Friday, May 25, 2007

Baptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic

The Wikipedia article on Biblical Speculative Fiction mentions two stages in its history (at least in the evangelical Protestant sphere): the early phase in which a salvation message is spotlighted, though it is technically not necessary to the plot proper, and a later, more miraculous, phase in which divine intervention is fundamental to the plot. (The example given for the latter is Frank Peretti's work.)

I would suggest a three-part scheme--Baptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic--not relating to the theological distinctives of those groups but to their style. Thus,

Baptist--emphasis on a formalistic, scripture-intensive presentation. God answers prayer, but he acts in ways that appear mostly coincidental. No miracles, thank you! The spiritual dimension mostly explains character motivation, so the story could technically be re-written as a moral, secular piece.

Pentecostal--more emphasis on the individual's experience of God, though doctrinal issues are still important. God answers prayer, even if it involves direct, miraculous intervention. Demonic forces are also more vividly portrayed. The spiritual dimension is crucial to the story.

Charismatic--less emphasis on the specific teaching of a specific denomination, more openness to other views, especially Catholic. Unity of the Body of Christ is often a theme. Again, the spiritual aspect is fundamental to the story.

As an example of this most recent phase, in the anthology Light at the Edge of Darkness, not only is one of the writers (Steve Doyle) Catholic, other writers, such as Adam and Andrea Graham and Stephen Rice (yeah, that's me), offer positive portrayals of Catholics that probably wouldn't have occurred in earlier Protestant fiction.

Another example is the increased cooperation across denominational lines in promotional efforts. Thus, Karina L. Fabian, one of the editors of the Catholic sci-fi anthology Infinite Space, Infinite God, has helped promote various Christian authors, especially through her chatroom interviews on FabChat. A quick Google of her anthology will show how many other groups have returned the favor. Would that have happened even ten years ago? I think not.

The question is, will this truly prove to be a new phase, or will we return to the more insular writing of the past? That question remains unanswered, but in Biblical Speculative Fiction, there is always hope--Light at the Edge of Darkness.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Crouching Matrix, Hidden Christians--Leaping Lizards!

From time to time I'll review or just write about a book, and I thought I'd start off with Flashpoint by Frank Creed. I got the idea when a golden-eyed guy in a duster tossed me a copy and then began minutely inspecting his sword.

So where do I begin? Flashpoint is roughly a Christian answer to the Matrix, but most of the action (including sword fights and martial arts displays) occurs in the real world, courtesy of combined high tech and spiritual power, so there's a certain amount of Americanized wuxia going on, too. And it all happens in a not-too-distant future where the U.S. has surrendered its sovereignty to foreign powers in the name of security. Christians, meanwhile, have been branded as terrorists and driven underground.

But some of the underground Christians got a high-tech power-up when a believing scientist working for the government defected to the underground with some toys that turned out to offer both physical and spiritual enhancements to the so-called terrorists. The Christians now seek to rescue their own and wake up Americans to what has happened to them and their country. Enter a couple of teens with more experience in cyberspace than in the real world, and the whole situation becomes even weirder.

Does it work? The Elfwood community, a secular site for speculative fiction, thought so: Flashpoint earned the 2006 Best Science Fiction Novel award there. The action is intense, the characters are lifelike against a larger-than-life background, and the spiritual points in general are well presented.
I checked for further reactions with some of the many characters in my head. Murray the Alchemist from "At the Mountains of Lunacy" (featured in the anthology Light at the Edge of Darkness) said, "Eh, it's okay. But with a title like Flashpoint, it should have a lot more explosions. I mean, swords and all that jumping around are for people without the right chemicals!"
The response from the League of Superheroes crew was more involved, so I'll let them comment tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Mike and Bob on Synonyms

“Well, at least it’s a good day for a walk,” Bob said.
“Speak for yourself,” Mike replied. “I’m going to saunter.”
“‘Saunter’? Why not ‘walk’?”
“Too pedestrian. No, we must eschew the tired words that normal people use and punch up our dialog with stark, striking synonyms.”
“Keep it up, and you’ll be using words ordinary people don’t know.”
“Ha! It’s more than that: a lot of writers use words they themselves don’t know. They sneak up on a thesaurus, club it senseless, and rummage around in its pages for a fresh, new word that they don’t know how to use correctly. It’s called creativity.”
“They don’t check in a dictionary?”
“An amateur’s move. Sometimes they do, if they’re unusually literate, but the point of a dictionary is to tell you how to interpret the behavior of a word you encounter out in the wild. It doesn’t tell you how to make a convincing puppet of one that’s already stuffed and mounted in a thesaurus.”
“So the moral is, Don’t use a word you aren’t already familiar with.”
“And the corollary is, Read the work of literate writers—which pretty much means nothing modern.”
“I’ll saunter to that.”
“Good. We can avoid the quotidian vocables of—”
“Hold on thar!” a new voice called from one side. It emanated from a bearded object who had probably been run out of Central Casting for impersonating a cliché.
“What are you?” Mike asked.
“Don’t y’all mean, ‘Who’?”
“Not yet. I thought we’d start with ‘what’ and continue if it looked promising.”
“Well, what do I look like?”
“Like proof that a mad geneticist spliced DNA from Gabby Hayes and Slim Pickens. Did they throw you out of Texas for perpetuating a stereotype?”
“That’s a lie! I’m one of them culchural imbassiters.”
“Okay, that exceeds my interest level. Back to sauntering.”
“Now y’all just hold on. Y’all can’t go saunterin’ past mah store.”
Bob and Mike turned to investigate the establishment. A sign proclaimed the site “Gabby Pickens Western,” followed by several crossed out words that approximated “emporium.” The word “Store” was scrawled at the bottom.
“Okay,” Mike began, “if we can’t saunter, do you want us to walk?”
“Y’ dang dudes! Y’all gotta mosey!”
“Oh, very well. Let me borrow your hat.”
“Rental’s five bucks an hour.”
Mike removed the hat from the man’s head and seemed completely unsurprised to find another underneath. He set it upon his own head very precisely and proceeded to execute a slow, experimental circle.
“Now, that’s moseyin’!” the storeowner beamed.
“Bob, take note: I’ve just confirmed that ‘moseying’ is sauntering with a cowboy hat.”
The cowjoke bristled. “What! Well if y’all are so clever, what’s sashayin’?”
“‘Sashaying’ is sauntering with a cowboy hat and not enough talcum powder.”
“Y’ durn dude! Are y’all from Dallas? I oughta fill y’all fulla lead.”
“First, you should have your hat back. You wouldn’t want to damage it.”
“Well, that’s right—Hey! Why’d it get so dark of a sudden?”
“Total solar eclipse?” Mike suggested helpfully as he adjusted the hat at jaw level.
“Agin? That’s the third time this mornin’! An’ it’s always gone when I git mah hat off.”
“Come on, Bob; time to go.”
“I think we should run.”
“Too banal. Let’s dash.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

So What's an Ansric, Anyway?

The first novel I started was A World Apart, intended to be the beginning of a series. It involved some kids who wind up on an earthlike planet after an advanced experiment goes wrong. One of the people they meet--the mentor for the main character--is called Ansric sometimes. They eventually discover that it is a title. His people are (or were) very intelligent and long-lived, with above average strength and dexterity. They were also extremely xenophobic and perhaps had psychotic tendencies. (No one's perfect.)

But they also had malcontents who insisted on questioning traditions and wondering what was going on outside. These people were sent out--almost exiled--to keep an eye on the Outsiders and report on whatever they were up to. These exile-spies were ansrics. They were respected and feared--well, feared, anyway--by their countrymen and kept their return visits short, to the relief of all concerned.

Now, everyone feels alone at some level: no one feels completely known and understood. I don't claim to be unique there. But I am an ansric of sorts: I have stepped outside of my usual world--standard evangelicals--and had a look outside. Whatever you think is a standard Christian, I'm probably not it. But unlike many who leave in a huff without having a really good look at their birthplace, I haven't rejected the people and ideas I grew up with--I'm no atheist or Neo-Pagan, for example--I have just checked out the other groups living in Ecclesia. And the Church (in the large sense) is the foundation of my thinking and creativity.

So what topics are we looking at? Languages, words, writing (mostly speculative fiction), the Bible, and some practical theology. And since I'm hardly ever either entirely serious or entirely joking, we can laugh and learn about the places I've been and the things I've seen. Maybe they'll change you too.
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