Exploring Horror Or Exploring Light


300x179xthe-walking-dead-s4-e16-zombies-636-380-300x179.jpg.pagespeed.ic.35AUmep_fuWhen I first heard the term “Christian horror,” I laughed. I thought the person was kidding. I mean, how could blood and psycho-killers and hauntings and demon possession be Christian? Since then I’ve learned that some serious writers—including some Christians—believe horror fiction holds a necessary place in understanding evil, and therefore confronting it.

A number of years ago, for example, author Brian Godawa posted a three-part apology for Christian horror at Speculative Faith. More recently author and friend Mike Duran has published Christian Horror:On the Compatibility of a Biblical Worldview and the Horror Genre.

While I’ve moved from a hard stance against horror (I insisted that the genre existed to accomplish one thing—produce fear), conceding that some writers and readers confront evil and explore how to counter it through fiction, I’m far from holding the view that horror is “must read” fiction for Christians, that to turn away from an exploration of evil is to isolate ourselves from the reality of the world in which we live.

I expressed my thoughts in a post at Spec Faith nearly four years ago, ideas to which I still hold. The following is a slightly revised version of that post.

Author Anne Rice, best known for her vampire fiction and her conversions to and from Christianity, has stated that her vampire books were actually explorations of the spiritual. Spiritual light or spiritual darkness?

Some may say that an exploration of spiritual darkness must precede any look at spiritual light. I suppose this might be one of those areas that differ from person to person, but I can’t help but wonder why we Christians aren’t exploring the light more than we are the darkness.

Corrie ten Boom

Certainly darkness is in the world. Yet when I think of darkness, some of the most uplifting, true stories I’ve read come to mind. Take Corrie ten Boom, for example. Without a doubt, her story contains horrific elements, including the inhuman conditions in a Nazi concentration camp and the death of her dear sister as a result.

But throughout, from the decision to help Jews, to Corrie’s release from the camp and her subsequent commitment to show the love and forgiveness of God to victim and victimizer alike, the story is infused with hope and promise and the sovereign hand of God over all circumstances.

Elisabeth Elliot

The story of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, and Pete Fleming is similar. These young missionaries, so committed to sharing the gospel with a group of people who had never heard of Jesus, died at the hands of the people they wanted to save. More astounding, Jim’s wife Elisabeth and Nate’s wife Rachel returned to the tribe, lived with them for two years, and saw many come to Christ. The forgiveness and love these women lived out in the midst of tragedy and loss is a revelation of God’s love and forgiveness.

Joni Eareckson Tada’s story is equally inspirational. Injured as a seventeen year old, Joni has lived as a quadriplegic for forty-eight years.

Joni Eareckson Tada

Despite her disability, she shines the love of Jesus into the lives of hundreds of thousands through her writing, painting, and speaking. She has even put out a vocal recording and starred in the video of her life story. Perhaps her greatest work has been establishing Joni and Friends, an international disability center bringing hope and help to people throughout the world.

Hope. That seems to be a key thread that runs through these stories of triumph over tragedy. The darkness is very real in each one—Joni’s despair, the deaths of the missionaries and Corrie’s sister, the brutality of the Nazis—but triumph dominates the story.

The Hiding Place is not the story about Corrie’s sister dying but about God’s love and forgiveness manifested in an unspeakably cruel place.

Through Gates of Splendor is not a story about five twenty-something missionary men being killed but about the truth in this verse of the hymn from which the title of the book came:

We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender.
Thine is the battle, Thine shall be the praise;
When passing through the gates of pearly splendor,
Victors, we rest with Thee, through endless days.

Joni is not the story of a seventeen-year-old whose life caved in, but of a God who brings meaning and purpose out of suffering.

You might wonder why I’m taking a look at all these true stories in a post about speculative fiction. I see how inspirational the lives of these three who suffered greatly have been. They personally explored the light in the midst of the darkness of their real circumstances. The result has been phenomenal. They have pointed generations of people to Christ.

Why, then, would a fiction writer not want to adopt this model — an exploration of light in the midst of darkness? Why go the other route and spend pages and pages exploring the dark, even if the light comes filtering in at the end?

