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This is not your everyday sort of self-help book.

In this very personable and intriguing book, Mr. Dreher explores the nature of nothing less than sin. There is much to be learned about it by both delving into Dante’s immortal poem and the poet’s life. Very generously and bravely, Dreher enlarges the study by sharing with the reader his own struggles with depression, loss of faith and physical illness.

It’s a very worthy read which will, at the very least, better acquaint you with Dante’s work and life. Read attentively, it might even shed some light on your own journey.
If you are sick and tired of political correctness and the walking/talking turds which are everywhere and every day pushing their fascist fetishes down every one’s throats, then VOX DAY's "SJW's ALWAYS LIE: TAKING DOWN THE THOUGHT POLICE" is the book for you. In its pages you will find the tools and the motivation to confront and defeat, on a personal and organizational level, these enemies of reason and the pursuit of happiness. In short, this mighty little book is the antidote to Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals”.
Read it. Use it.
Use it mercilessly!

THE GOLDEN TRANCEDENCE --- A Book Review

The Golden Transcendence is the exciting conclusion to what has to be one of the most satisfying trilogies in SF/F I have ever read. This space opera, set so far in the future that its technology is downright magical, blissfully blurs the lines between the two genres. The writing is lush and engrossing. The novel’s world-building is delivered expertly through layers that spare the reader the painful plodding through info-dumps that plagues much fiction today. Artificial Intelligence, Transhumanism, epistemology, politics, cyberwarfare and philosophical fisticuffs; this trilogy’s seamless interlacing of big battles and big ideas makes The Golden Age the Gold Standard of its field.

THE GOBLIN EMPEROR - A Review

Fairyland made banal.

Ms. Katherine Addison’s THE GOBLIN EMPEROR should have been an enjoyable book but sadly, it wasn’t. I certainly don’t fault her writing, which I’m happy to say was above par. And the mix of steam-punk and fantasy genres was a clever idea, seamlessly executed. It was the needless, pointless and worthless inclusion of sodomy into the novel’s world that ruined it for me.

Oh well, one more writer I need never read again.

A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ - A Review

Webster defines apocalypse as “…writings marked by pseudonymity, symbolic imagery and the expectation of an imminent cosmic cataclysm…” The explanatory notes in my Catholic bible would add that “The Apocalypse (so it names this last book of the bible) is a Revelation of things that were, are and will be.” A Canticle for Leibowitz shares a great deal of the multi-layered nature of sacred scripture. The novel speaks of our past, present and future with symbols and pseudonyms while building throughout its far-flung narrative the expectation of an inevitable shoe-dropping of doom.

On the surface, a Canticle is the story of the cyclic nature of civilization as seen through the stained-glass windows of a monastery somewhere in the American Southwest. And a grim story it is, a tale of a bone-headed species doomed to repeat murderous mistakes to suicidal extremes again and again with ever rising body counts. Beneath that surface, A Canticle is the story of the Catholic Church and Her struggles, internal and external. And that is the glorious story of the invincible hope She holds up against all odds and every evil. Together, these tales, grim and glorious, are twined into a millennium-long saga that is at once a mirror to our own history and a glimpse of an all-too-possible future. Walter Miller unfolds the saga over three books, each set centuries apart, each book representing a different period in the Church’ history.

The first book is a sketch of the Church during the Dark Ages (476-1000 A.D.) and opens, rather appropriately, during the penitential season of Lent. The story begins several centuries after the ‘Flame Deluge’ where mankind, humbled by his own hand and hubris, is reduced to hordes of hungry illiterates trying to scratch out a living from the earth they have scorched to near lifelessness with war. And as the Earth is scoured of nearly all that makes life itself possible, humanity is all but shorn of the learning and culture that makes life beautiful. This latter condition has been brought about mostly by the ‘Simplification’ that followed the Great War. The mobs of book-burning and intellectual-lynching Simpletons responsible for this disastrous dumbing-down are the author’s playful but pointed poke at the anti-Catholic mobs of nineteenth century America whom history ignobly but accurately remembers as, ‘The Know Nothings.’

