Reviewing The Lord of the Flies

The original UK Lord of the Flies book cover

The original UK Lord of the Flies book cover

Somehow, I knew almost nothing about William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies prior to my beginning reading it. I had no ideas about any of the characters, the plot, or even the setting. The only thing I had heard about the book came from my cat. Well, to an extent anyhow. I was on the Amazon page for the book when my cat decided it had been long enough since the last time he walked across my keyboard. His paws expertly scrolled my browser down to the product reviews section of the page. There, before I was able to toss him aside and scroll back up and away from any potential spoilers, I read the title of a single review: “Terrifying”. Back up at the top of the page, away from the synopsis and reviews, a click of an icon immediately and magically deposited the book onto my Kindle. A few cups of coffee, a comfortable chair, and an empty house (save for the cat with his obnoxious food-anxiety issues: you keep his bowl full or he snaps into a violent rage; otherwise, he’s quite congenial) and I was deposited onto an uninhabited tropical island, spectator to unsupervised children finding their way in a seeming paradise.

I sat there, enjoying a paradisaical retreat from the burdens of reality. I quickly realized this book fell into the genre known as ‘Robinsonade’: survivalist fiction set in some sort of isolated locale, taking its name from the 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe. As the pages turned, a portion of my thoughts wandered into any number of fantasies, and memories of fantasies, that all kids, as well as adults, have about the prospects of being marooned on an uninhabited and unknown tropical island. Conveniently, our imaginations shy away from an examination into the circumstances that put us there to begin with: the scream of wind buffeting against failed jet engines, the mumbled prayers of the passenger next to you, and then, of course, everything that happens in conjunction with a jetliner tearing a scar through a jungle. If you can avoid thinking about the scene the survivors, and they’re more than likely the less-fortunate ones, find themselves in, only then do we allow our fantasy to begin. The dead and severely maimed fade away, along with the flames and toxic stench of what burning jet fuel does to metal, plastic, and corpses, leaving us conveniently plopped, and remarkably unscathed, into a simple paradise.

I relaxed as I tap-tap-tapped my way through the Kindle version of the Lord of the Flies, the completion percentage steadily reaching for 100.

 Non-spoiler Premise:
A plane full of school children, all boys, crashes on an uninhabited tropical island. The pilot and all other adults are not featured, leaving the reader to presume they perished in the crash. In any case, the cast of characters essentially consists of preadolescent boys.

Now, I’m not going to go any further than this. If you’ve read the book, you know where this all ends up going. If you somehow have not read the book and are not familiar with its twist—a group I was fortunate enough to find myself a member of—then you simply must read this story. Do not seek further reviews or commentary, the less you know the more you’ll enjoy the book.

A little past half-way through the story is when things really take a sudden turn. At one point, I set the book down and said aloud, “Whoa, that escalated quickly.” By then, the hook was set and, with a jerk on the line, I had no choice but to ride this thing out. The curtain is lifted and the allegory reveals itself. The second half of the book moves very quickly, and by the end you find yourself sitting there not unlike a scared child that just became aware that they lost their innocence.

I’ve often fantasized about finding myself mostly alone on an uninhabited island. Now, maybe not so much.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 (a must read allegory a la 1984, Animal Farm, etc.)
Genre: Robinsonade, Dystopia, classics, fiction, allegory
Length: 227 pages (Kindle version)
Kindle Price: $5.66 as of March 2014
Paperback Price: $12.11 as of March 2014
Year of Publication: 1954

First lines:

THE BOY with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon. Though he had taken off his school sweater and trailed it now from one hand, his grey shirt stuck to him and his hair was plastered to his forehead. All round him the long scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat.

Selected lines:

“He found himself understanding the wearisomeness of this life, where every path was an improvisation and a considerable part of one’s waking life was spent watching one’s feet.”

 

“The crying went on, breath after breath, and seemed to sustain him upright as if he were nailed to it.”


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Adventures In Parenting: On the Killing of Animals

One afternoon earlier this summer, my daughter was asking me if it was okay to kill animals. I explained to her that my personal feeling was that it was okay as long as you were going to eat the animals. I told her I didn’t believe you should kill animals just for their trophies (antlers, rugs, mounts, etc.) or fur–unless you actually needed it–but it is human nature to eat meat and, therefore, okay. We are omnivorous animals, after all. She thought about this awhile and summarized, “So, if you kill an animal you should eat it?”

I said, “Yes. That’s right.”

I then got to experience that beautiful moment that only parents and teachers get to enjoy, as the cogs in her mind began rotating, her thought factory coming alive. There’s little more precious than watching the mind of a child at work.

 But then she developed a perplexed look on her face before asking,

“So… when the people at the dog pound kill the dogs and cats that nobody adopts, do they eat them afterwards?”

Not wanting to relinquish what I felt was a success in instilling a virtue in my seven-year-old daughter (you dare not pass-up the rare opportunity of a teachable moment), I simply replied,

“Yep!”.


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How Governor Parnell Got His Groove Back

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell has earned himself a reputation for not being very assertive, a bit of a pushover if you will. Typically, this criticism comes from the governor’s own party. Even Alaska’s lone Congressman has referred to him as a “zero” on more than one occasion. That, coupled with the fact that it is totally en vogue to bash every facet of the federal government, might explain Governor Parnell’s latest bout of nastygrams sent to federal agencies.

Last week, the day prior to the end of the federal government shutdown, Governor Parnell sent Interior Secretary Sally Jewell a letter. The letter, dated October 15, informed Secretary Jewell that, unless she opened federal refuge lands in Alaska “by the close of business Alaska time on Tuesday, October 15”, the State of Alaska would “file a complaint for injunctive relief and request an immediate Temporary Restraining Order from a federal court judge”.

Yes, the Governor gave Secretary Jewell until the end of the same day he sent her the letter.

Alaskans know that mail and shipments take a little bit longer to get to and from here compared to the rest of America. For some reason, however, Governor Parnell not only expects a letter to travel across the entire continent and arrive on Secretary Jewell’s desk within the same day, he also expects her to take action on said letter that same day. Maybe Parnell felt he was being generous by giving her until the end of day Alaska time, effectively providing her an extra four hours to meet his demands due to the difference in time zones.

Let’s dig into the letter a little bit:

Dear Secretary Jewell,

This follows my letters to you dated October 4 and October 11, 2013, urging you repeatedly to open up federal refuges in Alaska so as to ameliorate the significant and adverse fiscal impact on our guides and support businesses during the short hunting season.

Yes, he’s been writing her a lot of letters lately. I wonder if he might have a bit of a crush on the Secretary.

Last week you offered to have the State of Alaska pay the entire operational costs of the refuges in order for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to reopen these lands to Alaskans and visitors. While I did express reservations about the need to pay the entire costs, I nonetheless had my staff contact your office to see what those cost estimates would be. As of today, we have heard nothing back.

Hmm… I wonder why federal employees haven’t gotten back to the Governor with that information he requested. Could it be the fact that the federal government was shut down at the time?

Besides closing of the refuges to members of the public and visitors to the State, USFWS has also announced that the State wildlife managers are barred from doing their normal research and management functions.

Secretary Jewell, you have visited Alaska; you understand the vast size of this state, and the fact that a decision by federal land managers to shut down federal refuges has a disproportionate impact in our state. Supervision of these areas is not labor intensive, and all we ask is that outfitters and guides – who already possess the requisite permits and certifications, – and who have already paid for these permits – be allowed to conduct their normal activities in federal refuges and that Alaskans be allowed to participate in the state managed hunts that take place on federal lands.

Holy punctuation, Batman! Did you just use two parenthetical dashes back-to-back in the same sentence? Sure, the dash is one of the least regulated marks in the world of punctuation, but please use some discretion before you ruin it for the rest of us. Blatant misuse like this is what causes new regulations to be created!

This is a zero-cost option that is consistent with the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) other federal land management decisions in response to the shutdown, including the most recent announcement allowing public access to Waterfowl Production Areas.

It was my sincere hope that we could avoid recourse through the courts. However, DOI’s position leaves us little choice. Unless USFWS reverses its shutdown of the federal refuges by the close of business Alaska time on Tuesday, October 15, Alaska will file a complaint for injunctive relief and request an immediate Temporary Restraining Order from a federal court judge here in Anchorage. [Emphasis the governor’s, not mine.]

Oh snap! Throwing down the gauntlet.wrestler gif

I respectfully request your reconsideration. With everything else that is going on, litigation between our respective principals should be avoided.

Well, if the Governor really wanted to avoid litigation, he should have sent her a time machine along with the letter containing his impossible demands. I get the feeling that he doesn’t actually mean this statement; after all, he’s no stranger to filing lawsuits against the federal government.

However, the financial impact and inconvenience to Alaskans can no longer be ignored, and we will seek to reopen these refuges based on the USFWS’ failure to follow its own closure regulations and other inconsistent positions adopted by DOI which have been repeatedly brought to your attention.

Thank you for your consideration. Please feel free to contact me through my Scheduler, Janice Mason, at 907-465-3986.

Sean Parnell

Governor

This is by far my favorite part of the letter. Rather than end it with something like, “here’s my personal cell phone number; call me anytime, day or night, and let’s come up with a solution to this problem” he tells the Secretary to contact his “Scheduler”. This isn’t even one of those, “have your people contact my people”; this is a “you contact my people”.  So much for choosing respect.

All that said, perhaps those of us that were lamenting the shutdown of the federal government owe Governor Parnell our gratitude. After all, this was the same night Congress finally passed a bill to re-open the government. It just might have been the Governor’s stern polemic that put an end to the impasse.

 This post is cross-posted at The Mudflats.

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When Animals Attack: Bizarre Alaskan Edition

You know that thing, where a group of ravens steal a hunk of smoked pork and then proceed to repeatedly drop it on your car in order to break it up into more palatable pieces?

My poor car:
My car after being used by ravens.

Found on the ground next to my car:
RavenAttack2

I hate when they do that; don’t you?


To answer some of the questions I’ve received about this:

  • I have no idea where the pork came from. In fact, I don’t even know if it’s pork.
  • Luckily, no dents.
  • Yes, I registered scorn with the ravens: I shook my fists at them and referred to them in very disparaging terms.

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Twitter Is A Gateway Drug To Sewing Machines

Twitter Sewing MachineWhat do you make of this? I did a search in TweetDeck for the words “Does anyone”. Scrolling through some results I noticed more than one result that mentioned a sewing machine. Then I realized the tweets were identical. So I did another search for “Does anyone sewing” and came up with dozens of results, all identical. So I went to Twitter.com and ran the search and voilà!

Immediately this smells of some sort of spammer strategy, but none of these tweets are posting links: so what’s the frequency, Kenneth? What is the value of spam without some sort of way to generate revenue?

I did some more searching and came across this blog post on the New York Times’s Bits blog, authored by Nicole Perlroth: Fake Twitter Followers Become Multimillion-Dollar Business

In the article, Perlroth describes a very real–and apparently, lucrative–market for fake Twitter accounts.

The researchers said they approached sellers with positive feedback and found that fake followers were typically sold in packages ranging from $1 to $1,000 for 1,000 to one million accounts. For instance, Fiverr sells 1,000 Twitter followers for $5.

The article also reminded me of the claims, during the 2012 US Presidential campaign, that Mitt Romney’s official Twitter account was alleged to have thousands of “fake” accounts following it, inflating his follower count. (Personally, I suspected that these robot accounts were following him because he was one of them. No one can deny the fact that Romney swept the robot vote.)

So is that what I’m seeing, fake accounts? Can I assume that there’s some sort of software script that’s publishing these tweets, and that all of these budding sewing machine pilots (I don’t know what people that sew are called!) are actually created by a single person or company? If so, Perlroth is right: “In many cases, high-quality false Twitter accounts are nearly impossible to discern from the real thing.”

For example, consider Poster Walker up there. Here’s a quick sample of what following Mr. Walker will grant you access to:

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t showcase his penchant for punnery:

Still, Poster the punster is only following 30 people. None of them appear to be companies or public personalities that would have both, the financial means to pay for followers, as well as the desire to build an online presence. So I don’t know. Maybe average Joes are out there purchasing fake followers. (Are Twitter stats the new rubric by which one grades their e-penis?)

If so, let me know: I’d be happy to follow you on Twitter in exchange for a few bucks. Just promise me that you can sling Internet awesomeness like my new friend @PosterWalker_27.

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Polar Bear Kali Practices His Heavy Metal Chops

The Alaska Zoo has an adorable polar bear cub, by the name of Kali. The zoo recently posted a video of Kali, purportedly throwing a bit of a fit.

I’m not sure he wasn’t actually practicing his Brazilian heavy metal singing voice.

(Music Credit: Sepultura ‘Roots’ / Vocals: Kali the Polar Bear)

Kali - Photo Credit: Alaska Zoo

Kali – Photo Credit: Alaska Zoo

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Reviewing This Crowded Earth – by Robert Bloch

ThisCrowdedEarthIt is my intent to review this book without spoiling any of the important plot devices. I dove into this story without a clue as to what I was in for, other than that it was about an Earth that had become overcrowded–and that much can be gleaned from the title. I recommend you do the same: get a hold of this title, whether in print or on Kindle, and consume it.

Go.

Since you’re reading my words–and not yet the author of the story’s–I suppose you want a little bit more. Robert Bloch (best-known for writing Psycho, the basis for the Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name, as well as its later adaptations) created This Crowded Earth as a dystopian novella set beginning four decades in the future, in 1997. By then, planet Earth is devastatingly overpopulated and the attempted regulations and laws have done little to thwart its continuance. Dr. Leffingwell, however, has come up with a solution.

Through the quick 96 pages, and the 68 years the story encompasses, both the story’s unwitting subject, Harry Collins, and the reader are left desperate for the truth and trying to unravel the mystery of who can be trusted, and what’s really going on.

The story is surprisingly prescient. While the proposed solution to the overpopulation situation is purely science fiction, its not too far-fetched that you couldn’t imagine some of the fringe conspiracy theorists of AM talk radio raving it about as fact. (That’s both an acknowledgement of Bloch’s ingenuity, and an indictment of modern, cynical hysteria.)

The tempo is quickening. While it took mankind thousands of years to move from the bow and arrow to the rifle, it took only a few hundred to move from the rifle to the thermonuclear weapon. It took ages before men mastered flight, and then in two generations they developed satellites; in three, they reached the moon and Mars.

- This Crowded Earth by Robert Bloch

Just as it goes in real life, the effects of Collins’s government’s benevolence–the desperation of policy-makers to do more good than harm–is shadowed by the inevitable: collateral damage of a most-disturbing kind. This theme plays off of the result of a worldwide e cold war, in which the threat of mutually-assured destruction has guaranteed peace on Earth.

Bloch’s writing is crisp and witty. The story is short enough to be consumed in the course of a couple of hours, but long enough for the reader to become involved in the story and attached to the characters. It’s also one of those stories that sticks with you, the ones you find yourself thinking about days or more after finishing it. This Crowded Earth is a worthwhile investment for any reader’s repertoire.

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