The True God Or Pretenders

The-Light-of-Eidon-coverAs my wont is during this time of year, I picked up a fantasy, this time Karen Hancock‘s Light of Eidon, first in the four-book Legends of the Guardian-King series. One of the central issues the plot deals with is false religion and true and telling the two apart.

Even though I’ve read the series before, as I dived into the first book, I was once again swept into the dilemma of those characters sincerely wanting to worship God and not knowing how or even who he is.

The story underlines the fact that there are those who embrace religion or a particular religion or religious activity, but who nevertheless don’t know God. Just like in real life, there are those who claim they have the truth and all others are dangerous heretics. Then there are others who say, no, they have the truth and the first group is deluded and full of liars.

I can see if a person looked at religions as a smorgasbord of beliefs, the whole thing could be confusing. Are the Hindus with their pantheon of thousands of gods right? Or are the Buddhists with their focus on self and enlightenment? Or perhaps the Muslims or Mormons with their strict moral codes might be on the right track. Then there are the Jews with their traditions. And when we come to Christianity, are Catholics on the right track by adhering to the laws and practices passed down through the Church, particularly through the Pope, or are Protestant groups who loudly proclaim some Latin phrase about the Bible and nothing but the Bible?

Confusing! And that short overview doesn’t take into account the array of lesser known religions and pagan belief systems.

The thing is, looking at religion is the wrong way around. The real question isn’t which religion is right. The real question is, who is God and how can we know Him?

Some people don’t want to know God. They don’t like the idea of a “cosmic tyrant” or an omnipotent dictator. They’d just as soon tiptoe into the shadows and ignore Him—maybe treat Him the way they do the government: give Him the minimum (maybe a church service around Christmas or Easter) and run to Him or rail at Him when things go bad.

Other people have a strong sense that this world is not all there is, and they want to be sure to plan ahead just in case.

Still others know in their soul that . . . well, that they have a soul. They recognize that they are this complex combination of physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and volitional dimensions. They note that we have a moral compass, a sense of right and wrong that sets us apart from the animals. And they see things that don’t make sense unless someone greater is in charge. Quite often people such as this set out to discover who this someone is or to prove that such a someone does NOT exist.

In all this, how can someone “find God”?

Truth be told, none of us can. That’s much like saying we’re going to find a black hole. We can make educated guesses about the existence of black holes and we can postulate where they are by what we see isn’t there, but “finding” a black hole is more or less to find nothing.

God, on the other hand, finds us.

He enters into our world with His presence, His prophets, His written word, His Son made flesh, and tells us what He’s like, what He plans, and how we can be a part.

Most of all—and this is how the One True God distinguishes Himself from the pretenders—God provides the means by which we can reach Him and know Him. All other religions and systems and beliefs require humans to pull up their socks and do their best and hope it’s good enough. Good enough to reach enlightenment, good enough to get a better life in the reincarnation, good enough for God to overlook the bad, good enough to make this life meaningful since that’s all there is.

The One True God does what none of the pretenders can do: He ensures our right standing with Him by doing what we can’t do for ourselves. He knows we’re not good enough. He knows we can’t find Him on our own or figure out what’s right. So He tells us (in the Bible) and He shows us (through His Son).

The ultimate and absolute proof of the One True God is His decision to pay what we owe Him. Pretenders ask for insatiable payment: no amount is enough—no amount of trying hard, of devotion, of meditation, of contemplation. The One True God flat out rejects our puny efforts, stating that we can’t possibly do from our imperfection what only perfection can accomplish.

Far from leaving us in that impossible state, however, He then steps in as our substitute and pays. For us.

There’s only One True God who sets us free from guilt and shame and the burden of an impossible-to-keep law—not by ditching the law or His requirements for perfection, but by accepting His own payment on our behalf.

The religious term is grace: the One True God is the Only One who extends grace to those He made and who He loves. By His grace He reveals His character. None of the pretenders has an ounce of grace to offer.

