Are you sure you really want to go there?

Please give a warm welcome to writer B.T. Lowry, who comes to us today with some insight into “My Father and the Sun,” his new story for Third Order

SE: What inspired you to write “My Father and the Sun?”

BL: This story is about the line between faith and delusion. Some would say that all faith is delusion, while others would say that all people possess some kind of faith, whether material or spiritual. The son in the story believes that the fantastic accounts in his peoples’ scriptures are not just mythology, yet his father’s extreme conviction frightens him.

I’ve been following a particular spiritual path for many years, but I’ve got my reservations. I’ve seen that people can be fanatical and cultish even around something with real merit. At the same time, I think commitment to a path and a practice is important in spiritual life. So this conflict between faithfulness and skepticism inspired “My Father and the Sun.”

SE: What do you see as the role of scripture in your story world? Is it better to be “realistic,” like the mother, or a dreamer like the father?

BL: The father regards scripture as a literal record of events, whereas the mother has a softer and more practical kind of faith. He’s focused on transcending the world, while she’s concerned that everyone here be taken care of. In the end, I think a balance of both is required. It’s a great thing to sincerely hold high ideals, yet we must live also in this world, being mindful not to cause suffering for others.

SE: Your story world has hints that technology was once far more important than it currently is. Tell us a little about the worldbuilding process for your story world and the religion these characters follow.

BL: The story world is largely inspired by the teachings of ancient India, the Vedas. There, a cycle of four ages is described. The cycle begins with purity and spiritual consciousness, and ends with gross materialism. Many say that the achievements of earlier civilizations are far greater than the ones we see now, seeing as we’re further down in the progression. This concept that we are poor heirs of great cultures than our own shows up in many places, including Lord of the Rings. To my knowledge, it’s seen first in the Vedic scriptures.

So the father in this story is trying to access something wonderful that came before. He’s the chief of his tribe, and he wants that they should inherit the great gifts their ancestors have given. Yet so much of the knowledge is lost so he sometimes grasps at straws and seems fanatical to his family and followers.

SE: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

BL: Get so good they can’t ignore you. Passion is great but easily come by. Hone your craft and make it worthwhile for the reader, not just yourself. It’s advice which tempers the popular saying, ‘Follow your passion.’

SE: How long have you been writing? What inspires your writing in general? Tell me a little about your writing career so far and where you’d like to go.

BL: I’ve been writing since I was wee, but seriously for about five years. I love stories because they represent life. They can be dramatic, engrossing allegories. On a personal level, writing helps me to work through my thoughts and feelings about issues that come up in my life.

My career is modest, just some short story publications here and there, and a self-published novel, Fire from the Overworld (ed. note: get it here!). I’m working on my second book, which has strong spiritual and environmental themes. Like many authors, I’d like for my writing to find its way to those who will most appreciate it, and who will give me feedback to help me improve.

I also work with multimedia and non-fiction, and I find the cross-pollination between these diverse disciplines quite fascinating. I’ve experimented with animating and scoring short stories. It’s time consuming but rewarding work.

NEW FICTION: “My Father and the Sun” by B.T. Lowry

How far would you go for your father’s dream? What about when you don’t even know if it is yours? Where does your father’s dream end? Where does yours begin?

In B.T. Lowry’s “My Father and the Sun,” we enter into the last days of a family pursuing a literal journey of faith: following a father’s footsteps to the mythical Island of the Sun and to the very mind of God. Mensah’s father thinks he knows what’s going to happen when he gets there. Mensah wants to believe, but is doubtful — and he’s worried about his sister, Kianni, who might be too young to understand. How far will Mensah go?

Read the story here and decide for yourself.

(Also: Yes, we’re back! Sacred Earthlings will now be updating regularly, as will Third Order Magazine.)

Resurrection! Or: No, We Haven’t Died!


Ow! I fell victim to the Unannounced Hiatus!

I’m extremely sorry for being invisible these last few months, but after adjustment to a new job, surgery, conquering an illness (and my first real vacation in seven years), I’m finally crawling back into the blogosphere! The really good thing is that I’ve been thinking of Sacred Earthlings and Third Order since Balticon, and not only do I have tons of great articles and photographs for you, but that I have a full lineup for Third Order going through the end of the year and into January just as soon as I don’t feel like I was run over by the Starship Enterprise.

karen_in_sewardBuying books in Seward, Alaska!

I’m extremely excited about all this, and I hope you are, too. I’ll be back very soon with more story recommendations, commentary (hello, Killjoys!), convention reports, old paperbacks I picked up in Alaska, and, yes, stories for Third Order! (I’m finishing up the lineup by the end of next week!)  And if you’re going to Capclave in Washington, D.C. in October, flag me down! See you soon!

SHORT STORY ALERT: “Belief” by Nancy Kress

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God
who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect
has intended us to forgo their use.” -Galileo Galilei


Hello, earthlings! We’re back!

Religion against science, science against religion; which one is right? It’s an old, hoary story, one that goes far back past the books of Christopher Dawkins to the well-known tales of Galileo, Hypatia and Socrates. Devotees of science say that the ordered world precludes a belief in God, while the faithful say the very same proof explains it.

We’re still having this conversation, on the same kind of cultural scale. You can visit the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY, where you can see a real, world-class allosaurus fragilis skeleton and then learn that the animal in question existed at the same time as human beings and died in the Flood. You can head to your local streaming service and rent Bill Maher’s film “Religulous,” which tries to put the screw to who people who truly believe in the power of prayer without trying to understand why they might be so devoted.

Maher at the Mount of Olives, destroying sacred cows or something.

This conversation, unfortunately, has no room for men like Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno, an actual scientist who is also a Jesuit brother. (He’s so cool we’re going to devote an entire article to his work. Stay tuned.)

Nope. The rest of us are still fighting over who’s right and who’s wrong. Who knows? It’s my opinion that we’re just adding to the fighting that’s been happening since some nameless, curious shaman discovered fire and thought it might be a gift from the gods and not just a natural reaction, not making progress. We’ll never know. All we can do is keep talking and trying to understand each other.

Nancy Kress’s “Belief,” in the March/April issues of Fantasy & Science Fiction, tackles this dichotomy on a very personal level. There is a mother devoted to the path of science; there is a teen daughter who is looking for something a little more transcendental. What I love a lot about this story is the fact that Kress allows the readers to explore both viewpoints in a parallel fashion and draw their own conclusions. And Kress’s protagonists, unlike the Mahers and the Fox News anchors of the world, actually make progress.

In an interview with The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Kress explains that “neither the rigors of the scientific method—which in some quarters is taken pretty much as a religion—nor the ‘squishiness’ of faith are completely satisfactory. ‘Belief’ is my personal way of simultaneously criticizing both–while leaving the door open to both. Talk about squishy!”

We here at Sacred Earthlings call it awesome reading.

This is wrong no matter which side of the argument you’re on.

Let’s all keep trying to understand each other — without shouting each other down, denouncing faith or science with a broad brush or as a matter of course. As Kress’ heroines may (or may not! No spoilers!) discover, there’s only one way out of this mess we’ve made, and that’s together.

Read the rest of the interview with Kress at Fantasy & Science Fiction, where she talks more about her inspiration for the story and discover where you can pick up the March/April issue in which the story is published.

Dyson Spheres Are Real (Maybe)

“I’m frequently asked, ‘Do you believe there’s extraterrestrial intelligence?’
I give the standard arguments- there are a lot of places out there, the molecules of life are everywhere,
I use the word billions, and so on. Then I say it would be astonishing to me if there weren’t extraterrestrial intelligence,
but of course there is as yet no compelling evidence for it.”
— Carl Sagan

In the early aughts, I was friends with Ryan, a really nice guy who had installed SETI@home on his computer. When he wasn’t working on college essays or playing Starcraft, SETI popped up as quickly as a screensaver, and started to use his processing power to handle just one thread of the millions of bytes of telescope data coming in from all over the world. When we watched movies and played board games in his basement with our friends, SETI blinked away in the corner, watching and analyzing, ever hopeful.

I wonder what he thinks of this week’s news — that users on the astronomy crowdsourcing interface Planet Hunters processed data from the Kepler telescope suggesting there was something unnatural happening around KIC 8462852 — now known in some astronomical circles as the “WTF Star.”

A NASA diagram of how the Kepler observatory works

How does the Kepler telescope work? Basically, Kepler hunts for planets by analyzing the shadows that pass in front of stars. When a star passes by a planet, the star dims; planet hunters use that data to extrapolate whether or not it was a planet and what that planet might look like.

This time, Kepler found a star where, according to Yale astronomer Tabatha Boyajian:

“What was unusual about that was the depth of the light dips, up to 20% decrease in light, and the timescales (of light variation) — a week to a couple of months.”

That wasn’t proper planet behavior at all, she said.

wateronmarsEvidence of liquid water flowing on Mars, courtesy NASA

Frankly, one of the reasons there wasn’t more of a hurrah to NASA’s recent announcement to their discovery of water on Mars was that we were expecting it to happen. We’ve listened to Carl Sagan, we’ve heard the lessons of The Doctor, we know in our hearts that Mulder was right. I think the same thing is happening here.

Like astronomer Jason Wright says, aliens should always be the last hypothesis you consider. But he’s a scientist. We here at Sacred Earthlings are science-tinged dreamers.

So yes, it could be a swarm of comets, a large debris field, a moon forming, or some other kind of easily-explainable galactic phenomenon. Something delicious that will still help us learn more about the galaxy where we live and how things work here. And the scientists are going to do a lot more science before a “could be” or a “might be” turns into an “is,” of course, as they should.

But here at Sacred Earthlings, given our mission, we obviously need to hope what the Planet Hunters and the scientists at SETI are hoping: that the unexplainable data may be a giant solar-array superstructure funneling energy from the WTF Star to a nearby alien civilization that has truly advanced engineering skills. Imagine what that would mean: that an alien civilization got so far to channel energy directly from around their very own star. These would be no mere solar panels, my friends, but an engineering feat unlike anything humankind can currently offer. What kind of technology would be available to that civilization? Would there be any want on that planet? Any war? Any energy need at all?

Wouldn’t it be completely nuts if Dyson Spheres were real?

– – –

Lastly, I’d like to thank people for coming back to Sacred Earthlings after a distinct lack of content these few weeks. I hit my head on a kitchen cabinet in late September and received a concussion for my pains; my doctor had me off all screens, texting, and reading about amazing developments to put on this blog. I’m slowly on-ramping back to Internet life, and boy, do I have a lot to say about the brain. Next time, Gadget! Next time….

For more information on the Planet Hunters’ discovery:

Reddit’s Explain Like I’m Five


Washington Post

NEW FICTION: “The Weight of Years” by Jaime Babb

The earth has its music for those who will listen,
Its bright variations forever abound;
With all the wonders that God has bequeathed us,
There is nothing that thrills like the magic of sound.
– George Santayana

Remains of homo habilis, discovered at Olduvai Gorge.

Worship of nature and the Earth is humanity’s oldest religion. Before Jehovah, Zeus and the now-nameless gods of the people of Lascaux, someone looked up at the sun and the stars, wondered what they were, and searched for answers. Someone looked around and observed leaves dying in the autumn and the miraculous, ever-present return of life in the spring, and wondered if there was a higher power out there that made it happen. Even today, with our science and our societal agnosticism, we still look up on cold nights at the Milky Way or at a grand valley from the top of a tall mountain and feel that sense of ancient, breathless wonder our ancestors must have experienced.

Every human that has ever lived has looked up at the stars from their home standing on Earth and has wondered the same things from the same perspetive. In the future, though, when we stretch out to the stars, colonize the planets and the asteroids and the galaxies, when humans exist independent of the Earth upon which we evolved, what is that perspective going to look like? What is Earth going to look like from outside? How is that ancient drive going to translate to someone who has never breathed the air of their ancestral home?

In answer to that question, Third Order is excited to present Jaime Babb’s evocative, arresting story, “The Weight of Years.”

We’ve got a wonderful slate of posts for December. Stay tuned for an interview with Babb later this month, where we’ll talk about the inspiration for this story as well as other wonderful things. We’ll also discuss ancient faiths, creationism vs. evolution, stories and novels that touch on nature religions and modern takes on the Gaia myth and nature worship. Expect a few other author interviews about what it’s like to write religion into your stories, Star Wars and more!

