Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy thanksgiving everyone! I’m grateful for my wife, our families, and the turkey that’s taunting me with it’s delicious smell. And also to the Wright family, who just drummed up this silly blog more traffic than I’ve ever seen.

On the Superversive: A Science Fiction Credo

(Man, this blog is turning into an odd mishmash of theology and SF.)

(Also, spoilers ahead for Robotech/Macross and Firefly/Serenity.)

Edit: Jagi has informed me that Superversive and the Human Wave movement were independently developed. They’re still very similar 😉

The illustrious L. Jagi Lamplighter has a post today discussing the goals of the Superversive literary movement. Superversive is a bit of a refinement, as I understand it, of Sarah Hoyt’s Human Wave science fiction movement, which calls for stories that are fun rather than emotionally punishing for the sake of being emotionally punishing.

It’s not going to come as a surprise to anyone that knows me that I like my stories dark. I like my stories to be nailbiters, heroes fighting against all odds. I like my stories rough, and I want my heroes to suffer a bit. I’m not opposed to killing a beloved character, if that character’s death has meaning in some form or another.

“Meaning” doesn’t necessarily have a point to it, incidentally. There doesn’t have to be a moment of “He died so that we could live!” But compare the death of Macross/Robotech‘s Roy Fokker and Firefly/Serenity‘s Wash. Roy’s death, meaningless and stupid, came in the middle of a war, and narratively, told us this show wasn’t going to promise us that our heroes would make it out unscathed. Wash’s death came randomly and pointlessly, during a moment of relief and without context, just to remind us that Joss Whedon likes to make us cry.

Thing is, even in all these dark stories, I want heroes, light, and hope. One of the things that Jagi and the Superversive folk is the pointless nihilism of literature. There’s a sense you get, reading a lot of modern lit, that life sucks and nothing has meaning. Nothing will ever have meaning. (Jagi talks about Steinbeck, whom I have not read, but I got the cliffnotes version of while watching The Middle. It matched Jagi’s experience.) Even if I didn’t already prefer my stories to have spaceships and laser guns, that sort of thing would drive me away from mainstream lit.

Some folks would claim it’s escapism, that the nihilism of mainstream lit is the reality– and, well, I won’t spoil it for you, but read Jagi’s entry. She has some things to say about that. As a Christian and a seminarian I have to remind you that it is far, indeed from the truth. Our book tells us that things are dire and deadly and will get worse, but that, in the end there is triumph, does it not?

It’s an interesting thing, and I keep trying to get a handle on it: but in a lot of ways, science fiction and theology feel very much the same when you dive into them. They scratch the same itch, as it were, and in a lot of ways, that itch is to have the truth of hope reinforced in us.

That’s not to say that there’s not SF that shares the nihilism of mainstream lit. There is. I remember, for example, reading  M. John Harrison’s Light, which Neil Gaiman recommended as a stunning space opera and, in my memory, lives mostly as a story about people with weird issues masturbating.

But at its core, SF is truly about a sense of wonder. Wonder can mean a lot of things, and sometimes it can be terrifying. Sometimes you’re awed by the power of the invaders. Sometimes you’re awed by the nobility of the space captain, sometimes by the ancient alien artifacts, sometimes by the sheer scope of it all. Stray too far away from the awe-inspiring, and you’ve betrayed your genre.

Science fiction is a literature of awe and wonder, not jaded cynicism. It shares, whether the plot posits a Creator or not, a core view with Christianity: That the universe is a place worthy of marvel and wonder.

I count myself amongst the Superversive and Human Wave folks. The first story I ever published (“The Wrong Damn Thing to Say”) was an attack on the banal nihilism of mainstream lit; the second (“Negev“) and third (“Domo“) are heavily dependent on the idea that there is more to the world than what we see. Another story, “God-Eaters,” will be coming forth from the Sci Phi Journal for issue four or five, hopefully, and it shares the same worldview. It’s not a huge library, but it illustrates the point. I buy into this stuff.

I buy into the Superversive and Human Wave ideals because that’s what science fiction is supposed to be. Because that’s how the world is supposed to be.

If Thats The God You’ re Giving, I don’t Want Him! Lesson 4

Jason’s writing to Pastors and leaders here, but the lesson stands for all of us: when people are hurting, we don’t hurt them again.

Jason Otero

old ladyI was an Associate Pastor in my first year of ministry. Part of my job was to make hospital visits and to pray for the sick. One day I was in the hospital room talking with an elderly lady from the church that had just gone through a heart procedure and was on her way to recovery. At this point in my ministry experience ,the hospital still made me very nervous and insecure because;

1) Hospitals already made me uncomfortable…there are needles there.

2) I had the baby face of Gary Coleman, and no one believed I was old enough to be a “Real Pastor.”

3) There were so many awkward moments and hard questions that would inevitably come up and I wasn’t ready to answer them.

4) Old people love to show you their scars and procedures…….Ill just leave that one right there.

As I was talking to the…

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I Hate All Your Show

On Monday nights this semester, I have a class entitled “Worship and the Community of God.” Last night, it ended with this.

There’s a fairly strong social justice thread to the Bible. We all tend to focus on the parts of the Old Covenant that are things like “don’t eat pork” and “holy cow, guys, you’re gonna jump through hoops to be ritually clean” but we forget that there are all sorts of subtle things about taking care of the world around us. Do you know why Deuteronomy 25:4 tells you not to muzzle your ox when he’s working? So your ox can eat and partake of his share in the labor. Leviticus 23:22 bears instructions telling us not to be thorough when we’re reaping our fields– leave the corners and leftovers for the poor and the aliens, so that they can eat.

I don’t have an ox. I don’t have a field to reap, and if I did, I’m pretty sure that the people around me wouldn’t know what to do with the leavings of a field of wheat. I sure wouldn’t. I gather that you can just eat the heads? Maybe? I might be missing something from when the disciples were picking grain because they were hungry.

Fortunately, Jesus, a few thousand years later, summed it up all very nicely:

 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with 
one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which 
commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The 
most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all 
your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second 
is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other 
commandment greater than these.”

(Mark 12:28-31 ESV)

Social justice, ya’ll. Pretty obvious, no? Deserving of a blog post? Maybe. Maybe not.

Here’s the problem: we’ve made a terrible mockery of the idea of social justice these days. It’s no secret that there’s a culture war raging in America– and, from what I’ve read, pretty much everywhere else in the Anglosphere. Some terribly important ideas have been co-opted and ideologically vandalized. Equality, the idea that we are all equal in the sight of our Creator, has turned into the idea that everything we do is valid. Freedom, the absence of oppression, has become “do as thou wilt.” In our hurry to undo the injustice of Jim Crow and slavery, Civil Rights has morphed into something I get the feeling the good Doctor MLK would be appalled by. Feminism, which bumper stickers tell me “is the radical notion that women are people” (You are! Huzzah! I value your opinions quite highly!) is wasting its time shrieking about some tacky shirt a scientist wore for an interview.

And it is tacky. Hideous. You’d never see me wearing that thing. But is it really important? Did it suddenly leach power from women and make their votes only worth 75% of the vote of a white male? (Alright, so there’s one opinion I don’t value quite highly.)

Self-disclosure: I am a white male. One flirting with the being the middle class, no less. Gasp, horror, shock. What am I doing talking about social justice? What can I know?

And that’s the thing, isn’t it? Social justice isn’t. Not anymore. We’ve taken the idea of ministering to the oppressed and the fringe and the hated, of imitating the life, compassion, and mercy of Jesus, and turned it into attacking the things that make us uncomfortable because we’ve been slighted by them. It’s a slight, subtle difference, but it is a difference, and it makes a huge difference in the way we’re going about it. The social justice warriors in our world seem to be driven by hate, not by love. When you chase after “justice” with hate, you’re not chasing justice. You’re chasing revenge. You’re chasing a grudge. Your legacy isn’t the beautiful legacy of wisdom and compassion that MLK left us, it’s something twisted, tainted, and hostile. (Here’s the point where I want to insert a .gif from The Grudge, but I’m not going to. Cuz, y’know, Japanese ghosts are frikkin’ scary and I don’t want to stare at that every time I have to come back to this page.)

When you chase after something holy, without holiness in your heart, you’re putting on a show. And make no mistake: ministering to the poor, downtrodden, and excluded is holy. But when the goal is to level everyone else instead of elevate those who are in need of it, you’re lashing out with bitterness. Your justice is a sham, because your heart is false and you seek after universal misery instead of universal liberation.

Loving your neighbor is an act of worship to God. But this is what God says about worship with your heart in the wrong place:

	“I hate, I despise your feasts,
		and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
	Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
		I will not accept them;
	and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
		I will not look upon them.
	Take away from me the noise of your songs;
		to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
	But let justice roll down like waters,
		and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

(Amos 5:21-24 ESV)

This is why we can’t have nice things, you guys.

I’d love to assume that this is a work of satire, some ridiculous sort of atheist guerrilla attack on Christianity. But the fact is, I grew up as an evangelical in the 80s, a time of slightly overboard world-rejection (Clarification: My parents went slightly overboard, but they’re very reasonable, intelligent people. I knew other, less reasonable people who went a little nutso.)  I’ve also read the ridiculous Turmoil in the Toy Box, which illustrates just how Satanic EVERYTHING that your children loved during the 80s is. (Including GI Joe, a show that taught young children that soldiers fought to protect people.)

(Okay. So, maybe the Monster can is a little crude. “MILF” isn’t a term I use on a regular basis, nor is the F-bomb; but y’know what? I know plenty of very decent people who do, and yes, they’re a little crude, but they’re not exactly the Antichrist.)

Here’s the thing. Satan and his minions are not orchestrating every aspect of the world that’s not related to a church. (Also, churches are not exempt from the influence of Satan. *gasp*) There is no clear-cut line in this world where you can say “this aspect of it is holy; this aspect of it is Satanic.”

We can look at the mountains or stars and see the work of God; there’s a holiness there. They’re also decaying. Erosion is wearing down the mountains. Stars are eating themselves alive. Everything is a little tinged with death in our world, whether we like it or not; death is an evil-thing. A Satan-thing.

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” (Rom 5:12, NIV) Per the apostle Paul, death is the result of sin; in a science-y world, we know that death is a byproduct of entropy, a law of physics that influences our whole world. What this means is that sin is everywhere in our universe. It’s in you, it’s in me, it’s in the president, it’s in the Pope.

To be sure death is felt in different ways across in the universe. Human beings don’t erode; mountains don’t sin. It’s felt in different intensities. I’d imagine that Pope Francis and Billy Graham are probably a little less likely to drop an F-Bomb (Or the linguistically appropriate equivalent) when they stub their toe in the middle of the night than I am. It manifests itself differently from person to person. I’m not inclined to theft, violence, or blasphemy; I am inclined to pride, sloth, and melancholy.

What does this have to do with Monster energy drinks?

Monster, for good and for bad, is a company living in a world that is thoroughly tainted by sin, death, and entropy.

Being crude doesn’t make you the devil. It just means that whoever it is responsible for it is human, just like you. Being angry doesn’t make you the devil; it just makes you another sinner, like everyone else in the world. Being tangled up in something messy or questionable doesn’t make you the devil, or even a devil worshiper, it proves that you exist in the same, fallen state as everything else in the universe.

Having a giant M slash logo-that-looks-like-a-monster-clawed-it that happens to bare a resemblance to the Hebrew letter vav, valued at six in the borderline bunk that is gematria, doesn’t make you the devil. Intentionally drawing comparisons to a monster doesn’t make you The Beast of Revelation. Having an O with a slash through it– intended to represent another Monster claw, I’m sure– that looks sort of like a cross, and sort of like an upside down cross when you turn it upside down, doesn’t make you the devil. If it does, it’s only in the town of South Park, Colorado.

