Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Moi? Traditional?

Elliot at Claw of the Conciliator has listed me as one of the latest members of the Christian speculative-fiction tradition. I'm proud to be included in this group, which includes an impressive list of forbears. But I'm also amused by the idea of being part of a literary tradition, although I suppose everybody's part of some tradition. At any rate, being included in the same list as Philip K. Dick -- who evidently identified as Episcopalian, which I hadn't known -- and Connie Willis is just fine with me.

Okay, Elliot, here's a question for you, and a fun bit of bio-trivia: plenty of SF/F writers identify as Christian and write about faith in various forms, but how many have been converted partly by the process of writing SF/F?

As I've said here several times before, reading Lewis and Tolkien when I was a kid probably got me started on the road to Christianity. Writing my doctoral dissertation, which for several years had me steeped in 19th-century Christian feminism (Stowe et. al.), inched me further along that road. But one of the really important moments in my conversion process came when, in 1994, I wrote "GI Jesus" while under the influence of a 103-degree fever. That novella's the final story in The Fate of Mice, and was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. Writing it kicked my faith journey into much higher gear than it had been in before. (Some Christians who've read it have been deeply offended by it; others love it.)

I'd be really curious to know if other SF/F writers relatively new to faith have had similar experiences.


  1. Wow. That's very interesting!

    Hmm. Good question. I'm really going to have to think about it.

    John C. Wright may partly fit into that category. But I'll get back to you. :-)

  2. I am glad to hear "GI Jesus" is in Fate of Mice, it's another reason to pick up the book. I missed picking up Starlight when I had the chance.

    I'll pick it up at my friendly local bookstore where I run an SF/F bookclub. The book will quickly be added to our list, probably May's book.

    Two things:

    First, when I looked up the ISBN for Fate of Mice, Amazon recommended that I buy Alan Moore's recent pornographic graphic novel at the same time. I wonder how some Christians might react to that recommendation.

    Second, I remember talking with some non-denominational Christians about Frailty directed by Bill Paxton. I really liked the movie, especially its ending. But the people I was talking with were deeply offended; they thought it was mocking their beliefs. All I could wonder was whether they watched the whole movie or not. That's all I'll say so as not to give any spoilers.

    As to the question about SF/F and faith. I've read a good deal of atheistic fiction, in addition to the religious SF/F I've enjoyed. Some, like Behold the Man, I have very much enjoyed even though it is pretty blasphemous from a certain perspective. I didn't like the Pullman stuff, but I really like (purple as his language is) Lovecraft's atheistic horror. It is the "void" and awakening to meaninglessness of his protagonists which really provides the horror for me.

    My faith journey, a phrase I don't use very often, didn't really come directly from the SF/F I've read, but I'm certain the reading influenced my path. Without being a Fantasy fan, I wouldn't have watched all those Sword and Sandals movies in my teens. Without those, I doubt I would ever have read Plato with as much excitement as I have and do. And Plato is where my faith journey begins. He and I talk about "the good" quite often.

    As Christianity is, in my opinion, a combination (for better or worse) of biblical revelation and its encounter with Western Philosophy, my religious sensibility is informed by my study of philosophy. It has led me to some odd outcomes. I was raised by fairly agnostic parents, yet I am a practicing Roman Catholic.

    I find that my philosophic encounter with my faith has allowed me to be Ecumenical without being Universalist, whatever that means. It has also helped me when talking with members of my community about biblical meaning, allegory, and dialectic.

  3. I've been thinking about it, and I can't think of any other cases where writing sf prompted a faith journey. Reading sf and fantasy has done it for a number of people, but writing... I dunno. Then again, writers do report that they learn what they believe when they write. Like the little old lady E.M. Forster talked to: "How can I know what I think 'till I see what I say?"

  4. Christians believe Lost Girls is pornographic? Now I know why I can't be considered a Christian.

  5. Ken,

    Since Christian didn't specify the title, are you sure that's the one he meant? In any case, reactions to any given piece of work are as varied among Christians as among any other group of people. Christianity isn't a monolithic entity, although some people would like to make it one.

    I'm not familiar with Lost Girls, and can't express an opinion; I would ask, though, for everyone please to keep their comments here constructive.

    Christian: If that was the work you meant, what struck you as pornographic about it?

  6. Both Publishers Weekly and Booklist call Lost Girls pornographic in their reviews posted on its page. However, PW gave it a starred review and Booklist notes: "The work voices an impassioned defense of artistic freedom that stresses that fiction and fantasies aren't the same as actual events and behavior. 'Only madmen and magistrates cannot discriminate between them,' one character proclaims."

    Pornography is commonly understood to mean work that devotes substantial attention to explicit depictions of sexual acts, and as Booklist notes, in Lost Girls, "explicit sex, including incest, is on virtually every page." Pornography is a genre, not a value judgment. There's great pornography; there are awful literary novels.

  7. Susan: Because it's the book that pops up when I go to the FoM Amazon page as well. (Not unique to you; it popped up for almost everything I browsed except the Student Solutions Manual for Futures, Options, and Derivatives.)

    Gary: In fact, if you look at Neil Gaiman's review (PW--but signed!), he specifically notes that the work functions well except as pornography (which matches my vague memory of it all those years ago as well).


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.