Jasper

I went to Eclipse for the second time the other day with a great friend, Jocelyn. It was her first time seeing the movie. We met for lunch then smuggled cocktails into the theater for the mid-afternoon showing on a Tuesday. Don’t tell. We both loved it. She wore her homemade “Team Jacob” T-shirt and I wore my “Team Edward” one that she made for me when “New Moon” hit the theatres last year. Except for the names, the shirts are matching. Nice.

Dupont Circle fountain, Washington, D.C.

I like Eclipse best of all the movies. All of that squishy romance between Eddie and Bella really pulls at my heart-strings. Plus the way the movie is filmed seems more interesting and exciting: lots of intensely close close-ups and dramatic wide-angle shots. Wow!

This time through, I was really struck by that small scene when Bells runs away from Eddie and school to hang with Jacob at his garage in La Push. Remember? She climbs onto his motorcycle just before class was to start, leaving Edward behind in the dust. It’s just afterward that shocked me, though I’d already seen it once before and read it several times in the novels. Bella reluctantly tells J. that she intends to become a vampire herself. Jacob’s angry and shouts something like “I’d rather you be dead than become one of them.”

I couldn’t help but remembering hearing that before, in many different ways. This is the cry of someone who cannot come to terms with having a gay/lesbian/trans or otherwise sexually different loved-one. Sure, sure, I know that Bella and Edward are heterosexual. But let’s face facts, he’s a vampire and she’s a human. That’s another kind of sexuality altogether than the “conventional” model: hence, it’s not straight. But really, whose business is that anyway? The couple, that’s who. The others should simply be glad that Bella and Edward found one another, period. So they’re a little different from the ordinary, so what?

The Eclipse film got me so psyched for the wedding scene at the start of Breaking Dawn, that I started re-reading it this week, too. I’d intended only to read the first “Bella” book, but you know how it goes. The story’s so engrossing that I can’t put the thing down. Now in the middle of “Jacob” with Bells just getting better after drinking the O-negative donated blood during her pregnancy, I don’t think that it’s only J. that’s hung up about the famous “differently-sexual” couple.

Initially, Sam is ready to uphold the treaty and even accepts that Bella made an “informed choice” to become a vampire, thus paving the way for an exception to the rule. Jacob can’t handle it and goes off against Sam’s wishes, with a plan to slaughter as many “blood sucker” Cullens as possible. (That “blood sucker” term is pretty loaded, isn’t it? Sounds a lot like that other problem term, “cock sucker,” to me.)

Of course, that whole plan derails when Jacob sees Bells in all her pregnant glory. But Sam and the Pack’s reactions are pretty telling here. Prepared to let Bella go, now they’re convinced that the only solution is to kill “the abomination” to protect themselves, their families and other humans. They recognize that the mother will die, too, but hey, them’s the breaks.

If you ask me, that’s a pretty extreme reaction, based on nothing but fear of difference and the unknown. Putting it more into perspective, this is the same pack of werewolves that successfully destroyed half an army of newborn vampires a mere few months before with only one injury and no casualties. Even had Rensemee turned out to be a ferocious uncontrolled blood-sucking demon child, I think that the wolves probably could have handled it just fine when they were sure about her nature. What’s the rush? There’s no easy way back from murder.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, though it permanently severed Jacob from the Pack.

I don’t think that it’s just the hick werewolves that suffer from this myopic vision of permissible sexuality. The Cullens don’t look all that cool here, either. The idea that Edward, the father of the potential monster, immediately assumes that the only option is abortion without even consulting with Bella, and that Carlisle seems to agree speaks volumes. It’s the classic Right-to-Life versus Right-to-Choice debate in reverse: here “Life” becomes “abortion/death” to the fetus. Imagine it! Two guys chat and decide that they’re going to abort some pregnant lady’s kid without her permission. That’s way more than old fashioned; it’s messed up!

