Whither our Universities? Part 2

Is the sun setting on our universities?

Here are some additional links to columnists speaking about the sanctioning of Professor Tomas Hudlicky:

Barbara Kay at the National Post … https://bit.ly/2Vtq7Tx-Kay

Jordan Peterson at the National Post … https://bit.ly/3g7HbGK-Peterson

Chapter 9, “The Aberhardt Constant” From The Battle for Halcyon

I did not want to distract from the discussion of the facts around the Tomas Hudlicky sanctioning by talking about the “What If” questions in my writing. In this snippet from The Battle for Halcyon, the faculty are using what they know to gradually move the student body to think a certain way. The fictitious Professor Aberhardt appears before the university senate to complain that they are moving too quickly. As a sociologist he had developed a metric (called by others The Aberhardt Constant) for how fast one can change a subject’s thinking without the subject realizing what is going on. This, of course, is fiction but here is the dialogue:

“What’s all this about Darwin?” asked John Hobbs, wiping his pudgy face with a handkerchief.

Darwin Blackmore considered his colleague for a moment. John Hobbs was short and his extra weight made him look as if he did not have a waist.

Blackmore caught himself stroking his goatee and put his hands down on the conference table in front of him.

“John, I don’t really know what Aberhardt wants to talk to us about. He asked to meet with the Senate Executive Committee on a matter of some urgency. Since he’s a member of the Senate I couldn’t say ‘no.’ I have given him twenty minutes.”

The door opened and Blackmore’s pretty Executive Assistant, Bernice Le Blanc entered and closed the door behind her.

“Professor Aberhardt has arrived for his appointment. Is it convenient for me to bring him in now, or do you need more discussion time?” asked Bernice.

Blackmore looked around the table. “Shall I have him brought in?” Everyone was nodding. Blackmore turned and nodded to Bernice as well.

A few moments later, Bernice ushered Aberhardt into the conference room. Blackmore rose to shake his hand as Bernice left and closed the door behind her. Frederick Aberhardt was an austere man with a long thin face crowned with thin, wild, scraggly hair. His chin was defined by a brown goatee that was as wild as the hair on his head.

“Professor Aberhardt how good it is to see you,” said Blackmore. Blackmore hoped he sounded sincere.

Aberhardt took his hand, but only nodded in acknowledgement.

“Please have a seat at the table,” said Blackmore.

“I’m used to lecturing, so I’ll stand,” said Aberhardt.

Blackmore felt his face getting warm. The pompous swine!

Blackmore turned toward the others and cleared his throat as he tried to regain his composure. With long practice, he made his face impassive.

“Friends, it gives me great pleasure to welcome the distinguished Professor Aberhardt to our council chambers. He is one of the most eminent sociologists of our time. He has written the book The Sociology of Democratic Governance, which received the President’s Award shortly before we were dislocated. Even before the award, the book had become obligatory reading in all serious sociology and political science courses.”

He turned to Professor Aberhardt. “Welcome to our meeting, Frederick. Please tell us about the urgent matter you wanted to talk to us about.” Blackmore sat down and leaned back in his chair.

Aberhardt had a surprisingly loud voice for a thin man and glowered at his audience with piercing eyes.

“As Darwin has said,” began Aberhardt, “I am the pre-eminent sociologist at Halcyon. I’m here to warn you that you are taking a dangerous course. As I listened to our senate deliberations over the last few weeks, it has become clear to me that we are contemplating taking more direct action to bring resisters or rebels into line. WE MUST NOT DO THAT.”

The shock of Aberhardt’s shout, made Hobbs, who had begun to doodle on his note pad, drop his pencil on the floor. He frowned at Aberhardt and shifted his position.

“I’m not sure I follow you, Frederick,” said Blackmore in a soft voice.

“In my book, The Sociology of Democratic Governance, I go to great lengths to define what has subsequently been named the Aberhardt Constant.

“Perhaps you should explain, Frederick, since not everyone here has read your magnificent work recently.”

Aberhardt’s eyes bored into Blackmore, as if questioning whether or not he was being mocked.

Blackmore gave him his most reassuring smile.

Apparently satisfied, Aberhardt went on. “Many governments in the past have tried to direct the thinking of their subjects. They have used force and coercion. Although they appeared successful for a time, they ultimately failed. Why?” Here he thrust his index finger into the air.

“They failed because coercion achieves outward compliance, but had no control over what happened in the minds of their citizens. Thus, their thoughts unmodified, the subjects became increasingly rebellious until the opposition gained power to revolt.”

“Through our empirical studies we know better. We encourage people to express their opinions. We welcome them. When they criticize us, the nature of their criticism tells us to what degree our persuasion is working. By using the media, the arts, and education, we can change the prevailing public opinion in the direction we want at a rate given by the effectiveness of these tools. I have measured that effectiveness. That rate is defined by Aberhardt’s Constant. As long as we only make changes at a rate less than this time constant, then the average person, even though he grumbles about some of the things he sees going on, doesn’t become alarmed enough to take action because the change is happening slowly. He doesn’t realize that his opinion is being incrementally being shifted for him by unending repetition in the direction of the next behavior modification step through school, through television and every other thing in his environment he sees or hears. We can study him, poll his attitude and opinions, and if one message doesn’t work, we’ll try another. We can always measure our effectiveness because he’s willing to tell us what he likes and what he doesn’t like.”

Blackmore shifted in his seat uncomfortably. He heard Lydia Pendergast beginning to tap her foot on the floor.

Maybe I shouldn’t have sat down. Now that Aberhardt has the floor he could go on and on.

Aberhardt continued. “This gradual thinking modifcation works splendidly as long as we don’t go too fast. Some changes are so significant and so difficult, we actually have to wait for a new generation to grow up under our tutelage to achieve change. But, here is the critical point.

“If we try to go faster by coercion, then not only will we build up the subject’s resentment, but by its very nature, coercion causes the subject to hide his true feelings from us. When that happens we no longer accurately measure public opinion…” Aberhardt again stabbed the air with his finger for emphasis. “And so we will be governing in a vacuum, being forced to use stronger and stronger measures to maintain compliance until the system collapses in a revolt or an unwelcome opposition party.

“All of this is explained in my book …

“Yes, yes, yes!” muttered Lydia Pendergast. “We know all that.”

Aberhardt glared murderously at Pendergast.

Undaunted Pendergast continued. “Halcyon is a closed, controlled environment. We have broken down many of the institutions that have caused us so much grief. We know that religion poisons everything and so we have been careful to make the practice of religion a private affair, excluded from all public discussion, and so thanks to our excellent management, religion has almost disappeared. We won’t have any Martin Luthers rocking our boat…”

“Undoubtedly that has been an excellent development,” said Aberhardt.

“We have suppressed the family,” continued Pendergast. “Isn’t that important?”

“It’s true, that suppression is very important for sociological evolution. The stable family is a sociologically self-contained unit which means we don’t really know what ideas are taking root there. They don’t need us to care for them. In our new order, we create state dependency by ensuring there are almost no close familial relationships…”

“Exactly my point,” interrupted Pendergast.

“Let me continue,” interrupted Aberhardt in turn, “the subjects now look to Halcyon to raise their offspring. If they are sick they come to our doctors. If they are depressed they talk to our psychologists. At every turn we are able to influence them. These are all excellent steps but with our current actions we are jeopardizing all of our progress…”

“Really Frederick, I’m sure you’re right about the basic facts and your theory is brilliant,” said Trevor Huxley cleaning his glasses. “But it will take twenty or thirty years to make the kind of changes we want if we follow your infinitesimal steps, even given the rather substantial control we have over the Halcyon media, the few artistic endeavors we have left and of course our educational activities. We simply don’t have twenty years. This army of Apemen we have heard about could be here any day now and we need to make sure that everyone is on board. We can’t have any disunity. We can’t have our decisions questioned. Only the strong will survive and we need to govern strongly.”

“Besides,” added Pendergast, “your problem Aberhardt is that you’re working through social influences. Biology is more fundamental than sociology. Give me the right neurotransmitters and I can make our people believe anything you want.”

“Enough,” said Darwin Blackmore. He stroked his unruly goatee. “Thank you Professor Aberhardt for you valuable and insightful discourse. I will weigh your suggestions as well as those of Professor Pendergast and Administrator Huxley carefully.”

Aberhardt scowled. “You’re not going to take my warning seriously, are you?”

“Nonsense,” said Blackmore. “You have given us much food for thought. As I recall, Aberhardt’s Constant is a constant in name only and can be increased; perhaps you and Dr. Pendergast should have more discussions. With the right kind of psychopharmacopeia one could make the changes much sooner and so modify the magnitude of the Aberhardt Constant. Thank you for your time.”

Blackmore’s best smile was wasted on Aberhardt’s back as he stomped out.

As the door slammed, Pendergast muttered, “When I make this work, we’ll have to rename it the Pendergast-Aberhardt constant.”

Blackmore, ignoring Pendergast’s mumblings, went on:

“I have one more item to discuss. Do you remember after the first Halcyon River expedition returned and reported about the City of the Dead? There was a fellow on that expedition, Albert Gleeson. Subsequently because of his bizarre religious ideas, Jonathan Boyd, the psychiatrist at Halcyon Medical Center, decided he was delusional and needed to be protected. Boyd sedated him because of his illness, but then Gleeson mysteriously vanished from Halcyon. He reappeared on the Second Halcyon River expedition, and then after that disaster, joined the rebels in the new colony. Well I have reliable information that he has secretly returned to Halcyon.”

“Is this a problem?” asked Huxley. “After all he is only one person. I presume there is only one, am I right.”

“No, he’s not a problem,” said Blackmore. “Indeed, now that we know he’s here, he’s even less of a problem, but still this colony he and his fellow rebels have set up is an annoyance. Furthermore as Professor Aberhardt has so eloquently pointed out, we persuade people to our way of thinking through the media, the arts, and through education. But this colony is beyond our reach on all three fronts. We want to mold and shape our society by controlling the story that everyone believes. Who knows what peculiar ideas, indeed, what dangerous and inimical ideas they may come up with, in the absence of our guidance. We can’t lose control of our conditioning program because of these uncontrolled upstarts.”

 “So what do you propose?” asked Pendergast.

“Propose? I propose we watch him discreetly. That way we can locate all of his contacts. We may not need to do anything, but if he does cause trouble, we’ll pick him up. Now if we have no further business, I still have some excellent wine in my cellar that I think we should try.”

Whither Our Universities? Part 1

Is the sun setting on our universities?

Since high school, one way or another, I have been associated with universities. First as a student (undergraduate and graduate), then as a Postdoctoral Fellow, as a research collaborator, and also as an Adjunct Professor. I have also participated in academic pursuits such as writing and refereeing papers. Organic Chemistry was my focus and through that discipline I met many fine people.

A writer of futuristic fiction is concerned about where things are headed

As a writer of futuristic fiction, I am driven by “What if …” questions. Since universities have played such an instrumental role in our culture in molding the sequential generations, naturally enough, some of the “What if” questions deal with trends or potential trends I have observed in higher education.

In my novel, The Halcyon Dislocation, the movement and isolation of a hypothetical University of Halcyon to a parallel world sets up an experimental literary sandbox. One can ask the question, what would the university elites do if they had the opportunity to channel the thinking of their students in any direction they chose? What would they choose? How would they get there?

What would university elites choose if they could mold student thinking in any direction they wanted?

One of the problems that plagues science, indeed culture and politics as well is the question:

If I can do something, how do I determine if I should do that very thing?

The “can” is usually determined by data, experimentation, and collective scholarship, but the “shoulds” remain elusive since they depend on the question of objective right and wrong which is inaccessible to data and experimentation. In the absence of an objective right or wrong, the answer often becomes: “Because I have the power and I want to, I will do it and no one can stop me.”

The danger then, for universities, is the tendency to becoming factories of conditioned students rather than nurturing educated students who have learned to thoughtfully consider opposing points of view in humility and respect.

Becoming factories producing conditioned students, rather than educational institutions that enable students to thoughtfully consider different viewpoints with respect, is one of the dangers universities face

The antidote to this tendency to become ever more efficient conditioners of students as our manipulative skills and technology increase, is to make sure opposing voices (including religious voices) are not only allowed to speak, but are heard and considered. Free speech is the best safeguard against conditioned speech.

A Recent Example That Hits Close to Home

I know of Organic Chemistry Professor Tomas Hudlicky by his fine reputation. He wrote, and had accepted a paper in Angewandte Chemie (along with the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Angewandte Chemie is arguably one of the two best journals in chemistry). However, after the Twitterati ignited a Twitter storm (Twitter Gewitter?) everything changed for Professor Hudlicky, According to an article in the National Post by Peter Shawn Taylor, the accepted paper was withdrawn by Angewandte Chemie, the two referees were taken off the referees list (I’m sure as volunteers they have better things to do with their time) and the editor was suspended.

I respectfully suggest you read the whole paper, as I did, or at least read up to page 4, along with Note 2 which seemed to cause all the offense and then think about discussing the points Professor Hudlicky is making.

The text of the paper if it’s still available … Hudlicky Paper

Retraction Watch with resignations

Another Retraction Watch discussion

A blog by Jordan Peterson on this specific topic

In my view, the proper way to proceed is to have everyone, first read the paper, then present their best arguments in respectful discussion. A view or position that is not permitted to be questioned, is likely indefensible. If the case for the other side were compelling, why not make it? Is that not the mission of universities to encourage students to properly discuss opposing points of view with respect and leave the final convictions that come out of the discussion to the students? Apparently not.

A Collision of Two Imperfect Causes

I have read and enjoyed The Last Castle several times. I enjoyed it so much, I am reading it now in its much longer, original, unedited version. The title MacDonald originally chose was St. George and St. Michael.

MacDonald’s story begins in 1641 shortly after Thomas Wentworth, The Earl of Stafford was arrested by Parliament, tried for treason, and beheaded. King Charles I, a personal friend of Stafford, signed the order for the execution and regretted his decision to his dying day.

MacDonald, as a masterful storyteller, does not chose the easy road and cast the conflict between Parliament (Roundheads, Puritans) and the King as a one dimensional conflict between Good and Evil, but rather he shows how two groups of people, the Heywoods on one hand, and Henry Somerset , the Earl of Worchester, and his subjects on the other hand, find themselves by differing honorable convictions on opposite sides. Although on opposing sides, they fought each other for noble and altruistic reasons.

The Earl of Worchester, a catholic, and his followers had given their allegiance to the King and would stand by him to the bitter end. Hence St George is in the title, representing the red cross of England and the crown.

On the other hand, Richard Heywood and his father, believed their first allegiance was to their conscience and truth. For that reason they chose the side of Parliament and the Puritans. The archangel St. Michael stands for truth.

Although they were on opposite sides of this great civil war, when they met they respected each other since they saw a true man, a man of principle in the other. They were taking part in a war that was a collision of two imperfect causes (I think this phrase was used by MacDonald but I cannot locate the reference).

Indeed when Richard Heywood is captured inside Worchester’s Raglan Castle, The Earl now a Marquis offers him freedom if he would renounce his cause or even share his secret how he came to get into the castle. Richard declines and is sent to the dungeons.

After Richard is taken away the honorable Marquis says to himself:

“I doubt not the boy would tell everything rather than see his mare whipped. He’s a fine fellow, and it were a thousand pities he turned coward and gave in. But the affair is not mine–it is the King’s. Would to God the rascal were on our side! He’s the right old English breed.”

How Does This Speak to Me Today?

In Matthew 7:1-2 Jesus says:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”

The reason I am not to judge, is not because judgment must never happen, but rather because I am so poor at it. I am too ready to excuse myself and condemn others. I know nothing of the background, assumptions, or personal history that led to a particular action in others. If this is true of contemporaries I know reasonably well, it is much more true of historical figure in whose shoes I have never walked and whose motivations I could never fathom. Yet, as I get to know people from other eras through what they have written , that reading can be invaluable in finding out about myself, my own biases and about the uncritiqued assumptions that so plague my thinking.

Concluding Thoughts

We live in a time when the wholesale destruction of our history is taking place. Statues are torn down, graves desecrated, and places named after historical figures are being renamed. We act as if we  moderns are uniformly righteous and those that have gone before us are irredeemably evil. Even if that were true (we are too complex as human beings for that to be so clear cut) we would still be better off to leave our history intact and learn from our past both good and bad. It is better to have a view into the past from historical eyes than to leave the writing of history to the biased ideologues of today who desire us to think in a certain way.

Every war is a collision of two imperfect causes. Those on opposite sides may indeed be there for different, honorable reasons. I hope I continue to have the courage to respect that.

Five Star Review of THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL on Amazon-UK

Link to the original posting
Re-printed below in a more readable font

The main difficulty for me with the Halcyon Cycle has been the interval between books! On this occasion, (having previously written to ask when this was coming out) Peter kindly sent me a free review copy, which I found waiting for me on my return from a trip away. I was tired from my travels; so that made a perfect excuse to put my feet up and read – and I devoured over a third of the book in one day! After that, I decided I had better catch up on my other work and rationed myself quite severely. One tip: if, like me, it’s about 2 years since you read the last book I’d recommend re-reading that first. Maybe even re-read both. I found that I had become pretty hazy over some of the details: but I was so intent on following the story that I failed to notice the helpful glossary and maps at the back until I’d almost finished.

The book is very fast-paced, as Al and his friends engage in an increasingly desperate search to trace his wife and adopted son before they are lost forever in the terrifying abyss called Sheol. This leaves them less time for philosophical debate than in previous books. Nevertheless, the philosophical element is still present, covering such issues as the social bankruptcy of [tyranny], duty in the face of despair and whether the goodies are always good or the baddies irredeemably bad.

The book ends on a high note: but this is very evidently the calm before the storm. Key questions remain unanswered; and the eventual outcome is far from certain. Will good ultimately triumph over the evils that may arise from the depths of Sheol, from within the ranks of the Ancient Ones, or from Earth itself? Is there going to be another trilogy? I won’t be satisfied until I see the next series.

Review of THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL by David Hershey

The first review of The Dragons of Sheol appeared months ago on Goodreads. I have always found David Hershey’s reviews thought-provoking and insightful. Here is his review of The Dragons of Sheol as well as the link to the original posting. I found this in my draft collection on my website and thought I should belatedly make it available for completeness since I have linked to several other reviews. David Hershey rated The Dragons of Sheol as 4 out of 5 stars. I have taken his comment of “there needed to be a summary of where we’ve been so far” to heart.

This is the third book in the Halcyon series and the third that I’ve had the privilege of reviewing for free. Social media has lots of problems, but one of its positives is that you can connect with people. [I’ve] never met Pete, but I’d almost consider him a friend. Or perhaps a kindred spirit.

Pete loves fantasy and has worked hard in creating his own fantasy world. I recall loving the first book, The Halcyon Dislocation, and liking the second, The Battle for Halcyon. “Recall” is an appropriate word there, as it’s been years since I read them. I guess I’ll start the review with a negative (well, I did say nice things about Pete first!): there really needed to be a summary of where we’ve been so far! Even Stephen King did this in his Dark Tower series and you can find summaries of that all over the internet. I imagine reading these books closer together would remedy this. But apart from the main characters, I struggled to remember.

On top of this, the primary big bad of the first two books is barely mentioned (Meglir). Instead the antagonist is Bigelow, a lieutenant of Meglir’s who has a personal vendetta against Al, one of the mains. But I couldn’t remember who Bigelow was. I pieced enough together as the story went, but a summary would have been nice.

Another thing to note about this book is simply its brevity. In a world of Sanderson and Jordan and Martin where world-building is everything, a lot is left to the imagination here. That’s not necessarily a negative. Yet it would be nice to know a bit more about secondary characters like Dwight and Tom and others who are usually around and sometimes say and do things but don’t seem well-developed.

Before I said Pete’s work reminds me of Lewis and Tolkien. Lewis’ Narnia stories were brief and the world was a bit shadowy as Lewis relied on the reader’s imagination. Even Tolkien’s The Hobbit includes 13 dwarves in Thorin’s company but most are not well-developed at all. Dwight and Tim are like Ori and Nori: they’re always around but you don’t know them. [Honestly], this book reminded me a lot of Terry Brooks Sword of Shannara series as I recall a few primary characters being complex and others just being there.

That said, I’m not gonna fault Pete for not writing a Wheel of Time rip off! Sure, a 600 page book full of details would be fun, but it’d be easy to lose focus. This book is about Dave and Al and Floyd and maybe 1-2 others. They are who we know and their actions drive the story. Each of them is a strong character. Reading their adventures remains fun.

And adventure they have! Dragons and spiders and other creatures chase them around the island of Sheol. Sheol, with its real world connotations was distracting as it’s quite different here. It’s not an underworld or land of the dead, though it is not a pleasant place either. Once I rid my mind of preconceptions, I found Pete’s creation scary and riveting.

Overall, it’s a great read. Pete’s best skill remains thing in real world style conversations into the story. Al and Floyd argue about God, Al reads his Bible, people pray. The characters aren’t preachy or unrealistic, they are simply Christian characters (or interested seekers) having an adventure and having conversations. Imagine Legolas and Gimli discussing the gods and such over a campfire during the quest. That’s what Pete gives us: the conversations other authors skip.

If you like fantasy, check this one out.

A Writer’s First Trip to the Holy Land: Gideon’s Springs also called Ein Harod

Gideon’s Spring

It was a rainy day when we arrived at Gideon’s Springs, a beautiful area with clear water bubbling up at the back of this shallow cave.

From there the water flowed across Ma’ayan Harod National park.

This enchantingly beautiful place was the likely the location (see Judges chapters 6-8) where Gideon selected the three hundred to begin the rout of the Midianites.

One of the many colorful flower placements in rock crevices along the trail
This bulb-shaped tree with spikes on the trunk is likely Ceiba speciosa, also called the Silk Floss Tree.

Personal Reflection

In a land of desert and stone such as Israel, the appearance of a well-watered place such as Ein Harod must have inspired reflections on God’s love and provision.

Here is one of my favorite passages:

Isaiah 41:17-21 English Standard Version (ESV)

17 When the poor and needy seek water,
    and there is none,
    and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them;
    I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
18 I will open rivers on the bare heights,
    and fountains in the midst of the valleys.
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
    and the dry land springs of water.
19 I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
    the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive.
I will set in the desert the cypress,
    the plane and the pine together,
20 that they may see and know,
    may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Even when we are in a dry place and are driven to the border of death by thirst, Isaiah reminds us that when we are driven to ask, God will provide and provide abundantly. For me, Ein Harod is a beautiful picture of God opening up a fountain in the midst of the valley and the bounty and fruitfulness that living water can bring.

Drawing Maps for the Novel COVENTRY 2091

Vulture Lake, a fictitious lake in the Canadian Shield, North of Lake Superior

Maps play an important part in most of the books I publish. This ingrained desire to associate maps with fantasy adventure was established from my earliest days of reading The Chronicles of Narnia. Indeed, particularly when I read fantasy or seafaring novels, I get significant enjoyment out of perusing the maps and tracing the journeys described in the stories on them.

I suppose an author with a bigger budget could commission these maps for my own books out to a professional artist, but I find that preparing the maps is an important part of the overall experience of writing a book.

One program that I like to use is Campaign Cartographer 3+ (CC3+) from Profantasy. Handy YouTube videos are available to get the novice drawing quickly. I was able to draw the three color maps shown in a short time.

The town of Kinsinger on the barren, but habitable planet, Alpha Centauri A-3
The terrain within one hundred kilometers of Kinsinger

For me as an amateur map builder, it is much easier to select a set of drawing parameters and stay within them rather than change things like colors and effects. However, since the maps in the print edition, are black and white, while the downloadable maps from the website are color, it is difficult to optimize for both online (color) and print (black and white) media.

Black and White rendition of Vulture Lake
Black and White – Kinsinger Town
Black and white – Kinsinger area.

Black and white jpeg versions were generated using the “colorify” option in GIMP,

My Review of THE SORROWFISH. The Call of the Lorica (Book #1)

My Review

Sorrowfish (The Call of the Lorica, #1)Sorrowfish by Anne C. Miles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Canard is a world in trouble. It is sustained by a life-giving song which emanates from a huge, damaged tree. The Conclave, a severe religious order, is purportedly working to keep the tree alive and nurture it back to health. Yet the tree continues to grow weaker.

Trystan dan Tenkor, a prince and bard-in-training, Danethor Thomas Whitley, a dewin (wizard), and Sara Moore, an artist and college student in our world, are linked to the attempt to rescue the tree. Anne C. Miles, weaves their stories together with great skill. I learned to love the beauty of Canard and was troubled by the unfolding evil in the leadership of the Conclave. It is a beautiful story, with surprising plot turns and characters that captured my interest and allegiance.

There were many surprising and delightful moments in the plot. Without giving away too much, in one poignant moment, Danethor had been captured by the Conclave and was being pressured to cooperate. To me it was clear he would be tortured until he broke or died. I was calling for him, as a reader, to pretend to collaborate. He did not and the following events, although unexpected, were very satisfying.

The world that Anne Miles has created is also filled with very imaginative and enthralling entities: gnomes, fae, Chymaera, tunebells, grotesques, and Caprices, to name a few. They each have unique properties and characteristics. They lend excitement to the world exploration that is a significant part of this story.

At this point, I would like to add a personal note describing why this story was particularly significant to me. As a scientist and Christ-follower, I tend to see God through the lens of the things I love and cherish. That is to say my love of physics, chemistry, and biochemistry leads me to see God as The Great Mind, The Supreme Logician, The Designer and Sustainer of the cosmos.

In writing this story, Anne Miles has taken a deliberately artistic and musical path. The world is sustained by the Song. Musical notes and the octave play a significant role in the world building. One of the key protagonists (Sara) is working on a sculpture that captures her “heartfire.” As a reader, seeing the world through the artistic eyes of the main characters, I received a whole new perspective that led me to see God not only as a Great Scientist but also as The Great Artist. In writing this story, Miles filled in a blind spot for me.

In closing, this is a wonderful book that I will likely read again and again. I rate it five stars.

View all my reviews

Review of THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL: “An Exciting Story with Superb World-Building”

C. S. Wachter is a fantasy writer with more than seven books published including the four volume The Seven Words series. It is both delightful and instructive to read an encouraging review from an accomplished world-builder and fantasy author on the third book in The Halcyon Cycle, The Dragons of Sheol.

To read the C. S. Wachter review on Goodreads

To read the C.S. Wachter review on Amazon

In case the links stop working and also for your convenience, the 4/5 star review is posted below …

When Al Gleeson’s wife and child are kidnapped by an old enemy, Al and his friends travel to Abaddon to stage a rescue mission. Abaddon is a fearful place filled with strong enemies; and, yet, the rescuers find friendship and help when least expected. The story is filled with twists and the rescue mission seems destined to fail at every turn.

This is an exciting story with superb world building. I felt the terror as the Necoran attacked and the ground rumble as the pachydons charged. The way the rebels work through the Guild and the feel of the city of Seth is wholistic and believable. And . . . of course, the dragons! Black. Brown. And the loveable Green.

So much of the action takes place on the terraces where my fear of heights caused me shivers when I thought of the immensity of the drop offs. Not for the faint-hearted but excellent fare for an armchair adventurer.

The action of the story begins with Dave, but he is only one of many characters. (The POV is restricted to only two—Dave and Al—so it is not overwhelming) Though there is a degree of depth to the characters, the depth is the fact that this is a plot driven story.

The Christianity is woven through the story in snippets of conversation, thoughts, and prayers. Some of the rescuers question the existence of God while others exhibit a strong faith. This is not a treatise on religion, but a fantasy and Kazmaier handles the Christian aspects well. But, deeper than any character’s faith or lack thereof, the very existence of Abaddon, Sheol, and the Bent Ones establishes the foundation of a Creator within the world-building itself. The Green Dragons express a hope in the Creator. Once again, well done.

Personally, I prefer character-driven stories to plot-driven stories. So, for me, this earns a four-star rating. It is a well-written book with interesting scientific details interspersed. I recommend you read the series starting with book one, The Halcyon Dislocation, to get a better feel for the characters.

I received a copy of this book for review purposes. This review is my own unbiased opinions.

A Writer’s First Visit to the Holy Land: The Golan Heights and Tell Dan

Introduction

A source of the Jordan River in the Tell Dan Nature Preserve

As I stated previously, before I talk about my trip to the Golan Heights and Tell Dan, I want to talk about the situation we are all facing with regard to the Coronavirus. One of the most helpful things I have heard was a brief interview Ravi Zacharias gave from a hospital parking lot (he was in for a cancer treatment after a recent diagnosis).

He said essentially there are two extreme responses to avoid: great fear and indifference. I think he is right and that middle road is what I want to follow as I take precautions of “social distancing” and yet do not let fear rule my thinking. Here is the link to his approximately six minute interview by Ben Shapiro.

Ravi passed away a few days ago on May 19, 2020. Although I did not know him personally, I have read so many of his books and attended a course of his that I feel as if I do know him personally. Since, as it turns out, this interview was the last message from him that I heard, it is even more significant for me.

Tell Dan and the source of the Jordan

Attribution: Map Data © 2020 Mapa GISreal. Orion-Me. A view of the Tell Dan Nature Preserve

The land given to the tribe of Dan is very different from the country we have seen up to this point. Close to Mount Hermon and the Golan Heights, this country was lush as opposed to arid. We saw some of the streams that formed the source of the Jordan River.

The abundant water reminded me of Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17, a tree planted by streams of water.

A tree planted by stream of water. Psalm 1:3.

An Ancient Canaanite City

Ancient Canaanite arch predating the Roman arch

One of the remarkable finds in the archaeological excavations in this area was the discovery of a “Canaanite Arch” (shown above) which predates the Roman arch. 

A Canaanite Small City

One of the interesting excavation sites in this area was a Canaanite City (much smaller than what we consider a city today). Notice they do not have freestanding walls but rather back-filled walls. The stone work and foundations required for free-standing walls were apparently not known yet.

Walls supported by earth before free-standing walls could be constructed
A closeup of the fortifications
An altar

In the picture below, one sees the remnants of a frame that held the posts of the sedan chair or throne that would be carried to the outside of the city gate for the king to greet delegations, negotiate with neighboring rulers, or perhaps even hear complaints and charges from his own subjects.

This again verifies the historical accuracy of the Bible as the city gates play such an important role in the historical Old Testament accounts. Meeting strangers outside the city gates also likely served a strategic, military purpose: visitors could not spy out the defenses of the city itself since they were not allowed inside.

The platform for the king’s chair just outside the city gates

Personal Reflection

The past two weeks have seen the passing of two very important people in my life. My father passed away on May 10th, while Ravi Zacharias passed away on May 19th. They were very different people: my father was a private man who influenced his family, his friends and his faith community; Ravi Zacharias was an international speaker who profoundly challenged everyone who would listen (including me) to think carefully and consistently about their faith.

Different as they were, they both impressed me with their commitment to understanding the Bible rightly and living out a life that put trust in the Lord Christ. Seeing the picture of the tree in the middle of the pool at Tell Dan reminds me to do the same.

For the previous post in this series …
If you are looking for something to read during this time of isolation, my e-books (ePub format) are now also available from Walmart … here are the links:

The Halcyon Dislocation

The Battle for Halcyon

The Dragons of Sheol

Questioning Your Way to Faith