While I’ve watched a fair amount of science fiction in movies and on TV, I’ve read very little. Despite the fact that I like science, detailed scientific descriptions in novels tend to make my eyes gloss over.
Even so, I’ve been wanting to read some of Karina Fabian’s work, and Discovery, published by Full Quiver Publishing, provided the perfect opportunity.
I’m not sorry I gave Discovery a shot, and I’m happy to report that my eyes didn’t gloss over once!
Sisters Ann, Tommie and Rita are part of a classified mission to explore an alien ship that has crash landed on an asteroid three billion miles from earth. Humanity’s first contact with beings from beyond the solar system is bound to unlock the mystery of life in the universe, but the crew have their own secrets; hidden fears, desires, horrible sins – and a mission to kill. Researchers discover something unique about the third arm of the ship: something wonderful, something terrifying. Something holy. This discovery challenges Rita and Ann to confront their own pasts in order to secure the safety of the mission and the very souls of the crew.
One doesn’t often find nuns, a mission to kill, and an alien ship in the same paragraph. From where did the inspiration for Discovery come?
There’s a saying that to make a good book, you need to run your characters up a tree, put snapping dogs at the base, then throw rocks. The original story, written in a National Novel Writing Month 50K frenzy, was more about Sister Rita questioning her calling, including her transfer to the Order of Our Lady of the Rescue, the sisters who do search and rescue in outer space. But it wasn’t SF enough for me, not enough of the rocks I like to throw. The alien spaceship, which originally was basically an excuse for the long voyage, needed a bigger role, so I installed an alien device that could let you see into your soul. That certainly messed with the minds of a few of the crewmen, but not enough to affect the main characters, who, as religious sisters, were in pretty good shape, spiritually. So I gave one of them a big secret – this person was on the ship to kill another person on the mission. And that’s where I decided it was interesting enough to make a good book.
For someone like me, whose familiarity with science fiction is fairly shallow, what books would you say are recommended reading?
What area of science fiction? It’s like a buffet of the imagination. Here are a few that come to mind.
- On General Principles: A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle. This started me on my own stories, it fired my imagination so.
- Dystopia: Canticle for Liebowitz. I remember this one as being a little slow for me, but also deep. It’s also one of the first modern dystopian novels.
- Robotics: I, Robot, Isaac Asimov. Great stories that also bring up issues we will be facing soon enough, such as the nature of sentience and whether we can legislate morality.
- Military SF: Honor Harrington, David Weber. Very complex political and military structure, great space battles, epic span focusing on the career of Honor Harrington.
- Historical/Alternate Universe Fiction: Harry Turtledove’s The Guns of the South or The Misplaced Legion. Turtledove is a historian as well as a skilled writer, and it shows.
- Time Travel: 1632 by Eric Flint. An entire West Virginia town gets mysteriously transplanted into the Bavarian forest in the middle of the Hundred Year’s War. It’s great fun!
- Humans vs. Aliens: Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein. Book is better than the movie.
- Cyberpunk: Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson. Man in the computer.
- Humor: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams. So much fun!
- Medical SF: Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton. I also liked Acceptable Risk by Robin Cook.
- Space Opera: (wide scope, far, flung, singing optional): Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card; Foundation, Isaac Asimov; Dune, Frank Herbert.
Is there anything about writing science fiction that you find uniquely appealing as a Catholic? In other words, is there something about the genre that lends itself to the exploration of religious themes?
I should probably have some deep answer here, but the fact is, I’m a Catholic and a geek. It’s fun when those interests intersect, but I don’t need them to, and unless I’m writing an essay, I don’t seek out a connection. Having said that, any genre can explore religious themes. Science fiction just reflects how faith can adapt and grow – or not. It’s not a big focus in the genre, though, because there’s so much else to explore (witness the book list above.) However, it’s an important part of worldbuilding, so it does frustrate me when it’s ignored or when the writer just sort of assumes we’ve somehow “outgrown our superstitions.” If the story is good, though, I don’t notice much. Science fiction can explore themes and morals many other genres can’t, because it can separate us from ourselves by moving in time or space or by putting the conflict in the hands of aliens. However, the key for any good work of fiction, even science fiction, is not how hard-hitting the theme is, but how engrossing the story is.
It’s curious to me that while people readily accept the possibility of life on other planets and fantastical theories about our origins and history, they just as readily dismiss the possibility of a God who became man and lived on Earth. How can fiction bridge the gap by melding those possibilities, using lies (fiction) to convey what’s true?
It’s easy to believe in life on other planets because it doesn’t have to affect how we live now, and if we ever encounter aliens, then we are confronted with irrefutable facts. You can believe in aliens, and you may take some ribbing if you bring it up to the wrong person. Otherwise, most people will shrug and agree it’s a possibility because there’s no real impact. But you can also choose to believe and not tell anyone aside from those you trust. Again, there’s no impact either way.
Believing in God – really believing – means we must live as we believe. We can’t hide it. We can’t deny it and expect there to be no consequences. Even if we aren’t declaring it from the mountaintop or defending it to others, we are still obligated to act according to our beliefs. That’s a big deal. That’s work. That’s facing down opposition, having to defend why you believe, being questioned every time you do something that is (or seems to someone else) counter to believing.
Comparing belief in aliens to belief in God is like comparing Jolly Ranchers to fruit.
Can science fiction meld those possibilities? I don’t think so. Believing in aliens is not the same as believing in God. What it can do is portray Christians as intelligent, useful, sane – i.e. normal – characters, show how their faith gives them strength to overcome the challenges in the story, and show that they are just as interesting as any other character. To do that, the issues of faith need to come up naturally, not get plugged in to make a point. That’s just counterproductive.
In my fantasy and science fiction, I only mention religion or beliefs of any kind when it would come up in the natural course of events. Discovery is my most Catholic of novels, in fact I call it the Catholic Pride novel, but that’s because with religious sisters as the main characters, I can’t escape it. I’ve already had one reviewer who simply skipped the religious parts but still enjoyed the book. (I’m fine with that, btw. I often skip parts in a novel that don’t interest me.) Other books, like my Mind Over series, have some brief mentions because the side character, a Catholic, had some big moral struggles in the past. Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator, has only mentioned a religion in regards to how they treat zombies.
If your mental picture of religious sisters is dour, old women with wimple habits and ankle-length skirts, then scrub that image before opening Discovery. The sisters in the Order of Our Lady of the Rescue are post-modern, brave pioneers with habits suited to work in zero gravity.
The challenges to their present mission on the alien craft Discovery are best summed up by Sister Rita’s exclamation of “Codists and Wiccans and evangelists, oh, my.” Sister Rita, along with stalwart pilot Sister Thomas and “spacey” but brilliant Sister Ann, have all sorts of conflicting interests to contend with: the brainy researchers, the working-class rockjacks, and, oh yeah, that alien ship.
Interwoven amongst the crew’s scientific discoveries are their personal discoveries, brought to light within the desolate alien craft. Karina Fabian does a good job of managing what could be an unwieldy cast of characters, two romances, devious intrigue, and a guilty conscience.
In the end, the most profound discovery isn’t an alien life form, but a relationship with God, whose love knows no boundaries, whose mercy overflows, and who calls us each for a unique purpose.
Just enough bread crumbs are dropped to keep the reader intrigued by the various interpersonal relationships and cryptic messages of Sister Ann, mounting to page-turning suspense in the final chapters.
Discovery is a journey worth taking.
For all her nightmares of earlier, the next shift on Discovery seemed to be going according to routine. Rita applied the cut-away compound in a smooth circle on the door of their next room. She had the toe of one boot anchored in the suction handle outside it; another handle was attached to the center. Over the headset, she heard the chatter of the teams as they went about their own assignments. Ian and Reg were in the engineering arm, hoping to find the engines themselves but so far reporting control room after control room. Chris and Sean had just finished exploring a supply room and were working on their second door. Thoren had cut a deal to get on the exploration team and was working with Merl in the control room to try to match some of the symbols and perhaps get some idea of what the instruments were for. In Engineering, Gordon and his teammate were doing the same. She and James had decided to start along the second level of the central sphere. So far, they’d found what looked like a meeting room and a broom closet.
We got the exciting section, Rita thought.
James watched her from where he floated, anchored by one of the many handholds in the hall. “You’re really good at that,” he said over their private line.
“Lots of practice. It helps that I’m not worrying about the injured people on the other side.”
A small snort, then silence. She imagined him shaking his head, but couldn’t turn to look. “What?”
“You. In space. Saving lives, working with explosives.”
“It’s not an explosive, really. More like an acidic compound. See? There are two stripes separated by a chemical barrier. I actually ‘ignite’ it by dissolving the barrier.”
“Do you hear yourself?”
Is that disbelief or admiration? Actually, I don’t want to know. “James, thanks for agreeing to make the pods off-limits for now.”
“It’s not a problem. Like I said, a find like this will take decades — lifetimes! — of study with teams of experts. We’re here to survey.”
“Ah, yes. To seek and record the broom closets.” The circle complete, she put the application gun away and pulled out a second tube with a needle. She programmed the activator voltage into its controls, then pressed the needle into the compound. She reported the action to Ann on the ET.
“You can learn a lot from a broom closet. Seriously, I’m having the time of my life. Do you know what kind of archaeology I usually work? Sift through buckets of dirt looking for evidence of anything that might stop some building from being constructed. The only time I’ve gotten to explore an intact site — well, relatively intact — was when Cole took me to Egypt as his pet archaeologist. And, I suppose, when he had me searching a sunken ship for evidence of his great-grandparents.”
The current raced along the barrier, creating a spitting, smoking trail as the two chemicals interacted. Slowly, the compound ate into the door, leaving a darkened circle.
James continued. “Never mind that this is an alien race. Do you have any idea how thrilling just finding an intact site is? We’re seeing it, just as they left it who knows how long ago? Broom closets or not, I’m excited to see what’s behind each door, and to see it first, with my own eyes.”
“Well, here’s your next chance. Edwina Taggert, this is Rita. We’re about to open our door.”
“Copy, Rita. Be very careful. It’s not a closet this time.”
Rita didn’t bother to ask how Ann knew that; she’d just say “hunch,” anyway in deference to Thoren listening to the mission channel. Ann did, however, whisper a Hail Mary. Rita knew she did that for every open door, a small ritual of the Rescue Sisters to pray for the souls in need behind it, but now she prayed for the explorers instead.
“Sean to everybody! Guess what! I think we just found the medical bay!”
“Still feeling excited about that broom closet?” she asked James with a tease in her voice.
“Oh, just open the door!”
The circle had stopped smoking. Bracing both feet against the wall, she took hold of the handle on the freed disk. She tugged, and the door moved, but it seemed to take longer than the others. “Rita to ET. I think you’re right, Ann. The door seems thicker than the others.”
“See? Maybe not a broom closet this time,” James said.
The disk slid free, and Rita and James wrestled it to the hallway floor. He held it in place while she secured it.
As soon as she gave the clear, James all but bounded to the open door, although his drag line caught him before he could pull Rita by their safety line. She hurried to join him as he described the long, deep chamber.
“Obviously a storage room. We have lines and lines of small containers, twenty or thirty deep, in some kind of storage cabinets — transparent doors, obviously. ET, are you seeing this?”
“I have Rita’s feed on the main screen, James,” Ann said, her voice breathy with excitement. “And I’m relaying it to the biolab.”
“Okay.” Rita could tell from James’ voice he didn’t see the connection, but Ann’s words had made her heart skip. She played her own hunch. “ET, I’m going to extended spectrum.”
The room dimmed, then filled with symbols and designs. Unlike most of the ones they’d seen so far, however, these ones were readily identifiable as animals and plants, albeit as odd as the aliens themselves. Even better, each row had its own illustrations, clearly labels.
Is this why I saw rainbows? Rita wondered.
Kelley’s and Zabrina’s squeals of delight overrode hers.
“Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive,” Ann whispered.
“What?” James asked, then he must have switched his visuals, because he, too, whistled. “I don’t believe it.”
“Rita to everyone. We found the ark!”
By day, Karina is a mild-mannered reviewer of business software and services for TopTenReviews.com. After hours, she’s a psychic intent on saving the world; a snarky dragon who thinks he saves the world all-too regularly, a zombie exterminator who just wants her world clear of undead vermin, and Catholic religious sisters whose callings have taken them off our world. Needless to say, her imagination is vast, her stories legion, and her brain crowded. When she’s not converting her wild tales to stories, she’s enjoying time with her husband, Rob, their four kids, and their two dogs.
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