Monday, November 16, 2015

Review of Iranaeus' The Proof Of The Apostolic Preaching

Subtitled: Towards a much more simple and basic theology
Find it hard to get your head around Calvinism, Armenianism, Original Sin, Predestination and other focal points of Augustinian theology? Try simplifying things by shifting your focus to much earlier in history -- the time of Irenaeus.

Mind you, St. Augustine was a deserving of the honour of sainthood. His dedication and devotion to God are exemplary, and his testimony of his conversion is a great inspiration. The story of his mother's dedication and unceasing prayer is especially inspiring.

But his Bible teaching....?

St. Augustine lived in the fourth century, was heavily influenced by his Greek style education -- though he never learned the Greek language. In other words, he based his theology on the Latin scriptures (with all their translation errors), and used his Greek style reasoning to interpret it. Many of the doctrines that he passed down to us, we are hard put to find in the writings of earlier Church Fathers.

St. Irenaeus, on the other hand, lived in the second century. He was well versed in the Greek scriptures in their original (or closer to the original) texts, but interpreted it in the Hebraic style rather than Greek. In fact, he was the pupil of St. Polycarp, who was the pupil of St.John.

A great piece of work is St. Irenaeus' THE PROOF OF THE APOSTOLIC PREACHING. He goes systematically through what the early believers had received directly from the Apostles. Free will vs determinism wasn't even a question yet. Original Sin isn't mentioned, nor alluded to. Instead, the emphasis is on death and resurrection. Sin -- or disobedience -- resulted in death. Jesus came to bring life, and the resurrection.

Overall, you'll be edified by a challenge to walk the life of faith, worded in the simple language of the earliest believers.

You can read it for free at
Or download a copy here:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review of John C. Wright's City Beyond Time

Subtitled: Time and Space Gymnastics

John C. Wright is one of the best I know at spinning a yarn out of the fabric of space and time. This is a set of short stories that are all based on universe of Metachronopolis.

Metachronopolis is the city at the end of time. It's where time travellers live, referred to as "time wardens". They're the ones who keep things organised -- well, at least they're supposed to. Like police in many parts of today's world, a lot of them are corrupt and self seeking.

They're not the only ones there. Just about every famous personality in history is also there. The time wardens are capable of showing up an instant before a person's death, and replacing them with a dead clone of themselves. It happens in a split second, so no one sees it happening. In other words, that wasn't John F. Kennedy's body you saw being rushed to the hospital on that momentous day in 1963, but his clone.

In each tale, Wright does a different acrobatic stunt, each with an unexpected twist on time travel. They're all stand alone stories, but the last sort of ties the whole concept together by showing us what it's really all about. A Christian that John Wright is, there's a profound lesson in each one.

A must read...

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Review of Sean Sanborn's Rescue: Book one of the Naga Trilogy

Subtitled: Not the Typical Missionary Tale

Link to eBook Edition

I can relate to Chaz, because I was also a missionary's kid, spent time in Chiengmai, have frequented some of the same haunts and can practically taste the various foods as they're mentioned. But that's not why I'm giving this book five stars.

Chaz is 13 years old, lives with his parents and two sisters on the outskirts of Chiengmai at the foot of Doi Suthep, near the university. Many tourists and world travellers will know exactly where I'm talking about. It's the beginning of the summer holidays and they're expecting a team of young people on a mission trip from America.

So far, does this sound like a typical boring missionary tale?

That picture on the cover says otherwise. That's Chaz and his friend, Ashley holding the hands of Katya, the little girl in the middle, running down a street near the Night Bazaar. Chasing them is a European man who has bought the little girl's “services” for the night. On an impulse (maybe it was God's voice?) Chaz had grabbed the little girl and ran.

Not pictured on the front cover is the local Chinese Mafia warlord and his men who don't take lightly to their young prostitutes being snatched away like that.

Katya is a nine-year-old tribal girl. The book opens in the Karin village with her aunt and uncle warning her she must take the canoe and leave, and never come back. A little later, she finds out that the spirit doctor and the other villagers plan to sacrifice her to the Naga who lives in the river. That's the ornate snake-like dragon, whose head appears at the top of the front cover.

What exactly is a Naga? Is it mythological, or is it real? Is it a demonic power? Apparently, the creature will play a part in the story, but we'll have to wait for the sequel.

So, Katya fled to the next village, where a “nice man” offered to take her to the big city to get a job. Chaz and Ashley meet her on the first night of what would have been her new career.

For daring such a thing, the police tell Chaz that he's foolish, rash, and could have got himself and his family killed. But at least this particular policeman is cooperative – not like some I've heard of.

And Chaz's dad, Nick, is not your ordinary dad, even for a missionary. Does he scold Chaz for pulling such a stupid move? Does he ground him for a week, and drill some sense into him, like a responsible parent would have done?


