“Where no man has gone before…”
Fiction is the realm of the unbound imagination. Throughout history, authors have striven to create brave new worlds, populated with every kind of character imaginable. And Science Fiction is the ultimate trip in the literary world. Not bound by the day-to-day realities of what we see about us, Science Fiction transports the reader to far, unknown times and places, and introduces characters not only stranger than we ever imagined, but sometimes even stranger than we can imagine.
I find Science Fiction particularly appealing partly because I also enjoy Science Fact. So much so that I have even tried my own hand at writing, as you can read about on this page. Here you can also find some samples that you can download and read for your own enjoyment.
Not all Science Fiction is created equal. Some takes place in the near future, while other stories take place in the more distant future. A few even take place in the past. Some authors attempt to make their fictional world fit within what is known about the Universe, while others let their imaginations run wild. Some stories focus on the technical aspects of the author's world, while others are more “people stories” set in a futuristic context. Here are some of the divisions found in the genre.
Hard Science Fiction is the kind where the author lets his or her imagination run wild. All sorts of futuristic technologies—some being extrapolations of current capabilities, while others are pure fantastic inventions—abound in Hard Sci-Fi. Even human beings are not immune; implants, cyborgs, “evolved humans” and more can be found. An example of Hard Science Fiction is the works of Greg Bear. In Eon and Eternity, he creates entire universes using extremely advanced technology, and peoples them with modified human beings possessing capabilities we can only dream of. In The Forge of God and Anvil of Stars, entirely new concepts of physics are employed to avenge the human race upon aliens who destroyed the Earth. in Against the Fall of Night, Arthur C. Clarke envisions a highly advanced city billions of years in the future, with humans who are practically immortal, and entities of pure energy who roam the galaxy at will.
There really is no limit with Hard Sci-Fi. If the author can imagine it—and if he or she has the writing skill to bring it to life—then it gets created. On the other hand, it is likely that much of what is imagined in this sub-genre is not really possible, no matter how much time we allot for it. Even if we do not yet know all of the laws of the Universe, there are still limits to what it will allow. For me, in spite of my appreciation of an active imagination, seeing something that I just cannot make myself believe possible portrayed as future reality does detract somewhat from my enjoyment of the work.
Hard Science Fiction is almost always written from an agnostic or atheistic perspective. This is not really surprising, given that the futures envisioned are in no way compatible with any monotheistic religious eschatology (see What the Future Holds for a comparison).
As the name implies, this is Sci-Fi that attempts to “follow the rules”, i.e. it does not “invent its own science” as it goes. What new things are introduced are basically rational extrapolations of what is already known. Often, Realistic Science Fiction is essentially ordinary fiction in a future setting. Some popular authors who write a lot of this kind of stuff include Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, and Poul Anderson. I personally find this type of Science Fiction the most enjoyable.
Realistic Science Fiction is written from a number of different philosophical viewpoints. Nevertheless, the atheistic/agnostic point of view tends to dominate.
This particular sub-genre crosses the line with Fantasy, which is a type of fiction that involves magic and supernatural aspects. Pure Fantasy usually does not include science, whereas Sci-Fi/Fantasy is a combination of the two that does. Some works, such as Piers Anthony's Blue Adept series, involve parallel worlds where one operates according to the rules of Science Fiction, while the other operates as Fantasy, and the main character(s) flip back and forth between the two. Others, such as C. S. Lewis' Space Trilogy, directly mix the two.
Like Realistic Science Fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy is written from a number of different philosophical viewpoints. However, the atheistic/agnostic point of view is not nearly as dominant here as it is in the other. Much Christian Science Fiction is of this type.
Most Religious Fiction usually falls in the Fantasy category. However, enough works include elements of speculative and/or futuristic science that Religious Science Fiction can be included as a sub-class of Science Fiction/Fantasy. In American culture, the large majority of this particular sub-genre is Christian, although there exist varieties written from other religious perspectives, such as Mormonism or Native American Religion. Like Science Fiction in general, this type can be further subdivided into two categories.
This is Religious Science Fiction where the religious message takes center stage. The entire story is built around the particular theme, and were it removed, there would not be much left. In the Christian variety, main characters are always believers, and there is always a “happy ending”. Often, this particular sub-genre suffers from lack of realism; i.e. it is very idealistic.
This type of Religious Science Fiction has a story that could stand on its own, even if the religious part were removed. It usually still contains a message from the author's particular beliefs, but it is less prominent. The writing style will reflect the author's beliefs; for example, a Christian writer will avoid obscenity, explicit sex, graphic violence and other offensive things. This type of Science Fiction is usually of higher quality than Hard Religious Science Fiction.
This is essentially Military Fiction with advanced and/or speculative science mixed in. A good example is the Stargate series on television (Stargate SG1, Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe). Military Sci-Fi does not tend to be set in the far future.
Military Science Fiction tends toward more conservative philosophies, although religious vs. non-religious aspects are usually played down. Patriotism and liberty are often emphasized.
In addition to being a fan of Sci-Fi, there came a point in my life when I decided to try may hand at writing my own. For reasons I can no longer clearly remember (the old gray cells, they ain't what they used to be), I decided that I did not want to publish under my own name. So I basically reversed my first and middle names and chopped the “ing” off of my last name, and voila! “Roy W. Penn” was born.
Over the years I wrote a number of short stories, and even took a crack at a novel or two. Most of them were never completed. One novel actually was completed, but never accepted for publication. Looking back, I can understand why; the narrative could have been improved with an ax, and the dialogue was hopelessly stilted and artifically dramatic. But I ended up learning from it.
After a dry spell of more than a decade—from around the time I began training with Wycliffe until I had been in Brazil for several years—I once again picked up the word processor and started putting my ideas into digital form. Because of other commitments that took up a lot of my time, as well as the necessity to rewrite the manuscript more than once, it was several more years before I finally found a publisher who would accept it.
The result was EvilSpace.
EvilSpace is a full length novel, which falls in the category of Science Fiction from a Christian Perspective. The story takes place several hundred years in the future, and is about a frightening judgment upon a human race that has forgotten its Creator.
An exploration ship out on the edges of known space discovers a planet where all life has been blasted out of existence. At the same time, a young man begins experiencing a recurring nightmare, while another young man hundreds of light years away wins a trip to Earth in a lottery. Though seemingly unconnected, all of these incidents are merely the beginning signs of the coming of a terrible force of evil, bent upon total annihilation of humanity.
As chaos spreads and civilization crumbles, these three men are called by God to return to Earth to take a stand against this force. And it is more than merely a journey through space and across a world plunged into darkness. For each man it is also a journey into himself, into and beyond his deepest convictions.
And in the end, EvilSpace is more than merely a story. It is also a message.
Read an excerpt from EvilSpace (requires Adobe Acrobat or other PDF reader).
On this website I have also included some public domain works that I have written under the name Roy W. Penn, both Christian and secular. These are here to give visitors to the Billiard Page a chance to see an example of my writing without having to actually purchase a book or magazine, either print or electronic.
Adobe Acrobat or other PDF reader is required to read these stories.
Movies: One of my favorite Sci-Fi movies of all time was Alien. No, I didn't pick it because of all the blood and guts. Rather, what attracted me to it was what I considered to be a relatively realistic portrayal of an alien world and alien life form, and a believable first contact situation.
Other movies that I enjoyed (even if I had to suspend my skepticism over some of the fallacies (see next section) or else ignore world-view philosophies that I don't agree with) include 2001: A Space Odyssey, Deep Impact, The Core, and others too numerous to mention.
Television: At this point in my life, probably my favorite series has to be Babylon 5. The reason I enjoy it even more than Star Trek and all of its spin-offs is because the aliens are more believable. Among Star Trek and its successors, my favorite is Voyager. I guess it's because I enjoy the concept of a long voyage home from distant regions unknown.
Books: Here, it is almost impossible to say what my favorites are, since there are so many that I have read during my life. Among books written from a Christian perspective, I constantly find myself comparing modern writings with the works of C S. Lewis (the space trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength), and constantly deciding in favor of Lewis. Maybe that is because Lewis was an accomplished, well educated writer who knew how to spin a yarn even before he became a believer. At any rate, in the area of Sci-Fi from the Christian perspective, Lewis remains my favorite.
In the purely secular realm, I really liked the older works of Isaac Asimov. The Foundation Trilogy is a classic, as are the robot novels. Unfortunately, Asimov seemed to have “lost his touch” in his later installments. His early characters were very human and believable, whereas his later ones were much more stiff and artificial.
Another pair of fascinating books about alternate realities that explores possibilities in the realms of hard science (cosmology, particle physics, etc.) are Eon and its sequel Eternity, by Greg Bear. I don't particularly care for his philosophy of life, but if I ignore that, the rest of these books is excellent.
Harry Harrison is an author who injects a lot of humor into some of his writings. I especially enjoyed his books about the Stainless Steel Rat.
And, of course, one can never forget Arthur C. Clarke. His classics, such as Against the Fall of Night, Rendezvous with Rama, A Fall of Moondust, and many others are always excellent reading. Again, unfortunately, like Asimov, when he has attempted to take an earlier novel and write sequels, the sequels have been less than successful, in my opinion.
Science Fiction is fun. It stimulates the imagination and allows one to vicariously explore some of the endless possibilities in a vast Universe. But Sci-Fi writers and producers do not always “get it right”. I'm not talking about predictions about the future inherent in the genre. I'm talking about things that we already know about the way the Universe operates. Simple physics. Biology. Sociology. Statistics. At times I see gaffes that leave me scratching my head and wondering what these guys were smoking when they came up with the script.
Admittedly, these issues occur much more frequently in movies and television than in books. And some of it can be excused as being the result of time and financial limitations of the media. Still, they can lead the unsophisticated fan to draw unwarranted conclusions about the nature of the Universe. Here are some of the major fallacies that I have noted over the years.
This one is primarily found in television shows, probably for lack of time in any given episode to do things differently, lack of the large amounts of money needed in order to do better, and lack of actors truly able to “step out of their human skin.” Whenever explorers find an alien world and make contact, the “aliens” are culturally American. About the only things different are the mode of dress and forehead ridges or bumps. Maybe the hair style as well. I can understand the necessity for them to speak English, if only to make it understandable to the audience. Universal translators at least provide an excuse. However, it is highly unlikely that, should aliens exist, their culture would be so similar to ours.
Furthermore—and this is no doubt due to the political bias of producers and screenwriters—the “good guys” are almost always liberal, usually with an agenda similar to the current Democrat Party platform. “Bad guys”, on the other hand, are often conservative, or religious, or some other aspect of our culture that is not sufficiently liberal.
Should aliens actually exist, it is likely that their culture and language would be so different from ours as to be almost incomprehensible.
One thing we have learned from our own solar system (see the pages on the individual planets under The Cosmos) is that most worlds are downright hostile with respect to Earth life. Yet in so many shows you see explorers running around with little more than a breathing mask to provide oxygen. The truth is that if you tried that on any other planet in our solar system, you would die rather quickly and unpleasantly.
In addition to composition, planetary atmospheres differ considerably in pressure. And in addition to the atmosphere, one must also take into account the temperature and gravity. There is only one place in our solar system where the pressure is sufficiently similar that you would not need a spacesuit (Saturn's moon Titan). There is no world where the temperature would be tolerable, except possibly Mars' equatorial regions during the hottest part of the summer day. On top of all this, planets are bombarded with solar wind, cosmic rays and other high energy radiation, which our atmosphere and magnetic field block.
In reality, explorers would need heavy protection in just about any alien environment imaginable. Even habitable planets could have a wide range of environments, including some that would keep the explorers from just running around in shirt sleeves.
Space is huge. When interplanetary probes pass through the asteroid belt, they seldom come close enough to a space rock to even see it. Interstellar space is interplanetary space on especially powerful steroids. One light year is over six trillion miles. The odds of encountering another ship in this vast immensity are so low as to be zero for all practical purposes. Yet in Sci-Fi shows, ships are constantly encountering one another. Sometimes one of the crew will be commenting that the other ship is “two light years away… one light year away…”, and all the time it's visible on the viewscreen. We can't see a ship-sized asteroid even at the edge of our solar system, which is much, much less than a light year away.
A corollary is that fictional ships alway approach one another with the same rotational orientation. There is no absolute up and down in space; ships could approach one another with any conceivable combination of rotational orientations.
Among life here on Earth, it is difficult if not impossible for species that are not very similar genetically to interbreed. And even when they can, the result is often sterile, such as the mule. Just about all Science Fiction these days is based upon evolutionary philosophy, and according to that theory, the genetic makeup of any creature is essentially the result of chance. Therefore, what would be the odds that two creatures that “evolved” on different planets, under different condtions, with different base chemistries (stars and their planets vary widely in chemical makeup), would be able to interbreed? Extremely slim to absolutely none.
Yet you always see beings that are the result of cross-breeding between races from different planets. (“His mother was a human and his father was a methane-breathing Gark with green teeth.”) The fact is that this is basically impossible.
If you're like me and have the urge to get some of your story ideas into print, it has never been easier. Modern word processing programs make creating and editing long manuscripts very easy. Publishers such as Writers Exchange E-Publishing are always looking for new authors. There are also many sites where you can self-publish, if you can't find anyone else to accept your work. Or you can even simply set up your own site and make it available there. This is more work, but it also gives you more flexibility.
In addition, many people like to write stories based upon characters that are already part of a movie, or television series, or even a book. The large number of Star Trek books is an example of this. On the other hand, if you just want to write short stories based on your favorite series or movie or whatever, and publish them on-line, a good site is Fan Fiction. They have categories for more movies and series than I ever knew existed! Even if you aren't particularly interested in writing, it's still fun to visit the site and see what interesting avenues other people have taken some of your favorite characters.
Remember, the sky's the limit. Literally.
Copyright © 2005-2021 William R. Penning. All rights reserved.