Thursday, November 02, 2006

Whither the Christian Science Fiction

As a life-long fan of "hard" science fiction, it's always vexed me that I've never been able to find any deeply Christian sci-fi, and I genuinely do not understand why this is. I mean, it seems that most truly good sci-fi writers have at least some background in the hard sciences, and the hard sciences certainly have no shortage of Christians among their practicioners (despite what some ivory-tower academics may want to believe). Some of the most devout individuals I've met in my life have also been brilliant scientific, rational thinkers. Additionally, I have certainly met many a devout Christian who is also as avid a fan of the sci-fi genre as I am. Thus: the talent is (presumably) there, and the market demand certainly seems to be as well. And yet, it seems an almost completely untapped market

Now, I consider myself moderately well-read in the genre. Since I equally enjoy fantasy as much as I enjoy sci-fi, my reading time is not entirely taken up by the subject, so I can't say I'm thouroughly well-read, but I have read most of the "masters" at least introductorily, if not exhaustively -- Asimov and Heinlein coming to mind in the latter category, Arthur C. Clarke and others moreso in the former. I admit that my tastes skip the "middle generation" of scifi -- authors now either dead or well past their prime, but of great prominence in the 60's and 70's -- but that largely springs from my own conservatism largely clashing with their seemingly obsessive counter-culturism. I enjoy a lot of modern scifi writers as well -- I think Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn "trilogy" (if it's a trilogy, why'd I buy six books, huh?) was fantastic, and Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos were actually good literature apart from being great space opera (as is his more recent Ilium, which I recommend to scifi fans as well. I have not yet read its sequel Olympos, however). My point is this, though: in hard sci-fi, when religion, particularly the Christian religion, is featured, it is almost always featured in a negative light. And the more prominently it is featured, the more negative its role in the story becomes.

It seems that Christianity is usually dealt with in one or both of two ways: it is either a power-hungry organization seeking galactic domination over humankind, or at best it is a benign group of naive, superstitious people whose beliefs are inevitably shattered by some sort of sci-fi revelation (e.g., Jesus Christ was really an alien, or a time-traveller, or some other "shocker"). Incidentally, of the two modern examples I just listed above of "good scifi", the latter in fact takes the first route as a major plot-point (a method for immortality is discovered, an the Church swiftly takes control of it), and the former takes the second ("souls" of dead humans are possessing the living, but it turns out the souls are just human consciousnesses in an alternate energy state). Fortunately, I read sci-fi because it is escapist, so I've gotten very good at my own willing suspension of disbelief. In neither case is the goal of the author to offend my nice Christian sensibilities, but merely to weave a good tale -- unlike the counterculturists I previously mentioned, whose sole goal always seems to be to advance one progressive agenda or another.

When Christianity and scifi do intersect in a friendly (or at least non-hostile) manner, it seems to take a limited number of forms. The first major form is the "morality tale" -- C.S. Lewis being a notable writer of such in his so-called "Space Trilogy". These tend either to be allegorical or much more introspective, and less of the "space opera" I'm talking about here -- i.e., very little action and lots of philosophizing. Think "2001" + God. Great stuff in its own right, but not what I'm talking about here -- i.e., "hard" sci-fi. Another major form, at least lately, seems to be taking a more biological tack -- I believe there's at least one Christian writer who surmises that the Second Coming of Christ might result from a cloning experiment using a miraculously- preserved drop of Christ's blood or some other DNA sample. Interesting premise, yes, but much too near-future to fulfill us hard-core space nerds.

As for "hard" "Christian" sc-fi, I'm not talking about some adventure-in-outer-space with a main character who happens to be Christian or extoll Christian values. I really do want the deep Christian philosophies examined in great detail, just with a backdrop of hard sci-fi, replete with technological extrapolation, a compelling plot, twists, turns, character development, the whole shebang. And I have yet to locate it. And I continue to look -- every time I'm in a Christian bookstore, I always spend the most time browsing the fiction section, in a desparate hope that someone has done just that. Thus far -- nothing.

To wrap this up, I should mention that I have my own ideas for what would make excellent Christian sci-fi. One idea, in particular, has been germinating in my mind for well over a year now, yearning to be set free onto paper. I'm too shy to go into detail about it just yet, but it's taking pretty solid form, at least in terms of the setting, overall plot, protagonist, and the details of the universe in which it is set. Ok, here's a teaser, which astute observers of my comments on certain other blogs might recall, at least in an oblique manner: within the milieu of a galactic-scale war between humanity and a sentient, highly-developed alien species, it will address the question of a) whether or not a non-human sentient species needs and is eligible for salvation, and b) what God may or may not have done about it. I won't give away the "big reveal" just yet, but the truth would, of course, have the power to change the fates of both species.

If any of my readers know of any Christian sci-fi of the type I describe, please, let me know! I'd love to read it.

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19 Comments:

Anonymous J to the D said...

Nothing here (unless you count the veiled LDS references in the writings of Orson Scott Card), but I'd like to request that you develop and release the story you outlined in your post. Sounds great!

11:55 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

...and yet I've still read all of the "Alvin Maker" series... ugh. Does he have any such references in the "Ender" books? I don't recall any, but then, I read those a long time ago.

8:22 AM  
Anonymous J to the D said...

I can't really recall anything specific in the Ender saga, but some of his short stories in the "Maps in a Mirror" series (well worth a read, if you haven't) are a bit more evident.

11:23 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Have you read any of his Alvin Maker stuff? It sorta dawned on me around book 4 or 5 that it was basically Joseph Smith in Fantasy Early America. No angels named Moron-i or anything, and actually a ripping good yarn, but still... you can just tell.

8:31 AM  
Anonymous Marty said...

I don't know if you've ever read "A Canticle for Leibowitz" and whether or if this might fit. It's strangely Judeo-Catholic.

10:18 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

I read that one and greatly enjoyed it. I kept waiting for my own Judeo-Christian sensibilities to be offended somehow, and yet they weren't ,which was refreshing at least. I particularly enjoyed the part about how an EE became a saint. Still, though, I wouldn't classify it as overtly Christian in essence, only in that it borrowed its themes from "high-church" Christianity.

Incidentally, that brought to mind Robert Heinlein's Job: A Comedy of Justice. That whole novel was overtly Judeo-Christian in its elements as well, and a great read, although my aforementioned Judeo-Christian sensibilities were offended pretty much every chance they got. Still, I read it twice, because it was really good eschatological sci-fi. If I remember correctly (it's been at least a decade since I read it last), Satan was a retired truck-driver with a family, and the Trinity was expressed by "God" wearing different-colored cowboy hats: black hat for the Old-Testament-Yahweh, white hat for Jesus, etc. I think Loki played a major role in it as well, if I recall correctly. So it was kinda a hodge-podge. But readable nonetheless.

8:29 AM  
Anonymous Marty said...

I don't read much sci-fi. Haven't in a while. But Heinlein was always a good read. Interesting psychological, political, and ethical studies.

At the oppososite pole, I'd nominate for "anti-Christian" writer Isaac Asimov. And not because he was Jewish, but because he was cartoonishly rationalist and brought his elitist-socialist worldview to the fore in Foundation. It deified the elite intellectual. It didn't help that he was a crappy writer of fiction.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

I read all the Foundation and Robot novels back in highschool. I guess I wasn't quite discerning enough back then to pick up on any of what you're referring to, although in retrospect, the Foundation novels were a bit preachy. I liked the Robot novels, though. Good detective stories.

11:18 AM  
Blogger Mirtika said...

Christian science fiction is in a difficult position. To be overtly, orthodox (not bit O, little o) is to come up against the prejudice of many editors in non-Christian publishing houses. Just reading some of their blogs and articles reveals a real distaste or outright hostility to traditional Christian morality and thought.

The struggle with Christian publishing is that it doesn't sell. (Then again, they don't know how to handle, edit or properly market the stuff, either.) Fantasy of the Y/A has sold some, but the sucess of Narnia and LOTR among Christians has not changed the perception that sci-fi is either too weird (the idea of non-sf readers) or not good enough (the perception of sf readers, and not totally without merit), or will be hostile to Christianity (because of how secular SF treats religious folks.)

It's that rock/hard place thing.

This is why some of my pals-who-write have banded to promote Christian speculative fiction, hopeing to make a space for it in Christian publishing. It's a mustard seed tossed at the base of a mountain. We've done several things: began a monthly blog tour to raise awareness of this as a GENRE in order to get support and a presence to promote authors and books and sites. www.csffblogtour.com

We created a team blog where we discuss, as Christians, speculative literature. http://specfaith.ritersbloc.com

I am editing at a Christian SF webzine, and I've sponsored contests with my own moolah to encourage better quality subs of poetry and short stories.

And we've been trying to gather together with others of like mind, such as The Lost Genre Guild blog, to see how we can get momentum building to have BETTER written Christian SF and to open doors for those who want to write it, doors into publication.

In case you haven't visited, former editor at Navpress and Strang, Jeff Gerke (who writes as Jefferson Scott) began a site: www.wherethemapends.com

The only Christian SF that I can recommend at this time is the space opera FIREBIRD trilogy by Kathy Tyers; the Birthright Project books by Kathryn Mackel (and we're petitioning the publisher, Thomas Nelson, to publish the THIRD book in that trilogy), which is a science fantasy set in a future earth; Shivering World by Tyers; and you might try some of the Randy Ingermanson sci-fi, DOUBLE VISION or OXYGEN, etc.

In terms of fantasy, ARENA and LEGENDS OF THE GUARDIAN KING by Karen Hancock, and the DRAGONKEEPER CHRONICLES by Donita K. Paul.

That's a start. :)

I analyzed several stories (by Gene Wolfe, Jane Yolen, Ted Chiang, Connie Willis) over at Speculative Faith blog. And I just finished a series on myths and fairy tales (how to bring them to life, ie, make them spiritual sf in the retelling). I used CS LEWIS TILL WE HAVE FACES as an example of how to do it marvelously.

Christian Fandom has a website with an extensive bibliography of books with reviews, books that have some sort of spiritual component with the SF.

I also focus a lot on Christianity AND SF on my blog: Mirathon (http://mirathon.blogspot.com)

John C. Wright, a Christian and talented science fiction/fantasy author, has been blogging this year on religion and SF. You might want to check his last few months of posts for some very good, very articulate, and very smart reading.

Well, a long post, but I wanted to let you know that we're out here.

The magazine I help edit is at www.dkamagazine.com We have had one fiction contest and one poetry one. We've been working our way up, improving content bit by bit. We consider this part "mission."


It's sister magazines are:

The Sword Review, SF and F, with Christian content welcome.
www.theswordreview.com

and Ray Gun Revival (space opera)
www.raygunrevival.com

And I was just announced the winner of their 2006 fiction contest. (I also won the SF/F category of the American Christian Fiction Writers GENESIS CONTEST.)

If you want an idea of the kind of stuff *I* write: www.mirfiction.com

I have the hope to see a thriving SF genre in the Christian publishing arena, and perhaps that will allow for it to seep more naturally into some secular houses of publishing. I do dream.

Mir

9:14 AM  
Blogger Mirtika said...

Whoops: Christian fandom is here:

http://www.christian-fandom.org/

Mir

9:15 AM  
Blogger Elliot said...

I asked some of the same questions several years back. Instead of explaining at length, I'll just point you to my series of blog posts on the topic which begins here:
http://clawoftheconciliator.blogspot.com/2006/03/science-fiction-fantasy-and-faith-part.html

And if that's too much work, I'll just say: Gene Wolfe, Connie Willis, Tim Powers, Elizabeth Moon, Mary Doria Russell, Cordwainer Smith, Zenna Henderson. A Canticle for Leibowitz was by a devout Catholic. Oh, and don't forget A Case of Conscience.

1:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Had a sci-fi story rejected by a Christian publication recently. among some valid criticisms, I was told that the concept of advanced alien life forms on other worlds is contrary to the Bible and Christian thinking, as is the evolution of higher intelligences here on earth. If that helps you narrow in on the problem.

9:50 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Hey anonymous, you anyone I know?

And WOW, the closest thing to a blog swarm I've ever gotten! Did I get linked somewhere?

Thanks for the info and input, Mirtika and Elliot... it's encouraging to see a real base of Christian SF/F writers out there. I will definitely check out all the links.

On a side note, why am I responding to blog comments on Christmas morning?

11:05 AM  
Blogger Elliot said...

Well, I came here because Mir linked to you at her blog...

12:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey benjamin,

Followed a link on Mir's blog to here. She's linked to my rants at http://www.fairwriting.com/blog.php a few times, which has resulted in the odd mild shitstorm for me too. She calls me snarky. But the name's Chris.

7:37 PM  
Blogger Jaizem said...

Hello!
My first novel, "Over the Edge: The Beginning," was published by PublishAmerica in 2004. Greg Slade at Christian Fandom reviewed it: http://www.swcp.com/christian-fandom/
sf/lathrop1.html

PublishAmerica turned out to be a bad idea. Science fiction conventions do not recognize PublishAmerica as a real publisher. They didn't want me anywhere near their guest author lists.

At the time, stores like Barnes & Noble would only carry my book if I produced a marketing strategy and so forth. (To start with PA did not have a "returns" policy. This means bookstores could not return unsold books to the publisher. A huge strike against carrying any books by that publisher.) I don't have a Barnes & Noble close enough to my home to make marketing it in a larger city financially viable.

PublishAmerica did nothing to help me promote my book. They sent no review copies--nothing. It stands in the dead water at the bottom of the Amazon rankings. Enough whining about that.

It's a real booger to get any publisher interested in Christian world-view sci fi. Even Christian publishers who've finally begun to get their feet wet in the fantasy market are still leery of true sci fi. And, like you, I think this market is vast and I'm astonished it remains untapped.

A couple of years ago some Christian sci fi fans attempted to launch a Christian sci fi convention, but the whole thing fell through due to lack of interest. Huge enemy opposition here. Except for a few forays, such as C.S. Lewis' trilogy(written ages ago), Le'Engle's efforts and a handful of others, Christians have hardly dented the atheistic sci fi edifice.

Currently, I'm looking at abandoning OTE I (for the time being) and pitching OTE II as a new book one.

The foundational premise for the "Over the Edge" series is this:

1) Jesus died on earth once for all
2) If aliens exist, they would need to come to earth in order to meet their Savior
3) If aliens exist, they would need to have a pre-Christ concept of God--like Job for instance. (It is my firm belief that pagans and atheists cannot develop science without a Christian world-view having first become the paradigm of education, which is what has happened in western civilization.)

"Over the Edge" is written from the aliens' point of view. They're mounting a science expedition to Earth where they'll meet their Savior.

The aliens are marsupial humanoids. Marsupials have the fascinating quality of possessing independently functioning brain halves. (We humans, being "placentals," have two brain hemispheres, but they are joined and function as one.) This alien physiology permits me to delve into the Christian idea presented in the book of James of the double-minded man.

My blog has a short story from the "Over the Edge" universe, deleted material from book two and science of "Over the Edge" features. My web site has a ten chapter sample from book one, other little bits and ordering information. The book is also available on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, do a search for Marilyn W. Lathrop for fastest results.

http://overtheedgescifi.blogspot.com/
http://overtheedge.www7.50megs.com

Pray! Pray for the Lord to break the stronghold over science fiction and that He will raise up excellent writers to charge the breech.

Sincerely,

Marilyn W. Lathrop

2:04 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

The profitability of this post continues! Very interesting premise, Marilyn, and extremely close to my own that I hinted at in the main post. I'll check out all the links you've provided. I take a different tack on point (1) though: Christ did indeed die once for all (can't argue with that!), but who's to say Christ was limited, at the moment of His death, to being in only one place?

Now I just have to, you know, actually write something... heh...

2:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love Jesus Christ. I love Science Fiction. I have found that there is some good science fiction that has some friendly elements toward religion or treates religion with
careful respect.
Although Firefly is not Christian, it treats Christianity with more respect than other sci-fi does; it is also for ADULTS ONLY!

I also find that there are well written religion friendly stories out there.

I just read one called Probability Moon, in which one of the secondary character's bigotry and hatred toward religion clouded his judgement and made him almost psychotic. Although the story was not Christian, the alien's religion was central to the book. The book was definately friendly toward faith, and had both + and - views toward religion.

Glibert Morris and Dan Meeks wrote 7 books called the Daystar Voyages. They are well written and very Christian without being
preachy.
Also I think Stephen Lawhead has some Christian Stories that are science fiction.
There are some websites and a few are mentioned in the forums on www.crosswalk.com

2:39 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Once again, this is the post-that-keeps-on-giving! Thanks for the input, whoever-you-are...

2:48 PM  

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