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.

What Aliens Teach Us About God, part 5: The UFO Alien Phenomenon

Do aliens secretly visit Earth or ghosts haunt people? These stories likely have the same cause: dark spiritual forces.

It’s impossible to reasonably mention all the movies that portray aliens visiting Planet Earth–there are just so many of them. But a certain subset of such films portray aliens as if they are visiting us in secret in a particular way that this post will call the UFO alien phenomenon.

The Fourth Kind–levitation under hypnosis.

“UFO” famously stands for “Unidentified Flying Object,” and one of the key things about UFOs is nobody knows where they come from or what they are doing. Stories that have the aliens conducting meetings with humans (e.g. Arrival) or have them transition from mysterious flying objects into an outright invasion (e.g. Signs or Independence Day) or which portray the general public believing the objects are unidentified, while a secret government organization knows they are in fact already-observed types of alien spacecraft (e.g. Men in Black) don’t really feature UFOs anymore. The flying objects become identified during the story’s plot, at least a little.

But some movies keep the UFOs thoroughly unidentified. And if they feature encounters with aliens, the aliens also remain largely unexplained. In fact, these sorts of movies dramatically portray the sorts of situations that human beings who claim to see UFOs and who claim to be abducted by aliens say happens to them. This article will use 2009’s The Fourth Kind as the only example of this type of movie, even though its just is one out of many (and there have also been TV series on this same topic, most notably The X Files).

The Fourth Kind internally claims to be a documentary that switches back between “dramatized” scenes where actors portray events and the actual video recordings of “real people” who have had contact with unidentified aliens. Both portrayals are in fact equally fictional, but within the confines of the film, the story is about people having troubling dreams about a number of things, including disturbing owl faces.

An “owl” from The Fourth Kind–a suppressed memory of aliens.

The disturbed people seek the help of a psychologist who uses hypnotism to explore the actual events that inspired their dreams (the sessions with the hypnotist are captured by “real” video footage). And–you guessed it–the actual events that inspired the strange dreams were encounters with unidentified aliens and/or alien abductions, acted out in the “dramatized” scenes (note the owl faces people reported seeing were supposedly altered memories of “real”alien faces).

Again, this movie is 100% fiction and everyone who produced it admits it. However, the way the movie portrays the UFO alien phenomenon is based on the types of reports people actually make about having encounters with aliens, aliens that supposedly arrive on Planet Earth via UFOs.

And these encounters–both within The Fourth Kind and the reports real people no-kidding claim are based on actual events–are generally really weird. The so-called “aliens” tend to pick particular people they visit over and over again. The events that transpire with the aliens seem mostly incomprehensible. People are probed and observed and nobody really knows why the aliens are doing what they are doing.  Strange lights are seen and objects move for odd reasons and people even mysteriously levitate under hypnosis (in The Fourth Kind) as they recall their ordeals. People scream at the top of their lungs when they see the aliens or remember them or are utterly paralyzed by fear.

This sort of behavior is nothing like the kinds of aliens who invade us in science fiction–who may terrify us with their weapons or appearance but in the end are pretty much like other bad guys–only from “outer space.” Nor is it like the aliens from Arrival who yes, are weird (truly alien in a meaningful way), but with whom you can have a conversation once you know how. In contrast, how could you have a conversation with aliens whose physical presence is so disturbing that everyone who sees them is either screaming or frozen in place in terror?

In fact, some aspects of the UFO alien phenomenon parallel stories of hauntings and ghost visitations. Strange, inexplicable movement of objects and lights (or shadows), terrifying apparitions that may require hypnosis to fully remember, visitations that oddly focus on specific people or specific sites–these are all common both to reports of ghost manifestations and also to alien abductions.

