Novel Thoughts blog

“Pulpit Fiction”

August 21, 2013 9:54 am | 5 Comments

Matthew Schmitz writes over at the First Things blog First Thoughts, reflecting on Randy Boyagoda’s article Faith in Fiction:

We have to be more creative about where we look for faith in fiction, and in order to do so, we have to expand our tastes beyond the high modernist aesthetic that animates much of the current Faith in Fiction Canon. One place to look is genre fiction, whose authors typically do not break through into print via the MFA/literary journal route. Some notable living writers of genre fiction are Tim Powers (horror/sci-fi: Declare and The Stress of Her Regard); Mary Doria Russell (sci-fi: The Sparrow and Children of God, which are basically one novel); Michael O’Brien (Catholic apocalyptic: Father Elijah and historical fiction: Island of the World); and the writing team of Rebecca Bratten Weiss and Regina Doman (chick-lit: Catholic Philosopher Chick Makes Her Debut). I would love to hear recommendations about Amish chick-lit.

This is undoubtedly an area more readers (and publishers) can explore. Later this year, Ignatius Press will be publishing a science-fiction work by Michael D. O’Brien, The Voyage to Alpha Centauri, and next year will see more genre fiction. We’ve also published Toward the Gleam by T.M. Doran, a sort of mystery-meets-fantasy that is somewhat along the lines of the “secret history” novels of Tim Powers, where history and fiction intertwine with the supernatural. Then there’s David C. Downing’s novel featuring the Inklings, Looking for the King. Stepping into the mystery/thriller genres, we have T.M. Doran’s Terrapin and Fiorella de Maria’s newest novel, Do No Harm.

Schmitz also says that “Among the last two generations of fiction writers, Christian readers tend to have overlooked many gems.” One such lost gem is Dayspring by Harry Sylvester, first published in the 1940s—a novel which should be standing alongside Graham Greene’s great novels of conflicted sinners on any reader’s bookshelf.

And looking beyond the Catholic publishing world, there are a number of great contemporary genre writers. Tim Powers has been mentioned above, and you can also add the great science fiction writers Gene Wolfe and Michael Flynn. Thriller writer Dean Koontz has also explored themes of faith, particularly in his Odd Thomas series.

What other books or authors should we be looking at?

John Herreid

John Herreid

John Herreid is catalog manager at Ignatius Press. In addition to catalogs and ads, he has also worked on the cover design for many Ignatius Press books and DVDs. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and four children.

Tags: Dayspring Do No Harm fantasy First Things Looking for the King science fiction Terrapin Toward the Gleam Voyage to Alpha Centauri


  1. August 22, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Gene Wolfe, of course.

  2. August 22, 2013 at 10:08 am

    And did I mention Gene Wolfe?

  3. John Herreid

    August 22, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    Gene Wolfe is great.

  4. August 22, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Eifelheim by Michael Flynn. The story switches back and forth between the middle ages, where a village’s priest communicates with aliens who have crash-landed, and the present. Flynn knows his philsophy, and the priest is a very interesting character. He also writes about the middle ages in a way that is far better than most fiction I’ve read written about them in any genre. IMHO, the modern part is dull and the modern characters are far lest interesting than the medieval ones. Part of the idea behind the book is that the priest is one of the last people educated in a time when philsophy, theology, and science were all interrelated and if you knew one you knew them all. The priest and the aliens have philosophical and theological talks, and they’re interesting! The aliens are insects and they cannot move out of their instinctive roles in their society. Do they have free will? Do they have souls? Can they be saved? You will care!

  5. John Herreid

    August 22, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    Gail: Eifelheim is great–I finally got around to reading it this summer, and have just finished one of Michael Flynn’s other sci-fi novels, The January Dancer. It’s not overtly Catholic like Eifelheim, though you can see the thread there if you look. It’s more of a classic tale, with space pirates, smugglers, secret societies, and the like. Worth checking out!

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