The Hugo Award and Science Fiction

I decided to read all the Hugo Award winners for novel before the end of 2014. I kind of stumbled into this project. I’m not what you’d call a huge sci-fi guy (but that is likely to change by the end of the year). I’ve never written fan fiction, I don’t visit fan websites, that whole thing. So why try this? For three reasons: The first is just practical,  once I tried to read all the Pulitzer winners, but that got boring fast. If there is one thing I can say about this project, five and a half novels in already, it isn’t boring. Second, I think the genre of Sci-Fi can really say a lot about the culture at large, and especially where it’s headed. Finally, I think Sci-Fi/Fantasy is one of the final places that Ethics, Philosophy, and Theology can be explored openly.

Before I decided to do this, while reading Hyperion (review coming shortly) by Dan Simmons, I had read five Hugo winners already. Here is a brief recap from memory, I most likely will not be revisiting these:

Dune – Frank Herbert – One of the first books I bought myself, away at summer camp one year in early High School. Herbert was an excellent worldbuilder and I was really drawn into the story. I remember this as a fast paced tale, a quest for water, avoiding sand worms, and a Messiah. I bought every other Dune book by Herbert afterwards but only got through a couple before losing interest.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling – Sure, you might be thinking, what person my age hasn’t read this one. But, you might be surprised, I took some serious flak for loving these books down in the old Bible Belt. I’m thankful my mom was a reading teacher and literacy coach, not much of a book burner. This was my favorite of the series.

Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card – I loved this book. It was a quick, easy read with a compelling story. I’m excited that I’ll get to read some more of Card at some point. Another book about a Messiah figure, but a much simpler story than Dune with a nice twist ending.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell – Susanna Clarke – I have mixed feelings about this one. I can certainly see why it won the award, and Clarke is a polished and inventive writer…I just didn’t love this one. I had to force myself to finish, and it was long.

American Gods – Neil Gaiman – This is one of my favorite books in recent memory. What a compelling concept, all the pagan gods are still around, still causing mischief today in disguise. Plus, I love Rock City! Excited to get to read The Graveyard Book, it is the only thing Gaiman I didn’t read this past summer as I gorged on his other works.

And that’s it. Since finishing Hyperion in early December I have read Redshirts (the most recent winner), Starship Troopers, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, and The Doomsday Book. I am currently reading Among Others. I will have reviews of these coming shortly. On the shelf and upcoming are: The Left Hand of Darkness, To Say Nothing of the Dog, and A Case of Conscience. Wish me luck, feel free to make suggestions and follow along.

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Things I Read 01/06/14

Steve McCoy always has some great music to discover. His 2013 list is no different. Jason Isbell was my favorite of 2013, and I would have had The National and the Avett Brothers higher, but no major complaints here.

Douglas Wilson, insightful and challenging as usual, has 7 Tips on Hiring Millennials. Makes me want to buckle down in several areas.

Keith Law has his Top 30 ios Boardgame Apps…interesting if that’s your thing. I really enjoyed the Through the Desert app and the Carcassonne, Catan is great on a tablet.   

Things I Read 09/20/12

A good word from David Mathis on behaving worthy of the gospel in corporate worship.

I’m late to the party on Mark Regenerus’s interesting and controversial study on Gay parents. I can’t say that the results surprise me.

Nathan Finn has posted some thoughts on Southern Baptists, Baptism and Communion. I’m encouraged to see some discussion on this topic.

Mark Bradley asks: Could the Braves have a Legit chance of catching the Nationals? I’d like to think so.

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Keach: God as Father

God is Like a Father:

1. A father gives his children life, God gives his children life spiritually (James 1:18, 1 Peter 1:3).

2. A father provides for an nourishes his children, God brings his children up with care and tenderness like a father (Isaiah 1:2, 1 Peter 2:2).

3. A father longs for and has compassion on his children, he wants to protect them, likewise God cares for and is compassionate with his children (John 3:16, Psalm 103:13).

4. A father protects his children from the harm that might be caused by enemies, God protects us from Satan and Demons (Ephesians 6:12, Psalm 94:22).

5. A father provides food for his children, just as God offers His people spiritual food (Psalm 23:1-2, Psalm 132:15).

6. A father is an example for his children and a blueprint for them to follow, Christ presents God as a holy example to follow and mimic (Matthew 5:48, also Colossians 1:11).

7. A father trains and educates his children, God is a diligent and patient teacher of his people (Luke 12:49, Ephesians 4:11, Psalm 25:4).

8. A father hears the requests of his children and is prudent in how he grants them, giving them what they need. God is the same, granting what we need for growth and maturity and denying what will cause us harm (Luke 6:40, James 1:5-6).

9. A father is hurt and sorrowful when his children rebel and prove wicked, he uses all his means to reclaim them. Likewise, it hurts and grieves God when his children stray and he will do whatever it takes to restore them (Isaiah 1:2, Jeremiah 3:7, Matthew 23:37, Romans 15:5).

10. A father punishes his children when necessary and for their good, he is ready with open arms when they repent. God punishes us for our own sake and is quick to forgive (Hebrews 12:10, Isaiah 63:9).

11. A father lays up an inheritance for his children, God the father lays up all things good, a rich inheritance, for his children (Psalm 31:19, 2 Timothy 4:8).

God a Better Father:

1. Even the best earthly father is still a sinful man, some are much worse. God is not a man and is Holy, he only does what is good and right to His children (Jeremiah 31:3).

2. An earthly father cannot compare in stature or glory to God.

3. An earthly father does not know the heart of his children, or their deepest needs. God does (Philippians 4:19).

4. An earthly parent cannot change the heart or nature of a child, God can (Ezekiel 36:26).

5. The best of father’s are not perfect examples, God is a perfect moral example to follow.

Application:

1. Being a child of God is the highest blessing and the greatest good we can receive. He are not merely forgiven, but adopted.

2. We should be encouraged against doubts, trials and troubles because we know the great inheritance we will shortly receive.

3. The fatherless should be comforted because they have a father in God.

4. Christians should strive, out of love, to live up to their pedigree.

5. Christians should be cautious of rebellion and disobedience because God will punish them to bring them to repentance.

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Book Recommendation: Wordsmithy by Douglas Wilson

By rule I read everything that Douglas Wilson writes. Even though we have some theological differences, he is always striving to be biblical, Gospel centered, original and interesting. Since I enjoy his writing so much, and since there was a sale on the e-book for Wordsmithy, I decided it couldn’t hurt to give it a try. I’m glad I read the book, but I’m also glad I got it on sale as an e-book. Let’s deal with the negatives first.

The Bad – I’m not sure if it was just the e-book format, but there were some editing issues. There were a few repeated paragraphs and the book was overall, pretty repetitive. Wilson said he was using the: tell them, tell them why, then tell them again method, I just wish it hadn’t been quite so obvious. The book is also very short. I would not pay the $11+ price tag on amazon right now, wait for a sale or a discount on the e-book again.

The Good – The book contained the usual witty, creative and original writing of Douglas Wilson. I greatly appreciate his writing, so it was nice to see his thought process and learn how he grew and matured as a writer. It is also nice to have a view on writing from a distinctly Christian worldview, something that isn’t forced in the book, but comes naturally out of who Wilson is. The biggest plus was the extensive book recommendations. This was one of those books that had me adding 20 or so books to my Amazon Wish List.

Overall, this is a solid addition to the Wilson Canon and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in becoming a better writer or in the writing process.

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Book Review: Evangellyfish

Evangellyfish by Douglas Wilson is satire, but not the kind of satire that ends up on the bargain shelves at your local Christian Bookstore in a matter of months. There is some not so subtle critique of the evangelical world, but this is also a good story with enough timeless truth to make it enjoyable far after the problems Wilson addresses are no longer problems (please, quickly God?). Also, Wilson is simply a good and enjoyable writer. The P.G. Wodehouse and G.K. Chesterton influences are obvious here, but that is a good thing and may we have more of it.

The book follows the lives of two pastors from a Mid-West metropolis. Chad Lester is is the CEO and MegaChurch pastor of Camel Creek Community Church while John Mitchell is the pastor of a smaller, Reformed Baptist Church in town. Lester gets tangled up in controversy when he is accused of a homosexual affair. Lester knew the affair part was coming (he had taken part in many) but the homosexual part was the shocker since he had honestly never done that. Mitchell gets tangled up in things when Lester calls him out of the blue.The rest is a tangle of relationships and cover ups that the church tries to handle with different degrees of integrity or dishonesty and a healthy dose of naivete.

This is an average story made exceptional by the characters who inhabit it and the perfect tone Wilson achieves for his satire. Never heavy-handed or gratuitous, the humor is light and airy with honest respect and empathy for the people involved. This is a great, quick read. If you are expecting to laugh at the expense of others, be careful with this one because you are likely to find the cross hairs on yourself at some point.

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An Open Letter to R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets

Dear R.A. Dickey,

I heard you on the Baseball Today podcast from ESPN a few weeks back. I’ve seen you pitch before, because I’m a massive Atlanta Braves fan, but I never though much about you other than the rarity of seeing a Knuckleball pitcher. Something in your voice and about your story made me want to get your book…so I did. I chose it over the Smoltz biography that was just released, which should make you pretty happy because he’s been my favorite player since I was a kid.

Thank you for writing the book. I read a lot. I read a lot of theology/Christianity…and I read quite a few Baseball books. There are several things which I specifically appreciate about your book. It is very well written. You can’t say that about all “Christian” books or about all “Baseball” books. I know Wayne Coffey helped, but he has to have something to work with and you obviously have a good ear and a good story to tell.

I appreciate your transparency. In most sports books the author tries to paint his/herself in a good light. Often readers actually believe they get the truth about an athlete/hero, but your willingness to be brutally honest is rare indeed. It is obvious that you had more of a purpose than simply making a buck or getting your name out there. I’m sure it was therapeutic to you, but it was therapeutic to many others as well; it surely was to me, specifically the passage on miscarriage which is almost identical to what happened with my wife’s and my first child, and your honesty over struggling to be a good and Godly husband and father.

I respect you for being brutally honest, but at the same time for protecting your wife and family and keeping them safe. In your story, there were many heroes, not least Jesus and your wife, but you never paint yourself in that light. Your book is not a humblebrag…it is an expression of true humility. You come across as a real person, with warts and all, which is what we all are if we are honest.

I’m thankful for how you presented Christianity. It wasn’t a vehicle for self-promotion. You didn’t tack it on in a wooden fashion that didn’t work with the rest of your story. You didn’t fake an “everything was bad until I found Jesus and everything has been awesome ever since” story. Your Christianity came out organically, as an expression of your life that was important, meaningful, and ultimately redemptive. I particularly appreciated this passage:

    “When I pray, I am not just talking to God. I am deepening my relationship to Him. To me, prayer is not a me-driven, goal-driven endeavor, something I turn to when I really need to pitch a dominant game or get out of a tight spot or a personal crisis. I’ve never prayed to God and said, ‘Lord, please let me strike out Albert Pujols four times tonight.” Nor will I ever do that. God is not a genie in a bottle that your rub when you want something. He is the ever-present, ever-loving Father, the guiding Spiritof my life, my Light and my Truth. He has a plan for me; I believe that as much as I believe anything in my whole life, and even if I don’t end up flourishing in New York or proving myself to be a trustworthy big-league pitcher, I know that’s because He has something else in store for me, and whatever it is, I know I will be at peace (286).”

Your book is a great baseball story, and I am huge baseball fan. I enjoyed the behind the scenes baseball stories and how you approach your profession, your passion for the game and perseverance. Your story is a great underdog story, and we all love those. But, most of all, I am thankful for the Gospel in your life and in the pages of your book. The Good News that, although we are all depraved sinners deserving of God’s judgement, although we all mess things up to some degree or another, we have a Redeemer in Christ the Lord. He doesn’t magically fix things overnight, but if we trust Him in faith and obedience, we will be made new.

So, I will be pulling for you like you pulled for Tim Wakefield. I hope you keep winning and have a long career, and every time you play the Braves I hope you pitch a complete game and give up only 1 run…and the Braves win 1-0. God Bless and I look forward to seeing how God uses you and your family to glorify His Name…wherever you wind up.

Sincerely,

Caleb Land

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Album Suggestion: The Followers

They call it Neo-Gospel. Whatever that means, I know several things about the album Wounded Healer by The Followers. The music is a Gospel/Country/Classic Rock blend, the lyrics are solid and it is better than the vast majority of music on the radio. It is tearing up my itunes right now. Plus, you can get it right here for free/donation on Noisetrade.

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Review: “Troll Valley” by Lars Walker

Troll Valley is an e-book published by Lars Walker and is available through amazon.com for only $2.99. Simply put, we need many, many more e-books like this one. Walker writes from a distinctly Christian worldview, but is able to avoid so much of the sentimentalist and moralistic errors of the majority of Christian fiction. This is a novel about the law and about grace. This is a novel about forgiveness and justification by faith, and about unmerited favor. That Walker is able to accomplish these things without being preachy and actually telling a compelling story is a testament to his growth as a writer and storyteller.

My first Lars Walker book was his novel Blood and Judgement, based on Hamlet. The premise was great but the overall pacing and writing left something to be desired. Walker has come a long way in his latest effort. I’m surprised that Troll Valley did not receive release in printed format, because it is far and away better than the majority of modern Christian fiction.

The story is about Chris Anderson, son of the wealthiest family in town in the 1910’s and 1920’s Minnesota. Chris has a deformed arm, which causes at turns anger and self-pity. His father wanted to be a simple farmer, but his mother, an early feminist of sorts, pushes him to make money off of his inventions, which he does. The majority of the story revolves around Chris’s relationship with a girl, who he rejects so as not to feel the sting of rejection himself, and Chris’s journey through anger and bitterness to peace. The Lutheran Church plays an important role in all this. But, in case you were worried that the book was straightforward, it also involves a fairy godmother who likes telling stories about people eating each other, lawn gnomes (and not the cute kind), Cowboys and Indians, trolls and the ability to breathe fire. It is realism meets fantasy in the best possible way.

If you like reading novels, it is hard to beat the $2.99 price tag and the read is excellent.

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Things I Read 2/28/2012

Douglas Wilson writes, “Bombs and aid don’t do anything to the worldview of the people, and it is the worldview of the people that build a culture and a nation.” Good Stuff.

Tyler Stanton asks, Who Looks the Most Ridiculous? My answer…Lady GaGa hands down…although Lady Gaga riding tandem Segway with Bill Bellichick…..

That’s about all I’ve got today…been busy.

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