Discovering The Current Wave Of Christian SF/F

My apologies for being late today. I had a rather severe outbreak of real life this morning. Wow, such cool discussion going on around here! But where was I? Oh, yes, the current wave of Christian SF/F … I’ve told […]
| Aug 3, 2006 | No comments |

My apologies for being late today. I had a rather severe outbreak of real life this morning.

Wow, such cool discussion going on around here! But where was I? Oh, yes, the current wave of Christian SF/F …

I’ve told elsewhere (and many times) how I came back to writing fiction, specifically this genre, going on four years ago now. It was in the process of trying to find out what was current in the market that I discovered two authors who remain my favorites: Karen Hancock and Kathy Tyers.

Karen was one of those classic Christian bookstore finds: I’d never heard of her before, but the book caught my eye. Cool cover design. I picked it up—intriguing back cover blurb, and the opening page or so actually pulled me in. I really couldn’t afford to buy a brand-new trade paperback, though, and I put the book back on the shelf and walked away. But it called to me—so before we left the store, I had a fresh copy of Arena in my hands.

I liked this book—a lot. And when The Light of Eidon came out, I snapped it up, too, and was thoroughly hooked.

In the meantime, I asked one of my online friends to help me think of Christian titles I could compare my own story and writing to, and she mentioned Kathy Tyers’ Firebird. Huh? I’d never heard of that one—and by the time I did some nosing around and found some reviews so I could see what sort of story this was, the third book of the series was already out of print. But thanks to the marvel of eBay and half.com, I located all three titles (Firebird, Fusion Fire, and Crown of Fire). Didn’t take much of the first book before I was a confirmed fan of this author, as well. (I don’t have reviews written of these—Greg Slade did that before me.)

Cool note of interest: Kathy and Karen were actually critique partners before either of them were published. So if you’ve discovered one and really enjoy, you might find you like the other as well. And Kathy’s Firebird series was recently re-released in one volume, which, if you stay tuned to the upcoming August Christian SF/F blog tour, you’ll have a crack at winning a copy.

Many people hold up these two as the new “gold standard” of current Christian SF/F, and with good reason. But I’ve found several other current writers in the genre that are well worth checking out: Kathryn Mackel (Outriders), L.A. Kelly (), Miles Owens (Daughter of Prophecy), the team of Randy Ingermanson and John Olson (Oxygen) who have both moved on to solo writing. (Please check out the authors’ links at the sidebar.) No, I don’t mention all that I’ve enjoyed over the past couple of years—like Donita Paul’s DragonKeeper series. I bought DragonSpell—on purpose this time—just before the birth of my last child, and read it while on bedrest afterwards. It was the thrill of my year to be assigned to her critique group just a few weeks later. (Well, where writing was concerned; I have to say that the birth of that little one superseded it overall. LOL)

As a reader, I’ve found something to enjoy if not love in every Christian SF/F title I’ve found over the past. I’ve definitely had my nitpicks, and admittedly part of the joy is personally knowing many of the writers whose books I’m reading—but I believe it’s a growing genre, and getting better, despite recent rumors to the contrary.

Next time, I’ll look at some of my favorite moments in Christian SF/F.

Going Bump In The Night

What is horror fiction? Genreflecting defines it this way: “A horror text is one that contains a monster, whether it be supernatural, human, or a metaphor for psychological torment.” Anthony Fonseca and June Pulliam, Hooked on Horror Wikipedia says this: […]
| Aug 2, 2006 | No comments |

What is horror fiction?

Genreflecting defines it this way: “A horror text is one that contains a monster, whether it be supernatural, human, or a metaphor for psychological torment.” Anthony Fonseca and June Pulliam, Hooked on Horror Wikipedia says this: Horror fiction is, broadly, fiction in any medium intended to scare, unsettle, or horrify the reader. Historically, the cause of the horror experience has often been the intrusion of an evil, or occasionally misunderstood, supernatural element into everyday human experience. Wikipedia goes on to say horror often overlaps with fantasy and science fiction.

There are even subgenres of horror from ghost stories to demonic possession to splatterpunk. (I don’t read splatterpunk, so don’t worry about me going there.)

My personal definition of horror literature concentrates mostly on the unsettling aspects. For example Psycho is considered a masterful suspense movie by most. To me it borders on horror first because of the shower scene. I saw the movie on TV as an adult and I could not close the shower curtain for two months. I realize I’m pushing here, but I felt quite unsettled and downright scared. Then Norman Bates dressed up like Mama and I was done.

The question I think is more important for this discussion is “Why should anyone even consider horror fiction a valid genre for a Christian?” Now I do have to stop and say here I don’t buy ‘scaring’ someone into salvation with stories of hell and brimstone and eternally smelling like rotten eggs. You might scare them to the alter, but the transaction taking place there is based on Grace, Mercy, and Love.

But, the Bible includes some horrific scenes. The Bible and the Horror Genre outlines some of these. God can use horror to teach us, to turn us away from sin, to bring us closer to Him. I think God would not have included the story of the dogs licking up King Ahab’s blood if it didn’t serve a purpose. And it’s certainly a scene right out of good horror.

I have a discussion in every Christian writing group I’ve ever participated in.

Goes like this: “Who’s your favorite writer?” asks the unsuspecting writer person.

“Stephen King,” I say.

“I don’t know how you can read that crap,” unsuspecting writer person replies, usually clutching chest. “Have you ever read anything by King?” I already know this answer.

“Of course not. I just don’t think a good Christian should read that stuff.” Unsuspecting writer person turns to walk away.

“I’m not a good Christian, just a forgiven one,” I say under my breath. I don’t want to be rude.

One thing I love about King’s stories, especially the ones from the past 17-18 years is that the ‘good’ guy usually wins. He’s beat up, sometimes lost everything, but he wins. His hope is restored. He overcomes the darkness.

Try the last few paragraphs of King’s book Desperation:

David took the blue pass. “Of course. First John, chapter four, verse eight. ‘God is love.’”

She looked at him for a long time. “Is he, David? Is he love?”

“Oh, yes,” David said. He folded the pass along its crease. “I guess he’s sort of …everything.” Horror can show the triumph of the human spirit. Digging into our deep, dark, moldy places can allow us to see Grace, can give us Hope.

Next week I want to talk about a couple of sites and writers specific to Christian Horror.

Of Forms and Fangs

It’s Tuesday again! Don’t worry my actual post won’t be as long as last week’s, but there is a bit of extracurricular reading. Now I ended last week saying that I will be going over some of the books I […]
| Aug 1, 2006 | No comments |

It’s Tuesday again! Don’t worry my actual post won’t be as long as last week’s, but there is a bit of extracurricular reading.

Now I ended last week saying that I will be going over some of the books I have read, and discussing their use of spirituality and world building and such. But before I do that, I think it is only fair to let others have a go at my own writing.

I’m not saying I’m as good as any published author, but I also want to make it clear that I’m not going to throw out critiques and thoughts while being safely ensconced in my unpublished status. If that makes any sense. Plus, there is hope that through seeing samples of my own writing you will get a better understanding of my own views and comments.

So here are two short stories written recently. Both take place within the same mythology.

First up is The Fang. This short story is a prequel of sorts to my novel Starfire, relating the tale of how the main character comes across a certain object that plays a role in the book.
Read it here >>

Second is Forms of Destiny. This short story is an exploration of a character that is planned to show up in a future novel.
Read it here >>

So if you feel up to it read through these stories and comment on them here.

Some questions to help get the juices flowing:

Would you call these stories “Christian Fiction”? Why/Why not?

Do these stories beat you over the head with their message? What is the message/theme? Is there one?

Feel free to throw in any other comments about these stories that come to mind. (Don’t worry I have very thick Saurian skin.)

Next week I’ll discuss the comments from this and give a deeper look into the mythology from where these stories spring, and how that effects how I express Christian faith within the stories.

The week after that I’ll start my book examinations with the Christy Winning: Light of Eidon.

Learning From The Secular—Part 1

Last week we had some lengthy discussion about Christian sci fi and fantasy (CSFF). Must it be overt? Should there be allegorical elements, specifically a Christ figure or type? I began to wonder, What makes CSFF distinct from secular SFF? […]

Last week we had some lengthy discussion about Christian sci fi and fantasy (CSFF). Must it be overt? Should there be allegorical elements, specifically a Christ figure or type?

I began to wonder, What makes CSFF distinct from secular SFF? To put it another way, What is it secular SFF tries to accomplish?

To answer the question, I turned to the author who had a great influence on me—Stephen Donaldson. A year ago, on a discussion board, Stuart Stockton drew attention to an article Donaldson wrote entitled Epic Fantasy in the Modern World.

I think the topics he touches on are so important, I plan on spending the next several weeks dissecting some of his thoughts.

To begin with, it seems pertinent to look at his definition of fantasy:

Put simply, fantasy is a form of fiction in which the internal crises or conflicts or processes of the characters are dramatized as if they were external individuals or events. Crudely stated, this means that in fantasy the characters meet themselves – or parts of themselves, their own needs/problems/exigencies – as actors on the stage of the story, and so the internal struggle to deal with those needs/problems/exigencies is played out as an external struggle in the action of the story.

A somewhat oversimplified way to make the same point is by comparing fantasy to realistic, mainstream fiction. In realistic fiction, the characters are expressions of their world, whereas in fantasy the world is an expressions of the characters.

Would we Christian SFF writers agree with this definition? Or are we, instead, using fantasy to dramatize the spiritual world at large, rather than the spiritual world of a particular character?

I wonder if it isn’t stories that dramatize the spiritual world at large that don’t take on a redundant feel.

As I read Mirtika Schultz’s post and comments last week, I had to agree—I love hearing, in real life, the account of another believer coming to Christ. I don’t get tired of it. It causes me to marvel and to rejoice.

But at the same time, as I read Stuart’s post and comments, I also agreed—the stories that should induce that response of celebration, too often feel ho-hum.

I have postulated in other places that I think Christian SFF—Christian fiction in general—needs to explore our faith more deeply, instead of camping on the beginnings. This is how life in Christ gets started.

Now I am wondering if there isn’t also this second problem: CSFF most often dramatizes the spiritual in general terms rather than in the particular. It’s like writing, What is the spiritual journey of Everyman, instead of writing, What is my spiritual journey.

Could it be that we are still writing for the sake of others—what we think They need to learn—rather than writing what we have had to learn?

Subtle Fictional Christianity: What and Why?

Over the past few months of 2006, and in the recent cool discussion following (and including) Stuart’s Tuesday post, I’ve come across repeated calls for subtler Christian speculative fiction. As I’ve read the discussions online, I’m starting to think I’m not at all clear on what […]
| Jul 28, 2006 | No comments |

Over the past few months of 2006, and in the recent cool discussion following (and including) Stuart’s Tuesday post, I’ve come across repeated calls for subtler Christian speculative fiction. As I’ve read the discussions online, I’m starting to think I’m not at all clear on what is meant.

No, really. I’m not dumb. I’m just unsure if I’m reading into it rather than getting the true gist. Multiple “gists” may apply.  If it means X certain things—I’m okay with those.  If it means this other Y thing—it makes me want to tear heads off with my furious teeth. In sisterly Christian love, naturally. Ahem.

Does the use of “subtle” as an adjective mean:

  1. Let’s include more dealings of the daily experience of the Christian (or pseudo-fantasy Christian), not just throw in a whiz-bang “come to Jesus” moment.
  2. Let’s examine some of the more difficult aspects of our doctrines, such as the paradoxes,  the mystery of grace, or the reconciling of regeneration in the new birth with continued sin in the daily life.
  3. Let’s not have preachers and church sermons and everyone sounding like a catechism. Let’s just have people living out faith normally as they do the wash and date and eat shrimp scampi or fried Zeta Rigellian sandlizards.

Or is the meaning …

4. Let’s tone down that Christian stuff , keeping it so low-key, so courteously discreet, that maybe only Christians themselves would pick up on it. And maybe not even them.

Well, the first few possibilities are laudable. The last one ticks me off like you wouldn’t believe.

I ask, “You want non-obvious Christianity, Christianity that whispers and doesn’t call attention to itself?”

All right.

Stick with the ABA SF houses and editors. The atheists and secular humanists and anti-Christians will be happy to provide readers with barely discernible to non-Christian stories.  Christian-wary editors and agents will happily take your free-of-overt-religiosity work, if it’s good and they think it will sell. Great writers populate the ABA SF. It’s a bigger arena and they’ve been producing more and better SF than CBA publishers. They let you speculate big and bold. (But even they have their limits: Try writin a novel with an anti-homosexual premise or one that glorifies Patriarchy. See how far you get.)

But I’m writing for and targetting the CBA. A rough row to hoe, I do know, and not my first choice. I’m doing that after much prayer and hesitancy about it. The deciding factor was—is—that I am writing, and want to be able to write in future, stories of OBVIOUS faith.

I’m working with characters who have to deal with the spiritual, like it or not. There’s obvoius and vigorous faith—and obvious and vigorous antipathy to faith, as well. Knowing I’m targeting CBA leaves me free to delve into deep aspects of religious experience—the process of apostasy, of repentance, the experience of conversion, the mysteries of the nature of Supreme Beingness, the riddles of prophecy—AND the subtler quotidian aspects: choosing to be hospitable out of love of God, a small act of mercy because it’s the right thing to do. Or ever the daily events of a rougher world: a hurriedly whispered prayer while nursing an insane friend, or anointing a child sick with a new plague— believing that can make a difference—or refraining from killing an enemy out of obedience to sacred text, even when every part of you wants to run them through with a blade.

I can touch on doubt, on questions of what is right and wrong in difficult scenarios, on temptation resisted or given into, on sexual matters, on all sorts of things that we struggle with daily as believers in a hostile world. I may write stuff that is unplaceable—I know this—but I do not want to write a story where I have to rub out the spiritual component, the clearly Evangelical overlay.

Cause I’m an evangelical believer.

My WIP’s character is an apostate surviving in a society hostile to a certain sect of believers. Anyone who doesn’t toe the government’s line about acceptable religions is in deep doodoo. And my persecuted believers do have community and vibrant faith and, yes, miracles, and battling against spiritual and secular evil, and yes, crises of faith. Stuart has listed these as cliché or predictable items in Christian spec-fic. I consider them typical aspects of Christian life from ancient times to the present. I’m not surprised Christians will have it in their fiction. I’m not surprised I have it in mine.

