Speculative Fiction And Contemporary Culture
Riots. Peaceful protests. Covid-19. Political division. How does speculative fiction fit into our very current life? Should it?
I recently heard an professional football player explaining that he thought the NFL should play this season so that people will have an escape from all the problems. Is speculative fiction just a different way of escape?
I know some people write speculative fiction with nothing but the goal to write an entertaining story. I know others who write to a purpose. One Christian speculative author, for example, recently published the first in a series in which he addresses some very contemporary issues, including racism. You might even say he was writing as a social justice warrior.
A writer like Frank Peretti also addressed cultural issues, tackling the matter of abortion in one of his adult novels.
Other writers use their speculative stories to tell some spiritual truth, without making any comment on the particular societal ills that mark our culture.
I know I’ve said more than once that writing is not a “one size fits all” kind of endeavor. In other words, not all writers need to have the same approach. Just as all readers don’t need to like the same kinds of books.
But in a time like we’re living in this year, things don’t feel like “business as usual.” Should writers change and speak into the culture through our writing, through our stories? If so, what should we say?
Are we to reinforce some of the better commonly held beliefs of society? Are we to speak the gospel? Are we to critique our culture? Are we to warn society about the dangers of continuing in the way we are going?
Or are we to give a way of escape because so many seem to need escape?
Is there an answer?
After the George Floyd death back in May, a large number of professional athletes said that since they had a platform, they needed to use it to speak against racial injustice. Speculative writers have platforms too. Maybe not as big as the most famous athletes, but still a platform equal to, say the one the nose tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs has.
Do we have the same obligation to speak against racial injustice?
Or maybe, as a growing number of people are saying, we should stand against, and speak against, government over-reach concerning the closing of businesses and parks and churches.
What about the explicit efforts of “cancel culture” that aims to stifle free speech? Is this such an important matter that we should be addressing the topic in our stories? Not in a preach way. Not, perhaps, overtly. But still, should we address these serious matters in our stories?
Part of me thinks, how can we stay silent. But a greater desire is for Christians to look behind the current events and address the real issues, the sin which so easily besets—entangles, ensnares, clings to—us (Heb. 12:1)
I don’t know that I’ve ever looked at the first few verses in Hebrews 12 as a writer’s guide before, but I think there might be some benefit in doing so.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2, NASB)
The passage is pretty clear: because we have so many people who have gone before us, listed in chapter 11, we are to do two things: get rid of the stuff that holds us back from winning the race, and put our eyes on the One who has made success possible for us.
So could that be a guide for writers when we decide to say something meaningful in our stories? It’s a question I want to think about some more. Because honestly I have a hard time standing on the sideline during the marathon and simply cheering them on. The runners need encouragement, no doubt about it, and maybe helping them to take their minds off the grind is a good thing. But I want to do something more, something that will make it possible for more runners to win the prize.
I echo your sentiment that to be an encouragement from the sidelines is great, but can we do more? Can we pass living water to those who don’t even know they’re thirsty, but are running, running, running? If our stories are written from the perspective of, “What do You want me to say, Lord?” then we can be sure what we write will reach its intended target. In preaching the Kingdom, Jesus addressed both the suffering of the day and the sin that was its root. Writing speculative fiction that has a message… wasn’t that the parables? Stories spoken with a meaning for those that would hear? As Christian writers, whether speculative or not, our writing isn’t for our own enjoyment, nor for “tickling the ears” of readers. We write as to the Audience of One. If He is pleased, all is well. When we start from the place of obedience, of “What do You want me to do?” we get our answers. At the heart of every writer who knows Christ, loves Him, follows Him, and “in Him we live and move and have our being” is the desire to serve Him. When we do, the stories come. I’m preaching to the choir, most likely. But it is my thought on the matter.
Thank you for this challenge and for pointing out Hebrews 12:1-2. I am reminded of Jesus and how he answered questions. He cut to the heart of things in such an astonishing way that everyone was amazed and even silenced. As you wrote above, we can follow his example and search for the core of our hurts. I can try my best to present story conflict, characters, and their ideas honestly. My favorite books ask more questions than they answer and always point to hope and redemption.
“Peaceful Protests?” What peaceful protests? All I have seen riot after riot after riot and quite frankly; I am tired of it.
Been in contact with my BFF in Toledo. She says all the protests there were peaceful but they ended after a week or so.
The peaceful protests are a thing of the past.
TGM, that’s why the first word in the article is “riots.” Though there may not be peaceful protests you’re aware of, there are quite a few. We can argue whether they are justified, but we would be remiss to assert they do not exist.
My latest book is not about “social issues” so much as two mentalities plaguing us now.
Hopelessness and legalism.
Maxwell’s Metamorphoses contains the themes of hope and grace.
Not about escapism, but our need to get current problems in perspective. Paranormal fantasy set in the “real world” but back in the nineties.