Science Fiction/Thriller Book Review: The Mother Earth Insurgency

The Mother Earth Insurgency by J.G. Follansbee is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novella I first stumbled across on Instafreebie when the author decided to give it out to promote the upcoming release of the first true novel in the series, Carbon Run. It was a runner up in the Writer’s of the Future Contest and has recently come out as a Quarter Finalist in the 2017 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Contest.

In other words, it’s already gotten a bit of press before I picked it up.

It follows the story of Nick Sorrows (pronounced Sor-Ohs, as the character reminds our antagonist midway through the novella) as he attempts to infiltrate a terrorist plot spearheaded by the enigmatic and dangerous Jon Janicks. Nick works for the Bureau of Environmental Security, a quasi-governmental agency given power after an environmental catastrophe known as the Year of Storms.

Janicks is an environmental criminal who hates the idea of all the power, both literal electricity and figurative ability to make laws, concentrated in the hands of a few. He gathers together a team of expert hackers and bomb technicians in order to blow up a massive wind turbine and send a message to the BES – don’t tread on me.

Except… that’s not all there is to it.

Given how short the story is, if I go much further I’ll spoil all the plot. Suffice to say it’s a quick read and I plowed through it in just under an hour and a half. The world building is fantastic. Follansbee manages to introduce many sci-fi concepts to the reader in the span of a few pages without having to stop the action and explain exactly what’s going on, and many of the problems experienced by his protagonists (and their concerns) feel like they directly came from decisions being made in our world, right now.

The environmental outcomes were well researched and felt like they could easily happen if we continue on our path today, and the characters each felt like people you could meet in a detention camp in the modern day. I like that his terrorists were relatable, rather than being the sort of lazy cardboard cut out villains I’ve seen in other books. You can clearly follow their motivations, and may end up oscillating between sympathy for their plight and horror at the acts of desperation they commit throughout the book.

I don’t often give out five stars, but it’s telling that I went and bought Carbon Run and pre-ordered City of Ice and Dreams after I finished The Mother Earth Insurgency. The hype generated by the contests is well deserved, and next week I’ll be putting up my review of Carbon Run.

5/5, can’t wait to see where the series goes from here.

YA Fantasy Book Review: The Mermaid’s Sister

Like many Amazon Prime members, I picked this book up a while ago on Kindle First. It’s Carrie Anne Noble’s debut novel, and all in all I’d say it’s pretty decent.

The Mermaid’s Sister opens immediately into what the description promises: the main character, Clara, pining after the scales that have appeared on her sister Maren’s skin. Although it takes some time to get into the action (we’re almost halfway through the book before the journey to return her sister to the sea even starts) the colorful world building and readable style make the journey enjoyable and worthwhile until we get there.

That said, I did find the ending rather disappointing. The novel heavily hints about a possible connection between Clara and magic, and when the result of all that foreshadowing is ultimately revealed, it feels rushed and not quite the payoff the description and journey promised. The villains they encounter later in the book feel cartoonish and simple, even for young adult fiction, and I don’t think the YA label should forgive that bit of laziness on the part of the author.

I enjoyed the healthy relationship between Clara and Maren’s pseudo “parents,” and the interplay of jealousy and internal struggle between Clara and Maren over their Not-Brother O’Neill. I especially enjoyed the changes in Maren as she progressed toward becoming the mermaid she always was, and the idea of a mermaid shrinking while away from the healing energy of the sea.

I do have to say Maren’s final identity ended up a bit more cliche, and the final scenes in the denoument left much to be desired. It was a quick read and I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure if I’d rush to pick up another book from this author again.

4/5

Freedom: A Struggle With Definitions

So many writers across the centuries have tackled this topic, and given recent events with the Trump administration, more journalists and friends have attempted to add their own marks to it than at any other time during my lifetime. Between Twitter and Facebook diatribes about the difference between freedom of speech and freedom from oppression and articles exploring the meaning of various freedoms as expressed in a 250+ year old document written by men who couldn’t possibly imagine our current lifestyles and predicaments, I feel like almost every facet has been covered.

What’s left for me?

Personally, I’ve noticed there’s a struggle in the current discourse when it comes to defining the word freedom. Even the dictionary seems unclear on this point. Currently, Webster’s Abridged has two working definitions, as follows:

1) the quality or state of being free, such as
            a: the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action

            b: liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another; independence
            c: the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous

      d : unrestricted use

  • gave him the freedom of their home

           e : ease, facility

  • spoke the language with freedom

            f: the quality of being frank, open, or outspoken

  • answered with freedom
            g: improper familiarity
            h: boldness of conception or execution

2 a: a political right

      b: franchise, privilege
 

Examining these definitions, it’s easy to see why the discourse gets so locked up. Often, when two people are discussing freedom, much like the word respect, they’re arguing between the freedom of or to do something versus the freedom from having to deal with said thing.

Thus, a member of the Christian hegemony can argue that their freedom of religion is being repressed, when truly what they’re saying is that they wish to guarantee their freedom from having to deal with conflicting beliefs or people who do not live lifestyles in accordance with their beliefs.

Often, in law, a term will be defined at the beginning of a legal statement for the express purpose of making sure there’s as little grey area as possible in interpreting the law. I believe this is a good part of what’s missing from our current discourse on freedom. Defining the term at the beginning of a discussion, as freedom of or freedom from, and then proceeding is the easiest way to find a middle ground, if that’s what one is interested in.

That said, I don’t believe freedom of necessarily trumps freedom from. Your freedom of expression should not allow you to incite violence against me, and in most cases the laws agree with me. But when it comes to discussing things like hate speech, discrimination in the workplace (especially in areas which, for example, may only have one bakery that happens to be owned by a fundamentalist Christian who happens to disagree with a patron’s desire to have a wedding cake baked for their gay wedding) and discrimination against women in health care, it’s nearly impossible to reason with the side that argues their freedom from trumps the freedom of pursuing happiness for the people they desire to discriminate against.

Our Constitution was a fantastic document for the men who wrote it, but from the beginning left out rights for indigenous peoples like my ancestors, people without enough wealth to own land, people who identified as women, and people with more melanin than the average European. As such, as much as we like to think it’s the gold standard for the values in this country, it’s hard to argue that it can stand on its own when discussing where the law should protect members of society versus where cultural pressure is the only way to change things.

The womxn’s marches, Black Lives Matter, Free Puerto Rico, and the gay rights movements have all proven those holes need to be filled. And in the end, social pressure hasn’t been enough to change everything. The Supreme Court had to step in and force domestic partnerships and homosexual marriages to be recognized on a federal, and therefore EVERY state, level. The freedom of gay men and women to marry trumped the freedom Christians desired from having to deal with the paperwork such marriages generate.

The freedom of speech does not trump freedom from oppression. And when one digs deeper, into the rights of transgenders to change the sex on their birth certificates or the freedom legal medical marijuana patients seek from government monitoring on a patient list, it’s easy to see why these terms can easily become drowned in the mix.

Ultimately, freedom can never be absolute, or there would be no society. Denigrating terms harm people for generations.

Respect is often as nebulous as freedom when one attempts to define it, but it’s usually meant in one of two ways: being treated like a person, and being treated like an authority. Often those who demand respect before they will grant it mean they won’t treat another human like a person until that human sees them as an authority.

The respect most of us seek in this discourse is the freedom to be treated as a human being, and the restriction of the “freedom” others perceive as their right not to do so. The majority of the proponents of freedom from restriction desire for their belief structures to be respected as authorities, so that minority groups lose their respect as humans.

Many readers will dismiss this assessment as liberal drivel, but I hope those who don’t, those on the conservative spectrum and in the centrist aisle can see what I mean. When one discusses freedom or respect, it’s important to understand denotatively what each party means before the discussion can continue.

The Post: A Treatise on the Free Press and Women in Power

Last night I went to go see The Post with a good friend of mine, and I can honestly say I was not disappointed.

The Post is an engaging and timely political thriller about Katharine Graham’s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers despite the Nixon administration’s lawsuit against the Washington Post’s national rival, the New York Times.

It manages to capture the essence of being a working woman in the modern world in addition the the period’s particular brand of sexism, though some critics may call out the utter lack of diversity in the film as a detriment. Meryl Streep owns the role of Katharine, and her on-screen presence throughout the film electrifies every scene she appears in.

The tense moments prior to the major plot decision are particularly well executed. The dynamic camera work (where the camera moves with the characters and swings through each shot) was a pleasure to watch. Open and closed doors provided a visual representation of theme throughout the film, as every decision posed a risk to Katharine and her business.

Even as the men surrounding her tried to make it about them, particularly her head editor and legal advisors, by the end she finally asserts herself and shows her employees that it was her bravery that ultimately mattered. In many of the advisory shots, the men hovered over her, pressuring her, and toward the climax, when she stands and asserts herself, I found myself suppressing the urge to cheer in the theater.

It’s a niche film for sure, but a timely one given the Trump administration’s recent admonishments of the press. The last lines in the film, read from the Supreme Court decision back then, hold particularly true now:

“The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.” – Justice Hugo Black

I’d give it an 8/10. Would definitely see it again.