December 28, 2008

SLICE OF PIE: Shortened Lives and the Real Culprit

Walter M. Miller, Jr. (A Canticle for Liebowitz); H. Beam Piper (Little Fuzzy); Alice Sheldon – aka James Tiptree, Jr. (the Tiptree Award and “The Screwfly Solution”); Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian, et al); Thomas Disch (guru of the New Wave) (http://www.recreatingtampa.com/readingtampa/2008/07/07/thomas-disch-1940-2008/)...

All of these SF/F/H writers have something in common: they left this world before their time. I do not doubt that before or after their memorials or funerals, someone wondered out loud, “Why did God take him/her so young?”

I was at a funeral recently of a young man who had been a student of mine. One of a pair of identical twins, he was an off duty police officer who lost control of his car during a blizzard and hit one car which knocked him into the oncoming traffic where he was struck by another. Someone I know said, “Why did God take him so young?”

I could try to be sensitive and politically correct about my response to this, but I don’t feel like it: God didn’t “take him”. God didn’t “take” any of the SF writers above. They didn’t take their own lives, either.

The real culprit, Satan, the Devil, the Deceiver took them early, because he hated them, just as he hates everyone who is human.

God is NOT in the business of cutting lives short, careers short or anything short. He doesn’t get a kick out of thwarting our futures. He knows the plans He has for us and if we choose to walk in His will, those plans will unfold. Few people would argue that H. Beam Piper had more than a few good stories left to tell. Walter M. Miller, Jr. was never able to finish his edits of the sequel to Canticle, which was passed off into the capable hands of Terry Bisson.

God the Comforter opens his arms to those crushed by acts of Satan. He offers a shoulder on which to cry. He offers to weep with us NOT because He can’t control Satan, but because Satan was granted control of this world long ago by our ancestors. Satan remains in control when ANY person makes a conscious choice to perform a true act of evil. He will remain in control until we choose together to cede control back to God. Until then, He offers comfort and joy to those who want it.

So when you’re around me, please stop blaming the God of the Universe for the acts of a petty local tyrant. It’s Satan, not God, who is the culprit that kept us from the rest of the Little Fuzzy stories God had planned for us…

December 25, 2008

A CHRISTMAS RUMINATION

It occurred to me this morning that other bloggers like Nathan Bransford and Bruce Bethke have somewhere stored, a Christmas blog they trot out each year to look at and revisit. Below is my attempt at this venerable tradition…

Like many people, I have Christmas traditions.

I watch Jim Carrey’s HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS. I check out a copy of Dicken’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL (the version with Patrick Stewart, Star Trek:TNG’s Jean-Luc Picard playing Ebenezer Scrooge). I snuggle up to the TV to listen to Burl Ives sing in the animatronic version of RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER. Of course I read the Christmas story from Luke 1:1 – 2:20, but I dig out my old December 1997 issue of ANALOG and reread “Easter Egg Hunt: A Christmas Story” by Jeffrey Kooistra. I also find time alone to watch the video tape of a Christmas musical I scripted with music and lyrics by an old, old friend of mine, Lynn Bell. The musical was called “Just In Time For Christmas” and was a children’s time-travel version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL with a couple of twists. Performed twice by a huge cast of kids from my church, it included both my son as an Outsider-sort of angel and my daughter as a shepherd who was watching her fields by night.

I conclude then that for me Christmas is about the past. It ranges from ancient times in far-away Israel to present day kerfuffles about what to do Christmas day when my sister is in Virginia with her “other” family and our get-together last Saturday was postponed because of a frigid blizzard and moved to January sometime and will include celebrating my mom’s 75th birthday and the fact that I’ll be working most of today at Barnes & Noble and Mom and Dad are coming for Christmas Eve dinner and I won’t be around to help get ready. This past includes my daughter’s concern about the commercialization of Christmas that led her to ask us to spend the money we would have used on her to get a sewing machine for an organization that teaches women in northern India to sew for a living.

On the other hand, my son loves to seek out just the right gift for each person and disdains gift cards – he loves the giving part of Christmas. He started the small avalanche of gifts under the tree right now when he set out his college-student-meager presents.

My wife was talking to a cashier at a local warehouse grocery story a few hours ago and asked what the day held for her. The woman said that she hated working Christmas Eve because people were so crabby – they yell at cashiers because the store is out of “stuff” and if anyone bumps their cart, they explode into anger. As we walked out into a flurry of gently falling, diamond sparkling “crystal rain” (see Tobias Buckell’s fabulous book, CRYSTAL RAIN to discover the origin of that phrase), we talked about the cashier’s observations.

Under the guidance of Our Father Below (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Screwtape_Letters), we have taken a simple attempt to remember the birth of the Son of God and have turned it into a tension-filled extravaganza of over-spending, over-eating and secular glitz that eclipses the original pagan ritual from which it sprang. The original event also included a kerfuffle as well as a brush with governmental bureaucracy, so maybe it was only natural that we perpetuated Mary and Joseph’s search for a place for her to have Jesus by our searches for the perfect gift, food or event.

Take a deep breath, Guy. Perhaps I need to go a bit further back in time; maybe to the announcement the angel made to Mary: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 1:37. Maybe that’s the message I’ll take from this season – that no matter what happens: kerfuffles, angry shoppers, divergent gifting and traditions; nothing is impossible with God.

Peace on Earth? He can bring it.
Deep security? He can give it.
Salvation for everyone? He did it.

“For nothing is impossible with God.”

Amen.

December 21, 2008

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Can A Truly Passionate Book Fail?

Absolutely and over and over again.

Let’s say I pour my heart into a novel (of course, this is purely a mental exercise) and I finish it, do several drafts, polish it when I can’t think of anything else to fix and then send it off to an editor or agent. Whichever one gets it, reads it, likes it and soon sells it. Marketing departments get behind it (at least they don’t object to it), cover art is commissioned, turned in and the book is put together. A Big Name, Recognizable Writer agrees to say something nice about it for jacket copy. There’s a short wait and then a dramatic launch! Ten thousand copies are printed, the author lines up a book tour around their personal Five-State-Area. Excitement is high, initial sales are good (not Stephen King good – but good nonetheless). Bloggers chat it up, it gets nominated for something or other…And then it’s done: 2356 copies were sold (1254 to your mom), the rest remaindered…those go on the B&N Bargain Racks…and finally it becomes Used Bookstore Fodder.

Cue: crickets chirping, warm muggy air, faint fog swirling around neatly lined up headstones, dead silence

Cue: bass line from Queen’s classic, “Another One Bites The Dust”

Dejected but undefeated, you get another idea, sends it to the editor who politely returns it and says, “Doesn’t look like you talked to anybody. Got anything else?”

What happened to the fervor, passion and excitement of the initial publication – nah, even the initial ACCEPTANCE for publication?

Readers got bored.

Why? Because you didn’t feed one of their causes/vices/political agendas: not titillating enough, not revealing enough, not drugged enough, not about something they already know about and read, not short enough, not “their” political flavor enough, not Harry Potter enough (oh, I already said that), not blood spattered, naked chick, with an exploding vampire wizard enough, or not Obama enough.

Norton Award winner Justine Larbaleister points out: “…the size of your advance says nothing about your capabilities as a writer. It speaks only to your publisher’s assessment of your market value. They can get it wrong. How a book does is very often a crapshoot.”
(http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2008/03/11/advances/)

Passion has nothing to do with writing and getting readers. Giving people what they WANT is what it’s all about. The Bible even has something to say about this: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” 2 Timothy 4:3.

In these flagging economic times, writers are worried (as is everyone else). At least one major publisher has laid a moratorium against buying new work -- http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6617241.html . But has anything really changed? Nah – it’s just more of the same. I’m sure if the next J.K. Rowling popped his or her head up, they’d buy. If people said they wanted something, New York would listen and give it to them. So save your passion for the boudoir and find out what readers want and ignore what you want.

Then you’ll be famous – and only then.

December 15, 2008

Guest Columns: The Ranting Room (Bruce Bethke)

Guest Column
Michael Shaara: Wishing for "The Killer Aliens"

Old friend Guy Stewart regularly blogs at Possibly Irritating Essays: Thoughts on Christianity, faith, science fiction and writing. Awhile back I gave him an unusual book and a challenge. Herewith, the result.



Michael Shaara: Wishing for The Killer Aliens
by Guy Stewart

He never won any awards with us. No Hugo, no Nebula (oh, that’s right, he’d stopped writing SF by 1966 and gone on to pen seventy stories for people who read those silly magazines like Redbook, Cosmopolitan, Playboy, and The Saturday Evening Post), no Locus Poll (oops, those didn’t start until 1971, and Shaara was long gone by then); he left us almost nothing to remind us that we’d had a great writer doing his apprenticeship among us, the SF community. Somewhere around 1954 he wrote a story that Galaxy, F&SF, and Astoundingrejected out of hand after publishing seven other stories of his; Shaara himself thought, “…this may be the best I’ve ever done.” But we didn’t want it. Published finally, grudgingly, inFantastic Universe in 1957, Shaara had already started moving toward people who enjoyed what he was writing.

That story, “Death of a Hunter”, wasn’t the best he could do. Twenty years later, the world saw the publication of his Civil War novel, The Killer Angels. An intimate novel of the Battle of Gettysburg in the style of Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, Angels became his best. Winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1975, the award came as a stunning surprise because the book had been a commercial flop — and then went on to became a full-length feature film after his death in 1988, and has been required reading for more military organizations than you can shake a stick at ever since.

The SF world lost Michael Shaara because in part, the editor at Galaxy thought his readers wouldn’t like “Death of a Hunter”. They wouldn’t like it because he thought it was, “too serious, too gloomy.” Of course, the SF of the time tended toward the positive salvation of humanity through the application of technology. Shaara’s work didn’t flow in that vein — it wasn’t about glittering machines and conquering the planets, the stars, and the galaxies. His work was about people and their responses to the forces in their lives. That phase of popular SF didn’t arrive for another twenty years.

Admittedly, Shaara also wrote better after 20 years of practice. Compare these two descriptions of the alien:
“It was a great black lump on a platform. The platform had legs, and the thing was plodding methodically upon a path which would bring it past him. It had come down from the rise and was rounding the gorge when Dylan saw it. It did not see him. If he had not ducked quickly and brought up his gun, the monkey would not have seen him either, but there was no time for regret. The monkey was several yards to the right of the lump on the platform when he heard it start running; he had to look up this time, and saw it leaping toward him over the snow.”

(p. 32, “Soldier Boy”, 1954)
---
“To be alien and alone among white lords and glittering machines, uprooted by brute force and threat of death from the familiar earth of what he did not even know was Africa, to be shipped in the black stinking darkness across an ocean he had not dreamed existed, forced then to work on alien soil, strange beyond belief, by men with guns whose words he could not even comprehend. What could the black man know of what was happening? Chamberlain tried to imagine it. He had seen ignorance, but this was more than that. What could this man know of borders and state’s rights and the Constitution and Dred Scott? What…”

(p. 180, The Killer Angels, 1974)

Both passages are one hundred and eleven words long, but it is clear that Shaara had come into his own by the time he wrote Angels. The prose vibrates like a quartet’s string bass played in an intimate curtained chamber, while “Soldier Boy” twangs like a banjo in a clapboard dance hall.

Is there anything we could have done to keep him with us — perhaps allowing the growth of an early Mary Doria Russel, or Stanislaw Lem? Unlikely. SF hadn’t matured enough by then to admit to literary aspirations. Shaara himself alludes to this in the afterword of Soldier Boy, the only collection of his science fiction ever printed. He says, “Very little I wrote has ever moved me so much as being with Neilson when he killed those two in the mountains. I felt for the first time in my writing life, that maybe I was growing up, and maybe I’d done something truly worth doing…”

Fifty-eight years later, Shaara’s work has stood the test of time, as The Killer Angels enjoys consistent sales and continues to illuminate one of the bloodiest battles in American history. As good as it is, though, I cannot help but wonder what Michael Shaara might have given the SF community, had we encouraged him to explore the darker reaches of humanity’s battle with technology.

December 14, 2008

WRITING ADVICE: Lin Oliver: Learn and Practice Your Craft

(To see all the articles on writing, click on WRITING ADVICE label to your right.)

“Learn and practice your craft before you are published – create work product!”

At least I was doing that, right? I’ve been writing stuff since I was thirteen years old! I’ve generated more work product than you can shake a stick at. I have paper files full of product! I have floppy disks full of product! I have hard drives full of product!

Or do I?

Not to diss on journals, blogging (what’s this you’re reading right now?) or other forms of writing for myself, but do the exercises I do from the books I read on writing, my blogs, my diary, my notes to myself, angry letters to God and doodle actually count?

Or is Lin trying to get at something deeper?

For me, it’s deeper. If you read my blog, you know I’ve been experimenting with flash fiction. In April of 2008 (http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2008_04_01_archive.html ) I started writing flash fiction in earnest. But I wrote about short-short fiction in one of my first blog entries, so the thinking isn't new. I’m wondering if what Lin was talking about was writing PRODUCT. The word implies that it’s something I’m going to sell. If I’m doing that, then I’m not writing to please myself but to please an audience, an editor first and a reader second.

With that realization, I took a step in that direction by revising and making two of my flash fiction pieces “Wereworm” (from THREAT) and “Streetwalker” (from THIRTEEN) into submission manuscripts and firing them off. Both came back pretty quick and I made it a rule a long time ago not to submit anything during the Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Years holiday season. I’ll start again in January.

Any other thoughts?

December 13, 2008

Guest Column Is Up At THE RANTING ROOM!

At the request of my old friend, Bruce Bethke, I read a collection of science fiction stories written by Michael Shaara -- who is far better known by his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, THE KILLER ANGELS and its movie, GETTYSBURG -- and wrote an article on the ensuing thought process. The article is on Bruce's website, THE RANTING ROOM, here:

http://rantingroom.blogspot.com/

Bruce opens my guest spot like this:

"Old friend Guy Stewart regularly blogs at Possibly Irritating Essays: Thoughts on Christianity, faith, science fiction and writing. Awhile back I gave him an unusual book and a challenge. Herewith, the result."

Read it, enjoy it and comment if you'd like!

December 7, 2008

SLICE OF PIE: WHAT YOU BELIEVE vs. WHAT YOU WRITE

What if my worst nightmare came true and a novel I’d written and gotten published inspired my church to excommunicate me – and excommunicate my wife because her sin was implicated by marriage?

This is exactly as terrifying as it sounds, though it happened to someone else. The entire incident made me look at my own writing more closely – as well as the state of the church and the publishing world…far more than I can cover in a simple SLICE OF PIE. So I’ll stick with one bit…

Several years ago, a short story of mine was published in a major children’s magazine and it included some strong language. The character was a high school kid who had no real contact with church. He used the language of the kids in the high school I teach in. Some friends of mine wondered about the use of the language and after I was done being defensive, I had to think about what I as a Christian, planned to do when I wrote about characters who were emphatically NOT. If I’m writing about high school students, do I have them use the language of high school students or do I edit it down?

In VICTORY OF FISTS, a novel I just finished writing, I have my high school characters use all “the words” except one. (I just couldn’t bring myself to have them say it so I’d have to write it.) My daughter, who writes and draws manga in which characters use strong language and commit violent acts, and I have talked about this. Neither one of us is aiming our work at the “Christian” market. In fact, both of us feel called to share the love of Christ with people who are not Christians. “Jesus talk” doesn’t work with them because it’s not a language they understand.

I am NOT bashing the Christian market! I love the work of Jan Karon, Randy Ingermanson, Bill Myers and Frank Peretti. It’s just not the market I’m called to reach. I have made a conscious decision to have my characters speak in ways that non-Christians speak and I make no apology for it. I don’t use strong language myself, but I know Christians who do. I don’t believe using strong language, have characters commit violence, writing about vampires, demons or aliens are SALVATION issues.

Paul is clear on this: “If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience' sake – the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God — even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” I Corinthians 10:27-33 (emphasis mine)

November 30, 2008

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: CHRISTIANITY DISAPPEARS IN SPACE (III)

As I said below, looking for information on Tobias Buckell’s new HALO novel, I went to his website, read what was there, then poked around a bit more. In his “Most Commented” page element, I saw “Science Fiction anti-Christian?” (63) and clicked on it.

I was stunned to find that the entry led with two quotes from blog entries I’d posted in September of 2007:

http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2007_09_01_archive.html

CHRISTIANITY DISAPPEARS IN SPACE (I) and (II)

(September 5 and September 22.)

On September 6, Tobias posted this:

http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2007/09/06/science-fiction-anti-christian/

Then he opened it for discussion, which people did. What bothered me wasn’t what people said – I’m used to that and quite a bit worse. What bothered me is that none of the people posted their comments on MY blog. While Tobias clearly read both entries (we are in an on-line writer’s group together and I do not doubt he originally read it because we were and because I mentioned his book, CRYSTAL RAIN) it doesn’t appear that everyone else did me the same courtesy. Mostly because some of them accuse me of things I specifically addressed in the original entry. The blog is now closed to comments, which is fine because I don’t want to open that can-of-worms again…though I guess I'm about to do it anyway...

I was talking to a young friend of mine this week and he’s started his own blog. (http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=34626314652 – it’s a FACEBOOK account, so you need to be in to read it…but if I’M on Faceplant, EVERYONE must be on it!) I commented that he needed, perhaps to be a bit more “personal” in his essays, at least at the beginning. He replied, “But that scares me to death!”

Ah. I know. Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith liked to say that, “writing was easy - you just open a vein and bleed.” (http://everything2.com/e2node/Red%20Smith ) It’s personal and makes you vulnerable. And people sometimes hit you where it hurts. It’s why writers develop thick skins.

At any rate, I wanted to add a bit of wisdom I’ve garnered this year – and it comes in the form of learning to speak as clearly as possible. What I intended to say is that SF does not contain many Christians (observations). What I did not do is define “Christian”.

C.S. Lewis believes that "Christian" is a useless word: “People ask: ‘Who are you, to lay down who is, and who is not a Christian?’: or ‘May not many a man who cannot believe these doctrines be far more truly a Christian, far closer to the spirit of Christ, than some who do?...It has every available quality except that of being useful. We simply cannot, without disaster, use language as these objectors want us to use it."

[INSERT A DISCOURSE ON THE WORD "GENTLEMAN"]

“…if once we allow people to start spiritualising and refining, or as they might say 'deepening', the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word…Christians themselves will never be able to apply it to anyone. It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not a Christian…It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense…unbelievers…will no doubt cheerfully use the word in the refined sense…In calling anyone a Christian they will mean that they think him a good man…the word Christian will have been spoiled for any really useful purpose it might have served.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
( http://glenn.typepad.com/news/2003/08/cs_lewis_on_the.html )

So, I here define “Christian” as it was defined sometime between 390 AD and 714 AD (though some suggest it was part of a much earlier oral tradition and derives directly from the New Testament letters). The ancient document that defined it so is called The Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

If this is what you believe, then you are a Christian. If it is not something you believe, then you are not a Christian. No value judgment, no condemnation, no catcalls – it’s an identification of a person’s beliefs.

