Saturday, March 31, 2007
Take Flight with one of the best anthologies you have the opportunity to read.
Flight, Vol. 3, edited by Kazu Kibuishi. Various authors and illustrators. Ballantine Books, New York: 2006. ISBN: 0-345-49039-8.
I admit I haven't read the first two volumes of Flight, but that does enable me to tell you it doesn't matter. This collection is awesome whether you're already familiar with the series or not.
Flight is an anthology of comic short stories by highly talented artists and illustrators who are virtually unknown.
Many, probably most, of the stories are fantasy. The collection is big and I can't talk about everything, but here are some highlights:
Talking animals are, to my satisfaction, making a comeback in comics. A number of stories in this volume feature talkative (and cute) woodland creatures. Particularly memorable is Tony Cliff's "Old Oak Trees," about his grandmother's adventures as a young girl with some anthropomorphic animals and a fairy. In "The Brave Sea," a story of talking seals, Steve Hamaker demonstrates he's good at more than just colorizing Bone comics. "Tea" by Reagan Lodge features a talking fox named Wyit trying to make some tea for his mistress, who's apparently a warrior princess or something. This story is too short and not enough happens, but the image of Wyit seated on a cliff and smoking a pipe is a picture I keep flipping back to. Rad Sechrist's "Beneath the Leaves," following the misadventures of a hedgehog, squirrel, and pig, is apparently a serial, but it's fun and easy to get into.
Stunning, charming, and heartrending is Michel Gagné's opening number, "Underworld," an entirely wordless piece about a brave little fox. Without dialogue or narrative, this one particularly displays the storytelling ability of sequential art. Other stories in the collection manage similar accomplishments, especially "Message in a Bottle" by Rodolphe Guenoden and Kazu Kibuishi.
And definitely deserving a mention is "One Little Miracle for a Hungry Swarm" by Alex Fuentes, a weird sf piece so disturbing I couldn't stop thinking about it for a few days after I read it.
Not all the stories are so awesome. "Earl D." by Yoko Tanaka has one funny idea and little else. Azad Injejikian's morality tale "Polaris" starts great but gets too misanthropic even for my tastes, and Khang Le's "Lala and the Bean" doesn't make much sense. Still, a few duds in a collection this size are to be expected, and the duds are few and far between.
The artists and illustrators affectionately known as the Flight Crew are demonstrating that comics do not need nudity, excessive violence, or scantily clad battle babes to tell good stories. Imagination and experimental storytelling are the name of the game here. So take Flight.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Nominees include the likes of Michael Flynn's Eifelheim, which I'm sure will make Claw of the Conciliator happy. Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon is on the list, and it's also on my living room floor, so I guess I better go read that one. Charles Stross's Glasshouse, which I keep promising to talk about but never do, is also up there. Boo!
So, recently converted sf writer John C. Wright commented somewhere or other that whenever he talks about his Christianity, he lowers his chances of winning a Hugo. We have two books up here that I know depict Christianity: Eifelheim and Glasshouse (and His Majesty's Dragon probably does too). Eifelheim, Elliot tells us, gives a thoughtful and generous depiction, whereas Glasshouse, I can tell you, gives an ugly and simple-minded parody on par, or even sub-par, with Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Shall we be cynics for once and bet on Glasshouse for the award? You go ahead and mull that over.
While friendship is by far an overriding theme in the movie there are several underriding themes in the film. One being the use of imagination. Having worked with kids for the last ten years of my life their imagination never ceases to amaze me. I often wish I could have just such an imagination. Something else that came out in the film was how much reality can kill your imagination. I was struck with how much Jesse Aarons, played by Josh Hutcherson, really began to embrace the new world being opened up to him by Leslie Burke, played by AnnaSophia Robb. Two kids, both outcasts strike up an unusual friendship that can literally create new worlds. This is the power of a young imagination.
Another thing that came out during the movie is a discussion between Jess, May Belle (Jess's little sister) and Leslie. "You gotta believe the Bible Leslie, God'll damn everybody to hell if you don't believe the Bible." "How could a God who created all this damn everybody to hell?" I believe Leslie hit the nail on the head so without giving my own dissertation on the meaning, I will let you, my reader, to chew on the meaning, the full meaning and implication, of those words.
Along with good friends in this film you also have bullies. You know the type. The ones that stole your twinkie, rubbed gum in your hair, spit in your face over all made your life hell. Jess has those too, her name is Janice Avery, played by Lauren Clinton. As children you were told to not mind the bullies because bullies are just cowards. This comes out in the film and at several points in the film Jess nearly overcomes his fear of the two eight grade boys that torment him, and his fear of Janice, only to find himself cowaring in the corner. It is only whe Jess faces his fears in his imaginary world that he is able to overcome his fears in reality and maybe even become friends.
Overall a very powerful film. However, this movie is definately on the list of "watch only if you want to cry." I don't normally cry during movies, my eyes were misting on the way out of this film.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
I must be moving up in the blogging world because now I'm getting unsolicited hot tips from publishers.
Anyhow, I have been kindly informed that Patrick Rothfuss has a podcast at Penguin Group discussing his debut fantasy novel, The Name of the Wind.
Here's the link to the podcast.
He has some interesting comments about religion in the 'cast. I don't entirely agree with him, but he has a few good points. He combines his view of religion with some interesting comments on writers and writing. He views the "muse" of the writer as similar to a primitive god who a person evokes out of fear. I am not of the opinion that primitive religions are inspired by fear only, but it's a display of the unique thinking that has, by the accounts I've looked at, led to quite a unique fantasy novel. "Real writers are not scientists. They are mystics...they are freaks and deviants." After all that, he clearly doesn't take his religion seriously.
He mentions in the 'cast that he was interested in writing a fantasy novel without a distinct villain in order to focus on conflicts between characters who are doing what they think is best but have disagreements about what is best.
I forgot to time it, but I'd judge the podcast at about 15 minutes, much shorter than what it might take you to read some of my more long-winded posts, so give it a listen.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Lost in Space meets...meets...meets one of those spunky teen dramas I don't watch so can't name.
Little White Mouse Omnibus Edition by Paul Sizer. Cafe Digital Studios, Kalamazoo, MI: 2006. ISBN 0-9768565-5-7.
Comic books and graphic novels are an artform that has recently come into its own. In some ways, that's good because it means seriously talented writers and artists are exploring the medium and telling big stories that previously were not part of the genre. It's also bad because a number of artists have filled the medium full of raunchy stories or pictures. Ironically, or perhaps expectedly, coming into the modern age and current literary scene has made comics, in the words of Paul Smith, illustrator of the comic Leave It to Chance, "dark, misogynist, convoluted" (in the introduction to Leave It To Chance Vol. 1: Shaman's Rain).
I know of two, maybe three, comics that have noticed the ugly trends and have specifically addressed them. One is the aforementioned Leave It to Chance, a fine comic about Chance Falconer, a tomboyish teenage girl who hunts for ghosts and zombies and does it in coveralls, trench coat, and work gloves rather than tights. Another such comic is (possibly) Bone by Jeff Smith, which bucks the trends of depicting women as vampy battle babes, though Smith's interviews indicate it was probably not a conscious rebellion. The third comic, which does consciously attempt to redefine the way comics depict women, is Little White Mouse. As I will explain, I think it is a failure, but its noble attempt makes it worth your look. Think twice before handing it to its intended age group of 10 and up, though. Maybe 14 and up.
The story follows 16-year-old Loo Th'eng, youngest daughter (of seven) of a powerful corporate magnate. Loo and her older sister P'heng are on their way to a big science academy when their intergalactic spaceliner malfunctions. Loo's and P'heng's escape pods smash into an automated mining satellite, and P'heng dies in the crash, leaving Loo alone with a limited amount of time to get off the satellite before its life support system shuts down. She makes friends in the form of two finicky robots named Boris and Dieter and the mysterious ghost of one of the satellite's dead crew members.
Complicating matters, P'heng had been trying an experiment during which she uploaded her brainwave patterns to her lifepod's computer system. Now, in addition to getting off the satellite, Loo is determined to use her engineering know-how to construct an android body to house her sister's digitized personality. That requires her to scavenge the satellite for parts: Her adventures for machines and computer components put Loo frequently in mortal danger, and the satellite's central computer repeatedly dispatches killer robots to eliminate her.
Librarian Kevin A. R. King, who wrote the foreword to Little White Mouse's fourth book, sums up the underlying purpose of the comic. He says, "...you can't tell me that the leather halter-top and bikini bottoms are practical garb when staring down a pack of zombie ninjas! Girl power is a great concept, one I fully endorse, but the female comic characters of the 1990's seemed a little too one-dimensional to say the least." Hear, hear.
King proposes that the vixens who normally make up the female population of comics are the product of fear of strong women. Interesting hypothesis, but I disagree. If everyone were afraid of strong women, female characters in comics would be barefoot in the kitchen, not fighting zombies in bronze bikinis. The problem is authors and artists who don't know what strong femininity looks like, so they resort to cardboard characters who use sex as a weapon against male enemies and as an attraction to male readers. Busty babes on the covers of comics are an insult to women, but they're also an insult to men's intelligence. If your story can't hold me, a curvy figure can't, either.
King proudly points out that Loo, heroine of Little White Mouse, has a well-developed personality, which she does, and dresses practically, which she does: coveralls, vest, baseball cap, sneakers, and a funky set of knee/shin guards. She's intelligent, resourceful, and a lot of fun to read about, too.
In its second half, however, Little White Mouse loses its way. Loo begins eschewing modest clothes for form-fitting spandex and miniskirts. Even worse, there's a creepy love story between Loo and a much older muscle-bound biker who looks like he could be in his forties. It reminded me of a community theater production of N. Richard Nash's The Rainmaker in which a teenager played Lizzie and a forty-plus bodybuilder played Bill Starbuck. During the romantic scene, both actors and audience were clearly uncomfortable. Though there's no actual sex, Little White Mouse becomes fixated on the lead character's sexuality and produces similar discomfort on certain pages.
At the same time, Little White Mouse upholds family values, generally speaking, though they are sometimes poorly defined. In one subplot (not with the biker), Loo is tempted to a sexual relationship but chooses to abstain. Her reasons for this, however, are weak, though they are believable for an immature character. Parents who let their children or teens read this comic will want to discuss that chapter, as it is inadequate for exploring the issue of sexual ethics and may be misleading.
On the plus side, Loo's large family is consistently depicted positively. Loo learns to be independent not by rejecting her parents' moral standards, but by rediscovering them. Now there's a refreshing plot twist.
The three comics discussed here all have strong female protagonists who buck ugly trends. Between the three, Little White Mouse and Leave It to Chance forgo the stereotypical vixens in favor of tomboys, whereas Bone depicts a more iconic coming-of-age fantasy heroine. Of the two tomboys, only the heroine of Little White Mouse is a fully developed character, though Chance is entertaining enough. Between the three comics, only Leave It to Chance feels no need to put its protagonist in tight or revealing clothing. Having said that, I will add that neither Little White Mouse nor Bone appears to be intentionally using sex to attract male readership.
The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Little White Mouse Omnibus Edition:
Myth Level: Medium (basic idea of individual surviving alone is a classic theme)
Quality: Medium/High (good characters, generally good art, some strained plot points)
Religion/Ethics: Medium (families depicted positively, no sex, mild language, creepy minor/adult romance)
Update: Factual Error Corrected; quote in first paragraph was originally mistakely attributed to James Robinson (author) and slightly misstated. The Sci Fi Catholic regrets the error, but we guarantee we got more where that came from.
Are you honestly telling me that you don't already have a system in place to deal with large sums of money left by deceased clients without next of kin? It sounds to me like the First Bank of Nigeria is an incompetent institution. I am sorry, but I simply cannot give you my bank account number. Who knows? You might lose or misplace it or, worse, give it to some unscrupulous individual who would empty my account. Then, instead of becoming an instant millionare without any effort on my part, as you have promised, I would be broke. At least you couldn't touch my Roth IRA or my bonds, but losing my savings account would be bad enough.
I am sorry to say I must decline your tempting offer. Thank you for understanding. Now stop e-mailing me, and that goes for your little e-mail address-harvesting robot, too.
D. G. D. Davidson, esq.
Sci Fi Catholic
Sunday, March 25, 2007
For other reviews, click here.
For screenshots, click here.
I know the critics are panning it, but I can't help it, I like it. If you too are in your twenties, you also may enjoy a trip down memory lane with TMNT. Otherwise, you might not get it.
Let's start with the stuff I don't like because that's more fun.
First, there's the title. Is this or is this not a movie about four anthropomorphic turtles trained in ninjitsu? You should show off a zany premise like that, not hide it behind an acronym. Besides, I hate acronyms. I know that's a funny thing for a Catholic convert to say, considering we've got all this RCIA and OSB, but still, I hate them.
The movie also makes the Superman Returns mistake, trying to resuscitate a dead franchise rather than start a new one. This is a sequel to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II (like Superman Returns, it ignores the awful third installment). It's been long enough no one remembers the forgettable original films anyway, but besides that, a sequel to the orginal film series means no Shredder, and no Shredder means no Bebop and Rocksteady and no opportunity to bring in my favorite villain, Brain from Dimension X.
It's CGI. I'm bored with CGI; this should be a cartoon. Admittedly, the turtles look pretty good, but the humans have weird proportions, especially the women, who look like animated Bratz dolls.
Casey. I never liked Casey, and Munroe loses points for failing to kill this character off. I admit a vigilante who beats up criminals with sports equipment is a fun idea, but there are already four ninja turtles in this film, so he's redundant. Not only is Casey still hanging around, but he's still April's boyfriend, and now he's her live-in boyfriend, which is not cool in a children's film. I have always believed April shouldn't have a love interest anyway because she should be too busy playing Linda Hamilton to the turtles' Ron Perlman.
Last on the list of bad stuff is the final action sequence, which features not only the turtles and Casey duking it out with Foot Clan ninjas and walking statues, but Splinter and April (?). I understand they want the whole gang together, but Splinter is too old for this kind of action, and as for April, I'm sorry, but putting on a sexy outfit does not make you a ninja. Now bring back that frumpy yellow jumpsuit.
As for the good stuff, the film has a surprisingly well-written script, if not the tightest plot. The teenage angst that produces tension between Leonardo (leader of the turtles) and Raphael (who has enough teen angst to make up for the other three) is believable and well done. The overarching plot is forgettable--it has something to do with thirteen monsters, walking statues, and Patrick Stewart--but the character development is great.
The humor is sometimes flat, but the turtles' cheeky one-liners are chuckle-worthy, at least. A few jokes are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, especially one involving Splinter and a television, and I can't get over the line, "Every ninja's day should begin with a good breakfast."
The critics are attacking it for being too serious, but I thought it was a good treatment of this comic that, from all accounts I've heard, was surprisingly gritty. The critics are also unimpressed with the moral: that families should stick together even through tough times. Admittedly, this is an old standby for Hollywood, but it's still relevant, especially with our high divorce rate.
The movie ends with awkward hints of a sequel, possibly bringing back some of the great villains that were half of why the Turtles franchise was so awesome in the first place. Bringing back this implausible B story world from the '80s may look dumb to others, but I can't say I'm complaining.
The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for TMNT:
Myth Rating: Medium/Low (a weak attempt at a mythical backstory and plot)
Quality: Medium/High (slick production, decent action, variable story, variable humor)
Ethics/Religion: Low (live-ins in kid flicks are no-nos)
Filmography links and data courtesy of The Internet Movie Database.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
I just got word that today is the last day to sign the American Center for Law and Justice's petition to the congress against embryonic stem cell research.
I could have a lot of arguments with Jay Sekulow and his team about politics and theology, but fortunately, Christians of different sects can unite on issues like this. I encourage all of you to sign the petition.
Here's the link:
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Oh, and by the way, the blog's going on hiatus. Now, before you all beat your heads against your monitors wondering where you'll get your daily sf+religion, let me hastily add that it's only going on hiatus until Tuesday because I'm going to be out of town this weekend. On Tuesday, I'll be back and badder than ever.
Read and discuss Catechism 845, 846.
It must be understood that Christ did not come only to teach a moral message. And Christ did not come only to die for sins. He came to save men, and he prepared an organization on Earth in which he would dwell and through which he would offer his grace to men. That organization is the Church.
Read Matthew 16.13-20.
This passage indicates Jesus’ clear intent to establish a Church. He says that he will build it, and that the gates of Hades will not prevail against it (NRSV). In this same passage, he delegates authority in his Church. He says to Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (NRSV). There’s been some confusion over this passage, so here’s some information it’s good to have:
The word for Peter’s name in Greek is Petros. The word for rock used is petra. For this reason, some have claimed that the rock to which Jesus refers is not Peter. However,
1. The language Jesus spoke was not Greek but Aramaic. We know that Peter’s Aramaic name was Kepha, Rock, because he is called Cephas, a transliteration of Kepha, elsewhere in the New Testament. Kepha is masculine. In koine Greek, the Greek of the New Testament, the word for rock is petra, a feminine. Matthew here alters the gender of the noun when applying it to Peter because it would be inappropriate to give a man a feminine name.
2. Some argue that the word petros refers to a small pebble while petra refers to a boulder, so that Jesus is calling Peter a pebble and himself a boulder. This difference in terms is known in classical Greek, but not in the koine Greek of the New Testament.
3. Petros as a proper name is otherwise unattested. It would be odd for Jesus to change Peter’s name if it did not have significance directly bearing on this passage.
4. Even good Protestant scholars agree that rock must refer to Peter because of the grammar of the passage. Evangelical scholar D. A. Carson spends time debunking the error of attributing rock to something other than Peter in his book Exegetical Fallacies.
The reference to keys harkens back to Isaiah 22.20-22 (read).
You see this passage has similar language to that of the passage in Matthew. The passage in Matthew refers to the majordomo of the king’s household, responsible for managing the household. Jesus in Matthew is clearly giving the same authority to Peter.
So this tells us that Christ intended to found a church, and to give it authority in Peter.
Read Acts 6.5-6, 1 Timothy 4.14, 2 Timothy 1.6.
We see in these passages that laying on of hands is not merely a pleasant ritual, but an actual conveyance of power.
The commissioning of ministers with laying on of hands to convey power from God appears in the Old Testament as well, in Numbers 27.18-23.
In this passage, Moses gives some of his authority to a priest by laying hands on him. The practice of this ritual in the New Testament shows that the apostles intended to convey some of their authority and power to the ministers they commissioned. This is the basis for a hierarchy in the Church; the Church is not intended to be a democracy or an anarchy, but is intended to have ordained ministers who carry power passed down from the apostles. This is what we call Apostolic Succession. Because this authority from the apostles is necessary, the Church must have valid bishops who have received this commissioning. That is why any sect that breaks from the Catholic Church, if it does not have validly ordained bishops, cannot be considered a church of Christ.
Read Acts 14.23 and Titus 1.5.
These passages indicate the importance of the churches having ordained ministers with authority passed from the apostles.
The scriptures have high things to say about the authority and place of the Church:
Read 1 Timothy 3.15.
The Church in this passage is called the household of God. It is not depicted here as an invisible, unrecognizable spiritual entity, as some Evangelicals maintain, but as a visible organization. It is also called the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (NRSV), indicating that the Church upholds and defends the truth that has been entrusted to it.
Read Matthew 18.18.
Here Christ imbues the Church with power and authority to teach, excommunicate, define doctrines, and so forth. This is why the Church teaches indefectibility and, in some limited circumstances, infallibility. If the Church were not a single entity with a single teaching, it could not be pillar and bulwark of the truth, because it wouldn’t be teaching the one truth.
Colossians 1.18-24 (read vs. 18, 24) describes Christ as the head of the Church, and the Church as the body of Christ, meaning that Christ dwells in a special way in the Church, that Christ guides the Church, and that the Church is responsible for continuing Christ’s work on Earth. If a person wishes to be close to Christ, it is necessary for him to be in the Church.
Read passages from Church Fathers on sheet, under “Authoritative Church.”
The Church is intended to be one single body, not a smattering of “denominations.” Read Jn 10.16, Romans 16.17, 1 Corinthians 1.10, John 17.17-23, 1 Corinthians 12.13.
Read passages from Church Fathers under “The Church Must be One” and discuss.
And the book of the month for this month's Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour is Double Vision by Randy Ingermanson. For today's sample of what you ought to look at at, Randy Ingermanson's website, check out the statistical analysis of the wild claims about the so-called Jesus family tomb. We've been talking about that here a lot, so go see what he has to say. Ingermanson makes it into a bigger issue than it is: the tomb and its contents are actually old news. We'll forgive him for that, though--as he points out himself, that's the job of the archaeologists. What Ingermanson focuses on is the stats, and he comes to the conclusion that they were not done well. I'll just have to trust him on that one, because that's not a job for an archaeologist so much. At least not for this one.
Some of his "historical" arguments are not the best. The book of Jude is considered pseudepigraphical by some, though not by all, but the book of John is typically attributed not to the disciple whom Jesus loved, but rather a disciple of that disciple, or a disciple of that disciple, or a community that the disciple Jesus loved founded, so Ingermanson's argument that the author of John had to outlive the Judah buried in the tomb is incorrect. And there is actually a theological reason why Jesus wouldn't have children, though I would expect it to escape most Evangelicals.
