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The Real Divide in the Christian Spec-Fic Debate

ChristianFictionIf Christian Speculative fiction is on the rise, it’s not showing. At least in the mainstream Christian market.

Several weeks ago, the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association announced the finalists for its annual Christian Book Awards in seven categories.The five finalists in the Fiction category contain NO speculative novels. The closest would be Tosca Lee’s Iscariot, which is labeled as an “historical.”

Question: If Christian spec-fic is on the rise, why aren’t we seeing it edge its way into the mainstream houses?

Fantasy novelist Kat Heckenbach went poking around at the subject a while back on Facebook when she made this observation:


Kat’s question seems to infer that if Christian spec-fic is to get any traction, it must do so through indie presses and self-pubbers. Indeed, small presses have become the main outlet for Christian speculative fiction. Marcher Lord Press (MLP) being the flagship. So I found Jeff Gerke, MLP founder’s, comment on Kat’s post interesting:

…the pool of self-identified fans of Christian speculative fiction is very small–possibly smaller than 5,000 people in the English speaking world. So the real problem is 3) how to appeal to those many, many fans of Christian speculative fiction who don’t KNOW they are fans of Christian speculative fiction. The people who would never watch an alternative history movie with time travel and a paranormal major character but who would gladly watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The people who would never watch a time-traveling ghost story with an element of horror but who would love to watch “A Christmas Carol.” There are millions of potential fans of Christian speculative fiction, but they simply don’t know they would love it and, most importantly, if you described it in speculative fiction terms, they would run away from it. So they’re sleeper fans who must be awakened and activated without triggering their “I hate science fiction and fantasy!” gag reflex. Go do that, my children, and you shall prosper.

A couple things. First, I agree with Jeff that a story’s speculative elements may be under the radar for many readers and viewers. What’s interesting about that, however, is that general market speculative fiction LEADS with its speculative elements. Which is why films are marketed to sci-fi fans, horror fans, epic fantasy fans, superhero fans, etc. In other words, they don’t have to try to “appeal to those many, many fans of… speculative fiction who don’t KNOW they are fans of… speculative fiction. ” If Christian speculative fiction will only make progress as it convinces unknowing spec-fans to embrace its titles, I fear we’re way behind the eight ball. Making my title appealing to someone who’s not a certain genre fan seems self-defeating.

My second observation has to do with Jeff’s point that “the pool of self-identified fans of Christian speculative fiction is very small–possibly smaller than 5,000 people in the English speaking world.” If true, this is terribly disheartening. But here’s where I think that observation is tricky and points to an important divide in the Christian speculative fiction debate.

While “the pool of self-identified fans of Christian speculative fiction is very small,” the pool of Christians who like speculative fiction is immense.

And that, I think, is a huge distinction that needs made. I’ve repeatedly said, as I did on that thread, that “hardcore spec readers migrate away from overtly ‘clean,’ preachy stuff.” I’ve seen this over and over. The Christians I know who love speculative fiction read Stephen King, watch Game of Thrones, enjoy The Hunger Games, and like the Walking Dead. They don’t need to have their stuff scrubbed and salted with Scripture. And these same Christians are probably not in Jeff’s pool of 5,000.

  • The pool of Christians who love speculative fiction is immense.
  • The pool of Christian fiction enthusiasts who love speculative fiction is much smaller.

These two groups are after two different things: One wants good spec-fic, the other wants good Christian fic, with speculative elements.

And there’s your divide.

It’s this BIG pool of Christians who like speculative fiction that we are missing. And we are missing them because we’re aiming at the Christian market.

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{ 66 comments… add one }
  • StuartB April 7, 2014, 10:30 AM

    Perhaps one of the problems is the Christian label. I love reading speculative fiction and I enjoy when the author is a fellow believer, but I have zero interest in reading “Christian spec fiction”. That carries connotations and is always a big stay away warning flag.

    How about we ditch the Christian labels and just shelve the books alongside everything else?

    • StuartB April 7, 2014, 10:31 AM

      Makes you wonder how many good books are ruined by the Christian label and christian publishing house and christian editor. Similar to how many great songs are ruined by adding Christian lyrics to them.

      Perhaps CS Lewis’ quote about church music fits books as well.

    • sarah witenhafer April 8, 2014, 8:18 AM

      The problem with doing that is if your book contains Christian elements, and you don’t advertise that it does, you get angry reviews from people who don’t want anything to do with God.

      • Thea van Diepen December 31, 2014, 12:04 PM

        At that point, I’d say mention the Christian elements in the book’s description. Those angry responses come, I think, from perceived false advertising. Christians and non-Christians like my latest book even though God is active in it. It’s not that all non-Christians hate reading books with Christian elements, but that people who don’t like Christian elements want to know a book has them *before* they buy it, rather than after.

  • Tony Breeden April 7, 2014, 10:48 AM

    I’ve complained for years about the fact that the Clive Staples Award excludes self-pubbed works from all consideration. Face it: a lit of Christian spec-fic is self-published because traditional Chistian and small press publishers largely have no interest in such “risky” works. In my opinion [and I am self-published and proud of it], rather than “recognizing the best in Christian speculative fiction” as the website claims, the CSA has limited itself to an extremely thin slice of the Christian spec-fic pie. Perhaps they feel that only spec-fic published by royalty-paying houses [nm, that my self-pubbed works through KDP and Createspace DO pay royalties] can be considered the best.

    • Jill April 7, 2014, 11:44 AM

      While I agree with you (as another self-pubbed author), the people who run the CSA have repeatedly stated that they haven’t opened it up to self-pubbed books because they don’t have the time and energy to do so. They are all volunteers who work for a living, not to mention do their own writing. Keeping it to traditionally published books keeps the pools of entrants much smaller.

    • Mike Duran April 7, 2014, 12:17 PM

      Tony, I wouldn’t be too hard on CSA. It’s a new award, for one thing, and pretty much started as indie presses and self-pub was picking up speed. Also I think their template is CBA-style fiction and they won’t stray too far from that. In other words, I wouldn’t expect them to be selecting general market style spec-fic written by believers.

      • Tony Breeden April 7, 2014, 8:34 PM

        Since they claim to be recognizing the “Best” in Christian spec-fic while excluding self-published works, I’ll be as hard on them as I feel is warranted, Mike. Of course, if their template is CBA-style, what you’re really telling me is that we need a new award that genuinely represents Christian spec-fic

        • Kat Heckenbach April 8, 2014, 7:00 AM

          I agree–I think that claim needs to be quantified. The “best in traditionally-published Christian spec-fic” or something. It’s kinda like the ACFW claiming to be the “voice of Christian fiction” when what it means is they are the “voice of the mainstream CBA-only fiction.”

          I understand that they are a small group just getting started, and need time to grow. But the whole reader-driven thing just doesn’t work. It’s a popularity contest. I commend them for taking this on, but there needs to be at least intent to change things.

      • Thea van Diepen December 31, 2014, 12:11 PM

        I find their choices a bit odd, though. The award is called the Clive Staples Award and yet C.S. Lewis himself would not have won it. Personally, I have no problem with there being an award for traditionally-published Christian fiction. Just, um, don’t name it after a Christian guy who’s known for spec fic published by mainstream publishers. It just doesn’t make much sense.

  • D.M. Dutcher April 7, 2014, 11:06 AM

    So in other words the vast majority of Christian spec fic fans really don’t care about Christianity in their work at all. They are happy to read crap like Game of Thrones or Stephen King despite them being at odds with their faith and never really worry or care about how their faith is treated as a joke or a harmful thing in the things they consume.

    Got to love being culturally colonized like that. “We’re Christians, but please don’t put any explicit Christianity in our work; it gets in the way of all the things we like in a book.” And people wonder why no C.S. Lewis’s magically appear.

    • Steve Rzasa April 7, 2014, 11:21 AM

      Well, that was exactly what I was going to say but you said it better and more succinctly. Nicely done.

    • Thea van Diepen April 7, 2014, 11:44 AM

      I *do* care about Christianity being in the novels I read and, if you’ve read enough of not only Mike’s posts, but the conversations they spark, you would find that Christians who read mainstream speculative fiction often do so because Christian speculative fiction does not meet their needs, both spiritually and aesthetically. Not only that, but when they do try to find high-quality Christian speculative fiction (especially in bookstores), the selection of spec fic is so small that it’s laughable. There’s a Christian bookstore by my house, and I can name exactly all the spec fic authors whose books you will find on their shelves at any given time: Ted Dekker, Frank Peretti, Sigmund Brower, the dude who wrote the Raising Dragons series, and the lady who wrote that other dragon series. If you’re lucky, you might even find C.S. Lewis and Tolkien spec fic books. That’s it. There’s no diversity. And no way of finding new authors of Christian spec fic, especially if it’s for adults.

      • D.M. Dutcher April 7, 2014, 12:08 PM

        I’ve read a lot of secular science fiction. I don’t see it satisfying spiritually. In fact I soured on it precisely because it was harmful spiritually; because you constantly saw atheist and pagan view points represented with Christian or even neutral viewpoints rare. You read Asimov, Clarke, Pratchett, Gaiman, Martin, and all the rest, and you soon see that what they value is not only alien to a Christian, but many times hostile to it.

        While I still read secular stuff, I really long for things that speak to me as a Christian. I hate to say this, but a lot of Christians seem to want their authors to be like football players; they want us to play a secular game as a Christian, and to be famous so they can say “Look, a Christian author is like Tim Tebow!” It’s frustrating.

        • Thea van Diepen April 7, 2014, 10:12 PM

          I don’t see secular science fiction or fantasy as spiritually satisfying, either. And we’re totally on the same page as you when you said: “While I still read secular stuff, I really long for things that speak to me as a Christian.” That’s exactly what I was trying to say is happening with a very large quantity with Christians who enjoy reading speculative fiction, just you said it more succinctly. 🙂

          Along with that, I was saying that the Christian publishing industry and Christian book stores as they operate right now are doing little to nothing to meet that need that we share, which results in us going to secular fiction when we’re looking for our sci fi and fantasy. Which is really what I think Mike’s point in this post comes down to.

    • Jill April 7, 2014, 11:48 AM

      These are my sentiments, too. We have a false dichotomy going in the world of fiction.

      • Mike Duran April 7, 2014, 12:12 PM

        Jill, what is the false dichotomy you speak of?

        • Jill April 7, 2014, 2:04 PM

          The false dichotomy is, on one hand, books with stripped Christian content and, on the other, books with squeaky clean and/or preachy content.

          • Mike Duran April 7, 2014, 2:20 PM

            Jill, I wouldn’t be thinking in terms of “stripped Christian content” at all. Actually, I think that could be a straw man to the argument. Off the top of my head, was the Book of Eli stripped of Christian content? Was The Stand stripped of Christian content? Was Brother Odd stripped of Christian content? None of these are considered “Christian,” but they all have Christian content. They just aren’t aimed a the Christian market.

            • Jill April 7, 2014, 2:35 PM

              By Christian content, I mean overt Christian content, not content that must be examined under a microscope in order to ascertain whether it’s Christian or not, and then discussed at length by a group of Christians who can’t decide whether it is (as with the Book of Eli).

              • Mike Duran April 7, 2014, 2:45 PM

                The only ones trying to ascertain whether a story is “Christian or not,” are those with a specific idea (to them) of what a Christian story is supposed to, and not supposed to, look like.

                • Jill April 7, 2014, 2:52 PM

                  I know; there is really no definition for anything these days. Christianity doesn’t have a definition, or at least not when it comes to fiction. That is very sad. By overt Christian content, I was thinking more on the lines of Christian characters who discuss and even live out their faith in a natural, unhidden way.

                  • Joanna April 9, 2014, 11:51 AM

                    But if we are dealing with an alternative universe, how do you define “Christian characters” and “living out their faith.”

                    Are you saying that all made up worlds must be set in a Judeo-Christian setting with one all-powerful, perfect deity, a fallen race that must be atoned for by the deity?

                    Or can an author set up a new system and or myth, then use that to shine a spotlight on one facet of our own faith.

                    By defining Christian fiction with the narrow terms of it must have “Christian characters living Christian lives,” you’ve excluded the powerful message of “the Princes and the Goblin” as well as anything by Tolkien and a good number of GK Chesterton’s works. Including my all-time favorite of “The Man who was Thursday.”

    • Mike Duran April 7, 2014, 12:11 PM

      David, you concluded my premise as, “the vast majority of Christian spec fic fans really don’t care about Christianity in their work at all.” That’s simply not true. At all. I think it’s truer to say they can tolerate ambiguity, language, and other speculative elements without having to cite a story for its unbiblical-ness.

      • D.M. Dutcher April 7, 2014, 12:41 PM

        It’s true in practice. People can talk about things all they like; where they put their time and money behind is what matters, and it seems Christians would rather be part of the crowd watching the Walking Dead or squeeing over Neil Gaiman than bothering to even look at Christian spec fic.

        And they aren’t bothering to look. Simple as that. The Christian spec-fic thing…its so bad that we don’t even have Christians attempting to work in various fan genres; no webcomics, no anime/manga, no movies, no tv shows. I think it;s because they realize no one supports or watches them.

        Sorry man, but I’ve been wrestling with this issue for some time. The ambiguity thing had a point, but it’s not like people are embracing the Christian works that are; poor Pat Todoroff and J.S. Bailey might have some words to say about that.

        • Mike Duran April 7, 2014, 2:28 PM

          David, as far as I know, there’s quite a few Christians at work in cinema and the general market. My last article was on The Exorcist and the Christian influences behind it. Scott Derrickson, who directed The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a professing believer. Ralph Winter, producer of X-Men, Fantastic Four, is a professing Christian. The list is actually quite long.

          I HAVE tried the Christian spec-fic. I still do. Just finished Ghost by Wayne Thomas Batson. My point here isn’t to bash Christian spec-fic, but to suggest the audience is SO much bigger than we think. We are just beholden to a more narrow view of what our stories should be.

          • D.M. Dutcher April 7, 2014, 4:06 PM

            Derrickson makes secular stuff. Peters too. Both have Christian projects in the works, but both seem to me to be riding on the success or failure of Noah; if it bombs, I doubt they’d get made. I meant what I said though in the context of Christian works. No Christian comic books, no webcomics, no SF film.

            I don’t think you are bashing anything. The problem is that the big pool really doesn’t seem to mind secular stuff to a point that befuddles me. It’s an uphill battle just to even get Christians to look at Christian media.

            • Thea van Diepen April 7, 2014, 10:17 PM

              Dude, if you have any awesome Christian spec fic recommendations, please do share them. I’ve been looking for new authors to read for ages, that is authors of Christian spec fic for adults, and not spec fic writers who happen to be Christians. The latter have been easy for me to find, but I have found enough of the former that I like that I would love to read more. It’s just darn difficult to find. And if you want any recommendations, I am only too happy to give them. 🙂

              • D.M. Dutcher April 8, 2014, 11:26 AM

                Speculative faith has a huge library listing for books, and the CSA awards have several that are good. Rage’s Echo by J.S. Bailey, Captives by Jill Williamson, Never to Live by Just B. Jordan, Stephen Lawhead’s Skin Map books.

                Pretty much any Christian cyberpunk book has been of high quality. Pat Todoroff’s Running Black and Kirk Outerbridge’s Eternity Falls are two examples. Mitchell Bonds’s Hero, Second Class is great comic fantasy. The Scourge by A.G. Henley and Sanctuary by Pauline Creeden as well.(Disclaimer; to my surprise I found myself being quoted as a positive review for Sanctuary.) Head Dead West by A.C. Davis too.

                I mean, the reason people can’t find them is because they aren’t really looking. I tried to be a reviewer (swordcrossrocket on mike’s links is my review site) but its hard to do what essentially is a volunteer part time job. Just go to Amazon if you have a kindle, look at the Christian specfic sections, and start downloading free samples.

                • Lyn Perry April 8, 2014, 2:37 PM

                  Also try Zero Hour by Stone M. Setzer, a collection of Christian specfic stories w/ a Twilight Zone feel.

                  • Lyn Perry April 8, 2014, 3:20 PM

                    btw, my use of the label Christian is an accommodation 😉

                • Joanna April 9, 2014, 11:58 AM

                  ….That awkward and vaguely envy inducing moment when you see a guy you grew up with mentioned in conjunction with Stephen Lawhead and the rest…. 0_o (I’m referring to Mitch Bonds, author of “Hero Second Class.”) 😀

        • Michael Trimmer April 9, 2014, 2:00 PM

          DM, what to you counts as “Christian” spec-fic? Because if it’s sanitized, super clean, no-swearing, no-sex, no-violence stuff, count me out. The reason people are so often not looking at Christian fiction is that they think, in many cases accurately, that it’s just going to be a pale shadow of what they see in the secular world.

          • D.M. Dutcher April 9, 2014, 2:22 PM

            Stuff that has actual Christians do Christian things. Sanitized, or not. Simple things like praying to God, or attending church as needed in the plot. I’d kind of argue the sex/violence is a red herring; a lot of secular authors use them as little as Christian ones. It’s the philosophies and portrayals of faith that are the issue.

    • Christian Jaeschke April 7, 2014, 8:38 PM

      Stephen King’s works aren’t crap (okay, some might be) but his works actually aren’t at odds with the Christian faith. What we don’t appreciate are saccharine stories that are nothing more than sermons. They’re poor story and poor writing. That’s very different to what you’re suggesting. Don’t paint people with such a broad brush.

      • D.M. Dutcher April 7, 2014, 10:47 PM

        Meh the ratio of preachiness to skill is constant in Christian or secular works. Joanna Russ or Sherri Tepper can be just as bad about feminism as a Christian author be about something else. The sheer preaching about variant modes of sexuality in secular SF is absurd. Bad fiction happens, but I’ve never seen a whole genre just get ignored because it’s somehow seen as inferior.

        I don’t get why people prefer being preached at by atheists and unbelievers though. I started disliking Terry Pratchett when I noticed the whole “you create your own gods” themes in the discworld books. Like we’re Baron Munchausen, pulling ourselves out of the water by our hair.

        • Jill April 8, 2014, 7:02 AM

          “I don’t get why people prefer being preached at by atheists and unbelievers though.” I don’t either.

          • Kerry Nietz April 8, 2014, 8:17 AM

            Maybe there is bit of fantasy in that, as well? What I mean is, maybe for some believers reading novels by unbelievers is a way of vicariously living a life of sinfulness? One they know they cannot live in reality, and for which there is seemingly no consequences.

        • Kat Heckenbach April 8, 2014, 7:08 AM

          David, I agree with you on the way preachiness can be found in secular work as well. I’ve read plenty of books like that, and I don’t like them either. Preachiness about atheism or whatever it is, is still preaching, and it needs to be addressed. I always point out preachiness in secular novels when I review them.

          However, I to think there is more good writing in the traditionally published secular market than there is in the CBA. More creativity and originality. The CBA tends to jump on bandwagons as they are on their way out of town. I was given a suggestion to read a dystopian as an example of something original in the CBA…but I read secular YA fiction all the time and I’m completely dystopianed-out. I can’t even fathom the idea that CBA dystopian could touch on something more original or be more well-written than a secular one. Oh, and what about all the indie Christian dystopians that were written years ago??? That’s right, they’re indie, so they don’t count in the eyes of the CBA.

    • Jessica E. Thomas April 8, 2014, 8:46 AM

      ‘Got to love being culturally colonized like that. “We’re Christians, but please don’t put any explicit Christianity in our work; it gets in the way of all the things we like in a book.”’

      This has been troubling me lately. The more I spend time with Christians online it seems there is no happy medium. People are either all gung ho about embracing the world or totally against it. It’s very easy to make people mad by simply suggesting there might be some viable real estate in the middle.

  • Kat Heckenbach April 7, 2014, 11:07 AM

    Hey, lookie there! 🙂 Just have to point out: that photo of me was taken at The Hogshead pub at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Just seems appropriate considering HP is a speculative book written by a Christian and, like, the most successful book series EVER…

    And my point on FB was mainly that yes, Christian spec-fic authors do need to look outside the CBA. Right now, the only option for “Christian spec-fic” is to go indie because the larger presses aren’t taking it for the most part.

    My point about the contest more specifically, though, was how ironic I found it–there is a contest for JUST Christian spec-fic, but one that does not recognize indie books, even though that’s where most Christian spec-fic is found, because the larger presses don’t take it. And of course, despite the genre having all these indie authors, and a contest all its own, the CBA is still shy of it.

    And the distinction you made about what Jeff Gerke said is one I’ve made before as well–that he was meaning those who specifically recognize themselves as readers of specifically fiction defined as Christian speculative. Most spec-fic readers who happen to be Christian read secular spec-fic. I most certainly do, although I get a kick out of finding subtle Christian themes in the secular fiction I read :).

    I also enjoy writing my fiction that way. I have ended up labeled as a Christian spec-fic writer because of my activity in the genre movement. My participation in conversations just like this one, my participation in Realm Makers, etc.

    But my novels were never written for a Christian market. ALL the “Christian” stuff in them is symbolic. Nothing is overt, at all. I’ve said before, I was told by the Grace awards, after Finding Angel made finalist, that my book lacked “faith themes.” (I was simultaneous told that the least favorite scene of the judges was one that contains the most direct references to Christianity–or, well, the Bible–in the whole book, only no one ever recognizes it. I guess no one ever reads Job after God starts talking to him….)

    Anyway, yes, I agree with ya.

    • D.M. Dutcher April 7, 2014, 12:14 PM

      I don’t think they recognize them because indie authors can vary wildly in quality and their willingness to stuff the ballot. They don’t want a reader award to become a “which author can mobilize their fans to flood the ballot box” award, and a lot of the most popular indie books are so due to marketing more than quality content. Not to say it’s always so, and many indie authors are hurt by this. But it’s a danger for any award.

      • Kat Heckenbach April 7, 2014, 2:05 PM

        I’m not going to disagree with this. At all. Right now, it’s a popularity contest. It needs to be a real contest. With entry fees. With judges who read the books and decide which ones are good. Not who has the most reader votes.

        • Kerry April 7, 2014, 2:10 PM

          Yeah, I agree. It is nice that they require folks to have read a couple of the books, but the fact of the matter is that it still favors books published by the large CBA-houses books because those are the ones that most people have read, regardless of quality.

  • Scott April 7, 2014, 11:37 AM

    *I’m a Christian
    *I have Stephen King in my library (and can’t wait for his Under The Dome Season 2 opener in June)
    *I **don’t** have HBO for Game of Thrones (I’m too cheap) – but I’m curious
    *I enjoy the Hunger Games (and at least the first 2 Divergent books)
    *I’m an avid fan of the Walking Dead

    I’ll add:
    *I don’t want Amish romance and literal interpretations of Revelation.
    *I don’t want it clean and tidied up with a bow at the end – wrestling with an unresolved issue is perhaps the unifying human trait
    *I don’t need scriptural justification for everything a character may do/say/think in a novel

    Because in the mess, in the unresolved, in the questioning – there I find Jesus

    • Thea van Diepen April 7, 2014, 10:21 PM

      I just noticed your mention of the Divergent books and thought you might find it interesting to know that the author of them is Christian. I’ve only read the first book so far, but I loved that it has that beautiful quality to it that books by Christian authors have and that books by secular authors don’t. If I could be more specific as to what I mean, I would be. It’s really hard for me to describe, but I know it very clearly when I see it.

      • Kat Heckenbach April 8, 2014, 7:10 AM

        Thea, I’ll be interested in your take on the second and third books of the Divergent series. I loved the first one, but….

    • Jessica E. Thomas April 8, 2014, 9:03 AM

      Isn’t the HBO Game of Thrones a bit of a nudie-fest? I’ve heard someone say the nude stuff is important to move along the story, but I dunno. It does seems strange to me that Christians would think that is “okay”. Maybe the issue is, many Christians are lazy consumers. They either want a story with a stamp on it that says, “this is ‘pure'” so they don’t have to use their discernment when reading, or they want to watch whatever they want under the banner of “Christian liberty”?

      I know there is a middle ground, because I’ve had several Christians read my novel and appreciate how I (carefully) handled the faith issues, but I will argue that it’s WAY easier to market stories that are clearly on one side of the spectrum or another. I don’t suspect that will ever change.

  • Kerry Nietz April 7, 2014, 12:06 PM

    Curiously, I just today read somewhere that 78% of Americans self-identify themselves as Christian, with 16% having no identification, and the rest being divided between other belief systems. If true, that 78% presents a huge market for speculative fare.

    I really think it is mostly a discoverability issue, whether the book is published by a larger CBA house, or self-published. If it is the latter, then it won’t be shelved in bookstores, and is limited to however one might discover it on the internet. If it is the former, it is pushed away to its own special section in the bookstore. (But that’s something the bookstores wanted, not the publishing houses. Or so I’ve heard.)

  • Steve in Toronto April 7, 2014, 3:16 PM

    I resemble this remark. Here why I rarely read self-identified “Christian” science fiction (or even ordinary Christian fiction). Firstly most is too pedantic (we need more JRR Tolkien and less CS Lewis). Second both Christian literature and science fiction are genre’s with unusually low ratios of wheat to chafe. When I was a teen I didn’t mind wasting my time on mediocre but entertaining novels but I have less free time now and I need to be more discriminating. The only science fiction I read is what’s recommended to me by the good folks a Bakka http://www.bakkaphoenixbooks.com. Too many of the sites that I know of that are dedicated to Christian novels are fan and industry sites that are more interested in encouraging fellow writers and chatting with fellow fans then in real critical reviews and analyses that would be useful to someone like me who just wants to read the “good stuff”. That being said I really like the work of the Wilsons (both father and son). Though I must say my kids thought that ND Wilson’s books were only OK. Lastly Christian books stores give me the creeps. I expect Christ to turn up any minute with a riding crop and start knocking over tables of Amish romances.

    • Kerry Nietz April 7, 2014, 7:34 PM

      >>I expect Christ to turn up any minute with a riding crop and start knocking over tables of Amish romances.

      That made me chuckle. 🙂

    • Christian Jaeschke April 7, 2014, 8:46 PM

      What exactly is wrong with C.S. Lewis’ works?

      • Lyn Perry April 8, 2014, 3:30 PM

        Tolkien didn’t like them when Lewis read the LW&W to Inklings. He felt Lewis’s work was a bit childish and derivative – that Clive didn’t take ‘myth’ seriously enough. The LoTR isn’t very ‘Christian’ after all – too complex and not allegorical, really. I think people like Lewis because the message is fairly overt – and why some atheists feel betrayed once they grow up and realize they liked the books as children, lol.

      • Steve in Toronto April 11, 2014, 2:13 PM

        First of he is my favorite Christian apologist and has written one of my favorite books The Great Divorce. That being said we went through the Chronicles of Narnia last year with the kids last summer and a lot of them were great (The Horse and his Boy, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and the Magician Nephew a lot were hard going Prince Caspian and Voyage of the Dawn Trader in particular. I have never managed to make it through the space trilogy. Basically he sometimes sounds more like a Sunday school teacher then a novelist. He lets is ideas drive the narrative and often the story suffers.

      • Steve in Toronto April 11, 2014, 2:13 PM

        First of he is my favorite Christian apologist and has written one of my favorite books The Great Divorce. That being said we went through the Chronicles of Narnia last year with the kids last summer and a lot of them were great (The Horse and his Boy, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and the Magician Nephew but a lot were hard going Prince Caspian and Voyage of the Dawn Trader in particular. I have never managed to make it through the space trilogy. Basically he sometimes sounds more like a Sunday school teacher then a novelist. He lets is ideas drive the narrative and often the story suffers.

  • Travis Perry April 7, 2014, 4:22 PM

    I think it should be pointed out that a great part of the potential speculative fiction audience is of people who don’t read much at all. A great many of these people also happen to be Christians. I know many many Christian people who watch science fiction or fantasy movies that don’t read books very often if at all (and if they do, the often want something “inspirational,” that is, real world, I think because they see reading as a chore only to be undertaken for self-improvement, not for pleasure).

    Major movie and game studios are thoroughly secular in their mindset. But the success of low-budget Christian films seems to have begun to draw them to Biblical content more recently, even if they don’t get it straight. This may signal an eventual opportunity for our niche.

    What we need to do is find a way to get our stories into media other than books, especially movies and games…

    • E. Kaiser Writes April 7, 2014, 6:04 PM

      This would be great… but novels are the most cheaply produced form of storytelling! If you find a way to get movies made… I’d love to hear it! 🙂

  • Dave Withe (Newburydave online) April 7, 2014, 9:39 PM

    Not really interested in publishing in the CBA.

    When the Lord called me to write Christian Themed SF He specifically aimed me at the secular market as a form of asymmetric evangelism. (I did that in the street when I had health and strength, now I’m trying to do it in print) I’d been hanging out on the Baen’s Bar writers website and it became clear to me that the secular SF readership was a largely un-evangelized sociological deme.

    This was driven home when I posted a story with strong Christians as the main characters to their peer to peer slush pile for Authors in Training. As you may know the people who took over after Jim Baen died have a radical athiest/materialist prejudice. One critique I got from another A.I.T. said it would be a good story without all the religious stuff; but another said he wished that the world worked like that (providential care and a purpose beyond this world).

    So, I try to craft my stories to be better stories than secular authors write, with strong Christian themes to show how real Christians act under pressure. On Jeff’s website and my own online peer to peer critique list-serv we’ve debated what makes Christian SF actually “Christian”. I don’t think we actually came to a consensus beyond every author has to follow God’s own leading and threads of inspiration. Maybe it’s just Christians writing SF.

    C.S. Lewis said he felt his SF writing was an attempt to show people in the world how to be human again. I guess that’s what I’m aiming for, trying to repair the foundations. I don’t expect the CBA to ever pick up any of my writing. The stories I gotten published so far have been with secular micropublishers.

  • Karen P. April 8, 2014, 8:50 AM

    A few points: First I agree with you Mike, et al, that there is a much larger audience out there beyond CBA, not just for spec-fic but all genres. I have had avid-reader Christian friends tell me that I should not call my writing “Christian Fiction” under penalty of being lumped in with CBA titles they are not interested in reading. I do think Jeff Gerke has a limited view as it seems to me he has always wanted to “break into” the established CBA market with spec-fic; perhaps that is why he sold Marcher Lord Press off “in house” as opposed to someone who might have taken it farther outside CBA.

    The recent e-mail from ACFW that they are opening up their Carol Awards to self-pubbed books seems to me a huge shake up to their traditional view. I wonder how many members they have lost over the last few years due to self-pubbing, so they decided to win them back by possibly throwing them a bone? Honestly, I couldn’t care less about any of the awards. None of my Christian friends know or care about them so what does it really mean? As for ACFW, I can’t decide if I should renew my membership or not.

    Always great food for thought. Thanks Mike.

  • Kerry Nietz April 9, 2014, 4:53 AM

    You know, I wondered where Jeff got that less-than-5000 number, then I noticed the number of likes on the Marcher Lord Facebook page: 4776.

    Probably not the most accurate sample, statistically.

    • Lyn Perry April 9, 2014, 4:55 AM

      lol, yeah, the number seems arbitrary to me – and indefensible seeing as there are 7 billion people on the planet.

  • Kerry Nietz April 9, 2014, 9:08 AM

    And 300 million in America, 78% of which identify as Christian.

  • Jason Haenning April 10, 2014, 1:48 PM

    There are some many great comments hear about different topics, I don’t know where to begin!

    First, I thoroughly agree with StuartB’s original comment – “How about we ditch the Christian labels and just shelve the books alongside everything else?” Let the book jacket be clear on content and let the reader decide. Your writing will eventually earn its label from readers. However, intentionally pushing into a category holding such negative connotations with the secular market seems a questionable effort if you want to broaden readership.

    Also, volume alone dictates that the mainstream spec-fic market will have a far higher amount of quality and creativity. It is well worth studying for the craft and even enjoying in its own right – with the guidance of the Spirit and a discerning mind. There is a point when avoiding things that challenge my own belief system is less about discernment and more about fear or laziness. This may be a core problem of the Christian publishing industry and its market.

  • DD April 15, 2014, 4:45 PM

    I’ve questioned in the past why do we need the term “speculative fiction.” There is an immense market for sci-fi and fantasy, so are we adding to the problem by creating a new label? I think this is similar to the debates here of the pros/cons of the “Christian fiction” label. Or when the publisher labeled Chris Walley’s sci-fi trilogy “futuristic” as the genre. Seriously? It is science-fiction in every book store on the planet.

    If we want to write sci-fi, fantasy or horror, then label it such. If certain publishers don’t want certain genres, find ones that do. Or as Hugh Howey did with his sci-fi Wool, indie publishing has become a real option.

  • J.B. April 21, 2014, 5:39 PM

    Maybe the problem is that most Christian readers want to read good fiction. A small minority want to read “Christian fiction”: a version of fiction that pushes Christianity and is smooth as pablum. Writers should write for readers and publishers who want quality fiction, not for the Christian fiction market.

    Is the Book of Eli a Christian film? No, it is quality; therefore, it is not a “Christian film” or “Christian fiction.”

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