Tag: fiction

Review: Calculating God, by Robert J. Sawyer

By Psyche | June 30, 2004 | Leave a comment

Calculating God, by Robert J. Sawyer
Tor, 0312867131, 334 pp., 2000

A spaceship lands on Earth, for the first time – outside the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. Not surprisingly, the book opens with incredulity “I know, I know – it seems crazy that the alien had come to Toronto, Sure, the city is popular with tourists, but you’d thing a being from another world would head for the United Nations – or maybe to Washington. Didn’t Klaatu go to Washington in Robert Wise’s movie The Day the Earth Stood Still?” Defying Hollywood alien-human contact mythology, one of the spacecraft’s inhabitants, a six legged two armed alien, emerges from the craft, enters the museum, strolls up to the security officer at the front desk, and says, in perfect English, ‘Excuse me, I would like to see a paleontologist’. Assuming this is some kind of joke, the security officer calls Tom Jerico, resident palaeontologist specializing in vertebrae, and the book’s narrator.

Not only is this alien not interested in invading Earth, it – Hollus – is here to study Earth’s fossils – and she’s a theist, believing “’The primary goal of modern science…is to discover why God has behaved as he has and to determine his methods’” (pg 30). This fairly blows our narrator’s mind, as he is, naturally, a scientific atheist. Dear Tom spends the rest of the book terrified he will recant his position and embrace this alien perspective.

As Tom gets to know Hollus, the unlikely creature from outer space, a bit better they discuss each position, peppered with some grade ten chemistry and biology that makes for an intriguing, but, for me, ultimately unconvincing argument for the existence and nature of God.

This book is decidedly Canadian, and makes every effort to express it, from the CityTV crew to the two CSIS operatives who arrive shortly after the crew sets up. CSIS lose control of the situation and afraid of causing a scene, are quickly shooed away by spectators. The Prime Minister even made an appearance: “Prime Minister Crétien did indeed come by the ROM to meet Hollus…And several journalists asked Crétien, for the record, to give his assurance that the alien would be allowed to continue his work unmolested – which was what the Maclean’s opinion poll said the Canadian people wanted. He did indeed give that assurance, although I suspected the CSIS operatives were always still around, lurking out of view”. Even outside of the blatantly obvious, Sawyer also mentions little things that only a native would be likely to recognize such as descriptions of specific subway stops, street names, griping about Mike Harris, and even the Octagon restaurant in Thornhill gets a mention. The familiarity of the sights and sounds mentioned are enough to put a smile on the face of any Torontonian.

Calculating God is a fun read, easily accessible to the lay person in both science and theology, very Canadian and often very funny.


Review: Hand of Fate, by Dotti Enderle

By Mike Gleason | April 10, 2004 | Leave a comment

Hand of Fate: The Fortune Tellers Club, Book 4, Dotti Enderle
Llewellyn Worldwide, 0738703907, 144 pp., 2004

The adventures of the Fortune Teller’s Club continue in this fourth installment of the series for middle (junior high school) girls aged 8-12. Anne, Gena, and Juniper once again find their gifts being called into play.

Anne has her plans all set. She is going to Cheer Camp, where she is going to be the first seventh-grader to win Cheerleader of the Year. She can visualize the trophy perfectly. Then a freak accident throws those plans into wild disarray.

Once again the girls step outside the boundaries of traditional divination. They create a new divination tool – a Hand of Fate. This consists of a latex glove, filled with birdseed, and marked with coloured lines, each one of which is labelled. Using it is simple. Ask a question, flip a coin up and onto the hand. Where it lands gives you your answer. Unconventional? Sure, but like most of these creations, this one opens new doorways.

This series isn’t about Pagans, nor is it about magick. It is about youngsters taking control of their lives and not succumbing to peer pressure. It is about young ladies learning to trust their instincts, while still using common sense. The plot lines aren’t deep and mysterious. They are, however, filled with inspiration for young folks. They show it is possible to be “different” yet still live a normal life.

The writing style is crisp, and the stories move along nicely, both within the individual books and within the series as a whole. Each story sees the girls developing a bit more, They are still teenage girls, however. They still have problems with classmates, and crushes on boys. However, these are girls who have an extra component in their lives.

As in the other books in this series (The Lost Girl, Playing with Fire, The Magic Shades, and Secret of Lost Arrow) the girls experiment with more than one form of divination. They use a séance to answer Anne’s questions about why she was prevented from going to Cheer Camp. The answers don’t really seem to answer her questions at the time.

None of the girls has been trained in the mechanics of a séance. In fact, they haven’t been trained in any of the divinatory arts they use. They simply make it up as they go along (that’s the secret to being a good diviner, anyhow). They know what they have heard, and seen in movies, but they are willing to experiment, and that is what works for them.

There are plenty of unexpected twists and turns in this book. It will hold the interest of the young reader for sure. What secret does Anne discover while trying to get her horoscope done on the internet? How is she connected to a young woman who died? The answers are here, even if they are unexpected.

This is a fun book for the pre- and early-teen group. You don’t need to have read the previous books to enjoy it, but you will probably want to pick them up after reading this one.

And you will probably look forward to the next one in the series (Mirror, Mirror). At $4.99 each they are inexpensive, short enough to be read in a day or so, and contain some good ideas.

They are not great literature, but they are fun to read.


Review: The Magic Shades, by Dotti Enderle

By Mike Gleason | September 4, 2003 | Leave a comment

The Magic Shades: The Fortune Tellers Club, Book 3, by Dotti Enderle
Llewellyn Worldwide, 0738703419, 135 pp. (+ preview), 2003

In this third instalment of the Fortune Tellers Club series, juvenile misadventures continue. The girls are still dealing with their “arch enemies” Beth and Nicole (or as the Club calls them “the Snotty Twins”), who continue to torment them because of their interest in divination.

This time around Gena buys a pair of sunglasses (“the most hideous creation ever invented”, a cording to Juniper) at a discount store, which apparently allow her to foresee future events. She can see the future. Unfortunately, she lacks the experience and maturity to understand what she is seeing. She has a tendency to misinterpret what she sees and to over-react to what she believes the images mean.

On top of that, her father (a widower for most of her life) is turning traitor – he is starting to show an interest in another woman – HOW DARE HE?! And how dare another woman try to take away her father? She must have put him under some kind of spell.

And then the unimaginable happens. Her father is revealed as all to human and Rachel (the new woman on the scene) is revealed to be a loving, caring person, with a surprise or two up her sleeve.

There are more books to come in this series and, while it is most definitely not a classic series, neither is a “See Spot run” series. They are inexpensive enough to be a good, spur-of-the-moment gift for the pre- or early-teen in you life who is looking for some fun reading. I definitely recommend them.


Playing with Fire, by Dotti Enderle

By Mike Gleason | September 4, 2003 | Leave a comment

Playing With Fire: The Fortune Tellers Club, Book 2, by Dotti Enderle
Llewellyn Worldwide, 0738703400, 140 pp (+ preview), 2003

The adventures of the Fortune Tellers Club continue. School has started up again, so there is less time to agonize over the typical teen problems. Of course now there is homework to worry about – and boys.

Anne finds herself falling for the new boy at school, Eric. He is the new quarterback on the middle school football team and she is on the cheer squad. Of course, every other girl on the cheer squad has their eyes on him as well. Continue reading


Review: The Lost Girl, by Dotti Enderle

By Mike Gleason | September 4, 2003 | Leave a comment

The Lost Girl: The Fortune Tellers Club, Book 1, by Dotti Enderle
Llewellyn Worldwide, 0738702536, 125 pp. (+ preview), 2002

This is a series intended for the middle school crowd. It is light in tone and although some parts might be considered “spooky” there is nothing terribly frightening or threatening.

Three young girls (Juniper [whose mother reads tea leaves], Gena, and Anne) each use their growing, individual talents to help each other in their times of difficulty. It is reminiscent, in a lower key way, of the “Witches Night Out” series by Silver RavenWolf.

As with any group of young folks, there is the popular one (Anne), the quiet one (Gena) and the “odd” one (Juniper). This leads to the various kids taking the lead in various circumstances.

The books are easy to read, not at all preachy, and fun. They illustrate a variety of divination techniques from the very simple (the Magic 8 Ball) to the more traditional (Tarot, scrying, and tea leaves).

This first book deals with every parent’s worst nightmare – a young child missing. The three members of the Fortune Tellers Club don’t start out to find the youngster (Laurie Simmons). Instead they are looking for Gena’s lost retainer.

Juniper, being the “experienced” one of the group, feels the call to help locate Laurie. When none of her usual methods (scrying and Tarot) work, she resorts to trying new methods – in this case, psychometry. She becomes so focused on finding Laurie that she dreams of her.

Add to the psychic confusion the turmoil and angst which is so much a part of the pre- and early-teen years (especially during the summer when there are more hours to agonize over such) and you have a story which any youngster can identify with.


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