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SF Subgenre Guides
Clerical Science Fiction
What is Clerical Science Fiction?
Clerical Science Fiction is a sub-genre that takes up the church or religious ideas as story topics and often feature characters who are members of religious orders (i.e. the clergy). The stories have an organized religious order of some kind. The books tend to be a mix of secular and sacred and often focus on the ordinary aspects of clerical life rather than the doctrinal.
Clerical Fiction is a genre in its own right—so what can make it Sci Fi? Simply placing the story in a future world is the most straightforward way to make it Sci Fi. Other examples are to create a world that is purely a theocracy, incorporate alien life and religions, place the story in a post-apocalyptic world, speculate about the place of humanity outside of Earth and in the entirety of the universe. There are many ways to spice up a clerical story with some sci fi!
Other Features of Clerical Science Fiction
- Level of Real Science
Variable. Because the characters of this sub-genre are members of the clergy (or similar) they may not be scientifically inclined, which can make the story a bit light on the science and technology bits. However, this is not true of all stories—in some stories, the church actually controls science and technology and so the story can have high levels of science.
- Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications
High. In Clerical Sci Fi the protagonist is often a member of the clergy or at least a character with a strong religious grounding, which allows the author to explore human behavior, religious ideas, and morality within a personal understanding. In fact, questions of morality are strong in this sub-genre.
- Level of Characterization
High. In clerical fiction protagonists and specifically characters who are members of the clergy are not angelic—they have flaws and imperfections that cause them to grapple with larger social and theological ideas. They are not stock characters and they have their own personal lives and relationships that are developed and challenged throughout the story.
- Level of Plot Complexity
Moderate. Plot is certainly important in this sub-genre, but the plots do not tend to be those of complicated epic stories (though, they can be). The story will have lots of room to explore ideas and characters, which means the plot can suffer. But, the plot is important to creating situations that may cause a crisis of faith, or other important conflict that results in a character's internal battle.
- Level of Violence
Variable. Violence is often a part of stories that incorporate religious themes, but Clerical Fiction also has a link to pastoral fiction, which is more peaceful. The type of violence and how graphic that violence is, will vary greatly in the sub-genre.
Related Science Fiction subgenres
Social Science Fiction. Religion has a very real social impact and Sci Fi will often explore the social implications of religion through a clerical story.
Religious Science Fiction. For obvious reasons, Clerical and Relgious Sci Fi are linked.
Christian Science Fiction. Again, an obviously related sub-genre.
Clerical Science Fiction isn't for you if...
If seeing nuns, monks, priests, and other clerical figures as ordinary people troubles you.
- 1 A Canticle for Leibowitz
By Walter Miller. Monks preserve humanity's scientific knowledge following a nuclear war, until the world is once again ready for it.
- 2 Dune
By Frank Herbert. The Bene Gessert in the Dune series is a long-standing political and religious force that uses its power to guide humanity to its own goals, it is a force that dominates history but does not have much individual faith.
- 3 In the Land of the Infidels
By Jacek Dukaj. In this Polish short story collection the story “Cathedral” is about a priest who travels to a moon of Jupiter's to investigate an alien artifact that resembles a gothic cathedral.
- 4 A Case of Conscience
By James Blish. A Jesuit investigates an alien race who has no religion, but has a perfect and innate sense of morality.
- 5 Darkover Landfall
By Marion Zimmer Bradley. The first book, chronologically, of Bradley's Darkover series, about accidental colonists who crash landed on an inhospitable planet. One of the main characters is Father Valentine, the ship's chaplain
- 6 Apostle From Space
By Gordon Harris. A spaceman lands near Florida and seeks refuge in a church. A minister takes him in and the government searches for him. He is an alien, who believes in the son of God.
- 7 For I am a Jealous People!
By Lester Del Ray This story begins with the sufferings of Reverend Amos Strong whose family members are killed off during an alien invasion and only gets more complicated.
- 8 The Handmaid's Tale
By Margaret Atwood. In the near future the government has been overthrown by a totalitarian Christian theocracy and is told from the perspective of a handmaid, who has no autonomy in the totalitarian state.
- 9 The Sparrow
By Mary Doria Russell. A team is sent to a newly discovered planet to make contact with an unknown species. The team is made up of four Jesuit priests, an astronomer, a physician, an engineer, a child-prostitute turned computer expert.
- 10 Wrapt in Crystal
By Sharon Shinn. In the final book in the Samaria Trilogy a serial killer begins stalking priestesses of two religions. A man, who has lost his faith, is assigned to the case.