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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Flying in Place, by Susan Palwick

Flying in Place (New York, Tor, 1992) was the Crawford Award-winning first novel by Susan Palwick (to her blog). Palwick is a Christian novelist, writing fantastic literature, but her work is not overtly evangelical, as some such fiction is. (Which is fine, but not likely to appeal to non-believers -- authors such as Palwick can and do.)

As is my habit when blogging about a story I like, I will try to avoid giving away essential plot details. I'll just consider a few aspects of this novel about a terribly dysfunctional family.

One aspect is that there is a second, functional family in the story. They are messy, loud, and a little overwhelming, but they are good. They help each other, and they help other people who need help. Myrna Halloran, the mother of this family, and also a school counselor, is a good person. Not a goody-goody person, a good person. The book doesn't say so in so many words, but she seems to exemplify Matthew 7:12 (the Golden Rule) as well as most any character in literature.

Another aspect of this short novel (179 pages) is that part of Psalm 139 is used in an unusual way. One of the members of the dysfunctional family uses part of this Psalm as a way of communicating and describing wicked behavior by another member of the family. That disturbed me. Is this a legitimate use of the Bible? Well, it isn't reasonable to expect a character in a work of fiction to be confined to using the Bible in a usual way. Satan used the Bible in an illegitimate way, namely to tempt Christ, so there is certainly precedent. Besides, in the case in Palwick's book, I finally decided, the use was toward a good end, namely getting the wickedness to stop.

Finally, I was a little surprised that the book won a fantasy award. Except for two related aspects, the book could be straightforward narrative, based on a true story. That aspect is that one of the characters can leave her body, taking up a ghost-like existence temporarily, and, while she is doing so, can apparently communicate with the ghost of a dead person. I guess that's fantasy enough, though.

A gripping story, deserving of a prize, and an excellent first novel.

I have posted about Palwick's The Fate of Mice, and The Necessary Beggar. I have also discussed her writing here. Palwick has published another book, which I haven't seen yet. I look forward to it.

Thanks for reading.

* * * *

Addendum: Palwick has kindly commented, and, for convenience, I'm adding her comment to the post:

A lot of readers don't interpret the story as fantasy, but to my mind, it has to be -- Ginny's a real ghost, telling Emma things she couldn't know otherwise, and not merely a figment of Emma's imagination.

Re Psalm 139: I first encountered it years before I began attending church, at a memorial service for deceased alumnae of my university. I was there representing a friend and roommate who'd committed suicide, so my mood was even darker than such an event would ordinarily make it. When I read the Psalm in the program, my first thought was, "That's not about a loving God -- it's about an oppressive, abusive father!"

Even now, when I go to church and preach there, I still have trouble reading that Psalm as comforting, rather than as a chilling description of an inescapable stalker.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Ah! Whither Should I Go?

This year is the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley's birth.

Here is a hymn that is new to me, from over 100 posted by the Cyberhymnal:

Ah! whither should I go,
Burdened and sick and faint?
To whom should I my trouble show,
And pour out my complaint?
My Savior bids me come;
Ah! why do I delay?
He calls the weary sinner home,
And yet from Him I stay.

What is it keeps me back,
From which I cannot part,
Which will not let the Savior take
Possession of my heart?
Searcher of hearts, in mine
Thy trying power display;
Into its darkest corners shine,
And take the veil away.

I now believe in Thee,
Compassion reigns alone;
According to my faith, to me
O let it, Lord, be done!
In me is all the bar,
Which Thou wouldst fain remove;
Remove it, and I shall declare
That God is only love.

(1738, hence public domain. My source is here.)

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Rainbow's End, by Vernor Vinge

A shorter than usual (for me) book review.

I read Vernor Vinge's Rainbow's End, a science fiction book set later in this century, in the San Diego area. Vinge is a good writer. He won the Hugo award for A Fire Upon the Deep. I remember that chiefly for the society of telepathic dog-like creatures on a far planet that Vinge made up. A Deepness in the Sky is about an intelligent spider-like species.The two books also have some underlying cosmological/philosophical ideas.

