10.26.16

the wind and the waves

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:48 am by Administrator

sometimes, i lift up my head from all that i am buried in, and such a dizzying sensation overtakes me as i see myself amidst the tumbling world. i look around and realize in the flash of a terrifying moment that i have spent days or perhaps even months thinking about things that i never intended to absorb myself in, while i failed to give any thought to the real stuff of life—the transcendent things. i realize that i have buried myself in my work and particularly in its most mundane and troublesome details. i have contemplated my family and my religion, but even in these things i have mulled over what was required of me and not over what i actually loved. what have i loved? and where has it gone?

and so life goes. i struggle for perspective always. there are such few moments of clarifying reflection, when i can take hold of my life and lift it to the looking glass, when i can study its edges and flourishes and say with such satisfaction, “this is what it is.” no, life is the small sailboat cast upon the stormy sea, and we hold our breath from one fearsome roll of the wave to the next. the idea that the waves could settle and a fortuitous wind could spirit us to the horizon is forever an impossible dream, always to our heartache.

a few days ago, i attended a special worship service with my old church. i had a lot of things on my mind as my pastor ordained the next group of deacons. i thought about the eight years gone by with this congregation. i thought about the hallways my children ran down and the places where they played and hid from me. i thought about the rooms where i’d sat down with someone and heard the story of his life. once their deacon and now a visitor in their midst, i stood alongside the rest of my deacon class as we served dinner to the new leaders and their families. for much of the evening, i was in the kitchen, cleaning all the trays and pans that the food had been prepared in. it was more than an hour’s worth of work, and i did much of it alone. it felt different being there cleaning up after dark, because i knew it would be my last time serving the church. it was my way of saying goodbye.

i am forty and still struggling to understand. what was it that i learned in my childhood? what is it that i love about being a parent? what have i learned about leadership, love, and happiness? God spoke to me the other day and asked me what i am becoming. in response, i asked Him what i am becoming. what am i becoming? how shall i answer this? life is the terror and anticipation as i fall into the clutch of the ocean’s curling fingers, and never does the chop of the sea settle out into evenness, to afford me a view of the beyond. as a young man, i believed that both clarity and imagination were inevitable. now, on the verge of growing old, i realize that the moments of discovery are few and far between; they are stolen moments, because life is ceaseless and unforgiving

10.10.16

red rising in review

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:15 pm by Administrator

i finished morning star in two days and can safely say that it met my expectations (in a good way). interestingly, the story line did skirt around the four pitfalls i described in my last entry, though with a fair share of ambiguity (likely to be explored in plentiful sequels). and still, there was enough deus ex machina (couched in the remarkable foresight of our ever unreliable narrator) to occasionally distract but never completely derail. like a dramatic chord aching for consonance, morning star resonates with a constant yearning for a seemingly improbable resolution. it’s pierce brown’s great gift: to weave just enough melody into calculated dissonance that his audience is too absorbed in its own anxieties to ever disengage.

overall, the red rising trilogy was a terrific read and vastly superior to the mockingjay trilogy (its closest comparison). its greatest virtue is the element that it shares with Ender’s Game: an exploration of servant leadership. ender and darrow face similar challenges on their respective journeys and come to similar conclusions about the burdens of leadership and the role of the leader. these similarities don’t lessen my estimation of pierce brown or his books; but it is interesting nonetheless to see both writers (a generation apart) working around the same constructs of self-sacrifice, egalitarianism, and redemption. these are decidedly Western themes. they are the heroic elements we return to time and time again in all of our “great art”: from the Bible, to Greek drama, to Shakespeare, and to modern-day fables.

and that’s where i want to get a little picky. it’s Brown’s penchant for Shakespearean references, Latin proverbs, Roman heraldry, and white people with golden hair that makes me feel a little hung over after the party. there’s an ethnocentrism, a cultural imperialism, so inherent to the red rising narrative that one cannot help but sense the author’s underlying sense of haute couture. it’s like what i wrote about Game of Thrones: we the Western audience feed so avidly on a white man’s fantasy about empire because we tacitly agree upon it as an axiomatic point of reference. yes, it’s something against which we can build a counterpoint; but nevertheless the paradigm is familiar enough (perhaps even compelling enough) that we accept the assumption of its subtle virtues and its inescapable appeal.

the heroine of the story is a fair-skinned white woman with golden hair and golden eyes named Virginia—Red Rising’s paragon of beauty and virtue despite all of its talk of upending hierarchy and celebrating egalitarianism. thinking of Virginia brings me back to a striking moment a year ago when my wife found my daughter looking at herself in the mirror playing with her eyelids. when asked about her little game, my daughter confessed that a white girl in her preschool had teased her about her small eyes. “how do you see out of them?” the little girl had asked my daughter. and upon more questioning, it became clear to us that this wasn’t the innocent question of a curious girl. it was the pointed query of a girl trying to impress her peers in audience; it was a statement by a privileged daughter of privileged people, putting a girl of color in her place.

we don’t buy my daughter Barbie dolls for the same reason that we cluck our tongues at the catalogues that year after year feature the same generic idea of feminine beauty: the skinny white woman with immaculately fair skin and an allergy to cellulite. it’s the picture that comes to mind when i think of Virginia au Augustus, the love interest of Red Rising’s protagonist and the supreme Sovereign of humanity upon the conclusion of the trilogy. it’s an image of beauty that i’ve tried to resist and contextualize my whole life, simply because it’s arbitrary and yet so insidiously woven into the very fabric of our culture.

and so i mourn (just a little) when i read this otherwise fascinating story about humanity rising up against the affliction of an aristocratic ruling class. it strikes me as counterintuitive in the most tragic of ways: those taking power are the mirror images of those who came before them. it’s white people engaging in power plays with white people, while people of color and the civilizations that birthed them sit on the sidelines waiting to see who will rule their world

10.07.16

red rising

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:50 pm by Administrator

i have torn through the first two books of pierce brown’s fantasy book trilogy, which brings me to an interesting juncture as i await the arrival of the third. i have a distinct sense of where the story might be headed—and i have some serious reservations about that direction. but perhaps i should explain further.

i’ve read a few reviews of the red rising trilogy, and i have to agree that the story is decidedly unoriginal. but it is pretty obvious to me that pierce brown did not set out to break new ground in red rising. the story was constructed to meet a tried and true formula for success established by the likes of suzanne collins, jk rowling, orson scott card, and george lucas. without any subtlety at all, pierce brown employs all the currently fashionable fantasy motifs: a battleground to cull the gifted, children killing children with exorbitant violence, and a straightforward, even bellicose critique of authoritarian society. if brown were any less skilled as a storyteller, then there’d be little to commend the red rising series. but as it is, it is a relentless page-turner.

among recent fantasy series i’ve read, i’d have to rank it somewhere between lev grossman’s the magicians and collins’ hunger games, which are obviously very good company. i would still put patrick rothfuss’s the name of the wind and grrm’s game of thrones at the top of the list. of course none of them can hold a candle to frank herbert’s dune, which was genre-busting fantasy literature at its prime, and i have yet to read something that has challenged me to the same level.

in any case, what troubles me most about red rising’s unapologetic lack of originality is the possibility that the third book may take me to an unsatisfyingly familiar conclusion. i’ll admit that up to this point i’ve enjoyed the ordinary thrills of this genre piece: seeing which characters die, seeing how the rest survive, facing the constant threat posed by an author who feels loyalty to none of his heroes or villains. but at some point, the story has to be about something more than the costs of survival, and this is where many fantasy authors have simply failed outright for lack of vision. hunger games, for example, started well and finished terribly. i fear the same fate for red rising, which appears destined to fall upon the usual self-evident conclusions and insipid revelations.

for my own purposes, i’ve decided to define the story arcs that i would be utterly unwilling to accept (and that would compel me to throw down morning star in a fit of disgust). these are spoilers, of course, so read on at your own peril:

1. Darrow becomes Sovereign of the known universe. give me a break. the guy has been impeccably lucky and gets bailed out at every turn—but his inexhaustible good fortune is not only unrealistic but beginning to verge on annoying.

2. Classist society collapses into an egalitarian state. it would be such a facile (and nauseatingly american) story arc.

3. Mustang is won over by Darrow and ultimately rescues him. Mustang’s the only remotely substantive character of the story other than Darrow, and his flaws at this point in the story are a bit too obvious for her to simply dismiss in the interests of love. Mustang deserves to be something more than an idealistic Reformer or a loyal friend to Darrow. she deserves to make a meaningful sacrifice on her own terms and for her own cause.

4. Darrow finishes the story as a Gold. i’d like to believe that pierce brown has another fate in mind for Darrow, who has evolved into a commonplace superhero seemingly capable of doing any extraordinary thing he wants. a reverse carving of some sort seems to be in order—one that cripples him. Darrow’s ultimate place within the hierarchy of colors will be an important statement, and perhaps the most important statement of the trilogy.