I personally (and remember what I said at the beginning of this post about us all being different) find hope and help to be what I want to read. Darkness, I already know. Hope and help in the midst of darkness is compelling. Why aren’t more Christian speculative novels exploring the light?

It seems to me we are becoming fixated with what is true to the human experience, and as a result we are not setting our “mind on things above” (Col. 3:2). Do we think we know all there is to know about God, so we don’t need to focus on Him as much as we do the depravity and corruption sin causes?

Darkness will be a part of fiction, I believe. But I also see there are two ways of looking at it. In one case, stories seem to explore the darkness, in the other they seem to explore the light that triumphs over the darkness. This latter type is the kind of story I like to read and I want to write.

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The 2015 Clive Staples Award


2014CSA_Small copyI guess this is the day for announcements.

Since its inception I’ve headed up the Clive Staples Award For Christian Speculative Fiction. This year the organization sponsoring the award is taking the lead (yea!)

Today begins the process of picking the best Christian speculative novel published in 2014. All the information you need to know is below, but I want to point out the first item on the timetable: Nominations will be open for only two weeks. In other words, there’s not a lot of time to make a decision or to read the book you’ve heard such good things about. The time is now, people! Now!

OK, do I sound sufficiently exercised? 😉 Hope so. We really do have a great list of nominations so far, and anyone can add books that aren’t on the list yet.

So without more blathering, here’s everything you need to know about this year’s award.

RealmMakerslogo

Realm Makers is excited to promote this year’s Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction. We will announce the winner as part of the Realm Makers Awards Dinner on August 7th.

Similar to last year, the final winner will be decided by a panel of judges, so the award becomes a hybrid of “readers’ choice” and panel judging, which combines popularity and critical acclaim in the process. We’re very excited to be able to recognize the book that earns this honor, and therefore, the Faith and Fantasy Alliance is once again committing sponsoring funds to the cash prize that will go to the winner.

The nomination period is upon us and will be conducted via an online poll. If you would like to nominate a book for this award, please read the guidelines below before jumping to the poll.

Nomination qualifications

Eligible books must be all of the following:

  • Containing themes consistent with a Christian worldview, whether implied, symbolic, or overt.
  • Published in English.
  • Published between January 1 and December 31 of the current contest’s year. (For example, for the Clive Staples Award held in 2015, entrants must have been published between, Jan. 1, 2014 and Dec. 31, 2014.)
  • In the science fiction/fantasy/allegory/futuristic/supernatural/supernatural suspense/horror/time travel category, or any sub-genre or mashup of these.

Nomination guidelines

  • Authors, agents, and publishers may not nominate books with which they are affiliated. Likewise, book authors or affiliates may not campaign for votes on behalf of their books. A conservative number of social media posts to make readers aware of the voting process is welcome. The contest committee reserves the right to disqualify any entry if it is determined a book’s affiliates have campaigned for votes.
  • Readers may only nominate books they have actually read.
  • Ebooks and books in hard-copy print are both eligible

Nomination instructions

  • Add between 1 and 3 books you’d like to nominate. Please include the Title, Author, and Publisher (indicate “self-published” if that is the case.)
  • Submit your answers

After the nomination period is over, the award committee will tabulate the votes and declare the semi-finalists.

Readers’ Choice Semi-finalist Voting

Voters will be eligible only if they have read two or more of the books nominated. We want this to be a selection by readers of Christian speculative fiction, not just the fans of particular authors.

Below are standards to consider.

Standards for Clive Staples Award books

  • Quality writing style and mechanics
  • Believable and well-developed world-building
  • Depth of characterization
  • Well-structured, original, and interesting plot
  • Deftness of integration of the worldview into the story’s plot and characterizations

Contest time line:

5-15-15: Reader nomination period begins

5-29-15: Reader nominations close

6-1-15: Semi-Finalists announced; second round of Readers Choice voting begins

6-8-15: Readers Choice voting closes

6-15-15: Finalists announced

7-7-15: Winner announced at the Realm Makers Costumed Awards Dinner, cash prize awarded

Thank you for lending your voice to help us choose the best speculative fiction out there. Spread the word that the contest is open, and good luck to all you authors.

To participate in the nomination process, record your selections (up to three) on this survey: CSA Nomination Survey.

