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March 29, 2011
March 27, 2011
Yesterday while driving my daughter to a job interview, she was channel surfing the truck radio. A song popped up on one of the three local Christian stations and in an instant, she flew into a rage.
She exclaimed, “You hear this song? This is exactly why I hate Christian music! She sounds exactly like Secular Singer Z!”
Not having any idea who Secular Singer Z was, I pointed out that when Martin Luther wrote “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, he stole the melody from a popular hofbrauhaus (royal court brewery) song making the rounds in his area.
My daughter looked at me coolly and growled, “You’re not helping my mood any, Dad.”
I conceded that Christian Singer Z should burn in Hell for their act of lyric and music piracy. Of course, she slugged me.
After the interview, which went well, she was channel surfing again on the way home. This time she pointed at the radio abruptly and said, “This is what I mean! This is a song by Secular Band X! All Christian Band X did was take the words and add some more Christian words! It’s the same song! Why can’t Christian radio play songs that are good?”
In this case, I translated ‘good’ to mean ‘original’ and that got me to thinking about an ongoing discussion at one of my favorite thought-provoking websites, deCOMPOSE (http://mikeduran.com/). The current post and discussion is relevant to the answer to my question as well. Posts to read that impinge: “One Reason Why ‘Charismatic’ Publishing Is Growing”, a weekend poll “Is the Debate About Christian Fiction ‘Tired’ or ‘Relevant’?” and an excellent series, “Can Horror Fiction Be Redemptive?”
Both of those are good questions, but I don’t think they’re the most important ones. I think the Christian writing community – whether we are writers who are Christians intent on writing for Christians or Christian writers who write secular prose with no intent to convert/redeem/send a message – should be asking itself: “Why are we copying Outsiders?” (According to unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons “‘outsiders’ [are] those looking at the Christian faith from the outside. This group includes atheists, agnostics, those affiliated with a faith other than Christianity (such as Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Mormonism, and so on), and other unchurched adults who are not born again Christians. (Pg 17))
It was not always that way.
For example, Bram Stoker was a lifelong member of The Church of Ireland (some will argue, “He had to be! That’s like being a Norwegian Lutheran – everyone is Lutheran/Anglican/Hindu by government mandate!” I suggest you GOOGLE “State Religion wiki” before you continue the argument) and he has numerous Christian themes in his best-known work, DRACULA. While it is by no means “Christian horror”, with Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN – A MODERN PROMETHEUS, he created the horror genre as we know it today.
JRR Tolkien, while hardly the first person to write high fantasy with THE HOBBIT and LORD OF THE RINGS, “finally allowed fantasy to truly enter into the mainstream”.
One of the fathers of science fiction, though he mocked Christians for their ignorance and credulity, inadvertently gave the Western world insight into the historical Jesus. During the second century AD, Lucian of Samosata also created one of the first real SF novels, A TRUE STORY in which he anticipated voyages to the Moon and Venus, extraterrestrials and wars between planets. Sir (and Saint) Thomas More, staunch defender of the faith and the Catholic Church against his contemporary, Martin Luther, invented the term UTOPIA when he wrote the book by the same name. This gave rise to a genre of literature explored by HG Wells, Aldous Huxley, Peter Hamilton and others and inspired others to react against it and form today’s wildly popular “dystopian” literature.
Christians have had some sort of place in the speculative fiction genre since its inception. Some were instrumental in the creation of a genre, while some only helped by being “around” during the creative process. But today it seems to me that we are intent on splitting hairs rather than expanding frontiers. We endlessly discuss which genre we “should” or “shouldn’t” be writing in. We debate minutiae such as what is and isn’t to be included in romance novels and what does and does not constitute an acceptable “cuss word”.
Why are we not at the frontier, blazing trails and leaving messages that inexorably draw outsiders IN and define the speculative fiction genre? Why doesn’t anyone take hold of CS Lewis’ clarion call, emblazon it on a banner and charge into battle with it held high: “What we want…are more little books by Christians on other subjects with the Christianity latent.”
