Tag Archives: religion

A Take on Hell

Roger Zelazny is one of my favorite writers of all time, in no small part because of The Chronicles of Amber. Hell, I once contemplated changing my name to Corwin. Read the Amber series to get that.

Regardless, when the Fictorians said they wanted us to do a blog on our favorite book that nobody ever heard of, I chose something that has stuck with me over the years because of a personal fascination. When I reread the work for this blog, I was surprised to see that Zelazny had as much or more of an interest in the author—and the work—as I do, and perhaps for the same reasons… although Zelazny’s appreciation probably runs deeper because… well… Zelazny. In the forward, he wrote about the author and this work:

“I read the beginning to see what he was doing. I don’t know him personally. I know little about him, save what I can tell from his writing. When I realized where he was going with this story, my first reaction was, “He isn’t going to be able to pull this one off.” Not without getting trite, or cute, or moralistic—or falling into any number of the many pitfalls I foresaw with regard to this material. I was wrong. He not only avoided them all, he told a fantastically engaging story with consummate grace and genuine artistry.”

I’d cut off a thumb to get praise like that from Zelazny… the left one, anyway, because I hit the space bar with my right thumb.

Now here’s the opening sentence to my favorite novel that you probably never heard of:

“Snow, tenderly caught by eddying breezes, swirled and spun in to and out of bright, lustrous shapes that gleamed against the emerald-blazoned black drape of sky and sparkled there for a moment, hanging, before settling gently to the soft, green-tufted plain with all the sickly sweetness of an overwritten-sentence.”

In that first sentence, you have delicious, savory, thick verbiage that rolls off the tongue like honey and hot bacon fat… and wraps up with that same tongue pressed squarely into a cheek. Irreverence, it seems, is not always a bad thing.

The novel is To Reign in Hell by Steven Brust. Sure, everyone (well, everyone who’s anyone) has heard of the Jhereg series, and that, too, is one of my favorites. Jhereg is what put Brust on the map, at least for me, anyway. But To Reign in Hell is something different. Something special.

Let me point out that I’ve had a fascination with treatments of the Devil for a long time. In truth, my fascination with Western Civilization’s most infamous villain started when I turned away from the Catholic Church at the age of seven. I should point out, before the whispers start, that my fascination probably isn’t what you think. I’m not interested in gleaning power or sacrificing livestock to appease some ridiculous icon of evil. Nor am I interested in tearing down its antithesis. No.

Evil, such as it is, resides in the hearts of men—and women—alone. And whatever good our species is capable of rests in the same, meaty tissue. Where one seeks strength is as individual a decision as I can imagine, and I could fault no one for seeking strength wherever they might find it. Life can be a trial.

What I find interesting is the story behind that icon of evil. The evolution of Western Civ’s theism can arguably be said to have started with the Torah and Old Testament, transitioned into the New Testament, engendered the Quran, and has splintered and evolved into myriad interpretations of a common theme.

And the Devil is there, in every one of them, in one form or another.

Now, there has always been a phrase in that story that bothered me: “favorite above all others.” Satan, originally “the morning star,” is said to haven be the first angel, and favorite to Yahweh. Imagine that: the best of friends falling apart so far that an entire world lies between them and an endless cornucopia of souls lies in the balance. How does that even happen?

Steven Brust, also one of my favorite writers (again, probably not why you think, and yes, I have a lot of favorites), appears to have been fascinated by this very same conundrum. Like any good speculative fiction writer, he asked himself where Yahweh and Satan might have come from. Then, quite logically, he asked himself how they ended up where they did, one ruling in Heaven and one reigning in Hell.

It’s a story of love, naturally, and how the love between reasonable beings can be twisted and turned and corrupted by… well, there are no spoilers here. What I will say is—true to the Bible—deceit and pride are things that can bring us all to our nadir and literally ruin everything.

I abhor deceit more than pretty much anything, so this work touches me deeply. And as I read through the text, I was struck by something that has been troubling me for the past decade-and-a-half. It is also why I think To Reign in Hell may end up being timeless, or at least should be.

This country, perhaps the world, has lost sight of what Truth means… why it’s important… and why those who shit on it everywhere we look should be brought to task.

Look around America these days, just take a good long look at how two camps are at each other’s throats in damn near every news report. Those camps are being goaded on by pundits who take great delight (as well as plenty of power and monetary gain) by fanning the flames with deceit and half-truths… on both sides. Clearly, there are some who feel that there is more to be gained in conflict than in working together.

