Archive Monthly Archives: February 2015

Every Party Needs a Priest

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There has been a lot of supernatural fiction on both the big and the small screen in the last decade. As a fan of genre fiction, I approve… generally. Not all of it is good, of course. Some of it is downright unwatchable. Much of it is nothing more than soap opera or cheap romance fiction dressed up with genre trappings. But a fair amount of it has been pretty decent, and some of it has been really good.

But all of it – at least to my knowledge – suffers from a serious problem:

They need a priest in the party.

A lot of this discussion is going to center around the CW television drama Supernatural, because that’s the show my wife and I were watching when we first formulated the theory. But the basic premise holds across the genre – in its modern form, anyway.

So, as stated, let’s take the show Supernatural. For those unfamiliar with it, the show is about two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester. Their mother was brutally killed by a demon when they were small children. As a result, their father dedicated the rest of his life to hunting supernatural creatures. When the series begins, Sam has rejected that life and set out to try for something normal – college, a career, etc. Then their father disappears and Sam is pulled back into the life of demon hunting, thus setting up the main premise of the show: the two brothers on a constant road trip fighting off demons, monsters, ghosts, and pretty much any other supernatural creature you can think of every week.

Personally, I found the first season of the show to be the strongest by a good margin. There’s a stereotype out there of shows getting bogged down in a “monster of the week” format, but that worked for Supernatural. The show is at its very best when it’s dragging up obscure myths and legends – whether the ancient or the urban variety – and just running with the concept of two brothers on a road trip helping people. When the series-long story arc begins is when the show starts having issues. Well, actually the issues begin before that but they’re livable. They ramp up to killing any value of the show after that – although clearly there are many who disagree with me, since the show is still running strong in the ratings on its tenth season. I stopped watching after the fifth season, and frankly both it and the preceding season were pretty weak.

Ultimately, though, the culprit of that began at the beginning: they needed a priest in the party.

Let’s start with season one. At this point, the show exists in a universe where:

  • The major characters know for a fact that demons, monsters and other supernatural creatures are real.
  • They have met such creatures.
  • They have fought such creatures.
  • The have used religious items – especially holy water – to great effect in fighting these creatures.

Despite these points, and especially despite these last points, Dean has no faith whatsoever and the best that Sam can manage is a kind of vague “there must be something” modern spirituality.

Excuse me for a minute, but what?! Imagine for a moment that you are living their lifestyle. You have no home – you live in a new hotel room in a new town every few days. You fight dangerous creatures all the time. You know, for a fact, that holy or blessed items help combat these creatures. And you have no serious relationships anyway.

What do you do? I know what I would do: I would find my way to a seminary and get my butt ordained. Even if you don’t actually believe in the religious teachings of the church, it clearly gives you an edge. Once you’re ordained, any water can become holy water in a pinch. You can bless your own weapons. You can perform your own exorcisms. The brothers do quite a bit of this anyway, but one would think in a world where holy water actually, you know, works that a priest would be more effective at exorcisms.

OK, so you’ve decided that becoming a priest is too hard. Or maybe it just takes you out of the game too long and people are getting hurt. Guess what? There are more than thirty-eight thousand priests in the United States. Get one to join the party. Or – at the very, very least – you make friends with a few of them. Stay in touch when you’re in that part of the country. Get them to provide you with stuff.

So why do the brothers never do this? Because the Hollywood producers of the show don’t take the Christian religion seriously.

The show borrows the mythological trappings of Christianity: crosses, holy water, exorcisms, and, in later seasons, even angels. But the problem is that none of these items working the way they do in the show makes any sense without the theological aspects of Christianity to back them up.

Holy water works in more or less the traditional ways. In other words, it’s effective against undead creatures like vampires. But why does it work? And why only on those creatures? Under traditional Christian theology and the traditional folklore of vampires this makes perfect sense. Vampires are creatures who have forsaken God, consciously chosen to damn their own souls, and chosen an unlife of wretched evil. Therefore holy water, crosses, and anything else sacred is the antithesis of their very being.

What are angels? In traditional theology they are messengers of God. The very word means messenger (it’s the same Greek root from which our word evangelize comes). And yet for the first three seasons of the show, God is only mentioned in the moments when Dean is explaining why he (very unbelievably, as described above) has no faith in Him.

Speaking of that, where do the demons come from? The traditional view, again, is that they are fallen angels. But what exactly does fallen mean? It means that they’ve turned away from God – who, as noted, is barely mentioned in the first few seasons. And if demons aren’t creatures that have turned away from God, then why do things like holy water work against them? Evidently the answer is, “just because.”

This is a problem that only gets worse in later seasons as the show tries to address this issue and finds itself getting more and more convoluted.

In the second season, Dean makes a deal with a demon to save the day. The deal is that the demon will take his soul. But what good is a soul to a demon without the Christian theology to back it up? What purpose does it serve? This, again, is never really explained.

In the third season his deal comes due and Dean’s soul is taken into Hell. A Hell that is distinctly Christian in type and likeness, although Christ is mentioned in the series even less than God. In fact, in the five seasons that I’ve personally viewed Christ is not mentioned one single time. Nor is he ever hinted at, referenced, or anything. So why does this kind of Hell exist? Because this is definitely the Christian version… unless it’s the Islamic version, although once more there is no reference to Muhammad, the Quran, or any Islamic theology. So why does this Hell exist?

In the fourth season the Angels show up. One of them rescues Dean from Hell, and – this is the good part – the rest of the season centers around the brothers trying to stop Lucifer from rising out of Hell. This is where things get really bad. Because up until now, you can kind of make a stretch out of it being a whole “religion of the book” approach and just trying to be a vague Judeo-Christian theological world. That’s still kind of lame, but you can almost make it work. But battle between Lucifer and the angels is unquestionably Christian in origin, coming straight out of the Revelation of St. John. Of course, they fail to stop Lucifer from rising so season five is all about defeating him. This continues stealing from the Christian mythological tradition by bringing in the archangel Michael.

Over the course of seasons four and five the real butchery begins as we discover that Sam and Dean are caught in between the warring factions of the demons and the angels. And that is the real travesty of the whole show. The angels and demons are reduced to nothing more than two warring factions, no different than, say, the Washington Redskins versus the Dallas Cowboys, Democrats versus Republicans or Red vs Blue. Without realizing that they’ve done it, the entirety of the show has now been reduced from (previously) being about fighting evil to… just fighting other factions.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not offended – although I do think there are grounds to be, if I was the kind of person who was easily offended. At least, I’m not offended for the sake of my religion. Christ is stronger than that and he can tolerate a bit of mockery. I might be just a tad bit offended over just how badly these issues damaged what was otherwise an enjoyable story.

This kind of thing bothered me before, back when I was an atheist, and for the same reason. It’s absolutely terrible for the story. The story would be far more enjoyable if they just made decisions that actually make sense with the elements that they’ve borrowed. OK, they don’t want to run with Christian theology. Maybe they want to create their own instead to fill the void. And from where they were going at the end of season five and what I’ve read past that, it sure sounds like they’ve tried. But Christian theology, mythology and folklore has two thousand years of history behind it. The kinks have been worked out, so to speak If you’re going to replace it, you’ve got a lot of homework to do.

But I don’t think this was a storytelling decision, or not a pure one. And the reason I don’t believe that is because this isn’t just an issue with Supernatural. It’s endemic in everything that comes out of Hollywood these days. It’s in very nearly every aspect of this genre. Can we get real for a minute and acknowledge that Hollywood has a problem with Christianity? When the decision happens this frequently and very clearly has this large of a negative effect on the story, it’s clearly not being done for the sake of the viewers. Hollywood has an agenda and Christianity isn’t part of it.

The thing is, they’re hurting their own stories more than they’re hurting us.

Reamde

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Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson

Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson

Last week I took some friendly advice and dove into the novel Reamde by Neal Stephenson. I will admit to being a little nervous. My experience with Stephenson’s novels has been a bit hit and miss.

My brother gave me Snow Crash for my birthday one year. I don’t remember which year, but it was a good while ago. Definitely before I was married, possibly before I even met my wife. He pushed me to read the opening segment with The Deliverator on the spot… and he was right, it really was one of the better sci-fi sequences I’ve ever read. And the novel had quite a bit more of that flavor of insane fun to add. On top of that, it had some really interesting ideas. Believe it or not, some of those ideas played a serious role in my conversion not just to Christianity but to the Roman Catholic Church.

But it was also kind of a mess of a book. I used the term insane fun for a reason. The book was kind of insane. Stephenson has a knack for penning some of the craziest, wildest, most amazing sentences you’ll ever read. And he can, at times, chain these together into some of the most sequences you’ll ever read. But putting them all together into a coherent story… in some of his works, that hasn’t always happened well. Snow Crash all came together, but the book bogged down a bit about three fourths of the way in and the resolution all felt a little weak to me.

And yet despite these complaints, it was an absolutely amazing book. Truly, the good parts were so good that they really made up for some fairly serious deficiencies.

However… I didn’t have such good luck when I tried to read more of his stuff. The Diamond Age lost me altogether about a third of the way through and I never finished it – or really wanted to. I made it through the first book of The Baroque Cycle. I found the concept interesting, really enjoyed his depiction of Benjamin Franklin… and totally and completely couldn’t get into the second book.

So when I saw such high praise for Reamde, I was a bit cautious. I had high respect for the source of the recommendation… but Stephenson had burned me before, and burned me hard. But then, also – Snow Crash.

So I downloaded the free trial on my Kindle and gave it a shot. And then when I finished that part, I paid for the full book. And then I didn’t come up for air for about four days (it’s a long book – 1056 pages in paperback – and I had quite a bit of work to do in between reading sessions).

Not once at any point did I want to put it down. I was thoroughly and completely engrossed from the moment I picked it up until the very end. The characters were interesting, the background setup was interesting, the plot was interesting. Unlike some of Stephenson’s other works, it was entirely readable all the way through.

And it was one big giant bundle of insanity. It’s not quite as audacious as Snow Crash. But really, what is? To this day, Snow Crash is one of the most audacious pieces of science fiction I’ve ever encountered. But it carried the same bombastic spirit of over-the-top craziness that fueled Snow Crash, kept everything firmly rooted in the real world (as opposed to Snow Crash‘s somewhat… fantastical plot driver), and just never let up.

Before I was about a third of the way through, the book had completely changed on me about three times. I thought I’d figured out what I was in for and then boom – here’s this other whole new element. I enjoyed that I couldn’t quite figure out where he was headed. Not plot wise – the basic gist of the resolution is obvious from pretty early on – but how he was going to get there.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I loved this book and highly recommend it. I do have two complaints, though, and I think they’re worth noting even though they were far, far from ruining the experience.

First, one of the major characters – Richard – has an inexplicable character moment about three quarters of the way through the book. After he’s spent most of the story manipulating people based on their emotions and pushing them to do what he wants, we’re suddenly informed by the author that he hates manipulating people and is a “doer” kind of person. Well, yeah, he’s been a “doer” all book. But he’s also been cheerfully manipulating people as if he were born to it. I chalk this up to an editing issue – the book is so big that there were probably some changes made during its construction and Stephenson likely just missed this. But it was a little jarring.

Second, the resolution… he should have spent just a bit more time in the aftermath. It felt a bit like running a marathon and then just stopping without a cool down walk. Doable, and it doesn’t exactly detract from the marathon itself, but you feel a bit rough afterward.

But these are pretty minor complaints in a book that is otherwise so fantastic. This is one of the best things I’ve read in many years.

Yngling the Gnome Rogue

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Yngling the Rogue

Yngling the Rogue

“I was always different. I was named Yngling, and that was the name I kept. I had no interest in learning fifty or sixty names for myself. If they did not call me Yngling, then I would not answer. The other children my age laughed and played pranks, while I sat in a corner and read or studied jewels and ignored them all. The older I became, the more of an outcast they viewed me. Then I just left, and hoped that there was a world outside my clan that would understand that pranks are more often annoying than amusing, two or three names at the most is enough, and reading is a tool rather than a hobby.”

–Yngling, one of eight playable characters available in Ghost of the Frost Giant King, an adventure supplement for the D20 Game System, available for pre-order NOW!

Boycotting Adam Baldwin

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This from Instapundit today:

SO LEFTY SOCIAL-JUSTICE WARRIOR TYPES WILL BE BOYCOTTING SUPANOVA BECAUSE ADAM BALDWIN WILL BE THERE.

It’s a lie, though. As anyone who has attended Dragon*Con for the last decade or more can tell you, Adam Baldwin never actually shows up at cons. But maybe we’ll get lucky and this crowd of clowns will “boycott” Dragon*Con this year, too.

Happy Birthday, Morgon!

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"Wishing Only Wounds the Heart" by Morgon Newquist

“Wishing Only Wounds the Heart” by Morgon Newquist

Today is my wife, Morgon’s, birthday! How about wishing her a Happy Birthday by picking up her short story, Wishing Only Wounds the Heart, for FREE today and leaving her a review on Amazon.com! It won’t cost you anything except your time – and not much of that, because it’s a quick read. And besides, what better way could you spend your time than reading a good story?

Second Chances now available!

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"Second Chances" by K Bethany Sawyer

“Second Chances” by K Bethany Sawyer

The latest from Silver Empire, Second Chances by K Bethany Sawyer is available NOW from the Amazon Kindle Store!

A father wrestles with his daughter’s fate as she lies in a coma. He can save her body – but can he save her soul?

Pick up your copy today for only $0.99! You won’t want to miss this award winning story from an up-and-coming author!

"Wishing Only Wounds the Heart" by Morgon Newquist

“Wishing Only Wounds the Heart” by Morgon Newquist

While you’re at the Amazon store anyway, drop in and pick up Wishing Only Wounds the Heart. It’s currently ranked #5 in “Kindle Store > Kindle Short Reads > 30 minutes (12-21 pages) > Science Fiction & Fantasy,” so you know you don’t want to miss it! And this weekend only, it’s FREE!

So drop in today and pick up both stories for only $0.99! And don’t forget to leave reviews!

Ukrainian Ceasefire Violated

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It took even less time than I expected for us to see the Ukrainian ceasefire violated.

The city of Debaltseve effectively fell to rebel fighters days after the cease-fire was signed last week with the heavy involvement of European leaders.

I’m shocked, shocked to see that Putin signed a cease fire he didn’t intend to live up to.

But U.S. lawmakers say the latest developments only underscore the need for greater involvement by the U.S. and its allies.

Do they want a world war? Because that’s how world wars get started.

A Brief History of Time

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Once upon a time (round about 2002 or so – ancient times) I had this little blog. Only the term “blog” hadn’t been invented yet. It was a “weblog” back in those days. Good blogging software hadn’t been invented yet, either. Nor had affordable web hosting. This little blog was put together by hand. Updates were coded by hand. New posts were coded by hand… Affordable web hosting wasn’t really a thing then, either. So it was hosted on a recycled computer running Linux and Apache in my spare bedroom. I used a dynamic DNS remapper to cover the fact that my ISP didn’t provide me with a static IP address.

Then things got interesting. Actual blog software became a thing. So I upgraded to that. My first “real” blog software was B2Evolution. And it was super awesome (for the time). Then I had to deal with things like comment spam… ugh. But eventually some plugins came out that more or less solved that issue and life was pretty good for a while.

At its peak, I was actually getting pretty decent traffic. Now… you have to understand what “pretty decent traffic” means on a blog. Most people would hear that phrase and think of somebody like Instapundit getting (sometimes) hundreds of thousands of visitors per day. Of course that qualifies as “pretty decent.”

But the actual reality is that blog traffic looks something like a power law curve. And getting more traffic than, say, 80% of the other bloggers, actually means something more like getting… 50-100 visitors a day, and having the occasional “hit post” that would bring in a thousand or so visitors in a day. That’s actually not too shabby for a blog.

Anyway, for various reasons (mostly to do with the headaches of hosting a site myself) I abandoned that blog and started a new one on Typepad.com. I ran that site again for a few more years and built it up again to pretty decent traffic. And then I let that blog go defunct because my day job went away and I suddenly found myself with more important things to worry about like, “how am I going to provide lunch for this new baby in the house?”

And the thing is, 50-100 visitors a day is pretty good, actually… but it’s not good enough to effectively monetize. Web ads on that kind of traffic will bring you a handful of dollars a month, which is nowhere near enough for the kind of effort that it takes to build and maintain that kind of traffic. So another blog bit the dust.

Over the course of the next few years, I blogged anonymously about a particular topic and became fairly decently known within that community and once again built up to pretty decent traffic. But the blog was anonymous because I wanted to be able to say things that aren’t easy to say under your real name, and now that blog is gone. Completely deleted.

Unfortunately, so are the other two incarnations of this blog. Mostly, anyway. The Internet Wayback Machine typepad version still has history of the Typepad version… but Typepad themselves are unable to recover it. It’s a shame because there were a pretty fair number of good posts from those incarnations of the blog and even a handful of really good posts.

But this blog is back, and it’s back with a bit of a purpose. I expect it to be around for a good long while this time. Mostly it’ll be new content, but every now and then you might see me salvage something from the Wayback Machine and repost a Blast From the Past.

To any old readers who might be returning, thank you for coming back! And for the new folks, thank you for giving this place a shot. Stick around for a bit. Things might get interesting.