As a Christian who believes in a supernatural world, it seems rather obvious to me to suggest that aliens thought of as secretly visiting Planet Earth and accounts of ghosts haunting people and places have the same basic cause–dark spiritual forces. Though if you don’t have to take my word for it–the astronomer Carl Sagan, who was an atheist, in his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World stated he believed that the UFO alien phenomenon had the same cause as people seeing fairies or demons or gods in past times. He attributed this to a flaw in human psychology rather than actual spirits, but if he could notice the similarities in ghost stories and UFO accounts while not even believing spirits exist, I think people who actually believe in the supernatural ought to pay attention.

Even if we suppose that Sagan may have been at least at times correct that flawed psychology in the form of over-active imagination is behind at least some of the UFO alien phenomenon, these reports of meeting aliens from UFOs are quite different from what we would expect to happen if we ever really met aliens. As they are currently reported, UFO encounters seem to have more to do with how humans tick and how we relate to the supernatural than they have to do with actual aliens.

OK, even so, is there anything in common between meeting the types of aliens reported in UFO encounters and Biblical accounts of human beings encountering a manifestation of Jehovah?

Um, actually, yes. At least a little.

Moses may have been merely curious when he first saw the burning bush, but many encounters of a follower of God with the Creator seem to inspire terror. Isaiah 6:5 records the prophet saying, ““Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.” Though Isaiah’s fear is based on his awareness of his sinfulness rather than irrational terror, there is no doubt that a person facing a manifestation of God does not engage the Almighty in casual conversation. The presence of God, while arguably gentler in general than the presence of UFO aliens, is pretty overwhelming to human beings.

In fact, people meeting angels in service to God likewise are often (but not always) overwhelmed. Which is why many times the first thing an angel says to a human being is, “Fear not.” There’s a reason that happens–fear really is the first reaction to an angelic visitation, at least most of the time. We human beings are clearly not equals even to the created angels. They, somewhat like UFO “aliens,” tend to inspire tremendous fear in human beings–as does the infinite Creator God.

Another commonality is that in parallel to how UFO aliens do incomprehensibly strange things to humans (often humiliating things, quite different from meeting angels), some of the things God does or asks people to do does not seem to make sense. God clearly takes people by surprise, often saying things other than what they were expecting to hear. Yet, arguably, God’s actions are generally more understandable and reasonable than the actions of UFO aliens.

Of course, if these aliens actually are manifestations of the supernatural (i.e. demonic entities), it comes as no great surprise that at least a few things about them would be similar to the actions of the supernatural God of the Bible. In that case, both would be supernatural spiritual entities. It makes sense that at least a few things about God and this kind of “alien” would be alike.

Even if the presence of these “UFO phenomenon” aliens is generally terrifying and their actions, generally sinister.

Next week’s post will discuss how the desire some people feel to have close relationships with aliens actually functions as a substitute for a relationship with God. But for now, what do you think of this topic?

What do you think about UFOs? Alien abductions? Do you agree that these aliens are probably demonic manifestations? Would you agree that some of the reactions to these so-called “aliens” have at least a little in common with how people have reacted to the God of the Bible?

Weekday Fiction Fix – Seeds by Rachel Starr Thomson

In the fantasy world of Kepos Gé, Linette Cole flees her past by joining a frontier settlement on the edge of the wilderness. But she can’t escape the threats abroad in this new world—or the wild things growing in her own heart.
| Feb 7, 2018 | 1 comment |

Seeds: A Christian Fantasy
By Rachel Starr Thomson

The Chronicles of Kepos Gé Book 1

INTRODUCTION – Seeds: A Christian Fantasy

SEEDS is page-turning Christian fantasy by acclaimed author Rachel Starr Thomson — a novel about a wild frontier, monsters in the shadows, and a world trying to hold onto a fragile peace even as dark forces conspire against them.

In the fantasy world of Kepos Gé, a young woman flees her past by joining a frontier settlement on the edge of the wilderness. But she can’t escape the threats abroad in this new world—or the wild things growing in her own heart.

Something is deeply wrong in Jerusalem Valley, where the persecuted religious faction called Tremblers are trying to create a new society. As Linette Cole struggles toward acceptance and newfound faith, friends turn to enemies and enemies become friends.

Soon Linette will face the greatest challenge of her life:

Because words have been spoken.

And words grow.

SEEDS BY RACHEL STARR THOMSON — EXCERPT

Prologue

Kepos Ge – The Garden World

In the year 1516, an alliance of nations called the Kaion Anthropon—born out of the remnants of an ancient empire 1500 years earlier—was torn apart by a series of wars. In the beginning, it was religious unity that created the Kaion—unity made in the worship of Father, Son, and Fire Within. Now, religious strife tore it apart. The conflict was called the Wars for Truth, as the Kaion split into factions, each claiming to hold exclusive truth and hope, not just for the Kaion, but for all mankind.

Of these factions, two became primary: the Sacramenti, keepers of the old ways, and the Puritani or Pure People who claimed the old ways had become corrupt and that they were the new guardians of truth and freedom.

The Wars were bloody and seeming endless, raging for over a hundred years. As they split the Kaion into smaller and smaller entities, kings and nations sided with one faction or the other. In time, power shifted decisively to the Puritani, and the Sacramenti were largely driven underground. At last the Kepos Gé settled into an uneasy truce.

But even then, the splitting—and the attempts to find truth—did not end. From the Sacramenti was born an order called the Imitators, priests who sought to purify the Sacramenti from within and bring a renewal of their beliefs . . . and of their influence. From the Puritani, a smaller group split away, objecting to the new Puritani alliances with political powers and seeking a more intimate and personal connection to Truth. These were called Luminari, but their strange practices soon had them nicknamed “Tremblers.”

I the year 1639, King Aldous II of Angleland, an island nation belonging to the Puritani, granted to a trouble-making Trembler within his courts land in the New World across the sea. His name was Herman Melrose. Dreaming of a world in which peace might reign and tolerance lead every faction into unity and love through the influence of the Fire Within, Melrose crossed the ocean in a ship, meeting with the Colonies on the shores of the New World before beginning his river voyage inland—bound for the wooded mountains and valleys that now belonged to him.

Herman Melrose carried the challenge of forging a truly new order within the New World. With him was a small group of settlers. Ahead of him was an unknown world, inhabited by unknown tribes and deadly beasts.

And behind him, the Imitators trained up one of their own for a mission.

Part 1 Arrival

Chapter 1

July 1642, The New World

Linette Cole rested her hands on the rail of the flat-bottomed riverboat and gazed out at the green world unfurling before her. A long strand of strawberry-blonde hair worked loose from her bun, blew across her face, and she tucked it behind her ear.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” asked a soldier behind her.

“That it is,” she answered, keeping her eyes forward, fixed on the land before her. The crystal-clear river was wide and slow-moving here, and along its banks stretched a flat, sandy plain. Not a hundred feet beyond that, the land rose into hills and then mountains, covered with trees in a deep green darkness, a misty and mysterious world that called to her and frightened her both at once. She’d heard countless stories of the dangers of the wilderness—beasts, sheer cliffs, strange diseases, and terrible storms—only slightly more frightening than rumors of the tattooed and godless Outsiders. The stories had been told to her, offered to her like stones in a wall meant to keep her in the Colonies.

The frontier was no place for a woman, they said.

Not even a woman like her.

She glanced away from the scene beyond the river as the conversations and confrontations of her last days in New Cranwell flickered over her eyes like a film. Countless moments, woven into a painful cloak of shame and loss that she hoped never to wear again.

They’d told her there was another way—they, the authorities of the Puritani kirk and colony, not least among them her own father. They’d sworn that she would grow used to her new position in the Colonies, used to being an outcast and a byword, used to the constant reminders of her aching loss, and she would accept it and find peace.

– – – – –

AUTHOR BIO — RACHEL STARR THOMSON

A speaker and spoken-word artist with 1:11 Ministries, Rachel leads audiences worldwide in exploring the depths of biblical truth. She is also the author of the Seventh World Trilogy, The Oneness Cycle, and many other books.

