Monday, July 6, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George
Published by: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: July 7th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"As spoiled society girls from New York City circa 1890, Dacia and Lou never desired to know more about their lineage, instead preferring to gossip about their mysterious Romanian relatives, the Florescus. But upon turning seventeen, the girls must return to their homeland to meet their family, find proper husbands, and-most terrifyingly-learn the secrets of The Claw, The Wing, and The Smoke. The Florescus, after all, are shape-shifters, bound by a centuries-old tradition to do the bidding of the royal Dracula family and it is time for Dacia and Lou to take their place among the ranks. But when the devilish heir, Mihai Dracula sets his sights on Dacia as part of his plan to secure power over all of Europe, the girls choose to fight against this cruel inheritance with all their might. Only the dashing Lord Johnny Hardcastle and the mysterious Theophilus Arkady- members of a secret society charged with ridding the world of monsters-can help Dacia and Lou, but breaking the shackles of their upbringing will require more courage than the girls ever imagined.

The thrilling start to a richly drawn, romance-filled series, this epic adventure of two girls in a battle for their lives will have readers coming back for more."

Seriously, this sounds just sounds awesome.

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
Published by: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: July 7th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Callie Vee, Travis, Granddaddy, and the whole Tate clan are back in this charming follow-up to Newbery Honor-winner The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.

Travis keeps bringing home strays. And Callie has her hands full keeping the wild animals-her brother included-away from her mother's critical eye. Whether it's wrangling a rogue armadillo or stray dog, a guileless younger brother or standoffish cousin, the trials and tribulations of Callie Vee will have readers laughing and crying and cheering for this most endearing heroine."

How many years had it been since the first book came out? Seriously, it's been a damn long time. Also, look at that awesome cover, which was what got me into this series in the first place!

Grace Cries Uncle by Julie Hyzy
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: July 7th, 2015
Format: Paperback, 2304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The New York Times bestselling author of the Manor House Mysteries and the White House Chef Mysteries shows how a blast from the past can spell trouble for Grace Wheaton…

When Grace’s estranged sister Liza shows up on her doorstep, the timing couldn’t be worse. Grace’s beloved boss and benefactor, Bennett Marshfield, has finally gotten her to agree to a DNA test to establish if he is, in fact, her uncle. If so, Grace would move from being the trusted curator and manager of Marshfield Manor to Bennett’s heir. And her duplicitous sister would be right behind her in the line of inheritance.

Liza is not the only mysterious visitor to arrive in town. A man claiming to be an FBI agent has shown up, and a swarm of avaricious antique collectors have descended on Emberstowne for a prestigious convention. When Bennett reveals he’s in mind to acquire a secret antique and the FBI agent turns up dead, the plot thickens. And Grace can’t help but wonder if Liza is at the center of it all…"

For my mom, who loves all that Julie Hyzy writes. All of it!

Spellcasting in Silk by Juliet Blackwell
Published by: NAL
Publication Date: July 7th, 2015
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
From the New York Times bestselling author of A Vision in Velvet comes more spooky sleuthing with Lily Ivory, vintage boutique owner and gifted witch…

Lily would like nothing better than to relax, enjoy her friends, and take care of business at her store, which is booming thanks to San Francisco's upcoming Summer of Love Festival. But as the unofficial witchy consultant to the SFPD, she is pulled into yet another case.

A woman has jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, and her apparent suicide may be connected to a suspicious botanica in the Mission District. When the police investigate the shop, they ask Lily to look into its mysterious owner, whose granddaughter also appears to be missing. As Lily searches for the truth, she finds herself confronted with a confounding mystery and some very powerful magic…"

Seeing as how many comparisons there are to a pig's ear and silk purses, perhaps not the best title? Our lovely porcine friend looks a little freaked out on the cover.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Book Review - D. J. Taylor's Bright Young People

Bright Young People by D. J. Taylor
Published by: Farrar Straus Giroux
Publication Date: October 4th, 2007
Format: Hardcover, 361 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

"There’s an old rhyme about Fuzzy Wuzzy that ends with “Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t very fuzzy, was he?” By the same token, although they’ve certainly cast a long and sparkly shadow, the Bright Young People weren’t very bright, and no one manages to convey this better than D.J. Taylor in his Bright Young People. He faithfully chronicles the increasingly inventive parties, but also the ennui, the disillusionment, and waste of time and talent.

I first read this book when I was doing my research for The Ashford Affair, which zigzagged around 1920s London and 1920s Kenya. It was a bit out of my field for that—I was really more interested in a slightly older crowd, the men and women who came of age during World War I rather than after—but I was fascinated by a) what a small and narrow circle the Bright Young Things moved in, b) how short their tenure, and c) what a disproportionate effect they created.

I’m still struggling with just what it was about this group of party-goers that makes their antics still a by-word today. Was it because they produced a pair of truly brilliant novelists? Was it because, in their own concentrated, exaggerated way, they managed to echo the malaise and restlessness of the times? Or is it the sheer absurdity and flamboyance of it all that still fascinates?" - Lauren Willig

The 1920s in England spawned a unique subculture. The Bright Young Things, people who partied every night, always had just the right bon mot, and never failed to make headlines in the newspapers, many written by their own set, swept through the country. While their parents might have thought of them as the scourge of the country with their depravity, the public couldn't get enough of reading about the antics of these young partygoers. But the artistic and bohemian lifestyle had a price, most of them wasted their talents and were burned out by their hedonistic lifestyle. Of all the Bright Young People, so few names remain memorable in the artistic community, such as Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford. What happened to the rest? They were the symbol of a decade but as that decade grew to a close the world was changing, war started to loom again on the horizon, and decadence wasn't looked on favourably during a time of retrenchment. Though looking back, it is fascinating to examine the beginning of what would become our celebrity obsessed society. It didn't start with Kim and Kanye, it started with Beverly Nichols and Elizabeth Ponsonby!

Biographies written by authors with an overinflated sense of self are hard to read. They don't let their subjects take center stage, being always more concerned with patting themselves on the back then doing justice to their subjects. D.J. Taylor is such a writer, more interested in using obscure words and overblown language to showcase his own "talent" then writing a solid book, whose subject matter I'm not even sure he liked all that much. There is a smugness in the way he assumes that everyone must know who and what he is talking about and that if you don't you are unworthy of this knowledge. This leaves the reader confused in a morass of names and events with only the loosest grasp of who any of the Bright Young People really are. Apparently a simple precise of the cast of characters would sully Taylor's writing and make the book too approachable by the uniformed masses. And the thing is, I'm not uniformed! I know many of the Bright Young People and still I felt like I was futilely trying to catch some meaning out of the fog Taylor creates with his impenetrable text. Bright Young People and authors like Taylor are the exact reason I have problems with biographies and why I so rarely read them. And if he referenced ONE MORE picture that wasn't included in the book I was ready to burn it, library fine or no.

When I read the biography on the Mitford sisters, I faced many of the same problems I faced here. The Sisters just rehashed commonly known facts and oft told stories I had heard in their own books while bringing nothing further to the table. Taylor does the same. He spends copious amounts of time dwelling on repeating plots from books or tales of parties that are better told elsewhere. Why would I be reading this book to read in detail the plot of Vile Bodies? If I wanted to know about Vile Bodies I would read Vile Bodies! Which I am actually planning on doing anyway. But the biggest problem I have with him summarizing these primary sources is he does it so badly. I know it's hard to condense a book's narrative down so that you engage your reader as well as give just enough detail without spoiling the book, heck I do it with every book review I write. So I think I'm a little qualified to pass judgment here. In the book's chapter entitled "Projections" which is near the end of the book, if you make it that far which I don't advise you to do, all Taylor does is badly summarize the literary efforts of the authors this generation spawned. Now I have read all the books Nancy Mitford has written, ALL THE BOOKS, and I could barely recognize Highland Fling from Taylor's description. The same can be said about Christmas Pudding and Pigeon Pie. Therefore I can only assume the books I haven't read were just as atrociously summarized. Plus, why do I want to read this when I could just pick up the original book? You would be better off reading all the primary sources then wading into this pompous and pretentious morass that theoretically attempts to unify the authors lives and works into one book.

What is fascinating about this grouping of authors, photographers, heiresses, and what have you is that they were a very egalitarian group, despite being very clannish. Many people site the first world war as the great equalizer. It was the last war where your status could get you a higher commission. The world started to shift from this Upstairs, Downstairs world to a world more founded on merit. Therefore why should it be any surprise that The Bright Young People were also a more democratic lot. Titled "Hons" rubbed shoulders with "laborers" in their midst. The two most recognizable of these lower orders rising up are Cecil Beaton and Evelyn Waugh. While Beaton was more overtly ambitious, these two men, who ironically hated each other, had humbler beginnings then many of their contemporaries among this glittering society. Waugh's father was an author and literary critic, while Beaton's was a timber merchant. While their beginnings weren't so humble as to be penurious, seeing as they went to the right schools and therefore worked their way into this new social circle, it is just fascinating that they had a-typical backgrounds. When you think of the writer to define this generation, this movement, while Nancy Mitford is a close second, Evelyn Waugh takes the top prize. He immortalized this period for future generations. Likewise if one was to think of a person who captured the images of the age, Cecil Beaton, hands down. Sure he went on to even greater acclaim and Academy Awards, but it is his portraiture of this age the captures it for time in memoriam.

