Book Review: Split Infinity by Piers Anthony (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Split Infinity (Apprentice Adept #1) by Piers Anthony

Three Stars

“If you think you’re conscious, you must be conscious. That’s what consciousness is all about. The feedback is self-awareness.”

Great story telling and contrasting fantasy and science fiction environments, but Anthony doesn’t get a bye for his antediluvian portrayal of gender relations. Even though it was written in the 80s, it’s borderline offensive. His protagonist’s supposed moral uprightness is severely undercut by his treatment of females. Costuming sex as freely given doesn’t excuse his attitude.

“You often don’t have to fight, if you just look as if you’d like to.”

The extended sections of game play slows to the story. The whole game matrix concept rings false: an artificial construct, like quidditch, to pump up the protagonist.

“You are a rational creature, beneath your superficial programming; under my programming I am an irrational animal.”

Quibbles: Published in 1980, totally misses the coming revolution in microelectronics and communications, which renders the story a quaint artifact of a former age. “Two days off his feet” after running a marathon? He’d be a cripple for months. Daily challenge games? After marathons? How’s that fair?

“Murder is not the proper solution to problems.”

Like many series openers, this is larger world, team and goal building. No incentive to read more of the series.

“Know thyself.”

Book Review: Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price

Four Stars

“To them, to kill in revenge was a duty; to forgive the killing of a kinsman sin.”

Excellent science-historical fiction mashup. Avoids the time travel paradox by having travelers visit a past in a world a few dimensions away from our earth, but recognizably similar.

“… always worrying about someone getting hurt, as if people could keep from getting hurt.”

Changes point of view often–paragraph by paragraph–but with sufficient clues to keep the reader oriented. Deep into the minds and emotions of all the principle characters (who vary enough to reflect vastly different mores and experiences), to the point that we understand the motivation and worldview of those we might normally consider villains. Female lead has near-terminal conscience and indecision problems, which makes her the perfect lens into the story.

“Lovers divided by family and feud made good stories, but in life it was nothing but misery.”

Excellent immersion into medieval culture: not just sights and sounds, but smells and taste …. And all that filth. Music and folk tales deepen our cultural engagement. A skilled archer misses; hooray!

“It was like the music stopped and I had no chair.”

Quibble: Land Rovers haven’t had hub caps for decades.

If I had but a swan’s wings

Far over hills and sea I’d fly–

To my true love’s arms I’d fall at last

And in her arms I’d gladly die.

Book Review: The Grace Awakening by Charles R. Swindoll (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Grace Awakening: Believing in Grace Is One Thing. Living It Is Another by Charles R. Swindoll

Four Stars

“[The] moralizing and legalizing of the Gospel of God’s grace is a dull heresy peddled to disappointed people who are angry because they have not received what they had no reason to expect.” Richard J. Neuhaus

A rousing call to replace the Pharisee-ism of modern Christianity with the freely-given grace of God. Easy to read and understand.

“Love that goes up is worship; Love that goes outward is affection; Love that stoops is grace.” Donald Barnhouse

Filled with short, pithy thoughts to break our religious bonds and free us to love God and our neighbor.

“[Jesus] is at your side. He is beginning to turn you into the same kind of thing as Himself. He is beginning, so to speak, to ‘inject’ His kind of life and thought … into you; beginning to turn the tin soldier into a live man. The part of you that does not like it is the part that is still tin.” C. S. Lewis

Book Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (Five Stars)

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Book Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Five Stars

“I want to comprehend. I have to. But he knew he never would. Just be glad and keep moving.”

An early alternative history, it is among the best. Dick not only alters history and politics, but also culture and scientific achievement, consistent with what precedes his story. The result in an incredibly rich, engaging tale of what might have been. Manages to include major philosophic and religious issues. Very close telling of internal conflicts and aspirations.

“Nobody was hurt … until the day of reckoning and then everyone, equally, would be ruined.”

I can’t believe this was written in 1962. Dick displays a depth of understanding which many lacked. I can’t believe I missed it then.

“He should have that cold but enthusiastic look, as if Continue reading

Book Review: Things That Matter by Charles Krauthammer Four Stars

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Book Review: Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics by Charles Krauthammer

Four Stars

“The central axiom of partisan politics: conservatives think liberals are stupid; liberals thinks conservatives evil.”

An entertaining collection culled from thirty years of columns and speeches. Naturally, whether one agrees often or at all will reflect one’s personal orientation, but Krauthammer expresses his opinions well.

“Peace: noun, in international affairs a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.” Ambrose Bierce

Krauthammer is a token conservative on the Washington Post and often a talking head on NPR and FoxNews.

“Deterrence doesn’t work against people who ache for heaven.”

Hard to respect anyone who thinks baseball–either played or watched–is anything other than a monumental waste of time.

“The trouble when people stop believing in God is not that they thereafter believe in nothing; it is that they thereafter believe in anything.” G. K. Chesterton

Book Review: The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul

Three Stars

“Our marks of piety can actually be evidence of our impiety.”

Disappointing for a supposed classic of theology. Expected better from R. C. Sproul. An important topic for Christians. Even given Sproul’s well-known Calvinist orientation, his writings betray poor scholarship and bias. Good discussion of meanings of original texts, such as the same word being translated as truly and pray.

“The justice of God is always and ever an expression of His holy character.”

His theological gaffs are funny. He reports Romans 8 “renew the mind” means “nothing more and nothing less than education.” He tells us “we are called to strive with all our might to produce this fruit [of the Spirit].” Strive? He reports to “make decision” to be born again is a “delusion.”

“Don’t ever ask God for justice–you might get it.”

The above errors can be excused as partisan politics (yes, theologians do it), but his attempt to discredit Arminian theology by labeling it semi-Pelagian is disingenuous. Masking the Arminian versus Calvinist dichotomy under different labels does nothing for Sproul’s credibility.

“If man is not made for God, why is he only happy in God? If man is made for God, why is he so opposed to God?” Blaise Pascal

Despite all that this text has many good thoughts and arguments.

“Almost every natural man that hears of hell, flatters himself that he will escape it.” Jonathan Edwards

Movie Review: Dunkirk, written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Four Stars)

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Movie Review: Dunkirk, written, co-produced and directed by Christopher Nolan

Four Stars

“You can practically see it from here.” “What?’ “Home.”

The best kind of war movie, one that focuses on human-sized stories without losing track of the big picture. Historical fiction, but incredible realism and drama. Multiple viewings necessary to absorb the depth.

“He’s on me.” “I’m on him.”

Only criticism is the folded timeline. Nolan not only cut back and forth between plot lines, but breaks chronology. The attentive viewer sees the same event as many as five times from the point of view of five different characters. It adds depth to the story, but it often knocks the viewer out of the flow trying to figure out when and where we are.

“There’s no hiding from this, son. We have a job to do.”

 

Book Review: Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

Three Stars

“Not only could a man’s eyes mislead him but his mind could deceive him as well.”

Gripping historical fiction about New York City 110 years ago, though it reads like a fantasy set in another world. Hoffman weaves the lives two strangers to each other between the opening and closing historical horrific fires. Her historical details are exhaustive and apparently correct.

“To find someone, it was necessary to follow … the way that angels follow men’s lives on earth are said to do, chart each trespass without judgement, for judgement is never ours to give.”

Lots of stereotyping by gender, ethnicity, class, and religion–the easy route to character building. She seems sensitive to conditioned inferiority, though in my experience everyone feels inferior about something.

“He wondered if every criminal saw himself as the hero of his own story, and every thankless son convinced he’d been mistreated by his father.”

Hoffman’s plot involves Anglo-Saxon antagonists, but the real villains of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire were the owners, who were Russian immigrants just like the many casualties. Sometimes the worst crimes are committed by those we think of as “us,” yet we give them a bye in our rush to blame others, who are conveniently “them.”

“I had thought my father could work miracles. But I was wrong. He could only possess them.”

Quibbles: The male protagonist is reported to be 6’2” at age thirteen, despite a childhood of poverty. The first-person chapters are Italicized. Hard to read, though it alerts the reader to potential unreliable narration.

“As he slept he prayed that no one would wake him, for it was in dreams that a man found his truest desires.”

Younger people have purer emotions, less experience. It makes for great drama and sad mistakes.

“Like every good man. He, too, has failed. He knows what it means to be a human being.” “To be a failure?” “To forgive. As he has forgiven you.”

Book Review: Roverandom by J. R. R. Tolkien (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Roverandom by J. R. R. Tolkien

Three Stars

“You never know what will happen next, when once you get mixed up with wizards and their ‘friends.’”

This is a story for children, specifically for Tolkien’s children motivated by the loss of a toy. More than that will spoil the telling. It’s oral tradition started long before any of his published works, though traces of Middle Earth can be gleaned from reading this final text.

“…on the stomach (where dragons are particularly tender.)”

It’s more profitable to compare this story with Farmer Giles of Ham in The Tolkien Reader and Smith of Wootten Minor, not The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings. Violates some of the very principles he would elucidate within the decade in his address “On Fairy Stories” in The Tolkien Reader.

“…and saw off in the last West the mountains of Elvenhome.”

A fun read, and a rare look into the developing talent of one of the greatest story tellers of the twentieth century. This edition is fully annotated to help modern readers fully appreciate the tale.

“…as quick as kiss your hand.”