Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Review: Insurgent

Insurgent (Divergent, #2)Insurgent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, here we are again, at the end of a second book in a series, and I've rated it slightly lower than the first book. Again, I say it's because the inner workings of this world (the factions, the Choosing, the Initiations and training) are no longer new. I think it's that kind of minutia that I find fascinating.

As the book began, I actually started to get a little bored. It could be because I had already read the first chapter of Insurgent as a "sneak preview" at the end of Divergent. But more than that, it quickly started to feel like an action movie. Now don't get me wrong; I love action movies. But I want to watch them, not read about them. Just as I started to feel this was going to be nothing more than running and shooting guns, two things happened that both the characters in the book and I had forgotten about: (view on Goodreads to read see the spoiler) The former felt like a much more important plot development than the latter, which sort of feels like "shock value."

It's only about 7/8 through the book where we really find out what we're fighting for, and even then, it's still vague. It was unclear to me (until the very, very end) if Tris knew all of the information from Marcus, et al, but just hadn't shared it with the reader, or if she was flying blind, too. It's only when those things ("THE information") are brought to light that the story becomes truly interesting again because it is no longer recycling old ideas and old conflicts.

Towards the end (during that same 7/8 period), I did find one "continuity" mistake, and that bothered me. It both is and is not a big deal. (spoiler on Goodreads) So someone dropped the ball on that one.

The book ends with a definite cliffhanger, and in a moment of truly good timing from the Universe, my turn on the wait list for Allegiant has come up just as I finished Insurgent. Needless to say, I am intrigued to see how this all ends.
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Monday, May 12, 2014

In Defense of The Big Bang Theory

Alright, Leonard is fed up with people trashing one of our favorite shows!  So the following rant is an attempt to refute claims that The Big Bang Theory is sexist, anti-women, and/or "nerd minstrel."

First:  Nerd Minstrel.

I must quote Wil Wheaton here, who, when asked this same question, said:
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and if someone believes that about Big Bang Theory, they’re certainly not obligated to watch it.

That said, I completely disagree with that assessment based on my knowledge of the writers and producers (all of whom are giant nerds), and the knowledge that the person who popularized that sentiment you referenced is deliberately provocative and kind of a jerk.
The writer in question is James Peter Gates, or "Jimmy the Saint" on SickChirpse.com.  And that's all I can say about him.  I've never heard of him before, and taking a glance at his writings (including his TBBT article), I can say that I doubt he and I see eye to eye on...almost anything.  What I can do is define "minstrel" or more specifically, "minstrel show."  According to Wikipedia (source of all knowledge), a "minstrel show"
 was an American entertainment consisting of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music, performed by white people in blackface or, especially after the Civil War, black people in blackface. Minstrel shows lampooned black people as dim-witted, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, happy-go-lucky, and musical.
So lampooning people of color (especially by white people) is BAD, I think we can all agree.  So I guess Gates is saying that non-nerds are lampooning nerds on a TV show.  I suppose, he's half right.  The actors who portray Sheldon, Leonard, Howard, and Raj are just that -- actors.  They may or may not also identify as "nerds," "geeks," "dorks," etc.  But people portraying people who they really aren't is the very nature of acting and television.  I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Gates is saying that non-nerd people "lampooning" nerds is the problem.  (I am not, however, going to address each of the characteristics the Wikipedia article addresses ["dim-witted," "lazy," etc.] as those clearly don't apply.)

And I guess I just don't see this.  I don't see it as portraying nerds in a negative light, let alone by people in "nerdface" (what would THAT even look like??).

I consider myself a nerd, geek, dork as well.  I enjoy many of the same hobbies and games and movies and things the characters on the show enjoy.  I do not find the jokes offensive to my nerd status.  I do not necessarily laugh "at" them.  My laughter is recognition of the situation.  My laughter signifies, "Oh yeah, I've had that happen!" or even "Oh man, I wish that could happen to me!"  It is not schadenfreude or even self-preservation ("Thank God that's you and not me!").  It is recognition, community, and overall joy.

I also feel that comparing the writing style of a single television show to an entire entertainment movement which exploited and was offensive to an entire race of people to be just slightly hyperbolic.  Just sayin'.

But like Wil Wheaton said, if you feel that The Big Bang Theory is somehow lampooning nerds and all of the jokes are at their expense in a hurtful and offensive manner, then by all means, you do not have to watch.  However, how many of you have watched the show?  How many of you out there have seen it and felt it matches Mr. Gates' description, and how many of you are simply repeating what you've heard other people say?  If you have watched, great!  If you haven't, then stop saying "It IS this," and start saying, "I've not watched it, but I don't think I'd like it."

Then there's this comment from Tumblr user lauriejuspeczyk:
If you don’t understand why people don’t like the big bang theory, once in an episode the cast was at a comic store browsing and a woman walked in, and one of the leads said “Is she lost?” and that was the joke.
Okay, at first I thought I was all over this one.  I thought this was referring to S02E20, "The Hofstadter Isotope," which is the first episode where we see the comic book store as a physical location, and Penny stops in.  However, I just watched said episode and this line of dialogue is never uttered.  Never fear!  This Leonard (not be to confused with Johnny Galecki's Leonard) is not to be daunted!

[Sidebar:  Big shout-out and "thank you!" to the Big Bang Theory Wiki which helped me find which episodes featured The Comic Center of Pasadena, a.k.a. "the comic book store."]

So I next went to Season 6, Episode 13 "The Bakersfield Expedition," which is probably one of my favorite episodes to date.  In this episode, the three female characters -- Penny, Bernadette, and Amy -- decide to check out some comic books.  If these things are so important to their partners, perhaps they should give them a chance?  They walk in and the line "Is she lost?" is again never uttered.

So it's hard to take a stand and/or defend something that didn't actually happen in an episode.  Please, if you find this episode, let me know -- either in the comments here or an "Ask" via Tumblr -- so I can watch it.

I'm a little sad because my defense of this scene was going to harken back to my very first night at my very first Comic Con *le sigh*  Another time, I suppose.

Lastly, the idea that The Big Bang Theory is sexist.  I thought I had read a user post somewhere saying the show tries to "put women in their place," and now I can't find that. Let's look at the female characters to determine if sexism is occurring.
Penny:  If sexism was possibly going to occur, it would start here.  Penny was the only female character for a long time, and a major premise of the show were here interactions with the boys across the hall. At first her character was an amalgam of stereotypes:  she's blonde, boozy, sexually promiscuous, a struggling actress/waitress, without a college education, and from Omaha, NE.  If anything, I could get offended about the Nebraska thing, having been born there myself.

However, she's also in a loving relationship with one of the "nerds," did start taking college classes (because she wanted to), has used the science she's picked up around the guys in conversations with other people, and is no longer a waitress.  She's also an entrepreneur (S02E18 "The Work Song Nanocluster," S04E12 "The Bus Pants Utilization").  She and Sheldon have a sweetly complicated friendship as well, part friendship, part owner/pet, part parent/child.  He's driven her to the ER (and he HATES driving), and she, of course, has sung "Soft Kitty" to him.

Also, one of the fun things about the show's writers is their ability to poke fun at themselves.  In S02E19, "The Dead Hooker Extrapolation," Penny hates a fellow actress for all of the same characteristics I listed above, and we're able to see the depth that makes her good person and friend, not some shallow floozy (like the aforementioned actress).  Also, while Penny does not necessarily like comic books, she did spend quite a bit of time playing World of Warcraft (and enjoying it! S02E03 "The Barbarian Sublimation").
Bernadette:  Bernadette is probably my favorite of the three.  She's all of 4'11" with a squeaky, high-pitched voice and a violent streak (probably why I love her).  She also disproves the possible stereotype about waitresses.  She started off working at the Cheesecake Factory with Penny (who set her up with Howard, BTW), working her way through school.  She's a brilliant scientist working for a large pharmaceutical company, and she is the bread-winner for her family.

I suppose you could say she "wear the pants" in her marriage with Howard, if you wanted to use such a term, but this show never falls into that annoying, wife-as-nag-husband-is-henpecked trope like Everyone Loves Raymond or Home Improvement did.  She is fiercely loyal to her spouse (S06E09 "The Parking Spot Escalation") and to her friends (S07E13 "The Occupation Recalibration").
So how is this sexist?
Amy Farrah Fowler:  she's a fucking neurobiologist!  She's also very well-rounded; she enjoys both Chaucer and playing the harp.  She has her own apartment and her own car, so she clearly knows how to manage her funds.  And don't forget:  when she and Sheldon first began their relationship, she was just as analytical, literal, and standoffish as he is.  Their relationship has changed and evolved, just like Bernadette and Howard's, and Penny and Leonard's -- like all good relationships (and writing) should.
So, again, I'm afraid I don't see how the show is sexist.  Do these three women enjoy comic books?  Not necessarily, no.  Does the show say that NO WOMEN enjoy comic books?  Absolutely not.  In fact, Raj met his (now ex-) girlfriend, Lucy, in the comic book store (S06E16 "The Tangible Affection Proof").  Additionally, in "The Bakersfield Expedition," these women do take the time to explore comic books and actually have very involved discussions/arguments about them.

The long and short of it is, nothing I say here will convince you to watch the show if you've decided not to.  If you have watched it and decided you don't like it, nothing I say will convince you otherwise.  You don't have to like everything, and you and I don't have to like the same things.  But please stop badmouthing the show and saying it's things it's not, especially when the proof is lacking.

And how here is a clip of one of my other favorite episodes, E02E11 "The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis."  Penny's gift proves that she pays attention to what Leonard and Sheldon like because say, for instance, you've never watched an episode of Star Trek in your life (I know it's hard to believe, but such people do exist).  And then you start hearing about it from friends and acquaintances.  And you hear characters' and actors' names (like Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Leonard Nimoy, etc.) tossed around.  You would REALLY have to be on your game to put all of that together AND recognize Leonard Nimoy currently, as an elderly man, when out in public.  It's like my friends who talk sports a lot.  I hear the names, I know the team names, but I wouldn't be able to pick any of them out of a line-up.  So what Penny did is actually quite impressive (and Jim Parsons' acting in this scene is just phenomenal). 


Monday, May 5, 2014

Review: Cress

Cress (The Lunar Chronicles, #3)Cress by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One phrase comes to mind after finishing Cress, the third book in Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles series: "balancing act." While each book is Meyer's take on traditional fairy tales such as Cinderella and Rapunzel, each book also connects those characters in a larger story. By the time we get to Cress, we have Cinderella and her Prince, Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, Rapunzel and her Prince, plus their associated collection of stepmothers, witches, and sidekicks. In less skilled hands, that could easily become a tangled mess (pun intended) rather than weaving together multiple storylines for one fast-paced novel.

I did find this one faster paced than Scarlet (hence the higher rating). Unlike Scarlet, it seemed to end on more of a cliffhanger, making me excited to read the next book (Winter), which, sadly, does not come out until 2015.

Like the other novels, Meyer's spin on the Rapunzel tale is clever without trying too hard to be clever. We have
  • a girl with super-long hair
  • who is trapped in a "tower"
  • by a witch
  • rescued by a prince
Meyer is also sure to include two other slightly lesser known aspects of the Rapunzel story; when reading the epigraphs at the beginning of those chapters, I immediately thought, "Oh yeah! That happens!" So bravo to that.

Also, about two-thirds of the way through this book, a couple of other fairy tale items clicked in my head that Meyer has been setting up, but not explicitly stated yet. Specifically, (view spoiler) Well done on that, Meyer! It's not often that I don't see such things coming.

I'm now just sad that I have to wait another year to see how things turn out.
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