Call on the hills to cover the lab

I drove up to Fargo, North Dakota on Saturday, for a meeting of the Sverdrup Society (I edit their journal and newsletter). It’s about a four hour drive, with stops. Getting to Fargo from here involves passing through Fargo’s sister city, Moorhead, Minnesota. That reminded me of a story told by my brother Moloch (whose birthday it is today, by the way. Remind me to call him).

Moloch and his wife were visiting Concordia College in Moorhead, their mutual alma mater. They took a guided tour led by a young female student. As they passed by a small hill on campus, Moloch said, “There’s where the biology lab used to be. They tore it down and put in that hill.”

The student said, “No. That hill has always been here. The students talk about it. There’s an Indian legend about it and everything.”

Moloch and my sister-in-law assured her that the hill was modern and man-made, and they’d spent a fair amount of time in the old biology lab on the site.

Afterwards Moloch said to his wife, “You know what this means, don’t you?

“It means we’re older than the hills.”

I thought I’d link to a couple more Viking photos. Since I’m constitutionally incapable of balance in thinking about myself, I need to alternate my nihilist and pessimistic posts with posts of a more full-of-myself, “look at me!” nature.

This first picture is from the Viking Meet in Elk Horn, Iowa. The sinister gang I’m posing with is not my own Viking group, but the Skjaldborg guys from Omaha. And no, I did not tease the big guy about his pink tunic.

This one is from two weekends ago, in Dallas, Wisconsin. Here we see me demonstrating graphically to the others exactly how far my fame and fortune as an author take me in terms of… well, fame and fortune.

Credit to Eric and Shari Anderson for the pictures.

Revelations by M. Scott Byrnes

Part of the appeal of Scott Byrnes‘ science fiction novel, Revelations, is the story behind it. He wrote a screenplay, probably catching a writing bug during that time, and decided to make it into a novel. He says he wanted to bring a pretty outrageous idea down to earth as an enjoyable thriller in the way he believes Michael Crichton does with stories rooted in an odd scientific observation. So Mr. Byrnes saved some money and quit his day job in order to write his first novel. That’s admirable dedication.

Does it pay off? Well, I must say I felt compelled to finish the story. The characters aren’t too round. The writing style is good enough, though a couple parts are laughably bad. One part that should hold several pounds of suspense drops it all by dwelling too long on the characters’ thoughts. The plot stretches thin a bit, the worst coming about midway when the characters tackle some language translation. But storyline is compelling.

A team of scientists are on Mars hoping to uncover something earlier exploratory results have hinted at. In the process, they discover something that radically changes scientific understanding of the red planet. About the same time, a brilliant young man, named Tim Redmond, is ushered out of an African Red Cross camp by federal spooks when his name is called out by a terrorist who has taken international hostages. The terrorist wants world leaders to make a fast decision made about the Martian discovery, saying it will destroy mankind, but how he knows about it and what he wants Tim to do are big questions.

I believe Mr. Byrnes is planning to write more, which is probably a good idea. Judging from this book, he appears to have the talent and perseverance to write strong, entertaining stories. I look forward to hearing of his success in the future.

No One is Morally Ignorant

From my notes on Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy:

The attack on objectivity of values is not an attack on general objectivity of values, but a rouse for the supremacy of certain values over others. Because you can get a long way in winning your argument if you don’t have to argue for it at all.

Our problem is not the disconnect between the heart and intellect. The problem is what composes our intellect. Nothing is considered moral knowledge today; consequently, no one is morally ignorant.

Human companionship? Ick!

I have to say thanks to all the people who took the trouble to encourage me in yesterday’s Comments. My natural response is to wonder what I’ve done to deceive you all so egregiously. But I appreciate the sentiment.

Forgot to mention the big news in my life yesterday. My street is open again! Not the actual street I live on, but the street that runs past the park into my neighborhood and makes my house easy to get to. In the absence of that access, finding my place involves a rat’s maze of creeping through torn-up streets around a strip mall and a park.

What this means, aside from my own greater convenience, is that I’ve lost my last excuse not to advertise my spare room for rent.

I am not a wealthy or a highly paid man. I’ve already spent all the money I’ll probably ever see from my published books. I made the down payment on this house with the money I inherited from my dad and my aunt. I was still left with a mortgage that’s just a little more than I can reasonably carry, barring emergencies (and emergencies always happen, as any homeowner knows). I knew from the beginning that I had the options of a) selling another book or b) renting my spare room. And I haven’t sold a book.

