Generational Myths

Scrolling through io9’s list of must-read new fiction, I followed a You Tube link to William Shatner rambling about David A Goodman’s new Autobiography of James T. Kirk. His preliminary comments include the idea (probably not original with him) that science fiction is modern mythology.

We do define ourselves by what we read (or watch). Among those who read science fiction, many Baby Boomers were caught up with Lord of the Rings or the late Terry Pratchett’s Ring World books (and some with Star Trek). Generation X would grow up with Star Wars. Millennials: Marvel Comic movies? But the principle extends beyond that genre.

Take the idea one step farther: to become a part of our generation’s mythology, the books or movies must come when we’re young enough that it integrates with our worldview. It becomes part of the lens through which we see everything else. Not only must the story fire our imagination, but it must be new enough (as opposed to re-discovering the mythos of a previous generation) that we can share the thrill of discovery with others—many others. Eventually, it comes to define us. Subsequent generations may read and enjoy the same stories, but the story doesn’t link them.

The fiction we read or watch may become as deep a part of who we are as events happening to us or in the real world around us. Sharing a myth is like sharing a love of country, religion or family. “We read to know we are not alone” is erroneously attributed C. S. Lewis.

What we read, watch and share does connect us. What story is foundational to you?

Book Review: Angel with a Ray Gun by Deborah Kinnard (Three Stars)

Book Review: Angel with a Ray Gun by Deborah Kinnard

Three Stars out of Five

A fun and funny Christian romance. I don’t read this genre regularly, so I’m not a good one to judge, but Kinnard seemed more successful at creating engaging characters and a believable plot. Most Christian romances fall short on both counts. As is typical of this genre, everything is so sweet and innocent, it presses credibility. Even the “bad” guys turn out … well, redeemed.

“Ray Gun”? The protagonist pastor writes science fiction on the side.

Quibbles: Would a publisher assign an inexperienced editor to the author of one of his more popular series? And, C. S. Lewis did not pen, “I read to know I’m not alone.” That is a line spoken by him is the biographical fiction movie, Shadowlands.

Book Review: Black Dog by Stephen Booth (Four Stars)

Book Review: Black Dog (Ben Cooper & Diane Fry #1) by Stephen Booth

Four Stars out of Five

A pleasantly twisted police procedural set in the Peak District of England. If you have any inkling you might read this book, I suggest you to read none of the reviews or summaries readily available—including this one—because they will diminish your reading pleasure.

If you’re still with me, I said the preceding because I did read some of those reviews and they spoiled the story for me. Since you won’t be reading the book or you wouldn’t be reading this (you are following my advice, aren’t you?), I’ll tell you why. Booth writes with the classic nineteenth-century omniscient narrator style, which take the reader deep into the thoughts and feelings of each character. He does it well. More important, we find ourselves overhearing the thoughts of several characters about each other. And, of course, they’re wrong. Oh, Booth doesn’t tell us; he shows us.

I don’t normally read police procedurals, but I enjoyed the storytelling of this one. Perhaps you will, too, but you won’t know I said that because you’ve already stopped reading this review, didn’t you?

Movie Review: War Room (Four Stars)

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Movie Review: War Room by Alex and Stephen Kendrick

Four Stars out of Five

The Kendricks’ Christian films keep getting better. Their fifth effort surpasses all their previous works in both production quality, acting and script. Christian drama, like Christian fiction, has been faulted for unreality and syrupy sweetness. War Room suffered from neither. This film (set like the preceding in North Carolina) blazes new casting territory for the Kendricks in featuring blacks as principals.

Christians and seekers will both find an honest portrayal of the stresses and troubles of modern life and a biblical approach to dealing with it. If you don’t know a Miss Clara, you should.

The opening matinee was well-attended, though the median age was probably 65. Spontaneous “Amens” and “Preach on” were heard during the showing as well as a round of applause at the end.

Double Dutch jump rope is a team competition sport? Impressive!

If you only see one movie this year, see this one.

Addendum: After several days of reflection, I realize this review falls short in two ways.

First and simplest, at the technical level War Room is not a Hollywood production. It lacks the big names and special effects—not to mention big budget—of major studio productions. That said, its cinematic quality compares favorably with the best independent releases.

Second and more fundamental, War Room depicts a depth of reality with which many viewers may be unfamiliar. That a supernatural dimension (for want of a better word) exists is essential to understanding of this movie.

Most people worldwide say they believe in a reality beyond—more fundamental—than that revealed by the senses and physical instrumentation. Christians, Moslems, Hindus, Jews, Wiccan, and members of less numerous orders all declare an overarching truth behind what we see, touch and smell. Further, we believe that in this greater reality exist entities which Continue reading

Book Review: The Jefferson Rule by David Sehat (Two Stars)

Book Review: The Jefferson Rule: How the Founding Fathers Became Infallible and Our Politics Inflexible by David Sehat

Two Stars out of Five

“What Would Jefferson Do?”

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail,” Abraham Maslow is purported to have said. The same might be said for Dr. Sehat’s a priori thesis that the American political system is whatever we make of it; hang the Founders. I started writing a multi-page analysis of what’s wrong with this book, but will settle for a shorter critique.

It’s entirely fair to reinterpret history in light of one’s own prejudices, but one should respect one’s readers enough to realize that they understand what you’re doing. The cool analytical façade is a false mask.

I learned long ago that one should never believe what any politician says his opponent says, believes or does. Because it will be a self-serving lie. That what politicians do; all politicians; all parties. In deconstructing the politics of the past, however Sehat transparently justifies ignoring not only the Founders but the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, reducing them all to stage props for whatever snake oil each politician is peddling at the moment.

The value of this book, and how it earned a two-stars, is Sehat’s analysis of those he approves, most notably Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson and FDR. World War Two and the Cold War never happened; in fact, foreign policy is not mentioned. He barely mentions the administrations of Eisenhower, Clinton and Obama, he’s so focused on deconstructing Reagan and the Tea Party. Why? Perhaps because they dared to question whether Washington was not the solution, but the problem. To Sehat that is anathema.

The Jefferson Rule seems to be: whatever works works. Disregard principles or history. Use them, but don’t believe them.

Movie Review: American Sniper (Four Stars)

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Movie Review: American Sniper

Four Stars out of Five

Didn’t see this in theaters because I’d heard so much politicized comment. Also, as a veteran of a couple wars, I really don’t enjoy war movies. (Folks who’ve never been shot at or had a SCUD dropped on them won’t understand.)

Turns out, Clint Eastwood (producer and director) does a good job capturing the monomania of the lead character and the destruction he wrought both in combat and at home. War costs those left behind almost as much as those who go; something those who go seldom understand. (We understand that those at home don’t understand what those in combat experience.) This point is emphasized in a scene when Chris (midday in Iraq) is talking by cell phone to his wife Taya (midday in Texas). His convoy is jumped, and he drops his phone to do his duty. Taya is left listening to the explosions, shouts and shooting.

Technical quibbles: Everything in Iraq is too clean. The soldiers always wear clean, pressed uniforms. They bleed, but they never sweat. Even though vehicles have painted symbology (skulls, etc.), they are never dirty. As mentioned before, Eastwood apparently forgot that Iraq is on the opposite side of the world from Texas. (I can’t imagine calling home on a cell phone during a combat operation. Even as late as the Gulf War, contact was the occasional arranged phone call or snail mail.)

Eastwood does remind us of the plight of the Iraqis caught in the middle. Since we cut and ran, those Iraqis who helped us most, the embedded interpreters, are been left to the vengeance of their radicalized neighbors. America won’t even give them asylum.

People like Winston Churchill and George Washington, who are thrilled to have bullets flying around them, are demonstratively crazy. War is hell. That humans practice it upon other humans is proof of our fallen nature. That some people are so protective of nation and friends, that they put themselves in harm’s way to protect them, is humbling.

Yes, somethings are worth fighting to defend, but we shouldn’t go looking for fights. That’s being a bully; something Chris’ father taught him not to be.

Book Review: The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin (Five Stars)

Book Review: The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin

Five Stars out of Five

“Every era puts invisible shackles on those who lived in it, and I can but dance in my chains.”

Outstanding. The best hard science fiction I’ve read this year. Liu wrote it eight years ago in China, but the story translates—literally and figuratively—very well. Great world building and historical/cultural tie-ins to this world. Plenty of math and science to geek out on, yet many historical and value hooks as well. “By the time you’re my age, you’ll realize that everything you once thought mattered so much turns out to matter very little.”

Spoiler: a very different kind of first contact story. I love it. “Anything sufficiently weird must be fishy.”

Quibbles: The translation was transparent except for a few word choices. First, I believe what was translated as “evolutionary” problem solving was more correctly called Heuristic problem solving. “Entropy” is used referring to information density; it really relates to disorder or, if anything, information loss. Finally, Liu sets the clock ticking early in the story, but—even though the time ran out—gave no indication what it signified. (Other than the Trisolarans were messing with our minds.)

Not that beauty contests like the Hugo awards mean anything (especially this year), but glad to see it won one.

“But for the universe outside the solar system, we should be ever vigilant, and ready to attribute the worst of intentions to any Other that might exist in space.”

Book Review: The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence (Five Stars)

Book Review: The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

Five Stars out of Five

“God alone is capable of making Himself known as he really is; we search in reasoning and in the sciences, as in a poor copy, for what we neglect to see in an excellent original.”

That also may be said of modern Christian writers trying to communicate the path of love and faith. This classic of faith has inspired Christians and non-Christians for over three hundred years.

This particular edition is “updated for clarity and readability.” It succeeds. Older translations which fail to convey the simplicity and depth of Brother Lawrence’s message.

A lay Discalced Carmelite, Brother Lawrence worked in a Paris monastery for much of his eighty years. He never sought fame, only God. “The time of business does not with me differ Continue reading

Book Review: 15 Minutes by Jill Cooper (Four Stars)

Book Review: 15 Minutes (Rewind Agency #1) by Jill Cooper

Four Stars out of Five

Think: The Matrix meets The Time Machine with a more likable protagonist than either.

Ahha! Cooper demonstrates that young adult novels can be engaging without substituting childish or adult behavior. The first person, present tense point of view not only works, but keeps the reader tightly engaged with this time travel “thriller.”

Lara is a believable person thrown into unbelievable circumstances, and we’re dragged along. She responds with intelligence, even as she suffers confusion and doubt. The romantic interactions and depicted violence are age appropriate. Her determination and self-sacrifice more than offset her missteps. The plot is necessarily convoluted, though (spoiler: the purple-haired woman’s identity was readily apparent. Telling you that much is a spoiler).

A quick, enjoyable read. Perhaps not four stars on any absolute scale of literature, but compared to similar young adult offerings.

Book Review: The Return of George Washington by Edward J. Larson (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Return of George Washington, 1783-1789 by Edward J. Larson

Three Stars out of Five

While this volume purports to be a biography of Washington during the critical gap between his service as Commander of the Continental Army and his inauguration as President of the United States, it in fact spreads far beyond in time and subject matter. For example, many pages are devoted to the Constitutional Convention with hardly a word about Washington.

Larson’s scholarship lays one popular (though widely disbelieved) myth to rest, that of the war-weary Washington retiring to Mount Vernon and not involving himself in politics until his nation called him to serve as its first President. Even before he left New York City upon resigning his commission, Washington was concerned that the new country’s weak government until the Articles of Confederation. That his concerns were expressed privately rather than publicly reflected the nature of the man, and followed his lifelong pattern. Washington vigorously pursued improving himself and his estate, but he also recognized that his prosperity and that of the nation were fused. His life is a study of a man very aware of the unique position he occupied and imbued with the sense of destiny in his future.

A good book, well written.