by Tosca Lee
The inherent “what if” at the heart of any story (What if a promising lawyer took a job with a law firm—only to learn it was run by the mob?) ventures beyond the everyday plausible with speculative fiction. What if the rapture happened to passengers riding on a commercial airplane? (Left Behind) What if a modern-day woman touched a magic stone and went back in time to 18th Century Scotland? (Outlander) What if a vampire had an existential crisis? (Interview With the Vampire).
There must be something wrong with these authors because it’s clearly not normal to wonder things like that. After all, we live in the real world. A world governed by laws, science, and truth.
But the juicy morsel at the heart of speculative fiction is this: everyone does it.
We all have moments of strange cerebration, fantastical ruminations… odd musings.
What if we could have a face-to-face chat with God? (The Shack) What if humans lost the ability to reproduce? (Children of Men) What if scientists could clone dinosaurs and bring them back into existence? And then, you know, put them in a theme park or something? (Jurassic Park)
We have all wondered, if not these things, others equally conjectural and probably more bizarre.
And so there it is: guilty pleasure and validation. We are not so strange if there are other people wondering these things—others going on record with their ponderings and fleshing them out in such detail, even, that we gladly hang up our disbelief and go along for the ride.
When it comes to the land of misfit ideas, it may seem impossible to group suppositional, hypothetical, theoretical and otherwise really-out-there stories into one category… and yet, here it is: Speculative Fiction.
Speculative Fiction as a super-genre may include: science fiction, horror, fantasy, alternate history, some parable, each of these genre’s subsets (dark horror, apocalyptic, military, superhero, space opera, magic realism, cyberpunk) or any other story that takes place in a setting that deviates from this world and its known history, scientific laws, or takes place in the unknowable future. It may also cross-pollinate with other genres such as humor, romance, mystery or suspense for a strange hybrid of Really Cool Reading.
When in doubt, rely upon editor Jeff Gerke’s definition: “Anything weird.”
Lest Speculative Fiction seem like the fringe science of writing, let me point out that those who have boldly gone before have done so in great company: Dune, Gulliver’s Travels, Lord of the Rings, The Martian Chronicles, Frankenstein, Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Lovely Bones, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Phantom Tollbooth, A Wrinkle in Time, Animal Farm, Eragon, Watership Down, The Once and Future King—and hundreds of other brilliant tales and classics.
Speculative genres have permeated our culture—phrases like “Catch-22,” Martians, or the idea of time travel so inform our culture as to be a part of our daily language. Stories like Animal Farm and The Handmaid’s Tale contributed social commentary sheathed within a fantastic tale.
In addition to serving as a laboratory for ideas, speculative literature has a tradition of becoming the sketchpad of science. Lasers, a regular fixture in our real-world tool belt today, were first described in science fiction as far back as the 1920’s. Parallel universes and weird matter existed in science fiction before scientists started smashing particles together at CERN, and Carl Sagan’s Contact inspired a series of scientific articles on worm holes and their potential for time travel in the 1980s.
Within the faith community, speculative fiction is perhaps the most vilified of genres. After all, it is the most likely to cast supernatural beings, monsters or mythical creatures as characters, to employ science (speculative, fringe, or hard), horror, darkness and the bizarre within its pages. It also asks a lot of questions—which some readers may not feel comfortable contemplating.
For these reasons, the genre is often treated with a healthy dose of suspicion.
“Why write a story about Eve?” one person asked me after the publication of my biblical (and actually rather speculative) novel, Havah. “The Bible tells us everything we need to know about her.”
Indeed, it does. And for the facts, we do well to stick to our Bibles, studies, and commentaries.
But we also do well to wonder what a woman like Eve really thought as she made her fateful choice. Until we do, we may never see the birth of our own humanity and frailty in her, or in Adam. Until we consider a life without grace (the premise of my Demon: A Memoir), we may not fully appreciate the grace made available—and often taken for granted—by us. Until we consider the possibility of a world beyond and more real than our own, we may stay distracted with the minutia of the anesthetizing everyday.
Readers sometimes ask me whether it violates conscience or faith to let the mind wander strange and dark corners of existence. I mostly say no. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t approach what we read—or anything we do—with discernment. That rule applies to any facet of life. But if you are a person of faith, darkness is as much a fact of your existence as light. We can cover our eyes—in which case it would still exist—or we can examine what we believe to be there. The surreal, supernatural and horrific dwell within the pages of our scriptures. Luckily, love and grace and redemption do, too.
It can make sense to examine the everyday truth of our spiritual lives through a fantastic lens because, let’s face it, some spiritual truths are so woven into the backdrop of our culture that we have forgotten how truly fantastic they are. Sometimes it helps to dust away the everyday from a Truth that really is stranger than fiction—put in place by a Creator unassociated with the status quo.
In fact, I go so far as to suggest we should be more comfortable with the idea of the strange than anyone else; one look at the Divine Legacy reveals the unthinkable and downright bizarre: worlds from nothing. People from mud. Pillars of salt. Parting seas, plagues of frogs… water turned to blood.
That’s some weird stuff, but that isn’t all. Try: Gods that die for their creation. Bodies resurrected from the dead.
Outlandish! Unthinkable. Surely outside the realm of the possible.
But wholly—most firmly—within the realm of the Greatest Truth alive today.
It is perhaps for this reason that the great C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia and early father of the Christian speculative fiction tradition, said of his role-model and predecessor, George MacDonald:
“I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master . . . The quality that had enchanted me in his imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real universe, the divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic reality in which we all live.”
Tosca Lee is the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of ISCARIOT; THE LEGEND OF SHEBA; DEMON: A MEMOIR; HAVAH: THE STORY OF EVE; and the Books of Mortals series with New York Times bestseller Ted Dekker (FORBIDDEN, MORTAL and SOVEREIGN). Her highly-anticipated new supernatural thriller, THE PROGENY, releases May 24, 2016.
Tosca received her B.A. in English and International Relations from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts with studies at Oxford University. She is a lifelong world adventure traveler and makes her home in the Midwest. To learn more about Tosca, visit www.toscalee.com.