Five for Friday: Let’s Talk 5 random books! – 3/29/19

Over at the “Little Red Reviewer,” “Redhead” has been posting a “Five for Friday” feature on five random books from her shelves to discuss and encouraging others to do so. So here, I go. Following (directly, as quoted in the link)  her rules:

The only things these books have in common are:
-they were
on my bookshelf
-I’m interested in your thoughts on them

This go-round, I grabbed what was nearest at hand, along with one book from my “to read” nonfiction basket.

Firefly Legacy Edition Book One (2018)
I love Firefly. I recently re-watched it for the first time in too long and the feeling when it ended was very much empty. I saw that this collection of Firefly graphic novels was coming out, and sprung for it and the second. Of course, I still haven’t read it. I clearly need to. Anyone read these comics?

The Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Desolation by Yoshiki Tanaka (2018)
This is volume 8 in the 10 volume Legend of the Galactic Heroes series. Better known for its anime (that’s still hard to track down, sadly), this is a  military space opera that feels like an anime when you’re reading it. Unfortunately, it hasn’t made as much a splash in English as I was hoping it would. But these novels are truly enjoyable. They have a very different feel from most military sci-fi in English, and the scale is really anime–like thousands of ships battling each other. I love it.

Natural Signs and Knowledge of God by C. Stephen Evans (2010)
I read this book back when it came out, but want to re-read it. Evans gives a different perspective on theistic arguments than is often offered. He doesn’t fall into the trap of seeing them as entire, clear proofs. I am interested in the re-read but I probably won’t get to it for a long while yet.

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff (1954)
I fell in love with Sutcliff’s books as a child and have re-read many of them several times. This one is probably my favorite, and there was an okay movie made out of it (The Eagle). Anyway, Sutcliff writes truly grounded historical fiction, largely centered around the Roman Empire. Anyone else read her stuff?

Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky (2008)
The first book in Tchaikovsky’s “Shadows of the Apt” series, this novel shows his immense talent across the board. The premise includes humans divided into various “kinden” that have various abilities of insects, something of Tchaikovsky’s specialty. It’s a truly epic fantasy series (10 books long!) and I’m on book 6, so far loving every minute. I’m glad I dove into this after reading the superb Children of Time by the same author.

Advertisements

Reading the Classics: “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

The best on-screen adaptation

I have decided to mix in some classics with my constant reading of sci-fi/fantasy, philosophy, theology, and biographies. In order to pick which classics to read, I have largely crowdsourced recommendations of which classic literature they have enjoyed, combining this with lists of major classic works. So yeah, pretty subjective, but we can deal. As I read through the classics, there will be SPOILERS, because I want to actually talk about them. Maybe it will encourage you to read them, or, if you have read them already, you can join in a deeper discussion of these great works. Feel free to recommend your favorites, as well.

Pride and Prejudice is a longtime favorite of mine. I have read it maybe 3 times before, and loved both the recent movie adaptation and of course the most excellent BBC adaptation. For this reading, as I thought about “Reading the Classics,” I reflected on what made this such an excellent novel with a long staying power. And, when I say “reading,” I meant listening, because I listened to it on Audible. It made for a delightful experience.

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice is a longtime favorite of mine. I have read it maybe 3 times before, and loved both the recent movie adaptation and of course the most excellent BBC adaptation. For this reading as I thought about “Reading the Classics,” I thought about what made this such an excellent novel with a long staying power. And, when I say “reading,” I meant listening, because I listened to it on Audible. It made for a delightful experience.

There are, I think, two primary things that make Pride and Prejudice great. First is the enduring wit of Jane Austen. Her social commentary continues to amuse and remain relevant even more than a hundred years after her life. We can put ourselves in the shoes of the characters–not directly, perhaps, but we can imagine similar social situations. There will always be haughty men and women. There will always be awkward social situations, and family members overstepping their bounds or causing embarrassment. The way these things play out in Pride and Prejudice is part of its staying power. Austen captures those timeless things that can go wrong and intertwines them into a story of manners–good and bad.

The second thing that makes Pride and Prejudice great is not Mr. Collins, though I was quite tempted to say so, as I find him endlessly amusing. The second thing is actually Austen’s own outlook on the world seeping in at opportune moments. Whether it is her dry commentary on social norms or her subtle jabbing at clergy who are inept, she prods her readers to rethink expectations and consider what is the norm for their own society. One thing that strikes me on that score is that Austen tends to depict nearly any clergy throughout as lost, shallow, or impious. Some have suggested that is a comment from Austen on her own (lack of) faith, but from what I’ve read about Austen as well as my own reading of her, it seems more probable that Austen is in fact pointing out the systemic issues with having a state church and the way that leads to such inept, sometimes faithless people getting jobs as clergy. In other words, her barbs aimed at the clergy in the novels is a way to awaken readers, however subtly, to the need for reform.

Picking these two things as those which make the novel great is not, of course, to discount the many, many other things (like Mr. Collins) that make it so enjoyable. Yes, the dialogue is spot on. Yes, the central narrative is woven together in a satisfying and sometimes surprising way. Yes, Austen’s use of caricature for humor is excessively diverting. Did I mention I enjoy the English-isms? I do. But this read through, it seemed to me the two aforementioned things are what makes it so enduring, so perfect.

Should you read Pride and Prejudice? Yes, obviously. It’s got a 4.25/5 rating on Goodreads, a site not really known for generosity in its reviewers at all times. Looking at the long list of friends of mine who’ve rated it on Goodreads, I noticed that one of them gave it a 3-star rating and I’m tempted to unfriend them. But enough of that. This is a fantastic book, even if you’re not into this kind of book. I wasn’t, until I read it.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Presidential Biographies: Abraham Lincoln #16

My quest to read (at least) one biography per President continues with Abraham Lincoln, the Sixteenth President of the United States. The biography I chose with my selection process (reading reviews online and utilizing and this website- My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies) was A. Lincoln: A Biography by Ronald C. White, Jr.

Here, I’ll offer my thoughts on that biography, and proceed to present my official ranking for the DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES!!!!!! The full list of the rankings with all the Presidents as well as comments on their careers, updated as I read through this list, may be found here.

A. Lincoln: A Biography by Ronald C. White, Jr.

It feels a little daunting beginning this look at Lincoln’s life. So much of what we “know” about this President comes from a kind of populist vision of him. Ronald C. White, Jr.’s book is a deep, cradle-to-grave look at the life of Lincoln that clued me in to much more about one of our country’s most famous persons.

Lincoln’s story is truly one of the small farm boy growing up to become President, the kind of story that seems almost quintessential to our rose-tinted look at history but a near impossibility in today’s politics. He grew up in poverty between Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. In his childhood his neighbors were miles away through dense forests, making it a fairly lonely life. He eventually educated himself by studying law by reading books. He became a rather renowned lawyer due to his success in a few cases, ultimately becoming a Representative from Illinois. It was these early years of his political life that formed his demeanor going forwards. First, he already demonstrated that he was an abolitionist, condemning slavery not merely with words, as so many previous leaders of the United States had done, but with deeds. Even when it was unpopular, he stood against slavery. Second, though he is often lauded as being an astute politician–which is true–perhaps not enough credit is given to his advisers and staff, whom he picked well. Third, he was willing to compromise on principles so long as they did not contradict his absolutes.

Lincoln was one of those who opposed war with Mexico when Polk was President, and he carefully made the distinction between supporting soldiers and supporting wars. This is a lesson that we can take into today–being against a specific war doesn’t make one anti-military. Lincoln, of course, was castigated for his stance, even to the point of one Illinois newspaper hoping his political epitaph would read “Died of Spotted Fever” (151-153). Lincoln supported Zachary Taylor for the presidential nomination not because he particularly favored Taylor’s stance on many issues but because he saw it as more politically expedient to support one who would win than to stand against them (154-156). Though this could be seen as a kind of callous political act, for Lincoln it seems that the choice was to try to go for a “lesser of two evils”–something popular in our own day.

Lincoln’s famous debates with Stephen Douglas is given due diligence by White, Jr. For one thing, Douglas is often dismissed as a nobody, when in reality he was a giant of political power at the time–and did win the election, ultimately. These debates help clarify Lincoln’s stance on a number of issues. White Jr. points out that these debates did not occur in a vacuum–they came successively. Douglas spent many of the early debates engaging in race baiting, for though abolition was relatively popular in some of Illinois, racism was quite strong. Douglas, therefore, went on the attack, saying Lincoln was a “Black Republican” who wished to have whites and blacks as total equals, voting, marrying, and the like. This incensed the racist elements in the crowds and became effective enough that Lincoln perhaps attempted to counter them by beginning later debates with a denial of these accusations. Intriguingly, it seems that in his private writings and reflections on the Constitution, Lincoln did indeed embrace a kind of overall equality before the Creator of white and black, though he seemed to deny that this would be a real possibility in his own lifetime.

Lincoln leveraged these famous debates–despite his loss to Douglas in the election–to get catapulted to the Presidency. Before he even managed to get inaugurated, South Carolina seceded, and others followed suit. Lincoln was immediately faced with a major crisis in which he had to try to use policy to sway border states towards Union rather than rebellion. This included a round condemnation of abolition of rebel slaves in Missouri, for example, even as Lincoln began drafting his own emancipation decree. Frederick Douglass, one of our nations greatest thinkers and staunch abolitionist, is a good foil for understanding Lincoln here. Early on in Lincoln’s Presidency, he was quite critical, but after meeting with Lincoln and seeing him carry out the Emancipation Proclamation, he became more favorable. The two stayed in correspondence. Lincoln’s attitude towards African Americans continued to develop through his life. It seems he favored colonization–the movement of freed slaves to other countries through colonies–a policy that had racist roots and perhaps reflected Lincoln’s own biases about whether African Americans and white people could live side by side. He made several disparaging remarks about the equality of black people in his life, though the author of this biography seems to couch them in his strategy for not totally alienating the support of those who felt that way. Nevertheless, such an act is itself capitulation to racism, and Lincoln’s record regarding African Americans, while certainly superior to many, is not unblemished.

Lincoln made it clear that he did not believe slavery could exist alongside the Union, but he also argued that if there were to be war, the South would have to be the aggressor. His actions surrounding Fort Sumter may have been intended to force the South into just that, hoping that when push came to shove, they’d be the ones who started it. Whatever the case, the first shots of the Civil War were fired and Lincoln quickly took the reins, becoming one of the most powerful Presidents in history.

The Civil War was as large a test as possible for any President of our country, and Lincoln made his share of mistakes. From the revolving door for the top General in the Union to his perhaps overly strong hand in the suspension of habeas corpus, Lincoln was not perfect. But his political genius did show in his choices for his cabinet, particularly in favoring people who were rivals before to sit as his Secretary of State and War. He chose based both on political appeal and ability, which gave him capable people in the most important places. His heavy hand in guiding the war effort is understandable and, arguably, helped the success of the Union.

One area that White, Jr. didn’t focus on much at all was how Lincoln impacted Native Americans. Though he condemned the kind of nationalism found in the Know Nothing Party, Lincoln enacted laws that helped set up for things like the Transcontinental Railroad. This would largely be seen as a positive by many, but it set up yet another excuse for violating treaty obligations with Native peoples. His administration continued to displace Native peoples in favor of “Americans” as well, causing further suffering, and he oversaw the largest mass execution in United States history when he allowed 38 Native Americans to be hanged as part of the Dakota War of 1862.

It is interesting to speculate what Lincoln’s policy for Reconstruction would have been, had he not been assassinated. It seems clear that Lincoln probably could have done better than what ended up happening, though in what ways we can only guess. What is clear, however, is that Lincoln, warts and all, was perhaps the best leader we could have asked for during the Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln is certainly one of the most able, principled people we’ve had leading our country. He wasn’t flawless, by any stretch, but he was the leader we needed and one who defined our country to this day to come. A. Lincoln: A Biography is an excellent biography of this monumental man.

Abraham Lincoln’s Original Ranking in THE DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES (Full and Updated List Here)

Abraham Lincoln (16th President – Original Ranking #1)- Abraham Lincoln is certainly one of the best leaders our country has ever had. Though he was not perfect, he managed to lead our country through an incredibly difficult time and reunite what was torn asunder. His story of going from rural farmboy to President is about as much the American Dream as one could ask for. He helped to usher in the possibility of that American Dream through his anti-slavery actions, though it is not entirely clear how much he favored equality of all people. His fingerprints are on much of what our country is and has become to this day.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Five for Friday: Let’s talk 5 random books! – March 15, 2019

Over at the “Little Red Reviewer,” “Redhead” has been posting a “Five for Friday” feature on five random books from her shelves to discuss and encouraging others to do so. So here, I go. Following (directly, as quoted in the link)  her rules:

The only things these books have in common are:
-they were on my bookshelf
-I’m interested in your thoughts on them

This random mix was actually what was nearest at hand on my shelf, though I was already carrying the Bonhoeffer book to bring downstairs to read.

The Secret of Dragonhome by John Peel (1998)
I got this out of a Scholastic catalog at school and adored it so, so much. It was one of the first books that truly opened my eyes to the wonders of fantasy, making me realize more lay beyond Narnia (which are, of course, excellent books). I was desperate for a sequel when I finished. To be fair, the book is basically stand-alone, but a sequel did come out in 2011. I have it sitting on my shelf, afraid to read it because I adored this book so much. I re-read it as an adult and it still enthralled me. Were you blessed by running into this novel at a young age? Anyone read the sequel?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Berlin 1932-1933 Readers of my other site will know I’m a bit of a fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was executed by the Nazis. I have been reading through his collected works, trying to match them up chronologically as I go. Excited to dive in. Any other Bonhoeffer fans?

Titan, A.E.: Akima’s Story by Kevin J. Anderson (2000)
Titan, A.E. is one of my all-time favorite movies and is, in my opinion, criminally underappreciated on sci-fi lists. A few years back I learned Kevin J. Anderson wrote a couple novels in the universe to set the story, but again, have been afraid to dive in. Anyone read this prequel to the film? Enjoy it?

“S” by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst (2013)
Saw a coworker reading this right when it came out and thought it looked really interesting. Then, got it for a gift at Christmas out of the blue! But I’ve never managed to bite the bullet and take it up and read. The concept is what intrigues me: multiple readers scrawling notes in the margins to put together a mystery for you, the actual reader. It fascinates me. I’m curious as to others’ opinions.

The Night Lords Omnibus by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
A collection of three novels and some stories from the Warhammer 40k universe. Deal with it. I love this fictional setting. It’s grimdark and awesome. I’ve only read the first novel so far and felt a little bit lukewarm about it. I’ve only heard great things from fans, though, so I may take it up again, though I probably need to re-read the first one.

Star Trek: DS9 Season 4 “Hard Time” and “Shattered Mirror”

Poignant scene.

I’ve completed my re-watch of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Now it’s time to start Deep Space Nine! I am much less familiar with this show, though I’m pretty sure I’ve seen about 80-90% of the episodes. It’s been so long that I’m sure it will all feel brand new. My wife has never seen the show. She and I will go through, review every episode, and give commentary and a grade from A-F. There are SPOILERS for each episode below. Without further adieu, here’s:

“Hard Time”

Synopsis

The episode opens with O’Brien being taken out of what seems like some kind of unconscious state. It turns out he was convicted of espionage on a rather unfriendly planet and the sentence was a kind of mental imprisonment which only lasted a short while in “real” time, but gave O’Brien the experiences of two decades of imprisonment. Back on DS9, O’Brien must deal with the torments of the mental imprisonment–experiences he felt were real. He finds himself sleeping on the floor for comfort, startling both Keiko and Molly. After one especially scary moment, in which his PTSD has become acute, he rushes to a weapons locker to end it all. Bashir, who has been treating O’Brien throughout, manages to stop him just in time and talk him down. O’Brien admits he killed his cellmate over a few pieces of bread in his mental imprisonment. He thinks he is a monster. Bashir disagrees, saying he would not regret it if he were a monster, and finds a treatment that begins to work.

Commentary

I can’t say enough about how excellent this episode is. Seriously. First of all, it’s about as bleak as you can possibly get, and I love me some bleak episodes of Star Trek. But seriously–a society that sentences you to this kind of mental imprisonment and breaks you intentionally over the course of a few days? Wow. That is… wow.

O’Brien and Bashir truly shine throughout this episode. As a viewer, you can’t help but feel a deep sense of foreboding–something is deeply wrong with O’Brien, and we know what it is, but how will it manifest. Will he get better? And in the end, though Bashir is able to find a way to treat O’Brien, he’ll never be better. He has been permanently changed and scarred by what was inflicted upon him. It has been done. This episode gives us something that doesn’t always happen in Star Trek–long lasting, life-impacted effects on a character we have known for a long time.

Grade: A+ “A truly human piece of television which forces viewers to think on things like mass incarceration while also bonding deeply with Bashir and O’Brien in ways they hadn’t before. Truly, a magnificent episode.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A *sad face* “You know it’s good, because if it weren’t a Star Trek episode, it would be Oscar bait.”

“Shattered Mirror”

Synopsis

The Mirror Universe Jennifer Sisko kidnaps Jake Sisko in order to lure Benjamin Sisko, and it works. Once there, Mirror O’Brien convinces Benjamin Sisko to help repair the Defiant. They go to fight against the Cardassian-Bajor Alliance and chaos ensues, leading to several mirror-deaths, including the death of Jennifer Sisko (again!) and mirror Nog. Jake is left to mourn his mother… kind of.

Commentary

Okay, so here we have an episode where almost nothing matters in the “real world.” The problem with the Mirror Universe, across the board, is that as a viewer you have close to certainty that the “real” characters will all survive, and that it doesn’t particularly matter to you what happens in the Mirror Universe because it’s just a kind of parallel universe. There are a lot of books from Star Trek about the Mirror Universe, so maybe reading those would get you invested, but on the show, it seems like an excuse for the writers to do whatever they want to the characters. That in itself is a cool concept, but it makes it so I as a viewer have even lest investment: they aren’t the real thing, so of course Kira could be allied with Cardassia and be happy about it. But that doesn’t jive with what we know about Kira whatsoever.

So I guess what I’m saying is the Mirror Universe’s strength is also its downfall–it allows for characters to act very differently from expectations, but it also means you aren’t invested in it. Where the writers made you get somewhat invested in this episode is by having the loss to Jake and Benjamin Sisko occur, again. It’s maybe a cheap shot, but it does at least get some interest because that’s a real world impact.  A tough sell, in my opinion, but not necessarily done poorly.

Grade: B- “Convoluted and a bit silly, but it is interesting to see how the writers play with characters when they can effectively do whatever they want. Also, poor Jake.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B- “It’s not very memorable, but I feel done with the Mirror Universe. It is played out.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: DS9– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.