A Violent Musical: A Review of P.J. Manney’s “(R)evolution”

Review by Curtis Cole

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Little doubt remains that contemporary America is a dark place: terrorist threats, an out of control police state, and the rabid advance of new technology, which may or may not be secretly utilized by corporations and other shadowy organizations to advance their own agenda, all point to a less then pleasing picture; incidentally, these issues are what P.J Manney, author of (R)evolution, the first book in her Phoenix Horizon project, tackles. Following the debut of Empathy in the Time of Technology: How Storytelling is the Key to Empathy, (R)evolution packs a powerful narrative punch, letting the reader know that the role of plot-affects still occupy a central role in Manney’s writing. Combining techno-thriller chic with spy-esque adventure and intrigue, the story’s musical and emotional vibrations reverberate throughout the novel, forcing the reader to acknowledge the interconnectedness of humanity to the world around them, and that even in the time of over-riding artificial connections to pop culture and the mass media, people still possess the ability to connect to one another on a primordial level.

 
The story is one of protagonist Peter Bernhardt. Founder of a nanobot company called Bioengineers he is unjustly ‘thrown under the bus’ and vilified as a conspirator after a devastating terrorist attack leaves over seventy-thousand U.S citizens dead. With his life’s work confiscated, and he and his wife investigated by the government, Peter becomes desperate to defend his innocence and research; reaching out to friends in the hopes of starting a new line of research involving artificial brain cortexes and hippocampus’s, he is introduced to a secret society called the Phoenix Club which offers to fund his research in exchange for the rights to the work and to ensure that the United States remains on the cutting edge of technological progress.

 
As one may have expected, between the elaborate rituals and decadent festivals alluding to the late Roman Empire’s avarice, the Phoenix Club is not what they claim to be: patriotic saints battling for America’s soul both at home and abroad. Rather, they are little more than glorified gangsters constituting the real power behind the White House; they are a ruling class composed of the best and brightest—of the richest industrialists, most righteous (re: monetarily successful) pulpit pounders, the sharpest scientific and most innovative artistic minds. Dealing in absolute, the club deals a heavy hand: treason is swiftly and brutally dealt with through assassination, incompetence punished with demotion and shame, while insolence leads inevitably toward a stagnated career. Sworn to secrecy Peter struggles with balancing his personal reservations about the club, his desire to clear his name and renew his research, while keeping his wife in the dark. Placed on the fast-track to full membership though, Peter has little time to weigh his options and plunges head-first into cooperating with them, understanding that he has no other choice.

 
After refusing to kill a traitor as part of his initiation ceremony, however, Peter flees the club’s boathouse, barely escaping with his life. Rescued by a mysterious woman named Talia, Peter is thrust into a psychological hell. With his wife presumed dead, killed by club hit-men, and his father—in addition to his old life—violently effaced, Peter makes a decision to reinvent himself; hiring the help of expert hackers, so as to steal money from the club, and with the help of some cosmetic surgery and technological enhancements, Peter is reborn as “Thomas Paine” and elects to wage a one-man’s war against the Phoenix Club.

 
Much about this book is fantastic. Manney is a skilled writer whose talent shines through; the character development feels organic and natural, never rushed or artificial, while the story well-constructed with the big picture in mind from beginning to end, despite a few instances of eye-rolling dues-ex machnia. What sets (R)evolution out from the crowd, however, is Manney’s infusion of music into the narrative. This is a book with a soundtrack, so to speak. Whenever there is a track referenced within a scene the reader should take note since the content of that song informs the scene; any lover of music will be delighted upon listening to a song and witnessing how it synching up with the scene. Adding a whole new level of immersion into the story, while granting the reader insight into the emotional world of the characters, as well as the allegorical importance of some of the plot developments. Critical theorists, as well as lovers of song, will find much joy in deconstructing or analyzing the textual signifiers.

