Reviewed by Sheryl Root
Coach's Midnight Diner
"...readers can expect a wide variety of Christian worldview fiction ranging from mystery to sci-fi to paranormal, and everything in between ... However, a bit more 'censoring' would have made a stronger anthology."
Coach's Midnight Diner: The Jesus Vs. *Cthulhu Edition is the first annual anthology of short stories that, as editor-in-chief Coach Culbertson says in his preface, "allow[s] authors full range of artistic expression, censoring none." In other words, readers can expect a wide variety of Christian worldview fiction ranging from mystery to sci-fi to paranormal, and everything in between, some containing profanity and graphic violence.
*Note: For those unfamiliar with H.P. Lovecraft, Cthulhu is "a creature that is representative of nihilism, chaos, and emptiness," a perfect contrast to Jesus, "the Source of purpose, order, and fulfillment."
The goal of this collection is described well in the preface: "I believe that in order to pursue reality, we have to stop being afraid of being sullied by the world (whatever that means) and start looking reality straight in the eyes as much as we are able. … [W]e need to stop being afraid of the truth, regardless of what it is. Reality exists, regardless of whether we believe it or not, or whether anyone else does either. It will always stand up to scrutiny and question. We need to look reality in the eyes—literally or symbolically—and come to a place where decisions are made about what and who we will be. When we start to move towards reality, we inevitably end up sitting across from God in a booth at a diner, and facing life and death, good and evil, and choices about who we are to be and what we are to do. And that, my dear Diner patrons, is a place that is either filled with ultimate terror or ultimate peace—so choose wisely."
I agree that if our faith is real it is real in all aspects of life, including those "messy" areas we as Christians don't like to admit exist, and so I fully support the intent of this compilation. However, I think a bit more "censoring" would have made a stronger anthology. Several stories ended rather abruptly, and while the intent may have been to make the reader ponder the story, they felt unfinished and left me annoyed. In addition, even in ABA fiction, my opinion is that profanity is usually the lazy writer's way out. There are rare times when using it is true to the character and necessary for the story, but more often than not it serves only to titillate, distracting the reader from the fact that the story itself is weak.
People's tastes differ, and in any collection there will be stories that resonate with some readers and not with others. Writers in particular will appreciate "Way Station" by TitleTrakk's own Kevin Lucia, whose theme reminded me of the Bob Dylan song "Gotta Serve Somebody," and "Polly's Muse" by Mike Duran, reminiscent of C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters.
Other stories I enjoyed included: "Door to Door", a tongue in cheek look at "extreme evangelism;" "Elvis Lives", which gives credence to the belief that the king may indeed be alive; "Blind Dog Detective", a good old-fashioned PI mystery where justice prevails in the end (plus I loved the setting being Michigan State University where I attended college); and "American Angel", a fast-paced suspense that was both horrifying in its graphic realism and filled with the light of faith.
I think I made clear from my comments above that this anthology is not for everyone. However, lovers of speculative fiction who don't mind sorting through some chaff to get to the wheat will find stories both thought provoking and entertaining. Check out the Diner website (http://www.themidnightdiner.com) where you can read a sample sized edition of volume one and, for the writers out there, find submission guidelines for the upcoming edition.
Sheryl Root is Partner Database Manager at OneHope, a non-profit organization whose mission is to reach every child with God’s Word. She’s also a writer and a reader of everything she can get her hands on … books, blogs, magazines. In other words, she’s both a data geek and a book nerd. She loves to be able to support Christian authors and spread the word on great books and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, a wonderful community of published and yet to be published writers. You can follow her on Twitter at @Sheryl_Root.