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Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Final Summit — A Book Review

“The Final Summit”

By Andy Andrews

Thomas Nelson

God is no longer playing around and He is angry. David Ponder, successful businessman and philanthropist now holds the fate of humanity in his hands. Gabriel visits David Ponder on the day Ponder’s world is falling apart and informs him that he is in charge of a Final Summit of the greatest thinkers and leaders of history to determine the answer to one question. If these “Travelers” can answer the question successfully, then humanity will continue. If not, well it’s the flood all over again!

“The Final Summit” is a book of ideas. It is also a novel rich with fascinating characters from throughout history brought together to wrestle with this question: What does humanity need to do, individually and collectively, to restore itself to the pathway toward successful civilization? And the answer is only two words!

David Ponder has met Travelers before. He received from seven great historical figures the Seven Decisions for Success and turned his failed life into a life of not only financial success, but a life of helping those around him in need. Now, his wife has passed away in her sleep leaving him alone and without a plan for the rest of his life. It is into this despair that Gabriel returns with a new challenge. Ponder is to lead the Final Summit and oversee hundreds of famous figures from history to answer the ultimate question for humanity. Ponder, understandably, is dismayed that he is chosen to lead such a meeting. But, he accepts the challenge.

In a time and place of undetermined location, Ponder meets with his co-chairman, Winston Churchill and soon, five other Travelers chosen by Gabriel at God’s direction, sit at the summit table to answer the question. Time is of the essence and a great hourglass shows the passing minutes.

This novel is fascinating! It is, at first, an entertaining story where the reader gets to meet many famous historical figures, some well known, others obscure. Just to read the exchanges between Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln are worth reading the book alone. But, the novel serves not only to entertain but to inform.

How would you answer this question? What is the ultimate answer to today’s social dilemmas? Be courageous? Have wisdom? Bring hope? I will not spoil the deliberations of this august panel of famous people. Read the book and ponder on the merits of each answer. There are five successive answers, all of which are almost right. But, there is only one right answer.

I found “The Final Summit” refreshing, exciting, and a wonderful read. It is worth reading and re-reading just for the wisdom of each chapter. There are more good ideas and suggestions in this one book than a dozen inspirational books. I highly recommend it!

Andy Andrews website: Andy Andrews

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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ResAliens — A Website Review Day 3

On the final day of a review of ResAliens, I wanted to review the short story, “Snow Angels”. The reason I chose this story is the profound difference between this story and “Some Assembly Required”. Where that story was strong, classic science fiction, “Snow Angels” is a scary thriller.

 

“Snow Angels” by Joanne Galbraith is one of those creepy otherworldly thrillers that features possible ghosts or possible real world killers. You have to figure out which. Emma is trying to recover from the accidental death of her husband. As the story begins, her daughter Marley sees someone out in the back yard making snow angels just like her father used to make. Emma, fearing they have a peeping tom, contacts her sister and the police. The incidents escalate and finally, someone enters the house. I do not want to reveal any more details. You simply must read the story to find out what is really going on.

 

STRENGTHS:  I really liked this story and the creeping terror that builds as Emma tries to decide if she is losing her mind or if her dead husband really is trying to communicate to them from the other side of the grave. The tension builds slowly and tightly, well written and well paced. The characters are interesting and engaging and well developed.

 

The developing mystery of the visitor at the window is handled very adroitly and I didn’t see the ending coming at all. It is a testimony to good writing that the ending was not contrived and flowed out of the strength of the story. I really liked “Snow Angels” and I highly recommend it. After you read it, you may not want to look out your back window late at night.

 

The spiritual element was well handled and comforting and reassuring. God is indeed watching over us!

 

WEAKNESSES:  If there is a weakness it might be in the question if God would allow someone to come back from the dead to warn loved ones of impending doom. Or, if the dead can truly perform miracles. But, in the context of this story and in the context of this website, this is a minor quibble.

 

I have really enjoyed this website. I look forward to exploring the past stories and rediscovering a world of good storytelling in the science fiction and thriller genre. I highly recommend the website.

ResAliens — A Website Review Day 2

Today, on Day 2, I will review the short story, Some Assembly Required by T. M. Hunter. Before discussing the merits of the story, here is the bio of T. M. Hunter from the ResAliens website:

 T. M. Hunter has always had a fascination with interstellar travel, spacecraft and beings from other worlds. Twice a Top Ten Finisher in the P&E Readers Poll for his short stories (2007, 2009), his stories have appeared in Ray Gun Revival, Residential Aliens, and more. His first Aston West novel, Heroes Die Young, was awarded Champagne Books’ Best-Selling Novel of 2008 Award. His second novel, Friends in Dead, is now available from Champagne Books. More can be found at AstonWest.com.

SUMMARY:

Aston West owns and flies his own spaceship around the galaxy making the most out of life, enjoying the heck out of it when possible, and trying his best to get filthy rich. In other words, he is your typical Han Solo type mercenary out for the next get rich scheme in outer space. He is a likable sort of guy with a ship computer named Jeanie. In this story, West’s ship is in need of repairs and unfortunately, he has no space cash. He lands on the nearest planet only to discover a “paradise” where everything you need is provided. The caveat is what you want is not always what you need.

He soon finds a way to trade some of his precious cargo for the parts needed to fix the ship only to meet a powerful local businessman, Jim Ford, who evidently defies the local mandate and has everything he “wants” and wants everything he can get. West has to trade all of his precious cargo to get enough cash for the repairs and in the process of the negotiations, he meets Mr. Ford’s rather beautiful and seductive assistant, Libby.

It isn’t long before West realizes Libby isn’t exactly human and because she has been “contaminated” by West’s association with her, she has to be “sterilized”. The remainder of the story will have to wait for you to read.

STRENGTHS:

There is an ongoing tension in writing today between using characters that can be regarded as “stereotypes” and using characters that have built in “familiarity”. I won’t argue the merit of either designation except to say it is impossible to create truly unique and memorable characters anymore. The best most authors can hope for is a variation on a well known theme. Aston West is that variation and for me, the interest in this story was driven by my desire to see how an author was going to use this kind of character to develop a spiritual “theme”. In fact, the eventual “theme” if you will was the importance of each individual against the backdrop of a world where everyone has a role to fulfill and they should never step outside of that role or face “erasure”.

This, to me, is a strength in that the author did not overpower the story with the message. The message was a natural outgrowth of the story. It was not contrived or forced. This is a welcome development in Christian fiction.

The message is a strong point for this story. The “secret” of Libby and her final dispensation could have been the end of the story. But, the author took it one step further in translating West’s learning process to the ship’s computer. He left a “rock in the shoe” of the main character and something for West to think about every time he hears Jeanie’s voice.

WEAKNESSES:

The main weakness, if you want to consider it as such, is the familiarity of the character and the story. This is a typical rogue with a heart of gold who reluctantly rises above his selfish desires to help out the damsel in distress. We’ve seen this in so many stories and movies, I’m sure I could make a list of at least a dozen without thinking. But, this is not necessarily a profound weakness. It depends on the reader’s fascination with character.

Rather than be dismayed by stereotype, the author can use it to his or her advantage. In this case, while using a stereotype might be a weakness, this genre almost demands such a character. The story would not work without such a character. So, I leave it up to the reader to decide if ultimately, Aston West is a cliche and a stereotype. Personally, I rather enjoyed his adventure.

CONCLUSION:

I find it a joy and a pleasure to be able to read well written science fiction stories that harken back to the era of Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, and other authors of the golden age of science fiction. I don’t have to worry about gratuitous language for the sake of shocking the reader, or, gratuitous sexual situations just for the sake of titillation. And, I can rely on the fact the story will have some redeeming quality of spiritual significance. I had given up reading science fiction but It will be nice to return to well written science fiction.

Tomorrow, I’ll look at a thriller with the story, “Snow Angels”.

ResAliens — A Website Review Day 1

It was September, 1966 and I was sitting in front of our new color television set, a short, stocky kid on the soft side of puberty waiting breathlessly for this new show that promised to deliver what Lost in Space had so squandered: real, hard edged science fiction. The opening scene came and left me breathless. The stars filled the screen and a swooshing space ship flew past to the words: “Space, the final frontier . . .” By the end of that episode, the one about Doctor McCoy and the salt vampire, I was thrilled beyond words. Here was a real, honest to God science fiction television show that was gritty, adult oriented and had some pretty scary, but believable monsters.

I was reminded of that day and the feelings evoked in my young mind and heart when I began to read some of the stories on the website, Residential Aliens. Good, old fashioned science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction. A combination of Star Trek, Twilight Zone, and Outer Limits with a good portion of Ray Bradbury’s Illustrated Man thrown in.

Where does the name, ResAliens, come from. Here from the website is the explanation:

ResAliens is short for Residential Aliens. A resident alien is, of course, a foreigner who is residing temporarily in a country not her own – an expatriate of sorts. Believers in heaven (or a “coming new age”) often consider themselves to be simply passing through this world on their way to a better land. The idea is that, although we’re currently inhabitants of earth, we’re really citizens of heaven and thus pilgrims, or aliens, on this planet. 

The editor of ResAliens, Lyn Perry, defines his scope of publishing in his guidelines:

“In that I am a believer and follower of Christ, yes. The authors and audience, however, may or may not come from a position of faith. But what I think you’ll find here is a collection of quality stories with a moral or spiritual thread that appeals to the broad and varied interests of fans of speculative fiction.

In fact, we accept stories from people of all walks of faith or from none. From my submission guidelines: “I’m looking for quality speculative fiction with a spiritual foundation. Submissions need not be religious in nature. However, we are looking for engaging stories that are truthful to the human experience while offering the reader something of the eternal.”

I downloaded the Collection Issue 5.5 and spot read some of the stories. I also read “Some Assembly Required” and “Snow Angels” to get a taste of the type of fiction you can find on this site.

Today, on day one, I want to discuss the website content. Then, for the next two days, I’ll review the stories I read listed in the paragraph above.

ResAliens is not just another pretty site. It publishes short stories and the author gets PAID for the story! That ‘s right! You can actually get published and get some cold hard cash. Here are the guidelines and payment options:

ResAliens accepts…
+ Flash Fiction (900 to 1500 words)
+ Short Stories (1500 to 6000 words, firm; 7k to 9k stories are too long)
+ Query First: Serials (2 to 4 episodic installments; up to 20k words)
+ Query First: Poetry/Verse (Limited! Note: This is a very hard sell.)
+ Query First: Artwork/Artist Interview. Email: lyn at resaliens dot com.

We Pay…
We offer a one-time payment of $5 per story or artist interview upon acceptance via PayPal (or $4 via USPS), with the option to waive this payment. We’ll also provide a link to your website and/or project page in your Author or Artist Bio. Upon acceptance, your story will appear in an electronic issue, including but not limited to this online venue.

I counted 86 authors and there are short biographies of each author. If you lie one of the archived stories, you can find out what other works these authors have available. There are also some free downloadable anthologies and a store front for buying more of the site’s work.

Here is ResAliens’ Facebook page:

There is also a discussion forum, a Facebook page, a Storefront, and a Twitter feed.

What kind of fiction can you expect? Here is Lyn Perry’s own words:

Combining spec fic and spirituality, and wanting to contribute to faith-informed genre fiction, ResAliens Press offers fans of science fiction, fantasy, and spiritual & supernatural thriller a quality venue in which to share their passion.

After sampling some of the stories, this idea excites me to no end. Here, in one place are dozens of science fiction, fantasy, and speculative stories with a spiritual center. These are stories that push the edge of inspirational fiction and yet, provide the reassurance that there will be a spiritual focus somewhere in the story. Check out the site! Read some of the free stories.

Tomorrow, I will review the story “Some Assembly Required” by T. M. Hunter.

Web site link    http://www.resaliens.com/

Editor’s blog – http://residentialaliens.blogspot.com/

Editor Lyn Perry’s personal blog – http://blogginoutloud.blogspot.com/

CSFF Participants’ links

 Noah Arsenault
Brandon Barr
Thomas Clayton Booher
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
CSFF Blog Tour
Carol Bruce Collett
D. G. D. Davidson
Dean Hardy
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Lyn Perry
Sarah Sawyer
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler

The Real World — A short, short story

I’ve tried to post this story on Storypraxis twice now with two different prompts and for some reason it won’t go through. I’m not sure why. Maybe it is too long. Maybe the editors don’t like it. But, I like it a lot and I want to share it with you. I used two prompts: real world and palisade. See what you think:

The Real World

By Bruce Hennigan

Something had just jerked my cork under the water and the fishing line had gone taut when the bushes rustled behind me. I glanced over my shoulder recalling that one time old Norman had claimed he had a black bear in one of his pine trees. The pole jerked in my grip and I stood up, torn between finally catching Old Jackson, as they called him and being wary of whatever was creeping up on me from the bushes. I knew the fence of wooden slats would protect me from the dangers of the world. But, a bear would be so much larger than my palisade.

The rustling sound stopped and I decided to tempt fate and try and land Old Jackson. They say he was the largest catfish in Twelve Mile Bayou. My uncle said he almost landed him once about fifteen years ago and when he rolled out of the water for a second, Uncle Foots said he must have weighed fifty pounds! My pole bowed under the tension of the struggling fish and I smiled. It had to be Old Jackson! Be careful, now, I told myself. Give him some slack and let the line out and . . .

“You catching Old Jackson?”

I flinched and the pole jerked out of my hand and sailed across the water and disappeared from sight. I cursed and whirled, fists raised to face the person who had interrupted my perfect day of fishing. It wasn’t a black bear that had come out of the blueberry bushes. It was a tall, young man with a shock of blonde hair and striking green eyes who had stepped nimbly over the fence and invaded my solitude. He was wearing a faded pair of jeans and a pale, blue tee shirt. He smiled at me as my mouth fell open.

“Hey, Dad. Sorry about the fishing pole. Didn’t mean to scare you.” His eyes flashed in the sunlight off of the bayou.

I dropped my fists and just looked at him. It had been so long. In fact, I could hardly remember what he looked like the last time I had seen him. Seemed there had been a cut on his head? I blinked and reached over and pulled him to me.

“Justin! What are you doing here?” I held him close and inhaled the fragrance of his mom’s fabric softener on his shirt. He still wore that cheap after shave. I pushed him away and frowned. “How did you find me?”

Justin laughed and rubbed his chin. “You brought me here when I was six. Remember. We put the boat in right over there.” He pointed to a boat launch cut into the red clay of the bank of the bayou. “You took me out fishing and I found a plug in the bottom of the back of the boat. Remember?”

I swallowed and looked away from the boat launch. “Yeah, how could I forget. You pulled the plug and the boat started sinking.”

He slapped my shoulder. He was strong. “Yeah, Dad. I kept telling you, ‘The boat is sinking!’ and you couldn’t hear me over the boat motor. And, I kept screaming and screaming until you cut the motor and then you could hear me from here to Blanchard!”

I smiled at the memory. It was a warm, comfortable sensation in the back of my head. I nodded. “I remember. It took us forever to get the plug back in and then I had to bail out the water. . .”

“And, we never caught any fish.” He chuckled and I saw something red and moist drip from his lip. I blinked and it disappeared. My heart was racing. I didn’t know why.

“Son, why are you here?”

His clear, green eyes flashed in the sunlight and he frowned. “I came to get you, Dad. You need to come back.”

I glanced over his shoulder at the wooden fence and shook my head. “I’m not coming back! No, sir! Not coming!” I backed away from him and felt nauseous. I turned my gaze out over the bayou. Old Jackson rolled out of the water near the far shore. He must have weighed one hundred pounds. My fishing line was wrapped all around his body. I shivered. “Go away.”

“Dad, I just got here.” I felt his hand on my shoulder.

“You can’t be real. The dead don’t rise.” I muttered.

“I’m not dead, Dad. I’m alive.” He said so close to my ear. I closed my eyes. This couldn’t be real.

“Go back on the other side of the fence. Go away.”

“I won’t.”

“What is there to come back for? You’re gone. Mom just cries and sulks. The house is a tomb. Your ashes are right at home on the mantle.” I watched Old Jackson roll one last time and sink into the bayou. The waters grew red with his blood.

“Dad, I’m here because the Lord let me come. You can’t stay here. It’s not what I fought for and not what I died for.” Justin was so close to my ear. I closed my eyes and shook my head.

“No! You’re not real. This is real. This bayou. This place. That fence.” I felt the tears fill my closed eyes. Justin put his hands on my arms. His grip was strong. Powerful. Like the last time I had taken his hand in mine. Like the last time I had . . .

“You were angry with me when I left. You called me a coward.” He whispered.

“I know.” I sobbed. “I was wrong. You are brave. You are not a coward.”

“I died for what I believed in, Dad. I chose to go. You have to accept that. I was a man. Now, I’m far more than that. You still have a lot of living to do. You still have Ceilly and Robert. They need their mom and dad. You need to come back. Please, Dad. Come back!” His grip loosened and I fell backward in the sudden release expecting to feel the hard earth and I felt, instead, the loops of fishing line all around me, closing down my arms and my legs and I couldn’t breath and I saw Old Jackson’s eyes flash in the sunlight white and dead as he rolled and rolled and I fought the pain and the grief and the loss and the fishing line until it broke in shuddering relief and I was free.

I sat up and opened my eyes. My wife looked up from her book, her figure slumped in the chair and she gasped. She hurried over to my hospital bed and touched my face.

“Welcome back, honey.”

Who is Jonathan Steel?

I ran across this blog post and he said I could post it. He doesn’t want anyone to know the main site, yet. He’s a bit skittish but I thought I would put at least his first post up so you can read it. Here it is:

My psychiatrist once told me to write down my thoughts. I miss her.

My thoughts aren’t exactly the kind of things I like to talk about. They scare me. I think they would scare you. I’m here at the beach house. It’s mine, now, not that I wanted it to begin with. But, a promise is a promise. I always keep my promises. At least, I think I do. My memories only go back a couple of years.

I’ve been searching for months now. I’ve had a few close calls. Almost seemed like it, he would be there. But, the evil I’ve encountered was from something else. The one I’m looking for just seems to be eluding me. As if he knows I’m after him. As if IT knows I’m after it. What do you call it? A he? An it? Not sure. Doesn’t matter. I know the number, that is all I have to go on. And, I know the sign, the symbol. It will screw up sooner or later and leave the symbol behind. Then, I’ll know it was there. Then, I’ll have a trail to follow.

And, when I find it, I will destroy it!

What is your God like?

I can’t help but wonder . . . perhaps no new C. S. Lewis has surfaced in the past fifty years for the very reason that so few writers are starting with the known and speculating from there.

Rebecca LuElla Miller

In the past few days, I have been following two posts: one at www.mikeduran.com about “glorifying God” in our writing. And, then at www.speculativefaith.com a post about how we portray God in our writing. Both of these posts are pale mirror images of each other for they reflect our imperfect human concept of Truth and God.

As a Christian, I believe my job is to do all to further the kingdom of God. If that is glorifying God, then sobeit. Several of the comments in both posts were disturbing to me. One commenter said the God of the Old Testament commanded us to bash babies heads in. I was appalled. Did I get this wrong? Have I read the Bible and missed that portrayal of God? I don’t think so.

So, this brings up a really good point. We all see God through the lens of our experiences of God. God reveals himself in two ways. He reveals himself through his creation as Paul talked about in Romans 1. But, God has also revealed himself through the scriptures and ultimately, through the incarnation. If our experience of God is more “natural” we may be in danger of worshipping the creation; of making the earth and nature into a demigod. If our experience of God is only from the Old Testament, we may draw the conclusion, right or wrong that God is a hideous monster filled only with jealousy and wrath.

If we experience God only through Jesus, we miss out on the mystery and majesty of the trinity. We must synthesize and merge all concepts of God into our experience.

In our postmodern culture, truth is relative and as a Christian writer, I might find myself asking the question “Can truth be known?” This question implies there may not be such a thing as absolute truth. However, in light of the revealed God in scripture and in nature, truth exists. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. And, no one comes to the Father except through me.” That statement is pretty absolute. There doesn’t seem to be any wiggle room. So, if we have truly experienced the God of the Bible, then as writers and Christians we do not ask a question. We make a statement with our writing and our lives. “Truth can be known.”

I was reading these comments in both of these posts because I wanted to be encouraged. Instead I was greatly distressed and depressed. A standard of communication and writing was established. The standard raised here is one I don’t believe anyone writing today can ever meet. Perhaps it is because we are so steeped in postmodernism that we cannot connect with that foundation of reality that drove Lewis and Tolkien and the other excellent authors of the past century mentioned in these comments.

But, we must TRY. Our culture is increasingly post-Christian and we as Christian authors have the onerous duty of trying to reveal truth to a godless, truthless society. It is hard enough to try and meet the standards of these authors. We will fail. But, we must try. We must strive for excellence and quality. And, we must know the God of the scriptures. We will never agree on our knowledge of God for each of us experiences God in unique ways. But, we can respect the Word of God as the revealed Truth as best as any man or woman could have written it.

I just finished Paul Copan’s book “Is God a Moral Monster?” and listened to an excellent podcast, “Straight Thinking” over on reasons.org featuring an interview with Copans. He made the point that much of the depiction of the God of the Old Testament (who commands us to bash in babies’ heads????) is linked to the literary style of writing at the time. Ah, the literary style?

So, even our Old Testament is subject to the same problems we are talking about in these comments. It is written by man, inspired by God, and we must filter the “knowledge” of the authors through their cultural and geopolitical situation at the time of the writing and take the “monstrous” God of the Old Testament with a grain of salt.

I would rather remember the passage where Moses pleaded with God to show Himself. Here, in Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s “The Book of God” is one human’s interpretation of that scripture:

Now, Moses closed his mouth and lowered his hands and turned his face aside. His hair was like smoke. His brow concealed a difficult thought.

Finally, he whispered, “I pray you, O Lord, show me your glory.”

Straightway the wind died. The yellow air stood still. The mountain hushed, as between the heaves of storm.

All at once the Lord God lifted his prophet bodily and set him down in the cleft of the rock. He covered Moses with his hand — that he might not, by the direct sight of the Holy God, die. Then the glory of the Lord began to pass that crack in the mountain, crying, “The Lord! The Lord!”

Only when he was going away did God remove his hand, and Moses saw the back of him.

But while it went, his glory proclaimed: The Lord, merciful, gracious, slow to anger — a God abounding in love. Forgiving iniquity, blotting out sin, but by no means clearing the guilty —

And Moses, as soon as he saw such majesty, bowed his head and worshiped.

Moses started from the “known”, he saw the back of our God and he wrote about his experience. This is the God I know. This is the God I worship. This is the God I write about!

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