Posts Tagged 'science fiction'

Is Fantasy Only for Kids? No Way!

To tell you the truth, I’m not sure where this idea that fantasy is only for kids came from. I’ve been reading science fiction and fantasy since middle school. I started with Madeline L’Engle and Andre Norton, progressed to Heinlein, Asimov, and Herbert. I read C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy as a teen, and unbeliever, and had no idea they were allegorical (I found Perelandra to be boring, and That Hideous Strength incomprehensible – they were better when I reread them ten years later as a believer).

Anyway, I never would have thought any of those were “for children,” not even Lord of the Rings which I devoured in high school. Yes, it has dwarves and hobbits and some funny bits, but the devotion to fantastical histories, the density of the prose and the sheer expanse of the tale was unlike any kids’ books I was familiar with.

From there it was Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Watership Down, Patricia McKillip, Anne McCaffrey, C.J. Cherryh, Katherine Kurtz, Stephen Donaldson, and more recently, Robert Jordan and Robin Hobb.

With the exception of Watership Down, I would never have considered any of these writers or books as being for children. Thus it never even entered my mind when I began writing fantasies of my own, that they should be written for children. As I detail in my article Why I Write Fantasy (see the tab above), my intent in part was to analogize the angelic conflict all Christians have been entered in at the moment of new birth after believing in Christ. And I didn’t wish to do it in a simplistic manner. It was also, particularly with Legends of the Guardian King, to trace the trajectory of a man’s spiritual life from unbelief to salvation and on through the various stages of spiritual growth.

Clearly the issues on my radar would be issues faced by an adult, not a child. The spiritual precepts would include those wrestled with by adults, not children.

It was not until I entered the field of Christian Fantasy, that I discovered — to my great dismay — the assumption that all fantasy is for children or young adults and should therefore be “clean” and free of sex or “gruesome” or “extreme” violence. I had well-meaning acquaintances tell me how they had given or recommended my books to the eleven-year-old boy next door, or their nine-year-old nephew.

It’s possible an eleven-year-old could follow the main line of the action, but much of the meat of the story I would think would go right over his head. Not that that’s a bad thing. I read my own share of books just that way – following the action, or certain story lines while the bulk of what was going on remained out of my grasp… (Lord of the Rings comes to mind in that regard – my perception of it as a 40+ year old was far different than when I was 16). It’s just… middle school kids were never my primary audience, and here I was facing a mindset that assumed they were not just my primary audience but my only audience!

And since I was writing for kids… how dare I insert into my book the heresy of having my – adult, male, spiritually disillusioned and until-then-celibate – hero commit a sexual sin! I received irate letters from grandmothers who bought the novel for their grandsons, forced to tear the offending two pages from the book before they could pass it on.

Outraged reviews turned up from mothers on Amazon and Christian Book dot com who, having read the book to make sure it was suitable for their young sons, had discovered it wasn’t. How dare I try to trick them like that and put such a thing in a Christian fantasy!

I remain bemused. I know in time past the entire field of speculative fiction was regarded as juvenile and struggled to gain legitimacy as acceptable reading material for American adults. The reason, supposedly was because none of it was “real.”

This objection has been nullified for science fiction for the most part as more and more of what went for science fiction in the old days has become science fact in ours.

So that leaves fantasy, the last bastion of the “make believe” and the “not real” and only children believe in such … well… fantasies.

As if many romances today are not “fantasy”; or many detective and spy novels! And what about Stephen King and Dean Koontz? Most of what they write about is “not real,” but somehow their books are not seen as “only for children.” In fact they are not seen as being for children at all. (Particularly King’s).

So why does fantasy still have the bad rap of being kidstuff?

The only answer I can think of is that it really does provide an excellent vehicle for portraying truths of the Christian life related to the angelic conflict. And since part of the intent of the opposition force in that conflict is to hide the fact that it exists… well then…. The one genre that people should pay the least attention to is the one that can actually reveal the most about what is really going on… and historically has.

Which makes the whole kidstuff thing almost… acceptable.  Almost.

For a more detailed treatise on all the ways fantasy does what it does, see my aforementioned article in the tabs above: “Why I Write Fantasy.” And if you want to know more about the angelic conflict, check out the tab called “The Angelic Conflict.”

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A Request for Ideas

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to do a guest post for the Christian SF/F blog Speculative Faith and given a range of openings throughout the summer from which to pick. Since Arena in its repackaged version is due to release the first of July, I thought a guest post on something relating to that might be a good idea and picked July 6 for my publish date.

I’ve been brainstorming and thinking about the Spec Faith post for a week or two, but so far haven’t come up with anything that keeps going past a paragraph or two. So I decided to see if you all, my readers, might have some suggestions of things you might be interested in seeing a post about. If so, please let me know, in the comments or by email.

So far I’ve thought of:

telling the story of how Arena/Light of Eidon were published;

talking about how things have changed in the publishing field since those times;

discussing the idea that sex, violence, and dark events are not appropriate subject matter for Christian reading and should not appear in books;

grappling with the still prevalent idea that fantasy is only for kids, and why that isn’t necessarily so;

examining some of the specific elements of the allegory in Arena;

pr relating some of the responses I’ve gotten to Arena, both good, bad and wacky…

If any of those ideas seem particularly appealing, or you’re curious about a particular aspect of them I didn’t mention, or one of them triggered an entirely different idea or…

Please! Feel free to fire away.

The Andromeda Strain

Recently I reread Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain. I first read it not too long after it came out in 1969 (at least the paperback), which would have put me in high school or college. I kind of think high school because 1) I had no time to read any novels during the 4 years I was in college and 2) I remember not really having much of an idea what was going on in it.

As a result I did not read Crichton again until Jurassic Park came along in 1990. I had no problems understanding what was going on in Jurassic Park, in fact, I loved it and went on to read almost all of Crichton’s novels until his death. Now I’m going back to catch up on his early work.

Re-reading The Andromeda Strain I certainly understood why I might not have grasped what was going on the first time, since it’s heavy on the science/medical stuff which I had no frame of reference for in high school. This time I had no problem with any of it, because almost all of it was familiar.  The funny part was how outdated it was combined with the pervading tone of  “Wow! isn’t this new computer technology mind-blowing?!”  Now days all that stuff is clunky and slow, and the “weird” new technologies are commonplace.

What was even more interesting to me, and what I now see runs through almost all his work, is the idea that science is fallible and subject to the effects of ignorance, stupidity, naivite, arrogance and thus — my conclusion here — not to be worshipped.

He starts in the “Acknowledgements” which is actually part of the story, and says:

“This book recounts the 5-day history of a major American scientific crisis. As in most crises, the events surrounding the Andromeda Strain were a compound of foresight and foolishness, innocence and brilliance. Nearly everyone involved had moments of great brilliance and moments of unaccountable stupidity.

To the list he adds fatigue, minor but not uncommon malfunctions of machinery, and incorrect but logical assumptions born out of pre-existing mindsets that affected the investigator’s perspective and direction of inquiry. All these combined in the story to hinder and dangerously delay their arrival at the truth of what the Andromeda strain was and what it did.

I found it a treatise on the fact that man is not and never will be omniscient. There will always be vast areas of truth he will never comprehend. In fact, I believe there are some things we will never be capable of figuring out — or of truly understanding even if God flat-out tells us. After all, He’s already flat-out told us He is three persons in one essence and we don’t really understand that. Nor how Jesus Christ could have borne all the sins of all time in His body on the Cross in just three hours. Nor how He can be God and Man in one person forever, the two natures separate but inseparably united…

But I digress from the book. Because it seemed that these conclusions were everywhere. Case in Point:

“Biology… was a unique science because it could not define its subject matter. Nobody had a definition for life. Nobody knew what it was, really. The old definitions — an organism that showed ingestion, excretion, metabolism, reproduction and so on — were worthless. One could always find exceptions.

The group had finally concluded that energy conversion was the hallmark of life. All living organisms in some way took in energy — as food, or sunlight — and converted it to another form of energy and put it to use.”  [Emphasis mine]

One of the characters then presented three objects as rebuttal to this definition: a black cloth that absorbs heat, a watch with a radium dial, and a piece of granite which he challenged the other team members to prove were not living.

The cloth absorbed heat, seemingly to no purpose, but how can we say that for sure?  The watch showed decay in process, and the production of light, but again how could it be said for sure there was no purpose in it? Finally the granite, which he claimed was living, breathing and walking, only at such an infinitesimally slow rate we can’t see it. To the granite we are like flashes in the light. I loved this. Made me think of God, though of course He does see us, and has revealed Himself to us. He has not left us at the mercy of our limitations of sensation and rationalization, only of our volition.

The scientists finally conceded

That it was possible they might not be able to analyze certain life forms should they arrive…might not be able to make the slightest headway, the least beginning in such an analysis.

I loved this for the elemental humility that is in it, for showing the limits of science and man and drawing parallels (though not explicitly) to God, who is not only an “alien” life form, but the source of life.  And we cannot analyze Him, not in full, even with His word. Delving into questions like these should make us sit back and realize that.

As a culture and a civilization, we’ve spent so much time and energy and man-hours of effort trying to analyze our world, trying to figure out how the Lego pieces fit together, as it were. We’ve “invented” and produced a lot of things that supposedly make life easier and safer and healthier and cleaner. But… I do not believe we are any happier than any other generation of people. Because the only one who’s really worth all that time and effort to understand is God who is the only source of true happiness.


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