February 18, 2008

WRITING ADVICE: *UGH!* to Prescriptive Writing Books


That's my response to writing books that prescribe exact formulas and imply that This Time, You'll Make It. THIS is the way to Do It!

"It" of course is To Get Really Well Published.

So -- what's the difference between the book I checked out from the library this week on the subject of weekend novel writing and say:

FONDLING YOUR MUSE (by John Warner which is inspirationally hysterical),

BEGINNINGS, MIDDLES AND ENDS (by Nancy Kress which is gently instructive),

STEPHEN KING ON WRITING (which is bizarre and entertaining),

HOW TO WRITE SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY (by Orson Scott Card which is fundamentally meant to be underlined and dog-eared),

COMEDY WRITING SECRETS (by Melvin Herlitzer which is a sober study of why stuff is funny),

THE FIRST FIVE PAGES (by Noah Lukeman which was a startlingly sensible revelation),

WRITING THE BREAK OUT NOVEL (by Donald Maass which made me stop breathing once or twice in awe),

and ALIENS AND SOCIETIES (by Stanley Schmidt which is a permanent reference)?

I can put my finger right on it!

It's attitude.

The attitude of a writer is conveyed by the tone of the book. The tone is an outgrowth of the writer's personality (which might be a public persona or the Real McCoy). Personality determines if the writer heaves themselves up in front of a room of hopefuls who Need To Be Taught The Right Way To Write. Personality determines whether the writer slips up alongside you and points out the places you need to grow.

For me, attitude is the difference between a televangelist preaching to an electronic audience (anyone else see the irony here?) and a street missionary who, after you've done a neighborhood cleanup on Earth Day together, invites you out for a cuppa or a soda and asks why YOU came to clean up other people's trash and when you ask (knowing full well what's about to happen, but not minding 'cause they seem nice, if deluded), they tell you why they came.

The televangelist and the Right Way To Do It bug the heck out of me!

The street missionary and the hysterical, instructive, bizarre, dog-eared, sober, sensible, awe-inspiring and permanent I'm glad to listen to. Even though they are total strangers -- they seem like they CARE.

February 11, 2008


In this five part series, we’ve looked at what I’ve started to call…

The Four Gospels of Science Fiction

The First: Humanity can connect with a universal, non-personified force
The Second: Humanity is ultimately perfectible
The Third: Humanity can transcend its Humanity
The Fourth: Humanity will leave earth, its religion and philosophies behind

I think these gospels are both dangerous and actively promoted by the SF/scifi community.
The basis for this critical observation is Psalm 73:8-9: “They mock and speak wickedly of oppression. They speak from on high. They have set their mouths above the heavens and their tongues parade through all the earth.” I believe that many SF/scifi writers have set themselves up as the promoters of an “updated” form of religion that people find easier to swallow than Christianity. They do this through stories and movies. It’s easy to slip philosophy into SF/scifi. C. S. Lewis, himself a science fiction and fantasy writer said, “…any amount of theology can now be smuggled into people’s minds under the cover of romance [SF was known at first as “scientific romance”] without their knowing it.” (LETTERS OF C. S. LEWIS)

There is, however, one other possibility. Any mathematician has to grant that there is some probability – however infinitesimal – that Jesus will not only survive the trip off Earth, but that there might be other life Out There that believes that God’s Incarnate Son came to Earth so redeem sinful Humanity. Even so, before we reach those aliens, we’ll colonize near space, the Moon, Mars and the other planets, moons and perhaps even the atmosphere of Jupiter or Saturn. We will obviously have to answer some tough questions about the promulgation of our faith in the colonies and on the worlds of the Solar System. We will have to defend our requests and choices to commanders, administrators, councils, kings or presidents when they ask, “It costs money and materiel to make the crosses, provide air, give space and provide time for you to do something that gives no physical benefit to the colony. Why should I grant you a permit to start a Christian Church here? It provides no physical advantage to the colony and probably even promotes division among the people!” However, I think that those questions were already answered when Humans spread across Earth. The Church followed – and at times led – the exploration of the frontiers on this planet. Despite the intense secular focus on slavery, smallpox and slaughter – occasionally the Church did it RIGHT and brought transcriptions of unwritten languages, medical care, education and a vision of a broader world. We know what Humans did with their faith on Earth. What will we do with it in space?

So – what if we meet intelligences in the skies of Jupiter – aliens in our own star system? Seeing that they’re local, did Jesus die for them? An intriguing possibility might be posed by Ezra 9:6, which says, "O my God, I am too ashamed and disgraced to lift up my face to you, my God, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens.” Does this mean that the sins of Humanity fell on ALL of creation – the heavens (stars, planets, galaxies, the universe), causing it all to Fall? If that were true, would the redemption of Jesus Christ have spread “to the heavens” from Earth? I think it’s at least a possibility…

Hang with me for a moment and suspend whatever disbelief you have and agree that God created other aliens. Join C.S. Lewis and me and agree that there is a possibility that there are unfallen aliens Out There. These aliens faced their Obedience Test. They passed and have remained in perfect communion with God. “The doctrine of the Incarnation would conflict with what we know of this vast universe only if we knew also that there were other rational species in it who had, like us, fallen and who needed redemption…and had not been vouchsafed it…It may be full of life that needs no redemption. It may be full of life that has been redeemed. It may be full of things quite other than life which satisfy the Divine Wisdom in fashions one cannot conceive.” (“Dogma and the Universe”, GOD IN THE DOCK) Lewis explores this in PERELANDRA. I will be exploring it more in my own fiction.

Finally, when we DO open a Discover Church (http://www.discoverchurchnetwork.org/ ) in the International Space Station or on the Moon or on Mars or in the clouds of Jupiter – and if we meet aliens, then Psalm 57:10 perhaps speaks most hopefully: “For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.”

The question I ask the brethren – and the sistern ;-) is: Do you think we’ll do better reaching aliens than we did reaching Muslims and Jews during the Crusades or reaching out to science fiction readers today?

{Post Script: An ancillary Gospel to the 4GoSF might be summarized as: Smear The Church And Chance You Get! In testament to this, I offer the following: “DAVA SOBEL (Author, Galileo's Daughter): Galileo was honest when he said that the Bible was the true word of God. He just didn't think it was a good astronomy textbook.” (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/transcripts/2912_galileo.html) SO! The great Galileo believed in God! Not ONLY did he believe in God but apparently that the Bible is God’s word. All I’ve ever heard from the science media is that the Church was stupid, hateful, small-minded and hated Galileo. It may have been all that, but by extension, the scientific establishment has allowed us to believe that Galileo hated the Church in return. And that appears to NOT be true, either. Hmmmm….how many other hatreds are both sides willing to propagate?}