 
This kind of informing extends to the aforementioned pieces of social-commentary. Politically, the concern of the novel is centered on people’s relationship to society and the role technology plays in governance; the music in each scene hints at the background political content—hearing R.E.M’s Welcome to the Occupation blaring in the background during a tense or intimate scene speaks more of the message between-the-lines than an initial close reading. Digging down a bit deeper into the lines, however, the reader will glean many instances of characters deriding legislative corruption and authoritarianism; the decay of American ideals, the vision of the Founding Fathers being perverted, and a few instances critiquing nationalistic fervor, Manney’s convictions reveal a strong Populist articulation of center-left libertarian ideology, a stance backed-up by a few of the song choices, especially when played back against a scene. One can hardly pass a chapter without (literally) hearing the sub-text speak: that those unique individuals will attempted to be subsumed underneath the herd of the “they” and subsequently must fight their own battle to differentiate from the conglomerate.

 
Philosophically, the novel takes inspiration from Friedrich Nietzsche. The narrative falls into a “Will-to-Power” superstructure. Peter’s differentiation from the club takes shape as a liberation tale. Peter intends to wield his enlightened/augmented consciousness/body, repeatedly referred to as Nietzsche’s Übermensch, in order to prevent the (mostly) free-thinking world from falling into the clutches of a tightly-knit herd (the Phoenix Club). Even so, there is a caveat to be made: Peter’s violent insurrection at the novel’s end indicates a transcendence of Nietzschian orthodoxy. With the signification of violence as the decisive factor in inching toward a resolution of the central contradiction of the novel, that of historical progress as praxis being retarded by anti-dialectical forces (the club), it is unsurprising to see the anti-dialectical stance of Nietzsche jettisoned for the more progressive, though not revolutionary, embrace of vulgar materialist musings hinting at a postmodernist radicalism.

 
However unintentional it may have been on the author’s part, the dialectical—or unity of opposites—theory runs strongly throughout the text. Two contradictions emerge. That between the “organic individual” and the “enhanced individual”, as well as between the anti-historic and historic ideas of progress; both are part of the central contradiction in the novel, that of how society in the time of mass markets and media must invariably change, yet has the added dilemma of doing so while straddling the gauntlet between forces fundamentally at odds. Within the confines of the first contradiction (between the natural individual and the artificially enhanced) we see the dialectical system as a series of qualitative leaps (ultimately influencing the historical contradiction): Peter as Peter (un-augmented), Peter augmented (cyborg), Peter reborn as Thomas Paine, Paine enhanced by additional augmentations, Paine transcended into new being; death and life play out in relation to primitive organics, the natural, and between technology. The second contradiction, meanwhile, finds articulation within the realm of the plot. With the club’s ultimate fate appearing to be in decline relative to the oppositional aspect, in lieu of Peter’s assault on their headquarters disrupting their invincibility mythos, and by extension their indefatigable belief in stagnant history, as the losing edge to the oppositional kind of historic formulation: of progress. As Peter remarks to a beaten foe, “Even though your acts were not chaos theory’s piddly butterfly wings—but dragon wings whipping storms into hurricanes—history will continue gratefully without you” (501). Such a declaration admits the powerful role of the once mighty dominant side (the Phoenix Club as representing stagnant historical progress) while forcing a transition into the opposite: the formerly weaker side, the Peter-as-augmented-organic (historical progress), now becomes (presumably) the dominant side of the contradiction, with the ability of the club to operate now checked by (sumptuary) insipid revolutionary flares.

 
All in all I greatly enjoyed reading (R)evolution. While there were moments which I was not sold on, such as Manney’s grating representation of women as either emotional wrecks, merely tripping up the male protagonists, or as sexualized parodies of actual people; or in the case of politics, of famous leaders of revolutionary national liberation movements being demonized with ahistorical slurs, the good of the novel out-weighed the bad. At the end of the day I still come to the conclusion that whatever its shortcomings, Manney’s book is something special. Crafted with love and pride, it is a novel for an age tinted with distrust and violence, one which expertly melds techno-thriller and sci-fi into an intoxicating whole.

 
(R)evolution
P.J. Manney
538 pages. Published by 47 North. $4.99 (Kindle). 2015.

Ashes of the Fallen (A Review)

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Review by Curtis Cole

 
Returning to the universe of The Dragon’s Wrath, I was unsure of what to expect. Although the first volume was enjoyable enough, it suffered from some less than bearable moments of sexual introspection and existential Angst, not to mention a lagging pace on par with the worst LAN sessions imaginable. But still, the premise of author Brent Roth’s first volume—A virtual Dream—that of a virtual reality massively multiplayer online game set a fantasy world roughly modeled off of a fascination with Viking history, was compelling. I was interested in how the story developed and to what ends protagonist Brent would go to build his Northern kingdom. So I jumped back into Roth’s world and prepared myself for both the best, as well as the worst.

 
After finishing the second volume of The Dragon’s Wrath, I am pleased to report that, for the most part, the issues associated with the first volume have been fixed. No more is the reader subjected to tedious reports on the protagonist’s girl troubles; real world sections have largely been forgotten in favor of an acute focus on the in-game activities of the protagonist. This approach both speeds up the remaining world building that sets up the plot, as well as removes the iffy moments of the protagonist’s real life identity, thus, the meat of the volume—the in-game plot—is accelerated and the reader becomes interested in something which resembles an actual plot; this is a step up from the first installment where the narrative moved seemingly at random from one event to the next. Though the beginning reads in much the same fashion as the first volume, this is largely done to finish the narrative scaffolding and to form the basis for the conflict which will drive the remainder of the text.

 
The volume picks up immediately after volume one. And when I say ‘immediately,’ I mean immediately, for there is no summery of the prior events or neat narrative shuffling hinting at self-contained plot matter: in order to understand this second volume one must read the first volume, otherwise, the content will make no sense whatsoever. No in-text re-cap is provided; just pure plot. To me, this works. For as large an undertaking as Roth appears to be engaged in, and as plodding as the first volume needed to be, I would have been fairly ‘ticked,’ so to speak, had he spent additional time going over details he already covered previously. Though some may find this off-putting, or even a cheap gimmick aimed to force people and buy his previous volume, my opinion of it is very high-minded and would advise the author to continue with the tactic. It saves time and urges the reader forward.

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The Trials and Tribulations of a ‘Golden Son’ (A Review)

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Review by Curtis Cole

 
It is hard being a good son. You have to worry about alliances and business partners, not to mention assassination attempts and building the best you can for your family name. When one factors in the competition, all those ruthless Golds whom have it out for you, then the stress can build. And so it is for protagonist Darrow: the father of lies who carved his way into the highest echelons of Gold society to become something worth having for the Sons of Ares freedom fighters.

 
Golden Son is author Pierce Brown’s second installment in the Red Rising trilogy. It continues the story of Darrow, a working class youth who was thrust into the brutal, cut-throat world of the Golds, the elite of society, after his love was murdered before his eyes and the reality of his life on Mars was exposed for a shame; that his kin, the Reds, the lowest class, were lied to—that humanity’s efforts at terraforming the planet had succeeded ages ago and that now they live merely as slaves. Golden Son picks off right where the first left off, at the conclusion of the academy scene. As one might have expected from the title, this second installment concerns family, on what it means to belong and love. The pressing question is asks, of course, is whether the price for belonging is worth the sacrifice.

 
Anyone who has read Brown’s previous book will understand this new product, as it is more of the same, only better. The progressive politics remain intact as is the unrelenting adherence to the necessity of violence to change society. The characters build in depth as their personalities and motivations are fleshed out and given new life upon being thrust into new situations. Plot wise everything has improved; gone are the previous installment’s cannibalizations of other young adult franchises (Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, Divergence), and ‘in’ are the original formulations of honor, love, and navigating a dangerous world all alone. Brown manages to craft a plot which mixes mild romantic inclinations with those of drama and action-adventure. Switching between, but often mixing, several of these genres at once, it is not uncommon to read of the emotional turmoil transpiring during an action scene or vise versa. Brown jumps between intrigue, action, and drama with gusto while never lingering beyond a scene’s prime; scenes of diabolical political backhanding end just when you wish them too, while scene of violence and carnage know not to overstay their welcome.

 
In terms of faults I cannot find too many. Perhaps I could say how some of the plot developments are clichéd but as these almost always lead up to a twist which subverts the original cliché, I cannot fault Brown with their rare inclusion (besides, at the end of the day, this is a book meant for teens and young adults, so a certain amount of the ‘tired and true’ is to be expected). I only found issue with how some of the narrative is handled. At times the plot seemed to run ahead of itself, with the result being that the reader is momentarily confused as they have to piece together what it means when [X] comes after [Y] after character [so and so] speaks of something happening which, previously, was but a dream spoken of earlier. Although these moments are rare, they speak of a tendency for Brown to force a great deal of narrative into a small slice of the page, something which does not always clear up the murky waters. Some of this is intentional, as in near the end of the book, while for other bits one can tell that it was a struggle for him to write in all that he wanted without including an additional two hundred pages, and so he had to dream up some narrative trick as a compromise. I will not say that such moments disturbed me or created a current of dissatisfaction, but I do want to just mention that with all the details in the book to keep track of, some fans may end up a little confused at certain points in the narrative if they have not been closely following all of the background minutia.

