Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Lent Story

It occurs to me that I haven't put much faith-centric material up here.

So. A story.

Once upon a time, a hard working blue-collar guy by the name of Bubba lived in a neighborhood that was largely populated by Catholics. Bubba was a hunter who always had a freezer of venision steaks. It was his habit on Fridays, after work, to fire up the grill and cook steak. The delightful aroma would float through the neighborhood.

It was less delightful during Lent, when observant Catholics were called to forgo meat. Several of the families were so upset they went to the parish priest. The priest visited Bubba and suggested that Bubba - who spoke approvingly of his neighbors and their taste in beer - consider becoming Catholic.

Well, after several sessions with the priest and much study, Bubba finally presented himself before the bishop and was confirmed a Catholic. As Bubba knelt at the altar during Easter Vigil, the Bishop sprinkled him with holy water and intoned: "You were born a Baptist, you were raised a Baptist, but now you are a Catholic." Bubba attended Mass the rest of the week, continued to join the congregation regularly, and was even seen to help out the local Catholic high school's baseketball team.

All seemed well, until the very next Lent, when, on Friday, the tantalizing scent of grilling venision wafted through the neighborhood. The neighbors called the priest in distress, the priest rushed to Bubba's house, stole and rosary flying. As the priest came through the side gate, he spied Bubba at the grill, a bottle in one hand and grilling tongs in the other. As the priest advanced, prepared to admonish Bubba, he stopped, struck by the actions Bubba performed.

As Bubba raised the little bottle of holy water, he chanted: "You was born a deer, you was raised a deer, but now you is a catfish."


No, that's not how a non-Catholic becomes a Catholic. And no, it's not typical anymore for neighborhoods to call in the priest to settle disputes.

But, seriously, if God can manage to save the crooked timber of sinful humanity, and do the whole water-to-wine thing, I would think a little deer-to-fish transformation would be a piece of cake.


Noted without much comment: Sec State Clinton visits Mexico, shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

I'm glad she visited. I hope it gives her the opportunity to learn more about Catholism, and the Church in America, and in Mexico.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Books: Northwest of Earth, by C. L. Moore

C.L. Moore is one of those 'seminal' SF authors, frequently listed as the 'first' female writer of SFF (unless, of course, your accounting of the genre starts with Mary Shelly and Frankenstein.) Planet Stories recently released a collection of some of her short fiction, including the oft-republished "Shambleau". I picked up the collection - frankly, as much for CJ Cherryh's name on the introduction as for Moore's writing.

It turns out that Moore's stories are Not My Sort of SFF - she specialized in 'weird tales'; that blend of magic and paranormal phenomenon that was carried forward by Anne McCaffery and others. Space flight is hardly touched upon, the scientific method hardly not at all, but there are 'other worlds' aplenty. All populated by aliens with strange mental powers and the ability to shift through the panes separating our sphere from the rest.

Aside from that, I found Moore's treatment of women characters...disquieting. It's hard to say just what was off-putting - and harder for me to say what was something particular to Moore's writing and not just overly visible in this collection of stories. (The collection was gathered around Northwest Smith, he of the rangy build and colorless, gunmetal eyes, outlaw of the spacelanes.) The women were servants of evil forces, or evil forces themselves - more frequently victims but not without tenacity, self-sacrifice, or determination. The women were neither powerless nor inconsequential to the plot. But they were not the heroes, they frequently died, and they were too often girls, not women. (Even Jirel of Joiry, whose appearance was an unexpected delight, fell into this trap of labels.)

More off-putting was a tendency of Moore to use ethnic/racial labeling in her work. Characteristics were given as those of an individual's planetary or ethnic group, not as something specific to the individual. While there was very little of what I could call racial bigotry evident, this reliance on racial characteristics as a substitute for specific traits seemed out of place.

One final critical note: with the exception of one story ("Werewoman") the collection as a whole depicted religion and faith as springing from not the Deity but instead from the influence of strange and (mostly) evil alien forces. Human reverence was shown as fear, not love, and certainly not respect. This was so pervasive that the appearance of a cross in the 'Were woman' story acted like an electric shock, so unexpected was it.

Having said all that - there were stories that I enjoyed in the collection - the above mentioned 'Werewoman'; 'Nymph of Darkness', 'Cold Grey God'; and 'Lost Paradise' (which was worth it for the images of New York alone) among them. I'm not entirely sure, however, that I'm going to search out more of C.L. Moore's writing.


Not light-and-fluffy: Michael J. Totten Mideast reporter.

More light-and-fluffy:

Casual wear for the low-profile Browncoat: I aim to misbehave tee-shirts.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Christian Writers Genesis Writing Contest - I think it is over for this year, but I might remember it for next year.

Science Fiction Writers and Religion - listing of various SFF writers, divided by religious affliation.

Speculative Faith - one of a long list of contributors at Science Fiction/Fantasy Christian Blog Tour

I'm working my way through that list of contributors, just lurking for the moment. Eventually I'll start commenting. Eventually. (Really!)

It seems there are many (a third, perhaps?) of the listed members who aren't posting regularly - or who have not in 2009. Which is...well, it happens. Life happens.

And on that note, I'm going to go enjoy the sunshine while it lasts.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Randomness in Print

One of the books I should have included in the last post (about space SF I liked) was Mary Russel's The Sparrow and Children of God. The tag I remember as best describing The Sparrow was "Jesuits in...SPPPAAACCEEE".

There was a bit of a dust up, if I recall correctly, about The Sparrow being 'real' SF or not. (IMO, any thing with problem-solving space travel, unknown worlds and two aliens species is SF.) The world building is on the weak side, I think, and the earth-like biology of the alien world just a bit too pat. But Russell's characters were very well drawn, heart-rending in their humanity, and the story was full of a sense of discovery. It was also one of those rare SF novels that was very comfortably set in a world where faith and God were real.


About ten or fifteen years back, I read a short story in one of the SF magazines about the concept of 'leap of faith'. The story's protagonist was a preacher who survived the crisis literally by making a physical leap into the unknown. The background was a world whose native species could not see the stars in the nighttime. The theory was that the natives, who developed neither religion nor space flight, were prevented from doing so by lack of the sight of stars - that is our knowledge of 'unknown', our concept of 'out there, beyond' which drives both our outer quest for knowledge and our inner quest for God.

Or, at least, that's how I remember the story.


Law article: Is it really possible to do the kessel run in less than 12 parsecs? And should it matter?

I think, yes, it does matter when movies (and tv shows, and novels, and even poetry) get things wrong. (I'll also argue that Solo was trying to be a wiseacre at the farm boy, and I think the look on Kenobi's face showed he caught the error, and wasn't amused.)

Literature - which I will use to cover both print media and film, and which can probably cover a lot more - has a remarkable ability to influence our perceptions and shape our thoughts. I'm not about to call for factual accuracy in every fragment of writing or theater - that would be boring, and, until we actually can film Star Trek on location, far too limiting. But we-as-writers need to be aware of our power.

It's not for nothing that they say "the pen is mightier than the sword".

Friday, March 13, 2009

NASA and President Obama's Space Policy

An article here gives several suggestions ("musts") for the American space program.(via Instapundit)

Despite having grown up on the Space Coast and having the occasional impulse to become an astronaut when I grew up - and as I was in high school when Challenger went down, that's a ship that sailed a long time ago - I haven't ever closely followed the particulars of NASA politics and aims.

We were in space, and that was what mattered.

Now, though, "we" are barely out of the atmosphere, and the USA isn't the only player in the game. (Possibly another opportunity we wasted in the '90's.) It's disquieting that I find Iran and North Korea's launches to be more distressing than encouraging. Whatever the near future holds, it doesn't seem to be Roddenberry's utopia.


Space-set Sci-Fi that I have loved, the very short version:

CJ Cherryh's Merchanter Universe (novels) Start with Downbelow Station and go from there.

Battlestar Galactica (TV). Some of the best dang TV ever made.

Farscape (TV). Less political than BSG, and, for me, more fun because of it.

Susan R. Matthew's Judiciary Universe (novels)(Exchange of Hostages) Not for the faint of stomach. Great characters.

David Brin's Uplift Universe (novels) Startide Rising is probably the best.

Pitch Black (movie) Aside from having Vin Diesel in it (I've watched some fairly lousy films for just this reason) this is an excellent film about humanity and redemption.

Lois Mcmaster Bujold's Naismith series (novels) Start at the beginning, which is Shards of Honor. Accessible writing, great plotting, packed with characters to love, and great fun all around.

Firefly (TV) and Serenity (movie) - Some of the science ain't quite right, but the characters and the story are not to be missed.

(This list is lacking in two points - one, that I haven't given any details on what the SF listed is about, and secondly, that I would think anyone who reads SF would already have seen those. I'll have to do better.)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Book review: Elizabeth Moon's "Speed of Dark"

Bottom Line - This is probably my favorite of Moon's work, and it is every bit deserving of the Nebula it won.

More details:

- Although SF, this is not a space opera, like most of Moon's recent work. (I'm a little sad about that - I would like to read more space opera that grabbed me the way this book did.) Nor does it feature a female protagonist, again, like most of Moon's work.

- The novel has been compared with 'Flowers for Algernon'. I don't think that's fair to 'Flowers'.

- The novel's main character is an autistic man. Moon has an autistic son. The potential for an over-dose of author-insertion is there, but I believe that Moon avoids nearly all of this.

- A highly character-driven novel, 'Speed of Dark' struck me most vividly with how well each supporting character had been drawn. There are very few flat characters here, and everyone has a chance to grow - not just 'our hero.' I was especially pleased by how well the police and military characters came out. (Not surprising, given Moon, but still good to see.)

- Watch out for family values. If you're not careful, you'll get blind-sided by the emphasis on courtesy, family bonds, loyalty, and general decency.

- The story-telling was deft and the language vivid, and, despite the largely internal story, moved right along. I'm also reading a space opera by a different author, and finding myself far more frequently bored.

- This book has been out for nearly five years now. I feel silly for not reading it sooner.

More thoughts:

It's been a while since I read a book this heart-warming. Moon treats all the characters...fairly, I suppose, might be a good word. The main character is disadvantaged, to put it bluntly, in terms of dealing with mainstream society. But Moon does not let the reader think of Lou as a victim. (Lou doesn't either, more credit to him.) The 'normals' are not presented as oppressors, either - someone are rude so-and-sos, some are afraid, some are friends, some are well-meaning but clumsy. And some are very close to being saints. The humanity of the best of them is well depicted - in addition to showing the struggles Lou has in his day-to-day life, trying to navigate a confusing web of human relationships, Moon also takes time out to show how life is no picnic even for those who don't share Lou's handicap.

But it's Lou's work ethic, his unique outlook on the world, his honesty, his struggle to selflessly care for the people around him, and his tenacious problem solving that made the novel most appealing to me.

I'd like to see if Moon can bring this kind of writing to her space operas next.


Addded 5 April 09 - Another review of Speed of Dark here: Biology in Science Fiction.

Friday, March 6, 2009

On 'Going John Galt'

In a post here, Dr Helen Smith gives the background on the phrase 'Going John Galt' - as I read it's a 'slow down strike' for people making more than miniumn wage.

The idea comes out of Ann Rand's writing, which, unfortunately, makes it suspect in my book. (I managed to slog my way through 'Anthem' and didn't leave anything there I felt I needed to go back for. Others, I know, have found Rand much more personnally meaningful.)

This 'slow down, don't chase the dollar, why keep on working more than you have to' idea is not new to me. I've heard a similar theme from various people - from back-to-the-earth-organic-or-bust types, from vowed religious, from just about everyone who has ever looked at the wealth of the developed world and thought too. much. stuff. Can. not. COPE!!

A more simplistic lifestyle is one thing. I have a great deal of admiration for those who can engage in a perpetual Lent, forever aware of what they want, and deliberately setting their wants aside. In the same way, people who try to reduce their impact on the earth, or who give generously to charities, or otherwise 'fast' from consumption - nothing wrong with that, I think.

But last time I checked, we didn't have enough skilled surgeons, enough dedicated teachers, enough honest lawyers or straight cops. In fact, thinking on it, I'm not sure if there is a profession out there, from ditch-digger to rocket scientist, where the career as a whole would be helped by the self-removal of competent professionals with integrity and dedication.

It's one thing to step back, slow down, and spend more time off in order to save energy, support a loved one, go back to school, or save your sanity. But to do so in order to 'punish' the rest of society? Particularly in such an unfocused, generalized manner?

Of course, there's another option, for those whose intent is to produce less, but not undergo the restrictions that lowered effort generally produce. In my home town, it was called 'being a county employee' - once hired, you were impossible to fire, no matter how little you actually did.

I'm thinking those who propose 'going John Galt' really don't want other people to draw that corellary.