Monthly Archives: December 2008

Let’s Take a Look at the Lost Genre Guild Web Site, Part 3 (final)

This is the last day of the CSFF blog tour of the Lost Genre Guild Web site.

I decided to evaluate the site based on its main objective:  to increase interest and awareness on the part of potential buyers of this type of fiction. Let’s see how easily someone interested in this type of fiction might find this site.

The first thing I am looking at is its Google Page Rank.  This is 3 out of 10. This is fairly good but could be better. I would like to see a 4, which is attainable for a site like this. (My own MotherboardBooks.com has a 4.)  A higher Google Page Rank will bring the site higher in the free Google search listings for any particular relevant keyword.  (I can find the Page Rank of any site using my Google Toolbar, which I installed to my browser.)  The way to bring up the Google PageRank is to get more incoming links to the site, especially links that highlight keywords that people search on, such as “Christian book reviews.”

Next I am looking at the description in the HTML code for the site. This description is what someone searching on Google will see first.  Here it is:
“Home page of the Lost Genre Guild. a web community of writers, artists and readers of Biblical
speculative fiction, founded by Frank Creed.”

This isn’t really addressed to the seeker on the Internet, who has no idea what Biblical
speculative fiction is or who Frank Creed is. Let’s imagine this is one of my teenage sons looking
for fantasy works with a Biblical worldview. He is very likely to move on. Here’s a better
one to consider:

“Looking hard for fantasy or science fiction with a Biblical worldview? Tolkien and CS Lewis fans need
look no farther. There ARE books being written in this vein and you CAN find information about them here.”

A set of words that many people use to search for this type of info is “Christian book reviews.”
It would be good to work that into the title of the page, to help the Google rankings. You can
find more using the Google Keyword Tool; just Google to find it.

So, how about the blog posts? Do they further the Web site’s goal?

Here’s an admission that the earlier ones didn’t, at
http://blog.lostgenreguild.com/2008/11/and-were-back.html In this post,
Grace Bridges said the blog posters had ceased posting for a time, but that it
had just been decided to start up again with a new goal.
“Where beforehand this blog contained essays by writers and for writers,
henceforth it shall bear tidings of the world of the Lost Genre…for readers.

“Lord willing, this will be a place for fans of Christian speculative fiction to find
what they’re looking for, and even what they weren’t looking for but will definitely enjoy,”
she wrote.

I am glad for the redefinition of direction for the blog, and hope it will be very useful
to readers looking for this type of work.

Check out other posts on the CSFF blog tour:

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Kathy Brasby
Grace Bridges
Valerie Comer
Courtney
Frank Creed
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Timothy Hicks
Joleen Howell
Jason Isbell
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Kait
Carol Keen
Lost Genre Guild
Mike Lynch
Magma
Margaret
Rachel Marks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Mirtika
Hanna Sandvig
James Somers
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Phyllis Wheeler
Timothy Wise

Let’s Take a Look at the Lost Genre Guild Web Site, Part 2

The Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour for December is examining the Lost Genre Guild Web site.  I’m taking part. Today is the second installment of examining this Web site.

This Web site was started by a group of writers in the Christian-worldview fantasy-science fiction genre, which they renamed the Biblical speculative fiction genre, for clarification.  They put out an anthology of works in 2007.  They also are reviewing books in the genre submitted to them, and publishing the reviews for the books that receive three to five stars from the reviewer.  Today let’s look at the book reviews on the Lost Genre Guild Web site.

There are ten reviews posted, each linked to a picture of the book cover.  Each review consists of a two-paragraph plot summary and then three or so paragraphs of review by the reviewer. I like this format; it’s concise and easy to follow.  The books reviewed are for teens and for adults.

Why are there only 10 books reviewed? That seems like a low number to me, for a site that has been around since 2006. The site accepts submissions of books in the genre from authors.  Perhaps authors don’t know about the site, or there aren’t enough reviewers.  I would love to see more books reviewed here. I know there are plenty more out there! I would also love to see the book cover links contain more information for the reader before clicking over to the review, such as target age-range (young adult, adult) and sub-genre (horror, science-fiction, high fantasy, etc.) .  The links could be organized by these categories too. That would make it easier for a reader to pick and choose. Also, I would like to see a site navigation system at the top of each page that easily allows me to go from the book review page to the blog.

Check out the other blogs on the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour:

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Kathy Brasby
Grace Bridges
Valerie Comer
Courtney
Frank Creed
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Timothy Hicks
Joleen Howell
Jason Isbell
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Kait
Carol Keen
Lost Genre Guild
Mike Lynch
Magma
Margaret
Rachel Marks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Mirtika
Hanna Sandvig
James Somers
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Phyllis Wheeler
Timothy Wise

Let’s Take a Look at the Lost Genre Guild Web Site, Part 1

The Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour for December is examining the Lost Genre Guild Web site.  I’m taking part. So I took a look at the Web site blog, starting at the beginning, in 2006.

One of the earliest posts is by Frank Creed, who is the individual keeping the Web site going. In a 2006 blog post, he coined a new phrase:  Biblical speculative fiction.  This term is more precise than “Christian fantasy/science fiction.”  The new term can be used to distinguish the product, Christian-worldview science fiction or fantasy, from the producer, who may be a Christian writing secular fiction, for example Stephen King.  Here’s Creed’s definition:

“Biblical speculative fiction [Bib-spec-fic], noun: stories with settings or races that are significantly unlike our own, told through a Scriptural world-view and framework. “(From a post on 10-11-2006)

I think having a new term for Christian fantasy is a good idea.  For example, the title of my own blog which you are reading is the Christian Fantasy Review. But I actually am reviewing secular books as well as Christian worldview books, all from a Christian perspective.

The purpose of the Lost Genre Guild blog is to promote Biblical speculative fiction, or Christian-worldview fantasy and science fiction, using a number of voices and viewpoints.  Promoting Biblical speculative fiction is also the purpose of the blog you are reading, and of the many participants in this blog tour whose blogs are listed at the bottom of this post.

You may ask, Why does this genre need boosting?  How come it is “lost”?

If you just go into a library or a secular bookstore, you won’t see much of this Christian worldview fantasy and science fiction.  If you’re like me and my kids, you would conclude that no one is writing it.  How strange, we think, because of the towering examples of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, both recently re-envisioned for the big screen.

In fact, there are people writing it.  That much is clear from what I have learned writing the Christian Fantasy Review, and from what I can see reading the early posts of the Lost Genre Web site.  Clearly there are plenty of people out there who love to use this set of tools to be creative and to convey some of God’s great truths.

But there are plenty of potential readers out there who are wary.  Are science fiction and fantasy writers promoting evil?

A Lost Genre blog post on 10-12-2006 posted by Steve Rice provides some guidelines to help wary readers identify works from the dark side.  Rice suggests avoiding a work if it contains 1)detailed instructions on how to do witchcraft, or 2) preaches a false gospel, or if it glamorizes witchcraft or psychic powers. “Tolkien and Lewis didn’t; witches in “Narnia” are a loathesome lot,” he adds.  If these two warning signs are missing, any magic is just a plot device, he suggests.

I think that’s very good advice for potential readers.  The successors to Tolkien and Lewis are out there.  Let’s find them!  And enjoy the seeking!  — Phyllis Wheeler

Check out the other blogs on the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour:

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Kathy Brasby
Grace Bridges
Valerie Comer
Courtney
Frank Creed
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Timothy Hicks
Joleen Howell
Jason Isbell
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Kait
Carol Keen
Lost Genre Guild
Mike Lynch
Magma
Margaret
Rachel Marks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Mirtika
Hanna Sandvig
James Somers
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Phyllis Wheeler
Timothy Wise

Seed of Seerling by Amy Kennedy, a Review

seerling

Seed of Seerling, first of a series, VMI Publishers, 2008, 281 pages.

Worldview: Christian.  The One True God is in charge.

This book is a love story which will appeal especially to girls, I am thinking.  The protagonist is Astril, a daughter of the High Priestess in a matriarchal society that is slave to a religion of human sacrifice.  They are called the Seerlings. The neighboring enemy kingdom is a patriarchal society, some members of which follow the One True God. They are called the Harkonians.

As a child, Astril is by herself in the woods for a few days, as called for by her religion, when she finds a boy from the neighboring Harkonian kingdom who has fallen off his horse and is injured. She tends him and heals him. This is Toren, the heir to the Harkonian throne.

