Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Called to write?

Look at that, you wait a week for a bandwagon to jump on, and then two come along at once. I thought about jumping on the Jacqueline Howett bandwagon, but I figure she's had enough publicity by now (is there such a thing as bad publicity? If there wasn't before, I think she just invented it.) so instead I'm running after Fred Warren's bandwagon about being called to write. Or not.

I am fairly clear in my own mind why I write: I'm wired that way, writing things down helps me to work through my own problems as well as learning stuff. The logical step from there is to say that God wired me that way; I believe, in my typically modest way, that He gave me a talent for writing, and it would be rude not to use it. And so, in some small way, I try to use it to give something back to Him.

Now obviously, a comic fantasy retro-cyberpunk road trip featuring Rod Serling from out of The Twilight Zone and a sentient ZX81 is unlikely to start a revival, but much of what I write does reflect something of God.

So am I called to write? Well, I struggled with that for a long time; whether I should be involved in some more tangible or constructive form of ministry instead of convincing myself that God wants me to write. In fact, I almost convinced myself that God didn't want me to write, and all but gave up. But then I realised: this is who I am. A writer - someone who thinks better with the written word at hand - is what God gave me. And if I want to rewrite the Old Testament as a space opera, well... maybe God gave me that desire too. Maybe God does want me doing this crazy thing called writing.

However, like many comentators on the subject, I don't feel suitably qualified to jump right in and say a definitive yes; but I certainly don't feel called to stop writing.

On the other hand, circumstances have led me to feel very strongly about certain issues in life, and, yes, I feel called to do something about those issues. And until I come up with a better idea, the thing I'm going to do is write. Sometimes a story can raise awareness of an issue far more effectively than any amount of placard waving or *ahem* peaceful protesting.

Linky Goodness:
Fred Warren: Call Writing
Sally Apokedak: Divine Calling
Bob Thune: A Theology of Work
Mike Duran: Where Do Writers Fit in the Church?

Me: Why I write
Me: Why I don't write

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

CSFF Blog Tour: The Resurrection by Mike Duran

Well, at the risk of this becoming a habit, may I now present you with… a review of this month’s featured title, The Resurrection by Mike Duran. OK, I haven’t actually read the whole thing, but close enough to give a decent review, and I can absolutely guarantee not to spoil the ending for you.

Plus, there are plenty of very in-depth reviews elsewhere on the tour, so feel free to indulge in those too, but for now, here are my thoughts…

First page, and there’s a ghost called Mr Cellophane. Call me shallow, but I liked that. I think he should come back with a bigger role in the spin-off, like Slimer in The Real Ghostbusters. But I digress; there are more important things about this book to be discussed. Like: spiritual warfare – indeed, the existence (or otherwise) and nature of spiritual interference in our daily lives; miraculous healings – indeed, resurrections – and their effects on those involved, those involved who didn’t wish to be involved, and those not involved who wanted to be; and broken people, broken pastors and the inevitably dysfunctional churches they end up forming.

I liked the dysfunctional nature of the characters. Nothing is more tedious in a story than a Christian character who is either too perfect to be realistic, or a deliberate corruption intended to show up all that is bad about ‘religion’. These guys… well, I guess the pastor who’s lost his faith is a little bit of a stock character, but he’s got a decent back story to him, he’s plausible enough for the story. Ruby Case, the unwilling miracle worker, and her jealous prayer partner Vinyette are perhaps more rounded characters, each with her own flaws but, as the praying heart of a failing church, plenty to make you root for them and they march, utterly unprepared, onto the spiritual battlefield that their home town of Stonetree has become.

The resurrection of the title, and the other miraculous healings that Ruby finds herself called upon to perform, give an interesting idea of how such a miracle might be seen in this cynical world of ours, but in the wider story they kind of fade behind what I saw as the real story – the spiritual war being raged in a pretty ordinary town. My town has closed down churches and hippy shops… the place is relatable, and in this place the battle is fought not by angels, but by a limping housewife and a doubting vicar. It doesn’t get much more real than that, and I think sometimes we need to be reminded that, although the existence of spirits in the Mr Cellophane sense may be debatable, there is a spiritual realm to our world, and for my money this story does a pretty decent job of that.

