Book Review: Generation

In 2001, scientists isolated the gene for regenerating damaged organs from the DNA of a South American flatworm. Within five years, it had been spliced into the chromosomes of a rhesus monkey, transported through the cell walls by a retro-virus denuded of its own genetic material.

In an effort to regrow impaired or elderly tissues, it’s only a matter of time before a scientist will one day modify the DNA of human beings by injecting the gene-carrying virus. Before you consent to treatment, however, you may want to ask yourself a question: what if there came a time when you wanted to die, but couldn’t?

Journalist Hendrix Harrison (known to his friends as “Aitch”) links bodies stolen from a renowned forensic-research lab to Mendel Pharmaceuticals, a highly influential drug company. With the help of entomologist Sarah Wallace, he digs deep into a nightmarish world of grisly clinical trials and viral treatment.

And somebody wants him stopped.

The premise behind William Knight’s Generation is fact-based and all too believable, and that’s partly why I enjoyed it as much as I did. It’s a sci-fi medical thriller with roots firmly planted in reality. It’s also billed as something of a horror novel, and depending on your definition of “horror,” that might be correct. There are no boogeymen or haunted houses, but it’s impossible to deny the grim (and often gruesome) nature of the story.

The most unsettling parts of the book are those dealing with the “treatment” victims. These people are essentially trapped in a state of limbo – their bodies are dead and rotting, but their minds are fully active. You might call them zombies, because “living dead” is pretty much what they are. Caught in a seemingly endless cycle of decay and regrowth, they’re unable to live or die in peace. The situation is both disturbing and incredibly sad, and the reader feels both emotions in equal measure.

The quality of Knight’s writing was what surprised me most. To be honest, I don’t know what I expected, but I sure didn’t expect much. Thankfully, Knight rose above and beyond all that, and I found his prose to be tense, articulate, and most enjoyable.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the development of the main characters. Far from being stale and uninteresting, each was well-rounded and written. Harrison, in particular, was a fun character to tag along with, and if he appears again in any of Knight’s future work, I’d be most gratified.

The story offers a bit of food for thought along with the thrills, and I’m always pleased when a book challenges me in that way. How often do we chase “progress” without regard to its ethical implications? What lines will we try to cross to get what we want? What are the consequences of attempting to “play God?”

I do, however, have one major complaint about Generation; and it has to do with the abrupt and completely gratuitous sex scene that appears near the story’s end. What the heck? Is it a decree of modern fiction-writing that the main characters must fall into bed together at some point? It’s as if Knight suddenly decided to try his hand at erotica. And speaking as someone who was actively engaged by the other aspects of the book, that’s just not cool. The scene is awkward and crass, and it sticks out like a sore thumb in an otherwise excellent story.

(I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for a review.
I was not required to write a positive review.)
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Flotsam & Jetsam (3/29)

Well, it’s my birthday today. And in honor of that, I’m going to scour the web for links and share a bunch of the ones which strike my fancy. Oh, wait… you say that’s what I always do with F&J? Hmm. Never mind, then – carry on, old chaps!

Free eBook – Sweet, right? If you’re on Facebook, you can get a free PDF copy of Pastor Jon Cardwell’s Christ and Him Crucified.

Does The Final Prophet or Snooki Have Your Ear? – Bryan Daniels writes, “We can be very religious, but if we are not utterly fascinated with the person of Jesus Christ our worship is base. Scripture says the Glory of God is found in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). If we would be acquainted with God’s glory we must find it in the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.”

The Rest of the Story – Why do the Brothers Grimm not tell us these things?

The Christian Duty of Boycotting – Joel McDurmon takes on Joe Carter’s recent article on The Gospel Coalition: “Christians have not only a right, therefore, but a duty to boycott in many cases. We have a duty to eliminate as much social evil as we can, and if organized economic abstinence is available, we should embrace it.”

Book Review: The Mark of a Man – Josh gives a superb review of Elizabeth Elliot’s book.

Rabbit Trails – Christina at Heavenly Springs shares a quote from Spurgeon on the “P” in T.U.L.I.P. “In seeking to drive home the point that the promise of God does not diminish diligence, Charles Spurgeon shares a personal illustration.”

Trayvon Martin and Loving the Truth – A great post from Keith Plummer.

“I don’t think anyone should write their autobiography until
after they’re dead.” – Samuel Goldwyn

On The Hunger Games: A Response to Kevin Swanson

I guess I never realized just how controversial The Hunger Games really is… until yesterday. After putting some finishing touches on my review and sending it out into the world wide web, a good friend referred me to Kevin Swanson’s take on the film. I was intrigued, to say the least.

I’m all for opposing opinions – and when someone disagrees with me, I appreciate it when they put forward a strong, well-reasoned argument. It causes me to examine my own position and see if it stands the test. But after listenening to Swanson’s argument, I wasn’t impressed with its strength or reason. It fell flat. Very flat.

If you can spare a few minutes of your time, I’d like to explain why I think it fell flat. This isn’t a detailed dressing-down – just an overview, covering the most prominent issues. And if you’re critical of what I’m trying to do here, be ye comforted: I listened to the “lecture” twice, just to make sure I was correctly taking in all he had to say.

1. INSINUATION
Throughout his talk, Swanson (and his daughter, Emily) seem to imply that if, in fact, you do appreciate/enjoy/recommend The Hunger Games, then something must be wrong with you. You’ve been “sucked in.” You’re a zombie, absorbing the mush of pop culture without a second thought. Wait… what?

This strikes me as a really poor way to argue: it’s sloppy and it’s arrogant. A species of the “if you don’t agree with me, you must be crazy” line of thought. I may not hold the same view as you on a given subject, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that I have no good reasons for my own position.

More than once, Swanson reminds us how terrible it is that “little boys and girls” across the country are watching The Hunger Games and drinking it all in.

They’re enjoying the popcorn, they’re enjoying the pop, and they’re not thinking that they’re turning into Nazis.

*cough* Um, apart from the obvious stretch in logic here (Nazis? seriously?), Swanson’s core assumption ignores the fact that there are big boys and girls across the country who are watching (and reading) The Hunger Games, analyzing its themes and ideas, and reaching conclusions based on their analyses.

I know. I’m one of those “big kids.”

2. SELF-DEFENSE IS NOT ALLOWED
I also take issue with Swanson’s flippant dismissal of self-defense as a morally justifiable action. It’s actually a bit unsettling, to tell the truth.

According to this logic, if I’m assaulted on the street, I’m not allowed to use lethal force to defend myself. The “right thing” for me to do is just stand there and take it. Similarly, if my wife is assaulted, she must refrain from using any life-threatening measures against her attacker. If that means she’s raped, tortured, and her brains are then shot out, so be it.

Needless to say, I find this idea supremely loony. I’m not interested in starting an in-depth debate on the subject, but I think the evidence (biblical or otherwise) in favor of self-defense is strong and plentiful. Far more so than Swanson acknowledges.

3. “MURDER” AND ILLOGIC
Swanson’s intolerant view of self-defense is what leads him to brand Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of The Hunger Games, a full-fledged murderer. Why? Because on more than one occasion, she defends her life (or the life of a loved one) by using lethal force against her assailant. That, says Mr. Swanson, is a brazen violation of the Sixth Commandment. I’m not so sure.

Swanson also dishes up one of the worst, most illogical comparisons I’ve encountered in a long time. Seriously. It’s a humdinger.

At one point in the story, Katniss is chased by four “career tributes” (i.e. trained killers). Unable to fight or outrun them, she clambers up a tree. The tributes decide to play along, and promptly pitch their camp around Katniss’ refuge. They know she’ll have to come down sooner or later, and when she does, they’ll be waiting.

Hours later, Katniss’ pursuers are fast asleep, confident that she can’t escape without waking them up. That’s when she catches sight of the giant wasp nest hanging a few branches above her. She cuts it down with her survival knife… and sends it plummeting into the midst of the tributes below. Three of them run like heck. The fourth is stung to death.

Swanson dubs this “one of the most horrific murders” he’s ever seen in a film. Not only that, but he then proceeds to draw a comparison between it and a Bible story.

Remember 1 Samuel 26? King Saul is after David (again), trying to kill him (again). In the midst of this madcap chase, Saul encamps on the hill of Hachilah and lies down to sleep. David’s men see this, and urge their leader to take advantage of it. “Kill him in his sleep,” they say. But David refrains from doing so.

Swanson tries to compare this to Katniss’ situation. According to him, what she should’ve done is… well, we’re not actually sure what she should’ve done. But killing wasn’t on the list. David had an opportunity to eliminate his enemy the same way Katniss did. He restrained himself. Katniss should’ve done the same.

The comparison and conclusion look good on the surface, but it falls apart under scrutiny. Just take a look at the actual passage: David refused to kill Saul, not because he had moral qualms about killing in self-defense, but because Saul was God’s anointed.

But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” And David said, “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed.” (1 Sam. 26:9-11)

I don’t think those tributes were anointed in any way, shape, or form.

4. EXAGGERATION
At some point in his talk, Swanson labels Katniss a “potty-mouth.” And it was at this point that I laughed. Out loud. Not in derision, but in complete disbelief. You’ve got to be kdding me, I thought. A potty-mouth? Really?

Consider: in one or two scenes, Katniss says “damn” and “hell” to express her frustration. She may also exclaim “God” once or twice (though I don’t remember her doing so). Now, I’m not excusing such talk, but come on – does that really make her a potty-mouth?

Think about the connotations. A potty-mouth generally refers to someone whose speech is characterized profanity and vulgar language. Richard Pryor probably qualifies, but I don’t see how Katniss Everdeen does.

If you’re going to be sloppy and exaggeratory in your choice of words and epithets, don’t be surprised when I get suspicious of anything else you might have to say on a given subject.

5. UNACKNOWLEDGED DIFFERENCES
Another thing Swanson repeatedly fails to do is distinguish between the descriptive and the prescriptive. If you’re not sure what I mean, think about this: George Orwell’s 1984 is descriptive. Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto is prescriptive. If I don’t acknowledge the difference between the two, I’ll wind up believing that Orwell was as big an advocate of communism as Marx was.

Crazy stuff, right? But that’s pretty much what Swanson does when examining The Hunger Games. Using the logic that he does, it’s no surprise he winds up dismissing it altogether.

6. LACK OF DISCERNMENT
As I wrap this up, there’s one more thing I’d like to address, and it has to do with the conversation between Mr. Swanson and his daughter, Emily, who participates in the recording.

Maybe “participate” is too strong a word.

Swanson is supposedly co-reviewing the film with his daughter. But over the course of their half-hour recording, she contributes very little to the conversation. In fact, I don’t think the review would’ve ended up much different if she had just kept quiet altogether. Her Dad did 95% of the talking. No offense to either of them, but it reminded me of a one-sided conversation… with a parrot in the background.

Emily tells us several times that the only reason she wasn’t “drawn in” was because her Dad came along. To which I say, If these problems with the film do exist, why can’t you see them? You’re able to watch the film but unable to discern its messages? Seems like a fishy combination to me.

I’ll quote an excerpt from one of my mother’s posts, as it concerns this very subject:

When our children are little, we shield them from much of the ugliness, the sin of this world. It’s our job not to let a 7 year old view content meant for a 17 year old. We ground them in the truth of the Word and the seeds of discernment grow ever so slowly. We can’t preview every exposure, every book, every movie, every conversation they overhear. The goal is to equip them to stand fast and stay faithful, long after we’re six feet under and unable to whisper cautions in their ears.

If we had an 8-year-old watching this film (bogus, I know, but humor me), then I would understand his inability to discern the themes and ideas. But Emily isn’t an 8-year-old. She seems to be over the age of 13, but the lack of discernment is as big an issue as ever. Without her Dad, it sounds like she wouldn’t know what to think of the movie.

This leads me to conclude that 1) she’s not been trained to think biblically for herself or 2) her Dad doesn’t trust her to think biblically for herself. Either way, there’s a problem. At that age, you should at least be making an effort to consider what you believe and why you believe it. She seems content to let her Dad do that for her.

7. CONCLUSION
Needless to say, I appreciate/enjoy/recommend The Hunger Games. Is it perfect? No. Does it tout a distinctly Christian worldview? No. There are problems with it, and I’m more than ready to acknowledge that. We should exercise discernment with it the way we should with all literature.

That said, I think the story is challenging, thought-provoking, and rich – well-worth the time of mature Christian readers. My advice: chew the meat, spit out the bones. There’s a lot more meat than bone there, anyway.

Any Way but Lightly

“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

“I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically-correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car and putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else. Wash the car, maybe.”

~ Stephen King, On Writing (pp. 106-107)

Soundtrack Review: The Informant!

The Informant!
(Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Composer: Marvin Hamlisch
Running Time: 36 min.
Released: 2009

 

 

 

Few scores in my music library offer as delightful a listening experience as Marvin Hamlisch’s The Informant! Stylish, witty, and cheerily playful, this retro score is a fun-filled throwback to the likes of Henry Mancini and John Barry. I guarantee that it will put a grin on your face.  If it doesn’t, there’s probably something seriously wrong with you. No joke. Go see a doctor as soon as possible. Better yet, see a coroner. You may not have a pulse.

The album opens with a deceptively somber melody… but trust me, that’s as quiet as things are going to get. The next track, Meet Mark, is a ridiculously catchy combo of flutes, organs, and big brass; while Car Meeting deftly parodies the Barry/Bond guitar theme. The Raid is just plain silly – and I mean that in a good way. Of all the insanely fun pieces of this soundtrack, it’s probably the most insane and the most fun. But just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get any stranger, you’re in for a surprise: Polygraph is a bona fide hoedown with fiddles, banjos, and harmonicas. Golf is a short piece, but it’s also big and brassy a la Mancini. The album closes with The Informant (Solo Piano), a jaunty, jazz-kissed piano number. The perfect way to end a perfect score.

Buy the MP3 album from iTunes or Amazon.com.