Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Every year, I get dragons for Christmas, so that means new dragon photos. Check out this guy:

What a poser!

He is totally terrorizing that Christmas tree.

I'm gonna eatchu!!

Speaking of dragons, I finally managed to see How to Train Your Dragon, which is now one of my favoritest movies ever.  I might discuss it if I can stop goofing off, which is unlikely to happen because my brother got me BioShock, the video game I've been looking at since I read the rave review from Catholic Thomas L. McDonald.

. . . But on the other hand, I might not play much BioShock. I just got through the introductory sequence, and that game, while breathtakingly beautiful, is scary as heck.  After the mutant dude with the hooks for hands gutted that guy right in front of me and then started trying to break into my bathysphere, I turned it off.  I don't play a lot of video games and wasn't aware they could make them look quite this disturbingly realistic.  Not hard to see why this was Game of the Year and everything, though.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I Saw Mommy Kissing Yog-Sothoth



And remember...

Keep Mass in Christmas.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

December Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour

The Charlatan's Boy: A Novel

I discovered recently that I have been reading too much H. P. Lovecraft; while in a discussion about the Jewish practice of the scapegoat released into the desert on Yom Kippur, I inadvertently referred to it as the "goat for Azathoth."

A terrible flub.  The goat for Azathoth is not the scapegoat of Jewish practice, but Shub-Niggurath.  Everyone knows that.

Where was I?  Yes, we have blog tour.  This month goes out to The Charlatan's Boy by Jonathan Rogers.  The story, from what I gather, is of a con man and his young orphan assistant, and it takes place in a fantasy world that looks something like the American South.  It certainly sounds intriguing, so let me give you some resources:

We have the author's blog, which features the highly amusing feechie film festival.

Also, we have the tour:

Sally Apokedak
Amy Bissell
Red Bissell
Jennifer Bogart
Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
Christian Fiction Book Reviews
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
April Erwin
Andrea Graham
Tori Greene
Katie Hart
Bruce Hennigan
Christopher Hopper
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Allen McGraw
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
Donita K. Paul
SarahFlan
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Tammy Shelnut
Kathleen Smith
James Somers
Donna Swanson
Robert Treskillard
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Elizabeth Williams
Dave Wilson

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Infinite Space, Infinite God II: The Book Tour

Infinite Space, Infinite God II

Infinity times two...squared!!

Infinite Space, Infinite God II, edited by Karina and Robert Fabian. Paladin Timeless Books, 2010.

And today we are touring the second anthology in the Infinite Space, Infinite God anthology series, featuring twelve hard sf stories with Catholic themes. I have here an interview with editor Karina L. Fabian, who you may know as the author of the Dragon Eye, P.I. stories, or perhaps as the mother of future manga artists. Anyway, this particular anthology is one very close to my own heart; I have my very own rejection slip for a story I submitted to it.

So here we go:



D.G.D. Tell us about the theme of ISIG 2. What sort of stories can readers expect to encounter?

Karina: We really didn't have a theme per se; we just wanted exciting, fun-to-read stories that put Catholic characters and situations in science fiction settings. However, readers are going to find a lot of adventures where the heroes are overcoming some terrific odds with the help of their faith. They'll find some touching stories and one that's going to make them laugh out loud (and maybe not look at Saturday night Mass the same way again.)

D.G.D.: What stories do you consider stand-outs? Tell us a little about them.

Karina: That's like asking which of my children "stands out." So I had my son Alex pick three:

"An Exercise in Logic" by Barton Paul Levenson: An ancient alien satellite has diverted an asteroid toward a human colony planet. The people who built the satellite refuse to veto programming logic installed by their ancestors. Can an Ursuline sister who is also an alien contact specialist change their minds?

"Otherworld" by Karina Fabian: Father Jonas is haunted by the loss of his mother, who died while in a virtual reality world. As a priest, he's driven to evangelize to the players in Otherworld--to remind them of reality and the God who cares about what they do on both worlds.

"Tin Servants" by J Sherer: Father Paul so desires to serve his people in war-torn Ghana that he allows himself to be altered to resemble the androids sent to provide medical help. Once there, however, he finds himself limited in the comfort he can offer, and embroiled in a conspiracy to convert the andorginacs into soldiers.

D.G.D.: Do you have any stories of your own in the collection?

Karina: Otherworld, as noted above. I wrote that one specifically because we wanted something with virtual reality for the anthology, but didn't get any submissions.

I also have "Antivenin," which is from Rob's and my Rescue Sisters universe. Three nuns from the Order of Our Lady of the Rescue offer help to a ship that is off-course and not answering hails. They find the ship crawling with venomous snakes that have killed their handler and bitten the pilot. When one bites her partner, Sister Rita must conquer her phobia and snatch the antivenin from their nest.

D.G.D.: I see...so, Snakes on a Space Ship.

Karina: Finally, we got some feedback from one upset reader of ISIG who thought it was awful that Frankie would just take off with aliens and only leave a cryptic note for her parents ("Interstellar Calling"). So we wrote a story about when she comes back--bringing the aliens to the Vatican for First Contact.

D.G.D.: What is the overarching philosophy or purpose of the ISIG series?

Karina: Science and religion are not mutually exclusive. They are a part of being human, and they will continue to be part of our future.

D.G.D.: Are there any plans for an ISIG 3?

Karina: Not really. I think we have to see how this anthology fares, sales-wise.

And here we have the publisher's page for the book, where you can see the table of contents and some other information.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Max the Squirrel

These are pictures of Max the Squirrel.  Max is so tame, she (he?) will eat out of my hand.  Today, I was feeding crushed walnuts, which she licked out of my palm.  Her whiskers and her cold little nose tickled.  Sometimes, to get a bit of food from my hand, she'll place one of her little paws on my thumb.

 Eeek!!  She's so cuuuute!!

And here are some more pictures of Max from a rainy, foggy day.  She's still a little skittish and jumps back if I make any sudden movements, but I hope I can get her to trust me enough to let me pet her.



Sunday, November 28, 2010

Keep Mass in Christmas 2010

Okay, you're probably wondering why I haven't posted, and you probably figured it was because I'm in school and we're coming toward the end of the term, but that's not actually the case.  In reality, I didn't post because I took a trip to visit the Guggenheim Museum in Berlin to see one of the world's few remaining Hoffmann Tubes, most of which were destroyed or lost in World War II.

This is the first of Advent, which means a particularly big holiday is coming up--I think it's Hogswatch, or maybe Decemberween.  I can't remember.  Anyway, that means it's time to make arrangements to see a performance of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker.  But what many of you may not know is that this famous ballet is based on a short story, "The Nutcracker and the King of Mice," by the German Romanticist E. T. A. Hoffmann.  Hoffmann is best remembered now for his stories, but he was best known in his own day as a composer of music, though most of his compositions are now lost.  He was also known as a particularly sensitive musical critic, and he developed bizarre theories about the nature of music, which he only hinted at in tantalizing cabbalistic tales such as "Automata," in which he suggests that the glass organ comes closest to reproducing the music of the spheres, the harmony of all nature, which only the ears of the most sensitive sorts--such as Hoffmann himself!--could possibly detect.

What is little known, now that Hoffmann's name has grown obscure, is that he developed a device, based on the same principles as the glass organ, which is able to capture the underlying music of the universe and alter it in such subtle ways that it becomes audible to the ear of an ordinary mortal.  He constructed a total of five of these devices.  Two have survived:  one is in a private collection, but the other is at the Guggenheim, and it is possible, if you know who to bribe, to gain access to the device, though no one is allowed inside of it for more than two minutes; rumor has it that longer exposure to the celestial music of the cosmos can drive a man mad.

Having spent three years scheming with some of my compatriots, I contrived not only to gain access to the Hoffmann Tube, but to do so shortly before the museum was to close.  I hid inside and was within it for an entire night.  I'm afraid I remember very little of the experience and nothing at all of the music; I came to my senses in a hospital bed, and am told they found me the next morning, raving mad, screaming something incoherent about the piping of two idiot flutes in the midst of ultimate chaos.  In my delirium, I had, it seems, smashed some of the more delicate components of the Hoffmann Tube, and I am informed that it cannot be repaired by any of the modern day's savants, since Hoffmann's techniques have always mystified even the most profound experts.

Anyway, that's why I haven't posted for a while.  I was recovering.  And scraping together money to pay the fine to the Guggenheim.

Where was I?  Oh, yes.  There's a big holiday coming up.  I think it's Life Day or something.  Anyway, this happens to be my favorite time of year, and it also happens I recently came across an article from MSNBC declaring that "Christmas is Winning the War on Christmas," which means that more and more stores have returned to making explicit references to the upcoming big Christian holiday when attempting to seduce customers into buying useless plastic junk from Matel.

I'm of two minds about this, partly because my broken mind has not yet recovered from the effects of the Hoffmann Tube.  On the one hand, I think it's stupid to pretend it has nothing to do with Christmas when you put out Christmas trees and dress a chubby fellow in a red suit and try to sell everybody toys.  On the other hand, I don't like seeing the commercial racket Christmas has turned into.  I don't know if it's right to say "Christmas is winning."  I think it's more correct to say that the stores have an eye, naturally enough, on the bottom line, and have determined that they're better off not antagonizing Christmas shoppers who've made a stink about "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings."

But really, I don't like the way the counter-offensive in the War on Christmas has been conducted.  It seems the battle lines have been drawn with Jesus on one side and Santa Claus on the other.  That's just not right, because Santa Claus is a Christian saint.  When Santa appears at Christmastime and hands out oranges and nuts to the good kids and coal that's really licorice candy to the naughty kids, he's doing something Christian; because Christianity teaches that the good will be rewarded and that the evil can be redeemed and forgiven.

I admit I'm fond of those "Kneeling Santa" figurines that have become popular to date because they put things in proper perspective:  Christian Saint worshiping Christian God.  Makes sense to me.  You might call Kneeling Santas tacky, but I like tacky religious items because I make the distinction between "high" and "low" art, even religious art, and see a proper place for both.  I wouldn't put the Kneeling Santa in the nativity scene at the cathedral, but I would put one in my home.


Okay, actually, I would put the Kneeling Santa in the nativity scene at the cathedral, but that's because my love of kitsch knows no proper boundaries.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh, yes.  There's a big holiday coming up.  And I want to wish you a good one.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour: The Skin Map

The Skin Map (Bright Empires)
Lawhead strikes again!


The Skin Map, by Stephen R. Lawhead, first book of the Bright Empire Series, is the feature novel for this action.  And by the way, I call all November blog tours "action."

This book is not to be confused with Skin Disease Can Provide an External Map to Internal Illness by Sharon Worcester.

You can see Lawhead's blog action.  I call all author blogs action.

I'm seeing mixed actions (a.k.a., "reviews") on this one.  Having been busy with school, I shunned the reviewer's copy, so I have no opinion of my own. The book is about a man and his girlfriend who get sucked into alternate universes--different ones. The hero ends up running around with a cabal of time travelers trying to keep an important map out of the hands of an evil villain while also, presumably, trying to find his lost girlfriend.

Let's kick around the blog tour and see if we can find any action.

Matt Mikalatos gives a brief discussion of "ley lines," a concept Lawhead uses in the novel, based on the new agey theory that ancient archaeological sites are laid out along lines of mystical energy:

Watkins' theories were met with nearly universal dismissal until, several decades later, several New Age authors latched on to the idea that (depending on the author) spiritual power or electromagnetic fields were moving along these geographic lines.  And, they've been fodder for fantasy novels, science fiction shows, New Age rituals and comic books ever since.

Lawhead uses them for his own purposes, like everyone always has.  In Lawhead's book, ley lines are somewhat like fault lines... places where separate worlds and/or dimensions rub up against one another and create the possibility of traveling between worlds. [more...]

Shannon McDermott gives a thorough review:

Another element of Lawhead’s style is that it is British. The Skin Map is permeated by Britishness. My reading of modern fiction has been limited to American books, so that really caught my notice. References to English history and geography are sprinkled throughout. When these people talk about the Great Fire, they don’t have Chicago or San Francisco in mind. The English speaking style is noticeably foreign. Tube station? Oyster card? Tump? Nobbled? Kerbstone? Sprogs?

The Skin Map is a unique book. It has a sense of solidity, of depth. I reached the end with a feeling of satisfaction and appreciation. Don’t mistake me: Spaceships and aliens and explosions and strange, new worlds are a romp. With the right author, it can be profound, too. But The Skin Map is valuable in its own way – and that way is historical science fiction, a multiverse adventure with modern Londoners besieged by life, Egyptian priests, Bohemian alchemists, and English aristocrats of multiple centuries. [more...]

