Shannon Blue Christensen
I have been studying, teaching, or working in English Literature and in Theater productions since the late 1980s. I achieved a thorough education in the Western Canon, Literary Theory, Philosophy, Cultural Studies, and minority “outside-the-canon” fiction and theory from several of the finest schools in the US. I was a research assistant to Professor Fradenburg while still an undergraduate. Her focus was the role of mourning and confession in courtly love. Popular critics used at that time were Lacan, Zizek, Foucault, Jameson, and others similar to them; the traditional critics had fallen out of favor, so I studied the Modernists on my own. My honors thesis compared Chaucer’s “Knight’s Tale” and Scott’s “Blade Runner” in the worlds of courtly love and postmodern theory. In addition to my degree, I was within credits of minors in History, Education, French, and Theater (I was a dual major in English and Theater for most of my university years). I chose to not finish those programs due to the cost of a university education. It was time to get a job.
I also worked as a teaching assistant for both High School honors English classes and Middle School “Special Education” classes. I was a journalist for a brief while during university, focusing on local and national politics. I worked in the theater for many years, as a director, actor, producer, and crew member. Some productions were student, some were semi-professional (non-union). Many of my former colleagues continued on to make a living at this craft; I opted out deciding that I preferred books to rehearsal schedules.
In my other professional life, I worked in quality assurance, training, change control, operations, and project management in the biotech industry. I also took a peek at law school – but quit after five months.
This member has not published any books.
Fire: The Collapse
on Jan. 17, 2013
I admit it, I was skeptical. Then again, I thought that Twilight was fun, despite being badly written. Lots of things are entertaining without actually being good. So, I thought I’d give Esmont’s Elements of the Undead a shot. At least, it would be a diversion from daily life.
I underestimated it.
In all really satisfying science fiction or fantasy stories, paranormal archetypes (in this case, zombies) are symbols for bits or themes of culture or humanity about which we do not know how to discuss. The outlandishness of the apparent subject gives the audience permission to safely talk about troubling social issues. If the conversation gets too hot, someone can crack a joke about vampires or zombies or changelings or Big Brother. Everyone can save face and retreat into the social order they distrust. It is always about today, always about now, when the genre is correctly executed. If it is done badly, it is never more than an idle pastime and an object of ridicule. Done well, however, it can subvert existing power structures. It can become a cultural touchstone.
The popularity of superheros, paranormal heroes and villains, and artificial intelligence named “Hal” (or cars which park themselves and talk back to the drivers when they ask for a certain radio station) is not a fluke. It is a lightening rod for social psycho-analysis.
At the end of Fire, the narrator uses Megan’s point of view to say, “The undead were only a symptom, she had finally realized, a symptom of a broken society that would rather battle each other to the death than compromise for the greater good.” (Page 184.) Elements of the Undead is a commentary about what we have become, with our social media, hyper-violent entertainment, and bloated governments. We turn on ourselves, and devour senselessly, without meaning and without stopping.
If your taste doesn’t run towards the metaphoric, the series more than satisfies with quick pacing, lots of action, and just the right amount of detail. Esmont skillfully develops characters (even those who don’t live long) who mean something to us, and about whom we care. He weaves us around various geographical locations, introducing us to groups of survivors, and different manners of survival, some of which are as bad as the zombies themselves. Esmont does not sacrifice story for pacing, however, and while it is a violent novel, it is not unnecessarily gruesome. The real violence happens between people – and leads us to the book’s self-description: “tales of survival.”
By the end of Earth, book three, we still do not have a clear notion of what survival is or what death is, since very few things stay dead for long in this world. Elements of the Undead presents possibilities for what it might mean to be dead, or what it might mean to be alive, and thus offers a searing perspective on our treatment of each other in this, our zombie-free world.
It is a relevant tale in this age of online relationships and decreasing face time.
Lastly, the formatting and artwork of the book are beautiful. They add to the grittiness of the story, giving it the appearance of an old telegram with blood smears and crinkles. The e-version is good, but the paperback is lovely.
Also by William Esmont:
The Patriot Paradox (The Reluctant Hero, Book One)
Pressed (The Reluctant Hero, Book Two)
Red Adept Editing: http://www.redadeptpublishing.com/editing-services offers editing services to elf-published authors, in addition to being a small press.
Streetlight Graphics is ww.streetlightgraphics.com, another small business offering graphics arts services to idenpendent authors.
This review first appeared on irevuo.com, Friday Reads.
Coming to Astoria: An Immigrant's Tale
on Feb. 01, 2013
Coming to Astoria is an auto-biography by an Arab immigrant whose family was displaced as the result of the creation of the modern borders of Israel in 1948. The author's family and many like them, who had lived peacefully alongside their Jewish neighbors for centuries, chose to leave Palestine and, in this case, move to Jordan due to the violence between the surrounding Arab nations and the new Jewish State.
Please note: I am not an expert on the history of the many wars and the culture of terror and exploitation in the Middle East, so I am not going to properly set the stage for this story. I do not want to be disrespectful to the real human crises in this region by misrepresenting them. However, I encourage *all* readers from around the world to look closely at the past 80 years (well, actually, 3000 or so) in the Middle East. Avoid popular media because each journalist and news outlet has a rooting interest in their writing. Read the history books and the documents from the times, and learn. The "conflict in the Middle East," as we Westerners like to sanitize and call it, is unresolved for very complicated, very violent, very ugly reasons.
Kiam's Coming to Astoria is wonderful because it gives us a first-person account of what happens to the average family caught in the borders and within Arab cultural traditions. We don't often have the chance to listen to the common man's story. We hear what the governments do not censor or what Al Jazeera or CNN chose to report. We listen to stories of celebrities who have overcome humble beginnings and so on. Those stories are all slanted, and not representative of the more average experience. Coming to Astoria is the story of a typical person trying to live within and around these conflicts.
For its universality, Coming to Astoria is worth the read. However, as a work of writing, it is clearly the result of someone not well-practiced in the skill and art of story-telling. The narrative often rambles. Scenes from the author's memory are given great detail, and then years are glossed over, with no connecting tissue between them. There is no unifying theme. Kiam occasionally wanders into the realm of political rant, and spends pages blasting Arab governments and family customs, particularly pertaining to the treatment of women, and then returns to a catalog-like listing of events from his life. Approximately half of the book is spent bitterly detailing the abusiveness of family members, with no resolution other than "eventually I met and married a nice American girl and raised great kids." Overcoming a history of domestic violence is no small accomplishment - I would have liked to hear that story.
In summary, the story would benefit from a ghost writer, or a very strong editor, who can connect Kiam's dots and present a complete tale rather than a set of scenes. One wants to enjoy the book for its unique perspective and first person narrative, but the writing gets in the way. Hopefully, this author will continue to work on his craft, and retell the story again in more polished form.
This review first appeared on irevuo.com