If that is obvious, so be it. I’m gonna be obvious; because I’m tired of NOT seeing who I am reflected in speculative fiction.

I am a religious being. My day includes reading ancient and sacred texts that sometimes don’t make sense, speaking to a higher being who sometimes seems not to be listening, and asking that higher being to act in my life and  in my world, even when the world seems to deserve nothing but to be blown to bits by the Creator. I make hourly decisions on what I allow my mind to dwell on and weekly decisions on how I spend my money, always with an awareness of God’s expectations of me. Everything—EVERYTHING—is about right and wrong to a Christian. Everything is about loving God. What we war. Who we marry. How we treat strangers. How much we do or do not drink. Who we allow to be a bosom pal.  What we teach our kids. How we treat our parents. How we face death. How we face taxes. For some, even the very food that goes into their mouths is a moral decision guided by love or fear of God. That’s part of my Christian daily life—constant self-examination and constant awe and constant analysis. It’s not a closet religion for me. It’s air and water.

It’s gonna show in my novel. How can it not?

I am a Christian.That is more important than being Cuban-born, than being an American citizen, than being female, than being a writer. I do not apologize for being Christian in my thoughts and speech and decisions and actions, even if I do apologize for failing my Lord  in my gluttony and lust and coveting and self-centeredness and arrogance. I will not apologize if I make characters just like me. That is my reality and my truth.

And here is my big question of the day: Why should I or my fellow Christians have to be subtle?

Joanna Russ and Sheri Tepper and Ursula Le Guin and Margaret Atwood get heaps of praise: They aren’t subtle about their feministic ideology being overt in what they write. (Or overt religion bashing on occasion.) Samuel Delany was not subtle in infusing his work with gay sexuality like his own sexual experiences.  Other writers have not been subtle in their positions on consumerism or Darwinism or militarism or conservationsim or secular humanism or demanding space exploration. What they believe shows up on the page.

Why do Christians need to be subtle about Christianity?

Is it to not ruffle feathers? To be palatable.

This is a sore point with me. Some segments of our society vehemently want us to shut up and go pray in a closet and keep our beliefs to ourselves and out of the public square and voting booth—and even the artistic square. “Play nice. Don’t talk about sin or salvation or hell.  That’s so judgmental and so cliche.”

Christian fiction should not be quiet about what it is to be Christian.

Speculative Christian Fiction should not be ashamed to work in Christian elements freely and broadly.

I believe authors should be free to pursue subtle or overt religiosity as their creative impulses move them. I would examine it from a craft perspective: Did the faith aspects fit the milieu and tone and premise of their work and the nature of their characters? Was it entertaining and not just didactic? Was it well-written? It’s all about the story working. If religion springs organically from characters and worlds and the author’s mental and emotional fibers, and if the work’s fashioned with attention to craft and artistic vision, I believe it will work, whether overt or subtle in matters of faith.

And sometimes I wonder if what we’re critiquing is, at core, ineffective writing, but we’re calling it something else—too much religion or too preachy or too allegorical.

I will stand firm on this: I think it’s dangerously close to a form of bigotry to tell Christians to tone down their Christianity. And when Christians rally around this, I can’t help but ask, “How come?”

I know there are good answers, clear answers. I’d like to hear them.

That doesn’t change the feact that I’m sick of hearing how Narnia suffers artisticaly because it has blatant parallels to Christianity. Right, gimme a break.

Do we tell black authors to tone down their blackness? (I dare you to suggest such to Toni Morrison or  Terri MacMillan.) Go and tell Hispanic best-serllers to bring down the level of their cultural references? (Yeah, like Sandra Cisneros and  Julia Alvarez and Gabriel Garcia Marquez are gonna listen to that without snorting.) Tell gays to tone down the gay sexual perspective. (I’m ready to hear what Edmund White and Jeanette Winterson and Tony Kushner have to say to you when you do.)  And please, tell me, would you have told Isaac Bashevis Singer or Bernard Malamud to stop with the blatant Jewish stuff? Maybe Faulkner and O’Connor were just to dang Southern.

Kushner and Morrison and Singer, in their works, are blatant about and what they believe and who they are: gay, black, Jewish. And they got awards for it—Tonys, Nobel prizes, etc.

Why  should Lewis have been less Christian?

I think that’s a good question to ask, for Lewis and for our current crop of Christian speculative authors.

I’m not a subtle Christian. I wear a cross jewelry often to declare what I believe, not just to be trendy. (I own several, from a delicate and pricey gold and amethyst one, to my silver and amber one, to my silver and turquoise one, to my “goth look” three-inch long studded cross, to my Celtic one.) I wear a chunky, tough, “I mean business” cross ring on my right hand when I’m in an “in your face” mode—usually after I hear someone say something about “those right wing nutjob Christians.”  I talk God. I sing God, I read God. I’ve worn buttons that had Bible verses. I’ve stood out in the street with an ABORTION KILLS CHILDREN signs, because I believe that we insult God by permitting it. I’ve marched in religious processions down urban streets, singing hymns to all who would listen. I may put a big Celtic cross in my yard next year, if I find a really big one that I like and a hurricane won’t sweep into the Atlantic.

But—what?—I have to suddenly go all demure about what I believe when I write a novel? That bastion of self-expression and ideological exploration?

Maybe Dante should have written THE DIVINE COMEDY: A Nice Secularish Stroll Through Florentine Improvisational Comedy With No Relation To Heaven or Hell.

Maybe Milton should have written PARADISE LOST: How My Vacation in the Lake Country Went Awry And Satan Had Nothing WhatsoeverTo Do With It.

So, yeah, Lewis was better off just writing THE LION (who is not a Christ Figure) THE WITCH (who is politcally correctly good and has no connection to the devil) and THE WARDROBE (which has no offensive furs!): Aslan Lets Children Ride His Strong Back, The Witch Passes Out Turkish Delight That Does No Harm, and  Then Everyone Goes Home To Tea  Before an Obtrusive Christian Symbol can Rear Its Furry Head.

When I write Hispanic characters,  I don’t feel a need to hold back the Cuban aspects or the religious tapestry of the immigrant community I grew up in. When I write a female protagonist, I don’t feel the need to quench my femaleness as I create her, and that may mean how she acts sexually and religiously as a woman. So, why am I asked to quench what is as much a part of me as my gender and my ethnicity when I write a spiritual character and world?

I’m really hoping there is a semantic discrepancy. I’m hoping what people—Christians— really want is better craft, stronger stories, more vivid and new worlds—not less overt faith.

So. . . What do YOU mean by SUBTLE Christian elements in  Speculative Fiction? And why do you pursue it? And where am I just not getting this?

(Next week: What is Christian Speculative Fiction, anyway? Two Propositions and My Take On It.)

First Love

Well, it’s my turn to introduce myself, though Shannon started to do just that last Thursday. As she explained, we’re sharing days, so you’ll read a post from me, Beth Goddard, every other Thursday. This week has been an exceptionally […]
| Jul 27, 2006 | No comments |

Well, it’s my turn to introduce myself, though Shannon started to do just that last Thursday. As she explained, we’re sharing days, so you’ll read a post from me, Beth Goddard, every other Thursday. This week has been an exceptionally busy week in terms of blogs focusing on Christian science fiction and fantasy. I hope you joined the tour and enjoyed it.

Now for a quick introduction. Last week, the contributors told you about how they first fell in love with this genre—and from the sound of it, their “first love” still burns strong. I must admit my humble beginnings as a SFF genre lover began with 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I read in fifth grade (though I had to start over and over until I could finally get into the story). From then on I was drawn to SFF, though my interest in reading fiction took me through the gothic novels to historicals.

I’m different from many of the Speculative Faith bloggers, because I did not return to the love of this genre until the last few years, when you could say I “rediscovered my first love” through reading Oxygen, Arena and Firebird. As one who loves to read Christian fiction for those timeless lessons and to simply hear God speaking to me, I’ve steered away from the secular novels of any kind.

After meeting with an editor at a conference regarding my first attempt at writing fantasy, he encouraged me with a long list of SFF novels—all from the secular market—so I’ve added such titles as The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever to my reading list. Still, I’m enjoying imaginative new Christian authors such as Kathryn Mackel, Karen Hancock, Linda Wichman. . the list goes on. But mostly, I love stories that reveal a deep message that resonates for days, weeks even. Over time, I believe and hope the Christian SFF offerings will increase. . and I hope to be one with something to offer.

I also participate in another team blog, Favorite Pastimes, that focuses on historical fiction. I write about the Middle Ages and of course, use the opportunity to plug historical fantasy as well. Though the contributing bloggers are Christian, we want to attract a broad audience and haven’t labeled ourselves as such. Interesting, though, a reader contacted one of us to find out if we were Christian. Apparently much of what we write leans in that direction even though we’ve tried not to use “Christianeze”.

I find this fascinating in light of the recent Spec Faith discussion on Tuesday. I know there are Christian authors writing for the secular market and many of them have no message of faith at all. But I’m not sure I can grasp how they do this. I’m only considering how it’s possible, as a Christian, to write any story without some spiritual elements of the Christian faith shining through.

Then there’s the other side. I’ve read Christian novels that I KNEW the person writing it did not know Jesus. . or at least had a distant relationship to Him. My guess is that I could read a SFF novel by a Christian author written to the secular market, absent of even subtle Christianity, and I could still find Christ in their book because I’m forever looking for the spiritual elements in everything I read and watch (and listen to).

