Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells – A Confluence of Clever Ideas and Spot-On Writing

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Fluency focuses on the premise that our interaction with alien species is all about communication and those who have a sympathetic ear to language have a sympathetic ear to the heart and mind of those who are utterly “other.” This leads us to a naturally-gifted linguists as our protagonist; not typical of most SciFi and not boring, even if it sounds that way. Who better to have first contact than someone trained in the first contact of other human people-groups with previously unmapped languages? It is an ingenious premise that’s well executed by Jennifer Wells (it’s a little hard to believe this is Ms. Wells’ debut novel) and leads to some luscious tension between the military commander running the show from the command ship, the Providence. Theoretically, Jane Holloway, the linguist/scientist, takes command once onboard the alien vessel, Speroancora. However, things don’t go as expected and the resident alien communicates exclusively with Jane Holloway and only within her mind. Due to this intimate communiqué provided by the alien (Ei’Brai), on top of an already jaded military mindset, the commander doesn’t know if the alien has taken over Jane Holloway’s mind, is simply misleading her or is telling the truth. The “don’t go as expected” part goes south quickly. As you might expect (although a number of reviewers don’t seem to, about which more later), the others and especially the commander, are more than a little suspicious that Ei’Brai is the source of their woes. This leads to bad decisions and the fun begins.

Jennifer Foehner Wells

Jennifer Foehner Wells

While there is one coherent story, there are a number of side trails that enrich our knowledge of Jane Holloway: why she relates to her crew, her love interest (yes, that too), her commander and Ei’Brai she does. These memory-walks Jane takes enrich the story (and clarify her motives) without throwing off its pacing.

What do I love about Fluency?

  • Its brilliant premise that first contact is all about communication and understanding
  • Our growing understanding of Jane Holloway, Ei’Brai, and the crew.
  • No one is perfect and nothing is easy.
  • Dialog and pacing are spot-on while descriptions of the vessels, characters, and remembered worlds are good without ever bogging down the story, and the relationship between Ei’Brai and Jane is particularly well developed.
  • The Gubernaviti/Qua’dux relationship is smart; it provides a balance of power but needs a backup plan (not really a spoiler since you have to read it to get it).
  • Stephan Martiniére‘s rock-a-lockin’ book cover.

What did I find intriguing?

  • So often, where you start is where you end (Walsh can’t get past his military training and natural skepticism)
  • Ei’Brai seems to epitomize much of current political thinking – it’s all political correctness until it’s time to move toward something you want, then the ends justify the means ‘cause you “know” you’re oh so right.

Of what was I less fond?

  • I’m not quite sure I buy the Coelusha Limax/Nepatrox story of surviving because of moral compunction on the aliens’ part to not needlessly kill.
  • Commander Walsh, but hey, I’m not supposed to like him. Also, he’s a bit of a stereotype.
  • The narrative movement towards troubled times seemed a bit rushed, especially for the actions of Ei’Brai and Walsh. While the smoothest and most carefully constructed arguments would not have had things going smoothly, both seemed to rush to judgment sooner than was reasonable.
Susanna Burney

Susanna Burney

As I often do, I went between the Kindle and Audible version of the story. Susanna Burney beautifully narrates the book. Not only was she a natural for Jane Holloway, but she handled all characters with aplomb. She had great vocal pacing, good enunciation, and clear demarcation amongst the characters. Her portrayal of Ei’Brai as formal and oddly paced was perfect for the alien.

I commend the book for your reading pleasure.

***Spoiler Alert – spoilers below ****

I want to comment on a theme I’ve noticed of some reviewers who didn’t care for the book. Essentially their complaint was that the crew were immature, daft, or both because of how poorly they assessed the situation and didn’t follow Jane. Now, as I indicated above, the pacing was a bit quick moving toward conflict, but not in a heavy-handed way. Most of the reviewers who made this point struck me as judging Walsh and crew as if they had Jane’s full knowledge and should have known better. The crew clearly had to make their decisions based on external behavior and past experience. It seemed more than reasonable that they would worry that Jane Holloway was taken over by the alien. Given Walsh’s background and his lack of willingness to listen, I just don’t see it being obvious that he would view her as safe to trust. In fact, while Ei’Brai wasn’t taking over her, he was misleading her and more intimately inculcated in her thinking than she knew.

