Friday, September 30, 2016

GUEST EDITORIAL: Why is Christian Science Fiction Generally Such Rubbish?

Why is Christian Science Fiction Generally Such Rubbish?, by Randall Schanze. Originally published on November 9, 2011 on a now defunct host.

Why is Christian SF such junk? Seriously? Ask anybody if they can even think of any Christian SF, and they'll probably only be able to come up with the Left Behind books and maybe CS Lewis' Space Trilogy. But then again, they may not. It's actually comparatively obscure among my fellow Christians. Many of my friends at church have never heard of it, and brother, they love the Chronicles of Narnia.

Understand that I, myself, am a Christian, so I'm not asking this question to be insulting or hurt anyone. I just legitimately want to explore the question of why everyone else in the world does it better than us. I ask some of my fellow Christians this, and I frequently get the reply, "Well, SF is just an atheist thing, anyway."

I bristle at that. I'm a Christian. I write SF (though I don't write Christian Science Fiction. Subtle distinction.) Ergo: it's not exclusively the other team's purview. So how did it get that reputation?

It's such a big genre, you know? Hard to quantify, especially since the level of secularism tends to go back and forth over time. In the 30s it was rigidly secular, but refrained from discussing religion generally in deference to the social norms. In the 50s/60s it suddenly became acceptable to discuss religion, but generally it was avoided except among the trippier authors. Hard SF tended to ignore it, or oppose it. In the 70s/80s, it became pretty anti-Theistic. In the 90s/now, it's mellowed down again.

Just the same, there's not much Christian SF, and what is is generally either pretty old or pretty dreadful. There was a good deal from the 40s/50s that I used to read as a kid, but I haven't seen any of that stuff in decades, and I wouldn't even know where to look for it. From what I recall, it was all geared towards the Hardy Boys level reader. Current Christian SF is by and large just flat-out embarrassingly awful.

I think it's based around fear.

You get these *EXTREMELY* fundamentalist groups (I'm a fundamentalist myself, but these guys are waaaaaaaaaaaaay to the right of me) who get all obsessed with things being "Lawful." For instance, there was this "Christian Science Fiction Writer's Symposium" in Texas about 4 or 5 years back where they gave instructions to aspiring Christian SF writers, and made it clear in no uncertain terms that if you varied from their suggestions in the slightest, you were just basically encouraging evil.

Their rules:
  1. No aliens. Because they don't exist.
  2. No distant-future stories. Because Jesus is coming really soon, and there won't be a distant future.
  3. No space colonization stories. Because then all the nations wouldn't be able to be gathered on earth for the final judgement. (what?! You're saying God can't arrange for people to have a convention? You're saying having a bus ticket is going to confound God? Wow.)
  4. No time travel. Because it's impossible.
  5. No stories about genetic engineering, unless it's portrayed as an evil.
  6. No stories about artificial intelligence, unless it's portrayed as an evil.
  7. No stories about other religions, unless they're portrayed as bad.
  8. No stories about fake made up science fiction religions, as that'll put bad thoughts into people's heads
  9. No stories about irradiated foods, or genetically engineered foods, unless it's portrayed as evil. No, really.
  10. No alternate histories. Because the future is ordained, so how could there be a different past? (That's a little too Calvinistic for me, but, whatever)
  11. No steampunk, because it's trendy, and we don't know what it is.
Well what the heck is left after all that stuff is ruled out? I'm going on memory here, I may have erred on a point or two, but that's the gist.

Attendees were told that they should limit themselves - "Limit" themselves! - to stories about near-future dystopias where Christians are persecuted by an emerging Satanic world government. Now, were this just a boldfaced attempt to knockoff the success of the Left Behind books, well, I don't respect that, but I can at least understand it. Cash is nice. But, no, the speaker seemed pretty clear to me that this was all SF should be allowed to do, and anything else was "Unlawful," and hence evil.

Add to this the standard Christian publishing bans on naturalistic writing, and on principle characters who are or were divorced, drug addicts, promiscuous, believe in evolution, have a seamy past, or are otherwise not ideal, frequently even if they end up getting redeemed as part of the story.

