Catholic Imagination Series: How I started Writing Catholic Science Fiction And Fantasy

Catholic Imagination Series: How I started Writing Catholic Science Fiction And Fantasy February 25, 2015

Created by Damon B. Shackelford

(I am delighted to introduce Karina Fabian who will become a regular contributor here at The Rogue. She is a fantastic writer who founded the Catholic Writer’s Guild. In light of the Catholic Imagination that I’m going to be exploring at The Rogue, I thought it was appropriate this would be her first article here. Enjoy! J-)

I never intended to write Catholic science fiction and fantasy. I didn’t even know such a subgenre existed. I had not yet read Canticle for Leibowitz or heard of Father Andrew Greeley. (Although I enjoyed Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni series. Is she Catholic? The stories had those elements.) I certainly didn’t go looking for Catholicism in my fiction. So why did I start writing it?

It all started on a date.

My husband and I are good communicators, so even with two toddlers and him working long hours, we didn’t need alone time to discuss budgets or dreams. So I got the idea that we should write stories together. A notebook would be our dinner companion, and I’d take notes.

Our first date this way, I had been writing a series on different religious orders for women, and Rob was active in Artemis society, which was a civilian effort to get a commercial presence on the moon. We got to talking about a religious presence in space, and what they might do to earn their keep. And the Rescue Sisters were born.

The Rescue Sisters – nuns from the Order of Our Lady of the Rescue – are women religious who do search and rescue operations in outer space. It’s serious, exciting work that gets them to the frontiers of space, which makes a ripe playground for stories. The first stories led to Rob and me editing the anthologies Leaps of Faith (, and Infinite Space, Infinite God I and II ( It’s also sparked fan fiction. The first Rescue Sisters novel, Discovery, is coming out next year from Full Quiver Press.

From a faith aspect, it’s been interesting to postulate the role of religions in the future and especially in a harsh and unforgiving environment like space. There would be great opportunities for faith in action, but less tolerance (we believe) for the kind of faith expression that leads to conflict. That, along with other reasons, led us to create a code for living in space. The Spacers Code are common sense rules, but after a generation, they become their own religion, which is one of the subplots in Discovery. It makes an interesting dichotomy because while the sisters are protected from persecution under the Code, they also have to be careful about how they share their faith.

My foray into Catholic fantasy came as a natural result of character development. I was looking for a unique idea about a dragon for an anthology I really wanted to be in. After having multiple cliché’s discarded by my well-read husband, we decided to watch Whose Line Is It, Anyway, with the kids. This is a comedy improv show, and they do a shtick about a noir detective. I realized I could do comedy noir with a dragon!

As I started playing with the tropes, I realized that every noir detective has something in his past to feel bitter about. What was more logical for a dragon than a rough encounter with Saint George? Enter Vern, a snarky dragon who lost all his might and power in a battle with St. George and who has to earn it back by doing good for all sentient creatures under the direction of the Faerie Catholic Church. Most recently (and for reasons he cannot fathom) that means living in the Mundane world and working as a private problem solver for the particularly desperate. Wisdom of the Ages, Experience of Eternity, and he’s stuck finding lost cats…when he isn’t saving both the Faerie and Mundane worlds from disaster.

The story, “DragonEye, PI” did make the anthology, and has led to dozens of other stories from flash fiction to novellas, plus two novels. (Magic, Mensa and Mayhem  and Live and Let Fly ). I’m writing the origin story now, and plan on rebooting the whole series.

Vern has become my all-time favorite character. He puns, makes alliterations, talks like a bad 40s mystery, and never fails to point out how superior he is, despite St. George. But he’s also kind and deeply caring, sometimes despite himself. And thanks to St. George, he’s learning he has to trust in God and in the aid of others (even if they are lesser beings). I decided he needed a sidekick and someone to gentle his rough edges, so he’s teamed up with Sister Grace, a Faerie nun and mage who channels magic through song. It’s fun to have her alternate between best friend and nun-with-a-ruler.

I have explored the religious aspect from several angles with this universe. First, I’ve made Vern an immortal being. Dragon souls work differently than ours, and so he can have an outsider’s view of the Catholic faith while still being influenced by it. Second, I created a Faerie world in which there was no Protestant Revolution. Through magic, Satan has a more visible presence in the world – people can and do see demons in action – so the Church remained united against the foe. This has led to some interesting developments on the political side of things. Finally, there’s great opportunity for tension between the Mundane world and its secular and freedom-of-everything ideals and the Faerie with its one faith and strict moral code. (In Live and Let Fly, we learn the Faerie have censored printed materials from the Mundane after a Duchess sent the archbishop a chatty letter written on the back of a “death cookie” tract. Colored paper and illustrations were a novelty, so all the “right” people were using the backs of flyers as the trendy new stationary, and she never bothered to read the content.)

I’ve written many other stories and novels. My latest comes out this summer. Mind Over All is not Catholic, yet there are influences: one character is a faithful Catholic; his fiancé less so but working her way back. There are pro-life themes. My Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator series is all about slapstick and creative ways to take out the undead from chainsaws to bleach. Not a lot of religion in there, and even when there is, it’s not always Catholic. However, our faith still makes a showing where the story demands it.

What it boils down to is that the Catholic influences in my fiction came as a direct result of worldbuilding. I think that’s how it should be. Our faith calls us to be part of the world, even as we are separate of it. Faith in fiction, therefore, can (and should) do the same. It should be there, present and everyday, yet influential. When it’s not forced, it’s a viable part of any genre – including science fiction and fantasy.

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