Category Archives: Recommendations

“The Emperor Constantine” by Dorothy L. Sayers

It turns out that Dorothy L. Sayers wrote a _lot_ of cathedral and radio plays, but that only some of them were available in print in the US – until recently. Wipf and Stock put out a series of reprints earlier this decade. You can get them on paper for about $20, or as Google Play ebooks for about $5 less.

The Emperor Constantine is a pretty fun play that was written for the (Anglican) Colchester Cathedral folks. Using the old legend that Constantine was the grandson of Coel Hen (Old King Cole of Colchester through his daughter Helena), Sayers created a hometown proprietary interest in Constantine and the exciting events of his reign, as well as his successes and failures at being a good emperor and a good Christian man.

One of the important features of the play is a “courtroom battle” at the Council of Nicaea, using what we know about the speeches given at the Council by Arius (in defense of his novel system of Arianism) and Athanasius (speaking for orthodoxy and his elderly bishop, Alexander).

Which brings us to the old Big Finish audio play, Doctor Who: The Council of Nicaea, by Caroline Symcox. Symcox is married to BBC writer Paul Cornell, and she’s also an Anglican curate. Supposedly she put a lot of study into this audio drama, but it is riddled with inaccuracies and/or outright lies.

The entire plot of her story is that Erimem, a pagan ancient Egyptian queen traveling with the Doctor, is determined to get Arius a chance to speak at the Council of Nicaea. (When actually, Arius was practically the first guy to speak! It was Athanasius who had to get special permission to speak for his bishop, because he was considered too young to formally participate in the Council.)

Arius was 60, and Athanasius wasn’t even 30 yet. Of course, the audio play portrays Arius as being younger than Athanasius, and Athanasius as being an old stick in the mud. It just boggles the mind. There’s also a lot of confusion of the way various eras of Egyptian monks acted. And so much stupid.

Symcox also insists through several characters that there is not much importance to the question of whether Jesus Christ was God Almighty from all eternity, or just a sort of hemi-demi-semi god. The whole Council of Nicaea is silly; everybody just wants to oppress free thought and Arius; and Christianity is mean to women. (Remember that she is an Anglican curate in the UK. She gets paid by her government to teach Christianity.) It’s slightly more subtle than that, but not much.

And yet, Symcox had a good feminist example before her, in the form of Sayers’ play. Sayers is a giant part of Anglican and English literary culture, as well as BBC history. I can’t imagine that Symcox was totally ignorant of Sayers’ play. If she was, why was she?

It’s amazing how many layers of goodness and fun, as well as deep thought and interesting characters, can be found in Sayers’ play — even though it’s just a minor work in her portfolio.

And it’s just as amazing how many layers of stupidity and malice can be found in stuff written by SJWs, purely for SJW reasons.

(And yet, believe it or not, they have a whole series of Erimem novels in the UK now, just as they have a whole series of novels about the execrable Bernice Summerfield. Blehhhhhhhh.)

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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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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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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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Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju

The time is the 1970’s. A young man is getting out of prison, with nowhere to go. But he does have a desperate plan. So he goes to the theater door of a man he saw perform only once before – at the prison – and pleads to become his apprentice in the art of rakugo.

Rakugo is usually described as a form of Japanese comedy. As this show points out early, that’s not entirely true. It’s more a blend of storytelling and acting, where the storyteller takes on all the parts. It is now regarded as high culture and performed in theaters, but it started out as just storytellers in the marketplace, sitting on mats. So the storyteller doesn’t take up much space or move around a lot, but he strives to create a whole world. Many of the stories are funny, but there’s also a tradition of scary stories.

So it’s an audacious career idea for a young man who’s totally inexperienced, but it’s not impossible. The master storyteller renames him “Yotaro” (an old-fashioned expression for “fool” that apparently shows up a lot in rakugo), but he accepts him as an apprentice. Yotaro turns out to be a hard worker and to have a good heart, and he openly supports the people around him. One of these is Konatsu, raised as a daughter of the house but actually the orphaned daughter of a famed rakugo storyteller. Although once it was just not done for women to do rakugo, Yotaro straightforwardly recognizes her skill and learns from her, while also asking the master to make her an apprentice too.

But it won’t all be that easy for Yotaro. His past follows him and causes him trouble, just as their pasts follow his master and his sempai, Konatsu. Somehow, they must reconcile the past while finding their own paths into the future. Because the problem with a traditional artform is that it has to stay enthralling to audiences in order to survive….

Visually, this show is gorgeous, albeit done in muted tones. The voice acting is also tremendous. (I’m pretty sure that the guy who plays Nyanta in Log Horizon is playing one of the small parts.) But even though it’s a “cultural” show, it’s not inaccessible to us Westerners; and it’s interesting that the anime art seems to be pointing out the debt that anime owes to traditional Japanese storytellers as well as to Japanese drama conventions. (As apparently the josei manga it’s based on was doing for manga art.) It will also be very interesting for anyone who’s ever performed in public, because it catches that feel very well. But as is fitting for a show about storytelling, it’s just a darned good story!

Episodes of this show are 47 minutes long, so you get a full drama-length TV show every week. That’s needed, because each episode apparently covers a lot of ground!

I recommend this show. Like Yotaro, it has a good heart.

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju* is available on Crunchyroll. The first ep will be available to non-subscribers (free with commercials) starting next Friday.

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Allan Drury EBOOKS!

Thanks to Baen Books, you can now buy a $7.99 ebook of Allan Drury’s greatest novel of American politics, Advise and Consent. Based on real events in the Senate during WWII, but timeshifted into the Fifties, this is the story of men and women who love America, work hard for her, but have very different ideas about her. How far can a president go in pursuit of his goals? How far can the Legislative Branch push back? Is it fair for people to consider your past when you’re considered for a job in the present? And what do you do if you are blackmailed about your deepest secrets?

Advise and Consent. It’s been unobtainium for years! If you’ve never read it, read it now.

Here it is at Baen, and here it is on Amazon. You might also keep an eye out for the acclaimed movie. Drury’s nonfiction book Senate Diary lets you know the true-life version; though of course those people are not the same people as in the novel, and don’t live in the same world.

Keep an eye out for further ebooks. Advise and Consent is the first of a long series about these characters. It turns into sf and alternate worlds along the way, even without deserting the world of political fiction, so Baen isn’t cheating on its basic mission!

If you would like some standalone fun, Baen also has Decision (his big Supreme Court novel) and Mark Coffin, U.S.S. (a novel about a junior US senator). Those ebooks haven’t been posted on Amazon yet. They’re also $7.99. Not superduper classics, but Drury novels are always fun and interesting reads. (Here’s Decision on Amazon, and here’s Mark Coffin, U.S.S. on Amazon.)

If you know you’re going to want all three Drurys and you also want some sf, check out this month’s Wordfire Press Bundle for only $37.94. Beside the Drurys, you’ll also get some Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert, and Kevin Anderson. Not my favorite writers personally, but obviously all very solid.

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Liz Shaw from Dr Who — Audiobook Bible! Free!

Liz Shaw, the iconic no-nonsense UNIT scientific adviser who worked with the Third Doctor on Dr Who, was played by Caroline John, a very good actress with a very good voice. I’ve always been sorry we haven’t seen more of her work over here.

Now, in an amazing project for charity, Caroline John has recorded a complete audiobook version of the Gospel of Mark, and a good chunk of the Gospel of Matthew (currently, Chapters 1-11 have been posted). I think it’s the King James version; and it was professionally recorded over in London.

The Lambs Audio Bible is being put together by longtime US Dr Who fan Jeri Massi, who has been running the Conference of the Lambs, a group for documenting abuse of members of independent Fundamentalist churches (mostly a small denomination called IFB), and helping the survivors heal. The idea here is that people have sometimes been misled by selective quoting of the Gospels, and that hearing them as a whole will help people reorient themselves.

But anybody can use this. It’s free to download and may be freely distributed, too. (Details on the first chapter of Mark.)

Oh, such a lovely English voice. Even if you’re not religious or Christian, this is a real treat for any audiobook listener or Who fan. Obviously, Caroline John should be hired immediately by audiobook companies everywhere.

Here’s a Facebook page for just the Gospel of Mark.

Caroline John has also read bits of scripture previously for various series of talks on Jeri’s podcast All of Grace. (About which I don’t know much, and obviously Jeri’s theology isn’t Catholic; but there you are.)

UPDATE: See comment below from Jeri Massi. Apparently three out of the four Gospels were finished and are good, but the Gospel of John had audio problems. So posting is ongoing, but production is at the Argh! What to do?!? stage.

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Review: The Honorable Marksley, by Sherry Lynn Ferguson

The first question one must answer in reviewing any book, in these benighted days, is whether the prose is readable. I am glad to tell you that Ferguson’s prose is not just acceptable, but pleasant. Since this is a historical romance, one then passes to the question of its credibility. Do these people talk and think in a way compatible with their time period, or are they making the reader’s eyes roll too much for comfortable perusal of the text? Again, I am glad to report that Ferguson’s characters are not jarring.

This taken care of, what about the novel? The Honorable Marksley is disappointing. Not because it’s a bad book; because it ought to be better.

It presents us with a hero who founded a literary journal and a heroine who writes good poetry — under a male pseudonym and a veil of mystery. It also presents us with a heroine’s family that is determined to see her wed to the man who didn’t compromise her, and a hero’s family that constantly relies on him to pull them out of the fire. Misunderstandings occur from the start and continue, and eventually there’s a happy ending. So far, pretty good.

