Hot Space Station Justice

Let’s get our head on straight about this

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This ‘Sin’ issue, I mean.

This article below prompted a long-standing theological issue to surface yet again.

https://www.dailywire.com/news/39037/listen-popular-christian-singer-lauren-daigle-not-amanda-prestigiacomo?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_content=062316-news&utm_campaign=benshapiro

Basically a nice young Christian music celebrity can’t say for certain if a practice – homosexuality in this case – is a ‘sin’ on a TV talk show.

Not real news, right? There’s been a lot of hedging, loads of waffle and mince on this one lately, so this can’t be a huge shock.

So… she can’t? She won’t? Is our poor celebrity cowed by secular pressure? Choosing the ‘fear of Man’ over the ‘fear of God’? Is she more concerned about fame, approval, and music sales than her Christian testimony and a public declaration of Biblical morality?

Maybe. But maybe she simply doesn’t know. She said as much during the interview. I mean she had to know the question was coming, but perhaps she gave an honest answer.

Call me Reverend Obvious but “SIN” is definitely in the Bible. Jesus forgives us of our sin and saves us from our sin. That’s the whole point of the Old and New Covenants, or Testaments; God helping us address our sin problem. Read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 to see what I mean.

That said, we need to return to a very subtle but critical understanding: we ‘sin’ because we’re ‘sinners’. Not the other way around. Doing a ‘bad’ thing doesn’t make you ‘bad’. The bad we do stems from a dark part of us. Each of us. It may come out different from our neighbor, but it does come out. Oh yes it does.

Basic Bible doctrine is clear that in every human being that ever lived, lives, and will live, there are two natures: the Imago Dei, or Image of God – And the Fallen, or Sin Nature. We are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of our creator  – and  yet we have a part of us that is isolated, broken, and defiant.

It’s from that second, dark part that selfish, cruel, manipulative, petulant, deceptive, rebellious character and conduct emerge.  This is a ‘Root’ versus ‘Fruit’ thing; the actions are symptomatic of a much deeper problem.

Of course many of us learn and grow. We sometimes see our errors and flaws, regret them and change. We lean into the Imago Dei to improve, to be better, to love more. But that other part, that Fallen bit, that twisted taint never leaves. Not ever.

It’s that deeper problem that concerns God. It’s the one Jesus came to address.

Now I don’t have my finger on the pulse of American Churches, but I need to emphasize real Christian Conversion isn’t Repression, it’s Regeneration. It’s not Indoctrination, it’s Transformation. We’re not talking behavior modification or the memorization of religious dogma. Genuine faith is supposed to engage the individual on a profound, personal level.

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A couple problems seem to stem from forgetting this vital dynamic: First is the idea of ‘grading’ sinful acts and the people who commit them. (I’m bad but not as bad as *points finger*)

No, I’m not suggesting moral equivalence – that a starving beggar stealing food is the same as ethnic cleansing. That’s ridiculous. I am saying however that individuals pointing fingers starts to sound like people in the Emphysema Ward belittling Cancer Patients. Do remember Lucifer fell from Pride.

And second, that God’s unconditional love somehow doesn’t distinguish between the two parts of our nature. It does. Fact: God loves you. Next Fact: That doesn’t automatically ‘save’ you.  Read this carefully: “God so loved the world, He gave His only Begotten Son that whosoever believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” 

I take it you’ve heard that before. Somewhere.

God loves us but we’re gonna perish because the Fallen Nature/character we’ve expressed in various willful denial, disobedience and defiance acts separate us from Him. I’m not talking mistakes, or accidents or ignorance. These are the willful deeds. The ones we know deep inside are bad, yet do anyway. Those are the ones that will indict us at Judgment.

At the end of the day, we disqualify ourselves.

Salvation is about admitting that. Confessing to that dark part, those dark acts, accepting forgiveness and allowing God to work in there on the Root. The bad fruit of that poison tree? If the root is dealt with, whatever it may be eventually withers away. Sure, for some, it might take longer and it’s not all going to get pruned on time. But the deeper issue has been resolved.

Simply put, faith is trust. Christian faith is trusting Jesus, not your own nice, possibly substantial  but ultimately insufficient good intentions/philosophy/religious affiliations/charitable deeds to compensate for the times you blew it.

So why this and what does it have to do with writing fiction?

As a Christian, I felt the need to put it in the public arena once more.

As a Christian who writes, I am once again reminded to invest my characters with genuine conflict and complexity. If they’re going to do any real heavy lifting, they have to be real enough to bear the weight.

Have a great day. Art Hard.

Happy Thanksgiving 2018

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Wanted to wish everyone a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

And I thought this proclamation from earlier American President during a very tumultuous time in our country might be worth taking to heart.

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

***

Have a wonderful day.

Whence Cometh Evil?

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Plenty is happening on the writing front but I want to post something on a serious note.

In the wake of the Pittsburgh shooting, my wife and I attended an interfaith service at the Cape Cod Synagogue last night. Not the sort of thing I would have done earlier in my faith and religious walk. Not at all. But sometimes, things changed for the better.

No, I haven’t embraced warm and fuzzy, Kumbaya ecumenicalism; we were invited and I believe it’s critical to be numbered among those who stand against savage acts of violence and hatred.

Hundreds in attendance, the facility packed beyond capacity, I admit I was astonished by the level of the response, encouraged by it in many ways. Our society grants us the privilege and liberty to find common ground and see our common humanity.  I also admit I was discouraged in that as far as I could tell, there was zero Evangelical representation. I have distanced myself from that particular religious label with all its baggage in these past few years but still…  Not everything has to be a Revival Meeting – a little empathy, respect, and solidarity speaks volumes.

The service went on for 90 minutes or so as speaker after speaker came to the pulpit to offer comfort, express support, and grapple with the enormity of the tragedy. And to try to offer some facet of explanation and guidance. But in all the talk, songs, and even poetry, the topic of Evil, particularly human evil or depravity, wasn’t really mentioned. Sure, there was the menu of generic ills: hatred, bigotry, senseless violence, intolerance… And the common recommended cures: love, tolerance, faith, compassion, seeing the sacredness and divinity in human beings…. Nothing wrong with that, not at all.

But for all the feel good, hopeful optimism, spiritual ideals, and the huge show of solidarity, I left the synagogue worried, worried that for all the activity, there was no real advance. No actual traction. I woke up thinking about it still uneasy because I didn’t hear a clear call to personal action, change, or responsibility, precisely because for whatever reason, that one vital issue – human evil, AKA ‘sin’ – was skirted or ignored.

It was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who pointed out ‘The battle line between good and evil runs through the heart of every man.’ That’s really the matter at stake here. It’s always struck me that at the conclusion of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus commands that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations…”

The idea there is that individuals must turn from not only the world’s wickedness, or that of their family, tribe, generation, whatever… but their own brokenness, isolation, and defiance to God. Like it or not, that is the defiled wellspring of contempt, cruelty, envy, resentment, violence, hatred. Not out there, but in us, all of us, each of us. In me.

It’s only after that acknowledgment and change of mind, that primal shift from Self to God, that ‘remission of sins’ takes place. To me, that word ‘remission’ says the internal corrupting influence can be, will be, checked. Not completely removed, mind you, not in this life. But its spread and power, its decay and deception, is beaten back. Then I can heed the better angels of my nature, see that Imago Dei in others and treat them with a measure of the grace God has shown me.

Exercise can change a body, Education can change a mind, Discipline can change a habit, but only God can truly change a heart. (even then cooperation is required) In my understanding, He is the cure we so desperately grope for in times like these. God – not religion – is the answer. God who is Love, who is able, who is willing, who is present and yet for all that it seems somehow we never quite grasp on long enough or deep enough to let Him actually do the work only He can do.

Why do I say that? Because we’ve been here too many times before.

How long, Oh Lord? How long?  

***

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

– 2 Cor: 13:11

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Sunrise photo from Anton Gorlin

 

 

More Audio Book news

Narrator Madison Niederhauser has agreed to read ‘The Stones Remember’. His work on ‘Hard Kill’ was pitch perfect and I’m fortunate to have him do another of my short stories. Should be done end of September and I’m looking forward to it.

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In case you were wondering, here’s HARD KILL at Audible. The eBook at Amazon.

Thanks. Have a great day.

 

Four Audio Books Released

New Titles Now Available at Amazon/Audible and iTunes

If you’re new to audio books, click on the titles below for more information and to sign up for a free trial at Audible.  Or simply log in to your Amazon or iTunes account and give them a look. Four quick listens. Well written, -if I do say so myself  – excellently narrated, and all at a good price.

The near-future short ‘Sozo’, included in The Crossover Alliance 2015 annual anthology. Narrator Steven Floyd’s weary cynicism is pitch perfect.

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The Celtic-flavored ghost story ‘The Barrow Lover’ about two small time treasure hunters who dig up more than they bargained for.  Narrator Daniel Purcell went above and beyond telling Declan and Paddy’s story.

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‘Hard Kill’, the ’15-minutes in the future’ action piece about a spec-ops team racing to stop an attack in the American Heartland. Solid narration by Madison Neiderhauser.

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And ‘A Prayer to Saint Strelok’ – inspired by the Russian Sci Fi film ‘STALKER’ by Tarkovsky and the Ukrainian horror-survival video games of the same name.  Charles Cromer captures the mystery and terror of the Exclusion Zone.

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As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the stories and the narration. Or if you’re busy, leave a star rating. Every one helps.

Thank you again for your support and encouragement.

Take care and have an excellent day.

 

Audiobooks and the magic of story telling

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I’m told all the Cool Kids are into Audiobooks these days, so I’m taking my first steps in that direction. I’m happy to announce the short stories ‘Sozo’ and  “A Prayer to Saint Strelok’ are now available at Amazon’s Audible and iTunes/Books.

The first is a straight-razor of a story about a combat vet returning to a broken, near-future America. Remarkably, it was included in The Crossover Alliance’s 2nd annual anthology in  2015.  (I note that of the three TCA anthologies, that year is the only one without a single review. “Coincidence? I think NOT!”) Sorry guys.

OTOH, ‘Saint Strelok’ is a recent short piece inspired by the Ukrainian post-apocalyptic S.T.A.L.K.E.R.  video game series. Set in and around the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, those games rank in my top 10 all-time favorites. They’re dark, brooding, terrifying, and wonderful. “Call of Pripyat” is the one you want. It’s the most accessible to the first-time stalker.

Back to audiobooks though… I have to say auditioning narrators and hearing my own stories read back to me was immensely sobering. ( I gotta keep at this. God help me.) But on a happier note, I was reminded  of how I used to read to my children – and now my grandchildren – and how there’s something truly wonderful about those hours that’s hard to express because the transaction of those moments goes beyond words.

Dr. Seuss to Tolkien, Kipling to Dahl, R.L. Stevenson, Lloyd Alexander, and a hundred more, reading out loud gets me thinking about the wonder of stories, the music of language, and what I think is a strange but essential osmosis of meaning.

Call me crazy, but I’ll go so far as to say that simple thing, more than any other everyday, ordinary practice in modern society, imparts not just parental/adult care and concern; it cultivates a sense of wonder and adventure. It feeds the imagination, exercises it. I think – depending on the stories- it’s how the core values of being a decent human being in the face of Life’s monsters and perilous journeys are transmitted to our kids.

Now some might label it frivolous but I say it’s a critical investment. Yes, STEM them chillun ’til they wins the Nobel Prize, but this is more than coding classes or the latest tablet/phone. This is heart, not mind, and I suspect this is probably one of the simplest but most profound investments a parent or guardian can make in a child. And all you need is a book. A library card. And an hour or two per week.

Now I’m not equating ‘St Strelok’ with Willy Wonka or Treasure Island. God no. I’m just letting folks know they can listen to two of my stories on their Kindle or phone or whatever device now. I think the narrators did an excellent job and I hope you will too. Please give them a listen or recommend them to a friend who likes my kind of stuff. Fire off a review if you can. It’s nice to get feedback.

Hard Kill‘ is next. My Celtic-flavored ghost story ‘The Barrow Lover’ should be available by September. I’ll let you know for sure when they’re ready.

Thanks for reading. Have a great day.

Note to self: find that hard cover copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales illustrated by Arthur Rackham.

*** Other Links

Click to see those two stories at AMAZON.

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SOZO                                           ST. STRELOK

A short book review

Of Dan Abnett’s The Magos

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I know the cover looks cheesy. I know game-verse fiction is often (rightly) dismissed as little better than fan-gush, but if you’ve never read Dan Abnett, I think you’re missing out on some truly good Sci Fi.

It was the Eisenhorn trilogy that did it for me. I’d never heard of Mr. Abnett before. Apparently he writes comics. Cool, but not really my cuppa. But as an avid table top wargamer and spec-fiction reader, the books appeared on my radar screen and I took a chance on the first one. Then I bought the second. And had to get the third.

I was hooked.

Yes, it helps to be familiar with the Warhammer 40,000’s grim, Gothic setting, but it’s not necessary. Abnett’s Inquisitor novels are ‘domestic’ 40K; all about conspiracies, cults and covert operations. The ‘total war in the grim darkness of the far future’ is an ever-present backdrop, sure, but they have more in common with police procedurals and Gothic mystery thrillers than grand-scale military Sci Fi. Interesting characters, twisted plots, good pace, depth, solid, efficient prose, I kept flipping to the back cover picture asking ‘Who is this guy?”

An incredibly talented and prolific writer, apparently.

Mr. Abnett is now on my very short list of writer’s I’ll pre-order. (William Gibson and Steven Pressfield are the other two)

The Magos is a collection of short stories packed in with a new Eisenhorn novel. Some of the shorts appear in the Eisenhorn Omnibus and other Inquisitor novels, but several are brand spanking new. Plus there’s a novel at the back of the book.

I’m not a spoilers/book report kind of reviewer, so I’ll spare the synopsis, but if the previous Inquisitor books caught your attention, you’ll want to add The Magos to your Summer reading list. Enjoy.

You can get a copy (hopefully) at your local book store, or Here at Amazon

Have a good day.

My lodestars for drafting

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Second editing pass though my next novel, I’ve got a new Post-It on the bottom of my monitor: three  points to steer by as I hack, slash, and burn my way through the undergrowth.

1. Err on the side of the reader’s intelligence.

Aside from the fact my latest isn’t a YA novel, I’m writing to a capable, nuanced audience who, while new to my particular story, is familiar with the genre as well as Life’s genuine struggles and victories. I will not talk to them like they’re pets or three-year olds.

2. Don’t BS the reader.

See above. The reader has been gracious and given me of their time and money. I don’t want either to be a waste. Of course the story has themes and the author has opinions and values, but the reader can smell an agenda a mile off. There may be types or tropes that function as fiction shorthand, but they cannot devolve into cliches that cheapen or interrupt the story.

3. Less is more.

There’s a fine line (and a yawing chasm) between poetic and verbose. This is the ‘right word versus almost the right word’ dilemma. I will not fall in love with my prose and will cut what doesn’t best serve the scene, regardless of how clever the turn of phrase. I’m not padding my word count. Make it lean and precise, not bloated or boggy.  Remember the Failure Mode of ‘Clever’ is ‘Asshole’.

***

Time to hone the machete, top off the flamethrower, and get back to work.

Have an excellent day.

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Zombie Six Release and Notes

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In the 22nd century, the ethnic Uyghur in Western China still dream of independence. Decades of discrimination, surveillance, and repressive policies by the Chinese government have only strengthened their resolve. Frustrated with the separatists , the Beijing enacts a final solution: the forcible deportation of all dissidents to Mèng Tiān, a desolate mining colony in the Kepler system, five hundred light years from Earth.

When the relocation program backfires and a full-scale insurgency erupts, the elite operators of Zombie Six arrive as part of the U.N.E. Peacekeeper force. Ordered to kill or capture the Uyghur leadership, the team finds itself in a deadly crossfire of corruption, deceit, and drone-borne IEDs. To survive, Zombie Six must first remember Truth is still the first casualty of war.

“Enemy of my Enemy” is a stand-alone novella from the author of the Eshu International novels, the ongoing Clar1ty Wars cyberpunk series, and other spec-fiction works.

