Sunday, March 30, 2014

Obsessions

Spying in the Land of Girlchild:  obsession Ariel now obsession Elsa.

"Let it go ... Let it go ... "

It's remarkable to me that Disneyborg can create something that so enthralls children, mostly girl children. 

Watching the films on DVD, and then watching the credits roll, it's apparent that the films, whether Under the Sea, Tangled, Frozen, are the product of giant collectives, and yet in reverse of the common perception that a camel is a horse designed by a committee, these films seem to be as addictive as sugar to children.

That's not true in every case. Tangled, and The Princess and the Frog rank far down the (local) list in terms of addictiveness. In order, it is presently Elsa, Ariel, and third a tie-in-references between Belle and Cinderella.

My wife indulges, in DVDs, clothes, toys, and other associated materiel. I watch, occasionally expressing the opinion that "Why be a princess when you can be a queen?" I even call her Queen Elsa or Queen Ariel when coerced into playing the constant game. That only inspires anger, "She's not a queen!"

I once stumbled about without any clear eye about women's issues, but there seems to be something very basic in what drives little girls and little boys toward play, even in this era when the idea of a woman's place should be wherever she decides it to be. 

Where I remain confused, however, is how the Disneyborg is able to turn schlock art into a compulsion.

Friday, March 28, 2014

YE GODS! A Tale of Dogs and Demons




YE GODS! 
A Tale of Dogs and Demons
By Lynne Hinkey
222 pp., Casperian Books



Lynne Hinkey's (Marina Melee, 2011) second novel chronicles a tale of murder and mischief on the isle of Puerto Rico.

Jack Halliman, prolific mystery writer, has writer's block. That doesn't keep his live-aboard sailing yacht, Holey Ship, from requiring haul-out for regular maintenance at Puerto Rico's Club Náutico del Oesto. Jack ties off, sets foot on the dock, and looks down to discover a dead body floating in the harbor.

Thus begins the mystery, albeit one that might be easily classified as a crime caper with a touch of magic realism. 

Soon Jack finds himself part of the murder investigation, no surprise considering he's a crime writer and a former Miami police detective. The victim was a popular swimming coach—popular meaning "the men talk. The swim team fathers ... he may have been fooling around with more than one of their wives."

But a straightforward mystery this is not. It's two adventures for the money. Jack soon learns the citizenry is also in an uproar over the appearance of the chupacabra, a legendary beast that folks believe manifests on a regular basis to wreak havoc. 

The narrative thoughtfully includes a near half-dozen theories about who, or what, the monster might be. Take your pick: demons, the "embodiment of Teotl, a demon the Aztec priests called forth to torment the Spanish;" aliens, since "UFO and chupacabra sighting always coincided;" or "a good old-fashioned human-made mutant," courtesy of radiation.

That's a treat, but the story is better, because even if you're not the sort for fantasy monsters, the cast of characters manages to be both sympathetic, interesting, and realistic.

There's the mayor, one Félix "El Flaco" Reyes, in the midst of a reelection campaign and on the cusp of public disgrace because his 15-year-old daughter dallied with the dead coach. That might be kept quiet, but it seems she's also pregnant.

Eddie Corredor is the lead detective on the case, a character Hinkey depicts as gay. The author does a fine job here, making his acknowledged homosexuality a part of the character and the narrative without falling back on stereotypes.

It's Carmen del Torro and Señora Milagros who bring the magic to the narrative. The señora—milagros is miracle in Spanish—believes she's a "familiar," best described as a ghost's agent in this corporeal world, and she insists that Carmen, a young woman driven half-mad by her father's murder of her family and his subsequent suicide, is her successor. When it's time to move to her next life, the señora plans on returning as a tuxedo cat.

If you're not a fan of magic realism or if you think Hinkey is concocting an undigestible mess by blending magic realism with a crime caper,  you will appreciate the fact she doesn't flash dragons and shape-shifters but instead relies on the magic that dogs bring into this world. Let's say it this way: this is more a crime caper than a fantasy read.

Muggle is the sato (rescued stray) dog of Kiki Cristatello, daughter of an Anglo couple living on the island, and the magic isn't that overt, relying on the premise of "Belief in something, not what you call it, is what gives it strength." Hinkey does a solid job in recreating the angst and flights of fancy of a teenage girl with Kiki, one of the catalysts for the narrative.

Every hero needs a foil, and that's FBI agent and wanna-be writer Norbert Ellis, a guy who has "played by the rules, and here he was thirty years later, a midlevel agent with slim prospects for advancement and a stack of rejection letters for his amazingly complex and beautifully written novels." 

Norbert's been called in to consult by El Flaco—which means skinny, or thin, perhaps a comment on the mayor's intelligence—as a means of creating more publicity. The mayor wants to be reelected, sure, but he also has a new business, Monster Safari, Inc. which arranges tours to hunt the elusive chupacabra. 

Hinkey drives the narrative forward rapidly, with segments of a page or two and often less, from the point of view of a character. She's also adept at adding interesting backstory, including a decision that results in Jack earning the everlasting enmity of Norbert and spending a few years in the federal slammer. 

Mysteries are solved, of course, but Hinkey's ending is whimsical, and it cannot be discussed here without out spoiling the book, and I wouldn't want to do that because it's a fun read.


Friday, February 28, 2014

Foreword Reviews Reboots for Consumers

Here's a press release for #indielove ...


TRAVERSE CITY, Mich., Feb. 18, 2014 — The literary magazine Foreword Reviews, which has spent 16 years quietly accomplishing something rare among print publications—expanding and becoming profitable—is rebooting to focus on a consumer market hungry for unbiased reviews and information about indie and self-published books.

Foreword Reviews has been a best-kept secret among librarians and booksellers across the country. Now, with a new, consumer-friendly look, the magazine is sharing its knowledge of indie books with the rest of the world.

“Because of the breathtaking growth in the number of books being published each year, and a shrinking number of credible, objective review publications, our work at Foreword Reviews is ever more vital to the book publishing universe, particularly readers,” said Publisher Victoria Sutherland. “We are well-established curators in the publishing industry. Plus, if you’re an avid reader and value books from small publishers, we can steer you to the best.”

Numbers tell the story of how indie and self-publishing have quickly changed the landscape of the publishing world. In 2012, self-published titles jumped 59 percent over 2011, according to the bibliographic research firm Bowker. Self-publishing can no longer be dismissed as “vanity press.” New technology is enabling authors and small indie publishing houses to produce and market great books that the big houses miss. So, if it isn’t published by the Big Five corporate publishing houses, it’s “indie” and Foreword Reviews has it covered.

Foreword Reviews launched in a small northern Michigan town in 1998, zeroing in on independently published books when no one else was, and has since grown into a $1 million company. Its founders correctly anticipated the future of publishing was in small, indie houses and individual authors boldly defying the giant publishers.

The Spring 2014 issue introduces a stylish new design that emphasizes an increased outreach to the consumer market. Also, a relaunch of forewordreviews.com will feature original analysis and commentary in addition to a daily stream of reviews by a team of more than 100 writers worldwide.

Every Foreword review is written by a talented, professional freelance writer, who evaluates each book and produces unbiased critiques. Potential book buyers receive an honest, thoughtful appraisal. The fresh, new look introduces simple, easily identifiable icons and colors to strengthen the identity of Foreword Reviews’ core products while growing the subscriber base. It also includes a rebranding of the annual Book of the Year Awards as IndieFab, and easier ways to identify the brand on social media through icons and hashtags. And this is just the beginning of exciting changes over the next six months that will include expanded book discovery and a larger voice in the growing online discussion about indie books.


I review for Foreword Reviews, which is distributed quarterly to librarians and booksellers and is also available at most Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million newsstands and by subscription. 

The website, forewordreviews.com, features a daily stream of reviews of independent books written by a team of more than 100 professional, objective writers. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"Genetically Modified Babies"

The science here is interesting, and complex, but this science writer is speaking out against moving so quickly into this idea that humans become machines to be constructed in the most useful, trouble-free fashion.
From "Genetically Modified Babies" in the New York Times: Some media accounts about these techniques have misleadingly referred to “saving lives,” as if they were aimed at people who are sick and suffering. Others have failed to note how very few women would be candidates for even considering them. And they could turn to safer and simpler alternatives. An affected woman could adopt or use in vitro fertilization with another woman’s eggs. Of course, the resulting child would not be genetically related to her, but neither would the child be put at grave risk by an extreme procedure.
What's interesting to me about many of these explorations is that they're being undertaken simply because it is technologically possible to do so. There is a need, yes, but no every social need should be met without regard to the consequences of the method.

I'm neither a Luddite or a religious extremist, and I know for certain that this sort of manipulation of babies in womb or in test tube will grow beyond my limited imagination. It will grow because it will become technologically possible, and when technology is a hammer, every problem is perceived as a nail.

But the questions, the questions ...

Scientific manipulation of the human genome could make slaves. A little nip, tuck, a stitch, a bit of protein, and we would have a person—oh, no, we couldn't call them people—of reduced but highly malleable intelligence and great physical strength. Why not? Somewhere in our brain there is no doubt a gene that might be tailored to reduce free will and enhance obedience. Why do we need Rollerblade when we can do it ourselves? 

It is already common that babies with Downs Syndrome will be aborted. It is easy enough to swing the other way—a little something added in the womb to birth another Michael Jordan or Stephen Hawking (don't forget to nip out that muscular dystrophy thing, though).

How will these manipulations be shared? Restricted to Europe, Japan, China, South Korea, and the United States? 

What influence will that have on the world's social and political interaction?

Science is acting in the name of good medicine and in an attempt to reduce human suffering, at least as its public motive, but is not science collectively doing with morally neutral technology what rogue regimes attempted to accomplish through brute force—create a super-race?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Blue Lyra Review Now in Print

BLUE LYRA REVIEW
Thanks to the good folks over at Blue Lyra Review who selected an essay of mine for the review's first issue in print.

The essay, "Knife," can also be read on-line via this link.

The print copy is beautiful—large format, heavy paper, handsomely designed—and I am honored to have a byline in it.

I read today that the genre novelist James Patterson is donating a million dollars to keep several small bookstores in business. Those of a certain age will applaud his effort, although we might also realize that writing is getting "smaller" (that is, shorter works more easily read on electronic devices). It is still emotionally satisfying at a fundamental level to see one's work in print.

For that ego boost today, I thank the good folks at Blue Lyra Review.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

"I Once Sold Insurance"

DRAFTHORSE
An essay by that title has been laying around the computer for several years, edited and re-edited, extended and shortened. It was recently shortened massively, and here it is in print, "I Once Sold Insurance" at DRAFTHORSE: lit journal of work and no work.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Book Review: Honor and Betrayal

NONFICTION
BUY THE BOOK

Courage and then the courtroom


HONOR AND BETRAYAL
By Patrick Robinson
368 pp. Da Capo

Reviewed by Gary Presley

Scholars and historians will have opinions. Even those of us who lived through the war in Iraq will have opinions. But whatever might be said about the strategic goals of the Bush-Cheney Administration as it turned away from the pursuit of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan to overthrow Saddam Hussein in Iraq, no one can doubt the courage and sacrifice of the volunteer military forces sent to fight that war.