Book Review: Forebidden Thoughts

Short & sweet: I liked Forbidden Thoughts, but I wanted to like it a lot more. Many of the stories are good, a couple are excellent, but a couple are over-the-top satire that doesn’t quite work, and a number of non-fictions essays didn’t work for me at all, but instead made me wonder: why are these here? What purpose do they serve? But, that said, there are a couple stores which alone are worth price. 4 out of 5 stars – go buy this!

I sincerely hope the collaborators try again, with better focus, sticking to stories that are more subtle. That could be a really good 5-star book. My fear is that this book just preaches to the choir. If I weren’t familiar with the works of many of the authors already, I might have given up early on. But I am glad I persevered, as there are at least 10 or 12 very worthwhile stories in there. Less would have been more, and also more likely to appeal to less-involved readers.

Forbidden Thoughts by [Yiannopoulos, Milo, Kratman, Tom, Cole, Nick, Correia, Larry, Torgersen, Brad R., Wright, John C., Day, Vox, Lamplighter, L. Jagi, Hoyt, Sarah A., Niemeier, Brian, Freeman, A.M. , Oxide, Chrome, Shumak, E.J. , Blank, Ray , Ward, Matthew , Young, Joshua M. , Hallquist, David , Oka, Pierce , Lebak, Jane , Zwycky, Ben]Now to the details: this collection is what you’d think it is, based on a quick glance at the contributors: an attack on PC limitations to storytelling. But rather than the pure attack – writing fun stories where men are men, women are women, bad guys are not merely misunderstood but rather, you know, bad and a hero can love God and country without having to explain it or come to a ironic and terrible end – the collection includes a lot of over-the-top attempts at satire or sarcasm which, frankly, don’t work.

If a reader is looking for good stories and lacks patience, he might not make it past the first third of the book. The forward by the head-detonating Milo Yiannopoulos is too long and only occasionally amusing – at half its length, just keeping the good parts, it could have been good. As it is, you find yourself shouting with the off-stage audience in Holy Grail – get on with it!

Next comes a suitable very short poem, and then finally the first story: in “Safe Space Suit” Nick Cole wonders what happens when affirmative action gets off-leash in a space program. He does a pretty good job – upon skimming through it for this review, it was, frankly, better than I remembered upon first reading. But it’s heavy-handed, even if not as heavy handed as it could have been or as, indeed, many of the later stories are. Given all the over the top inside-baseball stuff – the characters tend to be named after well-known puppy kickers – getting any real subtlety going is not likely even if the author wanted to. I’m not rushing out recommending it to all my friends, but not bad.

“Auto America” by E.J. Shumak is a forgettable trifle, which brings us back to the whole editorial criticism: why is this here? Nothing exactly wrong with it, but what exactly is right with it? How does it make the book better? More fundamentally, 4 items into the book and I’m still waiting for that ‘Ah! That’s what I’m talking about!” moment. In fact, I’m almost to the ‘keep reading out of duty’ point.

“A Place for Everyone” by Ray Blank fended off that point a bit by being slyly funny, if still, like everything so far, rather broad in its treatment of the ridiculousness of PC themes. What happens if everybody’s jobs are selected by machines designed to keep everything as balanced-by-quota as possible, including all flavors of self-determined identity? What if you needed hi-tech help just to keep who is what straight? What if the woman you love is assigned a job half way around the world from the one you’re assigned to? Throw in some typical bureaucratic shenanigans, and things get thick.

At this point, I’m wondering: is it just not possible to think forbidden thoughts without more-or-less heavy-handed bashing of PC nonsense? “The Code”, by Matthew Ward, while well-written, hews pretty much to the trend set so far. What if this nonsense about permissions and rape culture evolves into a Code of behavior, where one’s only hope of avoiding ruin is to follow Miranda-rights like legal formulas for permission to touch or kiss anyone?  Would women play this system to the hilt, just to ruin some schmuck?

If I had to rate it at this point, I’m thinking that the collection is kind of OK – a 2.5 star-effort. Nothing has grabbed me yet, no ‘wow’ moments, and I’m almost 1/2 through. If I weren’t a fan of many of the writers, I might have stopped here.

Finally, Joshua M. Young’s “The Secret History of the World Gone By” is a satisfying story with an actual sci-fi premise executed with some verve. We have a bit of the noble savage straightens out a technological world run off the rails thing going, but with enough twists and character development to keep the pages turning. It’s also the first story to have a Superversive-style happy ending. A very good story.

“The Social Construct” by David Hallquist brings the tone right back down again, with a short tale about a couple whose desire for the perfect child cannot, ultimately, be met by the real child (or any child, really) they actually get, even though it is built to their  ever-changing spec. It is well-written and short, which, given its dark tone, is not a bad thing.

Now we come to yet another odd editorial decision: the next story, “At the Edge of Detachment” by A. M. Freeman, deals with fundamentally the same issues – what happens when the idea that children exist solely to satisfy their parent’s desires, and the more sci-fi issue of what ultimately makes something human. While both stories tell of the same tension – what if the child fails to please? – Freeman’s story is told from the perspective of the child, which gives it much more power. Nothing is wrong about either story, but putting both in the same anthology, let alone back to back, is just odd – what is the point? If I had to choose, I’d pick Freeman’s as the stronger story because of the more developed characters and drama. Both are very sad and definitely Forbidden Thoughts.

So now, more than halfway through the book, we’ve gotten a few stories that begin to fulfill expectations. If the anthology had led with either Freeman’s or Young’s story, we’d at least know that we’re getting what we’re promised – Forbidden Thought – rather than mere broad mockery of PC pieties. I like seeing PC pieties mocked as much as the next red-blooded American,  but such mockery is best delivered in quips and maybe cartoons – it takes quite good chops to spin it out into a longer story. But hey, we’re on a bit of a roll.

The next two pieces are completely gratuitous, and fell flat with a splat.  Sure, maybe somebody buys a book called Forbidden Thoughts hoping to catch up on “A History of the Sad Puppies.” But why? I’d hoped we’d all just decided to ditch the Hugo crowd and just write good stuff – at least, that’s what I was hoping for. Instead, we get here a recap, followed by a truly awful spoof of If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love, which perhaps would have been tolerable (I doubt it) if not for there being at least 2 much better ones I’d already read.  So, here, again, I’m starting to wonder what the point of this anthology is? Don’t we readers want to win by just having better stuff to read?(1)

“Imagine”, by Pierce Oka, gets big points for mocking the lame song by the same title. Then, he quickly whips up, in outline, several interesting characters – while there’s no place in a story this short for any kind of in-depth development, the two cops, the two young women and the sister and the monk are human beings, who behave as human beings – good writing to pull this off. And you not quite sure where the story’s going until it gets there. Forbidden Thoughts abound. So we’re back on track.

Up next, “Graduation Day”, is mockery, pure and simple. Given the topic – out of control political correctness on campus – it would be hard to go anywhere else. It’s short, which is good, but seemed like an interruption. Whatever is trying to be advanced here did not get advanced.

Fortunately, we quickly get back on track. Next come two longer stories by two very good writers, who also manage to treat some forbidden thought in interesting Sci-fi ways. Brad R. Torgensen’s “Hymns of the Mothers” answers the question: what if some of the more radical feminists got what they wanted – a world run by them, with men doing exactly as told? But instead of satire or mockery, he functionally imagines and fleshes out such a world and how it might look to a young girl growing up in it.  It’s a very good story, with good character development and twists a-plenty

Next comes John C. Wright’s “By His Cockle Hat and Staff”, which – no surprise – takes a bunch of Sci-fi ideas and rolls them out in a different, unexpected way. This is Wright’s M.O. more often than not. Here, he imagines a PC Hell, then imagines it as one of many parallel worlds. A nice twist: the PC world views it as their duty to enlighten all the less PC (and therefore much happier!) worlds via a technology that allows people to move into – possess –  the alternate version of themselves in those parallel worlds. It’s a love story of sorts, with a pretty cool twist ending. Not up to the highest Wright standards (which are ridiculously high, after all) but a solid read.

At this point, taking these two stories plus the best 3-4 earlier stories, we’ve got enough reason to buy and read this book. We’d have more reason, and, more importantly, more hope for future anthologies, if the other materials had simply been omitted.

Tom Kratman’s “The Rules of Racism” are trenchant, sometimes amusing – and superfluous.

The last 5 stories are good-to-great, which means we could have had an anthology with 10 to 12 good to great stories in it. It would have been shorter – and much better. Here’s hoping there’s a sequel, and that it sticks to a dozen or so better stories.

