Discussing
Singing the praises of science fiction

Micheal Hickerson

Kevin Ford
September 28, 2011

As a young Christian I was deeply impacted by the stories of Zenna Henderson.  As a young school teacher she volunteered to teach in a Japanese-American internment camp during WW2.  Her stories indited racism well before that was an acceptable motif, using the vehicle of refugees from an unfallen planet trying to blend in here on earth...

Anny
September 28, 2011

I know this wasn't the main point of your post, but I just wanted to point out that Taoism has been practiced for centuries, and is certainly not "nontraditional".

Rickld
September 28, 2011

In my early teens I was not yet a Christian and I was fascinated by science fiction. I read every single science fiction book in that category in the public library, from the Martian Chronicles to Fahrenheit 451 to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy to all the wonderful Philip K. Dick stories. The books that stuck with me after becoming a Christian were the Lord of the Rings trilogy, CS Lewis Out of the Silent planet trilogy and a few others. CS Lewis wrote one of the most perceptive, prophetic books I’ve ever read in the last volume of his trilogy, That Hideous Strength. He catalogued the rise of elite academic liberalism, a sanitized Stalinism masquerading as enlightened, compassionate socialism. I re-read it last year and was shocked with how accurate his predictions were and I would highly recommend reading it today. He nails the liberal, politically correct dystopia that is England today.

Brian Lane
September 28, 2011

Robert Jordan envisioned the entire Wheel of Time concept as a means of showing why we can be glad for the western concept of linear (instead of cyclic) time.<br><br>He also once commented that the first few chapters of "The Eye of the World" were his tribute to Tolkein, and then the rest of the book runs away from Tolkein as quickly as possible.

Dori
September 28, 2011

I find the sacrificial hero (giving his life to save the world) is prominent in my two favorite series, The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, and The Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling.

Matt Mikalatos
September 28, 2011

If you're a Christian and want an easy start into the excellent books of Gene Wolfe, I love "Pirate Freedom!". All of his books are amazing, though. <br><br>I just read "A Canticle for Liebowitz" which is also an excellent novel about the preserving influence of the Catholic church in the midst of a world falling to pieces. It was really beautiful.

Micheal Hickerson
September 28, 2011

Thanks, Anny. You're absolutely right, and I tried to think of a different word than "nontraditional." I only meant that Taoism isn't part of the usual American religious spectrum. "Non-Western" or "non-Judeo-Christian" would probably have been better.

Micheal Hickerson
September 28, 2011

Brian (and Dori), I'll have to give the Wheel of Time a second chance after your comments. I read the first 5 or 6 books with great enthusiasm, but gave up on the series because I felt like it wasn't going anywhere.

Micheal Hickerson
September 28, 2011

Thanks for the recommendation. I'll have to read that one. I loved Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, but it is not for the sci-fi novice.

Micheal Hickerson
September 28, 2011

Thanks, Kevin. I had not heard of her before now, but I will add her books to my "to read" file.<br><br>One of my favorite sci-fi writers when I was young was Cordwainer Smith, and I was delighted as a young Christian to return to them and find Christian symbolism interwoven into them.

John Morehead
September 28, 2011

This piece is a breath of fresh air. I argued similarly about sci-fi and fantasy in connection with the sub-creators idea in my chapter contribution to Halos &amp; Avatars, edited by Craig Detweiler. <br><br>I would sing the praises of not only science fiction, but also fantasy, and even horror, as a Christian scholar. I write for Cinefantastique Online, and my own blog <a href="http://TheoFantastique.com" rel="nofollow">TheoFantastique.com</a>, where I bring out the religious and cultural significance of these fantastic genres, and hope that more Christians can consider the same. These genres are especially good at serving as vehicles for the consideration of cultural and religious issues, and can also bring together people of diverse religious and irreligious backgrounds for conversation about such things. <br><br>Glad to find this site and this essay.

Guest
September 29, 2011

I did too, although I think I made it through 7 or 8 before giving up.  However, I've read the last few that came out (12 and 13?) and finding more happening again.  I think he just got bogged down in the middle.

JCarpenter
September 29, 2011

The list didn't specify, but probably assumed, adult-reading-level; missing are the many novels of Madeleine L'Engle and a host of children's lit/young-adult lit authors.

JCarpenter
September 29, 2011

Loved the same list, adding A Canticle for Liebowitz, Pierre Boulle's Planet of the Apes, and On the Beach; Lewis's trilogy in particular---as a teenager,I read Out of the Silent Planet in my public h.s. senior lit class, my first exposure to Lewis' fiction.  As for dystopias, I'd think 1984 and Brave New World to be much more chilling and prophetic; I'll duck though, when any Brits respond to your last sentence! :?) <br>I also notice how many of the titles on the list are "classics" from the post-WWII/Cold War era; does today's culture provide comparatively as much pervasive inspiration for the genre? or is sci-fi/fantasy an just an established niche?

Micheal Hickerson
September 29, 2011

Yes, the list (mine and NPRs's) were for adult-level novels. Next summer, NPR is planning on a similar poll for children's and young adult sci-fi and fantasy.

Micheal Hickerson
September 29, 2011

Do you mean my list or the NPR list (<a href="http://www.npr.org/2011/08/09/139248590/top-100-science-fiction-fantasy-books)?" rel="nofollow">http://www.npr.org/2011/08/09/...</a> I think part of the dominance of older novels is simply influence over a greater period of time (e.g. who *hasn't* read 1984 or Brave New World?). On the full NPR list, the top 10 includes 2 novels of the 1980s (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Ender's Game) and 2 of the '90s-2000's (American Gods, A Song of Fire and Ice). As part of my research, I actually made a list of the authors appearing most often on NPR's list. Several were pre/post-WWII, like Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, but some contemporary writers also appeared several times. Neil Gaiman tied Heinlein with the most listings (4), and Neal Stephenson had 3 (the same as Asimov/Clarke). <br><br>Rather than sci-fi/fantasy being an established genre, I think the rapid growth of the genre has made it harder for new writers to gain the same level of general popularity as the older writers, because of the sheer number of sub-genres and new writers.

Guest
September 29, 2011

I can't say I can connect my love of science fiction to being raised as a Christian except that when our TV died in my early school years my Dad refused to replace it due to the corruption he saw in shows like Love Boat, Gilligan's Island :(  Fantasy Island and Dallas. "Nothing worth watching on our 12 channels so why buy a new idiot box" as he called it. We went for many years with no TV. (Just giving you the Gospel according to my Dad!) <br><br>So I got a library card and my Mom read us books in the evening. When we out grew the Bobbsy Twins she started on Dr. Who. We loved Dr. Who with his Mechanical dog and a fate that seemed to follow him through time and space. My brother would do the Dalek voices. My Mom also eventually read us some of her Piers Anthony Novel "A spell for Chameleon" one night when we were out of books and before we knew it, we were were 6 books in to the series that never ends. We spent hours thinking up the worst puns imaginable to 'punish' each other and would beg Mom to read another chapter. I didn't learn until later that she was editing some of the text as she read such as description of the Harpies, LOL... She also read us Narnia, the Dark is Rising Series by Susan Cooper, Frank L Baum Wizard of Oz (13 Books) and countless Hardy Boys (not sci-fi) (Until my Dad insisted they did too much B&amp;E). The lines were fuzzy as to what was adult fiction and what was kids except when Mom insisted on reading it aloud to edit content. I think reading with my family was more important than what we read. I had my own stacks of books too.<br><br>By high school I had read Lord of the Rings twice and was leaving messages on a reserved spot on the Latin room chalkboard in Tengwar with my friends. It was like an Elvin Twitter wall. <br><br>Sci-Fi I have enjoyed recently ... Tales of Alvin Maker by Orson Scott Card. <br><br>If all the Sci-fi books were to disappear and I could keep only one, it would be Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. It is vibrantly self-aware of the industrial revolution and political climate in which it is written. The exploration of the relationship of responsibility of creator and creation and what happens when the created becomes aware of the creator is fascinating and heart wrenching. The creature Adam is a broken creation in a broken world and yet he cannot find a place or companion, but for a few blissful moments among the blind and innocent. In the end, Adam finds that revenge against his creator who caused him pain and suffering solves nothing, and only brings him more pain. This is a message that is worth reading. Considering it was written by an eighteen year old girl, I have a special place in my heart for "Prometheus Unbound".

Moherring
September 29, 2011

I rather take exception to categorizing some novels as kiddie lit/adult lit. I derived decidedly different satisfactions from reading Lewis or L'Engle now than I did when I read them as a 11-year-old. Indeed Aslan grows bigger each time I encounter him.

Micheal Hickerson
October 1, 2011

Yes, the best "children's lit" can be enjoyed for a lifetime. I do think, though, that it can be helpful to identify appropriate reading levels. I've had some bad experiences when trying to introduce my children to books that were intended for older readers. As for myself, I didn't read much children's or young adult lit when I was younger and have tried to make up for it as an adult. While some books have become new-found favorites, there are others for which I "missed the window" when they would have been engaging for me.

Dan Walker
October 1, 2011

Great post.  My only regret is that I didn't latch on to any Christian-themed sci-fi/fantasy until Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings hit theaters.  I find that very odd, since I read the Dragonlance series by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman multiple times as a teenager.  I recall trying to read the The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring at the same time, but found them too wordy and difficult to follow.<br><br>But I was a voracious reader as a child.  I'm unclear if my parents had rejected Lewis' Narnia novels, or if they just never thought to suggest them.  Point is that I think a lot of conservative Christians shy away from this genre.  While that may be fine for them, I would have been a lot better served reading Tolkien and Lewis than wasting so much time with the Dragonlance series.

Rickd
October 1, 2011

My Girlfriend and I read The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring in 1967 and we thought we were the only ones in the whole world who knew about this wonderful fantasy. She even taught herself to write a little elvish. Coincidently, we both became christians 3 years later.

Shari Dragovich
October 2, 2011

Thank you for this post, Michael. I don't read much (any) sci-fi and only a little fantasy (except to my children, of course) but this post made me want to add some books to my list-- between your recommendations and many of the recommendations from the comments, I have a lot to consider.<br><br>What I loved most about your post, however, is that it helps chisel away at the self-made box we Christians have placed ourselves in. Somehow, we've managed to go from being a culture with broad and deep artistic personality to living incredibly narrow-focused and shallow-- at least in our creative interests and pursuits; which I believe carries over into how we bring God glory in creating solutions for very real world problems.<br><br>I hope that wasn't offensive to anyone, simply an observation. Thanks again for the post. I've been inspired.

SiarlysJenkins
October 4, 2011

I wouldn't consider either Lewis or Tolkien to be science fiction. Fantasy is a totally different genre, no matter how often they are marketed together. There is some plausible science, even if speculative, to science fiction. Magic is different, and stories of knights and fairies are different, even if presented in a galactic context. Madeleine L'Engel is, barely, science fiction, because of the element of Tesseract.<br><br>One of the interesting things about atheist science fiction writers, such as Arthur C. Clarke, is that they have to concoct a substitute for God. In the "Space Odyssey" series, mere evolution is not enough to explain the emergence of man, there must be a superior interstellar civilization that drops by to kick off the process of humanity emerging from mere primates, and even standing in judgement over the sentient races they create. In "Childhood's End," there is not only a technologically advanced race that arrives to supervise earth, but an Overmind that rules the universe, but, has a material origin. It seems something always has to be substituted for God, to have a credible story without God.<br><br>Asimov is more subtle. It is true enough, as presented in Foundation, that religion, deliberately manipulated, is a political tool for the powerful, and that "the religion of science" works predictably for purposes of political manipulation. The history of Christianity provides plenty of evidence... but that doesn't disprove that there may be a God after all.

William Harris
June 1, 2012

I would commend the Neal Stephenson books, although I'm not sure Cryptonomicon really counts as sci-fi. His two earlier novels (Snow Crash, Diamond Age) explore modern technologies in some very interesting ways. The former deals in part with the meshing of virtual and real worlds, beginning when an avatar in the virtual opens a document (e-mail) and the flesh and blood person drops over dead. A wonderful book.

Diamond Age deals with nanotechnology, stretching it far past what Michael Crichton sampled (see Swarm).

Both books pay attention to religious and cultural impacts of technology. Both can be dazzling, even disorienting in how they extend present themes into their new world.

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