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Christianity in Space: An Interview with Chris Walley

cdw2.jpg Chris Walley is the author of The Lamb Among the Stars a series set in the far future that has a unique setting. His novel discusses good and evil within the context of Christian understanding, something very unlike its contemporaries. Walley was kind enough to answer of a few of my questions about his series, his life as a geologist, and the relationship between science and faith. (You can read my review of his first book here.)

Grasping for the Wind: Tell us a little bit about the genesis of your speculative fiction trilogy, The Lamb Among the Stars. Where did the idea come from?

Chris Walley: I was converted into a Christianity of the sort of reformed tradition that took the Puritans seriously. I was intrigued that many of them held the view that there would be a great and long time of blessing before the End came. As I thought about that the question came to me �what it would be like to be at the end of such a Golden Age?� At the time, I was working in Beirut during the civil war and issues of good and evil were brutally on the agenda. Finally one day, I had this image of my hero walking across the wintery landscape of a made world and things started to come together. But it�s been a long haul!

GFTW: Christians writing science fiction is a rare thing. Why do you think this is?

CW: I don’t think it should be a rare thing, but I agree it seems to be. I am very concerned that, unlike our ancestors, many Christians have rather given up on any sort of future. Indeed, there is a slightly despairing mood around that basically says �all we need to do is hang on until the Rapture�. Well the end may be imminent � I will be delighted to be wrong � but my reading of Scripture is that we are to prepare for the long haul. We have also become scared of science. Shame on us!

GFTW: On the blog Speculative Faith, you have claimed that science can do a great job in explaining spiritual matters. How is this so?

CW: I think there are several reasons why science is of help. The first is that even if they do not understand science (how many of us can explain the principles on which a cellphone, GPS or even an aircraft operate?) people acknowledge that it must be true because it works. In doing so the great agnostic argument �I cannot believe in your God because I cannot understand him� is undermined. The second reason is that the world revealed by science is very complex and very strange. After you have read anything of modern physics the doctrine of the Trinity or predestination seems far less problematic. A third and related reason is that science is enormously humbling.

GFTW: You are a geologist and teacher by trade. Why did you feel called to study what we here in the US often call �Rocks for Jocks�?

CW: Actually, I never felt �called� to study geology. I was not a Christian when I became a geologist, but despite my repeated attempts to be called to the other things (I am quite open to becoming a successful full-time writer!) God has seen fit to keep me in the rock world. There are actually a lot of parallels between geology and writing fiction. To examine a sequence of dull, dusty rocks and conjure up from that some ancient world of steamy swamps and vanished ecosystems is a considerable exercise of imagination.

GFTW: Your science fiction novel The Shadow and Night is deeply philosophical rather than action intensive. Why did you spend so much time exploring the philosophical implications of the entrance of evil into Farholme society?

CW: I hope the �deeply philosophical� isn�t too off-putting! The action increases in the series and by the time we get to the The Infinite Day any philosophy or theology is largely discussed while the characters are either running or reloading. But I am unrepentant about taking time to set the stage in the first volume. One of the problems of the world that we live in is that we have become utterly blas� about evil. We assume that it is normal and it has lost its shock value. What I have tried to do is paint innocence first so that the true nature of evil is made clearer. It is long-felt belief of mine that by relegating evil to truly monstrous men and women doing appalling acts of bloodshed we overlooked the fact that the vast majority of evil is quite undramatic but equally damning.

GFTW: Merral is both deeply flawed and truly heroic. Was his character modeled on anyone in particular?

CW: Merral�s weaknesses are my own; Merral�s heroism is imagined! I have however tried to make him very much an Everyman; a figure that we can all identify with. What is, I think, particularly compelling about Merral is that this is a man who we first meet in a state of innocence who is forced to become the greatest warrior of his age. He never quite loses the horror of having blood on his hands.

GFTW: Why did you have Merral be so dependent on outside help (i.e. Vero, Anya, Perena, the angel of the Lord) for success?

CW: Another fascinating question! Let me suggest two reasons. One of the problems of action novels is that we tend to create heroes with such mighty abilities that they do not need grace. I can’t identify with such people and I’m not sure your readers can either. As an aside, they are not actually very interesting creatures. A second reason is the terrible subtlety of evil; how concentrating on a spectacular external evil may cause us to overlook the no less deadly evil within us. Merral�s greatest enemy is always himself.

GFTW: Did you find it difficult to mesh the science (which is based in what we know in 2008) of the Made Worlds with the Christian culture of the Assembly when you were writing?

CW: Handling advanced science is very difficult. I first started drafting ideas for the first novel 20 years ago, and some of the technology I dreamed of then is now available in the shops today! I have actually largely minimised science innovations; one of the great emphases of the Assembly is that it has a great deal of caution about science and technology. Someone has commented that the Assembly are the �Amish in Space�; it’s not entirely true, but there is something in it. So other than travel between stars through Gates and gravity modification there is very little that is new in the Assembly technology. However as readers soon find out, there are other cultures about who have no such limits.

GFTW: What can you tell us about how the story progresses in The Dark Foundations and The Infinite Day?

CW: Well I’m not going to give you any plot spoilers, but rest assured that soon enough the action comes fast and furious. There is also a progressive escalation of scale. We start off in a quiet, cosy rural world where nothing has happened and we end up with bloody battles in a war that involves a trillion people and a distance of 600 light years. Someone made the off-the-cuff comment that he thought the series was as if C. S. Lewis had written Star Wars. It�s a bizarre thought, but I take it as a compliment and a reflection on the scale of what happens. What I can promise is that evil is defeated but it is not defeated easily. A price is paid.

GFTW: What speculative fiction novels would you recommend other than Tolkien or Lewis?

CW: Ah, here you have embarrassed me! Because I had always had to squeeze my writing into my spare time I have not read as much as I should of late. Where I have read fantasy recently, I have been rather disappointed. Modern British fantasy, for instance, tends to be either dark and gloomy. That�s partly why I write my own tales! I’ve promised myself that some day I will go into my local bookshop and buy a great pile of speculative fiction. But in the past I�ve enjoyed both Arthur C. Clarke and Asimov � his Foundation trilogy in particular is a great story and probably a subtle influence on my own works.

GFTW: Any parting thoughts?

CW: Only to say that I’m grateful for all the questions. Writing is a lonely pastime, and sometimes you need external questions to make you think about what you’re actually doing and trying to achieve. Oh and if anybody reads the books and wants to comment or contact me they can get me either on what is now becoming a pretty well populated facebook fan site [http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2216305373] or via my own website [www.chriswalley.net].

This interview is part of the February 2008 CSFF Blog Tour. Other participants include:

Brandon Barr; Jim Black; Justin Boyer; Grace Bridges; Jackie Castle; Carol Bruce Collett ; Valerie Comer; CSFF Blog Tour; Gene Curtis; D. G. D. Davidson; Chris Deanne; Janey DeMeo; Jeff Draper; April Erwin; Marcus Goodyear; Rebecca Grabill ; Jill Hart; Katie Hart; Michael Heald; Timothy Hicks; Christopher Hopper; Heather R. Hunt; Jason Joyner; Kait; Carol Keen; Mike Lynch; Margaret; Rachel Marks; Shannon McNear; Melissa Meeks; Rebecca LuElla Miller; Mirtika or Mir’s Here; Pamela Morrisson; Eve Nielsen; John W. Otte; John Ottinger; Deena Peterson; Rachelle; Steve Rice; Ashley Rutherford; Chawna Schroeder; James Somers; Rachelle Sperling; Donna Swanson; Steve Trower; Speculative Faith; Robert Treskillard; Jason Waguespac; Laura Williams; Timothy Wise