by James Byron Huggins

The advice always given to aspiring novelists is, "Write about what you know." Michael Crichton had a science education, and when he wrote about science (sci-fi) the science was (mostly) credible. John Ringo spent some time in the military, and his battle scenes are awesome. Neil Stephenson clearly has a deep understanding of cryptography. The author of Leviathan did not follow this advice, and it shows. His fight scenes are tedious and uninspiring, like as if he had to get his word count up and had nothing else interesting to say. His science is so incredible, it hurts. Fortunately, the story does not really depend on the science particulars -- except there is a chapter built around "entering CyberSpace" and it's obvious he doesn't have a clue about what "CyberSpace" really is. He seems to have gotten his computer knowledge from watching the movie Tron. Other than that, I just sort of imagined that the science worked differently, and the story came off. We shouldn't have to go through the contortion.

The story revolves around a genetically engineered dragon designed to be a super weapon. The explanation of how they did the genetic engineering is bogus, but the concept itself is not all that far-fetched, albeit rather still in the future for us. Huggins narrows his time frame too much by reference to recent (as of 1995) past American military efforts, which after 9/11 comes off anachronistic, but you can hardly blame him for that. Other authors are a little more skillful at making the references vague. Anyway, the weapon-like qualities of this dragon, especially its indestructability, are a little edgy, mostly because Huggins is so weak on physics and biology. Alchemists in the middle ages expended a lot of time trying to come up with a universal solvent, a fluid that disolves anything. I don't recall if they thought about the problem of what kind of bottle to put it in. Huggins' dragon has the same difficulty, and while he did deal with the problem of containment, he could have better explained how its creators thought about it.

One trouble is that his villains -- predictably a munitions manufacturing corporation CEO and his army cronies -- are too flat. This is a morality play, not real entertainment, and especially not particularly realistic. There really are unconflicted evil people in the world, but they do not rise to be that high in the military and corporate world in a country like the USA, where the culture is still running on the fumes left in the Protestant Ethic gas tank. Most real people who behave in socially unacceptable ways, at least in this country, still think of themselves as good people, and they must persuade their colleagues of their fundamental goodness in order to rise to the top of the corporate and military ladders. Their evil acts generally are small perturbations of good that went wrong. Any deviation from Good is of course evil, but it's much easier to hide small deviations, and you cannot get the social approval necessary to rise to a position of authority in a presumably democratic country like the USA while constantly endulging in blatant wrongdoing. The corporate Board of Directors, or the military superiors simply won't allow it.

Huggins also probably cannot be blamed for it, but he has been infected by the martial arts virus, which supposes that hand-to-hand combat is somehow superior to modern firepower at a distance. The Matrix notwithstanding, no amount of karate chopping and kicking will overcome a well-aimed bullet fired from a distance farther away than the martial arts guy can kick or leap. Huggins' Norse dragon-slayer stands eight feet tall and uses an ancient battle-axe to kill it. It's these kinds of particulars that make the battle scenes in this story less than credible.

I suspect the biggest problem with this story is hinted at in his choice of publisher. Thomas Nelson is a Bible publisher, so this story is first and foremost a morality play. It's not exactly inspirational fiction, because while the hero and his wife and kid survive and live happily ever after, there is little or no God-talk nor affirmation of salvation by grace. There are hints that the dragon is an incarnation of the Devil, and his slayer dies killing it as a sort of Christ-figure, but it's the dragon who is resurrected, not not the good guy who killed it. By that point in the story I really expected the Norseman to recover somehow. In any case, it appears that religious lit is still nowhere close to the quality we have come to expect from secular authors. sigh

There is one good line, near the end of the book, which almost makes up for all the deficiencies:

And then, with another shock, he understood . . . What is your final purpose?
  To please my Creator. [p.342, author's italics]
It's an awesome insight, but there is no development of it, nothing leading the reader to see it as integral neither to the story nor to human life in general, and no significant follow-up. A line like this deserves more, and good fiction ties these things into the story line.

Tom Pittman
2012 February 18