Probably the weakest of the Taltos books on its own--the plot is neither straightforward swashbuckling fun nor heady, convoluted mystery and intrigue,Probably the weakest of the Taltos books on its own--the plot is neither straightforward swashbuckling fun nor heady, convoluted mystery and intrigue, and in trying to write about war, Brust swings and misses on his normal ability of balancing entertaining story-telling with thoughtful meditation on "big themes of human life"--yet perhaps the first one that stands as an essential to the series as a whole. The doubled storylines point us both back and forth in time, and ensure that we as readers are forced into thinking about how all the books tie together, into understanding all the Taltos books as a large, grand narrative. In other words, while the book-as-adventure suffers, we get real insights into Brust's storytelling process, we hear Vlad tell the story and really begin to understand him as Brust's amanuensis (or maybe it's the other way around).
In short, Dragon is the weakest of the books so far, and the last one I'd recommend for someone wanting to read a great fantasy adventure. But for fans of the series as a whole, it's an absolutely necessary addition, as it's the book that makes us really begin to understand and make sense of the overall technique of the series....more
Kimball writes an excellent collection of essays, that examine general cultural attitudes, literary and artistic production and tastes, and politics.Kimball writes an excellent collection of essays, that examine general cultural attitudes, literary and artistic production and tastes, and politics. All of these circle around a central theme: the need for elitism, and discriminating taste, in culture, art, and politics. A society that resists the elite does not, Kimball shows, result in a more democratic society, but in a society that is actually injurious to democracy, as such a society makes the demos> unable to do the necessary work of differentiation and decision-making, the things needed for robust and effective self-governance. This is a powerful, and persuasive, thesis, and Kimball's multi-faceted presentation of it is admirable. Kimball also does a great service to us by re-introducing us to artists and thinkers whose work has been forgotten or marginalized, and providing us with a pattern for our own elitist differentiation.
My one problem is when Kimball discusses politics. While his articulation of the problematic nature Leftist thinking--of utopianism--is incredibly strong, his tracing of the "pathology" of liberalism back to Godwin is fascinating, and his connecting of politics to artistic production is intriguing, Kimball's political analysis is marred by two significant issues. First, Kimball has trouble differentiating between progressivism, and its often necessary critiques (something he even accepts and points out in places), with revolutionary utopianism. While he names them separately, Kimball's critiques seem to often conflate and collapse these into each other. The second issue results from the first. Kimball often admits that many of his exemplars of politics, like Hayek and Burke, are as readily identified with a right understanding of liberalism as with conservatism. Yet, as his articulation of such categories are imprecise, it is just as easy to accuse Hayek, Burke, et. al., of resisting (or, in some cases, leaving) one form of utopianism for a poorly articulated alternative form.
Yet these are minor annoyances. Kimball is a superb writer, with rich erudition, great wit, and a style that mixes levity and profundity easily. This collection of essays is strong and intriguing, and Kimball's updating Matthew Arnold's general defense of "culture" for the era of post-Communism and milquetoast communitarian multiculturalism is a cri de coeur for all of us who want the good, beautiful, and true....more
As in the previous novel, Anderson both succeeds and suffers where everything in the Star Wars universe succeeds and suffers: there are some great chaAs in the previous novel, Anderson both succeeds and suffers where everything in the Star Wars universe succeeds and suffers: there are some great characters here, some awesome adventure, some epic battles, and an interesting thinking through the moral complications of power that is smart enough, if not exactly sophisticated. Kyp Durron continues to be an incredibly good character, but Admiral Daala goes from promising and intimidating to just flat-out boring and pointless. We learn a lot of fascinating things about Admiral Ackbar, and the parts concerning him were among my absolute favorites. There is also an introduction to some compelling Dark Side and Sith history, as well. Nevertheless, the book suffers with some leaden dialogue, a running gag of Han and Lando gambling on the Falcon that always feels like a waste of time and productive of nothing but cheesy platitudes about friendship (because of course they'd be gambling on the ship while they're flying to the opposite side of the galaxy to save Leia, but it's about their friendship and respect for each other...or something), some uneven pacing in the central part of the book, and literally close to three chapters--45-50 pages!--of C-3P0's adventures in babysitting, chapters that are completely, totally, and frustratingly wastes of time.
But overall, this is still a good, if not great, bit of sci-fi and a nice continuing adventure of the post-Episode VI universe. A strong cliffhanger ending and the working through of some issues that got rid of some characters while emphasizing other really interesting ones will push me to reading the last bit of the trilogy. On the whole, I like the idea and the plot Anderson is working with here, and that's really what makes me want to finish--but I can't help but feel that if a better writer was taking this on, a lot of the cheesiness and leaden aspects of the novel would be gone. I had an unvoiced opinion after reading the first book in this series, and I feel it even stronger now: if Zahn's Thrawn books are the Episode V of the novels, Anderson is here writing the novel equivalent to Episode II. Not terrible, and even some really, really great stuff, but seriously limited by an inability to know when he's going too far afield.
Trust me, skip the chapters on C-3P0 babysitting. Trust me....more
Hornung writes unevenly, with the first, middle, and last stories being quite well realized, and the others seeming like so much filler, merely to attHornung writes unevenly, with the first, middle, and last stories being quite well realized, and the others seeming like so much filler, merely to attempt to flesh out Raffles and his associate--and our narrator--Bunny. Even in those good stories, there's relatively little tension in the crimes, nearly no real cleverness displayed by Raffles, but merely good luck, charm, and a sense of superiority over his victims that brings him to constant, regular, and quite easy victory. His opponent, Inspector MacKenzie, is equally flat, merely appearing as a boring law-and-order type who will calmly, soberly, and single-mindedly pursue his man.
But where Raffles and MacKenzie fall short--and they do, however much Hornung really and truly wants us to be feel tension between them, and wants us to be utterly charmed by Raffles--Bunny, as narrator and central consciousness, provides some real interest and moral complexity. And if the crimes are without real intrigue or entertainment, the moral questions of the book are rather intriguing. Raffles is a gentleman thief who only burgles for the "sport" of it, with burglary really no different than his day job of cricket. Burglary is merely a skill to possess and to practice and cultivate, like bowling or batting. Yet it is also an opportunity, like cricket (it is significant that the cricket match at the center of the book is "Gentleman vs. Players," with the gentleman, led by Raffles, of course winning) to prove the superiority of men like Raffles. Though he never steals from those who would be significantly hurt by his thefts, and often steals from petty, wealthy bourgeois who deserve some sort of comeuppance, Raffles never appears as a Robin Hood or other sort of vigilante who crimes are in pursuit of a good. Raffles' crimes are only in pursuit of proving the superiority of himself. Hornung thus gives us a picture of a late-Victorian, early-Edwardian self-important nihilism that worships the self. Bunny is both horrified and incredibly attracted to such a way of living and thinking--though Hornung makes clear in the final story that Bunny misinterprets Raffles' project.
In short, these are casually entertaining (though even that is obscured by references and language hyper-specific to the time period), if not very good, short stories, that nevertheless present a very real and very important relativist, self-worshipping morality that is all-too-often overlooked in our fiction. That Hornung marries a means of thinking so repellent to so many of us with a character whom he intends to appear to us as incredibly charming, and that a narrator so like us is so deeply attracted to this ambiguous character should give us pause and make us think. But the problem of the book still persists; Hornung may have been a good enough writer to give us entertaining, smart "anti-detective" stories, or may have been a good enough writer to give us a novel about the morality of aristocracy. Unfortunately, he's not a good enough writer to do both, in making the attempt, neither really succeeds....more
I've read more than a few Star Wars novels, and while some would make for great scifi, no matter the setting, some are just bad, no matter the settingI've read more than a few Star Wars novels, and while some would make for great scifi, no matter the setting, some are just bad, no matter the setting. But the vast majority aren't great books, but simply entertaining expansions of the Star Wars saga. This is one of those. Jedi Search is a solid, enjoyable read and fun adventure precisely because it's a part of the Star Wars universe, and it brings us back into contact with those characters and situations we know and love. Anderson is a fine storyteller, but not all that good of a writer; some of the dialogue and description especially, but a lot of the prose generally, is mediocre at best--in this, Anderson is really no different than Lucas. But while the writing is often clunky, the story is wonderful, a great adventure that mixes slapstick humor with big adventure, bizarre chases, good guys, bad guys, and just enough moral ambiguity to keep things interesting. I really credit Anderson at bringing up, in a subtle way, some of the underpinning philosophical questions of the whole Star Wars saga--the tensions between faith in humanity's perfectability and belief in the need for limits and order, as well as the fact that technologies can never be ethically or morally neutral. Luke's first Jedi trainees are promising, interesting characters, and the introduction of another remnant of the Galactic Empire creates new, promising plot points. Some great chases and escapes, plenty of interesting minor bad guys, and challenges galore make this an rousing adventure. Nevertheless, too much time spent in what amounts to a pointless sidebar with Lando and Artoo, too much leaden dialogue, and the inability to decide if one of the chief antagonists is a comical frog monster (he's a frog! his species is called "Rybit!" he gets his head stuck in a jar of flies!) or truly evil (he keeps females slaves he rapes! he forces his children into slavery!) hold the book back from really shining. Still, fans of Star Wars will be rewarded, and I'll be reading the next two books in the series. ...more
An infinitely fascinating and nuanced presentation of the competing goals, hubris, lies, and misunderstandings that helped to win World War I and creaAn infinitely fascinating and nuanced presentation of the competing goals, hubris, lies, and misunderstandings that helped to win World War I and create the mess that is today's Middle East. Anderson's desire to focus on four key individuals and their interactions with one another and dozens of others is intriguing, but eventually leads to a work of history that wants to read like a novel. Unfortunately, Anderson's skills as a writer, while real and commendable, don't lend themselves to doing this sort of thing effectively. As a result, we're presented with something odd: a work of scholarship and research that tells a story that needs telling, that reveals and explains many of the circumstances we see today, all of which are well-told, but that are so taxing to read we can't keep with it for more than 20, 25 pages at a go. Sometimes, this felt like Game of Thrones. Sometimes, it felt like the driest history textbook possible. Because of that inconsistency, we're left thanking Anderson for writing such an important book (and a book that needs to be read by anyone interested in the Middle East), but also needing to force ourselves to get through it....more
Bishop Wright provides us with another very strong work, with excellent purposes and a real importance for the Church; nevertheless, the work is somewBishop Wright provides us with another very strong work, with excellent purposes and a real importance for the Church; nevertheless, the work is somewhat limited in its effectiveness by its execution.
Building off of previous work, Wright again reminds us (correctly, I would assert) that the purpose of Christian life is not just "going to Heaven" (though that is certainly part of it), but doing the work of the Kingdom, of doing the work God calls us to in being a part of His setting Creation to rights. The Church is to be priests and rulers, Wright tells us, and he goes into real detail with both the story of Eden and man-as-caretaker-ruler, and of Israel, and its priestly vocation of exhibiting Divine Truth, and how both of these find manifestation and further explication in Christ and his teachings. To live in this way--to live as Christ, and as what Christ and his Father desire us to be--we must cultivate virtue. Virtue is set against legalism on one side, a blind, unthinking, unreflective insistence on "rules" which limits us by making us unable to live in accordance with our principles and faith in situations which are not covered by "the rules." On the other side, virtue is set against a desire for a life without limits, in which we, in the name of "authenticity" or "spontaneity" attempt to only do "what comes naturally." As this is a self centered vision, it cuts us off from others, and thus limits us as well. Virtue, then, is a middle path that allows for full human flourishing.
This sounds like Aristotle, of course, and Wright admits as much, and spends time discussing Aristotelian ethics. Christian virtue, he says, has much in common with pagan virtue--but with radical differences. Pagan, Aristotelian virtue exists to find a means for human happiness, while Christian virtue exists for God's perfect grace to shine through us, and to work through us. Christians also make virtues of things, like chastity, the pagans found quaint, at best. After discussing Aristotle, Christian virtue's differences, Wright gives us discussions of the examples of virtue from the gospels and the Pauline letters, in order to create a theory of Christian virtue and sketch out what Christian virtues are. Wright does a fine job of all of this, and he reminds us that Christian virtue is based in Scripture, needs community, and comes through practice and allowing the Holy Spirit to work through us and show us means of practicing and inculcating virtues to make them second nature.
I was deeply challenged and compelled by this book, then, both to find ways to live out virtue, and to return to the Scripture and see the kinds of virtue being promoted, and the ways being encouraged to practice those virtues. Bishop Wright is to be commended for that. However, Wright's work is limited by two things: one, his focus is very heavy on Paul and Paul's teachings, and does not focus nearly enough on the ways in which we see virtue being practiced and taught in the gospels. Of course, Christians should not fall into the trap of reading Paul vs. the Gospels, something Wright would certainly agree with. Yet I cannot help but feel this very Christian work of thinking needed, well, more Christ. But perhaps the biggest problem of the book is Wright's attempt to pen a book that combines both complex concepts that need robust, careful unpacking with stories and bite-sized lessons for the layman. While both are good and strong impulses, and Wright (unsurprisingly) shows real talent at both, they seem to exist messily in this book, and After You Believe reads in a way that is often confused and confusing. This is not to say that Wright's thinking is confused or his theology is heterodox; to the contrary. But the lay reader looking for a straightforward introduction to Christian virtues will likely find himself bewildered at points.
Nevertheless, Wright gives us a strong, theologically rich work that reminds us both how incredible, and how incredibly demanding, following Christ is. A work to be studied and thought over in churches and small groups, and a message that ministers and Christian educators should take seriously and begin to bring to their congregations....more
Oden makes a compelling case for rediscovering orthodoxy, and for what orthodoxy means, in a world that he insists is "beyond modernity." These are poOden makes a compelling case for rediscovering orthodoxy, and for what orthodoxy means, in a world that he insists is "beyond modernity." These are points worthy of consideration for anyone who wants to think seriously about what faith means in the 21st century, and I personally find Oden's arguments compelling. Orthodoxy is the counter-culture in our day, and Oden's use of Vincent of Lerins, and his Commotorium, as a means for finding orthodox truth in our, or any, world , is enlightening. While Oden's ideas are thus sound, and I find them compelling and meaningful--after reading this, I gladly think of myself as paleo-orthodox--the general success of the work Oden does here is limited by two things:
First, Oden writes in a style that is quasi-academic and detached; as such, many lay members of the Church, those who would be highly susceptible to being won over by Oden's thinking about orthodoxy, will find this work inaccessible. Perhaps this is no worry to Oden, however, perhaps he is writing for lay intellectuals and clerics, hoping they lead the majority of the church to paleo-orthodox understandings of the faith. Those readers will find this work compelling.
Second, Oden's political conservatism--including an odd conversion narrative that parallels him to Hillary Rodham Clinton--seems to suggest that only those who adhere to representative democracy and market economics (oddly enough, products of the modernity he claims we have past) are capable of being orthodox. This is frustrating, as while I may disagree with liberal political positions, I am confident that many progressives are equally capable of orthodox faith. In this, Oden does too little to insist on something we forget in the 21st century church: that the orthodoxy of the faith is the first thing, with politics being a distant second.
Despite these problems and limitations, Oden still presents a necessary argument, and he inspires me to move towards rediscovering orthodoxy in my own faith. The reintroduction of Western readers to Vincent of Lerins is also a commendable aspect of this book. ...more
A wonderful primer on the history, technological changes, and politics of the late middle ages, the history, politics, and theology behind the ReformaA wonderful primer on the history, technological changes, and politics of the late middle ages, the history, politics, and theology behind the Reformation, the debates that went into translating the Bible into English, the history of early-modern English translations and how these relate to the political struggle between Royalists, Parliamentarians, Puritans, and Anglicans, and how this all eventually results in the King James Bible. McGrath also does a fine job of describing the translation process, the various theories of scriptural translation, that informed all of the English translations of the Bible. As a popular, layman's history of these things, it doesn't go into a lot of depth, but does an admirable job of providing just enough information to give context for appropriate understanding. McGrath is highly readable, and the book present complex issues without ever sacrificing lucidity or moving towards inaccessibility.
Three things hold the book back, however: 1--McGrath focuses too much on perhaps unnecessary background information, and thus puts himself in a bind wherein he sacrifices how much focus he can put on the actual ostensible subject. The story of the KJB doesn't begin until about 2/3 in, and feels somewhat rushed. While the discussions of European politics and theology post-Gutenberg are intriguing and well done, for the purposes of this book, they felt as if they were largely superfluous. Better to give a quick summary and start with discussing the need for an English Bible post-Henry VIII much more quickly. 2--An odd repetitiveness haunts the book, suggesting some editorial issues. 3--One of the most interesting aspects of the KJB is its continuing popularity. McGrath recognizes this, but moves his discussion of the KJB as a literary masterpiece, a thing of enduring theological consideration, etc. to the last 25 or so pages. This is easily one of the most fascinating parts of the history of the work, and is too-lightly treated.
While flawed and perhaps lacking focus in places, McGrath does an excellent job of writing a readable, accessible, and generally fascinating history of the most vital period of Anglophone Christianity, and its most important production. ...more
Wright here gives us a challenging and edifying introduction to Christianity for those outside of the faith, and perhaps an even more challenging andWright here gives us a challenging and edifying introduction to Christianity for those outside of the faith, and perhaps an even more challenging and edifying re-acquaintance with the faith for those who already believe, or have lapsed from the faith. Wright thus writes a volume equally geared towards the active believer, the lapsed believer, and the interested non-believer; even the strident atheist might find some pause in response to considering Wright's lucid and moving presentation of the faith.
Some might think that this is a work of apologetics, a work that responds to criticisms of the faith and tries to defend it in the face of these; that is an incorrect assumption. Rather than start with challenges to Christianity, Bishop Wright begins by asserting that all human beings, no matter their background, seem to all feel in the deepest parts of them pulls towards beauty, towards love and relationships, towards seeking justice to be done in the world, and towards a sense that life must have some meaning outside of themselves. These are the "echoes" of a "voice" calling from somewhere; we all recognize this, we just often don't know how to respond to this voice. Wright says little about atheist and materialist approaches to these "echoes," but asserts that (at least quasi-)religious approaches to these have taken three forms: a pagan form that sees the Divine as a semi-conscious force that immanently exists in all things, a deist form that sees a transcendent Divine as removed from all human action, and a third form--represented by the Christian, but perhaps by some other religious traditions as well (Wright does not do a comparative religion study here)--that sees God as both transcendent and immanent, as enacting a constant coexistence and interaction of Heaven and Earth. Wright reads Christianity as embodying this "Option Three," and he spends the latter 2/3 of the book largely explicating why the Christian embodiment of "Option Three" is a sound, sensible, and full response to the four "echoes" he unpacks in the first section of the book.
On the whole, Wright presents a complex and nuanced view of Christianity that is learned without being distractingly scholarly, and easily digestible by most anyone. There are especial strengths in his presentation of the unity of Scripture, and his emphasis on the centrality of the "exile-and-return" narrative that runs throughout the Bible to the Christian faith, something many believers often ignore. Wright's readings of Scripture, and his path into exploring "why Christianity makes sense," leads to his providing some significant challenges to believers about the purpose and ends of their faith (it's about being a worker in God's process of reconciliation between the Divine and his Creation, of bringing the Kingdom to bear, not merely of punching a ticket to Heaven--which, to be clear, Wright certainly believes in), about how to worship, the purposes of worship itself, and Christian ethics and life.
There's plenty here to unsettle both the swaggering bluster of the Religious Right and the fast-and-loose-with-Scripture moves of the progressive Christian Left. Which is, if you read the Gospels, as it should be; Christianity is a faith that constantly challenges our complacencies. Wright's dual insistence on the sensibility of Christianity, and how well it answers our deepest desires, as well as his insistence on bringing believers back to Scripture to shake up their arrogant complacencies, provides non-believers and lapsed believers with a possibly new sense of what Christianity is and what the Church should be and can be, making the work Bishop Wright does here a powerful and useful witness. Even those uninterested in Christianity--or any form of religious belief--would be well-served to hear Wright out here, as it would do much to explain the continuing interest in and vitality of Christianity in a world which ostensibly has little use for it any more....more
I enjoy a good epic fantasy as much as the next nerd, and so I enjoyed the first novel in this series--and Rothfuss's first novel overall--The Name ofI enjoy a good epic fantasy as much as the next nerd, and so I enjoyed the first novel in this series--and Rothfuss's first novel overall--The Name of the Wind. I enjoyed how he utilized the classic "quest" motif as an individualized trope, wherein our hero, Kvothe, doesn't go out to save the world, but to make sense of himself, to learn, to find self-improvement, and to uncover the truth behind the unsettling mystery of what happened to his parents, and why. It was refreshing to see the classic epic remade into a bildungsroman, and to see notions of education, and friendship, and relationships between fact and mystery, knowledge and myth (and the necessity of all) played out in a well-realized fantasy world. Yet, for all the good, I found myself regularly frustrated at how lucky and clever and always-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time Kvothe was, and this kept me from absolutely loving the first of these "Kingkiller Chronicles." Yet here, in this second novel, I began to see that Rothfuss has a larger purpose for showing Kvothe in such a way--a purpose I can't wait to see reach its conclusion in the forthcoming third and final volume of the series.
