Thursday, June 27, 2013

"Alizel's Song" - Bill Pottle (Virtual Book Tour Cafe Blog Tour)

"An unranked angel, Alizel, tells the inside story of the rebellion of Lucifer and the fall of man. Join him as he strolls through Heaven’s gardens, ponders theological questions with other angels, and battles against others who have turned away.

This epic tale will take you from the inner workings of the quark to the interplay between galaxies, from what lies hidden in the soul to the fundamental questions of good and evil."

Bill is a martial artist, author, and university professor in Colorado. He tries not to take himself too seriously while his work explores the interplay between religion and science, fantasy and technology, and what it means to be a human. Bill earned his Master's Degree in Biological Engineering from Cornell University and lives happily ever after with his wife and daughter.

As a budding theologian, I'm rather curious about interpretations of anything surrounding God...particularly of angels.  Particularly of angels!  Despite intricate descriptions of certain dreams, expositions on one thing or another, and simply confusing parables, we get very little about angels other than they exist (of this I personally have no doubt - ask and I'll tell you why).  Oh, there is something in Genesis about the angels guarding the entrance to the Garden of Eden, and Revelations speaks of angels flying 'round God singing praises all day.  Balaam spoke to an angel after his donkey spoke to him, an angle went around and killed first-borns in Egypt, an angel heralded Jesus' birth to shepherds, etc....though we get some stories, we get nearly nothing about angels in Heaven.

The Good
I simply cannot say enough good things about this book.  Being a firm believer that everyone who is even remotely interested in God should read this book, I even want people at the church where I work to do a book group on this book!  

Let's get a couple logistical details out of the way:
--Grammar?  Sentence structure?  Absolutely spotless and grammatically clean.  Pottle's sentence construction is better than mine (not saying mine is "all that", but I'm picky), flows very well, and is a pure pleasure to read.  Pottle draws readers along and has clearly taken the time to edit this into something that ebbs and flows in a way that make perfect sense for the plot.
--Characters?  They are true to themselves.  Oh sure, I address this with very nearly every single book on this blog...but that just shows you how important I deem character voice.  Pottle also takes the time to paint a lovely picture of each angel that provides enough details that we are not left completely hanging (we usually, for example, get hair and wing color...especially as this becomes important later on) but not so many details that our imaginations as readers are trumped.

In a nutshell, this book is midrash for details that we don't get in the Bible.  Now, I don't believe Pottle put this together with the intention that it be a theological book that should be added to the canon.  It is simply a lens of interpretation of one way to look at things.  Where did Lucifer come from?  Why does God allow evil to exist?  How did people come to being?  More and more questions come up and are addressed...

This is not a systematic theological treatise - it is a lens and I LOVE it!

Essentially, this book tells a story set in Heaven.  Alizel is a unranked angel, i.e. from the lowest rank in Heaven, who literally spends billions of years interacting with fellow angels and exploring the wonder of God's Heavenly creation.  God sets to a new creation in the Realm of Matter, and Alizel and his compatriots watch this new creation with wonder as billions of years pass and new forms of life evolve from single cells, as God goes to Earth and leaves behind a piece of himself in the Sons of Mud (their soul).  Some angels get pissed about being commanded to serve people, and Lucifrel becomes, well, Lucifer and leads a rebellion.

Alizel -the main character - breaks my heart.  He is a confused angel trying to figure out just what in the heck is going on.  He led a completely innocent life completely sustained by the powerful love of God, and was suddenly thrown into a war and wrestling with questions revolving around theodicy, true purpose, friendship, and love.  Pottle's descriptions of what goes through Alizel's head as he takes part in observing the wind up to the creation of the Sons of Mud remind me of many internal struggles I've had with God.  Why is anything that counters God allowed to exist?  Why is there suffering?  Where is the love?

