Monday, April 29, 2013

How to be a nerd at college

You ever seen one of those movies where it's the nerdy college students versus the evil greek students?

Like this movie. All my female friends made me watch it, and you know what? I'm comfortable enough in my own identity to say that it sucks.
In the idiotic chick flick, Sydney White, a girl tries to get into her mother's sorority only to get humiliated. So she joins up with a bunch of nerds, including one who has a beaver puppet (I only realize just how dirty that is now), and runs for student council president. For some reason, this works, when it never would in real life.

They say the greek population at Cornell is about thirty percent  of the student body, but it feels a lot bigger. Judging by the number of shirts I see reading 'I'm not slacking off--my code's compiling', the number of nerds hovers around thirty percent as well. But you never see a group of nerds whaling around North Campus in a makeshift mobile pool made by sticking a tarp in the back of a pickup truck.

Here's the secret: greeks just organize better. There's no difference between Pi Phis and Tri Delts and Alpha Chis and Junior Mints. But there's about fifty shades of nerd at Cornell, and they all have their own habitats, cultures, and patterns.

For example, last Saturday night I watched the Asian pop acapella, went to a rock concert hosted by my friend Tom's frat (himself a nerd), watched Ring of Steel (the theatrical swordfighting group) perform, and then found myself watching giant robots fighting other giant robots with the anime club. Four different nerd groups with very little overlap. Music, electronics, theater, anime . . . the problem is, the word nerd has come to describe someone who cares about something a little too much.

For instance, it's totally possible to be an echinda nerd
Speaking of nerds, my professor is leading a discussion on Snow Crash right now. I wonder why she only ever wants to talk about the first chapter of every book.

I think there's two main species of nerds at Cornell--the Risleyites and the engineers. The Risleyites live in the theater dorm and engage in card games, role play, and a little light kinky sex. The engineers live on the engineering quad, build solar powered cars, eat ramen, and smugly contemplate their rich future salaries since they're ensured jobs. Much like matter and antimatter, if they meet, they explode. But thankfully, they don't often do it.

The Risleyites are mostly Arts and Science students; the engineers are, of course, engineers. Human Ecology doesn't produce nerds. I'm not sure what it produces. I think it used to produce housewives, but it's not supposed to do that anymore. It's not surprising that a college who's unifying theme is 'Stuff Involving Humans' can't coalesce around a single nerdy subculture. I suppose the Architecture school might count as nerdy, but if obsession around a single weird subject counts as nerdy, the average architecture student's level of obsession comes off as 'cultish'.

There's also the hotel school, which produces event planners, master chefs, and the only people who take Intro to Wines seriously. I've never met a nerdy hotel student, but I've only met two hotel students, and I've never been able to get either one to conclusively explain why they chose hotels to dedicate their lives to. There's the Ag school, comprised half of farmers and half of business majors (Cornell was founded back when farming and business were synonymous), neither of whom are known for their love of Japanese childrens cartoons and/or building robots out of duct tape, wire, and chewing gum.

I can't help feeling that I've forgotten a particular school, but can't remember what it is. Dentistry? Do we have a dentistry school? And if so, where can me and my baseball bat find it?

So if you're the kind of socially awkward person who likes to hang out with nerds, you'd better narrow down your search criteria for friends at college. Here's a primer for spotting nerds in the wild. Computer science nerds tend to wear dingy black tee-shirts with coding slang written on the front. Their hair is usually matted and unkempt. For some reason, this is the species of nerd that finds it easiest to get a girlfriend. The girlfriend will also be a computer science nerd.

Theater nerds are trickier to identify. You don't want to go looking for them and ending up with a theater punk instead. Theater punks will dye their hair and wear leather outfits that I can only describe as 'steampunk  from a thrift shop'. Also, they and theater nerds will tend to hold their hair back with goggles. But theater nerds generally share the unkempt hair of computer science nerds (come to think of it, all species of nerds don't really have good hair. Must have something to do with our brainwave radiation). They can be identified by their necklaces, which will contain either sword pendants, wolf's head pendants, or a pair of dragon wings.

There's also bio nerds. These are the most boring class of nerds (when they don't overlap with another pre-existing nerdy subculture). Their top concerns are MCAT scores, research positions, and their orgo grades (in that order). Of course, I myself am a bio major, but one look over at Cornell's biological research tower will tell you everything you need to know about this class of nerds. They live in a tall, windowless tower with a single door and spend their entire day working to improve their med school application. The difference between a bio nerd and a worker bee is size (of their social lives).

Come to think of it, it's probably time we stopped using the word 'nerd' and came up with our own distinctions. Any ideas?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Book Review: Kydona, by Thomas K. Krug III

After the last epic fantasy I read, I was a little skeptical to pick up anything new in the genre. Thankfully, I didn't listen to my instincts when I picked up Kydona, by Thomas K. Krug III (now that's a name that hits you like a hammer!) Set in an alternate, war-torn Europe, Kydona follows Marcus, the Crown Prince of Elessia, as he comes of age in a country ravaged by war, social inequality, and corruption. While the pace can be slow at times, Krug's world and characters are both realistic and engrossing, and his witty command of language adds a second layer of enjoyable material to the story.

This cover is much more commercial than the earlier one. This cover has  breasts.

When Marcus's mother, a long time champion of the common people, passes away, Marcus's rebellious spirit prompts him into taking up her cause. But the years have eroded the capabilities of the once-powerful Elesian monarchy, and a frustrated Marcus feels more like a figurehead than anything. To make matters worse, his mother hinted on her deathbed about a conspiracy among Elesia's nobles, and Marcus's father, the king, is more interested in his courtesan lover than his son's concerns for the future of their country. When the rouge province of Kydona rises in rebellion, Marcus yearns to join the other noble boys marching to battle--but when he gets his wish, it's in the last form he could have expected.

The worldbuilding is enticing, from an interesting duo of gods to Krug's lavish description of the court in all its finery. While more sexualized than your average European court, the lines of conflict in the court are easy to see. From the struggles between the elite and the poor, the conquerors and the conquered, and men and women, Elesia is solidly grounded and constructed.

Many characters in epic fantasy run the risk of appearing two dimensional, but Marcus and his friends are quite well fleshed out. Marcus's desire to help the common people is more influenced by his love for his mother (and dislike of his father), and his rebellious urges, than true altruism. He enters a relationship with a low ranking girl despite knowing he'll never be able to marry her. His impulsive actions get him in trouble more often than they help him, and his desires to improve his country constantly wrestle with his sense of hopelessness.

His father, King Aubric, is little more than a glorified general for his nobles, and constantly struggles to project his dominance over the one area he has some control--his family. Roslene, his scheming courtesan lover, skillfully pulls the strings of his court, and the reader can't help but wonder who's side she's truly on. Vernon, Marcus's best friend, is little more than a party-loving pretty boy, but he displays an unwavering loyalty to his friends. Watching these constantly evolving characters interact is one of the best parts of this novel.

However, the pacing can be slow in places. Hints are dropped at the dark secrets surrounding Elesia's court--missing regiments, gypsy prophecies, a foreign princess once thought dead--but none of these mysteries have been successfully addressed by the book's end, which lacks a suitable climax. The story would be much improved if there had been some final battle at the end, which lead to Marcus discovering the truth, or at least more information, about one of these strange things--something that will give him a goal to accomplish  in the sequel. As it was, I felt like the book was more of a set up for a sequel than an entry of its own--but the sequel is eagerly awaited.

My rating? For epic fantasy, four and a half stars. For a novel, three and a half.

You can purchase Kydona here. You can also go here and purchase my book, Iceclaw.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Modest Proposal

Do you know what the most deadly animal in the United States is? The white-tailed deer. Boy, is that a let down.
Come on, man, get your game on.
Deer cause almost two hundred human deaths each year. That's more than naked mole rats, Cher, and yodeling combined. As my fellow Cornellians know (from the barrage of emails from Police Chief Kathy Zoner), campus safety is a big issue right now. Sexual harassment, petty theft . . . everyone wants us not to swim in the gorges, but Ms. Zoner fails to notice the deadly threat starting students (and worse, faculty) in the face. Deer-on-car assault.

Picture this: your math professor, driving up Jessup road. He was up late all last night preparing your final exam, which sits in the back seat of his car. Wham! He slams a deer and ends up in the hospital, cancelling your final and ending your last chance of the semester to show how much you learned. Every deer on campus is an accident waiting to happen. Even one deer is one deer too many.

Fortunately, there are more cost effective ways to handle this problem than building a giant fence around campus and/or throwing all the deer into Bebe Lake. That's where my proposed elective comes in: HE 4580, Introduction to Wildlife Management. This four credit course, offered through the College of Human Ecology (otherwise known as the College of Miscellaneous Studies), will be open to all majors and will integrate anatomy, food science, physical education, and Native American history in an effort to holistically and academically end Ithaca's deer problem once and for all.

HE 4580 is not a traditional course, limited by the four walls of the classroom. Instead, students will journey across campus armed with shotguns, quickly and efficiently eliminating every deer they encounter. Whether it be on the crowded green of the Arts Quad, or the crowded green of the Ag Quad, or the deserted, slightly pathetic Biotech Quad, the students in HE 4580 will fire at the first glimpse of brown (Note: This may require slight change in the campus dress code).

This is the back of the football stadium. No one ever goes here, right?
The addition of HE 4580 to Cornell's course offerings will have many benefits for students enrolled. According to research done by the NRA (citation needed), the addition of more guns to campus will lead to drastic cuts in violent crime (murder, assault, peeing on the A.D. White statue). Much like meditation teaches students the traditional Buddhist way of dealing with stress, HE 4580 will teach students the traditional American meditative practice: pumping a living being full of lead. Field dressing their kills will teach aspiring doctors the proper way to prepare a corpse for the dinner table (Dr. Lecter could give a guest lecture!) and cooking the meat over an open fire will teach history majors why they don't really wish they could travel back to whatever time period before decent cookware they're currently studying. Rarely does a proposed class have such interdisciplinary appeal.

Through HE 4580, students would prepare themselves for the eventual collapse of society as we know it. In keeping with Cornell's reputation as the most apocalypse-proof Ivy League (take that, Princeton!), HE 4580 will prepare our students for the high paying jobs of the future, when one deer will be worth a bag of potatoes, a single dose of antibiotics, or two nights of sex. Whether the end comes via zombies, natural disaster, or plague, hunter-gatherers will always find themselves in high demand. Students in HE 4580 would have the time (or end of) their lives!

The entire campus would benefit from the implementation of HE 4580. Ever since The Cornell Review (our preeminent conservative newspaper) ran a headline exposing the lack of white male professors in our Feminist Studies and Africana Studies programs, I have been working tirelessly to imagine a position that would attract this coveted demographic. The teaching staff of HE 4580 will greatly improve the diversity of Cornell's faculty.
Dr. Jackson and his TA demonstrate the proper way to humiliate a carcass
By distributing the fresh venison in our dining halls, we will save the university the burden of having to purchase the usual rat and horse meat from wholesalers. Our suppliers may protest, but one look at ( the good being done by) our shotguns, and I'm sure they'll change their mind. We will also engage the greater Ithaca community by partnering with local shotgun manufacturers like the Ithaca Gun Company (shipped its jobs overseas to Ohio in 2007!)

If this course is successful, which I have no doubt it will be, I suggest that the university make it a required course. I have seen deer eating the shrubs outside the A.D. White house in between classes--wouldn't it be better if a horde of armed students was there at the ready to protect the integrity of our campus gardens? My fellow students, I urge you to share this with one another. Only you can prevent deer from jumping into our cars. Only you, with a gun.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Book Review: Angelfall, by Susan Ee

As usual, comments are welcome!

When I first read this book, it didn't make much of a strong impression either way, and at times I found myself wondering as to the purpose of many scenes. But I'm glad I gave Angelfall, by Susan Ee, a second chance. While it lacks the grandiose scope and dark wit of The Mortal Instruments (my favorite YA series), it tell a compact, efficient story that makes its energy go a long way--rather like the Prius of YA.

Did they really need to mix serif and sans-serif fonts on one cover?

Penryn Young just wants to survive the apocalypse with what's left of her family intact. Between her schizophreniac mother and her crippled younger sister, this is harder than it looks--especially when a band of roving angels abducts said sister. She's got to team up with Raffe, a mysterious angel who's just had his wings chopped off, on a journey to get the constantly bleeding double amputee (who is somehow still  considered very attractive) the medical attention he can only find in (quite coincidentally) the place the angels are keeping the abducted children. As they journey across war-torn California, they encounter a mysterious pack of demonic creatures who hunt human flesh and briefly join the human resistance to the angelic invasion.

It's a creative story, told in a strong, consistent voice. The pacing is excellent, and Ee does a good job of keeping the tension high throughout. Certain visual images are arresting, especially the descriptions of the human bodies mauled by demons, but some others lack fire. Despite being set on the West Coast, we don't really get much of any local culture. Breakers, by Edward W. Robertson, did a much better job of capturing post-apocalyptic California--his L.A. is full of life even as it's dying. 

I would have also preferred Penryn's character to have been a little deeper. From the first page, wherein she slips knives into the straps of her boots (despite this being an absolutely horrible place to put a weapon. Seriously, if you need it to defend yourself, you'll have to bend over to get it. Can't you just stick it in your belt?), we're meant to think of her as a badass. This is explained by her mother enrolling her in self-defense classes, just in case Penryn needed to be able to defend herself against her mother when her illness gets out of control.

But living with a mentally ill parent does more than make you a black-belt. It's a difficult, embarrassing way to live. And Penryn doesn't seem to have any of the scars of that life. Did kids make fun of her when she was young for having a crazy mom? Was she secretly ashamed of her mother all these years? It'd improve her character a lot if, when she kicks a gang member in the balls, to project the image of someone who picked on her in her childhood. And she thinks of her mother more like a badly trained pet than a parent who's failed to protect her from the bad things happening in the world.  There's no real resentment there, just stoic acceptance.

Penryn behaves more normally and heroically as any teenage girl could be expected to in the apocalypse. She never once thinks of abandoning her crippled sister or crazy mother. Of course, that's not the kind of thing a good person would do--but she never even once considers it. She quickly comes to trust Raffe and the human rebels, even though you'd expect a girl who's father abandoned her to have some issues with trust.  True, there's a few times she has skeptical emotions, but they don't ever truly influence her actions. Penryn may have a tragic backstory, but that's all it is: backstory. It doesn't really effect her actions in the present. 

Angelfall may not be a deep story, and it's certainly not the best YA I've ever read, but it's an entertaining yarn worth reading twice. My rating? For YA fantasy, five stars. For a novel, four.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The disgusting reality of being a bio major

Edit: My professor just showed us a picture of a gigantic spider eating a bat that was caught in its web. Remember, kids, do a STEM major!

So we're sitting in my bio study group and talking about the body plans of starfish--about how they show twofold symmetry in their larval stage. Then we google starfish larva.
You see this thing that looks like a squished fly/booger/Cthulhu hybrid? This is a baby starfish. 
But I'm not really creeped out. Because as a bio major, you see far, far worse. 

When I was in sixth grade, I was obsessed with weird medical disorders. Progeria (a weird disease causing premature aging)? Parasitic twins? Extreme multiple births? Whatever lead to Lindsay Lohan? We had the Discovery Health Channel, which meant I had a neverending supply of shows on weird, unexplained medical conditions, and I really didn't have a social life, so I spend all my time learning about just how weird the human body could be.

But the animal body is weirder. One of the first thing every prospective bio major has to do is learn to sex flies. The common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, has a long and storied research history and has enabled many advances in the theories of genetics. However, it looks gross under a microscope and every research assistant's first job is to look very, very closely at them in hopes of telling them apart.

You see the obvious difference? See, see, see? Maybe looking at the disgusting real versions would help. 
The thing you have to look for are the male sex combs. The tiny hairs on the male flies arm are called sex combs. They are very short and are very hard to identify. To properly identify your flies, you have to look at their gigantically enlarged legs under a microscope for far much longer than anyone would. They are disgusting. To make matters worse, sometimes you need to examine and sex multiple flies. People, the reason bugs are small is so we can see one and not automatically throw up. If looking at an insect's magnified sex organs for six hours has no effect on you, you're either a serial killer or a biology major.

Another horrible thing about fruit flies: they are model organisms for the study of mutations. Their job, their duty to the world of science, is to devolve into progressively twisted and deranged forms. Some of the mutations are harmless, like the ones that change their eye color from blood red (I hate fruit flies) to a normal shade of brown. Some are pathetic, like the mutation that gives them tiny shrunken wings. C'mon, nobody wants to see a fly who can't fly! That's gotta be the one upside of being a fly, right? Flying!

