Sunday, 19 August 2012

Catholic Sci-fi

I've just come across Walter M. Miller Jr's Crucifixus Etiam, a short story about a labourer on Mars, in a fascinating anthology of Catholic short stories, The Substance of Things Hoped For, edited by John B. Breslin S.J.

It's an interesting story not just because it contains a short account of a mass on Mars but also because it depicts the quasi-redemptive nature of labour in the harsh Martian environment. However, although it's worth reading, I can't honestly say that it's anything more than interesting. The problem with sci-fi is that it dates so quickly; this particular story is ultimately unconvincing largely because science and technology moved on so much more quickly than Miller envisaged they would in 1953.

A better bet is Miller's best-known work, A Canticle for Leibowitz, which I remember being (surprisingly) very popular in evangelical circles during my student years. Miller wrote the book after being involved in bombing raids on the great Benedictine abbey at Monte Cassino during World War II. His own relationship with the Church - and, indeed, his own life - was complicated but this is one science-fiction novel that has stood the test of time. (Though see this interesting comparison with Cormac McCarthy's The Road.)

I'm not a great sci-fi expert so I can't write with great assurance but Gene Wolfe (who is a great fan of G. K. Chesterton) is often held out as the greatest Catholic writer of science fiction. His The Book of the New Sun is recommended in particular.

There's also an interview with Sandra Miesel at Ignatius Insight here which provides a list of other authors worth looking out for.


  1. Have you ever heard of Clifford Simak? He wrote "City", "Shakespeare's Planet" and "Project Pope"--Hugo Award Winner and Catholic.

  2. Thank you, Stephanie. I haven't come across him or his work but I'll now have a look.

  3. Does the - almost Catholic or arguably more Catholic than many - C.S. Lewis count with his cosmic trilogy?

    My father fought at Monte Cassino and I wonder whether his fascination with religious communities and their relationship to civilisations in chaos had anything to do with the haunting of that place and those events.

    Interesting connection to Leibowitz in After Virtue by Alasdair Mackintyre.

    1. I reckon he counts, Ben. Lewis's trilogy is certainly not as well known as it should be.