Category Archives: Recommendations

Hey, My Brother Has the #1 Steampunk EBook on Amazon!

The Sculpted Ship is back up on the Amazon charts!

Kevin recently put out the paper edition of his book, and then was accepted by BookBub for a promotion. So right now, you can get the Kindle edition for a great discount price.

99 cents!

Buy, read, enjoy! It’s good fun space sf, where the suns never set on the Iris Empire!

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Be Kind: Everyone Is Fighting a Great Battle

A few years back, I ran into a blog called Fencing Bear at Prayer. It was written by a medievalist who liked Mary, so of course I was interested. But the farther back I got into her blog, the more I got the impression that she liked Mary in a neopagan way. So I posted some argumentative stuff about it in the comments and on here somewhere, and went on.

Well, I was wrong about her. So I hope the lady didn’t take my comments to heart.

She was doing the conversion thing and was very new to starting it, so I should have been a lot gentler. And more, she was just at the beginning of fighting a great Internet battle.

Milo Yiannopoulos took an interest in this lady and helped her in her conversion to Catholicism. Yup, the original Peck’s Bad Boy had an eye for the slightly puzzled-looking lost sheep… and I didn’t. That is a prodigious failure on my part.

Yiannopoulos has written a big fat essay, fully researched and linked, about the online mobbing that has been suffered by this kindly lady professor for the last three years, from members of her own field, and why medieval studies is being attacked as a discipline. He calls it “Middle Rages: Why the Battle for Medieval Studies Matters to America,” and it is worth reading the whole thing.

And then, one of the mob leaders threatened to sue the university where the professor works… over the article that had nothing to do with the university… and before the article even came out.

OTOH, the essay also exposes the way a lot of nasty people on the Internet are happy to speak with forked tongue — writing gentle prose to one group of “friends” on the same day they are whipping up hatemobs against their “friends” in another closed group. No wonder such people like to employ sock puppets; it’s just an extension of their usual methods.

In other news, the Fencing Bear at Prayer has a second book out. Mary and the Art of Prayer, by Rachel Fulton Brown is a tad bit pricey, but where else are you going to get this kind of research and all these great sources? It takes the subject of prayer seriously, instead of treating it as some mysterious obscure practice done only in the dark of the moon in lemur holes, by aliens with five heads. But it is also a history of ideas book, which I love. Prayer has its tides that go in and out, and this is a book about older ways to think about prayer.

And it’s about Mary, who is a great person to get to know. Why do Catholics insist on praying with her and chatting to her? It’s hard for us to explain, because it’s like fish doing dissertations on water. Rachel Fulton Brown is the new fish on the reef, so she can still talk about it instead of just breathing it!

Mostly, though, we need to pray for Rachel Fulton Brown, aka Fencing Bear at Prayer. Because she is still fighting a great battle.

O Blessed Virgin Mary,
Queen to angels and men,
Hypermachos Strategos (Great General) of the hosts of Heaven,
please continue to pray for your fencer and her champions.
O beautiful as an army set for battle,
send your subject St. Michael to give them aid and counsel!

O Queen of poets and prophets,
As you spoke your mind freely to your Son and to angels,
teach us to speak boldly and with honesty —
even if it makes us seem foolish before the world,
and even if the world hates us for it —
for we are body parts of your Son, and cannot expect better than He got.
Help us learn to make suffering a path to heaven; and help us not despair.

We ask this in Christ Our Lord, Amen.

* I still think some of the modern academics that Fulton Brown was using as sources are whacked out beyond wacky. But the main ones are useful-wacky, and worth picking through and yelling at. I later saw a lot of super-orthodox folks referencing the same whackdoodles, and some of them trained under the same people! Theology and Bible studies can get pretty offbeat.

Also, it’s well-known that a prof can make really good points and really stupid points in the same book or article, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to find the same thing happening in theology history books. And to be fair, 90% of all new experiments and theories are bound to turn out to be wrong, if you are actually investigating anything new.

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Filed under Church, Recommendations, Saint Stories

Nicolas Le Floch: Good Historical Mystery Show

Nicolas Le Floch is a French-made historical mystery show. It came out in 2008, and I’m sorry that I’ve never seen it before. The scenery of old Paris and Versailles is great, the portrayal of the era and its point of view is wonderfully exact, and the stories are a mix of mystery and swashbuckling adventure. What more could you ask?

It’s 1761. Nicolas, our sleuth hero, is a commissaire for the Paris police. He has a team of investigators (including an inspecteur who often masquerades as a servant or constable), sources (including a sort of Paris Baker Street Irregulars), and access to the weird world of French government informants.

(Yes, the king and Cardinal Richelieu really did employ some of the famous Paris beggars as an army of informants and couriers.)

However, he also has to deal with the mean streets of Paris, court intrigue, plots, poisonings, banditry, his boss, and all manner of other troubles. And since he’s a French detective whose last name is not Maigret, he is statutorily required to have extremely consenting sex with extremely consenting women.

But he is really trying to fight for justice, even if his means are sometimes questionable. Very questionable. Or at least, very French.

It’s a really good show with great stories. It’s so refreshing to watch a historical show with characters that have historical motives, feelings, and worries, instead of being copies of modern people. Also, the actor does a great job playing a complicated character caught between worlds, and he has plenty of French charm as well as French shrewdness. The supporting actors and minor cast are also a joy. The music is beautiful, and there’s a great scene reproducing baroque opera. Even the horses are awesome.

It’s not a show for young kids who are mystery fans, because there are suggestive situations, and there’s a fair amount of talk about court scandals with both sexes. But it should be okay for older folks.

Nicolas Le Floch is adapted from a series of French historical mysteries written by Jean-Francois Parot. (“Les enquêtes de Nicolas Le Floch, commissaire au Châtelet.”) Six of the books have been translated into English by the repetitiously named Howard Howard, and they are available on Kindle. There is an audiobook edition in French.

The German translation of one of the books appears to be free on Kindle, but that doesn’t do me much good.

Nicolas Le Floch is available free from many libraries via the Hoopla app, which now includes video download capabilities for mobile devices.

PS – The Great Courses are now available on Hoopla, also for free. Which is cheaper than the Amazon channel, given the capacity to download, although only a fixed number of people can borrow the same video at a time from your library. Courses include “Learning French,” “Latin 101,” and “Greek 101.” (Still no downloadable textbook, but free!)

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Great Deal on the Great Courses!

I just noticed this. (And no, I’m not an Amazon or Great Courses affiliate. If you want to go through somebody else’s search box, go to it.)

The Great Courses has a “channel” on Amazon, called “The Great Courses Signature Collection.” It costs $7.99 a month (after a week of free trial), and you can watch anything they offer on the channel.

It carries many of the same courses that are available on Audible, although these courses are augmented with video or pictures of the things that the professor is talking about.

And (if you are already an Amazon Prime member) it’s much cheaper per month than Audible is, although you can only watch the videos on your Internet-connected TV or download them onto a device. It’s going to take a bit more power, so you can’t really listen to them as easily as on an audio-only device. You also do not own/license a permanent digital copy of the offerings, as you would with Audible. With me so far?

However, the Signature Collection also contains LANGUAGE COURSES!

Yes, you can take the equivalent of a first year, semester-length course in Classical Latin, Ancient and Koine Greek, Ancient Egyptian and Egyptian hieroglyphics, Spanish, French, etc. (One semester of language in college is like the whole first year in junior high/high school.) You don’t get all the practice and homework (unless you do it yourself – same as in college), but you get all the grammar and explanations.

For $7.99 a month.

Also, each episode is fully summarized on the Signature Collection webpages, which is not the case on Audible. (And if you do use the Great Courses from Audible, you might want to bookmark/save the corresponding webpage, just as a lesson finder.)

LANGUAGE COURSES!!! FOR $7.99 A MONTH!

There’s also a chess course, an Algebra I course, a Tai Chi course, a medical diagnosis class for laypeople, a guitar course, and some music appreciation courses where you get to listen to the pieces.

I am probably going to drop Audible temporarily (they save the files you’ve bought), and focus on these language courses. Seriously, this is a DEAL. Almost a STEAL.

