1/18/2007

Can (good) Speculative Fiction be Unspeculative?

By Andrea J. Graham

Biblical Speculative Fiction. What do you think when you hear this term? I know what I picture when I hear the abbreviation, “Bib-spec-fic”, a speck of dirt on a fickle baby's bib. Okay, so perhaps I jest a bit. But I know when I mentioned the genre at Church, I got a blank look, followed by, “What's that?” And I didn't even mention the “biblical” add-on.

Of course, what we actually mean is, “stories that spring from a what-if, such as science fiction and fantasy, that are written from a solid biblical world view.” But that's even more of a mouthful.

Yet some will hear “Biblical SF” and think, “Awkward cross between the SF and biblical genres.”

To that, I say: What's so awkward about it?

You don't have to have a Super Book-like time travel gimmick in your story to turn to the bible for plot ideas for your SF story. We're modern writers as well as Christians, and the bible is timeless. Why can't you place King David, for instance, in the midst of a high-tech future, in outer space, or even on another planet? Or Gideon. Or Jesus.

Not comfortable with yanking Jesus out of time? No problem. You don't have to. Remember, Jesus said in John 14:12 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And greater works than this shall you do, for I go unto my father.”

Too blatant? It doesn't have to be. The author led to find inspiration for a pre/evangelistic piece this way could choose an obscure story. Or mix different stories together. It doesn't have to be so obvious, as long as you're respectful to the message of the original Book--and of course we are--you can mesh elements together until you could slip scripture right past an unsuspecting non-Christian without them even noticing. Set David and Bathsheba on a space station with high-tech gadgetry, change their names, and what happens? Or Ruth or Esther. The judges are especially great, because the odds are, they won't be so familiar with the story.

Personally, I love to use these kind of allusions for subplots. There are quite a few in the world of Heaven's Mark, which my contributions to Light at the Edge of Darkness belong to. For instance, parts of Jepthah (Judges 11) and Gideon helped inspire Snyder. And we drew from Ruth, Esther, and Revelation 12 for Gabrielle of Washington, our heroine in Heaven's Mark.

Would it be easy? Heck no, writing rarely is, but who doesn't love a good challenge?

If you're still having trouble grasping this, it's not even necessary, in my view, to draw from any particular bible stories for it to be biblical. You don't even have to turn to the prophecy books, for that matter. But those books are quite useful to us, as, in a way, they themselves are speculative fiction.

At least they were from the prophet's point in time. If Isaiah, for instance, were writing his prophecy today, what would it look like? Perchance, would he write a speculative fiction story or series that from our vantage point would read like the biblical fiction novel, “The Greatest Story Ever Told?” Of course, I imagine the messiah would be named, “Emmanuel” in his version. But it would be considered a speculative fiction novel(ette) in his day. Only on the Emmaus road would a “mysterious” man point out Isaiah said this would all happen so many years ago.

Which leads us to the title question--is speculative fiction ever not speculative?

If a story is framed around a what if, such as the future, and founded upon biblical truth, I would say yes, that speculative fiction story is not speculative, at least in the sense of uncertain, as biblical truth is the one certainty we have in this world. But placing that truth in a speculative frame work will open it up to people who would never consider it otherwise.

Personally, an unspeculative speculative fiction story sounds like just the sort of thing my God would come up with. He loves to shake things up. And what better genre to accomplish that end than Biblical SF?

7 comments:

Dan Edelen said...

Andrea,

I just completed a Southern Gothic short story that has all the choice components of that genre. Anyone familiar with Southern Gothic knows that it relies on a fair amount of magic realism. (Think the movie Big Fish.) But does that make it speculative?

Well, sorta. Bizarre things happen. Mental defectives see future events. People have visions. The supernatural intrudes. Coincidences mount up to dizzying heights.

If we say that speculation begins with the question what if?, doesn't all fiction begin so? If true, that would make all fiction speculative.

What makes spec fic spec? Don't ask me--and I write it!

Anonymous said...

Set David and Bathsheba on a space station with high-tech gadgetry, you say?

Blatant it may be, but along those lines, might I recommend this?

Anonymous said...

Very well done, Andrea. This touches somewhat on what I plan to post for the 25th.

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of setting Judges or one of them in a different setting.

Great thoughts, Andrea!

Andrea Graham said...

Edelen: I suppose technically, it's the what-if's that take us out of the realm of our "ordinary" world. The what-if definition is certainly a boiling down.

steve: so you actually wrote that one? Good for you. Sounds fascinating.

Chad: thank you.

Andrea Graham said...

Thanks, Chris. And the beauty of doing that with a lesser known story is, no groans, they get the essence of the Word in them and won't even realize it unless they're a bible scholar or you tell them.

Of course, in the graham house, adam seems to be the one that writes those.

Elliot said...

Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle wrote an SF book called King David's Spaceship. I read it with some anticipation, thinking it was about, y'know, THAT King David. But instead it was about Scotsmen in space.