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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Meet Sherlock Holmes - Doyle

I proposed a non-credit course on Sherlock Holmes to the University of Texas when I lived in Austin. It almost came off. So, this is a general overview of Holmes and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with some interesting tidbits thrown in. And, we're off.

Arthur Conan Doyle
Ø       His father, Charles Altamont Doyle, was an illustrator who spent much of his latter life in mental asylums.
Doyle’s father provided some terrible drawings for the first stand-alone edition of A Study in Scarlet, the first Holmes story.
Ø       Doyle created Sherlock Holmes while waiting for patients at his doctor office. Business was terribly slow.
Ø       Doyle always felt that Holmes was a lesser work and kept him from better things. He believed that his historical fiction was going to be his legacy.
“He keeps me from better things” quote.
Ø      Doyle wrote total of 56 short stories and 4 novels featuring Sherlock Holmes, plus two short parodies. Those 60 stories are referred to as ‘The Canon.’ Holmes stories written by other authors are known as “pastiches” and have been ongoing for over a hundred years.
Ø      He received a knighthood in 1902 for his detailed history of the Boer War.
1902 also happened to be the year that Doyle revived Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Did that play a part in the awarding of the knighthood?

Bob's Books - Conan the Buccaneer by L. Sprague de Camp & Lin Carter

Conan the Buccaneer, by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter is the sixth book in the Ace series by  de Camp and Carter (and that Howard fellow…). In William Galen Gray’s chronology it is the seventy-fifth Conan tale, following Robert E. Howard’s The Pool of the Black One and taking place before Howard’s Red Nails.

When I read one of these books from the De Camp/Carter corpus, I try to remember that these were unusual. The glut of pastiches available to us today weren’t written yet. Fans of Conan only had Robert E. Howard’s original tales. The sword-swinging Cimmerian wasn’t yet quite the fantasy icon he is today (now THAT is understatement). So they were doing something new. The library of Conan tales was small and they were plowing relatively virgin soil.

Interestingly enough, he’s not a pirate this time out, and his buccaneering activities as a privateer for King Ferdrugo don’t really come into play much, except that he has a ready crew and ship available (which is certainly handy).

A nice aspect is the inclusion of Zarono and Thoth Amon, characters from Howard’s tales. Also, Sigurd and Juma are characters that appear in other de Camp and Carter stories. Bearing in mind that there weren’t very many Conan tales and the now prolific cast of characters, this was a treat to the fan.
On the Conan sex scale, this one is pretty modest. He becomes the love slave of an amazon queen (yes, seriously), but that’s about it.

What we do have is the standard quest for treasure and a damsel in distress. Basically, it’s a chase book. Conan chases a boat. Then he is chased. Then he chases it some more. Then he chases somebody else. There’s also a hurried voyage that is sort of a ‘chase after the fact.’ If you like Conan hurrying to and fro, you’ve got it here. Combat-wise, I’d say, for 90% of the book, it’s got the lowest body count of any novel-length tales in the entire saga. Possibly so even after the climax.

I rather enjoyed Conan the Buccaneer, though it isn’t a standout. Perhaps because it reflects a time before a relentless publishing schedule buried us in plot-thin Conan books (my last review was the execrable Conan the Indomitable). And, it does fill in Zaronos’ background. The fallen count is key player in Howard’s The Black Stranger, which was renamed (for the better) The Treasure of Tranicos by Carter/de Camp.

This one is definitely worth a read, but it doesn’t quite feel ‘weighty’ enough; though that certainly does not make it unique in that regard among stories of the muscle bound barbar.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bob's Books - Conan the Indomitable by Steve Perry

This is the third of the five novels that Steve Perry wrote in the fifty-book Tor series. In William Galen Gray's chronology it is the fifth Conan tale, following Sean Moore's Conan the Hunter and taking place before Perry's Conan the Free Lance. Since events in Indomitable directly follow those in Defiant, and include his trollop of the moment, Elashi, it's odd that Gray inserted Conan the Hunter in between those two Perry books.

So, a hermaphrodite, a nymphomaniac sorceress, a slutty desert babe, a sarcastic fool, a cylopes, a giant worm and Conan go into a cave...Sounds like a bad joke, eh? Well, it is. Conan The Indomitable is a direct sequel to Perry's Conan the Defiant: I gave that book a good review. This effort, however, is TERRIBLE. I haven't read every Conan pastiche yet, but this is the worst of those I have read.

One of the protagonists has all the depth of a teenage geek's imagination (and I was such a geek). The others don't offer much more. And you could see the demise of one character so far ahead that there was no suspense building for when it finally happened. I forced myself to finish this book so I would be qualified to review it. It was that bad. The alliance between two of the villains' lieutenants was the only interesting part of this story.

This is the last Conan book I would re-read. Stay away.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Anger in Parenting

I read a daily devotional, Parenting by Design. Today's message, was related to anger. I think my temper with Sean is my biggest failure as a dad so far. It's certainly the most common.

"In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.  - Ephesians 4:26-27

Anger is not always wrong, but what we do with our anger determines whether we are acting righteously or sinfully. We should be angered by acts of ungodliness, unrighteousness, injustice, and inequity. These things anger God as well.

But if you are angry because someone has disturbed your pride, self-sufficiency, status, prestige, or power, your reaction will likely be sinful. And sinful anger is often expressed in harshness, cruelty, bitterness, and a lack of control.

We must examine our hearts when our kids make us angry. If it is righteous anger, let it motivate you to take action and deliver consequences. Sin needs to be addressed, and we honor God by delivering those consequences with empathy and love. If it is sinful anger, pray for the courage to confess it, repent, and resolve it.

Examine your anger to determine the motives behind it.

That's one of the most insightful thought provoking devotionals I've read so far in the series (I'm on day 68 of 260. My anger with Sean is almost always sinfully based.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Christians: an excellent little reminder

In a little over five minutes, the video above relates one of the best messages I have heard in years.

I believe that perhaps the biggest reason Christians seem to be at war with Society is because they don't read the Bible regularly. We have concepts from the Bible, or snippets we remember or hear, and then 'humanize' it and twist the whole thing up. One example: a Christian who reads the Bible is opposed to abortion. No discussion. But just as plain, said Christian does not fire bomb abortion clinics or murder abortion doctors.

John 3:17 tells us: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."

As Casting Crowns sings in Jesus, Friend of Sinners:

Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers
Nobody knows what we're for only what we're against when we judge the wounded
What if we put down our signs crossed over the lines and loved like You did?

We Christians all too often are looking down our fingers. If you really read the Gospels, you get a view of Jesus that is greater than your view of Christianity. Because, for most of us, they are not the same thing.

Of course, there is much more to the Bible. But for me, the core of it is the actual story of Jesus and what he said and did. Christians would better live up to their name if they read the Bible more.