Category Archives: Books

Still in the Grave and Summer Vacations

I am still reading Lafferty’s The Elliptical Grave. It is slow going. One, I really had this amped up in my mind. Two, this is one of his later books which consists mainly of dialogue and some pretty bizarre action. It seems to belong to a family of later Lafferty works like East of Laughter, Aurelia, and Serpent’s Egg. They are, all four of them, very similar in a lot of ways.

They are sort of like carnival philosophical dialogues if Augustine liked to write such things while slightly high on peyote. While the characters and the action are as some distorted, highly stylized cartoon/animation, the subject matter (both overall and in dialogue) center on technical theological and philosophical points. And on a first reading you can only get a flash – hold it – is he actually talking about eternity and the concept of time in relation to resurrection?

This is certainly NOT one of the Lafferty novels to start with. If one starts reading Lafferty from here, they probably won’t get very far. Better to start with the pretty straightforward Past Master.

I’m three weeks into The Elliptical Grave and I’m not sure what I am reading.

No news on the writing front, although daydreaming never stops. I am covering summer vacations at present and only have one day off at a time. And, being too old for the job, it usually takes a significant part of that day to recuperate to functionality!


The Elliptical Grave

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I can’t believe I am finally reading this! I really had given up hope of ever finding this in any form. So much so that I have to move it to the top of my reading list. Ahead, even, of other works of Lafferty that I have yet to get to like ARRIVE AT EASTERWINE, SINBAD THE THIRTEENTH VOYAGE, and the (or so I’ve heard) impenetrable NOT TO MENTION CAMELS, and a couple of others.

I started Grave last night. So far it is pure Lafferty and pretty interesting. I will, of course, write a review when I am done. A review, as all my Lafferty reviews, that will probably be a mixture of confusion and praise.


Father Elijah

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Father Elijah

This is my first overtly Christian (actually Catholic) novel. Although I have always considered Crime and Punishment to be overtly Christian.

It was a great read. I had been afraid I was going to be in for a corny Left Behind type book. Well, I’ve been told the Left Behind series is corny.  I’ve never read it.

One thing off the bat. I have a pretty sharp eye for proofreading errors. I have never read a cleaner book in my life – not even close. My eye did not catch a single error, not one. And errors usually jump out at me in size 48 font like a loud honking car horn. So kudos to Ignatius Press for that job. Sometimes it is hard to take books at all seriously when it seems it was brought to me by the second grade class of Gump Elementary. No offense to those kids, just to the adults who should go buy some red pencils and get to work!

Going with my usual policy of giving away no spoilers:

The book is surprising deep on both a moral and theological level. It is very dialogue heavy (one drawback of the book is the dialogue can go back and forth without narrative for such a length that you can lose track of who is speaking to whom) but most of these discussions are discussing eschatology or some point of theology or a character’s struggle with temptation., etc.

There is a long conversion scene of a wicked old man that takes place in a dank apartment in Warsaw that was so finely done it etched itself upon my mind.

The book is a thriller but not an action and flimsy quip style thriller.

You are traveling in the world of Catholic priests, bishops and cardinals, and one Pope who practically stole the show. I looked around, “where is this guy at?”

You will enter a world that is pretty foreign unless you are a Catholic, and even then (given some Catholics I have heard about) probably altogether unfamiliar. I learned more theology in this book than in most of my other reading. Although I had read it elsewhere, this book made it clear what accepting Christ and picking up one’s cross means.

You accept your cross even unto death.

Needless to say, there are not many Catholics let alone Christians out there. Not at that level at least.

In Father Elijah you will be traveling with men that take their cross even unto death. And some that do not or will not – they serve a different god.

The book harrowingly mirrors certain aspects of the Catholic Church as a whole at this time.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

 

 


I HAVE FOUND THE ELLIPTICAL GRAVE!!!

Sing that as falsetto or Norse metal growl it still sounds great! I HAVE FOUND THE ELLIPTICAL GRAVE ARRRR!!! ONTO THE VILLIAGE, MATES FOR TONIGHT WE FEED ON HUMAAAAAAANNNNNNNN!!!!!!!!!!

Seriously though. For about four years I have been on the hunt for R.A. Lafferty’s The Elliptical Grave. I searched for a hard copy with absolutely no luck. The closest I got was some sort of online documentation that a private copy with handwritten page numbering had sold on eBay in 2009.

There were a couple of links in earlier searches that claimed to have The Elliptical Grave but took you to dubious websites written in the Cyrillic alphabet. Probably Russian, and no one not internet-stupid clicks a button on a Russian site – or does anything but high tail it out of there. Erase history, wipe all caches, and pray to St. James they have a dime left to their name come morning!

But I went a little further today and landed on a site that turned out not to be a link to the cesspool of the internet but just a plain old long online text of the book. Man, I copy and pasted that sucker into Scrivener, hit the Compile as ePub button and flopped that baby like a eel onto my iBooks on my iPad.

Kudos to iBooks for letting me just put a file like that right into the program to read. Kudos to Scrivener for being the awesome product it has always been, but manages to surprise me anew every time. It made a great formatted book in about ten seconds with little effort. All I did was hit command c on the website, opened new project in Scrivener, opened a single chapter file, commanded V that whole book into the single chapter and ran it off in compile. Less than a minute for the whole operation.

Later I think I’ll work with it in Scrivener and make it into a more presentable eBook, maybe even give it a cover (for myself, I’m not the bootlegging type) and break it up into chapters. Although that last would require me to read it first.

And, lastly, a little thumbs down to Kindle for not being able to do anything with it that wasn’t from Amazon.


New Acquisitions

Someone please stop me!!

First pick-up was:

I love C.S. Lewis’s work in general and his theological work in particular (although do I prefer Chesterton over Lewis? hmmm). And how can I pass up a book that contains an essay titled “Fern Seeds and Elephants.”

Second Pic was:

This is from 1954 and is pre-Vatican Two. It has some lovely (and some rather homely) art in it and a wealth of information on many things Catholic: stations of the cross, extreme unction, baptism, the thingamabobs that make up a priests “uniform”, etc, etc.

In the Missal (a thing I still find hard to penetrate conceptually) they give you the years 1954 thru 1972 instead of using a generic system by which you identity which of the possible fourteen calendars you are in for any possible year, say 2017? Can you imagine someone throwing this set out and getting a new one in 1973 because they ran out of years?

Ah, and the smell of the set. That old book smell. I don’t know what it is. Do books that come out now end up with that smell? Is it the ink? This is a closed box set so the aging of the pages and ink and binding is somewhat preserved in a hermetical atmosphere and the tones are that much more sweet. You can’t get that out of a digital book. And they will always be at a loss for it.

But it proves a nice thing to begin the day looking them over.

But as it is I am four weeks into N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God and I am only on page 67. My reading slows to an absolute crawl during allergy season and my waking hours are usually less than sleeping hours.

Of course a crawl is about 200 pages a week, but it has been all fiction as I can’t attain the level of focus required for Wright’s subject at this time. I hope the Cottonwood clears up by next week.

Interestingly, my wife has just recently started to suffer from seasonal allergies and she is hating it. “This is what you have been living under all these years?! I feel as if I’m having a stroke!”

Yeah, love, it sucks big time.


Bishop Robert Barron, Popularity, Blog Stats, Father Elijah an Apocalypse

I have noticed that I have provided links to two of Bishop Robert Barron’s articles or videos in the last month or so. I have noticed that those links have not been used. Even when yesterday’s post would have been better understood with the requisite background. I believe that is because most people’s thought nowadays are “Priest? What the hell do they know?”

Hilariously, I have seen this said about love or relationships – what would a priest know about it? After I clean my pants from laughing too hard I would say – a lot than you would think.

Now, the “logical” thing for me to do, given modern ways of thinking, is to look at my stats and say, “hmm, this Barron guy isn’t very popular with my audience such as there may be (Hi Mom!), he will have to go.”

But, unless you are new here, I detest modern ways of thinking. So, I am going to bump up my links, weekly, of related topics Bishop Barron covers. I may even see if I can find an esoteric blogger of Christology.

Heh heh heh, my thinking may seem to not make sense, stand on your head and it will be clearer…

Sometime in the whirlwind that was early last year Mr. Wright at his blog was praising a book he was reading during Lent instead of what he was supposed to be reading for Lent. I have a strange memory where I will remember such a thing as such a post, what was said in it and the comments, and the book author and title.

So, last Thursday I was back at one of my old haunts Half-Priced books in Bellevue WA (East Side!) and came across the title sitting on top of the Hindu section under “religion.”

I am hoping it is a good read and not a Left Behind clone. Not that I’ve read the latter and not that I will – yuck. I think I have read every sort of genre out there except this one. And yes, I have read Westerns. Alright no Romance novels… But what man has?


Yet Another Acquisition and Tommyknockers Knockin’ at my Door

This one I had to get because, at the time, it was the only available copy on the internet and I already had number two. You never know if the one on the internet is the first of forty to show up tomorrow or the only one that is going to show up for forty years. So I bit.

I have to put a temporary halt on book buying. I can no longer even pretend that I am keeping up. Hell, last Friday I decided to reread The Tommyknockers by Stephen King on a whim.

Not totally a whim. It is one of my favorites. For one it was the first book I read in my very first place on my own. No television. Just beer and piles of books. And that was when I could read for 6 hours at a spin. Now I have to start fighting a nap within a half hour. That may be because I wear x3 magnification and hold the thing up to my face.

No television, no internet, no computers. Ah, those were the days, brother, those were the days.

Another reason I like it is it is a good story. Stephen King said in an interview it was his least favorite book and he doesn’t remember a lot of the writing. It was at the height of his drinking and cocaine days. And there are places in the book where you think, “ah, man, this was an eight-ball night for him for sure.” By this time he was a lot like Lucas I would imagine – editors as yes-men.

King’s strongest story-telling has always centered around friendship and this one is no exception. That, and the man knows the throws of alcohol abuse – quite intimate on that he is.

Anyway, it is one of my favorite science fiction / horror stories. Those are two genres that haven’t always mixed well, or believably. This one is a gem in my book. Love it. And it’s fast too. There is no hidden symbolism in King’s work, no meta-anything – just straight forward storytelling, contemporary Americana, and some shots of terror.

Hey, I just started a book called The Resurrection of the Son of God – go look up the table of contents. I need some rest after some of my reading!


STORMBRINGER II

Still not quite done with this book yet but…

I have a few more observations. First is the bleakness of it. In this world there are two opposing forces Chaos and Law. The reign of either spells the doom of man. Chaos is winning and Elric the “hero” (and, comparatively, to today’s standards he passes as one – he’s basically Conan with albinism who draws his power from his runeblade’s ability to suck out the souls of its victims) must defeat the forces of Chaos and establish the reign of Law. The reign of law will also spell the end of man. This would be the end of magic basically and the warrior man and bring about common man like us.

Something like that.

But either way, Elric and his race are fighting for their own doom. He does not save the girl she dies horribly, etc, etc.

The other observation is I believe Moorcock wrote this either on amphetamines or close to lethal doses of caffeine. The pace is relentless nobody stops for anything. And this includes the author who often did not check to make sure to carry through his character’s action through exposition.

There is one sea battle scene where three of the heroes are treading water amongst the debris of wrecked ships and dark Chaotic forces. Also one of their number is unconscious and is being supported in the rough waters by the other two. In comes their “guide” in some sort of bubble craft. He starts to “info dump” and they are having a page and a half discussion.

After a while I was thinking, “Why doesn’t this jerk let them into his craft, they’re going to drown gabbing away like this.” A few sentences later the writer has them exiting this bubble craft back at the guide’s lair (sorry, I don’t have the book in front of me I don’t have all these names on recall) in Nahrain (I think that’s it).

Hold it. What? But they never left the water! And – before any one contradicts me, you are wrong! If you do not take them out of the water, they stay in the water. It is not my job as a reader to, when they suddenly exit this bubble-craft I did not know they were on, to backtrack in my mind, “oh, well, they were on it the whole time!” No, you have just thrown me out of the story.

Another instance was merely clumsy. Elric comes to his wife Zonizoria (its close something like that) who is hiding from the forces of Chaos that have almost taken the whole of the earth. He tells her he must leave, he cannot stay long. And then proceeds to make sweet love to her and to stay all night until the next morning. And the next morning when he is getting ready are his three (or two?) war companions simply waiting for him as if they instinctively knew that even though he had to leave soon, that meant at least a full night’s sleep and making whoopee. Are these characters or things that are just there when they need to be? The way it is written makes it hard to feel anything or care when they later die.

