Jesus in Science Fiction: The Course


Recently, I started teaching a course that looks at the character of Jesus when he shows up in SJombsfcience Fiction.  Currently the course is only 6 weeks long and only taught at the UDLLI, the University of Dayton’s Lifelong Learning Centre for Senior Adults.  We are using the following short stories and novels in the course, and I will be placing the blogposts of the course here on Wrestling With Gods website because it’s become a great place to talk about religion and faith as it appears in science fiction and fantasy.

What happens to Biblical Jesus when the narrative is continued into the future?  Is it subverted?  Are writers appropriating Christianity to rewrite it and rob the narrative of its miracle, or do they instead seek to expand the notion of Jesus to its infinite possibility?  How does Jesus fare in science fiction and what can we learn about faith when science fiction writers write about him?  We look first at the life of Jesus in the Gospels to ground us in the ur-text, try to gather the importance of him as a character and iconic figure in history, culture and religion.  How is Jesus relevant in the future?  Then we look at how authors extrapolate the future of faith, or seek to tweak history, just a bit, to get the savior they want, and perhaps we can better see what kind of culture we are in the face of our chosen Saviour.

Come follow along with us here as we examine Jesus(es).  Already the class has been exciting as these students know a lot about religion, specifically Judaism and Christianity (UD is a Catholic institution) and many retired professors attend these classes for fun (they also can be quite mischievous).

The works we’re going to explore, and I will detail in blogposts are the ones below, and after the course is finished and the works looked at in the course, I will continue posting on the books and stories we didn’t get to.  Always I’ll have the Jesus in SciFi heading so you can follow along if you like:

The Works to Look at–and I will suggest places where you can get these works.

To get us oriented on Jesus the character in the Bible:

Jesus: the Face of God    Jay Parini9d572847c686ddac35e2ed178588231b


“The Man”     Ray Bradbury from The Illustrated Man

“Mecha-Jesus”     Derwin Mak from Wrestling With Gods

“So Loved”           Matt Hughes from Wrestling With Gods

“The Rescuer”      Arthur Porges

“The Traveler”          Richard Matheson

“The Real Thing”       Carolyn Ives Gilman

 “Let’s Go to Golgotha!”      Garry Kilworth

“The Gospel According to Gamaliel Crucis”   Michael Bishop (a longer work I may not use)

“Jesus Christ in Texas” W.E.B Dubois  (which isn’t exactly Science Fiction, but may prove useful in this study)

Then two novels:

Behold the Man, Michael Moorcock, 

Jesus on Mars   Philip Jose Farmer

 If we have time, “Farewell to the Master,” Harry Bates—Which becomes The Day the Earth Stood Still.  This would be delightful to show to students in a longer class.  To read the short story and then watch both films. Again, this isn’t QUITE Jesus, but there is a strong lean towards the character. 

I can also see adding these works to the syllabus for a longer class:

The Man Who Died         DH Lawrence

Jesus Christ, Animator   Ken MacLeod

All Star Superman       Grant Morrison

Jesus Christs                AJ Langguth

Only Begotten Daughter     James Morrow

If you have suggestions on stories, poems, or novels to add to this list, let me know. Specifically we are NOT covering characters who merely have a “savior-esque” quality to them, or those that have a martyr motif–or we’d get Neo from the Matrix, Starman, etc.  I want to look at places where characters are for all intents and purposes supposed to BE Jesus.

Suddenly, Mother Teresa: Writing Religion with Comedic Insight


Mother TheresaPart of our 18 days of Tesseracts, “Mom and Mother Teresa” by Candas Jane Dorsey was published in Tesseracts 9 and plays with religion in a comedic–and yet still poignant–way.  I’m chatting with Candas about her story here as we each take turns talking about the story.


By Jerome Stueart and Candas Jane Dorsey

Jerome: I’m revisiting “Mom and Mother Teresa” in Tesseracts 9 and laughing.  In the story, the narrator’s mother is often asking for more time with her daughter, specifically lifts to this place or that place, and her ear in order to complain about her life. It’s too much for the narrator.  But into the mom’s house walks Mother Teresa and the story takes a left turn, as her home becomes HQ for Mother Teresa’s simple plan to do the most good with all these things the Mom already has. In Dorsey’s story, Mother Teresa helps everyone take seriously the things we all believe but in ways we don’t push ourselves to actually do.  It’s like Pope Francis—actually taking seriously the Church’s stance on the poor, the needy, and ridding himself of extravagance—coming to America and telling Congress and Christians here that they need to, um, actually make the poor and the needy their priority.

Candas Jane Dorsey’s story is absurdist humour, an imaginative take on the appearance of a Real Religion, and a Real Religious Figure, in your fiction.  What would you do if Mother Teresa stopped by?  If she asked you what you were doing with all that ROOM in your house—a place that she can house 25 orphans, women with children, and single men, as well as a few nuns—what would you do?

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Researching and Writing Faith: Inspired by Tesseracts 18 Wrestling With Gods

Tesnim Sayar is a Muslim punk. She wears both the headscarf and a mohawk and dreams of living of her own design. And like other supporters of the Muslim punk movement Taqwacore, she sees no contradiction between punk and Islam

“Tesnim Sayar is a Muslim punk. She wears both the headscarf and a mohawk and dreams of living of her own design. And like other supporters of the Muslim punk movement Taqwacore, she sees no contradiction between punk and Islam.”–PostModernismRuinedMe Tumbr.

This is fifth in a series of guestblogposts for the 18 days of Tesseracts.  Janet K. Nicolson wrote “A Cut and a Prayer” included in Wrestling With Gods: Tesseracts 18.


by Janet K. Nicolson

I have talked in a few places about my experience writing “A Cut and a Prayer” for Tesseracts 18: Wrestling with Gods, so I don’t want to delve into too much detail about how the story came about.

For those of you who haven’t read the story, it follows the tale of Samar, a doctoral candidate in sociology and religious studies who feels she has lost her once strong connection with Allah. She seeks futuristic medical intervention to try and tackle her depression. The story contains many references to Samar’s Islamic faith, and explores how Samar and her mother tackle their faith differently.

This August, I attended When Words Collide in Calgary for the first time, and presented on a panel about Faith in SF and Fantasy. One of the topics I discussed was the process of writing about a faith that is different from my own. How, someone asked, do you approach the research?

I want to share a few of the things I learned, so that hopefully if you, the reader, ever want to write a story about faith, you don’t feel scared about tackling the research!

Tips to researching/writing about faith:

  1. Assume everything you read is biased from one direction or another. Articles written by people of a faith will be different than articles written by someone of a different faith, someone who is a religious scholar, someone who is an atheist, etc. Also, don’t assume that bias invalidates information! Faith is a people based thing, and is necessarily a grey, complicated area where everyone has different viewpoints.
  1. Start with the Wikipedia article. I say this a bit tongue in cheek because Wikipedia can be as biased as anything, but it is also a great starting point. Wikipedia articles provide you with information about the history of a religion (from a non-faith standpoint), common cultural practices, geographic distribution, etc. It will help you root the religion in the real world.
  1. Pay particular attention to the pages about rituals, practices, if there are any. Most of the time, we base our perception of a religion on what we see on TV or in a book, because we don’t see what happens directly in a house of worship. In my instance, I knew Muslims prayed several times a day, but I didn’t know they had a religious “creed” commonly known as the 5 Pillars that they try to uphold as part of their faith.
  1. Check the links at the bottom of the Wikipedia article. Where do they go? Try and find a good combination of material, from other research articles, to interviews, to news articles. Start to branch out this way.
  1. Find an online forum for the faith and read what people are discussing. I found a great forum (the name escapes me now) for modern Muslims, and they had a thread where they were discussing the most inspirational quotes in the Qur’an. Many of the people were younger, and so after sampling quite a few conversations I had an idea of how Samar might be inspired by her religion’s teachings. Researching real people is an absolute must, especially if your protagonist is of the faith you are studying. It’s one thing to know the history of the religion; it’s another to know how people currently engage with it.
  1. Do a Google Image search! You can learn a lot about how people of a given faith dress/look in North America and around the world. You might be surprised by the variety of what you see.
  1. Read people’s opposing arguments to items of faith, whether they are from that religion or not. It’s important to understand the social environment around a faith, so you can either write an accurate present or extrapolate into the future. For example, I researched anti-Muslim bias in the USA, as well as modern Muslim discussions of Qur’an interpretations while working on my story. This helped me understand the world, and the racism, that Samar might live in.
  1. Talk to someone of that faith. In my case, I was lucky because I had previously taught three Muslim students (all women) who in the context of the class had discussed their faith and/or their lifestyles. They were all very different in attitude and dress (as we should expect of any 3 human beings, realistically), and so helped me understand Samar from various angles. If you don’t have this kind of opportunity, contact a local house of worship and ask if you can join a service. My local university does this as part of its religious studies classes and from what I’ve heard, no one has ever been turned away from any place when they’ve requested to attend and learn more. (You might learn about faith, you might also learn about new and tasty foods post-service!)
  1. Be open to understanding your own biases. We all have them. We are a social species and we develop opinions based on what we see and read. Look at your biases closely, and be aware of them so that when you write, you aren’t unconsciously writing your faith character from those prejudices.
  1. Check the spelling. Some words have different English spellings depending on how they are translated. Do your due diligence and triple check everything from multiple sources. And make sure words are spelled consistently throughout your story!

Finally, the most important point:

  1. Don’t be afraid to research or write about faith. My faith is complicated, but I’m not scared to write about faith in general because it is a fundamental and unavoidable part of the human condition. We all have faith in something, whether it is a religion or a science. Bringing faith into a story doesn’t make something a proselytizing creed. It just makes it realistic.

Happy writing!


photo-nicolson-j-110x110Janet K. Nicolson was born in Regina and has lived in the ice and cold ever since. She currently works as a technical writer for a telecommunications firm. When she’s not watching her border collie herd her cat and husband around the house, she can be found searching the local book store for novels about Big Dumb Objects, rocking video games, or subjecting audiences to her piano compositions.

Nicholson’s work has previously appeared in On Spec Magazine, and will be appearing in two forthcoming issues.

Faith and Knowledge: How Can We Know?

The Awakening, Autumn Skye Morrison

The Awakening, Autumn Skye Morrison

Mary-Jean Harris writes our fourth guest blogpost for the 18 days of Tesseracts.  Her Story, “The Shadow of Gods,” appears in Wrestling with Gods: Tesseracts 18.


Questions of knowledge and faith have occupied the thoughts of philosophers since the Ancient Greeks, and still, we struggle to have a grasp of what it really is to “know” something.

In my short story, “The Shadows of Gods,” in the Tesseracts 18 anthology, Toulouse, a young man in the seventeenth century, is grappling with ideas of knowledge of higher worlds and magic. He wants to experience these for himself so he might come to truly know about God, about what lies at the foundation of our existence. He has learned about many different religions and gods, but, until the end of the story, has not experienced the truth of any of them himself. This involves an element of faith, for how is it that we can come to know something, and how, when we experience it, do we know it’s true? First, let’s think about faith (faith in a religion, or in any power beyond the physical world).

Having faith in something is to believe in it without having a logical reason, but that doesn’t mean it’s unfounded. It can be believing in something on an intuitive level that cannot be explained by reason. It is something we experience with an inner sense, and so it is not something you can point to or describe as you would describe a physical object.

Yet even without considering spiritual experiences, can we really know anything? Of course, we can doubt that our senses give us reliable information, but most people take for granted that what they experience is a real physical world. Even if they don’t have perfectly accurate perceptions of it, they still believe that these have some sort of correspondence to the world around them.

Many philosophers have debated such issues. In particular, Descartes concluded that the only thing we know that exists is our mind, which is, in essence, a thinking thing. Everything else that we can perceive, from our own body to the planet Pluto, can be doubted. In his Meditations of First Philosophy he said, “Whatever I have accepted until now as most true has come to me through my senses. But occasionally I have found that they have deceived me, and it is unwise to trust completely those who have deceived us even once.” So if we submit to this standard of knowledge, that knowledge must be from something which we can never be deceived about, how can we know anything?

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They Don’t Stand For That: Symbols, Vampires, and Faith



Our third guestblog for the 18 days of Tesseracts comes from David Jon Fuller, whose story “The Harsh Light of Morning” is part of Wrestling With Gods: Tesseracts 18.  

It’s funny how an idea can get stuck in your mind and stay there.

For me, the concept of what a symbol is wasn’t something I bothered thinking about until two separate times in my life. One, watching “Fright Night” in high school. Two, trying to understand what a theatre prof in university meant when he went on a tangent about the difference between a metaphor and a symbol.

But first: some backstory.

Vampires have always creeped me out. I do enjoy the fun recent incarnations (hello Angel, Blade, et. al.) but when you get right down to it, at their core they speak to a certain dread — usually, that people are prey.

But there is always hope — folklore gives us tools to strike back at the monster. The sign of the cross is one of them. A powerful symbol of Christ, and therefore, of good; it can drive back the vampire, an incarnation of evil if there ever was one.

Cue up “Fright Night,” with Chris Sarandon’s charming creature of darkness confronting Roddy McDowall’s horror expert, who tries to ward him off with a crucifix. The vampire crushes it and declares: “You have to have faith for this to work on me!”

Hm, I thought. Would that apply to any religious symbol?

I mostly ignored that, though, as I was becoming less and less religious the older I got (I was raised Lutheran, and have attended non-denominational churches), until a few years into university, when one of my professors clarified the meaning of two words he felt, I think, that we students had been flinging around carelessly. A symbol, he said, is something that stands for another thing — but its meaning isn’t necessarily set (crucial new piece of information, for me) — whereas a metaphor is a symbol whose meaning IS set (one thing is clearly meant to stand in for another specific thing).

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Why I Wrestle With Gods

Alexander Louis Leloir, Jacob Wrestling With the Angel, 1865

Alexander Louis Leloir, Jacob Wrestling With the Angel, 1865

This is the second blogpost in our 18 Days of Tesseracts and though I frequently contribute here, this one is a more personal blogpost about why the wrestling is important.  I was one of the co-editors of Wrestling With Gods: Tesseracts 18.


Liana and I are asked quite frequently why we chose the topic of “Wrestling with Gods”–who came up with the topic, why the wrestling, etc?  I think we both had an interest in religion and speculative fiction.  But when we sat down together–thousands of miles away—on the phone, we decided that we didn’t want stories of the true believers or the die-hard skeptics.  They had their ideas about religion figured out.  They would both, in some ways, be evangelical—one preaching about the saving power of Jesus Christ or God or Krishna or Buddha–and the other preaching about how deluded we all were.  No, what intrigued us were the people in the middle: the large struggling subset of believers who had doubts and questions but who still had faith.  That’s where the tension was.  Tension makes better stories and better characters.  Assured characters who had no fear and who had a God that would get them out of any situation would make for boring stories.  But characters who faced difficulties, even huge questions to their beliefs, and struggled onward–they sounded interesting.  They sounded like us.

I don’t know why Liana loved this as much as I did–I will let her tell her story to you.

But I can tell you why I wrestle with gods.


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Not So Monolithic


Our first guestblog for the 18 Days of Tesseracts is from the incredible Mary Pletsch, whose story, “Burnt Offerings” is part of Wrestling With Gods: Tesseracts 18.  



A tableaux of religious iconography on a table, artistically arranged.

Technoshaman (photo by Mary Pletsch)

My story in Wrestling with Gods is called “Burnt Offerings” and its main character is a priest who is, at heart, a private agnostic.  Though uncertain whether the God he serves is real or if there are any Gods at all, he is still not free to resign his post or even admit his doubts.  He relies on the support of his Temple for the medical care he needs to stay alive.

It’s easy to stereotype people based on what religion they follow, as if every member of a particular faith was the same.  All Buddhists are pacifists.  All Wiccans are hippies.  All Christians are intolerant.  But that’s not what I see around me in real life.

Every faith has its casual adherents.  Every faith has its zealots.  Every faith has people who will act in violation of the religion’s actual teachings.  Every faith has people who consider “Jewish” or “Catholic” or “Muslim” to be more of a cultural description  – a set of traditions they were raised with – than an active statement of their personal beliefs in God or the lack thereof.  Every faith has its devoted followers.  Every faith has its hypocrites and its corrupt manipulators.  Every faith has people who will use its tenets to encourage them to be kinder to others.

So when I was writing “Burnt Offerings,” I kept in mind the large number of people who could all call themselves “followers of a faith” while believing and acting in very different ways.  There’s the corrupt Pater Donner, who—however religious he might once have been—has fallen to a state where his focus is on money, power, and persecuting others.  There’s the priestess Sicaria, whose devotion to a goddess of retribution makes her a danger to anyone who acts against the Temple’s beliefs.  There’s my protagonist, Shaman Pasharan, who’s afraid to admit that he’s still not sure whether or not any God is listening to his prayers.  There is a woman who struggles to follow her religion in a place where she faces persecution for it, and there’s an enemy who claim to follow the same religion while using it as a propaganda weapon for territorial expansion.

The real world is filled with complexity, and fiction that strips religion down to Good Religious People vs Evil Devil Worshipers,  or Smart Atheists vs Dumb Religious People,  or Chosen Faithful vs Foolish Unbelievers , doesn’t do itself any favours.  At worst it reinforces harmful stereotypes.  At best, it oversimplifies.

No matter how fantastic the fiction one writes, it can still “feel real” if it reflects the truth of the world around us.  The truth is that faith is filled with disagreements:  splinter groups, different sects, reactionaries and revolutionaries, saints and manipulators, doubters and true believers.   Fiction is an excellent way to build empathy and understanding, but in order to do so, it needs to present us with reality’s messy uncertainties.


pletschportraitMary Pletsch is a glider pilot, toy collector and graduate of the University of Huron College, the Royal Military College of Canada and Dalhousie University. She is the author of several previously published short stories in a variety of genres, including science fiction, steampunk, fantasy and horror. She currently lives in New Brunswick with Dylan Blacquiere and their four cats. She also writes romance under a pseudonym. Visit her online at

For an Interview with Mary Pletsch about “Burnt Offerings” go to Corey Redekop’s interview series, Writing Gods.