December 26, 2018

Book review: “Moving Pictures” by Terry Pratchett

  As Terry Pratchett created his series of 41 Discworld novels, he took his world from a fairly medieval place into modernity through his introduction of a variety of civilization’s great innovative technologies. These included a form of telegraph, the clacks (The Fifth Element, 1999), the news media (The Truth, 2000), a postal system (Going Postal, 2004), coinage (Making Money, 2007) and railroads (Raising Steam, 2013). My suspicion is that, in some vague way, Pratchett had plans for bringing still more innovations to Discworld, as, maybe, the telephone, computers and supermarkets.  Alas, he didn’t get the chance, cut down as he was at age 66 in 2015 by Alzheimer’s disease. In the books he did write about innovations in Discworld, Pratchett brought his usual skeptical eye to the great dreams and pitfalls of such changes to the everyday world.  The introduction of a new contraption often resulted in a crisis of some sort, but, by and large, when the novel was finished, the contraption with all its warts had become part of life for the Discworldians.  (Discworldites?) Except the innovation that was introduced in Pratchett’s 10th Discworld book, Moving Pictures, published in 1990.   Not benign As the title suggests, […]
December 19, 2018

Book review: “Eric” by Terry Pratchett

  Thirteen-year-old Eric Thursley conjures up demons.  Except, in this case, his first successful conjuration, he gets the hapless wizard Rincewind. The result — detailed in Terry Pratchett’s ninth Discworld novel, titled, appropriately, Eric — is a trip through time and space to such locales as: the Tezuman Empire (the Discworld equivalent of the human-sacrificing Aztec Empire), Tsort (the Discworld equivalent of Troy with its own version of Helen, a lady called Elenor who isn’t quite the looker she once was), an immense blackness where “a little rat-faced man” identifies himself as a creator (the Discworld equivalent of the Big Bang) and Hell (the Discworld equivalent of Hell).   Rincewind’s talent Rincewind, being Rincewind, much of this novel has to do with him doing what he does best, i.e., running away, and dragging Eric along with him.  As Pratchett explains: Pre-eminent amongst Rincewind’s talents was his skill in running away, which over the years he had elevated to the status of a genuinely pure science; it didn’t matter if you were fleeing from or to, so long as you were fleeing.  It was flight alone that counted.  I run, therefore, I am; more correctly, I run, therefore with any luck, […]
December 17, 2018

Six Feminist Books

    When I use the term “feminist book” here, I’m referring to strong, muscular books written by strong, muscular writers who happen to be women.  To me, these books are part of what feminism is all about — the creation of great art. I greatly admire the six writers in this list.  The book I highlight for each writer is an example of her skill and insight.  I would recommend reading any of the works by these six.  Of course, there are many other women writers whom I could have included in this list. Here’s the list: All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West If you’re not familiar with Vita Sackville-West and her writing, you’re missing out on a lot [I wrote in the Chicago Tribune in an essay, “Deriving pleasure from books read, and unread,” published December 9, 2007]. Born into British aristocracy — she grew up in a stately 15th Century mansion that had been a gift to her family from Queen Elizabeth I — Sackville-West was deeply in love with her husband, Sir Harold Nicolson, a prominent British politician. Which might not sound like much, except that, throughout her life, she took a series of lesbian lovers, […]
December 12, 2018

Book review: “Plague Ship” by Andre Norton

  Andre Norton’s 1956 Plague Ship is a rip-snortingly inventive yarn that’s one of her better novels, a combination of medical mystery, anthropological adventure and space gallop.  And it features a rare guest appearance by the Earth, or Terra as Norton, like most sci-fic writers, calls it. Indeed — in one of those science fiction moments that, for the character, represents a look at an horrific past while, for readers, especially those in the 1950s, it calls to mind a possibly horrific future — the Solar Queen trading ship lands on Earth in the Big Burn. The Big Burn was the horrible scar left by the last of the Atomic Wars — a section of radiation poisoned land comprising hundreds of square miles — land which generations had never dared to penetrate. Originally the survivors of that war had shunned the whole continent which it disfigured. It had been close to two centuries before men had gone into the still wholesome land laying to the far west and the south. And through the years, the avoidance of the Big Burn had become part of their racial instinct as they shrank from it. It was a symbol of something no Terran […]
December 10, 2018

Book review: “Sargasso of Space” by Andre Norton

  The traders of the Solar Queen have set a trap for some hardened criminals who are hiding on the planet Limbo.  One of the bad guys gets out of his crawler, a Jeep-like vehicle, to investigate something, and, then,…. A stone thudded against the helmet of the would-be investigator, sending him off balance to clutch at the tread of the crawler for support.  Dane slammed another in his direction and then aimed for the driver of the machine. The bad guys don’t use their deadly blasters but, apparently stunned by this rock-throwing attack, flee out instead into the distance. Limbo is a world where the remains of a great many space ships have been found, including remnants of the mysterious, little-understood Forerunners race that had populated the cosmos eons ago.  The world is filled with a multitude of machines able to do amazing things. Yet, I can’t help but smile to see that Andre Norton, writing initially as Alex North, has this key episode in her 1955 Sargasso of Space turn on the ability of her hero Dane Thorson and his fellows to throw rocks — like any Neanderthal of the distant past.   “Those angles are wrong” Another […]
December 5, 2018

Essay: God Is the Ocean in Which We All Swim

  I have gotten to a point that I can’t go along any more with Michelangelo’s God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Great art, but, gee, God as an old guy with a long gray beard?  No thanks. For a long time, my wife Cathy has had her own spin on this.  At Mass, when the celebrants starts, “Our Father…,” Cathy adds in a loud voice, “…and Mother.” That makes more sense to me — God as a Father and as a Mother — but it still doesn’t do the job for me.  I am able to think of God as, like a parent, loving me and wanting what’s best for me and providing me with what I need to live a full life and, again like a good parent, giving me the space I need to fail and learn from my failures.   What doesn’t work for me What doesn’t work for me is the idea that, if something good happens, it’s God up in heaven pulling the strings. Say I’m running to the airport, late for a flight, and, against all odds, I get on the flight.  I can’t think that God made that happen.  And […]
December 3, 2018

Book review: “Soul Seeing: Light, Love, Forgiveness” by Michael Leach and Friends

  Brian Doyle’s essay “The Day I Stood Shimmering in Shame” begins this way: Committed a sin yesterday, in the hallway, at noon. I roared at my son, I grabbed him by the shirt collar, I frightened him so badly that he cowered and wept, and then he turned to run, I grabbed him by the arm so roughly that he flinched, and it was that flicker of fear and pain across his face, the bright eager holy riveting face I have loved for ten years, that stopped me then and haunts me this morning; for I am the father of his fear, I sent it snarling into his heart, and I can never get it out now, which torments me. Here’s the start of Ginny Kubitz Moyer’s essay “The Hands We Hold Are Gifts”: I was sitting at my prayer desk the other night, two flickering candles in front of me, letting my mind wander as I looked at the small framed icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help that once belonged to my grandmother.  It’s an inexpensive framed image, that she must have had since the 1960s at least, but in the candlelight it shone like pure gold.  […]