Why we need more frontiers in Christian spec-fic

I was listening to this interview with author Chris Fox. I’ve posted his advice on this blog before–I’m a bit of a fangirl. Anyway, when asked about why his first book did so well, he talked about frontiers.

Interviewer Hank: So tell me where the idea came from for No Such Thing As Werewolves, what’s the story about and how did this idea hatch for you?

Chris Fox: So the basic premise is that legends of mythical creatures have a grain of truth–they come from the distant past. And I tied that in with a science fiction approach, where I wanted there to be a reason why something like a werewolf could exist–a reason why moonlight would cause it to change, the reason why they’d be vulnerable to silver. So I started researching all that stuff, and in the process, really got into genetics and anthropology.

So I invented a culture that is currently something that mankind doesn’t know about. My version of Atlantis, I guess you might say. It used to exist, but has since disappeared. All of a sudden, traces of this culture are returning. It’s heralding a big change in the world–there’s an apocalypse coming. These werewolves are back, and people aren’t sure why. So our main character is an anthropologist trying to tie all these things together.

Hank: What is it about the idea of a distant past, and the idea of these creatures and civilizations that are so enchanting? What do you think it is that appeals to us?

CF: I think it has to do with frontiers. If you look back to when dime novels were popular, people loved reading about the wild west, because it was still an unknown frontier. They could learn about something. The idea that we don’t know everything there is to know about mankind, and that there is this great looming mystery, is very exciting to us. It sort of bores a lot of us to think that we know all there is to know about where we come from as a species and what exists in the world.

frontier_skies_by_joeyjazz-d81jsib
Frontier Skies by JoeyJazz

I’ve been musing about this for a few days now. The books I’ve really enjoyed have all had some kind of frontier in them–whether it was really interesting world-building, or a cool magic system, or characters with deep, world-shattering secrets. I seriously enjoyed the Expanse books because of all the mysteries lurking out in space. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much my favorite thing about space opera–the mysteries. The frontiers.

So, while thinking about this, I had a thought about why Christian spec-fic doesn’t do so well. I mean, why haven’t the Christian arena produced a Brandon Sanderson, the way the Mormon arena has?

Christians think we have all the answers. Therefore we have no frontiers.

The trouble is, the Bible is FULL of frontiers. Tons of unanswered questions and unknowable mysteries. Just read Ezekiel 1 and struggle as the poor prophet tried very hard to describe a 10-dimensional lifeform. Why do the cherubim carry their life inside fiery wheels? We can’t understand it.

But because Christians have some knowledge–for instance, about Jesus and the Gospel–we think we know it all.

It’s like my son asking for a carpentry kit. I expressed doubts about his skill with hammers, saws, etc. (he’s nine). I pointed out that we live in an apartment, and he really needs a garage to work in. But he confidently assured me that he knows exactly how to hammer everything together. He just needs some wood, and he’ll make a playhouse.

He doesn’t know how much he doesn’t know.

Well, us Christians are like that. We have a tiny bit of knowledge about a couple of mysteries. So we make ALL the frontiers be about those few mysteries that we have solved. No questions are allowed to go unanswered. Everything is spelled out, hammered home, and wrapped up in a nice tidy package.

As Chris says up there, it bores us to know all the answers. It also makes for boring storytelling. I mean, it’s fine if you’re writing a murder mystery and you’re revealing how the killer dunnit. But for a fantasy story, or a science fiction, which by their very nature deal in big sweeping questions that might not have answers–that’s trickier. We don’t like leaving questions unanswered. Heaven forbid that we leave any doubts in the reader’s mind, right?

Yet, doubts and questions are what fuel the imagination. What’s Pluto like? we wonder. What might live at the bottom of the ocean? What’s down there that’s big enough to swallow a ten foot shark whole? Is there a tenth planet that orbits perpendicular to the solar system’s elliptical?

Finding out the answers to these things would be totally rad. They’d also lead to more questions.

I wish Christian writers would get more comfortable with asking questions, but not necessarily answering them.

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “Why we need more frontiers in Christian spec-fic

  1. Several years ago, I was at a SF/F convention that had a very well-known sci-fi writer as a guest of honor. He’s also very much openly atheist. He said in is his opening speech that Christians have no business writing sci-fi because they think they have all the answers. I nearly walked out. I was so angry. Truthfully, we should be the ones who realize we *don’t* have all the answers. Those who believe that the world is nothing more than physical at least believe everything can be answered by man at some point. Christians should know that with God, both the natural worlds and supernatural are infinite and we should be standing in amazement that it would take an eternity to learn everything there is to know. WE should be the ones writing the books that ask the big questions. WE should be the ones unafraid to explore.

    But it doesn’t seem to be true. Christians do tend to want those neat little bows. Every time I’ve written a short story with some ambiguity, I get someone wanting to tie that bow on the end somewhere, and it drives me buggy.

    Like

  2. Great article! I love what you said about pushing boundaries and it being “ok” for us to ask questions and wonder, “what if.” I write YA spec fiction myself and my current series centers around the afterlife. I created my own version of heaven, which I will openly admit is not a biblical interruptation of heaven. My characters are flawed and in my opinion we frankly don’t know enough about heaven for me to write a good fiction story that I would say is exactly how heaven is going to be. There is so much about the afterlife that I think we can dream about and play with (as long as we aren’t trying to convince people that’s exactly how it’s going to be). I had a Christian YA author (who will remain unnamed) say she wouldn’t read the book because the heaven I created in the story wasn’t 100% accurate, and that it created a “theological quagmire” she didn’t want to touch. I also read an article not long ago where a homeschooling Christian mother said she would never read spec fiction because “it wasn’t real.” Ummmm, FICTION isn’t real whether it’s speculative or not. All to say, I wish more people were writing stories that made us think and dream and then go to the Word to see what the bible says. The secular market is booming with spec fiction. It’s time the Christian market caught up!

    Like

    1. Yeah, I hear you on the theological quagmire. My YA paranormal romance involves a lich (a soulless undead) who was a Christian before he had his soul removed. Part of his character arc is his clinging to his faith, despite losing his ability to hear the voice of God.

      Yeah, I’m just waiting to get blasted in reviews for that. But it’s, you know, FICTION.

      Like

  3. Sometimes it’s not about the questions, but presenting the Christian answers in an entertaining narrative. Neither JRR Tolkien or CS Lewis found Christianity to be an impairment to their writing. Quite the contrary, Christianity informed and inspired their writings as it did for RA Lafferty, Anthony Boucher, Clifford Simak and Walter Miller. Modern Christian sf/f writers like Gene Wolfe, John C Wright, Brian Niemeier, Michael D O’Brien, Jack Sky and others are similarly unfettered by their Christianity.

    The trick is entertainment. Unfortunately much of what passes for ‘Christian entertainment’ is heavy on the preaching and light on the entertainment. In a word, boring. I don’t think that arises from Christians being know-it-alls, but from a strong tendency of a lot of Christians to be squeamish about the blood and guts drama of real life.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s