Such is the true nature of the Beast.

To Reign in Hell is something that all Americans alive today should read. And if they did, I could only hope they might seek out their own Abdiel, wherever it might be hiding. And do what comes naturally.

Writing in Our World Instead of Another

A guest post by Michael A. Rothman.

For a fantasy writer, it’s very convenient to create your own world – because you follow the rules that you set. Much like the famous Twilight Zone saying, you control the horizontal and vertical.

However, what if you want to embark on a journey that isn’t quite set in the mundane world you’re familiar with, yet you might be exploring some of our world’s mysticism? Things like numerology, religion, and legends are all fodder for creative authors to take advantage of.

Why would someone choose to dive into what is essentially someone else’s world? Use its characters and storylines?


The answer is rather simple – people are already familiar with the beliefs of certain religions. That being said, if your story relates in some way to something familiar, you’ll have a premade audience that will instantly relate in some fashion to your work. Think about it. How many people are familiar with the parting of a particular sea, or the turning of water into wine?


These images are only the beginning, consider other concepts that have been leveraged such as fortunetelling or numerology. In the case of numerology, Dan Brown in the oft-cited bestseller, The Da Vinci Code, uses numeric sequences as clues. He poses many what-if’s that people could go ahead and investigate on their own.

In fact, I just recently finished a manuscript that leverages numerological concepts that follow both a religious and numerological theme. The earliest forms of the bible were written in Aramaic (same lettering system as Hebrew). From this, a numbering system that assigned numbers to letters and words was formed and is oftentimes referred to as gematria. Many studies associated with the bible and its hidden meanings use gematria as a form of numerology. An example of such a thing would be where I use an upcoming villain’s name as a code. His name is Bedsem. It’s a play on words in another language, but suffice it to say that I’ve used the gematria system to associate a numeric value to it. One that people might recognize with a simple illustration.


Yes, I’m guilty as charged. I’ve crossed several genres of religion and “sciences” to associated my villain’s name with what is oftentimes posed as the ultimate villain.

Consider that with numerology, you have the ability to pose many “what if” type of questions to the reader. Take certain “coincidences” in the world and make them go “hmm”.

A word of caution, though. Some people might take offense.

Let’s face it, as authors, we will inevitably write something that people will take offense with. I recall having a scene in one of my earlier books where I had two twelve-year-olds holding hands when one of them decides to give the other a kiss on the cheek.

Wholesome, right? Not a big deal, you’d think?

Well 99% of the responses came back on stating how refreshing and wholesome the book was and how nice it was to have something that was “safe” for the kids to read, yet was an epic fantasy. I only mention this because I got one or two comments that inevitably crucified me (ok, maybe poor choice of words considering context) because I was treating kids as sexual objects who shouldn’t look at each other that way. And to think most people don’t believe we live in a puritanical society. Hah!

When you begin to leverage certain things that people might consider a pseudo-science, you might not get too many critics – unless you’ve botched up your facts. However, once you dive into religion or certain cultural affectation or historical references, that’s when the people who take offense can most certainly come out.

For instance, Salman Rusdie wrote a book called The Satanic Verses. It won many prizes and was critically acclaimed by the literary establishment. All good things. Good until such time as some very conservative followers of a particular religion took great offense. Since the book does touch on one of the prophets from this religion, there were those in the conservative community that didn’t appreciate the way their prophet had been characterized. Given this belief that their religion was being assaulted, there were calls for the author to be killed.

Needless to say, this is the extreme of such possibilities – but when you leverage the topic of religion, it needs to be with both eyes open. Understand how others would appreciate your work or possibly misunderstand your intent.

I’ve spent years informally studying religion, numerology, and related topics – so I’ve been cautious about introducing these things. Nonetheless, these are tools in an author’s toolbox that are easy to deploy, and they can be a powerful draw to an audience that is a match for your subject matter.


Mike has had a long career as an engineer and has well over 200 issued patents under his name spanning all topics across the technology spectrum. He’s traveled extensively and has been stationed in many different locations across the world. In the last fifteen years or so, much of his writing has been relegated to technical books and technical magazine articles.

It was only a handful of years ago that his foray into epic fantasy started, but Mike is a pretty quick study. He’s completed a trilogy, has a prequel under consideration with editors, and is actively working on another series.

In the meantime, if you want to see his ramblings, he lurks in the following social media portals: Twitter – @MichaelARothman, Facebook, his blog, and his books.