CSFF Blog Tour: Proceeding by Inquiry

When the Bright Empires series began with The Skin Map, I found the religious element to be scant. It grew stronger in The Bone House, a quiet but steady undercurrent throughout the novel. In The Spirit Well, religion has a stronger presence yet. This comes mainly from the Zetetic Society, a group devoted to exploring the multiverse. They are the Questors spoken of in the first book – whom I had, I confess, clean forgotten.

In one scene, the Questors Brendan and Rosemary try to persuade a young woman named Cass to join their society. Brendan declared to her, “Our aim is nothing less than achieving God’s own purpose for His creation.”

When Cass asked what purpose that would be, Rosemary responded, “Why, the objective manifestation of the supreme values of goodness, beauty, and truth, grounded in the infinite love and goodness of the Creator.”

You would think that a sentence with so many nouns would have more meaning.

A little later in the conversation, Brendan expanded on his theme: “When the universe reaches the point where more people desire the union, harmony, and fulfillment intended by the Creator, then the balance will have been tipped, so to speak, and the cosmos will proceed to the Omega Point.”

And Rosemary elaborated, “This world, this universe, transfigured – the New Heaven and the New Earth. … Human destiny lies in the mastery of the cosmos for the purpose of creating new experiences of goodness, beauty, and truth for all living things.”

I don’t really know what they’re talking about. But I know this: The Bible also speaks of a new heaven and earth – but not this universe transfigured. This universe, this world will be destroyed. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus Christ declared, “but my words will never pass away.”

Much is obscure in the Bible’s end-times teachings, but this is clear: When God makes everything new, it will not be because “more people” want it. And I at least am suspicious of any philosophy that holds that it is the destiny of humanity to create new experiences of goodness and truth for all living things.

C. S. Lewis once said that no creature is so bad as something that is going to be human and isn’t yet. And I would contend that no religion is so bad as one that is going to be Christian and isn’t yet. I wondered if the Questors’ talk was so much psuedo-Christian jabberwocky. But I can’t say that it is, and for two reasons.

One is that some of what they say is solid. The other is that I can’t understand the rest of what they say. Their language is esoteric enough to create unease, and vague enough to create confusion. It confounds understanding. Their words are lofty, up in that airy region where the line between being high-minded and being fuzzy-minded is exceedingly fine.

The heroes give other signs. Brother Lazarus, a Catholic monk, joins with them; Mina finds the “daily office” (of praying) to be meaningful; Kit is moved to offer this prayer at the death of a primeval hunter: “Creator of all that is and will be, we give you back one of your creations. His life in this world was taken from him, but we ask that you receive him into the life of the world that has no end.”

None of this makes me trust the Questors more, but it does make me trust the author more.

The Zetetic Society gives other reasons for unease. Toward the end of The Spirit Well, Cass meets a Questor named Tess. Tess derides religious dogma and revivalists, and says, “Anyone who tells you he knows the mind of God is selling something.”

She’s not bad at selling things herself. She gives Cass her first mission: searching for Cosimo Livingstone, another Questor and the man Tess almost married. This, Tess assures Cass, is why she came to the Society. “There is no such thing as coincidence.”

They often say that in the Bright Empires series, and usually it has a noble ring. But not here. In this context – You are here because we need someone to look for my old flame; nothing happens by accident! – it seems more than a little self-serving.

“Zetetic”, by the way, is a real word; it means “proceeding by inquiry; investigating”. Samuel Rowbotham founded a number of zetetic societies in America and Britain at the end of the nineteenth century. Their purpose was to promote the belief that the earth is flat.

CSFF Blog Tour: The Spirit Well

There are certain things you know. The ground is solid, death is death, yesterday is past, and tomorrow is coming. But if ever you cross the ley lines and slip into the muliverse, you may end up deciding that you never really knew anything.

In The Spirit Well, Stephen Lawhead continues the grand adventure of the multiverse. New explorers join on the trails, others slip – or slink – into the background. The villain puts in a subdued role; what little we see of him shows mostly how he got to the point of menacing all the heroes. In the present – and I use the term loosely – he mostly grouses.

There is a sense, in this novel, of watching the characters becoming. Sometimes we see how they came to be what they are; sometimes it reveals more clearly what they are now. (I always knew there was something wrong with that Douglas person.)

