Jan 21 2011 9:44am

Religious Science Fiction

Without meaning to, I’ve recently been reading a pile of religious science fiction. I’ve been doing a series of posts on the Hugo nominees, starting from the beginning and working forward. I’m not reading all the Hugo winners, but if they’re interesting books and I haven’t already written about them, I’ve been re-reading them. So it happened that I read A Case of Conscience, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Stranger in a Strange Land and Dune, (all links are posts) and I realized they are all science fiction, and they are all concerned with religion. Religion is more usually seen as part of fantasy, and it’s interesting to see how science fiction treats it. It’s also interesting to look at all these at once because so much SF shows us futures which are entirely empty of religion, as if because they have better tech people will give up doing something we have done for as long as we’ve been human.

It seems to me that there are four ways of doing religious science fiction.

There’s the kind of SF where the writer is themselves a member of some religion and this imbues their writing—I think Connie Willis would be a good example of this. Look at the stories in Miracle, or her novel Passage. I don’t have a problem with this unless it spoils the story, but I don’t find it all that interesting either.

Secondly, there’s theological SF, like A Case of Conscience, or Clarke’s “The Star” and “Nine Billion Names of God,” or Brunner’s “The Vitanuls,” where the writer rigorously extrapolates science fictionally the consequences of some religious dogma being true. I love this.

Thirdly, there’s the story as analogy thing, which C.S. Lewis did so weirdly in Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. I’m not much interested in this either—I think it works better as fantasy.

Fourthly, there’s using the way religions have worked in history and extrapolating that into the future. Dune and Stranger are both, in their really different ways, about being a messianic figure starting a religion. Another Hugo winner that does this is Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light (post). If you look at these three you can see one clear use of Christian mythology, one clear use of Islam, and one clear use of Buddhism in a Hindu context. (Zelazny was fond of using different mythologies, he seems to take on a new one for ever novel.) These three are all using historical religions to show religion working in future worlds, with in all cases an additional dollop of mysticism. (The scenes in Heaven in Stranger, Paul’s prescience in Dune, the powers in LoL.) I tend to like this, too.

In the “theological” category there’s also Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow—I can’t stand it, for reasons unconnected to religion, I find the human characters behave in ridiculously implausible ways considering they are supposed to be people. Putting that aside, it’s certainly theological SF—using the aliens and the situation to examine a theological issue.

I have a 1971 collection of religious SF called Other Worlds, Other Gods, which contains several excellent and relevant stories of theological speculation. I commend it to your attention, not that you’ll be able to find it. George R.R. Martin’s short The Way of Cross and Dragon could be put into an update of that anthology—and indeed Martin has been particularly interested in religion, morality, and theology, sometimes in fantasy and sometimes in SF. And there’s William Tenn’s wonderful “On Venus, do we have a Rabbi!” which is a perfect example of extrapolating religious history to the future.

I’m sure you can think of more examples. Please don’t tell me about books where there’s a religous character, or fantasies no matter how great the religion. But if you have any, I’d like suggestions for science fiction that matches my (2) or (4), please.

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and eight novels, most recently Lifelode. Her ninth novel, Among Others, was recently released and if you liked this post you will like it. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

Victor Finch
1. Victor Finch
I liked Harry Harrison's "The Streets of Ashkelon", where a missionary travels to a planet with very literal minded inhabitants and begins proselytising about crucifixion and the resurrection. Keen to test this amazing story out, they nail the missionary to a cross and are very disappointed when he doesn't come back from the dead 3 days later.
C Smith
2. C12VT
Dan Simmons' Endymion and Rise of Endymion might be examples of #4 - it had a powerful Catholic church using (rather creepy) technology to resurrect people. Though there were a lot of other things going on in those books, the religion was only one theme among many.
Victor Finch
3. That Neil Guy
How about Michael Moorcock's Behold the Man ( about a time traveler looking to meet John the Baptist and Jesus.

And Amazon has a few used copies of Other Worlds, Other Gods listed: Better subtract one, though, because I think I'm about to order one for myself...
Victor Finch
4. Henry Farrell
There are some very good SF novels that don't fit these categories. One might need another for sociological/philosophical investigations of religion where the underlying point of interest is not the theological point as such, but the ways in which a particular theological point of view rest on various assumptions on the nature of the world and humanity. This form is related to (2), but not quite the same thing I think.

John Crowley's _Beasts_ is one very good example. Painter, the leo, is a kind of dark Christ "wounded into consciousness." But even though some of the characters in the book see him in religious terms, Crowley is less interested in the theology than in what that theology tells us about the conceptual means through which humans pretend to distinguish themselves from animals and from nature. The starting point is Wittgenstein rather than the New Testament. Similarly, Paul Park's "Celestis" has strong religious elements - much of the drama turns on the Catholicism of one of the main characters (an alien who has been drugged and surgically altered so that she can pass as a human being). But again, the key questions are not religious as such - they are about the ways in which religion rests on implicit assumptions that human beings make about their relationship to the world.

So I think you need (6) - sociological/philosophical investigations of religion, that do not take theology literally, but try to uncover its roots.
Victor Finch
5. redhead
I really enjoyed Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow. Books with blatantly theological characters usually annoy the hell out of me, I think because they can get preachy, or I fear or assume they will get preachy. . . but The Sparrow has remained one of my favorite SF books.

But I agree with everything else is your well written (as always!) post.
Victor Finch
6. The Mad Hatter
A discussion of religious influenced Sci-Fi isn't complete without Sawyer's Calculating God. It combines religion, philosophy, and Sci-Fi but never comes off heavy handed.
John Ottinger III
7. graspingforthewind
Chris Walley's The Lamb Among the Stars (six volumes) series is mostly a three, but also partly a four.
Victor Finch
8. Garrick1973
I haven't read them in a while but Katherine Kurtz Dernyi novels deal with a defined religion and the conflict between the differing ideologies.
Victor Finch
9. Tait McKenzie Johnsn
Philip K Dick's Valis trilogy is a science fictional working out of the concepts of Gnosticism (as understood in PK's own personal revelation/breakdown).

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower featured an invented religion called Earth Seed that that the heroine teaches as a means of fleeing the apocalypse, though I don't recall it being entirely important to the story.

While not directly religious, early cyberpunk literature draws heavily on mystical and magical symbolism to explain cyberspace. Stephenson's Snow Crash in particular recasts many old myths in a future light (and first used the ancient religious term avatar in it's modern context).
Edward Willett
10. ewillett
Jo, if I may be a bit self-serving, my novels Marseguro and Terra Insegura (DAW) are very much about religion per your fourth category: central to both is a new religion, The Body Perfect, that comes to power through a combination of luck and what seems to be an incontrovertible miracle. Other religions still exist but are persecuted. The books are about what it means to be human, but there's a great deal of theological discussion in them as well.
Ken Walton
11. carandol
My first thought was Moorcock's "Behold the Man" too. There's also Harry Harrison's "Captive Universe" which is about Aztec religion in an SF situation, though I can't say more without spoilers! Richard Cowper's White Bird of Kinship novels, "The Road to Corlay", "A Dream of Kinship" and "A Tapestry of Time" are about the growth of a new religion in a post-holocaust medieval Britain. Robert Silverberg's "The Book of Skulls" is about a cult in the Arizona desert that can offer genuine immortality, but with a high price-tag.
Richard Fife
12. R.Fife
I sadly cannot think of any examples that would be thus, but I have always been interested as a writer in presenting religion as just an aspect of society. No proof or authorial fait on whether or not the religion is "right" or "wrong", or even examination of how the religion is "changing" society.

Instead, I think there is no problem having the characters be religious to whatever degrees work for them, have them seek comfort or solace as a matter of course in their faith, and even perhaps draw some morality or conflict, but everything would be tangential, if that makes sense.

I am (pardon the plug) doing this (or, well, will be doing, as the chapters that deal with it aren't up yet) somewhat in my serial novel, The Tijervyn Chronicles, with the religion, where the steampunk, Victorian-esk society has a religion that is just there doing its thing. There are some members of the clergy with agendas, there are some that are just trying to do what they can, and the same with the adherants.

So, basically, I'm trying to treat religion more as a subplot the same way romance should be. It is common and throughout because that is how it is in real life, too.
David Levinson
13. DemetriosX
The Way of Cross and Dragon is a wonderful story. I was going to mention it, but you beat me to right there at the end.

There’s the kind of SF where the writer is themselves a member of some religion and this imbues their writing

Orson Scott Card may be the poster child for this category. Apparently, most of his Mormon readership find strong Mormon themes in everything he writes. From what little I actually know about Mormonism, I can kind of see it in some of the later Ender books. Zenna Henderson fits here, too.
Joel Rosenberg has written some Jewish-tinged stuff. There were several short stories that appeared in Asimov's in the 80s that I think form the core of Emile and the Dutchman. It's more of a sidelight than actually exploring Judaism in a SFnal context, but it is there. There are some other novels in the same universe that come closer, but in many ways its more "Israelis in Space" than "Jews in Space".

Ernest Hogan has also played with Aztec mythology the way Zelazny did with others in Smoking Mirror Blues.
Victor Finch
14. slmyrs
Reading this the first thing I thought of is David Weber's series starting with Off Armageddon Reef. I am still trying to decide which of the four mentioned this would actually fall into, but leaning toward the fourth. In this Weber centralizes a fictional religion that houses many aspects of standard ideoligies with that SF twist.
Victor Finch
15. Qtip6
@2 you really are shortchanging Simmons' work if you read the third and fourth books without the prior two novels, Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion. I would also heartily recommend "A Canticle for Liebowitz", which extrapolates the Catholic church as preserver of technology in a post-apocalyptic world and also The Amtrak Wars by Patrick Tilley
Russ Gray
16. nimdok
Cordwainer Smith used a lot of religious symbolism and extrapolated the effects of religion in the far future. His story "On the Storm Planet" is one example, where a character's motivations seem to come (at least in part) from a religious basis.

In his stories it's also interesting to note the Instrumentality's prohibition on exporting religion from planet to planet, yet it always seems to spread.
Neville Park
17. nevillepark
Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun fits at least the first two categories. For those unfamiliar with it, it takes place on a generation starship where a polytheistic parody of Christianity has been…installed, for lack of a better word, and the protagonist gets an epiphany and a divine mission from a rather obscure minor god in the pantheon, who turns out to be the Christian God. (For a more informed view—Zachary Kendal of silk for caldé has written a thesis on the religious aspect of BotLS in a genre context.)

I said "the first two categories" but it's allegorical at points—especially Auk's speeches towards the end of the book when he exhorts everyone to leave the ship.

And The Book of the New Sun is also undeniably a religious book, though the more obvious aspects don't emerge till later in the series. (While Severian raises people from the dead and whatnot, Wolfe's on record as saying he's not a Christ-figure but a Christian figure.)

Wolfe gets major points for writing Catholic science fiction—that is, stories in which Catholicism is not merely present but actually true—that doesn't annoy the crap out of this non-Christian, non-theist reader.
Victor Finch
19. jec81
Some of Ted Chiang's short fiction included in Stories of Your Life and Others fits several of your categories. I think "Tower of Babel," "Seventy-two Letters," and particularly "Hell is the Absence of God" fit the bill.

Also the entire book is brilliant, and the best short story collection I have ever read.
Victor Finch
20. joelfinkle
"On Venus, do we have a Rabbi" was part of a collection edited by Jack Dann, called "Wandering Stars: An Anthology of Jewish Fantasy and Science Fiction." The stories vary in quality, but include Ellison, Effinger, Asimov, Silverberg and others. Worth looking at, and surprisingly still in print.

Of O.S. Card's work, the Mormon allegorical stuff in the alt-history Alvin Maker books is less interesting than its folk magic, and it's fantasy, so it doesn't count. Of more interest is "Folk of the Fringe" where faith proves important to surviving in a post-apocalyptic America. More Category 1 than 4, but to an atheist such as myself, faith is an intriguing subject for SF.

On short stories, Chang's "Hell is the Absence of God" fits #2 pretty well, and definitely worth looking up. Hard to peg that one as SF, though, more modern fantasy probably.
Chris Hawks
21. SaltManZ
I agree with the comment @12 about enjoying sci-fi that portrays religion as just a facet of everyday human life. But what I really love are stories that show aliens dealing with religion.

Mainly I'm thinking of the conversion to Catholicism of the some of the pequeninos in OSC's Speaker for the Dead, made all the more interesting because of the piggies' unique life cycle and subsequent worldview. Gene Wolfe's "The Seraph from Its Sepulcher" is great too, with a great conversation about how these particular aliens might be better able to understand Christianity than the human missionaries.
Kelly Trop
22. Zorpisuttle
Ken MacLeod's A Case of Consilience is probably in category 2. It's about a Presbyterian missionary who is firmly convinced that the Bible is good news for all rational creatures, and how that plays out when he actually encounters intelligent alien life. The missionary also references Harry Harrison's "The Streets of Ashkelon" at one point.
Victor Finch
23. Pat McD.
What about Heinlein's "Job: A Comedy of Justice"?
Marcus W
24. toryx
My first thought was Robert Sawyer as The Mad Hatter @ 6 pointed out. Calculating God, at least, would probably fit in category # 2.

What's particularly interesting about the novel is that when you compare it to Sawyer's Neanderthal trilogy, which actually makes the opposite argument that's made in Calculating God. In both cases, science is used to address the possibility of the existence of God in really interesting ways that I quite enjoyed.
Michael Burke
25. Ludon
joelfinkle @20 beat me to mentioning Wandering Stars. And for those who may not already know this, I've been told (by a Jewish friend) that the title "On Venus, do we have a Rabbi!" should be read or spoken as a question - not a statement.

Now to my recommendation. (I've mentioned this one a few times already on this site.) James White's "The Silent Stars Go By" falls under category 4. The Catholic Church as a political force has been extrapolated into an alternate history Earth in which Hero's steam-driven toys had been stolen from Alexander's Court then smuggled to Ireland where their true potential was realized. The Kingdom of Hibernia (This is science fiction, not fantasy - I promise) rose to become one of the major superpowers. The story focuses on this Earth's effort to launch its first colony in a different star-system. The lead character, a Healer named Nolan, is a lower officer in the expedition and a non-believer in the religion of the priest-kings of Hibernia. He finds himself tangled within a web of deceit and political power-playing for control over the soon to be founded colony.

