popular books

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Dean Koontz’s “Odd Thomas” series- Faithful Goodness in the Face of Evil

saint-odd

Dean Koontz is an insanely popular author, having sold over 450 million copies of his books. His Odd Thomas series has also been a stunning success. Here, I will take a worldview level look at the whole series. There will be SPOILERS for the whole series in what follows. I will not be summarizing the plots of these works, but brief summaries can be found on Wikipedia (follow internal links).

Faithful Goodness

I think the concept of “faithful goodness” best summarizes the main character, Odd Thomas. I call it faithful goodness because time and again, Odd has every reason to flee from doing right, yet he persists in doing the right thing. He believes in a higher order to the universe to which all–including himself–are held accountable, but this is not the motivation for his continuing to do what is right. Rather, he acts as a kind of sacrificial/Christ figure.  He does what is right because that is his nature. Ultimately, that leads him to giving up his life to save others. “Saint,” indeed.

Evil and Violence

The Odd Thomas series is filled with murderers, torturers, and worse. What kind of redemptive themes might be found amidst the chaos of all this evil? Dean Koontz stated in an interview:

I don’t shy away from having violent things happen, but I don’t dwell on it. I feel, as a Christian, writing books that have a moral purpose to them, it’s actually incumbent upon me to write about evil, because this kingdom is Satan’s and he is the prince of the world. It’s here and it’s among us… My villains are pathetic. I never glorify a villain. I couldn’t write something like Hannibal because there’s something there that makes the villain the most glamorous person in the piece. I can’t write that. I don’t find evil glamorous. You’ll never find it that way in my books. (Cited by Anthony Weber)

Ultimate glory does not belong to evil. It will be extinguished. Although evil and violence persist in the world in which we now live, that is a temporary state of affairs. Christ our King will come to create anew, bringing life and vanquishing death.

Yet this does not mean that we can ignore evil now, or that we should be apathetic toward it. Like Odd, we must persist in fighting it, faithfully clinging to the reality that God–the ultimate Good–will triumph in the end.

Hope

Hope is a defining and central feature of the Odd Thomas series. Whether it is Odd’s hope to be reunited to his lost life, Stormy, or the eschatological hope for the final consummation of the Kingdom, it is this reality that drives Odd and gives him comfort even amid the most vile circumstances.

It is worth noting that Odd’s hope is ultimately focused towards the hereafter, rather than the present world. Christians should also remember that our current reality is not what we should try to ground all our hopes in. We can gain the whole world, yet lose our soul. Our final hope must be grounded in the coming of God’s kingdom and the New Creation.

Conclusion

Dean Koontz’s works continually show the workings of Christian faith and a worldview that allows for mystery in the universe. I highly recommend picking up some of his books to explore the integration of the Christian worldview into fiction, and the way they can be woven together. I will give a warning: they are for mature audiences only.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)

Saint Odd– Anthony Weber reflects on the final book in the series, Saint Odd, from a Christian perspective. I highly recommend this post and also following his excellent site.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Enter [Science] Fictional Messiah – “Wind and Shadow” and “Daystar” by Kathy Tyers

daystar-tyersKathy Tyers’ Firebird series is renowned by many for its explorations of worldview questions in a stirring science fiction setting. I have written on the Firebird Trilogy before. Here, we’ll take a look at the two concluding books in the series- Daystar and Wind and Shadow. Specifically, I’ll be analyzing them from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS for the whole series below.

Human Nature

Both books have much to say about human nature. In particular, questions about the extent and nature of our free will abound as we as readers are confronted with different concepts of determinism and free choice. Although this theme is never, perhaps, fully developed in philosophical terms, the very activity of the characters makes a kind of argument towards the notion that we have free choice that is genuine, though the question of whether this might be compatibilist–set alongside determinism–or not is left open.

Daystar also raises major questions about the nature of humanity itself–are we purely material beings; or perhaps purely spiritual and trapped within a material body; or are we a unified center of body and soul? The organization known as the Collegium puts forward a kind of mystic view that we are eternal souls which, when we die, go back to the infinite, impersonal divine. There are strong elements of both Gnosticism and Platonism to be found in this teaching, and it is one which resonates with New Age type beliefs and other worldviews today. We need to think on this for ourselves: when it comes to the very concept of what it is to be a human, are we essentially matter, or is there something more? Christians need to think on such issues deeply and consider our own standing in the universe.

The Powers

There is a fantastic meld of science fiction technology and the reality of the spiritual realm found throughout the Firebird series. Wind and Shadow, in particular, moves the concept of spiritual warfare front-and-center. A Shadow being possessed Kiel, a kind of priest, and attempted to convince him that he ought to proclaim himself as the coming Messiah. In this way, the spiritual being sought to gain control over the course of events. The interplay of the spiritual and physical was something that was interwoven throughout the Firebird series, and it is important to reflect as Christians on how that might play out in our own lives.

Not long ago I read an excellent book on spiritual warfare which presented several views on the topic. I think we need to be prepared to dive into such challenging topics and see what the Bible has to say about them.

Messiah

Daystar reads much like a lengthy biblical Gospel. The story therein is that of the coming Messiah. But it is far more complex than that. It is also a story of the attempt to exterminate an entire people group; the story of religious conflict; of materialism; and more. However, the core of the book, and much of the series, is the hope for the coming Boh-Dabar, the Messiah. That Boh-Dabar ends up being Tavkel, a herdsman from a secluded place.

Tyers brings forth themes about the Messiah in surprisingly insightful ways. First, she integrates several parables into the text as Tavkel instructs people in the faith. (See a recent Sunday Quote! post for one of the parables from the book.)Some of these parables find parallels in those Jesus taught; others are clearly inventions of Tyers’ mind to try to put forth spiritual truths. All of them are unique and engaging. Second, Tavkel is very explicit about his own nature as divine. I think this was a good move on Tyers’ part because sometimes it can be easy to miss how clear Jesus’ own claims of divinity were. When Christ claimed the authority to arbitrate and expand the Mosaic Law, that would have been astonishing. In Daystar, Tavkel points to himself as a divine figure.

One conversation with Meris, a character who is a foreigner and who holds to rival beliefs, depicts Tavkel explaining the notion of being fully divine and fully human. Tavkel explains it by pointing out that “My father created the human form. He has mastery over it…” Meris objects by arguing that it doesn’t make sense that Tavkel can be “one hundred percent” human and one hundred percent God. She asks “Which [are you]?” Tavkel responds, “Both.” When Meris says “That’s not possible,” Tavkel responds: “Is light a wave or a particle Meris?” (426). Though the analogy is not perfect, it does help us to envision how we might assume to much in our own ability to comprehend reality.

Third, there is also much discussion over how the Boh-Dabar may fulfill some prophecies in unexpected ways and that even some preconceptions of what the Messiah figure should be or what verses are even about him might be mistaken. This finds its parallel in some ways in Jesus, who, being the Messiah, yet did not come as a military leader as many expected. To see the people in Daystar figuring out the implications their Messiah has for their understanding is a unique insight into how the Christian story itself might have played out during its earliest days. Confronted by the reality of a risen Lord, notions of what the Messiah should be had to fit this risen Savior.

Daystar is filled to the brim with interesting conversations and speculations like this, and the best part is that they point beyond themselves to the truth of God’s word.

Conclusion

Daystar and Wind and Shadow are excellent works in a fantastic science fiction series. I highly commend the whole series to you, dear readers, not just as a great way to think about worldview, but also simply as excellent science fiction by a bestselling author of the genre.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Kathy Tyers’ “Firebird Trilogy”- Faith, Humanity, and Conflict in the Far Future– I look at a number of worldview issues in the Trilogy in this post.

Microview: “The Annotated Firebird Trilogy” by Kathy Tyers– I review the trilogy with a brief look at the plot and some positives and negatives in the book.

Popular Books– Check out my looks into other popular books (scroll down for more).

Sunday Quote!- A Science Fiction Parable– What might a parable look like in the future? Well, not too much different from one now. Check out this post on Tyers’ speculative parable in Daystar.

Sources

Kathy Tyers, Wind and Shadow (Colorado Springs, CO: Marcher Lord Press [Now Enclave], 2011).

Kathy Tyers, Daystar (Colorado Springs, CO: Marcher Lord Press [Now Enclave], 2012).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 1/10/14- Divergent, marriage, Boghossian, and more!

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneDear readers: As a thank you for stopping by, check out my latest “Really Recommended Posts.” Here, we’ll look at the Young Adult book Divergent (coming to theaters soon!), marriage, Augustine, abortion, Boghossian’s atheist propaganda, and some great free Bible inserts for apologetics. Check ’em out. As always, feel free to drop your own Really Recommended Posts by leaving a comment with your recommendation (and why). Also, feel free to leave a comment on your thoughts on any of these posts.

Free E-Book Download: Peter Boghossian, Atheist Tactician– Let me tell you right now, you should immediately download and start reading this free e-book. It is a response to Peter Boghossian’s A Manual For Creating Atheists. Boghossian is intentionally trying to destroy Christianity and proselytize for atheism. I have not finished the book yet, but what I have read has been excellent. It comes with my recommendation.

Divergent– Anthony Weber over at Empires and Mangers, one of my favorite sites (and one you should follow!), reviewed the YA Book Divergent. He examined it from a worldview perspective. The book is being made into a major motion picture and has been hailed by some as the “next Hunger Games.” That means we’re going to run into it everywhere. What questions can we bring to the table? There are SPOILERS in this linked post.

Modern Marriage Concerns– How might egalitarianism play out in marriage? Here, a brief post explores the nature and possible concerns regarding marriage in an egalitarian system.

A Free Bible Insert to Say Thanks for a Great 2013– Check out this link to get some great printable Bible inserts related to apologetics to tuck into the pages for quick access. I highly recommend checking them out.

Augustine’s Confessions: Some Lessons for apologetics– Augustine’s work, Confessions, is an autobiographical account of parts of his life. In it, he provides some insights into what is needed for an apologetic approach even in our church today.

‘He killed my baby !’: The day I lost my daughter to the Culture of Death– A powerful story about awakening to the wrongness of abortion.

“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card: A Christian reflection

enders-game-novel-coverEnder’s Game by Orson Scott Card has been receiving increased attention of late due to the upcoming movie based on the work. For my thoughts on the movie, check out my look into the film. I read this book about ten years ago, and have since listened to the audiobook and re-read the book. Here, we will delve into some major themes which run through the novel. There are major plot SPOILERS ahead, so you have been warned.

The Children

Ender himself is a child. Yet throughout the book he ranges from trying to simply be a child to an admiral. He has a calculating, almost “killer” mentality and cannot bear to lose. He insists on excellence. Yet he is shaped by his past, while trying to avoid it. When he is confronted with a situation of survival–or at least one he perceives as such–he reacts with the cold efficiency of a practiced soldier. He escalates the scenario to the point that the “enemy” can never cause harm to him again.

Ender has been selected to be the future leader of Earth’s International Fleet, which is heading off to the worlds of the “Buggers” (also known as the “Formics”) to destroy them. The Buggers are a race of sentient creatures who have attacked Earth twice and almost destroyed humanity both times.

Ender’s brother, Peter, is a sadist. There is no other way to describe him. He loves to inflict pain and scare people. He uses his power to attack the powerless. The scenes in which Peter abuses his brother and sister, Valentine, are disturbing. He also tortures animals. He is evil… or is he?

Valentine is perhaps the paradigm of good in the book. She was “too soft” to be the commander of the International Fleet. She ends up reforming Peter to some degree, though she loses some of herself in that process.

There are a number of children with whom Ender interacts with in Battle School, and they range from friends to enemies. He ends up killing one of them, Bonzo, in self-defense, though he doesn’t learn he actually killed him until much later.

Death, Evolution, and Ethics

The death of Bonzo leads to a number of interesting moral issues. Did Ender step over the line? He continually thinks in terms in which he needs to destroy any possibility of an “enemy” coming back to hurt him, but this mentality is fostered by those who have trained him. Ender has to learn to become a military leader, and he is guided in this learning by Colonel Graff and Mazer Rackham. They guide him, but they do so with a distinctly hands-off approach in which they try to teach him he can rely on no one but himself. This gives Ender a kind of do-or-die mentality that becomes literal a number of times throughout the book.

Bonzo’s death is viewed by Graff as a necessary sacrifice for the fate of humanity. Both Ender and Graff reflect a kind of evolutionary morality wherein the strong survive. They view the war with the Buggers as yet another aspect of this morality. If it comes down to it, it may be that either the Buggers or humans can survive. Graff and Ender seem to agree that this means that humans must be the ones to survive; they are tied to their evolutionary mentality. They must choose to survive.

Yet the book does not seem to actually endorse that kind of morality, for it leads to an untold amount of suffering and indeed the destruction of an entire species of sentient beings. Not only that, but when Ender encounters more knowledge about the Buggers later, he mourns with the Buggers who lamented over the fact that the two species could not reconcile.

Just War and Genocide/Xenocide

The fact that the Buggers did not know what they were doing gives Ender’s Game a spectacularly unique way to look into the issue of “Just War.” The Buggers don’t have writing, they haven’t developed spoken language. Instead, they have a kind of “hive mind” which allows them to communicate instantly across space. The Queens control all the various workers, which are almost extensions of themselves. Because of this radically different culture, the Buggers did not even realize they were attempting to exterminate other sentient creatures until after the second war. After that, they did not attempt to mount another attack.

Was this lack of effort a realization that humans were sentient? Was it an offer of peace?

Card seems to write that it is, though he never makes it explicit in the book. Yet humans have been attacked and nearly destroyed twice by these aliens, so they mount a counter-offensive. Ultimately, this counter-offensive destroys the Buggers entirely. It is an act of genocide–in fact, it is xenocide, the destruction of an entire species.

However, Ender continues to think that what he is doing when he is commanding the International Fleet is just a game. They never inform him that he is commanding the real army. He ends up making a decision which destroys the Bugger homeworld, and with it, their entire civilization. It kills all the Buggers [except one, as we will see].

One is forced to grapple with the questions that this raises. The fact is that the Buggers attempted to exterminate humanity in order to populate Earth as another colony. But it is possible that they didn’t know what they were doing, and stopped once they seemingly realized humans were sentient. Conversely, humans didn’t know what the Buggers were doing in not attacking. For all the humans knew, the Buggers could have been preparing themselves to attack again with better weapons and even more superior numbers.

I think this book would be a great one for bringing up discussions of Just War, because it doesn’t portray it as a black-and-white issue. Is it possible for war to be just? The issues Card raises here will foster some great discussion of that very question.

Redemption

Yet the book does not end with the destruction of the buggers. Ender goes to colonize one of the planets, now devoid of intelligent life, which make perfect colony worlds for Earth’s overflowing population. The realization that he has destroyed an entire species haunts Ender, but he chooses to go to one of the colonies with his sister.

While he is the governor of this colony, he discovers that one Bugger has survived. A queen larva had been hidden by the Buggers in such a way that only Ender could find her. She shares the memories of the Buggers with him. Here we see one of the most poignant scenes in the book:

If only we could have talked to you, the hive queen said in Ender’s words. But since it could not be, we ask only this: that you remember us, not as enemies, but as tragic sisters, changed into a foul shape by fate or God or evolution. If we had kissed, it would have been the miracle to make us human in each other’s eyes. Instead, we killed each other. (322, cited below)

Ender publishes a work which reflects on the Buggers.It begins a new spiritual/religious movement, which has someone called a “Speaker for the Dead,”  who speaks the truth about people who died, no matter how painful it would be. The teachings of this faith are from Ender’s book, which reflects the need for harmony and  truth.

Ultimately, redemption is left open. Ender travels the stars in search of a place that the Buggers can be planted such that they live on. He seeks to undo the evil he caused. We are left with the last line of the book: “He looked for a long time” (324).

Other Themes

The concept of overpopulation is found throughout the book. People are limited to only two children. Ender, however, is a “third,” which means that the government had to explicitly let his family have another child. The complexities of this issue are only touched upon, but couuld help drive discussion in a small group or reflection for an individual.

Religion only makes a few passing mentions in the book. It is largely feared/suppressed in the book, though the “Speaker for the Dead” becomes a new religion or kind of spirituality. It is unclear of how this religion is specifically apart from any other religion, but it seems like it is because the teachings come from the “Speaker for the Dead” as a kind of religious text.

orsonandmeConclusion

Ender’s Game is a highly compelling tale of justice, war, and horror. The complexities of human nature are not often explored in such a straightforward way as is done in the novel. Is Ender a hero? Is he a savior? Or is he just a poor child thrust into increasingly intense situations? What is justice, is it possible to have a just war? These themes and more will come up in discussions of the book. It is a classic, and for good reason. I highly recommend the book, and I’ll be one of the first in line to see the movie. The book explores a number of extremely important themes, and it does so in such a way that leaves the answers open-ended. Readers are almost encouraged to think about the topics themselves and come up with reasonable answers. 

I can’t help but share the picture on the right of me (about 7-8 years ago) with Orson Scott Card. It was one of the most exciting experiences of my life.  I found Card to be a gracious, wonderful man who was perfectly willing to sit down with a fanboy teenager and discuss heady issues about philosophy, teaching children about moral issues, and science fiction.

Be sure to check out my look at the movie.

Source

Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game (New York: Tor, 1991).

Links

Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber– I take a look at how science fiction has dealt with theological topics, with a particular focus on dialogue about religion.

Be sure to check out my other looks at popular books [scroll down on this link for a number of posts].

Also look into my reviews of several popular movies.

There is No Combat Without Movement– A very different look at Ender’s Game which explores the use of military tactics in the book.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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