The Elements of Victory (Review)

victory

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.

Victory

Nick Webb

377 pages. Published by Nick Webb. $5.99 (Kindle), $16.87 (Print), $11.95 (Audible audiobook). 2016.

Advertisements

Enter Enoch: Reviewing Cameron Dayton’s “Etherwalker”

51so5cw077l

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

Cameron Dayton

293 Pages. Published by Future House Publishing. $2.99 (Kindle), $13.95 (Paperback)[1]. 2015.

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

Stalin: an Anti-communist Spectacle (A Review)

stalinkotkin

Cover art via Amazon.com; all rights reserved to their respective owners.

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

Stephen Kotkin

976 pages. Published by Penguin Press. $26.66 (Hardcover), $17.00 (Paperback), $19.99 (Kindle), $26.94 (Audible audiobook)[1]. 2014.

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

Galactic War… again: Reviewing Nick Web’s ‘Warrior’

warrior1

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[1]), 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

Nick Webb

368 pages. Published by Nick Webb/CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. $5.99 (Kindle)[2], $14.58 (Paperback)[3]. 2015.

[1] All page citations taken from the Kindle version of the book.

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

[3] Page numbers taken from the Kindle version, with estimates provided by Amazon.com.

The Road of Cliches: Reviewing book one of ‘The Safanarion Order’

shandara

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

Ken Lozito

412 Pages. Published by Acoustical Books LLC. $0.00 (Kindle), $14.99 (Paperback)[1]. 2013.

[1] 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.

‘Hermeneutics: A Very Short Introduction’ (A Review)

Hermeneutics-A-Very-Short-Introduction-SDL494637640-1-50e98

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.

Jen Zimmerman

Hermeneutics: A Very Short Interpretation

159 pages. Published by Oxford U.P. $10.75 (Print), $6.15 (Kindle)[1]. 2015.

 

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

Philosophy and Literature: How to Read (A Review)

bd

Review by Curtis Cole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Badiou and Deleuze Read Literature

Jean-Jacques Lecercle

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

 

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

An Heir to Thorn and Steel (A Review)

25813474

Review by Curtis Cole

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

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

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

(more…)

Surmounting the Void: Reviewing “Hollow Space: Venture”

Xantoverse

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

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

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

(more…)

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

darkbrutal

Review by Curtis Cole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darkness Brutal

Rachel A. Marks

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

 

[1] Page estimates taken from Amazon.com.

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