Friday, 8 January 2016

Book Review - Shaman's Crossing by Robin Hobb

I've just finished book one of the Soldier Son trilogy - coming a bit late to the party, I know - and I thought I'd share a few thoughts as I've read several negative reviews from people who have read other Hobb books before. I never have, so I came to this book without any expectations. And I really liked it! Here are some thoughts:

  • Admittedly I found this book a little slow in parts, but there were enough exciting scenes scattered throughout to well and truly hold my interest. I was reading it on the bus on the way home at one point, and when my stop came I didn't want to stop reading even long enough for the walk home, so I sat in a tree and finished the chapter. At the climax of the book I couldn't stop reading, it was so gripping.  
  • Many reviewers have pointed out that the setting of this book feels like 19th century America. As an Australian some of the scenery - the dusty arid plains and the small-leaved plants - feel quite familiar to me as well. It's definitely a refreshing setting when most magical fantasies are set in a medieval European type of world.
  • However, the class struggles felt very English to me. The systemetised school bullying reminded me of JK Rowling's  Harry Potter series, Roald Dahl's Boy, and even William Golding's Lord of the Flies. The class system Hobb set up for her world was fascinating and realistic - that the injustice of it infuriated me at times is a mark in favour of her fantastic writing.
  • The point of view character, Nevare, was well characterised and easy to root for. He has a drastically different worldview from me (apart from the monotheism, I suppose!), and many of his views are quite offensive - although entirely proper from the perspective of his society. He also makes some infuriatingly bad decisions. But for all that, you can see he has a great heart, and even in his bad decisions, he is mostly trying to follow his honour and do what is right. He allows himself to be wrong and doesn't hold any false illusions about himself, whether good or bad. He was very realistically drawn for someone in his world, with his background, and of his age.
  • Lovely long denouement which felt like a sigh of relief after the tension of the climax. I really enjoyed that all the loose ends were tied up and we got plenty of time to savour the victory of justice.
  • Some interesting themes around interaction between original inhabitants and invading forces - again, a struggle ingrained in the history of both the US and Australia. We see it mostly from the invaders perspective but we also catch glimpses of the other side, and hints that Nevare's opinion on things might slowly change. It was nicely ambiguous, as well - up until nearly the end, I didn't know whether Nevare's native friend, who part of his soul lives with in a spirit world, was meant to be someone I was rooting for or not. 
  • I felt a bit bashed over the head with some of the environmental and also feminist messages, but I think they're important so I can see why Hobb wanted to put them in there.
  • All in all, a fantastic book! Looking forward to the next one. 4/5 stars. :D

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Good News!

So I've just recently come to a deeper understanding of the gospel after reading Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd, and after reading Mark 1:1-14 at church this morning. 
We all had questions and comments about it, and the one that struck me was in verse 15, Jesus says "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near. Repent, and the believe in the good news." (btw, the bolding is mine in all the bible quotes in this post - I think that's the done thing to say it, even though it seems obvious).
Why did I bold those bits? Well, 1.) Note the present tense; and 2.) Jesus was bringing good news.

This might not strike you as odd, after all Christians are always banging on about the good news. But what do we usually say the good news is? Well, it's that Jesus died and rose again for our sins. But the thing that struck me today is that Jesus is already talking about the good news and saying that Kingdom is already here at the start of His ministry.

Think about that. He hadn't actually done any of that stuff yet. He hadn't even really started preaching. He hadn't done any miracles, let alone dying and rising.

So what's the good news?

Obviously, Jesus death and resurrection is a huge part of the good news. But there must be more! Otherwise Jesus couldn't have been preaching it yet. And I think a clue is in this passage from Luke:
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus later admitted (rather obliquely, it's true) to being the Messiah of God. The Emmanuel - the God-With-Us.
So perhaps THAT was His good news from the start. The Messiah is here - God is finally right here with you, and I'm instituting my reign among you. The Kingdom of God is at hand.

What does that mean? That's where the Isaiah passage comes in. The Kingdom of God means liberty for those who are oppressed, sight for the blind (or full inclusion into the community, which is really what it's about, I suspect), the favour of the Lord, the releif of the poor. Mary's song upon her conception Jesus fleshes this out more as well - the hungry receive food, the naked are clothed, and wicked despots are deposed.

In other words, the Kingdom of God is here now and it's AWESOME. This is a Kingdom totally opposite to the world's power structures. It's a kingdom of peace, justice, inclusion, love and righteousness.

If this really is the good news, then the death and resurrection of Jesus is kind of the logical extension. Since Jesus, rather than joining with the world's power structures, opposed them, His death is not a huge surprise. In His death, he did two remarkable things (most likely more, but these are what I'm thinking about today):
1.) He defied the world's power structures, hierarchies and social constructs that lead to suffering (i.e. sin); and
2.) He joined with us fully in our humanity by experiencing the fullness of a human life.

When He rose again, He was vindicated as the Messiah, and He also:
1.) Defeated the world's structures and overcame them with his more powerful way of self-sacrifical love; and
2.) Brought us into His divinity so that we might share in the mutually loving relationship between the members of the Godhead (indwelling).

And then He left the church on earth to be His body. That means that God's Kingdom is still here because it's working through His church, via the Holy Spirit. We are God's temple (we also talked about how the temple in Revelation is actually the church, and it's a revelation about the spiritual reality of what is happening right now on earth). Since God's Kingdom is here now, when we preach the good news, we are telling people that God's justice, righteousness, peace, inclusion is available right now. Further more, this is now the new reality.

