Saturday, October 2, 2021

High School Musical: The Musical: The Series Season 2 Review

This is going to be a review of HSM season two. Like I mentioned in my video about season one, I got really into this show, so I have a lot to say. But I'm going to try not to go too overboard talking about every little detail.

This season introduces Lily, and whereas last season I expected Gina to be Sharpay 2.0 and then she wasn’t, Lily is a lot more of a Sharpay 2.0. We get hints about her backstory that could possibly flesh her out, but she doesn’t change much over the course of the season. It seems like she’s going to be in season three, so I’m curious if she’ll develop more then. But she is kind of an exaggerated villain in this season with how easily she gets a role at North High and all of that.

We also meet Howie in this season, and eventually, we find out that he’s North High’s Beast. He adds a bit more depth to North High since everyone else at that school just seems like villains. But it’s interesting because we never really see him interact with his classmates. Lily gets shooed out of Slices in the finale, while Howie's there and no one minds. Howie himself doesn't seem to really want her there. It’s an interesting dynamic.

I was worried that he was working with Lily during the show when he was acting weird around Kourtney, but luckily, he seems to really just have been nervous because she was so good. Which is really cute. They’re adorable together.

Ricky and Nini also break up in this season, which isn’t hugely surprising after what happened earlier in the season. I do feel a little frustrated that getting back together was such a big thing in season one but then they broke up in season two. Because when relationships are back and forth like that in shows, it gets frustrating to watch. Obviously, breaking up is normal for teenagers, but in terms of a story, I don't want to watch the exact same thing happening over and over.

In terms of what happens with Rickey and Nini in season three, I don’t know what I want for either of them now. But it’s definitely not Ricky dating Lily. At least that’s how I feel now. Maybe that’ll change in the next season if Lily becomes more interesting.

Gina and EJ was a storyline that I wasn’t expecting but absolutely loved. The way their relationship developed over the season was cute. I loved that so much. Really. That was one of the highlights of the season for me.

Carlos and Sebastian were another highlight. They were adorable in this season. Carlos also sings Disney’s first same-sex love song, which has been a long time coming. Everything they did with them this season was great. I loved it too.

During the final show, Lily steals the harness. The show goes on anyway, and we hear that the transformation was passable but don’t see it. But nothing huge happens with that. We don’t find out the results of the rewards. Lily doesn’t get found out. So I’m curious if that’s something that will carry over into next season.

Since Ricky did contact Lily what I’m wondering is if something will happen between them and then he’ll learn the truth about what she did, which will start drama. Then Lily will feel guilty and that might be what spurs her to change. That’s what seems most likely to me at this point, but I suppose that we’ll see.

There are still a lot of things I’m curious about next season. Like where Lily's going as a character. And is that really it for the awards? (I get the statement of them not caring, but I admit that I care.) The love triangle between the teachers and Ricky’s dad just kept going this whole season with no resolution. I’m definitely ready for season three to see where it all goes.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Book Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

First published: September 20, 2011
Edition published: August 28, 2012
Publisher: Ecco
Received: purchased (through Life's Library)
Read from May 6 to September 18, 2021

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Achilles, "the best of all the Greeks," son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful, irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods' wrath.

They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice. 

Review:

The Song of Achilles was another Life's Library read that I'd been meaning to pick up since it came out in 2011 and I saw reviews for it seemingly everywhere. Life's Library has been doing a great job of helping me catch up on my miles-long "to read" list recently.

As is pretty clear from the title, this book is a retelling of Achilles' story in Greek mythology. Because I, like many people, was aware of parts of Achilles' story already, I had a good idea of what direction the story was heading in, but I wasn't familiar enough with Achille to know every single piece of the story as it unfolded. Of course, even if I was more familiar, I know there are various versions of certain stories that are in the book, so I'm sure that the way the author adapted certain parts would have still provided something new.

