“Pale Realms of Shade”
John C. Wright
Category: Best Novella
In addition to the Puppies commitment to diversity, which is why they nominated John C. Wright five times, they are definitely opposed to “message fic.” That’s why it’s strange that they’ve backed “Pale Realms of Shade”, which is pretty much a novella-length Chick Tract.
The story follows the afterlife of a Harry Dresden-esque psychic private detective, who was shot dead and is now a ghost haunting his widow and his partner. Eventually he is confronted by the devil, who offers him revenge in exchange for his soul, but he turns to Jesus instead and is saved. (There are also some potshots at Muslims along the way.)
Before he can be saved our hero must confess (unlike Jack Chick, Wright is Catholic) and his big sin turns out to be… “stealing” his partner’s girlfriend when he was believed to have died in World War II. The idea that the woman in question might have had some agency of her own here is not considered; she is treated like property throughout.
Other fun tidbits from this one: the narrator figures out that his partner has found Jesus and become a better person because: he now tips his hat to elderly women (“ugly old broads”) as well as young, attractive ones! I can’t remember if “Blessed are those who tip their hats to ugly old broads” was the first or the second item in the Beatitudes. In another passage, our poltergeist feels an otherworldly heat (spoiler alert: it’s the power of God) and comments, “It felt like male rather than female heat.” What is it with these Puppy writers and their need to assign gender to everything from military vehicles to thermodynamic concepts? It must get exhausting imagining genitalia on all this stuff.
Like One Bright Star to Guide Them, this was a tedious, humorless parable. I said some unkind things about Skin Game, but reading this I missed the real Harry Dresden, pop culture references and all, who at least knew how to have fun. “Pale Realms of Shade” on the other hand is exactly as grim and colorless as its title suggests.