Thursday, December 29, 2016

Announcement: The End has Arrived

This is the final post for Deep in the Stacks. Existing posts will remain, but there will be no more new material added. Thank you to all of my readers over the last six years.

Good-bye, and God bless you all.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Announcement: The End is Near

I have decided that after five years, and a steady decline in posting activity, that the time has come to close down Deep in the Stacks. My other blog, Ancient Faith in the Far Future, gets more of my attention and time. I am debating whether to simply stop updating this blog, or actually remove it. I will make the final post before the end of the year. Thank you to all who have read my blog, and commented, and shared. Merry Christmas to all.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What I'm Reading Now - John Carter of Mars

What I’m reading Right Now:
The John Carter of Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs
In the first book, A Princess of Mars, Civil War veteran and Virginia gentleman John Carter finds himself mysteriously transported to Mars. He is captured by huge green-skinned six-limbed Martians. He meets strange and wondrous creatures, falls in love, wins her, loses her, escapes captivity, gets captured again and battles across the face of Mars to reach the woman he loves.

Why I’m reading it:
Several people in my Google+ groups and blogs I read which talk about science fiction have mentioned ERB and his hero John Carter. I bought an anthology of five novels (ERB wrote eleven) and I’m into book 4. Now I’m reading the first book aloud to my sons. The next two, Gods of Mars and Warlord of Mars, the boys can read themselves.

What I think of it:
I’ve had a blast reading these books. Carter’s voice is evocative. The action is exciting, ERB’s vision of Mars is outstanding in its descriptiveness and imagination. I want to be John Carter when I grow up – a clear headed gentleman, a fighter who teachers the virtue of compassion.  ERB had a big influence on science; a generation of young people decided to pursue science careers as a result of growing up reading ERB.

Will I finish it?
I’ve already finished books 1-3. I’m into Thuvia, Maid of Mars now and I’ve still got Chessmen of Mars to go. I will definitely finish the anthology, and probably head straight on to the following books.

Would I recommend it?
Yes. John Carter is a wonderful antidote to the tide of sour, angsty anti-heroes that we see so much of today, such as the uninspiring Man of Steel of the two most recent films. Read ERB and see how inspiring a hero can be.

I cannot recommend the 2012 Disney film, although it’s not terrible. As is often the case with book-to-film transitions, it loses in story quality what it gains in visuals.

Gimme a quote:
From The Gods of Mars. Carter and his Green Martian friend Tars Tarkas as in a desperate fight against a horde of huge plant-men. They find a cavern opening just big enough for one of them.

"It was ever your way, John Carter, to think last of your own life," [Tars Tarkas] said; "but still more your way to command the lives and actions of others, even to the greatest of Jeddaks who rule upon Barsoom."
There was a grim smile upon his cruel, hard face, as he, the greatest Jeddak of them all, turned to obey the dictates of a creature of another world—of a man whose stature was less than half his own.
"If you fail, John Carter," he said, "know that the cruel and heartless Thark, to whom you taught the meaning of friendship, will come out to die beside you."
"As you will, my friend," I replied; "but quickly now, head first, while I cover your retreat."

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What I'm Reading Now - In Defense of Elitism

What I’m reading Right Now: In Defense of Elitism by William A Henry III
(Anchor Books, 1994)

Why I’m reading it:
An essayist writing in The New Criterion mentioned the book. Long ago I decided that I am not an egalitarian; some people are just better at things than others. I have also long believed that Western culture is superior, not just because it is the culture I belong to, but because of its massive output of science, art, literature and music as well as political liberty. Henry argues for the benefits of recognizing and fostering excellence, rather than celebrating mediocrity.

 He does not explicitly define egalitarianism, but I think this suffices well: (p. 12) "we have foolishly embraced the unexamined notions that everyone is pretty much alike (and worse, should be), that the common man is always right, that he needs no interpreters or intermediaries to guide his thinking, that a good and just society should be far more concerned with succoring its losers than with honoring and encouraging its winners to achieve more an thereby benefit everyone."

What I think of it:
It is not quite what I expected – Henry is an unabashed liberal. However he is an honest one, and I think that if we had gotten the chance to meet, (he reposed in 1994. May he rest in peace.) we could have gotten on very well, first of all by being honest and forthright about our starting assumptions. The first chapter alone contains several swipes at the idea of religion. He hasn’t singled out Christianity, instead he criticizes general religiousness. At the same time, he pulls no punches in his criticism of political correctness, or ‘special pleading’; of revisionist history, and the growing blight of entitlement without regard to actual performance or contribution.

Will I finish it?
Yes. His writing style makes for quick reading. Although the subject matter and his examples from the (then-current) headlines may leave one heavy-hearted, his style is more newspaper than ponderous scholarship.

Would I recommend it?
Yes. It is refreshing and encouraging to hear someone who is not on the political Right (where I am) argue against the dangerous path that post-modern liberalism has set itself upon. Henry’s criticisms are just as timely in 2016.

Gimme a quote:
The whole book so far is quotable, but copyright forbids. Here are a few, italics for emphasis mine.

(p. 25) – Henry is discussing the supposed egalitarianism of ‘60s campus radicals: “Indeed the dirty little secret of sixties radicalism - I know, I was there - was that many of its most aggressive proponents were those who felt the deepest elitist yearnings. Their avarice was transmuted into leftist rage by the fear that they might not prevail, that in a fiercely meritocratic contest they might not qualify for the house with the white picket fence and the Beamer in the three-car garage. To them, society was unjust if it would not give them what they wanted. Their very definition of fairness, while shouted to the skies in egalitarian terms, was the result of thwarted or imperiled elitist ambition.”

(p. 54) Here, he quotes Arthur Schlesinger Jr.: “Let us by all means teach black history, African history, women’s history, Hispanic history, Asian history. But let us teach them as history, not as filiopietistic commemoration. The purpose of history is to promote not group self-esteem, but understanding of the world and the past, dispassionate analysis, judgement and perspective, respect for divergent cultures and traditions, and unflinching protection for those unifying ideas of tolerance, democracy, and human rights that make free historical inquiry possible.”

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

What I'm Reading - The Inevitable Empre

On the occasion of America's Independence Day celebration, STRATFOR has re-published their masterful analysis of America and its place in the world: 
The Geopolitics of the United States - the Inevitable Empire.

"Like nearly all of the peoples of North and South America, most Americans are not originally from the territory that became the United States. They are a diverse collection of peoples primarily from a dozen different Western European states, mixed in with smaller groups from a hundred more. All of the New World entities struggled to carve a modern nation and state out of the American continents. Brazil is an excellent case of how that struggle can be a difficult one. The United States falls on the opposite end of the spectrum.
The American geography is an impressive one. The Greater Mississippi Basin together with the Intracoastal Waterway has more kilometers of navigable internal waterways than the rest of the world combined. The American Midwest is both overlaid by this waterway and is the world's largest contiguous piece of farmland. The U.S. Atlantic Coast possesses more major ports than the rest of the Western Hemisphere combined. Two vast oceans insulated the United States from Asian and European powers, deserts separate the United States from Mexico to the south, while lakes and forests separate the population centers in Canada from those in the United States. The United States has capital, food surpluses and physical insulation in excess of every other country in the world by an exceedingly large margin. So like the Turks, the Americans are not important because of who they are, but because of where they live."

Read the rest of it here: The Inevitable Empire

"The Geopolitics of the United States, Part 1: The Inevitable Empire is republished with permission of Stratfor."