A curious communication

By , 27 June 2008 10:08 pm

Well it’s been a quiet week on the book front but I did get one fascinating communication. It was an e-mail from a PhD student in New York, who we will simply call John, saying that he was including a chapter on my series in his doctoral dissertation and asking me some questions.

As far as I can make out John’s thesis is on the attitude of evangelicals writing fiction to technology. He has sent me the chapter, which I have so far merely skimmed over at great speed. My initial response is that he’s got some things about my books right and some things badly wrong but I hope to spend an hour or so putting together some comments. But it’s a strange feeling to have yourself written about. I have read a fair amount of literary criticism and it’s very odd to be involved as the subject rather than as spectator.

I confess to having any slightly jaded view of literary criticism. A formative experience was when in 1982 the American University of Beirut, where I was an assistant professor, had a centennial conference on James Joyce. Having read a fair amount of the old man (I gave up on Finnegan’s Wake but finished Ulysses) I attended. One speaker, becoming extraordinarily esoteric, began to discuss the significance of the coinage that Leopold Bloom had on him when he took the bus journey recounted in Ulysses. We strained to concentrate and as we did, heard no more than a few miles away, the deep boom of artillery fire between East and West Beirut. Somehow, as the air in the room began to gently vibrate and our thoughts drifted to death and destruction, the importance of literary criticism faded away.

Anyway what makes this review particularly interesting is that John is not an evangelical: he says that he is a ‘secularist, though I grew up in the evangelical church and still consider myself at least “culturally” evangelical, if that is possible’. Hmm.

Well I guess I’m flattered. I normally consider this sort of thing to be the prerogative of the dead author but I have checked my pulse and I appear to be alive. It’s nice to be taken seriously.

Have a good week.

Reviews and news

By , 20 June 2008 6:30 pm

The Infinite Day has been out now for best part of three weeks and so I am more or less able to take stock of where things are going. The good news is the reviews (all Amazon, my Facebook site or e-mailed to me) are excellent. Let me share three with you from last week alone.

From email
This is some more random fan-mail 😉 I’ve just finished reading The Infinite Day, and wanted to say a big thanks to you for writing the Lamb Among the Stars series. It’s been the most enjoyable series of novels I’ve read in the last 10 years. Not only did I enjoy the story and the characters, but their world, faith and technology was well done, intrigued me and kept me hooked.
You’ve managed to write novels where the story revolves entirely around the Christian faith, yet kept subjects of the faith very natural and integrated, and without any of our modern day jargon. As a Christian, I found it quite thought provoking. I felt you did a great job of presenting the essentials of our faith and how it works out and yet without dogmatically presenting a fixed view of the end times etc.
Please keep writing!
Oh, and – good ending to The Infinite Day! Certainly not what I expected by the time I got there.

From Amazon.com

5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant finish! June 13, 2008
By E. M. Tennessen (The Windy City)
The Infinite Day is the concluding book in the Lamb Among the Stars series by Chris Walley. The book brilliantly finishes the adventures of Merral D’Avanos and his friends as they battle the return of evil to the universe. Chris Walley is adept at combining science fiction with Christianity. While the Christian worldview is mostly Protestant, as an Eastern Orthodox Christian I found much that resonated with me about how God is and how much He loves us. The Assembly was a wonderful preview of how the Kingdom of God may be acted out. And Jorgio is very much a “fool for Christ.” While the book deals with the evil one and his minions, the story is more about how the characters battle the growing evil and corruption within themselves, how they throw that off, and how they continue to struggle to be like Christ. The ending had definite C.S. Lewis overtones–resembling the ending in The Last Battle (Narnia)–where all is revealed and beyond imagining. It was thrilling and brought tears to my eyes. If you enjoy a good tale about the triumph of good over evil with characters that will touch your soul and heart, this series is for you. And it’s superb science fiction, too! Highly recommended.

Bravo Chris Walley! June 19, 2008
By Patricia Cummings “dogs5” (Maryville, MO USA)
The final book in this series was not only well worth the wait … it shows the author’s growth as a writer throughout the series. The first book was a slow read, but the profound concept of a sinless world once again having to battle evil made it worth the effort. The pacing picks up in the next and the theology deepens. The final book is a masterpiece of Christian fiction. The author balances multiple plot points, a host of believable characters, and never loses the reader’s interest. The battle against evil occurs on many fronts … there’s a real enemy to be fought externally but it must be done in community and within each individual human heart. It’s beautifully done. Add to that mix the dimensionality of heaven and hell and probably the most satisfying ending in modern fiction… wow. Well done, Mr. Walley! May the REAL force be with you!

It’s hard to complain about things like that. I find it particularly satisfying that I am praised for effects I have tried to achieve.

Anyway that’s the good news. What however is less good is that sales figures are not particularly high. The most obvious source of information on how the books are actually doing is Amazon.com. Here I find a slightly worrying phenomenon: while the final book is doing okay-ish, the first two books have shown no pickup in sales. In other words, it seems that people who have started the series are happily reading the conclusion but the final book is not lifting the series as a whole. As you can imagine I find this all rather frustrating; had the series being critically damned I would have shrugged my shoulders and said ‘well I guess I deserve low sales’. But to get praise and low sales seems perverse. But then perhaps the whole point is that the universe is indeed just that; perverse. Short of that rather naive theological reflection has anybody got any bright ideas what we do about sales, promotion and the rest?

Chris

Of church constitutions and global evil

By , 13 June 2008 7:10 pm

I thought I would take a short break from talking about my books this week. We writers need to remember that there is a real world out site there! However, to the curious, let me say that the books seem to be going reasonably well with some obviously very happy readers. But I would still like to get some really good serious reviews that would have people ordering them from their libraries, buying them from their shops and denouncing them from their pulpits!

And so to something else. I was doing freelance writing in September 2001 and on that fateful day clearly remember seeing in a glance at the BBC web news a garbled newsflash about ‘a plane hitting the World Trade Center’. It wasn’t long before I found myself glued to the television. Had I not been in the middle of a book project, I might have suggested to the reasonably big name evangelical I was working with at the time that we do something fast on the event and its implications. After all, I could with some justification claim to talk knowledgeably about the Middle East and terrorism. Anyway I’m glad I didn’t; much of what has happened in the seven years since would have confounded my predictions.

Some things I would have got right. I would have guessed at George and Tony’s Big Adventure in the Middle East but would, I think, have assumed that Afghanistan was going to be its sole target. Even then I was never convinced of Saddam being a fan of Al Qaeda. I would have guessed that we would be increasingly nice to many very horrible people in the Middle East as long as they were ‘our sort’ of horrible people. That sadly has proved to be true: we don’t talk much about human rights in the Arab world now. I would have foreseen the rise of the security culture but not I think its scary extent: I doubt I would have predicted the way in which Brazilian plumbers can be executed by the police on the Tube, the way that we now lock people up without trial or the extent to which torture is now allowed.

There are many other things that I would probably either have not seen or got badly wrong. I would have predicted that Islam would become very unpopular. What I did not foresee is that Christianity, a much softer target, seems to have suffered a great deal of abuse in its place. Indeed there is an unfortunate irony (which the British government came close to admitting earlier this week), that the past few years have – at least on the surface – been good for Islam because the state has actually invested much in working with Muslims at the expense of Christianity in order to try to neutralise radical Islam. I don’t think either I would have seen the breathtaking audacity of some within the Islamic community in blaming us in the West for causing 9/11 through heavy-handed and partisan involvement in the Middle East.

The one major thing that I probably would not have predicted is how far ranging the repercussions of 9/11 would actually be. This was brought home to me last night in the seemingly unrelated context of a church leaders meeting to discuss our new constitution. The British Charities Commission has come up with various new rules on what constitutes a charity; this has been refined by the Baptist Union and we have been looking at implementing it for our church constitution. The extraordinary fact is that much of the wording is clearly designed primarily to keep mosques out of the hands of fanatics. Charitable religious organisations now need to have detailed published accounts, a defined quorum for meetings, transparent administrative structures and measures in place to stop sudden shifts of power. You almost expected to come across a clause which said ‘all documents need to be submitted to the Security Services’. Truly, in falling, the Twin Towers cast a long, dark shadow across the world

Which brings us back to literature. Those who read the final book in the Lamb Among the Stars series will realise that the matter of evil and the way in which it can contaminate those who seek to battle against it is a major theme. It is always hard to keep your hands clean: the more deadly the evil the more likely that we will be contaminated ourselves.

PS: My website should be up shortly with a new design. Let me know what you think.

What didn’t happen this week

By , 6 June 2008 4:59 pm

By definition we fantasy authors are blessed with imagination. As it happens the good Lord has ensured that there is an appropriate price to pay for this blessing. (No blessing comes without its dark side). In the case of fantasy authors it is that things never totally live up to our greatest expectations.

As proof of this, let me tell you about the many things that have not happened in the week or so since The Infinite Day made it out into the big wide world.

  • I have not had phone calls from Oprah in the States or her equivalent in the UK, ‘Richard and Judy’.
  • I have not been contacted by my local library asking for copies.
  • Christianity Today has not asked me whether I would mind my face appearing on the cover.
  • Barack Obama has not asked me for my endorsement.
  • Spielberg has not phoned me saying he has some spare time on his hands now he is not doing the Olympics and could he please have the film rights.
  • I have seen no mention on Amazon that they are out of stock and are waiting urgently for the reprint.
  • No literary agent has e-mailed me asking me if they can please deal with the next series of books.
  • No pre-millennial, post-dispensational, pre-tribulation preacher has threatened to burn my books.
  • The local press have not rung the doorbell.
  • The bank has not been in touch offering me a special account for high earners.

Well, it could be worse. I have had two good reviews on Amazon, some nice comments and been emailed by a student wanting to do a Role Playing Game based on the books. (Being an old Beirut hand, when I read the e-mail first, I assumed RPG meant rocket-propelled grenade and got excited that I annoyed someone so much I was going to be attacked.) Anyway it’s early days and lots of people are still ploughing their way through what is after all a long volume. And, I don’t earn my living from writing. It could be worse indeed.

Have a good week

Chris

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