Later on in the book they have to go steal a magical shield from some giant that protects against the maligning forces of Chaos so Elric can get in there and kill the baddies. The giant has known for eons, through prophesy, that Elric would one day come to slay the giant, himself, for this shield. When Elric and gang fight through the giant’s defenses and confront the giant himself, the giant, sad and resigned to his fate (he had been immortal, made mortal and spent eons fearing the encroachment of his death) he asks Elric mercy and lays the sword at his feet.

Elric agrees to let the giant die by the passage of time at not by his soul-sucking blade, and so the giant walks off and Elric picks up the shield and turns to leave. Oh, hell no, thinks one of his compatriots and murders the poor giant from behind – because? Prophesy. Oh, and Elric killed one of his own fighting through the giant’s defenses (and not entirely by accident) so the giant has to die because Elric couldn’t control the power and passionate rage that courses through him when he and his sword are slicing through the flesh and sucking up the soul of their enemy in battle.

That did get a reaction out of me. I felt sorry for the giant, and I thought “man, Moorcock, you dick. you had a nice moment there, but you had to ruin it for a little more blood.” Seriously, I bet George RR Martin worships this guy.

Anyway, that is probably all I’ll write about this book. I will remember some parts of it, but as you can see I can barely remember some of the names as I am reading it. It is not, by far, the worst book I have read in recent years. That still goes to Ann Leckie’s terribly galactic letdown.


STORMBRINGER

I am only about halfway through this book but I feel safe in calling this one. This book is stupid. The writing is inept while at the same time having pretension. I wish I had written down some of the stupid phrases I have read in this work so far. At one point Elric stands up from a sitting position followed by the phrase “his eyebrows lifted.”

What? his eyebrows lifted him out of his seat? His eyebrows lifted why? In relation to what event?

In another scene two warriors are having a discussion about a runesword. The main character, Elric, holds out his hand – “Give it to me,” Elric said quickly.

And then they proceed to stand there and talk a while longer. Why did he have to say “Give it to me,” quickly? It is out of place, there is no action requiring him to ask for it quickly. He just stands there holding it for a few more minutes of conversation.

The book is full of such disjointed, out of context writing.

It is also the sort of work that could not be put into film unless all parts were acted out by drunken cross- dressers. No one else could pull such laughable melodramatic seriousness. And the action, first this and then that, the world ends if you do this, the world will end if you do that. Literally the world will end. Within the first 20 pages we are buzzed into a full blown world war and extravagant backstory of Elric’s warrior ancestors and the rule of Chaos and blah, blah, blah.

I will finish it. It is not a hard read, and the book doesn’t let you vest any emotion in any of the characters so you slam through it. Can’t remember a character (ah, and it comes with numerous lands, people and gods that share a single characteristic – goofy names that are hard to retain or pronounce, and they are made up so you can’t go look in the dictionary) who cares! Just pay attention to the albino hero, Elric. He will succeed or he won’t – screw it on to the next book!

Not bad if you know you are going into pretty much worthless cheese.


THE LAST UNICORN by Peter S. Beagle

Finished this gem last night. I am a little old to have been reading the book but I thought I had a gap in my reading of fantasy classics. It wasn’t until near the end that it flashed upon me that I had already read this work as either a child or young teenager.

On another level the book is suitable for adult reading as well as it deals in subject matter that would be lost on children or even most young adults. It deals with the eternity of beauty, the ephemeral status of things that pass, what it means to be a hero (and the book gets it head on). A lot of themes almost passed me by as I was not expecting the book to cover any deep territory. They had almost passed me entirely by before I thought, “Wait a minute, this guy is saying something more here!”

The book ended on a sort of melancholy note (at least for the unicorn) as the unicorn had tasted the pain of mortality, of want and of loss and would therefore never be the same as she was before. The before state was of an immortal, unchanging perfection. From here you can see the philosophical and theological themes at work in the story.

The book was a delight to read. And was certainly what I needed after sailing aboard Lafferty’s ARGO. Not that I didn’t enjoy that thoroughly, but they make you work your ass off on that damned ship!