CSFF Blog Tour – The First Principle, Day 1


cover_TheFirstPrincipleThis month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring The First Principle by Marissa Shrock, a young adult novel produced by Kregel Publications.

Within the first few pages, it’s apparent that this book is another futuristic dystopian story, but there’s a twist. Instead of being in a group of outsiders, oppressed by the authoritative government, the protagonist, Vivica Wilkins, is the daughter of one of the ruling class. She’s been schooled in The Way Things Work, and knows what to expect. Why, then, is she bothered when Population Management tries to do their job?

This slim book (235 pages) packs a mighty punch, confronting relevant issues of our day. After all, seed for autocratic rule that makes a futuristic dystopian world possible, is sown decades before the fact.

Two things are clear from the start: only a state approved version of sacred texts is allowed, so Christians have to hide their Bibles and worship in secret; and birth is “managed” by the state, either through birth control, or in the event of a “problem,” through abortion.

Clearly, more than the seeds of the kind of state-controlled birth management revealed in the book are in place today. With Planned Parenthood receiving tax dollars to provide health services to women, including abortions, our government is already complicit in the deaths of millions of unborn babies.

Should our government now turn a blind eye to the selling of infant body parts, we will move further down the road of autocratic control, and ultimately of mandated abortion. So, yes, Marissa Shrock has exposed a pivotal and relevant issue, not simply in an imagined future world, but in our society today.

Other CSFF members participating in the blog tour for The First Principle include the following (check marks link to articles I’ve read):

Julie Bihn
Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
April Erwin
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Megan @ Hardcover Feedback
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
Jalynn Patterson
Chawna Schroeder
Jessica Thomas
Shane Werlinger

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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 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.

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