Today I read…Agent of Chaos

Image result for agent of chaos kami garciaToday I read X-Files Origins #1: Agent of Chaos by Kami Garcia.

Fox Mulder’s younger sister Samantha disappeared 5 years ago. He blames himself, and he doesn’t know how to get over it. It broke his family apart. Now he’s in a new city in a new school for his senior year of high school, and something weird is happening. Children are disappearing, and turning up dead. The disappearances remind Mulder of Samantha. Could they be linked? The cops won’t listen. It’s up to Mulder and his friends to track down the clues and find the killer before he strikes again.

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I tend to go to through phases where I get obsessed with a particular show, and through high school it was the X-Files. I loved it, even the bad episodes. I even watched the spinoff, The Lone Gunmen. Though if you want to talk real-life conspiracy theories, it premiered the spring of 2001, and the first episode was about a conspiracy by the government to hijack a plane and crash it in to the World Trade Center to start a war…

When I found out there were new X-Files books, I really wanted to read them, especially because season 11 premiered last week. I’ll save the rant about how it’s really season 10.5 and how they mistreated Scully. I enjoyed this one, and the look we got at Mulder as a teenager. We only got bits and pieces during the series. While now Mulder and Scully seem so young at the start of the show, they were both adults in the middle of their careers, had completed their educations, and had their basic personalities already established. In this book, Mulder is still in high school, still actively grieving his sister, and trying to figure out not only what happened to her, but how to forgive himself for not saving her. The fan of the show knows that he never really does, and that it becomes one of the defining moment of his life. But this book shows where he found his coping mechanism-psychology, and using his intelligence to profile serial killers and psychopaths and to stop them from hurting people, especially children like Samantha. In season 1 of the show, we see Mulder as the former golden child of the profiling department. He was considered to be one of the most gifted profilers they had, until he became obsessed with the X-Files and became damaged, as so many of his colleagues saw it. Here he learns about profiling, which was still in its infancy in 1979 where the book takes place. It is a little pat that Mulder is so naturally talented at it, but it fits with his characterization in the show.

Writing a media tie-in novel takes a particular skill, since you have to take established characters and put them in a situation you make up, and make the fans believe they would act this way and say these things. Garcia does a good job with this. This book feels like a young Fox Mulder. We also see the beginning of how his life interacts with the Syndicate, since we know they have been around for a long time, and they had something to do with Samantha’s disappearance as a way to control their father. Mulder’s friend Gimble and his paranoid father Major Winchester also introduce Mulder to conspiracy theories that may sound crazy, but may also be true. The worst character is his other friend, Phoebe Larsen, whose name recalls his dislikeable lover Phoebe Green from Oxford who we meet in season 1. They also share quite a few traits, to the point that I thought they were supposed to be the same character until I went hunting for the book character’s last name to confirm it. Phoebe is there to be the girl, and she never quite escapes that role. Then again, this is a book about Mulder, and his relationships with women can be… problematic. Again, that’s another rant.
All in all, the characters worked, the conspiracy worked, and the mystery worked. I’m not sure how many teenagers watch the X-Files these days, though it is on Netflix, and the new season is airing. This book would likely be more popular with people like me, who watched the show, as a non-fan would not get many of the references.

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Today I Read… Devil’s Advocate

Image result for devil's advocate jonathan maberryToday I read X-Files Origins #2: Devil’s Advocate by Jonathan Maberry.

Dana Scully’s family had just moved to a new town, and she’s having enough trouble being the new girl again without the disturbing dreams she’s been having. Devils and angels and shadows and blood… Now she’s seeing visions even when she’s awake, of teenagers who recently died in car crashes. There have been quite a few teenage deaths lately in this small town. Must be kids doing drugs. Or is it? And why are they appearing to Dana?

There’s something going on, and it’s up to Dana, her sister Melissa, and her new friends in the science club to figure it out, since it looks like the cops some believe them.

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So, everything I just said about Mulder in Agent of Chaos? Does not apply in this book. Rather than showing us the start of Special Agent Doctor Dana Scully, Catholic, skeptic, and firm believer in science, Maberry makes her a pale shadow of her older sister Melissa, the believer. This Dana does yoga, has psychic dreams and visions, and hangs out in a New Age store. Her father is downright cold to the point of being vicious, instead of the stem but loving military father from the show, and her mother is so repressed you forget she’s there half the time, instead of being the one who helps her family together through her husband’s deployments. The only connection this Dana has to my Scully is the red hair.

Oddly enough, Maberry has actually edited at least 2 anthologies of X-Files short stories, which one would assume would give him at least a passing familiarity with the characters. The two anthologies are sitting on my to be read bookcase, so I can’t comment yet on their quality. Still, Agent of Chaos is by far the better book of the two. The Syndicate in this one is badly shoehorned in and the villain’s identity is obvious.

The two books aren’t really connected. They take place over the same few days, and they share a few locations, but they are careful never to let Mulder and Scully meet, or to have their separate stories connect. It would actually have been more interesting if they had connected in some way-why else put them both in the same small town? How many killers are there in small town Maryland are there anyway? Do the branches of the Syndicate never talk to each other?

If they publish more books, it might be interesting to keep doing them in pairs, and to show where they could have met, before they finally do meet in the basement of the FBI building. The best part of the X-Files had always been Mulder and Scully and their relationship, and it would suit their story to have their lives be a series of unknowing near-misses of meeting. Destiny or the Syndicate, you know they will meet, but what if they met before and didn’t remember-would they still grow to be the Mulder and Scully that we know and love?

Just please, learn who Scully is before writing her again. Please.

Today I read… The Slip

Image result for the slip mark sampsonToday I read The Slip by Mark Sampson.

It wasn’t that bad, was it? What I said. I mean, I got a little carried away, but everyone is making such a big deal out of it. My wife and my students and the university and the media, they’re all blowing things way out of proportion. I mean, it’s an extreme view, and I realize I was wrong to say it, but if you put it in the proper context of Western philosophical thought…wait, that’s what everyone is angry about? Shit, did I really say that?

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This was another ARC I got at the last OLA Super Conference. My backlog of both to-read and to-review is, well, let’s say those categories are separate bookcases. Not shelves. This was definitely an interesting read, especially in light of our current culture of public apologies and shaming for misbehaviour. The protagonist, Dr. Philip Sharpe, is a politically centrist philosophy professor with a specialty in ethics. While appearing on a tv spot, he says something in a heated moment about a company that recently crumbled, that he thinks everyone is angry with him about. He genuinely thinks that everyone is badly overreacting, and he ignores all online comments and attempts by the people in his life to discuss what he said. It’s not until over 200 pages and six days later when his teenage stepdaughter sits him down, plays him the video, and forces him to face what he actually said. People are not angry with him because of an abstract legal and ethical point. They are angry because what he said sounded like a rape threat against the woman he was arguing with. He didn’t mean it that way, his opponent didn’t interpret it that way, but a lot of the public did hear it that way. Philip is a very defined character- 50’s, highly educated, white, technophobic, high-functioning alcoholic, and liberal but not at all woke. He’s a little racist and a lot sexist. His 14 years younger wife is a stay-at-home mom and a writer, with a monthly column and a few failed children’s books. He is very resentful of her not working and contributing financially to the household, while he doesn’t recognize or value the work she does do in the home. Everything she does to take care of their two daughters he refers to as “motherwork,” which is a particularly irritating term, especially when she’s doing something like tending to their 3 year old who just scalded herself on a broken faucet she has asked Philip to have fixed.

This isn’t my usual style, but I did enjoy it. Well, perhaps not enjoy, but I found it very interesting. I found Philip to be dislikeable on a personal level but understandable. He has basically never had a functioning relationship of any kind with a woman in his entire life- even his mother left when he was very small- and while he’s a sexist jerk, to a degree he really doesn’t know any better. Of course, I’m also reading this from a perspective of a woman several years his junior, which is definitely not a perspective he would have ever considered. Philip is a representation of a lot of middle-aged white men who say something horrific in public who need to have it explained to them exactly what they said and why it was wrong before they understand. It depends on your own perspective if he is just stupid for not knowing, or ignorant and in need of education. One is willful, and the other is something that can be corrected with effort. Philip, being conveniently fictional, is properly aghast and genuinely remorseful when he finally understands what he said, and the reader can hope that he will be a little more aware of his words and actions and his relationships with his family and friends in the future. Shame real life isn’t always so tidy.

It is a thoughtful book that could encourage a lot of discussion. This could be a great choice for a book club that enjoys debate.

And the thing that every Canadian will be able to relate to, no matter your age, gender, or political viewpoint, is Philip’s vain attempts to keep his poppy from getting lost multiple times. The struggle is real.