Thursday, December 04, 2014

The vanishing of a one-star review

My response to a one-star customer review for the game The Vanishing of Ethan Carter:

Since your review is about Steam and not about the game itself, you should remove it. I played the demo a while ago and was impressed with the quality of the game, and when I saw that the game had received only one star from one reviewer I wondered why and read your review. (I'm not associated with Nordic Games at all; I don't even know where they're located.) Your review isn't about the game, since it's a game you own that never gets played. Your comment belongs in a forum or a customer discussion about Steam. It's interesting that one of the commenters called the game incredible and said it's probably one of the top five games he's ever played. His comment belongs in a review, with five stars, and your review belongs in a comment. His comment is buried on a second page as only a response to a review, and your (admittedly uninformed) review is on the product page and affects the game's position in search results. Is that appropriate in view of all the effort and creativity that went into the game's creation? Nordic's artists and developers obviously put a lot of effort into the game, and they deserve a little more respect than you've given them. (Remember, I've never met them.) For their sakes, delete your review and direct your comments about Steam to a different forum.


The one-star review, from Henry:
Not what I wanted or expected

I have not bought a PC game in quite a while, What I was looking for was a product to run on a new system and put it through it's paces. And I wanted a game that would play as a standalone product (no account, stream or server necessary).

Well, This isn't it. You have to set up an account with Steam and provide personal info (Credit Cards, etc.) for it to even install.

Nowhere in the Amazon product description does it say that, at least I didn't see it... However, It does state it on the back of the case. But of course I did not look there, before I opened the case and loaded the DVD. Then the first thing that happens is you get a dialogue box to open an account, with Term & Conditions.. that you can even print...
Of course since opened it, I assume it's not returnable. So I have a new game that will never get played.

Also I would have done well to read the reviews online. I would suggest anyone looking at this game do so.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Israeli buildings, Palestinian land

[Following is an excerpt from my novel The Talpiot Find. The central character, Marc, is being held as a hostage in an undisclosed location near Los Angeles. He is talking with a special-ops agent, Lior, who is assigned to him as a facilitator. The tablets they mention are ancient clay tablets discovered by Marc on an archaeological dig in Jerusalem earlier that summer. Lior is an Israeli now living in the US.]

Marc says “I suppose this all wouldn’t be so mindfreaking if you weren’t so polite and attentive. That makes it just too surreal. Like a twist in the fabric of the universe.”

“We don’t see any reason to be barbaric.”

“With me, like you are with Muslim hostages, in other words. Or like Israel is with Palestinian hostages.”

Lior gives a small shrug. “Palestinians have benefitted from interaction with Jews who came from different countries. It’s helping to bring them into the modern world. Before the modern state was founded, you should’ve seen how it was there. They kept goats where there are tall bank buildings now.”

“I remember Dennis Miller saying something on TV about Israelis growing oranges the size of basketballs. Meaning the land was wasted on the Palestinians and they deserved to have it taken away.”

“You’ve seen yourself how green it is there now.”

“Like access to the Persian Gulf was wasted on Kuwait and they deserved to have it taken away by Iraq. Aided and abetted by the West.”

Lior acknowledges the point. “The West knows the history of the land. Palestinians don’t consider Tanakh seriously.”

“The land always belonged to the Jews and they were just retrieving it like a lost hat, nineteen centuries after the Bar-Kokhba revolt? Nineteen centuries.” Lior shrugs. “No matter how many centuries went by, it would still be the Jews’ land? Because of the covenant between God and Moses?”

“Of course.”

Marc wonders if this is not a good time for a rebuttal. Lior has a gun. “You understand the significance of the Istanbul tablet, right?”

Lior’s expression indicates that it’s not his concern and not something he wants to discuss. “It’s related to the Jerusalem tablets. It was separated from them centuries ago.”

When Lior doesn’t continue, Marc asks “That’s all they told you? Do you know who separated it from the others, and why?”

“No. And you’re to share that information with no one until you’re cleared to do so.”

Marc is surprised that the information is locked down even here. But then these are just contractors. He thinks it must be permissible to discuss the tablets the public knows about. “Do you have an opinion on what the Jerusalem tablets are?”

Lior’s answer is guarded. “Some say they’re an early version of Devarim. What you call Deuteronomy. Others say they’re a corrupted version.”

“What do you think?”

Lior shrugs. “I’ll let them decide. They know more about it than I do.”

“Can I tell you what we learned from the tablets?”

“Only if it’s public knowledge. Not anything that the public doesn’t already know.”

Marc pictures an agent listening in and watching video feeds from hidden cameras.

“Okay, let’s assume that the tablets were never found. Or that there never were any tablets. That should be acceptable. Anything I’d talk about in that case would’ve been public knowledge for a long time.”

Lior nods , ambivalent. “Sure. I may not be interested in hearing it, but it would be permissible.” He reveals just a shade of a smile.

“Okay. It’s not that much. But it’s always been there in scripture for us to see, if we looked. You remember learning about Hilkiah, the High Priest, finding a scroll of the law during Temple renovations. He gave it to Shaphan, a scribe, who took it to King Josiah and read it to him.”

“Yeah. Sure. Josiah was a reformer. He brought Israel back to the worship of God. One of the last Davidic kings. Finding the scroll initiated the reform.”

“Yes. They’ve been theorizing for two centuries, from de Wette in 1805 to Finkelstein in 2001, that scribes in the time of Josiah created that scroll to support the reforms but it was presented to the people as if it were old and preserved Mosaic law written six centuries earlier. The priests themselves may have created the covenant between God and Moses regarding the land.”

Lior’s eyelids droop while he gives a listless shrug. “I’ve heard that. There are other theories. They might be true or they might not. There isn’t evidence to support any of them.”

“Except—” Marc makes a small gesture with his hand as if he wants Lior to complete the sentence. “And it’s noteworthy that the priests’ authority increased in the reforms initiated by the finding of the scroll, which, incidentally, had been discovered in the Temple by the priests themselves.” He continues looking up to Lior and spreads his hands as he shrugs. Lior blinks and unfocuses his eyes. Marc says “It’s just something to consider.”

Lior looks back to Marc, his eyes conveying boredom. “Why?”

Marc pictures Yakub being unconcerned about the implications of the tablets. “It was important enough for someone to authorize my being brought here. And to authorize the agent with the gun not to miss my head next time if the information isn’t kept quiet. They consider it important enough to keep from the public. You probably shouldn’t think it isn’t important enough to consider.”

Lior gives a shade of a smile again. “I’ll keep it in mind. Do you have any other questions?”

Marc looks at Lior and nads a little. “It doesn’t phase you, that the foundation for the modern state of Israel, the whole foundation of the modern state, could be fraudulent.”

Lior pauses a moment. “No. Because it’s not. But I don’t want to get sucked into a discussion like this. There’s no point to debating—“

“Would you humor me?” He shrugs. “I have a lot of time to kill.”

Lior’s expression remains the same as he regards Marc and then he gives a quiet juhf. “I’ve hated having these discussions, with activists and others types. With you it may not be quite as bad. You seem reasonable; they just kept ramming their point home and wouldn’t let up.”

Marc nads. “That’s a shame. There are too many sides to the issue , too many variables. Nobody can be adamant about their point of view because we just don’t know enough.”

“We don’t. How could we, it was thousands of years ago.” Marc wonders how such a flimsy premise as an unwitnessed verbal promise in the eighteenth or nineteenth century BCE could have been used to justify the declaration of the nation’s independence in 1948 and is about to bring this up when Lior says “But even if what you’re saying about the tablets is true, even if Torah is proven somehow to be fraudulent, what should Israel do? Just give the land back to the Palestinians and move away? Would the Palestinians know what to do with all the technology Israel has developed there?”

“No, you’re right, that’s an impractical solution now; too much has been built on the Palestinians’ real estate for it to be just returned to them. The land is the Palestinians’ but the buildings are the Israelis’. Although that is what Helen Thomas was suggesting when she told Jews to ‘get the hell out of Palestine.’”

Lior rolls his eyes behind drooping eyelids and looks like he wants to discuss Thomas in vulgar terms.

Marc says “Jews should just pack up and go back to Poland, Germany, the U.S.? That’s too simplistic. It’s been more than sixty years, two or three generations; everything has changed since then.”

Lior nods. “Yes.

“Wasn’t she something? ‘Now don’t give us Bushisms.’ ‘Worst president ever.’ A real character.”

“Yeah she was؟”

“What I hope is that, someday, Israel simply pays for the land it has acquired. There are Palestinians who still have the deed to their property, but someone else has possession of the property and a new deed. If no compensation was ever given to the original owners for the property, the only legal deed is the first one and the original owners still own the property. That’s just basic. Even kids can understand that legal concept.” Marc takes on a child’s voice. “If somebody takes a person’s house without paying for it, that’s stealing.”

Lior considers this and then shrugs. “What should they pay? What the land was worth in 1948? The Palestinians wouldn’t settle for that. What the land is worth now? They don’t deserve that much; they didn’t make the improvements to the land.”

Marc nods. “For the courts and accountants to figure out. The 1948 value of the land adjusted for inflation, the interest compounded since then…” He shrugs. “I dunno, why shouldn’t they be paid the fair market value of the land now? The owners would have to pay that amount to anyone else for the land.”

“But the land wasn’t worth that much when they acquired it.”

“The current owners were fully aware that the improvements were being made to land they hadn’t purchased.”

Lior turns his body a bit and looks over at the bookshelf, the desk. “You’re sucking me in. I don’t want to discuss this.” He looks back to Marc still sitting on the edge of the bed. “What can we accomplish by discussing it? They’re going to listen to what we decide they should do?”

“Yeah.” Marc juhfs. “You’re right. I’m sorry. But don’t you… If that’s all it took to resolve the conflict… You can accept it in theory, right? Just in general. Broadly.”

“If that’s all it took?” Lior considers this. “Nothing is ever that simple. Any other questions?”

Friday, July 04, 2014

Burning books with a star

Dear Drs. Bezos and Chandler:

Facebook has no Dislike button, only a Like button, for a reason: it isn't needed. When a page or a post has received no Likes, it's as if the page or post has received numerous negative reviews. Can you see that? A Dislike button on Facebook would be redundant because not Like-ing something on Facebook performs exactly the same function. I would hope that Facebook has no plans to add a Dislike button to its interface, because Facebook has no more need of it than Amazon and Goodreads have a need for negative customer/user reviews. An absence of positive user reviews on Amazon or Goodreads is as compelling to a reader or shopper when making a decision regarding a book or product as numerous negative reviews would be. But, and this is a big but, the absence of negative reviews allows for the possibility that a reader or shopper will discover for himself a book or product he likes that he otherwise wouldn't have found. If that same book or product has several rude one-star reviews, that reader or shopper is much more likely to bypass that book or product altogether, allowing that customer reviewer to do his thinking for him, and potentially missing out on the discovery of an item he likes.

Your reason for allowing negative reviews, "[we're] taking a different approach...we want to make every book available – the good, the bad, and the ugly...to let truth loose" [Spector, Robert (2002). amazon.com. p. 132], actually misses the point. By "letting truth loose," what you're actually doing is allowing writers of negative reviews to prevent books they don't like from being read. That doesn't sound like letting truth loose, does it. When a reviewer gives one star to a book or a product and writes something like "a waste of time" or "do not buy this _____," what is the effect of that? Potential readers/buyers ignore the negative reviews and decide for themselves whether or not a book or product is good? Hardly. There are too many items, millions of items, offered online for people to painstakingly consider each possibility. The customer-review system was set up specifically to help people navigate through the immense cloud of possible choices, to help people save time. So, when a few people prevent a greater number of people from reading a particular book, what does that end up sounding like?

Censorship? Are those few people actually banning that book? This is an extremely important issue, and it's one that I seriously wish would be thoroughly discussed throughout the hierarchy of Amazon. Your intentions for "letting truth loose" were honorable, saving people time in choosing from among millions of choices.

The actual result of it, however, is the throttling of truth.

Why don't you conduct a study on this? Select items from unfamiliar producers, and, for some customers, include negative reviews on those product pages, and, for other customers, include no negative reviews. And then observe over time the effect the negative reviews have on the sales of those items. You could even study the effects of negative reviews on bestselling items. I wonder if, with a study constructed carefully enough, you would reach the conclusion that negative reviews are actually costing you money.

Money talks, doesn't it, Dr. Bezos. If you learned, from unequivocal evidence, that providing customers with the opportunity to verbally trash books or products they don't like actually costs Amazon millions of dollars per year in lost sales, what would you do?

Nobody dies in a video game?

Creative ways to kill humans? An awesome variety of ways to kill humans?

"Whoa! D'you see that? He shot him in the mouth!" "Haaa—the cannonball goes right through the guy's head!"

Um, every once in a while, step back to think about what you're doing when you play. Nobody dies in a video game? They're just polygons and normals? Games have come so far now from Castle Wolfenstein that the nobody-dies-in-a-game defense doesn't work anymore. With phenomenal rendering diffracting light off the edge of a forehead and cheekbone and animating individual stray hairs in realtime, you are definitely killing humans when you kill game characters. When you target a character, are you concentrating on the screen coordinates that fall within the render boundaries of a game character in a given frame of video so that associated animations will start playing? Function woundHead { if (hotpoint == "true") { findLocOnHead ...}? Of course not. You want to watch the guy's head explode.

It's true that playing violent games won't turn you into somebody who, in real life, opens fire on a campus or in a mall, I agree with you on that. But look at what you're doing. What you're enjoying. A fun leisure-time activity is turning people into small piles of ash or bloody carcasses? It's not like you're making large pixels displayed in a humanoid configuration turn yellow and radiate outward and disappear. Your targets are very real-looking humans. Those images of humans travel through your optic nerves in exactly the same way as images of humans in live footage displayed on a similar screen. If you saw the same carnage in live coverage of violence in Iraq, would your reaction be the same? "Did you see that? His head flew off! Let's watch that again!" No? Why not? Nobody dies on a TV screen. It's just pixels. If you're evolved enough to see the difference and to be disturbed by live images of violence, rather than entertained by them, why doesn't that translate into your game experience?

Why is it entertaining to view images of carnage that so closely resemble live footage?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Conventional Cleis

Who knew Cleis Press is merely conventional? I thought they were fearless cutting-edge risk-takers. I queried Brenda Knight at Cleis about my book Secreta Corporis, from whom I never received a reply, and I have a strong suspicion her reaction was "We don't publish books that have already been self-published." Stock response. Standard answer. A response Zondervan might give (you can't get much more conservative and conventional than that). Legal issues? Customer confusion? Even I, from my non-legal perspective, can figure out how to clearly separate the two books in the marketplace, after the self-published book is taken out of print, so that there would be no confusion. Easy. Tsk-tsk, Ms. Knight—coloring inside the lines like that. Even after you had read Michael Nava's review of my book (which is included below). "Marvelously erudite"? "Immerses the reader"? "I highly recommend it"? Michael Nava didn't know what he was talking about? He thought it was great, and you passed on it because it was already self-published. Conventional. You wear gingham dresses to work, don't you.

Following is the query letter.

7 August 2013

Ms. Knight,

My gay historical novel, Secreta Corporis, has the misfortune of being gay and literary (simultaneously, yes) while the subject matter (the Knights Templar in the Holy Land) seems to place it in the adventure or thriller genres. When I started the project in 2006, substituting the male archetype of "cowboy" presented in Brokeback Mountain with the similarly archetypal "knight" seemed like a good idea at the time. I set the story after the Third Crusade, during the three-year truce, so that there would be no need for battle scenes and the story could focus on the relationship between the two knights. The appearance of Templars in the story, however, incorrectly signals to readers of literary fiction that this isn't their kind of book, and it has attracted a few readers of genre fiction who have thought that my novel was the dullest 'thriller' they've ever read. It's a problem of positioning that is beyond me to solve, and so I'm turning to you, who seem uniquely abled and situated to take on a project like this.

Ordinarily I wouldn't bother you with this project; I'd just wave the white flag and move on to some new creative project. But I was lucky enough to obtain, at my request, a short but favorable review of my book from Michael Nava (author of the Henry Rios novels and the forthcoming historical novel, The City of Palaces):
Secreta Corporis is, in the tradition of The Name of the Rose, a marvelously erudite novel that brings the past to life in all its complexity while engaging the reader's sympathy in the love story of Rolant and Audric, Knights Templar, as they travel in and around the Holy Land at the end of the 12th century. Garvey's book immerses the reader in Rolant and Audric's world while never losing sight of the deep bond between them that is the heart of the story. This is not the cartoon version of the past readers get in so many historical novels but a rich and detailed landscape in which the reader can happily lose him- or herself. I highly recommend it.
After I emerged from the coma, I emailed Michael to thank him and expressed my surprise at such a glowing review. He responded "...Years later when I met [Joseph Hansen] and asked him why [he had written a glowing review of his book], he said, basically, 'because it was a good book.' You have written a good book. It may not find the audience it deserves but this is one appreciative reader who wishes it and you well." I'm hoping that an assessment like this from a known source, a known quantity, will encourage you to see the potential in my book. The book can be found on its product page at Amazon. A synopsis and Chapter One are below, and the manuscript in PDF form is attached.

Thanks very much.

John Garvey

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Oops, wrong book

Robert,

I'm really sorry you had an unpleasant time reading my book Secreta Corporis. Can I reimburse you for the cost of the book? I feel responsible when my book turns out to be the wrong book for a reader; I feel that I must not have promoted it right or summarized it correctly.

