a high-school girl and her undead boyfriend." Very poor choice of words, nothing about the scenario is "typical," and the reader's interest is constantly piqued by the series of events that progresses throughout the entire book. There is nothing predictable about this story, and yet we are still able to relate to it, making it even more appealing to the readers.
The biggest surprise to me was that for an English teacher, she didn't allow herself much insight into the book. Her biggest praise is that "the vampires are totally hot," if that doesn't scream immature school-girl admiration, I don't know what does. When it comes to the young girls who have read TWILIGHT, my biggest pet peeve is that most are pre-occupied with how gorgeous Edward is. Yes, he's beautiful, a creature not of this earth, and if he crossed my path I would undoubtedly pounce on him like a lion stalking its prey. However, that is far from the one and only thing that I think of when discussing TWILIGHT. To be preoccupied with his looks and pretenses is shallow and stops you from absorbing the real story. It's easy to look at the surface and see him as the perfect man, but if you allow the story in, most of the surface opinions and facades disappear. Even though the story is about teenagers, we aren't exactly devoid of true feeling or depth. Paying attention to the book in its entirety allows you to absorb that. It is easy to see Edward as the charming beautiful man who is without fault, but he hates himself. He struggles with what he believes to be "selfishness" on his part, being with Bella even though he is a danger to her. Imagine being so in love with someone that it hurts to be without them, but every second you spend with them hangs in the balance, you can kill them if you lose control. "It's not only your company I crave! Never forget that. Never forget I am more dangerous to you than I am to anyone else." [Edward, pg. 266]
All in all she insulted Stephenie Meyer's intelligence and her style as an author. She can complain about the vocabulary and style of the book all she wants, but she's not the one making a fortune, or gaining respect and recognition for her opinion. My advice: read the book. You don't have to love it, but I'm betting you will. The target audience is not only teenagers, and if you allow yourself into the minds of the characters, you will enjoy the book even more. [-lme]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Three weeks ago, in in the 12/12/08 issue, I talked about buying a dozen "old" mysteries (from the 1930s and 1940s) re-printed by Rue Morgue Press in nice trade paperbacks. I read the first one (for me, anyway), WHO KILLED THE CURATE? by Joan Coggin (ISBN-13 978-0-815230-44-0, ISBN-10 0-815230-44-5). It was fine *except* for the main character, Lady Lupin, who is a society flibbertygibbet married to a vicar. The back blurb compares her to Gracie Allen, and an apt comparison it is--she is full of apparent non sequuntur (*), and as the back blurb says, "she literally doesn't know Jews from Jesuits." I never found this type of character either believable or funny, so it was hard for me to enjoy the novel, even though the mystery and supporting players were fine.
(*) Yes, that's the plural of "non sequitur"! [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: A man should be just cultured enough to be able to look with suspicion upon culture at first, not second hand. -- Samuel Butler