SciFi Christianity

Or:  Why do humans imagine impossible things?

A few weeks ago I wrote about my love affair with the fantasy genre and how it’s going south, and I got some interesting responses from friends.  (Not in the comments on the post- other places, like in real life.)  I promised at the time that I’d try to write more about the role I think that fantasy and SciFi can play in the faith, and why I don’t think it benefits people to be too skittish about imaginary worlds.

It’s a difficult thing to write about, because like most of the topics I seem to dip my toes into people have very gut reactions, based off of tradition and personal experience, and I really hate to risk offending someone by poking them where they are already sensitive.  Yet, I find that my ongoing relationship with those genres compels me to write, especially since I’m considering reintroducing Science Fiction Saturday.   You see, what some readers of this blog might not realize is that long before I wrote here, I tried to break into the fiction genre writing SciFi and Fantasy.  It isn’t just my first love as a reader, it’s my first love as a writer.

But I’m a Christian, right?  What am I doing playing around with such darkness?

I’ve heard all of the arguments against Christians being involved in anything that relates to witchcraft or “unnatural worlds”.  It might open doors, says one argument.  We’re only supposed to dwell on what is holy and beneficial, says another.  It’s wasting time, says a third.  I respect each of those arguments and where they come from, but I find that I don’t completely buy into them.  Is it true for some things in the fantasy genre?  Yes, absolutely.  It’s also true for some things that aren’t in the fantasy genre.  The book that gave me the worst nightmares of any book I’ve ever read was Red Dragon by Thomas Harris.  It wasn’t a fantasy novel but boy did it “open doors”, that man touched on an evil that definitely left a bad taste in my mouth.  (Chalky!  ten internets to anyone that gets that reference.)  What makes a book a  conveyer of darkness isn’t what genre it is in, it’s the spirit and intent of the author.  Books written with the intent of enlightening and teaching valuable morals will do just that, books meant to disturb and haunt and corrupt will do just that.  The only way to know which is which is to practice good discernment and do your research about the authors.  The genre and cover art don’t tell the whole tale.

The book that made me love fantasy was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis, a Christian author.

“At all ages, if [fantasy and myth] is used well by the author and meets the right reader, it has the same power: to generalize while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not concepts or even experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies. But at its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had and thus, instead of ‘commenting on life,’ can add to it.”  -CS Lewis

CS Lewis used fantasy, myth and magic, not to “open doors” to darkness but to open them to light.  He created a world which made a metaphor for faith, and through that world he taught all of the values of Christianity in a way that a reader either unfamiliar with the faith or biased against it could understand and believe in the value of it.  Aslan was God and Christ, the values he taught echoed Christianity in the most beautiful of ways.  There are still points today where in frustration I will stop using the Bible to try to explain my beliefs and instead turn to a very powerful passage in The Last Battle.  Those books enriched my young learning experience immeasurably.

After the Chronicles of Narnia I turned to the geek’s ever present hero, Frodo of the Lord of the Rings, and from there on out I read as much as was on the shelves of the SciFi/Fantasy section of my library as I could manage to carry home.  I learned a lot of lessons there.  I learned that there is honor in loyalty regardless of the price.  I learned that true friendship sometimes means telling someone something that they don’t want to hear, or walking away from a friend that is destroying themselves.  I learned that people are more than the stereotypes that you hear about them, and regardless of what a situation may look like to the naked eye there is inevitably more under the surface.  I learned that the hero can be flawed and broken and make horrible mistakes and sometimes the true hero is the person you least expect to hear the call.  I learned that we are all, each of us, what we make of ourselves and there’s no prophecy or fate stronger than the choice any one person makes in the moment.

I learned something else, too.  Not from the fantasy section, but from the Bible.  I learned that there are some lessons you never hear when someone tells you outright: some things have to be covered up in a story and mulled over for their true meaning to really sink in.  The Bible is full of lessons that come in the form of stories.  Jesus himself often turned to stories so His message could be easily repeated, puzzled over, and eventually understood.  I believe our propensity for imagination is one that God gave us on purpose, one that is intensely Godly.  Think, for a moment, of how Creative our Creator really is.  Shouldn’t that creativity be reflected in our own lives?

Fantasy and SciFi can tell tales that aren’t so easily told using the auspices of our present world.  I could probably write a really compelling story about relationships between Islam and Judaism.  But I can guarantee that such a story would press a lot of hot red buttons and offend a lot of people.  I don’t think I could ever write that story well enough to have the impact I hope that it would.  And I also can guarantee that a lot of people I would want to reach wouldn’t want to read such a heavy, depressing tale.  But I bet they’d watch an episode of Star Trek TNG where the Klingons and Ferengi have to learn to work together.  They’d laugh, and have an enjoyable time, and somewhere beneath all the hoopla the message would still be the same: we are more than our differences.

And that’s why as a Christian I continue to enjoy these genres that so many people find useless.  I understand the power of fantasy to take people to a place where they are receptive to ideas the real world builds walls around.  Does that make enjoying the genre perhaps a little risky, because of those doors we don’t want opened?  Sure, but that risk is all around us every day, on the TV and in the newspaper.  It’s not the genre that creates the risk, it’s the world full of evil people doing evil.  A strong, discerning mind doesn’t have anything to fear.  If I’d listened to my gut and never read Thomas Harris, I could’ve spared myself all those nightmares.

And I’m going to keep writing fiction, and start posting it on this blog again, because I believe in the power of fiction to give us relief from the burdens we carry in this world, and to teach us lessons we would otherwise tune out.

For my friends that find fantasy distasteful, please feel welcome to not click on my Saturday Sci-Fi posts.

For those that enjoy it, please do so.

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Golden age of Fantasy? The end is nigh.

Anne Rice, the lovely authoress of Interview with the Vampire, often states that we are now living in the “Golden Age of Fantasy”, speaking of the wealth of TV shows, movies, and books that now embrace the other-worldly in their themes.  There truly are too many to count, from the epic sexually charged Spartacus and True Blood to the kind of whiny Vampire Diaries and procedural Warehouse 13.  Fantasy is all over the place these days in so many forms it’s almost become hard to tell one thing from the other.  A few years ago it was, “hey, have you seen that procedural drama with the hot blond?”  “Oh, Saving Grace?”  “No, the other one.”  “One of the Law and Orders?”  “No, the other one.”  “In Plain Sight?  The Closer?”  “No, no…”

Now, it’s “Hey have you seen that new epic Fantasy thing with all of the awesome landscape shots and hot chicks?”  “Oh, Snow White and the Huntsman?”  “No, the other one…”

The problem is that Hollywood has this way of destroying the essence and potential of things.  Producers who are paid to make movies and shows that can preview well enough to raise bank without any real, you know, thought or emotion or substance will inevitably just produce really attractive looking crapwads that don’t really have any spirit.  I love fantasy and science fiction.  Not, “ooh, it’s so cool”.  I love it.  In the sort of creepy fanatical way that makes a grown woman have more capes and gowns in her closet than proper grown up clothes.  I have over 500 books in my permanent collection, after having gotten rid of 3/4 of the books I own for this move.  I adore the genre.  I adore it because through the lens of the unreal you can struggle with issues that are too unpleasant to face bare-faced.  Anne Rice’s Lestat can take you on an intense journey through the question of what is human, what is it to have a soul or be soulless, what is love and is love something a beast can feel?  Those questions aren’t questions that most people can stomach a human being exploring.  The same is true of JRR Tolkien’s epic exploration of the issues of heroism and what makes a hero.  What, you think it’s a story about short people and big expensive to shoot landscapes?  Ha, yeah.  Oh, and what about JK Rowling’s beautiful series about the value of friendship, love, and faithfulness?  Not to mention Stephanie Meyer’s bold examination of how cool it is to have a sparkly boyfriend.

