The Shadow Lamp by Stephen Lawhead – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 2

shadow lamp cover

Making Too Much Of A Thing

In “Science And Pseudo-science” I mentioned a writing principle author and writing instructor Orson Scott Card laid out in Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy which Stephan Lawhead ignore in The Shadow Lamp, this month’s CSFF feature.

The principle is this: science fiction writers are to know the rules that make their world work, make sure readers understand these rules exist, then move on with the story. Using starflight to illustrate his point Mr. Card says it this way:

Make your decisions about the rules [of your world] and then make sure your whole story doesn’t violate them. But your reader doesn’t have to go through all that with you. Once you’ve decided that you’re using a difficult, dangerous hyperspace where the emergence points can shift by parsecs without warning, then all you have to do is drop some reference into the story–perhaps a single sentence . . . That’s it. That’s all. No more discussion of starflight. (Emphasis in the original.)

As I read those words before I picked up The Shadow Lamp, I thought of the Bright Empires series and considered that Mr. Lawhead had followed this principle. He’d introduced readers to “ley lines” in the first book The Skin Map, making a point to differentiate between this space/time travel and “regular” time travel. I thought this was Mr. Lawhead’s way of handling the inevitable problems that arise in time travel. The subject seemed to be much the way Mr. Card recommends–a science fiction law that explained the way the world worked so that all kinds of story events could happen.

However, in the middle of The Shadow Lamp there’s an entire chapter devoted to a theory one of the characters has about ley lines. As it turns out, this explanation is also tied to a later theological/scientific discussion-lecture that takes place which establishes the cosmic stakes before the characters.

At that point, ley lines no longer seemrd like a device put in place for the sake of the story but rather, the story seems to be taking place in order to give a platform for the discussion of ley lines and all the attending detail–the multiverse theory, the rapid expansion of the universe, the purpose of Creation, a reinterpretation of time, and more.

In my way of thinking, the device stopped being a device and started to become the essence of the story. Perhaps that’s what Mr. Lawhead intended all along. I was disappointed, however.

The concept of time-reversal (linked to the theory of the expansion of the universe based on the choices people make), while interesting, does have theological ramifications as several blog tour participants have pointed out (see for example this one).

Overall, however, I felt a good story was going on and a couple chapters of exposition explaining the ley line and theological theories a couple of the characters were considering, interrupted the flow. The catastrophic potential which was supposed to be illumined by this theoretical enlightenment simply did not seem like a credible threat. I was much more concerned by what the Burleigh men were doing than by this possible cosmic crisis.

For me, Mr. Lawhead made too much of the rules he established, rules I was happy to go along with until he decided to explain them to me.

But maybe that’s just me.

Full review yet to come.

Be sure to see what the other blog tour participants are saying (see the list and links at the end of the Day 1 post). You might especially be interested in Meagan’s excellent Bright Empires series overview; Christopher Hooper’s ideas on the generational legacy uncovered within the stories (“How we live today affects those who live tomorrow”); and Robert Treskillard’s giveaway.

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5 Comments

  1. Loved reading your thoughts, this is definitely a series that makes one have to put on one’s “thinking cap”!

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  2. Amazing insights ever. Keep it up. I would love to read all the series of this fantastic creation.(Y)

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  3. I’m with you! I’ve always been more interested in the smaller stories, even when they fall inside “how will they save the world” stories. (Probably because–spoiler alert–most books DON’T end in the world being destroyed.)

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  4. Oh my! Making my brain cramp! Thanks for sharing!

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  5. Terrific point.

    A lot of sci-fi concepts don’t bear scrutiny, which is why sci-fi writers do well not to let their readers look too long. Any sci-fi reader can accept the idea of faster-than-light travel – until you start explaining at length how it’s possible.

    It sounds odd, but I think it’s true: If you tell readers the way it is, they’ll usually accept it. If you try to sell them the idea, someone will decide not to buy.

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