A Christian Twist

(I am going to state right here that this is not my finest work. But I wrote it under the influence of a summer cold, and this is as good as it’s going to get, people.)

 

Christian speculative fiction, as a whole, has evolved along distinct lines from secular speculative fiction, acquiring its own hallmarks and characteristics. There are many reasons for this, too many to explore or even list; different cultural pressures, different audience demands, even the division between Christian and regular literature (did it exist a hundred years ago?) all played their parts. Another cause, and the one I want to focus on today, is that Christianity itself – so much the intellectual and cultural background of these works – introduces different elements into fiction. The handling of these elements may or may not accord with Christian thought and biblical exegesis, but the source of the material is beyond doubt. Here, then, are a few of these elements:

Angels/demons. Many different cultures and religions harbor ideas of angels and demons, and then there are free-floating, popular notions – for example, the belief (unattached to any actual religion) that people die and become angels. What Christianity provides, then, is not the general idea of angels but a specific idea of who and what they are. The two greatest representations of angels and demons in modern Christian fiction are Peretti’s This Present Darkness and Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. There have been many others, all containing variations of their own. But one great commonality cuts across all Christian portrayals of demons and angels: They are always dedicated to the service of either Heaven or Hell; never do they act as free agents. In Christian SF, angels never exist without God and rarely exist without the devil. Christian doctrine on angels is so established, and so developed, that it encourages the use of angels in Christian SF – far more prodigious than in secular SF.

The Nephilim. The Nephilim appear only briefly in the Bible, but long enough to stir up all kinds of controversy. Various interpretations of what they were have been put forward, some quite tame. Naturally, the wild interpretations have gotten a foothold in Christian SF. Half-demon supermen are rich material for fantastic novels, and this is obvious even if you are one of those Christians who are just driven crazy by the whole phenomenon. Nephilim stories are unusually bound to our own world and history, especially to (borrowing a phrase) the days of Noah and the days of the Son of Man. The incubus is made in a similar mold, but it inhabits a different milieu than the Nephilim and lacks the absolute identification with angels and the Bible.

The End Times. To speak of the End Times as the end of the world is accurate but desperately incomplete. The language of the End Times, both revolutionary and catastrophic, makes it clear that it will be the end of the world, the universe, and the current cosmic order. So when Christians use the term End Times, they aren’t whistling Dixie. The End Times have become an established niche in Christian fiction, inspired by the stormy visions of Revelation and driven by Christian enthusiasm (periodically intense, never entirely dormant) for the subject. Left Behind carries the field, but C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle entered it more than sixty years ago, and newer books carry on the charge.

Review: Unbound

There are two things Elijah Goldsmith does not lack. The first is money. The second is ambition. It is not enough, in one year, to graduate high school and begin college at Princeton. He mixes in one more thing: Becoming a spy.

Only he doesn’t know, when he goes to Washington in the cold beginning of the year, what it really means to be a spy – what they do, what they want from him. He doesn’t know who the beautiful, talented girl training beside him really is. And he certainly doesn’t know what’s coming on Easter Day. 2066 is an appropriate year for the world to end.

Unbound is the first book of J.B. Simmons’ Omega Trilogy. It’s part spy drama , part sci-fi, and mostly End Times. I don’t often read End Times novels, and for two reasons. One, they can get depressing (the good guys lose and lose and lose, and then the world ends). Two, they can get predictable. I’ve read Revelation. I know the inevitable plot points.

Still, I have read End Times novels I liked, such as C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle (yes, it truly is) and the Swipe series by Evan Angler. And now Unbound.

Unbound operates outside the box of mainstream End Times theology, freshening and shaking up the narrative. Nor does it start out with apocalypse, but with a world running along, and which gives every indication that it will go on running.

I enjoyed the story’s setting; the futuristic aspect was well-done – hints of enormous changes in the world, and technology that felt both new and realistic. I particularly liked the small detail of the White House having been converted to a museum (and nobody knows anymore where the president lives). It’s the sort of thing that lets you know, without stopping the story to explain, that you’re in a different country.

The characters were quickly and vividly defined in the story. I was a little surprised at how fast a few characters were inserted into the story and then eliminated from it, but it’s hard to say it was wrong. And I’m not sure where to put this, so I’ll just tack it on here: There was one fleeting moment with “Jezebel” that was more than I liked.

I liked the balance struck by Elijah’s visions – neither too ordinary nor too exotic. His vision of the man had particular depth, and promised a greater spirituality in the books to come.

Unbound is a fascinating take on the End Times, a compelling mix of Revelation prophecy, sci-fi, and spy drama.


Unbound will be released September 13. Until that date, J.B. Simmons is running a giveaway of the book on Goodreads. I received a review copy of this book from the author.

CSFF Blog Tour: The Shadow Lamp

Can you think of anything more frightening than the End of Everything, the total collapse of the universe?

I can. I saw that TV show where the aliens sent ships to burn up every nation on Earth, city by city. If we’re all going to die, the universe collapsing frankly sounds like an easier way to go.

But can you think of anything more complete?

In The Shadow Lamp, the fourth book of the Bright Empires series, Stephen Lawhead finally reveals what is at stake: everything. This is the great advancement The Shadow Lamp makes on the Bright Empires saga. Otherwise, the book mostly builds – on the largest ideas of the series, on the established characters. It explains much – from the Omega Point to the nature of the multiverse, from the Burley Men to Charles’ change.

Gianni’s metaphysical exposition was, I think, the singular misstep of the book. For one thing, it contained statements a Christian would have to take with generosity. (“The future is not controlled in any way” – yeah, okay, if you want to sum up your views of free will and the nature of Time in that misleading way.) For another, Gianni’s address sounded curiously like the vague philosophizing of the Zetetics, whom I do not believe Gianni had ever met until about five minutes before his speech.

Gianni was a priest. Yet in this exposition, he didn’t talk as if his intellectual foundation were in the creeds of Christianity or in the Bible; he didn’t speak the language of Scripture. He spoke like – well, like the Zetetics, who are recognizably theistic but not demonstrably Christian.

The threatened annihilation of the universe, like so many elements of science fiction, requires a small suspension of disbelief. On an intellectual level I found it compelling; on an emotional level, not so much. Paradoxically, the annihilation of the universe is a less disturbing idea when you have a religion that makes a doctrine of the terrible end of the world. When it comes to “harrowing visions”, The Shadow Lamp has nothing on Revelation.

As characters talked about the awful cataclysm of the universe collapsing, it reminded me of the biblical picture of the heavens and earth wearing out like a garment. “Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same” – God goes on. And so will we.

But at the end, Lawhead finally got me. Not that the final vision he gave made the threat seem any more dire, but it moved me from thinking about the annihilation of the universe (God and us remaining) to “what it would be like to witness the End of Everything”.

The end was the best part of the book, and probably the only part that was truly marvelous. The hinted cause of the multiverse’s destabilization was both surprising and satisfying, and it carried delicious potential. The epilogue was a tremendous portrait of Christ’s love meeting the dark heart of a lost man, and it also suggested an incredible possibility.

The Shadow Lamp is not the best installment of the Bright Empires saga, but it is a vital one. And it accomplished the necessity of any book in a series, and the great mark of success in a novel: It left me wanting more.


In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour: Storm

At the end of the world, you should expect to have some problems. Tyranny, intrigue, drought, a biological superweapon, Big Brother watching you – it all gathers into a perfect storm.

In Storm, Logan Langly continues his fight against DOME, his search for answers. He sees more of the big picture than nearly everyone who walks through the streets of the Global Union. But he doesn’t see nearly enough.

Storm focuses less on Logan and Erin than the earlier books, though Logan retains his place as the protagonist of the series. Evan Angler adds a few new characters, expands on some old ones. We get our first real look at Lamson and Cylis; Tyler and Eddie – who had previously impressed me only as a couple of unusually stupid boys – acquire some depth. Lily gets more pages than ever, and becomes more confusing than ever; Dr. Rhyne is both hilarious and stereotype-breaking.

The novel is written in an on-the-street style, with brief paragraphs, many sentence fragments, and a pervasive casualness. There is art in expressions sprinkled throughout the book – such as describing a town as “still, suspended in the thick, stifling air”. You read that, and it sounds like something you’ve felt once. The narrative of Storm, though not strongly detailed, is always flavorful.

It’s with considerable skill that Angler blends the genres of dystopian and End Times fiction. One can, reading the Swipe series, see Revelation playing out, but most of the judgments seem – if I may borrow the phrase – “man-made catastrophes”. The prophecies of Revelation are fulfilled, but not in any obvious way.

And to me, that feels right. Jesus gave us signs of His return, and told us that we would know by them when it was near. But He also said that we should always watch and be ready, because He will come, like a thief in the night, at an hour when we do not expect Him. He promised to surprise us.

What I like about the Swipe series is that it shows that the End Times are likely to be so unexpected that we could, even as Christians, be in them without realizing it. It shows how there may be sighs that those who are awake and wise can read – and still not know when Jesus is coming, only that it seems to be very soon.

Storm is the third book of the Swipe series, and the best yet – the most well-written, the most unexpected and yet the most logical in its story, with the most intriguing ending. It could change the way you think about End Times fiction; it could change the way you think about the End Times.


Storm is written by Evan Angler, who has a website despite living on the run from DOME.

Evan Angler briefly appears as a character in Storm, getting his story from his characters. According to Becky Miller, “Evan Angler” is a pen name. She said that she had “yet to locate any information about the person behind the pen name.

So I spent a few minutes trying, and now I have to say: Me, too. The author’s bios of Evan Angler – in the books and on the Internet – are blarney; entertaining blarney, but not a fact in them. On his Twitter account, in interviews he keeps up the pretense of living in the dystopia of the Global Union, and his picture is of somebody wearing a hoodie with his head bowed, the setting sun over his shoulder, so you can’t really see the face …

On reflection, I’m not sure that Evan Angler even exists. But you should go to his site anyway. Because he has the best book trailers I’ve ever seen.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour: Sneak

When you are a refugee from an evil government and its secret police, when your ambition is to pull a prison break at a fortress of a prison, when you are variously counted a criminal, a traitor, an outcast, and a target – what do you do? Well, for starters, you sneak.

Sneak is the second installment of the story Evan Angler began in Swipe. Logan, now among the Dust, is on a mission to save his sister; he has a city to go to, a name to look for – Acheron, the ultimate bane of the Markless. On the road they find stories of Acheron. Whether or not they’ve found truth – well, that they won’t know until they can get to Acheron and see for themselves.

Sneak explores deeper the world rising from the devastation of global warming and Total War. That world grows more elaborately dystopian, and in this second book, the series becomes definitely Christian and unmistakably End Times. I had hoped the books were not going in that direction, because it’s not the sort of thing that naturally appeals to me. But if you’re going to do it, this is the way to.

Knowing Revelation, one can see various fulfillments in Swipe and Sneak. Yet they come in unexpected ways, flavored and influenced by the particular world of the novels. And they come unheralded, and even gradually – far more interesting, and even more believable, than the seven years of cataclysm found in other End Times works.

The pace of Sneak is brisk enough to keep away boredom, and slow enough that readers are not left confused. Certain events were skimmed past with hardly a glance, but they were peripheral to the actual experiences of the characters, and maybe that is the nature of a middle-grade book. On the same front, I found the main character too rash – but again, maybe that is the nature of thirteen-year-old boys who have abruptly been torn from all that was stable in their lives.

What I appreciated most about this book was the inventiveness with which the author handled his world and End Times prophecies. He had a flair with his characters, too, and managed to support a large cast and make most of them distinctive. Sneak leaves more going than Swipe did, while also leaving less of an idea of where the characters will turn next. So here’s to the next book, and the author’s skill that keeps readers coming back.


Sneak is the second book in the Swipe series. Yes, we are getting there: to Storm, the one under the spotlight.

Review: Sneak

When you are a refugee from an evil government and its secret police, when your ambition is to pull a prison break at a fortress of a prison, when you are variously counted a criminal, a traitor, an outcast, and a target – what do you do? Well, for starters, you sneak.

Sneak is the second installment of the story Evan Angler began in Swipe. Logan, now among the Dust, is on a mission to save his sister; he has a city to go to, a name to look for – Acheron, the ultimate bane of the Markless. On the road they find stories of Acheron. Whether or not they’ve found truth – well, that they won’t know until they can get to Acheron and see for themselves.

Sneak explores deeper the world rising from the devastation of global warming and Total War. That world grows more elaborately dystopian, and in this second book, the series becomes definitely Christian and unmistakably End Times. I had hoped the books were not going in that direction, because it’s not the sort of thing that naturally appeals to me. But if you’re going to do it, this is the way to.

Knowing Revelation, one can see various fulfillments in Swipe and Sneak. Yet they come in unexpected ways, flavored and influenced by the particular world of the novels. And they come unheralded, and even gradually – far more interesting, and even more believable, than the seven years of cataclysm found in other End Times works.

The pace of Sneak is brisk enough to keep away boredom, and slow enough that readers are not left confused. Certain events were skimmed past with hardly a glance, but they were peripheral to the actual experiences of the characters, and maybe that is the nature of a middle-grade book. On the same front, I found the main character too rash – but again, maybe that is the nature of thirteen-year-old boys who have abruptly been torn from all that was stable in their lives.

What I appreciated most about this book was the inventiveness with which the author handled his world and End Times prophecies. He had a flair with his characters, too, and managed to support a large cast and make most of them distinctive. Sneak leaves more going than Swipe did, while also leaving less of an idea of where the characters will turn next. So here’s to the next book, and the author’s skill that keeps readers coming back.