General Update

I know, it seems as though it’s been forever since I posted here. It kinda has. After I finished Zahn’s Scoundrels, I tried to take a break from reading and focus on writing The Aegipan Revolution, the sequel to my first novel. I made some good progress (I’m about 25,000 words in and maybe 1/6 through the plan, but expect the word count to go down with edits), but I lacked the perseverance to chase down an entire novel before reading anything else. So I picked up one book, then two more; one of those should get a review here within the next couple of weeks, I expect.

In case you missed it, I released another “31 Prayers” book–31 Prayers for Hope. You can learn more about this new prayerbook here.

In the meantime, I’ve also been working on creating book covers for the other two installments of the Chimaera trilogy. The first sequel, of course, is The Aegipan Revolution, and the third book in the trilogy (technically a prequel) is The Python Protocol. When I was making them, I thought, “Maybe I should just reveal these,” but I realized that would be giving everything away, and then you’d expect me to deliver soon. Instead, I’m giving you a little piece of the puzzle.

The Aegipan Revolution cover, part one

The Aegipan Revolution cover, part one

Speaking of snippets, I’m also throwing in a smidgen of text. This is Rough Draft material; it’s subject to change, but the scene likely will appear in the final product. You may recall from the end of The Chimaera Regiment that (Spoilers! Highlight to read:) Hector and Bronwyn had a son, whom they named Ronen; after he became emperor, we learn in the sequel, Ronen had son of his own, named Cadmus. In this scene, we join Cadmus on a leisurely hunt.

Cadmus followed the trail of the goat in the soft earth. The wind was fairly strong here, and the dirt thinned as he climbed higher. He feared that billowing dust would soon obscure the tracks, so he increased his pace. The reality of the world was like that, he decided: a set of prints, plain as day to some, but hidden by hardship for others. Maybe it wasn’t his job to argue that the prints were there; maybe he just had to clear away the dust and open their eyes.

He found the precipice suddenly. The hill came to an abrupt halt, dropping three hundred feet to a forest below. Cadmus kept his footing, but he wavered precariously at the edge. He sat down quickly. When his hands reached the rock beneath him, he pushed himself back a pace. A few breathless moments passed before he was confident in his stability. Leaning forward again, he surveyed the countryside. Below him, the forest stretched three miles to the south and nearly five miles to the east, neatly bordering the hills he had spent the day roaming. Studying the eastern border, he realized that his camp with Sam was among the trees there.

He paused for a moment, watching the breeze ripple the treetops; each wave cascaded with green and brown, vibrant in the early afternoon sun. This place really was peaceful. He knew that he might miss the wonders of the Library if he stayed here, but was natural wonder not so much better? That which made man–whether gods or earth–was so much greater than that which man made; it hardly bore comparison. Among the stones of Annifrea, a man could be truly powerful, wielding the implements of bygone ages–but among the greenery, a man could be truly free, released by the short memory of the wilderness. Cadmus doubted that the two could ever coexist.

The forest below waved at him again, and a silver glint caught his eye. He tried to peer closer, but to no avail–the distance and the foliage obscured his sight. Curiosity got the better of him; he stood and turned to go back the way he had come, intent on finding the mysterious object.

How he escaped being gored, Cadmus would never be quite sure. The collision of the goat’s head with his chest knocked the wind from his lungs and sent him tumbling over the precipice!

Keep an eye out for more updates, along with upcoming book reviews!

Solo’s Eleven

Star Wars: ScoundrelsStar Wars: Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before I say anything spoiler-y, I want to point this out for everyone who might be interested in this book: everything makes a lot more sense if you’ve read A. C. Crispin’s “Han Solo” trilogy (which itself makes more sense if you’ve read Brian Daley’s “Han Solo Adventures” trilogy, but that’s far enough removed from this that it isn’t necessary). It’s not essential, but it is helpful, especially in light of the Han-and-Lando dynamic that comes up frequently.

Now, let me get into the spoilers. This is a “heist” book, and like a “heist” movie, it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, to review without mentioning at least one spoiler. So consider yourself duly warned.

I really enjoyed this book. I like stories that keep me guessing a little bit, and this one certainly delivered. (Of course, Mr. Zahn has some experience with keeping me guessing, at least as long ago as I read his non-Star Wars novel The Icarus Hunt.) I also think that Mr. Zahn did a good job writing Han, Lando, Winter, and Kell Tainer (whom he borrowed from Aaron Allston’s X-Wing books). I would need to reread books featuring the latter two characters to make sure this fits in with their backstories and style, but based on Mr. Zahn’s prior good work, I have no reason to think that it did not.

Perhaps the most frustrating, in retrospect, was the identity and purpose of Eanjer, the local that hires Han for the job. I should have guessed his identity much earlier, based on my prior knowledge of his character, but I think I figured it out, at best, a few pages before Mr. Zahn wanted me to. Ah, well–more credit to the author, I suppose.

The book wasn’t perfect, but I don’t have many complaints. As with The Icarus Hunt, I thought that the book ended too quickly, without revisiting all of the characters in enough detail. And, while I appreciate Mr. Zahn’s interest in embroiling us in the world by mentioning other names that we might remember (referencing Crispin’s trilogy, for example), there were a couple anachronisms. It made no sense, for example, for one character to refer to Revan and Malak (characters from the Knights of the Old Republic video game), who existed thousands of years prior, in the middle of a galaxy in which Jedi and the Force were all but forgotten (a point made by Lando toward the end of the book). I might as well say, “Who do you think they are, Achilles and Odysseus?” It’s theoretically believable that I would mention those people, but far from normal.

At any rate, I enjoyed the book, and I hope that Lucasfilm’s new masters will not overlook Mr. Zahn as they continue to produce fiction in the “new” Star Wars universe.



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Marian Study, Not Marian Apologetics

Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of GodHail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God by Scott Hahn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I struggled with my selection of a star rating for this book; I vacillate between liking and disliking it. I liked it because it’s very forthright, very dedicated, very committed; I disliked it because Mr. Hahn allowed that dedication to surpass good judgment and good argumentation.

Before I get started with the major things, let me offer up very minor things. First, some people like puns; others don’t. If you don’t, you may not appreciate Mr. Hahn’s section titles–this is your fair warning. There are also a few typos and poor word choice that affect the flow of the prose, but nothing grammatically offensive.

Let me begin the meatier section with the good points. This is a good book for Catholics who want to know more about the history and basis of Marian devotion and Marian theology. It answers questions that Protestant objectors tend to raise, and it presents information based on Scripture and Tradition to back up those answers. It does all of this with the impassioned voice of someone who truly adheres to the teachings of the Church on these matters, which are often difficult for non-Catholics to consider.

But this is not a good apologetic book, and it should not be given to Protestants.

We (human beings) are emotional creatures. In many ways, and at many times, we allow our emotions to influence our judgment. A book that is poorly worded, or a book that chooses phrasing and imagery that is insulting from an opposing point of view, loses almost all the ground it may gain through good sourcing and effective argumentation. “Hail, Holy Queen” suffers from this problem. One main trouble is not that Mr. Hahn did not know his Bible, or that he did not know his papal documents or council documents or Augustinian writings–the trouble was that he, on more than one occasion, made statements that would be emotionally objectionable for a disagreeing reader. He also made several key errors in argumentation, which I will address as I come to them.

While Mr. Hahn’s knowledge of Scripture and Tradition seems well-established, so far as I can tell, his Roman history is somewhat lacking. It seems a crucial point, for example, that he interpret the beast of the sea (in Revelation) as the Roman dynasty that empowered the Herodian dynasty to oppress the Christians–but he says that there were “10 Caesars” from Julius Caesar to Vespasian. It should be pointed out that the dynastic view of the Roman emperors does not run from Julius to Vespasian, but from Julius to Nero, and from Galba to Domitian, and from Nerva to Commodus, and so on. Furthermore, the name “Caesar” truly belonged to Julius Caesar, but in classic Roman style, it was applied to nearly every emperor until the 4th century (to the point where “Caesar” became synonymous with “emperor,” which is why the emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was called the Kaiser and the emperor of Russia the Czar). It only stopped in the 4th century because, by then, it was the job title instead of a name. One of the exceptions to this naming custom, of course, was Vitellius–the emperor immediately preceding Vespasian. Nevermind that Octavian (“Caesar Augustus”) was, at best, adopted by Julius Caesar, but still had to win a civil war to become emperor himself.

From time to time, Mr. Hahn also made statements that eroded his own position. He quoted Tertullian, for example, to summarize Catholic Mariology–and immediately pointed out that Tertullian’s Mariology is mostly flawed and erroneous. This almost nullifies the quote, and one must wonder: could there not have been a better quote, from a more reputable source?

Chapter 5 is something of a turning point in the book. In the first four chapters, Mr. Hahn is focused on establishing Mary as the culmination of a number of Old Testament types. In Chapter 5, he finally addresses, in so many words, the Marian doctrines of the Catholic Church (the perpetual virginity, the Immaculate Conception, and the Assumption). Yet it is here that he begins to struggle with clear argumentation. He proposes that Mary (as a person) be the focus of this study, since she is not merely a collection of ideas–yet the ideas are what must be discussed, because there is no serious historian who denies the existence of the person of Mary. More than once, Mr. Hahn makes blanket statements and broad assumptions, declaring as fact things that are not in evidence and have not been established earlier in the book, ostensibly to establish Mary as a “person”–an establishment which no one will controvert, though they will certainly controvert the assumptions.

He first makes bold claims, and asks his reader (who may have doubts about Mary and Marian doctrine) to establish Mary (as taught by the Catholic Church) as the goal of the discussion–not to discuss the doctrines and how she might fit them, but to run towards those doctrines as though towards a finish line. This is counterproductive to the discussion, because the opposing mind will simply refuse, and no ground will be gained. He uses the earlier chapters of the book to justify his assumptions, but those earlier chapters have not yet been proved to the doubtful reader–making these new statements all the more dubious. He even uses emotional arguments from popular belief and popular historical opinion.

None of these arguments are effective, but rather, they are counterproductive to the intended goal of increased understanding of Marian doctrine and greater devotion to Mary as our exemplar.

At one point, Mr. Hahn seems to suggest that the doctrine of perpetual virginity arose, not from fact or historical understanding or theological necessity, but from an oversimplification caused by creedal speech (i.e., that “born of the Virgin Mary” equivocates Mary with Virginity). He uses the more ambiguous term “brethren” to translate adelphoi–probably because it sounds more gender inclusive, but it comes across as intentionally avoiding the “from the [same] womb” literal translation that Mr. Hahn insists upon in later chapters.

Perhaps Mr. Hahn’s most egregious mistake is to use language and arguments that would be emotionally charged for a Protestant reader–especially a reader looking for any reason to discount this book, and all it contains, as hogwash. He uses terms like “unfamiliar,” “non-issue,” and “amateur” to describe anyone who would disagree with the interpretation of Scripture that he posits. He oversimplifies the nature of sin by equating it to an auto mechanic overcharging for services. He says outright in two different places that one’s acceptance of the Gospel can be measured by one’s acceptance of Marian doctrine. He engages in poor word choice, talking about the “union” of Mary’s human will with God’s divine will–clear enough to a theologian that understands the distinctions between that “union” and, say, the hypostatic union of Christ, but unclear to someone who may think Mr. Hahn is again trying to deify Mary. At one point, he seems to say that the Church is only the spouse of Christ and the mother of the faithful (a common point of agreement between Catholics and Protestants) only because Mary was those things first (and so Mr. Hahn removes the common ground he might otherwise have had). He frames Mary and the Church in opposition, saying that Mary is over there with God, and the Church is over here, trying (in vain) to emulate her. This, indeed, seems to be the only case of genuine overreach on Mr. Hahn’s part–going beyond the Mariology that seems acceptable to suggest that Mary is exterior to the Church, rather than an exemplary part of it, and that the Church is merely a type of Mary.

