Bill's Reviews > The Ninth Configuration

The Ninth Configuration by William Peter Blatty
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Aug 06, 08

bookshelves: fiction
Read in August, 2008

This was a very quick read from the man who gave us The Exorcist.
It was pretty good, although I feel it could have been more fleshed out
as far as characterization was concerned.
There were several characters that flitted in an out of the story that
I would have liked to have known better. Psychologically damaged
characters are invariably the best on paper.

One page in particular very much moved me, and this is why I'm rating
this book 4 stars instead of 3. It is where Kane explains his belief of an afterlife: how Nature couldn't possibly deny fulfillment of the universal craving for happiness.

Any novel that makes me dog-ear a page for future reference is certainly worth my time.
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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Kane's arguments for the afterlife and God mirror those of C.S. Lewis - Blatty must be a big fan of Lewis.

I just got a book by Blatty called I Will Tell Them I Remember You. It is non-fiction, telling the story of the spiritual and divine impetus for writing The Exorcist. In it, he claims that "the supernatural is the most natural thing in the world."

As I am sure you know, The Ninth Configuration is one of my all time favorite books. Yes it could be fleshed out a bit more, but as it stands it is a brilliantly written theological thriller written with brevity. I really wouldn't have it any other way.

Have you seen the film? It, too, is brilliant, although I prefer the book's ending. The film's ending is too pat, but it mirror's Blatty's own supernatural experience.

My copy has about 20 pages dog eared for future reference.


Bill Actually, I had never heard of the film before finding out about this novel. I'm going to keep an eye open for it; I subscribe to a couple of
movie channels and I suspect this movie will pop up one of these days.

C.S. Lewis has been on some older reading lists I've carried around over the years. So far, I've only read The Great Divorce, which I really enjoyed. I'm a big fan of theology in fiction (particularly sci-fi, btw). I'll have to add more
to my list here, as this is my true reading list.



message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

I, too, like theological based SF. TNC is really a great companion piece to Lewis's Mere Christianity.

Actually, Blatty's entire trilogy of faith could be read as fictional representations of some of the arguments Lewis makes in that book.

What are some of your favorite theological-based works of fiction?

I am always up for more...especially stuff like this, or PKD's VALIS trilogy.


Bill Hmm, let's see...

I think Dan Simmons' Hyperion must have had some theological slants to it, it's been so long since I read it. Probably doesn't count, but one of my favorite novels period.

Michael Moorcock's Behold The Man was both fun and distressing.

2001: A Space Odyssey: Didn't really have much in the way of theological arguments, from what I remember, but just for the whole mystery of it all...

Richard Matheson's What Dreams May Come - I really like stories that visit heaven and hell.

Robert Sawyer's The Terminal Experiment - The search for the soul. I like how he ended it.

I haven't read the Valis trilogy.





message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Cool - I've read some of those, and have the ones I have not.

Have you read Sawyer's Calculating God? I really enjoyed that book.


message 6: by Matt (new)

Matt Everything by Gene Wolfe.

Miller's 'Canticle for Leibowitz'

It's not exactly sci-fi, but I found Burroughs 'Kingdom of the Wicked' surprisingly respectful and thoughtful.

On thing that I find interesting in science-fiction is how often the supposed secular atheist authors (Brin, Banks, Clarke, etc) invent for thier stories transcendence, technological afterlives on other planes of existence, and veritable gods possessing knowledge that leaps beyond the knowable universe. Given that these authors are associated with positive progressive views of technology (that is, they ostensibly hope that the world of their imagination comes about), it's almost seems like to me they are waiting for a technological rapture to spirit them away. Whatever it is, it seems like some sort of conscious or unconscious theological statement.





Bill Yes, I did read Calculating God and liked it. I've enjoyed everything I've read by Sawyer and I'll have to read him again one of these days.

Matt: Interesting take on atheist authors using technologies for transcendence!
I was excited to start Wolfe's Shadow of the Torturer many years ago, but I had to give up on it, unfortunately. The author simply didn't resonate with me and he lost me.

Canticle for Leibowitz: Gosh, it must be 25 years since I read that, and I can barely come up with some memory of it. I do remember that I was quite glad I read it.



message 8: by Matt (new)

Matt I admit that Gene Wolfe can be very challenging and hard to follow. In some ways, I think 'New Sun' is far easier to follow than 'Wizard/Knight' (I was forced several times to go back and reread pages or even chapters).

