September 1, 2007

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Is Overtly Christian Science Fiction Saleable?

This post is from my old website, written on

July 20, 2007

Can SF with an overtly Christian world view make it in the same market as DUNE, BARRAYAR, PERN,
the UPLIFT UNIVERSE and among such aliens as the ATEVI?
This is a tough one. While I would LOVE to say “sure”, I’m disturbingly certain that the answer is “no way”. And that answer has nothing to do with quality storytelling, it has to do with the rigidity of the science fictional mindset. The Christian worldview is as unwelcome among the fictional stars as it is at a science fiction convention. Were I to stand up and suggest we talk about faith in Christ or the Christian roots of DUNE, I would be shouted down at worst and ignored at best. And there is no one out there who can deny or support my claim because it hasn’t happened before. There ARE no SF novels out and about that have normal, evangelical Christian characters. PLEASE do not point to James Blish’s A CASE OF CONSCIENCE. The characters in it are Catholic priests NOT for their belief but for their Jesuit militancy. Don’t note Mary Doria Russell’s THE SPARROW – again, she created Catholic characters as a plot device, not because they were simply Christian as a part of everything else they were.
What I am talking about is having characters who are Christians the same way that they are male, female, come from New York, had nanosurgery or grew up on Titan. Characters who are Christians because they are Christians and have a peculiar world view and are NOT placed in the story so they can have a viewpoint that turns the entire plot. But they CAN make observations and react to situations in ways OTHER than trying to evangelize a planet by threatening to infect all the aliens with blue goo or make up a religion to provide cover to engineer a breeding program and create a kwisatch haderach. I don’t think the SF community will give them a chance to exist in the Humanist universe most SF posits into existence. (Though I will be sending out INVADER’S GUILT starting August 2007 that will test those waters…)
As well, Christianity, while far from perfect and very far from blameless, is often viewed as the “dominating belief” system in America. It automatically becomes unwelcome in a genre that thrives on overturning tables and upsetting apple carts (I have LESS trouble with that excuse than I do with the following). When beliefs ARE named, they are watered down and so namby pamby that they are revolting to someone like me who takes his Christianity seriously (for example, while I read and re-read the Vorkosigan novels because I love them, I utterly detest Cordelia’s insipid deism.) Of the others named above, Pern has no religion because Anne McCaffrey has no desire to “inflict religion on an unsuspecting planet”; and the Atevi have no obvious belief system other than the belief in themselves (which may infer that that makes them superior to Humans, which they ARE). Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek Universe is populated by both atheists and believers – but the atheists (= Humans) are inherently superior to those who HAVE beliefs (Bajorans, Vulcans, Ferengi and Klingons) because it is quite clearly Humans who lead the Federation and Humans who have never really been subjugated by any other alien race.) HOWEVER, the “religions” of both DUNE and the UPLIFT universe are essentially predicated on a belief in the natural rather than the supernatural. DUNE revolves around Paul Atreides/Muad’Dib.Usul and his ascension into godhood through the spice and a sense that all Humans are meant to evolve into some sort of superior being. In the UPLIFT universe, all belief is predicated on the return of the Progenitors, who are (merely) aliens who started the whole Uplift chain then evolved to a higher plane of existence. Neither deals with a supernatural God of the universe…
And I think I've run out of room here, so I'll end for now and then pick up the same theme in a few days to finish my thoughts. As always, feel free to disagree and let me know about it at my email below. (PS: Regarding the request to set up a message board/response thing: it was never my intent to foster a general discussion. I've also heard that doing so burns up an inordinate amount of time. I choose, at this time, to hold single-person discussion with the people who write to me me (thanks to those of you who do!) and to work on writing novels and short stories instead! But thanks for the compliment/suggestions!)


GuyStewart said...

Testing, testing, one, two, three...

David B. Ellis said...

Can SF with an overtly Christian world view make it in the same market as DUNE, BARRAYAR, PERN,
the UPLIFT UNIVERSE and among such aliens as the ATEVI?

That's an interesting question. Since the population of the US is (at least nominally) three quarters christian one would think there would be an audience for it.

But I suspect it wouldn't do that well. For whatever reasons, SF tends to attract people who are less inclined toward belief on faith and more skeptical in nature.

As for myself, I'd be glad to see good science fiction from a christian. Orson Scott Card is a mormon and its never interferred with my enjoyment of his books.

You should check out John C. Wright. He wrote a brilliant SF story THE GOLDEN AGE TRILOGY when he was an atheist but has since converted to christianity following a series of religious visions he had during recovery from heart surgery.

He hasn't yet published any SF following his conversion but it should be interesting to see how it changes his writing (if it does change it).

JS Bangs said...

I could think right off of two examples of books that contained evangelical Christian characters that were not just ignorant rubes: Tad Williams' _Otherland_ series, which contains one central character who is revealed to be an evangelical convert. (It's the street punk gearhead, which was an interesting choice in itself.) The other is Stephenson's _Cryptonomicon_, which features one of the main characters becoming an evangelical Christian.

So it's not as bleak as you think.