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)  
Tags: , , , ,

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.

Fantasy Friday – The Short Version


Congratulations to John Otte, the latest winner of the CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award.

I had the plumber here all morning (second time this week), but things are looking up. No hot water because of a gas snafu in the laundry room of our apartment building, but now that’s taken care of (no cold shower tomorrow or boiling water for dishes—I feel like I’ve been camping out! 😉 )

Anyway, in spite of all that, I posted a guest blog article by Jonathan Rogers over at Speculative Faith. Jonathan is an exceptional author and his newest book, The Charlatan’s Boy, released this Wednesday.

You’ll be hearing more about the book because it is the CSFF feature for November. But for now, check out the cover and Jonathan’s interesting ideas about writing American fantasy.

Then this afternoon, I had a good writing session. I’m working on a section of book 4 of The Lore of Efrathah that needed to be fleshed out. It’s fun, fun, fun, to be writing new material again.

Unfortunately, that put blogging at the end of the day, and I’ll be honest, my brain is fried. I had a great topic all worked out this morning as I was doing dishes, but it’s left me.

The best I can do is to tell you to go read Jonathan’s article.

Published in: on October 8, 2010 at 6:59 pm  Comments Off on Fantasy Friday – The Short Version  
Tags: , ,

CSFF Blog Tour – Starlighter by Bryan Davis, Day 2


Time, time, there’s not enough time to read all the interesting things CSFF bloggers are saying about Starlighter, Bryan Davis‘s recent release, the first in the Dragons of Starlight series (Zondervan). There are a couple posts, however, you won’t want to miss.

For a wonderful, detailed account of the story, see Jeff Chapman‘s day two post. Also in day two, Fred Warren took a look at how the Starlight dragons compare to others in the dragon tradition. For discussion about the mixture of science fiction and fantasy that seemed to snag some readers, see John Otte‘s day two post.

Me, I’ve been thinking about betrayal.


* * * SPOILER ALERT – Of necessity, some discussion of plot points ahead * * *

On both worlds featured in Starlighter, Starlight and Darksphere, the leaders seem to be corrupt. While giving the appearance of doing what is good for their people, they are actually trying to achieve some particular personal goals.

At this point in the series, the goals are not clear, but my supposition is that rulers on one planet wish for power and those on the other, for wealth. Whatever the reason, they are willing to do unspeakable things to achieve their ends—enslave a group of people by breaking the wills of children, selling children into slavery and lying about it, working against those who would rescue the lost.

How did such greedy or power-hungry people (or dragons) come to positions of prominence? So far the story doesn’t really go there (nor do I think it necessarily needs to), but on one planet intrigue and deception, suppression and assassination seem to rule. On the other, the pretense of following the law is in place, but this is for appearances only. Lies and manipulation and treachery and rebellion are strong undercurrents running through the power structure.

A few observations.

  • Betrayal makes for intriguing plot elements. Thinking of Starlighter in particular, I soon found myself questioning who was on the side of right and who the protagonists could actually trust.
  • Betrayal is something endemic to human nature, so we can all understand it, we can all abhor it. Consequently, characters in dark circumstances because of betrayal, or a misuse of power, are immediately sympathetic.
  • Abuse of power might be a defining element for a villain. Writing instructors often point out that an antagonist isn’t necessarily a villain. He may simply be someone who wants the same thing that the protagonist does. He isn’t evil, but in his efforts to fulfill his desires, he comes into direct conflict with the protagonist. The villain, however, has something else besides a strong desire. He has selfish motives. And he has power which he uses to achieve his personal agenda—which also comes into conflict with the hero’s goals.

I could go on. Lots to consider in thinking about corrupt leadership. But for other insights, discussions, reviews, and interviews, see what the other tour participants are posting (links to specific posts listed at the end of yesterday’s post).

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

We Have Winners


Multiple winners have emerged from the just-concluded CSFF Blog Tour for Donita Paul’s latest release, DragonLight.

Starting with the CSFF tour itself. Thirty-nine bloggers participated in the tour, with a higher number than ever posting all three days.

Fantasy won too. Of the thirty-seven individual sites participating, a whopping forty percent where run by men. For those of you who know that the audience for Christian fiction is supposedly eighty percent women, you quickly see the fantasy tour had a better 60/40 gender balance. Christian fantasy, I conclude, is drawing in the untapped male market, but not losing women readers.

DragonLight won. On the list of Popular Books on Technorati, DragonLight landed in the number one spot on Tuesday before dropping to number four (where it still remains, behind three books by James Scott Bell, CFBA’s featured author). Impossible to know what part the CSFF tour played on DragonLight‘s Amazon ranking, but it dropped from the 8000’s a week ago to 4500 today, and the seven-day ranking was another thousand points lower (the shrinking number being better).

The DragonKeeper Chronicles won. Numerous bloggers reviewed the earlier books, re-read them, recommended them, and even bought them. Three of the five had a significant dip in their Amazon ranking—again something the tour may or may not have affected.

Participant bloggers won. Good discussion went on at a number of sites. My own visitor numbers spiked. Comments from our featured author, Donita Paul spoke directly to what the bloggers commented—a plus for those regularly visiting the sites.

Of course, one particular participant won. I’m referring to the recipient of the CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award for July 2008. This was another tough, tough decision because we had some excellent discussion, some posts with creative content, and views that were well thought out. But for his Four posts, including the “0 Day” recap of the earlier DragonKeeper books, the award goes to John Otte.

Which brings us to our final winner. I held a What’s Wrong with This Picture contest, and the winner who first correctly identified the fact that Donita has in fact written for children was Katie Hart, one of our CSFF Blog Tour charter members. As a prize, she will receive one of the specialty t-shirts provided by our author.

%d bloggers like this: