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So I threw myself on the grenade.... - Input Junkie
April 21st, 2014
01:37 pm

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So I threw myself on the grenade....
....and it turned out to be more like a lumpy sofa cushion.

In other words, I read Opera Vita Aeterna by Vox Day. It is bad, but not especially evil. However, it's so bad that it makes me wonder about God. Surely, Someone who's so reliably good at sunsets could do better. He is not living up to His potential. He must like bad fiction even more than he likes beetles.

I would have said that it was not of commercial quality, but it was published by Marcher Lord Hinterlands, and for all I know, they pay royalties. Jeff Gerke, the editor, has some backstory about the publishing of Day's A Throne of Bones, and he seems to be literate. I get the impression that Day is much better than most of what he receives. I don't know how someone who can write normal sentences and paragraphs could stand OVA.

On the other hand, there are literate people who like Dan Brown, so there are types of mental flexibility I don't share.

The most obvious thing about OVA (aside from that it's D&D fic and enthusiastic about Catholicism) is the utter clumsiness of the expository details.
The cold autumn day was slowly drawing to a close. The pallid sun was descending, its ineffective rays no longer sufficient to hold it up in the sky or to penetrate the northern winds that gathered strength with the whispering promise of the incipient dark. The first of the two moons was already visible high above the mountains. Soon Arbhadis, Night’s Mistress, would unveil herself as well.

Aside from the unspeakably bad science about the sun's rays holding it up, how many times does he have to tell me it's cold? Why does he only give the name of the moon that isn't up yet? What does the moon that is up look like?

The amount of repetition and the poor choice of details.... the story could be improved by cutting about a quarter of it, I think, but that wouldn't improve it enough.

Actually, "story" is too strong a word, or at least I couldn't find a point to the end of it. After all that about souls, immortality is achieved through making a wonderful thing? In a world where (there's a long discussion about this) nothing lasts?

And I think there's a simple solution to the problem raised in that discussion, though I may be missing something. Couldn't you have incorruptible things in a corruptible world if the incorruptible things came in from somewhere else?

I count my blessings. I note that Vox Day is an awful person. The world would be a worse place if he were a good writer.

To keep this post from only being about something that sucks, would anyone care to recommend their favorite Catholic sf? Favorite D&D fiction?

I'll start off with The Interior Life by Dorothy Heydt. Past Master by R.A. Lafferty, and Descent into Hell by Charles Williams. I'm not counting LOTR because Catholicism is off-stage and the Catholic ideas are pretty subtle, and I'm not counting A Case of Conscience because I didn't get the impression the author especially liked Catholicism.

D&D: Paksennarion by Elizabeth Moon, Goblin Quest by Jim Hines, Villains by Necessity by Eve Forward.

I wish it were possible to vote for No Award several times so that OVA could be below all of them.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1045043.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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From:jsburbidge
Date:April 21st, 2014 06:45 pm (UTC)
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Tim Powers' Declare is explicitly influenced by Williams. (Note that Williams was Anglo-Catholic rather than Roman, not that it makes much difference at this level.

All of Williams' novels would go nicely on the list.
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From:yamamanama
Date:April 21st, 2014 07:49 pm (UTC)
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He's redundant in general. Here are a few choice bits from what I think is A Throne of Bones.

"The guide was very nearly as unfriendly as a dwarf too, the man who was presently calling himself Nicolas thought, vaguely annoyed at his inability to crack the man's reserve."

"The dead goblin didn't have any answers for him, and the gaping mouth gaping loosely open made it look about as stupid as Forex was feeling"

"...side of the hill and the opening that gaped like an open wound."
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From:asakiyume
Date:April 21st, 2014 10:48 pm (UTC)
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This whole VD (<--hey look, amusing initials) has made me think of you SO MUCH.
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From:yamamanama
Date:April 21st, 2014 10:57 pm (UTC)
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The great thing about VD is he seems completely unaware what VD stands for in the minds of most people.
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From:sartorias
Date:April 21st, 2014 08:03 pm (UTC)
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Declare by Tim Powers. (Anything of his, actually, though the Catholicism is not overt. But it's there, somewhat like the sun still well below the horizon, but perceptible.)
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From:harvey_rrit
Date:April 21st, 2014 08:17 pm (UTC)
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What kind of nitwit takes the name "Voice Of God" and doesn't expect to automatically be dismissed as a waste of time?
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From:en_ki
Date:April 21st, 2014 10:13 pm (UTC)
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Julian May's big series, which is not only Catholic but a specific weird kind of Catholic mysticism integrated into a really satisfyingly coherent SFnal world.
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From:asakiyume
Date:April 21st, 2014 10:46 pm (UTC)
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What makes something Catholic SF? Just that it's written by a Catholic, or does it need also to express something Catholic in its content--and if the latter, should it be distinctively Catholic, or just Christian?

I'm thinking that the last thing--having something express a distinctly *Catholic* doctrinal view, might be difficult?
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From:beamjockey
Date:April 21st, 2014 11:23 pm (UTC)
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If I were moderator of a panel on this, I would allow panelists to chew on possible answers to this question, then cut them off after five minutes, so they could get on with discussing examples (now knowing each others' position on "what is Catholic SF?")

If I were a panelist, my own position would be "yes, distinctively Catholic." I wouldn't require that the novelist be Catholic, though, so discussing Blish would be just fine.
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From:asakiyume
Date:April 22nd, 2014 12:04 am (UTC)
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You'd be a good moderator--yeah, you don't want the conversation to devolve into definition-slinging.
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From:beamjockey
Date:April 21st, 2014 11:17 pm (UTC)
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would anyone care to recommend their favorite Catholic sf?

Just to drop the undropped shoe before anyone else does, Walter Miller's A Canticle for Lebovitz, er, I mean A Canticle for Leibowitz. Catholic monks preserve knowledge, then play a role in rebuilding technological civilization, during long dark age following World War III. Hugo for Best Novel in 1961.

A truly fine novel. Superficially dated, since Vatican II's liturgical reforms reduced Latin-slinging in our own timeline a few years after the book came out, but that won't get in the way of your enjoyment.
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From:jcbemis
Date:April 22nd, 2014 12:06 am (UTC)
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"The Star" by Clarke
From:paulshandy
Date:April 23rd, 2014 05:18 am (UTC)
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If this was Facebook, I would have "liked" your post to agree, but this is LJ so I have to do it the long way...
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From:marycatelli
Date:April 22nd, 2014 12:07 am (UTC)
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For D&D, the best is Order of the Stick.

I'd say it was Rusty & Co, but that's just an online comic thus far; Order's the one collected into books.
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From:marycatelli
Date:April 22nd, 2014 12:09 am (UTC)
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For Catholic, I might mention Rick Cook's Limbo System, even though the priest's thread is only one of the plot lines.
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From:theweaselking
Date:April 22nd, 2014 03:15 pm (UTC)
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"Rat Queens" looks like it might be as good, if it keeps going the way it is. But it's only a few issues old.
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From:rimrunner
Date:April 22nd, 2014 12:22 am (UTC)
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Catholic SF: The Sparrow, I'd think.
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From:whswhs
Date:April 22nd, 2014 12:29 am (UTC)
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Wasn't Charles Williams an Anglican?
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From:jsburbidge
Date:April 22nd, 2014 12:35 am (UTC)
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Cradle Anglican, but he was always very much an Anglo-Catholic, if not quite as much so as, say, T.S. Eliot or Eric Mascall. Nancy specified only Catholic, not Roman- or Anglo-.
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From:whswhs
Date:April 22nd, 2014 01:43 am (UTC)
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When I see "Catholic," I take it to mean "Roman Catholic." I think that's pretty common in American usage; what you're calling "Anglo-Catholics" I think would be called "high church Episcopalians," and I don't think many Americans would even think of them if someone talked about Catholics. Certainly that interpretation never occurred to me for a moment. Episcopalians, like Presbyterians and Congregationalists, are one of the old core Protestant denominations that are now fading away—but they're "Protestant" in a sense that excludes "Catholic."

I'm not positive that that was what Nancy meant, but it was certainly what I took her to mean, as she's an American.
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From:jsburbidge
Date:April 22nd, 2014 02:10 am (UTC)
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"High-church" tends to mean, in Anglican circles, a branch of the church that likes ritual but isn't very concerned with the theology. They are rather looked down on by ACs.

The usage is as much American as English, though it is comparatively specialised. When I was going to Johns Hopkins back in the early 1980s I went to a downtown Baltimore parish which would have been shocked to be referred to as "Protestant".

More importantly from a content of works point of view, the theology is largely identical - Eucharistic sacrifice, invocation of saints, seven sacraments plus a ton of sacramentals, statues and images, etc. and the ritual is similar (if now possibly more traditional than at Rome). The major differences are regarding papal authority. From that point of view SFF from A.C. sources would be largely indistinguishable from that from R.C. sources.
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From:elektra
Date:April 22nd, 2014 12:59 am (UTC)
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For D&D: Dragon Precinct (and its sequels) by Keith R.A. DeCandido
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From:chomiji
Date:April 22nd, 2014 02:27 am (UTC)
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For D&D, would Diana Wynne Jones' The Homeward Bounders count? (The story referenced other types of gaming, such as tabletop war gaming, as well as RPG.)
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From:theweaselking
Date:April 22nd, 2014 03:01 pm (UTC)
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I get the impression that Day is much better than most of what he receives.

I would not be surprised at all, given that "Christian Fiction" tends to bear the same quality relationship to "Fiction" as "Christian Rock Music" does to "Rock Music".

(To be clear: I mean the "Christian X" genre, not the religions of the artists, in both cases)

When your purpose starts being "MESSAGE, with art attached" instead of "Art, possibly with message attached", quality suffers.
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From:nancylebov
Date:April 22nd, 2014 05:03 pm (UTC)
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That can't be the whole story. There used to be brilliant Christian music which was definitely message-oriented, but there isn't any more. For that matter, why are there no modern authors in Lewis' class? (I'm not counting Tolkien because his messages were mostly pretty subtle.)
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From:theweaselking
Date:April 22nd, 2014 05:56 pm (UTC)
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Tribal gatekeeping shrinking both the pool of in-tribe artists AND the acceptable variation of message specifics?

(Fred Clark's got some pretty damn funny comments on that.)

I think at least part of the problem is that a Christian who makes lots of good music and has a song or two about Jesus *doesn't get a record contract with a "Christian record" label*, and doesn't get filed in the Christian Music genre. Even if their religious music is their greatest goal.

And on the flip side, the "Christian record" label tends to value anviliciousness of message.

It's at least partially self-selection.
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From:jsburbidge
Date:April 29th, 2014 05:00 pm (UTC)
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Late to reply to this, but for the record:

There never were many authors who were Christian in Lewis' way in SFF or its ancestors. I just finished leading a Lenten Study on Christian poetry and it's remarkable how little there is (good poetry, that is) even in periods which were highly Cristendom-ish. The same applies to fiction generally: aside from mediaeval romances, where miracle-working hermits &c. are par for the course, for every work of proto-fantasy where Christianity is visibly, literally true (as evidenced by miracles, divine intervention, angelic appearances, etc.) there are a hundred works where it's just incidentally true that the characters are all Christian. Even C.M. Yonge (of whom there is much on Gutenberg and who was very well-regarded in her day, and frequently cited as a "good" "religious" author) is more about people in a specific religious context than Lewis-ish or Williams-ish intervention by Powers That Be.

Lewis appears just at a transitional time -- SF had already come into existence (and Lewis read the pulps -- he was aware of the field and could write in that idiom) but he can still treat Christianity as something which is "natural" enough (for him) that highlighting it wasn't necessarily the same as pushing it. (I.e. he was writing, in his head, for an audience which shared his belief and was still large enough that he could think of it as his primary audience). This is no longer true in England, or in most of the rest of the world. It would now be extremely hard to write (say) a story about the return of Arthur which fit into a Lancelot-cycle type background and was integrated with some form of Christian eschatology to ground the reason for Arthur's return without sounding more like Left Behind than like Lewis -- the change in context alone would make it too preachy.
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From:adrian_turtle
Date:April 22nd, 2014 08:50 pm (UTC)
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The Derenyi series, by Katherine Kurtz, has a lot of flaws (especially pacing and continuity), but I like it, and it's solidly Catholic without hitting readers over the head with religious Message. Unless you count "thou shalt not persecute minorities," which is not a specifically Catholic message.
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From:starcat_jewel
Date:April 25th, 2014 02:38 am (UTC)
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I wouldn't have counted The Interior Life as "Catholic SF". Yes, when I stop to think about it, Sue is Catholic, but that's a very minor part of the story -- as evidenced by the fact that I had to stop and think about it. I don't think it would be noticeable at all except for the one scene near the end which happens at Christmas Mass.

The Lord Darcy stories, OTOH, are emphatically Catholic; the Church controls the practice of magic and punishes those who practice black magic, by means up to and including forcible removement of the miscreant's Talent. There's no mention of any other religion even existing, except for some discussion of the ancient Aztec faith in A Study in Sorcery.
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From:pcornelius
Date:April 25th, 2014 05:19 am (UTC)

Pardon me while I leave this here

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I admit to having come to this post by a devious route, & to not being a regular reader. But, if I may be excused for expressing myself on a topic of some interest…

As a professing Roman Catholic, I am shocked — shocked! — that nobody has yet mentioned Record of Lodoss War.
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