Books and Book Reviews: July 2006 Archives

Seven Deadly Wonders


Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful, dreadful, dreadful.

One of the worst written, most sloppily composed pieces of diatribe and bad research to hit the anti-Catholic bandwagon. Matthew Reilly, the master of this prose, makes Dan Brown look like a genius in comparison. In addition to the requisite human-sacrificing evil Jesuit, sent by the Vatican to secure the pieces of the golden capstone of the Great Pyramid, the Catholic Church is seen as the sister cult of the Masons, and the two are seen as mere extension of the cult of Amun-Ra. I suppose you all probably weren't aware that "Amen" is a corruption of "Amun" because they didn't include vowels in their writing.

The concept of the story--the golden capstone of the Great Pyramid has been split into several pieces and hidden with the remnants of the seven wonders in places around the world--was intriguing. And this aspect of the plotting is intriguing.

All I can say is I don't think the Catholic world has much to worry about with this one. What I can't understand is how dreck like this gets published while the novels of a certain writer I won't name languish on the shelves (and I'm not referring to myself). Less and less of worth is published and more and more of this type of stuff. What is most difficult is that the premise is so interesting and so promising--and the vitriol aimed at the Church is so acceptable. When people tell you that prejudice is nearly eradicated in the U.S., I would respond that perhaps, except for the oldest one of our nation--anti-Catholicism. Of course, Matt Reilly is Australian, but he's not stupid, he's writing what he thinks will sell. But anti-Catholicism alone isn't sufficient to get a lumbering spineless blob like this off the ground.

NOT recommended, not even for laughs.

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How the Right Went Wrong

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Patrick Buchanan makes some cogent observations about the present war on terror and the state of conservatives in general.

I was most profoundly disturbed by the brief history of terrorism, and our propensity to forgive it if it was in the "right" cause. Significant recent examples: John Brown's "Bloody Kansas" and Harper's Ferry, Sherman and Sheridan in their march across the south, the fire-bombing of Dresden, and dropping of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Even more disturbing is the propensity of some to use the exact same language as Robespierre, Marat, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao to defend these actions. Yet more sobering, some of these commentators (at least I infer from Zippy's Blog) are "good Catholics." It's amazing what we will allow for our own convenience. And lest you think I'm chiding everyone out there as well--I have to admit the greatest source of disturbance is the question of what I might have done in similar circumstances. I don't exempt myself from the indictment, which makes it all the more important to reflect upon seriously.

Daunting and a little depressing, but recommended.

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The whole reason for the speculations encapsulated in the Triune integrity post were the problems presented by the end of this book by Dai Sijie.

The novel is about two young men who are sent away for reeducation at the height of the Cultural Revolution in China. The crimes of their parents--one boy's father was Mao's Dentist, the other boy had two doctors--"intellectuals"--as parents. These young men are sent away to a remote village where there is not even electricity.

From time to time the village master sends the men into a nearby town where they view films and retell the story for the amusement of the village. There is an itinerant tailor whose daughter is the seamstress of the title and with whom one of the young men falls in love.

To say more would be to give away many of the interesting plot twists and turns. I don't know if this should be read as symbolic tale, allegory, satire, or simply a short tale well-told. However, the ending is problematic to me. And, at first, I was angry at the book and ready to reject it because of the end. However, thinking about it more, it seems that the chronicler merely made clear the horns of the dilemma posed by the law in China.

A short, quick read--fascinating and far more readable than Ha Jin's interminable Waiting or some other recent works out of China. The author himself underwent "reeducation" during the cultural revolution, so he knows whereof he speaks.

Recommended, with some reservations, for those with interest in the modern history of China.

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The Rights of an Artist

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Elsewhere much brouhaha about the Cleanflicks lawsuit and its entirely expected and unexceptionable result.

Several questions and ideas regarding this:

(1) An artist's work is the work of the artist. If the artist should consent to change in order to alter marketing, increase audience share, or meet a distributors requirements, it is the choice of that artist. Some, like Kubrick, refused to do so. They were pariah's in the field; however, I'll take a pariah like Kubrick over the director of a film like Frat Boy Hooter Dreams any day.

(2) Who says children have a right or even should be exposed to the films that are being changed to make them suitable. You don't like the language--don't let your children watch. If you object to the language, there are probably equally unsavory messages elsewhere. Why would you want to show a bowdlerized subversive film? Does cleaning up the language of something unsuitable ultimately make it acceptable?

(3) The changes the artist makes are the choice of the artist. The changes the artist allows to be made, are the choice of the artist. Smart Hollywood studios would simply license this service and make money from it. However, it is not for a group outside of the studio to alter a copyrighted work and not return the profit from sale to the studio that produced it.

(4) I find the question of Church support of such unilateral alteration vexing. I hardly think they would approve of someone going through the NAB or Jerusalem Bible and plucking out anything that might be offensive--says verses contra homosexuality and then presenting the thing as the work of the Author. Nor, do I think, would they support a wholesale alteration of psalm 51 which talks about how I'm Okay, You're Okay before God, using the translation they have prepared of the work.

If the Church is not ready or willing to recognize a certain responsibility to the author or artist of a work, perhaps their thought on this matter needs serious reconsideration. Altering the words of a work amount to "bearing false witness." When the Church has chosen to do so the result has been a travesty (Sistine Chapel being a primary example.)

So, while I can prepare no moral argument that suggests that such alteration cannot be allowed, neither do I approve of it, nor would I support anyone who would choose to profit from the works of others in such a way.

The responsibility of protecting a child from potentially harmful works rests squarely with the parent. I see films before Samuel does in order to determine whether they would be all right for Samuel. I do not want the works changed before hand.

The prime example I can think of is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles which, until recently I had only ever seen in the "prepared for television" version. I watched the DVD and saw a significantly different and more substantial film than the one that had been altered. If the work is a work of art, even bad art, choices have been made in the presentation of the work that should be respected. Unilateral alteration of artistic work is not to be left in the hands of people who did not have the original vision. Or, if done so, those people should take responsibility, even while paying royalties to those whose work they had altered.

After all, with sufficient work, one could produce a version of A Clockwork Orange that could be viewed by everyone. The question becomes, would it be worth viewing by anyone?

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by Dai Sijie--

Let the beauty of the prose speak for itself:

The tailor lived like a king. Wherever he went there would be scenes of excitement to rival a country festival. The home of his client, filled with the whirr of his sewing machine, would become the hub of village life, giving the host family the opportunity to display their wealth. He would be served the choicest food, and sometimes, if the year was drawing to a close and preparations for the New Year celebration were under way, a pig might even be slaughtered. He would often spend a week or two in a village, lodging with each of his diverse clients in succession.

Luo and I first met the tailor when we went to visit Four-Eyes, a friend from the old days who had been sent to another village. It was raining, and we had to walk carefully along the steep, slippery path shrouded in milky fog. Despite our caution we found ourselves on all fours in the mud several times. Suddenly, as we rounded a corner, we saw coming towards us a procession in single file, accompanying a sedan chair in which a middle-aged man was enthroned. Following behind this regal conveyance was a porter with a sewing machine strapped to his back. The man bent to address his bearers and seemed to be enquiring about us.

Imperial China? Not quite. The China of the Cultural Revolution of the 1970s. The book tells the story of two young men sent away for reeducation in a small mountain village. Their parents had committed a crime against the state--they were intellectuals. And the father of Luo had been the Chairman's dentist and let slip some indiscreet remarks about repairing his teeth and the teeth of his wife/consort.

What a blessing to live in the United States. When I'm given to fretting about he shortcomings, I need only spend a moment anywhere else in the world to be humbled and reminded to be ever-mindful of the blessings that have come to me just by accident of birth.

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On Stephen King's Cell

Flying has its advantages. One feels the need for occupation. So, on this trip out to CA, I borrowed from a friend his copy of Cell.

Let's start on a positive--this is much better than many of the more recent works by Mr. King for reasons I hope to be able to articulate in a moment. The only thing I've read of recent date that I liked better was the very uncharacteristic Colorado Kid.

Cell shares much with other King works. It is post-apocalyptic and a true "romance" in the classical sense of that term. Indeed, in broad outline, the entire story follows the main line of The Stand. Thematically, it touches on some fairly classic Stephen King obsessions and ideas--the band of brothers/sisters, the "alien" if perhaps human calamity, who we are and who we aren't as a race and as a people. In all of these things, the book comes through shining.

But I can't help but notice that Stephen King has lost his authorial voice in much of this type of fiction. He makes serious slips with regard to character--having one extremely prim and proper character burst out with one of the obscenities that Mr. King is wont to pepper his works. There are moments when the reader is jarred out of the "vivid and continuous dream" by unnecessary detail, unnecessary and unconvincing metaphor and simile, and unnecessary editorializing on politics present and past. Should Mr. King feel the need to inform his readers of his views on abortion, birth control, fundamentalist religions, George Bush, and/or Richard Nixon, I would personally prefer it in a political essay that I could then choose to ignore.

Cell is, as said above, a post-apocalyptic novel about the disaster after "The Pulse," a powerful EMP begins to wreak havoc on helpless humanity. One is never told the origin of the pulse and characters speculate on it--but the origin isn't really all that important. The scenario plays out like The Stand or the truly dreadful (in a bad cinema/delightful way) Maximum Overdrive. As our intrepid band of explorers moves away from their initial location in the big city toward the country in search of relatives of the main character, the speculations slowly unfold, and the reader is treated to a glimpse of an alternative evolution.

Ultimately, the plot and the conclusion are gummed up by the fact that no one really knows the origin of the problem and it leads to difficulties explaining or dealing with anomalies resulting from it.

While a good book, it is like most of King's Horror fiction from Bag of Bones to the present, a disappointment. The command and the subtlety that shaded some of the early work is missing. Some of the dialogue and opinions are shrill. The language is unnecessarily vulgar at points, contributing nothing to either our understanding of or sympathy for the characters. Indeed, it seems to me, that Mr. King has lost his voice for this kind of fiction.

If that is so, it is no great deal because The Colorado Kid showed a new maturity of language, theme, and intricacy that we have been vouchsafed glimpses of in such works as The Body and Heart in Atlantis. Perhaps Mr. King should reconsider the direction in which he deploys most of his effort. The world of literature would benefit a great deal more with a few more works like those mentioned above, and a mite fewer of the now-feeble attempts to attain his former glory in the Dark Fantasy realm.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Books and Book Reviews category from July 2006.

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