‘The Buried,’ by Brett Battles

Among my recently read books is Brett Battles latest Jonathan Quinn novel, The Buried.

I’ve been enjoying this series through the previous eight books, and this one was just as good, or better, than its predecessors.

As I’ve explained before, Jonathan Quinn, the hero, is a “cleaner.” He works for a private contractor that works with intelligence agencies, removing bodies and cleaning up sites where somebody has been liquidated. He’s not supposed to get into the action himself, but of course he often does, or there’d be no novels.

In The Buried, he comes to remove a body from a suburban American home, but about the time he shows up, the government assassin he’s supposed to clean up for discovers a secret chamber underneath the late target’s house. In the chamber they find cells containing four women, one of them dead.

Calling his boss for instructions, Quinn is instructed to call the police and leave, but to take one of the prisoners with him. It turns out this woman possesses a very important secret, and ruthless agents from around the world are competing to find her and extract that secret, by any means necessary. The rest of the story is strong on chases, one way and the other.

The Buried is great fun, especially because of a sort of running joke in the plot. Quinn’s partner (and wife) Orlando is extremely pregnant during this story, but can’t resist trying to participate in the action as if she were not. It’s her nature, as regular readers will recognize. Her continuing denial is not only funny, but contributes to the rising plot tension.

Recommended. Not too much objectionable stuff.

We Are What We Read

Rosaria Butterfield describes her rejection of lesbianism, three heresies related to homosexuality, and the importance of what and how we read to our worldview.

In short, we honor God with our reading diligence. We honor God with our reading sacrifice. If you watch two hours of TV and surf the internet for three, what would happen if you abandoned these habits for reading the Bible and the Puritans? For real. Could the best solution to the sin that enslaves us be just that simple and difficult all at the same time? We create Christian communities that are safe places to struggle because we know sin is also “lurking at [our] door.” God tells us that sin’s “desire is for you, but you shall have mastery over it” (Gen. 4:7). Sin isn’t a matter of knowing better, it isn’t (only) a series of bad choices—and if it were, we wouldn’t need a Savior, just need a new app on our iPhone.

Re:raptured, Better Have Clean Underwear On

Ted Kluck has written and collaborated on a number of books, but his name isn’t on the book I heard him recommend last month and consequently purchased. That book comes from Ted’s media empire, Gut Check Press. It’s re:raptured by Committee. Exactly who wrote it is being withheld, no doubt pending Congressional subpoena, but I think Ted had a hand in it. Maybe even a foot.

The story begins with a young Episcopal priest getting his lights dashed by Tim Van Shrimpy, “Bible Scholar.” The reason Van Shrimpy is rampaging around beating up people is still unclear to me, but realism was sold out when this tale was typed up. Ted Strongbow is a football superstar with few real skills (wait, is this part straight-up parody of actual people?). Rev. Lewis Ironsides has written the book Exactly How to Look and Exactly What to Say If You Want to Marry My Daughter Carol-Anne, which, he says, isn’t exactly arranging her marriage, but it’s a hot item among controlling homeschool moms with eligible sons.

It takes place in a world that has The Honorable Philip Yancey Hospital housed within the Dynex/Lifeway/Excellence in Christian Publishing Kilometer High Stadium, home to the Denver Values football team (Strongbow’s team). The story takes up a whole handful of characters in short, often choppy, scenes that flow together just like the end-times thrillers it intends to skewer. What is bringing all these people together? Their loyalty of dispensational end-times teaching and the belief that they need to be in place before the rapture occurs. But are they mobilizing to be in place to usher in or ward off the rapture? Continue reading Re:raptured, Better Have Clean Underwear On

The Most Expensive Coffee Anywhere

I found a new-to-me coffee retailer this morning while casually browsing for coffee-related sites and was surprised to notice a price category for $350.00 – $400.00. What do they offer in that price range? Ten pound bags of Jamaican Blue Mountain? No, this site, named Coffee for Less, offers one pound bags of whole Kopi Luwak beans for $350.00.

You may not think you’re the type to drop over three Franklins on a bag of coffee beans, but wait ’til you hear the reason for the price. Kopi Luwak beans are personally processed by luwaks, small mammals in Southeast Asia, who eat coffee berries off the plant and pass them neatly into a farmer’s poop-scooper, giving them a can-u-believe-it, yowza-yowza flavor!

I mean, who wouldn’t want to eat something preciously prepared by this cute, little guy? Don’t look at me like that. You know you would.

Naturally, knowing you like I do, you may have already gone out for another variety of poop coffee blend from Thailand called Black Ivory Coffee. These beans have been especially excreted by elephants, which produces a reportedly smoother flavor than the Luwak variety. There is a difference, and it may be in the animals’ diets. Luwaks are omnivores; elephants are herbivores. Theoretically, your Kopi Luwak could brush up against some squirrel carcass on its way to your Best Part of Waking Up, whereas your Black Ivory beans may be fondled by foliage. Plus, every cup of Black Ivory comes out looking like this:

Waiter, there's an elephant in my coffee...

That’s straight from the elephant’s mouth, as they say. Who wouldn’t pay $$$$ for that?

Death of an Avenger

Yesterday was notable, aside from a Supreme Court decision with which I strongly disagree, in seeing the death of a man who has been a major influence on my life (and who probably wouldn’t have been at all pleased to know it, from what I know of his social views).

Patrick Macnee (1922-2015) is best remembered as the only permanent star of what I consider one of the greatest TV series ever produced, the BBC series The Avengers (not to be confused with the Marvel Comics books and movies). The Avengers appeared on American TV just as I was entering an uncomfortable adolescence, and left me with an enduring love for slender, auburn-haired women (Diana Rigg), and three-piece suits (Macnee).

Yes, it was a breakthrough show for a trope I’m now thoroughly sick of – the delicate little woman who beats up 200-lb men in groups – but it was new and interesting back then, and hey, it was Diana Rigg. I was desperately in love with her.

The show was not intended to be what it eventually became, the spritely, half-comic show we remember. It started in 1961 as a gritty, realistic program. It was a spin-off of a series called Police Surgeon, starring actor Ian Hendry. In the first episode of The Avengers, his character, Dr. David Keel, loses his fiancée, murdered by drug dealers. He is recruited by a shadowy semi-official character named John Steed (Macnee) to help him apprehend the criminals. Keel signs on enthusiastically (it’s his way to “avenge” the woman he loved), but is often put off by the ruthless methods of Steed, who at this stage was as much a thug as a charmer, and had no distinctive style of dress. Continue reading Death of an Avenger

S.A. Hunt Blends Genres Naturally

Fantasy author S.A. Hunt is interviewed here on his path as an indie writer.

“With Outlaw King, I was intentionally trying to write a straight-faced fantasy, but as usual my old love, horror, came sneaking in the back door and put its two cents’ worth in. . . . And to me, an engaging fantasy is a story that can effectively leverage well-written horror elements: the Jabberwocky of Alice in Wonderland, the Others of G.R.R. Martin’s books, the totemic Taheen of King’s Dark Tower books and his iconic Man in Black. When a fantasy story has an antagonist that’s almost prohibitively dark and monstrous, a fresh weird monster you love to hate, it really ups the stakes. Weirdness is what gives the creative world its addictive edge, I think.”

He talks about the fact that he chose self-publishing like most people, with the clueless hope for wild success, and he continues to struggle now. “It’s strange. I’ve felt like I was trapped in this bulletproof bubble for the first two years or so, hermetically sealed off from the world, screaming silently for someone to notice me…and now I get the occasional comment from other indie authors to the effect of, ‘You’re an inspiration to the rest of us indies,’ or ‘Thanks to you, I’ve decided to finally push myself and write that book I’ve been wanting to write,’ both of which are something I have a lot of trouble internalizing, but they feel incredible to hear.”

Hunt says the interview went long, so he posted several more questions on his site.

Cheerful, Intelligent Rebuke

“The ‘Benedict Option’ isn’t the only way for Christians to confront the reality of an increasingly hostile and secular culture,” Andrew Walker writes. A better approach could be called “the Buckley Option.”

