Book Reviews: Who’s Afraid of the Dark? and Knight of the Changeling by Russell Newquist

I’ve got a two-fer of tales for you today from Mr. Russell Newquist, he of Silver Empire publishing, and an author in his own right. If you recall, I recently reviewed his fun, action-packed debut novel War Demons.

War Demons featured a supporting character named Peter Bishop, friend of that novel’s main character Michael Alexander. Well, it turns out that Peter is heir to the sword of St. Michael and a pretty important player in the struggle to protect Earth from the demonic forces of evil.

Who’s Afraid of the Dark?and Knight of the Changelingare two short stories in Russell’s saga, and take place after the Prodigal Son series, of which War Demons is the first book. Yet these two stories were published first.

Don’t worry, it works. Continue reading “Book Reviews: Who’s Afraid of the Dark? and Knight of the Changeling by Russell Newquist”

No Nice Things

Boycotts and coffee and anger oh my!

For starters, let me say that (1) I fully support boycotts, because people can do whatever the hell they want, (2) it’s nigh impossible to make “voting with your dollar” have any impact if there aren’t enough dollars involved, and (3) your pious market-worshipping friend who can’t stop pleasuring him- or herself to Kirk’s ten principles can cram their bowtie up their rear end as they whine about “stooping to their tactics.”

Don’t you get it? Croaking “muh principles!” as your side–whatever your side may be–continuously loses while you righteously complain is worse than useless.

People who hate you and everything you stand for tend not to respond to self-satisfied virtue, no matter how forcefully asserted. In fact, your principles make them dig in even further. People respond best to pain. And I’m a civilized society, economic pain is far more preferable to physical pain.

This is why we “can’t have nice things,” as the cliche goes. This is also why I am a full proponent of retaliating in kind. Every single side in this sick, sad country will not learn until we’re all poorer, more unhappy, and less-willing to share what we think.

Yes, this means things will get worse before they get better. Boo hoo. The world is not a perfect place. Deal with it.

Continue reading “No Nice Things”

Book Review: Lady Susan by Jane Austen

And here we are, at the conclusion of my highly enjoyable read-through of the complete works of Jane Austen. The final story in my novel is apparently the one that Austen wrote first but published last–or to be more accurate, it was published posthumously. In any event, the epistolary Lady Susan is a quick, funny, light but ultimately satisfying conclusion to my survey of this giant of English literature.

Or giantess. Whatever.

Lady Susan details the foibles of the recently widowed Susan Vernon and her machinations. Quite what she’s aiming at, Lady Susan herself doesn’t seem to know, save that (a) she thinks very little of her sixteen-year-old daughter Frederica, and (b) she is a shameless flirt.

That’s right, Lady Susan is the early 19th-century British equivalent of a thot. She constantly craves attention and validation for her fading beauty and feminine wiles, wants to be catered to, and has a read supply of thirsty beta orbiters happy to oblige. If social media had been around in her day, Lady Susan would have been an absolute queen of it.

If you rankle at my use of modern-day Internet terminology, know that I use it only to underscore the fact that socio-sexual dynamics have changed so very little across time.

And thinking in these terms makes Lady Susan all the more hilarious. Continue reading “Book Review: Lady Susan by Jane Austen”

Reset: Chapter 20: Thursday, September 6, 2001 (1)

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Second chances were funny things, Joe realized, opportunities to see if your regret was warranted. His academic future was a good example of this. While he had enjoyed his English class, Joe no longer felt the drive to major in creative writing. Studying Gatsby and writing poetry scratched an intellectual itch, but he wanted more. History didn’t fit the bill, either, as much as he had enjoyed it. Quite what he did want, he wasn’t sure, but he knew it involved more than pretty words.

He thought these things in the early morning as he waited for his alarm clock to catch up with his consciousness. When it started beeping, cutting through Nick’s rattling snore, Joe slid out of bed and, with the quiet of a burglar, sat at his computer. He didn’t need to worry about waking up Nick. That snoring would drown out an earthquake.

The computer took its time booting up, also seeming to struggle with the early hour. It gave time Joe to think, something he had been doing too much of lately. Sleep had given him no fresh insights into his quandary with Gwendolyn, and no clearer feelings. He would see her in astronomy today, and he knew that the study group would come up. Joe should say no, he really should. If he was interested in finding Sandra he should break off all contact with Gwendolyn. He also knew, as sure as the sun would rise, that he wouldn’t.

It was his weakness. He knew that. He could never stand up for himself. Everybody walked all over him–Sandra, Nick, his parents, his boss, and now even a woman who liked him. It was no way to go through life. No way to be a man. It was a shame that there wasn’t a major that could help him with that.

Men’s studies. The thought made him laugh. Maybe ROTC was the closest thing. Those guys always seemed pretty bad-ass.

His computer brightened into life. Joe opened his email and gave a start. He had a message from Zack Henderson. That wasn’t the shocking thing–all student contact information was available on the university’s internal network. It was the subject line that got Joe’s attention: “Need to speak.”

An involuntary shudder ran through his body. Much like with his aunt, something about communicating with the would-be dead felt like touching a ghost.

