Books


Two of my hobbies are history and physics.  Unsurprisingly, two of my favorite TV channels are History and the Science Channel.

I especially love it when my two hobbies collimate.

Probably my favorite show right now (and I have to be very choosy of the shows I watch, given my ridiculously packed schedule) is The Universe – incredible show.  One of the recurring guys on the show is Michio Kaku, who is perhaps my favorite current theoretical physicist.

Yes, I’m a physics groupie.

I have read other things by Michio, and when he became a regular on The Universe, especially on the Parallel Universes episode, I found out he’d released a new (at that time) book – Physics of the Impossible.  I had intended to buy his book – I really, really had – but for a variety of reasons put it off.

Mostly because I’m already reading several other books, including John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life and Starlight, Time and the New Physics, with a truckload of other books on tap (most  notably, The Race Set Before Us – thanks to Michael Newnham – and The Orthodox Church, with a smattering of books on Lutheranism, as well as painfully and slowly working my way through Summa Theologica and The Ante-Nicene FathersI have no spare time…)  Those books, while interesting, I read because they expand my thinking related to my calling as a pastor.  Physics of the Impossible is my mind-candy – something I read for the pure joy of it, a book to unwind with at the end of a hectic day.  But given that I’m (a) dirt poor [did I mention that I’m a pastor?] and (b) very extremely short on discretionary time, to add another book to my stable of “currently reading” for a long time was just too much to reasonably consider.

So it’s taken me quite some time to pull the trigger and pony up the Washingtons to buy Michio’s book.

Over a fleeting break during my day-job-to-support-my-habit, I finally bought & downloaded it.

I’m only in the preface, and I’m absolutely hooked.  Some quotes to give you the flavor:

I was just a child the day when Albert Einstein died, but I remember people talking about his life, and death, in hushed tones.  The next day I saw in the newspapers a picture of his desk, with the unfinished manuscript of his greatest, unfinished work.  I asked myself, What could be so important that the greatest scientist of our time could not finish it?  The article claimed that Einstein had an impossible dream, a problem so difficult that it was not possible for a mortal to finish it.  It took me years to find out what that manuscript was about: a grand, unifying “theory of everything.”  His dream – which consumed the last three decades of his life – helped to focus my own imagination.  I wanted, in some small way, to be a part of the effort to complete Einstein’s work, to unify the laws of physics into a single theory.

Given the remarkable advances in science in the past century, especially the creation of the quantum theory and general relativity, it is now possible to give rough estimates of when, if ever, some of these fantastic technologies may be realized.  With the coming of even more advanced theories, such as string theory, even concepts bordering on science fiction, such as time travel and parallel universes, are now being re-evaluated by physicists.  Think back 150 years to those technological advances that were declared “impossible” by scientists at the time and that have now become part of our everyday lives.  Jules Verne wrote a novel in 1863, Paris in the Twentieth Century, which was locked away and forgotten for over a century until it was accidentally discovered by his great-grandson and published for the first time in 1994.  In it Verne predicted what Paris might look like in the year 1960.  His novel was filled with technology that was clearly considered impossible in the nineteenth century, including fax machines, a world-wide communications network, glass skyscrapers, gas-powered automobiles, and high-speed elevated trains.

Not surprisingly, Verne could make such stunningly accurate predictions because he was immersed in the world of science, picking the brains of scientists around him.  A deep appreciation for the fundamentals of science allowed him to make such startling predictions.

Ironically, the serious study of the impossible has frequently opened up rich and entirely unexpected domains of science.  For example, over the centuries the frustrating and futile search for a “perpetual motion machine” led physicists to conclude that such a machine was impossible, forcing them to postulate the conservation of energy and the three laws of thermodynamics.  Thus the futile search to build perpetual motion machines helped to open up the entirely new field of thermodynamics, which in part laid the foundation of the steam engine, the machine age, and modern industrial society.

We ignore the impossible at our peril.

The purpose of this book is to consider what technologies are considered “impossible” today that might well become commonplace decades to centuries down the road.

Already one “impossible” technology is now proving to be possible: the notion of teleportation (at least at the level of atoms).  Even a few years ago physicists would have said that sending or beaming an object from one point to another violated the laws of quantum physics.  The writers of the original Star Trek television series, in fact, were so stung by the criticism from physicists that they added “Heisenberg compensators” to explain their teleporters in order to address this flaw.  Today, because of a recent breakthrough, physicists can teleport atoms across a room or photons under the Danube River.

I’m hooked.

If you’re as fascinated by these things as I am, you will love this book.

So say we all.

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It’s become very vogue to chortle at the Left Behind series of books by LaHaye and Jenkins and their subsequent movie adaptations.  Even many who share a dispensational (i.e., pretrib premil) eschatology, seemingly in order to fit in with the hep-cat-yo-dog-g*money über-relevant cool kids crowd have taken up the laugh track.

Oy.

You can’t see it, but I’m rolling my eyes.

I’d like to go on record as saying that I liked the series overall.  Granted, the prose was…pedestrian.  And the theology was a bit sensationalistic and took some fairly healthy leaps of poetic license.  But come on, guys…it was a series of fiction books.  Let’s all take a deep, cleansing breath, step back a bit, grab ourselves a nice, tall glass of ice-cold milk, and just chill.

Eh?

Can we do that, mayhap?

Understanding that it was written for the broadest audience possible, I can excuse the somewhat less-than-inspired writing. (On that note, I find it more than a bit ironic that all the hep-cat-yo-dog-g*money über-relevant cool kids, who put such a galactically huge emphasis on “contextualization” and “reaching and engaging the culture, duuuuude” got and get their underbritches all in a bunch over the purposeful accessibility of the Left Behind series… Things that make you go, “hmmmmmmm…”)  And I can excuse the leaps the series makes – they’re adapting a prophetic scenario that, quite frankly, defies full visualization, and the authors didn’t do a singularly terrible job of filling in the gaps.

Mostly, the reaction against Left Behind has its genesis in and is fuelled by that segment of the church which hates severely dislikes isnt’ a huge fan of dispensational eschatology.

Okay, fair enough. Come up with your own fiction series, then, which emphasizes your own eschatological distinctives and go about your way.

What the Left Behind series illustrated (and actually continues to illustrate) is that there is a vast reservoir of interest in Biblical prophecy in America – people are very curious about what the Biblical scenario is and how it intersects if at all with their lives and current events in general.  Should they rather get that information from the Bible itself – or at least from good, solid scholarly sources? Sure. But the fact that they’re so obviously and hugely interested in the subject in the first place is a very telling thing – and, frankly, when someone gets interested in Left Behind, they usually want to dig deeper – which means that they usually begin to ask questions that they didn’t even know how to ask before and seek out the answers in more reliable avenues.

Or at least, that’s been my experience here on the glorious west coast of Michigan.

Which is an incredible thing; West Michigan is a hotbed of both Reformed (and therefore usually a- or post-millennialism) and Emergent Christianity – two houses which in today’s climate tend to be decidedly hostile to dispensationalism (with, of course, notable exceptions).  The hippest churches tend toward a very decidedly nonchalant attitude towards eschatology altogether.

And yet, even here in West Michigan, Left Behind remains a very popular fiction series.

That says something.

Oh, yes, I know, you can shake your head in mock despair and say that what it reveals is the rampancy of Biblical nescience, if only they’d get a hold of towering theological treasures like Blue Like Jazz and The Apocalypse Code they’d be cured of their benightedness…

…I choose not to assume that it means that the rank-and-file are, as a group, idiots.

Instead, I believe it speaks to a real hunger to know more about the Lord, and about what His Word says about history – they want to know, especially now, that there is a God in heaven who knows, who cares, and who is sovereignly moving the great and small events of life toward a determined (and ultimately very hopeful) end.

Left Behind tapped and continues to tap into that vast groundswell.

And so I say again, overall, I liked the series.

Excellent job, Tim and Jerry.  Excellent job.

And to the hep-cat-yo-dog-g*money über-relevant cool kids who spare no hauteur attacking both the books and their authors – get a hobby.  Seriously. You’re embarrassing yourselves.


My respect for Orson Scott Card has officially gone way up.

He comments on the recent lawsuit by Ms. Rowling against Van Der Ark, the author of the Harry Potter Lexicon, pointing out the apparent hypocrisy of Rowling’s regarding her litigation.

Very cleverly done.

I have to say, I’ve been a huge Card fan since Ender’s Game…and been equally unimpressed by Rowling’s stuff.

Card’s works tend to deal in layered characterization and plotlines…Rowling’s Potter series tends to be…really pedestrian.

And don’t babble on about “it’s a kids’ book series!”

Pthhphphptphphpthphtphtphphthphphtttt.

Ms. L’Engle’s stuff, which was also juvenile in focus, was vastly better.

For crying out loud, so was Christopher’s Tripods series, or McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, and a host of others.

Back to Card.

The first few paragraphs of his article really do whet the appetite for the rest, and set the tone for his (cogent and dead-smack-on) analysis of Rowling’s pity party:

Can you believe that J.K. Rowling is suing a small publisher because she claims their 10,000-copy edition of The Harry Potter Lexicon, a book about Rowling’s hugely successful novel series, is just a “rearrangement” of her own material.

Rowling “feels like her words were stolen,” said lawyer Dan Shallman.

Well, heck, I feel like the plot of my novel Ender’s Game was stolen by J.K. Rowling.

A young kid growing up in an oppressive family situation suddenly learns that he is one of a special class of children with special abilities, who are to be educated in a remote training facility where student life is dominated by an intense game played by teams flying in midair, at which this kid turns out to be exceptionally talented and a natural leader. He trains other kids in unauthorized extra sessions, which enrages his enemies, who attack him with the intention of killing him; but he is protected by his loyal, brilliant friends and gains strength from the love of some of his family members. He is given special guidance by an older man of legendary accomplishments who previously kept the enemy at bay. He goes on to become the crucial figure in a struggle against an unseen enemy who threatens the whole world.

This paragraph lists only the most prominent similarities between Ender’s Game and the Harry Potter series. My book was published in England many years before Rowling began writing about Harry Potter. Rowling was known to be reading widely in speculative fiction during the era after the publication of my book.

I can get on the stand and cry, too, Ms. Rowling, and talk about feeling “personally violated.”

Go read the rest of the article. Good, smashingly good stuff.

Orson Scott Card for President.

There’s good, solid talk that there’s going to be a big-budget move adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune.

Sweet!

I was annoyed by the 1984 version.

I was more pleased with the SciFi Channel miniseries’ covering the events of Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune

But this is supposed to be a BIG BUDGET adaptation of Dune which stays true to the novel.

I’m a-twitter with anticipation…

…well, not really…but the author of the novels he appears in does.

Anne Rice talks about her faith in the Lord Jesus in this article in the Washington Post.

I haven’t read her new stuff (a semi-historical-fiction-y treatment of the life of Jesus), largely because I’m already bogged down with other reading, and my “extra-cirricular” “just-for-fun-to-blow-off-steam-and-relax” reading is currently The Dreaming Void by Pete Hamilton – so I don’t have time right now.

But since the second book of the Void Trilogy’s not due out until tentatively much later this year, after I’m done with TDV, I think Anne Rice’s new stuff just might be on the docket…