Friday, July 26, 2019

"How Do We Sing the LORD'S Song in a Foreign Land?"

I have reviewed a LOT of books in the Four Horsemen Universe, after starting just two years ago this week.  I didn't start with the FIRST book in the series, which was, I believe, Cartwright's Cavaliers, but that turned out not to make a difference; they are (almost) all self-contained. 
Furthermore, since they appear to be churning them out at a rate usually associated with a select-fire switch, I will likely be reviewing more in the near future. I post my reviews, and any related blog posts, in the Facebook group which is a meeting place for fans of the series,  "4HU- The Merc Guild."
Today, a sailor of some experience, by the name of Shawn, discussed how you orient yourself on a boat/ship. Then, he opened the discussion to consider how to find your way around & orient yourself, on a vehicle in space. It was really QUITE interesting! 

And that got me thinking: 
How do you orient yourself spiritually in space?

Initially, I just considered: if you are member of a religion that requires certain prayers be offered when faced in a particular direction, how do you do that when you aren't on Earth?

I know essentially NOTHING about ANY world religious practices (including my own), but I do know how to google things. Here are some examples of geographical orientation during prayer: 

Sandhya Vandana, a Hindu form of prayer, might be easy, because it stipulates facing toward the sun, but what if you are in a binary system? And can you use ANY sun, or must you keep your home sun paramount?

Early Christian writer St John of Damascus, in the 8th century AD,  emphasized facing to the EAST during prayer. At least PART of that tradition was because that was the direction of the Mount of Olives. So, still to the east, or to the Mount of Olives? Because depending on where you are, you could be facing in ANY direction. 
St. John of Damascus
Attributed to Iconographer Ne'meh Naser Homsi

The Talmud and the Mishnah states that those of us in the Diaspora should face east, but then the closer you get to the Kodesh Hakodashim (the Holy of Holies), the more precise your aim has to be.

Offering incense at the Ark of the Covenant
Found in the Kodesh Hakodashim

In Islam, prayer is directed toward the Kaaba in Mecca. In one of his series (Raj Whitehall), David Drake & Stephen Michael Stirling solved the problem by having the Muslims escaping Earth bring a fragment of the Kaaba with them. Failing that most practical solution, how do the faithful in other solar systems know how to direct their prayers?

Every Muslim who is able to is required to 
make a ritual pilgrimage to the Kaaba
(at least once in their life) 

It's a non-trivial problem. However, in most space operas and science fiction civilizations, in the earliest stages, simple survival concerns seem to have overwhelmed details of space worship. If directionality does prove to be an issue, how in the heck to you know where anything  is, once you pass through hyperspace?

This is decidedly not a new problem, nor is it one limited to science fiction. . In the 6th century BCE, someone, perhaps the Prophet Jeremiah or one of his contemporaries, wrote in Tehilim/Psalm 137: 4: "How shall we sing Shir Hashem (the Lord's song) in an admat nekhar (foreign land)?"

By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion.
Upon the willows in the midst of it
We hung our harps.
(Psalm 137:1-2, NASB)

It's really TOUGH to treat matters of faith seriously in science fiction, but it HAS been done. 
Mad Mike Williamson  has one approach in the Freehold series.
Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle have another in The Mote series.
DISCLAIMER: While entirely lovely, C. S. Lewis' Space Trilogy was really a theological work, with a thin coat of science fiction sprayed over it, so I don't count that one.
Brad Torgersen most BRILLIANTLY amalgamates the two in "The Chaplain's War." 
And Sarah A. Hoyt has what her fans call "NUNS IN SP-A-A-CE!" (and some additional works as well.)
There is some seriously strange stuff out there.

There are others, certainly, who have dealt with faith in space opera, even if it's the Force.
 Not the midichlorian Force, because that really didn't happen. 
I don't care if you THOUGHT you saw it on screen; it really didn't happen.

As I've been rolling the problem of singing the Lord's song in alien circumstances around in my mind, over the past couple of hours, here's what I have come up with:

I've had to answer the question every day.

That's because every day is brand new territory. Yes, I have experienced a lot of Fridays, but never THIS Friday. This Friday brings new situations I have never faced before. Those situations are almost always tiny, insignificant variations, but I have absolutely zero guarantee that this will continue to be the case. In fact, if I have any guarantee at all, it's that sooner or later, I'm going to be on unfamiliar ground. Maybe literally; maybe I'm going to have to go to a location I have never seen before. Most likely, though, it's going to be a life experience that changes things for me.

Will I be able to discover the Next Right Thing to do? 

Without trivializing the question, I still have to give a simple answer: well, yes. I will. 

Because the Next Right Thing is ALWAYS going to be: sing the Lord's song. 

