Jan 1, 2007

New Catholic Sci-Fi Anthology

Karina and Rob Fabian have produced a new anthology of science fiction stories, an EPPIE Awards Finalist available here. Also see




I asked Karina some questions about their new anthology of Catholic science-fiction, and appreciated hearing her and Bob's detailed responses.

Q: The title of your Anthology, Infinite Space, Infinite God makes me ask how God, who is infinite, also can create something infinite. I always thought he created only finite worlds and beings (even space), even though these may be multi-dimensional.

Infinite space, infinite numbers, infinite possibilities… Can they really be infinite? When it comes to our limited human perceptions, the answer is, "Yes, of course." But just like in mathematics, there are different infinities.

Thomas Aquinas said that things other than God can be relatively infinite without being essentially infinite, and that when you speak of infinity, you are speaking about the potentiality of an object rather than the form of the object. (Summa Theologica, Question 7: The Infinity of God)

So "Infinite Space, Infinite God," as a title, presents a juxtaposition of infinities--relative vs. essential--and alludes to the incredible potentialities of space. What better image for an anthology of Catholic science fiction?

Q. Why might Catholics want to read and write good science fiction?

First, we wouldn't limit this to Catholics. We recommend good SF to everyone, regardless of religious beliefs.

What we enjoy about science fiction as a genre--and why we think everyone should at least try a few well-written books--is that more than other genres, science fiction makes you think.

In general--again, there are always exceptions--most fiction is interested in evoking an emotion: romances pull at our heartstrings, while adventures like thrillers get our hearts racing. Horror and mystery evoke suspense and fear. Literary, because it's such a wide field, can play to any of our emotions. Also, these genres generally look to the past or present and to individuals or small groups.

Science fiction can and usually does do that, but more than anything, science fiction is a literature of ideas. It asks "what if?" It speculates on current trends. It can look at aspects of our society by removing them from the present (or even from humanity) and putting them in a new environment, where they can be seen more clearly. As such, they evoke thoughts, not just emotions, in a reader. That's why a study in Library Journal (http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA447055.html) said one of the top three reasons people read science fiction is to explore ideas.

That's also why our motto for Infinite Space, Infinite God is "Faith-filled fiction for the thoughtful reader."

Q: Can you categorize stories in your anthology as fantasy, scientific projections, etc.?

None of our stories are fantasy. One of our requirements for the anthology was that the science in the stories must be believable, if farfetched. No fair "reversing the polarity of the warp drive and channeling it through the deflector array"! Having said that, we should note that some of the stories are far into the future or are alternate realities, and do have the elements of fantasy. Craig Loewen's "Canticle of the Wolf" which is a re-written St. Francis and the Wolf story (the wolf is a genetically altered wolf sent back in time), and Craig and Ken Pick's "Mask of the Ferret" which features animal/human hybrids and a psychic artifact from an interdimensional zone yet is a very believable universe) come to mind. Also, there's very little science in "Interstellar Calling," but alien abduction is a classic SF theme.

Several of our stories do project current science theory: Lori Scott's "The Harvest" and J. Sherer's "Understanding" both look at the ramifications of genetically altering human DNA. "Brother Jubal in the Womb of Silence" by Tim Myers, and our own stories "Our Daily Bread" and "These Three" deal with mankind's colonizing the solar system.

Some are a little more advanced--or, you might say, farfetched. "Hopkins' Well" by Adrienne Ray has transporter technology (that's a little more plausible than Star Trek's style). "Hosts of the Envoy" by Alex Lobdell and "Brother John" by Colleen Drippe' involve interstellar travelers, while Colleen's "Far Traveler" uses time travel. Finally, "Cruel and Unusual Punishment" by Maya Bohnhoff postulates a medical procedure that strips away the conscious' justifications and exposes people to the true horror of their wrongdoing.

Some deal more with societal projections rather than the scientific (another SF tradition): "Stabat Mater" deals with the difficult decisions faithful Catholics must make when forced to flee an Earth being destroyed by nuclear war, while "Little Madeleine" looks at a smaller dystopia of the inner city London where crime is so bad, priests need bodyguards.

Q: How is religion is brought into the stories?

It wasn't enough for the anthology to have science fiction with a "Catholic face." We wanted stories that dealt with Catholic faith and issues. So each of these stories had to ask "how does the situation affect the Church or the faith of the Catholic character?"

All of these stories depend on some aspect of Catholicism to make them work. Karina did a spreadsheet of the general aspects of Catholicism and found each story had at least four elements that were integral to the story, and some as many as eleven. Here's just a snapshot:

--In "The Harvest," and "Understanding," the decisions of the Church lead to the conflict in the story.

--In "Hopkins' Well," "Far Traveler," "Interstellar Calling," and "Hosts of the Envoy," the characters are singled out specifically for their Catholic beliefs, which also play a large role in resolving the conflicts of the story.

--"Brother John," "Brother Jubal in the Womb of Silence," and "Little Madeleine" are about religious brothers and sisters living their calling in the future.

--"Our Daily Bread," "Stabat Mater," "Canticle of the Wolf," and "These Three" deal with very Catholic miracles and/or saints.

--"Mask of the Ferret" and "Cruel and Unusual Punishment" rely heavily on Catholic practices to get the protagonist through his crisis.

Q: How do you feel about Catholic sci-fi that deals with the future apostasy, the coming of the anti-Christ, and the prophesied end of the world?

Future apostacy: It's mildly annoying to us to read about an otherwise well-developed world that has no mention of religion or that implies that humans have somehow "outgrown the need for God." Nothing could be farther from the truth. In real life, religion and science influence each other on a daily basis. Mendel, the father of genetics, was a monk, as have been (and are) many of today's scientists. We know of several quantum physicists who have said that the more they delve into quantum mechanics, the more convinced they are that a higher power created the universe. Faith and science nurture each other.

We believe this will continue to be the case in the future. As our knowledge of the universe, from the vastness of the cosmos to the intricacies of our DNA, grows, so will our need for faith. It’s more than a moral compass; our souls will always be with us, and while we may become confused about our beliefs, we will not "outgrow" our need to nourish them with the spiritual food of faith. And our faith in God Almighty gives us security for exploring the cosmos, on a macroscopic and microscopic level.

Does this prevent us from reading non-religious science fiction? Absolutely not.

Apocalyptic fiction: Fiction dealing with the Biblical end of times is really a genre in itself. Even though they deal with the future, they're not really science fiction. They, do however, have their place, and some are very good. We highly recommend Michael O'Brien's Father Elijah: An Apocolypse (Ignatius Press).

Science fiction has often dealt with dystopias and the coming of the end of the world, though this is usually by human hands and not God's. For that, the classic for science fiction and Catholics is Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. Miller does a wonderful job of echoing the Church's medieval role as keeper of knowledge in a future world ravaged by nuclear war.

Q: What about Catholic sci-fi that introduces to the Church possible future ethical and moral issues, such as the engineering of 'special' children, or backward event manipulation where both 'sins' and 'good works' can be undone to be redone again?

The first thing to remember is that this is fiction. It's meant to be fun escapism. While we feel it's our responsibility as writers to present stories that are overall positive and life-affirming, that doesn’t mean we can't explore the dangerous, the bizarre, or even the unethical or heretical. There's a difference between exploring and promoting, after all.

The real power of science fiction over any other genre is its ability to take a given situation, change some of the underlying parameters and see where it takes you. It allows you to explore the consequences of actions without the mind balking and protesting, "That could never happen here." As such, it can open the mind to ask "What if?" and with that asking, think about the implications.

Look at Orwell's 1984, for example. How many of us (even those who never read the book) know what is meant by "Big Brother is watching you?" How many have let that book shape our awareness of our own individual freedoms? Is it likely we will have a "Big Brother" government that will rule every aspect of our lives and prescribe happiness pills for those who protest? No. Yet that exaggerated world keeps many of us on our toes for the small infractions on our individual freedoms.

So we hope it will be with Infinite Space, Infinite God. We're hoping the issues brought up in these stories will be talked about and debated--that we've made people a little more aware of the role of Catholicism in our lives. For 2000 years, the Church has been a beacon and a rock in a swirling tide of changing morals. Yet as technology continues to progress (without regard for the Vatican's ethical cautions), Catholics will be challenged to know and live God's will.

We don't expect our stories to bring about changes in doctrine--the Vatican has many far more talented, prayerful and qualified thinkers than we--but if we can open people's minds, bring an increase in awareness, and give reassurance that, yes, there is a place for faith in the future, we have done what we set out to do and more.

dustiam: The phrase "We don't expect our stories to bring about changes in doctrine" in the prior paragraph is confusing. I suspect the Fabians meant don't expect their stories to influence the Church's understanding of doctrine, as may be required by future events, such as genetic technologies and encounters with aliens.


Alison said...

Being curious to read this interview, I was glad to see that sci-fi authors clarified that the stories were without fantasy. Fantasy, which has no roots in reality, is something I look to avoid in all literature especially childrens. I look for literature that will build wonder.
I love NightCrawler in the X-men movie. He had a great understanding of suffering and the Cross. Unfortunately, the actor won't put on the makeup for anymore films.

D. G. D. Davidson said...

On the contrary, Alison, fantasy is a legitimate form of literature just like sf. It uses unreality as a mode of storytelling, and is an ancient, time-honored method of conveying truths about the universe or about morality. It would be a shame to stunt children's imaginations by keeping them away from fantastic literature. Besides, as Christians, we are not scientistic. A lot of the stuff that gets classified as "fantasy," such as angels or even possibly magic, are things that exist in the real universe even though science can say nothing about them.

Anonymous said...

no longer just a finalist - it's a Winner! under Science Fiction.