One More Thanksgiving Post — C. S. Lewis


Yesterday was the infamous 55th anniversary of the death of three notable men: President John F. Kennedy, writer Aldus Huxley, and Christian author and scholar C. S. Lewis. I don’t see many people talking about this milestone, but five years ago, JFK was still receiving the largest slice of media attention. Aldus Huxley, a brilliant writer in his own right, seems to be fading in memory and impact. But C. S. Lewis? His words and his impact live on in every writer who was ever influenced by him, in every person who was touched and changed by his books.

I’ve just started reading The Language of God by Francis S. Collins. This famed scientist who headed the Human Gnome Project chronicled his transformation from atheism to “unshakeable faith in God.” As it happens, a big part of this change resulted from reading C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity.

Collins’s story is just one example of a person who was transformed when he encountered this literary scholar who had himself come from atheism to belief in God as Savior.

Others, like myself, already believed, but Lewis deepened and clarified that belief, sometimes through his nonfiction and sometimes through his fiction.

My top four Lewis books include two fiction and two nonfiction. That’s if I set Narnia aside and don’t count it at all. Which I ought not do. How do you set aside an author’s seminal work?

When I think of the books that Lewis wrote that influenced my spiritual life most, I think of Surprised by Joy, The Great Divorce, Til We Have Faces, Mere Christianity, Screwtape Letters, and Narnia.

When I think of his books that influenced my writing, I think of Narnia. Just Narnia. I loved the idea of a secret world that existed to be discovered, of the good King who ruled. I loved each adventure that expanded the mythos of the world. I wanted to write like Lewis.

Well, not like him. I wanted to create myth like him. I wanted my stories to point to Truth like his do. I wanted to imagine memorable characters like he did. In so many ways his fiction was a map that showed me what great stories should look like.

I’m not saying I’m there. In fact, I’m not saying that any writer is there. In truth, only one C. S. Lewis has existed or will ever exist. But no doubt, God has used him to impact a generation of Christian writers for such a time as this.

Perhaps no genre has captured the imagination of the general public as has fantasy. The Harry Potter series became a nationwide hit, first as books for which readers waited in line at midnight to acquire, then as movies that showed in living color the wonderful imaginative world which J. K. Rowling invented.

Not long after came the urban fantasy of Twilight, followed by the dystopian blockbusters by Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games) and Veronika Roth (Divergent).

Countless Christian writers have made small ripples in the bottomless fantasy lake, and many, if not most, will include C. S. Lewis as an author who influenced them.

He was a great thinker and greatly imaginative. He had a grasp of the way story works, of how to make the large ideas simple enough for a child to grasp.

He was only 65 when he died, and I’d say he died too young, except Psalm 139 says our days are ordained for us, “when as yet there was not one of them.” God knew the impact Lewis would make, that dying in the shadow of the assassination of an American President actually might grow his legacy, not overshadow his accomplishments.

God knew that a set of children’s books would speak to generations of kids even when they became adults. God knew that this atheist convert would understand how to answer the objections of atheists better than any other apologist could.

I am so grateful for C. S. Lewis and his stories, his thinking, his example. May his legacy grow.

Statue photo By “Genvessel” – https://www.flickr.com/photos/genvessel/149269475/in/set-72057594139281324/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=826864

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Rebels by Jill Williamson – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 3


Rebelscover

Rebels by Jill Williamson – The Review

Of necessity the following will contain some spoilers, though I will make every effort to keep them to a minimum.

Also, in conjunction with CSFF, I received a free review copy of Rebels from the publisher. This review is in no way influenced by that fact.

The Story. At the end of Outcasts, brothers Mason and Omar have been captured after their rescue operation. They’ve been slated for liberation, whatever that is. No one seems to know.

The rest of the Glenrock community under Levi’s leadership is now free—free to live underground with the Kindred, a group of people who have built a separate culture apart from the rebels and from the Safe Landers and who want nothing to do with outsiders. At least that’s the attitude of some, including the Kindred’s matriarch.

Levi’s next goal is to free the women of Jack’s Peak, their neighboring village, being held in the Safe Land harem where they are to act as surrogates. Once all the people from the villages are together, he wants to find a way out of the Safe Lands.

Meanwhile, Omar and Mason go through the liberation procedure and end up in the Lowlands with all the other liberated people—strikers, who received three x’s for crimes they committed, and everyone over forty, including the older citizens of Glenrock and Jack’s Peak.

Here everyone is assigned to heavy tasks which produce all the food and drugs and other commerce for those in the Highlands and Midlands. In essence they are in a penal colony.

Mason and Omar must first survive in the brutal prison environment, but they are as determined as ever to find a way to reunite their people and leave. But how? There is no way to communicate with the others to let them know they are alive.

Strengths. The list here is long. The series as a unit had incredible coherence—what was true in one book was true in the next and the next. A bit of backstory in one book becomes the central motivation of a character in the final book.

The parts all fit. This was especially impressive to me because I had so many questions at the end of Outcasts and saw no way they would all be answered in one more volume: who were the hooded, secret guild members, what was liberation, what would happen between Omar and Shaylinn, between Mason and Ciddah, would Mason find a cure for the thin plague, would Omar stay in the Safe Lands if everyone else found a way out? Questions, questions, questions. How could all these moving parts fit together and be resolved in one more book? Jill did a remarkable job to make it happen.

Further, the characters continued to develop and grow—even Levi. More than one CSFF tour participant has commented on how much they didn’t like Levi.

I never felt animosity toward him. He was the one who had to deal with the dead bodies of the men who had cared for him and mentored him and served as examples for him. Besides, Jemma loved him.

True, at first he didn’t do well as the elder of his people. He brought the same bullying tactics to the job as his father had used, but he learned. His change is most clearly shown by his agreeing to act as the Owl in Omar’s absence and his admission later to Omar himself that the subversive, secret message bearer of truth was a good idea.

Omar, of course, changed the most, but Shay grew up and learned to accept herself, even stand up for herself when she needed to.

Mason grew too, most clearly seen in his admission that he’d been arrogant to think he could find a cure for the plague on his own. In many respects, the Safe Lands were good for Mason because he finally got to use the abilities he had and to live the way he thought was right. He still had challenges, though, and found himself more dependent on God’s mercy at times than he ever had been before.

In short, all the characters grew and changed. But what’s more, they each seemed so real. As tour participant Meagan said, “I will miss them all and hope that at some point in the future we may revisit this land as they recreate what they once had.”

That’s one of the highest compliments an author can get, I think, because truly these characters became so real, they seem to be out there somewhere, living their lives, and it would be great to be able to “catch up.”

The story itself was full of intrigue and conflict and danger and suspense. But one thing I noticed. Through it all, there were partial successes and reasons for joy—the liberation of the Jack’s Peak women, the birth of Shaylinn’s babies, Mason getting to task in the medical facility, and the brothers finding their mom. The moments of hope offered a counterbalance to all the fear and loss and oppression, so the story had a great rhythm, not a monochromatic note of despair until the end.

I also thought the story shouted through the action and events which worldview is strongest and best, though clearly there wasn’t a black and white choice (how’s that for a bit of confusion—can’t say more without giving too much away). In the process, some of the hardest issues teens face today were addressed—suicide, drug addiction, illicit sex, friendship and betrayal, forgiveness, lust, guilt, and more.

But adults weren’t left alone either. The truth reveals that Levi’s dad abused his wife, and Levi’s bullying and Jordan’s anger are clearly shown as counter-productive. As Levi changes, another legalistic figure moves to the forefront—Tovah, matriarch of the Kindred. Except, as much as it’s tempting to hate her for how she treats the outsiders and how she tries to fence in her boys, she’s the one who steps in to help Shaylinn when she needs it most.

In short, no one is a caricature, not even Lawton, who does much of the evil he does out of a sense of self-preservation.

Weaknesses. The book isn’t perfect—I don’t think too many are. 😉 But the minor things I might quibble over aren’t worth detracting from the high quality of this story. OK, here’s an example. As Levi made his plans to escape the Safe Lands and return to Glenrock, I wanted to shake him—don’t you realize, they’ll just come and get you again? You couldn’t stop them the first time. What makes you think you can ever go back to your village and continue to live in such close proximity of the Safe Lands again?

See? Not a real issue because . . . well, because of what happened instead. 😀

Recommendation. The Safe Lands series is a must read for teens, for adults with teens, for Christian writers who want to see how to write believable fiction with a subtle Christian message that isn’t preachy, and for readers who enjoy a good story. (Yes, I’m a fan!)

CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – Outcasts By Jill Williamson


CSFFTopBloggerJan14What a great tour for Outcasts, the second book in Jill Williamson’s The Safe Lands series. Not only did the tour participants provide great content, a number of people shared the posts via Twitter or Facebook. Reviews of Outcasts spread to Amazon and Goodreads and any number of other social media sites. In other words, buzz is happening.

RebelscoverIn the end, twenty-two bloggers posted about Outcasts. Notably Meagan @ Blooming with Books posted a short interview with Jill, asking specific questions related to the Safe Lands; Jason Joyner discussed why dystopian fiction is the perfect genre for Christians; Julie Bihn speculated about the third book in the series, Rebels, based on the back cover reveal at Goodreads; and Shannon McDermott took an intriguing look at the various factions opposing the Safe Lands regime. (Sadly, due to illness, Steve Trower was not able to regale us with his usual Tour Tuesday Tunes post. I’m sure it would have been remarkable!)

In all there are a grand-total of thirty-four posts connected with the tour about Outcasts. Several pointed to the captivating (pun intended) book trailer for the first in the Safe Lands series, Captives. If anyone is still vacillating about whether or not to jump in and read this series, perhaps the video will help you decide.

Also, the new plan, for now anyway, is for me as the CSFF Grand Puba or Overlord or Head Honcho–whatever names our members use–to choose the winner of the Top Tour Blogger Award instead of putting it to a vote. So, I’m happy to announce that the January 2014 winner is Julie Bihn! Congratulations, Julie, and thanks for giving us such interesting and original content in your posts.

And now the video:

Published in: on January 23, 2014 at 6:53 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – Outcasts By Jill Williamson  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Outcasts by Jill Williamson, Day 3


Outcasts cover

A Review

This month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring the young adult dystopian novel, Outcasts, second in The Safe Lands series by Jill Williamson. Several of our tour participants have remarked about dystopian fiction and its predilection for gloom.

In my view, this genre is one of those that can show how the Christian worldview stands in stark contrast to that of a view that ignores God.

My introduction to the genre was Brave New World, followed soon after by 1984. I believe I came to understand the world better for having read those books, yet I wouldn’t want a steady diet of that kind of literature. It is, quite frankly, so hopeless, it’s depressing. Until a person realizes there are key components of truth left out.

Jill Williamson has not left those out. The picture she creates in her Safe Lands series, of a hedonistic society literally rotting away, could be depressing, but there’s more to the story. There are characters working to escape, bring down, and cure the corrupt society. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Story. Continuing the story begun in Captives, Outcasts features the three brothers from Glenrock–Levi, Mason, and Omar–as they deal with their present circumstances. They have rescued their women from the harem and now must do the same for their children who are either in the state boarding school or nursery.

Omar and Mason continue to live as nearly normal lives as possible while plotting with the people of Glenrock who live in hiding. Levi has taken up the mantle as elder and leader of his community, though he’s finding the role much more challenging than he could have imagined.

Who is he to trust? How can he get everyone on the same page, with Omar making his own superhero plans and constantly vapping and consorting with Safe Land women, even as Shaylinn is carrying his baby; with Mason bent on finding a cure for the disease the flakers carry. What hope does Levi have to reunite all his people and get them to safety?

Strengths. I’m not sure where to start. The characters are so strong in this book–with complex motives and heartfelt struggles, both internal and external. They are captivating, so much so that when I finished reading the book, I found myself planning to go back to the story in the evening, only to realize that I had to wait until the next book comes out. The point is, I wanted to know what happened to the characters I’d come to care about.

But just as strong is the worldbuilding. The Safe Lands have their own entertainment, society celebrities, fads and fashions, slang, cliched greeting, technology, political system, and state secrets. The place feels real!

Which brings me to the plot. So much is going on in this story. There is the overarching question–can the Glenrock citizens escape? But there are relational questions for various characters, too, and then there is the greater question about the Safe Lands and what they are hiding, what they are doing to their citizens, and who might be behind the whole thing. It’s intriguing on some level on every page.

More importantly, Outcasts and the other books in the series are addressing important issues, without preaching. Rather, the choices the characters make show all that a reader needs in order to discern what worldview addresses the pressing problems best.

Weaknesses. I have no serious complaints. I’m sold on this series and find myself lost in the world and engaged with the characters and the ideas presented in the story. It’s entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time.

But there was one place where I felt the story could have been stronger. Without giving spoilers, it’s hard for me to discuss in detail. Suffice it to say, one character seemed to act in a surprising, if not uncharacteristic, way, with consequences that turned the story (and still must be dealt with in the next book). Perhaps a little more foreshadowing or a closer look at this character’s development would have made the story stronger at that point.

Recommendation. Outcasts and The Safe Lands series are must reads. Not just Christians can embrace this story because it is one of struggle between two distinct ways of life that anyone can understand and appreciate. It is also about how the gulf between the two can be bridged and how the leadership of the two sides can go astray. It’s a big story, a powerful story and shouldn’t be missed.

It’s also clearly targeting older teens, but adults can appreciate the story just as well. The third book in the series, Rebels, is due out in June, so I suggest you read Captives and Outcasts between now and them so you won’t be left out.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour – Outcasts by Jill Williamson, Day 1


Outcasts cover

Addressing Frank Topics

This month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring Outcasts by Jill Williamson, book 2 of the young adult dystopian fantasy series The Safe Lands. Because of Jill’s experience working along side her husband with youth in churches, she understands the pressures and temptations, hopes and desires, teenagers deal with. Rather than side-stepping frank topics, Jill faces them head-on, and I think this series is the richer for it.

I can’t think of the last time I read a book in which one of the point of view characters was struggling with lust and addiction. If only those twin demons were not part of the inner life of today’s youth. Unfortunately, I think the truth is the opposite. Our culture has held up sex as the Great Desire and the Inescapable Conduct. Consequently kids from homes and churches that teach abstinence automatically are faced with a struggle.

Their own desires are fanned into flames by the music aimed at their demographic, TV and movies, their peers, and sometimes even their parents (some wishing to live vicariously through their teens). When the culture tells them sex is natural (it is), and all that matters is that they do it safely (it is not), but the church, and more importantly, the Bible tell them sex is to be reserved for a monogamous marriage relationship between a man and woman, teens are bound to struggle. Their own passions align with the culture. Their head says one thing, their desires another.

Who helps teens navigate across this divide? Too often this is a period of their lives when they are distancing themselves from their parents as part of their growing-up-and-becoming-independent stage. Do youth leaders talk frankly with teens about how to handle the urges they’re experiencing? I suspect so. But I also suspect these kinds of talks simply give teens more information.

Stories are different. They show. Outcasts shows. Here’s a teen, two teens, three teens dealing with the same stuff, the same sexual desires, the same craving induced by mood-enhancing substances. The characters take different paths and the outcome of their choices is a natural part of the story. No preaching. No lecture. No one drawing conclusions for the reader.

Instead, the story itself gives models for teen readers. They can draw their own conclusions, understand, perhaps, their own feelings a little better in light of the struggle they see the characters experience.

The subject matter is frank, not graphic or indulgent, but not pretending that things are better or easy, even when a character wishes to change. Outcasts is an honest treatment of sensitive material, without making it The Focal Point of the story.

I think this is a huge triumph for both Jill Williamson and the editors at Blink for bringing this book, this series to readers.

Other CSFF members participating in the tour are listed below. A check mark links to a CSFF post about Outcasts.

Catching Fire – A Unique Point Of View


catching_fire_coverLast Friday I went to see Catching Fire, the second movie based on Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy. I have a unique perspective on the movie because, unlike the majority of people who have seen, or are planning to see, it, I have neither read the books nor seen the first movie.

Consequently, my opinion of Catching Fire is largely formed by the movie itself. I say “largely” because I have been a party to more than one discussion of the Hunger Games books, and therefore have some familiarity with the direction the story is taking.

Nevertheless, my view is probably as untainted as is possible to get in this communication age in which we live.

First, I liked the movie a great deal and found myself thinking about the story long afterward. True, I was thinking about writing a review, so in some ways, my dwelling on it isn’t a sign of affirmation. However, I think the more I’ve taken a closer look, the better the movie gets.

When I walked out of the theater, I was captivated by the fast action and very aware that I didn’t really know the main character, Katniss, at all. She was a pretty girl, sensitive to others, even tenderhearted. But she had some steel inside her, which is why she was able to win in the games.

That steel inside, or backbone, was also the thing that the people saw and admired, together with her caring. She felt the way they felt, grieved with them, and cared about those they held in esteem. She was someone they could rally around.