UPDATE: You can download the Greek 101 Guidebook from Scribd.com. Since the Great Courses doesn’t seem to be selling it separately, I guess this is a good way to use a free trial month on Scribd. It is over 400 pages and includes a boatload of homework.

The Latin 101 “guidebook” on Scribd is actually just a transcript of the TV episodes, along with pictures of the diagrams and graphics used in the course. You can look at it online or on a Scribd app, but you can’t download it as a PDF.

I don’t see any other Great Courses language stuff on Scribd, but they have a lot of other language study books.

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Michael Heiser Books

[Previously posted, in somewhat different format, as a comment over at Crossover Queen.]

Michael Heiser is a pretty solid Bible scholar. His POV is that he is trying to understand the Bible solely based on the text while ignoring theological tradition. (Hence the title of his podcast, The Naked Bible Podcast.) Of course, you can’t necessarily do that, so he spends most of his career trying to understand the Bible via archaeological, cultural, and historical info. As for his religious POV, I think he’s some flavor of evangelical.

I really enjoyed his podcast series on the Book of Ezekiel. It gave a very nice explication of the literal sense of the text, along with a lot of secondary cultural material that greatly helped. He also had pictures and articles to download from his site, such as pictures of various archaeological discoveries of “chariot thrones” with angel and wheel supporters, found in countries around Israel.

Anyway, the guy has a couple of books out on supernatural angel-related stuff in the Bible, and comparing it to various Phoenician, Sumerian, etc. materials about the same thing. The Unseen Realms is the first one, and it’s available for free on Kindle Unlimited. Reversing Hermon is his more recent one. I read Unseen Realms too fast and missed some of his more startling/iffy bits, until he quoted them in Reversing Hermon.

The downfall of drawing your own conclusions is that you can be led into things like “Hit the button on the astro software, and decide what must be the Star of Bethlehem!” My older brother is an astronomer, so I’ve seen huge numbers of theories about the Star of Bethlehem. I was not impressed by his “Rosh Hashanah must be the real Christmas!” theory, mostly because I’ve seen a lot of the same astronomical material used as an interesting coincidence with the Virgin Mary’s traditional (East and West agree) birthday in September. His theory is a much better grade of “just suppose,” but interesting and academic doesn’t mean closer to reality.

The basic deal with Reversing Hermon is that a lot of Near/Middle East cultures had this idea that they got civilization skills from seven minor deity/angelic sages (who came from heaven or from the ocean). The sages taught humanity all sorts of things, married human women, and had kids who were human on the outside but minor deities/angels/spirits on the inside. And the same thing was true of their grandkids and so on. All the divine-descended people were taller than regular mortals, stronger, great warriors and sorcerors, etc., and had all the awesome skills that the sages taught. Various folks like Enkidu and Gilgamesh had this background.

But they didn’t live forever, and if you killed them their deity/angel/spirit half took over and became a vengeful spirit, punishing humans and haunting various spooky places. They also had their own realm, “the Great Land,” which was underground under various sacred mountains, the Dead Sea, etc. The Canaanites were very big into this, and very big into appeasing them or getting a specific Baal “Lord of the Dead” to keep them under control, because the giant dead running back and forth from their Great Land were a lot more dangerous than normal human dead people in Sheol.

Heiser shows that a lot of the stuff in the Bible about giants is from the POV of Israel putting a different spin on their neighbors’ stories. The sages were really evil rebel angels. The skills taught by the “sages” included a lot of things that Jewish people saw as inimical to good life and civilization, not foundational to it. Giants were mostly not good guys in life, either; they are people possessed by evil spirits or allowing themselves to be used. God was in the process of defeating the rebel angels, their evil descendants, and the evil Rephaim spirits. Heiser also theorizes in Reversing Hermon that a lot of Jesus’ actions, and His Incarnation, were part of showing humans the truth about the ultimate defeat of said rebel angels, giants, and evil spirits.

I thought the thesis was pretty interesting, and the gathering of sources was, too. Obviously Jesus did have a fair number of agendas going on, and spiritual warfare was clearly one of them. What I objected to was the conclusions and uses he made from the material. There was a lot of stuff that had me rolling my eyes and looking dubious, including the Rosh Hashanah Christmas thing.

And then, when you work your whole book up to “And Catholics totally don’t understand the rock/gates of Hell speech, but my theory won’t give satisfaction as to why Peter gets called Rock,” you are going to make us Catholics start looking like an eye slot machine. (Because there’s always another theory about how we’re wrong, and they’re all different except about how we’re wrong this time.)

Also, a lot of his pointing out that various “mighty men” references could also be giant references (based on some good Septuagint translation weirdness), led up to an assertion that the “gebirah” (great woman) stuff in the history chronicles, and the “valiant woman” stuff in Ruth and Proverbs, was not about Israel and Judah’s kings having their moms act as queen mother councilors or about smart ladies doing cool things, but about giantesses with wicked skills. (Okay, he didn’t come right out and say that, but that’s what I was seeing.) Possibly this was on purpose, possibly it was a consequence of his thesis. But either way, it ended up as an indirect swipe at recent Bible scholarship (mostly by Catholics) about how queen mother gebirah imagery relates to the Virgin Mary, among other Bible ladies. I have read a lot of gebirah research stuff, and other scholars have found that there is tons to relate it to similar stuff in neighboring cultures. It is the sort of thing that Heiser would normally like, or at least want to integrate with the giant interpretation thing. I could think of several ways to do that, on my way to the refrigerator.

So yeah, several places strike me as him having a minor Catholic allergy that is getting in the way of his thinking. Disappointing, but maybe he’ll get over it and come up with some fun stuff in a few years. He does make good use of Catholic scholars like Bergsma, Pitre, Hahn, etc., so he’s not suffering from anything serious.

My real problem is that, by separating Bible studies from doctrine or interpretation, he is basically creating an interpretation that is at odds with Christianity. Pagan ideas about the nature of things like the seven (or nine, or twelve) sages are not just morally wrong; they are factually incorrect. So just because Bob and Tanith Canaanite may have believed in vengeful rephaim ghosts, and some Biblical times Jews may have also believed in them, isn’t it somewhat important to point out that demons are full of BS, and stories about them also tend to be factually incorrect? Doesn’t it seem more like Jesus was striking against the BS, rather than worrying about descendants of giants roaming the earth? The fact that all this kind of lore has become very minor and forgotten would tend to argue that the Church didn’t really want to focus people’s attention on this stuff.

I was also not happy about his podcast interviewing some people going out and doing various kinds of “deliverance ministry” and spiritual warfare based on his books. I mean, you can like a scholar’s work pretty well without being willing to trust your life or your soul to his conclusions! He’s not trying to be a cult leader and I don’t find anything creepy in his work, per se; but there are some kinds of materials that just attract… overly enthusiastic… responses. I don’t know that he’s really taking that into account enough. (To be fair, however, he’s starting some kind of anti-Bible-conspiracy-theories video series soon, so maybe he is thinking about this stuff.)

But as a sourcebook for Near/Middle East mythos material and fiction ideas, The Unseen Realms is good and so is Reversing Hermon. And it is Bible fun, which is always fun to consider. Just don’t take it as Gospel.

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Filed under History, Patristics, Recommendations

A Great Book You’ve Never Heard of

When I was growing up, my dad had a huge tome with a mysterious title stuck among the “big kids” children’s books that were just barely too old for us. Eventually I did tackle the big book, and found a whole new world opening before me.

Our edition was called Dickon of the Lenni Lenape.

(The original 1938 edition was called Dickon among the Indians. It’s now available on Kindle and in paperback, and being called The Indians of New Jersey: Dickon among the Lenape, by Professor Mark Harrington. It’s a little pricey, but the gorgeous drawings are there, and the book is otherwise unobtainium.)

Basically, it’s a fictional version of a capture narrative. It was very common for people who survived being captured by Indians to write down the story of their experience, and to include a lot of anthropological information as part of the story. Professor M.R. Harrington, an anthropology guy, just decided to present his Lenape collection of legend and lore with the capture narrative as a frame.

In this case, Dickon is a kid who gets shipwrecked in New Jersey’s wild wilderness. The Lenape (often called Delaware) capture him, mistreat him for a bit, and then decide that they should let a childless old woman adopt him, in order to provide her with a servant. But since Dickon is a kid who is brave and quick to learn, most of the tribe gradually starts treating him like a Lenape. (Which is not unrealistic, depending on the tribe.) He makes friends, gets sent on a spirit journey, and learns the skills of a Lenape man. (And since this is being written by an anthropologist, of course Dickon finds out quite a bit about the women’s way of life too, courtesy of working for his old lady “mother.”) There’s even a little touch of teenage romance.

There is a lot of survival knowledge presented in this book, too. (Albeit there may be better ways to do some of these things; but what’s presented is is the Lenape way of the period.)

Kids love this book. Some teachers in New Jersey used to read it to their fourth graders, apparently. But it’s good for adults too. You will learn a lot, and it’s great for knowing how Algonkian/Woodland tribes lived. If you read about other Woodland tribes or about the Lenape in other places and times, this will give you a wonderful foundation, so you’ll know what the heck people are talking about.

Now, here’s the amazing part. There’s a sequel! I never knew there was a sequel!

The Iroquois Trail: Dickon among the Onondagas and Seneca by Professor M. R. Harrington brings Dickon back, on a quest to find his Lenape brother, Little Bear, who has been captured and carried off by a raiding party. Yup, it’s those darned Iroquois Confederacy guys. (The seven tribes of the Confederacy basically tried to take over all the European fur trade, on the provider side, by killing or driving out all the tribes that lived in the Northeast, from the coast to Ohio and Kentucky. They tended to do a lot of long-term torture and had other unlovely attitudes toward outsiders, so you can see where they don’t have a good rep with other tribes. Having a great system of government doesn’t really show in the day to day experience of people with them.) They spoke languages that weren’t related much to Algonkian; their closest “relatives” were the Dakota/Sioux out west. They also had totally different lifeways and beliefs, but incorporated a lot of the “Mississippian” stuff that had come north from Mexico, and which was also seen in ancient Cahokia, and down south among the Creeks and other tribes.

I haven’t read this book, but I expect that it is also amazing. The Confederacy was not all bad, after all, and they were a great inspiration to early American writers. Iroquois people have done some great stuff since they accepted Christianity and gave up all the torture magic. But I suspect that just as the characters will now be older teenagers or adults, the age for reading this book will have to be older too.

Lenape, Onondaga, and Seneca stores online sell these books with pride. So it’s not just me recommending them!

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Space Trucker Bruce: Possibly the Best SF Movie I’ve Seen All Year

Space Trucker Bruce, an indie movie filmed mostly inside the house of a guy who lives in Juneau, is currently available on Amazon Prime. It’s also on YouTube (courtesy of the filmmaker himself).

This 2014 movie cost all of $10,000 to make.

It is awesome. It has a few pacing problems and the comedy parts could be tightened, but it is awe-inspiring all the same.

Basically, it’s a hard sf story about a space trucker (Bruce, played by Karl Sears), who rescues a space newbie (Max, played by filmmaker Anton Doiron) whose ship ran into distress. They’re both on their way to Titan Station, with about a month to go. Neither of them are entirely on an even keel, thanks to various stresses. Still, they get along okay. So  it seems like boredom will be their only problem, but the universe has some surprises in store.

But it’s also a very strange comedy. (And pretty clean comedy, all things considered. I’m not saying you should let your eight-year-old watch it, but it’s a lot more PG than most PG flicks these days.) And when I say strange, I’m looking at you, Mr. Sour Cream.

There’s some pretty darned decent sets and special effects, mostly because the filmmakers knew their limitations and worked with them. There are also some neat worldbuilding bits and hard sf moments. There are some bits that go on a bit long, but stick with it. The good bits of the movie outshine any mediocre parts.

And did I mention hard sf? There were some bits in here that really work well, but never seem to make it to the big screen in Hollywood. The worldbuilding is interesting, because it rings pretty true to human nature.

The amazing part is how you do get sucked into this future world by the end of the movie.

Although I’m still a bit worried by Mr. Sour Cream.

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