A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Archive for July, 2012

A Review of Cyber Way

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 31, 2012

Cyber WayCyber Way by Alan Dean Foster

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I kind of liked this book, wanted to like it more, thought it was interesting, but ultimately couldn’t finish it because the main protagonist, Moody, was so damn unlikeable. My God, he was sarcastic, snarky, bitchy, etc., ALL of the time, and it got damn old, particularly when he was a repeated asshole to his polite temporary Native American partner, Ooljee. Moody is sent from his beloved Tampa out to Arizona to help investigate a murder that might have originated regarding Indian artwork and the second he steps off the plane into the heat he starts griping. And never stops. At some point, you come to expect that virtually everything he says he’ll say with a griping, bitchy tone just to offend the likeable Ooljee. What a dick! I hated him. I got as far as page 156 and gave up, even though the book was intriguing and I wanted to find out what ultimately happens. The aggravation of Moody’s moods wasn’t worth finishing the book. Foster really ticked me off for writing such an annoying character into the main protagonist’s role in this book. It is such overkill. You’d think Foster could have eased off the pedal at times, but no, it’s non-stop bitchiness. I’ve never hated a character as much as I hate Moody. I can’t recommend this book to anyone and the only reason I’m even giving it two whole stars is because the premise is so original. Otherwise I would have given it one star. Loser character, loser book.

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A Review of The Myth of a Christian Nation

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 23, 2012

The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the ChurchThe Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church by Gregory A. Boyd

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Myth of a Christian Nation is a pretty good book that makes some excellent points while at the same time hitting the reader over the head with some strong repetitions and yet not going as far as it could in some of its criticisms of the religious right. Indeed, Boyd attempts to take both left and right to task, although to my satisfaction, he does focus primarily on evangelicals — just not enough to satisfy me completely.

Boyd contends that Jesus taught a “power under” form of service to humanity rather than a “power over” gospel of the sword. Yet, he contends, the Church has historically rooted itself in a “power over” ideology as seen in centuries of witch hunts, crusades, and other atrocities committed in the name of God.

His primary assertion that America is not — and never has been — a Christian nation is one of his weakest assertions in the book to me. He spends a tiny amount of time on describing our founding fathers as being little more than deists and then he wanders off to Americans practicing genocide against millions of Native Americans and slavery against millions of African Americans as proof that we’ve never been a true Christian nation, the assumption being that true Christians would never do such things. While that may be true, I frankly needed more than just this to convince me of what I already know and believe to be true. I wanted more on the founders and their specific beliefs and their efforts to ensure no state religion would ever exist. I was disappointed Boyd didn’t take advantage of his opportunity here. Boyd contrasts America’s “power over” history with Jesus’ “power under” alternative —

“This is what we are called to be: a community characterized by radical, revolutionary, Calvary-quality love; a community that manifests the love of the triune God; a community that strives for justice not by conquering but by being willing to suffer; a community that God uses to transform the world by providing it with an alternative to its own self-centered, violent way of existing.”

Later in the book Boyd contrasts Jesus’ style with the judgmental attitudes found in so many contemporary evangelicals.

“First, as people called to mimic Jesus in every area of our lives, we should find it significant that Jesus never assumed the position of moral guardian over any individual, let alone over the culture at large. In his ministry, he never once inquired into a person’s moral status…. Why didn’t the sinless Jesus point out, condemn, and try to control people’s morality? … His purpose, apparently, was not to guard, promote, or fix public morality.”

You get the picture.

Boyd also challenges the evangelical obsession with gays and gay marriage.

“Do evangelicals fear gay marriage in particular because the Bible is much more clear about the wrongfulness of gay marriage than it is about the wrongfulness of divorce and remarriage? No, for the Bible actually says a good deal more against divorce and remarriage than it does about monogamous gay relationships…. We evangelicals may be divorced and remarried several times; we may be as greedy and as unconcerned about the poor and as gluttonous as others in our culture; we may be as prone to gossip and slander and as blindly prejudiced as others in our culture; we may be more self-righteous and as rude as others in our culture — we may even lack love more than others in our culture. These sins are among the most frequently mentioned sins in the Bible. But at least we’re not gay!”

Excellent point, in my opinion.

Boyd talks a lot about love and the importance of people, especially Christians, to love as Jesus taught us to love. He spends a whole lot of time on this. And this is actually the one area where I veered away from the book, toward the end. He’s a pacifist. In the strictest sense. His final chapter has to do with violence, and it’s a Q & A chapter with questions dealing with self defense, wars, the military, etc. Basically, he’s all about non-violence to the point that people should not defend themselves if found in a situation where people invade their homes and assault them. He concludes it is better to die loving than act in one’s self defense. Call me an insensitive asshole, but I think that’s batshit crazy! I can assure you that if I’m victimized by a home invasion, I will do anything possible to save myself and my loved ones from harm. He also says Christians should never engage in wars or, probably, even serve in the military. It goes against God’s love. He goes so far as to assert that America should NOT have gotten involved in World War Two, thus saving the world’s Jews, even though that could have resulted in the extermination of the Jews. He feels that another option might have presented itself to save the Jews without our having had to resort to violence. I think that’s insane. Likewise the Civil War. He thinks it’s insane that 600,000 Americans died over slavery. I do too, but if that war hadn’t been fought, millions of American blacks would likely still be enslaved today and the country and the world would be different places. Again, he argues another option could have presented itself and that we shouldn’t have had to resort to war. I’m no war hawk. I don’t like war. But I do believe it’s necessary at times, and at times it’s nuts, like Vietnam or Iraq. I believe World War Two was an evil necessity. I guess that makes me a non-Christian or Jesus hater in Boyd’s opinion. It struck me that the author is as intolerant of those supporting such war efforts as the evangelical people he accuses of being intolerant of others in society today. This section ended the book and it ended it a bit sourly for me, after having largely enjoyed what was written throughout the majority of the book. I guess I think that Boyd is SUCH an idealist, that virtually no one who has ever called themselves a Christian would qualify as such under his stringent guidelines. That’s a bit disappointing.

This really is a pretty good book, but it was hard for me to overlook the nonstop repetitions throughout the book, which made it pretty redundant at times, and I was disappointed that he took it pretty easy on current evangelicals. I thought he could have really called them out. The sub-title, after all, is called “How the quest for political power is destroying the church.” Ahem. That means YOU, oh right wing evangelicals! Good book, worth the read, but with qualifiers. A four out of five stars.

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A Review of Reaper Man

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 18, 2012

Reaper Man (Discworld, #11)Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, Terry Pratchett’s Reaper Man is a crazy book and a whole lot of fun to read! I hadn’t read him in many years and had forgotten how witty the man is. Sheer genius. In this book, Death is retired and given a mortal life (while still remaining a big skeleton). He goes to work as a farmhand named Bill Door. The old woman he’s working for is either crazy or quirky — you pick it. Since Death is no longer busy getting souls to take them on to the other world, and since a replacement has apparently not been found, everyone (and thing) dying is going right back into their bodies and the place is really messed up. An old wizard named Windle Poons, after dying, now finds himself back among the living as a sort of zombie. There are all sorts of delights in this book — werewolves, vampires, bogeymen, etc. All with Pratchett’s flair for wording things brilliantly. The man is simply funny. As things progress, you start to see how a couple of stories that don’t seem to have anything to do with each other actually do and they come together. During the book, I wondered how Pratchett would end the book gracefully, and I’ve got to say, he did not disappoint. It’s a very satisfying ending. This book is part of the Discworld series, and it’s quickly become one of my favorite Pratchett books I’ve read.

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A Review of Weird Christians I Have Met

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 18, 2012

Weird Christians I Have MetWeird Christians I Have Met by Philip Baker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a cute little book to read, pretty lightweight, but intentionally so. It provides some Christian archetypes and gently reminds us of why these types of people could use some balance in their lives. Among the types of people we are introduced to here are Pentecostal Pamela, Judgmental Jill, Prosperity Patricia and others. I saw so many people I’ve known and met in these characters! I wish the book had been a bit heavier and could have done some significant in depth analysis, but it’s meant to be whimsical, so you get what you get. One of the really bizarre and funny things is that there are pictures of these characters in the book. Obviously, these are model/actors. Guess who Demonic Dave is? Napoleon Dynamite’s John Heder!!! I’m not kidding. There’s no doubt at all. This is an Australian book that was published in the mid-90s, so Heder was probably just trying to break in before his fame arrived and he posed for photos for this book. How hilarious is that??? I bought the book used for $1.50, which seems to be about the right price for the book. Chances are if some of the archetypical Christians written about in the book were to see it, ideally they’d recognize themselves and seek some balance, but I seriously doubt that’ll happen. Pity. Fun book, but not essential for one’s library.

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A Review of The Cool War

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 12, 2012

The Cool WarThe Cool War by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like Frederik Pohl, but by his standards, this book was pretty lightweight. It’s set in the not-too-distant future where there is a “cool war” between East and West. In it, the spies merely try to irritate each other in order to sow chaos. Amusing, but just barely.

Hornswell Hake, a Unitarian minister referred to as “Horny” throughout the book, is recruited by the Team, the post-CIA spy agency, to unwittingly create chaotic events throughout the world in travels they send him on. Sadly, he’s a bit of a bumbling fool, constantly being played by either the Team or their enemies, who also try to recruit him to their side to fight the Team. There’s a great bit of irony in the book and some good laughs too, but there are just some head scratching moments. Case in point: Horny and a parishioner named Alys (who is married to two men and a woman) are searching the Middle East for one of Horny’s opposites, a woman he’s got a thing for named Leota, who has been taken captive by a Mid East sheik to be in his harem. Horny and Alys travel through the desert to this sheik’s place and spot Leota outside. There, instead of grabbing her and fleeing, Alys decides to exchange places with Leota, apparently because she thinks it a bit romantic, as well as the fact that she thinks she’s better with men. Huh? They changed clothes with each other and then Horny and Leota take off while Alys stays. Pretty hard to believe, even if it is a sci fi novel.

I won’t give away the ending, but Horny suffers through all sorts of personal turmoil to get to the end of the novel, only to have it “tied up” nicely by Pohl in just a few short pages, and frankly, rather unsatisfyingly to me. It seemed like he phoned that part of the book in. Weak ending. Still, I did generally enjoy reading it; I’m glad I did. I just can’t recommend this book as a good representation of Pohl or even good sci fi. It’s inventive, but rather mediocre.

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A Review of The Space Merchants

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 11, 2012

The Space MerchantsThe Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this cynical and satirical sci fi novel. It’s about Mitchell Courtenay, a high ranking ad exec in a futuristic American society dominated by advertising. Indeed, it’s virtually un-patriotic to not adhere to advertising’s role in society. Mitch is given the assignment of leading his firm’s intention of colonizing Venus, even though it’s not remotely habitable, by making American suckers go there based on his expertise in advertising. The book starts taking some bizarre twists at that stage, leading to his being essentially kidnapped and put to work as a “crumb,” a common consumer, his escape, his workings with the Consies, or conservations, a Greenpeace-like group which attempts to overcome America’s fixation with rampant consumerism and its negative impact on the world, and more.

This book was written 60 years ago, but it was seriously ahead of its time. To quote another Goodreads member, Nancy Oakes wrote:

“Awesome book! Hard to believe this was written like 50+ years ago, because it is so incredibly relevant to our modern times. For example: it takes a look at the dangers of imperialistic corporations & greed, the plight of workers and the ungodly conditions under which some of them have to work, the clear and unmistakeable division of class in society, the total lack of concern for the environment and the treatment of those who care about it and want change.”

This book is frighteningly applicable to our current times. Pohl (the book was co-written with CM Kornbluth) was a true visionary. The satire is witty and funny. One scene that had me laughing was Mitch’s dissing of Moby Dick due to its lack of advertising. LOL! My only complaint, and the reason I’m only giving it four out of five stars, is that the scene transitions are often lacking. You’re in a scene and then, boom, something happens in the course of a sentence to radically change the plot and you’re left picking up the pieces, trying to figure out what just happened. This occurs several times in the book and I found it very distracting. Nonetheless, it was a good, quick read and I heartily recommend this book.

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