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!

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:

SUNDAY HOMILY: Faith and “The Martian”

“Mars will come to fear… my botany powers!”
— Mark Watney, The Martian

the-martianFaithful superhero (!!!) Mark Watney

Mark Watney is a man of faith.

Faith is something that can exist even if religion is completely absent. The basic processes are the same. You can have faith in a person’s actions, or faith in a belief — especially if you don’t have proof for that belief. In The Martian, faith is central: faith in science, faith in competency, and faith in humanity.

Watney’s faith is in science; it is the faith of farmers from the dawn of time, to place something in the ground and make it grow. It is the same faith that pioneers must have had when they set out across the oceans and plains. It is the faith of people that know God, and that know the rules God has placed for the universe… except, this time, those rules are rocket science, and a little more crucial and complicated than the basics of Genesis.

Even on his darkest day on Mars — when an accident destroys his farm and his ability to grow Martian potatoes — Mark relies on his faith in science to provide another solution. Mark relies on what he knows, and has faith in the processes that nature has established, to nourish himself.

INTRO-2_20thCenturyFox_TheMartianBeautiful and deadly.

While originally skeptical about Watney’s ability to survive, NASA leader Teddy Sanders commits to a deep faith in his cohorts’ ability to get things done. He has faith in their knowledge, in their commitment, in their desire; he knows that if he asks them to tackle the impossible task of repurposing a probe in thirty days, that they’ll succeed. His faith never wavers — because he knows he can trust their knowledge, just as God’s people know they can trust God’s grace.

Finally, Watney’s crewmates have faith enough in their own abilities to feel comfortable adding hundreds of days — and hundreds of ways to die — to their own journey in order to save them.

The result of this faith in science? Mark Watney came home.

martian-gallery3-gallery-imageI bet the Vasquez Rocks are in here somewhere.

This is Mark’s central statement of faith, said to a group of astronaut cadets at the end of the movie. Both religious and areligious people alike can take this and apply it to their own lives:

“When I was up there, stranded by myself, did I think I was going to die? Yes. Absolutely, and that’s what you need to know going in because it’s going to happen to you. This is space. It does not cooperate. At some point everything is going to go south on you. Everything is going to go south and you’re going to say ‘This is it. This is how I end.’ Now you can either accept that or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math, you solve one problem. Then you solve the next one, and then the next and if you solve enough problems you get to come home.”

Even if you doubt God, have faith.

Have faith, and then begin.

New Fan Films: August 2015

“You see that I was right, now, don’t you? The truth is written in blood!”
— Revan

revan1From Steven Shulgach’s “Revan”

One of the coolest things about modern technology is that it’s fairly easy to put on a Jedi robe, pick up a DSLR camera, take a few courses in Adobe AfterEffects, and create a passable lightsaber duel. Movie-making is no longer out of the hands of the populace. In a world that is more and more visual, in a society that Vines and Instagrams and Periscopes every day, it just makes sense that sci-fi and fantasy fans are going to engage with their favorite worlds and charaacters through cameras as well as pen and paper. I’ve done it myself — and making fan films is a lot of fun!

Here are some of the new fan films to hit YouTube over the summer:

Released only a few days ago and already causing ripples in Trekkie circles, Star Trek: Renegades is the story of a crew of misfits hired by Admiral Pavel Chekov (yes, that Chekov) to take care of the missions that Starfleet just can’t accomplish. There’s not a lot of traditional Trek here, despite the familiar faces — there’s very little exploration, a simplistic plot, a lot of space battles, and at least one starship captain that jumps to conclusions in a fashion that would make Picard wince and go for something a little stronger than Earl Grey. There’s a lot of potential here, though, if the main character actually lives up to her parentage, and if the writers can grasp that hope and bravery that was always central to the Trek we love even in this grittier, less perfect world.

Next up is Justice League Dark. When Guillermo del Toro dropped out of the Hollywood movie of the same name and the project was canned, a group got together to make this short about chain-smoking Constantine, forceful Zatanna and the force that tries to stop them from rescuing Zatanna’s father. The acting is fairly wooden, but the aesthetic is lovely and the effects are spot-on, and if you like these characters, it’s not a bad way to spend eleven minutes.

Finally, we have Star Wars: Revan, a labor of love from Steven, Andrei, and Jonathan Shulgach. Revan is the main character in Drew Karpyshyn’s Old Republic novel of the same name, and the fan film chronicling part of his story represents a step forward in fan-film production. Revan is a stylish, smooth labor of love. Supported through a Kickstarter campaign by a wide swath of Star Wars fans, Revan’s costumes look fantastic, its greenscreening is flawless and it benefits from a soundtrack lifted directly from the movies (something not every fan film can get away with, but Star Wars fans have been generally allowed to do). While it does suffer slightly from the wooden acting of most fan films, the pacing is on target, star Tim Torre is extremely likeable and Star Wars fans will find a lot to love here.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, this is how to animate a lightsaber in AfterEffects from Flawless Films:

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Human Genetic Testing and the Multiverse of Possibility

“They used to say that a child conceived in love has a
greater chance of happiness. They don’t say that anymore.”
— Vincent Freeman, Gattaca

8497791530_dac0d474e2Who needs runes, bones or tea leaves when you have BRCA blood tests?

Can you tell the future through hard science instead of tarot cards or psychic mediums? Perhaps.

One of the marvels of modern medicine — and the result of the sequencing of the human genome — means that anyone can spit into a petri dish, send it off to a lab and learn about the perfection (or imperfection) of the genes that lie at the heart of every cell in the body and make us who we are. Factor V Leiden, hemophilia, achrondoplasia, sickle cell, Tay-Sachs, Turner syndrome — all of these diseases can be traced back to mutations in our genetics.

What is happening now that we can see who we are and where we’re going so closely?

6003116733_94681b4034Baby Haise, your future is set in stone.

Concern mostly surrounds the genetic testing of unborn fetuses, which has created fears that mothers and fathers could create “designer babies” or choose to abort otherwise-viable fetuses who don’t fit their expectations or desires. Genetic testing has already stoked fears that genetically-imperfect people could, eugenically, become an underclass. (This fear is at the center of the 1997 film Gattaca.)

But genetic testing can also be a good tool to tell if you should be pre-emptively screening yourself for cancer. Did you know that adults are able participate in this augury, too?

Boulder, Colo.-based Sundance Diagnostics has created a genetic test to discover whether people treated with antidepressants may be more or less likely to commit suicide; because suicide and some mental illness tends to “run in the family,” many epidemiologists suspect a genetic base, although lived existence still counts for most of the reasoning that leads to a person ending his or her own life. What if Robin Williams had been warned about the possibility when he went on his own antidepressants? Could this help a counselor offer better assistance to a depressed person, or would it just give the patient further ammunition to think that there’s no other way out?

Home DNA tests can now be purchased on the Internet; with a cheek swab and $99 sent to a lab, people can figure out where they’re from, ethnicity-wise, and what genetic diseases they’re most susceptible to contracting. One reporter for Discover magazine discovered that she had a tendency towards Crohn’s disease and, on the way, met people who have discovered tendencies towards colorectal cancer and celiac disease. The results quickly led the reporter to significant anxiety over her condition, but didn’t change her final goal of increasing her exercise, fixing her diet, and reducing her stress. “While the results were sometimes conflicting, the advice was basically the same: Stop smoking, lose weight, exercise more, and control blood pressure. Something tells me I should be doing all these things anyway,” she said.

There’s already a pretty decent genetic test to predict cancer: get your BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes tested through blood or saliva. According to the National Cancer Institute, these genes produce tumor-suppressing proteins, help repair damaged DNA and keep cell genetic material relatively stable. If the gene isn’t formed up to standards, cells are more prone to cancers — particularly, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer and peritoneal cancer. Knowing that your BRCA genes have mutations can mean that you know you have to get screened for cancer more often as you grow older — it doesn’t mean that you will get cancer.

See, right now, a genetic test will only give you small window into a possible future — it is a predictor not of a single universe, but a multiverse of possibilities, a thousand “maybes” and “could bes.” While a test says that you might develop cervical or prostate cancer, what life actually throws at you might be a different story entirely. What happens when insurance companies start taking just one of those multiverses as gospel truth?

Sounds like a sci-fi story.

photo credit: k8947-1 via photopin (license)
photo credit: Our first clear view of Haise Baby Zero via photopin (license)

Short Film Alert: The Arborlight

“Garlic, herbs and rooster’s crow,
or far away the children go.”
— The Arborlight

thearborlightBrian Sutherland and Eden Campbell in “The Arborlight.”

How far would you go to save your child?

What would you do if you could not?

Those are the questions at the heart of The Arborlight, a breathtaking fairytale faith-versus-science story. Thomas and Liz’ young daughter, Elly, is fighting terminal tuberculosis, and although the doctor that attends to her is optimistic, Thomas grows more and more certain that Elly isn’t going to make it through. One day, while gathering flowers for his daughter’s bedside, he discovers a place that looks exactly like the fairy stories she loves so much, and Thomas finds he must choose between the approach of worldly medicine and the lure of something a little more magical…

The Arborlight is filmed beautifully using RED cameras, and despite the fairytale cottage and medieval costumes, Thomas and Liz feel like modern parents in a very modern struggle. Modern medicine has come a long way from the bloodletting and surgery-superstition that Thomas and Liz took as gospel truth, but people still die all the time from maladies doctors and medicines still can’t touch, and people still look for cures beyond what modern medicine can provide — miracle potions and mail-order cures, shamans and prayer healings. In a way, it’s tragic to watch Thomas and Liz make the decisions they make, because modern viewers know that they really have no choice, that the bloodletting provided by the plague doctor is ineffective and cruel, and that both choices are going to be heart-wrenching and unfair.

It reminds me of Anna Mayer‘s beautiful video above, about a young teen suffering from a condition that she knows is going to kill her, and the wrenching feeling about how unfair that is. I thought of Emily a lot while I watched The Arborlight. Modern society judges people who, upon not finding modern medicine sufficient, turn to a place of faith and unreason, but like Thomas and Liz tell us in The Arborlight, it’s a question we’re all going to have to face. Modern medicine will eventually fail. None of us will live forever. What are you going to do on the day? What will you believe? What would you turn to? Can any of us really even know until we, like Thomas, Elly and Liz, are facing it?

Do yourself a favor and watch The Arborlight, a film by Philip and Kevin Harvey, starring Brian Sutherland, Lisa Coronado, Eden Campbell and Russell Hodgkinson:

Watch a behind-the-scenes documentary on how they filmed using the Movi:

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Messiah Week: Paul Atreides from Dune

“Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe
that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.”
Frank Herbert, Dune

It’s Messiah Week!
#1: Neo from The Matrix
#2: Paul Atreides from Dune

dune1Walk carefully.

Let’s Talk About… Paul Atreides
Messiah Level: Through The Roof, Or Like A Ton Of Bricks

If you thought The Matrix was too overtly Messianic, you obviously haven’t read Frank Herbert’s Dune.

It’s really difficult to summarize Dune in a simple fashion, because it’s not a simple book, even though it masquerades as one. The first novel’s Messiah story seems fairly straightforward: a prophesied superbeing, visions of glory and pain, martyrdom for one’s people, a religious figure stepping forth to save the world and convert a lifeless desert planet into a paradise, an eschatological (or very real) City of God. A good thing, right?


dune2Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides

Dune is the story of Paul Atreides, the son of Duke Leto of Caledon and Arrakis, and his rise to galactic power. After the original novel, things get a little complicated, so for now we’re sticking with the first part of Paul’s story.

Paul is the unwitting product of a generations-long breeding program by the mystical Bene Gesserit sisterhood. The Bene Gesserit had been attempting to create the right combination of genetics that would become a super-being known as the Kwisatz Haderach, who would be able to see the future, and would have power over space and time. They’d been planning for the Kwisatz Haderach to be a trained Bene Gesserit, so that when he ascended to the throne he would be completely under their control; Paul, a product of love between the Bene Gesserit concubine Jessica and Duke Leto, came early and threw a wrench into ten thousand years of careful planning. Oops.

Paul survives a vicious attack on his family’s governance of the planet Arrakis by the galactic Emperor and the evil Baron Harkonnen, and flees into the desert, where he meets the native Fremen and takes on the Messianic mantle of Mahdi, or “Muad’dib.” Mahdi had been long prophesied as the being who will save the Fremen and make their desert planet into a paradise — much like how Jesus promises his followers the Kingdom of God. In the book, Paul leads the Fremen against the Harkonnens and the Emperor, avenging his father and eventually taking control of the Empire itself.

Seriously Messianic, right?

I told you it was complicated. Hang in there!

dune4Arrakis by EvaKedves

One of the coolest parts of Dune‘s Messiah story is how it doesn’t rely entirely on prophecy, or the nitty-gritty death-and-resurrection details, to really describe Paul as a classic Christlike savior, although that’s all completely obvious. Instead, Herbert gives his Space Warrior Jesus a literal “desert experience” much like Christ’s own, which is something that doesn’t always happen in other Messianic takeoffs. Living in the desert with the native Fremen, existing in an ascetic life that had previously been unthinkable to him, awakens Paul’s latent abilities as the Kwisatz Haderach. His visions become clearer; he is better able to predict the future; he realizes what he must do. He begins to step forward publicly, and be adopted, as the Fremen savior.

This echoes Jesus’ own experience in the desert; after his baptism by Paul, he spends a subsequent forty days in the desert that changes him. He sees visions of the devil, which tempts him; he realizes what he must do. When he emerges from the desert, like Paul, he begins a public ministry that will forever change the world. Like Paul, Jesus knows what is coming; he has seen the sacrifice he must make, he knows what he must do, and he works towards it.

Lest you think Herbert really means to anoint Paul Atreides as a perfect messianic hero — and it’s easy to do — don’t forget that Herbert meant to subvert his own story with a very different message, something that becomes clearer once you progress further into the series. Reading Dune after knowing Herbert’s purpose for writing it might give a reader a completely different take on what Herbert really meant to say when he put Paul in power.

dune3“The bottom line of the Dune trilogy is: beware of heroes. Much better rely on your own judgment, and your own mistakes,” Herbert said in 1979.

In 1985, he echoed: “Dune was aimed at this whole idea of the infallible leader because my view of history says that mistakes made by a leader (or made in a leader’s name) are amplified by the numbers who follow without question.”

Knowing that, Dune is an entirely different kind of story, isn’t it?

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Messiah Week: Neo from The Matrix

“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.”
– Isaiah 35:4-6

It’s Messiah Week!
#1: Neo from The Matrix
#2: Paul Atreides from Dune

If you’re Christian, you believe the Messiah has already arrived on Earth; if you’re Jewish, you believe he is still yet to come. That hasn’t stopped creator after creator from adopting (or co-opting) messianic imagery to tell their own stories.

Messiah stories are easy to explain and fairly easy to write if you’re not worried about the implications, so fans end up seeing a lot of it, for better or worse. Done correctly, messiah stories reach us right at the heart with stories about sacrifice, belief and devotion. Done cheaply, the two-dimensional Space Jesus splays his arms in a cruciform fashion, grows a beard, and waves his hands to create cheap miracles. It’s a story we’ve heard over and over, so it’s a story that loses its oomph, sometimes. The central sacrifice, the death and resurrection, the temptation from the evil figure — it can get a little overdone until a writer cuts their reliance on overdone imagery and instead cuts to the heart of the story. The problem with many messiah stories is that the central Messiah in Western Civilization — Jesus Christ — was not a secular savior. He didn’t come to rescue the Jews from Roman rule, even though people around him certainly encouraged him to use his power to do so. Many modern messiah stories, though, are more about bodies and politics than faith or souls.

For the next couple days, we’ll talk about the best (and worst!) Messiah-figures in science fiction and fantasy, and their varying levels of effectiveness:

neo1Let’s talk about Neo.
Messiah Level: SUPER OBVIOUS.

There is no ambiguity to what the Wachowskis were doing with their central character in the Matrix trilogy. Neo is such a literal Jesus analogue that some bloggers and authors wonder if The Matrix and it sequels could be counted as “Christian” films, even if the Wachowskis many not have intended them to be such.

neo2Not exactly loaves and fishes there, Neo.

The central figure of The Matrix and its lesser sequels is pretty much a Jesus surrogate from the beginning; he is “The One,” performing miracles on behalf of the residents of “Zion” and the humans still enslaved by the Machines in the Matrix. He lives among them, in their poverty, wearing the same clothes, eating the same food, and encouraging them with his words and presence. In this way, he is eminently messiahlike.

neo3Is this what God sees?

Neo’s first messianic moment comes at the end of The Matrix. After having been gravely wounded — and possibly killed — by Agent Smith in the Matrix, Trinity sits over Neo’s dying body in the Nebuchadnezzar and instructs Neo to get up, telling him that she is in love with him, believing wholly in his identity as “The One.” Neo is restored to life with energy from Trinity’s miraculous love, with a never-before-seen set of abilities to bend the reality of the Matrix like the Machines do, to dodge bullets and to slow down time. There’s a small side-effect to this; fully actualizing as “The One” also frees Agent Smith from the control of the machines, causing chaos down the line for both sides of the story.

Christian scholars translate “Trinity” literally here, seeing her as a God analogue, a figure of pure love and forgiveness breathing life into Jesus at the end of the third day.

neo3Just a little obvious there, Andy and Lana.

Neo makes his final messianic sacrifice at the end of The Matrix: Revelations, when he gives himself over to the Machines and is carried off, his arms cruciform. While it’s heavily implied at the end the Neo is truly dead, it is also implied that his death is the only thing that could have saved the humans by eliminating the viral, evil Agent Smith from the world. When Neo is carried off by the Machines, his arms are cruciform, and his body disappears into a light that is very reminiscent of a golden cross or the Buddhist lotus. Is Neo truly dead? Do we care?

That is answered at the end of the movie, when the Oracle utters, “It is done.”

If you’re a Christian scholar, you’ll hear this as a clear callback to Jesus on the cross, saying “It is finished.”

Of course, that wasn’t quite the end of the story, either, was it?

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