The Facade by Michael S. Heiser

facadeTitle: The Facade: Special Edition
Author: Michael S. Heiser
Publisher: Kirkdale Press
Edition: E-Book
Pages (iPad): 615

First Line (Prologue): The Bible is a peculiar, mysterious book.

This book was received as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

There’s lots to like about Michael S. Heiser’s The Facade. There’s also a lot to dislike. As a novel, I think it fails. Utterly and miserably. As a scholarly exploration, however, I found it intriguing and compelling.

And that’s where the difficulty comes in offering some insight into The Facade.

Let’s get the story part out of the way first, I suppose, so we can end on a high note.

The premise is a strong one. A secret agency, both within the government and, yet, outside its purview, is gathering some of the greatest scientific and theologic minds in the United States. Gathering them forcefully, I should add. Their task? To ready the world, specifically the world’s religions, for the coming of extra-terrestrials.

The concept is brilliant. The execution… not so much.

It starts off painstakingly slow, with the point of view head-hopping around from person to person without ever becoming omniscient. A single scene might start of with a 3rd person limited view from one character, shift to another a page later, and then back to the first… all without any names being used. At times it is, in the early pages, horribly confusing, because even with all the head-hopping, Heiser never lets the reader in on what the hell is going on. That head-hopping continues throughout the novel, and though it gets a little easier deal with, I often found myself re-reading paragraphs and even full pages to find out when the PoV had switched from one character to another.

But that’s not my biggest issue. Nothing ever happened. Easily 75% of the book is two to five characters sitting in a room talking. Granted they were talking about some interesting stuff, but nothing was going on. No one was actually DOING anything. Oh, they talked about doing things… but it never went beyond that. And the dialogue… holy moley. I can’t remember reading a book where the dialogue was so poorly constructed. And when all characters ever do is sit around and talk to each other, that makes for a very difficult slog.

But that’s not my biggest issue, either. The plot felt… contrived. Regardless of how interesting the topic of conversation was, the plot was boring. When something interesting did happen, it felt so out of place – so out of character – that it just didn’t make sense. And it’s as if Heiser knew it didn’t make sense, because later he would have two or three characters sit in a room and discuss how much it didn’t make sense, how much it went against someone’s character. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that every single scene that had the characters doing something felt awkward and false.

And even that’s not my biggest issue. This is a story that’s right up Dan Brown’s alley. It’s filled with conspiracy theory and mystery and good old fashioned sleuthdom (I think I just made up a word – cool). It’s also horribly predictable. There are two “big reveals” late in the novel designed to throw everyone off, and I saw them coming at least 200 pages away. Worse, after the reveals arrive and stun the characters involved, they don’t react to them. Or, if they do, their reactions are contrived and go against not just their own characters, but against the character of developed relationships. None of them, not the street-smart conspiracy nut, the scholarly theologist, nor the government sponsored biologist ever get an inkling that they are being played – that they themselves have become entangled in a conspiracy theory all their own. And their ignorance comes across as an unwarranted stupidity rather than any kind of endearing reluctant-yet-in-the-dark hero kind of mentality.

Nope. That’s not my biggest issue.

So what is my biggest issue?

All that crap is in the same damn book! The story here – the plot, the pacing, the characters, the climax, the relationships, the quality of writing, the dialogue, the nonsensical twists and turns, the “reveals” – there is just nothing good in the story.

Except…

The scholarly stuff. The research. The theological conjecture and theory. I found Heiser’s interpretation of the Bible to be fascinating. True, there were many times it felt as though I were reading a dissertation (which I would put money on, actually, and which I would probably thoroughly enjoy), but there was a lot here that was new to me. I’m no biblical scholar or conspiracy junkie, so I was fascinated by, for example, the theory/interpretation that the Christian God is simply one of many gods – the boss God, if you will. While I had heard a little bit about that particular interpretation before, Heiser goes into much more detail than I had been aware of. Bad plotting, dialogue, and all, I found myself quite compelled to read on and on just to learn more about that particular view of The Bible. I love learning about other world views, regardless of whether I “agree” with them or not, and The Facade gave me quite a bit to love, especially in the 2nd half of the book.

So…

The end result is that, as a novel and story The Facade is, I think, one of the worst put together things I’ve ever read. If you want a Dan Brown type thriller where you’re sitting on the edge of your seat, then this probably isn’t the book for you.

As a book of ideas, however, The Facade is, I think, quite brilliant, fascinating, and one of the most educated and compelling books I’ve read in a long, long time. If you want a smart, forward-thinking discussion on alternative theological viewpoints, The Facade may be right up your alley.

 

A Cast of Stones by Patrick W. Carr

Title: A Cast of Stonescarr_acas
Author: Patrick W. Carr
Publisher: Bethany House
Edition: Advanced Reading Copy (LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program)
Pages: 309
Series Title: The Staff and the Sword (book 1)

First Line: Smells of earth and dung drifted slowly past the fog in Errol’s brain.

A Cast of Stones (“releasing this spring”) is Patrick W. Carr’s first novel, and it is a fast, fun, comparatively light read. The first of a series, it’s a bit non-traditional as far as fantasy series go in that it is tightly focused on a single individual, Errol Stone. I found that departure a refreshing change from the typically expansive and sweeping worlds that come out time and again in this particular genre. In fact, the back cover text claims that ACoS is “in the tradition of George R. R. Martin,” and not only do I disagree with that statement, I think it does ACoS a tremendous disservice. I love Martin, and have gobbled up much of his work from Dreamsongs to his A Song of Ice and Fire series, but there is little similarity between the styles of the two authors or the scope of their respective series.

The most obvious difference is the cast of characters. Martin’s focus is on the world he created, specifically the land of Westeros. He is relating a slice of history and telling the stories of the major figures of that history. Through book 5, he has had a total of 26 different PoV characters, with 18 in book 5 alone. Hell, just in book 1, there are 71 named characters!

Carr pares this down to a single PoV character (with one exception), and the story is his. I actually see more similarity in style to Brandon Sanderson’s first book in the Mistborn trilogy or The Alloy of Law, so if you liked those, you’ll probably enjoy ACoS.

Errol Stone, a 19 year old orphan (hence the last name Stone), has been the village drunk since he was 14. ACoS follows him as he gets swept into a web of intrigue and action that leads him from his small, remote home to the capital city and an audience with the King. But Errol never really knows what is going on, and most of the time all he wants to do is go back to his village in and have some ale. He is the epitome of the reluctant hero, and at times even borders on an anti-hero as he does what he must to survive alone and so far from home.

One of the strongest elements I found within the story was how Carr handled revealing information. Told in a tight 3rd person limited point of view, he is particularly adept at only sharing what Errol knows. Even if the characters around Errol are withholding information, specifically Martin and Luis, the two who compel Errol to leave home, Carr handles it extremely well. First he lets Errol figure out that they are hiding information from him, and then he lets that affect his PoV character. Frustration, anger, sadness – Carr is adept at letting Errol’s character build and progress through not just the action, but also through the moments of inaction along his physical, emotional, and mental journey. And that journey is finely crafted. It is, in many ways, a coming of age story for Errol as well as a more traditional hero’s quest storyline.

On the flip side, I thought the majority of the secondary characters were quite static and almost stereotyped caricatures. There was little (if any) change in the three characters who leave home with Errol, and very little chance for growth in the characters Errol meets along the way. Though that stasis in the secondary characters is one of the biggest flaws in the book, it didn’t affect my enjoyment because of the other primary strength in Carr’s writing style…

Pacing. To say I couldn’t put the book down isn’t much of an overstatement. Had I not started a new semester this week, I likely would have read it cover to cover in a single sitting. Instead, I read it in 3, with the final half of the book keeping me up well past my usual bedtime on a school night. Because of the tight focus on Errol, this book moves (and reads) fast. While the description of the worldbuilding is solid, it isn’t as extensive and detailed as it is in traditional fantasy novels. Carr let’s us know the basics of Errol’s world, which fits perfectly with Errol’s limited knowledge of anything outside of his little village. The sense of immediacy is integral to the way in which Carr unfolds the story. More time is spent in action, and it pays off as we watch Errol struggle, grow, and adapt from one situation to the next. Of particular note is how well Carr moves from chapter to chapter. He doesn’t quite use Dickensian cliff-hangers, but it’s close. Those breaks are extremely well done and help urge the reader on into the next scene.

There are a few problems with ACoS, however, two of which I found quite glaring. The first is a spinoff from the flat, stereotypical secondary characters. There is little originality in the makeup of these characters – the warrior, the scholar, the sorcerer. They are stereotyped not just in their creation, but also in their arrangement within the group and their function within the story itself. At times it felt like a well written D&D campaign. Add in the people Errol meets along the way – especially the folksy “Obi-wan” type character who teaches him to fight and the slew of cliched cutouts Errol travels with as a caravan guard – and only the excellent pacing saves many parts of the story.

Until the Epilogue, anyway, when even the pacing couldn’t save it. From the very first page of the novel, Errol was the focus of the story. The reader only knows what he knows, and when Errol makes a discovery, the reader does as well. That disappears in the Epilogue, which Errol isn’t even in. Instead, it shifts to two of the secondary characters in an effort to set up the conflict for the next book in the series. And it’s a shame, because not only doesn’t it have anything to do with the story that was just told, but what it sets up has been fairly obvious (at least to me) for half the book. It comes across as a marketing decision for the next book, and left a bit of a sour taste when I finally flipped the book closed.

That said, I still recommend the book to fantasy fans. Just don’t read the Epilogue, that’s all. Much of the charm of A Cast of Stones rests squarely on the shoulders of Errol. He is charming, compelling, and Carr’s ability to let him live and learn on the page is the strongest part of the novel.

2012: Reading Recap

If you look up there in the navigation bar, you’ll see a new menu item:

Books Read

For a few years now I’ve been keeping track of the books I’ve read. Slowly but surely I plan on getting those lists onto that page right up there, but so far only 2012 is up there.

2012 Reading Stats
Total Books Read: 29
Total Pages Read: 13,849
See the page for the individual titles with links to any reviews I wrote here on RFdc.

It irks me that I didn’t hit 30. Must. Read. MOAR!

Initiate’s Trial by Janny Wurts

Title: Initiate’s Trial
Author: Janny Wurts
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Pages: 578
Published: 2012

First Line: All of his days began the same way.

I give up. I made it about 50 pages or so before I just couldn’t read another word.

No, really. Couldn’t. I wanted to. Kind of. But the font size in this 578 page novel is the smallest I have run across in years, and my eyes were getting pissed off. Here, take a look at the difference in size between this book and the hardcovers I am used to reading. I’ll even throw a couple of dimes in there to help add a little perspective.

[singlepic id=201 w=600  float=center]

I’m not a fan of trade paperbacks, but I read them now and then. It’s not the size of the font that usually bothers me, though – it’s the size of the book itself. I don’t have huge hands, but they do seem to swallow a normal-sized trade. But, I also have a stack of old paperbacks I haven’t got around to read yet, and I was curious to see if my eyes had actually deteriorated that far. Nope. The font is a good deal smaller than that of a typical trade paperback, too:

[singlepic id=202 w=600  h=400 float=center]

So, yeah. I give up.

But let me comment on the first 50 pages or so…

Initiate’s Trial is book 9 in The Wars of Light and Shadow series. And for the first 25 pages, I had no clue what the hell was going on. More importantly, I didn’t care. The scenes were interesting, but I had nothing to go on… I didn’t know who this anonymous “he” was that the 3rd person narrator was focused on. I didn’t know why he was in jail, or why he had amnesia. The conflict was immediate – escape – but it was granted magically and without reason by forces our anonymous amnesiac didn’t understand. So, yeah… I’ll go out on a limb and say that the first 8 books of this series are required reading. I’ll also say I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I typically enjoy a long, detailed series, but I’ve got too many going on at the moment to invest in another one (especially if the typesetting is as painful to read in the first 8 as it is in the 9th).

I will say this, however…

Ms. Wurts can WRITE. Personally, I prefer a lighter, sparser style, but her hand, especially with description, is extremely deft. That said, there were many times I thought it was too much. I wanted more action in those early pages rather than the highly prosaic description-laden opening scenes. Here’s a sample taken from page 1 of what I am referring to:

Unable to view his reflection, and with no outside window to relieve the monotony, he began with a survey of his own hands. Their structure at least prompted the insight that he was individual, with a claim to both history and character. His fingers were refined, almost delicate, the bones cleanly sculpted beneath his flesh. The left ones were tipped with calluses. Insight suggested the wear had been caused by repeated deft pressure to stop taut strings. First epiphany, he recalled the joyful making of music. But not how he had acquired the scars.

It’s good stuff, that description, but it’s so passive. I found the internal monologue of self-description in the opening scene tiresome, especially considering how the tiny print made me work to actually take it all in, and it just didn’t make me want to fight on through my ocular issues caused the typesetting (which isn’t her fault at all… that problem lays at the feet of the publisher and editor).

When all is said and done, were I to continue with Initiate’s Trial, I would need to go back to the beginning of the series and start with book 1 if, and only if, I could find it in a digital copy where I could adjust the font size. As it is, it goes back on the shelf with all those other books I probably won’t end up getting around to reading “one of these days.”

Packages are a good thing, right?

I got home from work today and found a package on my doorstep. Not having ordered anything from anywhere, I got a bit excited. Packages are a good thing, right?

Oh, they most definitely are!

The good news:
It’s a book! YAY! Want to know how to get me all hot and bothered? Buy me a book. It doesn’t even matter what kind of book. Check out my library over on LibraryThing to make sure I don’t already have it, but really, any ol’ book will do. As someone who doesn’t own a TV, what free time I have is almost always spent nose deep in a book.

The better news:
This particular book was free. Yes, FREE! My favorite word in the whole wide world! LibraryThing has a program called Early Reviewers. Every month they post up a list of titles and descriptions, typically somewhere around 50 or so, and you “Request” copies of each one that interests you. They only have about 10-25 copies (or so – depends on the publisher) of each, so everyone enters into a lottery and folks are randomly selected to receive a book. Usually I get one about every other month or so (and once I even received two in a single month – oh that was a very, very good month!). All they ask for in return is that you write a small review of the book for their website. Goodreads also has a similar program called First Reads if I’m not mistaken, but I am not active there anymore (my upcoming post on social media will explain why) so can’t really tell you how it works.

The bad news:
It’s another series. Why are so many authors writing series? How about a solid story with a beginning, middle, and END! Yes, I love the series I am into… Martin, Sanderson, Rothfuss, Scalzi… hell I’m even rereading Jordan’s WoT series right now. But holy crap, guys, give it a rest. I long for the days of “one and done” storytelling where I’m not left dangling off a cliff for 3 or 4 years waiting for the next book to come out so I can get some kind of resolution (usually only to discover I will have to wait another 3-4 years, and another, and another, and another, etc.). Scalzi, in my opinion, is the best of the bunch when it comes to writing a complete story within each book in his series, but even his books struggle a bit (I think) when it comes to standing alone without any of the previous books backing them up (and really, it’d be damn tough to not struggle without being annoyingly repetitive… it’s a series for a reason, for Pete’s sake). Grab book four of Martin’s series and you’ll be lost within the first 4 pages if you haven’t read 1 through 3. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it gets a bit old after a while and more often than not starts to draaaag.

The even badder news:
It’s BOOK NINE in the series. Really? Seriously? I requested book 9 in a series I’ve never heard of? /faint. Well, if this stands on it’s own, great. If it doesn’t, it’ll have to be pretty damn compelling for me to grab the first eight books and catch up. I read a lot (over 11,000 pages so far for 2012), but that’s probably about 4-5 months worth of reading (hell, if each book in the series is 578 pages, that’s another 4600 pages /wobble). On top of the approximately 500 books already on my “To Read” list – some of which were gifts 2 birthdays ago (I know… I’m so bad).

That said, it’s still a book, so I’m a happy camper. I’ll get started on it when I finish The Fires of Heaven, which will probably be sometime early next week. And really, I can’t wait. I need a bit of a break from Jordan so this will be nice. New book! so excited.

What about you? What gets your mental motor running?