Monthly Archives: September 2006

Currently Reading…

Children of God, by Maria Doria Russell

Children of God is Maria Doria Russell’s sequel to The Sparrow. In her first book, we followed a Jesuit mission to another planet, which resulted in total failure, especially for its lone survivor, Father Emilio Sandoz, who returns to Earth, ill and broken, under suspicion of prostitution and murder.

In the second book, we follow Sandoz’s struggle to achieve a Godless but satisfactory life on Earth, the consequences of his unwillingness to return for a second mission to the alien planet, as well as the tragic effects of the first mission on the two sentient races they left behind.

It is difficult to talk about this book without revealing the previous book’s storyline and ending, and it’s even more difficult to discuss this book’s story without giving away the salient points and ruining the reading experience.

I can, however, talk about Russell’s writing and my reaction to Children of God. Most sequels, as a rule, have disappointed me, especially if I liked the first book. It’s not the case, here. If anything, Children of God is more complex, better written, more intense than the first. So intense, in fact, that I had to set aside the book several times to center myself, find a measure of calm, digest the underlying meanings of apparently simple dialogue or character’s thoughts.

Here, Emilio Sandoz again takes center stage, but only in half of the story. He is the one we know, the one we’ve suffered with. But there are others, now: the two races of the alien planet with, in each of them, unique individuals who care passionately for life, and sometimes for just their way of life. Sandoz’s and their lives are presented to us in an intricate web of events that left me in awe about its complexity and breadth. Again, the story is about the quest of the divine, of the existence of God, of his repudiation, of God’s goals towards his children. But it is not a book about religion. It does not preach. It asks more questions than it answers, leaving us with searching our own souls for the divine.

Children of God, however, is not a story in itself, and it may be its only fault. I would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to read it without having read The Sparrow. It would also have been my loss. They are not two books, two stories, but one, split in two, even though they are pretty much indivisible. The story culminates, in all its horror, but there’s also a message in its ending. Whatever happens, in our small, short lives, it is possible to find peace.

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Currently Reading…

conquest In Conquest Born, by C. S. Friedman

Friedman’s first novel has been reissued in anticipation of it’s sequel, The Wilding. Since I had loved This Alien Shore, I picked up In Conquest Born with great anticipation.

Several thousand years in our future, two human civilizations, the Azean and the Braxi have been at war for centuries. The Azean have perfected the human form through genetic engineering and have placed emphasis on science and technology. The Braxi have concentrated their energies on producing the perfect warriors, the Braxana, who not only rule but are ruthless killers. Each civilization culminates into a perfect being: the Azean Anzha and the Braxana Zatar, who take their war and make it a personal vendetta.

As a first novel, Conquest is a tour de force. Even fifteen years later, the technical descriptions –for instance interstellar travel– are still fresh and fascinating. The story is uneven and many details are left unexplained or unfinished, but it does not detract from its overall strength. Rather, it reminds me of a river. It meanders, sometimes calm and placid, then speeds up until words flow fast and furious to change themselves down into a fall of emotion. The reader gasps from the swift intensity to be brought again into calmer waters. All in all a very satisfying read.

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Aerate Your Brain

I was doing research on the ways to ease swelling of the brain after a skull fracture for my current work-in-progress when I happened on this site about voluntary trepanation (beware: very graphic images).

It turns out there’s a… hmm… philosophical movement that thinks that removing a piece of bone in the head (usually where the fontanelle hardened into bone, or at the spot of the mysterious “third eye”, and covering the hole back with a flap of skin) increases blood flow to the brain:

“As a result, trepanners say, you’ll be happier, more energetic and less prone to crippling bouts of ennui. You’ll ascend to the child’s plane of acute consciousness from which you disembarked to enter the lowly malaise of adulthood.” The Trepanation Guide

Are they nuts? Who would consciously expose his or her brain to injury, infection, and potential damage? And what kind of quack would do that when there’s absolutely no need for it?

There’s a reason why we have a solid box over our grey matter: it’s fragile, easily damaged. At least, an interview by Salon Magazine in 1999 indicates that most surgeons won’t perform voluntary trepanation:

The doctors and scientists interviewed by Salon […] described trepanation as “quackery,” “buncombe,” “horseshit,” “absolute, unequivocal bullshit” and “dangerous.” According to Dr. Robert Daroff, a professor of neurology, “This is a crackpot notion that’s not worthy of my time. And not only that — it’s dangerous. You expose your precious brain, you remove God’s covering, there’s a risk of infection and all sorts of other problems.”

Well, that relieves my mind.

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