The Crux of the Tragedy

All my adult life, I had intended to never read Romeo and Juliet.
on Jul 1, 2020 · 7 comments

Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the English language. I know because everyone says so. Like most of you, I was compelled to experience his greatness in school, and I did not particularly enjoy it. (It was Othello. I could not work out the math by which the Great Handkerchief Scandal resulted in murder.) Earlier this year, I decided to give Shakespeare another go. I browsed Amazon for options and, scrupulously applying my principles, chose the most cost-efficient: the complete works of Shakespeare, bound into one enormous volume that could probably be used as a murder weapon but cost, used, $10.

The table of contents covers well over two thousand pages. I searched it for a place to begin and, intimidated, settled on the beginning. I proceeded on this direct approach only to be confronted by Romeo and Juliet. All my adult life, I had intended to never read Romeo and Juliet. But it was the next story in the collection and so, for a sense of completeness, I read it. The play has four centuries of hype to live up to and, as you would expect, it doesn’t.

It has its points, of course. My experience of Shakespeare is limited – Romeo and Juliet is only fourth in the book – but he seems to have been the kind of writer whose work is often uneven but never meritless. There is wit and gorgeous verse in Romeo and Juliet. The dramatic irony is interesting. The graveyard denouement, and Juliet’s living burial with her dead relatives, are evocatively horrible. And although Shakespeare probably didn’t intend it, it is kind of funny to watch Romeo drama-queen all over the stage.

And yet, as a love story, Romeo and Juliet is hasty and shallow. The two meet at a party and marry the next day. By the time they commit suicide, they have known each other perhaps a week. Granted, it was a jam-packed week, mostly with murders, but still. I know they were passionate to the point of hysteria. I know they gave some pretty speeches. I hold, nonetheless, to the principle that one of the requirements of a grand love affair is that it outlive milk.

If not a grand love story, Romeo and Juliet is a great tragedy – needless and self-inflicted, unredeemed by nobility. Neither hero nor heroine was courageous when it might have helped. Both, once they discovered each other, became cruel to everyone else – whether it was Juliet declaring her cousin’s death a good thing or Romeo skewering poor Paris. When the apothecary protested that he could be executed for selling the poison, Romeo goaded him into it by scorning his hunger and poverty. He put the man’s life at risk and pressed him into the guilt of complicity with another’s self-destruction. These are great moral crimes.

Mostly, Romeo and Juliet distinguish themselves by their absolute lack of wisdom and good sense. They were not star-crossed lovers. They were simply and inexcusably wrong about everything. Their secret marriage was a disaster in the wings from I do. That was so exceedingly obvious even they should have seen it. The only question was whether the crisis would be forced when Juliet got pregnant or when her parents chose a husband for her. Romeo and Juliet might have at least tried the honest approach. Rejecting that, they might have run away together. Either brave frankness or open rebellion could have saved them. But they would literally have rather killed themselves.

The only sensible reaction to Romeo and Juliet is Children, you are really very stupid. And that is the crux of this tragedy – that they were little more than children in need of adult supervision, and nobody was it: not the Nurse, not Friar Lawrence, not their awful parents. Romeo and Juliet got drunk on their first sip of sexual love and ruined everything. That is not a beautiful love story, nor an ennobling tragedy, but it is piercingly poignant.

’During Traumatic Times, We Need Truthful Stories to Help Us Heal’

Lorehaven’s summer 2020 issue has arrived, and thanks in part to the dark magic of pandemics, you can read the entire issue right now.
on Jun 30, 2020 · No comments

Lorehaven’s summer 2020 issue has arrived.1 Keep scrolling to get the complete issue content list, complete with links. Yes, and this time, thanks in part to the dark magic of pandemics, you can read the entire issue here at right now.

It starts with this Captain’s Log, exploring how truthful stories help us during hard times.

Subscribe today so you get all Lorehaven content, including (this summer) daily reviews.

Captain’s Log, Lorehaven magazine, summer 2020

In a world that groans because of sin, people are talking more about trauma. But less often do we consider our need for truth-based stories to help us seek healing.

People suffer trauma from their choices or others’ abuse, or from our sick world.

Alas, some may wear trauma like chic fashion. Others try to weaponize their sense of trauma to go on a vengeance quest. Or at best, they may fall into forming hero complexes, supposing they can cope with trauma by gaining power to help others.

Presuming the trauma is real, all these responses to it are fake. They don’t identify the sin under which the Earth groans (Romans 8:22). They don’t lead to real healing.

Only in the gospel can we confront trauma. This calls for careful counsel, best if done by trained and loving Christians in local churches. (Of course, some churches mishandle trauma, such as by acting like depression is solely a spiritual problem.)

We can also find well-crafted fiction to help us cope with trauma and seek healing.

Some fans prefer darker, complex stories about trauma. For example, I infamously enjoy the “nobledark” DC films (now including Zack Snyder’s Justice League, releasing in 2021!). These stories use deep themes and grayer areas to simulate suffering. They may help us face hard times, and often include reflected promises of light.

Others of us need lighter, simpler stories with clearer happy endings. Fantasy fans often scoff at such “sentimentalist” Christian fiction. But we can’t deny our reality, in which the people who suffer the worst often prefer the “cheesiest” social dramas.

Still others—I’d group myself here—prefer each type, depending on the struggle.

On some days, I need to watch, say, the anime Attack on Titan, to remind myself that “This world is cruel and merciless, but it is also very beautiful.” On other days, I opt for a lighter comedy, and remind myself that it’s okay to retreat—not away from all reality, but to the happier sides of reality that are just as realistic as the trauma.

Either way, if we are seeking true healing in Jesus, rather than indulging in despair or escapism, these stories can help us cope in ways that help us and glorify Jesus.

Here’s hoping this issue’s reviewed novels not only bring you joy, but help you heal.

Navigation, Lorehaven magazine, summer 2020


Captain’s Log

E. Stephen Burnett: During traumatic times, we need truthful stories to help us heal.

Book Reviews

Lorehaven’s review team explores the books they like best.

For Whom the Sun Sings, W. A. Fulkerson

Cover story: ‘I Used to Want to Change the World’

  • Explore For Whom the Sun Sings with W. A. Fulkerson
  • For Whom the Sun Sings, book review
  • For Whom the Sun Sings, chapter 1

Sponsored Review: The Light Unbound, C. S. Wachter

This novel concludes C. S. Wachter’s saga on a high note.

Discerning the ‘Girls With Swords’ Trope

Marian Jacobs: We can see some strong female characters in biblical perspective.

Sponsored Review: A Shattered World, Lelia Rose Foreman

This is the Puritan space colonization epic you never knew you needed.

The Dangers of Anti-Pearl-Clutching

Travis Perry: Let’s not overcorrect for others’ fears by ignoring Satan’s schemes.

The Chosen’s Speculation Meets a True Savior

Cap Stewart: This series may be one of the best Christian stories in our lifetime.

P.S.: Zack and I explore UFOs in today’s podcast.

Aliens. Oh snap. Audiences love aliens. Aliens! Aliens, from space. Ancient aliens. I don’t know, therefore: aliens.

Zack and Stephen launch this latest fantastical truth-finding with clips from U. S. Navy pilots who encountered UFOs. We’ll explore those reports, other alien stories, and how Christians can respond to the very notion of life and even sentient life beyond our planet.

Listen to the complete new episode, and be sure to subscribe to Fantastical Truth wherever you get your podcasts.

P.P.S. I’m speaking at three conferences this July.

Watch this space for more personal updates, especially as we head into conference season.

For me personally, I have several missions in upcoming events. Two are virtual. One, Lord willing, is real.

The near future will bring more details. Until then, enjoy the magazine—and subscribe so you don’t miss any issues!


E. Stephen Burnett, signature

  1. Please note that for pandemic-related reasons, we don’t yet have the issue’s PDF or print copies available. Expect these to release in July 2020.

Introducing The Author: Paul Regnier

Typically, when an author generates content, he’s more apt to talk about his book or writing or some other related topic. Most don’t talk about themselves much.
on Jun 29, 2020 · 3 comments
· Series:

Speculative author Paul Regnier may not be a household name. I haven’t seen a lot of interviews with him or followed a blog tour that featured him. He does have an active presence on social media in places like Facebook and Instagram, but for some reason—maybe because of the dwindling of active blogs—Paul doesn’t have a lot of “guest appearances.” Happily, we’ve had him here at Spec Faith.

But typically, when an author generates content, he’s more apt to talk about his book or writing or some other related topic. Most don’t talk about themselves much.

That’s OK because, as it happens, I know Paul personally. Until he moved, I was in two writing groups with him.

I first met Paul at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. A mutual friend introduced us, with the idea that we might want to include him in our small group of speculative fiction writers.

Since then Paul has gone on to co-teach a youth workshop at Mount Hermon. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Our group decided that he would be a good fit. He is a believer in Jesus Christ, a writer who loves various types of speculative fiction, a family man who, at the time, lived in the greater Los Angeles area, which is where all of us in the group live.

When Paul came into our little group of Christians writing speculative fiction, he was transitioning from screen writing to becoming a novelist. In fact, I think the first work of his that I read might have been a screen play.

I noticed a couple things in those early days. One, Paul had a great sense of humor. Some of the lines coming from the mouths of his characters had members of our group laughing out loud! Two, he was really, really good with dialogue. I mean, essentially dialogue is all that screen plays are. That and some stage direction to introduce scenes. (Obviously, I’m not a screen writer!)

At any rate, as Paul moved into the realm of novels, it was pretty clear that “work on your dialogue” was never going to be a critique any of us would offer.

Paul’s first publishing effort was a foray into self-publishing. The book came out before he had much of a social media platform, and I’m not sure it’s even still available. Let’s just say, he learned a lot through that experience.

From that first effort (fantasy, if I remember correctly) Paul moved on to Space Opera. He wrote the first book of his Space Drifters series, The Emerald Enigma, and after moving on from his agent, found a home for it at Enclave. He went on to complete that series, which became a trilogy, all with the same publisher.

Shortly after Paul joined the local chapter of ACFW to which I also belong, he and his wife decided to move. With two young children, they determined that there were better places to raise kids than Southern California (imagine!) Paul and his family now make their home in Treasure Valley, Idaho.

Believe it or not, that first original writing group still “meets” from time to time. We were doing the online meetings before the Covidvirus made so many turn to Zoom in order to “gather.”

After completing Space Drifters, Paul went on to write and self-publish the Paranormia books which I’ve introduced here at Spec Faith (here and here).

I’m a big fan of the way Paul tilts a genre by making humor as integral to the story as the adventure. I think it’s a gift—the sense of humor but also the ability to write it and to make it a part of his characters so that it doesn’t feel forced or contrived.

In the long run, besides knowing that Paul “is a technology junkie, drone pilot, photographer, web designer, drummer, Star Wars nerd, and a wannabe Narnian with a fascination for all things futuristic,” what matters the most to readers are the stories.

Maybe the Paranormia books, because of their unique blend of genres, will put Paul on the map and make him that household name so speculative readers will start looking for his books with regularity. I don’t know. I do know that he’s a talented writer, and he keeps getting better. I don’t think readers will be disappointed if they choose one of his books in their search for a new exciting series or a stand-alone novel.

Free Original Storyworld Ideas, Part 10: Alien Angels

Imagine that aliens not only look human–they have alien versions, too. And perhaps the Bible gives us a clue at alien angels in the faces of the seraphim…
on Jun 25, 2020 · 2 comments

This will be the final post in the Free Original Storyworld Ideas series. That’s not because I’m out of ideas I could share, but because we’ve gone over some unique ideas for fantasy worlds (such as Spheres), including magic as technology, some unusual ideas about the near future (in the Coronavirus stories) and distant future (Domesticated Humans and Nanites–which are unusual ideas for Christian writers at least), and some unorthodox ways to look at the spiritual world (Agent Angel). I even explained how to mine the public domain for stories and talked about the relatively new genre of GameLit. This last post, on alien angels, will end with another unorthodox view of the spiritual world, capping a multi-part overview of original ideas for fantasy, science fiction, and Christian paranormal in a way I hope at least some writers of Christian speculative fiction find inspiring.

In a previous post on Speculative Faith I talked about methods Christian writers could use to talk about aliens if they felt led to do so. That’s even though I don’t feel there’s any way for me to know if there are actually any aliens or not.

But once we suppose that there might be aliens, isn’t it possible that angels would take the shape of aliens when interacting with them? Just as numerous Bible passages describe angels as looking like human beings? That certainly makes sense, if we presume angels can change their appearance (and the Devil is said to be able to change his appearance in 2 Corinthians 11:14, so why couldn’t they?).

Alien Angels

But let’s take this idea a step further. Let’s imagine that angels, even though they can change their appearance, have a “default” appearance that matches the people they serve. So angels might have different ethnic appearances if they are assigned to different ethnic groups. Perhaps. And, if that’s the case, there might be certain angels with appearances that are permanently non-human because they have the job of ministering to other intelligent life God created in the universe, life other than us. Right?

One could imagine the separate intelligent species God will save will have separate heavens (and by “heaven” I mean “eternal state in the presence of God” which technically doesn’t happen until the New Heavens and New Earth of Revelation 21). But really, why? Doesn’t it make more sense that all the redeemed beings in the universe would be gathered together in one place, just as all the redeemed ethnic groups will be?

A somewhat disturbing view of an alien angel… Image source: Pintrest

Perhaps someone might say because we see the “New Heaven” pegged to the “New Earth,” that means only the Planet Earth will have saved beings—i.e. heaven will be a humans-only zone. Or perhaps one could say, again, that aliens will have their own separate renewed planets in which a heavenly city will come down (such as a “New Heavens and a New Vulcan” ? ).

But even if those other planets really are separate, what if they also are linked to the New Earth? Though “stargates” or by even cooler means? So that the New Jerusalem is the eternal city for all species, even non-humans?

So portraying heaven teeming with aliens might be an interesting angle to take. Plus, writers of science fiction might show aliens interacting with “alien angels.” However, so far this doesn’t constitute an entire story setting. Though it could add some flavor to stories featuring aliens with beliefs in God and the supernatural.

Scriptural Evidence of Alien Angels?

Of course a valid criticism of how I’ve presented this idea so far would be, “What evidence is there from the Bible itself that there’s any beings in heaven who actually look like aliens?”

Glad you asked.

As per a personal blog post I did years ago, recall the Seraphim, a Hebrew word that means “burning ones”? They have four faces in four cardinal directions. One face is human, one is of an eagle, one of a cow/calf, and one of a lion. These four beings are the closest to the throne of God and cry out continually, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY.”

Bible commentators have typically assigned the four faces some kind of symbolic meaning. Maybe based on the characteristics of the four creatures. Or the four Gospels. Or four directions of the compass.

But what if the four faces of the seraphim are not symbolic at all?

Certainly the human face would seem to be there because humans are a creation of God and the human face represents a being worshiping him. Human beings don’t seem to have a strictly figurative meaning–so what if God also created aliens with lion faces? Aliens with bovine faces? Aliens with faces like eagles? What if some of these aliens actually had wings?

That would change the meaning of the seraphim—they’d represent four intelligent species God had created. Them worshiping God together would, in that case, represent the species of the redeemed.

What if Seraphim Reflect Four Alien Races?

Four seraphim faces: Image source: Quora

So imagine a story setting in which humans encounter aliens—exactly 3 species of them other than us. Bovine, leonine, eagle-like. Or perhaps there could be whole sets of species, some humanoid, like Star Trek Vulcans, humans, Klingons, etc. But some “leonoid”—or sharing some aspects of cattle or of eagles. To the degree that the seraphim really do represent a heaven teeming with alien angels?

Such a setting would call on a writer to create a series of stories that feature all these different aliens. Perhaps their relationship with God would be different than ours—perhaps one or more of these species could have remained without sin. Or perhaps one species could have only one member who accepted their Savior through faith.

Seraphim wings. Image source:

Such a story setting could perhaps generate a fresh excitement concerning what the Bible says concerning how it relates to God’s create work outside of Planet Earth.

Though it would be important to avoid the notion that these different races visited Earth in the distant past and therefore the shape of the seraphim comes from early humans having seen them—or perhaps a writer could suggest that’s exactly what happened, but then show in the end the seraphim exist as the Bible describes them. Strange composite creatures, who reflect the creative work of God both inside and outside our Solar System…


So what are your thoughts on this story setting, readers? Have you encountered something similar to “alien angels”? Or exactly the same? How about stories about the seraphim faces? And how would you handle this as a story setting?

Lorehaven Magazine’s New Summer 2020 Issue Arrives Next Week

Watch for the summer 2020 issue on Tuesday, June 30, featuring novelist W. A. Fulkerson and fifteen new reviews.
on Jun 23, 2020 · No comments

At Lorehaven we’ve been reviewing, editing, and (thanks to world events) even doing a little retooling.

Now Lorehaven magazine’s tenth issue, summer 2020, arrives at this very website, Lord willing, just next week.

We’re aiming to release this issue on Tuesday, June 30.

Gracing the cover is For Whom the Sun Sings author W. A. Fulkerson. We interview him and review the book, of course. But starting in this issue, we print the book’s entire first chapter. Lord willing again, each new Lorehaven issue will feature similar first-chapter goodness going forward.

Here’s a sample of this issue’s amazing offerings:

Book Reviews

Lorehaven’s review team explores the books they like best.

For Whom the Sun Sings, W. A. FulkersonCover story: ‘I Used to Want to Change the World’

  • Explore For Whom the Sun Sings with W. A. Fulkerson
  • For Whom the Sun Sings, book review
  • For Whom the Sun Sings, chapter 1

Sponsored Review: The Light Unbound, C. S. Wachter

This novel concludes C. S. Wachter’s saga on a high note.

Discerning the ‘Girls With Swords’ Trope

Marian Jacobs: We can see some strong female characters in biblical perspective.

Sponsored Review: A Shattered World, Lelia Rose Foreman

This is the Puritan space colonization epic you never knew you needed.

The Dangers of Anti-Pearl-Clutching

Travis Perry: Let’s not overcorrect for others’ fears by ignoring Satan’s schemes.

The Chosen’s Speculation Meets a True Savior

Cap Stewart: This series may be one of the best Christian stories in our lifetime.

This Thursday’s livestream: How Can Stories Help Us in Traumatic Times?

Save your spot now for my livestream with Realm Makers this Thursday, June 25. It starts at 8 p.m. Eastern (7 Central).

When we groan with God’s anguished creation, what creative works help us work through our sense of trauma? Let’s explore, with biblical faith and sensitivity, how imagination helps us seek healing.

I’d love to hear what kinds of stories you prefer during traumatic times. Our poll at Crowdcast will ask:

What kinds of stories most often help you during traumatic times?

  • Lighter, relaxed stories
  • Darker, complex stories
  • Some lighter, some darker stories

The livestream feed will also be mirrored on Facebook. But by joining us on Crowdcast, you’ll be able to interact in chat and with yours truly. Crowdcast can also send you a notification when we’re about to go live.

When we groan with God’s anguished creation, what creative works help us work through our sense of trauma? Let’s explore, with biblical faith and sensitivity, how imagination helps us seek healing.

Available now: new podcast episode, plus daily reviews

Today we release the Fantastical Truth podcast’s episode 21: In a Blind World, What If Only One Boy Could See?

Each day we’re also posting full reviews from Lorehaven‘s vast backlog. Get all of those in the Reviews section of this website.

And of course, before too much longer, Christian fantasy creators will gather virtually for Realm Makers 2020: Pandemic Edition. Of this we will have much more to say, and I’ll likely keep using my Tuesday article slots for exactly this purpose. Godspeed!

A Christian Who Writes Or A Writer Who Is A Christian?

The point, as I see it, is that SOMETHING ought to set the Christian who writes—or who waits tables or cleans hospital rooms or puts out fires—apart from those who do the same activity who are not believers in Jesus.
on Jun 22, 2020 · 24 comments

Madeleine L’Engle, an author of 50 some books, most notably her science fiction-fantasy A Wrinkle In Time, famously said when she was asked if she was a Christian writer,

No. I am a writer. That’s it. No adjectives. The first thing is writing. Christian is secondary.

Understandably, that oft repeated statement as stirred a fair amount of debate within the community of Christians who write. What exactly are we to be? Writers first, Christians second? Or Christians who declare the gospel with every word we use to craft our stories?

The first idea has been supported by a number of people who say that we should be writers first because God made us in His image, so by being creative we are, in fact, pointing back to Him as the One who gave us the skill to do what we do.

Certainly there is a measure of truth in that position, but the issue that has constantly tripped me up here is the fact that godless men can use the same talent which originates in them from God, as a means to mock Him or discredit Him. See Philip Pullman as a poster boy for this position, with Dan Brown hanging his own poster right along side.

The point, as I see it, is that SOMETHING ought to set the Christian who writes—or who waits tables or cleans hospital rooms or puts out fires—apart from those who do the same activity who are not believers in Jesus.

Recently I picked up a book entitled Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey, and in it she actually addresses this subject in a way that was more thoughtful than I’d heard before (because, yes, this discussion has been around for a while—perhaps the latest post here at Spec Faith on the subject was one Travis Perry wrote a year ago. Certainly that wasn’t the first, and clearly, since I’m writing this one, it isn’t the last.)

In one section specifically on creativity, Pearcey says

Christianity needs to move beyond criticizing culture to creating culture. That is the task God originally created humans to do, and in the process of sanctification we are meant to recover that task. Whether we work with our brains or our hands, whether we are analytical or artistic, whether we work with people or with things, in every calling we are culture-creators, offering up our work as a service to God. (9 59, italics in the original)

One of the points I think that’s significant here is the idea that we are “culture-creators.” I’ve asked before if writers should be reflecting culture or molding culture. Pearcey seems unequivocally to be saying that we are to mold, not reflect.

Secondly, she emphasizes that this approach to culture is not unique to writers. In other words, she is clearly saying, we should be Christians first, and then go out into the world and do the thing that God has called us to do.

In an earlier section she refers to the “Cultural Mandate”—God’s direction to Adam and Eve to subdue the earth, fill it, and rule over it:

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:27-28)

According to Pearcey, our sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in our work comes as a result of completing the thing God has call all of us to do.

The ideal human existence is not eternal leisure or an endless vacation—or even a monastic retreat into prayer and meditation—but creative effort expended for the glory of God and the benefit of others. Our calling is not just to “get to heaven” but also to cultivate the earth, not just to “save souls” but to serve God through our work. (p 48)

For God’s glory and for the good of others.

I think that simplifies things, both for writers and for readers. Part of our evaluation about any story should be, Is God glorified and Are readers built up, encourage, give something essential they need?

Unapologetically Pearcey builds the case that all Christians should be engaged with the world as Christians, instead of compartmentalizing our faith, instead of segregating it from the other parts of knowledge in which we traffic on a regular basis:

“Thinking Christianly” means understanding that Christianity gives the truth about the whole of reality, a perspective for interpreting every subject matter. (p 34)

The two functions of Christianity can be summed up with two statements:

First, it is a message of personal salvation, telling us how to get right with God; and second, it is a lens for interpreting the world. (p 35)

From my perspective, much of what receives the classification of “Christian fiction” deals with personal salvation. Very little deals with creating a lens to interpret the world. In fact, a growing group of writers seem to think that ignoring Christianity, as if it belongs in church or in the privacy of a person’s own heart, will be their approach to writing stories.

To their credit, they do not pretend to write “Christian fiction.” But I wonder, then, what impact Christianity has on their writing. Are they content to write “clean” stories? Does that provide for readers in a “Cultural Mandate” way?

I can see an argument being made for that approach, but then I wonder, are we saying that what sets a Christian apart from the culture is the words we don’t write or the sex scenes we don’t include in our stories? I’m not sure that’s creating a lens to interpret the world.

I would think, at a time when the world seems steeped in unrest—from violence and disease and fear and uncertainty—Christians have more to say than a critique of the F-words plastered on the walls of businesses in the CHAZ/CHOP area of Seattle. Or in the latest fantasy release we’ve discovered. Or that we’re writing.

Free Original Storyworld Ideas, Part 9: Black Box Interchangeable Brain

What if technology advances so much that a brain could be saved in black boxes? Made interchangeable or modular? What if you could literally live as someone else?
on Jun 18, 2020 · 8 comments

This post combines four different personal blog posts I did on science fiction story settings that relate to the human brain. All of them play along with the idea that the brain is the center of consciousness (as many people believe) and when manipulation of the brain becomes advanced enough, life will completely change for human beings (if that should ever happen in the real world). These ideas include what we’ll call the Revive idea which relates to a “black box” for the brain, which would allow a person to be re-booted in case of death. But if the black box can be swapped between humans, then brains would become interchangeable, so spending time in another human’s body would be possible–perhaps making swapping out bodies like buying a new car. But if that were possible, then it might be possible to manipulate the inputs of what goes into the brains, allowing what I called “modular brains,” which receive data the human body was never designed to do. But if it were possible to swap out inputs, some people would want to re-live moments of famous people or play video games etc from the point of view of a body which was never actually theirs–we’ll call that the I Live You Very Much idea.

These ideas all have various forms of science fiction antecedents. One of the best-known today is the TV series Altered Carbon, which has a lot in common with my ideas about brains being interchangeable (though I haven’t watched the series myself, I’m told that’s what it does). But I did first blog this idea in 2012…Altered Carbon came six years later. Though there’s even earlier sci fi precedents for this kind of thing (and fantasy precedents for that matter). But combining them all together does wind up being uncommon, if not actually unique.

Note that talk of swapping out brains will raise in some readers’ minds questions about the soul and also about eternal life. I’ll briefly address some of these concerns near the end of this post. But first, let’s review my ideas on swapping out and altering brains in order:


Extra lives used to be a standard feature in video games even earlier than Pac Man and still remains a feature of some video games even today.  Some corner of my brain wondered how that would work exactly, which inspired an idea for a new story setting.

In Revive, which I think would be more appropriate as an actual video game than a work of GameLit (though it could easily be both), a future exists where medical technology is so advanced that it’s possible to bring people back from the dead on a routine basis.  This would be based on massive brain reconstruction after death and sophisticated chips implanted in the brainstem that record a person’s mental status at the time of death–a sort of “black box” for the human mind.

People who could afford the regeneration services could be routinely brought back to life–though a medical technology as advanced as this would probably be able to keep the very wealthy alive forever–that is, keep them from death of natural causes.  Death would only come as a result of accidents or by some sort of violence.

The world of Revive would be violent in the extreme.  With no more fear of death, ancient ideas of individual honor being resolved by personal combat would come back to life.  The very rich would dominate the rest of society by their immortality–physically dominate it–acting with a lordly brutality that has a parallel in some vampire stories.

The main character I’d want to write would not be super rich–he’d be an elite soldier who is revived by the government on a regular basis to preserve his enormous knowledge of combat and the political situation.  This character could have many possible motivations. One could be to maneuver through the political and personal combat machinations of the dominant families of the very rich with an eye to right the death of one of his friends.

Perhaps this type of story world could feature a war between a religiously-motivated underclass, led by a man like a futuristic Oliver Cromwell, who constitute an army of mortal soldiers, “roundheads” of the future. They’d have many disadvantages, but their religious fervor could give them a boldness in the face of death even greater than the near-immortals. Perhaps they’d fight against the godlike immortals who spread fear over Planet Earth and any other realms where the humans in this story would roam…

The Interchangeable Brain

The “black box for the brain” idea I discussed in my suggested video game concept (here’s a link to the original post) carries with it some interesting implications:

If it really were possible to record the total neuron function of the brain and map its structure in such a way to capture its memories, allowing the brain to be rebuilt, that would also logically allow a person’s brain to be placed in a head other than the one it came from. For my story idea, that would mean that people would not just medically come back from the dead, they might come back as someone other than who they used to be–a futuristic, surgical-based version of reincarnation.
Please note I’m not stating it actually would be in any way possible to record total neuron function. It might be possible, but I think even if so it would be very difficult–there are just so many neurons. Nor do I consider it probable that any such surgical reconstruction on a cellular level will ever really happen–though it makes sense to me that bringing a person back from the dead with the exact same brain they used to have would require cell-by-cell replacement, exactly reproducing each cell of the original brain. As I understand it, it’s the exact configuration of your brain that makes it carry the specific information that makes you who you are. Nothing short of total reconstruction is plausible to me as a means to bring someone back from the dead–or to make a brain “interchangeable.”
That I doubt this could ever happen shouldn’t stop a writer from crafting a story where it somehow does happen.  And if a brain can be reconstructed to bring someone back to life, again, that would allow bringing them back with their brain in someone else’s body.  Applied to the Revive game setting, that could mean the very rich who revive themselves perhaps would choose to come back in a different form on a regular basis–switching from male to female, or between races, for example (though some individuals or the even majority even might prefer to always be themselves). They could have the procedure done even if they had not passed away. Waiting for death would seem to be a good idea, since such radical surgery might well be risky and certainly would be expensive, so many might choose to undergo the procedure only when strictly necessary, i.e. after death. But others might have it done at other times. In story terms it could mean that the villain is very difficult to find because he is always changing who he is–or who she is.
And if a brain can be surgically reproduced in such a way it could be placed in a body other than the one it belongs to, why couldn’t someone make multiple copies of the same brain? (yes, this brings up implications concerning a soul I’ll address sin a bit) Especially if this were frowned upon or illegal–the law may say you are allowed only one brain and doctors are forbidden to do more than that. But the antagonist has found a way around that rule so that he and she, or she, she, and he–they–act together to foil the hero in a way he never understands at first, because there is only one of him (or her) and many of them, many exact copies of the same interchangeable brain and personality working together, masked by differing bodies…

The Modular Brain

This permutation of the idea of altering brains originated in me wondering if humans like to kiss because the mouth is the part of the face, which (in my wild speculation) is the part of the body most closely associated with our conscious self, the part of the mind where we mentally abide, our own internal living room as it were (as if the face, including vision, were the primary window the conscious mind uses to connect to the world, whereas other means are more distant, like windows in a basement you can access but have to move your vantage point to do so). As opposed to our subconscious, which is perhaps more connected to inner parts of your body, like your internal intestines or kidneys. Things you can feel but normally are not aware of unless you are in pain, like your breathing or how your knee is operating, would occupy a borderline between the conscious and unconscious mind.

As I was thinking about this, an image of old Nintendo style game cartridges plugged into a human skull popped into my head. What if it were possible to have a living human being with a modular brain, a plug & play brain system?

This is would be just one aspect of being a cyborg and of course being a cyborn is not original to me. Perhaps possibly though it is original to think of writing a science fiction story in which different parts of the brain could be mixed on a modular basis. So I could match the conscious mind of a human being with the brain control to operate the limbs of an octopus. Or horse. Or an alien creature. Or a story could flip the subconscious so it operates machinery, while the conscious self perhaps believed it was still fully human. Or I could plug an alien conscious mind into human limbs…Etc.

Or more narrowly, what if you could pick eagle eye input, bat sonar, and an elephant nose input to be fed into one brain? And the brain parts would be adapted in this form of plug & play to be able to process these unusual inputs and harmonize them into the whole system? Like a sort of mental USB that in these examples, connected to exterior sensors?

What if wholly internal thought processes were subject to his same modularity? So you could adopt Vulcan logic as a plug-in and swap it out for a Klingon battle mindset when you needed it? (The possibilities seem endless.)

What if a story featured fine-tuning and customizing your own brain as a major industry of the future?

I Live You Very Much

So if you could fine-tune your brain and capture brain memories, what if an industry sprung up around people selling their life experiences? (This idea, by the way, was inspired by a friend commenting that her spell check corrected her writing “I love you very much” to “I live you very much”…)

Imagine a story setting in which you could assume the body of another person. Any other person, living or dead, complete with their memories.

Something like my idea has been done in a variety of ways in the past. An original Star Trek episode featured a machine that was able to transfer a woman’s inner self, her soul if you will (though the episode didn’t use that term) into Captain Kirk’s body and vice versa. Later, in the movies, Doctor McCoy carries around Spock’s Katra, the Vulcan equivalent to a soul (given to him in a mind-meld) prior to it being returned to a new version of Spock’s body.

Stories have even featured robot surrogates that a person can project their consciousness into. Or on a technologically simpler level,virtual reality projections have been proposed in which anybody could assume the shape of anyone or anything in a highly realistic digital projection that hits all of a person’s senses.

But let’s take what all these previous stories have done and develop their notions further. Imagine a story world in which a human being could be rapidly grown from DNA samples, (which sci fi has done numerous times). Then the brain of this new clone could be reprogrammed with a person’s mind (again, as stated above, this has been written before). But to take this a step further, imagine a world in which careful genetic research could reproduce the bodies of people no longer living. Then implant their brains with recreations of their memories based on what is known of that person from history–and then place a living person into that system. You would not be yourself in another body–your would literally be, as much as science could reproduce, an actual figure from history. Your very thoughts would be changed, merged with those of the person you entered.

Figures from history would be very popular for this sort of thing, but so would living celebrities. Imagine living celebrities getting paid high royalties for allowing people to copy their memories. So that strangers could merge their thoughts and inner selves into the bodies of the rich and famous.

Note this sort of procedure could be done in a way that isn’t a merger–it instead could be set up so the stranger would be just an observer in another person’s mind. Playing back past experiences as if a movie–but with everything there. Smells, thoughts, bodily urges, the works.

Couldn’t a story like this feature a Jurassic Park type setting of historical figures? Or make it possible to put a as realistic as possible Napoleon in a battle versus Genghis Khan versus Julius Caesar?

The ability to load yourself into historic or celebrity brains would allow unique opportunities of learning about the lives of fascinating people from the past and present. Though for the historic figures, a lot would depend on the types of memories loaded into a brain and what DNA was used to create a person. People like Jesus or Socrates would be highly controversial. Because for them only some thoughts and experiences are preserved by history and any direct relatives from which DNA could be extrapolated are long since gone. (Though Jesus might be somewhat slightly a teeny bit more controversial than Socrates…). There would have to be multiple versions with radically different characteristics for further-in-the-past or obscure historical figures.

In theory, the same sort of reproduction of the past could be done digitally, without actual growth of clones or recreating brains. But genetic systems–what I would call in a story using this idea, “wet modeling”–would develop a complexity that due to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle digits may never be able to reproduce. And even if totally realistic virtual reality were possible in some super-technological future and were as good as cloning, some people might just prefer “wet models” anyway. So in an imaginable future world with sufficiently advanced technology, “I live you very much” might be an actual thing.

What About Souls? And Mortality?

I’m offering this idea up for use by anyone interested in using it, but if I were to write this up myself, I’d be interested in aspects of the soul in such a story.  Perhaps someone who was revived would never quite feel like himself or herself again. The difference perhaps would be mild, but perhaps would be profoundly disturbing.

Perhaps an attempt to make multiple copies of a brain would fail for mysterious, inexplicable reasons. Perhaps a single brain could be brought back–but for reasons the brain scientists in the story don’t understand, the copies are notably different from the original. (The reason would be there’s only one copy of a soul, which a story would imagine cannot be xeroxed…)

I’d also feature people who refuse to undergo “Revival” even though they can afford it, because they cling to the religious concept that humans are supposed to be mortal. Though emphasizing that even those who copy themselves would eventually die would also be important.

But let’s explore the theoretical possibility that the soul is at least partially a product of brain function. What if the soul really does come from the brain, but is immortal because God retains a copy of it in His memory? Like a heavenly “cloud” drive (pun intended) that backs us up at all times?

So as an alternative to what I suggested above about failed copies or not-quite-so revivals, perhaps a story could portray people coming back exactly as they used to be–or very close anyway. Again, not that I think such surgery will ever be possible, no matter how advanced medicine may become…

A Christian Motivation

The reason to tackle this sort of story as someone who has Christian convictions would be because it gives the opportunity to ask: “What is the difference between the contents of all a person’s memories and the soul? What does it really mean to be who you are? Is it possible to think radically different thoughts, ones you’d never thought before, and still be yourself when you’re finished?”

That leads to how I would carry out such a story. I’m make it so that radical alterations including merging your mind with another person’s mind would be filled with unexpected failures and unpredicted reactions. Even in such a super-technological world as the one I’ve imagined, God is the master of circumstances, not we human beings.

And I would say that thinking someone else’s exact thoughts, or experiencing the world as another creature even, even for a short time, would change who you are. There would be no going back to thinking the exactly same way as you had beforehand, not entirely. The Bible itself states in Proverbs and elsewhere that what people think reflects who they are.


So what are your thoughts on this mini suite of story ideas? What have you seen or read that’s similar? What ideas would you be interested in exploring?

(By the way, my podcast covering this same topic in different words is at:

From The Writers’ Toolbox: Keep ‘Em On The Line

Writers also need to create characters with whom readers can relate and for whom they can cheer.
on Jun 15, 2020 · 3 comments
· Series:

So readers are hooked with a great beginning. How does the novelist keep them engaged from that point on? Perhaps the best way to look at this subject is to start with what does not keep readers turning pages.

One way is to employ “FALSE STARTS.” If the opening scene does it’s job and intrigues, readers should be asking, what happens next?

If, instead, the writer delivers glumps of backstory, excessive description, or the “flash forward,” readers may be tempted to put the book down.

Backstory tells readers about things in which they aren’t yet interested. Excessive description requires a story to grind to a halt as the writer paints a picture (always a fun thing to watch 😉 ).

It’s so easy for a writer to think the reader will “get” that the backstory and the character or setting descriptions are vital for their understanding of what’s about to take place, and that they will surely stick around to see just how great the story really is. Sadly, I’ve learned the hard way, this just isn’t so.

What about the flash forward?

In a writing instruction article in The Writer, Hallie Ephron says the flash forward is a device writers are tempted to use in order to begin with an exciting scene when the actual beginning seems to lack pizazz.

Prologues sometimes (often?) employ this device. The technique is designed to show a tense and intriguing scene, then stop at a cliff hanger, and go back to the beginning to show readers “how we got here.”

The story question, then, is something like, what brought this smart, capable woman to the point where her boss was so mad he fired her, forcing her to sell her home and move in with her crotchety maiden aunt? Unfortunately, the “how we got here,” which makes up the bulk of the story, by definition lacks the tension of the beginning forward action. There is no rising action because the novel started with the greatest point of tension.

If writers should avoid backstory, excessive description, and flash forwards, then what should come next, after that intriguing hook? What ought to follow an opening so that it won’t come off like a false start? Is there a trick writers can use to pull this off?

Yes. First we must create characters readers care about. They must be interesting and believable, but they must also be people with whom readers can empathize.

One of the best writers I know creates quirky characters that are hard to connect with. Few people know such people in real life and fewer understand what makes them tick. Characters that don’t connect with readers create an automatic strike against the story.

But there’s more. Other books I’ve read have bland characters that are floating through their story with no intention. These have a strike against them too.

Well-drawn characters must not only be interesting and believable, people with whom readers can empathize, they must do something interesting and believable.

In my adventures through fiction, I’ve found stories with truly wonderful characters. They are fun—even funny—and realistic, with age spots and crows feet as well as knight-in-shining-armor charisma and undeniable moral fiber.

And yet, at times, something so integral has been missing that I could easily close the book and not finish reading. I just didn’t care.

Yikes! 😮 What would cause such a thing?

In a nutshell, objectives. Actually, the lack thereof. In order for me to cheer for a character, which means I’ve arrived at the caring level, I have to see the character striving to accomplish something. The story can’t stall on bad things happening to a good character, over and over again. Instead, the character must take on a central problem and work to win out.

Somehow, a character striving, especially against great odds, resonates. It is in the effort to overcome that a character’s mettle shines.

An engaging character is only one element. Another that keeps readers on the hook is to put tension on every page, as Donald Maass, author of Writing the Breakout Novel, says.

One way to create tension is to create the legitimate possibility of failure. J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was a story that kept readers wondering if the protagonists would succeed or fail. Frodo’s ability to pull off a victory was in doubt until the last sentence of the climax. For much of the last book of The Lord of the Rings, his spirit was willing, but his flesh was weak. In the end, even his spirit gave out.

Along the way, he’d experienced a good number of successes, so how did Tolkien make readers feel as if Frodo might not make it in the end?

I think the main way was by not protecting his characters from hurt. The four hobbits were captured, Frodo was wounded, Gandolf was killed, Peregrin looked into the crystal where Sauron could see him, the fellowship broke apart, King Theoden came under Worm Tongue’s spell, Boromir succumbed to his desire for the ring and died. At every turn, the end seemed in doubt and victories weren’t had without paying a price.

Finally, there needs to be the credible possibility that winning won’t look like the kind of winning the reader was hoping for.

In summary, if writers are to keep readers turning pages after they’ve hooked them with a great opening, they need to avoid false starts. Openings should not fall victim to chunks of backstory, excessive description, or fast forward gimmicks.

Writers also need to create characters with whom readers can relate and for whom they can cheer.

Finally, writers must put tension on every page. Winning can’t come easily or quickly, and not necessarily in the expected manner.

With these elements in place, readers are bound to be scrambling for more time with the book so they can keep the pages turning.

Featured image by The Lazy Artist Gallery from Pexels

What Jordan Peele’s New ‘The Twilight Zone’ Teaches about God and Imagination

Unlike Rod Serling’s narrator, who shows a problem and only observes the story’s end, God chose to step into the Twilight Zone with us.
on Jun 12, 2020 · 15 comments

The epiphany of this article came to me on the night I killed.

My heart pounded as I rose from my bent position over the carcass which I had destroyed, my weapon dangling from the tips of my fingers. Rivulets of sweat trailed down my face and with a shaky hand, I wiped away at the moisture.

“This is my house,” I repeated softly. “You don’t belong here.”

I let the sandal fall to the floor. Sarah stared up at me, her face filled with confusion. She couldn’t understand that I had to do it. I can’t let a known intruder continue to stay in my house. It was either him or me. I made the choice it was me and fought with everything to ensure that it was me. Wearily, I went into the bathroom and looked at my face. It was now the face of a warrior. Wrapping the tissue around my hand in a giant wad, I went back into the bedroom to dispose of the spider’s flattened body.

Did you think I killed a real person? Shame on you! What kind of monster do you think I am!

Yet, what would be the fun in just saying, “Hey, ya’ll! Parker killed a spider.” Where’s the storytelling? The imagination?

The story continues after my epic battle. When I got back to bed, I continued to write for a couple of hours until I was exhausted. Then, I stayed up to watch my latest binge: Jordan Peele’s take on The Twilight Zone.

“God could have introduced himself to us in anyway. When we meet the God of the Bible, we meet Him as Creator.”

—Allen Arnold

How Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone is unique

This take on The Twilight Zone is unique in several ways.

First, Jordan Peele actively chose to highlight minorities in these stories. Except for maybe one or two episodes out of ten, the main protagonists are women, people of color, or fall under some category of identity politics.

Secondly, unlike the original Twilight Zone, this version is interdimensional, and each chapter is part of a single story. This is seen when elements from one episode appear in another. For example, the main character, a comedian from the first episode, shows up on the magazine cover in the next one. A mission to Mars poster in the second episode foreshadows an actual mission in episode six. In episode six, one of the crew members of the Mars mission holds a toy figurine emblazed with the name of the fated plane referenced in episode two.

Not to mention, we see several occurrences of the number “1015.” It shows up as a phone number, an entry code, a license plate number, and in other ways. Speculation rages as to what the 1015 means.1

Yet, although I would love to gab over this conspiracy of the show, it’s the very last episode that brings me to my conclusion of how this unique take on The Twilight Zone points to God and imagination.

To do that, I must give away major spoilers of this episode, including the ending.

Deeper into The Twilight Zone

This episode, called “The Blurryman,” has a great opening sequence. Jordan Peele begins to narrate:

“Witness Adam Wegman, a writer who, up until tonight, has never paid much mind to the idea of an artist’s social responsibility. He’s about to learn that there’s more to art than entertainment. He’s about to—you know what? I think we can beat this.”

We break away to see The Twilight Zone set and people who work behind it. It’s riddled with guest stars, but it focuses on the script writer, Sophie Gelson, who is tasked with rewriting the narration of the episode they are filming. She talks with Jordan Peele about reworking the opening. She makes a point saying, “But this is The Twilight Zone. If we’re not making a point about something important, then it’s just campfire stories.”

To this Peele replies, “You don’t like campfire stories?”

She responds, “I did when I was a little girl. Look, what Rod Serling did is he took the silly kid genre stuff and he elevated it. He made art with it for grownups and the reason why he’s in every episode—”

“Until now. Right?” Peele interrupts.

She goes on to say, that as a little girl watching the show, she’d wondered: What is The Twilight Zone and when do we get there? Gelson says she didn’t get the show until Rod Serling came on and told us about it.

Peele ends their chat by saying, “Take out the entertainment stuff and make it simple.”

She rewrites the script and it’s placed on cue cards.

Then, when Peele begins to read it, it becomes about Gelson entering The Twilight Zone.

The rest of the story follows in true Twilight Zone fashion as Gelson becomes part of the episode. She is chased by a character who is simply called “The Blurryman,” and he shows up in every single episode they’ve filmed. (It’s really cool to go back and watch them and see him). The Blurryman follows her and she futilely tries to escape him. Finally, in a conversation with herself, she allows the Blurryman to overtake her, and she’s taken back to her childhood when she watched the show. She has an epiphany and the new narration works. But then, it’s not over as she transported to the set world (in glorious black and white) of the original series episode “Time Enough at Last.” There, she encounters the Blurryman. See remarkis about the ironic twist on which many episodes end, and this was her end.

As she laments this, the Blurryman reveals himself to be none other than: Rod Serling.2 Rod Serling begins to talk to her: “I take it I have your attention. Good.”

She questions, “What is this place?”

He tells her: “I think you know.”

The episode ends with them walking into the Twilight Zone and Rod Serling’s ending thoughts:

“What do we do when our world is turned upside down? When everything we thought to be true is ripped away and we’re forced to face a new reality? Sophie Gelson has just awoken to the fact that when we put away childish things, we may be closing our eyes instead of opening them. And that perhaps our only hope is to face all reality. A multitude of truths, not shrinking from that vital, arrogant, fatal, dominant X beyond imagination but to embrace it. To open ourselves to the unknown. Not the end of the story but a new beginning for the Twilight Zone.”

A meta-commentary on the art’s creator

I sat back from the computer in awe at the brilliance of the story, a strange goosebump-like sensation riddling over my body. Peele had taken the us back to the genesis of The Twilight Zone itself, to the man who had created it.

In a book I recently read called The Land of the Purple Ring, Deborah J. Natelson, she writes via the book’s hero:

Imaginarium is the land of imagining happy fluffy clouds, rainbow unicorns, and princesses in towers—but it is also the land of imagining yourself a fluffy cloud who eats rainbow unicorns and locks princesses in towers, for lunatics are no more imaginative than sanetics; no, nor any less.

So as a sanetic, or possibly a lunatic (the jury’s still out on that one), let me use my imagination to bring it all together by using the elements of the iconic show.

When God created us, we were born to continue his work as creators. The very nature of creation brings community.  In the Garden, the Lord placed Adam and Eve there to work and keep working in it. Who knows what things they created in those wistful days we’ll never see?

Then, a calamitous event happened, the oddity that wasn’t supposed to be there. Not the snake, but the idea that we could be like God. Thus, the downfall of our imagination was birthed. It was God who had to rescue us by throwing us out of the Garden and into … the Twilight Zone.

This is a millennia-long episode riddled with horrible things happening to sinful people. But imagination is the genius of humanity. Without imagination, we wouldn’t strive. For though we have killed millions, we have given birth to billions. Though we have experienced the dredges of poverty, we’ve experienced the heights of decadent wealth. Bridges of communication are broken, but they are also rebuilt by the gripping of one hand to another.

This place is “the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.”

Yet, we seek the narrator to understand the episode, the message behind it. Like Peele’s endeavor to create a single story among the episodes, God left us his word so we could understand his purpose for us. Like the Blurryman, he is an integral part, understanding the elements of the story far better than we ever could.

For God can see the overarching story, and without his intervention, we are doomed to never leave the Twilight Zone.

Jesus himself steps into the ‘episode’

Unlike Rod Serling’s narrator, who postulates the problem and then gives the conclusion of the narrative, God chose to step into the Twilight Zone with us, to become like us and subject himself to the same machinations without being affected by them. Unlike the audience, he never just watched and commented on the show. He got involved by getting past the surface message and into the hearts of the viewer—showing us that we are sinners who need to be saved and rescued. He did that by dying for our sins and rising again to give us access to leave the Twilight Zone.

One thing Rod Serling said is that Twilight Zone was the place of our imagination. But our imagination is limited by sin. We can only go so far.

Yet, rescued by the limitations of sinful nature, the place of light and shadow, we can go to the X beyond that boundary of our imagination.

Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.

—1 Corinthians 2:9

People think of Heaven as if it’s “just” a place. Yet Heaven so much more than that. It’s a relationship with the Creator of all who became like us to save us. God’s imagination is far more advanced than any of us could understand. In Judgement, he will destroy this place of light and shadow and close the door and open our eyes, ears, mind, and hearts to a place outside of the Twilight Zone.

  1. As I sit here in full conspiracy mode, my idea is this: 1015 is a date, October 15. This is the day that Earth was destroyed by nuclear war and there are several episodes that show what happened after that event. It’s all part of one story, broken up and told from different times and perspectives.
  2. Yes, I had an emotional connection with seeing his face in glorious black and white.

Free Original Storyworld Ideas, Part 8: Magical Technology (A Little Problem with the Dilithium Stone)

What about magic in a story that would otherwise be technological? A Little Problem with the Dilithium Stone shows an example.
on Jun 11, 2020 · 15 comments

Fantasy stories that feature magic usually have a medieval feel to them. Or perhaps ancient world flavor. Of course urban fantasy features magic set in the world you and I know. But how often is it that authors imagine a parallel world to our own in which technology roughly like our own exists, but instead of being driven by scientific discoveries, the tech is powered by magic?

Magical Technology

Image credit: Soul Magical Enterprise

This is an idea I think that could potentially make a lot of stories more interesting. The blend of technology and magic–not in the same way I recommended in a previous post on Spheres which would take the manipulation of real scientific forces the source of all magic. The way I’m recommending here is to craft magic that works for unknown reasons in a way that it winds up paralleling modern technology, which is quite different from what I recommended in the Spheres post.

When I came up with the idea of magical technology in 2013 and posted it to my personal blog, I thought I was inventing something new. No, not really–multiple authors have thought along these lines before, including the creation of a division of fantasy called “Technomancy,” in which magic is used to hack computer systems (and create other effects). And some blending of magic and technology also occurs in a number of other stories, including Harry Potter to a degree. But still, the overall concept is uncommon, even though not wholly original.

As I said in my previous personal blog post:

Magical devices are extremely common in fantasy stories of all stripes. Cloaks of invisibility, magic wands, and crystal ball variations abound (and much more).

Steampunk stories at times blend the magical with a Victorian feel…or make technology that might be imagined to work in the 19th century (but which can’t really), actually work, producing an effect that is almost magical. I mean things like airships shaped like sailing ships with levitating balloons that are in fact far too small for the weight lifted, or mechanical men who act in ways more complex than current robotic technology can deliver–but powered by mechanical clockworks.

But I think it would be interesting to feature stories in which devices are built–that is, technology exists–that are based on mechanical devices with magic essentially taking the role that electricity and electrical-powered devices perform in our world. So you’d build an elevator, for example, much like we do in our technological age–it would roll smoothly on lubricated ingrained vertical wheels to reduce friction, while the weight of the lift itself would be carefully counter-balanced against a counterweight connected via a cable, so moving the elevator would be simply a matter of changing the balance of the system, instead of directly lifting the weight of the device. But instead of a powerful electric motor to change the balance, a simple magical spell would do so. Perhaps uttered by an elevator attendant–say a magical apprentice gnome. The gnome, perhaps wearing the red cap of elevator attendants of a bygone era, says, “Balanceatus super” or something and the counterweight ascends, the cable lowering the elevator car down.

Or there could be a camera with a lens that captures light…but the image it captures and focuses on is captured by magic and transported by magic. Which would in effect be much like a WiFi device, but would never have to be plugged in for power; its batteries would never have to be replaced (though spells would have to be recharged, whatever that takes). Or a carriage that moves smoothly on wheels with lubricated axles, the driver turning a steering wheel, but the drive motor is a magically tumbling block of metal or something similar.

In fact, a fantasy story could feature a world that parallels ours in every way, with a magical equivalent of computers–monitors are glass screens dotted with phosphorous which are illuminated by pixies in flight–keyboards don’t exist, but the analog is a magical parchment that converts handwriting to images on a screen that can be copied and transported elsewhere. The Internet could exist via series of imps and fairies and/or dimwitted demons routing magical messages from glowing screen to glowing screen (I would make this fantasy Internet operate on “true digital”–that is, the numbers 0-9, not binary code). Air travel could be provided by large lightweight aerodynamic aircraft with lift (as we have them), but with dragons harnessed under the wings to provide thrust.

Fantasy skyscrapers of glass and steel could be connected by roads made smooth by giant rollers pushed by trolls. Rifles hurling projectiles could be fed bullet casings containing water where we would put gunpowder. A spell could transform the water instantly into steam, pushing the bullet down the gun barrel. Submarines and spacecraft could purify their air by words that freeze out atmospheric carbon dioxide. Companies that summon or breed or otherwise provide simple magical helpers would drive industry. Instead of “General Electric Corporation” being important, there would be a demand for “General Gnomic Services.” Instead of “Microsoft,” there could be “Minifairy.”

Note that there is an underlying assumption here–that even in a world of magic, principles of science would still apply–leverage would still work the same, lift would still be lift, materials science still materials science. There would just be additional forces to be harnessed in such a world that we do not have access to…which is why we are required to rely on less elegant and interesting solutions to our technical problems…

Three Short Stories

I’ve actually written three short stories that feature this idea of magic technology. One is a type of parody related to a well-known science fiction franchise, which I’ve included below. “A Little Problem with the Dilithium Stone” I’ve included in this post as an illustration of using magical technology in a tale.

Also, I hope you enjoy the story. Plus, regular commentators Notleia and Autumn might get a kick out of the fact that this is the closest I’ve ever done to writing Fanfic 🙂

A Little Problem with the Dilithium Stone

They say dark elves make the best Technical Officers. But Saaveriel was giving me doubts.
“A little problem? That’s all you’ve got to say about this? We lose warp drive ten thousand clicks inside the Draconiam Neutral Zone and all my trained master of magic and science has to say about why is ‘We’ve got a little a little problem?’”
The elf replied by sweeping back a lock of glossy raven hair past her highly pointed right ear. Her shoulders shrugged beneath her Spacefleet blue uniform top, accentuating features that I as her captain wasn’t supposed to notice, and her dark brown eyes met my gaze with a directness that under other circumstances I might have found alluring.
I twisted in my captain’s chair to the gnome standing on my left. “What’s engineering got to say about this?”
“I dinna know ferr sure, Cap’n. Nae bin a mote ouinkerrn dust befallen in ‘err system…”
I tried to follow the rest of what the red-shirted chief engineer told me. I really did. But his gnome brogue got so thick you’d have needed a photon pistol to cut through it. Under other circumstances, I would have asked him to repeat himself—slowly—but there just wasn’t time.
“Actually, it doesn’t matter why this happened. What matters is what needs to be done to fix it and how long that will take.”
“Aye, Cap’n,” Glotty glanced over at the Technical Officer. She silently raised a single eyebrow as she met his gaze. She turned to me and said, “Captain Church, it is impossible to make an exact estimate when the true nature of the problem is unknown. Mr. Glot and I will perform full diagnostic scans immediately.” And then she smiled at me. Disarmingly.
“Very well, then, get to it, Mr. Saaveriel.”
Glotty had already trotted away toward the turbovator door before she turned to join him, her red, red lips still parted, showing immaculately white teeth that matched her milky skin and which were set off in contrast by her dark eyes and hair. Focused directly on me, as she turned away to walk to the ‘vator.
I forced myself to turn my chair forward, not really absorbing the view of the star field in front of me. For the sake of discipline and good order, and even the meaning behind my family name, I most definitely did not watch the elf’s trim and shapely form saunter off the bridge. I breathed deeply and cleared my throat. “Mr. Chekurk, anything showing on the sensor sweeps?”
The goblin in the yellow shirt at the navigation station answered, “Only sstandard Draconiam ssurveillance drones, Captain. The ones pozted along the inner boundary of their border. I would think they’d have detected uz already, but if sso, we haven’t been able to pick up any trace of ssignals.”
“Are you monitoring the entire subvoid bandwidth? Not just Draconiam frequencies?”
“Every frequenzy, Captain. But not a peep from the ssenzor board.”
I pivoted the command chair to look behind me. “Can you verify that, commo?”
“Yes, Captain,” replied the wood elf lieutenant at that station. Her hair, eyes, and skin were all very nearly the same lovely shade of medium brown…
I fidgeted in the command chair for maybe thirty seconds, staring at the unmoving stars in the viewscreen that covered half the wall opposite me. “Mr. Chekurk, you have the helm. I’ll be in engineering.” I launched myself out of the chair and didn’t bother to listen for his confirmation of the order before stepping into the ‘vator, its door automatically sliding shut as I entered.
I grasped the control handle hanging down from the middle back wall of the car and turned it full to the right—main engineering. Some part of my brain absently reviewed turbovator tech operations—a miniature pixie in the handle read the user-initiated degree of turn and telepathically signaled another pixie at the air pressure controls, who used a control that altered pneumatic balance between air storage tanks to drive the ‘vator down its shaft…
The tubovator door snapped open, driven at the command of yet another pixie leveraging a clever counter-weight, and I stepped into the engineering main bay. Bright lit control panels and busy engineers and magical technicians lined my right and left sides as I walked to the main reactor. A transparent glass dome the size of most of the shipboard rooms contained the dilithium stone, which floated between the deck below and ceiling above, as it normally did. A thick obsidian conduit from below fed antimagic into the system while an amber conduit from above fed it magic. The forms of energy combined in the natural dilithium matrix and radiated an unimaginable degree of ordinary heat along the flat perimeter edge of the roundish stone. Plasma conduit met the glass sphere in ducts around the middle—the heat instantly vaporized ordinary matter into plasma and this plasma discharge, running through superconducting-shielded conduit, powered the main ship systems, including most importantly—especially at the moment—the engines.
The floating stone had a vaguely metallic look to it and was really more of a boulder than a stone. It massed just over three hundred kilograms. Or it used to—a hole nearly a quarter the size of the stone itself penetrated it through the middle from above, off center, larger going in than out, a roughly cone-shaped wound…
“Glotty! Did you know there’s a hole in the stone!” Commander Glot and Lieutenant Commander Saaveriel stood on my right, at a stainless-steel sided panel lit bright with crystals that tracked magic leakage.
“Aye. I ha’e alrreedy tol’ ye that.”
“Uh…well, uh, did you notice how large it is?”
“Cap’n, I ha’e alrreedy giv’n ye the mass and dimensions of yon stone gap…” Glotty, who stood as tall as my kneecap, had mounted a miniature stepladder on wheels to view the crystals of the monitoring panel that Saaveriel easily looked down upon. In confusion, he scratched the chin under his gray-whiskered beard, which ran down to his beginnings-of-a-pot-belly.
Saaveriel wasn’t confused at all. She winked—actually winked—at me, as if it were a conspiracy we were in on together. “I believe the captain simply had difficulty visualizing the description you gave him. Isn’t that right, sir?”
It was certainly true. I hadn’t visualized a single thing he’d told me. “Why thank you, Mr. Saavriel, for putting that into words for me…ahem.” And she smiled. Dark elves don’t usually smile. And she’d done so twice in relatively rapid succession. I enjoyed the attention—I didn’t want to admit to myself how much I enjoyed it— but in the back of my mind an instinct said, She’s up to something, Tim.
I crossed my arms across my chest and scratched a spot through my yellow uniform top just below the seven pointed emblem designating our spaceship, the Venture. If that just happened to be on my flexed pectoral muscle, so be it. “So what happened to it, Mr. Saaveriel?”
“Happened…Captain?” She cocked her head sideways.
“Yes, happened. The law of conservation of matter, energy, and magic clearly states that none of the three are created or destroyed. They only change forms. So what form did the missing matter in the stone change into?”
She raised an eyebrow. But before she could comment, Commander Glot said, “That be whey we check’n magic leakage, Cap’n.”
“Because…all system magic is accounted for? So if extra magic was produced, it must have leaked out?”
“Correct, sir.” Saaveriel nodded her approval.
“And what do the readings show?”
Glotty sighed. “No leakage, Cap’n.”
I found myself glaring at Saaveriel. She raised an eyebrow and the corners of her mouth turned just barely upward. She might as well have been wearing a sign: I know something about this that I’m not telling you.
I rubbed my chin with my right hand. “Mr. Glot, I noticed as I walked by that the EPS board indicates we’re still producing power from the reactor.”
“Aye, Cap’n. But output be limited. ‘lven perrcent.”
“Mr. Saaveriel, what would happen if we were to run higher than eleven percent?”
“Why, Captain, that would create a magic imbalance that would destroy the reactor.”
“Mr. Glot, isn’t it so that at eleven percent power, we can run all the main ship systems, except main engines?”
“We’d ‘ave to rrely on secondarry rreactorrs, but—”
The overhead intercom interrupted Glotty. “Captain, we need you on the bridge. We have two Draconiam prey birdz on approach.”
“Aye, Mr. Chekurk! On my way.” I glanced back. “Mr. Saaveriel, you’re with me.”
We strode to the turbovator together. Once inside, I paused before activating the lift. “Isn’t it interesting that at eleven percent power, we can run main force fields and weapons well enough to give the Draconiams a good fight—but we don’t have enough power to quickly get back to our side of the border?” I turned the handle all the way to the left for the bridge.
“Fascinating,” she answered, her eyes examining my face, as if reappraising me. And no longer smiling.
“And isn’t it interesting that the distress signal that brought us into the Neutral Zone—a signal that proved to be from an old flight data gem, with no real person to rescue—was first detected from your Technology Station?”
“Intriguing,” she said, her lovely eyes now looking down at her feet.
The turbovator door snapped open and I led the way onto the bridge, Lieutenant Chekurk moving forward to his navigation station as he saw me. “Hailing frequencies, Lieutenant Uhurwen, standard greeting.”
Chekurk answered, “Captain, ssensorz detect no ssign of fairy duzt, which normally iz part of Draconiam ssubvoid tranzponder technology.”
“Force fields up, Captain?” Asked Lieutenant Satu from the weapons chair.
“Not yet.” I pivoted the chair back towards the commo station. “Any response to our hails, Lieutenant?”
“None, Captain.”
“Try an ethereal messenger. Signal our reason for entering the neutral zone, our momentary engine difficulties, and our willingness to cooperate.” Without direct reply she removed a glowing blue gemstone from the panel her in front of her and began intoning the spell in a low voice.
“Lieutenant Satu, run test pattern delta on the main photon beam banks, phase torpedoes, and force field matrix. For five seconds only. I want their clairvoyant sensor groks to know our teeth are operational.”
“Aye, captain,” replied the Finno-Japanese officer with a grin. “Running pattern delta.”
The ghostly blue ethereal messenger at that moment passed forward through the main viewscreen on the way to the Draconiam crews. The pixie-illuminated screen captured the war birds stretching their deep black wings wide, their magical sailfeathers extended to the maximum, more visible from the starlight they blocked than anything else, riding the reflected telekinetic force of their main reactors, one behind each set of the spacebirds’ folded legs, each one glowing a deep red.
“Mr. Chekurk, is it my imagination, or are these war birds moving at an exceptionally slow pace?”
“Captain, these shipz appear to have very limited gravitic inertial compenzation. Accelerating at ten sstandard geez. Not to mention no forze fieldz—fuzion warheadz and lazerz only for weaponz. The crew cabinz are sstrapped to the neck of each bird. Very little modern tech.”
“Captain, old or not, they are coming in for a standard attack run,” noted Satu. “Their weapons are armed. Raise fields?”
“Not yet, Mr. Satu. Ignore any laser fire unless I tell you otherwise, but if you detect any fusion missiles headed our way, raise force fields at will.”
“Aye, Captain.”
“Captain,” stated Lieutenant Uhurwen, “The ethereal messenger is returning.”
“Very well, make sure fields are down as it passes through, Mr. Satu.”
I observed the Draconiam ships move on the viewscreen as the weapons officer said “aye.” They took positions off the forward port and forward starboard force field vectors as their relatively low-tech vessels slowed to a halt.
“Captain! Vezelz have launched two fusion warheadz each,” exclaimed Chekurk.
“Keep the fields down, Mr. Satu.”
“Aye, Captain,” replied the yellow-shirted weapons officer, the single bead of sweat on his brow his only sign of emotion.
A long second drew out. A flicker of blue movement caught my eye. “Raise fields!”
“Aye, sir!” And with a touch of a button in the weapons station control panel, plasma heated by the wounded dilithium stone rushed into conduits that directed their energy into broadcasting a version of the strong nuclear force rendered gigantic by enchanted crystals in the force field matrix. The force fields resisted the input of any energy from outside their system and bound the ship tightly together. The impact of the four fusion warheads rattled the ship as gravitic beams lagged ever so slightly in compensating for the inertia shift from the discharges of energy released in quick succession from the warheads. The main viewscreen darkened briefly to shield the eyes of the crew from the powerful white lights illuminating the exterior of the ship.
As the viewscreen came back up, the ethereal messenger appeared before me in its natural blue color instead of the black of the decorated battle armor and the red skin and the yellow eyes of a Draconiam captain. Other than the color, which the messenger could not change, it took the exact form of the captain, including a scaly reptilian head lined with bumpy ridges, sharpened teeth, in the full battle plate and two-handed sword of a senior officer. The Draconiam snarled at me, “Since your shields are down, prepare to die, Confederation scum!” Due to the time it took for the messenger to travel back to me, clearly the captain’s next act had been to order the launch of fusion missiles. Message delivered, the messenger faded away. I didn’t see any point in sending a reply.
I pushed a button on my command chair. “Damage report, Mr. Glot?”
“None, Cap’n.”
“Mr. Satu, any damage to our shields?”
“None, sir. They’ll run out of warheads before they take our shields down.”
I touched my right index finger to my lips. “It seems they didn’t notice our shield test. Mr. Chekurk, have you detected any sign on the sensor board that they have sensor groks on board their ship?”
“None, Captain.”
“Lieutenant Saaveriel, can you verify that information?” Mr. Chekurk cast a glance over his shoulder back towards the Technical Officer Station. Normally I would have asked her this sort of question first and have asked him to verify.
“I concur, Captain. No clairvoyant magic detected.”
“Both of you, long range sensors. Any Draconiam war vessels on approach?”
“None I can detect, Captain,” answered Chekurk.
“It appears the Draconiam border is much more poorly defended than Confederation intelligence believes,” said Saaveriel.
I rubbed my chin and looked back at Saaveriel. And then over to Mr. Chekurk. “Mr. Chekurk, take the helm again. Keep fields up, full reverse thrust on the maneuvering jets. Since we can take attacks from these warheads all day with our shields up, let’s just take them as we back out of here. Inform me immediately of any trace of new Draconiam vessels approaching. Or if these two come up with anything more deadly than what they’ve already used. I’m returning to engineering. Mr. Saaveriel—”
“I’m with you,” she finished for me.
“Yes you are, Lieutenant.”
In the turbovator I paused before moving us to the engineering deck, the sliding door giving us privacy from the bridge crew. “I think it’s time you tell me how to fix the dilithium stone.”
She opened her mouth but no words came out. She looked down at her feet and said, “I may have a theory about that.”
“Indeed you may.” I turned the handle. “Go on.”
The turbovator intercom sounded. “Captain, new missile launch. Impact in ten seconds.”
“Thank you, Mr. Chekurk.” I switched off the intercom. “Go on.”
“Well, I may have once heard of a transformative spell that could convert lithium paste into the dilithium of the stone.”
“And what about the stone’s spiritual mirror in the ethereal plane? I assume that’s damaged too.” At that moment, the turbovater car rattled with the explosion of fusion warheads.
She glanced upward towards the origin of the now-absent rattle before saying, “It is.”
At that moment, the door opened to main engineering. Saaveriel stepped forward to exit the ‘vator car, but I held up my hand. We waited a few seconds inside. The door closed again.
“Healer McCoy should be able to repair that, though,” she added.
“Really? I bet he’ll be surprised to hear that.” She only raised an eyebrow in reply.
I touched the button labeled MEDICAL on the intercom panel. “Leo, I need you in main engineering, right away. Bring with you one hundred kilograms”—I glanced at Saaveriel to see if I’d estimated the amount correctly, she nodded affirmative—“of lithium paste. You’ll find it in the aft storage.”
An aged voice replied, “What? Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t lithium paste is used in conduit repair?”
“That’s right, Leo. But we’re going to use it as a plug for the dilithium stone.”
“You’ve gotta be kidding me. Now I’m a conduit repairman!”
I smiled. “That’s an order, Leo.” I turned the handle to the engineering setting again, which opened the door. Saaveriel and I strode out onto the engineering deck. Without conversation we walked up to the chamber that contained the stone, she on my left-hand side, both of us looking at it silently. My peripheral vision noted Mr. Glot joining us on my right.
I turned to him, “Any progress, Mr. Glot?”
The gnome hung his head. “Nae, Cap’n.”
I turned back towards Saaveriel, but before I could comment, the tubovator door from which we’d entered engineering earlier snapped open. McCoy passed through it, a levitating sled magically propelling itself in front of him, tubes of lithium paste piled on top of it. Traditionally wizards wore robes, but Spacefleet rules naturally required more uniformity in appearance—and our uniforms required pants, not robes. A compromise allowed a wizard to wear special pants with belled bottoms. McCoy wore these instead of the uniform standard, belted with a gigantic buckle around his waist, a loose white shirt open to the chest above that, a trimmed graying beard above that adorning his seasoned face.
As he approached us, I said, “That was quick, doc.”
He muttered first before saying loud enough for me to hear, “My lovely assistant was already in main stores.” He waived his hand at the sled. “So how is this supposed to work?”
“I know it’s not your specialty, but you do know a teleportation spell or two, don’t you?”
He snorted but nodded affirmative in reply.
“I need you to take this lithium paste and apply it to the hole in the stone. Fill the entire gap and smooth out the paste—”
He interrupted, “Well, I don’t know why you’d want me to help with that. God made me a healing wizard, not a bricklayer!”
I chuckled, “Your specialty comes into play for what you’ll do after that.”
McCoy grumbled and complained and pulled his wizard’s beard, but two hours later, the stone was repaired, healing spells cast, the ship back at warp speed on the way to Confederation space, the Draconiams having never managed an effective response. Saaveriel and I retraced our steps back to the tubovator car. “After you, Lieutenant,” I said, regretting it afterward. I was determined not to be the sort of captain who routinely studied the form of his young female officers. Especially not of this one.
In the car, the two of us alone, a moment passed where she looked at me and I at her. I didn’t bother to activate the ‘vator. She leaned back against the side of the car, sliding one foot back against the wall, raising her knee. The corners of her mouth raised ever so slightly and her eyes widened as she gazed directly into my eyes. I ignored my own increasing pulse rate.
“So, why did you arrange this, Lieutenant? Why did you strand us in the Neutral Zone?”
Her smile faded. But her gaze remained as fixed on me as before. “Isn’t it noteworthy, Captain, how vulnerable the Draconiams proved to be? They acted aggressively, yes, but they were unable to back it up. It seems their best vessels have been destroyed in internecine conflict.”
I pondered the point for a moment. “So it would appear.”
“They are weak, Captain. But brutal. Dozens of species lay under their dominion. Now would be the perfect time to liberate them.”
“I see…but that would be a political decision, one we officers in Spacefleet would have no right to attempt to influence.”
Her eyes widened a bit further. “Of course not, Captain.”
“Of course not,” I repeated.

Magical Technology. Image copyright: Australian Marketing Agency

I grasped the control handle and turned to the bridge level. “I believe I shall have to keep an eye on you, Mr. Saaveriel.”
She replied by raising an eyebrow and flipping back a lock of her raven black hair back past her highly pointed right ear. “Why Captain, I would expect nothing less.”


While mixing magic and technology or overtly substituting what is labeled in the story as magic for what would normally be technology isn’t a unique concept, it’s uncommon as far as I know, and could add flavor to any science fiction story you come up with, overtly flipping it to science fantasy.

So what stories do you know that mix magic and technology? Do any recreate modern times, with cell phones, computers, and all, but only with everything magical? Or do you know of any magical technology space fleets? Any other thoughts or comments? If so, please share in the comments below!