Christian Fiction And The Christian Worldview

Earlier this week I wrote the following:

Sower_oilGiving the good news [of Jesus Christ], however, doesn’t look the same for every single person. Some are preachers, some serve. Some prepare the soil, some plant, some water. All parts of the process are necessary for a harvest. But one thing is true—wheat doesn’t come up by accident. (“A Look At What’s Most Important.”)

I think that paragraph summarizes my views about Christian fiction about as well as anything I could write on the subject. But sometimes particulars are lost in metaphors, so I want to elaborate a little on this topic.

First, I’m aware that some readers and some publishers equate “safe fiction” with Christian fiction. That view is in error. Christianity is not the same as morality. For example, Mormon fiction can have a “true love waits” theme as much as can Christian fiction; fiction written from a secular humanist worldview can have a tolerance theme that looks similar to a “love your neighbor” theme you might find in Christian fiction.

The externals that so many look to as the definition of “safe”—no bad language, no sex scenes, a minimum of violence—can be true in movies like Wall-e or in DVDs like Veggie Tales.

Consequently, no matter what marketing or promotional blurbs say, safe does not equal Christian. Anyone saying otherwise is closing their eyes to an attempt to usurp the term Christian and make it over to mean something it is not.

Secondly, Christian is not the same as theistic. Consequently, a story that includes or even centers on a belief in God is not the same as Christian fiction. That fact should be clear from Scripture:

You believe that God is One; you do well. The demons also believe and shudder. (James 2:16)

A story like Gilead, then, with a pastor who does not pass on the gospel to his son in the last moments of his life, may speak of God, but can’t be understood as a Christian story based solely on those pronouncements.

So what makes a story Christian or what does fiction written from a Christian worldview look like? I think we have to take a step back and ask, what defines a Christian or Christianity?

I think there are several key components:

    * Humans have a bent toward sin to which we’re chained.
    * This human failing creates a rift between us and God, who made humans in His likeness.
    * God Himself solved the rift problem when Jesus switched us out and Himself in as the One to bear our sins in His body on the cross.
    * The net result is that God rescued us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His Son.
    * As members of God’s kingdom, we are His heirs, in His family, part of His body.

Christian fiction or stories written from a Christian worldview do not have to have all those components, either explicitly or implicitly. In addition they might have moral components shared by any number of other worldviews.

Nevertheless, something unique to the Christian faith must be part of the story, if it is to be Christian in any capacity. Again, this “something unique to the Christian faith” does not have to be overt. It can be, certainly. But it doesn’t have to be.

There are wonderful stories by authors like Kathryn Cushman that show people of faith struggling to follow God and live as members of His family. Key components of that which is unique to Christianity are clear in and through each story.

Other stories, like Karen Hancock‘s Guardian-King fantasy series also show these same unique components, but from a somewhat allegorical approach.

Still others like Anne Elisabeth Stengl‘s Tales of Goldstone Wood rely on symbology. Nothing is overt, but the unique components of Christianity are in operation throughout each story, shown through symbols.

Another type of story such as general market author R. J. Anderson‘s Faery Rebel, communicates components of the Christian faith through metaphor, much the way the Old Testament does. Isasc portrayed the promised Messiah and Abraham, the Father willing to sacrifice him; the Passover lamb pictures the sacrifice Jesus would make to remove sins; Moses portrayed Jesus as the Mediator between God and man; David depicted the Messiah as King, and so on.

These stories are best referred to as Christian worldview stories. The unique Christian components are easily missed, but they serve an important purpose one way or the other: they show readers of all stripe what redemption or sacrifice or rescue or sinning against a loving authority looks like, without actually naming God or drawing any overt parallels.

Recently at Ruby Slippers Media for Fiction Friday I posted a short story entitled “Haj” that I think falls into this latter category. Last week, however, I posted another story, “At His Table,” that is best described as overt, including faith components unique to Christianity. The first I’d call Christian worldview fiction and the second Christian fiction.

One last point: while I think writing is a wonderful opportunity for the Christian to pass along his faith, I also believe there are other legitimate reasons a Christian might write fiction that is not Christian and does not communicate his Christian worldview. However, those who choose to use their writing as an avenue to reflect what is unique to the Christian faith have a variety of ways to accomplish this, one not superior in any way to the others.

The fact is, God can use gold and silver drinking vessels, and he can use ordinary clay pots that might contain water turned to wine. It’s not up to us to determine what kind of story God will use.

Fantasy Friday – Bethany House Adds Another Fantasy Author

Bethany House is one of the more interesting Christian publishing houses when it comes to speculative fiction. First, they contracted Karen Hancock for her science fantasy Arena, which, by the way, they’ve just re-released with a new cover. That novel went on to win a Christy Award, as did Karen’s next three titles–the opening trilogy of her four-book The Guardian King series.

You’d think Bethany would be ecstatic as slowly fantasy fans learned of Karen and the availability of actual, well-written Christian fantasy. I have no way of knowing what their reaction was, but apparently ecstatic would be a stretch because they went the next ten years without another speculative author.

Karen continues to publish with them. After she completed The Guardian King series with Return of the Guardian King, she went on to publish another science fantasy entitled The Enclave and is currently working on a similar type of book. But other speculative authors? Apparently Bethany was happy to stand pat. They had the speculative genre covered.

At long last, however, the publishing house that first opened the door to Christian fantasy has brought in a handful of other authors. First was Anne Elisabeth Stengl, and she just happened to win back-to-back Christy Awards. Apparently Bethany has an eye for quality!

Now they have also included R. J. Larson, who writes what might be considered Biblical fantasy, and Patrick W. Carr, whose first novel, A Cast of Stones, begins The Staff & The Sword series–good old fashion, unadorned, regular Christian fantasy.

Larson’s debut novel Prophet released April 1 this year, and as it happens, Bethany House has a one-day promotional ebook give-away coming up on August 14. The second in the series, Judge, is due to release in November.

Carr’s A Cast of Stones is due out in February 2013. For Bethany House, this feels almost like an explosion of fantasy!

I’m happy about a couple things: first, the obvious–they are expanding the number of titles. But I’m also happy that they seem to be diversifying somewhat so that not every fantasy is like the others. Stengl’s books, beginning with Heartless (also part of the promotional package and available free as an ebook on August 24), and continuing with Veiled Rose, Moonblood, and Starflower, due to release in November also, are fairytale fantasy, which is quite different from Hancock, certainly, and from Larson’s Biblical fantasy or Carr’s epic fantasy. In addition, as I noted earlier, apparently Bethany is paying attention to quality–something I’ve felt is essential if fantasy is to grow as a genre in Christian publishing.

So, good on you, Bethany! I’m happy this publisher is joining Zondervan, WaterBrook/Multnomah, and Thomas Nelson as well as the smaller houses like AMG and Marcher Lord Press to put out more Christian fantasy.

Fantasy Friday – Introducing Jill Williamson

What is it about Alaska? Seems like more and more Christian novelists are from Alaska — Sally Apokedak, Sibella Giorello, and Jill Williamson.

Of course Jill doesn’t really need an introduction. After all, she’s won two Christy Awards for the first two books she published — By Darkness Hid and To Darkness Fled (Marcher Lord Press) — and I suspect her third, From Darkness Won, will be up for nomination next year.

Rarely does a novelist enter the publishing world and find such acclaim so quickly. The only other writer I can think of is another fantasy author — Karen Hancock who won four straight Christys with her first four published novels.

That should tell you what kind of writer Jill is. What readers might not know is that she once had aspirations as a fashion designer.

After graduating from her high school and studying at the University of Alaska, she headed off to the lower forty-eight to attend college in Idaho where she ended up meeting her husband, Brad. Together they trundled to New York so that Jill could test the waters of the fashion industry by attending the Fashion Institute of Technology.

A year later, as planned, they moved to Los Angeles, this time so that Brad could explore his interest in the movie industry. As time passed, however, God changed the direction of their hearts, and they both became increasingly interested in ministry, particularly to young people.

