Sunday, August 31, 2008

An Unrelated Aside

Since I'm currently writing on another project and haven't finished the next review, I'll step in for an aside on the crucifix I recently acquired. A reader kindly sent me some information on it; it is apparently a Fourteen Stations crucifix because it's made from fourteen pieces of olive wood. I had been having trouble identifying the contents of the little glass windows, but they apparently contain soil, rock, incense, olive leaves, and Rose of Sharon, all from the Holy Land.

Also, the same reader sent along a little information on the Rose of Sharon, from this website. Here's an interesting quote:

"Nowhere in the New Testament is Jesus actually referred to as the rose of Sharon. However, He is 'symbolically' referred to as the rose of Sharon."

I confess, I cannot understand that pair of sentences; apparently Jesus is not referred to as the rose of Sharon, but he is referred to as the rose of Sharon. Got that? Now I'd like to know why symbolically is in quotation marks and as is in bold. Feel free to offer your speculations.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Update

Review currently in production.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Photo Break

I go to the field for a while, and somehow I come back with more bric-a-brac.

First, here's an olive wood crucifix from Bethlehem. It's got little windows in it containing stuff like dirt from the Holy Land and some other things I can't identify. I considered putting it above my bed, since that's apparently a traditional place for crucifixes, but I already have a miniature one on the headboard, so I hung it in the living room instead. I'm not sure why crucifixes go above the bed, but as a lover of folklore I'll assume it's to ward of vampires, succubi, or Lilith.


Here's a miniature olive wood nativity scene, sitting next to the phone above my desk. Guess I should check my messages.


And here's our latest dragon figurine (I can't seem to stop buying these!). This one is two-sided. Here's the "fire" side:


And here's the ever-appropriate "water" side:


Surface space is beginning to dwindle, so for the time being, the new guy has been relegated to the top of the fridge.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Return

I'm back from the field now, and thanks to the not-really-a-holiday, I have a five-day weekend ahead of me, which means more blogging. We should be able to produce some more reviews for you over the next few days.

Monday, August 25, 2008

August Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour: Broken Angel



And now for the dissenting view.

Broken Angel by Sigmund Brouwer. Waterbrook Press (Colorado Springs): 2008. 243 pages. $19.99. ISBN: 978-1-4000-7032-9.

See Sigmund Brouwer's website, CoolReading.com.

Sometime in the near future, America's religious right has implausibly gathered together in the Appalachians to follow a fascist dictator who calls himself Bar Elohim. Seceding from the rest of the country, Appalachia leaves America to fend for itself (and some, no doubt, would say good riddance). A man named Jordan, protecting a young girl named Caitlyn from the American government, which would apparently like to cut her up for a science project, sneaks her into Appalachia.

Now Caitlyn has grown up and Jordan decides he'd better sneak her back out. Problem is, Appalachia jealously guards its borders, and Bar Elohim has cut a deal with the government "Outside" to capture Caitlyn and extract some of her organs, for the purpose of which he dispatches Mason Lee, who's something like a cross between a Grand Inquisitor and a serial killer. Separated from Jordan, Caitlyn has to make her way through Appalachia's rugged valleys in order to find the elusive Clan, a band of rebels who, according to rumor, help people trying to get Outside. Along the way, Caitlyn acquires faithful companions and encounters conniving villains. You might think of the whole thing as a sort of White Mountains, except with Christian hicks instead of alien tripods.

The reason evil government bodies are looking for Caitlyn is because, as Alfred Bester might put it, she has some mysterious mutant strain in her makeup which it makes her different. Early on, we learn she has an unusually small and lightweight body, along with large, peculiarly structured bulges on her back. It's only fair that I insert a spoiler alert here, but you know as well as I do that before the book is over, she's going to sprout wings and either a) become a superhero like Angel from The X-Men, b) become a blood-drinking bad&$$ like Carnival from Scar Night, c) have an overwrought teen romance and then nuke the world like Chise from Saikano, or else d) fly away as a symbol of her maturity and independence, accompanied by a Cindy Morgan song. I'll let you guess which.

Since evil governments always want to exterminate and/or experiment on unusual people, the only real question is why exactly Caitlyn has wings. Presumably, she's a natural mutant, the result of genetic experimentation, an extraterrestrial, or, if the book takes a supernatural route, an actual angel. On both the questions of what Caitlyn is and why she's being hunted, Brouwer does a fine job of bleeding out information little by little at a good pace without giving away too much or being overly cryptic. Through most of the book, the only certain thing is that Caitlyn will sprout wings and maybe e) sing hymns that heal people and then get caught up in a demonic civil war like Azmaria from Chrono Crusade, or perhaps f) battle evil mutants with other winged teenagers like Maximum Ride from, um, Maximum Ride. But even though it builds anticipation, Broken Angel ends up explaining Caitlyn's origins in a cursory manner. The revelation turns out to be unspectacular and unimportant. I'm inclined to think Brouwer would have done better to give her the wings right off the bat instead of making us wait for them to appear so Caitlyn can finally do whatever she needs to do, which may or may not include g) having her memories sucked into parallel universes like Sakura in Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle.

The real centerpiece of the novel is not Caitlyn, but the dystopia of Appalachia, a Christian fascist dictatorship. Since Brouwer is an Evangelical, he is in a sense criticizing his own religion, which suggests some interesting possibilities. Margaret Atwood creates a similar dystopia in The Handmaid's Tale, but she ends up with something like a cartoonishly depicted Islamist state with some Christian elements tacked on. It doesn't look like the kind of world America's radical Christian Fundamentalists might actually try to build for themselves. Brouwer, writing as a Christian insider, has a chance to produce something better, but instead he is content to crib from other dystopias: in Appalachia, no one is allowed to read, as in Fahrenheit 451, and the novel makes several nods to 1984: everyone is forced to carry a device called a "vidpod," which is basically a portable viewscreen; the character of Bar Elohim is a one-dimensional Big Brother figure; and the torture methods of the story's chief villain include opening cages of hungry rats on the softer parts of his victims' anatomy. Nothing about Appalachia makes it memorable or distinct, except perhaps the setting, though a reader can find the same setting for a religious dystopia in Lon Prater's 2005 short story, "Deadglass."

The origins of Appalachia are never clearly outlined. Somehow or other, the U.S. ended up in a civil war; a group of Christians took advantage of that, gathered together, formed their own nation, and seceded. The novel indicates that most or all of America's conservative Christians moved into Appalachia, which stretches my suspension of disbelief past the breaking point; I have a tough time picturing America's Evangelicals and right-leaning Catholics uniting behind a creepy guy who calls himself Bar Elohim, of all things. If America's Christians did decide to secede, already an unlikely scenario, they'd probably start arguing about what the Bible really means and end up with a few hundred different miniature Appalachias.

Although the dystopian setting is standard fare, and though the plot follows predictable lines, Brouwer certainly knows how to pace a novel well and how to fill it with an interesting cast. He draws his characters quickly, but their personalities are distinct and their motives believable. Probably Brouwer's wisest move is his avoidance of religiously fanatical characters. The characters who serve the state in Appalachia do so for personal gain, and most have found ways to work the system. The novel could have been an entirely uninteresting story about one-dimensional religious bigots chasing a mutant girl because she's "unnatural," but Brower apparently knows better.

Brouwer's solid characterization and good (if not great) worldbuilding break down toward the end. Throughout, Caitlyn and her steadily growing cast of allies are trying to reach a valley where they can find an elusive and mysterious group called the Clan, which helps escapees get out of Appalachia. But most of the Clan members have no personalities; they are the author's mouthpieces. They are dislikable goody-two-shoes, a bunch of cardboard figures who contrast sharply with the well-drawn characters in the rest of the novel. This is even more unbearable because these mouthpieces have nothing substantial to say: "I learned that God is different than [sic] the church," says one (p. 141), but no character in the book says otherwise. The statement does not come across as a revelation either in the real world or in the world of the novel.

When the Clan is finally, fully revealed, it proves to be an imaginary group of Evangelicals who somehow live in perfect peace, love, and harmony, apparently because its members have none of the faults of real human beings. The Clan is not the least believable. It also wrecks the novel's potential: until the Clan appears, the book appears to be a confession, an admittance that Christians can go too far, can be bad people, can seriously screw things up. Since Christian characters in today's Christian fiction have a bad habit of being irritating self-righteous prigs, this got me rather excited; I thought I was seeing a Christian novel willing to show that we Christians do indeed have our darker side--but then the self-righteous prigs show up. Mea culpa, Broken Angel seems to cry, but it's only a tease. In the end, the novel falls back into the same old claim, "Hey, we're not the bad ones! It's those other guys who cause all the problems!" This is most unfortunate: self-accusation is an important Christian activity, and I wouldn't mind seeing more Christian novels engaged in it. I am inclined to see this weakness in the novel as stemming from its Protestantism; Broken Angel cannot envision a Church containing both good and bad people: it can only envision an utterly corrupt Church and the perfect people who have left it in schism, schism being a typical Protestant method of dealing with problems.

Such are my initial impressions; however, it is arguable that the Clan is a little nastier and darker or at least better rounded than I have gathered. First of all, the Clan uses Caitlyn to accomplish its own ends, and though the novel depicts a Clan member musing about all the good he'll be able to do as a result, Caitlyn herself is clearly displeased with the situation. Also, probably the novel's most unbelievable element, there is a band of robbers living between Appalachia and the valley of the Clan. These robbers lay out certain moral tests for travelers, such as piles of money abandoned on the riverbank or a voluptuous maiden offering favors. Any potential escapee from Appalachia who succumbs to these temptations is robbed, murdered, and thrown in the river, but anyone who overcomes is allowed to travel on to the Clan. I have a hard time believing a band of cutthroats would operate in this manner, but what really chills the marrow is the Clan's glib acceptance of these robbers who, as far as the Clan is concerned, winnow out the riff-raff. Problem is, the novel never hints that this is a negative thing, but instead treats the robbers as if they're performing an important social service.

If the Clan is supposed to represent some kind of True Christian Church, that true church is apparently a gathering place of the (self-)righteous and not a refuge where sinners can come to be cleansed. Perhaps Broken Angel is suggesting we should keep vile temptations (and executioners) at our church doors to keep all the bad people out. That would be more interesting, I suppose, than those yardsticks for skirt length that some churches have. We could have slinky young women lounging against the doorposts. Such a practice could lead to some interesting conversations before the worship service:

"Hey, big boy, want I show you a good time?"

"It's tempting, baby, but I got a date with Jesus."

Yeah, guess I'll go to confession for writing that; after all, a little self-accusation never hurts. Anyway, the robbers' little tests would be more effective at catching stupidity than sinfulness; anyone with common sense could tell those sex kittens and abandoned wallets are tricks.

And incidentally, why is it called the Clan? If you want to depict good Christians in America's backwoods, you really should pick a different word.

All this begs the question, if the Clan is the "True Church," then who exactly are the Appalachians, those other guys who aren't the real Christians? It's hard to say, since Appalachia doesn't look like a natural extension of any real-world Christian sect, at least that I know of. If the character quoted above is any indication, Broken Angel embraces the trendy distaste for "organized" religion, though I've never been able to figure out the difference between organized religion and the other kind, nor, for that matter, have I ever encountered a religion without some level of organization. The Clan is certainly organized and must have somebody giving the orders if it's able to accomplish what it does.

I'm inclined to speculate that Appalachia is a cartoonish depiction of the fallback Protestant bogeyman--the Catholic Church. A few curious artifacts suggest that is intended. One of Bar Elohim's fortresses is called a "papal compound" (p. 161), even though Bar Elohim is nowhere called pope. Also, the practice of communion is called "Eucharist," a word not normally heard in Evangelical circles, at least in my experience. The mention of the Eucharist is also one of the novel's biggest disappointments: we learn that the Appalachian government actually spikes the communion wafers with opium in order to keep people addicted to church. That is a great idea for a novel, but Broken Angel does nothing with it, merely throws it out there, a casual aside about Appalachia's evil deeds. John C. Wright and G. K. Chesterton have both pointed out that blasphemy is an artistic effect, and that nobody can blaspheme better than a Christian; an opium-laced communion wafer is some serious blasphemy, and in Broken Angel, it's also a serious missed opportunity. It's hard to say why this detail is in the novel at all; perhaps the book is attacking the practice of weekly communion (a strange thing for a Christian book to attack), or maybe it's just enjoying a little Marxist irony, imagining a world where religion is literally the opiate of the people.

In probability, however, my guesses are reading too much into the book. I wrote most of the above before discovering Brouwer's Amazon blog where he briefly discusses the novel's themes. His post indicates he is trying to criticize any Christians who attempt to use religion as a justification for political power-playing, and not any specific sect. He writes:


In contrast to the Christian right, Jesus, who knew God best, did not invoke his Father’s name to impose moral imperatives on the secular society around him--Greeks and Romans who lived far more hedonistically and with far less regard for human life than today’s ‘Hollywood’. Unlike Christian boycotters, Jesus did not expect a secular world to live by biblical standards. The irony is that the institution Jesus did criticize and hold to those standards was the religious establishment that eventually slaughtered him. Why? For asserting that it had failed God miserably in pursuit of politics and power. [more...]

Furthermore, he says, "...Jesus and his teachings continue to transform individuals, while Rome is an ancient fallen empire, and the leaders of his day are dust, forgotten except as history lessons." Not entirely true; the mark of the Roman Empire remains on our culture, and Brouwer forgets that Christianity took over that empire. Brouwer also writes, "[Jesus] knew too, the pitfalls of grasping that sword, used so literally in his name during the Crusades...." That's true, but everyone seems to forget that the Crusades were attempts to win back Christian lands, and to prevent invaders from taking more Christian lands. Brouwer writes again:

...[Jesus] transformed society by transforming individuals, not by transforming legislation. He offered hope and inner peace, leaving his followers a simple directive to feed the hungry and cloth the poor, asking them to give love and to accept suffering and sacrifice. [more...]

That is also true, but Christ gave his followers other moral imperatives as well, and it is a logical extension of that to assume that Christians must adhere to those imperatives--including the ones about feeding the hungry and clothing the poor--when dealing with political matters, which means that Christians must allow their Christianity to inform the way they legislate and the way they vote.

Brouwer speaks passionately about Christ's power to transform individuals, which Christ indeed has, but Brouwer has nothing concrete to say about what this means for society. He probably has a good point if he means that Christians ought not to wed themselves to a single political party or platform (especially when the choices are so thin as in this country), but clearly we must stand firm on serious moral issues such as abortion, which is also a political issue. When we do, it is inevitable that we will be accused of "imposing" morality on the secular culture, something Brouwer apparently fears. But if we do not impose morality by vocally standing against immorality, then immorality will win. Although Brouwer is no doubt correct in some of his criticisms of the so-called Culture War, he offers nothing as an alternative, either in his blog post or in his novel.

After reading his blog post, I had to go back and revise my assessment of Broken Angel. It is possible that my reading comprehension skills are simply poor, but I'm inclined to think Broken Angel says the exact opposite of what Brouwer intends. My impression of Appalachia is of a society created by world-weary Christians so sick of the Culture War that they have withdrawn completely from American politics (reminiscent of the Christian sf subgenre, perhaps?), but Brouwer's complaint is about Christians who engage too much in politics. Furthermore, if he is trying to prevent Christianity from becoming an "exclusionary group," as he says on his blog, he makes a decidedly poor show of it when he slaughters all the easily tempted people who try to reach the Clan.

In the final analysis, Sigmund Brouwer's Broken Angel is a competent and entertaining thriller, well paced and well written. Its characters are interesting, if not particularly memorable. It is a good, fast read. But it has a lot less to say than it thinks it does, and seems to say it in the worst manner possible. Fortunately, since it is not a particularly preachy book, this is only a slight wound rather than a mortal one. Ultimately, it's just an entertaining novel about a girl who grows some wings and then, maybe, possibly, depending on where things go, h) gets reincarnated as a dude who's sexually attracted to his own sister, like Alexiel from Angel Sanctuary. (But let's hope not.)

Content Advisory: Contains some violence and brief descriptions of torture.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Broken Angel:

Myth Level: Medium (reasonably good as an adventure story)

Quality: Medium-High (well constructed and well paced, but doesn't live up to its potential)

Ethics/Religion: Medium-High (no objectionable content, interesting use of religious themes)


And now for your broken yet angelic Blog Tour:

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Beth Goddard
Mark Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Magma
Terri Main
Magma
Margaret
Shannon McNear
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Deena Peterson
Steve Rice
Cheryl Russel
Ashley Rutherford
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Laura Williams

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Review on Monday (Tuesday?)

