Writing Superversive Romance

Can we have an honest talk about romance in novels?

Now, I’ve done romance before in my books, but mostly as a subplot. As most of us have figured out long ago, most men would rather go see John Wick on Valentine’s Day than the latest Twilight movie. So this isn’t rocket science.

With my novel Codename: Winterborn, for example, there were two romance subplots going on — though not at the same time.  One was between main character Kevin Anderson and his wife. Yes, I know, a romance story between a MARRIED COUPLE– gasp! Shock! Horror! SURELY, THIS IS THE END OF ALL THINGS!!!!!!

… Sorry. Can you tell I’ve been reading Daddy Warpig articles lately?

The second romantic subplot in Winteborn was between with hunter and prey, and even then, it was odd. It was very, … Laura, really.**  Though the main plot is heavy on the action.

[**Laura, a murder mystery in which a detective falls in love with the victim through her portrait. In the case of Codename: Winterborn, it was via files and seeing him in action]

With Codename: Winterborn, however, this took place over the course of months.

But the average romance novel takes, what, days? A week or two? Then the male and female leads jump into bed like sex-starved hyenas during mating season?  I think the longest courting period that I recall in romance fiction was a Sherrilyn Kenyon novel called Fantasy Lover where holding off on sex was a massive plot point, and involved breaking a curse from Geek deities. No, I’m not kidding.

Let’s just say that when I did something similar, it was with my novel A Pius Man. And you have no idea how much effort I put into trying to make that believable.

Then I worked on a Catholic Vampire Romance novel called Honor At Stake …

And that takes place over the course of 9 months. There’s a reason for that. Why?

Because I want a flipping love story. Something that looks real.  Something that feels real. Something that takes time to develop. Because no one — and by “no one” I mean any rational relationship — jumps into bed on the first date and expect the relationship to go anywhere. If you do, please stop kidding yourself.

The next challenge you should be considering is: I’m still a guy. How does a guy write romance? (While not being John C Wright, he can pen whatever novel he wants.)

Anyone who doesn’t know me is probably considering the easy answer: “Well, Declan, you’ve been in love before, right? Use your actual love life.”

To which I must sadly inform them: “Have you read my blogs about my love life? It looks like a train wreck.”

Yeah.  Fun fact: any relationship of mine that survived in real life for any length of time was unreal in so many ways, I can’t even describe it without people calling me a liar. I don’t even believe my own love life. I think if I wrote it up, it would look like fiction.

Besides, I suspect that a love story that is a blow by blow of a real relationship would probably bore the crap out of most people. Granted, I have an unfair advantage in my novels: I have vampires, Vatican Ninjas, and grenade launchers.

However, I was a follower of one of the better romances on television: Castle.

Yes, Castle.  It has character development, a relationship that grows out from mutual attraction, to partnership, to friendship, and then to love. They even get to love long before leaping into bed, and only 1 YEAR of that before engagement.

Which is sadly, an improvement over what we usually see on screen. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen: First Date, Sex, Friendship, love, and Marriage, in that order. Just once, I would like to see the order be: friendship, courtship, love, marriage, sex.

To give Castle it’s due, where else do you see friendship actually develop in the romance genre? The phrase “Let’s just be friends” is usually much the end of any romantic relationship — in romance novels, and in my own experience — but shouldn’t a man and a woman at least shoot for being friends before they leap into bed together? Radical notion, I know, but consider it for a moment.

Another technical that pops up in the occasional romance novel, and in in Castle, almost everyone around the main couple sees this relationship coming. This is traditional in the standard Nora Roberts novel, this is usually represented by the “plucky best friend” of the heroine, trying to push her out of her comfort zone to risk enough to actually end up with her heart’s desire.

Yes, risk and romance. If you think that the concept is merely for conflict within fiction, I suggest you reflect on a simple concept: at the end of the day, marriage is all about investing yourself totally and completely in another person. Each spouse belongs to the other, bound by a full commitment– spiritually bound, biologically bound, connected on all levels. Seriously, read Ephesians 5, and I mean all of it, not just the “approved” readings.

If this concept doesn’t even remotely scare you, please reflect on it some more. It should come to you shortly.

There is also another problem that comes in occasionally in fiction, that is, surprisingly enough, a factor in some actual relationship considerations. This is a belief by some people have that they are unloveable — “Seriously, what sane person could possibly love a creature like me? Only some broken psycho would express any interest — only the psychos have expressed an interest. And why would any “normal” person give me the time of day?”  If you think this is only reserved for fictional characters on angsty CW shows, then I applaud your confidence in how perfect you are.

In my execution of it, with my Love at First Bite series, my leads are Marco Catalano and Amanda Colt. And oy, these two have got relationships baggage that look like Samsonite, or maybe a Haliburton. One is a blood thirsty killer, the other’s a vampire. So you have two creatures of the night — would would rather be feared rather than loved, and one who eats people.

Now, I’m not going to say that this is the most unlikely duo I’ve ever created. The main couple in my Pius novels were pretty much the most opposite I could design two people while still making them human.

But when it comes to writing romance, I like little things. Little details. Little innocent things that can be taken the right way if characters looked at them really hard, but don’t because neither one thinks the other wants to go there. Little looks and touches, and smells and “if she hugs me any closer she’s going to realize I’m having a not-so-innocent reaction,” and “stay calm, or the increased heartbeat will give the game away.”

You know, things like that.  I’m told I do that well.

The short version is that in all things, there is a proper order. For a romance to be truly romance, sex should come last, and commitment should be more important than the sex. Because if two people aren’t joined in a blessed union, it just becomes one more carnal relationship, and what romance comes from that?

If you want to see a guy write not-bad romance, try the  Love At First Bite Series
.

Sins of Omission, guest post by A.A. Leil

Please enjoy this guest post by A.A. Leil, he contacted me about L. Jagi Lamplighters story in Forbidden Thoughts and wanted to offer a response. Please enjoy.

Sins of Omission

A Critical Response to Lamplighter’s ‘Test of the Prophet’

Note: This essay contains spoilers for two stories: Test of the Prophet from Forbidden Thoughts and Platinum Blonde.

 In the Forbidden Thoughts anthology we find a collection of stories meant to provoke thought and discussion about a number of modern issues. As a Muslim-American I found Test of the Prophet ripe for discussion, especially when juxtaposed with my recent publication in Sci Phi Journal, Platinum Blonde. Both deal with the source of violence in the Muslim world, but Test of the Prophet comes up with stereotyped answers that not only deride Islam but also depicts Jesus as a bully.

Jagi Lamplighter’s short story, Test of the Prophet (TotP), recounts a young Muslim woman’s journey to Pakistan to save her beloved cousin Kabir. Shazia learns from Kabir’s distraught sister that he has joined the Taliban. The idea that Kabir would join the Taliban clashes with Shazia’s memories of him as a kind and noble boy who wanted to make the world a better place. She resolves to save Kabir and finds him near the entrance to the Khyber Pass among a cadre of Daesh extremists, his sword raised and ready to behead a Pakistani soldier.

It is here that we arrive at the heart of the story, a vital and complex question: what is the source of violent extremism in the Muslim world? Shazia, who is gifted with the ability to see djinn, demons and angels, discovers a group of evil spirits surrounding the extremists to exert their influence on them. She calls for help, and the Angel Gabriel appears.

What follows is TotP’s exposition on the perceived ills of Islam as voiced by the demons and the Angel Gabriel, the ultimate gist of which is to identify the Prophet Muhammad (and his failure to pass Gabriel’s fictional test) as the root of violence in the Muslim world. The reason? Muhammad wrote falsehoods into the Quran in order to gain power for himself.

To prove this theory, TotP gives a very shallow recount of the migration of Muhammad and the early Muslims to the city of Medina. Speaking to Shazia, a ram-horned demon in TotP states that “the very first thing your Dog-rutting Prophet did—after receiving instructions from Oh-So-High-and-Mighty-Gabriel, here, telling him to be kind to the followers of the Slaughtered Lamb and the People of the Book—was to move to Medina and to put those very People of the Book to the sword.”

The historical record says otherwise. Lamplighter’s demon refers to Muhammad’s invitation to Medina to arbitrate between two battling clans that had drawn their Jewish clients into a bloody civil war. To bring peace to the region, Muhammad arranged for Medina’s Jewish, Muslim, and pagan clans to sign a mutual protection pact. The pact held for several years despite multiple attempts on Muhammad’s life. Eventually the pact would be tested when the Meccan army (the Meccans had long sought to extinguish the nascent Muslim community) laid siege to Medina.

None of these facts are mentioned in TotP.

The largest omission, however, revolves around the actions of the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe during this siege. Upon learning that the Banu Qurayza intended to betray the pact and join the Meccan army, Muhammad tried keep them on his side. Despite this, the Banu Qurayza signaled the Meccan army that they were ready to act against Muhammad, but an exhausted and defeated Meccan army lifted siege and marched home, abandoning the Banu Qurayza.

The Muslim army then lay a 25-day siege upon the Banu Qurayza’s castle, which led to both sides agreeing to arbitrate. Rather than do so himself, Muhammed chose Sa’d ibn Muadh, a former ally of the Banu Qurayza, as judge. He ruled that the Banu Qurayza had committed treason by not honoring their agreement to protect Medina and ordered 700 men of the tribe to be executed. This is harsh, but it comes directly from Deuteronomy 20:12-14:

“If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies.”

 Given that Islam views itself as an extension of Judaism and Christianity, it should not come as a surprise that the Muslims in 622 A.D. acted by the example laid out by previous Abrahamic religions. But instead of crediting the executions to Deuteronomy, Lamplighter places the blame with Muhammad – who wasn’t even the judge.

 TotP further attempts to justify its view of Islam with a revisionist characterization of the Crusades where Crusaders were shining lights of liberty and freedom and Muslims were just blood-thirsty expansionists who forced the conquered to convert or die. However, in Islam: The Straight Path, author John L. Esposito recounts a different picture. He states that “some Jewish and Christian communities (particularly those persecuted by the Orthodox Church) aided the invading armies, regarding them as less oppressive than their imperial masters.”

Entire chapters could be written on the further sins of omission riddled within TotP, from its selective descriptions jihad and polygamy to its cartoonish use of the word ‘infidel’, all of which serve to further stereotypes about Muslims. However, further exploration of those topics are beyond the scope of this piece and would distract from the greatest irony of TotP.

Once Shazia discovers that Kabir is about to murder the Pakistani soldier, her existence as a Muslim woman with her own ideas ends and she becomes an empty vessel. From the point of view of ToTP, she must be first cleansed of her Muslim beliefs so that she may become a prophet for a ‘new’ religion. A few of her cliche ‘say-it-aint-so’ moments notwithstanding, she weakly accepts the narrative that the Angel Gabriel and the demons feed her despite her life-long existence as a Muslim. It doesn’t occur to her that demons, as agents of Satan, may be lying to her in exactly the way both the Quran and Bible suggest. Or that Gabriel might not be an angel but a demon disguised as one.

As her desperation increases, she once again calls for help and now Jesus himself appears in the form of a lion, declaring that “last time, I came as a lamb and thus went meekly to the slaughter. That time has past. Soon, I shall come again. This time, I come as a Lion.” Shazia’s reaction is a stammering recognition that the lion is indeed Isa Ibn Maryam (“Jesus son of Mary” the Arabic name for Jesus as it is written in the Quran).

The Lion is not willing to act immediately on Shazia’s behalf, suggesting that though Isa Ibn Maryam is one name for him, invoking this version will not aid her now. She asks if she must convert, turn her back on her people, and drink (presumably) the blood of Christ. The Lion initially ignores her, choosing to neither confirm nor deny the requirement. After she presses the question further, the Lion roars, “Do you think me so small as that?”

Apparently the reader is supposed to think Jesus is exactly that small, because it is only when Shazia calls out “I banish thee in the name of Jesus Christ” does the Lion act to drive off the demon. Note that the Jesus of TotP refused to aid her when she invoked the Quranic version of his name.

To a Muslim, this is more than a simple invocation of Jesus’s name. The use of “Christ” is a forced acceptance of the idea that Jesus is the son of God, a notion that Islam rejects. As Mathew 26:63 explicitly connects the title of ‘Christ’ to the notion that Jesus is the son of God, Shazia’s invocation of the title is tantamount to a rejection of her Islamic beliefs and an acceptance of Jesus as God’s son and of God as his father.

In effect, TotP, which claims that Islam forces people to convert or die, concocts a scene in which Shazia is forced to convert or die.

And so, after thoroughly mischaracterizing the Prophet Muhammed and Islam, Test of the Prophet mischaracterizes Jesus as well. Neither the Jesus of the Bible nor the Jesus of the Quran would become Jesus the hostage-taker. Are we to believe that Jesus, who cured the sick and fed the poor, would not act to save someone whose life is at stake?

In John 8:1-11, Jesus saves the life of an adulterous woman despite the fact that she shows no explicit remorse for her actions and does not even ask for his help. He saves her first before telling her, “Go and sin no more.” In Luke 17:11-19, Jesus cleanses a group of lepers without asking them to repent for their sins, and in Luke 7:11-17, he resurrects a widow’s son not because the widow repented of anything, but out of compassion for her. The Gospels are replete with examples of Jesus saving individuals and only asking for their faith later (if at all). Why then would he treat Shazia so differently?

This is, in effect, “sinner’s prayer” Christianity: the idea that saying a few words in the right order will convey supernatural blessings even if the person doesn’t fully understand what she’s saying. And it bears noting that this form of salvation is coming under more and more criticism by Protestant theologians. Prayer doesn’t force God to act, nor is God’s ability to act restrained by a human’s failure to pray. Every Christian denomination agrees that God’s grace is given first, and humans may then choose how to respond to it.

By forcing Shazia to convert or lose everything, the story’s Jesus is overriding her free will. Meanwhile, salvation history shows that all along, God honors our free will, even when we make stupid or destructive decisions. Shazia’s conversion can’t be genuine if the alternative is death.

Put another way, “there is no compulsion in religion (Quran 2:256).”

As stated earlier, TotP poses a complex and important question as to the source of violence in the Islamic world. Through convenient sins of omission, it paints a negative view of Muhammad to arrive at a pat answer to this question. Yet when Lamplighter’s characters misrepresent not only Islam but Jesus, how can a reader view the story’s answers as in any way credible?

Last year, without knowing about Lamplighter’s story, I also wrote a response to violence in the Muslim world with the story Platinum Blonde, published in SciPhi Journal on February 6th. In Platinum Blonde, Adam, a young man who has been indoctrinated with an extremist interpretation of Islam by his father, decides to teach a Muslim family a violent lesson for singing and dancing in the streets and for not enforcing the hijab upon their daughter. Adam sticks to the plan despite his own misgivings and despite some outside pushback, but in the end he tries to go through with the homicide. And in the end, the character Najat pronounces this judgment on Adam: “He thought he knew God, but he really only knew his father.”

The essence of Najat’s lament is this: an individual’s religious belief system, when acquired through the intercession of fallible sources, is in of itself fallible. Despite Adam’s belief that killing the dancing girl was an act of faith in God, it was in fact an act of faith in his human, and extremist, father.

This is similar to Lampligher’s answer, but she puts the extremism and the hatred into the mouth of Muhammad rather than into the methods of transmission and teaching. She blames the source rather than the human interference.

Platinum Blonde therefore suggests that the source of violence in the Muslim world originates from interpretations of the Quran, not the Quran itself or any imagined additions that Muhammed may have made. The idea that some Muslims’ belief systems are derived from the faulty interpretations of parents, friends, and imams may not fully answer the question posed by TotP and Platinum Blonde, but it does open the door to discussing these questions in a more thoughtful fashion. Through an unbiased study of history from the birth of Islam, to the Crusades, to Islam’s Golden Age, the rise and influence of Wahhabism, all the way to how the partitioning of the Middle-East echoes in the modern world, we may step through this door. Bolstered by an understanding of the differences between culture and religion and the realization that the actions of individuals often do not align with the guidance of religious doctrine, we may begin to walk towards the answer. Christians and Muslims can walk there together.

One more provision, however, is required if we really wish to answer the question of violence in the Muslim world. We must understand the Quran, like the Bible, is not a book that can be read the way one would read an instructional guide, a history book, or a memoir. For in reality, it is in any particular section any of these things, and the discerning reader must understand that which ‘genre’ they are reading depends on which sura(chapter) and aya(verse) of the Quran they are reading.

None of the critique written about Test of the Prophet is to say that you shouldn’t read it. To the contrary, you should. Read it, and also read Platinum Blonde for the questions they raise and the discussions they initiate. If the answers these stories posit don’t ring true for you, seek your own answers, but do so with an open, sincere heart unfettered by the politics of the day, and do not do so in isolation of those who hold viewpoints different from your own. It is only through the earnest exchange of ideas that we may arrive at answers to complex questions.

You can find more from A.A. Leil at his website http://www.aaleil.com/

Attack of the Witch King

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John C Wright posted an article called The Last Crusade: In the Kingdom of Witches, part of his series on what’s wrong with Western Civilization. The usual crowd of nutcases, hysterical harpies, and idiots — usually known as simply “social media.” —  had only one takeaway from this: “WRIGHT BELIEVES IN WITCHES! HE THINKS THEY’RE TRYING TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD!!!!!”

At the very least, they’re consistent: they’ve once more missed the point.

In order to help social media grasp the obvious, I have taken it upon myself to translate this great essay into small words. After all, this must be understood by small people.

The following, strange as it might seem, contains spoilers for my own books series, Love at First Bite.

The far left of the twentieth century was always a religion. The far Left bases most of their beliefs boilerplate socialism. Since the Russian revolution took  a lot from the French revolution, there is a lot of blood as part of the Leftist faith, and a lot of anti-theist secularism.

Leftism has kept up this tradition, perhaps even better than the Soviet Union ever did. Communism killed a hundred million people in the last century, over the course of 70 years.

Just to highlight this one more time. That’s a hundred million. 100,000,000 dead.

In the United States, we’re up to, what, fifty million aborted children and counting?  Over the course of less than fifty years? We keep that up, abortion will have wiped out more people than Communism along the same amount of time. That’s not even counting the numbers in other countries around the world.

The funny thing about the Soviet Union is that they actually went out of their way to eliminate free love moments. Even the USSR, with all of their butchery and violence, knew that the traditional family structure, and having children, was vital to a nation.

Leftists today haven’t even learned that lesson. Isn’t that sad?

But the Leftists of today have decided that abortion is a “right” — one that supersedes the freedom of religion (such as Catholic hospitals being forced to perform them), freedom of speech (holding a placard advocating prayer or adoption is banned within X-feet of an abortionist), and basic standards of operating theater cleanliness.

What does one call a group who are hip deep in blood and want to go deep sea diving in even more blood? “Witches” is a good summary, don’t you think?

But Wright wants to go deeper.

the essential nature of a witch, as she was portrayed in fairy tales (which contain a good deal more sense than newspapers) was of a withered, childless spinster: a woman with nothing to offer the community, but whom age and curiosity had opened the secret properties of plants and stars and other things easily turned to venom.

Welcome to Leftism. The motto seems to be “let’s take anything good and pure” and turn it toxic.

After all, Maleficent cannot be an evil psychotic killer who will take deadly retribution over minor slights; she must be rewritten with a backstory to make her the heroine.

Gaston and his henchman cannot be Alpha and lackey in the latest Beauty and the Beast film — there must now be a homosexual component.

Don’t even get me started on those who framed Samwise and Frodo’s relationship as gay. Or Holmes and Watson. Or Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe. Or Bert and Ernie. Because good, pure, simple friendships can’t exist in their world, it must be sexual, because sex is everything, right? I haven’t seen Lord Peter Wimsey and Bunter yet, but give it time, I’m sure.

Should we even discuss the freaks on parade as of late? I refuse to call them Civil Rights protesters — sorry, that’s Martin Luther King leading a parade of people wearing their Sunday finest who just wanted to join the main stream. And be it the Occupy rioters living like animals and defecating in the streets and businesses of New York, or the “womyn” in gynecological garb wandering around in January 2017, these people very clearly don’t like “mainstream.” They want the mainstream to accept THEM, condone, bless, and accept whatever the BS du jour is. They don’t seem to want simple toleration, since “toleration” means to put up with something abhorrent to you. Apathy is not allowed — you will be made to care. You will be made to accept and bless it, and kneel before whatever bull is being force fed you, the culture, and there are lawyers for those who won’t bow down. Just try to be a Christian baker and tell me how that works for you.

And no, for those snickering twits on the internet, there isn’t a mystical, black-helicopter “they.” They’re in plain sight, after all. Marching in the circus garb they call “a statement,” when it’s really more like a thousand clowns.

Witches subvert. Witches turn things that are good and pure into poison. They turn children into child sacrifice. They turn the anti-abortion feminism of Susan B. Anthony into genitalia on parade. They turn Christian Charity into entitlement programs to buy votes. They promise a great society and deliver a broken culture and destroyed families.

Leftism has its own altars in the abortion clinic, and its own sacrifices called children. They have their own public displays of faith called riots, only disguised as “protests.”

Leftism. Witchcraft. Subversion. Alinsky. Same Stuff, Different Decade.

Evil Books

I have read few books in my life that I would categorize as evil.  But I’m sure there are some people out there that are. And no, I don’t mean a necronomicon. Those are easy — those books you burn, and don’t even ask questions. No, I mean the type of books you need to take a shower over.

However, there are plenty of books I don’t finish. Many I don’t even start. Why? Because of some topics of subject matter that I didn’t know about in the first place.

I will never read books about child rape. Never. Period. Done. We’re finished. If it’s mentioned, like a footnote in the crimes of the perp, that’s one thing, but I will not sit through reading that.

I will never read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — yes, I’m told that the CHAPTER LONG RAPE SCENE is “soooo well written,” and I don’t care. Period. If it’s so important to the story that the readers need that much detail, screw that. I don’t need that in my head, I’m screwed up enough. Thanks.

Rape, and particularly child rape, will earn you a spot on my personal capitol punishment list. Meaning that I had better not be aware of you within my general vicinity. There’s no reason for me to read it.

We won’t even get into 50 Shades of Stupid. After all, who needs porn? Also, why did it have to be so badly written? Yes, take your pick over what offends me more, the porn or the bad writing. Though I have heard enough excerpts being read in funny little voices that at least tell me that the writing is at least hilariously bad.

There is, of course, crap writing. George RR Martin seems to spend so much time on snow and ice and dead people that I can’t bring myself to care about his work. And I tried. And I failed. Far as I’m concerned, save the world from Martin and run from it.  I expect the series to end with everybody dead. In this case, that’s not evil, that’s just a one-trick pony. His plot only moves when it is lubricated by the bodies of his characters. There are friends who can predict when the next body falls to within five pages of the event. The only reason a lot of people seem to be reading the books is to see who the last one standing is.

And then there are books like Dan Brown. Message fiction. If you don’t believe me, (SPOILERS) the last Dan Brown, Inferno, ended with a third of the world being sterilized. And instead of our heroes doing something reasonable, like trying to stop it, our heroes shrug and go “Oh well, the bad guy was right, overpopulation is a threat to everybody. Screw these people.”

No, that’s not exactly how they put it, but that’s pretty much what I walked away with.

One book I finished in my youth was called MacTeague, something that film buffs would know of via the train wreck that was the 9-hour Eric von Strohiem film Greed. The premise was that a big dumb dentist fell in love with the girl his best friend has his eyes on. The best friend “magnanimously” allows the title doofus to marry the girl.  The girl then wins the lotto (yes, really) and clings to every penny like Scrooge. It ends with the title character killing his wife for the cash, riding of into the desert, pursued by his former best friend (who’s interested only in the money).

The finale is the two of them, in the desert, with no water and no way out, still arguing about the money. All the while I could hear Indiana Jones from Temple of Doom, screaming “You, are going, to DIE.”

I think that was the second time in my life I wanted to fling a book across the room. Because the characters were both evil and stupid, all of whom you’d rather see die. And you wonder “Why did I just burn brain cells on all of this?”

Answer: Because it was assigned reading in high school.

Sadly, most of the crap books I had to finish were due to “education.”

Lord of the Flies and Catcher in the Rye are two books that I’m relatively certain that have added nothing to my life. Honestly, the first one was just literary Thomas Hobbes, and I’ve come to hate it even more after I earned my degree in philosophy. The other was whining narration from a teenager who had a nervous breakdown because he couldn’t handle becoming a grownup, and yes, things change.

As CS Lewis once put into the mouth of a demon, Screwtape, “Of course you can’t tempt your primary soul today, that field that protects him comes from reading a good book. You must stop him from doing that. You want him to read “important” books. Books that he’ll hate.”

So, do yourself a favor everyone. Go out, and read fun books. Books you’re going to enjoy. Because life is too short to read just because someone tells you “this book is important.”

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.

Politics of the Damned

One of the reasons the Superversive movement needs to grow is the state of live and living in fiction. Yes, the lives of fictional characters matter, in part, because they are a reflection of what matters to the real world.

And now, if you read some “bestselling”  literature — not good, or even popular, just moves a lot of copies — you would get the impression that life is not worth living. In fact, you would think that life isn’t worth a damn one way or another.

I’m noticing this in fiction more and more as time goes on. The message of fiction where life is not worth living and people are not worth allowing to live.  I’m not talking about a John Ringo novel where the stupid are eaten / blown up / killed in various horrific ways. No, that’s a straight up Darwin Award.  I’m talking about a general contempt for life and living human beings.

Don’t believe me? In 1998, there was a book called Rainbow Six. I’m going to spoil the book and the video game based off of it because it’s almost 20 years old now. The bad guys in that novel were eco-terrorists who figured that the world would be just fine without human beings, and if the terrorists were the only human beings left alive to inherit the Earth, then the Earth would be just perfectly fine.

Our heroes couldn’t arrest these sickos, so they invaded the super high tech compound in the midst of the rainforest, took the terrorists outside, stripped them all naked, blew up the compound and said “Fine. You wanted nature. You got nature. The nearest town is a week that way. Good luck.”

The villains trying to destroy the world were vanquished, and doomed to live in concert with the nature they so loved.

Fast forward to 2013, and He That Shall Not Be Named wrote a book called Inferno that Dante would be offended by. The good ending for the novel — where the “good guys” actually won — was that 1/3 of the planet had been sterilized.

The conclusion? “Oh well, the bad guys have a point. There really are too many people on the planet.”

Uh huh. Yeah. You read that right. The bad guy was right. It would be too much trouble to fix it, and there are too many people anyway, so screw it.

Let us ignore for the moment that most of Europe has a birthrate that WILL NOT REPLACE the current generation. Let us ignore for the moment that the gender disparity in China will probably mean that they will not replace even HALF of their population over the coming century. Let us ignore for the fact that forcible sterilizations are the sort of thing that were only supported by Eugenicists the world over, like at Cold Spring Harbor in the 20s, Margaret Sanger, and Adolf Hitler.

Let us focus, for the moment, on the casual dismissal of life as a good. Honestly, “A third of the planet is sterilized, oh well, too many people.” Where does this come from, exactly? Where does this man, where does anybody, get off by dismissing people as problems? Because that’s what the root reasoning is: people are the problem, but only the right people are the problem.

Talk about the politics of the damned.

And we know where this comes from, don’t we?  The overpopulation myth.  PJ O’Rourke pointed out years ago that if we had the Population density of New Jersey, we could fit the entire population OF THE PLANET into Texas. If we did that with the entire population density of a major Indian city, we could fit everyone into, I don’t know, Utah (this was 20 years ago. cut me some slack for memory).  Granted, that was 20 years and two billion people ago, but congratulations, adding an extra two billion people probably just expanded that to, I don’t know, Alaska.

Short version: You want overpopulation? You’re going to need a consistent birth rate for, what, another century?  Another two centuries? Hell, take Malthus — please do, and throw him in a dungeon — who stated that population produces and grows faster than agriculture, so we’re eventually going to starve to death due to famine, and a cataclysm will correct the population to planet ratio.

Yeah, Malthus. What a guy, huh?

But here’s one of many problems Malthus has. Agriculture of 100 years ago is different from the agriculture of today.  The people starving across the planet today are starving because of economic or political reasons, be they warlords, despots, or just lousy economies. Depending on who’s crunching / spinning the numbers, we can probably feed ten times the word’s population right now. Even if that’s grossly exaggerated, and we can “only” feed twice the number of people on the planet, that’s still a bloody awful lot of people.

But no, Inferno states that Gaia is so precious, and human lives are so cheep, we can involuntarily sterilize over two billion people without any problem.  And that’s the good ending.

Welcome to the value of human life as dictated by nihilism is a poison.

Even my own personal vices usually has a specific focus. Like politicians or rush hour traffic. Not the planet.

But, no, people are the problem. But only the *wrong* people. The *right* people will treat the Earth right, and think the right way.  Everyone else can just die.

Now, contrast that with the Brad Thor novel Code of Conduct. The bad guys want to depopulate the planet to only 500 million people, but only the “right” people, the people who believe the right way, think the right things — the ones who don’t believe in nationalism, who will be in harmony with nature, the people who will breed just the right amount, the pliable, the lockstep.

To quote Brad Torgersen, 

….secular humanism is underpinned by a significant amount of nihilism: we are born for no reason, into a world that exists because of pure accident, and we die without any real purpose. Thus the human being is reduced (literally) to the role of spontaneous meat machine. Just another random animal, like all the others. No real individual dignity. We are a commodity and a resource. Currently, we’ve been deemed overabundant. This is why abortion is practically a sacrament with modern Leftists. Gotta reduce the number of meat machine mouths gobbling up all the resources. Doesn’t really matter how we do it. And if a major war, or some kind of biological or natural catastrophe were to wipe out millions or even billions . . . oh well. As long as progressives get to be in charge, when the carnage ends, it’s just less meat machine mouths! A net win!

 

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s conclusion was to agree with a phrase he’d heard in his youth: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

 

The various Marxist horrors around the globe (these past 100 years) are a testament to what occurs when the “meat machine” thinkers are able to run governments: unchecked, and unrestrained. Hundreds of millions of dead. More hundreds of millions enduring wrecked economies and wrecked lives.

 

…. the progressive notion of government, is that government exists to perfect the human condition. If we must live meaningless meat machine lives, we should at least do it free from toil, pain, privation, hardship, hard choices, suffering woe, etc. A cradle-to-grave Garden-of-Eden.

This type of political message fiction doesn’t value human life all that much or all that often. Don’t believe me, just look at Planned Parenthood’s horrors lately.

For Superversive fiction, life is sacred, and if you’re trying to be a mass murdering SOB, then you have to go, if only in self-defense. Innocent lives matter. Guilty lives? Not so much.
After a while, I guess even my fiction runs that way, if only because my heroes want to save as many people as possible.  I don’t ask what they believe. I don’t care what they believe. Unless they’re trying to kill my heroes, my heroes will save them. Because that’s what heroes do. They don’t pick and choose who they save.The authors of “literature” message fiction will stop and ask what you believe before they save you, if they can even save themselves.
Superversive characters will simply run towards the screaming, and will have the firepower to end the threat.
Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.

The Fear of Silence

How often do you enjoy silence? True silence, not only in the atmosphere around you, but in your mind as well. Do you appreciate silence, or do you find it a burden? Unless we seek it out, is there ever a time when we are not surrounded by distractions and noise?

The past century has brought many advances in technology and changes to the people’s daily lives. From radios, to television and Hollywood, and the internet, the world is far from where it once was. Even in my rather short lifetime, things have changed a lot. I remember before social media was so present in our daily lives, when cell phone were almost exclusively for making calls, back before people started documenting their lives on their devices. And yet now, practically everyone has their phone always with them. Hand held computers make distractions so very easy. So much entertainment and temptation at the touch of a button, anywhere, at any time. The perfect excuse to avoid real-life social interaction.

Why do people become so attached to the internet? To car radios? To social media? To the endless noise and things constantly going on around them? Because the noise is easy. If they are always moving from one thing to another, they don’t have the time to look closely at themselves. The noise keeps them distracted from the thoughts and questions deep inside them. Distracted from the feeling that something is not quite right, but you don’t know what the thing is or why it bugs you. Instead you pretend it’s not there, and use noise to drown it out.

It’s not only our entertainment and gadgets that keep us perpetually busy. Everyone has school and work and activities to go to. School, for example, seems to completely take over the lives of the youth. Certainly, it is important to be educated and able to read, write, calculate numbers, and other basic things to function in our society. But does it need to be at the point where they are at school all day, doing homework all night, stressing about assignments due, and left with no time to themselves? And even when they do have free time, they are so exhausted all they can do is rest and recharge. All their critical thinking is used up memorizing the material to repeat back on the test.

Couple that with the social pressures they are subject to in school and from peers, and the media in general, how do you expect the youth today to be able to think and really know who they are by the time they are an adult?

For me, especially in my younger years, it was rather easy. Mom never allowed us to sit in front of a screen or watch TV for very long. And being homeschooled, I didn’t have the hassle and stress from the school environment. So the majority of my childhood was spent playing games with my brothers and friends, or off exploring and doing my own thing.

Then we moved to a small farm when I was ten, and not long after I got my first laptop to write on. In the years following I certainly knew, and sometimes fell into, the temptation of wasting my time on the internet – of letting the “noise” go on and on. But what made the difference for me, was that I had animals to feed. Every day I would have to go outside and tend to my animals. This can take from twenty minutes to an hour or more, depending on the season. Occasionally I would listen to music while I worked, sometimes I’d sing to myself, but mostly it was just me and my animals.

I never really realized it until now, but that was my time for silence. It was my time just to be with myself, away from the noise. I believe it is what has kept me sane – as sane as a writer can be – and secure in myself and who I am and what I think.

Growing up in such a way allowed me to spend a lot of time with myself, and thus get to know myself very well. I am in no way perfect, but I understand my strengths and my weaknesses, I know what I am and what I am not. And when you understand that about yourself, it makes it much harder for people to tear you down.

Now let me compare that to the time that I call “my crash course in everything high school.” This happened two summers ago when one of my brothers, my good friend, and I attended a college workshop for high school kids. It was simple: two days of classes, one day was a fun field trip, and on the last day we all took a test. The students that did the best, got awarded a scholarships, and we all went home. This was the closest I’ve come to a public school environment, and it had all your typical high school stuff: the bus ride, the obnoxious kids, the ‘boy’, the girl drama, the sitting in classes, and the stress before taking a test. Like I said, crash course in high school. It about ran me into the ground.

The main thing I noticed, was how out of myself I became. There were so many people around, all the time. If you’ve ever meet me, you will know how much of a social butterfly I am and how much I enjoy being around and talking to people. However, usually the social butterfly side of me is balanced by my anti-social author side. But in this case, I didn’t have that balance. I didn’t have the time or space just to chill out and be completely by myself without distractions for a very long time. I was either in my dorm with my friend, or in class with a bunch of other people, or doing activities with other people. There never seemed to be a time that I wasn’t surrounded by other people.

But allow me to explain what this constant stimulation did to me.

I was overly-hyper, jittery, constantly talking, over stimulated, and as a whole, unbalanced. I had too much energy always focusing outward, and never enough time to bring the energy back inward. After that whole experience, it wasn’t until a couple days after I got home that I felt like myself again. I was just so wound up from all that social interaction – from all the noise – that I never had a chance to unwind. And so I became tighter and tighter wound and further and further away from myself.

See, I never understood that concept I had often heard preached at teens to “find yourself” or “be who you really are.” I just didn’t get why that was such a ‘thing’ that teens needed to do. But after that week, I finally understood. Because I had already known how to be myself, I had spent so much time by myself and out of the noise that I couldn’t be anything but myself. Yet now, seeing what that buzz and noise did to me after only a couple days, I can only imagine what it would do to me if I had spent my whole childhood in that. I’d be a totally different person. I wouldn’t have the space or freedom from the noise to be comfortable and grow in myself. It would be terrible.

 

In C. S. Lewis’ work the Screwtape Letters, there is an ongoing conversation between a demon named Screwtape and his nephew Wormwood. Uncle Screwtape is encouraging and reprimanding his nephews’ work on tricking a human into eternal damnation. Allow me to quote uncle Screwtape’s comment about silence, .

 

And now for your blunders. On your own showing you first of all allowed the patient to read a book he really enjoyed, because he enjoyed it and not in order to make clever remarks about it to his new friends. In the second place, you allowed him to walk down to the old mill and have tea there—a walk through country he really likes, and taken alone. In other words you allowed him two real positive Pleasures. Were you so ignorant as not to see the danger of this? The characteristic of Pains and Pleasures is that they are unmistakably real, and therefore, as far as they go, give the man who feels them a touchstone of reality. Thus if you had been trying to damn your man by the Romantic method—by making him a kind of Childe Harold or Werther submerged in self-pity for imaginary distresses—you would try to protect him at all costs from any real pain; because, of course, five minutes’ genuine toothache would reveal the romantic sorrows for the nonsense they were and unmask your whole strategem. But you were trying to damn your patient by the World that is by palming off vanity, bustle, irony, and expensive tedium as pleasures. How can you have failed to see that a real pleasure was the last thing you ought to have let him meet? Didn’t you foresee that it would just kill by contrast all the trumpery which you have been so laboriously teaching him to value? And that the sort of pleasure which the book and the walk gave him was the most dangerous of all? That it would peel off from his sensibility the kind of crust you have been forming on it, and make him feel that he was coming home, recovering himself? As a preliminary to detaching him from the Enemy, you wanted to detach him from himself, and had made some progress in doing so. Now, all that is undone.

C.S. Lewis The Screwtape Letters

 

Uncle Screwtape is criticizing his nephew because he allowed his patient to enjoy silence. Wormwood allowed his human to find the peace in the silence, to relax and see the world around him. He allowed his patient to enjoy something good for it’s own sake. This is very dangerous to them, because it dispels the noise and self-centeredness.

Think about going to the top of a mountain. Imagine standing on a wooden balcony overlooking an entire valley. The tops of the mountain lost in low clouds, the variety of shades of trees covering the mountain face like an impressionist’s painting, the startling drop below you as you lean over the edge, looking into the life and layout of an entire town. Are not you in awe of such a sight? Is not your heart stirred? Is not your mind caught up in the grandness and majesty? Does it not make you feel so much smaller in comparison? But not even in a insignificant way, for it does not diminish you, but lifts you. It brings you to see the wonder and majesty of God’s creation, it brings you out of yourself; so you can see that even though you are not any less valued or significant, you are only one small part of this universe. It makes our problems seem so much smaller in comparison, and you see and feel the almighty power of God.

Basically, it brings you into perspective.  But this perspective cannot be achieved when caved in on ourselves and surrounded by noise that encourages us to stay that way.

As it says in the letter, when you are opened up to real Pleasure and Pain, the illusions we build around ourselves disappear. Many people get caught up in small dramas; like what their favorite celebrity is doing, their status on social media, and other things of that nature. In small doses those things aren’t that dangerous. But it becomes a slippery slope when those little dramas totally take over our minds and, we become obsessed with it.

When that happens, it becomes such a big part of people’s thoughts that if something undesirable happens it is the worst ever! However, if something truly bad happens – like a death, illness, or misfortune – it brings things into perspective, shatters the illusion, and leaves you much more sober.

And same thing with real pleasure. You wouldn’t be talking about it just to fit in. You’d truly be filled with joy and constantly be sharing and talking about it for it’s own sake. Because it is good in itself.

The characteristic of sin and the noise is to cave you in on yourself. When you focus on the little drama that seems like such a big deal, your focus becomes self-centered. And when you only look at yourself you miss the bigger picture and the needs of others. Exactly what the enemy wants you to do.

In the little dramas you look in at yourself in a superficial way: What I want, how I look, how much popularity do I have, what pleases me. These kinds of questions happen when there’s an event or trend going on.

Yet when you look deeper the questions are: who am I? Where did I come from? Why do I exist? What is my purpose? Now those kinds of questions come when you have a near death experience, a life changing event, or when you are in silence. Because those questions or always there somewhere in the back of our minds, it is when we are out of the noise that we can hear them best.

When those questions arise, some think of it as an existential crisis. And when you don’t have the answers, which most don’t, it can be quite scary to have these nagging thoughts deep inside you, the ones that challenge and call you. But if instead of facing these questions you seek to drown them out, you are taking the easy way. It is less painful to slip into passiveness and mindless pleasure than to seek out the the answers and pursue truth. And so, to be in silence is to look at yourself, but also look past yourself, to the one who made you.

This is what comes in real silence. And this is what people fear.

But no, we can’t take a hard look at ourselves, we must stay caught up in our daily stress, we must be constantly making things easier and more instant, we must forever be talking about the drama of others, we must be outraged at every new story the media pushes at us. Because if not, we might stop to think and tune out the noise. We might realize that the world and its problems are much bigger than our petty dramas. After all, in the end all is vanity.

Coming back to my point about silence in nature, here is a passage from Brave New World, in which they are explaining how they get people to go into the country, without actually wanting to see the country.

One of the students held up his hand; and though he could see quite well why you couldn’t have lower-cast people wasting the Community’s time over books, and that there was always the risk of their reading something which might undesirably decondition one of their reflexes, yet … well, he couldn’t understand about the flowers. Why go to the trouble of making it psychologically impossible for Deltas to like flowers?

Patiently the D.H.C. explained. If the children were made to scream at the sight of a rose, that was on grounds of high economic policy. Not so very long ago (a century or thereabouts), Gammas, Deltas, even Epsilons, had been conditioned to like flowers-flowers in particular and wild nature in general. The idea was to make them want to be going out into the country at every available opportunity, and so compel them to consume transport.

“And didn’t they consume transport?” asked the student.

“Quite a lot,” the D.H.C. replied. “But nothing else.”

Primroses and landscapes, he pointed out, have one grave defect: they are gratuitous. A love of nature keeps no factories busy. It was decided to abolish the love of nature, at any rate among the lower classes; to abolish the love of nature, but not the tendency to consume transport. For of course it was essential that they should keep on going to the country, even though they hated it. The problem was to find an economically sounder reason for consuming transport than a mere affection for primroses and landscapes. It was duly found.

“We condition the masses to hate the country,” concluded the Director. “But simultaneously we condition them to love all country sports. At the same time, we see to it that all country sports shall entail the use of elaborate apparatus. So that they consume manufactured articles as well as transport. Hence those electric shocks.”

“I see,” said the student, and was silent, lost in admiration.

 

Aldous Huxley Brave New World

And again you see it is an “I”. I want to go play golf because it is a sport I enjoy. Nothing wrong with that. But as you seen in the conditioning, that is the only reason they go into nature. The people of Brave New World would never dream of going into a field of flowers and enjoying it simply because it’s beautiful. Admiring true beauty for the sake of beauty and wishing to be silent in it is a danger to a stable society.You might get people thinking!

In our world today, we are surrounded by beeping buttons and flashing light. Our attention is being pulled a hundred ways at once. There is almost no way to get away from all that noise. And because in the noise it is so hard to get to the deeper core, it is all just static. Because of that, it is easiest to just go with with is the loudest signal, and what is loudest is usually from the people with the most power. And there’s always an agenda behind that.

For people with a lot of power and something to push, the noise works very well for them. They can easily manufacture noise, they can stir up riots, they can control the media, and whatever else to get emotions of people running out of control. Because if they get people to stop checking their gut reactions and think through things, they can swings those reactions the way the want.Thus adding to the noise. Then while everyone is distracted, they can push their agenda.

Although there are plenty of corrupt people willing to take advantage of this and manipulate events, they can only really control what is in their lifetime, which is relatively short. No human can guide the events over generations. One could try but it would be imperfect, since this job would have to be passed from person to person. But if there were someone immortal being that had a grudge against all things good and holy…..

If you look back on the last century, there are some disturbing trends. There are things that have fallen in line in the past decades that would have had to be set in motion many generations ago. To think that the corruption in our society today was conducted only by human hands would be wishful thinking. For although there are human powers that have played a role, I have no doubt something more sinister is leading this march of distraction.

Now allow me to conclude with another excerpt from Brave New World. It is a scene with two characters going on a date. I believe it does an excellent job illustrating the person desiring something beyond himself, and the person who is far too complacent and happy in her conditioning, who fears the silence because it is something she can never understand.

 

Pretty harmless, perhaps; but also pretty disquieting. That mania, to start with, for doing things in private. Which meant, in practice, not doing anything at all. For what was there that one could do in private. (Apart, of course, from going to bed: but one couldn’t do that all the time.) Yes, what was there? Precious little. The first afternoon they went out together was particularly fine. Lenina had suggested a swim at Toquay Country Club followed by dinner at the Oxford Union. But Bernard thought there would be too much of a crowd. Then what about a round of Electro-magnetic Golf at St. Andrew’s? But again, no: Bernard considered that Electro-magnetic Golf was a waste of time.

“Then what’s time for?” asked Lenina in some astonishment.

Apparently, for going walks in the Lake District; for that was what he now proposed. Land on the top of Skiddaw and walk for a couple of hours in the heather. “Alone with you, Lenina.”

“But, Bernard, we shall be alone all night.”

Bernard blushed and looked away. “I meant, alone for talking,” he mumbled.

“Talking? But what about?” Walking and talking-that seemed a very odd way of spending an afternoon.

In the end she persuaded him, much against his will, to fly over to Amsterdam to see the Semi-Demi-Finals of the Women’s Heavyweight Wrestling Championship.

“In a crowd,” he grumbled. “As usual.” He remained obstinately gloomy the whole afternoon; wouldn’t talk to Lenina’s friends (of whom they met dozens in the ice-cream soma bar between the wrestling bouts); and in spite of his misery absolutely refused to take the half-gramme raspberry sundae which she pressed upon him. “I’d rather be myself,” he said. “Myself and nasty. Not somebody else, however jolly.”

“A gramme in time saves nine,” said Lenina, producing a bright treasure of sleep-taught wisdom. Bernard pushed away the proffered glass impatiently.

“Now don’t lose your temper,” she said. “Remember one cubic centimetre cures ten gloomy sentiments.”

“Oh, for Ford’s sake, be quiet!” he shouted.

Lenina shrugged her shoulders. “A gramme is always better than a damn,” she concluded with dignity, and drank the sundae herself.

On their way back across the Channel, Bernard insisted on stopping his propeller and hovering on his helicopter screws within a hundred feet of the waves. The weather had taken a change for the worse; a south- westerly wind had sprung up, the sky was cloudy.

“Look,” he commanded.

“But it’s horrible,” said Lenina, shrinking back from the window. She was appalled by the rushing emptiness of the night, by the black foam-flecked water heaving beneath them, by the pale face of the moon, so haggard and distracted among the hastening clouds. “Let’s turn on the radio. Quick!” She reached for the dialling knob on the dash-board and turned it at random.

“… skies are blue inside of you,” sang sixteen tremoloing falsettos,

“the weather’s always …”

Then a hiccough and silence. Bernard had switched off the current.

“I want to look at the sea in peace,” he said. “One can’t even look with that beastly noise going on.”

“But it’s lovely. And I don’t want to look.”

“But I do,” he insisted. “It makes me feel as though …” he hesitated, searching for words with which to express himself, “as though I were more me, if you see what I mean. More on my own, not so completely a part of something else. Not just a cell in the social body. Doesn’t it make you feel like that, Lenina?”

 

 

However, Lenina does not understand, and never will. She does not feel the pull of something beyond herself. Lenina is far too attached to her conditioning to understand the longing that Bernard feels.

Bernard wishes to do things in private, like to go on walks alone and just talk. He wants to sit in silence looking at the sea. He is looking for intimacy deeper than the constant activity and casual sex.

Lenina doesn’t understand this. And because she doesn’t understand the silence, it frightens her. It frightens her because the silence invites her to deeper thoughts and feelings, the kind she would rather take soma to forget about.

And so you see, there are many things to keep us from silence. There is always something fighting for our attentions – tempting us to take the easy way and go with the noise. And yet it is paramount that we seek out and acquaint ourselves with silence, not only for our mental health, but for our physical and emotional health as well. We need silence to properly think. That’s why people are so afraid of silence. Because it takes away the static. It takes away the convenience of following the loudest signal. It makes you question and have to listen for that whisper of truth.

People are afraid of silence because that is when the truth that is ingrained in all of us is the loudest. And truth is terrifying.

Is Galaxy Quest Superversive?

Galaxy Quest
The crew of the Protector, about to give the Enterprise crew a run for their money–and have more fun while they’re at it.

Yesterday I revisited the late 90s cult classic Galaxy Quest. Not only is it one of my favorite comedies, it easily stands among my favorite SF films and is just plain one of my all-time favorite movies.

OK, I’m laying my cards on the table. In addition to the accolades I already heaped on it, Galaxy Quest is the best Star Trek movie. Sure, it’s an homage that parodies Trek in much the same way that Spaceballs riffed on Star Wars (of which it is the fourth best film, but that’s another post), but Galaxy Quest succeeds where even Mel Brooks failed. It beat its source material at its own game.

Don’t take my word for it. Fans at a major Star Trek convention ranked Galaxy Quest the seventh best film in the series, and that was only because of backroom politicking that bumped Quest down from its starting position in second place. Key members of the creative team who’ve worked on Star Trek movies since The Voyage Home declared that it deserved to be #1.
A twist on a familiar story

For those who are unfamiliar with Galaxy Quest, shame on you! Go watch it right now.

NOW!

For those who are at work or school or prison or somewhere like North Korea that won’t let you stream videos, Galaxy Quest follows a simple yet ingenious premise.

NOTE: this movie is almost twenty years old, so my spoiler filter is off.

The washed-up stars of a 70s SF TV show, forced to subsist on convention signings and ribbon cuttings since the program’s cancellation, get much more than they bargained for when what they mistake for another promo gig turns out to be the real thing.

Facing genocide, an alien race has turned to “Historical Documents” from earth, i.e. television transmissions, for guidance–especially old episodes of Galaxy Quest. They lovingly reproduce the series’ iconic ship down to the last bolt and dab of paint; then enlist the original crew to lead them in battle.

Galaxy Quest NSEA Protector
The most accurate fan prop ever! Seriously, the visuals alone tell you how well the filmmakers understand the subject matter.

Unfortunately, the “crew” don’t have their act together–figuratively or literally.

Galaxy Quest Crew
The pictorial definition of “fish out of water”.

Besides the shock of finding themselves embroiled in a real interstellar war, the actors must confront the interpersonal grudges and rivalries that have alienated them from each other as they’re thrust back into their old roles. It’s the command performance of a lifetime, with stakes far higher than bad ratings.
A worthy homage

In design and execution, Galaxy Quest not only meets the standard set by Star Trek, but sometimes surpasses it. Quest is like the rare cover version of a song that draws out the original’s latent potential and takes it to the next level.

Now imagine that the cover song is by “Weird Al” Yankovic, and the metaphor is complete. Don’t let the comedy distract you from the fact that the artist is a bona fide genius.

Why does Galaxy Quest deserve such praise? The simplest reason is that it’s a sci-fi, parody, ensemble cast, character-driven, comedy/adventure film that works on each and every one of those levels.

First of all, comedy is widely and correctly understood as the hardest genre to pull off properly. Galaxy Quest is indeed a sterling comedy. Rare among contemporary films in this genre, it doesn’t stoop to lazy one-liners or crude slapstick for cheap laughs. Instead, it takes the high road of crafting situational humor based on solidly established characters and how they react to their strange circumstances.

NB: critics lament how modern comedies have largely replaced actual jokes with glib pop culture references. Ironically, Galaxy Quest is one of the few movies that could’ve gotten away with that gimmick. Yet its makers exercised admirable restraint in weaving SF tropes into the story subtly and organically through the actors’ performances.

Alexander Dane: Typecast Thespian archetype. Alan Rickman’s delivery says it all. 

The near-subliminal references even extend to the movie’s visual design.

Galaxy Quest Protector
Yes. The NSEA Protector is a comm badge from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

After soaring over the highest hurdle, Galaxy Quest goes for the gold in the sci-fi, space opera, and characterization categories. Though the science is extra squishy (just how I like it), the movie more than compensates by adding new speculative elements that are just as satisfying as their Trek analogs.

The digital conveyor, FTL flight via black holes (later explored seriously by Interstellar), and the Omega 13 device are just some of the masterful conceits that establish Quests’s own consistent mythos.

One added benefit of rewatching the film was realizing just how gorgeous it is. The conceptual and technical design; even the costumes, are on par with the finer Trek movies while having a pleasing aesthetic all their own.

I was also surprised by how the movie’s visuals influenced the descriptions in my own writing. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, the bridge of the Protector clearly inspired the wheelhouse of the Serapis from Nethereal.

Not the Lovecraftian ship in front; the one way off in the background.

The special effects only lose a few points because some of the CG looks a little outdated now, but it still beats any Syfy Channel original movie.

In the action department, Galaxy Quest largely departs from the submarine warfare style of most Trek installments and depicts pulpier, though honestly more exciting, space battles. The character-level gun play and fisticuffs retain comedic elements while portraying deadly consequences, sometimes in direct contrast to the TV show’s camp.

Alexander at the crux of his character arc. Same line; vastly different context and significance.

But is it superversive?

Galaxy Quest is a criminally underrated comedy and sci-fi masterpiece. But solid craftsmanship alone doesn’t qualify a work of art as superversive.

As I’ve noted before, superversive fiction entails a particular commitment to storytelling in the service of beauty, goodness, and truth. Tom Simon gives the definitive explanation.

“…[C]ourage is the essential quality of a superversive story: not the dumb, dull fortitude that passively endures in the face of suffering, but the courage that allows the character to take action – to risk becoming a hero.”

That right there is the standard of a superversive tale. Does Galaxy Quest rise to it?
Damn straight it does

At the movie’s low point, Jason Nesmith (aptly portrayed by Tim Allen) must confess to the alien leader Mathesar that he and his “crew” are not what the aliens believed. They are simple actors pretending to be space explorers on sets made of plywood, tinfoil, and Christmas lights.

Galaxy Quest Jason and Mathesar
Yes, Mathesar, there IS a Santa Claus.

Mathesar’s race–the Thermians–are perfect examples of the purely material beings described by master SF author John C. Wright. Mathesar states that his people lacked transcendent beliefs, and that they interpreted all earth television broadcasts as historical documentaries.

This is strong evidence that the Thermians are purely material–or at least materialistic–beings with no spiritual dimension to their existence, who as such have no longing for a reality above and beyond the mundane world.

Wright convincingly reasons that sapient beings who are fully “at home” in the material world would have no need for or concept of fiction. Their libraries would have only textbooks and newspapers; not pulp magazines and novels. The Thermians therefore see no difference between fiction and lies.

The interactions between guileless Thermians and duplicitous humans brings about one of the movie’s core moral themes: what value, if any, does fiction have? When asked why humans would go to the considerable effort and expense of creating such elaborate charades, Nesmith admits to Mathesar that he doesn’t know. He makes halfhearted mention of entertainment, but it’s clear that he’s never thought through the basis of his craft.

It is here, in the last act, that Galaxy Quest goes from being a workmanlike and thoroughly enjoyable parody to a work of\superversive genius.

The cast of the Galaxy Quest TV show start the movie as petty, frustrated characters, depressed by their inability to be who their talents and dispositions call them to be. They’re suddenly given a final, all-or-nothing chance to redeem themselves.

Galaxy Quest Jason Nesmith
Pictorial definition of “unlikely hero”

The crew of actors are given multiple chances throughout the film to escape the conflict and return home to their old lives. Each time, they decide to stay, even after learning that they’re in mortal danger. Jason and his crew don’t just suffer adversity with patience. They willingly accept terrible risks for the sake of practical strangers from a distant world.

Even more impressive, Galaxy Quest answers its thematic question about the value of art; not through dialog, but through the characters’ actions. Traditionally, protagonists in mistaken identity plots prevail by either tapping into hidden strengths, or by leveraging their native abilities.

The cast of Galaxy Quest do both–employing their acting chops to overcome challenges while growing into their fictional roles for real. By the end of the movie, Tony Shalhoub’s character really is the Protector’s chief engineer. Reluctant pilot Tommy flies her with confidence and skill. Jason is established as the ship’s master and a leader of men.

Yet it’s the final touch that cements this film as a superversive triumph. The human crew of the Protector have defeated their adversary and saved the Thermian race. At this point, a lesser story would have ended with the aliens gaining knowledge of fiction and losing some of their innocence, possibly with a trite speech about faking it until you make it or the inspirational value of noble lies.

Instead, the Thermians are convinced that Nesmith’s confession was itself a ruse, and their faith in the “Historical Documents” is fully restored.

Now, I anticipate criticism on the grounds that our heroes leave the Thermians in ignorance. Isn’t the bitterest truth preferable to the sweetest lie?

To which I reply that anyone making such an objection is equivocating. Equating fiction with deceit is the Thermians’ mistake, made because they’re fundamentally blind to the difference. Trying to distinguish between a lie told with malice and a story told in service of the truth is a Sisyphean task where Thermians are concerned, and no futile task is morally obligatory.

And because we, the audience, are not Thermians, we can see how Galaxy Quest upholds the wonder and beauty of space exploration, the good of heroic virtue, and the truth that the value of good fiction transcends the world of base matter.

Update: in a glorious instance of life imitating art imitating life, Amazon has had a new Galaxy Quest series in the works. Production has been put on hold following the incomparable Alan Rickman’s tragic death. Here’s hoping a satisfactory yet respectful way can be found to complete the project.