Friday, January 27, 2012

Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? Book Review

For Christmas I got a shiny, shiny gift card for our local mega-conglomerate big box book store, and just before leaving for Boston I cashed it in. Along with some other books (including Deadline, the second in Mira Grant's Newsflesh trilogy, which I will review here soon, promise), I also bought Max Brailler's Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse, a choose your own adventure-style book about dancing penguins trying to break into show business surviving the zombie apocalypse in Manhattan.

I bet many people my age have fond memories of the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books, along with its various knock-offs and variations (I was fond of a series written by a role playing creator team that made you role dice and everything!), so combine that with a zombie apocalypse, and I would be lying if I said that my expectations were high, so I'll own up to that.

But even if we adjust for overly-high anticipation, this, at best, is a mediocre zombie apocalypse book. It is also, at best, a mediocre choose your own adventure book.

Brailler's writing is good enough: he has enthusiasm, which is good, and he clearly has an understanding of the genre. The 3 "adventures" that I took involved underwater zombies, stripper zombies, and comic-book-convention zombies, which are all bright spots in zombie lore. Brailler also has a clear love of the city in which the action takes place. I've been to New York a few times, and this struck me very much as a book written by a New Yorker. There's a sense of fun, a sort of wink-wink-nudge-nudge, that infuses the pages and makes me feel a little bad about not liking the book as much as Max Brailler clearly does.

There are a few problems with Can You Survive: the first is that while the author clearly knows and understands the source material, the reader is plunked into the shoes of someone who clearly does not. The protagonist ("You") fumbles from one encounter to another, making the sorts of choices that make horror movie-seers groan in disgust. As the adventure was beginning, before my first choice was offered, I was busy taking stock of the situation, paying attention to details, trying to form a plan of attack to survive. I needn't have bothered, because at the junctures that I thought might be a good place for me to choose, Brailler instead railroads me into his own choices. Not even seconds after I've gotten to the "safety" of my apartment, the phone rings, it's mom, and my character decides to cross the city to reach her for no good reason. Time and again, junctures where a decision or choice might have been nice, the choice isn't offered, and even when I do make a decision circumstances conspire to erase the consequences of my choice so that I'm forced into ever-more ridiculous situations against my will.

The second big problem is the ridiculousness. It seems strangely misplaced here. Spoiler alert, but one of my adventures ended with me sitting on the arm of the statue of liberty, waiting for an airlift that might never come. What? Is that even possible? Another involved George Romero being the King of the Zombies. The last had me following a stripper-slash-ninja through the city to find her baseball hero boyfriend for an airlift out of a yankees game. I can see the whimsy. I know that really, really bad jokes are ALSO a staple of the genre. Just, the execution didn't work for me.

The biggest problem, the one that made me stop at 3 adventures, is my own fault. Unfortunately, I am not a heterosexual male who is so easily distracted by his penis that he will forget about the apocalypse for a little T and A. In the stripper-slash-ninja storyline, every chapter involves me oggling my would-be savior. I suppose the fact that she's a martial arts expert means that she is "empowered" or something, but really? Yes, the kick-ass girl is a trope of horror and sci-fi. Geeks really like half-naked ladies who can weild a katana, I guess. But that doesn't make it right.

The thing is, there's a subtle difference between honouring established traditions in a genre, and just repeating them, and Brailler doesn't add anything new. I found this book frustrating, and not very fun. The adventures start out bland, you can't make any good decisions, and then they just go crazy without actually going crazy. The book is challenging in all of the wrong ways. I will give it one and a half severed fingers out of five.

Friday, January 20, 2012


So, I work in the temporary employment industry, which is probably giving me a lot of insight into that aspect of equality, equity, etc (if so, I'm not sure what, but I've gotta be absorbing something on some level). I deal with a lot of different people, mostly by phone, clients and employees (temp and perm), and usually talk about payroll, but sometimes I need to pass on information about taxes, employment insurance, garnishments, etc.

Today, after I'd answered a lady's questions about some documents she's requested, out of the blue she suddenly started asking me why we keep letting immigrants into our country to steal all of our jobs. Cripes.

Listen, if you want good service, please try not to rope your phone rep into a discussion about politics. I mean, it's a risk she took I suppose. It's possible that I might have been completely on her side and agreed with her and we'd laugh about how awful it is for us white middle class Canadian folks and how all those brown people keep trying to take our country from us (which we kinda took from some other brown people - who are still here! Maybe they might be sympathetic to her concerns about foreigners coming in and ruining the place).

Instead, I reminded her that we have it pretty good here, and that I can't really fault someone for wanting to move here for a better life for their family (or whatever). She started going off about being "born and raised" here, as if that makes our tax dollars any better, and I told her that I was also born and raised here, but that I was raised to "share".

She wanted to debate, but I cut her off and said, finally, that I wasn't able to discuss immigration policies with her and she should have a good day. I feel like maybe I could have tried harder to get her to see my side of things, but it just really pissed me off. This lady goes around feeling like her entitlement is being taken away by people new to this country, and who knows what little microaggressions she might be inflicting on a daily basis. I'm not perfect, by any means, but I feel like this lady was incredibly rude to try to engage me in her prejudices, and I, as a good Canadian, cannot abide rudeness.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Boston and Zombies

So, no updates lately, because I spent the weekend in Boston with my partner's gay uncles, which was divine. It did remind me how much I hate US news, though. Few things are worse than sitting in an airport while your flight has been cancelled and having to listen to republican pundits talk about how greedy union workers are for wanting a say in how they are managed and what they are paid.

Well, I guess actually being one of those workers and seeing your rights be eroded each and every year would be worse, so. . .

In other news, I have been incredibly remiss in my zombie reportage. This is in part due to a lack of new zombie swag (I got a nifty t-shirt for Christmas and that's it). Luckily, I've started reading "Deadline" the second book in the zombie-political-thriller trilogy that I started a while back with my review of Feed, so I'll post something about that in a few days, I hope.

I'm sure I'll find something interesting to write about in the meantime....

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Back to School

So, I have now returned to the hallowed halls of education for another semester of business-oriented continuing ed classes. I'm starting on the path to being a certified HR manager, which is probably the best fit for me in the business world if I ever get sick of doing customer service (sick of customer service? Say it ain't so!). In an ideal world I'd like to work in diversity management, but I'm discovering that I really like organisational behaviour topics as well, so we'll see.

This is my 2nd of 6 courses I need to complete for my certificate. The first was on Org behaviour, and while I really enjoyed the class and did well (A-, yay!) it was a bit of a slog in some areas. For me, the biggest hurtle is dealing with the vast differences in experience with my classmates. I've been working in an office environment for over 10 years, and have been working in the employment/staffing industry for 4, so I have some experience with the issues, but a good half my classmates have yet to even work their first jobs (some may not have started shaving yet), and last semester it would have been generous to say they were "naive".

This class looks like it will be better: I'm not the oldest in the class, for one thing. Also, there is a good mix of people from a variety of backgrounds, but also including people with HR backgrounds and experience. With luck, some of that experience will rub off on me.

I'm looking forward to learning new things - I've always done well in classroom-type environments - and gaining some more familiarity with how employment works. I'll be especially interested in the labour-relations segment, as some people have suggested I might do well in that field. And it's just really nice to be taking notes and learning stuff again; makes me wistfully daydream about one day returning to school full time.

I'm also hoping that class might provide grist for the blogging mill. I am experiencing a slow-down in my writing.

Last, I've added Queereka to my blog list. A project of Skepchick, it looks to be a bastion of rationalism for those of us interested in Queer issues. Check it out!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Transgender Kids - The Passionate Eye on CBC

Over the weekend I watched a re-run of a documentary on CBC news world's doc show "The Passionate Eye" about transgender kids, and I've got mixed feelings about the documentary.

It started with a disclaimer/warning that the narrator was going to use birth pronouns for the four trans kids in the documentary, which was kind of a warning sign, since one of the ways that trans people are discriminated against is with people using the wrong pronouns.

The documentary itself, when the narrator wasn't screwing up pronouns, was pretty good. All four of the families seemed incredibly supportive of their kids, which I can't imagine is very common. And the kids - because they are kids, maybe - were all awesome and adorable in the ways that kids are. I liked that they were given a lot of time to speak for themselves, and that the doc emphasized how "normal" (for lack of a better word) these kids are. I also appreciated how they let one kid show that she played with all kinds of toys, not just the toys that we assume are for girls...which matches most childhoods (including my own) that I know of. Maybe there are differences in play styles, but I played with legos and cars, but also with my little ponies and dolls, usually my cousins', when they were available. Kids like to play, and toys are toys to them.

The pronoun thing really grated. REALLY grated. I suppose I can see a rationale for it, as the program kept repeating how sometimes children changed their minds (but how many children change their minds? What are the differences between kids for whom the gender thing is a phase and for whom it is part of their identity? These questions are not dealt with), so maybe they hoped to avoid ambiguity by using the birth gender. But this is all wrong. There was no ambiguity in these kids' lives. They were living essentially as their desired genders and had been for years, with some exceptions made to probably avoid backlash from society, and their families called them by their correct genders throughout. It was just the narrator who stubbornly insisted on calling Chris, the teenage boy who loved that he had to shave at least once a week, a "she", and the adorable dancing red-headed girl (blanking on the names) a "he".

I don't know if it was worse that the narrator also stuck to this when talking about a grown man, Chris' mentor, who had undergone some elements of sex reassignment therapy and had been living as a man for years. But to the narrator, this person was also a "she" because he had been born that way forty years ago.

The biggest strength of the documentary, other than the kids themselves, was in showing how much these parents loved their children, and how committed they were to allowing their kids to have full lives by accepting and loving them as their children. A documentary on trans kids could very easily - more easily - show the more common, sadly, outcome where their identities are not understood or welcomed. Those stories still need to be told, but seeing how some families are able to demonstrate unconditional love and support, showing the ways that they do this, is worthy as well.

Documentaries like this one are so frustrating in that they can get some things, critical things, so right, but then they get other areas so completely wrong. To someone completely unfamiliar with trans issues, watching this documentary might make "the pronoun thing" seem even more confusing. Why does this mother call her child a "she" but the narrator, who we must trust to guide us through the documentary's world, keep using "he"?

In a perfect world, I would love for the producers of Transgendered Kids to go back to the footage and make a new, better documentary. The messages that need to get out are in there, but were really fumbled in what was probably post-production. But damn, those kids were great.

Friday, January 6, 2012


Okay, so, seriously and for reals:

At this point if you doubt that sexism is a real and pressing issue, if you find yourself asking for "evidence" of real sexism, if you make a comment that your female friends say they've never experienced any sexism in their lives and so therefore there is no sexism, at least not HERE, or at least not REAL, SERIOUS sexism like they have over there....

You're an asshole and you're not a skeptic.

There's about 50 plus years of pretty solid evidence and research on sexism and the like. Look into it and get back to us.