The Gospel According to Earth – Introduction

Sometimes you start a project and it takes on a life of its own. One such project for me was the Triad World novels, which started off with the innocuous idea of telling a Huxley/Orwell style dystopian tale from the perspective of outsiders who stumbled upon the dystopia, rather than from the point of view of those who lived in the dystopia. This idea eventually became Schrodinger’s Book, a novel I started publishing here in March of 2018. This was long before I had the idea for the Roy Harper adventures or my current secret project, Burning Bright. I honestly expected the story to be one and done.

But about halfway through Schrodinger’s Book I had the idea for Martian Scriptures and I thought there might be something interesting to look at there. While I didn’t like Martian Scriptures as much as Schrodinger’s Book I did think it was a pretty decent story playing in the same general thematic area.

The problem was, by that point my narrative had lore. Which is to say there were rules and concepts that existed solely to describe the world which readers (and I, myself) were curious about and wanted to see carried through to their natural conclusion. While Schrodinger’s Book was built on the Huxley/Orwell foundation and Martian Scriptures was a similar look at the premise of Logan’s Run, one thing that had always bothered me about the dystopias I’d read was the question of sustainability. How are such complex societies built on such wildly inaccurate views of human nature to last for any length of time? What happens when reality comes into contact with the fictions these societies are founded on? What are the fault lines pressure will expose in them?

Fortunately, the lore of the Triad Worlds presented me with an excellent opportunity to explore that question, for there is no reality more pressing for Earth’s UNIGOV than the United Colonial Fleet. I just had to think about what kinds of contradictions outsiders would force on UNIGOV and work out what kind of story would be interesting to tell about said contradictions. It took a little longer than I thought it would but now we’re here.

I didn’t set out to write Schrodinger’s Book as a warning, so much as a thought experiment about how a slide into an Internet age despotism might look from the outside. I don’t write The Gospel According to Earth to seriously speculate on how an Internet age despot might be overthrown. Rather, I’m interested in how that despot might justify itself once in power. I want to examine what the good news UNIGOV offers to the cosmos is and how attempts to uphold that new world order will slowly crumble under their own weight.

I don’t think this is a prophecy, because I’m not sure any despot could as thoroughly and completely shape a society as the one we find in 1984, much less Schrodinger’s Book. The logistics are too difficult, for starters. But beyond that, the very delusions of utopia needed to create a dystopia put the leaders of such societies too out of touch with reality to truly wield the kind of power The Party or UNIGOV wield for any length of time. Which isn’t to say such delusional thinking isn’t frightening or dangerous. It’s just gong to destroy itself and everything it touches long before it can distort human nature to that extent, which in many ways strikes me as worse.

Regardless, the point of this tale is much the same as the point of any speculative fiction I write. It is to examine a wildly exaggerated situation and see if there are any insights into human nature which we can take away and perhaps apply to the more mundane, day to day situations we face.

And to entertain you. That is also important.

So it’s my hope that, as I wrap up the Triad World novels, you will find that the story entertains and applies. If you are fulfilled to any level beyond that, that’s just gravy.

Of course, The Gospel According to Earth is a sequel to two other stories, which you may have already gathered at this point. You can still read those stories here on this blog, by following the links below:

Schrodinger’s Book

Martian Scriptures

Like these previous tales, The Gospel According to Earth is a bit different from my typical fair in one important way. While I generally try to avoid profane or obscene language in my writing, these stories are exceptions. The goal is to try and portray real people in the realest ways possible, so I chose not to obscure coarse language in these stories. It’s an aesthetic choice I make for very particular reasons and I don’t try to go out of my way to fill the story with such language for shock value. I do put thought into the swearing in these stories.

However, I also don’t blame anyone who chooses to avoid such language in their entertainment. People have different standards concerning such language stemming from a host of different sources and that’s fine. This warning exists largely to help you evaluate whether this story will meet your standards or not. Please evaluate accordingly.

Our time with Martin Langley and the United Colonial Fleet is coming to an end but, for the moment, we still have a little more to spend with them. The strange things they’ve discovered on their return to the Homeworld haven’t all played out quite yet. Let’s join them for a little while longer, and see what they think of The Gospel According to Earth.

