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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

You're already dead... just don't know it yet.

I know, you were expecting some thoughtful end-of-the-year blog celebrating all that was good about 2013 and looking forward to the promise of 2014. Sorry to disappoint you; I discovered this morning that I'll be dead someday so I'm feeling a little down about this whole life thing.

According to The Death Clock website I'll be cashing in my chips on July 7, 2032. So in less than nineteen years I'll bid you all a final adieu...unless one or more of a variety of totally unknown things should occur in the meantime.

I guess I just need to watch out for falling pianos...

I didn't wake up this morning pondering my own demise. Everything was going along pretty much like normal. I was in my car, driving to the office and listening to NPR and this segment came on about a new product available in April 2014 called Tikker, The Happiness Watch. According to the Tikker website, "We’re building a watch that counts down your life, in order to make the world a better place!"


Tikker comes in snappy, happy white and, um, black...

Fredrik Colting, Tikker's inventor, is a 37-year-old former gravedigger from Sweden. Let the irony of that sink in for just a minute...

The thought behind Tikker is to remind us to savor life while we still can. In fact, the NPR piece noted studies from 2009 and 2011 that found thinking about death makes people more generous and more likely to donate blood. Not to go all Fox News on you but, in all fairness, Lulu Miller also interviewed Sheldon Solomon, one of the grandfathers of an idea in social psychology called Terror Management Theory.

Listening to Ms. Miller interview Mr. Solomon, I was not encouraged to run out and buy a Tikker. Psychology Today notes that: The terror referred to in terror management theory (TMT) is that which is brought on by the awareness of the inevitable death of the self. According to TMT, the anxiety caused by mortality is a major motivator behind many human behaviors and cognitions, including self-esteem, ethno/religio-centrism, and even love.

Dr. Solomon (Skidmore College) and his colleagues found in their studies that rather than making us more compassionate, knowledge of our own mortality tended to make us more xenophobic, among other things. One example cited during the NPR segment was how a group of Christians began to dislike Jews more when subjected to conditions which highlighted their own mortality. Solomon's research - in collaboration with fellow psychologists Jeff Greenberg (University of Arizona) and Tom Pyszczynski (University of Colorado) - showed that we defend our cultural worldviews more strongly when subjected to death reminders.

Alas poor Yorick...loser!

I'm still trying to get my head around the idea that if I was in the hospital for a risky surgery, according to TMT, I might be getting all bowed up about Jewish folks. In fact, as a Christian, I believe that the Jews were (and are and will be) a pivotal part of Jesus' mission on earth. While I can somewhat understand why some ancient Christians might have looked down on the Jews - after all, it was the Pharisees that begged Pilate for crucifixion - everything proceeded according to God's plan so why dog pile the Jews about it?

In the end (no pun intended), I do tend to side with Colting that my natural inclination if faced with my own mortality would be to get the most out of life in some altruistic way. Still, it's impossible to say just how I would react in those dire circumstances. It's easy for me to look at my own little Death Clock, with nineteen or so years to go, and be relaxed about it. Hopefully, as those numbers dwindle, I will be more apt to have a positive outlook and do my best to help others rather than morph into some sort of xenophobic serial killer.

With that in mind, I could rush out and order my own Tikker for the pre-release price of $59 (the regular price is $79 which illustrates the axiom time is money) but I think I'll pass. Psalm 139:16 says: Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.

It wouldn't matter one bit if I bought a watch that uses some man-made algorithms to determine the date of my passing. God is already keeping an eye on that for me and I just need to treat each of the days I'm given as precious. I don't need any death reminders to do that.

What do you think?


Saturday, December 21, 2013

It's time to ask yourself...

...what you believe.

Dr. Jones in mortal danger (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989])

One of the fun things about the Indiana Jones film franchise is the exploration of possibilities. That fun got a little off track in The Crystal Skull [2008]. but I enjoyed the film anyway.

In The Last Crusade, Walter Donovan is on the verge of discovering the Holy Grail, with only Indy and his father standing in the way. Like any good movie villain, he resorts to some eye-popping violence to motivate another character. By shooting Indy's father, Donovan motivates the hero to take those last few steps and reveal the treasure.

It has been said that life imitates art. I'm not completely sure I buy that but I've seen some some examples which prove the axiom lately. A friend of mine posted a video this morning that I thought summed up a portion of this thoughtline in a powerful way. In The Last Crusade, Donovan pointedly says to Indy, "It's time to ask yourself what you believe."

What does that mean? It means that while Indy's father was bleeding out on the floor of the cave, the only thing that could possibly save his life was the Holy Grail - something Indy wasn't even sure he believed in. For to believe in the Holy Grail was to believe in Jesus Christ and God and Creation and everything. Indy understands all of this a few minutes later as he stands on the precipice of what seems to be an insurmountable chasm between him and the Grail.

"It's a leap of faith..."

This video is about 38 minutes long. I am not posting it here to change your life. My hope is that folks who stop by will take the time to watch it and just think about what it means. There are some PhD's in this video - very smart people - and there are some students in this video, and there are some regular folks on the street in this video. Enjoy.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Literary Review - Reckonings by Gail Husch

Someone Wicked, a Written Remains anthology, was released by Smart Rhino Publications on November 25, 2013. Edited by Weldon Burge and JM Reinbold, Someone Wicked contains twenty-one tales of wickedness sure to please the most discerning reader.

Over the next few weeks, my plan is to read and review many, if not all, of the stories contained in Someone Wicked. I have not historically been a big anthology reader but having had the opportunity to get to know many of the authors through the Written Remains Writers Guild, I am excited at the prospect of discovering each  of their unique and individual writing styles.

Have you ever had the urge to get back at someone? We've all been cut off in traffic, had to wait behind that clown with a full buggy in front of us in the grocer's express line, or watched out of a window while the neighbor's dog used our front yard as its personal bio space, and so on. Daily life has many frustrations and even the nicest of us will occasionally have that fantasy in which the object of our ire receives their just desserts.

In literary terms Gail Husch refers to those moments as Reckonings. And her story in the Someone Wicked anthology allows the protagonist to not only engage in these fantasies but to cross the line into reality - to actually act upon her vengeful desires.  We don't ever learn the name of this person but I felt an immediate kinship from the opening lines:

The first thing you need to know: I don't own a single cat. Not one. I don't even like them, selfish, arrogant creatures.

I know that all the cat lovers will howl in despair and hate me but Reckonings, after all, is a work of fiction. And I'm a dog please allow me my own guilty pleasure.

Also, this tells us almost all we need to know about her: Bossy, superior, opinionated. Gosh...that sounds nearly...catlike. Still, the story moves on from there with each annoyance in the protagonist's life becoming an opportunity to get even with another careless perpetrator.

