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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Brief Break - interlude

I'm taking a brief break from blogging. The next post will be on April 4th.

Thank you to those of you who stop by frequently. And thank you to new readers who are just stopping in. Happy reading!

Currently Reading:
Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand

Currently Listening to:
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Tommyknockers - Stephen King

As a horror fan, I'm familiar with many of Stephen King's works simply by hearing other fans talk about them. Many of his works have also been made into hit movies. His works are so popular that the media often references his work. It's difficult not to at least have some knowledge of King simply because of his popularity. I have mixed feelings toward The Tommyknockers, the first novel I've read by King.

Bobbi is a successful western writer living in a small town with her dog Peter, while Gardner is a popular drunk poet who can't keep his life together. The two main characters are long time friends and their lives and personalities contrast in a fascinating way. You'd think with Gardner's instability he'd be the one to get into trouble, but it's actually Bobbi that ends up going crazy upon finding a strange piece of metal on her property. While she starts digging the rest of this large metal thing up, there are consequence to her health and that of others who live in the area. All of the people in town start acting strange. They invent futuristic machines that run only on batteries, some of them start hearing voices, the townspeople develop telepathy. There are physical changes, too. Women start menstruating non-stop, people start losing teeth, and their bodies start changing shape.

The townspeople begin disliking outsiders. Strangely, this turns out to be a non issue. Whenever people drive through the area they get so sick that they find another route and encourage others to do the same. Knowing that something's wrong with Bobbi, only Gardner is brave enough to venture into the town. Things just get worse from there.

During certain portions of the novel, I found myself being pulled back to H.P. Lovecraft's The Colour Out of Space, one of my favorite pieces. With a bit of research I found in On Writing, King states he got the basic idea from Lovecraft's work.

I enjoyed the story and the characters. I felt like it was much longer than necessary, though. A lot of what was supposed to add to the suspense just felt tedious to me. To be fair, I've mentioned this before, horror tends to work best for me when it's in short story format. Much like the romance genre, I'm willing to take a foray to novel-length horror from time to time. I'm starting to think it's just not my thing, though.

Friday, March 22, 2013

God is Love - Pope Benedict XVI

God is Love (Deus Caritas Est) is Pope Benedict XVI's first Encyclical letter during his Papacy.

In Part I, Benedict explains that there is a problem in the use of language when it comes to scripture. Its original language versus how it is translated into other languages can be different, specifically when it comes to the word love. He explains the three definitions of love: eros, philia, and agape. Once this is established, he further explains how love relates to the Bible in both the old and new testament. He, of course, touches on Jesus Christ's sacrifice. At the end of this portion he expresses that one can be faithful, but miss the whole point when one does not act in love to others.

Part II expresses how important charitable services is for the Catholic Church. He emphasizes that the charitable works should be out of love and not out of the desire to spread the Word. In this same portion, he expresses how other organizations should reach out, as well. One of the interesting things he notes is that with all of the technology we have now, we should be able to help even more people all around the world.

What I got from this was that Benedict feels that faith is not as important as actions done in love. To live a life of love is more true to the Christian faith than simply living a pious life. It reminds me of the quote that is often attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words..

Recommended Reads:
The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hildegard of Bingen: Selections from Her Writings

Known as the Sibyl of the Rhine, Hildegard of Bingen was a 12th century abbess filled with talent and fire. She wrote music for worship, she recorded her visions and their meanings, and was an amazing herbalist. Although she wrote in a humble manner, she was not afraid to speak her mind to the authorities in the Catholic Church and to even royalty. Hildegard's thirst for life seemed to be spurred by her persistent sickness, in which she received visions from God.

Hildegard of Bingen: Selections from Her Writings only contains a brief introduction about Hildegard and her visions. This volume gathers visions from all three books of her Scivias (or visions). Each chapter begins with the vision itself, which is often so intricate in detail that readers may have to read it multiple times to get a full visual in ones mind. These are followed by a short line by line explanation of the vision's meaning. While the selections are short, they are concise enough to give the reader an idea of what the visions of Hildegard mean. Unfortunately, this small volume does not contain the illustrations that she originally included with Scivias, which would give the reader a better understanding of what she saw. This volume covers 10 topics including: "The Creator and Creation God Enthroned", "The Trinity", and "The Edifice of Salvation".

For those who want to learn about her theology in short or who want to review, I think this is a good choice. For those who want to get deeper there are much better books out there to choose from.

