1.31.2012

Antiheroes

The antihero -- defined by Wikipedia as a protagonist whose character is at least in some regards conspicuously contrary to that of the archetypal hero -- seems to be all the rage these days. In fact, it almost seems mandatory in modern fiction that the protagonists fit in with this (rather broad) definition in some way.

Of course, there are antiheroes and there are antiheroes. It is good fiction in many ways to have characters who are flawed, because all human beings are flawed. The ones who have a some obvious flaws but are otherwise decent, sane individuals who do things (heroes like Han Solo, Conan the Barbarian from the short stories, Mal Reynolds, and Winston Smith from 1984), I have no problem with -- other than that they can be tricky to write. Well, I find heroes in general a bit tricky because one must be careful not to over idealize them while still keeping them heroic.

But then there are the antiheroes who have little or no redeeming features and are near psychopaths. These I do not like one bit. I stopped reading the first of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Lord Foul's Bane, very early in the novel because I just could NOT root for a guy who's willing to rape a totally innocent girl, who's only crime was helping him, just because he felt like it (pretty much the first thing this antihero does upon being transported to "The Land"). I was unable to finish reading the last two books of Game of Thrones because, as far as I could tell, there were no protagonists such was the "antihero" extremes of every character left alive by that point who was concerned only for himself and thought nothing of murdering/betraying their own family. Then there's the fact that Hannibal Lector is considered the protagonist in a series of novels/films! This is the stuff that "Sophia's Favourite" calls "soul-rotting uninspiring garbage".

It's really a shame that these latter have gained so much traction -- which is likely a testament to the power that critics still have over the average reader. But there's definitely an upside: the archetypical hero is so rare these days, that one might be able to pull-off writing one in such a way that it gets praised as "original" or "out of the ordinary".

1.30.2012

Your Bi-Weekly Update - #1


To fill the gap on Mondays on Rex Caelestis' off weeks, I'll give readers an update on changes to the site and on my scrivenings. First up this week, I made my reluctant return to Facebook and created a page there for Swords and Space; also added a "Facebook Like Box" here on right-hand sidebar. If you read this blog and you're on Facebook, please consider "liking" it.

Updated "What I'm Reading" on 26 January to reflect completed works and what I've moved onto. I recently finished reading Godcountry by Colleen Drippe' which was excellent. It's out of print BUT you can get used copies at Amazon. One of the reviewers summed-up well what makes this novel great: "[it is] science fiction that understands the human condition and human soul yet still fascinates with the marvels of the future."

Finally finished my first submission for the as-yet unnamed Collegium Scriptorum Catholicae anthology. My first story is entitled "Chimera" and  features an ex-soldier who stumbles upon an escaped chimera (genetically altered creature composed of two or more different populations of genetically distinct cells) and becomes tied-up with it while he tries to determine whether it's human or not. Now I'll be moving onto a story featuring Catholic monks aboard a generation ship. While doing some research I discovered that one of my plot devices is completely contrary to the science so I'll have to think about how to resolve that.

Doing the drawing "Space Barbarian" inspired me to do some quick, semi-serious short stories for the blog so hopefully those will materialize soon.

1.28.2012

Writing Horses (Book Review)


Title: Writing Horses: The Fine Art of Getting It Right
Authors: Judith Tarr
Publisher: Book View Café
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A solid introductory reference work for the fantasy/historical fiction writer to help them "get it right", written in an accessible  by a "horse person"

As the title says, this ebook is written by a "horse person" to help us non-"horse people" to get the horses right in their fantasy or historical fiction (or maybe even space fantasy). I downloaded this affordably-priced ($4.99) ebook on the advice of my mother who is a "horse person" to help me with getting my horses right -- specifically in preparation for starting into my as-yet unnamed fantasy adventure. I found it very helpful in that regard and give it 4 stars.


The book is actually a collection of blog entries, revised for the book. Chapters include "Form and Function", "Care, Feeding, and the Inevitable Need for a Horse Doctor", "The Fine Art of Horse Stowage", "Baaby Horses", "Horse Training", and "Mind and Magic" (on the psychology of the "furry aliens" that are horses). It answers such important questions as how far can a horse travel in a day? What does a horse eat? When is a brown horse really a sorrel (or a bay, or a dun)? What do tack and withers and canter mean?

Some chapters were more useful to me than others -- the first two are certainly the most important since they give the nuts-and-bolts that a writer of stories where horses are present (versus some actually writing about horses) needs with recommendations for further reading. This book is by no means meant to be an exhaustive study but more of a primer. This makes it a quick and easy read that gives a clear notion of what further study is required for the reader's particular work.


Writing Horses is written in a humourous, down-to-earth style. I found it enjoyable to read and being a "non-horse person" gave me an appreciation not just for the complex psychology of horses but of their modern devotees as well. I do think is that some of the things complained of as major faux pas on the part of writers are so esoteric that only horse people would be offended. For example, when writers have someone knee a horse's flank -- technically totally wrong, but in terms of general parlance I think most people consider the flank as, generically, the side. Yet "horse people" are not an insignificant group and they are vocal, so it seems worthwhile to listen to them. Simply from the aspect of professional pride I do think that writers should try to learn about everything the write of so that they sounds somewhat knowledgeable to those "in the know" and to that end I recommend this book.


On the whole, then, "Writing Horses" is well worth the $4.99 pricetag and is a valuable resource for any fantasy/historical fiction writer. I give it 4/5 stars accordingly.

1.27.2012

Space Barbarian - Inked Only (Artwork)

I decided it was high time that I got a bit more swords AND space together on this blog, so I came up with the idea for this picture entitled "Space Barbarian". Unfortunately, due to continued illness in the family and not much sleep going on, my faithful readers will have to wait until next Friday for the full, coloured version.



Yes, I know the damsel in distress' hands are not great. Hands are bloody difficult to do, and I admit I rushed hers a bit trying to get this done. It's just practice, after all, so I decided not to worry too much about it.

Also had a bit of an issue with the scanner plate being too small for the picture, so the sides got cut off along with the border. Not as big a problem here where the background is dark, but I'll have to figure out how to add a thin black border for posting elsewhere such as my Facebook page.

1.26.2012

"Dredd" film due in September

If more proof were needed that I live under a rock, unbeknownst to me, way back in July Empire magazine ran an article concerning a new Judge Dredd movie due out around September of 2012. The article included pictures which indicate a darker, grittier version of the Dredd setting than 1995's somewhat campy Judge Dredd with Sly Stalone. I actually kind of liked the original, but I like dark and gritty more (which is perhaps why I enjoy the "grim darkness" of the 41st century so much).



