All posts by Phil W

Aye, Robot by Robert Kroese

I too have read a novel by Robert Kroese recently. It seems to be closer to the vein of Kroese’s other novels than perhaps The Dream of the Iron Dragon is, judging by titles and Lars’s review alone.

Aye, Robot is the latest in a short series of Starship Grifters book. It’s the second of three, the prequel, Out of the Soylent Planet, being published after its release. A few dialogue lines refer to previous events and none of the main characters need reintroduction, but it stands on its own.

  “Don’t be ridiculous,” snapped Rex. “What’s my name?”
“Rex Nihilio,” I said.
“And what’s my occupation?”
“You’re the self-described ‘greatest wheeler-dealer in the galaxy.'”
“Correct,” said Rex. “It sounds better if you leave off the ‘self-described,’ though. What’s your name?”
“Sasha.”
“Which stands for what?”
“Self-Arresting near Sentient Heuristic Android.”

Sasha, the narrator of the story, tells us the space grifter Rex Nihilio is reckless enough to need someone to hold him back (or get in his way) so he doesn’t get killed while off on a wild hair. That’s where she comes in. She begins by wondering about loss of memory, because she realizes nether she nor Rex can recall details of their actions from minutes before the conversation above. Plus Rex is acting generously, completely out of character for him.

They quickly fall into trouble through Rex’s new behavior patterns and just as quickly go from fryer to fire as something very big watches them from the shadows. As their adventure continues, they run afowl common criminals, Space Apostles, and the Malarchian government’s worst law-enforcer, Heinous Vlaak.

The story leans more light-hearted crime novel than full-throated comic. Most of the comedy comes in funny names and misused words. Nothing dark. Gullible stooges get their just desserts. It’s all good. I enjoyed it. One of my children did too, but a younger one didn’t get it.

Also included in this book is the novella, “The Yanthus Prime Job,” another light-hearted crime story with one of the characters we meet in the main story. It raises questions about how we treat those we deem unimportant.

Richard Scarry’s ‘What Do People Do All Day’

What Do People Do All Day turns 50 this year. Author Richard Scarry (1919-1994) has sold well over 100 million books by sticking to what The Independent calls “his limitation. Having hit on a formula that worked so well he did little more than tinker with it throughout a long and highly profitable creative career.” When your readers and their parents beat your books up with love, why would you shift gears to draw maps for the army or some such?

Half his books are storybooks,” his son, Richard Scarry, Jr., who writes under the name Huck Scarry, told the NY Times in 1994, “and half are educational books, but the educational books always try to get across whatever educational information they have to tell in an amusing and lighthearted way.”

The Draw of Historical Re-enacting

We have many historical re-enactors or living historians where I live. Our neighboring battlefields and monuments need context to understand what happened on this land 150 years ago and more. Just to the north of where I live is a park dedicated to the Cherokee nation and the beginning of the Trail of Tears. A few miles down the road is a national battlefield where the Confederate army won a major battle just before losing a bigger one.

What is the draw and the danger of re-enacting portions of history?

It isn’t only recreational. Craftspeople specialize in creating historical replicas, like the armour that was used in the Marathon re-enactment. Experimental archaeologists test specific hypotheses about aspects of history as a form of academic inquiry. Inevitably, some guesswork is involved; recreating the past means you have to fill in a lot of little gaps in the historical record. . . .

Even within specific groups of re-enactors, people hold a range of views about how closely clothing, items, and activities should mimic the originals. “Some people are button and stitch counters, and they’re not much fun,” says one re-enactor, dressed in wool clothes and standing in a field outside Hamilton, Ontario. (He was taking part in an annual living-history recreation of late medieval Italy, in the spring of 2016.) “They’re so historically correct it becomes ridiculous.”

(via Prufrock News)

How Do Christians Handle Pain?

“Any attitude that emphasizes hope while ignoring lament comes from a naïve and unrealistic optimism that contradicts our actual experiences. Lamenting without hope, on the other hand, is equally unrealistic, a kind of unfaithful cynicism that ignores God’s activity and crushes us in its unrelenting despair.”

