Guest Post: “Seeing Our Present Through the Lens of the Past” – Vintage Sci-Fi

Pluto- Inspiration of many a sci-fi work, photo from NASA (Public Domain)

I’m very excited to offer up a guest post about Vintage Sci-Fi in anticipation of Vintage Sci-Fi Month (January). I hope you will join me an many others in dedicating a month of reading to vintage sci-fi (the loose definition of “vintage” that has been adopted is anything written before the year of your birth). I’m hosting this post as part of a blog tour for Vintage Sci-Fi Month!

Jacob of RedStarReviews is a lifelong reader who found out about #VintageSciFiMonth after it had been around for a few years and immediately joined in and now January is his favorite month of the year for reading.

Seeing Our Present Through The Lens Of The Past

We are almost in the year 2020. When we go back and read Vintage SciFi stories it’s quickly apparent that a lot of the authors guessed wrongly on how their future would turn out because we’ve bypassed several dates covered in these books and not left the solar system or met aliens or have personal jet packs in every household for ease of transportation. So why would we want to read stories that are seemingly outdated? Or even problematic in their views? That’s a question I’ve asked and been asked so I’ve invested some thought into this and would love sharing my answer with y’all!

I think there is great value (and fun) in seeing our present/near future through the eyes of the creative minds of our past. Some you’ll read and see they weren’t too far off, others are so far off it’s like you’re reading alternative histories, while others you read and you wonder if the author was a time traveler. However when you’re reading words directed towards the future from the past you’re also seeing the hopes, bias, dreams, fears, and thought processes from an earlier age and there is value in that. You can be reminded of how far we’ve come as a species and have hope that we’ll continue to grow; or maybe see where we’ve failed to grow and start addressing that. You get to see what dangers inspired concern in the hearts of those writers and consider if we’ve moved past those fears or if we still need to address those issues. You get to see us through their eyes and see if we measure up, fall short, or exceed their thoughts on the future of humanity.

Seeing ourselves through the eyes of others is a challenging and much needed experience! It is a worthwhile thought experiment and a good way to discover personal and societal growth. Vintage SciFi allows us the opportunity to do this and it’s one of the reasons why I love #VintageSciFiMonth and eagerly await January every year! I hope you’ll consider joining us this year and gain some new perspectives from older works.

 

Donald R. Prothero’s “The Story of Life in 25 Fossils” and the evidence for evolution

Credit: Wikimedia Commons- H. Raab (User: Vesta)

I come from a background that was young earth creationist and have gone on a very lengthy journey that went from young earth creationist to theistic evolutionist to old earth creationist (a long time) to tentative endorsement of Intelligent Design and back to theistic evolution/evolutionary creation. In other words, I’ve thought about this a lot. I have several shelves dedicated to books on the topic, and have cycled my share of them through the shelf as well, updating to the latest or most interesting ones as I discovered them. I’m very thankful that I had friends who, despite being creationists themselves, spoke kindly to me as I began to explore this issue and were able to help me out of my crisis of faith when I became convinced geological history could not be contained in 6-10,000 years. So yes, I remain a Christian, and yes, I am convinced of the truth of evolution. One question I get asked about this “Why? Why believe that evolution is true?” I present here one of the several reasons I changed my mind. I write this with the caveat that I am not an expert in this field and am presenting the evidence as well as I can.

Interpreting Fossil Evidence

One of the most famous photographs of a fossil is that of archaeopteryx. Its strange shape captures the eye. The way its neck is twisted in death. The pronounced, clawed “fingers” coming from wings. Wings? Yes, there they are, writ plain in stone: feathers on this clearly dinosuar-looking specimen. Now, some will immediately scoff. After all, haven’t some scientists said that archaeopteryx is not a transitional form between birds and dinosaurs? Yes, so far as I can tell, some have said that. But what such a reaction does not account for is that what this means is that some scientists are saying that archaeopteryx cannot be established as the ancestor of living birds today. That does not mean that it is not a transitional form. Indeed, looking at such a fossil, one can’t help but see it as a pretty powerful example of a bird-dinosaur. I use this example because it illustrates a few of the errors I myself fell into. The first is overconfidence. It was pretty remarkable for me to think that just because I read that some scientists disagree with one interpretation of the significance of a fossil, I could reject the significance of it altogether. Second, it shows the kind of whack-a-mole strategy I and others use(d) to interact with evidence for evolution. Rather than viewing the evidence as a totality, it was much easier to dissect individual pieces and try to poke holes in specific, single strands of evidence. Third, and perhaps most importantly, it illustrates the error of thinking that if a series of steps A through Z cannot be known to the extent that every letter is put in exacting order, the series itself is rejected. That is, not being able to say with certainty whether D came before or after E along that chain of evidences does not entail that there is no chain. It simply means we may have uncertainty regarding specific steps along the chain.

Specific Fossil Evidence

Enter Prothero, and others. Donald R. Prothero’s book, The Story of Life in 25 Fossils is a powerful, accessible account of how 25 famous fossils illustrate the truth of evolution throughout life’s history. Each of the 25 stories of fossils, their discoveries, and how they can be shown to be in a web of life is fascinating. Here, I’d like to highlight a few that I think serve to illustrate the powerful evidence for evolution.

Archaeopteryx 

Yeah, that’s right. I’m going back to the one I already mentioned. Why? Because Archaeopteryx is really just the first of the many, many examples we have of feathered fossils that help illustrate the steps along the way from dinosaur to bird. It would be one thing if that famous bird-reptile were all we had to go on, but the fact is that there are many, many other fossils that have been discovered. Archaeopteryx is just the most famous. But when you start to put these fossils alongside each toher, and line them up with a skeleton of a modern pigeon, for example, you can observe the clear anatomical features that each illustrates. It’s not just feathers, but the elongated fingers of the archaeopteryx and the way they appear to be just a longer version of those same features on dinosaurs like orintholestes. But these are not the only examples, Sinosauropteryx is another example of a feathered dinosaur that exhibits features that would later be found on birds. Yutyrannus has direct evidence of feathers, but also has indirect evidence for a tongue like that of modern birds. The stunning images of preserved Confuciusornis can’t help but call to mind crows and other bids, despite it still having dinosaur-like forelimbs. The more and more fossils are found, and modern technology can analyze their feathers and compare them to modern birds, demonstrating several stages to get to the feathers birds use to fly in the skies of our own time.

Indeed, looking at modern birds, one sees the scales on their feet. Look at the talons of raptors today, and one can see the evidence of transition on their feet, the scales that cover them and their shape, and then look at fossilized dinosaur skin or the way theropod dinosaur feet are shaped. I once wrote this off as God using a good design multiple times, but that again illustrates the error of trying to explain individual features rather than looking at a holistic picture. Looking at the whole, and observing the many fossils that have been found since the famous archaeopteryx, one cannot help but see the evidence for a series of life forms that transitioned from dinosaur to bird.

Odontochelys

Some of the most striking evidence for evolution requires a literal digging (har har). This kind of evidence isn’t flashy; it isn’t the kind of fossil photograph you’ll see on the news, but it is significant, convincing evidence nonetheless. Think about the turtle. It’s not that exciting, but there are a lot of (slow-)moving parts that have to get pieced together to make the turtle work. A retractable neck, a shell for protection, a way to eat–these are just some of them. But how did turtles get a shell? It’s the kind of absurdist story creationists put forward to try to discredit evolution. One day, a reptile of some sort lays an egg, and out pops a creature with a shell! Impossible! Yes, of course it is. But that doesn’t mean a number of gradual steps could not have gotten from shell-less creature to one with a shell. And that is the kind of evidence we do have.

Odontochelys is not going to win beauty pageants. It looks like roadkill in fossil form, and artist depictions don’t make it look that much better. But when you look at the bone structure you can see it there as plain as day: a prototype shell, but one that only covers the bottom of the creature. It is something like a halfway point to the turtle. Prothero notes that the creature provides the answer to the question “How could turtles have evolved from no shell to a full shell?” (148). The way this happened, scientists think, is through the expansion of ribs on the back of the proto-turtle into a shell to protect from predators. Odontochelys essentially shows this in process and mostly settled the debate over where the shell came from. Indeed, tying it together with Eunotosaurus, one can see the same back ribs in transition at an earlier stage. Another fascinating feature of Odo (sorry, had to sneak a Star Trek reference in somewhere) is that it has teeth in the beak still, showing both features of a turtle (beak) and earlier creatures (teeth). It truly is a remarkable discovery because it appears to be a real transitional halfway point between earlier reptiles and turtles. Just think about it abstractly. Strip away the knee-jerk reaction to try to explain away fossils and really look at it. It would be hard to ask for a better transitional fossil.

