“The Dinosaur Four” by Geoff Jones- A Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Book Review

We’re now in the round of semi-finalists for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and I’m reading and reviewing all of the semi-finalists! Check out my SPSFC Hub for all my posts and reviews for the contest.

The Dinosaur Four by Geoff Jones

A café in Denver is suddenly ripped from the pavement and dropped into the Cretaceous period in the same place, along with several diners. The people inside have to figure out what happened, avoid the dangerous dinos, and see if they can get back home.

The action gets going basically immediately, as the characters encounter a small array of dinosaurs and dinosaur-adjacent wildlife. As anyone who is even vaguely aware of how massive dinosaurs are and how deadly even small ones appear to have been, the implications should be quite ominous. What made the book the most fun for me is how it’s a kind of inverted Jurassic Park. Instead of humans bringing dinosaurs to life and dealing with the implications, here it’s humans going back in time (accidentally) and being trapped in a world with dinosaurs. Survival is not guaranteed.

The plot moves on at a good clip, and Jones introduces one element that basically slaps a timer on the events happening. I thought that was a good move because it added a sense of urgency to the story which was already fast paced. This turned up the action to frenetic in the best possible way. I found myself burning through the book quickly because I wanted to know what would happen next.

One of the characters seemed especially gross to me. There was latent and overt misogyny coming through that character’s viewpoint, to the extent that at first I almost wondered if it was narrative voice. Suffice to say that is not the case. The incel vibes are intentional, but they’re part of a building plot throughout the book that came to a satisfying end. I only point this out specifically because it was initially very off-putting for me, personally, and wanted other readers to know to persevere.

The Dinosaur Four is a hugely enjoyable romp. It’s the kind of read that’s excellent while enjoying the weather outside or flying on an airplane. It’s not going to make you think too hard. Instead, there are dinosaurs, there is action, and it’s fun to read. Recommended.

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Links

The Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC) Hub– Check out all of my posts related to the SPSFC here!

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings 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.

“The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger, a critical review

I read The Time Traveler’s Wife a few years ago as part of a list of the best science fiction books of all time. I remember I was sick when I was reading it–one of those feverish illnesses that keeps you up for hours at a time at night. I’d migrated downstairs to the couch so as not to disturb anyone else’s slumber, then turned the lights on dim and read the entire book overnight in between bouts of more severe illness.

I was perplexed. It was well-written stylistically. I was absolutely engrossed almost the entire time I read the book. However, it was also highly problematic on several levels. I typed a lengthy reflection on it, then sat it in my drafts until now. With the new adaptation coming out, I figured it was worth publishing my review of the book, offering my critical view of the popular novel. What follows from here is largely my edited comments from sitting down and writing a review the day after reading the novel. Content warnings for grooming of a minor, assault, and sexual assault.

Stylistically, The Time Traveler’s Wife is captivating. That alone makes me understand how it ends up on “best of” sci-fi lists. That said, there were a few things that really got to me in this one. This will be long and spoiler-y.

First, none of the characters were very likable. I don’t think protagonists need to be perfect, by any means, but the two primary characters here just aren’t endearing. Henry shows up naked in different times periods, having randomly been pulled from his own ‘present’ without anything but his birthday suit to help him. When he shows up in different time periods, he picks locks, pockets, and steals to get what he needs. Sure, sometimes people will give him stuff for free, but mostly he’s decided he has to be a ‘tough guy.’

One example of this is one scene when, after Henry endures some insults in one outfit, he decides it’s time to beat someone to within an inch of their life–cause that’s justified, right? But no, no apologies. It’s basically just accepted. There’s absolutely no reflection on whether this was justified or acceptable. Henry assaults someone because they insulted him and we’re apparently supposed to just move on; after all, who hasn’t wanted to beat someone up because they made fun of their outfit? Wait, that might be true, but how many of us have actually done so and expected to do so consequence-free or even with subtle approval of the powers that be?

Both Henry and Clare assault and publicly humiliate a minor because he burned Clare. Yes, that guy was a turd–and a violent one. He’s shown to be a horrible human being. But there’s not even a question of going to the authorities or seeking justice; let’s just beat the hell outta the guy, tie him up naked, and have all the girls in school come laugh at him… after they kick his man parts. No, seriously! That’s what they do! And once again, the authorial voices seems to give tacit approval!

Clare sticks with Henry through thick and thin, but when she discovers he’s dead she almost immediately starts having sex with her best friend’s partner in her own kitchen while her best friend is out with her daughter (I think that’s how it went down). We’re supposed to just like Clare because she’s good looking and wealthy I think. I couldn’t actually find any other reason to like her. Truly, those are the only reasons given anywhere so far as I can tell. Her actions don’t seem to give us any reason to appreciate her as a human. Henry seems to be intentionally unlikeable. While it’s never really acknowledged, he acts frequently like a psychopath, whether it’s his violent retaliation to insults or his assault–including sexual brutalization–of a minor.

Second, there are some major vibes of grooming happening here. Clare first meets Henry when he’s naked and she’s 6. Yes, his time traveling is random. He has no control over it. However, when he discovers she’s his future wife he totally just hangs out with a minor as he’s naked as if this is the typical thing to do with a minor who will, apparently, one day be your spous. This continues to happen throughout Clare’s life–a grown man shows up naked, and eventually they come to an agreement that she’ll have clothes on hand to take care of him when it happens near enough to her. That’s somehow endearing? I’m not sure. Anyway, they agree to put off sex until she turns 18. Once more, there’s no authorial commentary here. It’s like we’re supposed to just acknowledge a grown man talking to a minor saying things like “You’ll be my wife in the future, but for now let’s just put off sex until you’re legally an adult.” What!?

The iteration of Henry that shows up is 41 years old at the time they finally have sex–old enough to be her father, easily. In this scene, he mentions in passing that before this point there were numerous times he had to fight against arousal to avoid having sex with Clare. Yeah, while she was a minor. It doesn’t say when that started, but the clear reading of the text is that it has happened a lot, which would imply it’s happened possibly for years. Creepy. Yes, he’s her husband–in the future. In Clare’s here-and-now she’s a minor child who is in a egregiously gross relationship with an adult man who ultimately reveals he is her future husband, and that is supposed to make everything okay, apparently? The more I think about this, the more I’m bothered by it all. It’s like her whole life is determined by this creepy old guy who time travels to ultimately have sex with her. Not okay.

Reflecting on this just a little bit also makes one wonder even more about the power dynamics. How is a six year old supposed to react to a grown man in this situation? Did Clare really have any agency when it came to her future love life? Is Henry her husband only because he came to the past and effectively groomed her into being his future spouse, ultimately being her first sexual partner when she was 18 and he was 41? It baffles me that this is seen as a beautiful love story.

Third, I get that time travel will never make much sense, but why is Henry seemingly limited to only his life, his wife’s life, or his daughter’s life when it comes to the temporal dissonance or whatever it’s supposed to be? Why doesn’t he get sent back to the stone age? How has he not been hit by a car or buried under a building? He just pops into existence, seemingly wherever. Why not in front of a semi? And how does he keep his job as a librarian when he keeps showing up naked in the stacks? One offhand remark is made about this, but it’s dismissed as kind of a ‘that’s Henry, haha!’ Sorry, but if you show up naked at almost any job, pretty sure you’d get fired. Maybe this was explained and I missed it, but it seemed pretty implausible to me.

Ultimately, The Time Traveler’s Wife is an incredibly creepy story to me. There’s not much more I want to say about it. It’s gross. This thing has nearly 5/5 stars on Amazon with thousands of reviews. I don’t get it, and I’m not sure I want to.

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Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings 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.

Star Wars: Expanded Universe Read Through: “X-Wing: Rogue Squadron” by Michael A. Stackpole

I’m on a quest to re-read all of my favorite (or least favorite that I kept for whatever reason) Star Wars novels in the Expanded Universe and beyond. Come along for the ride and check out my Star Wars Hub for more. There will be SPOILERS for the book discussed.

X-Wing: Rogue Squadron by Michael A. Stackpole

Michael A. Stackpole is one of those writers who spends most of his career writing in other people’s universes. Some people call authors like that “hacks.” I think that’s stupid. Let people enjoy things. Stackpole is actually quite good at capturing the feel of multiple different franchises. His BattleTech novels are fantastic (especially the Warrior trilogy). Here, he opens the Star Wars universe up far more than any other author has done so far.

