Escapism Is Rearmament

You probably heard all of the knocks against escapism growing up. Stuff like: “Grown-ups don’t waste their time with that kind of stuff.”

Like what? Reading a book?

Imagination?

With all the ugliness and strife in the world, who wouldn’t want to escape? That’s where we come up with some of our best ideas.

Escape . . . removing oneself from confinement or a dangerous situation. 

And yet escapism gets a bad rap. It’s seen as retreat, a frivolous diversion into the unreal. Avoiding real life and real responsibilities. 

Even the dictionary seems to hold this view:

…habitual diversion of the mind to purely imaginative activity…

But that’s not what we do. We aren’t forced to flee to these imaginative worlds by marauding enemy hordes (though the enemies of civilization, intellectual and physical, do fit this bill). We seek to escape to somewhere better, even if only for a little bit, to recreate ourselves. 
Recreation = re + create

Retreat is running away. 

Escape is rearmament.  Continue reading “Escapism Is Rearmament”

Book Review: Nethereal (Soul Cycle Book I) by Brian Niemeier

Take the good parts of Dune and Star Wars, mix them together with a heaping dollop of Dante, a dash of high fantasy, and a whole lot of horror, and you’re beginning to almost approach Brian Niemeier‘s self-published Nethereal, book one of his three-part Soul Cycle series. 

Is it sci-fi? Is it science-fantasy? 

Who cares? It’s fun. 

Nethereal reads like the best console or pen-and-paper RPG you never played. Imagination abounds. 

Fitting, as Brian is a figure in the burgeoning #PulpRevolution

Nethereal focuses on space pirate Jaren Peregrine and the crew of his ship, the Shibboleth, as they seek revenge against the Guild, a quasi-governmental entity that dominates the Spheres (think: planets). 

Jaren is half-Gen (think: Elf), and the Guild destroyed his race, and his family, and now they’ve got to pay. Chief among Jaren’s crew is mercenary Teg Cross, steersmen Deim Corsurunda and Nakvin (no last name given), and the mysterious Vaun Mordechai, a late addition with mysterious motives. 

Pursued by the Guild, Jaren and crew meet a rebel force and end up commanding the mysterious, powerful Exodus, whose unsettling cargo takes them through the depths of hell…and beyond. 

Even stranger is Elena, a half-woman, half-machine who appears to be the Exodus’ source of power. 

I don’t want to spoil anything here, but suffice it to say Nethereal is one of the most imaginative works of fiction I’ve read in a long while. 

And the heroes are–gasp!–heroic!

I do have nits to pick–this is the Internet, after all. Some of the characters are a little tough to connect with, particularly Jaren, who beyond single-mindedness really has little else going for him–I don’t quite get why he is such an inspiring leader. Deim is similarly inscrutable. And I did feel some of the characters’ attempts at glib humor fell flat. 

The world and its structure, culture, and mythology is a little confusing too, though the glossary included helps, and things begin to make more sense as the story unfolds. And Marshal Malachi is a bit disappointing as a villain. 

But the rest of the villains provide one of the deadliest, vilest, and flat-out creepy rogues gallery you’ll find most anywhere. Each player has their own goals and motivations–and reasons for stabbing their purported allies in the back. 

So why do I say “science-fantasy”? Aside from the immortal Gen race, there is a substance called ether that the spaceships run on (hence the name “ether-runner”). This ether can also be manipulated via Workings (think: magic); indeed, it is through Workings that the steersmen control the ether-runners. 

There’s also gun fighting, swordplay, warrior-priests, demons, the undead, body-swapping, necromancy, and heavy theological discussions about life, the soul, and everything else that matters.

The pacing is brisk, which helps a book of this scope keep from getting bogged down. And I can offer it the highest praise any book can get: Nethereal was incredibly difficult to put down. I cannot wait to start book two, Souldancer.

Highly recommended. 

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Book Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

The great Jane Austen read-through continues with Northanger Abbey.

Northanger Abbey is not as deep of a character study as Emma, nor as serious a rumination on England’s class system and women’s role and opportunity within it as Sense and Sensibility or Mansfield Park. Nor is it as thoughtful a meditation of romantic love and what goes into a good marriage as Pride and Prejudice. But what Northanger Abbey lacks in weight it makes up for in humor.

This book is funny. 

Now, all of Jane Austen’s books are funny. But Northanger Abbey is more biting, almost acerbic, than Austen’s previous books. Austen’s descriptions are sharp and, while veering a little into caricature, stop just short of being mean. And of particular note is her satire of both novels and those critics who despise the artform. Continue reading “Book Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen”

Book Review: Emma by Jane Austen

I am four books into my read-through of the entire Jane Austen canon, and all I can say is that I enjoy each book more than the last.

So does that mean that Emma, the topic of this review, is a better book than Sense and SensibilityPride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park? Only in the sense that I seem to enjoy whichever of her books I am reading at the time the most.

Everybody knows Emma, right? Emma Woodhouse, the matchmaker who cares so much about the romantic goings-on of others, and so little for her own, that a few early successes blind her to the romantic blunders she is making others step into.

This matchmaking aspect is a large part of Emma. But it’s not the only part. I am finding it difficult to say anything about the Austen oeuvre that hasn’t been said before and have instead tried to extract from them why I think they are worth reading aside from the entertaining stories. And two themes that I took from Emma are those of self-awareness and that people can change.

Let’s have some plot for context: Emma is the youngest daughter of the hypochondriac widower Henry Woodhouse. She is charming, rich, witty, attractive, and too clever for her own good. After successfully matching her sister Isabella to family friend John Knightly, she fancies herself somewhat of an expert on matchmaking. And that is where her trouble begins.

Emma is also flighty, inconstant, and never spends enough time devoting herself to the improvement of anything, as John Knightly’s brother George, who serves as her conscience, is so fond of pointing out. She is, in other words, a middleweight despite her obvious energy and intellect:

“She was not much deceived as to her own skill, either as an artist or a musician; but she was not unwilling to have others deceived, or sorry to know her reputation for accomplishment often higher than it deserved.”

What’s worse, many of her schemes to bring people together go wrong, with sometimes humorous, sometimes harmful results.Her friend Harriet Smith; the priest Mr. Elton; the farmer Robert Martin; Frank Churchill, the stepson of Emma’s governess; family friend Jane Fairfax . . . they are all on the receiving end of Emma’s machinations. The fun and poignancy of the story is seeing all of these little stories play out, and the effect that they have on Emma and her conception of self.

I won’t go into spoilers except to say that, as with all of Austen’s works, her characterizations are sharp and deep, her insights into human nature are masterful, and there is always that dialogue . . . some of the best written by anyone, ever, in the English language.

But Emma might be my favorite Austen character thus far, and here’s why: While clearly intended to be unlikable at the outset, she does what she does not out of malice, but out of what she thinks is for the best. So there’s a clear intention/outcome dichotomy, but it works because of Emma’s  willingness to change. Continue reading “Book Review: Emma by Jane Austen”

Book Review: Down the Dragon Hole by Morgon Newquist

I’m not a big “genre” guy, whether it comes to movies, music, or books. If I like something, I like something, regardless of whether it ticks all of the boxes for “fantasy” or “sci-fi” or “horror.”

That said, I do enjoy a good fantasy from time to time, and I recently finished one, Down the Dragon Hole: A Tale of the School of Spells & War by Morgon Newquist.

Morgon and her husband Russel run the independent publishing company Silver Empire, and are both authors. In fact, it is through Russell that I came across the term “superversive.”

And in the interests of full disclosure, I have to let you know that I have become friends with both Morgon and Russell online over the past year.

With that out of the way, on to the review. Continue reading “Book Review: Down the Dragon Hole by Morgon Newquist”

Book Review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Another book finished in my read-through of the works of Jane Austen, that famous British author known for her tales of romance that were simultaneously good entertainment and critiques and commentaries on British society. This time it’s Mansfield Park, Austen’s third novel, published in 1814.

Some consider her works to be, and I hate this term, “chick lit.” That is, not a type of gum, but “literature for women.”

To borrow a phrase from our English friends, bollocks.

Good literature is good literature. Calling Austen “chick lit” is like saying a book like The Killer Angels a “guy book” just because it’s about the Civil War.

I see Jane Austen, in a way, as the intellectual forefather (foremother?) of Ray Davies, the great singer and songwriter for the rock band The Kinks. Both of them poked fun at English society and norms, not with meanness and snark, but with a great deal of love and affection.

Enough background. On to the review.

As with my reviews of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, I don’t to rehash plot points here, and instead answer a very simple question:

What should anybody, particularly a male-sort of person living in the twenty-first century, read this book? What did I get out of it?

Again, being an American living in the year 2016, I am not quite as familiar with what was going on in English history in the year 1814 except as it implicates America (for example, there was this war between England and America that started in 1812 . . .). And to be fair, Mansfield Park is no sweeping historical novel, using world events as a backdrop.

I am also not that knowledgeable about the norms of the British class structure in the early nineteenth century, save for that it was pretty rigid and that, for women, marriage was one of, if not the, only way to improve one’s lot in life.

Instead, while reading, I focused on some of the more ordinary points that Austen tried to make, particularly as they pertain to relationships.

And in this regard, as with the other Austen novels I’ve read, Mansfield Park doesn’t disappoint. Continue reading “Book Review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen”

Book Review: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Jane Austen is chick lit.

Yeah, I know. So the next question is: Why is such a manly man of manliness like me reading her?

Let’s get some stuff out of the way first: My brother, who is also quite manly, enjoyed and highly recommended her. And then there’s my good buddy the author, English scholar, and manly man who recommended them to me. So my manly credentials remain intact.

And second, most importantly, if something is good, it’s good, regardless if I’m a member of its so-called intended audience.

I recently finished reading Sense and Sensibility, Austen’s first novel, and let me tell you, it’s good. And I think men should read this book, and Jane Austen in general. Why?

Because it’s good for men to read things written by women to understand their perspective.

There. I said it. No, I haven’t gone full feminist. But I am concerned by how messed up man-woman relations are in the twenty-first century. In reading Sense and Sensibility, I’m struck by how nice it is to enjoy a story where men are manly and women are womanly, each sex exhibiting strengths, weaknesses, and in general complimenting each other the way those in healthy relationships should. Throw away all of the social stuff regarding the limited opportunities for women at that time and enjoy the story for what it is. Continue reading “Book Review: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen”