Wednesday, 10 December 2008


Book Reviews:
Blink by Ted Dekker
Black by Ted Dekker

West Bow Books (a division of Thomas Nelson)

I’ve been reading a manuscript for a dear friend recently, and have had to apply some rules for this as she’s just learning the skills and techniques required. She has a good story and a good way of approaching it, but struggles a little with writing believeable dialogue, with maintaining the point of view and with developing character.

But it’s such a promising story idea that I’m prepared to point these weaknesses out in a gentle way. Indeed, in order to encourage in her the grace she shows in receiving my comments, I have asked
her to read my recent manuscripts, and I’ve been hugely enriched by the story ideas she’s suggested to improve them.

One of the key lessons I’ve learned about reading the Bible is the principle of approaching with Ontological Hermaneutic Presupposition (impressive, eh?). This simply means that we assume the Bible writers are correct, and that any weirdness or plot discrepancies are a function
of translation, inaccurate reading or a misunderstanding of God.

For example, where Luke mentions in 24:15 that Jesus approached
the two men making their way to Emmaus, we should not assume (as we might if it were not the Bible we were reading but the flawed manuscript of a storyteller) that the writer has forgotten that his character Jesus had died in the previous chapter, and therefore couldn’t be there.

In the case of Scripture (once we have ensured reliable translation), we read carefully and then bring faith to the party. This must mean that Jesus isn’t dead. So is this a flashback? No, not according to verse 1, which sets the incident in its timeframe: Easter Sunday. So what has happened?

Well, obviously, other scriptures back up the slow-dawning theory that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Eventually, we come to clear statements such as v34 and then v46, and it’s starting to make
a bit more sense: the problem is that we had too small a view of God, and failed to believe him when he promised to send his Son to die and be raised to life on the third day…

However, and it’s an huge however (practically an HOWEVER), Ted Dekker cannot hide behind this sort of approach. He’s a flawed human being (he won’t deny it) and has, despite what
they may tell him, a deeply flawed publishing editor.

Despite the claim that ‘Ted Dekker’s novels deliver big mind-blowing, plot-twisting page turners’, both of these books utterly disappointed me.

Blink is supposed to draw on breathlessly fabulous themes of science fiction, wrapped inside an enigma which unravels at breakneck pace… oh let the publisher gush: ‘An intoxicating tale set amidst the shifting sands of the Middle East, Blink touches on geopolitical conflicts as ancient as the earth itself. The page-turning plot follows a Saudi Arabian princess fleeing a wretched forced marriage for the promised land of America. A brilliant American graduate student discovers a mysterious power – giving him glimpses into the future. Thrown together, they become pawns in a struggle for power and must manipulate the very future in order to save themselves. In his most riveting novel to date, Dekker brings the story to a dramatic climax that will change the future of fiction in the blink of an eye.’

A pseudo-spiritual prophetic gift is the cheap (and over-used) deus ex machina plot device that helps the 2-dimensional good guy rescue the damsel in distress, and they both discover things about God that we knew years ago. If this were didactic fiction, it would fail as it’s not all that insightful. It’s not spectacularly evangelistic, and the pot-boiling story is predictable. The
poor quality of the writing left me annoyed, and the characterisation failed to happen. This book changes exactly nothing... the future of fiction is likely to be impoverished if this chap produces much more, unless someone is honest enough to tell him the truth.

Black describes itself as a novel, but actually it’s the throat-clearance of a trilogy.

Brace yourself: Blackness is symbolic of evil, which is the sort of racist issue
that I thought we’d eliminated in the fifties. Our ‘hero’ has a game-show Gladiator name (Thomas Hunter) but keeps falling asleep, which provides him with a gateway to the past (or is it the future?). This is the breath-taking science fiction, folks. What a crock! He gets confused between beautiful girls in each of the realities he visits, and has to battle insurmountable odds against the clock, which he does with impassive stolidity.

Once again, a fairly promising story idea gets mangled in the plot-driven action, as I failed utterly to engage with any of the characters.

And it's so not a novel. The last few pages fail utterly to resolve any of the plot threads or even deliver an anti-climax, so it's just a set-up for the sequel. Hugely irritating once I'd ploughed through so much grey text to get there, and still am left with our hero in trouble, our heroines pretty-much unkissed (despite the poor writing that suddenly made me believe one of them must be immaculately pregnant) and our enemies still in the ascendency. I know some people find this sort of stuff exciting and neeeeed to devour the next installment as soon as possible, but it left me deeply unimpressed and not really bothered.

This isn’t science fiction at all – not if Phillip K Dick or Kurt Vonnegut or Isaac Asimov or even Douglas Adams are to be considered in that genre. And it’s so sub-Christian it lacks any edge or worth in that field, as well. All you end up with is a religiously-tangential adventure yarn populated by people about whom you care not one whit. Reminded me a bit of The daVinci Code, which I hope is understood to be a serious put-down.

0.5 out of 5 leonandys


mo.stoneskin said...

Well, you're succeeded in persuading me never to read Ted! The good thing about the Da Vinci Code is that it was widely mocked, although perhaps not enough.

Andy Back said...

Quick! We've got to find a library!