‘I Stand Rebuked’ (2016)

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I gave up on this one when the Sumerian hero’s immortal half-human mother started calling him ‘Gilgy’…

I’ve seldom been so disappointed in any fiction series as I was in Brian Godawa’s novels of life before the Great Flood. And I’ve seldom gotten so much pushback from a book review.

I Stand Rebuked

This guy wrote great movie reviews, and fascinating appendices; but his retelling of Genesis turned it into a cliche-packed summer movie script. “Disappointing” is hardly the word for it. “Bowel-wrenchingly awful” is barely adequate for descriptive purposes.

At least it wasn’t as hard as reviewing a book written by a friend.

‘Fiddling with Fantasy while Rome Burns’ (2011)

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People were asking me this seven years ago, and I still get asked today: with the world on fire all around you, why are you writing fantasy?


If anything, there’s more fire in more places than there was in 2011; and I have to work harder on my fantasy. Is it too simple an answer to say I do it because God has called me to do it?

This is my work. I do it in His service, and I pray it gives Him glory and that He will find a use for it.

Another Tough Assigment

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I’m currently reading a Young Adults novel so I can review it for Chalcedon. I’m about halfway through it, and it has begun to give me a kind of creepy feeling, sort of like the feeling you get when the Crawling Eye is stalking you. Because I’m not yet finished reading it, and Chalcedon has first dibs on the review, I will follow my custom of using pseudonyms for both the book and the author. For the time being, it shall be known as Deeply Neurotic People with Feminism Thrown In, by Hortense Portense.

I liked it at first: crisply written, cleverly arranged, with a first-person teenage girl protagonist whose narrative voice somehow reminded me of Karl Kolchak: if you can imagine Darren McGavin’s Night Stalker as a 17-year-old girl, which I hope doesn’t give you the heeby-jeebies.

I am sorry to say the story is turning toxic awfully fast. And it’s pitched to young readers, most of whom have not yet lived long enough to acquire sharp critical faculties and are thus in danger of having something not so nice slipped under their door. So my review will have to be a warning light to parents, a role that’s not quite my cup of tea. I would’ve truly hated it, to have my folks vet the books I was reading when I was 15: but in those days there wasn’t stuff like this for them to worry about. My mother liked to read some of my Edgar Rice Burroughs books when I was through with them; and I would read some of the historical novels she had.

There are books out there that aren’t good for us, and I’m afraid this is one of them.

Words and Terms That Can Kill Your Fantasy Dead

Do you want any more transgender news today? Naaah–let’s talk about fantasy-writing instead.

But first, an antique joke: The debutante’s father says to her, “My dear, there are two words I forbid you to use. One is swell and the other is lousy.” To which the debutante replies, “Of course, papa. And what are the two words?” [laugh break]

Well, if you’re trying to write fantasy, or even historical novels, here are six words, or terms, that you may never use without reminding your audience that they’re only reading some stupid thing that you made up, and they won’t be able to enjoy it by imagining it’s real.

Ms. People living in the Middle Ages did not use this title. In fact, it’s not even as old as I am. Characters inhabiting a fantasy world shouldn’t use it, either. Otherwise the author calls attention to the fact that what you’re reading isn’t real.

Lifestyle. Under no circumstances use this word, either in narrative or dialogue. It strongly hints that the author is a putz. Characters in fantasy stories do not have lifestyles. Can you imagine the damage done to his work, if J.R.R. Tolkien had ever mentioned “the hobbit lifestyle”? Perish the thought.

Gender. This used to be called “sex.” It’s a garbage word used by nitwits. Of course, you might wish to imagine a world in which there really are more than two sexes. If done well, it might even be interesting. But I am not aware that anyone has ever done it well.

Multicultural or Diversity, etc. If you want to talk about “diversity” among the natives of your fictional world, don’t insult the reader’s intelligence  by telling him something like “There is great diversity among the Heathen peoples of Obann.” No, no, no! Describe what these people look like, how they live, what they believe–paint a picture of them. If you really have no idea at all how to do this, you’re better off writing something other than fantasy. Instructions for assembling a chair, perhaps.

Social justice. This term is mere camouflage for liberal politics. Trust libs to give justice a bad name. Never, never, never use your fiction as a soapbox for your politics. Not only will most people hate reading it; before too long, no one will be able to read it because it will have become totally irrelevant.

Self-image, and similar preoccupations. If your fictional hero’s interest and attention is focused on himself, you can be sure your reader’s attention will soon be focused on someone else’s book. Make sure you never stoop to using such a phrase as “So-and-so’s journey of self-discovery.” Discovering the source of the Nile is interesting. Discovering a some fictional character’s self is not. And anyhow, you can write that theme without ever boring the reader by baldly stating it. In other words, don’t talk about it–do it.

Even a really good story can be murdered by the author’s most trifling use of these words and phrases. It’s hard enough to come up with a really good story. Don’t handicap yourself by weighing it down with any of this literary slag.


