CSFF Tour – Outcasts Day 3

Hey-o boys and femmes.

I’ve talked about Jill Williamson and her cool series The Safe Lands, and our feature book Outcasts, book 2 in the series. My recap of the first book Captives is here, and my review of Outcasts is here.

The series is geared for Young Adult audiences. It also falls under the category of dystopian fiction, which is all the rage right now. Think The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Steelheart as recent stories that fit the genre.

So what is dystopian fiction?

If utopia is the term for a perfect place, then dystopia is the opposite. Dystopian stories take place in a setting where something has gone wrong. Either society has broken down and there is chaos, or there is a controlling factor which rules society in a dysfunctional way.

Even though it has become popular lately, it has been around for a while. Classic books like 1984 or Brave New World are dystopian. It’s the opposite of the idea behind Star Trek, where humanity progresses to higher standards and behavior. Instead, things get worse. It relates to fears that humanity is going to mess things up. Maybe we ruin the planet, or a yet undiscovered virus will wipe out a majority of the population, or we turn to dictatorships for control. Somehow, things are going to go bad.

Some may ask, “Why is this a genre for Christians to write about? Don’t we have a future hope? Aren’t things going to get better?”

Valid questions, but I would argue that it is precisely the Christian who needs to be speaking into this genre. A lot of writers in this have a pessimistic view of the future. Christians can provide the hope and light needed to balance things out. With the caveat that it can’t be preachy.

Consider the Garden of Eden. This could be considered the first dystopian story. Adam and Eve lose fellowship with their Creator over their sin, and now they live in a harsh world. Noah is very much in this vein as well.

How about some of the stories in Judges?

Would the Israelites raised on stories of King David think that exile and being ruled by Persia, Greece, and Rome would qualify as dystopian?

Christians have survived the fall of the Roman Empire. Our faith has survived centuries of conflict in Europe and around the world.

Finally, what about the Apocalypse? No matter your interpretation of the Book of Revelation, it is clear that the story reflects a dystopian time that is overcome by the Prince of Peace at the last.

Christians can truthfully write about a future where things have broken down in some way because we recognize that we live in that now. The world is not as it should be, and a ragamuffin group of rebels against the status quo is running around claiming a man rose from the dead and can bring living water.

A series like the Safe Lands just amplifies it for dramatic effect. The cool thing is that Jill does it without the preachy aspect. It will make teens think, seeing examples of good and bad, without pointing to a character and saying, “See that? That is what is bad for you. So stay away from the bad.”

It’s what I love about speculative fiction. The “what if” questions that you can ask when you suspend reality, whether through fantasy, science fiction, steampunk, cyberpunk, time travel, or plain old dystopian. So for Jill and other writers venturing into such places, go for it. It’s awesome.

If you want to see some more feedback about Outcasts, then Becky Miller has a list of all of the participants and their posts.

What do you think? Is there something about the dystopian genre that we should be wary of as Christians, or are there ways to work redemptively through it? Share below.

CSFF Tour – Outcasts Day 2

Hey-o boys and femmes!

It’s day 2 of our featured book, Outcasts by Jill Williamson, the second in the Safe Lands series. Yesterday I recapped book 1, Captives.

What about Outcasts? Does it avoid the sophomore slump? Is it another Empire Strikes Back?

The story follows the remnant of Glenrock, a village that survived the thin plague but stayed out of the walled, totalitarian Safe Lands nearby. In Captives, they were forcibly taken into the Safe Lands.

Levi, the oldest brother who had to take over eldership of the Glenrock remnant, is hiding out in the underground with his group. He’s working with Rebel leaders, but he doesn’t know if he can trust them with his people. They have their own agendas, and it may not be what Levi thinks.

Mason, the middle brother, continues to work and act as an undercover spy for his people. He’s trying to get information out of Ciddah, the head medic he works for. His heart is betraying him, but what if she betrays him first.

Omar is the youngest brother who opened the door for the Safe Lands enforcers to come to Glenrock. He regrets his actions and tries in his own way to atone for them, but his addictions developed from the Safe Lands hinder his progress.

Together they need to free the Glenrock children from the boarding house before they can find a way out of the Safe Lands. But with powerful enemies and questionable allies, will they survive or will they be caught and prematurely liberated from this life?

Jill Williamson is a dynamo of a woman. She is full of energy and imagination in real life, and it shows in Outcasts. There are tons of fun touches in the futuristic world that make the Safe Lands come alive. There are many futuristic novels out there to compete, but Jill puts a unique spin on many things. The reader will enjoy making connections with some of our real life items and how they develop in the future.

