Review: Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

March 8, 2015 in General Topics

Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

Cover, Life of Pi

Life of Pi presents a challenge to the reader. Here we have a book whose back matter bills itself as a survival adventure, but whose text doesn’t present the true start to that adventure until its hundredth page (in the edition I read). And almost immediately, someone might worry that the whole premise has been compromised. Pi’s tale is rendered via what amounts to a flashback. We begin his story with an interview of the central character many years after the novel’s centerpiece events.

This kind of setup is ballsy. It’s like if David Copperfield opened his act by showing you the grand finale, then proceeded slowly onward with an exhaustive how-to of the trick involved, betting that he was good enough at his craft and stage show to hold your interest despite his having deflated much of the tension and (forgive the obvious choice of words) magic he was going to employ. Read the rest of this entry →

#DS91sttime: Season 4, Episode 21, “The Muse”

February 16, 2015 in #DS91sttime, General Topics

DS9: "The Muse"

That look, whatever it is–I like it. DS9, Season 4, ep 21, “The Muse”

Writers–the ones that believe in their bones that they were made to write–are very driven people, given to not only burning the midnight oil, but the morning and afternoon oil as well. Like all artists, there’s the potential for obsession, sometimes foisted upon us by outside influences. George Orwell, one of my favorite authors, was basically killed by the demands of his publisher; as a consequence Nineteen Eighty Four became his last work.

“The Muse” asks a question: is an artist’s legacy worth the cost of losing everything else? Of risking their very life? One of the characters present in this episode seems to think so, but their nefarious deeds wind up having less impact on us than the other half of this tale.

We’re presented with two plots in “The Muse”, as is the wont of Trek since the earliest days of the Berman-helmed shows, at least by my recollection. The first finds Jake Sisko abandoning a vacation with his father in the name of working on a story. What’s really happened is that Jake has been captivated by the offer of a female alien to help him with his novel. There’s clear sexual interest on Jake’s part toward the woman, named Onaya, and the episode dances carefully around the subdued eroticism of Onaya’s candlelit quarters. This is a coming of age tale, of sorts, both for Jake as a writer and as a young man, and like any good coming of age story, Jake finds himself in over his head. It’s a little uncomfortable for us, as it is for him. Read the rest of this entry →

#DS91sttime: Season 4, Episode 20, “Shattered Mirror”

January 28, 2015 in #DS91sttime, General Topics

Once again we descend into the mirror universe in “Shattered Mirror”, a place where–as my wife puts it–“everyone becomes a worse actor”.

I don’t know if I completely agree with that, though this might be because I always focus my ire on the logical issues inherent in mirror universe episodes. Lest you think I’m being unfair, let me tell you that I believe in an old adage about fiction: “Everybody gets one pass”. The problem with “Shattered Mirror”, and other mirror universe episodes, is that they’ve by definition already been given a pass. Namely, you have to believe there exists a place where nearly every prime universe character has a counterpart, despite the mirror universe’s millennia of radically different factions, wars, and historical events. You have to imagine that, somehow, most people had the same parents, and their parents had the same parents, all the way back to prehistory.

“Shattered Mirror” starts off with a premise so ridiculous I have a hard time writing about it without reverting back to the expletive-throwing days of my youth. Mirror Jennifer Sisko has apparently booked a tourist visa to the prime universe and comes across for a casual visit. Nervous smiles from both Sisko men follow.

This all makes perfect sense! See, you can cross over whenever you want, clearly. Sisko must have hopped over to grab Jennifer, or she beamed over onto the promenade for a visit, and everyone’s completely cool with this, because an organization like Starfleet, which has a freakin’ temporal protocol clearly has nothing to say about interfering with the affairs of another dimension. And hey, since that mirror universe is so great, clearly the prime universe wouldn’t see an influx of refugees, or anything like that, because it’s not like crossing over is so simple that mirror universe characters can do it in the name of having dinner. Read the rest of this entry →

Notice for Recent Buyers of Beacon – Part II for Nook

January 20, 2015 in General Topics

Recently I ran a promotion advertising two free books, the serial installments Beacon (Part I) and Beacon – Part II (parts of the Beacon Saga Serial). There was an issue with the advertisement, which was set up by the marketing site, which erroneously indicated that Beacon – Part II was free on Barnes & Noble, i.e. for Nook.

I’d made the company aware before the add ran that Part II was not free on Nook. We’re all human, so I’m not throwing anyone under the bus, but I do want everyone to be clear about what happened. I also want to fix this.

If you mistakenly purchased Beacon – Part II on Nook (for $.99), as a result of this add, I’m openly encouraging you to use the “return” or “refund” option offered by Barnes & Noble. Please do.

Please note you can download a truly free Beacon – Part II from my catalog of books available on Smashwords. Just click here.

In addition, I’d like to make you an offer: a free ebook of $2.99 or less from my library of works, from Smashwords, which you can then sideload into your Nook. To claim your free ebook, please do the following:

1) Send me an email message to my email address and include a copy of your purchase receipt from B&N (Nook) for “Beacon – Part II”.
2) Indicate in the email which free book you’d like a copy of from my Smashwords catalog at:

Please note: In order to be eligible for this free book, your purchase must have taken place between January 17th-20th, and only from Barnes and Noble’s site (or directly through your Nook, if applicable).

I’ll then get back to you with your free book’s coupon code.

My sincere apologies for this issue and any inconvenience it has caused. Again–it wasn’t me!

End of Line

January 2, 2015 in General Topics

The measurement of time as we know it is an inherently subjective animal. I don’t mean that we can’t guarantee that there are seconds, or hours, or that we can’t argue the Gregorian calendar makes a lot of sense. Rather, our end markers for where we define a year are completely arbitrary. I think human beings–whose sentience brings a greater respect for death–associate the “end” of anything with decay, and as the winter season is a time of decay, we anchored the end of the year appropriately.

So I’ve never put a huge amount of stock into our capstones on units of time, or for our odd obsession with the end of “years” in particular. It’s all relative, the way I see it. Just ask the Aussies, after all–right now they’re in summer weather. One wonders what the Gregorian advocates would have left us had they been residents of the Land Down Under.

What matters isn’t that we’re especially reflective at one point of the year–that’s all well and good–but that we retain our ability to be self-aware and observant at all times of the year. That produces more fruit than some sort of one-shot resolution or year-end retrospective. There are a great number of people who marched into Times Square or some other venue on New Year’s Eve, and marched right back out to lives centered on smoke and mirror stuff that really isn’t that important. Their next year will be rife with bad decisions and misdirected priorities. While thousands suffer at the hands of North Korea, and Ebola orphans long for parents, some of us here in the United States will be voluntarily aborting our own children for reasons even the most ardent proponent would find specious. We’ll dream wistfully of new cars. We’ll chase the latest celebrity gossip. We’ll choose careers and stuff over time with our families. We’ll wax about how easy our smartphones are to lose and how the same can’t be said for those spare pounds.

It’ll be another year when practicioners of religion, particuarly Christianity, are told that there’s room for every belief at the table except their own, which they’ll be encouraged to keep to themselves. We’ll see more wars, and more torture (which, unfortunately, a majority don’t understand is not compatible with faith or the American mythos). More people will be wipped into a froth by dishonest talking heads who are little more than paid shills for their political parties. People in this country will continue to avoid holding their leadership accountable for their mistakes, because cheap gas and mediocre healthcare and some availability in the job market are our bread and circuses. We are presently–most of us–well-fed, warm and entertained. Such people don’t usually find much time to be concerned about the transgressions of their government. The Romans knew that; we Americans in 2015 will live it.

Through it all will be the endless drone of our self-absorbed culture. (I will freely admit self-centeredness is a fault of mine, and one I’m working on).

Some of us–hopefully you–will do better.

Because what will continue to matter most are not these macro patterns, but our resistance to becoming propogators of them. Pausing to grasp the ramifications of the year’s headlines was a worthwhile activity, but nothing can replace a healthy respect for history and our world cultures that it created. Nothing substitutes for a drive to understand the nature of the great wheel that we all run along the top of. Perhaps more than any other issue in our education system, we need a much greater emphasis on bringing children up to know that the study of history isn’t the study of dead people and static events from ages before they were born. They need to be taught–as some have said–that history is the study of philosophy told through past events, that ripples made centuries or even millenia ago can and are still affecting them, that a characteristic of any contemporary people is that they often ignore the traps their ancestors stumbled into. Everyone imagines they live in civilization 1.0; the truth is that we’ll never leave alpha testing.

2015 needs to see more people who understand that science can coexist with religion, that there was a time when the mind and soul worked in greater tandem than they did. We need to actively resist those foisting the idea that these two great disciplines must be in some sort of eternal antipathy. People need to learn that the path to enlightenment doesn’t include obtaining a degree in mockery. We need less demagogues and less fanatics; we need reasonable people sitting in the open court of ideas. We need to learn how to respectfully disagree with each other. We need to stop expecting everyone to agree with everything we do. We need tougher skins but gentler hearts, better arguments but less arguing, more cogent views–but less of those derived from a vantage point looking down upon our neighbors.

We can make it a better year, or we can make it like 2014. Here’s to the past year and what we hopefully learned from it.