The best laid plans

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I know, right? A blog post turns up out of nowhere promising all manner of exciting content to follow, and then I disappear off the face of the Earth.


To cut a short story long, our broadband router died, and due to the somewhat unhelpful policy of certain broadband providers not to replace faulty equipment (although I was helpfully offered an extended warranty) I was forced, by virtue of not wishing to pay anyone £75 just for the privilege of continuing to pay them money, to switch providers. No names, no pack drill, but if I just updated you to my sky.com email address, prepare to be updated to a virginmedia.com address shortly (unless the landline continues to not work, in which case anything could happen).

But that’s another story, and what I should really be doing is talking about the story Dream Treaders by Wayne Thomas Batson, because it is, in fact, time for another of those Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour Thingies.

It goes without saying, of course, that I haven’t read this book. I have, however, read the blurb on amazon and it sounds like it might not be all that bad. Well, any story which recognises the inherent awesomeness of being English must have something worth saying, right?

It also sounds a little like Inception for a younger audience, and presumably with some sort of Christian message somewhere in the trilogy. I guess we’ll have to follow the tour (links in the sidebar) to find that out though.

This week, I have been mostly…

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Working on the day job, recovering from Camp NaNoWriMo failure and having another of my occasional blog hiatuses. Hiati? Breaks. But now I’m back. So, to recap, I have also been…

Writing.

Just not very much, that’s all. In fact my Camp NaNo project, Bit #2 of The Ambivalence Chronicles, clocked in at around 10,000 out of my 20,000 word target – and about 80% of that was irrelevant or just plain crap. Still, I have used what was worth keeping to try and flesh out the wider series arc a little, and who knows, maybe I’ll take another run at it for the July Camp session.
 

Editing.

The typo edit for Countless as the Stars is, finally, complete! So the aim is to get the thing formatted into a nice e-book, with a nice cover, and prepare to take amazon by storm! Probably.
 

Planning.

Continued planning for The Ambivalence Chronicles – and I suppose I should come up with a plan for November before Halloween too, if I’m to take this writing lark at all seriously.
 

Website building.

Nothing visible at the moment, the main problem at the moment being the absence of a functioning shop page, which is an irritating detail I am busy trying a few alternatives for size, hopefully to be in place again before the alleged ebook launch. In the meantime, anybody wishing to acquire a paperback copy of Countless as the Stars should email sales@stevetrower.com – still at giveaway prices of course.
 

Coming soon…

The Great Red Dwarf Re-Watch will kick off again with Series IV, the Kinks retrospective will resume tomorrow, and I’ve been watching a lot of classic Doctor Who recently, so expect plenty of reviews. And besides that, anything else I decide to vent about…

Book Review: Numb by John W Otte

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Way back in the dark ages – 2006 – when I first started blogging, there was a distinct lack of Christian science fiction available, at least in the way I defined those things at the time. That situation has improved slightly over the years, and the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour has brought a few works to my attention that suit my taste, but even so what I really want to read is a good story with a Christian message and a few awesome spaceships. Is that too much to ask?

Well, not any more, because with Numb, John Otte has delivered just that. And, despite my perhaps unfairly high expectations, done rather a good job of it too.

Numb is the story of Crusader, an otherwise anonymous assassin, whose God-given gift of numbness – an inability to feel either physical pain or emotion – makes him the ideal person to exercise God’s wrath on whatever heretic or unbeliever his superiors decide are most deserving of judgement.


The story is set in an ostensibly black and white universe, in which the religious Ministrix, for whom Crusader does the dirty work, and the more atheistic Praesidium are the two dominant (and obviously feuding) forces. Hidden between and among these two superpowers, however, are shades of grey – heretics, not welcome in either place – and it is one such heretic, Isolda Westin, who turns Crusader’s life upside down when she is made his next target.

For reasons initially unknown to Crusader, Isolda seems to bypass his divine numbness, triggering new feelings, and when she shows him that God is not the self-righteous bully the Ministrix has made Him out to be, he begins to dount his calling…

And, yes, there is a pan-galactic quest, on spaceships with tunnel drives and similar science fictiony goodness.

But it’s Crusader’s personal quest – save the girl, or save his soul? – that drives the story and gives us a means to explore this universe.

The exploration of Crusader’s numbness reflects the complexity of human emotions in a way that will probably strike a different nerve with every reader; an aspect that struck me was when Crusader is told:

Not everyone is warm. Not everyone is emotional. Do you suppose I experience many ‘warm fuzzy’ moments with God? But that doesn’t matter. Our relationship with God isn’t a matter of how we feel toward Him but how He feels toward us.

I should add that the story is far from preachy; Crusader’s discovery of who God is and who he, Crusader, really is unfold as part of the story, and conversations he has with ‘heretics’ – members of the true Church – bring these things out naturally.

I could say more – it’s that sort of book, one that provokes deeper thought and conversations, expresses truths through story and leaves them in the readers mind for later consideration. And that, I think, is what I have always wanted from Christian science fiction.

Well, that and spaceships.

CSFF Blog tour vs Tuesday Tunes: Numb

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You may not believe this, but even on the tour for a book with spaceships in it (that would be Numb, by John W Otte) I am still filling. In which spirit, brought to you at great expense from a secret location deep inside Praesidium space, here are the Top Ten Numb Songs:

10. Tricky – Numb
Tricky is a purveyor of softly spoken trip-hop in the Portishead style, although this track is less bass-heavy than some.

9. Diana Vickers – N.U.M.B.
X-Factor reject in quite good record shock!

8. Portishead – Numb
Portishead are also purveyors of the Portishead sound, and come from um, Portishead, actually.

7. The Cure – Numb
Taken from the 1996 album Wild Mood Swings, probably named after the bands tendency to swing wildly from miserable to utterly wretched.

6. R.E.M. – So Fast, So Numb
In the 90s I saw R.E.M. in concert in Cardiff. Which, by a curious coincidence, is just across the Severn Estuary from Portishead.

5. The Willows – Numb
There should be a law against folk music sounding this good. I’ll be listening to Radio 2 before you know it at this rate. Can we get a decontamination shower for my ears please?

4. Linkin Park – Numb
Californian nu metal band improbably named after Linkin Park, home ground of Portishead FC.

3. U2 – Numb
First single from the Zooropa album, with Eno-esque vocals by The Edge.

2. Rob Zombie – Feel So Numb
Robbing zombies was the number one crime in the Portishead area in 2012.

1. Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb
Awesome cover of the Scissor Sisters hit, with far better guitar solos. Pink Floyd, of course, are not from Portishead, but rumours persist that Roger Waters once bought a Ginsters Pork Pie at Gordano Services.

So there you go; enjoy the playlist, don’t use this post as research into the English port of Portishead, and follow the tour for Numb in the sidebar.

CSFF Blog Tour: Numb by John W Otte

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What? The blog tour again? I just did the last one! These things come round too quickly. Don’t people know I have a novella to write? Not to mention all this chocolate that isn’t going to eat itself. (Self-eating chocolate? How’s that for a sci-fi dieting aid? Maybe I’ll write it into that novel – can’t see any other use for such a thing.)

Sorry, where were we? Ah yes, Numb. A Christian speculative fiction story which, in a dramatic break with tradition, has spaceships in it. I know, right? Who came up with that crazy idea? Well, John W Otte, Lutheran minister currently residing in South St. Paul, Minnesota, with his wife and two sons, in this case.

But we’re not here to talk about the author – he’s got a whole website for that – what’s this Numb book all about, besides Christians in space?


Save the girl…or his soul?

Crusader is numb. He feels neither emotion nor pain, a divine gift that allows him to be the Ministrix’s best assassin. Whether it’s heretics from within or heathen from without, Crusader is the sword in the True Church’s hand. And if he remains obedient to his superiors, he will be able to let go of his guilt.

But then he’s ordered to kill Isolda Westin. It shouldn’t be a problem. A target is a target. When Crusader sees Isolda’s image, though, something strange happens. He experiences a moment of panic, a wave of emotions, the first he’s felt in as long as he can remember.

In that moment, he realizes he can’t fulfill his mission. He can’t kill Isolda Westin, even if it means he’ll be condemned as an enemy of the Ministrix.

Soon Crusader and Isolda are on the run. Will they be able to learn why the Ministrix wants Isolda dead? Or will they both face the harsh justice of the “True Church”

Plus it’s got spaceships in it, did I mention that? I know they aren’t mentioned in the blurb, but I promise you they are there. Which of course can only mean one thing: I’m actually going to review the book. be rude not to, really, wouldn’t it?

But that, I’m afraid, will have to wait; for now, I should be writing reading.

Camp NaNoWriMo Update 2

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So, it has obviously been a long time coming, but the story is now starting to happen. Some 4,000 words in I have some bad guys about to start chasing my heroes across the Home Counties, and the good guys are about to be given an utterly ridiculous quest upon which to embark whilst evading said bad guys.

That is just the good stuff, of course; there’s a lot of rubbish lurking in the draft so far, most of which has nothing to do with the Ambivalence Chronicles, but it’s keeping me writing, and that has got me to this point, the point of almost having a story, so it can’t be all bad.

Well, ok, this is Camp NaNoWriMo, so it pretty much is all bad.

I don’t think I’ve written a line I feel like sharing yet, which I suppose goes to show just how bad it all is, but at least there are words getting committed to a Scrivener file, and a plan is developing.

Of course, what I really have no idea about at this stage is how any of this is going to fit in with the wider arc of the Ambivalence Chronicles; I think what this indicates is that we shouldn’t expect a public release of any of the Chronicles until such time as there is a sort of coherent link across the whole series.

And no, I still don’t know what this story is actually called.

Tuesday Tunes: Music For Airports by Brian Eno

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So now I am, theoretically, immersed in Camp NaNoWriMo, it seems an appropriate moment for a quick review of some writing music. And it will be quick, because:
(1) I should be writing, and
(b) this is probably the most minimalist album in my collection.

The opening album in Eno and friends’ 4 album Ambient sequence, Music For Airports consists of four subtle pieces, with various combinations of short piano melodies, wordless vocals and subtle synthesisers.

Eno revisits the technique used in Discreet Music of repeating two or more melodies slightly out of sync to form a constantly evolving musical background and give your ears something to do while your fingers get writing.

If you find Music For Airports a little too easy to nod off to, the Bang On A Can cover version is slightly less sparse arrangement of the same tunes, with a greater variety of instruments and sounds, and may indeed lend itself to a different set of writing tasks.

Speaking of which, this Camp NaNoWriMo project is not writing itself…

Listen along

Get a copy

Linky goodness

brian-eno.net

Monday (Quick) Review: Let’s Go To Golgotha

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Just a quickie today, since I should be NaNo-ing and everything (more on that story later).

It being, as you may have noticed, the Easter season, our thoughts inevitably turn to chocolate and time travel.

Because of course, among the many and varied time periods visited by science fiction, Biblical settings are a popular setting for time travel, and obviously one in which Christianity and science fiction regularly meet. The crucifixion of Christ is recognised as such a crucial point in time that it becomes a central meeting point for time travellers in Poul Anderson’s There Will Be Time (incidentally, an intriguing interpretation of time travel in that it doesn’t require a time machine of any sort).

But the story I really wanted to draw attention to today features the crucifixion as the central time location and, indeed, the main point of the whole story. Lets go to Golgotha by Garry Kilworth (available in this collection) is a brilliantly thought-provoking short story for Christians and non-Cristians alike, posing questions about both the paradoxical nature of time travel and the crucifixion of Christ. I won’t say any more about in case it spoils the story, but if you can find a copy, I’d recommend a read, especially this week as we turn our thoughts away from chocolate and towards the cross.

See, told you it would be quick. I should be writing,



Camp NaNoWriMo Update

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For reasons now lost to common sense, I decided a little while back to draft Bit #2 of The Ambivalence Chronicles for Camp NaNoWriMo this April. Unfortunately this so-called idea came with a couple of minor drawbacks:
(1) I had completely forgotten what passed for an ending to Bit #1 when I drafted it last summer; and
(2) I couldn’t remember if or how I ended Bit #1 when I wrote it last year.

I know that may sound like only one reason, but it turned out to be significant enough to mention it twice. In fact, trying to figure out where the story was – and where it needed to go next – was such a stumbling block I wasted the whole first week of April on the day job. I know, right?

Anyway, it’s up and running – well, hobbling like a 3 legged donkey doped up on Kalms – and already I’m procrastinating, not least by writing this blog post.
 
Then I realised that I was collecting various pictures and bits and pieces of reference material all over the place – bookmarked websites, photos in random folders on my PC or, in especially sensible moments, in the appropriate Scrivener file.
 
So yesterday, in a moment of extreme procrastination, I decided to start compiling them onto a Pinterest board, at the moment just for my own reference purposes; obviously when I become famous and best-selling, people will flock to see how the Chronicles came together.
 
On which note, it has just occurred to me that I should compile one for Countless as the Stars, the typo edit of which is now just a couple of chapters short of the end, so hopefully that will be heading to ebook readers everywhere some time after Camp NaNo.
 
Here, we reached the end of Re-Dwarf Series 3 just in time to rest it for Camp NaNo – blogging my be a little sparse from here until the end of April as I try and get Bit #2 – working title Nineteen Eighty-Two, but I have a strong suspicion that will change any time now – into shape.
 
It will, as is the nature of NaNo writing, take a few days for the start of the story to show itself, and then for the actual story itself hopefully to take shape and, maybe, even give itself a title.

Re-Dwarf: The Last Day

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Finally we reach the end of Red Dwarf series 3. And, from an ‘intersection of science-fiction and Christianity’ perspective, it’s a doozy. (That’s a theological term, by the way.)

The iron shall lie down with the lamp

Kryten, having over the last six weeks fully integrated himself into the crew if Red Dwarf, is obsolete. His manufacturers, DivaDroid International, as part of their customer service package, send out the new model to replace him – this is all very nice and something many 21st century companies could perhaps learn from. However, this is not the 21st century -it’s not even the 23rd century any more, and three million years alone in deep space have sent the new model, Hudzen 10, a little bit batty.

Along the way we discover that Kryten has become more than just a useful crew member:

You would gamble your safety for a mere android? Is this the human value you call “friendship?”

We also discover that Lister was abandoned in a cardboard box under a pool table – a detail that was proposed for inclusion either in Timeslides or the cancelled season opener, Dad, but finally found its way into a drunken conversation in the Officers’ Club.

And we discover that Rimmer’s family were Seventh Day Advent Hoppists – an obscure religious cult whose legalistic interpretation of an already dubious Bible translation (‘Faith, hop and charity, and the greatest of these is hop.’) is probably the best argument against literalism in… well, in this series of Red Dwarf, anyway.

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This upbringing does make Rimmer a little more sympathetic towards Kryten’s ‘religious’ views, especially when Lister tries to impose his view (which essentially is that Kryten’s beliefs are a load of baloney) on Kryten.
And all this, of course, is where it gets quite interesting. It appears that the kind of pop spirituality which seems to be becoming more popular these days somehow evolves into a commonly held pantheistic belief system,leading to this exchange between Kryten and Lister:

KRYTEN: Surely you believe that god is in all things? Aren’t you a pantheist?
LISTER: Yeah, but I just don’t think it applies to kitchen utensils. I’m not a
frying pantheist! Machines do not have souls. Computers and calculators do not have an afterlife. You don’t get hairdryers with tiny little wings, sitting on clouds and playing harps!
KRYTEN: But of course you do! For is it not written in the Electronic Bible, “The iron shall lie down with the lamp?” Well, it’s common sense, sir. If there were no afterlife to look forward to, why on Earth would machines spend the whole of their lifes serving mankind? Now that would be really dumb!
LISTER: (Quietly) That makes sense. Yeah. Silicon heaven.
KRYTEN: Don’t be sad, Mr David. I am going to a far, far better place.
LISTER: Just out of interest: Is silicon heaven the same place as human heaven?
KRYTEN: Human heaven? Goodness me! Humans don’t go to heaven! No, someone made that up to prevent you all from going nuts!

Well, there’s enough in that little exchange alone to base a decent sized sermon on, but I won’t do that just now; instead I’ll jut throw a few questions out for your consideration:

• Is God in all things?
• Can an artificial intelligence form some sort of religious belief?
• Without an afterlife to look forward to, why do any of us do anything?
• Did someone just make up ‘human heaven’ just to stop us all going nuts?
• If they did, would it matter?
• Where do all the calculators go?

Feel free to answer those – or pose your own, probably far more interesting, questions in the comments.

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A couple of CGI spaceships. That’s your lot really, besides the usual colour and sound clean up.

Watch this episode for an abundance of android and skewed human theology.