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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Obi-Wan's Biggest Lie

The Personifid Books

I know this is yet another review two-fer, but I think I'm doing it for a valid reason. I just finished reading both of R. E. Bartlett's books so I figured I'd save some bandwidth and post them together.

So let's get started with the first, namely The Personifid Project.

At some point in the distant future, humankind will develop the technology that allows them to locate human souls. This leads to the creation of personifids, basically artificial bodies. People can shed their natural bodies in an attempt to become functionally immortal.

The book's heroine, Aphra, works for Sevig Empire, the leading producer of personifids. One day, in the course of her duties, she overhears something truly horrible and soon, she's caught up in a mad chase. Sevig wants her badly, so badly he's sent out assassins and bounty hunters after her. Aphra's only hope lies with a couple who believe in something called the Tri-une Soul. But can she survive as her whole life is turned upside down?

To be honest, the writing in this book drove me up a wall. Bartlett did a lot of telling and not a lot of showing. She would simply inform us of what Aphra was thinking or feeling and it often came off a bit stilted. Now that might have been a creative choice. Aphra, it turns out, likes hanging out with robots and androids better than humans. It could be that the "telling" was a way to show us how Aphra's thought processes would be different after keeping that kind of company for most of her life. But it's hard to say for certain.

The other major problem I had with the book is the odd choice that Aphra makes at the end of the book, but I can't really get into it without revealing some major spoilers. Suffice to say, if I were in her shoes, going through what I did, I wouldn't do what she did. Is that sufficiently vague?

So it was with a great deal of trepidation that I picked up the sequel, namely The Personifid Invasion.

The story picks up with Aphra shocked to discover that her brother Antha has located their sister, Ashley. The problem is, she's a personifid now in the city of San Edhem. Aphra wants to go with Antha to find Ashley, but he won't let her. San Edhem is Interterrestrial territory and Aphra couldn't survive. So Aphra and company head off to San Edhem in the company of Nik, an Infiltrator, to track down Ashley. But will Aphra follow their advice? Or will the beguiling Datricius convince her to put her life in jeopardy?

I was pleasantly surprised. Bartlett's writing has matured since Project, and the "telling" seems to have given way to "showing." The plot made a little more sense as well. The spiritual aspects also shone through much clearer than in the first book and it had some interesting things to say, especially through the character of Gun. My only gripe is how quickly everyting got resolved, especially given Aphra's journey. Her storyline especially ends with a deus ex machina that seemed a bit contrived and too pat for my taste.

Both novels share the same strength. Bartlett's futuristic world is an interesting one. Robots, androids, intelligent computers, personifids, sky cars, it all adds up to an intriguing setting, one that she explores and exploits quite well. While a bit bleak at times, it's realistic and seems like a genuine possibility.

The one really glaring weakness of both books revolves around Aphra. To put it bluntly, she seems too weak. She's got flaws (who doesn't?), but she has little to no strength. At least, she didn't seem to have much if any to me. There were times when I groaned because I wanted her to stand up, take charge, that sort of thing, but she always seemed to leave it to other people. Perhaps her character arc isn't done yet. Who knows?

Regardless, Bartlett's books are an interesting foray into Christian science fiction.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

CSFF Blog Tour: Beyond the Reflection's Edge Day 3



I hate to admit it. I got nothin'.

Normally when I read one of the books for the blog tour, I have half a dozen ideas pop into my head for posts. Most of these die a quick death when I realize that they can't support a full post. But this month, for some reason, I couldn't muster much.

So faced with the possibility of skipping out on the last day of this blog tour, I instead went out to see what my fellow tourists had to say about Beyond the Reflection's Edge by Bryan Davis.

Actually, I went out to see if I could find any interviews with him. And lo and behold, I did! S. J. Deal conducted an e-mail interview with Davis for his delightfully titled blog, It Comes in Pints! Check out the interview.

But I also found perhaps one of the most creative posts I've ever seen over at Steve Trower's Old Testament Space Opera: a list of songs that somehow are about mirrors.

And I even found a hint for something I'll have to track down today. Steve Rice, at Back to the Mountains, says he'll "have a post that will probably cause some readers' heads to explode, as [he'll] not only explore a theological issue but give an alternative that will probably tick off a lot of people." Don't keep us in suspense too long, Steve.

So there you have it. Perhaps next month I'll have more to say about Shade by John Olson. In the meantime, go check out the rest of the tourists and see what hidden gems I may have missed:

Brandon Barr
Jennifer Bogart
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Kathy Brasby
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
Courtney
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Timothy Hicks
Joleen Howell
Jason Joyner
Kait
Mike Lynch
Magma
Terri Main
Margaret
Rachel Marks
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
Nissa
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Ashley Rutherford
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Chawna Schroeder
Greg Slade
James Somers
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

CSFF Blog Tour: Beyond the Reflection's Edge Day 2



We continue our tour around Beyond the Reflection's Edge by Bryan Davis and today, I thought I'd do some musing about Nathan Shepherd's partner in crime, Kelly Clark. And as I usually do before launching into these sorts of ruminations, allow me to warn you:


I actually found Kelly somewhat refreshing because, to put it bluntly, she's pretty broken. She comes from a broken family. Her mom stepped out on her dad, her dad is bringing women home, and he even tries to use Kelly's sexuality to build a better basketball team. She has some serious self-esteem issues and apparently came close to making some pretty serious mistakes in the past.

It's good to see someone like Kelly in a Christian novel because it's a good reminder that we all have sin we're struggling with. She's a reminder that we're all works in progress, striving to be more and more like Christ. As I pointed out in a post a year and a half ago, characters like Kelly allow us to remind us of how much we need salvation and Who it is who gives it to us.

But at the same time, we can't forget how Kelly's past can be redeemed. It seems as if she's improving herself solely for Nathan's sake. That might be good for a start, but Nathan Shepherd won't be the one who will ultimately save her because he can't. But I'm willing to bet that will come up in future books as well.

Be sure to see what else is going on in the tour:


Brandon Barr Jennifer Bogart Justin Boyer Keanan Brand Kathy Brasby Jackie Castle Valerie Comer Courtney CSFF Blog Tour Stacey Dale D. G. D. Davidson Shane Deal Janey DeMeo Jeff Draper April Erwin Karina Fabian Marcus Goodyear Andrea Graham Todd Michael Greene Katie Hart Timothy Hicks Joleen Howell Jason Joyner Kait Mike Lynch Magma Terri Main Margaret Rachel Marks Melissa Meeks Rebecca LuElla Miller Eve Nielsen Nissa John W. Otte Steve Rice Ashley Rutherford Mirtika or Mir's Here Chawna Schroeder Greg Slade James Somers Steve Trower Speculative Faith Jason Waguespac Laura Williams Timothy Wise

Monday, October 20, 2008

CSFF Blog Tour: Beyond the Reflection's Edge Day 1



This month, the blog tour focuses on Beyond the Reflection's Edge by Bryan Davis. I've loved Bryan's Dragons in Our Midst series, so I was very interested to see what he had up his sleeve for this young adult book.

It's the story of Nathan Shepherd, whose life is shattered when his special investigator father and concert violinist mother are killed. Nathan has to unravel why they were murdered and what this has to do with a creepy man named Mictar. Could it have something to do with the odd mirror that his father left for him? Soon Nathan and a young woman named Kelly are thrust into a life-or-death adventure that takes them through multiple realities, all while trying to keep Mictar from achieving his goal of interfinity.

When I read the book, I have to admit, I wasn't all that impressed. To put it bluntly, I was confused for the first couple of chapters. Bryan threw a lot of characters at me in rapid succession, some of which lived, some of which died. The problem was I didn't know how they related to Nathan. As a result, I had a difficult time deciding whether or not I should care about them.

The plot also left me scratching my head from the early going. I know that we should always start a story in media res, but in this case, I wodnered if maybe Bryan didn't start things a bit too media, if you understand what I mean. A little more build up to explain the characters at least might have been helpful.

My only other complaint is about the villain, Mictar. I couldn't wrap my head around him. I'm not so concerned as to who or what he is. He's clearly some sort of supernatural individual of some sort and I'm sure that will become more and more clear as the stories unfold over succsessive books. But I was completely mystified as to his motivation. We're told that he wants to bring about something called "interfinity." As near as I could tell, that involved merging disparate realities into one. But I couldn't figure out why Mictar would want to do that. What benefit would he get? Maybe that will unfold in the future books but it left Mictar seeming a bit hollow to me.

What really worked well was Nathan's relationship with Kelly. I have to admit that it left me scratching my head a little, but that was fine. Does Nathan have romantic feelings for her? Is it just platonic? It'll be interesting to see how this all plays out. I'll have more to say about Kelly tomorrow.

So that's about it. I was a bit confused by the book but it was a fun adventure through multiple realities. Go and see what everyone else as to say:

Brandon Barr
Jennifer Bogart
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Kathy Brasby
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
Courtney
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Timothy Hicks
Joleen Howell
Jason Joyner
Kait
Mike Lynch
Magma
Terri Main
Margaret
Rachel Marks
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
Nissa
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Ashley Rutherford
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Chawna Schroeder
Greg Slade
James Somers
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Take On Me ... Literally

Summa Elvetica



A week ago while I was feeling under the weather (thanks in part to a reaction from a tetanus booster), I got a little pick-me-up. My order from Marcher Lord Press arrived. So after I finished up Stepping Into Sunlight, I decided to dive into the stack and read Summa Elvetica: A Casuistry of the Elvish Controversy.

This was one of the books I had been looking forward to reading ever since I heard of it. The story centers around the intriguing premise of setting a Roman Catholic Church analogue into a medieval fantasy setting. The Church would probably have to wrestle with any number of issues, the stickiest of which would be whether or not the non-human creatures had souls.

That's the question that the Sanctiff (the pope analogue) is out to answer. Do elves have souls? So he sends Marcus Valerius, a young church scholar who might someday become a priest, with two prominant theologians to the kingdom of Elebrion to answer that question once and for all.

The stakes are pretty high. If the delegation decides the elves do indeed have souls, then the Church has an obligation to send missionaries to them. If they decide they don't, then it's open season on the elves. They can be killed without any qualms and the human beings of the Amorran Empire can steal all their stuff.

Beale is an accomplished storyteller. This is evidenced by the fact that he stuck what amounted to two massive flashbacks into the front of his story and I didn't realize until I got to the end of the first. And Beale also put in a great deal of tension and I didn't see the ambush coming until it was too late. On top of that, the way the Sanctiff decides the question of elvish souls is so deliciously simple, I couldn't stop smiling after I read it.

That being said, there were two things that bothered me about this book, both of them related to craft.

First of all, there's the fact that the fantasy creatures are pretty much straight out of Tolkien. The elves are tall and willowy, the dwarves and stocky and earthy, the orcs are mean and stupid. Beale did put something of an interesting twist on the elves by making them both hedonistic and somewhat cowardly, but otherwise, it was pretty much stereotypical creatures. It might have been better if Beale could have done a little more "twisting," so to speak, to make the creatures truly his own. But a lot of authors do this, so it's not that big of a deal.

The second problem, though, really rankled me. Let's take a spoiler-free walk through the book. You start out with Marcus Valerius receiving his assignment from the Sanctiff and setting out for the kingdom of Elebrion. Along the way, we have the aforementioned "flashbacks." By the time you're done with them, 120 pages of this 322 page book is gone. When I realized that, I was a little surprised, but figured it would all work out because Beale had plenty of "room" to work.

But then I realized that the last 100 pages of the book are two shorter stories set within the Summa Elvetica universe. The story started to seem a bit more rushed and shorter than it could have been. And then Beale sums up some major developments in the books in one paragraph and tells us about a major event in one sentence.

At first, I was surprised by that and only a bit annoyed. But then, when I realized that that major event wasn't just major for Marcus Valerius, but was pivotal for the entire book, I got a pretty upset. This might be Monday morning quarterbacking, but it may have been better for Beale to show us this major event rather than describe it after the fact, especially because of its import to the hero's journey and the story as a whole.

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy this book. Beale created an interesting universe and I really enjoyed the short story "Master of Cats." If there's a sequel in the works, Beale has a ready reader. I just hope he doesn't gloss over future important events!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Stepping Into Sunlight


Stepping into Sunlight is the latest book by Sharon Hinck and is, in my not-so-humble opinion, her best book to date.

The story follows Penny Sullivan. Her life has been upended recently because her husband has joined the Navy as a chaplain and is on his first deployment. But before he left, Penny witnessed a violent crime and is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. She has difficulty leaving her house. She finds herself sleeping through the day and experiences horrific nightmares. She wants to hold it together for the sake of her son, Bryan, but it's becoming too much of a struggle. Can Penny put her life back together before her husband returns home? Or will he find a wreck waiting for him?

