Old blog post that is a bit more personal, on why Neek has such a shitty relationship with religion.
Religion in Ardulum
Anyone who thinks that science fiction lacks higher themes has something to sell you, or has clearly never read science fiction. Although the Ardulum series addressed a number of current issues—gender, land use, genetic engineering, etc.—the most overarching theme for me, at least when writing it, was religion.
I was brought up in a religious family. The exact flavor of the religion doesn’t really matter, as it followed the basic formula of weekly (sometimes more) dragging to a service when I would have much rather been sleeping than sitting through some old guy (they were always men) talking about books I didn’t care about.
The funny thing is, though I hated the services, I lovedthe religion itself. I was active in my community. I headed youth programs in high school. I prayed, and did things ‘right,’ and really felt like I had a place at the table in this religion.
I came out my freshman year of college.
It never occurred to me that who I loved would conflict withwhat I loved. Imagine my surprise when, that first summer back from college, I was invite to our religious leader’s home (let’s call him Mr. B.) for dinner. I’d often had dinner with Mr. B. and his family, and I had often babysat his son. Mr. B was our youth director, and I looked up to him as leader, and a mentor, and someone I respected.
Imagine my surprise then, when the topic of discussion over pizza spun to verses in scripture that dealt with homosexuality. It took me probably ten minutes to realize what was happening, because I trusted these people so much, and I had given so much to this institution, and to have the person I admired more than perhaps any other sitting across from me at a table, calmly discussing how this one thing about me basically negated everything I’d ever done with my life… it broke me.
I never did find all the pieces.
When the first Ardulum book begins, we meet Neek, a bitter exile from her homeworld for her rejection of the Ardulan religion. She’s lost her parents, her family, her culture, because she said no to a religion that hurt her, and her world. Her rage, and her pain, and her sadness all came from that one moment with Mr. B, and knowing that I could never go back to a service, even those important holiday ones with my family. It came from knowing that I’d lost a world, too, and like Neek, I could choose to go back, but if I did, I’d die. Neek would be shot. I’d probably have killed myself.
But the Ardulum series is about a lot more than hurt. In book two, in particular, and parts of book three, you can see Neek’s (now Atalant’s) hope that maybe there is a way back. Because something you held so dear for so long can’t be just left behind. You can bury it, and pretend it doesn’t exist, but those things that truly matter—they’ll always be a part of you. Atalant’s hope is realized in Emn, and finally, in her own metamorphosis, where she realizes that there isn’t just one way to be a part of Ardulum, or her people, but that to do things differently, sometimes you have to take charge.
I don’t have the powers of Emn or any of Atalant’s awesome ships. I definitely don’t have a sentient, moving planet at my disposal, but I did find my way back to the religion I loved, if not the institution. I wanted that sense of yearning for community to drive Neek/Atalant the same way it drove me, because I think most of us search for some sense of belonging, whether through religion, sports, academic pursuits, or any number of other social group activities.
I know, too, that my experience isn’t unique, especially among those in the queer community. I really hope that Neek’s journey, and the home she eventually finds, gives hope to readers who may still be in exile, or who can’t leave a problematic group. Ardulum is a fun, queer little space opera, but it’s a statement, too—a strong one—about the dangers, and truths, of religion, and those who choose to challenge it.
In the words of Atalant: I hope one day we can meet in the stars, as equals.
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