A few weeks ago I posted on the two Christian SF/F fanlists I belong to:
There's a discussion taking place in one of my writer's groups online about the current market for Christian SF/F within the CBA. Some feel we're on the downswing of what seems to be the second wave in about 20 years (the first wave cresting with Stephen Lawhead and perhaps Peretti). Would you all mind sharing first of all, if you follow/read CBA-published SF/F, and if so, which authors you've liked? And if not, why? (Lack of knowledge about what's there, past bad experience with sappy plots and mediocre writing, or CBA SF/F is too evangelical/preachy/not s-f enough/etc.) Whatever your reasons, what do you feel makes a good--or great--story? What "works" for you as a reader?
Many of us feel there's a solid market for quality SF/F stories with an openly Christian message, despite what we're being told, so I'm trying to get a feel for where Christians who are long-time fans of the genre stand.
I got some great responses. For some, it was lack of knowledge or interest--for many of these, certain early CBA sf/f offerings were sappy or not very well written. For others, it was the element of "too preachy" or the famed CBA requirement of "a conversion every book." (One reader even felt that Kathy Tyers's Firebird series suffered from being too evangelical, especially the third book.) What resounded overwhelmingly through them all is that the message should not overshadow the story-crafting--deal with Christian themes in an interesting way, but don't beat readers over the head with truth. Don't be afraid to show that "good" characters sometimes do "bad" things. (I didn't say "Christian" characters because I know some have different theological beliefs about that ... and I'm sure we'd all have varying opinions on what this would actually mean. ) It was pointed out (at last!) that non-Christians can be as guilty as "preachy" as Christians, and Orson Scott Card's later works (more overt Mormonism) and Terry Brooks' The Sword of Shannara (anti-nuclear sentiment) were pointed to as examples. (I could have thought of more, but, I was strictly there for observation. )
Others complained about lack of research, characters acting out of character, ethnocentricism, romance masquerading as action/adventure (a whole thread grew out of the discussion of romance in SF/F), editors who are willing to "try" the genre but don't seem to really understand it (which leads to books being accepted that are thinly-veiled sermons rather than "real" sf/f), and a lingering section of believers who tend to think that SF = atheism and fantasy = magic, and thus shy away from it, just as many shy away from "Christian rock" because much secular rock = sex, drugs, the occult.
One thing I observed: most longtime fans of the genre also seem to be stronger-stomached when it comes to offensive elements ... they seem to be able to see past all the junk to the redeeming elements of a story. Obviously, or there wouldn't BE such huge fans of authors like Lois McMaster Bujold, George R. R. Martin, or Anne McCaffrey, to name a very few. But, as I've mentioned elsewhere, not all Christian "fen" (the self-styled term for collective sf/f fandom) come from strictly evangelical backgrounds, either. And not all believers have a calling to walk in the same sort of ministry ... some people are led to be a light in places where I feel I'd be too sensitive to be very effective.
Another interesting thing was the shock expressed that Christian sf/f is experiencing a "downswing" ... and the caution given by at least one poster against listening too much to so-called "market trends."
More tomorrow ...