Category Archives: Fiction

Fantasy, comics, and sci-fi.

Wait, do you have to call it “speculative fiction” now?

Jesus vs. Cthulhu

I’m sad that October is almost over. I love this time of year. Fall is here and with Halloween in a few days, we all have an excuse to indulge in some spookiness. As such, I decided to draw the themes for our first XLM weekly Bible studies from horror stories.

I love my job.

My notes are below.

~

Cosmic Horror: the Universe Does Not Love You

Jesus vs. Cthulhu

Historical note: R’lyeh is not located at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee.

H.P. Lovecraft was a pioneer of what’s called weird fiction. The bad guys in his stories are often these unspeakable cosmic horrors — vastly old, utterly alien creatures that cause trouble for humanity. Among them is Cthulhu, one of the Great Old Ones. He’s gigantic and has a squid head. Very creepy.

Lovecraft worked with that theme of alienness a lot. Much of the scariness of his stories comes as his characters learn unimaginable secrets about the universe. Because of that, one of the other themes that crops up a lot is madness. In the Cthulhu Mythos, when you learn the truth, the truth will drive you insane. Cthulhu and other figures in the mythos have evil cults that worship them and do terrible things. Their presence corrupts their followers. One of the things that happens in Lovecraft stories is that, if they don’t go nuts, people slowly become monsters.

Lovecraft’s work reflects his personal beliefs about the world. His philosophy is called cosmicism, which holds that the universe is an impersonal, chaotic, mechanical place. The universe was born of chaos, and produced only more chaos.

If that were so, what would it imply?

  • Our lives are completely and totally insignificant.
  • Good and evil are meaningless.
  • Life has no purpose.
  • There is no justice.
  • We could all be wiped out at any moment.
  • Suffering is arbitrary.
  • Love is, at best, a chemical reaction.

Ever feel like that? Ever doubt that your life, your experiences have any meaning? Isn’t it horrifying to think that they might have no meaning at all? Ever get the feeling like no one cares about what you’re going through and life is nothing but chaos?

Let’s look at some contrasts between the universe of the Cthulhu Mythos and the universe that Jesus describes. Read the rest of this entry

The Real Story

Maybe it happened in a comic book. Maybe a TV series. Maybe even within a movie. You find a character you like, someone you identify with. You get to know how they work. Then, suddenly, they say a particular line or make a particular choice, and it just feels wrong. They would never do that, you think. You can tell the writer forced the moment in for convenience, or because they were pressured into it. It just doesn’t work.

I think God has similar moments with us.

You may not believe this, but God has a story in mind for each of us. We’re all hand-crafted, made for a specific purpose. And God cares very much about us fulfilling that purpose.

When we depart from that purpose, it can cause a lot of angst. It can feel like that out-of-character moment in fiction — except we’re living it out.

Sometimes we get there by defying God. We know what we need to do, but we’re too scared or too comfortable to do it. Or we may get there because we don’t think there’s any purpose to our lives. Maybe we never did; maybe we did once, then lost hope.

Whatever the case, believe this: You are not an accident. You are not a mistake.

God didn’t mess up when He made you. He had something good in mind. And He wants each of us to find what that good thing is. He wants us to live out our purpose.

Talk to Him about it. Take a moment in a quiet place. Ask Him what He meant your life to be about, then listen. If He doesn’t show you something right away, keep it in the back of your mind. He’ll find ways to get through to you.

Don’t force a story into your life that’s not your own.

Mur Keeps It Real

A couple months ago, I replied to a tweet from Mur Lafferty (@mightymur). I went on with my day. A few seconds later, my phone buzzed. I looked. She had replied.

I think I giggled out loud with joy. It was a fanboy moment.

My friend Nick recommended I Should be Writing to me a few years ago. The name struck me; I’d said the phrase a thousand times. I gave a listen, and never turned back.

Mur is definitely a gifted writer. Her story concepts, in particular, are awesome. Playing for Keeps follows a group of friends with truly mediocre superpowers. Marco and the Red Granny features the most creative use of synesthesia I’ve read since Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination. But all this I learned later.

What kept me listening to her podcast is the fact that Mur is real. She talks – frankly, but professionally – about the frustrations of dealing with the publishing industry. She holds herself accountable to her listeners, admitting when she doesn’t follow her own advice. She admits when she’s a noob. Somehow, she manages to write, take care of her family, and then do several podcasts and blogs in which she discusses how to juggle writing, family, and other projects.

And she often repeats that phrase I need to hear again and again: you’re allowed to suck. She reminds me that I don’t need to nail it the first time every time. She reminds me that they key isn’t to only write good stuff: it’s to write, and keep writing.

Preachers could learn from her humility and willingness to get personal. Perfectionists like myself could learn some grace. And we could all learn perseverance from her.

