The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Oerken Tree: Christian Writing in the Realm of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

By: Thomas Clayton Booher



I have always enjoyed science fiction, and more recently, fantasy. I read The Gods of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs as a young lad, and was pleased when Carl Sagan mentioned in Broca’s Brain that he also did at about the same age. He was more erudite than I, however. He later looked back upon it and his youthful fascination was dampened when he realized that it was far more fiction that it was science. His point was that the best science fiction has its roots in scientific fact. His novel, Contact, was written on that premise, and it was a good read.

I tend to agree with him. There are deep wonders in the creation no matter which direction we look in. We can look outward and marvel at the billions of galaxies whose sizes alone are incomprehensible populating a volume of space that is billions of light-years across. Or we can look in the other direction until we encounter subatomic particles that take up only billionths of an inch. There are known facts about these wonders, but there is much which is unknown. Good science fiction speculates on the unknown without becoming unhitched from its factual moorings.

Sagan was involved with SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). He believed along with many other scientists of note that the probability of extra-terrestrial intelligent beings was high for the reason that numbers alone favored it. There are so many worlds and ‘solar systems’ out there that there is bound to be at least one that, like ours, evolved intelligent beings.

Of course, Sagan’s thinking is based on non-biblical premises. Mathematical probability, I think, would favor Sagan and other SETI enthusiasts’ speculations if their fundamental proposition that it all began with a so-called chance explosion of something out of nothing were true (though, what is surmised as ‘nothing’ is really ‘something’ since it has attributes which is impossible for ‘nothing’ to have). Personally, I am not in opposition to a ‘big bang’ theory as long as it is not something that just happened for no apparent reason, that is, as long as its event is not attributed to chance. In the beginning God said, “Light be,” and there was light – that is not a chance event. A Big Explosion? You’re guess is as good as mine, but I probably wouldn’t want to be standing in the wake of it.

For the Christian, who bases his world-and-life view solely on the scriptures, the question of extra-terrestrial beings (excluding angels and demons, and principalities and powers in high places) is speculation as well. However, if the Christian were to speculate, he would have to do so within the bounds of revelation.

This is especially important for the Christian writer of science fiction and fantasy. If he wants to be true to reality as God has revealed for us what that reality is, he will be careful to contour his speculation around that reality, and draw from it speculative conclusions that are not illogical and retain a symmetry and connection with what we know about it (from both natural and special revelation).

Years and years ago, I thought about that. What if there were beings out there? What would they be like?  How would they behave? The answer to those questions has to be rooted in what we know about the state of the universe. Natural revelation reveals the wonders and glory of God in the universe (Psalm 19:1), but it also reveals that the whole creation groans under the curse of Adam’s sin (Rom 8:22 in context). Such extraterrestrials would have to be aware of the curse’s effects. How far and deep would it affect them? Would they be God-haters or God-lovers? If God-haters, was there any redemption? If God-lovers, how do they carry on in a world that is cursed?


All this was in my mind when I began to write The Oerken Leaves (published by Tome Publishing in 2007), the first book in a proposed trilogy called, The Whole Creation Groans. I have since reworked that first book and will soon release it as an e-book under the title, The Oerken Tree. The book is written for youngsters in their early to mid teens though I think it has an appeal to the adult as well. It is a speculative novel on who and what is out there. I hope to write some more about it soon. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

CSFF Blog Tour: Captives (Pt. 3)

By: Thomas F. Booher



Teenage angst is one of the main themes that runs throughout Captives, and I think it's the best part of the book. I was just as interested, if not more interested, in how the characters from Glenrock would react and behave in their new environs (and the temptations that come with it) as I was in how Levi, Mason, and the rest would save them.

This, in fact, is the first question Jill Williamson asks in her discussion questions at the end of the book, and I am glad she has them there. Being a 23 year old man, recently married, expecting a child in exactly a month, I can still remember what it was like to be single and looking. The desire to be loved, to give love, to make love, that's what's on the brain of the teenage boys and girls in this story, and that's how it is in real life. Also, the sticky temptations, such as Mason and Omar both having affections for their brother's fiancee -- that's real too. One thing I want to poke at, however, is the concept of romance. I am not sure how the author will ultimately portray true love and romance, but so far I don't think the kids in the story are getting it. Shaylinn and her self-image problems are soothed by basically coming to believe that she is, in fact, beautiful. I am not sure how or why she comes to that conclusion. If she is discovering that true beauty is a gentle and quiet spirit from the heart and being Christ-like, then that is heading in the right direction. It does not, however, mean she is suddenly physically beautiful. What it does mean is that she should not find self worth in the way she looks, but who she is in Christ, in her character and spirit. Losing weight, getting in shape, wearing make-up, all of that is fine (and should be pursued in my opinion) in its proper place and perspective. Hopefully Shaylinn will discover this, if she hasn't already.