Given this identification, I continue to stand by my statement that there are not many Christians in space in contemporary science fiction. BTW – while I have enjoyed Michael Flynn’s EIFELHEIM tremendously and agree that the main character is a Christian, he is also, ostensibly an historical character – and is excluded from my argument of “Christianity Disappears in Space”.

November 27, 2008

Just found this...

Today, surfing for information on Tobias Buckell's new HALO novel, I stumbled across this continuation of an argument I apparently started about a year ago regarding the lack of believable Christian characters and Christianity in science fiction:

http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2007/09/06/science-fiction-anti-christian/

I'll be commenting on this in my next PIE: CHRISTIANITY DISAPPEARS FROM SPACE (III)...

November 23, 2008

WRITING ADVICE: Lin Oliver -- Define Yourself As A Professional

(To see all the articles on writing, click on WRITING ADVICE label to your right.)

On a marvelous, colorful Saturday in October, I had the opportunity to listen to co-founder of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, author, TV writer and someone who helped launch the careers of thousands of other writers – Lin Oliver. For the next TEN essays in WRITING ADVICE, I’ll be sharing from her talk – not because I can’t think of anything else to say, but because what she said has left a profound mark on me both as a children’s writer and as a science fiction writer. Her comments cut through genre and across the ages…at least MY ages! She had no Powerpoint, no overheads and no handouts. She spoke from her heart and that’s the part of me that responded. I’m not going to be doing a transcript of her talk just a sharp point and how it applies to me.

While it may seem obvious to some of you, Lin (I’m not sure if I should show proper respect and call her Ms. Oliver or call her has I feel she spoke to me: as a friend. I’m going to opt for friend unless told otherwise!) said that the first thing from her point of view was to define myself as a professional.

It means that rather than thinking that I’m doing a hobby, I AM a writer. I’m not sure I can shade the distinction, but I’ll try to use an analogy from my life as a classroom teacher.

I’ve always believed that teachers are born and not made. You can see it in kids who, when someone says, “How’d you do that?” they get down on their knees and show exactly how they threw that curve ball, made that kite, caught that fish or blocked that soccer ball. Then they position their students and drill until the other kids pick up the new skill. Even at 10 years old, THAT’S being a teacher. A BS or MS is just a formality. In 27 years of experience, I’ve seen teachers whose degree is a lie – they should have said they were a car salesperson and saved everyone the hassle. I’ve also seen car salespeople who are teachers and shudder to think what the world has missed out on.

Lin says that I should define myself as a writer. Not “think” I’m a writer. Not “believe” I’m a writer. I am to place the word “writer” in the dictionary of my mind and after it put a picture of ME.

What a shocking, delightful thought!

November 16, 2008

SLICE OF PIE: One Book Wonders and How To Avoid Them

Not reading them – BECOMING them.

When I first started my search for fantasy and science fiction “one-book-wonders” (authors who wrote a single novel then either stopped writing SF/F or dropped out of sight for extended periods – OBWs from here on out) I couldn’t find much specific to the field.

But I DID stumble across a discussion on SF author John Scalzi’s blog (here http://whatever.scalzi.com/2008/03/03/one-hit-lit/ ) and it launched me into a spiral of thought. With names like Barry Hughart, Walter M. Miller, Jr., Tom Godwin, George R. Stewart, Bruce Bethke (sorry, my friend), Daniel Keyes, Alexi Panshin and Jeffery Kooistra – not to mention Harper Lee, Margaret Mitchell, Emily Bronte, Ralph Ellison, John Kennedy Toole and H.D. Salinger – I started to wonder if being a OBW was prerequisite to being remembered for all time.

Think of it – where would be without BRIDGE OF BIRDS or CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ or “The Cold Equations”? “Frankly Scarlett, I don’t give a damn,” would have no meaning today if it weren’t for Mitchell’s GONE WITH THE WIND and in Minnesota, generations of suburban ninth graders would have remained totally ignorant of racism without TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

More than the cultural reflections though, this tweaked me to wonder what all of these might have had in common that led them to such an exalted status. That consideration led to a couple other thoughts: there are some people who were OBFs – one-book failures. These people wrote a book that some editor and publisher loved…but no one else did. They disappeared and sadly or gladly remain unlamented. What was the difference?

My thoughts:

1) OBWs said something new in a way it had never been said before. It was not an accident. I KNOW no one writes a book to fail, but anyone who claims to be a writer knows when their work goes beyond the edges of the imagination explored by others and these books made their writers afraid.

2) OBFs most likely tried to pander; ‘catch the wave’ or they just weren’t paying close attention to the world around them. Worse, their writers perhaps worked simply to pay the bills rather than “say something”. Other OBFs failed for that very reason: they tried to “say something” and weren’t subtle enough.

3) OBWs said what they needed to say and were done with it. They didn’t try to make their works An Important Literary Series. In fact, I can’t think of any series but THE HOBBIT/LORD OF THE RINGS that went on to become a literary classic in the way TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD or FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON did.

4) The advice of the OBW? Work hard to say what you need to say and frame it in a way no one has ever done before.

November 9, 2008

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: One Reason We May Love Fantasy More Than Reality

I recently finished the fantasy classic, WAR FOR THE OAKS by Emma Bull (1987). A marvelous read – the more fun because my parents, brothers, sisters, wife and in-laws all grew up in various parts of Minneapolis and I knew most of the places where the battles took place – the assumptions of virtually all fantasy writers crystallized some thoughts floating around in my head.

The quote that started it all: “The message of the [brownie] clean apartment, the bread, the mended jacket was, ‘The irritants are gone, the mundane details are taken care of. The important matters are left to you.” This is as clear a definition of faerie stories as I’ve ever heard. I do not doubt that C.S. Lewis, Philip Pullman and J.R.R. Tolkien would have agreed wholeheartedly.

However…

The message of a life in Christ is exactly the opposite. The quote above might be re-written: “The message of cleaning house, baking bread and mending jackets was, ‘The irritants are here, you need to take care of the mundane details. The important matters are given to Jesus Christ.'”

I think this is why we love fantasy – WE, the mundane, mortal hobbits, Pevensies, Eddi McCandrys, Thomas Covenants, Lyra Belacquas and Despereaux Tillings – can play a decisive role in what happens in the world and universe at large. Great events depend from the lives, thoughts and actions of small people.

But the facts speak loudly otherwise. Even the great are mostly forgotten and the reality we live seems at times short and desperate. Who REALLY “Remembers the Alamo”? Is the “day that will live in infamy” still living there or has it been moved out by more horrible days – or was it evicted in September of 2001 or by some other newer event?

The message of the Gospel is that while we must deal with the mundane, God has taken care of the important matters once and for all.

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” I Peter 5:6-7

November 2, 2008

WRITING ADVICE: A PARABLE – “[A] story…[that] teaches…without…a lecture.”

In the November 2006 issue of THE WRITER, John K. Borchardt made the point above in his article, “Harness the Power of Metaphors”. I’d like to expand on that a bit today.

One of the fifty-eight parables of Jesus is The Prodigal Son.

One of Aesop’s thirty-five fables is The Tortoise and the Hare.

Summarize both and think of one situation you’ve either experienced yourself or seen reflected in a movie, expanding on the fable or parable above.

There is a collection of FORDYCE’S SERMONS.

There is the EGYPTIAN BOOK OF THE DEAD.

Summarize both and think of one situation you’ve either experienced yourself or seen reflected in a movie, expanding on one of the books above.

The moral of this story is: write short, write powerful.

October 26, 2008

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Genetic Engineering and Jesus – Will “They” Be Human?

A few years ago, I sent Stan Schmidt, editor at ANALOG, a short story that took place in the clouds of a gas giant called (at the time) Jordan. It was all about a sort of “underground railroad” that freed profoundly genetically engineered humans from a slavery that saw them as manufactured goods and thereby not human.

One of the characters commented that HE was human, even though he’d clearly been genetically engineered at least a little. The other character asked what made him think he was human. The first replied, “I have over 65% unaltered human DNA!”

Stan didn’t buy the story, but he did comment that he found the idea of a society in which an arbitrary amount of unaltered DNA determined whether or not one was considered human – to be chilling.

Since then, I’ve done a bit of world building and written two stories in the skies of the gas giant now named River, in which I address this concept. But it got me to thinking – what is that defines “human” and specifically, is there a point at which a genetically engineered person is no longer human? Finally, this led me to speculate on my main question: did Jesus die for the sins of humans who have been profoundly genetically engineered?

Let me try an analogy, first. Let’s look at those who have been medically engineered: every person reading this has been medically engineered to some degree, whether we have taken aspirin or had a quadruple coronary bypass. We have been changed from our “original” or “natural” form, however slightly. No one has ever suggested that I am no longer human – though I have had shoulder repair, an umbilical hernia repair and my tonsils removed.

Second case: my mom. She has a pacemaker implant, two artificial hips and two artificial knees. Is she still human? I’ve never heard anyone suggest that she is not – though we do call her our Bionic Mom sometimes. ;-)

Third: a friend of mine works for a company that manufactures insulin pumps – both external and internal. People that use these are called diabetics – but are still human.

Let us now create a hypothetical composite: this person takes medication to control cholesterol, high blood pressure, and a thyroid deficiency; they have had both shoulders, both knees and both hips replaced, wear a pacemaker, have artificially implanted eye lenses, wear hearing aids and an insulin pump – and use Rogaine (with monoxidil) and Viagra. In addition, they also have dialysis treatments once a month and use an inhaler for asthma as well as a motorized wheelchair occasionally. Is this person human? Some might argue QUALITY of life, but none I know of would argue their humanity.

The next step is obvious: the correction of typically debilitating genetic defects, the demise of which few would decry – cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, sickle cell anemia, Down syndrome and breast cancer. Are the corrected individuals human? A question, but my guess is that no one would deny their humanity and would rather celebrate their life.

After that is the slippery slope of greater correction that will, ALMOST inevitably, lead to the question of whether or not we should improve the species. Here is where medical ethicists will “earn their pay” so-to-speak, and it will be a new frontier for endless debate.

But the next step is what concerns me – but not for the reason some of you will assume.

What concerns me is that those who are improved will be ostracized despite the fact that Jesus Himself was the object of profound genetic manipulation by the Father God. He is, in His own words, immortal. He was never, as far as Scripture goes, sick in any way – though he consistently and regularly touched and lived with the ill. Clearly, His immune system was resilient far beyond human because He touched lepers and never came down with leprosy. Jesus, the Son of God was biologically only HALF-human, if you want to be particular about it.

So – when the future arrives and we meet profoundly genetically engineered humans, we need only look to our Lord to see how they should be treated: with loving care, deep reverence and just like anyone else. That’s how Jesus lived for 33 years of His life. Will He love them, did He die for their sins and should we embrace them in the Church? Without hesitation – because He was first in a wave that has yet to crest, but will most likely hit the Church’s beach by the next turn of the century.

October 19, 2008

Number of Hits = N + 867 -->

My counter froze at 867. So the number displayed is + 867. (If anyone knows how to fix it -- let me know!)

Slice of PIE: Rich Man, Poor Man, eBook Man, Sheaf…

When I bring this up, some people seem to misunderstand what I’m asking, they deliberately misunderstand or ignore the question – so I thought I might take a moment to see if I could clarify myself.

How will the eBook “revolution” affect the poor? Tangent to that, if eBooks hold sway, will reading become something only a person who can afford an eBook reader can do?

There is already a gap between those who read and can afford to either buy books or take them out from the library – which is “free” (Free libraries posit an economy of surplus). It’s just that the discussions among writers, agents, and publishers seem to EXclude everyone but those who read in the developed world.

Hmmm…I don’t know if I’m making myself clear even to me, so let me try again: many people seem to be saying that eBooks will eventually be the most common way to get new books. The Kindle appears to be a hit (http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/05/14/amazon-may-sell-750-million-in-kindles-by-2010-thats-a-lot-of-kindles/ ) and a lot of chatter on blogs and websites I read seems to agree that eBooks will eventually be IT. My question: what about readers in developing countries?

Right now, paper books are scarce enough in developing countries. When I was in Nigeria, Cameroun and Liberia, books weren’t available there the way they are here. There were no B. Daltons, Waldenbooks, or Borders Books, and certainly, in 1983, Barnes and Noble didn’t have a Lagos store. I did read ROOTS, THE FAR PAVILIONS, THE THORN BIRDS, ON THE BEACH and CENTENNIAL, but I picked them up off the bed stands of mission stations where they were warm, dusty, dog-eared and slightly yellowing at the edges -- but still readable. Schoolbooks in most places were shipped in from the UK or the US or Australia or Canada and were typically second hand at best, but lovingly cared for, pored over and passed on.

What will it be like if the wave of eBooks washes over the developed world and books old and new require an expensive reader using even more expensive batteries that require an even MORE expensive power plant to generate power to recharge from? Even with solar cells…well, my observation has always been that the more complex a bit of technology becomes, the more likely it is going to be difficult to fix if it breaks. Once our Kindles are dead, we’ll toss them away along with whatever novels or textbooks were stored in them. I doubt there’ll be a collection point for used Kindles that will be recharged, reloaded with books, boxed up and shipped to developing countries.

More likely, the developed world will continue to develop as it always has…and the developing world will stop dead in its tracks…at least as far as reading goes.

Anyone out there offering a brighter scenario will be gladly believed!

October 12, 2008

WRITING ADVICE: A First Report on the Flash Fiction Experiment

For the better part of a year, I've used my blog to field-test characters, situations and plots of novels I'm in different stages of writing. Each one has a different place in my "future publications" queue.

I'd never tried my hand a flash fiction before, so I did a bit of research -- if you're interested in a recap, I wrote about flashfic in July http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2008/07/writing-advice-absolutely-basic-flash.html
Google "flash fiction" and you'll get some 800,000 entries. Genie in ALADDIN has the perfect word picture for flashfic: "Phenomenal cosmic powers; itty bitty living space!"

I've asked people on my regular "blog-alert" list to read and comment on whichever flashfic series interested them. I've created three worlds where I explore the relationship of the people who live there and the events that take place there:

HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: Humans have finished an asteroid spacecraft whose mission is to deeply explore the Solar System with a crew of over 2000 and Ruby Marcillon as one of its captains. But there's also a secret mission: something happened sixty-five million years ago and evidence from debris on Earth, the Moon, Mercury and in the rings of Saturn clearly points to alien invasion. Emerald Marcillon's parents discovered much, much more than evidence in the Chicxulub crater -- and are murdered for it by a knife-footed spider robot that may be the last survivor of those invaders and whose ultimate goal is the genocide of Humanity.

THREAT OF MAGIC: Filled with strange life forms, Heartland had Technology that once made a life of peace and plenty for most. But self-proclaimed Wizard Qii wants nothing to do with Tech -- it doesn't make for good serfs -- and is using Magic to overthrow it. Kids from our world are leaking into Heartland and the Light Maker will join them to defeat the threat of Magic.

THIRTEEN SQUARE MILES: The pastor and sometimes odd members of an evangelical Christian church serve one another and their decidedly and wildly varied community rather than send full tithe and offerings to their Regional ruling body. When their official membership drops while attendance grows, that body threatens to close the church unless they toe the line.

The results? The Bransford Plots you see above (To see the genesis of a Bransford Plot -- see http://nathanbransford.blogspot.com/2008/06/do-you-have-plot.html) came out of the necessity of seeing to it that there was an overarching theme that each piece in each story line could hang from.

Twenty-two pieces of flash fiction are another result. Also -- though few people post comments on the flashfic, LOTS of people email me directly or talk to me face-to-face. The feedback has been excellent and has given me grist ("a term for milled grain") from the writer's mill!

Following a (to me) grueling schedule of flashfic on Thursdays and essays on Sunday has been good for my plotting mind. It's also made me produce when I'd rather putter.

Finally, I feel that I am much, much better at producing usable fiction. I actually LIKE several of the pieces and feel a sense of pride at producing them.

So -- for a first report, I'd say that writing flashfic in three different worlds has been a success!

What do you think?

October 5, 2008

A Slice of PIE: “2010”, “CONTACT”, “MISSION TO MARS”: Finding Ourselves “Out There”

Let me say first that I love these movies. I use each one in some format for a summer school class I teach to young people called ALIEN WORLDS. They’re powerful, well done, visually exciting and well-acted. In each one, it’s clear that Humanity is pushing into space, bent on going as far is it can go and finding whatever is out there. Despite the words of Buzz Aldrin, former Apollo astronaut that TV (and movie, I imagine) science fiction has killed the interest of young people in the space program (http://www.scifi.com/scifiwire/index.php?id=57491), I can attest that when I use these DVDs in my classroom, I get INTEREST rather than boredom.

But in addition to having the obvious Alien Worlds message, for me these three movies also have another meaning: we can’t find anything worth “worshipping” here, so it must be Out There.

In “2010”, we find that Humanity has been guided to intelligence from apehood, by the unknown builders of the black monolith and that our next step in evolution is just around the metaphysical corner. In “Contact”, mysterious aliens send plans to construct a machine that has unknown potential whose sole purpose is to bring one human out to speak with a super-powerful alien who encourages her and all Humanity in our evolution to become part of a vast, intergalactic union. “Mission To Mars” proves that the “fringe element” is right – the Face on Mars was left by aliens – or are they aliens? The key to opening the Face is human DNA and one person is invited to come visit the super-powerful ancestors of Humanity to find out what’s in store for us.

For me, all three movies assume that God is no longer a viable source of motivation, comfort, and guidance for Humanity. In short, God is dead. HOWEVER, there is also a belief that secular Humanity needs something more than its local “self”. We need to know that we have been purposefully evolved by advanced aliens; we are almost evolved enough to join everyone else; our ancestors lie “out there”. If only we can contact someone else, we’ll find our true selves.

We can find ourselves Out There. While you won’t find this purpose stated in the American, Russian, European or Chinese space mission books, it seems to me that it is a small element in our fascination with space.

As a Christian science fiction reader and watcher, I’d just like to say that I have already found my “self” in God. Deuteronomy 4:29 – “But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Scripture is pretty clear – He’s here. All we need to do is look and we’ll find Him. Right here.

September 28, 2008

PIE: FEDERATION ASSIMILATES BORG!

The Borg have creeped me out from day one. But it’s become more than just the creepiness of a TV show. There is a startling bit of the Borg right around some corner you’re likely to turn next week.

When someone with a Bluetooth in their ear turns toward me and sweeps me with that little blue light, I get the chills. They make me think of a proto-Borg:

http://www.ebb.org/bkuhn/random-info/locutus-of-borg.jpg

http://eyeglasses365.com/uploaded_images/bluetooth-headsets-and-eyeglasses-785764.jpg

Though I don’t remember seeing Bluetooths when STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and the Borg premiered in 1987, they seem to be an echo of the idea of the Borg. A Bluetooth phone may not be permanently implanted like an insulin pump, artificial hip or a pacemaker – but how far away can that day be?

The Borg slogan, “Resistance is futile” – unemotional and mechanical – was chilling. The Borg seemed to tap into a deeply held fear of technophillic America – that our technology, in particular our electronics, might overwhelm us and change us into monsters. It seems that the physical integration of devices into our bodies is the next step and that resistance is futile.

Most people reading this know the ST story line: the Borg appeared, unstoppable. But through interaction with Humans who set them free to be self-determining individuals, the Borg were defeated and enabled to retake their “humanity”. Despite the technological, mental, military and organizational advantages of the Borg collective, the flesh-and-blood Federation (in the form of Admiral and Captain Janeway) defeated the Borg. Even though vastly more advanced civilizations like the one Guinan belonged to, fell before them and were assimilated, the Human-led Federation prevailed. How could that happen? What quality did Humans possess that allowed them to succeed where others had failed miserably? What was it that allowed the Federation to emerge victorious over the Borg when so many others failed? ST never tells us.

Life’s triumph over Mechanism in ST is a hopeful message. We hope that we can control our technology, to prevent it from overwhelming the “Human virtues” of love, self-determination, individuality, faith in a higher being, reproduction and the appreciation of art and beauty. Certainly, the Federation’s triumph over the Borg points to the hope that we can overcome the temptation to efficiency and remain Human still.

But is it reasonable that we will be able to prevent ourselves from becoming proto-Borg? My son is working to become a paramedic. The range of technological devices he has at his fingertips is amazing and the real – technological tools in the average 21st Century emergency room are unmatched even by the special effects glitz of a high definition doctor show. Americans have become dependent on external technology. Are we in danger of internalizing our electronics as the ultimate in efficiency? Are we on the way to becoming real-life proto-Borg? Only time will tell. It might be good to keep this clip of the Borg firmly in mind as we wend our way into the future so that we might avoid becoming Borg ourselves and make sure we find that undefined “thing” that allowed the Federation to assimilate the Borg: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZEJ4OJTgg8&feature=related

September 22, 2008

PIE: The Myth Busted...

After long consideration, reading and researching, I am retracting my previous article on the myth of global warming.

As well, I suggest all concerned Christians should visit this site and act on the advice of the Evangelical Climate Initiative:

http://christiansandclimate.org/

September 21, 2008

WRITING ADVICE: Write Like A Shark



Two years ago, stuck less than half way through a SF novel I’d started writing three years earlier than THAT, I ran across an article in the January 2006 issue of THE WRITER. Kelly James-Enger exhorted me to “Get your novel written in 3 drafts”.

Glancing at my stalled book, I read the short, sweet article.

Stunned by its three simple steps, I plunged back into INVADER’S GUILT and finished the 500 page, 150,000-word behemoth in less than six months. I wrote a couple of short stories as well and then started a YA novel sparked by an agent’s comment rejecting a MG novel: “While I really liked your informative (and flattering) query letter, I did think this project was lacking the edge and tone of YA.”

My response – not to him, but to myself – and James-Enger’s exhortation, spurred me to dive into VICTORY OF FISTS and write it through to the end without a break in twelve months. (I write mostly on weekends and during my four weeks of summer vacation. I am a teacher…and “No, I’ve never ‘taken the summer off’ – I’ve worked one or more other jobs for twenty-seven years.”) I am now working to pare INVADER’S GUILT down to a saleable 100,000 words. I will begin editing my first draft of VICTORY OF FISTS in a few weeks with the target date of submitting it to the agent whose comment sparked the book in January of 2009.

Kelly James-Enger’s advice was profound:

1) Draft 1: Write like a shark
2) Draft 2: The big cleanup
3) Draft 3: Where every word counts

I found myself a picture of a great white shark.
Why a shark? A somewhat obscure fact is that most shark species must keep moving so that oxygenated water flows over their gills. They can’t “pump water” like a goldfish does. If they don’t move forward – they die.

The analogy is clear to me: if I don’t keep writing the story…it will die. INVADER’S GUILT was dead and Kelly James-Enger saved its life. Now let’s see if I can clean it up and sell that…puppy. (Another little-known shark fact is that baby sharks are called “pups”.)

September 14, 2008

A SLICE OF PIE: SF Based On Real S

We all love them: stories celebrated as SF that aren’t based on “real science”. I realize that “real science” is a slippery concept – but I think that there are some sciences that are more…likely than others.

For example, John W. Campbell was a well-known proponent of psi powers. I avidly read the “Telzey” stories of James H. Schmitz in ANALOG in the early 70’s, when I first started reading the magazine (“The Telzey Toy” was the one I remember best). The early 21st Century has revealed true wonders of the human mind, for example, the discovery that adolescents are IN FACT crazy some of the time. (http://harvardmagazine.com/2008/09/the-teen-brain.html) But we haven’t yet been able to verify that true telekinesis or telepathy exist.

Likewise, H. Beam Piper’s marvelous works enthralled me when I was young (and old) but while an interpretation of quantum mechanics might allow for his fictional “Paratime” stories to exist in alternate timelines, they are, at the heart of them, scientifically unlikely. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everett_many-worlds_interpretation)

Humaniform robots with transhuman intelligence have been a staple of SF since Karl ńĆapek introduced the word “robot” in his 1921 play, R.U.R. Isaac Asimov carried the idea to its logical conclusion creating a robot detective indistinguishable from a human in the person of R. Daneel Olivaw. Even so, practical Artificial Intelligence (AI) with a human-sized cranium and human-style mobility seems to have a number of very difficult hurdles to leap, leaving me to think that if it is not unlikely, then it is a very, very long way into the future. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_intelligence

While I won’t stop reading SF and I’ve given the “mundane SF” sub-genre a try, I’d still like to see even more SF based on “real science” and the collision of real people and their real beliefs (you know which ones) with that science in a realistic, thoughtful way with biases suppressed and imagination alive.

September 13, 2008

Sorry...Sorry...Sorry

The first week of school hit...somewhat like a hurricane.

It threw me off balance, so I missed my Thursday post. I'll do it later today as well as getting Sunday's post ready!

Guy

September 7, 2008

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: The Scientific Myth of Man As The Cause Of Global Warming And Cooling

Humans did not cause global warming (or cooling), we’re just desperately wishing that we did.

In the same way, there is nothing we can do to STOP the climate from changing. (Note: I said nothing about resource depletion, air and water pollution or overpopulation. We can and should act to increase recycling, cease and desist TOXIC emissions and reduce population before the Gang of Four pays us a visit.)

Some facts:

1) Surface of Earth is 500,000,000 square kilometers

2) 29% of Earth’s surface is land (150,000,000 square kilometers)

3) Of that 29%, humans inhabit roughly 80% (118,000,000 square kilometers) – a bit over 1/5 of the Earth’s surface

4) “83 percent of the total land surface and 98 percent of the areas where it is possible to grow the world's three main crops—rice, wheat, and maize—is directly influenced by human activities.” (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/10/1025_021025_HumanFootprint.html)
5) “A UN forecast released last week reports that half of all humans will live in urban areas by the end of the year—and 70 percent by 2050—even though cities occupy only about 3 percent of Earth's land surface.” http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/03/080313-cities.html)

6) “Some argue that human interaction poses less of a threat to our atmosphere than do natural processes, like volcanic eruptions.” (http://www.geology.sdsu.edu/how_volcanoes_work/climate_effects.html)

7) "Ignoring anthropogenic and other possible sources of variation acting at frequencies higher than one cycle per 19,000 years, this model predicts that the long-term cooling trend which began some 6,000 years ago will continue for the next 23,000 years."[9] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milankovitch_cycles)

8) “Astronaut Andy Thomas wrote about what you can see from orbit while aboard the Russian space station Mir: "Evidence of human habitation is visible from low Earth orbit. Cities can be seen, although, surprisingly, they do not stand out readily. But we can make out their grid-like patterns of streets. In remote areas, certain roads and railway lines can be seen as faint lines across the Earth, such as the road through the rain forests of Brazil, and the long straight railway line crossing south western Australia, but generally these are too small to make out clearly. The fencing off of farm land into individual fields can also be made out, particularly in the Midwest of the U.S. and Canada. There is even one area in South America where they alternate their growing cycles on adjacent fields, giving rise to a very obvious checkerboard pattern. Of course, national boundaries do not stand out by themselves as on a map, but some national boundaries can be seen where there are different land usage policies in effect on each side of a border, giving rise to different surface texture or color. In this way, the southern border of Israel can be made out, as can part of the division between the U.S. and Canada. The stories about the Great Wall of China being visible from space may be true, but I have yet to see it." But from the Moon? No. Astronaut and moonwalker Alan Bean said "The only thing you can see from the moon is a beautiful sphere, mostly white (clouds), some blue (ocean), patches of yellow (deserts), and every once in a while some green vegetation. No man-made object is visible on this scale. In fact, when first leaving earth's orbit and only a few thousand miles away, no man-made object is visible at that point either."” (http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/4411/faq-c.htm)

My thought is that rational science seeks to remove Man from a place of importance in the universe. Theologians declare that God is dead. Psychotherapists determine him to be a either a coping mechanism (aka “a crutch”) or a figment of our collective unconscious imagination. Genetics tells us that each individual is an accident. Astronomers show us pictures proving that Sol is insignificant in the universe. Cosmologists create calendars that prove that human existence is unnoticeable on an intergalactic scale. Astronauts verify that nothing of humanity is evident from the Moon. Behaviorists show that without a doubt, we are nothing more than naked apes.

As there is no more God, He cannot love us and we are no longer His special creation. Therefore, Human existence is meaningless.

I think that this inevitable conclusion bugged scientists enough that they felt it necessary to create something like God. Thus was born the Scientific Myth of Man As The Cause Of Global Warming/Cooling. I have no trouble with the measurable fact of global warming and cooling. Global warming is part of a long cyclic process that will change direction in about 15,000 years. As a cycle that spans tens of thousands of years, it has neither been helped nor hindered by Humanity. However, the devout belief of Man As The Cause Of Global Warming/Cooling and it’s corollary: Man Can Stop Global Warming/Cooling seems like it should be significant. It is not. As any scientist who has questioned Global Warming/Cooling has discovered, the belief that we can “stop” Global Warming/Cooling is as elaborate and as useless a coping mechanism (or a figment of our collective unconscious) as the former Belief In A Loving Creator Who Sent His Son To Die For Our Sins.

Succinctly: I have seen and reviewed evidence of global warming and cooling and I agree that it is taking place. I do not believe in Global Warming/Cooling.

August 31, 2008

WRITING ADVICE: Reflections on Writing a Series


It seems, friends, that Series Sell!

And why not? I enjoy series books. I like the security of going back to the same place, seeing the same people and experiencing a comfortable, comforting read with few real surprises.

Most people can spout off any number of series they’ve enjoyed: DRAGONRIDERS OF PERN (McCaffrey), CHRONICLES OF NARNIA (Lewis), HARRY POTTER (Rowling), MITFORD (Karon), THE UPLIFT UNIVERSE (Brin), SPECIES IMPERATIVE (Czerneda), ATEVI books (Cherryh), MILES VORKOSIGAN (McMasters Bujold)…I could go on.

But how can I write a series? Luc Reid, an online friend of mine, has this to say about series: “…both in terms of pleasing readers and pleasing a potential publisher--doing both things: leaving enough open at the end of the story that there's plenty of room for a sequel, but providing a full and satisfying resolution to immediate events. For instance, in The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman ends the main character's quest to save her friend and resolves major questions, bringing her to climactic scenes with several characters and resolving major subplots, but also ends with a new and surprising turn that doesn't provide any specific plotline but definitely whets the appetite and tweaks the curiosity.”

I will be embarking on a series of YA novels that take place on an asteroid-sized spacecraft exploring the Solar System. While that may be interesting, I also needed a storyline to carry the series. The storyline has to be the “arch” from which the other stories depend (NOTE THE "EXAMPLE" ABOVE!)

For example, in C. S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, the “arch” from which the other stories depend is Aslan’s salvation plan for Narnia. In the ATEVI series of C.J. Cherryh, the “arch” from which the novels depend is Humanity’s minority integration into a majority alien society. So the “arch” from which the novels of HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES depend will be the discovery and defeat of an alien intelligence older than Humanity. Every novel in the series will have characters and problems that become more complicated and are finally resolved, but there will also be characters and problems that will NOT be resolved until the last book.

I think that this is what makes an enduring, attractive and ultimately satisfying series. I hope HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES draws others the way the VORKOSIGAN SAGA has drawn me!

August 24, 2008

Slice of PIE: “By Schism Rent Asunder” – Giving Credit Where Credit is Due and Stuff That Bugs Me About David Weber’s “Off Armageddon Reef”

In an interview with SciFi.com, David Weber says that if I read “Off Armageddon Reef” as an anti-religion book, it “would be a mistake”. My question is, “How so?” (This is hardly a vehement denial, I notice.) I think it IS anti-religion. I offer my arguments below:

He says that his beef is with “any ideology or belief structure [created] to manipulate, control and coerce. In the case of Safehold, it's religion; it could have been communism, fascism or any other brand of authoritarianism or totalitarianism.” The other question I have is: WHY didn’t he use communism, fascism or any other brand…? Herbert (DUNE) and Cherryh (THE FADED SUN) took on organized religion in effective and memorable ways. For Weber, fascism might have been amusing – consumerism perhaps even more so (care to argue the point that consumerism isn't totalitarian? =)

My answers: Bashing Christianity is popular and nicely acceptable by most people who read SF. Creating the Church of God Awaiting is a cash-generating way to get back at the Church for whatever perceived or actual wrongs it has committed and have Publishers Weekly proclaim it “Engrossing…”

But the REAL thing that set me off on Weber’s book is the non-attribution of the second and third books in the trilogy: “By Schism Rent Asunder” and “By Heresies Distressed”. Those who are familiar with old Christian hymns recognize these lines as coming from verse three of the 1866 hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation” by Samuel John Stone. On GOOGLE, the hymn that the titles were taken from is not mentioned until the 50th entry. Has he made an assumption here that "orgainized religio"us people won't read his books? I’d paged through the new “Schism” in a B&N, but I checked today to make sure: nowhere in “Schism” does Dave Weber acknowledge that he lifted the titles from a Christian hymn, whose FIRST line is “The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord”.

I would suggest that this use without attribution in books whose premise is anti-religious is disingenuous at best. A simple note at the beginning or in the indicia would have helped me back away from making the “mistake” of reading Dave Weber’s books as attacks on the Christian Church (By the way, I don’t believe he’s attacking “organized religion” as he claims. These books are full of saints, angels, organ music, hymn singing, and priests – there’s not a Buddhist, Hindu or Shinto tradition in the lot. So what other organized religion is being held up for critical scrutiny here?)

Last of all, on page 251 (Tor paperback), Weber states, through the “compassionate, caring” voice of Bishop Maikel: “…that to truly know God, they must find him in themselves and the daily lives they live.” This confirms in the mind of readers that TRUE religion is all about us finding god in ourselves. That’s the gospel that Dave Weber is clearly preaching in his massive trilogy. Oddly enough, the Bible was ready for this because Paul wrote to one of his disciples in 2 Timothy 3:5 (CEV): “Even though they will make a show of being religious, their religion won't be real. Don't have anything to do with such people."

As I am not Muslim, Shinto, Buddhist, Hindu or Jew, I cannot speak with authority for them. I can speak with a bit more authority for Christianity. While books have been written reflecting Christian thought on religion, contemporary Christianity is STILL all about God coming down to Earth and saving me. No amount of striving on my part will get me to heaven – that’s what God did simply because He loved the people of Earth so much.

And THAT about sums it up for me.

August 17, 2008

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Star Wars® Is Dead

I’m not the only one who will be skipping the latest entry to the Star Wars Empire.

Lots of people, especially those who actually stood in lines two blocks long for three hours to see the ACTUAL (and I am shamelessly and intentionally using this number) Star Wars Episode One, are not even going to bother with STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS. And it’s not because it’s an animated film (OK, OK, a film whose images are entirely computer generated is not “animated” in the classic sense). It’s not because we’re not interested in what happened during the Clone Wars. It’s not because it seems like Lucas is out to make yet another buck by dragging into the Empire a generation birthed with TOY STORY, MONSTER’S INC. and SHREK.

It’s because there’s nothing there any more.

The first SW was born into a recession, the Energy Crisis and America’s waning world influence. I went to see Luke, Leia, Han and Chewy because I wanted to escape – sheesh, I was barely nineteen and I wanted out of the world of Gray and into a world where everything was black and white: good guys over here (cheer for them), bad guys over there (boo for them). They were people with whom I could connect. They had heart. They had purpose. They made me FEEL that there was hope.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a founding member of Human Actors Only. I fell in love with Woody and Buzz and Mike Wazowski and Donkey. Those characters made me feel, too. But I felt nothing about young Anakin Skywalker except that he was painfully cute and was tugging so hard on my heartstrings that instead of making me weep because I felt his pain, he made me weep because HE was such a pain. When we got to the false Episode One, Star Wars had lost its heart and was just some movie that someone did about some characters that were vaguely related to the REAL Star Wars Episode One. Vacant and lifeless.

What about the argument that Star Wars will inspire hordes of people to read “real SF”, that’s something, isn’t it?

*(insert the alphabetic representation that Opus used to make for a raspberry sound)*

About all youngsters watching this newest branch of the Star Wars Empire will do is run out and buy the PSP game, play it for a week then move on. Few of those kids bother to read Star Wars novels let alone check out DUNE or even ON BASILISK STATION (though it’s easily available from Baen’s free online library).

So what am I saying? *harrumph* In plain language: Lucas’ latest offering is purposeless and proves only that Star Wars is DEAD. It no longer serves the purpose it was intended to serve: escape from a dreary real world of gray choices and gray people in gray situations.

Excuse me while I go watch PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN.

August 10, 2008

WRITING ADVICE: Character from Addiction & Grace

A year or so ago, I read a book called ADDICTION & GRACE: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions, by Gerald G. May, MD, Psychiatry in which May delineated how virtually anything could become an addiction and no amount of huffing and puffing (pardon the pun) on our part would "make us better".

While he himself, is a Christian, he draws both examples and advice from many spiritual traditions including Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, secular philosophy and psychotherapy. His ultimate conclusion is that we can do nothing alone -- we must become part of something larger than us. To find that "something", he urges us to explore the Spaciousness, that place in us that does NOT include our addictions and attachments. Once there, we will not only find it uncomfortable, but downright terrifying! But we will also find cleansing and freedom.

It occurred to me then, that this book might be a goldmine for me as a writer -- what more interesting quest could there be than a human stranded in an alien society who also has to deal with his attachment to (take your pick of attraction and aversion addictions):

(ATTRACTION) anger, being loved, eating, lying, marriage, music, popcorn, reading or winning...

(AVERSION) anger, being judged, independence, intimacy, people of different beliefs, slimy creatures, vulnerability

How might these addictions/attachments affect his or her performance of some critical duty among aliens? How might these addictions/attachments manifest themselves in an elf? (Are aliens and hobbits even SUBJECT to addictions or attachments? There's a story waiting to happen right there!)

Adding a layer of personal struggle to outward confusion has ALWAYS been the hallmark of great writing both mundane and speculative. Where would Toshio have been in David Brin's award-winning STARTIDE RISING if he hadn't been wrestling with self-worth and age issues? I'm currently reading OFF ARMAGEDDON REEF by David Weber (at the recommendation of a former student-now-friend) and the characters there not only have to deal with an alien race out to destroy them, but a colonial founder with an addiction to being loved AND an aversion to intimacy -- his solution? To make himself a god. His conflict formed an entire society which now must deal with the aftermath.

If you want a handy, slim book to spark character development, then skim through this one.

You won't be sorry.

August 3, 2008

A Slice of PIE: The LEFT BEHIND Store?!

Mass executions. Imprisonment and death by burning. Torture, murder, lies, fake IDs, website hacking, defiance of authority, and blasting the True Enemies Of God with Direct Energy Weapons.

All these and more, the Religious Right protests regularly when they appear in “secular” video games. All these and more, the Religious Right celebrates at an online store dedicated to books and movies that depict those very same things.

Non-Christians read the LEFT BEHIND© SERIES (if they bother at all as the writing itself is patchy at best, inept and intellectually insulting at worst) as SciFi (“At least they’re readin’ books sanctioned by Ja-heezus!” the farthest Right might claim.) and for some time now, Christians have been able to visit the LEFT BEHIND STORE http://www.faithcenteredresources.com/authors/tim-lahaye.asp to order all their tapes, books and DVDs to give to those heathens in their lives to make them converts to...well, I'm not sure what they'd convert to if their sole exposure to Christianity is these books. As well, the LaHaye cartel currently has a LEFT BEHIND 10th Anniversary edition which has “Special features in this commemorative issue include a full-color, pullout timeline with LaHaye's prophecy notes, behind-the-scenes commentary from Jenkins, and letters from readers whose lives have been changed by reading ‘Left Behind.’”

The Irreligious Left has every reason to be amused, affronted and horrified. The Christian Right should give pause to wonder, “Why should I buy ‘LaHaye’s prophecy notes’ when I have the original 'notes' in the Bible in my lap? What can Tim LaHaye tell me that Jesus and the Holy Spirit can’t? (In fact, the LEFT BEHIND books and products – in particular the “pullout timeline”, are in direct contradiction to Scripture. Matthew 24:36 says quite clearly: "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”)

With a combined 40,000,000 LEFT BEHIND books in print, [This represents a conservative, $320,000,000 spent by American Christians to purchase these works of dubious literary quality rather than sending their money to an organization like World Vision (http://www.worldvision.org/) where the cash might have done some real good.], these men and their LEFT BEHIND STORE have made a mockery not only of Christianity, but of Christian writing as well. Carol Balizet, in 1980 did the End Times thing in her book THE SEVEN LAST YEARS (http://www.amazon.com/Seven-Last-Years-Carol-Balizet/dp/0800791444) with economy, dignity and decidedly better writing (as well as a lot less open space on each page (grrrrrr)).

Novels featuring Christian characters that actually make a difference in the lives of the people they come in contact with – as opposed to murdering, lying to, hacking websites of, defying authority of, and blasting with DEWs and that have the respect of the non-Christian community – are out there. LORD OF THE RINGS, CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, C. S. Lewis’ SPACE TRILOGY, the works of GENE WOLFE, Connie Willis’ THE DOOMSDAY BOOK are just a few that have Christian characters in them who don’t blow people away in Jesus’ Holy Name.

And why don’t we hear about them?

Well, if you had over a quarter of a billion dollars to flash around, wouldn’t you hire the best publicists, too? (BTW, What’s a “prophecy product”?)

July 27, 2008

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Standards

One of the objections I hear leveled against Christianity is its exclusivity.

The argument runs something like this: “I can’t believe in a God who would throw people into hell just because they didn’t believe in Him/Her/It self. God is love and love covers a multitude of sins and lets everyone into heaven. There are multiple roads to heaven and trying to claim that Christianity is the ‘only’ way to get there is unacceptable to me as a reasoning individual.”

Reflecting on a recent encounter with this, I discovered a speculative fiction response:

Schmidt, Van Gelder, Williams, McCarthy, Schubert, Flint, VanderMeer, Campbell/Gordon and Cox are all names of magazine editors recognized and respected in science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction. These are perhaps the best-known editors of the “professional markets” for speculative fiction. (I’m sure I’ve missed a few. Please pardon my omissions.)

These men and women reject thousands of submitted manuscripts every year. Each magazine, whether online or paper, has a very particular set of parameters for what they consider publishable stories. These editors have clear standards of what counts as professional quality writing. While the exact likes, dislikes, standards and “flavor” of each editor are as different as the magazines they work to select stories for, all of them strive to choose stories that will create a clearly identifiable product. Stan Schmidt seeks “ANALOG stories”; Shawna McCarthy seeks “REALMS stories”. Each market has an unmistakable identity and while they are radically different, they are all “pro markets” for a spec fic writer’s work. These markets have clearly understood, near-universally accepted standards.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is an organization whose membership is made up of writers who have had three stories or one novel published by someone on the “pro” list. It is so exclusive that if you have three publications in what are considered “semi-pro” venues, you are not welcome as a full member of SFFWA. They have clearly delineated and published standards and if you do not meet the standards, then you cannot be a member.

Professional publication, mediated by professional editors and recognized by a professional organization is the “golden ring” of many, many spec fic writers. They attempt to write to the standards of professionalism espoused by these markets and SFFWA. Once they get their “three professional sales” – when they meet the standard – many join SFFWA. So when these professional editors reject a manuscript, people weep – whether in fact or metaphorically. They rail. They rant. They blog.

Some of the strongest objections to Christianity have come from these writers and while they accept and sometimes revel in the exclusivity of professional publication, they refuse to grant that God can have standards.

Imagine the protest if Gordon Van Gelder simply accepted every story that crossed his desk for F&SF. What if he decided that he would publish any story whose author went so far as to put their MS into the accepted format, on unlined paper with black ink and then mailed it with a SASE to his editorial attention? Such a writer would obviously be very sincere and deserve to get published, correct? Most professional writers would agree that that is ridiculous and would lead to the ruin of F&SF.

My argument is that if the prozines and SFFWA can have standards, then certainly God can have standards. Those who don’t like God’s standards can no more change those standards than I can change Sheila Williams’ standards. If I want to be published in ASIMOVS, I have to meet her editorial standards. If I want to get into heaven, I have to meet God’s standards: believe that I am a sinner, have broken God’s laws and deserve punishment for breaking the laws; believe that Jesus as God’s Son came to take my place for the punishment; and that when I acknowledge that He took my place, I can claim that salvation for myself.

God’s standards are no more or less exclusive than the ones I need to meet to make a pro sale and be a member of SFFWA. So what’s the problem?

July 20, 2008

WRITING ADVICE: Absolutely Basic Flash Fiction

Flash fiction is all the rage lately. Magazines, anthologies and ezines are devoted to it. I'm experimenting with it myself -- as you may have noticed with my short short stories in fictional worlds I've created HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES (= HEIRS), THREAT OF MAGIC (= THREAT) and THIRTEEN SQUARE MILES (= THIRTEEN). Some people seem to think that flash fiction (aka: short-short stories, sudden, postcard, minute, furious, fast, quick, skinny, and micro fiction) is a recent phenomenon. I'm here to say that it's a form as old as Christendom.

Flash fiction needs to meet several criteria -- you can link to a more complete discussion here:
http://www.writing-world.com/fiction/flash.shtml . However, it might be most easily summarized by saying that it is a complete story with a beginning, middle and end in less than a 1000 words.

Vignettes and scene descriptions, snatches of dialogue and story snapshots are NOT flash fiction. Each piece MUST have characters, setting, problem, complication and denouement and the entire story must use a thousand words or less.

This is difficult to do. But wait! Christians have been memorizing and passing flash fiction back and forth for over two millenia. We call the flash fiction of Jesus "parables". I talked about parables before (http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2008/06/possibly-irritating-essay-is-there-any.html ) and I maintain that while The Parable of the Sower and the Seed is certainly TRUE, it's not necessarily FACT. C.S. Lewis discusses the difference between something being "true" and something being a "fact" -- I can't find the reference right now -- I will and insert it here. So in its essence, the Sower and the Seed is true even though it is fiction. Therefore, it meets the criteria of being a piece of flash fiction and falls under the heading of "Kinds Of Long-Lasting Writing I Should Try And Copy".