One of my major pet peeves is that science and God are traditionally treated as polar opposites and never the twain shall meet.  My dad talks about how science explains how God does things, which is the case in this here Pottle's book.  Evolution? Sure - who says that God didn't allow the world to exist for billions of years before breathing life into Adam (did you know the word "Adam" in the original Hebrew is "Adama" and means "earth", "soil" or something to that effect).  Who says that God didn't direct how the first cells divided and such?  "Ra ra ra it was seven days it is in Genesis blah blah blah"  Okay, but Chapter 2 of Genesis has a slightly different version of creation in which elements of life appear in different orders....but I need to stop or I'm going to go on about my issues with Biblicist views that allow no room for God to step outside of human boxes. The point is that Pottle deftly weaves science and God together instead of trying to divorce the two, and for this I will always adore this work.  : )

Back to Alizel - as he watches Heaven deteriorate, loses friends as they either "die" or become demons, he questions God and His will.  I've done this.  It is hard not to when the news delivers news of children being raped, hurricanes destroying homes, disease, famine, destruction (of course news casters seem to only report on the bad stuff that happens).  Where is God in the midst of the destruction and chaos?  It boils down to that absolutely pesky thing called "free will"...but do angels have free will?  It depends on who you ask.  For Pottle they do.  Alizel and a fellow angel engage in perhaps one of the best discussions regarding God's vulnerability that I have ever seen.  "Of course God would still love those in rebellion against Him. He would want to give them time to repent, but He couldn't force them to repent. God's omnipotence was total, save where it ran into the individual free will of each angel He had given him to use. God still possessed true omnipotence because His limited omnipotence was limited only by His own free choice."

As for the protagonist, he afforded Pottle the opportunity to put forward one of the best definitions of hate hate that I've seen in a long time...but for that you are going to have to read the book yourself.  : )

The fall of angels...the fall of could this not be an interesting work?  It deals with our history!  It is fiction, yes, but is so cleverly written that one cannot help but wonder about what actually happened.

The Bugly (bad/ugly)
There are really only a couple of problems that I have with this work.  Honestly - most of the things I quibble about are not present here.  Yet...
  • Some of the descriptions around souls sound awfully Gnostic...and that bothers me a tad, as Gnosticism was recognized as one of the earliest heresies.  However, Eve here also has the "divine spark" and so this is not true Gnosticism even though Pottle borrows some of the language (in Gnostic thinking, women did not have the "divine spark" that we might call a soul).
  • The angelic names are so similar in a few places that I get confused with who is who, but that is mainly due to my horrible memory for names.  
Overall, I loved this book!  It was hard to put down.  It promoted deep thinking even when my e-reader was nowhere in sight.  It is coherent, easy to read, and addresses topics that anyone mildly interested in God has had to have thought over.  Like I said, it is not a theological document, but it is a lens, and I love it!

Overall, on a scale of 1 to 10, I give this book a 10.

"!  I'm curious, what is your theological background?
I am Catholic, but for this book my science background is also important. I have a masters in biological engineering from Cornell University. 
What prompted you to do a book with angels such as this?
This is one of the oldest human stories, and is fundamental to our understand of our place in the universe. Yet, the complete story is rarely told. There are just a few lines in Scripture or Apocrypha, but the deeper questions of why? and how? are not explored in depth. I also wanted to explore the idea of the HUP and God ( and this seemed like a perfect way. 
Where did the main setting come from?  What inspired you as you grammatically drew this setting?
Most of the setting is in Heaven, which made describing it extremely difficult. Not only is there a lack of objective description, readers have high... expectations about what Heaven might be like. 
What advice would you have for others thinking of writing fiction in a realm such as this?
This is easily the most difficult book I have ever written. Besides the difficulties in setting, I needed to write a story where people already know the ending, but still keep suspense and a few surprises. I also had to answer a lot of deep philosophical questions about the nature of good and evil, provide a believable reason for characters to give up a perfect life in paradise, and somehow create meaningful conflict against an Omnipotent character."

1 comment:

  1. Hello!

    I'm really glad you enjoyed the book. Thanks for the wonderful review. Would you consider posting it on Goodreads and Amazon so that others could benefit from your insight?

    The angels who are sent to the Containment don't 'die.' There is something much more interesting in store for them... but unfortunately you will have to wait for book 2 for that. =)