It all comes down to issues of choice, but real choices cannot occur without the power necessary to permit them. Should Bella be allowed to choose Edward? Should Edward be allowed to choose Bella? Should Bella be allowed to choose to become a vampire? Should Bella be allowed to choose Renesmee over her health? Turns out these are complex questions that preoccupy much of Breaking Dawn. I’m glad that everything works out in the end (except for poor Leah). But even if it hadn’t, it’s gratifying to believe that groups with power: werewolves, vampires, doctors, sheriffs, mothers and fathers, etc. can find ways of overcoming their personal biases, ignorance and stupidity to let those they care about take meaningful risks in an attempt to find their own paths through life.

Too bad that in the “real world” this doesn’t happen more. But alas, the Twilight Saga, Bella, Edward and Jacob aren’t real. It’s just a fairy tale… or perhaps a guide?

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Bella, Edward and Jacob looking down on we mere mortals; Eclipse starts today!!!

It’s about time!!!

We love you , Stephenie Meyer!

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I just finished the new The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner moments ago.

All of you in the Internet universe have probably already read it, too, by now. I did enjoy the story. Bree sounds like a sweet enough vampire. And it’s cute that she is afraid of sunlight and develops a huge crush on her BFF, Diego. That last part seems charmingly like the relationship between Bella and Edward. Didn’t you hear Eddie’s voice when Diego says to her “Trust, Bree” when he’s trying to get her to go into the sunshine? I sure did. Maybe teenagers all sound similar? Probably not, come to think of it. Perhaps it’s a style thing?


I wasn’t super comfortable with Bree feeding on an endless supply of humans without a second thought. Meyer’s vague rationale that these vampires come from the “dregs” of society and feed on the “dregs” did not really calm my nerves. I work with lots of poor and homeless people all the time. They want to be treated with respect, like everyone else. This kind of attitude is not helpful. Really, Steph, the classism is awfully repugnant.

Nevertheless, it is sad that Bree and her friends get mixed up in Victoria’s revenge scheme. You have the sense that they have a lot of potential. ‘course, had there been no Victoria, then Riley, Bree, Fred etc. would all have remained blissfully ignorant human beings going about their regular day-to-day lives, so we’d never have learned about them anyway.

The novella was good, though not quite what I’m craving for. The Bree character is such a trivial part of the Twilight series. I’m much more curious about Leah and Renseme. Though after this latest installment, I’m also wonderfully intrigued with the mysterious vampire, Fred.

I’ve read some comments here and there, Steph, that you’re thinking of a book about Leah and/or Renseme. I really hope so! Like I’ve written before, I really think that there’s something more there. And the increasingly sinister Volturi seem to offer an exciting literary opportunity. Don’t let your readers down, Ms. Meyer!

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isn't a simple haircut a way we voluntarily transform ourselves without even thinking about it?

In all this type of story the living interest lies in their non-fantastic elements and not in the invention itself. They are appeals for human sympathy quite as much as any `sympathetic’ novel, and the fantastic element, the strange property or the strange world, is used only to throw up and intensify our natural reactions of wonder, fear or perplexity. The invention is nothing in itself …

Herbert George Wells (1866-1946) in a preface to a collection, 1933

I found this while randomly trolling the Internet for critical stories about Jack Chalker’s writing. Aside from my own humble commentary, there doesn’t seem to be a lot out there beyond stock comments about the writer’s life, lists of his books, and vague statements about Midnight at the Well of Souls. People are sure missing out.

This H.G. Wells quote spoke to my own obsession with Chalker. The “fantastic” might be a hook to get you interested but there’s definitely something there beyond the mere theatrics. I’m still annoyed with that other web site that trashes Chalker’s tendency to use certain plot devices, for example shapeshifting, by calling it “author appeal.” It’s so dismissive! I wonder if those bozos have even read any of his stuff?

It’s true that I really can’t think of a Chalker novel where changing shape and/or gender don’t feature in the plot somehow. From the very first, clumsy novel, A Jungle of Stars; to all of the Well World novels; the Soul Rider series; Four Lords of the Diamond; the stand alone novels, And the Devil Will Drag You Under and Downtiming the Nightside; the Dancing God series; and the one I just breathlessly finished, the Rings of the Master all use this device in one way or another. I haven’t read everything that he’s published yet, but this is about half of them. It must be a pattern, right?

