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Tag John Scalzi

Readings for July 2014

You can't always read as much as you want.

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. LeGuin

In reading The Tombs of Atuan I have completed LeGuin's Earthsea cycle. I read the whole thing out of "order", which is of course the proper way to read this series. The narrative focuses first not on Sparrowhawk, but on a young girl Tenar on a far island. Tenar has been selected as a young girl to be the figure head of her people's cultic religion. It is as a thief that Sparrowhawk comes to Atuan, meets Tenar, and begins the relationship at the heart of the cycle.

In Atuan LeGuin is trying to portray a caricature, I think, of a rotten culture. The place of worship is patrolled by spirits who exhibit malice and fear of change. The narrative becomes an account of Tenar's courage to confront the wickedness and free herself. In doing so she alienates herself, which seems fitting (and is one of my favorite fantasy tropes).

This was not my favorite Earthsea novel - that distinction will remain with The Farthest Shore until another read-through of the cycle. But, as with everything LeGuin I have read, this is recommended.

Red Shirts by John Scalzi

John Scalzi. Making fun of Star Trek. What more could you want a sci-fi comedic novel? Not much more, if you ask me. Red Shirts is the tale of those expendables on away missions who always seem to die needlessly. Scalzi launches from this premise into a fun plot which gets more distance than I had guessed before reading it. Certainly recommended.

Periodicals

  • Tin House #59 - I have now completed my first ten issues of Tin House. Each issue is still a treat.
  • Harper's August 2014

Readings for April 2013

I guess there is no stereotypical "spring reading."

Bad Religion by Ross Douthat

Ross Douthat has the interesting job of being the "conservative columnist" for the New York Times. I had read his work a few times when linked from elsewhere and been generically impressed. His book Bad Religion had been making a splash in my circles, so I borrowed it from the library. (Actually my wife borrowed it from the library, and I borrowed it from her, before she could read it.)

As far as cultural criticism goes, Douthat is stellar. His assessments ring true without the I-told-you-so arrogance which so often permeates this genre. Also, he is probably the best-read in religious studies of anyone I have encountered outside of people with formal seminary training. He really knows his stuff, and makes a convincing case.

Unfortunately the core problem with Douthat's high-brow commentary is that it has almost no chance at having an effect on the culture at large and bringing about the return to orthodoxy which he advocates. His audience is small, and not many will be swayed who are in positions of real influence. Still, I recommend this book, because it is a great examination of the short history of Christianity in the US, and our paths forward.

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

John Scalzi has quite the knack for writing science fiction. His plots are good, but his characters are better. The Ghost Brigades is second in what is now a five-book series which began with Old Man's War. I enjoyed the quick read. As it happens, Scalzi was signing at a local bookstore recently, so my copy of this book is now autographed.

Farside by Ben Bova

In addition to being on a science fiction kick, I decided to try a new author: Ben Bova. He's probably one of the more prolific sci-fi authors whom I had never read. Farside is something of an astronomical thriller set on the moon. The premise is great, and it is pretty interesting from a hard sci-fi perspective. In spite of the good setup, I feel like the plot was easily predicted, and the characters were a bit flat. I may try Bova again someday, but not for a while.

Periodicals

  • Tin House 55 - Phil Klay's story "After Action Report" is a wrenching depiction of the complexities of life in the war zone. This was a very good issue overall, with a warfare theme.
  • SciAm December 2012 - David Tong does a good job illustrating how we are yet unsure whether the universe is digital or analog at its most fundamental level.

Readings for September 2011

This month I played catch-up on periodicals while finishing two novels and starting a monstrously thick third.

Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

Agent to the StarsAfter reading Old Man's War, I knew I needed to check out more of Scalzi's work. I chose Agent to the Stars based on some recommendations and the desire to see the author fully uncork the humor which came through so well in Old Man's War. It was an excellent read, with many laugh-out-loud moments. I must admit that the story ended up going somewhere which I did not anticipate, and this threw me off for a bit. Yet the payoff is worth it. Recommended.

As it so happens, this is the second internet-released book which I've recently read unwittingly in paperback. The other was Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson. If my experience is any indication, free online distribution seems to harm print sales very little while increasing interest. Also, pro tip: almost all of the new John Scalzi paperbacks at Powell's Beaverton are autographed.

Blackout by Connie Willis

I have read many good things about Connie Willis and had been wanting to read one of her novels. When Blackout/All Clear won the Hugo and Nebula awards, I knew I was out of excuses for not reading her, so I picked up Blackout. Willis' writing style is fantastic and the premise for this story is excellent. I also liked the characters pretty well.

The trouble is that after having read only the first volume, I wouldn't guess that this story splits into two parts very well. There is a lot of dramatic action in Blackout, but virtually no explanation of the cause of all the problems. I kept reading on, assuming that there would be a reveal somewhere in the final chapters which would set-up the course of the second volume. But Willis is playing the cards of the plot fairly close in this story. I presume everything is sufficiently explained in All Clear, so I will reserve judgment until I get a chance to finish the story.

Periodicals

This month I read Biblical Archaeology Review for May and June, Harpers for September and October, and Scientific American for September and October. So I am still behind on BAR, but am otherwise caught up in periodicals. Perhaps the most noteworthy and dreadful article in this crop is the description of the mineral wealth of Afghanistan in SciAm October. Believe it or not, the US is planning to help extract the resources of a nation we recently invaded.

Readings for August 2011

August was a rather prodigious month of reading for me. At the beginning of the month I was on a leisurely vacation, which always helps. I got through a lot, but there are always more books.

Old Man's War by John Scalzi

If you want to read some straight-ahead sci-fi, Old Man's War is for you. Scalzi does an excellent job of mixing classical sci-fi elements with some unique contributions of his own. The novel is an engaging read, perfect for summer.

I did have some slightly different expectations about the significance of age in this story. Yes, the element of old age is integrated into the plot, but not into the theme in the way that I would have thought. But that is a problem with my expectations rather than with the book, so it is nonetheless Recommended.

All is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day by Jim Forest

[][]In my readings surrounding Christian pacifism and anarchism I have heard much about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement. So when I saw that this revised and expanded biography was being published, I asked for it for my birthday, and was happily rewarded. I fully noted the irony of me reading about the life of someone who had taken a vow of poverty while spending a week relaxing on a houseboat.

The biography does a good job focusing on Dorothy up until the founding of the Catholic Worker. After that point her life and that of the movement become so entwined that it would be difficult to tell the story of one without the other. Still Forest is able to continue with enough personal insight into his subject's life in between the developments in the Catholic Worker.

The story is inspirational and challenging. Of tangential interest to me was just how alive and well socialism was as a political movement in the earlier parts of the 20th century in the United States. But Dorothy was about the practicality of helping the poor and resisting state power rather than promoting ideology. This is, I think, why she is being considered for canonization. Recommended.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchet

I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I had not read Good Omens until now. Luckily my vacation made this an easy mistake to rectify. The book is downright hilarious. Christian friends: grow a thick skin and learn to laugh, and you'll love it. Recommended.

Periodicals

I finished the August 2011 issues of Scientific American and Harper's this month. The most striking article came in the 9/11 remembrance genre: an account of the distortions of the justice system which have occurred in the wake of the attacks. If you care about American political ideals, Petra Bartosiewicz' article will make you mad.

Sharing Possessions by Luke T. Johnson

I knew I would be in for a treat when I found that renowned Bible scholar Luke Timothy Johnson had released a revision of his work of Christian ethics. It is a good thing for scholars to cross disciplines and bring their discoveries to bear on other concerns. Johnson I think does a splendid job in weakening the myth that the Bible teaches a normative posture toward possessions. Neither the Jerusalem commune of Acts nor the wealthy patrons of Corinth are the only way.

The author recommends the giving of alms as the go-to practice for Christians. Probably my biggest take-away from the book comes in how Johnson attacks state socialism not from political-ideological grounds, but from the standpoint of ideology: to measure equality qua possessions is to give possessions too great a place in determining the worth of people. If your idea of a just society is one in which every person has the exact same amount of stuff, you are unwittingly materialistic, as Johnson argues. Recommended.

Hegemony or Survival by Noam Chomsky

[][]On September 20th, 2006, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez addressed the United Nations and commended to the nations a Noam Chomsky. This makes Hegemony or Survival very intriguing by default, and lead to big sales of the book.

I have yet to read a thorough criticism of a Chomsky book. I am sure they are out there somewhere. It could be useful since I sometimes get the feeling that Chomsky is pulling one over on his reader. The reliance on end notes and dismissing opponents objections with a casual wave of "does not deserve comment" seems like the tactics of a manipulator. Yet I have never found Chomsky's arguments nor evidence lacking, and he is compelling. My desire to doubt his work probably comes from the fact that his attestations and their implications make American patriotism incredibly uncomfortable.

This book is a bit hard to follow in its general scope, though it is quite understandable (if not dry) in the particulars. The basic theme is that the US is trying to dominate the world, and that for elite powers democracy (that is, the will of the people) is something which must be crushed when in opposition to official positions. I cannot really recommend this one Chomsky book over any other, but I think every American should read at least one of his books.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Once again Sanderson delivers. Mistborn happens to be the first in a trilogy, and I am lucky enough to have the next two volumes on my shelf. And a fourth in the Mistborn universe is coming out this winter. Oh yes, and there's The Way of Kings. Good time to be a fantasy fan.

Do yourself a favor and read Mistborn. It's not particularly sophisticated literature, but it is a good story and a really fun read. Recommended.

[]: http://thelibrarybasement.com/images/2011/09/Dorothy_Day.jpg []: http://thelibrarybasement.com/images/2011/09/chavez_chomsky_un.jpg

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