I put up a poster at the seminary where I work, but those people know who I am, so small hope there. I delayed advertising more widely because of the torn-up street, figuring anybody who came to look at the place would probably never find it. But that’s fixed now.

I regard the prospect of sharing my personal living space with another hominid with all the enthusiasm of an Ivy League university president reviewing an application for professorship from Jimmy-Bob Hawkins, Arkansas Boy Evangelist. I can think of a whole list of likely drawbacks and very few advantages (except for the money). I plan to place the ad in the local Christian giveaway newspaper, in hopes that I can get someone reasonably congenial in lifestyle. Still, I expect that paper is read regularly by gay activists looking to find Christian landlords they can drive into evicting them, then sue for the benefit of society.

Still, the worst might not happen. Having someone around would probably add accountability to my life, and I can’t deny I could use that.

Maturity calls.

I hate it when that happens.

The world according to me

Yesterday’s post drew more attention than I expected, and I guess it would be in order to address the issue of My Single Blessedness in a post. I try to avoid this sort of thing (I know it doesn’t look like it, but you’d be amazed the things that never get uploaded) because I have a well-founded suspicion that the rest of the world doesn’t share my fascination with the precise configurations of my emotional viscera.

I’m not upset with yesterday’s comments. Shoot, for a passive-aggressive like me, that kind of attention is like mother’s milk. But I want to explain the reasons why I’ve essentially given up on finding a soulmate.

I’m open to correction. I’ll tell you how the world looks to me. You tell me where I’m wrong. I’m self-aware enough to know that having an emotional disorder means precisely seeing the world wrong.

My perception is that women want “bad boys.” Not bad men. Very few women really want a bad man. But they want a man with something of the bad boy in him. They want all the proper things too, of course. They want him to be supportive and nurturing, and they want him to be a good provider and a good father. But they also want to know that now and then Rhett Butler will come out in the open, kiss them hard while they pummel his chest with their little fists, sweep them into his arms and carry them up the staircase. They yearn a bit for the motorcycle gangster, for Billy the Kid. (See my review of Shotgun Alley the other day, and the descriptions of nice guy Weiss and bad boy Bishop.)

I’m not a bad boy, Heaven help me. When a woman encounters me or any of my (fortunately few) eunuch brothers, she immediately reads, in our eyes and in our body language, that we possess all the thrill potential of a virtual checkers game. She sees the word “BORING” inscribed on our brows. If she’s generous enough to grant us a date, she quickly regrets it as the hours drag and she smiles stiffly and mentally composes excuses for an early escape. She knows instinctively that if she married such a man, she’d have to initiate intimacy herself, because he’s too emotionally fragile to run the risk of a physical rejection.

All in all, she’d rather treat herself to a day at the spa. Or just adopt a cat.

I do not blame her for this.

And if there is, out there, some woman who’s actively looking for a man who’d be easy to dominate, I don’t think I want to meet that woman.

Global cooling update

I feel kind of lousy tonight, and it’s not just because it snowed today.

I get to feeling under the weather once or twice a year. Usually a good night’s sleep has me feeling better again by the next morning. I’m rarely sick enough to take a day off work. Also I self-medicated with Chinese food tonight. I haven’t gone out to eat much for a while, due to budgetary constraints, but my body said to me, “You need Chinese food.” So after work I went to a buffet which isn’t very good, to be honest, but has the virtues of being near my home and employing an attractive hostess. When I don’t feel well, I do what my body tells me. If it doesn’t actually help, it’s at least a defensible excuse for self-indulgence.

The snow came down thick and fast this afternoon. It only did so for about fifteen minutes, and then the sky cleared again. But it was enough. Notice had been served. Our annual Siberian exile has begun.

The only man I ever knew who hated winter more than me was my dad. All his life, as he ran a Minnesota farm, he dreamed of moving to a warmer clime. Sometime in the late 1950s (I think) he began working for that dream by signing up with a Florida land development company that had a booth at the state fair. He paid ten dollars a month for a lot in the Sunshine State. People joked with him about swamp land. He smiled and joshed back, but it wasn’t really funny to him.

Through the years he paid off one lot, then another, then a third. Then he sold one lot and used the proceeds to build a house on another. The idea was that he’d rent the house out and use the money to make payments, until he was ready to retire down there.

And it came to pass, on a winter day in 1980 (I think) he paused while shoveling snow in the farmyard, tucked his frozen fingers under his armpits, and said to himself, “I own a house in Florida. Why the heck am I doing this?”

So he put his farm up for sale. This was at the peak of the agricultural real estate boom. I believe he got the highest price per acre that any farmer had ever gotten in our community (and it wasn’t that great a farm). It may have been the highest price anybody ever got, since the boom didn’t last much longer. Dad moved to Florida with a nice nest egg to finance his early retirement.

I don’t think he ever saw Minnesota in the winter again. If one of his sons had died up here during the winter, I think he’d have thought long and hard about whether to fly up for the funeral or just send a card.

Detective Novels: The Best Ones Are Written by Men

Maxine is calling for suggestions on strong detective novels written by women in response to David Montgomery’s list, 10 Greatest Detective Novels, which did not have one female author. Block, Chandler, Crumley, Hammett, Stout, and others make Montgomery’s list, and he explains in the comments on Petrona that he doesn’t like P.D. James and further: “My favorite contemporary female detective writers are probably Laura Lippman and Denise Hamilton. I think they’re both great writers, but neither quite cracked the list.”

An interesting discussion has begun. One commenter notes the dominance of American writers. That seems only natural to me. We, Americans, are the best in the world at everything, except maybe soccer and automobiles, so naturally we write the best detectives novels.

We blog better than anyone else too.

And stuff.

I will be ducking and running now.

Shotgun Alley by Andrew Klavan

Hard-boiled detective stories are one of my favorite genres. So it was good news for me when I learned that Andrew Klavan, my favorite contemporary author, had begun a detective series (I love series! It’s almost like having real friends!).

And I wasn’t disappointed. If Klavan’s Weiss and Bishop series isn’t moving Hard-boiled into fertile new territory, it’s at least discovering new treasures in the old fields.

You gotcher tough-guy protagonist. You gotcher smart-guy protagonist. You gotcher psycho killers and your dangerous dames. You gotcher dead bodies and threats and violence. You gotcher subtextual deconstruction of postmodern philosophy. What’s not to like?

The continuing main characters in the series are Scott Weiss and Jim Bishop. On first glance they kind of resemble Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, in a dim light. But they’re more complex than Wolfe and Goodwin (whom I also like), and they inhabit a grittier, more perilous world.

Scott Weiss is an ex-cop. He is tall and fat and lonely. His loneliness comes from his over-romantic view of women—he puts them on a pedestal, and they respond by wanting to be just friends. Although he’s smart, his success as a detective comes from an emotional-imaginative quirk. He’s an empath. He has the ability to get into people’s heads, understand their thinking patterns, and predict their actions. It’s good for business, but he can never be a happy man.

Jim Bishop is his alter ego. A burned-out Special Forces veteran, he nearly became a career criminal before Weiss pulled him out of the mud and gave him a chance. He’s physically strong and a dangerous fighter. He rides a Harley and flies planes and helicopters. An adrenaline-junkie, he uses women and throws them away and they adore him.

The two of them make a fascinating moral study. Weiss is a good man who does bad things (he drinks too much and uses prostitutes. He also allows Bishop to operate his own way, though it offends his ethics). Bishop is a bad man who does good things—sometimes. Often to his own amazement.

The stories are told by an anonymous narrator who presents himself as the author. We are apparently meant to believe that Klavan himself worked at the Weiss Agency as a young man, and that these stories are his reminiscences (oddly though, there is no indication that the stories took place in the past. All the technology seems completely up to date. It’s almost as if these are memoirs from the future).

I liked the first book, Dynamite Road, very much, but I liked Shotgun Alley even better. Weiss and Bishop are hired by a very wealthy man, an aspiring political candidate, to find his daughter, Honey. Honey is only seventeen years old, but has run away from home and gotten involved with an especially vicious motorcycle gang. Weiss turns Bishop loose on the case, knowing that Bishop will do a number of things that he (Weiss) doesn’t want to know about.

There’s also a subplot about a case that Weiss works himself, with the help of Our Narrator. It involves a doctrinaire feminist college professor who hires them to trace the identity of a man who’s been sending her obscene e-mails.

Shotgun Alley is a love story, when you lay it all out, only the love is pretty messy.

