Before we get started, a brief introduction and explanation. Gods Among the Stars is dedicated to Paganism, polytheism, and mythology in genre fiction (mostly science fiction and fantasy, with some forays into mystery and children’s literature and graphic novels, and so forth). As a long-time Pagan and a writer myself, the place of the Gods and the myths (old and new) in modern fiction has long fascinated me. I am always on the look-out for great new books to read, and hope to steer my fellow readers (especially Pagan readers) to these good books. So, in the months to come, expect recommendations, rants, reviews, publisher profiles, author interviews, and so forth. And, if you have any books to suggest, please do!
Now, let’s get started!
Science fiction as a genre is both extremely popular and notoriously difficult to define. It is often a case of “I’ll know it when I see it.” Stars Wars? Yes. Star Trek? Yes. McCaffrey’s Pern books? Yes. KA Laity’s Owl Stretching? Considering the people-eating aliens and near-future setting, yes. Devon Monk’s The Age of Steam series? Um … it’s set in the Wild West, but it’s steampunk, which is often considered a subgenre of science fiction, but it’s got faeries and magic, too, so … maybe? Lucian of Samosata’s True History? Um … second century fable-ish proto-science fiction?
Throwing “Pagan” into the mix makes things even more difficult. How does one define “Pagan” in this context? Does the author of a work have to identity as some flavor of Pagan? Or does only the work itself have to deal with Pagan Deities, philosophies, and myths?
Such was the problem I ran into while editing The Shining Cities: An Anthology of Pagan Science Fiction. Identifying an author’s religious tradition is tricky (and can even constitute an invasion of privacy), and it may be entirely irrelevant to the nature of the story; a Druid author is perfectly capable of writing a tale set in Saudi Arabia with devoutly Muslim characters. As such, I went with the latter definition above; it was the story I was interested in, not the author’s religious affiliation. After flipping through my stacks of science fiction novels and encyclopedias, I finally ended up with a broad but defensible definition of that genre: science fiction deals with imaginary — but plausible and logically constructed — worlds in which the implications and consequences of cultural, environmental, and scientific change and innovation are explored. Thus, for the purposes of The Shining Cities, I was looking for stories which dealt with those issues, but incorporated a Pagan ethos/mythos/history. I was incredibly pleased with the results. Some very talented authors contributed a wide variety of stories, from a Hindu steampunk-alternate history to a animist tale of two stars in love to a Kemetic time travel story to a shamanic eco-fable to a humorous chicken story.
While editing The Shining Cities, I started looking around for titles I could include in an appendix of Recommended Reading. I found plenty of science fiction novels, novellas, anthologies, short stories, graphic novels, television series, and movies which could be defined as Pagan-friendly,* but I was surprised and disappointed at the dearth of truly Pagan science fiction works; that is, science fiction written by Pagan authors, featuring Pagan worlds.
Pagan-friendly (or at least, of-interest-to-Pagan-readers) science fiction works proved plentiful. Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time. Callenbach’s Ecotopia. Anything by Catherynne M Valente. Leigh Richard’s Califia’s Daughters and Gilman’s Herland. Linnea Sinclair’s An Accidental Goddess, and Liz Craven’s Interplanetary League series, and Katee Robert’s Sanctify books. The Wreck of the Nebula Dream by Veronica Scott. The Ice People by Maggie Gee.
But true Pagan science fiction? There is the above mentioned Owl Stretching; Jennifer Lyn Parsons A Stirring in the Bones; various short stories by Gerri Leen and CS MacCath; Alan Moore’s graphic novel series Promethea; Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing; and Stewart Farrar’s Omega: A Novel of Eco-Magic.
But surely that can’t be it? There has to be more. Time to speak up, dear readers. I want recommendations. I want Pagan authors who have written good science fiction. Give me something good to read.
* Though some people sneer, mainstream science fiction franchises like Star Wars, Star Trek and Babylon 5 are actually quite Pagan-friendly. Just consider the many different spiritual traditions practiced by different Star Trek characters, or the intensely spiritual nature of many Babylon 5 episodes.
[Originally published in a slightly different format at BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature on PaganSquare.]