Does Faith Belong in Sci-Fi?

“I have nothing against Christian or Christian writers, but when I want a ‘Christian’ story, I will buy one. When I want military Science Fiction, that is what I want.”

“Pages upon pages of God this and God that … Oh GOD cut it out! If I want to be preached to, I’ll go to a sermon. When I read military science fiction, I want a good story, NOT a spiritual rant.”

“The main character had a fixation on the Bible. For no apparent reason he would start thinking about his ‘faith,’ question god’s ‘plan,’ do some soul-searching, then decide he is doing what god ‘wants’ him to do.”

 

Well…that answers that!

Not so fast.

The quotes that kicked this entry off, if you haven’t figured it out, are from selected 1-star reviews for Dawn of Destiny, the first installment of my Epic series (NOT representative of the vast majority of its reviews). The same sentiment can be taken from each: an unequivocal insistence that stories of faith have no business being in science-fiction. They are oil and water. Wheat and chaff. Teenagers and turn signals. So the question remains. Does faith belong in science-fiction?

My answer is unabashedly, wholeheartedly, yes.

Now before some of you get all crazy on me, take a moment to understand the statement you just read. It did not say, “To not advocate [insert any name of any religion] is to fail.” Nor did it read, “To say that God is not real is to fail.” Take a look at the fundamental basis of the originally-proposed question. Does faith belong in sci-fi?

According to a 2011 survey, 51% of the global population has a belief in God, with varying percentages falling under such options as, “believes in an afterlife,” or “undecided.” Only 18% classify themselves as “not religious.” Bear in mind, “not religious” does not equal “atheist.” It simply means “not religious.”

Faith is real. That is not to argue that it is correct, or proper, or in need of emphasis. It is simply to state what it states. Faith – the human belief in some sort of Almighty – is real.

This is really just touching on something that has become somewhat of a passion point for me lately: the mindset that the word “God” should never appear in any sort of science-fiction (unless it’s followed by an expletive). Characters who seem real should appear in science-fiction, and if characters who seem real should appear in science-fiction, then characters of faith should appear, as well. That’s not an opinion. Unless your protagonist is an atheist who will have zero contact with any other human throughout the course of your story, or the full length of the narrative takes place at an atheists’ convention, then faith must appear to some extent to capture the essence what we should strive for: realism..

Obviously the question still remains, to what extent should faith exist in a science-fiction story? And the answer is, “whatever you want.” Including faith does not mean pushing it. It does not mean leaving footnotes to Bible verses. It doesn’t even mean making the person of faith the hero (heroes are heroes, religious or atheist). But it shouldn’t be ignored. It exists, in the same way that atheism exists, in the same way that agnosticism exists, in the same way that this whacked-out kid who married a cow ( http://www.metro.co.uk/weird/830794-man-forced-to-marry-cow-faints-at-wedding ) exists.

Me, personally? I’m not a fan of laying it on thickly. In spite of what the reviewers at the top of this entry think they read (I’m fairly certain it wasn’t my book), my preference for faith inclusion leans toward light and subtle. Because isn’t that how most of us are, most of the time, with everything we do? Realism is captured in subtleties. Now, the faith element of Epic and in particular in Scott Remington – my protagonist – is absolutely there, and I make zero apologies. But we – and particularly the owners of the quotes that kicked off this entry – make a mistake when we view “there” as “preaching.” We make a mistake when we don’t want faith present at all. We might as well marry a cow.

Okay, so that last line didn’t make sense. But just the same…what the heck was that kid thinking?

Comments

  1. Just found this through a RT on Twitter. Glad I did. Good & thoughtful response to your critics.
    One has to wonder if your detractors would have been as adamant if your Mr. Remington paused to reflect on faith in something else…anything else other than God??

    Just asking?

    • Not to make the conversation too reflective of my own work (those comments were simply lead-ins to a greater topic), but one of the most realistic aspects of faith is doubt. What believer in ANY religion doesn’t come to a place where they ask themselves real, serious questions? Is this even real? Is there no God? What if I’m wrong? I know for me personally, despite the fact that I am a Christian, those questions sometimes pop up. If we are to grow, then I feel that they must. Because that’s true of myself, that doubt and questioning is very present in my protagonist of faith (Remington).

      But again, this is by no means a response to critics. 🙂 Those particular comments have been around for years. Had I felt the need to address them personally, I’d have done so long ago. They’re just vessels for the topic.

      Thanks for taking time to find the blog and comment!

  2. When I saw the tweet on #scifichat about “Does Faith Belong In Science Fiction” I did not think “Christianity” at all.

    ALL great science fiction MUST have “faith” in it somewhere because that dimension of the Divine must be present in all worldbuilding.

    Nobody walks this Earth and does not TOUCH events, vistas, beauty, or drama without somehow interacting with the unseen and unseeable dimensions of reality.

    Even agnostics and atheists are aswim in Event-Sequences pervaded by what most people identify as “The Hand Of God” — (whichever god that might be to them).

    It is impossible to write well without including that experience of reality as having this “other” dimension that simply can not be measured by scientific instruments. Whatever you call it, it is THERE for everyone.

    (a lot of people disagree with that)

    So since many readers refuse to see or maybe simply can not see this dimension, the WRITER must take that kind of reader’s perceptions into account.

    When you handle “God” as an element in any character’s Reality (in any genre), good writing demands that you take all readers into account in how you present the material.

    For one example of how a character whose whole personality and life are oriented around “God’s Plan” — see the first 2 novels which a FAN of my Sime~Gen Universe novels wrote and I sold to Hardcover and Mass Market publishers as part of my series. Those are Jean Lorrah’s novels FIRST CHANNEL and CHANNEL’S DESTINY.

    She’s the agnostic, I’m the believer. She wrote in a character who is utterly steeped in “God’s Plan.” And that entire thread is now integral to the Sime~Gen Universe worldbuilding.

    It is so well handled in her two novels that nobody (even hard core atheists) object to it in these SCIENCE FICTION novels.

    It’s not whether “faith” (of any sort) is present in Science Fiction that is an issue, but how well written the material is that matters.

    Note that James Blish wrote some Catholic Priests into Science Fiction. Fritz Leiber did some. Gulliver’s Travels is Christian allegory, and good fantasy. And don’t forget C. S. Lewis – redolent with Christian Allegory.

    More recently, God is not absent from all the good Military SF published in the last few years. What about Herbert’s DUNE series? Check out Jack McDevitt, Andrew S. Swann, Alastair Reynolds, all with massive SF series mixing in fantasy, and with solid Faith elements woven deep into the substructure of the worldbuilding.

    These novels are great-grandchildren of novels like THE LENSMAN SERIES by E. E. Smith Ph.D. from the 1940’s.

    And all those works are extraordinarily well written – very often it takes a scholarly dissection to reveal the essential Divine Elements upon which all the Events in a person’s life are based. That’s true of Reality as well — which is why good writing demands it.

    I haven’t read your book, but from the complaints of these commentators they aren’t reviewers) I might not consider it well written enough to finish.

    I say that because if a reader is complaining about a character who stops to think about God, the reader isn’t complaining about the presence of God in the story, but about what is technically called an expository lump disguised as the character’s thoughts. That is really bad writing, the kind of thing I see in every beginner’s manuscripts.

    That’s why I keep doing writing-technique blog entries on these basic techniques. The cure for the expository lump is the acquisition of other “information feed” craft techniques, plus learning how to structure themes to support characters.

    http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2011/08/source-of-expository-lump-part-2.html

    Screenwriting techniques are the cure for any character’s internal ruminations (about any subject the reader finds boring) repeating or going on too long, or hitting any sour note with the reader. There are dozens of techniques to convey this information without rubbing readers raw over it.

    The readers who already love the subject will praise you for massaging it. Readers who hate the subject will tell you to take that subject OUT. But taking it OUT is not the cure for the problem.

    The reason you put it IN in the first place is that you had something to say to those readers who do not want to read about that subject.

    Listen to the complaints, and next time find, perfect and utilize techniques to take those readers on a journey so deep into a Faith based view of the universe that they will FEEL they have become an Alien on Earth.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com

    • First and foremost, Jacqueline, thank you for taking the time to stop by and partake in the discussion! I’m glad you stumbled upon the tweet and found your way here. Second of all, why WordPress decided your post needed moderation is beyond me, and I apologize for that delay in getting it posted. I don’t have this blog set for moderation (the first reply above yours went right on through), so I’m not sure why yours didn’t. I’ll file it under “Mysteries of the Web” if it ever happens again.

      Now, onto the good stuff. You’ll be glad to know that I accept your apology for classifying my work as not “well written enough to finish” before ever actually reading it, and for basing your opinion on a selection of negative reviews I specifically chose to set up the posing of a greater question, without taking time to wonder how many POSITIVE reviews on Epic’s faith element were out there, written by people of faith, people of agnosticism, and pure atheists alike. Yes, I forgive you!

      And YES, you should read the above as a wink and a smile, not as snarkiness. 😉 But on that note, I wouldn’t judge your work solely on a handful of negative reviews, and I expect that same courtesy to be extended to me. I’m sure that wasn’t your intent, though.

      With all of that wholesome goodness out of the way, let’s get to the point now. Your thoughts are EXCELLENT. The approach of religion in any aspect must be handled with care, but more importantly, integrity. This is the reason why, as much as I pull for movies like Fireproof, Facing the Giants, and Courageous (all strong Christian movies),I often find myself shaking my head at their presentation. There’s often little or no consideration for the opposing viewpoint, and though these movies are well-intentioned, they’re often a little too blatant. I will give credit where credit is due and state that Courageous was by far their best work, but it’s still borders a little too close to “pie in the sky” Christianity. They’re often not accurate portrays of the Christian life, which is all too often filled with questioning and doubt.

      Obviously there are more religions than Christianity; I’m simply using those as examples of the greater point, which I think is this: faith, like all human emotions, is subtle. Capturing the essence of those subtleties is the key to creating something real. This doesn’t only apply to faith, but to romance, comedy, anger, everything. Life is rarely “in your face,” internally or externally. Life is a series of glimpses and slight motions. When handled this way (which is the way I choose to handle it), I think even the staunchest atheist could relate to a protagonist of deep faith in a religion. Because that’s what good writing is all about, really. It’s not about facts. It’s not about shock value or hammering a point. It’s not even about RIDICULOUS SEX SCENES (speaking to you, romance writers of America). It’s about relatability. Can you see from a character’s perspective? Can you understand their point of view? Is the author writing that character in a way you can empathize with, even if your core beliefs are different? This is when an author is doing their job.

      In my opinion, faith should be handled no differently from romantic subplots or informative exposition. Make things seamless. Make things flow. Make things relatable. That’s the key. I think you’d agree with that.

      And lastly, as an unrelated aside…how cool is that that a fan of your work created something in its universe that ultimately became canon? I think finding that enthusiasm in your fan base is every writer’s dream. I know it’s old news for you, but congratulations just the same. That had to have been a surreal time for you! I’d like to chat with you at a time or two on that experience (and writing in general). I’m positive there’s much I could learn.

  3. It’s an interesting question, and I think the answer really comes down to character. If it’s appropriate for the character, it’s appropriate for the book, no matter the genre.

    • I agree entirely, Monica. One of the best weapons a writer has is the ability to “become” a character. I call it method writing. It’s essential in capturing the realism of the human condition in its many complicated forms!

      Thanks for visiting the blog!

  4. @Lee Stephen

    Well, yes, I made sure to NOTE that I had not read your book (yet), or even all the other comments on your book.

    I responded only to the issue these couple of negative comments raise. I think you’re right to excerpt them as a separate topic, and it’s a dynamite topic. Just because I have an opinion, don’t think everyone has thought it through!

    You summed up very neatly the other points I would have liked to make.

    The kind of complaint these comments make (character thinks too much about XYZ) are actually generic. The complaint isn’t against the content, but against the presentation.

    The essence of the discussion here revolves around what a WRITER can learn from reading COMMENTS (not reviews, not analysis, not criticism, not Beta-readers, not Writing Workshop suggestions, but COMMENTS) from random readers who felt disappointed.

    Disappointing paying customers is bad for business.

    Disappointed customers are the result of flawed marketing as often as of flawed merchandise.

    On another note: if you’re interested in the evolution of how readers get sucked into a universe and start writing in it (professionally or fannishly), you should read this interview I did with a German online fanzine (they pub’d in English and German). I posted it here

    http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2012/05/interview-on-simegen-for-german.html

    And yet another note, I think the moderation gets invoked because I include URLS — which is a no-no on blog comments yet absolutely essential to any online conversation about anything!

    Advertisers have spammed blogs way too much, so though I’m not here to advertise my wares on your blog, I can’t NOT tell you where to find the couple thousand words that answer some of your questions about fan writers pitching into writing Sime~Gen. I’d do the same were the topic some other writer’s fans!

    Here’s part 2 of a Guest Post I did on a related topic – with a link to Part 1 included.

    http://madisonwoods.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/mashup-of-art-and-business-part-2-a-guest-post-by-jaqueline-lichtenberg/

    I think a link to Madison Woods’ blog is included in the interview with the German fanzine, but I’m not actually certain.

    And as credential to bespeak these issues from a base of actual hands-on knowledge, here’s a link to a professionally published anthology I edited, 9 stories written by FANFIC WRITERS but in their own original universes, in the Vampire vein that spurred their adventures into writing.

    http://www.amazon.com/Vampires-Dilemma-ebook/dp/B0083LLIKE/

    So now I’ll go do the captcha for this post. You don’t have to put it onto your blog if it’s in the trap. But do take a look at those interview and guest posts.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http:simegen.com/jl/

  5. I’m doing a blog on this blog post which will post October 9, 2012 on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  6. I think faith absolutely belongs in fiction for several reasons:

    1. Fiction is tasked with creating credible worlds populated by authentic characters, some of whom will have belief in the spiritual/divine. Genuine characters have genuine faith. It’s a disservice to the craft of storytelling to exclude them simply on that basis.

    2. Everyone operates on some kind of faith, be it in a traditional religion, vague spirituality, science, self, humanity… the list goes on. For example, what is “The Force” if not faith in the spiritual/super-natural? The reader ever watch the new BSG or Caprica?

    Quite often the objection is raised against Christian faith, not ‘faith’ in general. That then means the issue lies with the reader, not the work.

    3. Faith certainly belongs, so long as it’s organic to the storyline. Slathering it on thick, or tacking it on as an after-thought is cheating.

    Faith is an integral part of the character dynamic and themes in the Epic series. No ‘Bait & Switch’ going on there – it’s clear in the reviews and descriptions.

    Having read DoD, I’d submit the review reveals the reader’s presuppositions and bias, more than any legitimate complaint against the novel.

    Like it or not, Faith is coming to Fiction on all fronts, that includes science fiction.

    Keep up the good work, Lee.

  7. Chris Roby says:

    I love your blog post, Lee. To me faith is a MUST HAVE in all forms of fiction. After all, what is faith except a belief in something without proof? Can the athiest prove there is nothing divine? No, but he has faith that his belief is true.

    Characters are more believable when we give them traits which are like our own. A being seeking answers, seeking proof, of what she believes in is what we are like in our own lives.

  8. Excellent discussion! I grew up in a denomination that taught believers to consider very explicitly and openly whether a certain act or event was part of “God’s plan,” so my reaction to the commenters who objected to such ruminations is that they just aren’t familiar with the right subculture. To people brought up in that kind of faith background, those kinds of thoughts seem perfectly natural. Of course, as both you and Jacqueline mentioned, the trick is integrating such material smoothly into the story.

    The editor of one of my early novels objected to my including several mentions of the character’s attending church. (Granted, I probably included too many such references, and at the editor’s request, I toned them down — but he seemed to think it was peculiar to have any.) To me, that’s a common activity engaged in by many Americans, so including it in fiction is, as you point out, a matter of realism. One thing I liked about the excellent TV series IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT was that religious affiliation was important in the characters’ lives, as it would realistically be in a small Southern town, in contrast to so many TV programs of the time that featured clergy only as either comic figures or villains.

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