Welcome to the Slant, where you'll find reviews and original writings by the members of Martin Library's Teen Advisory Board.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Book Review: Geektastic (Various Authors)

by Jesse B.

Swords and sorcery, lasers and lightsabers, fiction and reality: All these collide in Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, a new anthology of short stories collected and edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci. The authors syndicated within aim to thoroughly describe the follies and fantastications of the geek life.

As with all anthologies, there are low points and high points. There are two stories, specifically, which may strike the reader as dubious or simply ridiculous. (I have read previous works by none of the authors contained within the book, so I can ensure you an unbiased opinion.) In "One of Us", by Tracy Lynn, the head cheerleader at a high school pays a group of nerds to teach her about nerdy things; apparently, her boyfriend, the quarterback of the football team, is a clandestine geek, and she wants to impress him. It gets worse: By the end of the story, both cheerleader and quarterback attend a comics convention together. The implausibilities here are apparent. First of all, it should be obvious to anyone who survived high school that there's no such thing as a clandestine geek; a quarterback and cheerleader who attend a comics convention would instantly have their reputations shattered. Secondly, geeks would never associate with a cheerleader, not even for money; they hate cheerleaders and everything they stand for. Admittedly, there are some humorous moments in the story, but they are overridden by the stupidity of the underlying concept.

The second story which could be considered a low point is "The Wrath of Dawn", by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. In the story, a girl named Dawn feels cheated by her mother and stepfather and feels a connection with Dawn from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, considering herself her parents' unwanted child. She attends a Buffy sing-along flick with her wicked older stepsister (Cinderella, anyone?) and jumps up in front of the screen to protest the crowd's mockery of Dawn (the film character). Eventually everyone is applauding at her remarkable display of courage. The story is fine up until then, when the whole thing becomes a load of bullshit. No person in their right mind would applaud someone for blocking their view of a movie. And no person in their right mind would ever stand in front of a movie screen and shout protest to the film's content. This leads the reader to the inevitable conclusion that the entire audience, Dawn (the literary character) included, is clinically insane. Absolutely ridiculous.

Luckily, the book is redeemed by the other stories included within. While quite a few are exceptionally well-written, two shall here be addressed. In M.T. Anderson's "The King of Pelinesse", fantasy backgrounds are seamlessly interwoven with a young man's quest for truth. Jim sets out to meet an accomplished fantasy author whom his mother had had an affair with years ago and discovers things he would have rather not. Intriguing in its prosaic style, "The King of Pelinesse" is easily one of the best stories Geektastic has to offer.

Another interesting story included in the collection is written by Libba Bray and is entitled It's Just a Jump to the Left. In the tale, two teenage girls begin to experiment with sexuality. The interesting factor is that this sexual coming-of-age revolves around the girls' exposure to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The girls at first think it is merely a whimsical movie but over time learn of the movie's sexual connotations, all while experiencing their first "loves".

Overall, Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd is an excellent read. Any geek or nerd would be hard-pressed not to pick it up. The collection is to be published this month in hardcover.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Book Review: Storm Front (Jim Butcher)

Storm Front is part action novel, part suspense mystery. It’s about a wizard named Harry Dresden in modern-day Chicago that struggles to work as a private investigator and as a consultant for the Chicago police department. Storm Front jumps right into the action with Dresden receiving a phone call from a woman who wants to hire Harry to locate her husband. Immediately after the call, the Chicago Police hire Dresden to investigate an unnaturally gruesome murder. After seeing the crime scene, on his way home, Harry is harassed by Gentleman Johnny Marcone, local crime lord. If that’s not enough, Dresden also has to contend with drug running, black magic, dark rituals, talking skulls, seductive vampires, and a council of wizards watching Harry’s every move.

All in a day’s work for Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden.

The story successfully merges numerous plot lines into an exciting and shocking conclusion. Storm Front delivers witty dialogue mixed with a touch of magic. Personally I enjoyed this book because I’ve always been a fan of fantasy books, yet if one were to ignore all the mystical references, they would find value in Jim Butcher’s style of writing that gets the reader involved with the moment. Storm Front is only the first book in the series “The Dresden Files”.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Essay: The American Dream: Riches Greater than Money

by Jesse B.

From the time of our country's inception, there has been talk of an "American Dream"; there has been, however, extremely limited discussion regarding what this dream actually is. It is perhaps useful to reflect on classic American literature for the answer. That being said, numerous literary sources from American history support a single ideal, which one might surmise to be the all-encompassing basis for the American Dream: Happiness is to be found not in cold, hard cash but in the simple pleasures of life and the very opportunity for success and advancement. The attainment of such happiness is the very essence of the American Dream.

The Declaration of Independence –- one of America's most important symbols of its ideals. Even prior to its 1776 publication, the ideals of the American Dream were rooted in the minds of the British colonists. As Thomas Jefferson writes in The Declaration, ". . . all men are created equal." He states that men are entitled to certain "inalienable rights" and that among these are the rights to ". . . life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." These rights speak nothing of property or money; instead, they speak of freedom and equality, the cornerstone of happiness, the pursuit of which is the American Dream.

Walt Whitman was, and still is, a powerful supporter of the common man. His works focus on the simplicities of life. One example of this is his famous poem "I Hear America Singing". In this work, Whitman analyzes the working habits of the lower and middle classes by comparing their labor to song. Each worker "sings" a tune all his own, but together their form a veritable American symphony. Langston Hughes, in his poem "I Too", expands on the thoughts expressed in Whitman's poem. He does so by directly addressing the ideals of the Harlem Renaissance and the push for equality among the races. The black man, too, he argued, was no less American and no less entitled to pursuit of the American Dream. Both Whitman's and Hughes' poems support the idea of the American Dream as both simplicity and opportunity.

Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain, is a staunch supporter of both cultural advancement and simplicity of lifestyle. His novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn epitomizes these ideals. The protagonist, Huck, lives a troubled life until he joins an escaped slave name Jim on a journey downriver. Huck and Jim become involved in many adventures along the way; however, Huck finds peace and true happiness only when he and Jim are alone on a raft, letting the current carry them. At first Huck feels he is committing a dreadful sin by helping Jim, but by the novel's conclusion, he realizes that Jim is as much a human being as he is. Huck questions the moral values of Southern society and heads west, hoping to find solace. Both the abolitionist ideals and love of nature presented by Clemens are characteristic of the American Dream.

The goal of finding happiness through both life's simplicities and the opportunity for success and advancement finds its way into the works of Jefferson, Whitman, Hughes and Clemens. To be sure, these are but a sampling of American authors with such a mindset. If one learns nothing else from reading their works, let it be this: Happiness doesn't come from dollar bills; it comes from the attainment of immaterial wealth, something far more valuable indeed.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Music Review: World, Hold On

by Jesse B.

Wow. Just . . . Wow. That's probably about the reaction you'll have after watching "World, Hold On". (I would have posted the video itself, but embedding of this video has been disabled by the record company. Those damn tyrants! *shakes fist*) While it's quite possibly the strangest music video you'll ever see, it drives the point of the song home like a pneumatic nail gun. (And for those of you who haven't stepped out of the stone age when it comes to construction technology, yes, that's essentially mechanical hammer.) Bob Sinclar has created a true masterpiece here.

The vocals are reminiscent of Eric Clapton (in fact, one of Sinclar's aliases is Reminiscence Quartet), and the lyrical content isn't a far cry from his either. The electronic beat is something a bit different though; you certainly wouldn't find it in a Clapton song, but strangely enough, it seems to fit perfectly with this tune.

The video itself starts out simple enough but soon introduces some stop-motion animation. Eventually there's old-school cardboard cutout space ship (like they used in the original Star Trek and Star Wars) flying around. Basketballs substitute for proton torpedoes. If the weirdness doesn't bother you, you'll soon come to appreciate the music video as a whole.

Note: I originally heard the song sans video and loved it. My discovery of the video only enhanced my affection for the song.