Saturday, September 9

R.I.P. Jerry Pournelle (1933-2017)

Just before I turned out my light last night, as I glanced at the blogroll on my personal/private page, I saw the sad news – first from The American Catholic, and immediately below it, from his own page, The View from Chaos Manor – “Jerry Pournelle is dead” [LINK].

I immediately sent up a prayer for the repose of his soul, and mulled over his passing through the subsequent day, and decided that, although I have let my own blog go pretty much moribund this year, I could not allow the day to pass without writing my own short tribute to the man. There are many others appearing across the web, of course [and there is a good general overview of his life and career at Wikipedia [LINK]), but he was one of my all-time favorite authors, and in the last decade came to be one of my most respected sources for political, scientific, and social commentary.

I previously [LINK] reviewed a rereading of one of his collections of popular science articles, A Step Farther Out, in which I briefly reviewed my own history with Pournelle as an author. To repeat, as I remember it, I first encountered him when I would have been in late elementary, maybe early junior high, when I read his novelization of the movie, Escape from the Planet of the Apes. I’m not sure, to tell you the truth, whether when, a few years later, in high school, I obtained and read his and collaborator Larry Niven’s great novel of first alien contact, The Mote in God’s Eye, I really realized that it was the same author. Maybe, maybe not. But around that time I do remember starting to find and read both his writings in science fact and science fiction. And, for a long time, he remained just that to me, mainly a favorite science-fiction author who also wrote about science, kind of like Isaac Asimov.

Then, about ten years or so ago, I discovered his aforementioned blog (he did not like that word) and learned that there was much more to Dr. Pournelle than that. He became my go-to source for reasoned commentary on major issues of the day – as I indicated above, political and social in addition to scientific, with especial perspicuity where those intersect, such as in the ongoing debate over “Global Warming/Climate Change.” That was interspersed with an ongoing record of his daily activities. Keeping a journal myself, I’ve always found others’ such writings fascinating, and have read a number of published journals, but this was a rare opportunity to share in someone else’s contemporary narrative. I followed him from that time on – through his battle with and recovery from a brain tumor, the decline and ultimate passing of his beloved dog Sable, his wife’s health issues as well as his own – a stroke a couple of years ago that left the maintenance of his page a laborious chore that he doggedly continued – and so forth. I’m doubtless forgetting a lot. Presumptuous though it might be, I thought of him as a friend.

The note from his son on Chaos Manor [LINK] reported the matter briefly last evening: "I’m afraid that Jerry passed away[.] We had a great time at DragonCon[.] He did not suffer." His own last entry was the evening before, Thursday 07 September, a short commentary on the current political furor over Trump's handling of the "Dreamers," with his usual ruminations as to what would be a reasonable solution – but also a report that he had come back from DragonCon last weekend with "the flu," followed by an abrupt end that he was retiring for the night as he was "experiencing a wave of nausea. Bye for now." The Wikipedia bio says that he passed away in his sleep.

I never actually met him, unfortunately. The closest I came was, a few years ago, at one of the Comicpalooza Conventions in Houston, where I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Larry Niven for a few minutes, having him sign a couple of books and asking him to pass on to Jerry my regards and thanks for the years of pleasure his writings had provided me. That would have been about 2012, I think. A year or so later, I did correspond directly with him via email and get to tell him that directly when he responded to my inquiry as to his thoughts regarding the Mars One initiative which led to a short exchange which basically revealed he and I were pretty much in agreement, that we are not really there yet, that such a step is, as I would put it, a bit too much of an initial “step farther out.” The moon should come first, much closer to home, for the inevitable trial-and-error learning process and a much better chance to overcome challenges that will arise, some of which we probably still cannot even envision – until they arise. The problems are “just” engineering and the need to gain experience, but it is a process that needs to be worked through, not jumping right into the deep end essentially without a life preserver. As I responded to him in what may have been our last communication, “The romantic in me wishes Mars One all the luck in the world, but the realist fears the consequences of what I feel is a very probable spectacular failure with loss of life that will devastate our collective will to pursue such endeavors.” As time passes, I continue to grow more pessimistic regarding “our collective will” as a nation and as a species in that area … but I constantly remind myself of one of his most oft-repeated admonitions, “Despair is a sin.”

Which brings me to the last facet of Jerry Pournelle that I was gratified to gather when I discovered and started following his daily activities and commentaries – he was Catholic. It’s not something he wore on his sleeve or ever made explicit reference to, but there were the matter-of-fact references to attending Mass, his wife’s membership in the choir, and so forth, that simply were part of who he was. I therefore have reasonable confidence that, God willing I make it to heaven, I will ultimately be able to meet him there.

