Monday, September 26, 2005

God's Wrath

God's Wrath.

I'ts a phrase I've heard so many times in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and now Hurricane Rita, that if I hear it again, my head might explode. I've talked to these nutcases on the phone; I've gotten e-mails from them; I've read their letters to the editor. If it weren't so sad, it would be funny.

Since New Orleans happens to be one of my favorite cities -- really the only major city I feel like spending any time at all in -- it also royally pisses me off when I hear it.

New Orleans is a city full of sin, said one caller. God is cleansing his earth of that sin. So tell me why were the vast majority of those killed, those whose homes were completely destroyed, the poor people? Why, less than a month after the hurricane, are there bars open on Bourbon Street and strippers going back to work? The famous legs at Big Daddy's were swinging again only days after the storm, while the poor people of the city are living in shelters and FEMA trailers and wondering about family members they haven't heard from. Seems to me if God were really working his wrath on New Orleans, Bourbon Street would have been the first place wiped out. Instead, it went largely undamaged compared to the rest of the city.

An e-mail from an uber-conservative Christian group that somehow got my e-mail and blasts me with 10 or 12 messages a day said that it was God's punishment because abortion is legal. Huh? What could the two possibly have to do with each other? If that was the case, wouldn't it have made more sense for God to wipe out all the abortion clinics and leave everyone else alone? Even for those that consider abortion murder, it makes no sense. When a murder is committed, do we just randomly execute people? Then why would God do that?

Of course, these are the same people who popped up after the Tsunami, saying it was God's wrath. They said God was trying to get our attention, to send a message. Which raises the question, is a God that would kill thousands of people just to make a point, really one that's worthy of worship? Looking at it in that light, I can't understand why the people that believe that God is this angry, petty child, would continue to worship him. Because if they don't they'll go to hell? Well, if God truly is the deity they believe him to be, maybe, in the words of AC/DC, hell ain't a bad place to be.

Read my review of "My New Orleans," a collection of essays paying tribute to the Big Easy.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Review: "The Mysteries" by Lisa Tuttle

People just don't disappear into thin air, do they?

That's the question that Ian Kennedy keeps running into over and over in Lisa Tuttle's "The Mysteries" ($21, Bantam Spectra).

Kennedy specializes in finding missing people. He has since his father disappeared when he was a child, the first of many disappearances from Ian's life. He eventually found his father, discovering that his reason for leaving was just a mundane, everyday reason, not the lavish fantasies that he had created. But not all of his cases have been so ordinary.

Lately, he's been hired to find Peri Lensky, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. With the help of a mother who obstinately refuses to believe in anything remotely supernatural and a reluctant boyfriend who doesn't really understand what he's seen. Ian begins to piece together the puzzle. It's a scenario that points the finger at the folk of fairy, and is disturbingly similar to one of his first cases.

Tuttle weaves the tale around a variety of Celtic myths, primarily "The Wooing of Etain." She also blends in plenty of legends of abduction by fairy folk. At first, the seemingly unrelated vignettes about people who have gone missing are jarring. But as the story continues, the reader begins to see the parallels and gain a better understanding of what's happening in the main story. What at first seems to be an intrusion, in the end makes the book richer.

"The Mysteries" takes the supernatural detective story that's become so popular and adds a satisfying extra layer of legend and folklore. Yet, it still remains the type of light and breezy story you'd expect from the genre, a quick, engaging read.

"The Mysteries" is the first novel from Tuttle since 1996's "The Pillow Friend," which is scheduled for a re-release later this year. Hopefully it won't take another nine years before we get the follow-up.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Review: "Dragonmaster" by Chris Bunch

Most of my reading lately has been in the corners where the world of faery intersects our own world. It's been a while - far too long, in fact - since I dived into a good, old-fashioned sword and sorcery story. After all, those are the tales that first hooked me on the fantasy genre.

Looking over my stack of unread books, I decided that Chris Bunch's "Dragonmaster" ($15, Roc) would fit the requirements nicely. I've got a soft spot for a good dragon story, and Bunch delivers.

Hal Kailas is a young man staring at a grim future of working in the local mines when he rounds a corner one day and finds a nobleman's son tormenting a young dragon. He stops the torture and returns the dragon to its nest, but when the nobleman threatens to make his family miserable because of the incident, Hal is forced to leave his village.

With dreams of flying a dragon, he hooks up with Altheny, who runs a traveling dragon show and promises to teach him to ride. He has good life with the man, but learns very little. Then, with war brewing, Altheny gambles away his dragon business, leaving Hal on the streets. Before he can raise the money for passage home, he's conscripted and finds himself on the front.

He gets another chance at his dreams when the army announces the formation of dragon-mounted troops to combat those of the enemy Roche army. He signs up, and finds himself on the front lines of a long and brutal war.

Bunch's tale takes a little time to build, but once Hal is enlisted, the action comes at break-neck speed. You get the feeling that Bunch is a military man. His battle scenes present visceral images of the chaos and carnage of being on the front lines. There's also a dark humor in the string of foppish, unqualified commanders Kailas finds ignoring his intelligence and sending the army to disaster time after time.

Bunch's use of dragons in battle is interesting. Since his dragons don't have flaming breath, you might expect the standard lance and sword duels from dragonback that you see in other books (never mind the fact that it would be very difficult to get close enough to have a sword duel on dragonback). Instead, Bunch uses his dragons more like modern fighter planes, developing strategic and effective weapons for his dragonriders to use.

Bunch's writing style can be brusque at times. It seems a bit strange in the more leisurely approach to the first half of the book, but it's quite fitting for the military fantasy of the second half.

The ending of this first book in the series, while not the cliffhanger type that I hate, was still a bit unsatisfying. Few issues were resolved and Kailas was only in a slightly better position than when the war started. It will be interesting to see how the situations Bunch has set up will play out in later volumes.