As Becky Miller pointed out in her first post, Outcasts deals with real life issues head on, from drug addiction to sexual desires, but it is all handled in a realistic and honest fashion without glamorizing any of it. The negative consequences of vices are clear, but not in a preachy manner. This book has ideas that give it a heft that some other books miss in dealing with teens and twenty-somethings. The characters anchor these ideas, as they wrestle in different ways with the issues. Omar gave himself over to pleasures that he realizes is damaging, but he has a hard time getting past them. Some of the consequences come out at very inconvenient times, which keeps the plot twisting. Meanwhile Mason, the reasonable brother, still deals with some real temptation.

Overall the book is a very enjoyable read. There are a few sequences where a lot of characters are doing things and it gets confusing for a little while. The book is the second in a series, so there are things that a person would be confused about if they started with Outcasts. The solution is simple – get Captives and read it first!

Becky Miller has all of the posts from the tour updated on her blog. Be sure to check them out, and I’ll be talking a little deeper about the book tomorrow.

CSFF Tour – Outcasts Day 1

Hey-o boys and femmes. Welcome back to the Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy blog tour, where the best in Christian speculative fiction is highlighted.

This month we’re featuring the book Outcasts by Jill Williamson. It is the second book in the Safe Lands series. 

In the first book, Captives, we learn about a post-pandemic America. The Safe Lands is a walled city that has survived and has developed its own culture and lives by the philosophy of “find pleasure in life.” The problem is that they can only control the thin plague – they can’t cure it. And it is making their women sterile.

Glenrock is a village that exists outside the Safe Lands and lives in a much more rural existence. The villagers have a patriarchal society, continue to fellowship with God, and do things on a natural level.

When leaders from the Safe Lands decide to ask Glenrock to join them to help with their fertility issue, they assumed the villagers would want to join for the benefits of technology. But the plan goes awry and many villagers are killed.

Three brothers, sons of Papa Eli, must make their way in the Safe Lands. Eldest Levi has the mantle of village elder and wants to rescue his people from their clutches.

Mason was trained as a healer in the village, and now is placed in the medical system of the Safe Lands and looks for a way to not only save his people, but stop the thin plague as well.

Omar, the youngest, delivered his people to the Safe Lands in exchange for power and prestige, things he couldn’t accomplish on his own in the village. However, his acceptance of Safe Land life will come with a cost.

Captives starts an intriguing young adult trilogy with adventure and thought-provoking commentary on our modern life. I’ll talk about Outcasts in a later post.

For more information, you can check out my prior posts on Captives. The folks below will be discussing Outcasts during the tour as well, and Becky Miller is our tour master and will update with all the latest. 

Red Bissell
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Beckie Burnham
Pauline Creeden
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
 Julie Bihn
Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Melanie @ Christian Bookshelf Reviews
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
Jalynn Patterson
Writer Rani
Chawna Schroeder
Jacque Stengl
Jojo Sutis
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler
Deborah Wilson

Legal mumbo-jumbo:  In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. 
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CSFF Tour – Captives Day 3

If you’ve been following along the past two days, you are brave. Now I can reveal my secrets.

I’ve been posting updates on the controversial book Captives by Jill Williamson. As you can see by the warning above, it is a dangerous book. According to Safe Lands Enforcers, it should be reported.

I’m here to tell you I’ve read it.

If you get caught and point back to me, I’ll deny it. But it isn’t what the warning says. It is something far different.

How Jill Williamson came by her knowledge is hidden, but she has told the story of the villagers taken into the Safe Lands in an engaging manner. You may only pick it up to flip through a couple of pages to see what the fuss is about. If you do, you’ll be hooked. Questions will form in your mind: Why does the Safe Lands need help with reproduction? Why was Omar willing to betray his people to the Safe Lands? What does Mason and Levi expect to accomplish by playing along with the authorities?

These two brothers, forced into leadership by the death of their village elders, are the lynchpin of the tale. Levi takes action and tries to break his family and friends out. Mason investigates, looking for a deeper truth that can shake the Safe Lands to its core.

A reader may be willing to shoot the traitor Omar themselves half-way through the book, but is everything as it seems on first glance?

Jill compares the simple life and faith of the outsiders with the flashy but empty diversions of the Safe Lands, offering a stark contrast between the two lives. Now that I have read this, I do not believe everything shown on the Wyndos, or every proclamation from the Enforcers.

I have questions, but the problem is this book is incomplete. It ends before all is revealed. Rumors of another tome, Outcasts, have been whispered from lips hidden in darkness. Is there more to the story of the Safe Lands and the outsiders, or has Jill been captured and liberated into Bliss early?

Now that I have seen this, I can’t stay quiet and pretend nothing has happened. Share this post. Tell people, no matter the risk to me. And more information can be found. Rebecca Luella Miller has been active in collecting all the myths and legends regarding Captives and the tale Jill Williamson exposes, so visit her site for the latest.

May you find what you’re looking for, searcher.

CSFF Tour – Merlin’s Blade Day 1

Welcome to medieval England for the May feature of the Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy Tour. We are featuring our own member Robert Treskillard and his debut YA novel, Merlin’s Blade

Robert’s been with us a long time, and I’ve enjoyed interacting with him throughout the years. More importantly, I’m so excited that we are able to feature him after so much hard work.

From Amazon:

In Robert Treskillard’s take on the Arthurian legends, young Merlin is faced with the challenge of saving his country and those he loves when a mysterious, and dangerous, stone falls from the sky. 

Partially blinded years ago, Merlin is a timid swordsmith who wants nothing more than to live a quiet life and win the hand of Natalenya, the beautiful and kind daughter of a magistrate. But after he and his friend Garth encounter a strange stone in the wood, one protected by druids, Merlin receives a series of visions and prophecies that he is to save his land and his Christian faith from a dark force. As the power of the stone grows and threatens his family and friends, Merlin is forced to embrace his calling—for he may be the only one immune to the stone’s power.

Touching on multiple elements of the classic Arthur story—from the Lady of the Lake, the creation of Excalibur, the sword in the stone, and the rescue of Arthur himself—this fantasy tale will appeal to young adults looking for adventure and a hint of romance, as well as adults who enjoy the classic tale this series is based on.

I’ll have more on the book tomorrow, but I want to point you to his blog for a special contest he’s having. The grand prize winner gets a sword created by Robert himself. Wow. I might have to learn how to spin cloth or something. Oh, you’ll have to see this post for the rules.

You can find more information at his blog or author site, and see my tourmates below for their thoughts as well.

   Noah Arsenault Beckie Burnham Keanan Brand Jeff Chapman Laure Covert Pauline Creeden Emma or Audrey Engel April Erwin Victor Gentile Ryan Heart Timothy Hicks Jason Joyner Carol Keen Krystine Kercher Shannon McDermott Meagan @ Blooming with Books Rebecca LuElla Miller Joan Nienhuis Nathan Reimer Chawna Schroeder Kathleen Smith Jojo Sutis Robert Treskillard Steve Trower Phyllis Wheeler Shane Werlinger Nicole White

CSFF Tour – Angel Eyes Day 3

Today’s our wrap-up day for the excellent supernatural debut of Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore.

I introduced the book on Monday and Tuesday did a quasi-review while doing a compare/contrast with the Twilight books to which Shannon’s book has been compared. I planned to do my review today, but I jumped the gun yesterday.

So I’m going to do something I’m usually loathe to do.

Angel Eyes is about the teen Brielle learning about a wider world and her special gift that is both a blessing and something that makes her a target. However, there is a sub-plot in the book that touches on an issue near to my heart. I don’t like to give spoilers, but here is a minor one: Brielle and Jake stumble upon a human trafficking ring.

The tragedy of human trafficking is coming up more often than ever in fiction. I am very glad for this, since it is such a horror and needs to be defeated. In my own work in progress it is an integral part of the story. I wish I would have finished it sooner, but I’ll get there someday. Whereas my story is set in Southeast Asia, Shannon keeps hers in the Pacific Northwest.

Guess what? Human trafficking exists all over. It is in the States, not just an overseas problem.

If a story can bring awareness to a terrible crime like human trafficking and still be entertaining, it is a powerful tool. Shannon’s done that here, and I’m very appreciative of her book. Not just because of the enjoyment factor, which I definitely enjoyed it, but because the more light that is shown on the darkness of modern-day slavery, the more it will retreat.

There are many fine organizations who are doing specific things to battle human trafficking, some that I’ve linked to in the sidebar to the right. Shannon offers up Chabdai at the end of Angel Wings, so I’ll point you there as well for more information. Please take a few minutes to become informed about this if you haven’t already.

Shannon has won a major fan here. I’ll be excited to read her next book, Broken Wings, which comes out next month. My preferred genre isn’t YA romance (even with the supernatural twist) and I’m focusing on reading suspense nowadays for my own writing, but I’ll make an exception here.

That’s all I have for this fine book and interesting tour. As always, Becky Miller keeps tabs of all of the participants on her blog. Check them out.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy in exchange for an honest opinion. So there.

CSFF Tour – Angel Eyes Day 2

Is Angel Eyes the Christian version of Twilight?

I hope that sentence doesn’t scare anyone off! I aim to explain. 
Yesterday I introduced the January CSFF feature Angel Eyes by new author Shannon Dittemore. She takes an intriguing nugget of an idea and runs with it. 
Becky Miller addresses somewhat the idea of the similarity between Angel Eyes and Twilight. Both books feature a wounded girl moving to be with a single father in a rural area, and both girls end up meeting a mysterious guy who is also very good looking and intrigued with said female. Becky was surprised about the comparison. 
I wasn’t. 
Because I *ahem* read the Twilight series. 
Okay, I guess I will hand over my man card. Won’t be the first time. I was bored and had a lot of time to read that year. But I digress. 
The trick is that anytime there are similarities, people are going to call it. And in the Christian market, where we do have a reputation (often deserved, but not always) of copying a trend or style in the mainstream market, it is going to come fast and furious.
So here’s a main difference:
Angel Eyes is way better. 
I kept reading Twilight because I did like Stephenie Meyer’s voice. But aside from the questions the plot offers, her writing needs some severe editing. I’m not sure I could read it again after four more years of studying writing under my belt. Meyer gets too thick with her description, going on and on about how perfect Edward is.
Dittemore hits the right notes. Sure, there are points where someone who’s read both will see comparisons. I don’t think it was intentional. There’s nothing new under the sun, remember. Her Brielle is not a whiny wimp that doesn’t feel good unless she’s around her hunk, and even then she’s a bummer. Brielle is damaged, like any good fiction character. There’s issues that create conflict, but they don’t drag her into a quagmire of blah.
The book has great description. For instance, in the book Brielle is always cold. She can’t get warm. It is a plot point, and it has to be repeated a lot. To me an idea that gets repeated over and over can really bog down a book if it is done poorly. Dittemore reminds us enough about this particular detail without being overly repetitive or boring us with the same words.
Another similarity is the attraction between Brielle and the mysterious guy, Jake. Now, I probably wouldn’t have used the name “Jake” (Jacob the shirtless werewolf, anyone?), but there is no love triangle in this book. There’s no sparkly vegetarian vampires. I repeat, NO SPARKLES. One criticism of the book I have is that Jake is sometimes too good – he doesn’t seem to be a fully three dimensional character. But again, the comparison between the romance is superficial.
Ultimately, this is a Christian novel. It deals with faith, doubt, suffering, and other real world issues in a touching and believable way. Believable considering a girl can see the supernatural and there are angels and demons. But the angels know their place. They serve the Lord Almighty, and that is brought out in the book in a very strong way. Not preachy, but it isn’t hidden either.
So, I do not believe Angel Eyes is the Christian Twilight. It stands on its own, with some shared conventions since they are both YA, both romance, and both supernatural in nature. But I would not hesitate to recommend Angel Eyes to a young woman who likes to read or anyone who enjoys speculative fiction. Which I would hesitate with Twilight with some people. 
Well, shoot Becky. You forced my hand early. I’m going to have to get creative for tomorrow’s post. In the meantime, Becky keeps a tab of all of the posts for this tour, so check them out for more opinions and info. 

CSFF Tour – Angel Eyes Day 1

What do you think you could see if you could see into the angelic realm?

Good for us that’s the job of speculative fiction authors, and that Shannon Dittemore took up the challenge.

The latest feature for the Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy Tour is the debut book by Ms. Dittemore, Angel Eyes. It is a YA novel and the first of a trilogy of books, with the next book Broken Wings coming out in February and the final book Dark Halo releasing in August.

Brielle is a young woman with a devastated heart and an inability to get warm. She returns to small Stratus, Oregon after a tragedy that causes her to give up on her elite performing school in Portland. Her heart is as frozen as the weather in the rural town, but when she catches the attention of the new, hot guy in town, she doesn’t know what to think.

Especially when she starts seeing the supernatural.

Brielle enters a strange new world that the new guy, Jake, seems to know a lot about. Her new sight opens up new horizons, and a new perspective on evil-an evil that wants to use her in their latest schemes.

Now Jake and Brielle may be all that stands between a loss of innocence and a horror beyond imagining, if they can survive the encounter themselves.

This book has gotten a lot of buzz, so it is exciting to be featuring it for our January tour. Check out my tourmates below for more information, and I’ll have a review and more discussion in the next two days. 

Gillian Adams
Julie Bihn
Beckie Burnham
Theresa Dunlap
Nikole Hahn
Jeremy Harder
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Faye Oygard
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Jessica Thomas
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

The Adoration Of Jenna Fox

Jenna Fox can’t lace her fingers together.
Her fingers look perfectly fine. They just don’t go together well. A classmate tells her she has an odd walk. But she used to do ballet. At least that’s what she’s been told by her parents.
She can’t remember it though.
Seventeen year old Jenna Fox wakes up in California, a stranger in her body. She had an accident that put her in a coma, and now she can’t remember most of her previous life.
She was an only child, so her doting parents have numerous videos of her life. She’s encouraged to watch them as she tries to regain what she’s lost.
Jenna feels like she’s not being told everything. Her grandmother who lives with them is distant and cold, unlike the loving Grandma in the videos. And when she visits her neighbor and he offers her a chance to feed the birds, they won’t eat from her handful of birdseed. They only choose the neighbor.
So just who is Jenna Fox?
We all received books for Christmas in my family. The Adoration Of Jenna Fox by Mary E Pearson was my request. It may seem weird for a middle aged guy to want a young adult novel, but this book intrigued me with its premise of mystery in the midst of bioethics. Oh, and the cover rocks.
 It didn’t disappoint.
The book is written in present tense from Jenna’s point of view, which is a perfect way to tell her story – as she discovers her new life and old one, we experience it with her.
The structure is a little disjointed early on. Chapters seem random and are set apart in varying ways, not with the typical stop, blank page, and clear title and beginning into the next part. It made getting into the book a little challenging. However, it makes sense when considering Jenna’s fragmented memory. Once I got into it, I wanted to discover what Jenna’s secret was and how it was going to affect her. (I knew more about the plot going into it than I am giving here – I don’t want it spoiled for new readers).
The book is set in a near future where there are some amazing medical advances, but with any progress comes questions and unintended consequences. Adoration does a very good job of introducing issues to think about in the framework of the story. I don’t know how much it would make a teen think of bioethical issues, but as a medical professional I thought it was well done and should provoke thought. One of my favorite philosophers is Ian Malcolm from Jurrasic Park when he says, “Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.”
Adoration has humorous moments, stakes that become higher than just Jenna finding herself, and a lot of suspense. The ending may be too tidy, but it is satisfying, and it looks like Pearson managed to work a sequel into it still, The Fox Inheritance, which I haven’t read yet.
I recommend this book for teens, those interested in bioethics or medical fiction, and those who like near future “what ifs”. It is a good read that can provoke thinking – a crazy thing, right?

The Adoration Of Jenna Fox

Jenna Fox can’t lace her fingers together.
Her fingers look perfectly fine. They just don’t go together well. A classmate tells her she has an odd walk. But she used to do ballet. At least that’s what she’s been told by her parents.
She can’t remember it though.
Seventeen year old Jenna Fox wakes up in California, a stranger in her body. She had an accident that put her in a coma, and now she can’t remember most of her previous life.
She was an only child, so her doting parents have numerous videos of her life. She’s encouraged to watch them as she tries to regain what she’s lost.
Jenna feels like she’s not being told everything. Her grandmother who lives with them is distant and cold, unlike the loving Grandma in the videos. And when she visits her neighbor and he offers her a chance to feed the birds, they won’t eat from her handful of birdseed. They only choose the neighbor.
So just who is Jenna Fox?
We all received books for Christmas in my family. The Adoration Of Jenna Fox by Mary E Pearson was my request. It may seem weird for a middle aged guy to want a young adult novel, but this book intrigued me with its premise of mystery in the midst of bioethics. Oh, and the cover rocks.
 It didn’t disappoint.
The book is written in present tense from Jenna’s point of view, which is a perfect way to tell her story – as she discovers her new life and old one, we experience it with her.
The structure is a little disjointed early on. Chapters seem random and are set apart in varying ways, not with the typical stop, blank page, and clear title and beginning into the next part. It made getting into the book a little challenging. However, it makes sense when considering Jenna’s fragmented memory. Once I got into it, I wanted to discover what Jenna’s secret was and how it was going to affect her. (I knew more about the plot going into it than I am giving here – I don’t want it spoiled for new readers).
The book is set in a near future where there are some amazing medical advances, but with any progress comes questions and unintended consequences. Adoration does a very good job of introducing issues to think about in the framework of the story. I don’t know how much it would make a teen think of bioethical issues, but as a medical professional I thought it was well done and should provoke thought. One of my favorite philosophers is Ian Malcolm from Jurrasic Park when he says, “Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.”
Adoration has humorous moments, stakes that become higher than just Jenna finding herself, and a lot of suspense. The ending may be too tidy, but it is satisfying, and it looks like Pearson managed to work a sequel into it still, The Fox Inheritance, which I haven’t read yet.
I recommend this book for teens, those interested in bioethics or medical fiction, and those who like near future “what ifs”. It is a good read that can provoke thinking – a crazy thing, right?