Now some may say that it’s an even worse over-reaction on the part of the crew because of the technological advantage of the alien. If he had ill intent, he could kill the crew. Since he didn’t kill the crew, he was safe and, by extension, so was Jane. However, despite that advantage, he was stranded and his ship was in trouble. So, he still had the motivation to manipulate them or pose a danger. Also, Walsh isn’t the type to roll over and give up. So their reaction was reasonable and it was only Jane’s inside knowledge, empathetic gifts as a listener and natural disposition that saved the day. In other words, I don’t buy this criticism.

The Bone Church, a Mesmerizing and Moving Cold War Novel by Victoria Dougherty

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Victoria Dougherty‘s writing immerses you into a world of danger and distrust, Gothic stone buildings and a rapidly changing world. We are thrust into the lives of those who are still intermeshed with the aftermath of World War II and the war itself (through memories). The cobblestones are palpable through your cold, wet shoes, your eyes dart towards every moving shadow in an alleyway and you feel the dull greyness of the world in your soul. You hear the sound of a truck and react with a visceral start. There is no safety  even as you devise moments that push away the fear. Hers is not a world of superheroes, clever quips or long distance techno-war with missiles or drones. It is personal and the fighting is up-close; it’s full of risk and it smells. Everyone’s hands are dirty and your largest decision is in whom to place your trust. This is a world peopled with true heroes whose tasks are overwhelmingly daunting, yet they move forward with what hope they can muster.

Not all is dark and none of it is dull. It is set in Prague, a city so quintessentially European that’s it’s frequently used to represent Europe in films such as Amadeus, Mission Impossible (1), Casino Royale and The Illusionist just to name a few. There are the Czech people: earthy, real, interconnected and imperfect, as are we all. In the midst of war and its aftermath, these people collide with themselves. You have a carefree Hockey star who must become invisible and sacrificial. You have a half-gypsy, jaded through a lifetime of slights, a survivor, who is willing to give his all for his friend.   Then there’s the church referenced in the title, Sedlec Ossuary, in Kutná Hora (a bit over 50 miles from Prague). I fail in what little word-smithing art I have; there are no words that match the strange, surreal feeling it invites. It is on this beautiful, chaotic and epic stage, where people are impossibly tossed together through the ravages of war and the resulting communistic rule, that a piercing love story is written. This is a love story of people, yes, but also love of God and the country of your birth.

This story’s “present day” is set in the mid-50s where an effort is made to recover a woman and her son caught on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. We are, for the majority of the book, pulled back into World War II and told the story of the people and events that led to this daring rescue attempt. The historical action mostly takes place in Prague and its environs starting late in the War (December 1943) through to the end with the Russians taking over.

Victoria Dougherty

Victoria Dougherty

Ms. Dougherty’s words weave us into this story. Her writing is so natural to her topic that the words simply recede and we are there. (I suspect the writing was anything but natural or easy on her part, but she made it so on ours.) If she could simply describe places and people so that we lived in and met them, that would have made for a good book. If she wrote a mesmerizing narrative in which we were caught in the intrigue of war and espionage, that would have made for a good book.  If her dialog and pacing felt authentic, that would have made a good book. What makes The Bone Church extraordinary is that she does all of that while giving us a little history lesson. These are people and places that stay with you, even with their strange-sounding names (to my ears). Navigating the web of deceit, misdirection and motivations is sometimes challenging, but always rewarding. While it is a gripping story, it’s not a quick page-turner. It allows us to live into the culture and times in a way that requires a little different pacing. Again, well worth taking the time but it requires a modicum of patience.

While this tale may resonate with me more than some, I grew up in the cold war, its themes are universal but brought out more fully in the hot and cold wars. Love and loss, hope and failure, and bravery and cowardice all have their day. I cannot recommend this book enough with the caveat that it has very adult themes. Let the reading and times seep into your bones, come to know Srut, warts and all, walk the back streets of Prague and glory in the ballrooms of Kutná Hora, follow the Angels as they minister to Felix and never forget the Jews of the Holocaust and the Gypsies of Europe.

Owl City Steps Out in New Ways with Mobile Orchestra

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When you queue up an Owl City (AKA Adam Young) album, you know you’re going to have some fun; Mobile Orchestra delivers on that promise (even when fun may not match the song’s content). This album is fun not only because the songs have great, mostly upbeat rhythm but also because he experiments with lots of sounds and genres in the album. You have everything from a lite dubstep, “Thunderstruck” (feat. Sarah Russell), to a country sound, “Back Home” (feat. Jake Owen) and everything in between. Besides teaming up with British Trance artist Sarah Russell and country singer Jake Owen, but also the amazing Aloe Blacc, boy band Hanson, and contemporary Christian artist Nicole Britt. So taking us on this musical journey is done with a little help from his friends.

AdamYoung

Adam Young

The album immediately starts out with some help from Aloe Blacc since that’s the first voice you hear on the album. It might strike some odd that Adam Young’s voice isn’t first, but it seems appropriate for this album and the sound of the song definitely has Owl City written all over it. Also, there’s the fact that it’s Aloe Blacc; who doesn’t want to hear his voice? “Verge” is his “We are Young” song, celebrating beginnings: “This is our time (This is our time)/These are our hours (These are our hours)/Out on the verge…of the rest of our lives.” Everything comes together to make this a great song to kick off the album – great beat, fabulous melody and harmonizing vocals.

“I Found Love” sounds like one of those sweet love songs: “So lead me home, and lift me up/Above the stars, and even higher/I’m not afraid, because your love/It falls like rain, and burns like fire.” It’s not quite a love-em-and-leave-em song, but rather a young man who allows emotion to overtake responsibility. So while it’s not dump-and-run, he does feel loss and remorse, he needs to remember that the flip side of this song is “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Mis.

“Thunderstruck” is one of my favorite songs of the album; the dubstep beat is great but doesn’t overwhelm the song. Sarah Russell’s voice (somewhat reminiscent of Ellie Goulding) melds well with Adam Young’s. It’s just a fun love song. Alas, this is followed by probably my least favorite song on the album, “Unbelievable.” This should be a fun nostalgic song looking back to the childhood of their generation. It comes off as a dull song which list of things without any clever lyrics to tie it together. A clever rap with good transitions could hav3e worked with what is, essentially, a long list. This just doesn’t work. It is “Unbelievable.” Now, admittedly, someone that had their shared experiences could find forgiveness in the list with their own nostalgic memories.

“Bird with a Broken Wind” stands in stark contrast to the bubble-gum pop of “Unbelievable,” taking on those who see the world primarily fraught with danger and loss. Clearly this is someone whose experience have left them with scared and broken where the song grapples with how you live in the wake of those experiences: “It feels like I’m a lone survivor/Forgotten in a dark and deadly world/And on my own/I walk alone/To see the sun again/I’d give anything/But life demands a final chapter/A story we all must leave behind/It’s do or die/And this is mine/The anthem of a bird with a broken wing.”

Where “Unbelievable” may have missed the nostalgic mark, “Back Home” hits it dead on musically and lyrically. This songs slows it down a little bit (but still upbeat) celebrating a small town home: “I’m headed back to tree lines/To free time and starry nights/To bonfires and fire flies/Pack your bags it’s time to go/Cause we got brighter lights back home.” This is a nearly perfect cross-over song from Jake Owen and Adam Young.

“My Everything,” “Can’t Live Without You” and “You’re Not Alone” are about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in this life and the need for rescue when we’re down and out. In “My Everything,” expresses that need, deep within, to cling to our Lord, our King, our God. We do this especially in those times when. ” When “my hope in lost and my strength is gone/I run to you, and you alone/When I can’t get up, and I can’t go on/I run to you, and you alone.” Of course, we need Him just as much when all is well, but we recognize it more when we’re down. While “Can’t Live Without You” leaves open whether that is another person on earth (one hopes not, since any human relationship based primarily on a need for rescue is doomed), but “You’re Not Alone” makes clear that God is the great rescuer of souls. Both songs are great with Adam Young and Nicole Britt singing particularly well together.

“This isn’t the End” takes on a tough theme of a daughter dealing with a father’s suicide. Unfortunately, the tune seems a bit too sunny for the theme. That may be because it’s fundamentally about hope enduring even in the midst this horror there is hope:  “The role of a father, he never deserved/He abandoned his daughter and never returned/And over the years though the pain was real/She finally forgave him, and started to heal.” I do think there is a bit of a disconnect between music and lyrics on this one.

Overall, I commend Adam Young for taking some risks, moving into new areas even while maintaining the “Owl City” sound. This is a really solid album and worth a listen.

Hexomancy Brings the Fun in a Fully Polished Package

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Michael Underwood scores full points for a perfect hit with Hexomancy, drawing (at least the first cycle) of the Ree Reyes series (which include Geekomancy and Celebromancy along with the novella, Attack the Geek) to a full-on fun while satisfying ending. You know those episode-ending scenes around the table of Serenity from Firefly? There is a sense of camaraderie, coming home with people and life seeming to fit (even with chaos around the corner). That’s what Hexomancy is for me. Mr. Underwood seems more comfortable and confident within his writing skin. While the series started out as a fun, light, albeit cool, geeked-out, pop-culture fueled adventure novel, it continued to grow to a full-fledged adventure series driven as much by the characters who people the stories as the geek references. So while the impetus of the series was superpowers based on geekiness (and what geek doesn’t dream of that world), it grew into a series where world-building became more of the stage on which the characters act and their relationships wax and wane. That’s not to say his characters, their relationships or the storyline were subservient to world building before, it’s just that the underground world needed focus. His pacing, dialog, and descriptions have slipped over the top to spot on with an inherent sense of authenticity. In this artificial world, there is no artifice. Also, there’s the not-wanting-to-put-it-down because it’s so much fun. If I didn’t have to pretend to some responsibility and family life, I would have read it in one sitting; as it was, I read it in two days.

Note: First, full disclosure, I received an advanced review copy of this novel from Netgalley for an honest review; it’s scheduled for release September 14, 2015. Second, there are spoilers below for any who haven’t read Geekomancy and Celebromancy, so read them.

Hexomancy takes well-established characters, with a few new ones, and fleshes out the like/abhor relationship between Ree and Eastwood, the life of a geek-hero whilst trying to keep a day job and personal life, and the ebb-and-flow of love relationships. Celebromancy introduced us to a fairly different setting to keep things fresh; while the world was the same, the setting within the context of a movie lot was sufficiently new that it gave the novel a different feel. We return to home turf in this novel in which some witch sisters vow to take out Eastwood. Ree and Drake slog their way through sewers and dangerous magic to protect him.

Michael R. Underwood

Michael R. Underwood

Often in a sequel, you’ll hear things like, “now that the characters and world are established, we can really get into the story.” Too often that’s a prelude to a weak story; not so much here. This third book rests nicely on the shoulders of the previous two and the novella. Geekomancy 101 is over and now all of that world building is put to fabulous use within the storylines, relating the characters, laying out the main narrative thread and presenting the action. There is a natural ebb-and-flow in the battle scenes, the interactions at Grognard’s Grog and Games and with the Rhyming Ladies. You may have the impression that as I’m saying all this about great characters and interesting relationships that the fun must be done. Au contraire, mon ami. Once again, you can seriously get your geek on. All of the DnD, Star Wars, and Buffy references come back with a vengeance, along with some sweet Chinese modeling those Browncoats of Firefly. The games are going, nerds are numerous and fun is flying. It’s all here

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Speaking of fun, I have some soundtrack recommendations for Hexomancy – Lachesis’s theme could be Nina Simone’s I Put a Spell on You sung by Morgan James. Carolos Santana can make some serious contributions with some Black Magic Woman for Lucretia and perhaps his Evil Ways for Connie while his Into the Night might be Eastwood’s theme song. Of course, there’s lots of built in soundtrack music, everything from Star Wars to Tron, Dark Knight to The Avengers. It’s all there.

What I love about Hexomancy:

  • The relationships among the characters
  • The characters themselves. These seem like people you would actually meet placed in a bizarro alternate world.
  • The way the storyline seemed like adventure set pieces but were actually part of a coherent storyline that delivered a great narrative arc as well as being a worthy conclusion to the series.
  • All of the geeky references.
  • The writing including pacing, dialog, and action
  • Yes, even the love story.

Things in Hexomancy of which I was less fond – *Note: *light spoilers*:

  • The chasing of Lachesis seemed a little drawn out and yet ended in a battle not fully satisfying.
  • Hexomancy seems mostly about throwing you off-kilter (which is more powerful than it might first appear) so it seems a stretch that it could be powerful enough to knock out city power or all that Atropos does.

Come for the geeky world and fun storyline, stay for the fabulous characters, relationships, and action. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole series; I simply loved Hexomancy. I commend it for your reading pleasure. Seriously, pre-order today.

Joy Williams Venus is a Beautiful Rebirth

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Clearly Joy Williams has been on quite a journey since the split of The Civil Wars. Venus shares a bit of that journey which is full of vulnerability and power, big beats and quiet vocals and everything in-between. There are times when Joy Williams, the soloist, is reminiscent of the partner in The Civil Wars, but much of her work reaches out in new ways of expression. As the mythic Venus was born out of the sea, Ms. Williams’ career has a rebirth (her second since her Contemporary Christian artist days) and this album is indicative of that change. While I will deeply miss the harmonies of The Civil Wars, I’m excited about the new album and where Ms. Williams is heading. Yes, we hear her haunting, lilting voice that has the breathy fade which is so familiar, but we also hear her sing with a pop beat (and backing band) and with more power.

The album allows Joy Williams to fully come out on her own, highlighting her beautiful, modulating voice and her ability to bare her soul in words. It’s musically diverse, produced well with clearly more complexity than two singers and a guitar but not over-produced. It’s a great album which I encourage you to give it some real focused listening. It’s worth them time.

For full review: http://musicsnake.com/joy-williams-venus-album-review/

The Rebirths of Tao – Wesley Chu

J. T. Frazier:

Nice review of Rebirths of Tao – Wesley Chu (sadly still on my TBR list but changing that soon) Loved the other two, Lives of Tao & Deaths of Tao.

Originally posted on Bookish:

20765775What is the best thing about Wesley Chu?  He makes reading a story about a parasitic alien race, plotting to terraform the earth, funny and riveting.  He could have gone for frightening but Chu made his aliens lovable.  They have, after all, been around since the dinosaurs, inhabiting a large assortment of creatures, across evolution until they found the human race.  Through humans, they found intelligent creatures, or I should say intelligent enough creatures, they could use to realize their dreams. A dream of making the earth a nice soupy mess for aliens to live in.  It’s unfortunate that it will be unlivable for humans.  As a human this sounds terribly wrong, but they were here before us.  They are smarter than us and as a famous Genjix leader, Zoras, would say, “…humans to aliens are like ants to humans.  You wouldn’t be concerned if you crushed an ant beneath your…

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The Venusian Gambit Succeeds on All Fronts

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The Venusian Gambit brings the Daedalus series to a satisfying, yet bitter-sweet conclusion. Parting is such sweet sorrow particularly from a series of which I’ve been *blush* a raving fan-boy from the beginning. I am, however, heartened by the fact that Michael Martinez will sail on to new writing horizons. Right now, he’s having a little fun with a story built around the Pathfinder Game, about which more here.

Most of what I loved about this book are what I’ve loved about all of the books in the series, so I won’t tread over ground covered in my review of The Daedalus Incident and review of The Enceladus Crisis. In this review, I’ll focus on some new elements to the series The Venusian Gambit brings. (Amazon has a nice description of the plot.) Note: there are spoilers below for the previous two books in this post. Not going into detail over old ground doesn’t lessen or detract from what I’ve previously said, but I’ll simply summarize what I love most about these books. There are plenty of books with cleverly inspired plots and the idea of these two timelines coming together is brilliant. But the proof of the pudding is the eating and the greatness of a book is in the writing. Execution is everything. In this series, the ideas are fleshed out and live in dialog and pacing, story arc and character. It takes that initial plot line and allows us to live it. We have a sense of the duty and honor that pervade the lives on H.M.S Victory (and the Royal Navy) and (most of) those in the JSC. Not that there aren’t disagreements (and even times when one feels betrayed by what another thought honorable), but the willingness to seek out the best for King (and Queen) and country, even for the known worlds, wins out. Not that the books are morality tales, they are drama filled with hopes, loss, sacrifice, greed and love. We have villains and big damn heroes.

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Michael J. Martinez | Photo by Anna Martinez

In this final chapter of the series, we have an opportunity to know the characters and worlds more deeply even as we are introduced to new players. We see Philip, the son of Anne, dowager Countess St. Germain and Elizabeth, the daughter of (now) Lord Admiral Weatherby as young adults and interesting in their own right. We also see known characters in new roles and witness the consistency of character but also how the roles bring out some features of them. One of my favorite aspects of The Venusian Gambit is that the timelines come together at about the mid-point of the book rather than the end. The players (mostly) know each other, so we have an opportunity to see them interact in a more robust and familiar way. Because Mr. Martinez has a larger canvas on which to play out the interaction of the worlds, and not just the people but the technology, we are able to have a little fun with the characters’ reactions to each and find more appreciation for the benefits of both worlds.

Kristen Kalbli & Bernard Clark

Kristen Kalbli & Bernard Clark

You might be a little surprised at the lateness of this review, given I’m such a fan and it was released in early May. I waited for the Audible book to become available because I love the narration so much. The two narrators, Kristen Kalbli & Bernard Clark, perform the future and past timelines, respectively, then swap chapters as the timelines come together. It’s brilliantly done. It’s amazing how much one associates characters with the narrator’s approach to voicing them. I’ve come to know General Maria Diaz through Ms. Kalbli’s voice. When Mr. Clark takes over, his approach is, understandably, starkly different. It took a bit of adjustment. Both are great, but different. As with all of the series, I highly recommend the audiobook, if you go for such things. These are great narrators with a clever scheme of having them in different roles.

What I loved about The Venusian Gambit

  • A deeper dive into the combined worlds, people and technology
  • New characters or ones with expanded roles and depth such as Philip and Elizabeth.
  • Deeper understanding of previously introduced characters in new roles
  • Everything I loved about the whole series

***Warning – spoilers***

What I was less fond of in The Venusian Gambit

  • The defeat of Althotas and the relatively controlled, slow collapsing of the worlds were both a bit convenient. It was still a strong ending with sacrifice, battle, cultural barriers to overcome and heavy loss. So this is, at most, a light preference, but there you have it.

Once again, I cannot recommend the Daedalus series and The Venusian Gambit in particular, highly enough. A well-written adventure over sea and space on a grand scale amongst many cultures and worlds with fascinating characters, the best of whom exhibit exceptional honor. What’s not to love?

Limitless – Man’s Continuing Desire to Be God as Embodied by Faust

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Photo | Darby Frazier

We hear it all of the time – “Push past your limits”, “Reach for the stars” and the little more grounded “Be all you can be” (which means be more than you are now). Much of speculative fiction features “Post-Humans” with capabilities beyond the more mundanely human. From time immemorial, we have sought to be God or, at the very least, have some capabilities reserved for God. While we are called to do all for God’s glory and “give our utmost for his highest,” this is often an excuse to be discontented with what God has given us and our inherently being – not God. This is the heart of sin, whether it’s Adam and Eve wanting the knowledge of good and evil or Nebuchadnezzar wanting God’s glory for himself. In more recent times, we’ve seen this played out by Bradley Cooper in Limitless, where he portrays a person who gains capabilities men normally don’t have through a special drug. For a time, he was literally the talk of the party. He was charming, smart, and his capabilities seem nearly limitless. He, in fact, is a modern-day Faust, albeit one who stumbled upon his path to glory. If, as the Westminster Divines have it, man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, then the path to becoming limitless is in stark contrast to that for which we are designed. Students at Cary Christian School have taken the opportunity to use Faust as a way to portray the destructive nature of self-focus and self-glory.

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The journey to use Faust as a tool to bring this message home began back in 2013, led primarily by Logan Frazier and Julianna Hoover along with Caroline and Chandler Cearley. That journey has led through an initial adaptation of Goethe’s Faust to a streamlined adaptation for the North Carolina Theater Conference (NCTC) competition in Greensboro which received numerous awards including Excellence in Script Adaptation, Stage Combat, Physicalization, as well as Excellence in Acting to Matthew Cooker and Logan Frazer, and Outstanding Student Design in Directing for Caroline Cearley; this production included Matthew Coker, Caroline Cearley, Guy Frazier, Logan Frazier, Thomas Frazier, Juliana Hoover, Collin Lipscomb, Kate Pippin and Derek J. Wertz. It was later performed in the fall of 2014 at Cary Christian School to much acclaim. Now, with the core team augmented by a number new members, they are adopting it for film. Most members of the cast and crew are either alumni of Cary Christian School or faculty. The Cary Christian school board was kind enough to provide seed money for this adventure, along with other fundraising efforts, a focused fundraising effort is being made to take new scenes for the film and present them on the Cary Christian stage July 9 – July 10 at 7:30.

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The play encapsulates Faust’s seemingly inevitable fall from Professor to damned. He portrays his desire as a noble pursuit of knowledge, but it is, in fact, seeking to become limitless, to become God. In doing so, he begins to see people as a tool for his own desires, most especially Gretchen. She is used as a distraction by Mephistopheles and as a plaything by Faust. She too falls hard, but is not wholly lost. In this process, however, Faust completely loses himself and becomes a tool of Mephistopheles. A familiar enough tale, but one told poignantly through movement, emotion, and words. One especially moving scene is when the veil is pulled back and we see Mephistopheles as the puppet-master over the marionettes of Faust and Gretchen. Whilst Faust fancies himself growing greater, he is indeed subjugating himself to the devil. Gretchen comes to the brink of insanity but in the end, the reconciling arms of God enfold her into his family and himself. The hubris of pursuing our own glory and desires is nothing less than a stunning mimicry of Lucifer’s rebellion. We are unwilling to submit ourselves to God and his providence, but rather desire to place ourselves on his throne. This may be done in the guise of being all that we can be, of being the best person but it is nonetheless truly desire to be the one in charge and perfect in our own eyes.

Robert Stansberry and Janelle Hamo developing her song,

Robert Stansberry and Janelle Hamo developing her song, “Cognizance,” for the fundraiser and film

So why yet another production of Faust (it has been done, in a number of formats, many times over the years)? This production is contemporary and accessible while maintaining a timeless approach and message. It is a way to both warn on the dangers of self-seeking while simultaneously reminding us, via Gretchen’s story, of the grace of God. This is no mere morality tale, however. This is drama. This production pulls you into the drive of Faust and reminds you of your own drive. You enter into Gretchen’s self-loathing and pain; her heartbreak (and loss of mind) at what she has done. Pain and pathos, hope and despair and the enduring human condition (until that second Advent) are woven not only through the story but through these actors. It is in the warp and woof of their movements and voices, in the baring of souls on stage and before the camera that puts flesh on this story. This message is brought home to head and heart in this production.

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The Faust Film, is a ministry tool and independent production telling the story of a man and his propensity to be discontented with God’s grace and to do anything to gratify his urge for possessing omnipotence (all power) and omniscience (all knowledge). The CCS Board has generously awarded us the 2015 Founder’s Grant for the production of the film, and now the team is looking for your contribution to help is increase the quality of the film and the reach of our ministry:

All proceeds will go towards equipment, locations, and props needed for the film. At 7:30 p.m. on the evenings of July 9th and 10th you will be able to see two of the NEW (not seen in the play version) scripted scenes acted out on stage, in addition to one of these scenes as it will appear in the film. The film is being directed by Chandler Cearley, a CCS alumnus studying Film at UNCSA. Actors include CCS graduates Logan Frazier and Juliana Hoover, CCS faculty member Robert Stansberry, and actor TJ Broadhurst. Graduates Micaelah Scott and Janelle Hamo have created concept art and original music for the film.

Admission will be $15 per person. The admittance will be paid by cash or check at the door. Please note that the film does contain some dark themes, and may not be appropriate for young children.

Please register for tickets using the following links.

Thursday –> http://conta.cc/1BzJLiW

Friday –> http://conta.cc/1TMF5fO

Keep current on The Faust Movie on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Banner Artwork – Micaelah Scott, banner photo – Darby Frazier

[Full disclosure: My son, Logan, is part of the film production. My daughter, Darby, is the production’s still photographer]

Shannen Nicole’s Earthy, Fluid, Genre-bending Debut Album ‘Captive’

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Shannen Nicole

Shannen Nicole

Shannen Nicole encapsulates the four elements in her performance on her new album Captive being released 7-7-15.  Throughout the album there is an earthy, grounded quality to her voice; rather than being a disembodied, ethereal sound, hers is clear but with rich timbre. When the strings come in during “Stay” it’s as if her voice comes in on the wind imploring her lover to stay with her. She brings fiery words of condemnation in “Wicked Lullaby.” Her voice flows on the smooth water of a melodic river in “Sensitive” and comes in crashing wave after wave of heartbreak in “She Knows It.” In other words, singer/songwriter Shannen Nicole brings it all, even a bit of a bluesy vibe to the ballad “Captive.”

Shannen Nicole Publicity Pic Field

Ms. Nicole summarizes her own album well:

She stares back at him, enthrawled by his clueless smile
Foolish she is, a damsel in distress
Waiting to be saved by the ever-promising night.
But, he told me he cared, he told me of my eyes
He left me captive with no disguise.
It was once upon a lie, a misfortune to once upon a time
A story regarding her sensitive fears.
She knows it, she knows of her fragile feelings
Yet, the lonely heart she possesses beats erratically
She begs them to stay
As he sings her his wicked lullaby.
Choices haunting her to sleep
Choices guiding her mistique
At 2am finally balancing the key to her own harmony.

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For full review: http://musicsnake.com/shannen-nicole-captive-album-review/

Adam Roberts’s Brilliant Jack Glass, where Authenticity and Subterfuge Mix to Make a Great Scifi Cocktail

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Jack Glass is an intriguing science-fiction novel where the science is so inextricably woven within the story that sometimes you forget that it’s there. This story is a futuristic Roman empire where the empire is the solar system, the Ulanov’s are Caesar and the disparity amongst rich and poor is starker than that of Palermo Viejo and Villa 31 of Buenos Aires; villas miserias indeed. The vast majority of the population of the solar system live in bubbles that inadequately provide sustenance while failing to protect inhabitants from UV. Adam Roberts’ gift of world creation lies in the very air one breathes. His fleshing out of the idea of living most of your life in low to zero-g and coming to earth is palpably believable. By the time I was deeply immersed in the time on earth, I felt the constant, almost unbearable weight of gravity. The on-going effort just to breathe, let alone move, was mine. I was exhausted at how unyielding and relentless gravity is, the unbearable brightness of the sun and the viscous nature of the air itself. Pulling multiple g’s during ship acceleration or simply dealing with movement in zero g was equally well described. The farcical nature of hyperdrive (or Warp, for the Trekkies) is well analyzed while looking at faster than light travel. Great science, reflected through its practical use and woven into the story is a hallmark of Mr. Roberts’ writing in this novel. All this brilliance pales in comparison with his understanding of people, both individually and societally. The interplay of politics and people, what drives us individually and as groups, is beautifully played out and drives the narrative. That’s not to say there aren’t fights, chases, cool spacecraft and general action and mayhem. However, from the moment prisoners are left to fare for themselves on an asteroid to examining the lives of one of the most powerful families, people and their interactions are what matter.

Adam Roberts

Adam Roberts

The story is basically broken down into three main parts: the time spent on an asteroid by seven criminals, the time spent with a wealthy family getting used to gravity on earth and preparing for a birthday celebration whilst solving a murder mystery and time spent on the lam running from Lex Ulanova, the law within the solar system. Each period has a distinctly different rhythm to it along with a different set of players, but the thread of a crusade runs through them all. Do let me warn you, however, there are some particularly nasty things that occur on the asteroid amongst the prisoners and we get a lovely description of all the floating blood and gore from some zero-g fights. Jack Glass is not for the faint of heart; despite its being a great book, it may not be for everyone. Nicely enough, it does not revel in all things gruesome nor does it wallow in the details of death.

What are some of the things I love about Jack Glass?

  • Mr. Roberts makes you really believe his world. I feel as if I’ve visited those bubbles, the earth and rode in the Red Rum. It all seems so natural and real while it is, in fact, quite alien.
  • I believe in his people. While there are unique and special features about some of them, and they certainly have an environment I have never experienced, yet I can identify with their struggles, challenges, and efforts. They live very different lives and have very different talents, yet they are flesh and blood.
  • I love his writing. His dialog fits well within the overall story and characters. His narrative has movement while simultaneously providing lots of detail which allow you to become fully immersed in the world the story and the people. His phrasing is great but always subservient to the story itself. It never brings attention to itself allowing, instead, the characters and the world to flow out of them.
  • To say that Jack Glass has interesting characters is akin to saying Star Wars has interesting special effects. These characters are often way out there, while others are absolutely accessible to us. These are people we understand.
  • One of my favorite lines of the book was a chapter beginning with: “This is what happened. Pay attention.” Now that’s some big brass ones for an author to tell his reader to wake up and actually follow now. Got to love that sense of, ahem, confidence.

What are some of the things of which I’m less fond?

  • Without invoking the specter of spoilers, there is a rather unconvincing love story. Part of this has to do with things not being as they appear numerous times throughout the book, so you’re on your guard and more skeptical than you might be in other books. I’m partly skeptical that the proclaimed love is real. Also, my gut reaction while reading about said love was: “Seriously?”
  • While Mr. Roberts has a true ending and he brings it together relatively well, he clearly leaves an opening for future books in a series. That’s fine and maybe it’s indicative of how much I love the book that I feel a little like “Hey, didn’t we just get started? There’s so much left to this story, to character development and to the relationships that I really want to live into it just a little bit longer and can’t quite come to grips with it ending.”

Would I recommend Jack Glass? Absolutely, to any adult with the warnings given previously. Would I read a sequel to Jack Glass? Absolutely. Will I read more of Adam Roberts’ books? Absolutely, in fact, it’s likely to be his Campbell nominee, Bête. I highly commend Jack Glass your reading pleasure. I think you’ll find it fruitful reading not only for the simple enjoyment of it and it’s ability to pull you out yourself for the time that your reading and living in this provocative world, but also for insight into honest reflection and conversation. Within all the subterfuge, within this complex world of politics and relationships, there is authenticity. Jack Glass pushes Diana to look at a thing for what it truly is; this seems to be highly prized by Jack even when he’s misleading others. Indeed for one 16-year-old girl, much of this novel is getting her to the point of being able to do just that.

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