Previews of coming attractions: my new book, Geneva Two, will be available later this summer/fall. Read on to find out how to get a free advance copy of the book. To whet your appetite, here is the opening statement:
To be clear, Geneva Two does not exist. It is a fiction, a mental exercise, a utopia in the classic sense of “no place.” None of these people exist, except in the odd crannies of my mind. Neither do any of these characters represent anyone living, dead, or living-dead.
I even invented a persona to take on the role of the narrator/interviewer: Hatcher Christolphson. In early drafts, Hatcher struggled to wedge his story into this book. He clamored for his voice, a distinctive voice that speaks from a different outlook than mine, to have more chapters. He dumped his backstory across my worktable and begged me for a few paragraphs more.
Alas, this book isn’t about Hatcher.
I set out to write a utopia. An unfortunate choice of genre, I know; most utopias are stiff Potemkin villages filled with pleasantly dull characters. When was the last time you found yourself tearing through Thomas More’s Utopia, eager to see what happened next? Did Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis keep you up into the wee hours of the morning? Have you even heard of City of the Sun? Don’t feel bad – nobody reads this stuff except academics, pundits, and other assorted lunatics.
Of the lot, B.F. Skinner’s Walden Two rises on the horizon as a literary oasis. Where other utopias trot out Stepford-like mouthpieces for their authors’ ideals, Skinner’s characters had spit in their mouths and blood in their veins. They wrestled with the practical outworkings of a community built upon the foundation of Behavioral Psychology. In their struggles, they took on a depth, a texture, a maturity that I’ve not found in the characters of other utopias. These characters made Walden Two tangible, as though I might find it nestled in the rolling hills 20 minutes outside the city limits. That scientist Skinner worked more powerful magic than all those Renaissance philosophers.
Skinner haunted me. If this winsome atheist could pull off a readable utopia, shouldn’t someone in the Christian community be able to write something comparable?
And so I tried. I set out to write a Christian utopia.
And I failed.
No matter how hard I worked at it, I couldn’t write a utopia. The essence of utopian literature, as near as I can tell, is to envision the proper ordering of society to maximize happiness in a self-perpetuating system. Utopias paint pictures of orderliness and perfection: the people are agreeable; the trains run on time. All works well, and everybody is content.
I couldn’t do it. It would be a lie.
Humans don’t submit well to perfection, at least not in this mortal coil. We are, each of us, marred. Stained. Tainted. We all, if we are honest, must admit to the stream of selfishness within. Pull the right lever and that stream swells into raging unstoppable river.
This selfishness is, at its fountainhead, rebellion. Rebellion against all those stuck-ups who tell me what to do – like parents and teachers and employers; rebellion against institutions that crush my voice – like schools and businesses and churches. Rebellion, ultimately, against God.
We call this “sin.”
Most people think this word is a joke, a word on par with “naughtiness.”
No. Sin is deadly serious. And it infects us.
And I’m afraid I’m just not smart enough to write a vision of a society in which sin is perfectly corralled. I’m too mired in the mess myself. That’s where Hatcher came in handy.
You see Hatcher is a reporter. He’s jaded and cynical. He has faced sin and seen the thousand or more guises that it wears. I decided to sic Hatcher on my little non-utopia. He would interview the people of Geneva Two, give a kind of an oral history of the place. Hatcher’s job was to make this work less B.F. Skinner and more Studs Terkel. Instead of structure, Hatcher would keep the focus on stories. Little stories, vignettes. And if Hatcher did his job, then those stories would be honest, earthy, real. Very un-utopia.
Hatcher and I found that some of the people of Geneva Two are vain and insufferable. Others are plain irritating. They contradict one another. As the interviews began to coalesce into a mosaic depicting this community, Hatcher’s journalistic integrity demanded that we be fair even to those characters with whom I disagree. We would have no straw men here.
And among these people, we found grace. We found fracturing and healing both. We found idealism and arrogance, tenderness and toughness, wisdom and folly. Yet permeating it all was grace and transcendence and trust in the living God who is every bit a part of this community. The thing that unites these characters is that they look to God: God who saves, God who calls, God who sends. We found that the stories did not end with stain, rebellion, and sin. The stories, each in their own way, pointed to God.
But enough of my introduction. Let me give Hatcher his moment in the sun, as he introduces to us the community of Geneva Two….
Interested in a free copy? I’ll be offering a FREE pdf version of Geneva Two to everyone who has posted an Amazon review of my first book, Prophet of the Sun. More details to follow. To make sure that you don’t miss out on the opportunity, Click here to sign up for the Horizons of the Possible e-newsletter today. You’ll receive information about the book as well as other updates from the blog. Enjoy!