I appreciate what you do, Mur. Thanks for the encouragement and inspiration.

Transformation Hurts

In Highlander, when one immortal kills another, there’s an event called the Quickening. There’s lightning and explosions. Energy roars into the victor, who lifts off the ground, racked with pain. But they end up stronger.

image from Highlander of the Quickening

SFX: BZZZZZ *pow* RAAAAHHHH! *crackle*

In Dragonball, the fighters gather energy to fuel their attacks. They’re not subtle about it. There’s blazing energy and flashing light and lots of screaming. They fill themselves with power, and when they release it, you know it.

SFX: One half-hour of screaming

 

When werewolves transform – especially for the first time – it’s not pleasant. Bones and ligaments pop, skin stretches and deforms, fur and claws burst out. Before they’re howling at the moon, they’re crying out in pain. Once the transformation is over, though, they’re big, bad, scary monsters.

SFX: Metallica's "Of Wolf and Man"

Even in our fiction, strength does not come easily. And when it does, we cry foul. If a character doesn’t have to suffer to become exceptional, it seems cheap.

I’ve often made the mistake of expecting awesomeness without effort, both from myself and from others. It’s not realistic, and it’s not fair.

Sure, some people can coast a long way on talent. But there will come a time when what comes easy won’t be enough. I, for one, didn’t have to try hard in school until college. When I got there, I didn’t have much in the way of study skills. That was less than fun.

“No pain, no gain” is a cliché for a reason. Gaining strength will cost you.

A couple reminders for all of us:

First, transformation hurts. If you want to grow, it may not be a smooth, pleasant process. When you’re in the midst of it, imagine looking back on it, having become something new.

Second, painful stuff is gonna come one way or the other. If you’re in the middle of a sucky experience, you may as well try to grow from it. Jesus’ brother wrote a letter that reminds us to “let perseverance finish its work.” That is, whenever you can, let the pain teach you.

You’ll be better for it.

The First Noel, 2010

I’m home, after a long day of family, food, and flying wrapping paper. I’m tired, but satisfied. I’ve had some of both sides of Christmas: the sacred and the secular.

I hope you guys had an awesome day, and an awesome December besides. And I wanted to give you this.

I posted a story back in 2004 on my first blog. It was a retelling of the Christmas story, set in modern times. I got a lot of good feedback on it, so I’ve reposted it a few times, here and there. I think it might be time again.

Click here to head over to Paperangel Press, my fiction site, to enjoy “The First Noel, 2010.”

Merry Christmas, everyone.

I Like My Vampires Dark and Brooding

Pastor Michael will tell you that vampires are supposed to be hideous, irredeemable beasts. The Dracula from the novel? A wild-eyed monster trying to pass for a man. Nosferatu? A walking nightmare. None of this sparkly stuff.

My favorite take on vampires is the Anne Rice / World of Darkness option. These are the decadent, seductive vampires that burn in daylight and lose humanity as they age. They see themselves as superhuman, as beyond morality by virtue of their predatory immortality.

But – and here’s the part I love – there are some among them that struggle with their sinister urges. They agonize over their corrupted natures, fighting the blood-thirst that roils inside. Do I even have a soul to save? they wonder. How can I keep living this un-life without hurting or destroying those around me?

It’s all dramatic and stuff.

I love that take on vampires because it opens the door for redemption stories.

Not stories that say “oh, they’re not that bad.” Stories of twisted, broken creatures whose nature is to harm… who strive to overcome. Who find healing, who find purpose beyond their own survival.

I love those stories because I know how wicked I am inside. And I know that God has saved me from that wickedness, and is redeeming my life more and more, day by day.

It’s not a perfect metaphor. The repentant vampires have only willpower on their side. The Christian has the Holy Spirit, who makes all the difference in the world.

But there is one other worthwhile comparison: for each, the only way to live is to drink blood.

(We Pray) You Will Be Assimilated.

Much love to E for the premise of this post, and several of the analogies.

Christians and the Borg: compare and contrast.

I can hear the mindless robot jokes already. Stick with me for a sec.

In the case of Christianity, assimilation is good. Rather than losing your personality, you become more yourself than you ever could have otherwise. Instead of losing your free will, you become stronger than you could ever be by yourself. And far from becoming just another cog in the machine, you become a truly valuable part of a living body, complimenting the whole.

As noted, you gain greater strength and resiliency. You gain access to more and greater knowledge. You become part of a greater whole. Your mission is to add more to the collective. And in the end, resistance is futile. At best.

We can’t force you to believe anything with mind-controlling nanites and cybernetic implants. That’s not how God works.

We may be called to lay down our lives for the collective. That’s okay.

You don’t have to take on our culture to assimilate, by the way: just our Savior. Add your distinctiveness to our own. Adapt to serve Him.