Science Fiction books and religion

In the 1950s, a series of SF books called Ace Doubles were popular. They were double because you had a front cover on the front and back. I read fascinating stories about interesting devices and interesting characters. I learned things while traveling to places that didn’t exist and/or to alternate versions of our own earth. One book was called Waldo & Magic Inc.

Religion or God may have been referenced, but writers were generally neutral about the subject. In the 1960s, sexual content was introduced into SF as a sort of prelude to the counter-culture that fully emerged toward the end of the 1960s. In the 1970s, man-machine hybrids were introduced. Books like Stranger in a Strange Land introduced an alternate God-like figure and polygamy was OK. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke saw man moving past his primitive/child-like superstitions and embracing science which displaced God. The author of 2001, and 2010, would eventually write 3000, where religion was abolished.

I am not interested in any political aspects of SF literature, just your idea of how SF changed toward a more atheist and anti-religious force in culture.

God bless,

Although I am more of a fantasy fan(although a lot of times there are fantasy science fiction books), I have noticed the same thing, I try to avoid books that are against religion. I tend to read books with characters that have some sort of made up religion or where the story is just a story, not someones agenda and doesn’t really mention religion or anything against it.

A long time ago, before Roe v Wade, I believe, but not sure, I read a short story in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF). It was about a society in the near future where abortion was entirely legal up to something like 10 years of age. The protaganists were a couple of 12 year olds telling stories about the “abortion van” which went about the neighborhood to pick up unwanted children! That story stuck in my mind, altho I believe it did generate quite a few irate letters.

That is scary reminds me of a book called the Giver. In it every family had 2 children 1 boy and one girl and a husband and a wife. The siblings are not related and the husband and wife are basically people jsut raising the children. Anyway a son in one of these families found out what they did to people including the babies. If the people did anything the society did not like they would be killed, and if a baby was born with any type of problem or was an identical twin(they would kill one twin) and the baby with a problem would be killed.

When I was in college, a buddy and I would go to parties. While there, we’d inevitably strike up a conversation with a girl or two. :rolleyes: Well we were on a fairly liberal campus and he’d somehow manage to get the conversation around abortion. He’d totally agree with them about it abortion being a choice, etc. Then he’d finally hit them with “Heck, I think you should be able to try them out. And if they don’t work you should be able to kill them off up until they’re two. Heck, you’re responsible for them up to they’re 18 so maybe even up til then!” 'course most girls were horrified at this and would tell him he’s wrong and he’d argue with them and use all the argument “for” abortion in defense of being able to kill a person up until they’re 18. I don’t know if he changed any hearts or not, but I hope it gave them something to think about. And it sure was fun! :stuck_out_tongue: Yet we never left with any phone numbers… :rolleyes:


If it’s any consolation, i’m currently writing a Sci-Fi book that really is just a grand analogy for the Church. I like it, it’s fun. :slight_smile: Wish me luck and pray for me!

Good luck.:thumbsup:

Every time a speculative-fiction thread comes up around here, I am amazed how few people here are familiar with Gene Wolfe, one of the finest living writers, in or out of any genre, and a very serious Catholic convert and scholar. His ‘Book of the New Sun’ is considered by many to be the most important work of fantastic literature in the last 50 years, and is deeply (and never simply) concerned with matters of religion and philosophy. Not religion as we know it now, but as such matters may be in a far-future, Dying Earth setting, and the baroque and decadent society thereof. Wolfe’s erudition and craftsmanship continue to stun me every time I open it, not to mention his absolute confidence in the first-person narrative form, brought to us by Severian, an inconsistent, sometimes dishonest narrator, at once ferocious, kind and picaresque. He is a very strange Messiah, in a very strange reality.

Another of his works is known as the ‘Book of the Long Sun,’ which happens to be set in an immense generational starship encompassing entire nation states, and with many elements that will seem more familiar to Catholics (the main character is Silk, a charming and sincere young priest, and while his religion isn’t Catholicism as we know it, it is very clearly an altered version of Catholicism).

Lastly I would recommend the ‘Soldier’ books, which are set in the Ancient World, just after the Persian Wars and just before Periclean Athens is in full swing. Our narrator is a brain damaged mercenary, who cannot remember anything for longer than 24 hours, and this is the journal he writes in an attempt to hold on to what is left of himself. But he can see and speak with the gods, nymphs and other supernatural beings of Attic Greece. The first two (there has recently been an addition) are bound together as 'Latro in the Mist). Well researched and audaciously executed, I recommend these wholeheartedly.

Then there’s his slightly creepy ‘mainstream’ work, ‘Peace,’ which may seem rather calm in comparison to the fireworks of the works I have already mentioned – until the reader realizes that the narrator may, or may not be, a serial killer. It’s lyrical, chilling, and even more eerily, it may be partly autobiographical (probably not the serial-killing subtext, but still!)

