Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

“You tell me that battling with monsters has made me a monster?  Doing business with devils, what has that made you?”
For those wanting to better understand the stories, worldviews, and messages shaping today's youth, I offer my latest review of trending books, films, and TV shows effecting a YA audience (such as The Hunger Games, Divergent, Graceling, Bitterblue, The Road, The Wolves of Mercy Falls, Spiderman, Project X, and The Walking Dead).  My goal is not to critique the art form as much as to analyze how the story reflects and shapes the readers' worldview.

Universal Pictures has already bought the film rights to  Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and no wonder: Laini Taylor's book has received exceptional critical accolades:
  • New York Times Notable Book of the Year
  • Publisher’s Weekly Best Fiction Book of the Year
  • School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
  • Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Book of the Year
  • Entertainment Weekly Must List Selection
  • ALA Top Ten Books for Young Adults Selection
  • Fiction and Fantasy Booklist Finalist


Seventeen-year-old Karou has been raised by Brimstone, who happens to be a chimaera - or as the average person would say, a monster.  While her life has been relatively stable, there are some oddities - she has odd tattoos on her hands; she feels that something is not quite right with her and the world; she collects teeth for Brimstone without knowing why. In fact, she leads a very carefully managed double life, going to school with her friends while traveling the world through magical portals that take her anywhere.

She eventually meets Akiva, an angel who plans to destroy these doors ( the “devil’s portals into the human world”) before he destroys the chimera.  
Who would have guessed that Karou is a Revenant, a reincarnated version of Akiva's dead lover, Madrigal – who happened to be a chimera? Angelic Romeo met chimeric Juliet once before, and lost her. The good news - Juliet has been resurrected as a chimera/human seventeen-year-old art student.  The bad news - Akiva has already set in motion a plan that will destroy all she loves.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Much Undead Ado About Nothing

As mentioned in an earlier post, the debate about what it means to be human has taken an interesting direction following the recent fixation with zombies. The Walking Dead and Philosophy opened with two essays arguing that the consideration of philosophical zombies (P-Zombies) - theoretical beings identical to human beings but lacking consciousness, qualia, or sentience -  mitigates against a purely materialistic view of the world.  

There is a clear difference between P-Zombies (who are biologically identical to humans) and actual humans.  Something besides biology seems to be necessary to explain consciousness, mind, thoughts, ideas, and emotions.  

I find the intellectual speculation to be both insightful and entertaining.  The zombie analogy provides a way to decipher the nature of humanity, at least at a theoretical level.
 Robert Delfino and Kyle Taylor (“Walking Contradictions”)  take the discussion in The Walking Dead and Philosophy a step further. Is the idea of real zombies even coherent, or are we just making a lot of undead ado about nothing? 

Their argument builds from two key laws in logic - the Law of Identity and the Law of Non-Contradiction -  to argue that a thing cannot exist in such a way that is incompatible with its nature. A thing with mutually exclusive properties cannot exist (like a square circle, or a sane University of Michigan fan). In the same way, a being with mutually exclusive properties cannot exist either. Since the Walkers try to hold two mutually exclusive properties in tension (both physically alive and physically dead), they would seem to be impossible.  
 But not so fast!  Some quasi-living beings (such as viruses and viroids) appear to do just that. One type of fungi can take over carpenter ants and make them act like, well, zombie ants.  And if you’ve seen Twilight, you know that zombie actors can even carry commercially successful films.