1. Jeremy McNabb says:

    I think you’ve actually hit on something that I talked about a year or two ago, but continues to go unnoticed in circles like ours. During the economic downturn, one genre that did amazingly well (not amazingly well, considering the downturn) but actually did an amazing amount of sales overall, was historical and Amish romance in the Christian market. These divisions were the only ones to make significant profit.

    The website is now gone, but here’s what I said:

    The most significant threat to the health of any Amish community is a malady called Founders’ Syndrome. This syndrome has no consistent symptoms of its own and is, in fact, not an illness unto itself, but instead, the cause of numerous genetic illnesses. Small, isolated communities, especially those comprised of a limited number of familial units, carry a higher rate of genetic mutations due to the likelihood of distant but inevitable inbreeding. The constant recycling of genetic lines concentrates errors in the DNA until recessive mutations are exhibited after several successive generations.
    When one stops to consider the Christian publishing world’s fascination with Amish romance and Amish mystery, it seems a little ironic to see a literary version of Founders’ Syndrome in the Christian book market.
    Writers usually write within their favorite genre. This sounds like an overly obvious statement, but for logic’s sake, its one we’re going to make. Writers usually write in the same market that they read, and in turn, both affect and are affected by it.
    With such a large supply of Amish romance, writers within the genre have little need of any other books. Similar to a tiny Amish community, they begin to reproduce insignificant, perhaps undetectable characteristics or stylistic errors. The constant recycling of plotlines, literary devices, favorite expressions, et cetera, concentrates certain characteristics in each novel until minor repetitions become prominently featured in successive literary “generations.” Publishers, eager to cash in on the Amish fad, contract Amish stories in such numbers as to squeeze out the non-Amish stories, ones that might otherwise revitalize the stagnant literary pool.
    These same publishers, in refocusing their attention on entertaining Christians, rather than telling meaningful, possibly evangelical stories, have bottle-necked into the safest, least alien prose possible. Unfortunately, the result of such reproductive bottlenecking is eerily similar to a practice we call incest. 

  2. Interesting questions. I haven’t contemplated the matter at any great length, but my initial reactions run along these lines:
    I think God approves of our questioning — even questioning His very existence. How can we truly believe something we’ve never really thought about? The evidence for the truth is abundant; a person who truly seeks it will find it, and once convinced, will remain so.
    Not sure what you’re getting at regarding the pyramid scheme theme. Generally speaking, if we want to move toward a goal, whatever it may be, we need to learn from those who have gone before. So if we aspire to greatness in sports, music, whatever, it makes sense to connect with greatness. Not everyone will be great, however, so I guess sometimes a person can live vicariously through a hero, following in his wake, or whatever.
    In the super-big-picture scenario, this might be related to wanting to share in God’s glory — go all the way back to Lucifer, who wanted to be like God. But that puts it in a negative light. On the positive side, God’s people are called to be holy because He is holy. So we strive for excellence in all things. If He’s gifted us for athletics or architecture or writing or health care, we should constantly be trying to improve skills. And yes, that involves following people who are farther along than we.
    Concerning the small-view question, do we like spec fic because we want to write it ourselves? Maybe I don’t understand the question. I wouldn’t think we’d want to write it if we didn’t first enjoy reading it. (I’m an exception to that rule in that I was never a fan until I found myself writing it. Now that I’ve discovered it in this backward fashion, I read more of it.) I think in most cases people read what they enjoy reading because they enjoy the thought processes the reading evokes.
    And those are my thoughts, since you asked.

  3. That is a question I have learned to ask myself since I first learned there was a writing world out there: Why am I befriending this person (writer, editor, agent, etc…). Yes, networking is good, but I never wanted to use people. Beyond their title or position, a person is a person. Not a means for me to scale up to the next level.

  4. Kessie says:

    Wow, this is kind of frightening. People only reading certain books because they want to be that author?
    I know of people who hang out with popular artists in an attempt to mooch free personalized sketches off them.
    I suppose it could happen. For myself, I’m more like a drug addict, always looking for the next high. The next high being a REALLY AWESOME STORY. Sadly I’ve exhausted every book by an author who delivered a great high every single book, and I’m looking for someone else to scratch the itch.
    I like to write, myself, and it is nice to daydream that someday I’ll write a bestseller (or a series of them). But I don’t read in order to some how steal another author’s success vicariously. I read their books to see if they could tell a good story. If I want to know how they did it, I’ll hunt down their blog or interviews and see what advice I can glean. (Mostly this is out of curiosity to see if they’re nice in real life.)
    Thinking about various fandoms I’ve participated in, yes, there’s always the fan-worship. But when you’re fan-worshipping an author, you’re after the next goody they produce and throw to the wolves. You may care superficially about the author (please don’t die before you’ve finished the series!), but most of the delight comes from anticipating and consuming their next work.

  5. Galadriel says:

    I think that it’s a mistake to set the two as exclusive. I can enjoy the world an author’s created even if it’s not one I’d like to create myself.   But I can also enjoy a book even more because I can see myself in that place someday. It’s also a matter of what level of fame one feels comfortable with. I don’t want to be the next J.K. Rowling…but I can appreciate what she did.

  6. Here’s a quick clarification.

    In any field, it’s inevitable that you get the gadflies, along with the legitimate networkers who both truly enjoy a person or his/her artwork, and want to achieve similar things.

    I think Yvonne hit on that when she mentioned the desire to be within God’s glory, which  is a legitimate desire because we are getting God and not trying to usurp God (but which can of course be corrupted).

    My main question is: are most Christian SF readers also writers?

    Shouldn’t this genre have a majority readership of those who aren’t trying to write their own novels, if we hope that this genre will grow — perhaps grow beyond Christian SF writers reading, writing, reviewing, and talking amongst themselves? 

    (I’m not saying that’s the way the genre currently is. Sometimes it does resemble that state, though. Perhaps it’s simply my limited vantage point!)

    • Bainespal says:

      My main question is: are most Christian SF readers also writers?

      I am not a writer or an aspiring novelist.

      Unfortunately, I do sometimes have other motives for my consumption of speculative fiction.  I want to be an expert; to read enough to know all there is to know about the conventions of fantasy and science fiction.  This might be similar to the writers’ temptation to follow the community out of a desire to get their own works published.

      Mr. Burnett, I think you’re right.  Struggles to preserve our faith may be related to our motives for consuming speculative fiction.  Part of the reason that I’m trying to analyze fantasy and science fiction as deeply as possible is due to the existential nature of the themes in the speculative genre.  Sometimes, I’m searching for God in the Myth, delighted to see Him reflected both intentionally and unintentionally.  Other times, I get lost in the relative, nebulous nature of the Myth and am tempted to embrace it in order to ignore my responsibility to live my life in this real world responsibly.

      [Note — I’ve posted comments here before by my real name “Paul Lee,” but from now on I’ll post by my Anomaly forum name to avoid possible confusion with other Pauls.] 

    • Stephen, I think it’s impossible to say. Many of us write simply because of the dearth of stories we love. But the greater question is, how do we connect with readers? Are there web sites for Christian sff readers? And shouldn’t that be what Spec Faith is, while still giving writers things to think about?

      But again, how do we connect to readers? I think perhaps first by offering readers something they are interested in. Good discussions, book recommendations, reviews, author interviews — stuff readers want to know.

      We reader/writer types like those things. Why shouldn’t reader/reader types like them too?

      So my answer to your question — besides the agnostic one I opened with — is, I suspect there are a lot of readers who will connect with Christian speculative stories, but who will never become writers. Why would the percentages of Christian readers writing speculative literature be higher than non-Christian readers writing speculative stories?

      Wouldn’t there be a greater chance that non-Christians would succumb to the kind of pride and jealousy you describe? And if so, then all the fans of Harry Potter must secretly want to become famous writers and we have millions upon millions of general market fantasy novels coming. The truth is, Harry Potter probably brought more, but a majority of all readers turned writer? I think it’s safe to say, probably not.

      So why would Christians be different?

      That’s the question I’ve been asking of the Christian publishing industry for some time (many who think there really isn’t a big audience for Christian speculative — just a noisy bunch of writers).

      If Christians read Harry Potter — and a Barna study showed this was so — why would we think there aren’t Christian readers, only Christian writers?

      It’s a matter of marketing and promotion, I believe, and writing to a level that excites readers into creating a buzz.


  7. I suspect that part of the appeal of SF is that it encourages creativity to a large extent. So therefore you’re going to get a lot of SF writers who are readers first.  

    (I write SF merely because I don’t care to write anything else. XD)  

  8. Fred Warren says:

    I’ll make it more personal: do I enjoy the ministries of James White or Kevin DeYoung because they serve as personal wish-fulfillment avatars? Hey, perhaps I could be a big apologetics or theology leader, and have Fans to Learn from Me.

    Stephen, if you have the insight to ask yourself this sort of question, and worry about it, you’re probably not one of “those guys.” 🙂

    I loved sci-fi and fantasy before I ever thought about trying to write it myself, and if I gave  up writing for good tomorrow, I’d still be reading and enjoying the same kinds of stories. I’d probably read more, since my time available for reading would increase. Truth be told, I’m mostly in it for the fun, which is rather unspiritual of me, but there you are.

    I believe the temptation you describe is real, but I think it’s harder to be creative and to write with genuine emotion if you’re writing for the wrong reasons, so in the end, it’s self-destructive.

  9. are most Christian SF readers also writers?
    Well, there’s a discouraging thought. I’ve bought books by almost everybody who has posted here to do my part to support the genre and then passed them on to others. I would like to think that people here would buy my books whenever Kristine Pratt at Written World Communications actually gets around to publishing my books, even if they don’t like them. They make good gifts to the geek teenagers you know.  But if the ONLY people who would buy them are the people in this echo chamber, then……., um, then………      That’s a thought to make me unhappy. I was thinking that word of mouth has to start somewhere, and why not here among friends who make you think?
    I hadn’t thought of it as a pyramid scheme. I did not think of my participation here as using people, any more than I thought the other writers were using me. By coming here I was learning about works I would otherwise not hear about and not have the privilege to read. I’ve been exposed to works (horror, suspense thrillers) that I would not have bothered to read before I “met” the writer here and felt a need to support, or a thrill to link to, or a knowledge that here is a book I will enjoy. Sometimes I have been badly disappointed, but that’s part of the experience of stretching out. I figure only a few here will like my stuff, but they might support me anyway, because we are all on the same pilgrimage. 
    But if we climbers on others are the only readers……. Then what we are doing is pretty stupid. We might as well be writing fanfic.
    Okay, now I’m thinking hard about the gal I met who told me she read one of my books 40 times, startling me into speechlessness. I need that thought to keep me from drowning in the swamp of despair. 
    Am I misunderstanding the post?

  10. Kirsty says:

    I’m not a writer or aspiring writer. I read fiction (of all kinds) because I enjoy it.

  11. Kirsty says:

    That said, I do tend to read it through the eyes of an illustrator. And  imagine ‘If I were to illustrate this, I’d do it in such & such a way.’

  12. Ooh, these are thought provoking questions!  I think in many ways, I admire and look up to authors whose works I enjoy, and I want to be like them…but not necessarily in a “I want to succeed like them” way, so much as a desire to be as creative as they are, and create worlds just as immersive and fascinating.  As a general rule I don’t think I use popular authors as avatars, although I do dream of a sort of generic success like theirs.

    As far as whether only Christian writers read Christian SF, I think the genre has a kind of limited readership in general – basically, believers who like sci-fi and fantasy.  That narrows it down a bit.  And as someone said before me, it’s a genre that encourages creativity, so it’s not surprising that many readers are also writers.

    • Additional thought – I think many Christian writers start writing BECAUSE they are looking to their favorite authors in an avatar-way, if that makes sense.  They read SF they love, and decide they want to do that too, because they want to imitate the author they admire.  I think that is true for a lot of young authors who suddenly decided to write a book in their teens.  (I know sooooo many young people who did this.  Most were amateur writers and didn’t continue writing after the first excitement faded, but others kept at it and really became good at it!)

  13. Quick thoughts about Becky‘s comment above:

    That’s the question I’ve been asking of the Christian publishing industry for some time (many who think there really isn’t a big audience for Christian speculative — just a noisy bunch of writers).

    That, in my view — and in my optimistic moments — is not true. At the same time, for right or wrong, evangelicals and publishers do listen to numbers. I’m curious what they are.


    If Christians read Harry Potter — and a Barna study showed this was so — why would we think there aren’t Christian readers, only Christian writers?

    Perhaps the number of blogs devoted to Writing Tips and Industry-focused accidentally gives a false portrait? If so, I hope Speculative Faith would not be the only site gathering both readers and readers/writers to focus not just on Writing Tips, but the wonders of story. Again, this may be my insular thinking about this — because I see so many writing-oriented blogs and authors. However, there is another possibility, which I believe someone above mentioned: that speculative fiction, above other genres, lends itself to enhanced self-generated creativity in its readers.


    It’s a matter of marketing and promotion, I believe, and writing to a level that excites readers into creating a buzz.

    And buying novels not just to Support a Cause or (even worse) to try climbing a pyramid, but because of Kessie‘s reason: we’re hooked on great stories, and love that “high” of experiencing a fantastic reality vicariously, for God’s truths and beauties that the alternate reality reflects.

  14. […] Otherwise, as a reader, at best I feel a bit left out. But even as an aspiring writer myself, I begin to feel an odd sense, perhaps even an appeal to my baser desires, that is hard to describe: I only exist to write stories for others. The stories I do enjoy, I mainly enjoy because I’m using them to become a better writer. It’s all about climbing a pyramid. […]

What do you think?