Thoughts on Christian fiction

The Enclave by Karen Hancock August 22, 2010

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The EnclaveThe Enclave by Karen Hancock
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Enclave by Karen Hancock

Upon receiving this book and reading the back cover synopsis, I really did not expect the story take the left turn that it did. The synopsis reads:

When Science Tries to Play God, Can One Man Summon the Courage to Stand in Its Way?

When Lacey McHenry accepts a prestigious research fellowship at the world-renowned Kendall-Jakes Longevity Institute, she sees it as a new start on life. But when a disturbing late-night encounter with a bizarre intruder leads to a cover-up by Institute authorities, she soon realizes all isn’t as it seems.

Caught in an elaborate game of deception and seduction, her only ally seems to be the brilliant but absent-minded geneticist, Cameron Reinhardt. A favorite of the Institute’s charismatic director, Cameron, too, came to K-J hoping to escape his past. But the more he learns about Lacey’s attacker, the more he fears that the past still pursues him.

Not certain they can trust each other, Cameron and Lacey reluctantly work together to uncover the shocking secrets that lurk behind the Institute’s respectable façade—secrets that turn out to be bigger, stranger, and far more dangerous than either of them could have imagined.

**spoiler alert**

The Enclave is a classic story about driven scientists who pursue genetic engineering for the “betterment” of mankind. Cameron (“Cam”) Reinhardt is a brilliant scientist in the employ of Kendall-Jakes Longevity Institute. He is the sole professing Christian at the institute and is persecuted for his faith. He also has a history in military intelligence—the experience of which renders him helpless against flashbacks of the nightmare that he survived in Afghanistan.

Parker Swain is the director of the institute, the mastermind of its operations, and has a history of pursuing his goals via any means possible. Swain gets himself banned from receiving federal research money from the FDA, and in return he builds his own privately funded genetic engineering empire with the help of wealthy investors. The institute is based out of a large building shaped like a ziggurat in the deserts of Arizona, surrounded by large berms that hide the campus from most of the surrounding areas.

Also at the Institute is a new arrival, Lacey McHenry, hired as a research assistant. She has a Master’s degree and dreams of obtaining her doctorate. That dream seems out of reach until Parker Swain offers her an opportunity that seems too good to be true.

The final protagonist is a young man named Zowan who is a New Edenite living in the Enclave. In this bizarre underground world, residents are ruled by Elders and High Elders and worship Father. The outside world has apparently been scorched to become inhospitable and poisonous to life, and thus the Enclave has been established as a safe haven for its occupants. As Zowan’s friend Andros is punished for refusing to say the Affirmation—a daily affirmation of their eternal love and devotion to Father for saving them, Zowan is overwhelmed by a sense of injustice to his friend as well as his own guilt for planting the seed of doubt in Andros’s mind.

I really enjoyed reading this book and pondering the possibilities of scientific exploration and its effects on morality and judgment. The main characters were well defined. Each had deep histories with frequent reflection, and enough mystery was given about each character that the reader is driven to read further in order to put the pieces together. The environment is described in detail, allowing the reader to envision the hallways of the institute, the labs, the offices, as well as the surrounding areas outside the ziggurat’s walls. Two parallel storylines are followed for a good portion of the book, eventually converging and leading into the climax of the story. Let me address each of these aspects in more detail.

Not being a scientist, I cannot claim the authenticity of the scientific descriptions of conversations in the story. However they were all convincing to me and led to a credible plot. I also don’t have a military or intelligence background, but all of those details were generally convincing to me.

Cam’s faith in the midst of this environment was also convincing; in fact, it was inspiring! He has a rock solid faith that is supported by daily Scripture study—something that all Christians should aspire to. Lacey’s resignation of her faith reflects the experience of many faltering Christians. She has had a difficult life and has learned to cope without accepting the grace of God. She struggles to fit in at the institute until she “passes” her initiation, after which she is warmly accepted by her colleagues and promoted by the Director.

On the other hand, Cam has been at the institute for some time but has never been embraced by his associates, primarily due to his faith in God. He is regarded by many as an absent-minded and eccentric, yet brilliant scientist. All of the employees regularly mock him, and Cam suffers continual scorn from those in the Inner Circle.

The secondary characters are understandably less well defined but tend to have either good guy or bad guy characterizations.

The institute’s ziggurat-style main structure lends itself to mystery, and the barren desert of its campus adds the perfect touch. Karen Hancock creates a secretive scientific society that is more securely guarded and watched than a top-secret military compound. The campus’s retreat-type spa and other amenities are not described in much depth but are treated as ancillary locations in the story. Overall, the campus is shown to be a self-sustained environment, one which the employees rarely leave. In fact, in the timeframe of the story, Cam is the only character mentioned to take leave, and that is only for one day (Sunday). And he is followed by institute surveillance during the entire leave.

The parallel storylines create a mystique that continues for three-quarters of the book. The further along the story gets, the more the reader is able to make connections between the storylines. However, once the storylines converge, chaos ensues rapidly. Hancock does an excellent job at pacing the story and keeping the mysteries shrouded until the right moments. I was disappointed however that the end of the book was rather abrupt. I would have appreciated having a longer slope to the ending of the story, with some hope-filled directions for each of “good” characters and justice-oriented directions for the “bad” ones, than the sudden drop-off that was written instead. Not that it needs to end like a fairy-tale, but the book left a lot of loose ends. The ending was almost a brief summary of the characters getting out of their scrape, hinting at a future together, discussing the other characters verbally, and end.

Here are a few of my unanswered questions:

Was Frogeater Neos? Why was he eating frog legs? Was that something they ate in the Enclave? Why was Frogeater obsessed with Lacey? What was his motivation for breaking into the animal lab to begin with? Was it Neos just trying to learn more about the surface world?

How will the surviving Edenites be integrated into society? How are they processing the surface world? Why is one of the main characters, Zowan, brushed off at the end? What happened to his P.O.V.?

I truly enjoyed reading this book but also struggled with the issues noted above. Perhaps the book was rushed into publication or the editors did not pay enough attention to the flow of the story. I enjoy stories that leave me with food for thought, but the many loose endings in this story really put a damper on my ultimate enjoyment of the book. This story had a lot of potential, and it is unfortunate that that potential was not fulfilled.

I would recommend this book to others as a diversionary tale but would caution against expectations of a fulfilling adventure.

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Coleman Luck’s Angel Fall: A Novel April 25, 2010

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This is a mind-blowing story. Wow. Angel Fall is Coleman Luck’s first novel. It was written over a period of 25 years, and it just rocked my world. Here’s the summary from the back of the book:

“The wind we know is only a shadow of something far greater.

Lighting is falling in sheets.

A wind is blowing that is larger than this world.

In the middle of the strangest storm in history, an airliner crashes into the ocean and only three young people survive–a brother and his two sisters. But they are not together and the ocean is not on earth.

Alex, Amanda, and Tori Lancaster have entered Boreth, a world of ancient devastation and deep evil ruled by the Worwil–seven creatures of immense power who existed before any world began. Through this world they must travel, into terror and temptation, every choice taking them closer to endless night. Scarred with the fires of hell and heaven, their pasts are torn from their souls.

But shadowing each of them is a mysterious Being covered in scars who has faced ten-thousand battles. A being filled with the longing of ages. A longing to heal the broken-hearted.

With dark, glistening strands from Lewis, Lovecraft, and Tolkien, the cloth of Angel Fall has been woven. But the journey it weaves is not just for Alex, Amanda, and Tori. . . it is for all those who cannot find their way home.”

I have to say that I was really intrigued with just the first chapter and got really excited by the time I got to the fourth chapter. If you love weird, it is a key element in this book. Wonderfully so. If you love Christian speculative fiction, you will devour this book. I do and I did. I think I’m going blind from reading this book for many hours in a row for many days in a row. My distance vision is kind of messed up right now.

I don’t want to analyze this book right now since I still have to really process what I’ve read. But the effect on me was astounding, and I had to post a preliminary review to let YOU know about it so that you can go READ IT!


