Personal Mythologies

For the love of books and people.

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A Sequel’s Death, The Jennifer Morgue (Laundry Files, #2)

This is the second of The Laundry Files series of Charles Stross’s I have read, as it is the second book and I am a bit of a stickler for reading series in order, which I am sure is some sort of residual effect of years of comic collecting. I enjoyed his first, The Atrocity Archives, so plunged into the second.

Stross introduced a great protagonist, Bob Howard, as someone who is able to battle the horrors of Lovecraftian inspired Elder Gods with brains and an understanding of technology. Bob proved to be a hero as understated as his name, giving the distinct impression that he was a man whom things happened to and not the guy who inspired things to happen. This is one of the the elements of Stross’ writing that I enjoyed most, the presentation of a less-than-super super-spy. Bob found himself in all kinds of horrific situations, saving the world due to his ability to keep his wits and genuinely surprised when it happened again. Continue reading 

The Great-er Than I Ever Thought It Was Gatsby

I have managed to avoid The Great Gatsby since I was sixteen, even though it has been on the reading list at every high school I have ever taught at. It was also the only book that I only read once during my high school years, which brings the next statement as little surprise: I hated it sooooo much, as much as anything could be hated from the core of a 16-year-old’s being.

I think that I was a typical idealizing teen, anxious to label things and place them according to easily understood dichotomies. Having things agree to be right/wrong, white/black, night/day, bad/good, fascist/totalitarian brings comfort to most people, especially teens that have not had a chance to see or participate in all of the greys the world has to offer.

The one area that I could not or would not divide into two distinct camps applied to books and literature. I hesitated greatly to stomp on other people’s opinions and sentiments when applied to writing, whether it was their own or in what they read. Writing, I guess, has always been something that has not come easily to me and I appreciated anyone who could get published and read, even from my teen years. [The irony is that now, older and more willing to accept the greys (hair and otherwise) I am also more willing to call some books junk.] The best I could do was say that I did not understand something, or deferred judgment on what made literature good to someone else, more studied, more well-read, perhaps more refined.

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Maybe not a King (of Thorns), But I Am Willing to Keep on Reading About The Broken Empire

I recently commented on the macho, mysoginistic writings of Lee Child in my foray into the world of Jack Reacher. I have been delaying on this post a bit because I have been trying to reason out what makes the protagonist of The Broken Empire series so different and why I find myself liking him, even though he is arrogant, power hungry, violent and woman using.

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Bitter Seeds To Swallow

I had been lead to an interview with Ian Tregillis done by Charles Stross a while back, where Tregillis was speaking about the development of his Milkweed series and the comparisons that had been made with Stross’s own work. Having appreciated Stross’s The Laundry Series and the writing therein, I was eager to find Tregillis’s work and have a look.

What was especially appealing and, I assume, was the basis of comparison between these two writers was that a parallel reality, or speculative fiction, was being played with. Where Stross was influenced by H.P. Lovecraft and created a governmental agency that deterred the entrance of the Elder Gods from entering and taking over the world, Tregillis is playing a bit more with the mad sciencey and that there is something bigger in the universe than us piddly humans that has more hands in how the show is run.

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The Windup Girl, Not Your Everyday Apocalypse Novel

A good friend recommended this novel through Goodreads, so I thought I should give it a shot. It has been a while since paying attention to awards and The Windup Girl holds two of the big ones; the 2009 Nebula Award and 2010 Hugo Award, as well as a few others.

It was bleak, illustrating some of the more undesirable traits of humankind during a time that really needs them, but that made the writing imaginative and different from anything that I had read in a while. Where apocalyptic science fiction has fallen on the standard tropes of zombies and plagues, The Windup Girl examines our potential future in a different way, one of unsustainable development and greed.

There are two things that I found myself having particular affinities to while reading this book. The first, I have been in Thailand and loved it, and that is where the book is set. The Thai language creeps into the dialogue, creating a sense of realism due to the differences and particularities of the Thai people and those who are not from that country.

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Child’s Killing Floor Should Have Died There

As slow and painful as it was getting through this book, I managed to finish it just so that I could enter into discussions and debates with an understanding about what this was all about. By the end of it, I wanted to be on the killing floor to be put out of my misery, horrible.

I have to also admit a certain level of embarrassment according to my gender while I was reading this book. Ultimately, Child presents a testosterone driven, Call of Duty obsessed, teenage male fantasy. The main character, Jack Reacher, fires off a dozen different weapons, all of which he has an encyclopedic knowledge of, kills many, many people in near every which way imaginable, survives a prison scene that steps of the pages of some sort of script of stereotypes, and sleeps with the “hot female” cop after simply smiling at her.

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The Big Sleep, Classic Noir

The classic, a must-read of the hard-boiled detective genre. Something missed by other reviewers is that Philip Marlowe, the main character, is the original fast-talking detective that was an important shift in protagonists, introducing elements of the anti-hero and someone who had to operate outside of the establishment so that proper justice could be done. Also important is the narrative; while first person, Marlowe is retelling the events to the audience in perfect chronological sequence, he does not expose all of his thoughts to the reader, leaving gaps that are fully explained when Marlowe is ready to explain them, both to his audience and other characters. This is a technique that is rarely done well and Raymond Chandler, as well as Dashiel Hammet, remain the tops and should be thanked for their contribution to the detective, noire and spy genres of fiction.

The Beggar’s Garden

I just finished my first ebook, The Beggar’s Garden, a collection of short stories by Michael Christie (who is from Northern Ontario, you know the place, who wouldda thunk?). I enjoyed the writing, very much, there was wit, sadness and a very good reflection of the human spirit, ugly and beautiful as it is.

After completing the book, I found myself a bit troubled. Most of the stories revolved around some element of Vancouver, more often than not what has become affectionately known as the downtown East Side or, at least, qualities that have become synonymous with that area. Addiction, poverty and mental illness are driving forces for Christie’s characters and he writes about them with a skill that at once shows their humanity, weaknesses and occasionally finds the humor in what could otherwise be treated, as it often is, with a removed quality if not distain.

This is what leads me to finally commenting on a book after a long absence from this blog. What troubled me was my own reaction to the characters. I was unsure as to how to interpret them and their troubles and stories; whether to feel sorry for them, upset or blame them for being the agents of their own destructive behaviours. I believed, to my embarrassment, that I was grappling with the same cultural malaise that affects modern society when it comes to viewing those that society recognizes as “down and out.”

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Rekindling the Music Lover

It has been a long time since I anticipated the release of a new album. Since getting this new iPad, I have kept my eye on the iTunes store and even chanced the $7 on a band i have never heard of on the recommendation of the CBC’s afternoon host, Steven Quinn. I purchased Of Monsters and Men’s My Head is an Animal and this Icelandic band didn’t disappoint, or should I say ‘thank you’ Steven.

What kept catching my eye though was Jack White’s first solo effort, Blunderbuss. After hearing the initial single, “Love Interrupted,” I must admit to anticipating hearing him again and having a chance to listen to his solo work.

If anyone has managed read this far without quitting due to my laborious writing style, I would definitely recommend this album, even if you are a moderate fan of his White Stripes work. This album is heavily laden with provocative metaphor and “Love Interrupted” is a great sampling of what to expect with the lyrics. (Speaking of, I need to find a way to introduce the concept of paradox through this song.)

He manages to keep his simple, unique sound throughout the album, yet introduces interesting variations to separate it from earlier efforts. Maybe, like me, he has managed to mature just a bit, heh.

There has been more interest on my part with trying to keep up with music releases due to iTunes. I have really had to suppress the desire to start ringing up the credit card with purchases of both new and old stuff, that stuff that I could never remember to look for in the record shop until I got home. I also went with ITunes Match and, at the risk of sounding like a total fan boy, it has been working glitch free with making my music library available to my iPad. This may not sound like much, but I am listening to my music again; in the car and at work, through headphones or piping it through my desktop speakers.

It might be a while before I find the time to head back to live shows, due to little ones running around now, unlike the earlier stages of life, but for now I can celebrate music again through a newfound accessibility.

[Wow! I am out of practice at this. I’ll end it here and avoid inflicting further pain on anyone reading this. Just buy the album.]

Bill 22’s Devestating Effects to a Dual Coquitlam Teacher Family

Good afternoon Mr. Austin and Mr. Farnworth,

Please find below the letter that I wrote and originally sent to Ms. Diane Thorne of the New Democratic Party in response and support of your party’s efforts to deny the passing of Bill 22. I was encouraged by colleagues and friends to forward it to your offices to encourage further readings and impress upon more members of our legislative assembly how devastating this bill is to public education.

My wife and I find ourselves in the privileged position to educate the youth of British Columbia.  We also find ourselves in a position of being able to embark on an adventure out of the country to educate the youth overseas.  The original intent was to bring back to British Columbia a new, refreshed perspective on education and experiences that would enhance our professional development.  As you will see in the letter, our plan for after we get on the plane for our temporary international positions is not so clear anymore.

Thank you so much for your time and efforts.

Hopeful regards,

Original Message:

Good Afternoon Ms. Thorne,

I am a teacher at Gleneagle Secondary School in School District #43, Coquitlam and I am leaving.  More accurately, my wife and I are both proud teachers in School District #43, our eldest daughter is old enough to start kindergarten next September and we will all be leaving.  What is heartrending for us right now is that it is difficult to see how and why my family and I might come back to British Columbia.

We began looking at the option of teaching internationally last year.  The time in our lives and careers seemed perfect to take the opportunity for travel and experience other educational systems to grow personally and professionally.  As we began this process, our intent was to teach abroad for a couple of years and bring our newfound experience and expertise back to our home here in British Columbia and continue work in our current school district, a district that we have found to be nothing but supportive of new ideas and professional growth.

From the beginning of last April’s bargaining process, we remained optimistic that a negotiated settlement would resolve at least some of the issues that exist in the education system, easing the strife between teachers and the current government.  As the Liberal negotiators presented more outrageous positions regarding what they were prepared to offer, our optimism began to fade.  With the presentation of Bill 22, we were crushed and realized how misguided Mr. Abbott and the Liberal Party are regarding what it takes to provide quality education.

Researching the philosophies of international schools, even briefly, will give you an idea of how flawed Mr. Abbott’s rhetoric in support of Bill 22 is.  Quality schools offer smaller class sizes and more supports for teachers, including preparation time for classes.  Bill 22 would further erode, in some cases destroy, what limited resources teachers have to support their students.  I am very disappointed, even insulted by Mr. Abbott’s use of rhetoric, comparing his political science class sizes, which he taught at a post-secondary level, to what we experience in the public school system; we do not have access to teacher assistants to grade our papers and I would bet that in his class of adults who attended his class, by choice, he did not have a single individual that he had to adapt his presentation or grading scheme for as we do for our students with an individual education plan (IEP).  He has not produced one shred of research, report or piece of evidence beyond poor anecdotal remarks to support any piece of this bill.  Every reputable institution and member of academia that has a stake in education would not hesitate to contradict the majority of this bill.

I began my service as a teacher with a belief in public education, that our populace should have access to quality education and with an educated society we shall have a more civilized and caring society.  The actions of Mr. Abbott and his party and the words of Ms. Christy Clark continue to show that this is growing into more of a dream than reality as teachers and the education system are treated with increasing contempt.  I want to fight the good fight, and continue to support public education as best I can.  Bill 22 is an affront to education and a clear signal of disrespect to my chosen profession.

In February, I was offered that job overseas and accepted.  Over the last few days I am feeling less compulsion to come back to BC and teach.  As educators currently in the system, we are very conscious of the environment that we would be introducing our daughters to: the overcrowded classrooms, stressed teachers, limited resources and poor environmental conditions that currently plague British Columbia’s public education system because we experience it every day.  Bill 22 and the attitudes Mr. Abbott and Ms. Clark display when speaking to teachers and about education certainly guarantee that if this bill is passed (or “when,” according to Ms. Clark) the education system that is currently band-aided with the immense care and efforts of teachers will crack, split and break, leaving a disarray of struggling students, broken children and introducing problems that we cannot even comprehend yet.

In July, my wife and I, two teachers who each hold a Masters and with over 20 years of combined teaching experience in this province, are leaving the country with their two daughters, one of which is becoming school age in September.  We will fight the fight for students and an undervalued public education system until we leave.  We will spend time on the strike line and in the classroom, engaging, informing and teaching with all of our hearts, but we will leave on our adventure in July and our hearts are getting on a plane and we are taking our education and experience and daughters to a school in another country.

If Bill 22 goes through before that time, our hearts will be heavy indeed as it will be a difficult decision to return to British Columbia.  This decision goes beyond our own professional decision, you must understand, though we are very conscious as to the increase in workload and stressors that would come with returning to our teaching profession as a result of this piece of legislation.  The bulk of our decision would rest on the learning environment that we would be exposing our two children to upon returning to this province.  We would also like to ensure that our children are able to look at their parents with a degree of pride and a province that is determined to strip away the voice of teachers and villainize the profession is not conducive to this. When the government does not carry a degree of respect and support for the education system, it becomes difficult for a teacher to walk into work without feeling defeated.  A government not respecting teachers cannot respect what it is teachers do and, by extension, cannot truly be putting children and families first.

I thank you, Ms. Thorne, for reading.  On Monday when I attend our first day of “non-picketing,” I will return to my optimism that you and your party will do what you can to assist the teachers and those that support us in our protest to defeat Bill 22 by exposing what it truly is; an affront to the education system and all of those associated with it, particularly the students that the system was designed for.

Deepest regards