Book Review: Aurora Rising

Aurora Rising has strong, classic science-fiction elements and borrows heavily from the Hitchhiker's Guide, Ender's Game, Star Trek, Star Wars and perhaps a bit of Firefly. The authors use the alternating perspective method, changing each chapter to a different character's point of view. With six crew members plus Aurora, it can be difficult to distinguish who's vantage point we are reading.

They're not the heroes we wanted. They're just the ones we could find.

The book reads quick with emphasis on action more than descriptions until the very end when emotion and mental imagery finally push to the front. Relationships are a key component and while romance and sexual tension are present, the relationships serve to define each character's uniqueness as contrasted with the others. A major theme of the book is the seemingly incompatible divergent cast forging together, becoming stronger through unity.

There is a fair amount of mild swearing, some in alien languages but enough instances of strong language that parents should be aware. The book also mingles an evolutionary view of the universe's origins with an unexplained belief in a Maker. Religion, like other elements, serves only as a way to unify or distinguish the crew and does not try to comment on our current culture.

Faith is also a central theme but who or what is the author of that faith is never explored. Instead it becomes a blind faith in each other and that circumstances will somehow work out despite astronomical odds against success.

I would recommend this book for high school or older and for readers who enjoy a space action thriller. Overall it was a fun read but shouldn't be taken seriously as any sort of moral commentary or explanation of how the real world actually functions. Parents can discuss the role of faith, loyalty and relationships and how they shaped each character's decisions and actions.

This is the first in a series with additional titles yet to be released.

Aurora Rising Aurora Rising by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Positives: Diverse character development and complex settings
Negatives: Language and alternating viewpoint writing style

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But Is It Safe?

It was a small news story this morning in the sea of political and social chaos, but it knocked the wind out of me. A massive fire at the Kyoto animation studio killed dozens and injured many more.

The Kyoto studios produced the Violet Evergarden series for Netflix. Liz and I watched it together (in the original Japanese) and were mesmerized by the storytelling and quality in the animation. The studio has also taken groundbreaking steps in the industry by paying their animators a salary instead per frame.

Over the past year, a lot of our family's focus and attention has been on taking steps for Liz to study at a university in the UK. She has committed to a three year program and animation is her career choice. We are familiar with the production cycle and can imagine what life was like inside the Kyoto studios. The violence and senseless loss of life and talent is incomprehensible.

Faith never prevents hardship, pain or loss.

Photo Credit: SakugaBlog
When people hear that Liz is studying overseas, they often ask how we could let her do that. But how could we not? Animation is not typically a dangerous job, unlike her brother who is an electrician. And yet this news story exposes the reality that no career is 100% safe.

Every parent must grapple with the reality that they cannot shield their children from every danger. If anything, the news drove me back to my faith. I believe in her talents and abilities. I have faith that her eternal destiny is secure and that our hope is in Christ's work on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Faith never prevents hardship, pain or loss. But it is our trust in God's faithfulness that will carry us through (Habakkuk 3:16-18).

And so my heart aches for the animators and families devastated by this tragic and horrific fire. It makes me realize that my daughter's career choice is not guaranteed safe. But I can send her off with confidence and the knowledge that no matter what she encounters in life, we have hope of an eternity in the presence of God.

Movie Review: The Space Between Us

This evening I watched on Netflix The Space Between Us, an interesting spin on the coming of age story. The science leans more towards possible than probable and the plot ignores many social obstacles but the message is classic and viewers will come away having enjoyed the telling.

He is isolated and unsure of himself, she is rough and tough with a tender soul. We know they are meant for each other even if they are the only teens in the entire movie. And the obstacles they need to overcome are literally astronomical.

There is a scene that heavily implies sex between minors which gives this movie the PG-13 rating. So consider that before allowing younger teens to view this film. There is also a Thelma and Louise style road trip filled with a string of stolen cars.

Discussion points with younger viewers should focus on the social implications more than the science of space travel. Several characters make very difficult decisions with far reaching consequences. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of acting, settings and general believability of the space scenes. Overall I liked the movie and gave it a four out of five stars.

Book Review: The Princess and the Fangirl

The Princess and the Fangirl I enjoyed Geekerella so much that I wanted to like this one too, but after struggling through the first two days of the Con I'm calling it quits. There is way too much internal drama and not enough plot momentum.

I'm not a fan of the opposing perspectives changing every chapter but it worked in the first book where the characters were so different. But with nearly identical girls trying to live each others life, it was hard to be drawn to either of them.

While Geekerella was all about romance and the pitfalls of miscommunication, The Princess and the Fangirl is often more about confused teenage lust and usually towards the same gender. I felt like Ashley Poston didn't have a compelling story and so she filled the pages with sensational sexuality simply for the shock value.

And while the initial geeky references and Con situations were fun in Geekerella, they turned sour and overused in this second attempt. I hope everything turns out well for the princess Jessica and fangirl Imogen but I don't feel the need to stick around to find out.

The Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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Educational Darwinism

One of the reasons I chose to leave the classroom is that the teaching license requirements are cumbersome and overwhelming. In a fast paced, high stakes profession with low pay there is very little personal return on investment.

Don't get me wrong, teaching is a very rewarding profession and it still brings me joy to see former students graduating from college, entering careers, getting married and having children. But the reality is that my students reaped the benefits, while I struggled to financially stay afloat.

According to the Indiana State Teacher's Association, the Indiana legislature passed a new law adding additional professional growth requirements for teachers (read the article here). A full explanation can be found on the Indiana Department of Education's website.

Improve Yourself or Die

While I'm sure these requirements had the best intentions, there is no support structure to facilitate its implementation. No indication is given on how teachers are to pay for this professional development or if school's must grant them time off to complete it.

Teachers will be required to complete the following as part of their ongoing professional development:
  1. An externship with a company; 
  2. Professional development provided by the state, a local business, or a community partner that provides opportunities for school and employers to partner in promoting career navigation; 
  3. Professional development provided by the state, a local business, or a community partner that outlines:
    (A) current and future economic needs of the community, state, nation, and globe;
    and (B) ways in which current and future economic needs described in (A) can be disseminated to students.
Now I also took the liberty of looking up other licensed professions in our state. Many are focused on healthcare but also includes real estate, plumbing, cosmetology and engineering. Could you imagine making the same requirement of those professions? What if...
  • all healthcare employees were required to complete unpaid externships at a major hospital and attend conferences where they outline solutions to the community's current and future economic needs and learn how to guide patients to make healthier choices.
  • all plumbers and beauticians must attend conferences and workshops where suppliers demonstrate new resources and installation techniques, specifically addressing how cost savings (and potential profits) can be passed not to themselves, but along to consumers.
  • and all these requirements must be completed on the employee's time and at their own cost or they would lose their license
Unfortunately it seems that the whole plan to improve education is to threaten teachers. If teachers do not somehow fix problems beyond their control, with resources they don't have, then they will be denied the opportunity to teach. The only problem with this bullying tactic is that we have a shortage of willing teaches. In the end, we all suffer.