Book Review 25: Havoc In Islandia by Mark Saxton (Islandia Quartet Book #4)

The past two reviews, The Islar (a sequel) and The Two Kingdoms (a prequel) to the underground utopian classic, Islandia, has shown a depth and clarity of a fictional world unlike anything I’ve ever read before.

Havoc in Islandia, a second prequel to Islandia, I believe is the most interesting novel of the three Islandian books written by Mark Saxton.

The novel tells the story of when Roman Catholicism arrived in Islandia determined to proselytize the natives and make the land become a Catholic nation. The protagonist, Bren, is an officer in the Islandian resistance who is trying to save the land from Catholic rule. He is young, inexperienced, and not fond of
Catholicism either. However, he is love in with a woman who has converted to Catholicism and that adds a little of bit intrigue to the story.

I know some Christians would probably automatically think this is anti-Christian novel and I could definitely see an aspect of that after reading the novel. However, I found the novel compelling and Saxton tells a good story.

My issue with the novel is that the portrayal of Catholics (I know they are the villains) in the story could have been handled with a little more depth and not be so stereotypical of what bad religion is supposed to be.

Moreover, there several points throughout the novel where the author shows some thoughtfulness to effect of what proselytizing had on the people.

For example, here’s an excerpt to demonstrate my point:

“The main tenets of the faith-I mean such things as the Virgin Birth, the Godhood of Christ, the Trinity, and the transubstantiation of bread and wine are extremely difficult. They confront the intelligence like a great well. They are also exceedingly beautiful. I came to see them as tests of my ability to deny my mind. Some people are able to accept these assertions with no reservation and say they then enter realms of a different sort of understanding. Many others, like me, work harder to get less. Because of the beauty of the concepts, and because they so much ought to be true, we others do manage to achieve a state in which we simultaneously believe and disbelieve without contradiction.

It took me tremendous effort and a long time to find my way into that second group. I went through it because I wanted the strength and reassurance of faith, faith in a determinant, something that could say yes or no as well as I am.”

That was said by Lord Mora, one of the leaders of the Islandian resistance and him dealing with his conversion to Catholicism. But, he decides to resist the church in order to keep them from controlling Islandia.

I could identify with Lord Mora’s struggles of believing in the basic tenets of Christianity because I’ve had some of same thoughts since I became a Christian. That excerpt reminded me of the Doubting Thomas story in Book of John, Chapter 20:24-29 of the New Testament where Thomas didn’t believe it was Jesus who appeared amongst the disciples after the resurrection.

I wished Saxton could have shown more of this type of struggle that the Islandian natives had in converting to Catholicism and that would have given the novel another dimension of depth and honesty.

Outside of that, I really enjoyed reading Havoc in Islandia. Unfortunately, this book is out of print as well as the other two aforementioned novels. You will have to go to the library or buy a copy from Amazon like I did to get it. I do believe it is well worth the extra trouble to read this book and the other two Saxton Islandian novels.

This novel and along with the others show the power of imaginative literature at its best and readers unaware of these books need to seek them out for their own reading pleasure.

Book Review 24: The Two Kingdoms by Mark Saxton (Islandia Quartet Book #3)

Last year, I posted a review for the book titled, The Islar, by Mark Saxton. It was a sequel to the underground utopian novel Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright. Saxton wrote two more novels in the Islandian universe and this review of The Two Kingdoms is a prequel to Islandia.

The Two Kingdoms tells the story of Frare, a young officer in the Islandian Navy. He is caught in a power struggle between Queen Alwina of Islandia and King Tor of Winder.

Queen Alwina is the first queen in Islandia’s history. She just took over the kingdom from her father, King Alwin, who recently passed away. King Tor of Winder is the queen’s neighbor and ally against another kingdom on the Islandian continent who wants to remove her from power. However the queen (who barely is in her twenties) is headstrong, passionate, and manipulative has created a contentious alliance with King Tor.

Frare has to become an ambassador for both sides to make sure that Queen Alwina and King Tor work together to defeat the enemy who wants to take over all of Islandia.

Islandia’s utopian paradise is in jeopardy again from being controlled by the outside world. However, Queen Alwina’s actions make a target for assassination and Frare must do all he can to save her life and keep the alliance with King Tor.

This book was enjoyable to read and it takes me away to a world unlike anything I’ve read in contemporary fantasy fiction.

I have to write that Queen Alwina believed a in New Age type of God called Om that was disconcerting.  But in the context of the novel, it was believable.

As I wrote in the review for The Islar, Saxton has written another terrific novel in the spirit of Islandia. Unfortunately, this book is out of print as well. And you will have to go to library to find it or a buy a copy from Amazon like I did.

I’m glad I did buy it and hope someday this novel along with the other Islandian books are back in print. The Islandian universe deserves a wider audience.

Book Review 23: Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower

How would you feel about a book that you re-read twenty years later?

Would it still fascinate you like it did before?

Would it bore you?

Would it show how much you have mature since the first time you read it?

Well, I decided to answer those questions by re-reading Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. It was published in 1993 and I read the novel at that time.  It fascinated me.  I had not read any book that grim and dark at that point in my early 20’s.

Now in 2012, I’ve read it again and I will admit upfront the novel didn’t fascinate me like it did in 1993.  However, I still found Parable of the Sower an interesting, thought-provoking story.

Octavia Butler (whom died in Feburary 2006) was considered as one of the great female science-fiction authors mentioned in the same breath as Ursula LeGuin, Andre Norton, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and James Tiptree Jr (real name Alice Sheldon). Butler’s novels explored gender and racial themes in a science-fiction context and Parable of the Sower continued in that tradition.

The story is about Lauren Olamina, a teenage girl growing up in a grim, dystopic Los Angeles suburb where their gated community provided some semblance of a normal life while anarchy reigned outside of it.

Lauren lived with her father, a minister, her step-mother, Corazon, and her brothers, Marcus and Keith. Her father was doing everything he could to provide for the family and raise his children in a chaotic situation. Well, the gate to their community was finally destroyed after repeated attempts and all hell broke loose which ended up ripping the family apart for good.

Meanwhile, Lauren (who is an empath) had a sense her home and family would be destroyed has decided to create a religion called Earthseed, and was forced to leave home and travel north to fulfill her vision for this new religion .

Butler’s lean, spare prose creates a stark, brtual story and it was closer to The Road by Cormac McCarthy or even the movie, Book of Eli staring Denzel Washington than a traditional science fiction novel.

Moreover, there were a couple of things that caught my attention:

All that you touch,

You change.

All that you change,

Changes you.

The only lasting truth

Is change.

God

is change.

This was one of the basic beliefs of Earthseed.  God is change.  Since change is inevitable, we must to yield to it or never truly understand who God is.

Well, when I first read this back in 1993, I found that concept fascinating and interesting. Now, I must admit it is half-baked at best and naive at worst.

I’m reminded of this verse of scripture:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” {Hebrews 13:8 ESV Bible}

The writer of Hebrews was explaining how Christ was the same in his position as high priest and Son of God throughout his earthly ministry and his place in Heaven seated next to the Father.

I know I just probably scared some of the non-religious folk out there.  But, I want to add this if I was not religious why would I worship or believe in a God who changes all the time.  Isn’t God to suppose to be higher than humankind? Why would he need to change? I might as well be an atheist and believe in myself.

Here’s the other thing that caught my attention:

“But there’s hope in understanding the nature of God-not punishing or jealous, but infinitely malleable. There’s comfort in realizing that everyone and everything yields to God. There’s power in knowing that God can be focused, diverted, shaped by anyone at all.”

That was from a conservation Lauren had with one of the travelers with her and a future convert to Earthseed.

Again in 1993, I was fascinated by this concept of God being shaped by anyone.  Now in 2012, I found it shallow and underdeveloped and frankly dead wrong.  But, it did reveal something currently going on in our culture.

We want to shape God in our own image.  Both religious people and non-religious people want to shape God into their liking or disliking. However, if I can shape God or focused God into what I believe or want…why should I worship or believe in him?

