Christian spec-fic culture is anemic. Here are ten reasons why.
1. No Television or Movie Presence.
One of the reasons speculative fiction has reached the place it has in our culture is that it is a multimedia presence. Even more so than the novels, movie and shows have drawn fans into the genre. Imagine the SF landscape with no Doctor Who, no Star Wars, or no Star Trek; would it ever have gotten as popular as it is now?
Christian spec-fic film is…disappointing.
Christian films in general have a bad reputation. They are low budget, poorly made, often preachy, and are guilty pleasures at best. But at least these are being made; Christian spec films are an elusive beast indeed. Word to the wise, producers; instead of that Left Behind or Fireproof clone, think about looking to the stars.
2. A fanbase that prefers the secular to the Christian.
If you go to a Christian Geek site, what do they usually talk about? Stuff the world makes.
There’s nothing wrong with liking secular art. There’s nothing wrong with looking at it, and using it as a basis to talk about Christ or Christian messages. But too often, this seems to be all there is.
Imagine if one day you were looking for a new church. But each one you went to would hand you The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and each message was preached from the latest Batman movie. You’d have to parse through them to find any spiritual message, and we’d all sing anime theme songs. I know art isn’t the same as worship, but for some reason we try and find meaning in worldy things rather than like things that have meaning that matters to us.
3. No big publisher backing us.
We don’t have Tor, or any publisher with the desire or muscle to print books and maintain or expand the genre. We have a couple of small to mid-sized presses, and once in awhile the CBA guys take a break from Amish romance and publish fantasy. The small presses can fill the need but can’t expand the genre or do serious advertising. The CBA guys are unwilling to spend the dollars they have chasing out market.
So we’re kind of in limbo here. To find Christian works you have to chase them down from small presses and indie authors. I remember when I listened to CCM back in the 90s, I was shocked one day to here the local radio station play the latest Michael W. Smith song. There really isn’t anything like this for Christian spec-fiction. I don’t think I can even go into a Christian bookstore and be surprised at a new specfic book.
4. No short stories or review magazine.
For traditional spec-fic, you have many: Asimov’s, Analog SF, the Magazine of F&SF, and Cemetery Dance among others. For Christian spec-fic, so far we have none publishing on a regular schedule, or in print formats.
Many writers began a career first in short stories. Many of the best works in spec-fic actually are short stories, too; something about that particular medium plays to the strengths of our genre. Those magazines also talk about upcoming works, as well as review them and provide a community and much more importantly a past. While we have websites and some e-zines, it’s not the same. There’s no real sense of “Hey,have you caught the latest story in Christian Spec Fiction Monthly? I bet it’s going to win a Peretti Award!”
That being said…
5. No decent awards culture.
The Christy awards are useless.
Specfaith is trying to make a reader-centered Clive Staples Award, but the first winner was Anne Elizabeth Stengl, and while her book is good it’s simply not an award winner by any means. The Carol Awards are meh too; I’ve seen two out of the three books, and none of them again are worth winning an award over.
It seems like Christian spec-fic awards get thrown to people who are competent, or worse. Are any of the award winners in the recent past books that make you think about things, or challenge the status quo? If you looked at these awards, would you be inspired to make them, or would you make second-rate romantic fantasy and SF? I’m being harsh here, but mediocrity is leveled at CSF so often than at least in the awards culture we should try and counteract it.
6. No video games.
Do Christians not play them or something?
I mean, does no upcoming young Christians play JRPGS like the Tales series, or Persona, and think “Hey, I could make a Christian RPG.” I know video games aren’t the friendliest medium to try and translate faith into, but now more than ever it’s easier to make an indie game, a retro game, a mobile game, or what have you. Even if it’s just something like a visual novel or text adventure, where are they?
7. Little Webcomic presence.
Quick, name me an awesome Christian webcomic.
Yeah, I can’t think of one either.
I’ve never seen one advertised on places like Specfaith, or listed in forums. Oh, I know they exist. Tons of webcomics do. But this is sort of a casualty of all the rest of this list. When there is a robust fan culture, webcomics flourish because they tend to riff on or build on other cultural works; sprite comics on games, some on manga, some on other less popular subcultures like furry fandom. But when it’s weak, they are either dispersed or not made.
8. Little regular comic presence.
It seems like every now and then, someone tries to make a Christian comic or line of them, fails, and then stops until the next person tries again. This is what happened to Zonderkids and Realbuzz studios, and countless indie attempts to make comics.
I don’t know why. I know when I was a kid, I loved comics of all kinds. I’d think they would be one of the best things you could sell to a Christian mom. Even more adult ones aimed towards comic fans would be cool, because there are virtually no mainstream comics that talk about the Christian faith except to put it down. It’s one of those things I just throw my hands up in the air about.
9. The Wheaton effect.
Or in other words, where the hell is our creative, intellectual class?
The Wheaton effect is named after Wheaton College in Illinois, but the effect extends to all Christian colleges that aren’t seminaries and have an arts program.
Where are all the artists?
Look, I’ll be blunt. A lot of Christian spec-fic is being written by non-intellectuals. This is not a bad thing. I am one myself, and those that write it are making some heroic efforts to write God-honoring stories. Being intellectual or not is not a sign of quality.
But we have all these Christian colleges graduating all these creative artists, and where are their products? Where are the new presses, the filmmakers, the animators and comic artists, or the critics? It may just be feelings, but it seems increasingly like we’re abandoned by our own elite who would rather slave as part of a secular workforce than make Christian art.
10. No Money.
This is cynical, but another meta-problem that links these things is that no one seems to want to invest money or pay artists any more.
In this age, capital has increasingly large power. Capital is what makes the small press viable, it drives advertising and discovery, it funds movies and pays for the support culture needed to make a fandom.
At some point, everyone needs to put their money where their mouth is.
There’s an expression in MMOs-massively multiplayer online games. “Too many DDs, not enough tanks/healers/support.” This means everyone likes to be the flashy damage-dealing classes and have the pleasure of seeing big numbers, while few people want to be the class that keeps the monsters attention on them, or heals wounds, or empowers others.
This is a problem because you need all types to make a successful party. Without DDs, you can’t kill monsters, true. Without writers, you can’t have books. But without tanks, you can’t have a party either, and the less of them the harder and longer it takes to form a party. Without support and capital, without people with the money moving and supporting Christian spec-fic, it will always be an uphill battle.
So here are ten reasons why Christian spec-fic culture is suffering. Hopefully we can see some change in the future.