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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Front Line

A good friend asked for my thoughts about the new policy in The US Armed Forces that now allows women to serve on the front line in battle.  I must apologize to her for being so late, but I had to form an opinion first.

Here it is:  I feel this policy would be significant if it weren't just a formality.  The military is allowing female soldiers the privilege of doing something that, in practical terms, they've been doing for years.  This seems kind of redundant.  For me, the bigger issue is the fact that, in this day and age, it's an issue.  The fact that there needed to be an official decree to the fact is a little troubling.

In the Israeli military, everyone --  no exceptions -- is expected to serve two years in the military after age 17.  It's a condition of citizenship.  It's mandatory.  And in times of war, all soldiers fight.  Also mandatory.  I'm not exactly the most gung-ho military guy, but for us to think we're somehow a more progressive nation because we've finally allowed women to officially choose to die alongside the "band of brothers..." well, it's a little late.  The upside is that more female officers will emerge through battle.  Currently there are 57 top-level female officers in the Armed Forces -- generals, admirals, etc -- and now these military minds may finally be put to the test in the theater of war.  And who knows, this announcement may lead to a Chairwoman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the future.

However, the notion of women on the front lines is far from revolutionary.  Whatever meager arguments against putting a woman in the heat of battle -- physically weaker, no killer instinct or whatever -- are as antiquated as the idea of announcing something like this formally.

Welcome to the 21st Century.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Band-Aid

There has been new legislation put to the House floor regarding violence in video games.

*sigh*

Weeks ago, after the Sandy Hook tragedy, there was a call to at least have a conversation about some of the things involved that led to Adam Lanza taking a gun to an elementary school.  The NRA said they would add something meaningful to the debate.

They didn't.

Instead of blaming the proliferation of assault weapons in this country, the NRA heaped blame on our violent tastes in entertainment, video games and movies to be specific.  In the same breath, he suggested arming our teachers, but let's stick with one thing at a time.

Fact: Violence is pervasive in our entertainment culture.  We see too many movies -- and, yes, video games -- that make gunplay cool.  The neighborhood movie theater in Flatbush, where I grew up, closed in 1999, a week after the premiere of The Matrix prompted some knuckleheads to shoot up the movie theater.  No one to my knowledge was hurt, but it wasn't exactly common knowledge either.  There could be reasons behind that, but I'll save that for another rant.  The makers of Call Of Duty pump out a new version of the game every year, and that is met with fanfare, and long lines of people camping out to be first to buy.  There are very few statements I agree with from the NRA regarding the debate; the nod to our culture of violence is it.

The issue at hand, though, is whether restricting violence in video games is the answer.  As of 1994, in the wake of the Mortal Kombat hullabaloo, game developers were submitting games to the ESRB, a self-regulating board who would determine the level of maturity or objectiveness in the content of the game, and assign a corresponding rating.  Games with violent or other adult content are emblazoned with a giant "M" for mature.  It is then the responsibility of the consumer to either buy the game or not buy the game.  If the consumer is a parent, then they make the decision to buy or not buy the game based on the appropriate rating for their child.  The new legislation mentioned at the top of the blog makes submission to the ESRB mandatory, and game ratings enforced by monetary penalty:  sell a game to someone of inappropriate age, get a $5,000 fine.  I agree with this as well.

What I don't agree with is the notion that real-world violence stems from video game violence.  Since the majority of gamers are under 18, and most likely have games bought for them as gifts by their loving parents, shouldn't it be the responsibility of the parent to (a) screen the game for content inappropriate (by reading the label) and/or (b) educate their children to the difference between fantasy (on screen) and reality (off screen). If we fear our children are being brainwashed into being killers by these damn video games, then undo the brainwashing by stating that the game is just that... a game.  It's not real.  It's not how people should act in a civilized society.  Failing that, the prudent thing to do is DON'T BUY THESE GAMES FOR KIDS!!!  Make them wait until they can buy it for themselves, by either getting a job and learning about the real world, or saving up for it and learning about the real world.

Restricting violence in a video game is a band-aid.  It is at best a stopgap measure to address a byproduct of the problem.  The bigger problem is that it's still easier to get a gun than it is to get a drivers license.  The issue is still that you can get an automatic weapon at Walmart.  The biggest issue in my mind stems from the changing dynamic of the American family.  But that's the subject of another rant.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Patient Conversation (short post)

Had an interesting conversation with a patient at work.

I was setting her up while "The Bachelor" was on, and she was fascinated by it.  She never really got into the show until the end of last season, at the insistence of a friend.  I shook my head and said that it was kind of disappointing.  She asked why.  "Because I believe in love," I answered.

I made the point to her that "The Bachelor" turns the whole dating thing into a competition where the prize is getting an engagement ring, and our natural thing as animals is to overcome and eliminate competition.  There's no love on that show.  No real lasting connection.  Just a bunch of people competing for fame and notoriety.  It's so utterly cynical, and we have all bought in.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm single, and dating is very much like a competition, but it isn't -- and shouldn't ever be -- such an openly direct one.

The patient smiled and agreed with me.

I believe in love, in a connection to another person that makes you want to succeed with them, fail for them, shield them from hurt.  In something that enriches both people's lives to the point where it's like cable TV, and you wonder what you did before that person.  That makes me sappy, or overly romantic, or whatever, but I don't want to meet my future wife on what amounts to a game show.

I like to think I'm more of an optimist than that.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Future Past

I've been asked a few very interesting time-travel questions lately.

The first one I was asked was, given the choice, would I rather (a) go back to 1999 and be 21 again, with full possession of the knowledge and experience I've acquired in the intervening years or (b) be 21 now in this day and age.

Tough question.

When I was 21, I thought I was mature for my age.  In reality, not so much.  I worked full-time and I lived at home, but my education had stalled and I partied way, way too much.  I had a ton of tools to make adulthood so much easier and I squandered most of them.  I had a great, great time and I don't regret any of it, but I could have made my life so much easier. That knowledge is irreplaceable, the experience is completely invaluable.

But being 21 now would be fun.

Being 21 now would mean that I would be more proficient in the technology of today, that many adults sometimes struggle with.  I would be able to enjoy the music of today the way young people do, instead of being this old and crotchety guy who rails on and on about how the music today is silly.  I would be able to have access to an amazing group of people, a generation or two behind me, who have grown up in the world that I have inherited and such.

I think I'd rather go back.

Way back in 1999, I did and saw some amazing things.  They may not have been extraordinary, but they were definitely life defining.   It would be amazing to see all the people I had in my life back then, meet some of them again for the first time.  And going back would allow me to correct the mistakes I made, like being smarter about money and school, or inventing Facebook.  It would be great to go back armed with the knowledge of who and what would be a waste of my time.  I wonder if I'm alone in this thought.

The second question was What would your 17 year-old self think of you now?

I'd like to think that me from half a lifetime ago would be amazed at what he would become.  But I'm probably wrong; my 17 year-old self had lots of ideas that were simply different from the way the world works.  I expected to be successful at 17, not quite realizing the hard work that goes with it.  I thought I'd be working for the New York Daily News, not even close to realizing that the print newspaper industry was going to be circling the drain at this point.  At 17, I expected to be married by 34.  All I can say to that is "oops, sorry dude."

Anyway, I ask these questions of all of you.  Please, sound off in the comments section. Would you choose to be (legal drinking age) now for the first time or back when you originally were knowing what you know now?  And what would the self that's half your age think of you now?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Review: Django Unchained

I saw Django Unchained last week, and my impression was... meh.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a bad movie.  It was entertaining to a degree, and visually it was quite well done.  I was kind of n-weary by the end though.  This is a Tarantino flick, he uses the n-word.  Liberally.  By the end of the movie I came to two realizations.  One:  Quentin Tarantino wishes he was raised in Compton and two: he had a vision of what slavery would have been like if Shaft or Dolomite were around.  And a blaxploitation slavery movie seems a touch redundant, don't you think?

I'm not railing against the use of the word.  I grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn in the 80s and 90s.  For those of you that means something to, yeah.  For the rest of you, it means that I've heard and used the n-word a lot in my youth.  A whole lot.  I'm not as sensitive to the word itself as maybe I should be.  As I got older and realized it wasn't for polite company, I used it less.  And when I finally got the history of it, its intended use, it's actual meaning, I've taken pains to remove it from my vocabulary.  So while, in my humble opinion, Quentin Tarantino using the word as a punctuation mark is a bit on the excessive side and most definitely a turn-off, it wasn't my biggest issue with the movie.

Neither was the gore.  This flick was bloody and violent.  At a time when this country is still reeling from violent acts with firearms, its astounding how casually and frequently people are shot to death.  I mean, this is a Tarantino flick, once again, so we expect to be treated to little bits of brain and skull and pools of blood but... damn.  That said, however, that wasn't my problem with the movie.

My big problem was with the overall concept.  It didn't seem like it in the trailers, but this was essentially Roots set as a Spaghetti Western.  I'm not saying that we need to treat the history of the slave trade with church-like reverence, but the film asks you to make leaps of faith that are a little extreme, such as this one adult slave would be able to instinctively fire a gun, learn to read in three months, track down his wife three states away, and kill a whole house of slave owners.  Come on.

Props to Jamie Foxx, who did a great job portraying the hero in the context of the film.  Big props to Sam Jackson who plays Stephen, "the most hated Negro in cinematic history," as he put it.  Not so much to Kerry Washington, who a friend of mine called Hollywood's highest paid extra.  She didn't talk much but, to quote Django, "she pretty."

Like I said, not a bad flick.  But soft stomachs need not apply.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Caller (short story)

Hey all...

This is the first short story I've written in a number of years.  I had considered selling it on Kindle or something, but the process is simply too complicated right this second.  There are so many hoops to jump through.  Sigh.  So instead, I will share this story with you, free of charge, right here.  I present to you, "The Caller."




The Caller
Franklyn C. Thomas


    “This is Midnight Hour on WVYR radio, New York, and I’m your host John Benson.”  The deejay’s voice was smooth and laid back, like a weed or cognac buzz, and blended well with the rainy summer night.  “Guess what, y’all?  It’s Friday night, and time for another ‘Fess Up Friday’ on the Midnight Hour, and you know what that means.  For all of you out there who decided to stay in on this nasty Friday night, I’m your conscience.  I’m your priest, I’m your pusher, and I’m your reflection.  So anyone who has something to get off their chest, give us a call at 718-917-WVYR.”  John took a sip of his black coffee, no sugar, and saw a couple of lines light up on the telephone.  “And who do we have tonight, Rosie?”
     Rosie, the pretty, light-skinned woman in the booth with John looked at the computer display that had the name of all the pre-screened callers – or for the cowards, the name they wanted to be called on air – and what they had to say.  “We have Juliette,” she said in a smooth, jazz singer’s voice, registering a perfect C with every word, “and she’s confessing about Spring Break to her parents.”
John flipped on the speakerphone.  “Go ahead, Juliette,” he said in his best soothing voice, calmly sipping his coffee, “What have you got to confess?”
     “Well,” the caller began with a slight Southern twang to her high pitched voice, “this year for Spring Break, I told my parents and my boyfriend I was going to Miami with the girls.”
      “Did you?”
      “No,” she sighed.  “I went to Jamaica, with a couple of dudes I know from school.”  She took another sigh and hesitated for a second.  “We partied a lot, and you know, one thing led to another, and…”
     “Juliette?” John asked.  “Did you cheat on your boyfriend?”
     Juliette was silent on the other line for a moment.  “I’m sorry,” she said.  “I want him to know that.  I didn’t want to hurt anyone.”
     “Is he listening?”
     “I don’t know.  I hope so.”  She took a deep breath.  “I made a mistake,” she said, sounding more relieved.  “I just wanted him to know and hopefully forgive me. Thanks a lot.”  And with that, she hung up the phone.
     “Well, there we go.  Juliette wants to apologize to her Romeo for her indiscretions, and hopes he will forgive her.”  John paused to take another sip of coffee.  “For those of you tuning in, this is John Benson on WVYR radio, 940 on your AM dial in New York, 12:08 AM on the Midnight Hour.  Who’s up next, Rosie?”
     John looked up to Rosie in the production booth.  Her normally cool demeanor was gone as she seemed agitated and distraught.  That’s odd, John thought.  Rosie doesn’t usually clam up like that.
     “We… we have Paul,” she finally said, after a too-long-for-radio silence.  “And he’s confessing to…”  Rosie looked like she was about to break down.
     Without missing a beat, John pressed the button for line 2.  “Go ahead, Paul,” John said.  “We’re listening.”
     “Uh, hello, John.”  Paul’s voice came across shaky and nervous, and was unusually high for a man’s voice.  He can’t be any more than 25, judging from the voice, John thought. 
     Paul took a deep sigh.  “First time caller, long-time listener.”  There was a slight slur in his voice, barely noticeable but definitely there.  “I’m gonna confess something to you, John.”  He sighed again, exhaled deeply.  Wind swirled in the background, and the sound of rain came over the radio like static.
     “Paul,” John said, “where are you?  There’s a lot of static there.”
     “I’m on the roof of my apartment building.  I’m going to jump, but first, I want to confess.  I’ve killed.”
John’s heart jumped into his throat, and threatened to crawl out of his mouth, before he managed to swallow it as well as the urge to say “oh shit.”  He glanced up at Rosie, who still had the terrified and dumbfounded look on her face.  He covered the mic and mouthed call the cops to her.
     “What happened, Paul?” John said after two or three seconds.  “Who did you kill?”
     “I’ve killed, John,” Paul repeated.  “I’ve killed a lot.  I’ve killed dozens of men, women, and children.  Especially children.”
     A chill crept up John’s spine as he heard this.  “By killed, do you mean…”  He hesitated, trying to find a better word than murder.  “Did you commit a crime, Paul?”
     Paul was silent for a moment.
     “Paul?  Are you there?”
     “They shouldn’t have been there,” Paul whimpered, “and I killed them.  I had a good reason, but every time I think about, it don’t seem like that good a reason.”  Paul sniffled a bit.  “I don’t know what to do.”
     “Paul, calm down.  Take me through it slowly.  When did all this happen?”
     “Two years ago,” he said, and choked up.  His breathing was heavy on the line.  
     “It’s okay, Paul,” John said.  “No judgments here.”
     “Two years ago, I was on deployment in Afghanistan.”
     John exhaled low and deep.  “You’re a soldier,” he said.
     “Yes.  A Marine.  Well, I used to be.”  He took another deep breath.  “It was my last day, John, my last day.  I had done three tours, and after they got bin Laden, they started sending us home.  My unit had been embedded for eighteen months, scouring caves for that son of a bitch. Oh!”  Paul cleared his throat.  “Can I-can I say that on the air?”
     John laughed slightly.  “That’s our problem, not yours.  We’re on a four-second delay.”  Paul breathed another deep breath and John leaned back in his seat.  “Please keep going.”
     “After they killed him, God bless those guys, we were called back.  There was no more need for our unit, so we were directed back to Kandahar, and waiting to be sent back home.”  Paul choked up a bit, cleared his throat.  “It’s a beautiful night out, John,” he said.  The slur in his voice was more noticeable now, and John realized his caller was still drinking.
     “Yes it is,” he said.  “What are we having tonight?”
     There was a pause on the other line, and the noises of the street came through loud and clear.  “Single malt, aged 25 years.  My dad gave it to me when I got back.  Tastes like shit, but it’s better than the stuff we had on the base.”  Another pause on the line, and John imagined Paul taking another gulp.  “I was never a scotch drinker, though.”
     “I hear it’s an acquired taste.”  The noise in the background intensified and sirens came through the speakers, mingled in with the raindrops and the rest of the summertime road noise.
     “Are those sirens?”
     “It’s New York at 12:25 in the morning, Paul,” John said.  “Of course those are sirens.”  Paul laughed.  “so what happened?”
     “I was in Afghanistan for eighteen months, John.  Didn’t see any combat, never fired my gun.  There was a war going on, and I was like a bystander.”  Another pause, another swig.  “My unit and I, we were the lucky ones.  One day this kid comes by, a little girl, maybe nine years old.”  Paul stopped again and could be heard sobbing on the air.  He took a breath to compose himself.  “This happened all the time, you know.  Local kids from the city and the villages visiting the base.  It’s not all like what you see on the news, they don’t all hate us.  So this little girl wanders onto the base, and no one pays her any mind until we here a man’s voice yell out ‘Allah Akhbar!’  I was standing maybe, twenty feet from her, and she exploded.”  The sobs were rolling now and Paul didn’t even attempt to hide them.  John felt a tear roll down his cheek as well.
     “Suicide bombing,” John said.
     “It was a little girl,” Paul said.  “Next thing I know, there’s gunfire and before the dust settled four of the ten guys in my unit were dead.  I took one to the arm, one to the calf.  Me and my CO Joe Ryker take cover in the base, we look out and…”  Paul sobbed and hissed through his teeth.  Sirens in the background grew louder.  “Why are there so many sirens going off?” Paul asked.
     “Don’t worry about them,” John said.  “I need you with me, Paul.”
     “Oh, jeez, are they here for me?”  Paul’s breathing grew ragged and heavy.  “They’re coming for me, aren’t they?”
     “Calm down, Paul.”  Some of the smooth went out of John’s voice.  “We don’t want you to do anything rash.  No one’s coming to get you.  Talk to me, man, just keep talking.”  John felt his heart race as he heard nothing but street noise and sirens from the other end.  “Paul,’ he said, more urgently, “are you still there?”
     Ragged breath could be heard through the speakers.  “Yes,” Paul said, panting.  “Yes, I’m here.”  He took a couple more short breaths.  “What’s happening?  Why are there cops here?  Why are there paramedics here?”
     “Sir, stand back from the edge!”  The voice was amplified by a bullhorn and was scrambled by the cell phone’s tiny mic.  It came over the speakers in the booth tinny and distorted.
     “Paul?” John’s voice caught in his throat.  “Paul, what’s going on? Talk to me.”
     “Th-there’s cops,” the young man said.  “Ambulances.” Two short breaths.  “Shit. Did you call the cops?”
     “Paul, you’re on a live radio broadcast, using a cell phone, and you opened with the fact that you killed people and wanted to kill yourself.”  John let that sink in for a moment while he tried to find the right words to avoid telling a lie.  “The police coming to you was inevitable.”
     Over the speaker was a loud bang that sounded like the door to the roof being kicked open.  Yelling came through the speakers and an authoritative voice was clearly heard saying “Sir, step away from the ledge and put your hands on your head.”
     “Paul, are you there?” John said.  None of the cognac buzz remained in his voice and he gripped the microphone in the booth.  “Paul!  Paul, listen to me, no one thinks you’re a killer.  You’re a soldier.  You’re a hero.  Finish your story and the police will understand!”
     “No!” Paul shouted.  “They were kids!  The ones shooting at us were kids from the village, young kids, eleven, twelve, thirteen years old!  Children!”  Paul was openly sobbing into his phone, and by now the sirens had been turned off.  “They sent children in after us.  And we killed them!  Me.  Joe Ryker.  A couple of other guys who were lucky and weren't really hurt.  We shot them all.
     “There was this one kid who saw his friends die.  He looked sick, like he was about to vomit.”  Paul’s voice dimmed to barely above a sobbing whisper.  “He dropped his rifle and got to his knees.  Put his hands up, said ‘surrender’ in English.  I heard it.  I understood it.  I put a bullet in his head anyway.”
     Silence came over the speaker.  The sound of sobbing, of breathing, of sirens and city noise was on mute for a long moment.  “Paul?  Paul, are you there?”
     “They sent me home the next day.”  His voice was unsteady and he sniffled after he spoke.  “There was no investigation.  No inquiry.  They gave us medals.  Freaking Purple Heart.  Every night for the last two years I’ve seen that kid.  Every damn night.  I see him look at me with those big, brown, scared eyes.  I hear him surrender in that shaky voice.  And I… I…”  The line was quiet except for a sniffle every few seconds. 
     “Paul?” John said.  “Listen to me.  You did what you had to do.  It was do or die.  You or them.  Heat of combat.”
     “No!  That’s bull, John!  That boy didn’t have to die!  I shouldn’t have to live with that!  It’s too much!”
     “No one gets out of something like that clean,” John said.  He tried to not shout over his caller, tried to control his voice.  “Not you as a soldier, not us as a country.  That sort of thing changes you.  We don’t blame you, Paul.  You are a hero.”  John took a deep breath to compose himself.  “And don’t let anyone tell you different.  Everything you had to do over there for us, for you, we forgive you.”
     “You can’t forgive me.  You’re in no position to forgive me.”
     “You have a family, Paul?”
     Three more quick breaths came over the line, followed by a long one.  “I was married.  We have a little boy.  She left me.  I couldn’t talk to them, they would never understand, and there’s no way I want my boy to be like me.”
     “Think they forgive you?”
     “They say they do.  But how can they?  How can I ask them to live with this?”
     “How can you ask them not to?”
     A few sobs made their way over the line and died down slowly.  “Did you ever serve, John?”
     “No, sir,” John said.
     A few more sobs came over the line.  “Then-then you can never understand.”  Silence came over the line, then distant shouting.  John heard a cop in that roof yell out “Sir!  Sir! Step away from the ledge!  Sir!”
     “Paul!” John shouted.  “No, don’t do it!”
     The yelling faded and a whooshing sound came over the line.  With a final static smash, the line went dead.
     John shot up from his seat and leaned in close to the microphone.  “Paul!  Paul!  Are you there?  Can you hear me?  Paul!”
     “The call… failed,” Rosie said from the booth.  Tears filled her red-rimmed eyes.  “We can’t seem to get a connection.”
     “Call him back!” John said, pointing at Rosie in the production room.  “Get him back on the line!”
Rosie’s shaky hands dialed the number that just called, and immediately the call went to voice mail.  “Hey this is Paul, leave a message.”
     “No!” John shouted.  He slumped back into his seat.  “No.”  He looked over his shoulder at the red “ON AIR” light and shook his head.  He took a deep breath, pulled up to the microphone and cleared his throat.  “We, uh-“ he wiped a couple of tears from his eyes and cleared his throat again.  “On behalf of WVYR, we would like to apologize to our listeners for that exchange, and we would like to extend our deepest condolences to, uh, the family of Paul.  I’m sorry, we don’t have his last name.”  He took a couple more deep breaths.  “So this is John Benson on ‘Fess Up Friday, and I’m here to say that if you need to confess, to talk tonight, I’m listening.  I’m here.”  The smooth had returned to his voice just in time for the sign-off, and he switched his microphone off.


Copyright 2013 Franklyn C. Thomas

Review: Sacre Bleu

Christopher Moore's latest -- and heftiest -- novel, Sacre Bleu, is one more example of the man's mad and hilarious genius as he explores art and the color blue.  Yes, he wrote a novel about the color blue.  And it's awesome.

Set France in 1890, shortly after the suicide of Vincent Van Gogh, Sacre Bleu follows Lucien Lessard, and baker and aspiring artist who, after an encounter with a mysterious dwarf known only as the Colorman,, paints a masterpiece of his longtime love Juliette in the nude.  That brings him and his artist circle of the day, most notably his best friend, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, in contact with the muse spirit known only as Bleu, and a deadly chase around Europe by the Colorman.

For the last six years, Christopher Moore has been my personal favorite author.  His novels, even the ones (okay, one) I didn't like as much, leave me alternately howling in laughter and deep in thought.  Sacre Bleu is no exception.  The signature, casually conversational style of Christopher Moore is on full display here in this narrative as he shifts between the adventure in the 1890's and the back story millennia ago.  This runs longer than all his previous work -- by a significant margin -- and the only complaint I have is that it's not as accessible to new fans as it could be.  It takes a while to get to the meat of the story, and with 390 pages of story, non-fans could get understandably discouraged  My advice is to start with something a little less daunting (Like Lamb, A Dirty Job, or his Bloodsucking Fiends Trilogy) to get your feet wet with the author, then dive into this one.  The fans will love this one, though and with good reason.  All the hallmarks of Christopher Moore are here: relatable, average Joe heroes, increasingly supernatural phenomenon, improbable love.  They combine into a wonderfully fun package I highly recommend.

Rating: 8 out of 10


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Review: Patient Zero


Jonathan Maberry's first entry in the Joe Ledger series, Patient Zero, drops you into a world that's eerily similar to the present, where terrorism is a continuing threat and religious fundamentalist diehards are finding new and deadly ways to kill infidels. As Joe states in the opening line, "when you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, there's either something wrong with your world or something wrong with your skills. And there's nothing wrong with my skills."

When a well-funded jihadist group, led by the dangerous and mysterious El Mujahid and his wife Amirah, begin using a terrifying bio-weapon that turns its victims into mindless, contagious, and ravenous zombies, Joe is hastily recruited by the ultra-secret Department of Military Sciences to run Echo Team, a strike squad of hardened ex-soldiers, and combat the threat. What follows is the longest week in Joe's life as he deals with threat from the terrorists, their backers, a traitor on the squad, and his own personal demons.

Maberry's storytelling is impressive. The story is broken down into chunks, long when they need to be and short when they need to be, that moves the plot along briskly. Joe is a darkly charismatic and adept hero, equal parts Dirty Harry, Sam Spade, and Ethan Hunt. Intelligent and resourceful, brutal and reluctant. The parts of the story that are told through his viewpoint are fast and funny, and attempt with varying amounts of success to place the camera squarely behind our heads. It is novelized form of a first-person shooter. The parts that don't directly follow Joe are a bit hamstrung bythe fact that the other characters are caricatures of moustache-twirling evil. The smug British capitalist is typically slimy and the terrorist characters follow every statement with their version of an evil laugh (Allah akhbar). There's also a sex scene that, save for the tacked on purpose it serves, feels a bit out of place and unnecessary.

The triumph of Patient Zero is that the credibility of the threat is very palpable. Much of the science is real as are most of the diseases and pathology, which creates an entirely believable atmosphere of "this could happen." The action scenes are very well staged and the swerve thrown in at the final act is pretty cool. For all the issues I had with the book, I rather enjoyed it and recommend it pretty highly.

Rating: 7 of 10.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Brave New World

So here we are, New Year's Day, and we're all still here.  The world didn't end, we were not all consumed in hellfire and Brimstone.  Those kooky Mayans pulled one over on us.  Since we're past the date of the scheduled Apocalypse, that makes this a post-apocalyptic world.  What shall we do with this brave new world?

Every year, we go about the task of making resolutions, of stating in grand fashion the things we would like to change or improve of fix.  This year... meh.  It's 2013.  I'm 34 years old, and minus a few tweaks here and there, I'm basically the person I'm going to be.  So, what now?  Well, instead of thinking of the things I'd like to change, there are things I'd like to actually do.  The Mayan Prophecy, as illusory as it was, gave me a bit of perspective.  The world could end tomorrow.  It's not likely, of course, but anything could happen.  And even if the world is still spinning, my time -- our time -- on it is finite.  This is a wonderful world, and we should not be afraid to do the things in it.

Like snowboard.  Or sky dive.  Or parasail.  Or succeed.

We try sweeping changes looking for a big win.  I came to realize in the last year that it doesn't work quite like that.  Very few people hit the lottery.  The "big win" that we observe from the outside is a combination of little wins, medium losses, and big lessons from all.  Nothing comes without effort, and effort doesn't come without guts.  So I "resolve' to have the guts to at least do some of the things I've never been able to do for fear of failure, embarrassment or death.

Happy 2013, everyone.