Monday, July 28, 2014

‘PushBack’ (Book Review)

If dystopian fiction is your kind of thing, consider the second release of PushBack: Deficit Triggers Hyperinflation, Terrorism (2014) by Alfred Wellnitz. In the midst of economic chaos, the United States of America is helpless against secessionist efforts. Atlanta native Jim Reed finds himself living in a tyrannical military state that unapologetically eliminates all opposition, including his longtime girlfriend. Now our hero goes underground as John Renner and joins the Freedom Legion, bent on ending the CAN Party’s tyranny.

Now that I’ve got you interested, let’s lay it all out. While PushBack initially may have had some potential, I have to agree with the hero who thinks the plot sounds like a B movie (p. 25). Wellnitz resurrects the Southern Confederacy, Adolf Hitler, and the Soviet Russia – and puzzlingly has them all in agreement – because he apparently can’t think of anything original. His hero is presumably a rather decent person yet is drawn into a terrorist organization because he’s so wrapped up in his desire for revenge. We don’t see an internal struggle fleshed out as he kills and plots to kill hundreds of people. We’re just expected to accept what he and his fellow freedom fighters do, creepily in clear conscience. And in the end, we have a new military state – albeit run by the good guys – that isn’t any more interested in answering questions than the previous government. Oh, and that’s supposed to be the happy ending.

The citizens of the Federated States aren’t the only ones left with questions. I was left wondering about a few things myself. For example, despite Wellnitz’s penchant for including too much backstory and endless detail, he overlooks some important details on how and why the United States of America fell. In the midst of hyperinflation, economic chaos, and secession, the narration keeps its focus on the Presidency. That’s like a first grader’s impression of the Federal government. Where was Congress during all this? Why wasn’t the Senate exercising any power? And how did the Federal Reserve, which is generally conservative in its policies, allow the money supply to expand out of control? Wellnitz might believe he’s politically savvy, but his lousy setup betrays his ignorance.

Another thing that really irked me is his treatment of race/ethnicity, sex/gender, and sexual persuasion. Wellnitz is stuck in the 1950s and lacks any understanding of how racial identity and racism have changed since then. He creates a fantasy world where all whites are bad guys, unless Jewish or Scandinavian (or married to such), and the only political issues of importance are legislating racial supremacy and segregation. While the author probably was hoping for extra points for being inclusive, his diverse cast of characters, including one lesbian, is so contrived that it’s more likely to irritate his readers than impress them. And if he’s hoping to spark some sort of activism by his book, it’ll probably be from Latina Mothers Against Idiot Authors. It’s bad enough that he belabors us with each person’s age and physical description. We really don’t need to be told a zillion times that every Latina character has a beautiful body.

Speaking of irrelevant detail, we don’t need to know the number of chairs at a particular kitchen table which no one happens to be sitting at. We don’t need to know that the hero has his facial hair styled just like the author’s. And we don’t need to be told the names, physical features, dress habits, and backstories of people who will appear in the movie script as Security Guard 1 and Bureaucrat 2. What is needed is for Wellnitz to learn how to edit, and while he’s at it, hire a professional proofreader. The book is rife with typos, formatting errors, poor wording, endless repetition, over-explanation, and spell-checker casualties (e.g., “resurrection” for “insurrection”). All this makes for a rather painful read.

I could spell out every problem I noticed, but my review would end up as long as Wellnitz’s 417-page book. I’ll cut it short with this: Wellnitz fails primarily because he doesn’t stick to writing about what he knows. Religious, ethnic and regional cultures are poorly portrayed. The hero’s career prior ends up being irrelevant because the author’s not familiar with it enough to have the character utilize those skills or knowledge sets. A lot of this could’ve been easily avoided. Instead of our hero being a black lawyer, why not a white Navy officer or engineer? Instead of setting the story in Georgia, Pennsylvania, and California, why not stick with South Dakota and Minnesota (where a Somali love interest would’ve made a lot more sense, I must add). At his age, Wellnitz should have a lot of life experience to draw from. Unfortunately, he doesn’t utilize it in ways that would make this book a success.

While I still stand by my claim that PushBack shows some real potential, it’s nowhere near ready to hit the bookstore shelves. Give the author a few years to clean up some parts, rework others, and run the manuscript by some trained eyes. Then we’ll see how it does with a re-rerelease.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. I was not required to write a favorable review.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Q&A: Discrimination Against E-Books

Manuscript by  Seth Sawyers (Flickr)
Señora Estrada,
Why did you refuse to review my ebook?

Dear Reader,
Please don’t think I’m singling you out. I refuse all requests to review ebooks. While I’m not against the concept in theory, in practice they’ve proven to be a waste of my time. For sure, many regular books – regardless of publishing format – aren’t worth reading. But authors put a lot more effort into their content, so there’s a far greater likelihood of a traditional book having some quality. In contrast, ebooks are usually just glorified blog posts, and I resent the sensational marketing and the astronomical prices. Put some real effort into your work, and write a real book. Note: I do read book manuscripts, so you may send me those.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Titus 2 Woman Is Reverent

Gossip by deegrafix (Flickr)
When we think of “reverent,” different images may come to mind: Subjects in medieval art with forlorn faces and golden halos around their heads. Present day children sitting in a church pew wearing ill-fitting suits and ties and holding hymnals when they’re too young to read. But what is meant in our passage of interest?

[Π]ρεσβύτιδας ὡσαύτως ἐν καταστήματι ἱεροπρεπεῖς, μὴ διαβόλους μὴ οἴνῳ πολλῷ δεδουλωμένας, καλοδιδασκάλους, ἵνα σωφρονίζωσιν τὰς νέας φιλάνδρους εἶναι, φιλοτέκνους σώφρονας ἁγνὰς οἰκουργοὺς ἀγαθάς, ὑποτασσομένας τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν, ἵνα μὴ ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ βλασφημῆται. – Titus 2:3-5 (NA28)

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.Titus 2:3-5 (ESV)

The Greek word often translated as “reverent” is ἱεροπρεπεῖς. Despite ἱεροπρεπής being poorly attested in biblical literature, we can get a straightforward sense of its meaning from its usage in the Epistle of Titus, the apocryphal 4 Maccabees, and a few other ancient works: “befitting a sacred place/person/matter,” derived from two more common words, πρέπω (“to befit”) and ἱερός (“sacred”). When Paul says the elderly women are to be ἱεροπρεπεῖς, he is saying that they are to live their lives in a saintly way, befitting of servants of the most holy God.

We could develop a lot from just one word study, but we would do better by considering the context. The women weren’t to be “Sunday Christians.” Holiness was to be evident in their everyday lives. Paul contrasts the ideal, not with dressing casually for worship or missing a Bible study as many Christians might focus on today, but with wrongful behavior that can occur both inside and outside of the assembly.

The Cretan women were not to be διαβολους (e.g., “slanderers,” “malicious gossips”). Note that διάβολος is where we get words like “diabolical” from. It indicates corrupting and hurtful behavior of the sort that alienates others from us particularly and possibly even Christianity in general. The Christian woman shouldn’t be out to get others, whether members of the Church or unbelievers. The ideal woman knows to seek counsel and mediation when wrapped up in an ugly dispute to make sure that she doesn’t cross the line. I imagine that she understands forgiveness and the importance of letting things go rather than holding grudges forever (something I’m still trying to master myself). Instead she controls feelings such as envy and pride, which might otherwise cause her to want to hurt others.

Next we see that the ideal Cretan woman also was not someone οινω πολλω δεδουλωμενας (i.e., “having been enslaved to much wine”). Despite what many Christians wish this passage said, it doesn’t mean a holy woman can never consume alcohol. Rather she exercises control over it rather than letting it control her. She knows how much drink is appropriate for the time and place, and how much her body can handle. She doesn’t embarrass herself and others with drunken behavior. She doesn’t drunk dial or drunk text, revealing information that she’ll later wish she’d kept secret. And she doesn’t wake up the next morning wondering what she’s done the night before…and with whom!

While not all of us are alcoholics, habitual gossips, or even “diabolical,” we can still draw some useful instruction from Paul’s words. When we think about being reverent, we should keep in mind that it’s not about how “angelic” we look, sitting up straight and holding our Bibles. It’s about living a life that’s in harmony with our claims to being Christians.