Monday, June 19, 2006

The Age of Unreason (unfinished)

By J. Gregory Keyes. Consisting of Newton's Cannon, A Calculus of Angels, Empire of Unreason, and Shadows of God (which I didn't read).

I picked up the first three books of this with hope because The Waterborn was so good. I also assumed that it was just a trilogy. By the time I got to the third book, I was getting tired of it, but I forced myself through it because I wanted to know how it ended... and it didn't. I don't think I'll be chasing down the fourth: it starts off with an interesting concept, but the way it all plays out gets a bit boring.

The concept is, Newton discovers some other laws besides just gravity, which allow all kinds of interesting technology (while he's still alive): guns that shoot lightning, wireless communication (this story is set in the 1720s), flying machines, elixirs of youth... The problem is, there's a spiritual world full of beings which think the working of miracles of nature should be their exclusive province, and want to, at best, sidetrack science, and at worst, destroy all of humankind. They start the process in the first book by convincing the King of France to have his scientists destroy London via meteor strike.

The problem is hard to pinpoint, exactly, but it seems the story is kind of weak and the huge involvement of demons in it, whom several characters are stupid enough to listen to, is really repulsive after a little while.

I didn't read the fourth book, so I don't know if the end is redeeming, but reviews on Amazon suggest it is not.


Amber said...

I think you should read a few didactic books (I remember you emphasizing that word once somehwere!). You know, pick some historical character that fascinates you and read a biography. Get a book on some controversial subject like environmentalism, abortion, the will of God. Get a commentary on some book of the Bible that confuses you.

I just picked up a book about Sojourner Truth that was laying around. It wasn't the book itself that fascinated me so much, but the woman. It made me wish I could have known her. It made me want to memorize some of her quotes and love and act the way she did.

Are you learning anything from what you've been reading? Not that's it's bad to read that kind of thing - I have my own genres that I read strictly for entertainment. I've never been able to "get into" the genres you read from, so my question is genuine - are you learning anything?

Joshua said...

Honestly, I probably am not learning much except for incidental detail (which I don't tend to remember but is often weird and strange and surprisingly true). This series is interesting that way because it involves so many historical characters (even though their lives are almost completely fictionalized, there's still some truth: I believe Isaac Newton actually did direct his attention towards theology near the end of his life. And, there's an excellent quote about the malakim which is probably the most true thing in the whole book: They have made a science out of lying to and manipulating human beings.)

Still, I can see where you're coming from. One I've been meaning to pick up (not sure if it quite fits your definition) is The Heavenly Man. Do you have other suggestions?

Amber said...

I've heard that The Heavenly Man is an awesome book. For books I've read recently, I would recommend Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller. You've probably read a lot of classics, but I read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte for the second time recently and liked it a lot better. It might be more a girl book though, I don't know.

I think it depends on what you are interested in, and what you want to learn more about. Spiritual things? Christian life? The Bible? Tea? I have a great book on tea called The Tea Companion: A Connoisseur's Guide by Jane Pettigrew. It's very well written and amazingly non-opinionated. I've read a few articles about tea where the writer is smug and superior because they think they know the "right" way, and it just doesn't ring well with me.

I've also been reading about missionary care recently, and random theological books I picked up for free from the Bible College Library (the books you pick up from there are mostly theological in nature). What are you interested in?

Joshua said...

I read Jane Eyre in twelfth grade English and I actually did like it. We may have dissected it a bit too much for me to want to read it a second time this soon, though. It's hard to forget things like "Mr. Rochester's wife had syphilis" because to me, that wasn't obvious at all, but it casts a definitely bad angle on some things.

I'm not really interested in tea, since I don't drink it, but I suppose I could check out that book if you thought it would make be interesting regardless. I did have my sister reserve The Heavenly Man and I also checked out a history of Arab Americans from the library's new non-fiction shelf. Part of the problem is there's so much non-fiction and I'm not sure I'm interested in any of it, so I don't know where to start (unlike fiction, where I head straight to the fantasy section).

If I wanted theological books (and I probably should read some) I can go into our own library: my parents have quite a few. I tried to read Mere Christianity a while back but I think I only got through the fourth chapter. Part of the problem is perhaps that I have trouble agreeing completely with any of these authors. I don't know why that wouldn't also apply to fiction, except that perhaps it's all made up so I can throw it away wholesale.

I have read The Cross and the Switchblade (David Wilkerson) and No Compromise (Keith Green). I don't remember if I've read Through Gates of Splendor but I should probably chase it down. I haven't read any of these in a while (I reread The Cross and the Switchblade most recently, sometime last year I think). I enjoy reading people's testimonies like this, but the problem is, they are sometimes a little crazy (well, maybe that's only Keith Green.) Can you suggest other books in this line?

Thanks for all your suggestions, by the way, I may check out Blue Like Jazz at least.

Amber said...

You don't have to agree with everything in a book in order for it to be a good book. I think part of learning is sorting through what is true and what is not, developing arguments and well-formed opinions, and respecting other authors/people for their opinions. I'm surprised you didn't finish Mere Christianity because you didn't agree with it - C. S. Lewis is, in my opinion, one of the few theologians who "had it right" more often than most.

I don't know what you mean, the problem with some people's testimonies are "a little crazy". Are you saying you don't believe some of the things happened? Or that you don't enjoy reading true happenings because they don't happen the way you think they should? Both of those are kind of ridiculous reasons, so I don't think you subscribe to either camp. If you're reading to learn, and not to be entertained, you'll only dismiss a book if you couldn't learn from it.

If it's Christian biographies you want to read, I'd suggest God's Smuggler. It's funny and true, about a man's journey into Christianity and then into ministry/missions delivering Bibles behind the Iron Curtain.

Hope you like it!

Joshua said...

(I've already replied to this in private, but will summarize it here for the benefit of others.)

I don't remember whether I finished Mere Christianity or not. I may not have finished it because I was too busy thinking about the chapters I had already read, and then forgot to read the rest.

When I was speaking of crazy, I was talking specifically about Keith Green, not everyone in general.