McDermott also has a spoiler-laden post for the unwary.

Morgan L. Busse has a three-part breakdown of the book. In the third one she briefly discusses the novel's spiritual elements:

will say I did not see a lot of God in the book. And I think I can safely say none of the main characters are Christians. There was a quick definition of God that threw up some red flags but I’m not sure if Stephen’s intentions were to show this was the belief of the scientific men he was portraying. Here is the quote:

“All the universe is permeated, upheld, knit together, conjoined, encompassed, and contained by the Elemental Father, which we recognise as an all-pervading, responsive, and intelligent field of energy, eternal and inexhaustible, which is nothing less than the ground of our very being and the wellspring of our existence- that which in ages past and present men have been pleased to call God.” (pages 56-57) [more...]

Here's the blog tour:

Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Jeff Chapman
Christian Fiction Book Reviews
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
George Duncan
April Erwin
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Shannon McDermott
Allen McGraw
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
John W. Otte
Gavin Patchett
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Donna Swanson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Elizabeth Williams
Dave Wilson

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

News from the Fish Bowl: Supreme Court on Video Game Censorship Law

Okay, I don't play video games.  I'm a goldfish and I'd rather read books, although sometimes I admit I like it when the Deej takes me to the pizza place so I can play pinball.  I'm something of a pinball wizard.  I've got crazy flipper fingers.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the U.S. Supreme Court is arguing over a California law to ban violent video games from minors.  The law narrowly targets games depicting particularly graphic interactive violence with no artistic value directed at realistic characters.  Interactive torture porn is the intended target, apparently.

The state's video game law was struck down as unconstitutional before it went into effect. Similar laws in other states have met the same fate.

The justices voted to hear California's appeal, but they sounded split Tuesday.

Scalia insisted that since the nation's founding, depictions of sex could be banned, but not depictions of violence and torture.

This drew a mocking rebuke from Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who is usually allied with Scalia on the conservative side. [more...]

Among the games that would go on the banned-from-minors list is Postal 2, which another LA Times article describes thusly:

One version of the video game "Postal 2" features an easily angered "postal guy" with dark glasses and a high-powered rifle. He wanders through town killing everyone he sees, leaving them bloody and mutilated. A trip to the library turns into carnage of mass shootings and blazing fires.

Another features young girls being struck by a shovel as they beg for mercy. The player can then pour gasoline over them, set them on fire.... [more...]

Comment: What to ban and how to ban it is always a difficult subject, but something is seriously wrong when a game like Postal 2 is widely available to any age demographic. Interactive face-smashing, burning, and urinating on young girls is corrupting to adults as well as to minors.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials" because they do "grave injury to the dignity of...participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others" (2354).  Further, "Teaching modesty to children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person" (2524).  Though I can't find anything in the Catechism on violence in entertainment, I think the wanton violent fantasies invited by games like Postal 2 are contrary to "respect for the human person" and depict people as "objects of base pleasure."  Catholics should probably support banning them for the same reason they support banning pornography.

And it is probably worth asking how we even got to the point that a game like Postal 2 can be sold on store shelves instead of in dark alleys.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Twilit Journey Between Utah and Oregon

Once again, Halloween, the official Christian holiday of The Sci Fi Catholic, has come upon us, the day we set aside to celebrate the triumph of reason and Christianity over superstition and paganism.  On this day, we put the likenesses of goblins, ghosts, and witches on adorable children to represent that we have no fear of goblins, ghosts, or witches.  We revere the children, because children are sacred, but we do not revere monsters or warlocks, because monsters and warlocks are nothing.

I have not posted lately because, frankly, I am still recovering from the harrowing journey that brought me from Utah to Oregon.  No doubt you all know of this monstrous highway, I-84 between Brigham City and Twin Falls, of which I have written before.  It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but to my mind is more properly called one of the great blasphemies or abominations of the world, for it stretches through the Waste Land, the twilit world surrounding the Great Mountain, the realm between the land of the dead and the land of the living, the realm man was not meant to tread.  In the old days, no one entered this dark world of shadowy plains, cold mountains, and gaping pits exhaling sulfurous gases or burbling with multicolored muds vomited up from the nether regions of the Earth, no one except the Tukuarika, who knew the cabalistic rites for banishing the malevolent dead, rites first taught them by Raven and Coyote.  But when the White Man, who neither knows nor understands the olden ways, entered this forbidden land, he defied the spirits and built this foul highway, insisting arrogantly that with his categorized and scientific modes of magic, he could drive off all evil influences that might harry the travelers on this dark road.

Alas, if only it were true.  The highway is there, to be sure, and people do indeed travel it.  But no one who enters that stretch of barren waste can leave it unchanged.  Every man who sets forth on that dark path is doomed to spend his days with a canker in his soul.

Before setting out on that three-thousand-mile stretch of road, I was obliged to stop in at the station where travelers are briefed for the journey.  I had been through this routine before, so I barely listened as an agent of the Utah Highway Department reminded us that, due to time dilation, this journey would appear to last fifty years, though it would take one day of real time.  We were instructed on what to do if we found ourselves contemplating suicide, we were warned not to make the journey if we had any family history of vampirism or incubii, and we were instructed on what to do if caught in our vehicles after dark.  After this general briefing, of course, came the private consultation with a registered exorcist, who asked various questions about genealogy and family lore, and sternly warned me that I was automatically barred from this trip if any legends indicated my ancestors were involved in unnatural doings around Salem, Massachusetts, in the late seventeenth century.  I was then debriefed on the techniques of lucid dreaming and the methods of distinguishing the Gate of Ivory from the Gate of Horn, and then I went back outside to supervise the exorcism of my pickup truck.

The first exorcist to apply his arts was a Catholic priest, and after he had finished I chatted with him while the ministers of six other religions went about their business.  At one point, I scowled as a shaman rattled a fetish over my windshield.  The priest, grinning slightly, asked me, "Something wrong, son?"

I waved dismissively at the shaman and answered, "This.  It just seems a little superstitious."

The priest shrugged and nodded toward the Waste Lands.  "The creatures out there," he said, "they're superstitious, too."

I took his point.

The drive was as miserable as always.  Days stretched into weeks, weeks into months, months into years, and years into decades.  Although I did not age in the natural sense, my body grew decrepit from the long exposure to that unwholesome atmosphere.  I drove for time out of mind down long stretches of blank highway, moving from one gray, blasted settlement to the next, filling my tank at indistinguishable gas stations and eating tasteless food at indistinguishable diners.  I saw other travelers, to be sure, but we all hunched over our cold meals, never speaking to one another.  Even the people who live their lives in that dark land, cheek by jowl with the realm of the dead, rarely speak to each other.

The nights were the worst, for no one can travel then.  As the sun begins to settle in the west and the reddish glow from the ring of fire around the Mountain's peak grows more ominous, anyone out of doors must quickly seek shelter if he wishes to be alive and sane the next morning.  The small, rickety motels and hostels in the Waste Land do not have beds, for that would be too dangerous.  Every traveler must spend the night on a cold slab within a magic circle inscribed in a pentagram, for that is the only way to keep out the ghouls and other unmentionable things that seek to sap the life or pervert the souls of the unwary.  In the cheapest of these motels, the circles are drawn in chalk on wooden tables.  In the more expensive motels with the more elaborate wards, a man might rest on a granite block inside a ring of human blood.

I brought a box of books on my journey, imagining that in a fifty-year span I would have plenty of time to read.  Imagining that I was preparing well to confront the Waste Land's creeping darkness, I packed mostly light reading, amusing, silly, and happy stories of the sort I enjoy when my mind is taxed.  But the darkness of the Waste is a mental darkness more than a physical one.  Any who travel that land will find their tastes changing.  Soon, the happy stories I formerly enjoyed became repugnant to me so that I could not even bear to look at the volumes containing them.  Instead, taking advantage of the stocked bookshelves with which most of the motels are supplied, I dove into the esoteric writing of the Decadents, the Romanticists, the dreamers, and the mystics.  Imagining that I was delving into the darkest secrets of the universe, I thrilled over the cabalistic writings and artworks of the pre-Raphaelites.  I worked long hours at twilight attempting to discern deeper meanings behind the more opaque scrawls of Huysmans, Villiers, and the French Symbolists.  Though I am ashamed to admit it now that I have returned to the light of natural day, I even opened the more dangerous texts of occult lore, the ones that most universities wisely keep under lock and key, but which are freely available to the unhealthy tastes of the Waste Land's denizens, who share the same perverse interests I developed during my travels.

With great glee, fancying that through arcane knowledge I was becoming a god, near to unlocking the Ultimate Gate, I examined the Book of Eibon, and I carefully studied the hideous, unmentionable rites described in lurid detail in the Unaussprechlichen Kulten of Friedrich Wilhelm von Junzt and the Cultes des Goules of the Comte d'Erlette.  I even--yes, though I hang my head in shame as I say it--explored the hideous Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul al-Hazrad.  I acquired my own copy in the inferior English translation of John Dee, the court magician of Elizabeth I, but in time I was able to compare it to Wormius's superior Latin version.  Through this study, I was able to reconstruct--and even memorize!--the blasphemous rituals and incantations by which I could call down Yog-Sothoth from the higher realms.  Late at night, while I lay on my cold table with the hairs on my neck prickling as malevolent spirits probed for weaknesses in my wards, I even contemplated performing the abominable rite by which I might sell my soul to Azathoth and gain access to the fourth dimension.

It was late in the forty-eighth year of my journey that the crisis came.  All the day--I know not what day it was, for days grow indistinguishable in the Waste Land--I was dreading the thought of another night on a cold, hard bed, surrounded by the protective magicks recommended by the thick Highway Department Manual for Traveling Interstate 84 in Comfort and Safety.  I had gone as far as I believed I could go in my amateur study of occultism and fourth-dimensional mathematics, so even re-reading al-Hazrad's blasphemous depiction of the execrable corpse-eating cult of Leng in the inaccessible reaches of Mongolia could not amuse me.  In addition to the darkness that had already settled over my mind, I now felt the crushing weight of ennui.

That night, I once again wearily performed the choreographed motions--designed to correspond to certain indescribable shapes of the higher dimensions glimpsed by ancient mystics--around a rickety wooden table chalked with a white circle.  The tallow candles in the room flickered as I carefully checked the druid's claw for gaps and placed at its five points, as per the instructions in the Manual for Traveling, a vial of holy water, an icon of St. Michael, a blessed Bible, a crucifix, and a garlic clove.

I lay down on this cold and miserable bed, trying to relax in the fumes wafting from the censer of olibanum, but my ennui had made even that cloying, sepulchral scent repugnant to me.  I was wide awake, and my active mind pored back over the witchery I had lovingly memorized during my several years of travel on this lonely road, yet each secret I had uncovered now brought me nothing but boredom and mental nausea.

As I was thus indulging in self-pity and disgust, I heard a curious scratching at the window, as if a cat were eager to get in.  But there are no cats in the Waste Land, or at least, no natural tomcats such as exist in the outer world.  I tried to dismiss the sound; I closed my eyes and attempted in vain to quiet my mind, but the noises only grew louder and more insistent.  Then a voice, unmistakably human, joined that insistent scratching of glass:

"Please.  Please let me in."

You will think me a fool, but perhaps you will understand when I describe the quality of the voice I heard, and my sensations upon hearing it.  For almost fifty years now, I had spoken to almost no one.  I had exchanged no more that five or six words with anyone at a time, and our exchanges were in low, noncommittal voices, little more than grunts.  For almost fifty years, I had heard no music, nor the voice of a child.  But that voice pleading softly at my window was a sweet child's voice, clear and musical, I daresay angelic.  It was soft, timid, even frightened, but very insistent, and I felt a powerful draw toward it: A need welled up in my soul, a need to rush to the window and throw aside the curtain to behold the owner of that melodious voice, to rescue from danger a frightened child trapped after dark in the Wastes.  But even so, even though driven by such emotions, I doubt I would have done what I did if I were not already suffering from the acedia that had sensitized me to every possibility of leaping at some new diversion.  I jumped from the table and ran to the window, knocking over one of the tallow candles as I did so.  Breathing hard, both frightened and elated, I threw up the sash.

I wish I could say that the horror I beheld drove me into merciful oblivion, but alas, what I saw is etched all too clearly on my memory, and I fear it will never fade.  There at the window was a ghoulish monstrosity hideous enough to blast a man's brain and hurl him headlong into the deepest pits of madness.  Abominable beyond all description, a mass of rotting flesh and protruding bones all matted with thick tenebrous hide and blood-caked hair, it turned to me a loathsome visage full of hunger and malice beyond the human capacity to perceive.  With malevolent glowing eyes and a great wide, drooling mouth full to overflowing with crooked fangs that it appeared to have borrowed from several species of predator and carrion-eater, it grinned as its unspeakable claw scratched persistently at the glass.  Out of its burbling throat, through its forest of mismatched teeth, it uttered again that angelic refrain in the voice of a little child, a voice that had now taken on the hint of a triumphal sneer:  "Please.  Please let me in."  Then the creature drew back its claw and clenched it into a fist in preparation to smash the glass.

As I stared into the horrific face of death, I felt the long years in the Waste Lands drop away.  My occult studies were nothing to me now.  My aspirations to godhood appeared risible.  All that remained was one lonely fool looking out a window at what must inevitably be his end, the end he had brought upon himself.  But sometimes, when everything else is stripped away, something previously buried or suppressed might at last be able to show itself.  As I stared at the monster out the window, which had finished pulling back its arm, and was now at the fatal pause before it delivered the blow, my occult aspirations and my boredom disappeared, but with them, my horror disappeared as well.

And I laughed.  I laughed at the monster with its mismatched teeth.  I laughed at its glowing eyes, like a spook in an amusement park ride.  I laughed, too, at this whole damn Waste Land and its legions of ghouls.  I laughed at the petty magicks men use to drive the ghouls off.

The creature did not thrust its fist through the glass nor try to reach me.  It paused, cocking its head, looking at me first in bewilderment and then in fear.  I laughed all the harder.

I threw down the sash, still laughing, and destroyed the room.  I knocked down the tripod of smoldering olibanum, sending its mess of charcoal and tree sap across the floor.  I pulled down the bookshelf full of occult lore and ripped out all the leaves from the tomes it contained.  I smeared the chalk lines on the table, gathered up my Bible and the other holy objects, and then kicked over the table.  After I made this thorough mess, I stood in the midst of the destruction, breathing heavily, and looked about.  Silence had settled.  No monsters scratched at the glass.  No malevolent spirits plucked at my clothes or plucked at my soul.  My ennui had lifted, and my occult learnings now looked like so much childish, petty dabbling.  Calmly, I pulled a blanket from my luggage, wrapped myself in it, and lay on the floor.  I slept soundly for the first time in years.

The next day, I payed an extra fee for the damage to the room and then continued my journey.  I felt good for the first time I could remember.  After I had journeyed a few miles, I buried my occult books, along with the Manual for Traveling Interstate 84 in Comfort and Safety, by the side of the road.  When I stopped for lunch, I smiled at the waiter and chatted with him; he look bewildered, clearly uncertain how to interpret my behavior.  Other travelers, too, looked up at me with uncertain frowns.  They could not understand how I could smile, or why I could stand straight and walk with a spring in my step here in the midst of the Waste Land.

That night, and for all the nights following, I forewent the rituals for safe sleeping, and I slept on floors instead of inside magic circles.  In the evenings before bed, instead of reading abominable texts of eldritch lore, I read the light, amusing tales I had originally packed for the journey.  Until I at last left the Waste Land behind me, my nights were peaceful, my sleep unharrassed.  Even my health gradually returned.  For I had learned the secret; when that creature raised its fist to shatter the window and crush me into oblivion, a quotation entered my head, the words of G. K. Chesterton:

That is, I fancy, the true doctrine on the subject of Tales of Terror and such things, which unless a man of letters do well and truly believe, without doubt he will end by blowing his brains out or by writing badly. Man, the central pillar of the world, must be upright and straight; around him all the trees and beasts and elements and devils may crook and curl like smoke if they choose. All really imaginative literature is only the contrast between the weird curves of Nature and the straightness of the soul. Man may behold what ugliness he likes if he is sure that he will not worship it; but there are some so weak that they will worship a thing only because it is ugly. These must be chained to the beautiful. It is not always wrong even to go, like Dante, to the brink of the lowest promontory and look down at hell. It is when you look up at hell that a serious miscalculation has probably been made.

Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Moral Premise Workshop

The blog's been dead lately, as we're currently in midterm season, but this was intriguing enough to pass on to anyone interested:

If you happen to be near Los Angeles, Los Angeles-Biola University is hosting "The Moral Premise," a workshop by Stanley D. Williams, who is presenting on the concepts from his book, The Moral Premise, which I hadn't heard of before, but which is apparently about how to structure stories--particularly screenplays--around a moral message.

Here's the website for the upcoming workshop, which will be all day on Saturday, November 6th.  The workshop costs a sweet $99 bucks, so I recommend buying the book instead for $16.47.

Here's a quotation from the website:

The moral premise is not a new idea.It's been an integral part of all story-telling from ancient times. Without exception all successful stories and movies are built around a true and consistently applied moral premise. While the physical premise, or the hook, focuses the filmmaker when it comes to pitching and marketing the story, the moral premise gives the physical premise meaning. Without a strong hook the movie has no motive force. Without a true moral premise the movie has no meaning and will fail at the box office. Audiences WANT entertainment, but, at the same time, they NEED to understand life and the human condition. Consciously they want an adrenalin rush. [more...]

Oh, and speaking of workshops and conventions and such, if you happen to be in the Portland area, you might find me hanging out at OryCon from November 12-14th. The website for that is here.

Hat tip to: brianbird.net

Friday, October 15, 2010

Go Read This! Right Now!!

Wah!  I just discovered by accident that Little White Mouse by Paul Sizer, one of my favorite comic books, is available on-line as a web comic!  And I never knew!  I mean, heck, I picked it up at random in a bookstore!

This comic has one of the best heroines ever, a sixteen-year-old mechanical genius trapped on an automated space station.  The images of her tearing apart machinery are somehow timeless and iconic.  The series has a couple of "mysteries" that turn out to be kinda stupid when they get explained, and there's this biker dude I don't like, but on the whole this is a totally awesome comic.

Here's the link to the table of contents on-line.  Sizer wrote a "prologue" for the omnibus edition, which is available here, but I honestly think the original first chapter, which starts things off in medias res, is a better way to begin the series.  The first chapter starts here.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Project Sneak Peek! Sort of...

