What’s A CSFFan’er To Do?

Most people who have read my posts here at Spec Faith or over at my own blog, A Christian Worldview of Fiction, know that I love Christian fantasy. As well I should, since I write Christian fantasy. I also believe […]

Most people who have read my posts here at Spec Faith or over at my own blog, A Christian Worldview of Fiction, know that I love Christian fantasy. As well I should, since I write Christian fantasy.

I also believe that there is an untapped market of other Christians who also love fantasy and would love Christian fantasy even more, except there isn’t very much out there on bookstore shelves.

This past weekend I had occasion to study the bios in the media guide of two sports teams, one male and one female, at a Christian college. One section listed the student’s favorite author and another his/her favorite book. The most repeated author was C. S. Lewis and the most repeated book was Narnia—no one book specified.

Second place in the book category was a tie between The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling, and the Bible. Hemingway received several votes as favorite author. Interestingly, three CBA authors showed up on the list: Francine Rivers, Karen Kingsbury, and Ted Dekker.

Orwell—a science fiction writer who avoided being so pigeon-holed—made an appearance. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, which falls into the same category, made the favorite-book list.

In combination, that brings the total to 23 percent of the students identifying a SFF book or author (or both) as their favorite. No other genre even came close.

So while my conviction that SFF readers are out there was reinforced, a dilemma also raised its head.

One thing we here as Spec Faith want to do is get the word out that there ARE some CSFF books out there. When those books sell well, publishing companies will take notice and respond by searching for more of like kind.

But what do we do with books that are Christian, that are fantasy … or sci fi … and are not well written?

At this same event, I met a CSFF author who wrote a very clever story but who apparently had not studied the craft of fiction. Lo and behold, he told me the next book is about to come out—with the same publisher. I had no opportunity to ask him if he’d taken the time to learn to write (nor would the question have been appropriate ). I guess I can only hope.

But what if it is as poor as the first one? Do we—the CSFF community working to promote the genre—ignore it? (Few people I’ve run into have heard of the first one, let alone bought and read it). Add it to the list of fantasy that is out there and encourage people to buy it? Expose it for what it is?

I also wish I knew why publishers put weak writing into print. Do they feel a loyalty to their authors? (This book certainly couldn’t have earned them money).

The last question aside, I’d be curious to know how the rest of you think this issue should be handled. Ideas?

Analysis Of ‘Hell Is The Absence Of God’ By Ted Chiang, Part 3

Today we’ll finish our analysis of Ted Chiang’s award-winning short story “Hell is the Absence of God.”
| Sep 29, 2006 | 1 comment |

Today we’ll finish our analysis of Ted Chiang’s award-winning short story “Hell is the Absence of God.” (Be sure to read part 1 and part 2 of this three-part series.)

So, who wrote the biblical book of Job?

No one knows. Theories are out there, but nothing is definite. Obviously, if we’re to take Job’s story as literal (ie, it really happened and isn’t just an instructional sort of bit of storytelling), and most every Christian I know does, then we say “God wrote it through someone.” No ordinary human would know what goes on in the Lord’s presence. Clearly, that had to be revealed prophetically.

In “Hell is the Absence of God,” the narrator is omniscient. He/she/it knows what Neil’s mother thought (but never said), knows Janice’s internal struggle, and knows very specifically what Neil is experiencing in Hell. In that sense, it continues the parallel with the Book of Job.

Neil Fisk is Job, if Job had gone spiritually wrong from the start. He suffered the physical ailment that caused Neil to wonder “occasionally” as a child if “he was being punished by God.” (And we all know how much dialogue went on with Job and his buddies about punishment from God, injustice, etc.) Neil suffers the loss of a loved one as Job did. But where Job, being devout, wrestled WITH God, asked God for relief, and begged God to be allowed to plead his case; Neil simply ignored God, figuring there was no way he’d ever love the Creator, and went around looking for loopholes. “Nothing in his upbringing or his personality led him to pray to God for strength or for relief.”

This is where Neil did not learn from Job. He never really tries, despite upbringing and personality, to engage the God Who Is Really, Quite Obviously, There. He’s only concerned with Heaven, and not the God of Heaven. Big mistake.

What makes one person seek God and another turn away from or be apathetic to God or …antipathetic? The general answer from many a denominational perspective would be: God’s grace is the deciding factor.

Others would say a combination of grace and human will. If you seek with your whole heart, He will make sure you find.

Well, if it’s God’s grace that moves us to love God, then does God not give grace to those who end up not loving God? Are thy not devout because God has decided not to touch them with that particular blessing?

It’s a problematic situation. If we do not save ourselves, and if it is all God’s doing, then how can the ones not granted the grace to respond to God be to blame?

I’ll leave it to theologians to debate that. I’ll simply say that in Chiang’s story world, where faith is moot, God’s light—but not God—are seen, and it has diverging effects in the finale. It shouldn’t be wholly unexpected, given that in this world, angelic apparitions and their results seem terribly unpredictable and capricious.

An interesting discussion on this story unfolded at John C. Wright’s blog. I recommend you read it for a much more critical view than mine. (Though Mr. Wright acknowledges, as do I, that the story is well-crafted.)

I take the view that the story world is not representative of the Christianity that really is (as opposed to a straw man Christianity). I’ve mentioned that it feels more Old Testament than New Testament, a time when angels dispersed the Lord’s plagues and destruction and were seen in fiery chariots. (This sets aside Revelation, which is N.T., but so metaphoric and varying in interpretation, that it might as well sit next to Ezekiel and Zechariah.) It’s some fantasy variation of elements of Judeo-Christianity. It’s not the real thing.

One thing central to the faith I hold is that God is just. God’s sentence may be harsh, but it is just. Every person who is sent to Hell merits it. No one who goes to Heaven merits it. Obtaining Hell is justice. Obtaining Heaven is grace.

If Neil Fisk’s going to hell is unjust, then God, as the story’s prophet (Ethan) claims, is unjust. This is what Ethan preaches:

He tells people that they can no more expect justice in the afterlife than in the mortal plane, but he doesn’t do this to dissuade them from worshiping God; on the contrary, he encourages them to do so. What he insists on is that they not love God under a misapprehension, that if they wish to love God, they be prepared to do so no matter what His intentions. God is not just, God is not kind, God is not merciful, and understanding that is essential to true devotion.

This flies in the face of Church teaching that God is just, kind, merciful, and that understanding this aids in devotion, for it is easy to love a being that is just, kind, and merciful. However, we would say, yes, be prepared to love God no matter what His intentions. If God is going to appoint us to suffering, then love Him. If He appoints us to ease and wealth, love Him. If He appoints us to deprivation, love Him. Ethan got that right, but he got the rest wrong.

Was it unjust for Neil Fisk to go to Hell?

Well, didn’t Neil himself say he didn’t deserve Heaven. He expected to go to Hell as a non-devout. He even saw how unjust it would be for him to get to Heaven on a loophole.

The odd thing is that, ultimately,l his going to Hell was just, even if it was a surprise to the observer. Neil received the expected benefit of Heaven’s Light (ie, all-encompassing love of God), but he was sent to Hell, where he actually belonged given the course of his life of non-devotion. The rules were kept, if not in the way the story sets it strictly up.

But, ah, the capricious results of angelic appearances. Why not some of that unexpectedness in Heaven’s Light. To expect that it will go A + B= C is because we haven’t paid close attention to the other equations. Yes, we should expect Heaven for Neil. But the story itself leads us to expect surprises. The unexpected. Such as Janice’s triple Heavenly touch.

It’s an ending sure to cause a measure of distress to believing readers. How can we not hurt when we read the accusations against God. But then, it’s supposed tobe very uncomfortable. I accept that. I read a Bible that has much that leaves me uneasy—genocides in Canaan, for instance. Do not these lines from Job cause some distress to read:

“Have pity on me, my friends, have pity, for the hand of God has struck me.” (Job 19:21)

“As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice, the Almighty, who has made me taste bitterness of soul.” (Job 27:2)

“He does whatever He pleases.” (Job 23:13)

And God’s response to the suffering man is not one of comfort, but of scolding: “Would you discredit my justice?”

How easy it would be for God to say, “Job, there are things at work in the universe of which you do not know, things angels are looking into, things of eternal consequence beyond your comprehension. You were tested to show that your love for me and devotion to me are not dependent on blessings. I chose you because of your righteous character. You are my beloved child.”

But God’s response is to say, in long and poetic terms, ‘I am God and I am Almighty and who are you to question me?”

He is God. He is mighty. And I trust, as Julian of Norwich prophesied, that “all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.” But I still cannot help wanting answers to perplexing questions, such as that of suffering. I commiserate with Job. And I fear the God who can crush my life to serve a higher purpose, even as I know that it is His right to act as He thinks best.

I believe in Him and I bless His name.

And that response from my heart is a mystery of devotion (of faith) that bypassed Neil Fisk, until it was too late.

Job said He knew his Redeemer lived and “yet in my flesh will I see God.” (19:26). And he did hear God. And it changed him. He repented in “dust and ashes,” and his latter days were fuller than his former.

Neil sees, while in his flesh, a vision from Heaven. But without repentance, without devotion, without the love of God (prior to the miraculous intervention, ie., without it springing from his being in a genuine fashion)—-he is justly damned.

I can’t help but think on reading the story for the fourth or so time, that Mr. Chiang (who has several stories with Biblical or religious subject matter) has a more curious soul than he himself realizes. And if he really intended to pronounce the Judeo-Christian God as unjust and cruel, then these lines spoken by Job apply to the author, who may yet one day utter them should grace abound to him:

“Surely, I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”

Fantasy Writing With A Christian Worldview or Beating A Dead Horse Part 2

I’ve enjoyed reading Karen’s posts and how she explains her writing journey and the expression of Christianity, of allegory, within her stories. Ultimately, we each must write the story God gives us and hope that the deep message dwelling inside […]
| Sep 28, 2006 | No comments |

I’ve enjoyed reading Karen’s posts and how she explains her writing journey and the expression of Christianity, of allegory, within her stories. Ultimately, we each must write the story God gives us and hope that the deep message dwelling inside of us will find it’s way into the pages of our novels.

At last year’s ACFW conference, I learned during my meeting with editors and agents (and I was pitching a fantasy then, too) that Christianeze is to be avoided at all cost. The reason—so the message can also be delivered to the lost. Interesting that none of the other genres within the CBA have this stipulation. Nevertheless, this year I heard (but don’t necessarily agree with) that the truth in fantasy is intrinsic and will not be denied. Fantasy can be written by either Christian or atheist because the message is always the same. Good overcomes evil.

Still there are those authors that don’t have to “hide” their beliefs. As I mentioned in last week’s post, Stephen Lawhead is one such author. Christianity pervades his books and he is popular in the secular market.

I invite you to hop over to Favorite Pastimes today and tomorrow to read my interview with this famed author. In addition to the release of his newest book, Hood, Westbow is re-releasing the Song of Albion trilogy

My Writing Roots

As I said here last week, when I started writing the book that would become The Light of Eidon, my initial intent was to keep the spiritual concepts concealed. This proved more difficult than I imagined, though mostly I didn’t realize […]
| Sep 27, 2006 | No comments |

As I said here last week, when I started writing the book that would become The Light of Eidon, my initial intent was to keep the spiritual concepts concealed. This proved more difficult than I imagined, though mostly I didn’t realize it at first. Part of that was due to my own ignorance of religious tradition and beliefs, seeing as I had grown up in an unbelieving family.

For example, I had no real intention of patterning my religious organization after the Roman Catholic church and to my way of thinking, did not. I knew very little about it for one thing, and for another was more interested in devising something that would be generally representative of religious concepts. To that end I took elements from Mormonism (about which I knew more than I did Catholicism), Buddhism, Japanese Shintoism and other things in addition to Catholicism. Alas, people who grew up in the latter faith have informed me that it is very obviously a parallel.

Some can overlook it, others react. But a few, including one friend who left that religion long ago, found the book to be profoundly beneficial in rooting out concepts she had long clung to without realizing it and now considers to be false. As a result of reading The Light of Eidon, she has come to a new understanding of her spiritual life and gained a new freedom from her past.

So I certainly don’t regret the final form the book has taken.

But that was minor compared to the struggles I began to have with the original plan to keep the real Christian elements hidden. I think what happened is that as I continued to write the book I was also growing spiritually. As I came to understand more about my own faith and what the Bible teaches about the core of Christianity, I became less and less enamored with the idea of hiding it all.  Besides, it was just plain hard to come up with a salvation equivalent in the Guardian King books that suited me — that communicated the truths of Christianity without looking overtly like it. Some sort of religious dogma had to be advanced, however, both for the Mataio, which was relatively easy, and for the Terstans, which was not. But I had no idea how to solve the problem. So for awhile I tried to write around it.

Even in that state, though, the book landed me two agents who worked in the general market science fiction and fantasy fields and an almost sale at what was then New American Library.

The first agent passed the book around to all the major houses, receiving varying degrees of positive rejections — if there is such a thing. DelRey offered to look at it again, once I cut it down to size. Others praised the writing but, “Alas, it doesn’t suit our needs at this time.”  That first agent was the one who nursed it along at NAL for over a year, until the hiring of a new assistant editor. He felt my work needed more humor and sent the book home with a rejection slip.

In the interim I found myself growing dissatisfied with my agent. Half the time I heard from her assistant not from her, so I was never sure who exactly was representing me. It didn’t help, either, that they kept getting me confused with other authors, asking me to send them copies of manuscripts I’d not written. There was no real sense that any of them really cared about my work, and in the end we were both happy to part ways.

Over the next several years I rewrote the entire book, then got a second agent, a former editor at Tor and so far as I know, not a Christian. The second agent was much more excited about what I was doing than the first had been, but she only lasted six months before abandoning agenting. That’s when I received the news that the market was saturated and I needed to write something different.

So I shelved Eidon and began Arena, an alternate world story that from the beginning was conceived as an allegory for the Christian way of life. It was in the writing of that that I really began to chafe against the boundaries I’d stipulated that no one should be able to tell my work was Christian allegory unless they really looked. But I’ll talk more about that next week.

Mist-Shrouded Mountaintop

Writers’ conferences can be strange things. They are both at once energizing and encouraging while at the same time seem to be able to suck the air from your lungs and leave you groping for the path forward. The conference […]
| Sep 26, 2006 | No comments |

Writers’ conferences can be strange things. They are both at once energizing and encouraging while at the same time seem to be able to suck the air from your lungs and leave you groping for the path forward.

The conference this year was a bit more of the encouragement and a little less mist shrouded, though it took a bit of fanning to clear away the clouds and see what was actually happening out there. So I figured I’d take the chance to share my re-cap here as well.

The conference started off with the editor and agent panels, which I think are probably the worst events for a speculative fiction writer to attend. Usually because there will be at least one flippant remark as to how sci-fi and fantasy doesn’t sell and nobody wants it. Which isn’t 100% true, but it can leave you starting off the conference feeling like a kicked dog in a rainstorm.

However I hope the SFF get together later on Thursday night helped to assuage some doused spirits as we all met, chat, commiserated, boggled at the seeming prejudice against our chosen genre, and mostly just had a rowdy time. It was a great time of fun and encouragement to push forward through the mist and boldly go where CBA (Christian Bookseller’s Association) tiptoes.

I went to Randy Ingermanson’s continuing session, which was mostly about putting together the perfect synopsis and a few other things my brain is refusing to recall… ah yes it was the structure of a novel. From high concept, one line summary to the MRUs (Motivation Reaction Units). Basically the Snowflake method.  Always a good thing to tune in on.

John Olson also taught two excellent workshops, the first was on Thrillers, though the basic principles of the session can be applied to any genre as needed. The second was on Writing science fiction and fantasy, or more appropriately, figuring out how to SELL science fiction and fantasy in the CBA market.  As he said a few times throughout the conference, “Nobody is actively looking for fantasy, but they are acquiring it.”  I would highly recommend both of these sessions to someone looking for what to buy on CD from the conference (once I know the link on where you can get those CDs I’ll be sure to post it.)

There were many other little moments at the conference that helped whisk away the early mist and help me see that I really was standing on a mountaintop and let me move on encouraged and charged to return home and know that I’m not writing in vain (even if my stories never actually get published).  But to relate them all would take far too much time and space, and I’m not sure I even understand them all yet.

But I’ll stick by my post from last week and say that the void continues to shrink. Even if some days it seems like all is covered in mist.

****UPDATE****

To order recordings of the conference click here!

The Briefest Report Of The ACFW Writers’ Conference

I just returned from Dallas, jetting into Ontario CA, after a significant delay at DWA, at 12:00 AM-ish. After bag pick-up and shuttle pick-up, I was in my car and on the way for the thirty-minute drive. When I got […]
| Sep 25, 2006 | No comments |

I just returned from Dallas, jetting into Ontario CA, after a significant delay at DWA, at 12:00 AM-ish. After bag pick-up and shuttle pick-up, I was in my car and on the way for the thirty-minute drive. When I got home, I collapsed into sleep about 1:30 AM West Coast time.

Nevertheless, I wanted to give a brief report of some positives.

First, congratulations to our own Mirtika Schultz for winning the Genesis Contest. I’d love to tell you more about her piece, but I don’t even remember the title, though it was flashed up on the big screens in the Meriott ballroom along with Mir’s picture. I do know that she’s a talented writer, as evidenced by a number of her short stories published online. Mayhap we can twist her arm into posting a sample of her story here at Spec Faith. You can leave notes for her here or visit her blog (link in the sidebar) and congratulate her there.

The second piece of news is that in the general fiction category of the Book of the Year contest, our own Bryan Davis won second place with Circles of Seven. Interestingly enough, he was beat out by another fantasy writer, Miles Owens, with Daughter of Prophecy. (For a review of DoP, see what I had to say about the book at A Christian Worldview of Fiction). Not a bad accomplishment, having fantasy books win the top two spots.

I encourage you to flood Miles and Bryan with congratulations. Bryan’s contact information is located here and Miles’s is here.

More good news. We had a wonderful Sci-Fi Fantasy authors get-together Thursday night (special thanks to Shannon McNear—see her link in the sidebar—for setting that up) with over 20 writers showing up strictly on word of mouth, since we didn’t have an official “chat” scheduled. Among those in attendance were John Olson (co-author of Oxygen, Bethany), who later taught a seminar on Sci Fi and Fantasy (with as many as fifty writers in attendance), Bryan Davis (Dragons in Our Midst), and T. L. (Tracy) Higley (Marduk’s Tablet, Barbour).

Last add, since this is turning into a longer post than I intended: Zondervan has hired a new editor, Andy Meisenheimer, who does not hide his own love of fantasy. He and some of the other younger members of the editorial community who also personally like fantasy serve as examples of one of the things I believe and have mentioned in my “Fantasy and a Christian Worldview” series: the twenty-something readers (and to a lesser extent the thirty-something readers) are hungry for SFF, and Christians are hungry for CSFF. In my opinion, this trend will only increase since a good many of these readers cut their reading teeth on Harry Potter.

Are editors actively seeking CSFF? Not yet. But I can’t help but think the trend is about to reverse.

Analysis Of ‘Hell Is The Absence Of God’ By Ted Chiang, Part 2

Today we continue to look at Ted Chiang’s amazing story “Hell is the Absence of God.”
| Sep 22, 2006 | No comments |

Today we continue to look at Ted Chiang’s amazing story “Hell is the Absence of God” and compare it with a well-known tale not unlike it—and one you may find surprising. (Read part 1 of this series.)

First, some remarks by Ted Chiang found online, to give insight into the writer:

I wasn’t raised in any religion, so I don’t have the love/hate relationship with it that many people do. When I was younger I had a vague belief in God that I’d acquired through cultural osmosis, but I’m currently an atheist. I think religion is interesting, but primarily in an abstract way. I haven’t encountered a solution to the question of innocent suffering that I find satisfactory, and perhaps that prevents me from finding religion really compelling. I wonder if I’m fortunate, in a way; there are people who are also frustrated by the problem of innocent suffering, while still feeling a strong belief in God. That seems to me to be a difficult position to be in. Which is what “Hell is the Absence of God” is all about.1

From Infinity Plus:

Whereas the universe in “Hell is the Absence of God” is not based on a discarded scientific worldview. It was never scientific, and it hasn’t been discarded. It’s a view of the world that many people have now, except that things are explicit rather than hidden. A lot of people, right now, believe that good and bad fortune are the result of supernatural intervention, and it’s often based on what you deserve.

[…]

In “Hell is the Absence of God,” one’s moral worth is definitely a factor. Specifically, there’s a relationship between the individual consciousness and some other consciousness — that being God. And that again is characteristic of fantasy, that there are forces which you treat as conscious entities, which you have to appease or make sacrifices to. You have to interact with them as though they were a person, and they respond to you as a person. Which is not how science in our world works at all. Which is why I classify that story as a fantasy rather than as science fiction.

[…]

Whereas in “Hell is the Absence of God,” there really isn’t a scientific question being investigated. The issues are more purely the domain of religion — specifically, what is our purpose in life, what kind of life are we supposed to lead, how do we get to heaven?2

I think you see where I’m headed. The inevitable question now is “Who wrote Job?” And that answer may lead to a clearer understanding of who I think is the true narrator of this story , whether the author intended it so or not. “Hell is the Absence of God” is, as far as I can see, an updated version of The Book of Job, replete with things taken away and things given, with counsel and seeking of knowledge, with a heavenly revelation, with no ultimate answer given to the hero, and with the underlying theme of the problem of suffering. In the end, love of God increases.

So, who wrote Job? And who is narrating Neil’s story? And how is he like or unlike Job? Discuss!

Next week: Part 3, where we compare and contrast and come to some sort of conclusions.

  1. A Conversation With Ted Chiang, an interview with Lou Anders, July 2002.
  2. The Absence of God, an interview with Ted Chiang by Jeremy Smith, undated article.)

    This story—as the author states categorically—is fantasy, and it is a quest fantasy. Every character is asking questions, is a seeker, and goes out at personal peril to find and grasp the object for which they quest. And they all find what they seek, if not in the exact version they sought it.

    What if this quest story had been written by someone not an atheist, but an Evangelical believer, let’s say, acclimated to the CBA type of fictional tone. Then what?

    Well, the main part of the story (most of it, that is) could easily remain intact. All those questions, all the proposed answers, are part of a long history of legitimate inquiry into the problem of suffering and of loving God in the midst of trials. The variety of characterizations (Neil, Janice, Ethan), allows for a balanced structure. All views are exposed by some passing voice (the group meeting attendants, the family members, etc). This story asks a lot of questions, and depending on your perspective, your worldview, you may latch onto one of the proposed replies or suggestions.

    I’d say a CBA story might give more time to Janice, make her an equal to Neil. Compare and contrast. Might even make Janice the star. Ethan could maintain his role as the historian, the apostle of Janice, as it were. The ending would have to change. But to that later.

    First, the vexing issue of who is telling this story.

    I have given this a lot of thought. I’ve come to my own novel interpretation (which seems like a good word for what is to follow, interpretation). I don’t think Mr. Chiang would agree, but as a reader may find things in a text not consciously intended by an author, I will feel free to be as wild in my own theorizings.

    Imagine a story about a man who feels blessed, but then has his blessing removed, and becomes perplexed in his anguish, receiving much counsel that vexes him, seeking answers in his distress, and ultimately receiving a radically attitude-changing vision of God. Whose story is that?

    It’s Neil Fisk’s story.

    And it’s Job’s.

    Compare the opening of “Hell is the Absence of God” (“This is the story of a man named Neil Fisk and how he came to love God”) with the following first line from Job:

    There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.[3. Job 1:1.

