I read a thought-provoking post the other day on author D.M. Dutcher’s blog about some bothersome problems with Christian speculative fiction, including one that was new to me, and I thought it was worth talking about in more space than I could courteously use up in his comment box.
D.M. observes that Christian speculative fiction lacks a fan infrastructure of the sort you see with secular spec-fic: news sites, periodicals, conventions, and havens for fun activities like filking and cosplay. Now, I’ve read grumbles on Christian writing forums about the bumpkin-ish Christian fiction readership and their failure to “get” spec-fic, but this is the first time I’ve seen anyone note the lack of a supportive structure that invariably surrounds a strong fan base.
This is discouraging for both writers and readers, especially people like D.M. who enjoy the fan culture and understand the synergy it brings to both writing and marketing. Supply isn’t a problem—there are plenty of writers and more books being published in the Christian speculative genre than ever before. It’s possible to argue that Christian spec-fic suffers from a lack of visibility in the general market, but given the easy access to searchable catalogs on retailers’ websites and reviews on Amazon.com, Goodreads, etc, it’s harder to make the case that people don’t know about it or can’t find it.
Here are some reasons I think Christian spec-fic hasn’t yet spawned a robust fandom:
We lack stories that inspire fandoms. Are there Christian spec-fic stories with the potential to catch fire and create a large, vocal fan community? Sure. The problem is, they aren’t doing it, and I’ve not yet come across a convincing explanation of why one book or movie goes viral while another doesn’t. Everybody wishes they could bottle the Harry Potter, or Star Trek, or Doctor Who magic, but nobody’s done it yet with any consistency. I think there are some qualities these stories share that make them more likely to inspire strong fan community and loyalty, but that’s another post for another day.
Fandoms arise spontaneously. Attempts to create buzz, prime the pump, or otherwise create a fandom via brute force tend to fail in dismal fashion. Teenage girls didn’t swoon over the Beatles because some Madison Avenue advertising firm told them to. Likewise, the Harry Potter phenomenon wasn’t preceded by a customer awareness campaign, focus groups, or cross-media product placement. Star Trek and Doctor Who fandom initially emerged from the grassroots in opposition to the popular culture and conventional wisdom. By and large, you just can’t make these things happen.
D.M. would say, I think, that we’d have more fans if we’d do a better job of rolling out the welcome mat for them, and there’s some truth to that, but I argue that a fandom creates its own infrastructure, not the other way around.
The Christian spec-fic community is dominated by content creators who constitute their own fandom. D.M. says the lack of fans is a fundamental problem—we have a glut of writers and critics, but are starved for the unique perspective and energy that a strong fan community without a writers’ agenda brings to the table. I agree. The people reading Christian spec-fic are commonly the ones writing Christian spec-fic, and I include myself in this group. Many are part of one or more secular fandoms, and much of what we write, if we pause a moment between books to think about it, is fan fiction with a Christian spin, whether the topic is dragons, or spaceships, or zombies, or angels.
Furthermore, we read and review each others’ stories in a recursive loop. This is sort of like being your own grandpa. It’s the kind of fandom that keeps your community small and insular. It tends to reach inward rather than outward. There are comforts and advantages in this arrangement, but growth isn’t one of them.
Next time, I’ll take a look at some fan-friendly universes and try to figure out what makes them tick. I may not get back to this for a while—I don’t want to get mired in a series of posts devoted to analysis of ground that’s already been thoroughly plowed.
In short, I think they share a synergy and interactivity between literature and cinema (sometimes the books come first, sometimes not), expansive universes with plenty of room for fans to indulge their own creativity filling in gaps from the original material or simply playing around, and iconic characters that fans can admire and care about.