SciFi Military Novels, Creativity, and Faith
Over the last few years, I’ve had the pleasure of knowing science fiction author W.C. Bauers. He works in sales and publishing during the day and writes military science fiction and space opera at night. His first novel, UNBREAKABLE, was an Amazon and B&N, Science Fiction and Fantasy Best Book of the Month pick, for January 2015. His second, INDOMITABLE, is a B&N and Kirkus Best of the Month Pick, for SF/F, for July 2016. Bauer’s interests include Taekwondo, military history, all varieties of Munchkin, and drinking hot caf. He lives in the Rocky Mountains with his wife, three boys, and the best rescue in the world.
With the recent release of INDOMITABLE, I asked W.C. a few questions about his writing, his faith, and how the two intersect.
PN: You have recently published Indomitable as a follow-up to Unbreakable in your series “Chronicles of Promise Paen.” What first drew you to begin writing?
W.C.: Author Joan Didion said, “We tell our stories in order to live…” That’s certainly been true for me. I write far-future stories about a young woman – Promise Paen – in the Marines who’s trying to make her place in the world. Think Heinlein’s Starship Troopers meets Katee Sackhoff’s role as Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica meets Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Promise’s life is conflicted. She’s an orphan. She’s seen hardship and tragedy on a level that’s troubling to describe. In dire moments it’s all she can do to look up and cry, “Help, sir!” Though I’ve never served in the armed forces or been to war, I’ve faced other struggles and traumatic events: loss; death; a family member’s illness; failure. That’s true for most readers. Whether you wear a uniform or war for your family in the office or as a stay-at-home parent, life is chock-full of conflict. Life is painful. But, it’s also full of hope and the promise of renewal. For me, the military ethos best embodies this duality of life: pain and promise. And I’ve read and enjoyed military fiction for years. For those reasons it made perfect sense for me to write in the genre.
The books are “military science fiction.” Science fiction is a creative form of artistry that is unlike painting or song writing which people view as beautiful. How does this form of artistry connect to our understanding of beauty?
If you’ve never read the genre, don’t let “military” or “science fiction” scare you off. It’s fiction, about a young woman who soldiers for a living, and the books happen to take place in the future, and there’s some science in them. Stories are stories are stories whether they take place in the future, the present, or the past. If you’ve never read SF, I challenge you to dive in.
Beauty, as you know, is quite subjective. What is beauty? That question leads to another, deeper question. What is God’s definition of beauty? Scripture points to the following answers: sacrifice; selfless service; a contrite yet indomitable spirit (those two descriptors go well together because the former makes the latter possible). The woman or man who wears the uniform and stands in harm’s way must naturally struggle with what it means to serve, with what it looks like to live for someone else’s good. When we wear another’s burden and stand in the face of adversity, we’re not far off from Gospel living. That’s beautiful.
The science of the matter allows for a speculative sort of faith, which asks, “Why?” and “What if?” I look at the stars and marvel at the one who made them all. The starscape is so vast. Why? It’s there for a reason. It begs us to speculate about the future and what might be? Making stuff up for a living (or at least a small part of one) is a grand adventure.
Long-form fiction, or event short stories for that matter, give the artist greater license on the page simply because there are more pages to work with. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been deeply moved and lifted up in times of need by a song, a poem, or a piece of artwork. But the novel approach – science fiction or otherwise – allows the artist to mine the deep waters of a thought, and to draw out its truths in ways other art forms simply can’t match.
You are a person who deeply values your faith in Christ. Describe how your faith informs your work as a novelist.
Faith is foundational, sure. Faith changes the horizon, extends in into eternity. What looks bleak now can become something beautiful later because hope is real and tangible and life is always ahead. Faith is the evidence of that truth.
Creativity is often a solitary journey; how do you know when something beautiful or compelling has been created?
Writing is a solitary grind. It’s day-in, day-out hours before a screen and what comes out often isn’t pretty. Pretty comes later. Pretty comes with hard work, and revisions that sometimes seem to have no end. Talent has a role, sure, but it’s hard to quantify. Beautiful, well, that’s largely the result of collaboration with your beta readers and your agent and your editor, and close family and friends who can be trusted to give you honest (and educated) feedback. In other words, beauty happens inside of community. It’s the rare writer who authors something in secret and then, without ever showing it to a single critic, reveals it to the world. Ta da! Sorry. Doesn’t happen that way.
While I can’t give you a guaranteed formula for creating beauty, I can give you a guiding principle: Talent + Hustle + Daily Grind + Humility + Wise criticism is more likely to = beauty.
Are there biblical guidelines or principles that we need to observe when engaging in art? Are there any parts that should be off-limits in expressing our faith?
I’ve seen Christian fiction writers, and Christians who write fiction, war over this question. Assuming we’re talking about the same basic orthodoxy, no one really disputes the big issues. But, in the weeds there is no shortage of opinions. Paul’s teachings on disputable things is perhaps the best counsel I can point a writer too. I’ve looked to 1 Corinthians many times for guidance. What is and isn’t lawful, or beneficial, or appropriate? What is, or should be, off-limits for a faith-filled artist? Questions like those are best answered in a prayer-furnace stoked with sound orthodoxy. What will burn, burns. What remains is art.
Are there such things as “creatives”? I guess I’m just wondering if there is any hope for people like me.
Yes, resoundingly so!
Beauty and creativity are concepts embraced by artisans and sometimes ignored by theologians. What does the academy need to learn from the poets?
Interesting. I think I understand the question and where it comes from. But, my mind immediately goes to authors who incorporated art and theology into their work, writers like C. S. Lewis and George MacDonald. Academics and art go hand in hand. After all, God is a “creative” too. He’s holistic in His thinking. We should strive to be as well.
OK. So what do poets need to learn from the theologians?
Just because something sounds pretty doesn’t mean that it is. Just because words tickle the ears doesn’t mean that they should be jotted down. And sometimes the fewer words the better.
How do you remain in a posture so that you know God is the inspiration of your art rather than creation becoming your muse?
I fight for it every day. My life’s stage is routinely filled with hopes and dreams and fears that together supplant the supremacy of Christ. With God’s help I clear it, and clear it, and then clear it again, and the clearing process is a hurt locker. Sometimes we have to hurt to heal. See Proverbs 20:5 and Psalm 19:14 – it’s hard to do better than that.
I encourage you to read these great books by W.C. Bauers and connect with him online.
You can find his books on Amazon.