CSFF Blog Tour – Numb By John Otte, Day 3


Numb-CoverThis month’s CSFF Blog Tour feature is a rare science fiction novel, written for adults and published by Marcher Lord Press. Numb by John Otte, a Christy Award finalist, is a stand-alone, though some reviewers believe there is room for a sequel, should John care to revisit this world again. I admit, I love the universe he imagined, but this story seems well-ended to me, and I don’t have any particular need to see these characters again. But since I’m already opinionating, I suppose I might as well get right to my review.

The Story. Crusader is the perfect assassin: dedicated to the cause, loyal to the authorities over him, determined to complete his missions, and completely numb. He doesn’t feel emotion and he doesn’t feel pain. What’s more, he believes God has gifted him with this numbness so that he can take up the sword of judgment and wield it against those his superiors have marked as deserving of death—heretics, infidels, traitors, and the like. Above all, Crusader is good at what he does. In fact he’s the best the Ministrix has.

Imagine the uncertainty, then, when Crusader discovers, first, that he cannot complete his latest assignment—to assassinate an engineer named Isolda Westin—and second that some Ministrix agent has set him up and intends to kill him.

His inability to plunge the knife into Isolda’s heart is perhaps the most troubling thing Crusader faces. Something within him refuses to follow what he knows he must do. But why? And why is he, the most loyal, most accomplished Ministrex agent, now a target of the very leaders he has served these past ten years?

With these questions at the heart of the plot, Numb jumps into a tale of intrigue, suspense, action, and romance.

Strengths. There is so much to like in this story, but I think my favorite is the worldbuilding. It’s a little rare, I suppose, to put the element that most often fades into the background as the aspect of the story I liked best, but for me, the sense of place, without being bogged down by a lot of techno terms or details I didn’t care about, made the whole story more enjoyable. I thought there was just the right amount of science/technology mixed with the right amount of facts about the governments that dominated the populated universe to give me a feel for what the characters had to contend with.

Furthermore, the inventiveness seemed believable—a logical outcome of the way technology is advancing and of the way governments are behaving today.

I also thought the central theme was wonderfully woven into the story. Nothing seemed forced. The characters themselves, as a natural part of who they were and the predicament in which they found themselves, dictated the theme. It was never delivered in a heavy-handed manner, though I guess you’d say the “faith elements” were overt.

I liked the characters as well, though I have to admit, when Isolda appeared in chapter three, I felt quite relieved. I wasn’t sure about spending an entire book in the head of a numb assassin, no matter how justified he was in his own mind for doing what he did.

The plot was exciting, built as it was on intrigue. There were fight scenes, chase scenes, betrayals, rescues, hypocrites acting hypocritical and spies acting nobly. There were plenty of twists though the plot never became convoluted. Important elements were properly foreshadowed, so little felt as if it didn’t belong.

But that brings me to the next part of this review.

Weaknesses.

      SPOILER ALERT

Perhaps the only part of the story I didn’t find believable was the sudden attraction Isolda had to first one assassin, then the other. To her credit, she didn’t realize that Balaam, who appeared to be her rescuer, was actually there to kill Crusader and kidnap her. But here’s the thing—she showed definite signs of attractions to a complete stranger. Then when he is killed, she quickly shows interest in the agent who defeated him—the one who she knows is there to kill her.

This tendency to be easily won over to a man could have been a character trait of Isolda’s, except she had no such response to the one guy she actually had known for some time and the one she had shared experiences with and who seemed quite willing early on to protect her.

In short, the contrast between the way Isolda reacted to Gavin and to Balaam, then Crusader, made her actions a little hard for me to believe.

      END SPOILER ALERT

Apart from that plot point, I had no problems with this story. The writing was straightforward, the characters well defined, the surprises plentiful.

Recommendation. I’m happy there’s a quality Christian science fiction novel to go along with the growing number of excellent Christian fantasies. John Otte has done a wonderful job giving readers an enjoyable story that also provides sufficient meat to chew on. I highly recommend this book to all readers. It’s a must read for fans of Christian science fiction.

As it happens, all John Otte’s books, including Numb, are discounted at Marcher Lord Press. However, these prices are only good through April.

CSFF Blog Tour – Numb By John Otte, Day 2


Numb-CoverThe Christian science fiction novel, Numb, by John Otte, has a good number of surprises, but one is not how the book got its title. The main character, known for most of the book as Crusader, works as an assassin for the Ministrix, one of two dominant governments in the universe, this one claiming to be linked to the True Church. The assassin understands his role as that of executioner. He carries out the judgment against infidels, pagans, and heretics as his superiors order.

Crusader believes himself to be the perfect man for the job because God has gifted him with numbness. He can feel neither pain nor emotion. Consequently, he is single minded about his missions. He is not distracted by fear or guilt, and he is not slowed by pain or doubt.

At first this condition of numbness seems pitiful, at least to me, and I think to some of the characters in the book. Crusader has been conditioned by his handlers to believe his numbness is a provision from God. But not to feel joy or love or hope or anticipation or gratitude or excitement or satisfaction or even regret or sorrow, seems as if Crusader is missing the core of what makes a person human.

Even pain is a beneficial and necessary component for life, or so I understand from reading a story about a leper who gradually lost his sense of touch and no longer registered pain in his extremities. Each night he did a self examination to be sure he didn’t have some untreated cut that could become infected. Otherwise, his fingers and hands and feet could become gangrenous and would have to be amputated.

Feeling is vital.

But as I read Numb, I realized that a good deal of the population in western society lives to feel numb. In fact, many self-medicate, drink, do drugs or dive behind a computer, lock in on the TV, play round after round of the latest version of their favorite game, all in order to be numb to the real world around them.

Whether via the world of pretend or the vicarious competitions of sports or music or dance or survival, people are holding at bay unhappy spouses, too high credit card bills, nagging bosses, crying children, unkempt lawns, taxes, traffic, gas prices, corrupt politicians, aging parents, you name it.

When the world and its problems close in, sometimes it feels too overwhelming. If we allow ourselves to feel the crush, we’ll explode, so we scramble for whatever will numb the pain.

We may not take up a mission like Crusader did, but we act as if our numbness is a gift from God.

But it wasn’t for Crusader, and it isn’t for us. God isn’t about numbing us from the experiences he’s put before us. In fact, one of the things the Christian has been given is abundant life. That’s not only a future provision; it’s a present provision. And to live life abundantly means the opposite of numbing ourselves, insulating ourselves from the effects of our experiences.

Paul summed up the difference: Do not be drunk with wine but be filled with the Holy Spirit. Don’t rely on a depressant, a substance that induces forgetfulness and a lack of control. Instead, be filled with the One who guides us in all Truth, who is the source of joy and patience and gentleness and self-control and love.

He might as well have said, Do not be numb.

– – – – –

Take time to check out what other bloggers are writing about in conjunction with the Numb blog tour. There are a couple excellent interviews with John Otte you won’t want to miss: Shannon McNear‘s and Keanan Brand‘s day two posts. Jason Joyner, who has met John and hung out with him at conferences, has some interesting tidbits and even an interesting picture you’ll have to see to believe. 😉 You’ll especially want to learn how to Otte-fy your story, if you’re a writer.

John himself has a great post about how he came to write Numb. Highly recommend.

Published in: on April 22, 2014 at 7:23 pm  Comments (3)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Numb by John Otte


Numb-CoverSo imagine you’re a pastor, one in an evangelical church that believes the Bible is true and has been inspired by the Holy Spirit. And imagine you also love science fiction, that you even write science fiction. What kind of story would you write?

Anyone come up with a novel about an assassin, one hired by the church?

Yea, that would not have been my first guess either, but that’s what Pastor John Otte has written in Numb, his third novel published by Marcher Lord Press.

John, a contributor at Speculative Faith (his columns post every other Wednesday), and a long-time member of the CSFF Blog Tour, spends most of his time pastoring at Concordia Lutheran Church in South St. Paul, Minnesota.

The son of a pastor, you’d think John’s future course must have been established from his youth—that is, until you learn he graduated from college with a degree in theater!

Graduated summa cum laude.

Majoring in theater!

Of course, he did go on, after graduation, to attend seminary where he earned his Master of Divinity degree. Soon after he began serving as a youth pastor, then as a senior pastor in Blue Earth, Minnesota. He was installed as the new pastor at Concordia in December, 2007.

And yet, that theater major was still very much alive. John had been a writer as early as elementary school and even then intended his stories to find an audience with the public.

He was so serious about his writing that he joined American Christian Fiction Writers shortly after graduation, and it was through that organization he eventually met his agent and his acquiring editor/publisher.

After publishing two superhero type stories, John created Numb, a novel nominated for the Clive Staples Award and just last week, named as a finalist for the Christy Award, Visionary Category.

Which brings us back to the assassin working for the True Church. His role, as he sees it and as he’s been trained to believe, is to serve as the sword of judgment against heretics, dissenters, or heathen. Wherever his leaders send him, he goes. Whoever they order him to kill, he destroys. And he’s the best at what he does because he’s been gifted by God, he’s told, to feel nothing—little or no pain or emotion. All the sensations that could distract him are swallowed up in numbness.

If you’d like to learn more about this story, check out what others on the CSFF tour are saying about Numb, the novel no one would expect a pastor to write.

Recommended Christian Fiction – From Middle Grade to Adult


From time to time I get requests for a list of recommended Christian fiction. A couple years ago, I put together a Best of … [insert year] List, and I may again some time, but I found myself having to qualify the list, primarily because my reading is far from exhaustive. There are some genres I rarely touch, for instance. So it seems wiser to me to go with books I can recommend because I’ve read them. Some of these, if not all, I’ve reviewed, so I’ve linked to that post (either here or at Spec Faith) in case you’d like to read more.

Middle Grade
Chuck Black – Sir Kendrick and the Castle of Bel Lione
R. K. Mortenson – the Landon Snow series (Landon Snow and the Island of Arcanum, … the Volucer’s Dragon)
Jonathan Rogers – The Wilderking Trilogy (The Bark of the Bog Owl)
Andrew Peterson – The Wingfeather Saga (On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness)

Young Adult
Wayne Thomas Batson – The Door Within Trilogy; Isle of Swords
Bryan Davis – the Dragons in Our Midst series
Donita K. Paul – the DragonKeeper Chronicles (DragonKnight, DragonFire, DragonLight)

Adult
Fantasy
Karen Hancock – The Guardian King series (Return of the Guardian King)
Sharon Hinck – The Sword of Lyric series (The Restorer, The Restorer’s Son)
Stephen Lawhead – The King Raven series (Scarlet)
Tosca Lee – Demon: a Memoir
Kathryn Mackel – The Birthrighter series (Trackers)
Jeffrey Overstreet – Auralia’s Thread (Auralia’s Colors)
George Bryan Polivka – The Trophy Chase Trilogy (The Legend of the Firefish, The Hand That Bears the Sword, The Battle for Vast Dominion)

Science Fiction
Austin Boyd – The Mars Hills Classified trilogy (The Evidence, The Proof, The Return)
Sigmund Brouwer – Broken Angel
Chris Walley – The Lamb among the Stars series

Contemporary
Julie Carobini – Chocolate Beach
Kathryn Cushman – A Promise to Remember
Sharon Hinck – The Secret Life of Becky Miller; Renovating Becky Miller
Kathleen Popa – To Dance in the Desert
Sharon Souza – Every Good and Perfect Gift

Suspense
Brandilyn Collins – the Kanner Lake series (Violet Dawn, Coral Moon, Crimson Eve, Amber Morn)
Athol Dickson – Winter Haven
T. L. Hines – Waking Lazaras

Feel free to add your recommendations in the comments. 😀

CSFF Blog Tour – Wayfarer’s Journal, Day 2


When choosing books/web sites to feature for a blog tour, it is often a difficult decision. What if we point people to something new that doesn’t meet their expectations, and they trash it? But what if we only feature the tried and true, how then will people discover and support the new and upcoming?

Thankfully, CSFF Blog Tour has an administrative team that discusses just such pros and cons when making the decisions what to highlight each month. But my intent is not to give a window to the behind-the-scenes working of the tour.

Wayfarers Journal bannerInstead, I wanted to lay the ground work for my comments about Wayfarer’s Journal, a new, up and coming science fiction webzine, not yet a year old.

Interestingly, founder and editor Terri Main already gave a rather objective review of the site, pointing out some areas of improvement that I hadn’t thought of.

My impressions on visiting Wayfarers Journal of course are from one outside looking in. I found a site that opens quickly and easily (important especially to those of us still using dial-up), has a clean over-all appearance, is easy to navigate from page to page, includes all the main things I’d want to look for except contact information (there is an address for submissions, but a place to send questions and comments would also be helpful).

I like the mission statement, delivered up front on the home page. Although science fiction is not my genre of choice, I think what Wayfarers Journal is doing is critical. I remember how I felt as a fantasy fan when all seemed bent the other way. Nowhere could I find the kinds of stories I loved (which is one reason I started writing. I was under the delusion that the stories weren’t out there because no one was writing them rather than that no one was publishing them).

I also like some of the goals Terri envisions. You can read more about what she hopes to accomplish in an informative interview with Jim Black.

Other CSFF’ers have reviews of some of the stories, thoughts about the importance of Christian science fiction in formulating our ethical standings about the technologies just around the corner, and a mixture of both. It’s well worth the time to read what others on tour are saying: Brandon Barr Jim Black Justin Boyer Grace Bridges Amy Browning Jackie Castle Carol Bruce Collett Valerie Comer CSFF Blog Tour D. G. D. Davidson Chris Deanne Jeff Draper April Erwin Marcus Goodyear Andrea Graham Jill Hart Katie Hart Michael Heald Jason Joyner Kait Carol Keen Mike Lynch Margaret Rachel Marks Melissa Meeks Mirtika or Mir’s Here John W. Otte John Ottinger Rachelle Steve Rice Cheryl Russel Ashley Rutherford Hanna Sandvig James Somers Steve Trower Speculative Faith Jason Waguespac Laura Williams Timothy Wise

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