In fact I’d say this book does a decent job all round. A good story, well written, plenty of twisty bits to get your mind round, and lots of thought-provoking subjects covered. Definitely a good one, even if it didn’t have any spaceships in it.

So all that remains is to remind that author Mike Duran blogs here, and the blog tour continues this way:

Noah Arsenault Brandon Barr Red Bissell Book Reviews By Molly Keanan Brand Kathy Brasby Grace Bridges Beckie Burnham Melissa Carswell Jeff Chapman Christian Fiction Book Reviews Carol Bruce Collett Valerie Comer Karri Compton Wanda Costinak Amy Cruson CSFF Blog Tour Janey DeMeo Cynthia Dyer Tori Greene Nikole Hahn Katie Hart Joleen Howell Bruce Hennigan Becky Jesse Cris Jesse Jason Joyner Carol Keen Emily LaVigne Shannon McNear Matt Mikalatos Rebecca LuElla Miller Mirtika Joan Nienhuis Nissa John W. Otte Gavin Patchett Sarah Sawyer Andrea Schultz Tammy Shelnut Kathleen Smith Donna Swanson Jessica Thomas Fred Warren Dona Watson Phyllis Wheeler Nicole White Dave Wilson

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

CSFF Blog Tour vs Tuesday Tunes

It occurs to me now that I haven't actually done a Tuesday Tunes outside the Blog Tour in months, so this whole concept has become sort of anachronistic... Still, why stop now just because it's completely irrelevant?

So here it is, miraculously brought back from the dead - no, not the Top Ten Duran Duran songs, it's the Top Ten Resurrection songs:

10. Alison Moyet: Love Resurrection
Well that's at least one positive review for Mike Duran this week! Thankyouverymuch, I'm here all week ;)

9. Misfits: Resurrection
Throwing taste out of the window here, with a short sharp burst of '90s horror punk.

8. Arrested Development: Resurrection - Man's Final Frontier
That's better, the laid back positive hip-hop stylings of Speech and the crew.

7. Nekromantix: Nice Day For A Resurrection
Danish psychobilly. I can pretty much guarantee this will be the first post on the tour to put those words in the same sentence.

6. The Cult: Resurrection Joe
I coiuld have picked any number of Scandinavian Death Metal songs called Resurrection, but the official 'metal' entry this week comes from '80s goth rockers The Cult.

5. Mann Friday: Resurrection
I have no idea who Mann Friday is/are/were/was; they're too obscure for amazon, but this song popped up on Spotify and I liked it, so in it went.

4. Apocalyptica: Resurrection
It's like rock music, with cellos. We're nothing if not eclectic here.

3. Tapefly: The Resurrection
I Spotified some real oddities this week... but moments of lo-fi indie greatness like this make the whole Duran Duran idea seem even more ridiculous...

2. Delerium: Resurrection
Because every Top Ten needs at least 7 minutes of quality electronica. Here you get 9 minutes and 26 seconds.

1. The Stone Roses: I Am The Resurrection
Controversial choice? Maybe, but any excuse to cram in 8 minutes of one of the great indie anthems of my mis-spent youth.

Here they are on Spotify.

All of which musical frivolity is, of course, because a bunch of bloggers have just read The Resurrection by Mike Duran. So if you want to find out something about the actual book, click on one of these at random:
Noah Arsenault Brandon Barr Red Bissell Book Reviews By Molly Keanan Brand Kathy Brasby Grace Bridges Beckie Burnham Melissa Carswell Jeff Chapman Christian Fiction Book Reviews Carol Bruce Collett Valerie Comer Karri Compton Wanda Costinak Amy Cruson CSFF Blog Tour Janey DeMeo Cynthia Dyer Tori Greene Nikole Hahn Katie Hart Joleen Howell Bruce Hennigan Becky Jesse Cris Jesse Jason Joyner Carol Keen Emily LaVigne Shannon McNear Matt Mikalatos Rebecca LuElla Miller Mirtika Joan Nienhuis Nissa John W. Otte Gavin Patchett Sarah Sawyer Andrea Schultz Tammy Shelnut Kathleen Smith Donna Swanson Jessica Thomas Fred Warren Dona Watson Phyllis Wheeler Nicole White Dave Wilson

