Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Amish Vampires in Space, by Kerry Nietz

Winning the prize for goofiest title of the year is Kerry Nietz!  Nietz has become a favorite of mine, with his imaginative, highly original sci-fi with a Christian message.  When Marcher Lord Press editor Jeff Gerke mocked up a fake book cover with a fictional author and the silly title Amish Vampires in Space, he meant it to be a joke, mocking the proliferation of Amish fiction among Christian publishers and of vampire fiction in secular presses.  However, Kerry's imagination took over and he actually came up with a story!  No joke about it, this is a great sci-fi novel.

Here are some thoughts, one word at a time.

An Amish colony on a terraformed world gets picked up by a trading vessel, who will relocate them to another planet, since their planet's sun is about to go nova.  It seems a bit counter-intuitive, but Nietz makes a good case that the people best suited for colonizing a new world are people like the Amish: self-sufficient, able to build a community without an infrastructure in place, committed to cooperative efforts in community building.  I thought of parallels to Westward expansion in the U.S.  Those pioneers had to know how to live off the land, how to build a house from scratch, how to farm and raise livestock, how to make their own clothes and furniture.  Similarly the Amish, in Nietz's future, can relocate to a recently terraformed planet and thrive, without the support of advanced technology.

Nietz further reflects on the Amish people's resistance to technology as a matter of their faith.  They shun technology, yet advanced communication and space travel save their colony, which otherwise was doomed.  Nietz did a nice job of capturing the tension the Amish face when confronted with technology, contact with "Englishers" (non-Amish), and the use of violence.

I don't want to give away any of the story, but these are not your vampires of Bram Stoker and Bela Lugosi (or, I suspect Twilight, although I've never seen those movies or read those books).  Although Nietz's vampires may have common characteristics to other vampires of fiction and film, the origins are different, and perhaps more insidious and disturbing than other vampire stories.

In Space:
Nietz tells a good story about the vampires and the Amish people, but I particularly liked the background against which he tells it.  Other than the first scenes, based in the Amish colony, all the action of the story takes place on an interplanetary cargo ship.  Nietz doesn't dwell on the history, culture, and technology of this particular future, but he reveals enough that the reader begins to feel that this future is tangible and plausible.

The Christian message of AViS is not as explicit as in Nietz's DarkTrench saga, but the faith of the Amish, as well as some of the crew members, plays an important role in the story.  A major theme is faith and works.  The Amish in Nietz's story place their hope of salvation in their works, their adherence to the Ordnung, the rules of community.  Some of them begin to question that, risking a break with their community in hopes of a deeper truth.

Any sci-fi fan will enjoy AViS.  It has the feel of those sci-fi movies which feature a claustrophobic spaceship, lurking aliens, and a crew distant from any source of help.  Fans of vampire fiction will, I believe, feel at home with Nietz's take on vampires.  Fans of Amish fiction would probably be put off by the sci-fi/horror element, but who knows. . . .  Go ahead, laugh at the title, Kerry won't mind.  But after you judge the book by its cover, give the story a chance.  You won't be disappointed.

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