Hey, There’s Religion in My Science Fiction

Published on August 19, 2010 by

Inspired by Nancy Fulda’s post about technology and religion and whether religion plays more of a role in the plot in fantasy (which was in turn inspired by my post linking to discussions of religion in science fiction, which were inspired by my story in Analog, “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made”), I took a look at my published science fiction stories to see how much of a role religion plays in the plot.

  1. “In Memory” – Religion plays no role in the plot.
  2. “The Man Who Moved the Moon” — Religion plays no role in the plot. (There’s a minor mention of religion, but solely as a worldbuilding explanation as to why some people are not uploaded.)
  3. “Resonance” – The villains in the story are Gaia Jihad, a cross between Islamic terrorists and environmental extremists. (Strange bedfellows can result in strange offspring.)   But they could have been secular environmental terrorists without really changing the plot, so I’ll say this is a minor role.
  4. “Upgrade” – Religious opposition to “upgrading” humans with bionics is mentioned as influencing the political situation that is essential to the plot, so I’ll list this as minor.
  5. “Tabloid Reporter to the Stars” – The religious beliefs of the crew, and the resulting interpretations of the aliens’ belief that a human had visited them in the past, form a major part of the plot.
  6. “Premature Emergence” – Religion plays no role in the plot.
  7. “The Ashes of His Fathers” – The story centers on a man from a distant religious colony planet bringing the ashes of his ancestors back to Earth so they can be resurrected.   Major role for religion.
  8. “The Robot Sorcerer” – Religion plays no role in the plot.
  9. “The Final Element” – Religion plays no role in the plot.
  10. “Attitude Adjustment” – Religion plays no role in the plot.
  11. “Rejiggering the Thingamajig” – The main character is a Buddhist Tyrannosaurus, and her religion plays a role in the climax of the story. Major role.
  12. “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” – The main character is a Mormon branch president trying to protect the religious freedom of his alien congregants. Major role.

So, of twelve stories, religion plays no role in the plot in half of them. Religion plays a major role in a third, and a minor role in a sixth.

Specifically looking at the stories published in Analog, the “hard science fiction” market, religion plays a major role in three out of seven, and a minor role in two more.   So my stories in Analog actually involve religion in the plot more often than my stories published elsewhere.

Now, let’s   see about my fantasy stories. Interestingly enough, only one out of nine has religion as part of the plot: “Salt of Judas” – the salt spilled by Judas Iscariot at the Last Supper plays a major role in the plot.

It seems that, while my perception is that religion tends to play a larger role in the fantasy plots than science fiction plots, in my own published writing the opposite is true.

When it comes to my (still unpublished, but finished) novels, religion plays a major role in the plot of the fantasy novel.   In the science fiction novel, on the other hand, while my religious philosophy greatly shaped the climax, religion is barely mentioned.

What does this all mean?   I’m not sure.

I do find the lack of religion in my short fantasy stories to be an interesting anomaly.   And the one story that does involve religion uses Christianity.   If you look at the religions in my science fiction short stories, they are all either actual religions or projected evolutions of actual religions.

Does that mean I have qualms about making   up a religion? No, because I have an elaborate made-up religion in my fantasy novel.

One possibility is that in a short story, I don’t feel there’s enough space to properly worldbuild a religion.   So in science fiction, I can use existing religions and maybe put a tweak on them, but I use the reader’s familiarity with the religions to fill in a lot of the background.   I could do the same with “Salt of Judas” in historical fantasy.

Another possibility is that I tend to inject religion into my science fiction plots as a way to compensate for my perception that science fiction downplays religion.

Whatever the explanation, I don’t think I’ll try to deliberately change the religion ratio.   But this analysis may change what my subconscious does.

Filed under: General

4 comments on “Hey, There’s Religion in My Science Fiction”

  1. Th. says:

    .

    This reminds me that I had wanted to run down your Thingamajig story. And now I have a few others itching my curiosity as well.

  2. I liked Gaia Jihad. It reminded me of something a prison guard told me about white supremacists and Mexican mafiosos teaming up in prison against black gangs, thus leading to the creation of “The Nazi Lowriders.”

    I wonder about fantasy. Usually it’s so mythic that religion almost seems redundant, but George R.R. Martin uses that fire religion with the unpronounceable god and manages to keep it fantastical and medieval while still making it reminiscent of modern cultishness.

  3. Nancy Fulda says:

    Another possibility is that I tend to inject religion into my science fiction plots as a way to compensate for my perception that science fiction downplays religion.

    Or perhaps religion serves as a tension device. Since there is a generally perceived tension between science and religion, you can play the two off each other far more effectively in science fiction than in fantasy.

  4. Nancy, that’s a pretty good hypothesis, especially since that fits fairly well with how I have used religion in my science fiction.