Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Vanish 3: Weak points and conclusion

The weak points of Tom Pawlik’s Vanish are annoyingly hard to explain. And I'll break precedent by taking issue with something that almost certainly isn't Pawlik's fault.

Design. I was tempted to write "unintelligent design," but the designer is likely a wonderful person who for some reason likes goofing up books. I don't usually complain about such matters--others cavil at covers; I don't--but here the "design" creeps into the book as such. Covers, I ignore; pages, I can't. And here the upper part of the right page is smudged (something I can do for myself, thank you) and the first page of each chapter is presented in an odd, narrow-column format that I found distracting. But again, I doubt that's Pawlik's fault, and I generally concentrate on the text.

Double, double... Things are not as they seem, and sometimes a character turns out to be an impostor--that is, it's really one of the gray things impersonating the other person. But there is a character that simply is two different entities, a human being and a spirit being--and the spirit, though mostly malevolent, sometimes seems to be pointing Godward. (For those who've read the story, this is the character who has the final line.)

Clever, not deep. The ending is clever--it's funny, in a macabre fashion--but a deep ending might involve someone, perhaps a boy, entering the room and saying, "One of your friends asked me to visit you. We need to talk."

A life-and-death issue. This is the major drawback for me, and I'd bet that hardly anyone will notice it because it's more assumed than stated. It's the idea that near-death is death, that God can't truly reach beyond normal consciousness.

(Someone will cry foul here, based on a rescue scene near the end. But that is more a physical than a spiritual rescue, postponing matters until a normal decision in normal circumstances can be made.)

If someone is fatally injured and lingers briefly in a coma, apparently cut off from the world around him, is he as good as dead? Or can God reach him in those last moments? If God can't reach him, then perhaps we may as well pull the plug on anyone in a coma. There are two arguments against this.

First, there are numerous cases where God dealt with people in their sleep through dreams. If he can do that, he can reach someone vegetative or in a coma.

Second, there are biblical references to our inability to prolong life. In Matt. 6:7, Jesus says we can't add an hour to our lives by worrying; in Eccl. 8:8, we read that since we can't retain our spirit, we can't control death--in context, we can't prolong our lives. So if someone is on life support, we can't prolong his life with all the gadgets; when his time comes, he'll die, no matter what anyone tries. But we can hasten death, and that's what happens when we pull someone's plug. As long as someone is alive, he can be reached; ending his life prematurely is wrong. The writer seems ignorant of this, as many Christians are. Is it any wonder abortion is still legal when even Christians can't understand the nature of such actions?

Conclusion. However, I doubt most people will notice this line of thinking, and otherwise it is a good story well told. So while I think it could easily have been better, it is still well above average and definitely worth a look.

Again, for anyone interested, my novella Galatea is available for download in PDF form.

Let's have a last look at this month's tour...
Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Alex Field
Beth Goddard
Todd Michael Greene
Ryan Heart
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Donita K. Paul
Epic Rat
Crista Richey
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler


Tom said...


I have enjoyed your posts and your insight into the book. I did want to comment on a few of the weaknesses if you don't mind. Simply to clarify.

1. Design: you're right, I had no input. I do like how the image fades with each successive chapter.

2. Howard... You make a valid point. However, I do develop Howard's character and circumstances a bit further in the sequel. Hopefully to clarify his role. But I do like to leave some mystery for readers to fill in for themselves.

3. Ending: clever, not deep. Fair enough. I wanted to leave the reader with an unsettled feeling. But everyone's entitled to their opinion.

4. Life and death. I think we disagree as to whether someone can get "saved" while in a coma, but scripture is sufficiently vague for us to agree to disagree. But as to the pro-life issue. Conner's concern at the end of the book was that Mitch NOT be disconnected (this is a main motivator in the sequel), precisely because he knew what was awaiting Mitch after he died. I think the message from the book is that life is precious and we must do everything we can to prolong life in Mitch's condition in hopes the person may recover.

Conner was pulled back from the brink by the Christ character but he didn't repent and believe until after he'd been revived.

This entire topic is a fascinating subject for theological discussion which is one of the reasons I wrote the book.

Anyway, I don't mean to be long-winded. I have downloaded a copy of your book and look forward to reading it soon!

Many blessings,


Steve said...

Unfortunately my post was rather hurried. I need to tack on an addendum or so. The most important involves the sequel, which I originally intended to mention. The existence of a sequel can change a lot of things, and I should bring that up.

I also didn't take time to pursue the matter of comatose salvation properly. If people in dreams can interact with God (an outstanding example being Abimelech in Gen 20:3-7), salvation should certainly be possible. This is also similar to some other states such as extreme autism. Indeed, I should think the burden of proof would be entirely on someone disputing the point: if interaction is possible while unconscious, anyone who is alive should technically be capable of turning to God. For turning to God at all always requires a revelation from God; it isn't something we do ourselves. And it wouldn't really involve any more effort for God to reveal himself to someone unconscious than conscious--it might actually be easier for him to reach someone in an altered mental state, thus the trances in which visions often occur.

Tom said...


It is an interesting subject. However in your example, Abimelech was only warned by God in a dream. He still needed to consciously repent and make things right again after he woke up. I would also make the case that this instance was an exception rather than a rule since Abimelech had been tricked into the sin in the first place. Further it is an Old Testament example when God was regularly communicating in various ways.

Second, one must be careful not to make sweeping doctrines out of specific historical examples. Yes, God can do anything to reach people. However, every instance we have of a person repenting and "getting saved" in scripture are all performed while that person is conscious.

I think the burden of proof is on you, my friend.

Hope you don't mind the debate! I always enjoy discussions like these.

Best regards,


Tom said...


This is certainly an interesting subject. However your example is flawed. Abimelech was merely warned by God in his dream. He still needed to consciously repent and make things right again after waking up.

God can indeed do whatever He wants, but one must be cautious of making sweeping doctrines from specific historical examples. Abimelech's case was unique in that he was tricked into his sin. Further he is an Old Testament example when God was still speaking to men in various means.

Every example of repentance and salvation in scripture all occurs while the subject is awake. They made conscious decisions at the prodding of the Holy Spirit. But all were awake.

I would say the burden of proof is on you. :)

Hope you don't mind a little debate. I realize you probably have better things to do.

Best regards...

Steve said...

A bit of a dilemma, here: Tom posted two almost identical comments, and I'd rather not keep both, but I'm not sure which he'd prefer, so I've published both. If he wishes to drop one, he may do so.

Steve said...

I see nothing that implies Abimelech's need to repent in a conscious state. His desire to be right with God seems fairly clear in the dream dialog, which is why God responds so positively. He did need to act on the revelation granted him, just as anyone who truly repents will need to make things right if possible. It isn't always possible, however, as the crucified and pardoned thief demonstrates.

I don't see that the OT status is relevant. I can't think of anyone saved under OT conditions who would've been damned or unreached under NT ones.

I also find it amusing that the fact that I give a single counter-example is problematic when not even one instance of someone unable to repent in a coma is proffered--an argument from silence. There is little said in the Bible about comas, so one must look for the closest thing, and that's reaching someone in sleep by means of dreams. Since it is clearly possible to have a revelation from God in a dream, it is surely reasonable to expect that God can reach someone in a coma. This is why the burden of proof rests with whoever would deny the possibility: the most relevant example argues for it.

It is especially odd that repentance does not occur in a story where people are in some sense conscious: they may not be aware of this world, but they are aware of a world and of themselves. They know who they are, they can interact with each other, and so forth. They are in all ways like their conscious counterparts except that they can't be saved in their current state.

In other words, they are damned: the damned evidently have these characteristics as well (Luke 16:22-28). But the rich man could not be saved at all; the prisoners of the Interworld can be saved only if they are revived so that they can, for no discernible reason, turn to God. And this is all the more curious considering that on p. 344 Conner prays and is heard: his request is granted.

So Conner not only has all his rational faculties but a basic spiritual one as well: he can cry out to God, and apparently God is listening. So why does God withhold repentance? Remember, this is the same God who likes using visions, which also involve an altered state of consciousness more sensitive to spiritual realities (such as seeing angels or perhaps gray whisperers in the shadows).

Powered by WebRing.