There are some aspects of the book that stay true to Greek mythology, especially in regards to sexual violence, which makes certain scenes uncomfortable to read. At the same time, I found it interesting how the author seemed to have made certain decisions that highlighted that these things happened but also to try to exonerate the main characters from being "too" guilty of these same actions. This was particularly seen in Achilles' and Patroclus' treatment of Briseis. I won't go into details because it's a spoiler, but I got the sense that their treatment of her was heavily influenced by our time period and the two of them needing to be heroes in the story. That doesn't mean the main characters get off scot free. Achilles in particular does some pretty abhorrent things later in the story, but there did seem to be an effort not to make him as terrible as he could have been.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, though the time period did make the characters difficult to relate to at times. The story being told in Patroclus' point-of-view instead of Achilles' made it particularly interesting to me as he's not the supposed "hero" of the whole story. It was such a great way to explore this part of Greek mythology.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Book Review: A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski

Published: May 10, 2011
Publisher: Beacon Press
Received: purchased
Read from July 20 to September 5, 2021

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Winner of a 2012 Stonewall Book Award in nonfiction

The first book to cover the entirety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history, from pre-1492 to the present.

In the 1620s, Thomas Morton broke from Plymouth Colony and founded Merrymount, which celebrated same-sex desire, atheism, and interracial marriage. Transgender evangelist Jemima Wilkinson, in the early 1800s, changed her name to “Publick Universal Friend,” refused to use pronouns, fought for gender equality, and led her own congregation in upstate New York. In the mid-nineteenth century, internationally famous Shakespearean actor Charlotte Cushman led an openly lesbian life, including a well-publicized “female marriage.” And in the late 1920s, Augustus Granville Dill was fired by W. E. B. Du Bois from the NAACP’s magazine the Crisis after being arrested for a homosexual encounter. These are just a few moments of queer history that Michael Bronski highlights in this groundbreaking book.

Intellectually dynamic and endlessly provocative, A Queer History of the United States is more than a “who’s who” of queer history: it is a book that radically challenges how we understand American history. Drawing upon primary documents, literature, and cultural histories, noted scholar and activist Michael Bronski charts the breadth of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history, from 1492 to the 1990s, and has written a testament to how the LGBT experience has profoundly shaped our country, culture, and history.

A Queer History of the United States abounds with startling examples of unknown or often ignored aspects of American history—the ineffectiveness of sodomy laws in the colonies, the prevalence of cross-dressing women soldiers in the Civil War, the impact of new technologies on LGBT life in the nineteenth century, and how rock music and popular culture were, in large part, responsible for the devastating backlash against gay rights in the late 1970s. Most striking, Bronski documents how, over centuries, various incarnations of social purity movements have consistently attempted to regulate all sexuality, including fantasies, masturbation, and queer sex. Resisting these efforts, same-sex desire flourished and helped make America what it is today.

At heart, A Queer History of the United States is simply about American history. It is a book that will matter both to LGBT people and heterosexuals. This engrossing and revelatory history will make readers appreciate just how queer America really is.

Review:

A Queer History of the United States is an attempt to explore exactly what the title says: the history of queer people in the United States. It's part of a whole series of books that explore often overlooked aspects of American history, but covering all of queer American history in one book is a big mission. The book starts before European colonization and ends with the year 1990. It doesn't cover anything beyond that except very briefly in the epilogue, and some more recent events, such as Obergefell v. Hodges, aren't mentioned at all because they happened after the book was published in 2011.

Considering the length of time this book is meant to cover, it's pretty short. Unfortunately, this means that many aspects of queer history are rushed through instead of being explored deeply. This book feels a lot like a highlight reel. It touches on each subject briefly before quickly moving on to the next.

While I do understand the value in a book that tries to cover the breadth of queer American history, this aspect of the book also seemed to do it a disservice. It wasn't just that what was touched on was only touched on briefly; it was also that there's a lot that didn't get touched on at all.

The term "queer" covers a lot of ground, and though the book uses that term in its title, the various groups that fall under the queer umbrella don't get equal coverage within the book. There are a number of queer identities, from asexual to nonbinary, that I don't believe were even mentioned within the book.

These limitations were also found in the language used in the book. It's difficult to use modern terms to label historical figures who never would have known those terms. Of course the book should acknowledge that and discuss how people identified themselves during a given era, which the book does. My concerns are more about the language used even when talking about more recent events.

The word "homosexual" gets a lot of use in this book. It's funny because this book does discuss how the term was coined to make sexuality sound more "scientific," and it also discusses the implications of that as homosexuality came to be viewed as a clinical mental illness. Of course, the word "homosexual" in and of itself isn't offensive, but it struck me as odd that it seemed to be the book's preferred term despite it sounding outdated today. It's also limiting because the term isn't an umbrella term for the entire queer community, but it kept being used throughout the book as if it was. And when "homosexual" wasn't used, "gay men and women" was often the phrase used instead, which, of course, are also not umbrella terms. In fact, those terms only describes a fraction of the queer community, yet they kept being used as if they were inclusive of everyone the book was talking about.

In the end, a lot of my frustrations with this book lie with what's not in it. Queer history is so often overlooked in American history that having just about anything that discusses any part of it feels like it should be a good thing, but I have a hard time overlooking all the places where A Queer History of the United States falls short. It might work as a starting point, but there's a long way to go beyond it.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Book Review: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Published: May 2, 2017
Publisher: Tor.com
Received: purchased
Read from March 9 to 15, 2020

Synopsis from Goodreads:

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn't a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied 'droid—a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as "Murderbot." Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it's up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

Review:

This book was a Life's Library read, and when I first got the book in the mail, I wasn't sure what to think. While I like sci-fi, the cover of All System's Red with a robot front and center, dark colors, and the series title that included "Murderbot," it felt very ominous. Despite liking sci-fi, I don't typically like movies that are all about action and little else, and that's what the cover initially had me thinking about. But Life's Library usually picks great books, so I was going to give this one a shot.

And I'm really glad I did because it's nothing that I thought it would be from the cover. Despite the cover also being a good representation of the book.

All System's Red takes place in a world where humans live across various planets. Companies have created humanoid robots that serve various functions, with certain types of robots specializing in certain functions. Individuals or groups generally rent the robots from the company for a set time period, and then the robots are returned to the company to be rented out again. In between being rented out, the robots "live" at the company.

Murderbot, the main character of the book, has begun calling itself Murderbot. That isn't the name the company or anyone else gave it. It's "proper" name is a Security Unit, or SecUnit, and as its name suggests, it's meant to be used for security. Murderbot has taken to calling itself that because it's aware of how easily it could kill everyone, even though it's choosing not to.

We learn early in the book that Murderbot has overridden its governor module, so it doesn't actually have to obey people like it should. Still, Murderbot is choosing to follow orders. All it really wants to do is watch soap operas, which it does constantly. All of which creates a fascinating premise that had me hooked immediately.

The way robots work in this universe also creates an interesting problem for readers. Robots are referred to using "it" pronouns, which is quite jarring and raises a number of interesting questions. First, how much of a person is Murderbot, considering it's not living and has been programmed to behave a certain way? (A question that's particularly fascinating with Murderbot compared to other robots because Murderbot no longer has a governor module controlling its actions.)

That answer to that question has implications for the system in this world too. Robots are treated like property by both the company and the people who rent them. Referring to them as "it" reinforces the idea that they're only objects, and it distances people from feeling any guilt for treating them as property. Are people wrong to do that? Well, it depends on how much personhood robots actually have, and Murderbot, having overridden its governor module, complicates a lot of those beliefs.

Overall, All Systems Red was an incredibly fun read while also raising some fascinating questions about problems we may face in our own future. Since it's a novella, it's also a very quick read. There are other novellas in the series and even a novel now. I will absolutely be reading them because I grew to love Murderbot even over the course of a novella, and I absolutely need more.