Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Wrestling with Gods: Tesseracts Eighteen

by Rob - May 12th, 2015.
Filed under: Short Fiction.

I’m very pleased to have my story “Come All Ye Faithful” reprinted in Wrestling with Gods: Tesseracts Eighteen, edited by Liana Kerzner and Jerome Stueart, just out from EDGE Publications

During an online event for the launch of this book, I observed:

Science fiction is the branch of literature that deals with big questions: where did we come from, where are we going, why are we here, how will it all end, is there a next phase of our existence? Religion — well, my goodness, look at that: the same questions! So, it’s natural for science fiction to explore religion.
And in response to the question “Can people without faith properly write about those with faith?,” I replied:
That’s a specific case of the general appropriation-of-voice discussion that raged long and loud among members of The Writers Union of Canada decades ago. Can a man truly write from a woman’s point of view; can you write characters of another ethnicity/culture/nationality/time period? A different age? A different sexual orientation? A different, or no, disability?

The answer, of course, is yes; hell, much of science fiction would grind to a halt if we said you couldn’t write about nonhumans without actually being one. Goodbye, Wintermute. So long, Spock. AdiĆ³s, aliens.

The reason I write about people different from myself is the same reason I read about them: to, in some small measure, become them, so that I can feel what they feel and know what they know; writing is an empathic process, just as reading is.

Of course, as with anything, research is essential: in “Come All Ye Faithful,” I’m writing (as I have before, in other works) about Roman Catholicism; obviously, one has to get the facts straight.

One area I’ve bumped up against with some of my friends who are professional theologians or clergy is that they often view their religion and its tenets with a more sophisticated — and, often, more skeptical — eye than the rank-and-file adherents; the higher-ups will say, “No Catholic is against evolution anymore” — when in fact many of those in the pews emphatically are. So, you can’t just write about Catholicism — or any religion — as if the term meant the same thing to all who supposedly belong to that faith.

One of my favourite moments in the seminal Canadian SF novel Barking Dogs, by Terence M. Green of Toronto, occurs when the first American Pope, Pope Martin, is interviewed on The Phil Donahue Show — and an audience member (the viewpoint character, Toronto cop Mitch Helwig), using an infallible portable lie detector, realizes that the Pope himself is unsure in his faith. Writing about people with faith and those without sometimes amounts to the same thing — writing about people who are asking questions.

Robert J. Sawyer online:

1 Response to Wrestling with Gods: Tesseracts Eighteen

  1. Well said, sir.

    When you’re writing for a character, you’re creating an individual who has their own thoughts, feelings, beliefs, etc, etc. You’re not deigning to speak for everyone in a gender, race, or religion – just for that particular member.

    When Mary Vaughn explains Christianity to Ponter in Hominids, I couldn’t help but think I’d explain it differently, but the thought was incredibly familiar because I’ve had the exact same sensation listening to real people talk about Christianity.

    And one of my favorite books also has at least two scenes where a pope doubts his faith! St. Peter in the Gospel of Luke!

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