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Sharing My Reading Joy

Many readers are still unfamiliar with Christian speculative fiction–even Christian writers, even Christians writing speculative fiction. Consequently, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorites.

cover_starfireAs most of the regulars here at Spec Faith know, we columnists care for writers but also for readers. We’d like to bring the two groups together so that writers can interact with those reading their books and readers can find new writers whose books they can sample.

That’s one of the rationales for having Spec Faith host the Clive Staples Award. If you haven’t checked lately, we have thirty-two nominations. Yes, you read that correctly! Thirty-two!

Because of the high number of nominations, we’ve decided to add a round of voting to narrow the field. For both rounds, however, we will maintain the eligibility requirement for voters: only people who have read two of the nominations may vote.

We’re also happy to disclose that the winner of the Clive Staples Award will be announced at the Realm Makers Conference August 2.

That being said, I find that many readers are still unfamiliar with Christian speculative fiction–even Christian writers, even Christians writing speculative fiction. Consequently, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorites–not including those currently nominated for the CSA (unless their part of a series which I name–that can’t be helped) since I don’t want to unduly influence the vote, one way or the other. Because of that ancillary provision and the fact that I’m relying on my memory, this list is far from complete.

As much as I’d like to rank the books, too, because that’s always kind of fun, I’m not going to do that. So much of ranking depends on taste. Consequently, because I favor fantasy, my list will reflect my preference, but science fiction stories ought not automatically be viewed as of lesser quality because they’re not on the list.

So, without any further preamble–my list:

cover_ontheedgeofthedarkseaofdarknessStephen Lawhead’s Bright Empires series. Not time travel, but close. Not science fiction, but sort of. These books are unusual, the characters grow on you the more you read, and the conflicts deepen. These may be the best of Lawhead Sr. (Adult speculative–sort of defies other categorization).

Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga. Fantasy of high quality. Not stories involving the usual fantasy creatures, these books are highly inventive and the characters come alive. The first book in particular is filled with middle grade boy humor, but the story grows deeper and darker in the next two books. We’re eagerly waiting for the final installment. (Middle grade/young adult fantasy).

Tom Pawlik’s Vanish which won a Christy Award. This is my hat tip to the many fine supernatural suspense writers. While this is not my genre, I found Pawlik’s debut novel to be a wonderful read. It has elements of mystery from beginning to end. The horror is held somewhat at bay, so readers shouldn’t expect to be scared out of their socks. There’s more intrigue than fright . . . until the end. (Adult supernatural suspense/horror).

Shannon Dittemore’s Angel Eyes series. FYI, there’s a contest starting today for a copy of the final book in the series, Dark Halo. Any Dittemore fans will want to check it out. I’ll count myself in that crowd. Not supernatural suspense in the same vein as Vanish, Shannon’s books are nonetheless in that genre. What mark her stories is a faithfulness to the Biblical record in the midst of imaginative speculation. Plus her characters are captivating. (Young adult supernatural suspense).

Sharon Hinck’s The Song of Lyric series. Wonderful fantasy, again without the typical creatures from Middle Earth. The three books (and there are more in the works) are really stand-alones, though they bleed into one another. The world is an interesting blend of the primitive with the technological. The strength of the books is in the relationship of the characters, the political intrigue, and the unique expression of Christian truth. (Adult fantasy).

Jill Williamson’s Captives, though I’m pretty sure I’ll put the entire Safe Lands series on my list once they’re written. The characters and the world are so well drawn and both are memorable. The conflict is razor sharp throughout, even when things seem safe in the Safe Lands. The story is filled with meaning for today, but Jill never preaches. (Young adult dystopian fantasy).

Matt Mikalatos’s Night of the Living Dead Christians which follows his My Imaginary Jesus story starring the fictitious Matt Mikalatos. The book is semi-allegorical, somewhat spoof, not at all horror, though all the very in-vogue horror creatures make an appearance. You’ll laugh until you cry because of the conviction the book brings. (Adult contemporary fantasy spoof-ish allegory).

Karen Hancock’s Guardian-King tetralogy is still among my favorites. The world-building is excellent, the characters engaging, the conflict intriguing and ever-changing appropriately. About the time you think all is well, you find out there’s a greater threat than you or Abramm expected. My favorite is perhaps book two of the series. (Adult fantasy).

Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s Tales of Goldstone Woods series is putting her in an elite class of writers. She’s won Christy Awards for the first three and is nominated again this year. These are fairytale fantasies, somewhat dependent upon one another. Her writing is beautiful, the truth of God’s grace and redemption comes through in each story, not through an author lecture, but through the events of the plot. (Young adult fairytale fantasy).

Donita Paul’s Dragons of the Watch is, in my estimation, her finest book. This cozy fantasy is filled with surprise. The characters are engaging, the world intriguing, the conflict sufficiently threatening. This one had me turning the pages to find out the mystery and the romance, but it was still memorable–not the easy come, easy go of so many page turners. (All ages fantasy).

I was going to stop at ten, but I really can’t leave off Stuart Stockton’s Starfire: The Mending. This is simply one of the finest, most inventive stories I’ve read. The characters, as unique as they are, are incredibly believable. The plot is filled with intrigue and conflict. And the world-building is phenomenal! My only hope is that there will someday soon be a book 2 in the Galactic Lore series. (Adult science fiction)

So there you have my recommendations, limited as they are. Whether you choose books from this list or from the list of CSA nominations so that you will be eligible to vote, I hope you’ll give some of these fine books by Christian authors a try.

Now it’s your turn. What are your favorites?

– – – – –

CSAbutton1Below is the list, to date, of the CSA nominations (in alphabetical order by the author’s last name). If for some reason I’ve missed a nomination, please let me know. Also, the nominations will remain open for a little while longer, so if you don’t see your favorite book published in 2012 on this list (see list of eligibility standards), feel free to add it in the comments section of the Nominations post.

Words in the Wind by Yvonne Anderson Risen Books

Daughter of Light by Morgan L. Busse Marcher Lord Press

Devil’s Hit List: Book Three of the UNDERGROUND by Frank Creed Splashdown Books

Liberator Dragon’s (Starlight series) by Bryan Davis Zondervan

A Throne of Bones by Vox Day Hinterlands / Marcher Lord Press

Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore Thomas Nelson

The Telling by Mike Duran Realms Fiction

Risk by Brock Eastman P&R Publishing/Focus on the Family

Live and Let Fly by Karina Fabian Muse It Up Publishing

I Am Ocilla by Diane Graham Splashdown Books

Seeking Unseen by Kat Heckenbach Splashdown Books

Remnant in the Stars by Cindy Koepp Under The Moon

The Unraveling of Wentwater (The Gates of Heaven Series) by C.S. Lakin Living Ink Books

Prophet by R. J. Larson Bethany House

Judge by R. J. Larson Bethany House

Spirit Fighter by Jerel Law Thomas Nelson

Fire Prophet by Jerel Law Thomas Nelson

The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead Thomas Nelson

The Wrong Enemy by Jane Lebak MuseItUp Publishing

Alienation (A C.H.A.O.S. novel) by Jon S. Lewis Thomas Nelson

Curse Bearer by Rebecca P Minor Written World Communications

Rift Jump by Greg Mitchell Splashdown Darkwater

Bid the Gods Arise by Robert Mullin Crimson Moon Press

Prophetess (Winter Book 2) Keven Newsome Splashdown Darkwater

Failstate by John W. Otte Marcher Lord Press

Soul’s Gate by James Rubart Thomas Nelson

Starflower by Anne Elizabeth Stengl Bethany House

Moonblood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl Bethany House

Star Of Justice by Robynn Tolbert Splashdown Books

Daystar by Kathy Tyers Marcher Lord Press

The New Recruit by Jill Williamson Marcher Lord Press

Replication: The Jason Experiment by Jill Williamson Zonderkidz

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D. M. Dutcher
Member

Hero, Second Class by Mitchell Bonds is a good fantasy-comedy.

Running Black by Pat Todoroff is well done cyberpunk reminiscent of Bruce Sterling.

Calvin Miller’s “Guardians of the Singreale” is good if you can find it. It’s tolkien-inspired, but manages to make it’s own identity. He also wrote the poem the Singer, too.

I like Caffeine by Ryan Grabow. It really connected with me.

Christopher Stasheff’s “Her Majesty’s Wizard” was written as a challenge; he noticed far too many medieval-themed fantasies totally ignored religion, so he made one that didn’t. He also wrote “Saint Vidicon to the Rescue,” which wasn’t as good, but was also one of the few explicitly Christian books in the secular market at that time.

Cordwainer Smith’s “Nostrillia” is a must-read, as are his short stories about the Instrumentality of Man. 

Zenna Henderson’s “The People” stories are good to read as well.

“The Wanderer’s Daughter” by Justyn Walker is a great one too, though more for kids.

I have a bunch of honorable mentions too, but as a reader these are the books I found very enjoyable.

Literaturelady
Guest
Literaturelady

Thank you for sharing your list; I enjoyed it!  It’s so much fun to see the books other people like.  I enjoy some of Stephen Lawhead’s works myself; specifically, his Song of Albion trilogy.  The man has such a way with words.
 
My ‘favorites’ taste leans toward fantasy as well.  🙂  Here’s my list:
 
The Knights of Arrethtrae series by Chuck Black.  It’s amazing the simple power his allegories have.  The best in the series are Sir Bentley (my favorite!) and Sir Kendrick.  The other books would benefit from some fleshing out.
 
Auralia’s Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet.  This one was devoured in two days and became a favorite overnight.  Absolutely beautiful.  I’m bouncing impatiently while I wait for Raven’s Ladder to get here.  🙂
 
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  I read this three or four times a year, and I could buy 500 copies and and shell them out to friends, family, and complete strangers…
 
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.  Hilarious, creative, and quite the sign of the times!
 
I also enjoy Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, The Prydain Chronicles, selected works by George MacDonald, and Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis.  But the list up there are a few of my especial favorites.
 
Blessings,
Literaturelady
 
 

bad_cook
Guest
bad_cook

I don’t really qualify, as the only one I’ve actually read is Shannon Dittemore’s “Angel Eyes,” but this is the Internet, and I can spew my opinion anyway. I don’t care for that book. There were some potentially interesting ideas, but I didn’t like the execution. There was only one, maybe two characters that I didn’t end up finding tedious, and sadly, the main, first-person-perspective character wasn’t one of them.

Emma Engel
Guest

Let’s see. You already got many of my favorites: Angel Eyes, Dragons of the Watch, Safe Lands, Tales of Goldstone Woods, and Song of Lyric.

To these I’ll add:

Firebird Series by Kathy Tyers – These were my entry point into adult Christian speculative fiction so it naturally holds a special place in my heart. But like all of Mrs. Tyers’ book they are very, very good. I tend to think of Firebird as the “space opera” of Christian SF.

The Gates of Heaven by C.S. Lakin – As much as a love retellings and twists on faerie tales, there’s nothing quite like someone who embraces the genre and uses it to make their own stories. I think the closest comparisons I have for these are George MacDonald’s books.

The Bracken Trilogy by Jeri Massi – Speaking of George MacDonald, these YA novels are based on the old “wise woman” tales that he also employed. Even though they are meant for younger kids, like all good stories they can be enjoyed by everyone.

Oxygen/The Fifth Man by John B. Olson and Randy Ingermanson – I was a huge NASA nut as a kid (less so these days with the direction the program’s taken) and actually found these novels thanks to the involvement of Shannon Lucid. She’s been one of my heroes for as long as I can remember and finding out she advised for a Christian science fiction novel about the first manned trip to Mars was so exciting.

Everything by Timothy Zahn – Like Kathy Tyers, I’m not certain if Mr. Zahn actually belongs on this list since all his books are published by secular publishing houses. (Many of hers have been reprinted by Christian imprints though.) However, he is openly Christian, and it is very much reflected in his books, particularly Deadman’s Switch and Angelmass. Deadman’s Switch is one of his best with the plot revolving around the struggle of a telepath to understand the morals and ethics of his gift.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

Citation? I’ve read Timothy Zahn from Cascade Point and Cobra on, and I don’t think he’s openly Christian. His stories are good SF, and free of the atheistic bias many in the genre have, but this is the first I’ve heard of him being so

Emma Engel
Guest

If you follow his Facebook page you can pick it up based on many of his comments (wearing a Star Wars costume to Bible study stands out) but I’ve also gotten to talk with him several times in person. I guess my wording might have been misleading. He isn’t standing on a table and shouting about it, but he isn’t trying to hide it or downplay it either.

Alassiel
Guest
Alassiel

I noticed that Jill Williamson’s book The New Recruit is on the list of nominees, but it isn’t speculative fiction. It’s a great book, but it’s a spy adventure story and doesn’t really have speculative elements.

Steve Taylor
Guest
Steve Taylor

One of my favorite trilogies ever was The Pearlsong Resounding by Michael D. Warden. Books one and two (Gideon’s Dawn and Waymaker) were spaced far apart and book three has never been completed. There are many of us prodding the author to get moving but so far the years keep passing with no release.
There are many great Christian spec books out there and these first two books stand out as some of the best. If I were to list all the books I’ve really enjoyed I’d be typing all day. 
If any of you know Michael please kick him for me. I mean kick-start him for me. Thanks
 

Kessie Carroll
Member
Kessie Carroll

I’m relieved to see that I know most of the titles on the list, even if I haven’t read them all yet. What fun!
 
I just finished rereading Linnets and Valarians by Elizabeth Goudge. We only discovered her because she was on Rowling’s list of books that influenced Harry Potter. It’s lovely fantasy set in 1912 England, and the kids have to help undo a terrible curse on a prominant family in the village. 
 
But what freaked me out was her author’s note in the back, talking about the real village, the white and black witches, the friendly elves, and a strange disappearing wood. These were all things the villagers had told her and she hasn’t room for them in the book.
 
I know she was a Christian–her books are full of glorious grace and salvation–but how does a modern Christian tackle Magick, and voodoo, and elves, and the in-between realm? I find that it doesn’t fit in my nice Christian boxes.
 
 

Kessie Carroll
Member
Kessie Carroll

Also, it’s really ashame that Bid the Gods Arise by Robert Mullin didn’t make it onto the list. Maybe his series will get big enough so that not having a publisher won’t matter.

Paul Lee
Member

It looks like it is on the list in this blog post.  Right after Rift Jump and before Prophetess.

Steve Trower
Member

Just looking through this conversation is reminding how many Christian spec-fic titles are still on my ‘to read’ list!
Among those I have read and enjoyed in the past: The Enclave by Karen Hancock, Austin Boyd’s Mars Hill Classified trilogy, and Offworld by Robin Parrish (which would make an awesome Doctor Who story) come to mind.
More recently, The Bright Empires series is ticking most of my boxes; although I’d rather see a less well-known author get recognition in the CSA. Probably Greg Mitchell, because Rift Jump is on my ‘to read’ list.
My all time favourite though – and still the book I wish I’d written – is Imaginary Jesus. I just love that Mikalatos humour!

Robert Mullin
Member
Robert Mullin

Becky, Michael Warden completed his trilogy and self-published through Lulu, so you can read the rest of it if you are interested. (I wish he had used Createspace, as I think they have higher quality covers due to the laminating, but that’s a minor quibble.)
Kessie, thanks for being such a stalwart champion of Bid the Gods Arise!  Crimson Moon Press is indie, so I suspect that it wouldn’t qualify, but I really appreciate the nomination!  

Robert Mullin
Member
Robert Mullin

I apologize; it is not yet out. Odd, because I remember seeing the cover on Lulu. I wonder if he withdrew it to make revisions?  Anyway, here is a link to the third book on his website, currently listed as in the process of being written.
 http://thepearlsongrefounding.com/the-word-within

Steve Taylor
Guest
Steve Taylor

Michael Warden started writting book three on his blog and when it was completed he was going to have it published. Sadly he stopped at chapter 2 and hasn’t written any more in a hounds tooth.  Hopefully he’ll read this and know that there are those of us out here that would really like to see him finish his work. If he keeps up with the first two books, the trilogy could easily become a classic.

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Marion
Guest

Here’s my list:  
 
1) Trophy Chase Trilogy and Blaggard’s Moon by Polivka.  The trilogy and prequel were fun reading and engrossing.  Wondering if he’s publishing anything soon?
2) Daughter of Light by Busse.  It’s a solid debut novel and I just got the sequelSon of Truth and I’m looking forward to reading it.
3) Child Goddess by Louise Marley.  An excellent story where science meets Catholicism due to children on a distant planet that can’t not age and could be considered immortal.  Kudos to the author for showing both science and religion in a fair light as possible without condemning one or the other.
4) The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.  This novel has jumped onto my favorite novels list after reading it at the end of 2012.  I have given several copies of this novel away in the last few weeks ago and those people have enjoyed it.
The story of Jesuit Priests leading a first contact mission that all goes wrong and one survivor tells his side of the story to his father superiors in Rome.  This is the best novel I’ve read in some in dealing with a crisis of faith.  It should be a must read for all enjoy the Christian Speculative Fiction genre.
5) The Captives (Safe Lands #1) by Jill Williamson.  This was recommended to me by Becky.  I’m over halfway through and I liked it.  Engaging and readable.  I will post a full review when I’m finished.
 
Marion

Steve Taylor
Guest
Steve Taylor

I have to agree that The Trophy Chase Trilogy should be on the list. I thought the writing was fantastic and the storyline very unusual. I loved the blending of fantasy, the real Bible and an adventurous swashbuckling tale.
As someone who came out of Catholicism I don’t read their books anymore but I did find Athol Dickson’s Lost Mission to be very good and fair on the religion. If you haven’t read it I highly recommend it.

Marion
Guest

Steve,
I have read Lost Mission and Opposite of Art by Athol Dickson. He has become one of my favorite novelists. I didn’t include them on my list because those books had a magical realist bent and not speculative. Otherwise, I would have included those novels.
I would definitely recommend The Sparrow. A very powerful novel!
 
Marion