The Big Idea: Robert Boyczuk
Posted on December 4, 2012 Posted by John Scalzi 32 Comments
Author Robert Boyczuk decided that if one is going to “borrow” themes and ideas for one’s book, then one should “borrow” from the biggest and best. So from whom did Boyczuk borrow from for The Book of Thomas? He explains below.
How a small-minded guy like me came up with a Big Idea for a novel:
I stole it. Yup, it was really that simple.
Never one to go half-measures, I stole my Big Idea from the best – God.
How so? Well, my stolen Big Idea began with imagining a massive, artificial world drifting in space, comprised of concentric spheres, a world in which the self-contained environment is rapidly deteriorating. And a boy writing a book in this post-literate world. So what do these well-worn SF tropes have to do with stealing from God?
Turns out that for a recent reading I prepared a small text in an attempt to explain this very thing – that is, how my creative stealing process works and what I hoped to achieve by this shameless thievery from God. So here is what I wrote and read:
An Apology To Potential Readers of This Work
Dear Potential Reader of this work, I apologize sincerely for the book entitled, The Book of Thomas, Volume 1: Heaven. In writing this book I had hoped to offend and outrage. I had conceived of a novel containing murder, incest, sodomy, rape, plague, disease, dismemberment, disembowelment, assassination, blasphemy, war, famine, and the ever-popular genocide. I wanted to write a book that chronicled injustice of every conceivable kind, in particular cruelty to women, children and slaves (including handy tips on the beating, thereof). I wanted a book rife with witches, devils, dragons, satyrs, and all manner of false Gods. A book with perversions of every stripe, with ritualistic sacrifices, pointless mutilations and oxymoronic honor killings. A book in which fear and guilt motivate all, dictating the minutiae of life – no matter the lip service the characters might pay to loftier ideals. In short, I set out to write a book about how religion exploits the incalculable stupidity of mankind.
I apologize for my failure, The Book of Thomas, Volume 1: Heaven.
When I first began this work, my modest goal had been to write a book more outrageous and offensive than any other. But in my research, I discovered that such a pernicious work already existed and was, in fact, already a best seller. A book so perverse that it not only embraces all the outrages I’ve just mentioned and many more, but does so in earnest and with great relish.
The book to which I am referring is, of course, The Bible.
How can The Book of Thomas, Volume 1: Heaven hope to compete with such a work?
So, dear potential reader, if you are considering purchasing my humble tome, you might want to reconsider, for you will surely get more bang for your buck in a copy of The Bible.
If, on the other hand, you want to stick a finger in God’s eye, and show him he isn’t the only one who can sell books filled with gratuitous violence and unspeakable cruelty, then The Book of Thomas, Volume 1: Heaven, is for you.
In case you hadn’t guessed it already, the spheres of my degrading world are known as the Spheres of the Apostles, the Catholic Church rules all, and The Bible and its sanctioned addenda are the only books permitted.
So, thanks, God, for The Bible, and thanks Big Religion for your endorsement of all the Big Ideas The Bible contains – more than I could possibly hope to steal in a lifetime.
The Book of Thomas: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Powell’s
And this is why Bob rocks. Hopefully I won’t hurt him with an endorsement.
The cover art is frickin awesome!
Didn’t Dante and Niven do this? Still, it’s a on a spaceship! And I love generation ship troubles. Frog blast the ventcore!
Ah! At last! ;-) “…a book about how religion exploits the incalculable stupidity of mankind.” Yup, it’s true. As a Christian I can see that. (surprised?) Back in the Middle Ages and all the way to quite recently, when avaricious types used to get big ambitions, many of them turned to climbing the power pyramid of the church to slake their thirst. I can imagine how your SF novel on this theme could paint on a huge canvas. (Of course, nowadays, those types have so many other options, like politics.)
Thing is, Robert, a lot of us Christians agree that the ‘church’ has gone so wrong, it’s often been like the wolf dressed up as grandma. (And at the same time most denominations and movements are quite the opposite.) What big teeth it has grown through the centuries. If I had a time machine… Emperor Constantine’s court might be my first port of call. The early faith of people caring for the poor, and being prepared to suffer for their loyal love of Jesus (rather than making others suffer), was hijacked. No motivations of fear and guilt here. One powerful word: grace.
Then you have some hard words about the Bible. “…filled with gratuitous violence and unspeakable cruelty”. Please hear my tone of voice as hurt and sad, not hectoring. Yes, there’s a lot of violence portrayed in the Bible, especially the Old Testament. I learn from most of this how badly we humans can go wrong when we go our own way. It’s not there for entertainment, obviously, or to show us how to live. It’s to show us how not to live. The hardest part for me to grasp is when God commands the Israelites to kill the Canaanites who inhabited the Promised Land. I have some answers, which make sense to me, but this isn’t the place to start in on that, I think.
So I wish you well in your epic series. Maybe rather than sticking a finger in God’s eye, did you wonder if he’s open to dialogue of a more meaningful sort? Ever read David’s Psalms? He had some table-thumping arguments with God that make me wonder.
A gigantic “ZZZZZzzzzzz……”
Sounds like just the book for Tammy’s and I’s Roman Catholic friends! >:)
Can you direct me to the line for potential readers who do NOT want to poke God in the eye? Attracting the attention of a deity in that manner seems imprudent.
And if there is no such line, can someone else go first?
Sure, everyone picks on us Catholics… until they need an exorcism.
You wrote a whole book just to troll especially defensive Big Religion types?
And I thought I had odd hobbies!
Echoin’ the cover love :)
Oh, I love Robert Boyczuk! His space opera Nexus: Ascension (the sequel to which I am eagerly awaiting) was one of only three books I have read that have given me nightmares! (the others were Dracula and The Dracula Dossier by James Reese). Thanks for giving him a spotlight!
How anyone can look at a platypus and not think god has a sense of humour, I don’t know. I think She’s having a good chuckle right now.
How brave and original.
Wake me when you do the Quran.
That linked review is… not kind, is it?
At first I thought, “Holy Shit! Cool cover.” Then I read your Apology, and I still thought maybe I would give it a read, but I’ve got to agree with David McCune. If you want to tackle this subject, sack up and join the battle against the one religion that fights back.
I KNOW I would buy this if it was titled, The Book of Umar.
Christianity fights back. Have you looked at the south lately?
[Deleted because there’s already one person who put “yawn” in their comment in this thread, and that’s still one too many. Seriously, putting “yawn” in your comment puts a neon sign over your head that says “assbag.” Don’t be that assbag — JS]
Ha, apologies for being an assbag. Won’t do it again.
Still, I find this low-hanging fruit, and altogether too safe to be as provocative as the writer wants it to be. Philip Pullman, Christopher Moore, Seth Grahame-Smith and a good handful of other writers have all done this sort of thing in one way or another.
It just doesn’t have a bite to it anymore.
Heya. I’m the co-publisher of the book at ChiZine Publications. Just wanted to say to Lurkertype that, yeah, PW didn’t like it, but there’s a starred review of it coming out in the December 15th edition of Library Journal. And I know I’m biased, but it’s one of my favourite books of the year. I had a great time editing it, and it’s way more fun than Bob paints it! Heh. There’s actually wonderful, heartbreaking moments with amazingly well-drawn characters, and some lovely writing. The book is so much more than just poking God and the Pope in the eye. :-)
OK – so “yawn” is assbaggery, but yet another addition to the conversation (that was old when I had it in high school) about the hypocrisy in religion is a “Big Idea”.
I dunno – “Big Idea” is just the name of the blog series. In hindsight, I get it – “yawn” comes off as pretty rude and dismissive. Am I interested in reading this book? No, not really, for the reasons I gave…
But as an aspiring writer, myself, I think that if someone ever ran a blurb on my book, I could deal with people who just weren’t interested for whatever reason, but it would bother me to have someone act like an assbag – which I kind of did, though unintentionally.
My opinions on the topic remain, and I think those and others are valid, but I don’t want to sort of comprise the validity of them by being a hater, too.
I’ll own that “yawn” is somewhat dismissive, borderline rude. On the other hand:
“I discovered that such a pernicious work already existed and was, in fact, already a best seller. A book so perverse that it not only embraces all the outrages I’ve just mentioned and many more, but does so in earnest and with great relish.
The book to which I am referring is, of course, The Bible.”
goes far beyond rude. It’s a deliberate, if not particularly original, attempt to be insulting.
So, yeah, I guess I could have just let it pass, given that I did not find the description of the book very interesting. But if firing back at someone who is being insulting is “assbaggery” , well, Mr. Scalzi’s going to need a bigger mallet.
It has the virtue of being accurate.
Yeah, I’ll definitely agree that Boyczuk’s write-up there just made him look rude, and that’s what turned me off to the book. He makes it clear that he’s out to offend, but it was – in my opinion – just kind of tired. You see that kind of stuff on reddit every day, it’s nothing particularly new or subversive. If anything, it’s pretentious. The novel might be about a lot more, and if I read it, I might even like it… but if that’s how the author wants to sell himself? No thanks.
To agree with something you said earlier – if you want to impress me, do what Salman Rushdie did and get a fatwa on your head and go into hiding. That’s balls.
Thanks. I was worrined that someone might not believe what John V just wrote about how trite and pretentius such opinions were, and there you came with the evidence.
“Yes, there’s a lot of violence portrayed in the Bible, especially the Old Testament. I learn from most of this how badly we humans can go wrong when we go our own way. ”
Much of the violence he’s talking about is at the hands of or command of the God of the Bible.
Take the high road, dude – people will listen to you more. Not to argue, but I didn’t say his opinions were trite or pretentious, just that write-up.
I apologize for mischaracterizing your statement.
cant’ wait to read it…
As for criticising the author for criticising Christianity and not criticising Islam, I liked it when Solzhenitsyn said that he would always criticise the country which he was in (that’s basically what he said), so when he lived in Russia, he criticised Russia, when he was in the U.S., he criticised the U.S.
I criticise my own government way more often than I criticise North Korea’s. Doesn’t mean I lke North Korea’s better.
Hugs for everybody!
How brave and original of you. Bravo.
[Deleted because it’s off-topic. Vulture TX, if you want to reframe your gripe in a way that doesn’t drag in an entirely separate belief system into your kvetch, go ahead — JS]
Looking forward to reading this a lot. I like Boyczuk’s work.