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    Is Christian Fiction/Media REALLY as Bad as "They" Say?

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    BenAvery

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    Is Christian Fiction/Media REALLY as Bad as "They" Say?

    Post  BenAvery on February 15th 2013, 11:15 am

    Lately, I've been coming across a LOT of people who are complaining about how terrible Christian fiction, especially genre fiction, is.

    This almost exclusively comes in blanket statements condemning all Christian sci-fi or all Christian comics or all Christian fantasy. And it usually does not involve examples -- there is no need for examples, because the example is all of it. (Exceptions: if C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkin or Madeline L'Engle wrote it.) (Other exception: if the person who is speaking or one of his friends wrote it.) (And yes, I know it sounds like I am making blanket statements here myself -- to be clear, I'm not saying this about "all" or "every" but about a few different things I have come across in the last month.)

    It's kind of disheartening, as a Christian creator of fiction. Are my fellow Christians simply not giving me a chance because I identify myself as a Christian, and all media by Christians is terrible? Or is it true, and I'm actually part of the problem? (Feel free to NOT answer that question -- I don't need anything to add to my neuroses!)

    There are two problems with these blanket statements, as I see it:

    1. The small pond syndrome. This is my theory: yes, there are many terrible works of fiction by Christians. But I believe that the ratio of good to bad in Christian literature is actually the same as it is in general literature. The difference is the size of the audience and the size of the group of producers. Taking secular sci-fi or comics or fantasy as a whole, you have a HUGE body of work -- looking at it as a whole, you are going to be more likely to see only the good, the 10% let's say (just to pull a number). But, taking the niche of Christian books and comics or whatever, it's a much smaller selection and as a result, you are going to see all of it -- good, bad, and ugly.

    The point being, the problem is not LIMITED to Christian writers, it's just more visible.

    2. Most of the complainers complain about the bad. A blog I follow has devoted a whole series to pointing out what NOT to do in writing Christian fiction, nitpicking about things that they don't like about it . . . instead of encouraging and educating about HOW to do it better! Pointing out what's WRONG is an easy target to hit, but bringing something positive to the conversation is not as easy.

    Please don't get me wrong -- I know that a lot of bad art is being produced. But the thing that is being forgotten is that the "bad" art that is being produced is usually being produced by earnest people who just want to express themselves artistically, usually to the best of their ability. I believe art's primary purpose is to connect with others -- and even bad art does that . . . and if it fulfills its goals, is it really bad art? That would make for an interesting discussion.

    So, my questions to you: am I totally crazy? Or just partially? (You can answer that one, I'm already neurotic in this category and nothing will make that worse.)

    Am I just defending mediocrity?

    What's the solution?

    And what good "Christian" sci-fi have you read recently? Is there good out there? I've asked this question in a number of different places, and love getting the answer. I'm on a quest to prove the blanket statement wrong . . . there IS good Christian genre fiction out there! And I'm looking for it!

    Paeter
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    Re: Is Christian Fiction/Media REALLY as Bad as "They" Say?

    Post  Paeter on February 15th 2013, 4:10 pm

    I don't think I have any points of disagreement with you, Ben.

    With the mainstream fiction market being so much bigger, we usually rely on Publishers to act as gatekeepers, filtering out the crap so that we never even see it. But with Christian geek fiction, the gatekeepers either prioritize the wrong things (like having a "clean, wholesome story" rather than one that's creative, compelling and doctrinally sound) or they aren't involved at all in Publishing Christian Geek Fiction, which means WE have to go out and find it, and go through the filtering process ourselves that we normally rely on Publishers and big Hollywood studios to do. In this way, we run into a higher percentage of the crap in the Christian Geek market than we do in the mainstream geek market.

    Regarding good Christian sci-fi I've read lately, I have to bend the rules and use a fantasy novel instead. (I don't read sci-fi, I only play or watch it.)

    I've read about half of Brian Godawa's "Noah Primevel", which we're giving away on the podcast now. I probably won't finish it because it doesn't quite fit my very narrow qualifications for what I personally like in fantasy writing. But when I say that I think it's very well written, I mean it. In fact I think he may even be as good or better (definitely better for my tastes) than a giant like R.A. Salvatore. I also think Greg Mitchell (The Strange Man, The Coming Evil Trilogy) is another one to watch.

    Although the author has moved on to non-comics projects, I think Archangels: The Saga, and Archangels: The Fall are phenomenal examples of great Christian comic books. As old as "The Saga" is, I think it still looks better than a handful of comics DC put out this year.

    And this doesn't even count Christian creators who apply their faith to their work but aren't marketing their material to the Christian demographic, like Brent Weeks.


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    BenAvery

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    Re: Is Christian Fiction/Media REALLY as Bad as "They" Say?

    Post  BenAvery on February 15th 2013, 4:38 pm

    Paeter wrote:
    With the mainstream fiction market being so much bigger, we usually rely on Publishers to act as gatekeepers, filtering out the crap so that we never even see it.

    True. Your point about the gatekeepers is a good one . . . although, growing less true every day as self-publishing becomes more and more common.

    Paeter wrote:And this doesn't even count Christian creators who apply their faith to their work but aren't marketing their material to the Christian demographic, like Brent Weeks.

    This should count that, though . . .

    Dreamerhorwitz

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    Re: Is Christian Fiction/Media REALLY as Bad as "They" Say?

    Post  Dreamerhorwitz on February 15th 2013, 6:14 pm

    Personally, I think everyone is still too attached to the Blockbuster mentality to give small, independent markets the time of day or a fair chance.

    But there are some who realize that not ALL Christian works are bad. I read a blog post where the poster went behind the scenes and came back out and thought, "Hey, we could learn something from these guys."

    There are also some christian media moguls who make media which never goes beyond the whole "resource" schtick. Not a lot of people want to see/play/read a resource.

    Nathan James Norman
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    Re: Is Christian Fiction/Media REALLY as Bad as "They" Say?

    Post  Nathan James Norman on February 16th 2013, 2:21 pm

    I think I agree with you in general Ben.

    And as a fan, I'm sure one day our paths will cross and I'll corner you and force you to sign my entire stack of Ben Avery stuff! I love your work!

    Back to the issue at hand!
    In general I think the fiction in the Christian sub-culture is roughly on par with the larger culture. They both have some really good stuff, some mediocre offerings and garbaaage that somehow slipped through.

    I think the real problem is what the movers and shakers of the Christian sub-culture decide to promote. I don't know why it's this way, but the heralded projects fall flat in comparison to other works. For example, for the last few years I've seen "The Action Bible" publicized everywhere. Now, the artwork is good, but the text is flat and boring (and that is being generous). Why didn't the entire library of Z Graphic Novels get the same coverage? All of them are far superior, but I have to go hunting for them . . . even when buying them online! And have you ever heard of the movie "Mercy Streets"? Probably not, bu it was a great film . . . actually one of my favorites for some reason. But we've all heard of "Facing the Giants" which is a 'C' in my book . . . and contains so dubious theology.

    Another problem is the expectations publishers put on the work. I remember when G.P. Taylor's book, Shadowmancer came out he was hailed as "the next C.S. Lewis". Now, I like G.P. Taylor a lot . . . but he's no C.S. Lewis either. Why would any publicist put such impossible pressure on one of their authors? How could their work do anything but fall flat?

    An axillary problem I've seen to this issue is the utter failure of the Christian sub-culture to reach the larger culture in any meaningful way. We are pretty effective at "Christianizing the Christian" (which is very important), but our stories have failed to reach those outside of our bubble. I think part of this is due to the two problems I've mention above.

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