LQCs: Science Fiction, Christian Fantasy, and Part B

Washington Post, Michael Dirda, 10 Jan 2022: Science fiction — please, let’s not call it ‘sci-fi’ — is more than just a reaction to the present

This is essentially a book review column, by the renowned WaPo book critic who covers much more than just science fiction. But I was curious to see what the title alludes to. The answer is, not much. The review covers four books: an elaborate history of science fiction as it stood in the year 1940; another similar, “visual” history; yet another book by S.T. Joshi about H.P. Lovecraft; and finally a memoir by critic and writer Charles Platt.

It opens,

A week before Christmas, I spent a happy afternoon at the 79th World Science Fiction Convention, known as DisCon III. Even though sf — I prefer the classic acronym over the now commonly heard but juvenile “sci-fi” — has recently been embroiled in culture wars, the programming at the 2021 con was sufficiently varied that any new or old fan could find talks and panels of interest. Strict covid protocols didn’t hamper the enthusiasm of the masked and vaccinated attendees thronging Washington’s Omni Shoreham Hotel. Writer Nancy Kress and artist John Harris were guests of honor, African fantastika was center stage, the 2021 Hugo for best novel went to Martha Wells’s “Network Effect,” and Chengdu, China, after a vigorous campaign, won the bid to host 2023’s Worldcon.

And it ends,

But enough for now. As these books remind us, science fiction doesn’t merely react to the present and imagine the future, it can also learn much from its complex and fantastically tumultuous past.

So, it’s nice that Dirda avoids that abbreviation for science fiction that I still detest, even though much of the field, and seemingly all the public, has surrendered to decades of its use. Otherwise the headline basically repeats a truism. That’s not to say that Dirda isn’t a sharp critic, and his comments on these books are fascinating.


Vox, 28 Apr 2022: Revisiting the Christian fantasy novels that shaped decades of conservative hysteria, subtitled, “Demons, angels, and elite liberal conspiracies: Frank Peretti’s books sound like today’s headlines.”

Here’s a more recent item that caught my eye because I immediately wondered, who?

I’ve long understood that there are writers in virtually every genre — science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance — who place their writing inside a niche worldview of one religion or another. Thus there are Christian romance novelists and Mormon science fiction novelists. For the most part, these writers aren’t known outside of their niches. SF exceptions might include Orson Scott Card, a Mormon, and Gene Wolfe, a Catholic, though their works are always SF first, their implicit worldviews secondary.

This guy, Frank Peretti, is not one of those exceptions; he’s a “Christian fantasy author.” Still, he hasn’t been unnoticed by genre scholars and bibliographers. Both the Locus Index and the Internet Speculative Fiction Database have records for him, the latter here. I had never heard of him though.

So now I have to wonder, what was it in his books that drove conservative hysteria? Basically: fundamentalism and conspiratorial paranoia, which somehow go together.

A sinister schoolteacher steadily grooms kids in their care to accept liberal indoctrination, ultimately leading to the takeover of young minds by shadowy forces. All the while, the teachers are backed by a larger, high-powered conspiracy to control the government, the educational system, and the national media — all in the name of evil leftists battling the ongoing culture war.

That rhetoric might sound like sheer fantasy, but it’s increasingly becoming the dominant worldview of many right-wing US conservatives, especially white evangelicals. It’s also the literal plot of two novels by Christian fantasy author Frank Peretti, This Present Darkness (1986) and its sequel Piercing the Darkness (1989). Although not household names to many, these are very likely two of the most culturally influential novels in recent history.

They sold “millions of copies and spreading through word of mouth across churches all over America.”

Peretti envisioned a new kind of Christian fiction that visualized and vivified his idea of modern spiritual warfare: Angels and demons engaged in very real, literal battles for humanity, often just out of sight of their impassioned human charges.

The bulk of the article is a debate about the books among Aja Romano, Alissa Wilkinson, and Emily St. James. Some of their comments:

They are, strictly speaking, not very good as literature, but I would say the same of Michael Crichton (the mainstream writer whose prose Peretti’s most resembles), and I still love Jurassic Park. Both books work as serviceable horror fiction pastiche, with Peretti having a ball writing the slinky, slimy demons, who are constantly backbiting each other. They work even better as paranoid conspiracy thrillers, but it’s in that arena where everything in reality is a plot to take down evangelical Christians and, as such, Peretti’s books end up looking an awful lot like the conspiracy theorizing that dominates religious conservative spaces right now.


Because of Frank Peretti, I went around for months envisioning angels and demons fighting in the air all around me. Even after that initial wave of vivid fantasy wore off, the impression the books left me with for years was of an entire adjacent cosmic realm directed by the whims of God and the devil, if I would only believe enough to fall into it.


I think what was so appealing is the same thing that’s appealing about any conspiracy thinking: It ascribes meaning and purpose and logic to things that aren’t honestly all that meaningful or purposeful or logical, like random accidents or senseless struggles that ordinary people encounter every day. It made me feel meaningful, like a warrior who could join with other warriors to protect what was good. To be honest, the same sort of thing made the Left Behind books appealing — the main characters even formed a force to fight the Antichrist that they called the “Tribulation Force.” Which is so cool! Especially when you feel kind of helpless and ordinary in your real life.

Much more, about how this kind of Christian fiction is akin to conspiracy thinking, and fantasies about good v. evil, and how not much has changed since the 1980s.


Our adventure of the past week is trying to apply for Medicare Part B, for me. Our situation is complicated. I’ve been covered by my partner’s health insurance for all these years. But he was laid off when his company closed the facility where he was working, effective January, though his health insurance (and thus mine) extended through June. We’re outside the typical enrollment period, but given the extension of his health coverage through June, we can use the SEP, special enrollment period, to apply now. We found an online form, on the ssa.gov site, to apply for Part B having already acquired Part A. Seemed to work. After a few days, there was no acknowledgement of our application on my SSA homepage. We phoned Medicare. No, we don’t do that, SSA takes care of the enrollment. (These calls kept getting cut off.) We phoned SSA. No, you can’t apply online, we were told. You need to fill out these two forms, this one and that one, and bring them to your local SSA office. You need the former employer to authorize and sign the one form. (When I’d done it online, I uploaded supporting documents about my partner’s employment, and when his health insurance coverage ended. But the person on the phone knew nothing about that.) So now my partner is contacting his employer who laid him off to complete and sign the form, a PDF, and send it back to us, so early next week we can take the forms in the local SSA office and submit the enrollment application in person.

If we can’t apply online, what was that form doing there? From this page on medicare.gov I filled out this form. The lady on the phone says you can’t apply online.

OK, fine, we’ll fill out the forms and take them, in person, to the SSA office in downtown Oakland.

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