Recommended Reading:
Hildegard of Bingen's Book of Divine Works: With Letters and Songs edited by Matthew Fox
The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen: Volume I - edited by Joseph L. Baird and Radd K. Ehrman

Recommended Listening (traditional):
Canticles of Ecstasy performed by Cologne Sequentia Ensemble for Medieval Music
The Origin of Fire: Music and Visions of Hildegard von Bingen performed by Anonymous 4

Recommended Listening (modern):
Hildegard von Bingen by Garmarna
Vision: The Music of Hildegard von Bingen

Recommended Viewing:
Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen (2010)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Weird California

If you're looking for offbeat places to visit then Weird California by Greg Bishop, Joe Oesterle, and Mike Marinacci is the book for you.

If you enjoy music, there are a few strange places you may want to visit. Sand dunes in certain areas are known to causes "harplike" or cymbal sounds. Curious? You can visit them at Kelso Dunes outside of Kelso, California to hear for yourself. The "Wave Organ" in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is the creation of Peter Richards and George Gonzalez. As the waves crash against the open ends, the pipes release the sound. It's said that it's best to visit during high tide to get the best experience.

Did you know that the center of the world is located in California? In fact, it's "official". You can even get your photo taken with it along with a signed certificate to say you were there. Visit Felicity, California for this amazing opportunity.

Salvation Mountain found off of Highway 111, near Niland, is Leonard Knight's labor of love. Wanting to share the gospel message with others, he painted a mountain. He continues to add to it by mixing mud and straw to make creations and then paint them.

If you're looking for a place to stay that's a little unusual, consider stopping at the Madonna Inn located in San Luis Bispo. Each room is unique in its decoration. Some boast simple amenities like a fireplace or a balcony, but others have more interesting amenities like a rock shower or a water fall.

You can find this and much more in this unusual travel guide.

Other books in this series:
Weird Hollywood
Weird Oregon
Weird Washington

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Suicide Squad - Adam Glass

What if a group of super villians were offered the option forced to work off their time behind bars by joining a secret task force? Adam Glass offers a fresh perspective of this 'what if' scenario in Suicide Squad: Kicked in the Teeth, which contains issues #1-7 of the series.

After auditioning several candidates, the coordinator of Task Force X decides on a final team: Dead Lock, Harley Quinn, King Shark, El Diablo, and Voltaic. The team is later joined by Basilisk and Yoyo. As a fail safe to ensure their cooperation, each member has an explosive implant that is set for a specified time for each mission and can also be detonated remotely.

Their first mission? Contain a zombie outbreak and secure the antidote. Although they are able to secure the antidote, they find themselves abandoned when the local police force interferes. Stranded, the team has to find a way to get back to a rendezvous point, where they can either be rescued or at least have their timers reset. As such notorious villains, they have to find a good place to hide, though.

The week only goes from bad to worse. The team has to shut down a prison riot with only twenty minutes before their microbombs go off!

And the ever resourceful Harley Quinn manages to slip the leash to go in search of her beloved Joker, who's been rumored to have been skinned alive!

Unsurprisingly, the violence in this graphic novel is pretty extreme. Torture scenes, hand-to-hand combat, and explosives abound. Overall, I enjoyed the collection of the first 7 issues; however, I found some of Harley Quinn's behavior foreign to her character. I assume some of these things comes into play in later issues, but I won't know until I can get a hold of the next collection.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Selected Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas

Selected Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas translated by Robert P. Goodwin is a collection of writing by Saint Thomas Aquinas, who is considered one of the greatest Christian theologians and philosophers to date. This book is composed of an introduction by the editor and then is split into four different parts. Each section begins with an introduction by the editor with some helpful comments on context and explanations on the basic message of Aquinas. The editor provides excellent footnotes throughout the book. Some of these footnotes only contain bibliography notes, while others contain editor's notes to assist readers in understanding the material.

"The Principles of Nature" is about matter, the world, and animals. During his time, the word "cause" had several different meanings. Even after reading about the uses by the editor, I sometimes found it difficult in these discussions to follow Aquinas's explanations because I'm just not accustomed to the usages. Overall, I didn't find this topic too interesting.

"On Being and Essence" was fairly interesting. Aquinas' understanding appears to be that body and soul are one in the same, not separate entities. It's not that simple, of course, and the editor manages to bring together the writings on this topic in a short and accessible manner.

"On the Virtues in General" drew me in immediately. Aquinas explains the nature of virtues and how they relate to the lives of men (humans).

The last chapter is about the popular topic "On Free Choice". This is not quite free will as we understand it today, which made it all the more interesting for me. What is free choice? Is it good or bad? For what portions of those choices are we responsible?

While I enjoyed this small book on Saint Thomas Aquinas, I've realized there are some other books I need to read before getting deeper into his writings if I want to understand him completely. While I have read Saint Augustine, which he references from time to time, he much more often references Aristotle. He also makes reference to Plato and many other theologians and philosophers that came before him. He uses them as both argument and support.

