Sunday, November 09, 2008

Most Recent Reads

Cryptonomicon - Neal Stephenson

With a sadonic wit and fine attention to detail, Stephenson weaves together the lives of three characters in a tale spanning three generations from WWII to modern day: Bobby Shaftoe--tough as nails WWII Marine; Laurence Waterhouse--brilliant codebreaker working for the Allies; Randy Waterhouse--computer programmer who finds himself caught up in a plan to establish a data haven (while hunting for Nazi/Japanese gold). The story is noticeably short on plot, however, and quite lengthy. (Rating: B / B.L.: Adult)

Dune - Frank Herbert

Tired of hearing "one of the best science fiction stories of all time" only to waste several days of your life? Sink your teeth into Dune and you'll agree that Herbert has created a masterfully realized world, the perfect stage for the coming of age of the protagonist, Paul. Desolate yet vital, the planet Arrakis shapes the future of the galaxy since it's the mysterious source of melange--an addictive, prophecy-inducing spice. After political intrigue lands Paul's family and friends on this inhospitable planet, Paul must confront the terrible destiny laid before him. (Rating: A+ / B.L.: 6+)

Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert Heinlein

A man raised by Martians returns to Earth and seeks to instruct humans in the path to true happiness: 1) throw away traditional morality, 2) explore physical and mental oneness through telepathy, 3) never forget "thou art god." Tastes a bit like Eastern mysticism. Not one of Heinlein's strongest, Stranger disappoints. (Rating: C+ / B.L.: ADULT)

Shadow Puppets - Orson Scott Card

In a world torn by war, Bean and Petra seek to find meaning in life even as they work to defeat their archenemy Achilles. Not as strong as the previous books, SP feels a bit forced at times. The ending however will satisfy. (Rating: A- /B.L.: 8+)

Shadow of the Hegemon - Orson Scott Card

The war against the Buggers has ended...Bean and the other Battle School grads now face a threat just as insidious--Achilles. Deftly weaving military strategy with themes of family, ambition, and belonging, Card reveals his skill in creating believable futures. (Rating: A / B.L.: 8+)

Ender's Shadow - Orson Scott Card

Possessed with a terrifyingly powerful intelligence, Bean comes alongside Ender as they give their innocence to protect the human race. Told from Bean's perspective, this novel certainly does enrich the story found in Ender's Game though some readers may chafe as Card rehashes events. (Rating: A / B.L.: 8+)

Once an Arafat Man - Tass Saada

A former sniper for the Palestinian rebel group Fatah, Tass Saada now works to reconcile enemies in the Middle East who have fought for thousands of years. This powerful narrative of his conversion also helps the reader see Muslims and Arabs in a new light. (Grade: A / B.L.: 9+)

Brisingr - Christopher Paolini

Within Paolini's well-crafted fantasy world, Alagaesia, Eragon and Saphira strive to fulfill their promises to the various races united against evil King Galbatorix as his enemy's power begins to grow. Paolini's skill has improved: figurative language and descriptive passages are stronger, the prose is more gripping, and character development succeeds in drawing the reader into the lives of the characters. Story continues in book 4... (Rating: A+ / B.L.: 6+)

The Shack - William Paul Young
After tragedy strikes his family, a grieving father has an encounter with the Heavenly Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that reshapes his views of life and the problem of pain. The Shack reads a bit more like a shallow theological discourse than a novel, and Young's characterization of the Father touches on the irreverent side. However, it gets the reader contemplating truths vital to a full life. (Rating: B / G.L.: 6+)

A Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin

A tale of political intrigue, battles, and becoming, A Game of Thrones is set in a fantasy world where the seasons can last a whole decade. Martin follows the lives of a multitude of characters as they each face the fallout of a fight for the throne of the Seven Kingdoms. A bit lengthy...climax could be stronger. (Rating: B / B.L.: Adult)

The Infinite Day - Chris Walley

In the satisfying conclusion to the Lamb Among the Stars trilogy, Merral and the Assembly face their greatest test yet as the Dominion sweeps across the Made Worlds toward Earth. A tale of sacrifice and faith, prayer and redemption, The Infinite Day will be well worth your time. (Rating: A / G.L. 6+)

