This short apology, or defense of the Christian faith, is the sole surviving work of Marcus Minucius Felix. Written roughly around the year 200, the eThis short apology, or defense of the Christian faith, is the sole surviving work of Marcus Minucius Felix. Written roughly around the year 200, the essay is framed around two friends-of-a-friend arguing the relative merits of paganism and Christianity while they sit by the sea.
Inside this charming (if not totally original) frame is one of the better examples of the apology genre surviving from antiquity. Very little is known about Felix himself, but he was clearly well-read and peppers his arguments with references to classical literature and philosophy. His arguments are thoughtful and well-presented, and he manages to criticize pagan practices without employing excessive sarcasm or bitterness, a problem some of his contemporaries suffered from.
The conflict between the forces of paganism and Christianity that took place in the first few centuries AD was one of the major events of the Western world, and it would be difficult to overstate its impact on later history. One particularly nice thing about this specific apology is that Felix allows both sides to state their case, so the reader gets an (admittedly biased) look at the pagan side of the argument along with the Christian position. For readers interested in learning more about this struggle (I for one find it fascinating), this is a great start. 3.5 stars, recommended!...more
Clement of Alexandria was a Christian author writing in the late second and early third centuries AD. Like Tertullian, he is regarded as a Church FathClement of Alexandria was a Christian author writing in the late second and early third centuries AD. Like Tertullian, he is regarded as a Church Father rather than a saint by most denominations today. Clement’s extant writings reveal an educated, widely-read mind (again, like Tertullian) that was familiar with both Christian scholarship and the major pagan philosophic creeds.
The Paedagogus (or "tutor") was written around 198 and is the second of Clement's three major works. It is largely a practical treatise on how to live a Christian life, although the essay does cover more philosophical territory from time to time, especially in the first section. Over the course of the work, Clement discusses topics including dietary habits, modes of dress, sexual mores, music, makeup and grooming, and much more.
The essay provides an interesting look at how the early Church Fathers thought that Christians should behave, and at times acts as a welcome window into the day-to-day life of the late second century. But it is not a particularly short piece, and it has a tendency to get bogged down in details that are only of tangential interest to most modern readers. Not a treatise I am ever likely to re-read; for those interested in Clement's doctrine, I would instead recommend his essay Salvation for the Rich, which is shorter and significantly more engaging. 2.0 stars. ...more
A Song for Lya and Other Stories, first published in 1976, was George R.R. Martin’s literary debut. The book collects nine short stories and one novelA Song for Lya and Other Stories, first published in 1976, was George R.R. Martin’s literary debut. The book collects nine short stories and one novella, all in the science fiction genre. While some stories are stronger than others, overall I thought this was a very polished collection for a first-time writer. The stories were inventive and well-told, and GRRM’s voice can already be detected decades before the Song of Ice and Fire novels that made him famous. The breakdown:
With Morning Comes Mistfall – A journalist travels to a distant world to investigate the existence of ghostlike “wraiths” that supposedly haunt the planet. Features a memorable and original setting. A good way to start off the collection, although the ending was a bit maudlin for my taste. 3.0 stars.
The Second Kind of Loneliness – Told in diary format, this story is about a lonely man working in isolation outside Pluto for five years, and his quest to turn his life around when he returns to Earth. My personal favorite of the short stories in this collection. Well written and strangely moving. 4.0 stars.
Override – A miner who uses zombies for manual labor deals with some unexpected trouble on his newly adopted homeworld. Not the best story of the bunch, but there were some neat ideas here. 3.0 stars.
Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels – A group of explorers return to Earth ages after it was abandoned by humanity and find some unexpected surprises. A fun one.3.5 stars.
The Hero – After a lifetime of combat, a semi-legendary soldier decides to retire and travel to Earth for the first time. 3.5 stars.
fta – Very short micro-story with a twist. Just OK. 2.0 stars.
Run to Starlight – An alien race seeks to join a recreational football league run by humans. A weird one, but original and I thought it worked. 3.0 stars.
The Exit to San Breta – A driver in a future where cars and roads have effectively become obsolete has a bizarre encounter. A neat concept, but this story ended up being a dud and was definitely my least favorite of the collection. 2.0 stars.
Slide Show – A former space explorer turned fundraiser struggles with his change in circumstances. Has some really interesting moments. 3.0 stars.
A Song for Lya – The lone novella of the bunch, and winner of the 1975 Hugo Award. Two human psychics are dispatched to investigate some strange events that have been occurring where a human colony intersects with a peaceful alien city. Perhaps the most inventive tale in the whole collection, and very well told. 4.0 stars.
Overall, this was an entertaining and original debut. Readers who have enjoyed Martin’s other work, or readers who enjoy good science fiction, will find plenty to chew on here. 3.0 stars....more
This short book of poems is the earliest published work of William Golding (of Lord of the Flies fame). Published when the author was just 23 years olThis short book of poems is the earliest published work of William Golding (of Lord of the Flies fame). Published when the author was just 23 years old, Golding later apparently expressed some embarrassment over this collection. While some of these poems can come across as juvenilia, overall I enjoyed them. Perhaps my favorite of the bunch:
Non-Philosopher’s Song “Lean, Logical and Rule of Thumb, As parable to all that come, Say Love and Reason live apart In separate cells of head and heart. But oh! my lady, she and I We give philosophy the lie, For when I tread with careful thought The tunnels that my brain has wrought Her sweet resemblance I do find In the dim cavern of my mind; And Reason has not named the power That did constrain that lovely face So like a wan exotic flower To flower in such a sunless place.”
These poems can be a bit oversentimental at times, and Golding’s best work was definitely yet to come. But this is a quick, pleasant read, and I would recommend this to fans of Golding’s more famous work, although be warned that this may be a hard collection to track down. 3.0 stars....more
If the following things tickle your funnybone, The Sellout may be for you:
1. A buck-naked crackhead chanting a modified version of “Charge of the LighIf the following things tickle your funnybone, The Sellout may be for you:
1. A buck-naked crackhead chanting a modified version of “Charge of the Light Brigade” (called “The Charge of the Light-Skinned Spade”) while firing a .38 into the air in the heart of the ghetto.
2. Racial sensitivity training like the following: “When I was seven months, Pops placed objects like toy police cars, cold cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Richard Nixon campaign buttons, and a copy of The Economist in my bassinet, but instead of conditioning me with a deafening clang, I learned to be afraid of the presented stimuli because they were accompanied by him taking out the family .38 Special and firing several window-ratting rounds into the ceiling..."
3. A social activist who “reinvents” classic works of literature to be more accessible to students in the inner city, crafting masterpieces such as The Dopeman Cometh and The Great Blacksby, which begins as follows: “Real talk. When I was young, dumb, and full of cum, my omnipresent, good to my mother, non-stereotypical African-American daddy dropped some knowledge on me that I been trippin’ off of ever since."
It is safe to say this is a fairly provocative novel in many ways, as a brief synopsis of the plot helps demonstrate. Our hero, who is the beneficiary of a very unusual upbringing, is spurred into action when his city is wiped from the map by the state of California, which views the ghetto of Dickens as an embarrassment. The protagonist makes it his personal mission to bring Dickens back from non-existence, ultimately turning to segregation and (inadvertently) slavery as tools in his quest. These deviations from established orthodoxy eventually lead him to the United States Supreme Court, where his fate is to be determined.
Now, humor and satire are subjective, and different people respond to different things. But personally, I found this book to be truly funny. There is a lot of anger behind these pages, as the author lampoons many of the injustices and inequalities that plague American life in the 21st century. But I found the author’s presentation to be outrageous in the best sense of the term. Almost every chapter there were one or two passages that literally caused me to laugh out loud, and there were countless others that put a smile on my face (sometimes following a cringe of shock that the author dared to “go there,” but still). Nothing about this book is politically correct, but then again I think part of the author’s point is that political correctness only gets us so far, and can actually work to society’s detriment if it is used to paper over real issues that need addressing. As a work of satire, I thought this book was a huge success.
But what made The Sellout a great book for me was that within that humor, Beatty encourages the reader to challenge their preconceptions and look at race relations and discrimination in America in a new and different way. In addition to being very funny, this is a book with something so say. That something is not that black Americans were in a better place in the eras of segregation and slavery; instead, the author argues in a highly original way that the idea that racial issues in the United States are a thing of the past is a misguided and potentially very harmful concept, and that dealing with inequality and prejudice honestly and directly is healthier and more productive than pretending these issues don't exist.
This book was chosen as one of the top 10 books of 2015 by the New York Times, along with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ outstanding Between the World and Me. I thought Coates book, with its burning anger and a unique style of its own, was excellent (to the point that I actually gave it a slightly higher rating than this one). But reflecting on the two, I think the degree of difficulty for what Beatty is trying to do here is significantly higher, and in many ways I think The Sellout is an even more impressive book. There are a few moments where the narrative tends to drag, which is the only real nitpick I have; I wonder if this book could have been even more effective if it went even heavier on the satirical and surreal elements. But this is a very minor complaint, and I would revisit this author again without hesitation. 4.5 stars, highly recommended!...more
The New 52 incarnation of Superboy is created by N.O.W.H.E.R.E., a secret (and nefarious) organization using a mysterious combination of Kryptonian anThe New 52 incarnation of Superboy is created by N.O.W.H.E.R.E., a secret (and nefarious) organization using a mysterious combination of Kryptonian and human DNA. He is created to be their greatest living weapon, but soon begins to question his organization’s motives and his larger role in the world. Along the way, he meets the Teen Titans and Supergirl, falls into the center of the Earth, and celebrates his first Christmas.
There’s some interesting stuff here – the concept of an immensely powerful being with the knowledge of a child creates some fun scenarios, and his confrontation with the Titans was entertaining – but overall this felt pretty forgettable. Superboy himself does not have much personality and comes across as awfully bland; perhaps this is a hero that would fit better in a team framework rather than carry a solo title. His relationship with his creators, which should be one of the stronger parts of the story, is confusing and felt undeveloped.
There are some positive elements here, but not enough to make this collection really sing. Just OK. 2.0 stars....more
On the list of best books I’ve ever read, Blood Meridian would be near the top (if you put the proverbial gun to my head, I’d probably put it at the t
On the list of best books I’ve ever read, Blood Meridian would be near the top (if you put the proverbial gun to my head, I’d probably put it at the top). However, I’d only read two of McCarthy’s novels before this year: Blood Meridian and The Road. One of my personal goals for 2016 is to take a deep dive into McCarthy’s back catalog. I started at the beginning with The Orchard Keeper, McCarthy’s first published novel.
The story centers around three characters living in the 1930’s: a young boy, a bootlegger who (unbeknownst to the boy) murdered the boy’s father, and an old hermit. I would not call this a plot-driven novel by any stretch. The book just sort of meanders from character to character; if there is a central thread here, I’d probably define it as a study of a world that time has passed by (both from a cultural standpoint and a physical one), but it’s certainly not heavy-handed in that respect. For the most part, McCarthy seems to simply drift around as the spirit moves him, which is just fine by me.
Although this is McCarthy’s first book, it doesn’t really read like a debut novel. McCarthy doesn’t seem like he’s finding his way as a writer here; it’s as if his famous style wasn’t so much honed over time, but was always an elemental piece of the author. Readers that have read his more famous works and enjoy McCarthy’s writing will be happily at home here: the dialogue is great, the love for and descriptions of nature are lavish and evocative, and the insights into human nature are razor sharp and unflinching. This book is a bit disjointed, and I don’t know if it would have worked as a 400 page novel, but at under 250 pages the frequent digressions felt interesting instead of maddening.
This was not as epic as Blood Meridian, and McCarthy’s best was yet to come. But I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this debut. 4.0 stars, recommended for fans of McCarthy’s more famous works....more
The Kindly Ones is the penultimate Sandman storyline, and it is easy to understand why it is many readers’ favorite. While I will keep this review spo
The Kindly Ones is the penultimate Sandman storyline, and it is easy to understand why it is many readers’ favorite. While I will keep this review spoiler-free, suffice to say this is a truly epic story – even relative to some of the other heavyweights this series has to offer. Within its 352 page, 13-issue bulk, The Kindly Ones manages to pull in a wide range of supporting characters that have appeared in the eight Sandman collections before this one, making this collection feel like a culmination of sorts for the excellent story arcs that have come before. These stories act as satellites spinning around – and sometimes intersecting with – a fantastic and memorable tale centered around Morpheus.
This is a structurally ambitious story, and overall I thought this aspect of the volume was a big plus. It was fun to catch up with some of the ancillary characters in this way and to experience resolutions to some of their stories, and the broad cast did help make the overall story feel truly big. But the center of the collection is the conflict between Morpheus and the Furies, or “Kindly Ones.” Gaiman’s portrayal of the Furies is inspired, from their shifting forms to the creepy font used for their dialogue. And the story builds up to a suitably epic climax; the final two issues in particular are among the best this series has to offer.
If I’m picking at nits, I thought that there were times when the broad cast and plethora of storylines made the collection feel a bit cluttered. While bringing back so many familiar characters and tying up old storylines definitely added something to the story, and was a plus for me overall, it did made the collection feel somewhat disjointed at times, especially in the first half of the collection when it’s not as clear what the main thrust of the plot is going to be. Additionally, I was a bit disappointed in the artwork overall. I am reading this series from the gorgeous Absolute editions (which I would highly recommend if you can get your hands on them), in part because I have really enjoyed the artwork in previous collections. There are plenty of memorable images here, along with some very good art, but overall the artwork felt much more cartoonish that what was featured in past collections, and was a bit of a miss for me.
But overall, these criticisms are vastly outweighed by the many, many things this collection does right. I would not rate this as my personal favorite Sandman storyline; for me, Season of Mists and Brief Lives take pride of place, and I’d probably rank this below Doll’s House and the underrated (in my opinion) A Game of You. But there is no shame in that, as those four collections are some of the most original, interesting, and downright entertaining stories in the entire medium, and when The Kindly Ones is firing on all cylinders it is every bit as good.
A great, memorable climax to an all-time series. I look forward to seeing what Gaiman has in store for the final act. 4.5 stars, highly recommended!...more