Thursday, June 23, 2011

Orson Scott Card: The Call of Earth

Orson Scott Card is one of the premier authors working in modern science fiction, largely thanks to the classic Ender's Game. He is less well known for his advocacy for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints -- that is, Mormonism. This advocacy is especially on display in the Homecoming Saga, which is a relatively direct re-imagining of the Book of Mormon in a futuristic science-fiction setting.

The first volume in the series, The Memory of Earth, set up the setting and the primary storyline. The family of Volemak the Wetchik has been called by the Oversoul out of Basilica, but now they must wait on the outskirts of town for the rest of their party. Basilica itself is convulsing in internecine political conflicts, as the faction led by Rashgallivak threatens to overthrow the matriarchal City Council. Another storyline, from a different hemisphere of planet Harmony, concerns Vozmushalnoy Vozmoshno (called Moozh), a general of Gorayni who hates the Oversoul and seeks to conquer Basilica.

Over the course of the novel, the Oversoul's party gradually comes together. The sisters Sevet and Kokor get into a squabble over their unfaithful husbands. On the happier end of the spectrum, Nafai and the waterseer Luet fall in love and marry in a brief ceremony, alongside Elemak, Eiadh, Mebbekew and Dol. Her sister Hushidh realizes that the Oversoul has called her to marry Nafai's brother Issib, though her fate takes a brief detour via a forced marragie to Moozh.

The characterization and interactions are par excellence, as may be expected from Orson Scott Card. This is especially the case in the scenes involving Moozh, who maneuvers himself into a position of authority over Basilica underneath the nose of his own leader, the Imperator. However, this book contains surprisingly little movement in the main overarching storyline. Many of the characters receive recurring dreams of "angels" and "diggers," which set the scene for the conclusion of the series and introduce the Keeper of Earth as an actor distinct from the Oversoul. Yet for a series adapting Mormon 'Scriptures,' this particular novel contains precious few parallels to the Book of Mormon.

On the whole, this novel is an impressive instance of Orson Scott Card's skills as a world-builder. Though it fails to advance the overarching story any further than bringing the necessary characters together for the rest of the series, this book remains a highly enjoyable self-standing work as well as an installment in the Homecoming series.

To purchase, check out
The Call of Earth

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Michael Flynn: Eifelheim

If any of my readers are considering a career as an Internet troll, they should first familiarize themselves with the rules and regulations. That's right: as in any respectable profession, there are standards and practices to trolling through forums and comment threads. The first rule of trolling is this: if at any moment you find yourself sparring with a man called "Ye Olde Statistician," run. Flee the scene and burn your bridges. You are profoundly outmatched.

Imagine if Bruce Wayne's alter-ego (for those of you who sprang from the womb as fully grown adults, that would be Batman) had an alter-ego of its own, even more shadowy and lethal. Meet Michael Flynn: statistician by day, well-regarded science-fiction author by night, and veteran troll-hunter in the twilight hours. I first encountered "Ye Olde Statistician" deploying his arsenal of historical, scientific, and philosophical knowledge against a horde of angry trolls on a theology blog. I decided to look for more of his posts online, and that's when I discovered he was a published author.

"Eifelheim" was first published in 1987 as a novella, focusing on a pair of scientists who discover the startling truth about the medieval German village called Eifelheim, which had mysteriously disappeared at some point in the late fourteenth century. From this beginning came the novel, published in 2006. In addition to the original scenes set in the present day, Flynn wrote a parallel narrative set in medieval Eifelheim itself. It is in these sections that we find the meat of the story, and Flynn's masterful command of medieval history.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Twelve Reasons Why 2012 Will Be an Awesome Year for Movies

Article first published as Twelve Reasons Why 2012 Will Be an Awesome Year for Movies on Blogcritics.

2012 will be an awesome year in movies. I'm not sure everyone realizes just how incredible it will be. When I first started tracking cinema news, I noticed a trend almost from the start: virtually every long-term project that attracted my attention had a release date scheduled for sometime in 2012. As time went, some of these were delayed and others were fast-tracked, but 2012 is still shaping up to be one of the greatest years for movies in my lifetime. Here's why.

1: John Carter of Mars.

The Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs is one of the seminal works in science-fiction writing of the 20th century. Released between 1912 and 1943, its depiction of Mars as a frontier land comparable to the early American West served an inspiration for Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert A. Heinlein, not to mention James Cameron (Avatar) and George Lucas (Star Wars).

Now, for the first time, the books are being adapted to screen, by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton (A Bug's Life, Finding Nemo, WALL-E). Stanton is a master storyteller, and this film could be one of the defining science-fiction films of the next decade. John Carter is scheduled for a March 9, 2012 release.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Some Like It Hot (1959)

**Article first published as Movie Review: Some Like It Hot (1959) on Blogcritics.**

"Well, nobody's perfect."

If you've seen this film, you will instantly recognize the line I'm quoting. It's one of the most famous lines in cinema history, up there with "May the Force be with you" and "You had me at 'hello'." If you don't know this film, I won't spoil the joke, but you should stop reading this review now. You need to see this movie. In 2000, "Some Like It Hot" was rated by the American Film Institute as being the funniest American comedy of all time. It doesn't disappoint.

The first scene offers an unusual spectacle: a full squadron of police cars, sirens wailing, in hot pursuit of a hearse. We soon realize that "Some Like It Hot" is set in Prohibition-era Chicago, and that the local gangs have been using funeral homes as cover for loud and raucous night-clubs. The film quickly introduces us to the main characters, Joe and Jerry, two musicians who lose their jobs, lose their money, and nearly lose their lives in rapid succession. After inadvertently witnessing the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre, the two musicians are forced to flee the city and cover their tracks. Joe and Jerry become Josephine and Daphne, and join an all-girl's band en route to a Florida resort. This is where the comedy kicks it up a few notches.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Jay Richards: Money, Greed, and God

When I was fourteen, I was hired as an intern at for a public-policy think-tank based in Seattle. I was encouraged by my supervisor to pursue policy-related work, particularly in my area of expertise: economics. This is how I eventually came to work as an assistant for Dr. Jay Richards, one of the Vice Presidents, who was looking to develop an accessible book on economics.

"Money, Greed, and God" was first developed as an autobiography. Dr. Richards originally intended to cover the course of his life and how his thinking on economics developed from a youthful Christian Marxism to a more mature pro-market paradigm. This kind of content is retained in many of the chapters, but the overarching framework (the organizing principle) of the book is slightly different. Dr. Richards organizes the material around eight myths that Christians believe about capitalism and the market system. They are, in order:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Orson Scott Card: The Memory of Earth

In my opinion, Orson Scott Card is one of the best storytellers of modern times. He conveys the motivations of characters, even villains, in such a convincing way that readers are able to immerse themselves fully in the dynamics of the narrative. He is also a singularly impressive world-builder, drawing us in to new worlds and universes through his story-telling. This was the case with Ender's Game, with Seventh Son, with Pathfinder and The Lost Gate. It was also the case with The Memory of Earth, which introduces the Homecoming series.

I read all five of the Homecoming books and enjoyed every one of them. Afterwards, when I went to prepare these reviews through a bit of research, I was stunned to discover that the entire series is a thinly veiled adaptation of the Book of Mormon: a family called by God to travel from Jerusalem to the "promised land" of America. Joseph Smith may have been a false prophet extraordinaire, but he was evidently a singularly impressive story-teller (that or he simply benefited from the proximity to Card's genius). While the original setting of Homecoming, the city of Basilica on the world of Harmony, is officially a Slavic matriarchy, the feel of the place remains pretty clearly Aramaic in nature, so even such atmospheric details are preserved. More notably, many of the events are the same, and even the names are retained in something like their original form. Where events or names are parallel, I will insert the equivalent from the Book of Mormon in parentheses.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Eusebius: The Church History

Quite simply, Eusebius of Caesarea is the Father of Church History. With the obvious exception of Luke, who gave us the book of Acts, Eusebius was the first person to construct a history of the early Christian church. Though there are rough patches and legitimate criticisms to be made, Eusbeius' work is an almost unprecedented boon to modern historians.

Eusebius' method was far removed from modern historiography. Eusebius did not attempt to reconstruct history from statistical data or from interpolating between multiple competing authorities. He did not have the luxury of either option. Rather, his method was to collate any and all texts from earlier authors, and present them in a largely uncritical and unedited fashion. His ten volumes of ecclesiastical history are thus a treasure-trove of primary-source documentation, many of which would have been lost forever to the dark reaches of antiquity if not for their inclusion by Eusebius.

Modern critics often cite Eusebius for a lack of objective historiography, but they forget that such a standard is quintessentially modern, unrelated to the classical discipline of writing history. Eusebius' goal, informed by the classical tradition of rhetoric, is to educate and persuade. Thus, much of his History is informed by explicitly theological content.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Rodney Stark: Cities of God

Mostly on a whim, I picked out another of his books, "Cities of God," on the urbanization of the early Christian church. The subtitle of the book reads: "The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome." I'm guessing Stark wasn't responsible for the subtitle, because his thesis is 1) Christianity began as an urban movement, and 2) Christianity didn't conquer anything.

Rodney Stark is a professor of Baylor University who specializes in the history and sociology of religion. He is best known as the author of "The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success," which is an unabashed defense of the Middle Ages as an deeply rational era. In "Cities of God," he tackles the question of Christianity's early spread, grounded in a statistical-sociological perspective.

Friday, May 13, 2011

I Confess (1953)


"I Confess" is widely regarded as a mediocre entry in the Hitchcock canon. Certainly, in terms of the artistry and technical ingenuity, this film cannot compare to the greatest of Alfred Hitchcock's oeuvre. Even so, the film wrestles with issues of truth, morality, honor and the Catholic practice of faith in an almost unprecedented manner. "I Confess" may be my favorite out of all the films of Hitchcock.

The premise is simple enough: a man is murdered and a priest hears the murderer's confession. Under Catholic canon law, a priest is barred from revealing any information disclosed under the seal of confession. To my knowledge, this prohibition covers all confessions, even those that involve a crime... and even if the priest himself is suspected for that crime.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Thor (2011)

Ye gods.  Now that was a popcorn movie.  "Thor" is not a ground-breaking film: it is neither at the vanguard nor the pinnacle of a cinematic genre. It is exactly what it set out to be: an origin story for a superhero, a bridge between the science-fiction and the fantasy elements of the Marvel universe, and a film-length teaser for the coming 2012 blockbuster "The Avengers." Above all, it is an exceptionally entertaining example of sheer spectacle.

Rated PG-13 for stylized violence. This may be the mildest PG-13 I've ever seen.
"Thor" begins with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a film-scientist with a specialization in atmospheric astrophysics. Please, don't ask. Along with her hapless political-science intern Darcy (Kat Dennings) and her bemused mentor Eric Selvig (Stellan SkarsgÄrd), Jane is in hot pursuit of an Einsten-Rosen Tornado, because apparently wormholes look like giant wind funnels. When they finally see one developing, they drive straight into the cloud and nearly run over a man.