Professor Kelly Kapic talks with ByFaith about his 2017 book which presents itself as “a theological meditation on pain and suffering.

As we close out our celebration of the Almighty becoming a man, Kapic’s book may be just the theological conversation we need to see ourselves as people with originally good, now broken by sin, physical bodies. It’s understandable that we often pray for God to take away our pain and sickness, but as Kapic notes in this video, all of us are either growing older or dead. What we feel and can do now in our bodies is part of the real world in which God calls us to bring him glory.

I regularly get emails from people who have read the book and speak of discovering the role of lament as if for the first time. That tells me, if I am hearing correctly, that we might not be doing a very good job of displaying this biblical expression in our corporate worship and Christian experience.

(See also this listing from WTS Books)

Netflix’s ‘Bright’

Watch a trailer for the new Netflix movie Bright and you’ll see exactly what the movie is, a buddy cop story within an urban fantasy world. As such it stands up well, but, boy, I wish they had shown restraint in the usual content areas.

Will Smith is veteran cop Daryl Ward who has been given rookie cop Nick Jakoby, played by Joel Edgerton, as a diversity hire to meet Los Angeles’s political requirements. Jacoby is an orc. As he described it, his people chose the wrong side long ago and have been paying for it ever since. In a couple conversations, we hear of the nine races who were brought together 2,000 years ago to defeat the dark lord. Now some bad elves want to bring him back, so naturally that’s not going to fly.

The essence of the story is the Ward coming to terms with his bigotry against Jakoby and Jakoby persevering through that and everything else without losing hope. That part is painfully realistic.  Everyone on the force hates him despite his eagerness to please them and be a good cop. They refuse to believe he will remain loyal to his partner or the force at large when pressured by other orcs.

It’s a straight-up buddy cop story. From what I can tell, it follows the pattern set by many similar movies. Perhaps that’s the mindset that gave us 200 f-words for this 117 minute movie (I’m guessing, not counting). When the big bad guys show up, our heroes make a run through a strip club and the bloodshed skyrockets.

So I can’t recommend Bright, even though I like the concept and the big idea. But if you want to see this and have not watched the trailer, I recommend skipping it. It doesn’t spoil the story, but it does take the edge off of all the most dramatic moments.

Did Gingerbread Houses Come from Fairy Tale?

Our family has made gingerbread houses since we were married. We can’t remember whether we made them every year in the beginning or what year my wife worked up a chocolate version. We have made one most years since the kids were born (The photo above is from many years ago). This year’s house was much softer than usual, even though my fist still hurts from busting it last night.

Some people are saying gingerbread houses were inspired by Grimm’s fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel,” but that story was published in 1812. While it may have popularized family gingerbread house-making, Germans were making these cookie houses for a couple hundred years already and had become a Christmas tradition. Tori Avey of The History Kitchen offers many more interesting details from the history of gingerbread.

Gingerbread arrived in the New World with English colonists. The cookies were sometimes used to sway Virginia voters to favor one candidate over another. The first American cookbook, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, has recipes for three types of gingerbread including the soft variety baked in loaves:

Soft gingerbread to be baked in pans.

No. 2. Rub three pounds of sugar, two pounds of butter, into four pounds of flour, add 20 eggs, 4 ounces ginger, 4 spoons rosewater, bake as No. 1.

How Excessive the Incarnation

I’m not in favor of spending a lot to finance fantasies of Christmas perfection, nor do I endorse the sort of gluttony and the psychological overload of “special moments” that makes us feel as though Christmas is a celebratory marathon to recover from rather than savor. Yet, the basic impulse toward excess is not wrongheaded. In fact, given the theological meaning of Christmas, it’s altogether fitting in its way.

R.R. Reno says the incarnation of God is most expensive, most exorbitant gift ever given. That doesn’t totally justify our modern day Christmas excesses, but it does give them a little room. The problem is less with our excessive celebration and more with how we view our excesses in comparison to God’s.

God does not give himself to us by assembling the good things of life into a giant banquet. Instead, we get Jesus.

A Carol Symphony

Here’s an orchestral work that isn’t played constantly every Christmas season but could easily fit in any holiday concert program. Victor Hely-Hutchinson wrote “A Carol Symphony” in 1927, which was about the mid-point of his life. It hit all the right notes of his London audience at the time, but since then other compositions have crowded it off of our traditional Christmas playlists.

I hadn’t heard of it until today. Have you?

Onomatopoeia Are Like Sensual Puns

I just learned Onomatopoeia is the name of a villain in Green Arrow and Batman comics.  Hmpf.

Putting that aside, an onomatopoeia is a word formed from an imitation of related sounds, such as splash, thump, or blink. Wait, blinking doesn’t make any sound, but perhaps it is an onomatopoeia by another name. I don’t know Latin enough to suggest an alternative word.

This writer on Japanese language and culture applies the term to many interesting Japanese words. “A well-cleaned floor shines pika pika, while a light, fluffy futon is fuwa fuwa.” The word for “thorn” is ira and for “annoyed” is ira ira.

How Widely Should One Read?

You get the impression from some corners that if you want to write a publishable book you should read many, many other books in and out of that genre in order to give you the experience you need to contribute to the pool of published books. The truth is, in order to publish a book or story, you need a solid, well-executed concept. Reading widely can help you get there, but it isn’t the only path, and as Jason Guriel explains “most writing isn’t worth consuming.

Here’s hapless omnivore Aleksandar Hemon, a novelist and critic who will eat anything: “I read compulsively—preferably a book of my choice, but anything would do. I’ve read, with great interest, nutritional information on cereal boxes. I regularly read wedding announcements in the New York Times.”

This begins to tread into fasting territory. Silence and reflection will likely help Hemon more than constant reading. What do you think?

Sentimentalists Make God Into Santa

Taking a page from J.B. Phillips’s Your God Is Too Small, Ulrich L. Lehner pushes back the warm commercial holiday blanket to argue the living God is not Santa.

Why do I find the nice view of God not only unsatisfying, but also politically and morally dangerous? A nice God props up the status quo. Whatever you do, there is no failure because God is on your side. The nice God plays to our narcissism. Since whatever I feel is right, and good feelings are from God, I am always justified without recourse to tradition or reason.

A Christian’s Final Rest

Today rebroadcast of Renewing Your Mind asks, “What is the blessed hope? Today, R.C. Sproul explains what we can expect when we reach our ultimate destination.”

UntitledFrom Ligonier’s Flickr Photostream (2010)

BTW, several short books by Dr. Sproul are still available for free for Kindle and audio. They are his Critical Question series, great tools for sound teaching that won’t overwhelm you. Titles include What is Repentance?, What is the Trinity?, How Can I Develop a Christian Conscience?, and Does Prayer Change Things?

R.C. Sproul Now Sees the Lord Face to Face

R.C. Sproul (1939-2017) passed away this afternoon at age 78. Go buy three or four of his books for yourself and family.

Stephen Nichols summarizes Dr. Sproul’s life in this post at Ligonier Ministries’ site.

R.C. Sproul was a theologian who served the church. He admired the Reformers not only for the content of their message, but for the way they took that message to the people. They were “battlefield theologians,” as he called them. Many first heard of the five solas of the Reformation through R.C. Sproul’s teaching.

R.C. often recalled his first encounter with the God of the Bible. As a new Christian and a freshman in college, he devoured the Bible. One thing stood out from his reading: God is a God who plays for keeps. The Psalms, the story of Uzzah, Genesis 15:17, Mary’s MagnificatLuke 16:16–17, and, of course, Isaiah 6—the drama of these texts captivated R.C. from the moment he first read them.

May the Lord bless us with 1,000 just like Dr. Sproul in our generation and the next, men and women who will lift up the cross by the power of His Spirit for the perseverance of His kingdom.