To be fair, though, some stories lend themselves to religious discussion more than others. In medieval times, religion permeated society and if I’m writing a historical fantasy set in this period, I would be hard pressed to leave out the Christian element, though how I portray it could easily be in a negative sense.

I look forward to your comments

Blessings!
Beth.

Day 3 Of July Blog Tour

Visit Christian Fandom. I realize we’re talking about fantasy this week, but I’ve been camped out in the horror section at CF. It’s okay, I’m used to the looks. Go check it out. Next week I’m going to get deeper […]
| Jul 26, 2006 | No comments |

Visit Christian Fandom. I realize we’re talking about fantasy this week, but I’ve been camped out in the horror section at CF. It’s okay, I’m used to the looks. Go check it out. Next week I’m going to get deeper into the Christian Horror subject.

I have to be honest. I stayed up so late last night digesting Stuart’s post from yesterday. I forgot until this morning I’m supposed to post today!

So go visit CF. We’ll stir the pot a little more later.

Visit these stops on the blog tour as well. Let’s keep the conversation going! Carol Collett Valerie Comer Kameron Franklin Beth Goddard Rebecca Grabill Leathel Grody Karen Hancock Elliot Hanowski Katie Hart Sherrie Hibbs Sharon Hinck Pamela James Tina Kulesa Rachel Marks Shannon McNear Rebecca LuElla Miller Mirtika Schultz Stuart Stockton Steve Trower Speculative Faith

Lacking Worlds: How A Focus on Spirituality Can Hamper Christian Fantasy

This is a difficult post to write. In part because I’m still formulating my opinions and how to express them. And in part because no single fantasy title encompasses all of what I’ll talk about here, which is more of […]
| Jul 25, 2006 | No comments |

This is a difficult post to write. In part because I’m still formulating my opinions and how to express them. And in part because no single fantasy title encompasses all of what I’ll talk about here, which is more of a general feel, made up of different bits and pieces of single facets of current fantasy titles that just left me unfulfilled.

Also I’m not saying that ABA books don’t have these same failings, but they may just not be as apparent to me since I don’t necessarily share the author’s worldview. And after this post you’ll probably see why I lean more toward writing science fiction than fantasy.

I guess if I had to boil my thoughts into a single statement it would be that most of the Christian fantasy I’ve read has had worlds built out of a religion rather than the beliefs rising out of the world.

What I mean by that is it seems that the worlds come about as a by-product of the creation of a “new form of Christianity” and the presentation of the world echoes that. Where everything in the world seems to be some kind of type or symbol or analogy to something in Christianity.

And perhaps there is a bit too much of a focus on making spiritual truths incarnate. This leads to some fairly repetitive story elements:

  • A king or prince who is an obvious Christ figure.
  • Miracles and demonic influence replacing magic.
  • An idealized physical kingdom made up almost completely of believers (of varying strengths)
  • Immediately recognizable evil. Immediately recognizable good. Very little grey.
  • Points of direct and obvious divine intervention (usually very spectacular) and often reserved for the climax.
  • Plentiful points of crisis in faith, to keep the heroes from being too powerful.
  • Big neon sign pointing out “THIS IS WHAT IS TRUE” (or at least to me)

I’ll admit upfront that some of that is just a conceit of the fantasy genre. And there isn’t necessarily anything inherently wrong with following those conceits. My big question is can’t we find new ways of exploring faith in fantasy?

Can we hit on other big questions beyond just the basics of faith? Beyond our relationship with Christ, beyond being a citizen of God’s Kingdom, beyond spiritual warfare? And can we perhaps explore some of the same questions, without necessarily forcing or giving specific answers, to the type of thing we see secular fantasy exploring?

What is the nature of man? Why are we here? What is the nature of evil? Is there truly good in the world? What is faith? What is truth? Is war just?  And more. Christian characters living out their beliefs and interacting with a world and events that may not be centered directly around their belief system, or at least not directly.

Anyway I think where I’ll go from here is to look at specific books that I’ve read and give my thoughts on where they stand here. What aspects I like, what aspects irk me. And such.

Feel free to suggest titles that you’d like to see me address.

Cya next week.

And don’t forget about the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog tour about Christian Fandom. Find a list of the participants in Rebecca’s Monday post.

July CSFF Blog Tour—Christian Fandom, Day 1

I am happy to launch my participation in Speculative Faith with a post about this month’s Christian Sci Fi and Fantasy Blog Tour feature. First, the list of others participating for July: Carol Collett Valerie Comer Kameron Franklin Beth Goddard […]
| Jul 24, 2006 | No comments |

I am happy to launch my participation in Speculative Faith with a post about this month’s Christian Sci Fi and Fantasy Blog Tour feature.

First, the list of others participating for July:

Carol Collett Valerie Comer

Kameron Franklin

Beth Goddard

Rebecca Grabill

Leathel Grody

Karen Hancock

Elliot Hanowski

Katie Hart

Sherrie Hibbs

Sharon Hinck

Pamela James

Tina Kulesa

Shannon McNear

Rebecca LuElla Miller

Mirtika Schultz

Stuart Stockton

Steve Trower

Please take some time to stop by these sites this week and read their thoughts.

Our focus is once again on a web site, one of the oldest discussing Christian Fiction, Christian Fandom.

Fandom’s Mission Statement begins with this: “Christian Fandom is an interdenominational fellowship of fans interested in the courteous and accurate representation of Christian viewpoints in genre fiction fan communities.”

Genre fiction, of course, includes Fantasy and Science Fiction. True to their purpose, the organizers have entire sections dedicated to these genres. In addition, they have an extensive list of links, a few author biographies, reviews, and interviews with several SFF authors.

I suggest jumping on over to Fandom and sampling what they have to offer. Take a little time and read Karen Hancock’s Interview.

More touring tomorrow.

Rebecca LuElla Miller

Mir, Friday’s Femme: An Introductory Ramble

I’m Mirtika. Or Mir. Or Mirta Ana. Take your pick. I advise you stick to the shorter one, the one that’s easy to type and recalls a defunct space station. How apropos. The one like the word for “peace.” Perhaps […]
| Jul 21, 2006 | No comments |

I’m Mirtika. Or Mir. Or Mirta Ana. Take your pick.

I advise you stick to the shorter one, the one that’s easy to type and recalls a defunct space station. How apropos. The one like the word for “peace.” Perhaps less apropos given my excitable nature. The one that sort of sounds like the first word in a C.S. Lewis classic, which I read, reread, and still love.

Mir.

You might know me from Mirathon, my main blog. Or from ACFW. Or from The Sword Review, whose last two contests (one fiction, one poetry) were won by. . . er . .. me. Or from the DKA forum, since I edit over at that web-zine.

Or you may have happened upon this cheery-looking site while browsing and are sitting there, debating why you should bother to come back, especially on my scheduled days for rambling, ranting, relating, and even rabble-rousing: Fridays.

Here’s why:

  1. I believe wonder is important for the mind and soul.
  2. Modern life—its pace and expectations—has a way of leeching wonder from the world.
  3. Science fiction and fantasy—most especially fantasy—have a way of restoring fresh wonder to our lives, even if just for an hour or two at a time.
  4. Christianity is a faith full of mystery and marvels, a faith that— if we are fully open to it—adds immense wonder to our lives.

So, mix all that and you get why you ought to come back: You want more wonder in your life, and CSF might be one part of having more than a “mere” type of reading experience.

Pun intended.

I told you that the shorter name would do.

The Introductory Part:
(Here’s where you try to stay awake just to be polite.)

I was born sickly. I grew up and still am sickly. When your body betrays you, you find refuge in the imagination. I barely remember big stretches of my life because I was somewhere else, mentally, somewhere full of magic and power where I could grow a tail and gills at will, where I could fly and wield improbably weapons, where I kept the world safe, and where stars talked to me. I read about Pegasus and Theseus and wondered what Procruste’s bed looked like, even if I never wanted to nap there. I made up poems about Psyche and Cupid or Pyramis and Thisbe or Hero and Leander or Hector and Adromache.

And then I turned 16 and discovered a BRAVE NEW WORLD— and a whole new genre.

After being shocked by Huxley’s dystopia, I goggled at Michael Valentine Smith, that quite strange and hippified stranger in a strange land—choose which was the stranger, there (Mars) or here (Earth)—and thought, “There must be more and better.” That much I grokked.

There was better. There was DUNE.

I cannot begin to tell you what that novel did to me. I’ve never recovered. I hurried to the local bookstore and begged for “MORE LIKE THIS, MISS!” I read the sequels, which were not as wonderful as the original. I started scouring the SF section of Walden’s. I read THE HOBBIT and was underwhelmed. (Don’t shoot me. I was sixteen!)

But I always felt a bit hurt that the novels and stories didn’t include the kind of spiritual dimension that was crucial to my life since the instant God saved me from my sins and changed my perspective on…everything.

DUNE, at least, had some spirituality—transformed as it was—and a Messiah figure. THE HOBBIT had a superb act of mercy (providential), even if there is no overt Christianity that I can recall. Most of what I read was either functionally atheistic—particularly the sci-fi—or limited in the religious to what was a type of pantheistic or gothic dark powers sort of world. Or mythology. Or technology masquerading as gods.

I discovered new authors in college: Le Guin, Ellison, Lee, Tiptree. The last three remain favorites. Ellison is the only writer to whom I wrote a hand-written thank you card. And he is an author who wrote one story I cannot read, because it is blasphemous to my religious mind. (I am vast; I contain multitudes and contradictions; although mostly I am, from all the pizza and enchiladas and meat samosas, just vast.)