I think I've previously mentioned Catholic sf writer Karina Fabian, editor of the Infinite Space, Infinite God series and co-author of the recent nonfiction Why God Matters.  Karina's daughter Amber Fabian wants to be a manga-ka; she recently sent me a drawing of her conception of the protagonist of my work in progress and gave me permission to show it off:

Her name is Miss Rags, and the "Miss" is very important. I rather like the way Amber colored Miss Rags's shawl to match her eyes and the handles of the throwing knives in her hair.

You can visit Amber Fabian's Deviant Art page and her website.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Banned Book Week

The Huffington Post has an article on "Banned Books Week," the American Library Association's "chance for all of us to celebrate our freedom to read and to bring attention to the harms of censorship."  I might be more impressed with such an event if it weren't for the fact that most of the news that filters down to me indicates that by "free speech," the lefties these days mean the protection and free distribution of pornography and the curtailing of political expression they don't like.

The Huffington Post has a list of graphic novels that have been banned in some places for some reason or other.  Unfortunately, they don't bother to list where they were banned, or by whom, and they give only cursory explanations of why.  Although I myself am not much in favor of censorship (except of pornography), I would be none too pleased to see Fun Home or Watchmen in a grade school library.  Banning isn't all bad.

However, I thought it was weird to see my all-time favorite graphic novel, Bone, on the list of banned books.  The reasons given are "sexually explicit content, offensive language, unsuited to age group, and drugs."  Huh.  I don't remember any sexually explicit content or drugs in Bone, and the language was minimal.  "Unsuited to age group" could mean just about anything, I suppose, and that's why this article at the Post is inadequate.

Also, Maus is supposedly "anti-ethnic."  Somebody please tell me how that makes sense.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

September Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour

Venom and Song: The Berinfell Prophecies Series - Book TwoI finally have enough of a breather in my schedule to post regarding the current BLOG TOUR, which is featuring the new book by millionaire playboy Christopher Hopper and Wayne Thomas Batson, who has both "Wayne" and "Bat" in his name, making him awesome.  Curiously, Hopper and Batson have never been photographed together...

Their new book is entitled Arsenic and Old Lace...er, no wait, it's entitled The Cup of Fury...er, no, it's entitled Venom and Song, a nonfiction book making a stirring call for Prohibition.

No, I'm kidding.  It's actually the second book of the Berinfell Prophecy series, which chronicles various predictions regarding the fall of the Berin Wall.

No, I'm kidding about that, too.  The Berinfell Prophecy series is YA fiction about seven magical elves raised in the human world until they came of age and returned to their own world to battle t3H 3v1L Spider King.

Well, that sounds awesome.  Let's check out some other options on t3H bL0g t3Wr:

Jeff Chapman has good things to say about it.  Sounds like the book pulls a few fine twists and delves thoughtfully into its characters:

Initially, the lords understand the conflict with the Spider King as a battle between good and evil. They are the "good guys" while the Gwar and assorted company are the "bad guys." Their Elvish handlers are content to leave them in ignorance, but a chance meeting with a scarlet raptor leads Kat and Tommy to a shocking discovery. The Elves once enslaved the Gwar and treated them cruelly. The Gwar have good reason to feel some antipathy toward the Elves. The revelations, which Kat and Tommy share with the others before approaching Grimwarden and Goldarrow, threaten to wreck the Elves' plans. Jett threatens to leave Allyra and return to Earth. Grimwarden and Goldarrow eventually convince the seven that despite the wrongs of the past, the Elvish cause is just in the face of the Spider King's tyranny and vengeance. "[H]ow much Elven blood must be spilled to pay the debt in full?" asks Grimwarden (p. 179). The seven learn that history is more gray than black and white and that righting past wrongs with more violence and wrongs does not resolve the original issue.  [more...]
Okay, well that's actually all I have time for.  Go check out the rest of the blog tour:

Angela
Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Amy Browning
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Melissa Carswell
Jeff Chapman
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
April Erwin
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Leighton
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Chawna Schroeder
Tammy Shelnut
James Somers
Kathleen Smith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Jason Waguespac
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

News not from the Fish Bowl: Terry Pratchett Makes Space Sword

This is not Lucky.  My professors have felt the need to assign me more of this stuff they call "homework," so I kicked Lucky off the computer on Monday so she couldn't give you your weekly link round-up.  However, when I was surfing the Internet in order to procrastinate doing my homework, I came upon this article about the knighting of Sir Terry Pratchett, who celebrated his knighthood by creating his very own Space Sword of meteoric iron, as reported in News.com.au:

With help from his friend Jake Keen — an expert on ancient metal-making techniques — the author dug up 81kg of ore and smelted it in the grounds of his house, using a makeshift kiln built from clay and hay and fuelled with damp sheep manure.

Pratchett, who has Alzheimer's disease, also said he had thrown in "several pieces of meteorites — thunderbolt iron, you see — highly magical, you’ve got to chuck that stuff in whether you believe in it or not".

After days of hammering the metal into bars, he took it to a blacksmith, whom he helped to shape it into a blade, which was finished with silverwork.

Pratchett has stored the sword, which he completed last year, in a secret location, apparently concerned about the authorities taking an interest in it.

He said: "It annoys me that knights aren’t allowed to carry their swords. That would be knife crime." [more...]

Perhaps the British authorities are taking their cues on what constitutes "knife crime" from New York.

Or vice versa.

One way or the other, to protest this stupid infringement on an American's--or a British knight's--right to bear arms, I'm going to start packing one of these babies.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

News from the Fish Bowl Extra: Astronomer Baptizes Aliens

I was using those blogrolls, Deej!!!

In non-browser-cookie-related news, Guy Consolmagno, a Vatican astronomer, says he would baptize an alien if the alien asked. Here it is from The Guardian:

Guy Consolmagno, who is one of the pope's astronomers, said he would be "delighted" if intelligent life was found among the stars. "But the odds of us finding it, of it being intelligent and us being able to communicate with it – when you add them up it's probably not a practical question."

Speaking ahead of a talk at the British Science Festival in Birmingham tomorrow, he said that the traditional definition of a soul was to have intelligence, free will, freedom to love and freedom to make decisions. "Any entity--no matter how many tentacles it has--has a soul." Would he baptise an alien? "Only if they asked."

Consolmagno, who became interested in science through reading science fiction, said that the Vatican was well aware of the latest goings-on in scientific research. "You'd be surprised," he said. [more...]

Deej is the one studying this stuff, but I sorta thought the traditional definition of a soul was to be not dead. I also thought "entity" meant any unified, existent being, but I'm thinking something got lost in translation here. Maybe he told the reporter a living being with reason and free will has a rational soul, and that he'd baptize that.

What are the implications of Cthulhu converting to Christianity? When he rises from the ocean and drives the world mad, will everyone turn into Carrie's mom? Will the Great Old One offer his victims baptism before swallowing their souls?

Coincidentally, Deej came back from the library today with a smug look on his face and this book in his hands:

Christianity and Extraterrestrials?: A Catholic Perspective

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Oops...The Death of the Blogroll

While attempting to navigate to my own website, I got a message from my browser informing me that The Sci Fi Catholic contains dangerous malware associated with the host for our blogrolls.

I logged in and killed the blogrolls immediately, and they will remain absent until I figure out what's up.

Twice, my antivirus software has had to clean a dangerous rootkit off the computer, a really bad one capable of logging keystrokes and taking screenshots in order to get at bank account info and that kind of thing.

I don't know if this particular malware originates from the blogrolls previously hosted here, or from something else.  I've visited The Sci Fi Catholic and numerous other websites several times, and I've also run my virus checker almost neurotically, sometimes more than once a day, after getting that pernicious virus the first time, but it has not shown up more than twice, so chances are I got it somewhere else, maybe at one of those shady webcomics I visit.  But I recommend all visitors to The Sci Fi Catholic run a virus check.  If you have an infection called rootkit something-or-other, I understand the recommendation is that you change your passwords and monitor your bank account information.

I apologize.  I didn't know we had malware here, and I was under the impression the blogroll host was reputable.  Maybe my browser guardian thingy made an error, but maybe not.  Maybe the "malware" is just some unwanted ad cookies, but maybe not.  I'll keep a closer eye on widgets in the future, and I'll also see if I can figure out what the problem is.

What Do You Mean No Mythology?

Unlike most Catholic bloggers, I'm a Vatican II kind of guy.  Vernacular?  I'm all over that.  Full and active participation?  Absolutely.  Revised Liturgy of the Hours?  Pretty please.  Liturgical dancing?  Um...let me get back to you on that one.

But it finally happened:  I found that sentence in the Vatican II documents that gives me Neo-Traddy fits. There I was reading Sacrosanctum Concilium when I came upon numbers 92c and 93, which are in the section on the revision of the Divine Office.  They read, in part:

...the accounts of the martyrdoms or lives of the saints are to be made historically accurate.

...Whatever smacks of mythology...is to be removed or changed.

Nooooo!!!

See, we all have our goofy hangups. Mine happen to be goofier than most, which is probably why all the saints I most love and admire seem to have had their feast days suppressed.

Speaking of which, I recommend the recent article at Ask Sister Mary Martha on the story of "Saint Guinefort."  Saint Guinefort happens to be a dog.  Notice what the people did when their shrine to Saint Guinefort was burned; you just can't keep a good bit of folklore down.

I'm of two minds on Saint Guinefort.  On the one hand, I think pious folktales are a natural development of robust religion, so though I much appreciate and respect such things as Vatican II's desire for historical accuracy (because who doesn't want solid facts, really?), I figure there has to be some good wholesome place for all those accreted hagiographic legends, too.  But on the gripping hand, I also figure it's probably best for the bishop to step in and tell everybody they really shouldn't be venerating a dog.

Monday, September 13, 2010

News from the Fish Bowl

VATICAN RE-OPENS LIBRARY

After three years of cruelly keeping its hoard of precious texts away from the prying eyes of scholars from the outside world, the Vatican has re-opened its library, according to Yahoo! News in an article given me by a really nice reader:

The Vatican's Apostolic Library is reopening to scholars following a three-year, euro9-million ($11.5- million) renovation to install climate-controlled rooms for its precious manuscripts and state-of-the-art security measures to prevent theft and loss. [more...]

Curiously, the library has re-opened without its former store of rare historical books on Leonardo da Vinci, its medieval histories of Pope Joan, and its commentaries on the Necronomicon. The Vatican denies having ever had such texts in its possession.*

*(Umm, the way I wrote this article was, like, a joke.)


KEVIN McCARTHY DIES

As reported by Cinematical Kevin McCarthy, who starred in Death of a Salesman and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, has died at age 96.


SCIENTISTS MAKE REAL-LIFE TRACTOR BEAM...SORTA

According to ScienceDaily, Australian scientists have created a laser beam that can move small particles up to a meter and a half:

Professor Rode said his team used the hollow laser beam to trap light-absorbing particles in a 'dark core'. The particles are then moved up and down the beam of light, which acts like an optical 'pipeline'. [more...]

They say it won't work in space, though.


SF SIGNAL: WHY NO SPACE-THEMED NOVELS ON THE HUGO BALLOT FOR BEST NOVEL THIS YEAR?

Um...I dunno. Cuz people were reading steampunk, urban noir, and third-world dystopia this year? Read it here.


GAME OF THRONES PREVIEW

Also from SF Signal, see the HBO preview for Game of Thrones. Includes an interview with George R. R. Martin. Why do fantasy writers have so many initials?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Quick Book Update

Am informed that Karina Fabian's new book, Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator, originally slated for release in March, is now slated for release in December 1st from Damnation Books.  Remember you heard it here first.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Book Review: The Stoneholding

The Stoneholding: Legacy of the Stone Harp, Book I
Where men are men, women are women, and everybody makes stupid decisions.


The Stoneholding by James G. Anderson and Mark Sebanc.  Legacy of the Stone Harp, book 1.  Baen (Riverdale):  2009.  Paperback.  604 pages.  $7.99.  ISBN:  978-1-4391-3349-1.

(I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher.)

Kicking around and looking at other comments on The Stoneholding, I get the impression this is one of those novels people tend either to love or hate.  I'm not seeing much in the way of opinions in between, so as you read the present review it's worth keeping in mind that your mileage may vary.  I tried to stay balanced as I read, but by the end, I landed in the hate camp.  I have exactly one reason for the hatin', and I suspect whether a person loves or hates this novel will depend almost entirely on how much he cares about that one thing.

