Book Review: Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds (three stars)

Book Review: Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds (three stars)

(There be SPOILERS here.)

“One thing I’ve never got straight. Are we musicians supplementing our income with a little detective work on the side, or is it the other way round?”

Engaging and entertaining science fiction-detective crossover tale. Male lead stereotypical not-too-bright, but good-hearted private detective, with the twist that he’s a frustrated jazz musician. Female lead is head-strong, smart, and opinionated archeologist. Most other characters are stereotypical.

“Do I count as sensitive business?” “No, [redacted]. You count as a pain in the ass. If there’s one thing I hate more than civilians, it’s having to be nice to them.” “You mean this is you being nice?”

Excellent character, plot, and world building. A bit of humor amid a lot of mystery, angst, and bloodshed. Parallel worlds. Sort of. Violence of action and language. Paris. “Casablanca” homages.

“But it was only designed to look convincing from the vantage point of the Earth’s surface, and close to they saw how its shape was distorted by the sphere’s concavity.”

Quibbles. Mistakes an astrophysicist shouldn’t make. (Edwin Hubble made many of his discoveries in the 1920s.) Observers on E2 would notice the sun, moon, and stars weren’t positioned right. Parallax. Optical interferometry would reveal the light angles wrong. Most of the smart guys of the twentieth century were alive and at the height of their powers and fame before 1940.  “… picking out the lethal gleam of the electrified rails.” Electrified rails don’t gleam. “… stuffing her own soiled and ripped garments back into the bag.” No blood? There should be lots of blood.

“Thinking we can fix one technological mess by throwing yet more technology at it, when every attempt to do that already has just made things even worse.”

Delivers the goods, story wise. Would like to rate it higher.

“We never deserved this second chance.” “But sometimes you get what you don’t deserve.”

Book Review: The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King (four stars)

Book Review: The Good Neighbor; The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King (four stars)

“You don’t set out to be rich and famous; you set out to be helpful.” Fred Rogers

Fred Rogers may have been one of the most significant Americans of the Twentieth century. A good biography is necessary to separate the fact from the fiction. This isn’t that biography.

“The real issue in life is not how many blessings we have, but what we do with our blessings. Some people have many blessings and hoard them. Some have few and give everything away.” FR

Non sequiturs and irrelevancies abound. Much redundancy. Compresses 200 pages into 300.

“There are many people in the world who want to make children into performing seals. And as long as children can perform well, those adults will applaud. But I would much rather help a child to be able to say who he or she is.” FR

Despite all that, this book is worth reading as it contains many details of Roger’s family, upbringing, and life which have gotten overshadowed by myth and rumor. Still, it should be better.

“The child is in me still and sometimes not so still.” FR

Book Review: The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson (three stars)

Book Review: The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson (three stars)

She would change nothing about herself. It was lucky, she thought, lucky she had learned so early that there was no solid ground.

Wonderful historical fantasy. Female protagonist well drawn and developed. Enough angst to be relatable; enough chutzpah to be entertaining. Finding truth in a world of liars. Several redemption tales.

“When God really wants to test you, He gives you exactly what you desire,”

Good sense of time and place, marred by modern attitudes superimposed on medieval history. Fantasy version of tolerant Islamic Granada versus totalitarian Spanish Reconquista.

“No one offers me peace or safety except to keep me as a possession,” she said aloud. “No one reaches out to me except to take what little I have.”

Book Review: The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee (five stars)

Book Review: The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee (five stars)

“God has only one answer for every human need—His Son, Jesus Christ.”

Nee’s classic study of the book of Romans. Published after his death, these lessons were drawn from his lectures in Europe in the 1930s. Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome provides the outline of Nee’s study.

“I need forgiveness for what I have done, but I also need deliverance from who I am. The Blood disposes of our sins, while the Cross strikes at the root of our capacity for sin.”

These lessons are not easily read and absorbed. Readers are advised to proceed slowly. Worth the effort. Nee outlines the foundation and application of Christian living in a straightforward, understandable narrative. Recommend the print, rather than ebook format for referencing and highlighting. (The ebook edition I read was incomplete compared to the print text.)

“Our work for him springs out of our ministering to him. The first thing for us must be the Lord himself, not his work.”

Watchman Nee was a giant of the Christian faith in the twentieth century. His personal story is the stuff of dramas. He died in 1972 under mysterious circumstances while imprisoned by China’s Communist regime on counterrevolutionary charges.

“Living in the Spirit means that I trust the Holy Spirit to do in me what I cannot do myself.”

Lost and Found: A Minor Miracle

Last night our older son called with a prayer request. He was looking for a flash-drive containing his job history with the enterprise for whom he has worked over twenty years to update his resume for a possible promotion. It was on that flash drive, but he couldn’t find it. We agreed to pray. My wife specifically suggested praying for revelation in a dream. We prayed and shared the prayer request with a few friends.

This morning he sent the following text:

“I found it! I prayed and went to bed. I had a dream of searching and finding it in Kazad-Dum amongst fiery red stone. When I woke up, I searched again. But I couldn’t see how any of those drawers and so I sat down and asked again, for guidance. Where did I have anything of Kazad-Dum?? Well, I have The Lord of the Rings box set of movies (Kazad-Dum is one of the Dwarven kingdoms of LOTR) So, I went to the box housing the movies, and there was the flash-drive. PLT!”

Note that God answered this specific request in a way that was specific to our son. It reveals the depth of God’s love and knowledge. God knew where the flash-drive was. He knew that our son would recognize the reference to Khazad-Dûm as a specific location. When he didn’t immediately understand the reference this morning, our son prayed again. And it was revealed.

Happy dance!

Gods knows and loves you better than you know and love yourself. 

Movie Review: LifeMark, directed by Kevin Peeples (four stars)

Movie Review: LifeMark, directed by Kevin Peeples (four stars)

“Hope is at the heart of every journey”

An intensely personal coming-of-age story. Latest Kendrick Brothers Production Christian movie continues trend to increasing technical quality and textual realism. While some reviews (both pro and con) list this movie as anti-abortion, that word (and concept) is not mentioned for the first 90% of the story. It’s more pro-life, pro-adoption.

“Your baby has 10 fingers and 10 toes—please don’t kill it.”

This is a true story, which is a strength as well as a weakness. An intense movie psychologically, there’s not much overt conflict and danger. Lots of dialogue. The folded timeline may be difficult to follow. Flashbacks within flashbacks.

“I don’t think he’d want to talk to me. He probably hates me for what I did.”

Despite the limited distribution—one showing per night at 1,400 Regal theaters—the movie managed to open at nearly a million dollars in revenue. (The showing we attended was more than 50% full, which judging by the parking lot was that multiplex’s best attended show. The average age of the audience was over fifty.)

“God knew this was going to happen.”

Book Review: The Forever King (Forever King #1) by Molly Cochran (four stars)

Book Review: The Forever King (Forever King #1) by Molly Cochran (four stars)

“My life is important. To me. Because it is short, and precious. Because each day may be my last.’

Imaginative retelling as well as forward projection of the classic tale. Cochran recasts both the origin tale and her modern addendum relative to the received classic story. At that she does less violence—and achieves a more cogent whole—than many twentieth century adaptations.

‘The past was immutable and eternal. A man could not change a moment of it. The only thing in his power was the choice to forgive himself.’

Main characters are presented with human limitations, including their unawareness of their own potential. Gritty, but not gratuitous. Old-fashioned in many ways.

“But I don’t want to be safe! I want to be alive!”

Quibble: In hewing to Malory’s timeline, Cochran commits numerous anachronisms, such as Saxons being the invading enemy in a Crusades-era England. To fully enjoy this version, the reader must let go of prior knowledge of history and literature and go with this version.

“I wonder if one lifetime will be enough.” “It’s never enough.” “Is that why things never change?” “Perhaps.”

Book Review: Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule (three star)

Book Review: Light of the Jedi (Star Wars: The High Republic) by Charles Soule (three star)

The galaxy didn’t care what you thought couldn’t be broken. It would break things just to show you it could. 

The cover says it all: amateurish. Not as good as Zahn, Traviss, Anderson or Stackpole or other of the ninety Expanded Universe novels I’ve read. Wordy. Needs another edit to tighten the storytelling. Benefits by not being subjected to a cast of the Usual Suspects.

Every prominent Jedi in the galaxy was aboard the station, even Yoda, which surprised some. Ordinarily, the ancient master avoided non-essential social gatherings with determined glee.

Quibbles: At the time of this story, Yoda is not yet ancient. Solar systems are largely empty space: fire a shotgun, even at the elliptic, and you’ll miss everything. The timing is hopeless. “Near the speed of light” means much greater than half. Catch up to an object flying almost the speed of light without hyperdrive? Climb from the center of mass of a Moon-sized asteroid to the surface in fifteen minutes?

“We’re all the Republic.” “We’re all dead if we don’t finish searching the station.” 

Even given the fortuitous availability of a team of Jedi (what the Force does), these folks spend too much time talking.

“The Force doesn’t feel the need to announce its actions. It just acts.”