Saturday, August 28, 2010

And Now for a Laugh

Alrighty, this has nothing to do with adventures in fiction nor with living the writer's life, but it's a lot of fun:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Favorites - Day 3

This month's CSFF blog tour has caught me at a time when my posts are at the end of the day rather than the beginning -- not the best circumstance, but that's life, eh?

The focus for August isn't a particular novel but the various bloggers' favorite science fiction or fantasy novels written by Christian authors or with a Christian worldview or theme.

My new favorite science fiction novel, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, doesn't necessarily fall into the "Christian fiction" category, but it was my first choice when casting about for an SF title. However, there's another I like, the second in a series (I still haven't gone back and caught the first title): The Personifid Invasion by R.E. Bartlett, part of the CSFF tour back in September 2008. The tour feature that month was not a particular book, either, but Marcher Lord Press, and The Personifid Invasion was one of the first three books published.

The Personifid InvasionI didn't expect to like the novel, but it grabbed me despite my reluctance and the fact that I had to read it entirely onscreen (I'm still a fan of the old fashioned ink-and-paper books); the original review can be read here. And there's a paperback for those readers who, like me, prefer non-electronic books. So, I didn't catch the first part of the story -- The Personifid Project -- but the sequel is easy to follow.

Maybe in a couple more years or so, when the story's faded further back into memory, I might start from the beginning. It's a "thing", and it's the reason I have so many books: Even the classics are fresh when they've spent fallow time on the shelf, waiting to be read yet again.

For other favorites on the tour, check out the links here. You might find some overlap in our lists, but there are some unexpected or forgotten books in the spotlight, as well, and I've already added a few to my "Must Buy" list. Enjoy the tour!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Favorites - Day 2

Blaggard's MoonIt's reader's choice this month on the CSFF blog tour, and it's a bit of a challenge, trying to come up with just a few favorites and not a long list.

Thanks to the tour, I've encountered many excellent new science fiction and fantasy titles; for me, the standout titles are Blaggard's Moon by Bryan Polivka (awesome yarn!), The Enclave by Karen Hancock, Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos, Lost Mission by Athol Dickson, and Vanish by Tom Pawlik. There are also a lot of books I've missed on the tour over the past couple of years, so there's a lot of catch-up reading to be done. Aw, shucks, darn: I have to read. (That's kinda like a kid secretly pleased to be banished to his room, so he can dive under the bed and dig into the boxes of comic books stored there.)

The VisitationIn the 1980s and 1990s, I didn't encounter a Frank Peretti novel I didn't like. Oh, I might avoid one for a bit -- The Oath, for instance, or The Visitation -- but if it was in my sphere, I read it. This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness had a profound impact on me, and I read them several times -- devoured them, actually. But The Oath and The Visitation were too close, too much like my own life, so that the line between fantasy and reality stopped existing. An argument might be made that those books aren't really fantasy, but they are most certainly speculative fiction. The Oath challenges misconceptions of sin and consequences, and The Visitation evaporates "Christian" illusions and false miracles.
The Wounded Spirit ( Leader's Guide )
Shortly after reading that book, someone loaned me a nonfiction volume by Peretti: The Wounded Spirit. Coming right behind The Visitation, it reinforced the truths found there, and literally changed my life. I was not alone. Someone else, a fellow believer, had experienced circumstances uncannily like mine, and his faith had survived.

Some among the church looked askance at my reading material, and many of the elders did not believe fiction (lies) had any place in a good young Christian's library. And the crazy stuff I enjoyed reading actually inspired warnings and lectures. I smile now to imagine what some of those same people might say of my writing!

Yet it is this "questionable" fiction that led me toward Truth, and stoked the fires of imagination.

A list of the other stops on the blog tour can be found here; check out what other bloggers are saying about their favorite Christian science fiction and fantasy novels!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Favorites - Day 1

This month's Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy blog tour features not one book but many: participants choose their favorite books, new or old, classics or almost unknown, and discuss them as they will. Not sure what I'm gonna talk about -- I'm just gonna sit down at the computer and let fly with whatever comes to mind. After all, most of my favorites are rooted in classic literature: The Chronicles of Narnia, for instance, or Pilgrim's Progress -- which, now that I think about it, is probably my very first introduction to Christian fiction. Sure, there were stories in Sunday School or in anthologies, but Pilgrim's Progress was a totally different animal than the "Dick and Jane" types of stories I encountered as a young'un.

As soon as I learned to read, I read everything, including stuff that was beyond my comprehension. I could read the words, follow the sentences, but couldn't always understand the meaning of the material. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. It caused me to stretch my young mind, to ask questions, to learn the basic research tools of looking up the hard words in the dictionary or interviewing my elders who knew more than I did.

Pilgrim's Progress, more allegory than fantasy, was easy to understand, and I could draw direct parallels with reality. The Chronicles of Narnia was not so tidy, and I could not always see Truth in the fantasy, being so caught in the story that I didn't step back to try to gain any wisdom or knowledge from the material. But that's the beauty of story, isn't it?

A story can do what a parent or a preacher or a mentor cannot: it can engage our minds and emotions in such a way that truth has a chance of being introduced, whereas we might not give much credence to what other people say, or we might be too distracted to really hear them. A story has the ability to reach us when a lecture avails nothing.

Not that a story's main job is to teach, preach, or discipline. Stories can be oral histories. They can be entertainment. They can be introductions to new worlds and ideas, reminders of old worlds and foundational ideas, glimpses into other cultures, wild rides in the unbounded imaginations of creative authors. Stories have the power to change, heal, inspire. They have, as a collective force, drawn me toward the Wonderland of storytelling. Over the course of the next two days, I hope to talk about other favorite books that have shaped my life.

Meantime, visit these stops on the blog tour, and check out the favorite tales of other writers and readers:
Brandon Barr
Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Jeff Chapman
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
  George Duncan
April Erwin
Andrea Graham
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Becky Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Mike Lynch
Rebecca LuElla Miller
New Authors Fellowship
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Jason Waguespac
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
KM Wilsher

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Animal Planet(s)

I'm not a cat person. The neighborhood strays who like lounging on my porch or stretching out for a snooze on the cab of my truck haven't seemed to figure that out. Or perhaps they have, and are just tweaking me by perversely continuing to treat my property as their own.

I admit, it's kinda funny to watch two indolent adolescent cats suddenly give each other a wide-eyed look then leap up and launch themselves across the yard in a crazy cat version of tag. If the old, long-deceased, and otherwise mild-mannered family dog were still here, he'd join the chase, and the world would very likely be short two stray cats.

Rocky: best dog ever.

I'm considering the fact that there are almost no animals in my science fiction universe. There are colonies of humans who have attempted to bring vegetation to arid planets, but only in one small wilderness town have there been animals, specifically dogs. There's one planet I've mentioned that is half-covered in jungle. What if there are others where the introduction of grass and other agricultural products has been successful? Then there could be a "real" Western episode (or many such episodes) set in cattle country.

In the fantasy cycle, horses are special to some of the characters, who talk to them and care for them much as they might pet dogs. Kraekor is one such horse, whose affection for apples has made him rather a connoisseur: he'll turn up his nose -- literally -- at the lesser varieties but follow around anyone who might have a particularly tasty variety in pocket or in hand. Beware the hand.

Kraekor also will come up beside his master and rest his "chin" on the man's shoulder, or approach from the front, bend down, and bump his entire head against the man's chest. Or Captain Gaerbith will drape an arm around Kraekor's neck, and the two of them will just stand side-by-side while the man talks about whatever's on his mind.

Ever do that with an animal? Talk as if they understood exactly what you said? I used to do that with Rocky, and later with Paco, a German Shepherd whose affection could break bones. Even his tail, when wagged, could leave bruises. When he stood on his hind legs as he leaped up to greet me, Paco was taller than I and with better reach and a wicked left hook. Good thing he loved me. Despite that, I was fortunate to avoid the clinic.

So, there should be animals in the colonies. Maybe someone brings a stray dog aboard the Martina Vega. That might make for some interesting antics. I imagine one or two of the gruffer characters might make a big show of hating all animals, that scruffy dog in particular, but then be caught secretly feeding the animal, or scratching its head and speaking to it in a bunch of baby-talk nonsense. Or speaking in a loving tone while calling it all sorts of vile names. This is an idea worth pursuing.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Computer Complaints

The desktop computer is undergoing a slow but inexorable transformation as lines of pixelation gather on one side of the screen. The laptop did a nosedive out of the truck on Tuesday, and has had a twitch ever since.

As a writer in this modern age, I am still adept at using pencil and paper. However, online college courses begin next Wednesday, and there's no money in the checkbook for equipment repair or replacement.

Just when I'm riding the wave of positive change, the tow grabs the board from under me.

Ain't that just like life?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Fiction (and Fictionalized Nonfiction) on Film: a Brief Review

The following are DVDs I've rented during vacation in an attempt to kick-start some creativity. Some movies I liked more than others, despite being told what I should like and what I should regard with a critic's disdain. Which is which, I shall not say. Read on for my honest -- and very brief -- opinion.

The Men Who Stare at Goats: loaded with great actors, funny, bizarre, hard to believe stuff like this really happened but truth is stranger, as they say. Despite the profanity, I highly recommend this flick. (Based on the nonfiction book by the same name, author Jon Ronson.)

The Informant!: again, good actors and some humor, but I knew early on there was something fishy. Still, it didn't take away from the almost giddy behavior of the main character as he narrates his walk through the office, all for the benefit of a concealed recorder. I liked it, but probably wouldn't watch it again. (Based on the nonfiction book, The Informant by Kurt Eichenwald.)

Kick-Ass: smart, funny, action-packed. The acting is excellent, the story is unexpected, and I totally identified with the desire to be a superhero and right the wrongs of the world. I really wanted to like this film. However, it was the third film in a row I'd watched that was heavy with profanity, the bloodletting was almost gleeful to the point of disturbing, and the teen sexuality -- though it does go on, as we are well aware -- seemed out of place. Still, one does laugh at Mark Strong's villain casually ordering movie popcorn and Twizzlers after doing his villain-y things. (Based on the graphic novel by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.)

The Losers: the fourth rental, yet another based on a graphic novel, and the most enjoyable of the bunch. Great lines, just the right mix of action and humor, with violence that mostly happens off-screen; the explosion of a particular helicopter is a disturbing but necessary part of the plot, and sets the rest of the story into motion. This movie is in the running to become part of my library.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the last of the stack, is interesting to look at, has a different slant to its humor, but just didn't keep my attention. In truth, I didn't even finish watching it. I get that it's supposed to be a struggle between good and evil, God and the devil, Doctor Parnassus and Mr. Nick. Paintings of Christ are used as Hinduised/Bhuddaised portraits of Doctor Parnassus in his youth. Perhaps they're meant to be clever, hip, allegorical. Whatever. There's allegory and fantasy here, but it is disjointed, cluttered, occasionally funny. Other folks have said it's had a profound affect on them. Maybe it would have done the same for me. If I'd stayed awake.

Something in a similar vein -- that being the absurd, humorous, and sideways -- is the SyFy mini-series "Alice", a twisted and upside-down version of Alice in Wonderland, and one which I found more enjoyable than Imaginarium, despite flaws. Oddly enough, as of this date, the IMDb scores for the two films are almost identical: the miniseries at 7.0 out of 10, and the movie at 7.1.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

I Need a Vacation from My Vacation

Science fiction writers, I am sorry to say, really do not know anything. We can't talk about science, because our knowledge of it is limited and unofficial, and usually our fiction is dreadful.

That's me. A science fiction writer whose knowledge is limited, and what little there is was gained from elementary school textbooks when I was a student or from haphazard research now that I'm an adult. And, yes, the writing is often dreadful, but my brother assures me the Cheese-O-Meter hasn't pegged out yet.

Five days into vacation, and I've spent far more time doing other tasks than writing. House painting is slow work in this heat; I've been getting up in "the wee hours" and working until the temperature becomes too much. Every time I sit down to write, I want to fall asleep instead. Three in the afternoon feels like the end of the day.

Episode 13 of Thieves' Honor is underway, and I'm hoping to dive into the reason for the rebels' existence, maybe bring up the humor level again, alleviate the darkness. (Ray Gun Revival still has one more issue in its current format, and Episode 12 will appear in that publication.)

The as-yet-untitled supernatural novel needs to be finished, and soon, but I'm nowhere near the halfway mark. All I've written on it this week is a few sentences in this non-spoiler paragraph:

This was his first visit to the haven in three years, and only the fourth since she left. Each time, he never took a direct route, and spent more time looking in the rearview mirror for tails than he did admiring the view, but he'd been there for a couple days now, and looked as sweat-stained and dust-covered as any ranch hand. Haven? Absolutely. Heaven? As close as anyplace could be, and still be here on earth.

The fantasy manuscripts haven't been touched. That circumstance is starting to give me itchy fingers -- and an itchy brain. Must be one of the symptoms of writing addiction, and I've been away too long.