Villainously Complex

Very often, a positive comment a reviewer will have about a book is that the characters are "complex." That means that the characters are three-dimensional and surprise you occasionally. A tough cop who is afraid of public speaking or a fragile young woman who finds courage to stand on her own are characters we like because they have depth and are not pure stereotypes.

Among writers of Christian/Spiritual/Biblical speculative fiction we often think about the complexity of our heroes. Perhaps as a respect for literature and perhaps simply as a reaction against the too-good-to-be-real-sickly-sweet heroes and heroines of traditional Christian fiction we have taken pains to include weaknesses as well as strengths, show the character as being vulnerable and even sinful at times without condoning the sin simply acknowledging it as part of every Christian's struggle.

Unfortunately, in both Christian and secular speculative fiction, I don't always find the same care given to make the villains. There are, of course, exceptions. Darth Vader's journey from Anikan Skywalker, Jedi Knight to the general of the Dark Side has been chronicled over 6 movies and 30 years. Gollum and to a lesser extent Gandalf's mentor who are both seduced by the power of the ring have some of this complexity.

But those are exceptions rather than the rule. Most fantasy, horror or science fiction villains are portrayed as simply being evil without much since of where that evil came from. Likewise, they are all evil with no good side at all. It's almost the flip side of the too-good-to-be-real hero. Even if a villain does something good, usually we attribute evil motives to the behavior whereas, we will tend to excuse or at least empathize with the failings of our heroes.

I don't know why this is. Well drawn, three dimensional villains are as engaging to a reader as a three-dimensitonal hero. Perhaps in the Christian world that may be the problem. We may be afraid that if we understand the bad guy it is like excusing him. This is nonsense, of course. As a someone who went through high school being assaulted both physically and verbally in every way imaginable, I can understand the actions of high school shooters, yet I can't condone them. Most of us who are abused in the way they are barrel through, get therapy as adults, and don't go shooting people. But that doesn't mean we don't empathize with them. The only difference between me and a high school shooter was a choice I made. It was a choice influence by parental love and a relationship with Christ, but it was still a choice.

Wouldn't it be nice to see villains and heroes where the only difference between them is a series of choices? Instead of the inexplicably inherently evil villain, we have a villain we know is like us. That is the scariest villain of all.

Maybe that is why we don't write such villains. I don't want to admit that I could do the things this evil being does. Yet, I may be just one choice away from beginning the journey down that path. If I see a villain who enjoys coaching a little league team on the weekends after a hard week of running a crime syndicate, I call into question the whole inherently evil assumption, and I have to face the reality that at this moment I may be a generally good person who sins occassionally, but a few bad choices later, I could become an evil person who does good things occassionally, and I'm not totally sure where the line is dividing the two.

Still, such understandable villains are important as anti-role models warnings that our choices determine our destiny and that any one of us has the potential of becoming an angel or a demon.


Laser and Sword Goes Another Direction

(Boise, Idaho): Adam Graham, publisher of the publication formerly known as Laser and Sword Magazine announced a bold new direction for his magazine.

“Research indicates that Christian stories are more likely to sell if they’re historical romances,” said Graham. “Therefore, in consideration of Christian principle and making tons of money, I’m announcing we’re redoing all of our stories as Historical Romances.”

Graham, who says the publication will now be called, “Cannon and Sword Magazine” issued a list of proposed plot changes:

Instead of “Order of the Sword” being set in the modern day, it will be set in the 17th Century. Instead of his protagonists being Superheroes, they will instead being an international team of privateers protecting the high seas from cut-throat pirates. Instead of being betrayed by the Dark Mystic, a “Superhero” possessed by a demon, they’ll be betrayed by the ship’s magician, who is also a privateer.

”Why a privateer is a magician, I don’t know,” said Graham. “but let’s be clear he doesn’t have any magic powers. He’s an illusionist.”

The Story instead of focusing on the shipwrecked privateers will mostly focus on the Sword’s lovely wife trying to survive and wondering what happened to him.

“I’ve got a plan where a message in a bottle floats from the Bermuda triangle to Philadelphia where his wife opens it,” said Graham. “Hey, stop laughing, reporter! You may think it’s ridiculous, but it’s my plot point.”

Graham also said the story, “Rise of the Judge” would no longer be a futuristic story of a young man conscripted into a dystopic Imperial military, but will be redone as an 18th Century story of an American Colonialist forced to join the British Navy. Insiders expect Private A.L. Snyder to fall in love with an Indian princess and become city judge of a small town in Massachusetts by the end of the story.

“Tales of the Dim Knight” instead of being about a modern man who becomes a Super Hero, will be about a clumsy cowboy who finds an alien horse.

“I’m sure our old readers will be happy with this sci fi twist,” said Graham.

The Talking Alien Horse leads Cowboy Dave Johnson to become the “Masked Ranger’, a mysterious stranger who helps those in need and seeks to win the heart of local pastors daughter Naomi Bartlett.

“Bartlett is a great last name for a Western woman,” said Graham.

Graham picked April 1st because he said it was the most appropriate day to make this announcement.

“Readers can expect when the next issue of Laser and Sword-excuse me Cannon and Sword-comes out on April 6,” said Graham. “For it not to be action packed, seat of your pants thrills. We definitely won’t be featuring new and exciting heroes. Nor will our magazine be available at the easily affordable price of $1.25 per E-issue. Nor will you be able to download the first issue for free here.”


Renewing your sense of wonder

This week, God captured my attention.
My wife and I celebrated our wedding anniversary by taking an overnight trip to Helen, GA. For those not familiar with the area, it’s a small town tucked away in the north Georgia mountains (about a two-and-a-half hour drive for us). The entire town centers on this Bavarian theme, with all of the businesses (even the Wendy’s!) designed to externally resemble old Germany.
Although the architectural theme is very cool, the splendor and majesty of the mountain landscape took my breath away. The view from our hotel balcony was nothing short of amazing, particularly during sunrise. It was the sort of view that you cannot behold without praising and worshipping God for the beauty of His creation. As I looked out upon His handiwork, I couldn’t help being overwhelmed at just how skilled an artist He truly is. Consequentially, I found that God had revived something in me that, unfortunately, doesn’t get stirred enough: Wonder.
When was the last time you felt that? How often do we get so wrapped up in the breakneck pace of life that we miss out on that sense of wonder? I honestly believe that God intends for us to experience that on a regular basis. This is especially true for those of us who consider ourselves to be writers or any other kind of artist. How can we do justice to the creative gifts with which God has blessed us if we fail to appreciate the wonders of His creation?
Taking a trip to some tranquil setting certainly helps to filter out some of the distractions, but we can do it without the drive if we know where to look. Here are some ideas of ways that God can spark your sense of wonder:
· Read what the Word has to say about His creation. Psalm 104 is highly recommended.
· Find a few minutes to pause from your busy schedule and just look at God’s handiwork around you. Ask yourself the question, “Could this have happened by chance, or did there have to be a Creator?” Yes, we know the answer, but we take it for granted.
· Take some time to play with a child. The more imagination the child has, the better. Let their God-given sense of wonder rub off on you.
· We’re writers, right? OK then, write down what you see in nature. Be descriptive. Using our God-given ability in that way forces us to reflect on His workmanship and deepens our appreciation for it.Above all, praise God for how amazing and awesome His creation is!