Terrible structures that keep minority groups down are now vestiges of a past that must crumble. I heard on the radio that 40 percent of disabled people in Australia live in poverty. The systems that cause this and other systemic oppression (like racism or sexism) are not a part of God's Kingdom. Since God's Kingdom is here now, they cannot last forever. The King has come and He will put them to rest.

Dictatorships, murder, war and systemic oppression are an outdated mode of living and governing. God's Kingdom is here now. The King has come, and His way will prevail.

Good News, everyone!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Art Journalling

I've recently gotten into art journalling, and I've found it to be really fun, relaxing and cathartic. I've been using these prompts from Daisy Yellow to get me started. I've also done a few of her ideas for improving line work, which I can't find the link for right now but it's on that site somewhere. There are heaps of other sites that give prompts and ideas as well.

My thought is that I might post some of the art journal pages up. This is not because I think they're good, but to show that you can have a tonne of fun being creative even when you are not good at art! It is my hope that I will gradually improve but I'm not being too worried about it, I just want to have fun and let my creativity out.

Up to now I've considered myself a writer - which I still do - but I'm really enjoying keeping a journal that is not JUST words, but all mediums of creativity. There's so much more scope to express myself, or just mess around and doodle when I'm feeling too brain dead to think of coherent words. I've also just got some cheap materials to start off with - I think I will gradually start to invest in better art stuff (mainly I just want the excuse to buy them :D ) but you can use any and every material that you have in your house. No need to go out and spend a fortune.

So without further ado, here is my response to prompt number 9: games

Both of these are inspired by chess and chrononauts (a game I recommend highly). I did two because I didn't like the way the swirl worked out on the top one (the first one I did). You can see on the second one I didn't try for such an intense swirl, which made it so the checkboard pattern was preserved through the warp. However in the end I like the first one better because of the colours. I think I will keep trying to get a chessboard swirl that looks realistic and good... it might take a long time though!

In conclusion, try art journalling - it's awesome! And as you can see, you don't have to have it all together as an artist to have fun with it.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Shoe-related anxiety syndrome

This is partly a review of my Gipsy Dharma boots, which arrived yesterday, and partly an exposition of what I have just realised is a major issue of mine relating to buying new shoes. You see, most other clothes I'm good with - I buy nice clothes and feel good in them without feeling like I'm doing something wrong by buying them (unless they might have been made in a sweatshop, in which case my ethical discomfort is related not to the clothes themselves, but the conditions which my money is helping to create, and is therefore justified). But with shoes, I have this weird thing where if I buy a pair of shoes that I really love, but are not actually useful in any way, I feel really guilty - even if there's nothing to feel guilty about. I've decided to call it Shoe-Related Anxiety Syndrome, or SRAS.

I'm pretty sure I can track it down to this story by Hans Christian Anderson. I'm not sure quite what he was trying to teach little girls when he penned this one, but to my young and impressionable mind it meant one thing: if you like shoes (especially red ones) you must be a pretty bad person, and you'll probably get your feet chopped off. In fact, I do have a pair of red high heels, with bows on them, which I got from the op shop - and every time I wear them, this story comes to my mind especially strongly.

Anyhow, I had been coveting these amazing specimens ever since a friend of mine tipped me off to the Gipsy Dharma label.
Now, these boots have a lot of things going for them: for a start, they aren't red; they are also handmade from sustainably sourced leather; and the woman who started the company is the same woman who makes the shoes (as far as I am aware) - so no sweatshop! But, unfortunately, they are fairly expensive (because of the fact that they're hand made), and so not only my shoe-guilt but my innate stinginess stopped me from buying them straight away.

After my husband spent a fairly large amount of money on squash racquets and shoes, I finally decided, after much angst, that I was justified in buying them. To make room for them in my wardrobe (and to stave off the feeling of being horribly vain), I pared down my shoe collection by giving most of my boots and the heels I no longer wear to goodwill. Yesterday the precious boots arrived, prompting first a gleeful dance followed by an Ecclesiastes-style bout of existential guilt:

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
    I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
    and this was the reward for all my toil.               Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
    and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
    nothing was gained under the sun.     (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11)
 However, I must report that these boots are definitely worth the money. They are incredibly comfortable as well as being beautiful. The leather is sheer, flexible, and warm-but-not-too-warm. They really do feel like a second skin - and I anticipate that this feeling will only grow as the leather wears in and moulds more to my leg. My SRAS will be somewhat mitigated by the fact that they are fairly practical shoes - sure, you can't go bush walking in them, but they are comfortable and pretty sturdy, so they can be used as regular everyday footwear.

One warning: if you purchase a pair which are, like mine, knee-high or taller, prepare to spend at least half a day figuring out the laces, which must be loosened all the way down and then re-tightened so that they fit your leg perfectly. My husband did most of the work on mine, and although I can now wear them, we still want to "fine-tune" the laces so that they are just right and as beautiful as they can be. I imagine the ankle boots are probably a bit easier to handle.

I will definitely be wearing these puppies A LOT (in fact, I'm wearing them right now, with my pajamas).

Now I just have to shake the subconscious fear that I won't be able to take them off again...

Oh and PS did I mention she does giveaways?