I admit that all of this switching around does appeal to me, and it truly is one of the reasons that I enjoy Chalker. But is changing shape the only reason that he wrote these books? Isn’t there more to the novels? I think so. Wouldn’t the guy have been bored silly writing so many novels that were meaningless beyond altering the characters’ appearances? Maybe he’d have been better off working as a plastic surgeon or in digital photography if that had been the real reason?

If one actually paid attention to the ouvre, one might be able to make more out of it. I’d classify the shape and gender changing as follows:

1. Voluntary versus involuntary
2. Temporary versus permanent
3. Partial versus complete transformation
4. And a variation of number 2, a single episode of change versus many possible

Looking at the most famous series, the Well World, with this list in mind, we see that most folks who enter the Well undergo an involuntary, permanent, complete transformation, with a few exceptions. On the Well World, magical and scientific means can be employed to temporarily or permanently change individuals after they pass through the Well. That’s how Nathan Brazil becomes a great stag and Marvra Chang a kind of pig at various points in the series. But it’s true that for most people arriving on the planet, there’s only the one major change and they sink into obscurity to live out their lives.

That’s very different in the Soul Rider series where unless you’re magically endowed, partial and complete changes can be imposed on you in Flux by others and your own subconscious. These transformations are permanent so long as you’re in Anchor and in a few cases with certain self-imposed “spells” even in Flux. Otherwise change is the rule over time.

In Four Lords, the Federation Agent’s four “copies” change bodies once at the start of each novel. And in all of them except for “Lilith” they keep on changing. Initially the change was voluntary and seemed permanent. You learn though that there are more options for most of them.

In my new favorite Chalker series, Rings of the Master, except for Vulture, for the most part people can be transmuted once into something else. If they try again, then it seems that they lose significant IQ to the point that they become dysfunctional. So it’s a source of real pain when crew members of the intergalactic spaceship, Thunder, must choose to be transformed into “colonial humans” to infiltrate various worlds and capture the golden rings needed to unlock Master System and free humankind from the tyranny of the machine.

I wouldn’t want to have to volunteer to become a Janipurian cow-like human or a Chanchukian sea otter type, would you? Even worse would be some bizarre water breathing sea monster like “human” from Alititia. Wow! You’d really have to believe in what you were doing! And that’s exactly what happens. Even more stressful, it turns out for some, is changing sex in the process of becoming some other kind of creature. And that’s nothing compared to China Nightingale’s forced transmutation into a blind, hormone-crazed sex machine while not pregnant; blind, “normal” person while with child. That seems like the most grotesque of them all, though she still looks like an “Earth human.”

After a while, the endless transformations seem, well, normal and sort of an expected part of life in a Chalker universe. It’s the emotional impact of the changes that becomes so intriguing and compelling here. I can completely suspend belief and accept that one might become a tiny blue satyr like being or a gigantic moth with a grinning death’s head for a face. I’ve no problem imagining someone changed into a part-machine, part-organic, goddess figure with an idealized woman’s form. I’m fascinated by the super hung, super good-looking male servants that pop up here and there in the company of the most decadent characters. Why not?

It makes me think about my own body and those of others around me. We have this illusion that our bodies are permanently set the way they are right now, when in fact they’re changing every minute. Do you ever get a haircut or shave? I do. If you’re an adult, then you were once a baby and then a child. Your body changed dramatically to get you where you are today. Do you exercise or lift weights? Do you over eat and put on the pounds? If so, than probably you’ve been slowly, perhaps even involuntarily and unconsciously, changing your body. I’ve a friend from college who has recently come out as the other gender. Another friend just had a tummy tuck. So they’re both in the process of consciously, voluntarily transforming themselves. Folks who get injured or women who have borne children undergo more bodily transformations. That person in the wheelchair with the missing legs might have acquired that change somewhere along their lives, after all. How is any of this different from the things on the list above?

I’m middle aged now and even when it’s not always visible, I can feel that my body is different from when I was in my twenties. I’m no longer quite as flexible and energetic (and horny) as before. My body aches more now and for longer periods. My mother says that it only increases with advancing age. I believe it.

Chalker’s characters undergo these ultra rapid physical changes, but I think that it just heightens the reader’s sensitivity to phenomena happening around us and to us constantly, but often more gradually. Isn’t that what H.G. Wells is talking about? This is way more than “author appeal.”

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stop social and environmental destruction!

stop social and environmental destruction!

Of all the characters in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, the one that I came most to admire is Grover the satyr. He’s sort of a clown in The Lightning Thief, barely able to keep his Rastafarian hat and shoes on, let alone watch over Percy effectively. Yet by book five, he’s proud of his identity and seems to find the strength of will to go on, despite Pan’s death in The Battle of the Labyrinth, and his banishment by the Council of Cloven Elders; all the while maintaining a sense of humor. Who else could wake up from a dangerous magical sleep in Central Park, covered in muck, and complain so earnestly “They don’t serve very good enchiladas in the wilderness?” What a touching statement that takes us right to the point: Grover is a curious and successful blend of “the Wild” and civilization.

In these days of suburban sprawl, massive urban migration and the wholesale abandonment of rural spaces and lifestyles to huge agro businesses, we’re all kind of in the same boat. I felt a longing for more untamed lands while reading about Grover’s transformation. It’s like the impulse that seems to have driven Brad Kessler to leave New York for his tiny goat ranch in Vermont. I’m not ready to chuck it all in San Francisco just yet, but I get it.

Recently Hegui started reading The Sea of Monsters and was appalled to come across this line way at the beginning:

The monster’s shadow passed in front of the shop. I could smell the thing—a sickening combination of wet sheep wool and rotten meat and that weird sour body order only monsters have, like a skunk that’s been living off Mexican food.

It turns out to only have been a dream; but how odd to compare monster stench to a skunk dining on Mexican food. What does that mean?! Aren’t enchiladas Mexican? Is that racial profiling?

Just like Grover, we Americans want the comforts brought to us by multiculturalism, world trade and the exchange of ideas: each to his or her own enchilada. But, just as Grover was at the beginning of the series, we’re afraid of the consequences and long for the fading wild places. Aside from the obvious, pro-environmental, pro-green idea, the search for the disappearing Wild is simply an expression of nostalgia for a perfect past that never really existed and simultaneously the guilty admission of our anxiety about all things “different” from ourselves. We can’t escape the dilemma. We bring our civilization everywhere, and, after all, what is the Wild except anyplace where we humans cannot be found?

As one example, simply look at the history of our suburbs since the end of World War 2. Initially marketed as these ideal places of perfect uniformity and harmony with mankind, really safe havens from “the big city” and “the other,” on closer inspection, the reality is very different. Nowadays, all we hear about are the terrible “urban problems” like drugs, gangs and racially-motivated violence, etc., plaguing them. I never saw that on ‘Leave it to Beaver’ or ‘The Brady Bunch.’ And that’s my point: we bring these things with us because, whether you like it or not, they are part of us.

Instead of running scared from our problems into our gated communities and fantasy worlds; or worse, demonizing others with racial epithets, discrimination or war; why not act more like Grover the satyr? Embrace your little bit of paradise while at the same time actively engaging with the real world around you. Perhaps then we can have our wild enchiladas in comfort and peace, all together. I’ll have the vegetarian one, by the way…

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I think it’s so fitting that Hades shouts something like “you were a TERRIBLE father!” when confronting Kronos at the foot of the Empire State Building in The Last Olympian. Fitting; and it’s ironic, too. As I’ve already noted elsewhere, Hades himself could probably benefit from parenting classes.

practicing safety first with parents and children

practicing safety first with parents and children

Really this war cry echoes throughout the Percy Jackson series, drives much of the plot and structures many of the characters’ personalities and actions.

