Science and Faith

Science and Faith

Science and Faith | Guy L. PaceSome folks keep trying to separate science and faith. Like they are totally exclusive of each other. I don’t find them so exclusive, myself.

Science helps us understand the world, and the universe our world moves through. It helps us with the “What.” Faith helps us understand ourselves, our relationship to each other and our creator, God. It helps us with the “Why.” Together, science and faith allow us to make sense of who we are and what we’re doing here.

Science alone cannot explain everything about our world, our universe, or why things are the way they are. Some science ends up as guesswork based on sound principles and scientific method. And, there’s nothing wrong with that. It often takes years of research, analysis, and testing theory, to come up with explanations of what things are.

Faith alone cannot resolve all our questions about why we’re here, what it all means, and what is our relationship with God. Much as we struggle with the questions and ideas, we fall short of a perfect understanding. And, there is nothing wrong with that. We’re human. We are not perfect. Faith is knowing that we cannot perfectly understand everything, and rest on our trust in God.

How does one reconcile these two things? For me, it boils down to accepting that God created the universe. The universe is infinite, fascinating, and full of things we cannot yet understand. Since God created it, God is infinite, fascinating, and we cannot fully understand him. Trying to box God into a human frame of reference to explain physical events in our world or universe demonstrates our extremely limited understanding of God. Just as trying to prove or disprove God’s existence using science is an exercise in futility, not to mention that God created all the tools you would use.

Christian Science Fiction

So, I can write a story or novel about humans and interstellar exploration and still have a Christian theme to it. No problem. So, we have Christian Science Fiction. As with any good science fiction, science is the main story point even though we have to possibly “suspend belief” on one scientific point to make it all work. Christianity isn’t a point to suspend belief. The suspension of belief normally involves the type of drive capable of getting the characters from point A to point B in the universe. Warp speed, hyper-drive, jump drive, or any number of other methods of travel to bypass the mind-numbing distances and time required to move people around in space are the usual suspects.

With the mode of travel aside, the rest of the story can focus on: the science of growing Earth-like food on a new planet; human survival on a planet with no Van Allen belt; social patterns to support the colony; even sharing the Christian story with an alien species in a first encounter. The last one depends on your take on God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and just how far God went in the plan of salvation. All that without going too far afield of the basic doctrine.

Outside of our little corner of the universe, we know very little. Are there other civilizations or are we alone.

Isaac Asimov’s approach, especially in the robot novels, had humans alone in the universe. Though he was an avowed atheist, Asimov’s universe model makes for a simpler approach to the salvation plan. This opens up story opportunities for missions to human colonies that have fallen away, or social-governance structures on colonies or empires.

Robert Heinlein’s universe was full of other civilizations, some antagonistic to us (Starship Troopers), and some so advanced that they “twisted” troublesome worlds out of the current reality (Have Space Suit, Will Travel). This kind of universe model offers some challenging story opportunities for a Christian Science Fiction writer. Just don’t hurt yourself thinking of the complications.

It Can be Good

As in the post last week, Can Christian Science Fiction be good? Get the Christian part integrated into the character’s role and world view. Get the science right. Keep the suspend belief limited to one thing, like hyper-drive. Also, social science, political science, governance of a colony, can all be important elements of a story. Science doesn’t just mean math, chemistry, physics.

I’m sure there are many folks out there who will poke holes in my thoughts here. Fine. Feel free. So long as it gets you thinking, examining, challenging. When it comes to Christian Science Fiction, that’s what it should do.

Keep writing.

 

 

 

Can Christian SF&F be Good?

Can Christian SF&F be Good?

Well, can it?

Can Christian SF&F be Good? | Guy L. PaceI struggled with this for a long time. I tried to read some Christian science fiction and fantasy, and fiction, and some of it was … well … not so good. So, if you have an opinion that it isn’t good, you may have found some of the same work I did.

That is the reason I wrote Sudden Mission and Nasty Leftovers. I wrote something I wanted to read. Something different, fresh, exciting. As a result I also met a few other authors who are writing Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy (SF&F). And, what they write is good! Here are some of my favorites:

Tabitha Caplinger

Joshua McHenry Miller

Nadine Brandes

What sets these (and–I hope–my own work) apart from the rest? Story, mostly, and character. Christian fiction, including SF&F, shouldn’t vary that much from mainstream fiction at all. The only thing that should differentiate Christian fiction from mainstream is the characters. The characters, or the main character, is Christian and the story should center on that character’s struggle with faith. But, that isn’t all the story should address. The real world throws all kinds of situations, problems, and hassles at people. It doesn’t matter if they are Christian or otherwise. The whole point of the Christian part of science fiction and fantasy is how the characters deal with the same situations, problems, and hassles as their mainstream counterparts.

