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.


cathikin said...

This is an all-purpose comment for the three Eretzel blog together. I had read the first draft of the novel, so I was particularly interested in reading your comments. It sounds like Bill McGrath must have made quite a few changes from that time. I am looking forward to reading the published version. One thing I am certain of--there's no fluff here (except maybe a sheep or two).

David said...

I like how you pulled out your "gripes" in a positive fashion. Instead of beating the author over the head you simply gave him tools to make the next book better, which I'm sure Bill will utilize. Thanks for all your work here. You put up 3 great reviews, all of which were great.


TWCP Authors said...

Just happened onto this review after reading Seabird's and have to make a comment regarding the concept of preachiness.

M.W. defines preachiness as "marked by obvious moralizing."
Moralizing: giving moral direction

What I have found is that preachiness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

When an author presents moral dilemmas and solutions within the story and as true to the particular character's, um, character, I don't view it as preaching--it is a natural way of telling a story from, in this case, a Christian worldview.

I am dismayed when Others see a character in prayer or a church or hanging with a member of the clergy or read a piece of scripture like "do unto others" and immediately throw the preachy flag.

I've seen preachiness in some recent novels (okay, one -- sort-of recent novel); one is hit over the head with it, there's no grey area involved. When a seemingly ordinary character, perhaps embroiled in some sort of adventure, or espionage or mystery feels the need at every turn to spout off chapter and verse as if his author was using a Concordance alongside his style guide, Thesaurus, dictionary, outline and character sketch; if the action ceases for the moment (or long moments) to allow the character to rattle off a sermon; and if the character isn't a guy driving around town with a camper covered in shingles painted with Scripture, I call that preaching.

Just a bee in my bonnet I thought I'd share with anyone who cared to read it -- however, now that it is off my chest, it doesn't matter if anyone does or not, but thank you for this opportunity.


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