Now that I’m done with it, I’ll talk about it.
The genesis of A Star Curiously Singing and its sequels is multifaceted. The one side, the non-controversial portion, stems from my technical background. Most people get that. They see how a former programmer could create a hero that is a future programmer. This implanted, hairless, tech-slave named Sandfly. Not a big stretch for a former Microsoftie, right? In fact, one might guess that there were times in my life that I felt like an implanted tech slave myself. (And you’d be correct! Read FoxTales!)
It is the other side that people wonder about, though. The controversial side. The religious side. So let’s talk about that.
In some respects, ASCS would’ve never been written without 9/11. The actions of those terrorists absolutely set the stage, but only in a generalized way. That event is the prism through which our current world is seen. Fact: There are followers of Islam who want very strongly to kill or enslave those not of their faith. (Except to a few members of The View panel, that fact is indisputable.)
But 9/11 wasn’t the reason for my books. They aren’t my way of striking back for those atrocities. What the context of 9/11 did was make me curious about what other faiths believe and teach. Made me search for correlations between beliefs and actions. And made me explore the uniqueness of Christianity.
In some ways, you can blame the DarkTrench series on my father. He’s an avid reader, and his last read is always available to me. In fact, if the book is something he feels strongly about, it is not just available, but often thrust upon.
One such acquisition was a book by Mark Steyn called America Alone. The conclusions of that book are hard to dispute. Based solely on current birthrates, it projects the end of much of the western civilization, aside from America.
Why? Because most westernized nations are without a sustainable birth rate. In essence, the penchant for small families and abortion has subjugated those countries’ future.
To whom? To whomever is having children! And who would that be? (Hint: Osama bin Laden has 20 children. He was one of 53.)
Along with Steyn’s book, three others made their way into my hands. Two were similar in flavor, in that both were written by women who escaped Islamic cultures for America. (Because They Hate by Brigitte Gabriel, and Now They Call me Infidel by Nonie Darwish.) They put faces on the subject matter. Here are two people who lived in these cultures with higher birthrates. What were their lives like? What are their fears? What have they learned?
The fourth book brought the issue home. Stealth Jihad by Robert Spencer is all about the covert ways that sharia (Islamic) law is infiltrating American culture. It was a wake-up call. An eye-opener. Sharia wasn’t just an “over there” issue, it was a “right here” issue.
Taken together those four books allow for ample speculation as to a future world.
Fact: There are people, whether we like it or not, who want to see the entire world under sharia law. (Sorry again, View ladies. Just the facts here.)
So the principle speculative goal of A Star Curiously Singing and its sequels was to give those sharia-seekers what they are after. To create a world where sharia is the law of the land. What would that look like? What are the dangers? How would people behave and adapt? What do I fear for my children?
But how does a future tech-slave fit into that world of sharia law? Isn’t sharia by definition low tech living? Dressing and acting like the founders of Islam?
Well, yes and no.
I saw a documentary once on the Sultan of Brunei. In one segment there was a glimpse of this room where people were busy recording the Sultan’s favorite television shows. All day, every day. That’s right–at least three people spent their lives monitoring banks of screens and constantly swapping video tape. Making sure the Sultan got to view what he wanted, when he wanted.
To me, that made the idea of a tech slave entirely plausible amid a world of sharia. Of course there would still be people (undoubtedly rich people) with technology. And if it were five hundred years from now, it would probably be incredibly complex technology. Of course they would need someone to maintain it all. A person chosen (constructed?) for that purpose.
What if they had robots…humanoid robots? And what if one of those broke down as part of a top secret space mission?
Sounds like the beginnings of a speculative fiction novel, doesn’t it?
I should mention here that I never intended for anyone else to read my work. I knew it was going to be controversial and very non-PC. But I was writing it for me. It was an experiment on a number of levels. I was challenging myself. Seeing if I could write this very unique story, in an equally unique way.
I can still do that, right? Write whatever I want? In the comfort of my own home?
It wasn’t until after the first book was finished that I realized I had to share it. I didn’t want to, but I had this feeling, this writer’s nudge. The notion that what I had just written was unique enough that someone else ought to see it. I won’t say it was God’s prompting necessarily, but it was certainly a strong enough urge to overcome my reservations.
Plus, there had been many amazing coincidences as I wrote (and later edited) the book. Things that I wrote in ignorance, that later turned out to be true, or close enough to the truth to make me wonder: maybe this world isn’t just for me. Maybe I need to share it.
So I put out a fleece. I sent it to an editor I knew of. Paid his normal rate for examining my book and giving me his input. It was the least I could do, right? I was open to changing a lot of things about the book if he felt it was publishable. Not the message, necessarily. But otherwise a lot was open to negotiation.
Months went by. Then this editor, Jeff Gerke, responded. He said the book needed work, but in none of the areas I feared. Mostly expanding. Mostly more good stuff. He also said if his suggested work was completed, he would publish A Star Curiously Singing himself. Possibly have me write a trilogy in Sandfly’s world.
Now that was a surprise. I expected to be chastised, actually. Or warned away. Not complimented and encouraged. Offered a contract. And, though daunting, making his improvements made the story better. Some of its most touching and insightful moments came from those additions.
The next test, of course, was how the book would be perceived publicly. Following release day, I waited, sometimes fearful, to see what would happen next. How bad were the reviews going to be? How soon would the attacks come?
But again, I was surprised. ASCS got some of the nicest reviews. Many of them astounded me with their prescience. Their ability to see things and meanings that even eluded me. Truth reveled outside my intent.
Honestly, I’ve been so blessed by the things people have said, and the friends I’ve made. That alone has made the journey worthwhile. Salved my early trepidations.
It hasn’t all been good, though. The DarkTrench trilogy has had some interesting criticisms, but not from the places I expected. The strongest reproaches have come from the Christian community. (With atheists being a strong second.)
Next I’d like to highlight (and respond) to some of those criticisms. This first is from a friend, and is part of an otherwise positive review. Still, it raises an important question…
The story could have been told without the Muslim content. Kerry could have just made up some fictional pagan society and the story wouldn’t have suffered. Why take a chance on alienating so many potential readers?
Fair point. I could have made up another society, or even gone with a completely godless society.
The latter alternative has been done to death, though. George Orwell (1984) did it, Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) did it, William F. Nolan (Logan’s Run) did it, and in some respects, so did Suzanne Collins in Hunger Games. My goal as a writer is to always be as unique as possible.
As to the pagan society alternative, the risk there is a loss of relevance. One objective of my books is to illustrate the differences between Christianity and other religions. In the second book, The Superlative Stream, there are actually three alternative belief systems represented.
One atheist reader picked up on my aim there, because he said this in a review: “This saga is ultimately about the superiority of God over Allah, Christianity over Islam. Absurd as it may seem these gods are viewed as separate entities in this world.”
Um, yes, that’s true. But that’s absolutely what Christians believe. We believe Jesus is God. Every other belief system thinks he was a good person, a prophet, a teacher, or worse.
So, yes, guilty as charged. No absurdity about it.
See, relevance is a good thing. When we attempt to teach, we need to be both relevant and specific. All other paths lead to confusion.
Speaking of which…
I do not appreciate this same message when any religion is portrayed as better than any other and think the implications behind this message are extremely dangerous. To me, any religious faith should promote tolerance – of all people and of all religions.
The saddest thing for me about this one is that it came from a judge in a Christian fiction contest. Someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ—the Word made flesh, who died and rose again, and whose teachings and influence still shape our world—also feels that no religion is better than any other.
Yet, it illustrates the very thing I wrote the books to combat. Spiritual relativism. The idea that every belief system is the same. The idea that all roads lead to the same place. Only someone who has never studied other faiths would believe that. Yet so many preach it with vigor.
Christianity is unique for very specific reasons. Christians should know that, and share it with others.
Speaking of which…
It dragged up every negative stereotype…within the first 50 pages of the book…and it only got worse from there. That’s not what I’m looking for when I buy Christian fiction.
Perhaps this person wasn’t aware that this was a speculative title. Speculative fiction by definition deals in generalities. I’m sure George Orwell wasn’t saying that all communist leaders were pigs when he wrote Animal Farm. He was dealing in generalities to illustrate a greater point.
To reiterate one of my earlier facts: There are large groups of people who want sharia everywhere.
My goal was to project that future. You can disagree with my prediction. Perhaps a world of sharia would be completely different from what we see in countries where it is practiced today.
But don’t forget, I’m not writing about your next-door neighbor. I’m writing about someone from the future, in a culture of the future. I can paint that picture any way I want.
I hope I’ve done so in an entertaining, unique, and thought-provoking way. Because I’m convinced it was a story meant to be told.
Done, done, and done.
Kerry Nietz is a refugee of the software industry. He spent more than a decade of his life flipping bits—first as one of the principal developers of the database product FoxPro for the now mythical Fox Software, and then as one of Bill Gates’s minions at Microsoft. He is a husband, a father, a technophile, and a movie buff. Kerry is the author of The DarkTrench Saga trilogy and a memoir entitled FoxTales: Behind the Scenes at Fox Software.