The message itself was no more revealing. “If you’re free at 1:00 hit me up.” It was signed with a phone number.

Joe ran through his upcoming day and determined that he would indeed be free at one o’clock. His reply echoed Zack’s brevity: “Call you then.” He noticed, before he logged out of his email, that Nick had not been included on the message. Continue reading Reset: Chapter 20: Thursday, September 6, 2001 (1)”

The Devil and Ideology

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If I seem obsessed with evil lately, it’s only because it’s an important idea to understand. Evil takes many forms, and one of the most prevalent being ideology.

You see, the devil–or whatever you want to call that malevolent part of humanity–isn’t a guy with horns and a pointy tail living in a place full of fire. And the devil doesn’t do stuff to you or force you to do stuff. It’s worse.

The devil makes you choose, of your own free will, to do stuff that’s bad while thinking it’s really, really good.

Tempter . . . seducer . . . dare I say it, the champion of convenience.

This is how we get a world where, for example, babies are killed in the womb in the name of “liberation,” and we all just go, “Meh.”

The worst part of this, the most devilish of all, is that, since no one likes to change their minds, ever, any such behavior that leads to bad results is nearly impossible to reverse.

I’m sure you can see the connection between devilishness and ideology now.

Ideology, and we’re talking political ideologies here, box you into a way of thinking that’s tough to break out of, no matter how consistently bad the outcomes are. It’s the old saying about how when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail come to life.

Ideologies can be useful. They provide a framework for seeing the world, for conceptualizing causes and effects, and for proposing solutions.

In a way, though, they are like science, or at least what science should be: constantly tested, constantly revised, and in danger of being falsified. In short, they should be flexible in light of new information and evidence.

Instead, ideologies become rigid, entrenched, and oddly antifragile. Indeed, it seems that the more holes you poke in a given ideology, or the more flaws you point out, the stronger its adherents devotion. They become highly dogmatic and, dare I say it, cult-like.

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“But Alex, aren’t you a Christian? Isn’t religion just another ideology?”

In short, no. Christianity is (1) a highly individualistic religion, (2) not concerned with political structures, (3) is reliant on a person’s own actions and faith for salvation, and (4) doens’t require forcing every other person on Earth to live the exact same way you do. Other religions might be more akin to an ideology–I can think of one, in particular, that just can’t seem to keep itself out of the news–but I leave further discussion to the experts.

Back to the secular, and smellier, realms of law and politics. Whether you’re a hardcore free-marketeer or a Marxist, your answer to everything is more of the same. The market-worshiper is just as apt to lament “We’ve never had really free markets!” as the communist is to whine “We’ve never had real communism!” And in both cases, there is a strange belief in the magic power of laws, as though laws are powerful spells that can compel proper behavior if only we use the right combination of words!

More, more, more. Hammer, hammer, hammer. Continue reading “The Devil and Ideology”

Preservation

I hate the way things look.

No, I mean it. Cities and towns are really ugly.

Is it just that architecture suffered the same general decline as everything else? Are we so consumed with trying to build stuff fast and cheap in order to maximize profits? Has the advent of the automobile demanded so many changes that our landscapes and our traditional ways of gathering together have been forever shattered? Or has post-modern philosophy infiltrated even the very way we design and construct our buildings and public spaces?

Whatever the case, I’d like you to perform a simple thought exercise. Imagine various structures or areas in your city, town, or country that have been designated “historical” and thus worthy of special protection and preservation.

…what do they look like?

…when were they built?

…why do people like them so much?

And now try to imagine anything built since, let’s say, 1945, and think about whether they, too, will be worthy of historical preservation, or if civilizations of the future–God grant that they still be American!–will just raze the eyesores and build something new.

I use this as an example a lot, but ponder if you will Boston City Hall.

City Hall, Boston, Massachusetts

Look at this monstrosity!

What feelings is it supposed to elicit? What sensation is the citizen of Boston supposed to feel when he gazes upon that concrete turd?

And the whole area around it is a red, brick expanse of nothingness, appropriately enough called Government Center. Continue reading “Preservation”

Reset: Chapter 19: Wednesday, September 5, 2001 (4)

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Even Nick started getting bored with the college life. “If I have to play another video game I’m going to shoot myself. Did we really waste this much time with those things?”

“Sad, isn’t it?” said Joe, not looking up from The Great Gatsby, the assigned reading from that afternoon’s English class.Cover of the book The Great Gatsby“All the things we could have done with that time . . .”

“Like study?”

“Learn an instrument, another language, date girls . . .”

Joe brandished his book. “Read, maybe?”

“That too.” Nick sat on the couch, wiggling his fingers. “My eyeballs are starting to bleed from all of it. My fingers, too. They feel like . . .”

“They should be holding a books?”

“Alright, alright!” Nick stood, pacing around the room. “I can take a hint. I’m not a total moron you know.”

Joe turned a page, his highlighter at the ready. “Never said you were.”

“No, but you implied it. We all know how powerful implications can be.” Nick picked up a textbook from his desk. “Take education, for example.”

 

“That’s what I’m trying to do.”

“I’m feeling philosophical tonight; hear me out.” Continue reading Reset: Chapter 19: Wednesday, September 5, 2001 (4)”