The 13th Age Bestiary completely blew me away. Seriously, expectations exceeded at every level. I admit, I am a sucker for a good monster book, but th...moreThe 13th Age Bestiary completely blew me away. Seriously, expectations exceeded at every level. I admit, I am a sucker for a good monster book, but this is a great one. Let me say up front that any GM looking for inspiring monsters should find something to love in the Bestiary, regardless of what system they are running. Don’t think that just because it says 13th Age on the cover that it can’t be useful for your D&D 5e or Pathfinder game.
The meat of this book is fifty-two monsters, or categories of monsters, really. Most monsters have at least a one or two variants and often there are three or even more. For example, the entry for Red Dragon contains write-ups for 7th level Volcano Dragon, a 9th level Hoardsong Dragon, a 9th level Hoard Spirit, an 11th level Greathoard Elder, a 12th level Flamewreathed Dragon and 12th level smoke minions (note that when there are minor monsters like Hoard Spirits that are part of another monster’s ecology, they are included in its section). This works out to a total of 202 monster variants.
A great many of the monsters are classic D&D baddies, brilliantly reimagined. For example, there’s the chimera whose abilities shift at the beginning of each battle. Cambions are now demonic assassins for hire who grow their lethal weapons out of their own flesh and bone. And if you like Gelatinous Cubes, you’re going to love Gelatinous Dodecahedrons!
My personal favorite classic monster getting the 13th Age treatment is the Redcap. 13th Age redcaps get their red caps by dipping them in their victims’ blood, so the redness of a redcap’s headgear tells you how tough it is. Before combat with redcaps, the GM picks a ‘bad word’ and when someone at the table says it the redcaps can instantly teleport to get the jump on the players. As a GM, just imagining the look on my players’ faces when that happens gives me a smile.
There are numerous more obscure monsters brought vividly to life, like the Couatl, the Jorogumo, the Wendigo and the Shadow Dragon. All are given vivid new life. And some monsters are entirely new to this kind of game (as far as I’m aware), like the Whispering Prophet (spooky aberrant infiltrators), the Wibble (magical mistakes) and the Zorigami (mysterious clockwork constructs with time shifting capabilities). There are also new monsters specifically for the Dragon Empire setting, including Blue Sorcerers, Warbanners and The Saved.
If the Core Book had a weakness, it was the monster section. Due to space constraints, some of the monsters seemed a little bit vanilla and played as under-powered. This book seeks to address that in several instances, where core book monsters have been given a more stylish and lethal makeover. "Oh those core book black dragons? They were the crappy black dragons. These are the real deal!"
The Bestiary even includes stats for two monsters it recommends that GMs think twice about using - rust monsters and the Terrasque. Yes, these are real rust monsters that will dissolve your players equipment and make them hate you forever. No fooling around here. They come with a big fat warning, but they are available for GMs that want them. The Terrasque, meanwhile, has been given stats that start at virtually unbeatable and can be tweaked upwards to flat out impossible.
A good monster is more than just its stats. For those grognards who want a full ecology write-up next to their monster’s stat block, a great many of these monsters have one. Where might you find said monster? What does this monster eat? What does it do in its spare time? What sort of allies might this monster have? Does it pair well with kobolds (answer: yes)? Each monster also includes advice on building battles and some suggested plot hooks.
Some monsters get a complete lifecycle. The best example of this is the remorhaz. The remorhaz has a full five different stages written up as separate monsters, and the first couple won’t necessarily clue in players about what these critters will grow up to be. Letting one of your players adopt a mewling 'snow kitten' and watching as it gets bigger, uglier and meaner could be a lot of fun!
This being 13th Age, very little is set in stone. Origin stories, in particular, are often left to the player, albeit with several hints for GMs who want them. And sometimes, as the book says, “a purple worm is just a purple worm.” The purple worm in this book, by the way, is a serious engine of destruction fully capable of swallowing some or all of your players whole and digesting them in its highly acidic stomach. The designers really haven’t pulled any punches.