Sharon weaves in some powerful emotions throughout the story as she tells Penny's tale. You definitely get a picture of what it's like to go through PTSD. The prose is rich and evocative (as usual for Sharon!) and really draws you into the story. I'll probably get in trouble for sharing this, but when my wife (who read this book before me) found out what Penny witnessed exactly, she actually had a few nightmares from it. I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing, but it certainly speaks well for how Sharon paints pictures with her words!

What's most fascinating is "Penny's Project." One of the things that Penny does to cope with her trauma is start a project. She sets a goal for herself. She'll do one good deed for a person every day in the hopes that each little step forward will get her closer and closer to being mentally whole again. Sharon weaves this idea in with Matthew 25:40. Look it up for yourself. Sharon even did some fun marketing with this idea. When I saw her at the ACFW Conference, she gave me a small notebook to give to Jill so Jill could carry out her own "Project" and keep track of her own good deeds.

So go get this book and enjoy it.

Oh, and one last thing. Speaking for myself, I was tickled pink to see Luther's evening prayer in the middle of the book. Go Lutherans!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Friendly Aquaponics



It'd admittedly been a while since I listened to one of my favorite podcasts, namely The Late Nite JengaJam. I won't offer any excuses as to why I haven't been listening, but I finally listened to the latest episode this morning. I'm glad I did.

J. G. Edathil's latest guests were the folks who run Friendly Aquaponics, an aquaponics facility that's run in Hanokaa, Hawaii. I'd never heard of this technology before. I'd heard of hydroponics, but never the aqua- version. I wasn't sure what to expect but I decided to listen to find out more.

I'm so glad I did. This is an incredible technology, one that deserves a lot of research and development. Basically, it's a system that allows people to grow vegetables and fish in the same farm. According to their data, they can produce 30 times the vegetables as a traditional farm in the same land area while using only 1% of the water. In the interview, they make a great case for using this technology since it can be built on any type of land.

If you've never listened to the JengaJam, this is a great episode to start with. Fire up your iTunes and head on over to "Late Nite JengaJam" and download Episode 89. Take a listen. It'll be an enlightening 50 minutes.

The Lightsaber Lie

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Dark Foundations


Earlier this year, as part of the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy blog tour, I reviewed The Shadow and Night by Chris Walley. In my review, I said that I was actually rooting for evil to show up because the first half of the book proceeded so slowly.

Well, I don't have that complaint for The Dark Foundations, the second book in the series. It was an action packed tale from beginning to end.

The book picks up where the first left off. The people of Farholme celebrate after their victory at Fallembet Lake. But they can't rest on their laurels. The evil Dominion now knows of their existence and Lord-Emperor Nezhuala is bound and determined to take on the Assmebly, for both personal and political reasons.

Merral D'Avanos, the hero of Fallembet Lake, is placed in charge of Farholme's brand new military, but he finds he doesn't have an easy task. The society of Farholme is splintering under the effects of sin, creating situations D'Avanos has never experienced. Can he keep things together long enough to defend his home from the invasion he knows is coming?

I loved reading this book. My previous complaint about a slow pace no longer apply. From beginning to end, this was a great read. It was interesting to watch Farholme's society fall apart as more and more sin entered the picture. Walley's battle scenes were also well crafted and exciting. While there were two deus ex machina moments, they were organic to the story and worked out well.

My only complaint about the book is its marketing. On the cover, this is called "A fantasy in the tradition of C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien." I take issue with that. This isn't fantasy. It's sci-fi. I mean, this is set in the future, approximately 13,000 AD. There are spaceships. There are artificial lifeforms. They talk about terrforming planets. I just can't figure out why they would classify this as "fantasy," aside from a few fantastical creatures like the Envoy and the baziliarch.

I suspect that the publisher (Tyndale) classifies this as a fantasy because in the Christian world, fantasy has been selling a bit better while sci-fi hasn't. It seems like a dodge and one that I'm not entirely pleased with.

But the story makes it worth it. More people should read Walley's works. I know I'm certainly looking forward to reading The Infinite Day. It might be a while; I've got a stack of six books to read right now and five more are on the way. But when I get through that, you know I'll be looking forward to seeing how this epic story concludes!