The Dark Foundations - Chris Walley

Merral and crew discover the truth behind the words, "a house divided against itself cannot stand" even as they wrestle with their own deceptive hearts. The action intensifies in this second of three books as Farholme is lashed by the storms of war. (Rating: A+ / G.L.: 6+)

Blue Like Jazz - Donald Miller

Gritty, No-holds barred non-fiction from Miller stands as the antithesis to modern Christianity and all its trappings. Read Blue Like Jazz for a challenge to return to the roots of faith, roots sunk deep into the real world yet not tainted by its curse. (Rating: A+ / B.L. 8+)

The Shadow and Night - Chris Walley

Finally! Modern Christian science fiction that can truly claim to be descendant from C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. Set thousands of years in the future on a Made World on the edge of the settled universe, Shadow tells the story of a Eden-like world that once more must face the corrupting, insideous evil that spoiled our world so long ago. Hard to summarize...a must read. (Rating: A+ / G.L. 6+)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Once an Arafat Man - Review

Rating: A
Book Level: 9+

In any conflict, problems only escalate when both sides fail to understand the perspectives of the other. In his autobiography, Tass Saada gives readers a fuller picture of life in the Middle East, as well as hope for how peace may find a foothold in the war-torn region. Once an Arafat Man also leads readers to a deeper appreciation for Arabs and Muslims and their place in God's world.

Growing up as a Muslim in the Middle East, Tass Saada experienced the resentment and hatred that led him and his brethren to use violence to achieve their goals. As a young man, Tass was a trained sniper for Fatah, a Palestinian rebel group. Later moving to the U.S. and marrying an American, Tass found that without Jesus Christ, a person is empty no matter where he/she lives. The tale of his conversion is truly inspirational and will leave the reader in awe of the True God.

After accepting Christ as his Savior, Tass followed the Lord with the same passion he followed Yasser Arafat as a youth. He started a non-profit organization called Hope for Ismael to help the people of Palestine, youth and adult alike, to find true peace and healing.

Readers looking for a magic solution to the problems in the Middle East will be disappointed, but Tass certainly points the way to what should be done to bring peace--individual people loving their neighbors through acts of love and service, sympathizing with the pain and hurt others face. This is a quick read and rarely bogs down in preachy language. Readers should come away with a fuller respect for those most Americans have considered "enemies" without truly knowing why.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Brisingr - Book Review

Brisingr - Christopher Paolini

Within Paolini's well-crafted fantasy world, Alagaesia, Eragon and Saphira strive to fulfill their promises to the various races united against evil King Galbatorix as his enemy's power begins to grow. Paolini's skill has improved: figurative language and descriptive passages are stronger, the prose is more gripping, and character development succeeds in drawing the reader into the lives of the characters. Story continues in book 4... (Rating: A+ / B.L.: 6+)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Dave Wilbur's Quick Review of Desautels Case Tucson 2008

I'm extremely proud of my parents for winning the Desautels Award at the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show after only 3 years of collecting. They have learned a phenomenal amount in such a short time and are quite an inspiration. Perhaps I'll extend this blog to include more of the natural beauty found deep within the earth...

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Reflections from St. Ives (Spring 2000)

For the past hour, I have sat in the Yellow Canary with my hands wrapped around a steaming cup of tea or holding a fork to shovel in a Cornish English breakfast. It's drizzling in St. Ives--a steady, thorough-soaking kind of precipitation that does nothing but drench and frustrate. Still, I like this town. St. Ives, situated on the western-most coast of England, offers infamous views of the ocean. Artists and poets have flocked here in search of inspiration; many have found it. Rumor has it Virginia Woolf wrote To the Lighthouse based on the tower-light on this very bay. The narrow streets and walkways, cottages and seafood restaurants, beaches, cliffs, and hills all have obvious appeal. If it does not cease precipitating, I'll be forced to return in warmer weather.

I think back to yesterday evening when the friendly taxi driver who brought me from the train to St. Ives pointed me in the direction of the coastal path and told me a little about the town. He said locals and visitors alike spend hours admiring the sea, which changes colors continuously throughout the day in a spectacular display.

Walking down the early morning streets on my way to the Yellow Canary, I was greeted--actually greeted--as I passed a fellow human. Civility at last! I'd dare say that St. Ives has more well-mannered citizens than all of London. Or if London has charm, she's forgotten to reveal it to her visitors. No, that's not fair. Londoners have learned to build mental walls and invisible space bubbles as a response to the incessant press of personalities all around. I see this as necessary. Out in the open spaces of the rest of England, such barriers fall away: it's no wonder I spend so much time outside of London.