The first time I tried 'New Sun', I got lost completely in 'Claw of the Conciliator' and had to put the book down. I ended up rereading 'Shadow' before trying to plunge back through 'Claw'. Wolfe has so many ambitions in a story, and has such a well realized alien setting, and has so many characters that it can be very hard to figure out what is going on at first. Part of this is Wolfe is fond of narrators who either don't know what is going on or who like the narrators of a detective story pretend to ignorance until a critical point in the story. So if you are initially confused, this usually reflects the confusion of the narrator. Wolfe will explain what is going on eventually, but usually not for a few hundred pages.

But you are really really REALLY cheating yourself not to push through some of the difficulty.

If you need a less challenging Wolfe story to wet your taste for the author, I'd try 'Soldier of the Mists' which is the closest I've found to an easily approachable Wolfe novel.


message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

Bill: Canticle for Leibowitz is awesome. I recently convinced my dad to buy it - he is a minister. I think he is going to dig it.

Behold the Man is on my short list to read soon. I really like Moorcock (my two favorite authors at one time were Dick and Moorcock...).

Matt: Like Bill, my attempts to read Wolf have not been successful. Like Delaney, I get the sense that he is trying to impress me with his prose. I am sure I will read him some day, but his appeal has alluded me thus far.

And as far a tech. substituting for divinity, I totally agree. My personal thoughts on the matter are this: I believe that everyone is searching for "God," and some people turn their search outwards, while others turn their search inwards. People looking for a spiritual answer look outside of humanity, while those who shun the supernatural look to humanity. In both instances, different things take on divine qualities, and atheism can easily become a "religion" while the secular humanist "worships" technology and scientific advancement.

There is something innately humane about looking for answers, and this is one thing that fascinates me so much about SF. Whether our deep rooted curiosity is a byproduct of evolution or that of a divine creation, it is none the less interesting to discover all the ways we go about answering our questions about the universe.

I just wish that more people weren't so close minded about one side or the other.


message 10: by Matt (new)

Matt D_Davis: I think you are right about the difference in inward rather than outward looking searches for meaning.

I consider highly praised philospher-poets like Rumi, and nothing that they say has any resonnance for me at all. I wonder if we even live in the same world. Everything that they say seems so backwards that it's like the poet lives in Bizzarro world - and has for me as much beauty. Someone tells me that they went looking everywhere, but couldn't find God until they looked inside themselves and I'm thinking, "Where's the truth or beauty in that? If you think the answer to all truth and beauty is you, I can't tell if you have ever done any thinking or not but I incline to the later." For me, I go looking everywhere, and always find God; and, if He's ever in me, it's only because I've opened myself up enough to let Him get in. It's certainly not because he was always there all along.

There is a seen in Joe Vs. the Volcano where Joe asks, "Do you believe in God?", and the response that comes back is "I believe in myself." Joe response to that is I think a classic, "I think about myself, I get bored out of my mind."

Have you ever read the original Humanist Manifesto? The original draft is an unapologetic expressly religious document outlining the tenents of what is to be openly a new human centered materialist religion. There is no drawing of an analogy between secular humanism and religion; secular humanism simply is a religion. It's claims to its basis of being not a religion, or mostly just the sort of claims any religion makes that wishes to claim exclusive rights to the truth. Some of the varnish has changed, but the core intentionality of creating a religion devoid of theism remains - as witness by some of the sermons posing as editorials by the likes of say Stephen Jay Gould (google 'Darwin's More Stately Mansion')

But what really annoys me is not the lack of self-reflection on the part of our secular brothers. What really annoys me, as I suspect it annoys you, is that traditionally natural philosophy - what we'd call science - has been seen as a very natural part of the outward seeking quest for meaning - 'God' if you will, though that highest meaning doesn't always go by that term. There is this wierd idea that Faith and Reason are incompatible, that has been preached so long by those that hate theistic Faith that now even the majority of the faithful seem to believe it.

I love science as I love creation. My religion is that old sort and now widely sneared at sort where I raise my eyes to the heavens and think, "This had a maker. I can see the work of his hands." I think that alot of science fiction writers, even those that would snicker at my faith, are consciously or unconsciously the products of that ancient impulse. Our rational mind tells us that it would be a miracle if any of the hundreds of billions of stars in the sky had around them beings like ourselves, and yet I've met no end of self-proclaimed aethists how believe in the fantasy of a galactic community of beings out there somewhere and cherish that thought with unrelinquishing passion and fervor simply because when you look up to the sky deep in your human heart you know you aren't alone.

So secular writers write tales of alien messiahs bringing our salvation, of civilizations so technically advanced that they've transcended technology and become spiritual, of high-tech afterlives, singularity raptures, and the prophet Kurzweil.

But, if needed, I can even explain the science behind why this is so. Human beings (and probably all sentient creatures) have (at least) an information processing algorithm which operates on two separate threads (nueral pathways) simultaneously. The first thread attempts to answer the question, "What am I experiencing?", and is the thread we identify as rational thought. The second thread attempts to answer the question, "What does my experience mean?", and is the thread we identify as emotion. Both threads are necessary to form the basis of intelligent response. We can't act sanely without both because we must both comprehend something and assign some sort of value to it, in order to have rational goal driven behavior (so much for 'Data' and half the other AI of sci-fi). Now, it stands to reason that if we can assign a higher or lower value to something, that there will always be some something for which we attach the highest value and that for whatever something that this thing is it will be associated with our strongest emotion. It will be 'our precious', as it were. "Where our heart is, there our treasure will be also." What is inescable about this is that we can't do without this thing unless we are a sociopath or a maniac and the whole process is broken. We need it to stay sane. Toss out whatever is in the highest chair, and something moves in it's place and becomes the emotional calibration for everything else. As a consequence of our biology, we always have a 'god' in our hearts. So the real question is not 'god or no god', but what are we going to put there.

As you said, it is a curious state we find ourselves in whether the product of chance or creation, and a curious universe which has such mortals as we.


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

I agree with a lot of what you say, and will offer up a more detailed response at a later time.

For now, I will just say this: when people ask me for proof of God's existence, I simply tell them to look around. Everywhere I look I see examples - the BioLogos as it were.

To combine paraphrases of Carl Sagan and Francis Collins: Science is the language with which God composed the cosmic fugue.

This has been a sort of motto to me.


message 12: by Chilly (new)

Chilly SavageMelon I sort of hate to jump in here, at the risk of "branching the tree" even further (should this become/join some pre-existing group, rather than belabor this review further?) but I'm in agreement here, and after some recent exhausting rounds of argument with atheists, must chime in.

Agnosticism I can handle, but atheism strikes me as such arrogance! Science is such a new kid on the block, in a way, so revisionist. Isn't it interesting that quantum mechanics arrives at the same place buddhists and other eastern mystics arrived eons ago: the solidity of the table upon which our machines sit, and we now communicate, is an illusion. The surface is in fact a molecular dance filled relatively by empty space.
But I do understand, and support, the atheist agenda against organized religion for the most part. The "rules" as I see them are:

1) God definitely exists
2) fuck anyone defining God for you

I see one of the main faults of atheism to be the way they have allowed the traditional western religions to define god in unsatisfactory ways. And all of this talk about "proof" and "evidence", as if they're souls were no more than obnoxious lawyers! As if faith, even prayer, didn't have it's place in terms of "untaped/not-completely-understood potential of the mind", maybe even call it psychic energy, if that term doesn't want to make you puke...


message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

Well Chilly, I can definitely identify with some of your frustrations. Yes, some atheists are extremely arrogant, just as some religious people are extremely ignorant.

I do have problems with the atheist idea of defining everything in terms of logic - cold hard facts and proofs - human beings are illogical, we are not rational. To deny humanity its irrationality is to deny humanity of one of our greatest strengths.

I also have the same level of frustration with the extremely religious who deny the advances of science (saying it is "Ungodly") and who use their religion to do terrible things to others.

We need a balance, and people like Stephen J. Gould and Francis Collins know about this balance.

The truth of the matter is this: no one really knows beyond a shadow of a doubt - no one living anyhow. And I think to say that we do is the ultimate in arrogance. We cab believe in something and live a life of conviction while also realizing that other people may not share our ideologies.

What is interesting is how people go about defining their ideologies, how they go about searching for the truth, and where they eventually find it.


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