Saturday, April 20, 2013

Review of "Alizel's Song" by Bill Pottle

Nominally, Alizel's Song is the story of the creation of the universe, Satan's fall, the war in heaven, and man's original sin. Really, the book is more of a "forum to try to hammer out a reconciliation between science and religion while exploring difficult theological issues" than it is a traditional straight-laced narrative. So far as the narrative goes, this is the story of Alizel, one of heaven's angels, who observes the major events of creation and rebellion and offers his comments and reflections along the way. He observes the 15-billion-year-long creation, sees Lucifer rebel against God, asks theological questions about how all of these things can possibly exist in harmony (e.g., how can a good God sit by while angels kill other angels?), and generally wonders about the new "realm of matter" which God has created separate from heaven (though not separate from Spiritual life- Pottle does not fall into the trap of Gnosticism).

Lucifer falls from heaven- Dore
First, I have to say that Pottle is to be commended for his obvious delight in both science and the Bible. He clearly understands some of the central issues in the science/religion debate, and attempts to engage the best of both worlds without sacrificing the convictions of either. (Which is something that I've said in the past we need thoughtful Christians to be doing.) Of course, I don't know enough about science to know whether or not he's being faithful to whatever the latest research/theory is, but I can at least say I didn't see any major red flags on the theological end of things.

Which is not to say that I'd necessarily recommend the book either. Mostly because as interesting as some of the ideas are, as a work of fiction it bounces back and forth between being resoundingly bland and ridiculously terrible. (If it had been consistently ridiculously terrible, I suspect I would have enjoyed it a good deal more--both I and the domestic harpy have a deep and abiding love for awfulness in fiction.) To give you an example of the occasional terribleness, this is Lucifer describing how he has found a means of providing his own "fuel" rather than relying on God (angels get their strength through a direct stream of energy from God- a fallen angel cuts this off and turns elsewhere for strength):
Azazel ignored the comment about God, intrigued in spite of himself. "New energy? What energy could possibly sustain us?
"I have found it myself. No doubt God wanted it hidden from us so that we could not unleash its awesome power."
"What is this energy?"
"The power comes from focusing intently on wrongs committed against all of us. I call the new energy Heaven's alternative transforming energy." (62)

As in, HATE. Demons are fueled by hate. If there had been more of this in the book, I would not have been able to put it down. (In case you're wondering, demons live in "Heaven's Equivalent Location", or HEL.) As it was, despite these occasional shimmerings of spectacular awfulness, the plot and writing were for the most part just kind of... meh. And the theological discussion, while interesting enough in its own right, wasn't really good enough to carry along the otherwise milquetoast plot.

And a side note on the theology in the book: I should point out that nearly all of it is speculative. Again, it's not bad theology, it's just for the most part guessing about things not revealed in Scripture. Questions about how angels fell, how Adam fell (as opposed to the consequences of Adam's fall), how much angels know about salvation and Divine sovereignty, and by what means God created the earth are simply not answered in the Bible.

All of this to say that Alizel's Song has someone interesting theological propositions, and might be useful to people who want a little bit of a rough introduction to the questions listed above. As a novel, well, if you want a literary treatment of heavenly goings-on and the fall of man, pick up Paradise Lost (no, really--once you get the cadence down it's pretty awesome, and C.S. Lewis agrees!). And really, if you want to get into the meatier theology, you should pick up Calvin, Augustine, or John Collins on Genesis before coming to a more speculative book like this anyway.

This book was provided for free by the publisher on the condition that I review it. I was not required to give it a positive review. 

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