But the absolute worst mutant fly is the one that occurred when one sadistic scientist decided to 
implant some tissue from a fly larvae's leg in its face. Surprise! You got a fly with legs growing out of its eyes. I could post a picture here, but won't, because even looking at it make me want to vomit. There is absolutely no greater good that can be served by creating such an abomination. It has legs growing out of its eyes! There's a reason I don't play zombie-themed video games, but zombie games are tame compared with the crime against nature that I know I'll see pictures of at least once a semester for the rest of my life. 

Even this makes me queasy.
But the horrible things humans do to animals are nothing compared to the horrible things animals do to other animals, the horrible things that, for some reason, it's vitally important your bio teacher show you colored pictures of. Goodness knows that I wouldn't be able to understand what a parasite was without seeing pictures of a fungus bursting out of an ant's brain, or a wasp's egg emerging from an unsuspecting beetle and devouring it. Any time your professor says, "and this next part is really cool", be warned, you're about to see a worm slither from a kitten's eyesocket. 

And tapeworms. Never get a biology professor started on tapeworms. The magical fun worms that live in your stomach, where every segment is a single hermaphroditic individual. Horroray! 

The worst part is when they make you help. Just the other week, we had to slice open small tumors on goldenrod plants and look for the beetle larvae on the inside. Oh, and some of the beetle larvae were being attacked by parasitoid wasps who'd laid their eggs in the larvae in the tumor, dooming the beetle larvae to being eaten alive. Because there's nothing like cracking open a husk of wood and finding a writhing parasite larvae to make you never want to eat rice ever again.

Or try exploring the bug collection in Comstock Hall. Thousands and thousands of dead bugs, preserved in  vaults that reek of formaldehyde. The butterfly collection is quite pretty, until you remember these beautiful animals were flapping harmlessly from flower to flower until some lunatic jabbed a pin through their abdomens. The beetle collection makes me think the pin jabbing isn't that bad, since some of the beetles are the size of my hand. 

And then there's the collection of mites, neatly displayed on the tips of cards attached to pins, since the mites are smaller than the pins themselves. What's the point of displaying something that looks exactly like a  black speck? Is there one? Maybe the specks look better under a microscope . . . 

No! I'm turning into one of them!

Monday, April 8, 2013

How To Dye Your Hair Purple

This wasn't actually my idea. Most people assumed, when I told them I stayed up until four AM Saturday night streaking my hair, that I was drunk. Even my little sister assumed that, which is frightening, because when I was twelve years old, I'm pretty sure I didn't know what drunk was. So let me just remind those people that I don't need alcohol to make impulsive decisions. Furthermore, it wasn't actually my idea.

I'm not quite sure how a straight shooter like Xinting got the idea that we should all dye our hair, but I know why we started a three hour process at one in the morning. Java. Xinting and my roommate Ayesha are in the same computer science class. Introduction to Java. Engineers have computer sciences classes the way that liberal arts students have language classes. Ayesha, who speaks four languages, is about as proficient in Java as I am in Spanish (no language ever needs more than three verb tenses, far as I'm concerned). She and Xinting spend hours every night, camped out in the community center working on their programming projects.

Or so I thought. Until I decided to get out of the house for a bit and go do some work with them. Turns out, they're actually watching YouTube videos, reading manga, and playing Words With Friends. I tried to play Words With Friends with them, but after I beat Ayesha by 253 points in one round, they've stopped wanting to play. To be fair, if I hadn't played 'queued' on a triple word score (and gotten the 'Q' on a double letter score), I would have won by less than a hundred and fifty points. Also, using a dictionary is so cheating.
I played box. And then I made it inbox

Ayesha was also particularly upset when I played 'Java', which aside from containing both a J and a V, happens to be the current bane of her existence.

So there I was Saturday night while they struggled to finish their project, pouting because no one would play with me. Xinting pointed out that I'd been ribbing them all week to just do their work, but, as I rightly told her, anyone who doesn't play Words With Friends with you isn't a true friend. I still didn't convince anyone to start another game with me, which is a pity, as I like seeing how much I can crush the competition by.

But eventually, they finish their project. Xinting had conceived of the purple hair idea weeks ago, and Audrey had bought the dye last weekend. We had absolutely no clue how long it would take, but me, Xinting,
Audrey, Ayesha, and Sarah (one of the five billion Sarahs in my circle of friends) crowded into my dorm room. Upon reading in the directions that bleaching my hair would take half an hour,  I jokingly suggested watching a movie.

So we started Office Space and went into the bathroom to tie up our hair.

Fitting five girls into a bathroom that can't even comfortably fit one is a challenge. Everyone else put their streaks in the back of their hair, but not me. I wanted mine in the front. Audrey told me that I should put it in the back so I could hide it if I had a job interview, but I pointed out that the only jobs I have left to interview for are waitressing jobs, who don't care what color your hair is.

So we start rubbing bleach in our hair. It makes your hair very stiff. Sarah suggested I put a paper towel on my head so I didn't accidentally bleach anything else, but I couldn't get it to stay up, so I had to duct tape it there. I load up the movie on Amazon Prime Instant Video, proclaiming it to be far superior to Netflix, Itunes, or the ever favorite, piracy. The movie then fails to load for a good ten minutes and everyone gives me shit about it. But we start watching, and then it's time to re-bleach everyone's hair.

Xinting forces Ayesha's head down in the sink and meticulously shampoos the bleach out of her hair. This is probably the first time that sink has ever had anything resembling a cleaning agent down it. Seriously, all the purple splatters we left made it look cleaner. And Xinting got to learn first hand what's it like being a blond, which, I would like to tell my little sister, is not actually that much fun.
No, it's not

Then we squirted the purple stuff into our hair. In fact, we were having a pretty good time. This is probably why a boy came walking over (despite the fact our side of the building is all girls) and asked us if we could keep it down. Since the people on our hall regularly come through at two AM yelling and screaming, this takes some nerve. We continued until something amazing happened--the Second Coming of Steve, our RA.

Steve's kind of a myth on our floor. We know he's technically in charge, but nobody's seen him since orientation. This is probably because he lives most of the time at his frat. So he had some nerve telling us to quiet down. Sure, it was three in the morning, but he has never enforced a rule once this year, despite the many times I have asked him to get the people on our floor to quiet down. I can only assume he was nursing a hangover.

Ayesha made us all  quiet down, though, and we even went to use her quiet little hairdryer instead of the industrial strength handdryer in our bathroom--the crappy one that goes off every time you so much as look at it and kept scattering hairdye across the counter. It was four AM by the time we finally dried our hair and saw the awesome streaks. In fact, losing sleep was probably worth it. Sure, my sister and Taylor think I had a wild, drunken night, but I just had a wild night without alcohol.

Artsy bus pic!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Book Review: Realmgolds, by Mike Reeves-McMillan

Someone once said 'Dying is easy, comedy is hard', and Realmgolds, by Mike Reeves-McMillan, proves it. I've read many bad novels, but at least  I could laugh at them. Maybe this is all supposed to be satire. But satire is supposed to reflect a controversy in our society, and there is nothing controversial about genocide and racism being bad things. Maybe this is supposed to  be the parody of a bad fantasy novel. But if so, the author probably shouldn't describe masses of civilians being used as human booby trap detectors. Parodies should have a punch line on every page, like the far superior Royal FlushI'm forced to assume this was a legitimate attempt to write a fantasy novel.

The hero of the story, Determined, is the king of the land of Denning. No one takes him seriously as a ruler. Until, that is, the story begins. Victory, the queen of the neighboring kingdom (they're technically called Realmgolds), starts giving Determined political advice that's supposed to be savvy and brilliant, such as 'educate your citizens' and 'use the media to influence public opinion'. Victory's only flaw is that she can sometimes be reckless, but that doesn't matter, as every reckless decision she makes pays off.

Victory wants Determined to join her in proclaiming freedom to all the gnomes enslaved by dwarves in their kingdoms. This brave moral stand goes against centuries of dwarf tradition, but the dwarves remain loyal to their human monarchs nevertheless. In fact, it's pretty creepy how all these minorities have absolutely no representation in their governments and seem content to be ruled by humans. The humans in this book live in a strict class system of Coppers (peasants), Silvers (merchants), and Golds (nobles), but the non-humans don't belong to this system. They appear to have a degree of self governance, but  Determined, the supposed hero, doesn't have one non-human in his circle of friends and advisers 

When the racist mob of uneducated peasants calling themselves the Human Purity movement starts taking over his kingdom, Determined opposes it, because he's the hero, and heroes have to oppose bad things like racism, not because he's genuinely connected to the people getting hurt.