All of the parables of Jesus had a clear beginning, middle and end. He was writing flash fiction WAY before it became a fad. I can take comfort in this as I try and work the bugs out of my magical (THREAT), alien (HEIRS) and mundane (THIRTEEN) worlds by writing flash fiction stories. (I had the thought today that I might try creating some parables in the worlds. You'll have to read the results and tell me what you think.)

So first things first: quit reading my blog and GO WRITE YOUR OWN STORIES!

July 13, 2008

A Slice of PIE: Oprah, THE SECRET, Rhonda Byrnes, PIE and Quantum Entanglement

What do Oprah, Australian television writer and producer, Rhonda Byrne, THE SECRET and “Christianity, faith, science fiction and writing” have to do with each other?

Oprah’s promotion of Byrne’s 2006 “self-help” book, THE SECRET on her talk show, helped lead the book to blockbuster status. For me, THE SECRET was “A story that immerses you in its detail so that as you are reading it you feel almost as if you were surrounded by a whole world of people, things, and events...” alpha.fdu.edu/~jbecker/americanlit/literaryterms-fiction.html).

Based on this, I’m going to classify THE SECRET as a novel. During Rhonda Byrne’s February 8, 2007 TV interview with Oprah, she also “defines The Secret as the law of attraction, which is the principle that ‘like attracts like.’ Rhonda calls it ‘the most powerful law in the universe,’ and says it is working all the time. ‘What we do is we attract into our lives the things we want, and that is based on what we're thinking and feeling,’ Rhonda says. The principle explains that we create our own circumstances by the choices we make in life. And the choices we make are fueled by our thoughts—which means our thoughts are the most powerful things we have here on earth.’” (http://www.oprah.com/spiritself/slide/20070208/ss_20070208_284_101.jhtml).

I was reading about quantum entanglement this morning. It’s a…“phenomenon in which the quantum states of two or more objects are linked together so that one object can no longer be adequately described without full mention of its counterpart — even though the individual objects may be spatially separated. This interconnection leads to correlations between observable physical properties of remote systems.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_entanglement

In my opinion, The Secret is fiction that Rhonda Byrnes cobbled together from sources purportedly 3500 years old then labeled it “the most powerful law in the universe”. This appellation suggests that The Secret supersedes the laws of gravity, light speed, entropy and motion. She is fiddling with science in a work of fiction. By definition, she has written science fiction.

If it’s SF she’s writing, I don’t think she’s gone far enough. If she’s going to talk about how our “thoughts” can alter physical reality, why use three-millenia-old mumbo-jumbo? Why not use the most obvious modern explanation: quantum entanglement? According to THE SECRET, we need only think and the universe will change to accommodate us – this happens of course, because when we “think” something, we alter the quantum states of the particles nearest to us. Because they are entangled with other particles, the states change there as well. By thinking positive, we change the spin of nearby quantum particles to reflect a more positive spin. As they spin positively, the particles that they are entangled with will begin to spin in a positive way, thereby increasing positive energy both near us and at other places. That much positive spin couldn’t help but begin to change physical things for us in a more positive direction. Right?

Ah yes, THE SECRET is so much easier to believe than that God loves us and sacrificed his only Son to take on the sins of the world – just so that we might live in His perfect will with his blessings forever.

******************

PS: On February 6, 2008, Oprah continued: “No matter any criticism for The Secret, Oprah says she still believes it's valuable. ‘I'm grateful that for so many millions of people the door was at least opened to the idea that we are each responsible for the quality of our lives,’ she says. ‘The Secret was really just the beginning.’" http://www.oprah.com/spiritself/slide/20080206/ss_20080206_284_101.jhtml

The beginning of WHAT?

July 6, 2008

WRITING ADVICE: The Divine Work of the Editor

Hebrews 12:2 says, “…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

God is the author (“the person who originates or gives existence to anything” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Author) of our faith (“to trust; to commit oneself to act based on self experience to warrant belief, but without absolute proof” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faith). He wrote our faith – our story. After Adam and Eve sinned, our faith, the story, was screwed up. God sent Jesus into the world to…edit…the story. Jesus came to save the story. We are the story and He is the Perfect Son. God created faith and Jesus is editing it to make it back into the perfect story.

As an author, I’ve created more than 400 manuscripts of various sorts from three line nature haiku to a 500-page hard science fiction novel. Once I’m done writing, I have to edit until it’s either ready to send out or I put it back in the drawer and leave it. As an author, I create; as an editor, I take on a “divine work” and try to make the story the best it can be. My intent is to write a story to share with others then edit the story so that it is good enough to send out into the world and share with readers.

The editor (“responsible for overall content of the paper, makes sure everything runs to plan and has the final say on what appears in the paper”image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Guardian/documents/2006/07/10/Resourcesforschools.doc) of a magazine or a publishing company takes up that “divine work” – they follow in the tread of Jesus, so to speak. They take on the responsibility to edit the work until it’s as perfect as it can be so that when it sees publication, it does what the author and editor intended it to do: make a difference in the world.

June 29, 2008

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Is There Any Difference Between Parables and Speculative Fiction?

I'm not one to pass on 21st techno-chain-letters. I am leery about the veracity of such things. On the other hand, the one I got recently, while it may not be literally "true", certainly has the earmarks of a classic, Jesus-type parable:

A parable is a brief, succinct story, in prose or verse, that illustrates a moral or religious lesson... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable

It was in poor shape when I got it, so I cleaned it up and I'm putting it here because parables are writing. Some people might consider them speculative ficition as well. And I KNOW some people find them irritating -- both Christian and non-Christian alike. I'd be interested in what anyone out there thinks of this:

"This will give you the chills...GOOD chills.

"A young man had been to Wednesday Night Bible Study. The pastor had shared about listening to God and obeying the Lord's voice. The young man couldn't help but wonder, “Does God still speak to people?”

"After the service, he went out with some friends for coffee and pie and they discussed the message. Several different ones talked about how God had led them in different ways. It was about ten o'clock when the young man started driving home. Sitting in his car, he began to pray, “God...If you still speak to people, speak to me. I will listen. I will do my best to obey.”

"As he drove down the main street of his town, he had the strangest thought to stop and buy a gallon of milk. He shook his head and said, “God is that you?” He didn't get a reply and started on toward home. But again, the thought came to him, “Buy a gallon of milk.” The young man thought about how the child Samuel, sleeping in the Temple with the Ark of the Covenant, didn’t realize that the voice of God was calling him. He ran three times to Eli, who finally recognized the call of God and told Samuel how to respond (1 Samuel 3:3-10).

"Speaking into the empty car, he said, “Okay, God, in case it’s you, I’ll buy the milk.” It didn't seem like a difficult test of obedience. He could always use the milk. He stopped and purchased the gallon of milk and started off toward home. As he passed Seventh Street, he felt the urge to turn down that street.

“This is crazy,” he thought, driving past the intersection. Again, he felt that he should turn down Seventh Street. At the next intersection, he slowed down and said, “Okay, God, I will.” He turned back and headed down Seventh.He drove several blocks, when suddenly, he felt like he should stop. He pulled over to the curb and looked around. He was in a semi- commercial area – not the best but not the worst of neighborhoods. The businesses were closed and most of the few houses looked dark – the people were probably already in bed. Again, he sensed something: “Go and give the milk to the people in the house across the street.”

"The young man looked at the house. It was dark and it looked like the people were either gone or they were already asleep. He started to open the door and then sat back in the car seat. He said, “Lord, this is insane. Those people are asleep and if I wake them up, they are going to be mad and I’ll look stupid.” Again, he felt like he should go and give them the milk. Finally, he opened the car door and said, “Okay God, if this is you, I’ll go to the door and I’ll give them the milk. If you want me to look like a crazy person, fine. I want to be obedient. I guess that will count for something, but if they don't answer right away, I’m out of here.”

"He walked across the street and rang the bell. He could hear some noise inside. A man's voice yelled, “Who is it? What do you want?” Then the door opened before the young man could get away. The man was standing in jeans and T-shirt, looking like he’d just gotten out of bed. He had a strange look on his face and he didn't seem too happy to have some stranger standing on his doorstep. “What is it?”

"The young man thrust out the gallon of milk, “Here, I brought this to you.” Without a word, the man took the milk and rushed down a hallway. A moment later, a woman carrying the milk walked toward him and turned in to the kitchen.

"The man followed her holding a baby. The baby was crying. So was the man. Tears streamed down his face. He said, half-speaking, half-crying, “We were just praying. We had some big bills this month and we ran out of money. We didn't have any milk for our baby. I was just praying and asking God to show me how to get some milk.

"His wife in the kitchen called out in broken English, “I ask him to send angel with some. Are you an angel?' The young man reached into his wallet and pulled out all the money he had on him and put in the man's hand. He turned and walked back toward his car, tears were streaming down his face. He knew that God still answers prayers.

"THIS IS A SIMPLE TEST.... If you believe that God is alive and well, send this to at least ten people and the person that sent it to you. This is so true. Sometimes it's the simplest things that God asks us to do that bless us if we are obedient to what He's asking. His voice more clear than ever. Please listen, and obey! It will bless you and the world – Phil 4:13. This is an easy test - you score 100 or zero. It's your choice. If you aren't ashamed to do this, please follow the directions. Jesus said, “If you are ashamed of me, I will be ashamed of you before my Father.”

"Not ashamed? Pass this on."