Religious Orders

December 2013 Book Review

Posted: Tuesday December 17 2013 @ 7:33am

Religious Order: Books

The Wind from Nowhere - J.G. Ballard

Finally got around to snagging a copy of Ballard's first novel. Apparently, he himself disowned it. Indeed, it isn't a very good book. That said, I think it's worth reading for fans of Ballard. It's interesting as a proto-Ballard work. I've mentioned before that I think Ballard wrote the same book, over and over. There's always a male lead that's actually Ballard. Society gets shaken up in some fashion and people form new ways of being, well, a society.

This book shows glimpses of this. There's an ever increasing wind scouring the globe and folks have to deal with it. There's no single character filling in for Ballard himself, but you can see aspects in some of the male leads. Society gets shaken up, but never really forms an alternative.

The ending fizzles, but, again, that's typical for Ballard. His books aren't about the ending; they're about what happens in between. Alas, the Ballardian framework isn't yet in place, so not much of interest happens in between.

One bonus with the copy I have is that it features a Pelham cover. In the 70s, Penguin books reissued four Ballard novels with Pelham covers. They're pretty awesome. When I looked in my bookshelf for my copy of The Drought, I was delighted to realize it was from the same reissue. So, of course, I hit eBay to pick up the other two. Maybe I'll scan them in, print them out big, and hang them on the wall.

Double Down: Game Change 2012 - Mark Halperin & John Heilemann

This is a sequel, of sorts, to Game Change, this time focused on the 2012 campaign.

Content-wise, it's very interesting. It tends to try and paint folks in as positive a light as possible, accepting their stated motivations at face value. I don't know whether I like that. (Reminds me of Huston Smith's The Religions of Man.) Still, very interesting.

Stylistically, it's an awful mess of pretentious writing. Every few pages, they toss in an obscure word, simply because they can, I guess. Is the ability to use a thesaurus that notable a skill? It really detracts from the book. At least, on my Nook, I could easily look them up. I can't think of any instance where the word they used was obviously more appropriate than more generally known terms.

Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond

This is a crowd-funded collection of short stories focused on adding a little color to speculative fiction. Don't expect this to be just a bunch of sci-fi, only with black folks. Actually, don't expect a whole lot of sci-fi at all. There's some, but it's a broader, more varied look at speculative fiction.

There's a bunch of quality work here with a great amount of diversity, diversity of all kinds. I can't think of a real clinker in the bunch.

The only point of disappointment was that I didn't really feel challenged. I'm a white guy from the mild streets of Minnesota's suburbia. I was expecting more of the stories to make me feel uncomfortable, but, with one exception near the end, none of them did.

Super Stories of Heroes & Villains

This collection of sorta-superhero stories left me feeling meh. Some of the better ones I had read before in other collections. Others were very far afield, too far to keep me interested.

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Fall 2013 Short-Ass Book Reviews

Posted: Friday October 18 2013 @ 6:41pm

Religious Order: Books

So Young, So Wicked - Jonathan Craig

I picked up a bunch of pulp novels at Munseys recently and started with this one. I don't know if I lucked out or what, but this is a pretty damn good little book. I was a little disappointed at first because, well, it wasn't tawdry enough. Plus, it was well written! It became more tawdry and remained well written as I read on.

The plot is that a professional killer is sent to rural upstate New York to bump off a 15-year-old girl. Things go way wrong and bad people do bad things. There's a great conceit about the killer also being a pianist. It comes up in the way he thinks, the way he talks, even in the way he fights. It's well used.

Things wrap up nicely and horribly in the end. I was completely satisfied.

(It's important to note that, while bad and tawdry things happen, it's not really explicit about it. This disappointed me, at first. I thought pulps were, well, pulpier.)

My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places - Mary Roach

Clearly, I love Mary Roach's books. (See here and here and here.) Turns out she also does a humor column for Reader's Digest and this is a collection of those columns.

They're short and they're funny. But they're not at all on par with her books. Each column is structured similarly and, after you've read a bunch in a row, it starts to feel rote. Alas, the short nature of each makes it tempting to keep reading just one more. But, frankly, that will do the book a disservice. I think the best way to read the book is to leave it in the bathroom and read a few columns at a time.

One complaint about them is that Roach is very wedded to traditional gender roles. I'm not that wedded to such roles, so humor based on them falls flat. It's 2013. Those kinds of observations aren't funny anymore. (Perhaps they still are to Reader's Digest's readership?)

So, if you're new to Roach's work, start with her other books. If you're already a fan, feel free to give this a read, now forewarned that it's not as good as her books.

That's Not Funny, That's Sick: The National Lampoon and the Comedy Insurgents Who Captured the Mainstream - Ellin Stein

I read this on a friends recommendation. He liked it. I really didn't. It's a smug self-satisfied book about a bunch of smug self-satisfied people. I found it torturous to read. I made it partway through the fifth chapter until it became too painful to continue. After a break of a few days, I flipped ahead to around chapter 20, where Animal House comes into play. It had become a better read by that point, humorously in direct correlation to how much it became about Saturday Night Live actors over National Lampoon writers.

God Bless America: Strange and Unusual Religious Beliefs and Practices in the United States - Karen Stollznow

This book is an examination of the weirder stuff in the world of religion. It suffer from the same weakness that many popular science books have: If you're at all well read on this subject, then you already know most of this. That said, it's still an interesting read. While I was familiar with much of the information, it's good to have it clearly written down all in one book. (Plus, the Quaker stuff was new to me.)

One weird thing is that the author visited many of these folks, to gain some insight. Alas, those sections seem shallow and tacked on for the sake of being able to say she did it. If you're going to try and gain real personal insight, you really need to throw yourself into it. See Ferocious Romance: What My Encounters with the Right Taught Me About Sex, God, and Fury by Donna Minkowitz for a good example of this.

On the other hand, a weakness Ferocious Romance has is that the author becomes fond of the folks she visits and is thus unable to really lay into them when they deserve it. (By my vague memory, at least. I read it years ago.) Stollznow has no such qualms. However, instead of a detailed criticism, she unloads with paragraphs of invective, but leaves the details to sources listed in the bibliography.

All of which makes this an odd book. The author doesn't gets personally involved enough to provide a good personal take, yet nor does she provide detailed critical analysis. That just leaves descriptions of the weird stuff. For many folks, that will be plenty. It just wasn't enough for me.

The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick

Alternate reality novel in which the Axis won the war. Don't be expecting a German-oriented book. Most of the story takes place along the Pacific coast of the US, in Japanese-controlled territory. It's an interesting read. I enjoyed most of the characterization although there isn't really much of a plot. You pick up on the lives of folks, follow them for awhile, and then the book ends. There's a wee bit of alternate-alternate reality in the form of a book-in-a-book that posits a world in which the Allies won, inside this world where the Axis won. The ending of the book tries to make something of that, but it really didn't do much for me. I'd rather have had it stick to just being an alternate reality. But, I suppose that isn't enough for an author like Dick.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness - Susannah Cahalan

This book is, in a word, harrowing. Mysterious illness strikes the author and doctors try to figure it out. The condition itself erased her own memories of much of the time. Reconstructed from interviews and video footage, she's really telling a third-person account of her own first-person story. Sounds confusing? It's not. It's very well done.

The only minor criticism I could lob is that I wanted a little more coverage of her rehab and less of her post-rehab activities. Minor nit-picking, nothing more.

It's Kind Of A Cute Story - Rolly Crump and Jeff Heimbuch

Rolly is a Disney Imagineer. He's pretty famous for it. This book is simply his recollections of his time designing fun things, at Disney and away from the Mouse. The stories are indeed cute. The style is quaint in a captivating way. It sounds corny, but it does feel as if he's sitting there just telling you these stories. It's a delightful read.

Don't read it looking for dirt on the inner workings of Disney. It's not that kind of book.

The Eyes of Heisenberg - Frank Herbert

Strange book. Don't go into it expecting Heisenberg-oriented hard sci-fi. That's not what it is at all. Rather, it's about the Optimen who control the rest of humanity, using them for work and breeding purposes. Of course, some normal folk rebel. There's a bunch of set-up that seems promising. Then there's some action and a chase. And then it just gets boring and noodling. The ending feels pretentious, without there being any there there.

Blackdog - K.V. Johansen

Like pretty much everyone else who read this, I picked it up because it was billed as an epic tale in a single book. Like most other folks, I found it lacking in terms of storytelling and characterization, which may well be unavoidable in a single-book epic tale.

There are some interesting ideas here, particularly regarding the world's gods, but the plotting lags. Midway through the book, I really had to push myself to finish. It wasn't bad, but it just wasn't holding my interest. I did push on, but the ending doesn't really make sense and I didn't feel adequately rewarded for the effort I put into it.

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Happy Atheists?

Posted: Tuesday August 27 2013 @ 6:25am

Religious Order: Books

Finished PZ Myers' The Happy Atheist last night. Not an earthshaking work and it suffers from a lack of direction. Despite that, it's a good fun read and I recommend it.

On the negative side, it reminds me of a lot of popular science books in that there's a lot of stuff that any decently well-read atheist already knows. It also reads more as a series of blog posts than as cohesive work. Until the very end, where it then attempts to string some chapters together. Which, at that point, merely illustrates the lack earlier in the book.

On the positive side? It's well written. It's breezy and fun while still being serious. There isn't a really bad chapter to be found. And there are some really good insights and examples that were new to me. It's not a wheat/chaff situation at all.

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July 2013 Book Reviews

Posted: Friday July 19 2013 @ 9:52am

Religious Order: Books

Geez, I haven't reviewed any books for a long while. So these'll be short:

The Universe in the Rearview Mirror

Ooo! Science non-fiction!

There's a problem with science non-fiction. The problem is that it rarely hits the sweet spot for me. I have a year of college physics under my belt, along with an interested layperson's perspective. Actual technical papers are far beyond me. Yet most popular books about physics are well below my knowledge level. I want something beyond Gee, aren't black holes awesome!

A Universe From Nothing hit the mark pretty well. I think it's a good sign that The Universe in the Rearview Mirror does as well. No, I didn't understand all of it, but I did understand most and got the gist of the rest.

Here's an example of hitting the mark: Spaghettification. If you're in the market for this book, you know what that is and why it occurs. This book also details the forces at certain distances. It's that added step of technical detail that can make or break a science non-fiction book.

The overall premise is to explain how symmetries define our universe, while breaks in that symmetry are responsible for our very existence. Heady stuff.

The book is also packed with awesome illustrations in a great old-timey style. One benefit of the ePUB format is that the books are, literally, just ZIP files containing HTML, CSS, and image files. So I was able to easily extract the images and use them as screensavers for my Nook. (Once I stripped the DRM, which you should always do. But don't then give out copies. Don't be a dick!)

The downside to all the illustrations is that they bogged down my eReader. Page turns were slower, dramatically so in illustration-heavy chapters. (Nooks appear to cache a chapter at a time.)

The book is also packed with geek culture asides. Maxwell's Demon is drawn as a Cylon, for example. While entertaining and enriching, this does lead to a problem, at least in an eBook. The asides are presented as end notes. So, each time I want to see one, I have to tap on a wee little asterisk. Then I have to remember to tap on the Done button at the top of the screen instead of mistakenly hitting the Page Back button. Because the Page Back will indeed take me back a page, to the prior end note, not back to the text. And then I can't hit the Done button because changing the page makes that button go away. And then I have to go to the Table of Contents, go to the correct chapter, then page forward to where I left off, which is a pain with this book as the page turns are slow, as mentioned above. And that's a lot to bother with just to read a one sentence aside. Just put those suckers in parens, dammit!

Note that it also inflates the page numbering. I don't mean that as a criticism, as the book is a good length. But those last hundred pages? A hundred plus end notes, one per page.

Doctor Who: Harvest of Time

So, Alastair Reynolds wrote a Doctor Who novel. I guess I should read that.

Now, I'll be clear up front, I haven't watched Doctor Who since the Tom Baker days. To me, Tom Baker is Doctor Who. (I know, the mythology of the series itself explicitly allows for different actors. Logic really isn't going to sway my feelings here.) The Doctor in this novel is actually an earlier one than the one of my youth, and his manner is quite different than Tom Baker's portrayal. So I had this ongoing mental confusion where my mental image clashed with the book. I know, that's my problem, not the books.

The book itself was fun, a good read throughout. The plot ticks along and the various threads come together in a satisfying way.

My only real criticism is that Reynolds seemed to borrow visual imagery from his earlier books, particularly The Prefect.

Troika, The Six Directions of Space, and Thousandth Night

Like Scalzi (see below), Alastair Reynolds has been dipping into the eBook waters with some shorter works. Troika is a Big Dumb Object story, but a well done one. The Six Directions of Space is a bleeding multiverse sort of thing, with interesting characterization and settings. Thousandth Night is a precursor to House of Suns.

All are worthwhile reads. They're short and cheap and if you like Reynolds at all, then you outta pick them up.

He also has a few more short stories out there as eBooks. I'm not listing them here because I either haven't read them yet or I can't remember the name off the top of my head and I'm too lazy to look them up.

Various Sci-Fi Short Stories on Gutenberg

The Gutenberg Project collects up works that are now in the public domain. So you can read them for free! And they have a Science Fiction section! Most of the works are short stories or novellas. The quality varies from superb to pulpy. I tend to read a few in between longer books.

They also have downloadable disc images of the full Sci-Fi collection. Be aware that these images contain TXT files, not ePUBs. If you have an ePUB-compatible eReader, you'll probably want to download them individually.

The Good Life Lab

The Good Life Lab is about a couple who had meaningless jobs that contributed nothing to society, so they moved to a rural area and made a homestead that provides minimally more value to society. Being unduly proud of themselves, they wrote a book about it. I haven't officially abandoned this book yet, but I have set it aside for awhile. I never got to the actual homesteading part. I couldn't wade through all the self-congratulatory build-up to it.

Maybe it's because my job is both meaningful and contributes to society. I dunno.

Other reviews have noted that the actual DIY stuff is minimal. So, maybe I should consider this abandoned.

Trick or Treatment

Alternative medicines, do they work or are they crap? Trick or Treatment delves into the question. (Spoiler: They're mostly crap.)

It's an okay read. It melds the history of evidence-based medicine into an examination of some of the major alternative medicines. I don't think that structure works very well here. It comes across as if they're grasping at straws to explain away results they don't like. I know that's not the case, but that's how it would look to someone steeped in woo. The writing is stilted, too. It feels more like an academic paper than a book meant for public consumption.

The reference section at the end is more useful.

Overall, it's a great concept with a flawed implementation.

The Human Division

One thing I love about Scalzi is that he's willing to experiment with online publishing. For The Human Division, he released it in a serial format, doling out one chapter a week. (I did quick reviews of chapters one and two.) The assertion up front was that each chapter would be a self-contained story, yet you would still have a complete novel by the end. Did he make good on this assertion? Partially.

Don't get me wrong. I liked the book. I didn't drop what I was doing each week to read the newest chapter, but once I finished whatever I was reading, I did read the latest chapter. Each chapter was indeed a decent story on its own. Some were really good, most were okay, a few were obvious.

The novel as a whole was lacking. There was no real resolution at the end. Then, a week later, all was explained. This wasn't a traditional series of chapters forming a standalone novel. This was more like episodes of a TV show, with the book comprising a season.

So, first off, a quick fuck you for keeping that to yourself. Would I have still bought the book? Yeah, probably. But I do prefer to be an informed consumer. I do want to know whether the book I'm buying relies on me buying future volumes. Not being clear about that up front is a dick move. (Yes, he intended this approach all along, but didn't tell us until he knew the first season would be successful enough to justify a second.)

That said, when thought of in terms of a TV series, the book makes sense. Like any good TV show, some episodes are great, some okay, some clunkers. The season finale resolves just a little bit of plot and leaves open a bunch of questions to get you to tune back into the next season.

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Fap fap fap...

Posted: Sunday April 21 2013 @ 10:55am

Religious Order: Books

Okay, so I just finished Greta Christina's new book of edgy erotica, Bending. So how is it? Well, pretty damn good, frankly, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you should read it.

She's very clear in the introduction that the following stories might rub some folks the wrong way. She makes a very good point that people, oddly, expect more veracity from erotica than they do from other forms of entertainment. These stories are dirty. They're not nice fluffy erotica and some of the things in them would be a bad thing in the real world. But this isn't the real world, it's fantasy. These stories are the things that get Greta off. They might get you off, too. Might not. You never can tell...

Anyway, I fully agree. After all, it's not that I actually want to be manacled and ravaged by a chubbly black female TSA agent. But there's no harm in fantasizing about it.

So, given that caveat, this is quality stuff. Greta's a superb writer in general and she's no less skilled in the realm of erotica. The stories are a good balance of set-up and pay-off. It's not just balls-to-the-wall sexual descriptions, but nor does it shy from those. For me, the build up and situation setting is just as important as the sex, so I was very happy. Many stories trail off, leaving the ultimate conclusion to your imagination. If I were going to pick nits, I would have liked them to trail off a little later then many did, though.

I found most of the stories to be blazing hot. A few didn't really do it for me, but that's to be expected. And I didn't dislike those few, they just didn't really hit the spot for me as well as the others did. (The unicorn and rainbow story, for example, was clever and a nice break, but didn't get me turned on. The Catholic one did. The other religious ones didn't.)

The final novella is great, going on longer than anticipated, but in a logical way.

If I'm going to make an actual complaint it's that most of the stories are from a female bottom perspective. I could have done with a few more stories of men being treated roughly.

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Posted: Tuesday April 16 2013 @ 7:53am

Religious Order: Books

Reading Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software gave me some pleasant flashbacks to some of my favorite classes from getting my degree. But it also has some problems.

The first part of the book is delightful. It builds up the various pieces of a computer CPU, starting with something as simple as the telegraph, moving through logic gates to transistors and beyond. Eventually, you end up with a pretty functional CPU. It's great. (We went through a similar process in an old class on CPU design, albeit in an abbreviated form.) I highly recommend this section. And then things start to fall apart.

He goes from this delightful built-up to describing the entire opcode set for a real-life CPU. Oh, yeah, that's interesting. Actually, for me, it wasn't all that bad, but nor was it good. If I wanted to read opcode descriptions, well, there are plenty of places to do that. (Hell, somewhere I still have my C-64 Reference Manual with all the 6510 codes defined.) I just don't get why this section is here. Sure, some exposure to various opcodes is valuable, but an examination of each and every one? It brings the whole book to a screeching halt.

After this torturous chapter, he moves up a level to describe the other parts of a computer. This section bored me. It lacked the delightful build-up of the earlier sections. It also showed off the age of the book, which is over a decade old. It was just kinda dull. (Which also reminds me of several classes in my youth.)

My advice? Give it a read, but stop after a couple of opcodes and move onto another book.

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Gulping Down More Roaches

Posted: Tuesday April 16 2013 @ 6:39am

Religious Order: Books

I'm a big fan of Mary Roach's books, so I obviously had to pre-order Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. This won't be a long review. Basically, if you liked her earlier books, you'll like this one. It's not as good as Bonk or Stiff. It's better than Spook.

She's not quite as hands-on with her subject matter in this book, although she does go to prison to learn about hooping.

The approach is a bit scatter-shot. I was expecting the topics to linearly traverse the canal itself. Instead, the first half of the book jumps back and forth between mouth and stomach, with a jump to the end for the latter half. Not a huge problem, but I did find myself occasionally wondering if we were ever going to pass the pyloric sphincter, as it were.

Let me close with one of my favorite things about eBooks. When you pre-order an eBook, it just shows up on your device on the release date. It's awesome!

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Posted: Tuesday April 16 2013 @ 6:20am

Religious Order: Books

Just finished reading Debbie Reynolds' latest autobiography, Unsinkable: A Memoir. Despite the title of the post, it is indeed quite readable. Ain't really great, though.

Here's the deal, the book has two sections. The first section is Debbie talking about the latter part of her life, namely getting married for the third time, buying a hotel in Vegas, and attempting to find a home for her vast collection of Hollywood costumes. The second section is simply Debbie going through each and every one of her movies, telling you a little about each and the folks involved.

I did get a chance to visit Debbie's hotel while she owned it. (I was attending Comdex. Debbie's hotel was on the walk from the Strip to the Convention Center.) We didn't spend much time. We tried their breakfast buffet, which was awful. We dumped a couple bucks into a kinda neat video blackjack machine that actually had seats for multiple players. But, other than that, there wasn't much there there. Despite that, I have often wondered what the deal was with it. Why did she buy it? Why did it fail?

If you, too, have wondered this, you'll get some value out of the first section of the book. But it's also a sad tale and Debbie often seems clueless as to her own culpability in it all. (Sometimes you just want to shout at her "Get a financial advisor already!")

The second section is a nice breezy read. Some of it you've likely heard before. Some will surely be new. Which actors had huge genitalia? Which actress was being orally serviced by two men when Debbie walked in on her? All that and more!

That said, much of it gets old after a few iterations. Each movie takes the form of: Here's what the movie was about. I worked with X, Y, and Z. X and Y were wonderful and we remain great friends. Z was problematic and here's why. (Optionally, Z later apologized and we remain great friends.)

The whole section feels tacked on, as if she got to the end of the first section and realized she didn't have enough for a full book.

Despite all that, it's still plenty readable. Debbie's writing style is very plain, but I don't mean that in a bad way. Sure, this isn't sophisticated writing, but it's also easy to ingest in huge gulps. It's sad in places, funny in others, and entertaining throughout.

(I should note that Debbie has an earlier autobiography that, if the few reviews I've read are any indication, is a much more developed and cohesive work.)

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Spoiler Alert!

Posted: Tuesday April 02 2013 @ 10:21am

Religious Order: Books

So, I was reading an article about books that contain spoilers for their own plots, and The Sparrow was mentioned. The story is that earth receives radio signals from a nearby star and Jesuits decide to send a mission to it while the rest of the world natters around discussing and then dismissing the idea. And then things go wrong.

The way the story line works is to split it and bounce between events leading up to the climax and the events following the climax. As the former nears, the latter distances itself in time while revealing more. Well, Jesuits in Space and a weird plot structure? I'll give that a try!

So, is it any good? Well sorta kinda...

The Sparrow

I'll be honest, lots of folks simply love this book and a few folks really hate it. Then there's a segment into which I fall who found it an okay read, with an interesting premise and methodology dragged down by some pretty hefty flaws. Let's look at the flaws first!


A major fault is the enormous amount of time spent establishing unrealistically likable characters. Fully half the book is dedicated to it, and yet none of the characters have any real flaws. Yeah, okay, one is too logical (until later, when emotion is needed to propel the plot). Another is mired in a sense of machismo which serves to draw out the events following the climax. I liked them all. How could I not? They're all very nice, but they weren't very interesting.

Oddly, given the number of pages devoted to it, the author eventually devolved to large blocks of exposition to fill in backstories. It's weird. This exposition starts in the form of well done character dialogue, but then it's as if the author simply tires of the effort and resorts to the aforementioned narrative blocks. (I was not at all surprised to learn, upon reading the author notes at the end, that the near-saintly Anne was a Mary Sue.)

Of course, the point of all this build-up is to make you sad when horrible things happen to these folks. Alas, while lots of folks die, it really isn't all that horrible. I mean, yeah, it's horrible, but not horrible-horrible. Plus, the two big reveals at the end aren't really a surprise. One is plainly obvious, the other heavily hinted at.

There's a parochial morality to it. It's not a book from the 50s (published in the late 90s), yet it seems to exude a stilted morality, including far too much time trying to justify celibacy. And, honestly, are folks still amazed and confused by the concept of relativistic time dilation in 2060?

Other flaws include, frankly, piss-poor sci-fi featuring the world's most inept attempt at first contact. Their plan? Fuck it, let's just land somewhere! There are other groaners as well, and they're crucial to the plot. So it's painful in places.

Okay, so enough with the flaws. Is there anything to like? Well, sure...


While the characters are lacking in depth, they're still charming. The dialogue between them is fun, if unrealistically sincere. While it was plainly obvious I was being set up to like these folks in order to provoke an emotional reaction later, it was still fun to read about them.

The alien society is well thought out, which isn't surprising as the author is an anthropologist. The big reveal at the end doesn't come as a total surprise, but it's still an interesting idea.

The overall quality of the writing is high, despite the thin characterization, and the short-cuts taken regarding them. It's an enjoyable read. Well, the ending isn't exactly enjoyable, still...

And the overall schtick of the split plot is handled well. It drags a bit in places, but not enough to seriously hinder my reading. While I was able to anticipate the big reveal at the end, it didn't spoil the reading, although it obviously blunted the impact.

So, is that it? No, wait, I haven't talked about the religious aspect!

The Religious Aspect

The basic idea here is that people like to attribute good things to God, but then are all confused when bad things happen. How do we reconcile this?

There's a series of Calvin and Hobbes strips that actually deal with this same issue, just in a smaller way. In the strips, Calvin finds a raccoon that has fallen from the nest. He brings it home hoping his mom can save it, but, alas, it dies. It ends with Calvin pondering the purpose of putting the bird on this earth, only to let it die. Calvin's conclusion? It's either mean or it's arbitrary, and either way I've got the heebie-jeebies.

But Calvin is missing a third possibility. In addition to God either being an asshole sadist (mean) or non-existent (arbitrary), there could be a vast plan we can neither see nor understand in which it does make sense. Which is basically the author's view, through the lens of her conversion to Judaism. She throws good things at her characters, which they assign to God's grace, then she fucks with them, leaving them to ponder why.

How you react to that will depend highly on your own religious views. Being an atheist, my response is that, lacking any evidence, I'll go with arbitrary. Other folks will likely view it differently.

Oddly, the characters in the book seem scared of considering the arbitrary possibility and I can't figure out why. The same is true in the real world. Many folks just can't conceive of there not being a God. Meanwhile, it seems obvious to me. I had hoped that this book might have worked for me as a bridge to understanding. It didn't. The lone atheist in the book is really an apatheist who takes no part at all in any theological discussions.

So, while I don't have a problem with the author's conclusions, I am disappointed that the atheist option is more or less dismissed out of hand. (Or denigrated, in at least one instance.)

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Out of Timely...

Posted: Sunday March 31 2013 @ 5:40pm

Religious Order: Books

So, a friend of mine, who is an excellent writer, was in this wee collection of time travel stories. And I bought a copy and read it and then didn't write a review in a timely manner. Then she pestered me about it, so here is it, a bit late...

Out of Time

Out of Time is a small-ish collection of five time travel stories. It's cheap, at 99 cents, and 100% of sales proceeds are donated to Doctors Without Borders, so, y'know, just go buy it, eh?

Oh, wait, you want to know if it's any good. Well, yeah, it really is.

The first three stories are good and solid. They didn't blow me away, but they were all fun and enjoyable to read. If that was all there was, my 99 cents would still have been well spent. The fifth and last story was one of the genre of the whip-smart looping plotline. And it's a good un at it, a really fun read.

But it's the fourth story that stands out. Now, bear in mind that this is the one my friend wrote, so I'm probably a bit biased. That said, it's a really powerful and moving tale. It's not a high-tech sort of time travel tale. It's about regret. It made me sad, even a little teary-eyed. (Just teary-eyed, no actual tears were shed.) It stands out in that the time travelling is just an enabler of the story, not really the story itself. It's really good, easily worth the whole 99 cents all on its own.

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