If You Read One Thing Today, Make It This Canticle For Leibowitz Essay


Canticle is one of my favorite SF novels.

See my review from March 2013.

If you want to skip the I09 recap of the New Yorker essay and just get right to it, follow this link:

A Science Fiction Classic Still Smoulders

Audiobook Review: King of Thorns by Lawrence (DNF)

KingOfThornsByLawrenceKing of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Fantasy Book Club selection August 2013

Attempted to Read/Listen: August 2013


I tried reading, or rather listening, to this in August 2013 for the GoodReads Fantasy Book Club. We previously read Prince of Thorns as a group in October 2011 and I actually liked the first book of the series. But I had to give up listening at around twenty percent. I may come back to it at a later date, but right now I need something a lot less bleak.

Continue reading “Audiobook Review: King of Thorns by Lawrence (DNF)”

Book Review: Left Behind by LaHaye and Jenkins (3 Stars)

Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins

3 out of 5 stars

Read in August 2009

I reminded myself quite frequently while reading Left Behind that is was fiction. Christian fiction. Fear-driven apocalyptic (aka end times) Christian fiction. But definitely fiction.

I avoided reading Left Behind for nearly fifteen years, mostly because I avoid anything hyped or overhyped.

Just so you know a bit of history about my faith, I am a believer, a disciple of Christ, or more colloquially a “Christ-follower.” While I still use the term Christian, a pastor recently mentioned in a sermon that the term “Christ-follower” delivers a more accurate message of who and what we should be and the example we should all strive towards.

The point of view filtered through the two central characters in Left Behind – Rayford Steele and Cameron ‘Buck’ Williams – provided an up close and personal view as they experienced being left behind after the Rapture (Jesus returning to Earth and resurrecting all his followers, living, dead and innocent (i.e. the children), bodily to Heaven). Two very different perspectives strive to discover the why and how of the disappearances, to the benefit of the reader.

Rayford loses his wife and son, but not his daughter. Bruce loses his sister-in-law and her children and several co-workers.

Rayford, the self-centered, assured and confident jetliner pilot, grieves bitterly but humbly seeks answers from one of his wife’s former pastors, also humbled and shocked at having been left behind.

Buck, an ace reporter for a large news magazine, finds himself more than neck deep in world-changing people and events, as he investigates the disappearances and gathers theories for a comprehensive cover story. His cynicism protects him from realizing the consequences of denial until nearly the point of no return.

Most of the other characters play supporting roles, often only there to spur on the discourse of prophetic teachings almost literally ripped from the King James Version of the Bible, dripping with red letters.

The only other character of note, of course, is Nicolae Carpathia, the up and coming political powerhouse that promises world peace and ultimately delivers it, on his own terms. As impressive and heart pounding as the culminating conflict in the U.N. conference room was, I would have been more impressed had Nicolae convinced Stonagal to murder Todd-Cothran and kill himself. Nicolae pulling the trigger himself seemed cliche, but then brainwashing everyone present by sheer force of will, except Buck, helped seal his power as the Antichrist.

Comparing the two conversion experiences, I preferred Buck’s last-minute-must-forge-ahead one to Rayford’s poleaxed one. Neither conversion appealed to me, since both were fear driven due to the apocalyptic change wrought on the world. Such a heavy emphasis on prophecy is appropriate for this setting, but hard to stomach as an evangelizing tool towards the reader. At least Rayford read the four Gospels in one sitting before moving on to the “Shock and Awe” of Daniel and Revelation.

As a fictionalized attempt to codify popular prophetic teachings (I don’t pretend to be an expert on Amillennialism, Post-Millennialism, Pre-Millennialism, Pretribulationism and Posttribulationism), the authors did a good job of weaving the characters credibly among the events related in Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel and other prophetic books of the Bible, putting a human face and experience to the horror of being left behind.

For a less fear-based study of the Book of Revelation, I highly recommend The Throne, the Lamb & the Dragon A Reader’s Guide to the Book of Revelation. My status updates also included comments with links to helpful web blogs and articles.

I am glad I finally read Left Behind but I won’t be joining the Tribulation Force any time soon.

Book Review: Alas, Babylon by Frank (4 stars)

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

4 out of 5 stars

Read in March 2009

It’s 1959. It’s the height of the Cold War. The threat of thermonuclear war hangs in the air like an impending thunderstorm.

Randy Bragg is a lawyer living in the backwaters of Florida in the small town of Fort Repose. He’s the younger brother of an Air Force Colonel, Mark Bragg, stationed at Offutt AFB in Omaha – the renowned home of SAC HQ. Mark sends Randy a cryptic telegram telling him his wife and kids were coming to visit and ends with the phrase “Alas, Babylon.” This is a code word they discussed a few months earlier that meant a nuclear strike against the US was imminent.

Randy attempts to stock up for the aftermath, but really doesn’t have a grasp of what will be left after the attack. It’s not like a hurricane where your power and water might be interrupted for a few days or a few weeks. The entire infrastructure of modern life was shattered and disrupted beyond recovery in most large cities. Medical supplies, food, communications, transportation – everything was thrown back one hundred or even two hundred years in a matter of days.

The author did an excellent job of showing how one small town, uniquely spared the nuclear holocaust, managed to not only survive but retain some civilization and hope for the future.

I noticed a couple of obvious missing resources. The author mentions in passing amateur radio operators when he is describing retired Admiral Hazzard’s sideband radio. However, in 1959, it would have been difficult to toss a rock without hitting an amateur radio operator, and we (I am a licensed amateur radio operator) are usually involved in Civil Defense. We are the first line of communication when all other forms fail.

Also, Fort Repose was not far from Cape Canaveral (where NASA is now) and I would have thought there would be more military or engineers (retired or otherwise) living in Fort Repose.

I find it difficult to believe that even a small town would only have one bicycle – the one that belonged to the Western Union office used by the messenger boy. Every child would have had one and I’m sure some of the adults as well. Drive three or five miles on a bicycle in flat Florida wouldn’t have been too arduous.

In hindsight, we now know more concerning the other hazards of nuclear attacks; things like nuclear winter and electromagnetic pulses. Still, I am very impressed, even fifty years later, with Pat Frank’s chilling tale of survival and hope.

Book Review: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Miller (4 stars)

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

4 out of 5 stars

Read in May 2010

Excellent weekend spent pondering man, God, science, religion, death, life, despair and hope. Miller’s award-winning novel stands the test of time (over fifty years now) and justifiably deserves to be continuously in print.

So many questions to ponder, presented through Miller’s monastic brothers preserving the last scraps of our civilization and an undying Jewish hermit (assumedly the Wandering Jew of legend) searching for Him who said ‘Come forth!’ Never once did I feel preached at, so skillful was Miller’s presentation.

Even though the Cold War is over, and mutually assured destruction no longer so assured, A Canticle for Leibowtiz posits convincingly that ‘those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.’

Fourteenth Bak’tun Compliant

I wanted to share some of the best post-apocalyptic gems I found yesterday.  Most of these got at least a chuckle, and sometimes a chortle.  Enjoy.


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This last one is my personal favorite, bringing back fond memories of my last apocalyptic fizzle … Y2K.  And in case you’re wondering what the heck a “Bak’tun” is, please see my post from last month on Mayan calendars and other astronomical wonders.

Movie Review: The Hunger Games (2012)

The Hunger Games (2012)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Better than the book, barely.  I read the book and gave it three stars.  I knew then, when I finished reading it, that a movie would deliver more impact in some respects, and it does.  I missed some of the back-story (although the first book doesn’t give you much to work with).  The book did provide a better window and more intimately through Katniss’ eyes and thoughts, into the plight of the ‘citizens’ of the Districts.

I have gripes with the casting though.  Peeta in no way convinced me of his strength or of even being a baker’s son.  Same goes for Gale, only I thought the casting went over-the-top the other way on that one.

I noticed from the credits that the author, Suzanne Collins, had her fingers in most of the pots, including as an executive producer, so I really have no quibble with deviations from the written vision.

I will say I was a bit disappointed by the special affects, which seemed on par with a television show and not a ‘normal’ science fiction film.

Review: Falling Skies Pilot (Summer 2011 SciFi Series on TNT)

Falling Skies (Summer 2011 on TNT)

My husband and I watched th3 much anticipated (translated: hyped) summer science fiction series premiere of Falling Skies last night via TNT.  I must have missed something the first time around, because I did not pick up from the story (what was actually aired, not what was hyped in the pre-premiere ads) what happened to the Earth.  Yes, some information was revealed through observation, like the lack of any electronics as a result of the alien EMP bombardment.

