I had hoped to post a review for “Flow” by Arlan Andrews Sr. before the third story by John C. Wright, but I had a little difficulty tracking down a copy of it. I now have a copy in hand, and should be able to review it soon.
This is a review of: “Pale Realms of Shade” by John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
This story is a bad entheogenic trip trying to pretend that it is really straight, and hoping it will come down before the reader gets annoyed by the way it scratches itself in public. The best thing about it is the way it starts with the protagonist being dead and a bit of questionable grammar. Neither the story nor the protagonist ever recovers. I don’t really think this story is a science fiction or a fantasy story. I give it zero stars.
The story is a straightforward “Jesus Saves” morality lesson; like the poorly penned ones street preachers sometimes hand out. Mr Wright has added psychedelic visions to his in the hopes of making it profound. He fails.
The protagonist (a Mr Flint of Flint and Steel psychic detective agency) has died and become a poltergeist as a result of his jealousy (his widow takes up with his ex partner after his death). He flies around a bunch in what would pass for a very bad trip if he were not dead, and eventually meets a devil character. The devil character gives him the choice to blow his ex partner up (with a bunch of collateral damage), but Mr. Flint chooses not to, and then he gets to confess to the angel Gabriel who then leads him back in time to Jesus.
"Then shall he say, 'Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain; they are retained.' Without these words being spoken, no sins would be forgiven."
I love how when true believers go back to ancient Israel it is so common for them to discover everyone speaking Ye Olde English. Just like the original Star Trek. I bet Mary Magdalene wears a really short miniskirt like Yeoman Rand did.
Before his death Mr Flint dealt with all sorts of miraculous stuff. Werewolves, and magic items, and exorcists, and all sorts of wild supernatural stuff populated Mr Flint's life. However the presence of this stuff did not work to make him more religious; even when -by his own recollection- he witnessed miracles that proved the power of the biblical God:
“I saw the ice crack open, and the river leap as if with joy and reach with watery fingers white as foam to drown the scowling Egyptian king, who shouted in rage as ghosts of jackals howled, unable and unwilling to believe the God of the Hebrew slaves could fell him. “
The idea that a person would become too jaded by the supernatural to find salvation in Jesus if they lived a life where religious items and magic were commonplace is not profound, and does not really make sense to me. The idea that they would then want to find salvation after an extended period of floating about in some time-soup between worlds is misguided. The idea that adding random images of psychedelic stuff will create an atmosphere worth trudging through to find out if the story goes anywhere is just bad writing; especially when the only thing perfectly clear about the images that author is pushing is that they spring from a bigoted fearful mind:
“I did not look closely at the future shadows of the city in years to come. Somehow, I did wish I could warn the living to enjoy what they had now, to give thanks, and to cherish what they were so soon to have never again, not even as memory. The people and things living and not living in times to come would make sure no undistorted record, no uncorrupted memory, would remain. There were no steeples in that future, no church bells, just thin, wailing cries from thin, ugly minarets.”
So the future is some Islamic Orwellian nightmare with too many commas?
This nightmare is foreshadowed at the very beginning of this story. This story begins with a single-sentence paragraph. This story begins with a comma splice:
“It was not the being dead that I minded, it was the hours.”
Some people do not think there is anything wrong with the comma splice. Others think of it as a way of throwing sentence structure convention to the wind in order to create an effective voice. Still others believe the comma splice is a way of invalidating the petty desire some readers have of reading a story that begins with a well-crafted sentence.
This initial paragraph could have worked well as a two-sentence paragraph:
“It was not the being dead that I minded. It was the hours.”
I can picture using a semi-colon here; because I like semicolons:
“It was not the being dead that I minded; it was the hours.”
Not everyone likes semicolons. Kurt Vonnegut famously hated semicolons:
“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, “A Man Without a Country”
Since Mr. Vonnegut was one of the greatest writers of all time such disdain for an element of grammar cannot be capriciously dismissed, but he was wrong, and now he is dead.