Archive for August, 2011

CSFF Blog Tour: Residential Aliens

Writing | Posted by Shannon
Aug 23 2011

I have a question for you all: What do you think “residential aliens” means? If you say, “Illegal immigrants working as nannies in rich LA neighborhoods,” you’re on the wrong track.

Residential Aliens is an e-zine published by Lyn Perry. I instantly liked the title and instantly did not understand it. I know it sounds like sci-fi (or maybe a suburban comedy – what do you think?). But what, exactly, does it mean?

There’s an explanation on the website’s From the Editor section:

A resident alien is, of course, a foreigner who is residing temporarily in a country not her own – an expatriate of sorts. Believers in heaven (or a “coming new age”) often consider themselves to be simply passing through this world on their way to a better land. The idea is that, although we’re currently inhabitants of earth, we’re really citizens of heaven and thus pilgrims, or aliens, on this planet.

This section is signed by “Your Fellow Alien, Lyn”. So there you have it: “Residential aliens” refers to the editor, and most of his readership, too. Residential Aliens publishes “spiritually infused speculative fiction”. Not all the stories will be explicitly Christian. They will, however, be short. Judging by the Submission Guidelines, most of the stories will be 6K words and under.

Besides the zine, ResAliens boasts a blog and a discussion forum. Becky Miller writes, though, that the “once active Forum” has been replaced by the zine’s accounts on Facebook and Twitter. Of more interest is the editor’s Submission Guidelines. Writers trying to establish themselves may find an opportunity at Residential Aliens, though $5 will get you two mochas at McDonald’s.

But the main point of Residential Aliens is the short fiction. It’s ironic, but the society of Twitter is also the society of the book series. Stand-alone novels seem to get scarcer every year, and short stories have been running low on venues for a long, long time. Residential Aliens is a continual source of original short stories, and that those stories are spiritual SF makes it all the more unique.

In addition to being posted on the website, the issues are available as e-books and print editions. ResAliens has also published four anthologies. To get an idea as to the nature and quality of the stories published by Residential Aliens, I direct you to D. G. D. Davidson. He has a brief review of each story in a past issue. He says that he has read it so we don’t have to; I could say that he has reviewed it so I don’t have to, but honestly, I wasn’t going to, anyway.

As for the links … well, I’ve already posted them. I have gone far beyond my quota in posting links, which may be what comes of touring websites. But here are the principal links, titled this time:

ResAliens

Editor’s Blog

Lyn Perry’s personal blog

And our blog tour:

Review: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Book Reviews | Posted by Shannon
Aug 17 2011

Far away, on the edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, lies the land of Skree.  It is filled with quiet, gentle folk, which made it easy pickings for Gnag the Nameless. Now the country is infested by the Fangs of Dang. They’re stupid and lazy, but make up for it with their indefatigable brutality.

A wild forest sprawls over the land, spilling dangerous animals from its eaves. The Skreeans keep a good distance, but one man is rumored to live near the forest. Most people believe it, too. You’d have to be crazy, but he is. What else can you say about a man who wears knitted stockings on his hands, chants gibberish, and picks fights with street signs?

Despite this abundant opportunity for excitement, Janner Igiby is bored. He has spent all twelve of his years in a quiet little cottage outside a quiet little town. He yearns for adventure, for the wide world. But he should be more careful about his wishes. They’re about to come true.

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness was once toured by CSFF, and after joining I saw it mentioned. And I felt definite disinterest. “The dark sea of darkness” is bad writing. If even the title needs a content editor, I don’t have high hopes for the book.

Then I won its sequel in a book drawing. If I get a free fantasy novel, I’m going to have to try it. And if it happens to be a sequel, I’m going to have to read the first book first. So, with small expectations, I began On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.

On the first page I had a revelation. There Peterson wrote this line: “That evil was a nameless evil, an evil whose name was Gnag the Nameless.” And I realized something. The title is, of course, bad, but it is bad in the way this sentence is – on purpose, and a good one.

Humor is abundant in this novel, particularly humor of an absurd flavor. The absurdity runs deep, runs through Peterson’s whole invented world. It is displayed on store front signs – THE ONLY INN – and in the most ancient legends, which often revolve around the First People, Dwayne and Gladys. The villains make their subjects fill out forms to use garden hoes; the Chief Advisor to the High King begins his journal with the warning: “Read this without my permission and I will pound your nose.”

Yet the sea-dragons have a real and mysterious majesty, old legends are powerfully true, and the Jewels of Anniera are a matter of deathly importance – and you may take that adjective to its most literal meaning. Andrew Peterson both parodies the tried-and-true devices of fantasy and uses them seriously. In the same way, over-the-top humor coexists with danger and sadness, and comically bad writing gives way to skillful story-telling.

I would like to insert two caveats here: One, the book is YA and its main character is a twelve-year-old. This is not criticism, just something readers should know beforehand. Second – and this is criticism – the book contains instances of gross humor.

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is a unique story – a romp through a world of pandemic quirkiness that eventually pushes past all the absurdity to adventure and beauty and tragedy. Worth the price of admission.

Happiness Is A Serious Literary Problem

Literature | Posted by Shannon
Aug 10 2011

All right, the title is stolen. Dennis Prager wrote a book called Happiness Is A Serious Human Problem, and made such an impression on me with his title that it is never too far from the surface of my mind. What last jarred it to the top again was a blog post entitled, Do Happy Endings Present A False Reality?

Happy endings, as the author points out, regularly come under fire. To borrow a line from Bolt, people are not happy with happy. The dark, the tragic, and the morbid are on the market and gaining more and more. Happily-ever-afters are not only rejected by many people; they’re disdained. Happiness is a serious literary problem.

Sarah Sawyer, in her blog post, defends happy endings because of the “ultimate happy ending to come”. And it’s true that we have been promised that. Christianity is a stern religion, but it is not a pessimistic one. In the Bible, like in the old fairy tales, the villains get their just deserts and then we all live happily ever after.

But I would like to defend happy endings on shallower grounds. Happy endings are good because happiness is good. People talk about “feel-good entertainment” as if it’s well enough in its (low) place, but I have yet to see any especial virtue in entertainment that makes you feel bad.

Do happy endings present a false reality? Strictly speaking, “a false reality” is the very definition of all fiction. But to take the question as it was meant, I would have to answer: In what universe is happiness unrealistic? There is a great deal of happiness in the world right now, and there will be even more in the world to come. Of course, there is pain in the world now, and there will be pain afterward. The question between happiness and unhappiness in fiction is not a question of whether to be true to reality, but of which part of reality to be true to.

In the objection to happy endings, there is implicit an idea – sometimes it’s little more than a feeling – that tragedy is more realistic than happiness. And I reject and dislike it. “We are an Easter people,” Augustine declared, “and Alleluia is our song.”

God made us for joy. He’s calling us to it still. And if we can say with C. S. Lewis that God is the ultimate reality, then we can also say that the ultimate reality is good beyond our understanding. It’s not right to disdain happy endings, not when “our glad Creator” gives us drink from His river of delights, and in His light we see light.

Rules for Ranting

Uncategorized | Posted by Shannon
Aug 03 2011

There are lots of rules for writing. In particular, there are rules for writing rants. It’s so easy for even good writers to do it wrong. For example, take this passage from Decaffeinated, by Mark Steyn:

At the time, I thought the ever more protracted java jive was an anomaly — the exception that proved the rule. Now I can see it was a profound insight: America’s first slow-food chain was an idea whose time had come. Who knew you could make people stand in line (long lines at city outlets in rush hour) for a cup of coffee? Don’t tell me it’s a Continental thing. I like my café au lait in Quebec, and it takes a third of the time of all the whooshing and frothing south of the border. Same in a Viennese kaffeehaus. But I was at a “fair trade” Vermont coffee joint the other day, and there was no line at all, and it still took forever. And, as I began to get a little twitchy and pace up and down, I became aware of the handful of mellow patrons scattered about the easy chairs looking up from their tweets as if to scold: “What’s with the restless energy, dude?”

I felt like the guy in Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Everybody else in town had fallen asleep . . . and then stayed asleep. This is a paradox for our times: the somnolent coffee house. I had a strange urge to yell, “Wake up, we’re trillions of dollars in debt! The powder keg’s about to blow!” but I could feel the soporific indie-pop drifting over the counter, so I took my espresso to go, and worked off my torporphobic rage by shooting iPods off the tailgate of a rusting pick-up in the back field for the rest of the day.

Frankly, I think Mark Steyn should consider skipping the espresso. He might be able to feel a bit more somnolent. He may even sink to the depths of hebetude, but that has to be better than sudden urges to yell at complete strangers for being relaxed in a coffee house. (I know America is in a financial crisis, but what did Steyn want his fellow patrons to do? Shout about the crisis? Rush around the room? Whimper?)

The problem with this is not that it’s a rant. The problem is that it’s a rant with little good humor, in either meaning of the term. It is also, not coincidentally, a rant without much self-awareness. Consider the picture Mark Steyn paints for us: He paces a coffee house, impatient for his espresso, and suddenly wants to yell at the people around him for whom coffee has become a thing for leisure, not rush. The joke’s on him, and his only mistake is that he doesn’t notice it.