Importantly, the frame narrative becomes much richer here in this second novel, and the ambiguous love and evil we saw in Bast at the very end of the previous book continues to develop in even stranger and more fascinating ways. We see that Kvothe's greatness is challenged by his current ineptness, his existence as a sad, pitiful, washed-up nothing; that is moving and sad, and points to a deeper question: is Kvothe's story real? After all, in a novel about story telling, in which a story is being told in which stories are told--often false stories--we're left wondering about the real, true connection between the frame narrative and the main narrative. Perhaps, I couldn't help but think several times in the reading, perhaps Kvothe is not some great hero, perhaps he is only a regular, everyday person who found himself doing heroic things in spite of how normal and everyday he is. Perhaps the story he is telling to Chronicler is his accepting the stories told about him, using these embellishments, presenting them as truths, so as to make sense of his own life. And perhaps, in the third book, Rothfuss will tell us the truth, and we'll see if the real man, the real hero, is actually Kvothe--or maybe just plain old everyday, regular, boring, quotidian Kote the innkeeper.
Rothfuss thus continues the strong from the previous book, and deepens the moral and narrative complexity, and in so doing overcomes my only real reservation of the first book. And as he expands the sweeping adventure here, he creates some really wonderful and memorable scenes and characters and events, and Kvothe's contact with new cultures and peoples provides extra depth and enjoyment to the overall world of the novel. I am left with almost now reservations here, but with some mighty huge frustrations.
The things that cause those frustrations just aren't frustrating, they are agonizingly bad. I'm no prude, but turning Kvothe into a Lothario and spending ~70 pages of the novel with him shagging the equivalent to Aphrodite, and following that with multiple passages of sex with exotically Stoic beauties from the other side of the mountains and commentary on the silly prudishness of Kvothe's own culture is, well, silly. Okay, Patrick Rothfuss likes sex. Fine. But I can't get over the feeling that this is the author's attempt at getting "real-world deep" and making comments about problems he sees in Western attitudes about sex, gender roles, etc. I have no problems with him doing that, but as performed here it feels unnecessary, ham-fisted, and often contrived. While Rothfuss thankfully avoids the pitfalls of the George R.R. Martin school of bad fantasy novel sex-writing, the use of sex here still feels like a distraction, something in there just to titillate, or to make some grand political gesture, or to sex it up just to boost sales--and not like it has anything to do with the central narrative or themes. Further, all this makes the achingly gorgeous, sad, tragic, and as-of-yet chaste longing between Kvothe and Denna seem, well, somehow less vital and real when held in juxtaposition with Kvothe-as-Don-Juan.
Another annoyance is the continuing reference to Kvothe's youth. Understandably, the first novel needed to have him as a boy and then a young teen to do the work Rothfuss wanted to do there. And as such, there's no getting around the youth in this, the sequel. But nevertheless, there's something pretty silly about reading all the epic adventures of our hero, and then being beat over the head with pronouncements of amazement that HE'S ONLY 16 ISN'T THAT INCREDIBLE!?!?!! I sometimes wondered if Rothfuss felt he needed some in with the lucrative young adult market, and felt that such continuous declarations of age were necessary. The actions and adventures and maturity displayed here by Kvothe could easily be those of someone in his early 20s, and that's the age I kept imagining him to be. But being regularly informed about Kvothe's infrequent need to shave makes it seem as if Rothfuss really wants Kvothe to be Harry Potter (and, to be clear, this book shows real indebtedness to the Harry Potter series).
But despite some frustrations, I was enchanted and absorbed by this book. After the first novel in the series, I was ready to be further entertained, but what I've uncovered after reading The Wise Man's Fear is not merely entertainment, but a staggeringly good and incredibly intelligent bit of epic fantasy, that repurposes and reinvents many of the classic tropes to real and profound effect. ...more