More rarely, we get a glimpse of what they will be. Kit Livingstone, the protagonist, finally begins to grow decisively away from who he used to be. So often the victim of events, he gets a turn at being the instigator of them. The development is welcome, and I hope Stepehen Lawhead persists in it.

The Spirit Well is shorter than the previous books, coming in at less than four hundred pages. I thought the pace was brisker, though it was never fast. All of Lawhead’s books that I have read are works of breadth rather than speed.

The religion of the series grows stronger and more specific in this book, though still not fully discernible. You would need a whole post to do justice to this point, and I plan to give it.

Ancient Egypt remains a favored historical milieu, but here it departs from strict history. I have heard of Akhenaten and his attempt to supplant polytheism in Egypt with the religion of Aten. I have not heard that it had anything to do with the Habiru who lived in the Gesen and worshiped El.

Like The Bone House, The Spirit Well backtracks to events that took place during the first book – or before it. I gave it some thought and decided that the series still makes more sense if you start at the beginning. But not much more. This, like the omniscient style Lawhead uses, is something people will like if it’s the sort of thing they like.

The Spirit Well is the third book in the Bright Empires Series. It is still, for me, a happy discovery. These are books of incredible richness, incredible fullness; there is a world in those pages you will never reach the end of. Compelling, unique, and ultimately satisfying, The Spirit Well is a journey worth the effort.

And now, curious readers, your links:

The Spirit Well on Amazon;

Stephen Lawhead’s website and Facebook page;

and always most enlightening, the blog roll:

Jim Armstrong
Julie Bihn
Red Bissell
Jennifer Bogart
Thomas Clayton Booher
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Beckie Burnham
Brenda Castro
Jeff Chapman
Karri Compton
Theresa Dunlap
Emmalyn Edwards
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Jeremy Harder
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Janeen Ippolito
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Rebekah Loper
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Joan Nienhuis
Lyn Perry
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

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

Strictly Speaking

[Mild spoilers]

“The room we’re interested in is somewhere back there. At least, it was the last time I was here.”

“Correct me if I am wrong,” suggested Thomas, his steel-rimmed glasses glinting in the faint light as he turned to address Kit directly, “but strictly speaking, you have never been in this tomb.” – The Bone House, pg. 210

As theories of the multiverse gain traction with scientists, the inevitable inquiry begins: Is Christianity compatible with the multiverse? It reminds me of the old question of whether Christianity could handle the existence of aliens. In either case, the answer is the same: There is nothing in Christianity that particularly supports the idea, and nothing that particularly opposes it, and at any rate it’s only an idea.

Still, the fun of speculative fiction is speculating. For Christians, there’s the added fascination of fitting new, strange realities with ancient, eternal truths. The question, properly phrased, is not, How does Christianity work with the multiverse? It is, How does the multiverse work with Christianity? In answering you can find an interesting angle on both.

In The Bone House, Stephen Lawhead revelaed Arthur Flinders-Petrie’s quest to find Christ in the multiverse. Lawhead imagines countless versions of our world and our history. By a necessity people are duplicated along with it. That much orthodox Christianity allows. What it does not allow is the duplication of the Man who split history in two, or of the death and resurrection of God.

For a Christian writer like Stephen Lawhead, and for Christian readers like us, it’s an interesting tension. An interesting resolution is possible. We could, for example, imagine that the Incarnation is the focal point of the multiverse, at which all worlds converge and are one.

This is, I think, the only really urgent question when Christianity meets the multiverse. But I think another, lesser question is raised by the notion of duplicate selves. This is a well-established reality of the Bright Empires Series. When I read The Bone House I kept thinking that Kit could very well run into another Cosimo. After all, who knows how many Cosimos there are, and how many of them ended up wandering the universe? Heck with it – there could be multiple Kits exploring the ley-lines. Kit could run into himself.

You know who really ought to run into himself? Arthur Flinders-Petrie. There has to be more than one of him; there’s more than one of everybody else. It’s wholly possible that there is another Arthur Flinders-Petrie exploring the multiverse. If so, there’s another Skin Map out there, which is good news for our heroes.

What’s bad news for our heroes is that there may also be multiple Lord Burleighs prowling the multiverse. Of course, that would probably be bad news for the Lord Burleighs themselves. They might get in each other’s way. Can you imagine Lord Burleigh giving himself his “We can be friends or we can be enemies” speech? But I suppose Burleigh could have ended up good in some realities. There are more possibilities here than we could ever contemplate without ibuprofen.

Though this is fun – I’m trying to recover from my tangent here – it does have philosphical implications. You have people with the same genetic make-up often leading very much the same lives. But are they really the same people?

The essential dilemma is the one created by clones. Recall C. S. Lewis’ words: “You don’t have a soul; you are a soul. You have a body.” Human beings – or nature – could duplicate DNA and, with it, the bodies. But God would have to duplicate the souls. Do you suppose – or would you, for the sake of a story – that He ever does?

CSFF Blog Tour: The Bone House

The universe is big. What’s more, it’s awfully crowded.

It may be hard to tell, but they’re there, just a ley-leap away – countless worlds, people beyond number. Very few people know this; very few have traveled the ley lines to other dimensions. And those few people are constantly running into each other, often in extremely unfortunate ways.

In The Bone House, second book of the Bright Empires Series, Stephen Lawhead continues his grand exploration of the mutliverse. Most prominent of the explorers, but by no means the most adept, is Kit Livingstone. He is driven and pulled into adventure by forces greater than himself – the mysterious workings of ley lines, Lord Burleigh, Wilhelmina Klug.

I read the first book, The Skin Map, and thought it was science fiction, even if unconventional science fiction. It’s strange, then, that The Bone House struck me much more as fantasy. I think it was partially the turn toward Mediavel times, with a priest who talked about the tongues of angels; I think it was mainly that the story, for the first time, fully left our world. Earlier it took us to a different London, a different Prague, a different Egypt – but still London and Prague and Egypt, so that this science-fantasy series has a distinct flavor of historical fiction. But The Bone House goes beyond history.

In one area, however, it is thoroughly, classically sci-fi: going crazy with time. Hence we can simultaneously follow the Man Who is the Map and everyone searching for the Map That was the Man, back when he was alive. Lawhead, dealing with multiple dimensions, plays rather loosely with time. Even some of the characters’ storylines are out of order.

The chaotic mixing of dimensions, chronologies, and characters may bother some readers. I enjoyed it. It was intriguing, it kept me on my toes, and it conveyed the bewildering profusion of the multiverse.

But in the jumble of stories and realities, Lawhead asserts purpose and order. Everything, we are told, happens for a reason; all is as it should be – even for those who travel the multiverse. The Bone House was unexpectedly religious, a quiet but steady stream flowing through the book. Yet there was one incident I must raise that, though religious, was not at all Christian. At one point a hero of the book goes to a pagan temple; its priest perform divination for him  – and it is absolutely accurate. I leave this for your consideration.

The Bone House is not a story with much speed, but it has a lot of depth. It lingers in distant times and strange places, portraying each one vividly and sometimes beautifully. The characters are also diverse, also well-rendered. They are complete and convincing, even when, like Dorian Wimpole’s scorpion, they are not wholly lovable.

Then there is the series’ great adventure – the exploration of the universe. Walking the ley-lines begins to feel, in this second novel, to be only part of it. The philosophical discursions, the breathtaking climax, the talk of lives bound together and threads woven by a master of the loom – all seem to be driving to what is both at the heart of the universe and beyond it. The Bone House is a work of spreading imagination, of breadth and intrigue – a masterpiece of speculative fiction.

Now for the links:

the author’s website, and

The Bone House on Amazon;

best of all, the links for the blog tour:

Noah Arsenault
Red Bissell

Thomas Clayton Booher

Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse

CSFF Blog Tour
Jeff Chapman
Carol Bruce Collett
Karri Compton

D. G. D. Davidson

Theresa Dunlap

April Erwin
Victor Gentile

Tori Greene
Ryan Heart

Bruce Hennigan

Timothy Hicks

Christopher Hopper

Janeen Ippolito
Becca Johnson

Jason Joyner


Carol Keen

Krystine Kercher

Katie McCurdy
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Chawna Schroeder

Kathleen Smith

Rachel Star Thomson

Donna Swanson
Robert Treskillard

Steve Trower
Fred Warren

Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White

Rachel Wyant

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