Friday, July 3, 2015

Getting Outside the Box--a Study on Limits and Potential

Weird things happen when you mix math with words. Weirder still are the outcomes of mixing math and inspiration. But you know what? It can be done. And (shout-out to all the nerds out there) it's beautiful. If you don't believe me, just go read some Alan Lightman. It can be done. 

You ever heard that lame, over-used and under-understood aphorism, "think outside the box"? As if all our thought processes and ideas were contained in some kind of Pandora's box, and the really good ones were found just a few inches removed from our cardboard heaven--we just have to stick our hands (or our heads) outside of our box for three small seconds to see the bright, shiny ideas outside of it? The very idea that our own way of thinking isn't enough to solve problems is kind of an insult to human intelligence (not that I am generally incredulous of human stupidity). 

However, if you peer at it closely enough, you'll find some truth to the statement (you may have to tilt your head and half-blink your eyes). While we don't have to do something new and unheard of to solve problems or have genius ideas, it is possible for us to put limits on ourselves--a combination of ideas, resignation, and/or general apathy that limits how far inside our little box we go to pull out the really good stuff. 

Any high-school graduate (I hope) will remember what a limit is. It's a barrier; an impassable line or point past which a certain function cannot progress. Here's a nice little Google image to help you out (and to save you from Googling it in a new tab, which I know you were all about to do). 

There are a couple of things you need to notice about this limit (pay attention, class): (1) In the early stages of the graph, the limit is non-existent, or at least non-influential. Notice how (close to the 0), the graph looks like it could keep on going up forever. Also, (2), notice how the line becomes flatter and flatter more quickly once the limit starts exerting its influence. The line doesn't stop all of a sudden and say, "Well, I've reached my limit. Guess I'm done now." Instead, it's a gradual curve, something that slows the function down over time, kind of like a plane landing and slowing down gently instead of all at once. Also, (3), notice that the line never actually hits the limit. It still goes up, always inching closer and closer to the limit (the number 12), but never getting there. It just goes incrementally slowly.

Compare that graph to your own progression--up represents you reaching more of your potential, and vice versa for down. At the beginning, I would posit that each of us starts with unlimited potential and the ability to soar upward endlessly. But as time goes on, something starts to slow us down, eventually making us reach a wall where we progress at a painstakingly slow rate towards our own limits or mediocrity. These limits can be anything, as intense and sudden as a tragedy or disaster, or as slow as general psychological heuristics--we just get used to something happening a certain way with a certain level of success, and lose the ability to imagine it any other (more profitable or successful) way. We lock ourselves inside our box, and see small improvements as big steps forwards, even though we are in reality trapped by our own standards. 

This may seem like a stretch (especially to the non-mathematically minded #sorrynotsorry), but the manner of framing the issue with this mathematical model is quite understandable when we understand how to break free from those limits. How do we convince ourselves that we can surpass mediocrity? How can we return to our original, unbounded rate of progression, and reach our full potential? For that answer, we turn back to the wonderful world of mathematics. 

Look at this new and improved guy. Again, we're going with the potential thing here. As you an see, he started off pretty slowly, but he really started taking off--that is, until he hit point A. At point A, he got complacent, cozy. His progression petered off until he began to approach his particular limit (the red line). 

And then what? Something happened at point B that changed him--he suddenly left the limit behind; he soared right through it. What did he take right there, and how do I get some? 

The mathematical definition of point B is a point of inflection, when a graph goes from being "concave down" to "concave up" (or vice versa, but we're trying to stay positive here). In that single point, the limit was forgotten. And what's so dang beautiful about it is that while the results happened gradually and over time, the shift from limit to no limit didn't; it happened instantaneously. In a single moment of time--a solitary point--we made the decision to get out of our box. To ditch our limit. And then, we did it. 

So that's the inspirational part of all of this. Mediocrity may not be easy to leave behind--in fact, it's a steep, uphill climb. But that climb--and its success--comes from one single moment. The point of inflection. It could be as simple as a renewed determination to be better and improve. It could be the moment you sit down and plan what you will change to break your limits. It could be just saying "I've wanted to for all this time, and now, I'm really gonna do it." It could even be as simply as just identifying those limits. But it can be done. 

So look for your limits. Figure out what they are. And get out of that box. Here's a clip that, while admittedly stemming from my least favorite genre of movies, will inspire you to do it. 

And, just in case you were's the secret to doing it

There's my mathematical inspiration. Go reach your full potential! #Mathpiration #Itsathing

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Zombie Apocalypse

The world has ended.

And when I say "the world," I mean "Brigham Young University." (After all, here at BYU, "The world is our campus," so they're not really that different.) We seem to have a small zombie infestation here.

Now, there's no need to call CDC. We don't need to be quarantined (yet). You see, us crazy freshman are playing a surprisingly intense game of Humans vs. Zombies.

Yes, I picked this picture just because of the picture I posted in my last article. I'm just so clever, aren't I?

So, this game is basically just a prolonged game of tag. You start with 3 Original Zombies. They have to turn somebody else into a zombie (by tagging them) within 48 hours, or they starve to death. Humans can shoot zombies with Nerf guns or socks (for those college kids too poor and/or stingy to invest in a Nerf gun), and stun the zombies for some period of time.

I signed up for this game mostly because it was our hallway's idea to play, so I had to be part of the preparations anyway. But this has escalated into probably the most intense game of my life.

My roommate is already a zombie. My hallway goes to class only as a pack, and only by taking a circuitous route of backroads and less-traversed pathways. I have had to fight for my life 4 times in 24 hours.

And now? Someone stole the darts from my Nerf gun.

I say someone. Really, the only possibility is my undead roommate, since the darts were in my gun before I went to sleep. But he's feigning ignorance. And I suppose it's also possible that I hid them from myself in my sleep (yes, I have been known to do that), but that doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

There is an upside from holing up in my room instead of bolting for the Canon Center just to get lunch—you get to read this blog post! You have the undead to thank for that.

As far as my NaNo plans go (for those of you who actually READ the last post, and didn't comment on it—shame on you), I have decided to write short stories instead of a novel. I'll still try to turn out the 50,000 words like all of the rest of you crazy writers, but most MFA programs prefer short stories as writing samples, and I don't have a good enough idea to just write a novel. I'll keep you updated, as usual. With the oncoming apocalypse, I can afford to stay in my room Thursday and Friday and write, so maybe I'll have some significant news by then. If I'm still alive.

Until then.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

HELP! (I need somebody)

And not just anybody.

So, the majority of my readers and/or followers (if such people still exist out in this cyber-world) are writers, and being writers, are familiar with the concept of NaNo WriMo. But, for the benefit of my non-writer viewers, and for the purpose of making this blog post seem longer, I will explain.

November is National Novel Writing Month. You write an entire novel in a month.

Wow. That was a long explanation.

So a bunch of people here at BYU are getting together to do this. And when I say "getting together," I mean posting on a communal wall in Facebook. But it sounds fun, and while I write pretty fast, I've never actually participated in NaNo. So I think I'll give it a shot.

Here's the kicker—I don't really have anything to write about.

That's why I need you! Yes, you. Leave a comment. Tweet me. Do whatever it is people do on Google+ (aside: is anyone else as completely confused by that site as I am?). Give me an idea of a story. I haven't decided what medium I'll do for the story—I'm not sure I'll actually do a real novel. I might do short stories, or a script. Or a sculpture. Not really. That was just the only other art medium I could think of that started with an "s". Regardless, leave me your ideas.

But not just any ideas. I don't want you to comment and say, "Write a book about a deranged girl and her vampire lover." (Yes, I just made a Twilight joke. Shoot me.) I want you to leave a comment (or some other form of cyber communication) with no more than the first five sentences. You can leave less, if you want, but I don't want a synopsis or a pitch or anything detailed. I just want a start.

Now, to be blunt, I will probably disregard ALL of your ideas. In fact, I might laugh at most of them (but I will not publicly mock them—promise. That should count for something.) But I need a jumpstart for my creative side, and it wouldn't hurt to get a little bit of reader participation on this blog, just so I know y'all are still out there. I'll try to keep everyone updated over the course of the month. That way, NaNo might hold me accountable to both writing and blogging. Wouldn't that be something?

Seriously, has anyone been paying attention to how many times I post about some new strategy to keep myself blogging? I must have done it at least 100 times by now. But who knows? Maybe this one will stick.

Leave your comments. I'll tell you what I decide next week, and we can get the ball rolling on November 1st.

In other news, it's snowing at BYU. The day after my birthday. WHAT IS THIS?

That is all.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Musings on Mormonville

For the first time in my (rather pathetic and short) career as a blogger, I have a legitimate excuse for not blogging recently. 

I am in college. 

You have no idea how long I've waited to say (or type) that sentence. 

Although honestly, it still hasn't hit me. The classes aren't really hard. At all. In fact, I'm typing this during my Introduction to Film lab, as we Twitter-stalk our TA to find out when his birthday is (it happens to be today—Happy Birthday, Joshua!). I still eat at a cafeteria; the only difference is now I eat there for almost EVERY MEAL. (Yes, I'm already sick of it). For all intents and purposes, I feel sort of like I'm on an extended vacation with midterms and lectures. 

Of course, this is no way lessens my excitement. 

So, at this point you should be wondering: why isn't this kid blogging more? He has all sorts of exciting stories to share. And it's true, I do. So I am going to make a conscientious (if not successful) effort to share these exciting stories via this significantly under-read blog.

That's right. Be excited. 

Today, however, I'm going to let you down. I have no story to share today, because today I have done three things: go to my Book of Mormon class, take a 2.2 hour nap, and eat lunch. (I guess blogging during my film lab counts as a thing, but three things sounds better than four. Get over it.)

So I have no story. No writing sample. Nothing really of interest to share with any of you. Essentially, this blog post serves just to distract me from watching all the important parts of Super 8 to learn about linear narratives. You might as well just stop reading now. But I'm gonna keep typing. 

I'm gonna be straight with you, and all of my Mormon followers/readers are not going to understand this at all. I was not thrilled to be coming to BYU. Don't get me wrong, I've been excited about college since the fourth grade. But BYU seemed...weird. In my (highly irrational) mind, BYU seemed like a college full of self-righteous Mormon kids with the same views and the same ideas, gathered together to take Mormon classes from Mormon professors and watch devotionals every Tuesday and all campaign for Mitt Romney. 

But that's not what BYU is at all. 

Sure, we're all Mormon. Sure, I haven't heard a swear word since Mid-August. But that doesn't lessen the ideological diversity that exists here. There's a club campaigning for Barack Obama. We watched a documentary about Satanic coal-miners in film. There's a Gay Pride flag in the windows of a couple dorm rooms on campus. And while each of these things has individually infuriated a large portion of people on campus, I love them. It shows me that I can be simultaneously in a community that shares my standards and not sacrifice individuality. 

So keep that in mind. Just because a (HUGE) group of people share one core trait doesn't mean they're all the same, or even compatible with each other. Every person is a bundle of insanely complicated feelings, thoughts, and perception. Even Mormons can hang Gay Pride flags in their dorm rooms. 

And that is why I love college. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012


      Whereas the last writing sample that appeared on this blog was posted at its conception (and was downright awful), and—
     Whereas the Texas State PTA Reflections contest is now over, so I don't have to worry about getting in trouble—
     Therefore, I have decided to post my short story that one an Award of Excellence (like 2nd-4th place) at the State Level for Writing! (Yeah, it's also a little bit to show off—humor me). 

So, without further ado, here is my short story, "One," inspired by the theme, "Diversity Means...." Note that it is short because it is exactly ONE word under the limit imposed by the PTA. Enjoy.

The door at the bottom of Stairwell Three has a lock. 
I reach for the almost antique sensor pad. How have they not noticed this one? Locks are not needed. Why would anyone keep a secret from themselves? 
The palm of my hand touches the cool metal. It doesn’t move. Doesn’t respond. But the words jar up the bones in my arm, up my elbow to my shoulder to my brain. 
Samesamesamesamesame. Badbadbadbad. 
I should report this. The Maker will want to know. A lock where no lock has the right to be. We have no secrets in the Facility. The place where we create Oneness. 
But the building is not One. 
I file the report quickly, lighting the inside of my eyelids with red streaks of discomfort. Disunity. The report is received at once. I should go. My job is done. 
But my eyes drift back to the door. The handle is retracted into the steel frame, a handle that will not relinquish its secrets without a fight. The sleek metal door is marred only by the small scanner, the small square plate with a single word etched across the top in small, perfect lettering. 
“Do you have a dictionary?” 
Cassidy looks up from the floor, startled by the question. “A dictionary?”
I sit down next to her, moving a stack of discs to do so. “I need to look up a word.” 
She blinks once. Twice. “Something wrong with your eyelids, dufus?” 
The smile at my nickname cannot be held back. I lean forward, brush back her black hair with one hand to whisper in her ear. “It’s not in the database.” 
There is no need for caution. It doesn’t matter who hears—we’re all the same. Nothing can change that. We are all friends. All allies. 
So I can tell, when Cas responds in an equally secretive whisper, that she’s mocking me. “Then it won’t be in the dictionary either, idiot. That’s where they build the database from.” 
“I just need to check. Maybe they left it out.” 
Her grey eyes soften. “Dylan. They didn’t leave it out. It’s probably not even a real word.” 
I shake my head. That’s not it. No one would carve a fake word onto the only locked door in the Facility. But I drop it. Rifle through one stack of the shiny golden discs. “Any progress?” 
The small girl swipes the top one from my stack. “I think I finally cracked the case of John 53428. He had a favorite color.” 
“Really?” My eyebrows shoot upwards, disappearing into my black hair. “What was it?” 
She thought for a moment, closed her eyes. “Almost a teal. But a little lighter. Do they have a name for that?” 
I make a grab for the disc. “Let me see.” 
Cassidy holds it up to her chest. “No. Get your own.” 
“I want to see his color.” I grab her arm, lean close. “Please?” 
Cassidy giggles. “Since you asked nicely.” Then she leans forward to kiss me. 
Behind closed eyes, the flash of red astonishes me. “John 14683. Report to Maker.” 
Cas breaks from me, looking ashamed. It is rare for a message to be private, but it’s obvious that that one was. And that she overheard it. 
I touch her wrist as she stands. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back soon.” 
I start to walk out of the grey room. “Dylan?” 
Turning, I can’t help smiling at her bright eyes. Her soft face. “What was the word?” she asks. 
It takes a moment for me to remember. “Diversity,” I tell her at last. 
We were not supposed to have names. 
Names were deemed useless after the Unism. After the Declaration of Oneness. At the same time that hair became black and eyes became grey, names became obsolete. Everyone was John and Jane. All we had to identify ourselves was a number. 
But when you work in the Facility, you learn things. How to Unify minds. How to make them One. And what makes them so not One. Things change. 
When I met Jane 54092, she was just another Jane. The only difference between us was that she was a girl and I was not, the one distinction the Maker made. 
I don’t remember when it was that she started becoming so much more. 
The Maker’s door is just like the rest of ours—plain, grey steel with a riveted outline. There is no lock on his door.
The man’s grey eyes light when I walk in. “John.” The name is said with pride, as if it is inherently mine. “So nice to see you. Please, sit.” 
The room smells sweet. Sickly. I sit in the plush chair, wriggling to get comfortable. 
Lines crinkle around the Maker’s eyes as he sits opposite the desk, his face becoming serious. “I got your message, John. But I’d just like to review the details.” 
“Do you know what diversity is?” I ask the question before I should. It is a break from the expected—we are polite. Never rude. Never interrupting. 
“I’m sorry,” I say immediately. “I was distracted. I don’t know—”
The Maker waves away my apology, not entirely immune to interruptions himself. “Diversity?” he asks. The word sounds foreign on his tongue.
“What does it mean?” I can’t help the softness that laces my voice. The eagerness. 
He sits back. “There used to be so many differences. Eye color. Hair color. Short people. Tall people. Different skin colors. Different colors, can you imagine?” The Maker sighs, shaking his head. “But now, when all we know is Oneness, there is no need for distinction. That’s what diversity was, John—distinction.” 
“Just—being different?” 
The Maker shakes his head, still talking. “Once, people believed there was another Maker. A far better Maker than I, John. Far better. This Maker created the differences in people, wanted people to love and cherish them. That’s what diversity used to be. Freedom.” He closed his eyes, his wrinkles growing more pronounced. “So long ago.” 
There is silence for a moment. Then, the Maker opens his eyes again, looks at me. “We sent a squad down to the bottom of Stairwell Three. They did not find a door.” 
“They—” I am stunned into silence. “They didn’t find anything?” 
“Just a brick wall. No door.”  The Maker leans forward, props his head on his hands so that he can inspect me. “And yet, when I got your message, I could see the door. Clear as day. How is this possible?” 
I shake my head. “I don’t know, sir.” I cringe. Maybe he didn’t notice the title. 
But his eyes narrow, and his jaws tighten. He did notice. “I have a theory,” he says, his voice slow and purposeful. I don’t say anything. 
After a pause, the Maker continues. “I think, John, that you might not be quite One.” 
You’re right, I want to say. My name isn’t John. It’s Dylan. And I am not One.
But I don’t say this. Instead, I hear my own voice. “What do you mean?” 
“You seem to be almost…independent.” His voice hovers over the word, covers it with slime and disgust. An insult. “But that’s to be expected. It takes a special person to see a special door.” 
The room suddenly seems very small. I am going to have to get out of here. “I don’t know what you mean, Maker.” 
The man sits back at this, the correct way to speak. The One way. “Quite right. Off you go, then.” 
His grey eyes don’t leave the back of my skull until the door slides shut behind me. 
It was Cassidy who picked the names. Her voice was lighter back then, light and full of excitement. “I’ll be Cassidy,” she said, cheery. “And you’ll be Dylan. I like that name. It’s cute.” 
I raise my eyebrows, and she giggles. “Cute name for a cute guy.” She reaches for my hand, the way she used to before her mother disappeared. “We’ll be the only two people in the world with real names. Isn’t that great?” Her bright eyes stared at mine, filling them with light and wonder. 
Now, as I storm into her room, she looks at me with that same bright intensity. This time, though, she knows that something is wrong. “What happened?” 
“He knows.” I grab a stack of the discs, move them to the closet. “He knows about me. The door must have been a set up.” 
Cas starts to move the discs with me. I keep talking. “I don’t know if he knows about you, too, but you have to hide. I’ll keep the discs safe, but you’ve gotta—“. 
“Dylan.” She says my name calmly. Coolly. “I’m not going anywhere.” 
I stop. “You have to. You have to get out.” 
“No. I’m staying with you. The only way out is through that door.” 
I try to shake my head, but lose grip of my stack of discs. They scatter around the room. “The door was a fake. The discs are important, you’ve gotta keep working.” 
“No, Dylan. The door’s the way out. We can leave. We’re different enough to do it. We’re diverse enough to open the door.” 
My hand pauses on one golden disc. There is a short, endless silence. “How did you know what it meant?” 
“What?” Cassidy sounds distracted, but I hear the drop in her voice. 
“Diversity. How did you know what it meant? How do you know what’s through that door?” My voice is rising at pitch, and I realize I am standing over her. 
“Because I put it there!” she yells. “I put it there, and that’s why they took my mother. I found a way out of here. I found a way where we could be ourselves.” 
“Then why didn’t we go? Why didn’t you tell me? I could have come with you.” I try not to let the pain infiltrate my voice. 
Cassidy doesn’t do the same. Grief fills the gaps between her words. “In a world full of options, would you really have picked me? Diversity means freedom, Dylan. What if you didn’t choose me?” 
I step forward. Grab her hand, gently. “I will always want you. I don’t care how many choices I have.” 
When Cassidy looks at me again, there are tears in her eyes. 
“Now come on. We have a door to find.” 
The door waits for us at the bottom of the Stairwell. Just like Cas said it would. 
“It would only show itself to someone with a real name. That’s why I gave us both names. So that we could leave someday.” Cassidy’s hand is shaking in mine. 
“So what do we do?” 
She grins. “What do you think?” 
Together, we place our palms on the small square scanner. Finally, a green light. New words jar up my arm, through our joined hands into my mind. 
Goodgoodgood. Openopenopen.
The doorknob slides out of the frame, ready to turn. 
“What’s out there?” I ask. My voice shakes as much as her hand. 
The smile stays on her face. “Let’s find out.” 
The smile is still on her face when Cassidy shudders and collapses into me. A knife sticks out of her back. 
“Freedom’s what’s out there, Dylan.” The Maker stands at the top of the staircase, his grey eyes livid. “But freedom comes at a price.” 
Her hand has stopped shaking. Her eyes are glassy. Her face locked in a perpetual smile. 
“You killed her.” 
“That’s what happens to people who interfere. That’s what happened to her mother. Now her. Do you want to be next, Dylan?” 
I meet his eyes, see myself reflected in his grey pools. See my own eyes, blue with sadness and rage and grief. 
Blue. Almost a teal, but a little lighter.
“No,” I tell him. “I don’t want to be next. I want to be free.” 
With Cassidy in my arms, I turn and run through the open door. Into freedom.
Into Diversity. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

It's a BOSON!

Behold--the God Particle.

Warning--NERD ALERT: This post contains unusually high levels of one or more of the following: Geek, Nerd, Dork, or Math. Readers Advised by the Surgeon General that reading this post may induce over-excitement about the microscopically tiny or macroscopically huge world of quantum physics, or may cause a lasting love of math. Continue at your own risk.

So they found it. The particle they've been searching for for years--the Higgs boson. But what is this particle--what does it do, what did they find, what does it imply for the future of quantum physics, and why on Earth would a bunch of physicists (who are usually not very religious) nickname an elementary particle the "God Particle"? All that and more--right here.

First, we must understand some basic principles of particle physics theory--without trying to bore you, I promise. At the quantum level, all of the quarks and elementary particles that collectively make up both matter and forces (yes, particles make forces like gravity--getting to that) can be explained through something referred to as the Standard Model of quantum physics. This theory, known as the "Theory of Almost Everything" because it still doesn't explain gravity or dark forces, has predicted several particles that MUST exist in order for the interactions that physicists have seen occurring for years to take place. One of these is the Higgs boson--a boson that gives rise to the Higgs mechanism, the mechanics by which all particles receive mass.

Now, this is different than gravity. Interaction with the Higgs field--through the Higgs boson--gives any elementary particle--and thus all matter--its mass. Gravity, on the other hand, is an interaction between masses due to the curvature of spacetime. The boson in question is merely a byproduct of the interaction known as the Higgs mechanism--it doesn't really DO anything, but its existence provides even further confirmation for the theory that has come to define quantum physics in the past few decades--the Standard Model, or the GUT theory.

So, what does this imply for the future of physics? I mentioned earlier that the fatal flaw of the Standard Model was its lack of inclusion of the ideas of gravity. What particle, or field, or mechanism, allows for the curvature of spacetime and gravitational interaction? For years, scientists have been puzzling over the answer to this question--trying to unify the GUT and general gravitation in theories like Supersymmetry. Now that the Standard Model has been generally verified, the search for the Theory of Everything will continue--but at least now we now in what direction to proceed.

Hence, the name--the "God Particle". No, it doesn't explain the creation. No, it doesn't prove the existence (or absence) of a God or Creator. No, it doesn't tackle metaphysics. No, it really doesn't do anything (besides prove the most modern theory in the world of the natural sciences).

What does it mean for the general non-physicist layman? Pretty much nothing. But remember, some of the most notorious advancements in technology came from (and will continue to come from) particle physics research. The World Wide Web was developed at CERN, after all. So keep your fingers crossed for some new toy.

And keep your fingers crossed for that Theory of Everything.

If you're curious, Wikipedia has excellent articles about math/physics related fields (the one on the Higgs Mechanism is especially enlightening). Yes, despite their reputation, Wikipedia is GREAT for everything except the popular stuff like Chuck Norris and Mormons.

That is all. See you soon.

Friday, June 29, 2012

"The Night Circus"

     Hello, BlogWorld! I'm sorry I've been gone for such an infernally long time, but--as you all are very aware--I'm bad at posting. I promise to start posting more often (it's summer now, and I'm in a new town with nothing to do, so I have no excuse). I also promise to post more than book reviews, but I've read so many good ones recently, so that might be tough. Today's piece of modern literature (and yes, I said modern literature. There is such a thing, kids. Good books don't have to be old and boring): "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern. 
     Here is the description from
Front Cover
   The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des RĂªves , and it is only open at night.
   But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.
      True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead. 
Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

     Reading this, you might think that this is just another fantasy romance, equivalent to garbage such as "Twilight" (sorry, Stephanie Meyer.) No, sir. This book is filled with amazing imagination, vivid characters, and a plot so intricate and woven together, I'm surprised nobody in the film industry has claimed it (but as soon as I graduate, Morgenstern, I'm coming for you.) 
     But what good would literature be without a message? After all, that is the point of fiction, isn't it--a story set in even the most fantastic of worlds has no value if it cannot be applied to reality. And the message of "The Night Circus": Nothing is ever black-and-white. This book explores morality and ethics in all its many forms--the corrupting force of power, the danger of pride, the cruelties of enslavement--while maintaining a great story in a wonderful world (and yes, even a decent romance). This book will be impossible to put down (I stole my mother's Kindle to read it), and will leave you thinking long after you do. 
     So give up "Shades of Grey." This is the real expert on grey-scale moral quandaries. And there's no porn involved.  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Going Postal

Andrea Pearson, I am so sorry.

I was supposed to review this book like three weeks ago, and completely forgot about it until I got an e-mail from Tristi. So not only is this a) late and b) off-schedule, but also c) written-in-a-hurry and therefore d) not-very-good. But it's here. So...sorry. Again.

So the book I read is called The Ember Gods, the second review in the Key of Kilenya series (for the previous review, as well as purchase information, click here). Here's the blurb:

Jacob Clark has just returned from the world of Eklaron, where he frustrated the evil plans of the Lorkon and returned the magical Key of Kilenya to its rightful owners. His quest is far from over, though—Aloren is trapped in Maivoryl City by the Ember Gods, and Jacob can't return to save her until he receives the potion that will protect his team from the corrosive influence of the Lorkon.

Balancing between this new world and his own proves tricky. Not only has he started his first year of high school, but his magical abilities are bringing him too much attention. He feels pulled by both sides, hoping he'll figure out his special powers to save Aloren in time.

Once again, I felt that Andrea Pearson's Middle Grade novel is just that much above and beyond the norm. The characters feel more real, the plot seems more substantial, and the dialogue has more flavor. Overall, The Ember Gods is a good read, well worth your time.

