January 4th, 2012


Interesting Links for 04-01-2012


January Books 1) The Sharing Knife: Horizon, by Lois McMaster Bujold

The end of the four-volume Sharing Knife series, in which the romance / action plot, of mutual suspicions between two human cultures, equally threatened by an 'orrible supernatural menace, resolves in entirely satisfactory manner, with much character-building wisdom being imparted to the foolish younger relatives. But I found myself a bit dissatisfied with Bujold's use of the very rich background she has developed, for three reasons: first, the story got way further into the technical details of her world's magical system than I was interested in; second, my niggling concern about the uniqueness of Dag and Fawn's mixed marriage was actually exacerbated when it becomes clear in this book that it isn't unique at all (which disintegrates some of the framing description in the earlier volumes); and third, I got the lingering feeling that the entire story is to an extent an attempt to positively reframe the history of interaction between white settlers and Native Americans (note that the Lakewalkers are magical and basically a warrior culture) - I am not saying that this is a necessary reading of the series, but I would have been more comfortable if some way of deprecating that interpretation had made it into the text.

Anyway, even problematic Bujold is entertaining enough, but I'm not sure how strongly I recommend the series as a whole.

January Books 3) The History of Christianity (A Lion Handbook), ed. Tim Dowley

I read this while finishing Gibbon, who is of course far superior, and in anticipation of tackling Diarmuid McCullagh's much more impressive-looking survey later this year. It's an assembly of short and very short essays, aimed at evangelical Anglicans in the UK, originally published in 1977 and revised in 1990. The one thing I really did learn from it was the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century, which I now realise was a hugely important step towards American independence in religious culture, leading to the political reality. But there was a lot that set my teeth on edge: the irritating point-scoring about which denominations performed well against Fascism, the total complacency about missionary activity. Apparently the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel was founded in 1701 by "devout Anglican clergymen, shocked at the prevalence of Presbyterianism and vice in the American colonies." Well, as a lapsed Papist, I don't have a dog in that fight. An amusing misprint has the pre-Reformation Church troubled by "sexual immortality", that extra letter converting the description from cliché to erotic surrealism. The closing chapters touch rather superficially on the ordination of women. Homosexuality is not mentioned at all.