November 30, 2008


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:


(September 5 and September 22.)

On September 6, Tobias posted this:

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. ( – 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.” ( ) 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."


“…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
( )

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:

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 ) 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.


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.


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.