You need to be warned about sex, violence and bad language. This book has them all, in pretty strong doses. Klavan is a confessed Christian, but he does not—repeat, not—write CBA fiction. I have a stomach for this kind of stuff, especially in a good cause, but it may not work for you.

I for one eagerly await the appearance in paperback of the next installment, Damnation Street.

Loving Through Excellent Artwork

Your Writers Group has been talking about excellence.

[Christians] don’t push toward excellence with the same do-or-die dedication since deep inside we know God accepts us anyway. We are never alone in the universe with only this creation to show we existed, never alone without God to fall back on. We place too high a value on family and others over our “personal” achievements with the talents God’s bestowed and we care too little about the establishment of a great work. We are (rightly) not as irrationally driven to prove our own worth and purpose through our creations. Our higher value is love, not art. . . . [But] maybe it’s because of love that we should give ourselves more fully to the creative impulse. If we, as Christian artists, would simply learn to love through our art, we might realize our greatest task.

He’s got a point.

Will Write for Food

Joe Maguire, author of Brainless: The Lies and Lunacy of Ann Coulter, has lost his job as an editor for Reuters, apparently over a conflict with the news group’s principles of trust. Mr. Maguire says, “There was a difference of opinion about the approval I received to write this book.”

I’m sure he’ll get a good job elsewhere, if this is only a political pan-flash with Reuters executives; if he really is a skunk or a back-stabber, then maybe the NY Times will offer him a position.

Irrational and Ignorant

Lynn Vincent, the managing editor of World Magazine’s blog, defines propaganda in the context of those who comment on the posts there. One contributor notes:

I’ve found the arguments used here (at Worldmagblog) so poor that I actually have my rhetoric class read the blog to find common fallacies. The most common is definitely Ad Hominem, but the readers here also love the False Dilemma, the False Cause and the Hasty Generalization. I also tell my students (at this Christian school) that they need to realize how ignorant Christians look in the real world of discourse.

Begrudging defense of Columbus

I find myself in an ambivalent position in regard to Christopher Columbus.

As a Viking nut, I have to be a Leif Eriksson supporter. Leif was here nearly 500 years before the Admiral of the Ocean Sea, and we’ve got artifacts to prove it (unless you believe that the Viking stuff at L’Anse aux Meadows was planted by the world-wide Norwegian conspiracy, headed by the Sons of Norway. Wait! I said too much!).

By the way, here’s a picture from L’Anse aux Meadows, taken during my visit there in 2004. This is not the site itself, but a reconstruction of some of the original Norse buildings, erected just a few paces away. I was standing in the archaeological site when I took it:

http://i16.photobucket.com/albums/b27/larskval/Picture.jpg

But I feel I have to defend Columbus too, considering the number and nature of his current enemies. One book I recommend on the subject is Columbus and Cortez, Conquerors for Christ, by my friend John Eidsmoe. No doubt Eidsmoe takes positions that are open to dispute, but if you’re going to argue with a defense, you might as well argue with a strong one.

One thing Eidsmoe argues is that Columbus (contrary to current canards) did not make wholesale war on the native inhabitants of the Caribbean Islands in order to enslave them. What he did was take sides. He found two tribes in his original area of discovery—the peaceful Arawaks and the warlike, cannibalistic Caribs. He chose to defend the Arawaks from the Caribs, and felt himself morally justified in enslaving the Caribs, who were themselves enthusiastic slave-hunters. After he was replaced as governor, his successors failed to make the same distinction between the tribes, and that’s a great tragedy. But it’s not Columbus’ fault.

It’s true, however, that Columbus had more luck than wisdom in his original discovery. Washington Irving wrote an influential book which sealed forever in Americans’ memories the falsehood that Columbus set out to prove the world was round. He did no such thing.

Columbus did think the world was round. But his critics thought the world was round too. Everybody with any education already knew the world was round (I have a book in my library called The King’s Mirror, a Norwegian book of advice for a young man written in the 13th Century, which contains a passage employing sophisticated means to demonstrate that the earth is “round like a ball”). The difference between Columbus and his critics was that Columbus thought the earth was small, and his critics thought it was large.

And his critics were right. The calculations Columbus trusted were way, way off.

Fortunately he bumped into America and found alternate career opportunities.

Let’s face it—Leif Eriksson and his relatives came and went, and nothing changed much. Columbus, like him or not, was the cause of big, big changes.

So enjoy what’s left of your Columbus Day.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture