Atheist Fiction – What is available?

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Discussion by: Martyns

I really need to find some good, positive atheist fiction. Any genre really, but fantasy would be the most useful to me, like Phillip Pullman's 'The Dark Trilogy' or any fantasy that is critical of religion through the narrative? 

I've been researching this, but there seems to be a distinct lack of fiction with a strong atheist theme, more or less all atheist litereature from what I've seen seems to be non-fiction, science heavy books.

Anyone got any suggestions?

Thanks,

Martyn

39 COMMENTS

  1. It seems to me, it would be hard to find non-atheist science fiction. SF explores religions, but not usually explicitly Christian ones.

    I read a great book by Barbara Kingsolver called The Poisonwood Bible It about a crazy old preacher who takes his family to live in a remote African village. You might imagine that would be a commercial for Christianity, but it is the very opposite.

    Do you count books where the villain is a zealous Christian?

  2. Links below are to Amazon UK. These are SciFi. The first two are critical of religion in a thoughtful way

    The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell 10/10 and if you liked this nightmarish book as much as I did then hunt out some sleeping tablets and the sequel

    A Case of Conscience by James Blish 7/10

    This one suggests god isn’t quite the god of the Bibble Babble. Should be read tongue in cheek with a bottle of claret, but take tongue out of cheek while sipping. Calculating God by Robert J Sawyer 8/10

  3. Thanks all, these are pod suggestions. The reason I need this is really for a ‘competing books’ section of a book proposal for a literary agent, so fairly recently published, from less well-known authors would probably be more relevant to me – particularly in the fantasy rather than Sci-Fi genre.

    Still good suggestions though! I’m going to look into all of them.

    Martyn

    • In reply to #6 by Martyns:

      Thanks all, these are pod suggestions. The reason I need this is really for a ‘competing books’ section of a book proposal for a literary agent, so fairly recently published, from less well-known authors would probably be more relevant to me – particularly in the fantasy rather than Sci-Fi genre.

      S…

      You should have been clearer in your original post about what EXACTLY you wanted
      [& why, although that's less important]
      You have wasted my time Martyn & I will know to ignore your future requests for help

  4. Most Science fiction is be default atheist, but it mostly ignores religion. If you really want a scathing anti-religion novel try “The Tides of God” by Ted Reynolds.

    Personally, I read fiction for pleasure, not to confirm my atheism. I do like to learn something, see a new point of view, or ponder a wonder I never thought of when I read fiction. Seems a bit negative to seek out books slamming religion. It isn’t like the daily news doesn’t do that job pretty well.

    • In reply to #9 by canadian_right:

      Most Science fiction is be default atheist, but it mostly ignores religion. If you really want a scathing anti-religion novel try “The Tides of God” by Ted Reynolds.

      Personally, I read fiction for pleasure, not to confirm my atheism. I do like to learn something, see a new point of view, or ponder…

      I agree with that. I also think that the very best fiction authors, and this isn’t true of many, have an ability to go beyond their own worldviews. Their characters can take on a life of their own. For example, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were both fairly religious and right wing but some of the critiques that their characters make of religion and society from a left wing atheist perspective are extremely powerful.

      On the American side, F. Scott Fitzgerald was very much a part of the privileged fast money culture that he wrote about but he was amazingly good at showing all the flaws and hypocrisy in that culture. Dashell Hammett was very sympathetic to the communist cause but in the novel Red Harvest he portrayed the union people and communists as being as corrupt as the bosses.

  5. I recommended this book to my book discussion group last month. When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. It’s classified as a speculative fiction, which is a sort of near future, soft sci fi. Everyone in the group really loved the book and couldn’t put it down. The main character, a teen girl, finds herself pregnant as a result of an affair with her pastor. She has an abortion, gets caught and judged to be a murderer. Here is the Amazon description:

    Bellwether Prize winner Hillary Jordan’s provocative new novel, When She Woke, tells the story of a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of a not-too-distant future, where the line between church and state has been eradicated and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned and rehabilitated but chromed—their skin color is genetically altered to match the class of their crimes—and then released back into the population to survive as best they can. Hannah is a Red; her crime is murder.

    In seeking a path to safety in an alien and hostile world, Hannah unknowingly embarks on a path of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith.

  6. Her work wasn’t atheist fiction but an author that I always liked quite a bit who just died recently was Doris Lessing. Her Children of Violence series of novels was one of the most engrossing I’ve ever read and also stood out in that it had a female protagonist as well. And not a Buffy style protagonist but a more or less average woman whose life was traced from her adolescence in Africa before the beginning of the second world war to her later years in a future (future when the book was written) London. I thought the ending was especially powerful, for three novels she was a realist and basing the story on actual events from her own life and in the final one she delves into Sci Fi a bit and does an end of the world scenario. I forget the details but one thing I remember was that it impressed me, and I think it may have been prophetic, that it was a “whimper not a bang” kind of ending, where the various technologies that we develop just overwhelm the planet.

  7. While there is definitely woo-fiction, religious fiction, and supernatural-fiction, I do not think atheist fiction as such exists.

    There are however many excellent atheist authors with an absence of support for religious views in some of their works.

    • In reply to #14 by flyingfsck:

      Robert Heinlein wrote: Man will only be free, once the last king has been strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

      I think you will find that the original quote is from Denis Diderot (1713 – 1784). Another beauty by Diderot is: “The philosopher has never killed any priests, whereas the priest has killed a great many philosophers.”

      Good stuff from a great man.

  8. Shortly I will publish CONSPIRACY, A Dead Sea Scroll Mystery. This novel reveals Scroll Data withheld–data that tosses hand grenades at the most cherished presumptions of the faithful. For starters it airs the dirty linen that plagued the first family of the New Testament. Be assured, this fact based work will surely gladden the hearts of Richard Hawkins and all his friends.

  9. Sorry Martyn, he’s popular, – but I’m surprised no-one so far has mentioned Douglas Adams and The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, That and the associated books are a wonderful and whimsical fantasy. What with the Vogon poetry being the third worst in the galaxy and the unfeeling Vogons having the job of destroying the Earth to make room for a super galactic by-pass, who can fail to be impressed. AFAIK Adams got his science spot on, – until he entered into the world of improbability drives !

  10. I authored a historical fiction book about the founding of Christianity, but based on there being no actual Jesus Christ. If you find historical fiction interesting, especially when it comes from an atheistic viewpoint, you may enjoy it. It is called Propositum – A Novel and can be found at all the regular places.

  11. I can’t really think of fantasy, but I liked the book Circuit of Heaven by Dennis Danvers. The book is pretty much Romeo and Juliet meets The Matrix, but it explores some interesting aspects of religion. The protagonist doesn’t believe in a god, but his closest friend is a Christian. They live in a world where most people have uploaded themselves into a digital repository and the only people on Earth are a few odd holdouts like the protagonist, a few people deemed unsuitable for upload due to mental issues or criminal history, and the religious people who believe it’s wrong. There are some decent religious people and some crazy cult members bent on destroying the digital world.

  12. I’d suggest all of Terry Pratchett’s books; not only are they highly entertaining but read with the knowledge that Pratchett himself is an atheist and humanist the parodies of religion in general are very sharp.

    I guess he writes about gods in the only way that an atheist can; by making them real!

  13. You might want to look into the works of H.P. Lovecraft. He was an atheist and his work reflects this, although it is more a mix of horror and science fiction. On the negative side, his stories also reflect Lovecraft’s belief in the superiority of the white race, better known as racism. Nevertheless he is a unique and influential writer. However the recommendation for Douglas Adams is the best.

  14. I write atheist fiction. Starting with Vulture’s Kiss, then Sistine Heresy, then Sarah, Son of God, and most recently Beloved Gomorrah. They are historical thrillers. All strike a blow at one biblical myth or another and at the deist myth in general. You can Google any of them to see if they are to your taste.

  15. I must apologise for posting a comment without an answer to the question asked by the topic.

    I must also confess I do not understand the question. “a strong atheist theme”? Centred upon its lack of theistic references?
    “Any genre really”, As long as it is “Atheist Fiction”? (a bizarre invented genre surely)

    Atheism is not a theme nor a cult nor a bloody pop-culture. Therefore it cannot be a ‘search term’ when seeking a fiction book.
    Honestly, “Atheist Fiction – What is available?”. Only bloody 99.99999% of all books ever, I should imagine. Filtering your intake by the ABSENCE of something (theism) is a preposterous undertaking.