James White's worldbuilding is extensive - though it falls short of what Herbert achieved in Dune. Still, it's enough to fill out this world and inform with history and back-story. We learn how the Redmen managed to retain control of the lands to the west and we learn why Nolan - as a male - is uncommon in a profession usually held by women. We also learn the importance of the title (rank) Healer of the First Name.

Need I say that I love this book.

On a different series, I'm surprised no one has mentioned Clarke's Rama books. I guess they'd fall under category 4.
Victor Finch
26. ChaosOnion
I would guess this falls into the fourth category, but I find Ian M. Banks' use of religion in Consider Phlebas to be interesting. The Idirans developed a religion of perfection in their insulatory existence. It is that religion driving them forward to expansion. This is diametrically opposed to the Culture, in which there is no collective relgion, just the decadence of existence. The Minds, living machines built by the Culture, are also an anethema to the Idirans. There is also a great (and disturbing) section on an Apocalypse Cult.
Victor Finch
27. Lsana
George R.R. Martin's "A Song for Lya" probably fits into either 2 or 4, hard to say, though it deals with an alien religion rather than a human one. It's about a couple of telepaths investing human conversions to an alien religion.
Victor Finch
28. (still) Steve Morrison
Re Other Worlds, Other Gods: There are copies available from other sellers as well. Here are my search results.
Victor Finch
29. PhoenixFalls
I believe Gordon R. Dickson's Childe Cycle would fit category #4. . . it's been ages and ages so I may get some of the details wrong, but it extrapolates a future where society has splintered (I definitely remember "Splinter Cultures" being a phrase) into several different types, one of which is the "Fundies" who are religious (I don't remember what religion, probably a variant of Christianity because it didn't seem particularly exotic) fundamentalists. My favorite of the books, Soldier, Ask Not is a great deal about the Fundies.

And then later in the series it gets vaguely mystical. . . I didn't like those books as much so I really don't remember the details, but I think one (or both) of the main characters would qualify as a messianic figure. . .

His stand-alone Time Storm also has a messianic figure. . .
Victor Finch
30. WandaWolfe
Wasn't it Janet Kagan who wrote the story about the Christmas nutcracker changing an entire alien culture?
Eli Bishop
31. EliBishop
I don't get why CS Lewis's Space Trilogy should be in category 3 rather than category 2. They don't read as analogy or allegory to me; they're an SF/fantasy adventure story premised on religious dogma being true, that dogma being a mashup of Lewis's own beliefs and medieval cosmology.

I know Jo doesn't read PK Dick, but his The Divine Invasion is a really odd case. It's often lumped together with VALIS, but VALIS in comparison is almost mundane. In TDI there's an opening section with a mysterious presence on a distant planet who may be the basis for Yahweh, leading you to believe that this is like the Star Trek episode about Greek gods - they really were aliens, etc. Then it turns out that this really is the creator of the universe, but he's been exiled from Earth (sort of a Gnostic variation on the Lewis books), but he's being smuggled back in the form of a new baby Jesus. Then, briefly, the novel shifts to the latter's POV and Dick makes a valiant but goofy attempt to depict the mental experience of being God incarnate. Then there's some political skulduggery involving a corrupt theocracy that came out of a merger between the Catholic Church and Islam; that part is sort of a category 4 story. Then everyone gets thrown into a fairly pleasant alternate world dreamed up by Satan, and then there's sort of an allegorical resolution with a humanistic tone. It's like Dick was trying to cram everything Jo is talking about into one book, and I can't say it really works as a novel at all, but I have a lot of affection for it.
Victor Finch
32. Roardawg
I would like to nominate, Tom Robbin's, "Another Roadside Attraction." I thought of it as a light hearted and humorous novel that periodically touches on Religious topics. Of course, this novel really isn't science fiction. I suppose it is more of an "Urban fiction" novel. It will probably remind you of Stranger in a Strange Land.
p l
33. p-l
Someone already mentioned another book by Paul Park, but his Starbridge Chronicles (beginning with Soldiers of Paradise) is an excellent and excellently-written example of your category #4, Jo.

They're out of print, but they can be gotten used pretty cheaply.
Victor Finch
34. Tim Bartik
I think there is a lot of science fiction that is "religious" in the broad sense of exploring the implications of some philosophical position about the nature of human life or the place of human beings in the universe. Several comments have mentioned Ted Chiang. Several of his stories, including "Story of Your Life" and "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" explore the implications of determinism. "Exhalation" could be seen as exploring the implications of the finiteness of our universe in both time and space. "Division by Zero" looks at the implications of an assumed discovery that mathematics is not in fact a consistent system. I think of these stories as being, if anything "more religious" in sensibility than his stories, such as "Hell is the Absence of God", that are more explicitly religious.

I also think of some of Damon Knight's stories as exploring these philosophical issues. "Rule Golden" explores what would happen if the Golden Rule actually did constrain human behavior. "The Dying Man" explores the significance of death in a world of immortals. I would classify these as religious concerns.

I am surprised that no one has mentioned Olaf Stapledon's novel "Star Maker". This does not show the implications of any established religion, but presents instead Stapledon's view of how some Deist version of God might view human beings and our role in the universe.
Victor Finch
35. ScottC
I think a better title for this piece would be "Religion in Science Fiction", and not "Religious Science Fiction". The latter has an entirely different connotation, and one I don't think applies to many of the examples listed. Dune, for instance, deals extensively with religion, but given the book's cynical views on that subject, I would be hard pressed to describe it as "religious".
Cathy Mullican
36. nolly
I'm currently reading a 1982 original anthology called _Perpetual Light_, which is religious SF in the sense you mean. The stories I've read so far are in category 2, 4 or other, I'd say, but I"m only a quarter to a third of the way through it.

There are also the Christian Fandom reading lists:
Probably due for an update, and not everything there will be quite what you're looking at, but it's a place to start.
Bill Siegel
37. ubxs113
One of the best comment threads on this site, ever!

So many titles and authors that I wanted to say that people already got to and so many more I've never heard of.

Anyway, Pavane by Keith Roberts is a decent alt-history about England in the 1960's if the Protestant reformation had never occured. Lots of interesting Catholic, Protestant, and Pagan imagery and ideas.
Teresa Jusino
38. TeresaJusino
This is a really interesting article! I have to say I disagree with you on The Sparrow. One of the reasons why I loved that book was that I thought the characters were so normal, particularly the priest, who was a priest in a very human, believeable way. I guess whether we think characters act like real people depends on the people we know?

In any case, I wrote an article on Tor a while back on Religion and Sci-Fi, and I asked people for recommendations. Got PLENTY that I'm still trying to get through! (it's the reason why I picked up The Sparrow!) So if you're looking for more, you might want to check out the comments over there and see if there's anything you'd like and haven't read yet! :)
Victor Finch
39. Maia Cheli-Colando
A few to add to the list... Carl Sagan's Contact is arguably quite religious in nature - of the mathematically organized, if not socially organized, kind.

Most of Sheri Tepper's work deals with religious themes (feminism and the examination of religion are often entwined), as does Le Guin's, e.g. The Teller.

And Sharon Shinn's romantic series Archangel is soft/philosophical SF.
Victor Finch
40. Maia Cheli-Colando
Though I guess Contact would fit under #1? While Shinn's is a very soft approach, I think it's a #4. I'm not sure into what categories works by Ursula K and Sherri Tepper would fit.

I think that the distinctions listed above get fuzzier as the characters and cultures are more fleshed out -- as they come to feel more in real-space and less in theory-space. Just a hunch.
David Levinson
41. DemetriosX
Another one - marketed as mainstream, but has certain SFnal qualities - would be God Game by Andrew Greeley. I'd guess it's a combination of categories 1 and 2. Horribly dated by now since it deals with computer games and was written in the mid-80s, but it essentially applies Catholic theology to a Sims-type game. The protagonist is, like the author, a priest.
Victor Finch
42. ScottC
I also don't think the simple inclusion of "Christ-type" or messianic figure qualifies a story as "religious" in and of itself. That's just another exercise in the old Campbellian Monomyth narrative, which many religious mythologies themselves adhere to, more or less.
Andrew Gray
43. madogvelkor
What about Swanwick's "Stations of the Tide"? It seems religious, but it is hard to pin down.
Victor Finch
44. kvon
I immediately thought of Molly Gloss' The Dazzle of Day, which Jo has written about before. If I'm understanding the sorting, this would be under #1? Although I believe the author is not Quaker herself.

There's also multiple stories where heaven/afterlife=computer upload--I'm thinking now of Heaven by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. Which seems to be in category #4 (creating new religions).
p l
45. p-l
A recent example of your category #2 would be Iain Banks's latest, Surface Detail. It's an installment of his Culture series concerning a war between, on one side, those cultures that implement virtual "hells" and "heavens" into which people are uploaded after death, and on the other side those that don't.
Victor Finch
46. kristikin
The Android's Dream by John Scalzi is a light read that features a wonderful fictional religion. The followers of the Church of the Evolved Lamb will freely admit that their founder was a total fraud and that whole religion started as nothing more than a grand scheme for extorting money. Yet in spite of this highly cynical claim, they are nonetheless fanatically dedicated to making the prophecies of their founder come true.
Victor Finch
47. Tehanu
I'm another fan of The Sparrow and of its sequel, Children of God, and I think Jo ought to give it another chance. The aliens are developed in (to me, anyway) really unexpected ways, which after a lifetime of reading First Contact stories doesn't happen to me very often. (Off topic, Russell's book about WWII in Italy, A Thread of Grace, isn't SF or fantasy but it is heartrending.)
Victor Finch
48. Paul Bamford
I'm a little nonplussed that so far no-one's mentioned Blish's Black Easter as an example of religious science fiction. In his introduction to that novel, Blish explicitly states that he considered the novel as science fiction, not fantasy, because it was an attempt to imagine how black magic might actually work. In a similar vein, there's Niven and Pournelle's Inferno and it's truly woeful sequel.

I'm glad to hear that science fiction author Iain M Banks (aka Iain Banks, author of more mainstream lit fiction) has another Culture novel out. It will be interesting to see where he's taken the Culture this time. Banks' Culture is widely misunderstood, as this thread confirms. There's a lot of satire and irony in the Culture novels that is all too often missed.

Finally Michael Swanwick's retelling of the Faust legend, Jack Faust, is very definitely science fiction (of the alternative history variety) and a ripping good yarn too.
Victor Finch
49. Paul Bamford
D'Oh! I forgot HP Lovecraft. As his stories "The Colour out of Space" and "The Whisperer in Darkness" demonstrate, the Cthlhu Mythos is underpinned by science fictional devices.
Victor Finch
50. RandolphF
David Zindell's Neverness, which fuses East and South Asian religion and mysticism with Western science philosophy. Zindell strikes some false notes (given the material, it could hardly be otherwise.) Nonetheless, when it succeeds, it is stunning. Neverness was Zindell's first novel and, I still think, alas, his best. Nonetheless his less-than-best is also worth a look.

P.C. Hodgell's Godstalk and its sequels are also worth a look. A hard-to-describe and very individual cosmology and theology and a kickass goth heroine--how could this go wrong? Well, lots of ways, but in fact it goes pretty well.
Victor Finch
51. RandolphF
Correction, the Hodgell books are not sf; they are fantasy. (It's late, I'm tired, sorry.) But look at Zindell!
Victor Finch
52. manglar
I can think of two Robert Silverberg novels with religious themes, "Tower of Glass" and the later "The Face of the Waters".
steve davidson
53. crotchetyoldfan
@#25 Ludon: it's not spoken as a question - it's spoken as a statement that begs an argumentative response. An appropriate follow-on comment to the title might be something like "So, what makes him so special?" or "Nudnik - he's not a Rabbi!" or "May he live like an onion: with his head in the ground and his feet in the air." This is an eastern-European/Yiddish/Jewish sentence structure, inflection. Sometimes (still) referred to as "Borscht-Belt" (from the comedians who performed at the Jewish resorts in the Catskills during and following the Vaudeville era). It is still frequently heard in Jewish households, particularly if the family has roots in Brooklyn.
How about Lester Del Rey's The 11th Commandment. This fits right in with Jo's Theological category; I'd also expand the Cordwainer Smith suggestion to include The Planet Buyer/Norstrillia - and ultimately just about everything Smith wrote.
AB Chandler covered the theme as well, particularly in some shorts such as The Tin Messiah, The Rim Gods, Grimes and the Odd Gods, The Dutchman, as well as devoting major portions of the novels Star Courier and The Wild Ones to the subject. The "consequences" of religious beliefs were a frequent theme for him.
Victor Finch
54. Sporadic Reviews
Kathy Tyers (she wrote a couple of Star Wars novels) wrote an SF Trilogy (Firebird) that was about a coming messiah.

I remember a while backing reading a humorous novel where they found God's (gianormous) dead body floating in the ocean and had to tow it away (Towing Jehovah, I think it was called. That wasn't really a great book...)

I'm a fan of "Christian SF" if it's done well. Iron Dragons by Derek Gilbert is a particularly good one.
Joe Romano
55. Drunes
Sporadic Reviews: Although you didn't like Jim Morrow's Towing Jehovah, you should try his earlier book, Only Begotten Daughter, about a contemporary Messiah. It's good stuff. It is fantasy, though, not SF.
Brook Freeman
56. longstrider
Silverberg's Roma Eterna deals with religious individuals, in particular Jewish individuals, in an alternate history. At least one of the stories, IIRC, is about a new Jewish Exodus, including an attempted exodus to the stars.
jon meltzer
57. jmeltzer
@25, @53: In "On Venus, Have We Got A Rabbi!" William Tenn is doing Sholom Aleichem (Milchik the TV man == Tevye the Milkman).
David Levinson
58. DemetriosX
Kim Stanley Robinson's Years of Rice and Salt probably fits here somewhere. It presumes the Buddhist concepts of reincarnation are true and deals with the interaction between Buddhism and Islam. It's alternate history, but there is a strongly science-fictional approach.
Victor Finch
59. Paul Connelly
Fritz Leiber's Gather Darkness falls into the category of books about religion being used to uphold a political power structure (which also appears in Heinlein), plus an insurgent religion being used to spark political rebellion against that power structure. Similar to Lord of Light in that regard.

If you look beyond religion as something institutionalized or systematized, instances of germinal religions show up in many odd places. The hammer Ish picks up on the first page of Earth Abides becomes the sacred artifact of future religion by the last page, although there is no coherent explanation of what its significance is.

Alien gods also make appearances in many works. Zelazny has almost more than you can count, from Isle of the Dead on. Farmer's Night of Light is another example. This is all acceptable in religious terms if you recall that most early, not highly institutionalized religions did not mean "supreme Creator and Grand Master of the whole universe" when they talked about a god or goddess.
Clifton Royston
60. CliftonR
It's been a long time since I read it, but Orson Scott Card's Wyrms - which turns out to be more SF than fantasy - is based on a severely torqued version of Mormon theology, although that might seem far-fetched to someone not familiar with the more far-fetched bits of Mormon theology. Mormonism presents as the ultimate heavenly reward for those of sufficient faith and devotion that they will become as (demi)gods, with a world's population as their servants and worshippers.

I can't claim credit for this observation; my ex, who is much more familiar with Mormon and Christian theology, spotted it. Once she'd made the observation though, it was quite unmistakable.
Victor Finch
61. Evan H.
My first thought, like a few other people's, was Calculating God, but neither of those people remembered to mention that it's one of the stupidest novels ever written, so I thought I should speak up.

Brief summary: Aliens come to Earth, land at a museum, and ask to see a paleontologist (the protagonist). It turns out that the aliens all believe in Intelligent Design, and want to talk to him about evolution and fossils and extinction events because they're trying to figure out the nature of God. The protagonist is an atheist (who happens to be dying of cancer), and what ensues, against the background of nobody on Earth losing their shit about aliens arriving, is a lot of conversations between the protagonist and his new alien friend about creationism.

The aliens explain that the universe must be designed because (insert anthropic fallacy here). The protagonist points out that, hey, maybe there are other universes that are less friendly to life, but life doesn't evolve there, so we're not there to know it. The aliens explain that no, they've discovered a grand unified theory of physics that proves other universes are impossible. The protagonist, who I will remind you is a scientist, does not say, "Really? May I see this theory? Our physicists would be rather interested in it." He doesn't ask any questions at all. This is the point where I completely gave up on Robert Sawyer; I'm sorry, but if you're writing a story about human beings, they have to act at least vaguely like human beings would.

My second thought was Carl Sagan's Contact, which IMHO has a much better story as well as much more thoughtful theology.
Victor Finch
62. RandolphF
Edgar Pangborn's post-apocalyptic novels have an anti-technology religion as a major element. One, The Company of Glory, contains a version of what may have been the second coming.
Victor Finch
63. mehndeke
Funny no one has mentioned it regarding O.S. Card, but The Homecoming Saga is very religiously themed. If you've read The Book of Mormon then the parallels are uncanny. Definately puts him into the first category, and maybe the third.
Andrew Barton
64. MadLogician
One of Bradbury's 'Martian Chronicles' stories has a pair of missionaries trying to take the Gospel to the Martians. The Martians explain gently to them that they already believe, and are an unfallen race. This might come under the second category?
Victor Finch
65. Eugene R.
Another classic piece of theological sf is Anthony Boucher's "The Quest for St. Aquin", which deals with the relationship of reason to faith.

And, although it skirts the borders of science fantasy, I would be more interested in James Blish's Black Easter/The Day After Judgement as theological fiction, as against his A Case of Conscience, in which the theological resolution to the ending seems to undermine the preceding scientific rationale.
Victor Finch
66. Derryl Murphy
The short story "Tauf Aleph" by Phyllis Gotlieb can be found in the Norton Book of Science Fiction. It's about an aging colonist on a distant planet, the last human there, who regularly asks GalFed to send him a gravedigger. But they can't find him another Jew, so eventually they teach a robot Jewish rituals to do the job. A marvelous story.
Victor Finch
67. Jan the Alan Fan
I would like to nominate Julian May's Saga of the Exiles / Galactic Milieu books. Am not exactly sure what category it would be in, but the main characters are Catholics in an increasingly telepathic-becoming population. The books are also influenced by the works of Teilhard de Chardin, who talked about humanity evolving into a World Mind.

Another reason I like the books is that some of them are narrated by a character who runs a sci-fi bookshop (and owns a cat, naturally) and would rather have a low-key life, but Stuff (TM) keeps happening to him.
Victor Finch
68. Shagrat and Meshack
I'm astounded! Does nobody on this here thread read either JG Ballard or Harlan Ellison?

JG Ballard's got a number of short stories in the "eschatological" line - "eschatological" in the sense of "teleological" - what comes next, what is the focus of humanity, what is the purpose of being; ditto for Harlan Ellison.

And then there are the playful little stories - JG Ballard about the time the Son of god comes back and persuades everybody to accept his new form of immortality, but gets killed by the protagonist. Protagonist is imprisoned, and so never undergoes the Son of god's treatment - sonsequently when it is discovered that the treatment makes males sterile, he is given the job of procreating the human race anew - a rather baleful glare at the First Parents as well as the Son of God ... and Harlan Ellison wrote a funny little story about a group of ten Jews on a planet when one of them dies - and there is consequently an insufficient number to form a minimum-sized mourning group - so the protagonist goes around trying to talk to some alien who'd be willing to convert to Judaism so there is enough to mourn the dead man. There's a hilarious discussion with a sentient, blue, fly-eating rock with feet about conversion and all that that entails ...

But I'm astounded! Does no one read the classics any more?
David Levinson
69. DemetriosX
Another example of type 2 is The Branch by Mike Resnick. The Messiah as originally conceived in Jewish mythology turns up in 2047 and turns out to be a two-bit grifter. But he really is the Messiah (and a very naughty boy). It's definitely SF except for the whole prophecy thing.
Joe Johaneman
70. dogboi
Another Herbert book - The Jesus Incident (and to a lesser extent, The Lazarus Effect). The whole purpose of the colony in The Jesus Incident was the learn the proper way to WorShip.
Joe Johaneman
71. dogboi
Another Herbert book - The Jesus Incident (and to a lesser extent, The Lazarus Effect). The whole purpose of the colony in The Jesus Incident was the learn the proper way to WorShip.
Victor Finch
72. seth e.
I also didn't care for The Sparrow--in fact I disliked it so much I immediately read the sequel to see if I disliked it too (I did). I suppose that's a triumph for the author, in a way.

My favorite story about The Sparrow is the one where Mary Doria Russell and Connie Willis are on some panel at some con together. Russell describes enthusiastically how her characters are constantly surprising her, how they're telling her the story, etc. Willis waits until Russell winds down, and then says, "If my characters don't do what I tell them, I f!cking kill them."

It gets right to the weakness of The Sparrow: the whole thing's a set-up, and Russell doesn't seem aware of it. I remember one scene in which a character gushes about how remakable it is that such a remarkable group of people; it's a sign of Providence of work, he says. I thought, of course you all ended up together, you're written that way. Russell constantly uses her own authorial hand as a stand-in for The Way The World Is, without any sign that she knows she's doing it. It isn't just people who act unrealistically; entire races do, especially in the sequel.

On the more positive side, I've always liked Soldier of the Mist best of all Gene Wolfe's novels, and it has one paragraph, about the narrator's childhood memories of a household god, that's one of my favorite paragraphs about religion.
Victor Finch
73. hapax
I'm not sure what it says about me that when I saw "religious sf", my immediate thought was "George R. R. Martin's SANDKINGS."

My second, though, was Greg Bear's short story 'Petra', which might be a nice example of #2.
Victor Finch
74. Derryl Murphy
Mention of Resnick's The Branch reminded me that at about the same time I read that I read The Man in the Tree by Damon Knight, which would definitely fit.
Jo Walton
75. bluejo
Great comments, everybody. I kept kicking myself and saying "I can't believe I didn't think of that" all through, though the worst is James Morrow -- not only Towing Jehovah but the wonderful Bible Stories for Adults. I think he's actually another category, in which I would also put Egan and Chiang -- "negative results of the existence of God as postulated".
Victor Finch
76. OtterB
I'm remembering that Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff had some works where Bahai faith was an integral part of the world, but I'm not having any luck identifying them in a quick search and they may have been fantasy rather than science fiction.

Not sure this is the place for this discussion, but add me to the list of those who like stories with religious characters where that's not the whole point of the story.

When I think about it, it starts to feel like the discussions I read recently (can't remember where, sorry - probably Making Light) about the need for there to be a plot or story "reason" for a character to be gay; they can't just ... be gay. Similarly, it often seems that religion isn't included as part of a fully fleshed-out background to an SF world or character; if it's mentioned, it has to be the gun on the wall in Act 1. Contrast this with the portrayal of religion in, for example, the Mary Renault books.
Paul Bickart
77. Theophylact
Philip José Farmer's The Night of Light (and related "Father John Carmody" stories); Lester del Rey's For I Am A Jealous People; and just about anything by Gene Wolfe!
Victor Finch
78. Cool Bev
I know that this is a dead thread, but I just wanted to mention an old peeve: In a college SF seminar in 1977, I wrote a term paper on religious SF, using Dune and Stranger in a Strange Land as examples. The professor gave me a low grade and only one comment: "Science fiction can't be about religion".

Mouldy Squid
79. Mouldy_Squid
I am surprised that no one has mentioned Ken MacLeod's The Night Sessions which deals with the aftermath of fundimentalist religions getting access to nuclear weapons.

Of course, this particular book is very hard to find in North America for some reason…
Jessica Eastwood
81. Miffica
@67 Don't forget the cat is telepathic too!
Victor Finch
82. 12stargazers
I don't know if you consider ancestor worship part of religion, but Lee & Miller's Liaden series seems to combine categories 1 and 4. It's very apparent in the early books. The religious extrapolation shows in the very formalized and regulated way one goes about getting descendents so that one becomes an ancestor.

As the series develops, a second "religion" is brought to light - that of keeping a contract across multiple generations. It's not so much that commerce is God, but one's word and honor in a variety of legal and social contracts is raised to vital importance.
In the absense of religion, other gods develop.

In the same series, Lee and Miller also show other planets with other types of religion extrapolated from current religions. One comes across as a futuristic Wicca with functional magic, another planet has a matriarchial version of Islam, another has regular Islam. The Liad series universe is very polytheistic and some of the plot tension in various books comes from athiest traders dealing with "local custom."

Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosiverse work has a lot of Category 1 religion in it. It's most apparent in Cordelia.
Victor Finch
83. Lil Shepherd
Most of the ones I've thought of have already been mentioned, but there is 'The Jonah Kit' by Ian Watson which tries to explore the consequences of a universe where it has been scientifically proven that a creator god exists, but our universe is a sort of by-blow which he hardly noticed before abandoning. I don't actually think it works, but there it is.
David Dyer-Bennet
84. dd-b
Science fiction is about "asking the next question". Religion is about NOT questioning (faith). So there's kind of an inherent tension there.

Good works that manage to either resolve or work with that tension can be quite interesting.
Victor Finch
85. caplanjr
I loved Neil Stephenson's Anathem for the religious twist he devised whereby most of mankind has become so secular and escapist, the only refuge for the deep thinkers and scientists is monastic.
Victor Finch
86. chibbol
So glad to know I'm not the only one who found The Sparrow unbearably tedious!

Fool's War by Sara Zettel has a several important characters who are devout Muslims. While the general starfaring society is not, the main character (starship owner) is only considered unusual for it, not freakish. She has to deal with an occurrence of AI in a universe where most people are terrified of it. Her actions are certainly influenced by her religious convictions, but she's well written as an individual, not a stock character mouthing religious platitudes. I think it would qualify as #4, although it's not really about religion so much as it contains religious beliefs being challenged by the existence of AI.
Victor Finch
87. ofostlic
There's Melissa Scott's The Shapes of Their Hearts, which is type (4). Like a lot of her work, a lot of the story is about who counts as properly human. The main setting is a theocratic planet where (for understandable reasons, as it turns out) the religion holds that clones and people who have travelled faster-than-light don't have souls.

The religious background isn't as good as Dune, but the story is good.
Ambar Diaz
88. ambar
I would file Scalzi's The God Engines under category #2.
Victor Finch
89. Michael F. Flynn
Actually, Thomas Aquinas asked several hundred questions, and he was neither the first nor the last to do so. Some of these Questions are explored by Walter J. Freeman, Dept of Molecular & Cell Biology at UCal Berkeley in an article on non-linear brain dynamics.

One of the Next Questions that science fiction asks might be
I. How some element of speculative science or new engineering technology impacts religious beliefs or
II. How some element of religious belief impacts speculative science or new engineering technology.
For the most part, SF ignores religion, except as stage props. But Question I has been asked fairly often; Question II rather less so.

For examples of Q II:
Religion A believes the physical world exists and is "good," so the culture which it informs may be more likely to develop an interest in the study of nature than that of Religion B which believes the physical world is an illusion or the work of an Evil Demiurge.
If Religion C believes that their God has endowed physical matter with "secondary causation," making them capable of acting directly upon one another by their own powers, the culture is more likely to develop notions of natural laws than a culture whose Religion D holds that apparent regularities in nature are coincidence/correlation or the direct theokinetic intervention of their God.
Religion E, whose quarreling pantheon of gods are constantly overruling one another, may see nature as essentially chaotic; and those few who do not must either discard the pantheon or suppose a greater God who sets the pantheon in order. But society might see them as dangerous corruptors of the youth.

H.Beam Piper wrote a story called "Gunpowder God," set in a parallel world in which one cult held the secret of gunpowder and controlled its use. This meant wars were less destructive; but it also meant that the Styphon cult could pick and choose winners by giving or withholding gunpowder. This resulted in the widespread corruption of the cult and its priesthood.
James Elkins
90. Byrd68
I've always felt that Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind were very theological. Fourth Category maybe?.

I think that the concept of The Tester held by the Graysons in David Weber's Honor Harington series, and the idea of Satan in the Prince Roger series (with John Ringo) should be mentioned (not sure what category they fit in though...4)?.

Most recently I'd have to point to Dani and Eytan Kolin's Unicorporated Man and Unicorporated War (both published by TOR), again very much in the fourth veiin I think.
Victor Finch
91. the owl and eye
I don't have much to add, Clarke and Asimov tend to operate within the "religion will die out in the future" belief, but one stands out, Childhood's End by Clarke, may not look like a 'religious' book, but it does (in a small way, but nevertheless vital to the storyline) extrapolate from a single religious belief (the 'devil'.)

Furthermore, Ursula K. Le Guin (while more soft sci-fi) certainly extrapolates from pagan religion, Always Coming Home is an amazing discussion of a possible future world. The stories are told from the prospective of religious believers, in a way she is saying that the pagan dogma is true, but because most pagan religions are not 'showy' it is difficult to tell...

Good luck!
Victor Finch
92. allisondek
I'm surprised no one has mentioned Poul Anderson's work. His short story Kyrie has an explicit theological context; The Problem of Pain shows us how another species might make God in their own image, and the kind of misunderstandings this might cause. Then in the Troubletwisters (I forget the name of the short story) a character negotiates with rigid fundamentalist aliens using the Kabbalah as inspiration. A lot of Anderson's characters were adherents of one or another faith, whether a human faith or an alien one, and their behaviors were influenced by their faith. Think of The High Crusade, for example.
Victor Finch
93. alanajoli
I echo @slmyrs with the recommendation of OFF ARMAGEDDON REEF and the rest of the Safehold series (or, as much as I've read yet, anyway). I also think it leans closest to category 4, and it's definitely the best fictional look at religion I've read in recent years.
Victor Finch
94. Timewalkerauthor
Didn't read every post to see if this has already been mentioned, but I'd say Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy--Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars--would fit your #4 pattern. Later in the series, the martian colonists grow their own religion, so to speak, which follows some very terrestrial patterns.
Victor Finch
95. Supernatural
I have two threads to offer. My own, a Christian SF&F trilogy of which the first book is available,The Faith of Angels, a short story derived from it and several other Religious SF’s I can heartily recommend.

Personally, I’ve always thought science-fiction should be laminated to fantasy. Dragons belong in space right next to angels, standing the world of man on its ear. Skewing reality is what these genres do with aplomb. And they do it better together. In A tale of two Tragedies, I enjoyed addressing the question, how did Lucifer convince one-third of the angels to rebel with him in heaven? The answer surprised me. I also enjoyed finding a new alternate mythology for dragons.

Marrying SF&F is best done by keeping the Science Fiction hard which galvanizes the Fantasy. Experiencing A tale of Two Tragedies will show you point-blank whether you’d like The Faith of Angels, but be prepared to be blind-sided.

My recommendations are as follows:
If you’ve never read ICE by Shane Johnson, whatever are you waiting for?
You haven’t read ARENA, either? What planet are you from, anyway? (Karen Hancock.)
Tell me you’ve never heard of ATLANTYX by Chase Dalton. I won’t say shame on you, but something needs to be done here.
Nobody mentioned OXYGEN, by Randall Ingermanson and John B. Olson. What’s up with that? Please, come out from under the rock . . . (Skip their follow up though, THE FIFTH MAN---I’d re-title it The Fifth Cliché)
And for number five, THE LAST DAY, by Glenn Kleier. Another_real_book.
Andrew McCarthy
96. Oudein
Quick note to mention Charlie Stross' brilliant Accelerando, which has elements of #4. It is not religiously themed as far as SF novels go, but it does use the political and legal differences between existing and revived religions / religious cultures as a device in the larger plot. It's a must-read in any case.

Also, not to sound like a suck-up or anything, but I just finished Among Others, and it's brill. Best thing I have read in while. Thanks, Jo Walton.
David Evans
97. dke
My God (pun intended) - I can't believe no-one has suggested Piers Anthony's epic novel "Tarot" (originally split up into the "Tarot trilogy" but originally intended as a single volume).
Victor Finch
98. JonBaker
Kurtz' Deryni is interesting, as it seems to be a Catholic Church without a centralized hierarchy, and without the triune god (a text search through a recent novel reveals no "Christ" other than a swear word, Christmas, and christening - i.e. nothing to indicate that it's a separate figure from God, rather than simply another name for God). A lot of fannish (lapsed?) Catholics seem drawn to it at, e.g., Darkover Grand Council, and have a fannish religion based on it (the Order of St Michael).

Has anyone mentioned the original Foundation stories? They may not have been particularly religious, inasmuch as Asimov himself was pretty anti-religious, but they do have some Jewish ideas underlying them. For one (and a friend spoke with Dr A about this years ago), he seems to have incorporated the story of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai sneaking out of Jerusalem under siege in 70 CE to ask Vespasion (then general, future Caesar) to allow him to set up an academy at Yavneh, to save Jewish culture.

The whole idea of a text-based academy preserving culture during the long interregnum/exile parallels Jewish rabbinic culture, where the Talmud and its study by an elite class, sometimes publicly, sometimes privately, maintains our cultural cohesiveness. Also that there are parallel exoteric (Talmud/First Foundation) and esoteric (Kabbalah/Second Foundation) schools maintaining the culture, resonates.
Victor Finch
100. ofostlic
dke, oudein:

I think Jo was asking specifically about religious science fiction, not fantasy, and wherever you draw the line I think the Deryni and the Piers Anthony series are on the other side of it.

There's far more religious-themed fantasy out there.
James Enge
101. JamesEnge
Religion was an important part of Vonnegut's early novels. Cat's Cradle is organized around the religion of Bokononism, and the Church of the God of the Utterly Indifferent was a big feature of The Sirens of Titan.

In the 50s and 60s, religion was a source of imagery and methods for thinking about serious topics, even for non-religious people, and maybe that's less the case now.
Victor Finch
102. Stephen Marsh
Piers Anthony's epic novel "Tarot" was intended to be SF, though Incarnations was intended as Fantasy.

Otherwise, gee, so many memories brought back by this discussion.
Victor Finch
103. Ampersand Duck
I've only just started reading Connie Willis, and have not discovered an overwhelming religious sense -- but I've only read Doomsday Book, where religion is a necessary part of things, and Blackout, where it hasn't been an issue at all. It's interesting to see her in a list like this (great post!).
John Adams
104. JohnArkansawyer
As is so often the case when I'm taking my swing at questions, the answer is John Barnes. His early novel, Sin of Origin, is deeply about (among other things) Catholicism on another world. Not much later comes A Million Open Doors, where a society has itself tied in knots by its particular version of Christianity. Its sequel, and one of his masterpieces, Earth Made of Glass, is about conflict between two highly religious cultures and the new religion which is spawned by that conflict.
Victor Finch
105. afterthefallofnight
I think there are couple of other categories of religious SF - or at other ways in which religion is used in SF:

a. "religion as a scam": Sometimes religion, especially organized religion, is protrayed rather cynically. Religion can be used organize and manipulate "primitive" peoples (Niven's "Destroyer of Worlds" is a recent example). There are also variations on cargo cult stories. And there are stories in which religion is an "opiate for the masses". In this case, the deluded masses are not primitives, they are us.

b. "different moral imperative": Some religions, especially modern religions, deal with Right and Wrong. They provide moral imperatives. Sometimes stories descirbe people (usually aliens) with different moral imperatives. Sometimes the moral code has a familiar religious feeling. For example some of the aliens in Scalzi's Old Man's War novels, specifically the Consu, seem driven by mysterious moral pressures. In this case, it seems to be just another way of saying aliens are weird and they do weird things for weird semi-religious reasons.

In the Brin Uplift novels, there is pervasive sense that eco-systems should be preserved and that intelligence or at least new intelligent species are rare and should be preserved. Though there is no "higher authority" making the rules there is a feeling that there is a shared (though limited) sense of Right and Wrong on these subjects among many races in these stories.

c. "moving on": Sometimes there is a higher plane of existence. This takes the place of "Heaven". Sometimes the higher plane is pretty darn mysterious. "Excession" by Banks is an example of this kind of story. Sometimes higher life forms more Buddha-like than mysterious (Stargate and Daniel Jackson are the example that first come to mind).

Just my two cents.
Andrew McCarthy
106. Oudein
ofostlic, very good point. Lost focus of the question in the rush of association!
walter tingle
107. wjtingle
I'd suggest Modesitt's "The Parafaith War". Religion is the pivot point around which the plot rotates, while the main character is an atheist.

Catherine Wells's "Beyond the Gates" is also a possible. Islam, space colonization and romance are an odd combination.

Brown's "Kethani" is borderline. Does life after death count if a more advanced species understands how it's done, but humans don't?

Similarly for Henderson's 'People' stories. Is that religion? Or knowledge?

Oddly enough, I'd also nominate David Weber's "Flag in Exile." Go figure.

Jack Tingle
Victor Finch
108. Grace Bridges
One of my own books deals with the idea of divine influence carrying over into a virtual reality.
While most of the spiritual science fiction I come across is squarely in your first category, here's one for your #4: A Star Curiously Singing by Kerry Nietz, and the sequel The Superlative Stream. In them, he describes a world dominated by Islam - from the point of view of a servant with a brain implant that suppresses rebellion. And how he escapes it. Excellent books.

Stephen Lawhead's Empyrion has a very interesting development where the corporation that sent a colony ship becomes the deity in the eyes of the colony's populace thousands of years down the track, how it is used to control society, and ultimately fails in the face of freedom.
Victor Finch
109. Joe Chiappetta
I like how you boiled the religious sci-fi genre down so clearly. A classic #4 in your category breakdown would be my all time favorite: The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Not surprisingly, my own sci-fi novel Star Chosen also would fall in the #4 category.

In both stories, religion influences the action in a space opera romp.
Josh Kidd
110. joshkidd
Has no one mentioned Eifelheim by Michael Flynn. I'm not sure what category this falls into, but if the idea of technologically advanced aliens having theological conversations with a medieval priest sounds interesting, give it a shot.
LaShawn Wanak
111. LMWanak
All the long fiction has been mentioned . How about some short fiction? Just finished listening to Jacques Barcia's "Salvaging Gods" up at Clarkesworld that deals with the nature of man-made gods. Also on Clarkesworld is my favorite SF creationist story: "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Space/Time" by Catherynne M Valente, my most favorite story of all 2010. And Podcastle ran a story called "Corinthians" by Sam Schreiber that features the best use of 1 Corinthians 13 in a fiction work EVER!

Though back to the long fiction, what about the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisen? Deals with gods interacting directly with human beings and interesting religion mythos.
Jo Walton
112. bluejo
Is The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms SF? I thought it was fantasy. If we're going to think about religion in fantasy it would be quicker to make a list of fantasy without.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
114. tnh
This is an old thread, but it's likely to come up on searches for SF and religion, so I'll add a couple of quick points.

1. I don't know of any writing by Orson Scott Card that isn't Mormon through and through. I'll claim special authority on this one: I share his social, religious, and regional/historical background.

With all due respect to Demetrios and Byrd, the later Ender books are less Mormon than many of his other works. For concentrated Mormon content, try The Folk of the Fringe, which draws heavily on the matter of Zion, Deseret, and the Intermountain West; and the Hatrack River/Alvin Maker series, which can be read as a historical fantasia about the founding and early years of Mormonism. (Don't be alarmed. It can also be read just fine as the story that it is.)

2. The extent to which a lot of science fiction is shaped and informed by its authors' religious background is so much dark matter to readers who have no sympathetic acquaintance with religious worldviews. It isn't a question of belief; it's knowing where and how its influences are felt. Imagine you'd grown up in a world that's just like this one, except that blues and R&B never really went anywhere, and rock never happened. Some books and movies from our universe would give you no trouble at all, but with others there'd be gaps in your understanding, or areas of diminished resolution, that you might or might not be aware of.
Victor Finch
115. jkdavies
Anyone read Jack L Chalker's The Well World saga? Although I think it straddles the blurry line between SF and F, it features (as @105 - religion as a scam) the entire Olympian religion (built on a sad little girl and a matter changing supercomputer), and also Nathan Brazil as Wandering Jew/God. But enough story and characters and effects for the religion not to take over.
Victor Finch
116. Dr. Thanatos
I haven't completely scanned the posts, but I do remember vividly an Arthur C. Clarke short story about a priest/astronaut, who is sad and disillusioned. They found a planet that circled a star that had gone supernova. Artwork suggests humanoid; people at work and play, much like us. "Under the sun that was so soon to betray them." Then he finishes his calculations and says "there is no doubt; the ancient mystery is solved. But what reason was there to give these people to the fire, so that the sign of their passing could shine in the East above Bethlehem?"

Non-judgemental but thoughtprovoking...
Victor Finch
117. wintermute
I'm surprised that you mention Lewis' "Out of the Silent Planet" and "Perelandra" but not "That Hideous Strength"? It IS a trilogy, after all.

I am also very surprised that I can't find any mention of Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle In Time". Though it's been a while since I last read it (in fact, I read it as a child, not quite understanding a lot of it), so perhaps the religious under/overtones don't come through? Anyone?
Victor Finch
118. Charlie G
I would also include "Black Air" by Kim Stanley Robinson.
Victor Finch
119. Jerome Stueart
Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing just soft launched Wrestling with Gods: Tesseracts 18--an anthology that asked for science fiction and fantasy that grappled with faith. Some fine stories in there, but I'm biased, as I was one of the editors. All Canadian, all but two written for this anthology, and we asked for the wrestling, the extrapolation of faith in a science fiction and fantasy setting. We got it. I think you'd like it. It's available exclusively on Amazon Kindle till March of 2015. We're running a blog too--so I'm going to link to this article--as we're talking about faith in science fiction and fantasy over there too.

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