Blaster Pistols and Hokey Religions


I’ve been a bit radio-silent for a while, and for that I apologize. Just like I do every time I go radio silent, I suppose. This writing thing, I’m telling you people. It is not for the weak of heart or the lazy. It just isn’t. Between some tight writing deadlines, some pretty rigid (but self-imposed) editing deadlines, and two conventions (to say nothing of the day-jobbery), I’ve been a bit busy. The upside of all this is that I have all kinds of fun stuff to talk about. Today’s installment: what’s been going on in my world of short fiction.

In a recent flurry of submissions, I got six stories out—two which are now picked up, and four which are in the waiting period. The two that got picked up were both written in the last month, and other than that, are about as different as you could get. One was the high-octane sci-fi story “By Gods Damned and Bounty Blessed” which will be appearing in the upcoming Bulldogs! Anthology. I encourage you to go toss some money at the anthology so they can add even more amazing authors to the book before it’s too late. My story involves a tough-as-nails bounty hunter on a quest for revenge. The other story is called “Bethlehem Glen” and is atmospheric horror set in the early 80’s in the wilderness of central California. I can’t tell you where it’s going to appear—that much is a closely guarded secret for now—or too much about certain elements. But I can tell you that it features a trio of hapless bank robbers and their prisoner.

And I can also tell you that, despite no deliberate planning on my part and having them set galaxies apart, both stories found an unexpected intersection on the theme of religion.

In my sci-fi story, a bounty hunter goes to collect a conman passing himself off as a messiah in a small mining community. She quickly learns that her partner, a new recruit on the ship where she is assigned, is a priest of a small, possibly heretical sect.

In the horror, I got to play with the concept of cults and communes that seemed to be everywhere in the seventies—especially in California.

Two stories, three religious traditions, no waiting.

And it was interesting to me how that theme played out differently across the two genres.

When dealing with matters of fantasy/horror, there is a certain automatic acceptance of things of a supernatural nature. So when you bring religion/spirituality into a story of this nature, there’s a certain amount of baggage. A person of faith can either make a huge impact, or his lack of impact can be seen as a critique on how religion is a sham, or even how his faith is lacking. But to the best of my (admittedly limited memory) it’s rarely there just as a meaningless background element.

But in much sci-fi, it’s either a bit of characterization (like hair color or accent), or absent entirely. I know I’m setting myself up for a barrage of people citing exceptions. I’d actually kind of welcome that. But I still maintain that religion in sci-fi is largely a matter of individuality, or a political overlay. I can’t think of a single instance of someone calling on their Gods and actually have them listen.

Compared to fantasy novels (or horror, where the Gods are less than friendly), where something might actually happen, it’s a huge difference.

Does this mean that effective religion, with divine powers and worship that has real effects automatically kick fiction out of sci-fi territory? Is there room in sci-fi for a devout character of faith who maintains that faith despite all scientific evidence to the contrary? And does this devotion make him noble or a fool?

I’m honestly not sure of the answers to that myself. But it does make me want to explore it more.
I touch on it in “By Gods Damned and Bounty Blessed,” where one character is a priest of The Gun Saint.
I guess in the future, it’s all about who you worship that gets you the results you want.

Again, I encourage you to check out the Bulldogs! Kickstarter. The kind folks at Galileo Games have put up a short preview of my story there. It only gets more insane from there. Like, fist-fight with a God insane. (Ed. Now you can read the whole story, as it’s just been launched! Go pick up the entire anthology!)

And when I can announce where the horror story is appearing, I heartily recommend you pick that up too. I can say without fear of contradiction, it’s one of the creepiest things I’ve ever committed to paper. And for me, that’s saying a lot.

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