Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review for Fun - Heaven is for Real

A Trickster Eric Novels review

This book came so highly recommended from my grandmother that she bought it for me (and maybe some other relatives; I'm not certain). Before I get into the review itself I want to make something clear: this book is about Colton Burpo and not Alex Malarkey and it was Alex that disavowed his story, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, in 2015. Colton continued to stand by his own in the announcement's aftermath. Now into the review itself.

Todd Burpo is a good author. I say this because he uses the First Person Narration well. It evokes that sense of familiarity and directness that I've heard 1st person is supposed to be for (I rarely encounter it as such). He's also done a good job making these events into a narrative instead of a recitation events; the prologue leads to a sense of impending doom that is fulfilled in the hospital visit and leads back to itself and flows into the meat of the story; the Heaven visit. Yet this has a downside to it.

For a book ostensibly about Colton Burpo, his father feels more like the main character. First of all, he's the one writing this book and he does so in First Person Narration. Second, about half of the book (60 or so pages) is about him and his struggles prior to Colton's visit to heaven. Context and background are good and all but that is excessive. Certainly the "holding Rosie the spider" thing could have been cut out. After the hospital visit there are still a few more chapters before Todd Burpo writes that he suspected that something supernatural might have happened.

It wasn't an immediate thing. Apparently Todd didn't tell anyone for some time afterward and might not have done so at all if not for a particular question asked by his father, and even then he only talked about it when asked. After the initial shock, Todd writes that he only asked open-ended questions so he didn't "pollute the source" so to speak with leading questions. In fact, he even tried trick questions to determine if Colton is basing his answers on true observation or earthly knowledge and Colton passed the test (if he realized it was a test at all).

The main thing for truth and validity that I see here is that Colton was four years old at the time. Four year olds don't know how to deceive. Sure, they can make up stories but not deceive. Certainly they wouldn't have the patience or self-discipline to keep it up for a prolonged period of time. A kid this age would get bored and move on. There's also the factor of knowledge; even a preacher's kid wouldn't know this stuff. At that age, religious education is basically "God loves you" and "be nice to people" level stuff.

I don't believe it deserves to be labeled as "afterlife tourism" because Colton doesn't talk about how wonderful Heaven is. For certain he wants to go back there but doesn't go on at length about what it looks like. It's more about the people he meets there.  Nor do I think that "un-biblical" or whatever is a fair label either. Every time, (and if not every time then most), that Colton talks about Heaven there is a pause where his dad-as-narrator matches it with something from the Bible. Another thing, I've heard that some readers discount some of the "knowledge proofs" like Colton's mother having a miscarriage before he was born by suggesting that someone else told him without the parent's knowing or the parents told him and forgot they did so. When does "your mother had a miscarriage before you were born and it was a girl" come up in conversation with a four year old?

Finally, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. Todd writes that he or someone else asked Colton about Satan numerous times and the kid would shut down every time; like it was too scary to talk about. He could talk about a war between angels and devils but Satan was too much. Speaking of that war, he gets serious. It's not like a kid talking about some awesome fight scene but some truly dreadful event.

To me, Todd sounds like he's telling the truth but he's not the one telling the story; his dad is so that is another level of discernment. Is his dad telling the truth about him? Maybe, maybe not; I don't have a means by which to judge him other than the book I have. I'm sure a lot of reasons or arguments could be made for not trusting him or the story since it can't be independently verified. For a skeptic that insists on rock-solid, physical, (etc.) evidence then I imagine that not even having such an experience themselves would convince them (Read: Agent Scully, although ironically she was more inclined to believe religious stuff than other "supernatural" stuff).

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Heaven is For Real" a B+


Click here for the next book review (not a review request): Killer Angels

Click here for the previous book review (a review request): Willakaville


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Movie Review: Doctor Strange

I saw Doctor Strange shortly after it came out. I will examine plot, character and polish before assigning a grade.

PLOT

How can anyone compared this movie to Iron Man 1? Here are the only similarities: Arrogant and brilliant rich guy gets injuried somehow, his worldview changes, he develops new abilities and decides to become a superhero. That's it. That is all. It's high level, basic, general stuff, and it's going to be shared across a lot of stories. The reason for the arrogance, brillance and wealth is different; the injury is different and has a different context. The way the worldview changes is different. The new abilities are different and the way that they are developed is even more so. Their enemies and how they deal with these enemies are different. Their natures as superheroes and why they make the decision and where they are at the end of their origin are all different. "How Dr.Strange is different from Ironman" could be its own blog post and it would likely be longer than this review here.
Anyone who has read my blog for a while knows my feelings on The Fruitless Quest for Originality.

 In sum, Marvel Studios is making super hero movies. Therefore, they will all share certain characteristics because they are in the same genre. That's a good thing. Superhero movies are what people go to see (yes, different people have different tastes and go for different things (like Loki) but all these things are under the same umbrella)).

Despite the previous paragraphs, there's plenty of original stuff here.
1. This the first MCU movie in the fantasy genre. Previously enteries have all been science fiction or sufficently advanced science at most. Now we have sorcerers and mystic threats like Dormmau.
2. Kaecilius is neither the "unstoppable monster" nor the "white guy in a suit" that I've heard critics complain about in regards to MCU villains. He's driven neither by greed nor ego nor fantastic racism but a sense of great personal loss. The villain revealed in the stinger is also quite different from anything else seen in the MCU so far.
3. Strange is a doctor, and unlike Bruce Banner, he IS that kind of doctor (i.e. medical) which means the Hippocratic Oath comes into effect. You will not find a climax resolution like this one anywhere else in the MCU.
 
The movie follows a steady and logical progression. I've heard some say that the manner of which Dr.Strange first heard about Kalma-Taj is an unbelievable coincidence and to that I say "miraculous recoveries are going to make waves and other patients looking for miracles are going to ask about them". There is no instant expert here' "study and practice; years of it" are what it takes to be a comptent socerer and even shortcuts like phographic memory and reading books in astral form while your body sleeps only takes a novice so far so fast. Strange is outclassed by every sorcerer out there and he doesn't win via luck or asspulls (whether or not you consider the Cloak of Levitation to be one of those is YMMV).
 
The ending is great. Stephen Strange is all set up to act as Doctor Strange in future films but it doesn't have any of that Mighty Whitey stuff that people were worried about (the Ancient One is a more complicated topic) because of spoiler (I can discuss this with a reader privately if they would like to do so).  The stinger shows him in his classic costume and jumping into another dimensional threat adventure.

CHARACTERS

Strange is great. Benedict Cumberbatch did a great job with both the arrogance that Strange starts with and the selflness that he develops. He has distinctive traits like his watch collection, insistence on the Hippocratic Oath and the bookwormness. The circumstances of his heroism are also well played. He is a different kind of hero than any other presently in the MCU; he's not an atoner (Iron Man), or a boy scout (Captain America), a proud warrior race guy (Thor), secret agent (Hawkeye) a dad trying to make ends meet (Ant-Man) etc. He's just a guy looking for a cure yet he still steps up to save the world.
 
Mordo is also great. I've heard he's a flat character in the comics but that is definitey not the case here. He's a mentor figure. He shows compassion but he has limits. He helps others and yet has some frightening inner demons. Even after he and Strange part ways in the end he is not a clear cut villain. There's plenty of room for an argument about him being an anti-villain. The plot of the movie is such that his What the Hell, Hero? towards Strange is both right and wrong at the same time.
 
Wong has a small role but it is still a meaningful one. He's this scary tough librarian and also a straight man. Yes, he's both of them.

The Ancient One is a classic mentor figure. It's very well done. She is a formidable sorcerer, a wise teacher and leader, she has gravitas but she is still human. She has plenty of her own flaws and mistakes.
 
Kaechilius is a multi-layered bad guy. He came to Kamar-Taj a broken man seeking power, much like Stephen Strange. He was welcome in, trained, and assisted in overcoming his tragedy. He did but in a way that made him a super villain instead of a super hero. However, he doesn't think of his plan as an Evil Plan and he has some basis for this. He wants everyone to be immortal so they don't experience the loss of family like he has. He makes quite a touching Motive Rant during a pause in his fight with Strange. There's a spoiler that grants him another layer.

POLISH

If there is one thing everyone agrees on it is the amazing, mind bending, visuals. Inception has nothing on Doctor Strange.
 
Trickster Eric Novels gives Doctor Strange (2016 MCU) an A+

For the next movie review, Assassin's Creed, click the title.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Answering Review Request: Willakaville

Mathew Heinecke asked me to read his book "Willakaville". It is a collection of short stories about the odd things that happen in the town of Willakaville. I will examine a few of these and then assign a grade.

As a whole these are morality tales. Short, plot driven narratives that illustrate the importance of performing one behavior and avoiding another, though some of them are more frivolous than others (the latter half of this sentence is not a pejorative; meant only to mean they are for entertainment rather than teaching). These are good morals and good lessons, in my opinion: "be polite", "be confident", "learning can be fun", etc.

The age range is very young on this. Personally, I think anyone ten years or older will roll their eyes at some of these. The age range might be higher or lower; I'm only guessing. The plots are very simple, their characters are similarly so, and require much in the way of Willing Suspension of Disbelief. When I was this age, I wanted something with more depth. Again, this is not meant as an insult but merely a generalized observation. The stories as individuals vary in terms of characters, plot, etc. with some better than others. That's why I'm taking a closer look at three of them.


"Transformation"
This one is great. The moral is sound and well delivered. In short, it is 'polite and helpful people are more popular than jerkass bullies' and has a 'stand up for yourself, also politely' moral interwoven with it.  It has a protagonist with depth. Instead of a bell curve, its plot is more of a roller coaster. To fully explain would be to summarize the whole thing which is another good point; it is a cohesive whole. Suffice to say that it is a piece that starts as a classic Fairy Tale type story and shifts into something more Magical Realism.

"Secret Passage"

I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, it gives factual historical information about how Philo of Byzantium is credited with the invention of the water wheel (or close enough). On the other hand, it gives out a random line about how women were banded in Ancient Greece. Gender equality was not that bad. Then again, it is the children who say this and they are not the expert that their teacher is, who values historical accuracy extremely highly.

The plot is nonsense but I think perhaps it was meant to be the "so ridiculous that it is funny" sort of nonsense. In that case, it just didn't appeal to me.

"The Mushroom Virus"

This is one of those that requires a tremendous amount of Willing Suspension of Disbelief. A kid puts a vitamin that his mom gives him into a science class petri dish and overnight this creates mushrooms that bring out hazmat suit guys and cause both the police AND the military to quarantine the city within the day. No one knows what the mushrooms do and yet everyone still panics. Then someone starts eating them and turns into a zombie. I feel like the whole purpose of it was the single line about how "garlic and oregano are natural anti-fungals". Maybe it was a moral about how "paying attention in class can come in handy".


When grading this I tried to keep in mind the audience that Mr.Heinecke was writing for. In some of the stories, I personally think he was talking down to kids because being silly and lighthearted gave way to being thread-bare and bland. In other stories, the plot was pretty deep while still being age appropriate or providing an engaging way to teach some lesson or trivia.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Willakaville" a C

Click here for the next book review (which was not a review request): Heaven is for Real

Click here for the previous review request: "Gold Dust"


Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).