Doctor Who: The American Adventures

IMG_0955.PNGThe free advanced reading copy that the publisher, Diamond Book Distributors, sent me was incorrectly labeled as a graphic novel. It is, in fact, more of a novella.

It still baffles me that with all of time and space to explore, the Doctor’s adventures seem so frequently to occur on earth and within a relatively narrow span of time. Having said that, it’s refreshing that it wasn’t within 100 years, either way, from present-day London. Rather, it takes place in the United States in the mid 1800’s, during the Gold Rush–at least initially.

This adventure involves the Twelfth Doctor, as portrayed by Peter Capaldi. And for the most part, it captures his character well. I would say, though, that this proper Scottish Doctor would say “Yes,” not “Yeah.”

A key factor in the dynamics of any adventure of Doctor Who adventure is the identity of his companion. In this book, however, there is none. I do think the story lacks something from the great by-play between the Doctor and his companion of the moment–in the case of the Twelfth Doctor, usually Clara.

The feeling is a bit more matter-of-fact than we expect from the Doctor’s adventures, without the character interaction and development of the others involved. It feels like a disconnected set of vignettes, which is implied by the title of “Adventures” plural. If you stay with it, though, the author does bring them back together into a coherent story…or at least that was my hope until the last page.

I hope that when this book is released they make it clear that this is a collection of short stories. I found them a bit too straightforward for my tastes, but diehard Whovians might find it worth their time.

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Performance Enhancing Drugs

That’s the title I gave this humorous image when I posted it on Imzy. And yes, I appreciate it as a joke. But it got me thinking…

Most of you will recognize this as a take on the classic Serenity Prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr around 1934:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

This meme substitutes coffee for courage, wine for serenity,  and removes wisdom completely. I can’t shake the feeling that that’s a metaphor for our culture.

Feel a bit drowsy, drink coffee. Want an extra edge, try an energy drink. Having trouble sleeping, try Ambien. Feeling edgy, have a drink. Feeling lonely, try Häagen-Dazs. Feeling bored, distract yourself with some mindless entertainment. Feeling anxious, surf the Web for hours to allow yourself the false feeling of accomplishing something. Artificial solutions that mask symptoms without solving problems.

It seems to me that people are spending a lot of time, energy, and money seeking external quick fixes for things that are really resolved only by internal changes. No amount of chemical additives will change our bodies’ natural need for the right amount of quality rest. Numbing our minds doesn’t solve anything, it only delays it—which often makes it worse. Triggering the pleasure receptors in our brain with our drug of choice (I’m partial to Goobers) is just as ineffective as numbing our minds.

Courage is not necessarily the absence of fear. It may be doing the right thing despite your fear. It may be realizing that you can’t “fail” because the results are ultimately up to a Higher Power. Courage is built by the character that comes from consistently doing the right thing, no matter the consequences. It is strengthened by the knowledge that God never asks you to “succeed,” he only asks you to obey.

Serenity can be mimicked for a short period of time, but true serenity can never be produced by external means—yes, even if they legalize cannabis. It’s a state of inner peace that transcends outer stimuli. It is cultivated by prayer and meditation. It is strengthened by developing a spiritual, eternal viewpoint that doesn’t expect worldly institutions to resolve spiritual problems.

Wisdom isn’t the same as knowledge. Knowledge can be abstract, wisdom is applied. Wisdom helps us discern what is too petty to worry about. Wisdom helps us see underlying causes rather than visible problems. Wisdom helps us see the difference between “making our point” and helping resolve a situation. Wisdom sees the difference between arguing small nuances of one biblical verse and living the Bible’s big messages.

Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying you shouldn’t enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. But we should be on guard to prevent external things from distracting us from taking on the true, prolonged inner battles.

Love isn’t convenient

You’ve probably heard the old cliché that love is a verb. It’s true.

Those great old romantic movies that portray love as a feeling are touching, but they’re based on an emotion that can be fleeting. True love is a commitment, and those are not fleeting. It’s a commitment to act in certain ways that display that love. A couple of things have happened in the past week that illustrated that.

Last Saturday was the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Berea. I led a team in fundraising in support of my mother. I received a donation from someone we had helped through a rough time a few years ago, and the donation was very much appreciated. But then he asked for the address of the walk, because he wanted to come down to be there in person. This man, his wife, and their beautiful little girl, drove an hour and a half each way to come from Campbellsville and walk with us in support of my mother. They’d never met her, but he loved me and wanted to show it.

Yesterday my wife had a fall and broke her ankle. Today, friends drove down from Lexington to deliver a dinner for us tonight. They didn’t come to our home, because they didn’t want her to feel like she had to “be ready for guests.” They met me at work and dropped off food, a bottle of wine, and a rose, tea, and chocolates for Tiffani.

I’ve come to believe that love is most visible when it’s not convenient. It’s the things we do going out of our way that speak love most clearly. Jesus frequently praised people who went out of their way, such as the Good Samaritan, those who visit prisoners, and those who care for people in need. He said true love is laying down your life for someone else.

I thank God for showing love for me in the most inconvenient way imaginable; the sacrifice of his Son. I thank God for bringing people into my life who demonstrate love. I pray that He will continue to develop me into a more and more loving person to others.

 

Book Review: The Wrong Unit

Released July 4, 2016

CoverThe Wrong Unit is one of the best sci-fi adventures I’ve read in a very long time. It contains 85 chapterettes of excitement, humor, and character development—both human and non. The only reason I’m not giving it five stars is chapterette 86, which is a jarring, out-of-place dose of cheesy epilogue that ruined it for me. I definitely recommend you read this book, but stop after chapter 85—which is a perfect ending.

Rob Dircks’ imagination is fantastic, bringing a strong premise and throwing in just the right amount of action, challenges, and humor to its development. I might suggest he paint the scenery just a bit more vividly in future work, but not to the point of distraction as some authors do. This is definitely a page-turner, with good use of plausible sci-fi tropes without falling into a pedantic effort to explain them to us.

Well done, Dircks. Next time, don’t listen to the editor who tells you it needs a Disneyesque ending. (Full disclosure: I received a free review copy from Goldfinch Publishing.)

Book Review: The Life Assistance Agency

img_0829Scheduled for publication September 25, 2016

With a quirky title like The Life Assistance Agency, the offbeat concept, and the humor at the beginning, I was put in mind of Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently books. As a result, I was slightly disappointed when the wit went away after the first part of the book. That’s unfair, because the book really is a great read. It could benefit from just a touch more editing, but the free advance review copy that Urbane Publishing sent me may well get final touch-up before its release this week.

As best I can discover, this is Hocknell’s premiere novel. I certainly hope it’s not his last, because he does an excellent job of weaving together stories in two different timelines. It was consistently engaging, with pleasant twists and revelations along the way. The characters were interesting—even when not lovable. I will most certainly keep an eye out for future work from Thomas Hocknell. He’s an author I look forward to reading again.

Book Review: Bloom County Episode XI: A New Hope

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(to be published September 27, 2016 — available for preorder at https://www.amazon.com/Bloom-County-Episode-XI-Hope/dp/163140699X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473464696&sr=8-1&keywords=bloom+county)

You should know up front that this is not an unbiased review. It couldn’t be. I was a fan of the Bloom County and Outland comic strips decades ago, and I was one of the most excited people when Berkeley Breathed decided to post occasional new strips on Facebook last year. In fact, I confess that I am one of those who posted supportive replies to those much-appreciated additions to the Bloom County universe. The fact that Breathed has even included some of those fan tributes from Facebook in this volume makes it even more impossible for me to be unbiased. Then IDW Publishing offered me the opportunity to review this pre-release version free! Deal with it.

Before we even get to the strips, we have to see the artist behind them. I was really moved by a young person like Berke’s words for the great Harper Lee, and the influence that her writing had on him–especially her encouragement to him that Bloom County shouldn’t end.

Breathed speaks of the ways in which the newspaper deadline fervor didn’t fit his creative style, much like Bill Watterson and his beloved Calvin and Hobbes. In a different age, we might have lost Breathed’s insights altogether. In the Internet age, he has been able to find a vehicle that has worked perfectly for his genius.

Yes, all of this review so far is based in his incredible history and a single page at the front of this new collection. It’s important, though, because Breathed’s work is so much more than a highly entertaining comic strip. It’s a movement of the heart. It’s a way to speak truth without the snark (and bias) of Doonesbury. It’s reminiscent of the insight of Calvin and Hobbes packaged in the lovable forms of characters like…penguins (now revived after a 25 year nap). Binkley’s anxiety closet is newly relevant to the things we all see in the world around us.

Thank you, Berke, for finding a new communication vehicle that fits your working style and allows us all be looks at your view of the world. This book is a treasure for anyone willing to take an honest look at the world. Treat yourself to a few hours in this wonderfully insightful universe.

Book Review: Searching the Scriptures

51ksvqxjcel-_sy346_(due for publication by Tyndale September 13)

In his introduction, Swindoll says that this book is an attempt to pass on what he learned from his beloved mentor, Howard Hendricks, and built upon in his 50+ years of ministry. And indeed, there are parts of the book that are very reminiscent of Hendricks’ work, Living by the Book (1991, Moody Press). Swindoll wrote the foreword for that book, which I’ve loaned out more copies of than I’ve had returned. But even if you have that book, Searching the Scriptures is a really valuable work.

He starts with two powerful chapters that address why we should bother studying the Bible–something many people have never really had explained. If you read these two chapters and do the exercises at the end of each, you will likely come away with a new hunger for Bible study.

The next four chapters describe–and give great exercises of–his four key steps of Bible study. I won’t throw in a spoiler here…I will say that they won’t necessarily be surprising, but you’ve likely never had them explained and illustrated so clearly. The advance review copy Tyndale gave me didn’t have some graphics that are supposed to be in the final version, but I still found it easy to follow.

Swindoll puts it succinctly: “Those who don’t learn to prepare their own meals from the Scriptures simply don’t know what God’s Word has to say. It simply isn’t possible to get the spiritual food our souls need in an hour on a Sunday morning.”

There are a few anachronisms, such as his insistence on the need for a concordance. Surely we can forgive a man who has been in ministry for 50 years a few quirks related to being a bibliophile rather than an online scholar with the ability to do a word search with a duplex of taps.

This is not a quick read that you breeze through. I received my review copy from Tyndale a few weeks ago, and am just now finishing this review. If you don’t take the time to go through the exercises at the end of each chapter, you will finish this book informed but not transformed. But faithfully following Swindoll’s wise techniques will prevent one from falling into common traps such as “proof-texting;” pulling one verse or part of a verse out of context and building a false theology around it.

This book will almost certainly give you a new hunger for, and a new ability to gain nourishment from, studying God’s Word. In fact, I would argue that it should be part of every single New Christian class around the world. Even the library of every Christian around the world.

Book Review: The Water Knife

The Water KnifeWell, let’s get the negatives out of the way first. The last thing the scifi genre needs is Yet Another Climate Change Dystopia. And this one comes with the tired sermons about human stupidity and climate change deniers. I was also disappointed that Bacigalupi threw in a gratuitous declaration of one character being gay, when his sexuality contributed absolutely nothing to the story. You’re better than this formulaic stuff, Paolo.

Having said that, the book is a good thriller with very nice character development and a great twist at the end. In my opinion, Bacigalupi is one of the better voices in today’s scifi generation and this story keeps your attention well. So well that I stayed up later than I should have last night because I had to finish it.

Book Review: Bedlam & Belfry: Intergalactic Attorneys at Law

imageBedlam & Belfry are attorneys with rather low scruples, high ambitions, and devious minds. In some stories that leads to interesting contrivances. In others, such as Bedlam & Belfry: The Musical, they aren’t even relevant to the story. Regardless, the reader should approach this book with thoughts of humor, and nothing at all “intergalactic.”

Most anthologies are of the “Best of” variety, where an editor has the ability to select his or her favorite stories of a particular type. In this case, the author has only written 12 so this collection is both the best of and the worst of. That’s why you find really enjoyable stories such as Bedlam & Belfry go to the Dogs beside such clunkers as Bedlam & Belfry Get Elected.

As in the days when people bought entire albums rather than individual tracks, you don’t have to enjoy all 12 to think the album was worth it. But when you made a mix tape, you only selected a few from the album to make the cut. On balance this book (full disclosure: review copy provided free by Rocketship Press) is enjoyable, but don’t approach it with the lofty hopes raised by reviewers who compare this to Monty Python and Douglas Adams.

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Book Review: Closer Than Close

51walpeh4olby Dave Hickman
Tyndale House Publishers, 2016

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. That’s good, because the cover of the advance review copy that Tyndale sent me is a really creepy eyeball and unfortunately the book cover misleads you about the book’s content. I also suggest you completely bypass the book’s Foreword, because it will paint the book’s author as someone you have nothing in common with, which makes it harder to relate to the content. That’s a shame, because the book does make some good points worth considering–at least in chapter 1 where he actually discusses what the back cover says the book is about.

He makes a somewhat confusing attempt to explain the Trinity in chapter 2, but if you stay with him to chapter 3, you see that it’s not quite the non sequitur that it seemed as you struggled through chapter 2. The truth is that Jesus said in John 14 that we would be in Him and He in us, just as He is in the Father, so trying to grasp the nature of the Trinity is important in understanding the level of union we have with God.

Unfortunately, in chapters 4 and 5 the author is still trying to explain the Trinity, and making no real progress toward helping me understand my relationship with God. It might well be a good book if you enter it with the right expectations, but the blurb for the book left me feeling like a victim of bait-and-switch.

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