Review: Of Bone And Thunder

Of Bone And Thunder (Chris Evans; Pocket Books) is an object lesson in why fiction writers should avoid political allegory. Yes, it’s a fantasy reflection of the Vietnam War; on the off-hand chance a reader wouldn’t have figured it out by about page 3, the publisher helpfully spells it out in the blurb.

There might even be something in the book besides allegory – the author is, at least, a reasonably competent wordsmith. The trouble is that the book’s message is hammered home with repetitive and unceasing dullness from the very beginning. By the time I was 10% in, all I wanted was to make it stop. Shortly after that point, I gave up.

Message fiction may not intrinsically be a bad thing, but it requires a lightness of touch that this author – like most others who try it – seems incapable of achieving.

Pro tip: learn to entertain, first. When you have mastered the art of writing fiction that people find engaging and want to read, then you can begin to include message elements. Carefully, quietly, minimally. Beware of over-egging; avoid a bleak, humorless, heavy-handed approach.

Otherwise, your work will fail both as fiction and as message. Which, I fear, is precisely what has occurred here.

11 thoughts on “Review: Of Bone And Thunder

  1. One of my more boneheaded classmates in plebe English wrote a short essay on Wordworth’s “Intimations of Immortality” which was immortalized by the misspelling “Imitations of Immorality.” The long-suffering instructor wrote in the margin “Why settle for imitations when you can enjoy the real thing?” Having enjoyed the real thing for two fun-filled years in Viet Nam, I have to wonder how we may frame an allegory about a war (one not nearly as remote as Homer’s yarns) that allegorizes itself? It seems hardly worth the trouble.

  2. Did Ayn Rand start with non-message entertainment? Not that everyone thinks her fiction was entertaining, but she at least had enough respect for entertainment that a good many people enjoyed and enjoy her books.

    George Orwell’s successful books were his message books. I don’t know whether his other fiction was ever popular.

    I think the issue isn’t so much a matter of what a writer works on early in their career as the much deeper mystery of having or lacking clues.

  3. Baffled. There were one or two Ayn Rand books that were somewhat readable but, they were mostly heavy, leaden, repetitive clubs to the skull.

  4. >I dimly recall Heinlein ventured into politics and social policy once or twice.

    Of course. Heinlein, however, never forgot that his first duty was to entertain. There’s a quote from him I don’t remember the exact wording of to the effect that book money comes out of beer money, so the minimum requirement is to be as enjoyable as the number of beers that could be bought with the price of your book.

    Heinlein understood that you buy the option to be allegorical and messagey only by entertaining the reader enough first. The author of this book either doesn’t know that or doesn’t grasp how to apply it.

  5. Heinlein understood that you buy the option to be allegorical and messagey only by entertaining the reader enough first.

    Which is why Starship Troopers, despite being politically offensive to what was even then a substantial element of SF, was a best-seller that won the Hugo.

  6. > Did Ayn Rand start with non-message entertainment?

    I actually read “The Fountainhead.” Like some horrific goatse, what has been read cannot be unread…

  7. Having read most of Ayn Rand’s work, my first thought was that it sounded much the same. Eric – any feedback or comparison?

  8. >Eric – any feedback or comparison?

    Not really; too long since I tried to read Rand. At least she had some idea content.

  9. “Heinlein understood that you buy the option to be allegorical and messagey only by entertaining the reader enough first. The author of this book either doesn’t know that or doesn’t grasp how to apply it.”

    Which, of course, was what Larry Correia said that earned him the title “International Lord of Hate.”

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