If this book was just a collection of flavorful, well-executed monsters it would be great but there’s more here. The designers love lists and start out with several, including “Monsters that might negotiate a treaty with you” and “Monsters that lay fearsome eggs.” The monsters themselves often come with entertaining lists: “Things found in a black dragon’s hoard” or “Things Blue Sorcerers carry” or “Things found in the stomach of a Bulette.”
But wait, there’s still more! There are tables of attributes to roll on to make monsters more fun/interesting/terrifying. If a monster can be found in a particularly perilous environment there are tables of environmental effects. The Shadow Dragon entry includes some lovely cursed items. The entry on Kobolds has tables of random traps (one table per environment!) that they can drag players into during battle!
And, for those pesky players, there is even a playable monster race. And it’s where you’d least expect it… under the Fungaloid entry. Yes, Mycotic Twygzogs are now a playable race in 13th Age. This might be the first official support for sexy mushroom princes in a d20 game.
Yes that’s kind of random, but it gives you an idea of how fun this book is. It’s not just a book of monsters. It’s a book of unique backstories, world-building details and bits of lore. And lots of surprises. For both the GM and his or her unfortunate players!
As with both the Core book and 13 True Ways, the Bestiary is written in an informal style with the authors occasionally breaking in to address the reader directly and explain why they’ve done what they did. To me this is just about empowering the GM and players as much as possible to make the game their own, and it is one of the things I love most about 13th Age.
The final section of the book, aside from some charts and the necessary monsters-by-level list, walks the reader through monster creation, from re-skinning a monster to building one from scratch. This may seem redundant to experienced GMs but I think it’s great that the designers realized this is something not everyone is confident about doing on their own. And in fact even self-styled designers can learn a thing or two here, as the book breaks down the ‘technology’ used to build 13th Age monsters, how to apply it and when.
If you have never looked at a 13th Age monster, the two things that will stand out to you are special abilities that trigger based on the natural roll of the d20, and the escalation die. Monsters are basically constructed around these two concepts and they can get complicated.
In fact my one complaint about this book is that occasionally some monster entries seemed over fiddly, with multiple riders tacked on for natural even misses, natural odd misses, natural 16+ and natural 18+. Still, I suppose that at the end of the day you roll the d20, look at the list of riders, and do what it says. So I won’t complain too much.
So here’s the tldr version: lots of cool monsters that seem like they would be fun to run at the table. Rich seams of lore and backstory to steal from. Copious adventure hooks. Clever new mechanics. Tables of stuff to roll on. And a playable race.
Kids, this book is value for money. I’m serious.(less)
One might suspect someone who writes as much on the topic of world wars as Max Hastings does to have a tendency to glorify them. 'Inferno', his single...moreOne might suspect someone who writes as much on the topic of world wars as Max Hastings does to have a tendency to glorify them. 'Inferno', his single-volume survey of WWII, puts the lie to this idea.
Hastings here chronicles every front of the war, from 1939-1945, from Burma to India to Leningrad to the North Sea, using anecdotes and soldiers' letters that capture war in all its hellish misery. He sheds light on many fronts and battles that are less known and less celebrated, at least in the West. For example, Anglo-American accounts of the war make far too little mention of the notorious Eastern Front, where Germany fought the Soviet Union in a horrifically bloody clash of tyrants. The adventures of the British and their allies in Southeast Asia, often overlooked, are also chronicled, as are the harrowing supply convoys sent across the Arctic Circle to Russia. And Hastings does not shrink from relaying the conflict from the point of view of our enemies, Germany and Japan, who were seldom as monolithic as one expects.
