Tuesday, February 22, 2011

CSFF Tour Day 2 - The God Haters

Welcome back to the CSFF Tour for February. This month's featured book is The God Hater by Bill Myers.

For a synopsis, check out yesterday's post introducing the book.

This book fits a "speculative fiction" category by supposing that we can build an artificial computer world, with completely independent artificial intelligence, that can be used to see how humanity will respond to variables and make better predictions.

My prediction is that this book will do well with general Christian fiction (specifically CBA readers). And that is perhaps a shame.

This book is written for a purpose. It has a specific aim - to show the logic God used in creating our world and the need for divine intervention (per the Questions to the Author in the back of the book). The book is designed to be a challenge to the New Atheists who are challenging Christian belief with old arguments and renewed fervor. It is a noble purpose, certainly. From a personal standpoint I would love to see it succeed.

Reviewing it for artistic purposes is another story.

Often Christian art is considered to be in one of two categories: it is made with creativity as the primary goal, and the theme taken from the book is incidental, or it is made with a message as the anchor, and the story is conceived and created around it. I don't think it is necessarily bad to have a book written with the second point as the motivation, but it means that the story will require a very deft touch to make the work stand on artistic merits, apart from the theme (however holy it may be).

The God Haters, in my opinion, fails to rise above the forced preconceptions and stand as a quality piece of fiction. The story suffers from several flaws. The characters are generally 2D cut-outs, created to hold a place in the story without much depth or empathy. The Christian professor Annie escapes this to a degree, but she doesn't carry enough of the story to overcome the other flat people. He uses several writing techniques that jarred me out of the imaginary world he was attempting to create, from using parentheses for several asides to a character with an annoying vocal tic ("bro!"). There were also a couple of scientific mistakes that threw me as a biology major, but that is me being overly picky.

The suspense and plot is pulled along well enough, and isn't all that bad. It just isn't all that good either. I didn't get bored, but I wasn't invested in what was happening. There are some touching moments as he delves into the computer simulation and the professor's avatar gains more and more compassion for the "creation," but it is too little, too late to save the book. A major issue seems to be that the book is too short to give the depth needed to make everything more believable. Perhaps it would be a different story if it had the length to give the depth required.

The book gives the whole back copy to quotes of endorsements. There's no place to get a synopsis of the book, and I think that will be a disservice to readers as well.

I don't like to give such negative reviews, but I have to be honest in my impression of a book to have some integrity as a reviewer. Christian art can be especially tricky, because the charge can be brought that I'm harming a brother in their ministry or something similar. Like I said, I admire the intent, and wish it could have worked out better. It was an ambitious project, but my opinion is that it isn't a great book for those looking for a story with in-depth characters and a carefully crafted plot. If you're looking for a book to shore up your Christian beliefs, then this book would be entertaining enough. I wouldn't recommend it to a non-believer, but I really won't be recommending it anyway.

If you make it past this gloomy review, tomorrow I want to talk about the issue of art and theme raised by this book, and compare it with another recent read.

I did receive a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes, and was obviously not required to give a positive endorsement in exchange for the book. The opinions are my own.

Oh, and check out my tourmates at Becky's blog for the latest and greatest from the others in the CSFF Tour.


  1. Interesting, Jason. Clearly I liked the book a lot more than you did. I did not think any of the characters felt two dimensional. Yes, I thought the book was too short. My first thought when I closed it was, I want more. Well, that's good, in a way, because it meant I was engaged. But not good because of the depth issue. But these are all things I should be saving for my own review.

    Oh, I'll disagree on one point--the back cover copy. I personally was sorry I had the blurb that gave away the premise. When Alpha showed up, I as a reader did not need to wait patiently or wonder actively who he was and how he fit into the story. I knew at once because of the press release info I had. I thought later that was a shame. I like reading the way the author intended--with us coming to the story as first timers with no preconceived expectations. But that's me. I know other people who love to know how a book ends before they ever start.


  2. I agree with Becky that the full blurb was a bit spoiler-laden, but without that there was nothing about the title, cover illustration or the first page or two of the book to sell it to me. Maybe there are few enough Christian novels around that all those endorsements are more important than what the book is actually about....?

  3. Jason, I must say I read your review with some relief. I was beginning to think I was one of the only tour members not wowed by this book. Because I know the amount of work and emotional investment that goes into writing a book, I struggle with writing reviews that lean more toward the negative, but I think one of the beauties of the CSFF tour is that members share honest opinions, thus give a venue for open discussion. So thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    I agree with much of your assessment of the book. Strangely enough, I even mentioned the missing back cover copy in my post today. I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed these things. :)

  4. Becky - I agree that the blurb we got gave away too much, and it might have colored how I approached it. Still, as Steve said, how is anyone going to pick this up and know enough about it to consider buying it?

    Sarah - It is nice realizing you're not on a little island by yourself. I hear you about being negative while realizing the work that goes into it. Unless it is James Patterson, I always think of that. I learned a long time ago that part of this is giving our opinion so people know whether to spend their hard earned money on a work. If we only do praise-athons for every book we encounter, no one will take our opinion seriously. Especially if it is actually crap.