Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Enhance Literary Richness Writing Religions

We live in an era where many consider the pursuit of Science the only legitimate road to ultimate truth, and that bias bleeds over to our fiction. Pity. Whether you like Science Fiction or Fantasy, there is a whole universe of fascinating fiction just waiting to be explored if we would be expand our horizons.

Despite the Secular Humanist reputation of Science Fiction, the genre is replete with religious riches. Dune wouldn't be as rich without its many varied religions. In Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny used the religion of the Hindu pantheon as a way of describing fantastic future science as practically mystical powers. In Deadman Switch, Timothy Zahn imagined a future where an order of Christians called The Watchers are nearly extinct but possess such remarkable power that they are highly valued, if not entirely trusted. This provides grist for some really delicious possibilities.
Gilead Raca Benedar's faith is not always a help to him. It is not clear if Watcher skills are merely based upon close attention to body language, a form of psi, or even come from divine grace. One gets the impression the Watchers do not know either. And while Watching gives him some advantages in the commercial world, it tells him only part of other people's emotions and motives. It does nothing to solve the ethical dilemmas he plummets into. At the end, despite his successful efforts, he is left unsure of the extent of Calandra's innocence.
On the fantasy side of the house, the character arc of the villain of Brandon Sanderson's Elantris finds his place and actions in the finale changed because of a spiritual epiphany which challenges everything he believed in. In Saladin Ahmed's recent novel debut, The Throne of the Crescent Throne, Arabian religion forms the foundation for the entire work. The earthy Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is the last real ghul hunter and his faith is portrayed as simple pragmatism, the way real things get done. His apprentice Raseed bas Raseed is a ardent dervish known as much for his ascetic devotion as for his unique twin-bladed sword and his incomparable fighting ability, yet his inner demons threaten him as vigorously as the undead ghuls. The religious culture of her rural tribe is all the shape-changing Zamia has left after the extermination of her family, and she clings to it even as her eyes are opened to life in the big, dusty, exotic city of Dhamsawaat.

The Heavenly Chapters decreed that ghul-makers were damned to the Lake of Flame. The Chapters spoke of an ancient, corrupted age when wicked men commanded whole legions of the things from miles away. But those times were past. In all his years of ghul hunting, Adoulla had never seen a man make more than two of the monsters at a time— and this always from a few hundred yards away at most. “Troubling,” he said again.

He instructed Raseed to cut a small scrap from the boy’s scarlet- stained shirt. Other than the name of its maker, the blood of a ghul’s victim was the best component for a tracking spell. The creatures them- selves would likely prove easy enough to find. But he would need to head closer to the scene of the slaying, and get away from the city’s teeming, confusing life-energies, to cast an effective tracking spell.

Adoulla only prayed that he would be able to find the creatures before they fed again. As the silent prayer echoed in his mind, he felt a weary determination rising in his heart. There was more bloody work to be done. O God, why must it be me every time?
Including religious traditions and mysteries in your fiction gives your characters room to explore all kinds of interesting questions, and that, after all, is half the fun.
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4 comments:

  1. Great post, and terrific challenge to Sci-Fi and Fantasy writers. Thanks, Johne!

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  2. I believe this is one of the reasons Christian speculative fiction has had such a struggle. Religion of any stripe, but particularly Christianity, has long been, if not taboo, than at least scorned in the genre. It's time to change that.

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  3. Curse of Chalion by Lois MacMaster-Bujold, and its sequels. Great story made even better by a religion that's both simple and complex. I see saints in a very different light now.

    The Paksenarion books. The early ones have religion around the edges, then it sneaks up and takes centre stage.

    The Valdemar books, especially Tarma and Kethry books and the Storm series. God, and helpers, show in different ways to different religions, but the threads join -- compare and contrast.

    Cricket

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  4. "Including religious traditions and mysteries in your fiction gives your characters room to explore all kinds of interesting questions, and that, after all, is half the fun."

    So true.

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