We wrap up this month’s CSFF blog tour today. As promised, here is the second part of our interview with Greg Slade of Christian Fandom.
Q: What elements would be included in your “perfect” fantasy story?
Actually, I’m not really a fantasy fan. I’m much more into science fiction. The list of fantasy authors whom I actually enjoy is quite short, beginning with C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and not extending much farther. That’s one of the reasons I’m so anxious to find somebody to take on the fantasy section.
Q: Okay, then. What about your “perfect” science fiction story?
I’m kind of picky when it comes to SF. My first requirement is that a story not have glaring scientific errors. I don’t have a degree in the sciences, but I’ve always had an interest in science in general, and space travel in particular, so I catch all kinds of howlers which might well slide by most people. That doesn’t mean that a story has to read like a textbook, but bloopers like that reduce the pleasure I take in a story considerably.
My second requirement is that the characters in a story must be realistic. For instance, I have no interest in cardboard villains who are evil for the sake of being evil. Nobody’s like that in real life, so using that kind of character in a story means that the author isn’t taking me seriously as a reader. Nor should a story violate a character for the sake of moving the plot along. Characters who say or do things that aren’t natural for them, just because “somebody needs to do that” are major disappointments for me.
I also appreciate science fiction for its speculative aspect. To me, it’s all about asking “what if…?” or warning “if this goes on…” Thus, a story which uses SF props as set dressing, but never gets around to dealing with the social, ethical, or spiritual implications of this or that posited technological or sociological change is a story which doesn’t really belong in SF. SF isn’t simply a matter of recycling plots from other genres and giving the characters ray guns instead of revolvers.
Then, too, one of the things which appeals to me personally about SF is the exploration of what it is to be truly alien. I’m not quite sure how that’s linked to my lifelong interest in missions, but the two interests do seem to be related. In missions, one of the major questions is how to disentangle the heart of the gospel from the cultural setting in which I grew up, and express that heart in terms which people who grew up in a completely different culture can understand, and integrate into their own lives. In the same way, some (not all) SF explores the difficulty of communicating with beings with whom humans have virtually nothing in common. (Thus, one of my gripes with bad SF is that the aliens simply aren’t alien enough. Instead, they’re just “people in rubber suits.” )
Q: What’s your take on the current state of “Christian” fantasy?
We seem to be riding a wave, which started on the late 90s, in which CBA publishers are more willing to take risks with SF and fantasy titles. Authors like Kathy Tyers and editors like Steve Laube (who was with Bethany House back then) had a lot to do with getting that started. Unfortunately, each book which is successful spawns a number of “copycats” which are poorly written by authors who simply don’t understand fantasy, and thus flop, and also tend to give CBA fiction a bad name. And, because CBA publishers, for the most part, don’t really “get” fantasy, and thus can’t tell the good stuff from the bad stuff. However, every time it appears that the wave is going to run out, a really good books comes out, and keeps it going a bit longer. My hope is that the CBA publishers will learn what good fantasy (or SF) is all about, and raise the overall quality offerings, so fans won’t approach CBA fiction with such a dubious attitude.
Q: What do you think it would take to make a successful “crossover” fantasy novel, something that would appeal equally to the ABA and CBA markets?
I think the most important thing is to write the best story possible. C.S. Lewis argued that Christians should be in the arts, but that we should be producing art, rather than propaganda in the guise of art. That means that, instead of violating the integrity of characters for the sake of “evangelism”, Christian authors should be striving to make their characters as true-to-life as they possibly can. And we should be dealing with issues which are difficult, or uncomfortable, and don’t come with pat answers. That’s what makes for good art: wrestling with something, so you end up producing something which has heft, instead of something trite.
But, truth be told, I don’t think that Christian authors should necessarily be looking for “crossover” success. For a long time, Christian musicians would sing evangelistic songs, which was kind of counterproductive, because the vast majority of people who went to Christian concerts, listened to Christian radio stations, and bought Christians records were (surprise!) already Christians. Then, Keith Green came along, and he wrote Christian music which wasn’t targeted at reaching non-Christians, but at getting Christians to act out their faith more seriously. His stuff was really heavy, and not at all what people. We’re used to hearing, but he became extremely influential, because he was speaking to Christians’ needs. (There have, of course, been other songwriters since, like Steve Camp and Steve Taylor, who have been effective, not because they target non-Christians, but because they speak to Christians about our weaknesses and failures and needs.) In the same way, I think Christian authors should think about reaching Christians with their art. Take *The Pilgrim’s Progress*: the scene where Christian’s sin is taken away at the cross is right at the beginning of the book, and the rest of the book is about how that Christian faith should be lived out in the world. Most Christian fiction has a conversion scene right near the end, as if to say that, once you come to Christ, there is nothing more to learn, or no more growing you need to do.
Q: You mentioned recruiting/soliciting folks for content. What is the process for submitting a review to Christian Fandom, or requesting a book to be reviewed?
Submitting a review can be done in several ways. For those book pages which have the “new” format, there’s a link to a form for submitting comments. For any book, there’s a form on the site which people can use to submit new books, or review or comment on books whaich are already in the list. It’s also possible to send a review or comment in an E-mail to the section editor for that genre. The section editors are listed [on the website] except for Rose, whose new Mystery section hasn’t gone live yet. (Anybody who wants to submit a review to the mystery section can use the form.)
Submitting a book to be reviewed is a matter of tracking down an individual reviewer. There are 22 reviewers listed on the “About Us” page, and I’ve put in links to the home pages of as many reviewers as I have them for, so what I recommend for authors and publishers is to browse through the reviews on the site, find a reviewer who appreciates books written in a similar style to the one you want to get reviewed, and then contact that reviewer directly about sending them a review copy. Generally, it takes reviewers 2-3 months to get a book finished and a review submitted.
Thanks so much for your time, Greg. Hopefully someone reading this will step up and volunteer. Christian Fandom is a great resource, but it needs ongoing help to accomplish its goals.
This concludes my part in this month’s CSFF blog tour. Next week, I’m going to discuss the controversial Mysteries of the Moonsea, the latest Forgotten Realms sourcebook. Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour: