/ / Articles

Content To Be A Niche

Do we as readers value Christian speculative fiction to the point of seeing it as a treasure? What if there were no more Christian speculative fiction tomorrow? No self-published e-books, no more POD Marcher Lord Press paperbacks, not any from Splashdown Books either, and none on the shelves of Christian or general market stores.
| Jun 11, 2012 | No comments |

I just started reading a book addressed to Christians about our role in the postmodern, post-Christian age. Some believers, according to this writer, respond by becoming entrenched. They dig in, hunker down, and make the best of the little space they’ve carved out for themselves.

That’s my simplistic interpretation of this particular view, but I mention it because I see a lot of similarity with those of us who declare ourselves to be fans of Christian speculative fiction. We have little interest in “evangelizing” other readers now that we’ve found a) some secular authors that feed our need for the speculative and don’t offend our Christian sensibilities (at least not much or not often); or b) a Christian imprint or a Christian author who provides the type of fiction we like best.

Because our reading preferences are met, the thinking goes, why should we care if Christian speculative fiction grows to include more books or bigger publishing houses or greater numbers of readers? I realize, of course, this description does not fit every fan of Christian speculative fiction or every Christian who is a fan of speculative fiction. Nevertheless, I find the attitude to be more prevalent than I’d like. Quite honestly, it troubles me.

I think there might be several possible causes for it. First is the idea that reading is simply for entertainment. Without a doubt, reading fiction is entertaining. But we do not exist in a vacuum. God did not create us as compartmentalized beings–over here we deal with work, over there with entertainment, and on Sunday’s in our churches, our spiritual well-being.

On the contrary, we are thinking, enjoying, relating, spiritual people no matter when and where we are, no matter what we are doing. Chatting with a co-worker, laughing on (or at 😉 ) the job, praying over a sticky issue–do we as Christians not do those things in the work place, along with reasoning and problem-solving?

Why, then, should we expect to leave our brains outside as we open up a novel? Why should we lay aside our core spiritual values, as if they have nothing to do with how we spend our entertainment time?

Another troubling aspect is the me-centric approach. Who cares about anybody else as long as I have what I need? I find this attitude on the rise in our culture, and we Christians seem to be going along for the ride. Of course, such thinking fragments society, but even more important, it violates Christ’s mandate for us to love our neighbor.

What??? I can hear the cries from here. Not telling others about Christian speculative fiction violates God’s command to love our neighbor? Kind of. The me-centric attitude certainly does. Finding a treasure and keeping it all for ourselves certainly violates God’s command to love our neighbor.

But there’s the last issue. Do we as readers value Christian speculative fiction to the point of seeing it as a treasure? What if there were no more Christian speculative fiction tomorrow? No self-published e-books, no more POD Marcher Lord Press paperbacks, not any from Splashdown Books either, and none on the shelves of Christian or general market stores.

Would it matter?

I suspect we would all survive, but I also think we’d lose something powerful–a vehicle that more accurately portrays the world than any other form of story. Speculative fiction paints good and evil in vibrant, living color. We see through story what we know to be true spiritually.

Western culture seems bent on separating Man from what’s most important. We are bombarded from eyes-open to eyes-closed with things to buy and fun to have and jobs to do. Music fills the few blank moments, and TV blares in the background of our conversations. We hardly have a chance to reflect that God matters, that Jesus is our Head, that the Holy Spirit lives within us.

And then we open a Christian speculative novel, and we have the chance to see beyond the bling, beyond business as usual, beyond even the adrenaline rush of entertainment.

So why, when we have Christian speculative fiction, do we keep it to ourselves?

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky is the sole remaining founding member of Speculative Faith. Besides contributing weekly articles here, she blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She works as a freelance writer and editor and posts writing tips as well as information about her editing services at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.

Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of
Frank Creed
Member

I hope that Christian spec-fic is even used, when the time is right, as a ministry tool. By many readers.

Faith,

Paul Lee
Member

What??? I can hear the cries from here. Not telling others about Christian speculative fiction violates God’s command to love our neighbor? Kind of. The me-centric attitude certainly does. Finding a treasure and keeping it all for ourselves certainly violates God’s command to love our neighbor.

I’m not sure that I completely understand.  The revelations that we are given — the ways that we see God in our lives and in the world around us — are not given to us for ourselves, but for others and for the world.  So, we need to identify and articulate what we find appealing and special about Christian speculative fiction, or else we’re burying the talent in the dirt.

Does this mean that we’re supposed to tell the world what speculative fiction in general means, to point out the evil while also showing grace in the stories, as Pastor Moore’s article here suggests?  Or does it mean we should go to Christians who don’t understand that God can work through speculative stories and try to convince them of the value of Christian speculative fiction?  I don’t think I understand specifically.

Lori Stanley Roeleveld
Guest

I love this challenge. I think there aren’t enough of us who understand the enormous value storytelling still retains, even in modern times. Stories become our shared conversation, our public conscience, our Great Link.  Storytellers are the shapeshifters of the culture. It’s fine to take one form or another but when we merge with “the Great Link,” then all stories are informed with our understanding.

If we withdraw our stories,cordon them off onto some isolated Christian cul de sac, and refuse to consider ways to infiltrate the greater marketplace, then we fail to use our gift to its fullest expression. This is not to say that “writing for the Christian market” is lacking in value or of lesser value than “writing for the secular market.” Individual writers should remain true to the audience to which they feel called. It’s the role of writers to write but it is the calling of the collective body to lift these stories up and shine a light on them so that others can find their way in the dark.

If the only stories that are shared with the wider community are those that perpetuate the lies of the enemy, then we are all the lesser for it. Humans seem hard-wired to gratitate toward a good story well-told. Our designer certainly wove this into our DNA for a purpose and we who are the tellers of tales should respect the responsibility of this powerful gift.

Teddi Deppner
Guest

Whether we’re talking about Christian spec fic or any other thing that brings Light into the world, I would agree that it’s selfish to simply enjoy without giving back in some way. This applies to the books we read, the preaching/teaching ministries we learn and grow from, the non-profits we know that are doing something in the world to show forth the glory and love of our God. At least social media makes it easier than ever to spread the word.
When it comes to Christian speculative fiction, I don’t know that you could make it a large genre even if you tried. Either people have an inherent leaning towards certain stories and settings or they don’t. History seems to indicate that fantasy and science fiction are always something of a niche. I wish it weren’t so, but at least there seems more of it now than when I was growing up.
The fun thing is that niche markets tend to have passionate fans, and they will often do everything in their power to convert those around them. It happens naturally. But it doesn’t hurt to be intentional about it. 🙂

Teddi Deppner
Guest

Becky — I hear what you’re saying about the blockbuster fantasies that have made it into the mainstream cultural awareness. It might be interesting to analyze the top 100 bestselling fiction books of various decades to see what genres dominate, and what percentages hold true across the last 50 years (or however long we have data for). I’m not saying that they can’t be enjoyed by a wide audience.
 
Perhaps the reason sci-fi and fantasy historically have a small segment of books published is because the gatekeepers (agents, editors, publishers) are somehow biased against them? It’s a chicken and egg question, though, I think.
 
Who first told us (and/or the gatekeepers) that the general populace won’t go for those titles? Did people draw that conclusion because those stories were published and failed, teaching the publishing industry that there wasn’t enough of a market for them? Or did the gatekeepers assume from the start that most people wouldn’t like it because they were practical business people whose personal bias was towards “reality” and they didn’t personally enjoy those stories?
 
I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure. 
 
Rather than looking at history, though, maybe we should look at current trends. And I’ve noticed that sci-fi and fantasy (and other forms of speculative fiction) are on the rise. While it might have been a smaller niche in the past, perhaps the general public’s tastes are changing. Perhaps they’ve learned to enjoy this genre enough that we need to break out of the old mindset that tells us it’s a minor niche and always will be. It’s worth considering.
 
However, I disagree that spec fic is any more “truthful” than other genres. People like you and me are wired to most resonate with this genre, so we may feel that way. But I know a ton of people who simply don’t “get” spec fic at all. It doesn’t resonate with them. They are wired such that reading about impossibly fantastical unreal settings and characters and powers and creatures is a huge turn-off. They see and resonate with the Truth when it is presented through historical or modern day characters and situations.
 
Whether this is a learned behavior in a nation of intellect-centered, reason/rationality-worshiping people or whether it’s a natural bent I suppose could be debated.
 
To me, spec fic still deserves no more (and no less) of my support than the support I give any other source of Light and Truth. I don’t believe it’s going to reach more people or reach people any better than other types of fiction. How could it? God inspires each story for His purposes and He wants His stories occupying all genres.
 
I’m not sure why you feel this one type of fiction should get special treatment — unless it’s simply because speculative fiction hits such a deep nerve for you that it moves to you special action. That I understand. *grin*

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin
  1. If the Bible itself is speculative; with a transcendent almighty God full of light, truth, holiness, love and paradoxes; a grand narrative spanning centuries and cultures and smaller stories; an epic quest by the Hero to save the ones He loves …
  2. And if Christians look at similar stories and say, “That weird,” or “That’s niche” …
  3. Then that is a bizarre cognitive dissonance stranger than any “weird” story. (It means that those who repeat this line mainly have, not a problem with not liking the best kinds of stories, but a problem of personal belief.)

Some non-Christians say that “Heaven and hell are only states of mind.” This is wrong. But let’s appropriate the phrase and say that “‘This is weird fiction’ is only a state of mind.” It doesn’t hold up even when compared with “secular” proof such as the phenomenal popularity of The Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Harry Potter and many more franchises, and the fact that (at present) all but two (barely) of the top 20 motion pictures of all time can be listed as abject fantasy or sci-fi:

Of the top 20 films, only two — Titanic and The Passion of the Christ — could be considered non-speculative. But they’re still fantasy-esque (especially Titanic), and epic in scope.

(Of note: that list has changed since I last checked it: The Hunger Games and The Avengers have taken their places. Those two are also clearly fantastic stories!)

With that in mind, I suggest, as the man said:

Please Quit Calling It ‘Weird.’

And I thank my sister Becky for an epic win. We need to be more aggressive about this, and particularly showing how this is, indeed, an issue of loving our neighbors in Christ. Don’t “bury all [your prize] money in a coffee can.” And don’t go all Gnostic on yourself! Fantastic stories like these matter because His Story matters.

Teddi Deppner
Guest

ESB — Thank you for chiming in and helping me “get” what Becky’s saying a bit better. Your point #1 is a great tool for “evangelizing” speculative fiction to the people who think of it as weird or unreal. I’d love to see your comment expanded into a blog post that people could use as a reference for “how to talk with people who think speculative fiction is weird, out of touch with reality or irrelevant.” We are supernatural people who believe in a supernatural God — shouldn’t these things (angels, demons, special powers, etc) be “normal” to us? Shouldn’t they be important? I love that, and will put your points in my pocket for future use.
 
As I ponder my reaction to Becky’s post, I think what I’m probably reacting to and arguing against is the idea that “our genre is more important than others” or that it needs special treatment. I have a strong dislike of anything smacking of sectarianism. “I am of Paul” and “I am of Apollos”. To me, that’s not the way of Christ and it causes foolish and damaging conflict. I’m sure that wasn’t the purpose of her post, but that’s the part I reacted to. It’s like she’s saying “stop calling it weird” and I’m saying “stop calling it special”. Maybe we both have a point?
 
Looking a little deeper, though, perhaps I begin to see the heart of what you’re both saying. And to violently agree with it. Tell me I’m on track, here. Our culture  (within the Church and also in the world) needs to awaken to a vital truth (and perhaps the rising popularity of spec fic means they are awakening to it already):
 
The world is NOT made up of just what you can see and hear and smell and taste and touch. The invisible aspects of the cosmos are there, they are essential and influential and they will last far longer than the physical things you see around you.
 
People need to get the message that if they don’t consider the supernatural to be an integral part of their reality, they are missing out. Maybe for eternity.
 
I agree wholeheartedly that message should be shouted from the housetops.

Teddi Deppner
Guest

I love this point you made, Becky:

A contemporary can show Christians acting in obedience to God and can even show them pray for miracles. When God answers, though, in story, it looks like the author made it happen, not God. It’s hard, hard, hard to show God in a credible way in this world.

Yes, yes, YES! That’s probably at the very heart of my choice of speculative fiction for my own stories. It feels nearly impossible for me to show people the things I want to show them about God without first putting them in a mindset to look at things differently, to be willing to put aside all their normal expectations about how things work in life.
 
When we tell a story that has fantastical elements, we are already asking our readers to step into a world outside of their experience. So their minds are more open to possibilities, I think. I love what you said about Aslan. I totally agree! I grew up in church and heard the same things said about God over and over, and it painted a very rigid, limited picture of who He is. Seeing Him in the context of Narnia gave me a fresh perspective without triggering the knee-jerk “oh, no, that’s heresy” reaction I might have had if someone told me that God could chuckle with me or give me a piggy-back ride. Heh-heh.
 
Also enjoyed this discussion a lot. You’ve raised my awareness of how valuable it can be to help people get over their preconceived notions about speculative fiction. While I might have just let it slide in the past, thinking, “Oh, they just have their tastes and I have mine,” I think I’ll be more willing to step out and say, “Look, it’s fine if spec fic isn’t your favorite genre. But understand that it’s a compelling and effective way to engage people with the Truth of Christ. Even if you don’t like it, be willing to suggest it to people who you know like ‘that sort of thing’.”
 
Thanks for the “iron sharpening iron”. Really enjoying your articles, and glad I found your site.

Marion
Guest

Becky,
At first, I was going to disagree with what you wrote in the post.  However, I read it again and agree with it somewhat.
Christian Speculative Fiction is a growing genre and it seems everyone wants to hit a home-run and get automatic acceptance into the mainstream.
As a growing genre, there will bumps and bruises along the way for getting that kind of acceptance.  And there is a possibility you may never get that acceptance.
So I believe we should celebrate getting singles and doubles (using the baseball analogy) as well.  Unfortunately, in the all comments I’ve read here and Mike Duran’s blog…its either our current writers of this genre have to be the next Tolkien or Lewis to show the mainstream we have great writers too or they want to stay inside the genre and be safe and not face the big, bad world of secular fiction.  And that pendulum swings back and forth between those extremes like the left-wing and right-wing in politics.
Maybe as human beings we can only compartmentalize and accept things in black or white not shades of gray.  But anything in life that has substance will have shades of gray.  I have finally come to terms with that as a Christian and I believe God doesn’t mind it either.
My belief in that comes from reading Ecclesiastes (the most overlooked book in the Bible) and seeing that Solomon got wisdom from God and went through the entire range of emotions from sadness to despair to joy to pleasure.  It showed me the depth of Christianity and God understands our humanity and its okay with us expressing in its fullness whether that leads.
So as this genre grows…..the question is not whether we are content to be niche or being able to compete with other genres in contemporary fiction.  The question is will those who love this genre accept its growing pains and understand it will take time before it can become significant.   Or do we want to rush the process…in order get instant gratification and praise for it being a viable genre.
Marion
 

trackback

[…] Fredly: That makes no sense at all. You seem to want to be a lone hero. […]

trackback

[…] enjoyed and why? Which ones haven’t done so well? And finally (perhaps most vital), will you defy niche-trench-digging and give your own father a Christian speculative novel for this Father’s […]