How Much Is Freedom Worth?

How much is freedom worth to you personally? That’s the question we have to start asking ourselves as locations across the country starting putting even more draconian laws in place for a virus not much worse than the average flu. This week, my city council voted on an ordinance requiring everyone to wear masks whenever they are indoors in a public place. This in a month when tons and tons of people have been exposed to COVID and are getting tested. If anyone still thinks this is about health, your health, or your neighbors health, I have a bridge to sell you. This is purely about power and money, and by and large the supposedly freedom loving Americans are letting their freedom of expression and even breathing freely to be taken away without even a single shot being fired.

How did we get here? Complacency and also fear, not fear of the virus, no, no. I know any number of people including myself who vehemently disagree with what’s been happening regarding the response to this virus. Why don’t we take a stand and stage our own protests? Freedom doesn’t come cheap, and winning it for oneself and others costs even more. We could lose our jobs, our incomes, and thus our places of living, our cars, and the list goes on and on. What is happening in our country and the world is truly frightening. And we wonder about those people in the past who were “just following orders.” We’re finding out we’re really not much different than them when it comes down to it. Not even my church dares stand up against this, though I guess when it comes down to it they won’t deny Jesus…right?

Right? I ask this as a Christian for myself, especially. Is that the only line drawn that matters? That everything that comes before them asking us to deny Christ are not lines that we should hold, lines also of truth and freedom? Jesus didn’t come to overthrow society in a political revolution, that’s true, but I wonder if he’s really happy with us allowing the crazy people and also simply the afraid people to rule us. If all we value is absolute safety, we’ll never have any freedom ever again. C.S. Lewis showed it best when he portrayed Aslan (representing Jesus) as a Lion, a loving yet dangerous Lion. God is ok with danger, he experienced the worst danger one possibly can to save the world by sacrificing himself on the cross. Really hard to see Jesus hiding behind a mask, and he told the leaders of his day to stop hanging more and more laws around people’s necks so they could barely stand up under the weight of them.

It’s just sad that no one seems to understand that this forced mask wearing is directly against our God-given right to express ourselves freely. It’s also against the First Amendment of our Constitution. COVID is not nearly bad enough to warrant such drastic measures, but even if it was, say, Ebola, this would still be against our right to freedom of speech. And they’ve notably left out a date as to which this will all end.

We have a God-given right to live with danger. In fact, God asks us to live dangerously, to befriend those we normally wouldn’t, to go to places we normally wouldn’t, all for the sake of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am disappointed in myself because all I can do is write. There’s no other job I can go now where they won’t require a mask that restricts breathing and will likely give a large number of people lung issues for the rest of their lives. It’s no choice. C.S. Lewis was right, the moral busybodies are the worst, they give you no choice, when even God gives us choices!

But I am more disappointed in my church. I always thought, even if I was scared or weak, that my church would stand strong. Not so, and it disappoints me greatly to see it. But the leaders of our churches are only human, and sadly, many, many of our men today are weak and just want to go along to get along. As far as Gospel sharing, I can see why this is a good approach, but I don’t think it’s a good way to live, not standing up for anything else. How can we stress to people we care about their eternal well being if we don’t care about them being able to live well in this life? And wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart from everyone, and living in constant fear of sickness is not living well.

I am being dramatic, but doesn’t drama and emotion fit somewhere? Is there no time that we’re allowed to get upset about having to go along with a lie? Multiple lies? Lies about COVID, lies about masks, lies about social distancing, and on and on? We are being asked to live a lie and even our fellow Christians are sadly asking us to do so, making it even harder to take a stand against it. I mean, who wants to be all alone standing for freedom? Is God really asking us to go along with this lie? At some point, shouldn’t we stand against these busybody bullies who think wearing a mask bestows virtue, and in some cases, power on themselves? Sure, we don’t want granny to die of COV, but if her life up until her death is worse than prison, that’s ok, is it?

This is all a power play and getting us ready to be forced to take the vaccine, whenever it’s ready, and no matter how unsafe it may be to take. So I have to decide: How much is my freedom worth to me? Is it worth losing my job? Is it worth not be able to find a job or likely even work, as every single company will likely require a vaccine? Is it worth losing friends and family? Is it worth even, possibly, not being welcome at my church or any church? Is it worth losing everything in this life? Live free or die?

I can tell you I don’t want to take a vaccine. I no longer think they’re safe and I no longer trust anyone in science or healthcare–neither science or caring for health is what’s going on with those industries today. I don’t want to take it, but I am weak, and although I’m excited to go to heaven someday, I’ve no desire to artificially hasten that time along by stepping into homelessness and starvation. If all this isn’t a mass psychological torture, I don’t know what is. As long as I don’t deny Christ, nothing else matters, right? Is that true? Doesn’t ring true in my heart, not today. How I wish this post could be more hopeful. Can’t the good guys in power who are able to do something see that they are giving the average person no way out? If this isn’t evil, I don’t know what is. Not sure anyone’s coming to save us from this, not even our great president, so, again, ask yourself: How much is freedom worth to you? You may have to seriously decide in the very near future.

This month I’m trying to sit down and reassess a story I wrote about vaccines. A story set in the future. It’s a satire and harsh look on our blind devotion to what we call science. But what we are living through right now is crazier than this story!

The Scandalous Season: RRR

Regency Romance Review, book 1: The Scandalous Season by Nina Pykare

Published by Dell’s A Candlelight Regency Special, #501, 1979.

First off, I made it through the book, whew! The story was sadly rather tedious and it wasn’t clear what made it “special” as opposed to just Candlelight, but Dell appears to have Candlelight Romances and Candlelight Regency Romance Specials, so maybe that’s the difference.

Young, innocent Rebecca Stratford agrees to follow her father’s dying wish and marry Richard, the Marquess of Burlingame. From the beginning of the story, the couple is already in love with each other, though insisting that their marriage is in name only. This is somewhat due to the marriage being arranged and also due to the age gap. Richard is not keen to force himself on so young a woman, a point in his favor. He’s about thirty and she’s younger, but it never clarifies how young on purpose. She may be a teenager. Burlingame I kept reading as Burlingham.

From the start, the story was rather cringe and laughable. Over used words like sardonic, schoolroom miss and country miss abound, as do a plethora of points to tick off on norms and colloquial sayings of the day. The atmosphere was bad, just see-through, a skeleton Regency setting.

Exactly why Rebecca loves Richard at the beginning is not clear. She is a poor girl who luckily married into wealth, but her husband is so overbearing and tyrannical that she’s terrified of him most of the time. At one point he even spanks her. Totally different from modern times when we are even reluctant to spank our own children, this scene was hard to stomach. Rebecca did disobey his orders, but like many men, Richard did not fully explain the reason for his orders. This is convenient for the story, but also connects to real life. Men so often have plans and things they simply do not explain to their women, either because they don’t think they have to, but in a larger picture, because they don’t understand that they have to. Many things are obvious to men as men and women as women, and neither sex truly understands that you really do have to explain or spell things out. The opposite sex doesn’t automatically get it. They just don’t.

Although Rebecca doesn’t like being treated like a child, she continues to act like one, and although clearly her husband desires her, even at the end, she was just this hysterical childlike woman, not a match for him. It is supposed that she will grow into her role as wife. Not sure what to make of the fear factor. Most men I know today, at least what I know of them, are not tyrants with their wives. In fact, often it’s the opposite, where the wives have the upper hand. Anyway, the men I know are very kind and loving to their women and so, so far from Richard Burlingame, that I don’t really see how he’s that great of a catch.

Richard is handsome, tall, broad shouldered, and rich. Many times over is it described how broad his shoulders are, how his legs fit well into his pants, etc. Later on, he is shown to have some kindness, but even to the end, Rebecca is ruled by her fear of his anger. This doesn’t seem like a healthy relationship. Richard also is used to bedding other women and it’s doubtful that in a year or two he will not go back to this habit. He has all the power in the marriage at this time, and although we want to believe love conquers all, old habits die hard. The odds are simply not in Rebecca’s favor.

Despite all of that, although scandal was much alluded to, this wasn’t a smutty romance, and the scant love scenes were kisses only. The big reason the two love each other is simply that they are physically attracted to each other and are married. Can’t fault that too much, I suppose that’s often how it really is with couples, but romances are fun to read because they often “earn” each other’s love. Here, it wasn’t earned, but truthfully love isn’t earned, simply given, so there’s that. The ending was more nonsensical and abrupt than the beginning. Smuggling was thrown in for, well, no real reason, and Rebecca hysterically throws herself upon the scene because she loves her husband. Somehow the fact that he’s sent her info fainting hysterics makes Richard realize how much he loves her. This is a very strange relationship.

Some cuteness at the end:

“I expect that I shall be quite a nuisance to you now. Literally living in your pocket.”

“In that case, Robert, I suspect we shall both be nuisances. Can a wife be said to live in her husband’s pocket?”

Lovely and tacky at the same time.

Other updates: Currently liking and reading both The Man in the Iron Mask by Dumas and Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Hardy. Rewatching K-drama You Are All Surrounded starring Lee Seung Gi. Next one I review will probably be Oh My Baby starring the never aging awesome actress Jang Nara. Appears to be a remake of Three Men and a Baby with Tom Selleck, a movie I’ve always liked.

Tacky Regency Romances: New Review Project

Have I mentioned I’m addicted to stories? Hmm, maybe a time or two. Went up to wonderful, wild, Northern Minnesota this past weekend and had a grand old time. It was a little too cold to be on the water, so bookshops it was, and do they have them aplenty! The two used bookstores I stopped in have easily over 100, 000 books each–an enormous amount to peruse for a normal person, and a veritable treasure trove for bookworms. Thus, by the end of the trip, I’l bought the most books I’d ever bought at one time: 38! Yikes. Yes, it’s a problem, but a fun problem.

At a used bookshop in Brainerd they had $5 grab bags in the window, collections of books stapled shut in brown paper bags. I decided to live recklessly and bought the Regency Romance one, hoping I’d get a Jane Austen or one of her contemporaries. No such luck. Inside were 20 Regency romances and one Georgian romance from the 1970s and 1980s. One may be from the 1990s. Tacky they look and paperback romances they are, and I’ve decided to read every single one of them and give you all some grand, hopefully funny reviews. The books are published by Dell, Jove, Warner Books, Signet, Fawcett, Diamond, and Zebra books. This will throw of my planned summer reading a bit, but I am looking forward to the tackiness!

Tacky Regency Romances

When the Weather Is Nice: K-drama review

As much as I love Viki, I prefer the titles listed on Asianwiki. For one, they are shorter, and two, the longer titles are awkward. Not sure if it is a more literal translation of the title or what. At any rate, Viki calls this one I’ll Come to You When the Weather is Nice, but I like the shortness of When the Weather Is Nice. This title makes me think of the Japanese anime film Weathering with You. Can’t wait to see that one again once it’s on video. Oh, it’s a rambling day. Sorry folks, I have summer brain!

That I loved this drama is an understatement. The latter episodes I started watching in fifteen minute chunks because I just didn’t want the story to end. Now, that’s some good writing, and not surprising as it’s apparently based on a book. Now I want to read the book, too.

When the Weather is Nice stars Park Min Young of City Hunter fame and numerous romances like What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim? She’s a good go-to actor for a great romance as she always has good chemistry with her costars and knows how to really smile with her eyes. Here, she plays cellist Mok Hye Won, who’s had a difficult time in life relating to other people, and most recently, the expectations of the director of the music school in which she teaches. As she needs a break, Hye Won goes to her family’s small village of Bukhyeon to hang out with her aunt.

The story also stars Seo Kang Joon from Cheese in the Trap and Are You Human? His character, Lim Eun Seob, also has grown up and currently lives in the village. He owns a remote bookstore called the Goodnight Bookstore and hosts a monthly (?) book club that is a great part of the story. He’s also been madly in love with Hye Won since high school and almost can’t believe she’s come back to the village, giving him one last chance with her. Like Park, Seo isn’t just a pretty face, he can act and really act well. They both got so into their characters, that I forgot they were actors at all.

When the Weather is Nice encapsulates so much: small town life, heartache, falling in love, sin, guilt, family relations, abandonment, ambition, and on and on. It’s almost too much to take in at times, though the drama itself is slower paced, like small town life, and it’s only by the end we the viewers realized just how much was packed in to the plot and themes. As a book lover, I high enjoyed the focus on stories and books, and, oh, what a book club! This is the book club everyone imagines when they think of a book club – a group of people who love stories and is their own little family. It’s charming and heartwarming.

The romance is sweet and not entirely certain until the end, much like life. Eun Seon is one of those quiet men often overlooked in high school, and Hye Won doesn’t really remember him at first. By the end, she’s probably kicking herself thinking about how much time she missed out on with him. Sometime quiet steadfastness and reliability can win women over in ways that more talkative men couldn’t hope to reach. Eun Seob will likely never run after her and violently protest his love for her, but he flirts in his own way and warms her heart simply by walking her home in the dark, and caring for her in other ways, like making sure she’s warm enough and getting her some winter boots. Men, women are easy, we really are. Just care for us, that’s all we really need, and it’s what Hye Won chooses in the end.

The latter half of the drama deals mostly with Hye Won’s family backstory–much tragedy and heartbreak and difficult to watch at times. It’s sad that people who are supposed to love their family can treat them with coldness and/or abuse, but even more amazing is that the family members that suffer still love those people. Just an amazing gift from God that we can still love, even then. Hye Won’s aunt and mother are so larger than life compared to the rest of the village, acting much like movie stars hiding out. I wasn’t sure I’d get into their part of the story, but again, the writing is just spellbinding.

Set during a long, long winter, When the Weather Is Nice sucked me in, both due to the bookstore and focus on writing and stories, but also due to the weather. I’m a Minnesota girl and let me tell you, our winters can be looooong. A week seems like a month, a month seems like a year, so it wasn’t surprising that by the end of the drama it seemed that a much longer time had passed. They also incorporated all sorts of winter weather and things like ice skating rinks and pipes freezing, and it all came together really well.

Some stand out minor characters: Lee Jang Woo played by Lee Jae Wook. Lee is a classmate of the leads and works for the city. He organizes a reunion for the village that is magical. Lee is also quiet and shy, though he also chatters on nervously. He, too, gets a chance to have the girl that got away, and it’s such a treat to see him get up the courage to win her. She also patiently gives him time to do this. His character was one of truly caring for those around him and enjoying a simple life. He is super smart and could have worked at a big company in Seoul, but chose to stay in Hyecheon City near the village.

Second standout character was Lim Whi (or Hui), played by a bubbling and vivacious Kim Hwan Hee. Whi is the typical annoying teenage girl, constantly chasing after boys who don’t want her. But I have to say, she does it with style, and there’s something about her persistence that’s appealing, even to those boys. She is the sister of Eun Seob, and almost his complete opposite, loud and brash, where he is quiet and still. Still, there’s a great sibling bond between them and it’s especially funny when Eun Seob is suspicious of the boys she likes, even though they don’t like her. Eun Seob probably finds Whi annoying at times, but he clearly loves her, just as he does the rest of his family, and it’s an interesting dynamic, him being a quiet man, for he can never really say, I love you, but manages to convey it in everything he does. Warm fuzzies galore.

Someday I’d really like to watch this drama again and go through it episode by episode, commenting and critiquing. It’s one of those stories that always stays with you, and really makes me want to learn to read Korean so I can read the book. Someday, someday, someday. I give it ten stars, though it’s probably not that perfect, but it was such a joy to watch, especially after reading and watching stories far more cynical about life and humanity.

Book review: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (spoilers)

It is finally summer and time to not only get outside, but also pull out our stacks of summer reads. I recommend The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. The title intrigued me more than anything else, and the blurb on the back was accurate, describing the mystery as a mix between Agatha Christie, Downton Abbey, Quantum Leap , and Groundhog Day. That being said, the story is better off if the reader really knows nothing about it or what’s going to happen. Spoilers are ahead.

This book is so awesome and fun I don’t know where to start. It’s a game, a mystery the main character, Aiden Bishop (a lot of chess references), has to solve, and we readers get to follow along with him. Bishop has 8 days to solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle; however, it is the same day repeated 8 times, and each time he will inhabit a different body of guests that have come to Blackheath estate for a masquerade ball. The biggest difficulty for Bishop is that each time he wakes up, he has to fight off the personalities of these guests and try not to totally give into their way of thinking. He also doesn’t know who to trust–a murder mystery standard–but it’s amped up a bit here. By the end of the story, Bishop has chosen a route that very well may not be the right one. He, and we, have so little information about the larger picture going on, and it comes from characters who are likely untrustworthy.

Major spoilers. Bishop is told partway through the book, that this is all a punishment, a newfangled way of getting people to pay for their crimes by making them solve a similar murder to one they committed–over and over again until they get it right. Apparently Bishop has been through several cycles of this murder mystery, and each time, the order of “hosts,” or bodies he inhabits, is changed and tweaked to give him better and better possibilities of solving it. He does solve it, but only has the word of the “plague doctor” that he is free, and also that he entered this prison or experiment freely. Since everything is forgotten at the beginning of a new cycle, there is every possibility that Bishop will once again enter the maze the next day, which may be the same day, and the cycle will begin again. He also may be free and not supposed to be free, which is also intriguing. It’s not clear how far in the future this prison actually is or if it really is a prison.

One truth stands out, though, Bishop definitely is changed by the end of the 8 days, even though we know so little about the real him. For me, it was a bit sad that he was happy forgetting or throwing aside whoever he was before. To know or not to know? I think knowing is usually better, but then other days I think not. And I would want to know bad things about myself more than I would want to know bad things about someone I cared for. 7 1/2 Deaths is truly a mind boggler and a book I’ll probably read again and again. It would be fun to see it adapted to a TV series, but I have no idea how they would do it.

On a writing level, it is masterful, but depends largely on first person perspective. It’s amazing how intricately the days are worked out and in such a way as to make it seem like a year or more has gone by. Turton does not have us repeat everything 8 times. There are a variety of guests, each who do something different during the day. At first the setting seems limited, but Turton uses that advantage, filling the whole world up. Bishop wastes a lot of time thinking he can save and trying to save Evelyn, even though he’s told point blank not to do that. As he knows by now it’s some sort of game, it’s fascinating that he takes it so seriously, and as a reader that attitude seemed…at little too convenient. Nevertheless, it was an exciting read and much food for thought on making punishments fit the crime and the possibilities of rehabilitating people. It is still not for sure that what Bishop is experiencing is an actual prison. He could be in a purgatory, another world, a broken mind, and so on.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a speedy read that’s hard to put down. More than the murder mystery itself, you end up wanting to know what is going on? Why is Bishop there? Why does he have to do this for 8 days? What’s the reason, who’s behind it, so on and so forth. These larger questions are answered, if the characters who answer them can be believed, but that’s a big “if.” It is one of the few stories I’ve read that I started taking notes on as I read it. The party invitation at the beginning with a list of all the characters was super helpful, as was the map. The first person perspective really allows the reader to feel as if they are experiencing the game for themselves. This is one of the few minder bender stories that really live up to the hype. It did not disappoint.

Are You Human?: Give Shin His Life Back

The good news is, I am currently watching a drama that I love with a million hearts. The bad news is that Are you Human? (Viki title is Are You Human Too?) starring Seo Kang Joon (The Cheese in the Trap) and Gong Seung Yeon (Six Flying Dragons) is not that drama. A very watchable drama with decent acting, Are You Human? could have reached for profound, but settled for easy. It is also one of the few shows that had me constantly yelling at the screen: He is a robot! A robot!

Yes, my friends, this is a robot story involving a theme that has been overdone in sci-fi at this point: defining humanity. Exploring the question what does is mean to be human through a robot’s eyes can be effective, but in this show it was used to promote the idea that it’s ok to think of robots and human and even to replace actual humans with them. Not sure if this was the intended message by the writer, but nevertheless, it made me sick to my stomach.

The story is about a young man named Nam Shin, and in this review I’ll mainly call him Shin, who of course is the grandson of a rich company CEO. The grandpa is…how can I say psychotic nicely? I can’t. Anyway, grandpa basically holds kid Shin hostage, saying if he goes to his grieving mother (dad just committed suicide), grandpa will harm mom. Thus mother and son grow up apart. But this is not your average mom. Oh Ra Ra is a super smart robotic scientist who flees to the Czech Republic and there makes a robot to look exactly like her son. She finds out later that her project is funded by (spoilers) grandpa. Robot Shin III is programmed to be a kind, loving, young gentlemen, who in disaster mode will leap into action to save whatever human lives are at stake. Not a bad thing, but at the beginning, it’s unclear just what mom’s motive is in this. Her son is still alive, and I would have actually found it less weird for him to be dead and in her grief she finds comfort in a lookalike machine.

The real Shin grows up and appears to be a typically spoiled rich boy, but he does long for his mother and makes a plan to escape grandpa’s watch and go to Czecho to see her. This involves the manipulation of a bodyguard, Kang So Bong, who used to be a pro fighter, but had to retire due to injury. She’s a somewhat feisty character who becomes less so over time. Robot Shin runs across real Shin in the town of Karlovy Vary, and I kind of wish the story would have stayed in Czecho, because it’s a beautiful fairy tale country and I miss living in it. The bad guy, played stereotypically by Yu Oh Seong (Faith) wants to take over the company and has a hitman take out Shin. Mom and her scientist buddy arrive just in time to witness the accident and mom instinctively knows it is her real son that has been run over. Turns out Shin isn’t dead, but he’s in a coma and so mom and Shin’s watcher for grandpa Ji Young Hoon (Lee Joon Hyuk from City Hunter) come up with the obvious plan to have robot Shin pretend to be human Shin.

The story didn’t quite play out as I imagined it would, but instead of surprising me, it continually disappointed me. The acting was very good, Seo Kang Joon has a bright future ahead of him and played both Shin’s well. He also has great screen presence, something one just has or doesn’t have, and will continue to be a great lead because of that. Gong Seung Yoon started out strong, as did her girl bodyguard character, but the writing basically killed her character by the end. She would have benefited from a ton more screen time with human Shin, which would have been a romance worth watching. Everyone else did a decent job, but nothing really of note.

Let’s get into the ranting part. So human Shin is a jerk, a spoiled jerk, but he loves his mom, has been royally abused by his grandpa, and wakes up partway through the series to find that he has literally been replaced by a lifelike robot built by his mother. And she won’t destroy it for his sake. She’s far too attached. Understandably, Shin is upset, very upset and wants the robot gone and his life back. He does pretty despicable things to try to make this happen, and the thing is, most of the time I was cheering him on! His fellow humans were all acting psycho, continually telling him that the robot was a better human than he was, and having affection for a machine that just…shouldn’t be there. I like my cell phone and my vacuum cleaner, but I’m not about to fall in love with them. Come to find out that crazy grandpa has the plan to actually fully replace his grandson by the robot and having the robot run the company.

This is a dark side of humanity, that we think we can create something better than a human and replace humanity with it. But it’s faulty, sinful human beings doing the making and programming, and it’s simply wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, to do this. Robots are a machine, a tool, and while they can certainly be humanlike, we walk a dangerous tightrope trying to make them as much like humans as possible. And on this show, what does that look like? Sadly, it reduces humanity to one thing: emotion. There’s a little nod to kindness, etc., being a part of humanity, but the focus is on emotion. Robot Shin is only still a robot because he doesn’t have emotions. He’s programmed to smile or give someone a hug when they need it, but that’s about it. Humans are so much more than their emotions, and why the writers didn’t choose to plumb the depths by either doing outright fantasy and having robot Shin somehow earn a fairy blessing of humanity, or by giving human Shin a beautiful redemptive love story, I don’t know. Either choice would have been so much better than what they went with. Yes, robot Shin (spoilers) does magically shed tears at the end, but this is never explained, and other than the humans continually telling him he seems human to them, no reason is given other than the fact that he sacrificed himself to save a human. But that’s no great feat, because he’s a robot programmed to do just that.

Let’s talk about the love story. Gong’s first interaction is with human Shin, who actually hit her to carry out his little escape plan. She then has a chance to vent her anger, but it ends up being on the robot Shin. It takes a little while for her find that this Shin is a robot, but bizarrely, she continues down the path of a relationship with the robot. Yes, he’s handsome, he’s kind and gentle, and so on, but he’s programmed to be that way. At times she treats him like a child, and other times like a pet. If a real, grown woman tells you she wants this kind of romance, run. Run away fast. Real woman do not want robots or pets, they want men, real men that don’t do whatever they say, and who have flaws and faults that they sometimes courageously overcome. Real women want a man they can argue with, share their lives and dreams with, and…ahem…have sex with. Now the show doesn’t go there, but they could probably program robot Shin to do the deed, but he’s not more much more than a blowup doll. Is that really what Gong should be aspiring to, a pretend relationship with a blowup doll? They did give him tears at the end, they did, but even at the end, when she first encounters human Shin, there’s a spark there that is not there when she and the robot kiss. The ending turned my stomach. Human Shin happily looking on as a woman kisses and makes promises to a machine that looks just like him. It was rather gross and not romantic in the slightest.

Give human Shin his life back. Rewrite this atrocity and give him a redemption and love story that values humanity, not programmed robots. There was another character that did love human Shin and the writers did nothing with her, except finally send her away to America where hopefully she found someone to appreciate her persistence, sweetness, loyalty, and bravery.

Are You Human? is watchable, far more than some other dramas, but the message it conveys is just so icky to me that I have trouble recommending it because of that. Even emotionally, there wasn’t really a good cathartic moment. Anger, maybe, Shin’s anger at being replaced, and then more anger because he’s met not with understanding, but with the robot is a better human that you are. I mean, what the actual blank? As for robot Shin, he’s got a bland personality, but of course he does. Humans can’t program a personality the way God creates one. The idea that we can is laughable. Also really not sure what to make of the talk in the show of a whole city with humans and these humanlike robots…sounds nightmarish to me. Sometimes I really hate science and think that at its heart it is anti-God and anti-human.

The Secret Garden: A Perfect Book for Spring

This is the second time I’ve read the wonderful book A Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It is a children’s book set in the springtime and full of love of all the growing things and new life in the world, and a perfect book to read during the spring months. The introduction (I have a Barnes and Noble Classics copy) says that Burnett’s books were as popular in her day, the late 1800s, early 1900s, as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is today. That’s pretty impressive. Her most famous works known today are The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, and both have been made into several films and plays.

The story follows a girl named Mary Lennox, a pill of a child, who’s understandably a spoiled brat as she’s been allowed to push around her servants in India while simultaneously being wholly neglected by parents who don’t seem to care two sticks about her. After an outbreak of cholera, Mary is orphaned and sent to live with her uncle, a hunchbacked recluse who lives on a large estate in England called Misselthwait Manor. Her uncle is little seen in the story, as his main occupation over the years has been to grieve the loss of his wife.

As much as Mary’s behavior is shown as being rude to other people, much is made of her ill appearance. She’s not a healthy brat, and doesn’t know what it’s like to spend the whole day outside. Knowing little of class barriers, having spent her life abroad, Mary quickly befriends one of the servants, a young girl called Martha, who comes from a family of twelve, and introduces Mary to a different way of life, one spent in good work, and often out of doors. At first, going outside isn’t much fun for Mary, it’s cold, and the spring hasn’t quite arrived yet, but slowly, she starts to toughen up and enjoy being outside. She learns of a secret garden all locked up and is determined to see it for herself. She also befriends Mary’s brother Dicken, who has a way with animals, plants, and all living things, and ends up helping and improving another child called Colin, who is even more tyrannical than herself.

The Secret Garden is delightful, full of real magic, God’s magic and His ways of making things grow. The children themselves aren’t necessarily Christian or anything, but their appreciation and delight in nature and the world is uplifting. The determination of Mary and then later Colin, to be truly healthy and out in the world doing things and seeing things is refreshing, especially in days like these when many are afraid to set foot outside. Colin is a prime example of just how damaging it is for anyone to always imagine themselves an invalid. It is a tale of sorrow, recovery, and health, and showcases that always, always, there is something worth living for, even if you only start with a rose bush or a robin. It is telling, too, that the more Mary improves in her person, so does she perceive that other’s improve in her opinion. There is much truth that our dispositions and attitudes affect everything about us, and the more positive we are, the more positively we view the world and people around us and find joy in them.

The world in springtime is wonderful to behold, and I always think it’s the time of year when we can hear every rock, tree, flower, and stream singing God’s praises the loudest.

Updates: Next week I’ll be reviewing the K-drama Are You Human Too? starring Seo Kang Joon (Cheese in the Trap). Not sure about a romance with a robot, that’s rather weird, but it’s an exciting series so far. Two books on my reading list have titles that go together, so I’ll probably read them back to back: Hannah Tinti’s The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley (her The Good Thief is an awesome colonial yarn of a tale), and The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. Life, death, and numbers. Should be fun. My next classics reads are going to be The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexander Dumas, The Last of the Mohicans by James Fennimore Cooper (it’s great, as is the movie, though they really aren’t very alike), and Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Ever since watching the wonderful movie of Far from the Madding Crowd starring Carey Mulligan, I’ve had a hankering to read all of his works.

Humans are Pointless: Tell Me What You Saw Review

Humanism is bunk. Not only that, it’s un-inspirational, nihilistic, and depressing. Over and over I ask myself, why do I like murder mysteries? Why do I enjoy stories in which murderers are hunted down and brought to justice? For starters, good and evil do exist, and it is the work of good to bring evil into submission. This is justice. What is not justice is the hunting down of evildoers for the sake of human, and only human law. This in itself is pointless and leads to gross miscarriages of justice, like Javert from Les Miserables hunting down Jean Val Jean, who should be treated with mercy and compassion and allowed to do the good that he wants to do. This is also why people in America are suddenly finding their Constitutional rights terribly violated. Humans who believe in humanism often also believe they themselves are superior to their fellow humans, and their goal is to put everyone else under submission to them.

But I digress. Back to murder mysteries. A good mystery, chase, and/or cat and mouse game is fun to read and or watch. One hopes in anticipation that the detective(s) can outthink the bad guy, or sometimes vice versa. Korean dramas that try to do crime or police procedurals are on shaky ground. I don’t know a lot about the cops in South Korea, but their shows constantly portray them as being severely inept and corrupt. In American cop shows and crime dramas, although those elements are there, they are understated. The point for American TV is often to boost audience confidence in the system. Corruption would be more of a twist ending thing, and rarely are the federal officers or cops shown as being truly inept. The show Tell Me What You Saw, has an interesting balance of smart Korean detectives who are simultaneously inept, and who, although they do want to bring the murderers to justice, don’t seem to truly understand, well, how to keep the public safe.

The story revolves around three main detectives, Oh Hyun Jae, played by the ever versatile Jang Hyuk, is the main one. I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for Jang, as he was in the first Korean movie I ever saw, the funny Please Teach Me English. He’s know for his hilarious laugh, often over-the-top characters, and his athletic ability. Jang was a good choice to play Detective Oh, as the man is definitely larger than life, albeit so severely psychologically damaged that he’s bolted down any and all emotions. Unfortunately, this means that Jang wears a blank expression more than half the time, though he does use his eyes to emote well on occasion.

Tell Me What You Saw revolves roughly around three plot gimmicks, that are used unevenly and are often dropped. Detective Oh is damaged psychologically and physically. When Policewoman Cha Soo Young (Soo Young from Squad 38), our second detective, who is transferring to the Metropolitan detective unit, meets him, he is in a wheelchair and sunglasses. Sometimes characters with disabilities add a lot to these kinds of shows, but it initially seemed the writers were piling it on, as we’d already met Cha who communicates fluently in sign language due to having deaf parents. I wasn’t sure where they were going with all of that, but was intrigued to find out. It’s sad to peg any disability as a gimmick in stories, but that’s just so often what they end up being. In this show, sign language is used well for parts of the story, but wasn’t an integral part of the show.

The second gimmick, and most prominent one, at least for the first half of the show, is photographic memory. This almost superhuman ability work well on screen if used reasonably, and I actually thought the writers underused it considering it’s the reason for the name of the show. Again, it’s just not something integral to the show, and it probably was meant to be, but the third gimmick takes prominence. Well, sort of.

The third gimmick used is that of profiling, specifically profiling of serial killers. An example of where this is actually an integral part of a show is the awesome Criminal Minds, an America show that has been amazingly successful. Detective Oh is not just a detective, but a famous profiler and he and the third detective, Hwang Hwa Young played by Jin Seo Yeon, were both on the hunt for a serial killer 5 years before our story begins. They were both injured when the serial killer blew up a car in which Oh’s fiancee was trapped. Both detectives have made it their mission to find this guy and bring him to justice, though officially, the killer is supposed to be dead.

Hwang is Cha’s new boss, and she’s a tough cookie. By the end of the show I concluded she’s way, way more traumatized and damaged than Oh, and it really grated on me that he refused to show her genuine kindness or compassion.

So, three main detectives, three gimmicks, corruption, ineptness, and darkness all around. One thing the show does hands down, is showcase creepy serial killers. Very creepy and also very gruesome even though half of the stuff is blurred out. It is the stuff of nightmares and I don’t blame any of the characters for their somberness or melancholy. At the end of the series there’s a bit of a rush to add some light and hope. Corruption is routed, at least for the time being. The big bad is brought to justice, though in such a roundabout, drawn out way, it’s a bit hollow. The idea is stated that even if one is naturally programmed to do bad, one can choose to step into the light, just as good people can choose to give into evil.

The light is dampened, or at least it was for me, by Oh and Cha’s last conversation. He says there’s no divine retribution in this world, but they chase the killers and bad guys to uphold the law and that’s enough. Have to say, after watching the whole show, I doubt very much that Oh actually believes that. The character is saying it because that’s sort of a standard rah-rah line for government worker shows. Upholding human laws is why they exist, but it’s not a message of light and hope in and of itself. Now, maybe Oh was hinting that in the afterlife or the next world there is divine retribution, but he didn’t say that, and none of the characters seemed remotely religious except for some of the baddies. No, Oh’s statement is humanism that rang super hollow and pointless at the end. Maybe it was just that the story itself got too dark, very little humor or poignant human moments. Very little, too little, actual profiling. Until it was suddenly brought again in the last couple of episodes, I had forgotten that Oh was a profiler at all. I often forgot that Cha had a special memory and that she knew sign language. Terrible writing in that aspect, and it’s really the last half in which it goes downhill.

Let me go back to this idea that the point of these detectives jobs is to hunt down killers for the sake of the law. They can’t even do that well–it took them way too long to put some things together–and they risked so many lives by not shooting on sight at times. Not sure what the rules are for officers in S. Korea, but as an American watching it was frustrating. It was also infuriating how Detective Hwang’s story unfolded. She put so, so many people in danger by not dealing with her own trauma, and if she got any counseling at all or even informed her team and superiors of what happened to her, I missed those scenes. And detective Oh was the worst. As soon as he figured out who the killer was he should have either done a citizen’s arrest or shot the killer on sight. Both would have been better and more satisfying than what actually happened.

(Spoilers) No, Oh, doesn’t kill the bad guy like he wants to. He’s too superior for that, for some reason he think he’s owed a torture session. He also stupidly lets himself get almost killed, so he can’t help his fellow detectives. As a profiler, he should first of all, know that the criminal gets off on torture, and as a detective, should second of all, understand that he’s just giving the killer more chances to escape. This is the pride of humanism, one starts to think they are above even the human rules and makes mistakes, not only against other people, but also against oneself–a la Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment.

Detective Cha arrives just in time to pull Oh into the light, but I’m not sure what light she’s pulling him into. Even in humanism, aren’t the standards for “good” people more than just not killing someone? In some cases, isn’t killing the bad guy actually the best thing to do? Detective Oh might actually benefit from some jail time and counseling, so little thought did he–did any of the detectives have–for the safety of the public in general. Everyone was so inwardly focused, one could almost forget they are in the business of public safety. Tell Me What You Saw reminded me a bit of the movie Se7en, both stories so laser pointed on the dark, so nihilistic, that on a spiritual level it makes them not worth watching.

Although I never finished it, I thought Voice, also starring Jang Hyuk, had much more light to offer, at least in the first half that I watched. Other, better serial killer hunting down shows from S. Korea are Tunnel and Signal. These shows offer emotional impact, if nothing else, and the cops are good, and can be labeled as good, even if they are sometimes inept. In these shows the cops and detectives are clearly about saving lives, not satisfying their own revenge fantasies. As these far better shows don’t have religion or God in them per se, I think maybe part of the problem with Tell Me What You Saw‘s humanism, is that they forgot the human part. Any of the detectives could have easily been played by a long list of other actors. There was just no there there, which was a shame, because I did enjoy the first half. Detective Hwang’s story definitely had the most impact, and in the end she forgave herself, a very spiritual revelation. The other two detectives were emotionally blank, though Jang did make some use out of his signature laugh, and his character often made me wonder how wise it really is to think like a murderer, even if one’s goal is to catch him. Are serious profilers just one step away from being murderers themselves?

Not only that, how wise is it to read and watch stories about killers? Is it the fun of the mystery or chase or is it the draw of the darkness that’s really what’s sucking me in? With Agatha Christie, it’s easy, God is incorporated and it really is about justice, not human law in and of itself. But with stories like these, I don’t know. Maybe I’m just letting bad writing get me down. It irks me because I really, really wanted to like it, but Tell Me What You Saw just left me feeling empty. Jane Austen of Pride and Prejudice fame began her writing career by considering the dangers of ingesting too many fictional stories. She was right. One can have too much of them and be pulled into the darkness. It’s telling that her stories push readers solidly into the light. I need to have more discernment, because humanity by itself is pointless and lost without God. That way be dragons, as the saying goes.

The Lies of Locke Lamora: A lie is a lie is a lie

Con artist stories are fun, if they are well done. The Lies of Locke Lamora is thought of as a con artist or “heist” story, and since many people mentioned it in the reviews of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, which I like a lot, I thought I would check it out. It is quite an impressive feat, a yarn of a tale, however there are certain aspects lacking about both the story and the characters.

At over 700 hundred pages, one could almost find the tale too long; however, the length is largely due to very detailed world building and description. As I found both engrossing, the book did not seem long at all to me. In fact, the story seemed to end too soon. There’s a great, long buildup to something, but like so much about Locke Lamora, he doesn’t really deliver. But maybe that’s how liars are. They tell lies when it profits themselves; they’re not in the business for it to benefit others, even readers of their personal history.

Locke is an orphan who grows up in the great city-state of Camorr. He gets sold to a Dickensian-type of handler, a man who runs a gang of orphan thieves. The young Locke is great at thievery, but has an affiliation for the dramatic, turning a simple con into a play or show for others to watch. It often gets him into trouble and ends up with a lot of unintended consequences, one of them disturbing the great peace that there is between the criminal world and the nobles. Locke’s handler quickly hands him over to a temple priest, also a con artist, and someone who will take him and instruct him in more elaborate cons in which his acting skills and theatrics can succeed.

The initial con in the book was clever, and it’s a bit intriguing that Locke’s gang, the Gentleman Bastards only prey on the rich, but once the story veers into the Grey King taking over it’s all rather disappointing. It’s seems to me that this Grey King would have planned a lot more than to come to the city only to rely on the money from Locke’s gang to see his plans out. That part didn’t really make sense to me, and it could very well be that I missed something. Although other people had mentioned a big heist in the book, I didn’t see one. What happened at the end was Locke merely saving his skin and getting a bit of revenge for himself. It wasn’t a heist, and there was no big reveal that con artist movies and stories usually had where they “show” you how they did it. This wasn’t a fault of the author, necessarily, but a fault of my expectations.

As a general story, I found the book fun and interesting to read, but severely lacking in moral quality. It’s hard to care about characters who have no morals and live in a kill or be killed world. Camorr isn’t a city I would want to set foot in, though it’s described well and in great detail. Everyone in it seems mercenary and not worth the words wasted on them, Locke most of all. In the end, he’s not really that clever, just lucky to have friends who are loyal to him. He can’t fight well, or do anything else well, and although he leads the Gentleman Bastards, it’s hard to imagine him being able to manage a larger number of people. Hero, he is not. As a character, he was profoundly disappointing and only likable because of his loyalty to his friends. His strange care at the end for the lives of the rich nobles that he steals from comes out of nowhere. I’m surprised he would care to save them at all, that’s how bad a job the author did giving him any sort of moral character.

Two other things were off-putting in the book as well, the egregious use of profanity and the violence. Both come across as, well, lazy. As I said, there’s no amazing twist or heist at the end, it just sort of ends once all the right people are dead. Of course in a world like this, people would swear left and right, but that doesn’t mean the swearing should stream continually from the author’s pen. The readers are shown from the other descriptions quite well what kind of people these characters are without having to continually use the F-word to prove it. It also makes Locke appear less intelligent than he’s supposed to be. By the end of the story, though, I have to say I second-guessed his supposed intelligence. He’s a lucky liar, and that’s all.

As to the violence, so much of it was unnecessary and also began to shed poor light on both Locke and his best friend, Jean. No good person would resort to such violence, no matter how much the other person deserved it. They just wouldn’t and shouldn’t. Such violence may be understood in the defense of harm done to one’s child or something of that nature, but even with that, there’s a limit. Also, even though there are religions in this world, there’s no evidence Locke believes or lives by any such code, and that we’re asked to believe that he does at the end, well, it rang false. Very false.

So, I started the book by liking it, prepared to overlook the swearing and some violence (interestingly enough there were no egregious sex scenes to skip over), but ended disappointed and a bit repulsed by all the violence. The story had minimal emotional impact as a whole. I did feel bad for both Locke and Jean when their friends were slaughtered, but I began to feel less sorry for them the more they instigated violence themselves and caused unneeded collateral damage and pain for other people. The Lies of Locke Lamora isn’t a con artist or heist story, no, it’s merely gang warfare set in a fantasy world. It could have been a great heist story, but an editor was missing somewhere in the process.

Despite its lack of morals, both in the story and the characters, I did enjoy reading The Lies of Locke Lamora, though I’m not sure it’s something I’ll keep on my shelves to read again. Like a good con that is engaging when one is involved or being hoodwinked, at the end it just leaves one empty. For me, I found Six of Crows to be profoundly better, especially when it comes to moral and emotional impact. Those characters I could root for, Jean and Locke, not so much. Perhaps both characters improve in the next book of the series, but I’m doubtful. Locke is an amazing actor and liar. That’s about the best I can say for him. I do think, though, it’s a book, that could do well as a TV series. Game of Thrones fans would, I think, appreciate this grimy yet intricate, kill-or-be-killed world.

Normal Life

This past weekend, because we couldn’t have a proper baby shower for my little sister, I arranged a Drive-By Baby Shower instead. It was a providential day; God blessed us with sun and good weather. No one was sure how it was going to work, but we set up tables and chairs outside and told guests the time frame for dropping off gifts and picking up a cupcake. As people did show up in bunches, it was fun to just stand in the front yard grass and talk, and at the end, those who were still there spread out on the grass to watch the new mom open her gifts. It was just a normal, wonderful afternoon spent with family and friends that I’ve sorely missed.

A big part of my life has always been going to church, and I miss that, too, but we’ve been doing Drive-In Church Services, and they are quite fun. Especially in a snowstorm. Bible Studies Online have also been a wonderful blessing as well, and it’s great to see everyone on screen even if we can’t be with them in person. These times are sure interesting with people finding ways to connect that they never really thought about before.

Besides that, I’ve been doing a lot of writing. 20,000 words and counting on the first draft of Trolls for Dust, Season Three, and I have been watching some Korean dramas.

Two Weeks starring Li Joon Gi: I really, really wanted to like this show, but by episode 10, I just wasn’t into it. For an intense storyline, father escapes from police custody in order to make it to donate bone marrow to his dying daughter in two weeks, the episodes were rather slow. It also took forever for the writers to flesh out the back story, how the cute-as-a-button little girl’s mom and dad fell in love and out of love in the first place, how mom ended up with her new man, etc. I get why they did it that way, as a big crisis for the mom is realizing that her boyfriend is actually a very good man after all, but I found myself wanting more back history and less present time. The villains were also one note and tedious after the first couple of episodes. This is the reason I never finished Lawless Lawyer, also starring Li Joon Gi. The villains repeated the same scenes or very similar ones ad nauseam. Not even including flash backs.

Watching an uninteresting story, makes one crave interesting, good, well written ones, so I turned to W: Two Worlds Apart starring Lee Jong Suk and Han Hyo Joo. To say this show is well written is an understatement. In fact, I’m surprised Hollywood or an American television hasn’t done a remake of it yet. The show breaks 3rd wall, 4th wall, 5th wall, all the walls. It’s a really fun show to watch and keeps both the characters and the audience guessing. Lee Jong Suk is perfect as a leading man, though maybe just a bit too baby-faced. The actor who really shines is Kim Eui Sung, who plays writer Oh Sung Moo. Poor Oh gets wrung through the wringer and back. This show really has a good combination of character and plot development, and the plot is so interesting that it’s often okay that it overshadows the rest. The writer for W definitely hit her sweet spot with this project, and it’s definitely on my top ten list for Korean dramas.

The others on my top 10 list are, not in any particular order: City Hunter, Faith, Boys Over Flowers, Goblin, You’re All Surrounded, Hello Monster, High School King of Savvy, I am Not a Robot, and Descendants of the Sun. Although I like the romance in Korean dramas, it’s the more interesting, action or fantasy-oriented plots that really keep me hooked. Honorable mention to K2, except for the last four episodes or so. My next drama to try is Tell Me What You Saw starring the awesome Jang Hyuk from Fated to Love You (by a truckload of tissues for the latter half) and Slave Hunters (really long, but epic).