Week Off – New Project Starting Soon!

Hello folks! Sorry this is late, blog upkeep has kind of slipped my mind this week. As is my usual habit, I’m taking a week off between essay writing and the beginning of a new fiction project. That project – The Gospel According to Earth – starts this coming Saturday! It’s the conclusion of the Triad Worlds novels and will probably run for the next six months or so. I hope you’re looking forward to it! See you then.

The Truth and Beauty – Manic Philosophy

A while ago I read Andrew Klavan’s memoir, The Great Good Thing. It was a fascinating recounting of the life of a man who struggled with his family, his place in the world and his fundamental beliefs, a man who did not fully find his place in the world until the eve of his fiftieth birthday. As a result I was very interested to read Klavan’s insights into the intersection between faith and art, which he has committed to paper in his latest book, The Truth and Beauty. In the introduction to this book, Klavan states that his wife (who reads his books first) found the book interesting but wasn’t sure if it was good. He reports that his answer was, “Of course it’s a good book. I just have to cut out all the bad parts.” 

In this endeavor, he succeeded. There isn’t a bad section to this book. Unfortunately, it feels like the book itself would be stronger if he had polished up some of those bad parts to the standard of the rest and left them in, because I feel like it could really use some connective tissue in there. 

This book is divided into three general sections. First, the introduction and statement of purpose. Second, an examination of the life and times of England’s great poets. Third, a meditation on the Gospels, with occasional reference to said poets to illustrate a point. 

The core idea of this book is something I think is on point. By which I mean I agree with it 100%. Klavan is trying to grapple with the dichotomy of authenticity and performance. Human beings are not entirely authentic creatures nor are we entirely performative. We are both people pleasers and self-indulgent narcissists, we are both mold breakers and creatures of habit, we are creatures of thought and creatures of impulse. Our societies are structured to maximize natural roles and yet the iconoclast is a natural and vital role. 

There’s several solid lines of reasoning to argue Jesus Christ harmonizes these two seemingly conflicting states into a single superposition. Klavan explores a couple of them in his book and I don’t have any problem with his reasoning. 

Klavan also argues that the life and times of the English Romantic poets forced them to try and resolve this conflict as well. They had to sort out their own radical beliefs, the demands of human nature and the bedrock nature of reality. Klavan walks us through the time period and important events in the lives of the poets to make his case. I’m not an expert on these poets or the era. I can only take what Klavan presents at face value and, if it is all true, he does make an argument that the poets did find their ideas in conflict with their pursuit of art. It’s certainly compelling stuff to read. 

Finally, Klavan expounds on the beauty of the Gospels, the way they show us many people, but Christ in particular, balancing the roles of performer and authentic person. We see that only Christ balances these two things perfectly, and this is what made people react to him so strongly. 

What I find missing from all of this is a direct correlation between the Romantics and the Gospels. I understand that Wordsworth et al failed to balance the conflicts between authenticity and performance. The problem is that’s not a unique failing on their part, it is the human condition in general. Klavan speculates that their excellent art has stood the test of time because it points towards universal truths and does so beautifully, even if those artists didn’t live up to those truths and were not, themselves, beautiful. Fair enough, many such artists exist. 

I just don’t see how the two sets of observations connect. Perhaps it is best to just read The Truth and Beauty as another memoir, a recounting of the facts, ideas and poetry that passed through Klavan’s mind as he was struggling his way to deeper understanding of the Gospels. It certainly works well that way. Perhaps others will have the flash of genius moment Klavan did as they read this. I didn’t have such a moment, nor was the direction Klavan’s thoughts moved during that revelation clear to me. That was what I hoped to get from the book, but didn’t. Perhaps the fact that I’ve been enamored with a similar idea for over a decade – I did a presentation on the Parables of Jesus, Chinese wisdom literature and the unity of character and applied morals in college – has clouded my ability to take in new thoughts on the matter. That can happen to creative minds. Once we have an approach to a topic in mind taking on a new one can be difficult. 

All in all, I enjoyed reading The Truth and Beauty a great deal. It was interesting, humorous, informative and grappled with big ideas. But I didn’t get the insight into how two very deep subjects connect that I had hoped and if that’s what you’re really hoping for I’m not sure you will, either. If you’re okay with that, or if you’re just looking for a high level overview of the English Romantics, you may enjoy this book. And, of course, you may be able to pick up on parts of this book that I could not. But I’m not entirely sure I can recommend this book to people trying to pick up a deeper understanding of truth and beauty vis a vie the Gospels, because I didn’t find it here. It’s hard for me to parse the worth of the book in that respect, however, because I have also been caught up in the questions Klavan wrestles with for most of my life. Your mileage may vary. I would recommend reading the sample or checking your library before buying. 

I’ve been kind of hard on Klavan’s writing here. But I do think this is a good book and I hope to see more nonfiction from Klavan in the future.  

Scars: Of Rats and Men

If gratitude is the measure of a man, then J. Ishiro Finney’s Scars is a story about taking the measure of two men who are at their lowest. By men, I mean one man and one genetically modified rat. 

Our heroes are James, retied astronaut and garbage disposal man, and Max, an augmented bomb disposal rat with near human intelligence. For those of you not in the know, rats trained to find and mark land mines already exist in our world today! They do not have near human level intelligence, although I personally know many people who lack the ingenuity of the average rat, but they make up for it through a well-trained sense of smell. Max is a logical extension of this concept, a rat with the intelligence to also disarm the land mines they find and reclaim land long unusable due to the danger the landmines present. 

Or at least Max was that. When we meet him in the story, Max is retired from that line of work and now makes ends meet as James’s emotional support animal. 

James was an astronaut who towed debris out of orbit so it would no longer pose a danger to space lanes and satellites. Then he lost his leg in an accident we don’t initially know the full details of. With a prosthetic, PTSD and a host of pills to take there’s no way James is ever getting sent back into orbit again. James and Max are a pair of oddballs with long histories in interesting and dangerous careers that leave them with very strong opinions on the world and how they should live in it. 

Scars is a novella and as a result it’s difficult to discuss the plot without recapping it in its entirety. I don’t plan to do that here, you’ll have to read it if you want an idea of the story beyond what you get here. The character development is great, the characters themselves are interesting and the plot… well, it’s very simple but perfectly suited to the story. Not every narrative needs politics, romance and betrayal. The story is mostly a character study and it studies those characters quite well in the space available. 

Finney has done his research. He’s looked into the mechanics of space flight and the dangers therein. He’s a longtime rat owner and it shows, my knowledge of the temperament and behaviors of rats has expanded exponentially based entirely on reading this one story. Admittedly, I knew almost nothing before. 

There’s also a lot of interesting angles explored through the characters backgrounds, which are both similar and wildly different. Both are used to high stress and highly regimented lifestyles whereas they’ve responded to their changes in circumstances in very different ways. Psychology was clearly a part of how these characters were developed and it’s quite satisfying to see.  All that said, this is not a perfect story. 

For starters, we end with James making a resolve to change his behavior. That’s admirable and leaves a door open for further stories exploring how he acts this out but I would’ve liked a conclusion that shows us his first steps along that road. Perhaps that would have overshadowed the ending. I didn’t see the story in previous drafts and I know finding the right ending point is difficult but I was left a little unsatisfied. Given everything I know about James I’m not sure how well he can follow up his new direction. I would like to know how rocky the road would be for him, especially since we may never see him and Max again. 

Speaking of that little rat, Max is a great character but he’s a little one note. He has one major emotional beat in the story and the rest of the time he’s pretty much the same as always. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of character. I just felt like Max has the potential to be much more and it wasn’t explored as much as it could’ve been. Some of this is a choice of medium – novellas are short, they don’t dig into characters as much as novels do. Some of it is undoubtedly the author working to keep the point of his story sharp. My critiques here are more nitpicks than outright flaws, matters of taste more than errors. 

If you’re looking for a short, interesting sci-fi story delving deep into the nature of two interesting characters, I recommend to you J. Ishiro Finney’s Scars