What would David's dad have done had he known he was going out to fight Goliath? What about Jesus' parents when he stayed behind at the Temple? You get the idea. Nick's response was, “I don’t like how it all happened but I have to agree with Chaz. I think in this instance we did a good thing in helping the girl.”

But the Mafia people aren't happy, and there are consequences. They meet again...

A day or two before that, while sitting in an ice-cream shop, Nick had described to his three kids how to listen to the voice of God. Basically, it's to do with getting away from distractions and hearing “the still small inner voice of God.”

Chaz begins to get the idea. The plot moves onward on the strength of the “still small voice”. Once it leads to the decision to make a trip to Katya's village (which will happen in the sequel). Another time, it saves Chaz's life. To say how would be a spoiler.

There are other aspects to the story as well, for instance, the mission team that's visiting. On the team are various sorts, including Ashley, for whom Chaz develops a crush; and Brandon, the boy with the attitude, who's only on the trip because his parents promised to buy him a motorbike. Things get into a tangle.

Not all the loose ends are tied together. This is only the first in a trilogy. The sequel will be the trip to Katya's village, all because Katya believes that if Jesus is all-powerful, he can defeat the Naga.

I'm looking forward to it...

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Flash Fiction: Little Red Riding Hood in historical context

Little Red Riding Hood knocked on the door of her grandmother's cottage. A gentle voice inside said, 'Come in, dearie.'
Little Red Riding Hood pushed the door open and carried her basket of treats across to the bed where her grandmother rested. She stood there and gazed at her grandmother.
'What is it, dearie?” coaxed her grandmother.
'Grandmother, you do have very big ears. All my friends grandmothers don't have nearly as big ears as you do.'
'All the better to hear you with, my dearie. I'll bet none of them could hear nearly as well as I do.'
'Yeah,' acknowledge Little Red Riding Hood. 'I just about have to shout to get them to hear me – but – Grandmother, what big eyes you have!'
'All the better to see you with, my dearie! All the other granny's are blind as bats, I bet.'
'Yeah, they are – and Grandmother, what a big nose you have!'
'All the better to smell with! Why, I knew you were coming when you were yet a mile away!'
'And what big, sharp white teeth you have!'
'Yes, I keep them white and sharp by chewing on bones. Now, let me see what you have there.' She lifted the cloth on the basket. 'Ahh! My favourite! A loin bone, oh! And a shoulder bone! Ahh, full of lovely bones. You must have had a feast! Thank your mother for me, won't you?'
'I will, Grandmother.'
There was a knock at the door.
'Go open the door for you uncle, will you, Riding Hood,' said Grandmother.
Little Red Riding Hood opened the door, and there stood a big burly wood-cutter.
'Uncle Remus!' cried Little Red Riding Hood, joyfully.
'How's my favourite niece!' he said as he swooped her off her feet. 'And how's my dear mother?'
'As well as can be expected, I suppose. Your sister-in-law sent me these lovely bones.'
'What a sweet gal she is, my brother's widow. Speaking of Romulus, I could have certainly used his help on this project.'
'Yes,' sighed Grandmother. 'It's too bad about his “accident”. That was shortly before Little Red Riding Hood was born. But it's certainly good of you to name the new city after him.'
'If it ever gets finished. At this rate...?'
'Rome won't be built in a day!' said Grandmother.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Review of Justin Reed Early's Street Child: a Memoir

Subtitled: Surviving Streetwise

I said it before in my review of Jo Napoli's The King of Mulberry Street: there should be a new genre added to the list, called "street kids" or "homeless children". They'd cover the whole range from fiction to non-fiction. Included would be Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, Fr. Joe Maier's Welcome to the Bangkok Slaughterhouse: The Battle for Human Dignity in Bangkok's Bleakest Slums (whom I had the privilege of working with in Bangkok), Robin Lloyd-Jones' Fallen Angels: Stories of Los Gamines, as well as my own Pepe. Certainly not least in this line-up is the one I just finished reading: Justin Reed Early's Street Child: A Memoir.

As the title suggests, it's Justin's own story . The first two chapters cover his own life as the third son in a middle class family in Washington State, his tumultuous relationship with his father (it's hard to imagine a worse father than Justin's, a very unhappy man indeed!) which led to his leaving home at the age of ten, his entry into the world of foster car and youth homes, and finally his escape to street life.

Street life seems glamorous, perhaps for the first few years. He meets the right people, street kids like himself, but mostly older. Roberta and Frankie become his closest friends. Because he's so young, everyone takes care of him. He quickly finds that the most lucrative means of support is the sex trade. At his first pick-up – “trick” is the local slang word for it – Roberta warns the customer that her friends are watching, and “no penetration”. He gets picked up by the police a few times, and even sent to a youth facility far off on the other side of the state. He escapes, and as a “cute little boy”, he has no trouble getting back to the streets of Seattle. Someone even buys him a plane ticket.

One only remains a “cute little boy” for so long, and after that, life isn't as easy. While life as a street kid may have its romantic side, Justin Early holds nothing back in showing the consequences such a life can lead to. The chances of surviving into adulthood are much less for a child of the streets, especially when there's a serial killer on the loose – and the AIDS epidemic – and the suicide rate...

One of the events that Justin describes is the filming of Streetwise. When I got to that part, I did a Google search and watched the whole feature-length film on YouTube. I understand it was a popular film in its time – it was nominated for an Academy Award – but I had missed it. In one of the opening scenes, I recognised Justin standing next to a phone box with Roberta, from one of the photographs in the book. Other than that, Justin doesn't show up much in the film, because Frankie had warned him to stay away from people with cameras. However, many of the characters from the book are remembered in the film. Lou Lou is the one you see loudly threatening anyone who would abuse her fellow street kids. In the book, she chases away a would-be pimp, and in the film, forces an older tramp to apologise to one of her young friends. She's Frankie's sister and Roberta's lover. Then, there's the tragic story of Dewayne. It would be a spoiler if I said more...

If you do read the book, you'd be missing out if you didn't watch Streetwise, at least the YouTube video:

As I said, this would fit into my proposed “Homeless Children” genre. However, all Homeless Children books would necessarily be a sub-genre to others, like Science Fiction as in the case of my Pepe, or Classical Fiction in the case of Oliver Twist. This one, of course, is a Memoir, but it could also be classed in yet another genre, GTLB, due to the permanent effect Justin's street life had on him. It wasn't the sexual orientation of his choice, but too much had happened, and the last part of the book describes how he came to terms with it.

It's also not how I would have hoped it would turn out. To be up front, I'm a Christian who believes that being Gay isn't God's plan for human relationship (but please keep that in perspective: nor do I believe that a heterosexual relationship outside of wedlock or with multiple partners is God's plan. Nor, do I believe, is gluttony or alcoholism. But I have friends who are all of those, whom I respect and enjoy being around – when they're not doing those things. We've all been broken in some way or another). It doesn't keep me from enjoying a book like this, and highly recommending it as an eye-opener to what really happens on the street.

It happens in America, even in pristine cities like Seattle Washington. Granted, a slightly larger percent of the street children there are from dysfunctional middle class families. Fewer – though still some – are abandoned. Dewayne had run away from a foster home and was waiting for his dad to be released from prison. Also, apart from the occasional serial killer, the streets of Seattle are probably a bit safer than places like Brazil, where the police have been known to round up street children and shoot them. But the streets are still the streets, kids are still kids, and life can still get ugly.

For Justin, it was ugly, but with a happy ending. There's a lot about forgiveness, and his last moments with his dad are happy ones. Justin now has a career in helping to improve the lives of other kids like himself.

That's not a spoiler – he did, after all, write this book himself....

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Review of Chance Maree's Undazzled

Subtitled: Planet of the – What?

As the planet Earth is dying, it appears that we've come full circle. We're again using beasts of burden for transport. However, these aren't earth hugging camels and mules, but space travelling “worm-moles” – so named because they bore worm holes to distant parts of the gallaxy. They're gigantic creatures, and they wear what would make up the rest of the space ship, like a collar. How were they discovered? Hold that question for the last and climactic chapter of the book.

The people best equipped to pilot a worm-mole are upper middle-aged women, dubbed “crones”. A part of the worm-mole's brain extends into the bridge deck like an easy-chair, and the “crone” sits naked in it as it engulfs her body, except for her face, so she can communicate with the creature through her skin.

Pots Khan-Anderson is a crone, who pilots Alpha Horizon – “Alphie” for short. Earth is dying, and the race is on to relocate as much of humanity as possible (or a chosen representation thereof) to three habitable planets in a different part of the galaxy. These planets are thought not to be already inhabited by intelligent life. The Alpha Horizon is taking the first load.

Something very surreal begins to happen along the way – in fact, very weird – which almost gives the story a fantasy edge. Then, when they arrive, they discover, they aren't alone. Another race, closely approximating humans, inhabits the planet – a primative tribe not much different from Native Americans (at least that's how they struck me as I read it). In fact, because of the surreal thing that happened along the way, they look more human than the newcomers.

There are a number of narrative points of view, each told in the third person. Each chapter is named for the POV. The first is Pots, followed by the commander, Gunner Dovmont, and then the teenager who is thought to be his son, Tyr Dovmont. Among later chapters are Ata, a pre-teen girl, a native of the planet.

Commander Gunner meditates on Taoist proverbs. Each chapter contains at least one quotation. Despite that, he's the villain. We find out early in the narrative what he intends to do about the native population – but not so early that telling you wouldn't be a spoiler. But from the first, we see that he and Pots definately don't get along. Since Pots isn't military personel – rather works directly for NASA, which has become privatised – that's okay. Montalbam, the captain of the Alpha Horizon is her boss. Commander Gunner's command is over the actual settlement on the new planet.

Tyre is a hybrid human, the product of an experiment that had to be aborted when the public found out about it. The other young subjects, believed not to be human, had to be put down. Gunner knew the doctor in charge of the project, and managed to keep Tyre for his own purposes. However, we soon find that Tyre, though a deadly weapon in the wrong hands (namely Gunner's), does have feelings and a mind of his own whenever he has control over his own actions.

Those who understand the history of Native Americans and the rise of the U.S., will get a lot out of this. While Gunner and his colleagues seek to avoid some of the same mistakes, things still go awry – human nature hasn't changed. There are the same questions: Whose land is it? How can we co-exist when earth-human survival is the priority? Plus a few more: Who are the fabled “people in the canyon”, whom the local tribesmen threaten will squash the newcomers like vermin if they infest the land? Are they no more than a local legend, or is there something more...? And that surreal effect I mentioned earlier...

Chance Maree handles her characters very well. One of my favourite scenes is the screening of The Planet of the Apes on the new colony. Things have happened, people are upset with each other for various reasons, and Chance masterfully plays two or three conversations at once while keeping us aware of what Charlton Heston is doing during the opening scenes of the film.

Over all, a good read. I give it five stars.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Review of R. Leib's The Negative's Tale

subtitle: brilliant fictional science in a tale within a tale

Allon Wu lives sometime in our distant future – far enough for people, having aged 300 with the help of their non-sentient clones, to have become bored with life – plus enough time for us to have developed that technology. Alternatively, one could figure in the time it'll take us to get around the barriers to faster-than-light travel, and then populate the farthest reaches of our galaxy.
The latter technology is one in which our protagonist plays an essential part, through his psychic ability. But first, let's start with how faster-than-light travel is possible to begin with: it's those factors that also make time-travel impossible, that are combined so as to complement each other, that make faster-than-light travel possible. When it's done right, computers can then be used to calculate the variables that will relocate the ship to anywhere in the universe – within certain limits. However, things can still go horribly wrong through various distortions in the cosmos, and that's where a navigators with psychic abilities comes in. Only they can detect those distortions so as to make the necessary mid-course adjustments. So, one or two such “navigators” are required for every interstellar flight.
Allon Wu's particular ability is rare. He's a dowser with negative orientation. As a “negative”, he's able to enter the mind of any psychic of “positive” orientation, and make use of their ability. His use of his ability as a dowser (finding things, or hitting on the right course of action) is also affected by his negative orientation. The right course of action is usually the one his normal intuition tells him is the most unlikely, so he has to learn act counter-intuitively – almost in a New Testament sort of way: becoming small in order to achieve greatness, losing your life to gain it, etc.
Leib's fictional science is brilliant. Not being a nuclear physicist myself, I don't know where the hard science ends and his ingenuity begins. Not having read every sci fi novel ever written, I don't know if anyone else has thought of this sort of work-around to faster-than-light travel – with the possible exception of myself (I used something I called “logical relocation” in one of my novels, but I didn't explain it in nearly so much detail – and I didn't use psychics).
The technical details are explained to 10-year-old Allon Wu by his aged instructor, Professor Billgore at the beginning of one of the two story-lines in this narrative. That's the other unique feature of Leib's novel; he's actually telling two stories.
The main story is the one in which the adult Allon Wu has been commissioned by his estranged wife, a Vice Admiral, to solve a suspected murder on board a space station cum city. The background story is told, initially through flash-backs, and then continued in the form of a story he tells his colleagues during pauses in their action – thus the “Negative's Tale”. The “tale” actually takes longer than the main story. It begins with a workplace accident that changed the direction of his career, then further back to the age of ten, when he began his education as a “second navigator”, then his romance with the Vice Admiral that began in the wake of his career change following the accident. The story he tells his two colleagues is of a trip to distant star system in pursuit of a murderous religious fanatic who has almost killed his admiral/wife, and is on his way to systematically kill more people. On this trip, he interacts with non-human extraterrestrials, which, interestingly, one of his old professors claimed didn't exist. Both stories come to a great finish.
Personally, I loved the innovative style of this book. I can see how some might prefer a more standard approach, but I loved it. Although there may have been a few non-standards glitches such as switching points of view in mid scene, a few over-long descriptions and a little bit of unnaturalness in some parts of the dialogue; the great story-telling carried it for me, so I'm giving it a fiver.