Mission Report, May 2019, Realm Makers Bookstore in Orlando and Columbus

This year so far, Realm Makers Bookstore has sold about 2,500 Christian-made fantastical books to eager readers across America.
| Jun 4, 2019 | 1 comment |

This year, fans of Christian-made fantastical novels have more proof than ever that these books can find eager readers.

To be exact, we have nearly 2,500 reasons. That’s the number of books sold by Realm Makers Bookstore at seven conferences.

(Browse the bookstore overview here. Or read my in-person reports from Fort Worth and from Cincinnati in past months.)

Last night, bookstore co-owner Scott Minor shared the latest progress. Scott and his wife–novelist Rebecca P. Minor–had just wrapped two more events, in Orlando and in Columbus, Ohio.

“Nashville and Columbus are unique,” Scott said. “They are the two events we did this spring, which we also did last spring.”

In each city this year, the bookstore doubled its 2018 sales.

This year the bookstore has found better ways to reach out to students and parents, including bigger booths and (especially) bookmarks.

“The more bookmarks we can get in people’s hands is directly proportional to how many books we end up selling,” Scott told me.

With bookmarks and more, Scott and Becky have found more ways to start conversations with families about the kinds of books they love. Plenty of parents end up finding the perfect stories for their children and teens. Or, perhaps more likely, readers are asking parents to purchase the books.

One large family, Scott said, bought $330 worth of books all in one go.

“They had already made two purchases separately before then!” he said.

More families say they want books for middle-grade readers, Scott said. Realm Makers Bookstore sells many copies to these readers, including older titles such as Wayne Thomas Batson’s The Door Within and Robert Liparulo’s The House of Dark Shadows.

“The general market has known that middle grade is big for some time,” Scott said.

For these last events, the bookstore was joined by authors Kerry Nietz in Columbus, and Catherine Jones Payne in both Orlando and Columbus.

Kerry Nietz (The DarkTrench Saga, Amish Vampires in Space) shares this:

Probably the two highlights were:

1) The lady with a math/science-oriented son who bought everything DarkTrench hoping they’d be something he’d connect with. She has a difficult time finding something he’ll read for fun and was near tears talking about it. Let’s hope he enjoys them.

2) A young man (late teens, I think) who was hovering near the DarkTrench books. When I asked him what he read, he said “graphic novels” and had already bought the Ted Dekker ones from the store. He said that too many words on the page bothered him. I was like “No worries, I’m glad you found something.” A few minutes later, he rounded the corner and saw the Amish books [Amish Vampires in Space, Amish Zombie from Space]. They went into his hand and stayed in his hand until his mom showed up to pay. I have no idea if he’ll be able to read those books or not, but he wanted them. (Those were the only copies of those I sold, but I told the stories about the books a lot.)

Once again, the big takeaway: Realm Makers Bookstore keeps finding that homeschool families alone are a great market for Christian-made novels in fantasy, sci-fi, and other fantastical genres.

“Christians read books that aren’t [labeled] ‘Christian books,” Scott said. “And they buy fantasy and science fiction for their kids.”

What Science Fiction Fact Will Be Next?

Although speculative fiction has taken the duel turn toward horror—vampires and monsters of various kinds—and superheroes, are there science fiction writers imagining and producing the next set of future technologies or societal trends in their stories?

Recently Travis Perry addressed this significant topic: “How Science Fiction Portrays the Future of Christianity.” For some time people have commented on the fact that science fiction can “predict” the future. Not really, of course, but a significant percent of science fiction imaginings become the technology of the future.

I remember, for instance, when the original Star Trek cast pulled out their communicators and flipped them open. Then along came those early cell phones that flipped open in much the same way. Of course the electronic tablets the various Star Trek shows used for passing on information and/or storing it, are so reminiscent of today’s computer tablets and reading devices.

But there are dozens more such connections between science fiction and the inventions of the future. Most famously Jules Verne described a submarine in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870), though apparently a writer named Margaret Cavendish first mentioned submarines in a 1666 satire, The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing-World. I don’t know if the latter counts since satire and science fiction are not trying to accomplish the same thing. Still, it’s remarkable that people so long ago imagined technology we now take for granted.

Other such looks into the future by science fiction writers include things like space travel, space stations, and going to the moon; cloning and robots; the use of microwave technology, radar, x-rays and CAT-scans. Artificial intelligence, of course, is a major player in many science fiction concepts, but so is “Borg technology,” and artificial implants.

Some of the science fiction ideas came less from imagination and more from an awareness of the current direction science was heading. Electric cars, for instance, popped up in 1969 in John Brunner’s novel Stand on Zanzibar. Aldus Huxley, influenced by J.B.S. Haldane, wrote, in his novel Brave New World, about a world dependent upon what we now call in vitro fertilization.

Of course there are many imagined science fiction concepts that have not (yet) been turned into fact: star ship “cloaking devices” and “transporter technology”; “photon torpedoes” and “dilithium crystals” that make “warp drive” and interstellar travel possible. These ideas come from the Star Trek family of stories inspired by Gene Roddenberry, but of course there are many others that readers of science fiction can add.

Some of the futuristic ideas coming from the genre, however, point to a bleak future. Thus, the start of the dystopian novel. Much of the downward turn of society, according to these science fiction accounts, comes from the political and social arena: power in the hand of the unscrupulous (such as Darth Vader and the Emperor, or The President in Hunger Games). Divergent by Veronica Roth also conceived of a world engineered by analytics—each young person took a placement test that figured heavily into the “faction” or various divisions from which they’d be assigned.

George Orwell in his novel 1984 married future technology with societal changes, envisioning a world divided into three states based on location. The one known as Oceania was ruled by Big Brother who controlled the population by a sophisticated system of surveillance. From this authoritarian control came unreliable or “fake” news intended to deceive, not enlighten, the public. Along with this effort the Ministry of Truth regularly modifies photograph (photoshops pictures) to portray what they wish, Orwell’s novel introduced the Thought Police which is a forerunner to the politically correct climate of western culture today.

Similarly Huxley brought science and society together in Brave New World, and in the process “anticipates huge scientific developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning” (Wikipedia, Brave New World). He included a society that was drug-dependent in order to keep them compliant and peaceful.

So I wonder, although speculative fiction has taken the duel turn toward horror—vampires and monsters of various kinds—and superheroes, are there writers imagining and producing in their stories the next set of future technologies or societal trends?

As I understand it, science fiction can serve as a prophetic voice, a warning against the natural outcome of directions that currently exist, or they can point toward hope and help and creativity. The former seems to have dominated the dystopian novels, but without real influence. So another question I have: is a novel successful just because it is popular, or should it have an impact that changes people?

I’d be curious what you all think, especially those who know science fiction better than I do.

The Wandering Earth: Science Fiction From Outside the USA

Are science fiction movies from China and other counties outside of the United States the future? Watching The Wandering Earth gave me some clues.
| May 30, 2019 | 19 comments |

I watched The Wandering Earth on Netflix and found the Chinese-made film (based on an award-winning novella written by a Chinese author) interesting. Science fiction movies have been made primarily in the USA for a long time and have been exported to the world. Relatively few science fiction stories have come back to the US from other countries. I’m looking at The Wandering Earth as an example of what foreign science fiction may offer the world in the future…though that may be a bit unfair, because this is in fact was only one film, one intended to represent just itself.

Numerous SPOILERS for The Wandering Earth follow, though I will leave some things out about how things take place, in case you decide you want to watch it.

The background of the story is that scientists in the near future discover our sun is showing signs of turning into a red giant. The sun will expand and destroy the Earth. So all the nations on the planet rally together to form “UEG” (United Earth Government), which devotes a massive effort to put colossal engines on the planet that allow first the rotation of the Earth to be stopped and then the entire planet to be moved out of orbit, with the idea of relocating it around a nearby star (which was not named in the movie but probably was Alpha Centauri). Human cities go underground at locations near the massive engines used to push Earth away from the sun as surface temperatures on our planet plummet.

Image Copyright: China Film Group Corporation

Planet Earth is directed towards Jupiter to get a gravity assist from swinging near the gas giant planet on the way out of the Solar System, arriving 17 years after leaving Earth orbit. Planet Earth is proceeded by a massive space station that leads the way for the planet, a space station with a Chinese astronaut (Liu Peiqiang) aboard, who is the father of the story’s main protagonist, Liu Qi, who lives in the underground version of Shanghai.

Liu Qi acquires his grandfather’s driving credentials and takes a giant truck used for mining on the now-exotic surface of the Earth for a joyride, taking with him Han Duoduo, whom his grandfather rescued as a baby girl from the massive tsunami that resulted when Earth’s rotation stopped and who is treated like his adopted sister. The joy ride takes on enormous significance when major earthquakes result from Earth approaching Jupiter, which shuts down a number of its engines, which runs the risk of Planet Earth approaching too close to the gas giant and being destroyed. Liu Qi winds up becoming the driver for a rescue crew who seek to restart the engines that will save Earth.

An important sub-plot is based on MOSS, the computer system that runs the space station flying in the vanguard of Earth (who was rather like HAL 9000 of 2001 A Space Odyssey), dictating that the station should save itself and fly on to the other star on its own. (I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that Liu Pieqiang foils the computer’s plans.)

So me, hard science fiction fan that I am, wondered immediately why the planners of this mission didn’t anticipate the earthquakes and why were the engines so easily shut down and why is it that they were approaching so close to Jupiter in the first place, etc. And the solution to this problem they eventually adopted (after the engines didn’t prove to be enough), er, yeah, was pretty terribly dumb. That is, their idea was to ignite Jupiter’s atmosphere, which had absorbed a fair amount of oxygen from the Earth, to cause a shock wave to get Earth back in position–which is SO wrong in so many ways (the explosion would not neatly travel straight back to Earth, even if it did, the nature of an explosion is to deliver a deadly high acceleration punch, and who is to say the unregulated explosion would be enough–or too much, etc, etc).

As already mentioned, I was perhaps unfairly watching this as being symbolic of Chinese (and even foreign in general) science fiction as a whole and was lamenting the fact that plot-induced stupidity seems to be a trick they learned very well from numerous US-made sci fi films. But after watching the movie I read the Wikipedia article on the film and discovered the original novella by Liu Cixin didn’t include such nonsense. For the original story, the main crisis of the tale featured a civil war erupting on Earth based on the idea that UEG had lied to everyone (though they hadn’t). So the original story that inspired the movie was in many ways quite realistic.

So I suppose the Chinese film focused on the more visually dramatic rather than what made sense. This very much happens with US-made films as well, so I didn’t see that as particularly indicative of Chinese or foreign science fiction.

Also similarly to US-made films, the special effects were good, even if a bit overly dramatic at moments. (Though the glimpses of Jupiter’s great spot through the ice storms on Earth’s surface were pretty awesome.)

Image Copyright: China Film Group Corporation

By the way, the film had no graphic violence or nudity, but some swear words appeared in the subtitles.

Note though the story does have some features I doubt you’d see in a US-made film. One example that comes to mind was its willingness to kill off important characters, which US films are usually more reluctant to do.

The movie also features a brief prayer, though obviously one played for a bit of a joke, because the character prays first to Einstein, then to Stephen Hawking, then to Buddha. Still, what was the last US-made sci fi film in which anyone prayed at all?

The film did not turn on its head the common assumption in US-made science fiction that only one language will be spoken in humanity’s future. I mean, US-made movies usually assume everyone speaks English in the future and you might have expected a Chinese-made film to assume everyone speaks Chinese. But no–the story focuses on Chinese characters, so is mostly in Chinese, but even they on a few occasions speak bits of English to one another. Representatives of the UEG speak Chinese but also English and for several important sections of the movie, French. Liu Pieqiang is assisted by a Russian Cosmonaut, Makarov, and weirdly Makarov speaks to Liu in Russian and Liu replies in Chinese and they understand each other just fine.  We could say that the Chinese language seems to have a more prominent role in the future world of story than it does in today’s world, but it’s hardly a mirror image of, say, Star Trek in which you’d be lucky to hear even one word of a language other than English spoken by a human character in the tale.

A unique issue related to language was accents: one of the secondary characters from Shanghai had blond hair and said his father is from China and his mother is Australian–and his way of speaking Chinese sounded different to me than everyone else in what must have been an Australian accent that probably was hilarious to Chinese ears. Yet the humor was lost on me. He just sounded different from everyone else.

In fact, one major difference in watching this movie for me was I haven’t watched many Chinese-language films at all. And while I do watch foreign films at times, I’ve studied more than a few world languages and usually have some idea what characters are saying without the subtitles (even in Korean I recognize a little). But I’m clueless in Chinese. I feel I lost a lot of the nuance of the acting by my reliance on the subtitles, though I did appreciate the bits of English and French, and even some of the Russian in the story. But that makes me think of how strange it must be to watch an American film without speaking any English–though in fact, what happens is watchers learn some English by watching English-language movies…

As we all may be learning more Chinese if more movies like The Wandering Earth are made in the future…and I think more such movies will be made. While I doubt they will replace the US film industry, we’re going to see more speculative fiction from outside the United States, most likely…and by the way I would recommend watching this particular movie for all of you reading this, even though I wouldn’t say it was great.

If any of you saw the movie or read The Wandering Earth novella, what are your thoughts on the story? And what do you think about the future of science fiction movies produced outside of the USA?

How Would the American Church Handle an EMP?

It’s obvious that the modern church, particularly in the USA, is very high-tech. Podcasts, streaming sermons, tithing kiosks, apps, etc., are everywhere. Whether this is good or bad is neither here nor there as far as this article is concerned. […]
| May 29, 2019 | 11 comments |

It’s obvious that the modern church, particularly in the USA, is very high-tech. Podcasts, streaming sermons, tithing kiosks, apps, etc., are everywhere. Whether this is good or bad is neither here nor there as far as this article is concerned. I’d like to look at something a little more sensational: what if it all suddenly disappeared?

Every movie or TV program that utilizes an EMP always has a layman’s explanation of what an EMP actually is, and that gets pretty tedious after a while (same thing with faster-than-light space travel). So if you don’t know what an EMP is, you’re out of luck, because I refuse to continue this pandering trend. I am going to assume that since you’re on this website dedicated to all things spekky, Trekky, and fantastekky (cough), I’ll also assume that you’ve watched at least one movie or TV show where an EMP is explained, and we’ll proceed accordingly.

There are many places in the world where the Christian church is very low-tech, due to the fact that the country may not be technologically advanced and/or the church is persecuted and utilizing technology can actually pose a danger. Bibles are printed on paper, sermons are delivered only to those in attendance, and preachers travel from church to church by bicycle or on foot. In places like this, the biggest disruption following an EMP burst would be in communications between believers and churches, but the reading of the Word and church services, perhaps already underground, would continue as normal.

In America, however, technology permeates every aspect of our daily lives, and the church has adapted. Millions of Americans get their Sunday “Jesus jolt” via television or podcasts, sometimes totally foregoing fellowship with other believers. A sizable number of Christians, myself included, primarily reads the Bible on their phones. Many of my friends listen to several Christian podcasts a week, and YouTube has a wealth of videos pertaining to evangelism, theology, counseling, and numerous church-centric topics.

It would be hard to imagine a world where this was no longer accessible (I don’t know how our grandparents survived). But what would impact be on the tech-heavy American church?

For one thing, church attendance would drop drastically. The church I attend is a twenty minute drive from my house, and modern cars are essentially computers on wheels. Unless someone has an old Datsun pickup truck in a garage somewhere, our mobility will drop to near zero following an EMP. And since phones and computers wouldn’t work anymore either, we would lose touch with other members of the congregation who likely live more than walking distance away. In spite of this upheaval, I would hope that true believers would seek each other out in neighborhoods and apartment complexes, and new home churches would bloom.

Most Christian homes have printed Bibles, so the loss of Bible apps wouldn’t have a large impact. What would change, however, is prevalence of so-called “Christian celebrities.” Not just televangelists, but Christians in a number of ministries who make their living and reach their audiences through the internet. A lot of casual Christians would likely forsake the faith because they have more pressing matters at hand, or so it may seem. Without the ease of Christian podcasts or streaming videos, the faith would become to burdensome, and we would truly see a separation of the sheep from the goats.

Organized church ministries would suffer, since these depend on logistics and automation and administration, but churches with abundant resources, such as food pantries, large facilities, or land would be in an excellent position to reach out to the immediate community and provide for daily needs. Of course, the primary mission of the church is to spread the Gospel, but the Bible repeatedly admonishes churches to provide for physical needs as a way of displaying the love that God has shown to us. Even small churches with comparatively little resources could become focal points of communities reeling with fear and uncertainty, and it is in our most helpless moments that we see how dependable God’s promises have always been.

One positive aspect would be that the church would grow. Scriptures and history shows us that the church always flourishes under hardship and persecution. I do not wish for such circumstances to visit upon us, but I have no doubt that my heart and my soul would be thrilled to see the work that God would do in spite of apocalyptic events. God will grow His church, no matter the soil in which it is planted.

Belief in the Supernatural Builds Faith in ‘Breakthrough’

Ask yourself this, “Does my lack of belief in the supernatural weaken my faith in God to work miracles?”
| May 28, 2019 | 1 comment |

“Mommy, I’m scared to go to bed. What if there are ghosts in there?”

Should tell my daughter ghosts aren’t real? I’d believed that most of my life as do many Christians. But I stopped with the words dangling on the tip of my tongue. Saying ghosts don’t exist felt like a lie.

In 1 Samuel 28, Saul visited the medium at En-dor in order to gain counsel from a deceased Samuel. The medium was able to bring up the spirit, and the late prophet revealed Saul’s identity to the medium and prophesied about the coming battle. From my understanding, this passage implies that not only was Saul in sin when he visited the medium but was truly speaking with Samuel’s spirit.

Rather than go into the theology of ghosts with a seven year old, we talked about the power of God and the protection he gives us from bad guys. We even included Jr. Asparagus singing, “God is Bigger” in our bedtime devotions.

What does any of this have to do with the new Christian film, Breakthrough? Ask yourself this, “Does my lack of belief in the supernatural weaken my faith in God to work miracles?”

The theme of Breakthrough—based on real events—was faith and the power of prayer. We can ask God for miracles, and he is able to answer us in tangible, supernatural ways.

What was striking about this film was the contrast between the mother, Joyce Smith (Chrissy Metz), and father, Brian (Josh Lucas), of the sick boy, John (Marcel Ruiz). Joyce cried out for God to bring her child back from the brink of death throughout the film, while Brian didn’t think God was even capable of answering his wife’s prayers.

Sadly, Brian’s reaction to their situation is far more common within the Western Church than we would like to admit. With our culture’s bent toward materialism and a lack of spirituality, we can miss the working of God even when he punches us right in the gut with it. Even Christians who study the miracles of the Bible struggle to believe the same things are possible in modern times.

But the God who parted the Red Sea, bestowed Sampson with supernatural strength, and cast out demons through the hands of the disciples is still working in our lives today. As strange as it may seem, it is on God’s authority that Satan afflicted Job with such horrific suffering (Job 1:6-12, Isaiah 45:7), and it is on that same authority that the medium at En-dor successfully called forth Samuel’s spirit. Was it evil? Without a doubt! Samuel himself delivers the news to Saul that he’d become the Lord’s enemy. But despite that, God used that sin for his own purposes and glory.

Western believers tend to react to magic and Eastern spiritualism in one of two ways—fear or fake. Fear: The Bible says magic is real and evil, therefore we should teach our children to fear it. Fake: Magic and ghosts are secular myths and have no place within Christianity.

But do either of those produce a heart ready and able to ask God for big things? To pray for a loved one to be brought back to life as Joyce Smith did in Breakthrough?

Sometimes faith is a “leap” as the saying goes, but most of the time, it is based on experience and reason. I believe the chair will hold me when I sit down because of physics and my experience with chairs. Similarly, I have faith that God can work miracles because I know that supernatural things are real, because I have seen God work miracles in my life before, and much more.

It would have been easy for me to teach my child that ghosts aren’t real, and she has no reason to fear. But that wouldn’t have been the truth. Instead, look not to the material world to calm your fears and the fears of your children, but to an all-powerful, sovereign God who can and will raise people like John Smith from the grave. As we see in books like Job and the gospels, God has authority over all creation. He is our good Father who watches over us as we sleep.

Memorial Stones And A Day To Remember

Christian writers, in the telling of our tales, serve as the memorial stones that remind readers of the King and His victory.

Today is Memorial Day in the US. Consequently, as a compromise between taking the day off and writing new content on a holiday, I’ve decided to borrow an article from my blog which I’m including in the Writers’ Tool Chest. For a more traditional post on the subject of Memorial day, I recommend Travis Perry’s article “A Day to Remember,” posted last week.

Today’s article is part of a short series, Whose World Is It. The subtitle of the original is “Writing In Enemy Territory.” I entitled it here “Memorial Stones” because today is set aside to remember. Mostly we are to remember our country’s soldiers who fell in action. However, I think there’s an important spiritual component in remembering.

Jesus, for example, instituted the Lord’s Supper as a memorial for the purpose of remembering Him, His body broken for us, His blood, poured out for us.

But throughout the Old Testament, God gave His people admonitions to remember along with symbols to spark that remembrance. One such idem of note which I alluded to at the end of this article are stones God commanded the people of Israel to take from the middle of the Jordan River as they crossed on dry land. They were to take twelve of them and create a heap to be memorial stones that would always remind them of God’s miraculous provision which enabled them to cross into the Promised Land.

And now, the original article.

Clearly, someone writing from the position that this world is Christian will have an entirely different emphasis than someone who thinks this world is in the hands of the enemy.

Let me state, I understand this world is God’s by virtue of the fact that He made it and He holds it all together. Also, “He is the beginning, the first born from the dead so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything” (Col. 1:18b)—meaning that Satan will not successfully pull off his attempt at dethroning Jesus.

Meanwhile, however, we are living in enemy territory. Our citizenship is in heaven, unlike those who set their minds on earthly things. How you perceive enemy territory is very different than how you perceive your home.

If you’re in the hands of the enemy, for instance, you stay alert to deception, you steal yourself against depravity and suffering. You take nothing for granted. The things that appear harmless, you examine closely to see how they might be insidious traps. The outward appearance of a thing, therefore, is utterly untrustworthy. In fact, a disgusting bit of pulp might be medicinal, but a thick cut of meat might bring on death. Everything must be tried and measured and examined to see if it furthers the cause of the king or plays into the hands of the enemy.

So with stories. Some may be bold, assertive, overt declarations for the true king or about his enemy and his coming judgment. Some may be illustrative rather than declarative, but no less concerned with the truth.

Obviously these are broad strokes. Stories might be about individual skirmishes rather than about the entire scope of the war. Some might not show the end, but the successes during the battle.

I can’t help but think of Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy thrown into a German concentration camp towards the end of World War II. The world in which they lived was in the grip of the enemy—physically and spiritually. But in them resided the Spirit of the living God, and they had a clear choice whether to live by the evil principles of their environment or the life-giving principles of the Spirit.

Betsy never came out of the concentration camp. And yet she triumphed every day through her generosity and by her refusal to hate. She did not look at the concentration camp as Christian. She saw it for what it was—Satan’s playground. But greater was He who was in her than he who was in the world of that German camp.

Christians writing stories have the privilege of showing the way things are, both spiritually and physically. The small aren’t necessarily weak, and the strong aren’t necessarily victorious.

Someone may be a slave but able to bring healing to her master because of her willingness to testify about the Living God. The man who dies young might have more impact on the world than the one who lives into his nineties.

And the Christian writer gets to show this upside down way of seeing the world. We get to make sense of the senseless, to agree with Scripture in the telling of our tales, to serve as the memorial stones that remind readers of the King and His victory—won and yet, to be won.

Ghosts and UFOs: What Are They Anyway?

How do we, as believers, deal with the phenomenon of ghost and abduction claims?
| May 24, 2019 | 12 comments |

Society today is fascinated by the paranormal. Ghost-hunter, occult, and UFO reality shows occupy virtually every channel.

Many Christians consider stories of specters and space aliens both non-biblical and equivalent to fairy tales. But we must acknowledge the fact that thousands of reports over the years have come from otherwise credible witnesses. These include members of law enforcement, the military, several NASA astronauts, and fellow Christians. Many of these claims have also been accompanied by compelling photos and/or video evidence.

How do we, as believers, deal with this growing phenomenon?

As an example, let’s take unidentified flying objects, or UFOs. Literally thousands of sightings of strange aerial craft have been reported since the middle of the twentieth century. These have been sparked by what some believe is the infamous alleged crash of an alien space ship at Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. Back then we had typically no video evidence of such claims. But with cell phones as ubiquitous as they are today, photographic and video evidence of UFOs has grown exponentially in recent years.

It should be also noted that references to extraterrestrial visitors are not a recent phenomenon.

Ancient texts such as the Sumerian tale of the Annunaki, Indian Sanskrit, Mayan Popol Vuh, and others go back thousands of years. These many refer to visitors from the heavens arriving in vehicles often described as flaming chariots. In each case these “gods” interacted with humankind and, in several cases according to their authors, were responsible for the creation of humankind.

Let’s look at this issue from a biblical standpoint. It may sound strange to some believers, but there’s nothing in the Bible stating unequivocally that God created intelligent life only on our planet. One of the most prolific Christian writers of all time, C. S. Lewis, addressed the subject in his essay entitled “Dogma and the Universe.” In it, Lewis wrote about the possibility of life on other planets formed in the image and likeness of our mutual Creator, as well as those created being’s relationship with the God of the universe.

However, even though the Bible does not preclude the possibility of intelligent life on other planets, I believe the likelihood of those life forms visiting our planet to be extremely remote. Assuming there are planets capable of supporting carbon-based life in the universe, and the sheer vastness of the universe would suggest “yes,” that same vastness and the resulting time it would take to reach even the closest star in our own galaxy would suggest an emphatic “no.”

For now, at least, there is no physical evidence we know of proving the existence of intelligent life on other planets…OR that they have visited us. Which begs the question: What are all these people seeing?

Looking at the ghost phenomenon from a Christian perspective, there are several references in both the Old and New Testament referring to spirit beings, but not like those created in the mind of a Dean Koontz or Stephen King. Biblical “ghosts” are not the spirits of the dead come back to haunt the living. Rather, according to Scripture, they are divided into two clear camps—angels and demons. Angels are spirit beings who serve God and are righteous, good, and holy. Demons are fallen angels who rebelled against God, and are evil, deceptive, and destructive.

However, many credible witnesses are also claiming to see and be haunted by spirits of the dead. What are they seeing?

Although many reports are coming in from less than reliable sources, I believe many of the people claiming to see spirits, demonic creatures, and space ships are credible and being completely honest in reporting exactly what they are seeing.  However, I also believe what these people are seeing may not be what they appear to be. Could all the paranormal sightings be, in fact, far more sinister than aliens and vengeful spirits? Could these visions be satanic in origin? Perhaps a carefully orchestrated deception put forth by the Great Deceiver himself?

This scenario is addressed in my latest novel, The Reluctant Disciple. The story follows the life of Ryan Kates, the host of a popular cable TV show focused on everything and anything that might prickle the tiny hairs on the back of his viewers necks. Ryan himself is not only a religious agnostic, but also a skeptic of anything he can’t touch or feel.

But when paranormal phenomena begin to rock the planet, he is faced with possibilities too fantastical and bizarre to comprehend. These end-times events challenge both his atrophied faith and personal beliefs, pushing him to the brink between heaven and hell.

Both The Reluctant Disciple and my first book The Linen God, a Dan Brown–style thriller based on the most studied religious relic in human history (the “Shroud of Turin”), can be found on Amazon and many other fine book retailers. My third book, Blood Sisters, will be available from The Pelican Book Group in the Fall.

A Day to Remember

Memorial Day is a day to remember lost ones–in both our own real world and through worlds of fiction.
| May 23, 2019 | 10 comments |

It’s interesting to me that the United States has both a Memorial Day and a Veterans Day. It has seemed to me on many occasions one such holiday would be enough. That may seem especially strange to say given I’m a veteran. (Yes, I’m going to post more about a US holiday than about speculative fiction, though I will apply my comments to fiction as well.)

A natural division between Veterans/Memorial lies in the fact that not all the fallen we may wish to honor on Memorial Day are veterans and not all veterans who have died did so in combat. But veterans who died in combat are still the first people I think of on Memorial Day. Though this year, there will be two people that especially matter to me above all others this Memorial Day. Both were veterans but only one died in a war.

Major Wolfer, as he will always be remembered.

The first is Major Stuart Adam Wolfer, a friend of mine who died in Iraq in 2008, in an enemy rocket attack, while I happened to be less than a football field’s length away from him, an event that wounded 17 and killed 2. (I helped with the wounded but did not know until later that Stu had died.) His family founded an institute to remember him, MSAWI, that helps Jewish military members in combat zones (Major Wolfer was Jewish). He and I were friends but not the very best of friends (to simply tell the truth), but his untimely death and where it happened, that I was there and that I saw the aftermath of the attack (even though, thankfully perhaps, I didn’t see him), makes his death especially–shall I say “memorable”?

And Stuart Adam Wolfer reminds me that war costs lives, even lives you wouldn’t expect to lose. That responsible citizens who people admire are selectively killed in wars generally at higher rates than people everyone agrees are terrible. Which is one of war’s great tragedies.

The second name I will especially remember on Memorial Day is my son, Mikhail Daniel Perry, a US Marine Corps Reserve veteran who had a peacetime deployment that took him to South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, and Guam, all places I’ve never traveled, while serving as part of a maintenance crew for F-18 fighter jets. My son was willing to embrace discipline and sacrifice, though he had no desire to stay in the USMC beyond his initial enlistment.

Mik (as everyone called him) died in an accident, not in a war, but received a veteran’s burial at Fort Sill National Cemetery.

The thing his untimely death has in common with Stu’s is both deaths were of people almost everyone would agree were more decent and self-sacrificing than average, people willing to serve others. Men who were not selfish, or at least were significantly less so that people generally are.

Yet a strange thing is that both will not age any more…both will remain frozen in memory as they were, while the rest of us slowly move to join them, moment by moment approaching the time we will join them in our own graves. Their deaths are not less tragic because of that, but they remind us that all death is tragic, all human life ends with a potential for us to have done more, seen more, experienced more. Though of course some come much closer to a full life than others.

I put a verse referencing the resurrection from the dead on my son’s headstone because I believe our human desire for life after death is not just wishful thinking. It’s a desire put in us from the beginning, from the God who created us, who makes it available to us by his actions, not ours. I believe that resurrection will come, but death is still with us in the meantime. And it’s still right and appropriate to remember those who passed away before us, those who did great things for us, for our country, for our world, and even for our personal lives.

So how does this relate to speculative fiction, to the mission of Speculative Faith?

I first of all find some fictional portrayals of war rather too enthusiastic about it. War is ultimately the product of sin and kills good people. Yes, it is often necessary (and it isn’t a sin to kill in all cases in my view)–and at times is even glorious in that it can highlight human self-sacrifice and courage. But it’s still an ugly business. It costs the lives of good people like Major Stuart Adam Wolfer.

Obviously people are going to write what they write and read what they read and I can’t change that. But I hope people will write stories that feature warriors who in fact look forward to peace. Because there are many of us like that.

And I further hope our fiction points to the hope of the resurrection, even in worlds vastly unlike the one we inhabit. Because that longing for genuine life after death is a deep part of who human beings are–and that should be reflected in our fiction.

And a final tidbit I can offer to the world of writing is to point out that fictional cultures will have their own ways to remember their dead, both the valiant and the so-called “ordinary” deaths. So please don’t forget that.

In A World Without Humor

Incidents like this raise a critical question: What are we to do with humorless people?
| May 22, 2019 | 5 comments |

Once, at a family get-together, I listened to a relative describe his wife’s process of becoming a naturalized US citizen. They would, he said, have to travel out of town for what he called our citizenship interview. The pronoun amused me, and I asked whether they would, if the interview went badly, take away his citizenship. He informed me, with all seriousness, that the interview was not about his citizenship, so I had to inform him with equal seriousness that I was joking. I felt clearly then – and I hold onto the judgment now – that the clarification should not have been necessary.

Now, I am not saying that he should have thought my remark was funny. But I think he should have been able to grasp that it was meant to be. As it was, I had to assure him that I didn’t really believe the United States government strips Americans of their citizenship on the provocation of a botched interview. Incidents like this raise a critical question: What are we to do with humorless people?

The first impulse is usually to explain the joke to them. This impulse should in almost every circumstance be resisted. When you finish dissecting the humor of it for their enlightenment, it still will not be funny to them. At that point, it might not even be funny to you anymore. Jokes die of examination. Besides, laughter should be spontaneous, an involuntary reaction – like a sneeze. If you don’t get it more or less at once, you will never get it. The lifespan of jokes is to be measured in seconds, and it is best to let them die in peace.

Although jokes shouldn’t be explained, sometimes they do have to be declared. Depending upon the joke, people may rationally assume that if you are serious, you are dense, or strange, or sick. In such situations, it is necessary to alert people who take you seriously that you are joking. You’ll know them by the concerned looks on their faces. Just be sure that you keep the declaration brief and to the point. The people in question do not have to know why you are funny. They do not have to agree that you are funny. They only have to understand that you are trying to be.

Some people attempt to encourage a sense of humor. All sorts of arguments have been put forward in favor of humor, accompanied by the promise of benefits: better health, less stress, more happiness, etc. There are people who can expound, quite lucidly, on how a sense of humor can cushion the bumps and jostles on the long road of life. But if there is anything less conducive to humor than explanation, it is philosophy. People do not laugh because they think it would be good for them.

As you can see from this brief examination, we do not lack options in dealing with humorless people. What we lack is good options. As a parting thought, therefore, I leave you with the immortal observation of King Auberon in The Napoleon of Notting Hill: “In a world without humor, the only thing to do is to eat.”

‘Sorry Your Dragon Show Ended Stupidly’ Meme May Insult ‘GOT’ Fans

As Christians, our mission is to engage with “Game of Thrones” fans, not call what they enjoy “stupid.”
| May 21, 2019 | 3 comments |

When I saw these memes trolling Game of Thrones TV show fans, I laughed at first.

One version simply says, “Sorry your dragon show ended stupidly.”

Another one says, “sorry your kinky dragon show sucked.”

Ouch! Hotter dragon-show burn! It references the fact that Game of Thrones really does/did have porn in it, and enhances the diss with gratuitous lowercase.

Again, I laughed at first. In fact, I’ve shared a few similar memes, such as this one:

But then I kept seeing the mockery. And I realized something.

If we share the “sorry your dragon show . . .” meme, with that phrase, fantasy fans might actually hear an echo like this:

  • I don’t care about the stories you’re interested in.
  • Fantasy is intrinsically shallow, absurd, and stupid.
  • By not caring about the stories you like, I care little about you.
  • Hey, nerd! Put down your dopey comics and pay up yer lunch money. Haw, haw!

I kid with that last bit. But honestly, the “dragon show” part could sound like plain bullying. I see those non-fantasy “jocks”—possibly wearing ’90s faded-denim cutoff shorts and backward-turned baseball caps—harassing the “nerd” with thick glasses and knee-high socks.

Disclaimer: Yes, we know about the porn parts

Yes, Game of Thrones has actual porn in it. Here on Speculative Faith, we’ve condemned this porn and think you should too. We’ve quit watching Game of Thrones (and The Walking Dead). And we’ve explored how sex scenes aren’t just “awkward,” but actually violate these actors who are created in God’s image, and the fact that high fantasy can too easily become porn fantasy.1

But.

I know plenty of Christian fans who enjoyed Game of Thrones. In their view, the gratuitous nudity isn’t a feature; it’s a bug.2 These fans say they have grown attached to characters, plot twists, and what’s-gonna-happen-next. Some fans likely resonated, at least for a time, with the series’ commitment to high fantasy.

In other words—all controversy about the porn (sigh) aside—they’re behaving just like fans of any other series.

And if we dismiss their interest as mere enjoyment of a “dragon show,” we may end up saying, “I don’t care about what you like.”

Do we really want our neighbors to hear, ‘What you like is stupid’?

In principle, real Christians shouldn’t behave this way toward people created in God’s image.

Here’s why I say this. As I’ve announced, two coauthors and I—Ted Turnau and Jared Moore—have signed to release a new book next year from New Growth Press. It’s about how Christian parents can engage popular culture with their kids.3

In the book, we frequently recommend that parents show natural interest in the stories and songs their children enjoy. We’re not talking mainly about bad shows or straight-up evil content (such as pornography). Instead, we’re talking about the shows that people might call “useless.” Like a Disney channel sitcom. Or a weird-looking anime series about a boy who wants to be King of the Pirates.

Sure, we don’t always have time to watch or engage with every story in the world. But for parents who want to connect with their children, and explore their children’s hearts as revealed by the stories that capture their hearts? Well, you don’t have time not to engage this way.

At the very least, parents ought not erect walls between themselves and their children by saying, “Your show …” is stupid.

But this is exactly what grown-ups do, to other grown-ups, when they say, “Your show …” is stupid.

This makes even less sense about Game of Thrones. We’re talking about a very controversial show. It has proven to have culture-making power. It’s gained millions of fans. And these fans’ heart-level desires—both good and idolatrous—can be revealed by this story’s commitment to epic fantasy mixed with political intrigue, moral “gray areas,” and lotsa lotsa porn.

Fantasy isn’t stupid, but idols are

As a Christian, your mission is to engage with fans you know as their neighbor. That means we don’t minimize their favorite story as a “dragon show,” as if fantasy is always that silly. We also don’t sneer out fake apologies. And we don’t call our neighbor’s favorite story “stupid.”

Pornographic? Sure.

Controversial? Absolutely.

Self-defeating, like all idols are? Likely.

Something I wouldn’t myself watch? Definitely.

But not “stupid.” Please don’t put up that wall. Please don’t risk mocking fantasy fans just for being fantasy fans. Such mockery is not only absurd, because fantasy is the genre-of-genres in the real world. It’s also beyond foolish, because we risk getting distracted by our own human preferences rather than focusing on biblical rationale. As Scripture warns us, the worst challenge in popular cultural works is not particular genres of stories. It’s the evils of idolatry in stories, and in the hearts and actions of people who make them.

  1. At this point some wag cleverly observes that I’m focused on the nudity/sex instead of the violence. This is an almost annoyingly easy “point” to rebut: Actors aren’t actually beheading and stabbing one another. But actors are actually getting naked, often under bounded reasons, like, “I represent the pervert side of the audience, okay?” (actual quote) or, “You need to show how much you are willing to do anything to Commit to the Character” (paraphrased quote). This short-daggered criticism has worn dull. Next.
  2. Again, I disagree with them, but this article isn’t about that. Suffice it to say, my opposition to Game of Thrones and other porn-prone series is not based on “it will make you sin” arguments. It’s based more on, “People have to sin, or be demeaned and exploited, to make these shows” arguments.
  3. Our themes in the book also translate well to any Christian who wants to engage popular culture while building relationships with their neighbors. Yes, people often abuse this theme (e.g., to self-justify bad or immoral media content). But it’s still a biblical theme. It has plenty of precedent set by the apostles, by Christians of the past, and by Jesus Christ himself who spoke the language of his first-century culture.