Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Jun 29

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Claudia Kim, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Elizabeth Olsen, Cobie Smulders, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba. Written and directed by Joss Whedon.

ultron1The first Avengers movie was a big, noisy mess with too many characters to manage and not enough humanity to plumb. Just about everything I enjoy about the Marvel films was either missing or in short supply, which is probably why I was in no hurry to catch its sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron. Then I got myself caught up on Captain America, and I was introduced to Scarlet Witch, and this second Avengers movie felt like a gap I wanted to fill.

ultron2Really, what is it about these Avengers films? Do the titles mean that since nobody gets a titular role, the movies can’t spend time developing singular characters? The recent Captain America: Civil War is effectively an Avengers movie (I’m not a comic book reader, so if what I just wrote is a sin against fandom, don’t shoot me), yet there’s pretty good character development of Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Scarlet Witch, so I reject this as necessarily a rule. Except for a pretty great tension with Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanoff in the stay-away-I’m-dangerous vein, and Scarlet Witch’s conflicted side-choosing, writer Joss Whedon seems to have decided his audience doesn’t care about humanizing these heroes. It’s a bad choice.

ultron3The plot’s main conceit, the emergence of an artificial intelligence powered by Loki’s scepter (from the first Avengers movie), is pretty cool, although I could have done without the comic-booky appearance of the villain and his various incarnations. Most of the action is unremarkable, except as it serves to develop characters, but it’s too long to be excused even by that.

This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the movie. I did, in a kind of let-everything-go-and-just-enjoy-the-ride way, which is pretty much what I said about the first Avengers movie. If I hadn’t first seen Captain America: Civil War and come into this one with an interest in Wanda Maximoff’s origins, it wouldn’t have been quite so enjoyable, so I’m giving it a two-point Elizabeth Olsen bump and a surprise one-point Claudia Kim bump.

7/10
70/100

Well I Said I Wanted to Be a Writer

Well I Said I Wanted to Be a Writer

Jun 26

I’m still struggling to keep up with the paid writing.  I know I sound like I’m on endless repeat about this, but I do think I’m getting slowly better at it.  It’s just not showing up in my productivity.  I have two hard dealines, and I have been pretty much ahead of them (Monday and Thursday mornings), but those are my longest-continuing assignments, going on three years, so they’re sorta built into my consciousness.  I’m kind of always thinking about them, the way I always thought about lesson plans while I was a teacher.  They’re just always there at the edges of my mind, and they move in for attention when a good opportunity presents itself.  If I don’t have at least a mental outline of my content within a day of the deadline, I have to sit down and sketch something out, but that almost never happens now.  By the time I sit down to write, I almost always know what I’m going to write.

The second gig is different.  I tried reading fifty articles’ worth of content so I could sit down and bang out the fifty artciles, but that was far too big a bite.  I found myself having to re-read everything before I wrote, which adds to my time and lowers my per-hour take.  My current pace puts my hourly pay at like $3.50 an hour.  I knew I was going to be underpaid when I took the gig because I needed the work.  I was hoping to make it iron out to seven bucks an hours, which is still doable.  I’m just not there yet.

The quality of the work is at least something I’m fairly proud of.  I’m wondering if I need to sacrifice some of that quality for the sake of speed.  My primary gig says no.  We want it to be as good as it can be.  My secondary gig says maybe.  I feel horrible for not being faster with this work.  I am going to decide by the end of this week if I want to spend $200 for a month of time at a co-working space.  I do so much better when I have a place to go, and if I don’t have to worry about spending (additional) money, it will be a stress-lessener.  I can bring a lunch, my water flask, and a snack, and not worry about taking up a table at the cafe without putting enough in its registers.  It might be worth a trial run.

In my downtime, which I have already admitted is generally tainted with the awareness of my stealing it from time I should be getting caught up with the work, I’ve squeezed in a few movies, including (finally) Mean Girls, which I know has been a must-see for a person of my tastes.  It was about as good as I expected (review soon), and in many ways not as good as it could have been.  One of my biggest takeaways was how easy it has been to forget what a talented, magnetic screen presence Lindsay Lohan was before she became more known for her antics.  I’m going to include that in my review.  I probably won’t include my also being impressed by how Amanda Seyfried manages to be the most beautiful thing in a movie loaded with beautiful women.

I mentioned some time ago that I’ve had to rebuild my iTunes library (the songs are still in the folders, but they don’t show up in my library until I re-add them).  I took a break from it and then went back where I left off (somewhere in the Es), and then went back to the very beginning, to hit every album from every artist to make sure the years, genres, song titles, and album artwork were exactly right.  One of the worst things about the internet has been how easy it is for bad info to become canonical.  With digital music, it seems that whoever gets to the database first gets to decide things like captial letters, genres, and other stuff in the ID3 tags, and most of it’s just wrong.  I can have this kind of sloppiness in lots of areas of my life, but I can’t have it in my music.

So it’s been a long, slow process, especially since I’m determined not only to get the metainfo correct, but also to make sure everything’s been listened to once since its re-addition to the library.  I’ll take a few detours as my craving dictates (as with the Pink Floyd list I made this week), so I’m not a slave to the process.  As of this morning, I’m on Blink-182.  Got through my Blind Guardian collection yesterday; taking a detour right now with Devin Townsend’s <i>Epicloud</i> stuff (including the bonus <i>Epiclouder</i> material), and then it’ll be the Royal Hunt album I crowdfunded a year ago but for some reason never claimed the download of until yesterday.

Enough procrastinating.  Back to the grind.

Review: Captain America: Civil War

Review: Captain America: Civil War

Jun 25

Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Elizabeth Olsen, and a cast of thousands. Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo.

cacw 1Saving the world sometimes comes with collateral damage, and when the Avengers are involved, turn that “sometimes” into “always.” In Captain America: Civil War, there is huge international backlash when Scarlet Witch unintentionally blows up a building, killing several humanitarian workers, and now the United Nations wants to assume oversight and control over the Avengers. The Avengers are split over the issue: Tony Stark leads one side, while Steve Rogers takes the other.

cacw 2Further description of the plot would only be confusing, but it mostly comes down to The UN wanting to find the Winter Soldier for the assassination of a king, while Rogers tries to get to him first in order to protect him.

(slight spoilers in this paragraph only)
I knew the barest minimum about the plot before going in, and I assumed it was Tony Stark who wanted independence while Steve Rogers accepted governmental oversight. It was a nice surprise to see that it was the other way around, and it’s easy to see what would make each man go against his seeming inclinations. Stark has been his own man for a long time; success in business almost always assumes collateral damage, but when someone humanizes the casualties, he accepts the need for someone else to be in charge. Rogers has been a government weapon, always willing to do his duty, but in this role he has lost his best friend, every one of his contemporaries, and the woman who might have been the love of his life.  As a lifelong questioner of authority, there was never a doubt which side I was hoping the Avengers would take, and it’s actually kind of surprising to see how each of them lines up.

cacw 3The film is loaded with superheroes, and although there are moments where their number is overwhelming, it’s mostly handled well, especially in the big fight scene. There are a few surprise appearances, and they mostly work. There’s a lot of quick humor, too; I laughed aloud multiple times, and I appreciated that even when the Avengers are in the middle of combat against each other, there is mutual respect and affection. There’s a lot of good relationship stuff, too, the stuff that adds nice layers between all the action sequence stuff.

And now I have to say something about Scarlet Witch, played by Elizabeth Olsen. Holy moly. She’s mysterious, dark, tortured, fearsome, and beautiful. My favorite female superhero in films has been Anna Paquin’s Rogue, beginning with the first X-Men film, but here is someone to rival her. I love that she is alternatingly gorgeous and kind of hideous (witchlike, even), with a haunted goth look I can’t take my eyes away from.

I still have a few more of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films to catch up on, but this one is likely right up there with <i>Iron Man</i>, and Captain America is becoming my favorite of the comic book movie superheroes.

7/10
79/100

The Ten Best Pink Floyd Songs

The Ten Best Pink Floyd Songs

Jun 24

Ten Best Pink Floyd Songs
I like this list because unlike similar bands with large discographies, Pink Floyd can say that their best work is the stuff that gets played on the radio. I like a lot of their deeper cuts, but I have to admit that their very best work is familiar even to casual listeners of FM radio.

1. “Comfortably Numb” — from The Wall (1979)
Some of my favorite slow guitar soloing (especially in the fadeout), and probably Pink Floyd’s best lyrics, which certainly plays a part in my liking this song.

2. “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” — From The Wall (1979)
Anyone who knows only one Pink Floyd song knows this one. I used to dislike the slow disco beat, but now I love it. When I got my first cell phone ten years ago (or however long ago it was), the first ringtone I got, back when you had to purchase ringtones, was a tinny, electronic sound of the riff from this song. This is my favorite Pink Floyd guitar solo, too.

3. “Wish You Were Here” — From Wish You Were Here (1975)
Almost surely Pink Floyd’s most-covered song. Several years ago, Rodrigo y Gabriela started playing this in their concerts. Since they don’t sing, audience participation can be tricky for them to pull off, but the opening notes of this song always get their audiences excited and the audiences just sing the song while Rodrigo y Gabriela play the instruments. I’ve seen the same thing happen at late-night campfires on the beach.

4. “Welcome to the Machine” — From Wish You Were Here (1975)
“It’s all right; we know where you’ve been!” I have no idea what this song is about, but that adds to my fondness for it. I love the eeriness of this song.

5. “Brain Damage” / “Eclipse” — From The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
It’s two songs, but they’re connected on the album, and radio stations never play them separately, so it’s no foul to count them as one song. This was my favorite song of theirs all through my high school years. I even took my senior yearbook quote from it: “You lock the door and throw away the key; there’s someone in my head, but it’s not me.” As the conclusion to one of the greatest albums of all time, it’ll always have a special place in my heart.

6. “Sheep” — from Animals (1977)
This album is kind of recent discovery for me, and this is the only song on my list that never gets played on the radio (the others get played pretty regularly). Like most Pink Floyd songs, it’s much better in context, but it does stand out on a great album as an especially mind-blowing track.

7. “Learning to Fly” — from A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)
I didn’t care much for this song at all when it was an MTV hit after my high school graduation — I didn’t care for the video, and still don’t. It’s grown on me in recent years, enough to move it ahead of the other really good song from this album. I really dig the rhymes at the end of the chorus: “Tongue-tied and twisted: just an earthbound misfit, I.” I also like “Ice is forming on the tips of my wings / unheeded warnings, I thought I’d thought of everything.”

8. “Hey You” — From The Wall (1979)
My love for this song comes mostly from the lyric “Hey you / don’t let them bury the light / don’t give in without a fight,” and I love the way it’s sung. End of the first verse.

9. “On the Turning Away” — From A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)
Probably their preachiest, most positive song. I like it anyway.

10. “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI – IX)” — from Wish You Were Here (1973)
This whole album is just so sad.

—–

I was sorry to leave out “Time,” which includes my favorite Pink Floyd lyrics ever (“Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way” got me through my final two weeks of undergraduate study), “Have a Cigar,” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” which is their best song title. I limited myself to ten, though, so of course certain favorites were going to have to be left off the list.

Friday 5: Scattergories 6

Friday 5: Scattergories 6

Jun 23

From here.

What random letter was generated by the online random-letter generator (this doesn’t really count as one of your five questions)?

I rolled an E.

    1. What brand or model of car, whose name begins with the letter, would you like to get?
      .
      I’ll take a Hyundai Elantra for its being the most reasonable for my life right now.  A Ford Escape or Ford Explorer would also be a good choice.  And if it were just for a little while, I could live with a Cadillac Escalade.
      .
    2. What summer activity, whose name begins with the letter, are you looking forward to?
      .
      Summers are when I do a lot of walking about; it’s been true since my early days as a teacher.  You see more when you’re walking, and since I’ve been walking 40+ miles a week all year, I look forward to continuing my on-foot explorations of urban Oahu.
      .
    3. What’s an item in your desk whose name begins with the letter?
      .
      My e-reader has been a best friend lately.  It’s small enough to fit in the front pocket of my shorts, so when I take breaks during my walks, I can find somewhere comfy to sit and do some personal reading.
      .
    4. What’s something, whose name begins with the letter, that you find frightening?
      .
      I’m half-kidding here, but I’m frightned by the thought of eviction.  I’m behind on the rent, and my landlord is extremely patient, but I get the sense he’s getting mad.  I finally (today!) sent a check for a couple months’ worth of rent, and that’ll cool things off for a while, but man.  I really need to get better at making this writing thing pay.
      .
    5. If you had to get a tattoo on your upper arm, what’s something whose name begins with the letter that you could live with?
      .
      I wouldn’t mind a cartoon drawing of Emily Dickinson; I had a great t-shirt from Barnes and Noble when I was in college, a pen-and-ink caricature of her, squeezed into a box.  It was really cool, but thinking of that shirt makes me sad for reasons I won’t share.  So, although something wordy seems too easy, it is the kind of thing a person like me would get, so I’m going with a tattoo of an e. e. cummings line of poetry:

      (now the ears of my ears awake and
      now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

      They are the last two lines of my favorite cummings poem.  By the way, if you do a Google image search for “i thank you god for most this amazing,” you’ll see an alarming and offensive number of graphics misquoting the poem.  In an effort to make the language less cummings-like, of course these poetry murderers are turning the poetry into something else.  I find it most irritating.

Review: Pierced by the Sun

Review: Pierced by the Sun

Jun 20

Pierced by the Sun by Laura Esquivel, translated by Jordi Castells (2015)
Originally A Lupita le gustaba planchar (2014)

piercedbythesunAfter four years of undergraduate study (preceded by four years of undergraduate goofing off), I finally graduated with my English degree in 1995. I’d avoided English as a major for a long time, because even though it had always been my best subject, I’d worried that formal study would damage my lifelong love of reading. It didn’t do that, but for those last two years, it definitely turned reading into a life-sucking, non-paying job, so I spent the first couple of post-graduation months happily avoiding books.

When it was finally time to throw myself back into the pages, the first two novels I attacked were Caleb Carr’s The Alienist and Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, both of them worthy of the honor. I enjoyed them both a great deal, but the wistful, sensual magic of the Esquivel novel was like a gentle, warm reminder of why I loved reading and why I’d finally settled on English as my major. It will always have a special place in my heart because of when it came along in my life and how it welcomed me into the resumption of my bookworm ways.

That was twenty-one years ago, and I hadn’t read another Esquivel novel since, until I was presented with the opportunity to read her latest, Pierced by the Sun, a month before its release. I knew it was time to reacquaint myself.

Lupita is a police officer in a city in Mexico. When a local official is murdered while she directs traffic nearby, she becomes wrapped up in the investigation. The turmoil weakens her enough to let in the demons she’s tenuously kept at bay for some time. She has been the victim of abuse, at the hands of more than one man, and she has in turn abused others around her. She relapses into self-destructive behavior while continuing to seek peace in the menial mundanities of her everyday life while piecing together the circumstances surrounding the murder.

Boy, did she like it! She liked to drink until she was completely lost. What she liked the most about drinking was not being present, that feeling of self-evasion, of disconnection, of liberation, of escape. Alcohol offered her an excellent alternative to being herself without actually dying.

Titles of chapters all begin with “Lupita Loved,” as in “Lupita Loved to Iron,” “Lupita Loved Booze,” and “Lupita Loved to Dance,” and the titles are quick images of this conflicted woman tortured by her past, wrestling with her present, and still finding love and beauty in bringing life up from the soil, or gazing at the stars as they tell their stories from the heavens. Esquivel has something to say about modern Mexico, and while it’s a bleak picture, it’s made up of millions of beautiful things, some of which point to some kind of hope for something better.

Esquivel’s prose is mostly spare, much as it is in Like Water for Chocolate. Sentences are short and simple, but they find elegance in the details they highlight, and in the way they follow each other, a musical style that’s pleasing and somehow exotic, as when she sees a murder suspect in the dance hall on Friday night:

Lupita had three options: go after the man and arrest him, go back to Captain Martinez and tell him about it so he could handle the arrest, or go find some cocaine and enjoy the rest of the night. She chose the last one.

Pierced by the Sun is a short novel that takes its time, both qualities I appreciate in a good story, but the writer stops one chapter short of a satisfying read. Lupita is given a chance to forgive herself, and the narrative voice expands, rather abruptly, into a larger statement about Mexico, but then it leaves us there when one last image of Lupita, perhaps ironing shirts, or maybe making breakfast for a lover, would have brought the arc back to earth. If the novel is meant only to be a treatise on Mexico’s straying from  its wonderful history, I suppose it’s fine as it is, but then it’s a waste of a good story. If it’s also meant to give us this character and this story in this time and this place, it owes us a better conclusion, and this is the novel’s only real shortcoming.

Three of five stars: I like it.

Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Jun 19

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Emily VanCamp, Cobie Smulders, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie. Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo.

winter_soldier_2Steve Rogers is still getting acclimated to his new home, carrying around a notepad in which he writes the names of musicians, movies, politicians, and cultural references as they come up in conversation. It’s a quick reminder of the underlying stress in Rogers’s life. The Rip Van Winkle motif is certainly not new, but it does give Rogers an interesting dimension, and I always appreciate layers in my superhero movies.

In one early scene, after Rogers adds “Troubleman (soundtrack)” to his list, Natasha Romanoff (played by Scarlett Johansson) drives up in a sleek sports car to give him a ride. It’s another layer, this one falling into the plus column, because if Rogers is still dealing with the abrupt ending to his blossoming romance with agent Carter (and he seems to be), a little bit of Black Widow can ease the transition, even if the relationship seems to be platonic.

winter_soldier_3S.H.I.E.L.D. is being attacked by the titular Winter Soldier, a Russian super-tough guy Romanoff is familiar with by reputation, but weird stuff is going on that cannot be explained by this villain. A S.H.I.E.L.D. program similar to the Strategic Defense Initiative of the 1980s (only a lot more badass) is about to launch, but director Nick Fury asks for a delay until he can figure out what’s going on. He warns Rogers to “trust nobody,” which of course puts Rogers in the difficult position of seeing everyone as a potential enemy.

Action sequences are about as good as in the first Captain America film while the overarching plot of S.H.I.E.L.D. vs. Hydra isn’t very interesting, but again, the driving force is really Steve Rogers’s virtuousness, and it’s not just his patriotism, sense of duty, politeness, and desire to serve. He has a way of connecting with people wherever they are, a disarming sense of compassion and comprehension that tells people he’s on their side. This interpersonal talent makes him a quick, accurate judge of character that’s as valuable an asset as his super strength and speed. It makes me eager to see more.

7/10
76/100

Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Jun 13

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Stanley Tucci. Directed by Joe Johnston

ca3You know how, in those side-scrolling video games of your youth, you were so familiar with the early levels that you could guide your character quickly to the boss monster, running, leaping, punching, slashing, and firing your way past a hundred no-longer-challenging minions and pitfalls? There are sequences in Captain America: The First Avenger like that, and if you don’t overthink them, they’re pretty fun to watch.

Chris Evans is Steve Rogers, a scrawny young man trying and failing to enlist in the Army to serve his country in World War II. He’s beset with a shopping list of physical ailments that keep him out, but so sincere and pure are his motives that he’s an ideal candidate for a scientific military experiment that turns him into a super soldier.

ca2I’m kind of a superhero newbie, and it seems that superpowers are the
result of military ambition, science experiments gone haywire, or alien birth. Of these, I suppose the military angle is most believable, but it comes with an underlying cynicism that works against my sensibilities. I once scoffed at the rich guys with expensive toys because they don’t actually have superpowers, but their stories are dark enough for my tastes while not originating with physical and mental abuse by the government.

ca_1Despite these ignoble beginnings, Steve Rogers adds enough brains and
earnestness to rise above the intentions of his creators and become an admirable hero without cheap sentiment. My only experience (at all, in any medium) with Captain America before now had been the first Avengers film, in which he was mysteriously bland and poorly defined. I’d missed Captain America in theaters, and after The Avengers, I was in no hurry to get caught up. But then one Captain America film became three, and for some reason, I recently decided I wanted to be completely fluent in the lore of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, and I was pleased to discover such a likeable, vulnerable hero. Apparently, one needn’t be the Dark Knight to be a tortured soul with a reason to kick butt.

Supporting characters in this film are interesting if cartoonish, but I guess you can’t really complain about comic book characters being cartoonish, so I won’t. I won’t even complain about the main villain’s ridiculous visage. There’s a canon that needs to be served, and I’m a visitor in this world, so I’ll accept the Red Skull on its terms.

Captain America: The First Avenger is a fun, engaging movie with a reasonable explanation for the dorky name and costume, and the kind of main character I want to see more of.

7/10
74/100

Slogging!

Slogging!

Jun 12

I’m really, really far behind on work, and must be more productive today than possible just to get up to merely behind, so of course I’m starting my morning jotting down a few thoughts with nothing specific to say.

After a mini torrent of cozy mysteries, I read that Dave Eggers book because a small group of friends agreed to read it for a discussion.  I’m kind of the catalyst that put these friends together (I was a little worried about Reid not having anyone to talk to when I went to Hilo to finish school), and when I moved back, one of the first things we all did together was start a little informal book group, each taking turns picking titles.  We’ve been sporadic these past few years, mostly because I took forever to finish my M.Ed., but every so often someone will propose a title.  We’d last read Fareed Zakaria’s The Future of Freedom six years ago.

So we got together last night at a cafe to talk about it.  The nature of the book (and, I suspect, the reason for Reid’s nominating it) really meant not very much talk about the novel as a novel, and lots of talk about the stuff the novel is about, which is fine.  Works of non-fiction are usually discussed this way, and although when I talk about a novel I want to talk about it as an English major, get why this one wasn’t as conducive to that.  I still managed to get a few teacherly questions in there.

It was a pleasant conversation, only bogging down near the end as a few points were argued (not by me; I’d already kind of checked out) past the what-the-heck-are-we-doing moment.

That time was stolen from time I should have spent working.  Ugh.

There are a few factors contributing to my difficulty being productive:

  • I’m having all kinds of trouble maintaining any kind of sleep pattern.  Over the past several weeks, I’ve put myself to bed at later and later times, which of course means waking up later and later in the day.  Recently I’ve been going to bed at eight in the morning and waking up at three in the afternoon.  Once, I went to bed at eleven in the morning and got up at seven in the evening.
  • My slow productivity means not getting paid as often as I need to be paid, which means I have to be very frugal, which means not working at the cafe where I find it easier to be productive.  So I try to get work done at my desk at home, which can be very slow, which means I’m not as productive as I need to be, which means not getting paid as frequently as I need.  Vicious cycle.
  • Something bit me hard last weekend, and I spent three days pretty much in bed.  Flu symptoms minus the usual cold stuff that often accompanies them.  No energy, aches, and the need to sleep for like sixteen hours a day.  It was kind of depressing, actually.

I’m not quite where I was a few weeks ago, when I couldn’t pay bills necessary for the completion of work (you know, phone and internet), but I’m entering the red zone and need to put some work together today.  And thanks to my slothful pace, I think it’s going to take two or three days of just focusing on productivity, with breaks for sleep and nightly walks.  It reminds me of those late nights finishing my Masters thesis.  I can do it.

I’m at the cafe now (I’ve got enough on my card for this visit and one more), about to bang through some work.  I can do this.  I’m not even going to let the fact that the bathroom is closed deter me from at least putting in ten decent hours here, interrupted by a snack break.

Here we go.

Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

Jun 10

The Circle by Dave Eggers (2013)

the_circleI have a feeling I picked the wrong novel for my introduction to Dave Eggers.

The Circle is five hundred fairly quick pages of good pacing and good (not great) narrative about Mae Holland, a woman just out of college who accepts a job at the Circle, a Google-like tech firm. The Circle began as either a search engine or a social media platform, but has since grown to include all manner of services enabled by its accumulation of information about its users. Geolocation, messaging, commerce, archiving, life streaming, entertainment, and quantified living services (among countless others) combine to attract users to its functionality while driving the company’s mission of knowing everything that can be known.

Mae cannot believe how fortunate she is to work at such a bleeding-edge company, on a campus providing everything she could possibly need, personally or professionally. She has onsite healthcare, free samples of consumer products not yet available to the public, nightly entertainment, free meals, and even on-campus housing for nights when it’s just more convenient to stay at work than to drive home. Her college roomie is among the firm’s elite, affording Mae a status the other newbies can’t claim, and although the adjustment to this new work environment is tougher than she predicted, she is determined to do what she’s asked in order to move up from her customer experience position. Throw in a couple of potential love interests and an increasingly visible online presence, and her increased alienation from her family seems a small sacrifice.

The Circle is Brave New World and Animal Farm for the 21st Century, with a dash of Candide thrown in, as Mae plays the wide-eyed apprentice learning to embrace the Circle’s “Secrets are Lies” doctrine. While Eggers spins his cautionary tale, he seems to be worried that the stuff of a good novel might distract from his almost allegorical message. His main character is well conceived but poorly developed, so that she comes across as admirable, pitiful, and insufferable according to the needs of the plot, rather than as the driving force behind the plot. Because the power of the Circle is greater than the personality of the character, we care about Mae but find her difficult to like, and while that may be intentional, it makes for an unsatisfying read.

Mae’s shortcomings as a main character might still have worked with a more intricate or suspenseful plot, but Eggers plays it right down the line as might any writer of minimal skill and a casual familiarity with current technology news. The result is overly simplified, with only a nod in the direction of some of the issues’ nuances. Yes, the era of Big Data has some conflicts between utility and privacy, and yes, younger generations seem eager to give their privacy up, but it’s just not as easy as that. Today’s young adults don’t devalue privacy; they merely have a different concept of it, but nowhere does Eggers attempt to see privacy through the eyes of Mae’s generation. Instead, Mae gives up her privacy as this concept is understood by the generation before her, and while that works for the novelist’s intended message for his intended audience, it does little to help us understand either the issue’s many colors or Mae’s real motivations.

Two of five stars, or in the Circle’s parlance, “Meh.”