If you’re looking for a place where you can discuss speculative fiction through a Christian lens, or talk about the theological implications of your favorite fandoms, then you’ve found the right place. Doxacon Seattle is an organization that examines the intersection of Christianity and speculative fiction (such as fantasy and science fiction). It’s a place for exploration and fellowship, and we welcome all of you to join us.
We’d like to thank each of you for attending and supporting Doxacon Seattle 2019 with your encouragement, your participation, and your prayers.
We had a wonderful time, and we hope you did too.
Whether you’ve come several times or not at all, let us know your thoughts about Doxacon Seattle by taking our survey!
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Here are some of the panels you might have been going to be experiencing in February 2019 (if your TARDIS takes you there):
When we think of amphibians, we think of frogs, which live where land and water intemix; or of amphibious airplanes, which come to rest on land or water. The word itself comes from Greek roots: amphi, meaning two; and bios, meaning life: two lives – a dual life, perhaps even a dual nature. We don’t think of ourselves – human beings – as amphibians, but in a sense we are; we live in, and are aware of, two dimensions (at least) of existence: the physical and the spiritual. Attempts to define human beings in terms of just the physical are grievously flawed and destructive, reducing the human being to, as an acquaintance of mine phrases it, “clever pieces of meat.” In a similar way, to define humanity in only spiritual terms, one becomes too heavenly minded to be any earthly good (to paraphrase a well-known quote).
Science fiction and fantasy explores this in a number of ways. Master Yoda says “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.” Separating body and spirit is a standard trope, whether voluntary (such as astral projection) or involuntary (such as demonic possession); not just in fantasy, but in science fiction, where a person can transfer consciousness into a new body, or even a computer network, and remain a human individual. This is a peek into how these fictional explorations might resonate and conflict with an orthodox Christian understanding of what it means to be human, and what it might reveal about ourselves.
In the World, but not of the World – J.R.R. Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor on Christians Writing for Secular Audiences
As Christian writers of fiction – especially of speculative fiction – it can be difficult to identify ourselves, our audience, and our relationship to our audience. Do we write “Christian Fiction” as a genre distinct from secular fiction? Do we write “SF/F” while leaving our faith at the door or hiding it from our readers?
The greatest of Christian artists have rarely directed their work toward the “Christian market”. To the contrary, they recognized that Christ’s own mission was to those who did not know him and who did not accept him. Just as Christ used parables to speak to those who “see but do not perceive, and hear but not understand” (cf. Mark 4.12, etc.), Christian artists have presented in their works a Christian worldview in terms that the secular world finds both accessible and challenging.
J.R.R. Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor both recognized this role of the Christian artist, and both reflected on it in their essays and letters. In this presentation, I will explore their understanding of the relationship between faith and artistic creation, and how this impacted their approach to writing fiction. They deliberately do not inject a “Christian message” into their stories, but rather develop compelling characters, metaphors, and plotlines from their faith in the reality of Jesus Christ. Current Christian fiction writers can learn from their experience, and can apply their insights in our own work. If time permits, we may discuss other Christian authors (e.g., William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Gene Wolfe, Dean Koontz, etc.) who root their decidedly secular writings in their faithful Christian worldview.
Presvetyra Elizabeth Turvo
Towards a Doxacon Seattle Writers’ Group
Many of us who love Christianity and Fantasy/Science Fiction also love to write. We write poetry, fiction, true stories, memoir, or theology, but we especially love to produce work which is both speculative AND Christian. But the bustling literary scene in the Pacific Northwest is sometimes less than welcoming to Christian writers, and, contrariwise, many Christian readers and publishers decline to read SF/F literature.We can’t do better than imitate our beloved forefathers, Lewis and Tolkein, who met regularly to share their work and learn from each other. These giants even improve their writing this way! For example, the draft of the last chapter of LOTR, which was ’roundly condemned’ by Tolkein’s “beta-readers,” is so far inferior to the final version, that it almost seems to have been written by a different writer! [published in Sauron Defeated]
All of us writers, in addition to dedication, hard work, and a bit of talent, need mentors and a community. So… let’s start a Doxacon writers group! Perhaps even our own journal one day?
In this session, I’ll tell you a little about my own efforts as a writer, then expand on my ideas for the writers group: sharing our unpublished work in a collegial atmosphere of constructive feedback and mutual encouragement, including a signed code of conduct, and networking together as we try to reach our audience. We will talk over any suggestions you have and start to make plans for meeting up and format.
The Zone is Personal: Tarkovsky’s Stalker and the Orthodox encounter with Personhood
The mysterious room figuring at the center of the ‘Zone’ in Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘sci-fi’ masterpiece, Stalker, has proven more than sufficiently spacious to sustain any number of interpretations, from the religious to the materialist, and from the psychological to the ecological. In the film, a scheming scientist and a jaded poet enlist the services of a stalker, or guide, to lead them into the mystical, beating heart of the Zone, where, according to legend and hearsay, one’s deepest longing and desire are liable to find an answer.
But what exactly are these three seeking out? And what, if anything, do they find or encounter there? Turning to a brief and powerful essay of Vladimir Lossky on the Orthodox understanding of hypostasis, or person(hood), as well as a handful of other Biblical and patristic sources, I lay out a perhaps somewhat unexpected or unorthodox reading of the film: the mysterious room at the center of the Zone is a Person – not in the sense in which we commonly understand personhood – that is, in terms of individuality, ‘personality’, psychology, will, etc. – but in the specifically patristic sense of hypostasis. But what sense is that? What could it mean for someone, let alone God himself, to be a person, or hypostasis? Each in a similar fashion, both Tarkovsky and Lossky trim back the gnarled briers of our modern ways of conceiving of persons and lay bare this very question, or better: they lay us bare before the mystery of God and neighbor as person.
Tanya Keenan & Tim Brown
Christ is in our Midst: Bringing Christianity to the Table in Tabletop Role-Playing Games
Much of the fun of fantasy role-playing games is being able to embark on adventures you wouldn’t normally get to experience, or have abilities you wouldn’t normally have. It’s very unlikely that we’ll ever be able to get magic missiles to come out of our fingertips or fight a tribe of ogres. However, experienced tabletop role-playing gamers can attest that each player brings a little bit of him- or herself to the playing of a character. Join Tim W. Brown and Tanya Keenan as they discuss the impact their faith has on the characters they play (or the games they run), speculate on how this may change when the game moves to an electronic medium, and share stories of their own characters spiritual journeys that may have reflected their own.
Middle Earth, Writing About the Real, and the Theology of Community
Flowing from Tolkien’s understanding of Faith, of writing, and of the purpose of story, he embarks in his own story-writing on a creative endeavor that can illuminate and elucidate aspects of community which have bearing on our own lived experience. His stories are meant to teach in a profound and theologically informed way that is more than mere fable or allegory, but is aimed at the heart of the matter. He intends to build a world where even its very assumptions are Faithful, where every character, place, and circumstance his readers encounter teaches them something at a deep and very real level.
These are not allegories, but people and places and events that are ‘real’ in a transcendent way, real insofar as they teach us something real. In The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, each one of Tolkien’s societies exemplifies aspects of human relationality. Because of the particular natures of the hobbits and the elves in these stories, because of how they relate to the world around them and within their own communities, these peoples uniquely exemplify a right ordering of the human communities that arise through married lay and consecrated communion, respectively. The representation of orcish society, by contrast, illustrates precisely those ways in which community can be distorted and what happens as a consequence. As a result of the characters of these societies, and in the spirit of Tolkien’s approach to “sub-creation,” they are thus particularly instrumental for instructing us on the proper Christian way of living in these types of community.
Steven “Reece” Friesen and Tanya Keenan
Anonymity: the dark power of choosing not to be known
Join Reece and Tanya in conversation around the power of the mask in comics and other
media, and how this translates into our own lives as Christians. On this panel, we will discuss
the role masks play in fiction (print and media), including popular figures such as Spiderman
and Batman, and how masks operate with both heroes and villains. This discussion will move
into the ethics of the mask, and how it may subvert relationship, accountability, and ultimately
justice. Finally, the discussion will move into exploring how in our culture we use masks in our
own lives, particularly using the anonymity of the internet, and how this changes (or not) our in-
Written by Tim W. Brown
“Who goes there?” – the sentinel’s challenge. And I think to myself: good question! Who am I? What am I? Where am I going? And by the way, why should I tell you?
As far as we know for sure, humans are the only creatures that wrestle with the question “who am I?” From the moment we are ejected from the most comfortable, nurturing environment we will ever know this side of Heaven, each of us is confronted by the problem of working out who and what we are, even as our own bodies change, new social situations arise, and the world around us changes.
This is one of the reasons we enjoy stories so much – of the things which are universal across all cultures, storytelling is one of them. Stories give us a glimpse into experiences beyond our own, to see how others (real or fictional) deal with the questions of who they are, and how they deal with various situations. Stories – listening to them, telling them, talking about them – allow us to share insights and experiences that would otherwise be inaccessible.
The SF/F we so love typically features non-human characters, from the human-variants (Klingons, elves, androids, and so on) to the outright not-human (dragons, Hutts, AIs, and the rest). Whatever their appearance or origin, in almost every case these characters think and act in ways we recognize as basically human – with variations in style, method, priorities, and social norms, but basically human. A truly alien mentality is rare; there are plenty of non-humans who remain largely unknown, but even those generally act in ways that are consistent with human practices (which is, after all, a pretty broad category, considering the range of cultural miscommunication we’ve seen here on Earth, both large and small, humorous and tragic).
That’s not a criticism: good stories are about relationships, and for a story to have much meaning, it has to reach us on some level – and, as far as I know, everyone in every audience is human. Plus, creating and maintaining a truly alien mentality takes a lot of work – and I rather suspect that a story that features such an interaction really revolves around the human reaction to the alien more than it does the interaction with the alien, whether that involves personal interaction, or figuring out what the alien is about.
So who does go there? Who am I? I could give you dozens of labels – but none of them would really tell you all that much about me, just parts of me. And each of those labels point to a story, expressing what that label means or how it relates to my own identity. For anyone – myself included! – to really learn about who and what I am, we need to hear stories: stories about myself, the stories that touch me, the stories I like, the stories I dislike. We are each of us fascinating and complex beings, made in the image of the Creator who is beyond anything we can know or imagine (Isaiah 55:8-9), who not only made the story we are all part of, but entered the story himself, as one of us – a Creator who is, to coin a phrase, both fully human and fully…alien.
We have a meetup the first Sunday afternoon most months. See the details on Meetup.com; just search for the Doxacon Seattle Meetup Group!
by Tim W. Brown
Last month was November, which means it was National Novel-Writing Month to some of us (NaNoWriMo for short); the basic idea of which is that one attempts to write at least 50,000 words of a novel within the thirty days of November. To a great extent, it’s a community exercise in overcoming writer’s block, and one can find encouragement and all sorts of advice at their website, at local gatherings, and so on. This year marks the third time I’ve made an attempt at doing it (spread out over the last ten years or so), and yes, the third time I’m falling laughably short of the required word count. I’m hardly unique in this: apparently, less than twenty per cent of people who sign up actually hit the 50,000-word goal. (For the record, the only thing I’ve ever written that ran over 50,000 words was a background story for a character I was playing in the Star Wars universe; the best I can say for it is that at least it didn’t sink into a dump of sex, violence, or Mary Sue-ism.) One of the big lessons I’ve learned in my pathetic attempts at NaNoWriMo is that, while joining in does provide an opportunity to learn and share about writing, it also demonstrates that, when push comes to shove, I’m just not much of a writer. When I run across people – professional or amateur writers – who work every day on their material, who plan and create and edit and rewrite constantly; and people who have multiple notebooks full of background information, character biographies and descriptions; and people who drill deep into theories about storytelling and mythologies and social-psychological constructs…I get the feeling that I’m completely out of my depth. I don’t fit into any of those categories; I don’t obsess over writing; most of the theory-craft I’ve heard strikes me as a bit, you know, not quite right. In spite of the fantasies of youth, and the occasional forays into the realm, I don’t fit the profile. I’m not a “real writer.”
