Hung up

August 31, 2011

I meant to link this yesterday (via Instapundit): Being ‘hung up’ about sex isn’t so horrible.

If we’re hung up on sex as Christians, we’re certainly no more so than a world filled with sexual images and activities. However, I think the world at large is less ‘hung-up’ than heedless and selfish when it comes to the thing it seems to value above all else.

Read the whole thing.

Let’s see how much farther down the list I get tonight.

33. Anne McCaffrey, Dragonflight. When I’ve read McCaffrey’s books I generally get really caught up in them, but when I finish I always feel that something was missing. I think her plots are so good that you don’t notice the basic emptiness of her characters.

34. Robert Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. This is one of his better books. Unlike Starship Troopers, he shows his political ideas rather than lectures about them.

35. Walter M. Miller Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz. I’m pretty sure I read this once, but it didn’t stick with me.

36. H. G. Well, The Time Machine. I know I’ve started reading this several times, but I don’t think I ever finished it.

37. Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I haven’t read this since I was a kid, but I remember it being pretty fun.

38. Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon. I don’t know what to say without spoiling the story, but this is a “must read.”

39. H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds. I remember enjoying this one.

40. Roger Zelazny, The Amber Chronicles. My selfish reaction when I heard Zelazny had died was “Oh no, no more Amber books.” I’ll have to agree with Tim Bray that Lord of Light was better, though.

41. David Eddings, The Belgariad. OK, these are not bad books, but they’re not all that great, either. Well, you can only read The Lord of the Rings so many times, and if you’re hungry for that kind of thing you have to get it where you can.

43. Brandon Sanderson, Mistborn Trilogy. Great characters, compelling moral dilemmas, totally unexpected plot twists: these are great books. (This applies to Elantris and Warbreaker too.)

44. Larry Niven, Ringworld. A pretty good book, but nothing to write home about.

45. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness. Again, I’ll agree with Tim Bray that the Earthsea books are her best. This one is certainly a strong book, though.

46. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarilion. Did you read all the appendices at the end of Return of the King? And enjoy them? Then you’ll like this book too. But if you’re not a big Tolkien geek, you’ll probably find The Silmarillion hard to get through.

47. T. H. White, The Once and Future King. I feel about this book about the same way I feel about Watership Down. Be sure to read it if you haven’t already.

48. Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere. Creepy but really, really good.

49. Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood’s End. My favorite book by Clarke; haunting and mind-blowing.

53. Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon. One of my current projects at work involves cryptography, so I ate this up. It is pretty geeky, though.

55. Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn. It’s a good book, but I think a bit overrated. It feels like Beagle couldn’t make up his mind how serious he wanted to be.

57. Terry Pratchett, Small Gods. I love the Discworld books. I’m not sure how you’d pick out particular ones above the others. This was certainly a good one, but I think I prefer the ones with Sam Vimes or Granny Weatherwax.

58. Stephen R. Donaldson, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. I didn’t really care for these books at all. I found the “anti-hero” Thomas Covenant too whiny and self-centered to be worth reading about.

60. Terry Pratchett, Going Postal. See Small Gods above.

64. Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. A very good book; Clarke captures the feel of a 19th century novel quite well.

67. Terry Brooks, The Sword of Shannara Trilogy. Whenever I saw these books in the bookstore, I thought they looked like cheap Tolkien imitations and passed them by. Then Sam bought a copy, so I decided to give it a try. ”Cheap Tolkien imitation” doesn’t begin to cover it. I read about halfway through the first book and gave it up. Poorly motivated cardboard characters, random plot complications: I’m still astonished the books ever got published, much less considered some kind of classic.

68. Robert E. Howard, The Conan the Barbarian Series. Pulp fantasy at it’s best.

69. Robin Hobb, The Farseer Trilogy. As it happens, my current pleasure reading is The Tawny Man Trilogy, a sequel to this one, so as you can guess I’ll recommend this.

71. Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings. I’m afraid Sanderson caught something from Robert Jordan while trying to complete The Wheel of Time. This is a very long book, and at the end it’s clear that the story has barely started. Sanderson’s a great writer so I trust that in the end it will be a great story, but it looks like it will go on for quite a while.

72. Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth. I remember enjoying this when I was young, but I suspect the science would probably drive me crazy now.

76. Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama. I remember enjoying this one, too.

78. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed. I know I’ve read this, I think at least twice, but it didn’t really stick in my memory.

79. Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes. This is my favorite Bradbury book.

82. Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair. The Thursday Next books are all a lot of fun; grab them if you get a chance.

87. Gene Wolfe, The Book of the New Sun. I’ve been meaning to reread this to see if it makes more sense the second time. These are very engrossing books, but pretty different from what you’re probably used to.

88. Timothy Zahn, The Thrawn Trilogy. Yea, these are Star Wars novels, but they’re the best Star Wars novels ever written. Zahn created a fully realized character in Admiral Thrawn.

90. Michael Moorcock, The Elric Saga. I thought these were pretty good the first time I read them, but they didn’t hold up so well when I reread them.

91. Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man. I’d pretty much say the same about this as I did about The Martian Chronicles.

94. Isaac Asimov, The Caves of Steel. They should have made a movie of this instead of I, Robot. With the sequels (The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn), perhaps Asimov’s best books.

99. Piers Anthony, The Xanth Series. Don’t even think of reading this if you don’t like puns. I enjoyed the first few books, but after a while it got tiresome. Also, I felt a little uncomfortable because I sensed an undercurrent of misogyny in most of these books.

100. C. S. Lewis, The Space Trilogy. OK, I enjoyed these books, but more for the theology than the storytelling. The Narnia books were better.

So, that’s everything on NPR’s list that I’ve read. I’ll just add one series that wasn’t on their list: Crown of Stars by Kate Elliott. Besides strong characters and interesting moral choices, she really nails the medieval milieu.


August 16, 2011

I’ll get back to the SciFi/Fantasy in a minute, but I want to link this first: Marcus Bachmann and the Dangerous Modern Myth of ‘Sexual Orientation’.

What is at the heart of such speculation is a myth that arose in the 20th century, based largely on the theories of Sigmund Freud and Alfred Kinsey, which holds that all human beings have an inborn sexual essence which must be fulfilled in order for them to be psychologically healthy. This myth of “sexual orientation” (sometimes known as “sexual identity,” as it pertains to transgenderism) has so pervaded our culture that most people are no longer capable of understanding it as myth.

Read the whole thing.

Tim Bray posted on an NPR survey on the top Science Fiction and Fantasy works. Instead of second-guessing the choices, I thought I’d just comment/review the ones I’ve actually read. (If you notice missing numbers, those are the one I haven’t read.)

1. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings. From what I’ve read about Tolkien, I’ve learned that in the 1920s there was a big argument at Oxford about what an English department should be teaching, and how. The side that won gave us English as a subject as we know it today: literary fiction, decoding symbolism, postmodernism, etc. Tolkien was on the losing side (which wanted to teach philology and traditional literature) and when it was clear what the outcome would be he devoted himself to writing The Lord of the Rings. I think it definitively shows that we’d be a lot better off if his side had won.

2. Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Adams was a brilliant, clever man who unfortunately didn’t really have faith in anything. His books are funny and occasionally thought-provoking, but in the end leave you empty. (That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read them.)

3. Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game. Another book that deserves its high rating, but I’m having trouble separating it from all the other books Card has written. I think I actually prefer Hart’s Hope, although I’m not at all sure I really understood that book.

4. Frank Herbert, The Dune Chronicles. I read Dune and maybe one other of these books. I had trouble believing you could do all that with drugs.

6. George Orwell, 1984. It’s been a really long time since I read this. As I recall, it was pretty good, but We by Yevgeny Zamyatin was better.

7. Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451. Pretty good, but not my favorite Bradbury. (That’s farther down the list.)

8. Isaac Asimov, The Foundation Trilogy. This is a great story, but when I compare it to current politics it strikes me as a bit sinister. It ends with a perfect progressive fantasy: a wise, educated elite manipulating the masses to create a perfect society. Psychohistory doesn’t work in the real world.

10. Neil Gaiman, American Gods. I enjoyed this immensely.

11. William Goldman, The Princess Bride. One of the best movies of all time, but if you haven’t read the book you’ve missed out on half the fun.

12. Robert Jordan, The Wheel of Time Series. What can you say about a twelve-volume series (each volume eight or nine hundred pages long) when the author dies before finishing the last book? And then when Brandon Sanderson is picked to finish it, he decides he’ll need three more books to do it. Epic doesn’t begin to cover it.

13. George Orwell, Animal Farm. I liked this better than 1984. I think the characterization was better.

16. Isaac Asimov, I, Robot. It’s hard to compare this to the other books, since it’s a collection of short stories. I still don’t understand why anyone thought they could make a movie out of it. (I never saw the movie.)

17 Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land. A great book, but I liked Citizen of the Galaxy better.

18 Patrick Rothfuss, The Kingkiller Chronicles. I’ve only read the first book, The Name of the Wind. I thought it was mostly well written, but at several points it really did feel like a first novel.

21. Phillip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? This is the best book by Dick I’ve read. Like most of his stuff, it can make you feel pretty uncertain about reality.

22. Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Better than the movie, but the original short story was even better. Not my favorite Clarke book (it’s farther down the list.)

26. Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash. I really enjoyed this book. It’s interesting to compare it to how the Internet is really turning out.

27. Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles. Another short story collection. I enjoy Bradbury’s almost poetic style, but still not my favorite of his.

31. Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers. He got way too preachy in this one.

32. Richard Adams, Watership Down. One of my absolutely favorite books; I’ve tried to read it to all my children. I once took a class just because this book was on the reading list. If you haven’t read it, don’t procrastinate.

Well, it’s getting late. I’ll save the rest of the list for another day.


August 10, 2011

Saw this on Instapundit: Computer Models Show that Towing an Iceberg to a Drought Area Could Actually Work. All I can say is, bring it on!

Helping the poor

August 2, 2011

I’d been intending to post something along these lines myself: Whom Would Jesus Indebt?

One of the great difficulties of this issue, for Christians, is that the morality of spending and debt has been so thoroughly demagogued that it’s impossible to advocate cuts in government spending without being accused of hatred for the poor and needy.  A group calling itself the “Circle of Protection” recently promoted a statement on “Why We Need to Protect Programs for the Poor.”  But we don’t need to protect the programs.  We need to protect the poor.  Indeed, sometimes we need to protect the poor from the programs.  Too many anti-poverty programs are beneficial for the politicians that pass them, and veritable boondoggles for the government bureaucracy that administers them, but they actually serve to rob the poor of their dignity and their initiative, they undermine the family structures that help the poor build prosperous lives, and ultimately mire the poor in poverty for generations.  Does anyone actually believe that the welfare state has served the poor well?

It is immoral to ignore the needs of the least of these.  But it’s also immoral to ’serve’ the poor in ways that only make more people poor, and trap them in poverty longer.  And it’s immoral to amass a mountain of debt that we will pass on to later generations.  I even believe it’s immoral to feed the government’s spending addiction.  Since our political elites have demonstrated such remarkably poor stewardship over our common resources, it would be foolish and wrong to give them more resources to waste.  What we need are political leaders committed to prudence and thrift, to wise and far-sighted stewardship, and to spurring a free and thriving economy that will encourage the poor and all Americans to seize their human dignity as creatures made in the image of God, to be fruitful and take initiative and express their talents and creativity.

Exactly. I read a letter to the editor last week along the lines of “How can Republicans claim to be Christians and then oppose government programs for the poor?” Well, as a Christian I take very seriously the obligation to help the less fortunate, but I believe in doing it voluntarily using my own resources, not by voting into power people who will force whomever they decide to call “rich” to pay for programs whose main effect is to centralize power for a government elite.