Book Review: The Chaplain’s War by Brad R. Torgersen (4.5 Stars)

Book Review: The Chaplain’s War by Brad R. Torgersen

(4.5 Stars out of Five)

Superficially this book is an expansion of a short story from Torgersen’s Lights in the Deep Collection. But there’s nothing superficial about this story.

Modern science fiction suffers a surfeit of super-heroic protagonists who are smarter, faster and luckier than everyone else. Torgersen’s Harrison Barlow isn’t. In fact, he thinks he’s a coward, a loser and unqualified to be a Chaplain’s Assistant because he doesn’t believe God exists or cares what he does.

Maybe he’s wrong. Continue reading

Il Duce of the Kremlin

image from Wikipedia

Several times I’ve referred on line to Vladimir Putin as this century’s Adolf Hitler. I suspect his twentieth century hero is Joseph Stalin. But viewed objectively, Putin comes off more like Benito Mussolini. All the strutting and bombast is more comic opera than world changer. And in the end his people suffer unnecessary lose.

Putin’s vision of paradise is so flawed that he and his former KGB cronies are probably the only ones looking back on the failed Soviet Union with nostalgia. Continue reading

Book Review: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Three Stars)

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

(Three of Five Stars)

Breq rides again.

Ann Leckie introduced her technological superhero in Ancillary Justice, (to which I gave five stars) and while Sword is a fun read, there’s a lot more of the same. She provides enough of a gap between the two books and sends Breq off to a new challenge. (One which will continue in Book Three, and Four, and …)

Sadly, I’m already seeing signs of the Robert Jordan syndrome (extending the story for the sake of extending the story).

It’s hard to keep interest high when your hero is so extraordinary that she anticipates and/or overcomes all obstacles without apparently breaking into a sweat. The author can erect successively higher barriers, but the reader knows the outcome.

Suspect I’ll wait before jumping on whatever form Imperial Radsch #3 takes. Still, this is a good read. I would have had no trouble awarding four stars last year.

You Can Try to Go Home, But …

insideHad a Rod Serling moment two weeks ago.

Few would nominate Arlington, Virginia as Twilight Zone territory (except maybe inside the Pentagon). For me it is. Fifty years ago I graduated from Washington-Lee High School in central Arlington. I returned last week for my class’s fifty-year celebration. That we alums had changed was expected. Continue reading

U Read 2?

Do you read the labels of condiments at restaurants? Me, too. Do you read four-month-old People magazines at the dentist because everything else is worse? Me, too. Do you read free House For Sale flyers when nothing else is handy? Me, too.

My Nook saved me from much of that insipid reading, but I’m still read all the time.

I didn’t start this way. Attending three schools in my first four years, I was functionally illiterate. Continue reading

“Go and sin no more.”

The Pope is at least partly right. Lost in the same-sex marriage debate is that homosexuals are just people. They sin, and they have gifts.They were made in God’s image.

The church should include them, as it did you and me, while we were yet sinners. After all we include the greedy and prideful, whose sin is just as great in God’s eyes. Don’t we go to the ends of the earth to convert some famous serial killer?

We all need forgiveness for something. And we all need to refrain from sinning.

Don’t we agree that Fred Phelps was wrong? God doesn’t hate gays.

Jesus told the adulteress in John 8:3-8, “Then neither do I condemn you … but go and sin no more.”


Amazing Faith

Excerpt from Living in the Spirit, pages 46-49

“Jesus asked, ‘When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?’” (Luke 18:8). What kind of faith will he be looking for?

A Roman centurion asked Jesus to cure his servant (Matthew 8 and Luke 7). As with all such humble requests, Jesus agreed, even though most Jews wouldn’t even talk to an officer of that hated occupying empire. In fact, just to enter a Gentile’s house carried the probability of contamination, rendering Jesus ritually unclean. But “Jesus said to him, ‘I will come and heal him’” (Matthew 8:7).

The centurion’s response is memorable.

“Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Matthew 8:8-10)
“[Jesus] was amazed,” Matthew reports. Surely not that the centurion had humbly requested a miracle from a Jew. Others had asked and received healing from Jesus. Surely not that the centurion balked at Jesus’ offer to come to his house. Jesus understood ritual cleanliness, even if the centurion didn’t. He was amazed that this Roman—this gentile defiler of Jesus’ homeland—knew what authority was and recognized it in Jesus.

Do you know how many times the gospels report Jesus being amazed?
Many times others are amazed at the words or actions of Jesus, but only twice the Bible records Jesus himself as amazed. Here in Matthew 18 and in Mark 6:6, when he visited Nazareth, and “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.” That was not good; here his amazement is positive.

On this occasion, Jesus goes on to say, “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:11-12)

When Jesus suggests that “subjects of the kingdom” may be thrown out, many of us complacently picture the Jews being evicted to make room for us. Perhaps we should be concerned that it isn’t we ourselves being ushered to the door.

Jesus is making an important point: he is looking for followers showing the unquestioned faith the centurion describes, and which the centurion exhibits by acknowledging that Jesus needs only say the word for his servant to be healed.

Such servants [as the centurion’s] we all should be to God; we must go and come, according to the directions of his word and the disposals of his providence. But when the Son of man comes he finds little faith, therefore he finds little fruit. An outward profession may cause us to be called children of the kingdom; but if we rest in that, and have nothing else to show, we shall be cast out.
— Matthew Henry

Is Matthew exaggerating? Was Jesus really amazed? Read on, “Then Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.’ And his servant was healed at that moment” (Matthew 8:13).

Jesus responded in proportion to what the centurion believed. If Jesus told you, “Let it be done just as you believed it would,” what would result? …

Will Jesus be amazed at your faith?

(All Bible references are from the Holy Bible New International Version ® NIV ® Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved.)

Hild by Nicola Griffith (Three Stars)

Hild by Nicola Griffith

(Three stars our of Five)

Excellent historical fiction. Case study in turning one paragraph of actual history into two–or three or four–thick volumes of story. Fully realized history and culture. Complex relationships, even if a bit modern. Manages to include eighteenth century entrepreneurship, twentieth century social conscious and twenty-first century sexual mores without bending the frame of history too badly. After all, we know little about eighth century England, so she may as well base her tale on how she wants it to have been. Occasionally the story becomes indistinguishable from the rich tapestry of background.

Like the way the closing repeats the opening.

Griffith does better when she inserts her own proverbs–“women make; men break” or “fate goes ever as it must”–than when she leans of clichés like “God helps those who help themselves,” which she puts into the mounts of priests even though it is not a scriptural expression, or “where there’s a will there’s a way.” “Love is never wrong,” of course, in a late twentieth century pop music expression cum culture wars creed.

She deftly blurs the details of combat. Should have done the same with the sex scenes.

That Roman and British Christianity were at odds is historical, but she seems to paint the Roman dominance as too early. Like the politics, she gives sympathetic voice to many religious points of views. (Hard to imagine that the Anglo-Saxon priests gave up so meekly.) Of course, Hild herself will figure in the historical victory of the Romans over the British at her Synod of Whitby (in volume two, or three, or . . .)

Quibble: Griffith provides an excellent map and genealogical table. Why not put them on facing pages rather than half a dozen pages apart?

Double the Estimate

Have you noticed how optimistic forecasts have become? (Except among the profession doom-and-gloom crowd, who are still upset Y2K didn’t bring us to our knees.) Whether they’re estimating what it’ll cost to fix your car, destroy ISIL, or pay for a new wardrobe, even professionals seem to consistently low ball the final cost—whether dollars, time, number of people, square feet of whatever.

Some of that has been going on forever. And is equally due to ignorance and optimism. During my decades as a professional logistician, I learned to “double the estimate.”

Recently a dash of deceit has been added. Twice in the last month, we have had services or products pitched, then when we committed to purchase hidden charges appeared.

Do businesses despair of repeat customers so much that they feel compelled to gouge them the first time? Surely they don’t think we’re coming back?

Sharpe’s Tiger by Bernard Cornwell (Four Stars)

Sharpe’s Tiger by Bernard Cornwell

(Four Stars out of Five)

This book started a series which now runs into the dozens. In addition to writing rousing adventure tales, Bernard Cornwell painlessly teaches us history. That’s what good historical fiction does. It bring history into the sharp focus of an individual. (Excuse the pun.)

I like historical fiction, but I’m a hard reader. Not just because I majored in history, but because I think that history is important. Real history, not what’s taught in our schools today. Men and women don’t just change the course of history occasionally; men and women make history.

Cornwell writes excellent historical fiction. He inserts fictional characters who interact with real people and events in a way that distills the times as well as the action into a cogent whole. Check your skepticism at the door and relax for the ride. It’s almost always an exciting one.

Sharpe’s Tiger opens in India 1799. Richard Sharpe, our tarnished hero, is Continue reading