I haven’t even mentioned his breakthrough novel, ‘The 5th Head of Cerberus,’ a huge wealth of utterly brilliant short fiction (if you’d like to read just one, I suggest Westwind, but just pick up ‘The Island of Dr. Death and Other Stories and Other Stories,’–you won’t be sorry), a host other novels, all of which are at least very good, and usually more than just very-good.

Wolfe’s most obvious influences are G.K.Chesterton, Robert Graves, Jack Vance and Jorge Luis Borges. If what I wrote above didn’t convince you, perhaps that might? I do hope so. :smiley:

Edit: Oh hey, looks like Wolfe has another novel coming out in November, and indeed this one’s protagonist is a certain Father Christopher, during the age of high-seas piracy! It also sounds like there will be some odd temporal and headgame-playing, but I’d only expect that from this author. Wolfe has always loved tales of the swash and buckle, and it should be great fun to read his own take on that genre. :smiley:

Thanks for the tips…I might check out Gene Wolfe. I love a good science fiction novel.

I think the reverse is true. Those early works may not have talked about religion that much, but they generally presupposed atheism, and when religion did show up it was almost always treated with contempt. The “New Wave” of the 60s brought religion, along with sex and a lot of things (essentially the real stuff that life is actually about) more explicitly into sci-fi. And yes, that means that anti-religious sci-fi writers could be more explicit about it. But it also opened up a door for religious sci-fi writers (C. S. Lewis and Walter Miller having been almost the only exceptions until then, though James Blish did take religion seriously–oh, and I’m not sure where Cordwainer Smith and Anthony Boucher fit chronologically!). Gene Wolfe, already mentioned, is one. Orson Scott Card (a Mormon) is another. Mary Doria Russell’s sci-fi is full of religion, with both Judaism and Catholicism treated very respectfully (she’s a convert from Catholicism to Judaism!). Connie Willis rarely tips her hand as a Christian (and she’s a more liberal Christian than most folks on this forum), but there are a lot of religious themes in her work. Even clearly non- or even anti-Christian writers like Ursula Le Guin explore religious themes in a far more serious way than the pre-1960 writers generally did. (Of course, many of those earlier writers lived on well past 1960, but I’m thinking of people who flourished and were famous in the period you are talking about.) Give me Le Guin over Heinlein or Asimov any day.

In Christ,


The “New Wave” is precisely what I’m talking about, and as a writer myself, I have everything against the way they incorporated sex and profane elements into their works. Life is really about God, not the flesh.

As the Hippie/Anarchist/Radical culture took hold, it offered only hedonism. This began to be reflected across all media. Science Fiction entered the counter-culture wave as well. Connie Willis is a very good writer. Too bad Harlan Ellison decided to publicly assault her dignity recently. Books about interesting people and creative science mutated into varying degrees of porn and social engineering scenarios revolving around hedonism. Did you read Moderan? Becoming less than human is also a theme I strongly dislike because it is anti-life.

God bless,

Like I said, I am writing a book… just for fun, of course…

But what would make a good book? What makes a good Catholic Sci-Fi? Like I said, I am picturing my book to be one grand analogy for the Church, more of a teaching tool than literature. Is this all right? Would be enjoy it and/or even read it?

Well, God created the flesh. I’m sorry, but a lot of that older sci-fi was bloodless. It was all about engineers running round solving problems with robots. I know this is an unfair generalization, but your characterization of the “New Wave” is just as unfair.

As the Hippie/Anarchist/Radical culture took hold, it offered only hedonism


This began to be reflected across all media. Science Fiction entered the counter-culture wave as well. Connie Willis is a very good writer. Too bad Harlan Ellison decided to publicly assault her dignity recently.

I didn’t know about that. Having googled it, what he did is indeed disgusting.

Books about interesting people and creative science

Could you give some examples of the sort of thing you’re talking about? I certainly like a lot of that older writing as well, but it seems to me that on the whole it had flatter characters and a more hardline atheistic approach than later sci-fi.

mutated into varying degrees of porn and social engineering scenarios revolving around hedonism. Did you read Moderan?

I don’t think so. I think we are probably thinking of rather different works. I have browsed some of the “best sci-fi of year X” collections and a lot of the stories really are repellent, so I don’t disagree with you as much as it may have appeared. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the “New Wave” opened up the field to all sorts of stuff. Some of it was perverse and degrading; some of it was wonderful. Some of it, human beings being what they are, had some elements of both (I keep trying to read Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, for instance, but while it’s beautifully written and has much that is very good, there is also so much sadism and decadence that I always wind up backing off). I guess I haven’t read most of the really nasty stuff–I know that some of Philip Jose Farmer’s writing is pretty extreme, by all accounts, but the Riverworld novels are what I know best of his.

Perhaps the best test case would be Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness.I think this is a marvellous novel, even though it has gender-bending sexual stuff. It is handled with restraint (admittedly she was writing relatively early, in 1969), and even though I disagree with her ideology, she presents a powerful vision of the world in a way that is both imaginative and thought-provoking.


I suggest that you read some of Flannery O’Connor’s essays on writing, in the collection *Mystery and Manners. *I agree with her that if you want to be a writer, you need to pursue the kind of excellence that is proper to that task. C. S. Lewis is also helpful, speaking of the tension between the “artist” and the “man”–the “artist” has imaginative impulses (for Lewis these came in the form of pictures) and the whole person has to decide if they are worth pursuing. In other words, you can and should “censor” your imaginative side to decide which imaginative impulses are worthwhile, but if you don’t have a genuine imaginative impulse–if your purpose from the beginning is simply to “teach” and nothing more–then you’d be better off writing straight non-fiction.

On the other hand, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is relentlessly didactic and still a great work of literature. . . .


I guess I should be more specific. I very much have an imaginative side, hence my love of fiction. However, I am not at all for “fiction for the sake of fiction” as I believe all writing should lead you to a greater understanding of Truth.

My attempts at science-fiction as they exist now would be to, in grand analogy, offer a dynamic picture of the Church.

I will read what you suggest. I guess I’m just trying to develop my creative side. I am still young, only 20, and so I have a long way to go before I reach my prime, but I still want to start early and not waste any time!

Well, I felt the same way. And here I am at 33 and still haven’t published anything. So don’t imitate me!

If you are starting out as a writer, please do read O’Connor’s essays. They are wonderful. John Gardner’s On Moral Fiction, while written from a secular point of view, is also very good.

I agree with you entirely that “art for art’s sake” is pretentious nonsense. The problem with didactic writers is not that they have a moral/religious/ideological purpose, but that the message is laid on top of the imagery/story/characterization instead of being fused with them.

Have you read any Dostoyevsky?


All creative people are first and foremost, communicators. Writing, for example, needs to have a motive. For me, it needs to contain virtue. I have no problem limiting myself to straight black and white story telling. God is the basis for what I do. I will be held accountable for what I do, and that includes what I write.

As a person who studies media and media history, I can say the following about all media unequivocably. Starting in 1968, all media, gradually, very gradually, began to drip a slow poison into the Body of Christ. Now the Body is ailing from 30 years of poisoning.

1968: Hippies, radicals and anarchists get media attention.
1969: Head shops appear: The Head comes from Dope Head. They sell underground comic books that encourage drug use and perverse sexual practices, and underground newspapers that encourage civil disobediance, a disrespect for authority, and anarchy in general.
1973: Abortion is legalized.
1978: The National Organization of Women, a radical, secular organization, encourages women to “throw off the chains of their oppression,” namely, the men in their lives. Adult bookstores proliferate.
1980s: Television begins showing more dysfuntional fare. Cable begins to allow porn into various public outlets.
1990s: A character named Murphy Brown has a child out of wedlock. NYPD Blue decides it needs profanity and partial nudity. Christian and secular divorce rates are about even. The sons and daughters of Hippies and Radicals grow up and take up the lifestyle (as in the movie Clerks and those that followed it). It’s getting harder to tell Christians from non-Christians. Satellite television and radio bring more porn and individuals whose product is to insult and belittle people, and generally behave like anti-human beings. They are labeled "shock jocks."
2000s: A fine mess we’re in and although there are signs of hope, the atheists are trying to convince Christians to stay in their buildings and not bother anyone. The news has degraded to the weather, sports and celebrity reporting. The media, of all types, is concentrated in the hands of a handful of people.

God bless,

Gee, I feel better now…but seriously, you’re absolutely right and that is scary!

I remember that story! Was it before Roe v. Wade?
If so, the author really nailed it. If I recall, in the story a series of court cases led to a decision that children weren’t fully human until age 12 ?] or they could do higher math.

As for science fiction in general, I’d say that even prior to the sixties there was an assumption that God had been superseded by rationality and science. From the 60s on SF just followed the societal curve. And never forget Sturgeon’s Law, “Nine-tenths of science fiction is crp – then again, nine-tenths of anything is crp.”

Well Im certainly not on the level of understanding sf as those posting here but only speak from a fan point. btw your list is interesting, depressing but like said truthful. Random thought is I notice alot of sf is somewhat prophetic to use the term loosely. Things discussed there are quite observant (maybe better term) of society. I liken it to comedy and sf reflects what the current condition is or is heading to.

I will attest to it being anti religious as it can feed athesitic feelings. In that where space is, God is not. So I tend to pick those authors who at least hold good moral grounds for characters. Alan Dean Foster is my fav in that area, havent read them all though. I cannot enjoy “lack of hope” that some books have.

That Wolfe being christian, are they dreary or dreary with hope? :slight_smile: sounds funny hope you know what I mean. And is Flannery O’Connor a writer or a person in the instruction of writing, I have heard her name. Probably on a U2 deal Im thinking.

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