Christian Science Fiction

I often wonder, if Travelers ever gets picked up, what genre will it be sold as? It's essentially science fiction, obviously, but there's a fair amount of God and faith themes in the story too, and I honestly don't know how they would come across to a non-Christian reader.

Alex is an atheist. His wife was Christian before she passed away, and their son is kind of caught in between and attending a Christian school. In the future, many of the characters pray to God and believe the prophets are speaking for him. And then towards the end there's a Heaven-like scene and even an ambiguous image of a man, beaten and bleeding, hanging in the air with arms stretched out.

Is it too much Christianity for the secular SF market? I guess only an agent or an editor could tell me for sure. But is it also too secular for the Christian market? This book probably isn't, but other book ideas I have just might be.

Because of that, I'd rather not be categorized as a Christian author. Maybe I've heard wrong, but I understand it's difficult to shift genres, and I don't know if the Christian market is the right place for what I (usually) like to write. I've seen the books on Christian bookstore shelves, and most of them just aren't the kind of thing I enjoy writing.

There's something else too. I don't know how to say it exactly, so here's an example. I was reading a plot summary of The Oath the other day. It's got dragons, conspiracies, murder... everything a good urban fantasy needs. I thought it sounded like a cool story right up until the protagonist is told that he "must have Jesus on his side" to defeat the dragon.

Now this is sad (and worthy of its own blog post): why does the mention of Jesus automatically make the story feel cheesy to me? It says more about me than it does about the story, I know. Travelers borders on this, but I wasn't willing to go all the way and say, "You need Jesus to defeat Arad." I think because I wanted to sell, maybe even speak to, the secular market.

Besides which (and maybe this is why I find it so cheesy), I think a Christian reading Travelers would put two and two together without me ever having to be obvious about it, and I fear being obvious about it would automatically turn off a non-Christian reader. I'm not trying to evangelize with the book. If anything, I want both Christian and non-Christian readers to think - maybe for the first time - that there might be more to this life than we think there is.

I don't know if the story does that, but is it already too late anyway? Is the book already too religious for the secular market? I guess I'll find out, if it sells.


MattyDub said...

I've been meaning to post on this for a while, sorry for the delay.
I agree with your reaction to the "cheesy" Christian stuff. That was a trap that Randy Ingermanson has been able to avoid, I felt - it was one of the reasons I liked his writing so much. I only read the first two time travel books, and Oxygen, so maybe other ones aren't as good? But I doubt it - he was getting better over the course of the books I read.
Anyway, I think one of the problems I have with the "Christian" books I've read is the reductionism - they omit the vast majority of story lines that exist, and say "These are the acceptable story lines." Another problem is that many of them just aren't good - it's the standard problem with "Christian" pop culture. It is a pale imitation of something else, when it should be boldly forging new paths. If you recall our time at Spirit West Coast, one speaker there said something that stuck with me (this is actually tied for most memorable event at Spirit West Coast for me, along with the ill-fated bacon grease/styrofoam cup episode). He critiqued the Christian culture that has been so prevalent over the past few decades as being the inverse of what Jesus wanted. While He said to be in the world, not of it, Christian coffee shops, pop music, etc., are of the world, not in it.
So - all that to say, I think you're hunting for a fine line to walk, and I think you're closing in on it with Travelers. I'm very excited to read anything even vaguely related to airships.
-Matt, aka He Who Rambles

Adam Heine said...

Yeah. You and I have talked about this before, Matt, but I'll put it here for others to read and discuss too.

The whole Christian bookstore scene puts a bad taste in my mouth. And unfortunately the only two examples of Christian SF I've read are LeHaye/Jenkins and Ingermanson. Ingermanson is good, but largely unknown (outside of the Christian world), while LeHaye/Jenkins is just not good writing, but everybody has heard of them. One reason I don't want to write Christian SF is because I don't want to have the conversation wherein the other person says, "Oh, like Left Behind, right?"

Interestingly, I just read something about this in the book Chasing Francis (about a disillusioned pastor who learns about the counter-cultural (but very old) teachings of St. Francis of Asissi). My opinion (formed by Francis' opinion) is that Christian art should be far better than secular art. Not because we're better or because God is blessing it or anything dumb like that. Simply because the art we're making is for God.

That's my opinion, but I admit it doesn't inform my own work as much as I think it should.

As for airships, I haven't forgotten the day you put me in charge of all forms of airship entertainment, Matt. So far, Air Pirates doesn't really bother walking this Christian line we're talking about. It's having enough fun blurring the line between SF and fantasy (though I'd call it SF, if I had to pick one).

Brooke C said...

You said "I'm not trying to evangelize with the book."

I agree that the whole abrupt crossover into obvious evangelical lingo can be cheesy and sound a little patronizing.

I think that as a Christian writer, you sort of inherently deposit something Godly into your work. A writer writes from his worldview, and reveals it in his book, however subtle--and even unintentional--that might be.

To me, the beauty of the Narnian Chronicles (for instance) is that nothing is spelled out. CS Lewis was obviously a Christian, but he felt no need to be be explicit about that in his fantasy writings. He reserved that for Mere Christianity, et al.

The reader sees the symbolism better when the scent of it is woven through the story, rather than the hard outline shoved in one's face.

In this same way, I believe, God now reveals Himself to those who are looking for Him, through other people and the written Word--never physically face to face. In my opinion, it's a fantastic way to write Christian fiction...others may never pick up on the symbolism, and that's ok.

I think by being a Christian and writing worthwhile fiction that carries with it the whispering suggestion of God, you are evangelizing. And he that hath an ear, let him hear. :)

Adam Heine said...

Brooke, I agree with pretty much everything you said :-)