Five for Friday: Gearing up for Expanded Sci-Fi/Fantasy Month!

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

April 26, 2019- Gearing Up for Expanded Sci-Fi/Fantasy Month

Expanded Sci-Fi/Fantasy Month is May! The whole month, dedicate at least some of your reading to tie-in novels related to your favorite universes. Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who, Pathfinder–you name it! This month, I’m featuring four books I’m planning to read in May alongside a nonfiction book I’m going through.

Warhammer 40K: Carcharodons: Red Tithe by Robbie MicNiven

Look, it’s about Space Marines who are themed after giant sharks, apparently with some Hawaiian vibes. What is there to dislike here? Correct Answer: Nothing. Anyone else read WH40K books?

Star Wars: The Children of the Jedi by Barbara Hambly

I have resolved to continue my Star Wars Expanded Universe read-through, which I left for a while as I dived down the Star Trek novel rabbit hole. I remember being really weirded out by this book when I first read it more than a decade ago, but that was as a kid. I wonder how it will hold up on a re-read. I know the EU books are pretty uneven, so we’ll see how this one turned out.

Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus by Reggie L. Williams

I love Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and he’s already shown up once on this feature. This one is about Bonhoeffer’s time in New York and, particularly, how he was influenced by Harlem churches and the Harlem Renaissance.

Firefly: Legacy Edition Book One

I know, I cheated. This one has been featured already but I finally started it and am loving reconnecting with the characters from Serenity. Definitely a tie-in I can enjoy. Admit it: you miss the show, too.

Star Trek: New Frontier – Gods Above by Peter David

The New Frontier books are what got me into Star Trek novels, and I’m itching to dive back into this excellent series. It’s like reading books that have all the best episodes of a non-existent show featured for you. They’re great. What are some of your favorite Star Trek novels?

 

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Reading Through the [Alleged] Top 100 Science Fiction Novels- #81-85

I’m a huge science fiction fan, but realized I haven’t read a lot of those works considered classics or greats. I decided to remedy that, and found a list online of the Top 100 Science Fiction Books. The list is determined by vote from sci-fi fans online, so it may change over time. I am going off the order of the list as it was when I first saw it. Each book will receive a grade between F and A+ as well as very brief comments. I’m interested to read what you think about these books as well. There will be very minor spoilers in some of these.

81. Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle Grade: C-
“The premise is pretty neat: scattershot a bunch of characters as they face the possibility of a major asteroid strike, then follow those who survive after the strike. The buildup isn’t bad either. It’s interesting to see how the varied characters who are either ‘in the know’ or not deal with the possibility, whether they immediately start stocking up stores or wait till the last day. But there’s something just ‘off’ about a lot of the novel–and part of it is how it treats women. There’s a very dated view of women, as if they automatically need to be protected when society collapses because they’re helpless. Sure, not all of them are portrayed as helpless, but men take charge anyway. I also thought the creepy storyline with the voyeur man was unnecessary and, again, degraded women by effectively treating women as sex objects exclusively. The other problem is that the last third of the book is kind of ho-hum. It’s like a survival novel but there’s not much in the way of environmental hazards after the initial disaster strikes. I felt there should be a lot more tension and chaos, but there wasn’t. Merely okay.”

82. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham Grade: A
“A haunting sense of foreboding similar to that of The Giver fills the first several chapters, followed up with a riveting story of flight from pursuers. The action is good, not great, but the central message: that we should not denigrate/hate/fear those who are different from ourselves is beautifully and subtly conveyed. For that message alone, it was getting high marks, but the intensity of the whole work–the feeling it gives that somehow, something is quite wrong about everything–pushes it even higher. An excellent, pithy read.”

83. Have Space-Suit – Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein Grade: C-
“The beginning of this book excited me. Yes, it was cheesy and very 1950s, but it was also sort of delightful: a young boy wants to go to the moon so he spends a bunch of time composing jingles for a soap company contest. Nice. I also thought the descriptions of ‘dad’ were great–he’s crazy, but not bad crazy. Just peculiar. But then aliens and weirdness and the book went off the rails of what I expected to happen entirely. Sometimes that’s good. Here it just seemed sort of silly. Great first 80 pages or so. After that, it just goes downhill.”

84. Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott Grade: B+
“It’s fascinating as a work of conceptualizing worlds starkly different from our own. Moreover, it pushes readers to think about our own assumptions about reality and how they might constrain our vision both literally and figuratively. It lacks much by way of character development, but makes up for it by being so unique that I didn’t mind. A fascinating, surprising read.”

85. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins Grade: A
“There’s a reason so many people are cashing in on YA Dystopic novels. Collins created a surprising, but familiar world that forces readers to question everything. More importantly, she made endearing and enduring characters with realistic motivations and heart-capturing moments. It’s full of action, strife, and big ideas, just like the best science fiction. What’s more, Katniss Everdeen feels as real as the people you talk to every day. She is fully fleshed out in a manner not typical for some science fiction. Really, this is a superb book.”

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.

Presidential Biographies: Andrew Johnson #17

My quest to read (at least) one biography per President continues with Andrew Johnson, the Seventeenth 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) actually turned into me reading two books: Andrew Johnson by Annette Gordon-Reed and Impeached by David Stewart.

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.

Andrew Johnson, #17

Andrew Johnson frequently ends up on lists as the worst or, minimally, one of the bottom 5 Presidents. Is that evaluation justified? Or is it as strange as ranking Andrew Jackson in the top 10 Presidents (he manifestly was not)? Having read this pair of books on Andrew Johnson, and some related works about Reconstruction, I think it is almost certain Andrew Johnson ought to be ranked as the worst or one of the worst Presidents we have ever had.

Andrew Johnson is another president who might be said to be a picture of the American Dream–and what he did with his success might be a lesson to us about how we ought to qualify that Dream. Born in a log cabin in poverty, he learned to be a tailor but left his apprenticeship to find his own fortune. Abandoning an apprenticeship was something that the master could find you and put you back into service for, and this shaped Johnson’s perceptions of race and poverty going forward. Many white people who were in these kind of poverty-reinforced relationships saw slavery as a way to at least say someone was worse off than them. Their felt entitled to having lives that were better than that of slaves, who were considered lesser persons. Though Gordon-Reed notes that not every white person felt this way, it was indicative of a general sentiment and background belief that Johnson grew up with (24).

Johnson rose to political power as a self-motivated man seeking to push his own agenda. He often stood against popular positions, as his stand against railroad companies indicated in Tennessee. He rose to the House of Representatives where he fought for the Homestead Act and giving money to poor whites to help get them land. Then, he became the Governor of Tennessee and a United States Senator. His policies continued to favor slaveowners and poor whites. As Senator, Johnson argued that it was the North who was pushing for conflict, not Southern slaveowners. Though he did go on to call the secessionists treasonous, he also supported policies that were concessions to Southern interests.

After Lincoln’s assassination, Johnson became President, and this was a horrific tragedy. Though he initially seemed to take a hardline stance, he quickly pushed for concessions. He was determined to avoid offering protections for or endorsements of black votes, he did not believe the Constitution meant he had to allow blacks to vote, and so he allowed Southern states to oppress these votes. When picking political appointments, he favored loyalty to himself and alliances that would benefit him personally to those that would help the party or country. Moreover, he moved to gut the Freedman’s Bureau of federal authority and backing, thus removing protections for newly freed slaves and preventing them from getting the land that was initially promised to them.

Johnson was famously impeached, and the circumstances surrounding this seems to demonstrate a growing frustration of Republican Congressional members with the President they got stuck with. The definitions of terms related to impeachment, such as “high crime” or “high misdemeanor” remain unclear to this day, and the articles of impeachment for Johnson are famously confusing regarding what exact charges were brought forward. Interestingly, numerous people involved in standing against the impeachment were mired in possible payoffs and other political debts which Johnson paid (such as granting positions to apparent enemies). These are covered in detail in Stewart’s Impeached. Though difficult to confirm so long after the fact, it seems plausible that, given Johnson’s predilection for appointments to benefit himself, this may have been what happened. Yet another chapter in a terrible presidency.

Andrew Johnson’s beliefs can only be characterized as extreme, entrenched racism. He stated in private that “I am for a white man’s government in America” (quoted in Stewart, 14) and believed that black political power was a greater evil than the Civil War (ibid, 16). He actively worked to limit the power of freed blacks after the Civil War. He colluded with Southern governments to usher in the Jim Crow era, along with the continuation of slavery by another name (the use of inmates for forced labor). He withdrew federal troops and protections for freed blacks in the south, callously standing aside while thousands of black people were murdered for such “offenses” as looking at a white man.

The amount of damage that Andrew Johnson did to our country cannot truly be measured. Had he not been at the reins after Lincoln was assassinated, we may have been able to unify the country and unite against racism–or at least enforce a lasting peace. Instead, the Jim Crow era was ushered in and it would be decades before the Civil Rights movement began to correct some of the wrongs that continue into today. Andrew Johnson was a terrible President.

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

Andrew Johnson (17th President – Original Ranking #17)- Andrew Johnson was an unapologetic racist whose opposition to Radical Reconstruction policies damaged our country in ways that continue to have negative impact to this day. His completely capitulation to Southern interests, including allowing Southern whites to murder black people at will, is totally disgusting. His ineptitude at command contributes to his low ranking, as he totally failed to do anything but push for the policies he favored instead of attempting any kind of compromise whatsoever. He was a racist brute who is a disgrace to our country’s history.

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.

“Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow” by E.K. Johnston

I saw that Queen’s Shadow was announced and felt a thrill of excitement. Though I have thought the Disney Star Wars books have been uneven (as were the Expanded Universe novels before Disney, for sure), I have enjoyed my share of them. Also, I have a soft spot for The Phantom Menace. I saw it as a kid right at an age that it would appeal to. Sure, it has major issues, but it has some truly great moments. I love the over-the-top feel of Queen Amidala, as well as basically all the cool stuff on Naboo. So here we are, with a novel about the Queen and the handmaids. I feel that.

The book follows these handmaids through Padme’s move into the Senate, and shows how their careers diverge into different paths. It picks up right as Padme’s time as Queen is coming to an end. Some political intrigue is involved, and readers get insight into one of the best characters from the prequel trilogy. E.K. Johnston gives all the handmaids personalities and motivations. I didn’t think any were particularly memorable, but they made me want to keep reading.  The book has several memorable moments, especially as it reaches its climactic action and ties to the later movies.

Johnston also fills in several details about how things developed in between films, which I always think is welcome especially for the Prequel Trilogy, which, among its faults, moved too quickly for my taste. There are also some details filled in about the broader conflicts in the Galaxy, which helps make sense of some of the machinations behind Episode III.

The novel is for a Young Adult audience, but reads just about the same as most Star Wars books, in my opinion. The whole expanded universe and now these “canon” novels are generally appropriate for any readers capable of handling somewhat mature content. It honestly makes me wonder a little bit why this was categorized as YA and not simply in the general science fiction section.

Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow is quite a fun read, and one that serves fans well. It’s not going to blow readers away with the intricacy of the plot, but it gives Star Wars fans more insight into the films and some of the more interesting characters in the prequel series. Johnston’s work is a welcome addition to the Star Wars canon, and I particularly enjoyed learning more about the Queen. I’d recommend reading it.

Links

Star Wars Expanded Universe Read Through– I have many posts on expanded universe novels within Star Wars. Check them out here.

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.

 

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1961

I’m a huge science fiction fan, and, having read a list of what are alleged to be the top 200 science fiction novels, I decided to next tackle a read-through of all the Hugo Awared winners and nominees for best novel. Let me know your thoughts and favorites.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (Winner, My Winner) Grade: A
It’s basically a thoroughly Roman Catholic ‘Mad Max.’ Is it even possible to not like that as a concept for a novel? Effectively three short-stories tied together, this novel tells of a dystopian future at three stages. A Roman Catholic order of monks, those who follow Leibowitz, have preserved human knowledge after major nuclear war and pushback against learning and science have set humanity back centuries. It’s a haunting, beautiful novel with character and delight to spare. Fantastic.

The High Crusade by Poul Anderson Grade: B-
Ever wanted to know what would happen if you had Medieval Knights running around in space? If your answer was yes, then this is the novel for you. But really, that’s… basically what this is. Your visceral reaction to the concept question that I started with will probably be a great guideline for your level of enjoyment of the novel. It’s campy, it’s weird, it’s a bit dragged out, but it also has a weird kind of classic feel to it that makes it read almost like a weird sci-fi Once and Future King. It is definitely not as good as that masterpiece of literature, but it captures that feel occasionally, and that makes it worth a read as well. I realize I’ve written this much and barely talked about the novel itself, but it would be pretty spoilerish for this one to say almost anything about the plot, so here we are. Read it if what I’ve said appeals.

Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys Grade: C-
It’s hard to hate on this novel as much as I wanted to at times. Yes, it reads rather choppily. Yes, its characters suffer from early sci-fi tropes and lack of characterization. Yes, it feels somewhat like a hack job. But it also manages to highlight so many of the things that make later hard sci-fi so great. Budrys here gives us a prototype for so much other hard sci-fi that would come later, and he fits it together with a kind of fun-house horror that somehow is not as terrible as it really ought to be. By no means is this an excellent work–it should be read largely for historical value–but it’s not awful, which is about as good an endorsement as I can give it.

Deathworld by Harry Harrison Grade: A-
I think this book benefited some from blowing my expectations out of the water. After reading The Stainless Steel Rat, I was pretty sure what to expect here. But instead of something that was pure action, Harrison delivered a remarkably thoughtful mystery of what is happening on a deadly world. The humanity with which it was delivered was also somewhat surprising, given the rough-and-tumble attitude he seems to have in his writings. Harrison’s view of women reflected his own (backward) perspectives of the time, but he did, to his credit, include one female character who was actually more three dimensional than many other characters, including males, in the book. I enjoyed this one quite a bit, but was somewhat disappointed with the next two. They were okay, this one was great.

Venus Plus X by Theodore Sturgeon Grade: C+
Sturgeon wrote here an interesting experimental novel. What if gender norms and sexes were totally irrelevant? What would society look like? That’s the question he asks with this set piece novel. Much of it is spent on exposition, to the point where it starts to lose interest at points. The answers Sturgeon provides to some questions that naturally arise at times seem dated and even quaint, but this was clearly ahead of its time when it was written. Not a bad read, and short enough that it doesn’t outlive its stay.

Links

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Read more posts in this series and follow me on the journey! Let me know your own thoughts on the books.

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! – 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.

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.