Eta Cancri review

Please welcome Xewleer to Superversive SF, he is a new reviewer and you can expect a lot more from him. His review is cross posted from his blog

Spoilers! It’s a great book, and worth reading.

I just finished Eta Cancri by Russell May. It was, surprisingly for an author who was not on my radar before, an excellent read chock full of delicious theology. It was a treat, to be sure. The characters are living and breathing with distinct personalities. The descriptions are on point. The science is a good medium-hard, with just the right amount of give for philosophical and theological conversations the teeth they need to grow. Ah… that more stories which pride themselves on science and philosophy would take this route!

The book switches through various characters’ POV. My personal favorites were Ed and June, along with the AI Archie. Each one has a solid voice and drive that breathes life into this book more than could be expected. Indeed, books that switch perspective live and die on this sword. I could tell that the POV shifted through the author’s choices in word play, character focus and other hints almost instantly.

The conceit of the story, which involves demonic possession, bacteria and genetic modification, was well done and quite unique to this author from my experiences. Though I have experimented and read up on demonic possession and stories about it, this is the first time I’ve seen it used in such a broad and interesting way. Nothing triggered any sort of violation of the suspension of disbelief. It holds up the story incredibly well. This is dreadfully important in this genre as Russell did it. If the suspension of Disbelief is violated, then the entire book will fall over itself and the threads that he depends on to carry the story forward logically will be lost, unable to be gained back.

Though there is no part of the story I groaned at the reading of, I did feel fatigue about halfway through on chapter 3 or 4 (?). The story before and after focuses on multiple characters, the evil of the Demon Legion, the science, philosophy and theology mix and POV shifts. This middle bit has nothing that really sticks out too hard. The story sticks to Pierce the techno-everyman and doesn’t shift too much. There’s just too much dialogue and not enough cool stuff to give us a rest between theological questions. Not that I was exhausted by the questions, I just wish the heady brew was cut a little with soda. Even a bit where Ed deals with his crazy and preps for the ship coming in, or June sees something which heightens our horror at the actions of Legion would do much for the pacing and general interest. I’ll point out that Ed has no reason to not succumb or struggle with Legion’s influence and a decent POV could have been written comparing and contrasting his belief in Dame Fortune and the belief in God, which is touched upon later but not to my satisfaction.

I’ll point out that, theologically, what we call Dame Fortune is the Will of God. That the saved man has free will is not something I debate or question. I question how much Dame Fortune impugns it. (I use Dame Fortune as a conceit from the story. Mentally, I use the term ‘Fate’) Does a belief in Fortune change how free will operates as we continue in Christian Free Will or Willfulness Against God? I think that there might have been an excellent few points to be made there between Ed and Father Justinian, more than was done in story. Though, there is a sequel in the cliff hanger, and I will be purchasing it as soon as it comes out.

I also wanted a little more debate on the nature on Transhumanism. I am not fond of it, as I believe that the body has the critical mass to keep the soul ‘Human’ and that, at a certain point, the ‘I as I’ that is ‘You as you are’ becomes warped into something that could be described as ‘ME’ 2.0. Also, what is morality to someone who is neither permanent or baseline human? (Though those points are touched on) June seemingly has no contrast in character, but rather is June personality as June soul is June without much debate despite much lycanthropy. Various ideas are presented with authority, but I don’t feel it is earned. The matrons producing ubermenschen in the asteroid belts are not properly repudiated in a manner that I call an argument. Rather, it is just presented as wrong. I dig, but I’m really hoping for a similar thing to Ed in the sequel.

I’ve not gone into the plot because it’s quite simple. A colony goes dark and a ragtag group of cyborgs, everymen and mercenaries go to figure it out and cleanse with fire whatever’s in there. Just about right, really. You don’t need fancy pants intrigue for stuff like this. Most of the characters are moral, upright and probably one of the best portrayals of Christians I’ve seen in Science Fiction. I’m sorry John C. Wright, but sort of randomly turning Mickey the Witch into the Space Pope of the Seventh Humans because of his wife without a redemption scene just doesn’t compare to baptism after flamebroiling demonic abominations with improvised explosives created by a literal Biblical evil. But it’s different scopes. That scene doesn’t compare to the Cathedral of Luna in the 4th book of Count to Eschaton. Ahhhh it’s perhaps differences in scale. But I’d be very interested in talking with Russel May some time to break down what he believes and what his reasoning is.

I wanted MORE, if you could believe it. I find that I have a hard time reading philosophy directly, so I have a better time consuming it if its regurgitated through literature, especially when the author provides examples within the story to provide a more definite framework for the reader to investigate. It really does wonders for the most artistically inclined philosophers, who may not be able to as readily read the great works directly. Of course, this assumes the reader is able to properly manage things that are presented vs. their origin points. Counter and counter-counter is appreciated through the characters of Archie, Father Justinian and even Legion. Legion’s absolute Nihilism is well presented without the usual tropes in plain evidence. There’s always a fresh horror from him. His unfetteredness and nihilism make an excellent baseline for the ‘evil’ of the universe. Nihilism is a hell of a drug, kids, and leads to madness.

I also think the book is missing a carnival scene. But then again, I’m a sucker for them. I also wanted more crazy bomb stuff fight scene flip outs from Michaud and Lars, but ah.

The combat scenes are fresh, well done. The weapons properly treated with excellent extensions of characterization through them. The creativity that Russell displays drives the story forward with brazen steps. Lar’s and the rest of the characters’ spirituality treated so delicately as to be art. Ah! There are few flaws and many boons to reading this book!

Overall this book is mos defs a purchase soft-cover, maybe hard-cover kinda book. Sadly, there are only kindle copies available at this time. It is worth a read! It is SUPERVERSIVE. I hope with fervent prayer that we are coming to an era where the dominant voice in Sci-Fi is Christianity! If Russell May joins the luminaries of the Superversives, Castalia House and others, shall not the glory of God be expanded in this genre of atheists, science worshippers and deviants?  DEUS VULT!


I, even I, drink ink like wine.

Interesting Article on Christians and Fantasy

An interesting article about the current difficulties of the efforts to write Christian Fantasy:

The real reason that Christians don’t read fantasy

There’s been an ongoing discussion in the Christian speculative-fiction community about why nobody can sell books. This discussion has gone on for years. “Look at our awesome fantasy!” authors cry. “Look at our amazing science fiction! Why doesn’t anybody want to read it?”

The Christians don’t want to read it, and the non-Christians don’t want to read it. So a lot of head-scratching goes on in the community. “What are we doing wrong?”

Read more…

The Golden Key by George MacDonald

(This was originally posted over at the Castalia house blog)

George MacDonald (1824-1905) was a Scottish poet, author and Christian minister. His fantasy novels made him a household name in his day, but he is now far less well known than the writers he inspired and influenced, despite their numerous and enthusiastic praise of his pioneering work. Those writers include Ursula K Leguin, Lewis Carrol, G.K. Chesterton, W.H. Auden, Mark Twain, Madeleine L’Engle and he was a childhood favourite of Tolkien, though as an adult Tolkien did not view MacDonald’s work so favourably. Perhaps his most enthusiastic and vocal fan, and the author through which I and many others have rediscovered MacDonald is C.S. Lewis, who not only publically declared MacDonald to be his master, and made him his guide through heaven in The Great Divorce, but also put together a collection of his sayings, entitled George MacDonald: An Anthology. So what is it about MacDonald and his work that made him so influential, and yet so forgotten now (apart from the usual generation gap)? I won’t be providing any detailed analysis, merely giving my own impressions as a fan of Lewis and Chesterton trying to slowly catch up with the classical education he missed out on as a boy.

I will start with his one of his most famous short fairy tales, “The Golden Key” first published in 1867, then next time I’ll look at the novel that is widely credited with launching the fantasy genre, Phantastes (1858) then return one more time for one of his later works, The Princess and The Goblin (1872) and its sequel The Princess and Curdie (1875). Don’t expect me to compare these works with other stories of his, these will be all I have sampled so far. Feel free to suggest other works to look at later when I have some more reading time available (an increasingly valuable resource nowadays), but this series will be limited to these three instalments.

“The Golden Key” is quite unlike modern books (at least the ones I have read), one small quotation may help to sum up the kind of adventure it takes you on:

“But in Fairyland it is quite different. Things that look real in this country look very thin indeed in Fairyland, while some of the things that here cannot stand still for a moment, will not move there.”

This is what reading “The Golden Key” was like for me, and I expect many others; there is little in the way of narrative tension or character depth and it has a rambling, dreamlike plot (which is most likely why Tolkien grew to dislike his work as an adult). It is more a series of moments of wonder and purity that stay with you long after having put the book down, images and concepts that spark your imagination and gently transform you, such as fish that gracefully swim through the air and happily sacrifice themselves to grant their eaters the power to understand the creatures of the forest. After doing so the fish is rewarded by being transformed into an aeranth, a small angelic creature. Then there is wading knee-deep through layers of magnificent shadows that fall from somewhere high up in the sky; meeting ancient figures – the more ancient, the more youthful their appearance and behaviour seem to us; time flowing at very different rates; magnificent glimpses of a much wider world whose beauties cannot be fully put into words.

The story follows two children, who are given the nicknames Mossy and Tangle (we never discover their real names), who find their way into the forest of Fairyland for different reasons, Mossy chases the end of a rainbow in search of the titular golden key that his great-aunt told him about, eventually finding it, while Tangle runs from a home in which she is neglected, to escape the tricks of some mischievous fairies.

They are guided individually by the air fish to the house of a beautiful woman that calls herself Grandmother, who has lived for thousands of years, but doesn’t have time to grow old. Mossy asks her where the lock is that the golden key opens, she doesn’t know and so sends them to the Old Man of the Sea to find the answer. On the way they pass through the layers of shadows and become determined to find the land from where the shadows fall.

To describe the rest of the plot would be to spoil it, it is a relatively short work and available online for free in various places via project Gutenberg, among others. Though this story is definitely aimed at children, it has many beautiful concepts for adults to mull over and enjoy and a wonderfully uplifting ending – I am glad to have read it and expanded my horizons a little, and in my opinion it makes for a very good introduction to MacDonald’s work (at least the amount I have read, if you like this, you’ll most likely like his other work). Give it a read and refresh your mind.

Next week I’ll be looking at Phantastes, discussing the influences I could see on the authors I know and giving some of my own thoughts as to why he fell out of favour.

Superversive Blog: Interview with Frank Luke

An interview with author Frank Luke, who gives one of the best arguments for why it is not immoral for Christians to read and write fantasy I’ve ever seen.


How did you come to write your book?

Rebirths started as a short story called “New Life.” I’d written several of those, and had an idea while feeding my youngest about a new character. I’d been wondering about a necromancer who appeared in my-unreleased-starter novel. How did she come to be? “New Life” explored that. She’s the antagonist even though she’s working with the main character. I sent the story to an editor. He wrote back that it needed a sequel. That sequel novella, “This Body of Death,” came back from him that with another piece that length, the three together could go in a single-author collection. “New Life,” “This Body of Death,” and “Once Called” were that collection. That publishing house folded, and I’ve taken the book indie since.

Have you always wanted to write? Or did it suddenly come upon you?

I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember. I first started writing Star Trek: The Next Generation fanfics in junior high and high school. I stopped writing any fiction of length during college and seminary, but that creative itch just was not satisfied. The last year of seminary, an idea started forming, and I went with it. I’ve been writing ever since. Someday I may pull that novel out and give it some attention.

Some people feel Christians should not write fantasy. What is your take on this issue?

I’ve read some of those arguments. They never held water for me. I can’t see anything inherently sinful about writing fantasy. If it was, then Christians shouldn’t even read fantasy, but there is no argument you can make against reading fantasy that doesn’t cut out all fiction (read those, too). Granted, there are types of fiction that Christians should stay away from. I’ll just name two obvious ones: torture porn and erotica. But we aren’t talking about anything like that.

I write fantasy because it touches the spirit in ways that other genres don’t. One reader of Rebirths, a widower, said Derke’s grief over his wife’s death mirrored his own path through grief. I believe the breath of life that God gave our first parents is that human beings create art for art’s sake. We don’t paint to mark our territory. The primary purpose of song and dance is not to attract a mate. We do those things because we are creative, as God intended us to be. If you eliminate all forms of art, you eliminate life. God wants us to live life abundantly. Why would we even think of saying that the art of story telling is off limits to Christians? Instead, we should be writing the very best fantasy.

Two of the foundational fantasy authors were devout Christians, George MacDonald and Tolkein. Christians writing fantasy today aren’t entering Satan’s territory. We’re staking our place on the front lines of a war to keep what our predecessors started. Yeah, there’s a lot of junk out there in fantasy writing, but name one genre that doesn’t have junk. Those who say Christians shouldn’t write fantasy say we should be focusing on writing Bible studies. One reason they give is that there are a lot of junk Bible studies out there, so we need good Bible studies to combat the bad. That applies to fantasy and sci fi. The bad needs to be countered with the good.

Some would also have a problem with Rebirths being a dark fantasy–people have said they read it in full light because some scenes are downright scary. It’s the same thing. There is nothing inherently sinful about horror. Writing to showcase gore, death, and debauchery is wrong, but spine tinglers are not the same category. I couldn’t do a slasher story.

You mentioned that someone complained that the book was “too Catholic” but you, yourself, are not Catholic. Could you explain how this came to be?

As a Christian writer, I have to be true to God and to the story. The story wouldn’t work any other way. I didn’t sit down and say, “ah how subversive would it be for a Pentecostal pastor to write a book with a Catholic character.” I like tradition and don’t do things just to stick it to the man. The scene pointed to is where the main character asks the priest to shrive him. It takes place in the thirteenth century, there are no indications anywhere of Derke doubting any of the sacraments, Derke has had his issues with the Father in the early parts of the book, but he has repented and returned to faith. In that final scene, with an Orthodox baptism and communion already taking place, for Derke to not confess would be out of character.

Who are some of the authors/books that inspire you and your work?

Rebirths has been described as “imagine if CS Lewis wrote an Elder Scrolls novel.” I can see that, though I’ve never played Elder Scrolls or even know if they have novel tie-ins. Also in Rebirths is a dwarven priest named Father Phaeus. I was reading a lot of GK Chesterton when Phaeus came to be. The next writer didn’t inspire Rebirths because I only found him a year ago, but I have to list John C. Wright. There’s more than one shout out to him in Seven Deadly Tales, a book of mineexploring the seven deadly sins that is not related to Rebirths. For example, the demoness refers to Satan as “Fixer,” and in another story, a character makes the comment about how the Hugos used to mean something.

How has writing surprised you?

Two things surprise me the most about writing. What amazes me the most is how the characters and stories take on a life of their own. If you try to force the story in the wrong direction or take the character out of character, the whole thing suffers. I’m working on a companion set of stories to Seven Deadly Tales right now. I expected the stories at Joshua’s Pawn Shop to be sweet, whimsical tales or short adventures highlighting the cardinal virtues and heavenly graces. Nope. “Fun and Games” clocked in at 14,500 words, and “Legacies” is 33,000 and still growing.

The second thing that surprised me is how much fun it is! If I’m not having fun writing it, you’re not going to have fun reading it. Even my dark writing was fun to write.

Are there plans for a sequel to Rebirths?

Weavings is in the works. More people have asked me about the Joshua’s Pawn Shop stories, so I’m giving it priority. But Rebirths and Weavings are planned to be part of an open-ended series. Rebirths was three connected novellas. Weavingsis a set of three vignettes, highlighting an event in Derke’s past, each followed by a novella showing how those events are still impacting the present. It also features the greatest adventure of all—romance. Derke and his love interest marry and begin the adventure of family while still serving in their ministry. At this point, those stories will feature the Wild Hunt, lycanthropes, and the king of nightmares.

What do you do when you are not writing?

It’s either family or church besides writing. I make sure to spend time with my wife and our sons. Also, I’m an associate pastor, and so I’m usually working on my Wednesday night series. I can also be found preparing stuff for the church’s Royal Rangers outpost. I’m the Ranger Coordinator for our relaunched outpost.

Rebirths will be on sale for 0.99 from Wed the 16th of March until the 23rd.


To read more:

Franks blog:

Where he answers Bible questions:

Seven Deadly Tales: