Can Faith, Science, History and Politics Co-exist in Fiction?

I've been trying to find a definition of fiction. Someone says it's the art of imagining the unreal then rendering it real enough with words for others to believe in it. I'd try "temporarily believe." I wouldn't want people permanently convinced that my fictional worlds were true. But the intended audience surely has something to do with it. Someone writing a fictional account of a saint's life, with the intent to inspire, will presumably write for an audience that can be inspired by saints. Someone eager to prove that capitalism leads to world domination will write for readers of similar political views. And someone trying to bring history to life presumably looks for readers who believe real history matters.

This led to me wondering, what if your intended readership (say Christian women) includes readers of more than one political persuasion (says she as a European Christian, therefore almost by definition somewhat different from an American one)? Should the author strive to include or exclude those with different views? And if you're going to exclude, should you make it clear from the outset, or wait until the reader is partially invested in the characters? After all, if you wait, you just might convert them with the power of your characters' arguments... maybe...

I guess my instinct is to strive to include. I write Bible stories, faithful to the Bible, science and history. Sometimes this means my interpretation is more European than American (please don't mention the creation debate!), but I try not to alienate readers who would disagree. (Epoch 4: The gray skies clear and the sun, moon and stars appear. Scientifically speaking, they did.)

But here are three books I read recently that each apply a chosen interpretation of events, future or past, and each impose a chosen interpretation on the present. Find some coffee. Enjoy!

First is Miriam by Mesu Andrews, a retelling of Egypt's ten plagues from the point of view of Moses' sister. There's plenty of scope for faith, science and history in this, and I was intrigued to find the author had read the same book as I in her research (Miracles of the Exodus by Colin Humphreys). She doesn't go along with Humphreys' interpretation all the time, but she applies many aspects of it, together with excellent historical research, and a powerful imagination, to create a thoroughly believable world where miraculous plagues occur at the hand of a powerful God. I willingly suspended disbelief, caught up in well-told details, great characters, and an absorbing plot that threads through multiple lives and loves, shining light on the power (today as well) of communication and trust. Pour a cup of richly elegant four-star coffee and enjoy this novel. I did.

Next is another Christian novel, with elements of science through modern technology, but with politics instead of history as the third thread in the tale. Voice In The Wilderness by H L Wegley. I knew this would be a modern-day American Christian romantic suspense. And I was pleased as the story began to find the politics, though important, was nicely wing-less. Combining right-wing power-grabs with left-wing power-to-the-people, it seemed the author might cleverly avoid laying blame for the story's terror at any one particular door. But this is near-future fiction, and in this near future it soon becomes clear that the left-wing is making the power grab, and all things left are evil. So... cool story, neat romance, scary action, nicely drawn near-future, but... the politics just might turn you off. Enjoy with some bold, intense five-star coffee.

The question, for me anyway, is why did my disagreeing with the science not pose a problem in Miriam, while my disagreeing with the politics made me feel like I wasn't wanted as a reader of Wilderness. Is it because characters in the novel espouse political viewpoints, while characters in Miriam merely live through the consequences of science? Is it that the political ideas forced me to want to argue with the author (ah... but not the characters... maybe that's it!)? I suppose it could be argued I care more about politics than science, but really, I don't. I love science, and scientifically ridiculous religiosity drives me to paroxysms of annoyance, which I try to hide--that striving to include thing I guess. But I digress. Time for another book review.

The Motion Clue by Case Lane combines science/technology, future history and future politics to create a terrifying story of sabotage, mystery and peril. Again, I might disagree with the author's depiction of our future, but I'm truly fascinated. Even long expositions of how we get there from here don't stop me reading. To be honest, I'd prefer to have more left to the reader's imagination, rather than all the intricate detail. But the Motion Clue is a truly terrifying, fascinating tale. Enjoy with some bold dark five-star coffee.

And then, please ponder with me. Was that "left to the reader's imagination" the clue after all? Is that the piece which, when missing, risks alienating readers whose imaginations are differently informed? Should an author tell the reader that the author knows best, or should it be left for the reader to figure out?


Jean said…
I think that good fiction is not necessarily polemical or imposing of any views. I think it was Dostoevsky who wrote that fiction should be completely a-moral; the writer records the actions and speech of the characters and doesn't impose judgment.
Jean H. said…
I will just add that persuasion of a particular side of an issue/polemics should probably best be done as nonfiction. In fiction you might show that a character has a certain viewpoint and other characters might be opposed, but a fiction writer should just let the story tell itself. Readers may see it one way or another; but you can't please all readers all the time. Jane Smiley, in her book "13 Ways of Looking at the Novel" does a great job of describing how she wrestled with polemics vs. storytelling in her novel "Good Faith." It was such a timely story concerned with issues of the day, but she didn't let her own viewpoint slant the story.
Sheila Deeth said…
I guess the writer has to care about the characters in order to make the reader care, so to some extent the writer's persuasion won't be invisible. But I'm pretty convinced it shouldn't be intrusive. It's okay for me, as reader or writer, to want to argue with a character, but I shouldn't make readers want to argue with the writer--after all, I want them to keep reading. Your comment, Jean, has me even more eager to read Jane Smiley--if I could just find or make time.

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