Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Matter of Life and (Un)Death

As I've noted before, vampirism is a tricky plot device, and the modern tendency to extend cheap grace to all and sundry makes it worse. The usual way out is to have a creature that is merely vampiric without being an actual vampire(see the first link again). The "Twilight" series goes beyond that by trying to redeem vampires.

It doesn't work. The main theological problem is that vampirism involves drinking blood, which is always under a curse. Leviticus 17: 12–14 mentions this, and it’s echoed for Christians in Acts 15: 20, 29. The point is that the blood of a creature (human or not) represents its life, so drinking its blood means appropriating its life, which is how vampires work. It’s also a parody of the Atonement, because just as we live eternally by spiritually partaking of Christ’s blood and life, so the vampire prolongs its existence by partaking of a creature’s life. This is true even when the blood is taken from an animal: the idea of "good" vampires using rodents instead of people doesn't eliminate the problem.

Yet the unique idea of the "Twilight" series is that the change is effectively good, or anyway not evil. Instead of "Choose life" we have "Choose (un)death." Considering how confused zand outright persverse our culture is concerning abortion and euthanasia, such an attempt to make death a positive shouldn't come as a surprise.

And there is a point of theological interest in putting a spiritual or allegorical spin on vampirism. Early Christians were considered vampiric because they drank the blood of Christ in their rituals.

But that's the rub: Christian "vampires" would be a eucharistic crowd; they would subsist on the only blood freely given for that purpose. And while Christian theology stresses dying yet living, it won't fit well in the undeath category. We are not less alive than before; we are overflowing with the life of God Himself.

In fact, it would be nearer true to say that we are all vampires by birth, lacking life and trying to suck it from things around us that can never truly fill or cure the void. It is only in Christ that we find sufficient life to do the job, restoring us to true life from our twilight of undeath.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Another Status Report

In case anyone wonders why my posting has been so sporadic lately, there are several reasons. One on-going problem is that I'm using Gmail now, so I can no longer blog and check mail at the same time. Since checking mail is a bit more important to me, I'm not quite as apt to spend time blogging. I used to pre-write my posts, and I still prefer to do so, but it's harder to fit into my current schedule.

Anyway, I've also been dealing with some theological issues lately, and I'm not sure whether to post about them here. I try to stick with what I call "basic Christianity"--not to be confused with "Mere Christianity," which is the body of doctrines held by most Christians at most times. Basic Christianity has to do with points of agreement among the various Christian confessions. There are more of them than you might think, and they tend to be the fundamental truths of the faith, unlike the denomination-specific ideas that we tend to idolize. Mere Christianity includes some non-basic doctrines that might actually be incorrect, though not dangerously so. Basic Christianity does not.

Yet the topics I've been considering aren't in this basic group, so they are more controversial. As my tagline indicates, I have investigated Christianity beyond the confines of the views I was raised with, and I am in the odd position of being strongly ecumenical (I accept the validity of all the historic Christian groups, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant in particular) yet without a home: theologically I'm very close to Orthodox, but on a few grounds I don't believe I could ever become Orthodox. Catholicism wouldn't be a good fit either. Anglicanism and Methodism are possibilities, though both have theologically liberal tendencies. (There are exceptions, however.) I'm tempted to post about all that, but I'm not sure it's a good idea.

Anyway, I need to get back to Dark World; I hadn't intended so long a break. God helping me, I'll try to get back to regular posting.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Crevice: A Free Book review

I've pretty much decided not to bother with negative reviews, except that I may occasionally list free books worth avoiding along with a quick explanation of why.

The Crevice (audiobook here) by William J. Burns and Isabel Ostrander is exceptional, however, so I'll explain why in a sense it's a good example of a bad example. For a start, a quick perusal of the audiobook summary and the article on William J. Burns should give you a justifiable suspicion: yes, this is an ego trip for Burns, who, as Henry Blaine ("the Master Mind," yet!), is even more heroic than he thinks, if possible.

Now, that's annoying, but what tempted me to stop almost as soon as I started was the stereotypical portrayal of a minister as obsequious and hypocritical. It's possible to have such a character without stooping to stereotype--for example, the Rev. William Collins in Pride and Prejudice. And he's present at the end, too, just to reinforce the point that he still hasn't learned anything and is a far less noble character than Blaine, who has magnanimously chosen to reform a minor criminal the reverend would have preferred to rot in prison. And in case we're too oblivious to comprehend an already ham-handed bit of propaganda, it's spelled out for us:

"If I'd gone to any Sunday school he presided over, when I was a
kiddie, I'd have been a train-robber now!" he observed darkly.

There are of course some perfunctory references to God, but Blaine himself is too modern for that. But what is his track record, even taking the story on its own terms?

1. He manages to cow a subordinate who has an attack of conscience (he's called on to lie a lot and betray confidences) with the observation that, sure, the man is betraying an innocent girl, but Blaine's own client is an innocent girl who has been betrayed. So two wrongs do make a right, apparently.

2. He talks a woman into abandoning her scruples against a villain's advances, the better to obtain information from him. This leads to considerable tragedy--a pair of deaths, among other things--and he doesn't even get much information out of it. Them's the breaks, though, and the silly minister probably couldn't have done it.

And I'll skip some essentially criminal activities such as chloroforming a night watchman and burgling a safe to get evidence--that was occasionally done at this period, sometimes even by cops, it seems.

In short, Blaine came across to me at least as a rather repugnant object, and that put me off the story. But the mystery itself is somewhat pedestrian. I figured out most of the mystery easily enough as information became available, and what wasn't fairly obvious came across as hokum. Oddly, we don't even find out what "the crevice" is until late in the story, and it's not convincing either. (I supposed it would be the villains' lair.)

About the only point of interest is a cryptographic anticipation of Leet:

"...we find that '3' when viewed from the
under side of the paper will look very much like an English _E_; 7
like _T_; 9 like _P_; 2 like _S_, and so forth."

On the other hand, if you're interested to see how far back attitudes like Blaine's go--well, they go back beyond this book, but this is a good example of the preening self-assurance of an early modern thinker, blind to his faults and contradictions.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Who is this Verne person, anyway?

A bit of a depressing post this time. I recently encountered someone (yes, an adult) who didn't know who Jules Verne was. Now, when I mentioned Twenty Thousand Leagues Beneath the Sea, among others, recognition dawned. But still, given that most people in the US at least only know Verne from movies, and hardly any of the movies are faithful adaptations. A lot of people think the Nautilus was nuclear powered, for example. It wasn't, and Verne was clear about that. It was electric, run on batteries that were in turn powered by old-fashioned coal-generated electricity. In the early days especially, Verne tended to merely extend current technology; he didn't do the weird, visionary stuff until later, as in Facing the Flag, with its weapon of mass destruction--a kind of guided missile.

Also, Verne dealt more in adventure stories than in sci-fi: practically all of his stories are adventures, but many aren't sci-fi. (The only non-sci-fi work by Verne that is well-known in the US is Around the World in Eighty Days.) So we've seriously skewed his work. Even putative fans are sometimes off: The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne displayed considerable ignorance of Verne's work, portraying the modern legend more than the reality. Comparatively few of the episodes fit Verne or his work at all well; most were modeled after The X-Files instead: there was a tendency toward supernatural and occult themes generally foreign to Verne's actual work.

I've done some tinkering with Verne's work myself, and perhaps we'll get a look at Ty Addison's "I Am Called No Man" on the blog in the not-too-distant future.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Planet Strappers: A Free Book review

The Planet Strappers (free audiobook here) by Raymond Z. Gallun is a tale of the awkward age of space exploration from the awkward age of sci-fi. We were beginning to realize that maybe it wasn't quite so simple after all, that Mars probably didn't have any canals or ancient sages, that Venus was more hellhole than paradise.

A bit of a disappointment, really. I think that's why there's so much interest in retro science-fantasy where it really is as easy to get into space as the comic strips implied.

Anyway, in The Planet Strappers, the Solar System is still being explored: men have personally visited everything within Jupiter's orbit, and probes have reached much of the rest. Mars used to have an advanced civilization, but it and a rival civilization from what is now the asteroids wiped each other out, and now only plants rule the Red Planet.

It's the tech angle that I found interesting. Space travel (beyond escaping earth's gravity well) is managed on the cheap, thanks to Archers, space suits so thoroughly self-sufficient that they double as spaceships for fairly short trips, and bubs, or space bubbles, which are essentially large, spinnable plastic bags with ion drives that can take you from planet to planet in a few months. I couldn't help thinking what a little genetic engineering and nanotechnology could do to make bubs self-maintaining. The main problem (outside of shifting orbits, which I think would take more power than Gallun allowed for) would be psychological: even in a convoy of bubs where you could visit or call others, the isolation would get to most people. Still, it's an attractive idea, if only for fiction.

As to the story itself, it concerns a group of would-be space travelers who are more diverse than the crew of the Enterprise: woman who wants to make it in a man's world? Check! Black guy? Yup. Hispanic? ¡Por supuesto! Jock? Take two; they're big. Mama's boy? Don't make me cry! Rich kid? Ka-ching! Rebel without a clue? Why, soit'n'y! We've even got a handicapped guy--two if you count the innumerate goof who needs mathematical and other nursemaiding. Against all odds--well, except for the rich kid, whose odds are pretty good--they get a shot at the Big Vacuum, though there are washouts along the way--and some surprise returns. They go their separate ways, and we get a tour of space with a few of them.

It's a good yarn on the whole--a transition from the early gee-whiz sci-fi into the more realistic kind.

The Planet Strappers

Monday, October 11, 2010

Let 'Em Breathe Space: A Free Book Review

Let 'Em Breathe Space (free audiobook here) is a novella by Lester del Rey. It's a space-borne murder mystery in which an expedition to Saturn finds itself plagued by potentially harmful accidents and eventually a series of murders and the destruction of plants that maintain the air supply. Who would be foolish enough to endanger the entire ship? Why would anyone be so desperate to abort the trip to Saturn?

The mystery is fairly good, though I had a general idea who had done it (but not exactly why) somewhat before the narrator. In addition to the mystery proper, there is the problem of getting enough breathable air to reach any destination but the grave--the alternative being a death lottery to cut down the number aboard ship to something the remaining plants can support. Even if the narrator, a former engineer washed up by an accident and reduced to a glorified handyman, can find the murderer, there's still the matter of the missing oxygen.

I was surprised, even given del Rey's gifts, at how well the story worked--not only as a mystery, but as a kind of engineering problem and even (in small part) as a kind of romance. Let 'Em Breathe Space is short--just under two hours--and would go quite well with chili or burritos and popcorn. (That will more or less make sense after you've read it.)

Again, that's

Let 'Em Breathe Space
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