Each of the last 5 stories is written by a pro with some serious writing chops, so it’s not surprising they’re good.

“World Ablaze” by Jane Lebak is the story of an undercover nun and a possible stool pigeon told with obvious reference to how people really deal with oppressive governments. Its forbidden though might be summed up as: your most demonized opponent just might be a saint. Good characters, nice twist, well written.

“Amazon Gambit” by Vox Day does what many of the earlier stories fail to do: create a gritty, believable world and situation from which the mockery of PC stupidity arises organically. Told backwards, the story would merely be satire; as it is, it’s a pretty good story in itself, which both is more pleasing and packs more punch.

Next up is my current favorite from this book: Brian Niemeier’s “Elegy for the Locust”. Set in his Netherial Universe, it is the story of a man who feels life has dealt him a bum hand and is consuming himself with thoughts of revenge. He want everything his master has. He must become his master! When the opportunity to do so arises, things don’t go exactly as he planned. The Forbidden Thoughts are here portrayed subtly and artfully, and the suspense is maintained until the end. I’m sure the author would be happy to know “Elegy” reminded me of Lovecraft.

“Test of the Prophet” by L. Jagi Lamplighter takes another Forbidden Thought – that some religions might be better than others – and spins it out with remarkably good characters for a short story. You actually care about them! Imagine! The ending goes from totally mundane to apocalyptically surreal in a couple pages without losing the reader – very good writing. As a bonus, I suppose, the story contains the only mention in a SFF story I’ve ever come across of Mary Baker Eddy.  (It works, more or less.)

“Flight to Egypt” by Sarah A Hoyt is a story of forbidden love – forbidden by racial prejudice hiding behind genetic testing for criminal intent. Seems a male black child in the womb is just too big a risk. I loved how the lovers are very different in experience and culture (and race!), but rather than being a barrier, these differences actually increase their interest in each other – you know, like how it often works in the real world, but never works in theory, where nobody can ever understand or identify with a character who doesn’t look and think exactly like them!  Good place to end the anthology.

  1. In an odd way, this brings to mind how, in Catholic circles, there are always some (usually older) people who just cannot let Vatican II go – even though, for just about everyone younger than 50, it’s just ancient history, and the battles described are not their battles. Ends up taking the wind out of the sails of people genuinely interested in the Church. Anyway, how about we (people who’d like to see better sci-fi) not do that?

 

Update, Upcoming Book Reviews

Home from work today with a Martian Death Cold or something. If my head clears up enough to think for a while, plan to finally review a book or two – Forbidden Thoughts, maybe Souldancer (although I should really reread that last one). Also got the rest of the Moth & Cobweb series out so far, as well as the Rachel Griffin books. Need to find that sweet spot between too sick to go to work (man, we modern sissies!) yet clear-headed enough to write reviews. And let’s not talk about the education history stuff, OK?

Speaking of education history, never finished Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed  because AAAGH! MY EYES! I mean, because it follows a traditional Marxist analysis while at the same time remaining abstract to the point of meaninglessness – but I repeat myself – and my stomach for such nonsense is not as sturdy as it might be. Am trying to plow through now.

Image result for dolly parton body
“It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” – Dolly Parton (1)

It takes a lot of brains, sometimes, to be this stupid. Not that Freire is all that sharp – he’s learned to apply the Marxist/Hegelian template, which, if I am not mistaken, studies have shown lungfish can be trained to do.

The key is to stay way up in the clouds. Don’t drag the real world (except under the guise of ‘concrete reality’, whatever that might mean) into it until you’ve softened up the target established the intellectual underpinnings, as it were.

Here’s a more-or-less random chunk, for your edification and amusement:

While the problem of humanization has always, from an axiological point of view, been humankind’s central problem, it now takes on the character of an inescapable concern.[1] Concern for humanization leads at once to the recognition of dehumanization, not only as an ontological possibility but as an historical reality And as an individual perceives the extent of dehumanization, he or she may ask if humanization is a viable possibility. Within history in concrete, objective contexts, both humanization and dehumanization are possibilities for a person as an uncompleted being conscious of their incompletion.

