I’ve been a science fiction reader for over 50 years. Apart from the huge volumes of scientific books and papers I needed to read for my PhD, 99.99% of all my reading has been in this genre. I’ve dipped into fantasy occasionally (you simply had to read “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy when I was young, or you weren’t at all “with it”), but the vast majority of my fiction reading has been of the strictly sci-fi genre. The harder and more speculative it was, the more I liked it.
When I decided to get into writing, I first thought to write about how the evidence of a Creator God, of miracles, and of the supernatural is so clearly lacking. In the end, I decided there are already plenty of non-fiction books on those topics and decided that incorporating some of my thoughts and ideas in a story might connect with readers better.
The Deplosion series was born.
I’m an atheist, but I was raised Catholic. We read the Bible in school; we had Christian Ethics classes. In my adult years, religion never played much of a role in my daily life. I had a career as a computer programmer then as a scientist (molecular biology, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology). Religious belief was always something one had (or didn’t) in the privacy of their own thoughts.
As a scientist, I prefer that sci-fi is backed up with credible scientific speculation, so I researched the basis for my novels very carefully. I used the latest research and the best-available thinking on cosmology and quantum mechanics to derive the hypotheses about the pre-Big Bang universe and the basis for the laws of nature. To me, that’s what the best sci-fi has always done.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I started writing my own sci-fi to discover that “Christian Science Fiction” was an actual thing. A real category of its own! I mean, what could that possibly be? Where does Christianity (or any religious belief system, for that matter) fit in with speculative science?
I was curious, but I wasn’t curious enough to actually spend my valuable money and time to find out. Until recently.
I had the opportunity to pick up a free copy of a Christian sci-fi book by Vikki Kestell, called “Stealthy Steps” her first in the Nanostealth series. I decided I would finally take the plunge and learn something about this sub-genre. Ms. Kestell is known for her “Faith-filled fiction” Prairie Heritage series and “Growing up in God” non-fiction books, so this is an author with a deep, Christian writing background.
WARNING – Spoiler Alert! Spoilers are ahead.
The novel is about a young woman (Gemma Keyes, the sibling-abused half of identical twin sisters) who works in a secret DOE-sponsored nanotechnology research institution. The research is led by a brilliant and secretive scientist under the direction of an ambitious institute Director and a psychopathic general. The scientist wants to develop nanotechnology for peaceful purposes but the Director and general see both military and police-state (security) types of applications.
When the general tries to seize control of everything, the scientist hides his real progress and destroys what he can of his work. But the intelligent nanotech cluster he developed takes up residence in and on Gemma Keyes, making her irreversibly invisible. This might be the result of a possible grammatical misinterpretation (Was it “Hide Gemma” or “Hide, Gemma”?), which is a cute bow to the grammatically inclined. Intrigue, suspense, and action ensues as Ms. Keyes tries to keep the scientist’s secret and avoid capture by the military.
First some kudos. Ms. Kestell does an admirable job in her research (for a non-scientist). She has combined ideas of distributed intelligence, nanotechnology, and stealth technology in a way that is almost believable. It was a bit weird that the supposedly-peaceful implemented a stealth nanotech in the first place (as opposed to say, cancer-fighting nanotech) but one might see how that could happen.
There’s all sorts of little scientific problems associated with the nano-stealth technology that is typical of this concept. How does one see if one’s eyeballs are covered by a light-diverting nanotech? How does one get warmed by sunshine or produce vitamin D when the light won’t interact with the skin? Would the stealth nanotech only affect visible light or infrared as well? If not IR, why don’t the military people do an IR scan when they finally go looking for Gemma?
How do the little nanomites move around and cover the required surface area to deflect light so quickly? How do they fly at all? I mean I worked in nanotech and there’s nothing like this within remote possibility. Ms. Kestell makes some attempt to justify a laser propulsion system but her explanation violates a few laws of physics. Similarly, the nanomites’ ability to draw on electrical, light, and biochemical energy stretches credulity. Very different physics would be required to do all that. It’s easy to overlook these flaws as this isn’t exactly hard sci-fi; I’ve seen worse. It’s not as obviously nonsensical as, say, Michael Crichton’s nanotech horror novel “Prey” (which is utter garbage apart from the thrills).
But that’s nitpicking and off-topic. What about the Christianity? What kind of role did that play?
The first thing I noticed was the lack of violence and sex. Sure there were exciting action scenes and some romance, but it was all pretty clean. There was also a distinct and deliberate lack of profanity. When someone in another book might say something like, “Oh, the Hell with it!” Ms. Kestell would render that as, “Oh, the *blank* with it!” Hence, the title of this blog article.
The second thing I noticed was a standard believer’s misunderstanding about atheists. The main character in the novel, Gemma, was brought up in a church (of unspecified denomination) but left it, because no one could see how unfair her life was. Everyone was fooled into thinking her twin-sister, Genie, was perfect. No one knew how violent she really was when they weren’t looking, and how she tortured her (seconds younger) twin. Gemma was both angry with God and hurt that everyone was fooled by her sister. How could she believe after all that.
Many with religious Faith make this same mistake about atheists, thinking that non-believers must be “mad at God” in order to turn their backs on Him. Yet, most atheists I have encountered in person and on social media came to non-belief through primarily rational and evidence-based means. Most of us realized, at some point, that belief simply didn’t “make sense”; it wasn’t supportable by the evidence and came with an unbelievable load of irrational thinking.
Empirical physicalism (in my mind) goes beyond simply saying, “I can’t believe in God” to saying, “The universe is real; evidence and reason is the best way to understand it.” In the spectrum of belief, empirical physicalism is a gnostic atheist belief. I am very certain that the notion of God is unsupportable (or that God can be trivially reduced to science and technology). I believe that “supernatural” is both an absurd and impossible idea. Extending the idea of nature is possible, but everything can fit into some kind of “natural” realm. Everything obeys rules (how and why these rules develop is the subject of one of my earliest and most popular posts).
But I won’t go further into all of that now. I’ve previously written a series of blog articles on the various kinds of proofs of God’s existence that believers use to justify their faith. My blog is filled with other articles on the physicalist perspective. The authors who post articles in the popular site, Answers in Reason (where I sometimes guest post), have often discussed various and sundry religion-based beliefs that many of us see as irrational and unsupported.
The third thing I noticed was how the Christianity really wasn’t terribly relevant to the rest of the story. Gemma’s love interest happens to be an associate pastor at her old church and that had its share of awkward moments as their romance developed, but when he suddenly just prays for her at the end of a scene instead of saying, “I hope everything works out” it just felt weird. Oh, I understand that’s how a lot of believers work, but from a story-telling perspective, it felt tacked on. Like an afterthought, an uncomfortable and unnecessary growth or blemish.
Had all these moments when someone prayed for someone or told someone, “Jesus loves you” been simply removed, no reader would have noticed. There would have been no impact on the story, except it couldn’t have been marketed as “Christian” any more. To my skeptical eye, it sure felt like a cynical commercial exploitation of “faith” for marketing purposes. But, admittedly, an awful lot of religion seems that way to many non-believers.
I don’t want to conclude from this one sample that all Christian sci-fi might share these particular characteristics. I’m still not sure I understand the defining characteristics of “Christian sci-fi” but I think I have a better idea than I did before. It’s interesting to note that there are no equivalent categories for “Buddhist sci-fi”, “Muslim sci-fi”, or even “Atheist sci-fi” on Amazon. I can’t even imagine what those could mean.
In truth, my first novel “The Reality Thief” is about as close to “Atheist sci-fi” as I could make it. A couple of sections directly challenge notions of soul, God, and Creator. But science fiction has a history of challenging some of our beliefs in this kind of sidelong way. I just took a slightly more direct route.
Have you read any Christian sci-fi? Do you have any other insights or observations that I’ve missed? Any recommendations? As always, I look forward to your thoughts and comments. Please feel free to give me some feedback in the section below or on the Facebook links.
Until next time – Paul