'Inferno' is a reminder that World War II was truly a world-wide conflict, dragging soldiers and civilians from nations all over the world into its awful machinery. Proxy battles were fought in unexpected places like Syria and Iraq. Most of the world-spanning British Empire was obliged to send troops to various fronts, whether they had any connection to the conflict or not. Ocean-spanning supply lines ensured that every major sea was also a theater of war. The only part of the world that escaped relatively unscathed was South America - although Brazil did declare war on the Axis in an effort to support their US allies.
Soldiers are the focus of most accounts of the war, but Hastings reminds us that it was civilians who suffered the most. When the lines of battle swept through a country, they almost always left devastation: bombings, looting, starvation and mass migration. Sometimes this was incidental, but other times it was not. When the Germans invaded the Ukraine, they had an explicit policy of starving the population in order to feed their armies. Millions of innocents perished. The Japanese were known for their cruelty towards occupied peoples as well. Even when the cleansing of civilian populations wasn't a goal, as in Italy, industrialized warfare still decimated the towns and villages it swept through.
If there was ever an example of a 'just war' it was WWII. But Hastings argues persuasively that while the victory of the Allies was preferable to that of the Axis, the outcome was still catastrophic for those caught in the middle. Britain and France declared war on Germany because it invaded Poland. However no help was ever sent to the Poles in any form, and at the war's end Stalin was allowed to engulf Poland into his empire of tyranny. Hastings also writes that American enthusiasm for fighting Germany, which had never harmed them directly, was never as great as for fighting Japan, which had. And so the Americans prosecuted the war in Europe much more slowly and cautiously than they might have. Hastings, being British, is extra critical of them and of Churchill. Despite this, he acknowledges that the institutionalized brutality of Nazi Germany and Japan were great evils which had to be countered.
It's hard to comprehend the reckless disregard for human life that characterized Japan and Germany during the war. Both countries were relatively progressive and advanced, yet both treated their enemies with inhuman savagery. In Germany's case, the details of the Holocaust are well known, but it was not an isolated event. Germany's leadership showed a willingness to wipe out entire populations, often for little gain, many times. Perhaps the most notorious example of this is when they consulted nutritionists to figure out how to starve 20 million Ukranian citizens to death. Japan was never as methodical about its destruction, but if anything its soldiers behaved with greater cruelty at an individual level.
Hastings shows that in both cases, these barbaric policies did almost nothing to benefit the Axis and in many cases were detrimental to their efforts. For example, Germany expended vast resources killing Jews at a time when they needed all their man-power on the Eastern Front. There was also a desperate labor shortage at the time, and it would have made far more sense to put the Jews to work instead of killing them. Meanwhile, the Japanese were initially welcomed in Burma as liberators, until their wanton cruelty towards the indigenous populations turned popular sentiment against them. When the British returned, this time they were the liberators.
Policies of wanton inhumanity lead to destruction for both Germany and Japan. Germany's atrocities on the Eastern Front guaranteed that the Red Army was devastating in its revenge and the US and Britain felt little compunction about fire-bombing its cities into oblivion. Meanwhile Japan's barbaric, suicidal approach to warfare lead the US to unleash atomic bombs on it rather than attempt a costly invasion.
Which leaves us with the question of, Why? Why did Japan and Germany embark on such barbaric, costly courses which caused so much suffering to them and others. This question Hastings does not attempt to tackle. 'Inferno' is a long enough book as it is. But whatever the motivations of the Axis, Hastings shows convincingly that it could never have been worth it. Industrialized war truly is hell. Perhaps that is simply a lesson we all had to learn the hard way.(less)
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.
Tears in Rain shares other elements with Blade Runner: it also features replicants and a detective trying to solve a mystery on a dystopian future Earth. In a way I think this is unfortunate because it would be easy to dismiss this novel as Blade Runner fan-fiction. It's not. This is a deep, poignant and compelling work in its own right, and if it was inspired by the film it manages to explore the film's themes of memory and death in a way that the original never approached.
The book acknowledges the existence of the film Blade Runner within its timeline, but this is not a sequel or even set in the same universe.
