Before I forget - added from yesterday: one more SF work that Offworld reminds me of: "Houston, Can You Read" by James Tiptree, Jr.
Faith, God, and Christianity in Offworld
- The faith and spirituality of Offworld is more subtle than other SF/F works carrying the 'Christian' marketing label (that I have read.) I'm good with this. I think it's vital that we have a range of spiritual expression in different works - if nothing else because people who might turn their noses up at the Creationist hero in The Enclave would cheer for Cordelia Naismith in Shards of Honor.
- Having said that - is it clear at any point that the God of Offworld is the God of Scripture? Is Christ implied at any point? I don't seem to remember anything (but I could be wrong.)
- If I was to pick a phrase that described the type of faith that was portrayed in Offworld, I would say something like, "Finding God in one another." The crew members, Mae, even Rowley and Parks - they all search for ways to serve something other than themselves. This is most apparent, I think, in the crew, and their continued bond to each other.
- The other theme that suggests itself is 'God works in mysterious ways.' I'm thinking particularly of Owen, who had been placed on Ares in case of some ill-defined contingency. That contingency never came - not during the mission, at any rate - but during the dash across the Gulf Coast, when a bad-ass super-genius was needed to save the world, there was Owen.
- I like travelouge stories. (Can't seem to convince the bookstores to sub-categorize stories as 'journey SF', though.) This links well with stories showing a person (or persons) traveling through a spiritual quest. Offworld contained not one, but two 'real time' journeys - one back from Mars, and one from Florida to Texas. I wonder if the crew thought of their trip to Mars - any of them, in any sense - as a retreat, a journey in to the desert.
- Mae - wow. The character and treatment of Mae - a soul, yes, but not a complete person, because she wasn't integrated into society. (Orphaned might be a good descriptor here.) I think I found this among the most affective of all the elements in Offworld. And - as I said earlier - I was impressed by the relatively low-key approach to the topic of abortion.
- Burke and his father: I wonder how much of a God-and-Christians analogy Parrish was going after, here. God as distant-seeming-father-figure, always demanding more work, taking the Christian child away from the fun in life, pushing the child towards a greater destiny that, in the end, the child will have to choose on their own. Even in my head, it's far from a perfect analogy, but I think it has some merit. I'm less sure this analogy resembles anything Parrish had in mind.
- Space vs Earth as Paradise: Depending on who is telling the story and when the story is taking place, 'Heaven' holds a shifting location. At least in the Western world 'Heaven' and 'paradise' is assigned to a stellar location. As our knowledge of physics and the solar system have increased, we shifted to a more extra-planar concept of God's domain. Still, the imagery of writing about space travel includes references to the concept of the stars as 'Heaven'. In the story, despite the hardships of the journey, the crew of Ares was ready to leave Heaven and come back to Earth. I wonder if future humans will continue to associate God's domain with planets or with the starry void.
- I find the attempt by Roston and his group to 'take away the causes of war and hatred' - in short, to create a paradise on Earth - laudable, but, in the end, tragically mistaken. Take away all the bombs, all the guns, all the tanks, all the swords...and we'd still have the rock that Adam's son used to commit the first murder. Joss Weldon used the movie Serenity to talk about a similiar thing - our impulse as humans (and irrespective of political stance) to legislate improved morality into people.
And that's all I've got. Next step, look for what other people wrote. That should keep me busy at the airport tomorrow.
- I was fairly happy with the level of science included in the novel - especially in the first half. Actually, I should modify that - I was fairly happy with the advanced tech use in the novel - and that included the different sort of problem solving tricks that the crew used during their journey to Houston.
- The insistence that "we're going to figure this out!" - in the face of both opposition and uncertainty - was one of the things that kept me interested in the book. (This is as much a characterization thing as it is a plot thing - I love characters that keep on keeping on.)
- As noted, there was less inventing new things/discovering new things than there was adapting tools left lying about by other people. Granted, this is what nearly every immediate post-apoc novel does - follow the heroes as they wander about looking for a can opener. This trend continues even after the crew gets to Houston - they're just fighting with the Men In Black SUVs for the can opener. I would not have minded more *investigating* as they went - if it could have been done without sacrificing the pacing of the plot.
- I did like the electric cars and a couple of other notes that showed the difference between now and the future of the novel. It's a hard line to draw - how to make it enough different to keep up with the visible rate of change (*cough*Star Trek's clunky handhelds*cough*) and yet not overwhelm the reader with culture shock. I would have voted for *more* change in 35 years, but that's just me.
- That a portion of the internets was still up, much less GPS - I'm on the fence about that. On the one hand, it was only a couple months. On the other hand, it was a couple months!
- I'm afraid I wouldn't have bought the safe landing of the crew at Canaveral at all in a secular novel. In CSFF, I can say 'Oh, hand-of-God, okay' and ::handwave:: it that way.
- I was also pretty pleased by the science fiction aspects of the novel - which, frankly, got a big boost from the absolute 'we're not in Kansas anymore' factor: I'm about as likely to ride in a space ship to Mars as I am to wander about a deserted Earth at this point.
- Of the many different sorts of SF, I thought this novel fell closer to being 'hard'-SF (physics, space, startravel), rather than the 'softer' SF that makes up psychology and social sciences, etc. I had this concept in my mind that most Christian or faith-driven SF was going to be 'soft' SF, and I'm not unhappy to be wrong.
- Extra-dimensional devices are also v. cool - even if they are, in part, driven by ancient glowy boxes of uncertain provenances. I particularly like how the incident on Mars was worked back into the main plot. (more about how the incident on Mars was handled from a faith angle in the next post.)
- Some sources that reminded me of this book/that this book reminded me of: Life After People - the history channel tv series, and World Without Us, a book by Alan Weisman. Of course, post-apoc books are as old as the bomb (ed: *cough*Revaluation*cough*) - or older! - and journeys through deserted lands are a stock part of SF, I think. Part of World War Z was strongly evoked for me, as was Left Hand of Darkness.
- For the space & Mars parts - Mars, by Ben Bova. I'm trying to remember something other than Space: 2001 that actually featured free-fall space travel.
Again, fairly shallow. (Doesn't help that I'm on the road, again.)
This is the first of three posts (in keeping with the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour guidelines) about Offworld. This one will focus on technical details, story-crafting, and characterization; in following posts, I intend to talk about the science and science-fiction aspects of the work and finish up with a post on the Christian elements.
(If I actually manage to do all those posts, it will be two months in a row, which is a trend. ooooo, I'd be trendy!)
What you need to know about Offworld: Space-exploration-centric SF/action, set on Earth. Multi-gender, multi-ethnic cast. (Well, kinda. Sort of. The characters aren't all Caucasian males! And the parameters of the story actually support those choices.) Part-Gulf-Coast traveloge, large part post-apoc thriller, small part X-files tie-in. Adult relationships, but nearly zero sex/erotica. Large amount of gunplay and skull-duggery. Fast-moving, once it gets going.
Packaging: - Slick. Very slick. About as proffesionally sf-ish as you can get. (The cover reminds me a great deal of Neil Gaiman's American Gods.) (Also of This Present Darkness). Tri-crome cover (black, grey-blue and ivory)shows an empty highway leading across a flatland to a skyscraper city. Back cover is mostly black. Title - and this is the kewl part - title is one word, centered over a sliver of a arc, as if a sphere (or a planet!) edged by an approaching dawn.
Short, non-spoilerly reaction - I liked this one. (Not loved, not adored, liked.) I didn't have to work at liking it. The action was uneven, and I would have spent more depth on the travelouge part of the book. The characters were engaging, if a bit stock, and I appreciated the fair-but-negative treatment of the villian(s). There were adult (note: term includes more than sex) aspects to the characters and their relationships that I greatly appreciated. Christian/faith elements were present but not overpowering.
Longer reaction, with spoilers
What I liked:
- I do like post-apoc books. And this one is all that in spades.
- And space exploration! On other planets!
- The plot managed to anticipate several eye-rolling moments (sample: oh, for crying out loud, why is the magic glowy cloud in the USA? there is the entire rest of the world to explore! and turn them around into integral parts of the story. Ditto the 'lost guy on the surface of Mars' subplot. Good job on that!
- I really liked the tensions and stupid fights and testosterone duels and saving-each-other-right-back of the crew. I really liked that. They were a team on a mission, and the story never lost track of that. Plus, they made me laugh more than once.
- The bad guys were trying to do the right thing. I appreciate that. They were very very wrong, but they weren't doing it to be rich or famous. (Just trying to be God. If you're going to fail, fail big.)
- I like traveloge stories, especially ones about the South.
- The inclusion of Mae, and who she was, was awesome. To top it off, I thought the topic (abortion) was very well handled, without demonizing.
- Low-key hand of God: Sometimes, like in the book of Ester, you see God most clearly when He's hard to discern. This book was like that.
- Multi-pov stories can be a pain. So can multi-threaded plots. Parrish handled both of them well, I thought. In particular, I was kept 'hooked' on the book by the bits that each character thought or did out of sight of the others.
What didn't work so well for me:
- Stock characterization: The characters seemed a hair too predictable: Hard-nosed commander, tough-as-nails loyal second in command, clown/younger brother, wildcard. There have been books where I *knew* what a character was going to say/do, because the author had made that character live so well for me. Offworld was a bit closer to knowing what the character was going to say because I'd read this book before a dozen times.
- Not enough science love. (I'll hit on this in more depth in a later post.) This was one of the big weakness of the book for me - mostly because it seemed to be a weakeness in characterization of all the astronaunts.
- I would really have liked more introspection from the characters on the landscape they passed, instead of just barreling down I-10. (But that's just my pref. I suspect it would have bored other people to tears.)
- While the action kept me reading, there were a couple points (like the jumping from the lighthouse) (heck, like the run for the lighthouse!) that had me just shaking my head, going it would never happen like that. Also, I never figured out how the storm surge/flooding was supposed to work. There were a couple of other places where the strength of the story was insufficent to overcome my disbelief of what I was being told.
- I loved The X-Files, back in the day. But TXF was not SF. Ancient mystical boxes that power universe-shifting machinery make my eyes roll. (Sorry.)
Hmmm. This is a bit shallower than I thought it would be. Might add more later, if deeper thunks happen.
Or I might just go check out what other people have to say.
One of the books I've been going through lately is Following Francis: The Francisican Way for Everyone. The author, Susan Pitchford, is a NorthWest American college professor, and part of the value of the book for me has been the way the author's values and mine don't overlap.
This week's section has been on Obedience - about what submitting to authority means. I'm one of those people who really likes rules - they give structure, they make a foundation, they set boundaries and make a bowl so life doesn't slop over the sides and get wasted as you're mixing things up. I follow rules (like walking on the sidewalk and not the grass) even when there's no sign posted, and I fret internally when I don't follow the rules.
(Don't get me started on what I think about people who delight in rule-breaking. It's far less charitable than I should be.)
Some people have nightmares about the Nazis coming for them. Me, I sometimes have nightmares about shoving people in ovens. Because that's where I'd fail - to not have the courage to examine what I'm doing.
Other parts of Following Francis have dealt with Simplicity and Poverty - dealing with not having things that we want. Which - hmm. I've traveled a fair bit, so I understand that people's perceptions of what is needful vs nice-to-have can vary quite a bit. (Right now I'm still hung up on indoor flush toilets.) But I travel - and even before airtravel became a global warming beating boy, world travel has been a sign of (a great deal of) disposable wealth. Even when you're doing missions-related travel.
One of the most frustrating things about "the current political climate" - although I'm not sure this was ever *not* true, as my memories of calm harmony probably had more to do with ideologicial isolation than of actual peaceful discourse between people of different stances - is that people seem to insist on "litmus tests" of ideology (government control is bad, fair trade is good, health care reform is needed NOW, war is bad, gun control is bad) without allowing for degrees of difference.
Speaking of traveling and staying healthy and different priorities: here is an article about working out while Muslim and female. And an article about different cultures responding to facial expressions was very interesting - if a pretty good example of a not-very-good study: 13 subjects in two groups means not a terrific setup. One of the issues with communication is that so much of it is non-verbal. Imagine if a nod or a frown means different things.
(Critters do this too - Scottish fold cats have permanently bent over ears, that make other cats think they are angry. Rodesian Ridgeback dogs have spiky hair on their backs that mimics an expression of aggression. Dogs that want to play wag their tails, and lift a forepaw - both of which are expressions that cats use to mean "go away, I don't want any.")
Got called out late yesterday afternoon for an incoming flight with a "sick dog" that turned out not to be as advertised: the flight was six hours out, not 45 minutes, and the dog was lame, not sick.
Sick, if it included 'collapsed' or 'vomiting' or 'passing blood' could mean any number of life threatening issues, for which I would want to be there right then. Lame, on the other hand, is rarely life threatening, and generally isn't an emergency, technically speaking. (Although a very severe fracture could require bandaging before travel to immediate treatment to prevent severe limb impairment.)
In a way, it turned out for the best, as the aircraft was arriving at the more distant airport, and not the close one. So we got to practice emergency response (verdict: we need more practice) and still got done with work fairly early.
Ten Ways the American Health Care System Is Better Than You Think - doesn't cover care of pre-term babies, (and I'm too lazy to look up links right now) which is another area in which we excell. (We just have too many pre-term babies, and not enough of a handle on how to prevent this significant risk factor.) (I will also note how easy it is to cherry-pick data comparing one country's sytem to another.)
Catholic Conservation Center - like it says on the wrapper - Catholic-pov-driven conservation/ecological movement. Perhaps a hair too anti-pagan in tone, but otherwise a site I intend to spend more time looking through.
Blog post discussing recent UK study finding no added nutritional value to 'organic' food. I don't support organic animal husbandry, because sick things shuold get medicine, and I don't support large scale organic vegtable and grain production, because pulling weeds for a living sucks. But I have no problems with people indulging in organic methods for backyard produce, and I am opposed to non-organic lawncare.