Although they don't have the big shoulder eagles, otherwise this version looks (so far) like it will be more in keeping with the original comics created by John Wagner -- which should be surprising since  the makers of THIS film actually had Wagner down to their set in South Africa to check things out and advise. It seems he was pleased and summed up why just from the pics I'm thinking this will be a better film:
Very pleased with what I saw of Karl Urban and Olivia Thirlby. Both excellent in their roles and work well as a team. Entire crew really dedicated and determined to produce a damned good movie ...  Alex Garland and I have had our disagreements but he has usually had a convincing argument for doing things his way. On the main issue, concentrating the plot on a slice of life rather than trying to convey the wh…ole sweep of Dredd and Mega-City life, I now see that he’s right. It was one of the flaws of the first movie, they tried to do too much.

I give massive credit to the producers for getting input from the creator and for casting Carl Urban as Judge Dredd. I've enjoyed Mr. Urban's performances in all the films I've seen him in, including The Two Towers/Return of the King, RED, and even The Chronicles of Riddick.

Not sure what it is that appeals to me about the whole Judge Dredd setting. When I step back and think objectively, the whole idea of a police force that has the power of judge, jury, and executioner is pretty horrific. I think our police today, with their relatively limited powers, already have too much power and that this all too frequently leads to abuses and violations of peoples' rights. Lord Acton was most certainly correct when he wrote "[p]ower tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Maybe it's my naturally pessimistic view on modern society that leads me to gravitate towards dark future settings like Warhammer 40K, Judge Dredd, even Blade Runner and Alien.

In any event, I've added this film to my list for 2012, along with Prometheus. Haven't been to the cinema since Abrams' Star Trek was out in 2009, now I'm going to go twice (maybe thrice -- I am still debating John Carter of Mars).

1.25.2012

Call to Arms: The Creation of Serveus Kunar

The character Serveus Kunar actually started with a name, which is the opposite of how I usually develope characters (usually the name is the very last thing I decide on and they have placeholders like [name] identifying them for much of a first draft). Many years ago, I was playing a Star Wars-themed role-playing game and needed an idea for my imperial officer character. The name Serveus Kunar was suggested by one of the other gamers, and I took it. I used the name again years later when playing Wizards of the Coast's Star Wars R.P.G. with other friends for a different, but similar, character.

The name was next seen again in my first short story to ever be published in a paying print magazine, "Call to Arms" (also available on this blog, since said magazine no longer exists). It started as an assignment for the Long Ridge Writer's Group "Breaking into Print". At the time I was given the assignment, I was working on developing the Call to Arms world and decided to test it out. Having really liked the name Serveus Kunar for years, I resurrected it and gave the name to the main character of that story.

I developed a totally new character to go with the name, and from there a whole planet and local culture based on the name. The previous Long Ridge Assignment had had me come up with characters based on people I knew. I therefore based Serveus Kunar's personality off of a combination of one of my coworkers and a family member (I will not say who). I was fairly happy with how "Call to Arms" (the short story) turned out so when it came time to get down to planning the characters for the novel, Serveus Kunar jumped out at me as the perfect candidate to fill the role of "The Captain" (as the placeholder then had him).

I knew what I had in mind; I intended as a sort of an "anti-Han Solo". Han Solo had always been one of my favourite characters growing up. I wanted someone with his swagger, charisma, "I don't care attitude" but with a twist -- instead of a "slimy, double-crossing, no-good swindler" he'd be an archaic, backwards, chauvanistic dinosaur. The parfait, gentil chevalier, but with a certain edge. It didn't take much to fit the Serveus Kunar of "Call to Arms" into this role by envisioning the trials and tribulations he went through in the decades that pass between the two pieces. "Call to Arms" (the short story) shows Serveus Kunar the boy just as he's becoming a man, whereas Call to Arms the novel shows us Serveus Kunar the battle-hardened veteran. The result is one of my favourite characters to date.

1.24.2012

Dissipation

When last month I wrote on the importance of an ordered life, I wrote that I thought it was important not to allow for opportunities for "dissipation". I know at least one reader was interested to read more about that, so here we are.

"Dissipation" is a term I got from one of my colleagues at the Collegium Scriptorum Catholicae, and I use it in the same manner as the dictionary definition: the squandering of resources (specifically, the very valuable resource of time). Now, I've been guilty of doing just that of late, since pretty much the whole family's been sick and my reserves of willpower have been low, so I'm readily able to give examples.

Television is definitely the #1 time-waster for anyone that has one. As long as I've been married, we've never had a television, so that temptation to "just watch a few minutes" to unwind is not there. But as we know, a few minutes frequently and easily turns into a lot more. The easy answer is to do as I have and chuck the television. The same holds true for the #2 dissipator internet, although I'd say the internet is a lot more useful and worth keeping for its legitimate benefits.

The May, 2006 issue of Angelus Magazine, offered, in the article entitled "Chesterton Unplugged: Liberating Ourselves From eSlavery"  limiting internet use to checking emails only once or twice per day and having a specified time each week that do will do any other research on the internet. Never using the internet at home was further advised. I've implemented this in my life a few times (right now being one of them) and find it liberating. Into the void left by removing these opportunities for dissipation I find that even though I'm not able to sit down to write until about 10:00 at night (and am a person who needs 8 hours sleep to function properly yet must rise by 6:50) I've been able to finish a novel and am making progress on another, plus short stories and this blog.

Which comes back to the need for order. If there is a schedule, or at least guidelines that the writer has in mind, it is easier to avoid dissipation because there isn't time for it. 

1.23.2012

Rex Caelestis: Tycho Brahe Space Station

 From the Encyclopædia of Science and Technology, Ed. Ivan Krzykowski, St. Petersburg: Imperial Institution of Russia, 2310.

The Tycho Brahe Space Station (Russian: Браге) was the first space station program undertaken by the Russian Empire at the personal behest of Supreme Ruler Henryk Severnov; Construction was conducted over a period of eleven years from 2184 to 2193 with the first components launched on 19 April, 2184. The space station was a wheel-shape design using centrifugal force to create an early form of artificial gravity.

Begun five years after the first post-"One World Government" space flight, Tycho Brahe marked the next phase in development of old technologies recovered from previous civilizations. Many of the core components were launched from earth, where these had been construction by various small manufactories across the Russian Empire. Other components were "recycled" from the various abandoned installations still in orbit that could be salvaged. This program allowed space station technology to evolve to the permanent space outposts now spread throughout the solar system. This station remained in active use into the 23rd century, being mothballed after Fr. Kepf's development of artificial gravity rendered the impractical centrifuge configuration obsolete.

The station was named by the Supreme Commander himself after the Danish astronomer, specifically (and some say, provocatively) because the latter was a geocentrist who had combined what he saw as the mathematical benefits of the Copernican system with the philosophical and "physical" benefits of the Ptolemaic system.

1.21.2012

Puerto Rico (Boardgame Review)

Name: Puerto Rico
Game Designer: Andreas Seyfarth
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Summary: A unique, and surprisingly enjoyable game of economic management and strategic thought.

Puerto Rico is an "Age of Discovery" game, where the players take the roles of plantation owners in the newly-founded colony of Puerto Rico, competing to amass the most victory points by the game's end. These can be accumulated by shipping goods back to the Old World and through constructing special buildings. The manner of play is very unique; it seems a little complicated at first, but it doesn't take long to get a firm grasp of the rules. Each turn, the players select a "role" such as mayor, builder, craftsman, among others, which guides what they can do. The person to select the role gets a special benefit, then everyone else plays the role normally. Then the next person selects a role, and so on. In the picture below, you can see an example of the board each player has, with a few crops and buildings already in play and some money and victory points in the top right corner; the available roles are laid out above. Crops can be sold for money to purchase buildings with as well as shipped back to Spain for points.

Below: croplands and buildings must be "worked" by colonists, signified by the little brown puck-like tokens.

It sounds a little strange, I know -- this whole "role" thing was what stopped be from buying the game myself for many years (despite rave reviews from other board game geeks of my acquaintance), but my sister bought it for me for Christmas a few years ago and I am very glad she did. Don't let the unique and exotic-sounding rules turn you away -- overall this is an excellent and enjoyable game that anyone can play. I am a huge fan of strategy games myself, However, my wife and sister-in-law, who are not strategy gamers at all, were able to quickly grasp and enjoy Puerto Rico. I think this is a key to games of this type, as you want everyone to have fun. Be warned, though, that this game isn't exactly light -- it does requires concentration and thought! This only makes it more stimulating, in my view, which is what we should be striving for otherwise we might as well rot our brains in front of the TV.
Below: the main game board that houses all the buildings available to be built, and the bank.


Puerto Rico doesn't have as much interaction as The Settlers of Catan does, but it still makes for a very fun evening or rainy-day entertainment. People will have fun trying to out-smart each other with the proper selection of roles, and trying to get their goods aboard ships before the others can, to reap the victory point rewards. The game involves no warfare, or anything objectionable (perhaps some P.C.-types would be offended by the colonial theme -- which makes it even better in my view). In the games we played there was lots of laughter. Luck is a very limited factor in this game, making it more strategy-oriented.

A game of Puerto Rico takes between 1 and 2 hours, depending on how many players you have and whether you're having to explain the rules to others as you go. It seems to average for around $25 USD, which in my view is a bargain for all the stuff that you get in this game, and the replayability. Every game will be different and there are many paths to winning based on the mechanics of the game, and therefore as a strategy game I think this has more replayability than some. In fact, Puerto Rico really demands to be played numerous times because successful strategies are not self-evident.
Overall, I still like The Settlers of Catan better, but Puerto Rico seems to have wider appeal as boardgamegeek.com rates it nearly 10% points higher than Catan. It is definitely an enjoyable game and I highly recommend it to anyone that wants a fun game that doesn't take too long to play and is intellectually challenging. For some more reviews of the game, you can go here.



1.20.2012

Aliens vs. Sound of Music

Well, I did say in my introductory post that I'd be putting up unpublishable works on Fridays (as well as the unpublished), so here's one that most certainly fits the bill, posted here just for fun: how can one redeem one of my least favourite movies of all time? Combine it with one of my favourites!


With apologies to the copyright holders, who certainly gave me no permission, but I think this falls within "fair use". Also, a tip of the hat to Colleen Drippe' who induced me to draw this piece by telling me of Stephen King's quote that "sometimes you need to feed the crocodiles."

Now, for those who are wondering, yes, when I was a child I used to be quite fond of Sound of Music, but over the years have come to really dislike it for it's sappy-happy-clappy charicature of Catholicism, its denigration of authority, historical inaccuracy, and annoying music (my musical taste has matured). It's worth noting that Christopher Plumber disliked his role in the film and declined to attend the 40th Anniversary cast reunion.

1.19.2012

Foreign Languages

A friend offered four possible ways of portraying foreign language in prose and asked fellow writers (myself among them) which is the preferable method:
1) Repetition in the dialogue using the main narrative language: The German tipped his hat to the Englishman. "Wie heissen sie? What is your name, sir?"

2) Explanation in the tag: "Wo yao yi ping lu de che," she said, ordering a cup of green tea.

3) Direct translation in italics: "Ite maledicte in ignum eternum!" Depart ye evil-doer into everlasting fire!

4) Don't offer any help; let the reader sort it out for himself.
My preference lies with #2 although I've also used #4 and tried to provide enough context that the reader will have an idea. I agree that one should be very judicious in the use of foreign languages and especially to make sure that what you've written is correct.

In a fantasy/science fiction context, unless you're a linguist like J.R.R. Tolkein, I think a writer should avoid creating a language and using it in the text at all costs. Rather, think of the general sound (gutteral, singsong, &c.) and describe that rather than making up words.

That said, I found a very good "toolbox" for creating new languages here: http://www.zompist.com/kit.html and have tried it out myself. In the end, I decided it was way too much work for the results a non-linguist sucha as myself (I only speak one language, a linguistic phillistine, really) would get out of it.

1.18.2012

Call to Arms: Serveus Kunar

Another of the central characters in Call to Arms, whom I'd like to highlight, is the Acolyte centurion, Serveus Kunar. He is introduced to the reader very shortly into the novel as the "Master of Combat" to Quæstor Varas Solabius. Now, in the novel "Acolytes" are a sort of aristocracy who act as the primary assistants of the Magistrates -- one might call them an hereditary bureaucracy, although they do more than fill the important government posts below the Magistrates, as they also serve as field and company-grade officers in military situations. Whereas Magistrates would be the flag or general officers (generals, admirals, and captains of large star ships) the Acolytes command every position below that, with Centurion being the highest rank.

The "Master of Combat" is specifically an appointment similar to an adjutant and a second-in-command. Only the most experienced and seasoned of Acolyte veterans are appointed to these positions and they act as close advisors to Magistrates who are often much less experienced.

In the case of Serveus Kunar, he is a veteran of decades of warfare, starting on his wedding night when he was recruited into the ranks of the Old Loyalists on his homeworld Bharat against an Anaketh invasion. After much prevarication, the Proconsul of Bharat finally mustered his own troops and joined in the war to repel the Anaketh. At Battle of Ghwailur the Bharatians won a decisive victory against overwhelming enemy forces. The proconsul was killed in that battle, but one of his last acts was to award Serveus with the Order of Military Virtue in recognition of the latter's gallant actions. Shortly after that battle the Anaketh blasted Bharat apart in a last furious act of retribution.

