With this month’s release of Daystar, one of the most popular Christian space-opera series ever, the Firebird novels, is now complete. Now, author Kathy Tyers (who also wrote Shivering World and the Star Wars expanded-universe novel New Jedi Order: Balance Point), shares more about the story behind the story.
I didn’t start writing science fiction for the Christian market. I was a young mom who needed a creative outlet, who’d just seen the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly an air show, and who’d left the third Star Wars movie disappointed because there was no love interest for Luke Skywalker. So my original story spark wasn’t particularly spiritual or intellectual, but the emotional need for a good story. It grew in directions I didn’t expect, and I’m grateful! The spiritual elements in the original Firebird (Bantam Books, 1987) were subtle. It was a cultural conversion story, not a spiritual parable – but I’ve always written in “layers.” Once I know who my characters are and what predicament they’re in, I hear them speaking to each other long before I see them. Settings come even later. I write multiple drafts of everything, even emails. Layering makes me a slow writer, but it’s important to my process.
So teasing out Firebird’s underlying history and spirituality, and layering it into the novels as I rewrote them for Bethany House, was a natural, organic part of what I do.
Reading the discussion that ensued here after my first interview [April 29, 2011] at first I just sat back and shook my head. It’s a space opera—essentially an adventure-romance story—and the primary story is the characters’ story. Whatever back story has been layered in, it’s primarily the historical aspect of the setting, an attempt to give the characters’ lives the richness of reality.
But for better or worse, fascinated as I was by the Hebrew language, I drew on Hebrew words for my “good guy” character’s family history. In early versions of the Firebird books, I deliberately separated my story world from reality. Later, my thesis professor at Regent College challenged me: Since I’d fallen to a temptation common to Christian speculative novelists by borrowing Hebrew words, I should link the Firebird universe more solidly with ours. By then, I’d already invented the telepathic Sentinel group. I’d already been challenged by some of my friends to make sure I didn’t claim that God hadn’t originally made humans “good enough.” The idea that the Sentinels were survivors of genetic experiments, duty-bound to use their unusual abilities for the good of others, seemed to work. Naturally there would be individuals who used those gifts for evil. They made Firebird all the more fun as a space opera. Real villains!
To create the continuity Loren Wilkinson (my prof) wanted, I added a richer alternate history–but it’s so far in the dim past that my characters don’t know it.
In this alternate universe, when Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary, she focuses on the shame that her pregnancy could bring upon her loved ones, and she declines the honor. The same Lord who let Adam and Eve rebel also allows Mary this choice. (Human freedom as the greatest gift after life itself is a major theme in Daystar.) Her decision utterly changes human history. Within a year, an Earth-orbit-crossing asteroid that would have bounced harmlessly but dramatically off Earth’s atmosphere (with angelic help), guiding the magi to Bethlehem, slams into the Mediterranean instead. Civilization barely survives. The human race develops technology without Christianity. We despoil Earth and leap to the stars in a great wave of space colonization. The Davidic family survives simply because God’s promises will not be broken.
The cycle repeats on Ehret, a world where the Sentinels’ ancestors are genetically modified … and yes, Ehret is derived from the Hebrew eretz, “earth” or “world.” I still don’t know why Jewish settlers had such a strong influence on that world’s settlement. But the sacrifices offered in the Ehretan temple – that memory the Sentinels pass down telepathically, as recounted in Daystar and Fusion Fire – testify that some Ehretans represent faithful descendants of Earth’s righteous Jews.
Also note that the fictional the holy books Dabar and Mattah don’t include any of our familiar prophets. In this alternate universe, Mary’s refusal – like Adam’s fall – was anticipated, and so God inspired different prophets.
The idea that the same God might demonstrate his unchanging character differently under different circumstances was another impetus behind Daystar. There’s no character who’s supposed to be John the Baptist, for instance. I tried to write parables that would be meaningful to this Messiah’s audience, and to show miracles that would demonstrate his authority over creation—and love for it—in a different setting. Have I missed some details? Yes, I’m sure! But it’s a messiah tale, not a gospel. It focuses more closely on the people around him than on his life story, like The Robe or Ben-Hur, stories I enjoyed years ago.
I wanted to tell another emotionally satisfying story—and give people a fresh perspective on how wonderful Jesus is. I also had a bit of fun in both Wind and Shadow and Daystar with the creeping Gnosticism I see around me. Both books challenge the Gnostic idea that if something is non-physical, it’s intrinsically superior to ordinary, physical, created matter. Including our bodies.
Thanks for reading.
The Annotated Firebird (Firebird, Fusion Fire, and Crown of Fire), Wind and Shadow, and Daystar are now available from Marcher Lord Press. So is an inexpensive, limited-time offering of the first book in the five-book series, Firebird: Book One of the Annotated Trilogy, for Nook or Kindle. Daystar or Wind and Shadow can be read on their own, since they focus on new characters in new generations. For details, visit KathyTyers.com or MarcherLordPress.com.