Can Christian SF&F be Good?
Well, can it?
I struggled with this for a long time. I tried to read some Christian science fiction and fantasy, and fiction, and some of it was … well … not so good. So, if you have an opinion that it isn’t good, you may have found some of the same work I did.
That is the reason I wrote Sudden Mission and Nasty Leftovers. I wrote something I wanted to read. Something different, fresh, exciting. As a result I also met a few other authors who are writing Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy (SF&F). And, what they write is good! Here are some of my favorites:
What sets these (and–I hope–my own work) apart from the rest? Story, mostly, and character. Christian fiction, including SF&F, shouldn’t vary that much from mainstream fiction at all. The only thing that should differentiate Christian fiction from mainstream is the characters. The characters, or the main character, is Christian and the story should center on that character’s struggle with faith. But, that isn’t all the story should address. The real world throws all kinds of situations, problems, and hassles at people. It doesn’t matter if they are Christian or otherwise. The whole point of the Christian part of science fiction and fantasy is how the characters deal with the same situations, problems, and hassles as their mainstream counterparts.
In Sudden Mission, the main character (Paul) gets a mission to correct reality. This is a straight up “hero’s journey” with Paul as the reluctant hero–right out of Joseph Campbell’s concept. The mission challenges his faith and his willingness to obey God. As a friend recently said about the book: “You throw everything but the kitchen sink at him. And then you add the kitchen sink.” But, that’s what good stories do. Characters must work toward a goal in spite of their flaws or limitations, and meet challenges for which they are not prepared. None of this is the sole domain of mainstream fiction or SF&F, and I know of no rule that says Christian fiction can’t go there.
Tabitha Caplinger’s The Chronicle of the Three series (the first two are out and available) throws her main characters–Christians who have varying levels of faith–to the wolves, er, demons. Each character has their faith, or lack thereof, challenged as they face the situations Tabitha so creatively pushes them into.
Nadine Brandes’ Out of Time series follows Parvin through both the life and death struggle to survive in a malevolent future dystopia, and her journey to understanding of Christian principles to help guide her life. Parvin faces characters who at first seem to be friends, but turn out otherwise, and makes mistakes that cost her much (I’m not going to spoil anything here).
Neither of these, or my books, hammer Holy Bible passages at the reader. That’s not what makes them Christian young adult or teen SF&F.
Joshua Miller’s book Tyrants and Traitors is a little different. The setting is ancient Israel. It is a retelling of the story of Saul and David (using different names) based on the Old Testament scripture in Samuel I and II. While this isn’t directly Christian, it is about faith, learning about God, and learning to serve God. The bonus in this one is Joshua gets you into the ancient culture, politics, and history, and it feels like you’re right in there. I understand more is coming. Soon, I hope.
Some young adult or teen fiction you see in Christian book stores is a bit too sweet, not pushing the boundaries, no action, no adventure, and ends up with too much preaching. Some seem to have a Holy Bible verse on every page, or read like a long devotional. Teens and young adults want adventure, action, a little romance, and sometimes some scary, dangerous events.
Like the teens and young adults we write the stories and books for, the characters should have to deal with real issues from problems at school, problems with parents, bullies, growing up issues, sex and romance. If you don’t address these issues in Christian young adult and teen fiction and SF&F, those teens and young adults are going to read stories about those issues in other genres.
Granted, we, as Christian young adult/teen authors, use Bible references where appropriate. Of course we have to put a disclaimer in the front matter to provide attribution for the version and edition.
So, to answer the question: Yes. Christian SF&F can be good. Not just good, but great.