My Favorite Books

The Walking Drum
Ender's Game
Dune
Jhereg
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Curse of Chalion
The Name of the Wind
Chronicles of the Black Company
The Faded Sun Trilogy
The Tar-Aiym Krang

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Review: Nanoverse

Nanoverse Nanoverse by Theophilus Monroe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Story: ***
Performance: ***

Fantasy with a SciFi Facade ...

This is a collection of four(4) quick (3+ hours ea) fantasy stories set in a fantasy world wearing the skin of a cyberpunk genre … because it’s all about uses the new buzzword nano as much as possible without any real knowledge of what they are are how they would actually work. Maybe that is just my inner geek chanting that is not how that works in my head for almost the entire book (IOW I know too much about the tech and had a hard time letting go). Regardless … while the story doesn’t work well within the generally accepted norms of SciFi, it was a fairly typical Fantasy that is build to leverage a virtual (fantasy) world concept along the lines of the matrix, upload or free guy where the bad guy mysteriously works toward the total destruction of the real world. It’s not a bad plot … however, it has been done much better else where.

The story begins with an example of unintended consequences despite good intentions when a vaccine is developed to introduce nanites into the human body that would be tasked with healing wounds and preventing disease. Patient Zero is a badly wounded soldier who would probably have died otherwise, so with that success story behind the program, the government mandates nanovax for everybody … and hidden within those nanites is the ability to network into the public cloud to spy on the host AND take over the human conscious … a la mind control (maybe I am reading the tealeaves wrong here, but this part of the story starts to read like covid antivax conspiracies that didn’t help with the whole suspension of disbelief needed to fully enjoy the story).

That is where the algorithm comes in … which works sorta like minority report in that it predicts aberrant behavior ahead of time and reports it to the authorities who controls the nanites which can then control the host. Of course, in this paranoid fantasy, our hero is a threat to the system because his PTSD has change his mind enough that he can’t be controlled and that makes him a terrorist … only before the government can take him out back and shoot him, he is rescued by the resistance so that he can eventually defeat the algorithm.

Of course that is not the end … in part 2 the nanites can now swarm (in say 500 in each cloud) externally and possess others in the physical world … and apparently host an uploaded consciousness and associated memories all in readable code with individual global network addresses … so the resistance moves from minority report into the matrix here … again with a lot less finesse. We also begin to see the hero’s daughter make her debut as the bad guys cats paw … something that didn’t really work for me. This actually becomes a central theme in Post Human as the action moves almost entirely into the virtual world and a race to avoid an apocalypse in the real world. This part of the story calls to mind elements of the bobiverse with all the consciousness cloning. It all wraps up with a redemption arc in the final installment, which for better or for worse can actually stand on its own with no significant inspiration from other stories, but which does get a little preachy with a hint of Judeo-Christian theology … for me, this was actually the best of the four (4)

Book 1: Algorithm (3:56)
Book 2: Nanoswarm (3:43)
Book 3: Posthuman (3:15)
Book 4: Nanowar (2:32)

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#Nanoverse #StoryOrigin

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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Review: The Scandal of Leadership: Unmasking the Powers of Domination in the Church

The Scandal of Leadership: Unmasking the Powers of Domination in the Church The Scandal of Leadership: Unmasking the Powers of Domination in the Church by J.R. Woodward
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a very thought provoking book for me. The initial draw was an examination of the fall of high-profile [christian] leaders with an eye toward identifying the primary or root cause. It was intriguing because I felt it should be fairly obvious … pride; however, this analysis took a different approach and dove more deeply into the human mechanisms that contribute to the fall. It was not, as I had expected, a screed about personal responsibility, and yet it does not totally let our leaders off the hook. The basic premise where is that our leaders, like all people, are tempted (or influenced) by various communal forces that are generally identified as powers and principalities … so if they imitate worldly values instead of the image of Christ, they will become trapped in the cycle that eventually spirals out of control. It makes a solid point there and would be worth a read just for how it defines what the author calls a memetic cycle which operates on the principle of imitating what we love or desire. Along with that are plenty of anecdotal and/or practical stories on how to recognize when we come under the influence of the memetic desire and scapegoating. Still, there really is no “silver bullet” solution, so the practical applications were less helpful if still good (it mostly boils down to an exhortation to imitate Jesus).

Still … the introduction to several (for me completely new) scholars in a multidisciplinary effort to explain what the mimetic cycle was, as well as what the powers and principalities and powers might be (was well as how they work in a fallen world) was extremely well down and accessible (especially considering this is really based upon an academic dissertation). The idea of Satan as an emergent power (as well as the impact of fallen, human systems) were absolutely thought provoking and deserve careful consideration. To support the foundation of the author’s imitation based framework, he progresses brings in the likes of Wink, Girard and Stringfellow as he fills in a table that maps expression of principalities & powers to fallen and redeemed leadership across the dimensions of identity, praxis and telos which was very helpful in understanding the general concept as a whole.

The chapters and sections in this work are

Section One: The Challenge of Missional Leadership.
1. A Deeper Diagnosis of Why Leaders Fall
2. The Need for Missional Leadership
3. Domineering Leadership in the First-Century Church

Section Two: Missional Leadership and the Powers
4. Comprehending the Powers
5. Interpreting the Powers

Section Three: Missional Leadership and Imitation
6. Mimetic Theory
7. The Power of Imitation

Section Four: Missional Leadership and Subversion
8. The Work of the Powers
9. The Subversion and Resistance of the Powers

Section Five: Missional Leadership Worthy of Imitation
10. Toward a Theological Remedy
11. A New Way of Being and Belonging
12. The Scandal of Imitating Christ

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

We can often be tempted to put guardrails around our leaders, try to keep them in line, or perhaps encourage a set of spiritual disciplines to keep their character in check. But there is no putting a Band-Aid over the problem of domineering leadership in the church.

High-profile “fallen” leaders often share common characteristics: pride, manipulation, seeking status, isolation, a lack of community to hold them accountable, using status to push an agenda, love of the crowds, an abuse of power and role, a push to “succeed,” and a sense of self-importance.

There is a growing resistance to institutions. But the church relies on people being a community, which requires organization, politics, systems, and structures. The answer, therefore, is not to demonize all forms of power and structure—for all living things have structure, power, and the capacity to cultivate a flourishing life.

And although the principalities and powers were designed to bring life, humanity experiences them in their fallen state, where they seek to master us. No longer do the principalities and powers bind us to God; they separate us from God, seeking to be gods themselves. The principalities and powers still fulfill half of their role, preserving society from utter chaos, but “by holding the world together, they hold it away from God.”

Roxburgh demonstrates how easily leaders tend to uncritically mimic the leadership style of the day, seemingly unaware that a leader’s telos and identity not based on Christ will ultimately lead to unfaithful praxis.

Collective Possession. The second manifestation of the demonic that Wink speaks of is collective demonization. He states, “In a highly individualistic society like ours it is rare to encounter single individuals who are possessed. Instead, the demonic has in our time taken the form of mass psychosis—what Rosen called ‘socially shared psychopathology.’”

The first word is thrones, which is more about the symbolic location of power, like the “county seat, the judge’s bench, the chairperson, the oval office,” more than it is about the person inhabiting that place of power.

Another key word is dominions (NKJV; kyiotétes), which refers to the sphere of influence over which the thrones hold sway. This sphere of influence could be “visible (the actual land or area ruled) or invisible (its capacity to influence other Powers by threat or persuasion).”

Principalities (NKJV; arché) specifies not so much the person themselves, but “the person-in-office, the agent-in-role.”92 In other words, it only applies to the person when they are in that office, like when a person is serving in Congress or the Senate.

Finally, there are authorities (exousiai), which Wink says refer to the way in which authority is maintained. “These are the invisible and visible authorizations and enforcements that undergird the chair. Legitimations would include the laws, rules, taboos, mores, codes, and constitutions by which power is licensed, and all the customs, traditions, rituals, manners, etiquette, and ideologies by which is it rationalized, justified, and made habitual.”

Mimetic desire pushes against the romantic notion that we are isolated individuals uninfluenced by others. Instead, it teaches us that we borrow our desires from our models.

When a mimetic crisis broke out in archaic (pre-state, nonlegal) societies, the scapegoat mechanism would be enacted as a way to establish and maintain social order. “When unappeased, violence seeks and always finds a surrogate victim. The creature that excited its fury is abruptly replaced by another, chosen only because it is vulnerable and close at hand.”

Croasmun considers these “superorganisms” social bodies, and he uses the category mythological to describe the social minds that emerge from these social bodies.

Girard deconstructs Satan as the mimetic cycle, while Matthew Croasmun reconstructs Satan as the “body of sin,” giving Satan cosmic personhood. Although Wink follows Jung and identifies Satan more psychologically as the inner spirituality of the domination system, Croasmun’s emergent view locates Satan as a cosmic entity, the mythical that emerges from the social and acts back upon it. In both cases, Satan is an emergent reality.

The relationships we form with others have profound effects on our lives, and because of mimetic desire, we will ultimately become like the people closest to us. This is why Scripture tells us that if we walk with the wise, we will become wise (Prov. 13:20) and that bad company corrupts good character (1 Cor. 15:33).

#TheScandalOfLeadership

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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Review: MAIDEN

MAIDEN MAIDEN by Charles Brass
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: **
Performance: ***

Great Concept, Weak Execution

The premise is good if well worn. A post conflict dystopia where a group of scrappy exiles hold out against the collective/empire (aka The Brethren) where everyone mysteriously fights with archaic close combat melee weapons (aka swords/blades and electroprods) despite being part of an interstellar civilization. Enter the Last Jedi … er … Maiden who was specifically created to battle the evil Sith … er Brethren. So much potential that just didn’t hit home for me. To start, the world building was so extremely loose and haphazard that I still don’t know how it all holds together. Most confusing is how slip rings (star gates) appear to come if two sizes (person transporters and ship transit points). Then is is how the Brethren are actually organized and who (or what) is a Master, a Knight, a Drone, or a Minion. I think I figured it out towards the end, but it was pretty confusing until then. More problematic is the interaction between each estate was full of overly aggressive bluster and all around idiocy that they worn thin long before the end.

The quasi-good guys (aka Exiles) are even worse, with an irritating display of imperial arrogance and pod measuring in virtually every scene (at least among the leadership). I absolutely hated ever part they were in. Fortunately the main characters, Crystal Maiden (The title character), Builder Scrounger (who is somehow related to the Brethren) and the Smart Ship (AI) are refreshingly innocent (read juvenile) and somewhat likable. However, even that didn’t make up for the slow pacing and buildup (all the interesting action is almost at the end of the book). Unfortunately there was way too much incessant dialogue and unnecessary detail that the lack of action made the first half of the story painfully boring (where my difficulty concentrating on what was happening might be the reason I didn’t follow the world building very well). In addition, the narration, while featuring very good accents and character voices, only reinforced the issues that I had with the aggressive interactions of both the Brethren and Exiles (in most cases it felt unnatural and way over the top).

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#Maiden #FreeAudiobookCodes #KindleUnlimited

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Sunday, June 9, 2024

Review: The Trojan Horse of Tithing: How Tithe Traditions Have Undermined A Pure Gospel Message

The Trojan Horse of Tithing: How Tithe Traditions Have Undermined A Pure Gospel Message The Trojan Horse of Tithing: How Tithe Traditions Have Undermined A Pure Gospel Message by Jonathan Paul Brenneman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book: ***
Performance: ***

Solid Foundation; Very Repetitive

This was an interesting treatment of the concept of tithing and how this idea for the foundation of doctrine within the charismatic/pentecostal wing of the Christian churches. While it appears to me that most of the scriptural interpretations are supportable, the author is mostly targeting fellow pentecostals … a community that I am not personally a part of. As such, there is a tremendous amount of virtue signaling and argumentation along with anecdotal characterization of current doctrine that didn’t really do much for me (you might say these are distracting segues or “rabbit holes’). In addition, that are several references to people/figures that are apparently well known to this community for which I have not exposure … so that does not really add much to the debate for me either. However, references to scripture always seemed appropriate for the topic and his interpretation appeared to be reasonable given what I know of the context (again … I already subscribe to spirit-led giving over tithing, so I don’t need to be convinced here). Then we get to the author’s own experiences within his community and the harm done by the teaching of a tithing doctrine and without any means to refute those specific examples was truly dismayed by them … which I think was the point … but makes the whole come across a lot more angry that I was comfortable with … which again … given the inclusion of the concept of the Trojan Horse … is probably the point … but which meant that I simply tuned out portions of the audible that seems repetitive and targeted for emotional manipulation. Over all this was an average book, but it was well researched and important enough of a topic that I am adding 1 to my overall rating.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Ch. 1: Let’s Get Ready To Take On an Intense Topic! (36:34)
Ch. 2: My Tithe Story (41:36)
Ch. 3: Who’s Teaching Salvation by Tithing? (43:59)
Ch. 4: Subtle Deception Paves the Way for Blatant Error (39:02)
Ch. 5: Is the Tithe “Law?” (16:52)
Ch. 6: Dealing with bullying and teasing (60:43)
Ch. 7: The History of Tithing (41:33)
Ch. 8: You Break God’s Commandments for the Sake of Your Tithing Tradition (45:38)
Ch. 9. “But Tithing Works!” (31:33)
Ch. 10. Tithing Undermines Spirit-Led Giving (66:31)
Ch. 11. Spirit-Led Giving (34:00)
Ch. 12. Corrupted Wisdom and Jesus’ Temptation (34:00)
Ch. 13. What About Ministerial Support? (27:20)
Ch. 14. Good News for the Poor (22:52)
Ch. 15. When Not To Accept an Offering (17:54)
Ch. 16. Mothers Are Pleading for Someone To Tell Their Children the Truth (15:38)

I was given this free advance review/listener copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#TheTrojanHorseOfTithing #FreeAudiobookCodes #KindleUnlimited


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My Ratings Explained ...

  • [ ***** ] Amazing Read - Perfect story, exciting, engrossing, well developed complex characters, solid plot with few to no holes, descriptive environments and place settings, great mystery elements, realistic dialogue, believable reactions and behaviors; a favorite that I can re-read many times.
  • [ **** ] Great Read - Highly entertaining and enjoyable, exciting storyline, well developed characters and settings, a few discrepancies but nothing that can’t be overlooked. Some aspect of the story was new/refreshing to me and/or intriguing. Recommended for everyone.
  • [ *** ] Good Read - Solid story with a 'good' ending, or has some other redeeming feature. Limited character development and/or over reliance on tropes. Noticeable discrepancies in world building and/or dialog/behavior that were distracting. I connected enough with the characters/world to read the entire series. Most of the books I read for fun are here. Recommended for fans of the genre.
  • [ ** ] Okay Read - Suitable for a brief, afternoon escape … flat or shallow characters with little to no development. Over the top character dialog and/or behavior. Poor world building with significant issues and/or mistakes indicating poor research. Excessive use of trivial detail, info dumps and/or pontification. Any issues with the story/characters are offset by some other aspect that I enjoyed. Not very memorable. May only appeal to a niche group of readers. Recommended for some (YMMV).
  • [ * ] Bad Read - Awkward and/or confusing writing style. Poor world building and/or unbelievable (or unlikeable) characters. Victimization, gaslighting, blatant abuse, unnecessary violence, child endangerment, or any other highly objectionable behaviors by Main characters. I didn't connect with the story at all; significant aspects of this story irritated me enough that I struggled to finished it. Series was abandoned. Not recommended.