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Pile #14 “The Great Hunt” by Robert Jordan

22 Jul

The Great hunt / Robert Jordan.  NY:  Tor Books.  1990.   598 p.

So, what do you do, having left your village fleeing from minions of the Dark One, seen the world, entered the Blight  to find the Eye of the World and the Green Man, defeated two of the Forsaken, battled Ba’alzamon and uncovered the legendary Horn of Valere, not to mention one of the Seals of the Dark One’s prison and the infamous Dragon Banner of Lews Therin Telamon. Oh, and discovered you can channel, which might make you the Dragon Reborn? Why, return to Shiernar and cool your heels of course while waiting for more directions from your friendly Aes Sedai and basking in your new-found power and glory.

Or not.

Second Verse, not like the First

This, the second book in the “The Wheel of Time” opens with a prologue detailing a gathering of Darkfriends sworn to the Dark Lord from among all the nations and organizations in the world, where they are given certain tasks to perform to prepare for the Dark Lord’s coming, tasks which do not immediately come to fruition.  As the book proper opens, Rand and company are still in Shienar, and wondering what is going to happen next..All Rand wants is to be normal, to escape from a net he sees increasingly being thrown upon him. But for Rand, of course, there is no going back, as he is no longer ‘just’ a sheepherder, as the next 50 chapters, demonstrate.

Upon his return to Shiernar, he finds himself being treated as a lord in his own right by the Shiernarians, no matter how hard he protests. Then the Amyrlin Seat (the leader of the Aes Sedai) comes to Fal Dara, and a dangerous Darkfriend -and more than Darkfriend- escapes, taking with him the Horn of Valere so recently found again, and -more importantly to Rand and his companions- a dagger from the dead city Shadar Logoth that is tied to Mat, that sends Rand, Mat, and Perrin along with a troop of Shienarians all the way to Toman Head at the opposite end of the continent in pursuit, only to find themselves caught up in a large battle between new and old foes -but not before Rand, Loial and a thief-catcher named Hurin are temporarily separated from the group when Rand inadvertently channels.

In the meantime, Egewen and Nynaeve finally enter the White Tower to begin their training, only to quickly find themselves betrayed and worse -with the training interrupted they are whisked away to the city of Falme (which just happens to be on Toman Head, incidentally), where Egewen is enslaved, by a people calling themselves the Seanchan.

Along the way, we are treated to the machinations of the Children of Light (th Whitecloaks), the arrival of the aforementioned Seanchan -descendants of the armies Artur Hawkwing sent over the Aryth Ocean- and introduced to the workings and factions within Tar Valon itself, not even considering glimpses of secondary characters such as Thom Merrilon and Domon Bayle.

Quest Within a Quest

This second installment of the Wheel of Time for the most part is a straightforward quest for the stolen Horn of Valere, and for Mat’s dagger -without which he will die. And yet, it is a trial for Rand, knowing who he is, and what must happen to him -what happens to any man who can channel, and more, as he is the Dragon Reborn. He wants to find the dagger so Mat can live, and then depart so he won’t hurt anyone he loves and cares for, yet he never seems able to disentangle himself when the time comes.  At the same time though, other themes are introduced and set up for the future: the manuverings of the Children of the Light, the Hailene of the Seanchan, Padan Fain and his desire for revenge against Rand, Perrin’s developing wolfsense, even the “wheels within wheels” maneuverings of the various political factions known as Daes Dae’mar -the Game of Houses (or Great Game), if you pardon the pun.

The story begins splitting like tree branches, or maybe tree-roots is a better analogy, since time and time again the smaller stories merge into one another, entangling the plot, only to diverge a few chapters further on. The first time is after the Horn is stolen, and Rand joins the search for it while Egwene and Nynaeve go to the White Tower, Another split occurs when Rand and a small party get separated from the main group, and then again, when Egwene and Nynaeve are whisked away from the Tower.

One Thing Less

Certainty now takes its place among hope, trust, and love as missing from Jordan’s world, and yet I continue to want more. Everything that Rand thought he knew becomes shaken, Egewen, Elyane and Nynaeve find that what they thought they knew is as nothing compared to what they do not know, and no one is certain what will happen now. There is also a lot of fear built into this world: fear of the Dark One, fear of the Dragon Reborn, fear (and hatred) of Aes Sedai, of Trollocs, Fades, Darkfriends, Aiel, and Whitecloaks.

What I begin to find irritating in Jordan’s work over and over again is an unbalanced worldview in the relation between Good and Evil. While the Dark One -even from his prison- can touch the world and influence the course of events through dreams, and run amuk with his minions, the “Creator” -who sealed him in Shauyul Ghul at the moment of Creation -we are never told why, or where the Dark One came from- is a completely hands-off deity with no apparent concern for what happens in the world that He has created. People claim to be dedicated to the “Light” -that everyone uses as a prayer and a curse- as opposed to the Dark One,  but no one looks to the Light for help against the Shadow.

Another weave is introduced into the Pattern though, the mysterious military force known as the Seanchan, representing the Hailene, meaning in the Old Tongue, “Those Who Come Beforethat is preparing for a Corene, a “Return”

Whatever Happened to Who says Character Development is Dead?

Some reviewers criticize Jordan for backsliding the characters in this second book.  After everything they went through in The Eye of the World, the theory goes, surely they would have learned something about what is to be expected of them, and they would mature, grow into the responsibility that has been thrust upon them. Except, in reality, this is not always the case; not everybody learns from their experiences .

Keep in mind: Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwin, and Nynave are from The Two Rivers, an isolated, provincial, hill-billy type world, with no training or prior experience to prepare them for their tasks in a much wider world, their much flouted stubbornness aside. Even after what they experienced, they still find it hard to accept -much less adapt to- what is happening to them (well the boys at least). Additionally, the boys are struggling with the notion of being ta’veren, of being caught up in something they did not ask for, and for Rand, especially, knowing what is expected of him as Dragon Reborn, -not to mention the madness he is heir to as a man who can channel- an additional burden not shared by the women.

So, you want to just jump right in, do ya?

Caveat: this volume is a continuation of The Wheel of Time series, and not appropriate for the reader who is not already familiar with the series. Prospective readers are invited and expected to read the precursor volume(s) starting with “The Eye of the world” to understand the timing.  Some other [Amazon, but also personal acquaintances of this reviewer] reviewers complain that Jordan does not make his volumes stand alone. The statement is true on it’s surface, but the interpretive slant placed on it by the reviewer does not follow i.e. that each volume should neatly wrap up the events that began  on page one.

Unlike a television soap opera (to which TWOT has also been unfavorably compared to) or lighthearted sitcom, you cannot just ‘pick up’ a volume of Jordan and expect to understand  the whole storyline at a glance; each volume is part of a larger tapestry, and I for one, appreciate this aspect, just as I appreciate the ‘real-time’ nature of the protagonists’ development as characters and as (fictitious) persons.

At the same time, readers who first pick up volume 2 (or even  Volume 3) can still enjoy an understanding of what the stakes are, even if the minutiae escape them, just like a person can read a history of WW2 without necessarily having the background of the events of WW1 and the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.

The Wheel of Time Sequence:

The Eye of the World
The Great Hunt

Coming up next is  a review of  Doors of Perception by John Baggley, introducing history, theology, and practice of Icons to a Western audience. So until then my friends, stay calm and keep reading!

Pile #13 “Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church” by Ron Moseley

7 May

Yeshua: A guide to the real Jesus and the original church / Ron Mosley. Clarkesville, MD: Lederer Books,  1996. Includes Bibliographic References and Index.  [Kindle edition]

nota bene: This marks the end of my reviews that I adapted from my prior published material on Amazon.com (with one exception, to be noted below). Going forward, my reviews will be original creations, except for those reviews that might be adapted from The Angelus,  the parish newsletter for  Church of Our Saviour, Atlanta  This means that my pace, already slowing down since the end of February, will be a tad bit slower, as I actually have to write them all out as opposed to simply reworking existing material (Oh the horror!!, Oh the humanity!!)At the same time, I do have a considerable backlog of reviews to push out, so I definitely will not run out of material any time soon. (Especially as I continually purchase books from Amazon….around 30 at last count over the last 6 months), and I’m sure to continue to enjoy a lot of overlap between this blog, Amazon reviews, and those aforementioned other blogs that I have not as yet been able to work up as planned.

And now, let us together explore the real (life and meaning of) Yeshua and His meaning for us latter day believers in His Name.   The original review can be found here http://www.amazon.com/review/R4FCZET43W3B3/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

Remembering the Jewish Jesus

In recent years it has become fashionable to remember that before He was hailed as the Christ -the Messiah of Israel- Jesus of Nazareth was born, raised, lived, and even died, as a Jew, and that the first communities to spread His message were sent from the synagogues to the synagogues and almost as an afterthought to God-fearing Gentiles. Such lights and critical scholars as +N.T. Wright, R. Shmuley Boteach, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, Geza Vermes, and Dr. Bart Ehrman have given us volumes of ‘biographies’ and studies focusing on Jesus as a Jew, and along with this comes a thawing of how Christians view both individual Jews and Judaism, both modern and ancient. Before these writers were received into the public imagination, however, there was Dr. Ron Moseley, and his book Yeshua: a Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church.

Dr. Moseley has multiple doctorates in such fields as Second Temple History, and Religion and Society, as well as a D.LL. in Research, and studied at Princeton, University of Texas, and Oxford Graduate School at Oxford University, and currently resides in Jerusalem, Israel.

The book is comprised of a Foreword, Preface, and Introduction, 9 chapters with a Conclusion, a section of Notes, a Glossary and Bibliography. Additionally,  each chapter ends with a set of Study Questions for individual or group use.

Dr. Moseley’s aims in the book are to show that: Yeshua (Jesus’s name as transliterated from the Hebrew) lived a fully Jewish life, that the earliest Church was Jewish and organized along synagogal lines; that major Jewish concepts (especially “Torah”) are misunderstood when communicated in a Greek language and idiomatic mindset; that the Pharisees were the orthodox fundamentalists of their day and had both heroes and villains in their ranks; and that the earliest Church was but one of many sects within first century Judaism -all wrapped around the overriding premise “that it is impossible to understand the first 100 years of the Church’s existence without a knowledge of the Hebrew culture from which it sprang” (from the preface). It defines for the reader the “players, struggles, and issues” which affected the earliest Church, as well as the environment that Jesus was raised in, the people that He loved, and the religion that He served.

Dr. Moseley opens his book with the following statement regarding standard works of church history at the time of writing: “By beginning their research with the later second and third-century Church after it had become predominantly a Gentile organization, they have lost the history of the first hundred years.” This awareness is shown in the favorable foreword written by Professor Marvin Wilson of Gordon College “If one desires to be radically Christian, a thorough understanding of the Jewish origin of the Church is by no means optional; it is foundational.”

