Category Archives: Literature

Sandworms and Sequels

W00t! I finally get to credit yet another completed sci-fi novel reading to my name: Frank Herbert’s masterful Dune. Since the spring semester started up in January I’ve maintained a steady pace of reading before, after, and between classes. By the time spring break started, I was on my last 50 pages, so with all the extra time, I was able to finish!DUne

Here are my thoughts:

Unlike the many Michael Crichton novels I’ve read and re-read, Dune started off rather boring. This most likely contributed to my inability to get into it the first couple of times I tried reading it. My favorite books are the ones that I absolutely cannot put down once I start them*, and Dune simply did not fit into that category. Nonetheless, it is still a worthy addition to any reading list, despite its minor flaws, which I will briefly discuss.

After the book began to pick up pace about a fourth of the way in, it steadily began to snowball toward climax. An explosive ending steadily became inevitable, with all the major subplots hurtling uncontrollably toward each other. What irritated me most was how the ending seemed rushed – as if Herbert intentionally left several loose ends untied as fuel for the subsequent sequels. He spent chapters upon chapters at the beginning (the aforementioned “boring” part) weaving an intricate plot web with which to spend the rest of the book untangling.

Most authors separate the climax and resolution by starting a new chapter. This is the formula I am accustomed to and expect to see when reading a novel, since it aids in my mental organization and processing of the plot. The fact that Dune’s climax and resolution are found in the same chapter is probably the source of my irritation – that and the fact that the resolution is only, like, two pages. A two-page ending hardly seems adequate enough to finish off 300 other pages of dense, well-written narrative.

I just wasn’t left with a substantial sense of closure. Like the end of Matrix: Revolutions (don’t even get me started on the wasted potential of the Matrix story line), I could tell an ending was supposed to be there, but it just didn’t seem meaty enough for me.

Some free advice to both novelists and screenwriters: I don’t care if you are planning to do a sequel, finish what you’ve started and if it is truly deserving of a sequel, you’ll find a way to write it. It’s not necessary to leave huge holes at the end of your story just in case you need to plug a sequel into them later. I swear I get so sick of how every movie anymore has to be the start of a trilogy. Someone in some office is probably saying, “Yeah that’s a great script, but cut out the detailed ending. If this one makes it big we’ll make two more of ’em!” Exhibit A: Super Mario Brothers. Yes, the movie was pretty goofy at times (to be honest, I think that’s part of its charm), but it probably wouldn’t have sucked quite as much if it hadn’t been designed with a sequel in mind.

Ugh, I went off on a little tirade there. Don’t let my ranting dissuade you from picking up Dune if you’ve been considering it. One of the reasons I and so many others enjoy reading sci-fi novels is because of their power to whisk readers away to worlds that are limited only by the authors’ imaginations. Dune does not by any means suffer from lack of imagination. Anyone whose creative energies are so abundant that they spill over into appendices and glossaries certainly deserves any awards or critical acclaim they receive.

As if I could ever aspire to do better…

Next on the list? Orwell’s 1984.

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*It has never taken me more than three days to read a Crichton novel cover-to-cover. I finished Prey seven hours after I started it, stopping only for snacks and bathroom breaks.

The Deep Dark Secrets of Nursery Rhymes

Last Friday night I found myself at the kitchen table doing calculus homework and finishing up a worksheet for my Probability and Statistics class. Not exactly the most desirable way to spend a Friday night, I admit, but since I currently work two consecutive 12-hour shifts every Saturday and Sunday, you can probably imagine that by Sunday night, I’m so exhausted that I barely manage to stand upright in the shower – much less worry about derivatives and regression lines.

Alas, as engaging as this may sound so far, how I spend my Friday nights is not really the point of this post.

As I sat there, wailing away at the keys on my calculator, Kristopher was listening to one of his music CDs from the living room stereo. It was a toddler compilation consisting mostly of nursery rhymes put to music. I usually require absolute silence to study, but instead of moving to another room I remained at the table. Perhaps I was either too lazy or too tired to move – I suppose the reasons aren’t that important. Anyway, the music had stopped about 15 minutes before I finished my homework, but for some reason I still had “Pat-A-Cake” stuck in my head.nursery-rhyme-signs-pat-a-cake

Pushing the songs out of mind while doing my homework had forced them into my subconscious, haunting me long after the CD had finished its rotation. This got me thinking back to something one of my high-school teachers had said about how most nursery rhymes contained hidden meanings. Her example was “Ring Around the Rosie,” supposedly about the Bubonic “Black” Plague that ravaged the population of Europe centuries ago.

Ring around the rosie,
a pocket full of posy,
Ashes, ashes,
we all fall down!

For decades, schoolchildren have repeated these cute little rhymes without knowledge of their true meanings. The Black Plague wasn’t exactly cute – seeing as it wiped out nearly a third of Europe’s population. Thus I began to search the internet for hidden meanings of nursery rhymes.

history-behind-nursery-rhymes-theyre-horrible-97398

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Most nursery rhymes were most likely created by peasants to be used as metaphorical political or social commentary. Metaphors were used because of course there was no such thing as the freedom of speech. Most of the population was illiterate so they were made easy to remember and recite – thus the rhyming.

Like ancient epic poems, these rhymes were passed from generation to generation until their true meanings were ultimately lost by the time they actually made it to print. Anything we now know of nursery rhymes comes from interpretations by scholars of history, which are still just educated guesses.

Other interpretations are also widely accepted – most of which are Freudian in nature (relating everything to sex). The easiest target with this line of thinking is the nursery rhyme “Jack and Jill” – often interpreted as a warning against premarital sex.

Jack and Jill went up the hill,
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down,
And broke his crown;
And Jill came tumbling after.

Then up Jack got, and home did trot,
as fast as he could caper.
They put him to bed,
and plastered his head,
with vinegar and brown paper.

Regardless of their actual meaning, it doesn’t bother me that kids listen to such rhymes. It makes you wonder, though, how many “gangsta rap” songs of today will be the nursery rhymes of the future. You laugh, but it’s really not that big of a stretch. A century or two from now, very few people, if any, will actually know what a bizatch is. It’ll just be a cute word in a children’s book of rhymes. :?gangstarapcoloringbook1

The following resources are a good place to start if you’re interested in doing some more research of your own:

Brave New World: The Reaction

After finally finishing Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, I can only imagine the impact this novel had when it was first published in 1932. As valid a commentary today as it was then, BNW is the type of novel that keeps you thinking long after you’ve put it down, and certainly deserves its place as an enduring piece of science fiction. It’s narrative speaks volumes of the human condition – where it is, and where it is headed.

The topic of engineering humans seems to pop up in the mainstream more and more lately, especially since the release of The Matrix and recent breakthroughs in cloning technology. BNW was written some twenty years before the discovery of DNA, so it focuses not on genetic engineering, but environmental conditioning.

The brilliance of Huxley lies in how efficiency and effectively his writing functions as objective description and sharp criticism simultaneously. The characters residing in his dystopian society were so oblivious to their conditions that readers have no choice but to take notice of the consequences of living life without question. His society had created its own prison, and embraced it because it had the appearance of a healthy, optimal existence.

Definitely a great novel. I almost want to go watch the made-for-TV movie of it now. Supposedly there is also a sequel to the novel, Brave New World: Revisited, that didn’t gain nearly the critical acclaim of the original.