2017年9月29日 星期五

"The Children of the Company" by Kage Baker (2005)

"But my mother's savior was about the usual business of the immortals who work for their Company, which is to walk among mortals and preserve fine and rare things that would otherwise be destroyed by them."

Kage Baker is another author that I was introduced to in The Year's Best Science Fiction collections.  Her "The Hotel and Harlan's Landing" in the 2002 collection was pretty dumb, though "Welcome to Olympus, Mr. Hearst" in the 2003 collection was slightly better.  She is best known for her "Company novels," of which The Children of the Company is a more recent example.

The plot?  There's not much of one to speak of.  The Children of the Company is more a collection of stories set throughout human history, all featuring a race of immortal cyborgs sent back in time (?) by The Company to influence major events and/or preserve our heritage for some kind of singularity in the distant future.

I'm assuming the author explains all of this time travelling and cybernetic wizardry in another novel, because I sure didn't get much in the way of explanation from The Children of the Company.  I suppose this is more a stylistic choice, but for those who like reasons this novel will be a source of frustration.  In some ways it resembles something Anne Rice might have written, with cyborgs and time travel taking the place of vampires and erotic reflections on history.

Is it good?  Well, it's certainly well written.  Compared to most contemporary science fiction authors, Baker's command of the English language is remarkable.  Where other authors pare their sentences down to the barest minimum, Baker's prose is a more self-conscious affair.  It's as if the nineteenth century were reasserting itself through her prose, in an attempt to come to grips with modern innovations.  It's only too bad that there wasn't more of an overarching story to hang her verbal gymnastics upon.

I will say, however, that The Children of the Company has caused me to reassess this author.  Whereas I previously thought of her as more a writer of silly stories, I now feel more willing to take her seriously.  I'm not saying that I'm a fan, exactly, but I wouldn't mind reading another novel in the series (perhaps the first one), and giving her another chance.

2017年9月25日 星期一

Some Other Movies From 1980

Saw all of the movies below recently.  I got bored, looked up "1980 in Film" on Wikipedia, and worked my way through some of the movies I hadn't already seen.

Some Good Ones

1. Private Benjamin

Goldie Hawn stars as a woman who joins the military after the death of her husband.  It has a lot to say about living life on your own terms, and about freeing yourself from destructive relationships.

2. Ordinary People

Robert Redford directed Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore in this story about a family trying to cope with the loss of a loved one.  The cast is great, and that scene of Moore in her bedroom is some of the best acting ever.  Redford deserved the Oscar he won that year.

3. Altered States (?)

I put a question mark next to this one because I'm still not sure if it's simply good, or so bad it's good.  A lot of the dialogue is ridiculous, but that's a given in any Paddy Chayefsky film.  William Hurt does a great mad scientist, and Blair Brown is his suitably overwrought wife.

4. Heaven's Gate

It's fashionable to hate on this movie, especially considering the fact that it's one of the biggest box office bombs of all time, but I think there's a lot to like about the Criterion version.  Sure, it's slow-moving, and no, it's not cool to blow horses up with dynamite, but it's full of great performances and the cinematography is first-rate.  If you liked Days of Heaven, you'll find a lot to appreciate in Heaven's Gate.

5. Atlantic City

This movie was nominated for all the big Academy Awards - and won none of them.  Susan Sarandon stars as a woman trying to disentangle herself from a manipulative husband, and Burt Lancaster stars as a small-time crook who stumbles across a big score.  Very French in its way, without being annoyingly arty.

6. The Jazz Singer

Like Heaven's Gate, another box office bomb that has some redeeming features.  Definitely super cheesy with a generous helping of plot holes, but it's one of those movies that inhabits a gray area between "good," "bad," and "so bad it's good."  Dude, that song "America" will get you PUMPED.

Some Bad Ones

1. Xanadu

I had a hell of a time finishing this movie.  There's almost no plot, and some of the dialogue ranks as the worst ever.  Olivia Newton-John was bearable in Grease, but in Xanadu she's unbearable.

2. Smokey and the Bandit Part II

I freaking loved the first Smokey and the Bandit, but the sequel is BAD.  It also makes you feel sorry for Sally Field, who won the Best Actress Oscar the year before for Norma Rae.  Apparently this movie and Cannonball Run (below) were filmed at the same time.

3. 9 to 5

This movie was (of course) a huge success in 1980, dealing as it does with gender roles in the workplace.  My trouble with it is that it's a comedy, and that it's just not funny anymore.  I think movies like Mr. Mom and Tootsie did a MUCH better job with similar subject matter, and they're still funny.

4. Melvin and Howard

I believe this was Jonathan Demme's first big success.  Mary Steenburgen won the Oscar for her role as Melvin's wife, and it received a lot of praise at the time.  But as with 9 to 5, its humor hasn't aged well and the characters are hard to relate to.

5. Stir Crazy

The first half of this movie is funny, but after that it gets bogged down in a prison escape subplot.  Who cares how they escape the prison rodeo?  Isn't this supposed to be a comedy?

6. The Unseen

To be fair, Barbara Bach had a great ass, and there's a long, lingering shot of it in the beginning of this movie.  Stephen Furst was also a genuinely creepy "monster," but the rest of this movie is strictly B-grade horror.  You can, by the way, see the whole thing on YouTube.

7. Gloria

As much as I loved A Woman Under the Influence, I just couldn't get into this movie.  Some of the plot elements are incredibly unrealistic, and the kid Gena Rowlands rescues is the worst actor ever - so bad that his performance brings you right out of the movie.  "I am the man!  I am the man!"  Argh.  Gloria and Atlantic City might have been neck and neck at the 1980 Academy Awards, but Atlantic City is a much better movie all around.

Some That Are So Bad They're Good

1. Can't Stop the Music

The movie that helped kill disco and also end many movie careers.  Valerie Perrine stars as a model, Steve Guttenberg costars as a DJ, and the Village People provide a reason for this movie's existence.  People are really too hard on this movie, but it never took itself that seriously anyway.

2. Cannonball Run

Roger Moore is the best part of this movie, but there's enough silliness to make all of the characters endearing.  Is it an enduring piece of film history?  Hell no.  But if you feel nostalgic for the 80s this is the movie you want to see.

3. The Exterminator

A Vietnam vet vs. evil marijuana growers in California!  It's chock full of bad acting, nonsensical plot points, and super low-budget special effects.

2017年9月21日 星期四

"Steal Across the Sky" by Nancy Kress (2009)

"Silence on the other side of the commlink.  Lucca heard his own tone, lingering in the air like miasma.  Finally Cam said, 'Well excuse me for not having a college education.  And you're taking all this way too personally, Lucca.  I thought anthropologists were supposed to be objective."

Nancy Kress has written a whole heapin' lot of books, and won a whole heapin' lot of awards.  Before reading Steal Across the Sky, I came across a couple of her short stories in The Year's Best Science Fiction collections.  Her story "Ej-es" was one of the best entries in the 21st edition.

In Steal Across the Sky, a group of extraterrestrials called The Atoners make first contact with the human race in the near future.  They claim to have "committed a great sin" against our species, and as a way of righting former wrongs they recruit several people (the "Witnesses") to observe branches of humanity removed to a distant planet at some point in our ancient history.

It sounds kind of silly, right?  And yes, if you stop to think about the physics of intergalactic travel, it doesn't quite work, but then again you could say the same about almost any novel involving intergalactic travel.  "By the time X got back to Y, everyone he or she knew would be dead" runs a common refrain, but in this instance the mechanics of travel to distant stars isn't too central to the plot, and for this reason I was able to overlook it.

What's more, the characterization in Steal Across the Sky is a vast improvement over the last novel I read, Vernor Vinge's Across Realtime.  The people in Steal Across the Sky feel like living, breathing people as opposed to plot devices.  Their emotional reactions their experiences are believable, and their motivations are clear.  To be sure, this novel is heavy on the fiction and light on the science, but it's still a much better story than anything found in Across Realtime.  I found myself caring about the people Steal Across the Sky, and I wanted them to prosper.

With this said, I could see how Steal Across the Sky might rub more "scientifically oriented" readers the wrong way.  Parts of it border on the supernatural, even though most of the characters strive to maintain a scientific worldview.  I don't want to give too much away here, but what the Witnesses see off-planet shakes their understanding of human nature to its very foundations, and calls into question some aspects of the current trend toward Atheism in relation to scientific inquiry.  It's not a leap that most science fiction writers would make, and I admire the author for having the guts to do it.

Yet allowing for the supernatural, there's a gaping plot hole at the center of this book.  And no, it has nothing to do with intergalactic travel or genetics.  It's something a lot more obvious than that.

Why does everyone on Earth believe what the Witnesses have to say about their experiences?  The Witnesses return to Earth with NO evidence, and despite this small complication everyone - right down to governments and the world's leading scientists - believes everything they have to say.  Given the technological disparity between the Atoners and Earth's civilization, the Witnesses might as well have hidden in a room for the duration of their stay on the moon, or been placed inside of a virtual reality simulation.  How does anyone know that it wasn't some kind of hoax?  How does anyone know that the "Witnesses" weren't the subjects of some elaborate mind control experiment?  There are people who still can't believe that the moon landing happened, so why would anyone take the Witnesses' word it?

Steal Across the Sky really should have addressed this problem, but I have the feeling that Nancy Kress was, by that point, on to writing her next of many novels.  She couldn't be bothered to add that chapter.  And this is unfortunate, because such a chapter would have elevated the book to another level.  It would have made Steal Across the Sky feel so much more real, and so much more immediate.

It's a good book, and I'd be happy to read more of Nancy Kress's output in the future.  I just wish she had taken a bit more time with this one.  A greater attention to detail would have made the difference between a simply good book and one that's definitely great.

2017年9月19日 星期二

Roller Disco, Man!

I watched not one, but TWO roller disco movies this week.  The first was Xanadu, starring Olivia Newton-John and Michael Beck.  The second was Can't Stop the Music, starring Steve Guttenberg and Valerie Perrine.  Both movies came out in 1980, and both movies signaled the apocalyptic end of the late 70s roller disco craze.

In case you weren't born yet, or it somehow got by you, "roller disco" was a sub-fad of disco.  Participants  in this craze donned roller skates for their nights on disco mountain.  Roller disco had an even shorter lifespan than regular disco, undoubtedly because disco looked even more ridiculous with roller skates on.  There's a Wikipedia article here.

In Can't Stop the Music, Steve Guttenberg stars as an aspiring DJ, and the superfine Valerie Perrine stars as a well-known model in New York.  Oh, and the Village People are in it.  And oh, BRUCE Jenner (before he was Caitlyn) is also in it.  I suppose there's a plot in there somewhere, but the movie's more an excuse for disco, featuring several performances by the Village People.

Can't Stop the Music also won the FIRST Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture.  AND it brought Valerie Perrine's career (which was going pretty well beforehand) to a screeching halt.  Steve Guttenberg somehow weathered the storm, soldiering on to the likes of Police Academy, Three Men and a Baby, and Cocoon.

Valerie Perrine tells a funny story about Can't Stop the Music here.  Apparently Bruce Jenner and herself were rehearsing a scene in front of the camera, when the director yelled at them to be quiet on set.  According to Perrine, the director didn't know enough about directing to know which way the camera was pointed, and thought that they were already filming other actors, in another part of the set.

Live and learn I guess.  Perrine would later appear in other films, though nothing as high profile as Can't Stop the Music.  She played Jack Nicholson's love interest in The Border, which is a movie worth seeking out.

For me the funny thing is that Can't Stop the Music is halfway entertaining, whereas Xanadu is just excruciating.  In Xanadu, Olivia Newton-John plays one of the muses (yes, the Greco-Roman ones) that inspires a young painter and his older friend.  It's full of weird, embarrassing dance numbers, and some terrifically bad songs.  It's no coincidence, I think, that Newton-John's film career took a nosedive afterward.  The director, by the way, won the first Golden Raspberry for Worst Director.

At least Newton-John had a few more pop hits to look forward to.  What about costar Michael Beck?  Has anyone heard from him lately?  After Xanadu, he was consigned to a purgatory of TV movies and one-off appearances on TV shows.  All for the sin of clapping along to Olivia Newton-John.

Roller disco, man.  It seemed like such a good idea at the time.  Too bad the 80s had to show up and ruin everyone's party.  MTV, New Wave, Van Halen - it all brought roller disco to a bitter end.  Will we ever regain that state of grace?  Will we ever "boogie" on roller skates again?

Beats me, but if you miss it too much you can always rent out an abandoned roller rink, and try to bring it back.  It's like the movie says, man, "Can't stop the music!"

2017年9月17日 星期日

"Across Realtime" by Vernor Vinge (1986)

"'Yeah.  I was born about ten megayears after the Singularity - the Extinction, Juan calls it.  I've read and watched all about cops and criminals and soldiers, but till now I've never actually met any."

Vernor Vinge has been writing science fiction since the 1960s.  He won the Hugo for his novel A Fire Upon the Deep, though he is best known for The Peace War, one of the two novels that together form Across Realtime.

Across Realtime consists of three parts, all of which were published elsewhere at earlier dates.  These three parts are The Peace War, a novel describing the development of "bobble technology" and its social impact, The Ungoverned, a short story detailing the struggle between two nations following The Peace War, and Marooned in Realtime, a murder mystery set long after the events of The Ungoverned.

So what's this "bobble technology?"  Well, not to put too fine a point on it (the author doesn't, anyway), "bobble technology" involves the creation of a sphere (or field) around an object.  Once inside this sphere (or field), the object (or person) goes into stasis for varying periods of time.  Time, for all intents and purposes, does not exist inside the bobble, and the bobble cannot be penetrated by any outside force.

All of which borders on magic... if you ask me.  And what bothers me more is that several characters within The Peace War - upon whose lives the very concept of bobbles hinges - never really bother to question the fundamental nature of this technology and its ramifications.  Why, for instance, can't you put a bobble around another bobble?  Why are bobbles indestructible?  What does it say about the nature of time, if it can be rendered "inert" at a certain point?  And what is happening inside a bobble - exactly?  Despite the praise sometimes heaped upon the author for thinking through the implications of his invented technologies, he leaves a lot of questions unanswered, and a lot of avenues unexplored.

The three parts of this collection also vary in quality, and often for very different reasons.  The first part, The Peace War, is probably the weakest of the three.  It comes to a grinding halt about half of the way through, and after that point it's a real chore to finish.  None of the characters in this novel are adequately fleshed out, and the struggle between the Peace Authority, a group controlling the world through bobbles, and the so-called Tinkers is full of some large, bobble-sized plot holes.  Wili, the protagonist, is probably the most sympathetic character in the whole collection, but even his character development dwindles to nothing in the final, excruciatingly boring military confrontation that concludes this story.

The Ungoverned doesn't have much to do with bobbles, and instead focuses on three members of a post-"Peace War" republic caught up in a confrontation between two nations.  It's very Libertarian in tone, with a single landowner standing up against seemingly overwhelming odds.  All in all it's pretty silly, but it gets a pass because it's short.

Marooned in Realtime closes the book, and this is, in my opinion the best of the three parts.  Some implications of the bobble technology are finally explored, though not in as much detail as I would have liked.  As I read it, I kept thinking about how much more interesting this idea would have been in the hands of an author like Arthur C. Clarke or Philip K. Dick - someone ready to get theoretical.  As it is, Vinge introduces some interesting bobble-inspired approaches to space travel and "time tourism," but as I read I kept thinking about other, unanswered questions that the characters might have posed to one another.  What, for example, would happen if you shot a large enough bobble into the center of the sun?  And how would relativistic time effects act on a bobble propelled to near-light speed?  Does a bobble have mass?  Would you need to decelerate before you created another bobble?

Anyway, you get the idea.

The characters in Marooned in Realtime are also, despite the "harder" science fiction on display, among the least sympathetic in the entire collection.  To put it another way, they are all quite boring, and this lessened my enthusiasm for the murder mystery that lies at the center of this story.

And to make matters worse, the reveal at the book's conclusion is a completely arbitrary affair, which not even the smartest reader could have anticipated.  In this the author has failed to understand the appeal of the detective novel, in that any good mystery story ought to be full of clues that the reader, alongside the protagonist, puts together to solve a mystery.  Without the possibility of identifying the killer just before the "hero" does, where's the fun?

So, is this book good or bad?  On the whole, I'd say it's readable.  It's not great by any stretch of the imagination, but it's better than a lot of other science fiction novels released during the 80s.  A still lesser-known author like Brian Stableford could have worked wonders with this bobble idea, but hey, his loss is Vernor Vinge's gain.

2017年9月6日 星期三

"Historic America: The Northwest" by Jim Kaplan (2002)

Historic America: The Northwest is the kind of book few people bother to read.  It's a coffee table book.  It's basically an excuse for pictures.

But I did read it.  Why?  Because for one thing, I'm genuinely interested in Northwest history.  And for another thing, I'm from Seattle, and I tend to get nostalgic about the Pacific Northwest.

This book restricts its definition of the Northwest to only Washington, Oregon, and the northern half of California.  This seems strange to me, since most of Idaho is on the western side of the Rockies, and not the eastern.  I've always thought of Idaho as being in the Pacific Northwest, and a case could also be made for Western Montana, most of Nevada, and even parts of Wyoming and Utah.

But whatever.  Geographic definitions are often plagued by a certain arbitrariness, and any attempt to set limits on what we call the Pacific Northwest is bound to make someone unhappy.

As for the text present in this book, it is, as said above, beside the point.  There's also a sizable chunk of it missing, and it repeats itself a lot.  I have the feeling that whoever was editing this thing wasn't paying much attention, and that's fine because, again, this book is mostly an excuse for pictures.

Why not, then, use it as an excuse for my pictures?  What follows below are pictures I took while I was driving/camping around the Pacific Northwest last summer.  And when I say Pacific Northwest, I mean Washington, Oregon, Northern California, Idaho, Western Montana, and even Utah.  I'd throw in some pictures of Nevada too, but I didn't make it that far south this time.

I will attempt to be historic in my comments.  It might not be the history you read about in Historic America: The Northwest, but it is history, after a fashion.


1. First Trip: Seattle WA - Portland OR - The Oregon Coast - Crescent City CA - Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park CA - Grants Pass OR - Seattle WA

This is Portland, Oregon.  For a long time it was a close race between Portland and Seattle as to which city would be the Northwest's premier city.  For the time being Seattle has won that race, largely owing to the Alaskan Gold Rush in the 1800s.

Stub Stewart State Park west of Portland, about 40 minutes down the "Sunset Highway."  I believe Mr. Stewart was a noted local conservationist.

Bike trail between Stub Stewart State Park and Vernonia, Oregon.  Once upon a time Vernonia was a big lumber town, and many of the buildings there are very old.  Nowadays most people in Vernonia would be glad to have a job at the local Subway.

Depoe Bay, Oregon.  Part of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was filmed here.

Jessie M. Honeyman State Park.  No idea who Mr. Honeyman was, but his state park is awesome.

The Oregon Dunes near Florence, Oregon.  While writing an article about this area Frank Herbert came up with the idea for his novel Dune.

Hands-down my favorite part of Oregon.  Not much history, but I love the slow battle between the forest and the sand.

Bridge into Florence, Oregon.  There is a historic downtown area that dates back to the 1800s.

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.  It's hard to really capture the scale of these trees in a photograph.  If you haven't been, you really ought to see them for yourself.

These are, as is often stated, the largest things living.

Woodland Park, Seattle.  Monument to some kind of disagreement between the United States and the Philippines.

Summer sky over suburban Seattle.

Lake Union, in the center of Seattle.  After the completion of the Lake Washington Shipping Canal, this became an important hub for shipping.

2. Second Trip: Seattle WA - Ellensburg WA - Spring Canyon/Grand Coulee WA - Spokane WA - Lolo National Forest MT - Missoula MT - Lolo National Forest MT - Spring Canyon/Grand Coulee WA - Seattle WA

Old signs in an Ellensburg restaurant.

Native crafts in the Klickitat County Museum in downtown Ellensburg.  The Klickitat were one of the major tribes in this area.  There were also the Colville, further north.

Spring Canyon Campground, just across the water from Grand Coulee Dam.

It was large projects like this that helped the U.S. survive the Great Depression.  The water trapped behind the dam made farming and pasturing possible in former desert areas.

Somewhere beyond the hills on the other side of the lake lies the Colville Indian Reservation.  It's about as remote as you can get.

Downtown Spokane.  Not especially interesting or scenic, but a welcome stop after a long drive through the desert.

Many of the buildings in downtown Spokane are very old.  This city lies along the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railway.

Along the Clark Fork, in Western Montana.  Yes, it's named after that Clark.  It's also the largest river in Montana.

Further west along the Clark Fork, not far from St. Regis.

The town of Grand Coulee.  This isn't just what a desert town looks like, it's also what economic depression looks like.  Farmers in this area are having a tough time.

Highway between Grand Coulee and Electric City.

3. Third Trip: Seattle WA - Ellensburg WA - Yakima WA - Tri-Cities (Kennewick) WA - Farewell Bend State Park OR - Salt Lake City UT - Glenn's Ferry ID - Boise ID - Emigrant Springs Campground OR - Seattle WA

Farewell Bend State Park, near the Oregon/Idaho border.  Settlers often stopped here, proceeded west along the Oregon Trail, and then found that the water in Farewell Bend had made them sick.

That haze in the sky isn't cloud cover, it's the smoke from a forest fire in Montana.  That smoke followed us all the way down to Utah.

The Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah.  A very photogenic building, I must say.

The Mormons settled in Salt Lake City after several misadventures further east.  First there was the whole polygamy thing, then there was a bank failure, and lastly there were the Indians they encountered along the Oregon Trail.

Townspeople angered over Joseph Smith's "eccentricity."  Taken in the Church of Latter-Day Saints History Museum next to the Temple.

"Ancient" Mormon architecture.

Shopping center in the middle of Salt Lake City.

Glenn's Ferry, Idaho.  Many of those following the Oregon Trail crossed the Snake River here.

In the best of times it was a difficult crossing, and many lost their lives trying to ford the river.

The relations between the white settlers and the Indians were tumultuous, and the U.S. government has still not honored many of the treaties it made with the tribes in the 1800s.

But hey, with that kind of sunset you tend to forget about the suffering that must have occurred here.

Downtown Boise.  This was the site of Fort Boise, which was an important stop for settlers.  Boring city though.

Near Baker City, Oregon.  The bones of settlers are still found out here on occasion.

Emigrant Springs Campground, between La Grande and Pendleton, Oregon.  Prior to the days of the Oregon Trail, I believe John Jacob Astor's party stopped here on their way to founding Astoria.

It is, by the way, a BEAUTIFUL area, and I hope to return to Oregon's Blue Mountains some day soon.

2017年9月5日 星期二

"The Crisis of Islamic Civilization" by Ali A. Allawi (2009)

"No Muslim state has proclaimed that its adherence to Islamic norms of conduct and behavior has been the essential factor in its success in worldly matters.  Thus, where Muslim countries have excelled (in relative terms), say in Malaysia, the cause is partly attributed to 'Asian', rather than to Islamic, values.  Similarly, the success of Turkey in transforming its economy is attributed to the modernization of its corporate culture along modern capitalist lines rather than to a particularly Islamic quality of its economy or society.  Dubai, the glittering emirate which sees itself as the embodiment of the wired and globalized city, compares itself, if it ever does so any more, to Singapore and Hong Kong, and not to some Islamic paradigm of success"

Ali A. Allawi grew up in Iraq, and eventually served in the interim government there.  He holds degrees in Civil Engineering and Business Administration.  Prior to The Crisis of Islamic Civilization he wrote another book, The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace.

The Crisis of Islamic Civilization was also voted one of the best books of 2009, though some of the praise heaped upon it makes me wonder if all of the critics doing the praising really read it.  Some of their "blurbs" seem to refer more to the author's previous offering.  

...not that I'm blaming them.  The Crisis of Islamic Civilization is an incredibly dense book, and if they couldn't make it all the way through I'd understand.  I struggled with it, too.

This book could be divided into two parts: the theological and the political.  I had a lot easier time relating to the political (and economic) parts of this book, for reasons that will be obvious to longtime readers of this blog.  The political side of this book is, at times, extremely insightful, even though I had a hard time with the (long) discussions of the Quran, Sharia law, and their place in a hypothetical "modern Islamic society."

I should probably add that if this book had been titled The Crisis of Christian Civilization, The Crisis of Hindu Civilization, or The Crisis of Shinto Civilization I would have been equally unconcerned with the author's conclusions.  I'm just not a religious guy, and the lapse of a religious outlook from the public sphere concerns me not at all.  I don't spend a lot of time worrying about "spirituality" in either the personal or public sense, and the idea that Islamic civilization is somehow "doomed" isn't exactly keeping me up nights.  I don't believe in spirits, I don't think national entities ought to have anything to do with God, and I think the problem with modern societies is an overabundance of superstition, not a lack thereof.

Just the same, the author says a lot of meaningful things about the interactions between Western and Islamic societies.  The prologue to this book is well worth reading for its own sake, and some of the chapters near the end offered a thoughtful (if perhaps misguided) overview of the economic and political factors which are retarding the grown of Islamic civilization.  I'd recommend this book, with some reservations.