It is about one hundred years in the future and the Earth is a very different place. Breakthroughs in technology have lead to the creation of replicants: genetically engineered human beings who are 'hatched' at a human-equivalent age of 25, implanted with false memories of a fictional childhood, and then sent to work in dangerous conditions, fight in wars or explore hostile worlds.
A replicant uprising has lead to theoretical equal rights for 'reps' in the newly formed United States of Earth, but in practice they are still feared and discriminated against. To complicate matters, a rep has a natural lifespan of about ten years - at that point their bodies suddenly decay and death quickly follows. Science has not been able to solve this problem.
Bruna Husky is a combat rep who has 'retired' and become a private investigator in Madrid. When a fellow replicant goes insane and tries to kill her, Bruna starts to investigate a strange string of murders: replicants who have been forcibly implanted with new false memories that drive them to kill.
Miriam Chi, the leader of a group for replicant rights, suspects that this is part of a conspiracy to turn human citizens against reps. Bruna is skeptical, but soon finds herself becoming paranoid as the conspirators appear to be able to track and anticipate her every move. She needs allies, but is torn between the disgraced memorist whose final work was to create Bruna's own false memories and the sly human policeman who claims he's on her side.
Meanwhile, replicants with infected memories are committing ever more horrific killings and the an anti-replicant hate group has inexplicably risen to political power. And Bruna is haunted by memories, false and real, of her own past and the ever shortening frame of her own future.
Author Rosa Montero has created a really interesting future in Tears in Rain. Human teleportation is possible, but carries grave risks. Humans have created orbital colonies, the so-called Floating Worlds, organized around fringe ideologies. The shortening of the vast distances of interstellar space has brought humanity into contact with alien civilizations. Yet despite all these advances, pollution has rendered much of the Earth uninhabitable, horrific wars and genocides have killed millions, and people still age and die.
This novel properly belongs to the sci-fi subgenre of 'cyberpunk', which concerns dystopian near-futures. And it owes a lot to a Harrison Ford movie from 1985. But this is a rare book that transcends its own genre. The mystery is not really the heart of the story. Montero is writing about loss and how we remember the people we have lost and what that means. Bruna's false memories of the childhood she never had are more vivid than her friend the aging archivist Yiannis' true memories of a child he lost long ago. If the dead live on in memory and memory is fragile and mutable and eventually we all die... where does that leave us?
Montero's novel is poignant and compelling, all at the same time. The themes she works with are resonant ones, and her world is one I would very much like to explore further. Word is that she's writing a sequel. I for one will be looking forward to it. (less)
I'm going to try to do this review with minimal spoilers. But if you want to go in with absolutely zero preconceptions, stop reading here.
The first tw...moreI'm going to try to do this review with minimal spoilers. But if you want to go in with absolutely zero preconceptions, stop reading here.
The first two-thirds of this book are phenomenal, positively five stars. It's the last third that will, I expect, give most people pause. Without spoiling for anything, the book basically flips from an introspective psychological thriller/mystery to another genre entirely.
Is that okay? Well... I feel like Rebecca Anderson does give her readers fair warning. After all, our synaesthete protagonist Alison believes she disintegrated school rival Tori. Either she's completely insane or there are forces at work that are not of this world. So I don't think the reader can protest that they've been completely hoodwinked.
That said, the first two thirds of the book do such a fine job skating that 'what is reality?' line that it's a pity that the author couldn't keep that going until the end. Her exploration of the way people's subjective experience of the physical world might differ is extremely fascinating.
Sixteen-year-old Alison experiences the world differently from most people: letters and sounds have colors and personalities; words have tastes. When Alison hears bells she sees golden stars. And when she sees the new girl in school, Tori Beaugrand, she hears a buzzing in her head that drives her crazy.
Literally, because the story opens with Alison waking up in the psych ward of a mental hospital. She's been out of it for two weeks, there are gaps in her memory and Tori has gone missing - and Alison was the last person to see her alive. Did Alison kill Tori? Is she insane or did her unusual senses allow her to witness something that is impossible? And in a mental institution, surrounded by troubled kids and skeptical shrinks, who can Tori trust?