Ambulocetus

The evolution of whales from walking relatives is one that I fought against intellectually for a while. It just seemed like an absurdist story: life emerged from the water, dominated the land, and then decides to crawl back into the oceans? Ridiculous! I spent quite a while looking over creationist literature on this and laughing about the silliness of evolutionary explanations. Then, I decided to read “the other side” because I wanted to write about it myself. I was astonished. The pictures of a walking mammal gradually lengthening a snout, shifting to flippers, elongating the tail, etc. weren’t just conjured out of nothing. They were based on actual fossil evidence scientists have found. And that fossil evidence shows significant evidence for the lineage of whales over time.

Ambulocetus is special because it shows the increase in size from the earlier specimens, the long toothy snout similar to early whales, ears more suited to being in the water, long fingers and toes that possibly had webbing, and a spine that was able to undulate up and down similar to some whales (275-277). These features place it fairly well between earlier walking creatures and later swimming creatures. It shows features of both, and is a kind of halfway point between the walking mammals earlier and the later whales. Discoveries like Rodhocetus helped solidify that evidence, showing the elongation of the snout that continued towards what whales had/have as well as a tail that was better suited to helping steer in the water. It is just the kind of step-by-step process that is often challenged to be presented in creationist literature, but it has been found! Again, I doubted this sequence very much, in part because I was assured by some creationist literature that such a sequence was purely speculative (with the implication that the fossils didn’t exist) and in part because it just seemed kind of silly (creatures emerged from the water only to return?). But the fossil evidence is quite strong on this lineage and it’s astonishing to see creatures like Gaviocetus that continue the trend. Creationist literature disparages the fossil evidence due to some aspects of it being inference, but the fossils that have been found demonstrate the features in a convincing line of change from walking to swimming. It’s a fascinating look at the evidence for evolution.

Now What?

Okay, so I affirm evolution and I have presented some evidence I think is convincing. But why am I a Christian still? There are many, many answers for that and they’d largely center around theological reasons, but speaking specifically on this issue, the fact is that from before evolution was ever a theory through its earliest genesis in intellectual circles and beyond, Christians have struggled with and debated the topic. It is just false to think no Christians immediately embraced evolution, as many did and saw it as evidence for God’s sustaining providence in all things. George Frederick Wright (1838-1921) is one who noted this synergy and argued against those who charged him with affirming deism, for example. Christianity and evolution are not enemies. Each has evidence to support it and reasons to believe it, and together they form a powerful way of understanding the world.

Reading the Classics: “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens

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.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I chose Great Expectations next because I have been wanting to re-read it for many years. I read it in High School and was struck very deeply by both the major plot twist in the novel and its conclusion. I remember it being one of those books I clutched to my chest once I’d finished, thrilled by its depth and beauty. But by now, that was about all I remembered of it. I chose to listen to it this time because I wanted to really absorb it slowly.

Slowly, I did absorb it. Dickens is an author I’ve heard lambasted before for drawing out his novels well beyond what they need to be. Writing in an era where novels were published serially at times, he made sure he got paid to write for as long as possible. There are other authors who did the same, of course. Alexandre Dumas wrote The Count of Monte Cristo (link to my review) serially, and that book is more than 1000 pages in print! But Dumas’s classic doesn’t feel as though every single word was pondered over to add to its length. Great Expectations is much shorter, but still slows at times to an absolute crawl as the verbosity of its prose drags it on. Now, Dickens is a truly skilled artist, so even when you can tell he’s dragging something out, it is still enjoyable to read.

The plot itself is much simpler than I remember. Boy falls in love with girl when they’re young. The girl has been purposely raised to be unkind. He rises above his station unexpectedly. Girl, now a woman, turns him down pretty hard.  Sorrow. Later, they meet and her station seems to have changed. She seems to have feelings now, but it appears to be too late. The end. Of course, there’s much more to it than that, but those are the basics. It’s a tough story that, on reflection, seems to have few if any redeeming characters in it. Pip is mostly carried along by the events surrounding him. The convict, Magwitch, who brings him into wealth and “expectations” has only paper thin motivations. Other characters are just about as narrowly made.