I'm in the field right now and will be until the 28th. For the most part, that means walking about thirteen miles a day, after which my evenings are divided between important activities like reviewing archaeological data, eating at extremely good Basque restaurants, drinking Jägermeister, and reading Girl Genius comics (man, those are good). Very busy, you see.

But we will have a review for you on Monday or Tuesday at the latest. The next Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour is featuring Sigmund Brouwer's Broken Angel, a reviewer's copy of which is sitting at my elbow as we speak. So tune in then.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Anthology Review: Writers of the Future Volume XXIV



More good stories from new authors.

L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future. Edited by Algis Budrys. Volume 24. Galaxy Press (Hollywood): 2008. 503 pages. $7.99. ISBN-13: 978-1-59212-374-2. ISBN-10: 1-59212-374-0.

Once again I have in hand a volume of the annual winners of the Writers and Illustrators of the Future Contest. As always, the anthology features new writers with minimal previous publication and artists with minimal previous exposure. As usual, the quality of the volume is solid thanks to the high standards and stiff competition. This is an excellent collection of sf short stories.

As I did previously, I will limit my lengthier comments to the stories of most interest to this blog.

If the volume this year can be said to have a theme, it would be the subject of artificial intelligence and how it might cause people to rethink what it means to be human. Four of the sixteen stories deal with the subject. The protagonists of these range from a biological simulated human (J. Kathleen Cheney's "Taking a Mile) to an android (Sarah L. Edwards's "Simulacrum's Children"), to a personable but not especially brilliant missile guidance system (Patrick Lundrigan's "Hangar Queen") to a massively intelligent and rather self-righteous supercomputer (Erin Cashier's "Cruciger"). Each of these asks, directly or indirectly, whether it is possible for a computer or similar artificial construct to, in effect, become human. The answer is always yes, of course, since that is, after all, the most emotionally satisfying answer. Another theme, perhaps encompassing even more of the stories, is that of servants (often artificial beings) or employees who decide they want their freedom and autonomy, and either rebel or work the system in order to get it.

The story that most struck me in this collection is Ian McHugh's "Bitter Dreams." A work of dark fantasy, it has a distinctly Australian flavor, depicting a world in which colonists huddle in rune-protected towns while out in the desert roam Dreamings tossed up by the angry land. These Dreamings, in various horrific ways, suck out people's souls, drink up their shadows, and sometimes mutilate their bodies horrifically in the process. Then are the zombies, the somber and unapproachable natives called Blackfellas, and the spooks who steal shadows to gain magic power. It is quite grim. McHugh's prose captures the mood perfectly. His colonists sound, feel, and act like people who know they're out of their element.

Al Bogden's "Girl Who Whispered Beauty" is unique. It is possibly set in the future and is perhaps a story of bioengineering run amok, but it reads more like a fantasy tale. The protagonist is a "whisper girl," formerly human but altered into a physically pliable, almost snake-like creature whose duty is to expel life energy through her breath into her wealthy employer. Like most of the other servants and slaves and automata in the collection, this whisper girl decides she wants her freedom. This story is easily one of the best in the collection.

J. Kathleen Cheney's "Taking a Mile" is reminiscent of Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson's "Doomship" (1973). In Cheney's story, a company produces "avatars," clones with all the mannerisms and memories of their originals, but designed to disintegrate after completing prearranged tasks. Some of these avatars, of course, decide they're getting a raw deal and want to do something about it. The religious side of the matter is touched on briefly with the appearance of a Catholic priest convinced that avatars are fully human.

Sonia Helbig's "Crown of Thorns," also a distinctly Australian story, features a post-apocalyptic Australia where a special "crown" is used to test children for superior mental faculties. Those who the crown chooses are whisked off to a hidden United Nations compound where they apparently do some kind of advanced research and development. The story is a little too vague, and it uses a good deal of religious imagery to no great effect, but it has a lot of emotion and falls just short of being overwrought.

Patrick Hundrigan's "Hangar Queen" is especially likable, mainly because of its personable title character. The protagonist is an artificially intelligent guidance system for a missile intended to be launched from a spacecraft engaged in a neverending war. Removed from the missile due to some malfunction or other, the AI befriends two generations of mechanics in the hangar bay. Hundrigan throws in a couple of good plot twists; the ending, though predictable, is satisfying and features a well-constructed space battle.

Paula R. Stiles's "Snakes and Ladders" is an ambitious work. It isn't entirely effective, but it deserves an A for effort. It features an injured man who receives an injection of nanoprobes to repair his body, but the nanoprobes achieve intelligence, become convinced the man they are saving is God, and start building a cathedral in his innards. That right there is such a good concept that the story could be a complete failure and I'd still praise it, but it is most certainly not a complete failure. A couple of things don't make sense to me, and I'm not sure I understand the train of logic that leads to the conclusion, but a vision of God at the end is quite well done.

Erin Cashier's "Cruciger" features a supercomputer trying to restart the human race on an alien planet after Earth was wiped out by a plague; the only problem is, the planet chosen for the new human population is already inhabited. Of the stories with heavy religious themes, this is probably the poorest. The computer is preoccupied with religious questions, but doesn't do a good job of addressing them. Religious fanaticism, with no real explanation, is thrown in as the motive for creating the plague, though we never learn how exactly the computer figures out it was a religious fanatic who created it--it is merely assumed--and we never learn what would drive a person to that level of fanaticism. In exploring religion, the computer considers that God might be nonexistent or, as indicated by the plague, a total screw-up, but never considers the other possibilities, that God is a sadist, or that there are multiple gods, or that God doesn't exert his will to trump human action, or anything else. The story works from the theme that, even though God may not exist now, it might be possible to create him with technology. That puts this piece in dialogue with many other stories, including for example Isaac Asimov's "Last Question" (1956).

Sarah L. Edwards's "Simulacrum's Children" is a steampunkish tale set in New York in the early twentieth century, featuring an automaton who is trying to create other automatons in order to better understand his own being and his reason for existence. The matter of free will is central to the plot. It's an excellent piece with some interesting characters.

Other stories in the collection include Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon's "Man in the Moon," a knowledgeable but over-long story about a talented astronaut who helps colonize the moon, Laura Bradley Rede's "Epiphany," an excellent fantasy about circus freaks who rebel against their master, J. D. EveryHope's "Circuit," a pretentious but engaging story about an artificially intelligent book of literature that inspires future Bohemians, David Parish Whittaker's "War Bird in the Belly of the Mouse," about World War I pilots brought to the future and forced to take tourists on simulated air battles, and Kim A. Gillett's "Bird Reader's Daughter," a fine story about fortune-telling and the consequences of knowing the future.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Girl Genius Comics Online

Changing jobs, vehicle maintenance, running around, submitting stories, possibly finding an illustrator for my comic (more on that later, maybe)--altogether, the blog suffers. If you come here for reviews or witty essays and wonder why there haven't been any reviews for weeks and weeks and haven't been any witty stuff ever, that's why.

But never mind that. I just now, thanks to Calls for Cthulhu, learned of the existence of a comic called Girl Genius. It's clearly been around for a while, so some of you no doubt know of it already, but it has previously escaped my notice. It's available as a web comic, and though I haven't made it very far yet, I am already captivated by the richly imagined Steampunkish Transylvanian setting, the beautiful and detailed artwork, and the goofy characters. This is the sort of wonderful discovery that can easily distract a man from other pursuits. Like his blog.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fan Fiction Update

I honestly meant to have real content for you today, but I got caught up in a lengthy, interesting conversation after Mass this morning, and then my truck broke down. Taken altogether, I didn't even get home until eight o'clock this evening. Let's all give a big hand to Fr. Erik of Orthometer, who helps luckless sf geeks when they're stranded in his church parking lot.

So instead of real content, I'll deliver the ninth and final chapter of the gargantuan novel-length Bone-based fan fiction epic, The Chronicles of Fone Bone Oathbreaker.


The Valley runs with blood. Driven by the dark magic of the new Locust, the Bonevillains assault the city of Atheia while the desperate Portsmouthers led by Annie and Rictus Bone close in on them from behind. Recognizing in these terrible events the punishment for his own crimes, Fone Bone finds he has one last chance for redemption or for self-destruction...or are they the same thing? Don't miss the exciting, blood-soaked, not-really-for-the-kiddies finale of The Chronicles of Fone Bone Oathbreaker! It's got fistfights! Big knives! Political corruption! Sound beatings! Blood and guts! Drug references! Weird mutants! Cannibalism! Biblical quotations! Cute schoolteachers! (Don't even get me started on cute schoolteachers!) It's even got some Latin in it!

And now, for those of you--both of you--who have actually been reading this drivel, I'll present a poll. Here is your poll question:


How much of a Wesley is Annie Bone?


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Jimmy Akin on Ender's Game

According to my antivirus software, I've contracted something it can't clean, and when I try to get on its website to follow the instructions to fix the problem, I get 404 "page not found" errors. I think I might switch antivirus software brands. (I use Trend Micro PC-cillin, by the way, or perhaps I used to use Trend Micro PC-cillin.) Anyway, according to the virus or malware or whatever description, it enables people to get on my computer and do anything they want. Personally, I hope they try to use the out-of-date credit card number I have in there somewhere and get busted for it.

I guess this is what I get for logging onto the Internet from dubious Nevada motels.

So, we're trying to fix that little problem, and Snuffles is working on a review whenever he can kick me off the computer, which is rarely because I'm drafting something important and I'm "in the zone." Plus, with my change in jobs and long periods in the field, I'm so behind on my Critters critiques, it's not even funny.

Fortunately, I see a YouTube video I tried to post three weeks ago has finally showed up to save my bacon, so it looks like I posted something yesterday even though I didn't. Let's hear it for YouTube!

Meanwhile, if you're wondering where you're gonna get your Sci Fi Catholic fix when The Sci Fi Catholic won't fix you, I suggest you head over to Jimmy Akin.Org, where you can see a series of posts on Orson Scott Card's original Ender Series. He has a post on Ender's Game, on Speaker for the Dead, the significantly less good Xenocide, and even Children of the Mind. And just to avoid confusion, I've deviated from my usual practice here, so the book titles in this paragraph will go to Akin's reviews and not the books themselves.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Star Wars According to a Three-Year-Old

I think maybe this girl should be writing movie reviews instead of me.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Two Points

In an earlier post, I wondered whether anybody cared about The X-Files anymore. I was quickly informed that yes, people still do. Nonetheless, those people apparently aren't enought to make the new movie big at the box office. For a typically humorous but acerbic take on that matter, I highly recommend you see the post at Mattress Police.

Also, my post on making a good confession as an sf fan has inspired Peter at With a Grain of Salt to describe how to make a confession as an MMORPG player. Peter's post is dense with gaming lingo. Not being a gamer myself, I'm not entirely sure I understand it. I admire fanboys of any stripe who can use the lingo so adeptly. For me, lingo is like acronyms; I find myself constantly looking things up to remind myself what they mean even though I've heard them and in some cases used them dozens of times.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Books to Read

Been a lot of memes around here of late. I just received another that I suppose I better do, since it comes from the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour. I could refer it to Grundir, but that would be approximately like giving the Blog Tour the finger. Since I've already done that once, I figure I better be on my best behavior, at least for a few more months.

The meme tag comes from John Otte of The Least Read Blog on the Web. I want all of you to visit so he'll have to change his title. Also visit the origin of the meme at A Christian Worldview of Fiction.

This meme, like many nowadays, has complicated rules I can't grasp at first glance. If I understand aright, it works something like this: the Blog Tour has a list of "must-read" books and a list of "books to keep an eye on." I'm supposed to remove one book from each list and add one.

The next trick is figuring out what it means to "keep an eye" on a book that isn't a "must-read." Does that mean you put it on the coffee table and check up on it every once in a while to make sure it's still there?

Here are the lists. I've bolded my alterations.

My five MUST Reads:

Demon by Tosca Lee (NavPress)
Broken Angel by Sigmund Brouwer (WaterBrook)
To Dance in the Desert by Kathleen Popa (Cook Communications)
Children in the Night by Harold Myra (Zondervan)
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)

My five Keep Your Eyes On These:

YOTSUBA&! by Kiyohiko Azuma (ADV Manga)
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson (WaterBrook)
Auralia's Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet (WaterBrook)
Winter Haven by Athol Dickson (Bethany House)
Hero, Second Class by Mitchell Bonds (Marcher Lord Press)

My Changes:

From the "must read" list, I deleted Sharon Hinck's Restorer. I considered deleting Sigmund Brouwer's Broken Angel, since it's the only other book on the list I have read, but Broken Angel is a competent novel, though by no means a must-read: it tells a decent story with moderately interesting characters and some real pathos, though it has an entirely predictable story (I knew exactly where it was headed by about page five). However, I strongly disliked The Restorer, so that one had to go.

Since dystopia is going to be a theme on the next Blog Tour (featuring Broken Angel), I have added what I consider the greatest dystopia of all time, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. If you have not yet read it, read it. It is more prophetic than any of the other famous dystopias; you will easily see our modern world reflected in it. Perhaps Huxley's only error is in imagining that the Brave New Worlders, a race of weaklings, could be strong enough to hold a revolution and conquor the world. Much more likely the Brave New Worlders will never see their dreams realized: they will be conquered by the stronger, bolder Savages who are even now at their gates.

The "Keep Your Eye On These" is a tougher list. I assume this list is for series not yet completed, but I'm consistently behind the times (partly by accident, partly by design), so series are usually complete by the time I start reading them. Figuring Snuffles might have a suggestion, I asked him, and he said YOTSUBA&!, a manga by Kiyohiko Azuma, which currently has six volumes in English and has apparently had some bumps getting that far. It appears to be ongoing, but only six of the seven collected volumes are available over here, and some of them may be difficult to track down. I decided to delete Scarlet by Stephen R. Lawhead, figuring the lack of publicity would harm him the least.

Tags:

Now I guess I have to tag other bloggers. Choosing them from the Tour, I tag April Erwin, Magma, James Somers, Brandon Barr, and Terri Main.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Harry Potter in L’Osservatore Romano

The Vatican's newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, some time ago published two articles on Harry Potter, one positive and one negative. The essays are now available in English at Soul Food Cinema.

The two essays are quite typical of the Harry Potter debate. The positive one, by Paolo Gulisano, focuses on the novels' emphasis on love, self-sacrifice, and a positive, Christian-influenced view of death:

There is another aspect that the author wants to communicate: that it is not the great heroic deeds that count, although they are worthy, but that it is the small altruistic gestures made by less-gifted people that are much more precious. The emphasis is not on the power of success, but on the humility of self-giving. Weakness is the final winner, not the strength of the muscles. Evident is the call to another great Christian author of England of the twentieth century, J.R.R. Tolkien, whose heroes are the small, humble Hobbits; the exact opposite of the arrogant superheroes, who have the pretension that they are totally self-sufficient, and wish to dominate the world. And as in Tolkien, Rowling is also strong on the theme of death. This theme is at first sight surprising in a book for children, and also because in today's world the theme of death is often largely hidden from children. In this story, instead it is well-defined and "central". There is talk of the reality of death, immortality, and the suggestion that something may exist beyond. [more...]

The negative essay, by Edoardo Rialti, naturally enough focuses on witchcraft, plays the Gnostic card, claims that Harry Potter is all about obtaining personal power, and gives a rather laughable interpretation of fairy tales:

This is a deep and serious lie, the ancient Gnostic temptation of joining salvation and the truth with a secret knowledge; that is why Harry Potter is nevertheless rich in Christian values, but they are detached from the real source that makes them be, the true order of things. The protagonists of fairy tales have always been normal boys involved in an extraordinary adventure: magic has always been used as a visual representation of the forces of evil that threaten the way, or, on the positive side, as a visual image of grace: the wise magicians and good fairies represent providence that does not leave us alone on our journey. But these are precisely the powers that can accompany or impede man, and not powers that man his self should obtain to dominate and win. These powers are vested only to God and his messengers, as we are warned in Holy Scripture. [more...]

Take a look in Grimm's Fairy Tales, and in addition to a number of decidedly grisly moments, you'll find plenty of characters who are more than happy to use "powers" for personal gain, and who are more than happy to obtain them by theft. These stories may be healthy or unhealthy, but let us not pretend that "fairy tales" can be easily defined, placed in a lump, and turned against J. K. Rowling. I also can't help but notice that the only other fantasists Rialti can name are, naturally, Lewis and Tolkien, as if no fantasies or sf works of note have been written between their time and now. Maybe some of the Harry Potter critics could benefit from a little time in the sf section of the bookstore.

Hat Tip: Catholic Media Review