Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo started off wonderfully. By the end of the first book I was completely and utterly hooked. The tone of the story lends itself perfectly to being read aloud and there are rhetorical questions asked every now and again with which a parent and child could have fun. By the end of the second book the story took a darker turn but I expected as much, given that fantasy novels usually have a dark villain and such. Then the third part came along and as the disparate parts of the story began to come together I gained a distaste for the novel that nearly out-weighed the merit of it. A character is introduced who is such a cliché—a size-ist inspired stereotypical overweight, clumsy, and stupid girl—that I nearly put the book down altogether. I finished it and, by the end of the novel, I felt I could barely recommend it. It’s a good story, charming at points. However, the inclusion of this one character makes me altogether uncomfortable and I can only say that if a parent reads this book to their child they should do so with an open mind, ready to discuss the issues of weight in our society and how such characters give tacit permission to ridiculing and looking down upon people who have issues with their weight.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Star Wars and Philosophy edited by Kevin S Decker and Jason T Eberl

Star Wars and Philosophy: More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine edited by Kevin S Decker and Jason T Eberl is yet another of the Philosophy and Pop Culture books which I have enjoyed, some more than others. Naturally, because I remember going to see Star Wars IV: A New Hope when it first came out in the movie theaters and even dragged my children to see the movies when they were reissued, I anticipated that this volume in the series would be one that I would inevitably love. Unfortunately, this is not the case. I found most of the essays uninteresting. Few addressed any topics in a surprising way nor did any dig into the anticipated arguments with much depth. Perhaps I have overlooked this predictability or superficiality in previous volumes but it seemed particularly glaring in this volume. Only two essays stood out as interesting: "The Far East of Star Wars" by Walter [Ritoku] Robinson and “A Certain Point of View”: Lying Jedi, Honest Sith, and the Viewers Who Love Them". Unfortunately, the former is so poorly edited as to be an insult to any reader and the latter is more fun than deeply philosophical. I know that there are many books written about Star Wars that address the philosophical ideas that underlie the movies, lending them more significance than perhaps they deserve. I would suggest that anyone who is looking for a deeper exploration should look elsewhere. For someone new to the idea of philosophy, this book might be satisfying. I can’t say. But for me, this was the least gratifying of the books I’ve read and whether this is because my expectations were too high I cannot say.
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As the civilizations of our own time clash over rival theologies inherited from the past, mankind is in need of an empowering belief for our time, one that provides a unifying distillation of all the world’s religions. (147) The essence of sin, Hegel argues, is the belief that one is an isolated individual, an ego separated from the All—all other human beings and the rest of reality. (151) Thales, the very first philosopher in the Western tradition, was once asked, “What is most difficult?” He replied, “To know thyself.” (160) Drawing on Dewey [D]emocratic ends can only be reached by democratic means. (179) Changing one’s name is a near-universal way to signal a new identity, dying in a metaphorical sense to one’s old self and being reborn. (199) What makes holding a belief immoral is not simply a matter of whether the belief is true or false, or even whether it is fruitful or unfruitful, but rather of how it originated. The danger of faith is not only that we might have a false belief or even that we should pass on a false belief to others, although this is bad enough. Still worse, if we should be in the habit of not seeking justification for our beliefs, we may become overly credulous and thus, savage. . . . (207)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Legends Volume 1 edited by Robert Silverberg

Legends Volume 1 edited by Robert Silverberg is a collection of four novellas by contemporary writers. Each story is a sort of addendum, a side story that adds to a more fully realized series of novels. The first is by Stephen King and adds to the Dark Tower series as the main character, gunslinger Roland, wanders through another town and faces a nightmare. King merges the traditional western themes and style with his own twisted horrific visions. I haven’t read the entire Dark Tower series because I knew I didn’t need to do so when I guessed how the whole seven book series would end. There is yet another clue even in this short story. How anyone could be a) surprised by and b) disappointed with how King chose to end those books is beyond me. I didn’t especially like the story but then I don’t especially like King’s writing. Robert Silverberg’s story builds on the Majipoor books I have tried to read time and again. I believe I’ve tried to read them thrice and simply could not get caught up in the story. I cannot deny Silverberg’s facility for creating a multi-faceted and exciting alternate world full of believable and fantastic beings. Unfortunately, for all of the detail and fully realized creation, I never lost myself in the story and never finished the first novel in the series. This story didn’t make me want to run out and give the first book yet another try. It’s a good story full of mystery, history, and such but not compelling enough for me to read more about Majipoor or Valentine. Orson Scott Card’s story draws on the alternate reality he created for his Alvin Maker series, yet another first book I could not get sucked into enough to finish. I know I’ve tried to read it twice and the most recent attempt I made it halfway through the book before I gave up. I love Card’s ability to draw on the familiar and make something very new and the story included in this collection actually makes me wonder why I never found myself able to commit to the books. A good story, full of remarkable flavor and humor, told in a folktale tone that feels more like the reader is listening to a master storyteller. The fourth and final story is from Raymond E Feist, a story that is part of his Riftwar Saga. This is actually the best story in the collection, as far as I’m concerned, in that it made me want to read more from Feist. Unfortunately, it is also the most poorly edited. I also thought that Silverberg’s story could have been better edited before I made the connection (ie. Silverberg is the editor and it makes sense that his story would need more than others). There really is no excuse for insured being used where ensured is required (365). Still, assuming that Feist’s novels have gone through various editions and the editors have ensured the quality of their work, I suspect I would enjoy reading his Riftwar series.