In fact, Determined's got no skin in the game at all. Stories require protagonists who are in some kind of physical or emotional danger. This creates tension, which drives the story forward. Determined's got the unwavering support of his loyal friends who approve of everything he does. Far too many pages consist of Determined sitting at a desk and giving orders to his secretary, like one exchange where he orders the commander of the city guard brought  in, orders the commander's boss to come in, orders the commander arrested, orders everyone to swear a loyalty oath to him . . . in other words, scenes that could be summed up in a single paragraph, since no worthwhile character or plot development occurs there.

When a major event is about to occur, we get pages of planning the event, and mere paragraphs of the actual event. This might be interesting if the plans were exceedingly clever, but they aren't. An entire chapter is devoted to Determind's personal secretary swearing a magical loyalty oath to Determined, because to be a good guy in this story, you must worship at Determined's feet. Of course, it's not all hot chicks and good times for Determined--he has to leave his cushy palace and live in a wasteland filled with biting flies--but aside from a few red bumps, he doesn't suffer anything in the course of the story (his supporters suffer, but Determined never feels guilty outside the scene in which said suffering occurs).

Again, he wins the war against the evil Nazi racists by informing the people of the occupied capital city their leader has fled, and in the exact next scene, he's back in his royal palace and the racial tensions plaguing his kingdom have completely vanished. Determined's biggest action scene is his own wedding to the woman who is mutually in love with him.

Of course, the antagonist is the worst part of the story. Reeves-McMillan doesn't seem to know what 'subtle' means. The villain thinks 'if [the racist Human Purity movement] wasn't about power, he didn't know what it was about'. He kills babies and hires rioters to destroy buildings. Even Hitler did what he did because he had convinced himself the Jews were evil, but this villain doesn't even try to rationalize his deeds away. This level of cartoonish evil outshines Determined's Mary Sue nature.

Realmgolds is a novel without purpose. It isn't funny, it isn't deep, and it isn't even mildly entertaining. No fraction of this book adds to the preexisting fantasy cannon. There is not a single original character, idea, or event within these pages. Even in a genre like fantasy that draws heavily on pre-existing tropes, the author has a duty to combine those tropes in a way that is interesting and unique. This novel does none of that, and I fail to see why of all the possible stories in the world, this was the one the author chose to write.

This novel is grammatically correct and does contain a fairly consistent voice. There is also a plot. My rating? For a fantasy novel, one and a half stars. For a novel, one.

You can download Realmgolds here

Monday, April 1, 2013

April Fools and Sports Medicine

Written per Katherine Sheridan's request. 

Sports medicine is a growing career field, made possible by the expansion of biotechnology and medicine into the realms of professional sports, funded by professional sports teams and colleges--and, you know what, it actually sounds kind of boring. Until you pull a muscle or something. Or end up in a boot.

This is Boot, Destroyer of Track Seasons,  Scourge of Soccer, and the Reason TJXC Never Won States.
You see, female athletes have very fragile legs. And for some reason, TJXC was particularly unlucky in this department. I'm was the only girl on my varsity team who never had to wear one, which is probably because I never ran fast enough to get a stress fracture, or because I didn't stress out about things like summer jobs or my grades (at least, not as much as Taylor did).

In fact, foot injuries are so common that an entire varsity distance squad can one by one tell their coach that they can't run in the next day's meet, and he'll totally believe them.

It all started on one cloudy April Fools Day. Like most April Fools Days, this one took place in early April. There was a track meet the next day, which would end up being so windy and cold running wasn't worth it, but we didn't know this at the time. So there we were, jogging around the track, being good little girls, when all of a sudden, Lisa, team captain/West Pointer/champion runner/girl scout/environmentalist had a idea that the Lisas of this world aren't supposed to endorse, let alone conceive of.

"Let's play a prank on Coach James," she says.

Now Coach James, although he looks like a bulldog, happens not to be the most observant man in the universe, especially when faced with micromanaging a group of fifty sprinters. Coaching distance runners is fairly easy--you tell them to go run five miles, and they go do it. But sprinters are notoriously irresponsible, and must be told how exactly to move their legs.

The average sprinter, as seen by Coach James

The average Coach James
So we decided it'd be a good idea to, one by one, go up to Coach and tell him that we were all to injured to participate in the meet. We thought he'd catch on after the first four, but we underestimated just how easily distracted one adult watching over fifty teenagers can be.

Lisa, being our evil mastermind, went first. She'd had a lingering foot injury for all of her high school career, and Coach barely batted an eyelash (I don't think he has eyelashes to bat) before releasing her down to the athletic trainers. Kelly went next. This is when we discovered that she has excellent acting abilities, as she actually managed to whip up false tears and goad another girl into freaking out with her over a potentially pulled muscle. It worked quite well, because Coach is one of those men made vaguely uncomfortable by crying girls. Come to think of it, most men are this way.

The rest of the girls and I watched from a distance as Coach dismissed the other girls to the trainers. "This can't possibly be working," Margaret said. After all, these were the team's two top runners he'd just sent out. But there was a squadron of sprinters who hadn't worn the right uniform to discipline (keep in mind, this is on a team where the coach buys a new uniform every single year), and Coach James simply was not paying attention.

We sent in Stephanie and Katherine as a group, because Stephanie has the unflinching ability to giggle tremendously whenever she lies and was still surprised by her surprise party even after her sister accidentally told her about it. Katherine is a bit better at lying than Stephanie. My running shoes are better at lying than Stephanie.

And Coach swallowed it. "I can't believe it," Ronit said, disgustedly determining to raise the stakes. As we ran down a lane, she purposefully kicked over a hurdle and shouted "Ow!" at the top of her lungs.
Hurdles: the NASCAR of track and field. 

"Ronit!" we all shouted in unison, very loudly. "Are you all right?" Coach still didn't look up. Not even when Ronit, the star of the 4x800 relay, ran over and told him she'd tripped over a hurdle (keep in mind, she's one of the few coordinated people on the team), did he call us out. Ronit jogged down to the trainers.

"My turn!" I said, and screamed "Ow!" as loud as I could. Drawing on my comprehensive middle-school theater training, I limped dramatically over to Coach James. "Coach, Coach, I think I pulled my--"

"Go down to the trainers." He raised his voice. "And another thing! You've got to keep your pants on until it's time for you to race!"

I'd heard enough of the pants talk, so I limped across the field until I was out of sight and ran back down to the school building. Katherine, Stephanie, Ronit, Lisa, and Kelly were already there. We had a great laugh and continued running around the building. Rekha joined us, bringing our number to seven. Seven runners pulling out! Man, we'd fooled him!

All was well until fellow distance runner Jonathan Phillips comes racing down to see us. "You've got to get up to the track! Coach found out and he's really mad!"

"He threw his clipboard to the ground and cursed a lot," Jake added.

Lisa grew very pale. "What have we done?" she said.

We raced up to the track. Coach was still there. Only now, he was actually paying attention to us. You don't really understand what it means to have someone 'glower' at you until someone actually does it. "Were you girls playing a prank on me?" he said.

Lisa's eyes darted left and right. "Um . . . April Fools?" she squeaked. The fact that she's fundamentally fearless should tell you a lot about how angry he was.

"I called the meet director and pulled you all out of your races!" he shouted.

"No!" Kelly gasps. "Please, Coach, you have to fix it!"

I was kind of celebrating on the inside--those races are pretty grueling, and tomorrow was supposed to be cold. Coach pulled out his phone, punched in a number, and started grumbling to the man on the other end. "So, apparently, my girls team was playing some kind of prank on me and . . . wait, what do you mean the entries can't be re-done? What do you call that? Oh, right." He looked at us. "PAYBACK! April Fools!"

So it turns out that Margret and Rachel had gone to Coach after we'd left and told him they were suffering from 'April fool-itis'. They ran up and laughed at us. Kelly exhaled. Rekha hugged me. "We knew he was pranking us, right? You didn't look upset at all!"

"I can't wait to race!" I said. On the inside, I thought, April Fools.