By definition, much of what passes in this world is middle-of-the-road; not everything is top of the line. Much of life is working for the center, the average. This includes what I read; books can be, well, average. This post covers a lot of well, decent books – and a movie. They all receive 2 out of 5. That doesn’t mean these pieces lack high points; they do. Yet there are low point, and plenty of middle, too. Let’s head through them.
The Great Awakening
Jim Wallis is considered one of the major players of the religious left, which to some might be a crazy point close to the Apocalypse. It’s small but exists. To quote from his online bio, “Jim Wallis is a bestselling author, public theologian, speaker, preacher, and international commentator on religion, public life, faith, and politics. He is president and CEO of Sojourners, where he is editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine.” I met Sojourners in college, as a counterpoint to the magazines of the religious right. Then, somehow, Sojourners got big. I’m not sure how, but Mr. Wallis became popular, and he started writing books for a mass audience. I read God’s Politics
a few years ago. There wasn’t anything earthshattering, to someone on top of most of the situation, but it was well written and thoughtful.
This latest book, The Great Awakening, is more of the same. As I got to about Chapter 5, I realized that I wasn’t really the intended audience. I am religious. I am communitarian. Many people would put me on the religious left. I don’t need to read this summary type book, full of cheerleading and quick sermons. It’s not for me. If you are not religious, I would suggest it as a starting point, but just a point. It’s not an apocalypse – it’s gentle and lighthearted. After it, there are better, deeper sources out there, and I hope you would search.
Day by Day Armageddon
Continuing the zombie theme of World War Z, we have Day by Day Armageddon by J. L. Bourne. Mr. Bourne’s biography is a little different from Mr. Wallis. This author, instead of the religious left, belongs to the U. S. Navy, as an active officer. It’s impressive that he found the time to write. It’s a nice story of how decent books can get noticed. The book started from an officer’s free time, went online, got a following and an independent publication, then got picked up. I got mine from a major bookseller.
This is a solid hardcore zombie apocalypse tale. The diary format makes sense, though I’m not entirely sure how one would have that much time. I do like the occasional coffee stain, handwritten note, and so forth. If you like fear, and individual struggle, this is a good book for you.
Where it falls short is in the Deus. No, I don’t mean religious discussion; that’s Mr. Wallis’ area. I mean the happy coincidences that come upon the party, at least two of which are extremely difficult to believe. They do make things easier on the protagonist, and that allows the narrative to change. But it’s too fortunate; the narrator even comments on that, once.
Despite my reservations, I’ll consider the sequel when it drops, likely later this year. It’s a fun read. But it’s not remarkable; it’s not World War Z. Max Brooks developed a world, a backstory, a brilliant literary device, and a massive moral dilemma in the Redeker Plan. It’s easier to write a small, straightforward book like this one, and so I reward the larger work.
The Zombie Survival Guide
I also picked up Mr. Brooks’ other work on zombies, The Zombie Survival Guide, popular enough to find at Walmart.com. It’s, well, not as good. Mr. Brooks tried for a satirical take on survivalist guides. It was alright, but the other book was much better.
The movie District 9 has a wonderful premise. Having desperate aliens is very interesting. The backstory begs for more treatment. Setting the story in South Africa makes perfect sense, of course, with parallels like Cape Town District 6. Having heard negative comments about Nigerian rackets while in South Africa, I thought that touch was appropriate, though that meant the Nigerian government banned the film.
I had high hopes for this film, like the book Children of Men. Again, I was disappointed. There are lots of good parts, including the lead actor. Sharlto Copley plays Wikus with a mix of human emotions, self-interest, love, sacrifice, and anger. He’s great. I wish he got flawless material. Unfortunately, the writers make mistakes. Some are subtle. For instance, the TV runs an SABC News ticker, with roughly the correct logo. It uses meters for distance. But the telephone number to call was 1-866-666-6001, while toll free numbers in South Africa start with 0800 or 0801. Given that the film was shot in Soweto, South Africa, that’s just strangely sloppy.
Bigger problems come from not understanding violence. This is an adult movie, with killing part of the story. Violence is needed. At the same time, there are several places where bloodiness occurs not to advance the story, but just to make it ickier. Background killing and extra computerized pieces of gore don’t help things. This is a movie made by people with little experience in true violence.
There are also storyline problems. First, in the hospital a military man had a chance to stop Wikus, even though he had a scalpel at a person’s neck. At that distance, a trained miliary marksman easily makes that kill, and the protagonist doesn’t have time to strike. Of course, that ends the movie. There was plenty of tension already; better to have rewritten to avoid that issue. Second, working cellphones can be traced, even when not on a call. Wikus talks to his wife twice, both times for almost a minute. The authorities should bave arrived forthwith after the first call. At least they traced the second call, but why didn’t they come immediately?
In the end, well, the last 20 minutes just get cartoony. One of the things about science fiction is that we must suspend disbelief to some extent. In things like Tolkien, we can. Here, there are just too many gaps. Real South African paramilitaries are a lot more competent. There was no secrecy, given the TV. The government would have blanketed District 9 with troops, and there would have been no escape. It would have been possible to take this wonderful backstory and actor, and make a brilliant movie. Instead, we get average space opera. It’s a shame.