Cyborg report: Wonder Woman

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About the time I had the surgery for my cochlear implant, I saw some of the first ads for Wonder Woman. After my surgery, my audiologist told me that somewhere around six months post-activation, I should see a big improvement in my speech discrimination, although quite frankly, when you're starting at zero, anything's good, so needless to say, I kept my expectations low. Since we activated the implant in January and Wonder Woman had a release date in June, I decided that Woman Woman would be my six month celebration movie.

Going to see a movie in the theater is a big deal for me, because I used to love going to the movies. I practically lived in the theater during my teens and twenties, and I truly mourned the day when I could no longer enjoy a theatrical release due to my hearing loss.

Nothing excited me more than the thought of seeing Wonder Woman on the big screen. As a girl, I loved comics and Wonder Woman was my favorite. When Wonder Woman came to TV, I never missed an episode, and Lynda Carter was my hero. Naturally, I decided that if I ever had a child, I'd take them to a Wonder Woman movie. Being a good mother, I strong-armed my adult daughter into going to see Wonder Woman with me. I promised she would love it. She was less than enthusiastic over the whole thing until I got so overwhelmed by being able to hear again that I started crying, and then she promised she would be there for me ... with tissues.

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At the theater the young woman, who took our tickets, thought my excitement was cute. I asked her if they had posters for sale. She said they had two different ones. I couldn't decide so I bought both.

I loved the previews and marked a couple more movies that I might attend if everything went well at Wonder Woman. Then the movie started and I cried a little, and then a little more, and then--like when I was young and entranced by everything on the big screen--the story took me away.

Wonder Woman is an origin story about Diana Prince's youth and entry into the world of men. If you haven't seen it, I don't want to spoil it for you, but I will tell you this: Wonder Woman is not just a superhero movie, it's a film that reminds us what truly makes a superhero, and it's not all about the ability to deflect bullets.

The message comes early in the film when Diana leaves Themyscria. She tells her mother, "I am willing to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves."

That is what makes a superhero. The willingness to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. This is the Diana Prince I remember from my youth: a woman full of humor and empathy for others, determined to champion those who are helpless against tyranny.

During the scene in no man's land, the scene that was almost cut, I broke out in chills as Diana climbed out of the trench. The entire passage was so beautifully symbolic of her birth into the hard cruel world of men. And like so many of the vibrant women I have known, no matter how much destruction Diana encountered, she still believed in love and justice, and she kept fighting for those who couldn't defend themselves.

The men in this movie were magnificent too. I don't want to shortchange their presence at all. All of the characters treated one another with mutual respect, whether given or earned. So while we tell people to take their daughters to see Wonder Woman, take your sons too.* They need to see a movie with men who are secure enough in their masculinity that they treat women with equality and respect.

And while I didn't catch every word, I heard enough of the dialogue to follow the plot and thoroughly enjoy the film. Wonder Woman reminds us what a superhero movie should be--not gadgets or the ability to toss tanks, although those things are fun and cool--but about superheroes who advocate justice and protecting the weak. They are our better natures made manifest, and they remind us that sometimes empathy for others can be the greatest superpower of all.

Oh, and the cyborg report: I saw my audiologist last week. I now have 50% speech discrimination. Just in time to go see Wonder Woman again.

*The film is set during World War I and is much too intense/violent for the very young.

Evil is a Matter of Perspective

Many of you know that I was invited to participate in an anthology of antagonists for Grimdark Magazine called Evil is a Matter of Perspective. The anthology will soon be available through several outlets, so if you missed being a part of the Kickstarter, you can still pre-order your copy, which will be available on June 16, 2017.

Now you can experience your favourite fantasy worlds through some of the most fearsome, devious, and brutal antagonists in fantasy. Villains take centre stage in nineteen dark and magical stories that will have you cheering for all the wrong heroes as they perform savage deeds towards wicked ends. And why not? They are the champions of their own stories—evil is a matter of perspective.

Contributors are: R. Scott Bakker, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Michael R. Fletcher, Shawn Speakman, Teresa Frohock, Kaaron Warren, Courtney Schafer, Marc Turner, Jeff Salyards, Mazarkis Williams, Deborah A. Wolf, Brian Staveley, Alex Marshall, Bradley P. Beaulieu, Matthew Ward, Mark Alder, Janny Wurts, E.V. Morrigan, Peter Orullian 

Artists: Tommy Arnold (cover), Jason Deem (interior art), Shawn King (design)

Available at:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Kobo

If you're looking for a Los Nefilim fix while I'm between projects, the anthology contains the short story, "Every Hair Casts a Shadow," which features a story from Alvaro's point of view as he tries to lure a teenage Rafael back to his rightful place among the daimons.

It Was a Long Hard Winter and Other Stories

I haven't been here for awhile. The winter got me down. The spring wasn't much better.

Being a cyborg and being able to hear again helped me through it--that, and my family, who've cheered me along every step of the way. I spent a lot of time reading other people's books. A lot of non-fiction, but a lot of fiction too. I'll be reviewing some of the fiction here soon.

April was the cruelest month. My good Macavity was fourteen years old when I had to say goodbye. It's taken me this long to be able to write about him. I called him my little buddy, kind of as a joke, because there is nothing little about a thirteen pound cat. He was there to see me off to work every morning and there waiting for me to come through the door every evening. We had our evening rituals where he would sleep beside me as I wrote and then sleep some more beside me while I read before bed.

I've never had a cat quite like him, and I never will again.

I'm not sure who grieved his passing more, me or our dog Dimie. Her whole world revolved around Macavity, and while they never slept side-by-side, they were never far apart.

After a week of me and the dog moping about, I checked the Rockingham County Animal Shelter's adoption site. I didn't see a single cat that seemed to be right. I wanted a young cat, because I wanted to be sure s/he would get along with Dimie. That was the only condition.

On a fluke, I decided to check one Friday before I left for work and there was Emerson. At ten months old, I figured she was might have a good chance of fitting in with an old boxer that loves cats. Emerson appeared to be a Maine Coon mix like Macavity, and I loved the fact that someone had named a female cat Emerson.

I stopped by the Shelter, but Emerson had already been taken to PetSense, where she would be at PetSense's Adoption Day. I had an appointment that afternoon, and decided that if Emerson was still there Saturday morning, I'd see if she and I fit together.

My daughter went with me, and Emerson and I got along just fine. The good folks at PetSense took the papers off her crate while I went home and got things ready for her. The big test was how Emerson might act around Dimie, but we needn't have worried. She stiffened up a bit when Dimie got close, but otherwise, she didn't seem to mind the dog.

Dimie, on the other hand, absolutely lost her mind when she realized a new kitty had come to live in her house.

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Now here we are, settling in a new addition to the household once more. Emerson is young and energetic, but she's got oodles of toys and a big house where she can run about all day. Every morning, she bounces across the bed like a squirrel to wake us up so she can have her breakfast.

I don't have many pictures of her yet, because she doesn't stay still for long.

Unlike Macavity, who was so huge, Emerson was five and a half pounds when she came to us. A couple of weeks later at her first vet visit, she came in at about six and a half. So she's a teeny thing, and while she'll grow a bit more over the next year or two, she won't be Macavity-sized by any means.

She is black from the tip of her nose to the tip of her tail and has great gold eyes. Her only distinguishing mark is her outsized personality. My husband thinks that a cat named Emerson belongs in a writer's house and I tend to agree.

Thus ends the story of the long hard winter and the cruel spring. It's almost summer, the world has moved on, and so have we.

Exciting things are happening in the background, and I'll announce them when I can. Meanwhile, stay tuned ... I hope to be around more this summer with reviews and new posts and maybe a picture or two of Emerson, the Writerly Cat.

Interview with Dan Koboldt

It's been awhile since I've posted a good, old-fashioned interview, but luck is with us, because I have one for you today!

This is the publication week for Dan Koboldt's second novel in his Gateways to Alissia series, The Island Deception. I thoroughly enjoyed Dan's first novel in Gateways to Alissia, The Rogue Retrieval, and you can read my Goodreads review for it here.

For stage magician Quinn Bradley, he thought his time in Alissia was over. He'd done his job for the mysterious company CASE Global Enterprises, and now his name is finally on the marquee of one of the biggest Vegas casinos. And yet, for all the accolades, he definitely feels something is missing. He can create the most amazing illusions on Earth, but he's also tasted true power. Real magic.

He misses it. Luckily--or not--CASE Global is not done with him, and they want him to go back. The first time, he was tasked with finding a missing researcher. Now, though, he has another task: Help take Richard Holt down.

It's impossible to be in Vegas and not be a gambler. And while Quinn might not like his odds--a wyvern nearly ate him the last time he was in Alissia--if he plays his cards right, he might be able to aid his friends.

He also might learn how to use real magic himself.

How did you get started writing?

Like many authors, I was a reader first. I fancied the idea of becoming a writer, but didn't really try until my late 20's. I took an "Introduction to Fiction Writing" night class, which required students to write and workshop two short stories. I'd done a fair amount of nonfiction writing as part of my job as a scientist, so I thought it would come easily.

It did not. Writing my first story proved quite difficult. My classmates found it stiff and inaccessible. Even so, that class taught me the fundamentals of offering and taking feedback. I took the next class, as did many of my fellow students. We continued to critique for one another after the class ended. One bit of feedback I consistently received was that my work felt like part of a larger story.

That was around when I heard about National Novel Writing Month, a crazy community effort in which participants try to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. That was 2008, I think, and I've been doing it ever since. The NaNoWriMo project that I began in 2012 went on to become my debut novel, The Rogue Retrieval.

What's the idea behind Gateways to Alissia?

Well, I'd always grown up reading epic fantasy. I loved immersing myself in fantastic secondary worlds, so of course I wanted to create my own. But I have a second love, which is science. For a long time, I thought it would be impossible to write something that let me play in both worlds.

Then I had the idea that maybe there's a portal between a magical world and ours. Rather than some children or a snarky teen stumbling upon it, maybe the gateway falls into the hands of a large and powerful corporation. Of course, they keep the other world's existence a secret, and have been quietly studying it for fifteen years.

Then a member of the research team goes missing through the gateway, and the company must assemble a retrieval team to go get him. Because the other world is inhabited, but at a medieval state of technology, they recruit a Vegas stage magician to come along and pose as a wizard on the other side. He’s the main character in the Gateways to Alissia series.

Tell us a little about the main characters ...

I’d love to! The main character is Quinn Bradley, an up-and-coming stage magician out of Las Vegas. At the start of the series, his only dream is to headline for one of the major casinos on the Strip. Then he gets a puzzling offer: half a million dollars for six months on a private assignment. Ordinarily he’d have refused, but they don’t really give him a choice. Luckily, he’s adaptable, and quickly learns that the company’s secret world has a lot to offer. Real magic, if it exists, could give Quinn a huge advantage in his chosen career. And he’s the kind of guy who’s always looking for an angle. He also has a knack for getting into trouble and a slight problem with authority, which keeps things interesting in the other world.

Lieutenant Kiara is the company’s top military official for in-world operations. She also has operational command of the retrieval mission, which is unusual. She’s a veteran with a long history of service to the company, extremely loyal, and sees the world in black and white. Basically, she’s going to get the job done whatever it takes. She comes to the Alissian world with some baggage, since her predecessor – who was lost sea in the early days of the project – was also her older sister.

Ex-Navy S.E.A.L. Paul Logan is Lieutenant Commander’s right hand, and tasked with security on both sides of the gateway. He also trains the mercenary teams who undertake missions in the Alissian world. That means he’s also responsible for Quinn, which he isn’t very happy about. Since the beginning, he’s opposed the idea of bringing a civilian along on what he sees as a purely military operation. He’d never admit this, but part of his reluctance is that he likes Quinn and doesn’t want to see him get hurt.

At the time of his disappearance through the gateway, Richard Holt had headed the company’s Alissian research team for fifteen years. Much of that, he spent in the world itself, studying the people and their culture from the inside out. His intelligence network would impress the American CIA. His defection is not only a loss for the research team, but also makes him the most dire threat they have faced. Because Holt knows Alissia better than anyone.

Veena Chaudri is an anthropologist by training, and she’s just taking over leadership of the research team when the story begins. Richard Holt trained her well, but also left big shoes to fill. Veena has studied the Alissian world for longer than the rest of the research team, but she let Holt handle most of the fieldwork. She must not only prove herself to the retrieval team, but wants to impress her former mentor as well. She’s a more valuable asset than everyone realizes: in all those years that Richard Holt was studying Alissia, Veena was studying him.

What are some other books or authors that The Island Deception reminds you of?

My publisher pitches it as appealing to fans of Terry Pratchett and Terry Brooks. I think that’s far too high of praise, but I understand the thinking: Brooks is a founding father of second world epic fantasy, and Pratchett was the king of dry humor. I certainly aimed to have a good mix of both in my books.

Because I’m a scientist, I like to include some of the super-cool near future technology in my books -- whether it’s drones or super -- LEDs or novel synthetic materials. There’s also a large corporation with somewhat nefarious intentions. If you put these elements together, I think my books might be reminiscent of Michael Crichton, one of my favorite authors.

If you want a more recent comp title, I think that the Time Salvager series by Wesley Chu has very similar themes to mine, especially time travel and a hint of military science fiction. Rumor is that his series is being developed into a movie directed by Michael Bay, so I’m clearly not the only one who finds all of this entertaining.

So now you've achieved your dream! Is writing your full-time job?

HAHAHAHAHA *dies laughing*

No, writing is my hobby and I don’t expect that to change any time in the near future. That’s primarily for two reasons. First, it’s very difficult to make a living as a full-time writer these days, particularly if you only have a couple of books out. Most writers have day jobs or other sources of income (like a partner who works). Those who do go full-time often do a lot of freelance work to make ends meet.

The other reason I don’t write full-time is that I enjoy my day job. I’m a genetics researcher for a major children’s hospital. Our institute uses next-generation DNA sequencing to study rare pediatric conditions, with the goal of improving the lives of our patients and their families. If that’s not rewarding work, I don’t know what is.

Tell us about some of the good books you've read lately.

I have! One perk of joining the ranks of published authors is that I hear about a lot of great books, even if they don’t generate a lot of buzz in the mainstream media (very few books do). My favorite book from last year was Uprooted by Naomi Novik, which is a Polish-inspired epic fantasy and just lovely. This year, I’ve been reading awards-nominated work including Arabella of Mars (David Levine) and All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. My favorite book so far is the one I’m currently reading -- The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin -- which won the Hugo Award in 2016.

My favorite nonfiction book in recent memory was The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers by Donald Maass. It offers a wealth of advice for aspiring and established novelists. The author heads my literary agency (DMLA), so take from that what you will.

What are you working on next?

Right now, I’m writing the third and final installment of Gateways To Alissia, tentatively entitled THE WORLD AWAKENING. That’ll go to my editor this summer, and is slated for publication in February 2018. I have a short story (not related to this series) that will appear in Rhonda Parrish’s EQUUS anthology this summer, and a couple of others due out this year in Galaxy’s Edge magazine and Stupefying Stories magazine.

I also plan to maintain “Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy” which is my ongoing blog series. Each week, we discuss one of the scientific/technical/medical aspects of science fiction or a cultural/historical topic in fantasy, with the help from an expert in the field. It’s a wonderful resource for aspiring SF/F authors and I think it’s informative for fans of the genre, too.

* * * 

Dan Koboldt is a genetics researcher and fantasy/science fiction author. He has co-authored more than 70 publications in Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, and other scientific journals. Dan is also an avid deer hunter and outdoorsman. He lives with his wife and children in Ohio, where the deer take their revenge by eating the flowers in his backyard.

If you want to keep up with Dan, follow him at his website, on Twitter, subscribe to his mailing list, Facebook, Amazon, or Goodreads.

False prophets

This is one of those blog posts that I write more for me than for you so that I can get the noise out of my head and write fiction. It's boring and long, and if you want to skip it, I won't be offended.

For those of you who only know me through my Los Nefilim novellas, you may or may not know about my novel Miserere. I learned a lot about Christianity while writing Miserere--facts that my Evangelical upbringing neglected, and I talk about that a little more here and here. The upshot of it is that I have heard the Bible twisted to suit the needs of everyone from Jerry Falwell to Jim and Tammy Faye Baker to Joel Osteen.

In order to determine the truth from the lies, I studied the Bible to learn what it really said, because context is important. That philosophy served me well when I analyzed case law, where I discovered early on that the best way to argue against a fact was to thoroughly understand your opponent's argument. I learned to think like the opposition in order to use their own arguments against them.

Even in doing so, I never underestimated the opposition. Nor did I rely on obfuscation to make my points. Words can only be twisted so far before they no longer resemble the truth, and flimsy polemics can easily be blown apart.

Which brings me to Erick Erickson, whose name sounds flashy, like a stage name. Erickson is a speaker, which means he has a good shtick and people pay him money to hear him flap his gums about whatever. He uses Romans 1.16 in his Twitter bio, which states: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."

Not being ashamed of the gospel and actually understanding what the gospel means are two very different things. Erickson is one of those false prophets Jesus warned his disciples about in Matthew 7.15 when he said, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves."

Erickson is pushing a growing Evangelical philosophy of self-sufficiency and selfishness. This is not new. Christianity has long wrestled with the issue of Christ's poverty and what it meant for both the church and his followers. Umberto Eco had great fun showing the ridiculousness of the arguments for wealth in his novel The Name of the Rose. 

Likewise, Diarmaid MacCulloch points out in A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years that the "Beatitudes' have remained as a subversive tug at the sleeve for churchmen in the centuries during which they have had too much worldly comfort." Whether it's the Vatican or the Evangelical rich and famous, the clergy is notorious for seeking ways to justify their own worldly comfort.

As more people, such as Erickson, have advocated dropping public assistance for the poor, they falsely base their rationales on scripture. Many more people, myself included, have begun to refute these false claims with references to Matthew 25.31-46. In this passage, Jesus speaks to the Great Judgment and how he will judge the dead:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand, and the goats at the left.

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' [Emphasis mine.]

Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcome you, or anked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?'

And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me.'

Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'

Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' 

Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' [Emphasis mine.]

And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

*"members of my family" translated from the Greek "these my brothers"

Based on people quoting this portion of Matthew, Erick Erickson unleashed the following tweet:

The foremost point in deconstructing this particular tweet is that Jesus was not a Christian. Jesus was a Jew, so it seems rather disingenuous for Erickson to claim that Jesus was speaking of "fellow Christians" in the passage. It also speaks to his ignorance on the subject.

Erickson rejects Jesus's teaching that we should care for people less fortunate than ourselves. He seeks to deflect Jesus's words from the poor, the sick, the imprisoned to Christians in general, which is a monumental conceit, and one that is easily dismantled with a thorough look at the scriptural evidence.

Both in Matthew 25.31-46 and previously in Matthew 5, during the Sermon on the Mount, and again in Luke's shorter version of the Beatitudes in Luke 6.20-26, Jesus repeatedly exhorts his followers to seek humility and to treat one another as they wish to be treated. We can add to these scriptures the weight of Jesus's other teachings to support the view that Jesus did, in fact, consider the poor, the sick, the imprisoned as "the least of these."

This is not a message that is congruent with attracting and hoarding one's own wealth, or demonizing the poor and sick as societal leeches. However, that has not stopped people like Erickson in the past. These men have long relied on their white male privilege to aid their credibility. They usually say whatever they please and no one contradicts them in their many Biblical misinterpretations.

And I understand that a lot of younger people are so turned off by "Christians" like Erickson, they reject even looking at religious texts. I know exactly how they feel, because I used to be the same way. However, the reason the Ericksons of the world have been winning this war on words is because no one has stood against them in the past.

Yet resistance to Erickson's twisted narrative is imperative, because Erickson, and people like him, seek to shift all moral responsibility for their actions from themselves to a divinity. In doing so, they are attempting to absolve themselves of the ramifications of their actions.

"Jesus said the poor will always be with us," said Roger Marshall in an attempt to deflect responsibility for Trumpcare from himself and back to a distant faceless deity. He, too, was misquoting a passage in Matthew and reapplying it to his personal point of view. The general implication from these men is: God doesn't care, so why should I? And blaming God becomes a crutch for weak reasoning.

In his study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Christian ethics, Larry L. Rasmussen notes:

Man, using his autonomous reason, can and does answer the questions of life; man can and does interpret natural and social processes, all without the tutelage of a divinity, without God as the working hypothesis. Further, man is accountable for the use of his reason and its behavioral expression.

Human beings are responsible for their actions; otherwise, there would be no need for judgment, divine or otherwise. To say, on the one hand, that God gave us free will and we will be judged on our actions based on our proper usage of free will, and then, on the other hand, say that we are helplessly adhering to scripture, because we are to follow God blindly is at best a paradox, at worst a lie.

This is why, from a moral standpoint, it is necessary for Christians to resist people such as Erickson and Marshall, who are determined to hijack Christianity for their own personal gain. And make no mistake about it: all of these men, who are twisting theological viewpoints in order to enrich themselves, are seeking to push the dire ramifications of their policies as far from their personal lives as possible.

It is our responsibility as Christians to correct and resist this false narrative whenever and wherever it arises. Nor should we allow ourselves to be pulled into the fiction that being poor or sick is a personal decision, because both are circumstances often beyond a person's control. The moral decision as to whether or not to help those less fortunate than ourselves is our own, and we must hold ourselves and those in power accountable for their actions.