Enter Dr. Sebastian Faraday, a scientist studying Alison's condition. Dr. Faraday may be the only one who can help Alison - if she can just avoid screwing things up by falling in love with her therapist.
Overall I liked the book a lot. The prose is very strong (I love the line: "And where the new girl had curves, I had only angles and despair."). The characters are complex and interesting. And though more psychological than action-packed, the plot keeps you turning pages. I am definitely interested in reading more from this author.(less)
This book is universally acknowledged to be one of the best Captain America stories so I thought I would give it a try. It does not disappoint. "Winte...moreThis book is universally acknowledged to be one of the best Captain America stories so I thought I would give it a try. It does not disappoint. "Winter Soldier" basically gives Captain America the Jason Bourne treatment. It's a globe-trotting geopolitical thriller that still manages to be a story about Cap as well.
This review is spoiler free, but just about every synopsis I have seen, including the blurb on the back of the book, gives away a major revelation that doesn't come until halfway through the book. I recommend you avoid reading very much about this story. Not that knowing the twist will ruin the whole thing for you - it didn't for me.
The setup, spoiler free: Captain America is a man out of time... a World War II legend frozen for decades and revived in a world that's passed him by. With nothing else to do, Cap has joined up with S.H.I.E.L.D. to continue to do the only thing he knows how to do - fight.
Still, Cap is haunted by his memories of WWII, in particular the tragic loss of his teenaged sidekick, Bucky. And the world has not stood still while he slept - other men have worn the mantle of Captain America and Bucky, and left their own marks on it. And his old foe, the Red Skull, is still very much alive, and he's back in town...
This story is a classic in a way that few modern comic stories manage. The art is also top notch: it's vividly detailed and cinematically rendered and the black-and-white WWII flashbacks are amazing.
Oh by the way, the film Captain America 2 is scheduled for 2014 and the subtitle is Winter Soldier...(less)
This is the modern American funeral: the body, prepared, embalmed and unnaturally made-up until it looks like a waxy replica of the deceased, is brief...moreThis is the modern American funeral: the body, prepared, embalmed and unnaturally made-up until it looks like a waxy replica of the deceased, is briefly viewed by grieving relatives. It is then sealed in a heavy casket. At the grave site the casket is viewed, and then everyone leaves and the casket is lowered into a metal vault, which is also sealed, and then covered with several feet of dirt. At every step in the process, death is kept at arm’s length. We don’t talk about it, in fact we fear it, because we don’t ever truly see it.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: & Other Lessons From the Crematorium is about a woman who has truly seen death, and been changed by it in a powerful way. When she was a child, Caitlin Doughty saw a little girl fall to her death. Haunted by that experience and the fear of death it engendered, Caitlin developed what some might call a morbid fascination. As an adult, she decided to confront her fear of the unknown of death by getting down and dirty with it: she took a job at a San Francisco crematorium.
Initially she was, of course, grossed out by the corpses and what was done to them. But this soon gave way to sadness that grieving families were simply surrendering their loved ones to faceless industrial processes in which they would participate as little as possible. Caitlin realized that death was natural, but what we were doing with our dead was unnatural. And she decided that had to change.
I discovered Caitlin through her hilarious and insightful Ask A Mortician videos on YouTube (which you should check out). Caitlin, I think, intends for these videos to be a gateway drug to get people to talk about death in a positive way. In this book, however, she reveals the true passion she has for confronting a topic that so many people simply don’t want to deal with: what happens to our physical bodies when we die?
The one thing that stops me from recommending this book to everybody and my mother is the graphic descriptions of corpses that it contains. And yet, even these parts are important. Caitlin isn’t simply writing about smelly gross bodies to shock people. She is writing about them because we need to face our fear of these things and realize that are natural, normal and that they won’t hurt us. The fear of death is in many ways the fear of the unknown. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes helps make that unknown become known.
Caitlin Doughty is clearly a talented writer. This book is equal parts memoir, behind-the-scenes expose of the Death Industry, and manifesto. If it had been any one of these things alone, it would have been interesting, but the combination is incredibly potent. If this book was simply a call to arms, it might be important but persuade few. If it was simply a factual exploration of the funeral industry, it might be interesting but not life-changing. But what makes it persuasive and powerful is adding the author’s own personal journey from ordinary, death-fearing American to someone who feels called to reform not just the death industry but the way our culture deals with death.
To be clear, Caitlin is not some San Francisco death-hippy. She is not trying to sell the reader on Wiccan funeral practices. She simply believes that people can and should be involved in the death and disposal of their loved one, and that this is a powerful part of the grieving process that we have done away with. The specifics can be left up to individuals, but we do have choices beyond embalming or cremation.
Speaking of embalming, after reading this book I will never, ever choose embalming for myself or any of my loved ones. The process of ‘embalming’ a body is a disgusting violation of that body in order to basically present a massive lie. Cremation, at least, is relatively honest, even when it keeps death at arm’s length.
At any rate, this is a very good and very important book, if you can stomach it. I encourage you to at least attempt to do so. It is not an exaggeration to say this book will change the way you think about a topic that is fundamentally relevant to every single human being. (less)
This is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, the author releases installments in a serial format. Ea...moreSo this story is a little bit different.
This is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, the author releases installments in a serial format. Each one is about novella length and costs $.99-$1.99 for a digital copy. I had purchased Part 1 a while back and forgotten I had it.
I started reading it last night, burned through it in minutes, and immediately purchased part 2. Then part 3. I'm currently on part 4.
Each part ends, in good serial fashion, with a killer twist or cliff-hanger. So I don't want to give too much plot away. But the broad sketch is as follows:
In an indeterminate, dystopian future, earth's atmosphere has been rendered poisonous and toxic. Humanity's survivors live deep underground in an ancient structure known as 'the silo'. The silo is over 140 levels deep and its inmates have been living there for untold generations.
Their only knowledge of the surface comes from the top-most level, where wall-sized views of the wind-swept wasteland above are captured by camera sensors poking above the ground. But the insistent, toxic winds gradually befoul the cameras and their view of the surface.
Long ago there were uprisings: people went stir-crazy, attempted to break out of the silo, and died. When the story opens, a system is in place designed to prevent this: condemned prisoners are sent out onto the surface and told to clean the sensors. After they have done this the toxic atmosphere eventually breaks down their protective gear and they die from exposure.
The silo is full of mysteries: why do the condemned prisoners bother to clean the sensors? why were the silo's servers erased during the last uprising? Who created the silo and for what purpose? Is there anything out there beyond the barren, windswept hills?
These are good questions. But to prevent more uprisings, asking these questions is illegal. And if you talk too much or question too much, the sentence is... cleaning.
Hugh Howey is a solid writer, with a gift for descriptive prose and atmosphere, but more importantly for creating believable characters. Each installment focuses on a different character. The setting is dystopian and post-apocalyptic, but all is not as it seems. Howey has plenty of surprises in store to keep his readers going (and shelling out their $.99).
I, for one, am definitely going to keep paying up. (less)
Does God know in advance all of history, including the future, down to the last detail? Or does God experience the future as we do: as an array of pos...moreDoes God know in advance all of history, including the future, down to the last detail? Or does God experience the future as we do: as an array of possibilities that are not yet decided?
My cousin and her husband gave this book to me while I was visiting them. I told them I wanted some good theology and they literally pressed it into my hands. I had no idea what it was about.
It turns out to be a very thorough theological argument for what is known as the ‘Open View’ of God. In the ‘Classical View’ of God, he ‘knows the future exhaustively’. Since God is unchanging and outside of time, the Classical View reasons, he knows everything that will happen ever. He knows the outcomes to all events (so these events cannot be changed) and he knows every decision human agents will make in advance (so these decisions cannot be changed).
You can probably see the troubling implications of the Classical View already: if God has predetermined history, isn’t he responsible for all the evil in it? If he has predestined everyone, doesn’t that mean he is intentionally condemning people to Hell?
Personally, this view of God has never sat well with me. I never really articulated it, but it seemed to me that if God really made humans as agents with free will that he would have be to some degree limited by our decisions. Most people who believe in God don’t like the idea of limits on him. Isn’t he supposed to be all powerful? Wouldn’t any limit on God diminish his sovereignty?
Maybe. It never bothered me that God might allow limits to be placed on himself for a specific purpose (like creating beings with free will). But again, I didn’t really articulate that or follow the argument any further.
In God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God, Gregory Boyd does just that.
The Open View of God states that the future is only partially known by God. Actually, that’s not accurate. In the Open View of God, God knows all of the future that there is to know, but some parts of the future simply do not exist yet. They are undecided. God does not know them because they are not facts that can be known as yet.
This probably seems counter-intuitive, but in fact we live with a ‘partially known’ future every day. There are certain things that you can count on when you are making plans for tomorrow, like the fact that the sun will rise or the fact that the grocery store will be still be where it was yesterday. But you can’t count on whether the clerk at the grocery store will be nice to you, or if you boss will give them the raise you asked for.
Another analogy comes from quantum physics and statistics: while at the sub-atomic level particles are unpredictable and their motions indeterminate, over trillions of particles this unpredictability averages out to the point where you can, say, throw a ball and know that it will predictably obey Newton’s laws of motion and not go shooting up into space or curving around you.
In the Open View of God, he knows certain things that will definitely happen and he can, in his vast knowledge, see the broad strokes of history. But he doesn’t necessarily know every individual event or decision that will occur.
It would be difficult to summarize all of Boyd’s points and keep this review concise, but there are three main thrusts to his argument that God has an ‘open view’ of the future:
1. Scriptural support.
There are many, many passages in scripture that speak of God changing his mind, speaking in conditional terms, getting frustrated and even regretting things he has done because they turned out badly. If God knows the future exhaustively, none of this makes any sense. You could call it a metaphor, but if it is it’s one God uses a lot throughout scripture, and with no hints that he is not speaking literally. Particularly telling is Jeremiah 18 in which God literally asks the people of Israel to pray and try to change his mind.
2. A God who takes risks is greater than a God who does not.
To those who feel that the Open View of God challenges God’s sovereignty, Boyd points out that we’re looking at God’s sovereignty from a human perspective. In our perspective, to be totally sovereign is to have absolute control over everything. But is that really true? Is a God who controls his creation like puppets on a string more impressive than a God who takes risks and allows people to go their own way, even knowing they might not do what he wants them to do? A God who is flexible, adaptive and able to take into account the myriad possibilities of the future certainly seems more impressive to me than an unchanging puppeteer who risks nothing.
3. Free will requires an open future.
If God knows all our decisions in advance we can have only the illusion of free will, not free will itself. If God knows our decisions in advance he is also responsible for those decisions, because he created the conditions necessary for us to make them. Our free will is meaningless.
One of Gregory Boyd’s most compelling arguments is that the Classical View of God is not really Biblical at all - it comes from Plato’s philosophy, in which ideals were perfect and unchanging. But to apply this view to God, you have to take hundreds of verses across all of scripture as metaphors.
In fact, you have to believe that God is being downright misleading in places. God states outright in scripture that he changes his mind, that he is surprised by things that happen, and even that he does not know a person’s character until he tests them. If God wanted to tell us that the future is open, not set and unchangeable, how much clearer could he get?