Set in a more-or-less standard post-Lord of the Rings fantasy universe, The Stoneholding, first volume of the Legacy of the Stone Harp series, introduces us to the land of Arvon, where the crown prince has been mysteriously missing for several years and the land is now misruled by an evil oligarchy.  This mostly affects the eastern lowlands, while the western highlands, due to their inaccessibility, still enjoy some independence.  The most important of these highland realms is the Stoneholding of the title, wherein dwells the Hordanu, a powerful bard who preserves an eternal sacred flame and a magical gold harp used in an annual ceremony to maintain the world's balance.  After lowland Arvon makes a pact with the evil Gharssulian League, Gharssul's agents extinguish the sacred flame and invade the Stoneholding.  Two chipper young men, Kal and Galli, join with the aging Hordanu Wilum to rescue as many of the Stoneholding's inhabitants as they can, as well as a number of important MacGuffins, before heading into the mountains in the hope of escaping the enemy soldiers and beginning their quest to find the missing crown prince and restore the sacred fire before the world reels into chaos.

Although nothing in The Stoneholding stands out as unique, it has a decent premise and a well-constructed world.  Anderson and Sebanc obviously spent a lot of time figuring out the geography, which gets described in considerable detail, though many of those passages read more like technical descriptions of a map than like word-portraits of a landscape.  The larger cosmology and mythological history, centered around the magic harp, are well-developed and delivered to the reader at an appropriate pace.  The situation the characters face is dire enough to be interesting in itself.  The villain Farabek makes only a brief appearance and spends most of his time monologuing about his evil plans, but he's sufficiently wicked to be mildly entertaining, and he's apparently opened a gateway to the underworld and released some nasty beasties; although that means little in this first novel, it promises some fun in the sequels.

Where The Stoneholding suffers, and in my opinion suffers fatally, is in the characters.  Mind you, I don't expect deep, well-rounded characters in a sword-and-sorcery book (though they are a pleasant surprise when I find them), but I do expect the characters to at least have motives for what they do and to have entertaining if one-dimensional personalities.  But to call the characters in The Stoneholding one-dimensional would be to ascribe at least half a dimension too many to them.  The characters are mono-emotional; they are gifted with one emotion each:  all the young men are chipper, all the old men are melancholy, all the matrons are smothering, all the hard-working farmers are windy, and all the turncoats are foul-tempered.  It is as if Anderson and Sebanc spent a great deal of time building a world, but then forgot to populate it.  As a result, the characters appear to have no reasons for their actions; they are simply moved around by the needs of the plot like pieces on a chess board.

This causes two big problems:  eye-glazingly boring expository dialogue and plot-induced stupidity.

The characters tend to speak for multiple pages at a time without taking a breath, usually to explain the plot to the reader, reveal their nefarious plans just when the heroes happen to be hiding nearby, describe in detail what they've been doing over the last few days, or talk about maps.  Because of the flatness of the characters, I at times got confused over who was speaking, and on one occasion I forgot anyone was speaking and thought we were back to the narrative.  The characters of Kal and Galli, who are chipper young men and best friends, are indistinguishable; I quickly lost track of who was who whenever they were on the page together.  The bouts of dialogue make the shallowness of the characters at times painful:  in an important scene near the novel's middle, the aging Hordanu gives Kal an extremely important job to do, one Kal never expected to get, yet most of the conversation between them consists of the Hordanu describing the map in detail and Kal repeatedly exclaiming the sword-and-sorcery equivalent of "Golly!"  It is supposed to be one of the most important scenes in the book, but it has no emotion.

The lack of even minimal character depth results in an idiot plot.  The protagonists appear to have no wills of their own; they simply go from place to place as the plot dictates.  Whenever there is a serious turn in the story, the characters become moronic long enough to make the stupid decisions that will cause the turn to come about.  This happened so frequently that I began to suspect the big twist at the end of the novel would be the revelation that the characters are at crucial moments having their wills stolen away by a malevolent force.  Allow me to describe the worst example:

The Stoneholding features three or four quislings who decide to sell out to the Gharssulians and have all their friends and neighbors slaughtered.  At one point, the survivors of Gharssul's purge are huddled together in their final stronghold where they will in all likelihood make their last stand.  They have recently discovered that two of their members (I don't remember the names) are among the quislings, so like any good fantasy novel heroes, they let the quislings go free to join with the enemy and tell the enemy where the heroes are hiding, how many are with them, how they're armed, etc.  Another character, who has some kind of unwholesome-sounding name like Flatulorr or Excretoff, or maybe just Turncoat-3, has been seen conversing at length with the quislings.  He has an irascible and peevish personality, just like the quislings.  When speaking of him, other characters say things like, "I think he might be a quisling."  Then our hero Kal finds Turncoat-3 hastily running through an area he shouldn't be in, and Turncoat-3 offers the fumbling excuse that another character who would never entrust him with anything has entrusted him with an important mission.  Kal believes him.  Lo and behold, it turns out that Turncoat-3 has betrayed them all to the enemy.  Later, Turncoat-3 returns, apparently repentant, and Kal believes him, and Turncoat-3 betrays them again.

Mind you, this problem could have been alleviated somewhat if Turncoat-3 or any of the other quislings had even an iota of craftiness, but they are all nakedly treacherous.  I could see their betrayals coming from miles away, yet the protagonists are oblivious.  Although the example described here is the most grievous--and, sadly, the whole story turns on it--it is by no means isolated.  Every advance in the plot hinges on somebody doing something bafflingly stupid.  Even the deus ex machina that causes the novel to dwindle off without a climax begins when Kal foolishly runs pell-mell through a dark cave and falls off a cliff.

Having said all that, I would add that this novel is a first for Anderson and Sebanc.  They both have respectable writing credits already, and it is apparent that they have real skill.  Although it at times strains too hard for an archaic feel, the prose is mostly quite good.  The worldbuilding, as I already mentioned, is competent, but Anderson and Sebanc appear to have a few things to learn about character development, plot construction, and dialogue writing.  I cannot but pronounce The Stoneholding a failure, but I hope--indeed, I expect--that the Legacy of the Stone Harp will improve significantly in the sequels.  Or, even if this entire series turns out to be a wash, I expect the authors to produce more worthwhile work later on.  I certainly hope they produce some stronger novels; they are both Catholic writers, and this book is wholesome without being preachy or pretentious.

Content Advisory:  Contains action violence.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tune in Tomorrow...

Thursday is the busy day for me here at the seminary, so...no significant post.  However, tomorrow I should (I hope) finally put up the book review for The Stoneholding by James G. Anderson and Mark Sebanc, a review that's been too long in coming.  The review will discuss not only the book but some wider issues about sf in general that I hope will be worth reading, so tune in (possibly late) tomorrow for our next book review.