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review 2016-05-04 07:05
Sensation by Nick Mamatas
Sensation (Spectacular Fiction) - Nick Mamatas

It all starts with a wasps' nest in Raymond's mother's basement. The wasps are Hymenoepimescis sp., which usually reproduces by attacking the Plesiometa argyra spider and laying its eggs within the spider's abdomen. As the larvae feed off the spider, they change its behavior, compelling it to create a web that can allow them to finish their development. When the spider is done with its work, the larvae kill it. (The spider and wasp species are real – nature is freaky and horrifying.)

Hymenoepimescis sp. doesn't usually build a nest or use humans as its hosts, but in this case it was affected by the unusually high radon levels in Raymond's mother's basement. Julia, Raymond's wife, is attacked by one of these wasps and unknowingly has its eggs injected into her. Over the course of the next few months, the larvae gradually affect her behavior in various ways, until one day she decides to leave Raymond. From that point on, she proceeds to become famous, carrying out an assassination and inspiring a nameless political movement which has no apparent goal. What neither she nor Raymond realizes is that they are both pawns in an ancient war between Hymenoepimescis sp. and Plesiometa argyra.

I'm not sure how I feel about this book. Part of the problem was that “war” was maybe too strong of a word for what was going on between the spiders and the wasps. Although the spiders were an intelligent collective and were, in fact, the book's narrator, the wasps were just doing their thing. When their hosts were spiders, “their thing” meant inspiring behaviors that would allow their larvae to survive and become adult wasps. They weren't intelligent and hadn't evolved to grow inside and control human hosts, so their effect on humans was more aimless and chaotic. The end result left me wondering what the point was supposed to be, and the story became more tedious than interesting.

I did enjoy the bulk of this book, though. I was drawn in by Julia's erratic behavior. I wanted to know what she'd do next and what sorts of actions she'd inspire (although she was the only one being directly affected by the wasps, she seemed to inspire changes in everyone around her, apparently without even meaning to). Raymond watched her antics on the news and desperately tried to make some sense of it all, unable to truly move on.

The main reason why I decided to read this book was because of the intelligent spiders. I liked that the story was told from their collective point of view, both as individual spiders trying to keep track of the movements of the various characters and as spider-controlled masses of webbing designed to look like “men of indeterminate ethnicity.” There were moments when I felt that the author occasionally slipped up, including details that Raymond would have known (about his own experiences and feelings, for example) that the spiders probably wouldn't have. Still, it was interesting, and I liked their very alien perspective on how they should behave and what sorts of things humans might feel comfortable with and enjoy. I wish there had been more of that.

The world-building didn't really work for me. I could deal with the way the wasps mutated to be able to inject their eggs into Julia (honestly, it wasn't much different than accepting that radiation could create superheroes), and the author did eventually (a bit later than I'd have liked) provide some of the history of the spiders' influence on humans. However, there were lots of things I wanted to know more about, and instead I got vagueness or absolutely nothing. I'm still wondering how a giant mass of spiders could create a believably human-looking being, especially since the spiders didn't always seem to be confident about their ability to successfully communicate like humans or create natural human facial expressions. And why weren't they more confident about their mimicry, considering how long they'd existed alongside humans?

I also had issues with the characters. Just about every female character in the book behaved, at one time or another, like she was Julia under the influence of wasps. It didn't seem like they were consistently themselves. And the thing was, I'd probably have been able to put up with that, and my issues with the world-building, if it had all amounted to something.

I really liked the premise and the unusual POV. I just wish the finale had been as good as the buildup.

Additional Comments:

I counted at least six typos or instances of missing words. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it was more than I expected in a work this short, and the errors were really noticeable.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2015-02-02 18:31
Community Organizing by David Walls
Community Organizing (Social Movements) - David S. Walls

This was a fairly easy to read text (for a textbook) the beginning gave a history of the Alinksy method as well as some of its pros and cons. Then it discussed some of the various other organizations that have developed.

My favorite parts were the portions on the more modern movements, especially the ones tied to Obama campaign.

*This book was received in exchange for an honest review*

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review 2014-12-17 20:42
Highly Biased; Read At Your Own Risk
'Isms & 'Ologies: All the Movements, Ideologies and Doctrines That Have Shaped Our World - Arthur Goldwag

I was hoping this book would be factual, but what I found was a bunch of highly biased material.

 

One inkling of this was when he was trying to explain uncertainty principle, he quoted Deepak Chopra. Chopra has no idea what he's talking about when it comes to the physics and thus never should be consulted.

 

The other one that solidified it for me was the author's definition of atheism. First, he dedicated two paragraphs to a very complicated subject, which to me showed he really didn't think much of the atheism movement. Second, he quoted an antitheist and C.S. Lewis, neither of whom are particularly good sources for atheism.

 

My biggest beef about this is, if you cannot be impartial to others' beliefs, don't try to write a factual book about it. Then again, the author's big claim to fame is writing a book for Beliefnet, a website not exactly known for its tolerance.

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review 2014-10-27 14:24
ArtSpeak by Robert Atkins
ArtSpeak: A Guide to Contemporary Ideas, Movements, and Buzzwords, 1945 to the Present - Robert Atkins

An illustrated guide to the movements and buzzwords of the post-World War II art world.

All professional worlds have their own language and codes that seem impenetrable to outsiders, and the art world is no different. However, art is unique in that even those who consider themselves insiders seem to resent the opaqueness of words, denouncing the quizzical texts that can be found in exhibition press releases and catalogues as a pompous, non-sensical attempt to be “deep". This book is the perfect antidote to that.

The truth is that a lot of the writing you find in the art world today is baffling, but that doesn’t mean that all the buzzwords are meaningless. Naming movements and concepts helps us make sense of the largely fluid and eclectic art world, and it gives us points of reference to attempt to construct art historical narratives. The problem is that a lot of today’s art is better understood when you are aware of those points of reference, which makes a lot of people feel inadequate when they visit a gallery. This book explains all the movements and buzzwords in plain English, detailing the origins, the artists, and the influence of styles, movements and ideas. As such, it is an excellent read both for beginner art enthusiasts and those on the inside who need a reference book (granted, a superficial one, but good as a starting point) to the major developments of modern and contemporary art.

It was refreshing to see that this includes not only Western art movements, but also those from Brazil, China, Japan, and Australia, among other places. My only complaint is that , with a few exceptions, the Middle Eastern region is largely ignored, which is not entirely surprising, as this region’s artistic narratives have only recently begun to be explored by the mainstream, but it is something to keep in mind for the next edition of this book.

A good book to offer to your non-artistic oriented friends, so that they will start coming with you to gallery and museum openings without feeling left out of the conversation.

 

Note: I got this book for review purposes through NetGalley. This review has been cross-posted to my Curious Curator blog. 

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photo 2014-05-09 22:15
Source: sinfulfolk.com
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