Invasion of Wales by the Holy Spirit through Evan Roberts by James A. Stewart

I recently read The Awakening of Wales by Jessie Penn-Lewis who was an eyewitness of the Welsh Revival of 1904 and 1905. After talking to some friends about that account, they loaned me James Stewart’s attempt to document the times from a perspective of a couple of decades. For the most part, Stewart succeeds in capturing the essence of God’s work in Wales by compiling many firsthand anecdotes and including more personal information about Evan Roberts than he allowed in his lifetime. While not as fresh as Penn-Lewis’ recounting, this short book still has the life of the revival on it.

The book concentrates on the preparation that had been done in the country through many prayer groups in the years leading up to the outpouring. There were numerous groups of three or four people whose hearts burned for a moving of God among the people. When it finally came, the society was transformed. Sports and entertainment lost their appeal. Businessmen and tradesmen alike found their way to the packed meetings. The young and the old would remain at worship until well past midnight. Stewart documents not only how rapidly the country transformed but how peacefully it did as well. All things were in order.

A great benefit to this book is the transcription of one of Evan Roberts’ actual sermons. This gives the reader a vivid picture of what was being taught more than a hundred years ago in Wales. While not to be emulated without the life that the Spirit had given the man, the salient points of the life of the cross and complete reliance upon God are lessons for all ages. The prayer to Jesus was always being made – “Bend the church. Save the world!”

5.5 stars out of 10

Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Deibler Rose

Every once in a while you read a book that slaps your self-pity on the nose – and this is a good thing. This true story about a young missionary woman in New Guinea during World War II will definitely give the reader a check on their pride. Darlene Deibler shares with openness and grace the struggles of moving to New Guinea to reveal the gospel to primitive peoples and then serving four years in a Japanese internment camp. The story is equally heartbreaking and beautiful as she and the women of the camp overcome with a patience and steadfastness rarely observed today.

Evidence Not Seen reads as a primer for those who feel called to missionary work – at least on this point: God’s plan for your life may not be yours but His is ultimately better. Mrs. Deibler relates how she married the much older missionary C. Russell Deibler to be swept to the Dutch East Indies where they were convinced they would set up a strong mission base in remote New Guinea. However, after working tirelessly for a few years to make this a reality, the Japanese army invaded the islands and forced the Deiblers into separate internment camps. Here Darlene found her new mission was to preserve a positive attitude among fellow prisoners and to share and cultivate faith in God in the camp. She suffered trials constantly: disease, forced labor, deaths of loved ones, torture, and deprivement. Through all this, she rested heavy on her relationship with Jesus. His promise to her to “never leave her or forsake her” was the iron for her soul. Though she could never see the endgame for God’s plan for her, she willingly followed his lead and found great reward.

Ultimately this book speaks to power of simple daily faith. To be a hero for this day, you do not have to be mighty – just faithful. The little kindnesses given have a cumulative effect. The daily study of the scripture ground the soul. The prayers whispered in the corner establish a connection to Christ that can be unshakeable. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

7 stars out of 10

photo: (Japanese POW camp – not Mrs. Deibler’s camp)

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson. Science Fiction. Palindromes. I’m in!

This was my thought pattern for about a month before this book came out. When it finally came I out, I pretty much devoured it as fast as I could. I’ve been a fan of Stephenson’s work since a friend gave me a copy of Snow Crash about 15 years ago. His works have gone up and down in story quality even if his writing has always been fairly top notch. Seveneves falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. If you like speculative fiction, you should love this book. If however, you’re looking for a plot that wows with its stunning climax drawing all the threads of the book together, keep looking. In fact, read Stephenson’s Anathem.

The main premise of Seveneves begins when the moon explodes for some uncertain reason. Why the moon has exploded doesn’t really matter that much when the protagonists realize that the moon fragments are going to burn up the Earth’s atmosphere in two years’ time. What matters is that most of the population of the Earth is going to die, and that to survive, a lot of people who are prepared to live for 5000 years off-planet need to get into space. Simple enough, right?

The first two-thirds of this book read like Apollo 13 for the whole human race. It’s fast paced, full of lots of really cool science and common sense. It gets the reader thinking about how they are going to survive massive calamities. Should I even take a toothbrush? Will my bad breath kill someone? Maybe the toothbrush can be a multi-purpose tool? Nah, just use your finger. But really, the author develops so many realistic scenarios that one believes that this exodus into space could really be accomplished. (Editor’s note: It can’t. We would all be toast.) The characters that are put in charge of this Herculean feat are alive and vivid – full of all the nuances you would expect out of them. The drama and suspense suck you in to turning page after page. Even when long explanations of things like “Lagrangian points” and “orbital mechanics” go on for way too long, it builds the intensity of what the extraterrestrial refugees have to go through. It becomes, literally, high drama. I found it very enjoyable.

The last third of the book is a denouement that wants to be its own story. It didn’t succeed. Without giving away any spoilers, it would be hard to divulge much, but the author gets involved in true speculation on a possible future. He develops a great world full of wonderful things, yet the storyline put forth here falls flat. It is if the plot is just a vehicle for world-building ideas. This reads more like a travelogue plus – “just a little bit of character interaction as I tour you around what I have thought up.” This is very unfortunate because up to this point the story had been quick and gripping. It becomes almost a quest of loyalty to the characters to finish the book. I would have felt better if the first part was released without the second part, and a follow up novel that was more thought out was written later.

Oh well, maybe Neal is trying to get some acclaim as a futurist like he did post-Snow Crash. He became renowned for his term Avatar and of his vision of an web-linked society presaging the Internet connected present. Maybe Seveneves will get more people to invest in asteroid mining. (I know I am.) However, my finishing thought was that a lot of really good conceptional work was done for a story that ended a little flat. It was solid writing throughout, it just needed a little more payoff to be top notch. A must read if you’re a Stephenson fan; otherwise, it might not check all your boxes.

5 stars out of 10.

photo credit: via photopin (license)

Pied Piper by Nevil Shute

If you’re not reading a Nevil Shute book from time to time, you’re missing out on one of the great joys of reading pleasure. Shute’s ability to fashion a story out of the lives of ordinary people has few modern rivals. However, it’s his knack for seeing the best in all people that makes his books completely enjoyable. Pied Piper takes place in France at the outbreak of World War II – a time when it would be easy to have Nazi villains abound. But, Shute’s books are always filled with grace. Even when his main characters run into “enemies,” he chooses to humanize rather than caricaturize them. (In this context, humanize does not mean to degrade to the lowest passions of human nature but rather to reveal the commonality of thought and love that every person feels.) His tales are solid and dependable. You can count on them.

Pied Piper follows the story of John Howard, an elderly British widower, who decides to take a fishing trip to the mountains of France in the summer of 1939. Though Germany is threatening war with all of Europe, the invasion of France is too unimaginable. Yet when it comes, Mr. Howard must return to England. Before he does, he’s persuaded to escort two children back with him. A long day’s trip with two children under eight seems daunting to the septuagenarian, but when the Nazi occupation comes faster than expected, the trip becomes much more arduous. Along the way, the group picks up more and more children until it becomes a roving orphanage seeking the safety of Allied ground.

In the typical treatment one would expect for this storyline, it would become a depressing, heart-wrenching melodrama. Shute, however, presents a story filled with humor, patience, and love. There are efforts of brave endurance and scenes of pathos, but through the lens of the protagonist, Mr. Howard, it is shown how individuals can overcome war with good character. Polemic made irenic. Never preachy or judgmental, the tale’s even course has comedy and suspense with a large dose of good feeling. This will not go down as Nevil Shute’s strongest piece, but like all his books, worth the read.

6 stars out of 10

photo: Associated Press

Anthony Vicino – Parallel Interview

Not too long ago I finished the novella Parallel by Anthony Vicino – a fun jolt of SF electricity that should be on everyone’s Saturday afternoon reading list. Being a recent convert to his blog One Lazy Robot, I thought I would contact him to see if he wanted to chat about Parallel, writing, and whatever else. He seemed polite enough once I offered to pitch only softball questions at him. Do you think this whole ISIS war is really a distraction by the Illuminati to keep us from realizing that they’ve gotten Hillary Clinton into office?

Oh yeah, typically I have enough ego to think that if I was walking down the street with the average SF author that most people would think that I was the cool one. I’m pretty sure that’s not the case with Anthony. See that pic up there of that guy climbing upside down on that sweet rock arch? Yep, that’s Anthony showing his awesome science fiction writing skills – and he’s cooler than you. So now you should read his interview…

Anthony's writing set up
Anthony’s writing set up & proof he’s from another time

Let’s start with the title Parallel – I like it for its simplicity, yet it seems to have some depth. Did you go through other title choices?