Luke, Herme’s son, is completely bent out of shape by his sense of abandonment by his father who left him with his mentally broken mother. It leads him to “join the Dark Side” and thereby allows for the rise of “Darth Vadar”/Kronos. Do you think that the writer’s choice of name for this eventually-redeemed-villain was intentional?!?

Percy Jackson spends much of The Lightning Thief first figuring out who his father really is and then coming to terms with the ramifications of it. Strangely he dwells inordinately on concerns of what his father thinks of him and worries that he’s not living up to Poseidon’s expectations. This anxiety starts in book one, takes us through The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s Curse etc. all the way to the very end of The Last Olympian. I don’t get it. Frankly, I would have been pretty pissed if my dad had waltzed into my mother’s life, had me, never bothered to get in touch until I started getting attacked by monsters, let my mother marry a complete a-hole so that she could protect me from the monsters that Daddy knew would be after me, then saddled me with this whole save-the-world business. Percy’s a hero and a saint. I’m with Luke on this one.

The other young demi-gods are all more or less in the same boat. I’ve already referred to Bianca and Nico di Angelo’s dreadful father. I feel really bad for how Clarisse’s dad, Ares, treats her so roughly. Thalia’s dad, Zeus, isn’t that nice either. He leaves her with an alcoholic mother and turns her into a tree instead of helping her out with his vast powers…a tree! It’s outrageous. Couldn’t the king of the gods have arranged something a little better for his heroine child? As bad as he is, at least Hades provided for the kids with a substantial trust fund and a private education. Yet Thalia’s embarrassed because she’s afraid of heights! The daughter of the God of Thunder can’t take to the air. It is a little embarrassing in a funny, serves-you-right kind of way. What really blows my mind is that she goes and joins up with Artemis’ ragtag adventurers to save her dad’s hyde! What does she owe the womanizing bastard?! Maybe hanging with the goddess is self-serving in part. It’s not everyone that really has taken an interest in poor Thalia’s welfare. But just like Percy, she’s a martyr for daddy’s love and affection.

Annabeth’s got some father issues going as well. Sure her mom, Athena, hasn’t been around much, but the parent that you constantly hear her gripe about is good old Dad. She runs away at seven because she feels like Pop isn’t that into her and is more fascinated by his new wife and kids. Athena, with her vast several-millennia of experience with children and their fathers, should have known that Doctor Chase was not up to the task of rearing a hero. Yet you don’t hear Annabeth criticizing momma one bit. She’s just down about Dad.

I’m very sympathetic to these abandoned and neglected children, Hades and Zeus included. It’s so unfortunate that the entire plot of the series ends up revolving around one group of kids (the gods and their children) attacking and ultimately destroying their father, Kronos (Don’t forget that Kronos is everyones father, grandfather or great-grandfather in this “happy” tale of families finding a way to just get along.)

Naturally kids want to have there parents in their lives and want to please them; but what about the parents? I think that parents really do have obligations to their children. Unfortunately, it seems so often that the parents in the Percy Jackson series reflect what really goes on in the real world. Parents make unreasonable demands of their kids; they abandon or abuse them; or they recklessly have children that they are ill-equipped to care for, or, perhaps worse, they are indifferent to. Of course the kids are damaged by this and end up doing the same kind of stuff to their own kids, and the cycle continues. It’s very sad. Too bad there’s no way for kids to hold parents accountable, the way Percy holds Zeus accountable at the end of The Last Olympian. That would be real justice.

I happened to look at the section on Rick Riordan’s web site called “books for adults.” He’s written this series about a private eye, Tres Navarre. The summary of the first book, Big Red Tequila, says that the novel is about Tres Navarre’s investigation into his father’s unsolved murder. I haven’t read Big Red Tequila or met Rick Riordan. Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder about this father stuff and what it might mean to him?

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What’s up with the sex lives of these Greek gods?!?

