Thursday, December 29, 2011

20 Years After by E.J. Newman

Emma Newman currently lives in Somerset, England, not terribly far from where she was born in a coastal village. After graduating from Oxford, she worked in magazine publishing, web site information architecture, and had a stint as a teacher. She has also recorded audio book versions of her works. Emma has published a collection of short stories, From Dark Places, and the forthcoming novel, Split Worlds…It Begins. Twenty Years Later is her first novel.

Sporadically, I have encountered dystopian literature and enjoyed what I have read – The Lord of the Flies, 1984, Brave New World – without ever actually seeking it out. When I first heard about Emma Newman’s YA novel, I experienced a twinge of skepticism. However, she captured my attention on the first pages.

20 Years After recounts the story of London, 20 years after a mysterious event which wiped out most of the adults. Left behind, gangs of young boys occupied and defended patches of the city with violent and frequently deadly consequences. Miri, a woman knowledgeable in the field of medicine, and her son Zane occupy a garden in an area bordered by three gangs – The Gardners, the Red Lady gang, and the Bloomsbury boys. Miri tries to protect Zane from the outside world. The garden and their house provide a safe haven from the violence of the city. Despite her efforts, Zane befriends one of the Bloomsbury boys, and the outside encroaches on their lives.

Only an occasional piece of conversation betrays the youth of these gang members and reminds me I am reading a YA novel.

Not only is this a first novel for Newman but also the first novel published by Dystopia Press, a local publisher in Central Texas. 20 Years After is the first volume of a trilogy, and I eagerly await parts two and three. 5 stars

--Chiron, 12/27/11

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe by Greg Epstein

Epstein is the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University. This New York Times bestseller is a treasure trove of information about Humanism. His chapter titles say it all: “Can We Be Good Without God?”; “A Brief History of Goodness Without God”; “Why Be Good Without God? (which includes an interesting excursion into Camus’ The Plague); and a “how-to” guide to ethics and Humanism. Appendices include writings from noted Humanist thinkers and a list of Humanist and secular resources.

The radical right has tried to trash the ideas and ideals of humanism recently, so if you are curious about the truth, this book is a must read.

Essentially, “Humanists believe in life before death,” and Epstein adds a definition of “Humanism as a progressive lifestance that, without superstition, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment, aspiring to the greater good of humanity” (xii-xiv).

Some work has been done recently in the psychology of religion, and Epstein writes that, “for most, religion is not about belief in an all-seeing deity with a baritone voice and a flowing beard. It is about group identification – the community and the connections we need to live. It is about family, tradition, consolation, ethics, memories, music, art, architecture and much more” (xiv). Humanists believe in all these good qualities of wonderful and fulfilled life.

Epstein has written a fascinating history of Humanism dating back to its roots among the Epicureans – three centuries bce – through the Renaissance to the 20th century.

I have added this book to my “Desert Island Shelf,” because I know I will want to go back to it many times in the coming years. 5 stars

--Chiron, 12/24/11