Captives CSFF Tour Wrap

CSFFTopBloggerAug13The CSFF tour for Captives by Jill Williamson, originally scheduled for July, was well worth the wait, I’d say, based on the reviews and various articles discussing topics introduced by the book.

Several participants offered book give-aways. Steve Trower came through with his usual, entertaining Tuesday Tunes post, Shannon Dittemore looked at the motivating factors behind a classic dystopian novel, and Jason Joyner provided an interesting view of the story by writing as if he were living in the Safe Lands.

In the end, 21 bloggers posted 44 articles during the tour. Here are the participants who posted at least three times, with check marks linked to their articles. Take some time during the next ten days to review their posts and then vote in the poll below to determine who will receive the First August CSFF Tour Top Blogger Award.

You’ll have until midnight (Pacific time), September 1, to vote.

Published in: on August 22, 2013 at 5:14 pm  Comments Off on Captives CSFF Tour Wrap  
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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.

Captives By Jill Williamson – A Review

CaptivesSafeLandsI know I just finished the blog tour for Broken Wings and did the review, so most visitors here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction probably aren’t expecting another review so soon. But, hey, I waited a day and I can’t wait any longer. 😀

Unlike my normal reading pattern these days, I inhaled Captives, a young adult dystopian fantasy by Jill Williamson. What an awesome book. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to give you a disclaimer so you understand my perspective as you read this review. I haven’t read a dystopian novel since Brave New World and 1984. No, I didn’t read the Hunger Games series or Veronica Roth’s books or any of the others in that genre which has been all the rage.

Why is that significant? Perhaps what I think is fresh and inventive will not seem so, at least to the same degree, to those who have read the more recent dystopian novels. All I can tell you, of course, is my opinion from my limited perspective.

For those of you who may not know what kinds of stories fit into the dystopian category, they are ones like the TV series Revolution. So here we go.

The Story. A plague initially carried in the water supply wiped out most of the population of earth. However, a small community with access to clean water survived. They walled themselves in, named themselves the Safe Lands, and built a society utilizing some of the most advanced technology available. The goal of the citizens is to live happy, pleasurable lives. Their “have a nice day” has morphed into “have pleasure in life.”

A handful of small communities exist outside the walled city, also relying on the same water source, but these people do not have the resources or the technology of those in the Safe Lands. They rely on scavenging and hunting to survive. To them, family and community relationships are of utmost importance, and they adhere to the traditions that have been passed down from their elders.

Another major difference exists between the two cultures: the people in the Safe Lands are all infected with a virus passed through bodily fluids. Along with other symptoms, their women can no longer bear children.

The outsiders, however, are healthy, monogamous, and have strong familial ties.

The Guild governing the Safe Lands decide they need to bring in outsiders to repopulate their land. Hence, with the help of one young disgruntled outsider, they forcibly take the entire village of Glenrock captive—those they don’t kill—and move them into the Safe Lands. One young man, engaged to be married, was away during the attack, and he determines to get his people back.

Strengths. What isn’t a strength in this story? I’ll be honest—I love Jill Williamson’s writing. Her stories engage me from the beginning, and I race through them. You might say I find them to be page-turners. But in my experience, page-turners, books I gulp down, tend to be ones I quickly forget. That’s not the case with Captives.

First, the characters are memorable, distinct, engaging—even the sell-out who enabled the Safe Landers to capture the people of Glenrock. From time to time I complain about multiple-points-of-view stories, largely because I feel disconnected from all the characters. Captives is a story about Levi, Omar, Mason (three brothers), and Shaylinn. There’s even a prologue in the point of view of one of the Safe Landers, and yet I feel equally invested in each one of the characters, though I admit I was initially partial to Mason.

Jill has done a remarkable job making me care for each person as they adjust to life as honored prisoners. I understand their motives and the decisions each makes. I cheer for them to be wise and careful and strong. I want them to resist the temptations that the “have pleasure in life” way of living throws at them. I even want them to escape the consequences of the situation in which they’ve been thrust. It’s heart rending at times.

The plot obviously is filled with conflict. The overarching story question is, will the captives escape or will they choose to become a part of the Safe Lands? That question, in one form or another, drives the plot.

Stated in that way, it doesn’t seem so different from run-of-the-mill kidnap stories, but another significant factor in Captives is the setting. Jill has created such an incredible world–with advanced technology but with enough connection to our culture today, that it feels so real. She’s created future slang, future attitudes toward reproduction, future monetary system, future approach to employment, future entertainment, future penal system, future outlook on growing old and on death, and more.

Each of these, standing in stark contrast to the outsiders and their traditions, creates a spotlight on our own culture, which of course, lays the groundwork for the themes of Captive. In short, this novel has all the elements of a good story, in the proper doses.

Weaknesses. I have one issue that’s really too picky to mention and another one I’m willing to ignore. So that’s it.

OK, for those of you too curious to accept such a brush off, the too picky issue has to do with time. The story takes place in 2088, but that seems too close to now for the traditions in both cultures to have built up. I like the fact that it isn’t in the distant future because that makes the similarities with our culture believable. But I think a better time might have been another generation later–maybe 2120 or somewhere around there.

The other point which I willingly ignored and only thought about because I was planning this review, is something that happened too easily. It would be a huge spoiler to go into detail, but there was a character made a dramatic change. I thought it was believable and well motivated, but other characters seemed to accept this change with little angst or serious working through of issues that should be worked through.

Recommendation. Great book. Really entertaining, full of material that provokes thought and, potentially, discussion. Love this story. For young adults–must read. I think any reader could enjoy it. Highly recommend for anyone who enjoys a story with a gripping conflict and engaging characters.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher with no restrictions or requirements on what I might write.

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