Réquiem ætérnum dona ei, Dómine. Et lux perpétua lúceat ei. Requíescat in pace. Amen.

Friday, December 2

Invasion! – a.k.a. “Heroes vs. Aliens” on the CWDC television shows

Supergirl x Flash x Arrow x DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (CW 2016)

Monday through Thursday nights this week saw something I don’t believe has ever been done on American television – a four-night, four-show, four-way cross-over event, one story told in multiple series the likes of which has only ever, as far as I know, ever been attempted in the comic books which are the inspiration for the only block of television shows I’m currently watching with any consistency.

Based conceptually on DC Comics’ 1988 three-issues-plus-a-myriad-of-cross-over-issues event entitled, as was each of the cross-over episodes from each of the series represented here – except for Supergirl – “Invasion!,” this epic told how the alien Dominators were determined to eliminate the threat they perceived to exist in the metagenetic potential of humankind giving rise to the dawning age of the superhero, and how a coalition of such metahumans ultimately beat back this threat to our existence.

It was ambitious. And although the execution ultimately fell short, on balance I found it very satisfying.

Wednesday, November 23

The Tenth Region of the Night (Sword and Serpent #2, 2016)

By Taylor Marshall

Taylor Marshall’s first novel, Sword and Serpent, was a fine effort and well worth the read despite having certain shortcomings common to first novels [see my blog review at LINK ]. As is often the case, this sequel, The Tenth Region of the Night, improves substantially on the first, becoming one of the better books I have read this year, one I unhesitatingly recommend. The protagonist, Jurian, previously coming across rather flat, is now, in my opinion, developed into a fully fleshed-out individual who no longer pales beside the other main character, in that case a young priestess of the serpent himself (she reappears as well), in this latter case the daughter of the governor of Alexandria, named Aikaterina. Even the main villain of the piece gains depth and becomes something more than the stereotypical caricature he seemed in the opening volume. Overall the writing seems much smoother and more engaging than Sword and Serpent, gripping my interest right from the beginning as Jurian continues his quest subsequent to slaying the dragon – an accomplishment which instantly became a legend which dogs his footsteps from then on through this entire tale, for good and ill, as he strives to find and rescue a friend, lost to him in the first book, from death in the arena. Once again, Marshall has taken the history of the late Roman Empire under the Emperor Diocletian and a young Constantine, interwoven with the legends of Sts. George the Dragonslayer and Christopher the Christ-bearer, and others, and added to them the tale of St. Catherine of Alexandria, to create a gripping tale of the early Church in the Roman Empire on the eve of the Great Persecution. Knowing from early Christian history and tradition the trials and tragedies these characters face as that cataclysm looms ever closer, I nonetheless look forward eagerly to following their journeys through Marshall’s imagination to the triumph that ultimately awaits.

Cheers!, and Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 9

Election 2016

Well, yesterday was Election Day. I did not intend to watch any of the returns last night. I voted weeks ago. I had basically my last word the day before yesterday, in a Facebook post which pretty much said it all – actually a repost of what I wrote four years ago, with current commentary. So, first the post from back then, in 2012:

Eyes wide open. That's how America has collectively chosen to take on four more years of Obama. No longer can we take solace in the notion that we fell victim to the charisma of a masterful campaigner who promised to take us past the divisions of the past into a brave new world. Having seen how well that has worked out for the past four years, we (as a nation, by the slimmest of popular vote margins, by a wider margin in the Electoral College, but that is our system for better or worse) have chosen four more years. I fear it will be much longer than that, because whereas I believe there was a chance to turn back from the brink now, I believe that four more years will entrench such radical change to the very nature of our country that there will be no going back. Perhaps the saddest thing to me is that slightly more than half of our people are perfectly fine with, even desirous of, that. This is what they want. ... No, really the saddest thing to me is that the slightly LESS than half of our people must now live under the same deteriorating conditions that they strove to avert. But that is our system, for better or worse. God bless America, for we surely need it.

