Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Book review: The Suicide Collectors by David Oppegaard

"The Despair has plagued the earth for five years. Most of the world’s population has inexplicably died by its own hand, and the few survivors struggle to remain alive. A mysterious, shadowy group called the Collectors has emerged, inevitably appearing to remove the bodies of the dead. But in the crumbling state of Florida, a man named Norman takes an unprecedented stand against the Collectors, propelling him on a journey across North America. It’s rumored a scientist in Seattle is working on a cure for the Despair, but in a world ruled by death, it won’t be easy to get there."

The author is an '02 grad of my college, so I showed up at a recent signing/reading on campus and scored an autographed copy.

I know that listing comparisons is lazy and inexact, but with so many parallels suggesting themselves so easily here it's a handy shorthand to convey the "feel" of Oppegaard's story--so bear with me.

As seen in the description, the setup is very much in the vein of Children of Men (though with the depopulation a few stages further along), as well as M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening. The plot is basically a post-apocalyptic road picture, with our protagonist Norman encountering various groups of survivors and overcoming hazards natural and manmade. The mysterious Collectors, who spirit away the remains of the fallen, reminded me of the Strangers in Dark City, and the descriptions of a crumbling, recently abandoned America evoked The Postman--the movie not the book since I haven't read it, and I want to note that I reference it not sarcastically but as a compliment, since I really enjoy that movie despite the detractors.

As io9 pointed out, it "may be the first novel ever to have a blurb from Marvel Comics' Stan Lee and reviews comparing it to Cormac McCarthy's The Road." (Incidentally, the film adaptation of the latter is scheduled for October 16.)

Verdict: It was OK but not great. You can definitely tell it was a first novel. It had a solid plot and some great individual elements, but didn't quite live up to the promise of the setup, and the prose itself varies between really good and extremely uninspired. I suppose vocabulary and simple sentence structure is silly to get hung up on, but that's me. (I can't stand Hemingway for the same reason, which is probably why I never became an English major. I grant that there's probably a lot of great stuff of his that I'm missing out on; if that makes me a Philistine, so be it.)

I give The Suicide Collectors 3.5 out of 5. Then again, my expectations were high because reviews were very positive--for example, it's been named a finalist for the 2008 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel--so your mileage may vary. It's pretty short and is definitely worth a read if you enjoyed any of the plots/films I mentioned above, but I'd check it out of the library or wait for the paperback.

I will say that I am looking forward to seeing what else Oppegaard comes up with. His followup novel Wormwood, Nevada will be released in December 2009, also from St. Martin's Press.

I'd follow my dreams if I could figure out what they are...

Today's quasi-inspirational message is brought to you by xkcd. Click for full view.

Cras te victurum, cras dicis, Postume, semper;
dic mihi, cras istud, Postume, quando venit?
Quam longe cras istud? ubi est? aut unde petendum?
Numquid apud Parthos Armeniosque latet?
Iam cras istud habet Priami vel Nestoris annos.
Cras istud quanti, dic mihi, possit emi?
Cras vives? Hodie iam vivere, Postume, serum est:
ille sapit quisquis, Postume, vixit heri.

-- Martial, Epigrams 5.58

You always say, Postumus, that you will live tomorrow.
Tell me: when will it come, that "tomorrow" of yours?
How far off is it? Where is it? Or from where should it be sought?
Does it lie hidden among the Parthians or the Armenians?
Already your "tomorrow" has as many years as Priam or Nestor.
Tell me: for what price can your "tomorrow" be bought?
You say you'll live tomorrow? It's already too late to live today, Postumus.
He is a wise man, Postumus, who lived yesterday.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Even at 140 characters, you're not safe.

Spammers have found another way to invade even Twitter, no longer with the clunky mass-following method which I've encountered a couple of times already, but now deviously exploiting hashtags and the Trending Topics feature on the sidebar. Mashable's Adam Ostrow:
How? Simply include the trending term in your tweet. Then, anyone who clicks the trending topic will see your ad, for free. Today’s example comes in the form of “Apple Shampoo,” a song from Blink 182 that is being shared aggressively today because of a tweet from band member Mark Hoppus (@markhoppus).

Here’s an example: most of the tweets below really have nothing to do with the band or the song, but are rather an ad for some sort of affiliate marketing scheme. Visiting the offending user’s account on Twitter, it’s clear that they’re simply using Twitter to push affiliate links, and now exploiting trending topics to gain more traffic.

Incidentally, I also came across this older but still very solid guide to the benefits and use and abuse of Twitter over at The Lost Art of Blogging. (Yeah, I'm months behind the curve on this one. So sue me. That's where the "curmudgeon" and "antiquarian" bits in the header come in.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"Nation ready to be lied to about economy again"

Satirical paper The Onion publishes another winner.
WASHINGTON—After nearly four months of frank, honest, and open dialogue about the failing economy, a weary U.S. populace announced this week that it is once again ready to be lied to about the current state of the financial system. [...]

"I thought I wanted a new era of transparency and accountability, but honestly, I just can't handle it," Ohio resident Nathan Pletcher said. "All I ever hear about now is how my retirement has been pushed back 15 years and how I won't be able to afford my daughter's tuition when she grows up."

"From now on, just tell me the bullshit I want to hear," Pletcher added. "Tell me my savings are okay, everybody has a job, and we're No. 1 again. Please, just lie to my face." [...]

"I know when he's telling the truth, and it bothers me," recently laid-off schoolteacher Mary Hanover said of Obama. "He gets this serious expression on his face and says things like, 'This is the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.' Who needs to hear that? For Christ's sake, smile a bit and say we just found a diamond mine under Montana that's going to pay for everything. I'll believe you."