Wednesday, January 22, 2014

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.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

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.

Monday, January 20, 2014

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
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.