First, the characters. The arcs that started in The Key of Kilenya continue to develop throughout the second book in the series, including some revelations (don't worry--no spoilers) about Jacob's past that I found creative and exciting. My one sort-of complaint in this category--one that isn't really Andrea's fault, just a plot thing--is that I didn't get to hear enough of Aloren. I really liked her character and her voice in the first book, but with the kind of huge plot problem of her being locked away for the majority of the second, I as the reader didn't get to hear much from her. Overall though, great job.

Second, the plot. Again, Andrea strikes a clever balance between the magical and the mediocre, with Jacob forced to divide his time between his world and Eklaron. At times the plot leaps boggled my brain (for no more than a few paragraphs), but when looking at the book from a Middle Grade perspective (something I think we reviewers do far too little), the plot is absolutely perfect. Andrea is golden in the area of appealing to her audience and giving those little tykes something with which to keep themselves occupied.

Finally, the dialogue. In Kilenya, I was relatively impressed with the dialogue, mostly with how it progressed the plot and the character arcs. This time, I knew enough about the story to focus on the dialogue for the sake of dialogue, and again Andrea succeeded. The dialogue is real, exactly tuned to the language of Middle Grade, and overall impressive. Again, I wish I could have heard more from Aloren, but that's the fault of the Lorkon, not Andrea. Kudos.

So overall, I definitely reccommend The Ember Gods for any adventerous Middle Grade-rs, as well as for some slightly more (or less, depending on your point of view) adventerous adults. And I'm sorry for being late.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Thursday, January 26, 2012

I'm Moving to the Moon

So Newt Gingrich today decided that he is going to put the first human colony on the moon by 2020, the "end of [his] second term." While that is a bit ambitious both technologically and politically (who assumes they'll have two terms--especially when like 6 Republican Congressman like him), I'm with Newt.

And I'm coming with you.

I am currently sitting in my lonely hotel room in Austin waiting for my (as of yet, unnamed) roommate to arrive. Why am I in Austin? The VFW Voice of Democracy Mid-Winter Roundup.

That's right. I am a top 10 finalist in the State of Texas VOD Scholarship Contest. I'll be letting you know (those of you that are interested, that is) how the specific ranking turns out after the banquet Saturday (probably Sunday, unless you check my Twitter @alexstoryman), but for now, I just get to be excited that I made it this far.

Other than that, I really have nothing to say. I got to ride an airplane today. Well, really two. Have I made it clear yet how much I love airports?

Well, I do.

And maybe one day, I'll be in an airport (or something similar) en route to the moon.

Until then, I'll be chillin' in Austin.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars

So I have a problem. Well, to put it more accurately, you have a problem. You see, I have so little time on my hands that it restricts the number of books I am able to read. This means that I only read the very best books available, and you have to sift through reviews that really only consist of "Wow, this book is amazing."

Wow. This book is amazing.

John Green never ceases to amaze me. I am not--strictly speaking--always a great fan of YA contemporary because of the teenage boy/girl writing that ususally accompanies the storyline, in which an author insists on writing dirty-mouthed, horny teenagers who want nothing more than to cuss/hate their life/get laid. When the author doesn't do this, though, the powerful storyline comes through to grab your heartstrings and hold them hostage.

And John Green's storyline in The Fault in Our Stars in the most powerful yet.

Here's the jacket blurb:
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.

I really don't have words to describe how much this book moved me. I went from laughing to crying to cracking up to bawling in a span of about thirty seconds. It is touching, deep, moving, philosophical, humorous, and beautiful all at once, as it addressess some of the most important questions ever to lodge themselves in human consciousness: will I be remembered? Is love really forever? And, perhaps most importantly--why are eggs only a breakfast food?

Fantastic book, and a great read. I will definitely try to find some more good contemporary.
Rating: 6 stars / 5 stars (an extra one for the Shakespearean title)