Hera, the goddess of marriage, is totally pissed off about Zeus’ fooling around. Yet she sticks it out with him for thousands of years. There’s some little quip that they went for couples counseling but I’m not that sure it really helped the divine king and queen so much. She’s still fuming and Zeus guiltily recognizes Thalia as another one of his own.

horny, frustrated and ready for more!

horny, frustrated and ready for more!

Hades, the god of the Underworld, is the classic example of a dude with a relationship handicap. As I recall he abducts and rapes his wife, Persephone. Then he goes around banging mortal woman and shoves it right in her face. It’s obvious the way P talks trash about Nico di Angelo that she’s not a happy “step-mother.” Hades himself is pretty awful to Nico as well. What’s up with him not recognizing Nico as his son for ages; verbally abusing him; lying to him when he makes an agreement to help Percy; and locking him away in that tacky Las Vegas casino for decades: all this while at the same time heavily pressuring Nico to be the hero of the Oracle of Delphi’s prophecy instead of Percy? Huh?!? The guy’s a total jerk!

Aries and Aphrodite seem to have a sweet deal. It’s true that he’s a total bully and she’s a huge diva, but hey, they act happy enough. Of course she’s got that ugly husband, but it sort of looks like they enjoy an open relationship. You don’t see any of them all bent out of shape about each other’s mortal kids, for example. Just because the two A’s irritate me doesn’t mean that they’re not living the dream. Hephestus is a little anti-social. That may be because of unresolved mother issues rather than because he’s been cuckolded for millennia. And it certainly hasn’t held him back from fathering a whole slew of heroes. I miss Beckendorf!

The Poseidon story is much the same. He comes across as this glamorous laid-back seafaring playboy type and clearly the ladies go wild for it. The huge army of Cyclopses alone suggests that this god really gets around. It’s also very clear that his divine son, Triton, and his wife, Amphitrite, are not happy campers having Percy swimming in ‘their ocean.’

It’s not all screwing around on Olympus. Aside from Hera’s matrimonial restraint, there’s Athena’s non-sexual sexual reproduction. That’s so weird! And it sort of short circuits one of the more fun parts of having a kid: the sex. Artemis, the dedicated virgin, seems to collect a huge entourage of like-minded virginal orphans and cast-offs. Maybe she’s fooling us. I always wonder if there’s a girl-on-girl thing happening in the silvery moonlight?

That raises another issue about Greek mythology: where has all of the same-sex stuff vanished to in the Percy Jackson series? These gods, godlings and monsters are a rangy bunch. Don’t they go for any cute little thing: man or woman, human or not? I’m sure that I’ve read in my Edith Hamilton about at least one or two peccadillos where the guys were after each other. Let’s face it, Ganymede didn’t become Zeus’ cup bearer only because he’s handy in the kitchen!

I know Mr. D feeds Percy this ridiculous crap that the gods need the demigod heroes to stay afloat. Blah, blah, blah! So the entire system is set up to force the gods to fool around for the sake of Western Civilization?! That’s convenient! “Sorry, honey, I needed to bang that hot mortal. It keeps the economy moving and it helps you, too, you know.” Can you imagine hearing a line like that in divorce court?

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more Percy Jackson

by Jasper on September 5, 2009

Click the image for more Percy Jackson and the Olympians rants

kids aren't the only ones into PJ and the Olympians

kids aren't the only ones into PJ and the Olympians



Grover’s quest for the wild enchilada

Grover’s quest for the wild enchilada

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Percy Jackson rant: kids aren’t the only ones into PJ and the Olympians!

August 29, 2009

I’m in the middle of The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book 5) and I’m having a problem: I’m completely addicted to this series! I came across the books after seeing the amazing movie trailer for The Lightening Thief, which I understand is being released sometime in 2010. I was really struck by […]

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“Twilight” rant 15: it’s all about Bella

July 27, 2009

Lately I’ve been looking at some of the fun home videos of other Twilight ranters as well as some of the written comments that people have been making about the series. A lot of this stuff seems to be complaints about the crazy fans, complaints that Steph has totally cashed in on the whole series, […]

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