Sent forth from the mountain of Protestantia evangelica, I have checked the other mountains of Ecclesia. Time to report back.
Monday, January 5, 2009
Eretzel 3: Gripes and conclusion
And now the dreaded gripes about William McGrath's Eretzel.
Moor and Simon. As I mentioned yesterday, I would've liked to see more of this odd couple, though McGrath needed to spend time developing the Anakim instead. It's a good trade-off, I suppose, but I still hope for more of the Moor/Simon show next time. On the other hand, we will have more of the Anakim next time, and they do grow on you, so to speak.
Details, details... I've mentioned the exposition, and again, it doesn't bother me on the whole. It works best when it's short, as when a remark about architecture or local custom arises in passing. But some of the longer passages could have been abbreviated. For example, I think I could've handled the digression about steel in roughly half or even a third the space. I would've lost some detail in the process, but the main points would've remained. And if I weren't a geek myself, I would prune even more.
There's an outtake from Disney's Snow White where the dwarves build Snow White a bed. It's a good scene, showcasing their craftsmanship, but it never went beyond the basic animation stage. Why? Disney said that he wouldn't keep anything unless it advanced characterization or plot. The scene contributed to the dwarves' characterization, but it more or less duplicated some other scenes in that regard. Now, that one scene wouldn't have made much difference either good or bad, but once one such scene is allowed, others will follow.
This isn't to say all exposition is bad. There are two types at least that are good, even mandatory. First, there's the kind that explains a scene. (This is related to advancing the plot.) A number of the passages in Eretzel come under this heading: unless you understand the political and social dynamics of Eretzel, a lot of the scenes won't make any sense. The second is to establish that the author knows what he's talking about. Thus there's a scene where the interpretation of the Koran comes up, and it goes a little longer than some may like. But it's necessary to show that McGrath does in fact understand the issues involved. Otherwise he'd be just another ignorant pontificator. And it may also help the reader understand the topic in greater depth.
A few non-issues that are sure to arise...
Violence. You want it, you got it. Even if you don't want it, you got it anyway. I don't object to violence as such, just to gore and gratuitous mayhem. The violence here is neither gory nor gratuitous, so it's not a problem for me at least. Your mileage may vary.
Theology. Some of the ideas presented are non-standard, though they will seem so mostly to someone with a very provincial viewpoint. Do I agree with all of the points made? No. But I think a reader can learn from them, and since Evangelicals in particular tend toward intellectual inbreeding anyway, some new blood could be a good thing, especially if it leads to actual thinking.
Preachiness. I've observed before that calling someone preachy often really means, "Hey, how come he's got a spine and I don't?" Are there preachy bits? Yes. But the question here, as for violence, is, "Are there gratuitous preachy bits?" The answer, on the whole, is no. In a way, it's the Antichrist who comes off sounding preachy, which is just fine. The Dante-esque tour of the Afterlife has more-or-less preachy moments, but they are reasonable: the nature of the scene demands it and would feel strangely empty without it.
Conclusion. Eretzel is an improvement on Asulon, and the next installment will likely be even better. It's the kind of book I know I'll refer back to in years to come, not the sort I'd read a maximum of once and chuck. So buy Eretzel and read it. It will probably do you good to try something different.