Archive | Reviews

Reviews of Mark’s work and reviews that Mark has written about the work of other writers and creative types. He generally only reviews stuff that he likes, so don’t look here for snark.

IndiePicks Magazine Loves The Fatness

indiepics mag
Great review in the January 2018 edition of IndiePicks Magazine!

Keelan Cavanaugh has been sentenced to a very different kind of prison. Uncomfortably installed at the Calorie Reduction Centre (CRC) — also known as the Fatness, or the Girth Gulag — he will lose weight, whether he wants to or not. In Rayner’s newest work of satire, anyone with a “few extra” must go to the CRC or lose their insurance, their jobs, or worse. There’s a bright spot for Keelan, though, for it is at the CRC that he meets Jacinda, an activist attorney looking to expose the CRC. Ironically, she gives Keelan a reason to make the program work — he now wants to look his best. But it’s not as easy as counting calories. Here, even personal weight loss is mired in bureaucracy and miles of red tape. The story holds up mirrors for social issues including the basic respect due all people and the need to cast a wary eye to the further privatization of health care. There’s humor and heart resident in Keelan’s story, as well as a sly inclusion of actual science. The Fatness is an ideal suggestion for fans of Christopher Moore’s absurdist delights, or for readers of dystopian fiction who could use a side of levity with their otherwise totalitarian buffet.

You can check out their online issue here.

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Academic Dumas-ery

an adjunct's taleKane X. Faucher’s latest novel is a brilliant adaptation the classic Alexander Dumas tale of revenge, The Count of Monte Cristo.

I’ve always loved the original, and Faucher’s book is a wonderful satire that cleaves to the original plot so carefully, I was continually impressed. I kept thinking, “There’s no way he can maintain this!” But he did. So, I would encourage you to read the original story at some point if you already haven’t, so this pleasure is not denied to you.

In Professor Montgomery Cristo: An Adjunct’s Tale, Dantes is an up-and-coming academic. A PhD candidate with a glorious academic future ahead of him. But then he is wrongly accused of plagiarism (the academic equivalent of murder) and his hopes are dashed. Instead of prison, Dantes’s is sent to a second-rate university, where he must toil as an adjunct professor, where he meets another sessional who will help him achieve his revenge on the jealous academics who ruined him.

All the bones of the original story are there, and then fleshed out with this wonderful satire of the unjust treatment of sessional teachers at modern universities. Sometimes called contract faculty, the life of a sessional can be tough. Particularly when you are on what is called a limited duties appointment, which is renewable term by term. This means sessional don’t always know what they are teaching or even IF they are teaching next semester. The pay is low, and there are often no benefits. At many universities upwards of 40% of courses are taught by adjuncts.

All of these injustices – and many more — are satirized by Faucher in this novel, and it is really worth your time. Now in interests of full disclosure, I must tell you that I have been, and am, a contract faculty member, and that Kane is a colleague, but this is a wholehearted recommendation. This book has the pacing of Dumas and the wicked sense of humor and genius of Faucher.

Alltop loves a good adjuncting.

Classics of Literature — Ender’s Game

Ender's GameThis is a fun and page-turning read about eugenics, institutionalized child abuse, and genocide.

Humanity is at war with a distance race of aliens (called “Buggers”) and for some reason, the adults are unable to discover the best way to fight this implacable ant-like enemy. (Apparently, Boric Acid doesn’t work.)

What it really requires is the sense of wonder and innocence that only a child can have, and so, the people in charge of Earth’s governments start a breeding program to turn out kids designed to be excellent space warriors.

The children are all tagged so the authorities can monitor all their thoughts and movements, while they are being evaluated for service in the International Fleet. (A device that is similar to an iPhone, but a little smaller, and you can’t download your own apps to it.) After he is un-tagged, a young Ender Wiggin is attacked by bullies, and he kills one of them, so that the bullies will no longer bother him. The IF realizes it has made a horrible mistake. This is just the kind of ruthless logic they need in their war.

The rest of the novel follows Ender’s rise through the ranks at Battle School and Command School, a marginally creepy shower scene, and eventually, the set up for an excellent sequel, The Speaker for the Dead.

It is worth noting that an anagram of Ender Wiggin is “Ending Grew I.”

Alltop is wiggy to the end. Originally published in December, 2010. And no, I haven’t seen the movie yet.

Engineering an obesity epidemic

Salt Sugar Fat, by Michael MossHow would you react if I told you it wasn’t your fault you’re fat?

Not entirely, anyway. Not the way that the medical profession or society at large would have you believe.

At least part of your spare tire — and the cause of the obesity epidemic generally — is because the processed food industry has engineered it for their own needs. That is the central theme of Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. This comprehensive look at the food industry by Michael Moss is a brilliant bit of journalism.

Through the manipulation of the key ingredients of sugar (which our brain reacts to in ways that are similar to cocaine), fat (which we’re hard-wired to crave) and salt, the processed food industry has beefed up their own profits while increasing the gross tonnage of the population at large.

Of course, it’s the profit motive that drives the industry, not some evil desire to turn us all into Fat Albert. Moss’s examination of the industry is at times extremely positive. It’s clear that he admires the creativity, ingenuity and business acumen of many of the central players in this drama that is promising to shorten the life spans of our children. His reportage is scrupulous, fair, and peppered with insight. I’m not surprise he’s already won a Pulitzer. He should get one for this book too.

At times the book seems repetitive, but that is a minor flaw, given how comprehensive and wide-ranging his reportage into this secretive industry is, and how generally readable the narrative is.

The other major theme that I pulled out of the book is that while the food giants have hooked us on sugar, salt and fat, they have also hooked themselves on the profits those key ingredients generate. They are going to fight tooth and Tootsie-roll too keep our foods laden with them, and work against any efforts to make their foods more healthy. And now that the North American markets are saturated (pun intended), they’re looking to other countries. I found one of the anecdotes about an ex-Coke executive walking around a bario in Brazil kind of heart-breaking and enraging at the same time.

“The people here need a lot of things, but a Coke isn’t one of them.”

Yet the company has created smaller serving bottles for poor neighborhoods in countries like Brazil, so that everyone can afford the 20-cents they need to get a taste of “the real thing.”

While the book is informative, it is not a self-help book. There are no prescriptions for how to use this information to save your own waistline, except for the obvious one:

If your food was made by a food processing company, you probably shouldn’t be eating it!