Of course there are objections: God prophesies about the end times, says that he is unchanging and that he ‘knows the beginning from the end’. But Boyd has ready answers for all these arguments. For example, it’s easy for God to know the end times without knowing the future exhaustively, since he clearly plans to step in and take control of things at that point! God knows his own mind, and his character is unchanging.
And he knows everything about the future that there is to know. But because of his grace in giving us free will, he genuinely does not know in advance what decisions individual persons will make. Rather, he is so sovereign and powerful that he is able to adapt his perfect plans to our failings.
That, in a nutshell, is Gregory Boyd’s argument in The God of the Possible.
I think he may possibly be right.
I have greatly compressed and simplified many of Boyd's arguments in this review. If you disagree or are intrigued, I urge you to read the entire book. It's not too long and Boyd lays out in terms a layman can understand the Open View of God.(less)
Karl Schroeder is a bona fide science fiction prodigy. He has the Big Ideas of a Philip K. Dick, the logical clarity of an Isaac Asimov and the storyt...moreKarl Schroeder is a bona fide science fiction prodigy. He has the Big Ideas of a Philip K. Dick, the logical clarity of an Isaac Asimov and the storytelling chops of a Robert A. Heinlein. Am I speaking heresy? Maybe. But you need to read the Virga series before you judge me.
Imagine a civilization where humans thrive at an industrial-revolution level of technology, a world lit by artificial fusion suns, a world with no natural gravity. People ride rocket bikes, towns are built as spinning wheels to generate their own gravitational force, fish swim through the air and a stray bullet can travel a thousand miles.
This is the world of Virga, and it's where Schroeder sets a tale with a steampunk ethos that can only be described as 'swashbuckling'.
Hayden Griffin is the son of resistance fighters who are working in secret to build a new sun for their nation of Aerie after the nation of Slipstream destroyed their old one and subjugated them. However Slipstream gets wind of the plan and Hayden's parents are killed. Eager for revenge, Hayden ingratiates himself into the service of Slipstream's Admiral Chaisson Fanning and his scheming wife, Venera. However he quickly finds himself drawn into a quite different adventure searching for a fabled treasure, one that will lead him to Candesce, the sun of suns at the heart of Virga.
Revenge, intrigue, romance, betrayal - this book has all that, plus pirates, a secret invasion force and a lot of mind-bending world building. Schroeder's vision of a gravity-free world populated by pre-computer civilizations is realized in brilliant detail. It's also an introduction in high style to the five-book Virga series, one of the most original, well-developed and gripping SF series to come down the pike in a long long time.
This Is Not A Game will probably get shelved as sci-fi in most libraries, there's actually very little tech-wise in this novel that we don't have toda...moreThis Is Not A Game will probably get shelved as sci-fi in most libraries, there's actually very little tech-wise in this novel that we don't have today. Maybe Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) aren't quite as globally popular as they are in this book, but anyone who was a fan of Lost already knows that these kinds of games are very real.
The book follows Dagmar, a writer of popular ARGs with a massive online following who is forced to enlist her internet fanbase for help with a real life emergency. During a layover in Jakarta the Indonesian government falls and Dagmar is stuck in a hotel, riding out a wave of violent revolution. When conventional means fail to help her escape, crowd-sourcing her problems do the trick.
But once Dagmar has broken the fourth wall and realized the awesome problem-solving potential of the internet, can she resist harnessing that power again when a friend and coworker is murdered by the mafia? To Dagmar's fans it's just another crazy challenge from a creator of incredibly realistic ARGs. But this is NOT a game, it's real life, and things start to spin dangerously out of control.
One thing that annoyed me about this book was the kitschy overuse of the "This Is Not A Chapter Title" gag. There was also a twist ending I saw coming a mile away. But it's still a very good book with some cool extrapolations about a kind of game which really does exist. You don't log on to an ARG. They use ubiquitous information technologies to blur the lines between reality and fiction and 'come to you'. It's not inconceivable that one could be harnessed for other, non-entertainment purposes. And the players might never know.