Thursday, June 16, 2011

THE SERAPH SEAL by Leonard Sweet and Lori Wagner

The Seraph Seal is a 2011 science fiction novel by Leonard Sweet and Lori Wagner. In 2048, a history professor finds clues about the impending end of the world, and must race against the evil president of USAmerica (seriously) to keep him from usurping control of the new and coming world.

The Seraph Seal is an obvious mash-up of religious- and apocalyptic-themed stories and pseudosciences, including The Omen, The Omega Code, The Da Vinci Code, numerology, and Mayan doomsday theory. The theology in this book, particularly the eschatology, is also a nonsensical hodge-podge, although the Christian bits float on the top.

The writing in The Seraph Seal is indefensibly amateurish. The story has some solid geopolitical foundation (the authors have clearly done quite a bit of research), but the storytelling is just awful. The preposterous plot turns on a string of convenient coincidences, and the story jumps continually from one-page scene to one-page scene. Beyond the fact that there about three times as many storylines as the authors can handle (a second American civil war gets about three pages and doesn’t matter anyway), there is no opportunity for any real degree of character development, nor any chance for the reader to invest or engage in what’s going on.

The authors employ a large cast of boring, flat, characters, all of whom are brilliant, good-looking, gifted, and so on – and none of whom receive any character development whatsoever beyond the main protagonist, and him only slightly. And there are other problems. The story’s made-up “lost” scriptures are laughable. The ending, should the reader be diligent enough to make it that far, may make the reader wonder whether there was any point to the book at all. I could go on.

The authors call The Seraph Seal “engaged fiction” – they go out of their way to point out, at least to their minds, how realistic it is. The novel is prefaced by a non-fiction essay, and the last twenty percent of the book is speculation on the future of science, politics, and morality – this is a muddle of current events and “reports” from the fictional world of 2048. Given the shoddy quality of the purely fictional portion of the book, this material isn’t compelling, although it’s more interesting than the novel itself.

The Seraph Seal is a chore to get through, even skimming. In terms of storytelling, it fails abjectly. It’s astounding that Thomas Nelson would publish a book in this state.


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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

FLATLAND by Edwin A. Abbott

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions is an 1884 novella written and illustrated by Edwin A. Abbott. Here, a square that lives in a two-dimensional world relates his experiences there along with his travels in one- and three-dimensional worlds.

The social classes of the country of Flatland are described in such a way as to lampoon the Victorian social hierarchy. Every inhabitant of Flatland is devoted to climbing the social ladder; order is prized more than liberty; women belong to a lower class of their own. Abbott here is not particularly subtle in his criticisms, and one must imagine that the narrow thinkers that accused Abbott of misogyny really must not have been paying very close attention (these are the nineteenth-century analogs of people who think Stephen Colbert is really a conservative).

This dated aspect of the tale may not have particular relevance for a modern audience, but Flatland still has plenty of value. Abbott’s one- and two-dimensional worlds are impressively imaginative and quite well thought-out. Flatland is immersive, and along the way, Abbott manages to work in a number of profound thoughts on existence.

Flatland’s lasting legacy is its discussion of dimensions. Just as Abbott takes the reader through the two-dimensional square’s travails in comprehending a third dimension, so the reader is challenged to imagine a fourth. And Abbott does an excellent job of this, whether one considers this fourth dimension as time (as per general relativity) or an extra aspect of space (this is quite a bit harder to imagine). It also works if you consider the tale an allegory for God and the spiritual realm (Abbott was a rather prodigious theologian), which is not by any means a stretch given the “preaching” done in the story. In any case, it’s marvelously thought-provoking.

On the whole, Flatland is a well-imagined, well-reasoned, stimulating work.