As you have read, I was glad that I re-read this story even though it didn’t feel same as it once did.  In the end, Parable of the Sower revealed a lot about myself, my beliefs, and even my maturity.

I would recommend all readers at least once go back re-read a novel from years ago and see what it will bring to light for you.

Book Review 21: Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451

When I heard that Ray Bradbury had passed about eight days ago, I realized that I had never read any of his books. Wow, that surprised me. Well, in honor of his passing, I decided to read his most popular and enduring work, Fahrenheit 451.

“Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope.

“So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless. We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers, instead of growing on good rain and black loam.”

Both of those passages were spoken by Mr. Faber, a former professor, to Guy Montag, the main character of the novel. Guy is a fireman living in a grim, dystopian society where books are outlawed and anyone caught having books gets them burned to temperature of Fahrenheit 451.

However, he discovers upon burning books that something is not right and begins to realize he may have been doing the wrong thing all along. Guy meets a few characters that confirms his suspicions and the transformation begins.

This is such a well-known novel and covered from so many angles that I have just a few observations after reading it.

Fahrenheit 451 is Ray Bradbury’s love letter to books and literature. His prose is full of poetic imagery and all sorts of literary allusions to great authors from the past. I could sense that writing this novel probably sadden him on some level and if the prophecy of this story ever came true….it could have probably broken his heart.

I must admit that the novel felt cold and distant even though it was readable and engaging. I didn’t get any warmth or connection from Guy and the other characters. It was like watching a documentary on some alien society that was destroying its own soul.

Nevertheless, the story came across as believable and frightening in its implications. Even though, we live in a multimedia/electronic age, the written word needs to be appreciated and cherished for as long as possible.

Fahrenheit 451 is an American classic and should be read at least once by all lovers of fiction.

RIP, Ray Bradbury.

Quotes 44

“Fantasy writing must be grounded in both truth and life experience if it is to work. It can be as inventive and creative as the writer can make it, a whirlwind of images and plot twists, but it cannot be built on a foundation of air. The world must be identifiable with our own, must offer us a frame of reference we can recognize.”

“Fantasy stories work because the writer has interwoven bits and pieces of reality with imagination to form a personal vision.”

(Terry Brooks)

Book Review 17: The Transmigration of Timothy Archer by Philip K. Dick

Well, I finally decided to read one of Philip K. Dick’s novels. Since he’s one of the giants of the science-fiction genre and I’m a reader of it, I thought the time was right to check him out.

Some of you would have told me to read either Man in the High Castle or Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, considering these are his most popular and well-received novels.

But, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, intrigued me the most and I believed it would be an excellent first Dickian novel to read.

So what is this novel about?

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer tells the story of an Episcopal Bishop, Timothy Archer, who is determined to find the true identity of Jesus Christ.

Timothy Archer learns about the existence of some ancient scrolls from the Zadokites, a Jewish sect who were around before the time of Jesus.  The bishop believes those scrolls would reveal Jesus’ true identity. He decides to go to London to determine if they are the real thing.

However, the novel’s narrator, Angel Archer, who is the Bishop’s daugther-in-law shows him to be a smart, charming, but deeply-flawed dilettante.

Through Angel, we can see Timothy began to lose his way because of a relationship with a mistress, the death of his son, and the questioning of his faith and position as a bishop.

Moreover, Angel came off as cold and cynical and I didn’t care for her throughout most of the story. But, Dick’s strengths as a writer came through in this novel by having  compelling characters and essentially creating a philosophical and spiritual page turner.

Overall, I’m glad I read the Transmigration of Timothy Archer. While, I don’t think this novel will be everyone’s cup of tea. But, it was one of the more interesting and insightful character-oriented stories I have ever read.

Book Review 15: The Islar by Mark Saxton (Islandia Quartet Book #2)

Have you ever read a sequel that is better than the original?

Well, The Islar by Mark Saxton, I feel is such a book. It is sequel to the underground utopian classic novel, Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright.

For those who don’t know, Austin Tappan Wright was a Harvard-educated
lawyer, who in is his free time created an imaginative world, Islandia, that
is as detailed as Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

Wright died in a car accident at the age of 48 with his work unpublished.
However his daughter, Sylvia, got an editor to look over what her
father wrote to see if it was publishable.

Well,  the editor for the novel that became Islandia was Mark
Saxton and he got it published in 1942.  Islandia has never got the
recognition like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of
Narnia but has had a small, devoted following over the years and the writer
of this review is a member of that group.

I found out that Saxton got permission from Wright’s daughter to
write sequels in Islandian universe.

So what is The Islar about?

The Islar tells the story of John Lang III, who is the grandson of John
Lang, the protagonist from Islandia. John Lang was the first American to
travel to Islandia and live amongst the natives and learn about the culture.
Well, Lang decides to stay in Islandia.  He gets married and becomes the
American connection for the leaders of that country.

In The Islar, Lang III has become a prominent member of the current
government and their attempts for Islandia to become a member of the United
Nations. However, for the UN to accept Islandia as a member they have
requested the country to become modernized.

Because of that, there is a coup to take back Islandia before it can come a
member of the UN. Islandia is a primitive, arcadian culture and the leaders
of the coup want the country to remain that way.

Since Lang III has an American heritage, the current Islandia leaders have
asked him to go America to seek their help in order to defeat the coup.

The novel is written in first-person from Lang III’s viewpoint and I got a
real sense of the history of Islandia and his reluctance to get totally
involved with the country being at crossroads in its history.

Should Islandia modernize in order to be accepted into the UN?  Or should it remain the same and hang on to its culture as long as it can?

That question is answered in the novel with a surprising outcome.

The Islar is an excellent sequel and enjoyable to read. You can read this novel
without reading Islandia.

This novel deserves a wider audience and should be recognized as one of the major works of fantasy and utopian literature.

Book Review 6: Queen of Angels by Greg Bear

Queen of Angels by Greg Bear has been a book I’ve wanted to read for years. I’ve seen it at used bookstores and bought it several times intending to read the book but never get around to it until recently.

Queen of Angels is an ambitious, thought-provoking science-fiction novel that deals with race, crime, religion, and nanotechnology to ask the question what is the nature of the self and can man conquer it?

However, it would be easy and simplistic to write that man cannot conquer his own nature without God. But, Bear makes an ambitious attempt in the Queen of Angels.

The novel is basically three stories in one. It starts with Emanuel Goldsmith, a famous poet in 2047, who kills eight students at his apartment. All the evidence points to his guilt and the L.A.P.D. and the Selectors, a vigilante group, are looking for him.

But, Goldsmith is kept in hiding from them by his publisher, whose daughter he killed along with the other students at his apartment. The publisher is obsessed with why the poet would kill those students without any remorse and also is dealing with the pain of losing his daughter.

The publisher has Goldsmith examined by Dr. Martin Burke, a psychiatrist, who has developed the ability to enter a person’s thoughts. Dr. Burke created a device call the Country of the Mind and when he enters Goldsmith’s brain to determine the how and why of what he did. What the psychiatrist discovers is shocking and I felt were some of the most disturbing parts of the novel.

Meanwhile, there is an AXIS Robot who is reporting a major discovery from Alpha Centuri’s Planet B-2 that will change the face of science forever and will coincide with the people of Earth who are getting ready to celebrate the coming of the Binary Millennum. But, it is not what the scientists thought it would be and deals with a radical discovery from a computer.

Moreover, the L.A.P.D. sends Mary Choy, a detective, to Hispanola (a futuristic Haiti-Dominican Republic) to find Goldsmith who supposedly fled there because of his friendship with the country’s dictator, Sir John Yardley.

When Mary gets to Hispanola she will uncover something that will make her reevaulate who she is and learn about man’s inhumanity to man disguised as a utopia.

Bear intertwines all the storylines pretty well. But, there were some awkward moments (mainly because of the author’s ambition more than anything else) and he leaves out punctuation and normal sentence structure reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy.

I’m glad I finally read the Queen of Angels and while Bear doesn’t fully convince me in his ambitious case to show man’s attempt in conquering his own nature. I like the fact that he wanted to ask the question….Who am I?