A Little Sip of Schadenfreude – A Review of In Vino Duplicitas by Peter Hellman

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German is an utterly fascinating language. Though I haven’t actually studied it, and cannot actually understand it, I am familiar with one particular quirk: how easily it can create new words. It’s something of a joke on the Internet that if someone needs a new word to describe a concept, it is best to turn to someone who knows German, because apparently, the language is uniquely suited to creating new words out of already-existing ones.

But like any other language, German has its own, unique words for specific concepts, and my absolute favourite one is “schadenfreude.” It’s a combination of two German words: “schaden,” which means “harm,” and “freude,” which means “joy.” Taken together, it means “to take joy in the harm of others,” or “to take pleasure in another’s misfortune.” While this is not the most positive sort of emotion, it is a very common one – common enough that I wonder how it is that English does not have its own equivalent. Maybe because the German word is already sufficient? That would make sense.

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To Act or Not To Act, That is The Question – A Review of Quietus by Tristan Palmgren

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This review is based on an ARC given to me for free by the publisher, Angry Robot Books. This does not in any way affect my review. The novel is slated for release on March 6, 2018.

Generally speaking, journalists and anthropological researchers are supposed to maintain objectivity as often as possible when they are covering a story or doing research. This is to ensure that the information is untainted by politics of moral judgements: especially vital in a practice that purports to tell the truth and record history (journalism), and the study of humans in societies both past and present (anthropology). In both cases, moral and emotional distance is required in order to ensure that only the unvarnished truth is conveyed.

But this can lead to dilemmas for journalists and anthropologists alike. In many cases they are witness to acts that might be truly, morally reprehensible – like mistreatment of children, or rape, or systemic spousal abuse. This is especially true during times of widespread social crisis, like during wars or famines. A classic example of this is the story behind a photograph dubbed “The vulture and the little girl,” or sometimes “Struggling Girl,” taken by photographer Kevin Carter during the massive civil war-caused Sudanese famine in the early 1990s. Though Carter scared the vulture away after taking the photograph, and watched the child (actually a boy) in the photo finally get up make it to a UN-run feeding centre, there was widespread criticism of the fact that he did not do more to help the subject of his photo. While no one can be certain if that particular criticism is what weighed most on Carter’s mind when he committed suicide in 1994, it is interesting to note that he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in April of that year, and he committed suicide not long after, on July 27. By that point Carter had done more photographs of equally harrowing events (though “The vulture and the little girl” would be his most famous) and it would not be too outrageous to speculate that perhaps the weight of all the things he had seen and all the things he had done (and perhaps more importantly not done) in the name of journalistic integrity finally crushed him completely.

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“I’m Your Gun.” – A Review of Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

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Trigger warnings for this novel can be found at the very bottom of this review.

As someone who enjoys speculative fiction across a variety of media, I have sometimes been asked the question: “Which do you prefer: Star Trek or Star Wars?” If I must be coy, I will say “Dune,” because I am all too aware of the kinds of arguments that picking a side in the “Star Wars versus Star Trek” debate can cause. Fortunately it is rather hard to argue against the standing of Dune, which is considered one of the great sci-fi classics.

(It probably also helps that not a lot of the current generation of sci-fi fans have actually read it. This is through no fault of their own, of course, especially if they are the kinds of sci-fi fans who prefer to consume their stories through television, film, video games, or other media. The film adaptations of Dune have not met with widespread or even critical success, and since there are no adaptations currently in the works, Herbert’s work may continue to remain in relative obscurity for some time yet.)

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“You Are God.” – A Review of God: A Human History by Reza Aslan

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Religion has always made me curious. It’s because of how I was raised: born in a Catholic country, educated in Catholic schools, and operating in a socio-cultural-economic system that places great importance on being Catholic (to the point that a baptismal certificate can count as valid ID). Like many Catholics, I have since fallen off the bandwagon, as it were, but unlike others who either turned to other forms of Christianity or other religions entirely, I’ve since decided that I do not wish to adhere to any particular faith at all. If someone talks religion to me, my answers will depend on the nature of that interlocutor: sometimes I will say I’m Catholic – an outright lie, but necessary when dealing with more conservative folk. Sometimes I will say I’m Christian – not as much of a lie as saying I’m Catholic, but not quite the truth either. Still, it is a necessary lie in this country, where people can and will judge you for being of any other faith except one that believes in Christ.

However, if I’m lucky enough to be speaking with someone who is more open-minded, I will give the closest-to-true response: that I am “spiritual.” If they are even more open-minded and are looking for details, I’ll admit that my practice of faith is rooted in Christianity but has a lot of elements drawn from Wicca, since I was a practicing (but closeted) Wiccan for a majority of my college years. I sometimes even joke that I’ve abandoned Catholicism because “I want to pray to a god with boobs:” a response to the deeply-ingrained misogyny of Philippine Catholicism.

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“This is the Way the World Ends.” – A Review of The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

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Note: This is a review of the third book in a trilogy. It contains no spoilers for the book being reviewed, but may contain spoilers for the two previous books. Please do not read this review without having read the first two books.

There is a feeling I get when I approach the ending of a story: a strange roiling sensation in the gut. It makes me feel like I want to get to the end as quickly as possible, to know how it all ends, but sometimes – with the best of stories – it is mingled with the sensation to just stop. It is as if my subconscious already knows that to hurtle towards that ending means I will hurt myself, as if it can already predict I will do myself a kind of emotional injury. Not that I actually stop, of course, but it must be said that some books are worth the pain, and others are very much not.

It all depends on the ending. For a story, no matter the length, to be truly worth any emotional turmoil I undergo to finish it, it must have a good ending. I do not expect it to be happy, of course; not all stories can end happily, after all. But whatever that ending might be, happy or heartbreaking, it must, at least, ring true to the story that came before it. Too happy or too sad, and it will ring false. It must be just right, land in a kind of Goldilocks zone where it makes sense. This is especially important with long-running series, since I invest so much time reading the individual books that the ending has to be worth that investment.

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