Eta Cancri review

Please welcome Xewleer to Superversive SF, he is a new reviewer and you can expect a lot more from him. His review is cross posted from his blog millennialking.wordpress.com

Spoilers! It’s a great book, and worth reading.


I just finished Eta Cancri by Russell May. It was, surprisingly for an author who was not on my radar before, an excellent read chock full of delicious theology. It was a treat, to be sure. The characters are living and breathing with distinct personalities. The descriptions are on point. The science is a good medium-hard, with just the right amount of give for philosophical and theological conversations the teeth they need to grow. Ah… that more stories which pride themselves on science and philosophy would take this route!

The book switches through various characters’ POV. My personal favorites were Ed and June, along with the AI Archie. Each one has a solid voice and drive that breathes life into this book more than could be expected. Indeed, books that switch perspective live and die on this sword. I could tell that the POV shifted through the author’s choices in word play, character focus and other hints almost instantly.

The conceit of the story, which involves demonic possession, bacteria and genetic modification, was well done and quite unique to this author from my experiences. Though I have experimented and read up on demonic possession and stories about it, this is the first time I’ve seen it used in such a broad and interesting way. Nothing triggered any sort of violation of the suspension of disbelief. It holds up the story incredibly well. This is dreadfully important in this genre as Russell did it. If the suspension of Disbelief is violated, then the entire book will fall over itself and the threads that he depends on to carry the story forward logically will be lost, unable to be gained back.

Though there is no part of the story I groaned at the reading of, I did feel fatigue about halfway through on chapter 3 or 4 (?). The story before and after focuses on multiple characters, the evil of the Demon Legion, the science, philosophy and theology mix and POV shifts. This middle bit has nothing that really sticks out too hard. The story sticks to Pierce the techno-everyman and doesn’t shift too much. There’s just too much dialogue and not enough cool stuff to give us a rest between theological questions. Not that I was exhausted by the questions, I just wish the heady brew was cut a little with soda. Even a bit where Ed deals with his crazy and preps for the ship coming in, or June sees something which heightens our horror at the actions of Legion would do much for the pacing and general interest. I’ll point out that Ed has no reason to not succumb or struggle with Legion’s influence and a decent POV could have been written comparing and contrasting his belief in Dame Fortune and the belief in God, which is touched upon later but not to my satisfaction.

I’ll point out that, theologically, what we call Dame Fortune is the Will of God. That the saved man has free will is not something I debate or question. I question how much Dame Fortune impugns it. (I use Dame Fortune as a conceit from the story. Mentally, I use the term ‘Fate’) Does a belief in Fortune change how free will operates as we continue in Christian Free Will or Willfulness Against God? I think that there might have been an excellent few points to be made there between Ed and Father Justinian, more than was done in story. Though, there is a sequel in the cliff hanger, and I will be purchasing it as soon as it comes out.

I also wanted a little more debate on the nature on Transhumanism. I am not fond of it, as I believe that the body has the critical mass to keep the soul ‘Human’ and that, at a certain point, the ‘I as I’ that is ‘You as you are’ becomes warped into something that could be described as ‘ME’ 2.0. Also, what is morality to someone who is neither permanent or baseline human? (Though those points are touched on) June seemingly has no contrast in character, but rather is June personality as June soul is June without much debate despite much lycanthropy. Various ideas are presented with authority, but I don’t feel it is earned. The matrons producing ubermenschen in the asteroid belts are not properly repudiated in a manner that I call an argument. Rather, it is just presented as wrong. I dig, but I’m really hoping for a similar thing to Ed in the sequel.

I’ve not gone into the plot because it’s quite simple. A colony goes dark and a ragtag group of cyborgs, everymen and mercenaries go to figure it out and cleanse with fire whatever’s in there. Just about right, really. You don’t need fancy pants intrigue for stuff like this. Most of the characters are moral, upright and probably one of the best portrayals of Christians I’ve seen in Science Fiction. I’m sorry John C. Wright, but sort of randomly turning Mickey the Witch into the Space Pope of the Seventh Humans because of his wife without a redemption scene just doesn’t compare to baptism after flamebroiling demonic abominations with improvised explosives created by a literal Biblical evil. But it’s different scopes. That scene doesn’t compare to the Cathedral of Luna in the 4th book of Count to Eschaton. Ahhhh it’s perhaps differences in scale. But I’d be very interested in talking with Russel May some time to break down what he believes and what his reasoning is.

I wanted MORE, if you could believe it. I find that I have a hard time reading philosophy directly, so I have a better time consuming it if its regurgitated through literature, especially when the author provides examples within the story to provide a more definite framework for the reader to investigate. It really does wonders for the most artistically inclined philosophers, who may not be able to as readily read the great works directly. Of course, this assumes the reader is able to properly manage things that are presented vs. their origin points. Counter and counter-counter is appreciated through the characters of Archie, Father Justinian and even Legion. Legion’s absolute Nihilism is well presented without the usual tropes in plain evidence. There’s always a fresh horror from him. His unfetteredness and nihilism make an excellent baseline for the ‘evil’ of the universe. Nihilism is a hell of a drug, kids, and leads to madness.

I also think the book is missing a carnival scene. But then again, I’m a sucker for them. I also wanted more crazy bomb stuff fight scene flip outs from Michaud and Lars, but ah.

The combat scenes are fresh, well done. The weapons properly treated with excellent extensions of characterization through them. The creativity that Russell displays drives the story forward with brazen steps. Lar’s and the rest of the characters’ spirituality treated so delicately as to be art. Ah! There are few flaws and many boons to reading this book!

Overall this book is mos defs a purchase soft-cover, maybe hard-cover kinda book. Sadly, there are only kindle copies available at this time. It is worth a read! It is SUPERVERSIVE. I hope with fervent prayer that we are coming to an era where the dominant voice in Sci-Fi is Christianity! If Russell May joins the luminaries of the Superversives, Castalia House and others, shall not the glory of God be expanded in this genre of atheists, science worshippers and deviants?  DEUS VULT!

Xewleer

I, even I, drink ink like wine.

Reviewer Praise for Heroes and Wonders

James Sale, of the Society of Classical Poets, had this to say about Selected Verse- Heroes and Wonders:

Poetry is a delicate balance of language that is prone to either too much yin or too much yang; or put another way, as the poet steers his or her course like Odysseus towards his true soul, Penelope, waiting at home, he must venture through the double danger of Scylla on the one side and Charybdis on the other. The danger is either writing the yin of non-poetry which we often call free verse—though it is neither free (pure prose with lines) nor verse (since structure-less)—or writing the yang of verse, an over-emphasis on conventional forms, dead tropes, and language reminiscent of past centuries rather than the living vernacular of today.

Some of the most popular poetry revered today veers so dangerously to the yin side that, like Odysseus’s devoured crew, the audience of poetry dwindles as well; people can’t tell if what they are reading is prose or just a cruel joke that academia has played on their seemingly sophomoric intellects. Ben Zwycky’s collection, Selected Verse: Heroes and Wonders, is a daring reversal of direction of the ship’s helm, careening us toward a different monster in a maneuver that is both thrilling and at times unsuccessful.

Heroes and Wonders is, as his title indicates, generally an excellent collection of verse: full of wholesome sentiments, familiar themes of love, honour, resisting evil, and at its best has some pithy aphoristic expressions. Indeed, his best verses are his shortest ones. His final verse, “The Beast,” is some 17 pages long and in my view far too extensive to be readable; but contrast that with “Days,” the second poem in the collection. The opening stanza shows Ben at his best:

 

Days of wonder, days of hope,
Days that help you learn and cope;
Days of refuge, days of peace,
Days that give your heart release.

 

The simple repetition, the pleasing and easy rhymes, all help convey a sense of goodness and strength, and  the anaphora of Days in the quatrains suddenly breaks free of that structure in a final concluding couplet, which gives the poem a nice symmetry:

 

Each new day is heaven-sent,
Make every day a day well spent.

 

The final couplet indeed could become a mantra for the kind of people I meet in my own other specialist field of management consultancy: specifically, time management gurus who will love it!

 

Within this simple goodness and strength, there are also gems that paint, not exquisitely but with the right breadth, the universal longing of the human soul without obtrusive preachiness; for example, these lines from “Beauty’s Message”:

 

All flowing from the source of all, who we’ll see face to face,
Where holiness is merged with love as justice is with grace.
There is our true purpose, there is our true home;
That is why down here on earth our hearts will always roam.

 

But in all this there is a sense of predictability, both in the subject matter, the approach to the subject matter, and the forms themselves. Whilst I am a great advocate of the importance of rhyme in and for poetry, the poet must always master rhyme and not be subjected by it.

 

Unfortunately, in some of Ben’s verse the rhyme has clearly taken control of the meaning rather than the other way round. So, in his poem “The Wise Men” we get:

 

This all our fathers saw and knew,
Most honoured gospel scribe Matthew.
We know their tale is one small part
Of a greater work of art.

 

We have here two issues: in the first couplet the oblique (oblique here meaning the rhyming of a stressed with an unstressed syllable) rhyming of knew/Matthew, which seems strained, and the effect of such an oblique rhyme being comic rather than serious; and in the second couplet the sheer conventionality of the two masculine rhymes so close together.

 

But that aside, if you like verse with simple diction, pleasing rhymes, heroic and moral themes, then this book could well be for you.

http://classicalpoets.org/poetry-review-heroes-and-wonders-by-ben-zwycky-2015

My response (which I have posted there) is as follows:

Thank you for the kind words, James.

It is indeed my goal, as a member of the superversive literary movement to create entertaining work that encourages virtue, courage and a sense of beauty and value, to fight against nihilistic drudgery and build up the foundations of civilization.

I am a flawed writer with almost no formal training in poetry, there are no doubt a few instances of my sacrificing content too much to fit a rhythm or rhyme. However I find it interesting that you pick out that stanza from “Wise Men”, since the situation there is actually the other way around. The structure was sacrificed at this point because of the content and historical context, they are the key to the purpose of my writing the whole piece.

It was inspired by the intriguing possibility (with some scholarly support) that the source of the Matthean birth narrative is the Magi themselves, and that Matthew obtained this knowledge by meeting with their sons. The poem is then something of a dramatization of what that encounter could have looked like, with the sons recounting the oral tradition they received from their fathers, and then asking what it all meant.

In those days oral traditions were often crafted into verse, or used puns, thematic patterns, vivid imagery and other linguistic tricks to aid their memorisation. For the original Magi, this very unusual adventure would have raised a large number of questions: all the intrigue, the signs in the sky, the further signs they no doubt heard about from talking with Joseph, all for a baby born in a pauper’s stall? They knew that something of major significance was going to come from all of this, and the great adventure they had been part of was only the beginning, one small component of a divine masterwork.

Decades had passed since any news of the supposed king of the Jews had been heard, the original Magi had almost certainly passed on by the time Matthew came along to gather additional material for his biography.

The sons would have joyfully repeated the flowing, artfully sculpted and polished oral tradition they were taught and then, with trembling lips at the prospect of their great questions being answered (perhaps compounded by only sharing a second or third language with the former tax collector, since they lived a long way from each other), slightly stumble over their words as they summarise “That is what our fathers told us, we know that there is much more to this than what we have heard. We have helped you, now please tell us the fuller story that you have, so that we can know what our fathers longed to understand all these years.”

The whole poem is building up to that life-changing moment for them.

Perhaps I could have conveyed this more clearly in the work itself, but that is what I was attempting to do.

If you’d like to take a look at the full collection, click the image below:

The Corruption of Charity

This article on the secular version of the theological virtue of charity strongly reminded me of the end of Tom Simon’s awesome essay The Making of the Fellowship: Concepts of the Good in The Lord of the Rings in Sci Phi Journal Issue 2 and is well worth a read:

http://www.crisismagazine.com/1988/observations-the-corruption-of-charity

Stealing from God by Frank Turek

I’ve just finished reading Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case by author Frank Turek, it is sort of a companion peice to his I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist and both are excellent reads.

In Stealing from God, Frank explores everything that an atheist needs to borrow from competing worldviews to make their arguments. It is an excellent work of apologetics and if you are a Christian it is worth a listen. It necessarily covers things at a pretty high level but it is an excellent place to start and gives plenty of food for though on what atheism is missing when it comes to worldview foundations.

Empress Theology and Queen Philosophy

The commendable Tom Simon writes about the contempt which late Moderns have been conditioned to hold for theology and philosophy:

Only the philosophers and theologians, nowadays, try to concern themselves with the entirety of any question, from first principles down to final answers. And we have taught the humans to regard both philosophy and theology as useless and even stupid pursuits, and thereby cut them off from any possibility of meaningful knowledge.

Mr. Simon has his finger firmly planted on the most colossal intellectual deception of our age. Passing over mangled quotes about a lie’s believability being proportional to its bigness, the propaganda campaign against speculative reason has had very real and detrimental effects on Western civilization.

The reason is simple. If you limit your thinking to matters of immediate utility, you remain ignorant of the reasoning behind your actions and the ultimate ends you’re laboring toward. Things still get done under such a scheme, but we’re increasingly prone to forget that the why of something is as important as–if not more important than–the how.

Professor Stephen Hawking’s famous report of philosophy’s demise shows how even the most brilliant among us are so pre-rationally biased against speculative reason that they unironically make philosophical statements declaring philosophy dead.

For anyone who’s sympathetic to late Modern pragmatic utilitarianism, I’ve got bad news. Philosophy and her big sister theology are both quite alive–and even worse, from your viewpoint, relevant.

Philosophy sets forth the criteria whereby we can know whether or not our ideas conform to reality. All other disciplines depend on this sole prerogative of the Queen of Sciences. Contort your thinking all you like, her writ is inescapable short of forsaking rational thought altogether.

You can rightly object that, by philosophy’s own rules, reliance on reason can’t justify itself by itself. What cause, then, have the West’s philosophers to trust human reason?

The first principles of logical thought rest on axioms–propositions that can’t be proven logically, but which have the character of universal laws that must be true for rational thought to take place. A further objection arises: why not deny the axioms? Why put faith in rational thought?

This is the point where Queen Philosophy must yield precedence to her fellow and elder sovereign Empress Theology, who answers that faith is precisely how we know that the conclusions of human reason are trustworthy.

We do well here to consider that, besides love, few words have been as mangled at the hands of modernity as faith. The old saw that faith is persistent belief in the face of contrary evidence is as insipid as it is misleading. Faith isn’t cockeyed optimism. It’s not wishful thinking, and it’s not self-deception. It is a transcendently gifted way of knowing with certainty. Ultimately, faith is what allows us to examine evidence and accept conclusions drawn from it.

For those of utilitarian bent, it’s difficult to name anything more useful to the development of Western civilization than faith. It was faith in divinely imaged human reason that gave rise to the great universities. It’s no accident that initially more advanced cultures, steeped in voluntarism and occasionalism, stagnated intellectually while the foundations of the scientific revolution were being laid in the West.

Why the relentless assault on speculative reason? Listing the specific historical-intellectual developments would fill volumes. I suspect that the ultimate motive for denigrating the sovereign sciences is simple human selfishness. The true object of philosophy is the Good Life, which is attained through practice of virtues that draw us out of ourselves and orient our thoughts and acts toward others. Philosophy is the love of wisdom, and love is always selfless.

The same goes double for theology, whose Subject (for a person can never be an object) is none less than love Himself. And this love is divine Wisdom. No rivalry exists between the royal sisters. The decrees of the elder confirm and uphold the younger’s judgments.

I advise rebels against these great monarchs to recant their treason and seek the wisdom–offered freely at the city gate–that promises freedom from your errors. Theology and philosophy reign whether you acknowledge their authority or not. By casting aspersions on them, you only demean yourself.

Back to the Future and God

biff

Come Reason Ministries has an interesting article up on Back to the Future and the Existence of God and being a massive Sci Phi fan the article was right my alley.

We made it! It’s finally 2015, that famous year Marty McFly visited in the 1989 Back to the Future sequel. For years, Internet blogs and commentators have been waiting to see the hoverboard, flying cars, and the Nike self-lacing shoes. Some of these are actually getting closer to being a reality, while others may never be seen.

I’ve always been interested in the way people envision the future. It actually says a lot about humanity. Sometimes, sci-fi writers get things pretty accurate; Jules Verne’s submarines and Star Trek’s flip phone/communicators are prime examples. But other times they get things terribly wrong. Two such predictions can be seen in Back to the Future II: flying cars and a fax machine in every room. The reason for this is not technological. Both flying vehicles and fax machines exist today. Instead, there are other considerations that come into play.

For me, there are significant parallels in the way people misunderstand the future and the way unbelievers misunderstand God. Using the flying cars and the fax machine examples from the movie, Let’s briefly look at two ways people get God wrong.

Read the rest

I have asked the author, Lenny Esposito if he would consider writing an article for Sci Phi Journal but I haven’t heard anything back yet!