Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Burning: Part One

The Burning is a sort of prequel to Countless as the Stars; in the time of Countless, The Burning has become part of the mythology of Tellus, and an integral part of the Creed.

I'll be the first to confess the story is not stunning in its originality or style; it's like a scale prototype, written so I could get the feel of the genre and whether the concept could possibly be made to work on a larger scale. I hope you'll still take the time to read it.

Reproduced here is an early draft of the story; a more polished version does exist, but on another, less easily accessible hard drive, so please don't be too harsh in your criticism :). I have also broken it down into easy to digest segments, which I will post here periodically (i.e. whenever I don't have anything else to say) until you all tell me its rubbish and I should stop. (Nothing like a little self-deprecating humour, is there? I think it's an English thing.)

The Burning

R'Leef hurried through the streets of a city which had rejected him, keeping his head down and his placard under wraps. The message he preached here was not a popular one, and away from the relative safety of the shopping centre R'Leef tried not to be noticed. These streets were the domain of vagrants, addicts and beggars; dangerous streets, but R'Leef wanted people to believe they were his home, so each time he visited the city he came back the same way, doubling back later to reach his suburban home.
R'Leef turned down a narrow alley, walking into a wind thick with industrial fumes and alcohol. He heard footsteps behind him, but had only begun to turn when the first blow hit him.
Something big and heavy struck him in the small of his back, knocking him flat on his face. His hand painted sign clattered to the ground ahead of him, advising his attackers to repent while they still had time. Unfortunately, they had another agenda.
R'Leef was trying to get to his feet when another blow knocked his face into the ground. Turning his head cautiously to one side, R'Leef saw two men out of the corner of his eye.
"Repent," one mocked. "For the end is nigh!"
The other laughed raucously with him. "What have you got to repent?"
"Nothing," the first man answered, kicking R'Leef in the side. "Yet!"
Pain filled R'Leef's head and his hearing dulled, only a few phrases like 'lunatic' and 'religious bigot' drifitng just within earshot. His nose was bleeding, and he spat a tooth feebly onto the pavement, watching through tearful eyes as his attacker wielded a heavy metal bar, mercifully blacking out before it struck.

R'Leef looked down on his body as it lay motionless on the floor. The two thugs nudged it with their boots, looked around guiltily, and ran. R'Leef seemed to drift weightlessly up and away from the scene, wondering if he was dead. He found he could look up, and saw the bright blue sky stretching all around him. The air smelled clean up here, felt refreshing and cool against his face.
"R'Leef." The voice came as if on the wind from a distance, softly spoken, but as clear as if R'Leef himself had spoken.
"Yes, Lord," R'Leef answered, not looking for the source of the voice.
A tiny point of light appeared before him, and grew rapidly to the size of the full moon, burning more brightly than the summer sun.
"Mankind has become evil," the Lord said solemnly, the star pulsating with the rhythm of his voice. "I created them to care for my world, but they have become corrupt and violent, and are destroying what I have made beautiful. Now I have come to regret creating mankind, and though it pains me to say this, I have decided to wipe mankind from the face of my world."
R'Leef listened, shocked, but deeply moved by the sorrow in the voice of God. "No second chances?" he asked, hesitantly.
"You have had your share of second chances," the Lord went on. "I have not reached this decision lightly, but mankind has insulted me, and must pay the price. All that I have created, I will now destroy, I so regret that I made them all."
R'Leef was part of this, he knew. But he also knew he had tried to live a righteous life, and to lead others to do the same.
"Yes, you are a good man," God seemed to read R'Leef's mind. "You have walked with me, although it has been hard; you alone have found favour in my eyes. I like you, R'Leef, so I will show you what I will do, and how you can be saved."
"Thank you, Lord!"
"You and your family must hide yoursleves underground for a time," the Lord explained. "I will lead you to a safe place; a bunker beneath a long abandoned research laboratory. I have detsroyed a distant star, and soon the shockaves of its explosion will reach Tellus, and destroy all life upon it. Every creature I have placed under man's rule will share his judgement. Everything on Tellus will perish. But I will provide for the future through you and your family, and I will establish my covenant with you. You are to save all living creatures so that the world will be repopulated later. Every kind of animal, all creatures if the sea and the air will come to you, and you are to preserve all of them. Make rooms in the bunker for you and your family, and convert a part of it for the animals which you will take with you. Take provisions for many months, and store them in the bunker for you and your family."
"But I wouldn't know where to start!" R'Leef protested. "I will gladly do as you say, but I need some more help!"
"You will know all you need to know," God said.
As R'Leef watched the star it grew in size and brightness, and a strong, warm wind blew past him and around him, circling him, holding him in the centre of a whirlpool in the sky. A rush of wind in his left ear pushed his head to one side, and R'Leef found he knew about architecture. He knew the intricacies of the building trade. Gardening, biology, survival - knowledge filled his head far too quickly for his conscious mind, and he passed out again.

A familiar face was looking lovingly down on him when R'Leef finally came to again.
"I knew this would happen sooner or later, Dad," Zalbeth said.
"Where am I?" R'Leef mumbled.
"In my lab," his daughter explained. A couple of my colleagues saw you and recognised the religious nut who preaches in the square. I sent them home and came to find you."
"My head hurts." R'Leef rubbed it gently. Zalbeth must have bandaged it while he was- "having a vision!"
"Listen to me," R'Leef stood up, gripping Zalbeth by her arms and pretending it wasn't just to steady himself. "This is very important. God has judged mankind, and we are to be punished. He has told me his plans because I honour him and live according to his rules. He will save me, and my family too if they have faith."
Zalbeth was slightly scared by her father's actions - but she could see the conviction in his eyes, and did not belive her father ready for the asylum just yet.
"What do I have to do?" she stuttered nervously.
"What I am telling you comes straight form the heart of God. You must believe it, believe it is God's word, and obey it faithfully."
Zalbeth paused for a second - this was not something she wanted to take lightly! - then nodded.
"Good!" R'Leef smiled, and hugged his daughter.

Continues here

Monday, April 24, 2006

Musings on my writing

One of the things I've been doing over the Easter break is consider what I should be writing next. The only thing I can say for certain is that I need to stop procrastinating and write something; at the moment I'm concentrating on a couple of (non-sf) short stories, while deciding which of my various novels in progress deserves most of my attention.

The problem I have is not a shortage of ideas; it's that I feel I need to do something completely new in order to come up with something saleable in science fiction.

Recently I've been working on an alternate history story; I think I've got a new angle, but it's a subject that's so well-trodden I won't be putting the bulk of my efforts into it until I'm convinced it stands out from the crowd.

I think I will return to my time travel epic at some stage, but that too got sidelined as the section set in Gospel times couldn't compete with The Third Day.

Another WIP was shelved a while back, a sort of cyberpunk allegory, but in these post-Matrix days it looks terribly derivative, despite the fact that all the work I've done on the project pre-dates the Matrix movies. Is cyberpunk too 1990s, or is that about what the Christian market is ready for?

All of which leaves me with the sequel to Countless as the Stars. Since there are things, with hindsight, I would do differently with Countless, I could use the opportunity to see what I'm really capable of in the way of a science fiction novel. The same problem exists here though: to make sf saleable I think I need to add something to the genre, especially if I base the story on existing Biblical narrative. Nonetheless, this is the only one of my WIPs I feel compelled to work on at the moment, so I'm going to see where it takes me.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Compare and contrast...

I don't want to start any Creation v Evolution debates here, but...

Genesis 3 v14 appears to suggest that snakes didn't always 'crawl on their bellies'.

On the other hand, a fossil recently discovered in Argentina appears to shed new light on the evolution of snakes...

What I like about this is it shows that these kind of discoveries - be it alien contact, time travel, or something as down to earth (no pun intended) as a fossil - can either confirm or disprove our beliefs, depending on our point of view (and how much we choose to read into them).

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Mos Eisley, NM

Well, who'd have thought it, eh? Little old Earth now has its very own fully operational commercial spaceport! Not that we're expecting tourists from Outer Betelgeuse to drop in any time soon or creating a little hideout for intergalactic bounty hunters - as interesting as those scenarios would be - but mankind's quest for the stars takes an important sidestep with this announcement.

Elsewhere, China and India have expressed interest in visiting the moon, and NASA put forward plans to use it as a staging post on their way to Mars, but the New Mexico spaceport takes space out of the hands of government space agencies, and puts in the hands of the man on the street. At $200,000 a trip, you may say it's a pretty select street, but then, airline flights, cars, TVs & computers... all started out effectively as playthings for the rich before the technology became cheap enough for mass consumption.
All of which means that science fiction writers can use holidays in orbit, on the moon or even Mars as settings for stories, with a fairly solid basis in current plans. I'm quite excited at the whole idea, having touched on this kind of 'space tourism' in Countless as the Stars, which, of course, is going to earn me the $200k I need...
The first launch from the spaceport is planned for July - I think they should invite Ash to play at the post-launch party.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Look Who's Back!

Well, me for one, after a little Easter breakette.

But more importantly, the Doctor is in the house again. And what I like about the latest series of Doctor Who is that the beeb are actually trying to make 'event telly' out of science fiction. Whether they will succeed or just hype the thing to death remains to be seen, but if anyone can do it, it's the Doctor, with his universal appeal (he was, after all, invented as a kid's TV show, and most of us have grown up with one or more of his incarnations), and the fact that the show can wander seemlessly from far future zombie adventure to gothic horror to parallel universe without losing coherence.

There was an oblique reference to the Doctor in the first episode as 'a lonely god' - a reference to his existence outside of normal space and time, the last of the Timelords - which may be worth exploring here later (at the moment I think it would just repeat some of the Sam Beckett discussion - we'll see what happens to the Doctor later).

In the meantime, here are a couple of interesting Doctor Who related websites:

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Goddess on the mountaintop

Tonight we're watching the skies as the Venus Express begins to send back the findings from its destination, which it reached yesterday.

We already know, of course, that Venus is nothing like Perelandra as imagined by C S Lewis, or some other science fiction visions of the planet, which foresaw a habitable world beneath the cloud, where the sun coming was a once in a lifetime experience.... (insert Scotland gag here)

Some of the wilder speculation in anticipation of the probe's findings is whether the planets acid clouds may in fact harbour some kind of life; what's more certain is that the planet's current state is the result of a runaway greenhouse effect.

The fact that we can already see the early impact of this effect on our own planet means that as we learn more about Venus, we sf writers can better extrapolate a grim future for Earth, and create near-Venusian conditions in familiar locations (even, if you like, Scotland).

ESA Venus Express page
Mission guide from the BBC
Latest news from the BBC
Latest news from

Monday, April 10, 2006

Miscellaneous Bloggery 2

I don't have much time today, so instead of writing at length, I'll direct you to a couple of recent blogs of interest...

Some book reviews that may be of interest: Outriders, by Kathryn Mackel, and The Patron Saint of Plagues by Barth Anderson.

And Elliot pointed me to this interesting little discussion on What must be Christian about a Christian novel. His Science Fiction, Fantasy and Faith blog series continues at Claw of the Conciliator.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul

Eternal life. Immortality. The fountain of eternal youth.

Humanity's quest for these have been motifs of fiction for probably as long as there has been fiction; mythical adventurers seeking the elixir of life, that sort of thing.

Recently science fiction has offered a whole new way of living forever - in fact, several:

  • Vampire legends have allowed a form of eternal life for many years; although this largely belongs in the fantasy/horror genres, there is no reason not to invent a science fiction twist to the original legend (which, in itself, can be seen as a subversion of the Christian communion, but that's another subject).
  • In Red Dwarf, Lister extended his life by 3 million years by going into stasis, thus comfortably outliving the entire human race. Despite still being 'mortal', Lister's predicament nicely illustrates one of the less desirable potential side-effects of immortalilty.
  • Advances in medical science can be extrapolated or invented to cure almost anything, slow down aging, and extend life for as long as is necessary for the story in hand.
  • Probably the most spiritual form of eternal life in contemporary sf is 'ascension'; in Stargate: SG-1, Daniel Jackson ascends to become a being of pure energy, exisiting on a higher state of existence. However, in Jackson's case at least, the process transpired to be reversable.
  • Eternal life in cyberspace. I guess this kind of idea was a part of the Cyberpunk genre: the uploading of one's memories and personality into a huge computer system where it can live on long after the expiration date of the physical form.
  • Taking the concept a step further, in The Sixth Day, personality and memories can be uploaded into a clone of the physical form repeatedly, effectively extending life indefinitely.
  • Douglas Adams, in typical Douglas Adams style, created an immortal character - Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged - who 'had had his imortality inadvertantly thrust upon him by an unfortunate accident with an irrational particle accelerator, a liquid lunch and a pair of rubber bands.'

And since I can't possibly hope to top that sentence, I shall offer today's poser (borrowed from a cyberpunk story, I think Greg Egan's Permutation City):

If a simulation is perfect in every way, is it still a simulation, or is it the real thing?

For instance, is a clone of you, with your personality and memories, you? If both exist at once, which is the real you? And how do you know?

Perhaps more relavent to the Christian worldview, does the clone have a soul? Does the cyberspace copy of you?

Another interesting point from the Christian worldview is that if you could physically live forever, you wouldn't need Christ's salvation to gain eternal life. Or to put it another way, rather than 'dying to sin', you would have to physically die in order to receive it.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

First Contact... again

A couple of weeks ago I was considering some effects of first contact on the church and the established belief systems of our planet. This was in the context of aliens arriving on Earth, but...
What if it happened the other way around?
What if humanity is not alone in the universe, but is the most advanced civilisation within it?

This kind of premise allows for science fiction tales to comment on the empire building, colonization and slavery that the 'civilised' European nations embarked upon centuries ago, but there is an obvious Christian angle to that - the missionaries who went (and indeed still go) into these far flung outposts of the Empire to spread the Gospel. (I touched on a similar kind of calling in Countless as the Stars, but for a different reason.)

If you assume a galaxy peopled with many diverse sentient species, each with there own deeply held set of religious beliefs, it opens up a huge scope to explore the nature of God, faith and organized religion; in sufficiently skilled hands it also allows for conflict between religions that could almost become topical...

Imagine, for instance, if instead of Starfleet, the Interplanetary Mission Project had gone to Bajor at the end of the Cardassian Occupation. Or for a less confrontational challenge, imagine being called to be a missionary among the logical Vulcans, or the hyper-capitalist Ferengi...

Right, I'm off to re-write Star Trek...

Monday, April 03, 2006

Miscellaneous Bloggery

Well, I've added a few links over there to some related blogs and other peeps who have been kind enough to link here. If I've missed you, leave a comment.

I should also give a belated shout to Elliot's "breakneck tour of Christianity in sf and fantasy", which I shall have to refer back to as there are some significant gaps in my reading here; notably, of what Elliot thinks of as 'the big three' - Gene Wolfe, Connie Willis and Tim Powers, I can claim only to have read a bit of Wolfe. This is partly because, despite being a Christian and a science fiction fan for many years, I only recently put the two together, in both my reading and writing. And being a xenophobic Brit, my favourite sf authors tend to be British too - Douglas Adams, Iain M Banks and Stephen Baxter spring to mind. (Next time I visit the library I'll try to remember to start at the second cabinet...) Some of the others he mentions (Boucher and Cordwainer Smith among them) are already on my list of 'things to find a copy of', and I'll comment on here when I eventually do so...

Alien Life is a great little blog, especially for anyone interested in real life astrobiology; for me, it serves as a neat little ideas shop for near-future stories.

The Self Publishing Blog is currently running a series on sf sub-genres which may be of interest; I didn't even know astrosociobiology was a word, never mind a sub-genre...