I thought Omar's character, which started out very weak and unbelievable for me, became one of the best characters once he entered the Safe Lands. His downward spiral into sex, alcohol, and drug abuse was believable. P. 301-302, and especially the last sentence on p. 302, is probably the best characterizing in the whole story, and reading all that builds up to it, and Omar's decision to continue in sin, displays how people become addicted and give up hope in turning to what is good. Having said that, the way Omar does an about face at the end of the book isn't believable, unless it turns out that he really isn't genuine in his sorrow and repentance and is only helping because he is mad at Otley. That would be believable.

Discussion question 3 also shows the role and responsibility parents have in raising their children, and as Scripture makes clear, parents are responsible for raising their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. To not do so, or to neglect one or another and not show love, these things lead to rebellious, unfaithful children. I am a seminary student and have graduated Bible college, and one thing I know that is wrong in the church, including my reformed wing, is that parents do not invest in their children and teach them sound doctrine. They don't cultivate a love in their children for Jesus Christ, because they don't teach Christ's love or show Christ's love to their children. Parents are the covenant heads of their children and truly have some bearing in their own child's salvation, depending on how they raise them and bring them to Christ. Levi, Omar, and Mason show how a father's love, or lack thereof, adversely affects his offspring. He will bear guilt for bad parenting on judgment day.

Gender roles are also prevalent in this story. Mason wants to be a doctor, but the men in his tribe think that's sissy and for women. The women may be obligated to bear children and make bread all day, never having the freedom to explore the earth and carve out a career for themselves. In the Safe Lands, you can do and be what you want. But at what cost? The cost of owning your children. And really, doesn't this say something about day cares? I am not saying day cares are automatically wrong, but shame on parents who choose to send their children to day cares 9 hours a day, five days a week (or more) and only spend time with them at night (and because both parents are working so much, they don't really spend much time with their children even when they are together). There is a line in the story where Ciddah says to Mason that he must believe her people in the Safe Lands are lazy, because they do not both work and watch after their children. It was a poignant moment, and I think that it speaks directly to our culture, our work hard attitude here in America. After all, we decry abortion, but don't care to admit how many abortions are actually done on women inside the church. Further, we think that family planning, of avoiding to have children until we have lots of money, if then, is somehow completely different. Sure, at least we aren't killing our own children, but should we pat ourselves on the back because our solution to killing children was preventing them from having life in the first place? God says children are a blessing, but we Americans do not live like that. We are more concerned, like the people of the Safe Lands, in finding pleasure in life. But if children are a blessing, then doing the hard work of child rearing (as many as the Lord pleases to give you) and investing in them can literally save their souls. I cannot imagine the return on that investment, when you see your children grow up, coming into their own and loving the Lord Jesus Christ, using their gifts to glorify and honor Him. I'll take that over a big house and long, weary work hours just to keep up with the Jones's any day.

The Safe Landers don't believe in death according to discussion question 7. I thought that they did, but with reincarnation nine times until they went to Bliss, heaven. I suppose what is meant is that they do not believe in hell, in any consequences for their sins and lifestyles. If there is one critique I have of how the characters behaved, it would be that they may be more concerned about keeping up their family traditions and values in God in order to avoid hell and the consequences of sin, rather than loving righteousness because it is ultimately the most desirable thing. I think some of the characters do begin to see this though. Who wants to sleep with all the women in the Safe Lands if they are just going to leave you and sleep with someone else? Marriage, fidelity to your spouse, being a one-woman man, and loving that person and not just their bodies, that is where true delight and happiness is found (along with the kids). Being made in God's image, we are most satisfied in living for God and living according to His precepts, and His precepts, His laws and commands, are simply a reflection of His character, His very being. And since He is altogether lovely, true, and good, then to follow His commands leads to loveliness, truth, and goodness.

Of course, we have to see past the bare-boned laws of God to why they are there and how they reflect Christ in His character and being in order for us to find the goodness, truth, and beauty of the laws, but that opens up a theological discussion that is not relevant to this book review. I do hope that the next book in the series will further uncover the ugliness of sin and the beauty of righteousness, and I also hope that some characters will turn to righteousness, and others will not and suffer all the horrible consequences. That would be true to life given our depravity even as believers, and if done well, would be very powerful. Powerful enough to speak to the youth in this generation.   


In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. 


Author’s website - http://www.jillwilliamson.com/


Check out other reviews of Captives for the CSFF blog tour: 

<a href="http://kinynchronicles.blogspot.com/"> Julie Bihn</a>
<a href="http://tulipdrivenlife.blogspot.com/"> Thomas Fletcher Booher</a>
<a href="http://keananbrand.wordpress.com/"> Keanan Brand</a>
<a href="http://rbclibrary.wordpress.com/"> Beckie Burnham</a>
<a href="http://morganlbusse.wordpress.com/"> Morgan L. Busse</a>
<a href="http://jeffchapmanwriter.blogspot.com/"> Jeff Chapman</a>
<a href="http://paulinecreeden.com/"> Pauline Creeden</a>
<a href="http://myrdan.com/"> Emma or Audrey Engel</a>
<a href="http://vicsmediaroom.wordpress.com/"> Victor Gentile</a>
<a href="http://fantasythyme.blogspot.com/"> Timothy Hicks</a>
<a href="http://www.spoiledfortheordinary.blogspot.com/"> Jason Joyner</a>
<a href="http://carolkeen.blogspot.com/"> Carol Keen</a>
<a href="http://www.shannonmcdermott.com/?page_id=189"> Shannon McDermott</a>
<a href="http://www.bloomingwithbooks.blogspot.com/"> Meagan @ Blooming with Books</a>
<a href="http://rebeccaluellamiller.wordpress.com/"> Rebecca LuElla Miller</a>
<a href="http://www.bookwomanjoan.blogspot.com/"> Joan Nienhuis</a>
<a href="http://ashabutterflys.blogspot.com/"> Asha Marie Pena</a>
<a href="http://dadscancooktoo.com/"> Nathan Reimer</a>
<a href="http://www.chawnaschroeder.blogspot.com/"> Chawna Schroeder</a>
<a href="http://www.jojosutiscorner.wordpress.com/"> Jojo Sutis</a>
<a href="http://jessicathomasink.com/blog/"> Jessica Thomas</a>
<a href="http://stevetrower.com/blog/"> Steve Trower</a>
<a href="http://christian-fantasy-book-reviews.com/blog/"> Phyllis Wheeler</a>
<a href="http://finishedthebook.blogspot.com/"> Rachel Wyant</a>

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

CSFF Blog Tour: Captives (Pt. 2)

By: Thomas F. Booher



I usually do these reviews to point out what I think is both good and bad writing. I do this so the readers and perhaps the authors themselves (if they read and are willing to consider my thoughts) can improve in their writing and storytelling. My belief is that some Christian fiction authors have fallen into certain styles of writing that are not seen as much or at all in non-Christian fiction writing. Thankfully, Jill Williamson avoids most of that in Captives. However, I was so inundated with characters and their names at the beginning of the story that I was having trouble sorting people out, let alone getting to know them and their place in the story. Maybe others can sort many characters out better than I can, but even if they can, I don't know if flooding your reader with characters up front is helpful. The story does jump from many different characters and their perspectives, so in a sense there are multiple protagonists and main characters, but only after I was nearly halfway through the book (also the point where I felt the story took a turn for the better) did I seem to get traction with any of the characters.

That aside, there are some characters I like. Jordan I do not like, but I don't think he is supposed to be liked. Jill Williamson, if you read this, I would also like to know why you constantly have him saying things like "son of a cock roach's guts" or other such bizarre nonsense. Further into the story you seemed to make a stab at him for saying things like that through one of the other characters smirking, and you refer to his words as something to the effect of incoherent babbling at one point, but do you really think Jordan talking like this helps your story? My suggestion would be, go all the way and have him use actual cuss words, or just mention that he let out a string of obscenities at his captors. What Jordan says just sounds silly, and nobody in that situation would say things like that.

Which leads to another main concern -- characters acting differently than humans would in real life. This I found to occur early on in the story. For starters, while I suppose it is possible one would unexpectedly throw up like Mason does on p. 50 due to the death and shock of the situation he is in, I found it a bit over the top. I don't think Jill Williamson meant it this way, but it can come off like, "well, in case you couldn't tell by my writing, this is a serious situation and this character is really upset about that, so in case my writing couldn't communicate that, his throwing up will." I understood Mason was conflicted without having to have him suddenly throw up, only to go on doing something else the next moment. The writing communicated adequately.

Another example and I think a better one is Omar on p. 58. Reacting to seeing his family killed when he did not plan things to go down that way, he concludes he is dreaming, and that this is a terrible nightmare. Then, he is snapped to reality. I don't think most people would conclude they were in a nightmare. Again, I suppose it's possible, but even if it is, that's not the best way to communicate his shock, not to mention it is a bit of a cliche. I think it would be much better to say that Omar felt as if this was a terrible nightmare, rather than he actually convince himself that it was one. Also, Omar seems to yell at the enforcers who killed his tribe one minute, and comply with them the next in chapter 5. This would be more believable if Omar cared less for all of his tribe/family, but in that chapter and the chapters that follow he does seem to have some love for them. In light of that, I think Omar would not comply with the enforcers, not so readily at least. It may slow the story down, but I think for the sake of realism and for character development this would have been worthwhile to adjust. Part of my problem may also have been that I was still mesmerized with all the different characters and their names at this point, so what was happening was hard for me to understand.

The reason these things are important to address is because if characters do not act true to reality, then they are unrelatable. If a reader cannot relate to a character, than that character is a bad character. This does not of course mean the character would respond the way I would respond; that wouldn't be much fun either. The character does have to respond in a believable way though: maybe his personality is different from mine and therefore he or she acts in a different way than I would, but I can at least see that character as behaving in a way that certain humans with certain personalities and beliefs and fears would act. Early on, I couldn't relate to some of the characters (at least fully).

I had these same concerns with some of the girls that were taken to the Safe Lands early in the story as well. I understand that they are having conflicting desires, but their initial love for the Safe Lands, in light of all that had happened to them, was unrealistic to me. Even for Mia, who makes the most sense given her character to enjoy the Safe Lands, she would have realized that it could have been her or her mother who were dead just as easily as it was her other tribe members. That alone would put everyone in a great degree of fear, anger, and doubt toward their captors and their way of life.

I imagine some of the reasons for the younger women (and Omar) behaving as receptively as they did to the Safe Lands and its way of life is due to their own personal self esteem issues and depressions. As the story went on, it seemed like the characters reacted in ways that were more realistic, more like you or I would react, and that went a long way in improving the overall story and its effects. In my next post, I want to talk about the morals of the Safe Lands and the morals of the people of Glenrock, who are supposed to be Christians. As I stated yesterday, I think the contrasting moralities of the story are one of the best parts of Captives, and I do think that teenagers would be able to identify with some of the more rebellious and conflicted characters, and hopefully mature along with them.


In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. 


Author’s website - http://www.jillwilliamson.com/


Check out other reviews of Captives for the CSFF blog tour: 

<a href="http://kinynchronicles.blogspot.com/"> Julie Bihn</a>
<a href="http://tulipdrivenlife.blogspot.com/"> Thomas Fletcher Booher</a>
<a href="http://keananbrand.wordpress.com/"> Keanan Brand</a>
<a href="http://rbclibrary.wordpress.com/"> Beckie Burnham</a>
<a href="http://morganlbusse.wordpress.com/"> Morgan L. Busse</a>
<a href="http://jeffchapmanwriter.blogspot.com/"> Jeff Chapman</a>
<a href="http://paulinecreeden.com/"> Pauline Creeden</a>
<a href="http://myrdan.com/"> Emma or Audrey Engel</a>
<a href="http://vicsmediaroom.wordpress.com/"> Victor Gentile</a>
<a href="http://fantasythyme.blogspot.com/"> Timothy Hicks</a>
<a href="http://www.spoiledfortheordinary.blogspot.com/"> Jason Joyner</a>
<a href="http://carolkeen.blogspot.com/"> Carol Keen</a>
<a href="http://www.shannonmcdermott.com/?page_id=189"> Shannon McDermott</a>
<a href="http://www.bloomingwithbooks.blogspot.com/"> Meagan @ Blooming with Books</a>
<a href="http://rebeccaluellamiller.wordpress.com/"> Rebecca LuElla Miller</a>
<a href="http://www.bookwomanjoan.blogspot.com/"> Joan Nienhuis</a>
<a href="http://ashabutterflys.blogspot.com/"> Asha Marie Pena</a>
<a href="http://dadscancooktoo.com/"> Nathan Reimer</a>
<a href="http://www.chawnaschroeder.blogspot.com/"> Chawna Schroeder</a>
<a href="http://www.jojosutiscorner.wordpress.com/"> Jojo Sutis</a>
<a href="http://jessicathomasink.com/blog/"> Jessica Thomas</a>
<a href="http://stevetrower.com/blog/"> Steve Trower</a>
<a href="http://christian-fantasy-book-reviews.com/blog/"> Phyllis Wheeler</a>
<a href="http://finishedthebook.blogspot.com/"> Rachel Wyant</a>

Monday, August 12, 2013

CSFF Blog Tour Book Review: Captives

By: Thomas F. Booher



Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

When I review books, I have a scale in my mind, and various criteria that go into it. I keep mental notes, and sometimes write them in the margins on each page. Shortly before the halfway point of this book, I was ready to give up on it. The story moved too fast to grasp it or get a feel for the many characters. Attempting to do so felt like watching a car fly down the highway as you sit from your porch. By the time you locked onto something, the scene or characters shifted. Beyond that, the lame "cursings" uttered by Jordan drove me crazy. Worse, I didn't think Omar's (and some of the other characters') actions and reactions early in the story were true to life, which put me off.  

I'll detail those concerns in subsequent posts, but I want to say that the second half of the book was vastly improved. It was almost like Jill Williamson vaped some grass, and a ten at that. The story slowed a bit, enough to catch its details and the intricacies of the characters. The Safe Lands are a fresh and fascinating place. Best of all, the moral dilemmas were, at times, realistic and palpable. This is due largely to the characters acting more true to life to the situations they were put in (certainly compared to their response to losing their family members at Glenrock). 

Williamson captures the appeal of the Safe Land's alluring sins in a powerful way, and this, I think, is where we see the potential of so called "Christian" fiction writing . The most poignant parts of the story deal with the issue of forced surrogacy and the separation the mothers experience as their babies are whisked away from them, sometimes before they even get to see them. The Safe Land's total rejection of the family unit stands in contradistinction to the villagers of Glenrock's way of life. This is fascinating to see play out (and strikes close to home as my wife and I will have our first child in about a month), and has me more intrigued than anything else to read the next book in the series. I will talk more about this in my next post. 

There are other questions and concerns I have, some of which the author raises with ten discussion questions at the end of the book, some of which the author does not raise. Young teenagers will most enjoy this book and most profit from thinking through the mucky morality of the characters. The discussion questions should help facilitate the process of thinking these things through, and hopefully my discussion in my following posts will as well. 


In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. 

Author’s website - http://www.jillwilliamson.com/


Check out other reviews of Captives for the CSFF blog tour: 

<a href="http://kinynchronicles.blogspot.com/"> Julie Bihn</a>
<a href="http://tulipdrivenlife.blogspot.com/"> Thomas Fletcher Booher</a>
<a href="http://keananbrand.wordpress.com/"> Keanan Brand</a>
<a href="http://rbclibrary.wordpress.com/"> Beckie Burnham</a>
<a href="http://morganlbusse.wordpress.com/"> Morgan L. Busse</a>
<a href="http://jeffchapmanwriter.blogspot.com/"> Jeff Chapman</a>
<a href="http://paulinecreeden.com/"> Pauline Creeden</a>
<a href="http://myrdan.com/"> Emma or Audrey Engel</a>
<a href="http://vicsmediaroom.wordpress.com/"> Victor Gentile</a>
<a href="http://fantasythyme.blogspot.com/"> Timothy Hicks</a>
<a href="http://www.spoiledfortheordinary.blogspot.com/"> Jason Joyner</a>
<a href="http://carolkeen.blogspot.com/"> Carol Keen</a>
<a href="http://www.shannonmcdermott.com/?page_id=189"> Shannon McDermott</a>
<a href="http://www.bloomingwithbooks.blogspot.com/"> Meagan @ Blooming with Books</a>
<a href="http://rebeccaluellamiller.wordpress.com/"> Rebecca LuElla Miller</a>
<a href="http://www.bookwomanjoan.blogspot.com/"> Joan Nienhuis</a>
<a href="http://ashabutterflys.blogspot.com/"> Asha Marie Pena</a>
<a href="http://dadscancooktoo.com/"> Nathan Reimer</a>
<a href="http://www.chawnaschroeder.blogspot.com/"> Chawna Schroeder</a>
<a href="http://www.jojosutiscorner.wordpress.com/"> Jojo Sutis</a>
<a href="http://jessicathomasink.com/blog/"> Jessica Thomas</a>
<a href="http://stevetrower.com/blog/"> Steve Trower</a>
<a href="http://christian-fantasy-book-reviews.com/blog/"> Phyllis Wheeler</a>
<a href="http://finishedthebook.blogspot.com/"> Rachel Wyant</a>
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