    “Critical of religion throughout the narrative” gives a better clue at what you’re after. “Atheist literature”??? Nay, you seem more after a niche product. A book vigorously pointing out its disapproval of religion throughout. Religious themed books must be the tiniest fraction of books on offer. I don’t understand the need to bring a totalitarian standard into authors or themes, regarding fiction. This is one of the more confusing if not troubling discussion posts I’ve come across.

    As it happens, I do have a suggestion. I suggest avoiding the use of the absence of something as an identity, a fad or ‘genre’. I’m sorry if I’ve come across as overly negative. The discussion heading sounds like something a person of a specific type of religion might ask. “Baptist Fiction – What is Available?” There I was, thinking one key benefit of atheism was freedom from imaginary sects, groups or specialty mindsets.

  16. you can’t have a serious fantasy book promoting atheism so i’d suggest anything by Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett

    alternatively, if you want to read an old-style fantasy that takes some great snipes organised religions read a series of books by Hugh Cook called “Chronicles of an Age of Darkness” my favorite, “The Walrus and The Warwolf” includes the spread of a new religion, much like christianity in it’s hatred of anything pleasurable, that all forms from a syphalis induced halucination. To me he was talking directly about evangilical christianity and/or islam and the types of people who use it for their own gain.

    the problem with fantasy and sci-fi is they often demand the reader suspends disbelif which is not really the core of atheism. Hugh Cooks books are set in an uncertain time or place but there are hints it’s earth in the distant future so any of the “magical” things articacts could be leftover tools from an advanced society.

    also, I used to love Arthurian novels but got bored with the lazy use of magic as a plot device. Bernard Cornwell’s trilogy on Arthur are brilliant as they’re written in the first person by an old (ex-pagan) saxon monk who doesn’t really believe in magic at all, writing about his friend Arthur for a young princess, who he knows wants the book to be full of magic and romance. What I really loved about these books is how all the magic in them existed only in the minds of the believers but as long as people believed (i.e. were superstitious) it was extremely powerful.

    I think fantasy books can be quite good for getting readers to question authority but too often they can encourage the reader to give up established woo for made-up pretend ancient woo

    • In reply to #25 by SaganTheCat:

      The problem with fantasy and sci-fi is they often demand the reader suspends disbelif which is not really the core of atheism.

      Hmm… I disagree. I don’t think atheism has any say over specific genres of fiction, only that it be acknowledged as fiction. Other than that it’s a bit like saying you can’t really have an atheist sandwich because bread isn’t at the core of atheism, bread is just as much a food as anything else, however artificial it may be.

      As far as atheism is concerned, is there really any difference between say a period novel that adheres to all known science featuring Lady Cunningham and her love affair with Mr Beckett, or a fantasy novel featuring wizards and elves that battle against the evil forces of the Catholic Church? Neither of them actually happened in reality regardless of how believable either of them are.

      I think anything that was either inspired by or hinges upon a disbelief in god or gods counts as atheist fiction, however niche that genre might be.

      Suspending disbelief can be good entertainment, so long as you come back to reality afterwards. I think it provides a nice contrast and makes reality all the more recognizable.

      • In reply to #28 by Seraphor:

        In reply to #25 by SaganTheCat:

        The problem with fantasy and sci-fi is they often demand the reader suspends disbelif which is not really the core of atheism.

        Hmm… I disagree. I don’t think atheism has any say over specific genres of fiction, only that it be acknowledged as fiction. Other than that it’s a bit like saying you can’t really have an atheist sandwich because bread isn’t at the core of atheism

        maybe I didn’t make myself clear. of course all fiction requires a suspension of disbelief but what bothered me with fantasy books as i was growing more and more atheist was the discovery that I had no time for lazy writing, and getting out of difficult plot holes with “then some magic happened” meant I would quickly lose interest and I expect that’s the case with most skeptical thinkers.

        it’s the same reason our loved ones refuse to watch sci-fi movies with us. I can sit perfectly still saying nothing but apparently the lady ape can feel me seething when some fundamental law is cast aside without apology. the important thing is consistancy. you break a law for one, or invent some magic trick for one, it must be for all.