When a person finds out that a book was written for someone else, he really can return the book! He shouldn't feel like he has to suffer through it. I'm sorry that you kept hoping it would get better and it never did. You were probably expecting more action scenes and more descriptive erotic passages, right? What I intended for the book, though, was to examine what would happen if those ancient clay tablets actually existed. I was fascinated when an archaeologist (Israel Finkelstein) speculated in his book that scholars for more than a century have theorized that the scroll the priests found during Temple repairs in II Kings 22:8-13 had actually been created by those priests but they presented it as the writings of Moses. I was amazed to think that the Bible itself would present a clue that it originated with a book of the Torah that was a forgery and so everything that has since been built on that forgery has been bogus. The whole thing bogus! A billion Catholics, plus all protestants, Jews, Muslims, Mormons and everyone else who believes Moses wrote the Torah/Pentateuch—billions of people have been misled since that forgery was presented as authentic. And the clue to it has been there in II Kings all along. Finkelstein and the other scholars make a strong case that the priests wanted to clear out all the other gods and shrines and altars from the Temple courtyard and elsewhere so that all of the tithe money could be redirected to the Temple treasury. And the scoll of law they created gave the priests so much more authority that the king had to seek their approval from then on. I was amazed to learn that—amazed enough to write a novel that was so long and involved I eventually divided it into two novels (in the sequel The Talpiot Find, archaeologists in the present find the rest of the tablets). So you see my reason for writing the novel was really different than what you thought it was, but I didn't convey that clearly enough and so you went into the book expecting it to be a different book. My fault. But I don’t know how to correct it. Other than writing wordy paragraphs like this to try to explain.

You probably also can see how, for another reader, the book wouldn’t be a “waste of time” but an interesting exploration of how ancient cultures profoundly affected the development of the modern world. Everybody has different tastes in books. If you somehow mistook a Hardy Boys mystery for a crime novel like those of Michael Connelly, you might write in a review “That was the dumbest crime novel I’ve ever read.” But the series has been around for a long time and has sold mountains of books, and its success would sort of prove your assessment wrong. If people on Amazon came across your negative review, they would just shrug and say “You read the wrong book. Get over it.” If you had read Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, you would’ve found it even more tortuous than my book. Much longer and much more slogging through history and doctrine. But it was a NYTimes bestseller, so is it an awful book? If you find reading a book an awful experience, does that make the book awful? Lots of students have complained about being required to read Hemingway’s novel The Old Man and the Sea. Does their awful experience make it an awful book? It’s required reading at schools and colleges; there must be some reason for that.

So it would be nice if those who write customer reviews on Amazon kept some perspective about their reading experiences. When a person writes that a book is awful, they’re actually revealing that they believe every reader is just like they are and that they speak for everyone. But no book is written for everyone. Every book has an intended demographic. And people outside that demographic will be bored by that book. That’s okay. That’s the system we have to work with. Writing things like "waste of time," "annoying" and "torture" just tells whoever reads your review that you must not have realized you could return the book within thirty days for a full refund. As I said, I'd like to reimburse you for the cost of the book. I have a PayPal account; we can use that for the transfer.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Michael Nava's kind review of Secreta Corporis

Michael Nava, author of the Henry Rios novels, which were praised as "an exceptional series" by the New York Times, and the forthcoming historical novel, The City of Palaces, said of Secreta Corporis:
Secreta Corporis is, in the tradition of The Name of the Rose, a marvelously erudite novel that brings the past to life in all its complexity while engaging the reader's sympathy in the love story of Rolant and Audric, Knights Templar, as they travel in and around the Holy Land at the end of the 12th century. Garvey's book immerses the reader in Rolant and Audric's world while never losing sight of the deep bond between them that is the heart of the story. This is not the cartoon version of the past readers get in so many historical novels but a rich and detailed landscape in which the reader can happily lose him- or herself. I highly recommend it.
In my thank-you email to Nava, I expressed my surprise at such a favorable review, wondering why he'd been so nice to a total stranger, and he wrote back:
...Years later when I met [Joseph Hanson] and asked him why [he had written a glowing review of Nava's book], he said, basically, 'because it was a good book.' You have written a good book. It may not find the audience it deserves but this is one appreciative reader who wishes it and you well.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Googler logic

In response to the article "Quality Score Explained by a Former Googler" on SearchEngineLand.com, wouldn't it be interesting if Google introduced a CPS, cost-per-sale. As it is now, Google's job is done when an ad is clicked on, even if a person clicks on an ad only out of curiosity and has no intention of making a purchase. An ad is clicked, Google gets paid, and they're done. I noticed that quite a few of my monthly top-four-sites were in Mandarin, although what I was advertising was a novel written in English and I had selected English as the language for the ad campaign. If the carrot were held a little farther out, it would be in Google's best interests to ensure that impressions displayed on the most appropriate sites. I'm under the impression that the tracking technology already in place is sophisticated enough to allow Google to track a user's clicks from ad to landing page to check-out. Every advertiser would benefit from Google not being paid until an actual sale is made.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

If you love the Assassin's Creed series...

It has occurred to me that my two linked novels resemble the multi-layered or multi-timeframe aspect of the Assassin's Creed storyline, and I wonder what the odds are that there might be readers among the AC fans who would enjoy reading my novels in spite of the fact that there is much, much, much less violence in them than in AC. If you primarily love AC for the awesomely cool killing moves that snap into bullet-time slowmo, you won't like my books at all. That should be clearly understood so you don't download a copy to your Kindle or iPad and then write a review about it being the most boring thriller you've ever read. (The novels aren't thrillers.) However, if the way Assassin's Creed moves between different historical eras and the present to piece together a larger story appeals to you a lot, you might find my novels interesting. Keep in mind that my overall story is smaller than AC's sprawling saga. My story involves just the Western and Middle Eastern worlds, wherever the Old and New Testaments and related sacred writings have spread, and involves only two historical eras along with the present: the seventh century bce and the twelfth century. Also, the science-fiction aspect of Assassin's Creed is obvious, while my story's is shrouded. If a reader doesn't pick up the scifi references, the story isn't affected. If s/he does pick up the clues, it adds a deeper layer to the overall story that resembles AC's ancient-aliens premise that mankind's development has been guided for thousands of years. But there are only clues, or Easter eggs, in the novels. A lot of room was intentionally left for individual interpretation.

One of the linked novels, The Talpiot Find, is set in the present and follows archaeologists in Jerusalem who unearth ancient clay tablets that, if authentic, would rewrite history regarding the origins of the Torah and of the sacred writings that grew out of the Torah—the Gospels, the Epistles, the Quran, the Book of Mormon and so on. The novel parallels this story with a story set in the seventh century bce that shows how the clay tablets, and a human skeleton, came to be buried where the archaeologists discover them twenty-six centuries later. The other linked novel, Secreta Corporis, is set in the twelfth century and follows the Templar knight who finds the clay tablet which eventually allows the twentieth-first-century archaeologists to know where to look for the rest of the tablets. The number of people in the present-day affected by the secret of the tablets would be in the billions. If one imagines that a small number of people have known, through the intervening millenia, of the secret of the tablets and have kept that secret from the populace, a fairly pervasive conspiracy would take shape. If one also imagines that the creation, concealment, and discovery of the tablets have been scheduled over the millenia by telepathic extraterrestrials, for reasons only they know, the overall story would take on larger proportions than what at first appears in the text. But only for certain readers. You know who you are.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A little white lie of the Temple priests

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God" and/or the efforts of Temple priests to expand their authority in the year 622 bce. II Kings 22:8-13 describes an episode in which the priests find a lost scroll of the law during Temple repairs and present it to the king, who initiates sweeping reforms in Israel that greatly increase the priests' authority. Because the priests themselves are the ones who found the scroll which gives them this increased authority, it's been thought since the early nineteenth century that the priests synthesized the scroll, which later became the book of Deuteronomy, and then "found" it and falsely presented it as the writings of Moses from six centuries earlier. If this much of the Torah originated in deception, the authenticity of the Torah is seriously undermined, as well as all subsequent religions based on the Torah being written by Moses through the inspiration of God. My novels Secreta Corporis and The Talpiot Find examine the possibility of this deception by imagining the unearthing of clay tablets dating back to the seventh century bce. These fictional clay tablets represent a rough draft of the forged scroll "found" by the priests, and their discovery would undeniably establish the false origins of the scroll. The episode itself in II Kings, however, in view of the subsequent expansion of the role of the priests, is almost as incriminating as a rough draft would be, and it has been there in scripture all along, if we had wanted to see it.

The idea of a book of the Torah/Pentateuch originating in a deception seems minor and remote from the viewpoint of today. So they lied, so what? But so much of the contemporary world was founded, ultimately, on the belief that the earliest books of scripture were authentically God's word, that the effects of discrediting that authenticity would be felt throughout the contemporary world. Remove a foundation, and a structure built up from that foundation can't remain exactly as it was built. There will be some shifting and settling throughout the entire structure, all the way to the top. As distant and insignificant as five books of ancient writing seem now, the "floor" that represents today is supported by the floor which preceded it, directly below it, which is supported by the floor which preceded it, which is supported by the floor which preceded it, and on down to the floor directly supported by the foundation, which represents the books of the Torah. The effects of removing the foundation aren't limited to the floor directly supported by it. That floor supports the one above it, which supports the one above it, which supports the one above it, and on up to the top floor.

If the one billion Catholics, not counting Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, and all others who hold to the Mosaic authorship of the Torah, were somehow convinced, today, that the Torah originated in a deception twenty-six centuries ago, they would have to view Christ's teaching and the writings of the New Testament authors differently. Christ himself and all of the authors of the epistles accepted the Mosaic authorship of the Torah. If God were the source of the inspiration of the New Testament, it's unlikely that God would be unaware of the priests' deception regarding a scroll of the Torah. The one billion Catholics would have to view Christ as just a man and the epistles as just writings from the first century. The effect of that many people, one in seven, shifting their world-view would be felt by almost everyone else. Today.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Dan Brown's Inferno

I recently read the first few pages of Inferno by Dan Brown and thought, as I read, "Do I have to write like this to be a successful writer?" Brown's writing style includes passages like "I scramble, breathless..." and "hoarse voices smelling of lampredotto" and "They stare deep into my clear green eyes" and "dying unthinkable deaths" and "Langdon bolted awake" and "shot a glance at the bearded doctor" and "sat bolt upright" and "advanced with the intensity of a panther stalking its prey" and "mission had gone horribly awry." Popular writing mystifies me. Millions of people will read Inferno, and bestsellers like it, without cringing when they come across the cliches and awkward phrasing in the text. I don't understand that. I'm baffled that so many people tolerate writers writing at a mediocre level. Readers should gravitate to writers who are attentive enough to clean the cliches out of their writing and come up with poignant replacements. "Langdon bolted awake"? The verb bolt should simply be retired from the language; label it obs. in the dictionary and leave it there. Brown uses the verb twice within a few pages. "Shot a glance." If the character had shot a glance, Langdon would have noticed it. I think Brown meant that she briefly met the other doctor's eyes to convey a message to him subtly. "Advanced...intensity...panther...prey"? Don't even get me started. If this were a movie, the actor would be overacting. "Into my clear green eyes"? That's an abrupt change in viewpoint, isn't it? Up to that point the reader has viewed the action as the Shade, but suddenly the reader has an external view of him. "Scramble"? I can't picture the Shade scrambling along the Arno. I think Brown meant something like "scuttle" or "crab," the Shade running sideways low to the ground to avoid being seen, since "scramble" usually implies more haphazardness than the Shade exhibits. "Hoarse voices smelling of"? Voices don't smell, breath does. Voices sound. More like "vendors..., with their hoarse voices, their breath smelling of lampredotto." Just to quibble, with actually modifies I. "I snake through vendors with their voices." But how did you get their voices away from them? Rather than "unthinkable deaths," Brown probably meant "unimaginable deaths." "Horribly awry"? If the character is as methodically deadly as I think she is, a mission may catastrophically fail, but it would never go horribly awry.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Dear Jim Parsons:

I'd give considerably more than my left leg for your endorsement of my novel (although not a first-born as I haven't any-born). It's a kinda oxymoronic brainy gay novel. Digs down to the origin of most Western religions. A few pokes at conspiracies. Do you need a release form? Thanks big much lots!

(Note accompanying a Kindle copy of Secreta Corporis I sent to Mr. Parsons.)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Review of The Talpiot Find

Exercising Thought

Amos Lassen

To me a book that makes me think is a book worth reading and keeping. John Garvey’s book is a great example of that. It certainly made me think about the way I think and how I began to think a certain way. I think that is the result of being able to tie present and past together and by doing so in a unique manner—using an archaeological dig to do just that.

Marc is a graduate student and he really just wants to graduate. He does not appear to be overly ambitious and does not seem to want to succeed in his profession too quickly. He has been assigned to a dig in Jerusalem in the Talpiot area. If you know anything about Jerusalem, you know there are always digs going on and Talpiot is one of the major places for them. Many feel that Jesus spent his last few hours in Talpiot. Marc is near the supposed site of Jesus’ tomb and he is lackadaisical about any kind of find there. He doubts that they will find anything there. A year earlier a garbage pit from the 7th century bce was found there during the excavation of a well. Marc has been working around the well that dates back to the 12th century and all he has been able to find are pottery shards and bones of animals—just ordinary stuff. Suddenly he finds a human skeleton and when checked the bones date back to the 7th century bce and the diggers are faced with an interesting situation and want to know if the skeleton is the result of a murder.

Marc makes another find—clay tablets which also date back to the 7th century bce. On the tablets was something from the Torah written in an early form of Hebrew (so now I am truly hooked on the story since my field of study is Biblical Hebrew—not to be confused with the modern spoken language). I have seen many such finds and they have always been a major source of excitement. What the archaeologists have yet to figure out is if the tablets and the skeleton are at all related and if there was a murder. They have to ascertain if the location of the tables has anything to do with anything else or is the location coincidental. The tetragrammaton appears on the tablets and means that they should not have been so openly exposed and actually belong in a genizah (a special place in most synagogues where holy books that are worn are kept). The tablets that date back to the 7th century bce should not have been in a garbage pit and even more interesting, they were found next to a dead body.

It did not take long to learn that there is something in the tables that is very important and that there are those who are willing to kill to get them. It seems that there is a connection between the skeleton and the tablets and someone knows more than Marc and his colleagues.

This is the second of Garvey’s books with a setting having to do with the Biblical world and right away the two books spoke to me. I spent many years in Israel and was on the faculty of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem so quite naturally my interest was in the books. I understand that the book is based upon historical happenings. For me, reading this was almost like going home and Jerusalem is indeed a city that has both past and present visible in daily life. I remember being told that this Biblical person or that one stood where I was standing and maybe slept in that house over there. Combining history and mystery, Garvey gives us quite a read.


From Reviews by Amos Lassen

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Secrets of the body


Secreta Corporis, a novel by John Evan Garvey, was published for the Kindle on 22 February 2013.

Two Templar knights are ousted from the Order for sexual perversion but are then targeted because of their knowledge of an ancient artifact the Templars will use to control the papacy.

The story
A.D. 1193. To avoid an arranged marriage, Rolant joins the Templars and is quickly transferred from France to Jaffa, the coastal city in the Holy Land that is the main port of entry for medieval pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. At the citadel in Jaffa, Rolant, who is nineteen and only recently knighted, is paired with Audric, a more experienced knight, who cautiously introduces him to a secret brotherhood of Templars who commit “the sin which shall not be named” in the dense groves of tamarisk trees scattered among the dunes along the coast. The secret brotherhood considers their activity in the groves to be comparable to grappling or swordplay, but for Audric and Rolant, their activity takes on a different tone because love becomes an integral part of it.

One of the main tasks Templars perform in the Holy Land is escorting pilgrims to Jerusalem and other holy sites. While Rolant is among the Templars escorting a group of pilgrims to Bethlehem, they encounter Saracens digging a well just at the moment human bones are displaced by the digging. The Saracens abandon the well and the pilgrims want to see if the bones are those of a saint. While the pilgrims pray over the bones, Rolant notices an old clay tablet in a dirt pile. The text inscribed on the surface looks ancient, like no language he has ever seen. He takes the artifact back to Jaffa with him as a memento but must relinquish it because Templars are allowed no individual possessions.

When in Jerusalem, Audric has avoided sleeping in the unsanitary lodging of the pilgrims by staying with a married Saracen friend, Tariq. Audric and Rolant’s activity in the groves and with a Saracen in Jerusalem do not go unnoticed by a secret society within the Templars, Lucerna Corporis, whose mission is to purge the Order of vice. At the citadel in Jaffa, Templars who frequent the groves begin receiving cryptic threats in the form of alchemical symbols drawn in blood on their bedsheets. A couple of Templars are killed, and when Audric and Rolant learn they are the next to be killed, they secretly leave the Order. They stay first with Tariq and then find beds at a boarding house, but their first night there they are attacked by Templars in plainclothes. They return to Tariq’s home, and Rolant realizes that the tablet he found—which, he has learned, is theologically damaging, and now would be called a smoking gun—can be used effectively by the Templars to threaten the papacy with disclosure only if no one knows about it other than a few Templar leaders. The Templars then target Tariq’s family along with Rolant and Audric.

The novel is available now at the Kindle Store and soon will be available for the Nook and iPad and in paperback.

More information about the novel is available on this page.