Monday, July 27, 2009


The blog posts around here have been getting worse and worse, and I take full responsibility: house stuff, family stuff, work stuff -- it all needs attention.

Therefore, in the interest of doing a few things well rather than many things ill, Adventures in Fiction is on hiatus for the next week or two.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Preference v. Weakness

As a reader, I approach stories differently than a friend -- let's call him Bob -- approaches them. I might know a few facts about the author, or a little about the basic plot, but if the story sounds interesting, I'll settle in for the ride, see where it takes me. After all, the adventure is the point. Bob, on the other hand, wants to know everything up front. He wants to know the end in the beginning. If he goes into a story with a certain expectation of the plot or the outcome, but the story doesn't deliver it quite the way he wants, it's a bad story.


My mom is a voracious reader, but -- despite her critical skills at work in finances -- she doesn't analyze stories much. If they catch her interest and are written halfway decently, she'll read them till the end. Over the years, there have been stories so poorly executed or so cumbersomely written that she never finished them, but those are rare. She has said many times that she's not a good judge of writing, not a literary analyst; she just knows what she likes.

My brother and his wife, whom visitors to this blog already know as Bubba and Bubba's Wife, are somewhat the same: Tell them a good story, tell it well, and they'll go along for the ride, regardless of genre. They have their preferences, but they'll go outside them if the story warrants.

In the writers group, some folks declare a story good or not depending on its genre. There are some genres that just aren't acceptable or that they claim are too difficult to understand (science fiction, for instance), and some such as mysteries or everyday drama that -- regardless of execution -- are considered good.

Of the varying reader approaches to stories listed above, I've noticed similarities between them and the book reviews in the blog tour in which I participate. Reviewers list what they perceive as strengths and weaknesses in stories, but while they may agree on a few points, they may also vary greatly from one another.

A similar disparity can be found in many movie reviews: One viewer says the film dragged, another says he was kept on the edge of his seat. One says the characters weren't developed enough, another finds them compelling and multidimensional. One feels the story was full of plot holes, yet another thinks the story held together well, airtight.

So, then, what are weaknesses in any given story, or merely preferences on the part of the audience?

One's opinion of a book often depends on what one expects or wants from it. Some folks prefer a predictable formula, because they want to know ahead of time how the story ends. It makes them feel safe. Surprises are uncomfortable. Other folks want to enter the fictional world blind, learning it as they go. While they might make guesses as to the outcome, they enjoy the challenge of making connections and overcoming obstacles alongside the characters. There's a catharsis in that approach.

Monsters in a romance novel might be unexpected, but that doesn't mean they don't belong -- depends on the romance, I reckon. Spaceships in a Western, pixies in a horror tale, ghosts showing up in a children's story -- they don't belong only if the author hasn't done his or her job. I certainly wasn't expecting Nephilim to show up in a recent suspense novel I read -- and, if the book had a weakness, I would say it was the sketchy set-up for their presence -- but I thoroughly enjoyed the story. Other reviewers disagreed about their part in the tale, and still others were uncertain as to the too science fiction-y-ness of their red-laser eyes, but the world of the novel opened the reader to the possibility of such creatures. The author did her job.

As for a book being dull or exciting, intriguing or confusing, profound or pointless, while much may depend on the author's skill, much also relies on audience perception. One writer I know thinks science fiction is the domain of teenagers and immature men who refuse to leave their mothers' basements; therefore, anything I try to share in that genre is not received, no matter how polished and exciting it might be. That's not a weakness in the genre, just a preference in the reader.

I must confess, much fantasy and science fiction nowdays does seem to dwell on tawdry or juvenile themes. Still, there are plenty of upstanding grownups in this world who happen to like solid, well-told, and fairly clean fiction.

-- to be continued --

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Enclave - Day 3

In The Enclave, a science fiction suspense novel, author Karen Hancock writes a many-stranded story with an ensemble of characters, but the leads are two scientists who, as Christians, work among other scientists hostile to their beliefs. Hancock presents arguments from two points of view--faithful and atheistic--and lets her protagonists press through a daily gauntlet of mockery, lies, and doubt.

Though far from being a scientist, I know the pressure of being a Christian in an anti-faith environment. I know what it's like to be backed into a corner, to be pushed toward compromise. Therefore, as I read The Enclave, I recalled certain events from my own life, when I encountered the intellectual arrogance of certain atheists and evolutionists who consider Creationism a belief only harbored by idiots, or by people who take faith too far.

In my experience, there is very little tolerance actually practiced by those who demand tolerance of the rest of us, and there is little of it shown by atheists toward believers, or by evolutionists toward creationists. I say "atheists or evolutionists" because some who claim belief in God also try to contort evolutionary theory to fit with Genesis, and they come up with some sort of theistic evolution; but, to borrow a biblical question, what fellowship has darkness with light?

On a talk radio program aired in my area of Arkansas in the evening of June 15, 2009, in the "recall" portion of the show (an audio version of a highlights reel), the host featured a call by a seventeen-year-old young man who said that, after being presented with the theory of evolution in school, he decided creation was a more viable option.

The host told him that, when he turned eighteen, he shouldn't vote. The host mocked him, and reinforced the notion that the kid wasn't smart enough to vote, and that Creationists voted a day later than the rest of the citizenry.

It was unnecessary and belittling. The host may purport himself to be an equal opportunity offender, but this was beneath dignity. The kid came off much better than the adult in that encounter, and I hope he holds his faith, his integrity, and his ground in future encounters with those who feel that their greatest weapon against God and His believers is mockery.

Seems to me, the mere act of disagreeing with atheists or evolutionists can bring accusations of stupidity, religious zealotry, et cetera, and all without any incontrovertible proof being offered to support their claims. After all, evolution is still only a theory. There is no empirical evidence or eyewitness testimony, no reproducible form of evolution (despite genetic tinkering), no proof that plants and animals are evolving now into other forms of life.

Some assume or believe that mankind will improve as he evolves, but evolution only means change, and change is not always for the better.

As demonstrated by the protagonists of The Enclave, and in Hancock's own life (she has a degree in biology), evolutionists do not own the market on intelligence. An individual can be highly intelligent -- can be a medical doctor, a scientist, an archaeologist, or practice any other profession requiring great skill and mental acumen -- and still believe God called the universe into existence and set it in motion.

However, evolutionists need as much or more faith than creationists, because they must believe that such a precise set of circumstances happened by accident; that gasses exploded, and life began, or that life rose from a primordial ooze of just the right chemicals, despite evidence that living matter does not form from non-living matter, or that the laws of thermodynamics (notice the word laws, which are proven and consistently provable, as opposed to theories, which are not) totally smack down the notion of evolution.

Soooo, I've wandered far afield in what is supposed to be a review of a novel and ended up being a lesson in science. However, it's stuff like this that draws me to books like that. Just in case you happen to be like me but you haven't read this book,enter to win a FREE copy of The Enclave.

1) Comment on this post (or send me an e-mail message: KeananBrand at yahoo dot com),
2) Include your name and e-mail address,
3) You're entered in the drawing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Enclave - Day 2

Day Two of the July CSFF Blog Tour featuring an intriguing science fiction suspense novel, The Enclave by Karen Hancock, and I'm waaaay behind on the game.

Blame it on work. Blame it on family visiting. Blame it on birthday. (My niece wrote a story for her homework assignment then dedicated it to me as a birthday present. Very cool.)

Rather than try to cobble together something intelligent and profound for this second day of the tour, I'll try to come up with something fantabulous for tomorrow, the third and final day of the tour.

Meantime, here's another excerpt from the book:

The rat-tat-tat of automatic-weapon fire echoed sharply down the narrow crawl tube as Cam reached the hole in the ceiling at its end and pulled himself upward and over the lip. Gathering his feet beneath him, he looked up and froze. Parker Swain stood before him, wearing a white toga and a green camouflage military helmet. Behind him loomed one of the sarcophagi, a giant shadowy mound on a tiny cart that blinked with multifarious lights.

The sight startled him so badly it knocked him back into the hole--and out of the nightmare.

He sat blinking at the bars of too-bright light that lay across the green blanket covering his legs and struggled to figure out where he was.

Wanna read more?

Enter to win a FREE copy!
1) Comment on this post (or send me an e-mail message: KeananBrand at yahoo dot com),
2) Include your name and e-mail address,
3) You're entered in the drawing.
Winner will be notified within a week.

A list of fellow tour participants can be found in The Enclave - Day 1. There are a variety of opinions, which makes for an interesting tour, so check 'em out!

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Enclave - Day 1

Cameron Reinhardt is an idiot!

Yes, he had a PhD from Stanford. Yes, he was widely acknowledged as a brilliant geneticist. Yes, Director Swain called him the field's brightest rising star, the Institute's greatest asset, and a fabulous hiring coup. But this wasn't the first time Lacey McHenry wondered how the man managed to to get up in the morning and make it to his office fully clothes.

She stood in the frog room's open doorway, a large, rectangular steel tank hulking against the peach-colored wall across from her. One of its three hinged covers stood open, propped back against the wall. Live frogs and toads scattered the concrete floor beneath it, watching her with bulging golden eyes; more of them had trailed slime onto the gleaming floor of the corridor behind her in their break for freedom.

Apparently Dr. Reinhardt had come in sometime that afternoon and forgotten to close not only the lid but the door, as well. She pictured him collecting his subjects and hurrying off to his wet lab at the hall's end, heedless as a teenaged boy. Never mind that all the remaining amphibians could and did escape; never mind someone else would have to clean them up.

Surely he was living proof that a man could be a genius and a moron at the same

So begins The Enclave by Karen Hancock, the featured novel in this month's Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour.

Hancock wastes no time. The opening paragraphs set up preconceptions that are knocked down as the story progresses, and by the end of the first chapter, there's action critical to the plot.

I was amused by the escaping amphibians; they reminded me of the mice and guinea pigs that scamper the university halls in the opening scenes of "The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells", a 2001 miniseries that tells the "truth" behind six of Wells' short stories. However, there's a chasm between the views and beliefs of the real H.G. Wells, and those of the two scientists we follow through the twisty story of The Enclave.

Lacey and Cameron are scientists who are also Christians -- she nominally, he practicing -- working for the prestigious (and fictional) Kendall-Jakes Longevity Institute outside Tucson, Arizona. As they each begin to question events at the institute, and the uncertain ethics of the founder's methods, their faith becomes more and more central to the conflicts in themselves and in relationships with other characters.

There is another set of characters critical to the institute's function, but most of them don't know it.

Minor spoiler (highlight text by holding down mouse button and moving cursor over the white space): Readers who have also seen the film The Island will guess right away the secret of the Enclave. However, knowing who this group is does not by any means give away the story.

A few of these innocents discover the truth, and they could be considered the true protagonists, because they are the catalysts, the ones around whom the whole story revolves. Without the actions of these rebels, Lacey and Cameron might never learn the truth either, and Lacy might even succumb to the pressures and lies of her peers and superiors.

Many times, even while working for other Christians, I have been placed in positions of moral ambiguity, experienced pressure to just go along with the prevailing viewpoint or method, and been mocked for holding true to my beliefs. Others who have walked a similar path may find themselves mirrored in this story, or may nod their heads as they read certain portions, recognizing situations from their own lives.

The Enclave is science fiction, but it contains much truth, and that's a great combination.


Enter to win a FREE copy!
1) Comment on this post (or send an e-mail message: KeananBrand at yahoo dot com),
2) Include your name and e-mail address,
3) You're entered in the drawing!
Winner will be notified within a week.


For other opinions and reviews, check out these stops on the tour:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Random Family Moment

Nope. Nothing about fiction in this post, just a family moment that occurred a couple minutes ago.

The two-year-old niece is hungry, and she wants "Oly-Olies" (raviolis), but the only substitute I have for the real thing is ramen noodles. Bubba began preparations -- water in the soup pot, fire under the burner, and so forth -- then hoisted Niece #2 on his shoulders. She rested the unopened packet of noodles on Bubba's head and announced, "I want to open it, I want to squish it, I want to eat it."

Fortunately, she didn't try to smash the noodles against Bubba's head.

The noodles cannot be cooked fast enough. Sounds of distress are emanating from the two-year-old, and those can lead to distress in the rest of us.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Little Humor, and a Lesson in Irony

It's summer, my day job gets more intense during June and July, and my energy and creativity evaporates. I don't keep up with movies and books as much as I would like, and my writing dribbles away to a few drops of ink expended now and again, whenever my heat-fried brain occasionally connects ideas into some semblance of cohesive story.

My mind keeps wandering back to the storytelling sessions of my childhood, when the older relatives -- Southerners and hillbillies transplanted to Oregon -- would sit around in my grandparents' living room, or on the covered porch, and swap memories and tall tales. We cousins and siblings would laugh at the escapades recounted from their own childhoods, and at the humorous reconstructions of incidents in their married lives or with their children. We'd shiver and sit wide-eyed at the ghost stories and other creepy tales.

Here's a re-post of an entry I originally wrote in October 2007, and addresses a writing lesson I learned from listening to those stories:
Lesson from Uncle Brascal

Uncle Brascal was married to Aunt Jewell. I can't recall their exact relationship to me -- there were one or two "greats" before their names; Jewell was sister to someone -- nor can I remember the proper spelling of their names. I just know that Brascal rhymed with rascal, a very apt association, and I think Jewell spelled her name a little differently.

I loved listening to Uncle Brascal's tall tales, many of them so tall they scraped the clouds. His "true" stories were embellished enough that they at least stood on tiptoe. He enjoyed teasing everyone. My little brother's ears resembled our father's, large and sticking out from his head, and Uncle Brascal would frighten him by threatening to cut them off and use them for soup spoons. He said Dad's ears were so big that he resembled a Model T driving down the road backwards.

Aunt Jewell was neither a small woman nor quick-moving. Brascal used to tell about one Sunday morning when they were late getting ready for church. He came downstairs and "there was Jewell in the kitchen, her apron strings just a-snappin'. 'Bout an hour later, we had breakfast."

He also told of a couple in which the husband was considerably smaller than the wife. They had an argument one day, and she sat on him. Wheezing, the husband said, "Now, Angie, you get offa me 'afore I have to hurt ya."

From Uncle Brascal's stories I learned the concept of irony: 2 a: the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning b: a usually humorous or sardonic literary style or form characterized by irony c: an ironic expression or utterance (courtesy of Merriam-Webster Online).

Irony is one of my favorite tools in the writer's work shed. It's both sharp and subtle, can be funny or dramatic or both, and can often lay bare the truth better than a bald statement or a plain fact. I especially like using irony in dialogue, when a character's thoughts may be in direct opposition to his words, or when his words contradict his actions.

A science fiction story I'm writing employs first-person narration in which the reader is privy to the main character's thoughts in addition to her actions and verbal speech. It is the internal dialogue that sharpens the humor, giving the heroine an edge she might not otherwise possess. It saves her from being quiet and remote from other characters or from the reader; it humanizes her. It tells the truth even as her spoken words evade or cover the truth. The irony of thoughts versus speech lets the reader truly know her.

Ever know the painful irony of knowing what you want to say but being unable to get the words to travel from your brain to your tongue? If only you could show the movie of your mind sometimes, how quickly and (hopefully) clearly you could communicate!

Uncle Brascal and Aunt Jewell have been dead for years, as are my grandparents, and their backwoods stories are gone but for the imperfect memories of we who remain. It is from them and from my father that I learned to love storytelling. Not writing. Telling. There's a magic in hearing the words.

The irony is, I was too young to commit them to paper, and now the words are gone.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Aboriginal Art?

A glimpse into the art goings-on Thursday afternoon at the Club -- the clay faces are a result of an impromptu idea by the group to "initiate" all the sculptors with smears of clay.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Taking Risks - Part 3

(Previous posts on the same topic: Taking Risks - Part 1 and Part 2.)

It's easy to lose oneself in work. It's not a job; it's an identity. There's a certain level of familiarity, comfort, ease -- whichever word applies -- that lures one into remaining in a place of employment despite crazy hours or personality conflicts, challenges to one's authority or disrespect from the public. Then the idea occurs that one can actually leave (shock, choke, gasp) said place of employment.

One lives in a state, city, neighborhood, house, and they can also become part of the identity. The thought of living elsewhere can actually send some folks into panic.

Thanks to a father whose feet were just too itchy to stay in one place long, I lived in a variety of cities and states when I was a kid. Road trips could be anything from leisurely Sunday drives in the countryside to headlong treks across the country. With so much experience at adapting to new houses, schools, churches, and friendships, I am at ease with the notion of change.

Even now, having lived in one house for almost twelve years, I still own cardboard boxes that have never been unpacked. They're ready for the next move.

However, in my recent foray into the realm of the possible, while contemplating not only a different job but a different residence, perhaps far out of state, I have encountered resistance from the roots that inevitably grow after staying in one place too long.

If I leave, I change the face of the family. I upset the holiday schedule and the guest arrangements (at the moment, I'm the only close relative with ample room for stay-over guests). I limit access to my family and friends. I quite possibly strand myself in strange territory, far from help or support. I strand my loved ones, too, who might need me.

So I have a hard decision to make: Do I take the risk and branch out in search of the new and the challenging? Or do I remain within the circle, knowing the roots will only dig deeper? Is that such a bad thing?

If I were writing this scenario, I know absolutely which decision to make, because it might result in a more intriguing story. Real life, though -- tough choice.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Writer and the Sandpaper

I am not a vain person. I don't care much about the condition of my fingernails, except that they be clean. Sometimes.

However, while continuing last night to prepare for painting inside my house, I pretty much sanded them all away.

60-grit sandpaper, by the way, can also remove fingerprints. This is accomplished by holding a folded piece of sandpaper in one's bare hand while ramming said sandpaper into corners or running it along the curves and grooves of shaped wood molding. Or it can be achieved by the strange burning sensation that accompanies the friction of sandpaper against recalcitrant flaws in the woodwork.

So, as I continue with this repainting project throughout the house, I may soon be able to commit crimes with impunity. If caught, I can oh-so-cleverly dismiss those illegalities as writerly research.

Yeah. And all those dropcloths and lengths of plastic sheeting are remnants of my superhero cape.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Fourth

This post, while brief, is political in nature, and has nothing to do with writing fiction.

As a patriotic person all my life, and glad to be a citizen of the United States, I mark this year as the one I do not wish to celebrate Independence Day. I grieve the socialistic / communistic direction my country has taken, and at such a rapid and unopposed pace, during these several months since the November 2008 election.

Independence Day is for celebrating freedom, but I see freedoms slipping away as my countrymen want bail-outs, hand-outs, and "security" that only erodes liberty. In an attempt to keep the sinking ships floating, we've gouged holes in all the hulls, and everyone is going down together.

We are eager to believe a lie, and we succumb to false fear. Global warming has taken the place of global cooling that was among the fear-inducing news of my childhood, when we were told the world was headed toward another ice age. We're told that if we don't bail out failing institutions, we will all fail. But a gardener knows he prunes the dead and dying leaves to keep a plant healthy; he doesn't keep trying to nurture that which is dead.

Failure is an opportunity for future success. Why not let the abusers and misusers of the citizens' funds, of their trust, go down, thus making way for new banks and manufacturers?

This Fourth of July, I don't pray that God blesses America, but that He points her in the proper direction -- and that she heeds the warning.


For a sobering reminder of the costs paid by our founding fathers for our freedoms, those we are simply letting go without a fight, read today's post at A Life in Pages, the blog by author Angela Hunt.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Reading Recommendation

Just in case you're in search of a fiction fix, head on over to Digital Dragon online magazine, a dandy new publication featuring speculative fiction (fantasy and science fiction). In addition to stories for free, they have cool t-shirts and mugs for sale.

This issue's feature story is "Blessed Are the Peacemakers" by Johne Cook, and it's a good read. Hang around for the ending; it just might make you laugh!

Johne is the RGR Overlord who happened upon my casual science fiction blog serial about space pirates, and invited me to submit it to his magazine, Ray Gun Revival. And the rest is history.

Or, to be more accurate, it's current events. At only eight published episodes, the series is just begun.

Thank you, Johne and all the other Overlords, for the opportunity.