Forget the details. Forget the circumstances. Forget the distance, the disorientation. None of that goes to the heart of the CHOICE. What DOES go to the heart of the choice is: practice. If I have been singing the Lord's song in health, in sunshine, when there is food in the kitchen and money in the bank, then I have been practicing for the other times. And if I have been faithful, and singing the Lord's song, and not a song in praise of myself, or prosperity, then I will simply continue to sing. 
Like the Whos down in Who-ville.

How do I sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? I just : sing.

Peace be on your household.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

America Sleeps Tonight Under a Just-Plain Moon

Greetings, internet friends and neighbors, and a big hidey-ho to all of you! Also, to any family members it amuses to visit here, hope the day finds you still able to touch your toes.

I wasn't planning a blog post today, BUT, after I made this long post over on The Old NFO's blog, I figured I'd add a couple of links, and post here. I really need to post more frequently, he said for the grillionth time.

Remembering the way it was, and why we did that:

If things I have read recently are accurate, the US was doing next-to-nothing with the missile tech and technicians looted from Nazi Germany. It took Wernher von Braun appearing on Walt Disney to get things moving.
No, we didn't do it THIS way, but we did it.

I was four years old in 1957, when Nikita Khrushchev boasted that America sleeps under a Soviet moon. Four-year-old boys are literal-minded, and I was terrified of the moon for a long time after that. I have dim, dim memories of my mother comforting me by pointing to the full moon and assuring me that it was just a big ball of rock. It was whistling through the graveyard, for me, though.

I remember seeing “Alas, Babylon” on TV, and having nightmares about commies coming down the hall to get my baby sister.

Rita Moreno plays with jewelry, just before discovering it's radioactive. 
"Alas, Babylon!" on Playhouse 90; April 3, 1960

I also remember riding through those unending military convoys through the southern states, during what I THINK was the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Lots of stuff that went bang and kaboom was stationed in Texas, and had to get to Florida. The troops lived in tent cities, while the politicians didn't. I looked for some images of these convoys, but they are not to be found using the Google-fu I possess. The 1919 convoys, yes; 1962, no.

And fallout shelters.I remember the duck and cover drills we did in elementary school, and the day we had an evacuation drill, and all walked home, accompanied by teachers, as a prep for a time when the buses couldn’t get us. At the moment, can't find a pic of the evacuation, but there are some available if you want to hut it down yourself.
If you could get under your desk, you should do that.

A lasting effect of that was the Army changing the readiness status reports on vehicles, to a “green/yellow/red” status that was in effect when I was in the Army 1972-75. Evidently, someone was disturbed by the number of vehicles that broke down by the side of the road. Two lanes, remember?

I don’t know how much of that was based on real threats, and how much of it was politicians and defense contractors using terror to gain budgets and buy influence. I DO know that when I was stationed in Stuttgart in 1973, the primary reason I was there was to clog up the treads of the Russian tanks when they rolled through the Fulda Gap, long enough for Reforger to get under way.
I was a medic, not a tanker. 
But I do recognize that these are tanks.
And they are just hanging out in the Fulda Gap.

So, yeah, I’m a huge fan of the Saturn V, along with late lamented SAC, and the Strategic Defense Initiative, and everything else (including the still relatively easy availability of small arms and ammo) that made it a Bad Idea for another nation-state to wipe us out or invade. And from that perspective, got to say it doesn’t appear to me that any of that money was wasted.

Because my grandkids ain’t sleeping tonight under a Soviet moon.

Peace be on your household.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Year's Best Military and Adventure SF, Volume 5

For those WITHOUT ad blocker, a picture link:

Here's the cover image and a LINK, if you DO have an ad blocker:

Now, I'm blogging this because it has been a LONG time since my last blog, and because I last reviewed Volume THREE in this series two years ago, and because Dragon Awards are around the corner at Dragon Con, and one of these stories will receive a reader-nom award at that time. Plus, I likely will be reviewing like crazy in August. Whatever.

Here's the review:

I'm not sure why this should be the case, but I can't find that I have reviewed the fourth volume in the series. I DID review Volume 3, and posted the review on my blog “Papa Pat Rambles” on July 2, 2017, with the title “The Year's Best? REALLY?” 
My timing is a bit off, here. I actually got an Advanced Reader Copy, but had to set the review aside, since pre-pub review isn't something I'm involved in. I set it aside for a month too long, though, and that's significant, because pre-Dragon voting is involved. 

PREFACE by David Afsharirad. Read this for two reasons: first, Afsharirad discusses his rationale for the selections, which is nice background, but SECOND! The amount of effort put into harvesting out a 'best of' collection is something I simply cannot comprehend. Anybody who does that deserves the trivial amount of effort the reader expends to read his comments.

LOVE IN THE TIME OF INTERSELLAR WAR by Brendan DuBois. It's a grim future postulated, with alien monsters in control of space, and thus in control of the surface of the planet. If you think that a fatal disease, amputation, and alien domination will prevent love, then you have never spent time in the company of a teenage boy. 