Thursday, November 3

Mel Gibson’s Resurrection

I just got through watching a segment on tonight's The World Over on EWTN, in which Raymond Arroyo interviewed Mel Gibson mainly about his new film, Hacksaw Ridge, but which also had a few words about Gibson's prospective sequel to The Passion of the Christ, telling the story of The Resurrection. I knew from some other stories that came out over the last couple of days that it might well be something unlike anyone's ever seen, nothing like, say, Risen from earlier this year. Specifically, that it might include some kind of narrative based on the line from The Apostles' Creed, "He descended into Hell." That seems to be confirmed here. I attempted to transcribe what Gibson said – but there’s not nearly the effect of seeing his eyes wide open and his gesticulations, with his hands waving all around as he haltingly explains his vision:

Sunday, August 14

Suicide Squad (2016)

Directed by David Ayer

I finally got around to seeing Suicide Squad a couple of days ago, the newest DC Comics movie, which predictably has been getting bad critical ratings but decent audience reviews and doing well at the box office. It was about what I expected, neither as bad as the critics (and Marvel fans) try to make it out to be, nor as good as I might have liked. But really I never expected it to be quite to my liking, simply given the subject matter. I’ve never bought a Suicide Squad comic in my life (actually, not quite true – I have bought a couple of cross-over issues), and I am not really a fan of villain-based stories. It did have its moments, however – seeing Affleck's Batman on-screen again so quickly after Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice; Will Smith and Margot Robbie stealing the show as Deadshot and Harley Quinn. I’m not quite so sold on Jared Leto’s Joker, but it was okay and I think it could grow on me. Very much not Heath Ledger, which is good. Definitely creepy. The plot was pretty non-sensicle, and predictable at times, but allegedly this movie also suffers from excessive studio interference in the post-production editing, and I figure we’re going to see a better “Director’s Cut” released on video in a few months. Allegedly there will be more Joker in it. Of course, I’ll get it. At this point, unless something in my own opinion (not anybody else’s, which doesn’t matter to me) goes totally off the rails in the DC movie series, I’m going to be supporting it however I can. To a point. I will not be seeing this movie in the theatre a second time, I’m sure. Again, I'm just not that connected to the characters. In all, the movie worked for me, gave me a couple hours enjoyment, but it's really pretty forgettable.

Cheers, and Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 6

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

Directed by David Yates

As we were waiting for this movie to begin, I told a friend that, "I hope this is a good Tarzan movie. I've seen too many bad Tarzan movies...."

I’m a bit conflicted about this movie. Overall, I enjoyed it, and in certain respects it is the very best and most balanced portrayal of the dual character of John Clayton – the “Lord of the Jungle” raised from infancy by a tribe of mangani “great apes,” vs. the cultured, educated English Lord Greystoke in Parliament – that I think has ever been captured on screen, beyond even Greystoke from thirty-plus years ago. It wasn’t perfect, by any means – I don’t think the trope of him being able to virtually “talk” to just about any kind of jungle creature, including perfectly mimicking their various calls, has any basis in the original novels, and I found the melancholy character at the beginning of the movie, pretty much having turned his back entirely on his former life in the wild, alien to the character I remember. He also seemed at the same time less formidable than the demigodlike figure of the books – and comics – and able to survive punishment from full-grown bull “apes” that would surely have shattered bones and probably killed a man. In a way, it seemed more realistic – and yet more cartoonish at the same time. But on balance, Alexander Skarsgaard’s portrayal was perhaps the definitive Tarzan character. Jane, portrayed by Margot Robbie was a bit more problematic. Stunningly beautiful, yes, but feistier than she really should have been – would have been in the 19th century – when, yes, this was set, rather than properly in the early 20th century. But modern audiences are not going to accept the more passive female lead – “Like a damsel,” in her own words – that the original books made her, simply because it was a different time. On balance, again, I liked her portrayal within this movie.

Saturday, June 11

The REBIRTH of My Love for DC Comics?

Often my blog posts these days don’t really begin as such. Sometimes a note in my journal about something I’ve just seen or read grows to the point that I decide to share it with the world (or my two or three readers) here; The same sometimes happens with an email – which is what happened here.

A couple of months ago, an email from one of my Facebook friends (literally – we’ve never met in person, and only spoken on the ‘phone once – but have gone from a Facebook acquaintance to periodic, sometimes lengthy and deep email exchanges on a variety of subjects) elicited from me a pretty strong condemnation of DC Comics and dismissal of their upcoming Rebirth event … which I just more or less ended up retracting.