Like Superman, I only have one weakness: naming things. And bullets. But naming things tends to give me more headaches on a day-to-day basis than bullets, so I put it higher on the Things I Really Dislike Having To Deal With list.

With that disclaimer, I’m really glad you approve of Parallel. Typically I’ll fumble through fifty thousand iterations of a title before I settle on the one that feels right—and then about two weeks later somebody will point out a fundamental flaw with whatever name I had my heart set on and then I’ll have to go with whatever was second on the list. Parallel was no exception. Its working title was Masters of the Universe which I thought was an interesting juxtaposition between Hari and Gerald (who think they’re the masters of their own universe) and Ryol and Falia (who are literally running the show). Thankfully somebody pointed out that Masters of the Universe might confuse readers into thinking this was He-Man fan-fic. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but readers would probably leave in a huff of disappointment at the lack of Grayskull references.

One of the reasons I’m so bad at naming things is because I have this obsession with titles that work double duty. In the case of Parallel you get the really obvious connection to parallel universes, but less obvious would be the symmetry in the main characters story arcs.

Hari and Gerald give a fun start to the story. Their friendship helps build the camaraderie of the story. Do you see yourself as one of these guys? Maybe not where they end up, but like someone plugging away at their big break, and hoping not to get killed in the process?

I live in terror of dying on account of my own stupidity. In that way I’ve got a whole lot of Gerald floating around in me. Then again, I’m excitable and prone to poor decision making so I got a little Hari, too. They’re very relatable and that’s part of their appeal. We all know somebody with more brains than common-sense (Hari), and we all know a curmudgeon with a heart-of-gold (Gerald). This makes the story feel familiar and comfortable even though things start getting weird right quick.

Ryol and Falia are a nice “parallel” to these two. Whereas friendship and science seem to bond the guys, the women are bound by family and duty. How was it writing these strong female leads? 

It’s been my experience that women tend to have their shit together more-so than men. That’s pulled directly from a lifetime’s worth of careful analysis, by the way (I’ve got enough sisters to make a really bad-ass human pyramid).

Writing strong female leads is a challenge for me. It requires a lot of conscious thought because I want my lady characters to be informed by their gender, not defined by it. I think sci-fi as a genre has struggled with this in the past, but I think there’s been a lot of positive progress made in recent years as writers become more aware of how nuanced gender relations truly are.

One of the things I love about fiction is getting inside a characters head and experiencing dangerous/novel situations from the relative safety of my sweatpants and hammock. Frankly I get tired of always being inside the head of middle-class white dudes. I’ll take the compelling female lead any time.

I really enjoyed the framework of the parallel dimensions. This sci-fi conceit has been used plenty of times by many different authors and screenwriters, but you used it in a very accessible way. Did you have any inspiration for this? 

If I’d written Parallel forty years ago it would’ve been a solid twenty pages longer filled with dense info-dumping. Readers back then simply didn’t have the frame of reference for it. I’m lucky that in the past twenty years there have been a lot of great television shows (Sliders and Fringe) playing with this very idea. As a story device it’s been flushed out enough in popular culture that you only have to lay the barest groundwork and people can jump right in and hit the ground running.

The inspiration for Parallel came from reading a bunch of Michio Kaku (one of the leading theoretical physicists dealing with Super-String Theory) and tossing around the idea of free-will versus determinism, and imagining a world where those two concepts were not mutually exclusive.

Speaking of well used tropes which was written completely naturally, the Aurora/computer integration. Felt like this was one of the strongest parts of the story background. Your concept of the data integration to the mind just seemed obvious, but I’ve never quite seen it presented this way before. To me it felt like the natural step to where the future of technology is headed. Is that how you see it? Are future humans going to have more interconnection with computers? What’s the basic breakdown of your thought percentages? (i.e.. 5% to breathing, 40% to getting food, 50% wondering if the Marvel universe is actually good or just better than most low brow entertainment the public is fed, etc.)

Oh man, my thought percentages would be so peculiar. I have pretty severe ADHD so I don’t multi-task very well. I work best when I focus one hundred percent on a single task until it’s finished and then move onto the next thing.

The thing I find fascinating about computer integration is that progress in this area is all about improving efficiency. We already interact with our computing systems (smart phones and computers), but we lose so much potential productivity simply as a consequence of how we’re interacting. The logical step is to remove the barrier between computer and brain, creating a symbiotic relationship between the two.

I deal with this concept a lot in my book Time Heist, because the possibilities are limitless. Researchers have already shown such amazing progress in the field of neuroprosthetics (cochlear implants, motor neuroprosthetics that restore movement to individuals with motor disabilities, visual implants) that it’s hard imagining a future where this technology is not as common place as current smart-phones.

P.S. Let me know when you figure out whether or not Marvel is actually any good. This question keeps me up at night. We might need Aurora on this one.

I’m trying to stay away from spoilers because people should just take the time to read this story. However, I want to know more – more about pretty much everything. I thought the Alliance was a great idea for a SF world. I want to know more about Falia and her fate. I want backstories on Hari and Gerald. I especially want to know more about the Graesians and their integration in and eventually out of the group of dimensional governments. Obviously, the Lenoreans have some explaining to do so we can understand the true Parallel. What the heck is Eitr? Really I just want to know, are we ever going to get to see more from this world? It’s a fast paced novella that has great ideas and quick action. Can we get a more fleshed out novel of this at some point?

I’ll give you this little Easter Egg: I was not the one to coin the word Eitr. On this one, Wikipedia is your friend.

I’ve been surprised by the number of requests for a fully fleshed out book in the Parallel world. I have a story arc simmering in the back of my skull and would love to sit down right this minute and write it up, but unfortunately there are a number of other projects I’ve got to finish before I can revisit that universe. My goal is to write the follow up story by Fall 2016 though, so for those of you planning ahead, put that on the calendar.

Researching action scenes for upcoming stories
Researching action scenes for upcoming stories

Who are you, and what led you to writing some cool science fiction?

Well, I studied Psychology, Religion, and English in college. Then I graduated and realized I didn’t want to do any of that. So I ran off to travel and rock climb. For the last seven years or so that’s what I’ve been doing; working in the rock climbing community and traveling. That was great, but about four years ago it dawned on me that I couldn’t sustain that lifestyle into old age.

I wrote a bunch as a kid, but I never took it very seriously. My dad used to pay me $.10 a word for my short stories on the off-chance I might someday strike it big as a writer. I doubt those stories will ever be worth more than the paper they’re written on, but there’s something valuable in having someone believe in you before even you do.

So about four years ago when I started rethinking my lifestyle choices, I decided to give this writing thing a chance. As for genre, well I’m just a guy that loves spaceships, aliens, and lasers. Science Fiction simply feels like home.

I should be receiving my hard copy of Time Heist shortly. It must be nice having a book to give to people. How do you compare electronic books to traditionally printed books? Like a technological transition of becoming more interconnected with technology, do you think we’re close to where people are falling in love with reading primarily through e-books, or is the full tactile feel of physical books going to be the dominant way people come to love great stories for a while to come?

Excellent, I hope you enjoy Time Heist. If not, well, then you just keep your words in your mouth. Nobody wants to hear about it!

No, I’m just kidding.

Having an actual print book is validating in a lot of ways. Writers spend a lot of time working in solitude, and I think after awhile everybody simply assumes we’re secretly watching cat videos on youtube for hours on end (which we are, but shhh… don’t confirm that rumor). Having an e-book to point to is cool, but it’s still this ephemeral thing floating around the digital aether. People don’t grasp the magnitude of the accomplishment.

But an actual print book? Well, jeepers, that can be used to bludgeon a man. Now we’re talking.

E-books are only going to gain in popularity. The market’s booming growth of a few years back has plateaued, but it’ll continue slowly growing year after year for the foreseeable future. Kindergartners today are being given Ipads, it’s only a matter of time until kids forget what a book looks like altogether.

Does that mean print books will disappear? Nah, I don’t think so. Not anytime soon, at least. I mean hell, vinyl records are making a resurgence and that’s way more niche than books. My guess is that hardcovers will become pricier, printed runs more limited, and physical books on the whole will become akin to collectors items.

Tell me about your upcoming projects. I see you’re working on the Time Heist trilogy. Is this consuming most of your days?

The rest of the Time Heist series has sort of grown into this hydra’esque monster. The Firstborn Saga was originally supposed to be a triptych of trilogies (which would be nine books spread across three trilogies), but I started doing this stupid thing where I would write side-story novellas between each book (which added another 6 books total to the whole Saga). It’s been fun, but it’s tossed a steaming heap of work onto my plate.

Infinity Lost and Mind Breach (books 1.5 and 2 of the Firstborn Saga) are back from my alpha reader and waiting for me to dig into their fourth drafts. While those were away I busied myself by writing a fantasy/alien world novella called Purgatory, and a collection of short stories, a novelette, and a novella dealing with a peculiar assortment of topics ranging from robotic babies to sentient homes and a cryogenically frozen assassin.

All those stories are slated for release this Fall, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in front of the computer recently (none of which is wasted on cat videos, I promise.)

Do you have a “day job”? Or is your writing enough to support you?

I wash windows on occasion (a good excuse to get out of the house and actually interact with other human beings), but otherwise it’s just writing at the moment.

How much has One Lazy Robot helped get your name out there? That’s how I found you. Actually you found me. You “liked” one of my reviews on Childhood’s End, I clicked over to 1LR and thought, “I’m in.” Do you feel like it’s become the primary way to get your stuff out there?

Ah, Arthur C. Clarke, uniting strangers from across the digital void!

Blogging is a great way of getting yourself out there and building a fan-base, especially as a new author trying to gain traction. One Lazy Robot was interesting because it sort of just took off. People seem to like the particular brand of the crack I’m peddlin’ over there, so that’s good, but it’s funny because a lot of my followers don’t even realize I write fiction. Whoops. I’m failing on the self-promotion side of things, I guess. But that’s okay, the internet’s a big place with a lot of people shouting into their cyber-megaphones, begging for you to buy this or that. I don’t want to be that. I’d rather build relationships and put out interesting material. So far it’s been working.

Charting world domination strategies
Charting world domination strategies

Is science fiction an easier genre to write in or is it easier to get good stories out of it because there is less constraints?
Actually, I kind of think science fiction is harder. Here’s why:

Writing regular fiction requires no world building. Throw your story in Anytown, USA and there ya go. Science fiction on the other hand requires you to think long and hard about the world your creating. Sure, it can still be Anytown, USA, but the point of science fiction, besides being entertaining, (in my opinion) is to think about the interplay between society and technology.

What will the world of tomorrow look like once we all have brainchips connecting us to big computers?

What happens to the economy on Earth when we set off to colonize other worlds?

These are the questions science fiction should be trying to tackle. If you’re just throwing lasers and aliens in the story for the cool explosions, well, then you’re the literary equivalent of Michael Bay. That’s not an insult, but it’s also not really a compliment.

Sidenote: I am totally guilty of gratuitous action, lasers, and aliens in pretty much all my stories. Do as I say, not as I do.

With that said, I think science fiction is way more fun to write than any other genre. And in the end, if you’re not having fun, why bother?

Do you want to be a science fiction writer or just an author?

I’ll write in any genre, but I seem to be carving a niche for myself in sci-fi. I have a Young Adult Urban Fantasy series tentatively named Deathtectives (this name will almost certainly be changed before release day) coming out next Spring, and I’m really excited to test the waters in that genre.

What’s the SF book, movie, and TV series people should read and watch?

Hannibal for TV series.

Inception for movies.

Altered Carbon – Richard K. Morgan

Any authors that you think readers should discover?

Right now I’m really digging on Lauren Beukes. She’s not new to the genre, but damn I love her voice/style.

Are you worried about the robot uprising? If so, what’s your odds on guess for how long we have?

A friend of mine works on a DARPA funded machine learning project and she assures me we are a long ways away from the robot uprising. Then again, that’s precisely what I would expect the robot’s right-hand woman to say so I’m gonna say: imminent.

Are we better off trying to go through a dimensional rift or discover FTL travel?

Both: Go through a dimensional rift to a world where they’ve already discovered FTL travel.

Please check out more of Anthony Vicino’s work:

One Lazy Robot blog

Parallel  – novella available on Amazon Kindle Store

Time Heist – book 1 of the Firstborn Saga available (in print!) or in the Amazon Kindle Store

All photos courtesy of Anthony Vicino