Her blog, Revelatory Creative, shares studies and stories to help believers discover the kingdom of God. Check it out (and get a free book or two!) at www.rachelstarrthomson.com.

Rachel lives in the beautiful Niagara Region of southern Ontario, just down the river from the Falls. She drinks far too much coffee and tea, daydreams of visiting Florida all winter, and hikes the Bruce Trail when she gets a few minutes. A homeschool graduate from a highly creative and entrepreneurial family, she believes we’d all be much better off if we pitched our television sets out the nearest window.

Grow Christian Fantasy: Start a Book Club

Friends and members of your church, school, or library might love to join a book club and explore Christian fantastical stories.
| Feb 6, 2018 | 4 comments |

Why isn’t there more Christian fantasy?1

Answer: Not enough readers are buying it.

That’s just the plain and simple fact, and you can read more of my reasons in this 2016 article. (Not much has changed in 1.5 years.)

But you may say: “Wait a minute! I know many people who would love this kind of fiction. They are Christians, and they love fantasy, so much that many of them even want to write it themselves. Also, they enjoy fantastical genres such as superhero movies or horror TV. So how come we’re not seeing more Christian fantasy?”

Answer: thank God for those people, but they’re still not enough to raise demand.

Why not?

Partly because watching fantasy does not equal reading fantasy.

Partly because many of these fans are content with non-Christian fantasy (neglecting the fact that Christians also still need our own subcultures).

And partly because of that very glut of folks in Christian-fantasy-writer circles. Since we lack many of these successful stories, more young Christians decide to take up writing. That raises demand for Christian fantasy at perhaps the exact rate of supply. So the end result becomes an equalization. Demand for Christian fantasy can’t naturally outpace the supply.

So what’s the solution?

How can we grow demand for these stories among readers and fans?

Answer: let’s joyously share these stories with more people who would love them.

Someone may respond: “But I’ve been doing that. I run my blog, I have a podcast, I write online reviews, I keep digitally publishing my own novels, I’m on the social networks …”

All those are great ways to grow this culture, and by all means, keep that up!

However, I meant: let’s joyously share these stories with more people in real life.2

Think beyond the blogs (which may attract only the fully committed aspiring-author folks), podcasts and online reviews (same results?), and social networks (which can increasingly drain your time and constrict outreach efforts, e.g. Facebook’s reduction of Page reach).

Think about the people in your real life.

Your local church.

Your Christian school.

Your family, volunteer organization, library, or circle of real-life friends.

How many of them would jump at the chance—or show even passing interest—in new, positively reviewed, enthusiastically promoted fantastical novels by Christian authors?

How many of them just might like to join a book club to explore these stories?

Say, a book club led by you, yes, you, who are already a fan of Christian fantastical fiction?

Someone may say, You don’t know my church. People aren’t interested in that.

Perhaps this is true. Perhaps my own church is an outlier. After all, my pastors loved the idea and shared support, and the flagship Lorehaven Book Club at Southern Hills Baptist Church in Round Rock, Texas (now featuring Firebird) has been going slow yet strong.

But I’ve also hosted a similar book club at my previous church, where my pastors were supportive but not personally invested in the idea of Christian fantasy. Nevertheless, we drew a diverse group of book explorers: homeschool parents and children, older couples, young dads, and single adults, including frequent visitors from outside our church.

In the process, we put these books on these people’s radar.

And that’s with a rather disorganized book club effort!

Imagine what even better organized book clubs could do!

Imagine a whole quarterly publication—Lorehaven magazine—dedicated to reviewing books and helping not just individual fans, but groups of fans to find this fantastical fiction.

Imagine a network of leaders who can help you find a club near you, or start your own.

And imagine a whole insider section, at this very website, where book club leaders can share news, swap tips, and of course, get exclusive (sometimes free) books to explore.

We’re putting this together at Lorehaven.com.

Novelist and Lorehaven Book Club coordinator Steve Rzasa

And we’ve recruited none other than novelist Steve Rzasa to help coordinate book club organization. He knows science fiction, fantastic geek-etry, and library work.3 As we move toward debuting Lorehaven’s first issue this spring, Steve will become guardian to the Christian-fantasy-book club galaxy. Watch this space to learn more when the time comes.

This leaves only a few closing questions:

Q. How many people want to start a book club?

A. Nearly forty souls have already told us they would like help starting a book club.

Q. How can I enjoy these courageous adventurers?

A. Easy. Sign up for Lorehaven updates and let us know you’re interested in starting a club!

Q. Can I find a book club near me?

A. Give us a few months, and perhaps we can answer “yes.”

Click to sign up for Lorehaven updates.

Meanwhile, you can join the flagship Lorehaven book club virtually.

Sign up for Lorehaven updates and note in the comment space that you’d like to participate.

Or comment below and say the same. (If you give your email address in the proper field when you post your comment, we can fetch the address from inside Speculative Faith so that you don’t need to share it publicly.)

I’ll add you to a small, exclusive email list with news, announced books, and club questions.

We’re exploring Kathy Tyers’s Firebird in February, and plan new books each month.

Q. I have another question!

A. Share it below! I’ll interact as often as needed so we can share these stories together.

  1. By “Christian fantasy,” I mean both “fiction in any fantastical genre, written by a Christian,” and “such fiction marketed to Christians.”
  2. This does not disparage real-life friendships and other relationships that start with internet connections. But human history, past and recent, keeps re-proving the value of using long-range connections for real-life, short-distance relationships. I should know; I met my wife, Lacy, in the internet forum NarniaWeb.
  3. Steve Rzasa also probably wrote another novel during the time you were reading this article.

Fantasy That Works

Next time you read a fantasy, see how it measures in these areas: premise, conflict, realistic characters that act, a dense story world, a story that says something important.

This article discussing fantasy is a revised edition of one that appeared at Spec Faith 1.0 back in September, 2008. Surprisingly, these elements still ring true, and may be helpful in writing or ferreting out the best stories. While the article specifies “fantasy,” in reality the points are equally applicable to science fiction and other types of speculative stories.

– – – – –

I’ve had the chance to read a little fantasy published by general market houses—something I’d hoped to do for some time as a way to learn more. My question always is, What makes this work (or not)? Here’s what I’m learning.

Fantasy works if the premise is captivating. For one thing, it can’t seem like a same-old, same-old story. There has to be something new about it—a fresh angle, a different perspective, a unique character, an unexpected result … something. I remember when I first realized how much I loved fantasy and started searching for more, I dove into one book only to find a thin imitation of The Chronicles of Narnia. I read only that one book and moaned and groaned as I did so.

The premise can also be captivating if it is “high concept.” This was a buzz word among editors and agents for a time, though it seems to have faded in the background, at least in active discussions. From what I can determine, a high concept makes the story not only unique but important.

A fantasy that works must be a story with conflict. Things cannot resolve too easily or quickly. The characters need to struggle to accomplish what they set out to do. Which brings up the next point. < Fantasy that works has characters that act. They are not passive. They have strong wants or needs and they go out to find a way to acquire the object of their longing. Often these wants and needs morph as the character develops, but in every great story, the character is making things happen, not simply trying to survive a sequence of unfortunate events.

The characters are also realistic. This means, they are self aware and will admit to their shortcomings. They have personalities that are different from each other. Their mannerisms might get on a reader’s nerves—or on the nerves of another character. They try things, and sometimes those things work out, but a lot of times, they don’t.

As long as what they try makes sense, the trying itself endears these characters to readers, so another quality of these characters is that they are engaging. They make readers want to cheer them on.

If fantasy is to work, it must have a dense world. The place must feel new, vibrant, authentic, and not confusing. A number of years ago, I did a few critiques for a writer who had a world much like ours but for no reason I could discern, colors were different as were the names of things. So a rabbit was still a rabbit, it just wasn’t called that, and shrubs were blue instead of green—that sort of thing. The point is, there was no story reason for these differences. They were different just to be different. That doesn’t make fantasy work. The new things, the different things need to be necessary.

Finally, fantasy works if it has a theme worth having. The point behind the story needs to be woven seamlessly into the fabric so that it doesn’t stand out like an under-dressed guest at the opera. At the same time, it must actually be there. Readers often find more meaning to a story than an author intended, but in a genre dependent upon a good-versus-evil struggle, there needs to be a discernible theme once a reader puts in some thought.

There you have it, in a nutshell. Next time you read a fantasy, see how it measures in these areas: premise, conflict, realistic characters that act, a dense story world, a story that says something important. Then drop by Spec Faith and let us know what you discovered.

Fiction Friday — Exiles by R. J. Larson

For daring to trust their Creator, Araine and Nikaros are swept from their homes into a foreign land—slaves to their enemies.
| Feb 2, 2018 | 1 comment |

Exiles: Realms of the Infinite, Book One

by R. J. Larson

INTRODUCTION—EXILES

For daring to trust their Creator, Araine and Nikaros are swept from their homes into a foreign land—slaves to their enemies.

Araine Khalome of ToronSea follows the goddess Atea. But Araine secretly questions Atea’s power as a goddess. Wrestling with her spiritual doubts, Araine finds old scrolls containing verses that come alive, beckoning her soul. Within those words, Araine senses the presence of the Infinite, the despised Most Ancient God, enemy to all Ateans, and she’s captivated—secretly risking her life to read the Books of the Infinite.

You are forever in My sight . . .

Betrayed and condemned, Araine is swept away to the kingdom of Belaal, where she is swiftly apprehended and marked as a slave. Caught up in the lethal political and religious struggles within Balaal, Araine joins forces with another slave, Nikaros, a hostage and exiled son of an Eosyth Lord. As they fight to survive the antagonistic royal court, Nik and Araine soon realize that they must also protect the despotic god-king who has enslaved them.

But the god-king, Bel-Tygeon, has plans of his own.

Child of Dust, are you My servant?

– – – –

Other books in the series: Queen: Realms of the Infinite, Book Two

EXILES — EXCERPT

ToronSea would be a lovely place to live if it weren’t for her own people.

Clutching her marketing basket, Araine Khalome halted in the puddle-edged street and glared at two gangly young men—scrawny, cloak-clad Borii Kon and his only friend, Otris. As the smirking Otris stood guard, Borii swirled a black oil-stick against a pristine white wall, leaving a crude variant of the goddess Atea’s sacred serpentine coils.

“Borii!” Araine marched toward him, her sheer blue veils a-tangle with the spring breeze, their snapping briskness quite fitting her mood.

Spying her, Borii and Otris darted away, silently taunting her with wicked grins.

Araine stopped. Chasing those two was the last thing she wanted to do. Oh! If only the homeowner beyond that wall could catch those troublemakers and bloody their noses! Did Borii truly believe he was paying homage to the goddess with his unsanctioned artwork?

And how could divine Atea possibly be pleased? The elegant serpentine symbols of her powers had just been reduced to a blotchy mess, which would undoubtedly stir local ire against the goddess and against every Siphran Atean who’d immigrated to this quiet Traceland town of ToronSea. It would serve Borii and Otris right if the divine Atea were to overcast them this instant and banish their souls to the Nightlands. Scowling, Araine tugged her unruly veils closer. “Why can’t people behave? Where, for goodness sake, is their honor?”

Delicate footsteps clicked toward Araine in her sister’s distinctive dancer’s pace. Despite her wood-soled shoes, worn to defeat the mud, Iris was exquisite in her fine rose tunic and the sheer pink gossamer veils covering her gold braids. Her lilting voice amused, she linked her arm with Araine’s. “Talking to yourself again, little sister? Or are you now praying in the streets?”

“The only thing I’m praying right now is that fools such as Borii and Otris don’t cause the rest of us to run out of town!” She nodded toward the smeared goddess coils. “Why doesn’t Atea concern herself with mortal wrongdoings? Or right-doings, for that matter?”

“Sst!” Swiftly guiding Araine onward, Iris scolded beneath her breath, “Rain, hush! How can you dare to say such a thing? Your rebelliousness might call down woes from the heavens, and you sound like Grumps!”

“Well,” Araine huffed, secretly pleased by the comparison to Grandfather, “I’m only saying what I think, and Grumps might agree—as you should! Anyway, I’m not being rebellious. I’m longing to set things aright instead of bowing to wrong just because wrong is easier.”

“Safer!” Iris hissed. “It’s—”
“Poo!” Araine met her sister’s frosty, lovely gaze. “Setting wrongs aright will make things easier in the future. It’s wrong of that stupid Borii to scribble on other people’s clean walls, just as it was wrong of that brainless lordling to torture you in Atea’s . . .”

Iris flinched at Araine’s mention of her faithless love, and Araine bit down her impulsive rant. Heedless of any onlookers, she hugged her sister in the middle of the muddy street. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry! Don’t ret. As soon as we’re settled today, I’ll burn my finest incense and prostrate myself in utter remorse before our shrine.” As best she could. Irritability didn’t lend itself to worship though divine Atea commanded her reverence.

Iris blinked back tears and shook her gold-braided head, in command of herself again. “Forget him, as I must. Oh, Rain, please be careful! And thank you for the incense. I dread to think of what might happen if you didn’t atone.”

But why must she atone? She wasn’t entirely wrong to wish the goddess would intercede, was she? Araine sniffed and rummaged through her basket for rose water and cleansing herbs and oils. “Borii and Otris are the ones who are heading for a cursing. And not from the goddess. Just look at that wall! I can’t endure it. I’m going to alert the owner, apologize, and then scrub the symbol from—”

“No!” Iris dragged Araine toward the opposite side of the street, almost running into a brown-robed woman carrying a tall clay water vessel.

The woman gasped, “Watch yourselves! Silly girls.”

Regaining her balance, Araine blushed and nudged her sister. “What did you do that for?”

Iris glanced around then muttered, “I won’t allow you to destroy the sacred symbol.”

“A mockery of the sacred symbol. There’s a difference.”

“There isn’t,” Iris argued. “If you’d attend lessons more often, you’d understand. Once the symbol is given form, it exists and becomes an instrument of her power.”

Nonsense. That smear of charcoal simply clung to the wall, looking ugly. What power? Araine swallowed her urge to voice the words. She didn’t mean them. At least not entirely. But what was wrong with her lately? Araine Khalome, daughter of Darion, leader of the Atean colony in ToronSea, should never fall prey to such impious notions. Indeed, she loved Atea. Even so . . . As soon as she reached home, she would send an anonymous note and some money to the homeowner to pay for a nice coating of plaster. Hiding the symbol wouldn’t destroy it, and—

Iris gave her a startling shake. “Stop! Your mood’s written all over your face! If you’re finished buying your supplies, then let’s whisk you away before someone from the gathering sees or hears you! What would our parents say if you’re dragged before the council at the next meeting? Really, Rain, what’s taken hold of you today? Perhaps you don’t fear for your well-being, but I do. Come away.”

– – – – –

AUTHOR BIO—R. J. Larson

R. J. Larson is the author of numerous devotionals and is suspected of eating chocolate and potato chips for lunch while writing. She lives in Colorado with her husband and their two sons. The Books of the Infinite series marks her debut in the fantasy genre.

“Larson makes the fantasy genre thrilling even for readers who wouldn’t normally venture into mystical realms. Though the battles waged resemble tales from the Old Testament, there is no preaching here, merely a compelling story of good versus evil in which good is sure to triumph.” –Booklist