Averaging 95,000 Visits Per Year—Thanks to You!


This is my 394th post.

Thanks to you, this blog has enjoyed an average of 95,000 visits each year since its beginning three years ago. Each consecutive year has seen more visits than the year before.

Upward and Onward!

I want to thank you for your interest. Without readers there wouldn’t be much point in blogging. Currently, there 22 readers subscribe to this blog. May I encourage you to subscribe, if you don’t already?

In addition to reading, you’ve left an average of 553 comments per year. Bloggers crave comments, and I’ve encouraged this. But I believe we can do better. I’ll keep striving to learn how to better to inspire you to share your thoughts, offer suggestions, and leave questions for discussion. I respond to nearly every comment.

With the new look I’ve adopted for this blog, I’m looking forward to the year ahead. Again, thanks for joining me on this journey!

Temporary Facelift to Doug’s Blog


A couple of days ago I posted about the appearance of this blog and invited readers to comment on what could be improved. Thanks to all of you who responded. As you can see, I am making dramatic changes. But this “new look” is temporary. I’ve been working on an entirely new webpage design that I hope to unveil soon.

Stayed tuned!

Does This Blog Need a New Look?


I’ve been blogging here now for nearly three years. So it’s time to ask, Does this blog need a new look?

I want to hear from you . . .

  • if you’ve ever thought, “This site looks _________,” where the blank is filled in with some expression of disappointment, disapproval, or disgust;
  • if you’ve ever thought, more vaguely, “Why in the world did Geivett create this look for himself?”
  • if you can recommend improvements in the look or organization of this site;
  • if you think it looks just fine and should be left alone.

No one has ever said, “You need to change the look of your website.” On the other hand, no one has ever told me, “Wow! You have such a brilliant looking website! I’m so jealous.”

So how about it, friends? What improvements can you suggest?

If I don’t hear from you, I’ll have to assume that you like it just the way it is.

Speculative Fiction by and for Christians


Twitter led me to a blog called My Friend Amy, where there’s an interesting take on speculative fiction in today’s “Faith ‘n Fiction Saturdays” category. The post addresses several questions:

  1. What is speculative fiction?
  2. What is “Christian speculative fiction”?
  3. What are the standards for high quality Christian speculative fiction?

This short post got me thinking about these and related questions. The result is a longer post sketching some of my thoughts about the general topic.

What Is Speculative about ‘Speculative Fiction’?

My Friend Amy quotes Wikipedia for an answer to this question:

Speculative fiction is a fiction genre speculating about worlds that are unlike the real world in various important ways. In these contexts, it generally overlaps one or more of the following: science fiction, fantasy fiction, horror fiction, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history. (Click here for the complete Wikipedia entry for “Speculative fiction.)

The term is of relatively recent vintage. It doesn’t appear in any of the three handbooks I consult for such things:

  • Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, 4th edition published in 1996. A new edition was published in 2008, and no doubt includes novel entries (no pun intended).
  • The Reader’s Companion to World Literature, 2nd edition published in 1984. This edition was updated in 2002. Of the three books listed here, this is the best value—very affordable and reliable, with excellent coverage of authors, titles, literary movements, historical periods, terms and phrases.
  • Kathleen Morner and Ralph Rausch, From Absurd to Zeitgeist: The Compact Guide to Literary Terms (1997). I believe this book is out of print, but I see that (at the time of this post) one copy is in stock at Powell’s Books.

I once read an essay on speculative fiction that developed a convincing account of the form. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the author or where I came across the item. But I do remember thinking then that “speculative fiction” is an apt label for fiction that explores counterfactuals—ways things might have been but weren’t, or ways things might yet be but won’t. [FN: For more about counterfactuals at this website, “Run Lola Run—A Discussion Guide.”]

The interesting examples of counterfactuals are worlds very close to this, the actual world. “What if, instead of X happening at time t, something else that could easily have happened, Y, had happened at t? How would things have turned out then?” (One serious philosophical problem with speculation of this sort is that the sequel to any counterfactual at time t—the succession of events following Y, for example—may itself vary in numerous counterfactual ways. There may be many ways things might have turned out if Y had happened rather than X at t. And it’s puzzling to think that there is just one way things would have turned out in such a counterfactual setup. But I digress.)

The better fictional depictions of counterexamples would be at least minimally ‘literary.’ And they would explore themes of enduring human interest.

Could a Christian author write speculative fiction? Of course. The author at My Friend Amy’s blog alludes to several. The most obvious examples are ones that are most obviously ‘Christian.’ They broadcast a Christian message so overtly that it cannot be missed. For example, as noted in the blog post over at My Friend Amy, much Christian fiction depicts battles in the spirit world between angels and demons and the role of intercessory prayer by humans caught in the conflict. This kind of speculative fiction will appeal mostly to Christian readers, and then only to a certain kind of Christian reader. They don’t appeal to My Friend Amy for example. [FN: Some Christians, you may be surprised to hear, would argue that many such specimens of fiction are not properly Christian.]

C. S. Lewis and Others

It is interesting to me that C. S. Lewis is not mentioned. In addition to his cherished Narnia series of fantasy novels, Lewis wrote a very sophisticated series of three novels in what might be called the category of ‘space fiction.’ These are Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. Lewis wrote with subtlty and grace. It’s well-known that he wrote from a Christian worldview. But these novels do not ‘preach.’

Lewis also wrote The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce. These must surely count as paradigm cases of ‘speculative fiction.’ Next time you read them, consider this question: “What sort of ‘what-if’ question is Lewis endeavoring to answer in this book?”

I think that’s the question to put to any book if you want to be sure it counts as ‘speculative fiction.’ This opens the way for ostensive definition of the term. That is, it facilitates understanding of the term ‘speculative fiction’ by pointing to clear cases of it. Two examples that come immediately to mind are Shikasta, by Doris Lessing (1979), and The Children of Men, by P. D. James (1992).

It’s interesting to consider these examples in connection with questions raised by My Friend Amy. My view is that speculative fiction is a particularly congenial form for writing from a distinctive worldview, be it Christian or otherwise. It is congenial in part because it permits experimentation with the implications of a worldview without wearing that worldview on its sleeve. Doris Lessing and P. D. James both write with religious sensibilities—Lessing with the perspective of Sufism, James with a Christian worldview. [FN: Lessing was once offered the honorific title of “Dame” by Queen  of England. Lessing declined the honor. James was created Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991.] The guiding perspective in each case, though often discernible, is subtly layered into the narrative. This is akin to what the great authors Flannery O’Connor and Graham Greene accomplished in their more ‘realist fiction.’ [FN: See for example, and the short stories of Flannery O’Connor, and The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene.]

For many readers of this post, the film adaptation of The Children of Men will be better known than the book. While watching the first few scenes, I thought about how this darkly apocalyptic film might render the religious component of the human condition when humanity is faced with extinction. My guess was that it would represent society as completely secular, and that any portrayal of religious people would characterize them as the kind who stand on street corners warning passersby of imminent divine judgment, in a tone that betrays their conviction that ‘none who hear will convert, and it’s just as well anyway, since they deserve to go to hell.’ That pretty much is how religion was ‘treated’ in the film.

That last statement needs qualification. What I should say is that religion, imagined under the conditions described in the film, is presented a certain way. This may be a commentary on how religion is manifest in the world today. But it’s pretty striking that no one I would call a ‘serious believer’ shows up in the movie. I imagine they don’t exist, or, if they do, they are marginally significant to the storyline. But then what would account for their nonexistence? Or what would explain their insignificance to the unfolding story? It is precisely the apocalyptic character of the story that makes their absence conspicuous. And that is interesting.

So a film or a novel may have something to say about religion even when it makes no direct reference to anything explicitly religious.

Vampires

The Amy post also asks whether fiction featuring vampires might be a venue for developing Christian themes. I’ve thought about this myself. That would be an excellent question for Anne Rice, the bestselling author of vampire fiction, and an adult convert to Christianity. Books in her newer series based on the gospel narratives has not been quite as successful as Interview with the Vampire. They are, to be sure, friendly presentations of the life and influence of Jesus. I suspect they have generated a new set of fans.

Susan Howatch

Another contemporary author known for her Christian worldview is Susan Howatch. Also a bestselling author (and British), Howatch composes stories with a realist cast. They take place in our world, you might say. See, for example, her acclaimed series beginning with the novel Glittering Images. One of her best is The High Flyer, which can be recommended to any reader with a taste for literary fiction set in the contemporary context.

* * *

A blog permits the expression of random thoughts during idle moments. I’ve exploited that opportunity here. As often happens, the flood of thoughts swelled to the point of necessary expression because of a bit of reading. This time I happened to be reading another blogger who reads.

Thank you, Amy my friend—whoever you are.

Related Posts by Doug Geivett:

How to Blog Better


Do you blog? Do you wistfully imagine the celebrity status of being a blogger? Do you shudder with painful tics when you consider that your blogging might not be panachy* enough? Then you need help. And Merlin Mann is just the help you need. For Merlin’s answer to the querulous question of the current age, follow this link to nine measurements of a good blog.

Take great care to check your blog posts against the Mannly criteria. Apply his standards with relentless zeal. But please, have mercy on me; don’t judge this blog by his standards.

On second thought, I welcome your evaluation. How does this blog measure up, in light of Merlin’s standards, according to you?

____________________

* As in “full of panache”

Sarah Palin and the Abuse of Blog Power


The social media that permeate the blogosphere have changed the way politics unfolds in this country. It is more difficult now than ever before to get solid, reliable information about the character of presidential candidates, for example. Today, rumors about Sarah Palin are flying with fury and labels are being applied as if these are factually established and relevant.

Anti-Palin bloggers are pumping out bile with the unrelenting force of an Alaskan gusher. These people are using their blog-power to influence voters. Nothing wrong with that. But fomenting discontent on the basis of rumor alone is an abuse of that power.

We need an example. One blogger who illustrates this obsessive, vicious lampooning of Sarah Palin (and John McCain) is “AKMuckraker” at Mudflats. On one post she insinuates that Sarah Palin is John McCain’s latest “trophy girl.” In another, she rolls out all the labels she can contrive—”Trooper-Gate,” “Baby-Gate,” “Bridge-Gate,” and “Veep-Gate”—and wails to the world that the GOP campaign will come unraveled in the days left before the election. Many who chime in with comments at her posts exhibit an astonishing willingness to believe on the basis of ethereal fumes. (One shining exception is Gerri; she candidly states that she’s pro-Obama, but says she wants proof because she doesn’t like rumors and blatant lies. Way to go, Gerri.)

I have four guidelines to recommend to blog browsers whose eyes are burning from all this smoke. If you find that rumor is beginning to influence your outlook, you might find these helpful.

1. Chase the rumor to its source and investigate the source.

The “scandal” that’s all the rage today swirls around allegations that Sarah Palin’s youngest child, an infant with Downe syndrome, is not her own child but the child of her 17-year-old daughter, and the spectacle of much handwringing about the news that Palin’s daughter is pregnant now and will soon marry the father.

Who’s behind the effort to bring this to national attention? The advertised culprit is Andrew Sullivan, of TheAtlantic.com, a leftist blogger and adoring fan of Obama, who seems to have proven that he can be truly unscrupulous if it will help the liberal cause. Norman Podhoretz explains what is worse than despicable about Sullivan’s behaviour here and here. This criticism extends to Sullivan’s channelers throughout the blogosphere.

2. Listen carefully to the tone of the blogger.

Is the blogger being sarcastic? Does the blogger rely on sarcasm to make the “argument”? Is it plausible to suppose that the blogger is being objective? That the blogger is willing to give the candidate the benefit of the doubt? That the blogger is sincere about relying on bullet-proof evidence when evaluating the candidate’s character and motives?

Does the blogger consider counter-evidence or counterarguments? Are these treated fairly?

Does it sound like the blogger is preaching to the converted? If so, then she probably is.

A muckraker is someone seeks out and publishes alleged scandals in an underhanded way. The writer at Mudflats calls herself “AKMuckraker.” Enough said?

3. Step back and remember what governing this country is about.

Don’t lose sight of the issues. This goes to the question, How relevant is the rumor, even if true? What aspect of prudent national leadership is threatened? Make a list the most important foreign and domestic policy issues facing this country. Then ask, How will the candidate who’s been smeared address those issues? Does the candidate act consistently with his or her declared principles?

4. Don’t expect the candidate to answer every scandalous charge of scandal with counter-evidence.

Putting an opponent on the defensive by making frivolous charges is one of the oldest tricks in the book. If Sullivan or someone else broadcasts an allegation, forbear not to believe it, or even to give it another thought, unless and until the sponsor of the claim presents compelling evidence. That is his or her responsibility, if a case can be made.

No one should be distracted by, and still less should one believe, a baseless allegation made by a scurrilous troublemaker who is ultimately indifferent about truth.

***

Bottom Line: It’s time to shut the Rumor-Gate and get down to the business of sorting out the kind of national leadership, in both foreign and domestic policy areas, that is really needed. Maybe the concentration of muckraking in one party gives us a clue.

Related Posts:

Show Your Appreciation to Those Who Blog Books


Some of the best blogs are “Book Blogs,” and My Friend Amy is hosting Book Blogger Appreciation Week for September 15-19.

I blog books and enjoy finding consistently classy book blogs. So I’ll be making my own nominations in a few of the twenty-four categories Amy has set up.

Meanwhile, here are some award categories Amy might consider adding:

  • Best Philosophy Book Blog
  • Best Science Fiction Blog
  • Best Biography Blog
  • Best Science Writing Blog
  • Best Writing about Writing Blog
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