10.30.2013

My review of Insurrection

Insurrection: To Believe Is Human; To Doubt, Divine, the spectacular 2011 release by pyro-theologian Peter Rollins is a book that’s difficult to summarize or explain in brief. All the more difficult because I’d like to explain to EVERYONE, not just those that self-identify as Christian, why it’s so great.

In short, Rollins’ work hinges on the idea of dismantling what he sees as a wrongheaded understanding of God. He calls it the deus ex machina God, but we all know it as the bearded guy in the clouds calling the shots. Rollins asks his readers to look at the simple idea that “God is love” and from there begin to zoom out to the idea that God is manifest in the act of love, and is not some sort of celestial entity.

He gets to this through various means: Jesus’ words on the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” which Rollins posits is the moment when God becomes an atheist, the writings of Mother Theresa in which she describes living her entire life with a core-deep sense that there was no God out there watching over her, but that she experienced God in her work with the poorest of Calcutta, and through various parables that he uses to introduce each chapter.

Rollins asks his readers to strip away what he’s previously referred to as the idolatry of God, until all that is left is a person willing to live a life of love, kindness, peace, and humility. Understanding that in living that life we are producing the place where God dwells. He goes on, then, to extrapolate the idea that God’s will for our lives becomes our own will for a life based in love, charity, mercy, and respect.

I would struggle to recommend Insurrection to those not familiar with the basics of the Christian faith, though I’d struggle equally to recommend it to anyone who holds to those tenets with too much fundamentalism as Rollins’ work towards an a/theistic form of an understanding of God is all but heretical by comparison to what most think of as Christianity. But to those open-minded enough, or to those unable to fully embrace or fully leave the faith, it’s something of a revelation.

10.25.2013

My Review of Abaddon's Gate


Abaddon's Gate is the third (and most recently released, though not final) book in James S. A. Corey's The Expanse series. I could easily write at length about how Corey (the pseudonym of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) writes in a style that reads like a Blockbuster (as you'd also know from the io9.com blurb on the novel's cover) and how much of a fantastic page turner it is, and about what a great balance of action and humor and dread these books strike, but I feel I've done a lot of that in my reviews of its predecessors Leviathan Wakes and Caliban's War. I want to, instead, talk about what sets this book apart.

Something I've not touched on in my past reviews is that Corey utilizes a George R. R. Martin-esque style of using "point of view characters" to tell his stories. Each chapter begins with a name, and that chapter is told from that character's limited perspective. The result is impressive amounts of dramatic tension, and thankfully dramatic tension that does not wear down the reader's patience waiting for characters to catch up. In Leviathan Wakes, there were only two POV characters, Holden and his shaky ally Miller. In Caliban's War that number expanded to four, Miller and three new allies. In Abaddon's Gate we read from the POV of Holden and two allies, and in an extremely effective twist, also the POV of an antagonist.

I mentioned in my review of Caliban's War that the events set in motion in Leviathan Wakes are tangentially related to the events of that second book, but that the direct effects of Leviathan Wakes are hanging in the background and creating a general sense of unease. Between an antagonistic POV character and those effects coming to the fore, Abaddon's Gate's first third is choked in a sense of dread. Alien machinations are at work, dangerous foes are gunning for our heroes, and the reader gets the sense that Holden & Co. could not be less prepared for what the reader knows is coming. It's fabulous.

The book continues to do what its predecessors started: terrifying us by showing us that the unfathomably big emptiness of space leaves the possibility of unimaginable threats and unthinkable horrors. And it continues to pound home the theme that humanity's pettiness just might make those horrors obsolete anyway, and perhaps that should be scarier.

Abaddon's Gate, and Corey's entire series, just works. I recommend it to any fan of science fiction, action, adventure, and/or swashbuckling. Or to nearly anyone else.

10.17.2013

My Review of Caliban's War

As I've fallen further and further behind in my Half-Cannonball this year I've been saved from absolute embarrassment time and time again by books that leapt out at me not from my "TO READ" pile, but from somewhere else.

Caliban's War by James S. A. Corey, the second book in "The Expanse" series is a book that simply demanded I read it, and it was right. Well-paced, occasionally funny, often terrifying, and action packed, the book is a worthy follow-up to Corey's Leviathan Wakes. This series is so much fun, in fact, that I had to make the Cannonball-conscious decision to put down it's successor and write this review.

Caliban's War picks up a year or so after the events of Leviathan Wake's, as our swashbuckling heroes are working a contract for the half-government half-terrorist organization of the Outer Planets Alliance. Jim Holden, Captain of the stolen Martian missile corvette Rocinante, is a changed man--and not for the better.

A strange event on Ganymede, breadbasket of the outer planets, precipitates a shooting war between Earth and Mars. Soon the solar system's best chance at ending the violence is the clear head of foul-mouthed Chrisjen Avasarala, Assistant to to the Undersecretary of Executive Administration at the Earth UN, and her new bodyguard and assistant Gunnery Sargeant Bobbie Draper of the Martian Marine Corps.  That is, if Holden doesn't fuck things up first.

Meanwhile the human face of the Ganymede incident is Dr. Praxidike Meng, whose quest to find his missing daughter will bring all these characters together, and who may hold the key to what happened on Ganymede, and whether it spells the end of humanity.

I don't know that I would recommend this book without reading its predecessor first, and Leviathan Wakes is fantastic, but as a part of The Expanse series Caliban's War is a really fun read. The two writers who together are James S. A. Corey have found an insanely entertaining formula for sci-fi fun.