Except for those quibbles, he says some things in the essay that appear, from the point of view of the non-expert like me, to decimate the assumptions on which the documentary's statistics are based.
Son of Blog Tour:
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Lost Genre Guild
Kevin Lucia and The Bookshelf Reviews 2.0 - The Compendium
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Tsaba House Authors
Daniel I. Weaver
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Don't forget the book of the month for this month's Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour is Double Vision by Randy Ingermanson, which features the story of an autistic savant computer programmer and the women who love him. Our feature blog is that of the author, Randy Ingermanson, physicist and Christian sf novelist.
So what else will you find on Ingermanson's site? Well, if you're interested in writing a novel of your own, Ingermanson offers advice. Right on his main page is a place to sign up for his newsletter about how to write fiction. Hey, I'm getting one.
He also has a page on writing that gives advice right there on the website, so check it out.
Get your blog tour on:
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Lost Genre Guild
Kevin Lucia and The Bookshelf Reviews 2.0 - The Compendium
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Tsaba House Authors
Daniel I. Weaver
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Women want him, nanoprobes fear him.
The book of the month for this month's Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour is Double Vision by Randy Ingermanson, which features the story of an autistic savant computer programmer...and the women who love him. Our feature blog is that of the author, Randy Ingermanson, physicist and Christian sf novelist.
I got a little scared when I went looking at his blog and found he had a section on the so-called Bible Code. I was gearing up to write an article flaming him, but after going through his information, I figured I'd better hold back. Everyone relax: Ingermanson is not a supporter of the Bible Code. In fact, he has some good summaries of why you shouldn't believe in it. His article on prophecies in the alleged codes is quite good. The article on proximity has more meat to it. The one on bias is excellent.
I'll admit, looking at his stuff on the Bible Code makes me want to read Ingermanson's books. He is succeeding here at making statistical issues digestible and interesting, though, granted, he's not actually bombarding me with the statistics.
Here's a brief reflection: The Bible Code, Ingermanson tells us, was first proposed by mathematicians. And the moral of the story is: Even scientists make mistakes.
There have been other funny claims about the Bible. I once ran into a book, I think by a mathematician, who argued that the verse and chapter numbers in the Bible were a secret cataloguing system for themes. In other words, all the verses on "love" would appear at or near the same chapter and verse in each book. (Ingermanson discusses "wiggle room" in his articles on the Bible Code and that no doubt explains this phenomenon.) Even to the non-statistician, some problems with such a proposal are immediately obvious: first, the Bible repeats a lot of themes so such coincidences are unsurprising; second, no theologian I've ever heard of claims the chapter and verse numbers are inspired; third, you can probably force the theme you want into a verse if you're intent on finding it there; and fourth, not all Bibles have exactly the same chapter and verse numbers.
Again, I know of mathematicians quite impressed by the numbers of people and objects in the book of Numbers, and some have apparently argued that the numbers are quite complex, supposedly too complex for ancient peoples to have produced without guidance from God. News flash: Ancient people could add correctly even without calculators. If you don't believe me, go see how those ingenious New Kingdom Egyptian scribes approximated the volume of a round silo without using pi. They didn't have calculus or that stuff, but they knew what they were doing.
I also once read a theory that the supposed face discovered on Mars had latitude and longitude coordinates in some way related to pi, indicating the face was placed by aliens. I guess you really can "prove" anything with numbers if you try hard enough and have a good enough imagination.
There's also a claim that the ancient Babylonian Enuma Elish is really a description of planets colliding and aliens manufacturing the human race a la Lovecraft. If you want to read something weird into an ancient text, you can do it.
And I've also heard that Elvis is still alive.
(P.S., I fear someone will misunderstand me as saying the Bible is not inspired, and I also fear a Protestant reader might conclude my Catholicism is complicit in that error. I do believe the Bible is inspired, I just don't believe it's proven by the numbers. But you really can prove whatever you want from a text if you're willing to read whatever you want into it. As a Catholic, I'll stick the knife in by pointing out that's why the Bible requires an authoritative interpreter.)
Are you ready for a blog tour???
CSFF Blog Tour
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Monday, March 19, 2007
Fortunately for all of us, especially me, the tour's going until Thursday. The Sci Fi Catholic will start participating tomorrow with some stuff on the feature blog and a list of the other tour members. The novel this month is Randy Ingermanson's Double Vision and the feature blog is Randy Ingermanson's.
Go read your newsletter and I'll have more for you tomorrow.
And while I'm at it, I'll mention that your tour continues here:
Wayne Thomas Batson
CSFF Blog Tour
"> D. G. D. Davidson
/"> Kameron M. Franklin
"> Linda Gilmore
"> Christopher Hopper
Kevin Lucia and The Bookshelf Reviews 2.0 - The Compendium
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Daniel I. Weaver
Sunday, March 18, 2007
I've been thinking a lot lately about the rise of Paranormal Romance (or
Paranormal Chick-Lit). I think in many ways, it reflects the power of marketing!
Writers like Mercedes Lackey, with her Diana Tregarde novels, and Tanya Huff,
with her Blood series, produced pretty cool books about female
investigators (whether cops or supernatural sleuths) with romantic
and...umm...physical connections with other creatures (like vampires and
werewolves) over 10 years ago. [more...]
Exciting fantasy space opera without the excitement.
Acorna: The Unicorn Girl by Anne McCaffrey and Margaret Ball. Harper Torch, New York: 1997. ISBN: 978-0-06-105789-2.
There's been a lot of talk about unicorns around here lately. I was planning to save this review until I could discuss the whole series, but that's not going to happen anytime soon, so I'm going to get this out of the way. I can't discuss the sequels or the second series because I haven't read them, so this is about the first novel only.
The contents of Acorna: The Unicorn Girl are a lot like the cover art by John Ennis. The cover art features a beautiful picture pasted on a hideous CGI background. The novel features one solid gold idea pasted on a stilted storyline with an underdeveloped universe.
The solid gold idea is an alien who's half human, half unicorn, and all woman, whose horn has the power to purify water and heal wounds. The automatic association between unicorns and femininity, purity, and virginity makes this an appealing notion. Put a notion like that in the hands of Anne McCaffrey, however, and she's certain to mess it up.
Young Acorna is placed as an infant in an escape pod because her parents' ship is being pursued by a murderous race of aliens. Being orphaned at such a young age saves Acorna from growing up listening to dialogue laden with awkward exposition. Three human asteroid miners (asteroid mining is a popular occupation in space opera) find her and raise her as she grows up unusually fast. Besides the healing horn on her forehead, she has long silver hair and "hoof-like feet." (I'm not sure what hoof-like feet are; McCaffrey and Ball must be uncomfortable saying she has hooves, perhaps because they realize a human couldn't balance on a pair of hooves.) These three likable miners run all over the galaxy to protect Acorna from a number of villains who want her for various reasons. This builds up a complicated set of subplots, most of which end with disappointing and anticlimactic wrap-ups, as if the authors bit off more than they could chew and had to find deus ex machinas to take care of the complications.
In the end, the three miners and one anthropomorphic unicorn make it to the nefarious planet Kezdet, the economy of which is built on child slave labor. By the way, all the children working in the factories, mines, and brothels on Kezdet conveniently have a set of goddess religions centering around a beautiful woman who will one day come to rescue them. There's also an organization, half human rights group and half mafia, keenly interested in using Acorna to put a swift end to the planet's unjust practices.
How's the religion? And since Acorna is by default an archetypal figure, how is she treated?
One or two of the three miners are nominal Christians, but the religion that gets the most attention is Islam. One of the miners, Rafik, is Muslim. The depiction is silly, to put it mildly. In whatever year this story is supposed to take place, Islam has gone through some radical permutations: two more prophets have shown up and written sequels to the Qur'ān, and Hadith has gone out of favor. The major alterations to Islam that get mentioned are the elimination of polygyny and any kind of veiling for women, as well as a few other relaxations.
Islam views Muhammad as the seal of the prophets, the final one, the one whose message finally got passed on without distortion. The possibility of new self-proclaimed prophets showing up isn't unlikely, but a general acceptance of them among Muslims is, especially if they go altering established teachings and writing new holy books. Adding to the absurdity, Rafik's uncle Hafiz, always known as Uncle Hafiz, is a cardboard sheik/mafia don. The general impression I get from the novel is of two women authors who dislike Islam and go dreaming about how they would change it. The result is disrespectful and unbelievable.
As for Acorna herself, there's not much to say because she's underdeveloped. Though supposedly the central figure, the story really focuses on her three miner guardians. She is passive through most of the story; by the time she has anything to do, near the novel's end, it's too late: she is uninteresting, and even when she's championing children's rights, we don't care as much as we should. The problem is intensified by McCaffrey's and Ball's apparent uncertainty about how to depict her character's iconic elements. McCaffrey's bad habit of writing gross-out sex is restrained, but enough icky conversation pieces made it into the final draft to damage the book and Acorna's character significantly: for example, though this subplot goes nowhere and has little point, a certain character is infatuated with Acorna and says a number of things that should get him slapped, but which are treated as acceptable.
It's not bad. It's not great. It's yet another mediocre sf paperback, though in this case the mediocrity is tragic because the novel starts with a great idea.
The Sci Fi Catholic's rating for Acorna: The Unicorn Girl
Myth level: Medium (not the novel as a whole so much as its basic idea and some of the themes of the latter third)
Quality: Medium/Low (awkward exposition, several anticlimaxes, but some entertainment value)
Religion/Ethics: Medium (more restrained than some McCaffrey, legitimate outrage over child labor and sex trade, disrespect of non-Christian religion)
Friday, March 16, 2007
Victor Davis Hanson on the "300"
I haven't written a formal review of the "300", since I was asked to
write an introduction to the book accompanying the movie, and wouldn't
be a disinterested critic. Below are the reactions I had after seeing
the premier Monday night in Hollywood. I took my son and daughter to
the showing. They had a great time, especially talking to Frank
Last Night at the 300
I went to the Hollywood Premier of the "300" last night, and talked a
bit with Director Zack Snyder, screenwriter Kurt Johnstad, and graphic
novelist Frank Miller. There will be lots of controversy about this
film-well aside from erroneous allegations that it is pro- or
anti-Bush, when the movie has nothing to do with Iraq or contemporary
events, at least in the direct sense. (Miller's graphic novel was
written well before the "war against terror" commenced under President
I wrote an introduction for the accompanying book about the film when
Kurt Johnstad came down to Selma to show me a CD advanced unedited
version last October, but some additional reflections follow from last
There are four key things to remember about the film: it is not
intended to be Herodotus Book 7.209-236, but rather is an adaptation
from Frank Miller's graphic novel, which itself is an adaptation from
secondary work on Thermopylai. Purists should remember that when they
see elephants and a rhinoceros or scant mention of the role of those
wonderful Thespians who died in greater numbers than the Spartans at
Second, in an eerie way, the film captures the spirit of Greek fictive
arts themselves. Snyder and Johnstad and Miller are Hellenic in this
sense: red-figure vase painting especially idealized Greek hoplites
through "heroic nudity". Such iconographic stylization meant sometimes
that armor was not included in order to emphasize the male physique.
So too the 300 fight in the film bare-chested. In that sense, their
oversized torsos resemble not only comic heroes, but something of the
way that Greeks themselves saw their own warriors in pictures. And
even the loose adaptation of events reminds me of Greek tragedy, in
which an Electra, Iphigeneia or Helen in the hands of a Euripides is
portrayed sometimes almost surrealistically, or at least far
differently from the main narrative of the Trojan War, followed by the
more standard Aeschylus, Sophocles and others.
Third, Snyder, Johnstad, and Miller have created a strange convention
of digital backlot and computer animation, reminiscent of the comic
book mix of Sin City. That too is sort of like the conventions of
Attic tragedy in which myths were presented only through elaborate
protocols that came at the expense of realism (three male actors on
the stage, masks, dialogue in iambs, with elaborate choral meters,
violence off stage, 1000-1600 lines long, etc.).
There is irony here. Oliver Stone's mega-production Alexander spent
tens of millions in an effort to recapture the actual career of
Alexander the Great, with top actors like Collin Farrel, Antony
Hopkins, and Angelina Joilie. But because this was a realist endeavor,
we immediately were bothered by the Transylvanian accent of Olympias,
Stone's predictable brushing aside of facts, along with the
distortions, and the inordinate attention given to Alexander's
supposed proclivities. But the "300" dispenses with realism at the
very beginning, and thus shoulders no such burdens. If characters
sometimes sound black-and-white as cut-out superheroes, it is not
because they are badly-scripted Greeks, as was true in Stone's film,
but because they reflect the parameters of the convention of graphic
novels, comic books, and surrealistic cinematography. Also I liked the
idea that Snyder et al. were more outsiders than Stone, and pulled
something off far better with far less resources and connections. The
acting proved excellent-again, ironic when the players are not marquee
Fourth, but what was not conventionalized was the martial spirit of
Sparta that comes through the film. Many of the most famous lines in
the film come directly either from Herodotus or Plutarch's Moralia,
and they capture well, in the historical sense, the collective Spartan
martial ethic, honor, glory, and ancestor reverence (I say that as an
admirer of democratic Thebes and its destruction of Sparta's system of
Messenian helotage in 369 BC).
Why-beside the blood-spattering violence and often one-dimensional
characterizations-will some critics not like this, despite the above
Ultimately the film takes a moral stance, Herodotean in nature: there
is a difference, an unapologetic difference between free citizens who
fight for eleutheria and imperial subjects who give obeisance. We are
not left with the usual postmodern quandary 'who are the good guys' in
a battle in which the lust for violence plagues both sides. In the
end, the defending Spartans are better, not perfect, just better than
the invading Persians, and that proves good enough in the end. And to
suggest that unambiguously these days has perhaps become a
revolutionary thing in itself.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Oh, they walk alike, they talk alike, they even cast their magic alike...
Three Hands for Scorpio by Andre Norton. Tor Fantasy, New York: 2005. ISBN: 978-0-765-34385-7.
Some fantasy novels are good. Some fantasy novels are bad. Lo, because this fantasy novel is neither good nor bad, I am about to spew it out of my mouth.
Yech. That left a nasty aftertaste.
That's about as harsh as I wish to get on this one since it is the final novel by the late great Grand Dame of fantasy, Andre Norton, the first woman to be declared a Grand Master by the SFWA. I was unaware this was her final novel when I flipped it into my big bag of cheap paperbacks at the bookstore, but unfortunately, I think the best part of this book is the charming cover art by Tristan Elwell.
Bland is the first word that comes to mind, and it describes everything from the plot to the characters to the intricate and surprisingly dull details of just how magic works in this particular sword-and-sorcery world. It's not an awful book, but it's certainly not a great one, either. It is essentially just another forgettable trade paperback sword-and-sorcery novel.
The book starts out on a bad note, laying out, before we have reason to care, all the ins-and-outs of the made-up political alliances and geography. Unless you have a photographic memory, you will not be able to keep track of all these details, but be warned: Norton will refer back to them throughout the book. If you skim this part, or do less than memorize it, you will soon be lost.
The novel's three heroines are teenage triplets. They, and every other character in this novel, are interchangeable. Since this is sword-and-sorcery, they come with a psychic connection. They have magic powers, but in spite of all the details on magic, I'm unsure of what they are. Adding to the confusion, the triplets take turns narrating the story, so I often had to stop halfway through a section and flip back to its beginning to remind myself who was talking. Perhaps I'm prejudiced (I have an innate hatred for first-person narratives that switch narrators), but the story-telling seems grueling and ineffective. This is aggravated by minimal description, awkward sentence structure, and an affected style. Keeping track of this tale requires a lot of mental effort, but the book offers little payoff.
I think the story goes something like this: There's tension between two kingdoms. The one to the south is a more-or-less benevolent matriarchy while the one to the north is a decidedly less benevolent patriarchy. Adding to the north's problems is a new religious leader with a message so evil it's described only in vague, nondescript terms. While the father of these girls, who's a duke or something, is negotiating some kind of treaty with some northern clan leaders, some other clan guy kidnaps the girls and rather than charging ransom or dispensing with them in appropriately grisly fashion, decides to lower them unharmed into a chasm full of dangerous wildlife, based more-or-less on a real gorge in Alabama. There the girls meet a man named Zolan who, it turns out, is in cahoots with some dead aliens whose spirits live in anthropomorphic clay jars. One of these aliens went bad and possessed the evil new religious leader. The girls and their new friend have to get out of the gorge alive to stop him. After that, your guess is as good as mine.
On religion, there's not much to say. There's a religious organization called a church, of which the queen is the head, and it seems to involve monotheistic goddess worship. As for the new, evil religion, we never really learn what it's about, besides disrespecting women.
The characters are not compelling, and Norton does nothing to explore the psychology of what it's like to be three psychically connected triplets. Do they ever yearn for alone-time? Begrudge their sisters' skills? Experience tension? Compete for boys? Have co-dependency problems? We never learn any of this.
The Three Hands for Scorpio do not come across as spunky heroines, thoughtful protagonists, or anything else. They simply don't come across. Fans mourning Norton's passing will want to pick up the book for her memory's sake, but this is certainly not the book that made her famous. For readers new to Norton, it would be better to try her earlier works first.
The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating:
Myth Level: Low
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Once again we see the perils of reading too little speculative fiction. Had this man been fantasy-literate, he would have known not to let his unicorn drive in the first place. Unicorns make lousy designated drivers. I never let my unicorn Frederick drive. As for my gryphon Jerry, he can't drive because he always wants to ride in the bed or stick his head out the window. My dragon Snuffles, on the other hand, is a reasonably good driver, though I had to instruct him not to give other drivers "the claw" when he gets cut off on the Interstate.
Anyway, police officers have about the same reaction to the "My unicorn crashed my car" excuse that teachers have to the "My dog ate my homework" excuse (with me, it was always "My manticore ate my homework," and that went over even worse).
So here's the AP article for you:
Billings, Mont. (AP) --
A man told police not to blame him for crashing his truck into a light
post — it was that unicorn behind the wheel. Prosecutor Ingrid Rosenquist said
Phillip C. Holliday Jr. initially denied driving the truck involved in the March
7 crash in Billings. [more...]
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
For example, there's a reference to Stephen Baxter's "Inherit the Earth," with a robotic pope, and Lester Del Rey's "The Eleventh Commandment," which is about contraception. And many, many more.
The hallways were long, grim, and labyrinthine, but he had no trouble making it through security. His passes were perfectly forged. To reach the Soul Chamber itself, he had to climb a long ladder and pull himself out of a heavy trap door set in a wide, railed walkway surrounding the Chamber’s cylinder. He was very high and a searing wind whipped his face. The battered, rocky ground of Tartarus spread for miles in all directions until the distant lands grew hazy with smoke. Weird light bathed everything in red and blue--red from the fires, blue from the stream of souls flowing in from above.
He stood at the heavy steel door that led into the Chamber itself. The door was high, thick, and rimmed with heavy bolts. It stretched twenty feet over Cyril’s head, a door for Doomsday. He turned to the guard and showed the fourth pass he had used that day. “Aaron Bloor, maintenance,” he said.
The guard turned to a panel to check. “Yep, you’re right here on schedule. The notice of your arrival came from Earth; did you transpose just today?”
Cyril swallowed, knowing the guard could check the records from the receiving station and find him missing. “Yes,” he answered, crossing his fingers under the heavy sleeve of the cloak.
The guard’s hand moved back to the panel and Cyril knew he was caught. But then the guard flipped the monitor onto standby. “Okay,” he said. “Go on in.”
The massive door creaked and groaned as it lifted upward. It opened to only five feet of height and he ducked to go in. Then it slammed shut behind him.
Inside was a ghostly maelstrom. The souls pouring in from above whipped around the chamber, shrieking, crying out. They were insubstantial; they could not corporeate unless they reached hell’s floor. One after another, phatasma-beams fired from the walls, locking onto souls and sucking them into receptacles lining the floor. The souls traveled down long tubes into laboratories in the compound below where their transposed bodies lay, and where scientists worked round the clock to repair their damaged tissues and induce artificial resurrection.
Cyril took his time removing the plastic explosives from under his cloak and placing them around the room. There were enough explosives to crash down the entire chamber. Its destruction would cause a large part of the complex to collapse. Many people would die, and all of them, expecting eternal life on Earth, would find themselves suddenly and irrevocably damned. He didn’t worry about the newly resurrected telling anyone what he was doing in here; insubstantial souls lacked the human intelligence they had when corporeated on hell’s floor or returned to their bodies. Cyril had all the time he wanted.
Cyril didn’t care about much, but the import of what he was doing caused a thrill of both terror and exhilaration to run like lightning through his heart. He was the judge. He was setting himself up as God. He was deciding who would enter eternal torment. He adjusted his watch to make his judgment definitive. He would set a time for himself to be out of the complex and ready to transpose to Earth--thirty minutes. Every soul now in the Chamber and every soul soon to enter its shattered shell would go to hell after that time. That was the judgment of Cyril. He sat next to the first explosive and prepared to set the timer.
“Hey, little brother.”
His spine froze. He looked up. There in the blue incandescence was the form of Tad, leering perversely.
Cyril was preparing to damn his own brother. “You died again,” he moaned.
Tad laughed. “Good guess, but wrong. You get one more try.”
Cyril frowned. Something was wrong, but what? He couldn’t put his finger on it...yes, yes he could. Insubstantial souls were incapable of communicative speech. Something clicked--the demon in the wastes, and now his brother in here....
Or the other way around.
“That’s right, little brother,” Tad’s leering blue face answered as if reading his thoughts. The face morphed into that of Cyril’s father and the voice changed. “All the souls go right where they belong, getting there through secret passages under the fire pits. And we--we who you drove out of hell--we pour back in and you give us shiny new human bodies to play with.” It laughed. “Don’t you know we can change into angels of light? We can imitate other things, too. You’re traitors, my friend, traitors like Dante warned you. The traitors, he said, drop straight into hell and then we control their bodies on earth. Now you’ve all gone and become your own traitors. You can all drop in here and we’ll take over there until you’re replaced.”
Cyril realized that the demon could corporeate and kill him. He kept his hand on the bomb. “So eventually, you’ll replace us all? Earth on Hell and Hell on Earth?”
Then Cyril said something else. “You wouldn’t tell me this if you didn’t think it would stop me from setting this bomb.”
Its grin grew wider.
“Maybe you’re wrong,” Cyril said.
“Well, maybe I’m not.”
Cyril closed his eyes and tears squeezed out. He lowered his head. He wanted it all to go away, go away, go away...too complicated, too difficult.
“Why,” the demon asked, “did you join the True Believers when you don’t believe?”
There it was. The truth was out.
“Because,” Cyril answered.
“Because they promised to make everything simpler.”
The face changed again and it became Pastor Frederick’s. The voice took on a classroom tone. “Simpler? You mean easier. Many other branches of religion, even conservative ones, even ones that believe in hell, and you chose the one that was easiest. Something to turn your brain off. Something that promised an easy road to bliss. All you have to do is believe. It never occurred to you to act on those beliefs, and if it did, you’d just tell yourself it wasn’t that important; after all, you’re already saved. No pain in that, no sacrifice, no straight and narrow path. Heaven achieved by a membership card. And on top of that, it’s something to turn on your brother and father, hold over their heads, give you a little edge over them, hmm? Ah, yes. Of course, your brother on Earth is really one of ours, as I’m sure you now realize. Eventually, your father will be too....” The face morphed a final time and became Cyril’s own. “Oh, my dear Cyril, don’t you know how much simpler, how much easier, we can make things for you? There is one, and only one, simple path.”
Cyril took his hand from the bomb.
Cyril climbed back through the wastes and sat next to the pit where he had seen his brother. As he expected, Tad was waiting for him.
“Does it hurt much?” Cyril asked.
“Hurts like hell,” Tad answered. “But you do kind of get used to it.”
“Is it restful?”
“‘There is no rest for the wicked,’” Tad quoted. “Actually, you know what’s ironic?”
Cyril laughed. “Damn.”
“Yeah,” Tad answered, laughing as well. “That’s the word for it.”
Cyril looked back behind him to the Chamber. Then he looked again at Tad. “Why did you try to pull me in?”
Tad shrugged. “Sorry, habit. You start to think kind of maliciously when you’ve been damned a while. So, what now? You gonna try and make it for heaven?”
Cyril sighed. “It’s a lot of work.”
“Yeah, so I hear. All that righteousness and perseverance and suffering.”
“Besides,” Cyril reasoned, “if heaven and hell are opposites, and hell’s boring, then heaven must be....”
“Well, that. And complicated.”
“Yeah,” Tad answered.
“Complicated getting there and still complicated once you arrive.”
“I imagine, yeah.”
“It’s too much,” Cyril said. “It’s just not, well, it’s not what I signed up for.”
Cyril gestured to him. “Move over.”
Tad moved aside and Cyril slid into the pit. His flesh burnt away, leaving only his ragged soul behind. He eased up beside Tad as the huge worms began exploring him. They both looked at the shimmering blue above the Soul Chamber.
“I like to keep things simple,” Cyril said.
Take it from the archaeologist that talking smack about ancient Persia is, well, ancient. I haven't seen this movie and probably never will, but if they've depicted Persian kings as weak and sexually decadent, that has ancient precedent whether or not it's accurate (cf. Esther and Daniel, for starters).
So here it is from MSNBC:
TEHRAN, Iran - The hit American movie “300” has angered Iranians who say
the Greeks-vs-Persians action flick insults their ancient culture and provokes
animosity against Iran.
“Hollywood declares war on Iranians,” blared a headline in Tuesday’s
edition of the independent Ayende-No newspaper. [more...]
Filmography links and data courtesy of
The Internet Movie
Monday, March 12, 2007
Archbishop John J. Myers and Gary K. Wolf are writing a novel entitled Space Vulture. You can be sure The Sci Fi Catholic will be reviewing that one!
Check out the links to their posts (above).
I got a link to the story for you so you can brush up on your String Theory for Dummies. I know I need it.
Oh, and I got the article from Fox News, so there's a little thing in there about how the inability to travel back in time proves the Iraq War was a good idea.
The urge to hug a departed loved one again or prevent atrocities are among
the compelling reasons that keep the notion of time travel alive in the minds of
While the idea makes for great fiction, some scientists now say
traveling to the past is impossible. [more...]
Now, set aside for a moment the fact the movie was based on a Frank Miller graphic novel and the fact that it came from the makers of Sin City. Also set aside the fact the violence made We Were Soldiers and Saving Private Ryan look like a walk in the park and the gratuitous sex was completely unnecessary. Setting aside all those issues, the movie was worth seeing because it deals with a number of different issues and the rhetoric within the film is outstanding.
The first issue to approach the viewer in the movie is the issue of the status of women. It become obvious from the beginning that Leonidas loves his queen very much, and values her opinion equally as much regardless of the opinions of others. This comes particularly in two scenes. One in which the king throws the messengers of king Xexeres into a pit for insulting his queen and threatening to enslave Sparta. The other scene is toward the end of the movie, unfortunately I cannot give this portion away as I will be revealing part of the plot.
A second issue that is dealt with is the issue of deformed humans. In Sparta a deformed baby would have been discarded as they would likely not be fit to fight. At one point a deformed man whose parents couldn't stand to see him discarded. This man is severely deformend and Leonidas is kind and compassionate to him, but does not give what he wants telling him that a weak leak within the system will destroy the whole system. Unfortunately the deformed man does not take it very well.
The third issues are actually four fold, honor, glory, victory, and freedom. As metnioned the movie is placed in a must see category simply for it's rhetoric on freedom. What is freedom? Why are we free? What does it mean to be free? These are all questions asked within the film. Perhaps these are questions we should be asking ourselves today. "The price of freedom is very high, it is the price of blood." - Queen of Sparta.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
He made his way out of the wilderness of Orkus and into the civilized regions. Automated rifle turrets twisted toward him from the high towers, their red light-sensors gazing at him in a constant stare. There were still dangerous demons roving the wastes, as indicated by the rifles and the thickset concrete building nestled close around the vast expanse of the Central Processing Station. The narrow streets all led to that central tower, but few people walked those streets. Those who did were armed. The people he saw all wore the blue uniforms of the Terran Alliance. They looked hard-bitten, as they should, for they were pioneers, and pioneers in the toughest environment pioneers had ever fought. Most were haggard--the people who lived and worked on the edge of the Inferno suffered severe nightmares. Indeed, those were the only dreams one could have in this region. There were occasional plague outbreaks as well, and the nanotechnicians were at great pains to suppress them when they appeared.
The fire pits were fewer in number near hell’s center, where the antechamber and judgment seat had previously been. The colonists could not build buildings over the pits to hide them, so they surrounded them with high fences displaying terse warnings. Smoke rose from behind the fences and occasional screams of pain came from within.
Cyril passed the spacious Temple of Humanity. Since the construction of the Chamber, the religion of Scientism, also known as Neo-Comtism, had grown. Hell was one of its most sacred sites and the temple was center to a great deal of research; it had produced the map Cyril memorized. He saw a few Scientist priests, their black transpositional robes marked with the symbols of their orders and vocations. Their ensign showed a galaxy with a human hand open, holding it. The colors along their sleeves named their orders: green for biologists, red for physicists, white for mathematicians, brown for geologists, and so on. Such was the size of the temple that even a humble sociologist appeared in their group, though the other priests ignored him.
As Cyril had almost passed them by, a voice caught his ear.
His spine chilled. He turned. It was the sociologist addressing him, leaning against the temple wall with a folded copy of the Inferno in one hand.
“Your transpositional cloak is soiled,” the sociologist noted. “Have you been in the wastes?”
“Yes,” Cyril replied. “Research on sector D80.”
“You shouldn’t be out alone.”
“I know the route.”
“Well, you look like you took a fall. You must be careful or you could tear your cloak.”
“You’re right. I should be careful.”
“You know, friend,” the sociologist said, straightening his robe, “that the cloak is the only thing holding you in this level of reality. If you tear it, you’ll be ripped back to Earth. Such a sudden transposition from one plain of existence to another, without the proper calculations and adjustments, would be fatal. You’ve got to be eased into another dimension.”
“I know,” Cyril answered. “It was a little accident, but not serious. I won’t go alone anymore.”
The sociologist waved a hand and changed the subject. “I have thought,” he said, “that we should build a shrine to Dante Alighieri. A forerunner of sorts, don’t you think? He came through here and walked back out again. Walked all the way to the top, in fact. Really prefigures what we do here. What do you think?”
“Good idea,” Cyril said. “Might build shrines to Æneas, Odysseus, Orpheus, and Hercules while you’re at it.”
The sociologist laughed. “Yes, but none of them made it ‘all the way,’ as you might say. Maybe someday we’ll have our Soul Chambers in purgatory and heaven, too.”
“So what do you think? Is there a purgatory? Seems to be unpopular these days--people want their afterlife slimmed down and fat-free: no purgatory, no limbo, no bosom of Abraham, just Paradise and Gehenna--eternal bliss and eternal hell-fire. What do you think?”
Cyril had little opinion on the matter. “I like to keep things simple,” he answered.
Cyril walked on, heart thumping. Yes, simple, he thought, I certainly like to keep things simple. Life was a stressful affair. There had been something irksome to him about immortality, even when he was young. The world seemed so complicated, so tiring. He couldn’t imagine staying in it forever, but that’s exactly what everyone expected him to do. He certainly didn’t want to go to hell, but he didn’t want to stay on Earth, either. He didn’t want such complications as death, or even life. These things were too hard. His mother had been too complicated with her religion and his brother and father had been too complicated with their sadism and apathy, respectively. His school and its crowd of rowdies, the parade of sneering girls who passed him by, and the glutted job market of a hostile, polluted, and over-populated world full of people trying to make it from one day to the next, make ends meet, find a party, get laid--all were too complicated. The True Believers were an escape: heaven, free tickets. All you have to do is join and it comes with a lifetime guarantee.
But he didn’t really want to blow up the Soul Chamber. He wanted to blow up himself. Get to that reward faster. Once a man became a True Believer, there wasn’t much left to do except die, or maybe hand out tracts.
Yet there was no version of heaven Cyril could imagine that could be much better than hell. Eternal church service, maybe. Or, if the True Believers were right, something like an eternal religious pep rally. Or maybe Dante, whose imagination ran thin when he left the tortures behind and entered bliss, was right--heaven as eternal sitting and contemplating, possibly the worst version of the three. Hell, Cyril had to admit, at least did more to excite the imagination. Though the tortures weren’t as varied as some of the old writers had described, they were creative nonetheless. Plenty of fire and worms and interesting historical characters. A few historians and talk show hosts had even trekked into the wastes to track down the greats and interview them. That holo-V anchorman’s personal interview with Attila the Hun had been a sidesplitting classic. Who’d have thought a great military leader damned to perdition could be such a comedian?
Cyril remembered that a large portion of his fifth grade year had been devoted to Infernal Studies, examinations of the geography and content of the hellish regions, including a fascinating section on demonology. The private residences of Beelzebub, Azazel, and even Mephistopheles were available to the children in a virtual tour.
The teacher’s name was Mr. Feston, but the kids called him Virgil behind his back because, as they said, he “makes us go to hell and back.” None of them had ever read the Inferno, of course, and most of them never would, but they had picked up the name in class. Feston had asked the kids how many of them wanted to be resurrected from the Soul Chamber when they died. Most of the class raised their hands. Then he asked how many wanted to go to heaven instead. Jerry, the loser, raised his hand and the other kids booed. Jerry’s parents, rumor had it, were True Believers.
Cyril remembered just staring at the map of hell on the wall with the Soul Chamber in the middle and thinking about how uncomfortable it seemed. He didn’t want it to be there. He didn’t want hell and he didn’t want the Soul Chamber. But heaven? Wasn’t that...hard?
“Heaven is an important concept,” Mr. Feston insisted. “The purpose of religion was to promise eternal bliss for proper behavior on Earth. This preserved the social order. Misbehavior, of course, resulted in damnation--this also preserved the social order. As the human race grew wiser, we realized that hell was outdated and insensitive. Those of religious persuasion pushed hell into the background or eliminated it. A few retained it, but they spoke of it rarely and only as an allegory. Humanity became enlightened, but unfortunately, the metaphysical universe hadn’t kept pace. However, with transpositional technology, we destroyed the reality behind this outdated religious concept. That is to say, science has brought about as fact what was previously only a noble philosophical notion: hell’s nonexistence. Many religions claimed to believe in ‘free will,’ but didn’t really, because the choice was inevitably between heaven and hell. Since no one wants hell, the choice was not free. But now free choice exists. The religious may work for heaven if they like, and the rest of us may choose what we wanted all along--to live on Earth forever. Now don’t pick on Jerry, because he’s perfectly free to go to heaven if he wants.”
Remembering these things, Cyril muttered to himself as he entered the gate to the main compound. “And look at me now. A True Believer, just like Jerry.” It was comforting in its own way. Hell, to a True Believer, existed only for other people. That was better than its nonexistence. If hell didn’t exist, or if it was a possible destination even for True Believers, the True Believers couldn’t feel so good about themselves. But they could feel good, because they knew that hell did exist and gaped under the feet of millions of dangling souls while they stood safely by. It made them happy, and it made Cyril happy as well. It was simple and he wanted things simple. It was the answer to the questions he had while looking at the map of hell on the wall. Heaven, the hard choice, for free.
Read Part 4