Jumping into the Christian Speculative Fiction Discussion


I’ve been blogging about Christian science fiction and fantasy for four years now—that and a few other topics. 😉 Early on I gave an apologetics, of sorts—why Christians should be writing fantasy. Later I explored why the Evangelical Christian Publishing Association (ECPA) side of the book industry seemed hesitant to jump on the fantasy bandwagon that gripped the rest of … well, pretty much, The World.

Consequently, when friend and soon-to-be published author, Mike Duran, broached the subject on his blog, (“Why ‘Supernatural Fiction’ is Under-Represented in Christian Bookstores”) I didn’t jump into the discussion with both feet, (OK, I made one tiny little comment. You didn’t think I’d remain completely silent on the subject, did you? 😛 ) After all, I’ve said my piece, over and over and over.

Well, the discussion is escalating. First Mike posted a similar article, “Why is ‘Speculative Fiction’ Under-represented in Christian Bookstores?” at Novel Journey. His comments got picked up and discussed at the blog i09 in an article entitled “Christian readers demand more science fiction books. Why won’t Christian publishers listen?” Then blogger J. Mark Miller joined the discussion in a post today: “Christian Speculative Fiction?”

In reading the various posts and comments, a couple things jump out at me.

  • Many of the people who voice opinion about the health of Christian Speculative Fiction apparently haven’t read much of it. The fact that they don’t know how much ECPA houses have branched out is evidence of that. I won’t take time to make a list—though that would be a worthy project for another post. For now, note that ECPA houses Tyndale, Zondervan, Thomas Nelson, Bethany, WaterBrook, Harvest House, Crossway, AMG, and Strang all have speculative titles coming out this year—and most have multiple titles.

    Suffice it to say, comments about a lack of science in any Christian science fiction show an ignorance of books like Austin Boyd’s Mars Hills trilogy and Karen Hancock’s Enclave. Lumping all speculative in with supernatural shows an unawareness of books like Sharon Hinck’s The Sword of Lyric series and Jeffrey Overstreet’s Auralia’s Thread series. And belittling the quality of the writing shows unfamiliarity with authors such as George Bryan Polivka and Tom Pawlik and Tosca Lee and Athol Dickson. (Yes, the last two aren’t exclusively speculative fiction writers, but their speculative titles shouldn’t be ignored, either).

  • The idea that Christians don’t want to read speculative fiction is archaic. In a post four years ago, I quoted from a Barna Group of Ventura California study that surveyed teenagers from thirteen to eighteen over a three year period. The findings indicated that 77% of this group identified as church-going and 78% identifying themselves as born-again Christians had seen or read at least one Harry Potter book or movie.

    Since the survey started in 2002, that means those eighteen year olds would now be twenty-six. Are we to believe that in these ensuing eight years those who read or viewed a Harry Potter fantasy now are closed to the genre?

    And what about those of us who grew up on the Star Wars movies? I don’t have stats, but I know in my circle of Christian friends, the majority saw all six. Do we have one standard for movies and another for books? I don’t think so.

  • Then why don’t publishers report better sales for speculative fiction? Why are insiders continually repeating the mantra that Christians won’t buy speculative fiction?

    First of all, Christians do buy speculative titles. As a number of commenters noted, some of the best selling Christian fiction (beyond Lewis and Tolkien—and the fact that those authors still sell well only adds to this point) was speculative. Frank Peretti opened the door to Christian fiction beyond prairie romance. Ted Dekker mixes speculative with thriller, but his more speculative titles such as the Circle Trilogy have better Amazon rankings than some of his more recent works. And anyone remember the Left Behind phenomenon?

    For some reason, these best-selling authors don’t count. I don’t know why. Some say Dekker could sell anything, so readers don’t like him for his speculative titles—they just like him. And Left Behind was … something no one understands.

    In other words, there are reasons not to throw in these authors’ numbers with other speculative writers.

    But here’s the thing, not all readers enjoy all speculative fiction. I don’t. I have a strong preference for fantasy, and not for dark fantasy, not for science fiction, not for supernatural. But how is a reader who enjoys a particular kind of speculative fiction to find the books they want to read?

    Not even Christian book stores consistently do a good job of stocking speculative titles. In one local Christian book store, I had to order a Karen Hancock book, despite the fact that she had won three consecutive Christy Awards.

    Could it be that we can still improve when it comes to telling readers about Christian speculative fiction? Of course, we might then be in danger of adding to the impression that we are merely a vocal group. 😉

    In my opinion, two things have moved Christian speculative fiction forward. One, ECPA houses are getting more and more titles into general market stores. Granted, they are still shelved in the Christian fiction section, but Christians who don’t go to CBA stores will be more apt to peruse works at Target or Borders, even when they’re in the “special section.”

    Two, Bryan Davis has marketed tirelessly and sold his fiction well. So did Donita Paul. The industry insiders, then, concluded that YA fantasy would sell and a host of titles have cropped up. Some writers for adults even added fantasy for middle grade and YA—notably Ted Dekker and Robert Liparulo.

    I say it’s time to end this false idea that Christian speculative fiction doesn’t sell, has only a small niche audience, isn’t well written, won’t be tolerated by Christians. Let me end with this quote from one of my previous fantasy rants:

    Last point, and perhaps the most important. If selling is most affected by word of mouth—and most people who hang around long enough in this business seem to agree it is—isn’t it reasonable to conclude that those with the most influence have the biggest affect when they say something? In other words, don’t editors [or agents], when they say sci fi and fantasy don’t sell well, actually create the negative buzz that insures the truth of those statements?

    I don’t know if I’m saying this clearly. What I’m thinking is this: The people who are most in a position to know things, by saying “We don’t think this sells well,” create the very buzz that causes the genre not to sell well. Because certainly editors have a bigger platform than some wanna-be blogger who rants about how Christian publishers are missing the fantasy train. 😉

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