I Guess We’re Really Doing This, Book #2

Don’t you look handsome, Book #2!

Uploading you was tricky. It was a two-week ordeal that gave me fits. Now, that could have been because I am nearly computer illiterate, but I prefer to think it was Satan — a.k.a. Resistance — trying to keep you from being published. You know, because you are so important and all.

Anyway, here we are.

Hi Blog Readers! Soon You Can Buy My Second Book!

The Strange Land is set go on sale May 3, in honor of a certain dear older relative’s birthday. You should be able to pre-order it soon. I just checked, and it doesn’t appear to be on Amazon yet, but that’s probably because I only released it for publishing just a few hours ago. When I have a link, I will give you one on this very blog. I’m also updating the “buy my books” page.

The Strange Land picks up more or less where The Long Guest left off and follows the second generation of Enmer’s family. Here is the back cover:

Aaand there it is … the one embarrassing typo.

And just for the thrill of it, here is the spine:

A sample print copy is on the way to my house. Let’s hope that by the time it arrives, the typo will have vanished!

Have a great week, all, and I will keep you updated.

Pre-order The Strange Land on Amazon.

Six Oh Six

I’m not musical. Hence, this is the only choral arrangement that I could sing with you, any time, even a capella. Reason? I grew up Mennonite.

“606” – so called because for years it was hymn #606 in the Mennonite Hymnal — is an arrangement of the doxology. It is, or it used to be, sung often enough in Mennonite churches that it could be called the Mennonite national anthem. Which means it was sung often enough that I, who have to hear a song about 100 times before I catch on, actually had a chance to learn it. It wasn’t until years later, hearing it after a gap in time, that I realized how very German it sounds. The Mennonites are an Anabaptist sect founded by Menno Simons. He was actually a Freislander, but Mennonites are German enough in culture that it has influenced their music.

I was inspired to post this when Chris posted an arrangement of Nearer, My God, to Thee that reminded me very much of the music I grew up with.

Netflix Wants Me to Doubt My Own Mind

So, within about the past month, I’ve watched two different psychological thrillers on Netflix. And they are both the same damn movie. (And I use damn advisedly.) In both, the viewer knows only what the point of view character knows. And he (it’s a he in both movies) is uncovering a conspiracy. Until, at the very end, it turns out that he’s delusional. Many of the major events in the movie, which were shown to the viewer as if in good faith, were actually happening only in his mind. Actual events were quite different. The interpretation he was putting on everything was completely wrong. In one of the movies, the point of view character is brought to realize this, at least briefly. In the other, it is made plain to the viewer only.

I am pretty ticked at both of these movies. Especially at them both being on Netflix at the same time.

On the one hand, they are well-written, well-plotted, well-filmed and well-acted. Tense as heck. They are an immersive experience that helps the viewer understand what it feels like to be delusional. (In both cases, the break with reality was brought on by trauma. In both cases, actually, involving the death of a child.) So, they are very good.

But this strength comes at a pretty steep cost. Namely, they can make you doubt yourself something fierce. I think that the reveal at the end of each movie was that the person was delusional. But who really knows? Maybe I am misinterpreting what the director was trying to say. Maybe I did not even watch the danged movies. Maybe there is no such thing as reality.

This has to be intentional, right? Two movies, running concurrently, aimed at people who like psychological thrillers, both of them trying to tell you that you can’t really know what is real. I mean, God help you if you’ve got dissociative disorder. (And I use God help you advisedly.)

I’m with G.K. Chesterton on this. Or rather, he is there, throwing me a lifeline. GKC believed strongly that we have a moral obligation to believe in reality and to trust our own perceptions of it. I don’t have any of the quotes in front of me, but I do remember that he said something like, “Every day you can hear an educated man utter the heretical statement that he may be wrong.” He also tells a long story, elsewhere, about how he spent an evening at a friend’s house where they had a brisk philosophical debate. GKC was maintaining that reality exists and can be known. His friend was maintaining the opposite. Having vigorously defended reality, GKC got into a taxi and, when he arrived at his destination, had one of those confusing conversations with the cab driver that make you feel as if you’ve fallen through a portal. The cab driver remembered picking up GKC at some other location, and remembered GKC having said something to him that he didn’t say. GKC argued with the man for several minutes, and after just a few minutes was starting to doubt himself and, thus, reality. Then, just when GKC was beginning to waver, the cabman got on his face a look of sudden revelation as he realized that he was remembering a different customer.

You might think that someone like GKC, who believes that “I might be wrong” is a heresy, would be arrogant and impossible to convince of anything. But that’s not necessarily true. If you believe in reality and trust your perceptions of it, then you can be presented with evidence. And if the evidence is good, you can change your mind. If you don’t have the baseline trust in your own mind, then no amount of evidence is going to convince you.

One more, equally sinister, aspect of all this. Traditionally, Hollywood likes to give us messages that we should not trust authority. The cops are on the take. The conspiracy goes all the way to the top. The experts don’t know everything. We are “sleeping with the enemy.” The two movies I watched recently give the opposite message. They play on our expectations that experts and authority figures in movies will turn out to be villains. In both of these particular cases, it is doctors (medical doctors in one; psychologists in another) who appear to be concealing the truth. They appear to want to treat the protagonist like he’s crazy, or else frame him for being crazy. There is bureaucracy and gaslighting and all the stuff we find in dystopias. But in this case, they turn out to be right. What to do you know? He actually is crazy. If only he had listened to them. Lives could have been saved.

I think both of these movies were made before you-know-what, so it’s probably a coincidence. Still, I’m not super comfortable when two pieces of well-done art say to me in stereo, “Trust us. We know what reality is and you don’t. We know best.”

A Decent Man Would Never Write “No Irish Need Apply”

Well, I couldn’t stand his nonsense, so aheld of him I took

and I gave him such a baetin’ as he’d get in Donnybrook.

He hollered me the murther, and to get away did try

and swore he’d nivver write again, “No Irish Need Apply.”

He made a big apology, and I bid him then goodbye,

sayin’, “When nixt you want a baetin’, write ‘No Irish Need Apply.'”

Well, some may think it a misfortune to be christened Patrick Dan,

but to me it is an honor to be born an Irishman.

Sure, I’ve heard that in America, it always is the plan

that an Irishman is just as good as any other man.

A home and hospitality they nivver will deny

to strangers here, or ever write, “No Irish Need Apply.”

Oh, but some black sheep are in the flock: “A drrty lot,” says I;

a daecent man would nivver say, “No Irish Need Apply.”

See below

Happy St. Patrick’s Day yesterday!

More About the Antikythera Mechanism: An Ancient Greek Computer

It was sort of an i-phone, actually. We use ours to check Facebook.; they used theirs to check the position of the planets.

It was only about the size of a shoebox. It was found in a shipwreck. Because of the corrosion and the delicacy of it, reconstructing it has been the task of decades. They left us a puzzle; we are figuring it out. Here is an article about some of the latest discoveries about it. Here you can see a video about it.

There are still some questions. Like, did it do some things that we haven’t found yet (due to the damage to it)? How did they make it (since we don’t think they had lathes)? Given that they could make things like this, how come we haven’t found a lot more? In fact, are there more to be found in this very shipwreck? Why didn’t they make clocks? (Hint: maybe because you don’t really need clocks until you have electric lights and trains.) So many exciting questions! No sarcasm here. I really am excited.

This reminds me of what my Old Testament Backgrounds teacher once said about Babel: “If God hadn’t confused the languages, perhaps the industrial revolution could have happened right then.”

A Wizard of Earthsea (A Re-read)

The following is a re-post of a review that I put up on Goodreads. Five stars!

I read A Wizard of Earthsea probably 15 years ago, and just now, re-read it. My gosh, I had forgotten; it is sooo good. The prose is almost like poetry. But not in a way that makes it hard to read; quite the opposite.

Ged is a young man with an incredible talent for magic. Even in a world where many people have that talent, he stands out. Consequently, he is arrogant, hard to teach, impatient to get on with things and to realize his greatness. The main danger in this book comes NOT from some dark, ancient force outside of Ged, like Sauron, but from within his own ignorant, arrogant, immature young heart. But this doesn’t make this book boring. Ged’s flawed nature takes on a creepy, demonic reality outside of himself, and he must fix the evil he has unleashed before it destroys the people he loves.

Ursula Le Guin isn’t a Christian, and I would say this book flirts with the Jungian idea that we all need our shadow side and need to “embrace” it in order to be whole. But there is so much wisdom in this book as well. The novel recognizes that the human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, and that humans must face this fact. This is a fact about the world, taught in Judeo-Christian doctrine but also observable to anyone. And Le Guin has observed it.

Another big perk of this book is the worldbuilding. Earthsea is a world of oceans, archipelagos, and “far reaches.” Each island has its own distinct culture, and the fact that some of them are more remote and you of course have to sail to them, gives that expansive feeling of exploring exotic new territory that readers of high fantasy look for. Although islands, the world seems to be temperate to Arctic in climate. So it doesn’t give the feel so much of the Pacific as of ancient Britain. A lot of scenes take place in the snow or in the cold rain.

“Only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life: bright the hawk’s flight on the empty sky.” 

Something to Chew On

Photo by veeterzy on Pexels.com

You thought, as a boy, that a mage is one who can do anything. So I thought, once. So did we all. And the truth is that as a man’s real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do

from A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin

Archaeological Find: Yikes.

Archaeologists in Israel Unearth 3,800-Year-Old Skeleton of Baby Buried in Jar”

Ancient world, why oh why did you bury babies in jars? And why did you have myths about children being imprisoned in jars while still alive?

Maybe you had a good reason. The archaeologists in this article are giving you the benefit of the doubt, saying that you wanted to protect the body, or re-create a womb-like environment. That could be true. I hope it’s true.

But all I can say is that this creeps me out.

Unattractive but Understandable Boasting

So, this last week, I got the following e-mail from an agent:

“Sorry for the delay in responding to your query. This novel doesn’t look like it’s for me, but good luck with your writing.”

A pretty standard, polite, inoffensive reply. The second most popular kind after No Response Means No.

Why is this both amusing and annoying?

Because I sent the query eleven months ago.

I had forgotten that I was still querying in April of last year. That’s around the time that I decided to go ahead with self-publishing. Apparently, I was still sending off a few queries for Book #2, on the off chance that someone would love it and call me the same day to beg for the file of the whole novel. In the year since, I’ve had Books 1 and 2 professionally edited, done cover design, indie published Book 1 … and, this week, I was preparing finally to upload for indie publishing Book 2. The same week I got the reply to this query.

A delay of almost a year before a reply isn’t actually that unusual in traditional publishing? I guess? It wouldn’t seem very insulting except that, for me as for many people, this past year has seemed much longer. The idea that I could still be sitting by my laptop, waiting for replies to queries, is kind of sad.

Now, my book sales aren’t anything to boast about yet. On the other hand, because I took action instead of waiting on agents, I can now say the phrase “my book sales.” And that’s priceless.