Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Evidence, by Clair M. Poulson

I got this book with store credit, because it looked like a stand-alone story and was an audiobook. Not a lot of thought went into it actually. Turns out I made a very good choice.
It's a mystery book, beginning with an abduction of an 18-year old boy on his way home from a date. It's set in small-town utah, and involves quite a few suspicious characters and plot threads, and no, I did not have it figured out, which isn't usual for me, but it surprised my wife too, which takes a lot in a mystery book.

It's LDS fiction, but it's not an LDS book. Anyone can read it and not feel preached to, and it paints a good snapshot of life in rural utah. It moves quickly and has satisfactory attention to detail. A great light read/listen. As far as how it rates compared to other mystery books, I'd say above average.

Friday, June 6, 2008

His Dark Materials Review

OK, so after all the hype and several copies of the email linking to Snopes’s account of the Golden Compass, ( I’ve finished the books and here’s what I have to say:

To sum up, the book requires a huge level of detachment from Judeo-Christian morals in order to read the book on the side of the protagonists, more than I was comfortable with, and the moral of the story is contrary to Judeo-Christian teachings, and is presented by setting up a deity and church that you can’t possibly agree with and then tearing them down, so it’s hard to argue with the conclusions of the book, given the assumptions. It’s not something I will be introducing my children to, or even allowing them to read or watch, until they have a more mature understanding of the world around them. It is a very entertaining read that deals with difficult issues, and if you want to read it or watch the movie, just know ahead of time what you’re getting into.

Plot details follow, but if you’re going to read the book, I’d keep going.

Any time you read a book of fiction there is a certain degree of detachment from reality you have to accept in order to enjoy the book. If the book is a fiction published by your religion, at the very least you’re accepting the fictional story. Most likely you’re accepting more than that – extreme fundamental Christianity would say that magic is occult and therefore things like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings are evil. I think that’s nuts. So I’m used to detaching myself from stories to a certain extent. The question is, how far are you willing to go? I don’t even insist that the good characters in my books obey all of the 10 commandments for me to enjoy the book. Frodo didn’t keep the Sabbath day holy, for example. But generally I do prefer to keep a couple of major rules pertaining to murder, sex, and respect for diety as I believe it. I’m not saying that I’ve never read a book and enjoyed it that had a couple of characters that had an extramarital coupling, but I wouldn’t enjoy a book that promoted that sort of thing as a main message of the book, for example. Situations like that are where I draw the line. So before reading the Golden Compass and sequels, what you have to ask yourself is this:

How do you feel about a fictional book that uses a somewhat catholic account , albeit warped and twisted, of original sin and the war in heaven, and then says that original sin was good, and that the world has the wrong view of the sides in the war in heaven – that the supposed God or Authority is actually just the oldest of billions of angels who are actually mortal extra-dimensional beings, that he lied to the others and told them that he’s all powerful and the creator, that he’s actually oppressive and evil, and that the angels that lost the war in heaven were the good guys, and the point of the book is that the side that lost in the ancient war in heaven regroups to try and win the war in heaven, and you’re supposed to cheer for that side? How do you feel about a book where the characters that are good are the ones who admit to their physical attraction and embrace it, and happen to be witches, shamans, and apostate nuns with no mention to marriage or fidelity, while the bad characters are those that represent the church and hide and suppress their natural feelings, which church is a collection of all the hypocritical things that ever existed in any religion all rolled into one – repenting in advance so you can commit sin – even murder – without guilt, condemning natural attraction and endorsing mutilation of children, suppressing knowledge and scientific research by any means necessary including inquisitions, torture, murder, etc., controlling governments, corrupt in every way? How do you feel about a book where the moral of the story is that “there wasn’t any God and that physics was more interesting anyway. The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that’s all.”

From my experience, the atheistic view of religion is usually simplified till it resembles a religion that reasonable people can’t believe in. In the case of this book, the authority resembles the god I believe in in name only, and the religions that are refuted resemble mine even less, so the idea of throwing these things down, well who could be against that? But the assumptions that had to be made to accept the story to this point were a lot for me to comfortably swallow. Too much actually.

If you can get past all that, then great, go ahead and read the books. They’re engaging, hard to put down, and they have cool ideas – I’ve always thought it would be cool if there were parallel universes, parallel worlds that started the same and divulged from one another as probability went the other way. That’s the premise for these books, and it is interesting and entertaining. The action sequences are well written, the characters are round and interesting, although it’s hard to like or hate some of them because they seem to vacillate between good and evil so much. It is an entertaining read. I thought the ending was somewhat anti-climactic, but not entirely unsatisfying.

As for all the stuff out there about the books, most of it is fairly accurate. Some of it is exaggerated:

  1. I saw one saying that the books are about female circumcision. This is a gross exaggeration. There’s one line in one of the books where, when deciding which side to fight for, a witch mentions that this corrupt church in one of the words suppresses every natural joy, and in one offshoot, cuts children so they can’t feel.” It’s one in a list of arguments why they should join the side that fights against the authority. So to say the book is about female circumcision is like saying that the Hobbit is about the tree species in Mirkwood – sure it’s mentioned, but is not a significant factor in the story.
  2. I’ve also seen it said that the children kill God. That’s also not true – the authority is old, tired, and decrepid, and has been usurped by one of his angels anyway (who just happened to be the Ether mentioned in the old testament), and then his chariot gets attacked by giant bat kind of things and crashes, and when the kids go to save him he fizzles away and blows away on the wind.
  3. The other thing I’ve heard is that these books are the antithesis of the Chronicles of Narnia by the author’s intent. For this, I don’t know that it was his intent, so much as parallels that have been drawn. There’s an interesting internet article that is mostly an accurate picture of the books, albeit from the conservative Catholic perspective if you’re interested:

  1. The last thing that I heard was that the whole book leads up to the characters recommitting original sin and thus saving the universe. I didn’t see it that way. If you feel that a couple falling in love, kissing, and embracing and the scene cutting out means that they had sex, then that’s your privilege. But it never said that they did or did not go any further than an embrace and a kiss. Me, I thought that the romance and kiss and embrace were nicely done and not at all sexual.

As for the stuff about Pullman being a dangerous author and if atheists prayed, they’d pray to him, etc etc., well how do you think all the Jewish and atheist parents felt about CS Lewis hiding Christianity in the Chronicles of Narnia – all these people have their own agendas and need to be taken with a grain of salt.

So there’s the scoop. I wouldn’t say I wish I didn’t read the book – it hasn’t shaken my faith or anything like that. It was recommended to me by a couple of devout Mormons who didn’t think it was a bad book. Personally, I think it’s borderline blasphemous, and I don’t think I would have read it if I had known more about it, and at this point, I don’t think I’ll support the movie either. As to whether I would recommend it to others, well, like I said, just make sure you know what you’re getting in to.