A source of low-carb, ketogenic Christmas cookie recipes.

Coco-Flour-5X8-JPEGBeing on a ketogenic or low-carb diet at Christmas time sucks. You have to turn down so many invitations and not make so many traditional family foods, just to keep from breaking your diet. And unlike other diets, breaking a low-carb/ketogenic diet can mean your metabolism changes back to running on glucose instead of ketones, and getting back on your healthy diet makes you feel miserable for a couple of days. Other people may be able to jump back on the LC/keto diet right away, but I’m weak. One serious slip-up can mean a month or more of being constantly tempted by the carby foods I’m addicted to.

But Christmas cookies are not something you have to give up. One source I use is this cookbook— Cooking with Coconut Flour by Bruce Fife. It has a whole chapter of cookie recipes. The down side is that the recipes come in two versions, one with sugar, one with half the sugar plus stevia. I adapt them by eliminating ALL sugar and using stevia— either the powdered kind or the liquid. If the recipe has brown sugar in it, you can buy the ‘English Toffee’ flavor of liquid stevia— available from Amazon.com— to give your recipes that brown sugar flavor.

I noticed, last time I made cookies, that without sugar you have to flatten the dough balls for the cookies because they won’t melt down like sugared cookies do. Also, NEVER add cold ingredients to melted coconut oil in a recipe. The coconut oil hardens and becomes rock-like. I fixed that by putting the whole dough bowl into a bigger bowl of hot tap water until the coconut oil re-melted.

You can get the necessary coconut flour from Walmart— even in the small town where my nearest Walmart is, they carry it. They also have unsweetened flaked coconut, called for in some of the recipes.

If the book doesn’t have a cookie recipe similar to the carby cookie you used to love, some can be adapted. Look at the spices in your carby recipe, and use that spice mix with your coconut flour cookie recipe. You may have to settle for a round-cookie version of something you used to make with rolled-out dough and cookie cutters, but you may end up with a similarly satisfying flavor.

If you are a confirmed carbohydrate addict and haven’t been low-carbing long, these cookies won’t taste that great to you. Not because they AREN’T great, but because you expect the taste to come along with a satisfying ‘hit’ of your addiction substances, sugar, fast-acting carbs, and wheat. It’s like offering a smoker a cigarette with no nicotine. But don’t despair, the longer you low-carb, the better low-carb treats will taste. When I’ve been ‘good’, if I break the diet to eat a carby comfort food, I sometimes think that my current low-carb equivalent of that food actually tastes much better. By going off the diet, I’m just feeding the monkey.

Last year, I packed up some of the cookies I made and put them in the freezer. They were perfectly good when thawed. If you live alone, freezing some is a good idea. They keep you from binge-eating the cookies out of boredom. Which is bad, because these cookies do have SOME carbs and eating a whole batch in one day is NOT recommended. Also, you can make a habit of keeping some low-carb cookies in the freezer at all times, for when temptation strikes.

A ban on Anglo-Saxon character names?

Captain_KirkAs a fan of science fiction for lo these many years, I have long been dismayed at the critique of science fiction that states there are too many Anglo-Saxon characters with Anglo-Saxon names. Why dismayed? Because these critiques are always in English— the Anglo-Saxon language— and reference science fiction in English.

It only stands to reason that the majority of people who read science fiction in English are deeply comfortable with Anglo-Saxon character names. In England it is because most of the people are ethnic Anglo-Saxons. In America, it’s more because Anglo-Saxon names are so common— even though often those Anglo-Saxon names belong to African-American people.

In the days of the pulp science fiction magazines, editors wanted authors to use Anglo-Saxon names for their characters because the reading public identified with such characters. In fact, many of the authors adopted Anglo-Saxon pen names.

But time marched on. After World War Two, when African-Americans and Asian-Americans served their country so well, and many American men had gone overseas to fight and thus become more aware of other parts of the world, change was inevitable. Non-Anglo-Saxon names, and characters, were more accepted by readers.

Many people think of the television series Star Trek (the original series) as having broken a lot of barriers when it came to having a multi-cultural character group. But the captain— very much the main character in that version of Star Trek— was of Anglo-Saxon origin. In fact, of the three main characters of the show there were 2 and 1/2 Americans— Kirk and McCoy were Americans and Spock’s mother, Amanda was also.

The Enterprise did have a variety of other characters and had amazing diversity for the time. But they wisely didn’t expect the average television viewer of the day to accept a non-Anglo-Saxon as a lead character.

But today things are very different. Instead of being plagued by old-fashioned outright prejudice, we have the kind of new-age prejudice that calls Star Wars ‘racist’ because Darth Vader is wicked and he’s black (?). OK, he’s not really black, but he wears a black outfit.

Audiences today would accept an Asian or African or Pacific Islander as a starship captain and identify with the character. But for those people who still have a touch of Anglo-Saxon in their genetic makeup, and who have the misfortune to be ‘white’, there is a little discomfort. When we see someone of a non-Anglo-Saxon background, we wonder if they would judge us harshly because of our evil ancestors. We identify a bit more with characters that might have a bit of Anglo-Saxon blood, and so are ‘evil like us’. And we are comfortable with Anglo-Saxon names that we don’t have to put our tongue on backward to pronounce.

University liberals would probably love to declare a full ban on Anglo-Saxon names and Anglo-Saxon characters. But they would be saying that IN ENGLISH. And as long as we have fiction in English, there will be fiction readers who would like to have Anglo-Saxon characters as part of a happy mix including every current type of human and a double serving of interesting aliens.

See that place up on the top of this blog post where you are invited to rate this blog post with one to five stars? For experimental purposes I’m asking each person who reads this post to give it 1-4 stars. If enough people do it, maybe it will create a black hole or something.

How to find keywords in poems


Look up. See the stars rating this post? For experimental purposes I’d like everyone who visits this post to rate it with at least one star. Please do NOT give five stars. Thank you.
It Wasn’t Me

i don’t know why the frog is green
i don’t know why the frog is dead
i didn’t kill it much the cat did
the cat ate half the frog
but not the legs
are you hungry?
i don’t know why
i don’t know how

Nissa Annakindt
Sep. 9, 2014

Finding Keywords in Poems
A Lesson for self-study

Some poets— especially those who have read Sandford Lyne’s ‘writing poetry from the inside out’— compose poems using keywords. I have used this method myself with some success.

But where do you find good keywords to use? Other than Mr. Lyne’s book, that is? One method is to find keywords in someone else’s poem.

This is how you do it. Get out a piece of paper— right now— and read through the poem ‘It Wasn’t Me’. Every time a word catches your attention, write the word down. On the paper.

Don’t pick out the ‘poetic’ words or the words you think a teacher would want you to write down. Write down the words that moved, interested or horrified YOU. There are no right or wrong answers that can be graded by someone else.

These should be single words, as this is a keyword exercise. Phrases will come in another lesson.

Try to get at least 4 keywords. Or eight, or 12. If you can get that many from such a short poem. If you have 5 or 9 words, look over your list and omit the weakest, least impactful word.

Get out your poetry notebook. If you don’t have one, run out and get one. Right now. A composition book works fine. Open your notebook and write at the top of a page ‘Keywords’. Then, underneath, write ‘It Wasn’t Me/Nissa Annakindt’. Underneath that write your keywords in groups of four.

Let the words ferment in your notebook for a month or more. Then, some fine day when you feel like writing a poem from keywords, open it up to your keywords page and select your keywords. It is perfectly fine to NOT use the keyword groups of four but instead to mix-and-match from the words on the page. You may also use 2 groups of keywords if that works better. But you might also go through your keyword lists and use the groups as they are written down.

You will want to assemble many, many groups of keywords for your poetry writing. You need not use keywords in every poem you assemble— for me the method doesn’t work as well for writing sijo— but when you do use them, it’s good to have a wide choice. So, let us try another poem— this time one NOT written by me, but by a Korean sijo poet who lived a long time ago, Song Soon.

Birds, do not blame the blossoms
For falling;
It is not their fault
That the wind scatters them.

And what is the good of chiding spring
Just as she is leaving?

Find and write down keywords from this poem as well. Since it doesn’t have a title, use the first line for your keyword notebook ‘headline’ for the keyword groups.

Have your keywords? Please post a comment with a group of keywords you found in one of these poems. For extra credit, post 2 keyword groups, one for each poem.

Shared on Poetry Pantry 283. Got a blog? Write poems? Share them on Poetry Pantry!

warning: commercial message follows.

OpiumCactusToday I checked on ‘Where the Opium Cactus Grows’, my first poetry book. I’ve only made 10 sales since publication in 2011. So I’d like to ask any stray reader of the blog to do me a favor: could you share this link http://www.amazon.com/Where-Opium-Cactus-Grows-Annakindt/dp/0557939135  on your blog, Facebook or Twitter? (If you are rich, perhaps you’d consider actually buying a copy yourself?) My goal is to sell 10 more copies of this book.

A Christmas-season trip to the Menominee county food bank.

St. Stephen's Lutheran Church ELCA, Stephenson, MI

St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church ELCA, Stephenson, MI

Today I made a trip to the Mid-County food bank, which is run by ministers of various churches in mid-Menominee county. The actual location where you go to pick up the food is in a Lutheran-ELCA church in the town of Stephenson.

The food bank has changed a lot from the last time I saw it. They now have a marked entrance to the food bank on the side of the church building, with a large Food Bank sign. Since the side of the church faces the road on which Stephenson’s one grocery store is located, I’ll bet a lot of people who didn’t know about the food bank know about it now from reading the sign on a trip to the grocery store.

They also have remodeled the area where the food bank is held. I think the food is still kept on shelves in the same area, but the waiting area is now in the same room where the door to the food bank is, and you now don’t have to take a number.

They have changed some policies. They now require you to have a photo ID with your address on it to get food there. But they are accommodating if you happen to have misplaced your photo ID. They will accept anything that shows your address, which proves you live in the area the food bank serves. (They don’t want you to collect food at their food bank and then at the one in Marinette.)

They also have a prominent sign that each household may come to the food bank only once a month. You get a bag of food for each household member, so if you are on food stamps and can’t feed your family on the shrinking food stamp amount, you get about enough to fill in the gap when your food stamp money runs out.

A little known secret of the food bank— they get lots and lots of dried beans and other dried legumes (lentils, peas and beans are legumes). And since most poor people don’t know how to cook dried beans and turn them into food, a lot gets thrown out when the expiration date rolls around. (They are not allowed to hand out any expired food— even though I’ve eaten lentils ten years expired and they made perfectly fine soup.)

Since the food bank now has some large freezers in the back, they had some frozen ground venison to give out. My friend Rev. John Lindt who is on the board of the food bank told me how they get the venison. When deer are doing major damage to the crops of a local farmer, the farmer can get a special permit from the DNR to hunt the offending deer. The farmer may donate it to the food bank, which gets the carcass processed and frozen.

At this particular food bank, the customers are not allowed directly in the room where the food is. There is a service window, and the volunteers fill your bag. They ask you what kind of food you can use. I told them I was on a special diet for health reasons so they would understand why I couldn’t take the hamburger helper or pasta or other high-carb options. They actually brought food items over to me so I could read the label on some things before they put it in my bag.

One nice thing is that they also give out a roll of toilet paper and one of paper towels. For poor people on the various forms of government aid, this is essential. Food stamps don’t pay for anything but food. And your SSI disability or welfare check is only meant for paying your home heating, electricity, rent or property tax, and other things like that. There is nothing given for things like paper products or soap and laundry detergent.

Most of the people I’ve seen on my visits to the food bank are behaving well. But all of them are going through a lot of negative emotions. Going to a food bank, like going on welfare programs, is absolute proof that you have fallen out of the middle class. It makes a person fearful, depressed, and even angry. Mostly angry at fate, or at yourself for your mistakes and failures, but sometimes I am sure people transfer their anger towards the food bank volunteers and their rules. So if you ever see a food bank recipient who gets snippy with the food bank volunteers or bitches about the rules, don’t assume that all poor people are ungrateful, lazy-ass bums. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being in pain. (I made a point of saying thank you— twice— to make up for those who are too depressed to say it.)

Now, if a certain type of person reads this post they may decide I am an evil lazy bum for going to a food bank when I have access to the internet. But really— don’t people know you can get internet access through public libraries? I’ve read about an actual homeless woman who kept a blog, turned it into a book, and had it sell well enough to let her stop being homeless. And there is also the fact that some food bank bums have relatives or friends who pay for internet access devices and service. So don’t get so judgmental. Anyone can lose a job. Anyone might be or become disabled. Anyone, then, can be down and out and need the help of the kind people who donate to the food bank. So let’s just be grateful that there are some out there who still care for the less fortunate— as the Bible commands— without getting all judgmental about it— as the Bible forbids.

What if homeschooling were the only option for everyone?

For quite a number of years I have heard of Christian parents who have been homeschooling because they felt the US public schools were just too hostile to their faith to trust with their children. Private Christian schools, including the systems of such schools run by the Catholic and Lutheran churches, were once an alternative. But the government is increasingly going after such schools when they fire teachers for doing things that violate the faith they are supposed to be teaching, such as getting pregnant out of wedlock or having a same-sex ‘wedding’. Few parents want to pay up for Christian schooling if their kids are going to be taught by the gay atheist teacher the government forced them to hire instead of by a faithful Christian.

But lately I have been wondering: what if homeschooling were the only option left for ALL parents? What if for all reasons ALL the schools had to close? Lately there have been some terrorists threats against school systems in the US. What terrorist attacks— or ordinary criminal shootings/bombings— became a common thing in schools? Or what if there were global epidemics which made gathering children into increasingly large consolidated schools a bad idea?

I think the homeschooling movement has shown us that even homeschooling moms who don’t have teaching degrees or any sort of four-year college degree at all can not only teach their kids, they can do so well enough that their children are ahead of those educated in government schools. But the current pool of homeschooling mothers is a selected group when compared to all American mothers. These mothers might not have college degrees (though many do) but overwhelmingly, they read.

You see, our population can roughly be divided into two groups— those who read and those who don’t. I’m not talking about literacy here. I’m talking about the fact that some people turn to books and other written materials as a source of information and some don’t. In fact, some non-readers say they haven’t read a book since they left school. Others may use certain reference books related to their job, but won’t sit down and read anything even to better their place at work.

I don’t look down on these non-readers. Perhaps their life experience has taught them that asking other people is the best way to gain information, and I myself just turn to books in that situation because of my poor social skills. But when it comes to the idea of a future need for universal homeschooling, the non-reader moms have a problem. Most homeschooling moms today got started by reading books about homeschooling. They then read up on different curricula they might use. The non-reading mom is likely to feel overwhelmed by having to go through that.

What could be done in a time of universal homeschooling for those mothers? One answer is one I’ve seen advertised on local television. You see, though I live in upper Michigan, all my local TV channels are based in Wisconsin. And the Wisconsin public schools advertise they have free online schooling for K-12, with genuine unionized public school teachers on the other end of the line. That bit kind of appalls me, I must say. But if children were no longer safe in schools— well, setting up the poor kids with internet access is cheaper than running school systems. Perhaps they would have online videos to walk the mothers though what they would have to do to get their kids going with a day of doing their online schooling.

People who don’t know homeschooling often think that homeschool kids don’t get ‘socialized’. They don’t get ‘socialized’ into school culture, that’s for sure. But the typical school socializations— thirty kids sitting passively while one teacher directs a communal ‘conversation’ that covers the key points of the classroom lesson— when do adults ever do that in real life? Most of the things we learn about social interactions in school are things we have to unlearn when we leave school. Some we even have to drop when we get to college.

A science fiction book I once read had a future in which children got their real education from computers for reasons of efficiency. But since the author believed that homeschooling was weird and would make children odd, she adds the idea that the children had to go to ‘Homeroom’ in a physical school. No education took place there, but the children did their little projects about Washington’s birthday (or whatever the powers-that-be though was good indoctrination) and dicked around for a while.

That author (Suzette Haden Elgin) was wrong about homeschooling making kids weird. Perhaps the mistake came in the fact that the homeschooling families she knew about were Christians and she thought that was weird and perhaps socially dangerous. But her idea of an education-free classroom kind of predicts what is going on in public school classrooms today, when education has to make way to a lot of indoctrination programs— some with quite laudable motives such as the anti-drug and ant-bullying campaigns, others more questionable. If the time of universal homeschooling is one in which some remnants of democracy and religious freedom are left, the government may have to put up with allowing alternate online schooling, either religious or just alternative. A ‘Homeroom’ class to get the kids ‘educated’ to the politically correct points of view might be tempting in spite of the cost.

But if the reason for universal homeschooling was based on the idea that schools were no longer safe, many of the traditional ways that homeschool kids socialize beyond their family group might also be unsafe. What if we envisioned a world in which families no longer took their children to church, but watched services at home? Perhaps priests and pastors would go from home to home among their parishioners, holding small communion services for the family and perhaps some of their neighbors.

That would make children different in that they would be robbed of the chance to be among larger groups of people. Perhaps many kids would have excellent social skills with one or two other people, but be totally lost if for some reason they were placed in a meeting with 12 other people. There might even be some good effects as a generation would grow up who never interacted with a ‘group’ but only as individuals in groups of two or three. That might lead to less categorization of people— less saying Muslims are all like this and Southern Baptists are all like that.

To me, a person who experienced a lot of bullying in school— sometimes by teachers— an age of universal homeschooling has some attractions. But what of a more dystopian future in which not only schools as we know them are gone, but also the internet and such luxuries as electricity? Think zombie apocalypse here. The mother who did not have the skill set to easily slip into homeschooling would just have to do the best she could for her kids. Mothers with low information levels or low IQ might barely manage to teach their children to read and do a little basic arithmetic. A mother who was addicted to drugs or alcohol might not even bother with teaching her kids.

But in a situation that dire, book learning might not be as important as other skills. Kids might clamor to get apprenticeships with a local guy would knew how to put up fences or plow fields or milk cows by hand or make cheese and butter. Real world skills— however they might be despised in our culture— are basic to human survival and in a dire situation are more useful than having a Master’s degree in women’s studies or philosophy.

Oaths of office need not be sworn on Bible

Some people are confused about the US Constitution on the issue of taking an oath of office. They believe that the Constitution requires the person to put a hand on the Holy Bible while swearing (or affirming) the oath.

This is not true. Get out your personal copy of the Constitution and check it out. The use of the Bible is simply a pious custom which originated when George Washington used a Bible borrowed from a Masonic lodge to take his oath. While many presidents have followed this custom, some have not, without intending insult to God. John Quincy Adams and Franklin Pierce both had their hands on a lawbook. And after the assassination of President Kennedy, Johnson, a Protestant, swore the oath on a Catholic prayer book belonging to the slain president.

For a Christian, taking an oath with one hand on the Bible is a symbol that they are swearing in the presence of the God of the Bible. But what if the newly elected official is not a Christian and does not believe that the Christian Bible is from God? Would it not be hypocritical for such a person to swear on the Bible?

A Jewish person who rejects the Christian New Testament might bring his own Jewish Bible for the oath, or, alternatively, make a mental reservation that he is swearing only on the Jewish portion of the Bible if using a Christian edition. But what about other faiths?

There have been some instances in which a Muslim has been elected to a US office and has sworn on the Quran. People got upset. But isn’t it an act of moral courage for a Muslim elected official to insist on placing his hand on the book he actually believes in for the oath, rather than putting a hand on a Bible that he believes is a flawed account? As a believing Christian I applaud that honesty.

But what if an atheist got elected and put his hand on a bigoted atheist book? Or what if a Satanist put his hand on a Satanic book? Well, that is in great part the fault of the voters. If you don’t think a bigoted-type atheist or a Satanist should hold office, don’t elect him. And it is perfectly permissible for a Christian, Jewish or Muslim judge to refuse to administer an oath taken on a highly offensive book. A more sensible atheist might choose to use no book at all for his oath, or perhaps use a lawbook, rather than choosing something bigoted which he doesn’t hold to be God’s sacred word anyway.

Story or Backstory?


A story— whether novel, short story or TV series— has two parts. The actual story that you see, and the backstory— the things that happened before the story started. But when an author is sorting out some story ideas, how does he know which bits go in the story and which in the backstory?

Sometimes it can go either way. Author Lawrence Block tells of an early novel of his that started out in a boring scene. Block’s agent suggested he start with chapter two— with the main character carrying a dead body in a rolled-up rug— and use the old chapter one as a second chapter, as it explains why the main character was trotting about town with a stiff.

In the television series The Walking Dead, a natural beginning point for the story would be the start of the zombie apocalypse. But that would involve majorly expensive scenes of global panic. So the main character, Rick Grimes, is unconscious in a hospital throughout the beginning of the zombie epidemic. He wakes up in a hospital full of walkers, in a nearly abandoned city. He meets Morgan, who tells him what has happened. We experience the story as Rick did— and we skip over the backstory, which the producers of the series didn’t really want to tell.

Some would-be writers go to the opposite extreme. They want to begin with the main character’s early life, or his college years, or his first girlfriend— even though the action doesn’t start until he turns into a vampire at age 35.

In science fiction or fantasy stories, it is common NOT to begin with the main character’s first battle or big action scene. The author needs to introduce the characters and the world before a major action scene will be meaningful. Think of the first book in the Harry Potter series. Harry is at first an orphaned infant, about to be dropped off at the home of unwelcoming relatives. Then we see Harry as an older boy, still unwelcome in the only home he knows, but about to discover the world of magic. By the time we get to the point that Harry has his first battle with dark forces, we already know him and care about him.

There are no hard-and-fast rules to decide what is story and what is backstory. Much depends on what story the writer really wants to tell. The main rule, though, is that wherever you begin, something must be happening. It may not directly relate to the main conflict of the story. For example, in Elizabeth Moon’s “Trading in Danger”, the main character is in the process of being kicked out of her planet’s space academy. This is not the major conflict, either of the novel or of the Vatta’s War series. But it’s enough forward motion to keep the reader going and to introduce the main character, Kylara Vatta.

So— next time you sit down with a good novel, think about the backstory as well as the story. Did the author start the story in a good place? If you had been writing the novel, might you have begun at a different point? Think about these things.

Love science fiction movies? Maybe it’s time to try a book.

I’ve been a science fiction fan since childhood. I started off with science fiction TV— Star Trek, The Outer Limits, Lost in Space— and the kind of science fiction movie that made it on to ‘Creature Features’, the Saturday night scary movie show.

But science fiction books are better. It was a struggle, as a child, getting in to science fiction books. Neither of my parents read it. In third grade, a boy in my class brought one of the Star Trek novelizations by James Blish. I somehow got my own copy of that book— it was Star Trek 3— before the month was out.

Going beyond novelizations was difficult because one of the first science fiction stories I read— from a collection in a school textbook— was about a spaceship crew that found the star of Bethlehem— a sun went nova, killing a world full of sapient life forms, to mark the birth of Jesus Christ, yay God. That felt too much like propaganda to me.

Another school-approved science fiction story was The Cold Equations, in which a girl I thought was the viewpoint character got spaced out the airlock for being a stowaway on a small ship that didn’t have fuel for two. Depressing.

I have since learned that short stories are the enemy. Short stories are filled with characters that authors feel all right about killing because, after all, the authors haven’t known those characters long. Short stories can be utterly depressing because they are short and the reader hasn’t invested much time or money in them. Avoid short stories at all costs, unless they are stories related to a novel series.

Science fiction novels are better, because the author, like the reader, is more invested in them. Series novels are particularly nice for those of us who grew up on Star Trek or Babylon 5 or the like.

But science fiction novels can do more. TV and movie science fiction is more about the explosions and the special effects. Science fiction television can take the time to be a little thoughtful— the characters can encounter a new world with a new species of sapient life, and take the time to learn about them— perhaps to find out that their initial impressions were wrong, all wrong. But to really experience science fiction as a fiction of ideas, you need to go over to the books.

For those of us thoughtful enough to consider ideas beyond the conventional within the science fiction community, books can have their down side. Many contemporary SF authors are playing to the hateful-atheist crowd these days and in their books, if you find a person of faith, they will prove to be the enemy. If you find a dogmatic, preachy atheist, you’ve found a good guy. So, if you buy your SF books new, keep your receipts. It’s perfectly legitimate to return a book when an author expresses bigotry against your religion, political views or life philosophy. Just don’t read the book while eating Cheetoes.

So, what are some good ways to get a taste of science fiction in book form? I, being a major, obsessive Star Trek geek, started with reading Star Trek novels. They were a cut above most movie/TV tie in fiction, though often restricted by the fact that Paramount owned Star Trek and limited what an author could do with the characters.

Going to an actual bookstore with a decent-sized SF/fantasy section can help because you can browse through the section reading the back cover until you find things that appeal. Or you can find a source for recommendations online. For example, if you read a blog that has given you good recommendations for television and movies, perhaps they also recommend some books.

Here are a few series that I liked that may appeal to you:

  1. Ender’s Game series by Orson Scott Card. Starts out with a space war against the Buggers, an insect-like race, and goes on, in other volumes, into a period of space colonization. Card is a good author for Christian readers since he is a member of the LDS church and has held prolife and pro-marriage values. And has experienced discrimination within the SF community for it.
  2. Worldwar/Colonization series by Harry Turtledove. What if we humans gave a World War and the aliens came? This series, with multiple character groups set around the world, gives a panoramic view of a World War Two disrupted by an alien invasion. This series is great for the older history buff, though younger persons won’t get enough World War Two history knowledge to understand the history in these books. The books are not clean as far as sex events are concerned. Also, the author portrays Pope Pius XII as a quisling who helped the aliens conquer Earth, while in real life that pope was a heroic figure who stood up to the Nazis and saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust. But the series is very readable in spite of this.
  3. Vatta’s War by Elizabeth Moon. Series of five books featuring the adventures of Ky Vatta, a young woman who got kicked out of her planet’s space academy and was sent off by her family to captain an old trade ship on its last voyage. Decently envisioned worlds, and lots of action including fights with space pirates, mutiny, and the rescue of a cute puppy.
  4. Amish Vampires in Space by Kerry Nietz. Yes, that’s a real book title. I haven’t read more than the free preview on Kindle, but found it very readable. And, hey, it’s worth the purchase price just to have the book to display in some prominent place in  your home.

I hope these recommendations will help some science fiction fans start to explore the world of the novels in our genre, and break free of dependence on big budget Hollywood hyped SF movies in which the explosions are more important than serious SF content.

If you have any great science fiction reads to recommend, please do drop us a comment. We are always searching for Something New to Read.

Creating Religions for Science Fiction Worldbuilding

popepicardScience fiction is mostly set in future worlds, but we cannot know the future in advance. To create a credible future world, you have to be able to build on what has happened in the past to see what might happen in the future.

Science fiction authors tend to do this faithfully as regards things like future technology and weapons. But when it comes to religion, they tend to let their personal prejudices run wild. All the ‘good’ or notable people share the author’s ideas about religion, and the ‘bad’ people have religious ideas that the author doesn’t like. They don’t take the time to be serious futurists when it comes to the topic of faith.

In Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta’s War series, none of the religions we know today seem to exist— not even modern atheism. They have been replaced by a group of nontheistic religions that people seem to adhere to as if they were Christianity or Judaism or Hinduism. In other words, the people seem to attend their nontheistic churches and follow those churches’ codes of conduct. The one exception is the bad religion, the Miznarii. That seems to be theistic, at least in the mind of the one believer important enough to briefly serve as a viewpoint character. And they seem to generate acts of terrorism.

In the real world, people who have theistic beliefs go t their churches (or temples, mosques) and follow the religious codes that go with the religions because they believe God or the gods want them to do this and to live this way. People who have accepted the dogma that there is no God and therefore no God-imposed moral absolutes don’t tend to found ‘churches’ that preach about atheism and attend ‘church’ once a week. Why should they? Atheism is a minimalist faith and can generate no pressure to create religious institutions or impose atheist absolutes. Organizing atheists isn’t like herding cats, it’s like herding microscopic organisms that cannot perceive you.

A futurist who wants to create one or more nontheistic religions that function like the theistic faiths we have today needs to do some development, and explain how that could happen when it hasn’t happened yet for the plain reason that nontheistic religions just don’t generate an imperative for that sort of thing. We have to figure out a reason why these particular nontheistic people felt the need for an organized nontheism and a shared philosophy and/or moral code. Perhaps it might be an outgrowth of New Age type meditation or positive-attitude classes or seminars. Perhaps some dictatorial force wanted his people sorted out into religions with weekly religious service attendance to keep them in line.

Using history is a great tool for the futurist, but you must be aware that our culture has little sense of history and loves to change the history to fit current ideology without worrying about documenting the new version of history. Currently, Jews and Muslims don’t get along and Christians tend to really like Jews. But there was a time that Christians disdained Jews as Christ-rejecters and Muslim rulers were welcoming to their Jewish subjects. Which history will you base your future versions of these faiths upon? If you just project today’s attitudes into the far future, your fiction may start to look dated pretty quick when things change.

One important rule for the futurist: don’t make all your changes to history ones that you like. If you are a well-informed, university-educated Christian who dissents from evolutionary theory, and you create fictional worlds where the scientific establishment has fully accepted your ideas, you are creating a fantasy future where things go the way YOU want. How about a future where one has to accept evolution and reject God in order to continue in school beyond third grade? Plenty of conflict for the Christian author to work with there. Or one in which Darwinism is rejected because some scientifically advanced alien race condemns it as ‘magical thinking’ and has their own, better theory— that they believe humans are too stupid to understand.

Secularists do a similar thing when they create futures in which all the religions that annoy them are extinct, or practiced only by the uneducated or by the bad guys. In the real world we often have to work together with people who have different ideas than we do, and fight against bad guys who are secularists-like-us or Christians-like-us.

So if you want realism in the religions of your future world, make sure there are both ‘good’ changes and ‘bad’ ones. Most of us would agree that slavery is bad and genocide is bad. What about if some religion in your world— perhaps your main character’s religion— accepts slavery or even genocide as OK in certain circumstances? What if the only religion speaking out against the evil is one that you, the author, have little use for?

One worldbuilding trick is to project a current day religious group into a future situation and see how or if they would change. For example, the Amish. In a spacefaring culture bent on colonizing new worlds, would the Amish have to change, adopting more technology into their lives? Or would they be so valued for their ability to do low-tech farming that they would be pressured NOT to change? (In my current WIP, I have some Amish sisters who lose their family farm in an attack, and then take up farming in a Fleet starship.)

Or how about the atheists? I mean real, thoughtful people who happen to believe that the evidence is against God existing, not those rude children who troll around on the internet. How would they cope with an alien race that insisted that it was easy to prove the existence of a God— or an atheist alien race that insisted that Terran atheists must kill all who disagree with them to achieve a ‘pure’ world?

A final factor to consider: how important is the religion factor to your worldbuilding? In adventure-based science fiction, religion may just be a bit of ‘set-decoration’ in the background of your space-war or quest story. In a more philosophical work, it may need more development. And if the religious/spiritual side of life— or the war against religion— is center stage, you will have a lot of work ahead of you.

Have you done your writing today? Maybe you should get started. Right now.

There is no screening for Future Bad Acts

When certain things happen, some people thing rigorous screening (of other people) will save us. We should screen refugees, would-be immigrants, mental patients, people with a history of violent behavior— and if we do it right, we are all 100% safe from everything.

Except that kind of screening isn’t possible. We can screen people on their histories, and on their current associations and intentions. We can’t determine what they will do in the future because even they don’t know it yet.

People change. Think of the ardent young atheist who goes off to college and becomes a Christian. Think of the young psychologist who thinks he can change everyone through therapy who ages into someone who thinks ‘lock them up and throw away the key’ about most criminals.

Some bad changes even make sense. Imagine some person of faith— Christian, Hindu, Jewish or Muslim— who comes from a more innocent part of the world. He is thrown into an American big city where he learns he must support homosexual behavior and homosexual marriage to keep his job, and if he is in the medical profession must support abortions and dole out abortion-causing pills— or else. He sees blatant prostitution on every street corner and learns that the schools will teach his kindergarten child about homosexual relationships and his teenage child that not having sex before marriage is weird and a possible sign of mental problems. Isn’t all that enough to drive a guy insane, possibly in a messy, violent way?

The United States has a long history of imperfectly screening immigrants. Even before the US was a nation, the people that came to these shores were not carefully screened, in fact, some were send as a punishment for criminal acts. And the Indians and the Pilgrims didn’t screen one another particularly well, or they probably wouldn’t have tried to live in close proximity.

We survived. And we will continue to survive. Because it’s not really unscreened immigrants who might or might not have terrorist ties that are the big risk we face. We could save more American lives by getting 10% more people to use their seat belts than we could by banning all new immigrants. We could prevent more mass shootings by giving 10% more law-abiding citizens the opportunity to get concealed-carry firearm permits.

But what really does endanger us as a distinct and mostly-good nation is when we let fear or propaganda persuade us to give up American values and American personal freedom in favor of measures that not make us safer, merely more supervised and controlled.