Often the appeal of science fiction lies in the genre's ability to extrapolate from the trends of the present and project them into the future. One noOften the appeal of science fiction lies in the genre's ability to extrapolate from the trends of the present and project them into the future. One novel exemplifying this tendency is "The Children Of Men" by P.D. James.
In "The Children Of Men", the reader finds a world where the population has become inexplicably infertile and must deal with the stresses of a dwindling population and the psychological angst that results when many realize what's the point of life if it will come to a screeching halt in a scant generation. Such a milieu is explored through the eyes of Oxford Historian Theodore Faron who becomes a reluctant intermediary between a group of bumbling, idealistic revolutionaries and the dictatorial Warden of England who happens to be Theodore's cousin.
The group starts out with the goal of enacting needed reforms such as better treatment of migrant workers known as Sojourners and restoring order to an out-of-control penal colony on the Isle of Man where the inmates --- some not as criminal as the general population is led to believe --- are left to fend for themselves. However, as the story unfolds a matter of greater urgency comes to the forefront of the plot, namely that a couple within the cell has been able to conceive a child.
"The Children Of Men" is not the most riveting example of the dystopian police state novel. It often gets bogged in the details of the personal experiences, emotions, and perceptions of its protagonist Theodore Faron. Yet at times the book provides glimpses into a morally eerie world where the outrages of our own day are allowed to fester to ghastly proportions.
For example, the elderly are encouraged to commit ritualized suicide in a ceremony called the "Quietus", which Theo discovers is not quite so voluntary for those trying to back out at the last minute. Since people no longer have children, they instead lavish their nurturing affections on pets, even having their kittens christened at formalized baptisms. Those born into the last generation are given free reign and little moral instruction --- as such they are self-absorbed to the point of arrogance and even murder.
Of particular interest is the frequent mention of religion made throughout the novel. Two of the revolutionaries are motivated by Christian beliefs. However, others hide behind the cloak of aberrant faith as a scam to enrich themselves personally.
"Roaring Roger" is a fire-and-brimstone televangelist preaching that the global infertility is God's judgment while playing on guilt and fear to finance his own lavish lifestyle. Rosie McClure is more broadminded in her religious views, but so much so her brain roles right out as she preaches a gospel of nonjudgmental hedonism. The Church of England is characterized as "no longer with a common doctrine or common liturgy, [and] so fragmented that there was no knowing what some sects might have come to believe." One just wishes Ms. James had spent as much time in such socio-clerical exposition as she did in embroidering the extraneously tedious background details of Professor Faron's psyche.
The political situation described in "The Children Of Men" serves as a cautionary tale where our own institutions are headed if we are not careful. In most speculative narratives dealing with one form of totalitarianism or the other, the regimes under consideration often lord over the masses with brutality.
In "The Children Of Men", however, the Warden's regime is rather genteel as far as dictatorships go if you happen to be a good little citizen and not to stir up offense. But then again, most of the citizens don't cause much trouble anyway since most have lost interest in political participation and the Warden is careful to maintain illusions of democracy. Of this society very much like our own, one is reminded of Francis Schaeffer's warnings in "A Christian Manifesto" about comfort and affluence becoming the organizing principles in a political system where higher truths such as freedom and self-reliance are increasingly seen as impediments to rather than a necessity of just government and good order.
Over a decade has elapsed since The Contract With America catapulted Newt Gingrich to the forefront of American political discussion and the RepublicaOver a decade has elapsed since The Contract With America catapulted Newt Gingrich to the forefront of American political discussion and the Republican Party into control of both houses of Congress. No longer confined by the restraints of public office, the former Speaker of the House now seeks to update and expand on this set of ideas in Winning The Future: A 21st Century Contract With America.
Unlike the original Contract With America which dealt primarily with political and legislative issues, Winning The Future applies the outlook inspiring the book's antecedent to a wider array of social and cultural concerns. Reflective of the personality of the author of both documents, Winning The Future is an eclectic synthesis of conservative commonsense, futuristic policy blather, and a reluctance to accept certain shortcomings inherent to human nature.
Winning The Future does a suburb job in examining the religious foundations of the United States. Gingrich uses his skill as an historian to trace recognition of this heritage from the Founding Fathers, through Abraham Lincoln, up to contemporary thinkers such as Samuel Huntington.
From there, Gingrich uses the issue of the role of religion in the United States as a springboard to discuss the need for judicial reform. Gingrich views the attack on religious freedom as evidence of how the judiciary has gotten out of control. Newt does this by pointing out a number of rulings from the infamous Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the activist legal philosophies of radical jurists such as Europhile Sandra Day O'Connor. He also offers suggestions on how the courts might be reigned in such as by impeaching judges going beyond the scope of the Constitution on the grounds of violating the Good Behavior Clause or by simply abolishing rogue judgeships all together.
While a number of the proposals contained within the pages of Winning The Future are steeped in conservative commonsense realism, some of those characterized by futuristic speculation are just plain goofy. For example, Gingrich is under the impression that centralizing and computerizing all health records will lead to some kind of twenty-first century medical Renaissance.
But doesn't technology merely take on the characteristics and shortcomings of those employing it? A quack will always be a quack.
And this is to say nothing of the dangers and abuses that will result from further centralizing the most sensitive of information in a single place that will probably be administered by the government or as callous healthcare administrators. If my rights and well being are to be violated, those doing so should at least have to work to earn the opportunity.
Despite his many insights, at various points Gingrich exhibits a flawed understanding of human nature that will cause his well-intentioned proposals to flounder in a manner similar to the Great Society programs the former Congressman has spent much of his political career claiming to stand against. For example, Gingrich touts a program called Earning By Learning he established that paid to $2.00 to children in public housing for every book they read.
While the costs of the program initially came out of Gringrich's own pocket, who's going to pick up the tab should the program go nationwide? Furthermore, why should such an entitlement be for the so-called underprivileged who already have access to the same reading material as everyone else but simply refuse to avail themselves of it?
Spending much of his time hobnobbing in elite government and media circles, Dr. Gingrich is also as mistaken about the nature of the immigrant hordes sweeping across America. Mired by his training as an historian, Gingrich assumes a model of immigration more fitting for the nineteenth century than the twenty-first.
Gingrich writes, "Nor am I concerned that a substantial number of new Americans are Hispanic. America has a long history of absorbing and blending people of many languages and backgrounds." But for the most part, the vast majority of immigrants at that time were already steeped in a common Northern European (primarily Protestant) culture upon which American institutions were based.
Even more importantly, immigrants of that period wanted to be Americans and not to merely suckle off the supple federal teat while expressing nothing but contempt for the host nation gracious enough to even allow them into our midsts. If Gingrich finds Hispanics so charming, maybe they can pile into the house next door to his like they have in many middle class neighborhoods where they cram thirty of their kinsman and associates into a single family dwelling and have no qualms about guzzling booze on the public sidewalk.
Regardless of one's opinion of Newt Gingrich as either a conservative visionary seeking to plot America's course to the future, an egotistical fraud concerned for nothing but his own fame and fortune, or someone between the two extremes, Winning The Future will most definitely spark thought and discussion of the issues that will impact the nation in the coming years.
Matt Drudge will be remembered for the role he played in popularizing the revolution brought about by the advent of Internet news. However, when it coMatt Drudge will be remembered for the role he played in popularizing the revolution brought about by the advent of Internet news. However, when it comes to the world of publishing, he better not quit his day job.
As one of the pioneers of a new form of mass communication, one would expect Drudge Manifesto to be an insightful tome as to his medium's possibilities and strategies on how others might replicate his success. However, on this count Drudge Manifesto falls as short as the New York Times in fulfilling its civic obligation of supplying useful information.
The reader comes away from Drudge Manifesto with the impression that Mr. Drudge is an individual --- not unlike his nemesis Bill Clinton --- too aware of his own place in history. The extent of Drudge's own self-awareness is to such a radical degree that it has led him to use a number of McCluhanesque literary devices bordering on the bizarre and that, ultimately, detract from the text.
For example, there are a number of pages scattered throughout the work filled with nothing but oversized "0"'s or a "1"s. On another is nothing but a single declaration in smaller-than-average size type in the center of the page reading "You're boring".
The only thing boring is wading through Drudge's inane gimmicks. However, those with the stamina to meander through will be rewarded for their troubles with a transcript of the Q & A of Drudge's 1998 address at the National Press Club in which the famed Internet muckraker provides perspective into the nature of this new medium and deflects criticisms of elitist mainstream journalists jealous about sharing the media spotlight with insightful outsiders.
In reading Drudge Manifesto, one is forced to conclude that Matt Drudge has become so intertwined with the medium synonymous with his name that he is nearly unable to rise above its limitations or to provide much of an analytical perspective capable of making the information revolution an even more effective venue for further expanding the freedoms of all mankind.
In most science fiction stories, extraterrestrial technology is unveiled to the world when it is piloted to earth by proverbial little green men or buIn most science fiction stories, extraterrestrial technology is unveiled to the world when it is piloted to earth by proverbial little green men or bug eyed monsters. However, in Saucer, Stephen Coonts presents a scenario where man's initial exposure to a civilization from beyond the earth does not occur overhead but rather from beneath our feet.
In Saucer, Coonts details the account of a spacecraft unearthed in the Sahara desert and the international intrigue that results as various nations conspire to acquire the vehicle from an egomaniacal Australian industrialist.
Though the novel focuses primarily on the actions of the factions jockeying to acquire the saucer, Coonts brings up a number of intriguing questions that he raises even if he does not answer them directly.
Scattered throughout the novel are a number of comments examining the philosophical ramifications of evidence suggesting life beyond this earth.
Some seem to be more the opinions of the characters themselves. For example, in discussing the saucer with the President, an advisor says, "You have to do something about these saucers. The Bible thumpers were freaking out yesterday...Already some evangelicals say we are at the end of the world. In Revelation..." The passage continues: "'All right, all right' the President said, cutting Willard off. He hated it when people quoted the Bible (166)."
Other comments are made as well regarding the epistemological ramifications of extraterrestrials. One character remarks, "The college professor says it is time to acknowledge the presence of other life-forms in the universe. The religious types are going nuts. There's a mob of a thousand or so across the street in Lafayette Park, waving signs and making speeches talking about the imminent arrival of the Antichrist (187)." An advisor to the President responds, "This is another rightwing conspiracy."
Such an exchange adequately reflects the dismissive and condescending attitude secularists would enunciate concerning the reaction of religious conservatives to nonhuman intelligent life. However, it is through the more altruistic protagonists that one must consider that Coonts is elaborating his own convictions regarding this highly speculative topic.
If so, the reader is led to believe Coonts is predisposed to the theory of panspermia, the idea life came to earth from outer space. According to the novel, the saucer was flown to earth by beings not all that considerably different than ourselves in terms of appearance or physiology.
Rather, the craft was sent here as part of a mission the occupants knew was a one way trip because a society complex enough to produce a vehicle capable of interstellar travel would have to transport nearly its entire civilization if the occupants hoped to replicate the accomplishments of their home world not to mention being able to make a return trip (195).
But even some wanting to get out from under God's direct gaze still long for an origin a bit more meaningful than slime oozing up onto some rock even though a number of them still can't seem to break free from the grip evolution has over the minds of those predisposed to a more mechanistic explanation.
When asked if humanity's arrival from among the stars discounted the perceived legitimacy of the fossil record, Professor Soldi (the character brought forward to make the grandiose pronouncements pertaining to man's place in the cosmos) responds that even though mankind might have replaced the earth's original hominid occupants there is no need to worry that the entire Darwinian enterprise being one colossal scam since, to invoke the tautologies for which this theory of origins is noted "..evolution follows similar courses when similar conditions exist (270)." Basically, even though man might have moved in from elsewhere and never arose from the apes found here, we should still accept the scant fossil evidence that is claimed to exist anyway.
Yet this plot element raises more questions than it solves. For example, if mankind did not originate on earth but rather on another planet, who's to say humanity originated from this proverbial planet X either but rather having migrated from planet Y or Z as the human race plays interstellar flip this house skipping from planet to planet across the cosmos. Apparently, Coonts doesn't have that high of an opinion of the cosmological argument. For not only does the origin of man stem back through a potentially unending regression of planets, Coonts tosses in a bit of Eastern mysticism as well.
Apart from the saucer's hardware, especially valuable is the spacecraft's computer which contains more than directions on how to operate a flying saucer. Believed to unlock nearly infinite knowledge, one character asks another character that accessed the database through the telepathic interface how the universe ends, Coonts writes, " `It will be reborn,' Egg Cantrell told her, `again and again and again....' (311)."
Overall, Saucer by Stephen Coonts is a very engaging book. The action will titillate the reader's sense of adventure while speculation about man's place in the universe will intrigue the imagination even if one does not accept the worldview underlying it.
The battle to eliminate Christmas and other festive occasions that in part define America as a nation can no longer be ignored. Finally, most AmericanThe battle to eliminate Christmas and other festive occasions that in part define America as a nation can no longer be ignored. Finally, most Americans are waking up to this threat. However, this cultural danger did not show up out of nowhere. In Yuletide Terror & Other Holiday Horrors, columnist Frederick Meekins traces the development of this phenomena through a collection of essays dating as far back as the early 1990‘s. Along the way, he examines the beliefs, ideas, and policies motivating these modern Scrooges in their attempt to recast the United States as a reflection of their coal-blackened hearts...more