Sunday, May 1

The Everlasting Man (1923), Saint Francis of Assisi (1925), and Essential Writings (ed. 2003)

By G. K. Chesterton (Essential Writings ed. William Griffin, 2003) 

The Everlasting Man is probably the book that has languished on my Recently Read and to be Blogged list the longest … so that “Recently” has to be interpreted pretty loosely. As described in the past, I “discovered” Chesterton in early 2014, with Orthodoxy (1908) being my first bit of Lenten reading … that turned into a couple of reads over the next few months before I finally blogged about it in June [LINK]. By that time I had already described my “history” with Chesterton in a post about The Ballad of the White Horse, to which I would also refer the reader [LINK]. Thirdly, I would point to my post from March 2015 when I attended the first Louisiana Chesterton Conference [LINK] – which experience inspired me to organize the Chesterton Society of Natchitoches [LINK], which meets weekly to read and discuss his writings. In any case, almost two years ago I proceeded read The Everlasting Man twice back-to-back and was as floored by its wit and wisdom as I had been by Orthodoxy.

A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God's Covenant Love in Scripture (1998) and The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth (1999)

By Scott Hahn

With a great deal of presumption, I have taken to calling Scott Hahn my spiritual brother, since a couple of years ago I discovered that we, both raised Protestant, were received into the Holy Roman Catholic Church on the same evening, during the Easter Vigil of 1986 – half a continent apart, of course. I’ve been aware of him as Catholic scholar and apologist supreme for a great deal of the intervening time, at least since the mid 1990s. I hadn’t actually read any of his books until the last couple of years, however. But then our parish distributed free copies of his and his wife, Kimberly’s conversion story, Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism (1993), which I read and blogged about as part of my Lenten reading for 2014 [LINK]. At some point subsequent to that, I acquired and listened to an audio talk based upon The Lamb’s Supper, giving more detail to the story of his conversion and how it came through intense study of the Book of Revelation, interpreting it through the lens of the Mass; the book fleshes that interpretive scheme out even further. Then, for my Lenten reading 2015 I undertook A Father Who Keeps His Promises.

The Radiance of Being: Dimensions of Cosmic Christianity (2013)

By Stratford Caldecott

Last year, of course, I read – in backwards order – the first two books of what might be termed the late Stratford Caldecott’s “Catholic Trilogy,” The Seven Sacraments [LINK] and All Things Made New [LINK]. See especially the latter – the second review written on the book first read – for my tribute to Caldecott on the one-year anniversary of his untimely death. I remarked in the former of those reviews – on the book first written but second read – that like G. K. Chesterton, Caldecott “[made] Christianity weird in a fascinating and beautiful way.” That was written with regard to my reading of this very tome. As the previous books are extended and eclectic discourses dominated by the many well-known to obscure significances of the numbers “7” and “12” in Biblical and Christian lore, so is this latter book focused on the fundamental nature of “3.” Caldecott ranged farther and wider than merely the Judaeo-Christian tradition as well, finding fundamental echoes of the Trinitarian principle in Islam, Buddhism and other Eastern mysticisms, as well as modern cutting-edge existential quantum physics. It is a head-splitting, mind-blowing, consciousness-expanding experience that, quite frankly, months later I still find myself mulling over at the oddest times…. I’m sure at some point I will once more be telling my wife, “I’m going to read some more Stratford Caldecott and get a headache,” as I plunge into this book again.

One reason this particular review was so long in coming is that I struggled to find some approach that does it justice. I made several attempts over a couple of months, but each sputtered to a halt a couple of paragraphs in. Ultimately, I'm deciding to go decidedly minimalist, and leave my comments to those above, along with the recommendation that the trilogy which this book closes is well worth reading and meditating on. I'm not actually sure whether reading them in any particular order makes much difference, except that I do remember All Things Made New referring back to The Seven Sacraments on a couple of occasions.

Cheers, and Thanks for reading.

Saturday, April 30

Various Things I’ve Read in the Past Couple of Years

Obviously, if you look at the Blog Archive at left, you’ll see that my posting to this blog has dwindled to barely a trickle in the past couple of years. There are several reasons for that. One is just simply having less time – I’m now more involved than ever in my church. One is that for a long time the bulk of my postings here resulted from a rather heavy schedule of comic-book reading and compulsive reviewing that left me burned out on that a couple of years ago, even as in my opinion DC Comics’ output largely went off in directions that I have little interest in following, such that at present – and for most of the past year – I’ve not been buying and reading monthly issues anymore at all, and have been picking up very few of the trade collections that they’ve put out. Finally – and this is at least somewhat related to both of the above – my interests have undergone another of my periodic shifts, this time back toward reading a lot more religious and spiritual material than I did for a long time. Personally, I think that’s a good thing for my soul, but it’s not something I’m usually as interested in blogging about as the largely meaningless comic books or other fiction that I was engrossed in for many years before the past couple.