What Would C.S. Lewis Think of WALKING ON THE SEA OF CLOUDS? (Part 2)

(I originally wrote this as an item in the Lorehaven Book Club Facebook group. Part one is found here.)

As I noted in part one, I recently re-read C.S. Lewis’s essay, “On Science Fiction,” in which he divided the field into a number of what he called “sub-species” and examined them in some depth. Last time I pointed out that my near-future science fiction novel Walking on the Sea of Clouds seems to fit into a couple of his categories. Unfortunately, Lewis asserts (referring specifically to H.G. Wells’s First Men in the Moon) that

The more plausible [the scientific basis of the story], the worse. That would merely invite interest in actual possibilities of reaching the Moon, an interest foreign to [Wells’s] story. Never mind how they got there; we are imagining what it would be like.

Since I tried hard to keep the science plausible in my story — taking a few liberties here and there, I admit — Lewis would apparently think that I had labored in vain. And it seems he would think the same with regard to my effort to build in believable characterization (emphasis added):

It is absurd to condemn [these stories] because they do not often display any deep or sensitive characterization. They oughtn’t to. It is a fault if they do…. Every good writer knows that the more unusual the scenes and events of his stories are, the slighter, the more ordinary, the more typical his persons should be. Hence Gulliver is a commonplace little man and Alice a commonplace little girl. If they had been more remarkable they would have wrecked their books.

In my defense, I’d say that the characters in my book are rather ordinary compared to today’s astronauts, many of whom have multiple advanced degrees and generally stellar credentials. But even if my characters themselves aren’t exactly commonplace, I tried to focus on the commonplace nature of their tasks: building things, repairing things, keeping things going.

Lewis says,

To tell how odd things struck odd people is to have an oddity too much: he who is to see strange sights must not himself be strange. He ought to be as nearly as possible Everyman or Anyman. Of course, we must not confuse slight or typical characterization with impossible or unconvincing characterization. Falsification of character will always spoil a story.

And there, I think I may have redeemed myself in Lewis’s eye. (At least, it would be nice if that were the case!)

I was, additionally, interested in another note that Lewis includes. Referring to the “novel of manners” (which Britannica.com defines as one that “re-creates a social world” and conveys “finely detailed observation of the customs, values, and mores of a highly developed and complex society”), Lewis writes — again with emphasis added:

We must not allow the novel of manners to give laws to all literature: let it rule its own domain. We must not listen to Pope’s maxim about the proper study of mankind. The proper study of man is everything. The proper study of man as artist is everything which gives a foothold to the imagination and the passions.

And, so far as I can tell, spaceflight — and the possibility of extending our reach to the Moon and beyond — definitely stirs the imagination and passion of at least some people! (Now, if more of them would find their way to my story, that would be great….)

Crescent Moon
(Image: “Crescent Moon,” by kloniwotski, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Finally (for my purpose here), before delving into other sub-species of science fiction that would not include my novel, Lewis warns,

… while I think this sort of science fiction legitimate, and capable of great virtues, it is not a kind which can endure copious production. It is only the first visit to the Moon or to Mars that is, for this purpose, any good. After each has been discovered in one or two stories (and turned out to be different in each) it becomes difficult to suspend our disbelief in favor of subsequent stories. However good they were they would kill each other by becoming numerous.

I wonder if the people who have asked me for a sequel would take that as an excuse for me not to do so.

Anyway, what do you think of all that? Is Lewis on to something?

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What Would C.S. Lewis Think of WALKING ON THE SEA OF CLOUDS? (Part 1)

(I originally wrote this as an item in the Lorehaven Book Club Facebook group.)

Have you read C.S. Lewis’s essay, “On Science Fiction”?

He divided the field into a number of “sub-species,” as he put it, and I think Walking on the Sea of Clouds would fit into a couple of them — though he admits that he wouldn’t have been in the audience for it.

My novel doesn’t fit into the first sub-species that Lewis identified, wherein

the author leaps forward into an imagined future when planetary, sidereal, or even galactic travel has become common. Against this huge backdrop he then proceeds to develop an ordinary love-story, spy-story, wreck-story, or crime-story.

Lewis didn’t think very highly of that kind of science fiction, and presumably would bemoan its popularity. (And it is quite popular! If I could think of a good story like that, I’d surely write it.) Anyway, he then wrote (emphasis added),

Having condemned that sub-species, I am glad to turn to another which I believe to be legitimate, though I have not the slightest taste for it myself, [which] might be called the fiction of Engineers. It is written by people who are primarily interested in space-travel, or in other undiscovered techniques, as real possibilities in the actual universe. They give us in imaginative form their guesses as to how the thing might be done….

That seems to describe my near-future technological drama, does it not?

C. S. Lewis
(Image: “C. S. Lewis,” by Levan Ramishvili, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Lewis continues,

I am too uneducated scientifically to criticize such stories on the mechanical side; and I am so completely out of sympathy with the projects they anticipate that I am incapable of criticizing them as stories…. But heaven forbid that I should regard the limitations of my sympathy as anything save a red light which warns me not to criticize at all. For all I know, these may be very good stories in their own kind.

That’s why I think Lewis just wouldn’t be in the audience for my story. And that’s okay! Every story isn’t for everyone. But he goes on (emphasis added):

I think it useful to distinguish from these Engineers’ Stories a third sub-species where the interest is, in a sense, scientific, but speculative. When we learn from the sciences the probable nature of places or conditions which no human being has experienced, there is, in normal men, an impulse to attempt to imagine them. Is any man such a dull clod that he can look at the Moon through a good telescope without asking himself what it would be like to walk among those mountains under that black, crowded sky?

Ahem — Walking on the Sea of Clouds, anyone? It sure seems to fit that description.

But what do you think?

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Writing that Crosses the Spiritual Divide

(Cross-posted, with some light edits, from my 12 June 2018 guest post on the Speculative Faith blog.)

The conventional wisdom is that authors shouldn’t read reviews of our own work.

If the reviews are good, they can inflate already outsized egos, and if the reviews are bad, well — egos don’t always just deflate. A hot-air-balloon-sized ego, pierced by a bad review, might slowly settle into a mass of hard-to-wrangle canvas, but a smaller, more fragile ego might burst into shreds that are impossible to reassemble.

Nevertheless, some of us are drawn to reviews like moths to flame. If we’re lucky, the flame is a gentle candle and we just get singed if we get too close. If we’re unlucky, it’s a napalm-spewing flamethrower and we get terribly burned.

Sometimes we just get confused, as I was at two contrasting reviews of my novel, Walking on the Sea of Clouds. First, an Amazon reviewer gave the novel three stars and noted that it was a “good story” with strong character development but was “a bit bible-preachy [sic] for [their] tastes in hard science fiction.” Then the first issue of the Lorehaven online magazine included a brief, positive review that warned those seeking discernment that the story “only briefly referenced Christianity.”

Same story. Bible-preachy. Only briefly referenced Christianity.

I think this illustrates the fact that every reader brings their own experiences, attitudes, and expectations to the stories they read. Orson Scott Card told us in his writing workshop that whatever we’ve written is not the story, because the real story is in the reader’s head — and what’s in your head when you read a story is different from what’s in another person’s head when they read the same story. You might agree on some points, but you’ll disagree on others, and that’s okay.

In the case of my novel, someone who was not used to reading about believers and faith in the context of hard science fiction was put off by it. I have no way to know whether that person is a believer who was just surprised or a nonbeliever who was repulsed, and that really doesn’t matter. Their reading of the text is just as valid as anyone else’s — including the Lorehaven reviewer who might have been looking for more overt Christian themes. Was that person disappointed not to find them, or just surprised? I have no way of knowing, and again it hardly matters because however they read the story was the right way, for them.

Same story. Different readers. Different results.

It reminds me of what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, about the message of the cross seeming foolish to the lost, but representing the very power of God to those of us who believe (1 Corinthians 1:18). Same message. Different audience. Vastly different results.

Even within the body of believers, though, we can differ in our interpretations of Scripture. How much more should we expect to differ in reading science fiction and fantasy stories?


My friend Keith Phillips (Colonel, USAF, Retired), with whom I served in the 4th Space Operations Squadron, showing off his copy of Walking on the Sea of Clouds.

What does it take to cross the spiritual divide effectively in a literary or artistic work? Is it foolish even to try? I hope not, because in this age of growing doubt and disbelief I believe that Christian ideals, values, and themes still have a place in literature and art, whether science fiction, fantasy, or more mundane creations. And not just Christian principles, but Christian characters belong in fantastical stories — even in technology-heavy hard science fiction — just as surely as Christian people belong in every profession.

Unfortunately, sometimes the Christian characters in these stories end up being caricatures more than characters, reflecting the authors’ preconceptions rather than being portrayed as individuals, as people. I’ve found this to be true in stories by believers and nonbelievers alike, and it was something I tried to avoid.

That is, I tried to cross the spiritual divide by including Christian characters where they’re not always found — and by representing them as individual people with their own virtues and flaws, and even with different attitudes toward and expressions of faith. Some talk about it, some hide it, some deny it. Some ignore it, some sneer at it, some question it. That seemed realistic to me, and above all I tried to make the story seem realistic.

And maybe those two contrasting reviews — too much Bible to some people, not that much to others — show that I struck the right balance after all.

If you’ve read the story, I’d love to know what you think! And if you haven’t read the story, then now you know a little more of what you might find in it.

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Only 10 More Days to Volunteer for LIVE SLUSH

Want to have your novel submission evaluated LIVE and nearly in-person?

A couple of years ago I did a series of workshops at science fiction and fantasy conventions in which I did just that: gave direct personal feedback to participants who brought in material for review. Now Baen Books publisher Toni Weisskopf has agreed to join me while we put on a similar workshop, live over the Internet — if we can get enough volunteers!

Here’s the official announcement that went out a couple of weeks ago (emphasis added):

See and hear a recreation of Baen’s Slushmaster General’s Face-to-Face convention workshops, wherein actual slush manuscripts are considered and sorted out loud by real live Baen editors. The mysterious process is made clear. All we need are some volunteers! If you have a manuscript under consideration, just send us the submission number at e-editors@baen.com. If you have a new, completed manuscript you’d like to be considered, submit it now and e-mail us the submission number you receive. We will keep the names of the submitters anonymous in all cases. We need 10 volunteers by April 1 — no fooling! — and will livestream the session in May. If no one is brave enough to volunteer, we won’t do it. Stay tuned for details about how and when to watch!

So folks only have 10 more days to volunteer! If you want your manuscript included, send us a note to let us know — and if you know some writers you think would like to volunteer, please share this blog post and encourage them to sign up!

Thanks, and have an awesome day!

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It’s Not Illogical, It’s illogiCon!

This weekend is our local Research Triangle, North Carolina, science fiction and fantasy convention: illogiCon!


(Professor Schrodington, the illogiCon mascot.)

Here’s what I’ve got going on:

Friday:

  • 3:00 p.m. — Panel, “Geeky Gateway Drugs”
  • 7:00 p.m. — Opening Ceremonies — I get to play the opening song!
  • 8:00 p.m. — Panel, “They Blinded Me With Science”

Saturday:

  • 10:30 a.m. — “Office Hours” — come by and chat! (and maybe buy a book or CD)
  • 12:00 noon — Baen Books Traveling Road Show
  • 4:00 p.m. — Panel, “Science Clickbait”
  • 6:00 p.m. — Reading

Sunday:

  • 12:00 noon — “Music for the Road” Farewell Concert w/ David Tyberg

I’m glad I only have one convention-related event on Sunday, because I’ll be heading to north Raleigh right after I’m done to host the monthly “Writers Coffeehouse” at Quail Ridge Books — from 2-4 p.m., all writers welcome!

Should be a good weekend!

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A Novel Year

I don’t want to let 2017 close out without one last look at some of the press about my signature accomplishment of the year: my novel, Walking On The Sea of Clouds.

Readers have called it:

  • “Faithful and gritty”
  • “Amazingly authentic”
  • “Meat and potatoes for the hard science fiction fan”
  • “As entertaining as some of Heinlein’s early fiction”
  • “Much like The Martian

Not too shabby.

If you’ve read it, thank you very much! If you’d like to, or know someone else who might enjoy it, you can get your local bookseller to order it for you or you can buy it on Amazon or from other online sources including Baen e-books.


A novel of survival and sacrifice among lunar pioneers. (Click for larger image.)

The novel was, without a doubt, the “big event” of 2017 for me. I hope you had a good year, and that 2018 will be even better — for all of us!

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Are We Headed Back to the Moon?

On the way home from some errands — which included delivering a signed book, grabbing lunch with my lovely bride, and getting a haircut — I heard on the news that President Trump is supposed to issue (or possibly already has) a space policy directing NASA to start planning for a return to the Moon. I’ll be interested to see what happens with that!

Also, while I was stopped for a freight train passing through downtown Cary, Larry Correia posted a plug for Walking on the Sea of Clouds on his Monster Hunter Nation blog. Thanks, Larry!

Sarah Hoyt mentioned the book on Instapundit last week, and of course there was the National Space Society review that compared the novel to early Heinlein and Pournelle. Between all that, I hope we can generate some pre-Christmas buzz!

Thanks for spreading the word!

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A Surprising and Humbling Comparison

“… as entertaining as some of Heinlein’s early fiction …”

As I mentioned in this past week’s newsletter,* that’s what a reviewer for the National Space Society wrote about Walking on the Sea of Clouds. I never thought I’d have my work compared to someone of Heinlein’s stature — and the reviewer didn’t stop there:

Although as entertaining as some of Heinlein’s early fiction, it is not Heinlein, despite many Heinlein tropes. It seems closer to the type of fiction Jerry Pournelle wrote in the 1960s and 1970s. The style is clearly Rinehart’s own, both readable and involving….

Walking on the Sea of Clouds is the type of story seen too rarely today. It captures a pioneering era that once was and could be again. Those who seek to explore space will read this and say, this is what pioneering space would and should be like.

Not just Heinlein, but Pournelle also? As you might imagine, I was blown away by that!

You can read the whole review on the National Space Society site at this link. I’m given to understand that the review is also supposed to appear in an upcoming issue of their print magazine, Ad Astra.

Success
Being compared to a Grand Master of Science Fiction is one way of defining “success.” (Image: “Success,” by {Flixelpix} David, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

What does all that mean? Maybe nothing more in the grand scheme of things than that my story resonated with at least one reader. But: if you know any science fiction fans who might appreciate a story of survival and sacrifice on the Moon, but either hasn’t heard of my novel or is unsure about whether it might be for them, you can point them to that review. I’d sure appreciate it if you did!

___
*You can subscribe to my newsletter here.

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Fayetteville ComicCon Preview

This weekend I’ll be down in Fayetteville at, as noted above, Fayetteville ComicCon.

I will have a table in “Author’s Alley,” where I’ll try to interest folks in anything and everything: Walking on the Sea of Clouds, of course, plus Distorted Vision, Truths and Lies and Make-Believe, and maybe even Quality Education if that’s more their thing. I’ll also be giving out flyers I made up for the Adventure Sci-Fi 2017 Bundle (which is available through Thursday of this coming week, and if you haven’t checked it out you really should — it’s for a good cause!).

I will also be on two panels:

  • Military in Science Fiction, Saturday at noon
  • Science Fiction vs. Science Fact, Sunday at 11 a.m.

No concerts, no readings, just chatting with folks and trying to interest them in my stories and songs. If you know anyone who’s going, tell them to come find me and say hello!

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Introducing the Adventure Sci-Fi 2017 Bundle!

Want a bunch of books for a little money, and the chance to support a worthy charity? Then read on …

NYT-Bestselling author — and my publisher — Kevin J. Anderson has curated the Adventure Sci-Fi 2017 Bundle, a collection of novels and short stories that not only promise hours of out-of-this-world entertainment but also provide a means to support the Challenger (as in Space Shuttle Challenger) Learning Centers.

Kevin says,

We’re Full of Stars!

Strap into your cockpit, fire up the faster-than-light engines, and set course for the nearest star. I’ve got a grab bag of 13 excellent science fiction books all in one new Adventure SF StoryBundle. Get them all for as little as $15, and help out a great charity, too!

I put in a brand new action-packed story, The Blood Prize, featuring the popular character Colt the Outlander from Heavy Metal magazines, with all new art by the Aradio Brothers. Robert J. Sawyer offers his classic novel Far Seer (a planet of intelligent dinosaurs!). Raymond Bolton’s Awakening shows a fantasy civilization on the cusp of the industrial revolution faced with an alien invasion. You’ll read different adventures on very different lunar colonies in Gray Rinehart’s Walking on the Sea of Clouds, Lou Agresta’s Club Anyone, and T. Allen Diaz’s Lunatic City, as well as Louis Antonelli’s alternate space race in Dragon-Award nominee Another Girl, Another Planet. Jody Lynn Nye’s Taylor’s Ark follows the adventures of a veterinarian to the stars, and Brenda Cooper’s Endeavor-Award winning The Silver Ship and the Sea is a gripping story of prisoners of war abandoned on a rugged colony planet. Acclaimed, award-winning author Paul di Filippo gives a collection of his best stories in Lost Among the Stars.

And for thrilling military SF, the bundle also has Honor and Fidelity by Andrew Keith and William H. Keith, Recruit by Jonathan P. Brazee, and the hilarious adventures of Phule’s Company in Robert Lynn Asprin’s Phule’s Paradise.

Take Note: This Adventure SF StoryBundle runs for only three weeks. You can pay the minimum price to get the books, or you can pay more and designate a portion to support the Challenger Learning Centers for Space Science Education.

More details …

The StoryBundle has two purchase levels. The initial titles, available as a minimum $5 purchase, are:

  • Lunatic City by T. Allen Diaz
  • Phule’s Paradise by Robert Asprin
  • Awakening by Raymond Bolton
  • Taylor’s Ark by Jody Lynn Nye
  • Honor and Fidelity by Andrew Keith and William H. Keith, Jr.

The bonus level, available for $15, adds the following eight titles:

  • Lost Among the Stars by Paul Di Filippo
  • Another Girl, Another Planet by Louis Antonelli
  • Club Anyone by Lou Agresta
  • The Blood Prize by Kevin J. Anderson
  • Walking on the Sea of Clouds by Gray Rinehart
  • The Silver Ship and the Sea by Brenda Cooper
  • Far-Seer by Robert J. Sawyer
  • The United Federation Marine Corps Book 1: Recruit by Jonathan P. Brazee

What a bargain! Check out the the Adventure Sci-Fi 2017 Bundle today!

___
P.S. What is the StoryBundle program, and why should you care? Here are just a few benefits StoryBundle provides:

  • Get quality reads: We’ve chosen works from excellent authors to bundle together in one convenient package.
  • Pay what you want (minimum $5): You decide how much these fantastic books are worth. If you can only spare a little, that’s fine! You’ll still get access to a batch of exceptional titles.
  • Support authors who support DRM-free (i.e., Digital Rights Management-free) books: StoryBundle is a platform for authors to get exposure for their works, both for the titles featured in the bundle and for the rest of their catalog. Supporting authors who let you read their books on any device you want — restriction free — will show everyone there’s nothing wrong with ditching DRM.
  • Give to worthy causes: Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to the Challenger Learning Centers for Space Science Education!
  • Receive extra books: If you beat the bonus price, you’ll get the bonus books!

Every bundle allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books!

It’s also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to our gift cards — which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle — and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.

StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. Before starting StoryBundle, Founder Jason Chen covered technology and software as an editor for Gizmodo.com and Lifehacker.com.

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