Reckonings feels good. But it also feels like something else. It feels a little guilty. Almost as if we, the readers, were the ones acting on those dark thoughts; acting out those carefully crafted plans. I'm sure you'll enjoy reading Reckonings but be careful; the line between fantasy and reality can be quite slippery.

Content disclosure: To prepare any potential reader for what they will encounter, I would point out that there are a couple of mild expletives in Reckonings. It is not a violent story per se, but the themes and actions convey a sense of contained violence that might not be well understood by young children. Hopefully this is to be expected in an anthology entitled Someone Wicked. If I were to give it any sort of rating that might guide parents, I would lean toward a mild PG. There is nothing here that one won't find on network television - and I'm not even talking late night cable. Please bear with me, as some readers of this blog are more conservative in nature, and it is important to me to provide this information for them.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Literary Review - Sisters: A Fairy Tale by Liz DeJesus

Someone Wicked, a Written Remains anthology, was released by Smart Rhino Publications on November 25, 2013. Edited by Weldon Burge and JM Reinbold, Someone Wicked contains twenty-one tales of wickedness sure to please the most discerning reader.

Over the next few weeks, my plan is to read and review many, if not all, of the stories contained in Someone Wicked. I have not historically been a big anthology reader but having had the opportunity to get to know many of the authors through the Written Remains Writers Guild, I am excited at the prospect of discovering each of their unique and individual writing styles.

Being contrary, and a bit of a scaredy-cat, I began with a story that was somewhat familiar to me. That's not to say that I had read Sisters: A Fairy Tale before; however, I knew some of the characters from the second novel in the author's Frost series: Glass Frost.

Fanny and Elda are sisters. But they are as different as night and day. And they live in a world quite different from ours, a world rich in magic, both light and dark. And this particular peek into their lives is not like any fairy tale I read growing up. In fact, I have only lately discovered that fairy tales can be dark and frightening places.

Liz DeJesus has written a compelling story that draws the reader into the lives of her characters. The fourteen pages of Sisters deliver a fully realized slice of life in this incredible world. Fanny and Elda have both been given a gift by Titania, the Fairy Queen. I won't reveal the nature of these gifts for therein lies the foundation of the story.

It's difficult to write a review that would help one fully appreciate the depth of DeJesus' characters. As I was reading Sisters I tried not to rely too heavily on my foreknowledge. Fanny and Elda are complete, three-dimensional inhabitants of their world; I was drawn into their conflicts, their emotions, and their pain, as if I traveled along with them on their journey to the Fairy Realm.

The narrative and dialogue are excellent and, in my opinion, this is a top-drawer short story. Ms. DeJesus has a gift for writing and clearly loves the world that she has crafted both here and in other, longer works. That love shines through and makes Sisters a clean, crisp read. But be warned, if you linger over long in the Enchanted Wood, you may find yourselves undone by its magic.

Content disclosure: To prepare any potential reader for what they will encounter, I would point out that there is one expletive near the beginning of Sisters and there are some violent confrontations. Hopefully this is to be expected in an anthology entitled Someone Wicked. I would also say this is not a fairy tale for young children.  If I were to give it any sort of rating that might guide parents, I would lean toward PG. There is certainly nothing here that one won't find on network television, but being somewhat conservative, and knowing that some readers of this blog will likewise be conservative, it is important to me to provide this information.

If you choose to read Sisters I believe you will enjoy the brief, but rich glimpse DeJesus has provided into her most magical of realms.


Monday, December 2, 2013

So, you want to live forever?

This week's sure sign that the apocalypse is upon us is a product that pledges to protect your data - or pictures of your cat - in the event of an apocalyptic event. M Disc promises to do just that.

It's the rock-like layer that apparently makes the difference...

First of all, I'd like to give my friend - and fantasy author - Sherry Thompson a shout-out for bringing this to my attention. If she is planning on using an M Disc to store copies of her novels Seabird and Earthbow, then future generations will at least have some quality material to read. If you're stuck for good reading and you enjoy original, high-quality fantasy novels, Seabird and Earthbow (volumes 1 & 2) - published by Gryphonwood Press - are just the ticket.

Now, on with the show...

As I browsed the M Disc website, I was intrigued by the technology. As an author, I can well appreciate storage media that will protect my valuable intellectual property from adverse and extreme heat, cold, moisture and light.

It just so happens, I am working to recover the manuscripts of not one, but two, novels from one of my old hard drives. Judging by the graphics above (courtesy of the M Disc website), once I recover my precious words, I better get down to the nearest online retailer and purchase an M Disc-compatible recorder and some M Disc media. Because I don't want to experience this same stress and potential loss in seven or eight years all over again. I will want to inscribe my manuscripts onto a disc that will last a full millenia...

One thousand years!

The software to recover my novels will cost me in the neighborhood of $100 and will run on any Windows-based PC or laptop. How much will millenia-sized disks cost me? A 10-pack of M Discs will only set me back $29.99 plus shipping if I order them from the M Disc website. But then there's that tricky part about needing an M Disc-ready drive. You see, you don't just record pictures of your beloved Mr. Bigglesworth onto an M Disc - you have to engrave them.

There are several internal and external drive options conveniently noted on the M Disc website, in both DVD and Blu-Ray flavors. An LG Electronics 24X SATA DVD+/-RW Internal Drive GH24NS50 (Black) will run you $31.95 on Amazon. Conversely, an LG Super Multi Blue Slim Portable with 3D Blu-ray Disc Playback and M-DISC Support CP40NG10 is a little heftier at $64.99 + shipping and handling.

The problem is, none of this technology helps me recover my I still have to pay the piper for software to glean my novels off of the old, faulty hard drive and then pay again to engrave them into one or more M Discs. Still, isn't the peace of mind worth it?

I'm not disputing the ability of the technology, just maybe the need for the technology. I have to wonder: couldn't we come up with something that is somewhere in the middle? I mean, we go from reasonably stable storage for up to eight years with a flash drive, all the way to one thousand years with an M Disc. I'm no math wizard but you would think there would be multiples of storage capacity available...twenty years, fifty years, one hundred years? I guess it beats clay jars...

If I'm lucky, I'll live a hundred years. Assuming our progeny live that long as well, that means ten generations of X-lings would be able to enjoy my New Kingdoms fantasy series and other stored data long after I'm gone. But the whole idea of millenia-long storage brings a few other thoughts to mind.

Today, people are discovering embarrassment can be, well, embarrassing, when words and pictures we thought were private appear in the public sector. Imagine storing the contents of your personal computer on one or more M Discs and, say, eight hundred years from now someone happens across them. Do you really want future archeologists - or some old guy with a metal detector - finding all your most personal pictures and data...and still being able to retrieve it?

"Ooh, Ima Photoshop these babies..."

Then something else struck me: Have humans really developed the hubris to believe anything we might collect and save to an M Disc will be valuable a thousand years from now? I can see where saving great works of literature, science, the arts (no, not the complete library of The Simpsons), or other things of historical significance would be a good idea. But judging by Facebook and other social media, I can't say that there is much in the personal lives of any of us that would bear up under scrutiny a thousand years from now. Unless you are willing to concede a future Jon Stewart will need light comedy material from the 21st century.

Finally, will the human race as we know it even be around one thousand years from now? Frankly, the way things are going, I have my doubts. Asteroids, Global Warming, the Rapture, Thermonuclear War, Pandemics, Starvation, an explosion at the Large Hadron Collider...any number of things could render M Disc's reported Forever Storage completely moot. And then who will be left to care about Mr. Bigglesworth?

What do you think?


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you who may happen by and see this tiny corner of the Internet today. Even if you don't live in North America where we celebrate Thanksgiving, please pause for a moment and give thanks today. Even in my darkest moments, I always knew that there was at least one thing that I could be thankful for.

God bless you and keep you.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Someone Wicked Released Today!

Greetings of the Season to riders on The Stream...

More blogging to come over the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday but I wanted to take a moment and give a shout-out to Weldon Burge and J. M. Reinbold, the editors of the short story anthology, Someone Wicked.

Someone Wicked, published by Smart Rhino Publications is released in paperback today, November 25, 2013 - with a Kindle version to follow shortly! There are twenty-one stories included in this anthology, all focusing on some aspect of human wickedness. Smart Rhino was launched specifically with an eye toward the horror and suspense genres, but is by no means exclusive to that genesis.

One interesting thing that binds these stories together is that most, if not all, are penned by members of the Written Remains Writer's Guild. Please be sure and check out other published works from the Guild - this is a very talented bunch and I am humbled to be a part of their august society.

I hope you enjoy my dark Arabian fantasy The Fire of Iblis and all of the other choice tales from Someone Wicked. And I might suggest you sleep with the light on...


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Wrapped around your finger

This has to be one of the weirdest videos of the 80's - and that is saying something.

As my regular readers may recall, I have a (not so) secret soft spot for music of the 1980's. I trend more to New Wave, the New Romantic movement, Ska and a little of this and that. When listing my favorite bands from the 80's, The Police certainly figure near the top of the list. I am still impressed by the pure musical talent these guys had - and likely still have. Sting so overpowered everything that it was easy to miss the subtle guitar mastery of Andy Summers and the unbelievable drumming prowess of Stewart Copeland.

Wrapped Around Your Finger is not at the top of my all-time favorite list of Police songs though. Not that it's bad, there are just so many other tracks that I enjoy(ed) more. But I heard this one on the radio while driving home the other night and really listened to the lyrics for maybe the first time ever - or at least since the 80's. There are references to Greek mythology (caught between Scylla and Charybdis) and Faust's tale (Mephistopheles). The former idiom was reported to be used frequently back in the day when classical education was the norm.

Or as the Stones sang, "Between a rock and a hard place..."

The first thing that struck me was, "What does that say about the type and quality of education our children receive today?"

I would hazard a guess that, these days, not too many kids in America would have a clue about this song's idiomatic references. Granted, Faust is probably a tad heavy for anything before high school English, but I remember reading Homer's Odyssey in late elementary school, or perhaps early junior high. I likely had minimal understanding about most of it, but it was not beyond my reading ability. In fact, while reviewing the Odyssey as part of writing this blog, I was able to download a copy for free to my Android Kindle app (Shameless product plug: Kindle rocks!). Thanks to the good folks at Amazon, I was able to confirm that Odysseus was rent by the choice between sailing too close to the Charybdis whirlpool and risking his entire ship or daring the six-headed serpent Scylla, who could only eat six crew members at a time. Alas, for the crew...

So what does that say about the meaning of the song? The sheer number of opinions available on the Internet would have us believe that there is great import ascribed to the unknown meaning behind Wrapper Around Your Finger. One could argue Sting is singing about the choice a young man makes to consort with a married woman. The second verse:

I have only come here seeking knowledge,
Things they would not teach me of in college.
I can see the destiny you sold turned into a shining band of gold.

...has the distinct feel of the 1967 film The Graduate. Farther along, the Mephistopheles reference seems to speak of the lure of lust. Although interpretations of this Faustian character's intent differ, I like the one that proposes, "...he does not search for men to corrupt but comes to serve and ultimately collect the souls of those who are already damned."

Sting wraps up with another mythological reference concerning turning his erstwhile master's face to alabaster. This could be a nod to Medusa, or not. At the end of the day, you can take the song as just a catchy melody, or a paean to overcoming that which has control over your existence. But you will never get that from the video unless breaking free from a cage of candlesticks is your cup of tea.

Homer's illustration seems to show that, in life, there are no clear moral choices. In effect, the end justifies the means. Charybdis destroys the ship and kills the entire crew, but Odysseus is saved. He is forced to live in physical relationship with Calypso despite the fact that his overriding purpose is to return home to his wife Penelope. I can see how that would go over today..."Sorry honey, but that thing with Calypso...the gods made me do it; I didn't love her."

Yet what choices do we have today? Are our lives so different from the mythic struggles of Odysseus? Would modern society forgive the loss of a ship's crew and years of adultery as long as our motives were pure? That is a question that appears to bedevil us. In my opinion the struggle comes because, for the six billion-plus inhabitants of planet Earth, there is no one standard, no single moral compass to which we can all look.

Or is there?

One thing that myth and religion have in common is the recognition that there are things which happen that are bigger than we are. Whether you believe in the God of the Bible or not, there is no way you can ascribe history to a random mixture of human strength and blind luck. It is the interpretation of cause - the source of the supernatural - about which we argue. Followers of Christ do not see evil on both sides of life. Ours is not a struggle against Scylla and Charybdis. Others who deny the deity of Jesus see the battle as between humanism and religion; one side insanity, and the other reason. While modern life is not truly a choice between Scylla and Charybdis, we still face epic battles of moral import.

In which direction will you sail?


Monday, November 18, 2013

Please Hire Tim Tebow - Week 11

I'll be honest, I had no idea that we would be in week 11 of the 2013 NFL season and Tim Tebow would still not be a quarterback in the National Football League. I will have to concede that at this stage, it is unlikely at best that Mr. Tebow is going to be playing this season. In this week's blog, Let's take a look at quarterback play around the league with Tebow's Achilles' Heel - pass completion percentage - in mind. And while we're at it, let's not forget that pesky winning thing.

Packers lose to Giants: One of the early-season goats, Eli Manning, has quietly proven me prescient. After starting 0-6, the Giants (as I predicted) are now 4-6 and out of the NFC East basement. I think Manning's job is secure. I'm not so sure about Scott Tolzien though. Sure, he's just a placeholder until Aaron Rogers returns but look at the numbers: Tolzien was a stout 24 of 34 (better than 70%) for 339 yards with no sacks. But...there were those three interceptions, one of which I caught in the highlights. Video evidence showed Giant defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul reach up with his island-sized paws, snatch the ball out of the air, and lumber off into the end zone. Don't get me wrong, Eli isn't playing lights-out either...but he's winning.

Jason Pierre-Paul and the Giants are on the come-back trail...

Vikings lose to Seahawks: I've about given up trying to figure out what's happening in Minnesota. I still have a soft spot for the Vikings from way back before Tampa had the Buccaneers. What nickname would appeal to an 8-year-old boy more than The Purple People Eaters? On a day when Adrian Peterson was not the leading rusher for the Vikes, two of their three quarterbacks combined to complete a woeful 18 passes for 204 yards on 35 attempts. I didn't see the game but with Christian Ponder being intercepted twice, sacked twice, and fumbling twice (losing one), I can only imagine that's when the erstwhile people eaters called on backup Matt Cassels. He didn't fumble or get sacked but his lone TD pass came in garbage time and he did throw a pick as well. Beside the obvious question of where is Josh Freeman, one might ask, "Could 2014 be Tebow Time in the Twin Cities?"

AP and the Vikes went nowhere against the Seahawks...

Jaguars lose to Cardinals: I hope you're proud of me for not dog-piling the Jaguars this week. I waited until the third highlight to kick them while they're down. Chad Henne played the entire game and put up NFL caliber numbers: 27 of 42 for 255 yards and a score. And then...two interceptions, two sacks, and the Jags have their ninth loss of the season in ten games. Mr. Khan, can I give you the number of Tim Tebow's agent please?

Anyone got Tebow's home number?

Texans lose to Raiders: Who the heck is Matt McGloin? Whoever he is, he's backing up an injured Terrelle Pryor in Oakland and taking full advantage. Although not stratospheric, the rookie's 56% completion rate and 197 yards passing were buttressed by 3 touchdown passes. The Texans, who started the season as playoff favorites, are all over the map and nowhere is that more apparent than in the quarterback department. The once-steady Matt Schaub is not, and exciting backup Case Keenum has fallen back to Earth (Are you listening Mr. McGloin?). It's doubtful either of these teams make the playoffs. I wonder how Tebow would look in boots and a Stetson?

You could always go back to school and get your MBA...

I could go on but I think the point is, there are quarterbacks that the NFL standard bearers hold up as good quarterbacks who, frankly, aren't. Chad Henne has completed 61% of his passes this year...and you see how many games he has won. Matt Schaub has completed almost 63% of his passes this season...and the Texans have won twice. Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Tony Romo, Geno Smith, Sam Bradford...these are all starting quarterbacks in the NFL with pass completion percentages that are recognized as being decent. Every one of them is on a losing (or .500) team.

So if completion percentage is one of the key benchmarks in the decision to play a quarterback, where does winning come into play? Clearly, Tim Tebow's NFL completion percentage is not up to these standards but I would challenge that his winning percentage is...

Latest Intel: In between coordinating Philippine storm relief efforts through his Tim Tebow Foundation, reports also indicate that Mr. Tebow continues to work on his fitness and throwing mechanics, with the ex-Gator, Bronco, Jet, and Patriot spotted regularly at the USC campus.

Will Tebow suit up this year? Next year? What do you think?


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Stairway to Heaven

I grew up in the 70's. That's the 1970's, not the 1870's, as our young X-men may believe sometimes. If you grew up in the 70's you are aware of Led Zeppelin. I state that as a matter of fact. I suppose there may be people living in the Amazon rain forest who have not heard of Led Zeppelin, but they probably don't read my blog either.

In December 2012, Led Zeppelin reached the pinnacle of western civilization with their recognition by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Each year, JFKCPA selects a group of artists to honor. Their criteria reads, in part, "The Kennedy Center Honors provide recognition to living individuals who throughout their lifetimes have made significant contributions to American culture through the performing arts."

I was pleased for the band and amused at the cultural ironies involved. Then I learned David Letterman was being honored in the same program. Letterman and Zeppelin are not even in the same talent universe, but I didn't have a vote, so...

 Photo: Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images

Jack Black was tapped to introduce the honorarium for Zeppelin.

The first two minutes of the video above contain Black's intro for the band, as well as the video montage that highlights a few of the reasons for their inclusion. In a statement that will have as many strident defenders as detractors, he names Led Zeppelin the best Rock and Roll Band on the planet - better than the Beatles, better than the Stones...

The encore of the evening is led by Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart singing Stairway to Heaven...

There has been a tremendous amount of discussion over the years regarding the meaning of the song, whether it contained satanic messages if played backwards, and whether Robert Plant would ever sing it again (which he did in 2007). What I see in the video above is perspective. Playing any song over and over again, night after night, no matter how good it is, must get old. The magic that Plant and Page caught in a bottle at Bron-Yr-Aur and Headley Grange back in 1970 had diminished over the decades. But on this night it was clear that distance had made the heart grow fonder. That is as much a testament to the greatness of the song as it is to the sterling performance by the Wilson sisters, Jason Bonham (son of the late Zeppelin drummer John), and the supporting orchestra.

Stairway to Heaven means a million things to a million people. Something else I noticed when viewing the performances of Zeppelin's songs: the audience. In particular, there is one lady who appears to be 'praising' during Stairway to Heaven, her hands raised, eyes closed. Others in the assemblage are also lost in the music.

Even more powerful to me were the reactions of the band. We can only wonder at the thoughts passing through the minds of Jimmy, Robert and John as they sat in their tuxedos, beside the President and other luminaries, listening to their anthem...what memories were playing out behind teary eyes? How many shows? How many faces in the crowd? How much pain and loss remembered as the familiar chords echoed across the auditorium?

If you watch the entire program you will hear Jack Black reiterate his challenge - his statement of fact - from the introduction: Best band...ever.

But for all their greatness, for all their amazing music, for all the wonder I have felt when listening to their songs...I know in my heart that Led Zeppelin do not stand at the foot of that stairway. John Bonham's death was tragic. Robert Plant's son's death was tragic. But Jesus' death on the cross was the most tragic event in human history, while at the same time the most powerful and uplifting. Because Jesus truly is our Stairway to Heaven.

This is not a popular sentiment. People get offended when you tell them there is only one way to get to Heaven. Just like the meaning of the song Stairway to Heaven, people want to define their own wisdom, their own understanding, their own path, their own truth. The disciple Thomas was a skeptic. In John 14:6 Jesus tells him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me."

Yet later, in John 20:29, Thomas finally accepts the truth of things while being chastised just a touch when Jesus says, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."

Paul writes that when we accept Christ as our Savior, when we put our feet on the true Stairway to Heaven, we are to put off the old man and put on the new.

One of the things that seems to puzzle critics of the Church is how it can be filled with people who still sin. In 2001 I accepted Christ as my Savior. I had a real and personal experience that left me, like Thomas, with no doubt that Jesus is who He says He is. In the intervening years I have worked to be the man that God created me to be but I am still very much a work in progress. How can I be a Christian yet still listen to Led Zeppelin and wonder at the amazing talent and true giftedness of these four mortal men? As long as I don't put them ahead of God, I think I'm going to be okay there. The very first Commandment God gave us was that we were to have no other gods before Him. I've heard Zeppelin called the gods of rock. Look at the Kennedy Center audience again. There are some worshipping folks in that crowd.

But Led Zeppelin won't get you to Heaven, no matter how many times you play the song. The three surviving members of the band won't get you to Heaven, no matter how many honors they receive - no matter how much praise you give them. People talk about how great Heaven is going to be. They discuss who all will be there, wonder if they will get to see their favorite old dog again, and if their friends and family will greet them as they walk through those pearly gates. Over the years I've heard people talk about the music that will be made in Heaven by all the artists that have gone on before us. And perhaps they're right. Maybe Heaven will be a big party.

Who knows what the Stairway to Heaven will be...

All I know about Heaven is what's in the Bible. Near the end, John writes, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away."

The Bible also says that we will worship Him and any rewards we might get for things accomplished on Earth in His name will be cast at God's feet. I've heard folks say, "How boring if that's what Heaven is all about...just standing around and worshipping God for eternity."

From my perspective, trading in death, mourning, crying, and pain for an eternity in God's presence sounds pretty good to me. But hey; I'm still human. Maybe Led Zeppelin will be there. Who knows? But I'm not too worried about them playing for me. If they are there, they will be too busy playing for One who is much more worthy.

And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last.

What do you think?


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Please Hire Tim Tebow - Week 10

Historically, NFL teams coming off their bye week haven't fared much better than at any other point in the season. Since 2000, the chances of these well-rested teams notching a win have hovered around fifty percent. Blogging can take it out of you. In amongst my day job, family and church responsibilities, taking care of the dog, and all sorts of other mind-sapping activities, I have to follow current events, catch up on relevant news, look up key statistics on teams I really don't care about...all of these things can drain a man.

So I took a bye week.

I've got a fifty-fifty chance of winning this week; what does that even mean? For me, it means writing an entertaining and informative piece on that man Tim Tebow which pulls in a goodly number of readers. As a writer, that's all I really want: people who read and enjoy my work.

Not much happened in the Tebow-sphere during my bye week - better known as week 9 of the NFL season; oh, except those pesky Jaguars fans are still urging ownership to sign the ex-Gator...

Promises, promises...

Mr. Khan may want to consider that advice. Everbank Field holds a little over 67,000 fans. If signing Tebow would fill all those seats with popcorn eating, Coke drinking fans, that might help offset the poor results in Jacksonville and on the other side of the Atlantic, where his Barclay's Premier League football team - Fulham - have not been faring well either. The Cottagers - Fulham play their home games at historic Craven Cottage which only seats 25,700 fans - have won three games out of eleven this season and currently sit 18th out of 20 teams in the league. That may not mean much to American Football fans but if Fulham end the season in one of those bottom three places they get relegated to the Championship - kind of like the minor leagues.

Packing them in at the Cottage

One other piece of Tebow news that has recently surfaced is that he has signed an additional representative to explore opportunities in college football broadcasting. Naturally, all the Tebow is no Jedi/Quarterback folks out there are cackling that this signifies the end of Tebow's NFL career. Personally, I don't think so but let's wait for this all to play out before we start shoveling dirt over him.

In week 10, both the Jaguars and Buccaneers broke their seasons wide open...well, at least they each notched their first win of the year, keeping the overall first round draft pick sweepstakes tied up tighter than a Tebow spiral. So assuming that Tim is not over in the Philippines helping out with typhoon recovery efforts, what teams are still in the running to sign him?

As I've noted before, the New York Football Giants have begun their annual late season tear. Winners of three consecutive games after dropping their first six, it certainly appears as if Eli's bunch have woken from their regularly scheduled hibernation and are starting to play some football. I never seriously considered Eli getting kicked to the curb a possibility, and it certainly is less likely now.

Another week, another...holy cow! The Jacksonville Jaguars won! The previously winless Jags held off the Locker-less Tennessee Titans despite two TD passes from backup Ryan Fitzpatrick. Does this mean Jacksonville is out of the running for Tebow? Hardly. Chad Henne was underwhelming in the win, completing 14 of 23 passes for 180 yards, no touchdowns and 2 interceptions. The Jaguars current game manager was also sacked three times. I'm sorry, to me Jacksonville remains the most obvious destination for Tebow. With Jake Locker leaving a game yet again - this time due to a Lisfranc foot injury - the Flaming Thumbtacks could be a late-season entrant in the Tebow sweepstakes.

Did Greg Schiano save his job Monday night after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also notched their first victory of the season? Schiano may be a caretaker coach until the end of the season; I'm not what replacing him now would bring to the table. As much as I still believe Tampa Bay is the best fit for Tebow, it is doubtful the team will make any major player moves unless something drastic happens. Quarterback-wise, although the Bucs won, new QB Mike Glennon didn't light it up. The young NC State product was 11 of 21 for only 139 yards. The rookie did have a TD pass - to a tackle! - but that was offset by an interception that led to a Dolphin field goal. Couple Glennon's mild night statistically with the loss of running back Mike James, who suffered a fractured ankle, and things are not going to get any easier for my hometown Bucs.

So who else could benefit from the athletic skills and leadership abilities of Tebow?

With everyone dog-piling young Tim for his poor completion percentage, it's noteworthy that Terrelle Pryor of the Oakland Raiders was 11 of 26 (42%) for only 122 yards, with no touchdowns, an interception, and four sacks. Pryor did have a rushing touchdown but that was not enough to overcome the resurgent G-Men. Although TP's season completion percentage is much higher (almost 59%), he has only thrown 5 touchdowns against 10 interceptions, and he has been sacked an incredible 29 times. Is Pryor really a better option than Tebow?

Looking around the league you might make the case that the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings are still in need of QB help. If Cutler heals or McCown performs well the Bears would be off the table. Minnesota is on odd team this year, and after picking up Tampa Bay castaway Josh Freeman, Christian Ponder is still getting the nod as their starter. It's doubtful that Tebow could walk into that funhouse and make a difference.

So what do we know after week ten? The Jags and Bucs still look like the two best candidates to bring Tebow back to the NFL, with the Raiders running a close third. Will anything happen this year? The chances are getting slimmer by the week. But Tebow himself may not be putting too much thought into it at the moment. I suspect his heart and mind are far away from Jacksonville or Tampa or Oakland right now, and focused more on what he can do to help the good people of the Philippines recover from Typhoon Haiyan.

We're right there with you big guy.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Your Fifteen Minutes Has Started

In 1968, Andy Warhol famously stated that, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes."

If Warhol was wrong about anything, it was that fifteen minutes wasn't long enough.

Pop-art prophet?

Here it is, the Year of Our Lord two thousand and thirteen, and you know something? Warhol was right. Last night I watched 60 Minutes. Two of the segments juxtaposed themselves on my Stream of Consciousness and gave me what some refer to as an a-ha moment. It's taken me until today to write about it because these two segments were aired in kind of a reverse order so that my a-ha wasn't immediately apparent.

In reverse, the second segment chronicled how photographer Henry Grossman became friends with the Beatles and was given unparalleled photographic access to the Fab Four. At the age of 22 or 23 Grossman was also one of the primary photographers for President John F. Kennedy. The Beatles and Kennedy photos aired on 60 Minutes certainly brought back feelings of nostalgia. They also began to germinate into an idea that helps illustrate the massive cultural shift we have undergone.

The full segment can be viewed at the 60 Minutes site

Earlier in last night's program, the first segment that aired profiled Nick Woodman, CEO of GoPro. Woodman says in the program, "Before GoPro, if you wanted to have any footage of yourself doing anything, whether it's video or photo, you not only needed a camera, you needed another human being. And if you wanted the footage to be good, you needed that other human being to have skill with the camera. The result was that most people never had any footage of themselves doing anything."

Just head over to YouTube and enter the search term Go Pro. You'll find about fifteen million results that will let you see the power in Woodman's little dynamo of a camera. It will take you longer than fifteen minutes to get through all of that I'm sure.

This guy seriously deserves to be famous

Somewhere between the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the focus of photography has shifted. Sure, there is still an overwhelming amount of celebrity photography out there; but even that has undergone a transformation from the iconic, composed images of photographers like Grossman to the frenetic and invasive portraits hocked to an ever-eager, voyeuristic public by the paparazzi. But with the advent of GoPro, YouTube and social networking, our collective fifteen minutes has now begun in earnest.

In the twentieth century, photos available to the public generally captured the essence of people who were considered celebrities or other humans of note. These might include politicians, scientists, military leaders, athletes, and of course, actors, actresses, and musicians.

John Kennedy

But nowadays, the pictures are of us (as well as all those others).

Jon Gordner (and friend)

What is it that drives us to put ourselves out there for the world to see? Is it ego? Is it loneliness? Do we even worry about those things anymore? With the advent of endless reality (sic) and talent shows, and the 24-7 news cycle, is this open display of our life events the new normal?

Random guy Jon (above) captured himself and his canine buddy with the newest photographic trend: the selfie. You know the one. At least he's not pouting. I don't know Jon. I searched Google Images for random people, and thought he represented well. It's not necessarily that we're all attention hounds - although I'm convinced some are - it's just that we blog (as Jon does), we post on Facebook Pinterest, etc., and through the power of the Internet, what we may have created and posted just to share with friends and family is all of a sudden out there.

I mean, think about it; would we ever have been subjected to Bieber without YouTube? And who can forget these guys...

Perhaps the best thing about this video is the young man in the background. He's a twentieth century man and could care less about his mates' rise to YouTube fanboy fame.

Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, a German art historian and Modern Art professor at Harvard, suggests:

"...that the core tenet of Warhol's aesthetic, being "the systematic invalidation of the hierarchies of representational functions and techniques" of art, corresponds directly to the belief that the "hierarchy of subjects worthy to be represented will someday be abolished," hence anybody, and therefore "everybody," can be famous once that hierarchy dissipates, "in the future," and by logical extension of that, "in the future, everybody will be famous," and not merely those individuals worthy of fame."

That's some heavy stuff right there but I think it captures the gist of this cultural shift I'm writing about and the genius of Warhol's statement. We have reached a future in which everybody can be famous. And that positions us to be disappointed if we're not.

Am I disappointed with my not-famousness? To echo my Asian friends above: I want it that way.

What do you think?


Thursday, November 7, 2013

C'mon Man!

In May 1961 President Kennedy announced the goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade. The goal was achieved on July 20,1969, when Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong left the Lunar Module and stepped onto the surface of the Moon.

Footprint on the lunar surface (NASA)

Or did he?

Hold on. I don't buy into the conspiracy theories about the moon landing being faked. But man, there are some doosies out there. No, what I'm writing about here is more along the lines of, "Why in the world has our exploration lagged since 1969?"

Apollo Mission Control (NASA)

Think about it. NASA was able to put men on the moon using 1960's technology eight years after getting the presidential order. Early estimates for the lunar landing project appear to put the cost of the program at around $20 billion. Those early estimates were quickly raised to roughly $33 billion as discussions concerning the feasibility of a lunar landing project continued. At the end of the program NASA estimates Apollo cost $25.4 billion (about $95 billion in 1990 dollars).

In an article commemorating the one-year anniversary of the passing of Neil Armstrong, James Hansen, a history professor at Auburn University and Neil Armstrong's biographer in "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong" (Simon & Schuster 2005), notes that it took 400,000 Americans to man the Apollo team. So, $25 billion and 400,000 people. That is quite an investment - but they got it done.

Another interesting fact concerning the Apollo 11 mission was the computing power required to make it fly. In this Computer Weekly article, it is highlighted that the "...Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) used a real time operating system, which enabled astronauts to enter simple commands by typing in pairs of nouns and verbs, to control the spacecraft. It was more basic than the electronics in modern toasters that have computer controlled stop/start/defrost buttons. It had approximately 64Kbyte of memory and operated at 0.043MHz."

The same article also notes that a, "...USB memory stick today is more powerful than the computers that put man on the moon."

C'mon man!

And therein lies the genesis of this blog. What could we accomplish today with $100 billion (in 2013 dollars) and 400,000 highly educated and motivated team members?

Are we reduced to goofing on Elvis?

Yesterday I wrote a tantalizingly titled piece about the potential demise of Apple. I had read an article that lamented how Apple appears to have forsaken innovation for design. Consumer electronics is not a moon mission but I suspect a lot of the technology that has been behind the incredible advances of the last fifty years came from the space program, more specifically from Apollo.

So what are we doing with that technology?

A CNN article provides one list of the top twenty-five technological advances in the last twenty-five years:
  1. Wireless world 
  2. Defense technology
  3. Alternative fuel vehicles
  4. Biotechnology
  5. Computers
  6. Lasers
  7. Genomics
  8. Global finance
  9. Processors
  10. Digital storage
  11. Space
  12. Fiber optics
  13. Satellite TV & radio
  14. DNA testing
  15. Video games
  16. Biometrics
  17. Energy and water savers
  18. Scanning tunneling microscopes
  19. Batteries
  20. E-baggage
  21. Remote controls
  22. Animal cloning
  23. Manufacturing technology
  24. The big picture
  25. Weather technology
Where is space on this list? Number 11. The CNN article highlights the Hubble Space Telescope and the Mars lander missions as the top achievements in this category. To be fair these are tremendous things but, at the risk of sounding trite, they allow us to look around the galaxy. While there is value in this, and it's exciting to be able to explore the Red Planet via remote picture feed, and even see beyond our own solar system using Hubble, these types of missions pale in comparison to manned space flight. 

There is something inside humans that drives us beyond the next mountain, that sends us out upon the waves heading toward a destination we can't even see yet. Think about the early explorers. When Magellan, Columbus, daGama, Eriksson, Vespucci and others set sail, they didn't have modern technology. They did have the advantage of exploring in an environment that contained breathable air. And if they were successful in reaching land, food and fresh water were - potentially - available to replenish their supplies. 

Sailing the sea in basically a leaky, wooden canoe

But something keeps bugging me about this. Where is our spirit of adventure? Where are the explorers of today? By all accounts Neil Armstrong was a quiet, humble man. On the other hand, he was also a man who, beginning at the age of 20, flew 78 combat missions in the Korean war. A man who flew over 200 different aircraft including the famous X-15.

That's not a's a rocket with wings...

Obviously, Armstrong had that pioneer spirit, that desire to see what would appear over the next horizon. Where are those men and women today? Working in computer labs? At universities? Maybe at the LHC in Switzerland? How many times can you climb Mount Everest or skydive?

Remember that guy Magellan? The first to be credited with circumnavigating the globe? Killed by Natives in the Philippines. How about Hernando de Soto, the first European explorer to cross the Mississippi River? He fell ill and died. His men weighed down his body and dumped him into the Big Muddy. Juan Ponce De Leon didn't find the fountain of youth. But he did find a poison arrow, dying in Florida in 1521. Giovanni da Verrazzano, of the New York bridge Verrazanos, took one voyage too many, ending up killed - and eaten - by natives in the Lesser Antilles. And you thought Brooklyn was dangerous.

History is full of examples of men and women who pushed the envelope, who strove to break barriers and explore our world. Take another look at the list above. Which of those twenty-five technological achievements lends itself to the next frontier? Video games? E-baggage? Animal cloning?

For the love of Lewis and Clark!

It's time to take our great technology and focus it on the horizon once more. I bet you can find any number of people willing to step off this earth and be the next Columbus or Cook. 

In fact, there is one team of people that are doing just that: MarsOne.

Even if you are Ah-nold, if you go to Mars with MarsOne, "You won't be baaaack."

Would you take a one-way trip to Mars? The MarsOne program is not funded yet but cost estimates for the program are around $6 billion - far less than what it cost to send us to the Moon in 1969. So is MarsOne the next Queen Isabella? Only time and the tides will tell...

What do you think?


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Is this the end of Apple?

I read a brief article this morning that questioned whether Apple had lost its technological edge in this time after the passing of founder Steve Jobs. The article - and I'm paraphrasing - asks the question, "Is Apple sliding away from innovation and toward design as its product vision?"

Is (was) Apple Steve Jobs?

I've come to view the consumer electronics industry as a bit like quicksilver. Apple has been riding the wave but with the loss of their iconic frontman, it will be difficult to maintain the attention of the technoratti.

Something and/or someone is going to come along and usurp the's inevitable. I am not an Apple acolyte but can appreciate what they have accomplished. They are Connery's James Bond to Dean Martin's Matt Helm or perhaps James Coburn's Derek Flint. Bond was - and is - king; although some might argue that Matt Damon has staked a claim to the throne with his portrayal of Jason Bourne.

Long live the king?

But fictional super-spies aside, I believe the article, as well as a few of the comments posted below it - makes a valid point: the idea is not for Apple to change who they are - after all, Daniel Craig is still 100% Bond - but to do it in such a way as to shock the status quo while keeping the underlying cool and cache which they (Apple) have established. What is the next big thing for Apple? It's not colors, it's not weight, and it's certainly not a television. Maybe they can look to Google for inspiration. Google is radically changing the dynamic of how a company offers broadband services to consumers. Gigabit speeds? To the home? Who needs that?!?

Build it and they will come...

I remember buying a PC in 1990; the salesman asked if I wanted the 386SX or the 386DX. The DX had more CPU horsepower and supported more memory but I thought to myself, "Why pay the extra money for the DX when the SX does what I need it to do?"

It wasn't long before I mourned that decision.

For Apple's sake, let's hope that while they're distracting us with pretty baubles their engineers are designing and building something that will take our breath away. The question they should be asking themselves is, "What is the most amazing thing we could make?"

How about four small things; things that you could carry in your pocket. You take them out and stick them to the wall or your desktop in a familiar rectangular pattern. As the fourth one settles into place, an interactive holographic display appears, in the middle is a shimmering Apple logo.
Is the Rabbit eating the Apple?

"The name is Bond; James Bond."

What do you think?


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Spill your guts

Jimmy Connors was ranked as one of the top five tennis players in the world beginning just before my birthday in 1973. He would remain in the top five for a still-record 659 consecutive weeks. That's over twelve years.

Let that sink in.
Wimbledon Champions - 1974

The closest a modern player has come to equaling that mark? Roger Federer, in the top five for 543 consecutive weeks. Connors won 109 (or 110, depending on your source) singles titles. Any modern players close to that? Federer, again, with 77. Perhaps even more astounding, Connors was runner-up another 54 times. He won 8 Grand Slams and spread his titles around quite a bit - winning on clay, grass, hard court and indoor carpet surfaces.

Gallons of ink have been spilled in support of - and attacking - Jimmy Connors. Writers who make me look like Judas Iscariot compared to Jesus have extolled the virtues of the champion while decrying the personality of the L'Enfant terrible.

In 1971, I remember watching my first Wimbledon. I lived in England and the BBC covered The Championships live. After watching players like Stan Smith, John Newcombe and Rod Laver, I'd go outside with an old wooden racket and hit against an uneven rock wall in our garden, trying to emulate the graceful and powerful strokes I'd seen on television. Up until that point, the Aussies - Ken Rosewall, Laver, Newcombe, and Roy Emerson - had dominated the men's tennis circuit. But that was about to change.

1972 Wimbledon Runner-up - Stan Smith

What in the world has made me go down this rabbit hole? I just finished watching the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary This is What They Want. The film touches on Connor's career in general but focuses almost exclusively on his run to the U.S. Open semi-finals in the age of 39.

Can you imagine a 39 year-old playing Federer or Nadal or Djokovic? The days of Connors, McEnroe and Borg dominating tennis were gone, weren't they. But ranked somewhere north of 150 in the world, Connors had battled injury and age to make one final run in our championships. I won't bore you with my wooden attempts to capture those two weeks in yourself a favor and watch the film. If you've ever played tennis or even watched it, this documentary directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien is worth every minute.

Willpower, guts, craft and guile on the way to the semifinals

New Yorkers love it when you spill your guts out there. You spill your guts out at Wimbledon, and they make you stop and clean it up.” [Jimmy Connors]

As the credits rolled on ESPN I began thinking about the career of Jimmy Connors. What did he achieve? Who was he? In one of the closing scenes, Connors seems bemused that people considered him an ***hole. He thought about it for a minute, and as he walks off he says, "But I'm a happy ***hole."

Connors lived life, in a sense, as an outsider. He fought and scraped for everything. He won - and lost - on his own terms, by his own strength, through his own will and wisdom. While I admire the man for his sheer tenacity and for the accomplishments that seem destined to stand the test of time - in a world where every record falls - I can't help but wonder how much all that achievement will matter in the end.

In one of His harsher messages, Jesus told of a man who focused on his own achievements and his own accomplishments. Luke 12:16-31 paints a dire picture for those who might spend their lives piling up achievements and awards, striving for the next brass ring, building an even bigger house...

Jimmy, I admire your drive, sir. Imagine how many you could win for the Kingdom with your tenacious dedication.

Unlike the picture some might paint, Christianity isn't us vs. them. Connor's career was fought in just that way; it was always Jimmy vs. everyone else. Perhaps the most poignant moment in This is What They Want, is when Aaron Krickstein says that, after being friends with Connors, staying at his home, acting as a hitting partner, etc. he never heard from Jimmy again after Connors beat him in the fourth round of the 1991 U.S. Open.

2 Peter 3:9 says, "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance."

Jimmy, life isn't about getting to a place where you can be a happy ***hole. It's about helping each other win the only trophy that counts.

What do you think?


Literary review: Hero's End

The Blackwing Chronicles began with Sovran's Pawn, an engaging introduction to Bo Barron and Blade Devon. Bo is the fugitive daughter and heir-in-waiting to her missing father, the Barron. And despite her fugitive status Bo has assumed the role of Barron in the still-unexplained absence of her father. Blade can never be quite sure what - or who - Blade Devon is at any given time. Is he the handsome holovid actor whom the ladies drool over, an IC Predator agent and one of the most deadly men in the universe, or something else entirely? Whoever he is, someone wants Blade Devon dead.

Hero's End, the second book in The Blackwing Chronicles series, opens with a hit being put out on Devon. I'll tell you right up front that in JC Cassels' universe, sex and violence are almost the coin of the realm. That's not to say that Hero's End is some smutty space opera; far from it. The author has simply taken a couple of humanity's worst - or best, depending on your definition - traits and magnified them. Skyhoppers and Joy Babes abound, as do assassins and other dangerous folk. However, Cassels does an outstanding job of writing about the seedy underbelly of society without wallowing in bad language or needlessly graphic situations. And don't for one minute think that the seediness is limited to those who inhabit the less fortunate strata of Cassels' universe. Just like in our own world, the predilection to sin is no respecter of bank balance or position, and is one of the many factors that keeps readers guessing. I'll tell you right from the launchpad: nothing - and no one - in Hero's End is what - or who - it seems.

Getting down to the nitty-gritty, I have to say that Hero's End was both an easier and a tougher read than Sovran's Pawn. It was easier because I was familiar with the universe that Cassels has deftly imagineered. Also, the author has populated The Blackwing Chronicles with a cast of characters that is easy to care for and become invested in. The tough part, for me, is staying the course through Bo Barron's emotional journey. I'm a guy, and I've been married for almost a quarter of a century, but I still don't handle intense emotional turmoil very well. Maybe I'm just shallow; I don't know. Without providing any spoilers it's difficult for me to give specific examples of what I mean. In general, although there was plenty of emotional upheaval for Bo in Sovran's Pawn, we see a whole other level of that in Hero's End. Blade goes through his own emotional crises as well, but maybe it is because I'm a guy that Blade's torments seem to make more sense to me.

From a characterization standpoint, I'd say Cassels gets full marks. Although I don't personally care for some of the deeper exploration of Bo's innermost psyche, I can appreciate the craft with which it is written. Lest I leave out the character and bit players, it is hard to find fault with any of them. I've read several books in which the main characters, fully realized and fleshed out in living color, move around in a cardboard, two-dimensional world of almost cartoonish and clich├ęd secondary characters. That is absolutely not the case in Hero's End. I found each one intrinsic to the tale and employed in fitting and useful ways.

The plot of Hero's End continues apace from where we left off with Sovran's Pawn despite the passage of time between the two volumes. The intrigue, mystery, adventure, action and yes - the romance - are all ratcheted up several notches. I grew more appreciative of Cassels' writing ability the farther I read.

The scourge of everyone's Seventh Sector - grammar and usage - is very well done in Hero's End. I've included notes in other reviews indicating the downfall of many independent novels is poor diction, if not just downright messy grammar. Hero's End was a very clean read. There has obviously been a lot of love and care taken with this novel and as a reader I appreciate that very much!

Overall, I would recommend Hero's End to anyone who enjoys a good spacer. As the author personally noted, for some there is not enough romance and too much space and for others too much romance and not enough space. Personally, I found the characters, plot, descriptiveness, and tech to be spot on. My only gripe is the quantity of romance - yes, I'm one of the too much romance guys.

For my Christian readers, Hero's End is a bit stronger in some areas than its predecessor and might bring you a little pause as you make a reading decision. I will leave it up to you, but provide these guidelines: If John Boy yelling, "Darn!" on The Waltons gets the fan going, Hero's End is not for you. If you are an avid fan of science fiction, adventure and romance and you are not shocked or deterred by the programming content of network television after 8 p.m. then you'll probably be fine with the content of this novel. Anything in between is going to be a case-by-case, personal decision.

From a purely creative point of view, Hero's End is an excellent, well-written novel. It is likely one I would never have read due to that pesky romance stuff so I am thankful to have had the opportunity to read and review it.


Boring disclaimers:

The Kindle version of Hero's End which I reviewed was provided to me electronically by the author - I received no compensation for this review, other than the pleasure of reading book two of The Black Wing Chronicles.