Better Late Than Never, Right?

I finally got the opportunity to read A Pagan’s Nightmare by Ray Blackston, having missed the blog tour by merit of not yet having a copy of the book.

With a classic story-within-a-story frame, the title of the novel derives from the title of the manuscript Literary Agent Ned (forgive me for missing his last name, he’s a first person narrator) receives from one of his more, ah, well, eccentric clients, Larry Hutch, not to be confused with the hero of Larry’s story, Lanny Hooch. Or go ahead and confuse them, Lanny sort of is Larry. Hutch also wrote into his story his agent (as DJ Ned Neutral) and his girlfriend Miranda, with a running gag of keeping her from finding out due to the misconception that females hate being written into books even when not portrayed in a negative light.

The nightmare referenced is a “reverse rapture”: in a twinkle of an eye, all but a handle of “pagans” (meaning here non-Christian rather than Wiccan) vanish, leaving behind a religious cult to take over the world. Cult is my phrasing, chosen because frankly there’s little, if anything, Christian about the “Zealots” taking over in Nightmare. Blackston would likely be pleased with the assessment, as he reveals in his postscript he set out to, “write a novel about what Christianity is not.” In that he has certainly succeeded.

The novel nonetheless got off to a rough start, with details being told to us that we didn’t need yet. For instance, we really shouldn’t have gotten the story behind Ned’s nickname, “Agent Orange” until Larry actually called Ned that. In general, the novel had a tad too much exposition (telling) bogging it down, per the modern adage, “show your readers, don’t tell them.” Mixed into the bag is a bit of author intrusion (although by the fictional author), interior monologue tagged with “he thought” and, worse, “he thought to himself” (neither should ever be necessary as most genres call for one view point character per scene, and in the latter, who else would he be thinking to?) His point of view gets muddled at a few points as well.

In all fairness, I suspect the sloppiness may have been an intentional mocking of the much-debated quality of a certain popular series. I’m also beginning to notice a general tendency in humor writers to rebel against the norms and presumably the expectations of the genre are less stringent. Personally, though, I found this a weakness that drew away from the humor rather than adding to it.

As a writer, I found the running gag of switching back to Lanny after Ned showed his manuscript to a relative, or worse, a perfect stranger, a tad alarming. Is it really professional to show your client’s manuscript to members of the general public like that? I would hope not.

My only concern, theme-wise, is that his portrayal of Ned’s wife Angie protesting Larry’s book could potentially be accurate, or that certain people way out in left field already have deep-rooted, irrational fears of a Christian theocracy breaking out on this earth and wouldn’t laugh at this, either. In the wrong hands, Blackston’s novel could potentially be twisted into the anti-Christian propaganda Angie fears it to be. I have no reason to think that was his intent, it’s designed to make people think, but in our climate, some are more interested in fear and demonization.

On the note of demonization, I found that interesting, considering the discomfort at the portrayal of the religious behaving in ways that don’t mesh with the reality of who Christians are, or at least are supposed to be. It makes me wonder if your average non-religious American reading typical apocalyptic literature grows uncomfortable at the portrayal of the evil “marks” (the pagans in Blackston’s book) hunting down Christians and trying to force them to un-convert, with the reverse situation taking place in Nightmare.

To me, this subtly begs the question of whether the eminency doctrine has left Christians with a persecution complex. To believe the Anti-Christ would arise tomorrow is, after all, to believe the non-Christian two doors down from you would be a-okay with him beheading you for your religion tomorrow, should you be wrong and still be here. If I’m sitting here reading this and inclined to join the resistance without shedding my beliefs, some non-believers would perhaps have similar responses to straight-forward apocalyptic literature. Christianity is hardly a perquisite to being against making a particular religious belief a capital offense.

The sad thing is, as much as I’d like to believe no one who claims the name of Christ would ever behave the way Blackston’s zealots do if they had a majority, recent experience has shown me the Tyrant, whom I discussed in Double Jeopardy, has his loyal subjects, who would force us into subjection as well if they could. Thankfully, they don’t have sufficient numbers to bring upon us the disasters such deceived souls have wrought in past ages. The sad thing is, their railing against the opposite error actually drives people into it. But I digress.

Avoid this book if you’re holding a grudge against Christianity and prone to take Larry’s nightmare scenario as a serious possibility, or for that matter if you treat the Left Behind Series as if it were scripture equal in weight to the Holy Bible. Otherwise, A Pagan’s Nightmare is, flaws and all, a thought-provoking, lighthearted read. And to do both is quite an accomplishment.

Trackposted to Perri Nelson’s Website, The Random Yak, Adam’s Blog, Big Dog’s Weblog, basil’s blog, Common Folk Using Common Sense, The Amboy Times, Conservative Cat, Pursuing Holiness, stikNstein… has no mercy, The Crazy Rants of Samantha Burns, Pirate’s Cove, Planck’s Constant, The Pink Flamingo, Gulf Coast Hurricane Tracker, Dumb Ox Daily News, Right Voices, and Gone Hollywood, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.


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