Today, several of us gathered at St. Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church in Brier, WA to have a DoxaDay – a short, half-day Doxacon event that is less structured, more spontaneous, and generally involves beer. We thought we might talk about the horror genre and how we might approach it as Christians.
When we realized that only our regulars were going to show up, we decided to stay and actually engage in this conversation. Two of us, we discovered, don’t even like the horror genre. It’s just not what we choose to watch. I was one of them. I don’t like jump scares, and my memory is so visual that I will close my eyes that night and see the scary thing from a movie (or even a book, if it’s described vividly enough). Being frightened is just not something I want out of entertainment.
However, I do see the value of horror as a means of exploring those things that we don’t like about ourselves or our culture, and that’s what we turned to next.
We talked about zombies as being symbols of a destructive and consuming Otherness, and vampires being the terrible resiliency of psychopaths. You know the ones; you may work with them and sometimes hang out with them, but they’re the ones with no conscience, who keep going no matter what and who don’t care how they achieve their goals. And they feed on vulnerability. The difference, though, is that the zombie is the hive mind, the mindless collective that is bent only on consumption, whereas the vampire is the corruption of an individual soul, whose target is another individual soul, through not just physical but also psychological means. And where do sparkly vampires come in? They seem to be an attempt to normalize this pathological relationship, this corruption of the individual into selfishness and an unending appetite for the life essence of another. And what of the repentant vampires? Louis, Angel, and Spike?
We talked about monster movies and the fear of a terror so large that it can devastate a city. And we talked about serial killer dramas, which seem to be another attempt to normalize something that should never be normalized – the compulsive killing of another human being. Ghosts, too, are a subgenre of horror, about torments so terrible they continue after one dies. Even witches, which, in most folklore, aren’t dead themselves but seem to have some sort of working relationship with death.
We realized, though our dialogue, that the common denominator of all of these subgenres is Death. Whether it is living dead, undead, mass faceless deaths (monsters), calculated death, or horror that outlasts death, Death is the common theme here. And that seems to be the very basis of the horror genre.
When we got to vampires, we had to talk about the Vampire Lestat, from Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire, and of course, that led us to Tom Cruise and his seeming entrapment in roles that involve some sort of redemption (so much so that I wish he’d find it already).
But then we got to heroes. Specifically, I mentioned reading a series of novels (The Lunar Chronicles – which are excellent except for a few editorial errors) and wondering why all the heroes and heroines are so young. And, in fact, why it seems that in order to embark on a great adventure like that, the protagonist has to be young. Why is that?
As it turns out, female characters in particular seem to stop their adventuring at around 25. Male characters seem to stop by about 35. And why is this? Why are older characters relegated to supporting roles?
The fairly obvious answer is that for most people, by the time they’re in their 30s, they start having more grounded, basic concerns like paying rent or a mortgage, maybe having a family, making car payments or paying other bills. It is far more difficult to heed the call of adventure when one has to arrange a babysitter or work out vacation time. It can’t be spontaneous anymore. One of us brought up The Incredibles as an example of aging heroes, and I kept thinking about that 80s TV show, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, about a spy who happens upon a divorced woman who lives with her mom and son, and gets her to help him with his covert operations.
And then there are other, more physical concerns – the reduction in stamina and strength, revisiting old injuries. “The adventure begins – opening the pickle jar!” What does an adventure look like for a hero who is aging? Does it even have the same physicality that a younger person’s adventure would? And if not, how does the drama play out?
We didn’t come up with a lot of answers, but there was a lot of food for thought. We spent several hours eating, talking, drinking, and laughing, sharing in each others’ company and getting a few really good ideas.
And this is what you’re missing when you can’t make it to DoxaDay: stimulating conversation, great company, and a lot of laughter. I hope you join us, either for one of these short events, or for our regular Doxacon Seattle (the next one will be February 10, 2018 – buy tickets now!).