The two are thrown together later when Astril is captured and enslaved by the Harkonians. Toren recognizes her and protects her. Eventually he falls in love with her. He sends her for safekeeping to a priest of the One True God. While at his remove enclave, she becomes a believer.

However, Astril’s priestess sister, Gallian, comes to return Astril to her mother. As a priestess, Gallian has some magical powers and manages to kidnap both Astril and Toren and bring them back to the grim land of the Seerlings, intending to sacrifice both of them. The story resolves with some intervention by the One True God.  But the story is not completely told, and we are left waiting for the next book.

I enjoyed this page-turner. If you have a teenage daughter, this would be a great book for her to read, especially if she is a Twilight fan. You could discuss the similarities and differences. The similarities I see between Seed of Seerling and Twilight are that they are both fantasy love stories where the heroine keeps her purity before marriage. The differences involve the Christian foundation of the Seed of Seerling, resulting in self-controlled and self-effacing actions on the part of the heroine. In Twilight, the heroine is the opposite of self-controlled–she passively lets her feelings rule and decides to forget about what her head might be telling her.

This book does have a few rough edges in the editing, which won’t be obvious to most readers. The publisher, VMI Publishers, is not a traditional publisher, although it is able to distribute the book pretty widely. However it does not appear that VMI was able to get a review for the book in Library Journal or Publishers Weekly, and so most libraries won’t be taking this seriously. That’s a shame, in my opinion. It’s a great story with a solid foundation.–Phyllis Wheeler

If you would like to buy this book, please help me pay the expenses of this blog and buy it through this link:

Sandry’s Book by Tamora Pierce, a Review

Sandry’s Book, Book 1 of Circle of Magic “quartet”
by Tamora Pierce
Published by Scholastic, 1997, 252 pages

Worldview: Moral, secular. Teamwork and loyalty are primary values. There is no evil bad guy.

Three girls and a boy, all around the age of 12, are followed in separate stories that converge. They live in a different world, on that has very strong class and tribal boundaries. The four youngsters are from different classes and tribes that normally do not get along. They are gathered by a mage, Niko, who gets premonitions and goes looking for certain pupils for his school at Winding Temple. The four kids will become mages, or sorcerers. They are chosen by Niko because they have some innate magical abilities, which need training.

As the story unfolds, the four kids, including Sandry, the child from the noble class, learn to get along with each other and to begin to control their magic powers. The antagonists are mostly other children who behave in cruel ways. For the climax of the book, the antagonist is an earthquake. The four are trapped underground in a cave during this earthquake. They work together, weaving their magics and strengthening each other, and are able to protect and save themselves. There are three further books, each named for one of the other of the four kids.

This book is eleven years old now, and received a number of awards in its day. I am reviewing it because this series is something my son picked up at the library and likes to read and re-read.

My first reaction to reading this book was confusion. I had great difficulty keeping the four kids’ separate stories straight. I think having four completely developed points of view is just too many for the reader to develop a bond with them, at least for the first third of the book.  I was very tempted to put the book down and not pick it up again.

This book has some similarities to the Harry Potter books. But this book was published before Harry Potter. The similarities are a school for kids with special magical abilities, a mage in charge of the school who seeks out prospective pupils, a close group of kids who work together using magic, and some bully behavior on the part of other kids. The differences have the antagonist at the root. Pierce’s antagonist is really circumstance or just human meanness manifested in various ways. Rowling’s antagonist is of course Voldemort, who is one of the baddest bad guys of all literature. In my opinion, Pearce’s flimsy antagonist creates a slight tale. Rowling’s towering antagonist creates a hefty tale.

As for my opinion as a Christian, I think this book belittles religion, because it describes some various tribal religious customs that are clearly envisioned as gestures just to make the individual feel good. Pierce, along with so many others, clearly has no idea that there really is a deity out there. However, this book promotes loyalty and teamwork, along with discouraging stealing, so it isn’t in actual conflict with my values. A worldview discussion would be in order with young readers of this book.–Phyllis Wheeler

Son likes Heroes of Old

My son “Mike,” age 16, is carrying the book Heroes of Old around with him, the one by Jay L. Young that I reviewed. He really likes this book—it’s right up his alley, with plenty of detail about the X-men style hero characters. We’ll see if he likes it enough to buy the other two books. That would take most of his Christmas money.

When he read this first book, he skipped some of the scenes from the ancient days. He was focusing on the contemporary characters. The way this book is put together, that works out OK–the entire story is eventually told in the present day. Funny way to read a book though.

I’ve started reading another book to review but haven’t finished it yet. So, hold on, dear readers! I haven’t forgotten you!

Worlds Unseen by Rachel Starr Thomson, a Review

worldsunseen

Worlds Unseen by Rachel Starr Thomson
Published 2007 by Little Dozen Press (self-published), 328 pages.

Worldview: Christian.  A moral universe with good and evil elements, and a benevolent deity/king glimpsed afar off.

Rachel Starr Thomson is a homeschool graduate who is becoming a serious writer.  Her fantasy trilogy, the Seventh World Trilogy, begins with this book. The second installment, Burning Light, has just been published.

Maggie Sheffield lives in a dark medieval world which is like our world in many ways, but dreadfully twisted.  It is dominated by an evil empire which has all but stamped out the memory of better times, which included a benevolent supernatural king who left when people turned their backs on him. A prophecy says he will return one day.

The story opens with teenager Maggie, an orphan, whose foster parents are murdered. She goes to live with another foster parent. All three were members of a Council for Exploration into Worlds Unseen that had dabbled in the occult 40 years before and then split up.

As the story unfolds, Maggie agrees to carry an enemy scroll across Europe to another former Council member. On this journey she meets a large cast of others: a gypsy boy who can talk to animals, a blind seer, a witch, a princess, a man who is tempted to join the dark side, and someone she falls in love with.  Maggie learns she is capable of heroic deeds.

The struggle culminates in an enormous battle, when the heavens open and supernatural forces come to fight alongside humans in a revolution in eastern Europe.  Maggie’s love interest dies. Many questions are left unresolved for the next book in the series.

Thomson has a great imagination, full of a variety of characters. She is able to tell a rousing good story. This book does have a certain unfinished quality to it, because of the self-publishing and consequent lack of tight editing. For example, Maggie’s falling in love isn’t described in a convincing way.  But this is a small drawback.  I enjoyed this book as well as its sequel, Burning Light. —Phyllis Wheeler

If you would like to buy this book, consider buying it here to help pay the costs of running this blog.

Convincing librarians to buy Christian fantasy fiction

How can we help our librarians choose more Christian fantasy fiction?

The children’s librarian in my library, Webster Groves Public Library, says she will buy a book I suggest:
* if it is published by a mainstream publisher
* if she can find a favorable nonbiased review in a publication she trusts such as Publishers’ Weekly, Library Journal, or similar publications,
* if there is money in the budget,
* if she perceives demand.
She will watch the track record of my suggestions to see whether to take me up on more of them. I suspect her policies are fairly typical.

(In fact, she is in the process of making a couple of purchases I suggested that meet her guidelines! I am very happy about that.)

The stumbling blocks for the Christian fantasy genre are the requirements that the purchased book be published by a mainstream publisher and reviewed in a journal like Publishers’ Weekly.

As I have mentioned before, mainstream publishers have been leery of this genre and haven’t picked up much of it. It doesn’t sell well at Wal-Mart and in Christian bookstores, where other more female-oriented Christian genres can be found. As a result, plenty of interesting works are out there that aren’t published by the mainstream publishing houses. They are being effectively sold over the Internet and through word of mouth, though. The genre has even got a moniker now: the “Lost Genre.” (See http://arjaybb.com/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=886 for more info on the “Lost Genre.”)

Many of the works being sold on the Internet are self-published. Publishers’ Weekly doesn’t review self-published works, and in fact reviews only a fraction of the books sent to it for review. So it’s pretty likely that at least some of the books I would like to suggest for my library would not be mainstream published and/or would not be reviewed in Publishers’ Weekly etc.

That doesn’t mean you can’t suggest these for your library though, dear reader. Your library may actually be more flexible than this. For example, I have a friend who buys books (for adults) for another municipal library in the St. Louis area, Dawn Y. At her library, Christian works are quite popular. In fact, I am wondering whether the popularity of Christian works at her library might have something to do with the increasing popularity of homeschooling. When I homeschooled, we spent a LOT of time at the library. Many homeschoolers are Christians.

Dawn answered my questions:

How do you choose which books to buy? I take into consideration the majority of our reader population, their likes and dislikes, the appropriateness of the material. I also look at reviews in 4 different main stream publications. I also am open to authors sending their own solicitations. I also check Fantastic Fiction.com, and Amazon and Barnes and Noble for upcoming works.

Do you ever choose a book that is self-published? Yes, if the author sends a good summary, etc. I have been approached a few times and have purchased them if I feel they have a market with our readers.

Do you ever choose a book that is available only on the Internet (Amazon etc.) but not in bookstores? I am somewhat restricted in that area, because we get our books through a book jobber and have a discount policy. We seldom get books from outside that system.

Roughly how many times must a book be requested by patrons before you decide to buy it?
There are a few variables with that—how many other libraries may have it, if I feel there will be enough call to warrant the cost.

I am particularly curious about the genre of Christian fantasy fiction. Are you aware of this genre at all? I have seen a few authors who might fall in this category. We have a couple of them and the genre is increasing in popularity. It seems anything Christian goes at our library.

A request to the library to buy Christian graphic novels

This week my son “Mike” and I have been discussing graphic novels.  Since my triplet boys are 16, getting old enough to learn to make their own decisions, I have been letting him buy graphic novels as long as they aren’t obviously off-track. He’s been buying and reading a Japanese manga series called Fruits Basket.  I had scanned it but not read it. This week I read it and was dismayed to find teen sex condoned. It reads a lot like a soap opera, with a few fantasy elements.  Yikes.  Time to pester the library for something much better.

I would REALLY like to see some Christian graphic novels available to my boys.  This requires that 1) the graphic novels be published, and 2) they be bought by the library, or otherwise made known to my kids.

I didn’t get a response from my email to the library about new books, so I am guessing it got nowhere.  So I went to the library (Webster Groves Public Library, Missouri) to ask how I am supposed to make these requests. The librarian pointed me to some little green request slips.

The book I just reviewed, Chosen by Ted Dekker, is also published in a graphic novel format, I discovered. So I am requesting that the library buy this Lost Book graphic novel series. I just made out the request slip.  In case you are willing to do this at your library, here is the information:

Author: Ted Dekker

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Title: Lost Book Series: Chosen, Infidel, Renegade, Chaos

Note: Prefer graphic novel versions

Chosen by Ted Dekker, a Review

chosenChosen by Ted Dekker
Book 1 of The Lost Books
Published by Thomas Nelson, 2007,  260 pages.

Worldview: Christian.  Good vs. evil with a benevolent God.

This story takes place in a world called “Other Earth” on the map supplied.  As the story opens, the protagonist Johnis, age 16, joins the armed bands defending his people, the Forest People, from the more numerous Horde who live in the surrounding desert.

Thirteen years before, the earth had been covered with lush colored forests.  But somehow Teeleh, a vile creature and enemy of Elyon (the Lord)  has destroyed most of the forests, and evil rules the land.  Evil is manifested in a scaly disease that overtakes skin and mind.  Forest People will be overtaken by the disease if they fail to bathe in Elyon’s special waters every day. The Horde have already been overtaken by the disease.

As the story unfolds, Johnis discovers he has been chosen by Elyon–he bears a certain birthmark. In addition, he can suddenly see the good creatures, white bats, and the evil creatures, black vampire bats, that others in his tribe have lost the ability to see or hear. A white bat gives him a mission: retrieve six magic books. He must do this with three other teens. If he doesn’t, Teeleh will triumph.

Johnis prays for help in his journey and receives it, in the nick of time.  He is able to accomplish part of his mission in this book, with the help of the other three teens. The rest is left for further books in the series.

There are hints of intrigue: who is the traitor to the Forest People who is keeping the Horde informed?  And mystery:  who is the leader of the Forest People, who seems to have come from our own world somehow?

I like this book a lot and will recommend it to my sons. It is a fantasy page-turner with a Christian worldview, just what I am looking for.–Phyllis Wheeler thumbsupthumbsup