Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Tag: religion

The TBR of “Shame”

A recent YouTube video that popped up for me as a recommendation was “Pile of Shame Reading Vlog || Books with Emily Fox.  It’s not so much the books that are depicted in the video but the idea that everyone has books lying around that they’ve started but not finished that had piqued my interest. I have a lot of books which I’ve started and not finished, but I thought I’d list some of them here. For the sake of not boring everyone to tears, I’ve limited this list to non-fiction, plus one fiction book that is masquerading as non-fiction.

  • Jewels: A Secret History by Victoria Finlay – I’m actively reading this one right now. Each section of the book is divided up by gem by increasing hardness on the Mohs scale. It’s a mix of history, science, folklore, and personal anecdotes all rolled into a mix that somehow works. It’s all very interesting and easy reading.
  • Shinto: A History by Helen Hardacre – I bought this book before going on my trip to Japan last year because I knew I would be visiting a lot of temples and shrines. Unfortunately, I’m not even halfway through it yet. The writing is very academic, but I’m still interested. I’m reading this in parallel with Jewels, but this one is quite a bit more slow going.
  • Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen – This book is so relevant with COVID-19 right now, but I actually started this book much earlier. I really do like Quammen’s writing, but at the moment, between reading papers for work on infectious disease and this book–I’d prioritize the papers. And while I find the subject fascinating, reading this just feels like more work at the moment. If you find this interesting too but don’t have time to read this, I recommend watching Joe Scott’s interview with David Quammen.
  • Feeding a Thousand Souls: Women, Ritual, and Ecology in India – An Exploration of the Kolam by Vijaya Nagarajan – I bought this book right after hearing the author speak about her experience with the ritual of kolam in India. It bears a striking resemblance to other magical customs around the world using signs to invoke protection and luck. I’ve never heard about kolam before this but I’m always up for learning about superstition and folklore and how it relates to the societies that come up with them.
  • The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair – This book is divided up by different colors with lots of trivia about those particular colors. I got halfway through and then got distracted by other things. It’s supposed to be a quick read, so I need to get on this.
  • Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova – This is a mix of memoir and travelogue, reporting and essay. The author travels back to where she spent her childhood, in the confluence of Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece. There’s some absolutely wonderful writing in here and I can’t wait to get back to this one once I’ve finished the books I’m actively reading.
  • Cyclonopedia: Complicity by Anonymous Materials by Reza Negarestani – This is a horror novel masquerading as someone’s lost thesis. It’s weird and bonkers at the same time and definitely not something you can breeze through in one sitting. There’s something really compelling about it too, so I’ll be slowly inching towards the end no matter how long it takes.
  • Magic and Mystery in Tibet by Alexandra David-Neel – I am very much aware that this is viewed through the eyes of a French woman in the 1920s, but considering her scholarly achievements in Asia and Buddhism, she’s possibly a better narrator than, say, a random white dude barging into a culture they have no experience with. This has apparently served as inspiration for a number of writers in the Beat Generation so it would be good background reading.

Notes from MisCon 27, Part 7

(To see all my posts on MisCon, including last year’s notes, go here.)

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Panel title: The Role of Religion in Science Fiction/Fantasy
Panel members: David Boop, Deby Fredericks, Joyce Reynolds-Ward, Peter Wacks
Panel description: This Sunday morning we’ll talk about religion’s role in scifi/fantasy. Is it necessary? Can you write a society and not have religion? How do you make a religion? What do you research? Where do you begin? Join us to learn the ins and outs of religion in genre writing.

PW: I leave out rants about religion from social media, etc. But it does bleed into my writing. How does it bleed into writing?

DF: Religion is often used as an antagonist in SFF. In real life there are skeptics and deniers of climate change who base their beliefs on religion. These get slapped down, but we should also be respectful. Shoot at people’s beliefs advisedly.

PW: Or be offensive about everything like South Park.

JRW: Consistency matters. Conservatives and Protestants are not the same as Catholics, Lutherans, etc. American bishops aren’t the same as the Vatican. Some of us are wired for religion. Some do religion and sci-fi well, like Russell’s The Sparrow. Orson Scott Card incorporates religion into what he writes. The biggest issue is that many write from an outsider’s perspective and don’t get into the internal battles and dialog. Poorly written, it’s just ritual and evil clergy.

DB: It’s not necessarily what the media says but what they portray. The stories should deal with redemption, crisis of faith, and facing one’s fears. The cliche evil religion is too obvious.

DF: That’s why people use churches and cults. These organizations have resources like the government. They have many members and bases to provide a continual source of conflict. While a small group of bandits can be wiped out in one go.

DB: It’s descended from the Cold War generation, where everyone suspected everyone else. You can compare the country to a religion. But there are shades and different levels. Example: Game of Thrones.

JRW: Religion fuels the believers. There are explicit rituals for particular purposes. For the fanatics, it’s the rationale of true believers. An example is Frank Herbert’s Dune.

DF: Members of a criminal gang will likely yield at the end. But religious followers are less likely to surrender. These are different kinds of fight.

PW: I started from a hopeful place. That faith in itself could change worlds and universes. People get caught up in the bad side of the coin. Is there a good side?

JRW: The best stuff doesn’t proselytize. It presents how it affects the character.

PW: How do you write without religion?

DF: Anne McCaffrey didn’t plan for religion on Pern. Is this realistic? We look for patterns in everything. We want to control unknown events.

PW: Lack of faith is a religion.

DB: In society, we can’t escape religion. At some point, someone wants power. The quickest way to get it is to say that you are ordained by God. And there are people with delusions of grandeur.

JRW: It taps into an emotional resonance in the brain. I believe some people are hardwired for faith.

DB: As an author, you can research and explore other worlds and religions to at least understand some of their motivations.

PW: How much of your writing is taking the world in and preaching it out? Do morals come out of the book or just a character on a soapbox?

DF: We all write our own belief. But we must also be aware of the audience. They don’t want religion and don’t want to deal with that. So you give them what they want. Religion can be part of world building. Use religion as set dressing rather than preaching.

JRW: Everything we write reflects our own morals and ethics but we have to be careful promoting one thing. The audience isn’t friendly towards preaching. Be nuanced.

DB: I make sure the voice in the story is the character and not me. I’m careful that what the character preaches is not necessarily what I would preach. Transcend your own belief. Otherwise it’s the same character all the time. Every character is different. Make it clear that it’s fiction.

JRW: Sometimes I’m seduced by a character. One of my recent characters is a woman who becomes a goddess but is unlikeable in some ways.

Q: For most people, religion gives them answers they don’t have to understand. Is this valuable in real life?

DB: Lewis Black said that religion is used to keep people in line. Some people just want to be told what to do.

PW: It’s useful in defining societies in SFF. For instance, in a generation ship, they may need faith and trust. It defines societal ethics.

JRW: It’s used as a support structure, social structure.

DF: It helps in sharing resources in a disaster.

PW: In Good Omens, they shared cookies. It’s a standard.

Q: How do you develop your own religion? How hard is it dealing with all the different facets?

DB: I took a look at the current progression of religion and tried to see what would happen in the future. I decided that everyone agrees that there’s a god and removed the dogma.

JRW: In my fantasy story, I have seven gods that did battle. They’re modeled on Greek mythology.

Q: With faith and religion, is faith in a person or is it in a religion?

PW: It’s only when many people have the same faith that you get a religion.

DF: And they have it at the same intensity.

JRW: Religion has ritual, structure, and protocols.

PW: Religion needs a divinity. Although now we say that media/capitalism is a religion.

DF: Capitalism is about commerce, not personalities. Religion needs a personality. Although now, corporations are trying to be seen as individuals.

PW: There are personalities that represent commercial media, so it’s getting dangerously close to becoming a religion.

Q: How easy is it to write a galaxy-spanning self destructive cult or religion?

PW: It depends on the quality of writing.

DB: Write about it if it is needed for the character to change. If the character changes too easily without a challenge, it’s not interesting. If the cult/religion is just use as flavoring, it doesn’t add to the story so it should be cut.

JRW: You can’t write a galaxy-spanning cult because it will splinter and there’s the problem of communication.

DB: An example of a galaxy-spanning cult is in the trilogy The Damned by Alan Dean Foster.

DF: As writers, we need to grab a common trope to get rolling. When revising, we need to flesh things out. Use something that is unique. Even if you use a cult, find something about it that makes it unique and a surprise.