OK, I will. I plan on galloping forward with the ultimate goal of storming the stronghold of outsider speculative fiction in the name of Jesus Christ with genre warping fiction. CS Lewis again: “No man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring a tuppence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”*
Anyone up to taking on Mordor, Coruscant or Castle Dracula with me?
* If you are considering emailing me to say that this quote disproves my thesis, I’d ask you to read it again and meditate a bit more deeply.
March 24, 2011
I read the play version of Daniel Keyes’ FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON when I was in eighth grade. It has stayed with me for decades, a haunting symbol for both the overwhelming possibilities of the human intellect and the overwhelming impossibilities faced by a profoundly challenged human mind. I’ve started and stopped this novel a half a dozen times in eleven years. I want to bring the original idea into the present millennium. To read RECONSTRUCTION from beginning to here, click on the label to the right and scroll three pages back until you get to the bottom.
CJ looked at Mr. Jalfroun, who looked at CJ and then both looked at Job. CJ said, “Are you crazy? We went in there, the tall man…” he paused. What if she’d been serious? What if the tall man was also a hit man? The Tall Man – CJ suddenly thought of him with capital letters – was scary. Strong. Who knew what power Mai Li had over him, because she obviously she was controlling him in some way? He was suddenly scary. “…he sorta yelled at me for having a crazy imagination. He’s like a shrink for teenagers.” He knew the explanation sounded lame. Mr. Jalfroun frowned but didn’t add anything except a nod.
So why did he feel more afraid for Mai Li than he did for himself and his mom? She still needed them – though it was only money from Mom and help for whatever plan she had from him. But she needed them and that was all he really cared about at the moment.
Except the last leg of the competition. He looked at Job and said, “Where’m I s’posed to be?”
“Room 264. It’s one of the earth science rooms. Come on, we gotta go!”
Job dragged him along finally releasing him when he started walking alongside his friend. Job said, “Who was that creepy guy?”
“Somebody my sister knows,” CJ replied.
Job shook his head. “I still am not sure I believe you when you say she’s like…a genius now.”
“Believe it. And she’s in trouble.”
Job shot him a look then hurried down the hall, “You gotta hurry or you’re gonna be in trouble. You can’t afford to lose this match. The team can’t afford to have you lose the match. You and Sentury are the only ones who made it to the finals.”
They passed one science room and CJ started to turn into the room. Job yanked his arm and said, “Second room. Last one on our left.” He dragged him to the next door and they went in.
The competitors were already seated, one to a table – big wooden tables with beat up green tops. The walls of the room were a sort of faded yellow, the tiles on the floor were light brown and there was a huge maze stapled to a cork strip that ran the length of the room. Other posters of the Earth, stars, the Moon, a bridge collapsed by and earthquake and a huge picture from the movie TWISTER lined the back of the room. One desk at the front stood empty. There was a sheet of paper with a pencil on it. One of the four judges shooed Job out and closed the door. Another started speaking, “These problems compromise the final round of the Junior High Mathematics League Tournament…” CJ settled down, glanced at the paper and then up at the judge. She finished her monologue, turned to the clock, staring at it until she said abruptly, “Begin.”
Two hours later, the team – Mr. Jalfroun, CJ, Job Doe, Sentury Millner Edison Saroyan, Trevon Frazier-Jackson, Jude Hildebrandt and Luc Castillo-Vargas – gathered in the cafeteria again. The other teams had done the same. There was no mixing this time. There were more than just teams from each one of the district’s four middle schools. There were math teams from all the private schools – five in all, – from charter schools – three of them, – and one made up of home schoolers – thirteen teams in all.
CJ leaned over to Job and said, “This is sorta a big deal, huh?”
There was a commotion across the cafeteria as four judges walked in and held up their hands. The cafeteria full of a hundred middle school kids and thirty adults fell silent as one of the judges called out, “We have three sheets of canvas paper. One will be students who placed third in the competition; one will be students who placed second; the final one we hang will be first place students. There are no other places but first, second and third. Each place will be shared by the students in that place. You will stay where you are until the lists have been posted.” One of the judges lifted the sheet of paper and the crowd surged. The judge’s voice boomed, “You will stay where you are!” The crowd froze as the three judges taped their papers each one with a large red number on it and a list of names and stepped back. “You may no send one person from your team to each poster.”
Hurried discussions then mad dashes by thirteen kids to each poster. CJ stayed back while Job, Sentury and Jude race the others, one to each sheet. Sentury came back from the 3rd place sheet first, shaking her head. Job came back from the first place sheet, bouncing and calling, “Sentury got a first place! Sentury got a first place!”
Jude spun around and ran across the room just as the secret agent/PI answered his cell phone, snapped it shut and started across the room toward CJ…
March 20, 2011
I have never seen Mike Duran. We “met” online a couple years ago because of a little…altercation I caused by saying something less-than-nice about Christian speculative fiction on his blog. Mike, being both a spec-fic writer and editor, won me closer to his side with gentle and wise words. Since then I’ve found that Mike has lots of gentle and wise words. I’m looking at how some of them have had an impact on my own writing in these WRITING ADVICE posts. (Quotes are used with his permission.) He also participates in “ONE OF WRITER'S DIGEST 101 MOST VALUABLE WEBSITES FOR WRITERS, 2008 & 2010”, NOVEL JOURNEY at http://noveljourney.blogspot.com/.
The last thing I ever wanted to do was write a story in a disposable world – one that I created simply to “tell an entertaining tale”. I’ll admit that I have used places I probably will never go back to again but my intent was to return to the worlds I’ve invented – skipgate world (“Skipping School”); Enstad’s Planet (“Test” and “Teaching Women To Fly”); Alzheimer’s cure (“A Pig Tale”); Space Station Courage (“Mystery on SS Courage”); the shared world of the AETHER AGE (“Looking Down on Athena”); as well as River; Wheet; HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES; Martian Holiday and now the End of The Petroleum Age…
I’ve always wanted to have a place in which I could not only tell stories, but a place that had a history and that the history might say something about humanity as well as my own beliefs. You could probably summarize that concept by saying that the setting is the character as well. We all know what that means: literary fiction.
According to many people, calling your work literary fiction is as good as propping a sign next to it that says, “unreadable”. My own opinion of literary fiction fell into line with that notion: “Literary fiction is about powerless people living their lives in excruciating detail. The main character is the author in thin disguise making educated, satirical, wise, obscure or erudite commentary in a way that no real person in that life could possibly be able to duplicate…”
Mike Duran has something else to say about literary fiction: “…the drive to be published can tempt us to short-cut literary depth in exchange for formulaic ‘entertainments.’… (Which could explain why there are far less readers than movie-goers and theaters outnumber bookstores — we weren’t made to eat our Lima beans.) Good writing need not be a chore to read. Still, at some point, the maturing adult must learn to use her literary molars.” (http://mikeduran.com/?p=7820)
Oddly enough, I’ve come to agree with him. HOWEVER, a problem arises when the people who read your work are looking for rock candy and you’re offering filet mignon. I experienced this with “Teaching Women To Fly”, a short story that finally found both appreciation and understanding from Bruce Bethke. Prior to him buying it for STUPEFYING STORIES, I’d had commentators say things like, “You should end the story” and “She should reach the starship and fly off so she can help her family”.
Only two of some twenty or more people who read it got what I was trying to say. I don’t think that’s because I wasn’t saying it clearly – it’s just that those people didn’t want to work very hard to parse the story.
Bruce got the story.
My dad also got the story, which really touched my heart! My message was that even if you’re living on an alien world, flying starships and talking to aliens, your life can still be miserable and feel trapped in your present. Outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ, anyone’s life can feel that way. Even people who live with the light of Christ in them feel trapped and miserable sometimes. But without Him, there’s no chance at all of those feelings changing permanently. But some of my first readers didn't really want to THINK. They wanted the "happy ending" entertainment that usually comes with hard science fiction -- which they'd classified my story and writing style as. They'd closed their minds, figuring that that was all I could ever say. That group prides itself on its egalitarian attitude...