Monday, March 21, 2011

CSFF Blog Tour: The Resurrection by Mike Duran

I remember a time, not that many years ago, when the Fiction shelf at my local Christian bookstore began and ended with 'Peretti'. And this month the CSFF blog tour sees something of a return to those good old days of angels and demons battling it out somewhere over California. The Resurrection is much more of a human story than This Present Darkness, as the blurb says:
When Ruby Case, an unassuming crippled woman, inexplicably raises a boy from the dead, she creates uproar in the quiet coastal town of Stonetree. Some brand her a witch, others a miracle worker. Yet Reverend Ian Clark could care less. Dogged by demons and immersed in self-pity, Clark is being unwittingly drawn into a secret religious order--one that threatens his very life. But he's about to get a wake-up call.

Together, Ruby and Reverend Clark are thrust into a search for answers... and a collision with unspeakable darkness. For behind the quaint tourist shops and artist colonies lies a history of deceit. And a presence more malignant than anything they can imagine. Yet a battle is brewing, the resurrection is the first volley, and the unlikely duo are the only ones who can save them. But can they overcome their own brokenness in time to stop the evil, or will they be its next victim?
I am not going to review the book at this point because, well, I haven't read it all yet. But I probably will have done by the end of the tour, so that should give you something to come back for (other than the Top Ten Duran Duran songs tomorrow*), right?

In the meantime, author Mike Duran blogs here, and lots of other nice people blog at these places:
Noah Arsenault
Brandon Barr
Red Bissell
Book Reviews By Molly
Keanan Brand
Kathy Brasby
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Melissa Carswell
Jeff Chapman
Christian Fiction Book Reviews
Carol Bruce Collett
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Wanda Costinak
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Janey DeMeo
Cynthia Dyer
Tori Greene
Nikole Hahn
Katie Hart
Joleen Howell
Bruce Hennigan
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emily LaVigne
Shannon McNear
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
John W. Otte
Gavin Patchett
Sarah Sawyer
Andrea Schultz
Tammy Shelnut
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Dave Wilson

* I'm kidding**
**Aren't I?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Review: Offworld by Robin Parrish

I'm going to make this review really easy now: This story would make a great Doctor Who episode. That should be all you need to know in order to decide whether to read it or not.

The Earth is mysteriously deserted, apart from a handful of good guys, a handful of bad guys, and the mysterious Mae, who has somehow survived whatever cataclysm occurred and may therefore in some way hold the key to all the madness. The good guys and bad guys play cat and mouse across the deserted landscape heading towards a mysterious beacon which, through a heady mix of technobabble and handwavium, has caused every living creature on the planet to take lunch in a parallel universe, or something. Along the way there are comic-book style battle sequences, mind-boggling car crashes, all the suspense you could wish for on a Saturday teatime, and an utterly implausible Big Bad hidden under a sports stadium. See, it's just like Doctor Who, but without the bow tie.

OK, if we're honest, the whole concept is never going to wash with hard sf fans, definitely leaning towards the science-fantasy end of the genre, not too far from Parrish's Dominion Trilogy of superhero novels.

It must also be said that, having plot-holed my way through Fearless and been left bemused by some of the editorial bloopers in Merciless, I was sort of on the lookout for more of the same here. And there were one or two odd sentences that just didn't seem quite right, the odd mixed metaphor here and there, but it didn't bother me as much this time round. It's even possible that if I hadn't been looking for them I would have missed them, but I was. And I didn't.

The other thing I was looking for was the low-key approach to any kind of Christian theme, which was all but non-existent in the Dominion Trilogy. And a similarly low-key approach was taken here too, with, by my reckoning, precisely zero Christians appearing in the entire book. Having said that, there was a message, and when, towards the end, I finally saw it, I have to say I liked it - both the message and the subtle delivery.

So, don't look for the bloopers, just sit down and get ready for a wild and crazy ride. This story would make a great Doctor Who episode.

Linky goodness:
CSFF Blog Tour for Offworld
My review of Relentless by Robin Parrish
My review of Fearless
My review of Merciless

Monday, March 14, 2011

More artificially intelligent thoughts

Let us assume, for the moment, the humanity has the foresight to build in some kind fail-safe that prevents Artificial Intelligences from assuming god-like powers. Let us assume that they remain benevolent, helpfully looking after our practical needs, remembering to record Fringe for us, hoovering the lounge while we’re at church, making sure that we can find our way to that meeting on Monday morning, that kind of thing. The devices we need are already here; all we are missing is the home AI to tie it all together. Bring it on, I say – as I mentioned on Friday, time management is not my strong point, and if I could get my PC to help me out in a few practical ways maybe I would get to writing my next book before Bill Myers does. (No, I’m not gonna let that go any time soon.)

The eternal question for AI-related fiction is: at what point does intelligence become consciousness? And at what point does consciousness constitute life? And how do you differentiate between intelligent life with and without a ‘soul’? If Lieutenant Commander Data had decided, for whatever reason, to go to church one Sunday morning, would he have been welcomed? Would he have been able to believe? What difference would it have made if he did?

An artificial intelligence would, of course, have easy access to pretty much everything written on every religion and crack-pot belief system currently circulating the internet; it would, in theory, be able to analyse all the evidence in a completely logical way and arrive at the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything in, I imagine, a shade under seven and a half million years. Is that what we want? Would it affect our beliefs if that did happen? Would a computer arrive at the ‘correct’ answer, or would a logical thought process preclude the existence of what we know to be an emotional God?

I guess Christian science-fiction has a lot to throw in to this debate, if it wants to. And I think it probably should; I don’t suppose churches need to worry about whether or not to baptise androids just yet, but it would be nice to think that the church will, in some form, survive the technological singularity.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday Review: Vanish by Tom Pawlik

It looks like we’re settling on two posts a week for the time being, at least until somebody teaches me time management.

And (on the subject of time management) I’m reviewing Vanish by Tom Pawlik, which I failed to feature in the, let’s see…. June 2009 CSFF Blog Tour. I guess I don’t need to worry too much about spoilers then.

I thought this was a great story. It’s one of a bunch of ‘where’d everybody go?’ novels that seemed fleetingly popular in Christian fiction a couple of years ago; the most obvious comparison being Kathryn Mackel’s Vanished (which I reviewed here). In Vanish you will find traditional gray aliens, Lost-y flashbacks, and plenty of suspense, action and general weirdness. It may sound like Pawlik just threw in a bit of everything from the spec-fic parts bin, but the result is an enjoyable and coherent story.

The writing style is uncomplicated but largely inoffensive, and it does the job well enough. The middle section does seem needlessly repetitive; I’m sure there was enough going on that we didn’t need to be told the same facts over and over again. I also noticed lots of jaws stiffening and teeth clenching from various different characters; arguably a minor flaw, but drawing attention to this apparently universal reaction did detract from what characterisation there was.

The main characters were a nicely mixed bunch, as is required in this kind of story; interestingly, there were no Christians among them, and the worldview was left to filter in via the people the characters know and love. However, when the third act starts and the pieces start to fit together (spoiler alert: think Life on Mars) it leads to a brilliant and satisfying conclusion (even if the final chapter is somewhat superfluous).

And I’ve just remembered there’s a sequel. The week after my birthday. Sigh.

For more linky goodness, why not time travel back to the CSFF Blog Tour for Vanish.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Artificially intelligent thoughts

If I was an artificial intelligence, god-like or otherwise, I would probably do something actually intelligent like sit down and work out where I was going with a post before I started. But I'm not, so I'm doing the flawed human thing of throwing myself in at the deep end and probably wibbling on about nothing relevant for half the post.

