Over one week has passed since I’ve written a proper blog. (See “Examining Old School Anime: The Saints Point to Christ“) I still need to comment on the new season among other things, but this post will be on my trip to Greenwood, Wisconsin in order to attend the Athanatos Christian Arts and Apologetics Festival. Placing third in their short story contest of 2009, being a semi-finalist of the 2015 Novel Contest, and counting as a great friend of one of the contest judges ensured my invitation to the event. Part of the idea behind the festival was that attendees would camp on site, but my friend (the blogger of Dusty Thanes) and I declined this opportunity in exchange for a comfy hotel room. At a high of 81°F, the weather was appreciably cooler than here in Alabama, for which I was grateful.
Besides enjoying a reunion with my friend and his delightful family, the contest brought me in contact with several fiction writers and thinkers. The most interesting of the bunch were Joseph Courtemanche, Robert Cely, Paul J. Bennett, David Zach, Bernard Bull, and Jamie Greening. (I’m afraid that I skipped the apologetics part of this festival and focused more on the fiction writing aspect of it.) Courtemanche, a former member of Navy Intelligence and a former police officer, stood out as the largest personality and person there; but, a deep humility made him very approachable. Meeting the author of Assault on St. Agnes, whom my friend coached for countless hours on how to improve his novel, was a great honor. (The preliminary judges act as editors after the initial cut before submitting their final recommendations to the deciding judge and founder of Athanatos Christian Ministries, Anthony Horvath.) Assault on St. Agnes concerns a main character who is essentially a fictional version of the author: a “polyglot Rambo” called Bobby Kurtz. Kurtz prevents Jihadists from committing a massacre in a church and soon finds himself enlisted again in the ranks of the U.S. military in order to prevent a bloodier attack from taking place. Courtemanche’s experience makes for a very accurate and exciting novel, and I find myself enjoying every minute of it.
Robert Cely and I share interests in history, fantasy, single malt scotch, and craft beer, which makes him an amusing fellow to converse with. (I only regret that I have read too little fantasy of late and but poorly remember the works I used to delve into. Well, that can be fixed to some extent, and I mean to finish off the Fionavar Tapestry series now.) I’m a little less than one-third into his contest winning novel, Beyond the Steel Wall, and I can’t fathom why he did not get more attention among the authors present there. Unfortunately, I missed his talk on zombie fiction because it ran simultaneously with Dr. Bernard Bull’s discussion of how technology is affecting our society and technology’s “affordances and limitations.” The talk fascinated me both by how many of these themes appear in anime and by how certain technologies–especially iPhones–have messed up the way human beings interact with each other and view the world.
Anyway, I was grateful to Robert Cely and Paul J. Bennett for giving me free signed editions of their novels. (Of course, the two Southerners I met at the conference would do this. I bought the signed edition I have of Assault on St. Agnes. I only have to review Robert Cely’s Beyond the Steel Wall and Paul J. Bennett’s A Fall of Sparrows in return.) I have but perused the opening paragraph of Bennett’s A Fall of Sparrows, but I expect a beautifully written tale of the Civil War by an aficionado of the War Between the States. The long sentences stuffed with dependent clauses remind one of Faulkner, but unlike Faulkner’s prose, these adhere to the rules of grammar. Bennett has spent much time touring battlefields, reading history, and handling and firing Civil War era replicas; so, I expect an accurate and fascinating story from him.
My friend gave two excellent talks: one on the importance of accurate scientific information in fiction and the other on how to write science fiction from a Christian perspective. He used the talks as an excuse to mix chemicals which produce purple and green smoke and to ignite soap bubbles filled with hydrogen gas. (Yours truly also took part in igniting said bubbles.) The second talk was the most fun as four of us smoked pipes as we discussed how to introduce Christian ideas in science fiction. To tell you the truth, I have a poor opinion of the genre (except in anime, at any rate), and acted as the pessimist of the group, which stimulated more positive ideas–such as using science and space exploration to give the reader a feeling of awe and wonder at the mysteries of the universe.
But, David Zach (futurist, member of the American Chesterton Society, and only other Catholic there) stood as the most brilliant speaker of the conference. (This gentleman has a career in giving professional presentations among other things.) I now have several books added to my reading list due to his influence, including The Art of X-Ray Reading and Kindly Inquisitors. He gave a very interesting perspective on the future: we walk backwards into the future–not forwards. Even a futurist like him cannot predict exactly what the future will hold. He did point out some troubling points about our present society and the problems inherent in how technology causes people to interact with the world. Outside of his speech, it was fun to talk to him about G. K. Chesterton, zinfandel, and a whole host of topics.
Besides the long drives, seeing my brother on the way, wining, dining, drinking awesome Scotch, and watching anime (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is essentially how Attack on Titan ought to have been), that sums up my little vacation. I hope to have an article about what I’m watching from the current season up soon, and maybe I’ll also get to those other topics I wished to get around to. May some of my dear readers be able to join me up in Wisconsin for next year’s festival!