Sunday, January 15, 2017

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Dr. Ian Miller and 'Bot War

It's aways my pleasure to discover that former guests to Writers Alive are still productive and doing well. Dr. Ian Miller, from New Zealand, has been a correspondent for several years and I've talked to him in podcast form here and here with my former cohost, Marta Merjaver, from Argentina who accurately described him as a "Renaissance Man". What amazing technological times that we live in when we can share stories and experiences real time via the Internet. Please check out my review of Dr. Miller's latest science fiction book here at Amazon and enjoy his answers to these questions posted below.

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?  If 
you write more than one, how do you balance them?

I have always been interested in science, which is just as well since I am a scientist, and one of the important aspects of science is that it is based on logic. My feeling is that society these days is approaching some really difficult problems, and clear thinking by as many people as possible is desirable. What I try to do in my stories is show that the winners win by thinking out their problems, and not by sheer luck. In my dreams, I like to think I might influence some people in that way.
Regarding balancing genres, I have entered SF, thrillers, and in two books, historical fiction. The important point for me is that even if the book is hard to categorize, I try to make sure the whole book is unified. By that, I mean everything at the end follows naturally from what was introduced in the beginning. You can have different books with all sorts of differences, but I think it is important that any given book has a unity of purpose.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: A True Feminist? Gladys Aylward-The Little Woman

A common misconception amongst nonbelievers is that Christianity and (what the world calls) feminism are mutually exclusive social forces. This official autobiography of an early 20th century British woman's solo journey to China as a missionary during the Sino-Japanese war proves the opposite. 

There's nothing clever or gender specific about courage. It's attractiveness lies in the sheer force of its will to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. Aylward simply believed that God would guide her across Europe and Russia via rail alone, and without having practically any formal training and hardly any church support, she left London one day with her Bible, passport, some pocket change and a few traveling items to follow her heart's call to be a missionary in China.

If you're looking for smart poetic writing in a story, Gladys Aylward: The Little Woman is not for you. But, if you want true grit, honest adventure and historic drama verified, than read this British woman's inspiring journey and how she spent a lifetime preaching and teaching the gospel and taking care of thousands of orphans during one of the most brutal eras in recent history.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Movie Review: Do Not Resist (2016)

Filmmaker and fellow Wayne State University alumnus, Craig Atkinson, has forged together a  documentary about the militarization of police forces across the United States in his visually compelling (but sometimes too liberal, bleeding heart) documentary, Do Not Resist.
 His online biography says that he's from Metro Detroit, which means that he's not from Detroit Proper like yours truly. Therefore, like another Michigan movie maker who skillfully shouts out against The Establishment, Michael Moore, but who prefers the safety and comfort of suburban living, Atkinson's take on America's shift right should be viewed in perspective. Allow me to elaborate.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Book Review: The Prophetic Imagination that Trumps Business-as-usual

The Prophetic Imagination, by Dr. Walter Brueggeman, has sold over one million copies in its second printing and deservedly so. Now, more than ever, we need to closely examine the biblically historical power of language to counter culture a status quo, populist mindset that abnegates an alternative reality which offers the Creator's freedom through anguish and energizing, unlimited force.

Students (and admirers) of language need not be theologically inclined in order to appreciate the Chomsky-like tone regarding the hegemony of cautionary and hopeful prophecy as outlined in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as pointed out by Brueggemann. It's still the articulate, anguished scream of the little man against the powers that be which foresee destruction yet offer visionary change in the face of, what the author labels, 'royal consciousness', as personified in the struggle between the Moses of Exodus and the Pharaoh of an oppressive Egypt against the Hebrews in the ancient Middle East and, to a final extant, Jesus Christ against the Jews and their failure to perceive the spirit behind the Law, the spirit of agape love, as given to Moses and the Israelites. In effect, it's a bold step out of the the Hegelian Dialectic, which modern philosophers such as Marx refer to, and a grand entrance into another dimensional geopolitical world tension that resolves itself solely through the Creator's will and purpose--a firmament long ago established outside of time and space before the foundations of kingdoms and governments where laid.

Some things will never change like absolute governmental power that inevitably trends toward blind and merciless oppression of society's marginalized. But Brueggeman, like Chomsky, examines the tour de force manifested by powerful (and prophetic) forces of imagination that wield language as a new construct versus reality in the everyday life of an established regime that necessarily must be deaf to the pleas of poverty and helplessness, because if rulers acknowledge the chinks in their armor of authority, they will be forced to admit that imperfection inevitably can and must lead to change and, quite often, revolution.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Movie Review: Lo and Behold:Reveries of the Connected World

"People are the weakest link in technology."
Convicted Federal criminal hacker, con man and founder of 
Mitnick Security Counseling

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, a 2016 documentary that investigates the complexities of the cyberworld in which we live today is wrongly named. The film is not a rapturous exploration of the birth and growth of Internet technology and the subsequent advantages to 21st century humanity that it offers. Instead, it quickly spirals into a dark and cautionary exposition of the possible and terrible things that have gone, and still might go wrong, because of our frighteningly infantile dependence on a fragile web of circuits and signals that sustain almost all functions of modern life from food chain distribution to interpersonal communications and, subsequently, through default of human nature--war.

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Noble Intention (Publieke Werken)--Netflix Film Review

The 2015 Dutch film, A Noble Intention, is a modern historical drama set in late 19th century Amsterdam which is currently available to stream on Netflix in the U.S.A. The movie is based on the novel by actor and author, Thomas Rosenboom, who won the distinguished Libris Literature Award twice. He is the only author to have ever done so.

Frank Ketelaar makes the story come alive for movie fans in his excellent screenplay rendition which is directed by Joram Lürsen giving one the overall impression of timeless authenticity reminiscent of classical dramas in both the literary and film genres of storytelling.

Pulieke Werken, or "Public Works" in English, is a much better title for this compelling tale of how progress at the cost of individualism affected many in the West.  plays Vedder, a lower middle class cabinet maker turned violin crafter, who refuses to sell his city home to make way for a massive, world class hotel that will compliment Amsterdam's newly constructed Central train station, whose builders promise will bring in tourists from all over the world. Seeing what he perceives as an opportunity to furnish a first class university education for his disaffected son, Theo, Vedder talks his elderly neighbor and cousin, Anijs, played by Jacob Derwig, into a kind of pyramid emigration scheme, using Jewish peasant peat moss farmers. Their plan is to 'coyote' the impoverished families and funnel them to Vedder's con artist cousin in America, hoping they will land jobs and pay them back with interest for their 'noble' efforts. The plan backfires terribly but not without ironic consequences. Vedder's determination to ride the waves of progress and to lift himself and his son (who couldn't care less) into a higher social class magnifies a type of medieval guilder's hubris that millions of other Europeans hoped to escape by emigration to North America during the Industrial Revolution.

Perhaps what is most moving about this film, along with its superb acting, is the sense that the spirit of Anne Frank seems embedded within Dutch sensibilities to the intelligent viewer. In other words, despite the Dutch Protestant desire to dominate the social milieu of their Golden Age, both spiritually and economically, the soft heart of the ordinary Netherlander has really the noblest intention--to lift everyone in their society on the rising tide of progress and protect them from abuse. This sentiment contradicts the adage that "when a Jew cries, others laugh." Bravo.

The Lord will have compassion on Jacob;
    once again he will choose Israel
    and will settle them in their own land.
Foreigners will join them
    and unite with the descendants of Jacob.
Nations will take them
    and bring them to their own place.
And Israel will take possession of the nations
    and make them male and female servants in the Lord’s land.
They will make captives of their captors
    and rule over their oppressors.

Isaiah 14

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Physician-Movie Review (a second opinion)

Photo credit: IMDB

If you missed the 2013 Noah Gordon, novel based film, The Physician, starring Tom Payne, here's a second opinion from a third time viewer.

God works in mysterious ways says the proverb, and if you cinematically follow this brilliantly told sojourn of an English peasant boy's search for knowledge from 11th century England to Arabianized Jerusalem (implicitly evident yet not named in the film), you will be royally entertained by Phillip Stölzl's surgical scene splicing and directing. Novices just remember this--the first cut is the deepest.

What I mean is that the movie opens up in rural England during the so called "Dark Ages" and shows us, quite harshly, what life, love and death were like in a church dominated culture of blind legalists and misguided literalists, religious bureaucrats who forbade autopsies and kept all truths buried under sackcloth purchased from sinful indulgences-hard earned pennies that child labor and poverty forced prostitution imposes on the poor and oppressed. Some things never change. 

Tom Payne plays Rob Cole, an orphan boy who breaks rocks all day just for half a loaf of bread to take home to his fatherless family when a 'barber', colorfully portrayed by Swedish born, Stellan Starsgård, rolls through town pitching snake oil. Cole's mother dies that night from 'side sickness', or gall bladder disease, and the desperate boy latches on to the barber for a journey of a lifetime, at first through England and then through France on foot, finally arriving in Palestine via Egypt and an unforgettable desert caravan road trip that introduces him to his future wife, played by the charming and cute, Emma Rigby. Add the iconic, Ben Kingsley, to this talented cast and you have an ensemble epic that transcends Handel's "Messiah" (in the prophetically and visionary sense).
Emma Rigby 2016

The voluntary suspension of disbelief comes easy in this movie, so it's not a far stretch to suggest that Kingsley's character, the legendary Jewish healer, Ibn Sina, is loosely based upon the historical figure, Maimonides. Rob Cole gets a spot in his school exclusively reserved for the princes of Persia solely because of his visible passion and thirst for medical knowledge and power-medicine for medicine's sake, if you will.
Olivier Martinez

You can follow this hero's epic journey that resolves itself in glory, both royally as with Cole's unlikely befriending by the shah handsomely played by, Olivier Martinez, or quietly between brothers-from-a-different-mother and rival student, Karim (Elyas M'Barek).
The cinematic grandeur compared and contrasted with intensely dramatic compact universal life moments is screen played  superbly by reclusive German writer,  Jan Berger (contact agent: ), rounds out a thinking, almost experiential, movie lover's night in. Follow my reviews and other wordy considerations on Twitter

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Netflix Movie Review--The Finest Hours

And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing.
They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.
Psalm 107:22-24

The Finest Hours, a true story of miraculous courage and seamanship exhibited by U.S Coast Guardsmen in the fierce winter storm of 1952 off the New England coast, is now available on Netflix for live streaming.
Chris Pine does a believable job of portraying Boatswain Mate Bernard Webber, the small boat coxswain who led his small but intrepid crew across the treacherous bar at Chatham Bay, Massachusetts to find and retrieve the surviving crew of the American oil tanker, Pendleton, after it split in two in the waters off Cape Cod. Seemingly against all odds, and with the local Coast Guard stretched thin in resources because of another oil tanker, the Fort Mercer, which also broke apart in the same storm just miles away. You are strongly encouraged to read the historical account of what happened on that fateful day in February in the Coast Guard's online historical archive before going any further into this review. It is definitely a case of truth being far more fantastic than fiction.
If you liked The Perfect Storm, starring George Clooney, then you will definitely enjoy the spectacular production that went into the making of this film also. There's more that can be said from an objective reviewer's point of view but I am more than that. I'm a Coast Guard search and rescue veteran myself, having served in stations along the Pacific Northwest and within the Great Lakes region. Also, I worked aboard merchant freighters as an Able Bodied Seaman on all three of America's coasts and within inland waters. This experience gives me a unique perspective on the film's sense of reality.
First of all, the movie is based on the non-fiction book, The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard's Most Daring Sea Rescue, coauthored by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman which I'll probably be reviewing in the near future. (You can see my other book and film reviews on this blog site also). So, according to other film critics, the historical rescue scenes of this movie are very close to true but the love interest, although cutesy, is completely fictionalized. Yet I digress.
The main point which I press to conclude with is this: We, as a nation, have become so far removed from our past, forgetting that we are bordered by three oceans that connect us to the rest of the world. At one time, America dominated seagoing business and commerce and our great history, and the brave men who filled out its pages on the waters of this land, is all but forgotten to most of us. We sit in traffic in our little metal islands of four wheels, separated from the vast manifestation of God's handiwork that made our relatively easy and prosperous lives possible and have denied the Creator's role in almost all of our lives. Even in the film, God is wiped out because the truth is that the Coast Guard crew sang the hymn "Rock of Ages" as they departed the comfort of land into treacherous waters, trusting in our Lord and He rewarded them with supernatural guidance and protection that will remain forever legendary. The filmmakers decided to replace this truth in the movie with a bawdy sailor ditty sung by the terrified crew and this is, sadly and ultimately, what we who have gone down to the sea in ships who fear the Lord must lament in these latter days. Semper Paratus--"Always Ready" is the motto of the nation's oldest seagoing outfit and "the joy of the Lord is my strength" is for those of us who profess truth unashamedly still.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Miltiades Varvounis and Jan Sobieski: The King Who Saved Europe

Enjoy this interview with Athens, Greece scholar and author, Miltiades Varvounis about his historical masterpiece, Jan Sobieski: The King Who Saved Europe. 

1. Why did you write Jan Sobieski: The King Who Saved Europe? Jan Sobieski was one of the most fascinating men ever to sit on a throne or command an army.  He became famous at the age of 38 through his exceptional military skills, and he was acknowledged as the greatest soldier of his time throughout the rest of his turbulent life.  His patriotism, his energy, his faith, his military reputation, his taste for art, and his talents – all these were legendary in his lifetime. However, after  WWII, there was no published work in English about the king who saved Europe from the Ottomans at the Battle of Vienna (1683); a battle which was the inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s cavalry charge of the Rohirrim that lifted the Siege of Minas Tirith in  “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Although a great number of books in English have been published on Polish history since the 1990s, the ‘Lion of Lechistan’ ,as Sobieski was called by the Ottomans, has remained neglected by the historians. If Jan Sobieski is the most famous Polish military figure, we also witness a similar situation with notable generals or national heroes such as Alexander the Great, Duke of Wellington, Frederick the Great etc., who have been ignored by modern historiography for decades.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Classic Movie Review: Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider (Kurosawa meets Christ Jesus)

The 1985 classic cowboy western, Pale Rider, starring and directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood deserves another, closer screening and pithy review in light of world events in the 21st century. Let me explain.

For film fans who are unaware of biblical, apocalyptic prophecy, the term "pale rider" denotes special meaning for people interested in eschatology-or end times terminology.
The opening scene stars the then young, and now still beautiful, Sydney Penny, as Megan Wheeler as the teenage daughter of a gold miner's deserted wife in the rugged California canyons during the mineral rush of the mid 19th century. 
Sydney Penny