Tag Archives: spirituality

What the Heaven and Hell!? (V gets religious)

29 Jan

Or, how a show I used to really enjoy has suspended my suspension of disbelief.

I wanted to write this a week ago, but there is no wrath, after all, like an atheist socked in the face with preachy religious messages in the middle of a science fiction program that’s supposed to be about, well, science fiction, and I didn’t want to have a completely incoherent rant splashed all over search engines for the rest of time.  After two-ish years of science fiction blogging, I still have some dignity.  Maybe.

So here goes:

I’ve been reviewing ABC’s alien invasion drama V since it premiered last year.  I was thrilled with the show: Elizabeth Mitchell and Morena Baccarin are both fantastic actresses, and to see them face off in an intergalactic war seemed pretty exciting.  I’ll admit–part of me was trying to fill that LOST-shaped hole in my heart, and FlashForward just wasn’t doing it.  FF had the plot twists, but V had the characters worth caring about.

There’s the FBI agent turned terrorist, the omnicompetent mercenary who can kill soldier aliens with a shovel, the slick tv anchor with access to the mothership,  the turncoat reptiloid traitor, and the Catholic priest who lets them plot and plan their revolution against the Visitors in the basement of his church.  Meanwhile, they banter and make Thorn Birds references.  This season they added that son of Satan from Reaper as the smart-ass scientist, and at last the cast was complete.  It would sound like the premise for a really bizarre sitcom–if the fate of the universe weren’t at stake.

It’s not surprising that the priest, Father Jack Landry, grated on my nerves at first.  He was so dreadfully naive–letting vital information slip to all the wrong people, and biting his fingernails over violence (this is a revolution, buddy).  But he grew on me–mostly because he’s just such a terrible priest.  For God’s sake, there’s a mercenary weapons expert torturing a captive in the middle of the rectory!  Not to mention the whole Jack-Landry-breaks-the-Seal-of-the-Confessional-to-his-own-personal-confessor,-the-FBI-agent thing, which is kind of a bad sin, for a priest.

Simply put, I liked the show–and I defended it against Kate the Lostie, who was all the time pushing me toward Fringe and Minecraft videos.

But I stopped watching halfway through episode 2.2, “Serpent’s Tooth,” and haven’t started up again.  Here’s the thing:

Season One dealt very well with the differences between humans and Visitors.  At that time, it was all about emotion–namely, love (and even more namely, love of a mother for her children).  Reason’s great and all, but love was what worried V Queen Anna most of all.  And in a fantastic season finale twist, Anna herself experienced her first burst of human emotion (rage) when her own children (well, creepy soldier children reptile eggs) were… er… frozen to death by the Fifth Column.

This season, the emphasis has shifted.  In one of the most ridiculous television scenes I have ever had the misfortune of watching:

Apparently, what makes humans human isn’t emotion, empathy, love–it’s The Soul.

“I have human skin, I feel, but I need you to tell me something…” Ryan begs of Father J, “Do I have a soul!”

(Cut scene) “I will isolate it in the medical bay!” Anna exclaims.

(Cut again) “Every creature can feel the grace of God!” Jack tells Ryan.

(And again) “It’s too complex!” cries Diana.

*cue creepy piano music*

Oh, I’ll pick V up again when I can find it on Megavideo, I guess.  But I won’t be so naively happy about it myself, and I don’t know that I’ll ever get that immersion experience that a good story–print or film–can give you if it successfully suspends your disbelief.  If the show continues along this path, viewers have to accept that “humanity” in the world of Anna and Jack is defined in terms of religion.

No, the idea of a soul isn’t very controversial in the United States, but to base an entire science fiction series on it is… jarring (and a lot harder to deny in V than it ever was in the at-times-somewhat-spiritual LOST).  I’m an American Studies major–I’ll learn to look at V the way I do any other historical artifact: as a product of its time and culture.  But who really wants to be a scholar watching tv?

Verdict? Luminous and Ominous, by Noah K. Mullette-Gillman

3 Jan

There’s nothing fun about the end of the world–but there might be something beautiful.

The alien “invaders” of this unique science fictionish novel are exactly what the title tells us, Luminous and Ominous, a ravenous plant species with a mesmerizing beauty and a will to live as strong–or perhaps stronger–than any human survivor.  And therein lies the problem for our protagonists: not just surviving in a new world, but preserving their very sense of what it means to be alive, and be human.

I’m a bigger fan of Noah K. Mullette-Gillman’s second novel than I was of the first (and I’m a pretty big fan).  The writing is as mesmerizing as the beautiful alien Cornucopia Blue it describes, and the characters’ thoughts and struggles pull readers along with them just as surely.

Reading Time: On the Kindle, Luminous and Ominous is a little over 5,000 locations, which would make it 500+ pages in the physical world.  But how long it takes to read?  I’m hardly competent to say–it took me a weekend: I couldn’t put it down.

Recommendation: It’s 2011, and apocalypse scenarios haven’t been so popular since Y2K.  So let’s not pigeonhole Luminous and Ominous as strictly science fiction–it’s General Audiences all the way.

Luminous and Ominous is available as an ebook on Amazon for $2.99

Don’t eat the apple, Eve! (review: Luminous and Ominous)

3 Jan

The neon-blue, radioactive, extraterrestrial apple.

It’s kind of fun to think about the world ending.  Survivor‘s on its twenty-second season; Discovery Channel made a hit of end-of-the-world reality program The Colony; AMC’s original series The Walking Dead wowed audiences; and everyone who’s anyone watched LOST.

Of course, nobody likes to consider how completely helpless they’d be, how few marketable skills a college history student would have in a collapsed society where experience in handling archival materials and writing science fiction reviews doesn’t mean anything.  The reality would be terrifying, and truth is most of us wouldn’t rise to the occasion, discover hidden talents, regain primal strength and adaptability.

Most of us would die.

Still, New Year comes around and I’m sure I’m not the only one bopping around humming Jay Sean’s “2012” (we’re gonna party like it’s the end of the world, y’all!).

Henry Willingham wasn’t much different.  When 2012 actually does bring meteorites teeming with voracious violet alien plant life ready to consume our little green planet, he and his friends are positively giddy.  They stock up on toilet paper and pimp out one of those Cold War emergency fallout shelters in an abandoned hotel–and joke about picking up a bunch of girls to repopulate the world with.  “Why was it fun to think about civilization ending?” Henry asks himself in a moment of introspection, “Why did it put Henry in such a good mood?”

Probably because, even as he watched YouTube videos of a woman being eaten from the inside out by, he didn’t really believe it.  The government was firebombing Miami–rest in peace collateral damage; go to hell alien invaders!  And besides, even if we can’t nuke the alien bacteria/plant thingies, there’s always H.G. Wells’s common cold working for us, right?

Right?

The truth is, author Noah K. Mullette-Gillman posits in his second novel Luminous and Ominous, human’s can’t even deal with human-scale disasters (oh hello, Katrina)–how are we supposed to cope with galactic problems?

By 2014, the dozens of people Henry hand-picked for his bomb shelter civilization are gone: it’s just him and two women, Laura and Samantha, and none of them are thinking about repopulation.  Not when they’re out in the alien jungle searching for a glimpse of green, in the middle of Cornucopia Blue:

The extraterrestrial fruit was heavy and thick.  They could smell the sweet juice inside.  Blue skin leaked orange liquid in heavy drops which painted the sticky brown grass beneath it.

It would have been wonderful if it didn’t just feel so wrong.  It was a beauty at their expense, a beauty that mocked them.  Cornucopia Blue was stronger than any life on Earth.  It was healthier, more beautiful, and it wanted to life more than the life on Earth did.

The people who survive the end of the world (as we know it) have a harder task than saving civilization, or even fighting to stay alive: in this book, the real fight is to stay human.

Amidst the glut of End-of-Days books coming out just in time for 2012, Luminous and Ominous is unique.  There are no zombies, or robots, or spaceships, or (as excited I am about V tomorrow) lizard-people taking over the government.  There’s no identifiable enemy, and no way forward for the conquering mentality.  Do we like the thought of the apocalypse because it offers a chance for our imaginations to rebuild and remake the world in our image?  That’s not what happens in Noah K. Mullette-Gillman’s imagination.  Luminous and Ominous is a thoughtful novel without cliches or a deus ex machina victory.  It’s not even about staying alive.

If you’ve read anything on this blog before, you probably know that I’m not a religious person–but I do know my Genesis.  In the Garden of Eden, the first woman took a bite from the Tree of Knowledge and lost her divinity.  When Laura, one of the last women, takes a bite from the alien Tree of Life, she loses her humanity.  As Laura says, fingering a plastic dinosaur she keeps in her pocket, it’s adapt or die.

At what price?

Noah K. Mullette-Gillman’s Luminous and Ominous seems, superficially, nothing like his debut novel The White Hairs, a meditative work of “spiritual mythology.”  Luminous and Ominous is certainly closer to the science fiction mainstream, but I still see a thread of continuity with Mullette-Gillman’s first book: both are thoughtful and thought-provoking, spiritual without ever getting preachy, and beautifully-written.

Luminous and Ominous is available as an ebook on Amazon for $2.99

Verdict? The White Hairs, by Noah K. Mullette-Gillman

9 Aug

Thought-provoking and intensely spiritual without getting religious, The White Hairs is a parable for modern times, gently inducing readers to examine their own natures along with the novel’s hero and guide Farshoul.

Although one could say that the entire book is a long extended metaphor, Mullette-Gillman’s elegant, streamlined prose prevents the story getting bogged down under the weight of philosophical obscurantism.  Reminiscent of Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist, The White Hairs is a thoughtful book that flows at a slow, soft, meditative pace.

Reading time: At 122 pages, a quick reader could finish this one off in a weekend, but since the message of the book is introspection, after all, I’d say a week is reasonable too.

Recommendation: The jury unanimously approves Noah K. Mullette-Gillman’s “work of spiritual mythology” as accessible for all audiences—for the contemplative (who’ll love it), and for the hurried and harried (who’ll need it).

The White Hairs is available as an ebook on Amazon for $2.99, as well as in paperback form.

Spirit Eyes (review: The White Hairs)

9 Aug

The ill-starred Titanic’s bandleader Wallace Hartley drowned in the frigid Atlantic the night the ship went down, music box strapped to his chest as he and the ship’s seven other musicians played on the sloping deck for passengers strapping on vests and swarming into life boats.  Survivors recall hearing the popular upbeat, syncopated ragtime tunes of the day, the hymn “Nearer my God to Thee,” and the haunting “Dream of Autumn”:

Reports conflict as to which was the very last song the band played before they all went under, but we don’t need to know to be moved by the fact that eight men would—knowing that they were in their last hour of life—choose to create something beautiful for others.  It’s a tragedy, but awe-inspiring in the most honest sense of the word.

That’s the story—and sentiment—that came to mind as I read Noah K. Mullette-Gillman’s novel of “spiritual mythology,” The White Hairs.  The book follows the physical and mental journeys of a mysterious, non-human snow creature called Farshoul, whose people have learned to loose their souls from their bodies and travel the astral plane.  Their self-proclaimed status as the most “advanced” race on the planet comes not from science, technology, or the other trappings of human civilization, but from this mystical ability to see straight to the soul.  The humans, on the other hand, are “The Unconscious Ones” or “The Mindless.”

Very simply, of Farshoul—“He had been told they lived unexamined lives.”

But Farshoul is a snow-Socrates who thinks perhaps there’s more to the human than meets the eye—or rather, that meets the anatomical, biological, physical and physiological eye.

My favorite scene in the book comes when Farshoul uses his spirit eyes to travel far from his home on the snowy slopes of a mountain range out to sea, where a human ship is caught in a desperate position: just minutes away from capsizing in a massive storm.  Initially, Farshoul pities them their frantic prayers and pleas for help—

“Farshoul’s people knew that souls die when their bodies die… It was as if their next world was supposed to make everything that was wrong in the current one all right.”

It doesn’t help the human reputation, either, that the captain shoots half of his men as they lay strapped in their beds—a quicker death than drowning, he explains over their helpless protests.  And yet, as Farshoul continues to eavesdrop on the sailors’ last moments, he witnesses something more elevated: they begin to sing.

“They were crying and they all knew they were dying and they chose to spend their last moments of consciousness making something beautiful.  He hadn’t thought they were capable of anything so wise and advanced.”

It could have been ragtime, and it could have been “Nearer My God to Thee,” but either way it was something sublime, a reminder of a fact we so often forget: there are beautiful facets of human nature too.

The White Hairs is fiction (though, if you want to believe that the abominable snowman is a soul-traveling, mystic superhero, go right ahead).  There is, however, a lot of truth to it.  The rest of the novel might not have so perfect an historical cognate as the story of Wallace Hartley and the Titanic’s orchestra, but there is absolutely no way to read this book and not see it as a parable for our own very material-centric world.

Farshoul’s “society was set up around their relationship with the intangible,” Mullette-Gillman writes—putting very clearly what the first sentence of the book already hinted at:

Farshoul watched as the long white hairs on his arms became translucent.  He watched as they faded away.

What the author does in The White Hairs (the name of the mysterious snow race, in case you were wondering) is give us a story about stripping away all the superfluous aspects of our own lives to find other examples of human spiritual beauty in such a cluttered, materialistic world.

Without that ability, Farshoul learns at one point—after losing his own spirit eyes in a fight with a vicious dog made of hateful red energy—life becomes empty and hollow: “He was not capable of seeing the most beautiful qualities of anyone after his injuries.  He was incapable of love.”

But even for us most Unconscious Ones, all is not lost.  As Farshoul’s mother tells him (proving, perhaps, that wisdom does come with white hairs):

“You didn’t lose anything you can’t find again.”

Now Reading: The White Hairs, by Noah K. Mullette-Gillman

5 Aug

Moving from “hard” sci-fi to the deeply mystical, next up is The White Hairs, a work of “spiritual mythology.”  The novel may be slim at 122 pages, but it currently defies description, me having read only the back cover:

The White Hairs is a work of spiritual mythology. Somewhere on a white and snowy mountain, is a young creature learning how to leave his body and travel the world inside of the wind.

The wonders and terrors that he will see are the beginning of an adventure that will feel familiar to anyone who has been fed upon by life, and wanted to fight to get back the joy and soul that they were once able to take for granted.

And the first lines:

“Farshoul watched as the long white hairs on his arms became translucent. He watched as they faded away. Soon he could see through the skin and bone of his arms to the ice beneath him. The frozen water that he could see through his phantom arm seemed more real than his own body. He watched as the others blurred in his vision, their white fur becoming indistinguishable from the snow around them. They appeared to disappear. Then Farshoul began to move.”

That may be a benefit: turning the first page (metaphorically, I suppose, since I’m inevitably reading on my beloved Kindle), I have no idea what to expect.  Besides those two short passages above, all I know is that the author’s favorite color is blue, his favorite number is 8, and that this, his first novel, was published in June 2010.

Now on to the reading.

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