He closes the argumentative portion of the book (prior to the final chapter, which advocates caution and love in the face of opposition, and the appendix, which is, in many ways, a redeeming passage) with the declaration that the Church should not put ecumenism before Mariology; he surely did not mean it as such, but at this point in the book, it almost sounds like justification for his occasionally uncharitable tone.

All that to say, I vacillated between liking and disliking this book. Clearly, I had more negative things to say than positive, but that usually happens when I take notes. This book is very good for Catholics who want to know more about Mary, but I maintain that it is not a good work of Marian apologetics.

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The Star Wars, but Different

The Star WarsThe Star Wars by J.W. Rinzler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have a harder time reviewing comic books than regular books, in no small part because I feel like there’s more to review, but I don’t have enough experience in the genre to do it.

The art in this book was excellent. Certainly evocative of the look and feel of early Star Wars (i.e., McQuarrie) concept art. At times, I thought that the art could have been used for more effective pacing (the story seemed to move far too quickly, and part of that was Lucas’ original writing, but it could have been allayed by clever artwork).

Speaking of the writing, it’s lacking in a few areas. A relationship that begins abusive progresses through wishing death upon the other person and proceeds to, within a few days (at most), professions of love. (Lucas’ quality of writing in “Episode I” really shines through in the romantic subplot of the story–and, in general, in regard to relationships.) For example, when Kane Starkiller leaves his son Annikin in the care of a stranger, Annikin says, “So long, Dad!” and departs. (Recently, it had been revealed that Kane was dying.) Later, Captain Whitsun and Princess Leia have a conversation about her feelings for Annikin while their ship is exploding. This sort of thing is very unrealistic and subpar.

It’s definitely not Star Wars, but it also is–kind of. There are a lot of familiar names and places, similar imagery, and so on–but it’s not the Star Wars of the films by any stretch of the imagination.

It’s entertaining, especially for long-time fans of Star Wars that are looking for something a little different, but with the original films behind us, this is no longer revolutionary or incredible.



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The Unpleasantness of the Eccentric Detective

Fer-de-Lance (Nero Wolfe, #1)Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I haven’t read many mysteries. It’s not a genre that normally appeals to my escapist philosophy of fiction. Yet as a writer, I have had some interest in hiding details from my readers until the opportune moment–and besides, I try to branch out once in a while.

This book was not quite what I expected. I had heard positive things about Rex Stout’s series before, and the first in that series has certainly been intriguing, but I’m not sure I want to continue with the series. In the simplest estimations, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are only the Americanized Holmes and Watson–one an eccentric, the other a more practical man. Wolfe’s ethical shortcomings are far removed from Holmes’, of course; where Holmes frequented opium dens and held to other vices, Wolfe is something of an agoraphobe–and, based on the ending of the book, that extends beyond weakness into true character flaw.

It was probably the ending that made me lower my rating from 4 stars to 3. The grand reveal of the final few pages was not our killer–no, he had been suspected since an early chapter, and confirmed a little more than halfway through–but was instead a facet of the character of our supposed protagonist, the great detective Nero Wolfe. This was not in keeping with what I had anticipated for a mystery novel, in that all the red herrings and false leads and unimportant minutia were put aside and overcome long before the end; it was also not what I expected from a book which, presumably, should make me cheer for the character after whom the series is named.

All that to say, I found it very difficult to appreciate Nero Wolfe, especially in the final pages of the book. Not that he is not a well-written character, or a well-rounded character (no pun intended), but that I simply do not like him. That would probably be okay, since we spend far more time with Archie Goodwin than with Wolfe, if I had liked Goodwin a great deal. If, say, Goodwin had been more like Watson–honorable, of strong character, and perhaps less… American–I could be entertained by the eccentric (if unethical) detective. (Goodwin is petty and short-tempered, heavily self-interested, and a bit of a womanizer, from what I’ve read.) Instead, I read a book in which I supported the ambitions of no one, and I was sated only with the conclusion to the mystery.

At any rate, the book is well-written. It includes mannerisms and turns of phrase appropriate to its age (first published in 1934), and there are even now some typographical errors among its pages, but the characters are complex (if a little unpleasant to me) and the plot entertaining.



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