Attention All Readers of Speculative Fiction

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A woman readingIn two weeks I pitch my novel to agents and publishers at the American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Nashville. Though I’m a tad nervous, I’ve been richly blessed by the Lord in the last few weeks, with several astonishing answers to prayer that I’ll share after the conference. Amazing stuff, indeed.

As part of my pre-conference market research, I’d like to ask everyone who reads this to help me out. Ask people you might know who never read Cerulean Sanctum to drop by, too, because what I am about to ask may help everyone in the end.

I would appreciate answers to the following five questions:

      1. Do you read speculative fiction—science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural thrillers, etc.?

    2. What authors are you reading in speculative fiction?

    3. Do you find that there is not enough speculative fiction available?

    4. What concerns you about the themes and morality displayed in the speculative fiction you read?

    5. Would you read more speculative fiction if more titles by Christian authors were available?

    I’m particularly interested in hearing from women readers of speculative fiction who are finding a lack of Christian thought in that genre (or a lack of speculative fiction titles in general) to be discouraging. If strong female leads in those novels would influence whether you read a novel or not, also let me know. (Guys, I need your input, too, but the simple truth is that women buy 80+% of the Christian fiction out there, so they wield most of the demographic power.)

    Thank you in advance. Your comments are exceedingly helpful!

    17 thoughts on “Attention All Readers of Speculative Fiction

    1. Anonymous

      First off, I’m male.

      1. Do you read speculative fiction—science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural thrillers, etc.?

      Yes. Science fiction, fantasy.

      2. What authors are you reading in speculative fiction?

      LMBujold, David Weber, Modesitt, Steve Miller & Sharon Lee, Anne McCaffrey (yes, still), Elizabeth Moon, Aubrey, Flint (some), Drake (mostly the fantasy books), David&Leigh Eddings, John Ringo, JK Rowling, some others.

      3. Do you find that there is not enough speculative fiction available?

      Yes. Not nearly enough.

      4. What concerns you about the themes and morality displayed in the speculative fiction you read?

      Um. Hard to say. The themes are usually very much good versus evil (or us vs. them, sometimes). Often there is premarital or extramarital sex, but I don’t find it noxious in F&SF (not like some of the Gothics and Romance novels!), at least for the most part. Occasionally I’ll find some novel where it’s entirely too blatant, and usually that ends up at the used bookstore and off MY shelves.

      5. Would you read more speculative fiction if more titles by Christian authors were available?

      Oddly, I find that most Christian authors are into obvious tales of morality, and “lesson tales,” and copies of parables, and the like. Some of them I find quite intriguing; Alcorn’s modern echo of “Screwtape Letters” was well done – but it lacked the punch and the zing of the original.

      Peretti’s work is interesting, but I don’t generally don’t read it.

      So, my answer to this is, if you can sell it in the science fiction or fantasy marketplace WITHOUT going to “Christian” publishers, I’d likely pick it up and look at it.

      What do I find interesting? The same things Baen Books (or Ballantine, or Ace, or any other F&SF publisher) finds interesting: interesting characters, fairly realistically portrayed, doing things that aren’t boring, in settings that are not at all like ours today. Telling the story of Marge’s day with the kids and how she deals with them and their needs, while realistic, is boring. Telling the psychologial story of the romance of Steve and Jill as they struggle with their sexuality and desire before being married… is boring. I don’t buy fiction to read about MY life. I buy fiction to read about some other world, where things are exciting!

      Representing the stuff I like: Elizabeth Moon’s “Trading in Danger” and “Once a Hero”. David Weber’s “Windrider’s Oath”, but I think the best of that series was “Oath of Swords”. David Weber’s “Honor Harrington” series, “Heirs of Empire,” and “The Apocalypse Troll”. “Balance of Trade” by Steve Miller and Sharon Lee, and the “Liaden series” (agent of change, plan b, conflict of honors, I Dare, Scout’s progress). These tend to be political stories with fighting and shenanigans intertwined.

      I’d rather read a good book (my definition) by anyone than a bad one by a “Christian” author. Sorry ’bout that, but it’s the way it is. Too many people think because what they write has a “Christian theme” that Christians should buy it, even when the writing is really horrible, the plots contrived, and Deus Ex Machina reigns supreme.

      If you write well, you shouldn’t have any problems finding a publisher.

    2. burttd

      1) Do you read speculative fiction—science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural thrillers, etc.?

      Yes.

      ==============

      2) What authors are you reading in speculative fiction?

      Tolkien (of course), Harry Turtledove, S. M Stirling, Steve Lawhead

      ==============

      3) Do you find that there is not enough speculative fiction available?

      On the contrary – the market is flooded. I don’t even read everything by Turtledove and Stirling.

      ==============

      4) What concerns you about the themes and morality displayed in the speculative fiction you read?

      I haven’t read a wide enough swath to make general statements, but I’m not so much concerned about the themes and morality (after all, what’s to be expected from mere humans?), as the “closeness” to reality. That’s why I keep going back to Tolkien.

      ==============

      5) Would you read more speculative fiction if more titles by Christian authors were available?

      Please don’t take this personally (I know you are a writer), but “Not only ‘No’, but ‘Hades, No!'” Doing this sort of genre *right* in a Christianly manner, without coming off shallow and stereotypical, is a rare and wonderful thing. Tolkien, Williams, and possibly Lewis are the only ones that I can think of who have done this worthily – Lawshead is at least one logarithmic level below them. And I DON’T trust the current “Christian book” industry to find and publish such works. I used to work in a church library, I’ve seen the stuff published under “Christian fiction”, and I’ll take a solid pagan writer (Turtledove, Stirling) over them ANY day of the week.

    3. Kathy

      I’m female, and I am not at all interested in speculative fiction. I don’t know what percentage of the population I represent. However, I hope your book is a success with those who enjoy the genre.

    4. 1. Yes. SF and fantasy, rather than the others.

      2. ReadING? Hmm… George R. R. Martin. Steven Brust. I can’t think of too many other current authors I’d actively look for books from; see #3.

      3. Put “good” in there and I’d say yes, yes I do. Sturgeon was too optimistic. Watching the franchise-fiction become a larger and larger percentage of the sf&f section is very depressing.

      4. Maybe I’ve just picked the wrong books, but actively anti-Christian themes bother me. For example, I loved the first two books of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy but the third was hugely disappointing. Especially since it seemed petty.

      5. That’s an awkwardly worded question. Would I read more purely because authors are Christians? No. Would I like to see more good fiction? Yes. Would I be even happier to see it come from Christian authors? Absolutely.

    5. 1. Do you read speculative fiction—science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural thrillers, etc.?
      yes, fantasy occasionally

      2. What authors are you reading in speculative fiction?
      ditto Karen—Steven Brust—.

      3. Do you find that there is not enough speculative fiction available?
      No, there is plenty available, but not a lot of good stuff available. How does one set themselves apart?

      4. What concerns you about the themes and morality displayed in the speculative fiction you read?
      I enjoy characters who act true to their—-character—within the realm of the story, more so than looking for a moral theme.

      5. Would you read more speculative fiction if more titles by Christian authors were available?
      No, but I do hope more Christians pursue the craft.

      Way to go on your book. May God surround you with favor as with a shield(Psalm 5:12)

    6. Becky

      1. Do you read speculative fiction—science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural thrillers, etc.?

      Yes, fantasy.

      2. What authors are you reading in speculative fiction?

      I may skewer your results, because I am purposefully reading Christians since I want to publish with a CBA house. With in the year I have read Karen Hancock, Gregory Spencer, Michael Warren, Bryan Davis, Stephen Lawhead. I’m just starting on some non-Christian fantasy—Robin McKinley.

      3. Do you find that there is not enough speculative fiction available?

      Not enough Christian fantasy, for sure.

      4. What concerns you about the themes and morality displayed in the speculative fiction you read?

      Heh heh heh—question I love to answer. Speculative fiction often deals with a good vs. evil struggle. I want a Christian worldview in defining good and evil. Anything else concerns me because our culture buys into those definitions.

      5. Would you read more speculative fiction if more titles by Christian authors were available?

      Yes, but like the others before me, I want well-crafted fiction. Unfortunately , that list is shorter than the list of available titles.

    7. Pilgrim

      1. Yes I particularly enjoy science fiction.

      2. Herbert, Asimov, Clancy, Koontz, Card, etc.

      3. Yes I find there is more than I can get to. I read at least two books a month.

      4. It doesn’t bother me enough to not read them. I have read some of Dekker’s work and while the stories are interesting they seem somewhat overt in their message. It does make me appreciate Lewis even more.

      5. I would if they tell good stories.

    8. Caleb W

      Male, student, aspiring writer from over in Britain, chipping in with my views, though I doubt I’d make up any noticeable part of your target demographic. But if it becomes an international hit, you never know!

      1. Do you read speculative fiction—science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural thrillers, etc.?

      I enjoy reading both science fiction and fantasy, but I’m not too fond of the extremes of either – I don’t particularly like “hard sf” where the story is merely a vehicle for showcasing some scientific idea, or “high fantasy”, which is usually a Tolkein rip-off with a name like The Quest for the Prophecy of the Mauydupnaime: Book Twenty Seven Million of the Quintasilli Dodecahedraology, written in a cod-medieval style.

      2. What authors are you reading in speculative fiction?

      Well, I’ve read the obvious ones like C S Lewis and Tolkien, of course. As well as them, Philip Pullman, G P Taylor, Stephen Lawhead, Garth Nix, J K Rowling, Diana Wynne Jones, Philip Reeve, William Nicholson, Terry Pratchett, Jonathan Stroud… quite a lot! I also enjoy reading the Doctor Who novels, though I dip in and out of that series.

      3. Do you find that there is not enough speculative fiction available?

      Definitely not! Quantity isn’t a problem – quality often is, though. The tricky bit is finding the books that are actually any good.

      4. What concerns you about the themes and morality displayed in the speculative fiction you read?

      In science fiction, there is often an assumption of science being able to solve all our problems (or there’s an attitude of nihilstic despair in the face of an uncaring universe), of religion being backward and supersitious, and the fictional universes created are worked out on the basis of a usually atheistic worldview. That’s not always the case, but I’ve found that to be the trend.

      In fantasy, on the other hand, the tendency is more to a

      Speculative fiction is often used to grapple with the big issues of good and evil, life and death and so on, and it’s good that people are thinking about them. But since most of these books are written by non-Christians, they often have rather dubious, or outright awful, morals and themes. But there is still lots of really good stuff – the main theme of Harry Potter seems to be the power of sacrificial love, for example, and Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom trilogy was a tribute to the importance of unity and friendship in overcoming evil. But then there are those like Philip Pullman, whose villain in His Dark Materials is the tyrannical Authority, identified as the God of the Bible. But I think it’s good that he’s getting people thinking about such issues, even if his conclusions are terrible – reading Pullman’s book is a great insight into the minds of people who see God merely as a celestial spoilsport, and is a great opportunity to talk to people about what the real God is like.

      I find it sad that some parts of the church prefer to make misguided protests and lead campaigns against books they don’t like rather than encouraging and fostering Christian writers to write better books, both artistically and in what those books are saying.

      I’m not sure that I would really say I’m “concerned” about the fiction as such. I’m concerned for the souls of the people who produce it, but what they write is often filled with beauty, shards of truth that mankind hasn’t fully forgotten, and a real sense of searching for what is right and good. I don’t see the point in getting angry about what people write in most cases – often the darkest, most terrible tales are a cry of pain from a sin-wracked soul against a world gone mad, and we should be listening and seeking to comfort and give answers rather than telling people off for what they say.

      What does make me angry though is when writers misrepresent things, when they mislead people through their writing. All the distortions and historical inaccuracies in The Da Vinci Code, for example, in particular when it comes to the origins of Christianity. It really annoys me that Philip Pullman equates his pantomime villain with the Christian God, when they are nothing alike, and in his attack on Christianity ignores the centre of it, Jesus Christ himself. When people are deceived by fiction, that’s when I’m concerned.

      5. Would you read more speculative fiction if more titles by Christian authors were available?

      I’m not sure I’d read more, because I read loads already. But if there was good Christian fiction, then I’d probably read more of that.

      A few final comments – it’s interesting what you say about the Christian fiction audience being predominantly female, because I was reading an interview with the producer of Doctor Who recently. (Doctor Who is a British family science-fantasy drama series, which was recently revived to large audiences and great acclaim). He was saying that the science fiction audience is traditionally male, and in making the series they consciously sought to grab the female audience by having strong female characters and by making it “emotionally literate” rather than simply firing off rayguns and having spaceships exploding every few seconds.

      As an aspiring writer myself, I don’t really see the point of aiming for a solely Christian audience. I want to reach the world, to tell a good story that everyone can enjoy. I want it to be solidly built on a Christian foundation and to reflect and point to some of the wonderful truths of the Gospel, but in a way that tells a good story rather than preaches at people. Philip Pullman said “Thou shalt nots are soon forgotten, but once upon a times live forever”. There’s a lot of truth in that (which is probably why he never let any of the Christian story get a look-in in his books – trying to fight the Gospel on an even footing would be suicidal for what he was trying to do).

    9. 1. Yes, my favorite genre
      2. Mostly Dean Koontz & King—sorry if my taste seems rather plebeian!
      3. Always room for more
      4. Oftentimes true evil is masterfully presented but, good, not so skillfully. Sometimes true good is absent altogether. Wish I could explain that better!
      5. IF it were done—it seldom is.

    10. Anonymous

      Amen to all of that.
      I posted already, and I need to comment.

      There’s good writing out there, and it’s fairly obvious from the answers that we try to find it and read it (the author list is rather sparse. Though there are authors mentioned whose writing I personally don’t care for, I do know that all of those mentioned usually write fairly well). Sturgeon was optimistic; most of what’s out there is pretty much ignorable. Tolkien’s characters were plainly not “Christian.” I don’t think the idea of God was mentioned even once during the entire LotR trilogy.

      Too much of what passes for Christian writing is badly-written morality plays under another guise, and most of us don’t read them because we don’t like being preached at. “Christian” writing, done well, is well worth reading, witness Tolkien and Lewis. I’m not so sure about Peretti, but some of his stuff is riveting once you pick it up and start reading.

      If you can write about salvation, redemption, personal courage, and choosing the right even at great personal cost (the themes of Tolkien and Lewis and many other good science fiction and fantasy writers), without seeming to write about those themes, why, there’s a great future for you in whatever genre you’re writing in.

      Entirely too much of Christianity is willing to endure the arts done badly if done by Christians. By so acting, we are telling all and sundry, “Christians are better than non-Christians.”

      I do not go to the “Christian fiction” section of the bookstores. I ignore it completely, because Sturgeon’s law needs to be applied two or three times in that section. Get rid of 90% of it, and then do the same with what’s left. And, maybe, with what’s left after that. Most of Christian fiction is no better than the book-a-week romance novels in another guise. Writing romance novels in a Christian worldview does not improve the writing style of the authors. There is a reason why women are the major market for Christian fiction, and it’s the same reason why women are the major market for romance novels.

      Most non-Christian editors do not object to Christian themes. Written well, books with Christian moral themes sell very well (I can name several that are on the shelves right now). Written badly, certain books might sell well, but the reputation of the company is damaged by the publication of them (e.g., “They’ll publish anything to make a profit. I’m not going to buy from them until they improve.”).

      If you write well, you should not need a “Christian” publishing company. If you don’t write well, why publish?

    11. Rooted in Him

      1. I read speculative fiction: science fiction, fantasy. I dislike horror and supernatural thrillers.

      2. Authors: Connie Willis. Her books, The Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, were wonderful. Two very different takes on the some technology. Terry Pratchett. Well written, good characters, good plots. CS Lewis and Tolkein for all the normal reasons. Asimov, Heinlein (but only the earlier books), and other classic science fiction authors. I have an abiding fondness for good “space opera.”

      3. Availability. I can’t keep up. Therefore, I don’t do series, except for Pratchett.

      4. Concerns. I don’t read the later Heinlein (and similar books) because the immorality overwhelms the plot for me. I don’t like horror and supernatural fiction because I do not like my fears manipulated, and I find tales about the supernatural too demonic. Why I am bothered by that and not by the witchcraft in fantasy, I do not know.

      5. I do not know. I read well-written, stand-alone speculative fiction. If it turns up in the “Christian Author” section of a store, I would not mind.

    12. Steve

      1. Yes … science fiction and fantasy novels.

      2. A wide variety, but I like David Brin, Jack McDevitt and Dan Simmons.

      3. No.

      4. I’m very tolerant of un- or even anti-Christian themes in speculative fiction. I believe that a Christian knowledgeable and confident in their faith has nothing to worry about from any books.

      5. I read so much already that I probably wouldn’t read more, I’d be inclined to read well-written Christian titles though.

    13. Joshua

      1. Do you read speculative fiction—science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural thrillers, etc.?

      Yes. SciFi and Fantasy.

      2. What authors are you reading in speculative fiction?

      Lately it has been, C.J. Cherryh, Vernor Vinge, David Brin, Andre Norton, Arthur C. Clark, John Barnes, Julie Czerneda.

      3. Do you find that there is not enough speculative fiction available?

      There is enough secular speculative fiction for me.

      4. What concerns you about the themes and morality displayed in the speculative fiction you read?

      Themes I am concerned about: “God” is meaningless or non-existent; relativistic worldviews; humans have equal moral standing with animals; sexual rules are non-existent

      5. Would you read more speculative fiction if more titles by Christian authors were available?

      Probably not, but I would read more speculative fiction written by Christians and less by secular writers.

    14. 0. What gender are you? (you didn’t ask; but expressed interest)

      Male

      1. Do you read speculative fiction—science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural thrillers, etc.?

      Yes, both Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Not so much horror.

      2. What authors are you reading in speculative fiction?

      Neal Stephenson and Orson Scott Card are at the top of the list. An order of magnitude below them are James P Hogan, Robert L Forward, Larry Niven, J Michael Straczynski, Corry Doctorow, Neil Gaiman

      3. Do you find that there is not enough speculative fiction available?

      No plenty of it out there, and (accounting for Sturgeon’s law) at least some of it is good.

      4. What concerns you about the themes and morality displayed in the speculative fiction you read?

      I am somewhat concerned with fiction in which actions are not shown to have realistic consequences. I’m comfortable with stories where characters do “bad thing”, and do not expect immediate (and unrealistic) “lightning strikes from God” to show that they did wrong. However, there are natural consequences of immorality and all other things being equal; I prefer fiction where that is depicted. It doesn’t have to be “preachy” (the writer doesn’t need to draw big cause-and-effect arrows in the text) � it can be handled in a very matter-of-fact manner.

      However, having said that, morality is only one of many factors in my selection of what to read. I tend to read SF&F for ideas � things to make me think. I’ve enjoyed fiction that challenged my faith because it forced me to come up with answers. I also read some authors (Stephenson for instance) because of their skill with the English language. As someone who aspires to be a writer, I have a great deal of respect for the true wordsmiths among us.

      5. Would you read more speculative fiction if more titles by Christian authors were available?

      Honestly, no. First because I can not imagine doing more reading than I do now (I already read a lot); and second because I am unlikely to read an author “just” because they are Christian. If they are a good writer, I will read them because they are good.

    15. karin

      I read my fill of f/sf when I was young. Now, I have too much fun, adventures and responsibilities (over sixty) to read about other people’s fantasies and fiction. I don’t watch reality shows either. Too busy living my own reality and loving it. A very fulfilling life God has given!

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