Jill Williamson’s By Darkness Hid (Blood of Kings Book I) August 16, 2009

By Darkness Hid By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars I just finished reading By Darkness Hid (Book I of Blood of Kings) by Jill Williamson. What can I say but “Bravo!” to an author who has published her first novel? Williamson has done a masterful job of bringing the characters to life and drawing the reader in to care deeply about each of them. I long to re-enter the world of Er’Rets while I wait for the sequel to be published. Is the second book finished yet, Jill? The first character we meet is Achan Cham, a stray or an orphan with no remaining relatives to care for him or her. In the land of Er’Rets, strays are considered lower than slaves. Above slaves are servants, then peasants, then nobility, royalty, and council members. Teenaged Achan suffers many cruel punishments and circumstances ever since he can remember. He is forced to drink a noxious tonic every day and is beaten regularly. Early in the story, he meets Sir Gavin, an Old Kingsguard (as opposed to New Kingsguard) knight, who begins to train him as a squire–unheard of for strays in Achan’s time. We are then introduced to the story’s heroine, Vrell Sparrow, in a parallel timeline. She is a noblewoman who is disguised as a stray boy in order to avoid a revolting marriage. She is, however, in another part of the land of Er’Rets, in which strays are not treated as cruelly as they are in Sitna, Achan’s home. This does not mean that she does not suffer her share of cruelties. Despite the challenges, she remains true to her only God, Arman, and is drawn to a shared journey with Achan. Both of them share the gift of bloodvoicing, the ability to hear others’ thoughts and speak to those who share the gift. Although I had a bit of a challenge getting into the story initially, once I became familiar with the new culture and time period, the story swallowed me. One of the things that kept me from really getting into the story was that I noticed that there weren’t any simple verbs such as “walked” or “ran.” Everyone seemed to stumble, or weave, or edge, or scurry. Mostly scurry. I know that the mark of a good writer is descriptive wording, but in this case, the descriptive wording slowed me down by having me notice them rather than the story. Once I got used to the author’s style, however, I was able to dig in. Having said that, every time a character “scurried,” which was often, I felt like I got yanked out of the story. That was unfortunate, but I am a forgiving reader–especially when the story is so good! My other note is that the proofreader missed a very noticeable error. In the latter part of the book (I don’t remember which chapter it was), the word “taut” was meant (as in the character’s mouth being taut), but the word “taught” was printed. That was the only major flaw that I noticed. Several typos or misspellings were noted, but nothing more than any other novel in its first printing would have had. All in all, I highly recommend this book. I don’t know how many books will be in this series, but I eagerly await each of them. I may just have to re-read “Book I” over and over until the sequels are available! View all my reviews >>


C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra August 9, 2009

Perelandra (Space Trilogy, #2) Perelandra by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Perelandra, the second book in C.S. Lewis’s trilogy, chronicles the adventures of Dr. Ransom on the planet of Perelandra, otherwise known as Venus. Taking his knowledge and understanding from his adventures in Malacandra (in Out of the Silent Planet) of the spiritual levels of life, human and otherwise, he departs for an assignment on another alien planet. Although he has no details on what he is to do upon reaching the planet, he goes with complete conviction that it is the right course of action and that the Oyarsa, or supreme spirit being of Malacandra, has Ransom’s best interests at heart. On Perelandra, Lewis recreates the Biblical story of temptation in the Garden of Eden with Ransom acting as advocate for “Eve,” the female figure that inhabits that world. Ransom himself goes through many trials before the story’s end.

The storytelling in this novel is, of course, superb. The world that Lewis creates is fascinating and thought-provoking. He deftly weaves Biblical story and theology into Ransom’s adventures and applies them to the universe and its inhabitants at large. He manages to stretch the readers’ minds and wrap them around ideas that are much greater than ourselves. Our God is truly God of the universe. Lewis emphasizes that we do play an important role in God’s creation but we could also play just a part within a larger scope of God’s creations. The Bible is about humanity and its history with God. Who is to say what other creatures God has created to have relationships with Himself?

Of course, Lewis has written this story as fiction. Interestingly, he ends the first book with his character writing it as a fictional account about Ransom’s space adventure. This is apparently due to Ransom’s insistence that readers would not believe the story as true and would reject it. According to Ransom, if the story were written as a fictional account, those readers who would accept the account as true would see past the fictional facade and see the truth about the story. It can make your head spin if you let it. So in this series, Lewis has written a fictional story. Or do we readers “in the know” know better?

Although I really liked this story and am glad to have read it, I have to admit that some passages were a bit hard to get through. Speeches by the physicist character and certain speeches by the “eldila”, or spirit beings, can get a bit heady. However, I am still committed to reading the final book in the series, That Hideous Strength, and will post a review on that when read. I do recommend this book to those who are up for a fantastical journey and are willing to work through a few philosophical passages.

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C.S. Lewis’s Out of The Silent Planet July 7, 2009

Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy, Book 1) Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I really liked this book. It is the first of a trilogy, and I am eager to read the rest of the story.

In this story, Dr. Ransom is on a “walking tour” of the countryside when he is kidnapped and taken into space to a planet called Malacandra. There he escapes and discovers many things about others, himself, and the parallels and differences between the alien planet and Earth.

Lewis does an amazing job keeping all of the elements of the storyline running smoothly along with his always spectacular descriptions that drop the reader into the story. I had heard about this book several times and am so glad to have it on my Read bookshelf!

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