Published in: on May 14, 2015 at 5:25 pm  Comments Off on The 2015 Clive Staples Award  
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The Fatal Tree by Stephen Lawhead – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 2


Bright Empires posterStephen Lawhead aimed big when he began the Bright Empire series, a five-book epic Christian speculative story which concludes with The Fatal Tree, this month’s CSFF Blog Tour feature. In fact, you might say the series is cosmic in scope, incorporating omniverse theory, philosophy, and theology into his fascinating tale of ley lines travel.

And still, characters rule—the good and the bad. In Day 1 I took a peek at my favorite character, Mina Klug. Today I want to zero in on my least favorite—Archelaeus Burleigh, Earl of Sutherland and story antagonist.

In Book 4, The Shadow Lamp, Burleigh seems at last to reap what he has sown, and I experienced a sense of justice and a bit of relief that now at last the questers could move freely as they sought to set to right the events that threaten the entire cosmos.

How wrong I was, given the nature of ley line travel. Not only do people using ley lines move from place to place, they move from time to time within those places. Hence, Kit and Mina and Cass can come face to face with Burleigh and his gang of thugs at points before their capture.

More interesting to me than this suspenseful twist in the story, is the unexpected thread in The Fatal Tree expanding on Burleigh himself. While he was free, he operated like a selfish, mean-spirited bully, taking what he wanted, manipulating others for his purposes. He was cruel for his own pleasure, impulsive, scheming—a thoroughly evil villain.

But when he lands in the dungeon, when he’s forced into solitary confinement, he suddenly has more time than he wants for contemplation, and his inner life comes alive. His encounter with the character I most admire in the Bright Empires, the baker Engelbert Stiffelbeam, provides the contrast to his life that ignites reflection.

What fascinates me so much is the similarity between Burleigh’s position and that voiced by a number of atheists I’ve encountered in recent online conversations. Here’s an excerpt from The Fatal Tree revealing the character’s thoughts:

[Burleigh] had an epiphany: Engelbert Stiffelbeam was not the problem—it was his Jesus. Why should this be? Burleigh wondered. What difference did it make to Burleigh what the big oaf believed?

The Grand Imperial’s chief baker might also believe in pink-spotted green leprechauns for all he knew; people believed a multitude of ridiculous things up to and including the existence of mermaids, unicorns, and fire-breathing dragons. But those deluded beliefs did not inspire in him the same visceral disgust. And just like the imaginary unicorns that haunted the dells and hidden glades of folklore, Jesus was merely an irrelevant nonsense. The brutal indifference of the world proved that much beyond doubt; and Jesus, God’s insipid Son, was a phantom, a figment, a myth. In actual fact, the whole of religion everywhere, so far as Burleigh could discern, was a rag-tag bundle of superstition and make-believe: wholesale foolishness concocted by lunatics, peddled by charlatans, and swallowed by the ignorant benighted masses.

Burleigh had always held that organized religion amounted to a kind of madness, a collective insanity embraced by the weak and powerless because it allowed them some small degree of comfort, a grain of solace in the face of the harsh reality that their lives were meaningless, existence had no purpose, and there was no good, wise, all-knowing God looking out for them. The naked truth was that existence had no significance beyond the random shuttling of mindless forces that had produced a blob of sentient matter that was here one day and gone the next. (p 147, emphasis added)

Burleigh voices the same attitudes as ones I’ve encountered from contemporary atheists:
* Jesus is a myth
* religion is a form of superstition
* morons came up with the idea of religion
* frauds and deceivers push religion on people
* the masses swallow religion because they’re stupid
* the truth is, life is meaningless
* there is no kind, all-knowing God
* life came about by chance
* a person is here today, and gone tomorrow, the end

I can’t help but wonder if atheists today were to have an encounter with someone like Engelbert Stiffelbeam, who forgave because Jesus had forgiven him, who gave because Jesus had given to him, and if those atheists would reflect on their lives as Burleigh was forced to do, would they re-evaluate their position?

There’s no formula for a person changing their belief system, certainly. God has used far less than the acts of kindness Engelbert Stiffelbeam performed for his enemy, and such acts do not insure a positive change of heart, as Burleigh proves.

But what if? Isn’t it the Christian’s place to be Engelbert Stiffelbeam to the Burleigh in our lives?

And now, see what others on the CSFF Blog Tour are saying about The Fatal Tree by clicking on the links provided in the Day 1 post.

You might especially be interested in seeing Julie Bihn sporting Skin Map-like tats as the Illustrated Woman, or in reading a review by Audrey Sauble or Rachel Starr Thomson or Rebekah Loper. Then there is the always thoughtful Calvinist perspective offered by Thomas Clayton Booher.

CSFF Blog Tour – A Draw Of Kings, Day 2


The Staff & The Sword trilogy covers I don’t think there’s any secret to the fact that I’m partial to epic fantasy. I mean, that’s my genre. I have my own epic fantasy, complete with character lists and maps, I might add, which I hope to publish some day. How excited, then, have I been this past year to see the popularity of Patrick Carr‘s series, The Staff & The Sword, increase. I mean, that’s the way an author dreams of having a series go. Publishers, too, I would guess.

Of course, I’m not privy to the sales for Carr’s series. I am only judging by the enthusiasm and the growing number of reviews. I’m used to seeing that number drop off as a series goes along. Not so with A Draw of Kings, the finale of this well-told story. Consider the fact that this book has been out for a little over a month and already has 71 Amazon reviews and 98 ratings on Goodreads, and I think you get a picture of the buzz this trilogy is creating.

That makes me happy as a reader and as a writer. I love getting lost in another world, and Patrick Carr did a good job creating a different place which had its own rules and alliances and enemies and power structures and supernatural connections.

Is the success of this trilogy a first step toward more epic fantasy?

I’d love to say, yes, definitely. But what I think it is actually a first step toward is readers wanting good stories.

In the end, I want good stories, more than I want epic fantasy. If I were given the choice between a poorly written epic fantasy and a well-told dystopian or fairytale or supernatural or contemporary, I’d pick the latter every time. I don’t think I’m unusual in this.

Yes, I have a favorite genre, but I’m not an exclusive reader. I don’t read solely in the speculative category, let alone in the epic fantasy niche. I like good stories, first and foremost.

So when I see a series like The Staff & The Sword get a lot of attention, I’m not thinking, Finally, people are discovering Christian epic fantasy. Rather, I’m thinking, Yea, an author has done Christian epic fantasy so well, fans are gathering to it.

Hopefully they will enjoy these books so much, they’ll be willing to try other speculative stories that might move them out of their comfort zone–books like R. J. Larson’s epic fantasy trilogy or Jill Williamson’s dystopian Safe Lands series or Shannon Dittemore’s Angel Eyes supernatural trilogy or Robert Treskillard’s Arthurian series, The Merlin Spiral.

Really, there are such good books out there right now. It’s a great time to be a reader who enjoys Christian speculative fiction, that’s for sure.

My advice is to hop on the bandwagon and pick up one of the Clive Staples Award 2014 nominations for your next good book. The fact that there are Christian themes engrained in the stories makes the reading experience deeper.

Poorly executed themes, no matter what the message, turn a good story sour. One of the great things about each of the CSA nomination I’ve read is that themes are handled appropriately–as a natural outgrowth of who the characters are and what is happening in the plot. There’s no, “Time out for a word from our sponsor” telling of the Christian message.

For those who have read at least two of the CSA nominations, I trust you have voted for the finalists or are planning to do so. You have until a week from today.

In the end, then, I think Patrick Carr and The Staff & The Sword trilogy are part of the rising tide of Christian speculative fantasy.

How well did A Draw of Kings do in closing out the story? I’ll give my thoughts on that tomorrow. For now, I suggest you see what others on the CSFF tour are saying. You can find the list of participants and links to their articles at the end of my intro post.

Fantasy Friday – Project Gemini by Jill Williamson


Project-Gemini cover

A Review

Project Gemini, a young adult novel in the Mission League series by Jill Williamson, is a mildly speculative story most suited for young teens.

The Story. Spencer Garmond, AKA Jonas Wright, is a promising basketball player. He’s also been recruited into the development program of the Mission League, a secret branch of INTERPOL, which aims to collect and analyze intelligence regarding “rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world, and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” As part of his training, he went on a practice mission to Moscow after his freshman year in high school. He’s now preparing for his second trip–this time to Okinawa, Japan.

The problem is, Spencer, who learns his real name is Jonas Wright and that he’s been in a type of witness protection program because his father betrayed the Mission League and killed his mother, has made some enemies–or so it would seem from the prophecies he’s received.

He himself is gifted with dreams and glimpses that show him snatches of the future, but so has the daughter of his instructor, Mary Stopplecamp. Because of what this thirteen-year-old middle schooler has dreamed, she warns Spencer not to go to Japan. He’s not convinced, however, that he can’t intervene to change these events, as if the prophecies are merely forewarnings, not actual predictors of what is to come.

Based on her dreams, Mary then tells Spencer to beware of foreign women. He himself has a dream of a beautiful Japanese girl, one who is sometimes in trouble.

Upon arriving in Okinawa, Spencer does in fact meet the girl of his dreams–or rather two of them since she has an identical twin sister. In addition, one of the assignments he receives is to keep track of and monitor the activity of his dream girl. Or her sister.

He’s drawn to her, and she to him. When her former boyfriend forces her to go with him, Spencer springs into action to protect her. The fact that he took a scooter without permission and left the group on his own, instead of calling for help, gets him into considerable trouble, however. And Mary’s continual warnings make him begin to question who he can trust.

Mission-League-web-logoAfter all, there are some pretty bad players hanging around, some suspected of involvement with a notorious Japanese gang. And now Spencer has reason to suspect there may be a connection to his Moscow enemy, Anya.

Excerpt. Read a sample chapter of Project Gemini (Mission 2: Okinawa).

Strengths. One of Jill Williamson’s many talents as a writer is voice. She manages to capture the voice of a young teenage boy to the point that her character comes alive.

I’ve read a number of Jill’s books now, spanning three series and a stand-alone novel, and none of the characters has the same voice. Each is distinct, unique, individual.

Achan, the slave boy turned king in the Blood of Kings high fantasy novels, is a very different person from Mason, Levi, or Omar in the Safe Lands books. In turn, they are all very different from Jason, the cloned boy living in a laboratory in Replication. And none of them is like Spencer, the hero of the Mission League adventures.

Not only does Jill capture the voice of a teenage boy, she taps into his heart and soul–what motivates him, what he hopes to accomplish, how he processes the various things that pull him in one direction or another.

In other words, Jill has created a believable character who also happens to be a likeable kid. He’s trying to turn his life around, but he’s got enemies that seem determined to keep him from doing so.

The plot is action packed, with tension on every page. Who can Spencer trust? How can he complete his assignment and heed the warnings of the prophecies, too? And why does this new Mission Leaguer, Grace, have it out for him from the moment he met her?

Because Jill writes Christian fiction, she does not back off from dealing with the concerns that confront teenage guys: lust, girls, sex, sports, drugs, parties, and lying to get what they want. Interestingly she also shows the divergent paths adults can take in raising teens. (Or maybe that comes mostly in the novella due to release in a month or so). At any rate, Jill shows. She doesn’t preach. But Spencer eventually comes to understand where he goes wrong and what he has to change, and the reader follows right along with him.

Weaknesses. I know reviews are more credible if the person writing them exposes faults. The problem for me is that I get so caught up in Spencer’s story, I tend to gloss over any small inconsistency or plot problem. It’s a stretch for me to identify weaknesses.

I think the characters are all rock solid and believable, but on retrospect, I do think there is a segment of the plot toward the end that happened so fast, I wasn’t sure how all the developments came about.

There’s also some description that could bog down a reader (I sort of glazed over at places)–notably a section about ropes (anyone who has read the book will probably know what I’m referring to).

Recommendation. The Mission League books are terrific stories perfectly suited to younger teens–thirteen to sixteen, boys or girls. More mature pre-teens may also like the stories, but there is some frank discussion about attitudes toward and behavior with the opposite sex, so it would be good for parents to be aware of this.

Project Gemini (available on Kindle for only $2.99), and the previous books in the series, The New Recruit and Chokepoint, would make perfect gifts for anyone in the target age group and their parents. And if you’re like me, you’ll buy the book for yourself, because it’s just that enjoyable a story.

Thoughts On Intellectual Rigor


The_Thinker,_RodinRecently I wrote an article playing off author Mike Duran’s post and follow-up responses about Christian speculative fiction. As I wrote my remarks, I realized toward the end that one phrase in particular gnawed at me: “intellectual rigor.” Christian fiction in general and speculative fiction in particular needs more intellectual rigor, according to one comment to the original post.

So what does that mean when it comes to fiction? Not the use of good hermeneutics on the way to a scintillating sermon, I’m fairly certain. That might be intellectually rigorous, but it wouldn’t be good fiction.

Are we talking about stories that only college professors will “get”? If so, then the complaint is really that all Christians aren’t college professors.

Ironic that one of the most brilliant college professors wrote one of the most widely read children’s fantasy series, and no one calls into question his intellectual rigor. People of all ages and all walks of life can understand the Narnia tales. They aren’t structured in a way that makes them difficult. Are they, therefore, lacking in intellectual rigor?

Some years ago I read a novel touted for its literary quality, so I decided I should read it as part of my writing education. The story had two point-of-view characters–sisters, as I recall.

One told her portion of the story in chronological fashion, starting at the beginning and working her way forward. The other, alternating with the first, told her portion looking back from the conclusion of the story, detailing the events in reverse order as they wound down to the start.

Of course, the reader is left to figure out this structure on her own. How many chapters did I flounder through, uncertain what had happened or when and to whom. The worst of it was, in the end, one sister dies. That’s it. Yes, it seems like a tragedy, but to what purpose? What’s the point, I thought as I closed the book.

Was that intellectually rigorous because I was confused most of the way through the book? In the same way that a puzzle is, I suppose. But I’ve worked many a puzzle and haven’t found my worldview challenged or my questions answered.

Ah, yes. There’s the rub. Unanswered questions are supposed to be a sign of intellectual rigor in this day and age. But why, I’ll never know. Knowledge leads to greater questions and more knowledge–just ask scientists working with DNA or those studying the God particle. Unanswered questions lead to . . . I’m not sure what. A repeat of the questions, perhaps? Asking them of a different source? But why? Some say the value is in the seeking rather than in the finding.

“Seeking” with no hope of finding reminds me of someone whose car is stuck in a mud puddle or a snow bank and he stomps hard and harder on the accelerator, as if spinning the wheels in place will actually get him somewhere. I don’t find this approach to learning to be intellectual or rigorous. It seems disingenuous and foolish.

God has a lot to say about foolishness and wisdom and about knowledge. But perhaps the greatest way His Word can help in unfolding what intellectual rigor in fiction should look like is through the fiction of the Bible–the stories people in the Bible told.

Jesus told the most stories, which we refer to as parables because they have a moral or point to them. In reality all good stories have a point (which is why I was so disappointed in the oddly structured literary novel I read which was mostly pointless). David’s counselor and friend Nathan told him a very pointed story. Several of the prophets told stories, too–fantasies, actually, because they included talking trees and such.

But here’s the thing. The people who told those stories did so to communicate something with their audience. They weren’t trying to obscure their point.

Why did they use a story then, instead of just coming right out and saying what they wanted to say? Because there is power in stories. Stories help us to see truth through someone else’s eyes rather than through our own biased view. Through stories we get to Truth by seeing past our own version of truth.

When David heard Nathan’s story, he saw clearly how shamefully he had used his faithful military commander Uriah by stealing his wife and having him killed, and he repented. When the Pharisees heard Jesus’s story about the shameful vineyard workers who kept beating the messengers who came to collect what they owed and who finally killed the owner’s son, they looked for ways to kill Jesus.

These were intellectually rigorous stories that made the people who heard them think, and ultimately to act, though not always in positive ways. Stories don’t come with guarantees.

They don’t even come with guarantees that the audience will understand. More than once Jesus took His disciples aside to explain the meaning of His stories. Certainly the words were understandable, the images were familiar, but the disciples were wrestling with the “so what” of the story. What does it mean, they asked Jesus. They weren’t asking, what does it mean when you say a sower went out to sow. They got that. They got that seed wouldn’t grow if the birds came and ate it or if it fell on rocky ground or if thorns choked out the roots. What they wrestled with was the significance of what they heard.

In all this talk of “intellectual rigor,” I’m hearing very little about adding significance to our fiction. It seems to me, writers today want to tell farmers stories about computers, and when they aren’t interested, these writers are chastising them for not being intellectually rigorous.

If they want to reach farmers, these writers ought to be writing stories about which farmers care and which hold significance for farmers rather than criticizing them for the weakness of their intellectual rigor.

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.”

Fantasy Friday – News You Can Use


SpecFaith announcement 2There are a few tidbits pertaining to Christian speculative fiction that visitors here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction might be interested in.

First, the opening round of the CSA concluded, with the top five books moving on to the finals. The voting was razor-thin close. In fact we had to resort to second and third choices to break a tie. Here are the books that made the cut (listed in alphabetical order by the author’s last name):

    Liberator by Bryan Davis
    A Throne of Bones by Vox Day
    Mortal by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee
    Prophet by R. J. Larson
    Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Voting started yesterday and will last until midnight, July 28.

In conjunction with the award, I’m happy to announce that author Robert Treskillard agreed to design the CSA e-medallion which the winning author may display. I’ll need to check with the other sponsors about when we’ll have the unveiling of it.

Second, the team site featuring a discussion of speculative fiction from a Christian viewpoint, Speculative Faith, has been experiencing constant problems. Some weeks ago a hacker successfully shut the site down and ever since there have been problems. After trying one thing and then another, our patient and persistent webmaster, Stephen Burnett, decided it was time to move. Consequently, as part of the process of changing servers, Spec Faith has a new address. It’s actually in keeping with the nickname we use most often. So tell your friends to change their bookmarks from http://www.speculativefaith to http://www.specfaith.com

I wish I had good news for the CSFF Blog Tour. BOTH books we were planning to tour in July are snagged somewhere. None of us have received one and only half of us have received the other. And reading is such fun during the summer months! Here’s hoping.

At least I got a fantasy in the mail today–Dragonwitch by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. The cover is beautiful, and I met the title character in the last book I read in the Tales of Goldstone Woods series, so I’m eager to dive into this one.

Dark Halo RT ReviewGood news from author Shannon Dittemore about the third book in her Angel Eyes trilogy. The highly regarded Romantic Times Book Review journal gave Dark Halo a 4-star review. Most authors would agree this is much-desired recognition from an influential publication.

Speaking of review periodicals, Facebook friend and fellow author Carole McDonnell reported that three of her short fiction works have been recognized by the noteworthy online review magazine, Tangent. They made the Tangent 2012 recommended reading list.

And finally, I learned of yet another Christian speculative author: Krista McGee. Her latest, Anomaly, which released July 9, has been touted as science fiction, but it could just as easily be categorized as post-apocalyptic fantasy. Here’s the teaser–see what you think.

Thalli has fifteen minutes and twenty-three seconds left to live. The toxic gas that will complete her annihilation is invading her bloodstream. But she is not afraid.

Decades before Thalli’s birth, the world ended in a nuclear war. But life went on deep underground, thanks to a handful of scientists known as The Ten. Since then, they have genetically engineered humans to be free from emotions in the hopes that war won’t threaten their lives again.

But Thalli was born with the ability to feel emotions and a sense of curiosity she can barely contain. She has survived so far thanks to her ability to hide those differences. But Thalli’s secret is discovered when she is overwhelmed by the emotion in an ancient piece of music.

She is quickly scheduled for annihilation, but her childhood friend, Berk, convinces The Ten to postpone her death and study her instead. While in the scientists’ Pod, Thalli and Berk form a dangerous alliance, one strictly forbidden by the constant surveillance in the pods.

As her life ticks away, she hears rumors of someone called the Designer—someone even more powerful than The Ten. What’s more, the parts of her that have always been an anomaly could in fact be part of a much larger plan. And the parts of her that she has always guarded could be the answer she’s been looking for all along.

Thalli must sort out what to believe and who she can trust, before her time runs out…

There you have it, friends–voting, blog visiting, book buying. It’s a busy summer in the Christian speculative fiction world. 😀

Published in: on July 19, 2013 at 6:56 pm  Comments Off on Fantasy Friday – News You Can Use  
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Fantasy Friday – The Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction


CSAbutton 2013Over at Speculative Faith I’ve been going on and on for some time about the Clive Staples Award, but I realized today, I haven’t said anything about it here.

After two moderately successful years, the CSA looked as if it might be dead in the water, but this year Spec Faith is hosting it, still as a readers’ choice award, but with the support of an up and coming speculative writers’ conference, Realm Makers.

I’ve posted on the standards a best book ought to have (here and here). I’ve posted on the books eligible for nomination and about the eligibility of voters. I’ve posted the list of nominations and am currently featuring those books in Spec Faith news items, counting down to the beginning of our first round of voting. (See for example, today’s countdown post.)

Pretty much, if it needed saying, I said it. And probably a lot more that didn’t need saying. 😆

But I broke a cardinal rule. I didn’t tell the people I should have been telling–visitors here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction.

The point is, reader awards only work if readers vote. Not as some kind of popularity contest, but as a serious effort to identify which book readers think was tops. Of course, readers can’t vote if they don’t know about the award, so we need you and all your friends to talk up the Clive Staples Award to any and every reader you know, in case by some chance they might be an eligible voter and might want very much to participate.

What, you ask, qualifies one as an eligible voter? Nothing more than having read AT LEAST TWO of the nominated books. Two. Out of thirty-three.

Yep. We had a 57% increase in the number of nominated books, which necessitated us holding two rounds. Round one will determine the five finalists, and round two will pick the winner.

OK, here’s the list of books. See if you yourself might be eligible to vote.

Words in the Wind by Yvonne Anderson (Risen Books)

Daughter of Light by Morgan L. Busse (Marcher Lord Press)

Devil’s Hit List: Book Three of the UNDERGROUND by Frank Creed (Splashdown Books)

Liberator (Dragons of Starlight series) by Bryan Davis (Zondervan)

A Throne of Bones by Vox Day (Hinterlands / Marcher Lord Press)

Mortal (The Books of Mortals) by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee (FaithWords)

Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore (Thomas Nelson)

The Telling by Mike Duran (Realms Fiction)

Risk by Brock Eastman (P&R Publishing/Focus on the Family)

Live and Let Fly by Karina Fabian (Muse It Up Publishing)

I Am Ocilla by Diane Graham (Splashdown)

Seeking Unseen by Kat Heckenbach (Splashdown Books)

Remnant in the Stars by Cindy Koepp (Under The Moon)

The Unraveling of Wentwater (The Gates of Heaven Series) by C.S. Lakin (Living Ink Books)

Prophet by R. J. Larson (Bethany House)

Judge by R. J. Larson (Bethany House)

Spirit Fighter by Jerel Law (Thomas Nelson)

Fire Prophet by Jerel Law (Thomas Nelson)

The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead (Thomas Nelson)

The Wrong Enemy by Jane Lebak (MuseItUp Publishing)

Alienation (A C.H.A.O.S. novel) by Jon S. Lewis (Thomas Nelson)

Curse Bearer by Rebecca P Minor (Written World Communications)

Rift Jump by Greg Mitchell (Splashdown Darkwater)

Bid the Gods Arise by Robert Mullin (Crimson Moon Press)

Prophetess (Winter Book 2) by Keven Newsome (Splashdown Darkwater)

Failstate by John W. Otte (Marcher Lord Press)

Soul’s Gate by James Rubart (Thomas Nelson)

Starflower by Anne Elizabeth Stengl (Bethany House)

Moonblood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl (Bethany House)

Star Of Justice by Robynn Tolbert (Splashdown Books)

Daystar by Kathy Tyers (Marcher Lord Press)

The New Recruit by Jill Williamson (Marcher Lord Press)

Replication: The Jason Experiment by Jill Williamson (Zonderkidz)

Interesting fact: 15 women authors and 14 men had books nominated. The numbers don’t add up because one book has co-authors and several writers had more than one book nominated.

I mention this gender fact because one person commenting on a blog said something about all those women writers nominated for the CSA, as if that was a slur. Well, I’m a woman writer, so I don’t think it’s a slur at all, but I also believe in being accurate. A list that is mixed like this says a lot about who is writing Christian speculative fiction.

Interesting fact #2: 17 of the nominations were published by “big houses”–ones known most for traditional publishing models and associated with bookstores and the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association and 16 by smaller, newer, independent houses. Again, that balance seems like a big plus for Christian speculative fiction.

All that aside, the main thing you need to know for now: voting begins on Monday! Tell your friends and followers, please. 😀

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.

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