Perhaps as Christians, we should dig a bit more deeply into our writing. As Christians, we can learn to use literary fiction to communicate more deeply the state of people outside of a relationship with Christ and just maybe offer a glimpse of Him. Or we can go on schlepping poorly re-written parables and sermons as "science fiction, fantasy and horror". We should choose the former every time and listen to CS Lewis: "What we want is NOT more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects with their Christianity latent." (GOD IN THE DOCK)
March 15, 2011
March 13, 2011
Some time ago (see below), I expressed my belief that several micro people groups had grabbed hold of a belief that Humanity had had such a powerful impact on the climate of the planet, that we were bent on planetary suicide in a few decades.
My concern was NOT that the idea of climate change was wrong. I firmly believe climate change happens. I firmly believe that as inhabitants of Earth our actions have an impact on the planet’s biosphere.
What I found dangerous is that some of those micro people groups (mpgs) were assigning God’s powers to Humanity. Many people in those mpgs had long-ago ditched God. I believe some of those had trouble with being cast adrift on a sea of chance. A few of that group needed to raise Humanity up on a pedestal, assign it God powers so that their lives might have more meaning and their actions would have a profound impact on Earth. For them, Anthropogenic Global Warming took the place of God acting on Earth. For them, global climate changes were caused by Humans. In particular, these changes were caused by the technology of the industrialized nations – in other words, “science did it!”
The rallying cry of those mpgs was that “what science did, science can undo”. The only ones who can do science, of course are those in the industrialized nations – most notably, the G7 nations and the scientists who live there, work there and publish their papers there.
The heyday of the broad scientific acceptance of the AGW philosophy are over. For some this has meant that they recognize that AGW is not so much “A”, but simply part of a larger, longer cycle of climate change – what might be called Cyclical Global Climate Change or CGCC.
And yet, some members of the speculative fiction community continue to write books that include a Humanity deeply harmed (I refuse to say “deeply impacted”!) by AGW. I’d rather not point fingers, but several “big names” make sure that the backdrop of their story is a world that is post-AGW. As a scare tactic, it works. But as science, there are more than a few reputable scientists who now question the conclusions of the flagship of the AGW mpgs, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC for short).
While I don’t suggest now – nor have I ever suggested – we all go out and start REALLY abusing the planet and our environment because what we do doesn't matter, it appears that the "Anthro" part of global climate change may have been exaggerated. Below you’ll find a couple of links to sites I visit on a regular basis when I need to get a balanced viewpoint on the AGW bias of the micro people group whose cries have grown more vocal in some media outlets.
The upshot of this is that my own future histories probably won’t depend on an AGW plot point…which, according to some people in the industry may mean I will NEVER see publication!
My Thinking on AGW:
Other People’s Thinking on AGW:
http://jeffkooistra.blogspot.com/ (hardly ever updates, but the Global Climate widget is cool and Jeff has A LOT of good thoughts!)
image:http://www.arecentstudy.com/images/global-warming.jpg (there are some REALLY nasty opinion cartoons I might have posted here instead of this image...
March 10, 2011
This series is a little bit biographical and a little bit imaginary about my dad and a road trip he took in the summer of 1946, when he turned fifteen. He and a friend hitchhiked from
Tommy Hastings stopped, made a face then gathered the dead rats up by their tails. Charlie would never believe he’d kill a single rat if Tommy just went in and told him what he’d done. He held the nine rats – two were really small, maybe fat mice – and strolled out through the open barn door. He could barely hold them, feeling the blood throbbing in his broken hand as he crossed the barnyard. It wasn’t the worst pain he’d ever felt. It was the deepest and longest lasting, though.
He walked down a wooden ramp that joined the ground. The wooden part of the barn was held up by field rocks cemented together. There were pane windows set into square holes in the walls. The panes were filthy. At the far end was a wide open door, the wooden part was rolled back. The deep sound of cows lowing rolled out like waves, where the milking stalls were.
From the milking stalls, a pile of cow dung flew through the air, followed by a muffled cuss. Freddie Merrill followed a second later and stopped abruptly, staring at Tommy. Then he said, “You killed those?”
“What are you doing with them?”
“I figured I’d better bring ‘em in to Charlie or he’ll never believe I shot them.”
Tommy said, “Better get back to work before Charlie comes out and beat you up.”
Freddie nodded and went back into the barn.
Charlie was standing on the porch and shouted to Tommy, “Don’t bother, kid. I see ‘em.” He swung a long arm to the edge of the cornfields. “Throw ‘em in there.”
Tommy nodded and headed for the edge of the barn’s lot. He tossed the rats into the brush edging the field. He turned back to the house and this time, Charlie didn’t speak until Tommy reached the porch. Then the older boy said, “Dad says you can’t do any heavy lifting or his brother’ll break HIS bones, so you need to do some more shooting.” He held a smaller rifle over his shoulder. “Dad thinks there’s too many barn swallows. Wants you to take care of ‘em.”
Tommy scowled. “Why would he want me to do that?”
Charlie laughed, “What else you gonna do, muck out the barn?” He held the rifle out butt end first. “Take it or start walking – and hope Dad doesn’t run you over on your way to
The boys worked for two days, Freddie ranging over the farm mucking out the barn, moving a calf carcass, rescuing three other calves with Charlie’s little brothers and watching Tommy learn to hit all but a few of the diving, spinning barn swallows and become the scourge of every rat on the farm.
Two days later, just as the sun was rising, Charlie showed up in the hayloft and shouted, “Rise and shine, boys! We’ll be pulling out of the barnyard with a milk run as soon as you can pump the truck full.” He jerked his head to one side, “I’m supposed to help you.”
The boys scrambled out of the nests they’d made among the bales of hay, shaking crazily to get rid of the straw from their shirts and pants. They followed Charlie to the milk room. A big tanker, the name of a creamery painted on the side. Freddie said, “That’s not you guys!”
“It’s the guys hired to transport the milk.”
“But we can’t ride in the back with the milk cans!” Tommy said.
Freddie exclaimed, “There aren’t any cans!”
Charlie clapped both boys on the shoulders and pushed them toward the tanker. “All I need you to do is pass me the hose and we’ll pump it into the truck and then be on our way!”
They were ready to go in twenty minutes. Charlie held the passenger’s door open and said, “Boys gotta ride in the middle. I get shotgun, dad has driver and you boys get sandwich.”
“In between Dad and me. All the way to
Freddie’s eyes got big and he replied, “I get car sick.”
Charlie’s dad showed up just then, looked at Freddie and said to Charlie, “You’re riding sandwich, Son.” He looked at Tommy and added, “‘sides, the towhead smells like a rat – a dirty rat – and I don’t much feel like sitting next to that for sixty miles.” He fixed Tommy with a long, hard look, then climbed into the tanker and started it.
Charlie opened his mouth to protest, closed it with a snap, then added, “I guess I’m sandwich meat.”
March 8, 2011
By now, you'll have been peeking at Venus and the waning quarter of the Moon as they hover near the horizon near sunrise. If you HAVEN'T noticed, check this link out:
March 6, 2011
I like the way I learned Luther’s Small Catechism. He penned a statement and then asked, “What does this mean?” This is what I’m all about: finding the intersection of science fiction, faith in Christ and writing then figuring out what these Bible verses means for us. I’m not going to poke all of the phrases. I’ll start with:
“nor things to come”
What does this mean: Jesus knows all about this future that we live in, and He knew it in Paul’s time. He knew that the
What does this mean: He knows that if we go to the Moon, Mars, Jupiter or the far side of Andromeda – no matter how high off Earth we go – we will NOT be separated from the love of Christ. Earth will always be our home. It may be reduced to the Cemetery World of Clifford D. Simak’s novel, but it will always be where Humanity was born/created/evolved/evolved-created/created-evolved.
What does this mean: Christ is with us whether we are diving beneath the sea; diving into the atmosphere of River; diving into the plasma atmosphere of the Sun; diving into the core of the Milky Way or the primordial soup before the Big Bang. BTW, our Human, wimpy, sex-based love will not be anywhere except inside our houses, our office buildings, our space stations, our domed colonies, our habitats, our starships or our singularitized selves. His Just and Sacrificial love is here and will be anywhere and everywhere we go.
No matter where we are or when we are – the year 8,000,000,000 AD; orbiting “far Arcturus” or diving into the crashing cores of colliding galaxies, we will not be able to escape the love of God in Christ Jesus.