"Better new friend than an old foe."

- Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene
But It's For the Children

Sara Zarr, author of How to Save a Life, critiques a WSJ article on the darkness in young adult literature. The writer of that article claims YA lit is "so dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things in novels directed, broadly speaking, at children from the ages of 12 to 18."

Sara says she feels that way about adult fiction too and asks why it isn't frequently criticized for being so dark like YA lit has been for many years. What we need in both book fields, she says, is hope, even if the story is a dark one. "We need context, we need excellence, everywhere. Not just for the young."

Skip this post if you're already depressed

I'd like to direct your attention to a couple of links before I have another say of my own on the issue of homosexual marriage.

First of all, Ed Veith at Cranach links to an article by an Australian sociologist, from The Australian:

Phillips’s use of language implies opponents of gay marriage are likely to be motivated by “old-time religion”, which is by definition “incompatible with modern society”. From this standpoint, criticism or the questioning of the moral status of gay marriage violates the cultural standards of “modern society”. What we have here is the casual affirmation of a double standard: tolerance towards supporters of gay marriage and intolerance directed towards its opponents.

Then, from World Magazine, a report on an effort by military chaplains to get legal protection for their right to believe, and to express their belief, that homosexual behavior is sinful.

And that, I think, goes to the heart of the matter. The true goal of the “gay” movement, I believe, is more than just to end restrictions on homosexuality and homosexual behavior. It is to marginalize, and then criminalize, traditional religious beliefs.

Any religion that holds to the authority of Scripture, whether directly (as in the case of Orthodox Jews) or mediated through the New Testament (as with Christians) is a threat to the spirit of the age. The installation of the "gay" agenda in our laws, and the demand that everyone must respect homosexuality on penalty of law, provides an opportunity to turn matters of faith into matters of statute.

Muslims are a special problem. I'm not sure how Muslims will be handled. The Muslim conundrum (for the Left) may in fact be the only thing to prevent the disasters I see coming.

This is what I see—First, more and more people will lose their jobs on account of their religious beliefs, and they will find they have no recourse to law.

The slogan will be (I'm almost sure it will be worded this way) “There Is No Right To Hate!”

Once that step has been accomplished, the imprisonment and “reeducation” of dissenters will follow, sooner or later. No appeal to constitutional rights can prevail, because “There Is No Right To Hate!”

The church will go underground. Maybe some of us will be able to flee to China, or parts of Africa, where (one hopes) there will by then be some measure of freedom of religion.

I'm not saying true Christianity will disappear. The church will always exist, if only in a persecuted remnant, until the return of the Lord.

Still, I think more and more often of Luke 18:8, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Reading by Familiar Setting

Scientist and author Tali Sharot likes to read books from places she's familiar with. She likes The Easter Parade by Richard Yates, because it's placed in New York. In this interview with the Boston Globe, she describes her reading habits. It's nice to see people dropping books they are no longer interested in.

The Duchess lives on

Right now I'm reading another of my free Kindle downloads; an American biographical work that I'll review when I've finished it.

The story itself is pretty interesting. The manner of the telling, not so much.

The author, according to his Wikipedia entry, was an estimable man. A Christian clergyman, he devoted his life to the production of uplifting literature.

The man can barely stand to go a paragraph without pausing to direct the reader's attention to the moral lesson. He wants to make very certain that we are never in doubt when he himself disapproves of his subject's words or actions.

He also shows very little critical sense. He moves from fairly reliable source material to pure fantasy, and doesn't seem to notice that his subject's character and manner of speech have changed radically from one source to the other.

In short, he doesn't really care about the facts. He only cares about imparting moral lessons. Like the Duchess in Alice in Wonderland, he can't stop saying, "And the moral of that is..."

And it occurred to me, how is that different from the writings of the postmodernists, in most any discipline? For them as well, facts are irrelevant. The point is the narrative. Since truth (they believe) is relative, whatever you say is true, provided it promotes your personal truth.

The only difference is the goal. The old moralist sought to serve an absolute morality.

The new moralist seeks to serve his own private vision, which for him overrides all other considerations.

But in their methods they are identical.

The Secrets of the Immortal So-and-So

Kevin Holtsberry loves "The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel." He reviews the latest novel in this series here. He explains:

This is one of those series where the books are not stand alone reads. Each book is more like an episode than a stand alone novel. Once you start you have to keep reading; both to find out what happens but also to explore the world and the mythological characters Scott develops and introduces.

Flash Fiction: Hard Work Night

2:28The bells do not toll but clatterknell from the nightstand, clanging into the dusk’s waning light with the chirigrate of hammering steel. His veined eyes, sunk deeply in his ashen face, crack open. Another graveyard shift ahead, settling dozens of overdue accounts—kill that racket!

