The Villains We Love Only Want Their ‘Freedom’

“We like these villains because they embody a type of freedom we long for. A freedom to be your own boss. And everyone else’s.”
| Jul 5, 2019 | 23 comments |

In the early 1990s, a movie released about a bodyguard. This flawed, misunderstood bodyguard was assigned to protect a high-profile figure from a possible assassin.

No, I’m not talking about the movie, Bodyguard, starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston. Rather, it was a Clint Eastwood film entitled In the Line of Fire (1993) where he stars as a Secret Service agent. My grandfather, Pops, and I both watched it, but separately. After he saw it, he asked me an interesting question that I still think about: “When the assassin is assembling his gun under the table, did you find yourself rooting for him?”

It took me a while to understand what he meant. In the scene where the shooter, Mitch Leary (John Malkovich), is putting his weapon together, Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood) is trying to find him. Leary seems to be moving at a snail’s pace, since he is doing everything by feel, not sight, all while trying to keep a straight face. By contrast, Frank is running around frantically. The camera switches back and forth between the two men, and the effect is you feel nervous—for both of them. The way the dramatic tension builds, you want to see something happen.

And indeed, it does.

Leary shoots just as Frank spots him and jumps in the way—literally right into the line of fire. The bullet is blocked, the President is saved, the assassin is stopped—all in the nick of time. Imagine how differently that scene would have been had Leary shot before Frank found him. Or if Frank snuck up on Leary as he was assembling his gun. Or if Leary had thrown caution to the wind and moved more quickly. The timing would have been off and the save wouldn’t have been as dramatic. And the movie probably would have needed a different title.

But my grandfather was onto something deeper. He specifically pointed out how in the moment of preparation for the assassin, you feel nervous for him. There’s some inner, strange desire to want him to succeed. Why is that?

In 2017, my family and I went to see Despicable Me 3. Like you probably do, we love the Minions—these adorable, yellow, evil henchman. We have watched all previous Despicable movies over and over. Not only are they hilarious, there is amazing character development with the chief villain, Gru. He does these horrible things and has the best one-liners. In Minions, it’s revealed how the little fellas are constantly in search of an evil master to serve. The more evil he/she is, the more devoted they are. And so throughout the movie, as they encounter one bad guy after another, we hope and pray they will find the perfect villainous boss. Why is that?

Minions promoted an idea that we first saw in the second trailer: villains are cool. The three traveling minions are headed to Villain-Con, “the biggest gathering of criminals, anywhere.” In a scene that my kids love to mimic, one of them, Bob, is asked, “Any evil talents?” His response is adorable. They and other characters walk around starstruck, as they encounter the world’s baddest bad guys. There’s a glamour about the event, a fascination with the archenemies of good, and we get swept up right in the excitement.

Pops was onto something.

Now, I’ve studied screenwriting, and there’s a lot to be said about how certain plot devices can guide our emotions in a certain direction. However, I think there’s more to this phenomenon than just dramatic suspense, or likable characters, or clever dialogue. Yes, the villain has to be well-written on some level. But there’s part of us that wants the bad guy to succeed, and it’s less to do with having a more interesting plotline and more to do with something inside of us.

We root for the bad guy because we are the bad guy.

Of course, you’re probably not a presidential assassin, or an evil overlord, or a fearsome dinosaur, and neither am I. But when you and I look in the mirror, if we’re honest, we see things we don’t like, and I don’t mean blemishes or a bad hair day. There’s a brokenness, a bent towards something besides heroism. Because let’s be honest, we like Superman but we really like Lex Luthor. We emulate Luke Skywalker but love to imitate Darth Vader.

We like these villains because they embody a type of freedom we long for.

A freedom to be your own boss. And everyone else’s.

A freedom to get what you want, how you want, when you want. Whatever anyone else wants.

Movie villains give us a peek into what our lives could look like if we gave into certain desires, executed particular plans, acted out specific thoughts—ideas that we would never speak aloud. We cheer for them because we love to imagine ourselves as one of them. We feel empathy for them because we know, deep down, we’re not that different from them. Sure, we’ll never pull a trigger or steal the moon or take over the galaxy. But we won’t judge those who do. And there’s an inherent attraction we have towards other, lesser evil activities—even if they just stay in our imagination.

There have been numerous times in my life, often in traffic, when I’ve contemplated certain less-than-fully-legal responses to someone nearby. In high school, I knew a guy who was part of a sophisticated shoplifting racket at an electronics store, and it was a seductive thing to daydream about. I’ve even had delusions of certain vigilante activities—doing something bad for the greater good.

Have you also felt your mind wander down one or more of these paths? Do you find yourself to have an unusual affinity for movie villains or even regular ol’ criminals we see on TV? What do you think this means about human nature?

Appreciate the Independence, USA

Realizing that all nations end should help us appreciate the USA we have now.
| Jul 4, 2019 | 6 comments |

There’s a bit of a debate among ancient historians about what really is the world’s oldest civilization (by “civilization” I’m using a bit of an old-fashioned definition that requires a civilization to have used writing or at least record-keeping to count as civilized). Egypt is in the running though–and since there is still a country of Egypt today, you might think that it’s possible for a nation to be a permanent thing. This post in fact explores the idea that isn’t so, specifically as applied to the USA. Nations are temporary things, even when they endure much longer than a human lifetime. Which really ought to cause those of us living in the United States of America to appreciate the existence of our nation on this Independence Day–because what we have may not last.

By the way, the statement I made about “much longer than a human lifetime” was not meant to be a throwaway line. Plenty of nations both began and ended within the span of a single lifetime, which doesn’t mean they didn’t have a lasting impact on world history. Examples: the Nazi Third Reich and the Weimar Republic in Germany in the 20th Century. As well as the 20th Century’s Soviet Union, which began in 1917 and ended in 1992–which is considerably less than the lifespan of the longest-lived of modern human beings (which is around 120 years). An ancient example would be the Neo-Babylonian Empire, which conquered ancient Jerusalem, which lasted roughly as long on the world stage as the USSR.

But to return to my example of Egypt, yes, there are still people living there. Yes, genetic studies show most modern Egyptians are descendants of ancient Egyptians. Yes, the pyramids, one of the early achievements of ancient Egypt, are still standing.

But if, let’s say, one thousand years from now the territory currently occupied by the United States is occupied by a nation with a name derived from a language other than the native language of most people in our nation now (English), whose territory is somewhat different (say, it includes the south of what is today Canada, but doesn’t include the West Coast), whose language is completely unrelated not only to the language of its past but also to the language of its name, whose form of writing is totally different, whose form of government is entirely different, whose religion is entirely different, which has a totally different day-to-day life, I think we’d correctly include that wouldn’t be the same country.

And that’s the situation with Egypt. The name “Egypt” itself comes from Greek, not ancient Egyptian, a relic of the time Greek-speakers controlled Egypt. But Greek-speakers were conquered in Egypt by Islamic armies roughly 1300 years ago. Now the language of Egypt is Arabic. A different language, a completely different culture, religion, and writing, and even with a different-shaped territory that includes less of the Nile and more desert. And also the Suez Canal that didn’t exist in ancient times and the Aswan dam controlling the gentle floods of the Nile that were a feature of ancient life there. But no longer.

There is still a country where Ancient Egypt used to be, but it’s not the same one as existed in the past.

No single nation has lasted through the span of all human history. And an extremely large number of nations have come and gone over the span of recorded time.

Why would the USA be different? Because we are the strongest nation in the world?

How many times has the currently strongest nation or empire been destroyed or been dismembered to the point it’s only a ghost of its past self? I’m not counting specifically, but plenty of times.

Often the end of a nation comes gradually, but not always. The USSR and the Neo-Babylonians were essentially in existence one day and non-existent the next. In Babylon that meant the invasion of a foreign power (the Persians) that didn’t immediately change all aspects of everyday life, but was a radical change that only grew more significant over time. The USSR has been taken over by a Russia that is substantially similar to the old Soviet government, with a similar language and lots of cultural similarities. But the USSR really was different (just ask a modern Lithuanian). And its sudden end was not anticipated by most people.

Helen Mirren as the Soviet Commander in 2010: Odyssey Two, hammer and sickle included.
Image copyright, MGM.

Soviets and Americans working together in spite of ongoing Cold War tensions were featured in the science fiction movie (and book before it) 2010, Odyssey Two that was popular in the 80s. Yet the Soviets were gone well before 2010–their flag was gone, their anthem was no longer sung. And less than ten years before it took place, only a relative handful of people anticipated the fall of the USSR. It seemed like the USSR would be around forever. But it wasn’t.

The US military, which used to vigorously screen for Communist-leaning potential soldiers, no longer asks those questions of new recruits. We’ve moved on.

So that the USA will end is not a strange idea at all, and it’s not a stranger to science fiction, either–there have been plenty of movies that include a post-apocalyptic USA. Such as one I really enjoyed, The Book of Eli (not to mention the ending of the classic The Planet of the Apes). And other stories, mostly books, such as Isaac Asimov’s  Foundation Trilogy, have imagined a future so distant that the Planet Earth itself had been forgotten, let alone any specific nation on the planet. (Obviously if all nations on Earth are forgotten, the USA will have ended long before that point.)

The final moment of The Planet of Apes.
Image copyright: 20th Century Fox

How will the USA end? When will it end? I can’t say for sure. Though contemplating the end is not really my point here. I’m not specifically predicting doom and gloom. Just saying we don’t know the future and should not presume continuity.

I do also mean to say that those of us who love the United States of America ought to appreciate it for what it is, for what good things it offers, while we can. Seize the day, cherish the moment–because we can never say for certain which day in the future will be the end of what we now know.

It’s the 243rd year since the United States declared its independence. Let’s hope we make it to 250–and beyond!

A Broadened Horizon

But if my estimation of Marvel’s weaknesses is the same, my estimation of its strengths has changed.
| Jul 3, 2019 | 4 comments |

Recently I started getting into Marvel movies. (Yes, I know. Next decade I’m going to discover video streaming services. You’ll want to be around then.) I had been aware of them for years, like everyone else on the planet, and I had even been induced to watch a few. They were very close to me, the people who persuaded me to try Marvel, and so they didn’t mind that I brought my laptop to the experience. It proved an excellent diversion.

The subtle drift of all this is that I am not what marketing specialists would call “the target audience.” The whole idea of superheroes, comic books, and comic book superhero movies left me cold. I thought it all a little goofy, a little too cartoonish: the costumes, the tights, the poundingly obvious names. These prejudices – and that is what they were, because they were not based on any substantive experience with the thing itself – these prejudices deadened my interest.

Nor, in truth, did my initial viewings jump-start it. The movies were not terrible, of course, but neither were they anything I felt impelled to see. The fighting scenes, with their 84,000 punches thrown, seemed interminable and the movies altogether too long (though in fairness, most movies are these days). I thought the franchise put a premium on action over character and wittiness over profundity. I think much the same now; at least, these are the weaknesses to which the franchise trends, and some movies surrender more to them than others.

But if my estimation of the franchise’s weaknesses is the same, my estimation of its strengths has changed. I will say the movies are more enjoyable once you piece things together and your brain stops going What so much. The talent invested in them is plainly enormous, much like the budget. But what I came most to appreciate – the true inspiration of my newfound interest – was the Cap and Loki. I may be cold to the appeal of comic books, and I may be bored by explosions and CGI monsters, but I love good characters. The Cap is my favorite kind of hero. Loki is my favorite kind of villain – and my favorite kind of anti-villain, and my favorite kind of anti-hero. Once invested in the characters, I want to know the story; I want to see the movies.

A happy fact to be drawn from all this: It is possible to overcome a viewer’s (or reader’s) prejudices and even, to some extent, his natural tastes through excellency. Good for creators, because they can win unlikely admirers; good for the rest of us, because we can have our horizons broadened to new enjoyment. Snobs think that superior taste is proved by its narrowness, but some things are gained by the wider view.

It’s a limited grace. Natural tastes can only be stretched so far, and defied even less. All my enjoyment of Thor: Dark World has not translated into a twitch of interest in Captain Marvel. I will never be a Marvel enthusiast, but I am showing up.

Even if it’s mostly for Loki’s beautiful face. And the Cap’s.

Lorehaven Magazine’s Summer 2019 Issue Arrives Next Week

What’s inside Lorehaven’s summer 2019 issue? Book reviews, great articles, and our interview with Shawn Smucker.
| Jul 2, 2019 | 3 comments |

Have you subscribed to our free online Lorehaven magazine?

If so, you can download copies of the summer 2019 issue next Tuesday, July 9.

As always, you can read every full issue in PDF form. Or you can browse the magazine via the website itself.

What’s inside Lorehaven’s summer 2019 issue?

Book Reviews

about l

Review team members:

  • Austin Gunderson (review chief)
  • Avily Jerome
  • Elizabeth Kaiser
  • Shannon McDermott
  • Audie Thacker
  • Phyllis Wheeler

Explore more about Lorehaven book reviews.

Our volunteer team explores:

  1. Ralene Burke’s Armor of Aletheia
  2. Jes Drew’s The Bachelor Missions
  3. Joan Campbell’s Chains of Gwyndorr
  4. K. Berklund-Pagé’s The Caves of Fire
  5. Ted Dekker’s The 49th Mystic
  6. Janelle Garrett’s The Hidden Queen
  7. John A. Pretorius’s Living in Times of Dragons
  8. Meg MacDonald’s Oath Sworn
  9. Esther Wallace’s The Savage War
  10. C. R. Flamingbush’s Speed of Sight
  11. Christa Conklin’s Tranquility
  12. Merrie Destefano’s Valiant

We also feature a special, extended (sponsored) review of Logic’s End from author Keith A. Robinson!

‘I’ve Always Loved the Magic at the Margins’

Light from Distant Stars author Shawn Smucker delves into fantasy to delight in daily miracles.

Featured Review: Light from Distant Stars

Magic-edged memory meets the reality of death and family trauma.

How the Psalms Reflect our Heart Desires

Paeter Frandsen: Fans can find instruction and inspiration from God’s creative writers.

Let’s Guard Against Temptations in YA Fiction

Marian Jacobs: Parents can guide teenage readers, starting with these suggestions.

About Lorehaven

Lorehaven serves Christian fans by finding biblical truth in fantastic stories. Book clubs, free webzines, and a web-based community offer flash reviews, articles, and news about Christian fantasy, science fiction, and other fantastical genres. Magazine print copies are available by request and at special events.

Explore more about advertising in Lorehaven magazine.

Meanwhile, here at the website . . .

You may notice a few graphical changes here at Speculative Faith, and at the broader Lorehaven.com:

  • Our default background is changed.
  • It pairs with the magazine’s new ad (seen below).
  • A few other changes, like a color-faded navigation bar, class up the joint.
  • Most of the other changes you will see at the main homepage of Lorehaven.com.

The Quantum Mechanics God of Alternate Realities

Are alternate universes fair game for Christian writers of speculative fiction? This post takes a look at why so many science fiction stories feature alternate realities based on quantum mechanics–and suggests ways a Christian worldview can be compatible with this kind of tale.
| Jun 27, 2019 | 17 comments |

This post was inspired by what Mark Carver wrote yesterday discussing alternate reality scenarios as seen in one piece of speculative fiction. His piece inspired me to break out an old article from my personal blog which discussed alternate reality scenarios and adapt it for Speculative Faith. In short I don’t agree with Mark that Divine Sovereignty requires only one reality. While it’s possible (maybe even probable) there’s only one, I don’t think I can be sure without more information. This post will explain how Quantum Mechanics leads some people to believe there are multiple universes, alternate realities, via the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics and will give some ideas on specifically Christian twists a storyteller could give a MWI view of reality.

The division of universes showing a cat both alive and dead at the same time until someone makes a definite measurement, i.e. Schrodinger’s cat. In the Many Worlds Interpretation, the cat lives in one universe and dies in another. Source: Wikipedia Commons

I first of all have felt compelled to explain what MWI actually is in my own words. For readers who feel they understand MWI well, feel free to skip down 7 paragraphs to where I will begin talking about what MWI implies and how that relates to story ideas with a sentence in bold print. 

In short, MWI sees that all possible alternate histories and futures are real. A way to tie that back into the specific language of physics would be to affirm that this interpretation “asserts the objective reality of the universal wavefunction and denies the actuality of the wavefunction collapse.”

For those readers who may not understand the phrase I just used above (I pulled it off the Wikipedia article I linked to MWI, by the way), I’m going to put into lay terms what I just quoted, using an electron as my example. According to quantum mechanics, the exact position and motion of an electron cannot be known. Not fully. To keep this as brief as possible, that implies the position of an electron (and other quanta) can only be estimated based on probability. The electron can in fact be nearly anywhere, but the chances of it being on the other side of the universe when it just left an atom here on Earth is very close to zero. Note what I just said–the chances are “very close” to zero. But they are not zero. According to quantum mechanics there are very low probabilities (yes very, very low) that an electron that was on Earth just a nanosecond ago, is now a nanosecond later in the Andromeda galaxy somewhere. Yes, this definitely seems to contradict everything you have heard about the speed of light, that nothing can go faster than the speed of light in a vacuum, which would be about 300,000 kilometers per second and which would require about 2.5 million years to get to Andromeda. (In more ways than one, the physics of quantum mechanics does not agree with the physics of relativity very well.) However, the chances are much, much greater that the electron is somewhere not far from its last position.

So the situation I just described, concerning the position of any quantum such as our example electron being unknown, means in modern physics that the possible locations of the electron are calculated based on where it might be using probability math, producing something called a “wavefunction.” (Wavefunctions can be combined to provide for all possible locations of an electron. All such possible combinations of wavefunctions is what the term “universal wavefunction” is driving at.)

For reasons I am not going to explain here in detail that have to do with wave interference, it appears that our electron weirdly actually is in a wide variety of places at the same time when it’s described as a wavefunction. So it isn’t just that an electron (or other quanta) is a particle in one place that’s hard to find–it’s acting as if it’s a different kind of thing, a wave, that is in fact occupying all the possible places it could be at once. But when you measure where the individual electron happens to be at any given moment within the wavefunction, it “collapses,” which means that instead of being in many places, the act of measuring the electron forces it to actually be in just one place at a time, so all the probable locations become one-and-only-one observed location. Note that doesn’t seem to be the same as not knowing where the electron is and finding it. The “finding it” appears to change its nature and causes it to behave in a completely different way that it would if it were unmeasured. As the linked article explains in detail, experiments show that if you measure the position of an electron it will fire through double slits like a series of bullets–but if you don’t measure it, it will create interference patterns like waves of water do.

The Many Worlds Interpretation says our hypothetical electron seems to be in many places because there are a wide range of universes stacked on top of each other in which the electron actually is a point particle located in each possible place it could be. Somehow these alternate universes interfere with one another on the quantum level to create wave characteristics and are also seen in the mathematical feature of the wavefunction that seems to give probable simultaneous locations. When I make a measurement about the specific location of an electron, instead of the wavefunction collapsing so that all the possible locations boil down to only one location, the MWI interpretation says that the electron continues to be in all the separate places it could be–there is no collapse. But the electron loses contact with other possible universes where it could be at that moment, in effect making us select just one of the possible universes f0r its location. Meaning we just happen to be living in only one of the possible outcomes for that electron. All the other possibilities continue to exist in other universes which become separated from us.

MWI sees the number of universes as not only for all practical purposes infinite, it sees that with each branching of quanta, with each apparent wavefront collapse, with each decision if we want to think of it that way, the number of universes increases. And since every possible action (even brain function) can be accounted for by quanta either going one way or the other, there would be a universe in which every possible decision that could be made at the tiniest scale was in fact made. If MWI is true.

So why did I bother to explain the meaning of the Many Worlds Interpretation? To make a few things clear about it:

  1. It’s just one way of interpreting physics. It is in no way actually known to be true–there are other possible interpretations of quantum mechanics, including what I already stated about each quanta actually assuming the form of a wave when unmeasured, actually not even having a definite location unless measured (this view is called the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics). So if anybody tells you science knows MWI is true or alternate universes exist for certain, they are wrong.

  2. It’s a view of the universe based on science. So some very smart science-nerdy people buy into MWI wholeheartedly and think this is how the universe really works (I tend to disagree with them–not that I really can be sure–but that doesn’t matter here).

  3. It undergirds the alternate reality sort of story which has become very popular in science fiction.

  4. I think we can use this as a launching point to discuss a different kind of alternate reality story, one that presumes God is real and the Bible is His message.

Multiple Earths

So for the sake of hypothetical speculation, let’s say the MWI interpretation of quantum mechanics is actually true. How would that relate to the God of the Bible? Would it make God no longer sovereign of the universe?

Well, we don’t normally think of God as losing sovereignty because human choice exists. Even extreme Calvinists usually believe human beings are capable of making some decisions, even if they don’t believe a person can chose to accept God’s grace in salvation without God willing it.

If we’re able to accept choice by human beings without God losing sovereignty, why would it be so hard to imagine that God could allow the universe itself to make choices, to even split and divide along those choices? I believe a Biblical view of God is compatible with imagining God allowing multiple choices to exist simultaneously, multiple realities, and being the sovereign ruler of each one of them.

God himself would be immune to quantum fluctuations because he’d be their Creator and not the other way around. But the creation could be subject to multiple versions, some versions starting out differently even before what we think of as the heavens and Earth existing as we know them.

But if we see God as sovereign and the Bible we have as reflecting God’s intent, then all possible universes generated by the “Quantum Mechanics God of Alternate Realities” would begin with the same original creation, but then would begin to diverge after that. Which would affect all sorts of things in the world, but would also affect the Bible itself, because much of what the Bible records is what human beings do and how God interacts with them.

So in this view of God (in his sovereignty allowing for different versions of reality), there would be an alternate universe where Adam and Eve never sinned and the human race lives in a global Eden on Planet Earth. There would be a Moses who did not strike the rock when God told him to speak to it, who would enter the Promised Land instead of dying outside it. There would be an ancient Israel where the kings never strayed from righteousness, which was never conquered by the Babylonians. And another Israel in which the Jewish leaders under Roman domination would have wholeheartedly embraced Jesus. Etc.

This imaginary story conception doesn’t make God inconsistent with how we normally think of him. Human beings would have freedom to act and would in fact make all the possible choices they could have made. God would react to them as they responded to the choices he gave them–but God is capable of willing all the alternate versions just as much as he is able to create the one-and-only-one universe we seem (seem) to be living in.

Note that this is a non-deterministic look at God. God can’t have predetermined every single thing for this to work as a story. Or at least, if he did predetermine everything, he would need to have done so a horde of separate times, him allowing (well, actually, sovereignly ordaining) each choice a person could make to be performed throughout the universes. So there would be a plethora of universes all wrapped around individual human moral decisions, but since these changes would be serving God’s purposes and wouldn’t actually be a function of randomness, it would seem that while there could be a very great number of alternative universes, that number would not be infinite.

That’s especially true if God made human moral choice the source of the division of universes and not the rattling of tiny quanta–which would be one of the key differences between this sort of story framed by a Christian worldview and the typical science fiction alternate reality tale.

Since God’s character would remain the same in this Christian version of MWI, there would still be a sacrifice for sin, if sin in fact were to be introduced into the given world (it would seem sin would be a part of all possible worlds except only for one, the one in which Adam and Eve obeyed perfectly). But Christ would have to die in separate circumstances for each reality, each separate universe having its own version of the Savior for the universe at that point. Christ dying once for sins, as the New Testament says he did, would only apply to once for any given universe.

So, what if for each possible choice presented to human beings by God in Biblical times, a version of the Bible existed which covered the people choices made? A Bible version of obedience and disobedience, for each possible choice? Though all of them beginning with a creation, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and all of them ending with the human race reconciled to God for eternity in the new heavens and new earth.

So there would be a plethora of possible Bibles. Not an infinite number, because the moral choices God mandated human beings make in Scripture are not infinite in number. Say there were 10,000 different Bibles across the universes. Or 7,000–that’s more of a Biblical figure. 🙂 (though if we were to count small changes, 7 million might be more like it)

Why shouldn’t a Christian author of science fiction feature a story where the character of God is consistent but the people who responded to God did radically different things? So as people somehow cross into an alternate reality, as so often happens in stories like this, they would find all possible realities contain a Bible and Christianity (or something essentially like it), but the Bibles were not in fact the same in each alternate world? And the very worlds people lived in were different as well, based on both on choices all people make in their lives, but also based on differing Biblical influences?

I see no problem for story purposes extending this moral decision-making past Biblical times. So there might be 7,000 versions of the Bible, but each individual Bible would have separate alternate universes branching off from it, separate universes in which that particular original text was used.

So the universe that produced our Bible, as we have it, would have separated further after Scripture was written. So it would represent perhaps tens of millions of alternate realities, each reality based on moral choices made in relation to God post the writing of the Bible we know.

Likewise there would be tens of millions of alternate realities linked to other alternate-reality Bibles. Variations in Scripture and translations could become a key means of figuring out which universe you were in–or at least in which set of universes you had entered.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if also all versions of the Bible, no matter what they are, all had word for word the same first and last chapters, even if everything else in them changed? Which would mean that God would bring all the different quantum universes to the same eternal state, just as all of them came from the same initial creation.

I have more thoughts on versions of alternate realities compatible with a Christian worldview that I’ve already shared on my own blog. Perhaps in the future I will bring them up here.

In the meantime, do you agree or disagree with me that alternate realities are fair game for Christian writers of speculative fiction? Do you think God really could have allowed multiple universes–or do you think I’m dead wrong about that? And what stories do you know of by Christian authors that have looked at alternate-reality type scenarios?

The Way It Should Be

One lazy evening a while back, I was scrolling through the movies on Amazon Prime and came across an indie film called Coherence. A quick search on Google pulled up favorable reviews, so I gave it a shot. I’m glad […]
| Jun 26, 2019 | 5 comments |

One lazy evening a while back, I was scrolling through the movies on Amazon Prime and came across an indie film called Coherence. A quick search on Google pulled up favorable reviews, so I gave it a shot. I’m glad I did, and I think you’ll enjoy it too. It’s technically a sci-fi film but there are no special effects or futuristic technology. In fact, the entire film happens in and around a house. Without giving too much away, an ordinary dinner party fractures into alternate realities and it’s hard to know who belongs where. The ending will make you say “Whoa!” Keanu Reeves-style.

The concept of alternate realities and infinite quantum possibilities has been around for a while, in theoretical physics and in science fiction. I’ve even written about the topic before on Speculative Faith. The entertainment possibilities are endless (pardon the pun). A key difference between parallel universes and time travel is that a character moves back and forth in time travel and side-to-side in parallel universes (and sometimes both). In the realm of science, quantum physics assumes that parallel universes are in fact real and possibly even reachable, if we had a near-infinite amount of energy at our  disposal.

One of the reasons why parallel universe and alternate reality stories are so tantalizing is because of the inherent human tendency to be dissatisfied with this reality. There is not a person alive who would not change something if they could. On a large scale, everyone wishes they could change something in history (buy Hitler’s paintings and thereby encourage him to continue his career in art instead of genocide). On a personal level, everyone has moments in their life that they wish they could go back and change. Some points are of crucial importance, while others are just boneheaded moments of embarrassment. Who among us hasn’t wondered if there is a happier, “better” version of ourselves in another universe?

This is all fun and games but when this kind of thinking grips our mind and conscience, it is unproductive and potentially damaging on a number of levels. First of all, regret is a waste of emotional energy. “Man, I wish I had/hadn’t…” is an exercise in futility. Time is a river that only flows one way, and we cannot change what has happened. We can only affect what will happen in the future. Secondly, if there were other versions of us out there, knowing (or even imagining) that they were happier than we are in our reality would have no bearing on our present situation. “At least one of us is having a great time” would likely only deepen our discontentment.

The most important reason to be content with this for-better-or-worse life is God’s sovereignty. He is the absolute ruler of all creation (Col. 1:15-20) and everything happens because He wills it or lets it. Essentially, this reality is the way it is because this is how God glorifies Himself (Rom. 11:36). The Bible also promises that everything works together for good if we are in Christ (Rom. 8:28). If we say to God, “Why am I…? Why did You…? Why couldn’t they…?” we are telling God that we have a better idea of our life than He does. When we do that, we aren’t thinking of God’s glory; we are thinking of our selfish desires.

The truth is that there is only one reality, and this reality is such that glorifies God in the best way possible. Every good thing comes from God and every bad thing comes from sin. Wishing things were different is contrary to what Scripture teaches. Instead, we are instructed to be content with our circumstances, because we are given the strength to endure (Phil. 4:11-13). So even if there were other Marks out there, their earthly happiness would be irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the glory of God, and He is making that happen right here, right now.

Mission Report, June 2019, Realm Makers Bookstore in Pennsylvania

We are still amazed when we encounter someone who says, “I had no idea books like this existed!”
| Jun 25, 2019 | 9 comments |

“Explain this to me,” said an eager and curious parent at our booth.

Her eyes along with many other eager, curious eyes scanned the Realm Makers Bookstore at the Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania earlier this month (June 14–15).

As the brainchild of Realm Maker’s founders, the Realm Makers Bookstore was designed to spread the word about science fiction and fantasy stories written by Christian authors.

And I, as an author-volunteer with the bookstore during its Lancaster stop, had the distinct pleasure of talking with homeschooling parents and homeschool vendors about the books curated by Scott and Becky Minor.

We handed out bookmarks with discount codes. These invariably created a segue into discussion about the books on the tables and stands. When we explained that all the books—some with eye-catching covers and posters of characters with swords or a disassembled robot—were written by Christian authors, attendees often stopped in their tracks.

Of course, we have seen Christian-authored speculative novels for decades. (Foregoing C. S. Lewis, look at Frank Peretti, who was first published in 1986, thirty-three years ago!) Still, I am still amazed when I encounter someone who says, “I had no idea books like this existed!” And I love that readers want to understand how this works. How do novels infuse a touch of the supernatural, or explore technology, all while pointing to biblical concepts like good versus evil or a loving Creator?1

I stood on that convention floor, talking with parents and teens, and discussing the unique fiction before them. And I repeatedly heard parents say their children loved books like this, but so many of the books have content they aren’t willing to introduce to their young, impressionable minds.

At this, we told parents about the bookstore’s free downloadable PDF with a list of the mobile bookstore’s inventory, along with information on the type of content these books have. It’s an incredible resource that had parents whipping out cell phones to find that document!

One of the most beautiful things I saw at this convention and working the booth was the willingness to dialogue.

We were concerned about rejection and closed-mindedness, but we found curiosity and genuine interest.

“How does that work?” was an oft-posed question. It afforded the opportunity to talk about stories (and what writer doesn’t love that?)! Though most of us working the booth had written a book that was on hand, we were also there to promote our friends’ titles.

It was obvious that at this conference, the attendees as a whole were on the more conservative side than other conventions where the Minors had brought their the mobile bookstore. The respect and openness of the Minors to this convention and its attendees paved the way for honest discussion.

In one situation, I talked with a wife and mother who had teen children who loved this type of fiction, but were concerned about ideas and graphic content that made it difficult for her to be confident in allowing her children to read the books.

Another mom gripped my arm and nearly teared up. “You have no idea,” she said, “what’s happening in our libraries.”

She told me she worked a small “podunk” (her word) library, where she said drag queens were renting the children’s reading room—and she said that if anyone rents the room, the library must let them do what they want. She was nearly in tears as she marveled that there were good, clean books with varying levels of Christian messages, clean books she could recommend to her library system.

I grew up with a mother who sought the same principles as many of these very conservative parents. So I had a calm respect and appreciation for their questions.2 This opened the dialogue about the role speculative fiction can have, an option for children and teens as the world careens farther from a God-centered life.

We gave parents room to explore the books and read back-cover copy. If they asked most honest questions, we addressed their concerns. While some people might decry these parents’ viewpoints or commitments as uptight or restrictive, for me it was refreshing to see Christians stand true and fast to biblical values in raising their children.

Within the booth, the titles carried were organized in a way that allowed parents to look at books on a wide range, from board books for toddlers to novels written for adults—yet, all were clean. Older teens who struggle to find “clean reads” discovered there are authors out there writing to them! We opened dialogue with the books, and many times, found common ground amid our commitment to honor God—them in raising their children and us in presenting good, clean books with godly values. What a beautiful opportunity!

  1. I had my own discovery journey regarding these concepts. I recall my first writer’s conference in January 2004, where I met Steve Laube. He had just left his editorial job to join a New York City literary agency. (Shortly thereafter, he left to found The Steve Laube Agency.) I recall asking Steve how I could know if I’m crossing a line in my own writing, and how was it possible to write about magic systems and other worlds and aliens without dishonoring the One who had given me the gift. His answer? Read Kathy Tyers’s Firebird.
  2. See “Engaging the Magical Spellcraft of Stories,” Lorehaven magazine, fall 2018 (available for free subscribers).

Summer Reading List

Here’s an opportunity for us to make those recommendations to Spec Faith readers for their summer reading list, especially about the books we’ve most recently read.
| Jun 24, 2019 | 11 comments |

Time to talk BOOKS. What’s in your wallet, I mean in your summer to-be-read list?

I know some commented that the books nominated for a particular award looked intriguing and they planned on adding them to their book list immediately. I love hearing that. One of the best parts of contests is that the books that make the finals cut get more exposure. Many people who would not have otherwise heard about the books, now know that there’s a new title out there worth exploring.

Besides contest nominations, though, I think one of the strongest influences on my book-reading choices (and I think others, too. I sort of remember running a poll about this some years ago) are recommendations from friends. If someone I know and respect tells me the book is good, I am much more likely to read it than not.

But then there are the recommendations—we call them endorsements—by various people willing to have their words printed in the books themselves, for potential buyers to consider. I wonder how effective those are. If I were to judge from my own experience, I’d say, endorsements matter. I have two writing instruction books in ebook, the first with a nice list of endorsements and the second without any. Guess which book sold better? Of course, that’s only one example, and the price difference might have had as much to do with sales as the endorsements.

I do wonder, though, when people shop on line and look inside a book, do they turn to the opening pages of the novel or do they take time to look at endorsements?

In the past, I know endorsements could sell me or could turn me away from a book. Now? I don’t know if they are as visible and therefore if they have as much influence.

What does have influence is reviews by readers, at Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, Christianbooks.com, the Lorehaven magazine, and other places where readers give input. While some people hate the one or two star reviews, I often seek them out. Maybe not first, but after I’ve read a glowing review or two, I want to know what those brave enough to say they didn’t care for a book had to say about it.

Some times the reasons are bogus. The reviewer didn’t actually read the whole book but decided a bad review was still OK to give. Or the reader was turned off because they disagreed with the character’s choices—never mind that the back cover copy clearly tells you what the character is up against and what they will aim at. When I get to that point, I think, this reviewer just convinced me he’s not a careful or discerning reader, so why should I care about his opinion.

Apart from those reviews, the two- and even three-star reviews can give some insight about what worked and what didn’t work in a book. So I find those helpful. Not as helpful as a friend putting a book in front of me and saying, you HAVE to read this book. But still helpful.

All this to say, here’s an opportunity for us to make those recommendations to Spec Faith readers for their summer reading list, especially about the books we’ve most recently read.

Are they speculative? I know I don’t read exclusively in the speculative genre. I don’t read exclusively in the Christian books category, though I have done so much more since I became a writer.

The problem I have, as I may have mentioned before, is that I act as a judge in a number of contests, so if I told you what I’m reading and what I’d recommend, I’d have to gag you until the winner announcements came out. For instance, last year I judged the delightful YA fantasy, Escape to Vindor by Emily Golus, but of course at the time I could tell no one. As it happens, it won last year’s Selah award in the YA Fiction category.

The point is, I pretty much can’t pass along my recommendations, at least not right now, but summer is such a good time to have a book handy on a Sunday afternoon or when heading off for vacation or to that annual visit to the relatives. They’re good also when you can’t get away and need a break from the grind. Books introduce us to new places and to new friends.

So tell us what you’re reading, what you’d recommend to others for their summer book list. Tell us the books you like and why you think others should read them too. FYI, we have a Facebook page too, so you can leave a comment either here or there. We’re counting on you!

Photo by Lukas from Pexels

Alien Intelligence in Our Solar System?

If the Solar System has life, including intelligent life, where might we find it? On Mars or under the surface of icy moons? Where we might really find life and what that life could be like should influence science fiction–including sci fi written by Christian authors.
| Jun 20, 2019 | 16 comments |

Note this post is adapted from a 2014 post on my personal blog and looks at where alien life may realistically be found in our Solar System, including possible intelligent life. And what that should mean for science fiction writers, including Christians who write science fiction.

It’s interesting that all the way back to the earliest days of what can be considered science fiction, Lucian in the second century AD talked of traveling to the moon in order to meet intelligent beings living there (though in a satire). Likewise the “The Adventures of Bulukiya,” which is part of the medieval Arabic-language classic One Thousand and One Nights, features travels in the cosmos and interactions with various beings there. It was also a staple of science fiction as we know it that began in the late 1800s to expect at least some of the other planets of the Solar System to be inhabited. Mars especially, because it showed changes in its icecaps in seasons that seemed to be like Planet Earth and had linear features that reminded some people of canals (especially Percival Lowell), became the center of attention for many early science fiction stories, from being the home of invaders of Earth in HG Wells’s The War of the Worlds, the home of the people of “Barsoom” in Edgar Rice Burroughs’s science fiction, and also for a lot of other science fiction, including Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.

Image copyright: Warner Brothers

Mars still fascinates people, in spite of scientific data showing the planet is a far more hostile environment for life than Antarctica and the Atacama Desert combined.  Mars, a beneficiary of being one the planets nearest Earth, remains a focus for most future plans for human interplanetary travel–and sometimes people have even believed aliens must have lived on Mars in the past, even if they don’t do so now (as the Face on Mars was supposedly an alien construct, as featured in the year 2000 film, Red Planet).

We could even say that the lack of clear evidence for life on Mars when the Mariner probes passed by it in the 1960s and the Vikings landed on it in the ’70s changed the expectations of science fiction fans concerning where life would be found in the universe. Instead of moving from planet to planet within our Solar System, science fiction like Star Trek would feature future humans travelling from star to star and finding inhabited worlds around each star (though the aliens found there often shared features in common with creatures previously imagined to have lived on Mars).

It only takes a little scientific knowledge to see how the expectations for Mars probably were always a little inflated, since it was evident as soon as telescopes were first turned on Mars that it lacked the blue we associate with large bodies of water. Mars clearly was a dry place, and deserts on Earth happen to be those places where life is least abundant. And the drier the desert, the less life it has. (Parts of the Atacama desert in South America are so dry that not even microbes live there.) Coupled with its cold temperatures and lack of atmosphere, yeah, expecting to find even microbes on Mars seems to be a long shot.

If alien life is ever going to be found  in our Solar System outside of Earth, Mars almost certainly won’t be the place. A much better place to look for life is beneath the icy surface of certain moons in the outer solar system. This notion has not entirely escaped science fiction writers. But it deserves much more emphasis in stories than it’s received.

I say this for simple, straightforward reasons. Everywhere on planet Earth where water is abundant, life teems. The water can be that of a geyser in Yellowstone Park (or elsewhere), extremely hot, yet life is still found in these geysers. The glaciers of Antarctica support some life themselves, but drilling under the ice to a region where pressure is high enough to preserve liquid water has shown much more abundant bacterial life below one half mile of Antarctic ice.

Jupiter’s moon Europa shows clear signs of having liquid water under an icy surface. The smoothness of the planet (as opposed to being a cratered planetary surface, like the moon) shows cracks that appear to heal themselves as liquid water from below solidifies, as if all the features on the surface were gigantic floating glacier formations on top of a deep, dark ocean under the surface.

Europa, a world whose water has erased most of its craters.

Saturn’s moon Enceladus does even better. Not only does it have an icy surface, the Cassini probe has photographed it shooting out into space what have been verified as plumes of water (reminding me of the geysers of Yellowstone Park).

Enceladus shooting geysers of water into space.

As early as Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010: Odyssey Two in 1982, science fiction writers have been speculating that the persistent link on Earth between life and liquid water could mean that Europa teems with life under its relatively thin crust. But it turns out that icy moons with liquid water under the surface is a fairly common phenomenon in our Solar System (and possibly would be common around other stars as well). Among Jupiter’s moons, both Ganymede and Callisto may also have liquid water deep under a thick icy crust–rather like Antarctica, though much deeper.

While a number of science fiction writers other than Clarke have noticed the potential of water oceans under icy moons, this notion has barely crept into the science fiction with a broader audience, the sci fi of films and television. If there was an episode of any of the Star Treks where an alien civilization came from underneath an icy crust, or where a crew landed to make contact with or explore the life in a sub-surface ocean, I missed it.

Our expectation in most science fiction remains that life will be found on worlds similar to Earth. And not just in science fiction. NASA officials and other scientists continue to engage in discussions of whether Mars, the most Earth-like planet in the Solar System, may have hidden water remaining from its past and if we should search for life there–public support for searching for life in whatever small bits of water that remain on Mars seems higher than going to other worlds further out that have much more water.

Overall I’d say that the likelihood of life on Mars is very low and the likelihood of life in places like Europa and Enceladus is good. Which is a simple enough notion. As is the idea that where life may be, intelligent life may also exist.

So how should what I said above affect science fiction writers, including especially Christians who write sci fi?

It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but authors who write science fiction while self-identifing as “Christian” generally tend to believe God had some role in the creation of the universe, be it as little as a guiding hand in evolution or as much as creation ex nihilo in a time frame that matches the 6,000-year framework of a straightforward, literal reading of Biblical genealogy. Writers who see God’s hand in creation ought to be thinking about what happens when the watery oceans under these icy moons are finally explored.

If the water under these moons is as sterile as the Normal Saline Solution administered to hospital patients, that would say something about Earth being a special place, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t such a finding support the idea that Earth is the unique place where God created life? Though of course materialists would not necessarily admit that’s what such a finding would imply. Instead they’d search for naturalistic reasons for why planet Earth is different.

But what if life under these icy moons if found, but is found to be genetically linked to life on Earth? Or even perhaps closely related to or even identical to at least some life on Earth? Wouldn’t this point to a common Creator of life both on Earth and these other worlds? Those of us who believe in a form of divine intervention in the creation of life (no mater what kind, even if only providential) would say so. Though of course those with no notion of the existence of a Creator God would be searching for alternate explanations, such as Panspermia.

What if life is found, but it has no genetic relationship to any life on Earth whatsoever? Would this imply that evolution is a strictly naturalistic process that occurs whenever the conditions are right and potentially could turn out many different ways via the chance interaction of forces? Of course for believers in any form of divine intervention in creation, but especially for those who believe God has providentially guided evolution, finding bizarre alien life would not necessarily be a concern. God’s creative acts will simply be seen to be more mysterious that we previously thought by most believers.

Note especially that the conditions that are thought to have influenced the development of human intelligence would not have existed on an icy moon. So I think few people who have a strictly materialistic view of the universe would expect to find intelligent life on these icy-covered ocean worlds. Yet for those who see evidence of the existence of a Creator God, we are not under such limitations. God could create alien intelligence wherever he wants, right? And why not in a place where life is already abundant?

If alien intelligence is found in one of these oceans, what will it be like? Clearly not like dolphins, who need to come up for air (and there’s no way to do that on Europa or Enceladus). But might it be more like an octopus? Or like something we’ve never imagined before? As of now, only God knows.

I personally have never written a science fiction story set on an moon that has an ocean under an icy surface. But perhaps I should do so. Perhaps finding life on one of these moons will be the most important discovery of the 21st Century–and only God knows if in finding life out there (if the human race does find it), that discovery will include meeting intelligent beings we will be able to find a way to converse with. Perhaps it will.

Perhaps the old dreams of meeting intelligent life in our own Solar System will prove to be prophetic–even if that intelligent life won’t show up on Mars like nearly everyone thought. Whether that discovery of life happens or not on the moons this post mentions is something science fiction writers have no direct control over.

But we do have the ability to consider what might be there lurking under the surface of these icy worlds and to craft stories that imaginatively go there. And such stories might even influence how any discovery(ies) of alien intelligence(s) in our own Solar System are interpreted and understood in the future–if any (God willing) should come to pass.

For readers of this post, are you familiar with any science fiction that features exploring oceans under the icy surfaces of moons (in our Solar System or elsewhere)? If so, who wrote it and how did the story turn out?

And what do you think might be found in these deep oceans around other moons or planets?

One Conception From Another

We all have an idea of what a witch is, but the idea is almost unavoidably an amalgam.
| Jun 19, 2019 | 3 comments |

The Bible makes repeated mention of magic and witches, usually in unsparing terms. We know well the scriptural opprobrium against witches; we are in danger of forgetting the scriptural idea of witches. We all have an idea of what a witch is, but the idea is almost unavoidably an amalgam. We piece it together of a thousand stories and images. The accretion of popular myth on the Christian idea of witches is thick. Let’s consider, then, popular notions of witches and their craft and how those notions correspond with biblical ideas.

Witches fly on brooms and make wicked potions in boiling cauldrons, are associated with spiders and black cats, are often ugly and generally inclined to black clothing and pointed hats.

Yes, we’ll start with the low-hanging fruit. Yes, you already know that none of this has the barest foundation in Scripture. Simply consider that of all the symbols and imagery that collect around witches, very little of it is Christian.

Witches are associated with magic; magic is associated with spells, charms, and secret knowledge.

These associations are biblical. The Bible sorts magic, sorcery, and divination into the same category, and witches, magicians, and mediums into the same species. Further, the Bible associates spells with witchcraft (eg. Isaiah 47) and magic with charms (eg. Ezekiel 13). Meanwhile, secret knowledge is both the means of magic – remember Pharoah’s magicians with their secret arts – and the aim of magic. Divination and the consultation of the dead especially pursue forbidden knowledge.

Witches are mostly female.

This is a very old and very common idea. Consider all the stories – centuries and centuries old, some of them – of female witches. Consider, too, that in the witch hunts of the late medieval and early modern West, the majority of victims were women. In the Bible, however, witchcraft is not especially associated with either sex. Infamous practitioners of witchcraft in the Bible include women like Jezebel and the Witch of Endor and men like Balaam, King Manasseh, and Simon the Sorcerer.

Witches afflict humanity with a host of seemingly “natural” maladies.

If you were to study the accusations brought during the Salem witch trials, you would see a fair example of a prevalent idea about witches: that they are the active cause of natural disasters, from human sickness to the death of livestock. There is little suggestion of this idea in Scripture. Probably the closest we come is the Egyptian magicians’ counterfeiting of the first two plagues. But these counterfeits, worked to demonstrate the power of the magicians against the power of Moses, have a very different nature than the secret, malicious attacks attributed to witches.

It may also be noted that Balak hired Balaam to curse Israel. “Perhaps then,” he said, “I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the country.” What Balak expected of the curse, however, cannot be said. It may be that he expected some sort of natural disaster. It may also be that he expected them to be made unlucky so that he could defeat them in battle.

It is not that the scriptural conception of witches is wholly disconnected from all the other conceptions that abound through stories and cultures. There are many ideas of what a witch is. The great commonality among them is power perceived to be supernatural (itself a word of variable definition). The differences can be enough to pit them against each other in fundamental opposition. What we must learn is to discern the biblical meaning of witch from all the rest.