Rainbow's End is pretty good science fiction. The ideas that it extrapolates into the future include curing some currently terminal diseases and crowdsourcing. There's also a lot about the extension of the Internet and computing. People wear computers, sort of like a shirt, and glasses, so that they can access information and communicate wherever they are, or almost wherever. While wearing such a computer, you can see hyperlinks for most of the landscape features around you, which is both scary and intriguing, I guess.

Vinge is a good "hard" science fiction writer -- there's no magic in his works, other than technology.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 27, 2007

How many genes are required for a living thing?

Carl Zimmer reports on a microorganism that needs only 381 genes for existence.

Craig Venter, the human genome scientist-entrepreneur, has patented a scheme for inserting these genes into a cell with no genetic material, and adding additional genes for the production of wanted products.

Interesting, indeed.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sunspots 118

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

The Onion asks if we are spending enough on educating our children about whales.


(or religion) An article in Christianity Today calls President Bush a heretic.

Christianity Today has a page giving links to its previous coverage of the Harry Potter books and movies. Some writers didn't like them, some did.

A powerful, but short, Harry Potter opinion in Time.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. For information on these Carnivals, go here.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Bible teaches that humans are special

The Bible indicates clearly that humans are special. Besides the evidence of common sense – humans write books, wear clothes, and concern themselves with fundamental questions. Chimpanzees, whales and dolphins don’t write books or wear clothes, and, so far as we know, don’t dispute about fundamental questions – the Bible indicates our special status in three important ways.

God appeared on earth in human form. This may have happened in Genesis 10, and in Daniel 3. If the Bible means anything, it happened when Mary became pregnant, and throughout the earthly life of Jesus. (John 1:14, Philippians 2:7-8)

Humans are the only beings created who are described as being in God’s image. Genesis 1 also describes us as being over all the other creatures, under God, and the first act that fulfills this is when Adam names the animals in Genesis 2. Psalm 8 repeats the idea that we are in God's image. (It also indicates that there are “heavenly beings” who are above us.)*

The arrangement of the first two chapters of Genesis indicates that humans are unique. Genesis 1 describes the creation of land animals as having been on the sixth day**. It also describes the creation of humans as having been on that day, but the description is set apart from the creation of the land animals. The phrase “it was good,” for each of the first five days of creation, except the second, occurs at the end of a category of creation. (It occurs twice in the description of the third day, each time at the end of the description of the category of creation.) In the description of the sixth day, the phrase occurs after the appearance of the land animals, and then there is a description of the creation of humans. Genesis 2 describes the creation of Eve as occurring after the creation of Adam. This is not done for any of the animals. Humans are the only creatures specially named in Genesis 1, and, of course, the male and the female are each given a distinct name. None of the rest of the living things created are even named by species or kinds, let alone individually. (The KJV uses “whales” in 1:21, but the NIV and other modern versions, including the NKJV, use a more generic term.) Genesis 1 and 2, then, seem to indicate clearly that humans are special.***

*It is possible that there are beings in God's image on other planets somewhere. I don't believe that the Bible completely rules out (or proposes) that possibility.

**As I see it, this paragraph makes sense whether or not the days of Genesis 1 were literal.

***This is true even if, as some allege, Genesis 1 and 2 were originally separate narratives.

You may wish to see this post for a more comprehensive picture of my view of origins.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

And Can It Be That I Should Gain

This year is the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley's birth.

One of his best hymns (out of thousands) is "And Can It Be That I Should Gain:"

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

’Tis mystery all: th’Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Still the small inward voice I hear,
That whispers all my sins forgiven;
Still the atoning blood is near,
That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

(1738, hence public domain. My source is here.)

Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Pomegranates in the Bible

Pomegranate flower buds

The photo above is of a pomegranate flower bud, about to open, taken in Southern California. The color is natural. The largest bud in the photo was about 2 inches/7 cm long. The photo is a live link to our Flickr photos.

Based on the Bible, pomegranates must have been important in the culture of the Middle East.

Exodus 28 and 39 say that the garment worn by the priest was to be decorated with blue, purple and scarlet pomegranates, made of yarn.

When the spies came back from Israel to Moses and the people, they brought samples of the fruit of the land, including pomegranates.

To the ancient Israelites, and to God, one of the signs that a land was good was that it was able to grow pomegranates. (Deuteronomy 8) In the desert, they complained to Moses that they would rather have stayed in Egypt, because there were no pomegranates in the desert. (Numbers 20)

Solomon's temple had bronze pillars, decorated with pomegranates. (I Kings 7)

The Song of Solomon, that great poem to erotic love, describes a beautiful woman's cheeks as being like the halves of a pomegranate.

Here's a photo of a more mature pomegranate fruit. Here's the Wikipedia article on pomegranates.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Why God created

Genesis 1:1 doesn't tell us when God created the earth, or how, or why. It tells us Who.

I have discovered a passage that tells us why God created:

Psalm 136:4 to him who alone does great wonders,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
5 to him who by understanding made the heavens,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
6 to him who spread out the earth above the waters,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
7 to him who made the great lights,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
8 the sun to rule over the day,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
9 the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for his steadfast love endures forever; (ESV)

As the Psalmist says, over and over, God created because of His love. I know that this is poetic language, but doubt that historic or narrative language could put it any more accurately.

For more of what I believe about origins, see this post. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sunspots 117

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

stem cells may be used for breast reconstruction/enhancement.

Perhaps your computer is sluggish because you have too many programs that automatically run at start-up. C-Net has an article about dealing with these.

On how to treat believers who don't think fantastic literature should be read by Christians.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. For information on these Carnivals, go here.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Praying not to be drawn away by wrong desire

VALIANT. Well, but brother, I pray thee tell us what was it that was the cause of thy being upon thy knees even now? Was it for that some special mercies laid obligations upon thee, or how?

STAND-FAST. Why, we are, as you see, upon the Enchanted Ground; and as I was coming along, I was musing with myself of what a dangerous road the road in this place was, and how many that had come even thus far on pilgrimage had here been stopped, and been destroyed. I thought also of the manner of the death with which this place destroyeth men. Those that die here, die of no violent distemper. The death which such die is not grievous to them; for he that goeth away in a sleep, begins that journey with desire and pleasure; yea, such acquiesce in the will of that disease.

(Valiant is Valiant-for-Truth)

This is an extract from the second part of Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan (1684, public domain). Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sunspots 116

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

The entire Internet has crashed. Be grateful that you are able to read this.

Wired on the Crab Nebula, which was seen by Chinese astronomers on July 4, 1054.

Orangutans can invent, and use, a tool.

David Heddle, Christian and scientist, is upset with William Dembski, Intelligent Design proponent, once again. As he says: "His insistence on driving a wedge between God's church and the study of God's general revelation (science) is inexplicable."


(or something) Jan is justly unhappy about economics as applied to sex.

Some free tools to remove malicious software from your computer.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. For information on these Carnivals, go here .

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Women are not the cause of the Fall

Gaius also proceeded, and said, I will now speak on the behalf of women, to take away their reproach. For as death and the curse came into the world by a woman, (Gen. 3), so also did life and health: "God sent forth His Son made of a woman" (Gal. 4:4). Yea, to show how much those that came after, did abhor the act of the mother, this sex, in the Old Testament, coveted children, if happily this or that woman might be the mother of the Saviour of the world.

I will say again, that when the Saviour was come, women rejoiced in Him before either man or angel (Luke 2). I read not, that ever any man did give unto Christ so much as one groat; but the women followed Him, and ministered to Him of their substance (Luke 8:2, 3). It was a woman that washed His feet with tears, and a woman that anointed His body to the burial (Luke 7:37, 50; John 11:2; 12:3). They were women that wept, when He was going to the Cross, and women that followed Him from the Cross, and that sat by His sepulchre, when he was buried (Luke 23:27; Matt. 27:55, 56, 61). They were women that were first with Him at His resurrection-morn; and women that brought tidings first to His disciples, that He was risen from the dead (Luke 24:22, 23). Women, therefore, are highly favoured, and show by these things that they are sharers with us in the grace of life.

This is an extract from the second part of Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan (1684, public domain). Thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Travel hiatus

We are traveling across the US, and I don't expect to post much, if any, for over a week, nor do I expect to be able to read as many of your blogs as I would normally like to.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Till We Have Faces, by C. S. Lewis

I think, and I am by no means alone, that Till We Have Faces is the finest work of fiction by C. S. Lewis, who also wrote the Narnia books and the Space Trilogy. Since those works have considerable merit of their own, Till We Have Faces is pretty good. (See here for the Wikipedia article on the book. Here is an article on the book, and here is another.)

Why do I feel this way? Because the book is well written. Because it is a thorough examination of the life, and character, of a single individual, namely Orual, queen of a fictional kingdom in the neighborhood of Greece, before the time of Christ. Lewis seems to have known that time, and that civilization, well. He believed that pagans were often led toward Christ: There are people in other religions who are being led by God's secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it. . . . Many of the good Pagans long before Christ's birth may have been in this position. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: What One Must Believe to Be a Christian. New York: Macmillan, 1952. pp. 175-6. (There is a Calormene who has this experience in Lewis's The Last Battle.)

What is the book about? Well, I don't want to give away all of the plot, but it is about Orual's search for vindication by the gods. She wants them to say that she has done the right thing. They answer, but their answer is much like the answer that God gave to Job, namely Himself. Here are a few quotations from the book.

And because it was so beautiful, it set me longing, always longing. Somewhere else there must be more of it. C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980, p. 74. Istra/Psyche, speaking of the Grey Mountain. This states one of the themes of the work of Lewis -- the idea of sehnsucht, sweet desire.

There's one part love in your heart, and five parts anger, and seven parts pride. C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980, p. 148. The Fox, her teacher, on Orual's attitude (and mine, I fear).

I ended my first book with the words no answer. I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980, p. 308. Orual's tale is in two parts, the second short. With this statement, she summarizes the results of stating her case that she has not received justice from the gods. How true of Christ this is! He is the only answer.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Sunspots 115

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

CNN report on the origin of domestic cats.

The weather is changing on Jupiter.

A negative, but relatively comprehensive review of Michael Behe's new book on Intelligent Design.

Web site on the history of push-buttons of all sorts (including, for instance, the ESC key).

On how the ESV Bible has changed language that condemned "wizards."

This week's Christian Carnival is here. For information on these Carnivals, go here .

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The limits of human imagination

In my last post from George MacDonald's Diary of an Old Soul, this passage was included:

3. And in the perfect time, O perfect God,
When we are in our home, our natal home,
When joy shall carry every sacred load,
And from its life and peace no heart shall roam,
What if thou make us able to make like thee--
To light with moons, to clothe with greenery,
To hang gold sunsets o'er a rose and purple sea!

What if, indeed, we are able to create like God? Is that possible? Wow. Not in this life, I'd say, or not very much.

One of the places where you might expect to find signs of God-like creativity is in fantastic literature. (There are other places, of course) But I can't think of many examples of real creativity there. C. S. Lewis did produce seroni, hrossa, and pfiffltriggi on Malacandra. But he probably didn't do a much better job than anyone else has in creating a really original, yet credible, sentient species. The hrossa were sort of seals with human intelligence, which isn't a huge extrapolation, or a tremendous feat of creativity. (Other authors have been even less creative, of course!) A few authors have actually thought about sunsets. Jack Vance used the different colors that might be found on other planets, with more than one sun, in one of his novels. In Lilith, MacDonald wrote: "When I came to myself, the creature was hovering over my head, radiating the whole chord of light, with multitudinous gradations and some kinds of colour I had never before seen." (1895, public domain, chapter x) Probably other authors have imagined other colors, too.

There are other examples, some very old, like Baba Yaga's hut on chicken legs, or fire-breathing flying reptiles with great intelligence (aka dragons) and some very new, like the title of The Speed of Dark. All of them, I think, are better than any that I have thought of. My imagination is so limited. But so is that of the best of us, compared to God.

What's the best example of human creativity in fantastic literature?

Sunday, July 01, 2007


{375} HOPE. Now, since we are talking about him, let us a little inquire into the reason of the sudden backsliding of him and such others.

CHR. It may be very profitable, but do you begin.

HOPE. Well, then, there are in my judgment four reasons for it: --

{376} 1. Though the consciences of such men are awakened, yet their minds are not changed; therefore, when the power of guilt weareth away, that which provoked them to be religious ceaseth, wherefore they naturally turn to their own course again, even as we see the dog that is sick of what he has eaten, so long as his sickness prevails he vomits and casts up all; not that he doth this of a free mind (if we may say a dog has a mind), but because it troubleth his stomach; but now, when his sickness is over, and so his stomach eased, his desire being not at all alienate from his vomit, he turns him about and licks up all, and so it is true which is written, "The dog is turned to his own vomit again." [2 Pet. 2:22] Thus I say, being hot for heaven, by virtue only of the sense and fear of the torments of hell, as their sense of hell and the fears of damnation chills and cools, so their desires for heaven and salvation cool also. So then it comes to pass, that when their guilt and fear is gone, their desires for heaven and happiness die, and they return to their course again.

{377} 2. Another reason is, they have slavish fears that do overmaster them; I speak now of the fears that they have of men, for "the fear of man bringeth a snare". [Prov. 29:25] So then, though they seem to be hot for heaven, so long as the flames of hell are about their ears, yet when that terror is a little over, they betake themselves to second thoughts; namely, that it is good to be wise, and not to run (for they know not what) the hazard of losing all, or, at least, of bringing themselves into unavoidable and unnecessary troubles, and so they fall in with the world again.

{378} 3. The shame that attends religion lies also as a block in their way; they are proud and haughty; and religion in their eye is low and contemptible, therefore, when they have lost their sense of hell and wrath to come, they return again to their former course.

{379} 4. Guilt, and to meditate terror, are grievous to them. They like not to see their misery before they come into it; though perhaps the sight of it first, if they loved that sight, might make them fly whither the righteous fly and are safe. But because they do, as I hinted before, even shun the thoughts of guilt and terror, therefore, when once they are rid of their awakenings about the terrors and wrath of God, they harden their hearts gladly, and choose such ways as will harden them more and more.

{380} CHR. You are pretty near the business, for the bottom of all is for want of a change in their mind and will. And therefore they are but like the felon that standeth before the judge, he quakes and trembles, and seems to repent most heartily, but the bottom of all is the fear of the halter; not that he hath any detestation of the offence, as is evident, because, let but this man have his liberty, and he will be a thief, and so a rogue still, whereas, if his mind was changed, he would be otherwise.

{381} HOPE. Now I have showed you the reasons of their going back, do you show me the manner thereof.

CHR. So I will willingly.

1. They draw off their thoughts, all that they may, from the remembrance of God, death, and judgment to come.

2. Then they cast off by degrees private duties, as closet prayer, curbing their lusts, watching, sorrow for sin, and the like.

3. Then they shun the company of lively and warm Christians.

4. After that they grow cold to public duty, as hearing, reading, godly conference, and the like.

5. Then they begin to pick holes, as we say, in the coats of some of the godly; and that devilishly, that they may have a seeming colour to throw religion (for the sake of some infirmity they have espied in them) behind their backs.

6. Then they begin to adhere to, and associate themselves with, carnal, loose, and wanton men.

7. Then they give way to carnal and wanton discourses in secret; and glad are they if they can see such things in any that are counted honest, that they may the more boldly do it through their example.

8. After this they begin to play with little sins openly.

9. And then, being hardened, they show themselves as they are. Thus, being launched again into the gulf of misery, unless a miracle of grace prevent it, they everlastingly perish in their own deceivings.

This is an extract from Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (1678, public domain. One version gives paragraph numbers.) Bunyan included the scriptural references in the book. Pilgrim's Progress, though little read now, was important enough to have been considered, for a century or two, the most important writing in English, except for the Bible.

HOPE. is Hopeful, Christian's companion, and CHR. is Christian, the main character of this book, on his way from the City of Destruction to the Heavenly City.

Somehow this got out of sequence. I meant to post it earlier, with the rest of the excerpts from the first part of Pilgrim's Progress. Thanks for reading.