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Book Review: Botanicaust by Tam Linsey (Series, #1)

February 27, 2015 4 comments

Book Review: Botanicaust by Tam Linsey (Series, #1)Summary:
When the world is devastated by GMO plants over-running the land and destroying cropland, humanity splits into multiple factions.  There’s the people who firmly believe in transforming people so that they can photosynthesize food from the sun–and have green skin. There’s the cannibals, who have returned to a hunter/gatherer way and eat humans when necessary.  Unbeknownst to the green folk, there’s a holdout of Old Order Amish.  They’ve changed from how they were in the past but still hold onto many of their ways.  In particular, they have decided that taking green skin is the Mark of the Beast, and will not go for it.

Tula is a scientist among the green folk who is tasked with assisting cannibal children who are kidnapped and converted.  Levi is an Amish who leaves the compound against orders, seeking yet another group of scientists who are supposed to live in a mountain and may have the cure to his dying son’s Cystic Fibrosis.  When Levi is swept up in a green raid of cannibal land, his and Tula’s worlds collide with unimaginable consequences.

Review:
I picked this up because the cover of a green-skinned woman in a desert appealed to me, and then the description seemed like an interesting post-apocalyptic future.  This is certainly and interesting and unique read for any fans of post-apocalyptic or dystopian literature.

The future is imaginative with many different groups and reactions to the botanicaust (the destruction of plant matter that is considered this world’s apocalypse).  As someone who has studied the Amish, I appreciated how the author imagined how the Old Order would handle such a crisis and address it for the future.  Allowing people into the compound if they are willing to convert seems logical, and showing that the Old Order did accept some technological innovation also makes sense.  Similarly, the green scientists who seek to photosynthesize everyone and don’t seem to care too much if the cannibals want to be photosynthesized or not make logical sense.  The scientists believe this is the solution in a world without enough food, and hey haven’t bothered to do any cross-cultural studying to see if there is any rhyme or reason or value to the cannibal lifestyle.  This again is a logical position for a group of scientists to hold.  The other group of scientists who live in the mountain and have managed to find the solution to not aging are a great contrast to the groups of greens.  Whereas the greens do sometimes do evil but don’t intend to, they only intend to be helping (with the exception of one bad guy character), the mountain dwellers have been turned inhumane by their abnormally long lives.  These three groups set up a nice contrast of pros and cons of scientific solutions and advancement.  At what point do we stop being human and at what point are we being too stubborn in resisting scientific advancement?  How do we maintain ethics among all of this?  The exploration of these groups and these questions was my favorite part of the book.

The plot is complex and fast-paced, visiting many areas of the land and groups of people.  I wasn’t particularly a fan of the romance, but I can see where others would find that it adds to the book.  I just wasn’t particularly a fan of the pairing that was established, but for no reason other than it seemed a bit illogical to me.  Then again, romance is not always logical.

The one thing that really bothered me in the book was the representation of Down Syndrome and the language used to refer to it and those who have it.  The mountain scientists have children, but as a result of tampering with their own genetics, all of their children have Down Syndrome.  First, I don’t like that this makes it appear as if Down Syndrome is a punishment to the evil scientists who went too far with science.  Down Syndrome is a condition some people are born with.  It is not a condition as the result of anything a parent did, such as fetal alcohol syndrome.  Second, all of the characters with Down Syndrome are presented as large, bumbling oafs with hearts of gold.  There is just as much variety to the personalities and abilities of those with Down Syndrome as there are in those of us without Down Syndrome.  Finally, the author persists in referring to these characters as:

a Down’s Syndrome woman (loc 2794)

or of course, “a Down’s Syndrome man.”  First, the preferred term for Down Syndrome is Down Syndrome, not Down’s Syndrome.  This is a mistake that is easy to make, though (I have made it myself), and I am willing to give the author a pass for that.  The more upsetting element in the way she refers to these characters though is that she always lists the condition first and then the person, not the other way around.  It is always preferred, in any illness or condition, to list the person first and the illness or condition second.  For instance, a woman with cancer, not a cancerous woman.  A man with PTSD, not a PTSD man.  A child with Down Syndrome, not a Down Syndrome child.  I cringed every single time this happened, and it happens a lot in the section of the book that takes place in the mountain.  Given that this is an indie book, and it is thus quite easy to make editing changes and fixes, I would hope that the author would go through and fix this simple aspect of language.  It would be a show of good faith to the entire community of people who have Down Syndrome, as well as their families. For more on the preferred language when referring to Down Syndrome and people who have Down Syndrome, please check out this excellent guide, written by the National Down Syndrome Society.

It’s a real bummer to me that the language about Down Syndrome and presentation of these characters isn’t better, because if it was, this would have been a five star read for me.

Overall, this is an interesting and unique post-apocalyptic future with an action-packed plot.  Those who are sensitive to the language used to refer to Down Syndrome and representation of people with Down Syndrome may wish to avoid it, due to an unfortunate section where characters with Down Syndrome are referred to improperly and written a bit two-dimensionally.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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ETA:
The author has written a thoughtful and kind comment on this post.  You may view it by going below.  To sum up, she cannot make edits to those book, due to it also having an audiobook version.  However, she has promised to edit for these issues in future books containing characters with Down Syndrome.  This genuine and thoughtful response is much more than the community of those with Down Syndrome and their families and loved ones often get, and it is very much appreciated.

Book Review: Breed by Chase Novak (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Peter Ganim)

October 2, 2014 5 comments

Red outline of a woman's pregnant body against a black backgroundSummary:
When Leslie married Alex, she knew they both agreed on wanting children.  What she didn’t realize, though, was how fiercely Alex, the last son in a long line of wealthy and powerful New Yorkers, would want only their own biological children.  He’s willing to try anything to get them biological children, and she feels she can’t deny him one last-ditch effort with a doctor in Slovenia that a couple from their infertility support group swears worked for them.  And the woman has the baby bump to prove it.  So they fly off to Slovenia, and from the first instant in the doctor’s office, Leslie feels that something just isn’t right….

Review:
I’m a real sucker for evil pregnancy/children stories.  Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen are two of my favorite movies.  So when I heard about this new take on a classic trope, I knew I had to try it out.  The book ends up being much less about pregnancy and more about the perils of genetic modification, providing an interesting twist on the evil pregnancy trope that carries out through the childhood of the babies that were conceived.

Essentially, the parents’ genetics were so messed up by the treatments performed by the doctor that they start turning into something different from human.  Something a bit more animalistic.  The children, of course, also have some of this animalistic genetics, but most of the differences don’t show up until puberty.  This allows the children to be innocents for most of the book while their parents have gone off the rails from their very first treatment.  My favorite part of this book is how it offers a smart critique of pushing our bodies to do something they don’t want to do.  Where is that line?  How far should we push things with science and at what point will using science make us something different from human?  And is that something different going to necessarily be better?  Leslie clearly feels that her children were ultimately worth everything she, her husband, and their bodies went through, but the book itself leaves the answer to that question up to the reader.

Beyond this concept, though, the actual execution of the characterizations and the plot get a bit messy.  The writing can sometimes wander off onto tangents or become repetitive.  Some aspects of the plot are explored too much whereas others are glossed over too quickly.  The book starts out tightly written and fast-paced but toward the end of the book the plot gets disjointed and goes a bit off the rails.  Part of the issue is a bit of a lack of continuity regarding just how messed up Leslie and Alex actually are by the treatments.  Are they still at all human or are they completely untrustworthy?  Is there any possibility of redemption for them?  At first both seem equally far gone but then Leslie seems to pull back from the edge a bit, thanks to a MacGuffin.  It’s hard to be frightened of the situation if the frightening aspect of the parents comes and goes at will.

Similarly, in spite of the book wanting us to root for Alice and Adam (the twins Leslie and Alex have), it’s hard to really feel for them when they come across as extraordinarily two-dimensional, particularly Alice.  Children characters can be written in a well-rounded way, and when it’s well-done, it’s incredible.  Here, though, Alice and Adam seem to mostly be fulfilling the role of children and not of fully fleshed characters.

Most of these issues are more prevalent in the second half of the book, so it’s no surprise the ending is a bit odd and feels like it leaves the reader hanging.  I was surprised to find out there’s a sequel, as I thought this was a standalone book.  On the one hand I’m glad there’s another one, because the story isn’t finished.  On the other, I’m not a fan of such total cliffhanger endings.

Overall, the first half of the book offers up a thrilling and horrifying critique of just how far people should be willing to go to get pregnant.  The second half, however, is not as tightly plotted and drops the well-rounded characterization found in the first half of the book.  Recommended to pregnancy and/or genetic modification horror enthusiasts who may be interested in a different twist but won’t be disappointed by a cliffhanger ending.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Book Review: Tower of Glass by Robert Silverberg (Audiobook narrated by Stefan Rudnicki)

Image of glass blocks against a blue skySummary:
Simeon Krug, creator of androids, has a new vision.  Earth is receiving a transmission from deep space, and he’s determined to answer it.  He’s building a tower in the Arctic tundra, a tall tower that reminds many of the Tower of Babel.  With this tower he will send a return transmission to whoever is sending the message to Earth.  He also has his androids building a spaceship, to be entirely manned by androids, to try to reach those sending the transmission.  However, the androids he designed that now outnumber and serve humans have other things on their minds.  They want to be recognized as equal to humans, their brothers of the womb.  While some seek this politically, others seek it spiritually, worshiping their creator Krug.

Review:
Robert Silverberg wrote one of my all-time favorite books (The World Inside), so I now have an informal goal to read most (if not all) of what he has written.  This one was, unfortunately, a miss for me, but at least the world he has created was fascinating to visit.  The book presents a fascinating possible future that is marred by the rampant misuse of the term android and the length of time spent on the “android” religion.

I loved the idea of this book, and I love books about ai/androids/robots.  I thus was horrified when within the first chapter we discover that the “androids” are, in fact, clones.  They’re not machines at all.  They are genetically engineered humans, created in vats, and whose genetic code is changed enough to give them plasticine skin so that humans can tell themselves apart from them.  I like the concept of GMO humans vs non-GMO humans.  I like the idea of the vat versus the womb.  I cannot, however, tolerate the fact that everyone calls these folks androids.  That is not what an android is! (Merriam-Webster definition of android).  It really put a sour note on the whole book for me, and the misnomer is never explained.  Did Krug just call them androids to make people think of them as robots when they actually aren’t?  If that’s the case, he himself would not think of them as androids.  But he does.  He calls them machines.  What scientist would genetically manipulate humans and then call the outcome machines?  It just makes no sense, and in a scifi book, it’s something I can’t look past.

The plot is a bit of a bait-and-switch.  The reader thinks it’s going to be about the tower, the possible aliens, etc…  In fact this is the backdrop to the story of the “androids” fighting to have their humanity recognized.  I liked that the book was ultimately not the Tower of Babel retelling I originally thought it was going to be, but potential readers might want to know that the “androids” and their fight for human rights are actually the focus of the book.

Readers should also be ready to have every minute detail of the “android” religion worshiping Krug outlined for them.  While that type of scifi book definitely has its audience, it might be different from the one expecting the tower story.  The one aspect of the telling of the “android” religion that I found incredibly annoying was how they recite their DNA strands as prayer.  Think of it as like a Catholic person saying the rosary.  Only instead of words, it’s series like “AAA-ABA-ACA-CCC-BBB-AAA,” and it goes on for a very long time.  Perhaps this is less annoying to read in print than to hear in an audiobook, but going on for such long stretches of time each time an “android” prays seems unnecessary.

The characters are all fairly well-rounded.  There is Krug, his son, a high-ranking “android,” Krug’s son’s “android” mistress, a couple of “android” politicians, and more.  There are enough characters to support the complex plot, and it’s fairly easy to get to know all of them.  The “androids” are also given the same amount of characterization as the humans.

The audiobook narrator was somewhere between pleasant and unpleasant to listen to.  He has a very deep voice that doesn’t fluctuate much for various characters or narration.  It works really well for Krug but not so great for the female characters.  If the narrator’s female voices were better and if he emoted more for emotional scenes, his narration would be more enjoyable.  Between this fact and the reading of the DNA mentioned earlier, I definitely recommend picking up the print over the audiobook version.

Overall, the book presents an interesting world of GMO humans worshiping their creator and seeking freedom while he is entirely focused on the project of communicating with the stars.  The misuse of the term “android” throughout the book will likely bother most scifi readers.  Some readers may find some aspects of the “android” religion a bit dull.  Recommended to scifi readers more interested in the presentation of future religions than in contacting deep space or hard science.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Giveaway: Stinger Stars by Paul Bussard (US and Canada Only)

July 22, 2014 1 comment

Image of what appears to be a golden bird with a glowy bit in it.This giveaway is now over! Thank you all for entering!

It’s time for the fifth giveaway of 2014 here at Opinions of a Wolf.  Lots of the indie authors whose books I accepted for review in 2014 also were interested in me hosting a giveaway at the time of my review, so there will be plenty more coming up in the future too.

There is ONE signed PRINT version of Stinger Stars (review) available courtesy of the author, Paul Bussard!

What You’ll Win:  One signed print copy of Stinger Stars by Paul Bussard

How to Enter:  Leave a comment on this post stating what creature you think might secretly be more intelligent than we give it credit for.

Who Can Enter: US and Canada only

Contest Ends: August 5th.  Two weeks from today!

Disclaimer: The winner will be contacted via email by the blogger to acquire their mailing address to send the print book.  The blogger will then provide the mailing address to the author.  The author will send the winner the print book.  The blogger is not responsible for sending the book.  Void where prohibited by law.

Book Review: Stinger Stars by Paul Bussard

July 19, 2014 4 comments

Image of what appears to be a golden bird with a glowy bit in it.Summary:
Maria is working on her thesis at a genetics research lab specializing in looking for ways to get human limbs to regenerate.  When the owner’s son brings back a new species from Peru, a tiny worm-like creature with pyramidal tentacles, she discovers that the larger clones made from them are intelligent.  But the owner’s son wants to conduct brutal experiments on them, involving cutting off their appendages, which grow back.  Can Maria strike the balance between life-changing science for humans suffering from disabled or missing limbs and respecting the lives of an intelligent species?

Review:
Near-future books that question where to draw the line in research are a particular favorite of mine.  It’s a gray area in many people’s minds, and scifi lets us explore the myriad possibilities and options at a bit of a distance, which allows for clearer thought.  This book does an admirable job setting up a realistic near-future world to explore this issue, although the characters don’t quite live up to the world-building and story.

The near-future world of genetics research is established both clearly and with subtlety early on in the book.  There are two competing genetics research organizations, and rather than looking into something monstrous or far-flung, they are looking into regenerating limbs.  It’s a logical next-step for a near-future book.  The research labs themselves, as well as how they are run, including the field-work, have a real-world, logical feel to them.

At first I was concerned from the book’s official description that the creatures discovered would be aliens, since alien experimentation would be less of a gray area to explore.  They are not, in fact, aliens, they are a newly discovered species originating on Earth.  The mystery is whether they were always sentient or if something in the modification and cloning process made them sentient.  This makes the conflict of how to use the creatures to help humans without harming them better, because exactly what they are is a bit unclear.  It’s not as simple as if they were simply aliens or some sort of cute, fuzzy creature.  They’re these slightly creepy worm-like things with tentacles, and the conflict is do we still respect these kind of ugly, cloned creatures for their intelligence, or do they need to look cuter or more humanoid to gain that respect?

The plot is complex and keeps the reader guessing.  Even though I was fairly certain things would ultimately end up ok, I wasn’t sure how they were going to get there.  This made it an engaging and quick read.

Unfortunately, the characters are rather weak and two-dimensional.  I never was able to truly connect to any of the characters.  If anything, I connected to the creatures a bit more than the main characters.  There are also a few instances that feel out of character for the small amount of characterization done.  For instance, Maria thinks she can’t date because her family wants her to have an arranged marriage to keep the family Spanish.  This type of arranged marriage situation could definitely happen, but I had a hard time believing that a woman so strong in the sciences, with so much agency for her career and for her grandmother’s well-being would actually even think about not seeing someone she cares for in order to have an arranged marriage.  It felt out of character and simply forced upon her to add conflict.  Similarly, there is an incident that at first is considered a rape and then later brushed off as not a rape.  Without giving anything away, I agree it wasn’t a rape, but I also don’t think the character who at first mistook it for a rape would have made that error in judgment.  It was out of character for their level of intelligence.  This again felt forced to provide extra conflict that wasn’t needed.  The main plot had plenty of interest and conflict to keep the book going without these out-of-character moments.  I also felt the accent written for one of the characters was badly done and distracting.  This character is a scientist with an advanced degree, yet he speaks in an informal, unrealistic accent that primarily consists of him dropping g’s and using a lot of contractions.

In spite of these characterization short-comings, the book still tells a unique near-future genetics research story with a quick-moving, engaging plot.  Recommended to those looking for a scifi-style beach read.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Series Review: The MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood

December 21, 2013 2 comments

Introduction:
I post series reviews after completing reading an entire series of books.  It gives me a chance to reflect on and analyze the series as a whole.  These series reviews are designed to also be useful for people who: A) have read the series too and would like to read other thoughts on it or discuss it with others OR B) have not read the series yet but would like a full idea of what the series is like, including possible spoilers, prior to reading it themselves or buying it for another.  Please be aware that series reviews necessarily contain some spoilers.

Woman's body mirror imaged.Summary:
In the not-too-distant future, the heavily populated world is run by corporations instead of governments. The corps keep their workers and people in Compounds where they’ll be safe from the rampant crime in the rest of the world. Supposedly.  Those who can’t get jobs at a corp must live in the pleeblands, essentially ghettoes.  The pleeblands are haunted by painballers–people who fought their way out of prison in a gladiator-style competition and who are usually now addicted to drugs.

The world isn’t entirely humans and corps, though. There are also a whole slew of new GMO plants and animals, such as rakunks and pigoons.  Children can buy bracelets with live fish inside them as wearable pets.

Jimmy works in a corp with Crake.  Crake is a genius who the corp allows to create basically whatever he wants.  They share a love interest in Oryx, who works with them, caring for the creations Crake makes.  Toby lives in the pleeblands, working in fast food restaurants.  She is being pursued by a violent stalker, who she is sure will kill her one day.  Then she discovers God’s Gardeners, a vegetarian cult that lives on the rooftops of the city gardening, learning all the species of the planet, and preparing for the impending End Times.  And the End Times come in the form of a virus released by Crake to destroy humanity and make room for the new breed of humans he has created in his lab–Crakers.  Crakers are herbivorous, polyamorous, and turn blue when they are in heat.  The pandemic wipes out almost everyone, but not quite.  Jimmy is left to care for the Crakers, and Toby survives, reminiscing about how her life has gone.  And there are some that Crake gave an immunity drug to.  They gather together and attempt to survive, guide the Crakers, and ponder on how things turned out this way.

covertheyearofthefloodReview:
The future world Atwood creates in this series is inventive and engrossing.  Unfortunately, many of the characters and some of the plot fail to fully engage the reader.

The future world, prior to the virus outbreak that destroys most human life, is incredibly imaginative and simultaneously realistic.  It is by far the strength of the series.  Atwood takes real modern day science and intelligently extrapolates how that combined with our evolving culture would affect life on Earth.  The change from politicians and nations controlling the world to corporations doing so makes excellent sense.  The types of animals those corps create are also logical both within that context and from a scientific perspective.  For instance, the mo’hairs are sheep who have had their genetics modified so that their wool is instead human hair to makes wigs out of.  How the world works makes sense and is slightly frightening at the same time.  It’s a subtle dystopia.

The post-apocalyptic setting is slightly less creative.  Only a few humans survive and quickly leave the cities to live in the countryside.  Conveniently, at least half of the group of survivors are from the vegetarian cult, God’s Gardeners, who predicted the end times, and so are well prepared for living in the wild.  This setting is much staler compared to the pre-apocalypse dystopia.  It feels as if the characters are just sitting in a clearing in the woods chatting at each other.  This would not be a problem if the characters were rich enough to sustain the plot when the creative world has disappeared.  But most of them are not.

Atwood is known for writing richly imagined female characters in scifi settings.  Unfortunately, this series is dominated by men, with the women mostly relegated to secondary roles, with the exception of Toby.  Toby starts out strong, and the book focusing on her story (The Year of the Flood) is the strongest of the series as well.  But in the post-apocalyptic setting, Toby loses all of her vim and three-dimensionality.  She becomes a woman obsessed with a man and pining for things she can’t have.  The male characters who dominate the story lack anything compelling.  Crake reads precisely as a slightly creepy genius.  Jimmy is difficult to get to know since he spends most of the series narrating when he is out of his mind from the effects of the apocalypse.  And Zeb reads as a muscled thug who comes to his senses when it best suits him.  None of these male characters show real breadth or true humanity.  They could have carried the story well, although I would still have missed the strong female presence Atwood brings to scifi.  However, these men seem more like caricatures of types of men we meet throughout our lives.

An egg with a handprint on it sits in a nest. The title of the book and the author's name are in gold near it.The plot is clearly meant to show us how the world could be destroyed and also how new life begins, complete with religious mythology.  Some of the plot twists that go with this core of the plot work and others don’t.  For the world destroying, the plot approaches it in two ways.  There’s telling how the world ends from an outsider, underprivileged perspective of a woman who happens to survive.  This aspect of the plot had enough twists and differences, such as Toby’s involvement in the God’s Gardeners cult, that it maintained interest.  The plot also tells how the world ends from the perspective of a man caught in a hopeless hetero love triangle with a kind woman and an evil genius.  This common trope takes no different plot twists or turns.  It is entirely predictable and dull.  A bit of a flop.  The twists in the final third of the story, how the world begins and the last of the prior world fades out with a murmur, does nothing truly daring.  Toby’s romance ends essentially as expected.  Loose ends are tied up.  And the Crakers take over with a new mythology given to them by a flawed human being.  I’m sure this is meant to say something radical, and maybe someday to someone it will, but to the reader who has already read many thinly veiled take-downs of religion and where it comes from in scifi, it was rather ho-hum and long-winded.  Particularly when compared to the much shorter and more richly written work by Atwood taking a similar anti-religion stance: The Handmaid’s Tale.

Overall, this is a series with two-thirds of the plot set in a richly imagined and intelligently extrapolated subtle dystopia future.  The basic plot of dystopia to apocalypse to post-apocalypse is told slightly non-linearally with some interesting poetic-style writing inserted in-between chapters.  Most of the characters feel flat against the rich backdrop, although one female character at first stands out then slowly fades.  Recommended to readers interested in a realistic near future dystopia who don’t mind a rather typical plot and two-dimensional characters will enjoy most of the series, although they may enjoy the first two books more than the third.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap, library, and Audible

Books in Series:
Oryx and Crake, review, 3 stars
The Year of the Flood, review, 4 stars
MaddAddam, review, 3 stars

The Threat of Pandemics (MLA13 Boston: Plenary 4: Laurie Garrett)

A woman dressed in black standing at a podium in front of a white lighted circle stating One Health.

Laurie Garrett giving her presentation.

The final plenary, and indeed, the final non-CE class or tour event of MLA13 Boston, was on my list of events to blog for the official conference blog.  I summed up the entire presentation.  As stated previously, I can’t reproduce those posts here on my personal blog, so please go over and take a look at that summary before reading my responses to and thoughts on the presentation.

Got it? Good!

Ok, so, what was my reaction to this lecture?  Well, first, honestly I had a bit of a panic.  I felt frightened, unsafe, and like the world is doomed.  At first I thought that was just my anxious-prone self over-reacting to the presentation, but after discussing it with friends and colleagues who were also there, I realized that Garrett seems to have actually sought to pull out this fear in people.

Why?

In a presentation that ends with pleas for us to fight fear and panic, why did she spend so much time investing in frightening us and very little (if any) spent in reassuring us?  Why focus so much on pandemics just a single mistake away, germ warfare close at hand (although, not really since 3D printing of germs isn’t happening yet).  I don’t know.  I don’t know what would make Garrett think making people feel this way is a good thing.  Maybe she’s fallen prey to the idea that the only way to get people to pay attention to your cause is to frighten them.  I know people in various movements who use that tactic.  It’s not one I’m a fan of.  Maybe she didn’t intend to gloom and doom the people present.  But I think she did.  Given that her own speech pointed out the dangers of panic and unwarranted fear, I find it odd that this was her intent.  And yet there you have it.  A room full of frightened librarians.  Think I’m exaggerating?  Check out just a few of the tweets from during her presentation:

Screen shot of a tweet "Nothing like wrapping up a conference with a presentation that will haunt attendee dreams..."One Health? Garrett's doom-scenario suggests we're on course for One Ill-HealthLaurie Garrett is scaring us all to death about pandemics and biosynthesis and germs etc...@Laurie_Garrett is one of the best speakers I've seen in a long time.  Also one of the scariest.YES! RT @mandosally I'm feeling creeped out. Anyone else?I think I'm going to use a 3D printer to make a bubble house and never leave it...Everyone has their own style, and I certainly learned a lot from the presentation and wasn’t bored.  But.  I’m not a fan of nonfiction presentations (aka not horror plays or movies) inciting fear and panic in the audience.  I think it’s counter-productive when talking to a room full of intelligent, educated individuals.  Librarians aren’t 5 year olds who need to be told about icky germs in order to get us to wash our hands.  I’m sure there could have been a way to give this presentation with truths and realities that could be frightening without actually inciting this level of anxiety.  Even just a little positivity and more hope for the future would have been nice.  You don’t want a populace that is exerting all their energy preparing for Armageddon.

I should also mention that I stood up to ask a question of Garrett at the end.  With all the talk of synthetic biology, I wanted to know what her opinion was on GMOs.  I admit, this is not an issue I am yet clear-cut on myself.  I generally prefer organic, but I also understand the value of say rice that has been modified to have more vitamins in it for an at-risk population.  But on the other hand I get the concern of manipulating something at a genetic level and what that might do to our own bodies when we ingest it.  It’s something that just doesn’t have enough long-term studies yet to really show if it’s truly safe or not, and it concerns me that it’s mostly the poor, at-risk populations who are being used as guinea pigs eating it.

In any case, I asked Garrett at the public microphone about her stance on GMO foods and the movement to label them.  Given all of her doom and gloom talk about synthetic viruses, I was shocked at her answer.  She believes that GMO foods are necessary because as more of the world becomes middle class, more of the world is eating meat, and meat eating just cannot be sustained on the land we currently have available, so we must turn to eating synthetic foods.

Um, EXCUSE ME?!?!

So the lady who just spent over an hour and a half talking about how dangerous synthetic biology could turn out to be turns right around and says that meat eating isn’t sustainable to feed the entire globe (which it isn’t, see this article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) turns right around and says that well we have to eat GMOs to feed everyone because people won’t just give up meat.  Right, ok, if someone is so concerned about the possible bad consequences of synthetic biology don’t you think she might possibly take this opportunity to espouse a vegetarian, vegan, or even just more plant-based diet to combat the global food crisis instead of relying exclusively on GMOs?  Apparently not.  Apparently it’s really great to fear-monger about pandemics and international relations but when it comes to what we eat, the basis of much of our health, that’s too controversial.

Well, at least it was an interesting final couple of hours of MLA13, although I can’t say I really feel that it was very useful to librarians or working to promote true global health.