        I don’t mind a bit of fantasy but only if it allows me to fall into the awe of the world created, and all too often writers just make me feel like i have to drop 50 IQ points in order to enjoy it.

        that said, I still don’t think fantay books are the way to go to promote atheism. won’t automatically discourage it but much of it demands a mindset that is a bit airy-fairy to stay imersed so for most non-atheists, as I said it can be used to help question the authority of religion but not the supernatural. sci-fi maybe but only the good stuff where writers have taken the time to think about how the advanced technology works.

        I particularly like older fantasy books like “She” by H Rider Haggard or Jules Verne books because even though the scientific assumptions are so wrong, they wrote in a way that “could” have been true at the time of writing.

        I’m not sure how you made the connection with sandwiches. suspending disbelief is the antethesis of atheism. stating it is not at the core of atheism is what we call understatement. stating bread is not at the core is um, lazy writing

  17. Hi Martyn. My novel, “Aenamus: Silent Blood” doesn’t center around atheism specifically, but you’ll have no problem recognizing the secular voice ringing throughout. The book is about a group of people who decide to…”remove” the most toxic people from society. What’s unusual here is that I use a lot of real life people: Rush Limbaugh, Jack Abramaoff, Karl Rove, Tom Delay, etc. I also take a hard line on the strange, superstitious beliefs of Americans throughout the novel. The book has a lot of action, humor and life philosophy (one starkly devoid of religious beliefs). If you’re curious you can read the first two chapters for free: http://www.aenamus.com If you like it, the book is available on Amazon and Kindle. I’m working on the sequel now. Hoping to have it out by next summer.

    Hope that helps!

    T.R. Maxus

    • Heinlein – Stranger in a Strange Land
    • Asimov – Foundation series
    • Greg Egan (any)

    You could also consider Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings as being un-theistic, despite strong magic/supernatural/fantasy content

  18. Check out Free To Think by Wayne Douglas Weedon. This is the first novel of a trilogy in gentle atheist fiction. The next two novels soon to be in print are Victim No More and Bully For You. Imagine religion without god is one of the main themes. Possibly, some may see the reference to The God Delusion and also to The Pagan Christ (Atheism between the lines). I am saying gentle atheism since the author is not an evangelist. He is encouraging people to think. The author believes that, rather than being manipulated by emotion and fear, people should be enlightened by rational thought. The Irish especially should find value in these works as they could easily identify with some of the oppression and also with the adventure and romance.

  19. Iain M. Banks, especially his Culture novels. The Hydrogen Sonata and Surface Detail are both very good and speak to atheist theme. Another good one would be Matter, which has a few scene where religion is discussed.

  20. With all due respect Martyns you seem to treat atheism as a belief system like a religion? My understanding of a Atheist is simply somebody who does not think there is enough evidence to warrant a belief in God and so does not. I assume you mean anti-religious books and there is plenty to choose from nowadays. Seems to have become a whole new genre in itself.
    Personally think fiction cannot offer anything better than reading of current scientific knowledge (which is as incredible as anybody can imagine, if not more so) and would personally reccommend the following audio books..

    • The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology
    • The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: and Other Clinical Tales
    • History of Science: Antiquity to 1700
    • Letter to a Christian Nation
    • Lying (also by Sam Harris)
    • The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
    • The Selfish Gene (of course)
  21. I think that if you want to write and publish a book like this, do it.

    But I think that there is a reason that there are not many atheist fantasy books, that being that atheism generally brings along doubt and dislike of anything supernatural or fantastical.

    Good luck.

  22. I admit to being horribly biased, since they’re books I wrote, but you might enjoy them. One is a fantasy called POLLY! (http://parsina.com/polly.html), which I sometimes describe as a book about a god that I, as an atheist, wish existed. One reviewer from Utah called it blasphemous, which I consider high praise. It’s also very funny.

    The other is a science fiction novel called ASSAULT ON THE GODS (great title for an atheist, right?)(http://parsina.com/assault.html), about a female starship captain on a backward alien planet who ends up warring on the local “gods” to free the primitive people they’ve subjugated.

    Each novel is available both as print-on-demand paperback and in ebook format. I hope you’ll give one or both a try–but in any case, good luck with your search…and pleasant reading!

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