Posted by mariahhaggan on December 17, 2016
Review by Curtis Cole
With the ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency, and what many suspect is his imminent declaration of immortal god-hood— the One who will unite and lead humanity to the stars where, ultimately, they will confront the Chaos Gods in the Galaxy of Terro—sorry, wrong franchise; *clears throat*, at any rate, I thought an appropriate way to commiserate Trump’s electoral ‘March on Rome’ would be to delve back into the proto-fascist fiction of Nick Webb—resident punching block for my reviews here.
Independence, book one of the Legacy Ship trilogy, opens with an appropriate enough setting: university. Here we see Admiral Proctor, now retired, teaching full time to pay the bills; teaching doesn’t seem to be her vocation, though, since she spends most of her time being an Ageist cliché; her students look younger and ‘stupider’ every year, and their habit of wearing arcane dressings, becoming ‘micro-aggressed,’ and, in general, disrespecting her Pro-genocide stance, makes her one irate former militarist.
(And before I move onto said genocide, I also want to mention that early in the book there is a spectacular moment of Transphobia; a character is describing the benefits of the newly developed ‘T-Jump’ for interstellar travel, and one character refers to it as a ‘Tranny-Jump’. Though there is a mild level of encoding happening concerning the character who utters the comment, thus setting him up as a sort of immature hot-head, the very fact that Webb actually had the audacity to include it in the first place, merely as a point winner for his Neocon audience, is shameful.)
Let us slow down for a bit—genocide? Yeah, that got me confused as well.
At the end of the previous book in Webb’s sequence, Victory, we see the Swarm despoiled ((de)spoiler alert?). Their meta-space signal—something which they used to control the alien races which our human protagonists thought were the Swarm-proper, has been severed; those species which had been hijacked went on to lead a fulfilling life. Not being controlled by communistic space… signals, will do that to you. And yet, in none of that do I remember genocide; one cannot commit genocide by blocking an interdimensional signal, not unless you have an unconventional definition of the word ‘life’ (which considering Webb’s Pro-Life views, I initially strongly suspected). Regardless, it turns out that Proctor, after the events of book three, was ordered to hunt down the remnants of the first alien race which the Swarm-signal contacted and eradicate them, just to be safe. Nothing wakes you up like genocide in your cup!
Insipid references to old coffee commercials aside, though, this was a mildly confusing opening to a moderately confusing book. In hindsight, it represented in microcosm everything which was wrong with the book as a whole. But we will get there. First, Proctor’s fascism.
If you thought that Proctor’s actions post-Victory were trite and something only added to force what is generously called character development, then hooray, you and I are on the same level. It is extremely artificial and shows a juvenile understanding of morality, chiefly due to how it forces an immature understanding of how people act in desperate situations. In turn, I have no qualms about using an equally forced analogy—Nazism.
Webb wants Proctor’s decision to hunt down the remaining Swarm ships to sound like a lose-lose situation, something that she did not take pleasure in doing but did anyway because she temporarily lost focus of her moral compass and subsequently lacked conscious. This fails—horribly.
If you are like myself and a skilled abstract thinker, then you can disassociate yourself enough to where it did almost seemed like Proctor had a tough decision on her hands; reinforced early in the book when she validates that uppity college student (the one that became ‘micro-aggressed’), it seems like Webb is taking a talking point from A Patriot’s History of the United States: give some credence to the opposing opinion while building an elaborate strawman based on historical revisionism. The end-product almost sounds fair and balanced, but it is not. Once you take a few steps back, Webb’s take on Proctor becomes less noble. In fact, it becomes revolting.
Why it was possible for me to concretize an understanding of Proctor’s fascistic tendencies without wholly despising her character was because of how the idea of mass-slaughter was being juxtaposed against a non-human species; Proctor’s actions are described in but only a few places throughout the entirety of the book and in a lukewarm condemnatory manner. She berates herself some and whines about not having a moral compass. This, while the reader understands that her actions came after a civilization shattering war for humanity’s survival. This situation hardly seemed similar to anything which came before it in human history.
Except, that is not true: Proctor’s situation is, in fact, depressingly common.
Once you bring genocide back down to the human roots—and really consider morality in more than a black and white perspective, then Proctor’s actions are nothing less than despicable. Indeed, perhaps the only thing more horrid is Webb’s pathetic attempt to legitimate such blasé existential outlook.
Consider: if we were to replace Proctor with a German officer in Hitler’s army, and to replace the Swarm remnants with Jews or homosexuals (or any number of the persecuted groups which Hitler terrorized), then would we be able to abstract ourselves from Proctor’s offenses? Would we be able to give her some benefit of the doubt in regards to the morality of her actions? No, we would not; why not is simple—because genocide is not excused because some stressed out protagonist had a momentary ‘lapse’ in judgement; mass slaughter of innocent lives is not excused because this same protagonist lost her moral compass. Genocide happens because institutional racism and conspiracy theory combine with desperate economic conditions to legitimate mass-extermination as a means to scapegoat the Other; it is the bourgeoisie’s last desperate attempt to sweep class contradictions underneath the rug. It does not happen because some great (wo)man was too paranoid to think clearly. The entire situation is odious in the extreme (especially if we want to get into the text’s gender essentialism). Moreover, it shows just how extreme Webb is willing to go in order to try and win some points for nationalistic-jingoism.
Independence is like a Neo-Conservative building block play-set. You have pieces which you can arrange in any order; each piece, of course, is a reactionary belief: anti-academicism, pseudo-science, racism sublimated as an anti-alien speciesism, and more all directed underneath a thin layer of White Man’s burden (in this installment, for example, I found myself continuously considering the non-human aliens as non-White imprints since they not only do jack-crap for the entire book, but appear to exist solely on the sidelines to become ravaged by the antagonist, all while humanity takes the bold defensive leap to their defense). Coupled with a decrepit morality system, a convoluted techno-thriller pseudo-Space Opera plot, and shallow characterization, Independence shows Webb’s increasing inability to write compelling fiction. Indeed, though this is, I believe, the shortest of the four books set in the ‘Swarm Universe’, it took me far longer to read this installment than any previous entry.
Why it took me longer to read this entry goes beyond theory and philosophy; it comes down to style. Webb is clearly setting up Big Things for future entries, but it all feels forced. The great antagonist is a hyper-advanced alien ship which came out of no-where and started decimating whole worlds; Proctor, aged thirty-years, is a lionized war hero; all the while, throughout Human Space there is a Galactic People’s Congress, who turns out, in fact, to be somewhat cult-like, itching for freedom from increasingly tyrannical human states. In short, there is a lot to work with, but it just doesn’t lead to any satisfying conclusion.
The finale is predictable, the double-agents hardly shocking, and even the twists and turns simply un-compelling. The plot, as I said, is basically a techno-thriller mixed with hefty amounts of politicking and some space combat. The hyper-advanced alien ship, outside of a last-ditch narrative push, does literally nothing for the whole book; Proctor remains a bad-ass, take-no-prisoners leader and… that’s about it. One understands that Webb wanted to write about frustration with the world as one ages, hence Proctor’s angst. What he ended up, however, was just a series of shallow vignettes which hardly serve a purpose outside making Proctor sound like a cartoon character.
Independence could have been a deep exploration of what it means to be on the edge of no longer being socially-useful yet not be able to understand how to make the transition to respected elder; it could have been about how capitalism-imperialism continues to haunt humanity, even after great devastation; it could have been about the machinations of society and what it means to serve—that the upcoming generations perspective is one only obtained from the sacrifice of uncountable people before their time and how the dialectical tug-and-pull between total war and total peace. Unfortunately, Independence is none of these things. Instead it settles for predictable plots, vapid characters, and an unamusing reactionary core. Pity. Not unexpected, though.
Independence: Book One of the Legacy Ship trilogy.
283 pages. Published by Nick Webb. $16.99 (Paperback), $4.99 (Kindle), $1.99 (Audible audiobook). 2016.
Posted by Curtis C. on November 28, 2016
To deliver a satisfactory conclusion to a trilogy, an author needs several skills: the ability to write in clever twists which keep the reader guessing, a footing which rejects the stale machinations of dues ex machinia, and a finale which addresses the writing project’s central conflict in a believable, cogent manner. Nick Web, to this credit, manages to deliver on these demands and more with his final installment in the Legacy Fleet trilogy, Victory.
Captain Granger returns to bring the fight to the Swarm foe. The hallmarks of his command—daring tactics, saucy politicking, and more—make an impact in the typical conservative niche which Webb is known. So Victory does not deviate from previous books in the trilogy. By Granger’s side is his second in command, the deadly Shelby Proctor, and the whole crew of hardened soldiers and pilots. United Earth president Avery and the sneaky Isaacson make a return as well. This time around, however, things get real as the Swarm horde bears down on Earth with everything they have as Granger and crew race against time to stop a cataclysmic disaster from wiping out all life.
To rephrase: in terms of plot, there is nothing new in Victory. Thankfully, as far as conclusions to trilogies go, however, Webb manages to stay on the bright side of writing. While there may not be anything new in Victory, the old manages to hold up just fine.
What Webb does here is a refinement of his previous two installments. The short, engaging chapters which his fans love, that which keeps the pace lively, and the earthly, stout characters which speak to the traditionally minded all make a return. He fuses the plot into the action well while making both central parts of the reading experience; indeed, the narrative and combat are inseparable yet are able to not draw attention to themselves as being inseparable. For military science fiction, this is vital, and Webb’s skill in this matter speaks volumes.
One reason why this facet of Victory is so important is because it is a concluding part to a sequence of writing. What transpires here is supposed to wrap up a narrative spread out over the course of two other books. Victory concludes a trilogy which sets up a new trilogy set in the same universe with many of the same characters. Readers, after all, will not be happy if the thrilling conclusions turned out to be not too thrilling. But on this end Webb delivers. Such deliverance is managed without the author diving too deeply into obscene plot stretches.
All though I cannot speak of the epilogue’s twist ending, I can say that it tints in a new light the whole series of events that had begun in Constitution. Furthermore, it is an ending which, despite the twist, feels believable, not overly sentimental or clichéd (though it is, of course clichéd, but only just). What comes to mind when I think of the ending is that it respects the reader; meaning, the primary antagonist is dealt with, the catalyst which begun the narrative concludes with enough of a definitive tone, while also retaining just enough mystery to allow the reader to anticipate the next trilogy in Webb’s sequence. Webb’s ending reassures the reader that the plot— the central quandary—has been resolved with just enough ambiguity so as to still imbue the world with a sense of unease.
I lay emphasis on the nature of this conclusion because, despite my differences with the author’s conservatism (as revealed in this installment via his nascent indulgence in Pro-life ideology), he manages to set up compelling tales and to wrap up those tales without—and forgive me for being blunt, screwing the audience: he is honest about his views and he does not pull punches or half-bakes his ideas (something which progressive writers cannot seem to get enough of). Everything is there and planned; indeed, one of Victory’s vital narrative moments was established well in the first book—it being brought to maturity over the course of the trilogy, while having only a few gentle nudges in the right direction, makes the methods of conflict resolution satisfying because it was always extant in the universe and just needed other aspects of the plot to advance alongside it. Because this is not something seen in a great deal of the fiction I read, as unfortunate as it sounds, I can appreciate it here since what does weigh down Webb’s writing (ideologically) is not so overbearing as to render any strength in authorship as mute. At the end of the day, Webb delivers a solid product to a solid trilogy, and fans ought to enjoy every page as they will enjoy hearing that there is another trilogy planned to continue this story. Is it stellar, original reading? No. But it is also far from much of the insipid drivel I have gorged myself on while writing these reviews, and if that is good for anything then it shows itself here, in Victory.
377 pages. Published by Nick Webb. $5.99 (Kindle), $16.87 (Print), $11.95 (Audible audiobook). 2016.
Posted by Curtis C. on November 9, 2016
Review by Curtis Cole
The typical high fantasy story unfolds something like this: an ignorant and naïve youth, usually a farm hand or other such rural occupant, and almost always a White cis-heterosexual male, discovers something grand and unique—something which is precious and so must be protected (Lord of the Rings, Eragon) or that he himself is the precious something (i.e., the ‘chosen one’) whom, embedded with special powers, is destined to win the day from Evil (Harry Potter, the Wheel of Time series, countless others); following this, his blissful life is disrupted by tyrannical forces (because, you know that there is an evil dictator milling about) who raze his village/home/family. Should there be a mentor-figure by the lad’s side he is usually either killed at the get-go or dies in some hopeless, yet heroically Ur-fascist, confrontation in order to buy the hero time to escape. Then the young hero flees, finds new friends, continues along in his quest, and saves Middle-Earth from the armies of Mr. Dark Side Voldemort… or, whatever. Point is this is the standard fantasy plot par excellance and is the exact paradigm used in Cameron Dayton’s Etherwalker; the result of this is read was, for me, tiring and… well, tired writing is a mixed bag which, although far from bad, nonetheless could have been much better.
Story wise, the plot concerns young Enoch: a teenage boy trained in the ancient arts and lore by his master to one day (unknowingly) confront the evil of the land, a land drowned in chaos after the fall of humanity’s golden age. One day, upon accidentally activating a terminal, which his guardian had, eye-rolling, kept in their remote home as a study console, Enoch’s presence is announced to his enemies who had previously thought his kind—a race a beings called Pensaden blessed that hold the ability to manipulate technology—had long been extinct. So begins a grand hunt to murder Enoch; in short order Enoch’s village home is attacked and he and his master are driven into the woods where, surprise-surprise, they are assaulted by vile insect-men, the clichéd orc of this world; Enoch is forced into the wild world by himself, but thankfully, finds a motley crew of new friends and begins his training to… save the world, one can only assume, since Enoch’s exact purpose is never properly explained.
Part of the issue I have with Dayton’s book is not in his choice of clichéd beginnings but rather in his clumsy manner of assembly. Although far from the most original set-up to a teen fantasy book, Dayton’s weakness lies in his inability to present a strong narrative structure capable of remedying his shortcomings; by this I mean much of the book feels rushed, and subsequently, incomplete. Between the great jumps in time, sudden character developments and regression, and unexplained, or barely explained, plot points, by the end, the reliance on dues ex machinia becomes noticeable and drags the experience down. While reading, I constantly felt as though there was missing chapters extrapolating why Enoch performed certain actions or how [so and so] happened to some ancillary character. During the conclusion I felt as though there were at least a couple hundred pages on the cutting room floor, pages which desperately needed to be included in the final product.
Thankfully, however, not all of my opinions on Dayton’s effort are negative, for there is a great deal to like about this book, so I will mention two: one is the splendid world building; combining post-apocalyptic Anime inspired sci-fi with traditional high-fantasy is not an easy task, and yet, Dayton succeeds at sketching a world which have imprints of our own, while still being far enough removed into the future that upon the fall of humanity, the ‘fantasy’ divergences not only make sense, but seem like a natural outgrowth of the technological era. The second great strength Dayton manages is the characters themselves: while there are crucial points in the book where a character should have received more attention, or a certain event should have been explained better in order for the reader to gain a better insight into a cast member, the characters as they are written are both believable as well as engaging; their archetypes: farmboy, beast, fem fatal… are well penned and breathe life into the archetype to such a degree that they do not feel too hollow or pointless to pay attention to. Enoch especially, I am glad to see, brings a layer of depth in how his interpersonal interactions are rarely seen with his often vulgarly used archetype. Dialogue is often humorous and informative without wasting effort on needless description. So Dayton strikes a good balance between banter and plot, if at times relying heavily on long strings of exposition.
So is Etherwalker a perfect book? No, of course not, few such teen books reach such lofty heights. Is it original? Not at first, but once dug into it blossoms with creative renderings of beloved ideas and heroes. Dayton makes missteps, but overall, I think he makes an admirable job at redemption through the kind of ambition is he attempting to undertake in such a condensed space. While anyone hardened in the sci-fi and fantasy genres may remain unimpressed with Dayton’s product, any youth which finds their selves devoid of reading material yet interested in Anime, science-fiction-fantasy cocktails, will want to give this spiffy tale a try and come to their own opinion.
Etherwalker: Book One of the Silicon Covenant
293 Pages. Published by Future House Publishing. $2.99 (Kindle), $13.95 (Paperback). 2015.
 Page number estimates and prices taken from Amazon.com and were accurate at the time of writing.
Posted by Curtis C. on October 27, 2016
Review by Curtis Cole
When reading biographies of so-called ‘Great Men,’ it is vital to remember that they are an industry; such a vast amount of material has been produced from both speculation and archival releases that every new rumination or new tid-bit demands, in turn, another huge book—something to commemorate the release of new artifacts giving credence to an ever abounding literary substance. And so it is with Stalin: leader of the Soviet Union following Lenin’s death.
Stephen Kotkin’s Stalin, a biography of the most spectacle fair, is one such book in an ever expanding industry of the famed ‘dictator.’ One of the thickest, meticulously researched, and highly anticipated biographies in recent years, Kotkin’s effort is an impressive one, as any reader will note; between the fact that this book, though only the first volume, comprises nearly a thousand pages and is researched to the extent that nearly every other sentence bears a citation mark, we hold in our hands a tome of a text—something which can both elucidate, as well as squash conspicuously oversized bugs (if the need be).
‘Bravo,’ you might be saying as you read these facts; surely such a biographical epic is not only worth reading, thanks to its tenaciously researched qualifications, but also provides the much needed ambiguity of the Stalin-period. Unfortunately, you would be wrong. Kotkin’s tediously overblown affair fails on all fronts and becomes a case-study in how not to write a biography.
Let us eschew the anti-communist subtext for a moment and focus on more pressing demands: the biography length.
As a reader, I have no qualm with consuming page after page of a book well worth consuming; if a biography contains a decadent number of pages and all of those pages help build an image of the subject matter which has never before been seen, then fantastic! Let’s read that biography with gusto. But this is not what Kotkin’s waste of paper accomplishes: instead of presenting a biography, Kotkin present a Russian history which features Stalin more than the average Russian history would (an odd observation to make considering Stalin’s place of paramount importance in the Russian historia).
I will be curt: massive amount of this book need not exist. One could easily wipe out three-quarters of this biographical travesty and still be able to understand the life-events of Stalin, the Russian Revolution, and the backstory behind Stalin’s policies. Indeed, this fact exists because Kotkin spends entire chapters where Stalin is either mentioned only in passing or not at all; he does this in order to extrapolate on Tsarist policy and important Tsarist figures and their plots. Why this diversionary extrapolation exists becomes evident later where Kotkin abandons all pretense to academic neutrality and unrelentingly hammers Stalin’s policies and practice of Revolutionary Anti-capitalism. The filler chapters on Tsarism served little more than to provide narrative fat: we see this later, when Kotkin reveals himself as an intellectual charlatan and servant of counterrevolution. How? Precisely through the age old practice of smoke and mirrors: he writes as Bolshevism as inheriting the Tsarist legacy, of betraying the principals of their own ideology, of having a conspiratorial worldview, and acting with hypocritical intent—in short, nothing but a mirror image of Tsarism, albeit with greatly different ideological differences. Had Kotkin not devolved into his great sophistry on Tsarism (which, together with his later upholding of Mussolini’s economic policies, reeks of fascist apologia), then his later anti-communist onanism of heralding the Bolsheviks, but Stalin more generally, of a diabolical anti-social stance, would have made no sense and shattered the attempt to equate Bolshevism and fascism as separated yet fraternal twins.
What’s worse, perhaps, is Kotkin’s mystifying commentary on the Stalin’s life, but also of the wider happenings of the Soviet state. In truth, much of the cited reports which make up the narrative that Kotkin spins are solid—they tell an informative, albeit rather dry, procession of political intrigue; combing sources from many walks of life, Kotkin manages to bring together an impressive array of citations into a well-worked fantasy. What differentiates Kotkin’s rehashed anti-communism is not so much the sources he cites—though that is too the case with copious references to hardline anti-communists and Trotskyist sympathizers—as much as it is the eye-rolling level of condescension present in his writing.
In short, Kotkin presents factual evidence—the scandals, plots and counterplots, policy formation, and relationships among the Bolsheviks, as history had it unfolded; facts, after all, do not lie. What does lie, however, is Kotkin’s commentary. Throughout his book, Kotkin continuously destroys his own narrative; the only thing which saves his narrative—that Bolshevism had a conspiratorial mindset, Stalin as a master manipulator and ruthless dictator, the innocence of the Kulaks and lack of White Guard terrorists, the utterly deficient need for collectivization, and so on—is Kotkin’s own commentary, his own opinion; something that he recycles over and over again.
Time and time again Kotkin presents evidence of the Bolsheviks as well as Stalin’s rigorous moral and political fiber. And yet, time and time again, he is quick to throw in a jibe, a sarcastic remark or ironic allusion, something to sow discord in the ideological thread which ran through early Russian Bolshevism. Why is it that every time Stalin offers to resign from his post—relinquishing the supposed ‘absolute control’ of his position of General Secretary—it is merely another feint, something to throw off the opposition? Why were party purges always-already a sign indexing Stalin’s ruthless self-aggrandizement and need for power instead of an upholding of Lenin’s vision (of the need for party purity and unity)? Why does Kotkin cite evidence of counterrevolutionary (fascist, Monarchist, and the like) plots and actual terrorist activity, only to turn to the tables on the Bolsheviks when they ferret out the fifth column in their ranks, calling those reacting against said plots (again, cited by Kotkin himself), as paranoid and conspiratorial oriented? To Kotkin, to the reactionary mind, there is a lacuna of honesty within communist practitioners since its lacks the logic of bourgeois exploitation; without that distillation of man reaping the labor-surplus of his fellow man, without the grand imperial logic of monopoly, without the cruel competition of the market and its manifold bigotries and prejudices, there is simply no room for honesty—not in a system which posits the negation of the old world. Heresy, after all, is always suspect.
Miraculously, however, all of this is not to say that every shred and morsel of Kotkin’s undertaking is trash, merely most of it. There is a kernel of value within this mountain of mental dung, namely, in how Kotkin treats Stalin’s childhood.
Many biographers treat Stalin, along with many other so-called ‘Great Men,’ under a bastardized Freudianism: their faults, quirks, mistakes, fits of violence or misogyny, and so forth, are traced back to childhood abuse or absent parental figures. In other words, they present the base Freud; neutered of intellectual value so as to be offered up on the pop culture altar, such depictions are easily digestible for an audience uneducated on the nuance of political violence. To Kotkin benefit, he fights against this blasé psychoanalysis. He situates Stalin’s childhood in the wider history of Russia’s leaders as well as in the local—regional—context in which Stalin’s peers were raised. His conclusion is that Stalin fared no better or worse than his classmates and that to conclude that it was Stalin’s upbringing that made him into a ‘ruthless, bloodthirsty, monster’ is utterly fallacious. Of course, Kotkin only accomplishes this in order to secularize his alleged barbarism, but taken in the wider historical context of the corpus of texts exploring Stalin’s existence, it is ultimately a net-plus for knowledge (however pathetic such a ‘plus’ may in fact constitute).
So, to conclude this rambling rant—is Stephen Kotkin’s biography of Stalin worth reading? No, it is not worth reading in the slightest. For the myriad of reasons listed above as well as those left unmentioned, Kotkin’s undertaking is simply absurd, from beginning to end. If you want to read a textbook of Russian history, then there is many such books available and one would not need to lug around this brick; if one is a Leftist, then Kotkin’s anti-communism and predisposition to meander, will isolate; if one is an anti-communist then, depending on the severity of reaction, Kotkin is either giving Stalin and the Bolsheviks too much ‘benefit of the doubt,’ or he simply spends too much time yammering on about non-Stalin related activities—ergo, it is not worth reading if your goal was to propagandize. If one wanted a concise and informative biography of Stalin, I would recommend Ian Grey’s Stalin: Man of History, which, though not without his serious faults, is a far better selection than Kotkin’s murky deluge.
Stalin: Volume 1: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928
976 pages. Published by Penguin Press. $26.66 (Hardcover), $17.00 (Paperback), $19.99 (Kindle), $26.94 (Audible audiobook). 2014.
 Prices were taken from Amazon.com and were accurate at the time of writing.
Posted by Curtis C. on October 17, 2016
Listed below (with descriptions!) are the Humanities topic courses for Spring 2017.
For full English department course listings, see MyCampus’s Schedule Planner.
ENG 277H/0001: Audio Story Telling (The Audio Essay)
Instructor: Professor Gretchen Legler
This course is designed to teach students strategies for writing entertaining, provocative, and persuasive audio essays for broadcast, internet, or internet radio. Audio essays explore topics using spoken text, audio interviews, archival recordings, music, environmental sounds, and sound effects. They can be structured using the conventions of argument and evidence, narrative devices, as well as poetic and experimental structures. As we will see, the audio form offers the essayist a fascinating mix of constraints and opportunities, much in the same way that film or photography does. Voices and sounds are full of intimate presence, are in fact the very signs of presence, and can provoke in unexpected ways. In radio, sometimes a sound is worth a thousand pictures. The emphasis of the course will be on research and writing strategies, but you will also learn basic audio recording and production. No prior experience in radio or digital audio is required.
Prerequisite(s): ENG 100; for students in CWR, ENG, SEN, or ELE-Language Arts, ENG 100 and ENG 181
ENG 277H/0002: Words Into Pictures
Instructor: Professor Teal Minton
This course will look at the process of adapting literature to film, with an emphasis on the films of Stanley Kubrick. Working from books and short stories by a diverse group of contemporary authors, Kubrick crafted films that stand on their own as works of film literature. Throughout the course we will read original works, adapted screenplays, and view the films while considering the differences between these two storytelling mediums and reflecting on the peculiar challenges of turning words into pictures. The course will require some viewing of films outside of class.
Prerequisite(s): ENG 100; for students in CWR, ENG, SEN, or ELE-Language Arts, ENG 100 and ENG 181
ENG 277H/0003: Milton
Instructor: Professor Dan Gunn
This course will be an in-depth study of the works of the English poet John Milton (1608-1674). A large portion of the semester will be devoted to careful reading of Paradise Lost (1667, 1674), Milton’s beautiful and complex epic poem about the fall of Adam and Eve, but we will also read “L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso” (1631), Lycidas (1638), Of Education (1641), Aereopagitica (1641), Paradise Regained (1671), Samson Agonistes (1671), and other works. The course is open to interested students in all majors: the only prerequisite is ENG 100, and no previous experience with Milton or with traditional English literature is required.
Prerequisite(s): ENG 100
ENG 277H/0004: Literary Theory and Social Media
Instructor: Professor Michael Johnson
Primary readings in literary and cultural studies theory will provide conceptual frameworks for offering critical commentary on contemporary culture (literature, film, television, music, etc.). That commentary will take the form of blog posts, reviews, recaps, tweets, podcasts, etc.
Prerequisite(s): ENG 100; for students in CWR, ENG, SEN, or ELE-Language Arts, ENG 100 and ENG 181
ENG 477H/0001: The Self-Conscious Novel
Instructor: Professor Dan Gunn
In this course, we will consider the kind of novel which, in Robert Alter’s words, “systematically flaunts its own condition of artifice and…by so doing probes into the problematic relationship between real-seeming artifice and reality.” By the novel’s “condition of artifice,” Alter means its status as an artificial, constructed thing, a work of art. Some novels try to suppress awareness of their artificial condition in order to create an intense mimetic illusion. By contrast, novels in the self-conscious tradition we will be studying “flaunt” this condition in a playful way, exposing and subverting conventions, imitating and parodying other works of art, and drawing attention to their own multiple stylistic textures. The reading list will include Cervante’s Don Quixote, Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Nabokov’s Pale Fire, and Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.
Prerequisite(s): One 300-level ENG literature course other than ENG 300.
Posted by nikkihodgkins21 on October 7, 2016
Review by Curtis Cole
Lo and behold: the second installment to the Legacy Fleet trilogy. Reader, you and I are both sailors on the galactic sci-fi winds, we know how these military sci-fi affairs go: mostly, they are reactionary patriot gore fests. As my previous review illustrated, I was none too happy with Webb’s less than progressive diatribe, and yet, I enjoyed the tale with enough machoistic fetish to not only finish reading it in short order, but also review its offspring. Previously, I took offense with the author’s unbridled Ageism, militarism, and xenophobia. Does the sequel add up? Does it quell some of the more nauseate rumblings in my literary tummy? The answer is no.
Why the sequel leaves a bad taste in my mouth is that even though, over all, the intensity for its backward thinking has been dialed down a couple notches, in the narrative places which matter, it compensated by ratcheting it up by twelve degrees. While some of the Ageist sentiment has waned and overt racism slackened, the author revives tired old traits to make up for the supposed lessening, namely, his waxing eloquently on bodysnatching and political fascism.
Spoiler alert(s): the communistic aliens are able to ‘condition’ people through the use of a virus which hijacks their immune and nervous system. Essentially becoming organic machines for the alien foe known as ‘the swarm,’ these converted people attempt to ‘befriend,’ infect, others and so act as sleeper agents for the anti-human enemy, double-agents forced to betray their people. This is, of course, reminiscent of the classic film critical of the anti-communist hysteria in which ‘bodysnatching’ became the concern of the day. (Of course, it would seem the democratic emphasis of the film is lost on Web, as he promotes the witch hunt mend-set) Conveniently for Web, this fits in well with the xenophobia concerning the stereotypical Western punching bag—the big bad Russians. As a not so subtle twist reveals, the Russians were hardly neutral parties. Why such a putrid and lazy form of national chauvinism still exists is beyond me, but as in the first volume, I am deducting points for its inclusion.
Not to be outdone in the political arena, Webb continues his tradition of apologizing for capital by clearly depicting the trappings of a fascist order as something which, if not entirely desirable, is at least necessary in order to starve off decimation; he speaks of how “entire industries [were] coopted by the government and re-geared to produce capital ships and fighters… instead of [civilian articles]” (68), how warmongering politicians conspire behind the public’s back to produce weapons of mass-destruction so as to attack human allies (161), all while rallying the working and middle classes (135) to a banner of total war, in defense of human values and civilization; truly, one only needs replace ‘the swarm,’ with ‘Jew’ or ‘communist’ and the depths of Webb’s diatribe becomes evident. Obviously, Web’s writing is not to overt, but the ideological underpinnings (ultra-nationalistic paleoconservatisism), shine through and suggest much.
Side-stepping the politicalized content, however, Webb’s book is as well as one can expect from a right-wing rip-off of Battlestar Galactica: it has epic space battles, political intrigue, and plots within plots, conspiracy, and a battle hardened captain fighting for what he believes in against overwhelming odds. The writing remains fantastic, as this entry I finished in a single day. The writing is not bad, it is just reactionary and vapid. Picking up right after the conclusion of the first installment, the action picks up from the first few pages onward and does not relent. Fans of military science fiction in the vein of the lowest common denominator will be sure want to pick up a copy of this treat, if only for the cavity inducing side-effects.
Warrior: Book 2 of the Legacy Fleet trilogy
 All page citations taken from the Kindle version of the book.
 All prices taken from Amazon.com and were accurate at the time of writing.
 Page numbers taken from the Kindle version, with estimates provided by Amazon.com.
Posted by Curtis C. on September 27, 2016
It may be unexpected, but while reading Ken Lozito’s first installment in the Sanfanarion Order series—Road to Shandara—I was reminded of Japanese Role Playing Games (or, JRPGs). Much like JRPGs, Lozito’s plot is predictable: there is a young hero discovering his powers, a princess in disguise, and the land needs to be saved from a malicious evil, but only if the hero can unite the disparate forces through the power of friendship. The narrative functions in much the same predictable way. With moments of action interspaced between moments of travel, moments in which the protagonist learns new skills to use in battle, the whole narrative feels lifted straight out of a video game (an unremarkable one, too); honestly, from the uneven pacing to the airship and the general developments, plot-wise, Lozito’s entire effort feels like a cobbled together tale imitating high fantasy. Poorly.
For a protagonist we have Aaron Jace, a university senior looking forward to graduate school (also known as Generic White Bourgeois Hero ripe for adolescent reader projection); unfortunately for our Mr. Jace, he is suddenly thrust into an inter-dimensional battle against the forces of evil when his grandfather dies and he learns that he is descended from a long line of powerful rulers who immigrated to Earth after their kingdom fell to an invading army of demons. (It must suck to live in Tolkein’s nightmare.) Now, armed with familial swords—AKA generic phallic symbols legitimating dude-bro violence— and the training his grandfather drilled into him, he crosses over into the land of his ancestors so as to make his way to the defunct capital—Shandara (roll credits!)—and liberate the imprisoned spirit of a family servant sworn to protect and help Aaron on his path to restoring the land; for you see, the land has fallen into decay after the ascension of some misbegotten tyrants. Along the way Aaron meets allies who flock to his banner, including a love interest and some best bros. This is the gist of Lozito’s plot.
But let’s pause and consider: uneven pacing. Aside from the cannibalization of other text’s ideas, most notably the obvious pilfering of Arthurian minutia, my biggest issue with Lozito’s book is that the pace moves absurdly fast and features hardly any character development. The one dimensional figures gain little, if any, depth while the protagonist’s fighting and survival abilities, not to mention his love interest, are festooned to his personage with mastery in the space of but a few short chapters; if there was ever a moment of ‘Zero to Hero,’ then this is it. Said again, the book explains nothing; events move in a linear direction without any idea of what the protagonist is experiencing: sometimes we get some vague idea of what he is thinking about or going through, but most of the time we just see things happen… boring things, too. To take an example textually paradigmatic: his romantic interest—she and he fall in love, literally, in the space of a few chapters and are married shortly after. This is not only unrealistic by any normal standard, but also confusing, since one would imagine that the protagonist would have hang-ups on finding a new love so quickly following the murder of his Earth-bound girlfriend. And yet, Aaron makes, again, literally, no mention, not so much as a single serious mental peep, concerning his previous engagement and hurls himself full throttle at this new woman without even so much as an acknowledgement at what drove him to move on so quickly or how and why he fell so madly in love with this new paramour; the best that I can come up with is that Lozito wrote the start of this book and the middle and end parts at different periods, possibly even part of different writing projects which were then later sown together in this later stage. As I said, this sort of void in character development, is poor writing; it shifts without explaining the subtending rational. Moreover, it is endemic to every part of the text.
All that I can say is that this is a shame since I can imagine how captivating this adventure would be had it been constructed with a more meticulous eye; should the author spent more time explicating the world and its inhabitants, and devised more intriguing methods of description and dissemination concerning his representation of the hero’s journey, this could have been a powerful read. I do not mind when fantasy authors borrow ideas from popular culture as Lozito does (ranging from the Lord of the Rings to even some Anime like Naruto), as I understand the fantasy-science fiction nexus only as good as the ideas each contributor is able to meld. But as it stands, this installment is anything but interesting: shot through with shoddy grammar, redundant phraseology, and poor story-telling mechanics, this effort, though not terrible, is far from the sort of material fans of fantasy enjoy; Lozito may make a valiant effort, but I cannot recommend this book.
Road to Shandara: Book one of the Safanarion Order
412 Pages. Published by Acoustical Books LLC. $0.00 (Kindle), $14.99 (Paperback). 2013.
 Page estimates taken from the Kindle version of the book and were provided by Amazon.com. Prices, likewise, were taken from the same source and were accurate at the time of writing.
Posted by Curtis C. on September 13, 2016
Oxford does it again! Once again the good folks over at the Oxford University Press release a well written, cogent, and exemplary ‘very short’ introduction to a topic which is vital to furthering the capture of knowledge. Jens Zimmerman’s introductory primer to the act of interpretation is not only a bonafide guide to the field as it is practiced in its various disciplines, but also a text which should be in any Humanities’ student library.
Told across seven chapters, Zimmerman’s book informs the reader on the nature of interpretation, also called ‘hermeneutics,’ hence the namesake’s title; these chapters explore the history and practice of interpretation as it pertains to the fields of philosophy, the humanities, law, religion, and the sciences, with a couple of chapters acting as a brief overview of what hermeneutics is and a brief history of its application.
Each chapter holds true to the name of the parent series: in a ‘very short introduction’ you will receive a very short chapter. Each chapter functions as a speed teacher whose only goal is to get you caught up the bare bones essentials. Generally, the outline is as follows: you are introduced to why interpretation in a certain field is relevant and needed, the major proponents of certain theories of interpretation as it relates to that field, and then you are introduced to some controversies or problems and the subsequent current research which attempts to articulate and overcome the problem.
Soon after you are sent off onto the next chapter to repeat the process all over again. It is a tried and true formula to educational guides and it works well in this volume. More so since Zimmerman manages to squeeze in a short appendix of major hermeneutic debates; inserted at the end of the primary chapters, the appendix expands upon the major ideas of the text without bogging down the initial reading. It is an ideal set-up and allows for learners to take the new information and re-read previous chapters with a newly deepened understanding of specific chapter controversies. If you wanted to go a level lower, you could even say that such a reading prompts the reader’s own inclusion in Hans-Georg Gadamer ‘hermeneutic circle.’ But perhaps this would be reading too deeply.
As a very short introduction, I still managed to learn ideas which I did not already know, despite having some familiarity with many of the concepts before I started my read through. Specifically, the chapters on philosophic hermeneutics, and hermeneutics in the legal and scientific fields, offered some food for thought and pushed what I already knew into new territories. Something which many introduction are only able to accomplish with an expanded number of pages.
The reason Zimmerman is able to accomplish so much with so little pages, however, is because they write in a clear and concise style. Academic writing is not always so easy to follow—anyone who has read Derrida can attest to this—but Zimmerman’s straight to business, no nonsense prose manages to cover a lot of ground in not a lot of time. So, new readers will trust that they will be softly led by the hand as they cover each new chapter and its unique approach to how we, as humans, interpret in order to understand and order our world.
In the end, I enjoyed Zimmerman’s introduction. It helped me. It expanded what I already knew and filled me in on what I did not know. It was not a hassle to read and it remains a sleek and elegant addition to my library of titles. So, even as their Heidiggerian approach may alienate some philosophically minded individuals, I was able to overlook such discretions and focus on the informative center, the educational nougat. Zimmerman’s miniature book manages to do what it promises—educate, inform, and do so without a headache. Any student searching for a means to help them understand ‘hermeneutics,’ the practice of interpretation, should look no further.
Hermeneutics: A Very Short Interpretation
159 pages. Published by Oxford U.P. $10.75 (Print), $6.15 (Kindle). 2015.
 Prices were taken from Amazon and were accurate at the time of writing.
Posted by Curtis C. on August 22, 2016
As we walked into As You Like It, our last play of the week, at the Festival Theater, we were given a cloth bag with a tree branch, a love poem hand-written by a seventh-grader, a clothes pin, and a blue fan, and we found Robin Hutton already on stage, in jeans and a vest and long coat, holding court. “Welcome to Newfoundland,” she said to the puzzled Californians in the front row. She sipped on her drink. “Have you got your tree branches, now? . . . Show us your bush . . . You, over there, are you going to sing for us? . . . Hello, balcony . . . I hope you’ve got those stars . . . We’re going to have a kitchen party here.” Eventually, she introduced herself as Hymen, the goddess of marriage (who indeed appears at the close of As You Like It, to bless the various “country copulatives”), cued the band (guitar, fiddle, accordion, drum), brought out the cast and called a lively traditional dance, “Running the Goat”: “Circle to the left . . . now to the right . . . swing your partner . . . first couple, now, promenade.”
That was just the first fifteen minutes. This production of As You Like It was set in 1980s Newfoundland, which the director, Jillian Keiley, characterizes as “a dance-together culture,” in which “art is not to be examined or observed but to be experienced by all of us, together in a circle.” The atmosphere throughout was raucous and participatory. When Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone fled to the forest, we all waved our branches, and they fought their way down a row, carrying their luggage, pushing greenery out of the way. We clipped our poems onto branches for the characters to pluck off and read; we waved our blue fans in unison for the seaside scenes; the balcony’s stars illuminated the night; characters roasted marshmallows on coals held by the audience, plucked carrots from audience members’ hands, and shot at rabbits passed along the rows. Hymen continued to address us directly, cueing our props and commenting on the various couples falling in love–“Look, here’s couple number one”—and telling us it was “time go have a pee” at intermission. Other characters occasionally encouraged our responses directly, too—for example, in the wrestling scene in Act I, where musclebound Charles played the heel and we all cheered skinny, long-haired Orlando as he said, “You mean to mock me after; you should not have mock’d me before,” slipping on his checkered headband. The fight was pure WWE, full of ostentatiously fake blows and exaggerated reactions. Lisa said the whole thing was like a London panto, joyous and vulgar and self-aware, and that seemed about right to me.
Somehow, miraculously, in the midst of all this, a smart and funny play broke out, too. As You Like It is one of my favorites of the comedies, because of its playful intelligence, its heroine, and its literary self-consciousness. The characters go off to the forest and adopt conventional attitudes—pastoral idealism, melancholy, romantic love, carnal desire, sophisticated court irony—and test them against one another. The play has a relaxed, discursive feel: characters meet, talk, try out various tropes and postures, move on. The spirit of parody and mockery is everywhere. We encounter an actual lovesick shepherd (at our performance, the audience tinkled sheep bells on his arrival) and his scornful mistress, who makes fun of the idea that her unkind looks are killing him:
Now I do frown on thee with all my heart,
And if mine eyes can wound, then let them kill thee.
Now counterfeit to swound; why, now fall down . . .
After hearing Orlando’s conventional Petrarchan verses about Rosalind (“Let no face be kept in mind/But the fair of Rosalind”), Touchstone says, “I’ll rhyme you so eight years together, dinners and suppers and sleeping hours excepted”:
If a hart do lack a hind,
Let him seek out Rosalind.
If the cat will after kind,
So be sure will Rosalind . . .
“’Tis good to be sad and say nothing,” says the melancholy Jaques. “Why then,” Rosalind replies, “’tis good to be a post.” Rosalind, brilliant and generous, one of Shakespeare’s greatest female characters, is at the center of all of this comic play, testing Orlando’s love in a boy’s disguise—taking him to husband school, as one of my students said last spring. In the end, court society recreates itself, transformed and renewed: Hymen blesses all of the couples; the evil repent; the exiled and usurped are restored.
As it turns out, this play adapted itself to 1980s Newfoundland quite easily. The forest characters wore plaid shirts and stocking hats, split wood and went fishing; the songs (there is a lot of singing in this forest) were accompanied by fiddle and accordion and had you tapping your feet; the court world was populated by men in white linen suits and women with big hair, holding Rubik’s cubes and gigantic portable phones. (In general, this all reminded me of the first Die Hard film, which came out in 1988, and which my family watches every Christmas.) I kept looking for Donald Trump in the history plays, but he was actually here, as Duke Frederick, a coarse bully with blow-dried blond hair, a model on his arm, barking orders and making threats. It was a relief to move from his world to the Newfoundland forest and coast, where the Duke’s sister, Duchess Senior, and her friends were singing, reading, and talking, in a more democratic and congenial environment, and where we might find a disheveled lover greeting his mistress with flowers and fresh-caught fish. The open, unpretentious, participatory spirit of this imagined Newfoundland gave the play its comic and regenerative force and infected the entire production, audience and all, with its joyous energy.
The cast was very strong, again. I can’t say enough about how consistently good the acting was, all week long, with a largely different group each night. Petrina Bromley’s Rosalind was lovestruck and forceful by turns, and she was entirely convincing as a boy, with her baggy jeans, loose white shirt and pencil-thin moustache. Her epilogue—a pastiche of Shakespearean texts—was a small tour de force. Cyrus Lane, who had excelled in a comic turn as the Porter in Macbeth the night before, was an appropriately goofy and engaging Orlando. But I thought Trish Lindström stole every scene she was in as Celia, whom she played as a sort of Valley Girl, struggling through the forest with pink sunglasses and a hatbox. I would have paid money just to watch her split wood—she ended up trying to sharpen the axe with her nail file–or to watch her dance with excitement as she told Rosalind that Orlando was in the forest. Seana McKenna also gave Jaques, the melancholy outsider, unusual dignity and grace; her delivery of the “Seven Ages of Man” speech was mesmerizing. (This was, with Brigit Wilson’s Duchess Senior, one of two traditionally male roles played brilliantly by women here.)
Jaques leaves the happy scene just before the end, because she knows what is coming. “I am for other than for dancing measures,” she says, sadly, on her way to an “abandon’d cave”—and there was certainly plenty of dancing at the Festival Theater after she left, including members of the audience who had been prepared before the show and joined the cast on stage. “Now, thread the needle,” Hymen said; the line of dancers snaked through an arch made by two of their number; we stamped our feet and clapped. It was a great way to end the week.
Posted by dpgunnmaine on August 14, 2016