Friday, November 26, 2010


Two links to share, both from Ta-Nehisi Coates' Thanksgiving thread. (I respect TNC's writing more than I like him, and I like him more than I like his comment section. But what he writes is frequently worth reading.)

First: Uncle Sam's Thanksgiving Table. Idealistic, and still not present, but the world is getting better every day. I think what I like best is the Momma giving the little one what-for.

Secondly, for all of us who have ever spent a holiday meal with adult members of our families: Loudon Wainwright's Thanksgiving Song.

Update And a third - John Scalzi's Science Fiction Thanksgiving Grace.


Read as a lector, yesterday, for the first time in just over a year, and for the first time ever in this parish. As the only scheduled reader -

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

CSFFBT: 'The Skin Map' by Stephen Lawhead (II)

Traveling today, and the book not completely read yet, so today is even more brief.


The Skin Map continues to be quite engaging - partly due to the subject matter, but in no small part to the chapter structure. Especially in the beginning, the chapters are short, compact without being choppy, and leave the reader if not hanging from the cliff, at least jerking short at the top of a short hill, barely able to keep momentum from hauling one on down the other slope in a tumbling run.

The plot and characters have brought me around to wondering, again, what makes Christian fiction Christian?

I'm about a zillion percent certain that this has been debated before on CSFFBT (hint: links would be good). And I'm just as sure that I don't want to set up some sort of holier-than-thou litmus test for books of any sort.

(I'm reminded of a very acid internet exchange, some years back, when a magazine/website (can't even remember which one) published a list of books with 'Biblical world views' - and included Diary of Anne Frank. Jewish reader/bloggers were not amused. "Books about Jews can't be 'Christian Biblical'!" While I disagree, I can see where they were coming from, and don't begrudge them their indignation, esp in the case of Anne Frank and the way the Nazi party co-opted the German Church.)

Any road. Litmus tests are not what I'm going for, here.

I think that just as every person will respond to Christ differently, and that everyone would use different words to describe God to their friends and neighbors, that everyone's definition of what made a book 'Christian' will vary.

I think a definition along the lines of the old joke about 'if they made Christianity illegal, is there enough evidence to get you convicted' might be appropriate - ie, if 'THEY' were to start banning (or burning) Christian books, would this one escape the bonfire? (note 1)

Thus far in The Skin Map I haven't seen anything that would need bribery to get past a secularist censor. (There's been some reference to the grace of providence, and the main characters - in 1600 England - go to church, but that's it.) Not that I'm ready to write the book off. But I'd rather something more concrete than a general sense of joyful hope before I labeled a book as 'Christian'. There is enough mention of drinking and carousing, not to mention some ethically shady time-intervention actions, but next-to-zero sex.

I'm not asking for more sex in the book, but I'm going to be very disappointed if that turns out to be what defines the book as 'Christian'.

Note 1: Not advocating burning or banning books of any sort.

On Voting Day (politics and other stuff)

Firstly - if you have not done so, please go vote, no matter who you are voting for. (Yes, I think it matters who you vote for. Yes, I want you to vote anyway. Improving the process is more important than getting a specific 'good' result.)

Secondly, if you have voted - start talking it up earlier next year/next election. Twice today I've come across people who have trouble voting because they didn't bother to update their registration when they moved - MONTHS AGO. If you show up at a precient where you are not registered, and they don't let you vote because you don't have proper ID showing that you're *supposed* to vote there - this is a feature, not a bug. Please help encourage people to get this stuff straighten out EARLY.

Thirdly - I'm not non-partisan. I have opinions and they are right, true, and correct and if you disagree then you are wrong. But. As I've said before - differing opinions doesn't mean we have to fight about it. And it doesn't mean we have to believe the worst about each other.

I'm not going to go all happy-happy-joy-joy, isn't-the-world-full-of-sunshine-and-flowers. There are demons, there are people who commit acts of horrific violence, there are people who thrive on injustice and smug superiority and looking out for number one, there are people who not demand mercy for themselves, but also validation, and who want not only justice but divine retribution for everyone else, and if God isn't up to the task, well, they'll help the old guy out.

But that's not most of us, and we need to assume that's not the people we live and work and pray and vote with. For our own sanity, if nothing else.

So...a few things to highlight, today.

Let Freedom (and Happiness) Reign - a book review in The New Yorker, about an illustrated wander through the country.

Special Arab/Muslim issue of Apex Magazine. (It's good that we have such stuff. It'll be better when such doesn't merit 'special issues'. Inbetween will be hard.)

How the Rest of the World Reports on the Tea Party in Foreign Policy - *shakes head* On the one hand, it's helpful, in a 'how do we talk about this' way, to know what other people think. On the other hand, it's frustrating to see that it's not just Americans who absolutely don't understand other people's cultures and backgrounds.

Continuing with the educational-but-not-helpful theme - I don't this this is the best answer to the idea of a writer using comics to popularize Muslim virtues. I think there's tons of room to discuss the on-going integration and interaction between 'the West' and 'Islam' - from between nations to between congregations to within those people currently living on the borderlands, including those people who ARE the borderlands - but I think comics (and art, and lit, including SF) are a way to discuss that, and *should* be used.

Heck, if it's good enough for Pope John Paul II, it's good enough for anyone.

(Part of the discussion should, I think, be focused on 'separation of church and state' as a Western/Christian ideal, and possibly not a universal human truth. But that's a sidebar, I think.)

A few days ago there was a horrific attack on a Christian church - during services - in Iraq. I think it worthy to offer prayers for those injuried, those dead, their families, and for the soldiers and police who responded. And for those who carried out the attack.

If you have not yet watched, I recommend this clip of Jon Stewart's finale speech at the Mall on Saturday. I don't agree with a lot of what Stewart says on most days. But I agree with a lot of what he says here.

And following on that: Brian Spears quit blogging about politics.

Monday, November 1, 2010

CSFFBT: 'The Skin Map' by Stephen Lawhead

This is going to be a slightly different take on this month's Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour. I haven't quite finished the book yet, and so will reserve more in-depth comments until tomorrow, when I will have finished it.

First, some notes first:

The Skin Map and
Author’s web site -

In short, about the book itself:

Lawhead is turning into one of those authors whose books I pick up with a sigh of relief, because a) I know it's going to be good and b) I know it's not going to make me crazy by proposing brain-breaking concepts.

(By 'brain-breaking' I don't mean twists on physics or large amounts of math - I mean things like "religion is for weak and stupid people" or "monarchies are great because of the order and stability they produce" or "carnivores are inheritantly evil".)

In The Skin Map Lawhead revisits one of the oldest of SF concepts - the alternate reality, visited by people from Our Earth. This has been used in a zillion ways, from Andre Norton's Here There Be Dragons (as well as the whole of the Witch World novels) through Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covanant to Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere as well as countless less notable others.

(This is not to knock other examples of the subgenre as being despicable - I have as a special love the Crossroads series by Nick O'Donohoe, which Amazon tells me collectible sets of the original paperbacks are going for ungodly sums, and which was not, imo, all that terrific a fiction series, despite my deep love for the subject matter. Ahem. Moving on.)

I mention Neverwhere in particular because it, like Skin Map, uses the backdrop of London as its launching point to Someplace Else. As an rural American by birth and inclination, I am afraid I not ever going to Get the fascination with the layers of history wrapt in London. Lawhead, though, makes a better-than-usual job of creating a believably complex modern metropolis as well as an alternative (1600's) reality that doesn't have me shrugging off suspension of disbelief as 'too much like work'.

And that's actually not being fair - I was well and truly drawn into this book and its plot, and look forward to finishing it tomorrow. Reading it was only complicated by the fact that I've finished three (and a half) other books in the last week. Between them - Kage Baker's House of the Stag, a partial re-read of CJ Cherryh's Gate of Ivrel, Lois McMaster Bujold's Cryoburn and Connie Willis's All Clear, I am full, to the shallowest hair root, of alternate realities and timestream convolutions.

So when a Skin Map character - just in passing, or so it seems - takes steps to advert a major historical disaster (and so save thousands of lives) my warning bells go on. (Danger Will Robinson, Danger!) Because no good turn goes unpunished, and no modifications of the plan go unnoted, and nothing is so good as it looks.

I haven't read far enough to know if the danger-adverting is just windowdressing, or is actually treated with more depth later on. I'm looking forward to finding out.

Two - no, three other notes:

- The character of Wilhemina is turning out to be, oh, eight or nine times more awesome than I had thought she was going to be. (I was, frankly, expecting another Neverwhere-esque non-entity.)

- The *concept* of a skin map is great. It even evokes that old classic The Illustrated Man. But in the context of WWII and the final solution, I'm a bit twitchy about things made from people skins.

- The cover - eye, strange symbols, pyramids and London, all in red-orange - is awesome.

As I said, hopefully more, later. Meanwhile, other CSFSBT participants are:

Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Jeff Chapman
Christian Fiction Book Reviews
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
George Duncan
April Erwin
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Shannon McDermott
Allen McGraw
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Gavin Patchett
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Donna Swanson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Dave Wilson