 
In the end, Golden Son is a fantastic experience. Regaling the audience with tales of grandeur, heroism, conquest, and a young adult coming to terms with his role in the universe, Golden Son will delight fans of Brown’s first literary effort. Everything has been polished and made to fit with the beautifully realized world. There is shocking twists, epic battles, and existential drama ahoy in this story so anyone with such an appetite will want to continue their path on Brown’s road and see what next happens to Darrow.

 
To read my review of Red Rising, book one of the Red Rising trilogy, click here.

 
Golden Son
Pierce Brown
466 Pages. Published by Del Rey. $9.99 (Kindle), $17.00 (Hardcover), $9.72 (Paperback), $22.04 (Audible audiobook), $45.00 (Audio CD)[1]. 2015.

 

[1] All prices and page estimates were taken from Amazon.com and were accurate at the time of writing.

TransAtlantic Women: Misty Krueger’s Class Projects

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The amount of brilliant minds that take part in UMF’s English Department never fails to amaze me. Especially recently while witnessing my peers present their creations of research and deep analytical thinking skills. More recently, I had the pleasure of sitting in on a class of Misty Krueger’s called TransAtlantic Women which focuses on the literature of women who traveled across the Atlantic to the New World – including our own region of New England and others such as Suriname and Central America.

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In their presentations, they carefully researched and mapped out the travels of these incredible women in relation to their texts and the characters within. It was super interesting that with the help of technology and GPS that we can visually understand the trials in which these women underwent.

In Sam Oppenheim’s presentation, as seen pictured above, he mapped out Anne Bradstreet’s travels from England, where she was born, to Massachusetts. He explained how her poetry reflected the position she had in this transition in 1630. She holds the title of being the first published female poet in the New World.

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Other presentations included Aphra Behn’s (potential) journey to Suriname, though not much is known about her journey and Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative about her ransom by the Native Americans in 1682. Their journeys were mapped out to the best of their ability.

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Brigid Chapin and Grace Hatch tackled on the project of mapping out women pirates known as Mary Read and Anne Bonney. Both of these women were born in Europe and traveled across the Atlantic looking for a place to make their own. Brigid explained that in Europe, because Read and Bonney had lower class roles, they would have never had the type of life they led in the Caribbean. They pirated together and separately, and Brigid and Grace had mapped out as much as they could about their life journeys.

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Katie Drew and Jasmine Heckler focused on Penelope Aubin’s story taken from her own memoir known as The Life of Charlotta Du Pont, and they mapped out the unfortunate journeys of the couple Charlotta and Belanger – proving not to be an easy task as it seemed.

Overall, the maps of these brave women’s journeys were visually entertaining and amazing to imagine. The element of travel was important to the works in which made them famous. Great presentations guys!

The Wayward Youth of ‘Substance’ (A Review)

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Review by Curtis Cole

        Author Ashlyn Forge understands the finer points of drama: foregoing melodrama in favor of subdued, almost amnesiac thread of low-intensity existential angst, Forge’s standalone—Substance—set in her “Toys and Soldiers” universe, crafts a wrenching coming of age story set in an oppressive civilization called “The Colony.”

Protagonist Phil, a trainee of the martial arts master Job—the Colony’s most notorious sensei—is reminiscent of young people today: he lives with his father, a miner, idolizes Gara (a musical superstar), and is desperate to make his family proud, while at the same time resenting the overbearing affection placed on him while he simply wants to try and find his own way in life. An introvert, however, Phil finds it hard to become the extroverted, highly physical, warrior elite his father pines for as a means of financially liberating them to a higher class. With his training with Job coming to an inglorious end, Phil slips further into desperation as he imagines ways to earn credits. Coming to become part of a ransack-team hired to rob the home of a wealthy target, Phil’s world forever changes when the heist goes wrong and he is pulled into the depraved world of his idol—Gara.