GOING DARK by Richard Fox. Again, a grim future, because the aliens have landed, and with superior technology are making a mess for the humans. Part of the human solution : develop cyborgs/golems. These are large, not-very-smart, powerful and intensely loyal soldiers, bonded to their team leader. Loyalty runs both ways, though, as anyone who has lead a team under stressful circumstances can attest.

THE SCRAPYARD SHIP by Felix R. Savage. This one is FUNNY! Yes, the technology is there, and the aliens, and the carnivorous bushes, but the deep joke is found elsewhere. It ALWAYS comes down to the little guy making the big guy look stupid. Even when the little guy is a shape-shifter. I'm not quite sure how the beautiful human girl and the strange alien guy work through their relationship, though. Sigh. Love is beautiful.

BROKEN WINGS by William Ledbetter. A beautiful story. The most SCIENCE-y part of the science fiction is an artifact found floating in space, but we don't need to know ANYTHING about it for the story to be wonderful. It's really a story about what happens when you do as much good as you can with what you've got, and don't allow what you DON'T have to rule. 

A SONG OF HOME, THE ORGAN GRINDS by James Beamon. I believe all steampunk is supposed to be creepy. Maybe not. But, in this alternative universe, an organ grinder has more than one function, and more than one meaning. Yes, there are monkeys involved. And I recommend you get a music source that allows you to hear the songs mentioned in the story. 

ONCE ON THE BLUE MOON by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Sigh. Kristine Kathryn Rusch. It is astounding to me that a person this young could be this talented and this accomplished. It wouldn't surprise me to discover that she also knows how to repair televisions. In this story, however, she takes elements from adventure, family pathos, space treachery, hacking, and cruise ships, and gives us a heroine to admire, and one who, if she moves next door to you, makes you move to Alabama.

CRASH-SITE by Brian Trent. Creepy, convoluted, and with enough intrigue and betrayal for anyone interested in that sort of thing. Although all of the action doesn't take place in a swamp, it feels like one has soaked your underwear as you read it, and there is sand in your shoes, and no dry towels, anywhere.

THIRTY-THREE PERCENT JOE by Suzanne Palmer. Black humor, nicely done. When a guy who wants to be a baker is thrust into a combat role because his psycho mom wants that, it's hard to imagine a good outcome. And, to help us understand the story a bit better, he has various prosthetic replacements of battle wounds that talk to each other. And to him. 

HATE IN THE DARKNESS by Michael Z. Williamson. Mad Mike has so constructed a universe that we MUST root for the people who are devastating Earth. Is that not strange? In this case, there are additional ethical dilemmas, centering on the core issue of who it is that has to pay the price for policy decisions. It's all couched in an edge-of-the-seat, long distance pursuit. Yes, something can be boring and terrifying at the same time.

HOMUNCULUS by Stephen Lawson. I believe that civilization has one primary purpose: to provide for the special needs of the replacements. To be less obtuse: pregnant women and children. This story is consistent with that; in a highly toxic environment, people go to extreme lengths to rescue a small child who has escaped the safe quarters provided for him.

NOT MADE FOR US by Christopher Ruocchio. The United States is CONSTRUCTED around the concept of the citizen soldier. With all of the hoopla about the Second Amendment, you'd think that would be a bit more well-known, but it's not. But, the decisions made at the time of the writing of the Constitution, and carried out since then, is that if we go to war, we pull in a bunch of civilians, arm and otherwise equip and train them, let them do the fighting, and then go back home. It's worked...okay. It's a better system than relying on a large standing professional military. But, what if you had the technology to put your soldiers on ice? Just bring them out when there was fighting to do? This isn't a novel concept explored here, but it IS something worth thinking about, over and over again. Where will their loyalty be placed? That's just one of the first questions.

THE ERKENNEN JOB by Chris Pourteau. Ah, loyalty. The topic arises again, and it will KEEP on coming up as long as the possibility exists for their to be conflicts. Tough guys with .38s walk the mean streets of the Moon, because the game isn't EVER money; the game is POWER, and money is just how you keep score. Industrial espionage, control of narcotics, and dames. 

Now, in my review of Volume 3, I designated which of the stories I felt were worthy of being included in Year's Best, and which were marginal, and which flabbergasted. This time, not gonna do that. Last year, I took on the task of reviewing as many of the Dragon Award nominees as possible, and I found that with a few exceptions, they were ALL worth a win. And this year, I have read some AMAZINGLY good short stories, mostly in the military & sci-fi category. I don't trust my ability to make a recommendation about which is 'the best.' I can tell you that there are some that I ENJOYED more than others, but I must disclose that there are some stories that I HATE that are stark raving excellent. 
But the bottom line is this: David Afsharirad made the call to include these, and his expertise surpasses mine. 
So, that's all I have to say about that.