Book Review: Uglies

I haven’t posted a book review in a while, a result of my total lack of reading. One of those winter slumps, I guess. While I was spring cleaning I found a long-overdue recommendation from a friend jotted down on a sticky note, and that seems to have started another reading frenzy. 🙂

Uglies, a young-adult sci-fi novel by Scott Westerfeld, is the story of Tally, a girl who’s counting down the days to “The Surge”, future society’s process by which hideously normal, wretched teenagers have their bodies rebuilt into supermodel adult figures on their 16th birthday. It’s a heavy handed metaphor for puberty, sure, but in this gorgeous, party-loving utopian society all may not be as it appears! Tally discovers something sinister about the process that makes her question everything.

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Uglies is apparently crazy popular in high-school curricula, where undoubtedly the ideas presented in the book about appearances, plastic surgery, conformism and beauty worship would be excellent conversation starters about issues in media and contemporary society. Granted that it’s a young-adult book, I really felt the author was spoon-feeding the readers and hitting us over the head with his moralizing and simplifications of issues. I think the “bad guys” had a solid enough case that, if presented better, could cast everything into deeply shady moral areas. But we never get to hear their rationalizing except through interpretation.

The writing was chunky and oddly paced. Plotwise it reads like a sloppy teenage empowerment fantasy, where our slightly blank-slate protagonist learns to accept her gangly exterior, while being unnaturally successful at everything she does (Love! Hoverboarding! Freedom fighting! Railway construction! Jailbreaks!) despite rarely making a conscious decision throughout the book. The one major decision she does make turns out disastrously – leading me to wonder if the author was secretly making a genius statement about free will.

The setting is amusing – it’s patently absurd and full of contradictions, but I’m willing to suspend my disbelief if it means telling a good yarn. The future is filled with hovering cars and skateboards, but people still live in suburbs and work in factories while turning up their (perfect) noses at wasteful historical society (ie: ours). In the future everything floats. Progress!

Overall it was a fun read, moreso for the ideas than the actual execution. At only 170-odd pages it’s a fast and easy read with a few interesting twists and reveals that keep things interesting. Just don’t think too hard about it. (How do you open the lid on a bottle of Nano-Glue?!?)

FYI – I’ve read some reviews online and it seems like the next books in the series are completely ridiculous, so I think I’m going to call it quits on this one and imagine my own version of events after the storyline.

Masks

Is it wrong that when I saw David R. Harper’s “Entre le chien et le loup” exhibit at the Ottawa Art Gallery, my first thought is that I needed to find 71 friends to join me on an epic bank robbery? “Blue pig! Guard the door! Nono – dark blue pig! Nono – really dark blue pig. Yes, you!”

Seriously though – really cool show. There’s a neat arrangement of bones and some really amazing sculptural work that I highly recommend checking out.

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Centerpointe Library Imagine Space

I attended the opening of the Imagine Space at the Centerpointe Library tonight, and they had a pretty slick setup! Two crazy high-quality 3D resin deposition printers, a laser cutter, a 3d scanning station, some video equipment – the US Embassy spent some big bucks putting together a workshop to attract serious maker-types.

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I’m really looking forward to trying out some of their machines. The services seem to all be free with a library card, but printing costs $0.30/gram of plastic (but a little goes a long way when you properly hollow out your objects). They have a staff on hand to answer questions and if you’re really green at this stuff they can walk you through the entire process, end to end.

I have a feeling I’m going to spend a lot of time there! 😉

Reviews! Reviews!

A bunch of things I’ve seen lately!

The Secret Life of Walter MittyLoved it! – As a chronic daydreamer I could definitely associate with Ben Stiller’s character, a magazine photo editor who’s head in the clouds prevents him from experiencing the adventures going on around him. I really loved the cinematography in this movie, and the message really hit home, even if it was a bit heavy-handed at times. There’s a bunch of really clever jokes in the film, although it’s not structured like a typical comedy. Pretty high-brow stuff for Ben Stiller, and it was really fantastic.

FrozenPretty good – Disney’s second digitally animated tentpole movie was pretty solid, although I think it suffered for all the hype. I didn’t find the music particularly exceptional, but the visuals were beautiful and well executed. I have a few problems with the plotline, but it’s a kid’s movie, and certainly it must seem very reasonable to a kid to lock yourself in a room for 15 years rather than deal with the fact that you have incredibly useful super powers.

Captain America : The Winter SoldierRad! – I have to hand it to the Marvel people for making Captain America more compelling than I had expected. After dimension-hopping Thor and robot-army Ironman films, I expected “Slightly tougher and faster” Steve Rogers to underwhelmingly punch and run his way through a series of badguys. Instead we got a weirdly dark political thriller attached to a pretty capable action film, with a 3rd act spectacle that was really satisfying. Double-kudos to them for including The Falcon, although that guy can’t rely on stealing backpacks if he’s going to keep saving the world. 😉

Stairwell

Just sharing a moment from my life – this is the view down the stairwell I descend at the end of every work day. They don’t build back stairwells like they used to – lovely white marble steps and shaped steel railings all the way down. Not many people even know this stairwell exists, I think, since most offices connect out to the grand main stairwell at the front of the building.

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