Apr 30, 2009

Novel Ideas, ed. by Brian M. Thomsen

This collection of short stories by famous science fiction authors is absolutely fantastic. The link between the stories is that all of them were later turned into either full-length novels or movies, and almost all of these later products became quite famous. For instance, we have David Brin's short story "The Postman," which most will recognize immediately as that Kevin Costner movie. And "The Lady in the Tower," which evolved into Anne McCaffery's series about the Rowan. Orson Scott Card's short story on which Ender's Game is based in also included. As such, each of these short stories is a piece of literature from science fictions best contemporary authors.

There is a beauty to the short story that is notoriously difficult to capture. Good short stories don't need to be novelized; they are perfect snapshots of a very short period of time in the lives of the characters. These snapshots, when an author attempts to expand them into a full-length book, can fall flat quite easily. But each of these author's excelled at both the short story and novelized versions of their creations. This is a truly wonderful read for anybody, but particularly for sci-fi fans who are familiar with the full-length versions of these stories.

Apr 21, 2009

The Concise History of the Catholic Church, by Thomas Bokenkotter

Despite being nearly 650 pages long, this book really does live up to its name. Starting at the very beginning with a discussion of the historical Jesus and ending with an epilogue written upon the death of Pope John Paul II, this book give just enough depth to be informative without weighing the reader down in too many particulars. The book goes chronologically, though also thematically inside the chronological order. The author rightly organizes the later part of the book by pope, while the earlier part of the book is less rigidly structured.

The book was mostly written and published in the 1970s, and it shows. Though there are 100+ pages written after that period for the books newest edition published a few years ago, there was obviously no effort to update any of the scholarship or conclusions drawn in the earlier part of the book. Much of the book's work, therefore, seems rather anachronistic and outdated. The editing, also, is not very good. Misspelled words and run-on sentences, though not frequent, are not rare, either. And the writing itself is somewhat awkward, though in the added sections at the end, it is clear that the author has progressed significantly in his writing abilities.

Being a student of both religion and history, what was most interesting about the book was the fact that, as the author himself states, it was written by a Catholic for Catholics. It is very interesting to see what he glossed over, what he didn't shy away from writing about, how he spun or didn't spin things. As such, while also being informative, this book was quite interesting simply from a scholarly point of view.