The boiled down definition of speculative fiction is this is the genre that asks, “What if?” That’s the question that draws me to this genre, as I ask it far often than most would deem necessary; Discover Your Strengths labels this tendency that drives my loved ones up the wall Strategy.
Still, many have wondered how, “What if…” fits with the Christian faith. After all, what’s the point in asking, “What if Jesus was born in the year 3000 AD?” He wasn’t, after all, right? Or, Heaven forbid, “What if Jesus was really fathered by Joseph?”
The latter is the sort of question I hope no Christian author would even think of asking in their work. Speculation that departs from scripture, especially such a fundamental doctrine, would be irresponsible at best. Likewise, as ambassadors of Christ, we have a responsibility before God to represent His character as accurately as possible in all we do, including our fiction. That is why we must always seek a fuller understanding of Who He is, as revealed in scripture, since our understanding will be taught in our fiction whether we intend to do so or not.
Here on Earth, we might get away with misrepresenting Him, but we will have to answer to God. As such, biblical speculative fiction does not ask questions of this sort.
For the other type of question, the point actually isn’t, what if Jesus was born a thousand years from now? Of course he wasn’t. The point would be to copy-cat Eli, in order to present the gospel to a different audience, in a form they can more easily relate to.
On that same token, one could just as easily keep Jesus born when he was, and have an alien prophet like unto John the Baptist born in an alien star system, to point to Christ by modeling for his (or her) people what Christ did for all those created in the image of God. One need not actually believe that, as the bible doesn’t specifically cover the possibility of aliens and it’s difficult to argue from silence that something doesn’t exist. Regardless, such a tact would still portray the ministry of Christ in a sci-fi setting without changing history, although, alternative history can be a valid tact as well, provided you're not a card-carrying Calvinist, for whom any change of history might be an affront to God's sovereignty.
To go back to the whether aliens exist question, that very doubt is why I would wish to write such a story. “What if…” is fine and grand, it provides many wonderful questions, but for many of us, the question often takes a different form: “Has God created other races on other planets in His Image? If so, to what degree are they human? Do they suffer from our fall, or did they fall themselves? Is it possible an unfallen race exists somewhere? Is that the reason for the space rubbish nay-sayers claim make intergalactic travel at the speeds necessary to reach them in one lifetime impossible? What would happen if man found a way around that problem? If they are also fallen, would Christ’s sacrifice on earth atone for their sins, or would God find some other way to save them? If so, what? If the former, how would He choose to reveal the gospel?
Granted, some of these questions do have a what if behind them. After all, the subject is aliens, which may or may not exist. But less so are questions about our own future, especially when we extrapolate out based on God’s character. As fascinating the what ifs on things like aliens are, just as often, this is the realm the questions I ask in my fiction often fall into. For instance, in a short story included in Light at the Edge of Darkness (March 2007, Writer's Cafe Press), “Frozen Generation,” I began by asking myself, “If the humanity of unborn children, and subsequently their rights, are wholly dependant upon the mother’s choice, and we had the technology to bring them to term artificially, why wouldn’t society treat these ‘non-persons’ as property, use them for spare parts, or any other evil man can dream of?”
That is the real power of our genre. In any other genre, the theme would become overbearing and I would find myself merely preaching to the choir. Not necessarily a bad thing; in general, my focus is discipleship, not evangelism. Still, by asking questions rather than simply giving answers, I allow readers the freedom to answer the questions however they choose.
This approach has certain risks, namely how a reader interprets a story, or, what they draw out of it, will depend on how they answer the questions presented. In “Frozen Generation,” for instance, one might answer my question with, “because that would be greedy and unethical” and simply see a story where technology is abused in a world ruled by Mammon. Others might focus on the question of what ethical standard would prohibit this in a secular society and ignore what current issues such practices might have evolved out of.
Still others will read “Frozen Generation” purely for their pleasure and ignore such questions altogether, but the seed nevertheless will have been planted. That is the true power of the what-if genre. Such a person would not have even picked up the story if I had taken the direct approach, but rather feel like I had wielded a bible like a hammer. This also makes the what-if treatment quite biblical. Did not Jesus follow the rabbinical tradition of answering questions with questions? Is this not more likely to get readers of various persuasions thinking on the issues presented and regardless provide a wider window for God to use to draw people to Himself?