Oh, wait, there it goes.  The problem with most of the Fantasy and Sci-Fi being produced today is that it doesn’t hold to the traditions that make the genre so worthwhile.  You can’t take modern themes and thrust them into that world with a big budget and no understanding of the spirit of the thing and expect the same success.  Twilight isn’t what I consider fantasy- it’s a teen romance where there happens to be a vampire.  The Vampires in that story do not hold any of the brutality or potential of the species.  You want a romance with a Vampire, look at Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  The first time she has one, her love costs him his soul and he starts killing and threatening everyone she knows and loves and nearly destroys the world.  The second time she does, he nearly kills her before he realizes that he too could truly love her, goes to hell to get his soul back, and goes insane.  There’s a storyline that examines the truth of love as well as it’s consequences, not a pile of fluff with some fangs thrown on to make it seem more dangerous.

And, sadly, most of the science fiction and fantasy hitting today’s market has the same fluffed up feeling to it.  At first, Warehouse 13 seemed like it might live up to it’s steam punk ancestry.  But, in the end, it turned out to be a procedural drama with a little kookiness thrown in to make it look like it’s forebears without any respect for it’s ancestry.  Grimm is much the same way.  You know how I can tell the difference between Grimm and Law and Order?  There are those cool quotes at the beginning, and the makeup is different.  (Okay, maybe I’m being too harsh.)  Then there’s Eureka, which lost the appeal of it’s “here’s an average guy having to wrap his head around this wild scientific craziness” appeal after a few seasons- it didn’t take long for it’s characters to become caricatures and for it to become increasingly predictable and formulaic.  And don’t even get me started on the movies, most of them aren’t even worth downloading illegally, nonetheless paying the ticket price.

There are, though, a few shows which pay homage to the depth of thought that makes the fanatics all fanatical.  Spartacus is more than really attractive abs and gratuitous sex.  It takes a look at loyalties, what makes something worth giving up your life or taking the life of another, and the value of each human soul, which is strongly pounded into the audience with each slit throat and growling glare.  There’s still good old fashioned superhero romps like the Avengers to remind you that sometimes it’s about having fun, too, although they don’t let you forget that it’s also about redemption.  Not a one of the characters in that film get to walk onto screen without dragging a loaded past behind them.  (Well, except for Captain America, hence his reputation as a bit of a snob.)  And there are more worth watching, and more worth reading as well.

But I fear for the genre, because more and more there’s little I’m even motivated to pay attention to.

So, what are your thoughts?  What is there worth the time and money?  Are there any geeks left at the helm, or has Hollywood made the genre it’s whore?*

*Ahem, Joss Whedon.  But other than him…?

Fantasy: is it sin?

No, I’m not talking about fantasy in a sci-fi/fantasy sense- I’m talking sex.

Is it wrong to fantasize?  Many women will admit to fantasies of being held, talked to, emotionally stimulated in some way.  They will admit that sometimes they dream about people they’ve met in passing.  Not necessarily always in a strictly sexual sense, sometimes it’s just about companionship.

But if we are Christian a question remains: is it sin?

Psychologically speaking fantasy is a “safe” way in which to engage in behaviors deemed “unsafe” in reality.  One knows one would pay a price for arguing with one’s mother, so one fantasizes.  One knows one isn’t ever going to date Edward Norton, so one fantasizes.  Fantasy can also be an exercise for certain things one is unsure of- and in this sense women have much more active fantasy lives then men.  Women tend to fantasize about the course of the day, how to interact with a boss, what to make for dinner.  Women tend to think about these things to a much greater extent than men.  It’s not a wonder we’re often seen as a “mystery” seeing as we spend such a large amount of time in our heads.  (And yes- I realize this is a gross generalization.  Some men operate this way and some women simply don’t.)

Yet, the question remains:  when it comes to sex, is it a sin?

Ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Do you ever replace real interaction, necessary interaction, with fantasy? Are there times where you know you need to discuss something, and yet you don’t?  Where the anger/disatisfaction/desire you are feeling causes a rift in your relationship, and yet you continue to exorcise it with fantasy instead of interaction?
  2. Do you find yourself unattracted to your mate and only stimulated by fantasy?  This is a major problem- and in this way fantasy can be as dangerous as pornography.
  3. Does your fantasy life take you out of your daily life to the point that it’s an obstruction? You know the kids staring out of the window instead of listening in class?  Is this you in your job?  Your marriage?

Do you throw yourself into romance novels?  Soap operas?  Do you find yourself hurting and longing for something that you only achieve in fantasy?  While in small doses an argument can be made for the safeness and even health of fantasy, there’s a time when you need to embrace and appreciate reality.

Not to mention communication, communication, communication- perhaps if you tell your spouse that you fantasize about being spoken to in a certain way, held in a certain way, approached in a certain way, you’ll find that his eager to behave this way himself and fulfill you.

But- is it sin?  In Matthew 5:28 Jesus says, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  Where is your heart?  Is it with your spouse, your life?  Or have you given it to something unattainable, something that is only in your head?

Science Fiction Saturdays: Mermaids.

As some of you know, one of my other hobbies is writing fiction, mostly fantasy and sci-fi. Sometimes I write short treatments hoping to birth a larger work and they just end up filed away somewhere on my hard drive gathering dust. So now in an effort to force myself to take my own work more seriously, I’ll subject you guys to the other, odder, side of my creative bent. (note: This is MY work. Anyone steals it, expect my wrath. Borrowing with my permission can be negotiated. 😉 )

Mermaids.

Novella idea: Reverse of the common theme- a man falls madly in love with a mermaid and trades his legs in for fins.

Odd thought: How would mermaids reproduce? Would it be like seahorses? Or would they lay eggs like fish? Or would they be more like underwater mammals? In other words- just how human ARE they?

* * *

The first time he saw her was in the late evening. He was walking along the lava beds taking photographs when a flash in the sun caught his eye. There she was, head and shoulders out of the water, one pale hand brushing black-as-tar hair away from reddened cheeks. When she saw him she looked startled and immediately dropped out of sight.

This is a game, he thought, she’ll resurface in a little while, laughing, closer to me.

But she didn’t. He counted silently in his head, wondering how long she could hold her breath, and panic started to set in. Perhaps she’d been caught in the undertow. But how could he possibly swim out to her in time? More time was wasted counting his options.

Then she reappeared, farther out. Strangely large eyes peered at him, unblinking. Pink mouth pursed, pensive. Pale hand lifted out of the water and slowly every finger unclasped and clasped in turn. A slow wave.

Isaiah lifted his own hand and returned the gesture. He could see the confusion and fear in her eyes and it troubled him. “Hello?” He called out.

She winced, visibly, but returned his call with a timid “Aloha.” Her voice was far more musical than any other he had heard, deeper in tone and resonance. She blushed furiously and then was gone. This time she did not resurface, and oddly enough this time he did not panic. He saw a ship a little farther out, and some part of him assumed that was where she was going.

Another, deeper, part of him had registered the feathery gills on the side of her neck as she’d pulled back her hair, and the fact that her unblinking eyes had in fact blinked, with a third eyelid like a cat’s. This part of him accepted the fact that she simply disappeared with no haven in sight simply because it was used to accepting all of the irrational things that the rest of him didn’t want to deal with. This inner part of him was harmoniously tuned in to the inexplicable world living just beneath the skin of the one the Western world so empirically stated as the whole of existence. This inner Isaiah was about to permanently become the outer one, but he didn’t know it yet.

*And so ends the odd love story of Isaiah and Anala, as far as I’ve written. Part of me really likes it. A bigger part of me doesn’t want to engage in the necessary research to make Anala’s world more believable than Disney’s Ariel. Time will tell which part of me wins.