"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Kill Shot Fever

It’s a bad idea. Writing about it. Watching it. Thinking about it or at least thinking too much about it. But when I saw a tweet, or a headline, or whatever I saw first, soon followed the urge to watch video of two TV news employees being shot to death on television. For real. I had the urge right away. Go watch it, Jake, urged some very deep and persistent part of me or my mind. But I didn’t. Not sure what stopped me. I just know that from the moment I found out about the live killing. Live killing. I was able to avoid the urge, the porn-like urge? No, maybe a bit different. I don’t know. But similar enough in urge quality. The undeniable, visceral curiosity of seeing something that ranks among the greatest sins, and in this case the greatest tragedies. Though this won’t bare any noble reflection of me, I may have been able to avoid the urge to watch the video because of the beauty of the reporter. She seemed adorable, intelligent, healthy, and lively. If I had only the picture, liberated from all context, the crush would have been pure and instantaneous. Now the attraction was heavily diluted by the reality that this fellow human being, fellow mammal, example of success and hard work, had been gunned down minutes or hours earlier. So instead of just thinking about a pretty woman, I was grappling with the knowledge that she was dead, and mass media was giving me the opportunity to watch her be killed. For real. I was tempted. It was like a fever, with the wanting a fever produces. Summit fever. Spring fever. Saturday night fever. Fever as a wanting. Normally just think of it as a nagging plague on one’s sense of well-being. It was that too. And there are people, family, friends, and coworkers made instantly dearer than dear, all suffering shock and sorrow. So much shock that the sorrow isn’t noticeable right away. But competing and almost overtaking my desire to respect the next of kin, to in some way offer support, overtaking that was my desire to watch the video of the killing. I’m still feeling the temptation now, though it has ebbed some. Perhaps while I write. I almost watched it several times. As I surfed coverage, the murder was almost shown to me several times without my choosing to see it. I’ve seen people shot in the head before. Usually in documentaries that gave some warning. But here the Internet, including news.google.com and yahoo.com, became algorithmically-arranged minefields of chances I might see a murder on a Wednesday morning. Intentionally or inadvertently depending on which link I clicked. How did I avoid it? Am I going to give in later tonight and watch the murder in my apartment? I’ll probably always have the chance. And an article I skimmed on NPR not long ago suggests there is even an evolutionary justification for me watching the murder video. But I haven’t. The other thing I did was to deliberately post, retweet, and click Like on other things. I pushed back against the algorithmic primal sweeping hurricane force trending opportunity to watch a murder on the internet. Two murders actually. I made it a point to give my meager clicks to other things, to the coverage that doesn’t bleed and rarely leads. I spit, farted, and peed in the wind of violence made readily available. And the best video coverage, willingly passed along from murderer to media to all of us me’s, was filmed by the murderer himself. One thing I have yet to feel is any sorrow that he is gone. I’m angry a bit. And that makes it so I can’t show respect or consideration to any significant degree to his loved ones. I’m sorry for that. So maybe there is hope for me. Maybe I’ll go watch a murder. A psycho selfie. Is that a term yet? Someone has to have thought of that. Anyway, I felt like being rude just now and passing that alliteration along. I tried posting some positive things. I hope that helps in some almost certainly feeble way. People still like to say we are the greatest country on the face of the Earth. Our nation with its rampant gun violence and protection of guns. Wow. What a low opinion that is of the many countries where this type of thing does not happen nearly as often. Or so I’m told by the Internet…that makes it so easy to watch murders, to share video of them.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Treading "In Harm's Way"

In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its SurvivorsIn Harm's Way: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors by Doug Stanton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is a point just over halfway through In Harm's Way where author Doug Stanton struggles with the semantics of describing a World War II naval disaster. The USS Indianapolis was sunk 40 hours earlier. The survivors have been treading water, suffering from toxic doses of sun rays and ocean water, along with relentless shark attacks. Yet, for legitimate reasons, the book is only half over and things will get worse. Stanton writes, "By late afternoon, things had mutated from horrific to unbearable."

Being an English Major, I balked at this word choice. The gist seems to be things are extremely bad, but somehow they are becoming even worse. To me the words "horrific" and "unbearable" are sufficiently complementary--if not synonymous--that they lack the proper sense of escalation the author seems to intend. Am I nitpicking? Most certainly. But the issue still stands.

The story of the USS Indianapolis is so very horrific, even a good author like Stanton risks running out of macabre word choices while the story is only at its midpoint. He does succeed. Personally, I find his writing at its best as he journalistically rehearses the facts and provides the relevant eyewitness perspective. Wisely, he almost never uses the disaster as a springboard into semantical indulgence. The author dutifully recounts the events, as best as they were remembered and documented by the participants. Where accounts differ, he provides footnotes rather than ostentatiously claim--like any given cable TV documentary might--that he alone has uncovered the real story.

For many of us, our knowledge of the USS Indianapolis is limited primarily to a single monologue in the fictional movie Jaws. I regard that monologue as one of the greatest in Hollywood history. Yet it does not completely capture, as even Stanton struggles to in a full-length book, the sheer horror of this naval disaster.

Stanton also, without belaboring the point, succinctly juxtaposes the violence and loss of one Navy ship with the destruction it assisted in bringing upon Japan by delivering the Hiroshima Bomb to its staging area in the Pacific. The facts, and the price paid in lives on both sides, need no embellishment. As such, I highly recommend In Harm's Way, for its sobering and revealing look at this key moment in World War II.

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Riding With the "Lords of the Sith"

Lords of the SithLords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paul S. Kemp’s Lords of the Sith does more than provide bridgework between the movie plots of Stars Wars Episodes III and IV. It also a bridges their disparate storytelling styles. In this novel, the stately bureaucratic world of Episode III provides a framework which is quickly torn asunder--quite entertainingly--by the Wild West outer rim of Episode IV. This book comes as close to being the Star Wars novel I’ve hoped for since the now long ago and far away Heir to the Empire Trilogy by Timothy Zahn.

In Lords of the Sith, we encounter an early attempt at a rebellion against the Empire. We follow a younger, more acrobatic Darth Vader. He flanks a quite nimble Emperor Palpatine eager to take his eerie needling personality on the road. They head for Ryloth, a planet key to Galactic Trade...no, no, don’t tune me out. This novel is no trudging prequel mired in trade negotiations. We get just enough political background to justify Vader and the Emperor taking a Star Destroyer to Ryloth to quell insurrection. Almost immediately, battle breaks out and does not stop until the novel ends.

As for the nascent rebel band scheming on Ryloth, I did not find any of them especially memorable. Isval, a hot-blooded second in command is easily the most interesting. She reminds me of a younger, impetuous Luke Skywalker, though without being a brat. The cast is not especially large, which serves the novel well. We get to know a few people, spend appropriate amounts of time witnessing their internal monologues, before embarking on the next action sequence.

As stories go, Lords of the Sith owes more to Episodes IV through VI than the prequels. It’s a relatively lean ensemble piece. There is even a bit of romance, similar to what we see between Leia and Han in The Empire Strikes Back. Isval and the rebel leader Cham struggle to keep their feverish attraction at bay while chasing Vader and the Emperor to the surface of Ryloth. Most of this novel sees Vader and Palpatine on the run, but eager to make tactical stands and show off their Sith abilities. Making them, and their loyal soldiers, the novel’s prey, creates occasional odd moments of worrying about their safety.

This is an exciting novel. It does not obsess with tying every tiny string of subplot together from the movies it fits between. The plot is simple, the characters interesting if conventional. Perhaps its greatest weakness, in my mind at least, is its relative lack of humor or charm. Everyone is very serious and broodingly aware of their place in the galaxy. The novel is exciting, but it lacks the character-driven charm of Episodes IV and V. Yet, this is something I feel all Star Wars novels I’ve read lack. Capturing that charm may be impossible, given it was created by an ensemble of talent, not solely by George Lucas. So I suppose the next best thing is a really good chase across the deep of space to an exotic world tailor-made for adventure. Lords of the Sith is precisely that.

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