Monday, August 26, 2013

Another outside of our regular scheduled programming

I always thought that I would not mind a nuclear power plant in my back yard. After what I saw happen and is still happening in poor Japan during that horrific tsunami, I have changed my mind. I think now nuclear power plants should be built near the Grand Coulee Dam where there is already a power grid to hook into and minimal threat of earthquakes. The Rocky Mountains were created by uplift, not volcanism. We who live amongst a multitude of volcanoes know volcanoes are not to be trusted.
There is this about volcanoes, though: they give you lots of warning before they explode so you have a fair chance to get out of the way.
Not so with earthquakes. The first Vancouver, a city across the Columbia from Keep Portland Weird, is far enough inland that tsunami damage from a sea bed earthquake would be relatively minor. So that's not my concern about local nuclear power plants.
My concern is this: we are overdue for a Richter 8 or 9 earthquake. We all know that within a few seconds to a few centuries from now the Big One will hit.We're fairly well engineered to handle a 6 or below. 7 and above, a lot of things are going to break, including the concrete parts of a nuclear power plant.
My brother worked in a nuclear power plant for many years. They are generally safe. I wish a hundred nuclear power plants had been built ten years ago so we could all be zipping around in electric cars (and yes, I realize the real problem with electric cars are their batteries), instead of being held hostage by people who hate us, US. But we ought not site the plants in fault zones.

Outside of our regular scheduled programming

From time to time we drive from the first Vancouver to Pasco and back, a little over four hours each way. At least 90% of the trip is spent alongside the Columbia River. Over the past few years we have noted the erection of hundreds of bright, white windmills on both sides of the Columbia. I like watching the blades turn. I like their graceful shapes the same way I like many bridges. I see in them a poetry of engineering. I like that the rental of the pads they stand on give another income stream to beleaguered wheat farmers and ranchers.
But despite all that poetry and help for farmers, I still hate those wind turbines. Why? They kill birds. They whack hawks and eagles and owls, the predators that allow a wheat harvest to be made. They whack the insect-eaters and songbirds. They kill bats. The turning blades produce an alternating pressure pattern that shreds the tender lungs of bats.
Another reason that I dislike the wind turbines along the Columbia is that they make absolutely no economic sense me. The windmills cannot possibly provide enough electricity to pay for the mining and refining of the minerals in them, the transportation of the minerals, the making of the parts, the transportation of the parts, the assembly of the parts to make electricity that run part-time.
And maintenance has to be nightmare. The turbines are scattered along hundreds of miles of access roads in a land of tiny cities few and far, far between. On the east coast of the US there is at least a village every ten miles on any road. Not so here. Where are the maintenance workers housed? How much driving must be done to reach any one turbine?
The Grand Coulee Dam, the John Day Dam, The Dalles Dam and all the other dams on the Columbia (that have blessed us with cheap electricity, flood control, and the water for the irrigation of the former sagebrush desert of eastern Washington and Oregon) have all their turbines clustered in easy access places. They have relatively simple designs and relatively few moving parts.
The more moving parts there are in any machine, the more parts there are to break.
These wind turbines are ALL moving parts. What isn't moving is straining against the movement to hold the windmill in place.
I look at these beautiful windmills and I see metal fatigue and toxic motor chemicals multiplied by hundreds with no reason for the turbines not to break down, catch fire, or fall down.
I do not think the making of jobs to maintain these machines is worth the steep increase in the price of electricity and the ecological cost.
We need massively oversighted nuclear power plants.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A question about the movie Percy Jackson and The Sea of Monsters

Recently, best beloved and I went to see the movie Percy Jackson and The Sea of Monsters. We did a lot of laughing and really enjoyed the show, but there was one scene that left me confused because I did not know how to interpret it.
Apparently Dionysus has offended Zeus, and every time Dionysus pours out wine, the wine turns into water. During one of the multiple times Dionysus is pouring out wine, he grabs the cup of water and says something like, "You know, the humans have a god that did the opposite." He holds up a forefinger and roars, "Now that's a God!" I get the reference to Jesus turning the water into wine at the wedding in Cana. And the gods in the movie do not seem like gods exactly, but more like powerful people with supernatural powers. And there is a lot of humor about how silly these gods are.
So here's what I don't understand: is the scene cleverly inserting a truth claim using the upraised finger that meant in the late sixties and the seventies that there is ONE God (and none of these guys are it) or is it a goofy bit of blasphemy?

I posted this question in Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy on Facebook and received these fascinating replies:

question of God. The book says:

"Wait," I told Chiron. "You're telling me there's such a thing as God."
"Well, now," Chiron said. "God--capital G, God. That's a different matter altogether. We shan't deal with the metaphysical."
"Metaphysical?" But you were just talking about--"
"Ah, gods, plural, as in, great beings that control the forces of nature and human endeavors: the immortal gods of Olympus. That's a smaller matter."
"Yes, quite."

 Kat Heckenbach I also found him quoted as saying: "In Western
Civilization, we’ve always had an uneasy mix between Classical mythology and Judeo-Christian values. As a culture, we tend to believe in one God, but we also grow up steeped in these wonderful old stories about the Olympians. As long as we recognize them as stories that are part of our heritage and long-since stopped being any kind of serious religion, I don’t see the harm in learning mythology."

Rod Bennett The actual quote in the SOM movie is "I hear the
Christians have a guy who can do that trick in reverse. Now THAT'S a God." Interestingly, several of the early Church Fathers noticed this reverse parallel between Dionysius and the Cana miracle in writings from the 3rd & 4th centuries. Wonder whether the screenwriter was aware of that?


Review of The Constant Tower by Carole McDonnell

I think this may be an important book. This certainly a well-written book, full of detail and observation and metaphor. The Constant Tower is also a subtle book, and one that eludes my immediate comprehension.
I had some difficulties with the book on this my first read-through. I kept reading it like it was set on Mars when I suspect I should have read it like it was set in Fairyland. I understand the world Psal lives on to be tidally locked onto its sun. Okay. There are questions about how livable such a planet would be, but such a setting has been used before and I could accept the concept as a given. But, but, there are nights in which unprotected people are dissolved and then randomly reconstituted elsewhere on the world. Night? Without rotation how can you have a night on the sunny side of a tidally-locked planet? There are three moons, and I could understand there being a lot of eclipses, but night? If a moon is large enough to cause an eclipse long enough to be called a night, it is no longer a moon and planet, it is a double planet, and then the two would orbit each other and neither of them would be tidally locked to their sun. Carole is too careful a writer to make such a glaring mistake, so she must have found a way to make a night that I can't figure out, and the question drove me nuts throughout the whole book.
And that dissolving and reconstituting thing. For a while I wondered if she was using quantum mechanics and indeterminacy. I think now that I would have better off thinking "magic".
The last third of the book shows how the author breathes Scripture. Many authors, when they try to incorporate Christian Scripture into their works, they end up with awkward sentences, awkward scenes, just awkward: A cherry on top of a bowl of stew. Here, the dialogue is so natural, that unless you already know a lot of Scripture you will have no idea she is mirroring or quoting Scripture. Once she used a sort of apocryphal quote from an atheist scientist and subverted the intention of the atheist.Well played, Carole. Then it occurred to me that if I was catching dozens and dozens of allusions that most people won't, what else has she written in this book that I did not see, might never see?
You have to bring attentiveness and education to anything you read. Complex, deep works often contain more thoughts than I am capable of perceiving. When I first read That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis, it seemed to me to be a jumbled mess. After a few more decades practicing reading and education, I can now read That Hideous Strength with pleasure and far greater comprehension. I suspect The Constant Tower might provide a similar experience with some readers.
The main character's name is Psal. I wondered first if the author chose that name to set up a Saul/Paul dichotomy, but that proved not to be the case, I think. Then I wondered if the name was meant to bring up echoes of the Psalms. If so, I could not see it. I gave up looking for symbolism in the names.
I had sympathy for four or five of the characters in this long book filled with thousands of people. I had empathy for absolutely none. I hated the evil society depicted and I disliked most of the characters. Their thinking was so orthogonal to mine that it hurt to try to understand the characters. Their behavior and  thoughts baffled me.
I have no right to complain about that bafflement as I have often complained that books and Hollywood too often portray aliens as middle-class Americans with rubber masks. I happen to approve of the majority of middle-class American values, but it seems unlikely that aliens, American Indians in the 16th century, European peasants in the 13th century, etc would have the same attitudes as my suburban neighbor mowing his lawn.
Part of what reading novels are supposed to do for us is help us understand how others think and gain more supple minds. I flunked this lesson. I finally identified part of the character's mental landscape as something I call Tribethink. I see Tribethink (which surely has a more scientific name somewhere) as an unmitigated evil. But of course Tribethink is mitigated or else most of the world would not engage in it. Tribethink can reduce anxiety and provide explanations. I still hate it because it allows you to be evil to people not in your tribe and have no guilt about your evil. Hmm, maybe that's a point of the book.
The people in this book spent a lot of time talking about power. I've never had power and never will have power, so I have no temptation there and little understanding of the temptation. I come from a subset of English/Scot immigrant descendents for whom one of the highest life-ordering principles is Mind Your Own Business. I found the characters' constant bossing each other around to be exasperating.
Once, a son of mine was urging me to watch the television series Galactica and I replied that I didn't want to because all the characters were creepy and they all behaved badly. My son retorted, "No. You don't like the show because none of the characters have your temptations." Hmm. How many of you have a son who tells you more than you want to know?
Confession here: I am the oldest of my siblings, and, yes, from time to time I have told them what to do. I did so knowing they would never listen to me. The handful of times I have been heeded terrified me. I would bear part responsibility for consequences. Noooo, I don't want that responsibility.
Since I hang with people who in public never express anything more violent than mild disapproval, I found these pushy, bossy, violent people tiresome.
At the end of the book, the teacher/narrator begins to tell the story of the warrior son of the king, and I was repulsed. I never want to hear the warrior's side of the story. (Oh boo-hoo, I felt jealous so I murdered those people to feel better) I just want him to be executed for his crimes and murders. But as in real life, in this book, criminals escape judgement and the innocent are harmed.
And speaking of repulsed, my tribe also strongly believes that there are certain things you DO NOT talk about in public. I squirmed through the sex scenes.
By this time you may be wondering why I gave this book five stars when there was so much in it I disliked. I gave it five stars because it is a great book. Stranger In A Strange Land by Heinlein is also a great book. I happen to hate that book, but what has that to do with its quality?
And there were many things I liked. I liked what little symbolism I was able to decipher (The longhouses represent the mental structures we inhabit, right? Please tell me I'm right.). I loved the kaleidoscopic explosion of Scriptural imagery in the last third of the book. I loved the stance that people with disabilities are people of worth. And I can live with likely missing all of the big themes of the book. I expect to catch more the next time I read it.
It's possible that if I would just admit that I'm as big a sinner as the sinners in this book, that the core of the book would crack open for me and the Constant Tower would welcome me and heal me.

After I posted this review on Amazon, Carole McDonell posted this info for me on FB
 Carole McDonnell Lelia, yes..the longhouses are mental strongholds, the towers are our
conscience..seared or other wise. God is the greater light, we live by the lesser light . There is a bit of qunatum physics in there with sound. Psallo is greek for song or making music..cause the towers live by music and he works and tunes the towers. Odunao is Greek for torment. Nachas is hebrew for pride and accomplishment. The Constant Tower is a mathematical term in physics. Gaal means loathing. Biblical name. Netophah and Maharai are Biblical names. Netpophah means slope.

Review of Primary Source by Alan Oathout

I enjoyed this book. I think almost everybody who likes conspiracy, secret U.S. History, and supernatural stories will like Primary Source.
The main character works as a concierge. I've read the word before and thought in meant someone who works in a hotel. I was only partly right. A concierge is a professional finder, cousin to a valet or detective. I had no idea someone could make a living doing that.
The first thing that struck me about the book was its physical beauty: an attractive cover, a beautiful blend of typefaces, the bar that tops each chapter, the little thistle spacer. If there was a typo anywhere in the book, I did not catch it. Most of us don't notice the interior design of a book unless there are numerous typos, misspellings, transpositions, or print too small to read. We only want the design to adequately carry the words to our eyes. But for some reason, I noticed how well put together this book is.
But beauty counts for nothing if the words are worthless. Here, too, I was delighted by a story well told.  All the main characters are likable and/or interesting. Almost all the bit players are interesting, which I consider quite a feat.
No book is perfect, and I have a very few nits to pick. I found the concept that a piece of knowledge could destroy U.S. society a bit of a stretch. Our motley nation has enough experience with shocking information that I believe any awful info would be slotted somewhere into existing belief systems or would cause flat-out denial.
And I should warn those of you who hate all the evil religion has wrought that, while you will find a character or two you will identify with, on the whole you will dislike this book filled with religious characters. If you are a Christian, as I am, or a history buff, or a genealogy researcher, the odds are high that you will like this  book despite some of the character's religious views. Me, I like to read books about people whose religious views are not mine because I like to know how other people think.
There is some romance in the book, but there is no head-spinning, so I forgive the author.
I am looking forward to more books by Alan Oathout.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Review of Children of Dreams by Lorilyn Roberts

I found out the author is a captioner. I love captioners. They are the people who let us who are hearing impaired know a little bit of what is going on around us. So, THANK YOU, Lorilyn.
I thought this was an interesting book. I have also adopted two children from the exotic land of El Paso. We were going to get our children from Panama, but President Reagan got into a bit of a tiff with General Noriega, and the orphanages closed to Americans. I had tried local adoption and been turned down because I already had three children, one severely handicapped. And when I tried to adopt older, handicapped kids, the social worker I would call about each kid would sigh and say, "Ma'am, why can't you understand that you're the wrong race?" I never could understand, no, why the state of TX would only place kids in same race homes at the time. And then an adoption agency, that had to get their last two kids off the books before they closed, gave those kids to Los Ninos, the adoption agency we were going through. Race did not matter to Los Ninos, and so we got our last two children from El Paso before they were dumped into a foster care system that they would have aged out of before they were placed.
I had difficulty understanding why the author was so fearful through the adoption processes, which were, granted, difficult, lonely, and full of roadbumps and deceptions. She was also an experienced traveler, so much of the unpleasantry of the experience should not have been new to her. I also felt like that sometimes she confused or equated the results of poverty with that of depravity. That there was some depravity I will not argue with, as we have our own share in the U.S. I will also agree with her (after spending time in Asia and Africa) that it's amazing that sometimes it seems only North Americans care enough about plumbing to make sure it continues to work.
As I am a Christian, I was comfortable with her constant use of Scripture as illustrations and teaching throughout her story. Were I not a Christian, I might be tempted to conflate her hyperemotionality with religiousity and dismiss her. I do not think she should be dismissed. Her story is important. Yeah, I did not care for all the emotion in the book. But I'm a bit of a cold fish, and I notice in other reviews that other women loved all the emotion.
If there is a moral to this book besides the ones she gives you, it would be this: Make sure you go through an established, reputable agency to adopt. And make many many many copies of everything you need and of things you think you might not need. And Do not break any of the rules thinking everybody will make an exception for you because your heart is pure.
All in all, I think anybody interested in the subject of adoption would find this book fascinating.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Review of Becalmed by Normandie Fischer

As I was reading this novel and enjoying the specialized language of sailing and the interesting characters of this seaside town, I kept thinking it felt like a Jane Austin novel. I tried to think of why when Normandie is a less wordy author and the setting is so very different. Like Jane Austin, she focuses on the many details of domesticity of a certain class of people. Every time she shifts the point of view, the story is told in the language of the person she is showing us. Her skillful writing draws us into the lives of many people so that we feel like we understand them all, and deeply sympathize with most of them. As I was still thinking about Jane Austin, the author started quoting Jane Austin. Oh ho, influence much? Well, as far as I'm concerned, there can never be too many people who write like Jane Austin.
I don't want to call this a romance; there were no spinning heads, and I hate romances. This was a book about love, looking for love, trying to avoid love, grieving about love, and falling in love.
I thought the nine-year-old girl was a little too precious. I was not precious when I was nine, and neither were any of the other nine-year-olds I knew. In general I found little girls to be noisy and spiteful beasts. On the other hand, the allure of dressing up a little girl is strong, so strong that when I gave birth to a girl who would never let me dress her up and who ate all the earrings I put on her, I adopted a girl I hoped I could dress up and fix her hair and play with and read to. Sigh. Instead I ended up with two girls who tore everything cute thing I sewed for them. But, you know, I have known only a few thousand people in my life, and there may well be precious little girls out there.I may have even run across them and simply didn't recognize them because I was too busy chasing around my autistic and my fetal alcohol affected daughters and trying to keep them from damaging other little girls. So, in the book, Jilly was a cutie and everyone treated her like a cutie.
Most of the people in the book were the kind of people you would like for friends and they treated each other well.
Save for a few scenes, this was a pleasant world to be immersed in. I enjoyed the family love, the neighborly love, the friend love, the erotic love, the married love depicted in the book. I look forward to reading more books by the author.

