Wednesday, 21 November, 2007

I was going back through my email archives today. (I've kept just about every single email I've ever written/received [apart from the spam]—i.e. since 1996 which is when I was first introduced to email.) And I found an email I wrote on September 11 2001 (but I think I wrote it before I learned about the attack on the Twin Towers because of the time difference with America). Strangely enough, I think this was the first time I had ever written to someone (it was to the Word by Word group as it existed back then when we were still meeting at the offices of Matthias Media, and Greg and Tony were running the show)—anyway, as I was saying, it was the first time I had ever written to anyone about my graphic novel idea (which wasn't a graphic novel idea back then; it was a short story collection idea). This what I wrote:

11th September, 2001. 6:56 p.m.

I originally was going to send this to just Guan, Maheesha and Haoran because they were the interested parties, but I thought I'd send it to everyone and get their input too (if you've got any input).

This is just about my idea for a science fiction story. And it's basically me babbling on about all the things I've been thinking about. For some things I tend to do a lot more thinking than writing and, unfortunately, this is one of those things.

Firstly, a bit on science fiction ...

1. Science Fiction

I haven't read heaps of science fiction—I'm not a die-hard fan—but just from what I have read, science fiction seems to me to be a genre of ideas—particularly experiments. Here is a short list of authors I've read:

Orson Scott Card (most of the Ender books, The Worthing Saga, Maps in a Mirror and Flux [short stories]), Ursula Le Guin (The Left Hand of Darkness), Anne McCaffrey (some of the Pern series which I thought were atrocious), Isaac Asimov (Foundation only—sorry, baulked on the rest of the series), The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood), Sheri S. Tepper (The Awakeners—yuck, horrible book!—The Gate to Women's Country and Beauty ... I don't think Gibbon's Decline and Fall really counts), Marion Zimmer Bradley (a lot of Darkover novels but I really prefer her fantasy works—Hawkmistress!, Night's Daughter and so on), Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash) and C.S. Lewis (the first two novels of the Cosmic Trilogy series—Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra).

At the moment I'm in the middle of a book of short stories called Far Horizons by well-known science fiction writers who have returned to the worlds they created so long ago.

The reason why I think that science fiction is all about ideas and experiments is because of the themes and issues which preoccupy the authors I mention above: The Worthing Saga centres on the question of, “What if humans had the technology to live forever?"; The Left Hand of Darkness challenges perceptions of gender; Foundation is based on Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; and The Cosmic Trilogy is about the truly universal God—the God who created the heavens and the earth and all the planets in the heavens. Card calls science fiction, “the fiction of possibility, the fiction of strangeness” (Flux, p. 268) because, in that “space” (deep space/ hyperspace/black holes), we can carve out different worlds that bring a mirror up against our own.

2. Inspiration

I started thinking about writing a science fiction story about the church in the next century when my church starting doing a sermon series based on the movie Gattaca. One thing that really hit home for me was the fact that this world of genetically-engineered human beings wasn't too far away, what with the race to clone a human, advances in genetic technology, stem cell research, etc. Several months before this, I had read an article called “Who will care for clones?” in the April 2001 issue of Southern Cross (you might be able to view it at http://www.anglicanmediasydney.asn.au) which didn't deal with the ethics behind cloning but rather what the church's response should be should cloning ever happen. These two things collided in my brain. (My 2nd year poetry lecturer once said that creation comes about by making unexpected linkages between things. “The act of fusion is the creative act.” [Brunowsky—who on earth is he???])

3. Main idea

So this is what I was thinking about. A series of short stories about the church in the 22nd Century. I thought it could be one of those books where all the stories are linked because they use the same characters (like Libby Gleeson's Love Me Tender or Better Strangers by Libby Hathorn).

And each story could be based around a theme. (I'm currently thinking about the theme of Identity—you know, the made-in-God's-image/people of God kind of thing.) Other possible themes: Creation, values, life/death/eternal life, human helplessness in the face of an omnipotent God ... that sort of thing.

The people in the church ... I thought there could be a Christian family—Christian parents who decided to have children the old-fashioned way instead of engineering them like everyone else; a clone or two; genetically engineered people who were brought to the faith by the hand of God; artificial intelligence??? (I don't know what to do with that one.) People from other planets? Just a diverse mix of odd people thrown together who have nothing in common except for Jesus. A lot like the church today! smile

4. The future

Here comes my problem. I don't know how to envision the future for this story.

In a way, it's easy because human nature is basically the same. In an article called “The Good Drover or the Good Shepherd?: The question of context for preaching the gospel”, Philip Jensen writes,

[T]he university campus is supposed to be infested by atheists. However , Romans 1:18 assures us that what can be known about God is plain to all people. They turn to other religions and to various forms of idolatry as a way of escaping the knowledge that they already have about God. Psalms 14 and 53 tell us that atheism is not an intellectual position, but a moral one. People reject God because of their immorality. Ecclesiastes teaches that people cannot know God by human wisdom, because God in his wisdom has chosen not to be known that way.

Humans in the future (clones, genetically engineered or whatever) will continue to reject the God they can see exists (from creation—but what if there was no creation anymore? [in the sense of nature]) and follow their own selfish ways. Christians in the future will continue to live as aliens and strangers in the world, looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth. Their lives will stand out in stark contrast to the world around them because they are not part of the world and they live in obedience to their heavenly Father. They will continue to be persecuted because humans have rejected God and therefore rejected his people. They might even die on account of their faith.

(NB: Interesting to note that most sci-fi writers do not see Christianity as still being around in the future. [Though Orson Scott Card, a Mormon, wrote a book called The Folk of the Fringe which I still haven't read which is about a future in which only the Mormons survive.])

Fair enough, non-Christians and Christians will remain essentially the same. What about the peripherals? Will all the trees have been cut down for paper and all the wild animals eaten up or killed? Will there have been a nuclear holocaust as so many writers of the previous decade predicted? Will we branch out into space travel and “boldly go where no man has gone before” as the Star Trekkers claim? And what happens to the other world religions of our time—the Buddhists, the Muslims and the Jews?

Maybe the future depicted in the stories can do what the Harry Potter series does—make strange our own reality. Gattaca, I think, does it too. So, although the future looks different, it really isn't that different to now. All packaging.

5. Short story

Like I said before, I've been thinking about the theme of Identity and how to use it. I thought I could write a short story about a girl who has been genetically engineered who somehow comes into contact with the daughter of the Christian family or something like that. She'd be in mid to late adolescence because that is the time, I think, when you start to think about questions of identity the most. I guess she wants to know where she comes from and what is the purpose of her life and whether God created her or man—out of the test tube or the petri dish. I have this vague notion that the conclusion she has come to is something like what Joseph says in Genesis—"You meant it for evil but God meant it for good"—or something like that.

Anyway, I think I've got to stop thinking about it and just WRITE!

Please let me know if you have any feedback.

Strange how some things didn't change and some things did. I decided to make it a graphic novel collection of five stories—one for each member of a missionary family called the Jacobsons (David, Ruth, Daniel, Zeke and Sarah). And identity is not the theme; it's relationships. The first story is about the eldest boy—David—and it will be called “Eternal life”. It's about space travel, and I am getting closer and closer to actually producing a first draft script. The second story is about Zeke (short for “Ezekiel” of course; these Christian parents gave their kids Bible names) and it's about cloning. (That one started from a writing exercise we did in Word by Word a year or two ago: I wrote “They make human across the street” and my narrator was thinking that every time he stepped into his church.) The third one is about Sarah and it's about reproductive technology (Kirsten Birkett has a fascinating chapter on the subject in The Essence of the Family). The fourth is about the dad—David—and it's about terrorism. And fifth one which is about Ruth ... I'm not sure yet. Though Bec gave me an idea for it recently that I've now forgotten (oh dear, what was it? I think it was about aliens and strangers. She was thinking about the Ruth and Naomi story from the Book of Ruth).

Anyway, that's my thinking now. It may change ...

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It’s a pretty good sign on the quality of an idea when you can write 10 pars, and it fires somebody else’s imagination - all the possibilites that spring to mind—!

I love the idea that ‘nature’ may have disappeared, but when the human survivalists discover a new planet covered in earth-like vegetation, they’re scared for their lives - the civilisation that could engineer such an intricate and perfectly balanced ecosystem would surely be advanced beyond human understanding.

I was also thinking about the mechanics of hyperspace / suspended animation travel - it would spread out from earth in kind of ripples or waves. The earliest journeys would have been shorter and slower, but each subsequent wave would be faster and further - so you’d end up with a kind of leapfrogging effect in the eyes of people who wake up again who meet people from their ‘future’...

The theme that popped into my mind is the desperate urge we have as humans to run away from our problems. Hyperspace / suspended animation travel is the ultimate extension of this… running away from place and time.
(I’m sure this idea isn’t new to you, Karen. I write it to encourage you that it’s an exciting idea to see somebody explore this story)

blah blah blah.

I could keep firing off ideas, but i gotta gets me some work done.

two thumbs up for taking on such a massive set of ideas

Posted by fish on 21 November, 2007 5:12 PM

Thanks, Fish!

Could the Church in the future work like Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom http://craphound.com/down/download.php

Posted by adam lang on 21 November, 2007 9:56 PM

I don’t know if I told you in Sydney, but I really like your ideas & plans for this.

Yah, what Kathleen said.

I’m really excited to see your script when it’s done.

Did you ever get someone to write you a science-fiction love song?

I got as far as thinking of several song titles… the only one I can remember is:
Your Love Sends Me Into Outer Space.


In the end, I wrote the lyrics myself. I’m worried it sounds too cheesy though. I really need to get my act together and do that first draft so I can bring it for workshopping (and send it to Kathleen for her opinion!)

I think its scary you’ve kept so many emails. What about all those silly trivial ones people email you (such as yours truly)? You don’t want to keep those raspberry

Oh, yes I do, Elsie! raspberry


Kinds of Blue: Cover art



A way of funding writing in the future: pitch and idea and get people to support it.

Place where you can hire play equipment for parties, etc.

How to recalibrate the home button on your iPhone.

Unsolicited manuscripts accepted by Pan Macmillan with certain conditions.

Thought Balloon is a group blog in which the writers tackle a new theme every week? month? with one-page scripts. This URL is for their Phonogram ones.


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