Mars in a Minute: How Do You Land on Mars?

In two of my four Timebenders books, Book 1: Battle Before Time and Book 4: Lost in Cydonia, our heroes—Max, Allie, Grady, and Toby—journey to Mars. Each time they get there in a wildly improbable but exciting way.

When real-life astronauts eventually go to Mars, they will have to solve problems of motion, gravity, air friction, heat, and so forth in order to land safely on the Red Planet. Click the image below to watch a 60-second video from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It explains three ways to land safely on the surface of Mars.

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Science Fiction and Fantasy Quotations About TIME

Time exists so that everything doesn’t happen at once.
—MADELEINE L’ENGLE, An Acceptable Time

Three in the morning, the soul’s midnight.
—RAY BRADBURY, From the Dust Returned

The By-Laws of Time
Never Do Yesterday What Should Be Done Tomorrow.
If At Last You Do Succeed, Never Try Again.
A Stitch In Time Saves Nine Billion.
A Paradox May Be Paradoctored.
It Is Earlier When You Think.
Ancestors Are Just People.
Even Jove Nods.
—ROBERT A. HEINLEIN, “All You Zombies—”

“Do not look so sad. We shall meet soon again.”
“Please, Aslan,” said Lucy, “what do you call soon?”
“I call all times soon,” said Aslan; and instantly he was vanished away.
—C. S. LEWIS, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

For the future to touch the past can be dangerous. It could cause a paradox.
—MADELEINE L’ENGLE, Many Waters

Time rushes through us as we rush through time.
—RICHARD GRANT, “Drode’s Equations”

If there’s something you want to do, somewhere you want to go, then you’d better start the doing and the going. You’d better start using the time that’s left in you, because you can’t stop it from running out. You can stop water from running out of a tub by putting the plug back in, but there isn’t any plug that can stop time from running out of you.
—FREDRIC BROWN, The Lights in the Sky are Stars

To those who live in time, sequency is the norm.
—URSULA K. LE GUIN, “The Shobies’ Story”

Darkness swallows time.
—MICHAEL BISHOP, “A Gift from the Gray Landers”

But there is something about Time. The sun rises and sets. The stars swing slowly across the sky and fade. Clouds fill with rain and snow, empty themselves, and fill again. The moon is born, and dies, and is reborn. Around millions of clocks swing hour hands, and minute hands, and second hands. Around goes the continual circle of the notes of the scale. Around goes the circle of night and day, the circle of weeks forever revolving, and of months, and of years.
—MADELEINE L’ENGLE, The Small Rain

From Jim Denney: A Special Word to Parents about Spiritual Warfare

The central theme that runs through my Timebenders series is spiritual warfare. If you read any book in the series, I think you’ll hear echoes of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand (Ephesians 6:11-13).

The issue of spiritual warfare is not an abstract or theoretical concept to me. It’s very real. This generation lives in morally and spiritually dangerous times. Through the Timebenders books, I hope to help bring these biblical truths alive in our children’s imaginations—and their everyday lives. I was impacted at an early age by Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, which has a similar spiritual warfare theme. I want to help new generations of readers to have the same experience, and develop the same understanding of God’s truth. 

It’s never too early to teach children the importance of reliance on God through prayer. It’s never too early to teach a child that one person plus God is a majority in any situation. It’s never too early to teach children the importance of making good moral choices, and that bad moral choices come with unpleasant consequences. These are some of the themes that are woven into the adventure tale that is Timebenders.

Another key theme in Timebenders is that God wants to use each of us in a powerful way, and we should never underestimate God’s purpose for our lives. This concept come from another one of Paul’s letters:

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).

Each of us has a role to play in God’s eternal plan. God is pleased to use ordinary believers like you and me—and our children—to demonstrate His wisdom throughout the universe. As the apostle Paul wrote:

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 3:10).

So we are engaged in a war, an all-out battle of good versus evil, the forces of God versus the “the rulers … the authorities … the powers of this dark world … the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (And, of course, when Paul talks about the “heavenly realms,” he does not mean “heaven,” the believer’s destination with God. He means the spiritual realm, the unseen region of reality where spiritual warfare takes place.)

The central theme of the Timebenders series is spiritual warfare.

As your children read the Timebenders books, or as you read them together with your kids, I’d like to leave you with a few thoughts and suggestions about spiritual warfare and your children. I’d like to encourage you to:

1. Pray daily with your children and for your children. Pray with them and teach them that talking to God is as natural as any other conversation. Go into their rooms at night when they are sleeping and ask God to protect them, to strengthen their faith, and to make them strong and wise. Whenever you sense that your children need your prayers, stop what you are doing, focus your attention on God, and pray for your children.

2. Bless your children. Let your children hear you thank God for them. Tell them you love them, that they are a blessing in your life, that they are God’s gift to you. When they fail or do wrong, let them know you always love them and you are always cheering for them. Give them your blessing on a daily, continual basis.

3. Keep the lines of communication open. Talk to your children—and listen to them. When they talk to you, look them in the eye and let them know they have your complete and undivided attention. Ask your children lots of questions—especially open-ended questions that must be answered in complete sentences, not monosyllables. The only way we get to know our children’s thoughts, fears, hopes, and dreams is by continual two-way communication.

4. Avoid rescuing your children from consequences. One of the best ways to discipline your children is to allow natural consequences to impact their lives and teach them important life lessons. Don’t let a child get away with poor ethical choices, such as writing a book report from an online review instead of reading the book. If a child does wrong, and suffers consequences as a natural result, then you frequently don’t need to lecture your child or impose a restriction. You can simply say, “Yes, I know this is hard, but that’s what happens when we do such-and-such.”

5. Use every “teachable moment.” The more time you spend with your children, the more teaching and disciple-making opportunities you will have. Jesus used the day-to-day events in His disciples’ lives to teach them valuable lessons about spiritual warfare. In Luke 10, He taught them how to pray, witness, preach the Kingdom of God, and do battle with evil—then he sent them out, two by two, to use the skills He had taught them in real-life situations. As parents, we need to use real-life situations in our children’s lives to make the lessons of the Kingdom real in their lives.

My friend Pat Williams, vice president and co-founder of the Orlando Magic, has been a dad to nineteen children—four birth children, fourteen by international adoption, and one by remarriage. He has experienced seven lifetimes worth of Christian parenting! He says, “If you watch TV with your kids, you’ll have many opportunities to discuss righteousness, moral living, sexual purity, and other issues of the Christian life with your child. When you read with your child or help him with homework or school projects, you’ll have opportunities to grow closer and impart lessons about character and diligence. Even times of conflict and tension can be teachable moments for growth and instruction. Don’t let those opportunities pass you by. Take advantage of each one.”

Pat Williams, his wife Ruth, and a few of his nineteen kids.

4. Spend time serving God alongside your children. Find projects that you can do with your children that involve serving God and serving others. Maybe there’s a rescue mission or homeless shelter that needs volunteers to serve meals or paint walls. Or you and your kids could go on a short-term mission venture. Or you and your children could do something as simple as manicure a lawn, plant flowers, and wash windows for an elderly neighbor. Do it in the name of Jesus—and see how your own family is impacted.

5. Be aware of the influences in your child’s life. Know who their friends are—and be aware of their influence on your kids. Know what your kids are watching, reading, and listening to, and the computer and video games they play. Remember that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against … spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” So be watchful about such influences as the occult, Ouija boards, vampires, witchcraft, and similar practices.

As my friend, author Rachel Hauck, has said, “In spiritual warfare, the devil doesn’t fight fair.” And the Lord’s friend, the apostle Peter, put it this way:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

God bless you as you raise your children to be warriors and ambassadors for Him!

Jim Denney’s Advice for Young Writers

I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was about nine years old. How about you? Do you have stories to tell? Books you want to write? Would you like to spend your days thinking up adventures and writing them down, like I do? Excellent! Writing is a lot of fun. If you’d like to be a writer, too, then I have some ideas that may help you become a writer.

Tip #1: Write About What You Really Care About

Battle Before Time by Jim Denney

I’ve heard people say, “The first rule of writing is, ‘Write what you know.'” Well, I have a little different point of view. I don’t say, “Write what you know.” I say, “Write what you really want to write about!”

The problem with “Write what you know” is that there are a lot of things that are fun to write about that nobody has ever done. For example, my Timebenders books are about time travel—but I’ve never traveled in time. I’ve never been scared out of my socks by a Tyrannosaurus rex. I’ve never been to an old English castle. I’ve never gone to the future and been chased by robots. If I could only write what I know from my own experience, I couldn’t have written Timebenders!

So I say the first rule of writing is to write whatever you really want to write about, whatever you think would make an interesting story, whatever you really care about. Now, when you do that, you can also use a lot of what you know. For example, you might write an interesting, imaginative story based on a vacation you took or an interesting person you know. But if you want to write about an adventure in outer space or about a visit to the Garden of Eden, you’ll just have to use your imagination and make it up—and that’s okay! Make it up and write it down. When you make up stories about times and places you’ve never been to, you’ll probably need to do some research. So, for example, if you write a story about the Civil War, you’ll need to read about the Civil War. One of the most famous books ever written about the Civil War was The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane—yet Stephen Crane was never a soldier, and was never in the Civil War. He didn’t write what he knew; he did research. And he did his research so well that his book convinced many people that he had actually been a soldier in the war.

Tip #2: Read!

A writer is a reader first of all, so read every day. And when you read, don’t just read your favorite kind of book. Read all kinds of books, many kinds of books. Whether you like scary books or fantasy or adventure stories or romance, you should read other kinds of books as well. Read fiction and nonfiction. Read books about the lives of famous people, books about science, history, literature, and art, and books of poetry. Read the Bible. If you want to be a good writer, become a well-rounded reader.

Tip #3: Write All the Time!

Doorway to Doom by Jim Denney

Some people only like to write when they feel “inspired.” But I’ll let you in on a secret: I’ve found out that the best way to get inspired is to sit down and start writing—even when I don’t feel like writing! I write every day, and I don’t always feel “inspired” when I begin. But soon after I start writing, ideas and sentences start to flow. I start having fun. And I keep writing and writing until I find that I have written a lot of pages.

Keep a journal or diary, and write down observations about interesting events and interesting people. Write down things that happen to you. Write about things that make you feel happy, mad, scared, sad, or embarrassed. Someday, you may want to read your journal and use some of these observations as bits and pieces of a story or book.

When you write, remember that it’s okay to imitate writers you admire. I don’t mean you should “steal” story ideas or actual sentences from other writers. But study your favorite writers and see how they create characters, how they write believable dialogue, how they create realistic settings and descriptions, and how they use metaphors to create word pictures in the reader’s mind. It’s okay to study and imitate other writers—that’s how we learn.

Tip #4: Relax and Daydream

My best ideas come when I am relaxed, not when I’m super-concentrating. If you concentrate real hard and tell yourself, “Think! Think! Come up with an idea!,” your mind seems to freeze up. But when you relax, you loosen up your mind, you let your thoughts drift, and ideas start to flow.

Here are some relaxation ideas: Step away from your desk or computer for a moment, lie down on the couch or your bed, and just daydream about your story. You can listen to music, but keep the TV off. Or, you could take a walk or get some exercise. You might even find it relaxing to do some yardwork—sweeping the patio or raking the leaves in the yard.

As you let your thoughts drift, daydream about the characters in your story. What do they look like? What are their personalities like? How are your characters different from each other? Why do they like or dislike each other? What makes them get mad at each other? What common goals do they have to unite them? Are your characters messy or neat? Are they lazy or hard-working? Are they nice or mean? How do they talk? How can you give each character a unique-sounding voice?

Invasion of the Time Troopers by Jim Denney

Also, daydream about your setting. How can you describe the setting of your story and make it feel real? Let’s say your story takes place in a garden. As you daydream, ask yourself: What grows in this garden? What plants and flowers do I see? What are the unique smells and sounds in this garden? What kinds of insects and birds do you see and hear in this garden? Help your reader see, smell, and hear the garden. Get inside the skin of your characters and feel what they feel. Let the reader feel it, too: The feeling of warm, golden sunshine on a character’s face, or the fragrance of orange blossoms on the breeze. Help your reader to be there, right alongside your characters.

Also, daydream about your plot. Ask yourself: How can I start the story in an exciting way? What unexpected thing can I do to surprise the reader? What can I do at the end of the chapter to make the reader turn the page and keep reading? How can I keep the reader asking, “What happens next?”

Tip #5: Don’t Try to be Perfect!

One thing that will really mess you up as a writer is the feeling that you have to write perfectly. Don’t try to be perfect when you write. Tell yourself, “It’s okay to write badly. The important thing is to just write!”Get the words down, even if your sentences are terrible, even if you’re not sure of the spelling, even if you think it’s the worst piece of writing anyone has ever done. That’s okay. Just write!

You know what? I think I’m a pretty good writer—but I write badly all the time! And that’s okay! It doesn’t bother me a bit to write badly. You know why? Because it’s just a first draft. First drafts are supposed to be terrible! That’s why they call them “first drafts”! I don’t worry about a bad first draft, because I know I’m going to do a second draft, and a third draft, and by the time my third draft is done, it’s going to be a very good piece of writing.

When you write your first draft, write it as fast as you can. Don’t criticize it. Don’t go back over the sentence you just wrote and keep fiddling with it. Write that sentence and move on to the next sentence, and keep going, going, going, without looking back. The faster you write, the better you write. When you write quickly, you write with the creative side of your brain; when you write slowly and try to make it perfect, you write with the critical side of your brain.

The best writing is done by the creative side of your brain, because that is writing that flows, that soars, that inspires! Then, after you create your first draft, you let the critical side of your brain go over it, tidy it up, and make it sparkle. Both sides of your brain are important, but when you do your first draft, write it quickly, write it creatively. Don’t let the critical side of your brain interrupt your creative flow. 

Tip #6: Welcome Criticism

Lost in Cydonia by Jim Denney

Never fear criticism—instead, welcome it! I always have people criticise my books before they’re published, because I want my books to be as good as can be. If there are mistakes or boring places or dumb ideas in my books, I hope someone helps me catch them before the book is printed!

Remember that writing is a matter of taste—and what one person finds interesting, another person will find dull. So don’t expect to please everybody, and don’t be surprised if you get conflicting advice from different people. That’s okay. Listen to the criticism and see if it makes sense to you. If the advice makes sense, then follow it. If the advice doesn’t ring true, ignore it and write it the way it seems best to you.

Show your writing to your friends and teachers. Start a writing club and share your stories with each other. Criticize each other’s stories—not in a mean or hurtful way, but in a helpful way: “I think this dialogue could be improved if you did such and such,” or, “What if your character decided to do this instead of that?” Encourage each other and help each other to do your finest work.

Keep writing!

Free Mars Stories for Young Readers

For young readers of all ages: Read seven imaginative tales of our future on Planet Mars—available for FREE at the 4Frontiers website.

Those seven stories are “The Water Thief” by acclaimed science fiction writer Ben Bova, “The Haunted Airlock” by Michael Carroll, “Fire in the Sky” by Tom Hill, “Yo-Yo: The Gift” by Rebecca K. Rowe, “Ghost Story” by Brian Enke, “Martian Mice” by Marianne Dyson, and “Fear Above, Terror Below” (Parts 1 and 2) by Timebenders author Jim Denney.

All stories are illustrated by award-winning science fiction illustrator Michael Carroll.

Click on the stories at http://www.4frontierscorp.com/library/books_shortstories.php.

See you on Mars!

Fifty Years of ‘A Wrinkle in Time’

Original 1962 edition of
A Wrinkle in Time

Half a century ago this year, my nine-year-old soul was impacted by a brand-new book called A Wrinkle in Time. At that tender age, I was already a devoted science-fiction fan, starved for books to read. (I got hooked on SF at age five while watching black-and-white TV space operas like Space Patrol and Tom Corbett—Space Cadet.)

I still remember seeing A Wrinkle in Time standing upright on the “new arrivals” shelf at my elementary school library. The cover illustration—three silhouetted children inside of radiating concentric circles—attracted my attention and the intriguing title pinned my imagination to the wall.

I checked the book out, took it home, and got lost in it. I’ve re-read the book many times since. I remember being impressed by the way L’Engle seamlessly wove science and religious themes throughout the story.

A Wrinkle in Time contains many biblical quotations and allusions. For example, the beings of the planet Uriel sing lines that echo passages from Isaiah and the Psalms, and the character Aunt Beast quotes from Paul’s Roman epistle. The angelic Mrs. Who quotes Paul the Apostle’s words from his first letter to the Corinthians—words I adopted many years later as a central theme of my Timebenders series:

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are (1 Corinthians 1:27-28 NIV).

The spiritual warfare theme of good versus evil, light versus darkness, in A Wrinkle in Time is more than just a matter of dramatic conflict. It mirrors the spiritual struggle that all believers understand—a struggle against hidden authorities, not flesh and blood. The book calls the reader to reject neutrality and join the cosmic conflict in the real world.

A Wrinkle in Time also introduced my young mind to the concept of paradoxes, which are commonly found in both the world of physics and the world of faith. I would define a paradox as a statement or condition that contradicts logic and reason but which is true nonetheless. For example, experimental physics shows that light is both a particle and a wave, even though logically this cannot be true. Rationally, light must be either a particle or a wave, not both. Yet it is both. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double-slit_experiment.)

Animation of a tesseract.

One of the paradoxical concepts Madeleine L’Engle wrote about in A Wrinkle in Time is the five-dimensional tesseract—also known as a hypercube, a geometric construct that exists in four dimensions of space and one dimension of time. L’Engle uses the tesseract as a device for “warping” space and allowing travel across the universe without being restricted by the speed of light.

L’Engle paid a price for including such advanced concepts of both faith and physics in A Wrinkle in Time. The manuscript was rejected twenty-six times before she found a publisher, and one of the criticisms she heard again and again from editors was that young readers would be turned off by these advanced scientific concepts. But she persevered, found a publisher—and was vindicated by her readers.

Ideas like the tesseract were heady concepts for my nine-year-old mind, and I eagerly absorbed them, thought about them, and wondered how much of it was true. Concepts many editors condemned as “too advanced” for young readers were, for me, the essence of its appeal. And when I began writing my Timebenders series in 2001, I was encouraged by L’Engle’s bold ideas to include some challenging concepts of my own. And my editors, to their credit, didn’t raise an objection and tell me I had to “talk down” to young readers.  

I believe one of the many reasons I embrace both science and the Christian faith today is because of the influence, fifty years ago, of A Wrinkle in Time. If you’ve never experienced A Wrinkle in Time, now would be a good time to discover it. If you enjoy the book as I do, maybe it’s time to read it again.