It’s not so much that it is incoherent per se (by Marxist standards it’s practically Hemingway), it’s just that in education departments all over America this book is assigned to teenagers and twenty-somethings who, it can be safely assumed, have no philosophical or historical background, no practice deciphering jargon-laden pseudo-philosophy – and no instruction or background in clearing Marxist weeds so that the thoughts – when you get down to it, childish revenge fantasies packaged for people with daddy issues – can be seen for what they are.  In fact, they are encouraged to see this as the height of trenchant analysis and compassion. You know, the kind of compassion that gets 100 million defenseless people murdered.

And that, sadly, is the trick: whereas a liberal education, traditionally, was intended to provide the student with the intellectual, philosophical, logical and aesthetic background needed to do battle with these dragons of incoherence and despair, modern training (not education in any meaningful sense!) lines the kids up and marches them into the gaping maw.

They never know what hit them, and go on through life never laughing at Marx, which, in the abstract, is the correct response.

  1. Story: have a major client in Nashville, and so have taken people out to dinner quite often there in nicer restaurants. Thus, I once ate dinner inside of 10′ from Dolly Parton. Nobody bugged her – I certainly didn’t. That’s the whole thing about country: the stars remain accessible – and the fans give them a little space. Very cool.

 

Book Review: Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin (Books of Unexpected Enlightenment Book 1) by [Lamplighter, L. Jagi]To sum up: Fun read. Buy this book, read it, then give it to a young woman, for example your daughter,  in the 13 to mid-20ish range. Lovable characters, fun adventures, suitably scary villains, wild speculations about how things are not as they seem, and coming of age issues dealt with frankly yet appropriately.

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is the first book in what is intended to be a fairly extensive Unexpected Enlightenment series. Following the current practice of listing the ingredients in the stew, let’s go surreal: In a Harry Potter style universe, Narnia meets the Matrix.  No, really. The wizarding school aspect is clear on page 1, while the everything is not what it seems, in both the existence of other  worlds (Narnia) and the everything you know is a lie (Matrix) is only glimpsed and hinted at in this first volume.

As in the Potter-verse, wizards use spells to shield their activities and very existence from the mundane. In such a world, what keeps wizards from blinding each other? What keeps the most powerful from keeping the true nature of the world (or worlds, as the case may be) from those they seek to control? If so, how would a victim of such deceit become aware of it and make their way free of it? (1)  Very grown-up issues, but not told in a way too overwhelming for younger readers.

Rachel Griffin is the youngest daughter of a large, ancient and noble wizarding family. She starts life with all the advantages: loving family, wealth, connections, looks (although she’s only occasionally aware of how cute she is in a barely pubescent 13-year old girl way). Plus, she’s sharp, has a photographic memory, and is a kind and polite (civilized!) young woman. So – the anti-Harry Potter in origin. The rags to riches role is given to a couple of her friends. (2)

She’s also precocious, starting Roanoke Academy a year early. Lamplighter is first of all spinning an adventure yarn, but is also exploring how the world looks to a well-bred, well-loved young woman entering the boyfriend/girlfriend arena, what goes on both good and bad, what sort of temptations a girl her age goes through, and how good and bad choices are made. Of this, the real drama in most young girls lives is made, and what they see around them is largely horror and ruin portrayed as ‘normal’. As a father of daughters, it is heartening to see such issues treated appropriately in an engaging piece of fictions. Girls can grow into women without caving to a out of control, narcissistic world.

Don’t get the impression that the story and action suffer from too much girly digression – not so. The author does a great job of simply acknowledging what Rachel is going through and following her thought process as she ponders her relationships – one of which is the attentions of a very attractive (and very well-behaved) older boy.

But that’s getting ahead.  The adventures and mysteries start on page 1, when Rachel awakens from her first night at Roanoke Academy, and never stop. She awakens to overhear two animals – a tiny lion familiar and a huge red-eyed raven – talking about something that makes no sense to her. She then takes a broom flight around the grounds – she’s an elite flyer – and sees the statue of an angel, something she has no word to name and has never seen before in her life. She runs afoul of some crass girls, give a famous boy a ride on her broom, spots an impostor pretending to be a wizarding police officer, and helps save a girl’s life. All this before breakfast.  Action hardly lets up. And this first book only covers the first week or two of Rachel’s first year!

