Devil’s Cape by Rob Rogers

July 27, 2008 by

Devil’s Cape was a bit like the recent birth of my daughter: lots of set-up followed by a mad dash toward the finish line followed by a feeling of satisfaction.

not appealing

Mud colored covers: not appealing

Yes it’s an oversimplification of what new fatherhood feels like, but I’m not working on a lot of sleep here.

Rob Rogers’ first novel is a fascinating look at superheroics in a real world setting (and I realize how trite that idea is these days).  He sets his epic in Devil’s Cape, a pretty crappily named city that might as well be New Orleans.  It’s a tale of burgeoning heroes in a city where heroes don’t last long and where villains, especially the super powered kind, flourish.

It’s obvious Rogers has put a lot of thought into the world he has created.  There’s a map of the city at the front of the book, and the slow ramp up to the fisticuffs feels less like a tedious history lesson and more like the tease before a big show.  Readers get a full picture of what Devil’s Cape is like and what it means to be a force for good or evil in the city, and it’s that type of world building that can and, if the ending is indication, will lead to a series of stories I look forward to reading.

The book isn’t without flaws, of course.  The set up is a bit too long and I think the book would’ve benefitted from culling 30 or so pages.  The rush to the end really is a rush in that the climax is over in the last 20 or so pages, and that’s really not giving the finale the attention it deserved.  There are few sections that feel over written where Rogers tends to fall in love with his descriptions of Devil’s Cape, but you can forgive a first time author that transgression.

Speaking of which, there’s one thing about the book’s construction that I feel the need to mention.  I always thought the book’s title was the first thing audience’s should see, especially when the author is brand spanking new.  When it’s Stephen King or someone like him where the author is the draw, I understand the author’s name being on top in a huge font.  In this case, though, it strikes me as odd that the title is at the bottom of the page and is the same size as Rogers’ name.  Just a thought, really, and I don’t have much other to say than, “Huh, that’s weird.”

In the end, I truly enjoyed my time spent reading this book.  I liked it enough to think that I never really gave it a fair shake since I couldn’t read more than 20 or so pages at a time.  Plus, it will always have a positive connection to my life since I finished it while sitting in the delivery room, waiting for the labor-inducing drugs to take effect.

The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson (review)

July 24, 2008 by

I’m never disappointed when I read Stephenson.  It often takes me far longer than normal but his novels tend to be LONG.  Though some long novels can drag, his are always (or at least to this point have been) quite enjoyable.  I picked up The Diamond Age because I saw it in reference to cyborgs in general or on a syllabus for a course related to cyborgs.  I cannot remember which.

The novel set in the not too distant future deal with a lot of nanotechnology (much of which operates in the bloodstream — this is even a huge facet of the climax) but I am not sure how I would work it in a discussion of cyborgs.  The novel itself almost seems post cyberpunk though I am probably not using that term entirely correctly.  Set mostly in Asia (a hallmark of cyberpunk) there is an area that represents the gritty dirty sexy parts of typical cyberpunk.  However, there are also groups such as the Neo-Victorians and the Celestrial Kingdom (traditional Confucians).  These groups known for rigid social order and rules and seem to be a backlash to the anarchy of cyberpunk “street.”

The novel traces the story of a young girl (Nell) from the “bad part of town” who lucks into a technologically-advanced “book” which is designed to not only teach traditional subjects but also to allow for free-thinking.  The book, designed for one aristocratic child, also ends up getting distrbuted to the intended little girl as well as the designer’s daughter and thousands of young Chinese girls.  It is less concerned with the other recipients focussing most of the story on Nell — and traces her journey as it were.

The book is beautifully written and rich (as a lot of his stuff is).  While plots for many novels are transparent with clear-cut villains, problems, routes to success, etc, this novel is more organic in that the reader is drug along numerous subplots without necessarily being hit over the head with or even in some cases privy to the larger thrust of the book.  Thus, it has many detailed focused points, explorations, questions without, for me anyway, coalescing into a central theme as it were.  Except maybe the themes of parenting and coming of age.  How does one do it?  Can a human parent be replaced with technology? How much and how specifically does environmental context affect the end product?  And, specifically the parenting/raising of women.  This exploration is embedded within most facets of the novel.

I guess what has hung me up is the blurb on the back cover which ends with “Her life — and the entire future of humanity — is about to be decoded and reprogrammed…”  Clearly this line is meant to be read by Don LaFontaine (you know, the movie voice over guy).  This is certainly not the readinng I took away from the book.  Nell’s life is certainly re-programmed but this “entire future of humanity” stuff is just hoo-ey.  That’s right, I wrote hoo-ey.  Are we that troubled that the life and journey of an emotionally and physically abused kid from a broken home is not enough to attract us, the FATE OF THE ENTIRE WORLD must also hang in the balance?

Especially given the story which is anything BUT Victorian in its approach to women.  In a complete turnabout from the conduct and educational book from the 19th century, this book that Nell and the other young women have is empowering — educating them to take control of their destiny rather than be shaped by those more powerful (i.e. patriarchy).  I am not sure if this image appears in the hardcover edition of the book or not, but this illustration by Micah Nolte really captures the novel for me.  It’s a great image.

The novel is quite good, but read it for what it is, not what the Hollywood film of it would be.

Batman: The Dark Knight (2008)

July 18, 2008 by

I’ve never really been into watching blockbuster movies on opening day or for that matter going to late night showings.  But, yesterday, proved an exception as some friends and I drove an hour to the nearest decent theater to take in the 12:02 showing of The Dark Knight.

A couple of non-movie observations:

*It felt like I had walked into a high school assembly — as it took me 5 minutes to spot someone in line older than me.   (There were only 2 and only about 5 within 10 years of my age).  That said, the high schoolers were very well behaved during the movie.

*Yes, there were costumes — just a few.  And, the Joker was much more widely represented than his heroic counterpart.  The saddest one of all was the poor kid who showed up in a suit.  Yep, he came not as Batman but as Bruce Wayne.  Although, to be honest, I first thought he had came as Alfred.  There was also the young guy with the SKIN tight white shirt upon which — in magic marker — he had written “Heath Ledger Lives 4-Ever” — what made it complete was, of course, the pack of Marlboro’s stuffed under his sleeve.  Honestly, doesn’t Ledger deserve a better tribute

*If you are curious about any movie opening in the next two years, it is worth going to The Dark Knight so you can see its trailer.  Now, clearly, I am an old man but 18 minutes worth of previews is excessive.  Watchmen looks fantastic (no surprise there) and someone in Hollywood is still bent and determined to make Shia LeBouf an action movie hero of some sort.  I just don’t get it.

OK, now for the actual movie.  Honestly, I felt it was a little too long but mostly because I was in a very uncomfortable seat WAY past my bedtime.  Anything beyond this line will actually contain spoilers so know that you were warned.

Read the rest of this entry »

Man Plus, by Frederik Pohl (review)

July 17, 2008 by

Perhaps it is a sign of my limited scope, but I am consistently struck by how diverse science fiction authors and readers actually are.  The other day, I learned that a friend of mine with whom I knew I shared an interest in MLB, was also an avid SF guy.  We got to talking — playing the “Have you read/Do you read?” game.  Our game lasted quite a while and we had very little overlap.  One of the authors he had read that I knew by name but not by actual reading experience was Frederik Pohl.

Since one novel by Pohl was already on my list for the summer, I bumped it to the top and read Man Plus (originally published in 1975 and Nebula award winner).  In brief, the novel explores the physiological transformation of an astronaut into a being who can survive on the surface of Mars and by the end of the tale actually does.

It is no doubt heavily influenced by an essay by Nathan S. Kline and Manfred E. Clynes titled “Cyborgs and Space” (1960).  Often credited with the first use of the word cyborg, Clynes and Kline argue that

Altering man’s bodily functions to meet the requirements of extraterrestial environments would be more logical than providing an earthly environment for him in space.

It actually makes logical sense and it is interesting in the intervening 48 years of a space program, it hasn’t been attempted (or not as far as we know).  Man Plus explores this concept by tracing the development of this man into — in the novel’s term — a monster.   As you can see from the cover of the reprint, he looks quite different.  More like a bug or bat than a human.

It is told from the perspective of a first-person plural narrator whose identity is not revealed until the end (and, no, I won’t reveal it that would be cheating).  This “twist” is fairly well done and adds an additional dimension to the question of life, intelligence, morality, etc as they relate to “humanity.”

It is a fast-paced novel that kept me curious about the next bend in the road.  I paid particular attention to its focus on how these biological changes affect the “human” and one of the most interesting of these concerns the eyes.

The astronaut’s eyes have to be replaced and as a result, he can see much more than a normal human (infrared, etc).  However, because the brain does not have the structures to interpret this information, they make changes so that he will not have sensory overload.  The system they use interprets the visual experience into one the man can understand.  One of the Mars experts — who interestingly is also a man of the cloth — questions how the astronaut can make moral decisions when the visual experience is not necessarily accurate or complete.  Is morality the line between man and monster?  Isn’t all perceptions filtered?  It is an interesting question that the novel only sort of answers.  It also goes into questions of masculinity, communication, isolation, etc.

The overarching structure of impending nuclear holocaust is a bit tired for 2008 readers but would have certainly resonated (and clearly did) in 1975.

My only complaint is that since it is not in print, it is not readily available.  Though, I would probably include it in my course, I will probably have to pass because of its availability.  The book ends with our hero on the Mars waiting for more human colonists.  I was compelled enough to look for a sequel which there was in 1994 (co-written with Thomas T. Thomas) — which is also out of print.

Perhaps it was non-fiction and here he is still waiting for company…  🙂

Proof volume 1: Goatsucker

July 14, 2008 by

This book was so bad that I’m not sure where to begin.  So many things wrong with this book, so little space in which to complain.  Well, I guess I could complain a lot since this is my blog, but believe it or not I do try to keep these entries around 500 words. 

Nothing says "family fun" like a variation of "suck" on the cover

Nothing says "family fun" like a variation of "suck" on the cover

Perfunctory plot summary: Proof is about a government agency that investigates urban legends IN THE REAL WORLD!  Bigfoot works for this agency, and is kinda the main character but not really since the author isn’t sure who to focus on.  Anyway, Bigfoot (who goes by Proof, which is short for Prufrock) searches out cryptids (creatures (like yetis and such) who have been seen by for whom no hard evidence exists) and tries to figure out his past.

Things start to go wrong for this book in the author’s introduction, where Alexander Grecian sets such a somber tone that at first I thought there was no way he could be serious.  Right away we’re told that this isn’t really a comic book because there weren’t going to be any fanciful explanations for things.  Fairies exist, but they’re not magical so let’s all get over that rubbish.  But then Grecian tells us that there is magic in the world and oh look my brain just fell out.

From there the book continues to take itself entirely too seriously.  Page after page is cluttered with “Cryptoids,” little factoids about sasquatch or paintball guns or whatever the hell else Grecian decided we need to know about.  Naturally, this helps drain the book of any kind of fun and narrative flow because nothing drags you out of a story like reading useless trivia.

I’d like to say that there are some fun ideas in here, but I’m not sure I can do that with any confidence.  The government keeping fairy tale creatures locked up was done better in Shrek, but Grecian adds extinct animals (like the dodo bird) to the mix for a little spice.  He tells us that fairies aren’t nice and that they’ll try to eat people on sight, but then we see normal folks traipsing through their habitat without a care in the world.

This volume focuses on the chupacabra, but it isn’t any version of that beastie that I was familiar with.  This one is more like the Bug in the first Men in Black; it kills people and wears their skin for a while.  Sadly, the chupacabra is the most interesting character in the book and that’s mostly because of its “clothing” choices.  Interestingly, I don’t remember seeing any goats.  Not one.

But even here I think the creators dropped the ball.  Our villain starts off ambiguous and creepy and violent.  It stays that way for a good part of the book, even if the violence is off panel.  But then Proof basically talks it into giving itself up and our story is over.  Sure, the thing has a mysterious past and seems to know all about Bigfoot.  And sure it decides to wear the skin of a new recruit’s mother (At least I think the dude was recruited by the end of the story.  It’s a little vague.  You know, just what you want from a first volume.).  But by the end of the book I didn’t care, and that’s partly because I really wanted to stop looking at the pages.

The art just plain sucks.  It’s so muddy and ill defined that I almost think the book would’ve been better off without an artist.  Really.  Word balloons arranged on blank pages might’ve been better.  Everything is so sketchy and muddy that it’s often impossible to tell what’s happening and the characters are so ugly that you have to wonder if Riley Rossmo has an undiagnosed eye condition.  For example, something happens to one of the male fairies, but for the life of me I couldn’t tell what that something was.  The other characters certainly reacted to it and made a big fuss over whatever it was, but I’ll be damned if I knew what they were reacting to.

I wanted this book to be good, since there’s a lot of potential here, so maybe it’s a victim of my heightened expectations.  For what it’s worth, other reviewers seem to like it quite a bit.  Personally, I don’t see volume 2 finding its way to my bookshelf.

Quick hits for 7/11

July 11, 2008 by

Amazing Spider-Man #565

More than 6 months in to the “3 time a month!” experiment, and this title is still humming along nicely.  I’m a little concerned about this arc, though.  Marc Guggenheim and Phil Jimenez only have 3 issues in which to tell their story about a new, probably supposed to be sexy but really isn’t, female version of Kraven and they spend the entirety of this chapter transferring Peter Parker’s famous luck to his new roommate.  It’s not that the issue is bad or predictable, it’s just that introducing a new villain who has taken on the mantle of one of Spidey’s deadliest old foes feels like it needs more room to breathe.

Of course, I could be worrying for nothing, because this issue was a lot of fun.  Kraven’s inner monologue could’ve been cheesy and grating, but it managed to provide some insight into the new character’s psyche while providing just enough exposition.  And the fight that opens the issue, guest-starring Daredevil, was a hoot.

Secret Invasion #4

Sadly, we’re pretty much at the same place halfway into this mini series that we were 2 issues ago.  Iron Man is still all screwed up.  Jarvis is still on the Helicarrier demanding S.H.I.E.L.D. surrender.  No one knows who to trust.  The Uber-Skrulls are still laying waste to New York.  Fortunately, the plot starts to move a bit faster this time out as we get to see what Nick Fury’s new Howling Commandos can do and Iron Man finally pulls his head out and starts thinking. 

The art this time out looks better than it has before; less rushed and a bit more detailed.  It’s clear both Bendis and Yu are having some fun here, but I can’t shake the feeling that feet are being dragged and that this really should’ve been 6 issues and not 8.  Still, it’s a fun, if nerve-wracking, read that so far is still living up to its status as a big summer event.

Wormwoord Gentleman Corpse: Calamari Rising

July 10, 2008 by
There are way too many eyeballs and tentacles in this volume

There are way too many eyeballs and tentacles in this volume

Let’s get the basics out of the way first.  Wormwood is a sentient, indescribably powerful worm who inhabits rotting corpses (usually by hanging out in their right eye sockets).  His favorite meat suit is a dapper young man, but we’ve also seen him pilot a young, pig-tailed little girl.  He pals around with a android he built himself and a stripper he recruited from his favorite hang out; a gentlemen’s establishment whose employees guard Earth’s interdimensional gateway.

They all drink quite a bit, quip constantly, and battle evil.  You know, as millennia old, mystically powered invertebrates do.

In this, the series’ third collection, squid creatures invade Earth looking to assimilate the planet into it’s Borg-like collective.  Wormwood is their oldest foe, responsible for killing thousands of the squiddies and keeping them from conquering other worlds.  So yeah, they don’t like him much.

Apropos of nothing, but hilarious nonetheless

Apropos of nothing, but hilarious nonetheless

Templesmith earned his fame drawing 30 Days of Night, but I can’t say I was that impressed with his work then.  Everything was dark and way too sketchy and I couldn’t tell what was going on half the time.  Well that version of the artist is gone, replaced by a much steadier hand whose work I now found intriguing and even a little charming.  He’s still not the most detailed of artists and his action scenes can be a bit muddy, but all of his characters have such….uh….character that I can forgive the occasional vagary.

My one substantial nitpick has to do with the cost of this book.  $20 for 4 issues?  Really IDW?  If I bought the singles of this book it would’ve cost me $16, and the handful of covers and pin ups in the back don’t justify the extra $4.  Thank goodness for Amazon, in this case, because as I understand it all of IDW’s books are overpriced.

Here’s a small plot point that will let you know if you’ll like this comic or not:  Remember that really, really terrible Jet Li movie “The One?”  Where bad Jet Li travels to other dimensions to kill other versions of himself in a quest to become a god?  Well, Templesmith straight up stole that idea, only he’s replaced Jet Li with Elvis.  Yes, that Elvis.  And it’s hilarious. 

Also, Wormwood fights the squid creatures in a battle suit powered by the brainwaves of 6 clones of baby Einstein.  Let no one wonder ever more why it is I love comics so much.

Burning Chrome, William Gibson

July 10, 2008 by
Not the cover to my book, but cool, no?

Not the cover to my book, but cool, no?

It is always a fun process selecting the next book to read.  For me, it is a bit like opening the cabinet or the fridge for a late afternoon snack.  So many choices but still important to find what will cure that particular craving.  This book, for me, was more a matter of format.  I needed a transportable book that would be durable.  Hello, mass market paperback and William Gibson’s Burning Chromethe collection, which of course included “Burning Chrome” the story.  This collection (or at least my edition of it) was put together after Neuromancer but features stories written prior to it (that is my understanding from the introduction at least).

There are certinaly stories one would expect from the father of the cyberpunk genre — “Johnny Mnemonic,” “Fragments of a Hologram Rose,” “New Rose Hotel” and “Burning Chrome.”

But, the ones that really stuck out for me were the ones that violated expectations (while still of course inhabiting for the most part a Gibsonian reality).

Such as “Dogfight” which tells of one person’s quest to beat a handicapped veteran at a 3D WWI-era aerial combat game — the lengths he goes to to achieve his goal and the effect on both himself and his vanquished opponent.  Quite a fun little story.

Or, “Hinterlands” where the protagonist’s job is to counsel solitary space travellers.  These travellers are sent through a worm hole sort of thing (I don’t recall Gibson ever using that phrase). These travellers return insane and suicidal.  But, because the first traveller returned with a small item that boosted technology significantly, more and more travellers on sent on what is statistically a suicide mission in an effort to gain technological advancements.   Plausibility is not typically what one looks for in SF literature but this picture of humans as interstellar scavengers hoovering up crumbs of technology despite the human cost strikes me as all too grimly realistic.

Like this, but hooked on crack

Of the more mainstream cyberpunk (how that for an oxymoron), I enjoyed JM a great deal, especially the weaponized dolphin — Jones — who is addicted to some narcotic.  I have not seen the Keanu Reeves movie yet and the Jones is enough reason to check it out.   “Burning Chrome” was also quite good.  I’m at a loss for further comment — I like it most because it captures some of the great things about Neuromancer in a short story.

Link dump for 7/9

July 9, 2008 by

Ahhh link dump…the lazy blogger’s best friend.

Sadly, nothing’s really inspired me to write recently.  I feel like I should review the most recent Hellboy collection since the movie’s coming out soon, but that post is still percolating in the old brainpan.

In lieu of actual content (and to get my fake name back at the top of the page where it belongs), here are some websites I enjoy.

Zero Punctuation:  I think these hilarious and profane reviews of video games account for 95% of this online magazine’s traffic.  Regardless, visit this link every Wednesday around 11am Central time and be prepared to laugh.  Or maybe stifle your laughter so the others in your cubicle farm don’t know what you’re doing.

TV Tattle: Want to know what’s going on with your favorite TV show?  This is the place for it.  A nice mix of behind the scenes information and more general news, all at one handy site.

Hellboy on Inside the Actor’s Studio:  Uh, it’s Hellboy on Inside the Actor’s Studio.  What more do you want me to say?

Desktop Tower Defense:  This game was huge a few months back so you’ve probably already seen it.  If not, prepare to wonder where the day went as you get sucked in to the world of creating towers to kill “creeps.”

Dr. McNinja:  An online comic strip about a doctor who is also a ninja.  You’re probably thinking, “It’s been a really long time since I’ve laughed at a comic strip, so Pseudonym must be simple or something.  He probably still thinks Garfield is funny.  What a jerk.”  First, it’s not nice to call me a jerk.  Second, this strip is legitimately funny, especially if you read the alt-text embedded in each image.

Star Wars according to a 3-year old:  You’ve probably seen this, too.  That doesn’t stop it from being unbearably cute.  I hope my upcoming daughter likes Star Wars.

Cars crashing into a train:  Houston has a rather useless light rail running through it.  It took a long time for the stupid people in town to get used to it.  Here are some of those Mensa candidates playing chicken with trains.

Jamie Foxx destroys a lame comedian: There’s a fair bit of cursing in this, but that just adds to the hilarity.  Somebody no one’s heard of tried to be funny at a roast of Emmitt Smith.  Jamie Foxx ends his career.

Man, I am way behind; or, here are some thoughts on Asimov, Weaponized Pets, and Iron Man

July 9, 2008 by

So, in the effort of catching up my writing to my reading, I am going to mash various things together — things, which actually are all connected.  My currently reading (badly outdated) had listed my current reading as Asimov’s Bicentential Man (that’s right, it’s not all about Amazon) and Scalzi‘s The Ghost Brigades. Since then I have re-read William Gibson’s Neuromancer and also added Warren Ellis’s Iron Man: Extremis and Grant Morrison’s WE3.  So as you can see, I stayed busy while I was away.  All of these pieces share a similar focus (to greater and lesser degrees) on the combination of the artificial and the natural.  Hence, they all have cyborgs or some sort.

So, some brief thoughts:

The Ghost Brigades: I covered this briefly in an earlier post but I really enjoyed this sequel to Old Man’s War. And, I want to add more but to be honest I just can’t get started.  The current question I am wrestling with regarding this novel is how much it stands alone.  I am thinking about teaching it this Fall and I am curious if it will be ok by itself or how much prep work from OMW I will have to do.  My sense is that it will be fine.  It seems that Scalzi works in the background information in various place — and quite deftly I might add.  I never felt that..”blah, blah, blah” feeling one sometime gets with sequels when they try to catch readers up.  But, if anyone has not read either and is willing to read TGB first and tell me how much they think it stands alone, I would be eternally grateful.  Ok, not eternally but certainly for a least a semester.

Neuromancer — when I first read this novel, I loved it.  And, then I reread it.  I still felt it was very good.  It actually, in my opinion, suffers from its own success.  So many later works are influenced by (or to put it more harshly are derivative of) this novel that it doesn’t re-read as well as I would have hoped it would.  What was a burning desire for all things Molly in the first read but merely infatuation in the second.  I guess I’ve seen too many similar characters.  It is still a must read to achieve any sense of SF literacy.

“Bicentennial Man”  — Yes, if this sounds familiar, it is because there is a movie adaptation of it.  Yes, the one with Robin Williams.  But, before you run screaming to the next little blurb.  The movie is actually based on the novel The Positronic Man by Asimov and Robert Silverberg, which is itself an adaptation of the novella by Asimov. Although I haven’t read the novel, the essential difference between novella and movie is the love interest plot — in that it is missing from the novella.  Both the film and the novella trace the robot’s journey to be recognized as human by those around him but more importantly legally.  As such, it is a great exploration of what it is that makes us human.  I know it seems a pretty simple question but it gets hairier when we try to actually put it to words.  Assuming we don’t take the easy religious way out and say “soul” — something which while I may or may not believe we have, cannot be seen or in any way measured thus making it entirely possible that the annoying frog croaking in my neighbor’s water garden at the moment may indeed have one too.  Anyway, I won’t spoil the end of the novella but Asimov’s definitions of what legally allows the main character to be human is fairly interesting.

Iron Man: Extremis:  Wow, hat tip to Amy over at Amy Reads for the recommendation of this trade when I was visiting their town back in May.  The basics are that Tony Stark converts the under-structure (they have a specific word but you get the idea) to become part of his body — stored in his bones and emerging through his pores.  It effectively makes Stark a cyborg as the Iron Man suit becomes part of him.  Other than the Stark’s seemingly innocent and definitely mousy long-lost friend is actually the bad guy part of the plot, I really enjoyed the trade.  That “twist” was a little too pat and telegraphed really badly with the whole — “it takes two keys to open the vault” line.  But, what it did really well was engage the question of military applications for funding and the importance of the military in funding issues — making it not a version of but closely enough related to the recent, excellent movie to complement each other well.

We3:  I read the first issue of this trade way back when it first came out and I put it down (for dialogue reasons if memory serves).  But this wacky re-envisioning of The Incredible Journey as three common pets (a dog, a cat, and a cute wittle bunny) escape from their research facility where they have been cybernetically weaponized and take the journey home.  Again, an interesting examination of the role of military and technology and the multiple implications of that research on human both in terms of using the device and being on the more business end.  My only concern was the quite graphic nature of the art. I certainly get that that is part of the point.  Cute little fido ripping some dude’s head off is part of the satire.  But, I am not sure how it will fly in the classroom.