He drops his feet to the floor. What if he doesn’t go in tonight? He could take vacation. Who would care? Would the world stop spinning?

The dog whimpers at the door.

No. Duty summons.

Death, the Grim Usher, stumbles out of bed, hoping the coffee maker isn’t burned out again, Cerberus licking his heels.

Frankenstein: The Dead Town, by Dean Koontz

“The pages [of the original Frankenstein] reek with your bottomless self-pity so poorly disguised as regret, with the phoniness of your verbose self-condemnation, with the insidious quality of your contrition, which is that of a materialist who cares not for God and is therefore not true contrition at all, but only despair at the consequences of your actions. For centuries, I have been the monster, and you the well-meaning idealist who claims he would have undone what he did if only given the chance. But your kind never undoes. You do the same wrong over and over, with ever greater fervency, causing ever more misery, because you are incapable of admitting error.”

“I've made no error,” Victor Immaculate confidently assures him, “and neither did your maker.”

Looming, the giant says, “You are my maker.”

Thus Frankenstein's monster, now known as Deucalion, purified by suffering and made truly human, addresses Dr. Frankenstein, so corrupted by power and pride that he has ceased to be human at all, in Frankenstein: The Dead Town, the dramatic climax to Dean Koontz' five-book deconstruction of Mary Shelley's original narrative.

It should be clear to all regular readers that I'm pretty much in the bag for Dean Koontz. Not the greatest prose stylist around, he is nevertheless one of the few authors whose writing has gotten constantly better since he became a publishing superstar. He creates amusing and engaging characters who know how to talk to each other, and keeps them in escalating peril, mesmerizing the reader. He's optimistic without being sappy, and can deal with tragedy without inducing despair.

In this book, all the main characters who first met in New Orleans, the detective couple Carson and Michael, the genetically-engineered Bride of Frankenstein, Erika, along with her adopted child, the troll-like Jocko, Deucalion the monster, and Victor Frankenstein (or rather his clone) all come to a final showdown in the town of Rainbow Falls, Montana. At the end of the previous installment, an army of Victor's genetically engineered killers had cut the town off and begun murdering and “reprocessing” the inhabitants, as the start to a program to destroy all life on earth (Victor judges it messy and inefficient). Humanity's only hope is Deucalion, who was endowed at his creation with powers over physical space. But he needs his human (and somewhat human) friends to help him. Victor Frankenstein has also failed to anticipate the difficulties involved in overcoming a population of God-fearing, gun-owning American westerners. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Philip Roth Gives Up on Fiction

Author Philip Roth received the Man Booker International Award for Fiction today. The Financial Times of the United Kingdom reports Roth has won every important American fiction award during his 50-year career.

Now, he tells the Times he has "wised up" and stopped reading fiction. No further explanation.

Of speeches, Swedes, and sound mixing

I thought it a nuisance that I'd had a fairly energetic (by my standards) weekend planned, not after, but just before, the day of my liberation from my hand splint. It was irritating in the sense that I kept thinking how much easier all of this would have been if delayed a day or two. But I also thought there was some benefit in spending the last two days of bondage busy, rather than sitting around wishing the time away.

(The splint is gone now, by the way. Free at last! Oh the joy of having ten (OK, nine—one needs a little work) fingers to use again!)

Saturday I did a lecture for a Sons of Norway lodge in Minneapolis. They were an excellent, attentive audience, they paid me a nice honorarium, and they bought books way out of proportion to their numbers. That's pretty much my definition of a good lecture day.

Sunday was Svenskarnasdag (Swedish Day) at Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis. I brought the minimum of my equipment, and sat trying to sell books all day, letting others (mostly younger) do the fighting. Which is probably as it should be. The weather was iffy and the crowds thin, but I got my RDA of Vitamin D from the sunshine that came and went.

A friend who owns a big, powerful PC let me load up my book trailer movie project on his machine. It was exhilarating to finally run it in on something that could handle the file sizes, rather than my laptop. On the downside, better equipment made several problems apparent. My big challenge is sound. I'm fairly certain I should have done the project in some other program than Windows Live Movie Maker (even the old Windows Movie Maker), because I could really use some functionalities this stripped down software lacks. I'm reluctant to start from scratch again, though.

I think I could fix it up with recordings and overdubs. But that's a further problem. Using the mike I've got, I have to be right on top of it to get a decent sound level, and that generates popping and wind noise.

Anybody know any cheap cheats for making a filter at home? I'm really not able to spring for a professional microphone at this point in my career.

Ten Myths About Introverts

We know you're fascinated with introverts, the quiet, cool individuals who rarely speak but to criticism your latest idea. Here are ten myths about them. (via Trevin Wax)

Wedding-related post

A little late in the day (it's almost tomorrow in Norway as I write), but today is Sissel Kyrkjebø's birthday. Here she is doing a modern arrangement of a Norwegian bridal march. I think you'll understand the words. I heard her do the same number the first time I saw her in concert in Minot (pray for Minot!). Her hair was about the same length then, the longest it's been since the early '90s, so this must have been broadcast around the same time.

At the Witherspoon Institute's Public Discourse site, an outstanding article by Anthony Esolen on the importance of marriage, and the poverty of the sexual revolution.

Have a good weekend. My splint comes off Monday morning!

Pre-Apocolypse Ghost Towns

China apparently has many shiny new vacant houses. No buyers, just houses, apartments, skyscapers, and empty parks.

Great Ways to Fail

Five Ways to Fail at Design, from Harvard Business Review's Failure Issue.

On suspense

The May/June issue of Writer's Digest Magazine includes an article on “How To Build Suspense With Backstory,” by Romance writer Leigh Michaels. I liked this bit:

The suspense we're discussing here doesn't necessarily involve the characters being in peril; it's created whenever there's something the reader wants to know. Will Joe kiss Brenda? Will Sally give in to Brad's demand that she work for him? Will Jared answer Katherine's question or dodge it?

Whenever you cause readers to be curious about what comes next, you're creating suspense. Suspense rises naturally from good writing—it's not a spice to be added separately.

Plagiarism: "A Major Academic Mistake"

A local Christian college president has resigned after news that he plagiarized a chapter of his book. The Board of Directors did not ask him to step down. He took that on himself. Perhaps it's an honorable move, but his explanation leaves me with doubt. He said he did not understand copyright laws at the time, and that it was "a major academic mistake." The minister whose work was copied is quoted saying, "He told me that he had read my book in college, liked it, and was under the impression that I had passed away or that it was no longer in print when he used it."

The former president said he tried to give proper credit to the minister in most recent editions by adding the minister's photo and contact information to the front of the book. "There was not a cover up," he said, "and I was planning on re-writing that section of the book anyway."

How does any of this justify taking someone else's published words as your own?

The Garrison Dam is in ND. Must be some kind of connection...

I've used the picture above before in this space. It's me at Høstfest in Minot, North Dakota, a couple years back. If I read the news correctly, the spot where I'm sitting in this photo may be now, and almost certainly soon will be, under water.

I'm praying for the people of Minot, and solicit your prayers as well.

My friend Darwin Garrison has published a couple story-length e-books for Kindle, which you can download here for a buck. Skipping Stones is a science fiction tale of love, cyborgs, and rocket racing. Black Feather, Bright Heart is a fantasy about a woman with strange powers, fighting to protect a peaceful village.

They are stories with engaging plots and interesting characters. Darwin hasn't perfected his full wordsmithing skills yet (at one point he slips on the old “flaunt vs. flout” banana peel), but the stories are definitely worth reading. Darwin is a Christian, but wisely leaves his theology implicit.

The Curious Poem of Rose Poe

The New Criterion published George Green's poem, "Rose Poe." I'm not sure what to make of it. It's a vignette perhaps. Here's the open:

Rose Poe was homeless after Richmond fell,
abandoned by the millionaire MacKenzies,
whose ward she’d been for over fifty years.
She spent her days down at the railroad depot
trying to sell some faded photographs
of her unhappy brother, Edgar Allan,
now long deceased, the author of “The Raven.”

Ray Bradbury on His Perspective and Critics

From The Paris Review interview last year with author Ray Bradbury:

Q: There was a time, though, wasn’t there, when you wanted recognition across the board from critics and intellectuals?

BRADBURY: Of course. But not anymore. If I’d found out that Norman Mailer liked me, I’d have killed myself. I think he was too hung up. I’m glad Kurt Vonnegut didn’t like me either. He had problems, terrible problems. He couldn’t see the world the way I see it. I suppose I’m too much Pollyanna, he was too much Cassandra. Actually I prefer to see myself as the Janus, the two-faced god who is half Pollyanna and half Cassandra, warning of the future and perhaps living too much in the past—a combination of both. But I don’t think I’m too overoptimistic. ... It’s the terrible creative negativism, admired by New York critics, that caused [Vonnegut's] celebrity. New Yorkers love to dupe themselves, as well as doom themselves. I haven’t had to live like that. I’m a California boy. I don’t tell anyone how to write and no one tells me.

Two Years Before the Mast, by Richard Henry Dana

I wouldn't call it a suspenseful book. And yet Two Years Before the Mast kept me in suspense. I wouldn't call it a book that's hard to put down, and yet I read it in great chunks, reluctant to stop.

It's an old book, and it's written in the manner of an old book. And yet this reader felt the living presence of an intelligent, brave-hearted and sympathetic narrator at his elbow, one he is glad to have become acquainted with.

In 1834, Richard Henry Dana was a Harvard undergraduate. Stricken with the measles, he recovered with his sight damaged, unable to read much. He chose a radical form of therapy.

...a two or three year voyage, which I had undertaken from a determination to cure, if possible, by an entire change of life, and by a long absence from books and study, a weakness of the eyes, which had obliged me to give up my pursuits, and which no medical aid seemed likely to cure.

This was no pleasure cruise. “Before the mast” is a nautical term meaning the forecastle area, the place where common seamen bunked, where officers went seldom, and the captain almost never. Life before the mast meant constant labor, little sleep, unvaried food, and much danger. One crew member is lost overboard before the brig “Pilgrim” has rounded Cape Horn. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Vote for Top 100 SF/F Novels

NPR is calling for your five favorite Sci-Fi/Fantasy novels so they can make up a top 100 list. Note the rules before you sign in.


Alex Mann submits a kind of college graduation short story, "Tuesday," for our review. It leans on music to sort through the narrator's emotions. Feel free to comment on it here.

Walker goes to church. Nation reels.

I went to church Sunday, for the first time in about a month. I've been out of town, for various reasons, several weekends in a row.

Frankly, I'd have been inclined to skip it, if I didn't have absences to make up. I prefer to skip Mother's Day and Father's Day in church, for personal reasons. Please understand that I don't object to the honoring of parents, just because I myself chose my mother poorly, and have not achieved fatherhood. Heaven preserve me from the kind of people who run around being all outraged all the time, because everything doesn't include them.

But I prefer to let other people alone in their observances. I'd rather stay home in the bosom of my own bosom.

(Also, I think it would have been nice if Trinity Sunday had gotten at least equal billing. Just sayin'.)

But I went, and it was as uncomfortable as I feared. All the men were given numbered tickets as they came in, and then at a point in the service we were all asked to come forward. It wasn't just fathers, but all men, so it was inclusive and all that. I stayed in my seat anyway, because I didn't want to presume to patriarch status, whatever they said.

After congratulations and a prayer, they drew two ticket numbers and announced the winners of the Father's Day drawing. I think the prizes were restaurant gift certificates.

In the cases of both winners, though, the claims came, not from the men up front, but from their wives back in the pews. Both winners had given the tickets to their wives to hold.

I think there's some kind of profound lesson, or caution, there.

Don't know what it is, though.


The Breaking by Loren Eaton

Our friend Loren Eaton has a short story in the latest issue of Port Iris.

In "The Breaking," a cripple named Moses struggles to beat back ever-encroaching growths named krim as they slowly advance upon his rag-tag village. For help with the work he has only an orphan, a ditchdigger's son and the indolent child of a wealthy trader. Blasted and apparently barren, the krim look like dead, weather-beaten bushes. Yet they continue to spread, inexorable and merciless, and no one in the village heeds Moses' warning of a flame that will soon sweep through them, devouring as it goes. ...

Not exactly the code of the West

I made a discovery lately, while in my Wild West mood, that clears up a mystery that's bothered me, off and on, for most of my life.

My maternal grandfather had a few shelves of books in his home. One which I read with interest, and took as my own after his death, was the extravagantly titled tome, Capt. W. F. Drannan, Chief of Scouts, As Pilot to Emigrant and Government Trains, Across the Plains of the Wild West of Fifty Years Ago (As Told By Himself, As a Sequel To His Famous Book, “Thirty-One Years On the Plains and In the Mountains”). Published in 1910.

The frontispiece is a studio portrait of the old scout:

The book tells of the narrator's adventures, first as a young protege of Kit Carson, then as a wagon train scout, and also as an Army scout fighting Indians. It's an interesting book in the old style, with similar pleasures and difficulties as the Buffalo Bill memoir I reviewed the other day.

The books seem to have been fairly popular in their time. A source I'll link to further along quotes a letter to H. P. Lovecraft by Robert E. Howard, who'd seen Drannan in a Texas town as a boy:

...wandering about the streets of Mineral Wells … trying to sell the pitiful, illiterate book of his life of magnificent adventure and high courage; a little, worn old man in the stained and faded buckskins of a vanished age, friendless and penniless.... what a lousy end for a man whose faded blue eyes had once looked on the awesome panorama of untracked prairie and sky-etched mountain, who had ridden at the side of Kit Carson, guided the waggon-trains across the deserts to California, drunk and revelled in the camps of the buffalo-hunters, and fought hand to hand with painted Sioux and wild Comanche.

Over the years, as I've read this and that about the West, I've looked for other mentions of Col. William F. Drannan.

To my puzzlement, there was never one. Not one. I think I recall a passing reference in an article in a Western history magazine, but nothing, ever, in a book.

I began to smell a rat. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Left Turn and Stomp On the Gas

"The liberal bias of the mainstream media tilts so far left that any outlets not in that political lane, like the Drudge Report and Fox News Channel, look far more conservative than they really are, according to a UCLA professor's new book out next month." writes Paul Bedard in a review of Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind

Do They Have Crime in Ireland?

John Connolly talks about Irish readers' lack of interest in crime novels. He says the Irish naturally clash with systemic qualities of crime fiction, such as urban life and respect for police. An Irish inferiority complex may come into play too.

After all, crime fiction is less about the world as it is than the world as it should be. As William Gaddis wrote in his novel JR (1976): “Justice? – you get justice in the next world, in this world, you have the law.”

Crime fiction refuses to accept that this should be the case, and in doing so it reflects the desire of its readers for a more just society. Even at its darkest it is, essentially, hopeful by nature.
Perhaps, for the Irish, that hope is yet to come. (via Books, Inc.)

Friday Fight: Will the Spear Prevail?

It's Friday, a good day for a fight.

Midnight Pass, by Stuart M. Kaminsky

I believe this is the last “new” Lew Fonesca book I'll be able to read, and that makes me sad. Midnight Pass isn't the last book in the series (that was Always Say Goodbye, which I've already reviewed). But it was the last one I found. Stuart M. Kaminsky's bald little hero, whose stories would never have appealed to me purely on the basis of their synopses, won me over completely. I miss all the books Kaminsky might have written if he'd lived, but I miss the Lew Fonesca stories most.

Lew Fonesca, if you're not familiar with him, is a man hiding from life. After the death of his wife he moved from Chicago to Sarasota, where he lives in a room behind his tiny office. His existence consists of delivering summonses during the day and watching old movies on his VCR at night. At least that's his plan. But life keeps intruding. People need help. He helps them. They tend to become friends. Lew's saga (I only realized it after reading this book) is the story of the gradual re-integration of a traumatized personality. These books could have been downers, but in fact they're full of hope.

In this story, Lew is hired by a minister, also a city council member, to find a fellow councilman who has disappeared and whose vote is needed to fight a development project. He also gets involved in the problems of a married couple, involving the wife running off with her husband's business partner. There's kidnapping, and shots are fired. Meanwhile, Lew keeps his appointments with his therapist, and contemplates becoming a Big Brother. In the end he solves the mysteries and averts some evil.

Reading a Lew Fonesca mystery is like spending time with the best friend you ever had. I'll miss you, Lew.

Cautions for language and violence, but nothing over the top.

Self-prescribed Tunnel Vision

Goggle Make-up TestIf we continue to watch only the titillating shows and avoid the thoughtful ones, if we get out of the house only for novelty, then eventually all of entertainment will be sequels, writes A.G. Harmon in Image Journal. "If to exercise the body we must accept discomfort, pushing beyond pain," he states, "to exercise the mind requires a related effort, an involvement that rejects the passive, formaldehyde bath of strobing visuals. A human is more than his eyes—certainly more than his ocular reflexes—and to be human means breaking free of this dangerous trap."

We could easily dismiss this if Harmon was referring only to popular entertainment, meaning that which is nationally distributed in some way. But I'm sure he is urging us to embrace our local culture by attending concerts, plays, art shows, story-tellings, jamborees and town hall meetings (touching on the civic side of public involvement). By seeking only the exciting or shocking stuff, we risk narrowing our vision, withdrawing into our inner space, and closing off most of the world. Harmon warns us against an obsession with personal comfort.

Ulysses Among the Dead

Since this is Bloomsday for some, let me direct your attention to an old post on Scott Huler’s book, No-Man's Lands: One Man's Odyssey Through The Odyssey. This is Huler's memoir/travelogue on his adventure following the path of Odysseus in Homer's epic. At one point, the hero reports, "I had no choice but to come down to Hades and consult the soul of Theban Teiresias." Huler didn't want to attempt a trip to the underworld, so he opted for the Capuchin cemetery within the Church of the Immaculate Conception (Chiesa di Santa Maria della Concezione). Read his description here.

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