Philosophy and Literature: How to Read (A Review)

bd

Review by Curtis Cole

Alain Badiou and Gilles Deleuze stand among as the contemporary world’s most influential philosophers. Each have contributed dynamic new understandings of how to view the world and life itself through original ontological interpretations; while both thinkers once stood in stark opposition to one another—Badiou went as far as to denounce Deleuze’s philosophy as ‘fascist’—both share a kindred spirit: as Jean-Jacques Lecercle illustrates, both minds are bent on maintaining a dichotomy between literature and philosophy.

Lecercle’s effort in his short but dense book Badiou and Deleuze Read Literature is to give a comparative analysis of each philosopher; moreover, however, his effort is to do more than simply describe the differences but chart out how and why each thinker has based their hermeneutic outlook. Lecercle thus constructs his idea of a ‘disjunctive synthesis’ within the context of a ‘strong reading’ in order to demonstrate how Badiou and Deleuze are theoretically joined together and how from that union’s moments of divergence, each built their respective philosophies.

Because of the dense nature of Lecercle’s book, it is too much to be able to give an outline of even a fraction of the material. But it is of vital concern that readers at least understand the basics of this ‘disjunctive synthesis’ and the ‘strong reading.’

At its most base, a disjunctive synthesis is a Deleuzian concept. Lecercle writes of it as having “a strong paradoxical flavor, as it seeks to connect and separate at the same time, to keep together what must ultimately remain apart” (17). Indeed, it is a “logical operation” demonstrative of absolute difference instead of “the traditional philosophy of identity and representation” (19).  So the reader should see how it relates to Lecercle’s project in connecting two divergent thinkers within a literary matrix: he uses it, in other words, as a dialectical reformulation of post-Structuralist theory which seeks to decipher the road of intellectual intensification between Badiou and Deleuze.

But, of course, there is more, and this concept, however brilliantly utilized by Lecercle, is of little value unless directed by an overarching intellectual movement. This is where the notion of a ‘strong reading’ arrives. Lecercle outlines six characteristics of a strong reading, they are: (a) it goes against convention; (b) this fight against convention is aimed at the extraction of a problem; (c) once a problem has been extracted, the ‘construction which grasps it’ must be created—the central idea, in other words; (d) persistence is vital to a strong reading as unless one continuously returns to the problem, the reading lacks the staying power needed to problematize the text and legitimate the seemingly counter-intuitive reading; (e) that the sum total of the previous points amounts to not an interpretation, but an intervention—the uncovering of a truth rather than an formative opinion; (f) and finally, the last characteristic of a strong reading is that it provokes readers and summons a ‘counter-reading’ which initiates a new string of argumentation and research (68-70). For a textual engagement to qualify as a strong reading, it must have all of these six traits.

This outlook is all well and good, but the question still remains—is this idea of a strong reading guided by a disjunctive synthesis a proactive theory? Yes, it is very proactive. Lecercle’s engagement with Deleuzian and Badiouan outlooks is nothing short of astonishing. The reason for this book’s existence is because of an inflammatory book where, much to the dismay of Deleuzian loyalists, he seemingly savaged Deleuze’s thought. What Lecercle does in his effort is to provide context for Badiou’s form of reading Deleuze before embarking upon the theoretical journey meant to illustrate what would happen if a ‘strong reading’ where incorporated into Badiou and Deleuze proper; this is done via recourse to examining each thinker’s previous engagements with literary traditions—French poetry for Badiou, and Anglo-American literature for Deleuze. Through each chapter Lecercle interrogates the nuances of each of his subject’s reading philosophies and their logical conclusion.

In the end, Lecercle provides an experience not to be missed by anyone with an interest in literary criticism of a philosophic variety. Not only does his undertaking provide the basis for a thrilling intellectual engagement with two of history’s greatest philosophers, but it provides a simple introduction to each thinker’s thought. Anyone who enjoys critical theory, philosophy, literary theory, or just a strident academic work which broaches new horizons, should pick up a copy of this indispensable book.

Badiou and Deleuze Read Literature

Jean-Jacques Lecercle

213 pages. Published by Eidenburgh U.P. $30.50 (Hardcover), $20.46 (Paperback)[1]. 2010.

 

[1] Prices were taken from Amazon.com and were accurate at the time of writing.

Doomware by Nathan Kuzack (A Review)

doomware

Review by Curtis Cole

In the century of Kim Kardashian and Barack Obama, what can really be said about the ‘End of the Earth,’ especially after epics like The Walking Dead, Left 4 Dead, and George A. Romero’s portfolio? Hard to say, personally, but evidently not for Natan Kuzack who manages to deliver on a (un-)surprisingly divergent take on the zombie end. Surprising for it being a well-written literary experience and unsurprising for its blasé take on technological determinism.

Plot wise, we see this: David is an ‘acybernetic,’ someone whose brain rejected the so-called ‘brainware’ which propelled humanity into the golden of near-immortality and Godlike biological and interconnected prosperity. He is a modern black sheep and faces discrimination due to his inability to fit in with the crowd. Fortunately, he does not have long to suffer his torment since a devastating virus wipes out humanity thanks to a ‘bug’ in the brainware; thus, billions of people are instantly killed while others become ‘reanimated’ carcasses who wander the Earth as biological machines—brainware working but biology long deteriorated.

So David leads a solitary life of scrapping by on whatever is left over from the great end. He scavenges for food, entertainment, and tries his best to cope with the unending horror of hostile dead and insufferable loneliness. That is until one day when he encounters a young boy; a fellow survivor who he eventually adopts as his son and has many heartwarming moments protecting. Not long after he meets his adoptive son, he meets a strapping solider-man who makes all of his romantic and existential dreams come true. Or, as many as possible when the rotting cadavers of Mom and Dad still walk about, screaming for your flesh.

I guess what I am trying to say is this—the story is well-written. The characters develop smoothly, and the internal machinations of the universe assist rather than degrade the uniqueness of the apocalyptic happening; the idea of implanted machines leading to the near-extinction of humanity after a virus shuts down the central processing center of the depended upon machines, makes for an interesting reading experience which is a breath of fresh air in a stale horror sub-genre. This is greatly welcomed since with every passing day, there grows more fetid pieces to capitalize upon the zombie craze, written by Johns and Jane Does who think they can pen an engaging zombie epic.

But, for all of Doomware‘s strengths, for how visceral the author is able to write action scenes and how much emotion he is able to convey, much of the novel is simply ‘good,’ not ‘amazing,’ just average.

My objections ultimately boil down to this—although the idea of brainware dooming humanity was a different take on how zombification happens, it was still an old-hat in the pantheon of reasons why humanity is overthrown; the notion that humanity unknowingly plants the seeds of their doom by being overeager to use technology as a crutch is a tired affair. Moreoever, it is a deeply reactionary affair, pessimistic in what humanity is able to achieve. It is the status quo screaming for stability in an economic order increasingly shaken by its own internal contradictions.

Doomware has multiple instances of the author preaching against technological dependence and, by extension, advancement. Entire pages are sometimes dedicated to religious-like soliloquies on technology and its boring, underlying neo-luddite ideology which hankers for the good old days of natural humanity. One may argue that the novel may not explicitly argue for a neo-luddite re-imagining, but considering that the digital version is free, it is also hard to argue that it is anything other than, in the very minimum, another unexciting piece of anti-technology propaganda.

I have other issues with the text—from the forced religious metaphors and stand-ins to the ‘trying too hard’ attitude of the author when it comes to self-referentiality—but the preaching against cyborg initiatives is my main beef primary because of its reactionary thinking, and partly due to its eye-rolling prominence  among modern artists.

Another moment which I found myself barking at was directed toward the romance… there was little need for it. I can enjoy reading a satisfying romantic entanglement between two people—hetero-or-homosexual—but this was one of those instances where you find yourself scratching your head at why it is important that these two people fall in love and what it adds to the story, especially since the romance itself does not seem to be the primary focus of the text’s consciousness: the protagonist survives, meets a boy he is grateful to save in order to redeem humanity, and then meets an intriguing older-man. The text wants to be about family but manages only to speak about familial relations on the periphery. What one ultimately reads is a familial-oriented story muddled underneath the exact motives of the protagonist and survival itself.

But the romantic deficiencies is simply a symptom of a deeper, subtending base, that of the rushed ending compounding its shortcomings. The book is short, at just under three hundred pages but feels as though there should be another hundred in order for it to feel whole. Case-in-point, the final twenty-percent of the book feels like it should be the final forty-percent; meaning, that when reading near the finale, one feels as though there should be, at least, another twenty-percent before your turn the last page. Instead, the book ends on an unsatisfying and vague conclusion which is closed enough for a stand-alone novel but open enough for the author to revisit should he choose to do so. In other words, the text gives you just enough closure mixed with just enough wonder enabling the author to have the best of both worlds. A rookie cop-out.

Even so, at the end of the day, Kuzack’s title is, as far as I know, his first full-length literary production. Because of this, certain shortcomings can be glossed over; every writer’s early work is to be expected to have some ‘bugs,’ so to speak. Ideological differences aside, there is much to enjoy in Kuzack’s writing since it is well-crafted and worth looking into since the Kindle versions of his works are free; so anyone short on funds should not be afraid to look at his library if you want a different take on sci-fi and horror. One should simply be prepared for the customary gulf of experience which comes alongside any new author.

Doomware

Nathan Kuzack

298 pages. Published by Nathan Kuzack. $0.00 (Kindle), $7.85 (paperback). 2014.

An Heir to Thorn and Steel (A Review)

25813474

Review by Curtis Cole

Fantasy, especially High Fantasy of the variety popularized by J. R. R Tolkein, has lately fallen into a malaise; the clichés and platitudes, predictable plucky farmboy protagonists, walking cardboard cutouts… and the plots… suffice it to say that fantasy lately has been plagued by a spell which attempts to do the impossible, i.e., bring Tolkein back from the dead, or at least his spirit. In the Indie scene this is all the more prevalent. One only need to briefly browse through the Amazon’s E-book marketplace to see what sort of cancer this impossibility has wrought; I will save you the trouble—scores of poorly written, unedited, textual shambles which deserve no role in the civilized literary world. So this is to say that whenever I delve into a new Indie fantasy novel, I am, in a word, suspect. So diving into M.C.A Hogarth’s An Heir to Thorns and Steel, I did not know what to expect. Would I enjoy discovering a new gem, or chide myself at slogging through yet another messy manuscript filled with half-baked ideas?

AS it turns out, I was able to pat myself on the back; not only was Hogarth’s yarn concerning a crippled graduate student’s struggle to find his origins between two powerful races while battling his own frailty, a beautifully realized tale in a skillfully written Victorian-esque setting, the book re-affirmed my faith in Indie authors to pen tales capable of challenging those published in the mainstream. Before I go any further, however, let me sketch the plot.

Morgan, the protagonist, is a graduate student studying at a prestigious university in a (American) Colonial era inspired country which, following their revolution to overthrow the monarchy, has become a republic; finding peace among his many books and classes, Morgan pines for the simple life of pain-free living, for you see, he has a debilitating illness which renders him useless and inflicts great harm on his body. One day, two furry creatures (‘genets’) named Almond and Kelu, emissaries from a far-away land, inform him that he is actually a prince, heir to an Elven kingdom. Though, of course, hesitant to believe them, Morgan reluctantly agrees to travel to this foreign land, lured by the promise of a cure to his illness; along the way he meets characters whom challenge him in more ways than one and toward a destiny which is something he never before imagined.

Read the full post »

Surmounting the Void: Reviewing “Hollow Space: Venture”

Xantoverse

Long time science-fiction warriors C.F. Barnes and T.F. Grant, graduates of the London School of Journalism and Open University, debut their latest series (“Xantoverse”) with a bang: hitting all the high-water marks with gusto, Hollow Space: Venture reminds readers that even during a time of mass-market clones, of vapid copy-cat stories shamelessly raking in on a pop culture fad, there are still proponents of the craft for whom writing is as personal as breathing; with engaging characters more than the sum of their cardboard cutout parallels, and a morally and politically thrilling plot concerning self-determination and labor, this array a soft[1] sci-fi installations mix fantasy and science into one delicious cocktail of neophyte fiction.

The story is one of war. The people of the Crown Republic have been locked in conflict with the alien Markesians for many years. During the course of the altercation billions have died, reducing the human race to a mere gaggle of survivors scratching-by in colony ships. Destined to settle new planets and repopulate the human race, the colony ships represent humanity’s last hope; and yet, the last of these ships, the Venture, navigated by protagonist Sara Lorelle, is ambushed by a Markesian fleet.

Taking heavy damage and forced to make a retreat, Sara initiates a blind warp jump, desperate to escape her attackers. However, an anomaly happens. Instead of jumping out at a random point in the system the Venture is brought to a mysterious region of existence called “hollow space” by its denizens; short circuiting all of the Venture’s electronics, forcing them into an even more deplorable condition, Sara and her crew are coerced into accepting the aid of Tairon Chauder, the son of the infamous Miriam Chauder, and a major crime syndicate leader: one of the ruling bodies which control the space station known as Haven, a mysterious relics left behind by an extinct species of aliens called Xantonians.

Read the full post »

‘Darkness Brutal’ by Rachel A. Marks (A Review)

darkbrutal

Review by Curtis Cole

                Do you have a hankering for Young Adult (YA) Urban Fantasy novels? If so then good news! Rachel A. Marks has you covered with her first installment in the “Dark Cycle” trilogy. Featuring all of the hallmarks of YA literature (hormones, passion, intimacy, emotions, etc.) with a healthy dose of inspiration taken from the television show “Supernatural”, readers of such works will be delighted to partake in the latest addition to the ‘up and coming’ sub-genre of urban fantasy; with the author having previously won an award for her novella “Winter Rose”, one should consider it an added bonus that the name behind the pen is talented as she is dedicated.

So what is the plot of this YA release, you ask? One of very expected content: Meet Aiden, a seventeen year old boy. He has special powers, including, but not limited to: the ability to read (and speak) in numerous ancient languages, see and communicate with demons, fighting said demons, and see peoples’ emotions waft from their bodies as colorful hues. Aiden must protect his little sister (Ava) whose (mysterious) importance is so vital to demon-kind that they have hunted her ever since she was a little girl; they congregate every three (or so) years—on her birthday—to make an attempt on her soul. People tend to die when this transpires and so Aiden, diligent to prevent any more innocent people from being torn to shreds, becomes desperate to protect her from the darkness, to find a lasting cure for her “demon problem”. In a bid to stave off the monsters he brings Ava to the home of Sid, a magically inclined gentleman who deals in the supernatural for a living, alongside his crew of “uniquely talented” youngsters. Though protected under Sid’s roof by his array of enchantments, things quickly become complicated for Aiden once he meets Kara and Rebecca; from here on out his life becomes a swirl of raging hormones and arcane secrets from his past—his mother’s death at the hand of demons somehow one of the keys to saving the world.

It is all standard fare. It is equal parts Supernatural and Harry Potter mixed with a bit of H.P Lovecraft. To Marks’s credit, much of the writing is handled exquisitely. The characters, for the most part, feel authentic: there is drama and emotions preserved in narrative layers; just when you think things become settled, something new transpires to throw everything out of orbit. Though there are many different sub-plots nothing ever feels too “out of whack”. Although some of the narrative aspects could have been more fully realized (such as a character or two or a plot thread), Marks should be congratulated on managing the largely successful fusion of so many different elements in a whole. Many authors, especially new authors, make the mistake of balancing too many balls in the air and end up crashing to the ground: Marks meanwhile juggles with pride.

So with this being said, I wish my opinion of Darkness Brutal was better, but quite frankly, I cannot lie: I found this book to be trite to the core. Though it may simply be I am not the target audience, I feel this only mitigates a fraction of the damage—I have read other YA novels containing far more substance. To make a list of my complaints: (1) the protagonist was jarring, (2) the plot itself easily recycled material from a wide range of supernatural and fantasy canon, (3) the drama needless and eye-rolling, and (4) some of the preaching, moralizing, and how it combined with the plot twists were laughable. Though there are many positive components to this books, these listed aspects were inexcusable mistakes.

First and foremost, the protagonist: he was thoroughly unlikable. Numerous times while reading, I wish I could shake him and/or punch him—he was a clueless, melodramatic, male chauvinist hiding behind a “nice guy” persona. His ignorance became more glaring with each chapter; his refusal to confide in people, ask for help, divulge information—along with his general arrogance juxtaposed with his stereotypical ‘I can handle anything since it is my responsibility to protect my little sis,’ when he is clearly outmatched—made him a target with legs in my eyes. His attitude was irrational and highly irksome since it was lazy writing on the part of the author; indeed, with Aiden she dropped the ball: truly he is nothing more than a walking amalgamation of tropes and clichés of the worst kind.

Another factor which pushed my literary buttons was Aiden’s disposition towards sexual activities. While this complaint factors into the various drama sub-plots, I found it to be a weakness of the author, and so subsequently attached it to her conservative social position; although the protagonist is on the cusp on adulthood, and openly remarks about his desperation to “get laid” and lose his virginity, he never engages in sexual activities when an able, willing and age-appropriate partner presents a consenting possibility.

To be clear: I am not railing against the fact that there are no sex scenes. No matter the genre, I prefer my literature to be free of pornography, as I feel it distracts from the narrative. What I am frustrated with, rather, is Marks’s moralizing and poor character design. Simply said, this seems of an authorial imposition: though I do not wish to make blanket statements about young people, I feel that many youth in Aiden’s position would have partook in a chance at sexual intimacy instead of passing up the offer. The fact that he refuses encounters extended to him by a willing, similarly aged, consenting partner, which even leads him to the fulfillment of the narrative’s major sub-plot, is indicative of a reactionary theist-oriented stance on human relations; Marks is building a world where youth resist the temptation of “sex before marriage” and are rewarded by divine powers. A position collaborated when seen contrasted to depictions of those who indulge in premarital carnal relations (i.e., deformed, sinful and unwell life forms who bring hardship upon their loved ones). With procreation constituting the major theme of the book (hardly surprising since Mormon extremist Orson Scott Card gave the title a sterling endorsement), and Aiden’s redemption of “The Mother(s)” achieved precisely through such conservative means, the aroma of sex negative thinking pervades the text.

For a teen and young adult novel, Darkness Brutal was a jarring read thanks to the overwhelming emphasis which conservatism occupied. The majority of the book’s inter-character drama played out against sexual desire and its repression. While the author did try and elevate non-sexual activities (like kissing and hand-holding) to a higher level of importance, the net-product was more condescension than reality. I felt that the focus of the plot was being subsumed. In place of an active engagement of Aiden as a uniquely talented individual, the focus of the narrative centered more on carnal delights which were only present due to the gifts given once rejected; in short: Marks does not know how to write youthful heterosexual males, a visibility made even more acute with the frustratingly cardboard “emotional wreck” of a love interest (“Kara”). It was needless and hapless preaching on the part of Marks; a kind whose obsolesce appeared all the more antiquated due to its awkward visibility in a genre usually devoid of such backward positions (teen novels such as Raziel Reid’s When Everything Feels Like the Movies depict how much a teen novel can get away with in terms of sexual philosophy without losing sight of the characters as driven agents).

All of this said, Darkness Brutal is still a fine read. Assuming one does not mind a great deal of cursing (or angst filled characters), I would recommend this as a suitable read to a teen or young adult with a penchant for the supernatural and otherworldly. The writing is evocative and the author knows how to keep the plot going. While she does trip over herself on more than one occasion, I do not feel it severely impedes the narrative to an unreadable degree; though I should be honest and say that I think this book can only be recommended to persons still developing a taste in this kind of thematic material; anyone, after all, who has read and watched more than a handful of similarly constructed texts, will be sure to find this a drab read. So, at the end of the day, while this is bound to be an adequate birthday-party bash for any number of young readers, older lovers of ‘the dark’ should stay away—nothing but ‘kiddy’ parties here!

Darkness Brutal

Rachel A. Marks

422 pages[1]. Published by Skyscape (NewYork). $4.99 (Kindle)[2]. 2015.

 

[1] Page estimates taken from Amazon.com.

[2] Prices were accurate at the time of writing.

Humanities Spring Reception 2016

gretdan

The Division of Humanities (which includes the Department of English) each year hosts a spring reception to celebrate the accomplishments of the past year. Faculty members Pat O’Donnell (UMF’s Trustee Professor), Kristen Case (Little Arias), and Jeffrey Thomson (Fragile) read from recently published work or work  in progress. Miriam Cohen and Roshan Luick provided music.

DSC03024

Students (and their faculty sponsors) who received Wilson Scholarships  were recognized: Curtis Cole (sponsored by Lorna Hughes), Nathaniel Duggan (Shana Youngdahl), Jill Gingras (Gretchen Legler), and Timothy Stokes (Daniel Gunn).

Several students were honored for receiving awards and fellowships from organizations outside UMF, including several Fulbright Fellowship winners (which will enable the students to pursue research or creative projects or teach English as a foreign language): Travis Bent (a history major minoring in French and Spanish whose Fulbright will allow him to serve as an English teaching assistant in Spain); Kyle Manning, who graduated in 2015 as an English and Creative Writing double major, and who will be spending a year in Quebec researching bilingual comic blogs; Caroline Murphy, Secondary Education-English (also a 2015 graduate), who will be an English teaching assistant in Bulgaria.  Additionally, Creative Writing and English major Kim Arthurs completed a semester with the Movies from Marlboro program for young filmmakers.

The ceremony also announced several BFA awards: Senior Award (fall): Nathaniel Duggan; Senior Award (spring): Sarah Winchenbach. The Beth Eisen Memorial Scholarship went to Sarah Williams.

Bryce Cundick, librarian at Mantor Library, announced the winners of the Mantor-sponsored On Our Minds writing contest. All three winners were Humanities students: First, Jinni Workman; second, Mariah Haggan; third, Aimee DeGroat.

Humanities students won several other writing prizes over the past year: Aimee DeGroat was a finalist in the Hollins University Fiction Contest for her story “Feel Something.” Tim Bushika took first prize in UMA’s Terry Plunkett Poetry Festival Student Poetry Contest for “Six Days at the Bottom of the Ocean.” Nathaniel Duggan won the COPLAC (Consortium of Public Liberal Arts Colleges) David J. Prior award for outstanding essay on the public liberal arts experience for “Liberal Arts Degrees and Lobster Tanks: A Lesson in Stopping to Smell the Fishy Roses.”

Each year the Division of the Humanities Presents two honors for achievement in the the field of English, the Eleanor Wood Scholarship and the Maude L. Parks Award. In 2016, there were ten students who were finalists for the awards. There were two winners, and eight students who earned honorable mention. Honorable mention went to: Samuel Bennett, Tiffany Bishop, Julia Fletcher, Tyler Gadaire, Carolyn Newhouse, Janelle Noonan, Laura Pulito, and Kristen Simmons.

The Maud L. Parks Award was presented to Holland Corson.

The Eleanor Wood Memorial Scholarship was awarded to Brigid Chapin.

 

 

Imagining Counter-recruitment: A Review of Michael Chatfield’s ‘Recruitment’

MiChRi

Review by Curtis Cole

Military science-fiction tends to be a conservative outfit; many authors express a hardy, even jingoistic support for imperialism, often becoming apologists for fascist regimes infamous for the mass murder of critics. So for a voice to go against the grain and promote progressive values is an oddity. After reading The Recruitment: Rise of the Free Fleet I was pleased to see that author Michael Chatfield seems to have added his name among the small stable of semi-lefty authors.

As the book’s namesake implies, Chatfield’s overriding concern is that of militarism. With the opening of the text depicting the abduction of thousands of earthlings by an interstellar power calling itself the Union/Planetary Defense Force, the reader already sees the parallels between this mysterious collection of aliens and contemporary armed forces; the bellowing face projected upon screens announcing that the time has come for Earth’s “call to service.” The abductees, protagonist—and gamer extraordinaire Salchar among them—becoming the latest in conscripted cannon fodder.

Forced to endure a brutal training process by which a group of mostly children and young adults are required to ingest body altering foods and augmentations, the subtext is one of unity. To circumvent the dehumanizing aspects of the training, Salchar—though originally acting for purely personal reasons—creates a fighting code, later referred to throughout the fleet as “Salchar’s Rules”, meant to preserve the dignity and honor of the abducted by enforcing an ethical code of fighting and moral guidelines of non-combat interactions. This speaks to a sense of community which transcends the typical warrior code found in military sci-fi novels: that of the reactionary Bushido code; something fully adopted and allegorized by the story’s femme fatal, and eventual wife to the protagonist, Yasu Ono—a stolid loner who values honor and battle above all else[1].

After training is complete, the humans are assigned to ships and forced to participate in the Union’s military affairs: shortly after their departure from Earth, they raid a “terrorist” vessel and become pawns in a planetary invasion not unlike an operation which deprived them of their own freedom. Of course, Salchar has a plan of his own, one which involves destroying the Union and making them pay for their heinous treatment of the galaxy.  It is at this time he is introduced to an Artificial Intelligence (A.I) named Resilience; an entity on a mission to wage war against the Union. She enlightens Salchar on the hidden history of the Union, revealing that long ago there was an interstellar war between the Union, as it was then known, and an expansionist empire known as the Kalu. Not ending for several hundred years, the victorious Union had achieved a pyrrhic victory; a vast pirate horde, in the meantime, known as the Syndicate had grown in influence within the weakened Union zones of control, eventually staging a successful military campaign against the Union, stealing their name in an effort to legitimate their recruitment of an army of slaves to do their bidding.

From here the novel branches out in several interesting narrative directions. One direction, it needs to be said, is heavily concerned with society and culture. More to the point, it is a thread concerned with violence and how coordination and cooperation are used to penetrate what Marxist theorist Guy Dubord called the “Spectacle”, or, that edifying aspect of advanced capitalist society which prevented people from realizing the truth of their economic reality by virtue of the overwhelming proliferation of signs (mass media, popular culture, revisionist history, etc.). Chatfield’s contribution to this debate is that of historical truth: the victories achieved by the abducted members of humanity only come as a result of the disillusionment with the establishment, the status quo, of the revisionist history regaling all of the necessity of violent means to win peaceful ends, being uncovered as a fraud.

Resulting from this revelation is an insurrection. Salchar emerges as a leader and cajoles the oppressed into joining his audacious plan to seize a major Syndicate base. In classical Marxist theory, it is easy to view the Syndicate as a decadent bourgeoisie (capitalist class) with the slaves composing a working class, or proletariat. Hence why Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin’s words echo so strongly during this desperate battle for the space station: “The overthrow of the bourgeoisie can be achieved only by the proletariat becoming the ruling class,” (State and Revolution 25), speaks to the historical truth espoused by the masses of life-forms, human and otherwise, which flock to Salchar’s banner since “the proletariat needs state power, a centralized organization of force” which will enable the disparate slave species to re-take their various home worlds, an undertaking impossible without a violent, organizational apparatus to guide and grow the endeavor.

The other narrative direction is one of interpersonal relations. Although the author is heavily concerned with how the Military Industrial Complex expands and propagates itself, he is also equally concerned with societal ramifications of this expansion, namely, social violence. Early in the book Chatfield speaks of a super-competitive gaming event called Mecha Assault, a game with fans and players so rabid that “For some of them if they lost a battle, then they would have to regain their honor in another battle” (Chatfield 490[2]), which was often undertaken within the real world as often as it was undertaken within the virtual. Such behavior encouraged player militarization. With gamers learning defensive martial arts simply to survive, to stay in one piece, and in some cases, from being killed, many youths found themselves with deadly talents highly sought by armed organizations: whether they be human or otherwise.

Societal concern such as militarization carries over into those recruited: of the abducted, the majority are children, adolescents, and young adults. Rushed through training, while being pumped full of drugs and hormones to encourage development, sexual and social lines are blurred; this becomes even more acute with “the marriage fight” which paired up the abducted with those of the opposite sex into legally binding unions. Something which becomes concerning once one remembers the age of the participants and their expectation to breed slaves which the Syndicate is able to train, from birth, into soldiers.

One could expect developmental problems to arise within youth who are expected to sexually engage with one another when not on the battlefield. And so it is not unexpected that references abound to the youth being unable to distinguish reality from fantasy; in the case of one fifteen-year-old, Wiry, the development of a murderous pathology. Both the narrator and the protagonist chronicle how the soldiers believe their actions to be like a video game. A reoccurring track of social commentary signaling Chatfield’s concern with how militarist social-media texts (such as Call of Duty and America’s Solider) are negatively affecting contemporary youth in a postmodern age.

The ending, both conventional and unconventional at the same time, belies the author’s commitment toward storytelling. On one hand it rejects typical notions of heteronormativity within military science-fiction literature; the marriage battle, through forcing Salchar and Yasu to marry and enforces a reader’s expectation of latent sexual desire between the couple, this desire is never affirmed; the furthest the couple gets is a lukewarm kiss. Sexual intimacy is never consummated and, indeed, throughout the book, Salchar is paranoid of the murderous intents his so-called wife has upon him, while Yasu herself is disgusted with Salchar’s perceived sexual promiscuity and lack of honor. So while heterosexuality is very much the lifeblood of the book, the actual content reveals a disturbed core, from the marriage battles to the relationship between Salchar and Yasu, antithetical to the romanticized views which predominate literary texts.

In the end, Chatfield’s first swipe at being an author is a conflicted bag. Although I admire much of his work, especially when we consider this effort to be among the first of his authorial commitment, one cannot ignore the literary faults inherent within the text. The most glaring of which is punctuation and grammar. While I can overlook the occasional typo, and even stomach some incorrectly or misused words, The Recruitment is littered with mistakes; from missing parentheses, incorrect temporal alignment (for example, “destroying” when “destroyed” is the appropriate tense for a passage), to missing commas, periods, and quotation marks, the overall manuscript is riddled with errors. Although I did not find these mistakes to be terribly distracting, it is a shortcoming which I would advise the author to take steps to overcome, as any work destined to be read should be first put through a rigorous date with an editor before publication.

Some of my smaller complaints are directed toward the uneven pace of the plot. At times, specifically in the second half to final 35% of the book, there is this breakneck speed which the narrative takes up. Prior to this portion of the text the plot felt as though it was reaching a natural conclusion; however, upon reaching this point, it increasingly felt as though the scenarios were not given the necessary time to be wholly coherent, or as if the events were novellas which the author hastily fused into a larger work so as to give it more diversity in content. Considering this ebook is an estimated six hundred pages, this is mildly concerning as it points to a lack of organizational skills. But, as this is an early work by the author, and as such, he is still honing his skill, I can forgive such quirks and state my belief in that the author should continue writing.

The Recruitment: Rise of the Free Fleet

Michael Chatfield

600 pages. Published by Booktango. $14.13 (Paperback), $2.99 (Kindle). 2015.

 

Works Cited

Chatfield, Michael. The Recruitment: Rise of the Free Fleet. Bloomington: Booktango, 2015. Kindle E-Book.

Lenin, V.I. State and Revolution. Mansfield: Martino, 2009. Print.

 

[1] This is not to say that the author, Chatfield, is a Leftist. On the contrary, he displays reformist tendencies (liberalism and conservatism). Although the code of “Salchar’s Rules” is a moderate alternative to the Bushido code, it is still one rooted in humanist ideology and reactionary social-Darwinist thinking; after several Union/Syndicate ships are seized, for example, humans are found aboard in a terrible state. They are depicted as violent, dirty, sexually threatening, and lawless. Close to sub-human, in fact. It is discovered that these individuals never trained with “Salchar’s Rules” and so descended into a chaotic cabal where the strong provided over the weak. Such a display contrasts sharply with those trained keeping Salchar’s Rules in mind: they are organized, healthy, and able to cooperate while supporting one another. Salchar, by extension, is set up as a pseudo-Christ figure as the savior of humanity; this connection is later reinforced during his encounter with the Avarians and his subsequent “transition” marking its similarity to the Bible tale of Jesus’s Resurrection.

[2] Citation for this review utilizes Kindle’s “location” based system instead of page numbers.

Adaptacon

DSC02976DSC02980

During the week of May 2, the UMF courses participating in the Adaptations Co-Lab staged a week-long event called Adaptacon. Following the practice of science fiction, cosplay, and anime conventions, Adaptacon offered two tracks, creative and academic. Students presented critical papers on adaptation as well as staging, screening, displaying their own adaptations.

Adaptacon culminated in a party and costume contest, a final celebration of adaptation, where many of the creative adaptations were performed and displayed. The central event of the evening was a costume contest (in which contestants came dressed as their favorite literary or media-related characters). Additionally, there was a tableau vivant of the Seven Deadly Sins (see photos above); scenes from a new translation and adaptation of Sophocles’ play Ajax; Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson set to music; poster displays from Francophone Cultures Through Film; an installation by INS 377 (Border Crossings) students; various adaptation projects from British Texts and Contexts and American Texts and Contexts; and much, much more. Below is a selection of photographs from the evening.

DSC02993

Lauren Crosby sang three songs, each one an adaptation of a different Jane Austen novel (including a bluesy Emma), while the Seven Deadly Sins listened.

DSC02988

Richard Southard adapted four Walt Whitman poems to card magic.

DSC02983

Artwork by Marissa Smith and Lauren Stetson (based on Cheryl Savageau’s poetry collection Mother/Land and Elizabeth Strout’s novel Olive Kitteridge).

DSC02984

There was a lot going on throughout the building during the event, including British Text and Contexts presentations in one of the basement classrooms.

Costume Contest:

DSC03006

DSC03010

From Sophocles’s Ajax, adapted to a contemporary setting:

DSC03017

DSC03019

 

Adaptacon involved several participating courses:

ART 221 Painting I

ENG 251 British Texts and Contexts I

ENG 272 American Texts and Contexts

ENG 477 Popular Genres

ENG 477 Jane Austen and Popular Culture

INS  377 Border Crossings

FYS 100 Francophone Cultures through Films

As part of the academic track, both Popular Genres and Jane Austen and Popular Culture offered panels where students presented their final research projects from the two classes:

Panel Title: Horror

Kurt Mason, “Scream Queens: A Genre Mash-Up and Modern Revival of the Classic Whodunnit”

Angela Hutchins, “No Flesh Shall Be Spared: The Challenge of Female Conventions of the Horror Genre in Richard Stanley’s Film Hardware

Josiah Adams, “Zombies and the Mediums of their Dismemberment”

Kat Newcombe, “Eat the Children: Zombies in Young Adult Literature as Seen in Charlie Higson’s The Enemy Series

Francis Hartnett, “Perpetuating Hatred in the Face of Extinction: Apocalyptic Bigotry and Telltale’s The Walking Dead

Carolyn Newhouse, “From a Scream to a Snicker: An Exploration of Horror-Comedy as a Genre”

Panel Title: Popular Genres and History

Holland Corson, “The Fall of Non-Fiction: Mockumentary and the Destruction of the Documentary”

Brandi Merry, “The Nostalgia of Mad Men: Adapting the Historical Novel to Television”

Robyn Noe, “Adapting Arthurian Fantasy: From T.H. White to BBC’s Merlin

Victoria Alagna, “From The War Zone To Your TV Screen: An Analysis of Call of Duty As A War-Themed Video Game”

Panel Title: Superhero and Science Fiction

Nikki Hodgins, “’Deceived by their true nature’: An Exploration of Morality in the Superhero Genre Through the Lens of Marvel’s Daredevil

Avalon Almador, “Dexter Morgan: The Complexities of a Tragic Hero”

Justin Fisette, “’Genre is irrelevant. Your genres will adapt to service us’: The Borg as both zombie and science fiction”

Janelle Noonan, “’Put these References Waaay up Inside your *ahem,* Morty’: Intertextuality and Fan Genre in Rick and Morty

Jane Austen and Contemporary Culture

Kimberly Biddlecom,”‘None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives:’ Overcoming Gender Limitations in Persuasion” (9:50-10:15)

Madeline Boyes, “Exploring Motherhood in the Works of Jane Austen” (10:15-10:40)

Astra Pierson, “Freedom and Limitation in Clueless” (10:40-11:05)

Nathaniel Duggan, “Adaptation as Conversation: Rediscovering Relevance in Mansfield Park through Film” (11:05-11:30)

Lauren Crosby, “The Defense of Fanny Price through a Feminist Lens” (10:10-10:30)

Josh Cardella,  “A Conversation: Adaptations of the Second Proposal Scene in Pride and Prejudice” (10:30-10:50)

Elizabeth Ferry, “Re-vision of Pleasure v. Virtue in Sense and Sensibility–Austen’s Classic, Film Adaptation, and Young Adult Literature”  (10:50-11:10)

Dot White, “The Box Hill Picnic: Prelude and Postlude” (11:10-11:30)

Jane Austen and Popular Genres (students from both classes on one panel)

Gia Pilgrim, “Contemporary Cross-Cultural Adaptation of Jane Austen: In Bollywood and Hispanic America”

Audrey Blaufuss, “Adaptation Takes the Next Step: Cinematic Techniques Evolve New Meaning in Persuasion

Jasmine Heckler, “The Conversation of Morality in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and Present-Day Fan Fiction”

Curtis Cole, “Plateau, 2016 A.D- ∞: Understanding the Zombic-machine’s Semiological Features”

 

 

Fulbright Winners

Some good news about recent and new graduates from English, Secondary Education, and the Humanities:

FARMINGTON, ME (May 5, 2016)—The University of Maine at Farmington is proud to announce that the Fulbright U.S. Student Program—among the most prestigious national awards for postgraduate study—has awarded a UMF graduating senior and two UMF alumni with 2016 Fulbright Fellowships.

This highly competitive national program, sponsored by the U.S. State Department to promote good will internationally, enables college graduates, young professionals and artists to conduct research, teach English as a foreign language or pursue a creative project in more than 150 countries.

“Receiving a Fulbright award is such an honor and a significant personal achievement,” said Kathryn A. Foster, UMF president. “We are so proud of this year’s recipients and the course they’ve charted as ambassadors to the world. UMF has strategically invested in growing our Fulbright program to support this type of academic excellence and this year’s strong showing underlines its success.”

At UMF, a faculty committee, under Fulbright adviser Anne Marie Wolf, associate professor of history, was very involved with the Fulbright candidates, commenting on student statement drafts, conducting on-campus interviews and providing observations for applications.

Recipients for the very competitive award are selected by the Fulbright Program based on their academic and professional record, language preparation, feasibility of their project or course of study and personal qualifications. The Fulbright Program awards roughly 1,900 U.S. student awards annually, nationwide.

Current senior Travis Bent from Norridgewock is majoring in history with minors in international and global studies, French and Spanish. His fellowship will have him traveling to Spain to be an English teaching assistant in social science. “My professors at Farmington and my adviser Dr. Wolf have really transformed my college experience,” said Bent. “They gave me the tools to make the impossible, possible. This is an unbelievable opportunity for me.”

Kyle Manning, a 2014 UMF graduate in creative writing and English, is currently at l’Université du Maine in Le Mans, France, giving English conversation lessons. He will be headed to Montreal to work on his Fulbright research project on comic blogs as an emerging genre. He will also work with the organizers of a blogging festival and network with these writers.

Caroline Murphy, a secondary education major and 2015 UMF graduate, has been traveling and working at the Kennebunk Beach Improvement Association since graduation. Her Fulbright award will have her working as an English teaching assistant in a high school in Pernik, about 12 miles from Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital. She will also be teaching about American culture and possibly coaching the school’s speech and debate team.

In addition to UMF’s strong showing in this year’s Fulbright U.S. Student Program, UMF has had ongoing significant success in the Fulbright Scholar Award Program, a program for college faculty and professionals. Since UMF’s recognition as a “Top Fulbright Producer” by the U.S. State Department in 2012, the University has added an additional five members to its ranks of Fulbright Scholars.

“Sweet Mother of Stalin!”A Review of Nick Web’s ‘Constitution’

web1

Review by Curtis Cole

                Sweet mother of Stalin. Those are the words which appear in the opening pages of Nick Weber’s “Constitution”, the first book in the Legacy Fleet trilogy. Spoken by Captain Disraeli out on border patrol, he less than enjoys the laugh of his first officer, since he muses on whether it would save him some suffering to “just end it all” (70[1]) with his .45 blaster. You know what they say about tight spaces and monotony…

More to the point, however, it is more likely that the charming Captain is fed-up with patrolling a seemingly empty border: after all, the so-called Swarm, those dastardly alien life-forms with a hive-mind mentality which came out of nowhere and slaughtered hundreds of millions of people, have not been seen for nearly a century. Not since the first “Swarm War.” Seems like a waste of time cruising along, acting as an early alert system should the evocatively named “Cumrats[2]” return and eject themselves into the body politic.

Such a thought would appear like a safe bet… but you would be wrong! Because boy oh boy, do the swarm return, and in style: Captain Disraeli’s morbid rants are cut short in the same manner of his body—vaporization. Taken by surprise, pants well beneath their ankles, the leaders of Earth’s Integrated Defense Force are thrown into chaos; the return of the Swarm also, incidentally, foretells the return of the good old days of militarist preparedness, when ships were constructed ‘right’ and Earth’s Western Aligned militaries had unlimited budgets, before the dark days when bureaucratic red-tape took over and those insidious liberal machinations from the “Eagleton Commission” stripped the war machine of its fighting capacity, filling it instead with– *gasp*– a peace dividend.

The horror!

But thank God for the communistic Swarm! Because of them the flow of cash, the precious lifeblood of the military machine, resumes, and those pesky politicians see how wrong they were to think about peace and poor people. Enter Captain Tim Granger, a rough barrel-chested veteran of the first Swarm War who is mighty upset that his prize warship, the Constitution, was scheduled for her decommission. Or at least he was upset before the second Swarm invasion reversed those pesky anti-militarist itches in a hurry. Now with a ship to prove what the old and experienced are able to do, despite being held down by a society of “vacant, immature materialists” (1125), people who see those like Tim, individuals that “have been around a hell of a long time” have now “outlived their usefulness”, are still able to contribute to society.

And so the spiel goes, on and on.

That is the gist of Nick Weber’s plot: aliens return to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting humanity; the counter-productive anti-war elements are forced to acknowledge their stupidity, while a grumpy senior citizen discontent with military command throws a tantrum every time he doesn’t get his way, all while expecting all those he works with to obey his every word. Just throw in some cliché ridden political intrigue (Russians as the ‘bad guys.’ Original!), a couple moments of Dues Ex Machina, as well as a twist or two bundled up with a burgeoning teaser for book two, and you have yourself a summary of Web’s book.

But this is just another way of saying that military science-fiction is no stranger to counterrevolution. David Weber, with his brand of ultra-conservative nationalistic-jingoism, paved the way in the early nineties for our current onslaught of reactionary sci-fi opuses, with his bourgeois feminist track the “Honor Harrington” series. From there on out the general flood of right-wing texts seen today have only proliferated; with a hefty focus on union bashing, anti-communism, ultra-individualism, and militarism, contemporary military sci-fi is a far cry from Joe Haldeman’s progressive anti-militarist, military sci-fi text “The Forever War.”

So needless to say, Nick Web will feel right at home. As with Weber, Nick plays into the Republican and Democratic Party’s speaking notes on maintaining a large military in the face of a “looming” “enemy” (simply replace “Political Islam” with “Aliens”). Page after page is filled with the urgency of maintaining a large military budget, how it is naïve and dangerous to consider Humanity’s No.1 enemy as anything but extinct, and that ultimately, the wise advice of the elders, those hardened soldiers defending humanity from an inexplicit threat, should be hailed as prophets of the true (re stable and commonsensical (re conservative)) social order, over the heads of the politically correct pencil-pushers.

By proxy, every reactionary trope is legitimated: homophobia (86, “Pixies”, another slur for the Swarm), militarism (910, 3276), conspiracy theories (2588, 3867), and capitalist dictatorship (3301), and nationalist pride, seen in the form of inter-imperialist struggle with Russia (271, 350) and, of course, the low shot against Unionized workers (4029). Many of these examples bleed into one another while many others still exist throughout the textual body. All form a web of interrelations telling a story of a society gone wrong.

I will not say that Web’s book is the most reactionary military sci-fi text I have read; that honor can go to another author (likely David Weber), but it is, and I cannot stress this enough, a backward text. Although in our postmodern age the glorification and mythologization of militarism is nothing new, either in literature or popular culture, it is a virus nonetheless. There is nothing honorable or heroic about armed combat fought in the name of maintaining exploitative regimes. Even more so in an age where Western European and American war drums beat heavily in the contemporary real-world—the one inhabited by you and I— in order to draw support for the surrounding of the Russian Federation. Web’s overt hostility to Russia, which one may suspect borders on racism, is symptomatic of a wider reactionary plague during the decay of capitalism; that of ideologues churning-out ultra-nationalistic sentiments in an increasingly neoconservative world.

If one is a fan of reactionary texts seeing the peaceful minded as fat-cats, then one can’t go wrong here, not with the enthusiasm Web has infused into his creation: for all the issues I have with Web’s book, after all, the writing is solid. Seeing as how I screeched through Constitution in but only a couple of days, I can testify that the author, if he has nothing else going for him, has an impressive grasp of language: descriptors and narration are as entertaining as the chapters are quick, and instill in the reader a “one more chapter” drive. It is merely all the more the shame that he squanders his talent beating the dead-horse of conservative anxieties.

Constitution (Book One of the Legacy Fleet trilogy)

Nick Web

323 pages[3]. Published by Nick Web. $3.99 (Kindle). 2015.

 

[1] The Ebook used for this review utilized a “location” based system of citation.

[2] Slur for the Swarm.

[3] Estimation of page numbers given by Amazon.com’s product description (Kindle edition).

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.