Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking Trilogy: Knives, Questions, and Monsters of Men

Patrick Ness’s award-winning first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy, The Knife of Never Letting Go, introduced us to a world of war, love, sacrifice and Noise (read my review here). The second book in the series, The Ask and The Answer, won Publisher’s Weekly award for best YA science fiction novel. The conclusion of the trilogy, Monsters of Men, won the 2011 Carnegie Medal and was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke award for best science fiction novel, an unusual accolade for YA literature. The first two books are already on their way to the big screen under the direction of Robert Zemeckis. 

The knife in The Knife of Never Letting Go symbolized the power our decisions have to altar the
trajectory of our lives for good or evil. In The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men, the New World (a colonized planet) is put to the edge of that knife.

After the events in The Knife of Never Letting Go, three separate plot lines emerge: Todd is forced to live with and work for the Mayor when he takes over the wistfully named town of Haven; Viola joins a group of rebels; and the Spackle prepare to take back their planet. To further complicate matters, an advance ship of new settlers has landed, and they have enough firepower to lead one side of this war to victory. Will war truly make monsters of them all? Is there a path to peace, reconciliation, and redemption? And is anyone beyond forgiveness?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has been a commercial success ($73 million the opening weekend) as well as a critical success (91% critics approval at Rotten Tomatoes and 79% at Metacritic). I will leave it to others to highlight the acting, directing, special effects, and overall plot. I am going to focus on why this story resonates with us. 

Think of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as a modern allegory similar to District 9.  D9 used aliens and humans to tell a story about apartheid; Dawn uses apes and humans to tell a story about how fear and hate lead to war (think of the troubles in Northern Ireland, or how  the Arab/Israeli conflict is escalating again as I write this). The story is clearly fiction, but the situations are all too real.*

Everyone had a logical reason for his or her actions. Koba spent his life being tortured by humans. When Caesar tells him he wants to wait for the “human work” to finish (in this case, fixing the dam), Koba points at scars on his body and growls, “Human work.”  Humanity has certainly earned his wrath and distrust.

From the human perspective, the simian flu brought humanity to the edge of extinction. Their fear of the apes is justified as well. One man noted he couldn't look at an ape without getting physically ill. His hatred was illogical, of course. Humans created the virus that the apes spread. But fear and hatred blind people to the truth; the mind will justify what the heart desires.

Monday, July 14, 2014

MemeThink 202: Hobby Lobby Edition

MemeThink 101 offered a perspective on the frustrating trend of using memes to talk about serious cultural issues, in particular same-sex marriage. This follow-up post will address the recent Hobby Lobby ruling as seen from the perspective of the MemeThink.

MEME #1

Does anyone actually believe this meme represents reality? In the eyes of the Supreme Court, women are persons, corporations are an association of citizens and/or persons  (it's a centuries old "legal fiction"),* and unborn babies are not persons.  In the eyes of Hobby Lobby, unborn babies and women are persons and corporations are an association of citizens who have constitutional rights. Who exactly is undecided about whether or not a woman is a person?

Everybody in the discussion thinks a woman is a person. Not everyone agrees, however, on 1) whether or not the baby is a person and 2) if an abortion actually results from the contraception in question. Justice Samuel Alito noted that “federal regulations, which define pregnancy as beginning at implantation, do not so classify them.” Many pro-life advocates (including the owners of Hobby Lobby) believe that life begins at fertilization.  If that's true, the baby is a person from the moment of fertilization and thus deserves the protections granted to other persons.

It's not like one side has science as the other does not. Everyone is looking at the same evidence while disagreeing about the moment life begins - which is a legitimate and significant question. Doctors, biologists, philosophers and theologians all have something to say that's worth hearing.  If Hobby Lobby errs, it is on the side of caution (and with more medical support than you might think).

Friday, July 4, 2014

True Detective

"Touch darkness and darkness touches you back."

"Matthew Coniglio's Georgia home held a trove of child pornography, more than 50,000 images and videos stored on laptops, external hard drives and thumb drives. Among the stash, hidden in a bedside table turned around to conceal the doors, authorities made an even more horrifying discovery: 56 8-millimeter cassette tapes they say show him raping and molesting girls. All were unconscious, apparently drugged, FBI Special Agent William Kirkconnell, who viewed the tapes, told The Associated Press. Some were so incapacitated they were snoring. The camera was always turned off before they awoke."   -The NY Daily News
I read this story in my local paper two days after I finished watching Season One of True Detective. If you've seen the show, this news story probably sounds eerily familiar. There are monsters among us. It's not a pleasant thought. If you are looking for a fictional story to help you come to grips with that kind of horror in the world around us, True Detective will do just that.

Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Eric "Marty" Hart (Woody Harrelson) are assigned to investigate a horrific murder. They discover it is just one soul-searing link in a chain of evil formed by dozens of victims, many of whom are very young. Unfortunately, even those whose cause is just cannot escape the stain of that kind of sin. They must subject themselves to the hell of seeing and documenting horrors that should never see the light of day.There is a price to be paid for even knowing about this kind of corruption. No matter what Rust and Marty were when they first became detectives, they are both damaged goods now.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Maleficent: A Fairy Tale for Our Times

The new version of Sleeping Beauty showcases something Disney has been good at for a long time: offering a story that reflect the times. Maleficent is not meant to be a prequel, sequel, or addendum to the 1950's tale of Beauty. It's a new twist on an old story that Disney had already altered from its original version. If you think Disney's earlier portrayal of Maleficent should be set in stone, you won't like this movie. If you approach it with the idea that fairy tales are a flexible vehicle for insight into the human condition, you will probably like this movie quite a bit. It's not a perfect story, but it offers a surprisingly moving narrative that intersects with real life more than you might expect.
A young lady wakes up after falling asleep in the arms of a man who says he loves her. He drugs her and violates her by taking something precious. He then abandons her, brags about his conquest, and turns his back on her despoiled life. 
In the aftermath of her abandonment, she chooses to embrace revenge, hate, and a lust for power. Joy becomes bitterness; warmth and laughter becomes cold cynicism. She builds walls around her heart and her kindgom so no one can and hurt her again. She begins to use others for her selfish purposes. And when the opportunity for revenge presents itself, the girl who once loved to help is the first in line to harm.
If you have not heard this story before, you’re not listening, and I'm not talking about Maleficent's updated story. It’s happening around us all the time. Lest you think I am reading too much into this, Angelina Jolie noted: "The core of [the movie] is abuse, and how the abused have a choice of abusing others or overcoming...What could make a woman become so dark? To lose all sense of her maternity, her womanhood, and her softness?"

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Steelheart: Helping the Heroes Along

Have you ever finished a really satisfying book and thought, “How did I not know about this author before?” Brandon Sanderson's YA hit Steelheart is that kind of book. I promptly followed it up with Mistborn: The Alloy of Law, then Warbreaker, then his Mistborn trilogy (in which I am currently immersed).

Brandon Sanderson is a teacher at Brigham Young University who also writes prolifically: he has continued Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series while managing to write seventeen novels, a number of shorter works, and a graphic novel. He’s been nominated for and/or won major literary awards every year since 2005, and he co-hosts an award-winning podcast. I get tired just reading his bio. He probably wrote a novella while I typed this paragraph. 

Even more impressively, his track record would suggest that this imaginary novella I just had him write is very good. I suspect I will eventually read everything he has written. His stories are innovative, thought-provoking, and grounded in a moral universe that fits in well with my Christian worldview.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Days of Future Past: Do Our Choices Matter?

So many battles waged over the years... and yet, none like this. Are we destined to destroy each other, or can we change each other and unite? Is the future truly set?” – Charles Xavier
X-Men: Days of Future Past is a story about free will and human nature.  Sure, it’s many other
things as well – an excellently crafted movie, an equal rights parable, a commentary on human atrocities, a discussion starter about evolution – but  the latest installment in this thought-provoking franchise is perhaps the most cerebral of all.

As he considers the carnage of the Mutant/Human war, Xavier wonders, “Are we destined to destroy each other? Or can we change who we are?” The Mutants have found a way to jump a few days into the past and avoid small catastrophes, but changing single events cannot alter the larger arc of stubbornly insistent history. All seems lost; both the characters and the conflict are succumbing to the chaos. Bryan Singer noted in an interview:
“[Days of Future Past] confronts the notions of hope and second chances. It's characters that are lost trying to find themselves. In X-Men one and two, the characters had come into their own and knew who they were. In this one, they're all lost. And they're trying to keep it together.” 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking)

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"The Noise is man unfiltered. And without a filter, man is just chaos walking."

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Patrick Ness's opening book in the Chaos Walking trilogy,  The Knife of Never Letting Go,  garnered plenty of awards and overwhelmingly positive reviews when it was first released. Now, like so many other popular YA novels, it's headed for the big screen (Lionsgate bought the film rights).

THE PLOT

Todd is the last innocent boy in a town of corrupted men on a planet that humanity had begun to colonize decades before. The endemic corruption is hardly a secret. Through some odd twist of fate, all men on the planet have the Noise:
“There ain’t nothing but Noise in this world, nothing but the constant thoughts of men and things coming at you and at you and at you… and them’s just the words, the voices talking and moaning and singing and crying. There’s pictures, too, pictures that come to yer mind in a rush, no matter how much you don’t want ‘em, pictures of memories and fantasies and secrets and plans and lies, lies, lies. 
Cuz you can lie in the Noise, even when everyone knows what yer thinking, you can bury stuff under other stuff, you can hide it in plain sight, you just don’t think it clearly or you convince yerself that the opposite of what yer hiding is true and then who's going to be able to pick out from the flood what’s real water and what’s not going to get you wet? Men lie, and they lie to themselves worst of all…Noise ain’t truth, Noise is what men want to be true, and there’s a difference twixt those two thing.”