The Misunderstood Pharisees

The greatest part of the book is given over to a study of the Pharisees (the “Perushim”), perhaps the most misunderstood group of Jews to Christian eyes: their rise and function within Jewish society, their teachings and their enduring influence and eventual morphing into the rabbinate of post-Second Temple Judaism, and this can be seen by a glance at the table of contents. The first chapter covers the evidence for the Jewish background of the early Church, the second chapter covers major Jewish idioms and ideas in the teaching of Jesus Himself. The third chapter takes up the Torah/Law and the misconceptions that arise from its transmission in a Greek-mindset using the Greek language as opposed to the Hebrew mindset and language. Chapters 4 and 5 are a discussion of the relation of the Old and New Testaments and the influence of the Old on the New, and last 4 chapters are taken up with the Pharisees.

Meant Not For the Scholars

Some [Amazon] reviewers have criticized Dr. Moseley for quoting lavishly from other scholarship without providing his own arguments for his thesis. This book, though, does not pretend to be a work of original scholarship that uncovers previously unknown information about the life of of Jesus, or a textbook on the same. In fact it’s purpose is just the opposite of the criticism.

It is a general purpose reader that seeks to call attention to the actual Jewishness of Jesus and the earliest Church, bringing together information from various sources, and written on a level that is approachable to readers of a general education, a Sunday School or church group, not a specialist audience of scholars. So of necessity he relies on the published work of other authors and scholars. Any one of his aims could be (and in fact is) the subject of a book by itself. Additionally, as has been subsequently brought out by the author, this book came out at a time when there was little other literature out there proclaiming and celebrating the Jewishness of Jesus and the early Church.

While not a weakness, I would have preferred a more scholarly presentation of the subject, yet I believe it is quite adequate for someone who doesn’t care for lots of footnotes, non-English quotations, abbreviations or bibliographies interrupting their reading but who does want to learn something about the world that Jesus and the Church was born into. Another nit-pick from my perspective is the fact that he quotes mostly from the KJV; though I would have liked to have seen more recent translations, I realize that the KJV is probably the version most English-speaking readers will be familiar with. I would hope that in revised editions of the work, Dr. Moseley would consider alternate translations, such as the NIV, RSV, or ESV.

This book will provide the most benefit to readers who have little to no previous formal exposure to the Judaism of Jesus’ day, and can be used by church youth groups, Sunday Schools, or the casual reader. If nothing else, it should open the eyes of the sympathetic reader to the religious diversity that existed within Judaism in the days of Jesus, and rid him of a simplistic understanding of the faith of Israel.

*This review refers to the Kindle edition of the text, and there were some formatting issues as well as typographical and minor editorial glitches in the text that detracted a little from my enjoyment of the book, but did not alter the argument of the work.                                                                                                                                         

Normally this would be the part of the post where I tell you what to look forward to for my next review, but the truth is, though the ‘scheduled’ review is Mary Through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture by Jaroslav Pelikan is the next one, it’s really a book that is savored best when read alongside it’s companion and predecessor, Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture, also by Pelikan. So, for now, I’ll be working on adapting some of my previous book reviews written for my parish church newsletter, as well as working on a crop of truly orginal book reviews (including reviews of the next 2 books in The Wheel of Time. Until then my friends, keep calm and read on!

Pile #12 “The Eye of the World” by Robert Jordan

19 Apr

My first ‘serious’ fantasy book review is finally upon us!

As always (and for the next to the last time) the original review can be found here: “Eye of the World” http://www.amazon.com/review/R32L1PFWZI7WVK/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

Rand al’Thor is a farmer’s son and a sheepherder from Emond’s Field in the Two Rivers. Or so he thought. But then, one cold, supposed Spring night, strangers come to his small village, followed closely by nightmares out of legend. He finds himself fleeing his home with childhood friends Mat and Perrin, and Egewen, his childhood sweetheart, in the  company of an Aes Sedai (a woman who channels the One Power), Morraine and her Warder Lan, -and soon the village Wisdom Nynaeve- but one step ahead of minions of the Dark One (the supreme evil being in this world).

Separated from their guides and nearly from each other at the site of an ancient evil and traveling throughout the land, the friends make their way by smaller group  not without further difficulty to the city of Camelyn, capital of Andor, where they eventually reunite, though not happily.  From Camelyn, they find themselves Traveling along shadow-tainted Ways to reach, along with a new companion, an Ogier, the legendary Eye of the World where they uncover evidence that the Seals on the prison of the Dark One are weakening, and in some cases failing. Oh, and a long expected, long feared prophecy is unfurling -The Dragon Reborn may walk the earth once more. Just what the doctor didn’t order.

An Epic in the Making

This is but the shallowest glimpse of the epic story that Robert Jordan unleashes upon the reader with The Eye of the World, first published in 1990 (though sadly he did not live to finish the tale, though he did leave enough material behind for another to complete the final 3 volumes). Like the wind itself that “rose in the Mountains of Mist” but, which itself “was not the beginning”, for “There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time” which touches everyone it encounters without stopping -and imitating its ebb and flow, the narrative goes rolling on till it assumes hurricane strength, and even when things have calmed down again, it is but the calm before the storm, a storm called the Tarmon Gai’don (The Last Battle).

This is no simple fairy tale, or traditional fantasy quest. Good versus evil in spades, and yet Good is not unsullied. Characters and heroes aplenty, though not everyone is as they seem.  Readers are treated, even in as massive a corpus as Jordan has bequeathed us, only to a sliver of the vast world that lies beyond the pages. What  remains concealed is so much greater than what is revealed.  Jordan provides us with a slowly unfolding yet complete in itself world.  We see things, not from the point of view of an omniscient-third person, we know only as much as the viewpoint character can and does know.

On the one hand, we are privy not just to character’s  emotions, but to their yearnings, their frustrations, their strengths and their limitation, in short, their whole way of thinking.  No one character, or point of view, has all the answers, most people have only partial answers, (as well as reacting to movements of the Dark One and his minions, as opposed to acting themselves).  And, many characters  have no answers -they hardly have the questions to ask- which doesn’t stop them from trying to put their own answer (even to other people’s questions)

One Thing (Only)  is Missing

Jordan’s world has many things:  magic (of a sort), political intrigue, family bonds,  glimpses into the life of high and low, a long history. The one thing missing in Jordan’s world, though, is hope. And trust. Two. The two things missing in Jordan’s world are hope, trust. And love.  Three.  The three things most basic to a happy ending missing in Jordan’s world (so far) are hope, trust, and love.  This leaves a vacuum, and we all know that nature -even fictional nature abhors a vacuum.  In this instance, that vacuum is filled by fear.  Fear, suspicion, and manipulation through power is the driving force in a world touched by the Dark One, a world every much as tainted as the male half of the Source at the end of the War of the Shadow.

This is a world that has lost much since the Breaking of the World ended the Age of Legends.  Even, or especially, in Tolkein’s Middle Earth, there was hope, the hope, that  if the One Ring could be destroyed then Sauron’s evil could be thwarted once and for all; there was trust in the Fellowship of the Ring, and in Gandalf; and there was love, the love of home which drove Frodo and Samwise beyond even their own endurance. In Jordan, though, this hope, this trust, this bond of love has been overthrown by the taint of the Dark One. People cry out for salvation, but they fear the very salvation they see, afraid of its price -the Breaking of the World anew, as in the War of the Shadow.

On the other hand, most of the character types do not come off as particularly admirable, especially the ones belonging to particular institutions (in fact I cannot think of one Whitecloak that I do not despise).  Its a muddled world that Jordan introduces us to. It is also a hard world,  much harder than most fantasy worlds, and though much attention and possibly love is lavished upon it’s creation, there is not much joy to be had of it.

Tangling With the Reviewers

Many (mostly Amazon) reviewers who gave the book two stars or less, complain about the one dimensionality of the characters, and his overabundance of description. and long passages of ‘filler’.  Well, most people start out as one dimensional until we  get to know them. And, these same reviewers also complain about the repetition of description. I wonder if they ever read the unabridged “Illiad”, or the “Odyssey”, or other epics that began life as oral poetry, where repetition is necessary to fix objects in the hearer’s mind.

Granted I do agree with the mostly negative reaction to how women are perceived in the text relative to men, but on the other hand, for three thousand years it has been the women, and only the women who have access to a greater than human Power, and as surely as patriarchal thinking has shaped most of the world’s attitudes toward manhood and womanhood in our world, so the one-sided use of the One Power has shaped gender perceptions in the world of The Wheel of Time.

Personally, what ticks me off the most about reader reviews is the incessant back and forth tug of war  about how Jordan stacks up to Tolkein, from gripes about his being a hack imitator (which says the reviewer hasn’t even recently read LOTR, much less EOTW) to the paeans that Jordan has gone beyond Tolkein. To respond to the first sort of people, I need only point out that the whole of modern fantasy is in one sense or another a reaction -and a response- to Tolkein’s work. Tolkein (whether intentional or not) set the agenda for modern fantasy. Love him, hate, seek to replace him if you will, but you can’t ignore him. He’s in the very air that fantasy writers breathe. (For more on this, see Michael Drout’s great lecture series in  The Modern Scholar series by Recorded Books: Rings, Swords, and Monsters: Exploring Fantasy Literature) and everything else up to this time  is imitating, copying, or rejecting that agenda.

People write disparagingly of writers imitating Tolkein, but nearly every other fantasy quest story other than Tolkein is about finding and USING the magic talisman, not seeking to destroy it, so whenever I see that canard, I have to go “huhh?”. Rand is a partial exception. He is born with a Power to fight the Dark One, but he doesn’t want it, and yet has to use it. Moreover, the Power is tainted by the Dark One he seeks to defeat -using it will drive him mad- and ever power structure in the world seems bent on using him for their own ends, whether he likes it or not.

He Who Endures to the End…

From the length of the first book, and the hints of things to come, I know (even without knowing how many other books are in the series) that this is to be a drawn out fantasy story, with its own unique pacing.  My advice is to endure it, for the tale Jordan bequeaths to us is worth the reading.

                                                                                                                                   

My next review is Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church by Ron Moseley, one of the earliest to take a more sympathetic look at the Jewishness of Jesus and the first Christian community. So, until then my friends, keep calm and read on!

Pile #11 “The Highest Tide” by Jim Lynch

4 Mar

The Highest Tide: a Novel / Jim Lynch.  Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.  2010. Kindle Edition.

As always, the  original review can be found here: “The Highest Tide” http://www.amazon.com/review/R12KYOKY89C1G/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

You know its time to buy your own copy when you’ve checked out the same book more than three times from the library, and for me this is certainly true of The Highest Tide. So many passages cry out to be underlined and flagged, to be savored. I even re-read the book just for this review. A shocking admission, I know. Even more  shocking (at least potentially) is that this was the first fiction title I purchased for my Kindle (wonderful device a Kindle is: a dedicated platform for reading books, and only books (and periodical literature that happens to fit the screen size), not only can I hold more books in my hand than I used to, and can juggle them at the push of a button or two -a thing I like doing, alot- but it saves wear and tear on the physical volume, which doesn’t always hold up well in my grubby hands. And that doesn’t even consider the Kindle apps for PC and iPad that really assist the book review process).

Always looking

Miles O’Malley is a boy with a passion for exploring the tidal flats, and very good at finding things, ever since he read Rachel Carson at age 6. This all changes the summer he was thirteen. It starts as a normal summer, spent collecting sea-life to sell to local restaurants and aquariums, mooning over his former baby-sitter Angire Stegner, and helping to care for his elderly neighbor Florence. But, by the time of his first discovery made on the night of the lowest tide of the summer. He makes further discoveries, finds himself the subject of television and nationwide newspaper articles, even pursued by members of a religious cult because of his perceived insights into the meaning of life he finds along the seashore.

This is the summer he learns to see things about himself in the same way that he wants others to see things around them. He notes this early in the book: “In the space of a summer I’d learned that everything was changing, including me” (from the Question and Answer section).  Even old Florence, tells him “This is your summer, Miles. This is the summer that defines you” (p. 47).

The first thing to say about this book, in response to other reviewers, is that not all tales with a adolescent protagonist are for adolescents.  Miles chides us that

“People usually take decades to sort out their view of the universe, if they bother to sort at all. I did my sorting during one freakish summer in which I was ambushed by science, fame and suggestions of the divine” (p.2).

These prescient comments come in the very beginning of the book, and are not the voice of thirteen year old Miles, but of middle aged Miles, looking back *back* on that summer, not experiencing it then and there as some other [Amazon] reviewers claim.  Simply put, the book is about life, in all its wonder, grittyness, and pettiness, in short the book stands as “an ovation for life itself” (p. 226).

The book is composed of 30 un-named chapters. Beyond the text itself there is a question-and-answer section, with the author, group study questions, a biographical note on the author, even a “love me” wall of complimentary reviews about the book -though the book can be enjoyed without the extras.

Maybe Jim Lynch is trying to tell us something

Miles’s story, as the title implies, is framed by the tides: it starts with the lowest night tide of the summer and that first discovery, and ends with the highest tide of the year (a freak, unexpected event, unless you happen to be looking for the signs).  The question to ask ourselves becomes is Miles different in the end than at the beginning of his “freakish summer”?  I think for Miles, the answer is yes.

The exploration of the tidal flats around his hometown, the opening of his eyes to what is really there, the relationships he has with family, friends, and other members of his community- it is through his looking in the tidal flats, that he has trained himself  to be able to look at himself and those around him. He does not always like what he sees, but he does not shy away from the seeing.  Along the way Miles, and Lynch, hopes to reawaken our own sense of wonder and magic about the life that lies all around us, whether on the border between see and land, or the hazy border that is the self.

The passage from ignorance to self-knowledge. Seeing life for what it is.  Finding your place in life. An environmental message about caring. The exuberance and passion of youth. – All these could be said to be messages contained in Lynch’s book.  I think, though, that Lynch’s message is much simpler, that it revolves around Miles’ declamation that “I just see what I see” (p72) and could be summed up by saying “its amazing what you can find if you simply look”.  Miles is looking around, and he too is seeing things in his life he never noticed before.  He sees his parents and their troubled and rocky relationship that just might end in divorce. He watches the slow, painful decline of his elderly friend Florence, and the equally deteriorating condition that Judge Stegner has to deals with in Angie and  her wild and self-destructive lifestyle and drug addiction. He observes his friend Phelps antics in regards to girls. Above all and always, though it is the Tidal Pools of Puget Sound, a character in itself, and the wondrous things about him that he discovers in this one summer.

The Sea’s the Thing

Some readers may become distracted, or even irritated with the long passages about marine life that abound in the novel, and in fact some reviewer complain about the long passages of, but they are in fact integral to the story, from the giant squid in the beginning to the many unexpected species found at the biodversity right before the climax of the story. It is in relating this information that Miles reveals his true self.  Even all the references to Rachel Carson, with its strong hint of ecological crusading, serve to reinforce, that the earth is speaking to us if we but take the time to really look, and listen.  It is not important to Miles -as it is for the students of the ‘School’ he meets- what we find, or whether it comes from science or new age religion, or from within oneself, but that we are looking.

When Miles starts sharing the maritime discoveries he has made, he goes off into another world (sort of like me0, I can just see him beginning to talk and talking more and more rapidly

Squirming with Life and Love

Admittedly, as other (Amazon) reviewers have pointed out, there is a lot of crude sex-on-the-brain imagery, and less than flattering descriptions of women, but this is a story about a boy entering upon adolescence, and there is a more than casual resemblance between the observed fecundity of the tidal shallows of Puget Sound and the growing sexual awareness of youth.  You can’t expect a character to be outstanding in all areas, now can you?  Even Miles admits this -right at the beginning he tells us “I was an increasingly horny, speed-reading thirteen-year-old insomniac” (p2).

On the one hand, the book is free of overtly graphic scenes of sexual or violent activity, but on the other hand, an atmosphere of sexual exploration is still present, reminding us (as if we needed any such reminder) that the sexual reproductive drive is as strong in man as in the rest of creation.  Yet he is still sensitive about these things, feeling guilty afterwards as he wrestles with his burgeoning desires. As Phelps passes on what he has ‘learned’ from others, Miles remarks that “Something about it made me feel defensive, as did most of the crap I heard directly or indirectly about what girls wanted.”(p. 54) and the changing tenor of his relationship with Angie, who finally agrees to wait for Miles perhaps caps his summer of self-discovery.

Defining Miles

So, in the end, we have a boy who finds himself, a girl who is beginning to find herself -thanks in part to Miles just being himself- after a young adult binge of sex, drugs, and rock music, and a town coming to grips with itself in the wake of  a summer of extra-ordinary yet natural occurrences. And it’s all related to Miles’ self-discovery.

note for readers of the Kindle version:   There ARE  typos, quite a few of them, sadly: I noticed lots of them  on several “pages”: 23, 78, 122, 123, 139, 143, 160, 188, 189, 195, 196, 205, 208, 240

Mini-Pile #3 “Seeing Christ in the Tabernacle” by Ervin Hershberger

30 Jan

The original review is found “Seeing Christ in the Tabernacle”  http://www.amazon.com/review/R1VHFOAF9LO7B8/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

“Seeing Christ in the Tabernacle” is one of a pair of books that I bought from the “Choice Books” kiosk at the grocery store I work in. I picked this book up because it appeared to be a study of the Tabernacle a structure of vast spiritual and symbolical significance in the life of Israel.  It turned out not to be as detailed as I I first thought it was. Nonetheless it is helpful in seeing the Tabernacle as more than just a historical curiosity.

Ervin Hershberger desires his reader to see Christ in all things, and especially in that most Jewish of structures the Tabernacle -the Tent of Meeting that the Israelites made at the command of the Lord after their flight from Egypt, and carried with them through the subsequent 40 years sojourn in the desert, and well into the formative period of their occupation of the Promised Land, until the building of the First Temple by King Solomon, at which the levitical priests daily performed the appointed sacrifices to the Lord God of Israel.

His is a simple book without intrusive footnotes, elaborate bibliographies or foreign sounding and oddly spelled words. Included between its pages are a Foreword, a Preface, a section “Introducing the Tabernacle”, 12 chapters covering the various structures, furnishings, articles, coverings, and spaces within the Tabernacle, as well as the persons who served it and the actions that occurred in and around its sacred precincts.

As Hershberger writes: “The story of the Tabernacle reaches deeper than the earth, higher than the sky, and farther than the universe. Its humble features represent none of these but, but they represent the Creator of them all, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (p12).

Every chapter in the book is aligned to showcase “God’s masterpiece of typology, the Tabernacle” (p11). The book is not, however, primarily intended as a study of the Tabernacle in and of itself -you will find no extra-biblical source material used to discuss its history for example- instead, Hershberger’s purpose is to “praise, adore, and glorify Jesus Christ, of whom the Tabernacle is only a shadow” (ibid), while gently prodding the reader to “Remember that we do not use types to establish doctrine, but only to illustrate what the Bible clearly teaches” as a constant refrain throughout the book. A longer introductory section on typology charting the difference between ‘establishing doctrine’ and ‘illustrating what the Bible clearly teaches’ would have been more helpful, but is not essential for Hersberger’s task.

Straining the gnat?

While the book does fill a niche as a devotional meditation focusing solely on the Tabernacle with a commitment to see every last detail as a type of Christ (whether or not such typifying is only illustrating established teaching), it occasionally stretches credulity (and the author’s credibility) in requiring every object (down to the symbolically significant number of stakes, nails, or dimensions), space, person, and action refer only to Christ. This makes a note of caution to the reader in order, as seeing everything about the Tabernacle as only a type and shadow of Christ, combined with an implicit refusal to accept the Tabernacle on its own terms, can be construed as a veiled form of antisemitism, and as a devaluing of the Tabernacle itself as the chosen place of meeting between God and His chosen people. Moreover Hershberger’s style of a direct one-on-one comparison of a specific element of the Tabernacle and its relation to a similar element of the work of Christ becomes monotonous after a while even in as short a text as this one, so multiple readings may become necessary to achieve the fullest benefit of the book’s potential.

Useful but Limited

It remains a useful reference work for deepening one’s appreciation of the Scriptures, of tieing the ‘Old’ to the ‘New’ Testaments. A few references and allusions to Rapture might mar the text for the non-Dispensationalist minded believer, and certainly a Jewish reader can feel put out by the claim that: “The Tabernacle and all its features, the priests and all their services, the multiple sacrifices and all their rituals were only a foreshadowing of the coming ministry of Jesus Christ!” (p.98) but overall, these considerations should not take away the value of seeing in the Tabernacle a type of Christ Jesus, and of the Heavenly Third Temple.

Pile #9 “Freehold” by Michael Z Williamson

23 Jan

Freehold / Michael Z Williamson.   Riverdale, NY: Baen Books. 2004. 667 p.

The original review can be found here:  “Freehold” http://www.amazon.com/review/R19N5R1ILNPKAD/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

“Holding Free”

“Freehold” is yet another in the spate of fast-paced hard military sci-fi to come out of Baen Books in the last two decades, and is itself part of a series of inter-related books written in the Freehold universe by Williamson (though each novel is self-contained, and the series as a whole can be read non-sequentially (chronologically or published order) with the same enjoyment as reading it. as published.

Kendra Pacelli, a sergeant in the UNPF seeks asylum in the Freehold of Granine after being framed in an investigation of embezzled military equipment. She arrives as a refugee, and after a shaky period of cultural acclimatization, begins to find her place in this new society and build a life for herself, just as a cold war with Earth heats up into open conflict, and she finds herself fighting against her own former homeworld.

In this case, the Freehold of Granine is not attempting to hold itself up as a paragon of virtue, or the ultimate Utopia, they just want to be left alone to pursue their own destiny as “a nation of co-operative loners” (p. 228), which is a very apt description of life in the Freehold. Politically, economically, and socially, the Freehold is best described as ‘libertarian’, and very successful in all that they do, as contrasted to Earth under the totalitarian/socialistic rule of the United Nations. And that success is the one thing that Earth cannot stand in the face of its own propaganda.

So what’s the catch?

The Freehold contains a minimalist government (political leadership is predicated on building wealth only to give it away), unregulated capitalism (in every sense of the word) and a live-and-let-live social structure (it is even expected that everyone and anyone will carry personal weapons about their person). The majority religious influence seems to be Goddess based, though the presence of other religions is noted from time to time. With very few laws or regulations, crime, graft and corruption is virtually nonexistent. The one partial exception to this free-wheeling existence is the military, which still maintains a hierarchical, regimented life -though even here Kendra will find major differences in the spirit of discipline and responsibility between her birth planet and her adopted home, usually with the latter coming out the worse for the comparison.

More than half of the book is devoted to Kendra’s life in the military (similar to Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and John Scalzi’s An Old Man’s War). Of a 54 chapter (plus epilogue) book, all but 14 directly connects Kendra to the military. Additionally, the major military campaign against the Freehold and it’s Occupation is from chapter 29 to the end.

Everything in Williamson’s book (as in most offerings from the Baen pantheon) is highly realistic -almost hyper-realistic- from its description of combat, military life and training, to passages of sexual liaisons and relationships, which is the one aspect of the book which sits ill with me (the same can be said for John Ringo’s “Kildar” series), and makes this an adult reading experience. The realism serves to push the story forward, and to act as an anchor for contemporary readers, but it can also push the unwary reader away

Another positive aspect for me of reading this type of  hard (military) sci-fi is o want to learn more about things it takes for granted (such as technology and science, economics and economic theory, even philosophy and military science). At the same time, if you don’t leave the Freehold without a few criticisms of social, political or economic policy (both your own and the Freehold’s), then I think you’re not actively reading.

Survey Said..!

Other (Amazon) reviewers either hate him or love him for the implicit message about “libertarian” political economy, and social policy (or lack thereof) and like to compare Williamson’s work (favorably or not) to Robert Heinlein’s work (1). If Williamson is trying to ‘shove’ his political economy and social views down our throat, as one reviewer asserted, he is at least not the first, nor shall he be the last to do so in a a work of fiction (Upton Sinclair’s Jungle comes to mind here), and  at least he goes about it in an entertaining way.   Also, as at least one other  reviewer noted at least implicitly, and hitting upon a truth of science fiction:  it is Ideas, more so than character or plot that take center stage. And quite often, in order to air out the idea properly, you need to take it out of current context and place, thus the future setting (it assists the contemporary reader to achieve the emotional detachment necessary to analyze a concept). Of course, the world wide UN government and the Freehold for all the realistic description, comes off as either “too good to be true” or “too bad to be believable”, but I choose to believe that this was intentional, so that we could see the outcome of the competing ideas in action in as pure form as possible.

All Squeamishness Aside…

As I wrote above, parts of Williamson’s writing are very explicit and sexually graphic, this is something that may or may not change with future works. This may turn some readers off, (I certainly found it off-putting), and yet that too is part of the Freehold mentality: liberty and license as long as it does not hurt anyone else. It’s not a particularly Christian ethical standard, but then the book was not written with a necessarily Christian audience in mind. I can accept that, and still enjoy the story, even if i don’t agree with it’s worldview.

My final thought on the matter: this will not be the last book by Williamson I will read, even if parts of it leave me a little squeamish.

Sources:

  1. Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: Freehold http://www.amazon.com/Freehold-Michael-Z-Williamson/product-reviews/0743471792/ref=cm_rdp_hist_hdr_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1  accessed on 21 January 2013

My next Pile is On Basilisk Station by David Weber (you may have heard of him), so until then, keep calm and read on. *why yes this IS a new tagline, why do you ask?*

Pile #8 With the Lightnings by David Drake

22 Jan

With the Lightnings / David Drake. Riverdale, NY: Baen Books. 1999. 416 p. [“RCN Series”]

And you thought I only read and reviewed nonfiction (and mostly religious works at that), didn’t you?

The original review can be found here: 8.  “With the Lightnings” http://www.amazon.com/review/R31RF3NY5N6HA7/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

I have read fiction as much as non-fiction virtually my whole life (though understandably, I’ve been reading fiction longer than non-fiction, what starting as  a child and all).  It just so happens when I began a book review blog, the books most at hand were non-fiction, and that Drake’s With the Lightnings ) was the first fiction book I decided to review (or could lay my hands on at the decision making time (ok, so it was the book with the lowest review count on Amazon of the pile before me that led to my decision to review it first, but it was still the first book I could lay my hands on at the time), though it’s not even the first Drake book that I have read -having first been introduced to him through “Hammer’s Slammers” and his collaborative series with Eric Flint “Belisarius’.

A fast paced tale along with its sequels in the  “RCN” series, With the Lightnings is primarily high quality pukp military sci fi  high adventure in the space lanes.  Drake is skilled at presenting a good military romp (the aforementioned “Hammers’ Slammers”, a fantasy series titled “Lord of the Isles” and numerous stand alone novels attest to that).  Harking back to the sailing days of the 18th and 19th century in a way that David Weber’s “Honor Harrington” series doesn’t, Drake presents a rough-and-tumble universe, and doesn’t shy away from placing the nitty-gritty front and foremost in the reader’s face. The feel of the series is like crossing late Republican Rome with the British Navy of the Napoleonic Wars.

Up, Cinnabar!

So then, what is With the Lightnings all about?

Lieutenant Daniel Leary, estranged scion of the Learys of Bantry, is a low ranking officer in the Republic of Cinnabar Navy (read: a freshly minted lieutenant) included in a ‘show the flag’ mission to a ally of the Republic of Cinnabar. Disaster strikes the deputation in the form of a palace coup supported by Cinnabar’s bitterest rival, the Alliance of Free Stars, leaving only himself, his man-servant and a small contingent of sailors from his ship free, along with an exiled Cinnabar native on planet to take up a post as the Electoral Librarian, Adele Mundy (a Mundy of Chatsworth), to keep things from going bad to worse for the Republic. Through a combination of quick wits, personal charisma and leadership on Daniel’s part, along with Adele’s incredible analytical ability (not to mention her ability with a gun) and the crew’s willingness to bust heads,  Daniel and company are able to outwit both native and foreign armies, capture a ship, defeat the enemy, and uphold the honor of the RCN and the Republic. Along the way it could be argued, Adele finds a new family and Daniel a purpose, though it’s not really clear until later volumes how this set of relationships will work out.

“Full of sound and fury, signifying….”

There was no shortage of excitement to be had in the book, and not a small amount of admiration for the abilities of the central characters. And yet, I feel empty after reading of their exploits.  I can read his books for an adrenaline rush but not for understanding the human condition, which is what the best literature does (and yes, even science fiction can be accounted literature on occasion, I think especially of Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell  in this regard -note to self:  make Sparrow a future review). He’s good at describing the human condition, but not explaining it, or overcoming it, at least that is, in the world of the RCN.

A Leary  Without Honor…

Quite frankly, its hard to like, or respect, Lt. Leary as a person.  Coming from an aristocratic family he brings the baggage of aristocracy with him, despite his ability to bond with deck hands. The principles he does have, he holds with adamantine solidity, yet he is equally cocksure in his prejudices, his “us versus them” mentality, and an innate sense of his own personal, and his Republic’s, superiority to other peoples and polities. His intense in natural history adds a little depth, but not enough.

The same judgement can be made for most of the characters: set in their ways, sure of themselves, and of the superiority of their way of life over any other. I can admire their skills their ability to produce when the proverbial fecal matter hits the  rapidly spinning rotary blades, (Adele is a whiz at tickling information out of computers that most people would overlook as insignificant, Hoggs is accomplished at, shall we say, alternative logistics procurement, and Tovera is, well Tovera, though she doesn’t shine  much in this first volume) but all in all, they do not come across as outstanding individuals.  All the characters in this series are very colorful, but flat (true, Daniel is a fairly intense amateur naturalist which also provides Drake a way to introduce discussions of xenobotany and xenobiology, but Daniel doesn’t’ really grow from this exposure).

To be fair, it may not be Drake’s _intention_ to present Daniel and his spacers, Adele, Tovera, and Hoggs or even the Republic of Cinnabar as sympathetic, developing characters (unlike say Weber’s major characters,* they don’t appear to mature as persons: i.e. the Lt. Leary of book one is the same as the Leary of book 4) but I at least expect that main characters will alter some of their perceptions over a multi-year span of adventures, not so here. On the other hand, as the main characters are in their adulthood, their basic personalities are already set, and to expect any basic change

Theirs is a stratified society where family interest and pedigree count for more than personal merit; it is a world where honor counts for more than life -which, in this future time is treated if not callously, as more of a commodity than an end in itself. An example is this line written toward the end of the book, “Adele couldn’t feel sorrow for dead strangers, but the artwork which had shared their destruction made her face tremble to behold.” (p389), and a similar line about Adele’s future hatchet-woman Tovera, who admits that “[T]here is a piece missing” in her life (presumably a sense of direction) who thus has no qualms about using other people to provide “that piece of me that isn’t there” (p390).

And yet for all this, Leary is free of most of the politics that wrap up other characters in other novels and series just like Drake’s writings are relatively free of political intrigue.  What you see is what you get, straight up action.

Leary as mimesis

Other reviewers frequently compare Drake’s work to its inspired model Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Mauritani  series, as well as Weber’s “Honor Harrington” series, and find With the Lightnings wanting. I would submit that just because a famous work of literature inspires a homage, does not mean that the later writer is attempting to copy or improve upon the original. At the same time, highlighting commonalities with Aubrey, or even Hornblower can help to situate the novel’s audience: if you like naval adventure and you like science fiction, and you like action, chances are you’ll like where Drake is going. If you like deep meaningful revelations about human life and destiny mixed in with your adventurous heroes, I advise  you to look elsewhere, although, multiple small shards about what it is to be human do leak out from time to time. It’s possible though I don’t know, that Drake did consciously draw on the form of O’Brian and Forester for his story (and as he acknowledges in later volumes in the series, draws inspiration for, and elements of the plots from actual events in classical history, often, relatively minor ones in terms of overall history).

Last Man Writing: or Drake versus Weber

I realize that in this review I frequently contrast Drake’s Daniel Leary to Weber’s Honor Harrington (the first book of which series, On Basilisk Station is the subject of a future review btw), but that is solely because I think Weber does a better job overall of developing his characters over the long run, not that Drake is an inferior writer. It means also that Drake is an orange, and Weber an apple, having different approaches. Drake’s focus is more on small group interaction even within large scale organizations (which probably owes a lot to Drake’s service in Vietnam), whereas Weber, even when focusing on the command staff of a single ship, does not loose sight of the larger story. Both authors though are equally readable, and devoured as readily.

My next Pile will be Freehold by Michael Z Williamson,  a libertarian science fiction fairy tale, also published by Baen Books. So, until then, keep reading, my friends.

Sources cited:

  1. Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: With the Lightnings http://www.amazon.com/With-Lightnings-David-Drake/product-reviews/0671578189/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1
  2. David Drake -Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Drake