Fiction Friday – Oxygen by Randy Ingermanson & John Olson

Next in the list of contemporary novels recommended by Spec Faith visitors.

Oxygen

by Randy Ingermanson & John Olson

INTRODUCTION—OXYGEN

Next in the list of contemporary novels recommended by Spec Faith visitors.

Halfway to the Red Planet, an explosion leaves the four-member crew of the Ares 10 with only enough oxygen for one. Valkerie Jansen, the ship’s doctor, is tough, beautiful, and has an uncanny knack for survival. Bob Kaganovski, the ship’s mechanic, is paid to be paranoid—and he’s good at it. He’s worried that Valkerie is mentally unbalanced, possibly even dangerous. Which is just too bad, because Bob’s falling in love with her.

Meanwhile, NASA is trying to figure out who should live and who should die, when there’s only enough oxygen for one.

OXYGEN — EXCERPT

Bob Kaganovski had shampoo in his eyes when the decompression alarm went off.

He grabbed the suction hose and ran it frantically over his face and eyes. Footsteps pounded outside the shower.

“Decompression!” shouted Josh Bennett, mission commander of the Ares 10. “Get to the EVA suits now! We’ve got about fifteen minutes.”

Bob popped open the Velcroed shower door and grabbed a towel. Fear knotted his gut. Only fifteen minutes! He stepped out of the shower and swiped a towel across the soles of his feet, drying them just enough so he wouldn’t kill himself on the stairs.

He ran through a corridor to the steep circular stairway that led down to Level 1 of the Habitation Module. The decompression alarm beeped once every two seconds. The interval was keyed to cabin pressure. When it got down to vacuum, the beeps would merge into one steady drone. If he wasn’t in his suit by then, he wouldn’t hear it. For one thing, sound wouldn’t travel in a vacuum. For another, he’d be dead.


AUTHORS BIO—RANDY INGERMANSON AND JOHN OLSON

Randy Ingermanson likes to mix science, religion, romance, and adventure into his novels. He has a PhD from UC Berkeley in theoretical physics and has won two Christy awards for excellence in Christian fiction. He lives in the Pacific Northwest and serves the needs of three surly cats.

Learn more about Randy at his web site or follow him on Facebook.

John Olson is a novelist and speaker who lives with his wife Amy and two kids in the San Francisco Bay Area. John earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and did postdoctoral research at the University of California at San Francisco. His novels have won several awards including a Christy Award, a Christy finalist, a Silver Angel award, and placement on the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age.

Follow him on Facebook or find out more about him on his web site.

What Aliens Teach Us About God, part 7: Tamed Transcendence

When humans substitute meeting aliens for the transcendence of God, we create a tamed version of what we long for.

Tamed Transcendence is what this article calls an aspect of the desire to have contact with aliens. Human beings long for something greater than ourselves–yet when we put aliens in the place to fill that gap, we wind up settling for a weakened form of transcendence.

This observation stems from a response to last week’s post, a post which talked about how seeing the universe as empty and longing to meet aliens there reflects a longing for God, because the universe is not in fact empty–the presence of God is everywhere. The comment by Parker J. Cole raised an issue I found so important, I postponed the planned part seven of this series and inserted an additional post. Quoting part of what she said:

…the aliens we’re hoping to meet, and create treaties with, are not really alien. God, in His perfection, holiness, wisdom, power, is truly ALIEN. Under the light of His glory, what we are becomes apparent — broken, flawed, sin-filled. Due to his ALIEN nature — His love, His judgment, His wrath, His forgiveness, and His patience, we are left to think “Why would He create me or be bothered with me? What makes me so special?”

This quote says something true about God, something this series has pointed out: God is not human. God’s nature is truly different from you and I and any human being, even though we are created in his image. Though perhaps it would be useful for the moment to return to the standard theological term used to express just how different God is from human beings–transcendence.

God is transcendent, beyond what human beings are capable of fully grasping, of a fundamentally different nature than we are, even though we reflect a part of his essence. I believe something in human beings longs for the grandeur of transcendence and a desire to find God.

Meeting the aliens in Close Encounter of the Third Kind

Human beings who long for alien contact generally want a form of transcendence, which I’d say is a substitute for the innate desire to know God. They want the aliens to be mind-blowing and mysterious, at least a little. They would not be very happy to meet human beings in space who are exactly identical to human beings on Earth in every way. They long to find something out there that’s unlike what we have here on Earth, something stranger. But as seen in the classic alien-encounter movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, they expect the strangeness to settle down as we actually get the chance to meet the aliens. Or as in Arrival, the aliens may seem incomprehensible, but our best and brightest minds will be able to eventually figure them out.

Relative to the transcendent God, this form of transcendence is a cheapened version, one that does not challenge who we are and who we should be as human beings. The transcendence derived from meeting aliens is transcendence in a cage, allowed to be big and scary, but it cannot really affect us–it cannot scare us into changing who we are. It’s a transcendence tamed and under control.

There is of course another kind of alien encounter in fiction–one in which the aliens are dangerous but not transcendent at all. In which we human beings are called on to fight for our lives–but which still does not call on us to see ourselves as needing to be different from who we are now.

Parker was correct to point out that the desire to find aliens in the skies is really about finding somewhat different versions of human beings, different mainly in physical form. Aliens in much of science fiction come in different colors or have fins or feathers or fur or scales or glowing sources of light instead of our flesh–but otherwise are basically like us. They are seen as having evolved as we are believed to have evolved. They may have learned to overcome death, but they once died just as we do. And most importantly, they have no right to have real moral authority over us. They not only have no right to tell us how to behave, they probably would not be very interested in our moral behavior in the first place (though there are occasional exceptions to this in science fiction, as seen in The Day the Earth Stood Still).

Yondu

We humans may long for the haunting, mysterious music and strangeness found in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but what we wind up creating is something more like the opening scene of Guardians of the Galaxy (especially in the last minute of the linked clip), in which we find a boy caught up into an alien ship that seems weird and mysterious. But we find out eventually that it’s piloted by Yondu, a blue-skinned space redneck.

We human beings so often long for transcendence, but are not prepared to accept a transcendence that’s profoundly uncomfortable. Many of us desire to find out that the universe is not empty–but we deny that what we find there is beyond human grasp. Even many concepts of a Creator God are guilty of this–guilty of taming God by imagining him to be simplistic and essentially human.

And yes, as Parker said, that strange being out there, that untamed transcendence, which deserves to be called “alien” in a way that can never apply to Yondu, actually cares about us. Transcendence reaches out to us, to the puny inhabitants of Planet Earth. And bizarrely, lets us decide whether we will respond to him or not.

What are your thoughts on Parker’s comment? On transcendence? On aliens? Other comments?

 

Greetings from the Other Side

The self-described Most Tattooed Christian Author who wrote those scary-looking books is now writing heartwarming stories about girls and boys and horses.
| Feb 21, 2018 | 9 comments |

After writing eight novels and numerous short stories of a mostly speculative nature, I made the decision last November to take time off from being myself. Yet this did not quell my creativity. Instead, I shrouded myself in a cloak of secrecy rivaled only by J.K. Rowling’s astonishing transformation into war-veteran-turned-writer Robert Galbraith…nah, just kidding. I conjured up a pen name and had an author photo taken where my face is partially hidden, though anyone who knows me would recognize me right away.

The reason is because I wanted to dip my toes into a pool that I had previously only taken the time to mock or ignore: contemporary Christian Western romance. Yes, you read that right. The self-described Most Tattooed Christian Author who wrote those scary-looking books is now writing heartwarming stories about girls and boys and horses.

Now, I should say that this has been my plan for a while. Unlike most authors, and contrary to sound business and branding practices, my goal is to write in as many genres as possible (I’m coming for you, Amish fiction!). After my latest book release as myself, which was a slab of violent bleakness, I needed to “go into the light,” so to speak. All of my books except one are identifiably Christian fiction, though the covers and subject matter give many readers pause. Since I had made up my mind to try something sweet and romantic, I figured I’d go all in. I wasn’t going to just write one book; I was going to do a trilogy, with each book being a standalone novel but all of the stories sharing similar elements. The titles are similar, the cover designs are similar, and each book is about an all-American girl and her horses in a small Midwestern town. All in, remember?

I definitely had some reservations about taking this creative path. For one thing, I’m a guy, and the books I normally write are pretty guy-centric. People advised me to take a female pen name but again, contrary to sound business and branding practices, I stuck with a male name. I wanted to be able to do book signings and set up tables at outdoor festivals. I also wanted to be a bit rebellious, which has characterized my writing career thus far anyway.

When I sat down to write, I was starting with a cold engine. I had read very few books in this genre, I’m not a very “mushy” guy to begin with, and I knew next to nothing about horses. Fortunately, the folks at my church came to my rescue. A kind lady who has a few horses showed me the ropes and answered my questions, and I started watching horse videos online and horse movies on Netflix. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of writing about things I don’t know much about (again, contrary to sound business and branding practices), but that’s what makes it fun. It’s almost like I’m giving myself a dare. I also enlisted some church friends as cover models and the photographer, which made it feel more like a group project rather than just me flying solo.

To my surprise, the story gushed out of my brain and I finished the manuscript in record time. Less than three months after typing “Chapter One,” I had a professionally edited and professionally photographed finished novel. After taking a few days to rest, I started writing the next one, going deeper into the equestrian world to continue my challenge. I also began promoting my new release, which meant targeting different readers than I was used to.

Image copyright Touchstone Pictures

Let me make a confession here: I’ve always been a bit dismissive of sweet romance and chick lit and contemporary Christian fiction in general. In my perception, it’s usually too light and fluffy and simplistic and sanitized. I know a lot of readers of this blog and speculative Christian fiction feel the same way. We’re like punk rock or heavy metal musicians who turn up our nose at bubble gum pop or country music, even though they play to sold-out arenas while our band jams in underground clubs to an audience of twenty. Yet as I wrote my squeaky-clean, heartwarming stories of faith, family, and love, I found myself gaining a new appreciation for these genres and the people that read them. And writing these books has been like drinking a tall, cold glass of fresh lemonade. We speculative fiction readers and writers often chastise mainstream Christian fiction for not being “real” enough, because real life isn’t a perfect family on a beautiful farm underneath an azure sky way out in God’s country. Who says? Plenty of people live simple, gentle lives, yet they still face struggles and hardships, as do the characters in these kinds of books.

Now, I’m not saying that every sci-fi or fantasy reader who snubs mainstream Christian fiction needs to go out and give Amish paradise a try. Even though I’m writing as someone else for at least six more months to finish the trilogy, I’m still making plans for my next book as Mark Carver, which will be true to form in every way. All I’m saying is that it’s nice to see things from a different point of view sometimes, and unlike the Goth teenager who is afraid to admit that she likes Taylor Swift, it’s okay to let everyone know that you’re broadening your horizons. It’s a great big book world out there…

J. K. Rowling’s Progressivist Spells are Backfiring

Fans of Harry Potter fans are turning on creator J. K. Rowling because she apparently betrays their religious faith.
| Feb 20, 2018 | 24 comments |

The Revolution will now be cannibalized—and it appears J. K. Rowling is its latest victim.

This comes recently from The New Statesman’s Quick-Quotes Quills:

“I strongly dislike her,” Alice (who does not wish to disclose her surname) says. “I just think she wrote many beautiful things in Harry Potter, but she doesn’t live up to them in real life.”

What’s this about? Like too many issues in the last few decades: it’s all about sex. Again.

In 2007, Rowling announced that one of her main characters, Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore, was gay. Fans initially rejoiced at the news, but many became disillusioned after the character’s sexuality was never mentioned in seven books, nine films, and a two-part play. When the director of Rowling’s latest film franchise, Fantastic Beasts, announced at the start of February that Dumbledore would not be “explicitly” gay in the upcoming film about his youth, fans tweeted their anger at Rowling. She responded by muting them and insinuating that Dumbledore would eventually come out in one of the other three remaining Fantastic Beasts films.

As Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, summarizes:

Later in the article one young person said, and I quote, “When the news broke that Dumbledore’s sexuality would once again be kept out of the canon,” that is out of the books and out of the movies, “I was furious.” This young person said, “This is a series I’ve dedicated years of my life to, and one that continually let me down.” Her young liberal fans are also throwing back at her a line she put into the voice of Dumbledore. This is the line, “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” But now this newly liberalized generation of J. K. Rowling readers in Great Britain is saying, “She doesn’t make the hard choice. She tries to have it both ways.”

Now I, as a longtime Harry Potter fan, feel very divided about all this.

On one hand, Rowling has an absolute right to free speech. (A right that Rowling has rightfully defended, even on behalf of people she strongly disagrees with.) She ought to be able to talk about her own stories. She can create technically off-canon fanfiction about them, such as the “Dumbledore is gay” subplot. It’s not wrong to draw comparisons between her themes and current events—however tacky this often looks.

On the other hand, this kind of behavior is not only tacky, but ultimately weakens Rowling’s position even as an influencer for Progressivism.1

Rowling’s fans are already quite capable of drawing the, ahem, in-depth comparisons between Voldemort and the latest he’s-just-like-Hitler political leader du jour. Her fans can already strike a posture as a real-life version of “Dumbledore’s Army” (e.g. “the resistance” from another fantasy franchise). Her fans can already adopt the authorized fanfiction of Dumbledore as sexual-revolution hero.2

In other words, they don’t need her help.

But when Rowling steps before the stage as if to say, “It’s all JUST PRETEND, and here’s the REAL LIFE,” she weakens her role. And her stories lose their greatest power—to reach past the head and into the reader’s imaginative heart.

Now, in the face of Rowling’s seeming weakness, her fans have spotted apparent “holes” in her confession of religious Progressivism. Because of other factors—such as the needs of the story, with international film restrictions and other market factors—she’s not making “Gay Dumbledore” the rallying theme of the new Fantastic Beasts films.

Plot twist: even for Rowling, socio-political movements can rank second to other needs. Such as: creating a new series of onscreen stories set in her whimsical wizarding world, in which Newt Scamander finds fantastic beasts and Harry Potter backstory.

But what about soldiers in the “army” Rowling has raised? Does this group of souls, many of whom may be naturally convinced of their own rightness on the side of history, agree?

Based on this news story, no. Too many of these fans seem to view stories in a way that too many misinformed Christians view stories: as mere tools. As mere carriers of More Important Things: truths, doctrines, ideas, moral teachings. As the disposable bodily “shell” that holds the more important  element inside: the “soul” of truth.

This makes a lot of sense if you’re a particular kind of religious person. After all, if you view the world in a religious framework—an original or perfect paradise, a “fall” from this state, a law and/or process of redemption, a villain to defeat, and a future utopia—why should we get sidetracked by other things? Ultimately, art becomes a means to this end: the end of that future paradise, in which (if you’re a Christian) everyone is holy and worshiping God, or (if you’re a Progressivist) everyone is diverse but united in absolute sexual liberty.

Of course, biblical Christians view (or ought to view) stories and art very differently. In our origin story, God the creator wants us to make creative culture (Gen. 1:28). In seeking to reflect his creativity, in truthful and beautiful stories, we glorify him in our worship. That’s part of the paradise he made us for, and which (in Jesus) we’re destined to rejoin.

Apart from this worldview, every appeal to stories’ value can only logically devolve into the hijacking of stories for alternate ends, such as politics, social causes, or sexual revolutions.3

And for fans who don’t know the ultimate purpose of stories, they can’t help hijacking the stories to serve their religion. And they can’t help feeling frustrated when their leader turns out to have different priorities than constant sexual-revolution classroom teaching, 24/7, without room even for Quidditch practice or recreation in the common room.

What do you think of J. K. Rowling’s political uses of her own fiction? What would you say if you met a Harry Potter fan who felt frustrated with Rowling’s Progressivism “failures”?

  1. I capitalize the term Progressivism to note that it functions exactly as a kind of religion, only a religion whose followers usually don’t want to admit they are religious.
  2. These fans perhaps forget Rowling’s in-canon loophole: that Dumbledore is never seen acting on his same-sex attraction, and that his initial SSA was toward Gellert Grindelwald, a wicked predecessor of Lord Voldemort, whom Dumbledore was eventually forced to confront in a duel. (Viewers of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them also witnessed Grindelwald creepily lavishing and manipulating the affections of Credence, a young man bullied by his abusive mother without any other father figure in sight.) Since that fateful duel, for all Harry Potter fans know, Dumbledore has led a celibate life.
  3. This may also explain why many very talented, creative actors and musicians end up using their platforms to promote these kinds of religious causes. Imagine rising to the “top” without knowing the purpose of making these stories for human recreation, and being led to wonder, really, what good all this is for anyway. Of course, many Christian entertainers seem to reflect the same impulse—acting, singing, or writing as if the only value in their creative works is the “content” of the work, not the work itself.

2018 Spec Faith Winter Writing Challenge Feedback

The more input, the more feedback, the better. But please be courteous to all the entrants, encouraging people to read all and vote for as many as they like.

According to my count, we received 20 entries to the 2018 Spec Faith Winter Writing Challenge. So glad to see so many participating.

While we’ve received some “votes” (a “+” is a vote in favor of an entry) and a few comments, the impportant work that needs to take place this week is READERS choosing the entries they like best and leaving comments that will be helpful to the writers.

in my opinion as a writer, the comments that help the most tell at least on reason why a visitor liked the entry (creativity, unforeseen twist, development of character, good description, etc) and one thing that could have made the entry better. Of course any comment is helpful because it shows the writer you actually read their selection.

This week gives you all time to catch up—to read the entries you haven’t seen yet, to go back over and make comments you’d like to make, and of course to give a “+” to the entries you like the best. Be sure to mark those entries no later than midnight (Pacific time), Sunday, February 25.

The top three entries receiving the most thumbs up will make the finals, and NEXT week, we’ll have a poll with those so you can vote for the one you believe is the best of the finalists.

In case you’re wondering, two entries have been removed because they were missing the opening sentence (required) or had inadvertently changed it.

Feel free to share the original 2018 Winter Writing Challenge post and to invite your friends and family to read and to give their feedback. The more input, the more feedback, the better. But please be courteous to all the entrants, encouraging people to read all and vote for as many as they like.

In no way should this writing challenge devolve into a popularity contest. It should serve as a way writers are helped and motivated.

Fiction Friday — Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle by N. D. Wilson

Sam Miracle has always been different. An orphan who lives in a group home, he often blanks out and finds himself in vivid dreams that seem almost real.
| Feb 16, 2018 | 1 comment | Series:

The Legend of Sam Miracle, Outlaws of Time, Book One

by N. D. Wilson

INTRODUCTION—THE LEGEND OF SAM MIRACLE

As you may or may not realize, I’ve been working through many of the suggested authors recommended by visitors in their response to the post So Many Good Writers, So Many Good Books. In some cases I’m featuring the recommended book, but in many cases, like today, I introduce one of the author’s more recent works.

If you aren’t familiar with N. D. Wilson, he writes middle grade fiction for the general market.

Sam Miracle has always been different. An orphan who lives in a group home, he often blanks out and finds himself in vivid dreams that seem almost real. Sam is also disabled; his arms were shattered in an accident he cannot remember, and though they are healed, they are immobile and painful at times. He soon discovers he is part of a small group of people who can walk through time and that he has lived the same life over and over—dashing around time trying to live long enough to stop an evil outlaw who wants to end the world. Now the time of the final conflict approaches, and with the help of another foster kid, a girl named Glory, and his companion through time, Father Tiempo, Sam sets out to meet his destiny.

THE LEGEND OF SAM MIRACLE — EXCERPT

SAM

There’s a kind of heat that can peel lizards, even in the shade. Heat that sends every creeping thing slithering under rocks and into graves, heat that floats the crows up and away to find whatever cool whispers of mountain air might be trickling in over the painted mesas.

If you’ve ever felt heat like that, you already know that the only thing a person can do is go looking for a basement and a cold drink or an air conditioner with enough courage to rattle and hum and battle the sun without so much as a minute to rest.

On those days, days like today, when even the cacti would be crying in pain if it didn’t mean losing their water, the boys of St. Anthony of the Desert Destitute Youth Ranch were actually happy. Because when the sun was in a killing mood, there could be no chores. And when there were a dozen boys and no chores, they would pour into the Commons—the mostly empty concrete-and-cinder-block building where they did their reading and resting and recreating when the sun was down or deadly. Then Mr. Spalding would unlock the Ping-Pong table and turn on the old pinball machine and fill two coolers with ice and Cokes and open the little library of paperback westerns and science fiction comics. And if Mrs. Spalding was feeling pleasant, they would even allow a little music on the old record player.

At SADDYR, those boys hoped for 115 degrees in the shade like most kids hope for Christmas. And if you lived there, you would, too.

Twelve-year-old Sam Miracle was tipped back in an orange plastic chair, perched as still as a stone. His desert-blond hair had been chopped short, but it was fighting back. He had a colony of freckles scattered across his lean sun0dirty cheeks that looked like little brown ants who had finally given up trying to keep his face clean. Stare at Sam for longer than a few moments and you’ll see that he might be young, and his skin might be smooth, and his teeth even whiter than the sun could make them, but he didn’t seem young. Sam was more like something new made from very old things. Timber fence posts sunbaked to rot. Tangles of barbed wire more rust than steel. Boots cracked and dry and missing soles. Things once useful now with usefulness lost. He didn’t look like those things . . . he felt like them.

“Sam!” The name had bounced all around the rocks thrown by the voices of eleven different boys searching eleven distant places.

Sam hadn’t felt himself fall in the heat. But his head had ached when he’d finally opened his eyes and the bright sky above him had come into focus. And in the sky, dark wings, descending in a circle. Three pairs. Black.

Vultures.

The scabby bald birds had shrieked and hopped as they’d touched down on the boulders around him, assessing his weakness.

A flying stone had sent the biggest bird tumbling in a squalling, flapping cloud of feathers. And then a long boy with broken glasses had hurled a boulder and kicked the next bird all the way out of Sam’s range of vision.

“Here!” he had shouted. “He’s here!”

Ten more boys had followed, urgent and angry and lofting stones after the disappointed vultures. Sam had been lifted and carried back to the ranch, where he’d been propped in his orange chair and filled with fluids. And after much scowling and irritation, Mr. Spalding had declared the workday over due to heat.

Sam rolled his neck. There was a little patch of dried blood in his hair from today’s collapse out on SADDYR land. And it itched. Like crazy.

Sam’s plastic chair was just beneath a badly painted mural made up of St. Anthony of the Desert—a bald man with a beard that looked more like a waterfall of noodles—alongside the giant words that Mr. Spalding though were inspirational.

BE SADDYR!
S is for SAINTLY!
A is for ACTIVE!
D is for DILIGENT!
D is for DETERMINED!
Y is for YESNESS!
R is for RESPONSIBLE!

Sam turned his head to the side and ground the itchy scab spot against “R is for RESPONSIBLE!

All Around Sam, the little rectangular Commons echoed with the violence of Ping-Pong, laughter, and the blip and ring of the pinball machine. Two of the boys were rotating through Mr. Spalding’s antique disco records—squeaking one quick beat to a stop only to start up another identical one.

“Sam?” Peter Eagle, the tallest and toughest of all the Ranch Brothers, pointed his Ping-Pong paddle at Sam from across the room. His dark hair looked like midnight polished into glass, and his eyes were volcanic even when he was happy. “Need a drink? More water? A Coke?”

Sam shook his head just as Peter spun away, smacking his opponent’s stealth serve back across the net without looking.

“Ha!” Peter slapped his chest with his paddle. “Nothing sneaks past this! Nothing!”

– – – – –

AUTHOR BIO—N. D. Wilson

N. D. Wilson is the author of Leepike Ridge, a children’s adventure story, and 100 Cupboards, the first installment in a multi-world fantasy series. He enjoys high winds, milk, and night-time. He received his Masters degree from Saint John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, is the managing editor of Credenda/Agenda magazine and is also a Fellow of Literature at New Saint Andrews College. His writing has appeared in Books & Culture, The Chattahoochee Review, and Esquire

What Aliens Teach Us About God, part 6: Aliens as Substitute for Knowing God

Human beings may long for fellowship with intelligent aliens, yet truly need relationship with the transcendent God.

SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, was the backdrop of the 1997 movie Contact, where the desire to find intelligent alien life in the cosmos via radio messages actually finds an alien signal–which in turn gives instructions on how humans can build a machine that in the story projects the protagonist to another star system. Where she meets a benevolent and paternal alien.

Contact, twenty years old now, is unique in that it was based on a fictional novel written by a prominent astronomer, Carl Sagan, and adapted into a movie. Since there are no other science fiction stories by astronomers adapted into movies that I know of, perhaps that explains why no other film has expressed so clearly the deep longing to find extraterrestrials that some humans today feel. The satisfaction of that longing is expressed in a memorable scene from Contact summarized in the two pictures below, but which also can seen in an imgur.com post I’ve linked:

In this scene, an alien manifests itself in the image of the main character’s (late) father and discusses how meeting other alien species gives deep meaning to their existence. Doing so, “makes the emptiness bearable,” the-alien-in-the-form-of-daddy explains.

I think Carl Sagan meant the emptiness of the vastness of space with this line on making “emptiness bearable,” but it’s easily possible to see much more in that statement. Which of course reflects not how aliens feel, but how Sagan himself and many other among our race feel about meeting aliens. SETI isn’t just a matter of mere curiosity for some people. For some, the desire to meet aliens expresses a deep emotional longing–a response to pondering a vast universe only inhabited by us humans, which fills them with a sense of intense loneliness–or even dread.

Since I believe this deep longing that inspires SETI is very real and important to many people, I expected when writing this post that there would more recent movies than Contact on this theme that I’d simply never seen or wasn’t thinking of. I searched for them, but I could not find any as clear on this topic as Contact was, though Star Trek: First Contact and some other films have touched on this. Perhaps this is mostly because not many movies are written by astronomers–though I believe there’s likely another reason why we don’t see many movies that openly express a deep longing to meet extraterrestrials, a reason I will bring up again in a bit.

First it’s important to mention I found plenty of evidence of people taking about this issue in a way that parallels Contact. But they’re mostly talking about it in non-fiction formats, in YouTube documentaries and in books such as Paul Davies’ Are We Alone?: Philosophical Implications Of The Discovery Of Extraterrestrial Life. Or in TED talks, such as a TED talk on SETI by Jill Tarter in 2009, in which the she offered the following statement (starting about 4 minutes from the end): “The discovery of intelligent life beyond Earth would eradicate the loneliness and solipsism that has plagued our species since its inception. And it wouldn’t simply change everything, it would change everything at once.”

So the kind of people talking about this issue are the “nerds” who are into pondering the ultimate nature of the universe (which is the kind of nerd I am), people who are not merely curious to find intelligent alien life. Many if not most also believe that SETI can profoundly transform the human race. These serious astronomers and philosophers of the cosmos, at least some of them, look to aliens as a means to eliminate what I could call the “cosmic loneliness” of our species.

Yet if this is such a big deal for many, why isn’t it reflected in fiction more often? Why doesn’t science fiction ask the question, “Are we alone?”–that is, the only intelligent species in the universe–more often?

Maybe it’s because Guardians of the Galaxy, Men in Black, Star Wars, Star Trek and so many more science fiction stories have in effect already answered the question: “No, we are not alone–aliens are everywhere.” Maybe in the popular imagination it’s not necessary to pine for the discovery of aliens to alleviate our cosmic loneliness, because aliens are for the most part already accepted as existing. Any sense that a vast, empty universe would be disturbing is alleviated before it even forms, by ubiquitous fictional aliens.

Please note that I do rather agree that the idea of a vast universe only inhabited by human beings would be depressing if not disturbing–but the universe is not empty other than us. The presence of God permeates every place that exists, just as God is available to all who seek him from any place here on Planet Earth. If somehow we humans were able to travel to each and every one of the 100 billion or so galaxies known to exist, we would not be truly alone in any of them, even if we never find any extraterrestrial intelligent life there, because the spirit of God is in all of those places.

By the way, I should mention here that I do not know if intelligent aliens exist or not–I don’t feel I have enough evidence to know either way. Note that I am not one of those Christian thinkers who eliminates the existence aliens in advance. On the contrary, in a blog post of mine on aliens I argued just the opposite, saying that I believe aliens can in fact exist.

But I am not very much troubled by the question–I would not be disturbed if there are no intelligent aliens–if SETI never succeeds. Because whether there are aliens or not, the universe is not empty. God is there.

The desire that some people feel, a desire for a connection with something other than humanity, the urge to meet aliens, I think is in fact a substitution for the innate desire God put in people to know him and seek to understand him. These people feel despair at the thought of an empty universe–yet that thought should cause them to think about God. They feel longing to contact a mind that is unlike the human mind–never realizing that God is in many key ways not like a human being.

What they are really unknowingly longing for is a relationship with the transcendent God of the Bible. Not with the overly-simplified (and tamed) God of some people’s imaginations, an old man with a beard sitting on a throne, a sort of Santa Claus in space, but with the real God, the one who invented both relativity and quantum mechanics. The one who can think in ways we can make sense of and in ways we will never grasp. The One who is beyond us. Who is transcendent. And yes, who is everywhere–even in the most distant galaxies.

In the next (and last) installment of this series I will drive home the practical application, the “so what” of the idea of that fictional aliens teach us important things about God.

But in the meantime, what do you think about this topic? Do you think SETI is a substitute for a search for God? Do you believe aliens have replaced God in the popular imagination? Other thoughts?

A St. Valentine’s Question

Whether this post will be pro- or anti-Valentine’s Day will be up to you.
| Feb 14, 2018 | 5 comments |

So I was thinking about what might be a good or at least passable topic and suddenly I realized: this post will go live on St. Valentine’s Day. It seemed appropriate, then, to write a post themed on this great holiday of love, and anyway I was having trouble scraping up passable topics. Whether this post will be pro- or anti-Valentine’s Day will be up to you.

First of all, we should consider how ironic it is that the holiday of romantic love is named after a Catholic priest, a class of people who are ideally preoccupied with other concerns. Second, we should consider the intersection between romance and speculative fiction. As a fan of SF among other fans, I’ve seen a fair share of hostility directed toward the romance genre. Christian fans, at least, seem sometimes to regard it as the (regretfully ascendant) rival of Christian SF. But romance looming so large in human nature and human experience, it inevitably finds its own place in speculative fiction.

Yet a place shaped by the contours of the genre, and not always a proud one. Science fiction, in its young days, was a man’s genre, and the woman of the old stories was inevitably young and inevitably beautiful and inevitably belonged to the hero; she was also the daughter of the sage old man, and the sage old man and the strong young hero spent all kinds of time explaining things to her. In another vein, not a very deep one but at least bright, girls were tossed in along with all the other things a healthy-minded boy could desire: a quest, an adventure, a cool weapon, a fast ship, a righteous cause.

Fantasy, molded by the ancient traditions of fairy tales, has been less male-centric but not necessarily more sensible. Even moving away from the eternal puzzles of the archetypal fairy tales (could the prince really not identify Cinderella except by her shoe size?), certain ideas have thrown long shadows over the genre – true love that is instant and unmistakable, fated love that can’t be thwarted or resisted. Being rescued from a tower or a dragon or an evil wizard may seem like a clear sign, but on sober reflection, it may not be the soundest basis for a lifelong relationship.

When it comes to balanced and realistic portraitures of romantic love, speculative fiction has not, as a genre, clothed itself with glory. Neither has romance, but that is not our topic, just an aside I couldn’t resist. Over the years, science fiction and fantasy have made progress away from the old tropes and stereotypes. I’ll offer no predictions on where the genre is going.

But on this Valentine’s Day, I wonder – where do you want it to go? What, in your ideal book, is the intersection between romance and speculative fiction? Would you, on this St. Valentine’s Day, cast a vote for or against romance in speculative fiction?

2018 Spec Faith Winter Writing Challenge

Feel free to invite any of your friends to participate, either as writers or readers. The more entries and the more feedback, the better the challenge.

It’s time for our winter writing challenge!

Because winter encourages indoor sports, now is the perfect time for our Spec Faith writing contest. When you’re not busy watching the Olympics or working on your own writing projects or reading the latest speculative story that has captured your attention, why not add to your winter writing and reading joy?

As we have for the last several years, Spec Faith is holding a winter writing challenge, a type of writing exercise, with rewards. There’s feedback from other Spec Faith visitors and there’s the potential for a $25 gift card from either Amazon or B&N. And for readers, there are stories or story beginnings to enjoy. It’s all very win-win!

As a refresher, here’s how this winter writing challenge works:

1. I’ll give a first line, and those who wish to accept the challenge will write what comes next—in 100 to 300 words, putting your entry into the comments section of this post.

“What comes next” may be the opening of a novel, a short story, or a completed piece of flash fiction—your choice.

In keeping with Spec Faith’s primary focus on the intersection of speculative fiction and the Christian faith, writers may wish to incorporate Christian elements or to write intentionally from a Christian worldview, but neither is required. Likewise, I’d expect speculative elements, or the suggestion of such, but entries will not be disqualified because of their omission.

2. Readers will give thumbs up to the ones they like the most (unlimited number of likes), and, if they wish, they may give a comment to the various entries, telling what particularly grabbed their attention.

By the way, I encourage such responses—it’s always helpful for entrants to know what they did right and what they could have done to improve.

3. After the designated time, I’ll re-post the top three (based on the number of thumbs up they receive), and visitors will have a chance to vote on which they believe is the best (one vote only).

4. I’ll again sweeten the pot and offer a $25 gift card (from either Amazon or Barnes and Noble) to the writer of the entry that receives the most votes (as opposed to the most thumbs up). In the event of a tie, a drawing will be held between the top vote getters to determine the winner.

And now, the first line:

Jenni fidgeted with her ring—the one only she could see—while she waited to hear the verdict.

Finally, those silly little details we all need to know:

  • Your word count does not include this first line.
  • You will have between now and midnight (Pacific time) this coming Monday (a week from today) to post your challenge entries in the comments section.
  • You may reply to entries, giving thumbs up, this week and next. To have your thumbs-up counted to determine the top three entries, mark your favorite entries before midnight (Pacific time) Sunday, February 25.
  • Voting begins Monday, February 26.

Feel free to invite any of your friends to participate, either as writers or readers. The more entries and the more feedback, the better the challenge.

Edited to add: apparently the “thumbs” have been replaced with + and – signs. I will count the number of +’s to determine the top three for the final poll.

Out of Darkness, Hope – the Promise of the Superversive

To subvert is to bring about change by undermining something from beneath. To supervert is to bring about change by inspiring from above.
| Feb 9, 2018 | 1 comment |

Joseph Swan, invented the incandescent light bulb at almost the same moment as Edison. When Steven Leberge pioneered sleep-to-waking communication at Stanford Labs, he was chagrined to discover that someone else had also done so (also in England), just around the same time.

Another idea that had sprung simultaneously into the world in the last few years is the notion that stories are meant for something more than the grim and cynical tales that have been popular of late.

This idea of a light springing from the darkness through fiction came to Sarah A. Hoyt as Human Wave, to those objecting to Grimdark as Noblebright, and to a few sf/fantasy authors who were tired of stories that subverted all the fine and decent things of the world as the Superversive Literary Movement.

The Superversive Literary Movement was born in a car in late May of 2013. My husband (author John C. Wright) and I were driving home from the Baltimore Science Fiction Convention, talking about the panels we had been on and how we were tired of a lack of heroism in the stories we watched or read. In particular, we were tired of the idea that anything subversive was hip and valuable in and of itself.

I had recently read about the founders of the Steampunk movement, and the idea of starting a literary movement amused me. I announced to my husband that we should start one: a literary movement devoted to heroism, decency, and a light shining in the darkness. In particular, I wanted it to be about the kind of stories where you are reading along, and, suddenly, you are lifted out of the ordinary into a “world more bright,” where you gain a glimpse though the supposedly-eternal clouds of the stars beyond.

We had a theme for our new literary movement. All we needed was a name. After a few false starts, John suggested Superversive.

What does Superversive mean, you ask?

To subvert is to bring about change by undermining something from beneath. To supervert is to bring about change by inspiring from above.

At the time, I knew the word as the Live Journal handle of Mr. Superversive himself, essayist extraordinaire Tom Simon. (If you have not read any of Mr. Simon’s essays on Tolkien and the nature of storytelling, you are in for a treat.) At first, I objected to Superversive Literary Movement as a name, as I found the word hard to say. With time, however, it has grown on me until, now, I cannot imagine using a different word.

It took me over a year to launch this new literary movement. In September of 2014, the Superversive Literary Movement Blog was finally announced to the world in the form of a blog. Our first essay was “The Art of Courage” by Mr. Simon himself.

Almost immediately, something strange happened.

People began contacting me, letting me know how much they wanted to be involved—not just in little ways but in major ones. Sixteen-year-old A. M. Freeman sent me an article for the blog that, to this day, remains one of the best we have ever posted. Other people sent posts as well.

But most amazing of all, Jason Rennie, at the time the Australian publisher of Sci Phi Journal, wrote and asked if I minded if he started a blog.

Minded? I was ecstatic!

A literary movement had been born!

Today, Mr. Rennie’s blog, Superversive SF, continues to host the Superversive blog. He has also founded Superversive Press, a small press publisher that is on the lookout for quality fiction with heroic or uplifting themes.

People sometimes ask us how Superversive stories differ from noblebright. To a degree, they don’t.

To the degree that they do, it is something like this: if a noblebright story takes place in a “world more bright”, a Superversive story tends to start in the darkness and occasionally glimpse that brighter world through the murk, as a light in the distance.

It offers the promise that even if things should grow dark, there is always reason to hope.

In some areas, there is not room for two luminaries. Joseph Swan is all but forgotten, while Edison is still a household name. In the world of literature, however, there is plenty of room anyone who wants to join the renaissance celebrating the bright and heroic in the soul of man.

May Noblebright and Superversive stories continue side-by-side for generations to come.

For anyone interested in learning more about the Superversive Literary Movement, some of the best articles—including some mentioned above—can be found here.

– – – – –

L. Jagi Lamplighter is the author of the YA fantasy series: The Books of Unexpected Enlightenment, the third book of which was nominated for the YA Dragon Award in 2017. She is also the author of the Prospero’s Daughter series: Prospero Lost, Prospero In Hell, and Prospero Regained.

She has published numerous articles and short stories. She also has an anthology of her own works: In the Lamplight.

When not writing, she switches to her secret identity as wife and stay-home mom in Centreville, VA, where she lives with her dashing husband, author John C. Wright, and their four darling children, Orville, Ping-Ping Eve, Roland Wilbur, and Justinian Oberon.

Learn more about Jagi and the Superversive Literary Movement at these sites:
* her website and blog;
* SuperversiveSF blog;
* Fantastic Schools and Where to Find Them blog.

Read the first four chapters of The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin for free.

Find The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin on Amazon.