***

Enemy of my Enemy –  A Zombie Six Mission is now available at Amazon, both in print and for Kindle.  I wanted to take a moment to let folks know and thank everyone for their support, both online and in the real world. That anyone takes the time to read my stuff still amazes me. So… a few words about how ‘Enemy of my Enemy’ came about:

There’s always that initial something that pushes a story into motion. A spark that gets the creative gears turning or a seed that takes root and grows. Enemy of my Enemy was born out of a hard kernel of news concerning the Chinese Government’s treatment of the ethnic Uyghur in their western provinces. It didn’t show up on my radar all at once, mind you. It was more jigsaw puzzle pieces, assembling over  a year or so to form a genuinely disturbing image of relentless, hi-tech coercion, forcible assimilation, and repressive policies.

My eldest son was the first to bring the situation to my attention, and to be honest, I filed it under a Communist administration’s usual rigid treatment of dissidents.  Remember, these are the same folks who brought us the crackdown of the Tiananmen Square protests back in 1989.

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It wasn’t until I read This article. This one. And this one. that I began to grasp just how pervasive, insidious, and invasive the PRC efforts were.  The more I thought about it, the less I was able to sleep.

Yes, I added elite spec-ops, gun drones, firefights, and a high body count on top of it all to make a typical Mil SF action story, but the foundation is a picture of real-world authoritarianism made frighteningly more wicked and effective by advanced technology. This part, tragically, is not made up.

‘Enemy of my Enemy’ is a spec-fiction action piece set in the next century, but perhaps, in some small way, the mention of this real life, present situation can do a little to raise awareness – not only of the Uyghur’s treatment, but of the rise of ubiquitous, invasive monitoring and surveillance, and the corresponding erosion of human rights and dignity.

Because if history is anything to go by, this trend and this technology will only grow and spread. We need to be vigilant and proactive against it in every form.

If you want to do more, take a look at Human Rights Watch. They deal with these kinds of issues and have an excellent rating at Charity Navigator. In fact, I plan on donating a portion of the first 6 months of ‘EomE’ sales to them.

So buy the book. Tell a friend. Or donate direct.

Art hard and have a great day.

Making it easy on Beta Readers

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I’ve always understood ‘Beta Readers’ to be those long suffering friends and family of writers who are willing – after putting up with the author while they were writing the novel – to then read it, in its entirety, for internal consistency.  They’re not copy editors or grammar nazis scrutinizing for typos and errant semicolons. No, they’re weighing the substance of the story. Plot flow, character motivations and story logic. They might trip over the occasional repeated phrase, but did it work? Allowing for conventions of genre and personal taste, is this a story worth reading?

To that end, I was trying to come up with a one-page hand out to Betas. I want an easy code for them to mark if/when/why the spell was broken. Jot a number or letter in the margin near the offending passages and move on. Here’s where I’m at so far:

  1. So what? (or Do you care?) Are the characters engaging? Is the drama worthy of conflict? Did you stop caring?
  2. Oh Yeah? (or Is this credible?) Is the tech/magic/psi power ‘logical’ in the story world? Are the characters actions and words believable?
  3. Hunh? (or What the hell just happened?) I’m confused.. ‘Two pages ago we were traveling east and now the Sun is setting right in front of them.’ or ‘I thought she had a gun. Why isn’t she shooting at them?’ stuff like that.
  4. Can we go now? (or I just read a bunch of words and nothing happened) Sure there’s ambiance and milieu, but I define ‘fiction traction’ as ‘plot over word count’. No Value Change, no forward motion, and the prose gets boggy.

Add in a big red “R” for REDUNDANCY – ( “*Sheesh* You said his name 37 times in two pages.”) and a big red “C” for CLICHE – (‘She was as dead as a door nail’ Really?)

One of Neil Gaiman’s Rules for Writing is that when a reader says something doesn’t work, they’re almost always right but when they tell you how to fix it, they’re almost always wrong.  I think those 6 notations will let a writer – me, in this case – know where the story falters without putting too much of a burden on already gracious and patient people.

Any thoughts on this? Weigh in.

Have a good day.