Forge tells the story of a young man discovering himself both sexually and as an individual. His new life as a bodyguard for Gara becomes an allegory for growing up; experiments with drugs, insecurity with others and misconstruing hormones for love, being torn between family, pride, and necessity, and settling for the best one can get given the circumstances. Substance is not always a happy story, but it is realistic. When one considers that it is set in a homonormative sci-fi world plagued by a rigid class system and sexual segregation, this becomes remarkable.

Forge has a talent in breathing life into characters. Although Phil rarely speaks, spending most of the novella’s paragraphs in interior monologue, the reader gleans an interest in him as a person; distant, though emotional, thoughtful yet not intellectual, and caring yet blunt are but some of the ways in which a reader could describe the subtle nuance of Phil’s personage. His interaction with Gara is thus transformed into a multilayered interaction as traits about both men are revealed and as Phil gains insight into the world he has been dragged into. Together with details about The Colony gradually trickling down from organic moments in both reflection and conversation, the construction of this stand-alone installment in is a beautifully written tract on youth and its meaning.

Although a brief read, I would recommend Substance to anyone, especially in the Queer community, who is looking for a well-constructed story. The cast is enjoyable and believable in their deeds, the plot packs an emotional layer underlying the seemingly benign, irrational, series of events, and the ending is an unexpected, although heartwarming, surprise which mixed with equal amounts joy and melancholy, amounts to a movingly poetic, yet decentering, aesthetic. Fans of youthful struggle should not miss!

Substance

Ashlyn Forge

82 pages. Published in Japan by Ashlyn Forge. $0.00 (Kindle)[1]. 2014.

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

The Death of Persephone: Reviewing “Red Rising” by Pierce Brown

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Review by Curtis Cole

Empire: it is a dirty word and for good reason. It stands for violence, oppression, exploitation and, perhaps most of all, lies. This is something the protagonist of Pierce Brown’s science-fiction debut knows all too well. Coming from the subterranean passages of Mars, male lead Darrow and his fellow miners, “Reds”, toil all day long in the dark, expecting their labor to propel humanity forward into the future by enabling the terraforming of Mars thanks to the precious Helium-3 gas they struggle to extract. But, as Darrow discovers, not all is as the ruling class claim: Mars was made habitable hundreds of years ago.

Darrow and all of Red kind are slaves. They are the lowest of cogs in a vast classist regime dedicated to the accumulation of wealth, of capital. The surface of Mars is littered with thousands of cities, all of which loudly proclaim the inebriation bestowed upon society through the machinations of capitalism; the romanticization of war, the subjugation of women as sex slaves, the unfettered consumption of alcohol enslaving the working class, while those who remain sober become bought with the super-profits reaped from those Reds who remain ignorant of the truth, all of which is heaped upon the single pivotal cornerstone of bourgeois society—that of obedience to those “higher” than yourself and of the overriding importance of class and caste in maintaining the power structure of the elite.

Darrow, recruited by a guerrilla organization called “The Sons of Ares”, quickly finds himself caught in the middle of a vast power-play: one ultimately between domination and emancipation. The Sons of Ares ask him to undertake a near-impossible mission: infiltrate the testing grounds of the imperial elite, the so-called “Golds”, best them at their own games and secure a place in their decadent society so as to one day use his power to support a Red uprising.

Brown’s text here is radical in content. It is the telling of a coming of age story through the lens of vicious class warfare; combining the best parts of a host of influences, from Ender’s Game, the A Song of Fire and Ice series, Divergence, The Hunger Games, and more, Brown moves beyond his literary contemporaries by offering a leftist take on alienation and class society. His fusion of Greek myth, and history (both military and socio-economic), and the accompanying layers of homoerotic subtext, create multifaceted layers to be explored, while his representation of a non-commodity based barter system (the underground society of the Reds, of whom over a billion are counted) act as a stand-in for a primitive communism in decline, one impacted with vices of bourgeois culture and ultimately on the precipice of revolutionary change. Darrow’s (anti-)hero’s journey into the belly of the beast isn’t merely one content to parrot dusty platitudes of peaceful reform: the central issue, after all, is one of class consciousness and of overcoming internal divisions inflicted upon one’s class in an effort to enforce weakness. Violence, in other words, and how it is used to liberate or oppress, is the theme which runs throughout. In this sense Darrow’s story, his journey into adulthood being refracted through the prism of social struggle, is a pure coming of age story, one which hits the heart of what such stories are about.

