Starving Review: Johnny and Jamaal by K. M. Breakey


Johnny and Jamaal by K. M. Breakey (Amazon, Goodreads)

It’s a brand new year, my literary foodies, and the new year serves up new meals from the pantry. Today, we take a bit out of a particularly spicy bit of contemporary fiction, one that promises to delve heavily into themes of racial prejudice, politics, and social dysfunction. Yes, despite what you might think from the cover, sports are only a sideline bit in this meal. So, with the intention to tackle such explosive themes, does J and J treat those themes well while still being a tasty meal?

Before we find out, raise your hand and take the Starving Review pledge:

  1. I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre
  2. I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible


Political Writing: A Little Clarification

I want to clarify something. Maybe this is simply a way for me to think ‘out loud’, but …

As a patriotic American, I certainly recognize the legitimacy of the President-elect. Donald Trump will wind up being our next President. I will obviously show the proper respect to the office of the President so in that sense, he is ‘my President’.

But me, along with many others, can also rightfully claim that he is ‘not our President’, in the sense that, by his own words and statements in regard to his plans as President, Donald Trump does not even begin to represent our beliefs, our goals, or even seem to care about our basic rights to happiness, freedom, and human dignity.

It’s simple, perhaps, to look at my profile picture and assume that I’m simply a white cis guy who has no dog in the fight. But I may be white and I may be a guy, but I am not ‘cis’ or ‘straight’ or ‘heterosexual’ or whatever word you want to use.

So there, for those of you that might be wondering how people can say that Trump is ‘not their President’ and still be patriots who respect the republic of the United States, that’s how.

Monday Musings: A PSA a.k.a. If You’re American, Vote!

We’ll keep this short and sweet.

No matter your political beliefs, no matter who you support, if you’re a U.S. citizen and capable of voting, VOTE. Our system of government doesn’t work if you don’t participate.

And don’t just worry about voting for President. Take a few moments to look at your congressional choices, local elections, and especially any state amendments or measures up for voting. These are just as important as who is the President.

Get out there tomorrow and do it!

Monday Musings: Do It, Do It! a.k.a. Participation in Life

It’s Monday, which means it’s time for, uh, Monday Musings.  It’s all in the name, people!  Anyway, let me stop the prevaricating, as it runs counter to the point of my brain-rumblings today.

As you may or may not know, depending on your country of origin and interest in politics, the United States of America is starting the actual, official process of choosing the next candidates for the office of President.  Now, I won’t go deep into my own personal politics (at least not in this post), but I will bring up a strong belief of mine: you have to participate!

The core principle of democratic government is participation, after all.  If the population doesn’t vote, caucus, or whatever, it really isn’t a democracy then and becomes easily manipulated and dominated by those with the time, power, and money to gather people to overtake the system.  It’s a simple principle to understand, but it’s understandable when people loose sight of this.

After all, it’s easy to think that your one vote, your one voice doesn’t matter and, if you look at it in the narrow view, it isn’t untrue.  However, as with most things in life, most things worthwhile, it isn’t the immediate benefit of voting that is important, or the influence of your one singular vote that is important.  It is the total effort involved, the total voting of all the people, that makes it all worthwhile.  Think about it like this:  If you are thinking of not voting, it may be a lot of other like-minded people are thinking the same, which means it is likely that the vote won’t go the way you want.

So, yeah, vote.  Participate.  Work hard.  Follow your heart and your dreams.  It’s the same for life as well as politics.

Until next time, good reading, good writing, good living, and good luck!

Monday Musings: We Need Action Instead of Tears a.k.a. Common Sense and Guns

I’m tired.  Like so many other Americans, like our President, like anyone who has a heart, I’m weary of the almost clockwork report of a mass shooting.  Once again, someone has murdered nine and injured far more, laden with firearms … guns that the shooter’s father didn’t even know the gunman (who still lived with his father) had.  So many lives have been lost in similar fashion over these past years, far more lives than any terrorist attack or the other conventional boogeymen dangled before us by our politicians on a regular basis.

Fatigue shouldn’t be used as a reason for inaction however and, while we should grieve for the fallen, our tears won’t be of much use either.  Some kind of action needs to be taken, but common sense action.   Much like fatigue and depression are of little use, wild reaction is pointless as well.


Monday Musings: Totally X-TREME! … Or Not a.k.a. The Good and Bad of Extremes

So I wound up thinking about the American political climate lately.  Yes, I know this is a bad idea, one only destined to give me ulcers and headaches, but it did lead me to muse about the nature of extreme thoughts and beliefs.  Without that, I wouldn’t have a Monday article for you, so I suppose it worked out in the end, eh?

“The truth often lies somewhere in the middle.”  It’s a not-uncommon saying to hear, is it?  It speaks both of the fact that often the truth between two people’s sides of an event lie somewhere in the middle and it also can be applied to any ideological dispute between two extremists.  Often the best way to deal with a situation isn’t the one touted by either extreme of an argument, but lies somewhere in the middle.  It’s the classic case for compromise that many people like to think they hold to heart.

It’s a good saying, one I too like to say.  But there’s one part of that saying that a lot of people tend to ignore, and that’s the ‘often’ part.  Like many rules or sayings, it isn’t an absolute one.  Let’s take an obvious, extreme example.  One side argues that human slavery is fine and healthy for the country, while the opposite side argues that humans should be free.  Both of those sides are extremes, diametrically opposed groups.  Obviously, the answer isn’t ‘somewhere in the middle’ there.

The trick, then, comes down into finding those times when compromise isn’t called for.  The times when taking a stand on the extreme side of an issue is the correct and moral path to take.  This gets even more complicated when you look at the tangle of ideologies, belief systems, and the like that surround human culture.  When and where should draw your line in the sand?

I wish I could give each and every one of you reading an answer.  All I can say is that my personal belief is that freedom, equality, and happiness are my personal watchwords.  Whatever yours are, just remember to try to be receptive to compromise, but never be shy from planting your feet to protect your principles.

What do you think?  Where are your lines in the sand?  Are there really things on which we should not budge or is compromise truly the ultimate watchword?  Talk about in the comments below!

Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

Political Writings: Boycott Indiana!

I’ll keep this shorter and sweeter than most of my (sparse) political ramblings.

Governor Mike Pence of Indiana and all of the close-minded, right-wing members of the Indiana legislative houses who made the Religious Freedom Restoration Act become law, you guys can go straight to Hell.  Oh, wait, I don’t need to say that, because your bigoted actions have already written you a one way ticket there.  Isn’t it great when my job gets done for me?

In an actual constructive aspect of this, let me say that, while not very impactful as I am one man, I will have nothing to do with any business that supports or enforces this law.  I would encourage everyone else, especially if they actually live in Indiana, to do the same.

The one positive take-away from the immediate aftermath of this horrible, despicable Act is that it is heartening to see such a full-spectrum backlash against it.  Hopefully, it will make the forces that enacted this law be wary not to try it anywhere else … though I understand similar legislation is being considered in a dozen other states.  Do your research, friends, see if this is being brought up in your state’s legislative bodies.  If it is, make your voice known.  Maybe the next one will be dead on arrival.

So, to sum up:

  1. Go to Hell, Mike Pence and friends.
  2. Boycott Indiana businesses and groups that support these small-minded wretches.
  3. Find out if they are trying this in your own neck of the woods.
  4. Spread the word and fight back.

Politics and Culture: How can intelligent men turn into Gamergate-addled bastards?

You don’t need to be any kind of genius to know that I am a fairly liberal-minded feminist.  My few political posts and my most recent reblogging of coverage of the recent Gamergate idiocy should tell you that.  I wasn’t intending to write much original thought on that pile of crazy, but as an avid video game player in my free time and reading so much hatred and misinformation coming out of the mouth of men that seemed otherwise to be intelligent individuals, I found myself wondering about it so much I had to put it into an article.

How can men who have to be intelligent, who are obviously in-tune to some degree to the flow of information on the internet and in the world, be so easily duped into believing proven lies and, on top of that, to back up a movement that was founded on hatred of women?  What has made them so devoid of common sense to throw themselves behind a movement that is on the wrong side of the march of progress and history?

Almost half of the world’s video game players are women and that number continues to rise.  Do these men think that their supposedly beloved past-time will survive if they alienate half of the income their game designers rely on?  It defies logic on so many levels, then it continues to stomp on logic until it’s a bleeding, broken mess.  After that, the movement then proceeds to ambush morality for a second round of beatdown.

My first thought is that we are seeing a classic reactionary conservative (not meaning that in a political party sense, though they could be related, looking at overall Republican Party platforms in regards to women) action.  Quite often, when an entrenched group of people who enjoy privilege find that their culture and society are progressing past them, threatening their place in that culture, that group rebels and throws up every possible roadblock, no matter the logic or morality involved.  Most often, this is to do nothing else other than to silence their opposition through fear and intimidation.  They know, deep down, they are wrong, but continue to thrash like babies forced to take a bath, trying to stall the inevitable.