So, to the point then: AIs as gods. In some ways, the Artificial Intelligences we see in sf are sort of god-like, at least in comparison to our puny human minds. They are, of course, vastly superior in memory and thinking power; not subject to the distractions of the flesh and emotions as we are; and perfectly logical. All good things in a computer, but whether you would want all of them to be qualities of a god is debatable. Good potential story ground though: What would it be like to serve a totally logical god? What kind of universe would such a god create? And, would it be logical to want your creations to worship you?

I'm not sure I buy the computer-as-creator idea though,although you can read about it in Asimov's The Last Question, which is available online. It makes a lot more sense, in reality and story, for AIs to be more akin to false gods - I can see the Old Testament Space Opera version now, SpaceElijah taunting the prophets of the great super-computer Baal...

It's not a massive leap, of course, to imagine that with computers of world-running capability would be likely to remove the need (or at least, the perception of a need) for a real God at all, especially if you run them in combination with a virtual world in which we can all live out an afterlife of sorts. Presumably such a computer would be pretty keen to eliminate the few remaining religious types in its world (in a nice subversion of the 21st Century, they would have to resort to communicating by snail mail to avoid the AI tracking them and shutting them down), and might even turn out to be the anti-Christ in some weird cyberpunk version of Left Behind...

Looks like I need to get writing - I hope Bill Myers isn't reading this...

Friday, March 04, 2011

Friday Review: Paul

I was planning another artificial intelligence post earlier in the week, but our internet was out for most of a day, so it didn't get finished. Anyway, enough excuses, on with the review!

Before I say anything else about this film, I’ll say this: if you get offended by bad language, you’re gonna want to give this one a wide berth. There is a lot of it, to the point of gratuitous swearing being a running gag for much of the film. Much of the gratuitous swearing is therefore deliberately comical, but if you don’t want to hear it, save your pennies.

On the other hand, if you’re a fan of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and especially of Spaced, then you’ll get a kick out of this movie.

The writer Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) and Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) are living every British geek’s dream: a road trip from San Diego Comic Con along the Extra-terrestrial Highway. As is the tradition with road movies, they pick up a motley crew of hangers-on along the way – in this instance a stereotypical grey called Paul, and a similarly stereotypical Bible Belt girl called Ruth. (If Christian-bashing is going to offend you, you might also want to skip the film. If not, we’ll come back to Ruth.) They also pick up a crowd of pursuers, Men in Black, the FBI, Ruth’s dad and his pet shotgun…

So, the film. It’s funny, in a Pegg & Frost way; the pair are perhaps not quite as chummy as in, say, Shaun of the Dead, but the gag rate is high, and the ‘aliens abroad’ theme is completely subverted by having an actual alien having more clue what’s going on than the humans. Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) gets all the best lines, and a weird love triangle with Graeme and Clive, who almost fall out over hogging the alien experience.

Which brings us back to Bible belt Ruth, who sort of gets in the way of the aforementioned love triangle by wanting to fornicate with Graeme. Yes, her alien encounter brings about a rather abrupt conversion to, well, some brand of hedonistic atheism maybe; or maybe just a belated rebellion against the religion instilled in her by her father. Even Christians in the UK find it easy to laugh at these stereotypical trailer-park dwelling ‘Christians’; I’m not sure how well that will go down in the States, but the character’s of Ruth and her father, and how they interact with the wider world around them, gives plenty of scope for meaningful discussion – Paul hands you one the second he meets Ruth, and there’s plenty of debate to be had, not just about how Christianity would react to alien life, but about fundamentalism done badly, what Christians are really like in real life, the whole miraculous healing thing aliens have evolved, and no doubt plenty of others.

Oh yes, and anyone who was on the CSFF Blog Tour last week might find something familiar about the way Paul does his alien healing thing too!

That said, most of the fun to be had with this movie, is in trying to spot all the geeky references and cameo appearances as the fly past with varying degrees of subtlety. I will be looking out for the DVD in the hope of an homage-o-meter similar to the Spaced DVDs. A lot of fun for the geek in your life!