Thursday, February 23, 2012

Center For Inquiry fiction book club selections for the first half of 2012

April 2012

H. G. Wells "The Sleeper Awakes" -- a short novel about a nineteen century Englishman who falls in a deep sleep only to awake over two hundred years later.

May 2012

Nnedi Okorafor "Who Fears Death"

-- "The young sorceress Onyesonwu -- whose name means Who fears death? -- was born Ewu, bearing a mixture of her mother's features and those of the man who raped her mother and left her for dead in the desert. As Onyesonwu grows into her powers, it becomes clear that her fate is mingled with the fate of her people, the oppressed Okeke, and that to achieve her destiny, she must die. Okorafor examines a host of evils in her chillingly realistic tale'gender and racial inequality share top billing, along with female genital mutilation and complacency in the face of destructive tradition -- and winds these disparate concepts together into a fantastical, magical blend of grand storytelling." -- a review from

June 2012

James Blish "A Case of Conscience"

-- "The citizens of the planet Lithia are some of the most ethical sentient beings Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez has ever encountered. True, they have no literature, no fine arts, and don't understand the concept of recreation, but neither do they understand the concepts of greed, envy, lust, or any of the sins and vices that plague humankind. Their world seems darned near perfect. And that is just what disturbs the good Father."

-- "A fast-paced, intelligent story that offers plenty of action while at the same time explores complex questions of values and ethics. In this case, Blish has taken on the age-old battle of good vs. evil. Lithia poses a theological question that lies at the heart of this book: is God necessary for a moral society?" -- reviews from

July 2012

Brandon Sanderson "Mistborn"

A description of this novel on calls it a mystico-metallurgical fantasy. I heard it has an unusual and well thought-out magic system. An attempt to create a "scientific" magic system might make this book of interest to CFI readers who like fantasy.

August 2012

Philip K. Dick "VALIS"

-- "When a beam of pink light begins giving a schizophrenic man visions of an alternate Earth where the Roman Empire still reigns, he must decide whether he is crazy, or whether a godlike entity is showing him the true nature of the world."

-- "From the cancer ward of a bay area hospital to the ranch of a fraudulent charismatic religious figure who turns out to have a direct com link with God, Dick leads us down the twisted paths of Gnostic belief, mixed with his own bizarre and compelling philosophy." -- reviews from

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Movies: The Dangerous Method

"The Dangerous Method" is a movie about Carl Gustav Jung, and his complicated relationships with two people: Sigmund Freud, his colleague and mentor, and Sabina Spielrein, his patient and lover. It was not a bad movie, but I expected more of it.

While it touched upon Freud and Jung's friendship and rivalry, their diverging methods of psychoanalysis, and their eventual breakup, its primary focus was Jung's affair with Sabina. Not that it was a bad choice, given how vivid is the character of the crazy and brilliant, but mostly brilliant Sabina. Like most people in this story, she was a real, historical person, a young Russian Jewish woman who met Jung when she was mentally ill, was enormously helped by psychoanalysis, and later became an innovative psychiatrist herself. Keira Knightley's acting is a bit overdone in the "crazy Sabina" scenes, though it's amazing how such a beautiful actress contorts her face and body into such ugly poses. Overall I think she was great in this role.

Speaking of actors that were not so good in their roles: professor Aragorn! And not just because of his Lord of the Rings fame. Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud just didn't compute. Every time I saw him on screen, it pulled me out of the story. Even with the "authentic" makeup, hair, and beard, Viggo looks nothing like Freud, at least in the pictures I've seen. His acting wasn't convincing either. He played Freud with all the same cliches that denote a sophisticated man of a bygone era: slow, drawn-out sentences, half-closed eyelids, a pipe permanently stuck in his teeth. It's like I've seen this character on the screen hundreds of times, and I don't even watch that many movies.

For a movie about the birth of psychoanalysis, it oddly lacks intellectual content. Considering how Jung's ideas about archetypes and collective unconscious captivated the public (even if they later fell out of use; even so, writers and artists still derive inspiration from them), they get surprisingly little mention in the movie. There is a scene that suggests that Jung's notions of anima and animus were planted in his mind by Sabina: in one of their conversations she says there is something male in every woman, and something female in every man. And so the movie removes the last reason for a viewer to believe that Jung was famous for anything other than his polyamorous lifestyle, or wacky paranormal beliefs (he thought he was capable of premonition). He is a vivid, conflicted and sympathetic character, but it's not clear what he was notable for.

A movie about Jung that didn't concern itself with any of his intellectual contributions, but only with his romance with a patient, was like... why, it's like a fantasy novel that focused primarily on an exchange rate between Elvish gold and dollar.

Then again, I shouldn't criticize the movie too much. We are talking here about historical figures that achieved a mythical power in and of themselves, and their lives cannot be squeezed into two hours of screen time. To tell a story about them requires ruthless picking and choosing.