Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Things Get Better

To soften the pain of bibliocide, I got to watch (or listen, mostly) the live broadcast of President Bush's rally in Troy today. It was a good long speech. We then went to "the dollar store that takes credit cards" to buy some snacks for my Worldcon travel nourishment. I also got to refresh my soul at St. Ignatius of Antioch Maronite Catholic Parish's famous Lebanese festival. This year it lasts two days and has even more Lebanese dancing and food. (Good thing, too.) I bought a sampler of all the Lebanese desserts except the brownie. And then I got up and danced on stage when they went and pulled people up. Mwahahahaha! This was, however, an extremely humid day here in the Miami Valley, so piglike sweating did occur.

Bad News, Good News

Interesting things tend to happen when I'm about to go on a trip. Fortunately nobody I know seems to have decided to die on me this time (cross my fingers and knock on wood). But I did have a (somewhat) traumatic experience.

Every so often, I've thought to myself, "I know I bought that book, and I don't remember selling it or giving it away. So where is it?" Well, this week, I found out where it was. In a box in my parents' garage.

Good news -- it wasn't where the washer-hose flood was.
Bad news -- it had been a temporary nest for mice.

So not only did I have books that were moused along the edges, I also had books which had provided a latrine for mouse byproducts. If that wasn't bad enough, several books contained, or had been stained by, their stash of poison peanuts. (Thus the temporary nature of the nest. Fortunately, the mice had the consideration to die elsewhere.)

In the end, it turned out that most of the books were only lightly soiled. I simply cleaned off the bits of spine which had happened to receive bombs from above, and then deodorized every book. (I'll do this again before I reshelve them -- maybe several times, depending on how the odor returns. But it must have happened several years back, so there wasn't much stink except when I cleaned things off.) Only the top layer of books were dead losses, and most of them were easily replaceable. But the third book of a Carole Nelson Douglas series, Dickson's Young Bleys and The Chantry Guild, and Drake's Old Nathan had to be sent to the dump. A Fish Dinner in Memison's front right corner did become a Mouse Dinner in Beavercreek, but was surprisingly clean for all that and remains readable. The Eddison book next to it was also moused. But on the whole, I was lucky. I blame myself for forgetting to retrieve them.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Another Person Who Writes like Joy

Elliott posted "I'm Not the Only One". Check it out, everybody, and spy into Joy's head! Also, go over to Screaming Writer and follow JCF's comment. Joe Clifford Faust is a decent sf writer with some interesting stuff to say. And he's from Ohio, which makes him even more Righteous.

The Mirror of My Work

Last Wednesday, the hose on my mom and dad's suddenly decided to let go, and the treasurehouse that is our garage got soaked. Of course the water headed straight into the old schoolbooks my mom had saved for her tutoring and home instruction. Of course it headed straight for all the old schoolwork she'd saved for my brothers and I. And of course my mom didn't call me when she needed help. She's very good at giving it, but not at taking it!

But I finally found out what had happened (on Saturday). So last weekend I was going through some old schoolwork at my parents' house, and discovered that in kindergarten I had drawn a picture of "A MARCIAN HOW IS HAF-HUMAN". I guess back then I paid more attention to Dad's Star Trek reruns than I'd remembered. No pointy ears or other discernable alien traits, though; I guess that's why I put a caption on it.

I didn't remember as much of it as I used to. I could look at my own stuff and not be able to tell it apart from my brothers', until I realized that I was the only one who drew such heavy, jagged crayon lines that it looked like an attack. (I do remember my aesthetic objections to crayoning too lightly, because I liked solid color. But clearly my artistic aims did not translate well to paper. No wonder they kept sending me to the counselor.) I still recognized my old teachers' handwriting, though.

I did remember one Thanksgiving project, though. I remembered being upset that I'd accidentally spelled "cornucopia" as "CORNUCORPIA". (The "R" was indignantly scored out.) I didn't remember what I'd shown coming out of the horn of plenty, the things I was thankful for: a very doggy-looking "HORSE" and a pinkly convoluted, but reasonably realistic "BRAIN". Similarly, when they gave my brother Kevin the pencil, he told them all about our visit to an Army museum down South, and how when he grew up he was going to drive "a big Army truck". (He now owns a surplus, camo-colored deuce-and-a-half.) He also made a "SCIENCE MUSEUM" out of construction paper shapes, complete with three "PLANETARIUM" half-circle domes -- which served as a sort of tribute to our brother Sean's obsession with them.

Happy Bloggiversary!

Two years. Wow. I hope I've said a few things worth saying.

You know, it never occurred to me to look up the relevant feastdays. Apparently my blog is under the illustrious patronage of such folks as the sainted King Louis IX;
St. Genesius (the patron saint of actors); St. Yrieix (who sounds like an alien!); St. Gurloes (a nicely Celtic saint from Brittany); the Shimabara martyrs Bl. Louis Baba, Bl. Louis Sasanda, their mentor, Bl. Louis Sotelo, and Bl. Peter Vasquez; the appropriately named St. Marcian and St. Magi; the well-meaning St. Menas; and the niftily named martyrs Ss. Nemesius and Lucilla.

Iraq Lost in Olympic Soccer

But if they beat Italy, they can still win bronze! Go, Iraq!

Monday, August 23, 2004

Shadow of the Lion review

I previously reported in this blog about This Rough Magic, a book in which magical Jesuits scry for information in Jesus' Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity (in liquid form). I'm a masochist, though, so I wanted to know why even alternate universe versions of the founders of the Company of Jesus would be performing sacrilegious acts upon their Commander-in-Chief. So I broke my usual rule (Don't read Mercedes Lackey until she becomes a good writer again) and looked into Shadow of the Lion. (It's available gratis in electronic form as part of Baen's Free Library, and it's probably at your local library if you can pry it out of the Lackey fans' hands.)

First off, I've got no problem with the political maneuvering. Good stuff. I've got no problem with the writing, in general; it's competent, and Lackey may finally be getting better again. There are sufficient fun bits for anyone, and the co-authors are at least willing to acknowledge the importance of religion to society.

There's one story problem. The project was apparently conceived so that Lackey could get another day's wear out of the stories she wrote for Cherryh's shared world anthology series, Merovingen Nights. So serial numbers were filed off and names changed to protect the guilty. The problem is that, while the new versions of the characters are lively and interesting, the parts where their old identities show through are lukewarm and summary-like. So the second half of the book (which has less of a basis in previous stories) is much better than the first.

In theory, this should be a fun sort of alternate world. The philosopher Hypatia was converted and became a great theologian. The Orthodox/Catholic breakup seems to be over the issue of who's allowed to practice magic. The Orthodox (Petrines) still control Rome and much of Italy; the Pope is called the Grand Metropolitan, and St. Ignatius and his buddies are sworn to him. The Paulines (founded by baaaad ol' St. Augustine, of course) think magic should only be done by priests. They are found from Milan north and are supported by the Holy Roman Empire. There's also a separate Irish church (yes, I rolled my eyes, too) and an Iceland/Ireland/Vinland axis called the League of Armagh.

But there's this little problem. A lot of the worldbuilding doesn't make sense.

We are eventually told that the magic system (for Christians) consists solely of prayer. This begs the question: why don't Christian people in this world call it prayer, then? Why don't people say, "Ooh, my cousin went to the holy man down the street and had him pray over her fever" or "It was a miracle" or "What a grace from God!" For that matter, why would a visionary mystic like St. Ignatius Loyola have to scry at all, when he could just close his eyes and ask?

Later on, when we see actual "sacred magic" being worked, they use almost the exact same warding prayer/spell to four archangels that Katherine Kurtz used in her Deryni books. Then two saints are petitioned, and they appear to one character. As self-described sexless spirits.

Now, if they were supposed to be angels, that's okay. But "soul" does not equal "spirit", nor are human saints ever supposed to be sexless. (Unless this is bringing in the Neoplatonic notion that Matter is Evil, to which I say Bah and Humbug.) So this is pretty silly. It gets sillier if you've actually read St. Ignatius on the discernment of spirits, in which he notes that true visions and religious experiences from God make you feel joyful, content, and rested. Flint, Lackey and Freer follow the standard take -- magic makes you tired. Ergo, if you asked Eneko, he'd tell you those "saints" were evil spirits, and the warding spell obviously didn't work for beans! Heh!

There are some other problems. The major one is that there's an Italian witchcraft religion running around, and this is what the St. Ignatius analogue says about it:

Again, Eneko bestowed that mild gaze upon the Savoyard. "The Church does not consider the Strega to be 'pagans,' I would remind you. Outside our faith, yes. Pagans, no. The distinction was implicit already in the writings of Saint Hypatia—-I refer you especially to her second debate with Theophilus—-although the Church's final ruling did not come until—"

No doubt this explains why later in the book we find the Strega praying to Janus, Aradia, and a host of other deities. 'Cause, see, they're not pagan or Jewish, so this must be some strange form of Judeo-Christianity I'm not familiar with.

I was also annoyed by the random comment that St. John Chrysostom was anti-Semitic, when a short Google found that Chrysostom wrote Against the Judaizers, not Against the Jews. We then get some commentary, again put in St. Iggy's mouth:

He gestured with his chin toward the frescoes above him. "He was a false man, you know, in many ways. Intemperate, harsh, often arrogant, full of error and wrong-headedness. Still, they made him a saint. And do you know why?"

He swiveled his head to bring his companions under his gaze. Diego and Pierre said nothing. After a moment, Eneko looked away.

"They made him a saint," Eneko said harshly, "because whatever his faults the Golden Preacher understood one thing clearly. There is such a thing in this world as evil. Not simply—"

The next words came out almost like a curse: "—error and misunderstanding."

Lackey likes to make a point of pointing out that there is evil in the world, and for this she should be praised. But unfortunately, this is not why Chrysostom is a saint. Nor is there a requirement that all saints must be gentle of word and deed at all times. There is more to being Christian than being nice, because love manifests itself in many ways. Fighting evil is a sign of love for the good, and for those whom evil preys upon.

As for Chrysostom, he was an outspoken man of holy life who always cared for the poor and his flock, and who was both a great theological thinker and speaker. He then finished off by being exiled and essentially martyred for his opposition to unjust government. (Martyrdom, of course, is a sainthood guarantee. A martyr with a shady past is a saint who repented his sins.) If that's not enough for sainthood in the world of Flint, Lackey, and Freer -- I'm glad they're not the Holy Trinity.

There's an unfortunate lack of interest in the different sorts of spirituality favored by the different branches of a religion. Why make St. Ignatius Loyola an Orthodox if you're not going to take advantage of it?

I probably shouldn't even mention that Loyola changed his name from Eneko to Ignatius shortly after he began his new life of serving God, because he so admired St. Ignatius of Antioch. Or that St. Augustine, St. Justin Martyr, and the rest did a perfectly adequate job of adopting the good bits of Plato and Neoplatonism, so a St. Hypatia is hardly needed. (I find her legend rather charming, but the effects of a vision of Truth on an Alexandrian mob are more likely to be positive than punishing. I would expect joy and sorrow with a few prostrations, not the staggers and jags.)

However, I did find out where they got the last name "Lopez". The Catholic Encyclopedia says it's an old scribal error. much research did Flint, Freer and Lackey do?

As always, the problem with Baen Books is insufficient editing...though at least this one is tightly bloated. Eric Flint is overworked, and reallllllly needs to hire a junior editor in charge of this sort of thing.

But it's an interesting story, once you get to the second half.