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(Review) Synthetic: Rise of the Siren

WARNING: This review contains spoilers.

I got this book because it touches on both mythological creatures and science fiction. Sirens, those wonderful creatures of the deep deep ocean who lure sailors to their death. Created synthetically… hmm.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and would recommend it to others.

It struck me as being a bit steam-punk, and a bit post-apocalyptic, and a bit mythical. I wouldn’t recommend it to fans of staunch science fiction. The science in the story was never explained, and in most cases there wasn’t really any effort to explain it. I don’t fault the book for this. I think fantasy stories are sometimes better for leaving some of the details shrouded.

I liked the characters. The main villain was truly vile. The sub-villains were more subtle, more complex, and far less black and white. Till the end of the book, there was even a lot of doubt on my part as to which category some of the characters fit into. I enjoyed them, and the twists and turns the story took them through. My favorite character had to be the cephalopod surgeon. (And that’s enough for most steam punk fans I know to want to read the book.)

I did find the ending of the book to be the weak point though. Once the main heroine got together with the main hero, there was a bit too much of ‘oh, but we’re much more interested in having sex than in displaying any caution for the future’. It seemed a bit over the top, especially in view of the fact that there were obvious hints in the story that they may have won the battle, but the war was yet to be waged.

I was also a bit confused by the paradox loop that the book throws you near the end. We already know that the main character is different, and has a talent for creating synthetic life forms. We already know that all the synthetics created by her ‘mother’ were apparently completely brilliant mentally in one area or another, but that their bodies were deficient or malformed in various ways. That last throw-away paradox though, seemed a bit out of place with the rest of the story.

It seemed like it was possibly there to explain the love story, but even if we grant the main heroine psychic powers, it doesn’t seem to make any sense. She somehow transported her mind back in time, so effectively that… she actually heard what was said to her in the present… in the past?

Despite that, I still really enjoyed the book. I’d be interested to read more in the future.

Book Source: Synthetic: Rise of the Siren

Doctor Who: The Beginning (Warning: Spoilers)

I began my Doctor Who viewing, like a lot of people, with the newer series. While I very much enjoy the newer series though, it’s left me with a lot of questions. How did things start out? Where did the Dalek and the Cybermen originate from? The Doctor used to have family, right? What happened to them?

Fortunately for me (and my pocketbook), Netflix has most of the older story arcs available either via Instant Play or DVD. (It’s missing the ones that there are no video copies for anymore, of course, and the ‘Lost TV Episodes‘ collections are a bit more pricey and difficult to get at.)

I started recently with the set of 3 DVD’s titled, ‘Doctor Who: The Beginning,’ which encompasses three story arcs. Be forewarned, if you get these yourself via Netflix, ‘An Unearthly Child,’ which is actually the first story arc with the pilot episode is for some reason on Disc 3 rather than Disc 1.

As intrigued as I am by the origins of some of the history of The Doctor, watching these early episodes is like a history lesson in itself. The history of gender roles on TV in the 1960′s, that is.

Since the DVD’s I was watching were out of order, the first story arc I watched was ‘The Daleks.’ It’s the first time the Daleks were introduced in the series. Let me set the stage for you…

The Doctor, his grand-daughter (Susan) and their two less than willing companions (Ian and Barbara) are exploring what seems to be an ancient abandoned city. They’ve split up to cover more ground, each of the four going in different directions. The first one in the party to discover the Daleks is Barbara. She comes down a hallway, turns a corner, and coming her direction is a Dalek. Upon first catching sight of the Dalek, before it speaks, or does anything at all except move toward her, her first reaction is to begin screaming, then back up into the wall behind her (not turn and run back the hallway she just came from) and writhe on the wall. Then she continues screaming. And writhing. (This was the ending scene of the first episode in this story arc.)

Nice little tidbits of this sort were scattered through the rest of the story arc as well. Both Susan and Barbara were prone to hysterics, or easily frightened at the slightest thing. The Doctor was arrogant and demanding, prone to throwing a fit if he didn’t get his way, but also the first to fall prey to tiredness, illness, or any other such road block (I’m guessing because the original version of The Doctor was pretty old). Ian, as the ‘young male’ of the party, was also arrogant, and ‘of course’ the most fit and able for any physical necessity.

This type of thing even shows up clearly in the other race that they encounter, the Thals. The Thals have only one female character who has any lines (that I noticed) and she is openly mocked by her father and other Thal males (for, among other things, always having an opinion). This female Thal is also presented as only seeing importance in her ties to the main male Thal character. I don’t think I can recall the exact quote of her father speaking to her male partner, but it was something along the lines of ‘all the future she sees is in you’.

The ‘Edge of Destruction’ story arc doesn’t give as much fodder for this type of thing, since it’s a bottle episode, taking place entirely on the TARDIS. However, in ‘An Unearthly Child,’ the male/female roles are again agonizingly stereotyped.

Susan is first presented at the start as a cool customer who is smarter than both of her teachers, which is what brings them to try to find out more about her. Yet, once the four are away from 20th century London, she panics into screaming hysterics as soon as her grandfather disappears, and is no help at all to finding him or securing the party’s release from their captors. Both Susan and Barbara begin screaming at the merest unrecognizable sound or moving bush, even before any actual danger presents itself.

Not that some people don’t still tend to stereotype females in this way, but at least I can watch most Sci-Fi series these days without going, “What the hell?! Why would anyone do that?” every time a female character runs into the slightest bit of danger.

I’m looking forward to seeing the gender roles evolve as the series progresses. Since there’s no other Sci-Fi series this long-standing, it should be interesting.

Practical Decorations…

With the heat of summer, I keep finding myself with my window wide open so that I can run the fan. Too much sun in the room though, increases the heat (in addition to letting in too much light for the comfort of my migraines).

So I decided to get a bit creative today with a sheet, a pillowcase, a shawl, and a scarf. While I was at it, I decided to clear up some shelf space by finding space on my walls for some of my hats and my Eeyore and Totoro bags.

I’m rather pleased with the results. ^-^

Partial image of pillowcase and scarf and shawl used as short curtains over the fan.Closeup of Sheet, Shawl, and Pillowcase being used as curtains.

Closeup of a pillowcase and a scarf with shiny ovals being used as curtains above and next to a fan in a window.Closeup silhouette of curve formed by sheet, shawl, and pillowcase being used as curtains next to a fan in an open window.Zoomed out view of the bag, belt, hat, and scarf decorations.

Three hats hanging on the wall.Eeyore, Totoro, a hat, a scarf, and two chain belts.

(Review) The Prodigal Hour: A Time Travel Novel

WARNING: This review contains spoilers.

I got this book because it was about time travel, and time travel and different perspectives on the possibilities of time travel have always fascinated me.

I really liked the way this novel dealt with time travel also. The plot seemed well woven. The characters were¬†likable¬†and interesting. The dilemmas they faced were intriguing. And although I realized before the main character which reality was the true reality and had spawned the other reality, I didn’t manage to discern the truth behind the incessant, ‘you’ve been here’ ‘you’ve seen this before’ until the main character realized it himself.

All in all, I felt it was well written and I enjoyed this particular take on time travel.

That praise aside, I take exception to the author’s way of resolving the endless time loop that his story created. It reduces this epic exploration into the nature of the universe and time travel and history and quantum physics to something like a metaphor: One man’s struggle to tell a woman that he loves her. Because of course, professing his love for her is what saves the universe.

Because of course, loving one person is more important than anything else in the world, and being able to express that means that it will work out well, and is the answer to everything.

I feel this is symptomatic of the unrealistic expectation that society and the media impress upon us from a very young age: Finding one person to love is the most important thing. If you can’t do it, you’ve failed. If you can’t love and be loved in this specific romantic idealistic way, you’re a failure. If you don’t find this to be the most important thing in the world, you’re also a failure.

It also once again focuses on the small percentage of people for whom, when they express their feelings, have them returned immediately in the same measure. Because, you know, that’s a super-accurate notion of reality. Just another way to make everyone for whom this doesn’t happen feel inferior and like failures.

For all that I loved the story itself, and the way that it explored the concepts involved, when I finished the book I felt disgusted. Love saves the day. Because without romantic love, we’re all failures and the world ends.

I really feel the author could have come up with a more original solution to the paradoxes created by the story. One that didn’t feed so much into the mainstream media’s idea that everyone has to find someone of the opposite sex to love and be loved by or else life is meaningless. It’s a theme I’m really tired of seeing.

Book source: The Prodigal Hour

“I’m Sorry” Usage 6: Apologies are Important

Usage 6: Apologies are important.

Having examined here a bunch of ways in which we commonly misuse the phrase and shouldn’t be using it, or shouldn’t be apologizing… I want to emphasize at the last that this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ever apologize. The ability to take responsibility for our own mistakes and genuinely apologize for them is key to maintaining good relationships. I feel mere talking can’t convey this well enough, so I’m going to share a couple more stories…

My friend and I had an argument. Afterward, I felt rotten, and apologized profusely via an e-mail, because I wasn’t able to see her in person, taking time out from the precious few hours I spend with my son to write the e-mail. She, refused to read the e-mail, and made a point of telling me so in the middle of my work day, then when I got angry about this, refused to speak to me for over a month. When we finally did speak, she basically told me that it had all been my fault, but it was okay now, because now she forgave me for it. This left me feeling resentful and unhappy.

While I was perfectly willing to accept blame for my own part in the misunderstanding, she was never willing to apologize for her own poor behavior. Eventually, this led to the end of the friendship. Contrast this to the next story…

Neither my boyfriend nor I were having the greatest day. We hadn’t had much sleep. I’d been rear-ended the night before, and been restless as a result and kept him awake. He had a deadline to meet with some writing, and was fighting tiredness to complete it. I was trying to talk about something, or explain it, but I was still rattled and not thinking clearly from the accident, so my words were slow and slightly incoherent, as well as having interrupted him in the process of his writing. He got frustrated with me, at which point I gave up, and went away. I could totally understand his frustration. I was frustrated also with not being able to clearly express myself, or even think clearly. I realized he was tired, and that this was a direct result of me having kept him up the night before. I didn’t feel that either of us was to blame here… it was just a blechy situation. But the relief, 15 minutes later, when he got up to give me a hug and apologize for getting frustrated with me, was immense.

Did he have to apologize? No, I don’t think so. It wasn’t a requirement. He wasn’t behaving unreasonably. Regardless of the circumstances though, he realized he had behaved in a way that wasn’t really his own ideal for how he’d like to respond, and so he came and apologized. It’s something I’ve found him to be really good at, and I feel like I’m learning from it.

Just because an apology isn’t ‘required’, or we haven’t done anything ‘wrong’, doesn’t mean that apologizing is the wrong thing to do, or that it will display weakness. It might be the very right thing to do – to let someone know that we aren’t really angry with them, or that we’ve said something we regret, even if it wasn’t unreasonable. I think I’m still striving for balance in when to say, “I’m sorry,” and when not to, but I’ve definitely made some strides in my understanding of how we use this phrase.