Basically you put all this together, and what you end up with is not fiction, it's propaganda. I'm not interested in that, and I'm going to assume that most of you reading this aren't interested in it either. Presumably this is why, even among Christians, Christian SF remains a very small niche. If you're gonna' preach, don't preach to the choir. It's boring.

My own SF deals with religion quite a lot, but I hesitate to call it "Christian" or "Religious" simply because I find it unseemly to treat God like a fictional character in my stories. It seems disrespectful to me. Despite my restraint, I'm regularly told that my stories are borderline-blasphemous. I don't think they are. I've never said anything bad about God or Jesus or Christianity in any of them. Yeah, I've taken a few potshots at the Pope and Baptist Ministers, but I've also taken potshots at the Dali Lama and Gene Roddenberry. I'm not a huge respecter of institutions or offices or pop culture icons. I'm an equal-opportunity offender there. It's not blasphemous, I'm just kind of a jerk.

Take for instance, one story I wrote where the Rapture happened, and nobody noticed. Turns out there really were only a half dozen or so "Real" Christians, so nobody missed 'em, and the Tribulation - which seemed so awful to John 2000 years ago - was pretty much just a normal day in the life for us. The purpose of the story was basically just an expansion of Jesus' repeated warnings for us to be vigilant. So how is this borderline-blasphemous? Clearly it isn't. So why is it interpreted thus? (See Footnote)

Well, it could be that I wrote it badly, and they didn't get the joke. (Possible. I'm not that good a writer), or more likely it could be that I expressed a fairly common idea in uncommon terms. I made it personal, less arcane, which makes it threatening, and therefore some people assumed I must have been saying something bad. Fear.

I'm not a real science fiction writer, I'm just a hack giving it away for free, but I'm friends with a couple real SF writers, and I'm cordial with several more. I've asked them the question "Why no Christian SF?" They all say the same thing: SF is about exploring what might be, about making allegories, about asking questions, about admitting you don't know everything, and maybe trying to learn a bit. How can you write that for/by people who insist they already know everything worth knowing?

They're right. The "Lawful" movement seems to me to betray a fundamental misunderstanding of what "Fiction" is in the first place. There's a real "suspension of disbelief" problem here. I find that very disturbing. Is Gilligan's Island inherently sinful because it had a brain-transfer episode? Why should I be concerned about an episode of Star Trek that has a brain transfer if I'm not concerned about Gilligan's Island? I mean, they're both fictional, right? They're both equally terrible episodes, though one of them has Vito Scoti in it, which makes it slightly better in my estimation. Isn't it a little silly to be worried about one untrue story and not be worried about another identical untrue story in a different venue?

I think this whole "Lawful" thing misses the point on two levels. Firstly: In Galatians 5:1, Paul says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." The New Testament actually gives us very few hard-and-fast rules ("Don't drink blood"). Most of it is more along the lines of guiding principles ("Be nice to people, do more than you have to, show mercy, take care of people who need it, etc.") From where I sit, this is deliberate: Christians aren't supposed to operate from legalism, we're supposed to operate from the concept of justice and love and grace that laws are based on. We run on the base code of law, but not Law itself. Thus this whole "Lawful" obsession is an attempt to do just what Paul warned us against. That seems fundamentally misguided to me. (To be fair, Paul is specifically talking about Jewish law here, so what he says may not be applicable equally to my goofy opinions on the whole "Lawful" Christian Science Fiction industry. But I honestly believe it is.)

Secondly: I think this betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what SF is all about. It has ALWAYS been about speculating about what might be. It has only rarely been about attempting to prognosticate the future in any accurate sense. It is a means for playing out allegories, asking "What if?" or "If this goes on..." or "If we stop this, then what happens?" "War of the Worlds" was not a serious attempt to warn people about an alien invasion that was going to happen in 1897, it was an allegory about British colonialism. It was basically saying "How would you like it if someone did to you what you're doing to Asia?"

Science Fiction is about developing a better sense of who we are, where we come from, where we're going. It's about entertainment. It's about questions. It is, above all, first and foremost, about developing a sense of wonder about God's creation (whether or not one is an Atheist or Christian or a Buddhist writer here is immaterial, it's the wonder that matters), and about engendering a child-like sense of gee-gosh-wow! It's about showing us cool stuff simply because it's cool, and that's justification enough. It's about inspiring us to dare mighty things and learn, and maybe fail, but come back a bit wiser. It's about killing sacred cows, but it's also about discovering which cows really are sacred, and shouldn't be messed with. It is, ultimately, about the greatest of God's creations, the human mind, and how we try to use it to better appreciate all that God has wrought.

Fear shuts all that out, and you just get boring propagandist crap that, frankly, hurts us in the public eye. People who genuinely like SF point at us and laugh, and they're right to do it: We're mostly writing crap. If, however, we wrote good stuff and just trusted our audience to understand the difference between reality and fiction, if we wrote with less of an agenda, we may make inroads with nonbelievers. And even if we don't, we'll end up with some cool art. Which is better than the crap we've got now.

The Bible tells us, however, that the love of Christ, Perfect love, however, drives out all fear.

So: Choose love or fear? For me, my faith in Christ is such that I know I have nothing to fear from imaginary things. I, therefore, choose love.

How 'bout it? You wanna' hide in the cave, jumping at shadows, or you wanna' come out and play with my cool friends and me?

(Footnote - If you'd like to check out my Rapture story and decide for yourself if it's evil or not, you can find it here.)


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Capclave Schedule Is Now Final

Capclave 2016 will be held October 7th through the 9th at Hilton Washington DC North/Gaithersburg, 620 Perry Parkway, Gaithersburg, Maryland 20877.

Here is my official schedule:

Friday, October 7

I will be doing a public reading of The Shrine War at 4:00 PM in the Bethesda room. I will only have 25 minutes to read and it will be unlikely I will finish the entire work. However, I am a professional speaker and a former stage actor and radio personality. I promise not to bore you.

 At 4:30, I will be selling paperback editions of my books at the author's hallway table (location presently unknown).

At 8:00 PM, I will be moderating a panel entitled An Animal World with the description: Animal protagonists need to be a mix of animal nature and human level intelligence, not just people in animal suits. The panel will discuss the joys and pitfalls of working with these characters. Participating authors are: Mike McPhail, Bernie Mojzes, Lawrence M. Schoen, Michelle D. Sonnier

Sunday, October 9

At 10:00 AM, I will be moderating a panel entitled, Cthulhu Wants You! For Breakfast! with the description: Love it or hate it, the Cthulhu Mythos and its related arcs are a literary phenomenon here to stay. Whether it be the Dreamlands, the Carcosa Cycle, the related King in Yellow, as well as other sub-genres, many a writer has cut their teeth on cosmic alienation and horror. Discuss the best and the worst of the lot as well as its future. The authors are some of the best in the field: Tim Powers, Darrell Schweitzer, A.C. Wise

I truly hope to see some friends and fans there. Drive carefully!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Too Many Works In Progress!

Having ADD, I find it impossible to work on one story at a time and many times I'll be working on a tale when another one will come to mind and I have to start work on it as well. What follows is a comprehensive list of my WIPs followed by a short description.

The ones that are bolded (there are ten of them) are the ones I am genuinely committed to complete. The others will be put on a Maybe Someday pile:

  1. Chaos carolinensis (Monster horror pulp)
  2. Dinker (Children’s fantasy)
  3. Doc John Foster (Space opera) 
  4. Doll Wars (Braided novel of dark fantasy romance) 
  5. Elysia House (Magical house fantasy) 
  6. Fandom Weirdness (Horror satire) 
  7. Greengate (Novelization of Greengate short story: Dark fantasy) 
  8. Healing For the Damaged Soul (nonfiction-self help) 
  9. Home Invasion (Cthulhu mythos horror) 
  10. In Search of the Creators (Anthropomorphic SF) 
  11. Jill Noir (Braided novel of anthropomorphic SF) 
  12. Lady Of Obivion (Dreamlands dark fantasy) 
  13. Leida and the Swan (fantasy romance) 
  14. Llanganati (Pulp adventure) 
  15. Lord Of All Futures (Post-apocalyptic dystopia) 
  16. Lynx Syndrome (Anthropomorphic SF) 
  17. Mirthstone Hall (Magical house fantasy) 
  18. One Man (SF) 
  19. ORCS (Adventure horror) 
  20. Paladin (Super hero) 
  21. Proteus (Anthropomorphic SF) 
  22. Rabbits In Space (Anthropomorphic SF) 
  23. Shattered Horn (Anthropomorphic SF)
  24. Silvanus House (Magical house fantasy)
  25. Sister Unicorn (Anthropomorphic fantasy)
  26. Slenderman (Horror)
  27. Spiegelhaus (Magical house fantasy)
  28. Steampunk Fragment (Steampunk)
  29. Sump Hole (Horror)
  30. The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (rewrite of Lovecraft's masterpiece: Dark fantasy)
  31. The Fractured World (Anthropomorphic SF)
  32. The Tree (SF)
  33. Universal Girl (SF)
  34. William Glacken (Cthulhu mythos horror)
  35. Yew Manor (Novelization of Yew Manor short story: Magical house fantasy)
  36. Yggdrasil (Anthropomorphic SF)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Want to Hear a Public Reading of the Shrine War?

(I was too premature in posting my schedule for Capclave 2016 so the post has been removed. However, the following is fairly certain.)
On Friday, October 7th, 2016 at Capclave 2016 (Hilton Washington DC North/Gaithersburg,
620 Perry Parkway, Gaithersburg, Maryland 20877) I will be reading as much of The Shrine War as 25 minutes will allow. Being a professional public speaker and former stage actor, I promise a good reading. The reading will start at 4:00 PM.

A purchased admission to Capclave is mandatory and you can get all the pertinent information at their website here.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Shrine War Gets Some Good News

When you submit a short story to an anthology, the editor puts in in one of four categories.
  1. The rejected pile are those stories that do not stand a chance to be considered. It does not necessarily mean the writing is bad. It could also mean the story's theme or subject matter is not in harmony with the theme or subject matter of the anthology.
  2. The slush pile are those stories that are passable, but will only be considered if additional stories are needed to pad out the anthology. Have you ever read an anthology and came across a story that seemed an odd fit and you wondered how in the world it got in there? It was probably padding from the slush pile.
  3. The finalist pile is proof that your story was well received and fits the theme and subject matter of the anthology, but the editor is holding out  for a final acceptance just in case a better story comes along.
  4. The accepted pile is just that. Stories that will certainly be going into the anthology and a check is forthcoming.
Editor Fred Patten sent me an email informing me that The Shrine War is on the finalist pile and I am very content.

Wish me luck. I probably will find out mid-November if my labor of love gets moved to the accepted pile or the rejected pile. Either way, it was a great story to write and I don't regret an iota the time and research I put into the tale,

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Shrine War Is Done

It took me three months and 24 days (or 116 days total) to finally complete the last draft of The Shrine War.

I am sitting in a hotel room at a Days Inn at Middleboro, Massachusetts and I'm taking a day off from sightseeing specifically to wrap up the conflict between Sen and her kitsune sisters and Akumu and her marauding band of Inugami.

Great liberties were taken with Japanese Shinto mythology, but it was a lot of fun. It has been sent off to Fred Patten for consideration for his Dogs of War anthology, but even if he deems it not appropriate for the collection, it does not negate the great feeling of satisfaction I have in putting the words, The End, on a Loewen-crafted tale.

The total word count came to 17,770 words.

Friday, September 9, 2016

From My Bucket List

Do you have a bucket list? I have a bucket list.

One item on my bucket list is to attend a Baltimore Orioles game when they are playing the Detroit Tigers. At the bottom of the 9th, the score is tied 7-7.

As the game commences, a man sitting three rows below me and one who has been acting ill throughout the game suddenly keels over and arises as Patient Zero of the zombie apocalypse.