The second book is Miller’s portrait of the Catholic Church during the late Middle-Ages to the Renaissance (14th -17th centuries.) At this point in the saga, the world, thanks to the work of the Church, is begetting a new, thriving culture. This reflects our own very real history, where centuries after the Church’s founding of various schools, including the university system, hospitals for the poor and other social safety nets and playing patron to the arts and sciences, civilization reached an unparalleled high-water mark. Within this advanced culture, however, is the very seed of its destruction, pride; a pride that challenges Church authority on all fronts. It is a species of that pride with which Lucifer once challenged God’s authority in Heaven. It is pride born of ingratitude. It is manifest in the town of Sanly Bowitts (whose very name betrays their indebtedness to the order and its saintly founder) a town which is not only loath to thank the monks for the gift of literacy they have received from them, but would so like the order to furnish the town library with treasures from the precious memorabilia that the monks have to chain the books against the threat of theft. This thanklessness is personified as well by Thon Taddeo, the scholar who scoffs at the idea of putting his learning at the service of the very church that raised and educated him. This ingratitude is also displayed by the Poet who mooches off the monastery, all the while challenging the monks with all the passive aggressiveness of a petulant teenager. This sort of ingratitude will inevitably prod the pride of the world into open revolt against the Church. This is represented by Hannegan, who like Henry VIII, breaches the wall between church and state and makes himself head of the Church in Texakarna. Collectively, these three characters represent some of the more prominent types the Church was in contention with during the Reformation & Renaissance periods. These various challenges ate at the Church not unlike the ulcer that eats away at abbot Paolo during the second book.

The closing tale is a reflection our own modern and wretched epoch. At this point in history the Church’ authority has been severely diminished. With its dismissal, beliefs in absolute morals and objective truth have all but disappeared. It is in this book that we meet the character that most resembles us. This modern man, as exemplified by Doctor Cors, is a character whose vision is so stunted by the myopia of his materialistic world view that he can’t imagine an evil greater than pain or a source of right and wrong other than society. This materialism he subscribes to is nothing less than the first wave of a new Simplification (if human senses or instruments cannot detect a thing, it must therefore not exist and can thus be dismissed) which leads inevitably to the breakdown of communications. Thus when we meet the third book’s abbot, we find Zerchi frustrated by the failure of his Autoscribe to properly translate his letter to the bishop. This breakdown in communications is so pervasive that it even plagues the Church. Latin, the one language that has united the Church across continents and centuries, has now split in two distinct tongues! More striking is the loss of absolute morals that has given way to such a morass of amoral relativism that a government can set up a roadside Auschwitz and call it a mercy camp. With truth and morality subject to individualism and subjectivism the only objective determinant in human affairs naturally becomes the will, which unfortunately is always all-too-ready to resort to force. Again, even the Church is affected by this malaise as is depicted by the abbot’s anger management problem. Without objective and absolute truths and morals to guide and even constrain human wills, the contests between them become clashes in short order, growing in belligerence until… kaboom!

Despite the subject matter, I found Canticle to be a hugely optimistic book. It begins with a young, hungry monk in search of God and fulfillment and ends with an old, dying monk being fed the Blessed Sacrament, the Bread of life, fulfilled with the very blood, body, soul and divinity of God! Despite Zerchi’s death and the destruction of the abbey, the Church Herself survives yet another cataclysm, taking Her mission to the stars, while on Earth, God begins again with a new Eve, the Immaculately Conceived Rachel, a sinless creature sprung from the guileless Mrs. Grales (Grail?)

Reading Canticle as Church history is just one layer of this great novel. There are other deeper layers. Respectively, each book is also a meditation on the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity as well as the three manifestations of God as Beauty, Truth and Love. At another level Canticle is a catechetical work with very deft treatments of some of the more interesting Church teachings on subjects such as ‘Invincible Ignorance’ and the ‘Problem of Evil.’ And then there is the deeper, mystical levels probed through the characters of Laz and Rachel. As literature, this book is rich and meaty for all its intellectual subtlety. The novel is quite the contrast to the horde of zombie books that presently crowd the PA genre with stories that, despite all the limb-gnawing, brain-munching and entrails-slurping, only serve up the emptiest of calories. Canticle is also very funny, laugh-out-loud-funny in more than a few parts. I don’t think that it is any fluke that Canticle won the Hugo Award in 1961 (I was pleasantly surprised to learn that A Canticle was actually one of two Catholic Sci-Fi novels up for the Hugo that year. It ran against Poul Anderson’s “The High Crusade.”) Neither is there any surprise in the fact that the book has never been out of print in its 50 + years because it speaks just as eloquently today as it did half a century ago. I have every confidence that A Canticle for Leibowitz will continue to go on selling long into the future because the novel is a timeless work, made so by the author’s choice to grapple with things eternal.

I’d like to claim that reading the book was a pure pleasure but I cannot. Throughout the reading thoughts of the author’s abandonment of Catholicism and his tragic end by suicide were constantly with me, as ever-present as the vultures over the abbey’s sky. I can only conjecture that he was among the droves of Catholics who left the Church in the wake of The Second Vatican Council. This was a period where church leaders, clerical and lay, under the cover of ‘the spirit of Vatican 2’, began their crusade to modernize Catholicism (May God forgive their misguided souls!) Priests stopped wearing cassocks and nuns traded their habits for pant suits. Solemn Gregorian chant was replaced by sickly sweet Protestant hymns or worse, ‘Christian Rock’ (the crappiest music genre in human history!) Beyond these cosmetic changes, disciplines were also watered down or outright dropped; the Latin and the beauty of the traditional Liturgy were abandoned for the vernacular and the banal while dogma was rarely articulated and even undermined by these modernist Vandals. This experiment in modernization nearly wrecked the Church. It certainly ruined the faith of many. Parishes, seminaries, convents and monasteries closed at a rate that should have been alarming but strangely enough wasn’t. Walter Miller can probably be counted among the millions who left the Church during that time. A man with a deeply wounded psyche to begin with (His friend and fellow sci-fi writer, Joe Hadleman claimed that Miller suffered from PTSD for thirty years before the condition was diagnosed), cut off from the Church’ Sacramental life, he retreated into himself, became a recluse and eventually shot himself.

It was a tragic ending to his mortal life but given his mental state at the time, a Catholic has reason to trust in God’s mercy to forgive him the otherwise grave sin. And then there is the sense of invincible optimism with which his book is infused which gives me hope to believe that once he shed his tortured, mortal coil and came before his Maker, Miller repented and recovered the love for the Catholic Church that is so evident in every page of A Canticle for Leibowitz. I’m sure he is looking down, cheering on the Restoration of Traditional Catholicism around the globe. I’m sure he is tickled by the new generation of Catholics who, like his beloved monks, have recovered and are reverencing the timeless treasures and traditions of the Church.

A BITTER TRIAL - A Review

In this short but powerful book, one can really feel the anguish that the sweeping changes to the liturgy caused Evelyn Waugh. Through the various letters to Cardinal Heenan, friends and assorted editors, Waugh not only points out the various problems with the Novus Ordo - presciently calling to mind Pope Benedict XVI's critique of the new Mass as often being banal & pedestrian - but he also confesses that the changes were a serious challenge to his faith, reducing Mass attendance from a holy obligation to a "tedious duty."

Reading such a painful confession one can't help but think of the alarming numbers of parishes, seminaries & convents that closed down as pews emptied in the wake of these changes, changes that were not called for by Vatican 2 but were rather wrought by what Waugh summed up as "a strange alliance of archeologists absorbed in their speculations on the rites of the second century and modernists who wish to give the Church the character of our own deplorable epoch..."

These two groups, spiritual heirs of the Vandals if ever there were any, in a misguided (to be charitable) attempt to simplify the liturgy, stripped it of its beauty, which in their Philistine arrogance they dismissed as 'the accretions of centuries..." And like the baby & the bathwater, much of the liturgy's reverence was ejected with its beauty. In his most succinct and poignant complaint, which to me is the crux of the matter, Waugh wonders why "the Church [which] rejoices in the development of dogma; why does it not also admit the development of liturgy?

Why not indeed?

I enjoyed the book tremendously & all throughout it I kept thinking of the quote from Hans Urs von Balthasar with which I will close:

"We no longer dare to believe in Beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order to more easily dispose of it. Our situation today shows that Beauty demands for itself at least as much courage & decision as do Truth & Goodness, & she will not allow herself to be separated & banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were an ornament of a bourgeois past - whether he admits it or not - can no longer pray & will soon no longer be able to love.

THE GOLDEN AGE - A Review

John C Wright’s THE GOLDEN AGE is a book for the ages!

