Batty About Insignia part 2

by S.J. Kincaid 

- the second part. 
(pages 117-224)

Welcome back to the second portion of our discussion on Insignia! As always, my thoughts are in purple. My beloved Book Buddy Kathy (aka The Brain Lair) responds in blue. I post my thoughts with her responses, and her blog posts her thoughts with my responses. Many of my thoughts focus on the science in the book and some discussion about how the teens define their gender roles.

Please - join in the conversation!

Well, based on a few tweets, it seems like you aren’t enjoying Insignia very much still. The fact that I am enjoying it - and that you have mentioned how much more you like Ready Player One - makes me want to bump that other book way up my reading list. I know that’s not the book we are reading right now, but go ahead and give it a pitch....
Ready Player One could easily be given to teens. That’s the first thing I like about it.  Though, like the Future of Us, I wonder if the 80s references will be too obscure for them.  I just read over the ones I don’t know.  But, my remembrance of the type of games the author enjoys and writes about is what keeps me involved in the book. I also like trying to solve the clues! Makes me wish I had the Anorak’s Almanac he refers too. There’s enough in the book that sustains a re-read too. Let me confess that I’m not a gamer. I played some Atari, TRS-80, Mattel Pocket Electronic Games, Nintendo, and Wii but they are just things I did in passing. Even so, I love this book. I like his descriptions of the movies, songs, books, etc from the 80s.  Though I wonder if I am forgiving Cline for the same issues I’m condemning Kincaid.... I’ve never been a gamer either, but I’m married to one. I can’t wait to give this book a try.

Another non Insignia related thing - I am going to have my students start interacting with a book buddy. I’m hoping to have them use a google doc to discuss their chosen book, just like we do! They seem intrigued by the fact that I do this in my free time. I’m trying to think of some suggestions and guidelines to give them. Maybe some things they can consider as they read - possible topics to discuss? I don’t want to limit them, but if I don’t give them some guidelines some of them won’t have any idea how to start.
This is AWESOME!!! I absolutely love this.  Talk about time limits, posting before replying (ha! I don’t always do this), what they are learning about the characters, predictions they can make, the role setting is (or isn’t) playing,taking notes as you read, being aware of personal biases, comparing what they look for in a read to what they are reading... Do you want to talk to them about ways to divide a book? Absolutely! I’ll probably share some examples of things we’ve chatted about in our books, too. Look for some blog posts on how the experiment proceeds.

Science Connections:

Bioengineering. Having two corporations take over the majority of the world due to their genetic patents struck a nerve with me. (page 119) It seems outlandish but also possible! I seemed to recall something about the genetic modifications being transmitted into neighboring fields, and then the neighboring field being sued. Then I wondered if that was actually an episode of Perception or something. So I went hunting for some articles online. This one discusses some limits placed on genetic patents. This one was an online poll/debate where the people who voted also gave some explanation of their thoughts. Fascinating!

This is one of those cases where the plausible got stretched into a situation that creates the plot issues. I love this, and I think it could create some wonderful research and/or discussion in a classroom.
The scariest science fiction books are the ones that could actually happen.  There is enough information to be confusing, and therefore ignored by the general public, that could allow things to progress to the state of Dominion Agra and Harbinger.  How many students know about genetic patents? “Biopiracy?” I think the comments in the first article were really helpful on two levels: What are we arguing about? How do we defend our arguments?  It would be a great ethical discussion across science and language arts as well as a way to make sure students know how to present and support arguments using authentic material!!

Technological Enhancements: Enhancing humans with technology brings up all sorts of ethical issues. I like how this was brought up in the story. Beamer highlights the problems when he talks about how his device will never be able to come out (209) - so he’ll belong to the military forever. At what point does the value of technology outweigh the freedom of the person?

This is the kind of thing I love about science fiction - a great way to bring up concepts of ethics and morality in our world by looking at another world’s actions.
I bring up this Beamer issue but in a different way - I’m ready for Kincaid to start making more of her case or shut up about it.  She has repeatedly mentioned this starting with Neil’s comments to Tom in part 1.  I would have liked to see more than one example (Beamer) and less just talking about it.  Of course we are only 1/2 done with the book so I’m assuming we are going to see more instances soon.   I can predict Kincaid’s stance, based on what she’s told us, but I can’t predict her solution, so I’ll continue reading!

History Connection:

Okay, when I’m not geeking out over science, I’m fascinated by history. While our knowledge of Troy is more mythological/legendary than actually historical, I was excited by the battle sequence where Tom took on the role of Penthesilea. With Medusa as Achilles, we are set up for a “soul mates” situation here. Will they be perfectly matched adversaries? That’s my hope. My fear is that we’ll end up with a “love at first sight”.
Why the gender reversal? So we could think outside the box? I don’t think Tom’s will be love at first sight - he has continually studied Medusa. I love how he mentions this to her. (186). It was sappy but funny in the midst of battle. It would be interesting to hear more about Medusa after the battle. Was she interested in finding out more about the plebe behind Penthesilea? The Russo-Chinese Alliance comes across as smarter than the Indo-American Alliance. Intentional? Speaking of history, Cromwell’s tactics study was fascinating. I’d love to get the perspective from the other side!

Gender Roles
This section seemed filled with commentary on gender roles. Some I liked, and some I didn’t - but there was definitely a lot to notice and discuss.

Heather has lost all my respect, and she’s stuck on a rather traditional and awful use of her feminine wiles. She’s manipulative and cruel, seeming to always assume that her beauty gives her the right to use it as a weapon. I don’t want girls to think they can’t be pleased with their appearance, but when it is wielded like a sword I have a problem with that.

Medusa - It seems clear to me at this point that Medusa is female. Yes, the characters in the story don’t seem to realize it yet (not just that, but it was completely discounted by Vik and Tom on page 127, which made me angry), but why would they give the name Medusa to a man? Add that to the fact that in the Troy simulation Medusa took on the Achilles persona while Tom took on Penthesilea - and I’m pretty sure that clinches it.

Wyatt -  Wyatt strikes me as the kind of character who is usually written as male. High levels of tech talent coupled with poor social skills? I’m curious to see how she’ll continue to develop. Though I want to reach in and punch someone everytime they call her “man hands”.
I agree with everything you’ve said here and take it a little further on my side. Most of these scenes bother me because there hasn’t been much refutation along the way. I am disappointed when an author saves the last quarter of a book to do character 180s and hope that doesn’t happen here; I want changes a little bit sooner.  We have heard them say they will now call Wyatt “Evil Wench” but we’ve yet to see it in action. At least Heather’s character has been consistent (good news?)

Other thoughts:
In the first section I liked the way the information about Tom’s world and the science of the brain was shared. In this section, I wasn’t as thrilled. The tactics class felt like a classic “info dump”, and it got old.

Other than that, I’m still enjoying the story overall. I do feel like we need to get into a major conflict soon - since we’re already halfway through the book - or I’m going to start to lose interest. I want to know what makes Tom different. I did notice that the description of his initial processor implant seemed to be odd, and I was pleased to have that validated in this section, but I want more now. It’s time to get into the meat of the battle. Are we battling the other set of combatants and the other major corporations, or is the real conflict something less tangible? It’s time to get on with it.
Here, here! We’ve also learned that Tom is “an acute student of tactics” (126) and, according to Wyatt, a fast learner. We know he will flaunt the rules (though there hasn’t been any negative consequences yet). Let’s put this thing (is he still a person?) in action. It’s time to start bringing things home! Right now I’m feeling a little jumbled from all the plot and subplot points (Yuri, Dalton, appear to fight) and just want some cohesion. I’m still not feeling this book but hope
for a turnaround in the next phase.


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