Friday, July 19, 2019

Rebirth: Havok Season 1

What is flash fiction?  Short stories--very short stories.  Havok Magazine provided a platform for flash fiction, mostly in the sci-fi, fantasy, and related genres.  In case you missed it, they have collected 48 of those stories in Rebirth: Havok Season 1.

The authors of the stories range from seasoned writers who have published multiple, award-winning novels to writers whose publishing history might only consist of posting a story on a web site (so far!).  The quality of the stories, as a result, has a range that you might expect, but I bet you would be hard pressed to pick out the novices from the pros.  In other words, just because some of the stories are written by no-name unpublished or little published authors doesn't mean they are poorly written or unreadable.  While I enjoyed some stories more than others, they are all quality work.

Depending on your tastes, some of the stories will be more memorable than others.  I'm not much into magic-infused fantasy stories, and a fair number here fit that mold.  Several of the stories piqued my interest enough to check what else the author has written, and many of them left me wishing there were more to the story.

I suppose that is the point of flash fiction--give the reader a taste, and leave him longing for more.  I was repeatedly impressed by the authors' ability to create a world, characters, and story elements in just a couple of pages.  I won't name favorites--there are too many and it would be unfair to leave several out.  Not every story here is a five star story, but in this case the whole is greater than the parts.  Forty-eight different authors created forty-eight different, unrelated worlds, loosely united under the theme of rebirth.  The final result left me wanting to visit quite a few of those worlds again.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Sword, by Bryan Litfin

Imagine a world in the not-too-distant future where, due to a global pandemic and a devastating nuclear war, human civilization has been reduced to a medieval standard of living.  Actually, it's not that hard to imagine, since that scenario has been played out in many books and movies.  In Bryan Litfin's The Sword, the first book in his Chiveis Trilogy, Litfin adds a twist.  In his post-apocalyptic world, all memory of Christianity has been purged, and pagan religions prevail.

In the kingdom of Chiveis, the priestesses of the pagan religions call the shots.  When Teo, an independent-minded soldier is rescued from a bear attack by Ana, a beautiful country girl, their lives are entwined for good.  Ana's beauty had not been unrecognized, sparking envy in a princess and lust in a neighboring king.  After Teo rescues her from the clutches of the king, they go on the run and discover a partially intact Bible in an abandoned church.

Teo secretly translates portions of the Bible and he and Ana gather a group of seekers who begin to worship this unknown God, who they discern is the creator of all, is infinitely good, and demands sacrifice for sin.  Inevitably, these worshippers face harsh persecution.  Litfin's narrative is full of sword play and action, scheming and betrayal, and exploration of spiritual ideas.

As a work of fiction, The Sword is definitely fun to read, with its action, suspense, and romance.  But Litfin, who has a PhD in religious studies and who taught theology at Moody Bible Institute for many years, has a bigger purpose than spinning an entertaining tale.  The Sword is a thought experiment.  What would society look like if all traces of Christianity were wiped out?  What sort of Christianity would we rebuild if all we had was a portion of the Old Testament?  What miraculous interventions would God choose to use to reveal himself?  What kind of community would a group of new believers create, and how would they stand up under persecution?

The Sword is an entertaining, thought-provoking page turner that leaves readers eager to jump into the next story, The Gift.

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield has one of the more unlikely conversion stories that I have heard.  She taught English and critical studies and a large, secular university.  Her specialty was feminism and she lived with her lesbian lover.  But a local pastor reached out to her with acceptance and love, and the truth of the gospel won her over.

In The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey into Christian Faith she tells the story of her life before and after her conversion.  The greatest challenge for Christians is the fact that Butterfield did not become a Christian due to sophisticated logical arguments or by challenges to her sinfulness, but through love and relationships.

Now married to a pastor and mother of several adopted children, Butterfield has perspectives that can challenge those of us who have been in the church all our lives.  For one thing, she lauds the community life of lesbians, and, on several occasions, had opportunities for the church community and the lesbian community to work together and learn from each other. 

As an outsider of sorts, Butterfield is not afraid to step on some toes.  But she is now an insider, and her criticisms come with family love.  Above all, her story is a reminder that one should never rule out prospects for conversion.  The warm embrace of Christian community and the power of the gospel of Christ can change any life.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Who On Earth is the Holy Spirit?, by Tim Chester

Tim Chester asks a good question in his little book Who On Earth is the Holy Spirit? and Other Questions about Who He is and What He Does.  Many Christians have this question about the most mysterious member of the Trinity.  True to form, Chester, a pastor in the UK, looks to the scriptural record to gain a broad understanding of what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit.

Every Christian should be aware of the Holy Spirit and his work.  Unfortunately, a minority slice of the Christian world--pentecostals and charismatics--seem to have monopolized teaching about the Holy Spirit.  Chester's is a moderating voice, offering a balanced perspective that will challenge some Christians to open their minds to spiritual gifts like prophecy and healing, and will remind other Christians that these "manifestation" gifts are only a part of what the Holy Spirit is about.

It's short.  It's biblical.  It's theologically sound.  It's balanced.  It's a good book.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Right Side of History, by Ben Shapiro

I really enjoy Ben Shapiro's perspective on his podcasts, Twitter, interviews, and media appearances.  In The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great, Shapiro demonstrates the philosophical and intellectual foundations on which he bases his perspective on contemporary political and cultural issues.

While Shapiro is best known for his up-to-the minute commentary, The Right Side of History takes the story back centuries, to Jerusalem and Athens.  The core of his argument is that the Western world has strayed from the Judeo-Christian roots of our moral code and the Greek roots of our intellectual and political traditions. 

Shapiro has great insights and gives an overview of intellectual and moral history that is worth reading.  I appreciate his balance and commitment to clarity.  The nature of the book--mostly a historical primer--doesn't lend itself to much excitement.  But it's definitely worth reading.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Seven Longest Yards, by Chris and Emily Norton

Chris Norton was a standout on his college football team until a fateful tackle during his freshman season.  As hard as he tried to get up off the turf, he couldn't move a muscle below his neck.  In The Seven Longest Yards: Our Love Story of Pushing the Limits While Leaning on Each Other, he tells the story of his injury, his fight to recover, and of finding the love of his life.

First of all, fair warning: get the Kleenex ready.  I couldn't help putting myself in Chris's parent's shoes, thinking about how I would respond if my college-age son had a devastating injury such as Chris had.  He is privileged to have a loving, supportive family.  He was also privileged to benefit from NCAA insurance for injured athletes.  So he began his recovery on a solid foundation.

What sets Chris apart after his injury is his refusal to give up hope.  When doctors said he had a 3% chance of ever moving anything below his shoulders, or when a doctor told him he would never walk again, he rejected their predictions, determined to be that small percent to overcome the odds.  His mantra from the start was "Don't focus on what you can't do.  Focus on what you can do."  He has taken that attitude to launch a successful inspirational speaking career, as well as a foundation committed to providing medical care for other victims of spinal cord injuries.

Before he got there, though, he had a lot of work to do.  Having finished his coursework in the fall, he dedicated the spring semester to preparing to walk across the stage at his May graduation.  His girlfriend Emily agreed to assist him during this time.  She attended his therapies and was able work as his home assistant thanks to his insurance plan.

After his successful graduation walk went viral, he was inundated with media requests, appearing countless times.  It certainly helped that he proposed to Emily the night before graduation, adding their storybook romance to the tremendously inspiring story.  After the media buzz died down, Chris still had work to do, and Emily struggled with having given up her professional dreams to help him.  She spiraled into a deep depression, and writes about all she went through to overcome it.

I appreciated Chris and Emily's honesty.  They make no great claims about their faith or faithfulness.  In fact, when they became involved in a church after they moved to Florida, Chris writes that they each desired early on to date another Christian, but "our lives hadn't reflected that priority in a long time."  He said God "had never been a vital part of my everyday life."  Ultimately, they both grew in their faith together.  An elephant in the room that was never addressed is the fact that they lived together, moved to another state, bought a house, and started fostering kids together before they were ever married.  For a book about a Christian couple published by a Christian publisher, it's interesting that this time of cohabitation is never mentioned as such.

Chris and Emily are an inspiring couple in many ways: Chris overcoming the odds to walk, Emily overcoming her depression to function, the two of them committing to love needy children through foster care, and the vulnerability they have chosen to share their stories.  It's not the life they imagined, but it's "a life that exceeded anything we had ever imagined."  They have shown that "with God, all things are truly possible."

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, July 8, 2019

By Reason of Insanity, by Randy Singer

Catherine O'Rourke is a popular crime reporter, but when she has disturbing visions that give details about a series of murders, she becomes suspect number one.  Randy Singer's novel By Reason of Insanity explores the world of multiple personality disorder, or dissociative identity disorder (DID) to consider whether someone could be a serial killer and not realize it.

Murder is the farthest thing from Catherine's mind, but when evidence seems to finger her, and her lawyers suggest that a claim of insanity related to DID is all that could get her off the hook, she begins to have serious doubts about her own innocence.  The victims are rapists, or lawyers who defended rapists.  Catherine grapples with a rape in her own past, so the suggestion that she may be exacting revenge does not seem that far-fetched.

Singer puts together the investigation and trial nicely, as he does in his novels.  His trial experience shows, bringing a sense of realism to the courtroom scenes.  I enjoyed the interactions of the two lawyers who are compelled to work together in Catherine's defense.  The DID angle seemed a bit overwrought.  While it's interesting to consider the possibility that someone could function as more than one person, none of whom is aware of the other, I thought very little about Catherine's story lent itself to a consideration of DID. 

Even though Singer writes for a Christian publisher, there was little Christian content in By Reason of Insanity.  I don't say that as a criticism, just an observation.  Singer is definitely a writer of legal fiction to whom I will return.