Sunday, November 28, 2010

Keep Mass in Christmas 2010

Okay, you're probably wondering why I haven't posted, and you probably figured it was because I'm in school and we're coming toward the end of the term, but that's not actually the case.  In reality, I didn't post because I took a trip to visit the Guggenheim Museum in Berlin to see one of the world's few remaining Hoffmann Tubes, most of which were destroyed or lost in World War II.

This is the first of Advent, which means a particularly big holiday is coming up--I think it's Hogswatch, or maybe Decemberween.  I can't remember.  Anyway, that means it's time to make arrangements to see a performance of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker.  But what many of you may not know is that this famous ballet is based on a short story, "The Nutcracker and the King of Mice," by the German Romanticist E. T. A. Hoffmann.  Hoffmann is best remembered now for his stories, but he was best known in his own day as a composer of music, though most of his compositions are now lost.  He was also known as a particularly sensitive musical critic, and he developed bizarre theories about the nature of music, which he only hinted at in tantalizing cabbalistic tales such as "Automata," in which he suggests that the glass organ comes closest to reproducing the music of the spheres, the harmony of all nature, which only the ears of the most sensitive sorts--such as Hoffmann himself!--could possibly detect.

What is little known, now that Hoffmann's name has grown obscure, is that he developed a device, based on the same principles as the glass organ, which is able to capture the underlying music of the universe and alter it in such subtle ways that it becomes audible to the ear of an ordinary mortal.  He constructed a total of five of these devices.  Two have survived:  one is in a private collection, but the other is at the Guggenheim, and it is possible, if you know who to bribe, to gain access to the device, though no one is allowed inside of it for more than two minutes; rumor has it that longer exposure to the celestial music of the cosmos can drive a man mad.

Having spent three years scheming with some of my compatriots, I contrived not only to gain access to the Hoffmann Tube, but to do so shortly before the museum was to close.  I hid inside and was within it for an entire night.  I'm afraid I remember very little of the experience and nothing at all of the music; I came to my senses in a hospital bed, and am told they found me the next morning, raving mad, screaming something incoherent about the piping of two idiot flutes in the midst of ultimate chaos.  In my delirium, I had, it seems, smashed some of the more delicate components of the Hoffmann Tube, and I am informed that it cannot be repaired by any of the modern day's savants, since Hoffmann's techniques have always mystified even the most profound experts.

Anyway, that's why I haven't posted for a while.  I was recovering.  And scraping together money to pay the fine to the Guggenheim.

Where was I?  Oh, yes.  There's a big holiday coming up.  I think it's Life Day or something.  Anyway, this happens to be my favorite time of year, and it also happens I recently came across an article from MSNBC declaring that "Christmas is Winning the War on Christmas," which means that more and more stores have returned to making explicit references to the upcoming big Christian holiday when attempting to seduce customers into buying useless plastic junk from Matel.

I'm of two minds about this, partly because my broken mind has not yet recovered from the effects of the Hoffmann Tube.  On the one hand, I think it's stupid to pretend it has nothing to do with Christmas when you put out Christmas trees and dress a chubby fellow in a red suit and try to sell everybody toys.  On the other hand, I don't like seeing the commercial racket Christmas has turned into.  I don't know if it's right to say "Christmas is winning."  I think it's more correct to say that the stores have an eye, naturally enough, on the bottom line, and have determined that they're better off not antagonizing Christmas shoppers who've made a stink about "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings."

But really, I don't like the way the counter-offensive in the War on Christmas has been conducted.  It seems the battle lines have been drawn with Jesus on one side and Santa Claus on the other.  That's just not right, because Santa Claus is a Christian saint.  When Santa appears at Christmastime and hands out oranges and nuts to the good kids and coal that's really licorice candy to the naughty kids, he's doing something Christian; because Christianity teaches that the good will be rewarded and that the evil can be redeemed and forgiven.

I admit I'm fond of those "Kneeling Santa" figurines that have become popular to date because they put things in proper perspective:  Christian Saint worshiping Christian God.  Makes sense to me.  You might call Kneeling Santas tacky, but I like tacky religious items because I make the distinction between "high" and "low" art, even religious art, and see a proper place for both.  I wouldn't put the Kneeling Santa in the nativity scene at the cathedral, but I would put one in my home.

Okay, actually, I would put the Kneeling Santa in the nativity scene at the cathedral, but that's because my love of kitsch knows no proper boundaries.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh, yes.  There's a big holiday coming up.  And I want to wish you a good one.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour: The Skin Map

The Skin Map (Bright Empires)
Lawhead strikes again!

The Skin Map, by Stephen R. Lawhead, first book of the Bright Empire Series, is the feature novel for this action.  And by the way, I call all November blog tours "action."

This book is not to be confused with Skin Disease Can Provide an External Map to Internal Illness by Sharon Worcester.

You can see Lawhead's blog action.  I call all author blogs action.