Review of New Blood by Ferguson

I started reading this, thinking the book would be just awful, but ended up caught up in the storyline about this girl with porphyria plus, enough plus to make her a vampire who really, really doesn't want to be one. She moves to the new world, hoping for a new start, but ends up with many of the old problems she had before. I was enjoying her story and her Latin prayers when, aargh!, romance, swirling head and all, broke into the book. Well, I hate the conventions of romance, but I'm fairly singular in that, so I know most of you will like the book all the better for the romance. There's lotsa, lotsa blood, especially during the big boss battle at the end of the book. If you like vampires, axes, native Americans, and romance, you will really like this novel. I am now wondering how the rest of the trilogy will get to the granddaughter in Alaska. Should be an interesting trip.
Part of why I downgraded this to a three star instead of a four star on Amazon, was the romance. There is a scene where White Hawk grabs our heroine and mashes his lips onto hers. She struggles a bit, and then melts into him. Grrrrrrr. Any man who mashes his face onto mine expecting that I will eventually melt into lust for him is in for a surprise. I understood why she could not rip off his head, as she had agreed to marry him so that a captured colonist would be returned to her family, but still.... And I could not believe that White Hawk would attempt to have a companionate marriage as modern Americans see as ideal. But these are common tropes that other people seem to have no trouble with, so my animosity may be misplaced.
There was the idea that I usually read in children's books: Because God made you that way, you could save the day. Actually, that's a valuable lesson, so I have no idea why I felt grumpy about it. Maybe because I was overtired when I read the book and was feeling grumpy about everything at the time.
At any rate, I think most people will like the book more than I did, and I did enjoy most of it.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Realm Makers

After missing the connecting flight in Chicago (they changed the gate and I waited two hours in the wrong place) I arrived at St. Louis for the Realm Makers Conference, for Christian writers of Speculative Fiction, without a single scrap of information since I left it all behind at the Portland, OR airport and I hadn't bothered to memorize the info since I would have the paperwork with me. I did remember that I needed to take a train into the campus from the St. Louis airport. It took several people to decide which train to board, and then a couple passengers to figure out where I should get off. Good thing I'm not afraid to ask for directions. Ended up sitting next to someone who gave me a long, spitting lecture about Hitler and WWII. Kept wiping my face, but he never noticed.So once I got off in the gathering dusk I ran down a University of Missouri student and asked her to help me find the conference. She needed the name of a building which I couldn't give her. She called the campus police who had no idea what I was talking about, but fortunately the campus is small enough that there is only one place where visitors stay, and that is where the cop drove me, and stayed long enough to see that I was checked in.
The next morning I followed a batch of people to where the conference was being held. The lecturers were good, the atmosphere friendly. I bought a batch of books. Got to have short meetings with Jeff Gerke and Randy Streu. Tried to go back to cafeteria but could not recognize any landmarks when I left the bldg. A kind stranger drove me to the cafeteria, where all I could eat were the green beans. I had filled out the dietary restriction forms, but apparently my filling them out and whoever cooks reading them were not the same thing. Bonnie Lacy drove Kathy Tyers and me back to conference. And thereafter kind Bonnie drove me everywhere.
The costumes at the banquet were wonderful. I got a kick out of Graham (Tales of the Dim Knight) wearing a Superman outfit above his kilts. Becky Miner (The Curse Bearer) was a perfect elf. The book Starflower won the Clives Staples Award. I hope I catch when they open nominations for next year's award for I intend to nominate Quintessence by David Walton.
I bought some more books. Nathan Paul Williams (Ripper Grimm) said, during the panel on horror, that horror lets us talk about the things we don't otherwise talk about. Really? I need to think about that a bit.
I bought New Blood by Ferguson. Liked it, for the most part. Bought a few more books, including Son Of Truth, by Busse, which she signed.
I got overtired and had to skip the book signings.
And again, the university could not be bothered to feed me, even though I had paid for them to do so. Good thing I brought a big box of Lara bars.
Still tired and lost the next morning, I wandered into kind Bonnie who took me to the airport. I remembered that I had tried to put in enough time to go to church before going home, but without the tickets I could not remember how much time I had, so I opted to just go to the airport and find out how much time I had. So I checked in eight hours early, which was too early to check in my suitcase. So I looked around for some place to sit for a few hours, and there was NO place. But the check-in clerk felt sorry for me, so she gave me a new ticket for a much earlier flight. Then while I was waiting for my new flight, another clerk came over and told me to sit here(!) and gave me a pre-boarding pass and told everyone around me to talk slowly. I wanted to laugh, but, honestly, Talk Slowly is good. Who knew you could get a pre-boarding pass for being pathetic?
In Phoenix, I was bundled onto a motorized bench and whisked to my next gate. My goodness, the Phoenix terminal has a lot of long empty halls. Everyone was so kind to me on the plane I began to wonder just how bad-off I looked.
I was amazed at the quality of the itty-bitty conference and the size of the industry presence. I came back with another TBR pile. I'm glad I went.