Binged ‘Altered Carbon’ this weekend, Netflix’ latest and reportedly most expensive series to date. ($6-7 million per episode? whoa) A 10-part cyberpunk/noir piece based on Richard K. Morgan’s book of the same name, it’s a bloody, sensual, cynical look at the future. Designer clone bodies, digitized consciousness, virtual imprisonment and torture, galaxy-spanning Spec Ops/Secret Police, obscene wealth disparity, functional immortality… the future’s so dark, you gotta wear NODs.
A solid Sci Fi show with a gritty story and great effects, but if ‘Altered Carbon’ says anything about the future, it’s that science is really secondary; humanity’s progress is not and never will be linked to technology. The bottom line is we never advance beyond our morality. Period.
In fact push it as far as you want, technology remains just another function of old-fashioned human cruelty, conceit, greed, lust, and rage. Dub, sample, and remix – it’s still the same old song all over again. Hide behind chrome and smart glass and mirror-shades, dress it up in gene-spliced, supermodel customized sexiness with neurachem lethality, package it in alien alloys and complex algorithms, our depravity still shows.
When the end credits rolled on episode 10, I was brought full circle back to 2009 and the fundamental conviction I had when I decided to try and write a SF novel as a Christian: only a spiritual ethic that upholds life as sacred can restrain humanity from becoming inhumane. Lose the preciousness of life and you open the door to contempt and cruelty; commodify people and you end up committing atrocities.
That’s not to say I want my fiction to be sermonizing. No, I aim for entertainment, escapism, and action. Most of my stories have loads of firepower and a high body count. But I want to build the work on a solid foundation. I want substance, themes, meaning in there as well.
Despite the cool visuals, wicked action scenes, and great acting, I was disappointed when Altered Carbon was over. Not that it had ended but at the sordid sameness of it all. It was almost a relief. What was meant to be action-packed cyberpunk coolness and world-weary wisdom was just so uninspired, so sad.
There was a smack upside the head afterwards too: a call to confront the question of faith in spec-fiction once again. To respect the conventions of genre, the demands of the medium, and the expectations of the audience and aim for quality, and yet somehow portray spiritual realities organically in the plot, characters and fictional world.
Guess I’d better start praying about that again, eh?
Thanks and have a great day.
When churched people learn I’m a stained glass artisan who also writes fiction, after they recover from the initial surprise, they often spin my vocation as some form of ministry. (After all, it’s artistic, not practical. Not ‘real’ work, eh) So my windows must be for churches and my stories about Jesus or theology. Or maybe the End Times – that’s OK too.
If I have the time and enough of a relationship with the individual, I try to explain my “Christian” testimony in these contexts actually consists of me treating my client well, doing the work honestly, on time, on budget, and meeting or exceeding expectations in terms of design, execution, and craft. It does not mean I incorporate the shape of a Cross in the window or hide the face of Jesus somewhere in the pattern. And when it comes to writing, well my speculative fiction pieces are most definitely NOT dramatized sermons with Chapter and Verse cross references. In fact, I caution some people against reading my stuff because I sense they’re looking for moralistic parables or family-friendly entertainment. My stuff will only confuse them.
Over the years I’ve encountered various reactions that range from relief through perplexity to downright distrust. Some people understand. Others simply aren’t wired for it. Some are in different places in their faith, and a few are so locked in to a particular mindset about religion, that any derivation is deviation and immediately suspect. Even though I’ve run this gauntlet many times, I’m on edge whenever it comes up; I’m not looking to argue or persuade someone against their convictions. I’m simply doing what God has set before me – however clumsily.
After this morning’s devotions, my eye caught the spine of a book on one of my overflowing shelves: Dorothy Sayer’s ‘Letters to a Diminished Church’. Opening it, it fell to a dog-eared page.
“The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours and to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.
Church by all means and decent forms of amusement certainly – but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth. Not, if they did, could anyone believe they were made by the same hand that made Heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.
Yet in Her own buildings, in Her own ecclesiastical art and music, in Her hymns and prayers, in Her sermons and in Her little books of devotion, the Church will tolerate or permit a pious intention to excuse work so ugly, so pretentious, so tawdry and twaddling, so insincere and insipid, so bad as to shock and horrify any decent draftsman.
And why? Simply because She has lost all sense of the fact that the living and eternal truth is expressed in work only so far as that work is true in itself, to itself, to the standards of its own technique. She has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred. Forgotten that a building must be good architecture before it can be a good church; that a painting must be well painted before it can be called a good sacred picture; that work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work.”
This absolutely rings true for me. This is what makes me strive to be a better, more creative stained glass artisan and to write more honestly and skillfully. I hold myself against this standard whenever I step up to my worktable or sit down at my desk.
And this principle right here is why I urge any believing artist never to shy away from honing their craft and employing any and all the conventions of their medium and genre to make good work. Excellence should always be the mark of Christian endeavor. Our worldview provides us with a foundation, not a straitjacket. Faith is inherently supernatural. It is wings, not chains. It is a benchmark gauge, not a Procrustean Bed.
Don’t accuse me of advocating gratuitousness here, I’m not. By all means be gracious and aware. But Christian artists must access all the tools available to them so their work – whatever that is – stays true to itself and thus to God.
No, I won’t always thread the tension between my flawed understanding and the reality of God without a hitch. But I have to do the work set before me, tackle each project honestly to the best of my ability, and trust it is God who works in me both to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Phil. 2:13)
Trust God. Go forth and Art hard.
Have a good day.
- PS: This is also the reason I’m simultaneously stunned and irritated with ‘Christian’ services like VidAngel that censor naughty language and ‘offensive’ scenes from television/movies like Netflix’ recent “Black Mirror” and “Bright”. As if cuss words were the defining factor in secular content and not hearing them somehow makes me more Christian, or renders the show magically ‘God-fearing’ and acceptable. Those folks are cashing in on a cloistered religious mindset and utter lack of discernment.
- BTW, ‘Black Mirror’ is a disturbing as it is brilliantly incisive. I wish I had the chops to write those kinds of stories.
The next chapter in the Zombie 6 novella ‘Enemy of my Enemy’ is now available. Click on the title link above or use the pull down menu in the header. Treachery, reversals, foes all around, the team races to confront the real enemy.
Thanks and enjoy.
* cover art by J. Penswick Designs. Nice one, eh?
In discussing cover art for the upcoming Z6 ‘Enemy of my Enemy’ novella, I mentioned to the graphic artist I had a couple more ideas for the team/setting. Not only did he do an excellent job for ‘EomE’, he worked up a quick Z6 team logo – For when Z6 comes around in the fiction queue again.
Pretty cool, eh?
Have a great weekend.
From the upcoming Mil-SF novella “Enemy of my Enemy”
I glanced around at my team, the scientists, Bozan and al-Asiri, the wounded… The chill in the air seemed to drop another ten degrees. “Sahito, where are you?”
“On the Hephaestus, Captain Dante. Where else would I be?”
I let out an exasperated sigh. “Fine. Where is the Fleet?”
“Fast-burning to the Kepler System Fold-Space Transition Point beyond K-186F orbit.”
Approaching the planet’s moon, two-hundred and forty thousand miles away… Sahito gave the answer so casually, at first I thought Zombie Six’s tactical A.I. had just made a joke. The next two seconds were dead silent as I waited for the punch line.
It didn’t come.
“How long to Fold-Space transition?” I asked. I sensed I wasn’t going to like the answer.
“Four minutes and 27 seconds. The jump engines are spooled up,” the A.I. reported crisply.
My reaction split me quicker than atoms in a tactical nuke: white-hot rage in my head and icy despair in my gut. Zombie Six had not just been reported as dead; we’d been left behind.
Writing-wise, 2017 was lackluster – to use a generous term.
Twelve months on, I have one short story released at the last minute, birthed in a spasm of inspiration, and two larger projects stalled 20% from the finish line. So yeah. Not so hot.
Why? (that perennial question) Between real life, studio work, a persistent, low-grade funk, a national pandemic of strangeness and acrimony, I confess it was a battle to sit down and slog through. Like pulling teeth. Now none of those are valid excuses – I’m responsible to do the work – but they are/were real. And if that was a battle, some kind of test of my creative mettle, I’m afraid I failed.
Maybe there’s something in the air. Maybe this malaise, this inertia is the accretion of my own naiveté and inconsistency. A consequence of laziness and immaturity. It could be put down to what Steven Pressfield termed “Resistance”, or perhaps I’ve hit what Seth Godin calls “The Dip” – that place in the process, the venture, where the initial inspiration and enthusiasm has worn off and the going gets tough. The Dip is re-evaluation time – a prolonged moment to assess whether to push on or be brutally honest and prune a branch that’s taking valuable time and energy that could otherwise be invested in some other, more fruitful way.
I hope it’s just a Dip I can get past, but right now, I honestly don’t know which it is.
That said, I do know that the passing of a year is an occasion to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. I also know I want to be a man of my word; I started those projects and I’m determined to finish them.
Now I won’t call this commitment a New Year’s Resolution. Gym memberships soar in Jan/Feb and fall back to regular levels by March. I’m too old and been at this too long to trick myself with slogans and effervescent, self-help sleight-of-hand. Resolutions only work if I’m willing and determined to chop away at them every day after Jan 2nd. However, by God’s grace I’m going to type ‘The End’ on both of those pieces in 2018. Then I’ll take it from there.
Here’s wishing you a happy and healthy new year.
LET THE STABLE STILL ASTONISH
Let the stable still astonish:
Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain,
And then, the child–
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough.
Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said,
“Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth
Be born in this place”?
Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms
Of our hearts
“Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth
Be born in this place.”
There is more fiction in the pipeline but my latest short story is now available at Amazon. For those familiar with the STALKER or METRO 2033 video games, this should feel familiar – like the worn stock on your trusty AK-47, or the snug, sweat-soaked bands on your respirator.
Release date is 16 December. You can pre-order now if you like.
Enjoy and Spasibo.
I write all the time but NaNoWriMo has been good for something this go around.
Sorry this is late. I’ve been busy with work, locking down work, plus managing assorted real life obligations and commitments, but the next installment of the Mil-S-F piece ‘Zombie Six’ is up. Click on the drop down tab in the top menu or go HERE.
Thanks and have a happy Thanksgiving.