31 March 2007

Keeping It Real review

Keeping It Real by Justina Robson

This is a fun book. Lila Black, our cyborg, spook heroine, is currently undercover as bodyguard for elf rock star Zal, the best thing to hit rock music since electricity but whose fellows elves show their appreciation with death threats. Lila travels not only through Otopia (Earth, the human domain) but transdimensionally to Alfheim (the elf domain), trying to keep Zal's pretty head and vocal cords attached to the rest of him. There is love and a whole lot of lust, racism and revolutionaries, rock and roll, an an elf who sings like Mick Jagger and a bionic soldier who gets back in touch with her humanity. I didn't think I'd like this novel and honestly I still think the prose is inelegant, but the story is an intense joyride that screeches through sexual tension, a political morass, impending doom, and then more sex and doom, and skids to a halt on the other side with a great big whooping "HELL YEAH!"

One of the cool things Justina Robson does in this novel is break down the racism common to fantasies with multiple "races" (which are often in fact species). Lila starts out our story hating elves -- all elves, indiscriminately -- despite her knowledge that racism is bad and she has to deal with elves anyway. There are even very good reasons that Lila began hating elves, which you'll have to read the book to find out.

And then Lila goes to Alfheim, befriends an elf or two, sees how the elf stereotypes are wrong in some places. Where some of the stereotypes hold up, such as that elves hate living in Otopia, she discovers why: in this case, elves are such a part of the Alfheim ecology that being removed from it is somewhat like always being too cold. Robson portrays this breakdown of Lila's prejudices well. A bit preachy on occasion, but the message is strong: overcoming racism, reducing prejudice and discrimination, require as much interaction between the groups in question as possible. Lila willingly travels with and among elves in their homeland; she becomes friends of some and enemies with others, but she learns that elves are not a homogenous, monolithic group. An elf is an individual person, not a representative of some monstrous elf organism. The value of a book that portrays large, hot-button issues as solvable problems is obvious.

On the other hand, I would have liked to see more development of the relationship that Lila and Zal's bizarre, frantic interactions are certainly cementing into. Through the intervention of a great deal of mortal peril and magically intensified sexual duelling/foreplay, they have skipped right over the dinner-and-a-movie stage of relationship-building and gone straight to the post-climactic-explosion sex. (Think The Fifth Element. Think The Italian Job. Think James Bond.)

There are a lot of personal and gender issues they'll have to deal with. Near the beginning of their intense courtship, Zal angrily predicts that "after a few more sessions [of Lila saving his life]...I can feel grateful and emasculated and throw myself into further extremes to prove my virility" (119). And that's more or less what happens by the end, except that Zal doesn't seem to mind so much by then.* HoweveLinkr, Zal's inability to bench-press a sequoia is matched by Lila's emotional IQ of 12. I think they could either make a good go of it or let it blow up in their faces.** I'll be interested to see how that evolves.

Overall, I suggest giving Keeping It Real a read. Especially as you come off of a semester of hellish paper-writing from college, Robson writes a great adventure story for relaxing after finals. You can find it at all the big-name bookstores (B&N, Amazon, Borders), but I suggest giving your money to Overstock (who offer a variety of fair trade goods), Better World Books (who ship green and donate part of your purchase to literacy efforts), Powell's Books, or your local independent bookstore. By and large, it is not more expensive to shop locally or eco-friendly. You can also price-compare across the Internet at BookFinder and Campus1.

*Could be the nookie.
**Stating the forfeit was probably the stupidest thing Robson did in this book. It guarantees a happy/angstful ending even beyond the chicklit-ness and ruins all the suspense and curiosity of figuring out how the Game will end.

28 March 2007

Caribbean: E.T. Paradise

OMG, kids. Have you looked at the Bahamas on Google Earth? Go do it now. It looks like this.

Yep, that's right, and its freaking me out. That famously clear Caribbean water is truly transparent that you can see down to the ocean floor through it... from space.

I can muster only a two-word response: Road Trip. Who's with me now?

27 March 2007

Long post about academic disaster and emotional draining

I like the way this man's brain works.

And now I have to complain and freak the fuck out, so if you're in a good mood, skip to the next blog on your flist.

I hate this goddamn semester. I know that every semester I say that, and I also say "This project/class is kicking my ass" and it's always true. College is not my thing. I hate classes, I hate stupid busywork, I hate giant-ass research projects that make or break your grade, I hate grades, and I hate the institutionalized boredom wrapped up in overwork that so clearly defines School. I have loathed school since the third grade, if not before. This is not where I ever want to find myself again in my life. If Albus Dumbledore (RIP) walked through my front door and told me I was to enroll in Hogwarts for the next seven years because I'm magic, I'd be hard pressed not to rip this throat out with my teeth.*

And this semester is in fact worse than most. I have not dropped out of college, which is good, but I'm running GPA numbers and grade percentages a lot more than normal, trying to see just how badly I can afford to do in my classes, and it's not looking good. Usually there's one class that I just can't manage, and a couple of weeks where I honestly cannot complete all the assigned work -- but now it's all my classes I can't handle and all my weeks I'm dropping necessary things to do other necessary things. And too many of those "necessary things" are along the lines of "get drunk with roommates and watch CoS in Spanish because I can't even face the tonnage of work that is even now toppling over on top of me and dear God I want to have something in this semester that I can say I enjoyed."** I have barely hung out with my Whit friends (which is, sadly, not unusual; another thing I hate about school).

Tomorrow I have to meet with my Seminar prof to explain to her that I've scarcely gotten beyond background research on the paper that makes up 75% of my grade, and then beg her for either a topic change or an incomplete, neither of which is all that good with three-and-a-half weeks left to pull this bastard together and then a summer full of not-school.

It's bad, kids. Even my drop-out semester was better than this. I'm taking my two senior-level classes, plus Science Core (and Arabic). I'm madly planning for leaving the country twice this year and scrounging money to make that possible (ie. grant proposals). My Jordan paperwork and Gilman scholarship packet are due the 3rd, and thank almighty fucking powers that be that I have profs who like me enough to do recommendations on that short of notice. My thesis is due halfway through the unit, on the 9th (final due the 15th), instead of at the very end of the semester as per usual. My Seminar paper is due the 18th, also obscenely early for a term paper. After that, there's a paper on serial killers due the 27th, presenting my Seminar paper sometime that same week, and a presentation on Angela Carter, none of which I've even started dealing with. I have no finals (except Arabic, which will not be graded by Motasim and hence is going to be hell), only papers and presentations. I'm drowning in work. I have no idea how to get any of it done, let alone all of it, and don't even talk to me about turning in quality. Last year I thought I had a shot at graduating Summa Cum Laude (3.75 GPA); now I'll be glad to get Magna (3.50) -- and that's including a semester abroad in which grades don't transfer (THANK GOD).

Can I even explain to you how very, very fucked I am academically and emotionally right now? Spring is popping out all over even in Fuckin' Indiana, and it is not making it better. A bit happier, but my SAD-addled brain is not soaring in delight as if usually does this time of year. I want the semester to be over now so that I can forget it ever happened and move on to things I like, things I love, things that make me happy and that I'm passionate about. There's a part of me that really doesn't fucking care that I've already sunk three years and loads of money into this bullshit and that I only have one semester left next year on this campus; it just wants out. The people who tell you these are the best years of your life are fucked in the head.

*Now, personal tutoring on the side would be fine for something as awesome as magic. But no school. No classes, no bells, no term papers, none of this fucking bullshit. Besides, that means Voldie is real, and if that is true then I had better learn magic, sharp-shooting, and wilderness survival pretty damn fast.


22 March 2007

Best Rube Goldberg EVER

It's got a water wheel, a dart board, an empty wine bottle, a slinky, CD dominoes...seriously, it's worth three minutes of your time. Click here for the video.

21 March 2007

Money for Nothing, Words for Free

Oh my God, kids, there's a Fulbright for writing. They'll pay for you to go abroad to cool places and write cool things. Oh my God. Travel+Writing+Free Money=OH MY GOD

16 March 2007

Civil Unions in Mexico

Can I get a hell yeah for Mexico City's new civil unions laws? In general, Mexico is a lot more conservative on this issue than the States is, and here we have the first, brand spanking new same-sex civil unions. I'm thrilled. A lot of European countries have already passed national legislation allowing civil unions or even outright marriage. (Some have also done just the opposite and legally banned such innovations. And others are battling it out much as the States is doing.) Honestly, I think that eventually this is a done deal. Barring major disaster in Congress or a sudden outbreak of gay serial killers, I think the States is hitting the point where there's a decent gay rights movement that can create change. At the very least, it has demonstrated that gay people exist, are not going away, and will just yell louder if anyone tries to silence them. Making us part of what America is -- that's half the battle. Now our governing bodies, including church groups and lobbies and every voting block there is, have to deal with our existence. If we do this right, we might be able to make the next generation's lives that much less hellish.

13 March 2007

The Riches: Pilot

In case you live under a bigger rock than I do, Eddie Izzard's new TV series The Riches premiered last night at 10 pm on FX. He plays Wayne, the father in a family of white gypsies who witness the death of a couple in a car crash, and then take over the couple's house and lives.

It sounds creepy, and in some ways it is. And you know what? The characters agree. Dahlia, the mother who just got paroled, refuses to go along with her husband's insane scheme. The kids are respectively freaked, apathetic, and have very few lines (in order of age). The characters are amazing. The set-up sounds far more contrived than it played out on the screen.

And this show seems to have been written just for Eddie Izzard. There's a bit where he randomly recites poetry, his youngest son likes wearing dresses, there's some random bad French, and Eddie Izzard plays it hard, like this role matters. If you've seen All the Queen's Men, you know what I'm talking about. But more hardcore.

I am very, very sad that I won't be able to keep up with this show upon return to my house under a rock where we get no cable. I'll have to rent it on DVD.

11 March 2007

Wasted Weed

Someone in California is wasting weed -- the States' number one cash crop. It is a sad affair. I hope the cop who found this poor, forgotten, abandoned cannabis was smart enough to snag a sample before he called in the find. Oh, what a sad day this is.

And in other news, I'm on spring break at last, despite much research to do for my pirates paper. So let's hang out. Seriously, I need this kind of break right now. Let's go ride bikes.

And take the quiz! Come on, you know I wrote it, so you know it'll be funny. I know there are more of you out there than just Anna.