My other idea is that, for the rank-and-file of Gamergate, they are simply too trusting of what their fellow ‘gamer buddies’ say and think themselves ‘too smart’ to get duped.   Instead of actually looking into the issue through the majority of the world’s viewpoint, they instead ensconce themselves into the echo chamber of their friends, having the false storylines of the Gamergate movement reinforced in their minds to the point they see all outside information to the contrary as obvious falsehoods.  Here, too, their conception of their own intelligence is part of their stubbornness … to admit that they bought into GG’s lies and upheld them would be to also admit they were both intellectually and morally too lazy to question what they were fed.

So, there it is.  Those are my thoughts on it.  All I can ask is for those people who have fallen onto the side of Gamergate to wake up, stop supporting a misogynist, hate-filled cause that has made multiple terrorist threats, and, if you REALLY care about ethics in journalism, direct your ire and scrutiny on the oft-lamented connection between major gaming review sites and AAA developers.  If you decide not to do that and, instead, want to continue to whine, thrash, cry, and commit FELONIES, go for it.  The day will come when you’ll find yourself sincerely regretting your pride and foolishness.

Tangential Politics: A strange little tale of gender, superheroes, and video games

Before I put up a post about the existential panic of being so close to a funded Kickstarter but running out of time, I want to take a moment to tell a weird little tale that might show, in a quirky way, some of the deep-seated issues of misogyny ingrained into both parts of the comic book culture and the video game culture.  In fact, the arena for this little tale is none other than one of those nexus points of the two cultures, one of my favorite video games, Marvel Heroes.

Marvel Heroes is a fun, free-to-play action game using the Marvel IP.  They make their money primarily by selling cosmetic costumes for the characters in the game … a pretty smart way to go, as visuals can mean everything to people and comic book characters often have quite a wardrobe that can be sold.  Early in the game’s history, they also introduced the notion of Enhanced Costumes:  Costumes that had more than a basic visual change.  Altered special effects, new voice overs, new animation sets, that kind of thing.

One use of Enhanced costumes was for cross-gendered counterparts of characters.  As you may know, many comic book characters had Distaff Counterparts created, female versions of male heroes, both as cheap fixes for the female demographic or, more recently, trying to bring some equality in the male-imbalanced comic book world by putting a woman in a legacy hero role.  Rarely, you can see the reverse, the Spear Counterpart, but considering the massive imbalance already between male and female representation in comic books, this has been exceedingly rare.

Here’s where things start to get creepy.  From the start, there have been sections of the game’s player base to keep shouting about the ‘unfairness’ that there were multiple male-to-female swaps (Lady Loki, Kate Bishop (a modern female Hawkeye), Lady Deadpool, etc.) and no female-to-male swaps.  Any argument about gender imbalance in the existing cast (which these costumes helped to even out) or the tremendous lack of Spear Counterparts in comics period were met with deaf ears.  The developers opened a feedback thread for suggestions for such female-to-male costumes and 99% of the suggestions were extreme stretches, often trying to stick totally different characters into totally incompatible character slots.

Eventually, two female-to-male costumes were announced.  A lot of people were unhappy about them, because they were, by the eyes of any fan of comic books, stretches.  The developers original policy was that Enhanced Costumes had to have near identical powers as the base character and be strongly linked.  Both of these new ideas were on-point with the second idea, but stretched the first one considerably.  Still, they continued on.

Cut to the now, as the first of these is to be released.  There are now creepy and strange little nitpicks about it.  Why isn’t the character name changed, it looks weird to see a feminine name (despite the fact that no other Enhanced costume has had a name change)?  Why do the power icons still show the original character, it looks weird to see a woman’s face on them (despite the fact that, you guessed it, power icons have never changed on other Enhanced costumes)?  Why did this costume take so long to come out, all the other female enhanced costumes came out so much faster (even though they took just as long, one even being released incomplete after a long delay)?  To contrast, none of these questions were brought up by the female gamers who were getting male-to-female costumes; they just expressed relief and thanks for getting more female playable options.

This may seem a little thing, but it’s very eye-opening about the casual misogyny that men (and some women) can show.  There’s an expectation that there are different rules and that what applied to women doesn’t apply to them.  Their needs are more important and things that weren’t previously an issue are now big issues that need to be addressed for their comfort.  The one positive I can take away from this is that the Marvel Heroes dev team have not indulged in any of this chicanery.  Still, the whole deal colors portions of the game’s community in a pretty negative light … thankfully it’s no one I hang around with!