The story is set ten thousand years hence in one of the more cleverly constructed worlds envisioned by science fiction. In this far-flung future mankind has managed to terraform himself across most of the solar system, even creating a mini-star system by igniting Jupiter. As wondrous as the feats of interplanetary engineering are, the story concerns itself mainly with the immortal, post-human civilization that humanity has wrought from itself over the millennia. This future society (The Golden Oecumene) is libertarian, peaceful and nearly crime-free. It is guided and guarded by a loose affiliation of self-aware super computers (Sopho-Techs), Composites and Mass-Minds (collectives of joined brains and groups of digitized consciousness merged into cooperatives of intelligence) and Manorial Houses, which are both schools of sorts and leagues of civilization’s elite organized around various aesthetics and/or philosophies. The citizens of the Oecumene, at least most of the ones that we are introduced to in this first book of the trilogy, spend the majority of their time in caskets/coffins, floating in the Life Water that keeps them immortal. (Some never leave their caskets, but commit a kind of cyber-suicide, drowning their minds in endless delirium.) Those that do venture forth seem to prefer to do so mentally, ‘living’ in virtual worlds projected onto the real one. They interact with this enhanced world and with each other through a variety of ‘self(s)’; ie: icons and iterations, projections and clones. Some of these creations will have or develop self-awareness and personalities of their own. All of this provides rich material for exploring the ideas of the human spirit, personhood and the self’s relation to society.

The story’s protagonist, Phaethon is the vehicle through which we see this future world and explore its timeless issues. Phaethon is a young (by immortal standards), idealistic engineer and would-be explorer whose spirit of adventure cannot be lulled into compliance with the wishes of the elders who rule their libertarian lotus-land. He chafes at contentment and dares to dream of real glories beyond the Oecumene. It’s hard not to love Phaethon and thus follow him into the sequels.

SOMEWHITHER - A Review

If you enjoy following a snark-fueled protagonist as he plows through a near-non-stop action adventure then you will like this tale. I don’t know whether Wright was consciously emulating Jim Butcher’s Dresden File novels or not, but Somewhither had the same page-turning, ‘imagination-candy’ appeal of any of Harry Dresden’s adventures. Somewhither’s Biblically-inspired multiverse is exotic and intriguing enough to visit again in whatever sequel(s) may follow.

THE ROGUE'S MARCH - A Book Review

The Rogue’s March: John Riley and the Saint Patrick’s Battalion by Peter F. Stevens is the true story of the US Army deserters who fought valiantly as a Mexican Army unit during the American - Mexican War of 1846 – 48. This controversial and tragic tale of John Riley and his Saint Patrick’s battalion was nearly forgotten due to a combination of suppression by the US government and its eclipsing by the American Civil War that followed it. You couldn’t really blame the government for wanting to forget the whole scandalous affair which plagued Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott with a stunning 13% desertion rate. Neither could you blame Americans for wanting to forget the ugly, anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant Nativist movement which found its cruelest expression in the US military.

Mr. Stevens does a good job of detailing this particularly dark time in the nation’s history, providing plenty of general context and individual examples, all of it evoked from official military reports and the even more telling letters of soldiers, both loyal and deserter.

A most worthy read!

TRANSHUMAN AND SUBHUMAN --- A Book Review

Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and the Awful Truth
By
John C. Wright

http://www.sff.net/people/john-c-wright/book_Transhuman_and_Subhuman.htm

A whirlwind tour of the Sci-fi Universe!

This collection of essays on science fiction as modern mythology was as exciting a read as many a thriller I’ve enjoyed.

If you have never understood the attraction that science fiction has for so many of us, Mr. Wright’s essays might just explain it to you. If you are already a fan, you will love his analysis of the genre, its voices and various visions for various tomorrows. While it was pretty heady in places, the writing was never dense and certainly never dull. Quite the contrary, it was laugh-out-loud funny in many places. My favorite case in point would be the essay, “The Desolation of Tolkien.” It is Mr. Wright’s eviscerating critique of the second Hobbit movie and in reading it I finally found the peace which that cinematic act of vandalism robbed from me. I laughed so hard reading his review of the film that every shadow that movie had darkened my soul with was exorcised from me forever.

I am much obliged, sir!

Beyond the laughs, there runs through these essays a very serious examination of our present and very real world and the equally real forces struggling for dominion over its soul. As it turns out those very same forces are struggling for the soul of science fiction. And why not, seeing as sci-fi is a microcosm of our world, a shared world of mythology in the making where we trade stories about who we think we might be and where we might be heading. Control of these stories and their telling, determining what they may and may not contain and even who may and may not tell them will go a long way to shaping our civilization or even ending it.

Mr. Wright gives us an Eagles of Manwe-eye view of the battlefield and the forces arrayed on it, his descriptions delivered through the delightfully adroit juggling of Snow White and Aristotle, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Gender Theory, transhumanism, the Gnosticism of Arthur C Clarke, the hedonism and patriotism of Robert Heinlein, the historicism of Isaac Asimov, Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, this-ism and that-ism and the glorious Catholicism which answers them all.
Mr. Wright’s love of the genre is evident on every page of the book and you might just find it to be contagious. I heartily recommend it!