Tuesday, April 01, 2008
A Market for Science Fiction/Fantasy
Recently a discussion about the future of science fiction and fantasy in the Christian market ran on an author loop. Jim Denney responded with this thoughtful opinion. It's posted here with his permission. Jim is the author of Answers to Satisfy the Soul and the four-book Timebenders series (beginning with Battle Before Time, Tommy Nelson 2002).
I think there conceivably could be a market for Fantasy & Science-Fiction (F&SF) in the CBA if publishers would make a massive marketing effort, including major marketing efforts into the secular F&SF marketplace. But it would be a horrendously chancy and expensive enterprise so, from the publishers' perspective, why take the risk?
Some authors, like Ted Dekker, Donita Paul, Kathryn Mackel, and Karen Hancock, have carved out niches for fantasy in the CBA (though the "fantasy" label is generally eschewed). But for the most part, the CBA is not a welcoming environment for F&SF—and for several nearly insurmountable reasons:
1. SF timelines don't seem to jibe with evangelical eschatology.
True science fiction transcends and shatters stereotypes. It is wide-open and unbounded. SF readily comes into conflict with many people's notions about Scripture, especially eschatology. If you believe (as most evangelicals do) that the Lord's return is imminent (within a decade or so), then stories about events in, say, the 26th Century wouldn't seem to "line up with Scripture."
For me, such objections are baseless. A good story is a good story, regardless of whether it fits some notion of "biblical correctness." Besides, I see no biblical reason to believe that the Second Coming couldn't commence right now—or 20,000 years from now.
2. SF fans aren't looking for SF in Christian bookstores.
A CBA editor has said, "Many of us love to read SciFi, and would love to be publishing it. But guess what happened when we did? Nobody bought it."
SF readers already know where to find good SF, and they don't go shopping for it at the Berean Bookstore. Even if the CBA started publishing quality F&SF, it would take a major marketing effort to get the word out to F&SF readers that they can find quality F&SF at Christian bookstores.
3. "Hard SF" (technological, scientific SF as distinguished from fantasy) is a highly specialized genre requiring highly specialized editors and writers.
Science fiction is fiction about science. It is fiction in which the story would fall apart if you removed the scientific element. It would be a disaster to try to write or edit SF if you don't have the background for it. If an SF story is not scientifically literate and plausible, SF readers will spot the flaws from a thousand light-years away.
4. Too many Christians are hostile to science.
Many Christians see science—especially the fields of biology and cosmology—as the enemy of faith. SF that is truly speculative and imaginative (that is, free to speculate on the full range of scientific possibility) would be rejected by many Christians as being "biblically incorrect." That's tragic, but it's a fact.
5. The CBA editorial bias against F&SF as "unsalable" is too firmly entrenched.
Ted Dekker’s experience [of selling his Black, White, and Red trilogy] shows that F&SF will sell in the CBA—but not as F&SF. A book must transcend the F&SF label in order to have a chance with both CBA editors and readers. Editors rejected Ted early on because they were convinced that "fantasy doesn't sell in the CBA." Fantasy can only be sold to CBA editors and readers if it is positioned not as fantasy, but as a "thriller" or, better yet, as "spiritual warfare" fiction.
So what do you do if you want to write SF? Three choices, as I see it.
1. You can write F&SF without labeling it or positioning it as such. As I noted above, you have to have another dimension of your novel, such as "spiritual warfare," which overshadows the "fantasy" dimension. As Ted Dekker has said—and proven—fantasy can sell, fantasy can rock, but if you lead with the "fantasy" label, you're leading with your chin.
It's interesting to note that Wikipedia's entry on Ted Dekker doesn't label him as a fantasy writer. Instead, it says, "Though classified as 'Christian Fiction,' Dekker's work often crosses genres," and it lists his genres as "Christian Fiction, Fantasy, Thriller, Horror, Psychological Thriller, Suspense, Mystery, Magical Realism." Ted succeeds in the CBA not because he writes fantasy but because he writes Ted Dekker fiction, which is its own niche.
2. You can publish with Jeff Gerke's Marcher Lord Press. If you want the freedom to write the kind of Christian F&SF that the CBA won't touch because "F&SF doesn't sell in the CBA" and which the secular market won't touch because it's "too religious," then Jeff has come up with a good middle ground. Marcher Lord doesn't pay advances, but it also does not charge "vanity press" fees, and as an editor, Jeff will be discriminating. So Marcher Lord is a POD press without the vanity—an innovative concept.
3. You can break into the secular SF marketplace. For example, [CBA author] Ed Willett has published two hard SF novels, Lost in Translation and Marseguro, with secular SF publisher DAW Books; a third is on the way (Terra Insegura).