With all of that, I still enjoyed the book immensely. Dickens’s prose is fantastic, and he somehow manages to draw you into the story even without very sympathetic characters on the whole. It’s a great book, but perhaps not as great as I thought it was in high school.

Links 

Reading the Classics– Read more posts in this series as I work my way through classic literature.  Let me know what you think of them! (Scroll down for more.)

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.

Reading the Horus Heresy, Book(s) 4.5: “The Kaban Project” and others

I know I’m late to the party, but I finally decided to start reading the “Horus Heresy,” a huge series of novels set in the universe of Warhammer 40,000 (though it is set much earlier than the year 40,000). I thought it would be awesome to blog the series as I go. With more than 50 novels and many, many short stories, there will be a lot of posts in this series (I doubt I’ll get to all the short stories). I’m reading the series in publication order unless otherwise noted. There will be SPOILERS from the books discussed as well as previous books in the series. Please DO NOT SPOIL later books in the series.

The Kaban Project The Dark King The Lightning Tower

I decided to try out some of the short fiction for fun as I continued my read-through of the Horus Heresy, and The Kaban Project was next on the list. I got a collection through interlibrary loan and read that along with the stories that were published around the same time: The Dark King and The Lightning Tower. The latter two were decent, but nothing that I though was too spectacular. Reflecting on tearing down the Imperial Palace in The Lightning Tower was cool, but I haven’t really had investment enough to care much about it like the characters did. The Dark King had the origins of Konrad Curze, and was grimdark enough to satisfy the Warhammer fan, but for all that, it didn’t blow me away. It was good, not great.

The Kaban Project, though? That blew me away. It made me reminisce about things like Dune and the Butlerian Jihad, or other great AI/robots vs. human type stories. The sinister rise of the machine intelligence, wholly unanticipated by the main character, was deliciously foreboding. It leaves me very much wanting more from the Mechanicum in this Horus Heresy setting, while also setting up some great ideas, characters, and potential conflicts going forward. It really had just about anything you could ask for in WH40K novella/short story. Definitely had me excited, because the idea of an evil AI in WH40K is a pretty terrifying and awesome prospect. I hope that at least a few novels will deal with this conflict.

The short story also made me interested in the sort of origin story of AI/Human conflict set within a Warhammer type setting. It would be fascinating to read about the first war against the AIs. Yes, it’s a theme that has become something of a trope in sci-fi, but the WH40K setting is so vast and wild that I think it would still be fresh and exhilarating.

Anyway, turns out the short stories in the Horus Heresy are worth reading, too. What are your thoughts on these works?

Links

Reading the Horus Heresy– Read along with me in the Horus Heresy and see all my reviews of the books.

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.

“the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election”

Source- READ: House Intel Releases Whistleblower Complaint On Trump-Ukraine Call

“I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election. This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President’s main domestic political rivals.”

“In the days following the phone call, I learned from multiple US. officials that senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lock down’ all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced–as is customary–by the White
House Situation Room. This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call.”

“White House officials told me that they were ‘directed’ by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored for coordination, finalization, and distribution to Cabinet-level officials.”

“According to White House officials I spoke with, this was ‘not the first time’ under this Administration that a Presidential transcript was placed into this codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive–rather than national security sensitive–information.”

“During interagency meetings on 23 July and 26 July, OMB officials again stated explicitly that the instruction to suspend this assistance had come directly from the President, but they still were unaware of a policy rationale.”

Read the whole document

Presidential Biographies: Chester Arthur #21

My quest to read (at least) one biography per President continues with Chester Arthur, the twenty-first President of the United States. The biography I chose with my selectio n process (reading reviews online and utilizing and this website- My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies) is The Unexpected President by Scott S. Greenberger.

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.

The Unexpected President: Chester A. Arthur by Scott S. Greenberger

Chester Arthur is one of those Presidents I knew very, very little about going in. To be honest, I’m not sure I would have recognized his face, let alone been able to name any achievements (or, as we will see, his infamy). I thought Greenberger’s biography was fascinating. In part, it was fascinating because it seemed partially an apologetic for Arthur while also denoting in detail the corruption and abuse of power he used throughout his life.

I have to admit something of a chip on my shoulder when I talk about Arthur’s scandals throughout his career. Grant is often spoken of as the most corrupt of Presidents, and Greenberger certainly rakes him over the coals as he gives context to the political career of Chester Arthur. It is true Grant’s administration was filled with corruption and scandal, largely due to his trusting and being quite loyal to those who followed him. Grant’s achievements, in my opinion, vastly outshine the scandals. Arthur, however, was mired in unscrupulous activity throughout his life, and only as President did he do anything about any of it.

Born in a highly religious and conservative family, Arthur seemed to depart somewhat swiftly from his upbringing when he first had the chance to gain reins of power. He went into practicing law. When the Civil War broke out, he became quartermaster general for New York, and quickly capitalized on his position to help a shifty friend sell more poor quality hats and other supplies to the Union army, taking a side cut along the way. He became opposed to the war over time and favored making peace with the South, but that didn’t stop him from using his position as quartermaster to line his own pockets by selecting sellers who’d give him a take on the side.

Arthur became involved in Roscoe Conkling’s political machine, supporting a system which effectively utilized bribes by other names for appointees to keep their jobs and for political offices to be entirely based upon political beliefs and/or how much money one could contribute to “campaigns” (eg. the pocketbooks) of higher officials. Time and again, Arthur profited on political appointments as well as siphoning funds into his own and friends’ pockets through government contracts and even more questionable means like supporting the seizure of property in order to extort additional fees from companies shipping product through New York and other areas. He was corrupt through-and-through, and made wealthy through the public dollar.

Ascending to the Vice Presidency was something of a coup for Arthur, but the political machine he’d joined with Conkling helped assure that he could do so. Garfield was shot, and as his dying moments drew on from hours to days to weeks to more than a month, Arthur seemed to undergo a change in political policy, envisioning himself as President. When Garfield died, Arthur took up the Presidency in a nation doubting of his ability and morals, but Arthur quickly ingratiated himself both with his humble attitude by mourning Garfield for at least six months officially as well as vowing to take up Garfield’s policies as his own. Apparently deciding that the President should represent the will of the people, which would mean Garfield’s policies would have been that same will, he worked to support policies that went against his own greatest supporters, alienating much of the political machines as he did so and even opposing the systems that helped him rise in power.

I admit the reasoning behind this seemed somewhat unclear reading Greenberger’s biography; it all seemed very abrupt. Greenberger, for his part, argues a large part of it was from the influence of Julia Sand, who had decided to take it upon herself to try to be the “dwarf” in the President’s court, someone unafraid to tell the truth. Lending credence to the influence of Sand’s letters on Arthur was a surprise visit the President made to her home, which concluded in somewhat startling fashion when he left her unknowing of whether he felt she’d been too harsh on him or not. Nevertheless, this interesting relationship–of which very little details can truly be known–may have helped influence Arthur away from his own interests.

Arthur also helped pave the way for the modernization of the American Navy, including starting the construction of the first steel warships in the United States. Though at this point the USA was lagging behind world powers in the navy, this move helped pave the way for the rise of the US Navy as a major power. Arthur vetoed the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act, and Congress promptly overrode his veto, creating a law that regulated immigration purely based on country of origin, a highly racist law with motivations founded upon worries about labor markets. The similarity between this Act and various ideas about immigration today cannot be denied. Arthur also tried different methods of securing rights of both African Americans and Native Americans during his Presidency, though each failed. He tried to find a new type of coalition with a “Readjuster” Party that Arthur thought might help give African Americans their voting rights back (a strategy that even Frederick Douglass ultimately endorsed). This policy failed when the Readjuster Party failed to gain a following. Arthur wanted to push for education of Native Americans, which shows his own imperialist views (which were not dissimilar from many of his time) in which the idea that the Native American peoples needed to be adjusted to white society. He ultimately sided with “settlers” who encroached on protected Native American lands after being assured the land was not protected, even though the treaty was found that gave the land to the Native Americans after his Presidency.

After his Presidency, Arthur died in less than a year. His legacy remains one that is difficult to pin down. Undoubtedly corrupt and willing to backstab anyone and play any political game to rise to power, once he’d finally gained the highest power in the nation, he seemed to moderate himself and work for at least a few good causes. How does one truly evaluate such a legacy? He died so soon after his Presidency, it is hard to evaluate what changes he made to himself during the tenure in office and how they came about. An enigmatic President, but not, necessarily, a bad one.

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

Chester Arthur (21st President – Original Ranking #11)- Overall, Arthur as President was very, very different from Arthur as political machine proponent, and, again, it’s difficult to evaluate him because of that. He pushed for reform of the appointment system as well as disenfranchising political machines in Washington while doing what he thought was right regarding people of non-white backgrounds. Though many of his efforts failed, this was in part due to the opposition from the very political machines he’d used to rise to power. How does one evaluate such a man, who seemed a despot hungry for money and power one moment, and a reasonable, even-handed person once in power? The test of time has shown us little of his impact directly, though our Naval power is one tangible evidence. Arthur was a corrupt man who, strangely, turned towards a more moral rule once he gained the Presidency.

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.

“The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky” First and Second Chapter Review

I know I’m really late to the party, but I don’t have as much time for video games as I used to. I try to be very discerning in the games I spend time on now, scouting around reviews and looking into information before I commit to playing through. “The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky” had been on my list for a while. An old-school JRPG that is supposed to have a phenomenal story paired with good gameplay? Sign me up. I devoured the first chapter. I completed every single side quest, getting every treasure chest, etc. I logged about 51 total hours on the first game. The second game, I did every achievement, logging 86 hours along the way and once again enjoying every single second of it.

Trails in the Sky begins with a slow burn. It is unpretentious. It starts as what seems to be a simple coming-of-age story, as you take control of Estelle and Joshua Bright on their quest to become better “Bracers,” individuals who go around doing odd jobs, taking out monsters, and the like all to contribute to the well-being of all. Over the course of the main story, it becomes clear there is more going on than meets the eye. Friendships are formed, conspiracies develop, enemies are made, and the plot gets deeper as you continue. It is continually punctuated by joyful interludes and humor, but the plot is both serious and endearing. It gets inside your head and grows, becoming bigger and more emotionally-involving as time goes on. It’s a phenomenal take on many of the standard JRPG tropes for plot, while also pushing it in a few new directions, particularly by having such deep investment in the characters.

The world in the game is superbly detailed and developed. Locales are filled with characters who change the simple statements they say at different points in the game. The world brims with detail, though no one would claim the graphics are top-of-the line. The music is otherworldly in its quality. I don’t listen to video game soundtracks much if at all. These games stand alongside Seiken Densetsu 3 (now “Trials of Mana”) as the only soundtracks I’ve listened to outside of a track here and there.

The world, again, is developed throughout both games, with more and more locations opening up and history filled in as players explore the game. There is some backtracking, but the music is so delightful, battles are skippable by avoiding enemies (though I pretty much never did), and the animations so smooth that it never felt like a chore to backtrack through locations. The only gripe here is that some of the quests are fetch quests and require more backtracking than seems strictly necessary.

Battles are turn based and fought on a grid with boosts to critical power and the like added randomly on turns. Players can utilize systems to ensure their characters align with the most important boosts. Strategy is pretty deep and some bosses require much planning beforehand in order to effectively counter their strengths (I needed some trial and error or a guide to get some of the achievements, but I’m not going to claim to be awesome at video games). Alongside this is the “orbment” system which allows players to effectively customize their characters abilities from moment to moment by slotting in different orbs to make new synergies and unlock new moves throughout the game. Struggling with having enemies beat you to the punch? Slot in some speed orbs. Need some magical punch? There are orbs to help you there, too. It’s a great system that keeps players involved in the gameplay as it develops throughout the series.

Trails in the Sky is difficult for me to adequately describe. It has the sense of wonder, delight, and fun that I missed for a while in video games. I thought that I’d maybe lost it myself. But instead, here comes a series that has such joy built into it alongside so many plot twists, villains, and stunning revelations that I just feel my heart warm thinking about the games. I recommend them very, very highly. Play them.

The Good

+Fantastically detailed, intricate world
+Superb music
+Great overaching plot
+Side quests often seem like they have an impact in the world
+Absurdly phenomenal characters

The Bad

-Somewhat dated graphics
-Some fetch quests
-Slow start

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!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books– Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.