Read Jaime Babb’s “The Weight of Years” here, and talk about it in the comments section below. As always, Third Order is consistently open for submissions and publish stories on Third Order monthly or when we run into something we simply can’t resist.

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Awkward Family Dinners At God’s House

What he did? Creation? That took work. That took sacrifice.
— Metatron

Sam spares a demon.

I’ve been suspecting for a long time that the universe of Supernatural is a Manichaean one, and, in Wednesday’s “Our Little World,” we finally get that crystal-clear confirmation. Metatron says that Amara is God’s sister, one of God’s kin, with all of God’s powers and God’s abilities. Amara is the Darkness to God’s Light. Metatron, in his monologue, notes that she’s always been The Darkness, that what God did to Amara didn’t turn her from light to dark, but just lock away what she’d always been.

So, basically, all creation is a massive squabble over who gets to play with the best toys.

supernat3Dean is wearing his broody eyebrows today.

I’ve always maintained that the moment God shows up on Supernatural, the show will take a hard right turn and head on towards a violent denouement. I believe that Big Good versus Big Bad — represented by the lives and the proclivities of our protagonists, the Winchester siblings — has pretty much always been the eventual endgame here. Fans have their theories (hi, Chuck!), but it’s now fairly clear that we’re going to see God before the curtain calls. Once you bring out that final narrative card, there’s nothing left in the deck.

Biblical theory and the show itself would have you believe the final conflict to be between a returning God and locked-away Lucifer. In a Manichaean world, though you need more than a creation of a deity struggling against that deity; you need something as powerful as the deity itself, a quid-pro-quo, a balance, a shadow for every lamp.

supernat1Dean aligning visually with The Darkness. Not a good sign.

I think it is very fitting that Supernatural frames its final conflict through the lens of intersibling family drama. “Our Little World,” and indeed, the season itself, also sets up that same Manichaean internal conflicts between Dean and Sam. Sam has been encouraging Dean to stop killing for a while now, and consistently lets even demons live when he can; Dean, despite his brother’s backing, is still automatically setting his dial to “slaughter.”

Metatron’s monologue for Castiel raises more questions for viewers than it answers. The fact that God need to put Amara to “sacrifice” in order to achieve his Creation means something else: in Supernatural, God has rules of nature to obey as well. Is there a family of Gods? Does God have a mother? A kindergarten teacher? A nosy neighbor? Does God’s nosy neighbor have a Creation of his own, too? Is the ending literally going to be a deus ex machina? How far can this go before we jump the shark?

The last few moments of “Our Little World” show Amara pretty much owning Crowley and sending him, an impotent little shouting creature, back to Hell. Where do the only-human Winchesters fit here, when there are so many tidal waves about to hit the shore?

In Supernatural, God has been “away” for a very long time. He’s hands off. He’s doing something else. He’s a babysitter who has gone out to have a smoke and left the kids to wreck the place. And wreck it they have — even the angels are acting like they belong in the burning halls below.

I believe that is about to change.

Little Girls, Star Wars, and the Lightsaber Ceiling

“I’m no one.”
— Rey, The Force Awakens.


Most lady geeks of a certain age have keen and clear memories of the first time we watched the Star Wars movies: the first time we learned the identity of Luke’s father, the first time we cowered in fear of the Emperor, swooned for Han and looked up to Leia (or swooned for Leia and looked up to Han, whatever your mileage was).

swgirls4Rey doing something important to save the universe, not waiting for her Christian Grey.

Me? I wanted to be Luke. He was the one with the cool Force powers and the hero’s storyline. From whining about not being able to hang out with his friends at Tosche Station to taking down the Empire with his cool refusal to bow to the Dark Side, he was absolutely my favorite character. Leia finished a close second, but not because she was pretty or hot. Her visual attributes barely registered with me — instead, I loved her for her political acumen and the fact that she was the extremely smart leader of a rebellion. She stared down Darth Vader while everyone cowered, and laughed in his face. She was cool.

In a world of Clintonian sex scandals and a mostly-male Senate, she taught me that girls could be just as good as boys. No — better.

I firmly believed that Leia was just as cool as Luke, but the boys at day care still said I couldn’t have the lightsaber “because I was a girl.”

Let’s call it the Lightsaber Ceiling.

swgirls2Rey is not waiting for the local Jakku boys to save her.

We’re not even going to talk about the prequels at the moment, because they turned a woman who was literally born to rule into a weepy sack of hormones. (Yes, being pregnant with twins is no joke, but any mom will tell you that motherhood is only part of who they are, not the “game over” state they forced on Padme Amidala.)

It hurts me these days to watch girls actively excluded from the things I love because people say they’re not “for girls.” Science fiction, fantasy, video games, making STEM robots, computer programming, science, politics, writing hard SF instead of paranormal romance. Gamergate. Rape threats and death warnings simply for loving things that are not “sugar and spice and everything nice.” Doxxing. I’m not the only one of my friends who has been quizzed by male members of a fandom to make sure I’m not a “fake geek girl,” whatever that is. I’m not the only one who has been teased and threatened on an MMO. I’m not the only one who has been patted on the head and told that less was expected of me because I was “just a girl.” Our culture steers young girls away from Leia Skywalker and Kathryn Janeway to Bella Swan and Anastasia Steele, who have no agency at all unless it’s through and because of the men in their lives.

swgirls1Rey’s “come with me if you want to live” moment.

That’s why I’m quite excited to see what Disney seems to be doing with The Force Awakens. The newest TV spot makes clear what the cinematic trailers hinted at: The Force Awakens is undoubtedly Rey’s story. The dialogue from Maz Kanata pinpoints Rey as the person in whom the force is “awakening.” She occupies Luke’s station, with Finn taking up an adjacent, Han/Leia position. She’s the one that says “follow me,” not Finn. She asks Finn’s name in the international trailer. And, what’s more, she seems to have the same kind of agency a male character in her position would have. It’s pretty obvious she’s got skills, confidence and empathy, that she’s active, that she’s smart, that she has a moral compass. Rey gets to have a faith journey with her pursuit of the Force. She’s clearly the hero. This is clearly her movie. A bunch of little girls are going to see this movie and see Rey, and it is going to be an active and defining moment for them, and they’ll hopefully see the world of fandom and geekery as something open and welcoming to them. I’m so excited by this. I’m hopeful that this is one of the steps in the right direction that our anti-girl nerd culture needs right now.

swgirls3Not the face of a girl who spends her junior year pining over twinkly vampire boys.

And then I went to look for Rey toys, and I noticed, like others did, that they are far less sexualized than toys I saw of both Leia and Padme, even though there’s way too few of them.

I’m not making any pronouncements yet — most geek girls of my age have been disappointed over and over again in a culture that tells over and over again that we don’t belong and that we’re not wanted. But what Disney is doing with Rey looks like a step in the right direction this time, and I’m really excited. Maybe this will actually be something I’m excited to show any little girls of my own someday.


Because then you see the Cover Girl light/dark makeup line and wonder if anything is ever going to change.

This Christmas, give a little girl in your life a lightsaber. Tell her that she can be the hero. Because, friends, that is where it starts.

Star Wars As Intimate Family Drama: A Speculation

“It’s true. All of it. The dark side. The Jedi.”
– Han Solo

theforceawakens5Leia has most definitely lost something. Or… someone.

Star Wars is full of fodder for Sacred Earthlings with warrior-monk Jedi, the mystical Force and the Manichean struggle between “the dark side and the light,” so as we get closer and closer to The Force Awakens, you’ll probably hear a lot more about it.

Today, though, we’re talking about storytelling — specifically, the success of stories that have related “epic” and “intimate” arcs, and manage to mirror and advance both at the same time. The success of the original Star Wars wasn’t just all about cool-looking TIE fighters and Han Solo shooting first; it was about the personal struggle between father and son that represented the relationship between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance.

theforceawakens3“I’m nobody.” No, Rey. You’re obviously somebody, you look exactly like Natalie Portman.

There are a lot of successful modern epics out there — stories with national, world-bound or pan-galactic consequences, featuring heroes whose personal success, personal foibles and personal dreams have serious consequences for people all around the world. These stories succeed for a reason. The most recent successful example of this is Avengers 2, when Tony Stark’s hubris creates Ultron, an AI that nearly destroys the world in less than a week. And then there were the unsuccessful examples of this seen in the Star Wars prequels, where Anakin Skywalker’s inability to control his teenage mood swings lead him to become Darth Vader. (It’s a lot cooler in my headcanon, where Anakin is tempted, Jesus-like, with power and glory, and in the end has a crisis of faith that leads him to trap himself in the armor of the dark side, trapped behind the voice and exoskeleton of Vader, divorced from his true self. Come on, it’s totally cooler.) I believe Lucas tried for the dual-level story, the pan-galactic and the personal, and failed with a spectacular “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

I think Star Wars: The Force Awakens is going to succeed where Lucas failed.

Finn regrets all of his decisions.

I haven’t read any spoilers, so this is just wild, rampant speculation, but I believe our heroine Rey and our villain Ren are actually brother and sister; that they’re the Solo twins of the EU re-imagined to Disney’s specifications. Imagine if they were: both of them are Force users, inheritors of the Skywalker blessing through their mother, Leia. Somehow, Ren turns to the dark side, and Rey to the light. (Obvious naming schemes for $300, Alex.) He searches diligently to take on his grandfather’s legacy, unknowing of Anakin’s turn back to the light at the end of Jedi. As a Sith disciple, he’d be attracted to Vader’s power and Vader’s abilities, and want them for his own. Perhaps Rey is hiding from him on Jakku, her own Force training interrupted. Perhaps Leia and Han are watching everything they’ve built and worked for their entire lives fall apart with their own son at the helm of the destruction. Perhaps they’re terrified of losing Rey, too. Perhaps they’ve already lost Luke. Perhaps they know they must move against their own child, and it’s killing them. Gulp.

All of a sudden, a pan-galactic conflict also becomes intimate, one family’s tragic story writ large. How incredibly cool. Who could resist telling — or getting involved — in a story this delicious?

theforceawakens2A burned testament to the truths of George Santayana.

There’s a hint of Battlestar to the trailer, too, the deja-vu visuals, and the unshakable feeling that all of this has happened before and all of this will happen again; it’s the endless Manichean struggle between dark and light that characterizes the Star Wars extended universe, of course. Played well, it should be less of a brick point (you know, where the plot hits you over and over the head with the Obvious Brick) and more of an atmospheric note.



Use the Force, JJ. Don’t let us down!

If you haven’t seen the trailer, I’ve embedded it here:

The Moon, Or The Most Epic Road Trip Ever

“Three things cannot be long hidden:
The sun, the moon, and the truth.”
— Buddha

1460964861782286914Greetings from Luna — weather’s fine!

NASA just released 8,400 high-quality pictures of the Apollo moon missions, and they’re fantastic — including dozens of angles and perspectives we’ve never seen before.

In a way, a lot of them remind me of road trip photos I took during one particular epic journey to a renaissance festival in ‘02 — here are my friends checking the map, posing with ridiculous roadside attractions, checking the oil, setting up the tent at the campsite.

The camera that took some of those shots. Drooool.

Only this was pretty much the most epic road trip ever, and our road-tripping friends are shaving on the moon lander, setting up scientific equipment, making faces for the camera, looking out at Earthrise, adjusting the American flag, looking out towards the endless depths of space. I got to see some of the Hasselblads used to make these photos while at the Air & Space Museum Annex in Chantilly, Va., which was a pretty killer moment for this inveterate camera geek.

FullSizeRender(7)Your editor, checking things off the bucket list. Are space selfies > pope selfies? Let’s find out!

Seeing these Apollo photos, in all their road-trip realness, makes me incredibly excited for the exploration adventures to come.

Why? These photos are a wonderful reminder that when we go to space, we’re not bringing godlike heroes, morally spotless and propaganda-poster perfect. We’re bringing real people: joke-cracking, camera-mugging, smart, hopeful people. We’re not bringing robots; we’re bringing earthlings.

And it’s going to be a fantastic ride.

Check out the Apollo photo archive here.