A Conversation with Catholic SF Writers


CWR: Is there such a thing as Catholic/Christian SF?

Gene Wolfe: Certainly. It’s science fiction informed by the Catholic faith.

John C. Wright: The short answer is no. The long answer is that Christianity is part and parcel of everything a Christian does, whether that entails writing a wonder tale or digging a ditch…. Science fiction qua science is neutral toward religion in the same sense that science itself is. However—and this “however” encompasses some magnitude—however, science fiction stories qua fiction can either be friendly or hostile to our world-view, and can (sometimes with malice aforethought) seek to undermine it.

Michael Flynn: [Catholic SF] could mean: first, SF that features overtly Catholic characters; secondly, SF that is informed by Catholic beliefs; and finally, SF written by or for Catholics. There are many stories of the first sort. However, it is often the case that the portrayal is unformed. The characters are “labeled” as such, but not “filled in” as such…. This includes SF in which the Catholicism is portrayed in a comic book, stereotyped style, full of inquisitors, child-abusers, anti-scientific superstitions, and so on. Stories of the second sort are those written from Catholic sensibilities. In one sense, they must be more common than the first, since Catholic beliefs forged Western civilization for a thousand years or more and that sort of smithy fire does not turn cold that quickly. If nothing else, there is a bed of hot Catholic coals underneath everything…. And so we end up here: SF with naturally infused Catholic sensibilities. The third sort of “Catholic SF” reduces to the second. 

CWR: Should there be Catholic SF?

Michael Flynn: In the deliberate sense of artifice, no. That sort of thing would easily be dismissed as mere propaganda. But in the natural sense, of course. If there were no “naturally Catholic” SF, it would mean that there were no writers with a Catholic sensibility; and we can’t have that, can we?

Tim Powers: I’d say there should be more, but I don’t think you can solicit them—you have to wait for writers to come up with stories that naturally fit that form.

Gene Wolfe: Should there be Catholic SF? Absolutely! Suppose we change that question just a little and say, “Should there be Catholic art?” Answer NO, and a lot of the world’s greatest art vanishes. Humanists would say the Divine Comedy is fantasy, but they are wrong. It is SF, based on the soft science of theology. Theology has just as much right to that word science as sociology and the rest do.

John C. Wright: There should be Christian science fiction writers in the same sense that there should be Christian carpenters and Christian shoemakers, who bring glory to St. Crispin and St. Joseph. J.R.R. Tolkien is an example of a good Christian writer who was a good writer…C.S. Lewis is an example of a good Christian writer who was a good evangelist. The two tasks can overlap, but might not. 

CWR: Must Catholic SF be written by Catholics? Or is it simply speculative fiction written, to rephrase Tolkien, by a Trinitarian believer?

John C. Wright: Any writer will inescapably put his world-view into his work. As a science fiction writer, I prefer to be futuristic rather than postmodern. By cleaving to the eternal things, I am being ahead of my time.

Tim Powers: I think [Catholic SF] can be written by atheists, if an atheist writer sees the Catholic world-view as convenient for a story, and portrays it accurately and respectfully. I don’t think that whatever “a mind that believes in the Blessed Trinity” produces will reliably provide it.

Michael Flynn: “Must” is taking it too far. It is possible for someone from another tradition to study Catholic ways and lore and get them right. The mind that believes in the Blessed Trinity is a mind that believes in a certain vision of human nature—one endowed with intellect and volition because it was made in the image of the Creator. And this vision of men and women—fallen but seeking the good, helpless to attain it unaided but with that aid all around them—informs, in my opinion, a fuller and more humane fiction. 

CWR: Do you see a connection between your work and your faith? Is there a Catholic element in your writing?

Tim Powers: Yes, in that it’s inevitably a Catholic perspective I bring to the work, but I’ve only a few times written a story that takes place in a specifically Catholic world. I’m glad I’ve done those stories, and it hasn’t been fear of a limited readership or hostile reaction that’s kept me from doing more of them—it’s just that most of the stories I think up don’t happen to involve Catholic elements.

John C. Wright: There is nothing overtly Christian, or even especially Christian, about my writing, at least not so far.

Gene Wolfe: Whether or not I think there are Catholic elements in my work, the critics and reviewers surely do. I hate to agree with those people, but I think they’re right.

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About Sandra Miesel 24 Articles
Sandra Miesel is an American medievalist and writer. She is the author of hundreds of articles on history and art, among other subjects, and has written several books, including The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code, which she co-authored with Carl E. Olson, and is co-editor with Paul E. Kerry of Light Beyond All Shadow: Religious Experience in Tolkien's Work (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2011).