Rachel, tiny, young,  precocious, shy and and inexperienced, wants to make friends. She has poor luck at first, then finds Siggy, an over-the-top, dragon-owning orphan boy, and Nastasia, a prim princess, as her besties, and a circle of other remarkable friends. They are all trying, in addition to learning to be witches and wizards, to make the treacherous journey from children to adults.

In this first book, mysteries are introduced and deepened – a little – but not resolved. There are two more books out already, and many more on the way, so this is to be expected.

As a man pushing 60, I’m hardly the target audience for the Rachel books, except in the sense where good fiction should work anyway (Narnia and Have Space Suit, Will Travel are among my favorite books – because they’re great, regardless of what age the target audience was). And I never made it past about book 3 in Harry Potter – not my cup of tea. Yet, these stories work for me.

I’ve read the next two installments as well, The Raven, The Elf, and Rachel and Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamland, and found them also good and engaging, and plan to read the additional volumes as they come out. Will review as time permits. 

  1. Aside: have wondered if anyone ever asked Alinsky, who taught that believing one ought to tell the truth was a stupid bourgeois bias, that one needs to do and say whatever is required to move the revolution forward, when he was going to stop lying to them? One would have to concluded that Saul was telling his audience only whatever he thought would advance the ball, with no regard for the truth. You know? Using them as he was training them to use others. Similar issue.
  2. Now I’m really getting out there: Given the way he was raised, Harry Potter would have been much more likely to turn out as a craven weedler or even  a sociopath – a Tom Riddle – than a decent little boy – ya know? Rowlings is playing somewhat with the rough life/different outcome thing, of course, but really – 11 years of the Dursleys is not going to produce a bitter little boy? More bitter, I mean. But I digress. Rachel represents the issues facing a kid raised with love facing a world sorely lacking in love, which makes these very different stories.

Reading Update!

Reading a bunch lately, such a relief. Now that I’ve plowed through Brian Niemeier’s Souldancer (which I will need to read again in order to review it), a collection of essays by Chesterton called In Defense of Sanity (micro-review: read it. I’ve read it a couple-three times, and it just gets better.),  Jagi Lamplighter’s Rachel Griffin books and John C. Wright’s Moth and Cobweb stuff and await further installments, I have only William Brigg’s Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics  remaining on the High Guilt Book Pile (the Somewhat Lower But Still Pretty High Guilt Book Pile is still, um, large.) So… Let’s get some more books!

books

The top is a hardcover replacement for my well-thumbed and falling apart paperback – had to be done. Marrou’s take is over 60 years old, but I haven’t come across anything better. Lovely review of education in the ancient world, a key to understanding where we’ve been and thus where we’re going.

Next, had to get some dead tree versions of the Rachel Griffin books to give to my daughters for Christmas.

Finally, need to put the latest Menelaus Montrose yarn right behind Brigg’s book. What has the old – and I do mean old – coot been up to? Besides saving the world and pining for his beloved?

Also looking for a hard cover of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, as both my and my wife’s college copies are self-destructing, which, while totally and poetically appropriate, makes it hard to read them.

Oops. Made the mistake of looking through  my saved books, so also ordered

Don’t want to get too far out in front of the headlights, here, but I’m strongly suspicious that Fr. Shields is one of the great villains in the history of Catholic education in America. Like all great villains, his story is sympathetic to a large degree. But what he did – trying to provide a ‘scientific’ basis to education via the nascent pseudo-sciences of psychology – proved and continues to prove disastrous. The bishops at the time (around 1900) were dominated by men who saw the public schools as the enemies of Catholicism that they most certainly were and remain. Shields ignored them – you know, his bosses –  and published textbooks for kids and, like the one above, for teachers. He thought that the ‘scientific’ schools, with their graded classrooms, spoon-fed curricula, and make-you-stupid pedagogy then being rammed down throats all over America were OK with a little tweaking by smart guys like him. He got his ideas out and accepted by working around the bishops and pouring them into the desperate need of Catholic schools for texts.

Like I said, I don’t really know – yet. But this is all very suspicious….

And I’ve got three more books to read that represent the apex of everything I’ve come to loathe and hate. Fortunately, being possessed of a cultivated mind, I can actually suspend judgement and read to understand – a skill all but vanished from the world, even and especially among the well-schooled.  Rules for Radicals, Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and a collection of the writings of Gramsci. Good times, huh?

I also found a collection of the speeches of Mussolini. Tempting, Hammy, very tempting…

Quick Reading Update

A. Just got back from a industry conference and a pilgrimage – more on that later – which provided a bit of sitting-on-a-plane and stuck-in-a-hotel-room reading time. When reading Brian Niemeier’s books – Nethereal and Souldancer – it is *essential* that one be wide awake and paying attention. Reading either in bed as sleep stalks and takes you – not going to work. Far too much going on. BUT: reading them on the plane home, after getting 9 hours of sleep (unheard of for me) and a brief nap on the plane – well, MUCH better, much more engaging and followable. In a way, this is unfortunate, since I tend to use my small, uncertain and therefore valuable wide-awake reading time for stuff like Fichte and Hegel and education history, while fiction, mythology and short stuff like Chesterton essays get the 30-60 minutes it typically takes me to fall asleep.

B. I’ve mentioned Louis Menand’s Metaphysical Club a few times on this blog, generally very favorably.He writes elegant and pithy prose that is a joy to read. His knack for telling details and ability to draw fascinating connections that others might miss are wonderful, and led me to rethink some stuff with which I was already familiar and explore other issues of which I was not yet aware: for example, the role of Puritan Calvinists in the founding of Harvard and thereby in the fabric of American higher education; the (mis)use of statistics at the very foundations of American science; the ubiquity of Pragmatism in American thinking; and, less felicitous and perhaps not entirely intended by Menand, the prevalence and ultimate dogmatic orthodoxy of bone-headed irrationality masquerading as intellectual enlightenment. Examples of this abound. Most strikingly, those following Charles Sanders Pierce, as Menand’s examples amply illustrate, took his Pragmatic Maxims as meaning ‘the ends justify the means’ pure and simple, despite their protestations otherwise. Dewey’s defence of Trotsky (not discussed in the book, although Dewey himself gets plenty of ink) states emphatically that any appeal to conscience or ideals in determining what is ethical is delusional, that all that matters is the outcome of the actions – bring the Worker’s Paradise closer, and your actions are ethical in any meaningful sense.  Continue reading “Quick Reading Update”

Bullet Points,Stream of Consciousness Friday – You Weird, Too?

(TMI. You’ve been warned!)

Stream of consciousness:

  • Image result for weird talesDo you recall the point at which you became officially weird? That point where you realized that the rest of the world wasn’t sure what to make of you and wasn’t particularly interested in figuring it out? For me, two incidents from 5th grade made this all clear. I don’t remember the order, but, taken together, I came to realize that I really didn’t fit in. These, along with a couple other less amusing incidents, are what made me, effectively, a drop-out in spirit: my body was in the desk, but my mind was elsewhere.
  • Incident 1, circa 1968: someone had the brilliant idea to get TVs for all the classrooms at St. Mary’s of the Assumption School in Whittier. This being SoCal and all, sometimes it was so hot and smoggy that, by the afternoon, teachers and students hTaj Mahal in March 2004.jpgad had their fill. Our 5th grade teacher decided one day that enough was enough, and deployed the TV – she let us watch Jeopardy! for a half hour. So, suburban 5th graders hear an answer something like: “This masterpiece was designed by Ahmad Lahauri to house the remains of the Shah’s favorite wife.” – something like that. From the back of the room where I was even then hiding out, 10-year-old me says: “What is the Taj Mahal?” followed one beat later by “What is the Taj Mahal?” from the TV. Approximately 3 dozen sets of eyes turned toward me – at least, that’s how it seemed to me.
  • Image result for moonIncident 2, same circa: The teacher was trying to explain astronomy, and said that the moon, since it always faces the earth, does not rotate on its axis. Well, I started in simply objecting: of course it does, once every orbit. A room full of eyes rolled hard. Then, having not learned to shut up – a lesson still not learned nearly 50 years later – I jumped up, and walked around the teacher, showing that, if I did not turn, I would be facing the window – only by turning could I keep facing the teacher. Didn’t click. After wearing out the already thin patience of the class, I sat back down in frustration. In some fuzzy way, I learned that I was not like other people.
  • A thought constantly before my mind: I am an intellectual cripple. Oh, sure, I’ve got more than enough horsepower to be a pretty good scholar, but I almost completely lack – something. Perseverance? A methodical approach? Patience? Whatever it is, on those rare occasions where I try to be scholarly about something, really get down and understand and properly reference my sources and build valid arguments from well-supported premises, I usually end up petrified in short order.
  • Instead, mostly, I rely on what might be called a gift, but might be a curse or might be at least a temptation: my mind’s barely, if at all, conscious compulsion to make connections. On a trivial level: almost any event can trigger a song to run through my head. If I deign to notice it, I will find that it is in fact the perfect song for the situation, that the lyrics fit exactly what I’m experiencing at the moment. Weird. A more profound example: I went from questioning school to Calvin’s Catechism in an instant, when the whole inevitable drift from the anti-reason of the great reformers to the current totalitarianism most perfectly expressed  in classroom schooling (1) was suddenly clear. While recognizing the risk of confirmation bias, it’s still true that everything I’ve read since that touches on the topics confirms this.
  • My mind works like that all the time. I’m often unable to sleep, or sleep very poorly, because these connections suggest themselves, and will not leave me alone. If only I were a better scholar, maybe I could write them out, as in write them until they are out.

On the reading front:

  • Conclusion to an epic review and analysis of Nethereal (pronounced to rhyme with ‘ethereal’ – isn’t that much better?) found here, spread across many posts at the Puppy of the Month Book Club. Spoiler-rich, so read the book first. Even though I’ve read Nethereal three times, the review was still full of stuff I didn’t catch/didn’t know. In addition to increasing my appreciation for the novel, I came away in awe of the reviewer’s chops – he’s catching Biblical, Dante, anime, RPG and video game sources, as well as the usual SFF stuff. I mean, dude! Dude!
  • Finishing up Souldancer, the middle volume in the Soul Cycle trilogy after Nethereal. Next up on my reading list is Uncertainty: the Soul of Modeling, Probability and Statistics by William Briggs of the renowned Statistician to the Stars blog. Since I lack the both the math chops and the discipline to get them any time soon, I’m boning up on logic instead. This was really interesting, and reminded me of how difficult, at first, I found the classic Monty Hall problem. If any additional evidence of the poor state of mathematical reasoning to which I have descended were for some ineffable reason required, it took me several passes to get how the base rate fallacy worked – just as Feynman recounts the story of the two mathematicians arguing over a proposition, where the first asserted that it was obvious, then proceeded to perform a half-hour long explication, at which point the other mathematician concurred: ‘You’re right – it’s obvious.’
  • After that, will try to work in Nine Princes in Amber in the next month, as it is the next book up in the Puppy of the Month Book Club. My wife read it years ago, says it was good – I never have. It’s short – we’ll see how it goes.
  • Then, as the days grow short and darkness envelopes the earth (and, sure, spring has always followed winter in the past, but are we really sure it will again this year? Huh?)  I will turn my baleful eyes back to Hegel, education history, and the biographies of the great educationists. Then write essays, blog posts and even perhaps a book about it.
  • Also will try to sneak in some Flynn, Wright, and Wolfe which have been giving me the stern, accusing eye from their lofty perches up in the bookcase for lo these many months. And there’s a couple novels on the Kindle still to get to. And  a disorderly pile of Asimov’s and Analogs on the floor…
  • Aaaaand – just bought Feast of Elves, the second book in John C. Wright’s  A Tale of Moth and Cobweb series. Book 1, Swan Knight’s Son, I review here. At least it’s not too long…

As far as writing goes:

  • There are reasons I’ve got 67 and counting draft blog posts in the folder, chief of which is that, somewhere during the drafting, I lost hold of whatever weakly-formed ideas I thought I was pursuing, so that, like one whose ill-behaved dogs got off leash, I’m reduced to comically chasing them around the park, intermittently pausing to shake a fist and utter curses. Which gets old fast, and doesn’t make for a very good blog post. So, before I inflict any more of them on you, my gentle readers, I’ll try to ask that eternal, hard question: what, exactly, am I trying to say, here? and require a satisfactory answer before hitting publish.
  • Seems I’ve got maybe a couple dozen pages of notes and diagrams that represent what might be generously called research or, even more generously, an outline to this dream of a shadow of an idea for a novel that’s been rattling around in my head for a couple decades. I need to do more: since I envision it, in however a blurry fashion, as episodic – one could think of it as checking in with the protagonists and their descendents every few decades or centuries – it would be quite possible, nay, advisable, even, to simply write it as a series of short stories/novelitos. I’ve even sorta kinda started doing just that more or less on purpose. I need to sit down and get serious, settle on and spell out in some detail a timeline, major characters’ development, tech, and, most important of all, the social underpinnings. All that, and setting up a decent final story – so far, I’ve got three major arcs going, roughly settlement, a crisis of connection, and a bit of romantic/comic relief.  The second story is very dramatic and tragic, but I think it needs to be second. The first might end up as two or even three stories…. See why I’ve got to get serious?
  1. A good portion of this blog is devoted to this idea. Short version: the Aristotelian/Thomistic idea that all truth is one, that what is known through science cannot contradict or be contradicted by what is know through revelation, was targeted by the Reformers immediately. No, revelation (which, in practice, meant Luther’s or Calvin’s interpretations of Scripture, no matter how idiosyncratic or inconsistent) trumps human reason always. Luther responded in a very modern way when any of his myriad logical inconsistencies were pointed out – he attacked his interlocutor, accusing him of being at best an idiot or scatologically gifted devil. See: Erasmus and Luther‘s back and forth for examples – while Erasmus is not above the occasional low blow, Luther has nothing else. Luther wanted the state, assumed to be and always remain under the control of solid Lutherans, to run the schools – in order to produce those solid Lutherans, complete with his solid contempt for human reason. From this foundation springs Kant, Fichte and Hegel, from which springs Harvard and Horace Mann, from which spring schools designed to make our children mindless sheep.

 

Book Review: Swan Knight’s Son

Short and sweet: Swan Knight’s Son is a lot of fun, charming and even a quick read, which is not something one can say about most of John C. Wright’s typically much longer books. It is, as far as I know, Mr. Wright’s first foray into YA fantasy. Am now reading it aloud to our 12 year old son, who laughs out loud, especially at the antics of the Ruff the magical dog and Bruno the one-eyed bear dojo master. Fun read for a grown-up, but more fun read to a tween, if just to see his reaction to the comic relief. First in a series, buy it now so you and your kids can rip through it and wait impatiently for the next installment. Well, click the link – what are you waiting for?

As the Amazon blurb says: “SWAN KNIGHT’S SON is the first book of THE GREEN KNIGHT’S SQUIRE, the first volume of MOTH & COBWEB, an astonishing new series about magical worlds of Day, Night, and Twilight by John C. Wright.” I have only one question, and perhaps I need to address it to Mr. Wright’s muse: Here, for the first time outside a short story, Mr. Wright expounds and explores a merely dazzling array of ideas and sources. This, as opposed to his typical 2+ novels worth of ideas per chapter amidst a few dozen references to classical and world mythology and the fringes of science, with character names both evocative and really, really long. Well, Miss Muse, are you going soft? Not that I mind or anything…

Silver-haired Gilberic Parzival Moth is a kid as remarkable as his name, who gets thrown out of high school for busting up some kids and drugs situation. He perhaps used a little too much force, and perhaps got on the wrong side of the principal for reasons he doesn’t understand. He and his mom move around at the drop of a hat, crossing the country, and he fears that she will make them move again. After a lifetime of having his mother answer his questions with evasions and riddles, he wants to know why they have to move all the time, why they seem to always be hiding from something, who his father is, indeed, who he is.

Things get a little spooky. Gil takes it for granted, as totally unremarkable, that he can talk to animals – when he says a little bird told him, he means a little bird told him. Ruff, the dog, is both completely dog and wiser than most people, always ready with enthusiastic advise or a dead squirrel as the situation calls for. One night as he heads home very late, Gil sees all the townspeople walking in a trance, and is warned away and rescued by someone he cannot see from inside a boarded up church he could not possibly have gotten into – yet there he is.

His beautiful silver-haired and ageless mother is ready to move again, but ends up merely throwing Gil out of the house – he can’t go back to school, so he must find honest work. She will not let him sleep at home, and she does not want to discuss the doorway that appears wherever they live – on the proper nights when the moon is full – leading somewhere  decidedly else.

So Gil and Ruff set out to get Gil a job – and thus the adventures begin. Talking animals, mermaids, knights, elves, and a fight for his life. That’s about all I can say without spoilers, and you really don’t want spoilers, you really want to go buy this book and read it. Really fun book!