I was somewhat disappointed with the material itself. According to the knowledge of his time, Aquinas wrote excellent arguments; however, in this age of science, it just doesn't hold up all that well. For those who want to learn more about the Christian faith, I think this book could be an excellent introduction. It would also be good for those who are studying theology and philosophy to understand it historically.

Recommended Reads:
The City of God by Saint Aurelius Augustine of Hippo
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

UFO Religions - Christopher Partridge

UFO Religions edited by Christopher Partridge is a collection of essays by several different authors about the topic.

Part I contains a 34 page introduction by the editor, Christopher Partridge, titled "Understanding UFO Religions". Even though this is a topic I'm somewhat familiar with, I found it insightful as a guide for what to expect in the rest of the book. It explains the major types of UFO religions: theosophical and physicalist. It also contains a section on abduction.

In Part II, each individual chapter is written by a different author and focuses on a unique religion. Each chapter is approximately 20 pages in length and contains a bibliography at the end for further research. The religions covered are: Raëlism, Unarians, The Aetherius Society, Heaven's Gate, Urantia, Nuwaubians, and Ashtar. It also has chapters on the UFO culture in Germany and Finland. Each chapter explains the history, tenets, and goals of each individual faith. Although some of the chapters contain the authors' bias, all are well-written. There are two that I especially enjoyed reading.

The first is about Raëlism by George D. Chryssides. The religion was started by Claude Vorilhon, later known as Raël, in 1974. According to Raël, Elohim in the Bible is actually the name of an alien race who came to teach the people of earth. It's interesting to note that the word Elohim is indeed the plural form of El. This is one of only many misinterpretations in the Bible that need to be addressed in order to make it correct, according to Raël. They believe in a form of reincarnation, and work toward utilizing cloning for this purpose. They are also in the process of setting up an embassy for when the aliens come to earth. While not wholly unique this may be one of the most publicly active UFO religions around.

I also like the chapter written by James R. Lewis about Heaven's Gate. The only thing most people know about Heaven's Gate is that it was a cult of people who killed themselves during the passing of a comet. Lewis offers insight into how the cult began and how it evolved over the years to help the reader understand the mentality of those within the organization. He also makes a point of explaining many New Age beliefs and how they relate to the teachings of Heaven's Gate.

Part III is entitled "Understanding Narratives". These chapters are each written by individual authors, as well. While the essays in Part II stand well enough on their own, Part III gives additional context and an insight on how to understand these narratives from a sociological, psychological, and anthropological perspective.

The book comes to an abrupt halt, as there is no concluding chapter to bring all of the material together. However, there is a further bibliography contained at the end for those who would like to do further research. Despite the short-length of the chapters, each of them are insightful and will provide the reader with a better understanding of each of these groups.

Recommended Reads:
Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Däniken
Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind by Graham Hancock

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Deadpool: Suicide Kings - Mike Benson and Adam Glass

Suicide Kings by Mike Benson and Adam Glass is a strange story that pits D

Deadpool is hired for a million dollar project. The job seems good enough until Deadpool finds himself on the news, framed for blowing up a building. With Daredevil convinced of his innocence, Deadpool attempts to clear his name. But not only is Frank Castle, the notorious vigilante The Punisher, out to get him, but even Spiderman is on his tail. The crazy Merc has a lot of explaining to do if he wants to get out of this jam.

Deadpool is hired to go find some rich guy's son. His son was last seen in "Game$ of Death" that popularly known as Pain Factor. The show is so popular, in fact, it's been banned in most countries.

Neither of these stories appealed to me much. Still, Carlo Barbieri's art was fabulous as usual with great assistance from the coloring team. Sean Crystal's work was great, as well.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Hobbies - Geocaching - interlude

Last year I reviewed The Joy of Geocaching. Geocaching is a kind-of worldwide scavenger hunt. While reading the book, I remembered how much I enjoyed doing scavenger hunts and puzzles as a child, so I decided to go take a look at Geocaching.com. A search of my area code revealed tons of caches just within a 10 mile radius of my home. I signed up for the service, but had forgotten about it while I focused on getting back to the gym.

My account sat untouched for quite a while until a couple of weeks ago. As an alien enthusiast, I've always wanted to go out to Area 51; however, I couldn't find anybody to go with me. Recently, I finally managed to find a few friends who were as enthusiastic to do a night watch as I was. We stopped to take photos at the regular stops, like the "Extraterrestrial Highway" sign and the "Black" Mailbox. We also stopped by Little A'Le'Inn for a bite to eat and a drink before we headed back out for the night. This is where I unexpectedly found my first Geocache!

I signed the log, retrieved a "trackable", and excitedly noted the name of the Geocache so I could log it later. After getting home, I decided to get with a couple of friends who lived nearby and visit a few caches in our neighborhood. This time, though, I downloaded a Geocache application to my phone so I'd know where to look for sure. Each one we visited was so cleverly hidden that I found my eyes sliding right past the treasure multiple times before finally identifying it.

Having now experienced the excitement of the hunt, I can understand why so many enjoy this hobby. Although, I did feel a bit silly as regular folks stared at us as we searched. I recommend this as both an individual and a group activity. It can be a great bonding experience as you come together to achieve a shared goal.

If you were wondering: Yes, we did see some strange things on our night watch...but that may have been due to drinking a popular shot called "alien blood" before heading out. ;)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The legitimate fan-fiction - interlude

Fan-fiction is media piece that is based on the work of another. Some argue that this is stealing and pointless, while others argue it is a good practice in character-development and keeping to a consistent setting. Curiously, many of our modern classics are actual what may be considered fan-fiction.

The Aeneid by Virgil is based off Homer's The Iliad.

Most of the pieces we have left of King Arthur and his Knights could easily be considered fan-fiction. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Le Morte d'Arthur being the most prominent. But as anybody knows there are tons of rewrites, including Marion Bradley Zimmer's The Mists of Avalon, where the story is retold by the females.

Modern retellings are quite popular. One that received notariety only a few years ago was Wicked by Gregory Maguire, which is based on the popular Oz series by L. Frank Baum. One of my personal favorites is The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor, where Alyss gets lost on earth, which is the opposite of the original by Lewis Caroll Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

There are any number of works purposely meant to portray the Bible in all different media. From Ben-Hur to The Life of Brian.

If this happens to interest you, a more comprehensive list was put together by user Bookshop on Livejournal.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Indigo Spell - Richelle Mead

The Indigo Spell by Richelle Mead is a spin-off series of the The Vampire Academy series, centered around an Alchemist character named Sydney Sage.

Originally, I was ecstatic to hear that Mead was going to have her next series focus on Sydney. Sydney's appearance in the Vampire Academy series was mysterious and thought-provoking. She was one of the many strong female protagonists in the series, whom I looked forward to getting to know better.

Unfortunately, the first installment, Bloodlines, left me unsatisfied. Although the plot line was great, Sydney's character just didn't feel as well developed as it had in the other series. Perhaps this owes to the fact this is the first time the author wrote from Sydney's perspective. In the next installment, The Golden Lily, I didn't care for the direction I thought the author was going with Sydney's character development, so I was very hesitant to pick up the third volume.

I was glad I decided to continue with the series. While Sydney continues to serve her duty to protect Jill, a Moroi princess, she must also serve her duty as an Alchemist. Reluctantly, she continues her magical studies under Ms. Terwillinger, who only seems to lead Sydney into more trouble. As she attempts to locate the magical users still in danger of the attacks from Veronica, Sydney must find a way to keep her disguise as a mild-mannered High School student at a private boarding school. If trying to save innocent young women wasn't bad enough, she's also undercover trying to gain the trust of Marcus, an Alchemist rebel.

Sydney's character continues to develop as she finally allows herself to delve deeper into her own beliefs. Her conflicting emotions between the Alchemist teachings about Moroi and her own feelings for Adrian finally come to a head. Sydney fights between the desire to do what she has been taught is right and to do what she feels is right.

Books in the series:
Bloodlines
The Golden Lily

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Assassin's Creed: Renaissance - Oliver Bowden

Based on the popular video game, Assassin's Creed: Renaissance by Oliver Bowden follows the ventures of Ezio Auditore in Italy as he battles the corruption that infests his homeland.

I have a familiarity with Assassin's Creed series. While I haven't played it myself, I've watched my friends play. Playing it didn't interest me all that much, but I was interested in the plot, so when I found this novelization, I was happy.

When I encounter novelizations, I'm always a bit wary. Most of them are simply rewrites of the screenplay with little else to offer, and this one was that. Since I hadn't played the game myself, this was okay; however, if you've played the game there's no reason to read this. Unfortunately, the author's style is not conducive to expressing the danger and excitement of the story.

In the original game, Desmond goes back into DNA memories to discover what happened during events during Ezio's lifetime to help him in the 'now' to defeat the Templars, so there were 2 plot lines interwoven. This novelization only follows Ezio's exploits, so the complexity of the overarching plot line of the series was completely missing. For me the overarching plot line is what made me so interested in the story, so I was disappointed to say the least.

Overall, not a bad read, but not great.

Source Material:
Assassin's Creed

Recommended Viewing:
Source Code
eXistenZ
Inception