Only the surfers--crazy for a wave to ride--
Are out in the cold, cold waters of the bay
They look like specks, black specks to me
But I know what they are:

Their sandprint tracks like scritch-scratch
Are printed letters on a page,
Their frenzied dance a melody,
A prelude to the sea.

And she, a song, an unrelenting rhythm
Has never ceased and never will
Long after all else is still, so still
In the frigid pale watches of the night.

The sea today: froth-blue and white
And quite subdued in hue
Has requested to dance with the rain
And these surfers, they merrily remain.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Open Hands

There are few teachings of Christ more difficult to apply (and more commonly ignored) than Matthew 5:38-48. When given flesh and bones, this act of obedience has great potency to change lives steeped in sin and utterly stupify mockers of righteousness. Incidentally, this teaching may also be the best barometer of how entrenched materialism remains in the life of a believer. A follower of Christ cannot simultaneously love the soul of a lost one and hold his/her possessions in a tight fist.

From the streets of New York comes this testimony of the power of kindness and a love freed from worldly trappings.

“If you're willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money.”

Julio Diaz, speaking with the teenager who robbed him. (Visit NPR to hear audio version)

March 28, 2008 -- Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner.

But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform, his evening took an unexpected turn.

He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.

"He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, 'Here you go,'" Diaz says.

As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, "Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you're going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm."

The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, "like what's going on here?" Diaz says. "He asked me, 'Why are you doing this?'"

Diaz replied: "If you're willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me ... hey, you're more than welcome.

"You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help," Diaz says.

Diaz says he and the teen went into the diner and sat in a booth.

"The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi," Diaz says. "The kid was like, 'You know everybody here. Do you own this place?'"

"No, I just eat here a lot," Diaz says he told the teen. "He says, 'But you're even nice to the dishwasher.'"

Diaz replied, "Well, haven't you been taught you should be nice to everybody?"

"Yea, but I didn't think people actually behaved that way," the teen said.

Diaz asked him what he wanted out of life. "He just had almost a sad face," Diaz says.

The teen couldn't answer Diaz — or he didn't want to.

When the bill arrived, Diaz told the teen, "Look, I guess you're going to have to pay for this bill 'cause you have my money and I can't pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I'll gladly treat you."

The teen "didn't even think about it" and returned the wallet, Diaz says. "I gave him $20 ... I figure maybe it'll help him. I don't know."

Diaz says he asked for something in return — the teen's knife — "and he gave it to me."

Afterward, when Diaz told his mother what happened, she said, "You're the type of kid that if someone asked you for the time, you gave them your watch."

"I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It's as simple as it gets in this complicated world."

Produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Pornography and the Golden Calf

In his powerfully real book, Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller confesses that he desired false gods "because Jesus wouldn't jump through my hoops..." Instead, he sought after gods that would satisfy his desire for novelty and philosophical variety. He sees parallels in the way the people of Israel committed spiritual adultery as a means to control their situation and fulfill their legitimate longings. Wandering in the wilderness, following a mysterious, frightening God, they built an idol more familiar to them, an idol they could see and touch and that would condone any pleasures they so desired. In this, we see the catastrophe of the human condition, The Fall replayed in all its horrid detail. Men seeking to harness the universe and bend life to meet their own lusts bring destruction upon their heads.

Several thousand years later, men use pornography as an idol to scratch their lustful itches. Unable to get their wives to jump through their hoops, many men have escaped to a twisted, on-demand form of sexuality they can control. Though this hateful idol is the very one worshiped by unbelievers and held up as a sign of human progress in upending "traditional" morality, Christian men return to its familiar comforts at the risk of bringing a plague upon their homes. That plague has devastated America as family upon family have blown apart in the forces of bitterness, distrust, and hurt. Oh that we could crush pornography into fine dust as Moses did to the golden cow!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Review--The Shadow and Night

The Shadow and Night - Chris Walley - A+

Suppose modern Evangelicals have it wrong. Suppose that Christ's return isn't imminent and that He has no plans to rapture the Church. Suppose instead that the Lord ushers in a Golden Age in which the universe has been cleansed of Satanic influence and the corrosive effects of sin. Given thousands of years to build a harmonious society called The Assembly, mankind in Walley's speculative future has spread across the galaxy on hundreds of Made Worlds, planets made in Earth's image to host the thriving human race. On the edge of the Assembly lies Farholme, home to the protagonist Merral d'Avanos. After his teenage cousin witnesses a disturbing, unfathomable creature in the northern woods, events unfold that signal the end of an age of peace and stability. Evil has returned to the Assembly, beginning its destructive rampage on Farholme. As Merral and company confront the growing threat, they discover the problem reaches deeper than they'd like; sin has begun its dark march across their own hearts as well.

The novel's portrayal of a world free from the corruptive influence of sin strikes a chord deep within. The reader instinctively recognizes the "correctness" of Merral's world before the invasion, that is, life as it was meant to be. Men and women enjoy their work, receive rich pleasure from creativity and craft as they mimic their Creator, and thrive in relationships untainted by battles of the ego. This setting creates within the reader a sense of longing for such a world, and drives one to recognize what he/she has given up in order to enjoy the bitterness of sin. A true sense of loss is conveyed as evil corrupts Merral's world.

In contrast to many Christian protagonists, Merral has a genuine heart complete with all its resident contradictions. Facing evil for the first time, he quickly learns the "heart is deceitful above all things." Merral confronts his own culpability in the vilification of Farholme as he faces his own moral failures and weaknesses. His confusion about the changed spiritual landscape adds to a sense of reality as, for example, Merral ponders an apparent silence from heaven after he prays.

While some may complain, the book's length is sufficient to portray a culture characterized by innocence and ego-free human activity. A full and proper description combined with the reader's longing for such a state causes the reader to hurt and mourn with Merral as his world begins to unravel. Additionally, a well-crafted exposition serves to heighten the suspense and sense of horror about the invaders since the reader must wait helplessly as events unfold.

To fully appreciate this book, Christian readers must lay down their presuppositions regarding end-time events and be willing to entertain a post-millenialist view. Mature individuals should be able to hold several views simultaneously for any issue with substantial uncertainty and disagreement such as this one. An overly-dogmatic perspective sucks much joy out of the exploration of our universe.

Finally, the book's incorporation of science-minded individuals was quite refreshing. Similar treatment by other respected authors can go a long way in removing perceptions that Christians are ignorant of the workings of the natural world. Unexamined beliefs regarding Genesis have pushed Christians away from using science as a tool for proper exploration and stewardship of our world.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Heavenly Counterpoint

In addressing the problem of evil in the world and its train of attendants--sorrow, pain, sickness, death, despair--many observers have recognized the hand of redemption at work. God, in His infinite wisdom allowed The Fall and its consequences as a means of heavenly counterpoint. In other words, to fully appreciate joy in this life, one must understand sorrow; to enjoy health, sickness must be a shadow in the past, and so on.

I've often wondered what infinite joy would do to a human will we handle or rather withstand perpetual joy in the Heavenly Jerusalem without emotional meltdown? With this present age behind us serving as a contrast, eternal life in God's presence can be fully enjoyed for what it is. But, will this effect lose its power as our memories of our earthly sojourn stretch thin into eternity?

In thinking of Heaven and infinite bliss, I've always considered the obliteration of the terrible opposites as God makes all things new. In their place I've projected pure blessed experience. However, it occured to me that perhaps instead of the sorrow-joy antithesis, in eternity we will experience times of joy juxtaposed with times without joy. Now, non-joy does not mean sorrow, and as such it could serve as the needed reference point to richen the experience. This is a novel thought for me since I've never expected that our experiences in Heaven may include moments of...what...stasis? I don't recall Scripture indicating this won't be the case, only that there will be no more sorrow, crying, or pain.

On the other hand, we too will be made new. Perhaps our capacity to handle complete, infinite joy will also stretch to infinite. Or, will the experience of Heaven differ so completely from this present age as to defy projection utterly? We shall see...

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Shadow and Night -- A+

The Shadow and Night - Chris Walley

Finally! Modern Christian science fiction that can truly claim to be descendant from C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. Set thousands of years in the future on a Made World on the edge of the settled universe, Shadow tells the story of a Eden-like world that once more must face the corrupting, insideous evil that spoiled our world so long ago. Hard to summarize...a must read. (Rating: A+ / G.L. 6+)

Review forthcoming....

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Perelandra Builds Character

Perelandra - C. S. Lewis, A-

George MacDonald's influence clearly emerges in this second book of the Space Trilogy, and with that influence comes a flaw inherent in books like Lilith and Perelandra. Philosophical elements take precedence over plot, and as such, the story inevitably bogs down, requiring the reader to exercise mental fortitude and perseverance to keep from giving up the whole experience.

For those who survive the journey, Lewis's philosophical explorations of temptation, sovereignty/free will, and the Divine Plan make for a worthwhile read. Two observations stand out relating to the theme of temptation. First, the book reminds one of the character of our Enemy. Few overlook his desire to destroy as much as possible since he knows the battle is already lost, but his apparent pettyness...his concern for small details does not get discussed often. Just as the demon seeks to force Ransom to buckle by interminably repeating his name, Satan works by chipping away at our souls through small details: little lies, little vices, "mini sins," if you will. If he can't destroy a man in one fell swoop, he'll drive him over the edge one small inch at a time. Second, while our struggle against sin doesn't even approach the epic, we like Tinidril need other Christian's to fight for us...we too reach a point where our souls cry "This can't go on!" and we fall upon the prayers of a loving brother. Remember, reader, that "The sword of the Spirit...the Word of God" and prayer remain our offensive weapons against the enemy of our souls. Be glad we don't have to drink Ransom's cup!

I feel in no way adequate to address the theme of God's sovereignty and our will. Though my views on this matter remain clear, my intellect and my language fails to truly express them. Let me instead fall upon the story and let it speak for me and see where that leads. As Ransom faces an inevitable choice regarding how to save Tinidril, his thoughts trace a path my own thoughts have travelled. He says,

"...the power of choice had been simply set aside and an inflexible destiny substituted for it. On the other hand, you might say that he had been delivered from the rhetoric of his passions and had emerged into unassailable freedom. Ransom could not...see any difference between these two statements. Predestination and freedom were apparently identical. He could no longer see any meaning in the many arguments he had heard on this subject."
In my struggles with this issue, I too have set aside the distinction between predestination and individual choice, recognizing that they exist on different planes of reality. The former, outside of time, overlays the other, bound by time. Our every action, known before by God, fits into the cosmic "Great Dance." If the Lord allows, I would like few things more than to satisfactorily refute and dismiss current conceptions of "free will" that predominate in Christian circles. Perhaps I'll just recommend this book...

At a later date, I'll attempt a more thorough discussion of how Lewis developed his view of God's divine plan for the universe. Since my head almost exploded while reading the last few pages of the book, I'll probably need to re-read it before I make any such attempt.

In parting, don't get the impression that this book is all talk and no action. Ransom's fight with the demon-possessed Weston will give shivers and end in exultation. Simply voyaging across the surface of Venus with Ransom pleasantly stretches your imagination and provides fodder for contemplation. True, the "Great Dance" narrative will give you a headache, but it does reveal an awe-inspiring glimpse of God's sovereign plan for the universe. So, hang in there and be prepared to think hard. You too will likely wish to re-read this book to try to understand the deeper issues.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Reflections on Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet

Out of the Silent Planet - C.S. Lewis, A

In the first book of Lewis's Space Trilogy, Dr. Ransom encounters intelligent life on Malacandra (Mars) and gains a deeper understanding of mankind's condition.

Before reading this trilogy, know that Lewis attempts to address religious and philosophical issues rather than focusing on plot. Why use science fiction to accomplish this goal? By stepping out of our reality, where we live as if with blinders on, we can see ourselves more objectively. Seen from afar, the follies of men resolve into a clear image: we have been willfully deceived. Science has taught us to idolize Life while at the same time dehumanizing the human species. It is our minds and spirits, the eternal things, that make every human valuable and worth saving. Just as in The Screwtape Letters, Lewis reminds us that the unseen things in our universe should not be overlooked.

Moments of intense imaginative beauty have been interspersed with philosophical dialogue, but still many readers may find this book more challenging than expected. Expect to be amazed, though, with Lewis's ability to instill child-like wonder even in us too-somber adults.