Friday, July 4, 2014

Bits & Pieces 07.04.14

Sanctuary author Pauline Creeden has joined the author panel for the Contagious Reads Women in Horror Facebook "Convention." The convention runs July 13-20, with Pauline's Q&A on July 15.

Author Mark Carver has released an omnibus edition of his Age of Apollyon Trilogy. The trilogy checks in at 781 pages, and is currently available on Kindle, with a paperback scheduled to drop soon. Carver has also made the first chapter of Book 3: Scorn available online, via Wattpad.

Know of book releases, movies, blogs, happenings, etc, which would be of interest to our readers? Drop us a line at aflameinthedarkzine (at) gmail (dot) com!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

God and the Undead, Part 2: In His Image

In the last installment of God and the Undead, we sought to answer the question, "can a Christian write about zombies?" This question is part of the central theme of this series, and of much discussion among Christian writers, critics, and academics. Our conclusion to this introductory essay ran:

Perhaps there are no vampires, no zombies, mentioned in Scripture. Perhaps their very existence is the stuff of fantasy. To put it bluntly, so what? Is the God of the Universe somehow diminished in a fictional world where the dead walk?

The critical thinker may well be wondering whether or not, however, that's even the point. After all, the Apostle Paul observed in 1 Corinthians 10,

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being. (vv23-24, NKJV)

So, we can suppose, perhaps a better question than "is it okay" is, "is there a compelling reason for Christians to write or read about the Undead?"

Well, yes, actually. More than one, in fact. But we'll touch on some of those at a later time. For now, I want to concentrate on a single metaphor. Yes: a metaphor. That the zombie is, indeed, such an apt metaphor for so many things in our spiritual and physical lives is, in fact, one of the compelling reasons we have for not completely dismissing it as a tool in our writing arsenal. Quickly, just to quell the oncoming arguments: Yes, metaphors are important; that's why Jesus used them pretty much always (your Sunday School teacher called them "parables"). Through storytelling, we are able to reach audiences who may otherwise turn a deaf ear, a blind eye, to anything that even carries the aroma of Gospel. Paul (again) referred to this as "becoming all things to all people." Should we fail in confronting people with the truth of Christ, simply because they refuse to read Amish fiction?

So, today's metaphor. You and I -- all of us -- are created in the image of God. We touched on this reality in the last installment. In the Bible, this is a single line, but inside that line is the single most profound truth of our identity. Before we fell, when we were formed whole and unblemished, Man was created to reflect God's image. You might even say the Human Self is God's single greatest revelation of His nature.

God, we believe, is a Trinity: God, the Father, Christ, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As much many of us have heard this, the real head-scratcher is how, exactly, that's supposed to work. Well, as beings created in His image, does it not make a bit of sense to look, not to the clover or the egg or whatever other clever simile we've devised, but to our own selves?

Man, you see, is also three distinct personages. I touched on this idea in an earlier essay, Amber Shades And Funhouse Mirrors:

We have a body and a mind, and we also have a soul. Unlike God, however, our trinity of parts is often at odds. Our bodies, in the pangs of hunger, may seek to consume anything that might sustain us. Our minds, however, will caution us to be picky: not everything the body wants is good for it. It is the mind that wrestles to temper the desires of the body with common sense. But it is the soul which allows us to ignore the will of both Mind and Body to determine not only what is desirable, but moral.
What is a zombie, after all, but pure carnality? Stripped of will, of the power to reason, of conscience, the animated corpse exists for the sole purpose of feeding its hunger.

So, the makeup of our very beings give insight into the nature of God, in a sense (one could argue that God is the perfection of the fallen human trinity: God the Mind, Christ the Body, and the Spirit); but also a deeper insight into our own natures.

The zombie shows us, in the singularity of its purpose (to consume), how we were created for something more. We aren't simple animals, slaved to our instinct. That would be carnality alone. Carnality is action devoid of reason, and certainly devoid of morality. Were we merely some great cosmic accident, an ape with higher reason, our decision-making would begin and end with survival and propagation. Evolution demands it. Instead, we do stupid things. We knowingly self-sacrifice, not just for our children, but for others as well. We fall in love with each other, based not on physical compatibility or their potential for optimum procreation, but on less quantifiable criteria. We make decisions, in short, defiant of what is arguably our biological Prime Directive to survive as a species.

What can explain this disparity between biology and sociology? How is it that humanity -- and humanity alone -- seems to be more than the sum of its biological parts?

These are the questions with which we are confronted when faced with the undead. If the zombie represents us in our most base, as who we aren't, then how do we define who we are?

In Part 3, The Mall-Walking Dead And Other Social Metaphors

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Raising Barns, Raising Stakes, and Raising Eyebrows: A Review of Amish Vampires In Space

Kerry Nietz is a darned good science fiction writer. He knows how to create a world, how to sustain the realities of that world, and how to work a great story into it while he's at it. For Amish Vampires in Space, Nietz had an interesting challenge. Actually, an interesting set of challenges. First, he had to figure out how to get a group of Amish -- traditionally against modern technology -- into space in the first place, in a way that would be believable without distracting from the rest of the story. Then, of course, he had to add vampires into the mix. And since he took the straight approach, in spite of the cynically silly title, he had to do it in a way that made sense, seemed real, and drew the reader in.

The result is something of a slow burn, action- and horror-wise. There's a great deal of exposition, but Nietz builds this exposition into the story, making everything before the horror begins just as important as the vampires themselves. Rather than succumbing to the temptation of a full-on info dump, Nietz takes the opportunity to create something of a story before the story, building tension as he goes, and creating rifts in relationships which will play out in the narrative beyond.

AViS centers on two main groups of people: The Amisher colonists of Alabaster and the travel-weary, though professional, crew of the cargo ship Raven. Among the Amishers (well, among them for a while, anyway) is Jebediah, a man tasked with a secret knowledge he must use in order to save his people -- whether they recognize their danger or not. It is his use of this knowledge -- and of the technology which comes with it -- that gets him shunned from his community, even as he saves their lives. Before the small planet's sun can turn on them, Jebediah activates a beacon, calling on the Raven (being the nearest ship) to rescue the colony.

The crew of the Raven, meanwhile, have already been rerouted once, to pick up all that remained of a science expedition that ended in disaster. They're tired. They're a little cranky. And they're really worried about being put behind schedule. This is particularly true of the ship's captain, Seal, who really acts as more of a personnel manager than the captain of a spaceship. He's kind and intelligent, if a touch officious, in a way that earns him the respect of his crew. Under his command is Singer. Good at her job and dedicated to her work, Singer has endeared herself to the captain and ultimately acts as the key ally for the Amish.

As it stands, this alone could have made for an interesting, if a little dry, science fiction tale. Add in the strange goings-on once the Amishers arrive, however, and you wind up with an engaging piece of sci-horror.

Nietz, as stated earlier, is very good at worldbuilding. You walk into a fully-realized future, complete with its own set of standards and customs. He presents his Amish well, because he takes into consideration the reality they're living in. Unlike the Earth Amish of today, Nietz's planetary colonists haven't dealt with "Englishers" for at least a generation. The universe has grown and changed around them, and they simply haven't been around to notice. At first I found myself annoyed by some of the ignorance displayed by his Amish. Did they really think a communicator was magic? But in a world where these individuals have simply never seen anything like it, well, yes. Perhaps magic is exactly what it would seem like. Kudos to Nietz for understanding the nuance, without overstating it.

Nietz also does a nice job with character development for the most part, though it is in this area I find my chief complaint. Though the key male characters are pretty well fleshed-out, including the Amish hero Jed, the ship's captain, and even the villain, I'd have liked to see a little more development on the three principal women (Singer, Jed's wife Sarah, and the ship's doctor). Each of these women were key to the events of the story and, though we got to know them a little, it would have been nice to get a little more back story.

All told, AViS will surprise you. Nietz already has a reputation as a fantastic teller of speculative fiction; but it turns out, he spins a pretty mean vampire tale, too.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Igor! The Brain!

It's time for another revamping of A Flame in the Dark! So, friends and fans, it's time to weigh in! What do you like about the current incarnation of AFitD, and what would you like to see changed?

We're considering moving into a more strictly-formatted style with weekly news updates and breaking news throughout, but, say, regular content updated monthly.

OR... we'll keep it spread out like it is now, but with slight changes to content and major changes to regularity of posting.

What do YOU want to see in the next incarnation? Consider the suggestion box open!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A Haunting Mercy: The Ghosts and Grace of Billy Coffey's "Mattingly"

Twenty years ago, Philip McBride was found dead inside a forbidding patch of forest ironically named Happy Hollow. Though his death was ruled a suicide, three people now carry his death -- and guilt for their own parts in it -- with them at all times.

In the town of Mattingly, Sheriff Jake Barnett carries on his shoulders the safety and trust of the people, a family name he can't live up to, and a dark secret. He knows Philip didn't commit suicide, and he is crippled by the shame of his own role in the boy's death. His wife Kate carries her own secret, but wears her guilt on her sleeve in the form of a book she always keeps with her. In it, the names of every individual she has helped as penance for her own sins -- sins she knows in her heart led directly to the death of Philip McBride. Meanwhile, up in the woods above Mattingly, Taylor Hathcock has turned his own guilt into a dark and terrible sense of purpose.

The Devil Walks in Mattingly is a novel of suspense and the supernatural, but more than that, it's a story about the weight of guilt on the soul. Beautifully rendered in writer Billy Coffey's lyrical prose, Mattingly, like its predecessor When Mockingbirds Sing (reviewed here) hands you the heart of a small town on a decorous platter of wit and charm, then cuts it open to reveal the truth, not only of the people of the town, but of each of us.

The truth? That guilt -- maddening, suffocating, demonic -- can be a curse, but also a blessing if it leads us finally into the arms of Grace. It's a simple message, but from the pen of a master like Coffey, the joy and beauty are as much in the journey as in the destination.

Find The Devil Walks in Mattingly at Amazon.

*Disclosure: I was sent this book for the purpose of review and promotion. The above is an honest review, based upon my own personal preferences.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

IV: Ways to celebrate Vincent Price's Birthday

It shouldn't come as a shock to anyone that we at A Flame in the Dark love (in a deep and meaningful way) the late, great Vincent Price. Today is Mr. Price's birthday. If you, like us, feel a day of such significance should not pass without being marked in some way, allow us to humbly suggest one (or perhaps all) of these activities. We promise you'll enjoy them.

I. Listen to -- and watch -- this performance of Poe's "The Raven"

II. Enjoy Michael Jackson's "Thriller," in whole.
Skip to around 6:20 to enjoy Mr. Price at his spoken word best

III. Learn about the man behind the Legend, thanks to Bio.

IV. Finally, enjoy a favorite Vincent Price Movie.
My personal recommendations are either House on Haunted Hill or this gem -- in my mind some of Vincent's very best work:


Friday, May 16, 2014

Bits & Pieces 5.16.14 - Crossing Over, without that Edwards hack

*It seems there's a new community on the WWW for creators and consumers of edgy Christian spec fic. The Crossover Alliance. Says the website:
AFitD would like to welcome to the Web

Edgy Christian speculative fiction crosses the lines of both secular fiction, and creates a new breed -- not just to appeal to a wider audience, but also to shed light on realistic, entertaining writing that has the power to appeal to both Christians and non-Christians alike.

*Speaking of appealing to a crossover audience, our friends in Grave Robber are hard at work on their vinyl EP. In the meantime, they have embarked on a short tour, without their guitarist Grant "Grim" Butler. According to a statement released by the band,

An unforseen turn of events with his wife's health is preventing Grant from leaving (on tour). It is unlikely that he will return.

The statement also expressed the band's sadness at the events keeping their axe man away, and asked fans to pray for the entire Butler family.

Grave Robber has also formerly begun the search for yet another guitar player.