Monday, September 26, 2011

Family and Facebook

I will be away for the rest of the week as I am heading back home to Halifax to witness either my brother's marriage to a lovely awesome lady and/or a disasterous family fight as tensions force us to hate each other. For obvious reasons I am hoping for the former.

I have also bizarrely chosen this moment - filled with urgent family commiques about lodgings, travel arrangements and the like - to quit Facebook. I was getting annoyed at all the changes and my own dependance on that particular social networking site was potentially problematic. Other than the compulsive nature of my brain thinking only in unposted status updates, I'm holding up well.

When I joined Facebook, it was still mostly a curiosity, but now it seems almost essential for modern life. Soon I'm hoping to take a look and see what the science says, especially about any costs associated with avoiding or abandoning such an ubiquitus network. We'll see.

In the meantime, I'm on twitter (as Quietmarc or @quietmarc or whatever the hell the kids call it) and am flirting with google+. I'll keep you informed.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

FEED by Mira Grant, part 2

Well, finished the book last night and I'll say the second half is a lot more solid than the first. The action was tighter, stuff actually happens, and there are lots and lots of zombies. The book stands on its own, but I will be picking up the next one in the series next time I stop by a book store.

Without giving too much away, I do wish less time had been spent in the beginning on the political stuff. I understand wanting to add context and to keep the pacing controlled until everything goes to shit in the final act, but I don't feel like the mystery/political intrigue plot was deep enough to warrant all the time spent on it. Because of the small cast and the paltry number of likely suspects, I had a good idea of who the "villian" was long before his final, "I would have gotten away with it, too," speech. If the characters (other than the narrator and her brother) had been more starkly defined and less, well, shallow, then the earlier parts of the book that dwelt on the campaign trail would have been a bit more interesting.

Even with these minor flaws, though, Grant manages to keep the action-y parts rivetting, and the final third of the book almost sings, moving from critical moment to critical moment, with enough zombie stuff to keep a zombiphile like me happy. I suppose I should have waited until I finished before posting the review, but, hey, it's my blog, right?

And last for today, did you see how I did that picture thing last entry? I am technologically inept, so that was a major high point of my day, even though it was really easy. I'm coast on that high for the rest of the week.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Feed by Mira Grant

So, one thing about me is that I tend to read about 5 billion books at once. Right now I have about 8 or 9 that are in various states of being read. Most of them are non-fiction because I'm sort of researching for a fantasy-setting novel I'm sorta writing.

BUT fiction is my true love and I cannot survive on non-fiction alone! And that is why I picked up FEED, by Mira Grant.

This can't be a full review, as I'm only about halfway through the book, but wanted to write some thoughts about it early on while they're still fresh.

Zombie novels are an interesting creature. The modern zombie as a phenomenon owes its birth to film and (pretty much) the movies of George Romero in particular (who gets a hit tip in Feed), and while there are stand-outs worthy of mention (most of them written by Max Brooks) most of the zombie novels I've read are pretty sub-par. I don't know why this is, except that maybe some of the qualities that make zombie films captivating don't quite translate onto the page?

That said, Feed is actually a decent story. To call it a zombie novel isn't quite accurate as there are elements from several genres: science fiction, mystery, political thriller. It follows the narrator, Georgia (named after George Romero for reasons made clear in the book), in the year 2040, some twenty-odd years after the zombie apocalypse. She's a blogger, of the "newsie" variety, which means that she goes into high-zombie areas, hooked up with cameras in the like, and reports on the news. She and her brother (an "Irwin" who does the same thing but with less of a news focus and more of a "Crike! Ain't this fun?" vibe like the ill-fated Steve Irwin) are selected to follow a presidential candidate as he goes through the Republican primariesZZZzzzzzzzz......

Sorry 'bout that, drifted off.

The book has some good ideas and and is certainly well-written. The reason for the zombie plague is interesting, as well as some of the consequences (no cancer! zombie eyes!), and where sometimes giving a nod to zombie culture can strike me as a little "cute" or "ridiculously annoying", Mira Grant manages to avoid this....barely. She also seems to be straddling the line between a rousing zombie romp and a fairly bland description of the US electoral system....of the future.

Which is really the weakest part of the book. Things come (ahem) alive when the protagonists are interracting with the zombies: the danger feels real, the tension is there, but that tension doesn't follow through when the protagonists are dealing with the other stuff in their lives. I mean, ratings? Polls? Political speeches exactly like every other political speech?

There are a few possible threads right now that I'm hoping will pay off by the end. Right now it appears there are attempts to assassinate a moderate Republican presidential nominee by arranging for zombie outbreaks at his HQ and home ranch, and if the tension can find its sweet spot and this mystery resolve itself in an interesting or unexpected way, then this will be one of the better zombie novels I've read. If not, though, I'll have to say I'll feel disappointed and may not pick up the other books in  the series. I mean, when I'm reading a zombie novel, I shouldn't be feeling bored by US politics, am I right?

The other part is that the characters are maybe too well-versed in their world. They're basically zombie experts, and don't seem to make very many mistakes, which means that they haven't appeared to be in any danger yet. I'm sure a true crisis moment will happen, but I really hope it happens organically...right now, if they make a mistake it might seem out of character, and I won't like that.

So, stay tuned for a final word on this book. Halfway through it's readable and has promise, but I can't endorse it fully...yet.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Zombies versus Vampires, OR the two-party political system

Not enough time to write about this at length, but this article is awesome: do zombie movies proliferate during republican presidencies? And vampires during democrat reigns? And what does it all mean??

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

All of our enemies are Zombies.

Over on Lousy canuck there's a lively discussion about the morality of demonizing or dehumanizing our ideological opponents. The blog post is about a first person shooter zombie game where you go in and shoot right-wing assholes public figures like Sarah Palin and Fox news people who are now zombies. Lousy Canuck doesn't like this idea, thinking that we need to take the high road when dealing with people who have different viewpoints than us.

I see it, too. In my early-activist-ish days, back in university, some of the people I hung out with liked to call anyone who wasn't "revolutionary" "sheep" or "sheeple". I still see this cute nickname on the internets here and there, the implication that the majority are unthinking morons who need to have someone (like "us") tell them what to do, because otherwise they will never get it. An anti-vaccine person I know recently dismissed the entire medical and scientific community as "sheep" in a conversation I was having. Another queer activist that I was speaking with admitted that he doesn't bother communicating with a certain type of right-wing conservative because they never listen.

In a lot of ways, I get this. It's practical (and I think being practical - doing what works - is a good thing). Convincing one person who is dead set against you is nigh on impossible, takes a lot of resources, energy, skill, and is hardly ever successful. If you're dealing with issues that affect the world, it makes a lot more sense to focus on convincing the people who are sympathetic to your cause. You get more bang for your buck, and maybe, one day, you can reach a critical mass and social osmosis or magic or whatever will turn some of those who were dead set against you into people more sympathetic.

There's nothing wrong with that, but I think where we do go wrong is when we stop thinking of our opponents as people and start to see them as one big, unthinking blob. Zombies, sheep, theists, whatever. I think everyone does this to some degree, it's one of those time-saving patterns that our brains use to make walking around in the world something that is actually do-able. But I think that when we -do- do this sort of thing, we need to be aware of it and challenge it a little, at least for a couple of reasons.

The first is that dehumanizing is a great first step towards discrimination. It's effective, for sure. Look at any major pogrom or genocide in our history: a lot of effort goes into portraying the victim group as less-than-human. My pet theory is that doing this helps alleviate some of the cognitive dissonance involved in killing another human social creatures, there's probably something in our make-up that encourages co-operation with one another, and that hurtle needs to be overcome before we go out and start senselessly bashing our fellow hominids without any real reason. I'm not saying "Republicans as zombies" leads to "kill the Republicans!!!!" but I think it's a part of the complex process that's involved in wiping out an other group of people.

The second is that it isn't true. People -aren't- sheep or zombies or whatever. It's impossible. The differences between us are almost inconsequential when you get down to it. There's some evidence that left-wing and right-wing people have brains that are wired differently, that they process information differently and react differently, but those differences are, in my opinion, beside the point. They're guideposts and clues as to HOW we should communicate, but they don't mean that we should stop communicating. When you dismiss someone as a sheep, you're dismissing the entire complexity that led to making them who they are...and when you dismiss them, you lose out on an opportunity.

As tempting as it is to do otherwise, we need to think of our opponents as people, at least once in a while. The reasons why I sit where I do on the political spectrum are many, but one of them is that I appreciate facts. I believe in an actual reality, and I think that if we are to do good, we are best served by acknowledging and acting within the rules we know to be true. If people are not sheep, they aren't zombies, then what do we gain by treating them like they are? At some point the flaws in our model will hurt our cause, especially if we use the model without any sort of reflection or acknowledgement that it is a model. People aren't zombies, they're people, and if we can't get a handle on that, we're just as wrong as "they" are.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sexism in a zombie game

There's been a derth of zombie-related stuff here, so here's a link to an article about a sexist name in the video game Dead Island. I don't have much to say, except that, yeah, there's tons of sexism and homophobia in the gaming community, so it's not surprising. I guess it's a good thing that we can see this sort of stuff behind the scenes, and hopefully someone will have learned a valuable lesson.

It does remind me, though, that there's also a considerable amount of sexism in the zombie genre as a whole. From what I can tell, the fandom includes a large amount of people who would feel quite at home at one of those southern militia conclaves where they're all waiting for the end of the world so they can put their weapons stockpiles to good use, and historically these survivalist communities don't always have the greatest track-record when it comes to equality, feminism, dealing with race, etc.

I'm not big, necessarily, on the guns and shooting stuff aspect of zombie fiction (I've never touched a gun myself...wouldn't know how to get one in a zombie apocalypse scenario, and if I did would likely end up harming myself or a loved one before I harmed a zombie), but there's a huge swath of guys (I assume mostly guys) who love to talk about types of guns, shooting things, explosives, blowing stuff up, in relation to the zombies. I'm more about the social dynamics, the body horror, and how even with zombies clawing at the door, it is us humans who are the most dangerous, and we bring with us the seeds of our own destruction. To me, the blowing stuff up, gun-worshipping fandom is missing the point.

To them, though, I'm probably just taking all the fun out of it.

Anyway, this is a reminder to myself that I want to write about a podcast/radio drama called "We're Alive" and it's (possible, I'm only on episode 2) heterosexism and its treatment of gender roles. But that will be later....