Friday, April 11, 2014

[Book Review] Losing It

Losing It : How We Popped Our Cherry Over the Last 80 Years / Kate Monro (Powell's Books)
In an increasingly sexualised world, how we lose our virginity remains an untold story. Inspired by her Cosmopolitan award-nominated blog, The Virginity Project, Kate Monro sets out to ask men and women from every walk of life, how did it happen for you? Losing It brings together an astonishing collection of stories.

From the experiences of Edna, who lost her virginity in 1940 aged 25, to Charlie, a young, disabled punk rocker whose first-time experience many able-bodied people would envy, Kate reveals the poignant, funny and often surprising truth about other people’s most intimate sexual stories.
Reminiscent on some level of My Secret Garden, Losing It tells stories of discovering sexuality and intimacy over the years.  The chapters are loosely categorized into different scopes of experience and discussions of virginity, in particular the range of what people define as loss of virginity and the reasons that individuals have kept or given up their v-card.  Losing It also stands out in the stories of sexual discovery among early teens, perhaps long standing at an age that most adults are uncomfortable with.  The stories are more intimate than erotic, with an emphasis on the whys and thoughts and not just the act itself.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

[Book Review] The Truth About Alice

The Truth About Alice / Jennifer Mathieu (Powell's Books)
Everyone knows Alice slept with two guys at one party. When Healy High star quarterback, Brandon Fitzsimmons, dies in a car crash, it was because he was sexting with Alice. Ask anybody.  Rumor has it Alice Franklin is a slut. It's written all over the "slut stall" in the girls' bathroom: "Alice had sex in exchange for math test answers" and "Alice got an abortion last semester." After Brandon dies, the rumors start to spiral out of control. In this remarkable debut novel, four Healy High students tell all they "know" about Alice--and in doing so reveal their own secrets and motivations, painting a raw look at the realities of teen life. But in this novel from Jennifer Mathieu, exactly what is the truth about Alice? In the end there's only one person to ask: Alice herself.
The Truth About Alice tells a story about adolescences and rumors.  We learn Alice's story through the experiences of her classmates as stories and events are shared and snowball out of control.  The narrators show flaws and the myopia of youth, each with a distinctly different voice and experience.  Piece by piece we learn the truth about the rumors, but never from Alice herself.  I found the story uncomfortable to read but not due to flaws in the writing style.  Rather the treatment of Alice herself and the propagation of misinformation gives the story its dissonance.

The Truth About Alice will resonate with those familiar with The Scarlett Letter or with the movie Easy A.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

[Book Review] Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore

Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore / Walter Mosley (Powell's Books)

I'm left feeling conflicted about this book, and I can't say whether I liked it or not.  There is nothing wrong with Mosley's prose or his pacing.  The exact passage of time is a little difficult to follow, but since we're following the story of someone in a state of emotional shock and turmoil, this lack of temporal grounding fits.

Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore evokes memories of the "golden age of porn" - thoughts of Debbie Does Dallas rise to the surface just from the title, and a director named Linda Love makes one think of Linda Lovelace in a moment of painful irony.  The problem is that these names come with expectations and that have little to do with the story beyond a connection to pornography.  As a reader I found this dissonance jarring and distracting from the story itself.

Then comes the concept of Debbie Dare herself, a veteran of adult films at 31, and with over a decade in the industry.  I believe her concept as a person, but not as the porn icon.  Making it as a household name in porn, particularly for such a long period of time and past the age most glorified in pornography and images of beauty, is hard.  Some women have done it, Jenna Jameson for example has built herself a media empire, and they have done so through hard work and brilliant marketing and diversification.  Think and try to name 5 to 10 women who have made a real name for themselves and occupation in pornography outside of a short window, Annie Sprinkle, Tristan Taromino, Nina Hartley come to mind, all of whom have built a career expanded beyond fornication in front of a camera.

Debbie's life in the sex industry is to perform her scenes on set, appear at the occasional expo, and collect her pay.   She "stands out" as a dark skinned woman who wears blue contacts, keeps her hair platinum blond, and sports a small "tattoo" on her cheek.  While the combination is striking, contacts and wigs (or dye) are easy to come by, particularly in an industry where performers spend hours being remade before a shoot.  I haven't done any searches on porn sites, but I'm pretty sure I could easily find a handful of women with dark skin and blond wigs/hair in without trying very hard.  I could also be wrong on this, but I'm not sure quite how much her eye color is really noticed by people watching her films.

The story of Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore is that of a woman dealing with grief and emotions, some of which have been held in check for 15 years, as she attempts to change her life from porn star to "normal" in the wake of her husband's death.  Not because she feels what she has done is wrong, but because a catalyst of events have changed how she views herself and her life.  Debbie suffers from depression without knowing or understanding the emotional fugue she wades through, re-establishing and re-defining relationships in the aftermath of her upheaval.  In many ways, at 31, Debbie is finally growing up.

The supporting cast vary in depth with no relation on their place in the story.  We meet alienated family, caring friends, petty thugs, and dangerous men and women.  The conflicts vary in depth of connection as well, including one premeditated crime of passion (I can't think of any other way to describe it) that seems a bit extreme and that exists as a literal and figurative severing mechanism between Debbie's old and new lives.

The book is reflective and introspective, a good read for those who like stories of personal resolution and change.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Doubleday, a division of Random House, LLC; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Friday, April 4, 2014

[Book Review] The Fan Fiction Studies Reader

The Fan Fiction Studies Reader / Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse (eds.)

The Fan Fiction Studies Reader is a scholarly look at the who, what, and why's of fan-fiction.  The authors look at reasons fans create these works, be it reflections of gender politics, personal expression, or literary explorations.  Even beyond that the authors look at the development and growth of fan fiction, and the relationships between the fans, the shows, and the producers.  The authors touch on different areas of fandom, but most commonly discuss the body of work of Kirk/Spock fan fiction.

An interesting read, both for those curious about fan fiction and those part of fan fiction communities.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Link Smorgasbord, March 2014

Should You Sue Your eBook Reviewers?
I mean besides the gut response of "no" or "are you shitting me?" in response to that question, the article itself is pretty well written.  In the past year I've begun following a number of reviewers who have sharp wit and don't pull their punches when reviewing books.  During this time I've come across some incredibly poor behavior on the parts of authors who attack these reviewers for their very well thought out and explained reviews.  There are now a number of authors I don't intend to read because of their behavior in this regard.  Yes, getting negative reviews sucks, but calling someone a troll for a reasoned review does not end well, and I find that reading the negative reviews to often be just as informative as the positive ones.

The Rebranding Of SOPA: Now Called 'Notice And Staydown'
I'm not sure if anyone is surprised that they're trying again.

After Building A Powerful Recommendation System For Netflix, This Guy Wants To Help You Find Your Next Favorite Book
So, I don't know about you, but while Netflix does have some cool stuff, and some hilariously specific sub-sections, I don't find it all that great for finding my next favorite movie or TV series.  Either I go to Netflix with something specific in mind or I browse through the "thirteen channels of shit on the T.V. to choose from" (thank you, Pink Floyd) with a minimal success rate.  Maybe I'm just picky.  With that in mind, this quote made me snicker a bit uncharitably:

"And with the number of books Entitle customers sift through in search of their next great read, why not use a computer to help you eliminate irrelevant stuff you don't like?"

However, I'm interested in seeing what is built.  There are some interesting recommendation engines out there.  Amazon's is probably the most famous, but they're not the only one.  Of course, as a librarian I often act as a living recommendation system, but that's a different story.


Gender-specific books demean all our children. So the Independent on Sunday will no longer review anything marketed to exclude either sex 
The title gives a pretty good idea of what this article is about, but it is still a great read.  When books are labeled "for boys" or "for girls" there is a whole range of assumptions being made and ultimately the child as a reader is injured.  The gender of the main character doesn't make the book only appeal to one gender, and for how many years now have we been fighting gender stereotypes that women are only happy in the kitchen (and that men never are)?  Kids know what they're into (and based on my time in school libraries, Star Wars ranks pretty high on that list), so if a boy wants to read a books about dinosaurs or trucks they'll look for those.  If a child wants to read a book about an undervalued child who learns tricks to overcome hurdles, then Matilda fits pretty well even if publishers are pushing a bright pink covered version "for girls."

There is also an awesome follow up to that announcement by the literary editor based on the various questions submitted to them here.

Doge Decimal Classification
This is making me laugh way more than it should, but I can't help it.

Switch Basics: On Windows, I used to...
I largely use Windows, I really want to explore more in some of the Linux distros, and then every now and then I have to use a Mac and remember how to work around a single button mouse and dragging a drive to the trash bin to eject it.  Here's a nice document provided by Apple for things you may have no clue how to do when switching from Windows to iOS.

Dropbox clarifies its policy on reviewing shared files for DMCA issues
This article is worth taking a look at even just for information about what scanning of files Dropbox is doing.  The short story is your files might not exactly be yours, and that your expectation of privacy is shaky.  For people who use Dropbox and are concerned about some of the things they are doing there are other options, but there's no guarantee that the alternatives won't change how they play the game as well.

Spyware increasingly a part of domestic violence
Somehow the use of spyware in domestic violence never occurred to me, and it's an important concern to keep in mind along with all of the other vulnerabilities out there.

What happens with digital rights management in the real world?
A well written, articulate article on DRM and security.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

[Book Review] Nexus

Nexus / Ramez Naam (Powell's Books)

The singularity is nigh, and we are it.  What happens when technology allows us to transcend the bounds of humanity?  Who controls it, who uses it?  Do we fear it, embrace it, improve ourselves, or abuse it?

Kade is a brilliant scientist and dreamer, and is one of the minds behind a breakthrough in an experimental nano-drug allowing mind to mind networking.  They've transmuted Nexus from an ephemeral temporary experience to an operating system that can be fully integrated into your brain, complete with the ability to run programs that effect your whole body.  He and his friends see Nexus as an opportunity to improve life for everyone, increasing empathy and knowledge.  Unfortunately the United States government sees the dangers of Nexus and none of the benefit, marking he research of Kade and his companions as a threat to humanity and stripping them of basic legal protection for their perceived crimes.

Now Kade is a reluctant asset for the Emerging Risks Directorate (ERD), with his friends' freedom riding on his compliance in targeting one of the greatest technological minds in existence.  Someone Kade admires for her brilliant innovation and vision, and someone who the ERD believe is responsible for illegal, humanity threatening research as well as the use of such research to manipulate governments and incite terror.

But Kade's not the only one experimenting with Nexus, Nexus is not illegal everywhere, and nothing is as clear cut as it seems.  Is humanity on the brink of evolution or on the brink of a war between humans and post-humans?


Nexus was the Virtual Speculation pick for March, next month we will be reading Alif : the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson.  In the mean time I hope this review piques your interest and that the discussion questions are of use.

Discussion Fodder:
  • "Kade had never asked anyone their sign before.  He supposed in a way he still hadn't.  The software had done that with his mouth and lungs.  Did that count?" (pg. 9).  At various points throughout the book someone's behavior and action is influenced or completely controlled by Nexus applications, is it still you doing something when this happens?
  • What do you think about the parallels between Nexus and LSD or counter-culture?  Do you see parallels in the Nexus party experiments and Ken Kesey & The Merry Prankster's Acid Tests, or between Timothy Leary's "Turn on, tune in, drop out" and the "Close Door and Open Mind As You Enter" sign at the party?
  • There are many different stances on ethics concerning Nexus, the responsibilities of a scientist, and the sharing of information.  Kade repeatedly feels that as a scientist he must take responsibility for the repercussions of his actions, but how far does that go?  Some believe that information must be free, others believe that the dangers outweigh the good.  Is it ethical to limit the growth of humanity, the quality of life?  On the flip side, is it ethical to release technology that allows for the complete exploitation of someone's body?  Who is responsible for the atrocities in-acted with this technology?
  • Do you think that the fictional history is plausible as technology advances? What do you think of some of the technology in Nexus (such as home blood test cancer screening)?
  • What do you think about the decision to assign Sam to the Nexus missions?  Is she the one who could best understand the dangers or is she the weakest link?  Is it ethical for her to be on the mission?
  • A strong case is made for the spiritual potential for something like Nexus, particularly by the Buddhist monks.  How might Nexus effect other religions and spiritualities?  How might it effect concepts of zen and nirvana?  Is a single humanity nirvana?
  • What is the line that separates human from trans/post human?  What do you think are the implications and repercussions of this "evolution'?  Is the danger in the change occurring quickly or slowly?
  • Is the opportunity for group intelligence an elevation or a danger?  Are we looking at a pathway to greater thought and creativity or to a hive mind or borg?
  • "Scientists have to show respect for the law, Professior," Franks replied.  "Perhaps the law should show respect for science instead, Doctor." (pg. 155).  Where is the line that law should control science, and where is the line where science should control the law?
  • "But through history, when people have had the chance to use technology to improve their own lives, they've done a lot of good along with the harm.  The good has more than outweighed the bad.  Dramatically so.  That's the only reason we're here today." (pg. 274)  What do you think about this statement?  Is it true?  Optimistic?  Misguided?
  • "We find that the Constitution guarantees protections only to human persons.  Non-human persons such as those created by the combination of non-human genes with human genes, by the integration of technology that affords non-human abilities, or by any significant deviation from the existing spectrum of human characteristics, are afforded no special protections.  As such, Congress and the states may legislate the status of non-human persons without regard to the Constitutional protections afforded to humans." (pg. 288) What do you think about the potential for abuse of this ruling (even with today's technology)?
  • What are the implications of children born with Nexus in their system?  What problems would be faced in integrating "posthuman" children into a still "human" society?
  • Is technology advancement a 'cold war'?  What do you think about the 'arms race' and escalation that takes place in Nexus?

Friday, March 28, 2014

[Book Review] Peacemaker

Peacemaker / Marianne De Pierres (Powell's Books)
Virgin Jackson is the senior ranger in Birrimun Park – the world’s last natural landscape, overshadowed though it is by a sprawling coastal megacity. She maintains public safety and order in the park, but her bosses have brought out a hotshot cowboy to help her catch some drug runners who are affecting tourism. She senses the company is holding something back from her, and she’s not keen on working with an outsider like Nate Sixkiller.
When an imaginary animal from her troubled teenage years reappears, Virgin takes it to mean one of two things: a breakdown (hers!) or a warning. When the dead bodies start piling up around her and Nate, she decides on the latter.
Something terrible is about to happen in the park and Virgin and her new partner are standing in its path…
Set in a potential near-future, Peacemaker delivers blending of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Western through the experiences of Virgin Jackson.  As an American, Australia brings to mind large cities separated by large stretches of land only occupied by small towns.  This is not the Australia that Virgin Jackson lives in, but is one that she would love, one with fewer people and where nature exists outside of a reserve.

It started out like a normal day for Virgin, and probably would have stayed that way had she not ducked back inside the park after closing to retrieve her dropped phone.  A chance encounter with intruders leaves her with a dead body, a missing person, and running late to pick up the investigator Nate Sixkiller from the airport.  Things just get more complicated for Virgin, who is not one to take anything lying down.  The lead investigator on the incident has it in for Virgin, people keep trying to kill her, the bounds of reality seem to be slipping, and Nate seems to know way more than he is willing to explain.

The technology is advanced but stays within the realms of what we could be building towards rather than relying on pure fantastic, and the story integrates elements of mythology and spirituality without dissolving into magic.  Virgin Jackson and Nate Sixkiller are strongly realized characters, with their own flaws and strengths.

The ending could be a bit too perfectly tied together, when the hidden players are revealed, or it could be considered a fantastic twist.  I recommend reading and making up your own mind.

Peacemaker is the first book in a series, and is also available as a digital comic.  See more and other titles at the author's website (http://www.mariannedepierres.com/).

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.