Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Kaiju Preservation Society, by John Scalzi

You may have wondered, Where do all those giant monsters in the Godzilla movies come from?  John Scalzi has the answer.  In The Kaiju Preservation Society, Scalzi takes us on an adventure to a parallel universe, where Earth is sort of like Earth, but different.  One of the key, immediately obvious differences is the large number of creatures of all sizes that can kill you.  And by the way, the world's elite have known about this place for decades, carefully keeping it secret from people like you and me.

In a story that is part Jurassic Park, part King Kong, Scalzi keeps it light, with hip, young characters and a tone that makes me think, hmmm, it's possible.  After Jamie gets shut out of a start-up she'd been working for, one of her customers somewhat randomly offers her a job.  Little did she know she'd be working at a research center studying unimaginable creatures in another world.  And of course, when money-hungry businessmen get their hands on some of the research subjects, it's all going to go wrong.

I haven't read a lot of Scalzi, but Kaiju seems different from the space operas and military sci-fi that made him famous.  This is more of a diversion, like RedshirtsKaiju was fun to read, and one can't help thinking it would be a blast to see on the big screen.  

Thanks to NetGalley for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, May 9, 2022

Don't Burn This Country: Surviving and Thriving in Our Woke Dystopia, by Dave Rubin

 As a follow up to his first book, Don't Burn This Book, Dave Rubin shows growth and maturity as a writer and commentator in his new book, Don't Burn This Country: Surviving and Thriving in Our Woke Dystopia.  Rubin's intellectual evolution has been honest, public, and fascinating.  As a Jewish gay man, he wouldn't necessarily be considered a spokesperson for political conservatism.  But the ranks of gay Republicans and conservatives keep growing, as people of all stripes become disenchanted with the radicalism of the left.  

Rubin talks about his intellectual journey a bit, but mostly talks about issues and ideas.  His web program of long-form interviews,, has given him a great stable of interesting and compelling guests, many of whom he quotes in the book.  Most importantly, Jordan Peterson has been a mentor and collaborator; Peterson's influence on Rubin is deep and strong.

If you've seen his show or listened to his interviews, his writing style will be familiar to you, with his casual humor (at one point he was a stand-up comic) balanced by a willingness to explore a wide variety of intellectual topics.  His Rand-influenced classical liberalism shines through, but it has been softened and molded by contemporary conservative thought.

Don't Burn This Country, and Rubin's work in general, is a solid introduction to the secular conservatism that has come to dominate much of Republican activism.  Readers on the right will find much to affirm and agree with, but, more importantly, readers on the left will find someone who is engaging and inoffensive while portraying conservative principles. 

Friday, May 6, 2022

Stringers, by Chris Panatier

 Don't panic, Douglas Adams's status as the greatest sci-fi comedy writer of all time is safe.  But Adams did pave the way for some worthy successors like Chris Panatier.  Stringers is a wild galactic trip with aliens, artificial humanoids, and a swarming extragalactic super species.

When Ben and his buddy Patton head for a rural rendezvous with a stranger they met in an internet chat room, they had no idea they were going to be abducted by an alien slave trader.  As it turns out, Ben has the key to the destruction of the galaxy in his untapped memories, and the swarming super species wants to tap him.  With the help of his fellow trafficking victims, maybe they can save the galaxy.

Stringers is an enjoyable story that doesn't dwell on the meaning of life, but has a fun plot and likable characters. There are plenty of good moments and memorable lines, like this character's comments about immortality.  In response to another character's question about whether he is immortality, the artificial humanoid character says, "If no one kills me, yes. Of course, how does one prove immortality? Forever has no endpoint. So, I suppose I'm immortal in the sense that I will live until I die."  This kind of thoughtful humor is sprinkled throughout an adventure story that will leave you asking for more. And, not to give a spoiler, but Panatier does leave it open further adventures. . . .  I would go on another adventure with this crew!

Thanks to NetGalley for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

If God Is Love, Don't Be a Jerk, by John Pavlovitz

I love the title of this book! I picked it up with anticipation, knowing nothing about the author.  Once I started reading, it didn't take long to know that this guy represents so much that is wrong with Christianity.  He's a proud and outspoken progressive Christian. You know, the group that calls themselves Christians then spends all their time telling you about how they reject Christianity.  I mean, seriously, Pavlovitz rejects so much of historic Christianity that I wonder if he really could be considered a Christian.

Besides slinging mud at theological principles, he spends even more time slinging mud at his fellow believers.  The main theme of the book is that he has grown in his progressive understanding, and now, if you don't believe the same things as him about the death penalty, abortion, immigration, same-sex marriage, etc., you clearly have not grown at all and are stuck in backwards, entrenched, unChristian viewpoints.  In other words, you're a jerk.

I'll tell you who's a jerk.  It's the guy who calls faithful Christians who disagree with him racists, prejudiced, territorial, hypocritical, cruel, lacking compassion.  He has no room for anyone who holds conservative political views, no matter how based in Christian faith they might be, and he certainly has no room for anyone who supported or even cast a vote for Donald Trump.

I'll give him this: he can be engaging and entertaining.  But his writing is poison.  My heart breaks for the American church.  I have seen too many Christians buy into this type of progressive rejection of evangelicalism.  It's true, in many cases it's a failure of good discipleship.  But mostly it's the embrace of the lies of the world.  God help us.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Color Blind, by Tom Dunkel

 Every baseball fan knows about Jackie Robinson, who broke the color line in Major League baseball in 1947, and whose jersey number, 42, was permanently retired for all of MLB.  As important as that step was for baseball, for professional sports, and for racial equality, the history of black athletes playing professional baseball is much older and more varied than Robinson's putting on a Dodgers uniform.  Tom Dunkel tells the story of a Bismarck, North Dakota semipro baseball team that rose to national prominence, including a national tournament championship, while fielding a team of both black and white players.

Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball's Color Line is a colorful, entertaining historical account of American life in the Roaring Twenties and into the Great Depression.  In small towns like Bismarck as well as in big cities, baseball was a source of entertainment and civic pride.  Amateur and semipro teams abounded, representing their cities and towns, companies and civic organizations, and touring the country.  Since the Major League teams didn't permit black players, black teams and leagues formed.  Many of the players on these teams had more than enough talent to compete in the Majors, had they been permitted.  Imagine telling a player, as some scouts told black players in Color Blind, I would recruit you to the Majors if only you were white.

Satchel Paige was one of those black pitchers who could have dominated batters in the Majors.  When Neil Churchill, a car dealer in Bismarck, needed a pitcher for his semipro team, he didn't care what color his skin was.  He knew Paige was the best pitcher around, and Churchill convinced him to come to North Dakota.  In fact, he pulled black players from all over, building a roster split between black and white players.  This mixed team beat black and white teams to win the 1935 national semipro tournament.

As remarkable as the race mixing on the team was, it didn't seem all that remarkable to the teammates, at least in Dunkel's telling.  These were athletes who saw the value in their teammates on the field and, in many cases, socialized off the field as well.  Overall, the impression I got was that few people truly wanted racial segregation in life and in baseball, but few were fully prepared to buck the norms of the day.  When Churchill's team arrived for the tournament in Wichita, the hotel, surprised to see that the team was not all white, refused to let the black players stay.  This could have been a great moment of team solidarity, with the white players insisting that their black teammates stay with them, or agreeing to stay in lesser accommodations in the black part of town.  Alas, they bid their black teammates adieu, settling into their rooms while their black teammates set out to find their own places to stay.  That's just how it was in the 1930s.  

The tournament organizers did, in fact, break new ground by inviting both black and white teams to play.  A few conflicts broke out on the field amid the racial tension, but teams came to play, not to display racial grievance.  (However, some felt the tournament organizer arranged the brackets not only by seeding, but also in order to keep white teams from the Deep South from playing black teams.)

Color Blind is not only a delight to read for baseball history buffs, but it's also a great ground-level history of popular culture in the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s.  In the time before television, and before going to the movies was even very common, going out to a ballgame was a prime entertainment choice.  When every town had a ball team, the players became local heroes, with the whole town behind them.  After World War 2, and the many changes that came in the 1940s and 1950s, this part of our culture died out.  Color Blind tells this story amid the story of changing racial attitudes before the Civil Rights movement.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Blitz: Trump Will Smash the Left and Win, by David Horowitz

David Horowitz's book Blitz: Trump Will Smash the Left and Win is perhaps better subtitled something like Trump Will Smash the Left and, if Reasonable People Get Out and Vote, Ought to Win in 2020.  Even though Horowitz doesn't quite measure up to the bluster and confidence of the title, Horowitz lays out a great case for Trump.

In sum, Horowitz reviews Trump's successes throughout his first term.  He details the harsh, unfair treatment he has received from the press.  He describes the many ways that elected officials, appointees, and government bureaucrats have conspired to obstruct his administration.  In the face of this opposition, it really is remarkable that he has accomplished as much as he has.

If you're looking for a strong, thoroughly sourced defense of Trump's first term, Blitz is a good place to start.  Let's hope, for the sake of the country, that the prediction of Horowitz's title comes true in November.

Friday, September 18, 2020

A Cry from the Far Middle, by P.J. O'Rourke

P.J. O'Rourke is one of the funniest observers of American political life in the last half century.  Some of his books are classics.  His newest title, A Cry from the Far Middle: Dispatches from a Divided Land, is a worthy addition to his oeuvre, but it does show signs of his growing old[er] and [more] curmudgeonly.  

O'Rourke consistently has terrific insights as well a gift for pithy one-liners.  The world of Twitter and 24 hour news has given so many opportunities to hear people's opinions that O'Rourke's statement sums up political discourse perfectly: "What this country needs is fewer people who know what this country needs."  Amen!  Fewer opinions and smaller government are consistent themes for O'Rourke.  He leans hard toward libertarianism: "Our government is so bad at everything that it can't even do nothing right." 

Underneath the snarkiness and one liners, O'Rourke consistently has great insights as he communicates political and economic ideas in memorable and entertaining ways.  For example, his discussion on the political theory of rights as Getoutta here Rights and Gimmie Rights.  Individual rights and free markets guide O'Rourke's thinking and, really who can argue with that?

(As a side note, O'Rourke won points with me with this line: "Some fast food is delicious by any standards-- In-N-Out Burger, Chick-fil-A, Whataburger."  I'll forgive him for liking the sub-standard burgers at In-N-Out, and everyone loves CfA.  But his familiarity with and praise for my hometown regional burger chain--which has no locations anywhere near O'Rourke's Massachussetts home-- demonstrates his great taste and wisdom.)

There aren't many writers who have such keen insights into current affairs and who are endlessly entertaining to read.  A Cry from the Far Middle won't thrill hard-core Trump fans, but O'Rourke is an equal opportunity offender and a thoughtful interlocutor across the political spectrum.

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