Still, references to religion—when they were there—tended not to be complimentary.

Then, when I was twenty-three and yet again stuck in bed with an extended illness, I caved and read a book I had tried to read in high-school: The Fellowship of the Ring. This time, I got past the initial slow set-up and got hooked, barely stopping to sleep or eat. I rushed through the tale to its conclusion.

But you couldn’t accuse Tolkien of obvious spirituality.

A few years ago, I happened upon an SF trilogy in a Christian bookstsore, one that had what my earlier SF forays did not: a contemporary sci-fi feel with a message that didn’t blaspheme or ignore the true faith of the One, but rather upheld it: the reworked Firebird trilogy. That’s when I realized that something just might be happening in Christian publishing circles if this was on a Family Book Store shelf.

But the offerings were far and few thereafter. I will not name names, but many of the Christian SF fare left me cold and without the ooooohs and aaaaaahs and whooooas I had come to expect from the best SF.

And now, here I am, middle-aged, not able to read as much as once, memory spotty, but finding folks who want to see what I’ve longed to see: high quality specualtive fiction that includes a thriving spirituality compatible, friendly to, reminiscent of, echoing Christianity. And I’ve found that the Christian bookstore is offering me a bit more and some better stuff in the last couple years.

We’re not gonna win a Hugo yet, but, there’s hope. Maybe. A window is open, but it could close.

We are here to help pry it farther open.

Now, For The Part Where I Vex Some of You:

I do not expect, I do not WANT, Christian SF to be absolutely, down-to-the-Westminster-Confession-or-Nicean-Creed Christianity. It can be. But I find it unrealistic that modern-day Christianity in OUR world transfers right into another world where the rules are different, or to a far future colony of earth where the environment and distance will have an effect. Expressions of faith change. We don’t dress or eat or work or live or talk like Old Testament believers or New Testament Christians. Or medieval ones. Or Puritans. (Most of us, anyway.) Imagine Cotton Mather or St. Paul visiting an emergent church with cushy chairs and a rock band whose lead singer is a nose-pierced girl with pink and green dreadlocks wearing a tank top and torn jeans. For that matter, imagine Abraham using the term “personal savior” or David sitting quietly in some pew, ready to go through the staid motions of high liturgy where spontaneous clapping or dancing would be veboten or Peter pitching the Holy Spirit like some softball across a stage: No, don’t think so.

In 2366, what will Christians on Earth or on a distant frontier planet say and do, while believing the eternal Way?

In The Land of The Seven Sailmasters, what rituals of faith develop to help lifelong warrior lords cope with sentient and malicious seas in a flat world that’s 90% dangerous waterways? What face and form does their Savior take?

I want authors out there (and me right here) to have the freedom to be creators of new worlds, new vocabularies of faith, worlds and vocabularies that don’t have Churchese, Christianese, and “Praise the Lords!” (necessarily), but that have true faith in unexpected expressions and true morality in eye-popping scenarios. Yes, virtuous dragons. Yes, colonists who recreate Eden, complete with no fig leaves. Yes, dimension-walkers who sing mystic hymns to open doors to other universes in need of truth. (My idea, back off!) I want to see boundaries expanding without breaking the back of what we believe. Maybe training that back into a more agile backbend or a longer reach.

First, though, I’d just like to see a solid readership/support base and a solid publishing commitment to Christian SF (in future, CSF). That means here, now, in this place, we pray and we write and we talk and we dream and we discuss and we support and we promote. Read our reviews, when we offer them. Buy the books, if they appeal to you. Or even if they don’t: Buy them for someone to whom they may appeal. Talk about the stories, the novels, the poems that honor truth. Share them with us. Let us pry open your curiosity. Spread the word. Let’s be a community that says, “Give us these stories and verses and mini-series. Give us new and wonder-filled tales. Let whole new universes unfold and proclaim, ‘God lives.'”

It goes back to wonder. I want to be left wide-eyed and astonished and challenged and enraptured by CBA CSF, the way DUNE left me. The way LORD OF THE RINGS left me. The way MORE THAN HUMAN and THE BIRTHGRAVE left me. The way NEVERWHERE and SANDMAN left me. The way ALICE IN WONDERLAND and BABYLON 5 left me. The way FOUNDATION left me. The way ENDER’S GAME and BtVS and FIREFLY left me.

I am hungry for magical and dazzling sights and sounds and people and places and problems and solutons—all of them breathed on by One who is more amazing still.

Are you hungry, too?

Starting next week—for this is our introductory week, so you had to put up with our hi-how-are-yas, you know?—I want to get into some meaty issues. I may be totally whack in my forthcoming opinions. Tell me if you think so. I can take it. Or I may bite gently back. You can take it. Or I may hit a nail head now and then. Agree with me loudly. I like that best.

Do not be silent.

Unless it’s silence in the face of wonder.