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Christian Science Fiction?

by Steve Stanton

(This essay has appeared in ChristianWeek, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1991, in BrightRedLife, Toronto, Ontario, 1991, in Talents, Broadway, NSW, Australia, 1991, in The Cut, London, England, 1991, and in Pandora #27, Ferndale, Michigan, USA, 1992, and has been reproduced here with the author's permission.)

Science and religion have never been happy bedfellows. Like opposing camps at siege, they often revile each other from the distance and spread exaggerated rumours designed to weaken the credibility of the enemy. Casting searchlights in the darkness, they draw attention from one issue to another, from evolution to cosmogony to the ethics of embryonic research. The stance of the scientific community has long been that conservative Christians are too narrow-minded to accept obvious data, that their inability to recognize simple fact has placed their higher faculties in suspended animation. Christians, on the other hand, believe that the selective perception of science ignores basic reality, and that many scientists are so open-minded that their brains have leaked out.

Given this situation, it is not surprising that commercial science-fiction publishers have neglected and opposed literary work that reflects or promotes a Christian world view. Philosophical problems aside, the financial constraints of big business preclude a focus on narrow markets. Experience has shown that only mass appeal will generate significant revenues. In fact, an editor at Ballantine/Del Rey/Fawcett, Shelly Shapiro, remarked to me in personal correspondence in 1986, "We have found that science fiction with religious elements simply doesn't sell, regardless of how well it is written. James Blish's classic A Case of Conscience is a case in point."

Times change and the circle turns, however, and recent advances in the area of subatomic physics have shattered the foundational postulates of scientific determinism. In 1979, Gary Zukav announced "The End of Science" in The Dancing Wu Li Masters because of the "unexplained connectedness of quantum phenomena," a statement undoubtedly premature if not completely absurd. In 1988 the world's master theoretical physicist, Stephen W. Hawking, put the scientific stamp of approval on the concept of God in his landmark bestseller, A Brief History of Time. "At the big bang and other singularities," he wrote, "all the laws would have broken down, so God would still have had complete freedom to choose what happened and how the universe began."

Obviously, there is a lot more to Christianity than the mere existence of God, and it seems unlikely that the scientific possibility of a living deity is going to alter drastically the commercial markets for science fiction and fantasy. But, believe it or not, a small-scale movement is already evident. A major American paperback publisher, Avon Books, recently released a mass-market edition of The Pendragon Cycle by Stephen R. Lawhead, a series purchased from Crossway Books, an evangelical press which recently published two "supernatural-fantasy" novels by Frank Peretti, This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness, to widespread acceptance in the Christian market.

Also published by Crossway Books and sold to Berkley for distribution in the general market were two novels by Robert Siegel, Alpha Centauri and Whalesong. Harold Shaw Publishers has now launched a line of "young-adult" Christian science-fiction novels featuring Canadian author Fay S. Lapka, whose novel Dark is the Color was followed this year with the sequel, Hoverlight, and a different-setting fantasy novel, The Sea, the Song and the Trumpetfish.

Regal Books of California has launched a new trade paperback fiction line with Children of the Furor, a science-fiction novel by Christian author Roger Elwood, and in Australia, Albatross Books is testing the waters with State of Play, a futuristic Christian science-fiction novel by Doug Buckley.

The markets for short fiction have likewise opened up to the possibilities of science fiction with a specifically Christian perspective. The November 1989 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, a mainstay in the secular market, featured a novelette by Jennifer Swift called "Divergence" which centred around the conflict between a research biologist steeped in evolutionary theory, and her father, a leading public proponent of scientific creationism. Swift handles the issues with delicate honesty in order to avoid the usual polarization, and in the end her creationist character admits that "God doesn't allow us to prove anything far certain, not even His existence, so we have to consider what ways of looking at the world are useful and what they're useful for."

In an interview published in Christian Vision, Canadian sf author Donna Farley reported in January 1990: "Science fiction as a field tends to be dominated by secular humanists, many of whom openly attack Christianity. And yet, if you do it right – without compromise, but also without preaching – you can sell quite explicitly Christian work. I've believed that for a while, and finally proved it by selling 'The Passing of the Eclipse' to Robert Silverberg for the next volume of the Universe anthology. Please note that this story is not some sort of cleverly disguised allegory, but one that makes very specific reference to faith, repentance, the holy Trinity and naming the name of Jesus Christ."

Even in the small-press underground, there is a growing determination to express a biblical viewpoint. Several new Christian publications have been released in the sf/horror genre, a field of literature that has in the opinion of most Christians been the domain of "Satan and his horde" for decades. Randall Larson, the former publisher of Fandom Unlimited Enterprises in California, has teamed up with Robert Price, a Baptist pastor in New Jersey who once published the Lovecraftian magazine Crypt of Cthulu, to produce Churchyard, a paired set of two volumes of "Christian weird tales." A similar though unrelated publication was recently launched by Anthony Abraham in Washington state under the title Searching Souls. Also of note, across America in New York State, is a quarterly Christian fanzine called Radio Free Thulcandra which examines science-fiction topics as they relate to Christianity. They published issue #24 in February 1991.

In Canada there remains little Christian presence in the sf publishing community. Speculative fiction as a whole has only recently come of age in this country with the release in Edmonton in 1989 of a semi-annual magazine devoted to the genre, On Spec, and the concurrent birth of the Speculative Writers Association of Canada. Another semi-annual digest in the sf/horror genre has been released in Toronto under the title The Standing Stone, and in Calgary The Crosstime Journal, "the small-press alternative for speculative fiction," hopes to attract new writers of science fiction and fantasy. Canada's Christian literary journal, Dreams & Visions, a quarterly anthology with eclectic interests, has recently included Christian science-fiction stories in response to demands from subscribers.

All of this activity points toward a central question: is there anything scientific about religion, or any connection at all between the study of the physical universe and the study of the Bible? According to Christian astronomer Father Lucien Kemble, after whom is named the star formation Kemble's Cascade, "the same guy wrote both books." In an interview published in ChnstianWeek in February 1990, Kemble asserts, "The scientist seeks the same thing the theologian does: the truth. Faith and science are convergent, not divergent paths to truth." Kemble describes himself as both a creationist and an evolutionist. He accepts as self-evident the geological and astronomical records, but maintains that at three key points – the creation of the universe, the creation of life, and the creation of the human spirit – a divine presence remains the best explanation.

The Christian science fiction author faces many challenges, not the least of which is this precarious balance between faith and science. Many standard speculative topics do not mix well with the Christian worldview. The existence of "aliens" from other worlds will find little support from readers created in the very image of God. The concept of "ghosts" is not supported by Scripture. The now-hackneyed idea of retelling miraculous Bible stories using scientific "explanations" will meet harsh resistance from all editors. But many other modern topics beg for critical examination by Christian creative minds. Many questions remain unanswered. How will future Christians respond to brain transplants, genetic engineering mind-probe techniques, or soul slavery? The Christian community has already been caught flat-footed by recent technological advances. In a rapidly widening cultural vortex of deception and moral confusion, a godly voice must sound.

"What is truth" Pontius Pilate once asked an unassuming prisoner in his charge, a question that still reverberates in the secular world today. Strangely enough, in this day and age we often turn to professional prophets – authors, novelists and poets – for answers to this very question. Through the miracle of language and metaphor we expect to find glimpses of the ineffable, the indescribable essence of humanity, and today we are fortunate to find a handful of Christian authors still attempting, in some way, to express the mind of God.

Could it indeed be possible for someone stand up on a contemporary stage and proclaim the arrival of "Christian science fiction" without being simultaneously burned at the stake and decapitated by laser fire from the balcony? Could these documented stirrings of literary activity be the beginning of a new trend, the birth of a subgenre, or merely a temporary aberration? Certainly there is no turning back the clock now. The increase of knowledge is on an exponential curve – we're climbing high asymptotes into the twenty-first century. Christian writers must increasingly look to the future in their imaginations in order to envision the Christian ethics that will apply to the science of tomorrow.

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[A Fresh Path to the Grave – And Beyond] [Strangers on the Border Between Two Strange Lands] [Christian Symbolism in Buffy the Vampire Slayer] [The Theologian's Spreadsheet] [Christian SF?]