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On Pagan Science Fiction

Warning: blatant self-promotion ahead! But, there is a really good reason for said self-promotion, so please bear with me.

Science fiction as a genre is both extremely popular and notoriously difficult to define. It is often a case of "I'll know it when I see it." Stars Wars? Yes. Star Trek? Yes. McCaffrey's Pern books? Yes. KA Laity's Owl Stretching? Considering the people-eating aliens and near-future setting, yes. Devon Monk's The Age of Steam series? Um ... it's set in the Wild West, but it's steampunk, which is often considered a subgenre of science fiction, but it's got faeries and magic, too, so ... maybe? Lucian of Samosata's True History? Um ... second century fable-ish proto-science fiction? 

Throwing "Pagan" into the mix makes things even more difficult. How does one define "Pagan" in this context? Does the author of a work have to identity as some flavor of Pagan? Or does only the work itself have to deal with Pagan Deities, philosophies, and myths?

Such was the problem I ran into while editing The Shining Cities: An Anthology of Pagan Science Fiction. Identifying an author's religious tradition is tricky (and can even constitute an invasion of privacy), and it may be entirely irrelevant to the nature of the story; a Druid author is perfectly capable of writing a tale set in Saudi Arabia with devoutly Muslim characters. As such, I went with the latter definition above; it was the story I was interested in, not the author's religious affiliation. After flipping through my stacks of science fiction novels and encyclopedias, I finally ended up with a broad but defensible definition of that genre: science fiction deals with imaginary -- but plausible and logically constructed -- worlds in which the implications and consequences of cultural, environmental, and scientific change and innovation are explored. Thus, for the purposes of The Shining Cities, I was looking for stories which dealt with those issues, but incorporated a Pagan ethos/mythos/history. 

I was incredibly pleased with the results. Some very talented authors contributed a wide variety of stories, from a Hindu steampunk-alternate history to a animist tale of two stars in love to a Kemetic time travel story to a shamanic eco-fable to a humorous chicken story.

While editing The Shining Cities, I started looking around for titles I could include in an appendix of Recommended Reading. I found plenty of science fiction novels, novellas, anthologies, short stories, graphic novels, television series, and movies which could be defined as Pagan-friendly,* but I was surprised and disappointed at the dearth of truly Pagan science fiction works; that is, science fiction written by Pagan authors, featuring Pagan worlds.

Pagan-friendly (or at least, of-interest-to-Pagan-readers) science fiction works proved plentiful. Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time. Callenbach's Ecotopia. Anything by Catherynne M Valente. Leigh Richard's Califia's Daughters and Gilman's Herland. Linnea Sinclair's An Accidental Goddess, and Liz Craven's Interplanetary League series, and Katee Robert's Sanctify books.

But true Pagan science fiction? There is the above mentioned Owl Stretching; Jennifer Lyn Parsons A Stirring in the Bones; various short stories by Gerri Leen and CS MacCath; Alan Moore's graphic novel series Promethea; Starhawk's The Fifth Sacred Thing; and Stewart Farrar's Omega: A Novel of Eco-Magic.

But surely that can't be it? There has to be more. 

Time to speak up, dear readers. I want recommendations. I want Pagan authors who have written good science fiction. Give me something good to read. 

 

* Though some people sneer, mainstream science fiction franchises like Star Wars, Star Trek and Babylon 5 are actually quite Pagan-friendly. Just consider the many different spiritual traditions practiced by different Star Trek characters, or the intensely spiritual nature of many Babylon 5 episodes.

 

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.

Comments

  • Lori Boleyn
    Lori Boleyn Monday, 24 September 2012

    Blatant self promotion here too - my book 'Mortal Instinct' would definitely come under the heading of 'Pagan SF'. it has Sacred Circles, raising the energy of the Earth, women saving all things Mortal and Immortal, cool technology.

    http://widdershinsfirst.com/mortal-instinct-2/

    I loved Starhawk's 'The fifth Sacred Thing' but her follow-up prequel, 'Walking to Mercury' was ... erm ... lacking.

    I can't think of any other books than the ones you mentioned either ... hopefully there are more out there?

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Monday, 24 September 2012

    @Lori: thanks for the recommendation! I just downloaded the sample. :)

  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch Tuesday, 25 September 2012

    I think part of the issue might be that most Pagan authors seem to be drawn more to fantasy than science fiction. I can think of several examples of Pagan Fantasy authors, for example (Stephen Grundy, Diana Paxon, etc.).

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Tuesday, 25 September 2012

    @Joseph: which will be the subject of a future post. :) And thank you for mentioning Grundy; I knew of Paxson, but not Gruny.

  • Sophie Gale
    Sophie Gale Wednesday, 26 September 2012

    Liz Williams is a Druid in the UK. She writes both science fiction and fantasy. Elizabeth Barrette writes both, I think, in short form. Laurell K. Hamilton is Wiccan; she's fantasy, of course.

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Thursday, 27 September 2012

    @Sophie: Williams and Barrette, got it. :) Isn't Barrette the former editor of SageWoman or PanGaia?

