If you’re looking for a place where you can discuss speculative fiction through a Christian lens, or talk about the theological implications of your favorite fandoms, then you’ve found the right place. Doxacon Seattle is an organization that examines the intersection of Christianity and speculative fiction (such as fantasy and science fiction). It’s a place for exploration and fellowship, and we welcome all of you to join us.
Doxacon is Saturday, February 16, 2019
Our next Doxacon convention is coming up in a few months with the theme “Who Goes There?: Questions of Identity.”
“Who goes there?” – the sentinel’s challenge. And I think to myself: good question! Who am I? What am I? Where am I going? And by the way, why should I tell you?
As far as we know for sure, humans are the only creatures that wrestle with the question “who am I?” From the moment we are ejected from the most comfortable, nurturing environment we will ever know this side of Heaven, each of us is confronted by the problem of working out who and what we are, even as our own bodies change, new social situations arise, and the world around us changes.
This is one of the reasons we enjoy stories so much – of the things which are universal across all cultures, storytelling is one of them. Stories give us a glimpse into experiences beyond our own, to see how others (real or fictional) deal with the questions of who they are, and how they deal with various situations. Stories – listening to them, telling them, talking about them – allow us to share insights and experiences that would otherwise be inaccessible.
The SF/F we so love typically features non-human characters, from the human-variants (Klingons, elves, androids, and so on) to the outright not-human (dragons, Hutts, AIs, and the rest). Whatever their appearance or origin, in almost every case these characters think and act in ways we recognize as basically human – with variations in style, method, priorities, and social norms, but basically human. A truly alien mentality is rare; there are plenty of non-humans who remain largely unknown, but even those generally act in ways that are consistent with human practices (which is, after all, a pretty broad category, considering the range of cultural miscommunication we’ve seen here on Earth, both large and small, humorous and tragic).
That’s not a criticism: good stories are about relationships, and for a story to have much meaning, it has to reach us on some level – and, as far as I know, everyone in every audience is human. Plus, creating and maintaining a truly alien mentality takes a lot of work – and I rather suspect that a story that features such an interaction really revolves around the human reaction to the alien more than it does the interaction with the alien, whether that involves personal interaction, or figuring out what the alien is about.
So who does go there? Who am I? I could give you dozens of labels – but none of them would really tell you all that much about me, just parts of me. And each of those labels point to a story, expressing what that label means or how it relates to my own identity. For anyone – myself included! – to really learn about who and what I am, we need to hear stories: stories about myself, the stories that touch me, the stories I like, the stories I dislike. We are each of us fascinating and complex beings, made in the image of the Creator who is beyond anything we can know or imagine (Isaiah 55:8-9), who not only made the story we are all part of, but entered the story himself, as one of us – a Creator who is, to coin a phrase, both fully human and fully…alien.
Last month was November, which means it was National Novel-Writing Month to some of us (NaNoWriMo for short); the basic idea of which is that one attempts to write at least 50,000 words of a novel within the thirty days of November. To a great extent, it’s a community exercise in overcoming writer’s block, and one can find encouragement and all sorts of advice at their website, at local gatherings, and so on. This year marks the third time I’ve made an attempt at doing it (spread out over the last ten years or so), and yes, the third time I’m falling laughably short of the required word count. I’m hardly unique in this: apparently, less than twenty per cent of people who sign up actually hit the 50,000-word goal. (For the record, the only thing I’ve ever written that ran over 50,000 words was a background story for a character I was playing in the Star Wars universe; the best I can say for it is that at least it didn’t sink into a dump of sex, violence, or Mary Sue-ism.) One of the big lessons I’ve learned in my pathetic attempts at NaNoWriMo is that, while joining in does provide an opportunity to learn and share about writing, it also demonstrates that, when push comes to shove, I’m just not much of a writer. When I run across people – professional or amateur writers – who work every day on their material, who plan and create and edit and rewrite constantly; and people who have multiple notebooks full of background information, character biographies and descriptions; and people who drill deep into theories about storytelling and mythologies and social-psychological constructs…I get the feeling that I’m completely out of my depth. I don’t fit into any of those categories; I don’t obsess over writing; most of the theory-craft I’ve heard strikes me as a bit, you know, not quite right. In spite of the fantasies of youth, and the occasional forays into the realm, I don’t fit the profile. I’m not a “real writer.”
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I’m pretty much not a “real” anything. I’ve played and run RPG’s (role-playing games, for example Dungeons and Dragons) since I was a teenager over forty years ago, as well as a fair number of wargames and ‘civilian’ board games. I’ve played computer games for almost as long (on the order of thirty years now). But am I a “real gamer?” Well, from what I’ve seen (mostly but not exclusively online), a “real gamer” not only plays tons of games, but knows all about which game companies are doing what, can play, analyze, and critique practically every game on the market, and perform well on all of them. Again, that’s not me. I play, I know a little bit, but I know practically nothing about console games, and maintain only a passing awareness of the game industry in general. Every time I see someone define what a “real gamer” is, I don’t fit the definition. So, too, with geek fandom in general. I read Lord of the Rings half a dozen times by the times I was twenty (and a couple more times since then); I’ve read a fair amount of science fiction and fantasy, as well as a few comic books. But again, I don’t keep up with all the trends; I’ve barely watched a single episode of Doctor Who, for example; that fact alone casts me out from being a “real geek” according to some that I have known. So I’m not a “real geek.”
Just to drive the point home, the same is true with my faith. I’ve been a Christian of some kind since my 20’s, and just a few years ago converted to the Orthodox Church. The whole time, I’ve come across many who will say, “If you’re a real Christian, you’ll…” and fill in something that, as often as not, I don’t do, whether out of neglect or deliberate choice (a choice sometimes made after review of Scripture). I still see this in Orthodox circles. “If you’re truly Orthodox, you’ll…” – fill in the blank: follow all (all!) the fasting rules; maintain a rigorous and priest-approved order of prayer; have certain icons in your house, set up in just the right way; always wear a cross – a certain kind and size of cross! – around your neck; and so on. Again, a checklist of items that, if you fall short, you’re not a “real” Orthodox Christian. Some of those things I don’t do, often by neglect, sometimes by choice; so by those standards, I’m not “really Orthodox.”
The fact is, I’ve become convinced that most of us aren’t “real” anythings – that is, the (supposedly) objective standards held up by self-appointed elites are almost always setup to divide and exclude. To be sure, it can be great fun to share a common interest, and to discover the delightful potential in exploring many of these things, for the most part, that would be the motive most people would claim: that they want others to join them in their particular form of geekness. After all, one doesn’t become a geek unless one finds a natural fascination. But it’s easy to fall into the trap of elitism and exclusion. We can only hope and strive to be open and inviting, sharing enthusiasm and insights without unconsciously looking down on those who do not measure up to ephemeral standards that would supposedly qualify them to be “real” participants.
Today, several of us gathered at St. Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church in Brier, WA to have a DoxaDay – a short, half-day Doxacon event that is less structured, more spontaneous, and generally involves beer. We thought we might talk about the horror genre and how we might approach it as Christians.
When we realized that only our regulars were going to show up, we decided to stay and actually engage in this conversation. Two of us, we discovered, don’t even like the horror genre. It’s just not what we choose to watch. I was one of them. I don’t like jump scares, and my memory is so visual that I will close my eyes that night and see the scary thing from a movie (or even a book, if it’s described vividly enough). Being frightened is just not something I want out of entertainment.
However, I do see the value of horror as a means of exploring those things that we don’t like about ourselves or our culture, and that’s what we turned to next.
We talked about zombies as being symbols of a destructive and consuming Otherness, and vampires being the terrible resiliency of psychopaths. You know the ones; you may work with them and sometimes hang out with them, but they’re the ones with no conscience, who keep going no matter what and who don’t care how they achieve their goals. And they feed on vulnerability. The difference, though, is that the zombie is the hive mind, the mindless collective that is bent only on consumption, whereas the vampire is the corruption of an individual soul, whose target is another individual soul, through not just physical but also psychological means. And where do sparkly vampires come in? They seem to be an attempt to normalize this pathological relationship, this corruption of the individual into selfishness and an unending appetite for the life essence of another. And what of the repentant vampires? Louis, Angel, and Spike?
We talked about monster movies and the fear of a terror so large that it can devastate a city. And we talked about serial killer dramas, which seem to be another attempt to normalize something that should never be normalized – the compulsive killing of another human being. Ghosts, too, are a subgenre of horror, about torments so terrible they continue after one dies. Even witches, which, in most folklore, aren’t dead themselves but seem to have some sort of working relationship with death.
We realized, though our dialogue, that the common denominator of all of these subgenres is Death. Whether it is living dead, undead, mass faceless deaths (monsters), calculated death, or horror that outlasts death, Death is the common theme here. And that seems to be the very basis of the horror genre.
When we got to vampires, we had to talk about the Vampire Lestat, from Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire, and of course, that led us to Tom Cruise and his seeming entrapment in roles that involve some sort of redemption (so much so that I wish he’d find it already).
But then we got to heroes. Specifically, I mentioned reading a series of novels (The Lunar Chronicles – which are excellent except for a few editorial errors) and wondering why all the heroes and heroines are so young. And, in fact, why it seems that in order to embark on a great adventure like that, the protagonist has to be young. Why is that?
As it turns out, female characters in particular seem to stop their adventuring at around 25. Male characters seem to stop by about 35. And why is this? Why are older characters relegated to supporting roles?
The fairly obvious answer is that for most people, by the time they’re in their 30s, they start having more grounded, basic concerns like paying rent or a mortgage, maybe having a family, making car payments or paying other bills. It is far more difficult to heed the call of adventure when one has to arrange a babysitter or work out vacation time. It can’t be spontaneous anymore. One of us brought up The Incredibles as an example of aging heroes, and I kept thinking about that 80s TV show, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, about a spy who happens upon a divorced woman who lives with her mom and son, and gets her to help him with his covert operations.
And then there are other, more physical concerns – the reduction in stamina and strength, revisiting old injuries. “The adventure begins – opening the pickle jar!” What does an adventure look like for a hero who is aging? Does it even have the same physicality that a younger person’s adventure would? And if not, how does the drama play out?
We didn’t come up with a lot of answers, but there was a lot of food for thought. We spent several hours eating, talking, drinking, and laughing, sharing in each others’ company and getting a few really good ideas.
And this is what you’re missing when you can’t make it to DoxaDay: stimulating conversation, great company, and a lot of laughter. I hope you join us, either for one of these short events, or for our regular Doxacon Seattle (the next one will be February 10, 2018 – buy tickets now!).