If the Benedict Option is about developing a “thicker” Christian community that grows more deliberate about sustaining and catechizing itself, count me in. But if the only result of the Benedict Option is a more aesthetic and intellectual homeschooling movement, then I have concerns about its long-term viability. A Christianity that isn’t simultaneously attentive to both its own institutions and its public witness simply cannot fulfill the robust demands of orthodoxy.

Walker recommends a different approach named after William F. Buckley.

The Buckley Option will sacrifice no space in the social or civil arena. It will believe, as the church always has, that its gospel brings with it good news for society, regardless of whether society believes its message is good or not.

[And it] will recognize that in a fallen world marked by self-interest, democracy is the preferred method for government order. While imperfect, it allows self-interest to be dealt with in the sphere of persuasion, not coercion. Eschewing theocracy, a Buckley Option approach will recognize that the moral ecology of any nation is dependent on a public morality, not a government morality. While the Benedict Option implies that democracy sowed the seeds of its own destruction, a Buckley Option approach recognizes that the seeds of destruction are not unique to any one political system. The moral breakdown that ensues when free people act freely is not caused by democracy, but by the besetting effects of sin that taint all human civilizations.

(via Hunter Baker)

William F. Buckley

What Did Ray Bradbury Believe?

Gregory Wolfe observes how many tributes to Ray Bradbury praise his humane vision of the world, and he asks, “In order to have a humane vision, do you have to have an understanding of what constitutes humanness?” He says he did. From one of Bradbury’s stories, “We lost our faith and went around wondering what life was for. If art was no more than a frustrated outflinging of desire, if religion was no more than self-delusion, what good was life? Faith had always given us answers to all things. But it all went down the drain with Freud and Darwin. We were and still are a lost people.” (via Prufrock)

I wonder what the author would have said about Faber’s book of loss and strange new things, in which a missionary to an alien world called Oasis discovers another missionary has preceded him. The Book of Strange New Things is World Magazine’s fiction book of the year.

Below is the Ray Bradbury Tree in Disneyland’s Frontierland, inspired by his novel, The Halloween Tree, and decorated for the season. Bradbury loved Disneyland and even helped design some of the attractions, notably Spaceship Earth in Epcot.

The Ray Bradbury Tree

‘Monster Hunter International,’ by Larry Correia

I hadn’t noticed until tonight, but our friend Loren Eaton reviewed Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International over at I Saw Lightning Fall, just the other day.

And here I am, reviewing it now.

I recently reviewed Correia’s Grimnoir Chronicles books, so I thought I’d try the Monster Hunter series too.

In brief, not bad. But I think it’s not for me.

Owen Z. Pitt is the hero of the series. When we meet him he’s an accountant, albeit a large and vigorous variety of the breed. One night he’s attacked in his office by a werewolf, and manages to throw the monster out of a window to its death. He’s badly injured, though.

During his recovery, he learns that such attacks are more common than the public is permitted to know. A whole government agency is devoted to dealing with the threat – secretly – and there’s a secret government bounty for each monster killed. The agency has competition – the private Monster Hunter International group, which recruits Owen, who realizes his heart wasn’t really in accountancy after all. Fortunately his soldier father raised him with fighting skills and arms proficiency.

Also there’s a beautiful monster hunter, a member of the group’s founding family, with whom Owen falls promptly in love.

What follows is basically a written version of a CGI-intense Hollywood summer movie. With very short hiatuses in between, one monster attack follows another, each one involving more terrible – and numerous – monsters.

And Owen, it seems, is the key to the destruction or salvation of the space-time universe, because of a series of visions he’s been having.

It’s all pretty overwhelming. I can see why the Monster Hunter books have acquired such a large, loyal following. Many of you are probably among them, and many others of you will enjoy the books if you try them.

But it’s frankly too much for me. I’ve decided I like my books a little quieter, a little more introspective.

There are occasional references to religion, and it’s stated as a fact that faith has efficacy against monsters. Any faith will do, however – the faith itself, not its object, is what counts.

Cautions for violence, language, and not very explicit sexual situations.

If I smell strangely of herring today…

It’s because I got a mention at Tony Sacramone’s Strange Herring blog.

Needless to say, I bought it, along with a pristine copy of Wolf Time, as mine is a mess from frequent use. I announced proudly that I “knew” the author, Lars Walker. Gary seemed impressed, and added that the books were now long out of print, betokening some knowledge of Lars’s work.

Read the rest here.

‘The Slow Regard of Silent Things,’ by Patrick Rothfuss

She sat down on the floor again beside her bed. She closed her eyes. She almost stayed there, too, all cut-string and tangle-haired and lonely as a button.

Patrick Rothfuss, author of the Kingkiller Chronicles, consisting so far of The Name of the Wind (which I reviewed here) and The Wise Man’s Fear (which I reviewed here), has us waiting for the third novel in the series. But he’s given us a shorter work to fill in the time, a novella called The Slow Regard of Silent Things, about a minor character in the novels.

The minor character is Auri, a little girl who lives in what she calls “the Underthing,” a complex of crumbling utility tunnels and archaeological ruins buried under the University. The hero of the novels, Kvothe, visits her from time to time, bringing her food. She is tiny and beautiful, shy as a deer, and quite mad.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things takes us through several days in Auri’s life, in which she carries on the routines that are so important to her, continues her explorations of her environment, and prepares for an anticipated visit from “him” (who is, we assume, Kvothe).

This is a strange story, in which nothing of significant happens, except in Auri’s mind. It’s deathly important to her that everything in her world be “right.” Every object must be placed where it “wants to be.” She is strict about how things must be done, even at the cost of great discomfort to herself. She suffers, very obviously, from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but hers is a humble lunacy. There is no trace of selfishness in it. Auri sees herself as a servant to all, small and unnoticeable. It’s terribly, terribly important to her not to be noticed. A hint is given, at one point, about the trauma that made her what she is.

Author Rothfuss makes, both at the beginning and the end of the book, personal “apologies” for the kind of story he has provided. “You might not want to buy this book,” he writes in his foreword. He explains that it contains no action, and only one character, so it’s not everybody’s cup of tea.

What it is, of course, is a literary story within the fantasy genre. And it’s a splendid one. Auri is tragic, glorious, and adorable, and the language is lapidary.

Highly recommended though (as Rothfuss tells us) you may have trouble understanding it if you haven’t read the Kingkiller books yet.

Flannery O’Connor on Spiritualizing American Life

Nowhere did this spiritualizing of the material become more evident to Flannery O’Connor than in the civic boosterism of the 1950s. An editorial in Henry Luce’s Life magazine angered her because it charged that the nation’s novelists, in their existentialist angst, were failing to celebrate their prosperous and optimistic country. Luce’s editorialists thus summoned American writers to exhibit “the joy of life” and “the redemptive quality of spiritual purpose.” Where was such joyful purpose to be found? For Luce and his barkers, it lay in the nation’s remarkable decade of success: its unprecedented wealth, its world-dominating military power, its virtual achievement of a classless society, at least in comparison with other nations. For Flannery O’Connor, joy and purpose found in such places are gossamer and ephemeral things indeed.

This is not to say that O’Connor was an ingrate concerning her American freedoms. She was critical of her country because she loved it. She regarded the threat of Soviet communism as serious, for instance, even constructing a bomb shelter on her Georgia property. The family of refugees from post-war Poland whom she and her mother welcomed as workers on their dairy farm became the occasion for one of her best stories, “The Displaced Person.” O’Connor also refused, in 1956, to sell her work to Czech and Polish publishers, lest they use it for anti-American propaganda, as they had done with Jack London’s fiction. O’Connor also admired Reinhold Niebuhr for his principled opposition to Stalin’s desire to remake the whole of humanity into homo Sovieticus. For all the limits of American self-congratulation, it was infinitely preferable to the mind-body-soul destroying politics of the Gulag Archipelago.

From Ralph C. Wood’s “Flannery O’Connor: Stamped But Not Cancelled” (via Prufrock)

Book Reviews, Creative Culture