Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Review: Kilimanjaro by Mike Resnick

Okay, yes, I know what I said. I am not neglecting Antiphon. I started it today. But my review of Kirinyaga sparked another enjoyable discussion with the author who then proceeded to provide me with manuscripts of all the other Africa books and stories I had yet to review, and this one was short and kept calling to me. I just had to read it.

An enjoyable entry in Resnick's Africa series, this book is billed as a follow up to his award winning Kirinyaga, and indeed, the utopia built by fellow Kenyans uses the "Kirinyaga" failure as inspiration to get it right, and they do.

Led by historian David ole Saitoti, who becomes like a shaman for the Council and people, the Masaai establish their own Utopia, which, instead of focusing strictly on one lifestyle, focuses on a variety of settings enjoyed by the Masaai. These creates a sense of freedom and adaptability which serves them well, for, like the other utopia experiments, unexpected circumstances and inquiries lead to pushing the Council for change. How they handle that and where it leads is the heart of this story.

Written as a special release novella for Subterranean Press, it may be hard to find this book, but I tracked it down on Amazon with little trouble. Regardless, it's worth the effort for those who enjoyed Mike Resnick's previous Africa works, and it provides a unique look at another idea of utopia different from the others, yet, one which raises as many questions and leaves us to determine the answers.

The other uniqueness is that the narrator is not an instigator or protector of the utopia, but instead, a neutral advisor. He shows no particular inclination toward one particular approach over another, but merely seeks to advice the decision makers and let them proceed as they so determine. This is no Koriba, and, that makes his perspective all the more interesting for the reader.

Highly enjoyable and recommended. A bit edgier than his other books language-wise, probably because of its limited audience, but that shouldn't keep most adults away.

A worthy addition to Mike Resnick's Africa collection and to yours.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Review: Kirinyaga by Mike Resnick

Yes, yet another Resnick review from me. Before I get to the actual review, let me answer the inevitable resounding "Whys?" echoing from my many readers (2, 3? I've lost count, time for another census). I started reading Resnick for two reasons: 1) because after hearing he was a huge Africa fan who used his African experiences in his stories, I looked him up, noted our mutual interest in Africa and crosscultural writing, and I got an email a few days later with a buttload (yes, that is an actual unit of measurement) of attachments of his Africa short stories, all of which were featured in major publications and all of which were either nominated for or had won awards. 2) because he is the most published and awarded SF writer ever. 3) because once I read one of his books, I got hooked. His prose style is similar to mine (yeah, right, as if mine were this good), and I love the way he writes powerful characters and situations and lets the questions fly out of what develops. Also, whether or not they are answered is up to the reader.

So, that's why more Resnick, and I am not done yet, but will be taking at least a one book pause to read my buddy Ken Scholes' "Antiphon," a) because I have a copy a month ahead of its actual publication date; b) because I promised to not only review it but participate in discussions with a readers' group; and c) because I have been begging him for an early copy for a year since finishing the second in the series because the series is so freaking awesome, it's painful to have to wait. In fact, sidebar, if he could have just had the decency to put those twins off until he finished the series, he could have taken a nice break from writing without so cruelly abandoning his fans.

Okay, enough Resnick-Scholes ranting. Here's the review:

is the most award-winning science fiction novel ever. Some call it a collection of stories, because Resnick wrote the chapters as short stories, sold them, won awards on them, and then assembled the book, but since together they create a coherent whole, I disagree with that assessment. This is a novel, and no one story would truly be complete without the others.

tells the story of Koriba, a well intentioned Kikuyu man from Kenya who sets about to lead his people to set up their own traditional Utopia, a planet named Kirinyaga after the holy mountain of their god, Ngai, on Kenya. The goal of the settlers is to live the way their ancient ancestors lived with no European influence or niceties. They will hunt and farm for their food, live off the land in traditional bomas (huts) and rule their society with the traditional councils of Elders advised by the mundumugu, Koriba.

The story is really one of the best of intentions gone awry. Koriba's desire is to preserve the sanctity of his people's ways, but as time goes on and the original settlers die or age, the new minds begin asking questions not easily answered. Things become even worse as his chosen successor is exposed to ideas through Koriba's own computer and begins questions Koriba's ideas and the ways of his people publicly, which leads others to do the same.

Watching his utopia unravel along with his influence, Koriba faces tough decisions and challenges about the future.

That's all I'll say to avoid spoilers for anyone who hasn't actually discovered this yet, but I will make some comments on Resnick's Africa stuff in general.

Of the African works by him I've read, this is the most blatant in adhering and examining their cultural traditions. In books like Inferno, Paradise, and Purgatory, Resnick used African history and a mix of traditions like metaphors to tell science fiction stories examining the larger human condition and particularly Westerner's attitudes and approaches to those of other cultures or worlds. In other stories and books, he has examined this from different angles, but in this case, he delves into African's own attitudes about their own worlds and traditions. The same questions and ideas which led to the real erosion of traditional African cultures arise again through these stories and lead the reader to examine why the erosion occurs in every culture and ask whether it's good or bad. The answers are never black and white, nor are they simple, but they are worth asking.

Resnick's prose is simple enough for even a ten-year-old to grasp, but the questions and ideas he posits with it are deeply rich and complex and may require several readings even for adults to unravel and fully fathom. I know I have been reading and rereading and plan to do so again, and if you want scifi that challenges your world view, asks questions, and teaches you while still entertaining, I highly recommend this stuff, because it will reward you greatly for the effort.

For what its worth...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Review: Ivory by Mike Resnick

What I love about Mike Resnick, among other things, is his non-pretentious prose style. He doesn't write like he has a dictionary out to look up the fanciest words for saying everything in an attempt to impress you. Instead, he just finds the right words to tell the story. So you don't need to read his books with a dictionary next to you either, and his books work for readers of all ages.

This book, one of several inspired by his love of and travels through Africa, is the story of Duncan Rojas and Bukoba Mandanka and the tusks of the Kilimanjaro Elephant, the largest to ever exist.

Rojas, a researcher for Braxton's Records of Big Game, is hired by Mandaka, the last living Masaai, to find the tusks which he believes are the secret to his people's lost power. While he won't explain why he needs them, he is paying handsomely, and Rojas cannot resist a good mystery.

As he researches the tusks with the help of his trusty computer, Rojas learns the stories of various people and aliens who have possessed them over time. The tusks have quite a colorful history, as does the elephant himself, and the stories are fascinating and rich with characters, world building, history and solid plotting.

The chapters run long, something I myself am guilty of, but that's because each chapter contains a historical story and a section about Rojas' research in the present as he learns the history.

In the end, the story raises powerful questions about tradition, faith, and mythology. As is typical of Resnick, the conclusion leaves us to provide our own answers, and there is certainly a lot to think about which resonates with you long after the book has been closed.

A not to be missed, rich story. Thoroughly enjoyable and compelling. For what it's worth...

A Few Thoughts On Tea Parties and Freedom Of Speech

I know I'm behind again. Tomorrow I'll review another book, but for now, here's something I hope makes you think:

Although the Tea Parties of today have taken an approach I don't support, I find it hard to disagree with their sentiments. Anger at the direction this country is taken has become endemic on both sides, and why wouldn't? We have a president who promised change yet has basically run the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the same way they were run by the previous administration. A president who sat back blaming others and reminding us Bush "was slow with Katrina" while he allowed one of the biggest oil spills in history to spread and do more damage. He could have sent in federal cleanup and charged BP for the bill, but instead, he sat back and played the blame game. With the problems our country faces, and this kind of leadership from Congress and the White House, we should all be mad and celebrate the freedom of speech our Founding Fathers secured for us. If they hadn't objected to bad governing, we'd be hearing "Hail To The Queen" instead of "Hail To The Chief." So the tea party history is important to this country.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Review: Mike Resnick's Inferno

I finally finished the three book series comprised of Paradise, Purgatory and Inferno -- Chronicles Of Distant Worlds. Each of the three was a great read, but they just got better as I went along. Purgatory was better than Paradise and Inferno was better than Purgatory.

Inspired by the author's travels in Africa and his love of the continent and her cultures, each of the books chronicles the Earthen Republic's interference in alien worlds and the tragic consequences which result. Inferno is modeled after the nightmare of Idi Amin's reign in Uganda in the 70s and 80s. This time, the Department of Cartography has deliberately left the Republic out and instead tried to bolster and assist the locals in educating their people and improving their planet. The desire is to let the natives shape their own world, only some of the natives take to the Western style more than others and conflict arises.

When the leader the Department of Cartography has supported is defeated by a rival, the planet's government becomes unfriendly to the Republic, resisting joining the Republic, and seeking aid and trade with worlds outside the Republic's influence. As the world, Faligor, drifts further from the Department's hopes, a coup arises, one which the Republic hopes will restore order and integrity to the government. Instead, the General who led the revolution is even more brutal than his predecessor. He begins a campaign of racial cleansing and persecution of the population, creating a military state where his people live in fear.

The General fears only one thing: war with the Republic, but the Republic refuses to interfere. The Department of Cartography had insisted they stay out and not mess it up, so now the leadership was determined to leave Faligor to its own fate. As the former director of the Department of Cartography, who's retired on Faligor, tries to interfere, he becomes an enemy of the General and finds himself jailed and threatened for it.

Inferno is a powerful story of tragedy. A good, kind people who grow to believe they may deserve the cruel dictators who take over their planet one after another. It is the story of the humans who tried to help them and now watch in horror as their plan backfires and the planet falls apart. It's an echo of one of the most tragic events in world history and one of the greatest murderers who ever lived.

The story is a page turner and it is deeply moving. It causes the reader to consider his or her own values, morality and expectations for government, to evaluate his or her prejudices toward people who are different, and to question whether those people and their cultures deserve more respect than they've been given. It reminds us that despite our best intentions, our own interference in other countries has led to great tragedy and harm, and sometimes our "superior" culture ends up not being as superior as we suppose.

A deeply powerful must read for science fiction fans and any reader interested in other cultures. Written by a master storyteller in simple prose full of great characters and deep emotions. Resnick never preaches. He lets the story's events speak for themselves. And speak they do, loudly and continually. A book you'll never forget.

For what it's worth...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ignoring Our Stench

Okay, I have neglected my blogging duties and I'm so sorry. I have been so distracted with life, I just totally forgot to sit down and write here. My fiction hasn't fared any better though.

Last night, our poodle Amélie drank my Milo. Milo is a chocolate drink you mix with water. It's made by Nestlé but I discovered it in Ghana, and it reminds me of my great experiences there when I drink it. I have been feeling "homesick" or nostalgic about Ghana lately, so I decided to mix some up last night. I left the glass beside the bed and went downstairs to shut off lights. Usually the dog follows me, but since I was in such a hurry that I failed to notice she didn't this time.

When I got back upstairs, my wife commented that the dog had chocolate all over her face and then I saw the glass was almost empty. That little stinker! Needless to say, she spent the night in the cage, because 1) dogs aren't supposed to eat chocolate and she has a tendency to poop and pee in the house if she gets sick or has an overwhelming urge; b) I don't have much Milo left and I had spent some minutes getting just the right mix; c) she needs to learn to obey like our Yorki does.

I bring all this up because today when she hopped in my lap to kiss me, which she often does, she smelled like Milo. The thought occurred to me how often do we really smell like our sin? You may have heard the phrase "You reek of sin." It's something I've heard people say when trying to convict a person who is really wallowing in a messed up life. But I'd never thought of it as literal, yet in this case it was. That made me wonder how we stink to God.

In my fiction, I often write about spiritual themes. This is not only because of my own faith but because it's a fascinating part of how people interact. I don't use my fiction to prosletyze, but I do use it to examine the human condition and part of that is sin. I show how even my "good guy" characters have sin. It's part of being human and the results create dynamic conflicts most of us can relate to and which add tension to both the plot and the relationships in stories.

But what if we all smelled like what we did? What kind of world would that be? Over time, would we just lose our sense of smell? Would we so adapt that we didn't even notice? Sometimes, I wonder if that's what we do anyway. It's so easy for us to overlook our own sins and yet find fault with others. We hold our nose at them while completely failing to smell ourselves. It's kind of like B.O. Sometimes we're blissfully unaware of our personal stench and its effect on those around us.

In any case, Amélie reminded me that I need to watch how I smell. It's an interesting though I'm sure will find its way into a novel some day, and more than that, something I am going to think about over and over again in times to come. What about you?

For what it's worth...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

One of Those Lives - Ruminations on Lamentations (not Ken Scholes' book, the other one)

Did you ever have "one of those days?" Well, I'm having on of those months. Being laid off with no warning and no explanation on May 24 has just thrown me through a loop. The economy is horrible. The severance is about to run out. I had no anticipation and no sense of calling to move or leave but now must seek wisdom and answers. And it's hard. It's real hard. I apply and apply and, except for two, the replies are "job already filled" or "excellent and impressive resume, but you're not what we're looking for."

If any Bible passage could describe how I'm feeling it's Lamentations 3:

Lamentations 3

1 [a] I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of his wrath.

2 He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;

3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.

4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones.

5 He has besieged me and surrounded me
with bitterness and hardship.

6 He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.

7 He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
he has weighed me down with chains.

8 Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer.

9 He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
he has made my paths crooked.

10 Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding,

11 he dragged me from the path and mangled me
and left me without help.

12 He drew his bow
and made me the target for his arrows.

13 He pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.

14 I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long.

15 He has filled me with bitter herbs
and sated me with gall.

16 He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.

17 I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.

18 So I say, "My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the LORD."

Pretty hopeful stuff, huh?

I know, I'm supposed to have a positive outlook, have faith, trust the Lord, believe that He loves and wants the best for me and has a plan. I do believe that. The trouble is, He's not telling me what all that is and I don't like being in limbo and not know how we're going to eat at the end of this month. It's a scary place to be, especially since I spent most of 2003 out of work. The difference is, this time we have three pets, I'm married, and my retired parents are in no position to help out.

See? I need the Lord more than ever so where is He? The Bible tells us He's there, in the midst of our sorrow, but I'm struggling to feel it.

Of course, as anyone who's read Lamentations 3 knows, I can only wallow in the self-pity and hopelessness decribed by those first verses so long. Only until I read on and come to this:

22 Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.

23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

24 I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him."

25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;

26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.

Wow! Do I feel like a chump now or what? I mean, God is faithful. I've sung the hymn based on this song so many times I know it by heart. In fact, we scheduled it at planning session today for this Sunday. "His compassions are new every morning." Wow! "The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him" Wow! "Great is Your faithfulness" Sigh.

Don't get me wrong. I don't expect to be perfect. I don't expect to be sinless. I don't expect to never have trouble. That said, I also have walked with God for over 30 years now. I've walked with Him through periods where I could feel His presence so strongly it was like another human walking beside me. I've walked with Him through periods where I knew He carried me, where I heard His voice in my ear, where I never thought I'd ever be, let alone find Him. And God has been good to me. A good family, good income for the past seven years, ministry opportunities around the world, good songs which people like and sing in churches and languages I'm not even aware of. He's blessed me. But here I am wallowing in Lamentations 3: 1-18, one of the most optomistic (NOT) passages of the Bible.

Why do I say this? Because so many of you have also had times when it felt like "one of those lives," and from the midst of it, it's not only hard to see God's presence, it's hard to see the way our or believe you'll ever see His presence again. But I am here in the midst telling you that I have faith, trust the Lord, believe that He loves and wants the best for me and has a plan. And I know He's here in the darkest depths and I know He's picking me up right now when I can't walk any more. I believe that and so should you because He doesn't love me any more than He loves you. He loves us both same.

So whether it's "one of those days" or "one of those lives," He's with you. Even in the midst of great despair as I am now. He's with you, He cares, and He has a way out planned, so lean on Him, let Him carry you and get ready for one amazing ride.

For what it's worth...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Review: Starman's Quest by Robert Silverberg

When you pick up a book written in 1958, especially by a 19-year-old writer, you expect it to be out of date and perhaps even a little weak. But I loved this book. It's short and tight, but masterful as Robert Silverberg always is.

I may be biased. Silverberg, without a doubt, is my favorite speculative fiction author (Orson Scott Card is second). But this story resonated with me and it holds up even sixty years after it was written.

The story of 18-year-old Alan Donnell, a spacer who serves on his dad's ship, Starman's Quest introduces us to a future Earth very different from our own. When the ship returns to Earth after a journey which passed like months for its crew but equalled nine years on Earth, Alan leaves to search for his missing twin brother Steve. Anxious for adventure, Steve had jumped ship the last time they ported on Earth, and Alan is anxious to see his now 26-year-old brother, forever altered by the differences of time on Earth vs. time in space.

It is Alan's first time in an Earther city, and he finds it fascinating. When his spacer outfit and cultural ignorance bring unwanted attention from locals and the Police, he only manages to escape with the help of a gambler named Max. Max seems to be eying his as a protegé, and ends up tutoring Alan in the culture and resources needed to find Steve.

After Max and Alan return Steve to their father's ship, Alan decides it's his turn for adventure. Alan has long dreamed of building a faster than light drive based on the drawings of long lost (and ridiculed) scientist and hopes to one day track down his lost diaries and continue his work.

Silverberg's work is no doubt aided by his own proximity in age to his main character. Alan's point of view as a teen discovering Earth and its culture for the first time comes off as very authentic, and we experience everything along with him. For science fiction, this is a great way to introduce the futuristic elements unfamiliar to us, and it's amazing how many of those resonate even today as future possibilities well within our imagination.

Silverberg comments in a brief note at the beginning that the book is not his best work but will be of interest to those curious about his early career. I think the writing style his fans have experienced in his later works is clearly recognizable here and readers, fans or not, will enjoy the book. It's size makes it a fast read, so it's a good introduction to Silverberg for any who haven't discovered him before.

I highly recommend Starman's Quest and know you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Friday, July 2, 2010

On The Blame Game, the Global Warming Myth, and Why Both Distract Us From Enacting Needed Change

I love this article. A Golbal Warming supporter saying a University's investigation refutes the accusations of scientists' tampering with evidence. Well, gee, most universities have liberal leanings, that has been proven, and on top of it, they stand to make tons of research dollars off Global Warming research, so is it any surprise they find a scientist innocent?


It's just more of the same posturing back and forth. I have yet to see any evidence that convinces me of Global Warming as a fact, rather than an opinion or interpretation. I do not deny that humankind's activities have impacted the environment. Nor do I deny that many of those impacts have been negative. However, that does not prove Global Warming exists. It proves environmental impact exists. Is that really news to anyone?

The Bible does hold us accountable for being caretakers of God's creation and certainly we have not done a very good job in many cases. Mangroves and beach fronts are developed without regard for environmental impact to bring in resorts and tourists all the time. Factories create sludge piles or dump in rivers and ponds all the time without regard to the impact on wildlife or soil. These things have been going on for generations. The results are deteriorating natural development in such areas and often the destruction of habitats and even species. Is anyone really in favor of that if it could be avoided?

On the other hand, as the higher creature biblically, man has claimed certain dominion for himself, and I'd dare say the majority of the bleeding heart Global Warmists would think twice before giving up their creature comforts for environmental preservation -- unless of course they were harangued into it by the press.

It's so easy to point at the other guy and say blame him. Just look at the Obama Administration. They've been blaming BP for the oil spill for over a month and sent no government resources and personnel to clean it up. Not their fault, why should they? Forget the destruction the delay has allowed and contributed to. Bush was blamed for not responding fast enough to hurricane damage, but this is manmade and where's Obama? Isn't environmentalism important to his base? The Republicans do the same thing. All of a sudden it's Obama's fault for the failing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hey, I support both wars, but even I wish we'd done them better. I don't think Obama is doing any better than Bush's team at handling them, but saying it's Obama's fault seems a little silly.

In the end, the blame game is pointless. The reality is that something which might be done to combat damage or even prevent it is not happening because people with the power to enact change are too busy placing blame on someone else.

To me, that's what Global Warming is: placing blame on big business and other interests, anyone but themselves. We are all, in the end, responsible for damaging the environment. Every time we use a resort built over a mangrove or enjoy vacations at cabins developed in natural wilderness. Does that make us gross offenders? No. But in our way, we have supported it. Blaming others for being worse than us does nothing but keep us from doing anything to help change things, and if we want it to change, we must all join together to make that change a reality.

Whatever term you apply to it, we have damaged our Earthly home, and some of that damage will never be undone. But some it can be stopped and some restoration occur, if we stop fighting over who's right and who's wrong and start agreeing to make efforts to lessen damages and improve the environment. Can't we all at least agree on the need for that? One has only to look around to see the reality that parks are less large and less common in urban areas. To see that trees and animals are less frequent in the wild. That even birds seem to struggle more and more finding food and water in many places. We can see the residue of pollution coating nature. We're not all blind, so we shouldn't pretend to be.

I think the time has come to stop the blame and join the change game. For what it's worth...