A discussion I’m following at the GoodReads Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club likened this story to a cross between H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds and Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon.  I’ve read both of those books, but I’ve only posted a review on Alas, Babylon (click here to read my review).  From what I can tell from the first two hours, there is some similarity to Frank’s vision, but so far not much to Wells (at least the aliens haven’t exhibited a penchant for succumbing to an Earth virus or bacteria).

I learned this morning, when I read the discussion thread mentioned above that the alien invasion occurred six months prior to what I watched in the first two episodes.  That the aliens wiped out 90 percent of the human population and for some unknown reason needs to enslave the younger members  of the remaining humans (but nukes or otherwise disposes of older ones).  Basically, what’s left of humanity is in survival mode, on the run and severely out-gunned.

Most of the writing was predictable and the acting mediocre (and I expected a better performance from Noah Wyle).  The special effects adequately portrayed the aliens and their technology, but failed to wow me.  I enjoyed seeing Dale Dye in a cameo-like appearance in the first few minutes of the first episode and I loved Colin Cunningham‘s portrayal of a post apocalyptic leader of rogue criminal gang (although with a complete breakdown of civilization, what defines a ‘criminal’ except the memory of peace and freedom held by the survivors).   Quite a change in roles for Colin, from his days as an Air Force officer in the Stargate program.

I’d rate these two episodes three stars and I do plan to continue watching the series.  I will hold out hope for better acting and writing, since the prospects for either in the science fiction genre is slim at best.  I’ll take what I can get to wile away the summer.

My Journey into the Warped Zones

Altered States Adult Winter Reading Program
Altered States Adult Winter Reading Program

Back in mid to late January, I reviewed the suggested reading list for the Altered States reading program promoted by the Kansas City Public Library.  Many familiar titles popped out at me like Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and PKD’s The Man in the High Castle.  The more modern (recently published) offerings I’d seen making the rounds of the GoodReads book clubs over the past couple of years, titles like McCarthy’s The Road, Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union (currently in a run-off poll at the SciFi & Fantasy Book Club for our March 2011 selection), Priest’s Boneshaker and Moore’s The Watchmen.

With limited reading time, and way too many book clubs to keep up with, I quickly eliminated the two books I’d already read:  Fforde’s The Eyre Affair and Clarke’s Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell (see my GoodReads reviews below).  I visited my local used bookstore twice and found a copy of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and Golding’s Lord of the Flies.  I found a public domain ebook version of London’s The Iron Heel.  I placed a hold on Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here and PKD’s The Man in the High Castle.  I’ve read two of those five, and started a third one, with the other two waiting patiently on my shelf at home.

Of the remaining suggested titles, I plan to read Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (because I should have a long time ago) and Roberts’ Pavane (because it sounds interesting and more remote from my own times).

I read The Iron Heel and Connecticut Yankee simultaneously, an experience I’m not soon to forget.  I may someday re-read Twain’s novel, but I find myself wishing I’d passed over London’s weak attempt at novelizing a political tract (see my review below and click through to see the comments of other GoodReads readers and reviewers).  The KC Library’s blurb on it just doesn’t do it justice (tongue firmly in cheek):

Considered the first modern dystopian novel, The Iron Heel is presented as the fictional autobiography of American revolutionary Avis Everhard and her struggles against the Oligarchy, a group of robber barons that co-opted the U.S. Army and forced the middle class into serfdom. The narrative is complemented by sometimes extensive footnotes written from the perspective of a future scholar and descendent of the revolution inspired by Everhard. The Iron Heel proved a strong influence on George Orwell as he wrote 1984.

Another comparatively similar novel, but better written, Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here shows a chilling and plausible turn of events in 1930s America.  I’m only a few chapters into it, but I can’t wait to continue reading it.  You can follow along with me via my status updates here and eventually read my review once I finish (all on the same page for easy navigating).

I hope to finish all these novels prior to the end of the Altered States reading program.  Either way, I’ll post an occasional travelogue here as a I journey through the Warped Zone of dystopian, apocalyptic and alternate reality/history fiction.

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The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next, #1)The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.4 stars

A wonderful thing happened on the way to The Eyre Affair; I read Jane Eyre. For that alone I will be eternally grateful.

Otherwise, it was an enjoyable but forgettable mystery set in a chaotic vortex of genres spanning paranormal, science fiction, alternate history, and time travel. At one point, it even reminded me of Butcher’s Dresden series.

The puns, literary references and alternate history gaffs intrigued me and sparked quick forays of research to confirm or deny my suspicions.

I have the sequel Lost in a Good Book waiting in the wings to see what happens Next.

Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellJonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel was rich on many levels. It was fantasy, for it had magic and fairies, but it was also historical fiction, possibly even an alternate history of Britain during and shortly after the Napoleonic Wars. It’s pacing matched that of the times, sedate and thoughtful, rich in detail and characters.

Gilbert Norrell is a miserly magician of Yorkshire who hoards any and all books of magic he can get his hands on. His first act of magic in the novel actually results in the dissolution of a society of theoretical magicians in York for the sole purpose of making himself the only magician in Britain.

Jonathan Strange is an idle gentleman who stumbles upon his talent for magic and like a moth to the flame, flies to Mr. Norrell, the only source of magical information, and becomes his pupil. Their association lasts for several months until Strange surpasses Norrell in inventiveness and intuition and Norrell sends him to assist the army in Spain.

In Spain, Strange eventually becomes indispensable to Lord Wellington, initially by providing magic roads for the British Army to use which disappear back to a morass of mud just in time for the French Army to get bogged down in. Finally, Strange’s magic turns the tide of the Battle of Waterloo and thus ends the reign of Emperor Bounaparte.

Three background characters are pivotal to the story. The first is Emma Wintertowne, who eventually becomes Lady Pole after marrying Sir Walter Pole. But only after she is resurrected by Mr. Norrell with his second and most famous act of magic. But Norrell bargains away half of Emma’s life to the fairy he summoned to ressurect her, a fairy gentleman we know only as “the gentleman with the thistle down hair.” This resurrection reults in the enchantment and imprisonment of Lady Pole in the fairy hall of Lost-hope, doomed to dance and endless balls or participate in pointless processions.

The second supporting character also enchanted by the fairy gentleman is Sir Walter’s butler, a black man named Stephen Black. The fairy took a queer liking and attachment to Stephen and forced him to attend the same balls and processions that Lady Pole suffered. Both Lady Pole and Stephen were returned to the real world each morning, but they both suffered exhaustion and distraction from living a double life, which both were prevented from relating to others of their predicament.

The third enchanted and most tragic figure was Strange’s wife, Arabella. Because Arabella struck up a friendship with the ailing Lady Pole, she came into the sphere of the gentleman with the thistle down hair. He immediately sought to enchant her permanently to the halls of Lost-hope. With Stephen’s reluctant assistance, he was able to pull Arabella into fairy, seemingly causing her to perish to her family and friends.

Strange was nearly mad with grief but was eventually persuaded to take a long holiday on the continent, where he met another English family, the Greysteels. It seemed he was on the path of a second marriage to Flora Greysteel, when he discovered a pathway to fairy, stumbling upon the hall of Lost-hope and learning of the fates of Lady Pole, Stephen and his wife, Arabella. The rest of the novel is Strange’s struggle to free the women. As we learn later, Stephen breaks his own and Arabella’s enchantments when the opportunity presents itself.

Two of the most interesting supporting characters were Mr. Childermass, Mr. Norrell’s strangely independent servant, and Vinculus, a seedy street sorcerer of London, run out of town by Mr. Norrell thanks to the efficient efforts of Mr. Childermass. Both of these characters provide some of the most colorful scenes and plots to the novel.

And in the background, every present in the sky, on the wind or sleeping in the stones, is the Raven King, a mythic being from Britain’s past, a king who reigned in Northern England, in fairy and in Hell. He is vital and instrumental in the return of English magic.

The ending was sad and somewhat tragic, but not unexpected.

If you enjoy historical fiction, especially of the early 19th century, you will enjoy this novel and savor it for many hours, especially curled up by the fire with a warm cup of tea.

The Iron HeelThe Iron Heel by Jack London
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Dystopian, or very dated alternate history, which drowned me in Marxism and the evils of capitalism as viewed through the lens of the very early 20th century. My perspective, a century later, shows many of these ills have been legislatively remedied. Not much of a story or plot, no real character growth; mostly essay or lecture on socialism, topped off with stomping feet, neo-terrorism and the beginnings of a non-nuclear Cold War.

View all my reviews