One aspect that I found interesting enough to dwell a few minutes on was the idea of the Bright Young "Thing" versus the Bright Young "Person." Because it's an interesting theory I can unequivocally state that Taylor didn't think it up and it's been floating around for awhile, he just doesn't have it in him. While many people refer to the culture of the Bright Young Thing it would be more accurate to replace "Thing" with "Person" or "People" because this was a generation that, while they had an overall vibe, it was the personalities that made this movement important. Which is why little precises of all the movers and shakers would have been so helpful! If this is a movement about the people, it would be helpful to know who all these people are! Name drop all you want Taylor, if I don't know them just reading their names over and over again isn't going to magically enlighten me! This was really the epoch of what we now know as celebrity culture, of the "personality." Sure, there were famous personages prior to the twenties, but their every single detail down to who was at a bridge party at Nancy Mitford's house wasn't published in the press. This was when the exploits of so-called celebrities daily exploits were written up to be consumed by the masses who could barely comprehend living this party lifestyle. We still consume it at probably an even more rapid rate then they did back then. Turn on the television at any time of day and there are some pseudo-celebrities with cameras following them everywhere. And while it is funny to think about what a reality show with Elizabeth Ponsonby or Evelyn Waugh would have been like, in the end would the show be any more captivating then any current reality TV? Probably not. Just more people trying to stay in the spotlight with stunts and parties.

The biggest flaw though, in this overly flawed book, is that Taylor breaks basically the only rule for writing a work of non-fiction, and that is overreliance on one source. When you write non-fiction using only one person's diaries or journals it gives you a skewed view of what really happened. You are only getting one side of the story. You can't provide any kind of faithful narrative with only this one POV. Here the POV is almost strictly that of the Ponsonbys. Taylor must have been so flattered to be allowed unprecedented access to the Ponsonby family archive that it inflated his already inflated ego and turned this book more and more into a platform for the elder Ponsonbys to rail against their daughter, Elizabeth. Firstly, why didn't Taylor just write about them if they were so obviously his pet project, and secondly, the "generational struggle" that the diary entries are supposed to highlight as a typical reaction to children misbehaving don't work. At all. Instead, these diary entries focused on the behavior of their daughter make Elizabeth's parents seem unstable. They appear, quite dramatically, to be psychotically obsessed with their daughter's comings and goings, even onto the point of her sexual activity. If you think OCD helicopter parents are a new trend, I give you the Ponsonbys as proof against that. Seriously, they just give me the creeps. There's a book in their relationship with their daughter, it just shouldn't have been in any part of this one. Also, Norma Bates, you have been outdone, FYI.

The feeling this book leaves you with, beside rage at the author and a desire never to meet the Ponsonbys, is that of overwhelming sadness. The Bright Young People burned bright and fast, falling into ruin and disipation. The book couldn't be bothered with going into the whys and wherefores as to how this generation was formed, aside from quotes from far better authors of the time. But you still get that this generation was lost, not in the typical sense. They didn't disappear, they left their mark, but it was fleeting. They were lost in the wilderness and didn't know how to make a life of parties and treasure hunts and dressing up transition into a real life, with productive work and a future. Of all the personalities profiled, Elizabeth Ponsonby, Evelyn Waugh, Cecil Beaton, Anthony Powell, Harold Acton, John Betjeman, Edward Burra, Edward Gathorne-Hardy, Babe Plunket-Greene, Brian Howard, Beverly Nichols, Brenda Dean Paul, Bryan Guinness, Henry Green, the Sitwells, and the Mitfords, and many more, the average person would probably only know Evelyn Waugh. If they are more of a reader, perhaps Waugh, Nancy Mitford, and Anthony Powell. Of the coeterie of personalities, only a small handful are still known. Only these few had any lasting power. Yet all these people wrote or act or were creative and yet there is nothing to remember them by. So maybe they are lost in every since of the word. It's too too sad making.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Jazzy July

So my literary love of Lauren Willig should by now be fairly obvious. Even if I didn't have two months this year devoted to her books, as well as the year long Pink for All Seasons re-read that has been going on since last September, I hope my previous efforts haven't been overlooked by my readers. Back when Lauren first said her third stand-alone would be set in the 20s I might have gotten more then a little excited. The 20s is an era that I just have a natural affinity for. Perhaps it's because I was raised on stories of my grandmother in her youth being a rebellious flapper and sneaking out of school only to show up in a cell in Chicago after being detained after a raid on a local speakeasy. Or perhaps that mobsters held a special appeal. What started as a love for a distinctly American era has grown more and more to encompass the unique "Bright Young People" era of England. Therefore, even if the two previous theme months dedicated to Lauren's first two stand-alones, Ashford April and This Summer, didn't exist, well, Jazzy July would have happened. I also illogically insist that her publishers knew of my struggle trying to find a good title for my theme month when the book was slated for a May release and moved it back just so Jazzy July could exist. I did say it was illogical.

What I love about doing these specific theme months is that it gives me insight into Lauren's process and into her finished work. I shoot her an email and she shoots me an email back suggesting books to read that inspired or informed her newest book. I narrow the selection down, in this case a nice balance of biographical, historical, and contemporary books, and give her the final list, she writes a little something about them, and then I sit down and devour them, ending in a review. This year I decided to do something a little different. Usually I sit down, read Lauren's book, write the review, then go on to read all the other books, because I don't want any outside source tainting my reading of Lauren's book. But the last two times I did this I noticed that re-reading the book later after having read these other books gave Lauren's book even greater depth. And in the case of The Ashford Affair, I feel like I might have done the book a disservice with my review. So I had a new idea. I've read The Other Daughter, I mean, seriously, there was no waiting on reading that book. BUT as I write this I have still to write my review. I jotted down notes and have a vague outline, but so it will remain until I read all the other books for this month. I then plan on re-reading The Other Daughter and finally writing my review. Personally, I don't think in this instance my opinion is going to change, but I do feel my understanding of the world Lauren has brought back to life already expanding. This is going to be a fun month and I hope you'll join me. Flapper costume optional. Mainly because I don't think I could fit the one I have anymore.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Case of the Dotty Dowager by Cathy Ace
Published by: Severn House Publishers
Publication Date: June 30th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 224 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Meet the Women of the WISE Enquiries Agency. The first in a new series.

Henry Twyst, eighteenth Duke of Chellingworth, is convinced his mother is losing her marbles. She claims to have seen a corpse on the dining-room floor, but all she has to prove it is a bloodied bobble hat.

Worried enough to retain the women of the WISE Enquiries Agency – one is Welsh, one Irish, one Scottish and one English – Henry wants the strange matter explained away. But the truth of what happened at the Chellingworth Estate, set in the rolling Welsh countryside near the quaint village of Anwen by Wye, is more complex, dangerous, and deadly, than anyone could have foreseen . . ."

Not a lot on offer this week, maybe because of the upcoming holiday weekend... but this looks interesting. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Movie Review - Michael Crichton's The Terminal Man

The Terminal Man by Michael Crichton
Based on the book by Michael Crichton
Starring: George Segal, Joan Hackett, Richard Dysart, Donald Moffat, Michael C. Gwynne, William Hansen, Matt Clark, Jim Antonio, and Jill Clayburgh
Release Date: June 19th, 1974
Rating: ★
To Buy

Harry Benson is having an experimental surgery to stop his epileptic seizures that cause violent blackouts after he was in a car accident. Harry's entire life changed, from a loving family man he has become a violent criminal. The hope is that he can gain some semblance of his old life back. His psychiatrist, Doctor Janet Ross, thinks that implanting electrodes in his brain isn't the wisest idea, which is proven correct when his brain starts to trigger more and more mini seizures to get the euphoric jolt from the electrodes. The problem is, once the jolts become continuous, he will have a major blackout and will be the most dangerous he's ever been. This wouldn't be that big a problem except that Harry has escaped his police guard and left the hospital. He could be anyway and anything could happen. The first tipping point will be some minutes after three in the morning, and that's when Harry first kills. As his electric jolts become more and more constant he will have more major blackouts and more people could die, even the doctors who are trying to help him, because he knows where they all live.

If you want a pompous pretentious movie that is so full of itself that you will be laughing till you are crying, then I heartily recommend you watch The Terminal Man! This adaptation might be the most amusing of all the Crichton adaptations I have ever seen. Either the adaptation is true to the book and with Crichton's involvement we get to watch a solid movie, or the adaptation is all levels of tacky throwing in bad robotic apes with sign language gloves that disappoint while the viewer is able to still find some humor in their situation. But The Terminal Man leaves all others in the dust when it comes to overreaching. Cinema in the late sixties and early seventies was revitalized by more artistic movies that weren't meant to be mainstream. From Bonnie and Clyde to The Graduate, 2001 to A Clockwork Orange, movies were breaking with conventions and what would have previously been art house fare was now de rigueur. The Terminal Man obviously had dreams of being the next big thing with it's limited dialogue and score set in a very colorless world but instead the movie comes off as trying too hard. It wants to be chic so badly that it oversteps and we are left with a laughable mess.

The biggest hint that they are trying to make a medical thriller into an artsy film is in the sets and costumes. The sets have no color. No color at all. And literally everyone is only ever seen in white, black, or grey. There are no other colors in this world, except that hint of red. Both blood and flowers are allowed red, but nothing else. It's obviously aiming for the impact of the girl with the red coat in Schindler's List and instead it's just weird. The appearance of the red when Harry starts to kill isn't jarring, like a horrific murder should be, it was just laughable. I'm not sure if this colorless world was supposed to be a commentary on the antiseptic lifestyle that surrounds a hospital or some weird futuristic concept where colors are tacky in the future, because they did noticeably remove any reference to the year the movie was set in. The height of the fashion faux pas is the nurses uniforms, which are so impractical and their headdresses are half medieval peasant half nun that one wonders what the hell world this movie was really thinking it lived in. You can actually feel the filmmakers striving for greatness, you can hear the gears in their head moving and thinking, yes, this will be a classic for the ages like Kubrick. If Kubrick did Lifetime TV movies, then maybe the analogy would be right.

The Terminal Man just wanted to be profound, it wanted to be something more. The sparseness is also seen in the paring down of the story. There is almost no dialogue and what plot existed in the book has been almost completely gutted. Instead the film is populated with long silences and static images that in the hands of someone talented, aka Kubrick, it could have worked, but here it draws out the movie so that a film that is under two hours feels about six. The problem that arises from parring down everything is the story is lost in translation. You don't realize that Harry Benson is supposed to be a genius with a fear of machines that indicates his psychosis, instead we have a violent man who has a surgery that goes wrong and kills some people. Where is the motivation? Where is the reasoning? In the book there is a connection between Benson and Doctor Ross where they have a true friendship, where their conversations delve into deep concepts. Here their doctor patient relationship is almost nonexistent and Doctor Ross is relegated to sexist jokes and wailing while trying to futilely save her patient.

The major divergence from the book, wherein they make Harry a Roman Catholic, exemplifies how the filmmakers were striving for some inner meaning. Something lofty and enigmatic and shocking. Instead of just sticking to the solid story that existed, here Harry isn't contemplating machines taking over the world, but instead trying to come to terms with being a violent man. What? I mean, he doesn't remember these attacks and often puts himself purposefully in these situations, ie, going to bars and strip clubs, yet somehow he has remorse? Since when? His going to church to confess made me role my eyes. The film seriously thought that by adding this layer of spiritualism that they would somehow redeem it? Make it something worthy of discussion? Instead the killing of the priest with his rosary during Harry's confession comes off as laughable and oh so predictable. It isn't helped by the fact that George Segal, while a good actor in his own way, was unable to carry this production. His "seizures" are worthy of a Razzie.

But the saddest fact of this whole film is that it wants to have been a Stanley Kubrick film. With the minimal score, only Bach's Goldberg Variation No. 25 played by Glenn Gould is ever heard, the colorless sets, the framing of each scene, the doctors in evening wear, the weird eye through the door watching over us, all of it cries out as a poor Kubrick imitation. Personally, I have never been the biggest Kubrick fan, but watching someone trying to emulate him so hard it is painful to watch you realize how great Kubrick is. This, this was like the bad Lifetime tv movie that was made as a Kubrick film. Much like the true stories of Saved by the Bell and Full House, The Terminal Man comes off as cut rate, cliched, badly cast, lacking vision, and unable to grasp even the basics of what they are trying to do. By the end of the film when George Segal is having a seizure in a cemetery plot, well, you're just praying for that bullet to end it all. It was amusing to watch the film once because of how bad it is, but a second viewing would be masochistic. Go watch something by Kubrick instead, it's the real deal, not a pale over ambitious imitation.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Book Review - Michael Crichton's The Terminal Man

The Terminal Man by Michael Crichton
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: April 12th, 1972
Format: Paperback, 266 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Harry Benson blacks out. When he loses time he commits violent acts. This has been happening ever since he was in a car accident where he retained brain damage. The Neuro-Psychiatric Service of the University Hospital has been looking for a "stage three" candidate to try a new procedure on. They believe that actual psychical brain injuries can be cured with the implantation of electrodes in the brain. The electrodes would fire a positive charge into the patient's brain whenever an "attack" was imminent. This would be perfect for Harry. Whenever an attack started, instead of blacking out, he would get a happy little pleasurable charge and everything would be fine. He'd no longer be beating up exotic dancers and gas station attendants. The only thing the NPS didn't count on when choosing Harry as a candidate is that he is actually psychotic. Doctor Janet Ross warned them that this was the case, but the surgeons in their zeal to do what has never been done brushed aside her concerns about Harry's fear of machines and went ahead with the surgery. The day after the surgery it appears that Doctor Ross's fears have materialized as Harry is triggering seizures to get pleasurable responses. He then escapes the hospital and it is only a matter of time until he reaches his breaking point. If he was dangerous before he is even more dangerous now.

Despite deciding on a whim that I would read the books for my Crichton Celebration in reverse order I have to say it's a decision that I don't regret in the least. As I read this, my last book for my celebration, and the second book Crichton published under his own name, it's fascinating to see the genesis of what he'll later explore in future books. The Terminal Man is by no means a polished book, it's very rough around the edges, and I almost like it more for this. Crichton hasn't established any pattern to his narrative structure and this gives the book a freshness. But we get hints as to his future greatness and his future themes, from man competing with technology to apes to genetic modification. Crichton had a very interesting range of subjects he was compelled to write about and seeing them in a protoformat makes the book nerd in me smile. Of course he does fall prey to some cliche ridden techniques that he would thankfully remove from his repertoire later on, the most egregious error being the abrupt ending that he would use again in Eaters of the Dead in some attempt to be edgy, but it's just lame.  

What I find interesting to mull over is the idea of the medical drama or medical thriller. While there have been innumerable shows and books and movies, so much so that we know the language and the argot, Crichton would be at the forefront of this movement. He refined and for many defined what a medical procedural should be with ER. Twenty years after writing The Terminal Man he was still interested enough in medicine to bring it to television. He was always working and playing with ideas for years and years until he found the perfect outlet, be it book or film or television. He was able to explore themes in a way that was almost always fresh and most definitely an expansion of his previous thoughts. What I wouldn't give to have him still in the world and examining how things have changed and how much he predicted and how some things were tried and abandoned. He must have been an interesting person to talk to and how I wish I had had that chance.  

Though with this prevalence of medical shows over time I think I have become desensitized to blood and guts. I can sit and watch Hannibal eating Eddie Izzard's leg and think nothing of it aside from the wonderful ability of Eddie to deliver a wry line. Adaptations of some of the bloodiest murder scenes, such as those of Jack the Ripper, nary an eyelash is batted. Yet reading about the brain surgery of Harry Benson I had this odd visceral reaction. Perhaps it's because I'm used to visual stimulus and this was written and therefore my mind's eye was left to imagine the worse, but the impact this simple surgery had on me was remarkable. It had such force my gorge was actually rising as I thought of the brain being cut into. Also, the fact that the brain has no nerve endings and that you can hack away without the patient feeling any pain, ugh, no. I don't know what it was about this but it struck a literal nerve in me and made me connect to Benson on a level I never thought I would.

Another medical aspect that struck me was the doctor patient confidentiality between Harry Benson and all his doctors, in particular Doctor Janet Ross. In other words, they didn't seem to care about it or even mention it once. Yes, once Harry goes on his little rampage every sane doctor would give the police everything they needed to catch him, but shouldn't there be at least a nod of acknowledgement that Harry is a danger and that is why the confidentiality is being breached? When Captain Anders comes to Doctor Ross's apartment after Harry tried to kill her she calmly sits down and tells him everything about Harry not leaving out a single detail. Would this fly in court? Can she really tell him everything? It not only seems like a breech of trust, but as if she's being vindictive against her patient. She keeps saying that she wants to help him, yet she's laying all his secrets bare and that seems like a negative response to almost being killed more then a helping hand.

But maybe in the early seventies people didn't dwell on potential litigation. Ethics and standards have changed drastically in the past forty some years. And, as the book is written to point out, technology is changing rapidly too. One of the aspects of the book that I found disturbing was the fact that research on monkeys wasn't in the least bit controversial. Ellis mentioned hundreds, yes, HUNDREDS of monkeys he'd worked on to prepare for this one procedure in a human. Also, the monkeys apparently cost $80! Not only the cruelty to the animals but that such a low sum could be placed on their lives disgusted me. Which if extrapolated outwards, you can relate to Harry's predicament and how the surgery being preformed on him both disgusts and horrifies him. Morals, standards, ethics, all is in flux constantly within ourselves and within society. There is a palpable fear of technology that is logical. But there is also a fear of what we have been and what we could be capable of. It's not even the technological advances and the fact that a computer knows what a cat is that's the real danger, it's the human element that is unpredictable and terrifying.

And isn't that always the way? The human element is where things break down. This idea that we can control humans, that we can program them, drug them, retrain them, it is always in playing god in this sense that things go awry. Yes the technology is terrifying, but the fact that humans then try to use it, try to play god, that's what really scares me. Despite the fact that Harry is quite literally insane, I truly felt sorry for him reading this at this time in my life. These doctors that were there to help him were really, despite them objecting that the press was sensationalizing it, preforming mind control. Because changing someone's behavior, be it as simple as them biting their nails, is mind control at a basic level. Look to all the drugs prescribed for anxiety and stress; I'm on a few myself. These drugs don't magically solve anything, they are their to rewrite your behavior and get you to stop anxiety in it's tracks. If I get over emotional I feel the drugs kicking in and it feels like a band around my head which won't go away unless I calm down. This pressure has taught me to calm down. I have been reprogrammed in the simplest way, with negative reinforcement. Now imagine having wires in your brain doing that? I shudder to think. Having them in the mind of someone actually psychotic? That is why The Terminal Man is both terrifying and a cautionary tale.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Long Utopia by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: June 23rd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The fourth novel in Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s internationally bestselling “Long Earth” series, hailed as “a brilliant science fiction collaboration . . . a love letter to all Pratchett fans, readers, and lovers of wonder everywhere”

2045-2059. Human society continues to evolve on Datum Earth, its battered and weary origin planet, as the spread of humanity progresses throughout the many Earths beyond.

Lobsang, now an elderly and complex AI, suffers a breakdown, and disguised as a human attempts to live a “normal” life on one of the millions of Long Earth worlds. His old friend, Joshua, now in his fifties, searches for his father and discovers a heretofore unknown family history. And the super-intelligent post-humans known as “the Next” continue to adapt to life among “lesser” humans.

But an alarming new challenge looms. An alien planet has somehow become “entangled” with one of the Long Earth worlds and, as Lobsang and Joshua learn, its voracious denizens intend to capture, conquer, and colonize the new universe—the Long Earth—they have inadvertently discovered.

World-building, the intersection of universes, the coexistence of diverse species, and the cosmic meaning of the Long Earth itself are among the mind-expanding themes explored in this exciting new installment of Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's extraordinary Long Earth series."

While I'm still bereft from the death of Terry Pratchett, I hope that Stephen Baxter gets to carry on with this wonderful series in his name.

Trailer Park Fae by Lilith Saintcrow
Published by: Orbit
Publication Date: June 23rd, 2015
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"New York Times bestselling author Lilith Saintcrow returns to dark fantasy with a new series where the faery world inhabits diners, dive bars and trailer parks.

Jeremiah Gallow is just another construction worker, and that's the way he likes it. He's left his past behind, but some things cannot be erased. Like the tattoos on his arms that transform into a weapon, or that he was once closer to the Queen of Summer than any half-human should be. Now the half-sidhe all in Summer once feared is dragged back into the world of enchantment, danger, and fickle fae - by a woman who looks uncannily like his dead wife. Her name is Robin, and her secrets are more than enough to get them both killed. A plague has come, the fullborn-fae are dying, and the dark answer to Summer's Court is breaking loose.

Be afraid, for Unwinter is riding..."

While this does sound really fascinating, the sword messing with the kerning on the cover is really really really annoying me. 

Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams
Published by: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication Date: June 23rd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In the summer of 1966, Christina Hardcastle—“Tiny” to her illustrious family—stands on the brink of a breathtaking future. Of the three Schuyler sisters, she’s the one raised to marry a man destined for leadership, and with her elegance and impeccable style, she presents a perfect camera-ready image in the dawning age of television politics. Together she and her husband, Frank, make the ultimate power couple: intelligent, rich, and impossibly attractive. It seems nothing can stop Frank from rising to national office, and he’s got his sights set on a senate seat in November.

But as the season gets underway at the family estate on Cape Cod, three unwelcome visitors appear in Tiny’s perfect life: her volatile sister Pepper, an envelope containing incriminating photograph, and the intimidating figure of Frank’s cousin Vietnam-war hero Caspian, who knows more about Tiny’s rich inner life than anyone else. As she struggles to maintain the glossy fa├žade on which the Hardcastle family’s ambitions are built, Tiny begins to suspect that Frank is hiding a reckless entanglement of his own…one that may unravel both her own ordered life and her husband’s promising career."

New Beatriz Williams, how can I say no?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Pink Carnation Spotlight - Anthony Head (Colonel William Reid)

Colonel William Reid. AKA, a hard man to pin down. He's such a vibrant and amazing character but I kept getting caught up on the fact he was a ginger instead of trying to cast to the character as Lauren had written him. That's when Anthony Stewart Head popped into mine.

Name: Anthony Head

"Dream" Character Casting for the Lauren Willig Miniseries: Colonel William Reid

First Impression: Do you remember those old Taster's Choice commercials? I'm sure you do. Though I personally have no recollection of Trevor Eve being in them, it is what I remember Anthony Head from. In fact I remember going to a Doctor Who convention back in the 90s when Buffy had just started and I saw that Anthony Head, aka, the guy from the Taster's Choice commercials was there. I wanted to see him, my friend I was with declined. We made it up to him years later when we went to a Buffy the Vampire Slayer convention in the Catskills.

Why they'd be the perfect actor for the Lauren Willig Miniseries: Forget for a moment that he's not a ginger. The reason I think Anthony Head would be perfect is that, aside from being an amazingly talented actor, he has this ability to light up a room when he smiles. There's an infectious mirth that I think is inherent in the character of William Reid that is also part of who Tony is. There's also a bit of a rogue in him. He can also be scary and commanding when needed. Oh, and he looks fabulous on a horse. Is that enough?

Lasting Impression: While technically it is probably the Taster's Choice commercial, I didn't remember his name or anything from that, so I'm counting the lasting impression as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As Rupert Giles he made librarians sexy. He also showed an amazing range from action and adventure, to comedy, to scary dark depths, his name was Ripper! Now I want to go watch all of Buffy again. Dammit. I knew choosing him as William was a trap somehow. OK, queue up all seven seasons, let's get this started.

What else you've seen them in: That picture of the two of us on my wall? No, that's only for me, let's get to you all. Um, everything awesome? He's played the aging playboy in Manchild and The Invisibles, the sexy Prime Minister on Little Britain. The sophisticated aristocrat in a world about to go to war in Dancing on the Edge. He's played evil fantasy fathers in Merlin and Galavant, with singing! He's shown his comedic chops and his ability to navigate dating a younger woman on the fabulous You, Me and Them. He showed his more shallow side as a certain Regency father in Persuasion, and his sexy evil side on Warehouse 13, seen above, go Paracelsus, kill them all, um, I didn't mean to say that out loud. And of course, he was on Doctor Who. It's not like I've watched everything he's ever been in... I'm sure I've missed one or two. Maybe.

Can't believe it's them: Love in a Cold Climate! Seriously! This is awesome! Look at little Tony Head as another Tony, Tony Kroesig, Linda Radlett's husband! Thankfully this has been reissued on DVD so that you and sqwee with me every time he comes on screen.

Wish they hadn't: Left Buffy to be in Manchild? And no, not a joke. Manchild is ok and all, it's just not Buffy. I mean, it's awesome how they had him leave and then come back, both at the end of Season 6 and then in Season 7, but I missed my Giles! Also I totally still want the Ripper movie, I don't care of the comics have covered it, I still want it.

Bio: Anthony Stewart Head, he had to use the Stewart stateside because there was already another Anthony Head over here, was born into a family that prized the arts. He grew up in Hampton and attended the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. Tony's father was a documentary filmmaker, his mother is an actress, his brother is a famous musical theater star, and his long term partner, Sarah Fisher, was a theatre administrator, while their two daughters are actresses as well, Emily even played his daughter on The Invisibles. Like his brother he has a love for singing and has released some music both with a band and solo, where he even wrote some of the songs, as well as starring in musicals. He also has a love of horse riding and his house in Somerset with his horses was featured in season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Head is one of those rare actors who is popular on both sides of the ocean and knows who his fans are and continues to make great shows within the sci-fi community but also expands his repertoire with period pieces. He has been acting as long as I have been alive and I hope to see him popping up in shows for years and years to come. I especially loved his random appearance in Galavant recently, such an awesome surprise. He's my William any day!

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