X-Wing: Rogue Squadron follows the story of a squadron of, well, X-Wings that is brought together to fight the enemies of the Rebellion. The name Rogue Squadron has become legendary, and they are the sharp edge of the sword for the ragtag Rebel fleet. Familiar faces show up in droves, with Wedge Antilles and Admiral Ackbar being the most prominent. Readers who have explored more of the series know a certain Corran Horn is kind of a big deal, but in this book he’s a fresh face fighter pilot who gets commended and chastised for his daring bravado.

The plot includes some of the political meanderings and in-fighting of the Rebels that become par for the course in later development. Stackpole handles these scenes well, using them as true tension-building rather than info dumps. He also writes excellent action scenes. The final few battles are quite fun to read, and just as crazy and campy as one would expect from the flashiest Star Wars film.

What makes the book most impressive, though, is its lack of reliance on the big three characters (Luke/Leia/Han) and building its own core of names, some of whom go on to much bigger and better things.

I had actually never really delved into the X-Wing books before this read-through. I somehow missed the vast majority of them as they launched and by the time I noticed them there were enough that younger me was perplexed with how to find them before the preponderance of finding and buying things on the internet. So I came at X-Wing: Rogue Squadron fairly fresh and was very happily surprised by it.

For me coming at it the first time, the biggest strength of the novel is how strongly it evokes the feeling of Star Wars. What I mean by that is the novel has that sense of awesome wonder that the first few films truly bring out. It’s as if anything can happen. Heroes are heroes, enemies are evil but might have some lingering complexity. I don’t know how to describe it. The sense of “space opera” with heavy emphasis on the “opera” part is what I’m getting at. It feels like something far larger and grander than it truly is.

X-Wing: Rogue Squadron is a top-tier Star Wars novel that manages to really shine with many characters. Stackpole knocks it out again.

The Good

+Great action sequences
+Tons of new characters and side characters developed
+X-Wings
+Captures Star Wars-esque feel

The Bad

-Enemies are largely comic-book villains
-Droids- see below

Best Droid Moment

Very little characterization of droids here.

Cover Score: 7/10 – captures some great Star Wars action but largely lacks camp or 80s-esque characters faded in the background.

Grade [measured against my super objective* Star Wars enjoyment factor]: A “Stackpole delivers an excellent novel that incorporates many, many side characters into a coherent whole.”

*Not super objective and in fact wholly based on my feeling at the time of this review. Not measured against any other sci-fi works or really any other literature. This score is purely because I like giving scores to things.

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Links

Star Wars Hub– All of my Star Wars-related posts can be found here. These include posts about more expanded universe books, the movies, and new canon novels.

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!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.

Reading the Horus Heresy, Primarchs Book 1: “Roboute Guilliman: Lord of Ultramar” by David Annandale

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.

Roboute Guilliman: Lord of Ultramar by David Annandale

I took a break from the mainline Horus Heresy novels to dive into the Primarchs. I got the audiobook of Roboute Guilliman in a Humble Bundle and thought I’d give it a go, despite some middling reviews. I enjoyed the audiobook very much. It was well-read, and the pacing was spot on. As far as the book itself is concerned? I have mixed feelings.

My expectations going into a book about a Primarch are pretty straightforward: I expect to learn about the Primarch. Yet, I was surprised to find that Roboute Guilliman only resides in the background of the story, barely showing up, and when he does show up, it’s largely in his writings that introduce each chapter. So if the goal of the Primarchs series is to clue readers into the Primarchs, I’d say this book failed. And, given what the series seems to be advertised as–it’s literally titled “Primarchs”–I can’t help but assume that’s what the goal of the series is. 

But–and this is a big but–the book is actually quite enjoyable. It’s not very long, and the pacing is quick enough that it never feels bogged down, which is the problem I’ve had with several of the books in the main Horus Heresy series. The main thread of the plot finds the Ultramarines fighting over a planet with the Orks, basically trying to see if there’s anything worth recovering there. What surprised me (though readers who know a lot of the lore of Warhammer 40K may not find it a surprise) was the intense focus both on specifics of strategy and on the notion that cultures are worth recovering/restoring. The former is largely found through the few times Guilliman is featured in the book: as chapter introductions with excerpts from his writings. These open windows into the thought process of a Primarch who may not be the best strategist but is certainly one who values gaining the victory in an efficient, rather than glorious, way. The latter–the question of recovering/conserving cultures–had a twist at the end wherein it turns out the Ultramarines felt the culture they’d discovered wasn’t that worth learning about after all. Except that it held a warning for the Imperium, that a culture based upon war seems destined to fail. 

The action in the book doesn’t let up. I enjoyed the amount of action we had, with very little downtime. It made each character moment and conversation seem more valuable to the reader. The characters themselves were fine. They seemed to fit into tropes of Space Marines without being overly absurd or very deep. I noted before it Annandale avoids the pacing issues that have dogged several books in the Horus Heresy series, and I thought this felt fresh because of that.

Roboute Guilliman: Lord of Ultramar is a pretty fun installment in the Horus Heresy, but I don’t understand why it is considered a “Primarchs” book. It barely features the titular hero. As an Ultramarines book? It’s pretty fun. As a Primarchs book? I was disappointed. A good read, but don’t expect to learn much about Guilliman. Scoring the book was quite difficult, and I settled on a middling score myself when I rated it:  3/5 due to it not really living up to expectations, but still being a fun read. 

Links

Horus Heresy and Warhammer/40K Hub– All my posts on the Horus Heresy, as well as books throughout the Warhammer and 40K universe can be found here.

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.

 

“To Sleep in a Sea of Stars” by Christopher Paolini- An epic space opera that feels fresh

I mean, who wouldn’t love this cover?

I have some confessions to make as I start this review. First, I tend to scorn hype for books, afraid that I’ll be disappointed by them. Second, I didn’t really enjoy Eragon all that much. Third, I was mostly excited about this book because of the cover art. There, did I confess enough crimes against general readership? (I have many more.) All of that said, I absolutely adored To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini. I’ll try to avoid them, but fair warning for SPOILERS in this review.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this novel, but I can fairly say that it subverted basically every expectation I ended up having as the novel went along. Each time I thought I’d figured out the next twist or the next turn in the story, I was surprised anew. And none of these were in ways that were annoying or contrived. Paolini has created a stunning space opera that constantly delights.

Perhaps the best part of the book is how frequently Paolini uses what seems a trope or theme from science fiction and then brings it to a surprising conclusion. Early on, when our protagonist Kira Navárez is living on a colony in love, I thought this might be a simple work of exploration and colony life. Wrong. I thought that the alien artifact discovered had many similarities to, say, the film “Life,” Wrong. Time and again, I saw inspirations from many sources of science fiction, even explicit references (a character named Ivanova as a nod to Babylon 5? I’ll take it!). Other references aren’t so explicit, but may still be there (is Kira Navárez perhaps a nod to Kira Nerys?). Despite all of these inspirations, the book never beigns to feel derivative Paolini handled them deftly and created his own huge narrative that never seems to drag despite approaching 900 pages in hardcover.

It is hard to avoid simply comparing the book to so many science fiction inspirations, because it does draw on them so frequently. A major part of the book features Kira with the crew of the Wallfish, a delightful collection of personalities and inside jokes that cannot help but bring to mind the delightful “Firefly.” But, again, it’s not as though that television series is the first or only to have an intrepid crew taking on somewhat shady jobs in space. Writing a review, though, how do I avoid making so many references? I can’t. In fact, part of the delight of the book is seeking out some of those references and debating whether they are intentional or not.

Paolini, though, is not content to give readers the warm fuzzy feelings of recognizing implicit or explicit references to other works of science fiction. No, there’s an incredible tale in this novel that continues to throw plot twists at the reader each time one gets settled in. Think that a major revelation wraps up most of the conflict in the book? Think again! What’s astonishing to me, though, is that none of these major twists reads in a way that is unbelievable or contrived. No, they make sense within the overall flow of the novel, and continue to drive the reader on. I was amazed as I read the book (and then immediately listened to it on audiobook afterwards) that I never felt the plot meandered or had pacing issues. It’s a huge book, and some lulls are inevitable, but none of these made me want Paolini to pick up the pace. The lulls were welcome respites in between the heady, galaxy-defining events happening.

The novel is also chock full of themes worth exploring. What does it mean to be a self? A certain alien species surprises when they reveal that they don’t mind their “selves” going off and dying, because an original copy exists back home. Once again, a subversion of a somewhat common sci-fi theme, but it also begs the question: how would the sense of self change if we could extend ourselves through the stars? Or, what if we could extend our physical bodies in new ways? What about moving on from significant loss? When and how is it okay to do so?

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a magnificent achievement. Paolini has created a space opera worthy of any fan of the genre reading. For readers just wanting to enjoy the ride, the impressive cast of characters, inspiration from other science fiction works, and timely injections of humor will continually delight. For those looking more deeply, there are enough themes to keep one entertained for hours afterwards. I highly recommend it.

(All Amazon Links are Affiliates Links.)

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings 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.

“The Guns Above” by Robyn Bennis – A Steampunk Delight

It’s no secret: I love steampunk. The thing is, I’ve struggled to find novels that capture the feel I really, really want out of the subgenre. The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld is one prime example of an excellent series. Then, I saw The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis. It had a blurb from my favorite author, David Weber on it. Surely, he would not lead me wrong! Would he?

No, he wouldn’t.

Robyn Bennis’s The Guns Above is the beginning of what I hope becomes a lengthy fantasy series. Bennis doesn’t do much experimental here. No, she instead delivers to readers an extremely sound, tight, action-packed steampunk novel. Do you want harrowing air battles? Do you want some political intrigue? Character development? Check all the boxes, it’s all here.

The story centers around Josette Dupre,who is the first woman airship captain in her nation. Some doubt her abilities. Upping the drama is the addition of Lord Bernat, a love-to-hate aristocrat with a gambling and womanizing problem. These might sound like familiar tropes, but Bennis develops them so well and adds just enough twists and turns in the overall plot and world to make it a novel that I churned through not once, not twice, but three times already. I’m thinking about adding the audiobook to my collection because it’s that good. It’s a lengthy read, but one that is so quick to pass by that I sat and read it in a day the first time.

Character development is clearly one of Bennis’s strengths. I know that term gets thrown around a lot. Too many times it means a character is interesting throughout the book. Here, the mains truly develop. They change in meaningful ways that make sense within the plot. They’re not static, but living and breathing.

The blurb from David Weber is spot-on as there are many parallels here, from the military trappings to the character development. It’s a debut novel that not only shows a ton of promise but also absolutely delivers the goods. And it has airships. AIRSHIPS, people. This is the kind of novel that fans of older JRPGs like Final Fantasy IV-IX and their like have longed for. Go get it. Read it. Love it. Share about it. And then come here and talk to me about it. Oh, and good news: the second book is already out!

Tell me what you think of The Guns Above in the comments!

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.

“Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” by David W. Blight- A prophet for then and now

[H]e is the lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins. –Frederick Douglass (quoted on p. 361)

Frederick Douglass is one of the most important thinkers in the history of the United States. David W. Blight’s fantastic biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom shows the man in a way I hadn’t met him before, despite reading one of his three (!) autobiographies. I write in this post that he is a prophet for then and now because much of what Douglass had to say can still apply to today. His philosophical insight, his way of speaking, and his life’s devotion to a cause are things we can think on and emulate to this day.

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery, took help where he could, taught himself to read and write, and escaped from slavery. He became one of the most traveled people of his century, a prolific speaker, writer, abolitionist, and philosopher. Blight uses the term “prophet” in the way that highlights Douglass’s words to moral persuasion, just as so many of the Old Testament prophets did. And Douglass was a deeply Christian man who saw two faiths that were incompatible co-existing in the United States: the religion of slaveholding and the religion of Christ.

Douglass existed in a place where few others did. A former slave, he told firsthand accounts of the brutality of that horrific system and its injustice. Working with white abolitionists, he favored more radical views and even, at times, the perfectionism of some aspects of the abolitionist movement, while also moderating some of his positions depending upon the crowd to which he spoke. An insightful, lucid thinker, he called injustice to account and pointed out the true hypocrisy of people calling themselves Christians while perpetrating awful deeds. One example of the clarity of thought he provided united with his “radical” persuasions about antislavery can be found in his philosophical argument about the morality of the slaveholder and slave: “The morality of a free society can have no application to slave society. Slaveholders have made it almost impossible for the slave to commit any crime, known either to the laws of God or to the laws of man. If he steals, he takes his own; if he kills his master, he imitates only the heroes of the revolution” (quoted on page 57). This kind of sharp logic is revolutionary and world-changing, and many saw it as such.

Douglass’s life would be impossible to summarize here. Blight’s biography is one of those which goes for a fairly comprehensive look at the life of its subject. A few notes along the way: Douglass reacted to and changed his view on some things over time. His bootstrap-type thinking for African Americans was moderated in later years as he saw how inequality could be enforced through Jim Crow laws and the like. He married a white woman after his first wife died, causing no small amount of controversy and showing his–and Helen Pitts’s–commitment to the equality of all people regardless of skin color. He leveled vicious attacks on slaveholders and their cruelty but later in life moderated some of these claims, perhaps in order to try to assist with the reunification of a country he saw as died and resurrected after the Civil War. There is no shortage of rich detail to his life. Blight points out how Douglass was, as any would be, prone to shaping his personal narrative to fit current needs. He was also one who enjoyed the spotlight and did not wish to cede it to other rising stars, though he did help mentor many African Americans and was generous with his often overestimated wealth.

Though Blight does little reflection on Douglass’s application to our day, the parallels could be drawn out. For one, racism continues to exist to this day. Organizations that are white nationalist, KKK, and the like continue to exist. Less overt racism continues in supposed color-blind laws that are unequally applied. Moreover, the co-existence of true faith–the faith in Christ–with radical heresy and anti-Christian beliefs continues to this day in movements like the Prosperity Gospel. Any Christianity which tears people down rather than freeing them with grace, which divides rather than unites (as in Galatians 3:28) is a Christianity without Christ. Let us allow Douglass to continue to be our prophet of freedom and listen to his words today.

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom is a truly monumental work on the life of a monumental human being. Douglass is a name that every American ought to be familiar with. He was a prophet of our country and one whose words should continue to stir us to fight inequality on every level. Biographies that truly shake and shape the reader are few and far between, but this is one that did so for me.

Links

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SDG.

“The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas- Reading the Classics

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.

The Count of Monte Cristo

Several friends had recently talked about finishing this book and how much they enjoyed it. I also recalled seeing the recent-ish movie several years ago (though, having finished the book, I threw it on hold at the library, so I’ll be watching it again!). Also, there’s a delicious sandwich that I at least assume got its name from this book, which makes it even better. But other than these fleeting glimpses, I knew pretty much nothing about Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo going in. The memory of the movie had faded, and I just recalled there was some guy who wanted revenge. Yeah, there’s a lot more to the novel than that.

The Count of Monte Cristo is, on the surface level, a novel of vindication and revenge. It’s an adventure that spans more than a thousand pages. Yet it remains a page-turner that demands to be devoured in sitting after sitting. But on the deeper level, it is a fantastically Christian look at the world and God’s action therein.

The set up for the plot involves the man who would be the count getting set up by several who wish him ill for various reasons. But throughout even that section, “Providence” is constantly in view. Providence is historically one way people talked about divine activity in the world, so the reader is led to see Dumas’s viewpoint as having a divine hand in many acts. And, indeed, as our lead character begins his quest for vindication and vengeance, bringing blessings and curses upon those who helped or hindered him, we as readers cannot help but associate his actions with those of God. We want the Count to succeed in his quest for revenge; it is so well planned, and he has become a man of almost limitless poise and focus. It is not until the count has one part of his vengeance go “too far” that he starts to have second thoughts.

These second thoughts translate into an awareness that our Count’s activity is not just the hand of God acting. Though we as readers have been rooting for him throughout, it becomes clearer that the assumptions we’ve made about how the story is going are wrong. It’s as though Dumas played into our expectations, allowing us to think that, perhaps, here is the kind of “divine vending machine” that we so often wish to turn God into. Here, in at least this story, God is working in the way that we want, dispensing a kind of hard justice on wrongdoing and giving great benefit to those who deserve it. But our Count realizes that this is not, in fact, what is happening. His own actions have been, well, his own. Has he been aided by God? Yes, in the sense that his endeavors could not have all succeeded without some acts of Providence. But he has presumed too much. Like Job in the Bible, he has questioned God; nay, he has gone farther and turned himself into the hand of God, dishing out vengeance and blessing as he wished. And his actions have led to a great wrong with the death of innocents.

So Dumas asks us to take ourselves back out of the shoes of the Count, to stop assuming that we know what is supposed to happen. Instead, he has lured us into this complacency, thinking we know how things ought to be, when instead we should be approaching the acts of God with fear and trembling, carefully avoiding the notion that we can make God act in the ways we desire. Hidden in plain sight within this apparent adventure novel, we have a serious theological commentary that forces us to re-examine who God is and how God acts. How often we make God into what we want, thinking we can control God! Yet here we see how foolish that is, and how we must once again evaluate the assumptions we have made.

So apart from this deep theological discussion, is there a good book? Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes. The novel is so well written. I found it un-put-down-able. It’s a true page turner even at its doorstop-like heft. The story is full of beautiful description and overflowing with heart and depth.

There is far more that I could say about The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s such a phenomenal achievement. It definitely stands among my favorite works of all time, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to you, dear readers.

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.

One Sentence Book Review: “An Inquiry Into the Secondary Causes Which Mr. Gibbon Has Assigned for the Rapid Growth of Christianity” by Sir David Dalrymple

An Inquiry Into the Secondary Causes Which Mr. Gibbon Has Assigned for the Rapid Growth of Christianity by Sir David Dalrymple (1786).

Review

Dalrymple shows, exhaustively, that Edward Gibbon is deeply mistaken in his theses about the rise of Christianity in his famous historical work, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Links

One Sentence Book Reviews– Read more one sentence book reviews here. I’ve decided to do one for every book I read, which is a lot. I got started on 5/14/16 so this list will grow from there.

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.

 

“Zeroboxer” by Fonda Lee- Book Review

zeroboxer

Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee was intriguing to me. It’s science fiction, and its central focus is a sport. I love science fiction, and I also love sports. I picked it up from the library immediately purely based on the brief description of it being sci-fi with a sports arena. Well, I didn’t even think about it, but the title has “boxer” in it and so I should have expected boxing. I don’t like boxing–I just don’t see the appeal of watching people beat each other up–so my expectations went down. Lee would have to really write a great book to keep me hooked. In short, she did. There are SPOILERS in what follows.

The first thing that sold me was the frantic pace of the action in the book. The fight scenes are truly spectacularly done, as boxing in zero gravity sounds pretty intense and strategic. I liked that Lee came up with different broad styles for how people fought, and then used announcers to highlight these different styles for different fights. This was balanced with a look at the realities of having to sign contracts and try to move up in a sport as the main character, Carr “The Raptor” Luka, had to balance all of these things.

But that still wouldn’t have been enough to grab me. Sure, far-future sports could be interesting, but it needed more. Well, Lee had more to give. The book offered mere hints of a broader conflict shaping in the solar system, but these hints were put forward in such a way as to maintain interest in how “normal” citizens could live amid the tensions. More importantly, however, was the aspect of bioethics that Lee introduced into the book.

Luka, unknown to himself, has been genetically enhanced beyond the legal limits. In other words, he is not allowed to be a zeroboxer, or be in any sport, due to his enhancements. He finds this out when the criminal who worked with his mom to do this for/to him turns up as his popularity increases, and he must internally struggle with whether to turn himself in or keep going under a falsified genetic profile. He must also decide whether to share this with Risha, his Brandhelm–adviser/marketer. I appreciated the thought involved in these moral quandaries, and it added dimension to the novel that, had it not been there, would have been merely okay.

The biggest flaws in the book are intertwined. There are several pretty explicit scenes which I felt were pretty unnecessary and a little out of place in a book largely marketed for teens. The book speaks frankly and not infrequently of sex and would rate an “R” if it were a film. Given that “R” ratings are for 17+, it seems out of place in a young adult novel. The second issue is that these same scenes are written awkwardly. There’s a frankness in the language that makes it feel forced. It’s hard to describe, but the stilted feel of it takes away from the plot just as much as the unnecessarily explicit scenes.

Overall, Zeroboxer was an adrenaline-filled ride with more thoughtful moments than one might expect from the premise. It was a truly promising debut. I look forward to more from the author.

The Good

+Intense, frenetic action in the ring
+Interweaves bioethics into the text in compelling fashion
+Decent twists and turns
+Interesting world
+Potential for more

The Bad

-Quite explicit at times
-Strangely literal/stilted when speaking of sex
-Only glimpses of the universe offered

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.