Better Late Than Never

My family was late to church this past Sunday. Not so late as to miss communion, but we cut it close.

There are several reasons for this. Illness, for one. Second, we were all dragging, perhaps due to the dreary weather and unseasonable chill. Third, there was a family event following immediately after the service at a location just far enough away to be a pain to get to. Maybe we should just bag it, despite having woken up more than early enough to be ready on time if we tried?

Indecision lay over the house for the better part of the morning, And then, a half an hour before the service was supposed to begin, my wife and I looked at each other and decided, Yeah, let’s get ready.

The lesson here isn’t necessarily that it’s good to go to church, even if you’re late (which it is), but that it’s always good to show up.

Jesus discusses this concept himself in the parable of the vineyard workers: “So the last will be the first, and the first will be the last.” This is not to say that you should show up late to work all the time and expect to earn the same trust, accolades, responsibility, and yes, money, from your manager or your customers–punctuality is important! But taken as a general principle, there are two important things at play here:

  1. It’s good to show up late as opposed to not at all. While still embarrassing (usually), it at least demonstrates that you care enough to risk shame by taking the effort to show up.
  2. It’s good to be in the habit of getting ready and going somewhere and doing something on a consistent basis. This might be what some mean when they use the term “grind.”

You might not succeed at your given thing 100% of the time, but by being consistent, you’ll succeed far more often than you’ll fail. And even if you fail, you’ll be able to get right back on your feet again.

Here’s an easy example of this philosophy in action: Working out. How many times do you just not feel like going to the gym or doing whatever physical activity it is that you do, only that when you don’t go, you feel guilty as though you let yourself down? On the flip side, when you do drag yourself out of your state of inertia to do the thing, you’ll feel better even though–and here’s the key–you might not have done as good and hard a workout as you would have preferred.

The important thing is that you were there. Continue reading “Better Late Than Never”

Book Review: Queen of the Black Coast by Robert E. Howard

My foray into the works of the early pulp masters continues with my first brush with a Conan story, Queen of the Black Coast by Robert E. Howard. Having recently read and deeply enjoying some Edgar Rice Burroughs, I was eager to sink my teeth into Conan.

Metaphorically, you understand.

Howard is best known for creating the enduringly popular Cimmerian, as well as Solomon Kane, among other characters in his 30 short years of life. Although first appearing in the pages of Weird Tales in 1932 in a story called The Phoenix on the Sword, I decided to first read Queen of the Black Coast because I found it on Gutenberg.org and I liked the title.

Robert E. Howard

Queen of the Black Coast was published in the May 1934 issue of Weird Tales. It tells the tale of Conan, on the run from soldiers in the port city of Argos, taking passage on a south-bound trading vessel called the Argus bearing goods to trade with the kingdom of Kush.

It only takes a few sentences for Howard to suck the reader in:

Hoofs drummed down the street that slopes to the wharfs. The folk that yelled and scattered had only a fleeting glimpse of a mailed figure on a black stallion, a wide scarlet cloak flowing out on the wind.

Reading that, and the images it conjured in my mind, I was hooked.

Of course, the Argus doesn’t have an easy trip to Kush. In fact, it never makes, being waylaid by the fearsome pirate woman Bêlit as it hits the coast. The Argus‘ captain is killed, and Conan boards the pirate ship Tigress intending to take as many of Bêlit’s strong, black warriors down with him, but he and Bêlit soon fall for each other, and Conan joins their crew, ravaging the Coast.

Eventually, they journey to the mystical and cursed ruined jungle kingdom up the river Zarkheba in search of more treasure. And that’s where things get really freaky.

I was impressed with Howard’s writing. You won’t find deep characterization, internal conflict, or excursions into socio-political issues. This is pulp, baby!

What you get is a story and prose that grabs you by the gut. Conan’s world is brutal, like the man himself. But this world also has a savage beauty that Howard conveys in his descriptions of the jungle and the spoiled grandeur of the ruined city.

Oh, and also the monsters. You didn’t think Conan was getting out of this without tussling with some freaky monsters, did you?

I shall say no more about the plot save that Queen of the Black Coast is fast-paced without feeling rushed, and short enough to be read in one sitting.

It’s fortuitous that I picked this story, as I just finished playing an old computer game called Quest for Glory III: Wages of War for a chronogaming blog I occasionally contribute to. Quest for Glory III takes place in a jungle realm based on both Egyptian society and more traditional sub-Saharan African cultures, and has an incredibly pulpy vibe, complete with lost cities, romance, demons, and a sense of the eerie and mysterious.

That’s what I appreciated the most from Howard’s writing–the way he was so economically able to put you in his world, feeling the unsettling ancient horrors facing Conan.

The jungle was a black colossus that locked the ruin-littered glade in ebony arms. The moon had not risen; the stars were flecks of hot amber in a breathless sky that reeked of death.

Is it a little over-wrought? Maybe. But to hell with what creative writing professors think; this is effective. Continue reading “Book Review: Queen of the Black Coast by Robert E. Howard”

Book Review: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is a hot commodity these days: people think he’s everything from a savior to, uh, a secret neo-Nazi anti-Semite white supremacist.

No, seriously.

Who he is is a Canadian practitioner of clinical psychology and a professor at the University of Toronto who specializes in myth and symbol and what many call “self-help.” He got famous some eighteen months ago for openly refusing to comply with a proposed Canadian law making it a violation of the law to use the wrong pronoun (“he” when a biological male wishes to be referred to as “she” and that sort of thing). Since then, he’s become lauded by many right-leaning people and loathed by many left-leaning people, mostly for reasons that have little to do with what he actually says or believes.

Whatever. I’m here to talk about his second book, 12 Rules for Life, because that’s what I read. I’m not going to get into the extracurricular stuff except as it relates to this book. Because Peterson has become something of a father figure for a generation of young men, so the story goes, precisely because he doesn’t hate masculinity and doesn’t think it’s toxic. While his message is universal, it resonates with men because he offers a perspective that 60 years ago would’ve been common knowledge, but since the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s have been seemingly rejected by Western society.

You know, stuff like “Speak the truth,” “Stand up straight,” and what has become kind of a catchphrase for him, “Clean your room.”

There’s more to it than that, as we’ll see.

To say the man has become a phenomenon is an understatement. Peterson is everywhere these days, which might explain some of the backlash.

Jordan B. Peterson

I like him well enough. He’s an engaging and folksy speaker–and writer–who tends to ramble, but somehow manages to come back to his main point. It can be a bit annoying at times, more so in print than in person. And while I enjoy his lectures and interviews, I have to say that much of what he says is pretty basic. He just says it very clearly.

Maybe I’m not as impressed as others by 12 Rules for Life because I have a fantastic father. Maybe I’m not that impressed because in a lot of ways Peterson and what he says reminds me of my dad. Maybe I’m just not really the intended audience for this book.

In any event, I enjoyed the book well enough, some sections especially. And while I can’t say I agree with Peterson’s take on everything, or buy all of his arguments, there’s some good stuff in here that offers an interesting way of looking at things, particularly when it comes to Biblical interpretation.

That’s right: Peterson is huge into the Bible. For a non-Christian (I can’t tell if he’s an atheist, agnostic, or whatever else), Peterson sure loves his Jesus. Like, a lot. It’s interesting.

So what is 12 Rules for Life? It’s a self-help book with 12 rules Peterson thinks anybody can use to navigate the chaos of life. I won’t go rule-by-rule, since your mileage may vary on all of them, and I also don’t want to just rehash the book here. Instead, I’ll give you a few points I disagreed with or found goofy, alternated with a few points I found interesting or helpful–dare I call it wise. Here goes: Continue reading “Book Review: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson”

Actions “Versus” Introspection: A Defense of Literary Fiction

Action! Adventure! Romance! Inner turmoil!

Wait, what?

Yeah, you heard me. These are things I personally like in stories. And I don’t think I’m alone. Otherwise, explain why one of the biggest tenets in prose fiction screenwriting is create conflict!

This seems self-evident. After all, what good is a story where everyone gets along and everything is perfectly fine? That’s the realm of children’s books, which serve their purpose.

And let me say, as the parent of a young child, the above description actually fits baby books more. You’d be amazed at how soon some form of conflict enters into kids books. Look at Dr. Seuss books, for example. The Sneetches were basically at war! The bitter butter battle was a battle! That dastardly Grinch was out to ruin Christmas!

Even kids need to see conflict be overcome.

Which brings me to an interesting conversation held with several writing friends on Twitter. It started out with Gitabishi’s excellent post about “hard” versus “soft” sci-fi and veered into both the introspective and the ridiculous before Jill Domschot said something that struck me:

I’m inclined to agree with her, hence the use of quotation marks around the word “versus” in the title of this post.

The upshot of the conversation was that everything is a writer’s tool, and the writer uses the appropriate tool for the task at hand. But that’s a bit wishy washy, so I’m going to do something a little against the grain when it comes to action-packed fiction writing, and stick up for a much maligned genre of novel: literary fiction.

Yup. I’m a fan. Take a guy like John Irving, for example. Sure, he has a creepy fixation with characters engaging incest, as well as characters losing limbs (including a certain male member), but it’s not just his prose I enjoy. His situations are crafted to come to a head at the critical point, and his set-ups are expertly foreshadowed and deftly executed in ways that only seem obvious in retrospect–including the unfortunate inadvertent amputation of a man’s body part (I’m looking at you, The World According to Garp).

Or a writer like Michael Chabon. There’s a bit too much affectation in his characters–Telegraph Avenue was particularly painful at times–but their inner dramas are exquisite, and I like how he makes them intersect with the plot’s external conflicts, in explosive and often hilarious ways. .

My goal when I write is to take this approach, and just have more sword fights and explosions. Continue reading “Actions “Versus” Introspection: A Defense of Literary Fiction”

Book Review: The Art of the Argument by Stefan Molyneux

I like Stefan Molyneux. I find him a very smart, interesting, and entertaining speaker. He is a philosopher with a wide area of focus: Politics and government, culture and entertainment, philosophy and the nature of truth, economics, religion . . . it all gets discussed on Molyneux’ podcast at Freedomain Radio and on his YouTube channel.

A lot of people don’t agree, of course. They mock his catchphrase, “Not an argument,” call him “LOLyneux” for some of his more esoteric ideas like peaceful parenting (e.g., never ever spank your kids), and generally think he’s a fraud or a quack. I get the disagreeing with him about stuff, but where the fraud and quack accusations come from eludes me.

An author of many other books, Molyneux is what you could classify as a right-of-center liberal. He’s big into individual freedom and small government, and is staunchly anti-socialist, but is also pretty socially liberal nationalist who believes that every nation has the right to determine its own destiny free of foreign meddling. He’s anti-globalism and anti-war, as well as being anti-racist . . . but takes a lot heat for his views on, say, the racial distributions of certain things such as IQ.

And yet, with Molyneux, it seems like he just point out things that appear to be objective facts in order to discuss, understand, and make sense of them in order to do something good with them.

I never get the impression that Molyneux hates certain types of people.  I mean, he’s an atheist who sees all religion as a bunch of anti-rational mumbo-jumbo used to explain things in earlier times, and yet he also defends Christianity and fully recognizes its important to the development and continuing survival of Western civilization.

In short, he’s an interesting guy.

Stefan Molyneux

Which brings me to The Art of The Argument: Western Civilization’s Last Stand. The subtitle is a little hyperbolic, but argument and debate have been some of Molyneux’s most discussed topics for a long time. In fact, the idea of “the argument” permeates everything he does.

Basically, Molyneux pushes for clear, rational, and evidence-based thinking as a means of presenting viewpoints and ways of life in the battlefield of ideas. The more evidence-based and divorced from emotion and selfish gain an argument is, the better people will be persuaded to see its truth. Similarly

On the other end of the spectrum, we have sophistry. Sophistry is Molyneux’s pet peeve. Sophistry is the facile manipulation of emotion, rhetoric without truth, designed to confuse and enrage the listener to support an anti-rational and often counterproductive position that usually benefits the sophist. And more often than not, the sophist is coming from a position of pain, projecting their own neuroses, hatreds, and hangups on the world at large as a way of lashing out at “unfairness,” “inequality,” and “injustice.”

In short, Molyneux stresses that there is an objective good–what can lead to Universally Preferable Behavior (UPB) as he calls it–and that it revolves around the age-old battle between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome.

On this topic, I find it hard that anyone can disagree with Molyneux.

So when I heard that he was writing a book specifically about what he calls “The Argument,” I was excited.

So how does it fare? Is it the intellectual battle manual we were promised? Does it really lay out the best ways to think and reason and debate?

Not quite.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s an interesting, well-written and clearly thought out book. But it doesn’t exactly deliver as promised. Continue reading “Book Review: The Art of the Argument by Stefan Molyneux”

Book Review: SJWs Always Double Down by Vox Day

It’s tricky to walk the line these days. So many people are binary thinkers, meaning that they want to paint you with the guilt-by-association brush for the mere fact of agreeing with a person they themselves find disagreeable, even if the person in question is right about the thing in question.

I’ve written about this phenomenon before, coming down firmly on the side that it’s okay to like a work of art despite the politics or unsavory personal predilections of the artist in question:

Life is more fun when you experience things and engage with them. Communication is the purpose of art! If you don’t like a message, nobody’s forcing you to live by it. However, it’s hypocritical to say “I’m open-minded!” while categorically refusing to listen to the “other side” and its points-of-view.

And if there’s one takeaway I hope you get from this post, it’s this: You don’t have to feel guilty for liking something. Save the guilt for, you know, actual sins.

Roman Polanski raped a child, but that doesn’t make his movies bad. Michael Jackson had inappropriate relations with children, but that doesn’t make his music any less fantastic.

Which brings us to Vox Day.

Now, I am in no way equating Day, real name Theodore Beale, with Messrs. Polanski and Jackson. However, Day has a similarly unsavory reputation among polite Internet society in politics and among the mainstream sci-fi/fantasy community. Many find his hypotheses on gender, race relations, immigration, religion, and culture in general distasteful, and he’s been involved in several, admittedly nerdy and kind of inside-geekdom-baseball controversies over the years. But despite all this, two facts remain:

  1. The man can write; and
  2. The man is spot-on when it comes to SJWs

(Note: For an explanation of what an SJW is, check out my review of SJWs Always Lie and my post about beigeness.) Continue reading “Book Review: SJWs Always Double Down by Vox Day”

Book Review: The Dean Died Over Winter Break: The First Chronicle of Brother Thomas by Christopher Lansdown

If you’re into classic “whodunit?” stories, have I got a book for you. The Dean Died Over Winter Break, the newest novel by Christopher Lansdown, will wrap you up like a warm blanket. I’ll admit that this isn’t my preferred genre of novel. Maybe this makes me less-qualified to review this book; who knows? But the concept is so unique I had to give it a shot.

You see, our two detectives are friars from the Franciscan Brothers of Investigation. That’s right, two members of a Franciscan orders–friars and not monks, as explained in the book–named Brother Thomas and Brother Francis, are tasked by their order to investigate the murder of the unloved Dean of Yalevard college in upstate New York. With the help of grad student Sonia Figueroa and their friend and sometimes co-detective Michael Chesterton, our Brothers try to crack the seemingly perfect crime.

And oh yeah: it’s their first murder case.

Christopher Landsdown

The Dean Died Over Winter Break is infused with a healthy dose of Catholic theology and philosophy, as you could imagine, written by one with extensive knowledge of both.

And boy is this book full of philosophy! In fact, nearly every character speaks with a near encyclopedic knowledge of philosophical schools of thought. If you enjoy lengthy digressions into ontological disputes, the nature of sin, and even bits of world history, then this is the book for you. Oh yeah, there’s the murder-solving stuff to, but I get the feeling that Christopher had a lot of fun with these discussions.

And that brings me to my main critique of The Dean Died Over Winter Break. I felt that the murder mystery aspect, which was arguably the most well-done part of the book, faded a bit in the background. Seriously, the sleuthing and clue-gathering and interviewing were fantastic . . . but seemed pushed aside in favor of the lengthy intellectual debates. I wanted more mystery stuff, especially since Christopher’s characters are likable, and he threw in enough credible misdirections and red herrings to really catch the reader off-guard.

And when the Brothers do crack the case, it makes perfect sense, which is a badge of honor for any murder mystery worth its salt.  Continue reading “Book Review: The Dean Died Over Winter Break: The First Chronicle of Brother Thomas by Christopher Lansdown”