Friday, June 30, 2006

Spiritually Significant Films

I'm not sure how long this list has been knocking around (this is the 2005 edition), but since it's just come to my attention, I thought I'd take a look.

Top scoring sf film is Russian post-apocalypse tale Stalker, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, who had previously directed Solaris, also on the list.

Sneaking in towards the bottom of the list is 2001: A Space Odyssey, but that's about it for sf. Compare that to the 2004 list, which featured most of the obvious omissions: Blade Runner, The Matrix, the Star Wars trilogy; plus one I had forgotten was about a minister, Signs. Plus this surprise entry, which I seem to remember also had aliens in it. All of which are in my video collection, and will probably get revisited on the blog when I get time to watch them...

The compilers of the list admit to favouring lesser-known movies - which presumably puts Star Wars and The Matrix at an instant disadvantage - but that still seems a poor showing for movie sf, doesn't it? (Having said that, I don't know what I'd knock off the list, other than some of the obscure foreign movies I've never heard of, which is no doubt very unfair.)

I'm almost afraid to do this, but the obvious way to end a post like this is to ask what spiritually significant sf movies have been missed, and open those up for discussion...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The future's arrived...

...and it's shrink-wrapped.

Seven colour-coded personality types I can live with.

But choosing a one or three year lifespan? That seems a little, well, wrong somehow.

Well, I mentioned some of the spiritual problems with cloning back here, so I won't digress on the subject now.

I just thought I'd say: Elliot, how'd you fancy one of these for your birthday?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Remember science fiction?

Next week I will meander back towards the subject in hand - that's Christianity in science fiction, in case you had forgotten - but today I can't be bothered, and so as not to spoil the rhythm of 3 posts a week, here's a little light music to keep you entertained.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Christian Fantasy Blog Tour: DragonKnight

Under the spotlight this week is Donita Paul's DragonKnight, which, rather handily, came out yesterday. Not having read the book, I have decided instead to discourse on the subject of Dragons:

Many years ago, in a more innnocent time, a new breed was coming into existence. Across the land they emerged, blinking into the sunlight. It was 1982, and they had been shut away in their bedrooms, playing 1K Chess on their ZX81, or marvelling at the colour and sound brought by their new-fangled Spectrums and C-64s. The period of evolution was complete; the Computer Nerd was here.

And it was into the world of the early '80s nerd that the Dragons came. They came from Wales. Port Talbot, in fact, from Dragon Data, of the Mettoy dynasty. First, the Dragon 32, and later, the Dragon 64, swooped on the Sinclair empire, teeth bared, breath flaming, spoiling for a rumble.

You know, as I write this, I'm wondering what on Earth any of it has to do with Christian fantasy. Maybe I should look up this DragonKnight book, see what I can figure out.

*reads amazon listing*

Oh, right. That sort of dragon. Crikey, that's embarrassing. I pictured a geek in a parallel universe searching for retro computers. I'm a bit disappointed, tell you the truth.

Well, erm, since I won't be able to add anything on the subject you can't find out elsewhere on the tour, I'll let this post stand. At least I don't run the risk of duplicating information. Ahem.

The following bloggers may in fact have read the book:
Sally Apokedak
Valerie Comer
Johne Cook
Janey DeMeo
Mary E. DeMuth
Beth Goddard
Rebecca Grabill
Leathel Grody
Katie Hart
Sherrie Hibbs
Marcia Laycock
Shannon McNear
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika Schultz
Stuart Stockton

Now, where's that unfinished comic fantasy of mine, I've got a great idea... I think I might call it: DragonQuest.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Burning: Part Five

Continued from Part Four

It transpired that the probe had suffered little physical damage, beyond some burnt out circuits, presumably from residual radiation, or simply heat. A few components had to be foraged from the bunker's other systems, but a week later, Khem and R'Leef had the probe powered up again, and were ready to send it back up to the surface.
R'Leef nodded at Khem, and placed the probe in the lift. As he pushed the button to close the door, a ball bounced along the corridor at some speed, was deflected by Khem's leg, and bounced off the plastic dome of the probe.
"Oh, heck," said Khem, I hope that hasn't ruined a week's work."
"It'll be fine," R'Leef said, switching on the monitor.
The dingo barged between the two men, almost knocking R'Leef over, and followed his ball into the lift just before the door closed.
Khem groaned, close to despair. "What if the dog breaks it?"
"I would worry more about what your wife's going to say, son."
"About what?" Khem's wife asked. "And what's Ringo doing in the lift?"
Khem looked round, wide-eyed, to see the dog - Ringo - lying down in front of the probe's camera, gnawing contentedly on his ball.
"We tried to stop him," he lied.
"Will he be alright?"
Mercifully Khem was saved from having to answer this when the picture beside him brightened suddenly. He turned in time to see Ringo get up, and bound off into the distance.
R'Leef waited a moment, and once he was sure everything was working correctly, moved the probe forward.
The three of them stood, transfixed by the view. For the first time in over a year, they looked upon the city they had once called home, as it slowly came into view over the hill. The huge towers that stood in the centre raised their heads first, pointing sharply up into the clear blue sky. The vast network of glass and metal that formed the bulk of the city followed, shining in an almost alien sunlight. As the rest of the city came into view, they saw a large area that had been burnt to the ground many months ago.
"Oh no," R'Leef whispered. His own home had once been in the fire damaged zone.
"It';s alright Dad," Khem said. "You can have the biggest house in the city now."
"Thanks," he smiled. "Although I think we should see what other damage has been done first."
The camera zoomed in on the city, its streets - even the highways leading in and out of the city - were still and silent, littered with abandoned vehicles.
"What's that?" Khem pointed at a deep scar running parallel with the highway, from the city out into the wilderness.
R'Leef panned quickly through the city, tracing the cutting's approximate line until he located it on the other side of the city.
Khem's wife had turned ghostly white. "It's the river," she croaked.
They stood in silence, the camera following the dry river bed as it ran out of the city, and into what had once been fertile farmland, but was now dry and cracked, like the river bed. The heat had dried the surface thoroughly, and it hadn't rained in months.
The river ran out of the camera's vision, still dry, so R'Leef focused the camera back on the city. Many of the buildings had sustained considerable damage, very few had unbroken windows, some had had their rooves smashed in or ripped clean off, and others had been decimated by falling debris.
"One day, son," R'Leef said, "all this will be yours."
Khem looked at him, unsure. His wife smirked. R'Leef grinned, and then all three of them burst into laughter so loud and raucous that the rest of the family were soon running along the corridor to see what was so funny.
"The city's in ruins," Khem chuckled, "and the river's bone dry."
"And we lost the dog," his wife giggled.
"But the air's ok," R'Leef laughed. "We made it! We're safe!" and he gave his wife a huge celebratory hug.

A few hours later the lift reached the surface again, this time carrying the eight human survivors of the disaster. All the animals they had with them had been let out into the sun, but for R'Leef and his family, this was their first sunlight, their first fresh air in over a year. After weeks underground with only emergency lighting much of the time, the sunlight was particularly harsh and bright, but the air was incredibly clean and fresh as the last humans alive stepped out onto the world they had to rebuild.
Ringo had found his way back, and lay at the entrance to the lift shaft, panting for water. He slunk into the shade of the lift as soon as Noah's family had vacated it, and lay down again, hot and thirsty.
"So this is all that's left," Uax said.
R'Leef nodded. "This," he said, "and our faith."
"But there's no water," Khem reminded him.
"And it's still so hot!" Zalbeth said.
"Don't be ungrateful," R'Leef said. "We're alive, aren't we? Uax, prepare the sacrifice. We should thank God first. He's given us a fresh start; let's begin on the right foot, shall we?"
And so the hilltop - the very lift shaft by which they had entered this new world - was dedicated to the Lord with the burning of some of the birds they had kept for the sacrifice.
A gentle, refreshing breeze began to blow, and R'Leef thought once again that it carried words to him, although this time the others also appeared to be listening.
"Be fruitful," it said, "increase in number and fill the world. Every living creature which I have saved thorugh you will be under your command. Life is my gift to each of you.
"I now establish my eternal covenant with you, my loyal and faithful servant, and with all of your descendants, and the creatures you watch over. Never again will I destroy the world and mankind in this way. This is my unconditional, eternal promise to you and to all mankind.
"And this is the sign of my covenant with you all - a second moon in the sky. Whenever you see this sign, I will remember my covenant with mankind, never to destroy as I have done now."
The breeze died down, the voice gone as suddenly and strangely as it had come. R'Leef wasn't sure if the others knew, but he was aware that with mankind's sinful tendencies still present in the eight of them, it was possible for things to get that bad again. Reassured by God's promise, demanding nothing of him, he looked at his family, and at the second moon which hung clearly in the bright blue sky. As he looked at this, he saw a cloud form in the distance, growing closer, bigger, blacker by the second. Soon it was on top of them, obscuring the searing sun and the sign of God's covenant, and the rain came down.
Ringo stodd up, and tried to catch raindrops on his tongue. Then his owners tried too, happily getting wet, soaking in the water, sent from heaven to bring life to a world re-born.
R'Leef danced in the rain, singing praises to God, through whose grace the future of mankind was secure.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The painfully obvious Superman post

It seems that since CNN posted this article, the blogosphere has been alive with people commenting on Superman as a Christ figure. The logical thing for a blog about Christianity in science fiction would be to join in, of course.

But, well, until I've seen the film, there's not a lot I can add to the debate.

So instead, pop over to Carmen's thoughts In the open space, and Mir's got some religious superhero links here too.

And while I am, once again, skimping on my responsibilities to write anything original, I recommend these:

More Left Behind bashing: the slacktivist takes a look at the video game.

And I came across this, which I don't think would have worked based on The Phantom Menace.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Song of Susannah

Time for another brief diversion into the realms of fantasy, mainly because I want to make a note of something that struck me in this book.

If you're still working your way through the Dark Tower sequence, you may wish to skip this post for fear of spoilers. If you've finished it, don't spoil Volume 7 for me, please!

Back in Wolves of the Calla, we come across Father Callahan, formerly of 'Salem's Lot, who discovers himself to be a fictional character, at least in one parallel universe.

In this book, this idea is carried on to the next level. This kind of self-referential writing could easily have gone either way. In the hands of a lesser writer, or one with a lesser (or less well known) body of work to refer to, it almost certainly would have been the most agonising bit of reading imaginable. If anyone can pull it off, however, it's Stephen King.

And so it is that he has his hero, Roland of Gilead, and his fellow gunslinger Eddie Dean, turn up on his own doorstep. At this point there own suspicions are confirmed - that they too are figments of King's imagination - while King believes himself to be on the edge of a breakdown. This section of the book could be read as an insight into the creative process, or a warning about the perils of alcohol abuse, but the angle that I want to mention here is the meeting of creator and creation.

To all intents and purposes, Eddie and Roland are standing face to face with their creator. You might say, with their god. Roland might say with Gan.

We are back to the idea I mentioned in my last post, that of being forced to confront God as more than just an idea. But in the exchange between King and his creations, we meet a very unwilling god. A god in denial, almost. I don't know what to do with it, but this idea of a reluctant god struck me as interesting, something that may be worth hanging on to for future use. Of course, I'll have to see what Stephen King does with it in The Dark Tower first - I don't think I'll get away with plagiarising him, however inadvertantly!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Doctor Who and the Return to Form

Let me start this post by saying that I was a bit dubious about getting a new Doctor after a single series. Some sort of continuity seemed to be needed so early in the new series.

However, over the last few weeks I have grown quite attached to the new Doc - as has Rose, who, along with her friends and family, have provided that element of continuity. At times David Tennant gives the impression of having grown up watching Tom Baker as the Doctor (I've no idea whether this is the case, but it's quite possible) and has a similar other-wordly quality, manic moments here and there and no apparent desire to take the role at all seriously...

This week was the closing episode of a two-parter - which of course meant the return of the cliffhanger - and a brilliant mix of humour and (relatively) scary moments. If you haven't seen it, skip to the last paragraph to see what ideas it sparked in me.

Spoilers coming!

Hardened Whovians don't bat an eyelid when the TARDIS turns up in a cupboard, of course. And when, on leaving the cupboard, Rose and the Doctor are greeted by the words 'Welcome to Hell', scrawled on a wall it's still business as usual. Until we find that the symbols below those words are a language too ancient even for the TARDIS to translate, which is, apparently, unusual. Even by the Doctor's standards.

They lose the TARDIS, and Rose and the Doctor find themselves talking about settling down and getting a mortgage. It transpires that they have arrived on a planet held in orbit around a black hole. This is, of course, impossible, so Rose and the Doctor join the small team working on the planet, trying to figure out how it is done. The Doctor informs us that to generate a gravity field sufficient to hold the planet in place and provide a safe passage to and from it would need 'a power source with an inverted self extrapolating reflex of 6 to the power of 6 every 6 seconds'.

Which, of course, leads to this particular episode arriving on a blog about Christian science fiction, as we are told that ‘The armies of the beast shall rise from the pit and wage war on God’.

The Beast, in this instance, is in fact the evil of all ancient religions – the face behind the idea, if you like. (I guess it is easier for writers to throw in religion’s bad guys than to comment on the existence or otherwise of god, maybe because it is easier to accept the existence of an evil force than that of an omnipotent creator.)

Apart from the obvious references to the devil and its religious implications, there were a few other interesting pseudo-religious points of note in these episodes. Firstly, this is the first time in the new series that the Doctor had acknowledged an adversary as being actually evil. More importantly, the Doctor (naturally) takes it upon himself to destroy the Beast and save the universe. However, in order to consign the Beast to the eternal pit of the black hole, the Doctor must sacrifice himself and the inhabitants of the impossible planet to that same fate. Most importantly, in order to defeat Satan, the Doctor must allow Rose to die – he himself must set in motion the chain of events which will lead to their deaths.

End of Spoilers!

What intrigued me, as a writer, was the idea that Satan – in all his many guises – could be an idea, a kind of racial memory based on an actual entity who lived an unimaginably long time ago. The idea occurred to me of turning the idea on its head somewhat: What if it was God who had been consigned to racial memory? What if, in some impossibly far-future world, someone was to happen across ancient Christian writings? What if ‘God’ is nothing more than an idea, a philosophical talking point, until something brings these enlightened 42nd Century beings into contact with the reality of Him?

Friday, June 09, 2006

General Ignorance

Those few links in my last non-fiction post (and here's another for good measure) have highlighted one thing: it appears to be a widely held view that there is very little Christian science fiction available, or that the genre begins and ends with the esteemed Mr Lewis.

If you've been here a few times - and especially if you've checked out the Elliot List - you will know that this is not necessarily the case. However, I think this depends a great deal on your interpretation of what 'Christian fiction' actually means. I had a stab here, and there's a reasonable list of Christian elements here.

Until I began looking a little harder, started this little blog, and encountered the Elliot List, I was guilty of the same kind of ignorance. I had discovered Stephen Lawhead, Chris Walley, and of course CS Lewis - all in Christian bookshops - but was largely ignorant of what Christian elements may exist in secular sf novels. Only a further reading of some of these stories will tell whether (IMHO) they cut it as 'Christian' novels. I suspect that if an author is writing from a Christian worldview, and including an element of spirituality in their tale, the Christian element will be visible to those looking for it.

It is, of course, possible to portray Christianity in a negative light (as in His Dark Materials), or as an integral story element without actually adding anything to the reader's faith (Snow Crash, reviewd here recently, has an integral religious thread, but I would never consider it a Christian novel).

My best guess is that if people want Christian fiction to challenge them and make them grow in their faith, they may be largely restricted to what's in the Christian bookstores (although there will always be exceptions picked up by mainstream publishers) and as far as sf goes, that's a pretty limited choice.

The question is, What do we hope to gain from reading a Christian novel?

I'll leave that one open to the blogosphere.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Burning: Part Four

Continued from Part Three

Down in the city, the casino finally opened. Wine, beer and spirits flowed freely. Most of the people from the city turned up, along with many from neighbouring towns, despite the unusually strong, hot wind that made travel difficult. These travellers wondered briefly about the small cluster of trucks abandoned at the top of a large hill, but soon forgot as they enjoyed their games of roulette and blackjack.
As the wind built up, the empty trucks on the hillside were overturned, and sent rolling down the slope, leaving a trail of broken glass and debris as they fell, finally crashing violently to a halt in a densely populated suburb, where the fuel tanks erupted noisily into a fire which was spread rapidly by the hot wind.

For forty days the winds crushed plants and animals, the breath of life replaced with the burning hot wind of a supernova. The dust and grit which rained from the sky grew hotter and larger, boiling lakes and rivers, smashing doors and windows, leaving no hiding place for the people of Tellus. After forty days the dust settled, but the heat and radiation remained.

Inside the bunker, everything seemed to be going well while they were counting off the days. By the time it had become easier to count the weeks, and counting the months had been seriously considered, the occupants were frightened, bored, and tense.
“Your god’s forgotten us, hasn’t he?” Khem challenged angrily.
R’Leef merely looked up wearily.
“Hasn’t he?”
Khem’s mother put a hand on his shoulder in an attempt to calm him. He glared at her, the light from the fluorescent strips above him glinting menacingly in his eyes. She shrank back slightly, withdrawing her hand.
“Sorry, ma,” Khem said, reaching out to take her hand.
She smiled up at him.
“No, you’re right,” Zalbeth said. “We’ve been abandoned. How long do you suppose it takes a god to destroy the world? It only took him a week to make it!”
R’Leef stood up, struggling to keep his patience. “Don’t you think I’m scared too? He asked. “Don’t you suppose I get bored down here? Lonely?” R’Leef looked from one to the other. “Well?”
After a brief pause, Khem spoke. “It’s your fault!” he cried. “It was your stupid idea! You locked us all in this dungeon! You and your so-called god!”
Then the bunker, heavily insulated as it was, trembled violently. Tables shook, cupboards fell over. There was a loud rumbling sound, punctuated by the noise of plates and bottles smashing. The lights went out. One of the women screamed.
Khem looked around, waiting for his eyes to adjust, but they never would. With no windows and all the exits tightly sealed, the darkness was complete.
There was another rumbling sound, muffling the noises of frightened animals above him. Fear took over Khem, and he sank to the floor, and wept.
“I’m sorry,” he sobbed. “Sorry, dad. Sorry, God. Please put the lights on! Please!”
A single circle of light danced on the floor in front of him. Khem’s tears of fear became tears of relief, and he began to laugh nervously.
“Get a grip, Khem,” Uax said.
Khem looked towards his brother, silhouetted behind the torch beam.
“It’s just the animals getting upset,” Uax continued. “Come on, we need to get the back-up power running.”
Khem looked at him, feeling worried and slightly foolish, and nodded. He started to get up just as an aftershock struck; he stumbled, clutching wildly at the nearest person for support. R’Leef grabbed his hand and helped him to his feet.
“Thanks,” Khem said, sheepishly.
“You’re welcome.”
“Sorry,” he added.
R’Leef nodded at him. “Can we get enough power from the back-up?”
“Not as much.”
“Will it keep the crops growing?”
“To give the same amount of power to the crops will mean having emergency power only down here.”
“What about the animals?” Zalbeth asked.
“Same thing, I think,” Khem said. “And we might have to lose the freezer.”
“That should be ok,” she said. “If we keep it closed it should stay cold enough – depending how long we spend in here, of course.”
“Do what you can,” R’Leef told Khem. “Keep the livestock happy and the plants growing. We can manage on emergency power and candles.”
Khem nodded.
“Have faith, everyone,” R’Leef said. “God was with us when we started this little adventure, and there’s no reason he should abandon us now.”
“I believe you,” Uax said.
The others nodded in agreement.

Keeping their little world within the world running smoothly on emergency power kept the bunker’s occupants busy over the following weeks, but the cold and dark soon wore them all down again.
“How much longer do we have to sit down here in the dark?” Khem was first to voice their frustrations.
R’Leef didn’t want to be in the bunker longer than necessary, and he certainly didn’t want another argument with Khem.
“I think we can afford to take a little peek,” he smiled.
R’Leef put down the book he had been reading and went with Khem to the far end of the bunker.
“What are we doing?” Khem asked.
R’Leef keyed a code into a small panel beside one of the generators. The panel slid open, and he pulled out a small plastic dome, beneath which Khem saw small wheels and some electronic circuitry.
“A probe,” R’Leef explained. “It’s radio controlled; I’ll control it from here, and we can see the world outside on the monitor.”
He opened the lift doors, and sat the small probe inside it. Khem switched the lift to exit, and they both turned to the monitor behind them. The view faded in – the lift doors. After a few seconds the doors slid open, and R’Leef moved the probe out of the lift shaft. At least, he tried to, but before it had moved more than a few centimetres the view on the monitor crackled, and died.
“Damn,” Khem whispered.
R’Leef sighed. “Bring it down,” he said.

Concluded in Part Five

Monday, June 05, 2006

Miscellaneous Bloggery 4

The fourth in an occasional series in which I can't be bothered to come up with anything original to write about.

Following my Snow Crash review, Elliot has drawn attention to this post about the author by Theocoid.

Madame Mirathon posted some SF/F stuff to sweeten our Sundays; I expect any day will do though. :)

And during a moment of random having-nothing-better-to-do, I came across this discussion of science fiction & supernaturalism, and this slightly older blog on Christianity and science fiction, and this slightly negative view of the subject from Think Christian a while back.

Friday, June 02, 2006

A post of random comments

I'm in a bit of a sci-fi drought at the moment. Earlier in the year my Sunday afternoons consisted of Enterprise and Stargate:SG-1. Now I have to do things like 'go out', and 'enjoy the fresh air'. Then some joker at Channel 5 (sorry, five) thought it would be a good idea to show Voyager re-runs on weekday afternoons. I could have lost my job over that!

Now there's just my weekly dose of Doctor Who in the way of sf TV, and last week's episode stretched its science fiction credibility to breaking point (TVs that suck your face off, anybody?). That said, it was great as 'scary but fun family entertainment', which is a large part of the show, but I'm hoping for more from the Ood this week.

Maybe all this is exacerbated by the fact that I've just come through the fertile pastures of Firefly, that rare entity: a TV science fiction show which dares to entertain the existence of God - and, indeed, Christianity - even in the outlying regions of a galactic human civilisation. All at the same time as being top notch telly. This was the first time I had seen of most of the episodes, and most of the time I was too busy being swept along by the action, the humour, and the fact that Joss Whedon was trying to do something new with the sf genre, to pay that much attention to Shepherd Book and what (if any) kind of Christian he was. Serenity, naturally, waits patiently on the DVD shelf for a free evening.

Even my reading has taken a dive towards fantasy lately, but James Blish is calling, just as soon as I've done with Volume 6 of Stephen King's Dark Tower opus.