Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Discovery Book Tour: My Review

Blurb: Sisters Ann, Tommie and Rita are part of a classified mission to explore an alien ship that has crash landed on an asteroid three billion miles from earth. Humanity's first contact with beings from beyond the solar system is bound to unlock the mystery of life in the universe, but the crew have their own secrets; hidden fears, desires, horrible sins - and a mission to kill. Researchers discover something unique about the third arm of the ship: something wonderful, terrifying and...holy. This discovery challenges Rita and Ann to confront their own pasts in order to secure the safety of the mission and the very souls of the crew.

On Monday, we heard from Karina; in particular, she shared how she came to write science fiction and fantasy with Catholic themes. Today, I will share my own take on Discovery. Did it work as a story? Was I drawn in? Was there anything that fell flat? My answers to all three questions are yes, yes, and yes.

Let's tackle the world-building first. Discovery is set in a far future in which mankind has already colonized the solar system and begun taking advantage of its resources. Recognizing that the space-faring life entails unique challenges and unique dangers, humanity's space pioneers - including St. Gillian, who established the religious order in which Sisters Ann, Tommie, and Rita serve - drew up a code that was originally meant to reduce conflict among spacers and keep them safe. Over time, however, some have adopted this code as an alternative to traditional religion, and in Discovery, this cult of the Code is a source of interpersonal conflict between the novel's principals. The question: Is this evolution plausible? Can the Code described in the novel really satisfy man's spiritual urge? Personally, I'm not so sure. While history presents us with plenty of materialistic, atheistic ideologies that have persuaded and inspired many - like Marxism, for one - I didn't get the impression that the Code has the same explanatory power.

There were also moments when Karina's characterization was a bit heavy-handed. Merl, for example, felt a little too cookie-cutter; while there are segments of evangelical Protestant Christianity that harbor strong anti-Catholic sentiments, most evangelicals do not share those beliefs with quite the same bombast. Perhaps Merl could've been counter-balanced by a milder Protestant in order to give our separated brethren a fairer portrayal. Additionally, the change of heart that Merl displays towards the end of the novel seemed to come with no explanation at all. One minute, he is supporting Cay; the next, he's horrified. What happened in between?

One last criticism: Generally speaking, when an author puts a gun on the wall, the reader expects it to be fired -- and is disappointed when it is not. And to be honest, there was one element of Discovery that engendered exactly this sort of disappointment: the object that was supposedly on a collision course with the Folly. Early in the book, much was made of this mystery object; indeed, its presence forced the crew of the ET to radically alter the timetable for the mission. But was that the object's only purpose? The novel never ties up that loose end.

But enough with the critique. Let's talk about what Karina gets very right. To put it simply, Discovery perfectly captures the wonder of the universe. Despite the flaws discussed above, I couldn't help but be drawn in by the novel's central mysteries. Further, while some characters didn't quite gel for me, others were explored with admirable depth. Rita, for instance, felt very real; her conflicts and anxieties were fully relatable and all too human.

Would I recommend Discovery to others? For the most part, yes. I'm not sure how this book would work for readers who are not already convinced of God's existence. But for the believing and the otherwise open-minded, this will be a solid read.

Final Verdict: Recommended -- With Qualifications

Monday, October 10, 2016

Discovery Book Tour: Guest Post by Karina Fabian

How I started writing Catholic Science Fiction and Fantasy
By Karina Fabian

I never intended to write Catholic science fiction and fantasy. I didn’t even know such a subgenre existed. I had not yet read Canticle for Leibowitz or heard of Father Andrew Greeley. (Although I enjoyed Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni series. Is she Catholic? The stories had those elements.) I certainly didn’t go looking for Catholicism in my fiction. So why did I start writing it?

It all started on a date.

My husband and I are good communicators, so even with two toddlers and him working long hours, we didn’t need alone time to discuss budgets or dreams. I got the idea that we should write stories together. A notebook would be our dinner companion, and I’d take notes.

Our first date this way, I had been writing a series on different religious orders for women, and Rob was active in Artemis society, which was a civilian effort to get a commercial presence on the moon. We got to talking about a religious presence in space, and what they might do to earn their keep. The Rescue Sisters were born.

The Rescue Sisters – religious sisters from the Order of Our Lady of the Rescue – are women who do search and rescue operations in outer space. It’s serious, exciting work that gets them to the frontiers of space, which makes a ripe playground for stories. The first stories led to Rob and me editing the anthologies Leaps of Faith, and Infinite Space, Infinite God I and II. It’s also sparked fan fiction. The first Rescue Sisters novel, Discovery, came out Sept 18 in eBook from Full Quiver Press and in print Oct 1.

From a faith aspect, it’s been interesting to postulate the role of religions in the future and especially in a harsh and unforgiving environment like space. There would be great opportunities for faith in action, but less tolerance (we believe) for the kind of faith expression that leads to conflict. That, along with other reasons, led us to create a code for living in space. The Spacers Code are common sense rules, but after a generation, they become their own religion, which is one of the subplots in Discovery. It makes an interesting dichotomy because while the sisters are protected from persecution under the Code, they also have to be careful about how they share their faith.

My foray into “Catholic fantasy” came as a natural result of character development. I was looking for a unique idea about a dragon for an anthology I really wanted to be in. After having multiple clichĂ©’s discarded by my well-read husband, we decided to watch Whose Line Is It, Anyway, with the kids. This is a comedy improv show, and they do a shtick about a noir detective. I realized I could do comedy noir with a dragon!

As I started playing with the tropes, I realized that every noir detective has something in his past to feel bitter about. What was more logical for a dragon than a rough encounter with Saint George? Enter Vern, a snarky dragon who lost all his might and power in a battle with St. George and who has to earn it back by doing good for all sentient creatures under the direction of the Faerie Catholic Church. Most recently (and for reasons he cannot fathom) that means living in the Mundane world and working as a private problem solver for the particularly desperate. Wisdom of the Ages, Experience of Eternity, and he’s stuck finding lost cats…when he isn’t saving both the Faerie and Mundane worlds from disaster.

The story, “DragonEye, PI” did make the anthology, and has led to dozens of other stories from flash fiction to novellas, plus two novels. (Magic, Mensa and Mayhem and Live and Let Fly). I’m writing the origin story now, and plan on rebooting the whole series.

Vern has become my all-time favorite character. He puns, makes alliterations, talks like a pulp 40s mystery, and never fails to point out how superior he is, despite St. George. But he’s also kind and deeply caring, sometimes despite himself. And thanks to St. George, he’s learning he has to trust in God and in the aid of others (even if they are lesser beings). I decided he needed a sidekick and someone to gentle his rough edges, so he’s teamed up with Sister Grace, a Faerie nun and mage who channels magic through song. It’s fun to have her alternate between best friend and nun-with-a-ruler.

I have explored the religious aspect from several angles with this universe. First, I’ve made Vern an immortal being. Dragon souls work differently than ours, giving him an outsider’s view of the Catholic faith while still being influenced by it. Second, I created a Faerie world in which there was no Protestant Revolution. Through magic, Satan has a more visible presence in the world – people can and do see demons in action – so the Church remained united against the foe. This has led to some interesting developments on the political side of things. Finally, there’s great opportunity for tension between the Mundane world, particularly America’s secular and freedom-of-everything ideals, and the Faerie with its one faith and strict moral code. (In Live and Let Fly, we learn the Faerie have censored printed materials from the Mundane after a Duchess sent the archbishop a chatty letter written on the back of a “death cookie” tract. Colored paper and illustrations were a novelty, so all the “right” people were using the backs of flyers as the trendy new stationary, and she never bothered to read the content.)

I’ve written many other stories and novels. My latest comes out this summer. Mind Over All is not Catholic, yet there are influences: one character is a faithful Catholic; his fiancĂ© less so but working her way back. There are pro-life themes. My Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator series is all about slapstick and creative ways to take out the undead, from chainsaws to bleach. Not a lot of religion in there, and even when there is, it’s not always Catholic. However, our faith still makes a showing where the story demands it.

What it boils down to is that the Catholic influences in my fiction came as a direct result of world-building. I think that’s how it should be. Our faith calls us to be part of the world, even as we are separate of it. Faith in fiction, therefore, can (and should) do the same. It should be there, present and everyday, yet influential. When it’s not forced, it’s a viable part of any genre – including science fiction and fantasy.

Thank you, Karina! I will be posting a review of Discovery on Wednesday. You can purchase the novel here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

More Photos: The Virginia State Fair

Quick Admin Note: This week, I will be posting content on Tuesday and Thursday to accommodate my travel schedule.

Despite recent lousy weather, I was finally able to attend the Virginia State Fair for a few hours this past Sunday afternoon before I had to head back home to teach my church's brand new confirmandi. Click below for the pics and the commentary!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Drive-By News Reaction: Charlotte

No, I didn't watch the debate Monday night; I had to work. Scanning the transcript reveals, however, that I didn't miss much. Besides, as a classical liberal/constitutional conservative/federalist/I'm not sure what, I don't have a dog in this fight anyway.

You said it, Chandler.

I do, however, have a stake in what happens to our society as a whole -- which is one reason why reports like the following from the Charlotte Observer strike a nerve:

Trucker to 911 as looters close in: "They are coming this way... hundreds of them."

That there are people out there condoning this mode of "protest" chills me to my very core. How does robbing a long-haul trucker just trying to do his job help the black community? How does blocking major thoroughfares and throwing rocks at cars accomplish anything?

These people are terrorists, pure and simple. Their behavior shouldn't be excused or explained away; it should be prosecuted. Then, perhaps, actual law-abiding citizens can talk and hash out some real fixes for our widespread social decay and the accompanying corruption of our institutions.