Saturday, November 20, 2010

Scott Pilgrim - Bryan Lee O'Malley

It's sort of sad (or maybe awesome?) that in the short span of a month, my blog has digressed from writings about great theological minds and comic books.  While I am not an avid comic reader, I recently became a huge fan of this well known series of six graphic novels about my main man Scott Pilgrim.  Some of you may be familiar with the movie that came out earlier this year entitled "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World", which starred Michael Cera.  I saw the movie a mere week ago, and have ever since been on a quest to find and absorb all things with "Scott Pilgrim" in the title (yes even the video game!).  Anyways, enough about me and my seemingly age-inappropriate obsession...lets talk about these books!

Scott Pilgrim is a 23 year old video game junkie that lives in Toronto with his gay roommate Wallace, plays bass in the band "Sex Bob-Omb", and has a huge crush on an American delivery girl named Ramona Flowers.  In order to date Ramona he must first battle and defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends.  The storyline consists of everyday life and the drama of dating, mixed in with epic battles and over the top fight scenes.  O'Malley is a master of youth culture, and really captures the look and feel of young adulthood.  The characters are typical young 20 somethings; they play video games, party, go to shows, thrive on drama, and shop at Goodwill.  You can't help but love each and every character, because they are so unique and their stories are lovable and familiar.

While the series is in comic format, it is definitely not for everyone.  There are some swear words, sexual moments, and mature themes sprinkled into the story, but none of them are overdone or over the top.  At the same time it is extremely easy to overlook the negatives due to the overwhelming awesomeness of these books.  Anyone who knows rock music, video games, or indie culture will find multiple references and inside jokes on every page.  I was caught laughing out loud on many occasions.  The art style is also very well done, and I often found myself going back to look at the drawings a second or third time.  The appeal of the Scott Pilgrim books is somewhat hard to explain.  They appeal to the inner nerd/rock star/youth culture enthusiasts in a way that other forms of media cannot.  Trying to explain it is like trying to explain why kids love Cinnamon Toast Crunch.  Scott Pilgrim doesn't need to be explained, he's just awesome.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Furies of Calderon - Jim Butcher

"Furies of Calderon" is the first novel in a series of six books titled "The Codex Alera", written by Jim Butcher.  Butcher is most well known for his series, "The Dresden Files", which are about a wizard who works in modern day Chicago as a private investigator.  Already an established writer, Butcher started "The Codex Alera" series based on a bet he made with another writer at a writer's convention.  The bet was that Butcher could not write a good story based on a terrible concept.  Butcher countered that he would allow the other writer to pick TWO bad concepts, and then write a great work based on them.  The other writer chose the concepts of the lost 9th Roman Legion, and Pokemon!  Butcher then went on to write "The Codex Alera" which has become his second highly acclaimed series, and further cemented him as one of today's leading fantasy authors.

The series takes place in the world of Carna, or more specifically in the realm of Alera, which is an empire very similar to Rome.  In this empire, the citizens are able to bond with elemental spirits, known as "furies", and are able to use those spirits to perform beyond their human abilities.  Spirits of fire, water, wind, earth, wood, and metal can all be bonded with, and each grants unique characteristics.  In this world we find the story of a young man named Tavi, who is unable to bond with any element.  He is considered a freak to his people, and a social outcast.  Tavi becomes aware of a sinister plot to overthrow the government, and possible destroy everything he knows and loves.  Having no power and no social standing, he must defy the odds and try to save the kingdom before it is utterly destroyed.  

While I doubt that "The Codex Alera" will ever stand up to the true masterpieces of fantasy literature, I still recommend it.  It is well written, and Butcher does a great job of drawing the reader into the lives of his characters.  Each character's story is interesting, and wants to be fully explored.  While Butcher's "Dresden Files" series is much more adult in content, "The Codex Alera" does a great job of appealing to all audiences.  There are a few swear words and romantic scenes, but Butcher does a good job of keeping them PG rated and avoiding the details like many other authors seem unable to do. The story is complex enough for adults, but it is written in a way that even younger readers could enjoy.  If you are looking for a well written fantasy series that delivers an interesting story, intense action, and a little bit of romance, then this is a great series to put on your reading list.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Normal Christian Life - Watchman Nee

"The Normal Christian Life" is a masterful blend of simple truth and complex analysis.  Nee avoids the "meaningless arguments" that often times become the focus of theological discussion, and instead goes straight to the core of Christianity.  Man is sinful.  God is without sin.  Jesus' death on the cross atoned for our sin.  We accept this, and Christ comes to live in us.  Today we often refer to these truths as "The Romans Road".  These are the truths of real importance, to which all other truths must eventually compare.  To the average Christian the truths found in the "Romans Road" are not exactly new revelation, and yet Nee is able to take the overly familiar and make it fresh, or as he says, " make things simple, and to explain clearly some of the experiences which Christians commonly pass through." 

Nee takes the reader down a trail of thought that he refers to as "The Path of Progress".  This path consists of knowing, reckoning, presenting ourselves to God, and walking in the Spirit.  We "know" many truths of Christianity.  For example, Christ died for my sins.  However, until we "reckon" (or "take into account") that knowledge, then it is really useless in my life.  God requires us to act on what we know.  Unfortunately, being human we are completely unable to act on our knowledge of God's will, because any action we attempt is futile and will eventually fail.  We are sinful.  We can do nothing good apart from God.  Therefore, the next step is to present ourselves to God, and to allow Him to change us.  Nee is quick to point out that this step does not simply mean "accepting Christ".  It is also the declaration that my entire life belongs to Christ, and reckoning that statement as true.  The final step is to walk in the Spirit, or trusting the Holy Spirit to do in me what I cannot do myself.  This is not a human effort to live out a God given standard.  Instead it is the acceptance that we need God to live His holy standard in us.  Therefore we become free from the sin and condemnation that comes from our humanity. 

As I read this book I was constantly struggling with what I read.  Not because I disagreed with what I was reading, but because my mind was resisting the move from belief to reckoning.  If you are a Christian reading this book, you will find it hard to disagree with the knowledge he presents.  However, if you are like me you may find it extremely challenging to accept the changes he suggests based on that knowledge.  The difficulty is not to accept new truths, but to view those truths from a new angle and to act based on that fresh viewpoint.  Because of the range of biblical truths covered and the action required for each one, this is not a book you simply read once and put on the shelf.  It would be difficult to absorb and acclimate our lives to everything Nee is proposing in just one reading.  This is a book that one should take off the shelf again and again, gleaning new understanding and acceptance of the truths of Christ, and allowing those truths to change you.  With each reading you just might come away with your "normal Christian life" looking a little different than it did before.