Book Review: ‘Ancient Voices’ by Allison D. Reid

I have taken a shine to these books. Ancient Voices: Into the Depths is Book 2 of the Wind Rider Chronicles, the sequel to Journey to Aviad. Regular readers of this blog will know Allison Reid better as “Weavingword.”

Why do I like these books? Let me count the ways.

First and foremost, they are refreshing! Imagine that–a fantasy adventure series without lusty tavern wenches, The Invincible Female Warrior, the brawny barbarian who can copulate all day and then get up and fight a battle, know-it-all elves, crusty-but-benign wizards–I mean, imagine a fantasy populated by characters who are normal people! We don’t even have to suffer through scenes of heroes getting off wisecracks and zingers as they march light-heartedly into mortal peril.

This is downright revolutionary.

And because all these characters are normal, the reader will find it easy to believe in them. I like these folks! I really do. I especially like the two protagonists: sisters, Morganne, a young woman, and Elowyn, a girl passing into womanhood. Morganne is a seamstress by necessity and a scholar by avocation; Elowyn’s passion is the woodlands. They have gotten through some hard traveling–not by magic or by secret martial arts, but by faith, loyalty, and love.  It would be hard not to like them.

Then there are the settings. Reid does take her time setting the scene, but the end result is a fantasy world that really does seem real. So you’ve got real people living in real places. I feel as if I’ve actually been there.

Now, Ancient Voices is a sequel, and reading Journey to Aviad first would be pretty much indispensable. Ancient Voices tells of a year in the little town of Minhaven, between the sea and the wilderness, the place where Morganne and Elowyn have sought refuge.

If I have any criticism of this book, it’s that the story would benefit by a bit more action. That’s just my personal opinion. But as I see it, Ancient Voices is very much a way station in a much longer narrative. I did enjoy settling down there for a while–this is a very companionable book, just the kind you want for reading in bed.

I will certainly read the next book in the series.

These books are independently published, which means the author herself had to do all the work of editing. Speaking for myself, I am so glad I don’t have to do all the editing of my own books. It would never work. Professional editing by someone other than the author would do much for these books–and I’m talking about routine editing, gentle editing, not major rewrites.

I would love to see these books professionally published and the author paid for her efforts. But I would certainly rather have them published independently than published not at all.

They’re both available on amazon.com, and it’s my pleasure to recommend them.

It’s not easy to make up people who don’t exist and have your readers responding to them as if they were real. It’s not easy to invent a fantasy setting that has an authentic feel to it–as if it were a real place, not just something cobbled together out of well-worn bits of older fantasies.

Allison Reid has done those things, and done them well. And she will do them better as she gains experience.

In Defense of Plain English

I am told by “Abner Doubleday” that the use of modern 21st-century slang in historical and fantasy novels is a matter of debate and he’s right for using it.

So, in novels set in the ancient world before the Flood, and involving spiritual beings as well as mortals, Abner has archangels call each other “you guys” and tease each other with nicknames, while the rebel angels, devils, run around quoting Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

As you can probably guess, I’m warming up to write a review of these dreadful books. And the thing that makes them dreadful is the totally dumbed-down language in which they are written. Abner thinks this gives you access to a wider audience.

But surely plain English can do that just as well, without being incomprehensible to readers twenty years later. I don’t know what kind of theology he expects to teach an audience who can’t fathom anything much more intellectually challenging than a text message. This audience is addicted to movies that are pitched to the 11-year-old demographic, so it expects improbable wisecracking and forced badinage from all characters, all the time.

These movies will be unwatchable to the next generation. Meanwhile, they are extremely tiresome. It’s like they’re all part of the same interminable movie cooked up for middle school dropouts.

When you write, folks, try to remain within that really not so narrow area between “Dude, ya got a problem with that?” and “I prithee, sweet Prince, beshrew me no more.”

Your readers will thank you for it.

I Stand Rebuked

A certain very successful author, a big shot in Christian publishing and sort of a mover in Hollywood, is rather peeved with me for saying his supposedly Bible-based novels are full of anachronisms, inelegant language, stupid dialogue, and so on. Well, I kinda thought he might be.

How did he find out? Oh, I told him. Because I so long admired and enjoyed his non-fiction writing, I felt I owed it to him, before I wrote a review, to ask for an explanation of why he wrote those books the way he did.

I shoulda just kept my trap shut.

No, the big cheese was not happy that some microbe like me should be less than impressed by his fiction writing. His reply included the argument that his books must be masterpieces because they’ve sold lots and lots of copies. Too bad he didn’t write 50 Shades of Grey. He would’ve sold even more copies.

Well, if serves me right for trying to extend to him a courtesy that I don’t normally extend to the writer, when I review his book. It can get in the way of writing an honest review.

Oh, well, why should he care what I say? He sells lots and lots of copies.

Why Do I Read Bad ‘Christian’ Novels?

People who know me have asked me why I’m spending so much time reading the Bible-based novels of “Abner Doubleday” when I could do something more profitable, like counting chunks of gravel in the driveway.

Well, I do it because I think it’s important.

Over the past hundred years or so, Christians have pretty much surrendered all the arts to the unbelievers. This is ground that ought to be won back for Christ’s Kingdom. And what I have to say about novels, and fantasy novels in particular, goes for movies and TV shows, too.

The problem is that Christian readers, writers, and publishers too often settle for creating stories that merely imitate the secular product–with a bit of prayer or Bible-reading slapped on like decals. They not only imitate the secular product: they imitate it poorly. More often than not, “Christian” entertainment products are cheap knock-offs of the secular originals.

This ought not to be; and writers and editors and publishers who settle for it ought to be held accountable. There is no excuse for making “Christian” synonymous with “second-rate.”

For one thing, it puts off Christians who want to read something, for a change, that’s not a celebration of sin. For another, it fails to win over non-Christian readers: all they know is, they’re reading a novel that isn’t very good.

To market a book as “Christian,” and expect the label to cover a multitude of literary sins, is not unlike offering God, as a sacrifice, sick, aged, or deformed animals out of the flock. God takes strong exception to that! (See Malachi 1: 7-12) “Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the Lord is contemptible” (v. 7).

To create an inferior product and then try to fob it off as “Christian,” meaning it doesn’t have to measure up to a novel by an unbeliever, strikes me as practically a sin, if it is done knowingly.

And so, yeah–novels that treat the Bible as a comic book without pictures, and wallow in stupid dialogue and non-stop anachronisms, I do not think are fitting to be served up on the table of the Lord.

I’m Out on a Limb and Behind the 8-Ball

And, as Edgar Rice Burroughs observed, to be out on a limb and behind the 8-ball at the same time is very bad business.

I’m facing a dilemma, and in order to tell you about it–who says readers can’t give you good advice?–I feel the need to disguise some of the particulars.

I am to read and review a series of novels by a certain author whom I have long respected and whose non-fiction writing I’ve enjoyed for years. As far as I know, these books are his first fiction. Let us call him, oh, Abner Doubleday.

I don’t know how to review this guy’s books. If I say what I really think, he ain’t gonna like it. But if I don’t, then why review them at all?

In his novels, Doubleday has re-imagined some of the most tantalizing bits of the Book of Genesis and, backed up by lots of solid research, tried to elucidate their meaning for us. His non-fiction essays on these subjects–exactly who or what, for instance, were those “giants in the earth”?–are compelling, very well argued, and endlessly thought-provoking. I have learned much by reading them.

But the novels are written in a prose style reminiscent of… well, a comic book. Or, even worse, one of those awful movies based on a comic book. I find it painful to read them. He stops just short of having angels call each other “dude” and writing “ya” for “you.”

Elsewhere, Mr. Doubleday has written most persuasively on the need for Christian art–be it novels or movies or music–not only to measure up to the world’s art in quality, but to be of even better quality. Why? Because we’re competing with the world, and we want to win ground for Christ’s Kingdom.

But this… Abner, Abner, what have you done? You have turned the Bible into a comic book! I keep expecting to turn the page and find ads for X-ray glasses and Sea Monkeys.

So how will I review these novels? The way I see it, I have three options: A) Chicken out, invent some excuse, and just not do it. B) Write a totally honest review and make a lot of people mad at me. They might even think I’m an idiot: these books have lots of 5-star reviews on amazon.com. C) Go with the flow, just join in with all these other reviewers in praising the gorgeous clothes of this naked emperor, and establish myself as a reviewer whose word can’t be trusted.

Maybe somehow I can do (B) gracefully. But it’ll be a mighty fine trick if I can pull it off.

A Silly Name Can Ruin Your Fantasy Novel

I am currently reading a fantasy novel by an established Christian thriller writer who is writing fantasy under a pseudonym.

It looks like the pseudonym was a good idea. A paper bag with eye-holes might be useful to him, too.

This fantasy, published by a major Christian publisher, has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity and no reference to it. (For those who must know, it’s Merchant of Alyss by Thomas Locke, aka Davis Bunn, published by the Baker Publishing Group.) What it is, is a compendium of everybody else’s fantasy cliches. You name it, it’s in here–know-it-all elves, super-powerful wizards, invincible female warriors, a beautiful girl who knows kung-fu, a crusty but benign old mentor… Gimme a break already.

But where this book really belly-flops is with a single name.

The really, really bad guys, you see, are… Milantians. From the country of Mylanta.

What was he thinking of? We expect at any moment to hear of the enchanted kingdom of Maalox, or the Forest of Tums.

If you are writing a fantasy, please do not name any people or places after well-known digestive products.

It just flat-out doesn’t work.