I'm seeing mixed actions (a.k.a., "reviews") on this one.  Having been busy with school, I shunned the reviewer's copy, so I have no opinion of my own. The book is about a man and his girlfriend who get sucked into alternate universes--different ones. The hero ends up running around with a cabal of time travelers trying to keep an important map out of the hands of an evil villain while also, presumably, trying to find his lost girlfriend.

Let's kick around the blog tour and see if we can find any action.

Matt Mikalatos gives a brief discussion of "ley lines," a concept Lawhead uses in the novel, based on the new agey theory that ancient archaeological sites are laid out along lines of mystical energy:

Watkins' theories were met with nearly universal dismissal until, several decades later, several New Age authors latched on to the idea that (depending on the author) spiritual power or electromagnetic fields were moving along these geographic lines.  And, they've been fodder for fantasy novels, science fiction shows, New Age rituals and comic books ever since.

Lawhead uses them for his own purposes, like everyone always has.  In Lawhead's book, ley lines are somewhat like fault lines... places where separate worlds and/or dimensions rub up against one another and create the possibility of traveling between worlds. [more...]

Shannon McDermott gives a thorough review:

Another element of Lawhead’s style is that it is British. The Skin Map is permeated by Britishness. My reading of modern fiction has been limited to American books, so that really caught my notice. References to English history and geography are sprinkled throughout. When these people talk about the Great Fire, they don’t have Chicago or San Francisco in mind. The English speaking style is noticeably foreign. Tube station? Oyster card? Tump? Nobbled? Kerbstone? Sprogs?

The Skin Map is a unique book. It has a sense of solidity, of depth. I reached the end with a feeling of satisfaction and appreciation. Don’t mistake me: Spaceships and aliens and explosions and strange, new worlds are a romp. With the right author, it can be profound, too. But The Skin Map is valuable in its own way – and that way is historical science fiction, a multiverse adventure with modern Londoners besieged by life, Egyptian priests, Bohemian alchemists, and English aristocrats of multiple centuries. [more...]

McDermott also has a spoiler-laden post for the unwary.

Morgan L. Busse has a three-part breakdown of the book. In the third one she briefly discusses the novel's spiritual elements:

will say I did not see a lot of God in the book. And I think I can safely say none of the main characters are Christians. There was a quick definition of God that threw up some red flags but I’m not sure if Stephen’s intentions were to show this was the belief of the scientific men he was portraying. Here is the quote:

“All the universe is permeated, upheld, knit together, conjoined, encompassed, and contained by the Elemental Father, which we recognise as an all-pervading, responsive, and intelligent field of energy, eternal and inexhaustible, which is nothing less than the ground of our very being and the wellspring of our existence- that which in ages past and present men have been pleased to call God.” (pages 56-57) [more...]

Here's the blog tour:

Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Jeff Chapman
Christian Fiction Book Reviews
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
George Duncan
April Erwin
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Shannon McDermott
Allen McGraw
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Gavin Patchett
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Donna Swanson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Elizabeth Williams
Dave Wilson

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

News from the Fish Bowl: Supreme Court on Video Game Censorship Law

Okay, I don't play video games.  I'm a goldfish and I'd rather read books, although sometimes I admit I like it when the Deej takes me to the pizza place so I can play pinball.  I'm something of a pinball wizard.  I've got crazy flipper fingers.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the U.S. Supreme Court is arguing over a California law to ban violent video games from minors.  The law narrowly targets games depicting particularly graphic interactive violence with no artistic value directed at realistic characters.  Interactive torture porn is the intended target, apparently.

The state's video game law was struck down as unconstitutional before it went into effect. Similar laws in other states have met the same fate.

The justices voted to hear California's appeal, but they sounded split Tuesday.

Scalia insisted that since the nation's founding, depictions of sex could be banned, but not depictions of violence and torture.

This drew a mocking rebuke from Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who is usually allied with Scalia on the conservative side. [more...]

Among the games that would go on the banned-from-minors list is Postal 2, which another LA Times article describes thusly:

One version of the video game "Postal 2" features an easily angered "postal guy" with dark glasses and a high-powered rifle. He wanders through town killing everyone he sees, leaving them bloody and mutilated. A trip to the library turns into carnage of mass shootings and blazing fires.

Another features young girls being struck by a shovel as they beg for mercy. The player can then pour gasoline over them, set them on fire.... [more...]

Comment: What to ban and how to ban it is always a difficult subject, but something is seriously wrong when a game like Postal 2 is widely available to any age demographic. Interactive face-smashing, burning, and urinating on young girls is corrupting to adults as well as to minors.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials" because they do "grave injury to the dignity of...participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others" (2354).  Further, "Teaching modesty to children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person" (2524).  Though I can't find anything in the Catechism on violence in entertainment, I think the wanton violent fantasies invited by games like Postal 2 are contrary to "respect for the human person" and depict people as "objects of base pleasure."  Catholics should probably support banning them for the same reason they support banning pornography.

And it is probably worth asking how we even got to the point that a game like Postal 2 can be sold on store shelves instead of in dark alleys.