In the world of statistics, evaluation of a phenomenon is often based on something called a representative sample, which basically means that you don’t have to look at all the data, just a portion with the same properties as the entire population. Now, I can’t apply this principle to a book review across-the-board because a story isn’t a homogeneous thing. The beginning may be quite different from the middle and the end. Stories, by intent, often take us places we don’t expect. I can, however, use my “sample” of Lost Mission to make some general statements about Mr. Dickson’s writing, since 52 pages is about 10% of the book, and I can reasonably presume that the style and quality of his writing will be consistent throughout.
Everybody confused now? Excellent.
There’s No School Like the Old School: Mr. Dickson knows his way around the English language. That’s very refreshing, given the amount of shoddy writing and editing that’s making the rounds of the speculative fiction world these days. His style is old-fashioned, which I also find refreshing, being a gentleman of a certain age, but the creative-writing watchdogs will take him to task for using an omniscient narrator. It can sound a little pompous and condescending, the narrator’s asides can pull the reader from immersion in the story, and it also raises questions in the reader’s mind as to exactly who this all-knowing commentator might be.
Modern critics would probably prefer some flavor of first-person narrative, or perhaps an omniscient point-of-view without the commentary, which keeps the reader inside the heads of the main characters and feels more human. Like the constant admonition to “show, not tell,” this is, in my opinion, simply low-hanging fruit for a lazy critic. Point-of-view selection belongs to the author, and the criterion should be whether it facilitates the story, not whether it’s in vogue. I don’t have enough of the story to offer an opinion on the effectiveness of Mr. Dickson’s choice, but Lost Mission spans a lot of territory and time, and I think it’s a valid approach. It didn’t bother me very much.
Some people were disoriented by the jumping between times, but I’m used to seeing this kind of thing in spec-fic (Not to mention historical fiction like James Michener’s), and didn’t give it a second thought.
Local Flavor: Having spent a good chunk of my formative years in California, I enjoyed the Spanish language and cultural references sprinkled through the story, and the setting felt familiar and authentic to me.
Character References: I had only a brief introduction to the characters, but I thought Dickson did a good job fleshing them out. I liked Fray Alejandro and Lupe very much. Delano Wright, on the other hand, threatened to stray into the stereotypical self-righteous religious fanatic, blasting his unfaithful wife with the Scriptural Flamethrower of Holy Indignation™, though I had to smile at a guy who calls his daughter “Button.” Perhaps he becomes a little more balanced later in the story. I hope so.
Who Put That Magic in My Realism?: I saw a few comments from other posters wondering if this story really qualifies as speculative fiction. Based on my very short reading, I’d say the answer is yes. It’s tricky because a Christian audience, unlike a secular audience, will interpret supernatural or miraculous events as realistic, not fantastic. The key element for me was the apparent connection across time between Fray Alejandro’s world and Lupe’s/Delano’s, as expressed by the smoke existing in both places at once. There’s also a certain Native American character (or someone appearing to be Native American) who seems to exist in both times. I expect there are more connections, as these happened early in the story.
Magic Realism brings that which is not explainable or reasonable, given the laws of nature as we know them, into our world. The Wikipedia article on Magic Realism explains it this way: “…magical elements are explained like normal occurrences that are presented in a straightforward and unembellished manner which allows the ‘real’ and the ‘fantastic’ to be accepted in the same stream of thought.” A good example of this genre, I think, is Orson Scott Card’s Magic Street (reviewed here), in which Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is discovered to be an account of a real world that threatens to undo our own. I think there are difficulties when we apply the label “magic” to a work of Christian fiction, because it gathers the miraculous—supernatural intervention by God in the physical world—under the same tent as the fantastical, and that’s misleading. This is more of a marketing issue than a problem with the story itself.
Bottom Line: I remain intrigued. I’ll probably pick up a copy of Lost Mission when it appears on the shelves of my local bookstore.
Is anybody else intrigued? Find out by visiting the other fine sites on this month’s CSFF Blog Tour. Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the author’s website and see what my amigos y amigas are saying about the book.
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Rebecca LuElla Miller
New Authors Fellowship
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul