The #Orville: Star Trek alternative or moral sinkhole

A lot of people who have once loved the Star Trek series but are turned off by the modern movie series in which James T. Kirk seems to be a sexual predator as well as a bratty overgrown kid. Some people seem to think the new series ‘The Orville’ is a enough like Star Trek to be an alternative, plus it’s on free TV so we can all see it.

But a recent episode shows that The Orville is not the family-safe show that the original Star Trek was. The big funny in the episode is that there was a male alien who went into heat and gave off pheromones which attracted reproductively  irrelevant species and genders. The captain of the Orville and his ex-wife and first officer were competing for the alien’s sexual attention and neglecting their duties. The ship’s female doctor— mother of two fatherless kids— had sex with an alien who looks like a pile of goo. But it was all OK in the end because the crew used the pheromones to make two male warring aliens have sex with each other and believe they were ‘soulmates.’

Ok, funny. Not someone one could watch with their kids, other people’s kids, parents, grandparents or pastor in the house, but funny. And wholly unrealistic.

In the real world a military space ship that has mainly peaceful intentions would have to train its people to resist sexual temptations especially when dealing with other species or cultures. There are good reasons why cultures all over Earth have had rules against certain forms of sexual behavior. Adultery not only destroys marriages but what happens to a child when its father suspects he’s not the daddy, and that fact can be confirmed with DNA tests? Fornication with young unmarried women can lead to them becoming unsuitable for marriage. And it is highly likely that many cultures will look at sexual relations with other, different-looking species to be a form of bestiality that would cause outrage.

In addition, it’s very possible that sexually transmitted diseases that are mild for one species can mean death to another. We can see a little of that in the history of Earth in how mild non-sexual diseases like measles became a deadly plague to Indians in the Americas. Not only would Our Heroes from the Orville probably not enjoy, say, a flesh-eating STD, if they passed it on to members of an alien species before they knew they were infected it might well be considered an act of war.

Some viewers of The Orville may believe that one of the alien crew members is involved in a homosexual relationship, since both partners seem male. But an episode reveals that though the species considers itself ‘all male’, females are born (hatched, actually) and they are given ‘sex change’ operations. The alien crew member’s husband revealed herself to be born female, so therefore the relationship is not homosexual.

The Fox channel has a long history of providing raunchy and/or inappropriate programming even if the programming might also attract children, as in The Simpsons, Married with Children, and many others I’ve never even watched. Sadly, the Orville’s content as well as its mocking tone make sure that children can’t be inspired by it as I was by the original Star Trek. If only television producers had not lost the art of making clean television programming that even Christian and/or conservative families could enjoy!

Advertisements

Left Behind: Thinking Characters and Flashbacks in 1st Chapter

Recently I was re-reading one of my how-to-write books by Christian author James Scott Bell, and he spoke of how many first time writers write a novel beginning with a character just sitting, thinking. Often the thinking includes thinking about loads of backstory items, which make that opening into an info-dump.

And then I went upstairs to get something to read and I picked Left Behind, a bestselling Christian novel which made the whole nation aware of the Rapture theory, which was previously pretty obscure even among Christians. And I noted that the first chapter began with main character Rayford Steele, a pilot, sitting in the cockpit thinking.

Now, we know that Jerry B. Jenkins, writer of the series (LaHaye was the theologian and prophecy-wrangler) was not a bad writer. In the author bio in the back of the book it tells that Jenkins had written over 100 books at that time. And Left Behind went on to be a major bestselling book which crossed over into secular audiences. So we know that sitting-and-thinking opening worked. But why did it work?

The scene in question begins on page 1 of my paperback copy and goes on to page 5. I think that the main reason it works was that what Rayford was thinking about was, in fact, adultery.

Now, most people who don’t normally read Evangelical Christian fiction think that is all about devout and perfect Christians who never swear, drink or pick up a deck of cards. So when Rayford starts off thinking about adultery, and about how he feels okay about that because he is ‘repelled’ by his wife Irene’s ‘religious obsession.’

Non-Christian readers (I was non-Christian when I first read the book) were reassured that Rayford was a ‘guy like us’ who wasn’t a religious fanatic or holier-than-thou. Devoutly Christian readers, on the other hand, got the idea that Rayford was not actually a believing Christian but a nominal Christian who went to church only for social purposes and thought that ought to be good enough for God.

The sitting-and-thinking opening also introduce us to some basic facts— the makeup of Rayford’s family, the fact he had not ever cheated on his wife but he was thinking of changing that, and the fact that he was currently flying a 747 airliner over the Atlantic to Heathrow.

Another important bit of info Jenkins is slipping us is the fact that Rayford’s wife had become interested in Bible prophecy and that she believed in the Rapture theory and had told her husband enough that he knew about it (and was not interested.) This is essential setup for the rest of the chapter when Rayford discovers that a number of passengers had disappeared from the airplane and had left their neatly folded clothes behind.

The first chapter goes from Rayford’s thinking-about-adultery scene to another scene that does something that writing teachers warn against in first chapters: it goes into a flashback. The flashback involves a second major character, Cameron Williams, who is a reporter and flashes back to an exciting event he had witnessed in his reporting career— a seemingly miraculous event which thwarted a Russian attack against Israel. (This event has Bible-prophecy significance to the story.)

The problem with a first-chapter flashback, as a writing teacher will tell you, is that you are jumping away from the present story to follow a barely-known character into the past. This break, when poorly done, can make a reader put down a book, never to resume. I mean, it’s harder to stay interested in the story when the author is making you jump around in time before you have even gotten interested in the characters! I have sometimes gotten quite lost in a story because I have a habit of skim-reading especially when part of a chapter seems boring. I can miss the clues that a flashback is starting and wonder what the heck is going on.

The flashback works in this case because it is action-packed, and shows Cameron Williams in action as a reporter willing to go to dangerous places to get a story. It might not have been the best choice for the chapter, but it did get one of the authors desired Bible-prophecy events checked off the list. And it establishes the key fact that Cameron Williams believed in God but had not become a Christian by this point— something essential to establish since the Rapture was going to hit before the end of the chapter.

As a reader, I found that first chapter quite exciting enough to get my attention. I was not a Christian at that time, but when I had been Christian, I had never been in a church that taught the Rapture theory. When I read it I kind of took a superior attitude and thought I knew better than those dumb Evangelical Christians. But I enjoyed the book, and the series, as exciting futuristic disaster-fiction. Probably a reader today might call it ‘dystopian.’


Note: if you are unfamiliar with the Rapture theory, Protestant historian Dave MacPherson has traced the origin of the theory to a private revelation to a young Scottish lady in the year 1830. This private revelation, when made known, impressed some preachers in a church called the Plymouth Brethren who were interested in Bible prophecy. One of them was C. I. Scofield who produced the Scofield Reference Bible which is a popular book to this day. MacPherson has written a book on the history of the Rapture theory as he has discovered it in Plymouth Brethren writings of the time, The Rapture Plot. If you belong to a church or denomination which does NOT teach the Rapture theory, I think it might be a good idea to read MacPherson’s book if you are planning to read or re-read the Left Behind series so you will understand that the Rapture is not a universal belief of all Bible-believing Christians.

 

No #Christmas before #Advent

In the past couple of years, at the Family Dollar store in town, the week before Halloween they take the Halloween stuff down and replace it with Christmas stuff. I’ve already had alleged Christmas music— Jesus-free— imposed on me at a store when I went with my mom to pick up her prescriptions.

I’ve grown up with the fact that retailers are addicted to the Christmas season to make their profit for the year. My father, a Kresge and Kmart store manager, wasn’t around much during December until Christmas morning— he came home late on Christmas eve. At least he was retired by the time Kmart experimented with being open on Christmas day. (Remember, when you choose to shop on Thanksgiving or Christmas day, you are taking away those holidays from the families of employees and management.)

Constant Christmas causes stress, even though sentimental people may love months of Christmas music and Christmas movies on TV. It reminds people that they have to buy gifts and plan parties and events, send out Christmas cards, and so on. And what do retailers now want people to do with all that stress? Buy themselves new TVs, computers, and cars. People can always max out their credit cards and spend the rest of the year paying them off— and paying loads of interest which makes any Christmas ‘deals’ that actually were good deals to no effect.

And in all this retailer-induced madness, what happens if someone mentions the name of Jesus Christ? You’re a party pooper. Or, worse, you are a hater who is bigoted against Jewish people, Muslims and atheists. Which in the minds of the politically correct means you want those people to die and are probably willing to bring that about yourself. Yes, that means when you put up a sign on your lawn that asks ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ liberals are reading that as ‘I want to be like Hitler’ and they will whine to their friends about all the ‘haters’ in their town.

The church does not teach us to celebrate a Christmas buying fest with months of self-indulgence. The church teaches us to celebrate Christmas eve and Christmas day by going to church and worshiping. Before Christmas, we have the four Sundays of Advent to celebrate. It begins on Dec. 3rd this year.

Advent is not a good church season in which to buy yourself a new smartphone or car, or eat your favorite Christmas candy or cookies every day.  Originally Advent was considered a lot like Lent. You made sacrifices as a sign you were sorry about your sins. In the Eastern Church I believe Advent was called ‘Little Lent’.  What are YOU giving up for Advent?

Keeping Advent and Christmas in our culture is hard. Your workplace may demand that you participate in ‘Winter Holiday’ parties— Jesus-free Christmas celebrations. If you are a parent who is still letting your kids be raised by wolves— go to public school— they may be assigned to write Jesus-free Santa Claus letters. In our area the schools traditionally send these to the local paper to be printed in a special pre-Christmas edition so all the grandparents in the area can chuckle over all the kids ‘cute’ and usually greedy letters.

Of course the schools will never mention the truth about Santa Claus— that he is a mere nickname for an actual human person, Saint Nicholas, a fourth century bishop (senior pastor) whose feast day is December 6th. That is the traditional day for gifts from Saint Nicholas, usually, in the old days, mostly candy and an orange, which at that time were not everyday fare for kids but a special treat. My mother, born in 1927 to German immigrant parents, remembers celebrating St. Nicholas day, even though they were Protestants. It was a general celebration in Germany.

If you want to celebrate Advent and Christmas in a Christian way, you have to kind of step back from our culture. Stop watching so much secular TV when the rush of Christmas ads begin, even though that is earlier each year. I have a hard time giving up TV because I live alone and putting the TV on makes me feel less lonely. So I start changing the channel to EWTN, a commercial-free Catholic channel, most of the day. I used to sometimes watch the Shepherd’s Chapel channel, which is a commercial-free Protestant Bible study channel, but I don’t agree with all of the theology, especially not now that I’m Catholic, so I don’t watch as much.

If you have kids that are TV or internet addicts it may be next to impossible to get to detach from that bad influence without a major battle. But our culture has gotten so far off the track that people are complaining when someone asks for prayers in the wake of a natural, criminal or terrorist disaster. Because ‘prayers don’t help.’ That’s how the TV and internet are raising your kids. And that’s a year-long problem not just an internet one. But an Advent celebration might be a way to wean your kids away from these bad influences, and, most importantly, towards good ones. Like having days during Advent when the only television watched is EWTN and/or Shepherd’s Chapel.

HINT: in the Catholic celebration of Lent the sacrifices you are making usually have Sundays off, since Sunday is always a day of celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. So if you are avoiding buying and eating Christmas candy or cookies in pre-Advent and early Advent, you can allow yourself a little on the Sundays of Advent to make things more festive.

Will Sutherland Springs Church Shooting hero be forgotten? #2A

By now you’ve heard about the shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, TX. There were about 26 people killed and 20 wounded by a shooter who had been in trouble for domestic violence.

But the hero of the day was a person who lived near the church who, when he heard shooting, grabbed his ‘assault rifle’ (deer hunting gun, probably) and ran toward the shooting. He fired shots at the assailant and hit him, and the shooter drove away from the scene. One wonders how many more might have died except for this brave man’s heroism.

But of course the anti-Second Amendment crowd didn’t wait for the bodies to cool before they DEMANDED more anti-gun laws. Laws that would have made these church people even more defenseless. People in upper-class, big-city neighborhoods don’t understand this, but in rural and small-town America, the nearest police are often 20 or 30 minutes away. But as long as we have the 2nd Amendment intact, at least we can choose to protect ourselves and our neighbors.

One troubling thing I’ve heard was that the shooter was wearing body armor. Now, if someone is willing to shoot a lot of innocent people dead in church he will probably be willing to get guns, ammo and body armor illegally if he can’t get it legally. Murderers are just not that law-abiding that they would worry about illegal purchases.  But the hero who confronted the shooter was in greater danger than he knew. Thank God that this brave man was not shot or killed before he could get the shooter to flee away from his victims.

I would think that one way to honor the hero, besides NOT demonizing him and other gun owners by demonizing the gun owners grass-roots organization, the NRA, is for each of us to learn more about guns. The NRA may have gun safety classes in your area. The more of us who know how to protect ourselves with guns, the harder we make life for would-be criminals.

Is ‘The Miracle Morning for Writers’ just a time sink?

Some time ago I bought a book called ‘The Miracle Morning for Writers’. Yes, I own a book that tells me how to get up in the morning! ‘The Miracle Morning for Writers’ has you getting up earlier, and gives you a list of important items to do in your new, earlier morning.

These items are called the ‘Life S.A.V.E.R.S.’ Yes, it’s an acronym, and one which renames the six practices in odd ways so they fit the acronym. They are based, so it says, on the habits of the world’s most successful people.

Silence: the first one is just a weird retake on meditation. It also mentions ‘prayer’ as a possible way to do ‘silence’, but then continues on as if we are all doing Trancendental Meditation for our ‘silence’ step. So, in other words, ‘silence’ is denatured Eastern religious practices. Some of us Christians won’t do it on principle, and so we are just to sit there and wonder if our own Christian prayer and meditation routines are really ‘proven’ as a habit of the world’s most successful people.

Affirmations: yes, the good old-fashioned New Age technique of lying to yourself daily is part of the ‘Miracle Morning.’ But it claims that the most blatant lying-to-yourself doesn’t work. You shouldn’t use ‘I am a millionaire’ as a prosperity affirmation because your mind knows it’s not true.
The only thing that affirmations are good for, in my opinion, is to change your own negative thought patterns. Affirmations aren’t a magic spell to get you more success and prosperity from the obedient universe who grants us our wishes if we express them in the right New Age way. It’s just a way to turn your brain’s ‘I fail at everything’ mantra into a ‘Sometimes I succeed’ mantra.

Visualization: Supposedly it is actually proven to work when top atheletes do it. The book recommends visualizing the process of ‘getting there’ rather than the results. So instead of seeing your book at the top of the bestseller list, you see yourself working on writing the book, or doing the things you can actually do to promote that book. Visualization might actually help— I find sometimes when I think about, and ‘visualize’, doing a dreaded task it functions as a rehersal for actually doing the task.

Exercise: Yeah, they want you to do that, too. Artificial exercise, that is. Because if you lift 40 pound hay bales all morning to get your animals fed, you aren’t exercising. You’re just farming. You have to get on a treadmill or go to a gym for your exercise to count! And some exercise does stimulate your mind. But does doing a full workout in the morning help you, or exhaust your mental energy so you can’t use that energy for your writing?

Reading: It is a little horrifying that the authors of ‘Miracle Morning for Writers’ think that they even need to pursuade writers that reading is helpful. Even if you assume that the ‘Writers’ they are writing for are just get-rich-quick schemers who pump out self-published how-to books in order to separate fools from their money. Fiction writers are at least encouraged to read some how-to-write-fiction books as well as the New Agey ‘success’ books they recommend. It doesn’t really cover the importance of reading in your genre or genres, or even that a writer is someone who actually reads books for enjoyment.

Scribing: Since the word ‘writing’ doesn’t fit the acronym, they have to call it scribing. But it doesn’t mean writing the next chapter in your Work In Progress. No, this is about writing in your journal. Yeah, keeping a journal is another task that The Miracle Morning adds to your day.

Now, what does the Life S.A.V.E.R.S. actually add up to in terms of your day? A 60 minute practice, according to the schedule they give as an example. And at the end of it you still haven’t touched your writing for the day. And the amounts of the other activities may not be enough for you. The 10 minutes for ‘Silence’ aren’t enough to, say, pray the rosary. The 10 minutes of exercise don’t seem like much, either. And 20 minutes for reading? I’d want more than that, and I’d want to do it at a time of day when I don’t have to end quick in order to get my ‘Scribing’ and my actual writing done.

Would getting up earlier to do these 60 minutes of tasks help me get my daily writing stint done? Or would they end up being a substitute for getting my writing done? I don’t really know, but given the hard time I have getting my writing and other daily tasks done, I’m not sure if it would help.

What about you, the reader? Have you ever read ‘The Miracle Morning for Writers’ and tried out its recommendations? Did you ever try something similar? How did it work for you?

I don’t know exactly if I want to try the whole ‘Miracle Morning for Writers.’ But maybe I could add the recommended activities, one by one, to see what happens.

Murder over mushrooms — plants in Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding? Thinking about plants? Sometimes a plant can play an important role in a science fiction or fantasy novel. Remember the nightlock plant in The Hunger Games.

A feminist-fantasy stereotype is an herb that works exactly the way feminists wish birth control pills would work. To signal even more feminist virtue, it may be accompanied by an herbal version of the morning-after pill or RU-486— something that will do in an unborn child once its life has begun. There are of course no side effects, not even the normal depression that can come with the ending of a pregnancy in even the best circumstances.

Plants are a major food source, even for carnivores like me. And of course to get the eggs, cream and meat I need for my healthy low-carb diet, I have to feed chickens and sheep lots of good plants, such as stinging nettle. Stinging nettle may sting you when fresh, but if you cook stinging nettle plants they are like spinach. Only better tasting.

Dried stinging nettle plants are a good fodder for sheep, goats and other critters that eat grass and hay. My goats and some of my sheep are willing to eat any fresh stinging nettle I pick for them, but they ignore the stinging nettle plants growing in their pens unless I pluck it for them.

My chickens also eat fresh stinging nettle. Right now a big group of my chickens is in a non-movable pen with no access to fresh greens, so they get very excited when I bring them a fresh bunch of stinging nettle.

In my WIP Tiberius Base, plants are a major influence for the people in starships and star bases. Scientific studies show that people who have regular access to plant-rich environments are happier. And so it is customary to provide these plant rich environments.

A human-constructed forest is at the heart of all Terran-flagged starships. Ships’ crews brag about the size and intricacy of their ship’s forest. Star bases have even larger forests, and an actual space city usually has more than one.

Tiberius Base has a larger forest than any other constructed by Terrans so far. It contains a wide variety of trees and plants from both European and Asian environments. Mushrooms spores are well represented in the mix. And this leads to a problem.

Mushrooming is an amazingly popular activity among Terrans in space. The formal food-growing facilities on Terran ships and bases don’t traditionally grow mushrooms and so it is a highly sought-after food. Canned mushrooms are a staple in trading and many worlds without much interplanetary trade have a small facility in which to can mushrooms.

A forester is placed in charge of an artificial forest in a starship or base, but people hiking through the forest for recreation often come upon newly sprouted mushrooms before the forester is aware of them. People often have certain mushroom-rich areas of a forest that they look upon as their personal mushroom-hunting space. The problem arises when more than one person claims the same space.

Usually there are a few rules. Residents of a base or starship have a higher claim to a bit of the local forest than do transients or guests. Well-off people who have a garden area incorporated into their quarters must give way to the lower-income workers. But when 2 people of the same status claim the same mushroom ground, it can get difficult.

There was a famous case of murder over morel mushrooms on one of the older starbases. Since this base was owned by the Menders, an alien race, and Terrans were only using the base with permission, it was quite the scandal. It has since been established that murder over mushrooms, even morel mushrooms, is in no way considered justifiable homicide. It is also customary to grow some morel mushrooms in the cultivation rooms to render them less rare-and-hard-to-come-by.

Another way plants are important to star bases and starships is the provision of Schreber gardens. A Schreber garden is a custom which started in Germany. There are small garden plots provided to those who live in apartments or small houses with no gardening space.

In the spacegoing world, Schreber gardens are provided to anyone living on a space base who do not have a garden area as part of their living quarters. Gardening together with your Schreber garden neighbors is a popular pastime. Even in starships sometimes Schreber garden plots are provided to interested crew men, especially men who are drafted into the service.

Certain drug plants are forbidden crops on any space station or ship, as drug plants may be taboo in our world. Use of drugs for other than medical necessity is considered a sign of weakness, and drug users are likely to be identified and deprived of employment opportunities. However, the usual punishment for a convicted drug user is time spent in a locked-door rehab facility, so at least the convicted have a chance to shake their addictions.

Some plants may be mild spices for one species and deadly drugs for another. This creates conflict when the spice is a beloved one and the users of it don’t want to give it up to help aliens remain drug-free. Sesame seeds are a plant item of this class, but roasting the seeds denatures the drug effect.

Infinite patience & sweetness with our readers

What relationship should a writer have with his readers? I remember once looking at author Stephen King’s web site. He was at the time expressing a lot of contempt for those people who had ‘hatefully’ voted for the Republican man who was at that time President of the US.  He didn’t seem to be aware that many of his readers did not agree with his politics, and so he was insulting people he should have been wanting to sell books to.

The other day I was reading a leaflet I got from the Legion of Mary, a Catholic organization I joined in my parish. It gives as a basic principle for people doing church work ‘Infinite patience and sweetness must be lavished on a priceless soul.’ I think that’s a good principle for writers, too. Each person that might (or might not) buy our books is an individual precious soul that God loves.  Each soul is far more precious than all of the books we might write in a lifetime. We shouldn’t see them as just fodder for our book salesmanship efforts.

What do those precious souls want? More important, what do they need? If we are Christians we would probably say they need Jesus in their lives. Is our writing a help to that goal or a hindrance? Is our work more than just cheesy fiction to pass a few hours, or is there something of spiritual value hidden in there?

An individual reader may not choose to buy YOUR book. But the way you interact with that precious soul may have an influence on his life, including his eternity. It is a sacred trust. And so therefore a Christian writer probably shouldn’t be putting people down for liking Star Wars more than Star Trek, or being a geek or not being a geek. They are precious souls and even if they are being annoying as heck right now— perhaps condemning your whole body of work because one of your novels contains the word ‘heck’— you in your interactions with that person can have a great effect.

My mother tends to have annoying friends, who call her at all hours even when she tells them not to call at certain times. They talk for a long time without giving my mother a chance to say anything. But they are emotionally damaged people who need someone who will just listen. They don’t have the social skills to be people other people WANT to talk to on the phone. So they need someone like my mom, who takes their calls anyway. It’s a gift of charity that she has.

The rest of us may not have these special spiritual gifts, but we may be called to be listeners anyway. I suppose if we could master a hard-sell approach to book marketing, we could turn these annoying or critical people into sales of our books. But that would be not treating them as individual people with precious souls. Unfortunately, our book sales have to come in second to the needs of real people.