As the carnage and violence erupts all around me, Orioles pitcher, Kevin Gausman, oblivious to the rampage in the stands, throws a curve ball to Miguel Cabrera who catches the ball right on the sweet spot of the bat.

As the ball soars through the air and into the stands, as I face off against a zombie, the ball strikes it squarely in the temple, dropping it like a stone. The ball bounces right into my hands and there, amidst the havoc, I stand on the Big Screen holding aloft the winning ball with my arms held in a V for victory.

At his home, George Romero, watching the game, begins to weep in naked jealousy.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Of Lucid Dreamscapes and Cat Wives

Artist: Kishibe
As I have stated before, I have always been a vivid dreamer and now that I take a Vitamin B Complex capsule before bed, my dreams have become even more so. Something about the combination of the various vitamins in the B family trigger vivid dreams and any of these dreams have become a seedbed for future stories. However, I advocate caution. Dreamscapes are inherently boring for readers as the power and symbolism are highly subjective. To use a dream as an idea for a tale is to invite massive revision with heavy emphasis on plot and character. Very few writers can communicate the visceral punch of a dream as the dreamer experienced it.

Last night I had a rare lucid dream where for the first opening scenes, I actually knew I was dreaming.

It was a dream city I had visited many times before. The street I knew the best contained a number of quaint shops, bistros, and bed and breakfasts, delightful destinations for a nocturnal wanderer, but I had not revisited this locale in many years. I was well aware that I was dreaming and the certainty of my destination and the joy of seeing again a place where I had idled away many a night brought me both joy and fond memories.

The sun had set and a gentle snow had started to fall when I finally reached my destination. I looked forward to food and rest, but the landscape had changed over the years. The street was deserted, the shops were all closed, windows were dark and boarded up, and some buildings had actually been torn down. My sorrow at my loss became so great, at this point I lost the power of lucid dreaming and became trapped in the flow of the story unable to affect its outcome.

With great sadness, I turned and walked away from the deserted street, now determined to find some other form of shelter from the snowstorm. A pay phone must surely exist somewhere. A block away I found a public playground where children, bundled against the snow, were enjoying a final frolic before heading home for the night.

I approached one small child, a pretty little thing of around 12 years of age. Dressed all in white, she was shielded from the cold by a little white cap, a woolen dress that came to her knees, and warm white tights that protected her legs. Dainty white leather boots completed the picture.

She told me she did not know where a pay phone was, but instead she would introduce me to her parents who could certainly help me.

Her parents say nearby on a bench, her father nothing more than a typical stereotype of an English laborer: unimaginative, typically phlegmatic, and totally practical.

Her mother wore a close-fitting black cape with hood. However, she was an anthropomorphic cat, some five feet tall, her eyes a bright blue that complimented the brilliant white fur that made up the gentle feline face, the only part of her body visible.

I followed them to their home where the husband told me that I could use their phone and we walked a block or two making it to their front door as the snowfall increased in volume.

The house was in shambles. The foyer actually had drifting snow on the floor as well as snow coming through gaps in the ceiling, but the house proper was warm, cozy, and dry though a jumbled mess of bric-a-brac and worthless junk.

The husband discovered his old rotary phone was not operable and he instructed his wife to walk me down the block to the home of an acquaintance in hopes I could find a working phone there. That was when I noticed that at no time had the cat wife ever spoken, nor had she taken off her shawl. Even inside, she kept it on with the hood pulled tightly around her face.

We walked back into the ever-deepening snow. Taking her arm in mine, together we made it safely to their friends' house some blocks away. By this time, many of the row homes stood dark, but without even knocking, my silent companion opened the front door and led me inside to a home that was neat and tidy. It was immediately clear nobody was home and I was concerned that with the deepening snow we would be trapped for the night, unable to return to my companion’s residence. At that point I awoke leaving my furry companion behind for a more mundane waking world.

You might want to try my Vitamin B experiment for some nocturnal adventures of your own, but I make no guarantees as to the subject of your dreams. One's subconscious can be quite fickle in its affections.