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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Is "Christian Speculative Fiction" an oxymoron?

I recently read an interesting exchange between two writers on the Speculative Faith blog. In the first post, Mike Duran states as a fact: "While Borders and Barnes and Noble contain aisles of horror, science fiction, graphic novels, and fantasy, spec titles comprise a relatively minuscule portion of the religious fiction market." (I think he's right about that.) In his attempt to explain this, he doesn't exactly say that Christians can't write speculative fiction. But he does say ". . . speculative fiction, by its very nature, grates against the core of Christianity, which states that some things are beyond the pale of speculation." He also suggests that Christians are bound by their beliefs -- they can't question some of them, such as the nature of God, even in fiction, while non-believers are not so bound.

Rebecca Luella Miller, the blog's owner, responded. She says that all writers, not just Christians, are constrained by their beliefs. She uses Phillip Pullman as an example, saying, correctly, I believe, that Pullman wouldn't write about an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God because he doesn't believe that such a being is possible. Miller concludes that Christians actually have more freedom to create speculative worlds. "And we can infuse those worlds with a Being capable of coloring outside all boxes — because He made the boxes and the colors. How unlimiting for a writer. How speculative. And how Christian."

Both of these authors are at least partly correct. Christian bookstores are not the best place to go to purchase speculative fiction. And there seem to be some things, for example a God who is unjust and evil, that Christians won't write about, even in fantastic literature. And it is also true that writers are constrained by their beliefs.

But there were some things left out of the discussion. One of them is that Christian, and Christian fiction, are not defined. Is Christian fiction fiction in which people come to belief? Is it fiction which is published by certain publishers who market their books for evangelicals (mostly women)?

I have posted a tentative solution to the first problem. I have attempted to describe Christian fiction.

A second problem with the exchange is that it fails to cite some recent works of fantastic literature that have been well-received by the public at large, and are, I would say, Christian novels. Eifelheim was a nominee for the Hugo award in 2007. Important characters believed in a monotheistic God, and prayed to Him. There were choices between good and evil. There were even conversions, no less (of aliens). Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis, won both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1992. At least one of the main characters, Roche, is faced with an important choice between good and evil. Can he continue to believe in a good God, pray and hope, in spite of a terrible plague -- which eventually kills him? Yes, he can. At least some of the works of Stephen Lawhead were published, and marketed, by "mainstream" publishers, and sold well, and were read by people who wouldn't even know about faith fiction. There are other examples.

Thomson has responded to Duran's post, here. Her main thrust is that ". . . all fiction is speculative . . ."

Thanks for reading. Read Speculative Faith!


Anonymous said...

I would wonder if some authors are a bit scared to write on something taboo to the Christian reader. I personally wonder if a Christian will write on an unjust and evil God just to show how good and righteous the true God is. I think it would be interesting (although it would be the target of much Evangelical criticism).

Martin LaBar said...

I think that's part of the problem, if it is a problem.

Thanks, rustyfly.

Anonymous said...

And then there are Believers who write as missionaries to those lost in the dark. Such as Scath Beorh, for one example.