Eventually Brad took a job as a full time youth minister. Jill hoped to develop her own speaking ministry too, and started writing articles for periodicals for teens as a means to that goal. In the process, she discovered fiction and began writing novels.

And she loved it! But what about her ministry goals? How did this little “writing hobby” fit in with what God was calling her to do? Thankfully her wise pastor encouraged her to continue with her writing as a way to connect with the teens she wants to reach.

And what, precisely, does she want to get across to her readers? “That God is the desire of our hearts.”

Now she and Brad — and their son — live in Eastern Oregon. Besides being a gifted writer and faithful wife, Jill is a mom and a speaker. Yes, she reached that speaker goal and does talks for schools and libraries and teaches at writing conferences and clinics for children, teens, and adults.

As far as Jill’s writing is concerned, she’s represented by Amanda Luedeke of the MacGregor Literary Agency and is contracted for a new series with Zondervan. In fact the first book Replication: The Jason Experiment is scheduled to release in December! While her Blood of Kings series could best be described as epic fantasy for all ages, Replication is a teen science fiction/suspense novel.

Under miscellaneous, I just have to add, Jill has very good taste in books and television shows — we have a number of the same ones listed in our interests at Facebook, which by the way is a great way to keep up with her. You might also want to follow her on Twitter.

For fans of her fiction, you can subscribe to her Podcast to hear her first novel and soon, a serialization of the second. One way or the other, I suggest you make room for the work of this talented writer. I might even suggest that her books, available at Marcher Lord Press, would make great Christmas presents for that reader in your family.

Fantasy Friday – The State Of The Genre

Author friend Mike Duran recently interviewed his agent Rachelle Gardner, discussing, of all things, Christian speculative fiction. I say “of all things” because Rachelle chooses not to represent fantasy or science fiction, though she will occasionally take a talent (like Mike) who writes supernatural suspense.

The odd thing to me about the interview is the “gloom and doom” tone regarding the future of speculative fiction in the market known as “CBA.” The abbreviation stands for Christian Booksellers Association, and does indicate who the heavy-weights calling the shots were some ten years ago.

But a couple things changed. One was “Left Behind.” With the huge sales of those Jerry Jenkins/Tim LaHaye books, suddenly big box stores wanted a piece of the Christian-fiction pie. Now books by Christians with Christian themes were finding their way into Walmart, Borders, and Target. CBA members no longer had an exclusive say on what books would get in front of the public.

Another thing that made a huge difference was the Internet. Now Amazon joined the party, and readers could voice their opinion about books and their quality in open, public forums.

Along with these two events was a cultural shift. Call it the Harry Potter factor. I tend to think the receptive nature of our society to a series about wizards fits with postmodern thinking and the awareness of the supernatural. In other words, Harry Potter didn’t “cause” it, but it came along when our culture was ready (as did the Lord of the Rings movies).

As far as Christian fiction is concerned, there wasn’t much interest in the speculative genre. The Christy Awards committee couldn’t even settle on a name for their award category that would encompass “those books.” (They finally settled on “Visionary”).

Winner of the first of four Christy Awards Hancock garnered

Karen Hancock came out of the starting blocks in 2002 with her first title, Arena (Bethany House), a science fantasy. She followed that the next year with The Light of Eidon, the first in her strictly fantasy Guardian-King series.

Since then, a good number of authors writing Christian fantasy have come and gone. Some have switched publishers, some are publishing independently, and some are continuing to publish with traditional houses.

Here are the ones I know:

      With AMG/Living Ink
      Scott Appleton
      Wayne Thomas Batson
      D. Barkley Briggs
      Bryan Davis
      C. S. Lakin

      With Bethany
      Karen Hancock

      With Crossway
      Bryan Litfin

      With Multnomah Books
      Chuck Black

      With Strang
      Eric Reinhold

      With Thomas Nelson
      Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper

      With Warner Press
      Christopher and Allan Miller

      With WaterBrook
      David Gregory
      Jeffrey Overstreet
      Donita K. Paul
      Andrew Peterson
      Jonathan Rogers

Mind you, these are just fantasy, not supernatural suspense or horror (such as Ted Dekker, Robert Liparulo, Tom Pawlik, or even John Olson, Eric Wilson, Mike Dellosso, or Mike Duran) though Gregory and Litfin might best be called dystopian fantasy.

What’s the point?

If “fantasy doesn’t sell” why are so many fantasy writers still getting contracts from traditional Christian publishing houses? Why has the number increased so sharply in less than ten years?

Granted, some books evidently had disappointing sales because there are authors who are no longer under contract. But I know authors writing women’s fiction who are in the same situation. Are we to conclude then that women’s fiction doesn’t sell in the “CBA market”?

As far as I can see, these are the facts:

1. Our culture is still fantasy hungry, though dystopian and urban are dominating rather than epic or medieval.

2. Mormon speculative fiction is doing especially well (see Orson Scott Card, Stephenie Meyers, Shannon Hale, et. al.)

3. Traditional Christian publishing houses continue to increase their number of fantasy authors.

From these facts, I conclude that there is no reason to believe Christian fantasy will not continue to grow. Sadly, Christian fantasy writers don’t have the support from our faith community like Mormons obviously do (for a variety of reasons). But that doesn’t mean there is NO support or that it isn’t growing.

Till now I haven’t even mentioned small presses like Marcher Lord Press or Splashdown Books that are focused exclusively on Christian speculative fiction.

Clearly there is a desire from readers for more than what the traditional houses are producing, but that doesn’t mean the traditional houses are not buying fantasy at all. They are. Cautiously, perhaps, especially in the wild, Wild West of publishing and the slowly recovering economy.

One of the commenters to Mike Duran’s interview suggested we pray for the publishing professionals. What a great idea! If a genre like fantasy can tell powerful stories that can touch people’s lives and glorify God, why would He not be pleased to see more of those stories come to light?

If we can’t support speculative fiction with our dollars or with our word-of-mouth promotion, perhaps we can pray. That’s the best kind of support anyway.

Fantasy Friday – Speculative Faith

Some of you who have been visiting here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction for a while know about the team blog Speculative Faith—a site set up by Stuart Stockton to discuss speculative fiction from the perspective of our Christian faith.

A number of writers participated. For a time Karen Hancock wrote regularly. Bryan Davis did a short series. We had interviews with editors like Nick Harrison (Harvest House) and with writers like Robert Liparulo. We did reviews and had lengthy discussions about books and movies alike. In short, it was a wonderful success.

But gradually, one writer after the other began to pull back. We were a loose organization and no one filled those gaps or took the lead to insure that each day had content.

I was the last of the regulars, and then my computer crashed. When I was back up and running, I had so many things to catch up on, and Spec Faith was low on the priority list. Then the spam set in. When our core group still wanting to see Spec Faith work took a look at the site, the clean-up alone seemed daunting.

In the end, we agreed to start afresh at WordPress. This time Stephen Burnett took the lead and began transferring posts and designing the new site. We began posting a couple weeks ago, with Stephen doing most of the writing. The next step was to secure regular writers, but we also wanted to include a good selection of guests.

I’m happy to report that the schedule is coming together. I’ll once again be writing on Mondays. Stuart will post on Tuesdays. New to the team is Rachel Starr Thomson, writing on Wednesdays (though she may share the slot—this detail is still being worked out). Then Steven will post on Thursdays. Fridays are the designated Guest Blogger Days.

We have invitations (and some acceptances) out to a number of writers. It should be an exciting lineup. All this to say, you are hereby invited to stop on over at Speculative Faith (affectionately known as Spec Faith 😉 ) and join in the discussions. We also are on Facebook and Twitter, so we’d love to have you follow us or friend us on those sites as well.

Good Works and Self-Help in Fiction

I read a couple blog posts this morning that put me off what I’d intended to write (about promoting books without compromising the principle of contentment). One was Karen Hancock’s post connected to a comment I made during the recent blog tour for her book The Enclave, and the second was a post by agent Rachelle Gardner about truth.

Karen focuses on human good as actually being a part of evil.

Rachelle talks about finding truth in secular sources. She deals particularly with secular entertainment and the TV show “Desperate Housewives.” The thing is, the “truth” she writes about seems to me to be a description of human good. Here are two telling quotes:

[The show] explores human truth at its essence, and is constantly pointing out how we all have so much good inside, but we all have a dark side too.

Then this one:

Even though Desperate Housewives has a reputation for being raunchy (and parts of it definitely are), the themes are solidly on the side of good morals.

I can’t help but think that both these posts, though they seem diametrically opposed, say something significant.

Karen Hancock backs her views about the vanity of Man’s goodness with Scripture. Irrefutable (though I disagree with other parts of the post).

Rachelle Gardner applauds a secular work for upholding Biblical concepts of right and wrong, for seeing the good in Man as well as the evil.

So the question is this: Does a work of literature, secular or Christian, that points to a moral good apart from God harm or help?

I asked in “More Thoughts about Worldview,” part of my recent Christian worldview posts,

Should our stories reinforce God’s Law? Or point to Him? Or to His grace? Or do we need a healthy mix of them all?

I think of the book of Judges in the Bible—all about Man doing what was right in his own eyes. And the consequences that came from such. Or the life of Daniel and his three friends, living as captives, yet holding to their faith no matter what.

These and many others in Scripture don’t connect the dots. There is no note in Judges to believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. There is no note in Daniel saying he was hoping in the coming Messiah.

In many regards, these stories can be misconstrued. Sunday school teachers can tell their little charges they should dare to be a Daniel or flee immorality. And they wouldn’t be wrong. Just incomplete.

Yet there are people out there trying to do good as part of a self-help program to reach God because they see good more often results in good things and bad, in bad.

So should Christian writers stop writing stories about moral living because their readers might mistake moral living as the answer? Or should we write more such stories because they will create a longing while simultaneously exposing the impossibility of living the good we know we should.

My thinking is, stories cannot tell the whole truth, even ones pointing to Christ (do they show He is both God and man? that He is a person in the trinity? that He is coming again? that He is prophet, priest, and king? I haven’t read a single story that shows Jesus completely the way the Bible does). Why do we think they should try?

Christians should write the story we believe God wants us to write, just as we should live all of our lives the way we believe God wants us to live—consistent with Scripture, guided by the Holy Spirit.

That my story looks different from someone else’s is probably a good thing. It means God can reach more people rather than the same audience over and over.

Published in: on July 29, 2009 at 11:06 am  Comments Off on Good Works and Self-Help in Fiction  
Tags: , , , ,

The Enclave – A Review

Today is a first. The CSFF Blog Tour for Karen Hancock’s recent science fiction/suspense release, The Enclave is overlapping the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance tour. That’s a lot of people blogging about one book today. 😀

Already a number of CSFF’ers have put up thoughtful commentary. I suggest you check out the posts by Elizabeth Williams, specifically her overall reactions and her closer look at the science aspect of this speculative story. I also recommend Fred Warren’s posts (start with this first one). Don’t let his humor and light tone fool you into discounting his insightful views. And be sure to read Karen’s latest commentary about The Enclave. You can find a complete list of the CSFF’ers participating in the tour here.

The Story. A research scientist, once discredited for his work with cloning, but now rich and famous, has constructed an institution in Arizona to examine longevity. Two of his new hires are Christians, one committed to his faith, the other struggling with doubts.

In another story thread, a young man living in a closed community—an enclave—revering the leader they know as Father, begins to suspect that not everything he’s been told and believed all his life is true.

Strengths. Karen Hancock’s writing is strong, borne out by the four Christy Awards she won for her first four novels. She creates scenes that transport readers into new places and has done so again in The Enclave. She describes characters in such a way they seem convincingly believable.

In addition, The Enclave introduces topics that Christians would do well to think about. The issue of cloning is at the forefront. What better way to explore the ethics of this kind of scientific “advancement” than through fiction?

Of equal importance is the exposure of the means and purposes of an anti-christ—a leader who knowingly takes the place of God before his followers.

In addition to these important topics, The Enclave has strong faith elements. A scientist who is a Christian believing in creation, not evolution; holding to the sanctity of life; willing to put himself in uncomfortable, even dangerous places because he believes God has called him to the task. In addition there is an interesting tangent that shows the power of God’s word.

In fact, my favorite part of the book is when the character Zowan, a member of the Enclave, struggles to understand the bits of the Bible he has found. The few pages he rescued from burning have the subtitle Key Study, and this is what he calls the book. He also, for the most part, thinks of God as I Am, since that’s the name He gave to Moses. Here’s some of that portion of the story:

Some of [Zowan’s] intensity was born out of his frustration at not having the entire book. His fragment ended midsentence in chapter twelve, yet its words and stories had only sparked more questions. What kind of book was this? Why had it been designated for burning? Who was this Lord God who was said to have created the world and man and placed him in it? Was He real, or just a character in a story? The pages implied He was real. And deep in his heart Zowan thought they might be right.

Moreover, if this Lord God was real … he might still exist. In the stories He spoke personally with the men who served Him—Adam, Noah, and Abram. Might He still speak with those who served Him? He wondered, too, why no one in the Enclave had ever mentioned Him or the Key Study story, seeing as how New Eden bore the same name as the garden God had made in the first chapter of Genesis. Surely whoever had given New Eden its name had known of the book ….

Other strengths. The story was fast paced and engaging. I was thoroughly entertained and looked forward to reading the book every chance I could get. The plot was anything but simplistic. But that leads to the other side of the ledger.

Weaknesses. My main “complaint” was that the story went too fast in the end. I felt that the plot was sufficiently dense to require another two hundred or more pages, maybe even another book.

Lots of new ideas came to light towards the end—what happened to the missing girls, what were in the hidden boxes, how the enclave came into being, what was behind the protagonist’s post traumatic stress flashbacks—but these new threads and some of the old ones seemed to receive a hurried pass rather than full development.

Recommendation. If the first four hundred pages were book one of a series, I would be jumping out of my skin—enthused by the story, eager for the second half. But that “second half,” including a hurried conversion under less than believable circumstances (would Zowan really be fixated on his questions about the Key Study when he’d just discovered his whole life had been a lie and he was in danger of capture and death?) seemed too compressed. And still, I highly recommend The Enclave. Anyone who misses it will be the poorer. The topics it introduces are important, the faith it shows is encouraging. And besides, the story is just plain fun to read.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Enclave, Day 2

csffbuttonHave I mentioned recently how much I love CSFF blog tours? We really do have a wonderful group of bloggers writing about some of the newest and best Christian speculative literature. This month the tour is featuring The Enclave by Karen Hancock, and we’ve already had a good number of articles. (For a list, with links to specific articles, see CSFF Blog Tour–The Enclave by Karen Hancock.)

If you’d like to read an excellent summary/set up so you know what the book is about without having the ending spoiled, I suggest going to Valerie Comer’s first tour post. For a wonderful interview with Karen, visit Jason Joyner’s blog. By the way, Jason is one of perhaps a dozen participants (along with Rachel Starr Thomson, new CSFF member Dona Watson, Julie, Katie Hart and others) who are giving away a copy of The Enclave. Also, don’t miss Karen’s blog in which she is answering questions put to her by her publisher in preparation for the book release.

I’ve been thinking a lot about The Enclave these last few days, as you would expect. Of course I’ll write a review—that’s sort of a given—but what else? There’s so much here. The book touches on the issue of cloning, but with equal power, the issue of religious cults and idolizing a leader.

But this morning I was listening to an Alistair Begg sermon in which he said something I’d never heard before. Faith, rather than serving as a crutch, often puts a believer into hard circumstances a non-believer will never experience.

And that, I realized, was a critical element in The Enclave. You see, this novel is quite different from Karen’s others. Rather than having an other world setting, the story takes place here. Consequently, characters aren’t introduced to God allegorically or metaphorically, but they are or are not believers in Jesus Christ.

Since this is science fiction, the story takes place primarily in a scientific research center, where most of the scientists scoff at faith, even as they try to play god by manipulating the human genome.

The protagonists, however, are both Christians—one a committed believer, one drifting. Both have their faith tested. Both must make decisions about what they will or won’t do, and their faith, rather than simplifying their choices, muddies the water.

They can go with the majority, renounce their beliefs, equivocate, even lie, and gain status, honor, advancement. Or they can hold to their faith and be discredited, mocked, black-balled.

How like the real world. Some of the pressure the characters faced was “friendly fire.” They were charmed, flattered, and promised the things they longed for, by people of prominence.

Their faith? Far from being a crutch, it was in the way. If God is who He says He is, a clash with the way the world works is inevitable. And The Enclave didn’t shy away from showing this clash in a memorable way.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Enclave by Karen Hancock

When I think of Karen Hancock (pictured here, circa 1960), author of this month’s CSFF Blog Tour feature, The Enclave, I think of “groundbreaking” … and envy.

Yeah, OK, for whatever reason, I’ve been doing a lot of True Confessions of late. Here’s the story. As far back as 1991 I finished book one of a fantasy series. Though it caught the attention of the director of a local writers’ institute and ended up at the pub board of a noted Christian publisher, they rejected it.

So years passed. I picked up a hobby—painting in watercolors—and continued to dabble in writing. Until the day God opened an opportunity for me to approach my writing seriously.

As part of that endeavor, I attended a different, smaller, local writers’ conference where an enthusiastic conferee pulled out a copy of a book entitled Light of Eidon, a Christian fantasy by an author and watercolor artist named Karen Hancock.

And here’s the confession. She’s living the life I want, I thought. Publishing books, selling paintings! I want to do that. YIKES! That’s hard to put out there for public consumption. That’s pretty much the definition of envy, I think.

So here’s one of the important things I’ve learned, and I have Karen to thank in part, though of course she has no way of knowing it: God uses the process of writing fiction and the way the book business works to refine my character. Big news flash, right? 😀

I’ve had to learn the envy lesson and many others along this writing journey (patience, trust, humility, kindness, any number of things). God is faithful. He uses the very things He calls us to, to teach us more of Himself.

But what’s the “groundbreaking” part? Karen has stepped out time and again to do something risky as far as the Christian publishing industry is concerned. Her first published work, Arena, was a fairly straightforward science-fantasy allegory of the Christian life … something that hadn’t been done since, oh, I don’t know, Pilgrim’s Progress?

I had no idea at the time what an anomaly it was for a Christian publisher to do such a risky thing as dip into fantasy. 😉 But there was more ground to break.

Karen began a true fantasy, the epic Legends of the Guardian King series. The story had a male protagonist, too, which supposedly Christian publishers frown upon. And after book one, which worked well as a stand-alone, the series morphed into one epic tale (much as the Harry Potter series did). Wonderfully, Karen’s work has been well received. In fact, as far as I know, she is the only person who has won four Christy Awards.

But back to “groundbreaking.” In this day when authors are expected to get out and plug their books, Karen maintains a blog and website, but does no speaking or book signings (that I know of) on principle. She wants to invest her time on the job God has given her—writing fiction.

Here’s another one. While any number of writers are turning out books every six months, Karen takes a year or two with her writing. Her care with craft shows.

Needless to say, I’m happy the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring The Enclave. As it happens the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance will also be touring it starting on Thursday. A whole week of book buzz!

By the way, a number of CSFF bloggers will be giving away copies of The Enclave, so you’ll want to visit the other participants on the tour:

This list was updated Thursday morning, July 23. Click on a check mark to go directly to the post.

And check out what Karen Hancock is saying in connection with the tour.

Published in: on July 20, 2009 at 11:24 am  Comments (16)  
Tags: , ,
%d bloggers like this: