An Unexpected Thumbscrew Review

From Ratatouille. Copyright, Pixar Inc.

I feel a bit like Anton Ego from Ratatouille. Food was his life. And after many years of enjoying food, he developed a refined pallet for only the best. But there was so much bad food out there, that he couldn’t help but become cynical and over critical with each new review.

Although my opinions don’t carry as much weight as Ego’s, books have been my life for a very long time. I know good stories when I read them, and I know weak writing when I see it. Writing is not easy, I acknowledge this being a writer myself, and I recognize that in the past my reviews have been cynical and over critical. I can’t help it. My pallet for only the best seldom allows me to enjoy the less than best.

Since I started studying the craft and reading books with a critic’s eye, I began to see and recognize the traits of a truly great book. A truly great book will keep you up at night thinking about it. A truly great book will captivate you. A truly great book leaves you flipping that last page again and again, looking for more to magically appear. A truly great book has an authentic beauty to it that is difficult to describe, but is mesmerizing to say the least. A truly great book will leave you totally breathless.

Few books in my past have met that criteria, and I’m sad to say that even fewer do so now that I’ve begun to look so critical at the words before me. And my fear is that if I ever re-read one of these books I remember as being truly great, then I will find them now lacking. I fear I have set an unattainable goal… a holy grail that I measure every book that I read against. And I fear none will ever measure up.

I am searching for a truly great book.

For Christmas, I received a Kindle… an amazing device that I hope will help me get through my reading list much quicker. I began a book that has been waiting in queue for several months. I hoped to moderately enjoy the book, but I didn’t expect to be blown away. It is by a friend, and I felt a little obligated to read it. And I had already predetermined that I would not tell anyone I was reading, so that a review would not be expected… if I hated it, then I would be silent for my friend’s sake.

This book kept me up at night thinking about it. This book captivated me. This book left me flipping that last page again and again, looking for more to magically appear. This book had an authentic beauty that is difficult to describe, but is mesmerizing to say the least. This book left me totally breathless.

For the first time in a very long time, I finally read a truly great book. This book was Alpha Redemption, by my friend PA Baines.

I could go into critic mode, sure. I could point on the small errors in editing and small plot points I might have changed. I could research modern scientific theories and try to poke holes in the science of the book.

But the beauty is not in those things. This book is not about science, or space travel, or computers. This books is about a broken man. It is about his life, the highs and the lows. It is about love and loss and regret and second chances. It is funny, smart, and layered with subtle complexity that the casual reader may not notice, but the critical eye can relish. This book is a beautiful work of art.

Paul, thank you for writing this. Thank you for giving me this beautiful story to absorb. I want you to know, that for the first time in about five years I am making a change to my Top 10 Books. Alpha Redemption now has its place there. If all of your writing is like this, then I will become one of your biggest supporters.

For everyone else… it doesn’t matter if you like sci-fi, you need to read this book. You need to experience the emergence of a truly great author during the days before his name will become household vocabulary. This book is why readers read and why writers write. It is the rare delicacy that those who devour books are seeking. And it is the ultimate standard that writers hope one day to mimic.

Readers – read it, savor it, and be changed.

Writers – read it, study it, and learn from a master.




About Keven Newsome

Keven Newsome is an musician, theologian, and a bit of a nerd. He enjoys a variety of musical genres, from Christian rock to movie soundtracks to KPop. A former band director, he plays about a dozen instruments, given a couple of weeks to practice up. His theological work has included a book on multi-generational ministry and a thesis on the theology of communicating with the dead. As for his nerd-card, he enjoys the fandoms of The Legend of Zelda, Doctor Who, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Lord of the Rings. With a music degree from William Carey University and a theology degree from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Keven actively serves in ministry as both pastor and worship leader.

7 comments on “An Unexpected Thumbscrew Review

  1. I couldn’t agree more. It had me crying for hours afterward and thinking still now. Great review for a great book.

  2. What a great review, and I love the reference to Ratatouille. I too am a bit of a critic, and I have to say, when I first saw the ads for that movie, I thought “Pixar’s lost it.” I mean, come on, a movie about a rat who wants to be a chef? In France? How could that possibly be any good? But when I checked that DVD out, it was like the scene where Ego eats the titular dish: I was amazed by the depth of story, how much I was rooting for a little rat to follow his heart and find his place in the world. It taught me a valuable lesson: sometimes you have to ignore the press (good and bad), and try something new. That may mean you’ll end up with a sour lemon. Or you may discover a masterpiece that has been obscured by priase or criticism to the point.

    I must say that Alpha Redemption struck me as an awesome concept even back during MLS, and I have seen nothing but high praise from its readers. The premise captures a fundamental shift that scifi has undergone: we’re no longer looking toward the future of technology so much as the future of humanity with technology. AR looks to be about a man’s journey, and how technology may assist or hinder him, but it’s ultimately up to the protagnoist. That’s the same vibe I got from 2009’s indie film Moon, which contained a computer I think of as the anti-HAL: rather than a destructive force to be feared, technology is a part of our world, a potential aide toward one’s development.

  3. Very nicely said, Iguana. (almost) All of my issues with the book were about it ending, too.

    I remember several moments as I was reading when I thought, “Yeah. That’s it. That’s exactly how it is.”

    And if memory serves me (which it might not), you were one of several during the MLS Contest who voiced concern over the possible ending of a book where either the man or the AI would survive.
    (Am I right? I’m too lazy to go back and comb through the message boards.)

    • You are right. Some of the wording in the premise sounded as if the AI might be chosen as being a more valuable life than the human. I had “sanctity of human life” concerns.

      But they were obviously unfounded! 😀

  4. I’ve been on the road over Christmas, and just spotted this. Keven, wow I’m lost for words. You just made 2010 and 2011 for me. Thanks for taking the time to read it and thanks for the review but, most of all, thanks for not letting on that you were reading Alpha (my nerves, you understand 😉 ).

  5. My dearest Keven,

    I certainly don’t consider myself an expert but if age has anything to do with it then I can say that I have read quite a few books in my time, and I can only say that Alpha Redemption was one of my favorites. Written well and most certainly the type that stays with you for awhile. A lot of meat and no shallow fillers.

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