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[GUEST POST] Bryan Thomas Schmidt Lists 15 Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy With Religious Themes

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the newly released space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

15 Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy With Religious Themes

Whether you’re a skeptic or a believer, most Earth societies wrestle with conflicts between faith and science. Although many have argued that science and religion cannot coexist reasonably together, science fiction and fantasy literature is rarely so dismissive. Authors in some of the genres’ most influential books wrestle with spiritual themes. Here are several examples:

  1. The Urth books (The Book of the New Sun, Litany of the Long Sun, The Book of the Short Sun) and more, this series by acknowledged Catholic Wolfe is considered one of his best and highly influential in the field.
  2. A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller–considered a classic and one of the best science fiction books of all time by many. A postapocalyptic tale set in a Catholic monastery, it tells the tale of a search to recover and protect knowledge in a world rebuilding itself.
  3. Dune by Frank Herbert–a classic and one of the most respected and popular of all science fiction books, covers a history stretching some 16,000 years, it examines changes in political, social, and religious structures of the world in the story. The Orange Catholic Bible within the story even posits a syncretic blend of current religions.
  4. The Chronicles Of Narnia by C.S. Lewis–another series filled with Christian allegory and highly influential, Lewis’ children’s fantasy books have rich imagery from Lewis’ Christian faith.
  5. The Island Of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells–an anti-Christian book in many senses, Wells’ tale is the author’s take on the whole Genesis/Paradise Lost creation story or myth, depending on your perspective.
  6. Out Of The Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis–Considered by many to be the definitive work of Christian science fiction. Lewis made a deliberate attempt to meld his faith with science fiction in this 1938 respected classic.
  7. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley–Romantic creation myth, Gothic novel considered to be the first science fiction novel.
  8. Foundation Earth by Isaac Asimov–Asimov is a known Athiest yet this entry in his classic and highly influential series features a Group-Mind which may also be a God-Machine.
  9. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams–another series which riffs on perennial themes, including religious ones and contains a plethora of God-machines.
  10. A Case of Conscience by James Blish–the tale of Jesuit priest on an alien planet whose faith is shattered by his discoveries in the planet’s subculture.
  11. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling–Yes, some Christians may slam the books as full of sinful sorcery but in truth, the books are far more focused on a more important theme of Redemption. Rowling herself is a regular church member. And common Biblical themes frequent the series.
  12. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke–Although Clarke labeled himself an Atheist, some of his ideas reflect Deism. Whatever the case, his classic is the story of the ultimate God-Machine.
  13. Neuromancer by William Gibson–a retelling of the God-Machine Myth for the cyberpunk era, this is considered a classic of the subgenre and Gibson’s masterpiece.
  14. The Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons–from God-Machines to Frankenstein creatures, dystopias, apocalypses, cyberpunk, Catholicism, classical myth and the Romantic poets, the two volumes of this series truly have it all.
  15. Contact by Carl Sagan–A lifelong religious skeptic, Sagan’s classic novel follows his lifelong focus to reproachment of the human need for wonder, meaning and love, common themes of religion and faith.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, of course. But given the famous names of both books and authors listed here, it’s obvious that science fiction and religion continue to wrestle with each other at least in literature. And given that science fiction is an examination of the “what ifs” through postulating about the future while examining the present, perhaps that’s appropriate.

[Editor’s Note: Bryan’s blog tour continues tomorrow at The New Author.]

About Bryan Thomas Schmidt (68 Articles)
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and Hugo-nominated editor of adult and children's speculative fiction. His debut novel, THE WORKER PRINCE received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club's Year's Best Science Fiction Releases. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. As book editor he is the main editor for Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta's WordFire Press where he has edited books by such luminaries as Alan Dean Foster, Tracy Hickman, Frank Herbert, Mike Resnick, Jean Rabe and more. He was also the first editor on Andy Weir's bestseller THE MARTIAN. His anthologies as editor include SHATTERED SHIELDS with co-editor Jennifer Brozek and MISSION: TOMORROW, GALACTIC GAMES (forthcoming) and LITTLE GREEN MEN--ATTACK! (forthcoming) all for Baen, SPACE BATTLES: FULL THROTTLE SPACE TALES #6, BEYOND THE SUN and RAYGUN CHRONICLES: SPACE OPERA FOR A NEW AGE. He is also coediting anthologies with Larry Correia and Jonathan Maberry set in their New York Times Bestselling Monster Hunter and Joe Ledger universes. From December 2010 to June 2015, he hosted #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer's Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter as @SFFWRTCHT.

14 Comments on [GUEST POST] Bryan Thomas Schmidt Lists 15 Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy With Religious Themes

  1. Fascinating list!  As you say, not exhaustive, but there are a couple of title here I’ve missed, so thanks for that!

  2. How would you classify STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND by Robert Heinlein? 

  3. Lyn: Significant with a supposed reference to Exodus  2:22 in the title but yet the themes as I recall, it’s been 20 years since I read that, are more about religion and its dangers overall rather than a God-machine or other type plot theme. It definitely fits in spiritual themes. As I said, my list was not in any way complete.

  4. Michael O. // October 4, 2011 at 9:15 am //

    I wish your choices included more than just Catholic & atheist books (although those are two of my favorite religions), but those are all great books.  I’m especially glad Gene Wolfe topped it.  Philip K. Dick would make an interesting addition, especially the Valis “trilogy”.

  5. Thanks, Michael. They’re not in particular order or ranked at all. I pulled from many sources as well as my own memory and I tried to list the ones most commonly referenced across sources. I guess those sources favor Catholic and Athiest and I think it could be said with some truth that those religions predominate in SF writers at least amongst classics.

  6. I’m a bit surprised that THE SPARROW by Mary Doria Russell is not on this list. Best religious science fiction book I’ve read. It’s a first contact story about a Jesuit mission to another planet, in which the main character loses faith.

  7. What about Mary Doria Russell’s pair of novels, Bryan? (The Sparrow and Children of God)?

  8. After Foundation and Earth, Asimov wrote Foundation prequels because he couldn’t figure out where the story would go beyond Galaxia. If he were alive today, I suspect the story would work toward our modern-day notion of “hive-mind,” that of uploading human consciousness. But there are plenty more religious themes in the Foundation series above and beyond Foundation and Earth. Certain Hari Seldon could be seen as a type of mesiah figure, prophecizing the future. His prophecies were based on mathematics, but a very obscure math that very few people understood–so that it appeared as prophecy. Then, too, in an early Foundation story, it was Foundation members in a religious guise that helped defeat some of the splintering factions in the outer parts of the galaxy. And like any mesiah, Seldon really was the messenger, it was R. Daneel Olivaw working behind the scenes to shape the future.

    And if you look beyond classic novels to classic short fiction, there are plenty with religious themes. Alfred Bester‘s “Adam and No Eve” comes to mind as an early example. And indeed, one of Asimov‘s first robot stories, “Reason” is an interesting one in which a robot refuses to believe a human is its creator–it instead believes there is a higher power and uses “reason” to prove this. There are others, like some of Heinlein‘s Future History stories like “Coventry.” And there are stories like C. L. Moore’s “Greater Than Gods” that carry the theme forward as well.

  9. Thanks, Jamie. Enlightening. Margaret and Paul, on my list to read. Have not read them. Beyond that, as I’ve said above, not an exhaustive list, I’m sure many could be added.

  10. Jan the Alan Fan // October 5, 2011 at 8:15 pm //

    Julian May’s excellent ‘Saga of the Exiles / Galactic Milieu’ books could be classified as Catholic science fiction. 😀

  11. I know this is almost a month old when I comment. But I have to submit the works of Orson Scott Card, most notably the Ender’s Game series, Book II: Speaker For the Dead which can be a stand alone story features heavily a debate between a Mormon, a Roman Catholic Preist, and an Alien Life Form with a Hive Mind on the nature of death and how alien life forms view it and religion.


    Also the works of Robert J. Sawyer (Flashforward, Rollback and others I’m sure but haven’t read yet) are written from an Atheist and while being heavy handed(He’s an Atheist, his heroes are Atheists and they won’t change their minds) at times do discuss religion and religious topics in a fair if not impartial voice.

  12. Please add Zenna Henderson’s People, who routinely speak of “The Presence, The Power, and The Name”.  Many of her non-People stories also have positive portrayals of people of faith.

  13. I appreciate all the contributions. It was not meant to be a comprehensive list but a list of some of the most classic examples.

  14. Garyvdh // July 24, 2012 at 2:59 pm //

    I would add the Tarot series by Piers Anthony and the His Dark Materials Trilogy by Phillip Pullman! Thanks for the list!

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