April CSFF Blog Tour Day 2: Lost Mission, by Athol Dickson

My misadventures with Lost Mission continue…it turns out the Google Books preview only runs to page 52, not 256, which I suppose makes me both blind and dyslexic. All hope is not lost, however.

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.

That’s some tasty local flavor.

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.

Nothing up my sleeve…

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.

Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Amy Browning
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Timothy Hicks
Jason Isbell
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
New Authors Fellowship
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler
KM Wilsher

Purchase Lost Mission
Athol Dickson’s Website
Athol Dickson’s blog

10 thoughts on “April CSFF Blog Tour Day 2: Lost Mission, by Athol Dickson

  1. Yeah, Del was unsympathetic — as a person, in that he was more harsh than compassionate, and as a character, in that few people may identify with his wealth. Many of us, I fear, identify with the use of Scripture as a bludgeon.

    Hey, good entry in the tour — despite the missing book thing!

    1. Thanks, Keenan, and it’s great to have you back on the tour.

      The character was most disappointing to me because we’ve seen it so often–the flaws and pitfalls are familiar and obvious. Much more thought-provoking are the other ethical/spiritual dilemmas people have been pointing out that involve Lupe, Tucker, and others–at what point might a Christian be justified in breaking the law, do good ends justify bad means, etc.

  2. Fred,

    So that is a very astute analysis for not having read the book! I agree with your thoughts on the omniscient writing. I have disagreed with using it before, but that was a stylistic disagreement in how it affected the particular work, not a blanket condemnation ( I hope). I felt for this book it worked well and was necessary for the overall structure.

    You can check out my review for more, but I think you would really like it. I am glad I got into it, and I hope you’ll get the chance.

    As always, good stuff man. Oh, and congratulations on the recent writing accomplishments (I was browsing further on). Good job!


    1. Thanks, Jason. Point-of-view is such a touchy area. People take it very personally because it can define their whole experience of the story, and a different point-of-view often results in an entirely *different* story.

      I agree that Mr. Dickson did a good job handling the omniscient POV, though it was a little jarring for me at first because it had been so long since I’d seen anybody use it.

      April’s been a pretty good month, writing-wise, though most of the publications are the fruit of last year’s efforts. The story to Allegory broke a string of rejections over the past couple of months, so I was really happy to see that come through.

    1. I enjoyed seeing a different approach…a story is like a house with lots of windows, and the view through each window gives you a unique impression of what’s inside.

  3. Fred, another excellent post.

    I liked Athol’s omniscient voice a lot. It was one of the first storyteller-narrator omniscient I’ve read in some time. I suppose Blaggard’s Moon came close, but there the storyteller was a character whereas here he is narrator with distance from the characters.

    I liked what I call the narrator contemplation because Athol used those to segue from one time period to another.

    Without a doubt, the POV served the story, in my opinion.


  4. Fred,

    I’ve never read a better review by someone who hasn’t read my book. 🙂 But seriously, I like the way you review. Much deeper than the usual, and therefore much more thought provoking.

    I especially appreciated your thoughts on the omniscient narration. You’re right: I’ve gotten some negative comments, mainly from up and coming authors who seem to be the victim of some preconcieved ideas about how fiction “shoul” be written, but that was a deliberate decision made for strategic reasons in this particular story. I’ve never used omniscient narration before, and won’t again unless the story lends itself to that style again, in which case I will, no matter what “they” may think about the “rules.”

    So anyway…thanks again for the thoughtful comments. I hope you enjoy the rest of it when you get a copy (although you may have to go to Amazon for that). And by the way, Del does go through some pretty serious changes…eventually.


    1. Athol,

      Thanks for your kind words about my raggedy review, and thanks for stopping by! I really do wish I’d found the book in time to do a proper review and am looking forward to reading it all the way through.

      Shortly after my wife and I were married, we took a whirlwind tour of the Los Angeles-area missions for a graduate course she was taking, and your book brought back all sorts of wonderful memories.

      Best wishes for the success of Lost Mission and your other projects.


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