    I have not read anything by Hamilton, yet. She's on my list to read before I die, but ... vampires just aren't my thing .... :(

  • Sophie Gale
    Sophie Gale Saturday, 29 September 2012

    Yes, Barrette edited Sagewoman or PanGaia. I forget which. LKH has two series: Anita Blake, which is vampires and werewolves and monsters, and the Merry Gentry series, which is about dectective/fairy princess of the Unseelie Court. Both are soaked with sex and gore. Vampires and werewolves aren't usually my thing either, but Anita asked a lot of hard questions about who were the heroes and who were the monsters. Sadly, after twenty books, I've reached my limit with the series, but I still have hopes for Merry.

    John Michael Greer also writes SF. He has been working on a serial, Star's Reach, set in the scavenger economy of post-industrial America: http://starsreach.blogspot.com/

    I don't know how often folks update "Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of Various Faiths" but you might want to look at the Pagan section there: http://www.adherents.com/lit/sf_other.html

  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan Sunday, 30 September 2012

    @Sophie: Ack! I had no idea Greer was writing science fiction. I love his "A World Full of Gods." Adding "Star's Reach" to my To Read list. :)

  • Sophie Gale
    Sophie Gale Monday, 01 October 2012

    Now you've got me hunting for Pagan authors! SF is a labor of love for JMG, not necessarily a paying gig.

    Patricia Kennealy-Morrison is Celtic Neopagan and writes a melange of Celtic flavored SF/F.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patricia_Kennealy-Morrison

    Kate Orman, an Australian who writes Dr. Who books, is listed as Pagan.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Pagans

    Rachel Pollack has written SF!
    http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/pollack_rachel

  • Ryan Musgrave-Evans
    Ryan Musgrave-Evans Saturday, 13 October 2012

    Hey guys. If there's a free-for-all on self promotion going at the moment, I'll mention my own works. "Dead Stars" is a 110,000 word pagan Sci-Fi novel I just finished last year that's available on Lulu.com. I've almost completed the sequel to it that'll be available soon too: "Dark Womb of the Grave."
    I'll drop a little hint as to some of the story.
    The story begins with the introduction of a man trying to make a living as a Private Investigator in a foreign land; the land of Harth. He is Miles Flint, a Grey Dog: a foreignour unrecognized by the laws of the State. He has a pet-hate in the form of the Sans Corporation’s project: Real-Dyings Projections. He considers them sadistic. The company is a broadcaster of Scenarios in which saved consciousness (Soul-Saves) represented in their original physical form are being murdered and tortured at the behest of the paying public. You may choose the Soul-Saves from a vast store, and select the manner in which you wish then to be brutalized or die. Officially the Soul-Saves have no sentience or self-awareness but Flint suspects that is not the case.
    Flint is hired by a young woman: Sam, to investigate the death of her brother and – with the help of his friend Razone - he quickly forms the opinion that Sans-Corporation is to blame and that Sam’s brother was murdered for his Soul-Save in an effort to maximize profit; for Soul-Saves are expensive to lease from their original owners and become free to everyone if the owner is deceased. Under his partners Razone’s guidance an entire Sub-World called Dreadnought is revealed to him. It is another Harth – In most ways identical with the world he calls reality – that is illegally projected directly to the masses without profit. It is not just a normal, limited Scenario existing for a limited duration like the rest of Real-Dyings, but actually an entire parallel world that has been running for at least 20 years.
    Is one Harth real and the other fake?
    Or are they both somehow real?
    Or (scarier still), are they both fake?
    Or is one just really the past of the other?
    Even a murderous ghost haunting the Scenario of Dreadnought Harth is being seen in the real world.
    The tale considers the age-old questions: ‘What is physical and what is mental?’ And: ‘Where should we draw the line?’ And ‘What is the distinction between massive, material technological advancements and magic itself?’
    The Fijug religion of Harth says: ‘The material world is merely the Public Land, a place people can agree upon. The Mental world is a Private Land, limited to the individual.’
    But both Harths have both of these Lands, Public and Private - so how can one Harth be more or less real than the other?
    Dead Stars is a meditation on humankind’s preoccupation with distinguishing the mental from the spiritual and both of these from the physical. It is a consideration of the arbitrary and ambiguous manner in which such divisions are usually made. On one hand it is a dark, violent, psychological thriller with fantasy and SF elements, while on the other it is a spiritual tale of animistic mysticism that probes in Philosophical terms into the metaphysical conundrum that is our everyday lives.
    I follow a predominantly Gaelic Pagan path myself and there's a thread of the ancient irish epic 'Tain Bo Cuainge' (The Cattle raid of Cooly) running through the narrative. The dialects of 'Geltch' and 'Sholta' in the strory are based on Gaelic itself.
    Knock yourselves out and buy it. I won't stand in your way. :) Help do your part to keep a poor Australian Pagan SF writer out of the dole lines over here. ;) Slan leibh, bhraithrean is pheathraichean mo chridhe.

  • Eli Effinger-Weintraub
    Eli Effinger-Weintraub Monday, 15 October 2012

    Hey, Rebecca. I wanted to mention The Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction, a co-effort of Llewellyn and our own Witches&Pagans. Several stories in that anthology contain science fiction elements.

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