Red Rising is riddled with tension, anger, and frustration. Darrow’s campaign is not merely one of directionless angst but of focused discipline, one which can easily be extrapolated from contemporary society. All of which is to say that Brown is likely heavily preoccupied with socially pressing issues and perhaps has written this book at least as a partial lashing out against society’s ills. The pages overflow with emotion. Each chapter brings a new development and, more often than not, heralds an approaching twist (of which the plot has several which pull no punches). Characters are not merely alive or believable but filled with vibrancy and attitude; while at times platitudes appear too prevalent, Brown has a style of writing which repurposes clichés and archetypes into characters which you have not seen before or have, in the very least, not seen this way. The author’s skill with a pen shines through with each and every page: the tone, atmosphere, the world-building, the cast, the social critique… all is cast in stunning realism, if not one of a dark, gory nature.

For what it is—a piercingly violent assault on contemporary morality and values—Red Rising is something any fan of dark sci-fi/fantasy will want to read. While it will not hold up to the classics of the sci-fi genre, in terms of the young adult audience which is its target consumer, Brown’s story presents cogent and mature themes; while there are of course weaknesses in the thread, such as Darrow’s conflicted personage and many of the building blocks being recycled from other sources, in the end, Red Rising depicts a dystopia which is only just: one which is a distorted reflection of modernity.

Red Rising

Pierce Brown

382 pages. Published by Del Ray. $8.86 (Paperback), $16.77 (Hardcover), $6.99 (Kindle), $29.95 (Audible)[1]. 2014.

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

Finding Wildness: Author Dave Gessner Visits UMF for Visiting Writer’s Series

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David Gessner reads from “All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner and the American West.”

After a year and a half of planning, Dave Gessner, author of nine successful books, visited UMF to read from his latest non-fiction “All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner and the American West.” UMF Student Nathaniel Duggan gave Gessner an elaborate introduction, mentioning his other books, Return of the Osprey, Sick of Nature, My Green Manifesto, and The Tarball Chronicles, which won the 2012 Reed Award for Best Book on the Southern Environment and the Association for Study of Literature and the Environment’s award for best book of creative writing in 2011 and 2012. He has published essays in many magazines, including Outside magazine and the New York Times Magazine, and has won the John Burroughs Award for Best Nature Essay, a Pushcart Prize, and inclusion in Best American Nonrequired Reading.

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UMF English Student Nathaniel Duggan introduces Gessner.

Gessner has taught Environmental Writing at Harvard and currently teaches at University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Also a fan of blogging, Gessner and Bill Roorbach write for Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour; a fun website full of reviews and non-fiction accounts.

Technology is destroying us. Nature can restore us.

That’s how Gessner starts off his forum. A topic of conversation that many college students can relate to, even me, as I type these words on my laptop computer and check my phone. Gessner shares his experience of growing up in Worchester, Massachusetts, a place where nature is hard to appreciate. Only later in his life when he was accepted to University of Colorado in Boulder and traveled west towards the Rocky Mountains is when nature started to dominate in his writing, reading, and overall outlook on life.

What is it about nature that inspired us humans so much? Gessner tells us: WILDNESS. Our primal instincts are alive in places where organic beauty is a reality. But then he turns around to argue that our most wildest moments can happen right at home – where domestic and family life is most crucial. He gives crushing examples of life and death experiences where he holds his father’s hand while he exhales his last breath or when he watched his wife through giving birth to his daughter.

There is nothing tame about a C-Section. Life and death experiences take us to our primal selves. These are the wildest places I have ever known.

He moved on to another topic dear to his heart: Ultimate Frisbee. Clearly UMF students can relate. According to Gessner, Ultimate Frisbee is one of the wildest actions that humans can be involved in. My favorite quote being:

Playing Frisbee is like being a writer: you’re throwing yourself into a passion that most people find ridiculous.

Reading from one of his books, Sick of Nature, he retold the moment where his father was hit straight in the temple with a frisbee from one of his teammates. A moment of unleashed passion, directed right at his father’s head. Humorous and profound somehow – it works.

IMG_6732After moving to Colorado, Gessner was blown away by the authors and literature of the area, most importantly Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner. Abbey and Stegner were both environmentalist writers with completely different styles both in writing and lifestyle. Although not familiar with them myself, they had an incredibly impact on Gessner as he toured the American West and seeked out the places that were the most important to these authors. All the Wild that Remains is the account of this trip. My favorite example that Gessner gave was from Edward Abbey who was describing the moment he first witnessed the Rocky Mountains, being like a young boy’s first time witnessing the naked body of a woman – magical beauty.

All in all, it was an incredible performance for UMF. Gessner is a man passionate about his work, environmental and political literary work, and the environment around us both in nature and in the home. For more information on his books, click here for his website.

Dan Gunn’s “Noisy, Wild, and Extremely Troublesome: Children in Jane Austen’s Novels” Forum at Emery

In the English Department’s recent forum on Jane Austen’s perception of young children in her novels, Professor Dan Gunn presented the research he had been compiling about Austen’s attitude throughout her works of literature. Originally presented in Le Mans, France last March, Gunn gave UMF an extraordinary lesson on Austen’s background and an analysis on her minor characters: children.

Where was there room for children in Austen’s time period? Certainly not in literature. According to Gunn’s research, many times the children in Austen’s novels were used for comedy or plot devices. Her depiction of them were generally awful, tiny, selfish human beings. These examples are found throughout Mansfield Park, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice where children are described as “full of monkey tricks” and “thumping and hallooing” and “pushing the maiden about.” Their constant noise and disorder prevented ordinary social intercourse from happening.

So why did Austen depict children in such a negative light? Gunn explained that Austen had no children of her own, yet adored her nieces and nephews. Austen thought children were incredibly selfish and if not taught properly, turned into problematic adult characters–present in her novels. These types of characters are examples such as Kitty and Lydia in Pride and Prejudice and Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility.  With this, Gunn concluded that Austen actually had a great deal of affection for children but also a frustration with parents who did not raise their children correctly as she might have.

Any questions or comments can be directed to Professor Dan Gunn at dpgunn@maine.edu

Mission: Flight to Mars (A Review)

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Cover of Jeffrey’s book.

Review by Curtis Cole

                Remember Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon? No? Of course not, you are probably too young; I will jog your memory: Buck Rogers (and others) was the campy sci-fi of yesteryear, the kind with an everyman protagonist and special effects which, let’s just say, “stood out” (re: sucked). This was the kind of science-fiction which acted as a precursor to Star Wars; of depicting space as the new Wild West daring humanity to tame it against the alien hordes. Mission: Flight to Mars author V.A Jeffrey takes such a canon as her inspiration. Unfortunately such grandeur seems to have missed its mark for Jeffrey’s first installment in her epic sci-fi series is sorely deprived of every cornerstone of enjoyable sci-fi: believable characters, a coherent and well-written plot, and interesting technologies… none is to be found here! But let me explain.

The protagonist of the novel is a quality assurance agent working at an android construction assembly line. Bob Astor is his name and he’s sticking to it (unfortunately)… along with everything else, for you see, Bob is a severely lacking protagonist. He is a spinelessly confusing lead and is among the most naïve lead characters I have ever read (including those purposefully written as naïve by their authors), as he leaps into situations which he has no business being involved with, all for reasons left largely unexplained by the author. I associate Bob’s attitude to that of an absent-minded child wandering the aisles of a toy-store—he doesn’t know why or how he ended up looking at the baseball equipment but while he is there he minus well try out a few bats. Bob displays the exact same level of ignorant arrogance in his actions.

The plot heaps onto this deeply underworked character (who, in all honesty, appears as lifelike as Mac’s speak and spell function) by running far ahead of the crawling pace which should be attempted. The plot begins with Bob being disciplined for supposedly stealing from the company he works for; however, at the last moment he is saved by a mysterious benefactor who not only saves his job but places him on a delegation to the grand opening of the moon city Langrenus. When there he encounters a desperate man at the end of his rope who prattles on about a vast conspiracy involving alien technology. Bob tries his best to help the man, but the man is murdered before anything is able to be done: before his death, though, the desperate man sends Bob a file detailing everything he knows. A key factoid is that Mars holds the key to everything.

So what does our brave Bob do? Ignore the message and return to his daily life? Inform the police and let the authorities investigate? Hire a mercenary to track down the murderer and enact justice? Nope! The correct answer is: ignore his family, job, laws, and inability to defend himself— he rushes off in a spaceship not of his own, all the way to Mars, so as to investigate the strange ramblings of a depressed cowboy. Good thing he did too because as it turns out there is an alien city on Mars settled by colonist dissidents from an intergalactic superpower called ‘The Realm’ which is not only building up its forces AND technology but also intends to launch a surprise attack on Earth so as to enslave humanity.

A huge swath of the writing at this point is terrible but before I sprinkle on more blame, I want to give credit when credit is due: Jeffrey, if it is to be said did anything correct in this messy manuscript (which to me painfully reads as a first draft), did succeed in making an intriguing Neo-Wild-West: the aliens on Mars are different, unique, and possessing enough “old school” and “new school” vibes to keep them at the center of the show. The customs, rituals, religions, lifestyles, evolutionary, social, and political values and structures which form the basis of the Martian society are—by far—the most interesting thing in the novel. This is no to say they are particularly informed by the author’s writing (because the explanations are sloppy) but that of everything written, the alien civilization is the most cogent literary facet expounded upon.

Unfortunately, that is the only thing done even partially right: to list the deficiencies, (1) the dialogue between characters is nonsensical; whether it be between aliens and humans, or children and adults, everyone reads like the same monotone personality; (2) explanation of technology is brushed aside, leaving the reader confused as to the capabilities of the protagonist at any given time and why certain events transpire as they do; (3) Small segments of the book read as though they are missing: characters discuss something, then something happens, then something new—seemingly unrelated to the first happening—happens. Part of this issue lies in the author’s rushed writing; (4) Aid comes to the protagonist at an unbelievable pace. Every step of his journey, from the moment he lands on Mars to the second he departs, sees him aided by friendly natives whom just so happen to support Earthly autonomy. The accomplishments made by the protagonist are then, understandably, absurd parodies of actual plot developments, something which even when it is referred to by the characters themselves, does not manage to touch upon the profundity of the problem; (5) Poor writing, grammar, and punctuation. Characters fail as characters and very little makes sense.

At the end of the day, the author needed to take far longer to write this installment. Although there is some socially progressive references, such as lamentations on the demise of labor unions and the right of entities both national and biological to self-determination, something which shows a level of class consciousness on the part of the author, thereby elevating—just a tad—the text itself (when we consider it in relation to the inspirational sources), I still cannot overlook the glaring issues associated with the bulk of this book. Jeffrey is writing a series and with the next three installments already out, it is clear that though she enjoys penning tales of adventure, she needs to take a breath, step back and spend more time brainstorming, editing, and revising. This project has potential but only if she spends more effort writing and less effort at churning out the literary equivalent of vitamin pills. As it presently stands. I cannot recommend this text to anyone; but hey, it is free on the Amazon Kindle store, so if you are either intensely bored and forgot that you can go to a library, or want to judge for yourself, the price for admission—ignoring the time investment—is positively low.

Mission: Flight to Mars

V.A Jeffrey

189 pages. Published by Epistle. $0.00 (Kindle)[1]. 2014

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

Noisy, Wild, and Extremely Troublesome

The Lectures in the Arts and Humanities Series, a forum for research and scholarship at the University of Maine at Farmington, kicks off this semester with a lecture by Professor Daniel Gunn, “Noisy, Wild, and Extremely Troublesome: Children in Jane Austen’s Novels.”

The lecture will take place Wednesday, October 28, at 11:45 in the Emery Arts Center Performance Space. Admission is free, and the event is open to the public.

“Noisy, Wild, and Extremely Troublesome: Children in Jane Austen’s Novels” is a discussion of the representation of children in the interstices of Jane Austen’s novels. Children are generally presented in a manner consistent with Austen’s moral thematics but may also serve as a site onto which sexual feeling and other repressed desires and impulses are displaced.

Daniel Gunn is Professor of English at UMF, where he has taught since 1980.  He has published scholarly essays on the history and theory of the novel in Nineteenth-Century Literature, Narrative, Studies in the Novel, Eighteenth-Century Fiction, James Joyce Quarterly, the Georgia Review, and other journals.

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