Last week’s post, now edited, which I intended to list the top ten stories original story worlds by authors who don’t identify as Christians (in contrast to this week’s post), made an error. Unknown to me at the time, I included the Myst video game series as part of that list. And I’ve been repeatedly assured that the series was not only produced by Christians, its sales have been used to support missionary work (so is kinda “über-Christian” 🙂 ). So I’ve moved it over to this list, which has the top ten speculative fiction stories by authors who are Christians, and in its place have edited H. P. Lovecraft’s short story, The Call of Cthulu, back into last week’s article.
I won’t explain again the reason behind the focus of last’s weeks post on originality, but I’d like to clarify that while I used the term “original story world,” what would have been more accurate would have been “original setting.” Because the setting of a story is a broader category than the story world. It would have been a better term to account for the fact that Jurassic Park in particular invented several original ideas key to the story (bringing back lost species, searching amber of ancient DNA), though had an otherwise ordinary story world. Likewise this week’s list is really more broadly about original setting, even though I’m continuing with the term “original story world.”
Likewise I won’t explain my rating system all over, though I will mention I rated rated each story from 1 to 5 on originality, influence on other stories, sales influence, and influence on public discourse. The ten stories on this list rate from 10 to 16 points overall.
10. Requiem 4
Mike Duran is far better known for his Reagan Moon series than this novelette. However, while I’ve read one of the Reagan Moon books (The Ghost Box), I feel Requiem 4 is far more original in its tone and approach. Combining concepts of Nephilim, demons, dystopia, and military science fiction, Requiem 4 is among a handful of works by contemporary Christian authors I consider truly original.
While it does draw on other types of stories I just mentioned, Requiem 4 rates 5 points for originality in my opinion. As far as influence on other stories, as far as I know it sadly has had none, 1 point. Concerning sales, I don’t know for certain, but I would guess this story rates a 2 in that department. Concerning influence on public discourse, it’s hard to get people talking about a story they’re barely aware of, but I estimate people would talk about this tale if it were better known–2 points. 10 points total.
A disclaimer is in order here–Mike asked me for editorial input on Requiem 4 as he was writing it. Some of my advice he followed and some he didn’t. I’m not responsible for the story turning out as original as it did, but I could be accused perhaps of bias in favor of a story I helped with in a minor way. I don’t think I’m biased about it (my connection may have caused some negative bias, in fact)–but, anyway, now you know.
Downsides? This story could be disturbing for some readers. Not supremely graphic but a bit so. I also don’t agree with the notion of Nephilim as used in the tale, but Mike drew from ideas popularized by Dr. Michael Heiser, a scholar many people find fascinating. Though I disagree with much of what Heiser says, he does make a few points I find worthwhile…but anyway, Mike creating a story that includes elements drawn from Dr. Heiser’s works is of course a legit thing to do in writing fiction.
Brent Weeks’s Lightbringer series I haven’t read, but the story world premise of magic divided up by colors of light isn’t commonly done as far as I know. Though The Black Prism, the first in the series, was published in 2010, which is long after the invention of the card game Magic: The Gathering, which has been dividing magic up into colors since 1993. Still, the system Weeks created uses seven colors instead of four. The Lightbringer series also departs a bit from the normal fantasy milieu by placing its story in a world not limited to swords and medieval technology–gunpowder and simple mechanical machines are common in Week’s story universe.
For re-branding color magic and throwing in some non-standard tech, I’ll give Mr. Weeks a 3 for originality. Influence on other stories is difficult to gauge for tales which are relatively new, but clearly there is some influence, so a 2. Concerning sales, I think Lightbringer has done quite well, but doesn’t hit the top (no movie deals as of yet!)–4 points. As far as influence on public discourse is concerned, does the general public discuss the stories Brent Weeks created? Die hard fans might, but nobody else as far as I know, so 1 point. 10 points total.
As far as story downsides that may exist, it’s difficult for me to comment because I haven’t read it. I read dozens of Amazon reviews and saw some few readers complained about excessive use of the f-word and sex, while others complained the story seemed “chauvinist.” I’ve met Mr. Weeks in person and know he’s a Christian, but his reviewers didn’t focus on any redemptive aspects of his stories or any indication the series relates to faith in God–not that I saw in the reviews I read, anyway.
8. Myst Series
Myst represents a series of video games that started in 1993. I had heard of Myst but never played it. I’m including it on this list based on other people mentioning it and me conducting some research. The reason Myst was so groundbreaking at the time was it decided to do video game graphics from already rendered images, making the images available via the then-new technology of CD-Rom discs. The experience was visually immersive but didn’t allow for rapid realistic movement. So in an age dominated by shooting baddies even more than our own time, the developers of Myst decided to center the game around solving puzzles, with different small worlds to explore (limited in size by the storage capacity of discs), and built a backstory after the fact to explain what they’d created. The backstory, while an afterthought, helps make the game immersive and fascinating for many players.
The first game was a huge hit in terms of sales, spawning a sequel, Riven. Fans loved the sequel, inspiring even more games, but they were uneven in terms of quality and playability and gradually became less popular. For a time it seemed the Myst series was going to fade out of existence. However, since 2016 it’s enjoyed a bit of a resurgence in popularity.
By shaping content to match a format and doing what no other game series has done before or after, the Myst series rates 5 for originality. While often hailed as a game of the future back in the 90s, most games did not in fact imitate Myst. It’s had only limited influence on other games, so I gave it a 2. Sales were great at first for Myst but declined eventually, so I rated it a 3. As far as Myst influencing the public discourse, I judge any influence it may have had on what people think to be limited to its fans, so 1 point. 11 points total.
I can’t speak very well to any negative influences Myst may or may not have had. Myst contains no direct references to God, though does refer to “The Maker” in a way that supports a theistic worldview. The Myst series qualifies as “clean fiction” with no nudity, profanity, or violence. Still, I’ve been told some people might possibly object to the game’s magical system, though I don’t know specifically why.
7. The Dark Trench saga
Loads of modern sci-fi stories are in the cyberpunk sub-genre, but I think Kerry Nietz’s Dark Trench series takes an approach to a futuristic cyber dystopia that on the one hand is boldly politically incorrect and on the other, nobody else is doing. Not that I’ve ever heard of. Because Kerry’s world is of an Islamic civilization that has conquered the world–but then is endlessly at war against itself.
Dystopian Islamic cyberpunk is a unique combination, but cyberpunk is so common this tale gets a 4 for originality from me. As far as influence on other stories, it’s probably had some, but limited–2 points. As far as sales are concerned, I think the series may rate a 3 in the system I’m using. As far as influence on public discourse, hmm–as intriguing as Islamic cyberpunk is, I don’t actually hear people talking about it. Though they should!–2 points. 11 points in all.
Downsides could include the idea the story portrays an unrealistic view of Islam…perhaps even one that’s “Islamophobic.” Personally I think there is little chance Islam will conquer the entire world and Christians should not focus on it all that much–so perhaps a danger of this series would be to get people overly focused on Islam.
6. The Constant Tower
Several people recommended to me books by Carole McDonnell. I’ve only read a bit of her work, not including the novel I included here or other novels she wrote I considered, but I’m impressed by her powerful story-telling from what I’ve read. I wish I could say for certain that The Constant Tower has the most original story world among her works, but I don’t actually know for sure that it is. However, I’m intrigued by the premise of towers with a will of their own but which also work with human beings to keep people safe “from the Creator’s ancient curse.” I also find the idea of geographic location changing every night interesting–like dreams or nightmares of motion coming true in a sense, perhaps.
Also, from what I’ve read, this fantasy is one of relatively few that seems to owe nothing to Tolkien. There are not elves or dwarves or sword-and-sorcery play from the reviews I read. As far as I know, nobody has ever used towers in the sense McDonnell has done–5 points for originality. As far as influence on other stories is concerned, I don’t know of any, though perhaps I’m a poor person to judge since I haven’t read the story. Let’s say 2 points. As far as sales are concerned, I don’t actually know, but to estimate sales influence by the number of ratings left on Amazon and elsewhere, I would guess this novel is a 2. As far as influence on public discourse, I again don’t know of any (even though perhaps there should be) but there may be some I’m unaware of, 2 points. 11 points total.
As far as downsides, one reviewer I saw mentioned sexuality and violence. Other comments make it clear that while “the Creator” is clearly referenced, Christian ideas are not overt in most of this story, which can be good or bad, depending on the person you ask.
5. The Mote in God’s Eye
This novel is a collaboration of work between Larry Niven, who is not a Christian, and Jerry Pournelle, science fiction writer well-known for his Catholic faith. Interestingly the tale takes place in a future universe in which the overall society is Catholic (though not every individual is Catholic) and in some ways resembles the feudal past of Earth. Space has nobility who reign by birthright. This conservative-mindset world meets the first known intelligent alien species, who are radically different from human beings and who are both very nice and welcoming–while at the same time form a menace to human existence.
This story puts overtly Christian (even though generally Catholic) characters in a situation that doesn’t line up with the Christian gospel very well–in which aliens do evil, but haven’t contemplated needing a Savior and don’t seem interested in one. Evolution is treated seriously in the story and shows what it would take for aliens to evolve as “more advanced” than humans. This story rates 5 points for originality for the aliens it created. As far as influence on other stories, this tale may have influenced other science fiction in ways I’m unaware of, but hasn’t influenced Christian authors very much for sure–2 points. As far as sales, I think the story sold reasonably well, and has a few sequel stories, but hasn’t become a big franchise–3 points. As far as influence on public discourse is concerned, I think the story would lend a person to talk about what it would really mean to meet aliens and is interesting in that respect. But on the one hand isn’t widely-known and on the other is mainly about the menace the aliens (secretly) pose–2 points. 12 points overall.
As for downsides, I think Protestants get shorted in the tale, but that’s fine (I kinda returned the favor to Catholics with Medieval Mars, which is largely Protestant). I also think treating evolution so seriously would obviously cause a lot of protest from the point of view of Biblical creation. Still, while I’m willing to talk about evolution as a story idea, I would have preferred the story to have done more to show God’s purpose or plan for the alien race–although the tale didn’t altogether neglect that aspect of the story. AND finally, the title seems insulting to God, but there’s actually a story reason explaining exactly why the story title is what it is…
4. Demon: A Memoir
While writing a story that includes demons done many times by Christian authors, the approach of trying to delve into what motivates a demon hasn’t been looked at as thoroughly since the time of Milton and hasn’t been written from the demonic point of view that I know of other than The Screwtape Letters. Especially pondering why demons hate humans marks Demon: A Memoir as original compared to other stories.
Overall I’d give Tosca Lee’s Demon 4 points for originality (it did draw from previous tales to a degree). As far as influence on other stories is concerned, I’m not really sure, but suspect it’s been minimal, 2 points. As far as sales are concerned, I believe it’s sold well–4 points. As far as influence on public discourse is concerned, I think people reading this story would be generally interested in talking about what demons are like and what motivates them, though probably not in depth. 3 points. 13 points in all.
On the downside, years ago I wrote a personal blog post saying that I felt Demon failed to really convince me this was a demonically evil character in the tale and also seemed to rather humanize demons. I felt that the story though is something Christians should read in part because it could inspire some conversation and thought about the nature of demons and how they are and are not like humans. Still, as is, the story might strike some readers as undermining the notion that God is just.
It’s interesting perhaps that I’d pick one book out of Lewis’s Space Trilogy without including the other two. But each of the three works in the trilogy are distinctly different from one another. Out of the Silent Planet strongly parallels the planetary exploration science fiction stories common at the time Lewis wrote his tale, whereas That Hideous Strength features the main character’s return to Earth and contest with an organization of scientists influenced by demons reminiscent of Lewis’s own work in The Screwtape Letters.
Perelandra occupies original middle ground between the other books in the series, where the Fall (in the Christian sense) could happen on another world, Venus. It’s the main character’s role to prevent that from happening (Dr. Ransom). This book therefore makes Lewis’s ideas about the redemption of the universe and nature of the existence of aliens central to the tale.
Lewis of course drew from the Bible and pre-existing science fiction for his story, but I’d still give it a 4 for originality. As for influence on other stories, I’d say this story has mainly influenced other Christian writers, mostly to refrain from writing science fiction! Because Lewis largely closed the door to aliens having sinful motivations, which make stories interesting–in ironic contrast to how he showed fantasy creatures to act in Narnia. Overall, 3 points for his negative influence. Sales? Perelandra has sold well-enough, but not amazingly well, 3 points. Influence on public discourse would likewise rate 3 points in my estimation, because while the story is thought provoking about the nature of God’s work among other intelligent species, most people aren’t that aware of the existence of this story. 3 points. 13 points total.
On the downside, Perelandra has been criticized for showing the Eve figure as a stereotypical and old-fashioned view of femininity (space Eve lacks “agency,” among other complaints). Though Professor Weston, the antagonist of the tale, who serves as Satan’s sock puppet (so to speak) is hardly more developed. The story is also a strange read with certain elements seeming outright surreal, such as the prolonged fight between Weston and Ransom. My biggest criticism though is the story reinforces ideas that writing about aliens acting as human beings do is unchristian, even though Lewis was fine portraying animals and mythological beings as equivalent to humans in terms of personal morality.
2. The Screwtape Letters
C. S. Lewis’s look at what one demon would advise another to do as a commentary on demonic influence in the real world was a bold approach to modernize and make relevant the concept of Satan’s influence. Clearly The Screwtape Letters isn’t Lewis’s most renowned work (Narnia is), but it’s among his most original.
Still, as a story concept, Lewis did not invent stories about demons (bear in mind that Faust was considerably better-known in his time than ours). He simply refreshed the notion, but with a significant twist: 4 points. As far as influence on other stories is concerned, there certainly has been influence, but I’d say the influence has diminished over time, 3 points. Sales of this story have been steady but are not on the scale of even Narnia, let alone LoTR. 3 points. As far as influence on public discourse is concerned, the main limiter on its influence on discourse is the fact the book is so clearly Christian, therefore non-Christians tend to ignore it. Though that isn’t true when it was first published and in fact pretty much everyone aware of the existence of this book winds up discussing at least some of its ideas in my observation–4 points. 14 points total.
The major downside of this book is that cultural issues have moved on since Lewis’s time. As has correspondence. So the issues Lewis talked about are not the same as what we face today, even though there are many similarities. And the style he wrote in, which was fresh and easily-accessible at the time of writing seems stale and old-fashioned now. All of these things limit the scope of this story and can have the side effect of causing someone to miss issues that matter very much in our own day but which were moot points in Lewis’s time (such as the modern rise of Neo-Paganism).
1. The Lord of the Rings
It’s hard to overstate the influence of J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterwork. Fantasy as we know it in modern times with all the elves-dwarves-magic-swordplay aspects is directly a product of what Tolkien wrote.
Tolkien though was not in fact trying to be original or create a new genre. His fascination was with legends of the past, including Pagan mythology and fairy tales, and he wended them into a world that also included various Christian ideas removed from specific allegory. While the results were groundbreaking, the roots of what inspired Tolkien are visible. So I’d give him a 4 for originality. As far as influence on other stories is concerned, of course LoTR rates a 5. As far as sales are concerned, the overall series with all related products rates a 5. As far as influence on public discourse is concerned, do people discuss the meaning of the ring of power and other story elements as much as they simply get caught up in the action? How many people are even aware of the fact Christian ideas inspired Tolkien? Here I’d say the story falls down, 2 points–16 points total.
The downsides of LoTR includes how little of the intended meaning gets across to the general public. Many readers and viewers of the movies seem unaware of the fact that Tolkien made commentary on the ultimate nature of evil. Even moreso, Frodo bearing the ring paralleling Christ’s Passion or Gandalf coming back from the depths paralleling the resurrection or Aragorn’s return to Gondor paralleling the Second Coming largely falls on deaf ears. I’ve had conversations with non-Christians in which I explained the Christian symbolism in Tolkien and the reaction I’ve received is, “Huh. Interesting!” followed by no change in attitude towards LoTR or life in general. Sadly. (And, no kidding, practicing Neo-Pagans who dislike C.S. Lewis defend Tolkien because of the Pagan elements he drew upon. I’ve had conversations on that topic…)
I laid out these two posts with certain expectations in mind–one would be that Christian stories overall are less original in the rating scheme I’ve created than stories created by non-Christians. But that isn’t true in the stories I’ve placed in these posts–sales and influence on public discourse is definitely less, but originality isn’t less.
Though what I think I’ve found is that in the world of speculative fiction in general, strong sales have at least some connection with original story settings. That seems to be less true for stories written by Christians or dealing with Christian themes. Narnia, less original in my view (clearly influenced by Tolkien to a degree), definitely outsells C.S. Lewis’s other creative universes.
It seems to be the case that Christian fans of speculative fiction aren’t as drawn to originality as speculative fiction fans in general. Perhaps that isn’t actually true, but it seems to be as of this moment. Hmmm.
Also, of all of these stories, only one has been turned into a film version. Overall, the entire body of Christian speculative fiction is much less commercially successful than so-called “non-Christian fiction.” Apparently there’s a smaller fan base seeking Christian writers of speculative fiction.
I would have liked to include more stories in this list. Yes, stories and authors I knew about were more likely to make the list than ones I don’t know, but I included stories I haven’t read or seen here. I will list all the stories I considered in a comment below.
Agree? Disagree? Would like to suggest your own list? Please let me know in the comments below!
(By the way, the podcast version of this post, same content but in different words, is available at:)