Something Else To Learn From The Secular, Part 2

Check out this post by J. Mark Bertrand, whose work I discovered not long ago (and have greatly enjoyed): Aratus is one of the poets quoted by the Apostle Paul at Mars Hill. His Phaenomena begins in the following way: […]
| Sep 21, 2006 | No comments |

Check out this post by J. Mark Bertrand, whose work I discovered not long ago (and have greatly enjoyed):

Aratus is one of the poets quoted by the Apostle Paul at Mars Hill. His Phaenomena begins in the following way:

Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken.
For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.
Even the sea and the harbour are full of this deity.
Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus.
For we are indeed his offspring…

That last line should be familiar to readers of Acts 17. Paul, in announcing the identity of “the unknown god” to his Athenian audience, assures them that God “is actually not far from each one of us” (v. 27). He backs up this claim not with an Old Testament quote but with a line attributed to Epimenedes of Crete — “In him we live and move and have our being” — and the aforementioned line from Aratus: “For we are indeed his offspring.” The fact that Paul was familiar enough with classical pagan authors to quote lines from their poetry in support of his argument is often cited by teachers today as a mandate for cultural engagement. To speak to our culture, we have to know our culture.

But it seems to me that Paul’s behavior is even more striking than this. He doesn’t just quote a line from Aratus, he quotes Aratus on the omnipresence of Zeus. Think about that for a moment …

What Paul’s action suggests to me is simple enough. A Christian thinker should have no problem reading the work of non-Christian authors, finding the truth there, and putting it in the context of a larger truth.

After getting over my initial shock upon reading this, my first thought was that it serves as complete confirmation that believers in Christ can—and should—use media that has been associated with the world—with pagan worship, even. This argument that Christians shouldn’t do this or have any part in that because of its previous association holds even less water for me now. Science fiction is often considered the bastion of atheism, while fantasy is condemned as occultic or New Age. And yet—not only should we appropriate the genre as a way to reveal truth (“knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” and “I become all things to all people”), but there’s nothing ungodly about some of us being conversant enough in the thoroughly secular end of things to dialogue intelligently with fans who might not listen to “ordinary” Christians. (And nobody could accuse the apostle Paul of being ordinary … the man was astounding!)

Christian SF/F fans are often regarded as uber geeks. A few times recently I’ve laughingly referred to myself as a freak among freaks … y’know, Paul says we are a peculiar people, but some of us are more peculiar than others. But I’ve had a growing conviction that God made us thus for a purpose—HIS purpose—because we are uniquely suited to represent Him to a portion of society who might otherwise never think twice about what Christianity really is.

What they don’t realize is that all the wonder they long for—all the honor, and goodness, and truth, and the unanswered questions—it all lies with Him. The longings that are spoken of in their writings, are met in Him. Let us, then, hold the standard of His name up high—and not be afraid to walk among those who seem to be hostile to us, or Him.

If God is with us, who can be against us?

My Fantasy Roots

Day three of the Edenstar Blog Tour… Looking through all the books listed on that site has recalled to me my own speculative fiction roots and I thought I’d start my stint of posts here on Speculative Faith with a trip […]
| Sep 20, 2006 | No comments |

Day three of the Edenstar Blog Tour… Looking through all the books listed on that site has recalled to me my own speculative fiction roots and I thought I’d start my stint of posts here on Speculative Faith with a trip down memory lane.

My first memory is of a book of fairytales I received as a little girl. There were jewels hanging in the trees of the forest and a white stag. And there was a giant who kidnapped a maiden and kept her in his cave where he cut off her feet and locked them in a cupboard so she wouldn’t be able to escape. Of course the prince found her and they got her feet out of the cupboard, put them back on and she was delivered…

A bizarre story to remember, yes, but it has stayed with me as surely as the jewels and the white stag. I didn’t even blink at the notion of feet cut off and kept in a cupboard, then popped back on like a pair of shoes when it was time to go!  Maybe that willingness to suspend disbelief is one reason I have always loved the literature of the fantastic.  Well, I’ve loved literature of history and adventure and spying and westerns and mysteries… best not get into that. Science fiction and especially fantasy, though, have always held a special place in my heart.

As a child I don’t recall there being much to choose from.  The fairy tale book, Miss Pickerel Goes to Mars (Ellen MacGregor), A Wrinkle in Time, The Phantom Tollbooth. Does Pooh count? I’ve always loved Winnie the Pooh… I used to watch the creature feature in black and white on our old TV every Saturday afternoon. More crazy stuff to fill the well.

Then in the seventh grade, I found Andre Norton’s Judgment on Janis and I was hooked on SF for good. I read everything of hers I could find, then I read everything of Robert Heinlein’s I could find. And then I just started reading everything in the SF/F section of the library — I loved Dune (and had absolutely no idea they were doing drugs and having orgies until the third time I read it). At the same time, Star Trek came on the scene. After that ended its run, I spent some time with Westerns — Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, and other historicals. I read The Hobbit in High School, followed by Lord of the Rings, but they didn’t really capture me. C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy was interesting but Perelandra was soooo boring! (Until I read it again, about ten years later as a Christian; then it was my favorite of the three).

I was married and one year out of college when I was complaining to my husband about a John Jakes book wherein the protagonists were rolling amorously about in the hay by the third page, and my husband suggested I write my own novels. I decided to take his advice.

I’d already written a western and a Star Trek ripoff novel in high school. Now, having recently become a Christian, I was gungho for Christ and decided I would write a Christian western (I was blissfully, profoundly ignorant of all things relating to publication at the time). Six months later Star Wars came out and it blew me away. The analogies that movie sparked wouldn’t let me go. I threw the western aside and began to write a science fiction adventure allegory.

But not an obvious allegory. I wanted to show just how cool the Christian life was, without all the baggage that I, having been an unbeliever for 21 years of my life, knew existed out there. I had carried so many misconceptions about it all myself, that I was eager to present something that would clear them all up. I also wanted to tell a real story, with deep and believable characters, not the cardboard figures I’d noted in other allegoriacl stories.

I think at the time the Christian market for fiction was virtually nonexistent — prairie romances, biblical historical fiction and Grace Livingston Hill were about it. I had no interest in any of that, and never even gave thought to going in that direction. The focus was always on ABA. That’s what I wanted to write for, that’s where I saw my books as being published.

Sometime not long after that, someone told me SF was evil, so I switched to fantasy (I have since changed my mind about that…). Abramm Kalladorne took shape on a long, hot dayhike in the Blue Wilderness of central Arizona and shortly thereafter I began the book that would one day become The Light of Eidon, Book One in THE LEGENDS OF THE GUARDIAN-KING.

To be continued…

Grace,
Karen Hancock

The Shrinking Void

It wasn’t much more than a few months ago when I was feeling pretty down about the future prospects of Christian speculative fiction. I felt like we were looking at a giant gnome-built wall that had set itself up in […]
| Sep 19, 2006 | No comments |

It wasn’t much more than a few months ago when I was feeling pretty down about the future prospects of Christian speculative fiction. I felt like we were looking at a giant gnome-built wall that had set itself up in the path of this genre and denied any further steps forward.

But over these last few months, with the help of the fellow writers here, the discovery of places like Edenstarbooks.com and WheretheMapEnds.com The wall seems to be on the verge of doing what gnome-built things often tend to do….self-destruct.

I’ve found my definition of speculative fiction to be broadening and discovering so many new books. And as is shown over at Claw of the Conciliator and by our own Mirtirka, that we can find Christian themed stories that have been out for years in the ABA.

So I have found encouragement that what once seemed like a great void in the world of speculative fiction is shrinking. There are still pockets where I wish more ground could be taken (space opera, adventure fantasy), but I no longer despair for seeing the day.

This weekend (Sept. 21-24) I, along with a few of our other contributors will be heading off to the American Christian Fiction Writers conference, the premier conference for fiction writers in the Christian market. In the past the sense that I have gotten from this conference is a sobering one. However times may be changing. Speculative fiction has been showing up more and more in the CBA. And this year there will even be a workshop on writing science fiction and fantasy taught by John Olson.

So perhaps this year the vibe will be a bit more encouraging and we’ll see the void shrink again. At any rate, whether you’re a reader or a writer of Speculative Fiction from a Christian worldview. Don’t despair. The future continues to look brighter.