Monthly Archives: December 2012

2012 in review

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Aha, our first full year as a blog! WordPress gave us a wonderful little summary of the year, as seen below.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 21,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 5 Film Festivals.

Click here to see the complete report.

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The Final Warning Spork Part 4

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(Sorry for the lateness–I was prepared to get this up on Wednesday, but then I forgot to edit it until it was too late.)

Chapter 11

Max spends an entire paragraph saying “we got the pizza” in unnecessary detail, and then Gazzy notices that one of the pizzas has a wire sticking out of it. Then there’s an explosion, because of course.

Slight fluttering sounds told me that bits of stuff were floating to the ground. (pg 42)

Well, that’s a silly sentence.

“I’m okay,” said Iggy, though I couldn’t see him. Then a pile of dust and debris moved on the floor, and he stood up, looking as if he’d been flocked. Like a Christmas tree. (pg 42)

And that just doesn’t make any sense.

So, yeah. The pizzas were bombs, somehow, but the flock are perfectly fine so it doesn’t really matter. Once everything has settled, the flock heads out to avoid the cops… for some reason.

Chapter 12

The flock split up from Dr. Martinez and Jeb, meeting them up at a motel to avoid whoever tried to kill them. Though given that they used a freaking bomb as opposed to, say, going in and shooting the flock, I’m not sure what threat they pose. Max also tells us that “No one had tried to blow us up in a while,” though I can’t recall any bombs in the last three books. That’s JPatterson logic for you, I guess.

Max talks with her mom for a page, and it’s actually pretty nice and calm and generally well-written. Then Dr. Martinez decides to ask if Max is involved with Fang. Don’t ask me why, because it doesn’t make any sense, especially not in the situation they’re in, but she does.

*Sigh*

Chapter 13

Fang wakes Max up in the middle of the night and suggests that they fly together. They do because reasons, and eventually land on a small dock, where Fang begins to talk about him and Max’s relationship.

Oh, okay, so that’s why Dr. Martinez brought it up, so that every little thing that happens in this book can be foreshadowed with the force of a sledgehammer.

And then they kiss because OF COURSE THEY DO and then Max flies off because OF COURSE SHE DOES and do I care about any of this NOPE.

Chapter 14

I know it’s a bit early for this, but has anything happened in this book? I mean, how did “Ari’s funeral, reject the government, nearly get blown up” take up 50 pages of the book, with only a horrendous prologue to offer any kind of plot? Maybe I’m being too harsh, but god, when everything in this book is so stupid how can’t I be?

Aaanyway, Max glosses over her supposedly hellish morning, and then it’s time for another meeting with the government that I don’t believe was brought up until now. Right.

Some guy at the meeting says that the government has gotten funding for the school for the flock, and Dr. Martinez asks why the flock can’t be put into the witness protection program. She also calls the flock innocent in the process, which leads to this:

Though even I thought she was going a little far, calling us “innocent.” Maybe she didn’t know about the string of stolen cars or the vandalism of empty vacation homes.

But I digress. (pg 53)

What a wonderful role model. Though at least she’s finally admitting her wrongdoings.

They go back and forth a bit, then Angel telepathically asks Max if they can leave, so Max speaks up.

Chapter 15

STUPID CHAPTER BREAKS AUGH.

Max mentions that the flock aren’t being consulted in this, though I’m not sure why given that Max already expressed her interests in the previous meeting–not to mention the fact that Dr. Martinez and Jeb are basically asking for the same thing the flock want.

A woman says that the flock aren’t being consulted on the matter because they lack the experience and education, and Max claims to have had lots of life experience in her fourteen years.

Yep, that’s right. Living in solitude followed by a few months living on the lam is a veritable ton of life experience.

Max goes on a rant about how being in danger and fighting people makes her and the flock qualified to make this sort of decision (which, newsflash, life experience and fighting are basically opposites), and then she puts on her jacket to jump out a window and fly. I mean, I know I’ve talked about this before, but the flock’s wings still make no sense whatsoever.

Chapter 16

The flock aerially harass the Pentagon, then fly off when jets come towards them.

“Into the trees!” I called, pointing to where several acres of trees made a weensy forest. By tucking our wings tightly back, we lost altitude like feathery rocks. I spotted several openings among the treetops, and we sank into them, immediately turning sideways and opening our wings so we wouldn’t hit the ground. We flew sideways for a while, slipping between tree trunks, knowing we were invisible to the jets. (pg 59)

Can you count how many things are wrong with this paragraph? Because I can notice a couple. First, stopping oneself feet from the ground after dropping “like feathery rocks” would be pretty harsh. Second, “sank” brings to mind a fluid, slowish movement, not falling through a gap. Third, flying through a forest with thirteen-foot wingspans, even sideways, is not going to work. Fourth and finally, how do they know that they’re invisible to the jets?

Moving on, Max notes that jets are faster than the flock, but that jets can’t navigate through trees. As I said, kids with wings shouldn’t be able to either, but that’s logic.

The flock leave the trees, free of the jets, and as jets are the only tool used by the government (note: sarcasm) the flock are safe.

Chapter 17

The flock escape to a national park, and Max calls her mom… somehow. They chat for a moment, and then Dr. Martinez gives the phone to Jeb and Max randomly asks him if he’s the voice in her head. Jeb says that he can do the voice, but that he isn’t the voice, and that it’s all part of the bigger picture, and yes this is all stupid.

Max wraps up talking with Jeb, and as always his motivations are unclear and don’t make any sense, and as always Max doesn’t trust him for reasons we still haven’t been told. Then the chapter ends, and I’m not reading any more of this book right now so this spork part ends too.

Thoughts on The Alchemist

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So I just finished reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and thought I’d share my thoughts. I’d never heard of the book, or indeed the writer, before receiving the book as a gift a few weeks ago (though I have since come to know that the author is quit prolific), so my opinions of the novel are based solely on the novel, having had no predispositions or biases before reading it. Anyway, lets get to it.

The Alchemist tells the story of a young Andalusian shepherd named Santiago, content in his rambling life until a recurring dream incites in him a longing for adventure. Santiago sells his sheep travels to north Africa in search of treasure and the fulfillment of his destiny.

I have mixed feelings about The Alchemist. As I said, going into the Alchemist I really didn’t know what to expect. The cover blurb sounded intriguing, and the many quotes from critics sampled on the first two pages spoke of a moving novel full of great wisdom and inspiration. Having now finished the book, I will agree that it does contain a good amount of wisdom, and it is inspirational (and on a few occasions actually quite witty), but I’m not sure how I feel about it as a novel.

The actual story of the book is good, and the ending (I won’t spoil it here) was rather more satisfying and surprising than I’d expected. However, the execution of said story, to my tastes at least, feels a bit simplistic and, with the exception of the aforementioned ending, predictable. Santiago’s journey is one of personal discovery, and the lessons he learns about life and happiness and finding your way in the world are all beautiful and uplifting, but they’re hardly new, and to someone such as myself who’s grown up hearing similar “you can do anything you set you mind to” and “follow your dreams/heart/talent/calling/destiny” type messages, Santiago’s ultimate success feels like a foregone conclusion. Indeed, the novel establishes such a feeling of positivity so early on that I could never really doubt in Santiago’s abilities, or find his struggles, while relatable, particularly engaging.

I also don’t quite know what to make of the characters. On the one hand most of them do feel quite vibrant and real, but at the same time they can be somewhat flat. For example, at one point in the novel Santiago meets and subsequently works for a crystal merchant (crystal as in glass, not the pretty shiny stuff what comes outta the ground) who has so many real, understandable human elements, but is used by the author to make a point about giving up on one’s dreams. What makes this particular character’s purpose so clear, I think, is that way it is conveyed. While the narrative or the protagonist could have made subtle or even blatant observations about the merchant to relay this message; instead we have the actual character himself telling us about his failure to realize his dreams, even going so far as to explain why he did so.

“You dream about your sheep and the Pyramids, but you’re different than me, because you want to realize your dreams. I just want to dream about Mecca. I’ve already imagined a thousand times crossing the desert, arriving at the Plaza of the Scred Stone, the seven times I walk around it before allowing myself to touch it.

“…But I’m afraid that it would all be a disappointment, so I prefer just to dream about it.”

–The crystal merchant speaking¬† to Santiago.

Such heavy handedness may be my biggest complaint about the novel. I was drawn into the story at first, enjoying the simple beauty of Santiago’s life, but before long a character appears to push Santiago to begin his journey whose very existence seems bound to that singular purpose. The way in which he and all of the other characters speak throughout most of the rest of the novel is so pointed and unrealistically introspective that at times, I felt more like I was reading a self help book than a novel. Perhaps if the story had been told with a degree more subtlety and nuance I would have found it more to my liking. But then, art is subjective, isn’t it? Even though the prose and dialogue wasn’t to my personal taste, I did still enjoy the novel.

“Don’t forget that everything you deal with is only one thing and nothing else. And don’t forget the language of omens. And, above all, don’t forget to follow your Personal Legend through to its conclusion.”

–The King of Salem speaking to Santiago about his Personal Legend.

It feels weird to me, as an aspiring writer, to be criticizing a novel so wholly concerned with the idea of realizing one’s dreams. I suppose some of what puts me off about the story might be the level of spirituality, but even then I’m not so sure. It’s true, the novel makes frequent references to God and religion, and as an atheist this does little for me, but I actually consider myself a mildly spiritual person and have no qualms about finding the wisdom in Coelho’s words, though I may disagree with some of the details.

“In order to find the treasure, you will have to follow the omens. God has prepared a path for everyone to follow. You just have to read the omens that he left for you.”

–The King telling Santiago how to find the treasure revealed to him in his dreams.

There is one final aspect of the novel I’d like to discuss, and that is its attitudes towards women. Now, I want to be clear I don’t think that The Alchemist is deliberately or aggressively sexist, but the nature of what few female characters exist in the novel is somewhat problematic. There are, by my count, three “named” female characters. I say “named” because Coelho tends to refer to characters, even the protagonist, by their occupations or by what they are (e.g. Santiago is often called simply “the boy.”), and some main character’s real names are never actually revealed.

Anyway, there are three named female characters in the novel, compared with a considerably larger number of men. Of these three, one, a Gypsy fortune teller, appears, at least to my admittedly untrained eye, to be a somewhat racially insensitive stereotype. The second character, the young daughter of a shopkeeper, is an underdeveloped and casually forgotten love interest of Santiago. And the third character? Another love interest and the only female character to get an actual name, Fatima. Fatima is more developed than the shopkeeper’s daughter, though in a problematic fashion. You see, it is revealed that all Fatima has ever wanted in life was for the desert to bring her a man (sound sexist yet?).

People said that Gypsies spent their lives tricking others. It was also said that they had a pact with the devil, and that they kidnapped children and, taking them away to their mysterious camps, made them their slaves.

–Santiago’s problematic thoughts about Gypsies are never properly corrected in the course of the story. He does later, after much personal growth, reflect that the Gypsies are quite smart, but as I said the passage doesn’t properly correct the stereotypes.

When she and Santiago first meet, they fall instantly in love and Santiago decides he want to marry her. After a few days they more or less agree they want to spend the rest of their lives together, but Santiago’s journey is still incomplete. Fatima encourages him to pursue his destiny, promising to wait for him. This element of Fatima’s character is used to make a valid point about not holding the ones you love back from fulfilling their dreams, but the fact that it’s the woman doing the waiting and the man doing the soul searching is problematic. Where as Santiago ultimately waits to be with Fatima so that he can fulfill his destiny, Fatima has no goals or ambitions beyond Santiago.

I have been waiting for you here at this oasis for a long time. I have forgotten about my past, about my traditions, and the way in which men of the desert expect women to behave. Ever since I was a child, I have have dreamed that the desert would bring me a wonderful present. Now, my present has arrived, and it’s you.”

–Fatima talking to Santiago. Problematic on many levels.

Interestingly, Fatima’s character might not have been as problematic if there had been at least a few more female characters elsewhere in the novel. You see, all throughout Santiago’s travels he meets other characters at various stages of what the book refers to as their “Personal Legends” (essentially their destinies). These different people are all quite different and lead drastically dissimilar lives, but they all have one thing in common: they’re men. Not once in the novel do we meet a female character in search of treasure, or knowledge, or the realization of their personal destiny. In fact, the closest the book comes to this is a line in which one character, while trying to convince Santiago to continue his quest, tells him that Fatima has already found her treasure–Santiago.

I really do feel a bit bad criticizing the book, especially considering I actually did enjoy reading it. In the end, though, there were aspects of it that just didn’t click with me. I’ll be the first to admit that some of my complaints are subjective, but I feel confident in saying that The Alchemist is a flawed novel. But then, most are.

~NekoShogun

[If anyone reading this thinks I’m crazy, or would like to share their own thoughts on The Alchemist, please leave a comment–I’d love to hear some different opinions. Thanks!]

The Final Warning Spork Part 2

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Chapter 5

Max is now in the jet, where the secret service agents apparently make her uncomfortable for no reason. Well, she says something about their attire, but given that they’re not wearing anything similar to people she’s had to fight before… it just doesn’t make sense. In addition:

Combine that with the inevitable heart-pounding claustrophobia that came from being enclosed in a small space, and I was basically ready to shred anyone who talked to me. (pg 18)

Who wants to bet that this won’t be mentioned again? Also note the way that Max tells us she’s feeling anxious without actually showing it. Even the mention of her heartbeat is in relation to the space, not what’s actually happening to her. Show, don’t tell, JPatterson!

Then Nudge becomes magnetic.

No, seriously. All of a sudden, she finds that she can attract metal to her when she wants to. Because… reasons? Or, as Jeb would say, science?

“I don’t know why you can do that,” he said slowly. “As far as I know, it was never programmed in.” He looked around at all of us. “It’s possible… It’s possible that maybe you guys are starting to mutate on your own.” (pg 21)

NOT HOW SCIENCE WORKS.

Chapter 6

You are reading Fang’s Blog. Welcome! (pg 22)

NO WHY.

Er. So, Fang informs the world at large about how he doesn’t like seeing the flock upset (which is a mixture of NO DUH and “this is the most awkward manner of getting across your character’s emotions”), then decides to answer some questions. Oddly, the questions he chooses to answer are all met with the same response: “Sorry can’t tell you that/no thanks!”

Fang is not a very good blogger.

Chapter 7

The flock are now in Washington DC, along with Dr. Martinez, who left Ella at home. Who’s caring for Ella, you ask? Why, I have no idea!

The flock interact for a little bit, managing to stick nicely to their cardboard personalities, though Nudge also branches out.

“Ooh, Max, you look really great!” she said, admiring my clothes. “That top is totally hot! You look like you’re at least sixteen!” (pg 27)

Like, what? Since when is she some sort of bizarre spout of things that teenagers supposedly say? This sudden shift in characterization makes no sense. Remember, she grew up in the mountains, and her only exposure to other kids was for a month or so, and that was a book ago.

Then Max’s capital V Voice shows up, talking to her for a moment before claiming that it’s not Jeb.

*Facepalm*

Does JPatterson pay ANY attention to what he writes? It’s like he doesn’t care what he did in the last novel, and just decides to write whatever random stuff he thinks is interesting. Only problem is, opening up a solidly closed subplot that was inane in its original incarnation IS NOT INTERESTING. It’s just silly. Derp derp how do write good book?

Now, I’m going to leave you here; I’m doing something special next week that requires the use of the next couple of chapters. See you on the 19th!