All Bharatians are thus orphans, scattered and wandering the galaxy in a massive diaspora. Serveus Kunar is an ambiguous figure in Bharatian folklore, regarded both as a great hero for his well-known actions in the war, but also known to be a fugitive with the death sentence on twelve systems for his association with the Old Loyalists.

He is an arrogant, brash, somewhat roguish character who is utterly devoted to the old-world ideals of chivalry. So while he can be bombastic, he also goes out of his way to show courtesy to women, sacrifice himself to protect those under his care, and is absolutely scrupulous about ensuring no opponent is unfairly disadvantaged. He is a master swordsman and marksman. His most prized possessions are his Order of Military Virtue, and his two weapons which he describes thus:

The gladius is Ensis Sagramathan, called ‘the hard’ and bane of the Timingilae; ancient enemies of the men of Dehra from whose stock come my people. This blade was wielded by Centurion Varinius Vittorius, a great Acolyte captain of the wars against the Timingilae. At the last battle with them, he was struck down and his gladius lost in the great Dhanshiri River for a millenium. It was retreived by the founder to the Warraikh family and served them for many centuries.

The blaster is Ravikhsamy, Flame of Jananjya. It’s history is less well known, but Voystra was not the first place where it tormented the deserters of the celestial courts.
Kunar is not a member of the Warraikh family, but Cenurion Warraikh was the stiletto-moustached Acolyte who recruited Kunar in the short story. He was killed on campaign and bequeathed it to Serveus as he lay dying.

1.17.2012

Cryo Prisons

 
Now here's a science fiction trope I've never understood: cryonic jails. I was reminded of this when I recently viewed the trailer for "MS One: Maximum Security", a sci fi/action film due out in April starring Guy Pierce. The trope is probably better known from the film "Demolition Man" and basically it goes like this: in futuristic jails prisoners are cryonically frozen for the duration of their sentence. Which makes no sense if you consider the purpose of jails. I practice criminal law for a living, so perhaps this is more annoying to me than to others, but consider ...

The word "penitentiary" comes from Mediaeval Latin penitentiaria (“place of penitence”) -- it's meant to be a place where one is reformed through penance and meditation upon one's transgressions. Certainly this was the original intention when one considers the progenitors of our modern jails, those set up by the Quakers in the 1790s that involved all the inmates being held in cells alone with only the Bible to read. Penance means at the very least a certain level of punishment or discomfort. Letting prisoners sleep through their sentence completely takes away any penance and makes it merely temporary warehousing.

In terms of MS One where the premise also includes the prison being in space, I can see that, because you can't get any more secure than that -- it's a lot more difficult to escape when the jail is surrounded by hard vacuum. There's literally nowhere to go, even moreso than the Siberian gulags. But letting them sleep through the duration of the sentence ... well it certainly takes away the punishment aspect of the sentence because for the incarcerated person the sentence will be perceived as but a day or two long (and for real criminals, being seperated from friends/family because of being gone isn't really a big deal). Likewise the deterrent or denunciative aspect is nonexistent since it's awfully easy time to just snooze through your sentence. Rehabilitation is similarly out the window for the same reason -- the criminal's asleep so he can't learn anything.

That leaves the only purpose being to separate offenders from the public. Which has certain merit, I suppose, but it not very effectively accomplished by cryonics -- the twenty year old killer is still twenty years old when he's released after a 50 year sentence if cryonically frozen. He's 70 years old an a lot less likely to be physically able to commit further crimes if he's simply been warehoused in a standard institution all that time. And I doubt it would be a whole lot cheaper to keep someone on ice (refrigeration/monitoring systems) than to feed and clothe him for all that time. It just strikes me, overall, as a dumb idea. And from the trailer for MS One I have no idea why they even used it -- looks to me like just having a normal prison in space would have worked fine.

1.14.2012

The Mote in God's Eye (Book Review)



Title: The Mote in God's Eye 
Author: Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle  
Publisher: Pocket  
My Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5) 
Summary in a Sentence: The "Second Empire of Man" encounters aliens for the first time and they struggle towards the truth about this very alien race, in an excellent and gripping suspense novel that meticulously examines every aspect of First Contact and is devoid of the smut that characterises the vast majority of contemporary science fiction.

Good science fiction is often difficult to come by, especially if one looks at works written in the last decade. The genre has, sadly, in all to many instances, degenerated into little more than pornography in a futuristic setting. But one can still look back to the 70s and earlier and find many quality works, among them is The Mote in God's Eye, a masterpiece of science fiction writing in my opinion.

It tells the story of first contact between man and an extra-terrestrial alien race. This contact begins when a small probe propelled by a solar sail, arrives in the New Caledonia star system after a centuries-long trip from "the Mote", a small star that looks like a speck against the red eye of a red giant. The Imperial Navy Star Ship MacArthur under the command of Lord Roderick Blaine, heading to New Scotland for repairs after helping put down a rebellion, is the nearest ship and is sent to intercept. The lone crewmember of the alien ship dies of an apparent life-support system failure when Captain Blaine brings the ship aboard. The local viceroy decides to put together an expedition to the Mote to make contact with the race that sent this ship (although the Empire encompasses thousands of worlds, no sentient alien life had yet been discovered). Against the objections of pacifist scientists, the expedition consists of the MacArthur and an even bigger battleship under the command of a particularly ruthless Admiral Kutuzov who has orders to destroy MacArthur if there is any risk of the aliens capturing any Imperial technology (such as the Alderson Drive which allows for instantaneous travel between stars, and the Langston Field, a kind of forcefield). With MacArthur packed with a scientific team on top of her regular compliment, a Mohammedan businessman under house arrest on suspicion of treason, and Lady Fowler, a noble rescued from the revolt Captain Blaine helped quell (and who refuses to get off the ship), they embark for the Mote.

Unlike many novels of this genre, the authors consider every angle of first contact from economical, to political, to religious. They also consider all of these without the novel ever dragging and, interestingly, from the perpective of a Catholic empire that somewhat resembles the British Empire at it's height. I'm not sure why authors (who from their other works are clearly no friends of the Church) chose to do this, but it makes the story all that much more intriguing to the Catholic reader (and apparently to non-Catholics as well, as this is one of the more successful science fiction novels of all time and much preferred to its sequel, which I shall review later, which gives the reader a far less Catholic version of the Empire of Man).

The aliens are incredibly well done. They are totally alien without being so strange that the book is confusing or meaningless. They are so well developed that when a priestly character considers whether they might be ensoulled being or not, the Catholic reader can consider along with him. The mutual mistrust between the aliens (called "Moties" -- the novel makes the reasons for this nomenclature and the title of the novel clear) adds great suspence, for just as the human hold some things back, it's clear the Moties are holding something back (indeed, a terrible and potentially deadly -- to humanity -- secret).

The characters are for the most part well done. Although a few of them felt cliche, I still enjoyed them and didn't find this detracted from the novel (in fact, it was refreshing to read a book where every character didn't have to be "unique"). The book overall is excellently written and keeps the reader glued to the pages throughout.

Catholicism in the Novel

I want to return to the Empire of Man from this novel and its Catholic aspect because not only does it warm the cockles of my heart to see old-school Catholicism in a novel, it also tells us a lot about how non-Catholics percieved the changes wrought by Vatican II (especially when we compare the empire to its incarnation in the sequal). The Mote in God's Eye was first published in 1972 (Wikipedia is wrong on this point; I have a first edition copy which is copyrighted 1972), which means that it was most likely written during the late 1960s. The Novus Ordo Missae had not yet been released, Archbishop Lefebvre hadn't felt the necessity to form the S.S.P.X yet, the Pope had recently come out in favour of traditional teachings on contraception, and to outsiders the Church must have seemed to be pretty much the same as ever.

Although the word Catholic is never used in the novel, Catholicism is clearly the official religion of the Empire of Man. The MacArthur (the ship sent to the Moties' home world) is blessed by a Cardinal wielding an asperger before they leave on their trip, the ship carries a chaplain who is a celibate, Latin-speaking priest, and there is frequent mention of bishops and of "the Church" (upper case "c" is significant).

This Catholic Empire has some of the following peculiarities that also make the novel (inadvertently, no doubt) a source of some good moral examples:
  • Contraceptives are banned in the Empire. Lady Fowler explains to the Moties at one point how humans are always fertile (unlike the Moties) and that they can choose not to have sex if they don't want to get pregnant, but that contraceptives (which exist) are forbidden.
  • Slacks are not worn by women of the Empire -- Lady Fowler experiences the difficulties of wearing a skirt in zero gravity and is unhappy to be forced to wear some sort of "space bloomers" to maintain modesty aboardship.
  • Only men serve in the Imperial Navy; Lady Fowler is in fact the only woman on board MacArthur and even then the captain is not happy (even though he loves her and eventually marries her).
  • Chaperones: Lady Fowler is never alone with any man aboard the MacArthur and her quarters are kept strictly seperate and jealously guarded (if memory serves, she is given the cabin of a high-ranking officer to ensure privacy). The word chaperone is explicitly used, even.
  • "Prudery": The Officer of the Watch switches off the viewscreens when the Moties start mating so that no one will see the impure sight. The Moties are told about monogamy and that this is the only acceptable sexual relationship in the Empire. There are strong allusions to fornication being verboten, although I don't believe it is explicitly mentioned.
  • The Empire is a strict Monarchy, not a democracy with a figurehead. While the Emperor is not an absolute monarch, he is clearly the uncontested ruler of the Empire. It is also patriarchical; there are no female governors, senators, or the like mentioned.
  • There is no religious liberty. The Moslem Horace Bury often laments in the novel how his false religion does not enjoy the same rights as "the Church" and we see the "Church of Him" referred to as heretical and its followers shunned.
  • One of the most interesting scenes of the novel is when Father Hardy tries to determine whether the Moties are humans, animals, angels, or demons. Unfortunately, the authors leave him undecided and never give us a scene from Father's POV again in the novel, but his thought process reveals a very traditional one.


The Mote in God's Eye is not fluff reading, as a number of important topics are dealt with, although the religion aspects are certainly given much shorter shrift that I'd have liked (on the other hand, non-Catholics trying to deal with Catholic theology in any depth would have been a disaster, so the surface treatment given to religion may be a blessing). In sum, I highly recommend this novel to anyone who has even a passing interest in science fiction.

1.13.2012

"Lefebvrians" (Artwork)

There's been a fair bit of talk about "Lefebvrians" in Catholic media in recent months (for example, here, here, and here). Every time I read this rather silly pejorative, I can't help but having this mental image:

(For maximum effect, listen to this audio clip while viewing: )



Incidentally, this cartoon represents my first attempt using the Prismacolor Art Markers that I received for Christmas. Overall, I'm pretty happy with them (albeit after just one use) and I think practice in using them I will get a handle on how best to use them.

1.12.2012

Tolkein on Escapism

Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisioned by the enemy, don't we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we're partisans of liberty, then it's our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!

1.11.2012

Call to Arms: FTL Travel - "The Empyrean"

From within the Empyrean, which some metaphysicists described as the præternatural aspect of the universe, the galaxy could be seen in compressed form, the stars bunched together and interwoven by the ætherial fires to form a breathtaking swirl of all colours of the spectrum that danced in circles like a whirlpool moving against a larger current. Call to Arms: Chapter I: "The Quæstor"

In Call to Arms, I decided to use a "hyperspace"-style method of faster than light travel. This ultimately took the form of "The Empyrean" which is essentially the spiritual world with "realspace" being the natural or physical world. I described it as præternatural rather than supernatural since the latter refers, in my mind, more to the Divine, being above nature. The Empyrean is not heaven -- it is inhabited by both the good and evil spiritual creatures.

One of the most important peculiarities of The Empyrean is that any natural creature that is exposed to it, or even looks at it through a view port, will go mad because their mind simply cannot handle that realm. The only exception to this is the Imperial Magistrates who can be safely exposed to the Empyrean, making them important as navigators as well as healers and leaders.

The way that everyone else gets around the Empyrean is by using charts created over the millennia by Magisteratal explorers. They plot a course through the Empyrean on their computer, then seal the ship tight; they then activate the Epulone generator which creates a field around the ship that drags it into the Empyrean. They then hold on for dear life as the computer guides the ship on the pre-calculated course and they hopefully emerge safely on the other side. Unfortunately, this is not nearly as reliable a mode of traversing the Empyrean as with a Magistrate, since there is no ability to avoid obstacles or take into account subtle changes in the "terrain". As a result, without Magistrates, ships face about a 2% chance of reappearing into realspace lightyears off course or not reappearing at all.

Such travels must also be done at a breakneck speed to avoid being attacked by the inhabitants of the Empyrean. Even Magistrate-guided ships must beware of these creatures, or at least the evilly-inclined or mindless ones, although these can be kept at bay by certain sacred chants being sung by Eternal Handmaidens of the Empire. The creatures of the Empyrean, especially ones of lower orders, cannot tolerate the sounds of these chants and will stay away from the ship (the Empyrean is not vacuum, and its æther is a superior sound conductor).

1.10.2012

Was Galileo Wrong?


Now here's a topic that gets very little attention and is considered "proven" even moreso than evolution and a billions of years old earth. We have the Protestants to thank for keeping the candle burning on Creationism and for giving it a certain credibility, after Catholics totally abandoned the defence of Creationism over the last 40 years. But since the Protestants have ignored Geocentrism, there's been really no one to defend it, and hence no real discussion.

I freely admit I've not studied this question in any detail at all and therefore am not writing this to contradict the heliocentric model of the solar system. That's the model I was taught and until I'm convinced otherwise I accept it. However, the possibility of Geocentrism does offer fascinating possibilities for the science fiction writer.

Most write-off the question as irrelevant if they are not castigating proponents of Geocentrism as "retards" (this generally unacceptable-in-polite-company words seems to make a resurgence in these debates). But if we try to cut through all that garbage, it seems that there is a theological relevance. I also don't think it's completely cracked, since the observation of motion is always relative (think of how the moon appears to follow you as you drive, or how when on a train the landscape appears to move). Also, in something as massive as the universe, how can anyone say what is, or isn't "the centre" (if we take Geocentrism to mean simply that the earth is centre of the universe, not necessarily that the Ptolemaic model of the solar system is accurate). Until recently the Church seems to have used its teaching authority to hold to Geocentrism -- and no Catholic (and even non-Catholic) can easily ignore the teaching authority of the Church. Not even in science, for the Church has never been some backwards luddite/anti-science institution, but rather quite the opposite (see chapter 5 of How The Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Dr. Thomas E. Woods, Jr. for a good exposition on this; although I don't agree with everything in this book and believe  chapter 8 -- on economics -- is totally off-base)

On a more practical level, look up into the clear night sky (you may have to get out of the city to do this) and consider the Earth fixed and unmoving at the centre of creation with the universe in rotation around it. Then, with your eyes still on the sky, imagine we are on a small rock hurtling through space in some backwater galaxy in an infinitely expanding void. I think you will soon realise why this is no longer an insignificant question.

But as a writer, it makes for some interesting ideas. Perhaps given the universal acceptance of heliocentrism one would have to do it in a steampunk  or alternate history/space fantasy setting. It seems to me that all the celestial bodies would have to be a lot closer to earth than we thought, making it a lot easier/faster to get to at least the other planets in the solar system. I don't know enough about Geocentric theory to know whether extrasolar planets are possible under that model. But if they are, then certainly they'd be much closer as well -- making interstellar travel a whole lot cheaper and easier even without faster-than-light technology.

A book on the subject that I've been intending to read for some time now is Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right by Dr. Robert Sungenis (Ph.D. in Theology from Calamus International University) and Dr. Robert Bennett (Ph.D. in General Relativity from Stevens Institute of Technology). The price and the size of this two-volume tome has held me back thus far, but it's on my list of books to read this year. On the flip-side, I'd like to know if readers of this blog can suggest any good "mainstream" astronomy books so I can bone-up on my "regular" science.

1.09.2012

Rex Caelestis: Kingdoms of North America, c. 2260

Author's note: The following is a map I drew up for the Rex Caelestis "world", at least North America, using "Campaign Cartographer". Unfortunately it took way longer to produce than I initially thought, since I was out of practice with the programme and had to remember how to use it. As such, I provide it without fictional commentary although the timeline should give you an idea as to why the map appears as it does. Click on the image for the full-sized view.



1.07.2012

Babylon A.D. (Movie Review)


Title: Babylon A.D. (Uncut)
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Producer: StudioCanal (Distributed by 20th Century Fox in North America)
Starring: Vin Diesel, Mélanie Thierry, Michelle Leoh, and Lambert Wilson
Excellence: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A decent dystopian-setting sci-fi action/adventure, with good sets, a European flavour, Vin Diesel, and lots of action.

I thought this film was actually pretty decent -- certainly a lot better than Rotten Tomatoes' 7% and certainly better than many films I've seen rated higher by that site. My only major complaint with the film, and the reason I give it 2.5 stars instead of more, is that I found the ending to be rather anti-climactic and left the plot unresolved. In other words, not an ending at all! This was certainly a major disappointment after the first 1:30 of the film which was very good. The version I viewed was the "uncut" version which apparently is considered much better than the theatrical release. All the same, was a bit too short. More time could have been spent on character development without detracting from the action -- plus the plot could have been resolved! -- and it still would have weighed-in at under two hours.

The production was well done; the sets and setting were well conceived, thought-out, and executed. Considering that it is a science-fiction/action film, the acting was good and Vin Deisel in particular delivered an excellent performance. The action sequences were well-done, were not over-the-top, and came at an appropriate frequency to maintain pacing without making the film akin to watching someone else play a video game as too many in this genre are. Overall a good dystopian sci-fi film. I don't know that I'd recommend buying it, but renting it on iTunes for $3.99 is a good value.

1.06.2012

Short Story: BRIGHTEST AFRICA

By Nicholas Wansbutter


WRITER'S NOTE: This is a short story I wrote while attempting to complete the Long Ridge Writer's Course (this attempt was derailed by the birth of two children within 12 months of one another). I've always liked steam punk and thus decided to try my hand at it for one of my assignments. I like the world I created and plan to use it in the future, as well as Dr. Hargrave, I think, but have had much difficulty coming-up with a good plot to feature both in. So it has been placed on the back-burner while I work on other projects. I hope you enjoy this offering.

The Venusian lizard they’d forced him to ride stank. Doctor Edgar Hargrave looked down from his miserable perch at the leaf-covered ground below and wondered how he’d ended up out here in the middle of a green African jungle so dense he felt as if he were trapped inside a sarcophagus. He hadn’t immigrated to Lagos Colony to take up adventuring, but to make a respectable living as a professor at the new university. Then he’d somehow let himself be roped into that séance at Lord Stanhope’s and now he was out here looking for Martians, of all things!

“Keep up, Dr. Hargrave,” Major Sir Jonathan Burns, the military officer leading their expedition, called from the front of the column. “There’s a good gentleman. Don’t want to get lost in this place, old man.”

Edgar smacked a mosquito that was trying to take a chunk out of his neck. “That’s a fact!”

The jungle thinned enough that Edgar could see the darkening magenta sky surmounted by fluffy pink clouds – that beautiful African sunset sky that had so captivated him while still back in his flat in Birmingham. As he wiped his brow with his handkerchief, he wished for that old grey flat in the British Empire’s new capitol.

A large clearing opened ahead and Maj. Burns stopped his own Venusian mount at the edge of it. Edgar’s lizard nearly collided with it.

“Smelly, oafish beast,” he grumbled.

“Shush,” the army officer whispered, pulling his multi-barrelled hand-cannon from its holster. “We’re not alone out here, old man. Lord Stanhope was right.”

About a hundred yards ahead, silhouetted against the crimson disc of sun creeping to the horizon, was a tall, skinny figure. Edgar first thought it to be a man, then noticed the abnormally long, conical head.

Burns said something in Awori to their native guides. They disappeared into the trees. He then nodded to the other soldiers in their party. The men, in their dark red tunics, spread out and advanced with Maj. Burns leading the way on his Venusian steed.

“You, there,” the veteran officer called. “State your name and purpose for being on her Britannic Majesty’s land.”

Their quarry did not answer and tried to run. It had long legs but was sluggish and the chase ended quickly when the nimble Awori blocked its path.

“Dr. Hargrave, what are you doing back there?” Burns shouted. “Come give us a hand.”

“Well, what am I supposed to do? I’m not a soldier,” he called back, but his mount started forward.

“You speak, Xanthean, don’t you old man?”

Xanthean was the dominant tongue of the Martians who now occupied Russia and British North America. Edgar hadn’t spoken it since his days in Oxford and never with a native speaker.

He was now close enough to get a good look at their captive. It had the head of a Martian for sure, similar to the skulls in Lord Stanhope’s study that they’d used in the séance. It had a hard bone beak and glossy black eyes. It was tall, over seven feet he judged, but slender. The soldiers called Martians glass giants.

“Ah, are you sure he’s a Martian? He’s no fur.”

“Of course he is,” Burns said. “He’s just been shorn for the tropical climes. I saw the same during the Transvaal Campaign. Ask him what he’s doing here.”

“Uh, right,” Edgar stumbled over the unfamiliar Martian words which were difficult at the best of times. The creature answered back with reluctance.

“He just keeps begging for water, poor wretch.”

“Right. Clapperton, give him some of the water.”

“Well, then,” Edgar said, wringing sweat from his handkerchief. “We’ve found what we were looking for, let’s be off back to Lagos, shall we?”

“Not quite, old man,” Sir Jonathan said. “What’s a Martian doing staggering about out here?”

“Can’t we discuss that back in Lagos?”

“No, best to follow his trail while it’s fresh. Alright, back at it, chaps.”

They set out once again into the jungle, now with the bound Martian in tow. Edger ducked a vine and cursed the saddle sore forming on his ample posterior. Fallout or no, he’d have been better off staying in England!

The Martian had come here aboard a lighter-than-air flyer, they discovered, when the Awori guides uncovered the propellers that had been hastily hidden under palm leaves.
Edgar hung back while the others investigated the wreckage. The Martian pilot sat miserably on the ground under the nervous eyes of two of the young soldiers. Edgar could sympathize with the alien’s plight.

“Dr. Hargrave,” Sir Jonathan called. “If you’d be so kind, there’s something I’d like you to take a look at.”

“What do you need me for in that coffin?”

“Just come along, there’s a good gentleman.”

A couple more soldiers helped Edgar lower his not insignificant girth to the spongy jungle floor and he hobbled into the flyer. It was surprisingly large inside. He saw a console covered in blocky Xanthean script. He’d always found it fascinating.

“Over here, doctor.”

“What? Oh, yes …” In the next compartment was Sir Jonathan and a very large bomb that looked like an overstuffed football with two rings around it and a number of gears and dials near the middle. “Good gracious me, an atomic bomb! Why on earth would the Martians be bringing an atomic through Africa?”

“Going to the Congo, I’d warrant,” Sir Jonathan said, lighting his pipe. “Perhaps our Martian friend was a courier to the Belgians. The Martians may be trying to stir something up again.”

“Whatever the politics, I’d better make sure this thing is safe,” Edgar said. Carefully pulling a multipurpose tool from his bag, he removed the screws that held the main panel in place, revealing more tubes, wheels, cranks, and gears.

"Oh, bullocks." He threw his pith helmet down and pulled at his hair with both hands. "It's been armed. The Martian activated a delay-detonation timer and there’s only thirty minutes left!”

"Sounds like plenty of time for an expert such as yourself, old man," Sir Jonathan said.

"I-I can't do this!" Edgar felt anxiety welling up in his chest. He wanted to run out of the flyer, run as far as he could. Those Venusian lizards were terribly quick. In half an hour he might be able to escape the blast radius of the bomb.

"I'll hear no such nonsense," Sir Jonathan said. "You're an expert in atomics."

"But I can't! I've never done this before ... even if I could, half an hour's not enough."

"Are you telling me you're not a physicist?" Sir Jonathan sounded incredulous.

"I-I am, but I’m an academic ..." Edgar wiped his face with the handkerchief which was already soaked. He began to shake. "I came here to teach at the university! I write papers --"

"Now I’ll hear none of that sir; you can disarm this bomb. You'd better, or ‘Darkest Africa’ shall soon be ‘Brightest Africa’. Now I’ll hear no more defeatism. There’s a good gentleman."

A terrible, otherworldly wailing tore through the jungle outside and Edgar fell to the floor. Sir Jonathan ran to a porthole.

"Now what’s this then? More local tribesmen, unfriendly it seems, and lord knows what else." He looked down at Edgar and drew his hand-cannon. "We'll hold them off, old man, to give you enough time to disarm to bomb. See you in half an hour?"

Edgar pulled his flask from his waistcoat and thought to take a sip of brandy to calm his nerves. Then the wailing came again, and outside, moving past the portal, he saw what looked like another Martian, but grey and smoke-like. He threw the flask down. This situation was getting more bizarre by the moment and the last thing he needed was to besot himself.

A sound like tearing canvas erupted from outside as the Cyclic Fire Guns opened fire. Bullets travelling the opposite direction shot through the walls of the flyer and passed not too far over Edgar's head.

“Ghosts, now soldiers? Séances and adventures! Bullocks!”

He scrambled over to the bomb and examined the clockwork gears of the timer turning and buzzing. He looked over his shoulder as several of the soldiers started screaming. A howling wind buffeted the flyer and a stench like faeces and sulphur struck him. The bomb suddenly seemed less horrifying. Desperately he worked with the bomb. As he went, he discovered that he hadn't forgotten quite as much from his days in Oxford as he thought he had. Clapperton stuck his head in the door.

"Please hurry, sir. We can't hold out much longer!"

Edgar didn't respond, but kept on with his work, carefully moving aside a weight he’d removed. All he had to do now ... he choked on his breath. What sort of bomb making did those Martians do? Instead of the tubes he’d expected, there were strange wires. He glanced at his pocket watch. Three minutes.

He fought back panic. It would do him no good. He was British, after all, and the Empire had been built by her soldiers and explorers’ ability to overcome such dilemmae. Yes, he could overcome this situation, too. Biting his lip, he reached for one of the wires with his mechanical clippers. Surely if he clipped the right wire, it would cut the power to the device. He closed his eyes. No, that wasn't the right one. He moved the clippers without opening his eyes. Yes, that was the one.

“It’s done! The bomb’s disarmed!” Edgar shouted triumphantly.

He realised all was silent outside. Hesitantly, he moved through the door. The soldiers and Awori were huddled around the flyer facing outwards. Fallen trees and bodies, some black, some in red British uniforms, filled the clearing all around. Steam hissed from the Cyclic Fire Guns on their tripods.

“They’re gone,” Sir Jonathan said. “Just like that, they’re gone. They must have been trying to stop us from disarming the bomb, and when you did disarm it, they scarpered --”

“Who?” Edgar asked.

“Don’t ask. What’s important is that you did it, Dr. Hargrave. Three cheers, lads!”

“Hip-hip, huzzah!”

Edgar stuck his chest out with pride. “You know, I think I could get used to this adventurer bit. Good gracious me! What am I saying?”

1.05.2012

Cello Wars

I love Star Wars, and I love the cello (which I hope to one day have the time to learn to play). So I thought this video was pretty good and the suggestive powers of the force are making me want to look into those lessons more than ever. Enjoy! 


1.04.2012

Call to Arms: Zelosians (Alien Nation)

The Zelosians have emerged in the last half-millennium as one of the most dominant alien races; although the various Zelosian communities do not share a common government they seem to hold an almost single-minded determination to spread their collective domains via tireless warfare. The closest they have to government are the charismatic leaders who command individual hive ships and colonies. Though without a unifying head, the Zelosians are relatively cohesive through a sort of racial amity. They have decimated most of the Herleon Kingdom’s colonies and are currently invading the Outer Rim regions of the Empire with great success.

Personality/Basic Philosophies: Unlike the other warlike nation, the Anaketh, the Zelosians are not as passionate or bloodthirsty, but rather disciplined and devoted to their cause. Their fortitude in this regard is a source of awe throughout the galaxy. When scouting a region for conquest or in negotiations, they come across as friendly and relatively docile. Some Imperial xenologists have hypothesised that they have mutated over the millennia to have the beginnings of a hive mind or joint consciousness, which is how they can be so united in their goal without a real government. Individual Zelosians indeed seem to have little individualism or thought for things other than “the cause”.
 
Physical Description: Tall, lithe, and athletic with only few exceptions. Smooth, glistening carapace covers their bodies. This carapace comes in almost all shades among the Zelosian subgroups. Heads are longer and narrower than humans, although they have surprisingly human mouths and eyes. Some subgroups have thick, dreadlock-like hair. Protruding from the base of their spines is a bony tail that terminates in a bone blade, in some groups appearing as an axe head, others as a spear point. Their arms and legs are the same length, allowing them to walk upright or on all fours (a mode in which they can move much faster).
 
Homeworld: None; it is uncertain where they originate from, although it was known before they first started conquering planets in the Zessian region of Separatist Space that they travelled about in massive generational hive-ships.  Worlds that they have conquered are quickly transformed into heavily industrialized, polluted factory-worlds that fuel the unceasing outward expansion.

Language: Various. They speak the language of whatever region they live in, or are in the process of conquering. It is common for Zelosians to speak Imperial Common.

1.03.2012

Extra-Terrestrial Sentient Life

As a Catholic who enjoys reading and writing science fiction, one dilemma I've had to consider is theologically, is the existence of non-human sentient beings possible? At first blush, it may seem problematic because there is no mention of life outside of Earth in the Bible or traditional theology. There is the fact that Jesus Christ (not only God, but a human being) is the saviour for the entire universe -- so where would that leave non-human sentient creatures? It is interesting to consider how they might fit into God's Plan and how we might explain same to nonbelievers or fellow Catholics who might be shaken (some could think the existence of "aliens" means that evolution is true, or that Adam and Eve did not exist, &c.).

I've discussed this topic a number of times with fellow Catholics and there seem to be a few lines of thought. The first question is whether they are ensoulled creatures or not?

One line of thought is that if sentient creatures had souls, then God would have to have a different salvation plan for them than for humans, since they would not be descendents of Adam. They could be more like angels (not fallen) or I suppose they could be fallen and in need of redemption but this raises further issues as Christ is the redeemer of all yet how can he redeem non-human creatures who are not descendents of Adam? However, those who hold this view would say that God might have a totally different salvation plan for life on other planets.

I prefer the "simpler" solution that non-human sentient life could not be ensouled life. I don't really see how ensouled life that didn't descend from Adam and Eve could be compatible with the Creation narrative in Holy Writ. However, if I may quote Steve Skojec, another Catholic writer who I used to correspond with frequently: "[t]here is nothing explicit in our understanding of Christ's redemptive sacrifice for us that would exclude the possibility of other races with immortal souls that could follow alternate, or even similar, paths of redemption." He uses angels as an example of ensouled creatures with a different path from humans. Or maybe there are hints in the "And other sheep I have that are not of this fold: them also I must bring. And they shall hear my voice: And there shall be one fold and one shepherd." (John X,xvi); could the sheep "not of this fold" be ensouled creatures from another world and of different parents than Adam and Eve?

Let me return to what constitutes ensouled life? The soul is rational but this could be a necessary but not a sufficient condition for ensoulment. My view is that, to be ensouled, one must be infused with the faculty to know and love God (even if that faculty, like the rational one, is never actuated by the development of some individuals). It is clear to me that rationality itself does not equal ensoulement because some apes, parrots, mynah birds, and porpoises are supposedly self-aware but not ensouled and not able to comprehend the concept of God.

I think it could therefore be possible to have highly intelligent, sentient, even civilized and technologically advanced beings than nevertheless have no souls. I think an excellent speculative example of this are the "Moties" in the novel, The Mote in God's Eye. Unfortunately, the book only has the ship's chaplain pondering the question of whether they're ensouled in one scene and I really thought they should have developed that theme more (I'm not sure why they even bothered with that one scene).

While the question is never answered in the novel, it is my opinion that the aliens encountered by humans in the book (the "Moties") are indeed soul-less creatures yet highly intelligent (in fact, their technology is superior to humans' and they can develope new technology at a terrifyingly fast rate). I say they are souless because they really have no ability to choose between right and wrong -- everything they do in the novel is dictated by their biological imperatives. I don't want to ruin the book for any of you if you've not read it.

1.02.2012

Rex Caelestis: No Post Today

My apologies to fans to the "Rex Caelestis" segment of this blog, but there will be no post today and I will be changing the frequency of posts in this section to once every two weeks for now. This is necessary to keep up the quality. I anticipate that the six-posts-per-week pace shall not be sustainable long-term in any event, but I did want to get the blog off to a good start.
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