Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Star Wars vs. Star Trek

And while I may have made the campaign commercials, I am not in any way responsible for this one. I wish I was though.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cinematic Titanic

So every Christmas, my brother-in-law supplies me with geeky gifts, usually from Comic Con. Autographed photos, drawings, and so on. Well, you can imagine my consternation when I opened a DVD of "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" performed by some group called "Cinematic Titanic."

Really? Someone else dared riff on this? Let me explain why this upset me: one of my holiday traditions is to break out one of two Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes. This year, it was "Santa Claus," a Mexican kids' movie that featured a fight to death between Santa and the devil. Seriously. It's so great.

The other is "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians." So how could some other group dare transgress such a great episode?

I didn't realize that this was done by Joel Hodgson along with four other MST3K veterans. Tonight I broke it out and decided to see how they updated it.

It was okay. Part of the problem is I've seen the MST3K version so often, I "heard" the jokes from that a split second before they made the new ones. It was still very funny.

The only gripe I have is that I didn't totally understand the format of the show. I guess the cast was in some sort of compound to make some sort of time capsule thingy. Why? No idea. I mean, in a show like this, the premise backstory isn't all that important, but it would have been nice to know exactly why these five people are being forced to watch bad movies.

So I guess I have something new to watch for. It'll be fun to see some "new" bad movie riffs!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Plastic Jesus

I don't know why I got this exactly. Long story. Moving on. Let's talk Plastic Jesus by Eric Sandras.

Sandras's thesis is that far too many Christians are stuck in what he terms "spiritual suburbia." It's pretty on the outside, hollow in the inside. We settle for less than what God intends, often ignoring our calling and getting too involved in things that seem helpful and holy, but ultimately don't bring us closer to God.

It was an interesting read, full of many insightful stories and ideas. It's a good "afflicting the comfortable" type of book, holding a mirror up to contemporary Christian society and urging them to search for a deeper relationship with God.

My one complaint is that while Sandras identifies many problems, he doesn't offer many solutions. He makes a few suggestions how to change one's faith but nothing that seems to go too deep. That's not exactly helpful, especially with a book like this. A reader might see how hollow their faith is but then have little to no idea how to "fix" things. Given how short the book is, Sandras probably could have included a little more material.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Imagine my delight at finding another Christian science fiction book at my local library. It's rare to find books like that, so finding Ice by Shane Johnson was a treat.

At least it was until I started reading it.

I didn't care for this book at all. To put it bluntly, it's an altar call wrapped in a science fiction story, one that really didn't work for me.

The premise itself is interesting: Johnson creates a counterfactual history where the Apollo program was extended to Apollo 20. On this fictional Apollo 19, two astronauts are sent to the lunar south pole, only to have the lander malfunction and strand them there. As their supplies run low, the two astronauts head out into the darkness to see what they can see. And that's when they make a discovery that could easily set the whole world on its ear.

I won't say much more than that. I will, however, explain some of my frustration with a sort of running commentary.

The initial crisis, namely the malfunctioning lander, comes pretty early in the story (hence why I said that it happens; it's not much of a spoiler). It helps kick things off, but it made me worry. Johnson engages in some heavy-handed preaching in his book and it starts when the lander's engine won't fire. One of the stranded astronauts is a Christian and the other isn't, so naturally, the Christian starts witnessing to the non-Christian. And I grew worried because I feared that the entire book would turn into one long altar call set on the moon between two doomed men. It didn't, but I'll explain why I worried about this in a little bit.

My second real frustration came when Johnson created a scene where NASA scientists conclude that the best explanation for why the engine didn't fire was because it was Lunar Module #13. Seriously. That's the explanation they come up with and there's nothing better offered. This might be Monday morning quarterbacking, but it might have satisfied me more if Johnson came up with a better reason. Maybe something broke that the astronauts can't fix. I don't know, but the mysterious break-down and nonsensical partial explanation just didn't work.

So off the astronauts go, deep into the lunar darkness, and I braced myself for more heavy handed preaching. That didn't happen, thankfully, as the two astronauts made their startling discovery (I won't say what it is in case you want to read this for yourself).

Shortly thereafter, I was able to predict what the rest of the book was going to be. And the sad thing is, I nailed it. Perfectly. I was able to predict every single last turn (except for one). And that really annoyed me.

To add to my frustration, Johnson threw in a weird time bending plot line that made absolutely no sense whatsoever. I mean, he had to do it to get some of his information across, but as I was reaidng it, I kept thinking, "No way. No way. No way." My disbelief refused to remain suspended and kept rattling in its cage.

By the time the book wrapped up (with more heavy handed preaching and some well nigh nonsensical speculation about the antedeluvial world and allegorical interpretation of some Biblical stories that came completely out of left field), I was glad I didn't spend any money on this book.

Now maybe some people will enjoy this. I didn't. While Johnson clearly knows his stuff about NASA and the Apollo program, that didn't excuse what I thought was a poorly crafted story, especially since it's clear that Johnson didn't think through who his target audience was going to be.

That's what I think a lot of Christian ficiton suffers from. When I was in the Seminary, one of the things we were told about preaching was that we should always keep our audience in mind. Who is going to hear our sermons? What are they like? How educated are they? How many will be Christian? What sort of temptations will they be going through? That sort of thing.

Johnson apparently believed that his book would be read by non-Christians, hence the lengthy preachy passages about accepting Christ and coming to faith. But really, how many non-Christians do you know who will go and pick up a Christian book out of the blue? The only reason why they would is if it was either recommended to them by a Christian friend or if the book itself generates enough buzz.

In other words, Johnson's main problem was that he was preaching to the choir. I'd be willing to bet that most of the people who pick up his book are already Christians. So the altar call business is wasted space. By and large, his audience will already know that stuff. That's part of the reason why I appreciate Christian novels that understand that their readers are already Christians and try to focus on issues and ideas that Christians might struggle with.

I seem to have gone off on a tangent here. Sorry. To sum up, not a good book. Skip it unless you're really curious.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Coruscant Nights

The other day I was at the library and I spotted these two Star Wars novels on the shelf in the sci-fi section. And I figured, "Why not?" So I left with Jedi Twilight and Street of Shadows.

To be perfectly honest, I'm not entirely sure what I think of these two books. I suspect that author Michael Reaves was hoping to create a sort of Star Wars noir novel, given the series name and the cover design. And in some ways, he succeeds. Both stories are grimy and dark.

They follow the adventures of Jedi Knight Jax Pavan shortly after Order 66 brought the Jedi crashing down. In the first book, Jax joins the hunt for a missing droid, one that contains information that a group that calls itself Whiplash needs to hurt the Empire. In the second, Jax is contracted to find the killer of a Caamasi artist while dodging a bounty hunter who is bound and determined to capture him.

The books were okay. Reaves did a good job of capturing the feel of what downlevel Coruscant must be like. He creates some new alien species that were interesting to watch. And he pulled in some characters from the Extended Universe and utilized them well.

My one major gripe about these books is that Reaves has fallen prey to a problem that has afflicted many Star Wars authors. He can't capture Darth Vader. The Dark Lord of the Sith shows up in both books and I had a hard time believing I was really reading about the Emperor's right hand man. Let me put it to you this way: in the second book, Darth Vader laughs. Twice. It wasn't with joy or amusement, but can you picture Darth Vader laughing? Me neither.

Unfortunately, these books do continue a mental trend for me, a growing dissatisfaction with Star Wars novels in general. I think the reason why is because of how deep and wide the Extended Universe has become.

Allow me to elaborate. I jumped onto the Star Wars novel bandwagon back when Timothy Zahn published the first three novels way back when. Zahn was able to capture my imagination because these were new stories about characters I loved. And those three books were it as far as Star Wars was concerned. Nobody else was telling new stories.

Now look at how things have grown. There are who knows how many dozens of novels, both for adults and children. There are the numerous graphic novels. There are the video games. There are the prequels and the new Clone Wars TV show. In short, there's too much information to keep straight. The Star Wars franchise is beginning to collapse under its own weight.

That's not to say that there aren't faint glimmers of hope. I, for one, have been enjoying the Star Wars Legacy graphic novels, but that's mostly because they're set a hundred years into the future. In other words, everything I know is pretty much gone (with a few minor exceptions). The characters and situations are new yet familiar at the same time.

The same is true for the forays into Star Wars's dense backstory. I had a fun time reading the Darth Bane novel a while back. And the reason why is because, while there were connections with other parts of the EU, it wasn't overwhelming.

So what's the solution? I would almost suggest that Star Wars should lay fallow for a while. Let the fans digest what's out there and wait for a bit more. Let us get hungry again. But then, I doubt George Lucas would ever stumble across this site to take my advice.

Still, a guy can dream, can't he?

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Late Night JengaJam

I've blogged about this before, but it always bears repeating. I listen to one podcast faithfully and religiously, namely The Late Night JengaJam, hosted by the ever incredible J. G. "Jengaship" Edathil and the lovely and talented Lauren (a.k.a. OboeCrazy). He always comes up with the most interesting guests from all walks of life. And tomorrow night, his guest is none other than ... well, me.

This is the second time I've been a guest on the JengaJam. I had a great (if rambling) time. Jengaship invited me on this week to help promote our congregation's podcast, but I'm sure that the topic won't be limited to simply that.

I'd like to invite anyone who passes through my little corner of the Internet to join us tomorrow night, starting at 10:30 PM EST (9:30 CST). Bring your questions, comments, whatever.

There are three ways you can participate, if you so wish:

1) Via the Internet. Tomorrow night, you can head on over to the Talkshoe website, the service that Jengaship uses to both broadcast and record his show. Head on over here and you can log and listen in. You can also participate in the Jengajam chat room, which can be pretty wild sometimes.

2) Via your phone. Talkshoe also allows people to listen in and participate over their phone. All you have to do is call this number: (724) 444-7444. Then enter the show ID number: 6478, #. You can listen in. Jengaship is also pretty good about bringing people into the conversation so they can ask questions.

3) Download it later. While you'll miss out on the fun of the chat room and you won't be able to ask any questions, you can always find the Jengajam on iTunes and download it for future consumption.

And if you need any further reason to listen in, just consider the title that Jengaship has given tomorrow night's episode: "Sermon on the iPod." Sheer awesomeness.