Oh, and lest we forget, the upside down cross is Peter’s cross. You know, the one that Christ chose to found his church. The one who, according to tradition, wanted to be crucified upside down, because he wasn’t good enough to die the same way Jesus did.

so-you-like-upside-down-crosses-tell-me-more-about-how-youve-always-been-anti-religious

Oh, and, lest we forget, if you turn that big frigging can upside down to drink, you better be a professional level chugger. That’s a lot of fluid that’s gonna be in your face shortly.

If Satan’s behind this, it’s an attempt to use it as a distraction. Get someone fired up against Monster, against trick or treating, against space exploration (I’m looking at you, Ken Ham), and that’s one less person to chase after something that matters. You want to really frustrate Satan? Go after injustice, a form of sin-slash-cultural entropy. Fight for the personhood of the unborn. Fight to help the needy, the hungry, the cold, the oppressed.

Today’s work on Buddha’s Dream…

…left Ellison, the hardboiled right hand of the Shogun, disguised as a lumber rep and trapped in a conversation with two fossil fuel reps, a plastics manufacturing rep, and a tree hugging conservationist at a black tie party in a post-nanotech world with no respect for manufacturing. It’s cracking me up.

Review: John C. Wright’s Awake in the Night Land.

William Hope Hodgson wrote some interesting stuff. I’ve only experienced two of his books, The Night Land and House on the Borderland, but both are just absolute treasures of creative thinking. House on the Borderland is thoroughly Lovecraftian but preceeding Lovecraft by a good ten years or so. The Night Land is the original, as far as I am aware, Dying Earth novel.

It’s also a terribly written slog. (Apologies to John C. Wright, who doesn’t seem to think so.) A week or two ago, a friend of mine commented that she didn’t know how such a fascinating book can be so terrible– and, to be honest, I think that’s a perfect description. The world of The Night Land is one in which the sun has died (WHH seems to infer that all the others are dead, too; JCW seems to infer that the solar system and/or earth is just shrouded in an otherworldly darkness.) and the last remnants of humanity are huddled by the millions in an 8 mile tall arcology-fortress, the Last Redoubt. The Last Redoubt has been under siege by various otherworldly and alien forces for millions of years, with no hope of that siege ever lifting; it is universally accepted that when the Redoubt’s defenses fail in the next 5 million years, humanity will end.

Enter into this world a man with memories of a previous life as 17th century gentleman that suddenly hears, coming out of the night, the telepathic voice of his wife Midrath, reborn as Naani in another, failing Redoubt somewhere out in the dark. Our narrator, unnamed in WHH’s novel, braves the horrors of the Night Land to rescue his eternal love.

John C. Wright’s Awake in the Night Land doesn’t deal with Andros, the narrator of WHH’s novel; instead, it gives us four stories set in that world. The first two, “Awake in the Night Land” and “The Cry of the Night Hound” deal with descendants of brave Andros– and possibly the third? I don’t recall, frankly, if the protagonist of “Silence of the Night” is of the house of Andros. The final story, “The Last of All Suns,” takes place in a setting that will be less familiar to those who have only read The Night Land but instantly familiar to readers of House on the Borderland— the end of the universe, when all things, material and immaterial, are returning to what I believe House called “the Central Sun” and Wright paints in more modern terms.

“Awake,” like the original novel, follows a love story, but now with a wrinkle; rather than the neat and orderly reincarnation of Andros and Mirdrath/Naani, the situation is a love triangle. “Awake” gives us two threads to follow, one in which the protagonist is adventuring into the Night Land to save his friends, and one detailing the events that lead to his friends escaping into the Night Land in the first place.

What’s great about “Awake” is that Wright gives us our first glimpse as to why the other powers are so awful. The Night Land shows us a world in which people would rather commit suicide than be captured; and while we understand that reincarnation means that you have to protect the soul from malign, othernatural taint, we don’t really see what that taint looks like in WHH’s novel. But Wright gives us a hellish glimpse of what, exactly, the forces of evil do their captured, and it is awful.

“The Cry of the Night-Wolf” runs a little long, in my opinion, but it’s an interesting conceit– once, animals served man. Why can they not serve man again? The narrator’s brother sets out to tame a breeding pair of Night-Hounds, one of the most feared  creatures of the enemy, and the population of the Redoubt is understandably uncomfortable with this.

“Silence of the Night” is short and quick, and it’s here that we see the story starting to take on a bit of John C. Wright’s distinctive flavor. Almost immediately we see Wright invoking Stapledon’s Last and First Men and then adding his own flair to the culture of the Redoubt. It’s a little unfortunate, then, that the ending doesn’t quite seem to click with me; I had to reread the last few pages. It’s probably the weakest story in the bunch, but it’s still a great read.

“Last of All Suns” is my favorite here. One of the things I love about JCW is that you can be sure that when he writes science fiction, you’ll still have to deal with prediluvian men, sorcerers, or nymphs; in his fantasy, you’ll still be treated to the metaphysics of the Big Bang. In “Last of All Suns,” you get everything JCW can throw at you: Enoch, Neanderthals, Matter-Wizards from Tau Ceti. It feels more like a world of Wright’s creation than Hodgson’s, but in a way that doesn’t feel like he’s trying to usurp the mythos. Hodgson gave us a glimpse of the end of the universe in House on the Borderland from the perspective of a 18th or 19th century gentleman; Wright gives us a glimpse of that same end in multiple perspectives, but primarily one of modern physics/metaphysics. It’s a satisfying conclusion to both the book and the Night Land universe. (One personally highly satisfying element came when a suspicion I had about a relationship between The Night Land and House on the Borderland was confirmed.)

What Awake in the Night Land gives you is something very special indeed: The best of William Hope Hodgson’s imagination filtered through the imagination of a highly learned individual with a knack for good story telling.

Awake in the Night Land is available from Castalia House and Amazon.

And now on to important things:

Over in Japan, word has broken that new singers are being auditioned for a new Macross series. This is news that has me screaming like a little girl inside.

For those of you who aren’t incredibly familiar with me yet, anime has been a fairly formative thing in terms of the way I plot. I’m not huge into anime the way I once was (At the dawn of Pokemon, a friend and I went to see the first movie, because that’s how uncommon it was to get an anime release of any sort in our theaters. It was a dark time.) there are still a few series I go ga-ga for. Macross is pretty much the top. I’m a sucker for any show with good characters, giant space battleships, and beautiful airplanes. (In space.) Read the rest of this entry

Scientific American wonders if Jesus died for Klingons.

(The article is here.)

Before we begin, caveat emptor: Seminarian or not, theologian or not, this is all my own feelings. None of this is gospel, and a lot of it is me throwing stuff at the wall and wondering what will ultimately stick.

Well, I guess, there are a couple possible scenarios. Read the rest of this entry

Buddhas Dream of Enlightened Sheep

If you’re wondering what the novel will be like, it’ll be fairly different from the previous stuff I’ve published. “Domo” and “Negev” are both pieces from narrators who talk relatively formally, for one reason or another, and are fairly respectful. Buddhas Dream of Enlightened Sheep, on the other hand, is about a guy who says things like, “I knew the dame was trouble the moment she walked into my office.” Like that– the dame is certainly trouble, but Ellison’s light years from his office.

It’s scifi, first and foremost. I’m working hard to make the world real, despite the ever-present cybernetic overlay of illusion that most people experience, despite the fact that at least one of the characters would tell you that the world of “meat and priests” (to borrow a phrase from the esteemed R. Domo) is as much an illusion as dataspace.

But it’s also hardboiled noir. I’m huge, slobbering fan of Raymond Chandler; I’ve read every book of his I can find, except for The Lady in the Lake, because I’m saving that one for a day when I need a guaranteed good book.  So I encourage you: Soak it up. Enjoy it. I don’t do deconstructions of things I dig; I usually like to take the tropes I love and run with them as far as I can make it work.  It won’t be mock or taking apart noir; I’ll be reveling in it.

If the book had a soundtrack, it’d probably all be things like this:

Here’s a small excerpt:

Read the rest of this entry

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