But that’s it. I don’t know Katniss beyond those points. She loved her sister and apparently her childhood friend and sweetheart, but also her companion and fellow champion. She didn’t seem conflicted by loving two guys at the same time because her life was reduced to survival.

Yet oddly, it was Peeta who pointed out to her that she needed to live for her family and for the guy who loved her rather than sacrificing herself for him. She, it seemed, was all too willing to die for him, though he had no family and no one apart from Katniss to love.

I guess that made me think she was a bit shortsighted. And in the end, when it’s apparent that others have realized she is a symbol of hope to the nation when she herself is unaware of it, my thoughts of her limited vision are born out.

In many respects, Katniss mostly wanted to escape, not fight, the system that oppressed her and the nation. She tried to get Gale to leave with her before she was called back into the games. She entered intent to take no allies apart from Peeta. At one point she said she didn’t have friends, and that wasn’t true, but it showcased her desire to keep people at arm’s distance as a way to protect herself from the pain of seeing them die, or of having to take the blow for them.

In many ways, Catching Fire is an issues movie. Yes, the action is filled with tension, but the real question isn’t will Katniss survive. It’s what will Katniss decide to do? Will she step up and seize the role that her nemesis, President Snow, fears she will take?

In the end, she doesn’t. She actually becomes a symbol without meaning to and with others manipulating events around her to bring it about.

I’m left, then, with disappointment. The people want hope and they have it, but not because the heroine has chosen to side with them or to lead them. She’s thrust into the circumstance of being a leader of a cause, just as surely as she was thrust into the games. She thinks about one person at a time–her sister, Peeta, the other competitors–but in fact, her actions have far-reaching impact on many, many others.

In the long run, I’m glad I saw the movie, and if the third in the trilogy came out tomorrow, I’m pretty sure I’d make every effort to see it. But at this point, I don’t see Katniss as a character I care for deeply. I don’t know her well and don’t believe she is trying to accomplish anything of great significance. If she could, I’m sure she’d escape with Gale and be done with the whole thing. But she can’t.

So the new question is like the old one: what will Katniss do now?

A worthwhile movie which is generating some thoughtful conversation.

CSFF Blog Tour – Captives by Jill Williamson, Day 3


CaptivesSafeLandscoverAnother set of interesting posts in the CSFF Blog Tour for Captives by Jill Williamson, including an enjoyable interview with the author. Be sure to check out the other blogs featuring this intriguing, in some ways, disturbing, young adult dystopian fantasy.

From my perspective, Captives is an example of what Christian speculative fiction should be. There’s been some recent discussion at author and friend Mike Duran’s site about speculative fiction. In the concluding paragraph of his post, Mike says

if Realm Makers [the recent conference for Christian speculative fiction] is about simply reproducing CBA-style fiction for speculative readers, I believe we’ve failed. (emphasis in the original)

Later, in one of his comments, Mike adds

Without some type of extensive vision, which would include, for lack of better words, a “theology of Christian spec-fic,” we’re just mimicking ACFW, replacing Amish / Romance fans with spec fans. In order to compete with other professionals cons or associations, I believe we would have to address some of the same issues Christian fiction faces re: culture, theology, and art.

Further on he calls for “more intellectual rigor”and then goes on to say

I believe the Christian publishing industry needs a Fiction Reformation of sorts. Our “theology of art” keeps us beholden to an ultra-conservative readership and stymies creativity. While I don’t believe Christians should ever have to apologize for their beliefs, I do think Realm Makers could benefit by actively distancing themselves from the existing industry and its strictures, determine to represent a larger swath of beliefs, and have a bit more of a “broad tent” approach regarding authors and audiences.

Because I’m invested in speculative fiction, fantasy in particular, this discussion has been of considerable interest to me. I’m also a Christian, believing the Bible to be true and authoritative and inspired by God Himself. From some people’s perspective, I’m hamstrung as a fantasy writer because I have this box constructed by my theology that keeps me hemmed in.

I’ve refuted that notion from time to time, but as I read Mike’s remarks, I realized I don’t want to be in a “broad tent” with “a larger swath of beliefs” if that means cozying up to falsehood.

I guess you’d say my theology of art means that I aim to show truth through the means of beauty. Not that I write about beauty or that my writing must be poetic and lyrical (though that isn’t a bad thing, either). Rather, the novel art form needs to be “pulled off” well. The story needs to be entertaining, the characters well-developed and properly motivated, the setting fully created, and the theme tightly woven throughout.

Which brings me to truth. What Jill has done, in my opinion, is show this world, our world, as it is by creating the dystopian world of her story. Shannon McDermott put it this way:

the dual worlds of this dystopia are not too unlike the dual worlds of our present time.

The world is not as dissolute or libertine as the Safe Lands; the Christian community is not as strict or isolated as Glenrock. Yet the parallels may be drawn long.

The Christian community, like Glenrock, has a sternness – you could almost say a harshness – that stands against the looseness of worldly ways. “Take the straight and narrow path, or you’ll go to hell;” “Don’t do that, don’t go there, don’t even think about that.” A Christian is called by the unyielding will and holiness of God to a web of commands and duties.

And the young, brought up in that web and looking out, see the world – all awhirl, glittering with lights and flashing with colors. It promises all you could ever want.

So the Safe Lands were to Mia and Omar, and they believed the promise. But as the whole book shows, the beauty of the world is shallow, and beneath the foam of pleasure is an ocean of despair.

The lessons of Captives – how one can be corrupted by bad company, how the small falls make the large ones easy, how deceptive the world’s seduction is – are good for anyone.

So here’s the thing. Jill showed the fallacies of both worlds and of the different characters. She also did it within the “strictures of the CBA,” meaning that she didn’t use cussing as we know it, she didn’t gratuitously linger on the violence, and she didn’t have graphic sex scenes. Does that make her story lacking in “intellectual rigor”?

She created a story that qualifies as a “beautiful novel,” in the sense that it excelled in each of the structure elements. It also was a truthful novel–truthful about our world and truthful about God’s truth (which we really ought not to see as two different things, in my opinion). So what intellectual rigor is missing?

In the end, I guess I’m saying, I think it’s a false assumption that a Christian writer can’t honor conservative mores and still create quality literature. I think it’s a false assumption to say that “CBA fiction” all falls into the category of lacking intellectual rigor. It’s no more true than that all general market fiction achieves intellectual rigor.

But here’s the thing. Only the people who read Christian speculative fiction are in a position to know whether it is “second class” because of the strictures to which it must adhere. I for one didn’t find Captives wanting in any way compared to the last three general market young adult fantasies I’ve read.

I think this book says a lot for Jill Williamson as a writer, but I also think it says a lot for Zondervan and their new Blink imprint. This “isn’t your grandma’s fiction.”

CSFF Blog Tour – Captives by Jill Williamson, Day 2


CaptivesSafeLandscoverGreat start yesterday to the first of the August CSFF blog tours, this one featuring Captives by Jill Williamson. Yesterday’s posts included a book give-away; a creative report as if written by someone in the dystopian world of Captives; a well-researched behind-the-scenes look at what led George Orwell to write his dystopian novel, 1984; thoughts on contentment and envy; and a handful of insightful reviews.

I have to say, the books I like best make me think about life and God and human nature and … well, things that matter, things that stay with me long after I’ve put the book down. Captives did that for me.

Yes, this dystopian fantasy is a young adult book, but like so many in that age category, any adult reader can also enjoy the story. In truth, the themes in Captives are mature. Although placed in a futuristic setting, with appropriate technology advances, the story exposes what goes on in the human heart during any decade.

The story also addressed some of today’s cultural issues, not by dressing them up in futuristic garb or by preaching to a point, but by showing the logical extension of the extremes in today’s western society. In an amazingly truthful way, Williamson unveils the existent cultural divide by creating a futuristic world that has even more starkly drawn lines.

For example, one plot thread deals with reproduction. Instead of a story centered on abortion, Williamson created a society that had become infertile and that prized pregnancy. The reversal of today’s reproductive issues actually was disarming and allowed for thoughtful consideration of the value of life.

Other cultural issues–the cult of celebrity, violence as entertainment, self-medication, the worship of appearance–were all addressed in the sense that characters were shown reacting to new stimuli by either accepting it or rejecting it, in part or in total, as they became familiar with the way the opposing society lived.

None of these issues takes over the novel, however. This is still a story about a group of people who have been taken captive by a society that considers itself advanced and benign. Those in the upper echelon can’t imagine why anyone would be opposed to the advantages they offer. They can’t imagine why anyone would not want to work to preserve and protect what they’ve built.

From my perspective, Captives is cutting edge. By taking a futuristic approach, it is so very contemporary. It doesn’t shy away from hard things, and there is no perfect person or point of view. All the characters have blind spots and weaknesses–both societies have problems and suffer consequences as a result.

So much like real life.

Not everyone on the tour is as great a fan of Captives as I am, and that’s good–it balances out my enthusiasm and gives you more to think about. But from my perspective, you can’t go wrong with this one. It might get a little heavy at times, though it’s no where as dark as 1984 or other dystopians. Still, it shows a world suffering under the weight of sin, and that’s not an easy thing to look at.

I personally thought Jill did a good job of balancing out the darkness with some sweet romance. There were even references to my favorite movie, Princess Bride. I found those to lighten a story that could easily have been dragged down by despair.

But again, I encourage you to read what other participants on tour are saying–that balanced view, you know? 😉

CSFF Blog Tour – Captives by Jill Williamson, Day 1


CaptivesSafeLandscoverToday, over at Spec Faith, I started a series I’m calling Books I’m Excited About. I made Captives by Jill Williamson my first post. Here’s the bulk of that article, revised and reposted for tour enjoyment. 😉 You can also read my full review, posted here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction last April.

Captives is the first of The Safe Lands series, published by Zondervan and now part of their young adult imprint, Blink, launched last April.

It is a dystopian fantasy, a genre Christian publishers have only recently embraced. I realize that dystopian fiction in the general market is winding down, but the movies made from those books–starting with the Hunger Games–are just peaking, so I suspect the interest in the genre will continue for some time. In that respect, The Safe Lands is a timely series.

There’s also the Christian aspect of Williamson’s series. How does Christianity fit in with a dystopian world? The Left Behind books gave one answer. In some respects that series by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye might be considered the forerunner or the catalyst for the recent apocalyptic and dystopian novels. They showed one interpretation of the Biblical record of the events leading up to the return of Christ and the end of the world as we know it. Because of their great success, it seems publishers woke up to the fact that people are interested in the future, dark as it might be.

The-Sword-coverAnother series, sadly not of the “get excited” variety, which is a post-apocalyptic dystopian, though it reads much like a medieval story, is the Cheveis Trilogy by Bryan Litfin (The Sword, The Gift, The Kingdom). Litfin’s handling of Christianity is distinctly different from Left Behind, and Captives is distinctly different from the Cheveis Trilogy.

It’s also different from, though with occasional similarities to, Swipe (Thomas Nelson), the middle grade series by the mysterious Evan Angler (Swipe, Sneak, Storm). Swipe, of course, has similarities with, but greater differences to, Left Behind.

In other words, how Christianity fits into a Christian dystopian fantasy is anything but pat. There is no one “right way,” no standard treatment, no prescribed formula.

Williamson has chosen to show Christianity primarily by way of contrast. It’s an intriguing and effective method, I think, which also rendered anything that might have been construed as preachiness, unnecessary. At the same time, I don’t think Christians will complain that the “faith element” is missing or obscure.

One thing readers should be aware of is that Captives is perhaps a grittier novel than many from Christian publishers. Besides making the story feel more real and relevant, however, the non-gratuitous grit served as the contrast that underwrote the theme. In other words, it was necessary and effective and in no way exploitive.

Readers should also be aware that Captives is the first part of a continuing story. I don’t know how many books are in the Safe Lands series, but it’s apparent that the story problem is resolved only in part at the end of this first installment. I thought it was a satisfying conclusion, though, not one of those contrived cliffhangers that seem to be somewhat in vogue these days.

In short, I’m excited about Captives. It is well written, Christian in an organic sense, filled with unexpected twists and lots of action, and peopled with interesting characters in a clearly drawn, futuristic world.

But compare my thoughts with what other participants on the CSFF Blog Tour have to say about the book.

As usual, check marks indicate links to tour articles.

CSFF Blog Tour – Storm by Evan Angler, Day 3


Storm_coverStorm, book three of the Swipe series, featured this month by the CSFF Blog Tour, is a credible apocalyptic dystopian tale written by the elusive Mr. Evan Angler. It’s the story of the Revelation of John recorded in Scripture as the last book of the New Testament.

And yet you’d hardly know it. Before it is an end times novel, Storm is a middle grade novel peopled with interesting characters trying to survive as best they can.

The Story. Before I get started, let me say that I recommend you read the first two books in the Swipe series–Swipe and Sneak, then pick up Storm. I actually thought the author did a masterful job acquainting new readers with what happened before. It didn’t feel forced, and I thought the review might be considered helpful for readers who had been away from this world for six months. Still, I didn’t feel as if I got as much out of the book as I would have, if I’d read the first two offerings first.

But back to the story–or rather the backstory. After a horrific war, the leader of the united America initiates a system requiring all citizens to receive an identification mark when they turn thirteen. Logan Langly reports to receive his mark, though he is filled with doubt. His sister had reported to receive her mark on her birthday and had not been seen since.

Logan has completed the preliminaries, but before he receives the mark, he changes his mind and becomes one of the many Markless who are not considered citizens. They can’t use transportation systems, get jobs, buy or sell goods, and more.

When Storm begins, Logan has been recently freed from prison, having been betrayed by his sister in his attempt to rescue her. In so doing, he exposed the government’s underground prison system and the security force known as the IMPS.

One of those who helped Logan is Erin, a Marked citizen who has contracted a manufactured virus intended to be released as a weapon against the Markless. But obviously something has gone wrong. Logan and his friends set out to do what they can to save Erin, but Logan becomes embroiled in political intrigue as a United Europe joins with America to create the Global Union. What can Logan do to help his friend, save his sister, and protect the Markless who are at the mercy of the government-controlled weather?

Strengths. The most notable strength, I thought, was that Storm didn’t feel as if it was an end-time novel, with all the predictability that contains for anyone familiar with Revelation. The story was clearly about Logan and his friends, though there were cataclysmic stakes.

I also thought the futuristic elements were credible–the development of, and technology in, cities; the creation of a controlling government under the leadership of a charismatic or revered head; the change in modes of transportation; the development of a government-controlled system to manipulate the weather; and so on.

Another strength was the appearance of “good” and “bad” characters on both sides. Some Marked citizens awoke to the realization that the government was going in the wrong direction. Some Markless seemed less concerned about doing what was right than doing what was good for their friends.

In all, I thought the plot moved crisply and there was intrigue and suspense that kept my interest. I wanted to know the answers to the many questions that popped up along the way. I liked the unexpected twists that kept me second guessing what appeared to be happening.

Weaknesses. While there were some minor issues–an omniscient point of view that seemed to shift from one person’s thoughts to another’s within a scene, for instance–they did not significantly pull me out of the story. One thing did, however.

Perhaps half way or two-thirds of the way through the story, one of the characters finds a copy of Swipe, the first book in this series, and one that supposedly chronicles the events of the characters we’re reading about. On the surface that might sound like a clever device, but in actuality it pulled me from the story completely.

I mean, I was lost in a world that had no cars because there was little to no gasoline, and highways were falling apart. The cities were all filled with buildings twice as high as today’s skyscrapers, and citizens were tattooed with a mark that allowed them to enjoy the privileges of place. It was a believable world that I could conceive of fifty, a hundred years from now. And suddenly I was reading about a book that came into existence in my real past.

I felt like someone woke me up by dumping a bucket of ice water on my head. No, I was no longer in New Chicago or Beacon or Spokie. There was no DOME or IMPS or Global Union or weather mill. I was reading fiction, and fiction that was calling attention to itself in the process of pretending to be someone’s documentation of real events.

It was really the only disappointing part of the book, but alas, it was repeated several times, and Storm itself comes into play in the end.

Recommendation. If someone is looking for a Left Behind type book or a story filled with references to God’s judgment or the need for salvation, they should bypass Storm and the Swipe series.

I could be wrong about this, but one line made me think this story is supposed to have happened after the rapture (I think there was a passing comment about thousands of people who went missing). If I’m right, then I think these people–Marked and Markless–are acting in perfectly believable ways. They didn’t know about the prophecies in Scripture, about God’s love, redemption, or the coming judgment. Consequently it’s no surprise that they aren’t praying, worshiping, witnessing, or commenting on the hand of God and the fulfillment of prophecy before their eyes.

They’re mostly surviving, but they’ve found a Bible, and spiritual things are dribbling into their lives in a natural, believable way. So if a reader is looking for a story that is intriguing and credible in its approach to the future, then Storm is the book–after reading Swipe and Sneak.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.