Sunday, March 30, 2014

Like Insects--Agents of Shield ramblings

Agents of Shield may be the little brother of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that's not a bad thing. Complaints about the lack of canonical superheroes miss the point.  Yes, we got to see New York under attack in The Avengers,  we saw SHIELD descend on the New Mexican desert when Thor's hammer fell, but we haven't seen how that knowledge affected ordinary people. How can you sleep at night when you know that aliens could tear open the sky and send down armored beast? If a man can wake from a seventy-year sleep and another swell into a giant green monster, what secrets might other people be hiding? Even the main characters further ground the show. Instead of a raging green monster or a billionaire genius, the main characters are
  • A one-man combat ops team
  • Awkward scientist duo with British accents (yes, the accents are significant. British accents immediately add classiness)
  • An ace pilot with superior unarmed combat skills
  • A civilian hacker with mysterious origins
  • Former right-hand man of Nick Fury
Three pairs of themes keep reappearing throughout the show:  information/secrecy,  trust/loyalty, and government/the little guy. Skye's position as a hacker brings her into conflict with SHIELD on all three fronts.
 The truth is in the wind. It’s everywhere. You cannot stop the rising tide. You will not find us. You will never see our faces but rest assures-we will rise against those who shield us from the truth.
At first, this rhetoric sounds familiar. It is the language of freedom fighters and activists, of the Arab Spring and Soviet-era protesters, of anyone who resists a corrupt government. But Skye's interactions with Mike Peterson  provide another perspective on the little guy fighting the government.
You said if we worked hard, if we did right, we'd have a place. You said it was enough to be a man but there's better then man! There's gods... and the rest of us? What are we? They're giants... we're what they step on.
The devastation of New York showed exactly what happens when gods bring their war to earth.  As Loki said, an ant has no quarrel with a boot, but recognizing their utter helplessness is bound to unsettle the ants And Coulson manages to calm Mike down with an affirmation of "little guys."
 I've seen giants, up close, and that privilege cost me, nearly everything. But the good ones, the real deal? They're not heroes because of what they have that we don't, it's what they do with it.
It's the same theme as Doctor Who-- "nine hundred years of time and space and I've never met anybody who wasn't important."  The Doctor showcases this by his choice of companions; Coulson's team was chosen on similar grounds.  Just as the Doctor and his companions develop trust and loyalty towards each other (with a few exceptions),  the Bus grows throughout the season and develops into a family. Not that this comes easy.

May doesn't want to be there, Ward is used to following procedures, and Skye's loyalty is suspect.  The latter plays a key role in "Girl in the Flower Dress," where she is finally forced to chose sides, but is still in play in "The Hub." Ironically, in the same episode, Skye discovers an irregularity that puts Ward and Fitz at risk.

Coulson repeatedly tells Skye to "trust the system," but his faith in SHIELD bureaucracy is shaken.  Not only did Agent Hand send his team out without an exit strategy, but this was kept a secret. Some agents are sent out without extraction plans--Romanov and Banner--but they know this. Instead, Coulson and the team fly to the rescue in a big damn heroes moment, reminding me of this quote from Firefly:
Simon: You don't even like me. Why'd you come back?
Mal: You're on my crew. Why are we still talking about this?
The team bond is cemented in "The Bridge," and stated outright in the best moment of "TAHITI." After being told Skye's family should have a chance to say goodbye, Coulson says "We're her family." I never doubted he'd do anything necessary to save her, just as the whole team came to his rescue only a few episodes before.

But Coulson's loyalty to his team conflicts with his duty to SHIELD and the secrets they keep. From the first episode, viewers know that Tahiti is a lie, but the double revelation of Coulson's trauma and the serum's origins shake faith in SHIELD. Even Fury's friendship with Coulson is questioned--what sort of man would have a friend undergo half-a-dozen surgeries, have him injected with a serum of questionable origins, and who knows what else, over the objections of the patient and surgeons.  Was this choice motivated by friendship, or did Fury have other objectives in mind?

With seven episodes still to go, we'll have to wait to see how it plays out. My hopes are high for renewal, and the writers have admitted mapping the show out through season three. This show isn't just about aliens or shipping or tiding fans over between movies. It has thematic and character depth with intriguing plots, and I am looking forward to more.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Shadow Hand

(spoilers for Moonblood)

Foxbrush's life is falling apart. Sure, he's prince of Southlands, engaged to the Lady Daylily, but years of the Dragon's poison have withered the land. Furthermore, Daylily only agreed to marry him as long as they never loved each other. When she learns otherwise, Daylily flees on her wedding day and disappears into the Wildlands. Foxbrush follows her and finds himself in a strange jungle that seems vaguely familiar. What are these beasts demanding tribute? Why the repeated references to the King of Here and There? And why are elder figs available in abundance, when he's only know them to be dry and tasteless?
Before reading this book, one should read Veiled Rose and Moonblood for context, while Dragonwitch provides background for other characters.
While I love all the Tales of Goldstone Wood books, this book really explores the fluid nature of time between realms, as well as the nature of prophecy. I completely recommend it.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Take This Cup by Brock and Bodie Thoene

Nehemiah has grown up in the mountains of Persia, herding sheep and hearing stories from his parents. Stories of Torah. Stories of how his father met his mother while selling his wool in Jerusalem. Stories of his rabbi’s visit to Bethlehem thirty years ago to see the newborn king.  When Nehemiah’s family is attacked by bandits, the rabbi sends him to Jerusalem with a gift for the Messiah—the cup of Joseph.
Much of the plot focuses on the cup that is known to legend as the Holy Grail, but before the events that earned it such fame. Instead, it is traced even further back, to the time of the patriarchs. While some people might find this ridiculous, I thought it was well written and a good way to remind readers that everything in the Bible  is part of a united whole.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the authors’ previous series , the AD Chronicles, for its vivid portrayal of minor Biblical characters, such as the blind beggar in John 9. This book has the same characterization as the previous series, but the book stands well on its own.   Even readers who aren’t normally fans of historical fiction will appreciate the detail and characters of this book.

I received a free ebook from Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Romance of Religion

The Bible is a guidebook, a source of wisdom, a record of history. But above all else, the Bible is a story—one that happens to be true.  Not only is the Bible a story, it is a fantastic story—a romantic story. Not the boy-meets-girl definition, but the chivalric romance, a tale of battles and danger and conquering heroes. In fact, the word “fantasy” could easily replace “romance” throughout the book.
Many apologetics have been written, but very few authors have tackled the relationship between story and Christianity, with the exception of the Inklings and their predecessor Chesterton.  The Romance of Religion establishes what it means to be a romantic in today’s cynical world, ranging from ethics to philosophy and faith.
Many portions of this book reminded me of Chesterton, from the chapter topics to the author’s illustrations. The first chapter was originally presented as a paper to the American Chesterton Society 2006. It also draws from elements in C.S. Lewis’s  “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” and Tolkien’s “On Fairy- Stories.”  While none of the book’s insights are particularly new, it is always good to be reminded of truth and the power of story.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.