Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Beyond the Reflection’s Edge 3: Weak Points

Bryan Davis’s Beyond the Reflection’s Edge does have a weak point or two. I'll consider a few I doubt anyone else will have, except for my opener, which is downright obvious.

Confusion. Everyone's a triplet, and they aren't properly tagged:
"Bwa-ha-ha! I am Gordon Blue!"
"I'm Simon Red!"
"I'm Kelly Green!"
"Leave me alone, man--I'm colorblind."

Theology. As a rule, the theology is good, but there's at least one exception: the story idea itself. My late grandmother, a former Pentecostal minister, liked sci-fi. We discussed the idea of parallel worlds, and she considered them unworkable based on Heb 9:27 ("Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment"). In other words, you only go around once, not several times, once per universe. I'm not sure about that precise point, but the overall question is worthwhile: if there are people out there who are effectively clones, what's the point? In the story, it's possible (within limits, apparently) for counterparts to differ: Gordon Red observes that his Blue version has "a profiteering mindset" (p. 342) and says, "This troubled me greatly, because I had theorized that genetic duplicates would make identical decisions when presented with identical information" (ibid.). This has the amusing wrinkle that they are only materially, not spiritually, identical. So while they may have similar predispositions, they are individuals.

Okay, that's one in the eye for materialists: apparently there's more to people than their physical composition, suggesting a spiritual component. But if some people vary, given a few billion people over a few thousand years, anyway, how can the worlds remain so similar? While most of the divergences will be minor, they can't all be unimportant. So these should be like probability worlds: generally similar, but not identical. In fact, they wouldn't quite be probability worlds, even: most of those differ on some major point, such as who won some war. These three worlds should differ by an accretion of minor discrepancies.

But if that's so, what's the point? An atheist can have things happen by chance, but not a Christian--especially at this level. If there are three nearly identical worlds, it's because God created them that way. But why? It's not like God would hit the three button instead of the one button during creation. I won't call this issue insurmountable, but it does need to be addressed. Perhaps it will come up in a sequel.

Limited options. I think one reason I don't handle thrillers well is the same problem I have with interactive fiction--the text-based adventures that were popular back in the late seventies and early eighties. It wasn't enough to find a solution; you had to find one the author thought of, or it wouldn't work. There are sometimes solutions that seem obvious, but the character doesn't try them. This is a genre problem, not a flaw in this particular book.

But as a case in point, early in the story, Nathan clocks Mictar with a bat. Now, I think if I were in Nathan's place, I'd take an extra couple of seconds to finish the job.

I can practically hear the screams: it would be murder! Not at all: Mictar had already shown himself to be a homicidal loony, and worse yet, one with superhuman powers. So I'll follow up my shocking suggestion with another: this is the humbler alternative.

You see, there's a certain arrogance, even hubris, to the idea that you can keep on slapping the villain around without an innocent bystander paying for it. It's like realizing that someone's determined to shoot up a public facility and refusing to do more than play tag.

Now, I'll admit that my own characters rarely run into homicidal maniacs, so they generally avoid lethal force. Here, I don't see the option. Mictar is going to kill innocent people, and the only way to stop him is to remove him from the game permanently. Similarly with Gordon Blue, though incapacitation my be possible there. You can't expect to hold them off indefinitely. This is called recognizing your limitations.

[Addendum: Mr. Davis pointed out that Nathan attacked Mictar with a violin, while Nathan's tutor Clara appropriately wielded the bat. Another problem with writing a post after an eighteen-plus hour day, but sometimes I've no choice.

I should also mention that Mictar is a special case, both for me and for the book. He comes across as not particularly human for one thing. Indeed, after Mictar's self-described "brother" turned up, I began to doubt that Mictar could be killed by normal means. Also, while I do think there are places where Nathan should've incapacitated Gordon Blue, I don't think killing would be justified there. GB is merely a pawn; Mictar is the actual villain.]

Conclusion. I'll admit that these are rather esoteric points. So for the reasons I mentioned in my post yesterday, I do recommend this book highly. It's the beginning of a series, after all; there's plenty of time to resolve some of these matters.

Check out the other members of the CSFF tour:
Brandon Barr
Jennifer Bogart
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Kathy Brasby
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Timothy Hicks
Joleen Howell
Jason Joyner
Mike Lynch
Terri Main
Rachel Marks
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
Ashley Rutherford
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Chawna Schroeder
Greg Slade
James Somers
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise


Bryan Davis said...

Thank you for recommending my book. I enjoyed your posts, even the ones that expressed perceived weaknesses.

It's not usually a good idea for an author to argue against a reviewer's comments. They are, after all, reasonable opinions, and expertly delivered. Yet, if you would like to know how I would respond, please let me know.

Again, thank you for the overall recommendation. I appreciate it very much.

Bryan Davis

Valerie Comer said...

Good points, Steve. Of course in fiction--especially spec fic--anything goes if the author can get the reader to suspend disbelief for long enough. There's always (well, usually!) things that can be learned, solid themes to be explored in (ahem) alternate dimensions.

Andrea Graham said...

Hi, Steve. You can probably guess that similar questions is what got placed under the label of "headache" in my review. But since I had a literal headache, trying to wrap my mind around this stuff was definitely above my pay grade.

Though I don't tend to think there are alt-universes, I think scripture is silent enough on the topic to warrant using them in biblical speculative fiction, if by doing so one can convey a truth that is scriptural, and Davis meets that Standard, which I use for all such "debatable matters." So long as an author doesn't touch core doctrine, I'll personally allow one quibble if it's a device to teach what is scriptural. In Davis' case, the scriptural issue directly raised by his device is God's sovereignty, a point a lot of folks could stand to contemplate a wee bit more.

So Andrea stopped asking herself questions like, "What is the point in having three identical universes all synced in time?" Other than the idea a triune God may think and speak (and thereby create) in triplicate?

Okay, so maybe I did ask myself that . . .

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Steve, I'd forgotten the problem I had with three mirror-image dimensions. At first my problem was with the existence of Nathan's mother, father, he himself, his tutor, all of them, seemingly unaltered, though clearly there were characters who acted one way in one dimension and a different way in another. But I thought Bryan solved that with the idea that the differences were a result of never-intended contact between the dimensions.

That was a satisfying answer, but the natural follow up certainly then is, why the various dimensions and why a way for them to contact one another.

Complex plot twists require complex answers delivered in a simply manner that doesn't bog the story down. Not an easy thing to pull off.


Robert Treskillard said...


Could Bryan's "three worlds yet one" in creation be a symbolism that makes people understand the Trinity of God more? A mystery that bears examination... just a thought.


Steve said...

I entertained the idea that the three universes somehow reflected the Trinity. The thought lasted perhaps five seconds.

1. They are not "three yet one"; they are separate and need to remain so. Unity would be the disastrous "interfinity." It would be as if the persons of the Trinity were separate entities who could not interrelate without causing destruction. In other words, it's more tritheistic than Trinitarian. I am quite sure that Mr. Davis wouldn't entertain or encourage such a thought. He is more thoughtful theologically than most modern writers.

2. Solomon Shepherd (and little Francesca) postulated a fourth world that somehow coordinates the other three. (Thus "Quattro.") This doesn't accord well with a Trinity reference. Presumably it is this fourth world that maintains synchronicity despite individual variation. If so, it would effectively represent the divine will, andit could then be seen as a harmonization of divine sovereignty and individual human freedom.

Andrea Graham said...

It was implied strongly in the text that "Quattro" is the spiritual realm, and not part of creation. I'm surprised you didn't pick up on that, Steve. It's more overt in the blurb from second book included at the end, where the demon opens a gateway to the spiritual realm.

I would agree that the three universes thing doesn't have the same nature as the trinity. I do wonder if Davis was thinking of the threes that show up in nature and such, that perhaps it's intended as a result of the nature of the trinity rather than a direct reflection of it's nature.

Steve said...

I didn't have time to read the excerpt, unfortunately, but the idea that Quattro is spiritual would work well in the overall context.

Powered by WebRing.