The problem is that Ferguson seems undecided as to whether she is writing a sprightly romance to make the reader laugh, a good old Heyeresque story with plenty of comedy and angst and a few Gothic touches, a tale that focuses on the heroine’s male pseudonym and flirts with being queer in the modern or academic sense, or a serious short novel about two interesting characters. So the book constantly wriggles shapelessly and awkwardly, never totally committing to anything. There are a few scenes which are totally realized, unifying theme, characters and plot. But the others just flail about, wasting their force.

There is also a great deal of time wasted on characters thinking about their plight, which might have been spent having things happen. Many minor characters were introduced, developed, given plot hooks — and then never seen again. The heroine apparently was quite proactive before the book began, but you couldn’t tell that from what happened during the book. At least one pivotal scene (for the hero) occurred offstage. In fact, just when you thought the heroine was going to get us in on it, the writer struck the heroine unconscious. (This is not necessarily a flaw in a Regency, given the literary conventions of the 1800’s. But those literary conventions demand that the reader be let in later, and we never really are.)

Finally, the ending line was more than a tad creepy. I hate to have to point this out, but one reads a romance between two heterosexual persons with the expectation that the ending will have them engaging in heterosexual behavior together. “I didn’t show any of this in the novel, but now I want to make sure that the heroine knows that the hero would have kissed her even if she’d been a homosexual man”? No. That’s not a good ending.

On the good side, the game of quoting poetry was nicely done. The writer managed the difficult feat of providing someone who’s supposed to be a really good poet with enough solid poetic lines to make her status believable. The literary journal idea was also carried out well. The minor character Archibald Cavendish was realistically appalling in the quote scene. (Though I was disappointed in his later appearances.) Whenever the writer quit being so self-conscious or over-explanatory and let her characters speak for themselves, they were quite interesting.

What I would like to have seen was more plot, more letters from “Mr. Beecham” to help with plot structure, and revelations that didn’t require dishonorable behavior from a character supposed to be defined by honor. In fact, I’d think Ferguson would have leaned on the concept of honor in this book: fiduciary, literary, family, military. There’s a rich vein there left unmined, which might have helped plot construction no end. If both “Mr. Beecham” the poet and Hallie the lady were accused of dishonorable behavior, shouldn’t they both have been trying harder to clear their names? With a fishy poet and an impressionable poetry-loving girl around, shouldn’t plagiarism have happened, or a medieval poem been faked? And oh, it would have been awesome if “Mr. Beecham” had been called out! But I don’t insist on any specifics. The same plot could have worked better, given a little more unification or a better editor.

Finally, one minor nitpick: there was no “linguist” (in the linguistics sense) in England just after Napoleon. I don’t think there were any professors of etymology, either, although certainly it was a field of study. But the word back then was “philologist”, and etymology just one part of “philology”. (I would not make so big a point of this, had the author not named her minor character of this profession “Partridge” and based him on the author of Lavengro. If she knew that much, she should have known more. She also should have let us spend some time with the man, instead of inventing him, dangling him before us, making us wait for him to arrive — and then making us miss out on every bit of drama in which he participates! What a waste!)

None of this is crippling, oddly enough. Ferguson is still better than 80% of the Regency writers one encounters. But I do expect better from her. She is capable of it. When she provides something that’s more unified, I’m sure readers will respond with joy — and money.

A brief search reveals that Ferguson’s previous books were: Headline Romance, Raise a Tiger, and The Other Brother. The first two were contemporary romances, I believe. She doesn’t seem to have a website.

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Free Novel Writing/Organization Software

I wanted to let folks know that I’ve found a very good piece of freeware called yWriter. It was created by a programmer who’s also a published writer, and it seems very useful. (And probably for more than just writing novels or books.)

The idea is that you want to be able to organize novel writing, like software programming, into modules that are easy to tackle individually. In the case of a novel, this would be scenes within chapters. Every conceivable tab is provided for each individual module: a description so you can tell it apart from other scenes (or use the description as a placeholder till you write the thing), what the scene is supposed to accomplish, what kind of conflict is occurring, what characters are involved, what items show up in it (so you can keep track of who has the murder weapon or whatever), notes, and of course the actual scene that you write. You can track POV for each scene. It automatically tracks things like word count, and there are tons of other features and reports and logs you can generate or fill in or use. It will even estimate how much more time it will take you to finish the bits you have left.

Basically, the idea is that every single part of your book is at your fingertips, without having to spend too much time rooting around in a big long file. You can work on the bits you want to work on, but be reminded of which parts you haven’t done. You can move scenes around, or decide not to use them without deleting them. You can see what’s going on with your pacing, and which characters are getting what amount of screen time.

And obviously, you could also use it as organizational software for complex projects other than writing, if you plan out each mini-task as a “scene”; so this software is even more useful than advertised.

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Hymn Tunes for Liturgy of the Hours Hymns

The Topmost Apple has been doing yeoman work to find tunes and .mp3s for all the Office hymns. Yay!

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