Challenges

In Sudden Mission, the main character (Paul) gets a mission to correct reality. This is a straight up “hero’s journey” with Paul as the reluctant hero–right out of Joseph Campbell’s concept. The mission challenges his faith and his willingness to obey God. As a friend recently said about the book: “You throw everything but the kitchen sink at him. And then you add the kitchen sink.” But, that’s what good stories do. Characters  must work toward a goal in spite of their flaws or limitations, and meet challenges for which they are not prepared. None of this is the sole domain of mainstream fiction or SF&F, and I know of no rule that says Christian fiction can’t go there.

Tabitha Caplinger’s The Chronicle of the Three series (the first two are out and available) throws her main characters–Christians who have varying levels of faith–to the wolves, er, demons. Each character has their faith, or lack thereof, challenged as they face the situations Tabitha so creatively pushes them into.

Nadine Brandes’ Out of Time series follows Parvin through both the life and death struggle to survive in a malevolent future dystopia, and her journey to understanding of Christian principles to help guide her life. Parvin faces characters who at first seem to be friends, but turn out otherwise, and makes mistakes that cost her much (I’m not going to spoil anything here).

Neither of these, or my books, hammer Holy Bible passages at the reader. That’s not what makes them Christian young adult or teen SF&F.

Joshua Miller’s book Tyrants and Traitors is a little different. The setting is ancient Israel. It is a retelling of the story of Saul and David (using different names) based on the Old Testament scripture in Samuel I and II. While this isn’t directly Christian, it is about faith, learning about God, and learning to serve God. The bonus in this one is Joshua gets you into the ancient culture, politics, and history, and it feels like you’re right in there. I understand more is coming. Soon, I hope.

Too Much

Some young adult or teen fiction you see in Christian book stores is a bit too sweet, not pushing the boundaries, no action, no adventure, and ends up with too much preaching. Some seem to have a Holy Bible verse on every page, or read like a long devotional. Teens and young adults want adventure, action, a little romance, and sometimes some scary, dangerous events.

Like the teens and young adults we write the stories and books for, the characters should have to deal with real issues from problems at school, problems with parents, bullies, growing up issues, sex and romance. If you don’t address these issues in Christian young adult and teen fiction and SF&F, those teens and young adults are going to read stories about those issues in other genres.

Granted, we, as Christian young adult/teen authors, use Bible references where appropriate. Of course we have to put a disclaimer in the front matter to provide attribution for the version and edition.

So, to answer the question: Yes. Christian SF&F can be good. Not just good, but great.

Keep writing.

 

Risk

It seems to be a law of nature, inflexible and inexorable, that those who will not risk cannot win. — John Paul Jones.

Risk

risk and rewardYour main character in a story must risk something–or many things–to grow and resolve the core problem in the plot. In other words, to win. And, when you get right down to it, the reason for the plot, the story, the character, is to win in the end. Right?

Well, unless you are writing a story about losing in the end.

I think the little quote from John Paul Jones above is definitive. If you do not risk, you cannot win. It doesn’t mean you won’t lose, it just means you cannot win. There are no guarantees. That’s why plots with the main character risking something, risking much, can still end up in failure, at least after a first or second try. Of course, we always want the main character to win out in the end, so somehow, he or she learns from previous failure and puts together a winning final solution.

This is the character arc. The plot presents our character with a problem, who attempts a solution. Our character fails, stumbles, falls, but gets up and tries again until successful. Along the way, the character must risk something. Reputation, career, wealth, family, health, love, life, are some things we lay on the table and place our coins of risk on them.

What the character learns through risk and failure drives the character to new risk, new trials and eventually success.

But, most people are risk averse. They fear losing. That applies to businesses and corporations as well as people. During my career in information technology, the greatest roadblock to implementation of new technology or stronger security was the organization’s aversion to, or inability to accept risk. The old technology was something they knew and the security levels in place were comfortable, if not adequate. But, to grow and improve services and capabilities for customers, they had to accept a certain level of risk. This wasn’t always a recipe for success.

Characters

Characters–our people–are similar. They fear risk, change, disruption of their daily life. That disruption the plot puts in front of them shakes them up. Our character wants to continue with their day, meet their friends, do their work and not go gallivanting across the country on a God-sent mission. In Sudden Mission, the angel Gabriel brings the mission to Paul. Paul resists the mission, the message. He struggles with the risk, the size and scope of the mission, and doesn’t have faith in his ability to complete it. He finally accepts, and it boils down to his faith and obedience to God.

The struggle to accept risk doesn’t stop with that first challenge from the plot. A fully fleshed out plot will have challenges all down the road and the main character must continue to accept the challenge, accept the risk and fight on until the end.

Risk it the coinage we use to wager against fate. If we do not risk, we cannot win. If we win, only then can we expect reward. Success is not guaranteed. Anyone who ever played poker can tell you that.

Keep writing.

 

Motivation

journey of a single stepIt’s tough to get motivated sometimes.

But, where do you find motivation when there is so much work in front of you?

During NaNoWriMo, I sat down daily and wrote. I hit my goal number of words or more each day. Every day was different. Some were easy. Some were hard, desperately hard. But, at the end of 30 days I had a complete first draft. NaNoWriMo provided the motivation. A deadline loomed and I had to get the work done.

I lived by deadlines for many years as a journalist working small newspapers. The work had to get done. If you missed the deadline, the story didn’t run, or was incomplete. If you couldn’t make the deadlines, you risked your job, your paycheck. A lot of motivation there. That’s one reason I’ve done well with NaNoWriMo. The deadline kept me focused.

But, now I have the rewrite, edit, revision, and rewrite leg of the job in front of me. This is hard work and a lot of it. There is so much to do it seems overwhelming. It’s hard to get the motivation to sit down and get to work. Where do I start?

First, break it down. Set a schedule and work on one chapter at a time. Or, one scene at a time. Start at the beginning.

Breaking down a job to smaller, bite-sized chunks makes it look less daunting. Get this chapter rewritten. Take a break. Come back and work on the next one. Pretty soon, you’re on the last chapter.

But, that’s just the first pass. Now you print it all out and hand it to your first reader. You can take a break for a while until the suggestions, corrections, and revisions come back from the first reader.

Then it starts all over again.

Revise, revise, revise

As with the first pass, break it down again and start working through it. Chapter by chapter. Scene by scene. This should go more quickly since you now have a second person’s marks and revisions to work against.

When you get to the end this time, you think you’re done. Right? Wrong.

Now you package up the work and get it to an editor. Since I use Scrivener, this means compiling the work to a format an editor can accept. For this, I compile to a manuscript format and export to a Word document (.doc or .docx). This phase gets you ready to submit to a publisher or agent, or self-publish. In the past, my editor would mark up the work and send me two or three chapters at a time. I’d make the corrections, revisions and rewrites as required and send the updated material back.

This process worked well because we took a part of the work and dug in, then moved on to the next part. We didn’t try to tackle the whole thing at once. We still worked through the book more than once.

This can all take several months. Yeah, the first draft took 30 days. But, that was a solid, directed effort, with my internal editor turned off. The rest takes a lot more time.

And, guess what? If you submit to a traditional publisher and get accepted, you’ll work with another editor and revise, revise, revise. Even if you self-publish, you may go through a few more revisions before putting the book up for sale.

Get motivated.

Keep writing.

 

 

Smelly

Something is smelly.

I smell something up thereThings smell. Sometimes the smells are good, sometimes the smells are not good.

In my current work in progress, the main character encounters a lot of different smells as she moves through the story. Riding in the back of a military truck is “hot, loud, and smelly.” Of course, that is pretty generic, so I’ll add some things that mix in to make it smelly. There are other aromas she encounters later that are disgusting or nasty, and some that are just from the terrain she is in.

Like the cat in the picture here, smells connect her to her environment or the action. You probably connect certain smells to memories, like the smell of pine trees and their sap in the early summer at Salmon La Sac in the Cascade Mountains. Or the aroma of fresh-baked bread from grandma’s kitchen when you were young. How about warm cherry pie with a melting scoop of ice cream? Then there is the smell of new-mown hay, onion fields near Ontario, Oregon, or a nearby stockyard.

Or, skunk.

Smells help set a scene or help evoke emotions, and can accomplish a lot in just a few words. Smells trigger memories and you can use that to enrich what is happening in your story. They clue your character in to what might be coming, or what might be nearby.

Think about your own memories, especially those triggered by smells. You know the ones. You’re walking down a street, entering a building, strolling by Cinnabon in the mall. A smell hits you and it brings a memory front and center. Is it a pleasant memory? A sad memory? Or, does it just make you hungry?

Some may say that visual or audio experiences are powerful, but don’t forget smells. In Nasty Leftovers, the main characters used mentholated cream smeared in paper masks to help deal with overly strong aromas of rot and filth, the sour stench in the air of the city, and the burning sulfur smell of the hellhounds. Dealing with the smells affected almost everything the main characters did.

Some of smells carry forward into the work in progress, adding continuity and bringing up memories for the main character. Those memories impact her reactions and behaviors as she works through the story.

Right now, I smell a Cinnabon and I think it’s calling my name.

Keep writing.